Saturday, April 30, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, Z is for Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!

Here we are--the very last day of the challenge! Huge congratulations to my fellow bloggers for sticking with the program; it's been a pleasure to meet you.

I'm not sure what today's collage is all about, but that's one of the great joys of art journaling: discovering where you're going, what you're looking for, and what you want to say as you create the page. Basically I think it simply expresses my "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" joy in making it through the month!

Early on in both my writing and my art work I learned that I could only write or paint what I had a real and true zip-a-dee-doo-dah for, or in other words, what I was passionate about. Working for hire on an insurance brochure brought that home very quickly, as did the summer I took a class on painting only what the teacher insisted we produce: ultra-realistic portraits in blue watercolor. Flat yukky blue--no electric ultramarines allowed. After four sessions I dropped out and spent the rest of the year discovering how much I loved oil pastels and in every color of the rainbow.

Writing these blog posts day-in and day-out, and making my accompanying art journal pages, has proven to me how much I enjoy art journaling. I really do have a passion for it! I hope I've been able to impart some of that same enthusiasm to you, and that you have been encouraged to maintain journals of your own.

For me, my journal is both a refuge and a portable studio. I can take it with me wherever I go, and I can try out numerous experiments with color, design, and text without fear of failure or judgment. Anything goes, and that goes for you too--HAVE FUN!!

So with that said, it's Saturday, it's Spring, and we've got a whole weekend to play. If you haven't started your journal yet, maybe this is the day to begin. Best wishes and thank you so much for stopping by. Catch you later.

Tip of the Day: For a completely relaxing and no-stress art journal, try creating one without any words, or even any specific meaning. Simply collage the pages, and in no particular order. Start in the middle, add some red to the end papers, a picture of a "Z is for Zebra" when you come across one, a peaceful beach scene just because you love it.  Add various elements to your pages at your leisure and where you think they fit best. Don't worry about a thing--I promise it will be beautiful and something you'll cherish long after you've run out of glue!

Friday, April 29, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, Y is for Yearning (and a Special Surprise Giveaway!)

If I were to isolate a single word that sums up all of creativity, I would offer up the word "yearning." So much of what we aim to do in our art journals, fiction, screenwriting, poetry, the visual arts is, I believe, based on yearning. The yearning to be whole. The yearning to be authentic. The yearning to tell our unique and soul-specific stories.

Today's art journal page is based on my Gothic novel, Overtaken. It's the story of a portrait artist yearning to find not only her missing husband, but her true identity, as well as her strongest artistic self. Of all the art journal pages I made for the #AtoZChallenge, this is one of my favorites. I've always enjoyed a touch of romantic melancholy and nostalgia, a little bit of mystery and regret, a dash of "beauty in the ruins." Writing Overtaken satisfied many of those same yearnings and I'd like to share that story with you.

In order to accomplish that, I'm giving away a paperback copy of Overtaken chosen at "R is for Random" to anyone who comments on any of my #AtoZChallenge posts (past comment-leavers are eligible too!) until 11.59 PM, Sunday May 8, 2016. I figured I'd give a little extra time for last-minute comments as I know from past experience it's sometimes easier to stop by after the challenge than during it. The winner will be chose on Monday, May 9, 2016.

Tomorrow is the last day of the challenge. I admit to feeling rather sad to reach the end. I can't say I'm exactly yearning to start all over with another 26 days, but it has been fun and I've enjoyed the self-discipline of art journaling along with the blogging every day. How about you? Let me know--you could win a free book!

Tip of the Day: What are you yearning for? Write it all down, every single little angsty bit of it. Find or paint images to reflect your feelings rather than the actual items or states of being. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, X is for X-Ray Vison

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of us are using the theme of "X-rays" in today's posts, me included. X isn't the easiest letter of the alphabet and my mind always goes straight to the word "xylophone" when I think of it. The trouble is I don't play the xylophone, so have nothing to say on the topic. Therefore, X-rays it is!

X-rays have always played an important role in my life. As a child I spent many hours in my father's chiropractic office while he developed his patients' X-rays. Sometimes I would go into the darkroom with him, a mysterious and magical closet illuminated by a single red bulb. Fascinated, I would watch what resembled a type of alchemy: sheets of X-ray film dipped into odorous trays of solutions and water before being raised to the light to reveal skulls and spines, vertebrae and ribs--the human skeleton in all its twisted and imperfect agony. I learned to stand up straight by studying those ghostly images, and I'm sure they had an impact on my entire attitude to healthcare: stay well!

For today's art journal page I painted a sheet of paper with black gesso and pressed my hand down into the paint. The results intrigued me--what did my hand have to say to me? In real life I've never liked the look of my hands. Childishly small and usually stained with ink, burned from taking something out of the oven, grazed from clay, scarred with endless paper and knife cuts (more cooking accidents), and dry, thanks to the Albuquerque weather, they are not the long, elegant hands I envy. Yet when I see my palm with "X-ray vision" as it appears here, I'm not so disappointed. Slightly feathery around the edges, it's a capable and gentle hand, and I'm suddenly filled with gratitude for its hard-working, "accept any challenge" attitude. After all, my hands have never let me down, and have been as eager to plunge themselves into mud as they have been to try embroidery and bead-making.

Fortunately, I've never broken a bone or injured my hands in any serious way, the worst accident being a milk bottle in New Zealand splintering in my hand and cutting my thumb with such severity I still have the scar to this day. The nerve endings are still a little tender there, but other than that it's fine. But whenever I feel that twinge or see the deep line where the glass cut through, I'm reminded of so many things: the milk boys rattling their carts up and down the street at twilight delivering those treacherous bottles, the way the rain fell while I ran cold water over my hand. . . I feel it in my bones.

Art journaling is another way to feel "with the bones." What does your body have to tell you? What memories are waiting to develop and emerge? Today, let the darkness speak.

Tip of the Day: The single most important book that set me firmly on the writer's path is none other than Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. Any of the exercises in the book can help you uncover what it is you want to say about the images you create in your art journal. If you don't already own a copy, don't worry, it's a staple at most libraries. Check out a copy today!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, W is for Writing by Hand

I didn't start out life with very good handwriting skills. It seemed to take years of practice for me to even master the basics, with many after-school hours spent practicing and practicing. I just couldn't "get it," how to make the perfect letters my teachers seemed to insist upon. Then one miraculous day I wrote my name and it looked good! I think I was in the fifth grade, and the teacher finally said, "Well done!" I remember feeling proud and happy that I could write with a pen "like a grown-up."

Over the years my handwriting has gone from "just like the book" to wild and messy (note taking in college), then on to small and neat when I was writing my first manuscripts, to where I am today: large and scrawly and sometimes so chaotic even i can't read it.

Whatever stage my handwriting is at, though, I've always regarded writing by hand an important part of the creative process, especially when it comes to writing the first drafts of my manuscripts. And I can't imagine for the life of me typing a journal entry. But when it comes to art journaling (as in today's page above) I think my letters need some improvement. Just sayin'.

The other day I was at an art group meeting when the woman I was sitting next to suddenly started to add some beautiful calligraphy to her sketch. It was amazing to watch her form an elegant caption in colored ink to her drawing of some sunflowers. In seconds her drawing went from "very nice" to "Wow! I wish I could do that!"

I expressed my admiration and she laughed, saying anyone could do what she was doing. She explained that calligraphy was really just another form of drawing. With a little practice, she said, it was easy to get the hang of it. 

As soon as the #A-ZChallenge is over I'm going to purchase a book on lettering and calligraphy and see if I can make some gorgeous loopy letters myself. I think it's going to add an entirely new dimension to all my artwork. Something I've always envied about Asian painting is the nice vertical line of calligraphy often added along the side of the picture, usually a poem or affirmation of some kind. I don't think I'll go as far as learning Chinese, but it would be great to add my own line or two in a creative font (and one that I can actually read!).

So that's the goal: ruled paper, big pencil, lots of erasers--definitely entering my  second childhood!

Tip of the Day: If learning calligraphy seems like yet another item to add to an already top-heavy to-do list, a quick and easy method can be to print out some nice fonts from your computer onto labels or decorative paper and then paste them into your journal. Nobody said journaling had be to hard. Keep it fun, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, V is for Vision Board

If I wasn't participating in the #AtoZChallenge this year, I think my vision board for the month would be a nice, white, blank page--completely empty and as restful as white sheets on a freshly-made bed. But that would be totally boring for you, my dear readers, so for today's post I've tried to bring you something a little more colorful. And after assembling this mini-board full of travel and art supplies, I do feel re-inspired, re-charged, and re-energized to make it all the say to Z (only 4 more posts to go!).

Vision boards have always played a large part in my life and my journals, and I can testify to them always coming true. Always. Whatever I've collaged and focused upon has entered my life in one way or another, and often with much better results than I ever allowed for in my original vision. 

Some of the boards I've made have included:

  • Houses and cities I've wanted to live in. (Best example: When I was fourteen I made a collage for my Home Economics class describing how I wanted to live in London one day. Nine years later I was living and working there--and in a flat almost identical to the one I had collaged for my teacher!)
  • Trips I have wanted to take.
  • Work and teaching opportunities.
  • Creative work: manuscripts, paintings, drawings, pottery and jewelry I've aspired to make.
  • Getting published and selling my work.

Friends have told me that their vision boards have brought them all of the above and more, things such as improved relationships, better health and well-being, longed-for pets, and new jobs with better financial stability. Dream it, believe it, and write it down with some great images to accompany your inner vision . . .  I can't think of a better use for an art journal!

Whether you choose to make a large or small-sized journal-page "board," keep in mind that it doesn't have to include your entire bucket list. In fact, sometimes it's more effective to create a single page or section of your journal for each individual goal or aspiration. The most important thing is to dream big. After all, the imagination has no limits, so why should you? Go for it!

Tip of the Day: If you don't mind the chance of letting other people see your dreams, the cover of your journal can be the perfect spot for your vision board. Not only will it make an otherwise dull cover brighter and more interesting, it will help you to visualize your forward path every time you see your journal.

Monday, April 25, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, U is for Unsent Letters

The first time I ever saw a letter and it's accompanying envelope as part of a book was in the Griffin and Sabine series by Nick Bantock. Bantock's work has been a big influence on my own, and many others, journal work, and little hidden notes throughout my journals has now become a mainstay.

Writing unsent letters can be a healing and cathartic experience--and you never have to worry about accidentally pressing the "send" button before you're ready! No regrets, no unintended hurt feelings, no misinterpretations. The only person reading your letters is you, even if you've addressed them to all sorts of people. For instance, you might like to write an unsent letter to:

  • The editor. The one who rejected you, and not very nicely.
  • Mean-spirited book reviewers.
  • Those kids in high school. You know the ones . . . 

Feel better? Once you've got that out of the way, other letters can be written to:

  • Your child-self, or who you were as a teen or young adult.
  • Someone you've never met, but always have wanted to thank for inspiring you.
  • Fictional characters in books or movies you've loved.
  • Your future self.
  • Anyone you still have an unresolved conflict with, but it's impossible or inappropriate to contact them.
  • Write to your manuscript or any work-in-progress that is troubling or perplexing you.

Letters don't always have to go into envelopes, but it's fun to give them their own space, especially if you decorate the envelope in some way, or tuck other small items in along with the note. In the past I've included  mini-photos and even a dollar bill! (I don't know why; it just felt "right.")

If you're concerned about maintaining the privacy of your unsent letters, two techniques that have worked for me are to:

  • Write out the full letter on a journal page and then collage over the entire text. The letter is there, but completely hidden by images relevant to the letter's contents.
  • Try "stacked journaling," a technique that turns your handwriting into an elaborate and abstract work of art that will be unreadable to anyone. Basically you simply write in one direction, then write again over the lines in another, and so on, back and forth. Use several different ink colors to really make the piece "pop." 

Personally, I miss the days of sending actual, handwritten or typed letters to friends and family: choosing nice stationary (onion-skin for airmail, heavy cream linen for query letters); waiting for the mail to arrive; everyone being okay with weeks or even months between replies. All of that can be reproduced in my journals, and with an added bonus--I don't have to go to the post office!

Tip of the Day:  Buy yourself a greeting card or two. Whenever I've gone to buy a birthday or other type of card it takes me forever to decide on which one--I want them all! I've solved my dilemma by buying a few extra for myself and using them throughout the year to write "surprise" notes in my journal.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, T is for Travel Journals

Of all my journals, my travel journals have to be among my favorites. Every time I go through them I'm taken back in time and place and feel like I've just been on a mini-vacation.

Some of my tips for art journaling on the road include:

  • Travel light. Choose a sketchbook that fits into your purse, carry-on, or back pack so you can have it with you at all times.
  • Whatever your medium, take a sketchbook with heavier, rather than lighter paper. You might start out thinking you don't like watercolor, but then end up buying a set somewhere during your travels. Be prepared for new choices. 
  • Pens and pencils: I'm a big fan of water-soluble pencils. You only need between 6 and 12 to have a wide range of colors. Throw in a waterbrush, a black ballpoint or roller pen, a mechanical pencil, and you're ready to go!
  • Before you leave home, pre-tone some of your sketchbook pages. Laying down a light watercolor wash or a background of soft pastel can save a lot of time when you reach your destination. It will also help to give your sketches a more finished look.
  • A large-size, heavy-weight plastic zip-lock type of pouch or folder is a must-have for collecting museum brochures, ticket stubs, menus, flyers . . . you know, stuff! Bring along a glue-stick as well if you'd like to paste anything into your journal on site, although it's often easier to collage once you get home.
  • A small viewfinder. I used to think I could get away with not having one, but now I think it's indispensable. For me, at least, seeing a new mountain vista or city-scape for the first time can be overwhelming. A viewfinder helps me to break down the scene into sketch-size pieces. It's also a helpful tool for isolating detail I might want to make a special note of.

Whatever type of sketchbook and materials you choose, keep in mind that you don't have to travel to an exotic or expensive locale to start a travel journal of your own. How about looking at your hometown through the eyes of a tourist? Take a journal to local museums, galleries, parks, and restaurants and record what you find. Pretend you're seeing it all for the very first time--perhaps you are, especially if you visit places you may not have considered worth seeing before. Off you go!

Tip of the Day: Another kind of travel journal you can make, and without leaving home, is to create a journal based on a location you've always dreamed of visiting, but haven't got there yet. Find images online, in travel magazines, and from friends' personal hordes and photos. Bon voyage!

Friday, April 22, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, S is for Stamp it Up!

Raise your hand if you remember making a carved-potato stamp in grade school? Big piece of newsprint, runny tempura paint? Having the best time ever?

Those potatoes have stuck in my mind for a long time. One Christmas we used cut-up sponges instead and made our own gift wrap. My parents probably wondered what their tax dollars were being spent on, but craft projects were always my favorite part of the school day.

Today I still play with stamping, only I usually go for fancy store-bought ones, as well as real, live postage stamps. I like to collect both kinds when I travel: on today's art journal page I used a postage stamp from Taiwan, a good old 1-cent USA stamp, and one I cut out of a travel magazine. I also used a couple of rubber stamps, placing the butterfly on yet another of my practice apricot sketches similar to the one I pasted onto "A is for Art Journal." (This example shown here was drawn on a piece of fabric interfacing--a very interesting experiment and highly recommended.)

But going back to rubber stamps, the one problem is that they're pricey. I always buy them when they're on sale, which saves a lot of money, but there's other ways to stick to a budget:

  • Avoid the art supply stores and shop instead at dollar and discount stores. Sometimes they have fantastic deals and selections.
  • Carve your own stamps from rubber and plastic erasers (including the ones at the tip of a pencil) with an X-acto knife.
  • Carve old wine corks.
  • Cut out shapes from thick or corrugated cardboard.
  • You can make all sorts of designs from dried modelling and paper clays.
  • Don't forget those potatoes! Other root vegetables can work too (I promise this isn't an April Fool's joke).
  • Sponges.
  • Household items: hairbrushes, toothbrushes, embossed wallpaper scraps. Use your imagination.
  • Lino-blocks

 Many of these techniques, especially the potatoes and cardboard, will probably have a one-time, one-project use, but that's okay. It's easy to get bored with your stamp collections (one of the reasons I don't like to pay too much for them) and after several butterflies and seahorses you're soon longing for a kitten- or parrot stamp.

The only other thing you'll need for stamping besides shape and design is some color. Ink pads for stamps come in so many shades and styles today it's difficult to choose; some provide a faded "vintage" look, others have a gilded, metallic appearance. Just like making your own stamps, however, you don't always need a commercial stamp pad. Watercolor, washable felt tip pens, acrylic and other paints work just as well if not better depending on your project.

So the next time you receive a card, letter, or package with an attractive stamp adhered--save it. I like to keep a little bit of the actual envelope's torn pages "framing" the stamp, as well as the entire postal imprint--almost as good as a free rubber stamp, especially if its from overseas! 

Tip of the Day: Of all my stamps, the one that means the most to me and that I'll never get bored with is my personal stone seal I ordered from Taiwan: Happy Little Cat. If you'd like something similar, I recommend the company I went through: Asian Brush Art. They also have lovely pre-carved Chinese character stamps that you can purchase to enhance your work with balance and a happy thought for the day.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, R is for Randomness

True confession: I'm one of those #AtoZChallenge bloggers the committee warned you about--I'm blogging every day without a plan! None of my posts have been pre-written, pre-scheduled, or pre-ordained. In other words, I'm a genuine pantster, and proud of it, LOL!

And that's why today's post is a tribute to the joy of Randomness, letting the bits and pieces of your creative mind fall into place on their own without (too much) interference.

My favorite ways to work with random selection include:

  • Go for a walk and seek out 6-12 random objects. If possible bring them home, or at least photograph them. Weave them together into an essay, story, or piece of art.
  • As a variation, look for random objects in a certain color scheme. For instance, 6 things in red, or 6 things in gray.
  • Empty your purse or briefcase. What can you write or draw that ties these items together in some way? Can you assign them to a fictional character?
  • Just create random collages--then write about them later.
  • The good old, tried-and-true magazine cut-outs. Pair disparate images together and find the connections! Same with writing and word prompts. The stranger the combination, the more exciting the possibilities can be.

It's amazing what kinds of "happy accidents" can result from trying out these exercises. Entire passages of my novels have been written this way, totally unplanned and totally unexpected, kind of like today's art journal page. I haven't had time yet to sit down and find what a goat, an egg, a circus rider and the Arc de Triomphe have in common--but I'm sure I'll find the key somewhere. The trick is believing it's there and trusting the story will come to me. It's never failed me yet.

So what's your favorite way of going random and free-floating through the universe? Drop a line and let me know! 

Tip of the Day: If the idea of randomness makes you nervous, try journaling about the reasons why. Some of my own worries about being "too random" include fear of never finishing a project due to too many unrelated ideas, not seeing the forest for the trees, or losing focus by casting my attention too far and wide. On the other hand, I often think there may not be any such thing as complete randomness, and perhaps the things we choose "at random" are actually waiting for us to find them so we can make the relevant connections--another good topic to explore! See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, Q is for Questions

Many, if not most, of my journal entries start with a question. There seems to be an awful lot I want or need to know! But questions lead to answers which then lead to inspiration and insights and, of course, more questions for next time.

Today's page is made up of some purplish mulberry paper I found ultra-cheap at Big Lots; I think I paid about $3 for 100 12" x 12" sheets in a rainbow of colors. I love the texture and tough-delicacy of the sheets and have used them for a variety of projects. I particularly like this true "mulberry" color and for today have paired it with some strips of paper that I recycled and cut from an old colored-pencil drawing I had done of some eggplants--dozens of eggplants, too many eggplants, if truth be known. I couldn't stop drawing them. And then I didn't know what to do with the piece until I thought "collage material." 

As for the photograph, it's a vintage pic I cut from a magazine (where else?). I think it's supposed to be in Hawaii, but I chose it because it reminded me of old family photographs I've seen of my grandmother who was born and raised in Fiji. I never knew her as she had passed away before I was born, but her life was straight out of a novel: the daughter of a Boston whaler and his wife, my great-grandmother, a desperate, stranded former nanny who had three previous children from a bigamous marriage. It turned out the dashing sea captain she'd married in the islands already had a wife safely stowed back in England.  Her situation, and the ensuing scandal, has always made me ask why and how and who--good questions for both the fiction and nonfiction writer in me.

Needless to say, they are also questions I've never had good answers to, leaving me free to solve the mysteries in my own creative ways, such as with my art journal. Family stories aside, some other types of questions I like to work with in my journal are:

  • What are my goals for the week, month, year?
  • How will I achieve them?
  • What creative work (painting, drawing, poetry, novel . . .) do I want to tackle right now? What's calling to me? What are my priorities? What's next?
  • Manuscript questions: plot holes, character interviews, back stories.
  • Visual art: what colors should I use for a particular piece? What's the emotion I want to convey? Is there a story to the piece?
  • Real-life conflicts and difficulties: how to solve, how to let go, how to move on.

Whatever you choose to ask your journal, keep in mind it can really be about anything: from the meaning of life to what to cook for dinner. It can even be as simple as asking: What should I write about today? Just so long as it starts with the letter "Q" you'll be fine! See you tomorrow.

Tip of the Day: Not every question can be answered immediately. Finding good answers can take time, the important thing is to write your questions down in your journal and leave enough space to fill in the blanks. A good technique I've found is to write a question at the top of a page and then skip several pages before I write down the next one at the top of another page. The spaces in between can be filled in later and in no particular order. Having your questions pre-written can serve as a useful prompt, especially when you're feeling a little stuck.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, P is for Pearls

. . . Pearls of wisdom, that is, although I did add a few stick-on pearls to complete today's art journal page. Many of my most-beloved "pearls" come from my favorite books, lines of dialogue, description, often the opening scene. Today's page was inspired by Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, the book I blogged about the first time I took the A to Z Challenge in 2014. 

The first book of the quartet, Justine, starts with these evocative lines:

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes. . . . 

I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child -- Melissa's child.

And I'm hooked once more! 

The Alexandria Quartet is one of the few books I re-read again and again. I don't think I will ever stop learning from the language, or discovering new nuances and themes in the text. For today's page I most wanted to capture that pearl of a sky, and as wonky as it might appear (as with all my art journal pages), it does do what I wanted it to do for me: remind me of the book. 

Always keep in mind that in spite of what I'm demonstrating for the challenge--sharing a page a day--art journals are essentially private. They're for you to explore, experiment, and be as fondly sentimental and personal in as you want to be. Never worry about what other people will think of your journal, or how they will judge it. Which is probably a good little pearl of wisdom for yourself: don't judge your journal too harshly, either. 

Now go scribble, play, write your heart out, run with scissors--and take some time to re-read a favorite book!

Tip of the Day: If you're still on the fence about starting an art journal, or looking for some new inspiration, there's nothing better than creating an illustrated commonplace book (the link leads to a post I wrote on the subject you might like to read for more information). People started making commonplace books centuries ago as a way to compile their own small stores of general wisdom, from daily aphorisms to recipes for salves and poultices. Today they make the perfect theme for an art journal. Just like our ancestors did, you can fill your book with inspiring quotes, soap and shampoo recipes, and guidelines to live by. Don't forget to add the pictures!

Monday, April 18, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, O is for Ordinary

First things first: I didn't paint this picture I glued onto today's journal entry, but I sure wish I did. Unfortunately I can't even tell you who the artist is--one of the hazards of cutting out pictures from old magazines without paying too much attention to the credits.

Whatever its history, though, looking at this calm and colorful scene makes me happy. I like to imagine the people who live in this house and how they got there. It's the kind of dream-house they used to feature in old movies; any minute I expect Cary Grant to come laughing through the door, or Olivia de Havilland with a basket of freshly-cut roses hanging from her arm. In many ways, the scene is perfectly ordinary: a country home, an open door, a sunny day. Nothing special. And that's what makes it so appealing to me. 

Of course, I could be completely wrong, and all kinds of extraordinary things could have occurred here that have nothing to do with the peaceful life I envision. For instance, the family who lives here might be sick to death of the place and say things like, "That view is so dull! Why don't we concrete in the grass and install a Ferris Wheel?" Or, "Please don't play the piano again tonight, Jolyon. If I hear Claire de Lune one more time I'll have you committed."

And that's just for starters. What if Jolyon the piano player gets so mad he strangles the woman who hates Clair de Lune? Or war has just been declared and the entire family has fled the house without even turning off the lights? Or a flying saucer has abducted everyone except the youngest child and his nanny? Appearances can be deceiving. You just never know; what might appear ordinary to one person could be absolutely mind-staggering to another.

Which is what makes the ordinary such an interesting topic to explore in our journals. How ordinary is ordinary? Maybe it's only the way we perceive it. For instance my commute to work has become so boring to me I'm on auto-pilot half the time, but to someone from out of town they might think: Albuquerque! What a charming place to live! Or when I go shopping for groceries and buy milk and eggs and ice cream again, another shopper might be thinking: Ice cream. Milk and eggs for cake. She must be throwing a party. What we take for granted as dull and routine might stir someone else's imagination in a wholly new, and unexpected direction.

Some of the ways I like to experiment with being that "someone else" is to:

  • Drive down unfamiliar streets. Take note of the architecture and general ambience. Park and journal for a bit.
  • Buy some grocery items I often ignore. Cook them, taste them, write!
  • Look for the beauty in "clutter": a sink of dirty dishes, a pile of laundry: what's the story? How could I turn that into an interesting drawing or painting?
  • Go to clothing or other kinds of stores I don't usually shop at. I'm a huge fan of window-shopping, but sometimes it's fun to surprise myself with some new and out-of-character purchases.
  • Check out some library books on subjects that I've always considered difficult or unappealing. Getting out of my reading/creative comfort zone has lead me to subjects I would never have considered before and that I've grown to thoroughly enjoy.

At the same time, it's important to keep in mind that there's also a unique and special beauty in the ordinary. Not only can it be secure and comforting, but it can also be what provides you with a firm bedrock for your creative endeavors. A clean and bright workspace, a well-organized manuscript and WIP notebook, paints and pencils where you can find them . . . celebrate it all in your journal with colors, sketches, collages, and words.  

Tip of the Day: Another good use of your art journal is to break free of the ordinary. For instance, explore new mediums or color combinations. Go through "dull" magazines for counter-intuitive inspiration and unexpected images to cut-out. Or make a list of all your "ordinary" activities and look for ways to jazz them up.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, N is for Negative Space

I learned to draw (well, as some would say, I'm still learning . . . ) by looking at “negative space,” the space around an object, rather than concentrating on the object itself. It's one of the methods Betty Edwards teaches in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and it really works.

Having experimented with the technique many times, I’ve grown to love negative space, and frequently find myself on the look-out for new ways to express it. For instance, studying the gaps between the leaves on a plant, or taking note of the patterns created by shadows falling into a room--negative space can sometimes be the most interesting part of a painting.

In daily life, however, negative space can sound frightening. We work so hard to cultivate the light, to stay upbeat and positive that negativity is an emotional state to shy away from. But without the dark spaces in our lives, how can we ever know what, and where, the light is?

Your art journal (or any kind of journal for that matter) can be a useful and cathartic place to take your negative feelings. Everybody needs to vent, to rant, to whine, to cry over what hurts. Some ways I like to express my negativity in my journal are to:

  • Paint or collage my feelings.
  • List my grievances. 
  • Let my Inner Critic have a field day.
  • Sit in the dark with my journal.

Once it's all on paper, I'm free to:

  • Write a gratitude list.
  • Reply to my Inner Critic’s barbs with positive affirmations.
  • Light a candle.
  • Write a poem.
  • Let it go.

And if I really want it out of my life, I tear out the page and burn it.

Something that has truly surprised me about working with my feelings this way is how powerful my "negative" artwork has been for others. Some of the pieces I've had the most positive feedback on have been created when I was at my lowest ebb. Just goes to show that a) the work we do isn't always for ourselves, and b) sadness can truly be transformed into joy with just a little dose of creativity. See you on Monday!  

Tip of the Day: The next time you're feeling down, don't turn away from negative space. Even the most trivial of incidents or slights can take on serious proportions if it's not addressed and/or examined for possible solutions. Don’t be afraid. Go into the shadows. Make your journal your friend--the one who listens and understands, no matter what you say.

Friday, April 15, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, M is for Morning Tea (and Other Small Pleasures)

It's Friday and here I still am: collaging, journaling, blogging my way through the alphabet, landing on M and thanking the heavens for my morning cup of tea. 

Ah, tea. Solves everything, in my opinion! It also makes a good subject for drawing and art journaling.
For today's journal page I drew (during my morning tea break!) my office tea cup, adding, amongst other things, the tag from one of my favorite tea bag flavors: Jasmine Green, and a scrap of origami paper.

For me, my morning tea is a much-needed daily ritual and respite. I don’t like to hurry any aspect of it. It's also loaded with memories: tea shops in England and New Zealand as a child;  visiting an organic tea plantation in Taiwan last year; my parents receiving annual shipments of Murfee’s tea from Canada when we lived in California. I remember when we went together to Vancouver to place that first order. The building was from another century, dark and paneled in Tudor black oak, with all the bins of tea arranged in orderly rows that made me feel I was on board an old clipper ship. I really can't drink tea without thinking about it at least once!

Tea, writing, drawing, and "M is for memories" just all seem to go together. Some journal questions you might like to ask are:

  • Did you ever play "tea party" as a child? You know, with a little tea-set and mud-pies?
  • What morning rituals do you now follow every day? (Even making your bed can take on quiet significance).
  • What's your favorite way to take a break from daily stress, e.g., daily blogging?
  • If you are a tea-drinker, what are your favorite brands and flavors? (Fortnum and Mason’s Royal Blend for me!) 
  • If you're not into tea, what makes a good morning for you?

Tip of the Day: Art journaling can be about the simplest things. Tomorrow morning, make yourself a cup of tea. Sit down with your journal. Watch the steam rise. Take a sip. Start writing.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, L is for Let's Go!

One of my most beloved toys as a child was actually a greeting card. Sent to me when I was five years old and cooped up in bed with the chicken pox, it arrived in the form of a multi-page booklet telling the story of a paper doll named Ginger. Ginger and her wardrobe had perforated edges that allowed me to easily extract the whole kit and kaboodle as quickly as possible while I sat up in bed supported by a mountain of pillows.

The cover of the card was pink and decorated with iconic landmarks from various countries: the Eiffel Tower for France, a windmill for Holland, the leaning tower of Pisa for Italy. Ginger was a twenty-something flight attendant, or as we said back then, a stewardess. She had beautiful long red hair, a perky figure, and a sense of style straight out of Mad Men. I remember being particularly entranced with her white fencing outfit complete with netted helmet and mask. There were also evening gowns, a trench coat, and best of all, her suitcase. Brown cardboard "leather," it was covered in travel stickers from all around the world, stickers that matched many of the icons on the front of the card. As far as I was concerned, Ginger was the It Girl, putting all my other dolls and toys far back into a lowly second- and third-place.

Looking back, it's amazing how much pleasure I received from a flimsy little card, but from that moment on I was determined to travel. To me, Ginger signified much more than a toy; she was the real, adult world I couldn't wait to be a part of. As I waltzed her across my bedspread and blankets, I imagined myself traveling just like she did, wearing, of course, her white fencing outfit I was certain was de rigeur for foreign travel. Ginger became my childhood role model, and every time I pack my bag or board an airplane, I still think of her.

Today's journal page celebrates the spirit of adventure. Where do you want to go for your next holiday? What steps do you need to take to get there? Dream big. En garde!

Tip of the Day: Write it down, make it happen. Your art journal makes an excellent vision board or treasure map for creating your next vacation. Find images in travel magazines or travel agency brochures (that's where I found the printed stamps to cut out for today's page). Paste everything in place along with some positive affirmations, a list of wardrobe items to take and sights to see, and off you go. Send a postcard!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, K is for Kid-Lit

Today's post celebrates Kid-Lit, all the wonderful children's books in the world and what a fantastic subject they make for art journaling. Besides the hundreds of fairy tales I read as a child: The Blue Fairy Tale Book, The Red Fairy Tale Book and on and on through the entire rainbow, some of my favorite titles were:

  • Lona
  • The Diamond in the Window
  • The Door in the Wall
  • Little Bear
  • Little Women

  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Edgar Eager
  • Lloyd Alexander
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder

  • Trixie Belden
  • Donna Parker
  • Madeline
  • Babar

Of course there are hundreds more, far too many to list here, but I'm convinced that my early reading and love of picture books is what led me to become a writer, and what then later encouraged my deep interest in art. How about you? What were some of your favorites, and how did they help you become who you are today? Drop a line!
Tip of the Day: For today's journal page I started with a doodle of a frog, as in The Princess and the Frog. I'm a little rushed at the moment so I had to leave out the princess, as well as the kissing part, but it made me think how neat it would be to create an art journal based solely on fairy tales, myths, legends, or perhaps a children's story of your own. Who knows, it might even turn into a publishable picture book!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, Just Show Up!

So much of creativity is really all about just showing up. You don't have to know what you're going to do once you get there, but you do need to get there: to your desk, your studio, your kitchen table. No big deal.

But just in case you do think it's such a big deal you'd rather clean your base-boards and check all your clothes for loose buttons rather than face your journal, here are my favorite tips for showing up with a free and easy attitude:

  • Assemble what you need ahead of time. Give yourself as long as you need to find and collect collage and other papers, paints, pencils, stickers, etc. Set up a small but usable work-space that makes you want to go there to play.
  • Having everything in place, including hand-wipes and other clean-up materials will help keep you in place without constantly having to get up and find yet another missing piece.
  • Start a weekly or daily habit of going through magazines in search of images and word-prompts. Collating images when you don't have the energy or will to write or draw in your journal is a strong part of the process and will help ease you into a creative frame of mind.
  • If the idea of an actual real-life journal is too intimidating at first, take time to play with the basics: some newsprint or old printed-out pages (back or front) from your printer you no longer need, and crayons or felt-tip markers. Just scribble, doodle, have fun and toss if you don't want to keep any of it.
  • Another alternative to a journal is to start out with one of the thousands of adult coloring books currently available. Color in the designs then add your own words or other embellishments later on.
  • Buy a "how-to" book on collage, art journaling, or other technique and follow along with the lessons. Choose one day a week to make your "class time" and don't be late!
  • Sit down at your workspace and set a timer. It's amazing what you can achieve in 15-20 minutes. (I bet you stay long after the bell has rung!)
  • Join or start an art journal group. There's nothing more motivating, or fun, than group creativity at a set time and a set place.

Tip of the Day: If you find that even after trying these methods you're still resisting showing up to work in your art journal, you might want to find out what's really stopping you. Dialogue with yourself, or perhaps with your journal. Ask what's going on. I know that when I first started out with art I could find dozens of other things to do other than finally sitting down to work. Looking back into my past, way back, I realized it all stemmed from kindergarten (seriously!) and being afraid of getting paint on my dress. I was terrified of that dripping paintbrush. Now I wear jeans and fling that paint like there's no tomorrow! (And if there is, I'll see you there with the letter K!)

Monday, April 11, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, I is for Inspiration

They say you can't wait around for inspiration to strike before you start writing or creating, but one of my big problems is trying to get away from inspiration. Maybe it's living in Albuquerque, or I read too much, or have too many creative friends, but sometimes it's all I can do to not have any new ideas.

A while back I wrote a post listing my main literary influences and inspirations. The list still holds true today and I enjoyed going over it before writing today. Making a list of your own in your art journal could include:

  • Spiritual mentors.
  • Authors.
  • Artists.
  • Teachers.
  • Blogs you enjoy reading.
  • Heroic historical figures.
  • Colors.
  • Places.
  • Friends and family.

Besides listing your primary movers-and-shakers, you might like to explore questions about how you work with inspiration, for instance, when you're feeling down and defeated, how do you bring yourself back up? What kinds of activities or happenings actually un-inspire you? How can you detach yourself from their toxicity?

Tip of the Day: I'm a big fan of altars, especially the small, unassuming sort you make at home without really trying, such as a windowsill where you keep, say, a collection of stones and shells from a favorite beach, or a shelf filled with childhood memorabilia. Even the way you set up your art and journaling supplies can be considered a kind of altar to your creativity. 

In that spirit, why not set aside a few art journal pages to create a visual altar, a place where you can visit whenever the well seems a bit dry. Design and color it in a way that makes you want to return again and again for further inspiration!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, H is for Hot (and Cold)

Happy Saturday! I've been at the zoo all day with Urban Sketchers, hence this very late post. When we first got there, it was freezing, but now, 5.30 PM, it's hotter than a New Mexico chili pepper, good weather for today's topic: Hot and Cold.

What I'm talking about here are hot and cold colors, or in other words, the backgrounds to your journal designs. When I sit down to create a collage or mixed media piece, I often don't know what will be in it, or what colors I'll choose. Sometimes I just let my hand wander over my supplies until I find something that feels right. 

For today's piece, I seemed to have needed hot, bright red, orange and yellow. Immediately the idea of "heat in the kitchen" came to mind, meaning, I think, "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen." I may have sub-consciously been thinking about the A-Z Challenge, i.e., if you can't handle blogging every day, out you go, LOL. 

But on a more serious level, I started to think about my grandmother's infamous goulash, so hot it quite literally brought tears to the eyes. And she made it all the time! In retrospect, I know I would probably enjoy it much better today than I did as a child, but back then, it was pure torture to eat. All the same, I loved watching her prepare the dish: getting out the big Dutch oven; tying up the spices and peppercorns in cheesecloth bags; the deep red of the gravy once it had simmered all day. I remember having a special fondness for the bay leaves, not quite believing that you could actually use real leaves to cook with.

Today's art page is rather simple, but the kitchen and cooking theme is one I could go on about forever. If the weather today had been a little warmer, I might have gone for a "cold" page of icy blue, leading me back to those long-ago summers when my best friend and I would ride our bikes to the closest 7-11 for electric-blue Slurpees. Or the time I experimented with blue food coloring for the frosting on a batch of cupcakes, and kind of overdid the color.

There is so much you can do in an art journal based on food, so much that I sometimes think it's one of my favorite themes! For instance:

  • Beloved (and secret) family recipes.
  • Special occasion and holiday meals.
  • "Dream" meals and baked good you'd love to try making.
  • Recalling when you learned (or didn't learn!) to cook or bake.
  • Ethnic foods from various cultures.
  • Our relationships to food; the good, the bad, the hopelessly tempting.
  • Trying a new and healthier lifestyle: making better choices and celebrating the changes.
  • Must-have ingredients, and why you rely upon them.

The combination of food, art, and writing has always been special to me, starting with a workshop I took on the poetry of food, led by the poet and food diva extraordinaire, Denise Brennan Watson. Her book, The Undertow of Hunger showed me how eloquent, necessary, and astonishing food can be, from a simple clove of garlic to the satisfying feel of a warm eggplant held in one's hand. Which reminds me--I have to go make dinner! See you on Monday.

Tip of the Day: Art journals aren't always for ourselves. An illustrated journal based solely on recipes and kitchen memories makes a beautiful gift, especially for a younger friend, or  member of the family just starting out and learning there's more to life than the microwave. Bon appetit!

Friday, April 8, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, G is for Grow

It's a rainy day in Albuquerque, just right for spring planting and today's topic of GROW: 

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? 

Looking at the page I've created for today, I guess my garden is full of kittens (and one lone puppy). I'm not sure why, but I do remember how much I enjoyed watching my cats grow from little balls of fluff to grand masters of stealth and grace.

Using your art journal to record and examine your own personal growth can be a very helpful and encouraging exercise. Some questions you might want to ask yourself along the way could include: 

  • In what areas of life would you like to grow stronger, wiser, more informed, more forgiving, etc.?
  • What actions can you take to get there?
  • What's been stopping your growth now or in the past?
  • What new projects would you like to plant the seeds for?
  • How can you best take stock of, and celebrate, the growth you've already achieved?

Besides examining your own personal growth, you might like to use your journal to record and express:

  • Your children's growth and achievements.
  • Pets, too!
  • An actual garden journal, with notes on planting dates, successes (and failures--my own gardening disasters could fill a whole book. . . ), and wish-lists for future gardens.

As I write this post, sitting under lamplight while the skies remain dark and cloudy and the whole world seems muffled in fog, I'm reminded of elementary school and that constant question: What do you want to be when you grow up? 

For me it was always an archaeologist. That is, until I learned archaeologists had to dig ditches in hot climates and get all dusty and dirty. Yuk! Looking back I think what I really meant was I wanted to work in a beautiful museum, hushed and scholarly, and where the only "dirt" was the collection of rock and gem specimens behind glass. But it makes an interesting study, to see where I came from and where I landed, and where I'm still growing (other than my waistline. . .). So how about you?

Tip of the Day: What did you want to be when you "grew up"? Did you achieve your goal, or did life show you an entirely different path you followed instead? And what about now, any plans for the future? Write, collage, draw and get them down on paper--make that garden grow.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

#AtoZChallenge, F is for Focus

It's ironic that today's theme is FOCUS when I'm running late writing this post, while at the same time trying to cram in all my day-job duties, and trying to eat my lunch. To make matters worse, I was so rushed this morning I left my To-Do list at home, and it was a long one. Now I'm trying to figure out what was on it other than "Write Blog Post" scrawled at the very top. Grrr!

So, about focusing . . . what on earth is that??

As I'm typing this, I can hear my co-workers eating their lunch, talking at the top of their voices, and playing the radio full blast (I think it's rap). I just had to get up and shut my door. Not very friendly, but I had to do something to cut out the chaos.

Which is how I view my art journal when things get wild; making it a little sacred space of concentration, just for me. It's where I can go to rest and to play with color, design, and words in ways that feed my spirit and soul more than anything else I know.

Some of the ways I've learned to focus on my journal rather than the noise on the other side of the door are:

  • Schedule in the time. For today that meant: get up early, and write before I even got dressed.
  • Finish what I start. It's so important to me, I wrote it on today's page! It's fun to start various projects, and I, like most writers and artists, have several awaiting completion. But I do, and will, complete them before they become unmanageable. In fact, that's what I've been doing this year, focusing on one project at a time so I can have a clean slate by 2017.
  • Still, despite my best intentions, I'm constantly tempted to begin yet another new project. To maintain some kind of order, I keep a special file for ideas, and pictures I want to use "one day," but not now. Once the idea or image is in the file, I don't have to think about it again until later. Much later.
  • Too many art supplies can be a big distraction: which one to use first? A good way to solve this is to work your way through them without buying anything new. For instance, use two, and only two, items until you use them up, e.g. charcoal pencils and watercolors only. If you find you really are resisting using them, give them away, and choose two more until you find your true medium.
  • The same applies to collage papers and other decorative items. Work your way through what you have. Even if you dislike a certain color or texture--use it anyway, taking each piece from the top of the pile. Afterwards, step back from the page--you may be very surprised at how things have worked out, and well.
  • Prepare your art journal supplies in advance. The night before your scheduled session, gather and arrange the items you'll be using and place them on your desk or table. Having your glue stick, water, paints and brushes, cut-out pictures, and even some clean-up wipes all set in place for when you sit down, is both inviting and time-saving.

Tip of the Day: Create a journal section--or perhaps an entire journal--on the theme of focusing. You might want to include things such as inspiring quotes; peaceful scenes of nature; pictures of candles, altars or other spiritual images; short "recipes" for rituals to follow before you begin working. Enjoy the process, enjoy the quiet.