Since January of this year I have been working on a new body of work. The working title for this series is: Nothing To Say.
The work is challenging me in new ways. Instead of painting spontaneously and with great emotion, I am slowing down. Creating tons of drawings in my sketchbook leads to many more ideas than I could ever execute. Spending at least a half hour early every morning morning—before coffee, before the sun wakes up—writing in a notebook I sift out and capture what I wish to say visually.
I began the year thinking I had nothing to say. A day at a time my thinking has changed.
Below is a video of one of many full sketchbook of faces and character studies.
Each larger painting begins with a fully realized smaller study. Using collage, I cut up security envelopes and assemble them into abstract faces. This satisfies my fascination of how we use pattern to obliterate information.
After sizing up the study to fit the new format on a cradled wood panel of 14 x 11 inches, I begin to lay down the paint on the new larger size.
Seeing the work larger has me thinking of so many new ideas. I now have more visual problems to solve, based on what I want the painting to communicate.
I am finding that I do have something to say!
Somehow the idea of a zipped mouth came to me. Maybe during a brisk cold morning walk? Anyways, once the idea came I knew that the execution needed to be flawless. The paint I use and the message I want to communicate has no room for “do overs” or layering of paint to make it right. I want the work to BE just so and correct on my first try. This required drawing studies of zippers, over and over again.
When the pieces are fully complete, I include a great deal of detail on every piece. With that comes the need for just the right sized brush!
I add details over the flat surfaces of paint. I have skipped discussing my color choices in this blog post for brevity sake.
The final work made me feel really excited about this new direction. I have since completed 4 more pieces that I will unveil soon. And this morning I began a sixth in the series.
In Nothing To Say, I have combined faces or characters, household objects, and flat areas of color juxtaposed with painted patterns. The deliberate creation of detailed patterns represent repetitive labor that goes under-appreciated and often unpaid.
My inspiration came from the insides of security envelopes—a product made as protection for the contents within. However, in actuality they obliterate the message, and usually the contents are related to financial affairs.
The zipped mouth alludes to the unheard voices of the unnoticed many. And, once again, I am finding I do have something to say.
I have been thinking about how I can best share with you about how I live a curiously creative life—most especially in respect to visual voice.
My entire life has been about creating connection with others, typically through my creative pursuits. I use my unique visual voice to create, inform, delight, teach, and coax curiosity in others. I share of myself generously with all kinds of people because this really matters to me.
Real Estate Professionals
Doctors and Dentists
Cafe and Shop Owners
Market staff (I did a lot of grocery shopping while raising two boys)
Post Office Service Clerk(s)
…and so on.
Each of the people most dear to me in my life seem to choose to live outside of a ho hum ordinary existence. The thread that I see is creativity and curiosity. Not the “draw a straight line” creatives! No, what I mean is the people that do what they love, and find meaning in menial or even repetitive work.
People that do their jobs with joy are endlessly curious about how to do things differently and more collaboratively.
I live my curiously creative life by constantly asking questions. I add play into every week—usually outside or in my sketchbooks. Laughing and crying become fodder for innovation in my work. On a good day, I know that what I feel and think matters.
I want my art to help others to see the world differently— I whimsically initiate curiosity.
I start with a million questions.
Every single day I write in my journal to capture barely awake before coffee musings. I ask myself questions over and over again. What is it I wish the world to know? What matters to me so much but I am afraid to tell anyone?
How do I want to brighten the existence of other humans through my creative voice?
When did I first realize I have a unique vision of the world? Have I realized my unique vision and voice yet?
How can I best help myself to express my most prized and dearly held ideas, innovations, love and angst?
I pursued a graduate degree in both communication and fine art, that’s how much the idea of sharing my gifts with the world matters to me—4 years in classrooms and library study + studio time beyond college.
Visual voice matters to me.
In my lifetime, my dream is that I can bring about positive change through my and our collective voices. The world is full of too much information these days (and not all of it is positive or helpful). I can post on social media like crazy and reach no one at all or millions of people!
It makes sense to me to know my deepest core values and artistic voice so that I am getting heard for what matters most. The rest is useless extra noise.
A curiously creative life takes daily effort.
My new work is challenging me to dig deeper into my artistic visual voice. Below is the first of a new series of work.
The following video is made for you. Contemplate whether you have room in your life for your creativity and visual voice.
In February, a friend sent me a handmade mini-book. In return, I made one for him. Then I filmed the pages before I sent the work.
I believe that sharing and gratitude creates joy!
Sharing a Suzanne Gibbs original Mini-Book here, brings me joy. I believe that we can live our best life when we open up to our creativity no matter how small the project, no matter how trivial that work might seem.
In my studio practice, I hope to always have room for even the tiniest of projects, because little sparks of joy make room for larger good work.
While I work on my work I also find myself helping other artists.
I love this work. To help fellow artists with the work of deepening their personal visual voice and message—such joy. This seems to come naturally to me, especially when I visit artists in person in their studio space.
But… seeing my own work with an objective eye has been ever so much more difficult!
I’ll keep working on being more me, I know it will be worth it in the end!
I also adore talking to artists about getting unstuck when their work begins to feel stale or uninteresting. I could talk about studio habits for a long time. I have all sorts of ideas for encouraging the nagging inner voice that wants to squash ideas. Allowing the personal voice to emerge, when our earthly existence wants to resist, is the work of a creative.
Resistance is real, folks!
Resistance can derail a great project before it even gets a grip, roots, or a body. Resistance can leave a seed of an idea bereft and dead. Steven Pressfield calls this work the war, the battle, that thing that needs to be wrung or beaten into submission.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be kinder and gentler to myself.
For me kindness = asking questions and remaining curious.
My curiosity has led me down many wonderful paths. I’ve written books, produced art and drawings, and worked as a graphic designer. My kindness and refusal to go to battle with my creativity has made my work better. I appreciate the gentle generosity in myself that has led me to wonderful relationships and a sweet life.
My visual voice is emerging from me with continued practice, not fight.
I can attest to the fact that as a human I am more and more content these days with who I am and where my art belongs. The space I take physically, emotionally, and spiritually in the world seems just right.
I practice self care along with studio practice, do you?
For those of you who have followed my work you’ll have already noticed that I have been drawing whimsical characters for a long time. Mostly, these drawings have remained in my sketchbooks, for years. They have also landed on any paper surface that happens to be under my pen and even on sidewalks with chalk when my children were small. This effort is what I call doodle characters under development.
Repetition and focused effort is the key to improvement.
To see a few of my past character drawings go here. Recently, I’ve been told that these characters need to lose the name: Doodle.
Doodling has the connotation of being scribbled absentminded work.
I do not fully agree with this definition for my work. Because of this I am forced to reconsider the meaning of my doodle characters and my continued use of the word doodle. Through making the characters I give them life. Once they exist, they have a visual voice.
The voice I wish for them to portray is to invite curiosity through whimsy. The characters are non-judgemental, full of life, emotional, and as much as possible I make them while being very present in the present moment. They may at first appear childish—but always contain deeper adult meanings.
I am wildly excited to share this new/old work in new ways! Especially since I have mentally re-framed what my doodle work has meant to me over the years.
While I make them and redraw them and paint them and collage them I think about how I will share their voice—which is ultimately, my voice. I have considered making t-shirts, cards, patterns, and yes, even fine art with them in the central role. All these avenues for showing the work can and will happen in the future. Still, I wonder, how will I complete the loop of the conversation that my art can and does ask for if viewers do not have access to the work in real life, right now?
This blog post is to let you know that you can view these characters almost as fast as I am making them!
Join my blog using the form above. Each time I post a new drawing, video of my sketchbooks, or studio progress images, you’ll automatically see the work in your email box. Never more than 3 per week, I promise. I need time to make the work too!
Since I spend a lot of time thinking about Visual Voice + Studio Habits I naturally also begin to wonder about an artist’s way of working, specifically tables.
Let me start by acknowledging that there are very likely as many ways to work as there are artists in the world. The purpose of this post is not to expound upon ALL the possible ways of working!
I do want to take a look at work tables.
In my mind, there are 3 types of tables that are non-negotiable, then another list of tables that “come in handy” in an artists work space.
First, the top 3
Let’s take a look at these tables in more detail. First the digital table.
Let’s face it, today’s artists spend time on a computer. A lot of us spend as much as 50% of our time on administrative stuff, most of which is work done digitally. There is also digitally made art, digital art records, and more. A dedicated digital desk is paramount to success. Below is a screen shot of my screen creating this post!
What I find interesting about this table is that the work can be done almost anywhere, sometimes without even having a physical table. I have been known to write a months worth of Social Media postings while sitting on a comfortable living room chair.
Some artists may prefer bringing their laptop to a local cafe. As I mentioned already, there are as many ways to work as there are artists. What we know is that a digital desk is essential.
Second, we have the analogue table.
For me, an analogue table is non-negotiable. I need a place to gather ideas through drawing and to mess around with my preferred supplies. My analogue desk is a huge 8 x 3 foot standing work table. I’d be lost without it!
I love to work with collage on paper. My art includes painting, drawing, and of course, use glue! The eight foot table is just barely enough space to accommodate my method of production and art process because I almost never work on just one piece of work at a time.
A second version of an analogue desk that I use frequently is a table at a cafe or restaurant with either my sketchbook or my journal at hand.
I love to draw in public. And yes, even though I love to draw in public I get stage fright every time. However, to show up in public to draw keeps my drawing skills sharp and allows others to see me working. As an artist who lives and works alone most days, these drawing field trips are an excellent extension to my studio practice. Drawing in public is something I do not do often enough because I seem to get stuck in my studio routines! Still, drawing in public is an important part of my studio habits.
An analogue desk with a sketchbook is a great place to work.
Then, there are my journals. I write in a journal every single day! Usually, my writing happens before the sun wakes up! I keep so many notes in my journals that sometimes I simply need to sit down and sort through the pages to make sure I have not missed something that I feel needs follow through. Some of the ideas need the trash bin, but I leave the work to linger in the journal anyway.
Being away from the studio or my digital desk allows new perspective on my previously written thoughts. Also, I can of course, write out more ideas and sort through things that are not working in life, or in the studio. Therefore, I build into my schedule a once a quarter analogue review session of my journal pages. A typical review session can take as many as 4 hours!
If my brain or work feels clogged, I may schedule an additional spontaneous review sessions. I can recall a few sessions where I went to a park table and sat outside to work on my creative life instead of in a cafe or restaurant. The point is always to move out of habits that are not working to shake new ideas into a workable project.
The third type of desk is the research table.
The word research desk will often conjure up a library setting. And yes, libraries are one great place to begin to do research. However, sometimes research comes in the form of field trips, conversations with others, reading books, reading magazines or newspapers, and also looking through previously made art. Any and all art practices require some research at some point, either qualitative or quantitative.
A place to conduct research is a part of a working artists practice.
I have noticed that in photos of famous artists and in the studios of the many artists I have visited, nearly all have a research desk or as seems to be more often, a research chair. This is a place where a painter, for example, sits and contemplates their work. A painter might sit and rests their eyes—blur their work into submission, looking and researching the thought, what comes next or what was the point of that move I made?
My research desk is sometimes a place to sit and look back through my old work or even newer work and let the work “talk to me.” I cannot move forward until I know what the work was made for in the first place. Since I work spontaneously and instinctively I do not always know what my work says visually.
When I take this research table work seriously, the work will often show me what I need to know to move my ideas further along.
There are so many other types of tables that are helpful in crafting the creative life. I’ll list them for you, but these other tables are not as essential as the top three listed above. The others are:
Personal table—home, kids, family and a place to eat
Finance—this table might be more of a file cabinet or a visit to an accountant or money manager
Taboret—a fancy word for paint mixing table, or a dolly type table that can be wheeled around the studio keeping supplies handy
Mailing and shipping table—an important table for artists who primarily sell work online or who need to frequently ship work to galleries or shows.
Feeds-the-fire table—I think of this as sort of like the junk drawer in the kitchen, so many artists have a messy table full of items that for one reason or another inspire their work.
I personally have a feeds-the-fire box, not a table. My box is an 8 x 7 x 3 inch box full of random toy-like objects that when all else fails, I open this treasure box and draw an item from the box or just play with the toys and then put them back and close the lid. Ooops! My private playpen is no longer private! 😉
I wonder if anyone will ask to see my special feeds-the-fire box after reading this post.
At first I saw a grandpa-like figure. Today, I see a parrot on the shoulder of a pirate!
As an artist I work hard to make sure I understand the work I am making. That I am being true to my aesthetics and visual voice.
On days like today when my own work surprises me, I am reminded why I love the use of visual communication. The variations on interpretation are endless and enchanting.
If you’re an artist, do you think about how other people perceive and react to your work or do you just go along making work and more work… never considering the audience?
Maybe the only audience is YOU!
I believe that all of our decisions as visual communicators matter. To make work that matters, the details matter. Work is executed from the very first light bulb of an idea and fleshed out, often in series. The completion of the project is a series of important decisions. All of what happens in the studio matters. What we have to say as artists, at any level, matters.