Creative book list

Here are some books I’ve read that have helped me on my creative journey. Some have taught me tricks that have saved me years of struggle. Some have made me see the world in new ways. If your local library does not have them, ask for them to get them for you from Inter-library Loan (ILL). Remember, the more money you save from not buying books means more money for art supplies.

 

Bantock, Nick  The Trickster’s Hat – a mischievous apprenticeship in creativity.

Bantock, Nick     Urgent Second Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera

Beam, Mary Todd  The Creative Edge: Exercises to Celebrate Your Creative Self

Berry, Jill K.  Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel.

Cameron, Julia   The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

Cameron, Julia   How to avoid making art.

Campanario, Gabriel  The art of urban sketching: drawing on location around the world.

Conlin, Kristy Art Journal Kickstarter: Pages and Prompts to Energize Your Art Journals.

Cozen, Chris Acrylic Solutions: Exploring Mixed Media Layer by Layer.

Currie, Jim.  The mindful traveler – a guide to journaling and transformative travel.   

Diehn, Gwen  The Decorated Page – Journals, Scrapbooks and albums made simply beautiful. 

Doggett, Sue   Bookworks.

Evans-Sills, Faith and Mati Rose McDonough Painting the Sacred Within

Ganz, Nicolas   Graffiti World – Street art from five continents

Gregory, Danny   Art Before Breakfast: A zillion ways to be more creative no matter how busy you are.

Gregory, Danny Everyday Matters

Gregory, Danny   The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be The Artist You Truly Are.

Harrison, Sabrina  Spilling Open – the art of becoming yourself.

Hellmuth, Claudine    Collage Discovery Workshop: Make Your Own Collage Creations Using Vintage Photos, Found Objects and Ephemera.

Hennessy, Alena  Alter This!   Radical ideas for transforming books into art.

Jacobs, Michael and Judy Creative Correspondence.

James, Angela  The Handmade Book

Jones, Heather.  Water Paper Paint.  Exploring creativity with watercolor and mixed media.  

Koch, Maryjo   Vintage Collage Journals – journaling with antique ephemera.

La Plantz, Sherren Cover to Cover – creative techniques for making beautiful books, journals and albums.

MacLeod, Janice   A Paris Year: My day to day adventures in the most romantic city in the world.  

Nerjorde, Arne   Make your own ideabook with Arne and Carlos 

 Neubauer, Crystal   The Art of Expressive Collage.

 Newburger, Emily    Journal Sparks.  Fire up your creativity with spontaneous art, wild writing, and inventive thinking.

Pickett, Jan Decorated Lettering.

Roberts, Kelly Rae   Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques to Give Your Creative Spirit Wings.

Scheinberger, Felix  Urban watercolor sketching: a guide to drawing, painting, and storytelling in color.

Schilling, Richard Watercolor Journeys: Create Your Own Travel Sketchbook. 

Sharpe, Joanne    The Art of Whimsical Lettering.

Smith, Keri   Wreck this Journal.

Smith, Keri   How to be an explorer of the world- portable life museum.

Swift, Vivian   Gardens of Awe and Folly.

Swift, Vivian When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

Sonheim, Carla   Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun.

Thorspecken, Thomas   Urban sketching: the complete guide to techniques.

Tourtillott, Suzanne   Making and Keeping Creative Journals. 

 

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Time to make art?

People sometimes ask how long a piece I made took. This usually is in reference to beaded jewelry, but I soon expect it to happen for my collages. I’ve not been creating in that manner as long, and I’ve not started to try to seriously sell them, so I’ve not had this happen yet.
Why does it matter how long something took to make? Does that devalue it if it didn’t take the artist very long? Does it mean that it should cost more if it took more time?
How long does it really take? When do you start the clock? When you first had the idea? When you bought the materials? When you started putting paint or ephemera onto the canvas? Or does it start before that – with classes and study, learning how to use the materials?
There have been plenty of times when I’ve realized that the only way I could have learned how to make the piece I just did was to have made the twenty other ones that the potential customer does not see. Sure, this one took two days to make. But in reality, it took two years of trial and error to learn how to do this in two days.
If a necklace took twenty minutes to make, does that mean that it shouldn’t cost $45, because you only make $15 an hour? What if the same customer would spend $30 on a meal that took ten minutes to cook?
Food is a good analogy – the raw ingredients have to be raised or grown or processed (chicken, asparagus, pasta). All of these things take time and skill – before you even get to cook them into a meal. Learning how to cook takes time and a lot of practice.
Making art is the same. The materials used have to be created and / or purchased. The expense (time and money) involved in just the materials alone must be considered, as well as the time it took to learn how to prepare it.
Perhaps artists should start saying the real time it took, starting with when they first had the idea for that piece or bought the first supply that was used. or when they first learned a technique they used in that piece. In some cases, that would be 20 years for me.

On modern conceptual art.

I read a post on an artist group page that wondered what was wrong with modern conceptual art. The video that was used to spark discussion had a commentator that said that it was all crap, and showed recent examples to prove his point, some of which was in fact fecal matter. No, I’m not being euphemistic. It was actual fecal matter, used as “art” and hanging in a museum. There were other examples that were equally bizarre and unsettling.
What I found most interesting was that the people who commented in defense of the “art” said that at least it provoked a reaction. To them, simply making someone react was proof that the artist had done a good job.
However, the issue is that the reaction isn’t a healthy one, or one that inspires. It is a reaction of confusion (what is the artist trying to say?), or anger (how did this random paint smear get into a museum/get bought for a million dollars?).
Perhaps the reason so many people like modern conceptual art is because it reminds them of their own feelings. It is “misery loves company”. People like things that remind them of who they are. Deep down they must be very lost and confused and broken. Therefore they like art that is also lost and confused and broken. This art is a reflection of a feeling of loss, of anger, of destruction, of violence, of hopelessness. This art tries to show us how meaningless our existence is, how random, how pointless.
Madeline L’Engle, the author of the “Wrinkle in Time” series, said that art should elevate and make us feel better. Art should point the way out of the bad situation. Art should remind us of our inner strength and point us towards hope.
Art that is purely used to express rage and destruction and violence and anger can be useful as a catharsis. It can be a way to get out those feelings rather than letting them bottle up inside. It can tell other people that it is safe to have and express those feelings. But the problem occurs when we get stuck with that kind of art, when we are only shown the darkness of the world or ourselves.
At that point we are idolizing pain. We are making a fetish of our failure. We are saying that loss and destruction is our lot in life and where we must stay.
There must be another way. Art should be a rope ladder rather than a noose. Art should inspire and encourage and enlighten in the truest sense of the word. It should shed light on a dark situation and reach that small part of ourselves that wants healing, that knows how to heal.
Rather than being a passive thing where we expect others to save us or heal us or help us, art should remind us of our own inner healing nature. It should be a map to the center of our being that shows us how to get out of the hole we are in. Art that is only about loss and violence and anger cheats us, because it speaks only to itself and does not point beyond.
Consider this – poetry that is purely descriptive, that details for us what is right now isn’t poetry. It is merely a news story written in verse form. True poetry elevates and points beyond itself and hints to other and greater things. True poetry guides us back to the best parts of ourselves. Likewise, art that only shows the ugly side of life is not art. It is a photograph that happens to use paint or collage.
True poetry, like true art, can speak about the horrors of life, but to make it poetry or art, it has to show us a way out of it. Art and poetry have to be doors that are open. They show us that while we are on one side of the door, there is a way out of it to another place.

The always not-quite-ness of being an artist.

Part of being an artist is always feeling incomplete. If you were content, you have no need to create. You would not have a lack, a hole, a vacuum, an emptiness. Artists create to fill that blank space. They must.
But the problem is that they never feel complete. They make the painting, the poem, the play, the piano sonata – and it isn’t enough. They still don’t feel done. The piece may be good enough for now, but it is never what they saw in their heads. So they have to try to fix it, or make another one, or move onto another project.
It is like living in a world where you can hear another language in your head, but you can’t ever fully speak it. Just trying to say the words is like speaking with your mouth full of water. Yet you keep trying, because to not try means to not communicate at all.
The language you were given as a child, be it English, Russian, Somali, Korean, is a pale second to your first language, which is being creative. Then, because nobody teaches you how to speak that language, you are constantly frustrated in trying to express yourself.
Yet the more you try, the better you get. Try learning different techniques from other artists, either in person or in a book. Get different art supplies. Learn a different thing entirely. If you paint, write a poem. If you write plays, learn to play the guitar. Art is art is art and it all feeds into the well you draw on to find your “words”.
Make something every day, even if it is a small something. Be okay with not being perfect. The only failure is to not try at all. Instead of getting frustrated at that not-enough feeling, learn to embrace it as why you create. Without it, you’d be a robot.

Art project as a distraction.

 

          So I started an art project.  Some people would call it redecoration.  It was an intentional plan to distract myself, and to give myself something that I could focus on and see progress.  I can’t fix what is going on with my parents-in-law, so I wanted something that I could fix.

          It started off as a need to fix a problem.  We had some ugly grout-tape in the bathroom.  Instead of caulk to bridge the area between the shower surround and the tub, we had this stuff that was in a long strip and it stuck to both things.  It kind of worked, until it didn’t.  It was peeling apart from the shower surround, and mold was developing.

          I was a little afraid to deal with it.  I was concerned that it meant that there was water damage behind it, and this was going to result in a really expensive remodeling project.   Water is as destructive as fire, but slower.   I kept trying to stick it back on the wall, and it kind of worked.  I asked my spouse to fix it and as usual it got put on the back burner.  And as usual, I slowly worried about it more.

          So I did what I do when I worry.  I got books.  Knowledge is power. I got every book on bathroom remodeling that my library branch had.  I decided that this was now a Project.  We’d save up our money and then we could do this right.

          Fortunately, when my spouse got around to pulling the weird tape off, there was no evidence of water damage.  There was a lot of mold, though, so I’m glad that it came down.  He put caulk in there instead.  It looks a lot better.

But by then I’d gotten the bug.  Thankfully it wasn’t an expensive project, but it could still be a Project.  We didn’t have to rip out the entire bathtub and shower and re-frame and put new tile.  That would involve hiring professionals.  There are things we can do, and that kind of stuff isn’t on the list.

          But I saw a picture while I was looking through the books.

bath1

It was beautiful Tromp l’oeil.   It is a koi’s eye-view of a pond.  I went running with it.  But I like goldfish and aquariums.  So that is what I’m doing instead. But you can’t do that to start off with.  Remember – paint the background first.

          So then there had to be a trip to Lowe’s hardware.  I went on my lunch break and picked up a few paint samples that were in the neighborhood of what I wanted.  I brought them home and gave the spouse a choice.

It isn’t really a choice.  I had already decided on what to let him look at.  So no matter what he picked, I would be happy with it.  This is straight out of working with kindergartners.  Too many choices is a sure way to stop any work from going forward.

Then came time to paint.  The room is too small for two people to work, and he doesn’t really “get” painting.  He more than makes up for it in being able to fix minor plumbing and electrical problems, so I was OK with that.  But it took three hours.

I’d forgotten that we had a dinner date with friends on Saturday night, so that meant I had to get this done on Friday to give it time to dry so we could take showers.   That meant I got started on actually painting this project around nine, because we had to have supper first and there is always the prep work to do for painting.

I decided to do this without any music.  I figured that it would disturb him.  I don’t play my music around him, nor do I sing around him.  That is something to write about for another day.

So I was stuck, painting, by myself, in a small room, for three hours, in silence. It was a new kind of hell.

Instead of getting away from my problems, I was right up in them.  Everything I was trying to not think about was right there with me in that tiny room that smelled of latex paint.

I meditated on Jonah, one of my favorite characters who teaches me how to deal with problems.   And I remembered that he was stuck in that whale for three days.  So was Jesus – he was dead for three days.  You can praise God all you want, but you are still going to have to wait until it is time for it to be over.

That helped.  I was still in a foul mood, but at least I knew there was going to be an end to it.  It reminds me of the person who had a ring made that said “This too shall pass” as a reminder for the bad times as well as the good times.

The next day I painted the leaves on the walls, because that had to be done before the fixtures could be put back.  Scott was out of the house, so I put on music and sang along.  It helped my mood a lot.  It was also good that I started with something simple like long twisty leaves.

 

bath2

The next day I painted some fish.  I didn’t think I could.  I was planning on drawing them on watercolor paper and then gluing them on, or printing some out on inkjet paper and doing the same.   I’m glad I gave painting them a try, because I surprised myself.

bath3           bath4

bath5

 

I had gone online for some reference pictures and printed them out on my printer.  The resolution wasn’t that great, but it was a good start.   I transferred the outline of the fish to the wall by holding the paper to the wall and tracing the lines Really Hard with a pencil, so it made a dent in the wall.  Ideally, I’d have used carbon paper.  I didn’t have any, and I didn’t feel like slowing down by going and getting some.  Inspiration shouldn’t be messed with.  If I slow down, the whole thing could have come to a complete stop.

The transfer of the lines worked.  I mixed up some paint in a small plastic dish and went at it.  I learned as I went.  I used a dry brush technique for the fins.  I painted seven goldfish.   I plan to paint a castle, an old-time deep sea diver, a treasure chest, and a sunken galleon too.  Later.

Today’s the third day, and I feel better.  The room looks brighter.  I’m still not finished with the fish (they need eyes) but I’m OK with that.  The problems with the parents-in-law continue, but I’ve realized that isn’t my project.  I’m sticking with the stuff that is my responsibility and leaving that to their sons.

How to be an artist

Do you want to know how to be an artist? I can tell you in one easy step. Make art. That’s it.

It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have a plan. Just create something. Follow your heart.

Paint by numbers doesn’t count. Copying something doesn’t count. Both are training, sure. Both teach you how to use the materials. That alone is half of learning how to be an artist.

But to create art, you have to create. You have to make it up and make it happen.

What is in your head won’t be what happens at first. Just like learning how to do any skill, creating art isn’t easy at the start. You’ll stumble and wobble.

Just keep making art anyway.

Every day, make a date with yourself to make something. After a few weeks, you’ll start seeing real progress. After a few months, you’ll start getting really good. You still won’t be an expert, and you’ll probably try some new technique you aren’t good at or suited for.

That is fine too. Keep making art. That is all there is to it.

If you want to be an artist, just make art.

Layered art

I just realized that I can create art by painting or drawing in layers, like Tibetan sand paintings. I saw a Thomas Kinkade painting with beautiful light in the windows. I felt like there was no way I could paint that perfectly – especially with a frame and panes. There is too much detail in too tight a space.
Then I saw the answer. Paint the background first. I never knew how useful that idea would be, and that I’d be inspired by a Thomas Kinkade painting, or figure out a technique from Tibetan sand paintings.
Those “paintings” aren’t flat. They are three dimensional. There are layers that the final viewer can’t see. The only way to see them is to be one of the people creating it.
I like that idea. Hidden art. Layers of art beneath art. This takes collage to a whole new level. I can put down a layer, and put another layer on top of it, with bits cut out to reveal the under-layer.
Life is like that – with layer upon layer creating a whole. You often can’t see all the work that went on to get to the finished product. Yet the starting work had to be there in order to get to the end.