April Art Challenge Title card

 

During the month of April I participated in Faunwood’s April Art Challenge – a 30-day art challenge created by artist Miranda Zimmerman. Before you get too excited for me, just know that this was an informal art challenge that anyone could join. No awards or anything like that!

Zimmerman chose 30 prompts with the intent of practicing color. To use color was the only guideline, other than that, the prompts were up for your interpretation. Although we’re talking about artists here, so I wasn’t surprised to see a few black and white pieces throughout the month.

April Art Challenge - AprilColorsChallenge prompts

 

I took a look, decided the prompts seemed fun, and grabbed my pencils. Colors are an area of weakness for me too, so this challenge seemed perfect.

At this point, I should mention that Miranda Zimmerman does absolutely lovely black-and-white illustrations with a sort of dark, fantasy + nature theme. I definitely recommend checking her work out.

 

April Art Challenge…Start!

 

“I’ll do this but I won’t be too hardcore” was the theme of this challenge. After finishing Inktober last year, I knew I wasn’t ready for that level of commitment.

I started the challenge on time and made it about halfway through the month, and produced 16 pieces of art. I confess without shame that this number includes days when I combined multiple prompts to catch up. Whoops!

Overall the challenge was fun and I came out of it with a nice series of Ghibli patterns. For your viewing pleasure, here are my pieces from Faunwood’s April art challenge:

 

Day 1: A Dang Bunny, Obviously

The first day of the month was both Easter and April Fool’s Day.

I sketched out some stylized rabbits and then attempted to use this cool notebook made with Lokta plant leaves. Apparently it was handcrafted by a Fair Trade Women’s Co-op in Nepal and uses eco-friendly paper making methods. I also used this notebook for Inktober. Sadly, it didn’t take color very well.

The paper is super absorbent and has a delicate textured surface. Colored pencil (the body of the bunny) didn’t work because I couldn’t put much pressure on the paper without scratching away the surface of the paper. So I tried working with markers. They bled. Then I think I then added water to spread the color more evenly?

I finished the rabbit. That’s what matters.

Day 2-3: Analogous Color Palette/Pink as Shadows

Fortunately I was delayed but not deterred by the first day. After watching the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10, I had to do Miss Vanessa Vanjie Mateo‘s now iconic look.

April Art Challenge - 2 Miss Vanjie in progress
Miss Vanjie…

I chose two somewhat tricky prompts to combine, but the challenge (plus the indignity of Miss Vanjie going home first) fired me up.

…Miss Vanjie…

For my analogous color scheme (where you use only colors that are next to each other on the color wheel), I chose purple, pink/red, and a little bit of peach/orange. To stay within this color scheme, I took a few liberties with Miss Mateo’s look and used purple instead of blue for makeup and made her hair pink instead of blonde.

…Miss…Vanjie

I don’t know how she went home first, with those fun but slightly creepy mermaid Barbies scattered throughout her outfit. We better get more Vanjie in the future.

 

Day 4: Spores

By comparison, day four was rather dull for me. I added some of my little figures to give the piece a little more life. They’re a father and his two kids in the mushroom spore rain.

Day 5: Parasite

Here’s where I decided to draw what I wanted but try to tie it into the prompt. Studio Ghibli pins were (are still are) exploding in the enamel pin community and I caught the bug too. Hence this page of the tiniest Totoros from My Neighbor Totoro. These fit the prompt because…they would be super adorable as parasites and could easily take over the world.

Day 6: Gold/Silver

I was still in a Ghibli mood, so No Face (Spirited Away) with his fake gold came next.

Day 7/8/9: Gouache/Split-Complementary Color Palette/Mixed Media Insects

Ghibli again, but this time I combined three prompts! These are Ohmu or giant fantasy bugs from Nausicaa: Vally of the Wind. This movie was all about climate change before the general public even thought it would be an issue. It’s lovely, but then again, all Studio Ghibli films are.

The Ohmu are painted with gouache – a paint that’s very similar to watercolor, but a bit more opaque and easier to mess with on paper. I hadn’t used gouache since an intro art class in college, but still had a few tubes lying around. I ended up loving gouache. You’ll definitely see more gouache from me…once I find where I put those paint tubes again.

A split complementary color scheme involves choosing one color (i.e. orange), then taking its complement (directly across the color wheel from orange is blue – think Denver Broncos), and instead of using the complement, you take the two colors next to it (blue-green and blue-violet, or if you prefer just green and purple). So my color scheme was roughly orange, blue-green, and blue-violet. You can see that I didn’t stick too closely to these colors, but they’re in the ballpark.

Finally, to fulfill the “Mixed Media Insects” part of the prompt, I added pen outlines. Partly because I felt guilty about combining so many prompts, and partly because I enjoyed using gouache, I did three more mini paintings.

Two of the three mini paintings and some sketches

Day 10: Brambles

Then for the next four prompts, I got really lazy. These were all quick digital sketches done on my phone, all in the same day. Although I didn’t spend much time on each, just the act of sitting down and taking the time to make art felt so good this day.

I went literal with “brambles.” This was my warmup.

Day 11: Mineral/Crystal

Literal once again. An amethyst was the first crystal I thought of. An in-depth study of crystals would be really great for practicing  both color and light though.

Day 12: Earth Tones

I immediately went to the mountain landscape I draw often, inspired of course, by my everyday view of Pikes Peak.

Day 13/14: Color Matching from Life/Digital

And in case you were wondering what that everyday view looks like, I chose Pikes Peak once again for the color matching prompt. The colors were much darker than what I would usually choose when painting Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, but the end result looked richer too.

Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods phone speedpaint

Here was the reference photo I used for color matching.

 

Day 16: Floral/Plant Study

I skipped Day 15 (Iridescence) and went straight for plant study. By the time I started this prompt, I’d already decided it would be my last. I took three succulents I’d recently beheaded and used them for my color study.

Unfortunately, I did these color studies at night in my dimly lit room. When I saw them in natural light the next day, the colors looked pretty different!

Extras

While I didn’t complete any more prompts, I went on to do two more Ghibli pages in the same style as the first three.

 

Soot sprites from Spirited Away

 

Ponyo sisters with jellyfish (Ponyo)

Keep an eye out – you may see these designs again in the future!

 

From February 3rd to April 29th, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is showing two video installations by Chiho Aoshima: City Glow and Takaamanohara. A Japanese pop artist with ties to traditional media and themes, Chiho Aoshima’s work is unique and strange. As one of my art idols in high school, Chiho occupies a special place in my heart.

Aoshima’s work is considered Japanese Neo-Pop. On the modern side, she draws inspiration from pop art in the vein of Takashi Murakami and anime films. You can certainly sense similarities to Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic films, but make no mistake, her work is very distinct. But naturally, Chiho Aoshima also draws from historical and cultural roots. She names ukiyo-e or 17th-century Japanese woodcut prints as a significant influence. Think that universally recognizable “Great Wave” piece by Hokusai.

Chiho Aoshima post: Hokusai's famous The Great Wave woodblock print with a massive wave on the left and a small Mount Fuji in the distance, seen underneath the wave.
Katsushika Hokusai “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa” or “The Great Wave” 1830-32 woodblock print

Aoshima also draws heavily on Japanese Shinto mythology, with her work Takaamanohara translating to a Shinto word for “heaven” or if you want more detail, ” the plain of high heaven.”

 

Surprising Facts about Chiho Aoshima

Although I loved Chiho Aoshima’s art in high school, my research at the time wasn’t exactly extensive. There’s a lot I didn’t know about the artist and some of these facts might surprise you too.

  • Chiho Aoshima is not a formally trained artist. She earned her degree in economics, then did a 180 and taught herself to use Adobe Illustrator.
  • She was hand-chosen to be part of Takashi Murakami’s art collective, Kaikai Kiki (an easy name to remember for any Drag Race fan). Murakami is a well-known Japanese pop artist who established a “superflat” style of pop art.
Takashi Murakami self-portrait titled Kaikai, Kiki, & Me: On Blue Mound of the Dead, featuring cartoon image of the artist and two tiny cartoon characters (Kaikai and Kiki) standing on top of a pile of mostly blue cartoon skulls
Takashi Murakami, “Kaikai, Kiki, & Me: On the Blue Mound of the Dead”, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, Taken at Busan Gwangbok Lotte Gallery 2015.
  • Aoshima’s work is darker than I remembered. I’ll get to this later, but both City Glow and Takaamanohara have dark undertones, one more overt than the other. It caught me off guard.

City Glow

I might have gone into the exhibit backward, but I began with City Glow, Aoshima’s older work. It was pouring rain and thundering when I entered.

Chiho Aoshima City Glow Room with wide video art installation projected as a narrow rectangle along the right-hand wall. In this freeze-frame, there is a light colored skyline of plants and distant buildings, set against a dark purple sky. It is raining heavily.
Freeze-frame of a room with Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow, 2005, Video installation, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The dim room carried a long projection across the wall. Sit on one of the benches or beanbags (which I love by the way) you can’t even get the entire piece in your line of vision. Stand against the back wall and there’s still too much to take in at once. This a common theme in Chiho Aoshima’s animations.

City Glow takes up close, right in front of, or even within the scenery. Leaves, flowers, and small creatures loom before you, establishing a sense of scale. You are but a tiny part of this scenery, craning your neck upward to even see the tips of blades of grass. The opening scene places you beside two enigmatic figures. You learn later that they are anthropomorphic buildings, blank-faced creatures that move much like trees in the wind.

Chiho Aoshima City Glow Opening scene of City Glow video projection. The projected animation is primarily green, covered with animated plants. In the foreground, there are two anthropomorphic buildings with anime-like faces.
Freeze-frame of Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow, 2005, Video installation, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The next piece, Takaamanohara, has similarities to City Glow, but get ready for your eyes to be even more overwhelmed.

Takaamanohara

After watching full seven minutes of City Glow, I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted to watch it again, but there wasn’t much time before the museum would be closing, and I needed to leave time for Takaamanohara. In the next room, I found longer, more expansive video projection. The size of the two could have been the same, but Takaamanohara spanned a wide landscape. Instead of being surrounded by creatures that tower over you, the viewer takes on the role of distant onlooker.

Chiho Aoshima Takaamonohara freeze frame of a colorful city of anthropomorphic buildings against a bright, highly saturated blue and pink sky.
Freeze-frame close-up of Chiho Aoshima’s Takaamanohara, 2015, Video installation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

We are spectators who see natural disasters from their insignificant start to the destructive finish. But like City Glow, different elements compete for your attention. It’s Where’s Waldo? meets I Spy, but with movement and no indication of what you’re looking for. There’s a sense that you’ll never be able to take it all in, never be able to notice every detail, even when those details should be obvious, like a giant, monster-like woman scaling a building.

But you’re not alone in your spectator role. The sentient buildings sway and move and turn like slow giants to watch events as they unfold. The experience is bizarre and surreal.

Chiho Aoshima Takaamonohara freeze-frame showing the video projection at an angle, focused on a cluster of anthropomorphic buildings on the far left end of the screen, all turned to watch something in the distance.
Freeze-frame of Chiho Aoshima’s Takaamanohara, 2015, Video installation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

After Takaamanohara, I went back for a second viewing of City Glow. It’s more immediate, the messages a little more obvious, but there are parallels. Despite the cute faces and hyper-saturated colors, there’s a definite tension and you can’t quite shake once you’ve felt it. Even after all is well again, with rainbows and fairies and sparkles, you know that if you stay long enough, the fires and monsters will return.

I don’t quite know how I feel about City Glow and Takaamanohara. But I have a nagging urge to go see them again.

 

Jennifer Steinkamp Title Image Sketchbook page

 

This month there’s an exhibit at the Fine Arts Center (FAC) that I’m excited to see. Don’t worry, you’ll see a blog post on it as soon as I visit. But that exhibit had me looking through old FAC archives for ideas and I came across the work of Jennifer Steinkamp.

Judy Crook in Colorado Springs

I last saw Steinkamp’s work in October. Her work was displayed in a dim room, the kind that you hesitate before entering in an art museum. Approaching the dark entryway, you see flashes of light here and there that your mind processes as video. Still, you peer inside before entering, and then move into the room slowly. There’s something about Steinkamp’s work that makes you want to move slowly.

This piece, titled Judy Crook, is a three-screen projection. There’s a massive digital tree displayed on each wall, to your right, front, and left. But I’d be remiss not to mention that my attention next goes straight to the beanbags. There are beanbags on the floor. People stand in various states of stillness around the room; only two teens speaking in hushed chatters, faces lit by the glow of their phone screens, are using the beanbags. But I know what I want.

Confidently and comfortably, I sink into a bean bag in front of the teens – no distractions – and settle in for the ride. Like many installation projections, your attention is torn. You watch one image move but out of the corner of your eye there’s another that seems to be doing something interesting too. Most viewers in the room seem to have come to a rhythm, or at least I have. Watch one tree for a while, switch to the next, then dart back to the first when a sudden change in color hits the screen. It feels indulgent, switching views as I please, but art is made for the viewer.

The trees are obviously digitally animated. That is to say, they look fake. A little bit cheesy even, like early animation but not that bad. I call a bluff on all the reviewers who describe these threes as elegant. There’s something strange about them. I think of the deleted scenes of an animated movie, the ones that they never ended up refining for the final movie. These trees are raw.

But their movements are mesmerizing. These trees are so obviously fake, are just over the line, but they move like real trees. Or at least in a way that we could see trees as moving. They’re like an artificial time-lapsed video: the branches twist in what you imagine to be wind, leaves bud, grow, change into brilliant colors and fall, landing in a heap on the floor.

It was a good time.

Jennifer Steinkamp Judy Cook
Jennifer Steinkamp. Judy Cook. Video Installation. 2012-2017. Website accessed Feb 5, 2018.

I didn’t take any photos of the work to share, but I can do you one better. Visit Jennifer Steinkamp’s website above or here, click on one of the tree images, and enjoy videos of Judy Crook. And then imagine being in a room surrounded by three of those trees projected at 8 to 20 feet tall.

Marie Curie in Busan

It wasn’t until I went back to look at Steinkamp’s work on the FAC website that I suddenly found her name familiar. It turns out I’d seen one of her pieces while living in Busan, South Korea! Unlike the Judy Crook trees, which I found to be an interesting and peaceful experience, I LOVED the Steinkamp piece I saw in Korea. It was called Marie Curie.

I frequently the Busan Museum of Art (BMA) while in Korea, for the art of course, and also because shockingly, admission was free. That didn’t seem to be a big appeal for the general population though, because most of the time the BMA was pretty empty. The day I saw Jennifer Steinkamp’s work was no exception.

At the end of one long gallery was an enclosed section with that same dark entryway. No one else was around, so I didn’t know what to expect when I rounded the corner. What greeted me was a room covered with projections of branches. Think Judy Crook but a close-up of only the branches. The images looked still for a moment, but then I realized they were constantly moving, slow then fast then slow again, leaves and flowers swaying in a common rhythm. These walls were covered from top to bottom. Each wall was a bit different – fewer flowers here, differently shaped leaves there – but the room was a unified whole.

You enter the room and become tiny. Massive branches dance across the walls, swaying, sprouting flowers, and waving leaves. They are fake, sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Their movement is infectious. You can’t help but feel swayed too.

I walked around the room slowly, then quickly, and then may have done a few twirls. The leaves and flowers were playful; something about being among them feels like running across an open field with wild cosmos and sunflowers and pretty weeds that have grown too tall.

Visit Steinkamp’s site to view Madame Curie stills and video clips for yourself, but I’ll warn you, they capture very little of the full experience.

Jennifer Steinkamp Marie Curie
Jennifer Steinkamp. Marie Curie. Video Projection. 2011. Website accessed Feb 5, 2018.

Apparently, this is what I thought of it in 2015:

Jennifer Steinkamp Marie Curie Sketchbook sketch
Sketchbook page

 

Instead of Resolutions, I Have a New Year’s Theme

The New Year is almost here and the time for resolution-making is already underway. Confession: for several years in a row I didn’t remember to make resolutions until after New Year’s. Starting off by procrastinating like a pro. But this year, enough of the bloggers I follow are posting about resolutions so I can’t feign ignorance or say I just forgot.

One blogger/entrepreneur I follow is Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach. She’s fabulous. And apparently, for the last several years she’s chosen a word of the year. For example, last year was “Be” and this year’s “Compassion.” She then structures her resolutions and orients goals around that one word.

I don’t have a single word for the next year – although this sounds fun and maybe I will end up choosing one – but I do have an overarching idea I’d like to use to guide me through 2018.

In 2018, I am going to claim my dreams.

Hey, it might sound cheesy, but it’s the best wording I got right now.

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of things you’d like to do or hope will happen in the future. But recently, I came to a moment of clarity about waiting. Waiting sucks. I wouldn’t voluntarily wait for anything if I didn’t have to. Waiting for a video to load, waiting at a traffic light, waiting at the DMV — no one wants to do any of that.

So why should my dreams – the things I want to do with my life – have to wait? Like every guru ever says, there’s never a perfect time to start [fill in dream here].

And in my mild epiphany, two examples of pointless waiting immediately came to mind.

New Years Theme Title Image with sunrise in background and text that reads "Instead of Resolutions, I Have a New Year's Theme"

Waiting for Permission

The last few months I’ve been applying to Sociology Ph.D. programs. In the process, I repeatedly found myself saying and writing things like “I hope to incorporate my interest in art” or “It’d be wonderful if I could apply my Fulbright experience and study topics related to Korea.” At first, these statements might sound fine. Nice even. Oh, how good for you, wanting to combine other interests into your degree.

But it’s been months and I’m still just “hoping.” I started to sound like a broken record to myself. Is there a moment when I’ll magically gain the ability to pursue all my interests? Is there a god of Ph.D. research hovering over me, deciding whether they’ll grant me permission to study what I want?

Waiting on the “Impossible”

I’ve been waiting on my art dreams for even longer.

You can’t make a living off of art.

You’ll be a starving artist.

Art is just a hobby.

I never tried to do anything big with art because from the beginning (read: my whole life), I thought it was impossible. But just as a good artist friend pointed out to me, there are more ways for artists to support themselves than ever. The internet is a unicorn. Artists can now gain exposure from a global audience, sell their work, and even receive regular funding from sites like Patreon. It’s pretty incredible.

New Years Theme Sunrise over the ocean in 2016

Time to Start Moving

Sitting around and hoping isn’t actually getting me anywhere. Either I commit and take the steps to get there, or I just keep hoping.

Like my desire to pursue multiple interests in a Sociology Ph.D., no one is going to tell me when and how I can start more seriously pursuing art.

So in 2018, I’m going to claim my dreams. Here’s how I’ll start.

Hit Some Textbooks

With sociology, all I can do is wait to hear from schools–NOT! I may not have secured a place in any program yet, but I want to study Korea, so I’ll be hitting the Korean textbooks again this year. My goal is an hour of Korean language study or practice a day.

I had a language-learning fire lit under me while reading an interview with sociologist Fatma Müge Göçek. She wants to study Kurds in Turkey, so she’s learning Kurdish. Let me repeat that. She’s learning an entirely new language to be able to study what she wants. Mind blown.

Well, wait, I thought, maybe Kurdish is similar to Turkish, Dr. Göçek’s native language. A quick Google search confirmed that nope, they’re from different language families. Mind blown again.

Build Business #2

As for art, there are so many possibilities, it’s overwhelming. But at some point, I thought, how am I running a business as a freelance digital marketing writer, but not an art business? So in 2018.you can expect to hear some news on an art shop. Keep your eyes on Etsy or Storenvy.

 

 

So What’s It Like at a Maker Faire? (with Illustrations)

Last week I made plans to visit the Mini Maker Faire held over the weekend by Barnes & Noble. Their website listed this event as the 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, but the Maker Movement has been around since 2013.

So, what’s it like at a Maker Faire? After last weekend, I can confidently say, I still have no idea. The event was severely underwhelming and not representative of anything I’d call a maker faire.

There are only so many ways to say you’re disappointed, so I thought I’d tell you the story with illustrations.

 

I went to the Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire on Saturday with my sister. We wondered where they’d hold the event, but when we arrived, there were several people going into the store at once. It seemed we were in the right place.

Maker Faire BN entrance with lots of people going in

Upon entering the store, a large cardboard cutout loomed in front of the Nook and ebooks desk. The Maker robot had signs attached to it that listed the Mini Maker Faire hours and a disclaimer that we might be filmed.

Maker Faire sign large paper cutout of a red robot

Ready for flashy displays of creativity (and hopefully a chance to participate too), we walked further into the store and saw….nothing. There was nothing different about the store layout.

Maker Faire back of author's head looking out over ordinary bookshelves at Barnes and Noble

Confused, we decided to take a loop around the store. There was one table in the center of the store, right in front of the kids’ section. Inside the kids’ section there was another table with what looked like coloring pages.

Maker Faire BN 2 tables a blue one in front staffed by a man and one in the back staffed by a person wearing red cardigan

Later, after completing a full loop (we were browsing at the same time), we also noticed a table by the entrance staffed by the Pikes Peak Library District. They had some sort of puzzle at their station. To be fair, we didn’t stop at any the tables. And later we saw one kid messing around with a tablet-controlled robot. But compared to what we’d imagined a Maker Faire to be, this experience was just sad.

Maker Faire robot black with blue circles on its head rolling on a wooden floor

Sad, lonely robot.

I’ll have to try and attend a real Maker Faire someday.

Maker Faire disappointed pose

Have You Heard of the Maker Movement?

Inktober may be over, but the events focused on art and creativity continue. This upcoming weekend Barnes & Noble stores across the US will host simultaneously host their own “Mini Maker Faire.” When I saw the event, I had no idea what a Maker Faire was, but I’d been hearing the word “Maker” thrown around more and more frequently.

My local library opened a newly dubbed “Maker space,” a renovated section with glass doors that I would walk by slowly to get a better glimpse of what was inside.

There were “Maker Faire” events on Facebook and now at Barnes & Noble. It turns out I’m late to this phenomenon, dubbed the “Maker Movement.” This year will be Barnes & Noble’s third annual Maker Faire, and my first Google search revealed articles about the Maker Movement going back to 2013.

But if I’d never heard of this thing until recently, I figure there are others like me who don’t live in hip, always up-to-date places.

What is the Maker Movement?

The Maker Movement has been called anything from a DIY revolution to a revival of Home-EC to America’s salvation. That one certainly caught my eye. Was this just click bait or is there something about the Maker Movement I’m missing?

“Maker” is a creative movement. And a maker is defined simply as anyone who makes things. This definition includes everyone, which appears to be the point. Anyone can be a Maker. Anyone can join the movement.

Although I’m discussing the Maker in the context of visual arts, it’s far more expansive than what we might traditionally define as “creative” pursuits. The Maker Movement includes the arts, sure, but it also brings attention to projects within science, technology, and computer science. A glance through the Maker website reveals guides on 3D printing projects, drone recommendations, and articles on how to build your own furniture.

Maker Faires take place around the world. In the same weekend that Barnes & Noble will hold their event, there will be full-blown Maker Faires taking place in Germany, Argentina, and Thailand. It’s kind of a big deal.

The Maker Movement, along with Maker Faires and Maker spaces are about getting people to create and learn to become more self-sustaining. It encourages people to play, tinker, and actually use their hands to create something. It sounds like a nice movement, but for the most part, I’m still left confused.

What Can You Expect from a Maker Faire?

I’ve read articles, watched videos, and listened to people describe their experiences at Maker Faires. I could create a passable image for you by mashing the information from these articles, videos, and accounts together. But with a Maker Faire coming to town – even a mini one held in a retail chain – the best course of action seems to go attend one myself.

From what I’ve gleaned, the idea of a Maker Movement seems admirable. I’m all for encouraging people to be creative and make things. But I wonder how sustainable the idea is. The attempt to encompass every kind of “making” and include everyone also has me doubtful. While everyone can be a “maker,” the things made in Maker spaces seem skewed toward technology and robotics, which doesn’t sound particularly interesting to me. So off I go, a little skeptical, but sufficiently curious.

The Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire will be held the weekend of November 11-12th. Check out this list to see if any stores near you are participating.

 

Maker Faire at BN Maker Movement

11 Things to Do When You Need to Sustain Creativity for a Long Time

This year I’m participating in both Inktober and NaNoWriMo. Those in the know will understand the horror I’m inflicting upon myself. But if that sounded like gibberish to you, it boils down to two back-to-back months of intense creativity.

Inktober is a daily art challenge for the month of October. By the end, you’ll have produced 31 ink drawings. This year is my first time trying Inktober, so I’m being lenient with myself. I aim to have at least 20 drawings by the time Halloween rolls around.

Then November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month and is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to produce 50,000 words. I’ve accomplished this goal and “won” NaNoWriMo the past two years, but have yet to produce a completed novel.

Sustain Creativity

I love short, intense creative challenges like this, but two consecutive months can no longer be considered a “short” challenge. Typically you’d have time to prepare yourself, do a little planning, and charge forward. NaNoWriMo is 8 days away and I still have no novel plans.

So I decided to step back, gather some resources, and figure out how I’m going to make it through the end of November. And while you may not be setting yourself up to jump through ridiculous creative hoops, maybe you’re struggling with this question too:

How Do You Sustain Creativity for an Extended Period of Time?

I’ve compiled a list of 11 tips staying consistently creative, whether you’re doing an Inktober- Nanowrimo marathon, need constant creativity for your job, or just want to get your creative juices flowing again.

1. Take Breaks.

When I get busy, it’s easy for me to completely fill up my day. I’ll keep working and multi-tasking on something because “I’m busy,” and I need to be working. All too often I fall under the false impression that being busy means being productive. And it’s plenty easy to stay busy.

I’m taking breaks, I tell myself, as I eat lunch and read books at the same time, or stare at my phone when I get up to refill my coffee. But these days take their toll on me. I know because after one of these needlessly busy days, I’ll finally lay down to sleep and my mind will be buzzing.

While I may have taken breaks from my freelance writing or studying (that darned GRE), I never gave myself a mental break. All the mental processing I didn’t get to do during the day hits me full force right as my head hits the pillow, and then I can’t fall asleep either.

Hopefully, you don’t do this to yourself. Because going non-stop all day is the best way to kill your creativity.

2. “Get Up and Move!

Get some exercise. Work out. Take a walk. Try kickboxing (I’ve been wanting to). This may not sound like practical advice for someone facing a time crunch, but it’ll do wonders for your life. As someone who finally got back into a workout routine a few months ago, I’m still surprised at the benefits.

I’m a morning gym person – not one of those 5 am people, just a modest 8 or 9 am – and here’s what happens after a workout:

  • I’m super-energized.
  • I’m also super-hungry, which leads to eating, which results in more energy.
  • I’m super-chatty – notice how every just seems “super”?
  • I’m better prepared to sit at a desk for extended periods of time.
  • I’ve already crossed one thing off my list and feel super-productive – already!

And, you know, there’s research that suggests being active boosts your creativity too. Apparently, the results are a bit more nuanced, and consistently active people (like athletes) benefit from exercise more than non-active who suddenly try exercising to boost their creativity. So the moral of the story is, start exercising now.

3. Defend Your Creative Time with Your Life.

Seriously. To accomplish anything you need time, particularly focused, distraction-free time. Treat creativity with respect and give it the time it deserves. Don’t give in to friends asking you to hang out during your writing time – just convince them to do NaNoWriMo with you!

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield stresses the importance of approaching art as a professional. A pro, he asserts, shows up every day, no matter what, all day. “By performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, [you] set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that [will] produce inspiration.” Sounds good to me.

4. Get Rid of or Get Away from Distractions

I work from home. But most days, home is pretty distracting. Even when I try to close my door, my dogs feel the incessant need to go in and out of my room nonstop. Cinnamon feels particularly entitled to entry. It’s really just better to leave the door open. So when I really need to focus, I get out of the house.

If it’s artwork I’m trying to do, packing up all my supplies to go to a cafe would be annoying. Having people stare at me also messes me up. So for Inktober, I’ve gravitated toward morning or night hours. Early in the morning – before I work out or on days when I skip the gym – the house is quiet and anyone who’s awake is still groggy. At night my dogs are in bed or passed out elsewhere, and everyone else is winding down.

But living creatures aren’t my only distractions. My phone is a notorious offender. So sometimes I throw it across the room (onto my bed) to rid myself of its temptations. The satisfaction of literally throwing away your distractions is also worth it.

5. Notice the Details.

Don’t be distracted, but do notice the details. Easy, right? Well, this tip is for inspiration time, not work time. Eventually, your well of creativity will start to run dry. Rather than trying to produce something out of thin air. Go for a walk and pay attention to your surroundings (that way you’re doing tip #2 at the same time).

Notice what’s around you. Is there artwork? A ridiculous conversation going on behind you? Strange smells? Try to engage all five senses, but use “taste” at your own discretion.

6. Take Notes.

Or sketches, memos, audio files, or whatever medium works best for you. While you’re noticing all these details, you’ll want to be ready if inspiration strikes. And just tucking the idea away in your mind in the hopes that you’ll remember it later is only effective 50% of the time, if that. Take it safe. Dig up the built-in notes app on your phone. Keep a little notebook at your bedside. Just don’t let the ideas get away.

7. Find Your “Inspiration System.”

I’m stealing the idea of an “Inspiration System” from Asian Efficiency because it really resonates with me. The gist of it is this: you know what inspires you, so intentionally put yourself into inspiring situations.

What works for you? It might be getting away to explore a new city or going on a long hike. Or you might find inspiration in something as simple as music from a particular artist. I tend to go through intense phases where I listen almost exclusively to one artist, over and over again, and then lose interest and move on. My latest was, surprisingly, Demi Lovato. Don’t ask me why.

8. Quantity Over Quality (Or Create, Create, Create!)

As a perfectionist, I know the feeling of getting stuck trying to produce that one amazing thing. But especially in creative challenges like Inktober and NaNoWriMo, the point is to produce. To get into a daily creative practice. No one’s submitting their NaNoWriMo draft to an editor as is – at least, I hope not. Creativity requires practice, editing, and repetition.

Most famous artists were surprisingly prolific. Van Gogh created an estimated 900 works of art in his lifetime. Monet boasts 2,500, and Picasso is at a shocking 50,000. Can you name all 50,000 Picasso works? Have you ever taken art history class where the professor gave you a full list of every work Picasso ever made? Of course not. Because some of them flopped, and that’s okay.

9. Develop a Routine.

Did you catch that mention of a “daily creative practice” earlier? That’s important. It takes one to two months to develop a habit, depending on the complexity of the task. But following the same routine helps. Just like working out first thing in the morning helps you remain consistent, choosing a consistent time or place for your creativity will help you keep going.

10. Seek Out New Experiences

Here’s another tip that seems to contradict the previous one. Stick to a routine to get work done, but try new things for inspiration. Listen to new music, try a new food, or read a book that you normally wouldn’t. Even with an “inspiration system,” new experiences give you a new perspective, surprise your senses, or force you to remember what it’s like to be a beginner again.

You know how some authors seem to churn out novel-after-novel using the same formula? I wonder if they truly enjoy producing these novels or if they simply don’t make any effort to try new things anymore and this is the result.

11. Find Your Community.

No matter what kind of creative work you do, there’s a community out there for it. Anything from tree shaping to element collecting (as in elements from the periodic table). If you’re stuck, just Google it. One of the parts of NaNoWriMo that I love best is the enormous global community. You can find local Wrimos (the slang for people attempting NaNoWriMo), communicate in moderated chat rooms and forums, and even attend write-ins in your area. While we weren’t the largest group, I loved going to write-ins when I lived in Busan, South Korea.

Is this list helpful to you? Do you have any other strategies to sustain creativity? Let me know in the comments!

 

Best of the Week

Every week of October I’m highlighting one of my Inktober drawings. This week I did a lot of Sumi-e or Japanese Ink Painting. My favorite of the bunch was the bamboo. You can see more on my art Instagram @monicartsy.

 

Inktober Day 18: Sumi-e bamboo . . . #inktober #inktober2017 #sumie #sumieinkpainting #japaneseinkpainting #bamboo

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Two Weeks into Inktober: Tools of the Trade

It’s already over two weeks into Inktober – that’s halfway through! The realization that I’ve reached the midpoint inspires both relief and a slight panic. As in, yesss! I’ve made it this far! and wait, have I actually done 16 drawings already? There’s only 14 left, and I’ve been lazy for the last few days!

But being 16 days in, I have a rhythm (most of the time) and have my favorite tools within easy reach. Here’s a list of my favorite Inktober tools so far:

Inktober Tools

FYI, this post contains affiliate links, so if you decide to try the same materials, I get a small commission at no extra charge to you. For more information go the bottom of my About page.

 

Faber-Castell Pitt Pens

Faber-Castell pens have been my favorite since high school. Honestly, I now realize that I haven’t tested a wide variety of pens, because I’ve mostly stuck with these. However, my sister has tried more pens than I have and these are still her favorite, so there’s that.

I usually opt for a set with four sizes: Small, Fine, Medium, and Brush. I’m a super detail-focused artist so I use the small and fine pens the most, but I have to take a second to brag about the brush pen. Brush pens are exactly what they sound like – a pen with flexible brush-like tip. They’re flexible and really satisfying to use.

My set of pitt pens is pretty old and all in various stages of drying out or running out of ink. I no longer have a Fine-sized pen. But I make do, for now.

Dip Pen and Ink

I use a very basic dip pen handle with a couple different nib sizes that aren’t worth linking to. I might have purchased them back in college when my professor said that they were more legitimate than the Faber-Castell pens. I’m still not very competent with a dip pen – using one still feels a little awkward – so I have no plans to go out and find a better quality pen anytime soon.

Inks

When I use a dip pen, I go to the only two inks that I have. I did look into them when I first bought them and found that they were decent student-grade inks. They are Higgins Black Magic and a Higgins white ink.

Odd Assortment of Miscellaneous Pens

Finally, I have a smattering of random pens that I occasionally use, mostly ones I picked up in Korea. These are also running dry, so by the end of Inktober I should probably get new pens or commit to my dip pen.

Sumi-e

Thanks to the class I took at the Bemis School of Art, I now have the materials for Sumi-e ink painting. On one hand, sumi-e is more like painting than drawing. On the other hand, Sumi-e is definitely ink, so expect to see a few Sumi-e pieces before Inktober is up.

Sharpie

I didn’t plan on using Sharpies…but one day I was craving a bold line and my dried out brush pens were doing the trick. Enter Sharpie permanent markers.

 

Best of the Week

Each week I’m highlighting my favorite Inktober drawing. This week is me running into a couch. (The ants in my dog’s beard was a close second though.) I was chasing my dog without watching where I was going. It seemed like a nice, ridiculous moment to illustrate. I had a bruise under my eye the next day.

 

Inktober Day 11: I ran into a couch today. #inktober #inktober2017

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Everything You Need to Know about Inktober

This year I’ve decided to finally try Inktober! I’m the kind of person who’s highly motivated by challenge-type events, so it’s surprising that I haven’t tried it yet.

October is considered arts month, at least in the Pikes Peak region, but nationally too? This was news to me last year, but hey, why not?

Inktober – a play on Ink and October – was started by a guy named Jake Parker. He began doing Inktober in 2009 to practice his inking skills and the art challenge took off. Today Inktober is massive – just do a Google or hashtag search.

Inktober 2017

You can find the official Inktober website here. There are no fancy rules, just do one ink drawing for each day in October. It doesn’t even have to be ink if you’re looking to practice other skills. A group animators has started “Animtober.”

If you’re stuck, you can follow a list of prompts. There’s a list of official prompts from Parker:

Inktober 2017 Official Prompts

And several prompt lists that people have created on their own. Since it’s October, there are a lot of Halloween-themed lists.

Inktober 2017 ochibrochi witch prompts
Inktober 2017 Witch Prompts from ochibrochi

Art Prompt Generators

The internet is also full of art prompt generators, so having no ideas is no excuse.

Art Prompts

  • Choose a category and refresh until you get a prompt you like
  • Categories: character, creature, environment, object, situation, & challenge
  • Example: The pet your parents wouldn’t let you keep

Random Art Prompt Generator

  • Very simple with only two choices
  • Choose the number of prompts you want (1, 5, or 10)
  • Choose between “simple” and “elaborate”
  • Simple Example: achromatic
  • Elaborate Example: Your picture is set in the ruined parts of a city and involves two of these three elements: a corset, a deep sense of history, or cool weapons.

Concept Start Inktober Random Generator

  • Looks complicated at first
  • Choose from Character (Inktober Ch.), Creature (Inktober Cr.), or Random (Inktober Rm.)
  • Click “Generate Brief” and your prompt will appear next to the icons above
  • You can only generate 6 per day
  • Example of Inktober rm:
    • Keyword: Book
    • Theme: Evil
    • Ink Type: Ballpoint Pen
    • Process Focus: Stippling
    • Time Frame: 1 day

 

Inktober Tips

  1. Relax.

    Maybe I’m biased since I’m saving my intense creative focus for Nanowrimo, but don’t stress if you miss a day or two. Or ten. The creator of Inktober even suggests making a smaller commitment if a drawing a day is too much. You could complete a drawing every other day, or even once a week if that’s more manageable for you.

  2. Look to others for inspiration.

    The cool thing about taking part in a worldwide challenge is the community. You might feel like you’re holed up in your room,  madly scribbling away, but in reality, you’re part of a giant community all scribbling away together. Search for other Inktober artists on social media using #inktober, #inktober2017, or other hashtags that are too hip for me to know about.

  3. Try Different Kinds of Ink

    I’m a fan of trying new media when you’re stuck. And just because it’s Inktober doesn’t mean you’re stuck to one type of medium. There are tons of different types of ink, from a simple ballpoint pen to a Sumi-e ink painting with a brush. So if you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, don’t forget there are still ways to switch it up and stay true to the INKtober namesake.

  4. Have fun with it!

    Maybe you have your month all planned out. Or you’ve decided to follow a theme (like me). But if you find yourself wanting to do something else instead, go for it! The point of Inktober is to encourage creativity. That might mean simply creating more art – even arbitrary deadlines help us be more productive – or practicing specific skills. Sure, follow your plan, but be open to change and giving yourself the freedom to do what you want!

 

Good luck to everyone out there doing Inktober. You can follow along with my Inktober drawings on my Instagram account, monicartsy.

A Short List of Books to Read in Short Bursts

I’m always reading too many books at once. If I count – like my friend forced me to count my succulent collection recently – it turns out I’m currently reading 10 books. (I’m not yet ready to publicly share how many succulents I have. That information would just be distracting anyway.) Of course, some of these books are in a hiatus sort of situation, and I should probably just start over because it’s been so long since I last opened them.

But other books I don’t feel bad about reading so incrementally slowly. Because these are “short burst” kind of books.

Short Burst Books Title Image with book hanging on a string

What are Short Burst Books?

A concept I just made up. I’ve been thinking about becoming a researcher lately, and researchers need to be able to make up new words and concepts at the drop of a hat. So don’t go throwing this phrase around and expecting people to get it.

But in my mind, short burst books are books broken into a lot of small essays. Usually, these essays are densely packed with information, inspiration, or just general goodness. So it’s better, actually, to only read a little bit at a time so your brain can really take it in.

Alternatively, maybe you only read bursts of these books when you feel uninspired, or discouraged, or need a kick in the butt to get going. Short burst books are excellent for that.

Okay, okay, you might be thinking. This short burst concept seems reasonable. Let’s see some of these books already.

I hear you. Just one more thing – this short list of short burst books is all about art. So if you’re not an artist, you might not be interested in the first book. If you have absolutely no desire to engage in any creative pursuits ever, you won’t care for the second book. And if you’re not a living, breathing human being, the third book won’t apply to you.

Let’s begin!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, because, well, it makes sense to offer you the chance to buy these books since I did and love them. You’ve seen so few of these affiliate link disclaimers because I always forget to add links – I’m not the best affiliate. But if you want any details on how affiliate links work and how I profit from them, you can read up on it here. Click the book images or hyperlinked titles to see them in Amazon.

The Art Spirit – Robert Henri

Short burst books 1: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

The Art Spirit is the most artsy book on this list. Its author, Robert Henri, was a famous and well-followed American painter and teacher during his time, which was 1865 to 1929.

Henri made important contributions to the art world, being part of the Ashcan School of Art and mysterious sound group The Eight (just kidding they were just a group of eight American painters). They challenged impressionism and academic standards of art at the time. I won’t go into it here because I’m not very knowledgeable on the subject myself, but you can read up on Ashcan and The Eight if you wish.

Because he’s such a big deal, Robert Henri didn’t even compose a book. The Art Spirit is a compilation of his works, speeches, letters, and instruction to students. The subtitle in my copy reads:

“Notes, Articles, Fragments of Letters and Talks to Students Bearing on the Concept and Technique of Picture Making, the Study of Art Generally, and on Appreciation.”

It does the book a disservice since the contents are far more interesting than the description. Henri and his editor Margery Ryerson have crammed The Art Spirit with excellent tips on art, motivation, and more specifically painting.

I have trouble ever getting very far in one sitting because I feel like I need to stop and paint so I can apply Henri’s advice. Perhaps because most of the fragments were written directly at his students, reading the book feels like you have a real, in-the-flesh artist speaking to you. A compact art teacher for busy artists on the go. (That sounded strange – sorry art teachers.)

It’s probably better if you just read some quotes for yourself. Like these broad art-teacher-y quotes:

“An interest in the subject; something you want to say definitely about the subject; this is the first condition of a portrait.”

“A weak background is a deadly thing.”

…to the specific and sometimes odd quotes:

“The white of the eye is more often the same color as the flesh about it than the average painter is likely to think it to be.”

“The eyebrow must not be drawn hesitatingly.”

…to the motivational, of course:

“Don’t worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”

 

The War of Art -Steven Pressfield

Short burst books 2: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Next on the list is a better-known work of creative inspiration. The War of Art is a motivational staple for creatives of any sort. I first borrowed this book from the library. I read the first chapter, a preface of sorts called “What I Do.”

Hey, this is me, I thought. This is the kind of routine that I need to be figuring out for myself.

At the surface level, the intro is relatively mundane compared to the rest of book. All Pressfield does is outline his daily routine as a writer. But read through my freelance writer eyes, Pressfield stirred up aspiration (I need to figure out my routine too!) and trust (this guy knows my life). I was ready to soak up everything this pro-writer was saying. I still am.

Steven Pressfield’s advice doesn’t just apply to writers. Visual artists, musicians, homemade crochet craft business owners – go for it. Read this book.

The War of Art is a series of short essays that deals with the creative’s worst enemy – writer’s block, artist’s block, lack of motivation, procrastination – all summed up as something he dubs Resistance.

He has three sections; defining Resistance, combating Resistance, and beyond Resistance. The chapters are super short, not even a page long in some cases, so you have no excuse to not give it a shot.

As my conclusion, here’s one chapter that I thought was Instagram-worthy:

Resistance and Self-Doubt

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? And I really an artist?” chances are you are.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

 

Wisdom from books. And #stevenpressfield. #thewarofart #thewarofartbook

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Real Artists Have Day Jobs – Sara Benincasa

short burst book 3: Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa

Maybe someone will call me out on this one. So I have to beat them to it.

You got me. This one isn’t really an art book. But it’s definitely a short burst book. Real Artists Have Day Jobs is informative, motivational, and funny. So if you’re  a living, breathing human being, you’ll probably like at least a chapter or two. And there are 52 of them.

I bought this book on a whim. Somehow, during an Internet procrastinating session that spiraled out of control, I found Benincasa’s book on Amazon. Since I was already procrastinating from something, I spent another good 20 to 30 minutes reading through the preview.

Wait, you might be thinking, Amazon previews aren’t even that long, how did she waste so much time reading a book preview?

Well, here’s an Amazon pro-tip for you: Start reading from the beginning and read all the pages that are available. Then go back to the table of contents. If the chapter titles have hyperlinks, you’re in luck! Click to read as many chapter previews as you want.

While milking the preview for its full worth, I realized quickly that despite the title, there wasn’t a whole lot of art in this book. That’s mostly in the first chapter. But the other chapters, which fall under the subtitle “And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School” were pretty fun.

The more I read, the more I laughed. Benincasa has some outrageous stories. And she’s a comedian, so you can’t go wrong there. Her book is aimed at a millennial audience, so I suppose if you’re sufficiently old and wise, you might not be as amused. Maybe you’d just roll your eyes. But if you’re young, young-ish, or feel young, some of these will definitely resonate with you.

You’ll get more out of this book if you read whole chapters, not just a smattering of quotes, so I’ll just end with some memorable chapter titles (out of the ones that are not NSFW):

  • When You Don’t Know What to Do, Ask a Successful Woman
  • Wear a Weird Hat
  • The Power of Being a Dork
  • When You Can’t Figure Something Out, Put Yourself in Water

 

The End

I’ll tell you now – so that you can’t say I never told you so – that I’m only in the middle of reading all of these books. I haven’t finished any of them. And if I keep going at my short burst pace, I won’t be done with them for a while. But I’ve been sufficiently impressed enough with each book to share them with you.

So give them a shot, if you want, but don’t blame me for any bombs dropped at the end.

By the way, I have 22 succulents.