Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The artist, the ego and the control freak - looking back on 2013 (and announcing my annual blog break)

The year is coming to an end. In but a few weeks we will say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014. This time of year always gets me reflecting about the past year and thinking wishful thoughts about the next. This year I want to share some of these thoughts with you. This will be a rather long post,  so be warned.

I'm not sure I got the idea from her, but it's definitely Quinn McDonald who keeps reminding me that resolutions can be replaced with just a word. Resolutions are difficult, sometimes impossible things to keep up with. I'm not even good with regular plans and intentions.  But a word? I could just do that. Maybe.

My word for 2013 came to me while working (oh blessed irony) in the Quinn Book.  The word was 'ARTIST'. I needed to find out what that word meant to me and whether I felt like I really was one or not. It's a loaded word that many find hard to apply to themselves no matter how artistic they are. I'm no exception. Also for me there's a lot of ego involved in this word as I think of artists as special, gifted and important and enviable and a lot of other things I would like to be considered.

I think the biggest change this word brought to me was no longer being able to deny that I needed more personal time. Now don't get me wrong, I have always had way more personal time than most. I'm not a very social person. I don't entertain and I like my solitude above just about most people (a few exceptions here and there of course). But working full time still felt stifling and off balance. So at the beginning of the year I made a huge decision: I was going to work less so I'd have more time for my own things, especially my art.

From a full time worker I became a part time worker. You can read how that came about here. I am now six months into it and it's been a huge lesson to me that I'm still trying to process.

When going into this I thought all this free time would be freeing me. I saw pictures in my head of this incredibly productive happy playful person who just made art art art all the time (well, a lot of the time) and who would finally find some peace of mind about herself and her passions.  I would become a real artist.

They say wherever you go that's where you are. Or no matter where you go you can't escape yourself. And myself is one huge controlfreaky perfectionist. With all my creative aptitude and other skills there's nothing I excel at more than putting huge demands on myself and filling my head and heart with my own extensive expectations. I really ran into that the second half of this year when I started working less and at first I didn't even really notice it.

Let me say, before I continue, that never, not once, have I regretted my decision to work less. In fact you couldn't pay me enough to get back to a full time job.  There's a wonderful decadence about having a three day work week and four days to do whatever you want. So that's not an issue here.

What happened however is that with all this extra time I felt extra responsibility to spend that time well and it's not like I was always so keen on wasting my free time before. I was always making schedules and time managing my way through life so I would consciously make time for the things I longed to do. Now this part of me went in overdrive. Four days! Four whole days to fill with my own things! I was not going to waste those! Oh no, not me.

And so I set up a routine. Never mind the details on that. The point is that I made time consciously for everything that I wanted to do. I mean isn't that what the self-help guru's tell you? That you need to schedule the things you want in your life or they will not get done? So I scheduled the good stuff, the relaxing stuff along with the chores and other things we can't get out of doing. Well, it sounds good in theory. And it's probably necessary for those who don't make time for themselves at all. But...I'm not one of those. For me it was control freak central.

By consciously making time for everything I snuffed all spontaneity from my life and even though I was doing things I wanted to do and even enjoying them often I did them because the clock told me it was time! And I stopped because the clock told me it was time to do something else. I wasn't totally anal about it, but still very conscious of my time. And here's the kicker: if my natural sense of things took over and I dropped the schedule I felt guilty. I felt like a slacker for not making art. I felt like I was wasting time if I slept late when I was supposed to go on my morning walk (even though I really needed the sleep).

It was weird. At first I felt really proud of myself for being so productive and focused. I even wrote a blog post about it that I never published. Probably because I also noticed a decline of pleasure in doing the things I loved. A reluctance to go to the studio for instance. As much as I am someone who believes in practicing your art, I also believe it should be a mostly pleasurable experience, not a chore.  And did I really have to force myself to get up at six every morning even though I'm not a morning person, just because I have to the three days of the week when I work? I could give many more examples, but the point is that all this organized and controlled time was making me proud and in charge, but also uncomfortable. That's not what was supposed to happen!  It's not like I was miserable or anything, but really, I don't want my life to be a big schedule, I just want to do the things I love!

It wasn't until recently that I figured out I was trying to live from pride and ego more than from peace and joy. I would love for people to think I have it all together and be large and in charge of my artsy life. My ego would love to label me an incredibly productive artist that lives and breathes art all the time. My ego would love to prove that all this extra free time is being spent well and that I have something incredible to show for it.

And with this ego comes fear. The fear that if I don't consciously plan everything out I will sort of fall by the wayside and just sit on the couch and eat bonbons all day or something. My ego is extremely result oriented. It's the reason why it's hard for me to spend four hours on one spread. Just one spread? Come on, you can do better (read: more) than that! Quantity over quality. You get the picture.

This tendency to go in overdrive and be so obsessive is unfortunately a part of my perfectionist personality, but that doesn't mean I have to listen to it. It seems however that in the past five to six months I have done nothing but listen to it! I'm sort of wasting my joy in order to be productive, on top of things and in control and I don't like it.

So I have decided to stop. I am throwing schedules out the window, hopefully once and for all. I will stop making lists, unless they are necessary (you know grocery lists for instance are pretty functional). I will not obsess over plans and wishes. I will try to move more organically through my day and just try do it the way children do. They play at one thing until they want to play at another. And if that means I sit on the couch to read a book for five hours straight, well hey, that's time well spent! Most of all I will not apply value to the way I spend my time by deeming one thing more worthwhile than another. If it's something I enjoy doing, it's good enough and worth my time.

And this brings me to my conclusions on my word of the year 2013. ARTIST is too big a word for me! It puts expectations in my head that don't fit me or how I want to live my life. I just love making things. I'm a sketcher, a collager, a journaler, a photo taker, a documenter, a blogger, a reader, a walker, a learner and many more wonderful things, but I'm those things for the enjoyment of them and nothing else. An artist to me is someone who lives and breathes art and can't get enough of her studio. It's someone for whom art is work, real valuable wonderful work.  I love to practice my art, but I don't like to 'work' at it. I play at it. I dabble in it. I poke at it and see what happens. And that's all I do with it. No ambition but to enjoy it whenever I feel like it (not when the clock tells me so). I should have known. I could have known, if I just put my ego to the side and listened to my heart or hearts.

So now I'm looking for my word for 2014. I haven't found it yet. It has something to do with pleasure. It has something to do with joy. It has something to do with peace of mind and taking your time slowly, slowly.

If you have any suggestions for a word that would fit what I'm looking for, I'm all ears!

Thanks for listening. 


PS. I will be going on my annual blog break for about three weeks. I will check responses and mail and such, but other than that I will go offline as I do every year (so no blogs, no facebook, no groups). I have a two and  half week vacation coming on. Yay!

Wishing you all a wonderful and artsy holiday season! Make it a good one!

Update on 20 December:

Dear blogsy people, I just wanted to add a little text to thank you all for your wonderful responses to this post. I put this stuff out there for two reasons: 1. to verify if it resonates with anyone else so I know I'm not alone in these kinds of struggles and 2. to make sure that if there's anyone out there with the same struggle they know they are not alone. It's a win win situation really and you all make me feel so much better. Thank you!
Now, as of today my vacation officially started, so I will be offline for a little over two weeks. This means I won't respond to your comments, but know that I will get back to them after I return online.
Again: have yourself some wonderful holidays!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

From the White Book

Oh boy, the White Book! What can I say? Of all the journals in my life I think this one has been the most  problematic to fill. It doesn't show in the pages much, but believe me when I say that this book is the first one where I sometimes skip more than ten days between entries. This is not a bad thing in general, but it is an unusual thing for me. My journaling has become so inconsistent lately and I don't like it.

I can't really pinpoint what it is, but just the fact alone that this book has been worked in for over a year already tells me it's trouble. ;-) Don't worry, I still love journaling and I still love this book to bits and I love working in it too, but I just can't seem to keep my almost daily habit going much lately.

I suppose it's one of those ebb and flow things we all go through from time to time, but I would feel better about it if I got back to the flow if you know what I mean. Oh well, I'll just have to ride it out. At least I am still journaling, it's not like I have abandoned the book completely!

Here are my latest pages:

I don't know if you can tell, but the first three spreads are quicky spreads that were done fast just to be able to do some writing on the page. I know I could just write on an empty white page, but I like visual elements on my pages even if it's just a few.

The next two were 'normal' everyday spreads that took about half an hour to make and I usually do those on work nights when I don't have much time, but still want to fill a spread with a layout.

The last two are more elaborate and time consuming. They involve more cutting of shapes and details and stuff.  These took about and hour and a half each. This is what gets done when I really sit down to work in my art journal and have plenty of time.

The last spread is also the one I showed you in my latest step by step post. For those who wondered how I would write on this one: now you know!  I just write across things. Nothing's sacred, haha. I actually often think my pages are a lot prettier without the writing over them, but after all my real journaling is in the writing, so I can't skip that part just because it looks better. Anyway, the less pretty does add more character I think.

Hope you enjoyed this peek in my journal and wish you all a wonderful and artsy day!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Small sketchbook

I've kept this small square sketchbook for a while now (about a year and a half). It used to live in my backpack, but was replaced by several other (already filled up) sketchbooks and now it sits in the artsy box I keep near the couch. I still don't work in it very often. I love the size and the square format (it measures 15x15 cm, which is 6x6 inches) and the paper is nice too, but the binding makes it very hard to keep open.

I keep thinking of just abandoning it and replacing it with something a bit more practical that I will grab easier, but somehow I can't let go just yet. Where some people have a hard time finishing a sketchbook, I seem to have a hard time letting one go until it's done. But maybe I really should, since working in it is always a little annoying.

Anyway, here are some random pages from the small sketchbook so you can see what kind of stuff I do when I sit on the couch and need to get my art on, but don't want to get up to do it. The fact that my fingers are in just about every picture is proof of how hard it is to keep this book open. ;-)

A little letter drawing to get the creative juices flowing after being dormant for a while. This is done in a regular felt tip pen.

Abstract in cheap watersoluble crayons.

A system work drawing coloured in with textmarkers/highlighters.

A letter drawing in watercolour (and an empty page).

A bit of abstract nonsense in felt tip pen and watercolour.

Doodling away (both done in felt tip pens).

Some girls in felt tip pen.

Another system work drawing, this time coloured in with coloured pencils.

Paper tree collage.

By the way, I think another reason why I'm often reluctant to work in this book is because it was supposed to be an experiment in working more randomly and spontaneaously across a  whole book instead of chronologically filling page after page from front to back. I'm finding I don't like that at all. There's lots of people out there who fill there journals and sketchbooks that way, but I like my stuff to be in order of appearance. For me a book is like a story, be it the story of my life (my journal) or just the story of my art in that particular book. I like to know which came before what if you know what I mean. This book feels all over the place and I just don't know which goes where (or which goes when, haha)

Mmm, the more I think about it I really need to abandon this sketchbook. Now if I could only find the courage to dump a book that is not completely filled up. I really need psychological help! ;-)

Have a nice and artsy weekend, all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Storm and high tide

I believe I already mentioned that we had a big storm at the end of October that was quite scary and left a lot of damage on the island. Well, last week we had another one. Even though in force it came close to the one in October it was a lot less damaging, probably because the direction of the wind was different this time. It did last very long though, more than 24 hours at least and I was happy when it was over.

One effect it had in combination with spring tide was extreme high waters. I wouldn't be me if I didn't take some pictures of this and I would be even less of me if I didn't share them with my blogsy people. So here you have some pictures of extreme high tide on our island, so you get even more insight in what this island living is all about.

All this water you're seeing is supposed to be a square and a road. That's the ferry on the right.

All the houses on this street have either sandbags or special boards in slots to protect them.

The ferry was stuck on the island because of the tide and the storm. You couldn't get on it anyway.

This is the 'coupure'. It's part of a dyke around the town and goes up when the water is this high to protect the main street.

The water is trying to creep into the town.

This is where we usually board the ferry.

Now it looked like a  huge paddling pool. I shudder tot think what the salt water did to those bikes.

When I posted some of these pics on Facebook people were a little worried, but let me comfort you by saying this happens a couple of times a year and although it's still quite high it's not that unusual. We have to live with the sea around us and sometimes that means things like this. Islanders are not easily impressed. ;-)

Still I thought these made some nice photos and they give a bit of a different perspective on living here as well, right?

Wishing you all a wonderful and artsy Wednesday!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Step by step journal spread

From time to time I like to show how a journal spread comes into being and wouldn't you know it, now is one of those times! Take a peek at my process and see how a page comes together.

We'll start with a fresh white spread. Very empty indeed. No worries, that won't last.

Tearing some decorative paper and sticking it to both sides already fills it up quite nicely.

Now we get out a stencil, a piece of wet sponge and some gouache.

Stencil away! Just a few minutes ago these pages were white, now they're ready for action.

Take another piece of decorative paper and tear some border strips to put on each side.

Let's get my favorite tool, the circle template. And some more pretty paper. We'll be cutting circles!

Spreading the circles across the spread and sticking them down.

Time to get a paint marker and draw some dashes around the circles to make them stand out more.

Time for some imagery. I found these gerberas in an online flower catalogue.

And here's some more pretty paper with flowers and butterflies. Let's do some more cutting and pasting.

That seems to fit perfectly with the atmosphere of the page!

Of course this wouldn't be my journal if there was not some border around the edges in marker. Dots this time.

Time for some words. These come from a magazine.

To make them fit better I outlined them and coloured the area around them yellow.

Now I felt like the page was lacking in yellow altogether, so out comes the template and some yellow paper.

Cutting some smaller yellow circles and adding them to the bigger ones. With this I considered the spread done.

And here are some details for those of you who like to see things up close.

I really enjoyed doing this spread. If you have any questions about materials or techniques just ask.
As always I didn't plan these pages, they just happen as I go along. That's how I work, one step at a time with no idea where I will end up. Somehow it always works out.

Wishing you all a wonderful and artsy weekend!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


It's that time of year again when young seals are born and it's that time of year again when they are not strong enough to withstand a harsh swim in wintery or stormy weather, but sometimes they get caught in the high tide. So from time to time it happens that they (and with them their moms) are stranded on the island until they become strong enough to swim back to the plate they come from.

Sometimes, when we are very lucky they stay on the beach with us for a while and it just so happens that this is going on right now. So, here for your viewing pleasure, some cutesie seals and especially some cutesie seal babies.

These were taken from a  respectable distance by the way (thank God for my zoom camera), because getting too close to baby seals and their adult protectors is not a smart thing to do. Not for them (it causes stress and fear and may separate them from each other) and not for you (it causes agression and seal teeth are no laughing matter!).

Anyway, I hope they stick around for a while so hopefully I can take some pics again this winter. I also would love to come back and bring my binoculars and just study them for a while.  Those babies really are cute as a button! ;-)

Wishing you all a wonderful and cutesy week.