Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reflection: looking back on an 'open' year (and announcing my annual blog break)

It's December. Christmas is almost here and the year is coming to an end. I know it's a cliché, but really...where does the time go? I swear Christmas was just last month, but somehow twelve months have passed when I wasn't paying attention, except....I was paying attention and still it breezed on by!

It's also the time of year for looking back and reflecting on the year gone by and preparing for the year to come. That's what this post is all about. It may become one of those longwinded ones, so be prepared. You might want to get a cup of tea or something. Go on, I'll wait... ;-)

As has been my custom for the last few years, instead of having a ton of new year's resolutions (which usually leads to nothing) I pick a word to serve as a sort of red thread or general theme for the entire year. I have been mostly inspired to do this by Quinn McDonald, who writes extensively about it on her blog, but there's plenty of other people out there who do the same.

The first time I did this in 2012 it really didn't work well, because I chose something that was not really matching my life or my nature: 'flamboyance'. It was more a the-grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side type of word. Something I would love to be, but just am not. The end. Oh well, a good lesson to learn I suppose...

In 2013 I chose a very good word indeed: 'artist'. It just did not lead to what I expected, which was very interesting by the way and in no way diminishes to value of the word itself. You can read all about that in my end of the year post of 2013, that you can find here. I just want to stress that sometimes a word you choose can take a different turn than you wanted it to take. This is a good thing, but not always a happy thing.

For this year, 2014, I picked the word 'open'. You can read all about the reasons for that word here so I won't get into that, but let me tell you that I am slowly getting better at picking my words! It seems my words work better if they represent a type of behaviour I want to practice more than if they represent a very specific purpose. A general theme is better for me than a concise goal, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, so I chose 'open' and it has been quite a ride! I already knew open would be a very multifaceted word and that's what I liked about it. Also 'open' moves in two directions. I mean that on the one hand I can be more open to things outside of me coming in, but I can also be more open from the inside out. Both ways have been happening this year and then some! Mostly I wanted to use the word as an antidote to my control freakyness, my need to plan every detail and be in charge of everything, my need to know exactly what outcome will come from every action I take. In short: I really needed to loosen up a little!

Let's look back on 2014 and see what this word has given me:

First of all just a lot of fun things happened. The simplest version of 'open' is simply to be open to new things. For the first time I visited places on my island I had never been before just to see what they looked like. I took the bus to the west side more often and found out how much I am missing by doing that so rarely. I went hiking off my personal beaten path, I simply went exploring more instead of going to familiar places. It was wonderful and gave me a whole new appreciation of this place I call home, and it's not like I ever take this place for granted.

I went on a couple of vacations and trips to new places. An island I had never been before, Ameland, which stunned me with its beauty. I went on a city vacation to Amsterdam in the fall, where I never go. I even found out that we have a pretty good public transport connection to Amsterdam, so I can just go back and forth in a day if I want to and be there for an afternoon. Who knew?
I also took a short city trip with two other ladies and I never travel with other people! By the way, it proved to me why I don't do that, haha. It was fun, but more a social event than an opportunity to really explore a place the way I like to.
I visited new to me museums, saw new to me artists. Not a lot (that's just not feasible for me), but still...a good thing to do.

Even the week house sitting for my sister in the spring was a different experience than usual. That was born out of necessity. I hurt my foot so I couldn't walk long distances, so I had to bike my way around and that opened up a whole new way of seeing the area she lives (which is also the area I originally come from). I have never biked so much in my life in such a short time! I'm talking rides of 30 to 60 kilometers!

When it comes to my art 'open' has also served me well. I stepped away from plans and to do lists and artsy goals and simply tried to do what I felt like doing without strings attached. When I say 'simply' I of course don't mean it was easy in any way, oh no!  If there's one thing I excel at it is putting high demands on myself and expecting way more from me than is humanly possible. But we don't have to listen as hard to our own expectations as we think we do. It really is possible to ignore yourself if yourself is being obnoxious, even if it makes you very uncomfortable. And yes, there have been several times in the past year when it was really hard for me to believe in my own need for letting these expectations go. What helped me a little was taking up art forms that take patience. Things like big doodle drawings that fill an entire page, things like hand stitched journal covers, things like more meticulous drawings of nature. When you do things like that productivity takes on a whole new meaning and becomes more about quality than quantity, which is exactly what I needed (and still need).

My journaling has been a complete pleasure for me this year. After struggling with the White Book last year this year was a journey of try outs, freedom and fun. I think I filled four or five journals, all of them in a very loose way. I came up with the notebook journal, to get the pressure off, a simple cheap lined (!) notebook with low expectations where I let go of the need to make everything visually attractive. My journals became much more a hold all of all kinds of things I felt like doing and putting in. It made for less pretty journals, but also for a much better journaling experience.

My coolest journal experience this year was of course joining International Fake Journal Month in April. Boy, was that fun! I learned so much from that. Pretending to be somebody else and then filling a journal as her was very freeing indeed. It was also a great way to implement my word of the year, because I had been wanting to do this for years and never did, but now in the year of 'open' I felt I could no longer let it pass by without joining. I had to open myself up to the experience. A good choice.

When it comes to the blog I have also tried to be a bit more open. I don't know if this always came through, but I have tried to include more daily stuff by blogging from my phone sometimes. Unfortunately the blogger app had an update a few months ago and now it no longer works the way I want it to (I can't add pictures, help!), so I had to give that up. I hope they fix that soon. I have also tried to be a bit more loose in a blogging sense and no longer feel like I have to write my posts the moment I want to publish them. I do a lot more preplanned posts and have found a comfortable rhythm by trying to publish something every three days. I usually write my posts once a week now.

I have shared a bit more about my experiences in working less and trying to let go of some online sites that were eating up too much of my time. I chucked things like pinterest, instagram and yahoo and it has been freeing indeed. I have given myself permission not to keep up religiously with every blog I love. I just can't, as much as I would like to, because all of you are so fantastically talented. I do drop by from time to time, so it's not like I've forgotten you. I may not comment much, but I am there, promise.

Of course this 'open' year came with plenty of challenges as well. When you choose a word for  a year you can pretty much count on the challenges that accompany it.

Not having very specific plans and time tables and such is very very hard for me. From time to time I still have the need to pick up a time management sheet and plan away. But I have found that the best way to get over that is to just give in to it. Sounds paradoxal? It is! See, the minute I start to plan things out, put everything in it's neat place in time, all my planning allergies come up, I feel trapped by my own need for control and I want to have a ritual burning or something. But of course that fact in itself makes me feel guilty shouldn't I have a plan and a specific goal or something and a neat time schedule? Isn't that what the in control and in charge people do?  It's so complicated in my head, you have no idea! ;-)

But...when I think about what makes me more relaxed it is the idea of just going with the flow, not the idea of having everything neatly planned out in fifteen minute increments and to do lists! So I will keep practicing my need for 'open' time.

Another thing that is challenging for me is to open myself up with/to other people, especially in person (online I find it super easy). So one of the things I've done a bit more of is go to social events and get togethers. Not a lot, you cannot turn an introvert into a socialite, nor do I wish to be, but I don't want to say no anymore all the time, just because I like being at home so much and crowds wear me out. ;-)
One of the latest things I have decided to do is join a pop choir. I have no idea yet how that will turn out, but it seems both fun and a little intimidating. At least I know I can sing, haha.

Much more intimidating is being vulnerable and needing help. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a hard time asking for help with things. I had been postponing it forever, but just this week I finally asked for help with something huge I cannot do on my own. I talked to a neighbour and was very nervous about it, pretty much imagining them saying something like 'no way!' and what would I do then? It wasn't like I was asking for a cup of sugar or a small favour. I'm talking about a huge project around the house (technically two projects). To my surprise before I knew it, said neighbour got three other people involved and it looks like things will get done somewhere in the coming year! I'm still a bit overwhelmed and honestly quite stunned by this. Of course I know in my head how silly this all is, but there's nothing rational about these fears. Anyway, it was a whole other way of practicing 'open' for me that was quite humbling. 

And then there's the things that are both fun and wonderful and scary and challenging. Things like the fact that a group of local people want to make a children's book and have asked me to illustrate it!  I can't even begin to tell you how mixed my feelings are about this. I want to do it (I have said yes and have already done some sketches and research and stuff), but I also want to hide from it (I won't, but I want to). But I guess 'open' also means being brave and taking an opportunity when it comes knocking even if it's a small local one.

I'm sure I could give many more examples of how this 'open' year has been filling my life and how it has been challenging and scary and just downright wonderful. But I think you get the idea.

It has been a good year folks!

I am now in the process of contemplating another word for the coming year, even though a word like 'open' is capable to last a lifetime. I also think I know which word I will choose, but I will tell you more about that later, because I want to think on it a bit more. And what better time to think than during my annual Christmas vacation?

That's right, I'll be taking my time off again. About two and half weeks of free time! Going as much offline as I can muster and just roam the island, read, write, think and maybe even do some art. I will not be blogging and I will not be facebooking. I will be reachable by mail and I will probably check for comments every now and then and I'll be back on the blog probably around January 9 (no promises).

I hope your year has been as interesting as mine and if you picked a word I'd love to hear how it worked for you. Please leave a comment about it if you want, so others can share your experiences. And if you are picking a word for next year I'd love to read about that too.

For now I'm wishing you wonderful december holiday celebrations (whatever your beliefs or preferences may be)! Thank you for all your support in the past year. You make me very happy!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Composition Collages - A Tutorial

This tutorial has been waiting to happen for months already. I promised to do it ages ago and took the pictures weeks ago, but somehow I just didn't get around to really putting it together. That all changes today: welcome to the Composition Collages Tutorial!

If you don't know what I mean by composition collages you can check some of them here, here or here. They are basically just what they sound like: abstract collaged compositions. They are very relaxing to do and I do believe they train your eyes into seeing harmonic compostions just by practicing abstract arrangements that don't have to mean anything.

Let's get going, shall we?

What you need:
  • a substrate (I use a sketchbook, but you can work on paper or cardboard or canvas or whatever)
  • paint to colour your background with (I use gouache, but anything goes)
  • a brush and water for the paint
  • decorative papers, several kinds that go well together
  • scissors
  • glue (I use a simple glue stick, but if you work on canvas you might prefer an acrylic medium)
  • some black markers or pens that will write well on both the paper and the background
  • a circle template (this one's optional, perhaps you like to draw and cut your circles by hand, but I'm anal so I need a template, haha)
What you also need is a playful attitude and the realisation that this is supposed to be a fun and loose exercise, not deep meaningful art. Just saying. ;-)

Start by putting colour on your background. I am showing you four pages from the sketchbook so you can see how different backgrounds get different results. The first two are very hodgepodge, let's-get-some-colour-on-there. 

As you can see the second set of pages has more specific shapes. Circles and a grid. I chose my colours to fit the colours of the paper I picked out, but you can totally choose to go for more contrast and see what happens then. Experiment people!

Now it's time to put your substrate aside and get out the paper. I picked four different kinds that matched well. I do love pretty papers!

Now take your scissors and cut that paper up. Cut squares and rectangles and use your circle template (or your less anal cutting skills) to cut circles of different sizes. It's important to get different shapes and sizes. 

I usually stick to rectangles and squares and circles, but there is no reason at all why you shouldn't be cutting diamonds, hearts, stars or whatever you fancy if that's what you want.

When you've cut up your paper put the shapes aside where you can easily see and reach them and get your substrate back on the table.

Now the real fun begins! Pick a bunch of shapes and start arranging them on your backgrounds. There's all kinds of rules for composition, but I would just like to say: put them where you like them and let that be that. ;-)

Try to vary different sizes and shapes to see how they go together.  Don't overthink it. We're not going to win any awards with these compositions, we're just playing. Have fun with it!

If you have come to a composition that you like, glue that stuff down! Now the base of your work is done.

Now it's time for the finishing touches. Get your markers or pens and start outlining the shapes. You can use different marks for different shapes or different marks for the same kinds of papers. You can also outline the page itself as I did above. Or maybe you would like different thicknesses when it comes to your lines. Fine tips or broad tips leave very different marks.

You can draw outside the shapes or on top of them. Experiment and see what you like.

There, you are done! On to the next one?

The fun of this exercise is that you can vary in backgrounds and see what happens to the overall image or you can vary more in the shapes and colours of the paper pieces to see what happens. I've done dozens of these by now and none of them are the same even if they fit together. You can also see what happens if you fill up your page more or keep it very minimal. It's all part of the experiment.

Here's an example of more elaborate and colourful backgrounds for instance: 

Well, I hope you had fun seeing how these composition collages work and I hope that you want to give them a try. You just might like doing them as much as I do. If you do I would love to hear about it, either on or off the blog. My mail addy can be found at my profile on the sidebar, so feel free to mail your results to me. It always makes me happy to see what people come up with through my tutorials. Of course if anything is not clear or you have any questions you can also let me know.

Keep making stuff and have a wonderful and artsy day!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Colour doodles from the Doodle Book

I really enjoy playing in my Doodle Book, but sometimes I wonder if there's a bit of an artsy masochist hidden within me. That happens especially when I do things like this:

This is a 10x10 inch  (25x25 cm) fully doodled and coloured in page! If you've never done anything like this you may not think much of it, but let me tell you: this kind of stuff is a test on a person's patience! The drawing of the little bits and pieces in ballpoint pen already took ages, but then colouring it all in with felt tips was really exhausting. Somewhere halfway I was like "why do I do this to myself?". ;-)

But here's the kicker: the minute it's done I want to start another one! See what I mean about being an artsy masochist?

When I showed this page in the Everyday Matters Facebook Group some guy commented  (and I could hear his pleasant sarcasm through his written words): "you made good use of the entire page". Haha, that's right, I really did. I replied that no one will ever take me for a minimalist! ;-)

Here are some detail shots:

Most of this page was done in not so great artificial lighting so my colouring is far from perfect. Also I noticed that the paper in this book makes the felt tip pens bleed into each other a little here and there. I may switch to coloured pencils next time. We'll see.

Still, I'm very pleased with it, which is of course why I keep doing these. My muse likes to torture me!

Have a wonderful and artsy day, all!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Imaginary Flowers

Sometimes it's fun to just make things up. And if like me you like flowers, why not make up some of those? Here are some samples from my sketchbook!

If that doesn't bring some colour to grey winter days then I don't know what will!

Have a wonderful and artsy day!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Step by step coloured pencil portrait

I love coloured pencils! They are both beautiful and versatile and...incredibly challenging. I envy people who really master them, but I know that anybody who masters anything has put in hours and hours (and years and years) of practice.

I'm too much of a generalist in the arts to ever become a true master at anything. I just love too many different things and I kind of like it that way. But it does not keep me from practicing with media that intrigues me from time to time.

One way for me to practice with coloured pencil is to do portraits after pictures from magazines or (in this case) mail order catalogues. I thought it might be nice to show you how such a portrait develops over a few hours time, so I decided to do a step by step progress shoot of one.

Please understand, this is not a tutorial, I just wanted to show you how the different layers turn into a portrait that I consider finished. Also understand I'm not a coloured pencil painter. There are people who do ultra realistic work where you can't even see it was done with pencil anymore, and looks more like a painting. First of all I just don't have the patience for this, second I don't have the skill and third...I just kindof like the fact that you can actually see what medium was used. By that I mean that I like that you can see the pencil strokes and the texture of the paper.

Anyway, here's how it went:

The black background was obviously not done with coloured pencil, but with a brush marker to set off the portrait better. 

I'm moderately happy with the result. I love how the texture and shading of her shirt turned out, but am not too crazy about the hair and some of the shading on the neck. I'm also not sure if next time I will be doing over the drawing with a drawing pen. I might want to leave it in pencil. It's worth a try. I do think the likeness to the original was best in the original pencil drawing in the first picture.

Anyway, that's what practice is all about. You try a little here and there and you learn and some things turn out great and some things turn out okay and some things turn out rubbish. Well, I don't think this one turned out rubbish, haha, I rather like it. But I do see flaws and things I want to improve on. That's okay, I had another good practice session!

Hope you liked watching the process and wishing you a wonderful and artsy day.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Journal Pages

High time for some journal pages from my current journal Flora. She's becoming quite fat! I filled her up about two thirds and it's already hard to get her to close, so I'm thinking by the time she's done she won't be able to close at all. I just hope the binding holds. ;-)

Anyway, here are some of the latest spreads of my journal.

Wishing you all a wonderful and artsy weekend!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

From the Doodle Book

I have a big square sketchbook that is just dedicated to doodling. It measures 10x10 inches (25x25 cm) which makes the pages nice and big to just play on.

Here are two of my latest doodle pages:

The left page is drawn with a drawing pen (I think it was a micron) and coloured in loosely with stabilo felt tip pens. The right page is drawn with one of the stabilo's and coloured in with coloured pencils. The paper of this book (a Hahnemühle drawing book) is better suited for pencil than marker, but I keep experimenting with it. 

Here are some close ups of both pages:

These doodles remind me of drawings I did ages ago (2011) that I called constellations. You can see some of them here. They basically connect round elements with lines into shapes. Does that even make sense? Anyway they reminded me of how stars form constellations. Just follow the link and you'll see what I mean.  I just like how sometimes an old idea can return in a completely new form.

Hope you are all experimenting and playing and making the most of it. Have a good artsy day.