Clearing clutter and embracing materiality

Hope your year is off to a good start. I have new art to show you, but I'll admit this past January I've been busy mainly behind the scenes, clearing digital and material clutter. And it was really worth it! That stuff saps a lot of mental energy. I moved my emails to a single provider, all my online accounts in a password manager, totally refreshed my website, and cleaned up my studio so all my supplies are now easily accessible.

The illustration below was sent as a static image to friends and family when telling them of my change of email address. Then this week I wanted to practice animating a walking character and turned it into a loop.

I can't take credit for the beautiful design of the house as it's actually a real house in my neighborhood, which you can see in the photo below. I don't know the people who live there but something about that house just enchants me.

It's tidy and lively all at the same time. The landscaping mirrors the shapes of the windows and the roof, and the shades of green reflect the blue and yellow of the walls. It looks almost magical.

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Along the same subject, houses and landscape, I'm working on another canvas painting from the monthly paint night at my neighbor's studio. It's a view of a hill from a trail I like to hike.  Still a work in progress, but I'll show you anyway.

I might add more trees or bushes but I like the calm areas of the sky and the hill. According to Adobe, people want to see more images of silence and solitude in 2018. It certainly rings true to me, I want less "busyness" in my art (but don't get me wrong, more business!).

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Valentine's Day is coming fast, and this year I participated in a secret Valentine Exchange organized by Ute and Sanae. We were given a person to send a handmade gift to, with their favorite colors and motifs. My valentine liked peonies among other things, and the colors silver, blue, green, and purple. So I did a small painting of peonies with acrylics on a wood panel.

Making art in that gifting spirit was quite joyful and I think it could be a good idea to put myself in that frame of mind even though I do it with the intention of selling.

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And you see, those colors inspired me to revisit and freshen up existing designs. As part of my website redesign I updated my shop and added several Society6 products. Click here to check it out!


I love offering designs printed on products but in the spirit of making more art by hand I would be very happy to eventually have enough original gouache and acrylic paintings to start offering them in my shop as well. 

Putting your self on the line and playing a part in your story

A few months after starting my new life as an artist I remembered, out of the blue, an old children story about the goat of Mr. Seguin. That goat, tired of eating bland grass and living with a rope around her neck, escapes her little enclosure and goes to the mountain. There she has a grand old time for a day then, tragically, gets eaten by a hungry wolf.

That ending didn't bother me as a kid, that I recall, but reading it again as an adult I felt kind of conflicted. Especially that I had just left the security of a job to have my own creative business, in other words live in the mountain. And I didn't want to accept that ending for myself, or the goat.

So I made a drawing of the story with the intention of getting to the bottom of this conflict. And what the image put in focus wasn't so much the goat's run for freedom as the moment where she meets the wolf and has to make a decision. That's the turning point of the story, and where change can happens.

 
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How the goat ended up at this turning point has a lot to do with her character. She's independent, willing to take risks and venture beyond limits, in search of some ideal (like discovering new pastures). There's nothing wrong with that. These are all attributes of creative people, necessary for the process of creation. And sometimes that comes with making mistakes. 

Mistakes are not always bad, they lead to experience, but perhaps the goat's tragedy is a result of her all-or-nothing attitude. She's either in the farm- completely safe (but not free), or in the mountain- (free but) completely vulnerable, with no option in between. 

In my drawing however, the goat has left the farm but she isn't actually in front of the wolf, it's only a matter of perspective. If the mountain is a symbol for artistic venture then the wolf could represent whatever hinders it: creative blocks, fear of failure, an unresponsive audience, impracticability, a lack of resources, etc.

In other words, the wolf can mean an obstacle to overcome, a sign to change direction, or maybe a warning against going too far. It's not that putting oneself on the line is wrong - with creative pursuit a certain vulnerability is inevitable and necessary, but maybe there's a way to do that without losing one's self.

 
 

My goal is not really to change the goat or her story - symbols don't change - but to understand the character as an archetype with positive and negative attributes. When I sense a conflict my approach has been to examine the other side of the story by creating an opposite drawing, based on a similar kind of story but with symbols that are opposite.

Since the beginning I felt that a donkey should be in the other drawing because donkeys have a strong sense of self-preservation. And one similar type of children's story with a donkey is that of the Musicians of Bremen. The animals in that story also leave their farm, but contrary to the goat they're running from danger, not toward it. Another major difference is that they don't venture alone, they form a group to help each other. And rather than follow an idea no matter what, they adapt to situations as they come. 

In my version I substituted the cat and dog for a well-dressed fox inspired by the tales of Reynard and to symbolize the capacity to adapt. I also changed the rooster for a wise owl and a witty crow. The mountain has become a hill, roses have grown on the tree, and the thistles turned into irises.

 
 

In contrast with the goat, the fox's attitude is practical. He's focused on making things work, and also has to benefit in some way. He's not the type to sacrifice for ideals or work by himself. He brings people into his ventures and plays a part in his story, in others words pulls strings rather than leave things to chance.

One might say the goat is the idealistic visionary side of a creative person while the fox is the business side. And as I'm learning, to succeed both sides are needed. Well I guess I knew that, but knowing and doing are different stories! Being able to picture what it looks and sounds like maybe is a first step in that direction.

The secret life of tigers and roses

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One day back in May I was going through the bathroom cabinet looking at my jar of tiger balm and for some strange reason I got the urge to paint a tiger in my next project, whatever that would be. Perhaps I needed to be inspired by its strength or courage, I don't know. Funnily enough, the project that came along in my MATS class at the time was to draw roses.  What followed is a mini gouache painting of a tiger chilling in a rose garden.

 

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Actually, he kind of reminds me of another tiger who likes to smell the roses, Hobbes :)

 

Then the "big assignment" came along, which was to design a journal cover with roses and any quote from the historical garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. She was also an artist and writer, and said things like "the love of gardening is a seed once sowed that never dies", or "a garden is a grand teacher... above all it teaches entire trust." Tigers were entirely optional, but I really wanted to fit one in.

When stumped I love to read about symbolism... I guess cause it gives me a different angle. So, I got out my big book of symbols and looked up tiger.

 

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"In dream images such as great cat prowling in the house or backyard, psyche warns us that physically or affectively we are identified with big cat libido and need to get some distance. 

To respond to such urge by killing, caging, or degrading the great cat is to brutally repress one of nature's most extraordinary incarnations of creative aggressiveness and sovereign instinct. The resolution seems to be in balance and boundaries."

- Taschen, Book of Symbols

 

 

 

That scary tiger in the Japanese painting by Kishi Ganku kind of reminded me of Richard Parker in the life of Pi. The dangerous tiger that helped Pi fight for his life and survive his ordeal, the one he feared yet left him heartbroken when he disappeared without a goodbye.

Why would Pi feel this way? I think maybe Richard Parker was a side of him that needed to be expressed but came out in a dangerous state. And conditioning it into submission with food and seasickness only made the tiger leave once freed from the boat. So what was Pi to do? What would be the balance and boundaries that would make him a helpful friend able to sticks around?

I got no direct answer to these questions, but instead an accident pointed me toward an idea for my design... opening my book at a random page I saw this intriguing image of a garden with a rose growing inside the symbolic container of the Grail.

 

"In this simple, elegant form, the artist of some five centuries ago has conveyed the ideas of wholeness, center, vessel, and source."

"While the Grail has often been portrayed as a cup, it can take many forms... [it] participates in the symbolism of the night-sea journey, the treasure hard to attain and the alchemical stone that is elixir and panacea."

- Taschen, Book of Symbols

 

 

 

 

Maybe you'll think that image has nothing to do with a tiger, but... if I want to put a tiger in that garden I will find a way! And I did... in my imagination the container became the tiger itself. And that way he is wrapped around the roses by choice, not because he is forced to.

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I let my color choices be inspired by the trend board given in the class (which had no yellow), and the cool thing about that is in the dark the tiger took on a blue color. Blue is the color of trust, and reason. In that way he's more reasonable than Richard Parker, able to distance himself from his wild side.

Since he's not Richard Parker, I wondered what could be a good name for him. Well if Parker is a "keeper of the park", then his last name could be Gardner, as he takes care of the roses. And one famous Gardner from history is Martin Gardner, a math and science writer who also had a lifelong interest in magic. Perfect! Cause a blue tiger is also kind of magical, isn't it?

To me planting a garden means I have to decide which plants to buy, get my hands dirty to put them in the ground, regularly water, and trim dead leaves and flowers. And it also means not watering too much, giving the plants time and space to grow, and letting the sun do its thing. That's love...

You may have noticed I dropped the Gertrude Jekyll's quote. I do agree with her that a garden teaches entire trust but, can't help it, I like to come up with my own words.

Every time I pass by my garden I'll pick a dead leave, check to see if the soil has gotten too dry, or if the leaves are yellowing. It's the garden equivalent of sending a text to a friend or sharing something cool just to say hey. Nothing big, no expectations. Just the joy of connection. In the case of the garden, that's the joy of a beautiful flower or shade of green. It feels like friendship...

In the light version I gave the tiger his regular yellow color... which I guess means he's not always so reasonable. For instance he likes to play tricks, though always in good fun. He might have a bit of Tony the tiger in him, but he's a Gardner too, so let's say that makes him Tony Gardner.

I found two Tony Gardner in real life. One is a makeup and special effects designer, and the other is an actor and doctor. Both are great, so it's hard to choose, but remember... all this started because of my tiger balm jar! 

Available for real in my shop.