Books, People

Summer Pierre: The Artist in the Office

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

I have been thinking a lot about jobs lately – why we work, how we end up doing what we do, what those choices lead to, etc.  I’ve often felt a disconnect between what I do for a living and what I wish I was doing with my time (even more so now with a baby). I’m sure everyone goes through moments like that, but I think creative types often have an idea that making Art (with a capital A) and making a living are incompatible and struggle with not feeling like a legitimate Artist if they have an unrelated day job. As I’ve recently gone back to work full-time, I have been trying to deconstruct that myth and look for ways to incorporate Art into the everyday.

Lo and behold, one of my favorite Artists, blogger/author/illustrator Summer Pierre, has written a book on the subject, and I had the opportunity to see her read from it last night at Books, Inc. It’s called The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week. I haven’t read it all yet, but just from the excerpts she used to sum it up and the first few pages I perused last night, it is exactly in line with what I’ve been pondering these days. She doesn’t encourage wild fantasies of dropping everything in your life to become who you truly think you’re meant to be. She asks you to look at the life you are in and analyze how you got here and what the job you have is doing for you. For example, though dogwalking has its frustrations, it allows me a lot of time to think, to be outdoors, to be with happy dogs instead of disgruntled co-workers, to be my own boss, and to afford to live in this amazing city where I can actually go see authors speak.  I’ve had a few “dream jobs”, but no matter how good a job is, they get old. I bet even if I was writing and illustrating full-time, I would find things to be frustrated about. In the book, Summer challenges you to shift your perspective and find ways to keep yourself living creatively throughout your days, as opposed to feeling like you can only create while you’re off the clock. Instead of feeling like you are living two lives (your work life, and your “real” life), she reminds you it is only one life, and it is yours. With examples of famous authors and artists who had day jobs alongside their illustrious careers, tips for prioritizing your life and exercises to try to get your creative juices flowing, Summer makes you feel like it’s not only possible, but a realistic and tangible goal to be an Artist (with a capital A) and keep your day job.

I am thrilled to have met her, as I’ve been following her blog for awhile. It’s such an odd thing to feel like you know someone you’ve officially never met, but she is a kindred spirit and it was nice to connect. Her husband and darling son were in the audience. They are on a small California book tour together (see if she’s coming to a town near you). She has another book coming out in November. Hooray for artist mamas making the life of their dreams. I am inspired. Congrats, Summer!

Check out her book and her blog.

And check out another job related podcast that has been fueling my thoughts about our occupational choices lately.

Books, People

Little Man Reads – 10 months

We are getting back into the swing of things after our trip. It is wonderful to be on our home turf in our beloved city, San Francisco. Sometimes it takes going away to see your life with fresh eyes and realize how good you have it. We really do live in one of the best cities on Earth and I’m glad to be back.

One of my favorite things about this city is all the opportunities to meet authors and illustrators as they share their work at bookstores. We still have a number of excellent independent bookstores in the Bay Area and they are popular stops on book tours. Just this morning we went to see Nikki McClure at the Book Passage in Corte Madera. She is one of my favorite artists. I posted about her back when she had a local show of her amazingly intricate and beautiful cut paper pieces. Her subject matter is often a celebration of nature, simple things, and motherhood – kind of a modern outdoorsy Mary Cassatt. So it’s a natural that she also does childrens books, the latest being Mama, Is It Summer Yet?


She explained to all of us at the reading that she created this book in response to her son’s question. The illustrations show the clues in nature that the seasons are changing and getting closer and closer to summer. As someone who dreads winter, and gets giddy with the spring and arrival of warmer weather, I loved it, even though my son is too young to be into it just yet. I was also inspired to get out my art supplies and get back to work on some stories. She said when she was little she played pretend that she was an artist, but thought it was similar to being a princess, a make-believe wish. Sometimes I still feel this way, so it’s always encouraging to see someone in person who is making their art in real life, not in some magical castle far, far away. She even did a demonstration of her technique and wowed the kids (and me) with her X-acto knife wielding skills.

So, that’s my mom pick for the featured childrens book on my sporadic review of what Little Man is reading lately. I posted at around 6 months and now at 10 months he is into completely different things. For one, he rarely sits still in my lap anymore unless he’s very, very tired, so sadly, our storytimes are fewer than when he was less mobile. At around 8 months his favorite was Sing-Along Song, written by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrated by San Francisco local LeUyen Pham. He enjoyed the rhythm and onomatopoeia of the text, and would reach out and touch and smile at the pictures of the little boy exuberantly going through the routine of his day. Now, he’s as busy as that little boy, zooming around the house with a very short attention span.

So, at 10 months, he likes Go, Dog. Go! the board book version. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s action-packed. He’s also into books with texture and sounds and pop-ups, basically he needs bells and whistles to keep his focus now. And he wants to destroy them. Chewing, grabbing, tearing. Books have to be tough now for him to enjoy. So, I will be putting my signed copy of Mama, Is It Summer Yet? away until he’s ready, and letting him enjoy tactile books like Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings by Matthew Van Fleet.

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One of those Days

Paul Madonna
Paul Madonna

I should’ve crawled back into bed when I realized it was going to be a day like this. It started as soon as I got up. For some reason my hand-eye coordination was off. I fumbled around with the dogs’ leashes, I dropped my keys, and then their dog food, and then my breakfast. What the hell was wrong with me? I mean, I’ve always been a klutz, and also forget things if I don’t make a list, but today was starting out exponentially worse, and it did not get better.

All the books I’ve read about pregnancy say it does this to you. That there’s some scientific correlation between growing a kid and losing your mind and fine motor skills. Whether I can blame this on my unborn child or not, it was out of control today. I carefully made my lunch then forgot it on the kitchen counter. I somehow got what I needed to do done today, but not without bending over a hundred times to pick things up as I dropped them, dropping something else as I did that. For someone who is eight and a half months pregnant and a dogwalker it’s hard enough to stoop to pick up dog poop, much less my sunglasses, then my keys, oh, there went half the sandwich I had to buy because I forgot my lunch, oops, my sunglasses again…GARRR!!

I decided to try to redeem the day by doing something fun, so I went to the library. I know, what a nerd, right? But, I l-o-v-e the library. Especially the Main public library at the Civic Center. Yeah, it’s teeming with crazies and parking is a bitch, but it’s big and beautiful and holds all that I hold dear inside its walls. And right now they have a collection of Paul Madonna‘s artwork for All Over Coffee on display in the Jewett Gallery downstairs.

I reveled in each piece, soaking in the beauty of his pen and ink drawings of buildings around the city, letting my mind wander with the accompanying text, imagining the rest of the conversation snippet, or flash fiction story, and what the characters would be like. The one of the windows and balconies of an apartment building on Franklin and Golden Gate had lines pointing to intriguing descriptions of the occupants within each unit, like “kills pigeons” or “photographs well” or beginnings of fascinating stories about them. I love imagining what people’s lives are like, and let myself get lost in that piece for awhile.

Another favorite was called Haight and Scott. The composition was beautiful to look at, with only an off-set rectangle shaded in darker washes, leaving the rest of the setting light. It said “Does the smell of the air today remind you of another time?” And inside the rectangle, “Inhale through your nose. And the next time a day like this comes around you’ll be transported back to now.”  Ah, I like that, I thought, thinking about the power of smells and memory and art and words as I left the library.

Only to find that it hadn’t even occurred to my pregnant-addled brain to put money in the meter. There was the dreaded white and red DPT ticket (that my husband so happened to design, which unfortunately doesn’t save me from paying $50) sticking out of my hood. I cannot wait for this day to be over, and maybe if I hold my breath no smell will ever transport me back to it.

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Delaine Derry Green Dishes on the Dating Issue

We’ve all been there. We all have our tales of dating drama – lonely nights, blind dates, and bad breakups. It’s a theme everyone can relate to, and Delaine Derry Green tapped into this well of woes (and some happy endings) by making it the theme of her latest issue of Not My Small Diary.
NMSD is an anthology of autobiographical comics Delaine has been putting together for 12 years now. Over the years, NMSD has been a meeting place for established and beginning comics artists and zinesters alike. John Porcellino’s contribution this year is proof of that, documenting how he even found love through the pages of NMSD #8. In a field where many zines have come and gone, and when blogs threaten to take the place of small press print, how does Delaine keep up her zine queen momentum, pursuing her passion without much profit?
I asked her a few questions fans will want to see, and if you haven’t yet, check out NMSD #14, a two part issue full of dating angst, despair, dirty deeds, and even Delaine’s own story of dating success, as told by her and her husband, Lee. Who knows, you may find your own love on the pages…
CL: Why did you start My Small Diary comics, and how did it become Not My Small Diary?

DDG: I started doing My Small Diary comics in 1993, after graduating college. After I moved to Birmingham in 1996 I met a few more zinesters in “real life” and I decided to do the anthology format. The idea of gathering artists to do diaries just came to me in a flash and I was excited about it!

CL: What steps did you take to grow it? How did you get so many great contributors to participate?
DDG: I started making contacts the second I started getting into zines. From the beginning I was contributing to other zines and writing to other people appearing in those zines. The biggest help I had from the start was Maximum Traffic (White Buffalo Gazette, Truth Be Known). He was a great resource and knew SO many people in the small press arena. His contacts became my contacts and now vice versa. Max now writes to me and tells me I am the queen of the small press and he uses my comics to find new artists to write to! I forged real friendships during the age of “no internet” and that makes my network even stronger in this day of instant communication. I can’t deny that the internet has helped get more contributors faster. Since NMSD has been around a long time it’s easier to get new and better artists every year. It’s a name people in the small press usually recognize.

CL: What kind of formal training, education or experience do you have in comics/art?

DDG: As a child I was always making comic books so it’s in my blood. I’ve always been a creative person and always liked to produce things like comics & little books and I always liked pen pals and the mail. Those things combined meant that doing zines was a natural transition for me. My college degree was a BFA in Graphic Design so that knowledge helped me design the books effectively. Since graduating, all of my jobs have been in graphic design and I have added “artist” to my list of activites. I do paintings and mixed media pieces and I’m featured in a local gallery here.

CL: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?
DDG: My current day job is graphic designer at a tradeshow display company. I’ve been here since August, 2001 and I love it! I used to work at Kinko’s which was awesome since I could make free books! I still have dear Kinko’s connections.

CL: What’s the best part of putting together NMSD? The most frustrating or hardest?

DDG: The best part of doing NMSD is finding and getting artists that I want to contribute. I’ve been very happy with the introduction of theme issues, I think it often brings out the best in people. It’s frustrating getting people to meet a deadline, but I’m very laid back about it. It’s not fun to scan and clean up comics, but with the “digital age” I often receive emailed contributions all ready to go – I love that. I really love when the issue is done, gets sent out and I get good feedback.

CL: How do you feel about NMSD #14? Do you have a favorite piece in it?

DDG: NMSD-14 is my favorite issue so far. Maybe I just like the extremely personal nature of dating stories. There are so many pieces to love in 14. It was cool that my husband contributed for the first time. I loved Nicole Georges, Max Clotfelter, John Porcellino, Geoff Vasile, Andrew Goldfarb – that’s off the top of my head.

CL: It’s been 12 years! What keeps you going?

DDG: I guess I’m a “lifer” in the zine world. I’ve never gotten tired of doing NMSD or doing graphic design. I thrive on the creativity and feedback. I feel like people really appreciate NMSD and that helps me continue. Also, over the years I have visited and grown close to quite a few zinesters. It’s almost like I’ve built a little world with friends all over the globe and I would never want to upset that!

CL: Does NMSD support itself, or is it a labor of love?

DDG: I can’t say that NMSD supports itself anymore. My Kinko’s contact does all he can to give me a super deal on copying the books, but it’s not totally free like the old days. It’s definitely a labor of love and scant profit!

CL: Any future plans for NMSD?

DDG: I plan on sending out a call for NMSD-15 this summer. I came up with the theme “15 minutes of fame – brushes with celebrity” and I hope that inspires people. Someday I want to release a “real” book compiling a “best of” NMSD.

Visit Delaine’s website for more information and to find issues of NMSD – www.mysmallwebpage.com.