Activities, People, Places

Getting in the Flow

The creative action I proposed this week was to visit a museum. I thought it was an easy assignment, but when you’re busy and tired, it’s hard to squeeze something in that doesn’t feel like a necessity, isn’t it?  I made myself do it, though, and what I’m realizing more and more is that doing something that feeds me creatively is more “necessary” than most things I routinely put first in my life.

After visiting the Maira Kalman show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and looking at the catalog of the Wayne Thiebaud show at the San Jose Museum of Art (because I’d missed the actual show, darn it), I was inspired to paint again. They are two very different artists, but two of my contemporary favorites. Kalman’s paintings were smaller than I’d imagined. Little pieces of paper with wonky objects and people and words, mostly painted in gouache with more than a little whimsy and chaos. Thiebaud’s oil paintings are on large canvases with luscious, thick layers of paint that make you want to dip your finger in and lick it off like frosting. Hers were mainly intended for books and magazines, his for museum and gallery walls, but their work has two things in common that made me want to go home and try it. They both paint objects from the everyday – cakes, gumball machines, flowers, candy, shoes – and they both do it with wild colors.

I have always wanted to be wilder than I am. I am drawn to work by artists that can really go crazy with color. Kalman is clearly influenced by Fauvist painters like Matisse. Les Fauves were “Wild Beasts” with color. Kalman is cuckoo for hot pink and orange and blending colors on the page and leaving the brush strokes visible and uneven. Thiebaud is a little more restrained in his compositions. His perspective actually makes sense. But his color is just as wild. A slice of pie with white frosting on a white dish on a white countertop will have at least a dozen neon colors competing in the shadows. As an art teacher I was always encouraging my students to experiment with color, saying “the sky isn’t just blue, what other colors have you seen in the sky?”, but when it’s my turn, I can’t put hot pink in the sky, either.

I came home the other day, about an hour earlier than usual, my son was still with my in-laws, and I forced myself not to turn on the computer or take a shower or clean the house, but to get out the paints. I would try using gouache on a small piece of paper (totally different than the large acrylic on canvas or walls I usually do). I would paint a simple object, a white one, and try to use far more colors than just white. I saw my son’s Lamby. His lovey. The stuffed toy we’d lugged all the way to Taiwan and back because he can’t sleep without it. I propped him up, and got to painting, letting go of my to do list, and there it was.

I remembered how much I loved to paint.  Since hearing this TED talk, I know the name for what I was feeling: “flow“. There is nothing else like being fully immersed in the task at hand. Time stops, “existence is temporarily suspended”, and I can enjoy just being in the moment swirling colors around and putting them down. The product isn’t that great. It’s a one hour sketch in which you can see I am still tight and cautious with my colors and composition, not as wild as I want to be, but maybe if I let myself play like that more often, I could get there. Or at least enjoy the process, which seems to be the key to happiness. For years now I’ve been operating in a mode where I  spend most of my time doing things that contribute to my family’s bottom line, where the emphasis is on the product, but it has taken much of the joy out of the process. I’m going to try to allow myself more time for this getting lost in wild wonder, making things just to make them, because that positive, energized feeling I get is indeed necessary to a worthwhile life.

I also made time to take my son for a quick visit to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. This is him experiencing flow.

I hope you make some time to create wonder and find your flow this week, whether it’s through painting, dancing, or programming software. We are all wired differently, but we all have something that moves us. Remember, if you post a comment sharing your museum experience by this Sunday night, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of my book.

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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Little Man Reads – 6 months

One of the perks of parenting, at least from the perspective of an aspiring author/illustrator, is having an excuse to read childrens books every day, multiple times a day. I can’t get enough of it, and fortunately, neither can my son. Periodically, I will post on Little Man’s favorites.

He started showing interest when he was three or four months old, for books like First Words and the ABC book from the Bright Baby First Learning Box by Roger Priddy. He liked photos of real objects or babies on bright backgrounds with big, bold words. When he became coordinated enough to reach out and grab and put everything in his mouth, his preference was soft cloth, interactive books. An old hand-me-down copy of The Busy Book was his favorite, even though we have some newer, flashier ones.

Now, at 6 months, he’s really into board books that have a good cadence or noises when I read to him. He can pick Sandra Boynton‘s Barnyard Dance out of a pile and will do so every time. The illustrations aren’t as bold and bright as he was into before, but he loves that we bounce to the rhythm and I slap my thigh and call it like a square dance. He’s also into the First Book of Sushi, Mirror Me, and Toes, Ears and Nose.

He’s not ready for longer picture books, which I can’t wait for him to get into. His attention span is too short and he still wants to grab or eat the pages, but I’ve had some luck reading him One Is a Drummer by Roseanne Thong and illustrated by Grace Lin. The sing-song verse plus the gorgeous pattern-filled pages and lots of children in action keep his attention. I love how multicultural it is; it shows all kinds of kids enjoying typical kid activities like playing in sprinklers and riding a carousel, but incorporates many things from Chinese culture, like dragon boat racing, mahjong, and foods like eggs tarts and fish balls while it teaches the concept of counting to ten. My husband is Chinese so it’s great to find books that will help us teach our little guy more about his heritage.

I would love suggestions for what your 6 month to 12 month old is/was into, so we can expand our library. Happy reading!

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Maurice Sendak is my hero

sendak_lg

I went to see the Sendak show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum the other day. I had to whiz through because I was also there for a Litquake event, and I had Little Man with me (his first art exhibition! – this kid will be so much more cultured than I ever was). As a huge fan of Sendak’s work, (so huge I painted Little Man’s nursery with a Where the Wild Things Are mural), it was a treat to get to see so many original illustrations from his books. The show included some sketches showing his process, as well as many of the finished watercolors and drawings exactly as they ended up in the books. There was a video of Sendak, and a nook that begs you to sit and pore over his complete library. I’ll have to go back and spend more time.

The show is up until January 19, 2010,  and there are special events related to the exhibit to check out with kids older than my 3 month old.

I also want to spend more time looking at the rest of the museum, which had some really neat interactive projects like the StoryBooth.

Other cool Sendak fan sites: We Love You So, Terrible Yellow Eyes

I’m going to see the new Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are movie this week. Can’t wait!

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I Heart San Francisco

local-celebrities

I’ve recently had some exciting celebrity sightings. No, not big time Brangelina types, but more of the local variety. San Francisco has a cast of characters who have become standouts in the local scene due to their wild eccentricities and vast amounts of time in the public eye. I hardly ever go downtown, but am always thrilled when I venture there and see familiar faces.

I saw the twins dining in the window of a restaurant on Post Street the other day, in matching purple blazers and white cowboy hats. As we honked and waved from the car, one peeked up, nudged her cohort and they both smiled and waved like Miss America pageant contestants. Before I moved here, nearly eight years ago, I would see the sassy septuagenarians struttin’ their stuff almost every time I visited the city, always in outrageous matching outfits – leopard print coats, blingy shoes, and crazy hats on perfect ‘dos – so it warmed my heart to see they are still at it in their eighties.

I saw a new one recently. My husband told me that he saw a man who had trained a rat to stand on a cat standing on a dog. No way, I thought, must be fake. But there they were outside of Macy’s on Union Square last week. An old black dog lay next to a scruffy man in black sitting on the sidewalk. Next to them lay a gray cat, and on its back was a white rat curled up asleep. They weren’t doing their acrobatic act, but their coziness with each other was sufficiently impressive.

What is their story? At what point does one decide “I’m going to train naturally adversarial animals to work together and take it on the road?” Or “my twin and I are going to dress alike and parade around town together as long as we live”? How did Frank Chu, the omnipresent sign-toting cause-protesting guy, get started? When did lightning strike the Bushman to start scaring the hell out of people for laughs down on Fisherman’s Wharf? They’re certainly living creatively, most likely with a good dose of crazy thrown in. Maybe they wonder how the rest of us can live such boring lives. In any case, I’m glad they’re around to wake us up now and again.