Many years ago, I bought some glow-in-the-dark thread, but I didn’t like it because it was hard to stitch with (it was essentially thread wrapped in/with thin plastic) and it came in weird colours (think florescent colours, but in pastel). Then, I found DMC’s glow-in-the-dark thread and I knew that I had to find a pattern immediately because glow-in-the-dark is cool.
Halloween was coming up, which seemed perfect for glow-in-the-dark thread, but I didn’t like any of the patterns I found, so I made my own. This was not an easy feat – I studied many patterns and even tried to play with free patterns (merging 2 or more, adjusting colours, etc.). In the end, I designed my own pattern in two parts – the pumpkin with glow-in-the-dark facial features and a glow-in-the-dark spider web for the background. It was early October 2011 and I figured I could whip it together by Halloween.
By early November, I’d managed to get it half done. No problem – that just meant that it would be done by the following Halloween. Or, you know, Halloween 2018.
Seven years. It took me 7 years to finish the piece.
One of the benefits of all the decluttering and prioritizing I’ve been doing is that I’m no longer overwhelmed by all the unfinished projects I have, because I only kept a select few, including this pumpkin. I was quite proud of the design and I like Halloween. So, it was easy for me to pick this up and spend a week working on it.
Then, I took a trick that Alex from Florals and Floss recommended. She stains her hoops to make them look a bit more classy. I figured painting would work, too. So, I painted the outer hoop in black to match and blend in with the back ground. It looks really awesome.
I also stitched some fabric to the back. This was not as easy as using felt, but I had fabric that worked with the piece. Side note: if you’re using directional fabric and don’t want to worry about lining it up properly, do it on an angle.
Now my apartment is (sort of) decorated for Halloween because I thought it would be nice to pull out my other two Halloween pieces that I kept: a table runner made with Lizzie House Halloween fabric (newly christened as a wall hanging because I don’t use table runners) and Frankie (a.k.a. my boyfriend, a.k.a. yes, I’m well aware of the fact that he’s name is really Adam, but I prefer the name Frank). Now I get to enjoy them while embracing the autumn weather and lamenting the fact that the city is turning grey (the leaves never last long once they change colour).
Next up, a few more stitching projects and I might also work on the Christmas quilt I started in 2015 (here’s a peak at a block that I finished). Maybe. Possibly. The website it was on no longer exists, so I’ll have to figure out how to finish it first.
Despite several years of not being able to find the right thing, I keep clinging to the idea that there’s a perfect book out there that works as a sketch book, a wet media book, and a journal. But, everything I try misses the mark. The paper is always too thin or too rough, too starkly white or two creamy yellow, and too flimsy to handle wet media or so thick that I only get a couple dozen pages in one sketchbook. Then there’s the binding, which is always too tight to open flatly or poorly done. And, don’t even get me started on how much I hate cheesy cover designs or having to pick from half a dozen colours I don’t like that much.
They never seen to quite meet my needs. But, today, I’m going on record to admit that the perfect book doesn’t exist and that it’s OK to have more then one book for all of my needs: one to write in, one to sketch in, and one to paint in, when the mood strikes me.
Honestly, I should have just accepted this last year when I had to make the difficult decision to toss an old sketchbook that made me upset every time I looked at it. The sketches were worth saving and the only reason I’d kept the book. But, I’d also used it for journaling during a very frustrating few months. It was full of bitching, whining, and turmoil that I needed to out of my life. So, I scanned the sketches and tossed the book, vowing to never mix bitching with sketching again. [Side note: I also took a long, hard look at how I journaled and realized that I was mostly just using it as an excuse to whine and perpetuate my frustrations, which just made me unhappy. I journal differently now. For example, if I need to bitch, it goes in a digital document that I then delete.]
Now I have a multi-book system. For writing, I prefer something with lines. I use this mostly for brain storming ideas, writing about things that I’m still trying to work out, writing about new ideas that have inspired me, or taking notes from books. These days, it’s mostly notes from books and things that have inspired me because I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and I like to make notes or copy quotes from the books. This allows me to process what I read, but it also helps me to let go of the book when I’ve finished reading it. In some cases, it also helps me to avoid buying a book – I used to be in the habit of borrowing books and buying a copy as soon as I thought I needed to underline something. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up wasting money just to underline a few lines!
My preferred book for writing is a lined A5 (5.8 x 8.3 inch) Leuchtturm1917, but I’ll use anything that’s A5. I currently have two on the go: a gridded Leuchtturm1917 for most things and an un-lined Ciak for art related notes. I use the Ciak for art notes because the slightly thicker paper means that I can draw or paint samples to illustrate the notes.
For watercolour, I have a couple of options, including a Stillman & Birn multimedia book, Carolyn Gavin multimedia sketchbooks, Moleskin watercolour books, and a Global Art book. We can discuss the fact that I have a stupid number of extra sketchbooks another time! I’m going to use my Moleskin for now because Fog and Swell recommended the brand the last time I whined about not being able to use watercolour in whatever book I was using at the time. The thick paper handles wet media quite well and the smooth surface will be good for my fountain pens.
And, then there’s the daily sketchbook. Usually, I’ll use just about anything that agrees with my fountain pens (good quality, smooth paper), like most of the extra multimedia books I mentioned above. But, sometimes I like to buy something pretty and special, even if it doesn’t handle fountain pen ink that well. That’s when I head over to Sprout Press Handbound Books. Her books are beautiful, but I’m not a big fan of her paper choice as it’s a bit thin for fountain pen ink or wet media. If I’m writing, I’m OK with the bleed through of the ink. But, it’s harder with sketching because I get annoyed and distracted by the bled through. One of these days I’ll plan ahead enough to ask for a custom book with different paper, but right now I really wanted something beautiful that would make me want to pick up my sketchbook each day. Life has been frustrating, and I knew I needed to get back in the habit of doing daily sketching, so I opted for beauty over function to give me something to be excited about each day. And, the book I picked is freaking beautiful. The cover is hand-dyed paper in one of my favourite colour combos – white and blue. Carolyn used blue paper and fancy binding to make the spin look stunning. And, there are a few pieces of brown paper in the book, which brings me great joy because I love white ink or coloured pencil on brown paper.
This is definitely a luxury item – it was not cheap, but even with the thin paper, I think it’s well worth every penny I spent. I’ve only had it three days, and I’ve already fondled, oogled, and been delighted by it a dozen times. And, I have a standard ball point pen that works just fine for sketching on the thin paper.
This is definitely a situation where my attempts to minimize and simplify back-fired. I need multiple books and I’m much happier being able to separate my journaling and sketching. When I’m using a sketchbook that handles wet media, I won’t need a separate wet media sketchbook, but I’m OK with needing a third book. Heck, maybe it will help me to experiment a little more with my watercolours.
This week involved a lot of quick and simple paintings. You can see them and, where applicable, the reference photos on Instagram.
I should note that I have no training in watercolours. I’m using this challenge as a means of learning, practising, and playing with watercolours. And, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a bit more comfortable with the media and a bit better at understanding what went wrong, when mistakes happen.
I picked this one because I thought it would be a good challenge. The bright sun on the right means that the side of the seagull’s body is bright white (no paint) and the rest of the body was tiny enough to need to practice good control. When I first posted it, I was disappointed in my shading, thinking that it made it hard to understand that the white was the bird’s sunlit body. But, in retrospect, I think a big part of the problem is that my sky is too pale.
I mostly did this painting because I’m a bit obsessed with Wanderlust Watercolours’ lemon yellow and I’m always amused and in awe of the vibrant yellow of canola when in bloom. This might be one of my favourite paintings.
Oceana Canada is one of many organizations that I follow on Instagram. They’re an indie charity whose focus is restoring the health and abundance of our oceans. They also post lost of really great pictures of our beautiful oceans, including this one, which inspired the painting.
Meh. I wasn’t in the mood to paint because of the heat and how tired I was (still am, as I type) of the heat. So, I was scrolling through my photos looking for something completely random, and this image I took with a microscope that attaches to my phone seemed like it could be interesting. Honestly, it’s not awful, but past me would never have shared it because it’s not great either. So, I guess, if nothing else, this challenge is helping me to post/share mediocre work, which is good for my perfectionist self.
The first version of this was was awful. Just awful. But, I wanted to try it again, so I decided to throw myself outside of the box and do the green trees in this gorgeous, vibrant teal. I’m really pleased with the outcome!
This painting ended up being a little overworked because I still wasn’t practiced with determining when the painting is the right level of wet/dry for what you need (I’m still not!). But, I had fun trying and the colour mixing was just about perfect, thanks to Payne’s Grey (a personal favourite).
I wanted to play with colour fields again. I was also starting to think about ideas for an upcoming beginner rug hooking class with Fern School of Craft (I won’t be using these as they’re bigger and more complex than I wanted).
Oh the irony. My practice piece is where I did my favourite rocks. I don’t dislike my final piece, but those rocks were tough. I’m still struggling with finding the perfect wet/dry points wen painting and I don’t know if that’s because I’m impatient/distracted or because it’s dry where I live or because this paper isn’t ideal. But, I still enjoyed the efforts and the turquoise water (Wanderlust Watercolour’s turquoise was perfect – no colour mixing required).
I was struggling for a few days, which is why I allowed myself to do some really basic, quick and messy abstract sunset pictures. I’m really bad about sticking to challenges and decided to doing something easy was better than quitting. And, I’m glad I gave myself this freedom because this marks the halfway point and I still have some great ideas and I still want to see this challenge through tot he end.
I started with a few pictures based on or inspired by pictures from my family’s cottage, but I also did a number of abstract style paintings. I’ve had a several days where I’ve completed more than one painting, so there’s more than 7. You can see them and, where applicable, the reference photos on Instagram.
I should note that I have no training in watercolours. So, while some of the paintings are surprisingly good (to me, anyway), I’m using this challenge as a means of learning, practising, and playing with watercolours.
The pyramid started as a completely different idea, but a mistake ruined that plan. I happened to be watching a The Nature of Things episode about pyramids (video), so I changed my plans. The second painting was just an excuse to play with colours and salt (that’s how you get that cool effect).
All those little pebbles? They took more patience than I had that day. But, I’m really glad that I persevered because the final piece is exactly what I’d expect to find in between the sandbars at my family’s cottage.
Tulips. Bright yellow, delightful tulips. This painting was a bit of a fail (it’s fine, but not what I was hoping for), but it’s still nice. It’s also the first of my paintings done with the Wanderlust Watercolourmixables palette, which has become my primary paints for this challenge.
I’ve been enjoying the challenge, especially because I allowed myself a lot of freedom with regards to subjects, techniques, and sharing paintings that aren’t “perfect” (I struggle with accepting imperfect art, which is a big part of why I quite making art for a very long time ).
I’m not entirely sure what made me decide to pick up this book last year. I like to write, but I don’t want to be an author. I guess I was just curious to read the book because I kept coming across references to it. It’s often noted as a book that’s very important for writers and very inspirational.
On one hand, I can see why people find it inspirational, but on the other hand, I feel like I learned more about the author than about being a writer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I’ve been inspired and changed by many books that were, on the whole, just autobiographies and a scattering of tips and life lessons.
The one part of the book that made me sit up and pay attention was her discussion about how perfectionism is like a cramped muscle:
I think that something similar happens to our psychic muscles. They cramp around our wounds – the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both – to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out. So those wounds never have a chance to heal. Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.
I struggle with perfectionism. You’d never know it to see me or speak to me, but that’s because I tend to hide it well. I also default to “if it can’t be perfect, there’s no point in trying,” so people rarely see my perfectionism in practice. This “go big or go home” attitude is both ridiculous and immensely unfair to myself.
When I read this, I immediately recognized myself and many of my issues with moving forward with art. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I used to aspire to being an artist – studying art, doing art daily, etc. But, I let life get in the way and eventually found that my skills had diminished and I’d lost my path. Being a perfectionist, my reaction to this was to become despondent and to assume that there was no hope. So, I turned to other creative endeavours, especially hobbies that looked easy enough and still allowed some room for creativity. But, I was never satisfied and I could never stop thinking about how I had always wanted to be an artist.
While the book didn’t leave much of an impression on me, this paragraph did because it became the catalyst that started to move me forward. I started to sketch more (now daily, where possible), I started to look for and take art classes, I started to evaluate what I needed (and wasn’t getting) from the art classes I was taking, and I started to remember how great it was to make art. So, I guess the book had it’s intended effect on me. Sure, I’m not planning on quitting and heading to art school, nor am I interested in becoming a professional artist. But, I make art, I aspire to learn more, and I finally feel comfortable calling myself an artist again.
I let my own dreams be squashed mid-year grade 12.
I don’t recall anyone specifically saying that art was a useless career choice, but I do remember being encouraged to aim for “real” degrees and “real” jobs. When I applied for university, I applied to biology programs and didn’t even bother with a minor in art. I think that my art teacher and dad were the only ones who ever questioned my decision, but I was a people pleaser and lacked to courage to stand up to all the perceived naysayers.
For years, I used excuses to make myself feel better about not being a “real” artist: art won’t get me a stable job that pays well; I’m a busy student and need to focus on my studies; I have a “real” job and need to stop dreaming because I’m an adult now; I should be doing job related training when I have free time, not art; I’ve lost what skill I had, so I’m no longer an artist and should give up on that dream; etc. Eventually, I just gave up. There was no point in doing something I loved if I didn’t have the time or the skill.
One could argue that I gave up on myself in grade 12, but I still did art – doodling in class, hand drawing overhead sheets (this was back in the later 90’s and my small school still used overhead projectors in all but the larger classrooms), and even hand drawing graphics for friend’s projects. Quitting on my art (and, by extension, myself) came much later. I don’t know exactly when, but I know some of the contributing factors. With my mother dying and my father more-or-less out of the picture, I felt like I needed to be responsible and get a real job (it didn’t help that some pretty influential people in my life agreed). While my art had been encouraged when I was young, I no longer had that extra boost that I needed (most of my family seemed to think that art was just a hobby). I’d also just finished a degree that I had been passionate about, only to find that it was a dead end for me as I wasn’t willing (or, realistically, able) to lead a life of scrounging for contract work – I had student loans to pay and I no longer had a home (mom would have let me live with her for more-or-less-free at least until I was established enough to get regular contracts, but she’d died before my degree was even finished). All this combined with a few years of general bad luck, left me as a sad husk of my former self with nothing to show for it other than I career that I would quickly become bored with in just a few short years. [I should note that grad school happened between mom dying and my career starting– it was a good, but mostly artless, two years for me and I don’t regret getting a library studies degree.]
In retrospect, I think that giving up on art was, in many ways, a desperate attempt to not feel sad and angry about my wasted talent – if I wasn’t doing it, then I wasn’t being reminded of how I’d once had dreams of being at least a part time artist – someone who might work a day job, but go home to create art that was “real” and “good.”
At one point (I can’t remember exactly when or even what triggered it), I tried quilting and stitching. I had embroidered in the past (I was a creative kid, so I embroidered jeans pockets and such), but quilting was new to me. At first, I loved it and I was convinced that I’d found a creative outlet, but I started to get bored with it. I loved the pretty fabrics, but mostly I just wanted to study their patterns. I loved the ingenuity of some of the quilt artists, but I didn’t have the patience to do the same sorts of quilt projects. It was more or less the same for stitching, though on a smaller scale as it’s easier to complete a small stitching project (not to mention easier to take to work, tidy up, etc.).
Meanwhile, things weren’t much happier for me in the career department. I work a cubicle job. I’m a business analyst and I’m fairly senior on the scale, so my work often involves collaboration, advising clients, researching, etc. It’s not a bad job: I’m paid well, I have great benefits, and my boss is a nice guy. But, it can be very boring and it’s very far from anything that I have any love for, commitment to, or interest in (I was interested for the first year or so, but then I realized that I’d hit the end of what I needed to learn and was forever doomed to relearning the same concepts with different buzz words).
I felt bad for complaining (not that my guilt stopped me). There was nothing awful about my job; it was just the wrong one for me. I tried to shift my job back to actual librarianship, but had the bad luck of looking just when the library job market seemed to be taking a pretty big swing downwards. I tried to find similar work in other departments, hoping that having to learn their business and such would at least give me something new to learn. Again, the job market was on a downturn. I eventually found a new job within my current department that was at least a little different. It was good for a while, but it’s gotten boring again. I miss doing work that felt like it mattered or that required learning new things fairly regularly. My learning is pretty much limited to business skills at this point (project management, etc.) and it’s all dreadfully boring.
So, last year, I finally found myself in that terrible place: I didn’t fit at work and I didn’t fit in art. I was in the same place the author describes on the page I shared above.
I know there’s not much I can do about my career right now. I’ll keep my eyes open for something new or more interesting, but, as mentioned, I’m far afield of anything that interests me and I suspect that may mean having to make a pretty major career shift. I could do that, but I’m not willing to until I have greater stability (more money saved, etc.). Such is the life of someone who can’t rely on another person’s income for groceries :)
Art, on the other hand, is something that I can do something about. While I haven’t done anything huge, yet, I have been taking small steps. I bought myself a membership to the art gallery so that I’d go more often and not just when they have The Group of Seven or other favourites (the gallery pales in comparison to most of the others I’ve been to, but it’s better than nothing). I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, especially art related books and comics or graphic novels – basically anything that will remind me of what I used to know about art and inspire me. I’m also sketching a lot more often. It may not be every day (yet) and it may just be a tiny thumbnail of something I saw on a walk, but, right now, I’m trying to focus on habit versus skill. I plan to start taking some classes later this year (if nothing else, I have a couple Craftsy classes that I purchased ages ago, but haven’t yet watched).
This book, is one of the art related books I’m reading. I picked it up on a whim. I can’t remember where I read about it, but I’m already glad that I found it. It has some good insight and a wide variety of ideas for creative things that you can do at work (during your breaks, of course). It also acknowledges that some people do better with a day job (as opposed to being a full time artist), which was nice to read as I will likely always have a day job.
She touched on the false idea that your work has to matter in order to amount to anything (i.e., in order to have “worth”). This both makes us feel like we have to have large amounts of time set aside to get anything accomplished and stalls our progress (think of all that time preparing but not doing).
Speaking of preparing but not doing, she comes back to this problem several times in the book. Inspiration is good, but there comes a point where you just need to start doing things. I know that I’m bad about looking and looking and looking and looking, but never doing. As the book noted, looking, reading, getting ready will eventually become your life if you don’t include the actual art making. I don’t want that to be my life (not completely, anyway, though as a librarian, research is something that I enjoy). I know that I’ll have to keep that in check and remind myself to “do.” I’m letting myself read as much as I want right now, but I have a cut off date for when I have to start taking classes and actually making art. I’m also making myself work on a daily sketch habit. I’m not quite there yet, but I sketch most days for at least a few minutes.
I’m very glad I read this book, if only because it made me think about when and why I quit art. I have two other similar types of books that I will read next and I hope to find a few more resources to help encourage and inspire me.
Do you have any art resources that inspire you? Blogs? Galleries? Books (self-help, reference, graphic, or even novels)? I’d love to hear about them and about how they inspire you.
It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything about quilting. This is mostly because I have bad habit of only making the quilt top and not actually finishing the quilt. Or, as it is in this case, I finish it and then neglect to send it for months and months and months, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.
I made a quilt using the Raw Edge Circle quilt tutorial from Cluck Cluck Sew. I made the blocks well over a year ago and then put together the top a year ago, but I didn’t actually finish it until last spring.
It’s a great scrappy quilt and we had fun picking out the fabrics and mixing them up to avoid repeats of fabric combinations. I did get annoyed at the occasional pucker when I sewed the circles onto the squares, but it was a fairly easy process.
One of the things I love about it for a kids quilt is that you can select a huge variety of fun fabrics. The quilt has farm animals, scientists, swirls, mini wildlife, robots and so much more. No matter what the kid is interested in, he’s bound to find something he loves in the quilt.
I am not good at getting some projects done in a timely fashion. It’s a little embarrassing. But, the parents think it’s lovely and the kid is too young to care that I took for ever, so all’s well in the end. And, now I have a relatively quick and fin idea for a quilt for myself when I’ve accumulated enough bits of the right colours for my home.
The one and only magazine that I truly love is Uppercase Magazine. It’s a celebration of all things creative (art, crafts, writing, you name it). In one of the recent newsletters, Janine (the magazine’s creator) stated the following:
Stay away from DIY posts and Pinterest!
These days, it is too easy to get bogged down into the perceived perfection of Pinterest and the tyranny of step-by-step craft instructions. Today’s the day to unplug from these distractions. Comparing yourself to others and following directions can be so detrimental to genuine creativity. Use your own ideas, your own resources, your own ingenuity… you will make something that is from you and your heart.
While I’m a huge fan of online instructions and tutorials, I think she makes a really good point. Too often, we are led to believe that everything has to be perfect and done exactly the way things are laid out in the instructions. In some cases, veering from the instructions is a recipe for disaster. But, I feel that we should allow ourselves to trust our instinct and experiment on occasion. Not only does this help us to learn through trial and error, it also allows us to stretch our creativity skills.
I used to just wing things all the time. The first quilt top I ever made was in high school – I knew nothing about quilting and had to use a sewing machine that would only cooperate for mom. I also played with mixing media (using whichever tools/media produced the colour or texture that I wanted), making things with no instructions (clay sculptures, paper mache shapes, etc.), and generally making shit up as I went. But, I haven’t done that in ages.
I know, for me, part of the problem is that art stopped being a habit and my go-to means of relaxing. After years of never having time for it, I lost my confidence in my abilities (my drawing skills have definitely suffered in the past two decades), so it became a source of stress. Instead of just playing, I got upset if things weren’t perfect. So, I turned to patterns I could follow.
And, this is where I contradict what I said above and tell you about how great following instructions can be: Sometimes, you just need to do something that doesn’t require you to be an expert. If nothing else, it helps you to learn the basics. For quilting, following instructions for the first few projects I did gave me the confidence to play and make things up as I go. For cross stitch, I’ve found that, while I know I could do my own thing, I actually really love to follow a pattern, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking of projects I could design on my own.
So, don’t be a slave to Pinterest or other how-to sources, but at the same time, try to appreciate and use them when needed. I do miss the old me, who just tried things without learning about the craft, but I’m also glad that I have the means of finding a million and one tutorials online. I think, though, that I need to play more often and allow myself to just make things without looking for perfection.
Right before Christmas, I found a great little online Canadian shop that specializes in washi tape and other cute stationary things (cards, stickers, paper, etc.), Omiyage. Needless to say, I bought some washi tape. And, then some more.
A couple of days ago, she shared a cute DIY project: washi tape covered pencils. I don’t tend to have many pencils laying around, but I do have some lovely Palomino pencils (allegedly one of if not the best pencil ever … though, I’m rather partial to my Provincial Archives of Alberta pencil, because I like a slightly harder lead). They are plain, pearly white. I decided to make them a little prettier.
The blue tape is a few millimetres too narrow, so there’s a thin strip of uncovered pencil on one side. The floral washi tape is too wide, so there’s about a centimetre of over lap. It looks fine, but it was messy to sharpen, so I redid it with a piece cut to be a little more narrow.
Speaking of sharpening, it is a little hit and miss, but if you have a good quality sharpener, the washi tape is fairly well cut without too much hassle (my only caution would be to use a manual sharpener instead of an electric one and pick the sticky pieces out of your sharpener on occasion).
I decided to do my last Palomino because it looked sad and boring next to the others, but I didn’t have any other wide washi tape. So, I used two different narrow tapes. I put the lighter coloured one on first because I knew that the darker one would show through it and look odd. As with the other pencils, I simply lined up the edge of the washi tape to one of the hexagon edges and slowly smoothed the tape over the hexagon edges as I made my way around the pencil. I overlapped the darker washi tape and repeated the same process.