On Messing Around

03/05/14

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{A shot from my studio yesterday; some of this got painted over by the end of the day}

One of the greatest things about making art is that moment when you find you are on a roll with something: you cannot stop, and all you want to do is paint and paint {or whatever it is you do}. This moment (or this extended moment) is really pretty special, because often the opposite is true: that we are stuck or feel like we are onto nothing at all or that everything we do is unoriginal or just generally sucks.

Most of the time when we feel we are onto something potentially great, it happens because we are just messing around. We allow ourselves time to play, without external pressures, requirements or deadlines. I heard something recently (and honestly I don’t remember where I heard it) that play leads to mastery. I think this is why it must be great to go into an MFA program — to literally pay thousands of dollars to buy time to experiment and play and then to get feedback on it (so you can go back and do it over again).

As a full time working illustrator I have found that I just don’t have enough time to mess around in my studio. Lately I have been trying to change that, even if it means taking on fewer illustration jobs. I feel like I haven’t had a breakthrough or been on a good “roll” in a long, long time (even when I took the month of January off). And I think it’s mostly because I don’t have or make time to play in my studio. I truly love most of my “work” (aka illustration jobs), but I also want to push my practice so much further to break out of the habits/methods/motifs that are safe for me. But so far I haven’t felt that I could give sufficient time to both illustration work and zero pressure, playful experimentation. I always feel stretched a bit. Sometimes I feel stretched a lot.

Yesterday I made some time for play in my studio (aka, didn’t do other stuff on my list) and I hit the beginning of some kind of roll  (I think?). But just as I was hitting it, I had to leave the studio to go home for dinner. Sometimes I wish I was one of those artists who sleeps at her studio, and lives and breathes “her work” (aka her personal work, not her client work). But then I think about sleeping on the tiny sofa in my studio and cooking dried ramen on the hot plate for dinner and being away from my significant other, and I think, no, I am too old for that.

I wonder sometimes if the plight of the illustrator is finding this balance between making a living making illustrations for other people/companies/publications and also keeping up with personal creativity and experimentation. Regardless, that is my plight.

Old story here, new words to describe it (aka, balancing illustration & personal work). I am determined to figure it out.

Happy Wednesday, friends.

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Digging in to Abstraction

11/11/13

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You may recall that earlier this year I announced I was going to experiment with abstract painting. I’m happy to report that (nearly a year later) my work on abstract paintings happily (albeit slowly!) continues. The painting above (not yet finished) is the largest I’ve ever worked on. This photo was taken in my studio Friday, where the light was pouring in. Here’s a close up of one section that includes some of the detail work:

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I’ll be sure to share with you the completed piece when it’s finished. Last week I signed for my first two abstract commissions, so there will be many more to come over the next two months. It’s quite an addicting practice and I can’t wait to get back to this one.

Happy Monday.

 

CATEGORIES My Studio | Paintings
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Progress in the Studio

10/03/13

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{Me in my studio, taken by my friend Kelly Wilkinson)

You may remember back in July I made a commitment to myself that I’d spend at least one day a week — mostly Wednesdays — making personal work in my studio. I gave a short update in August. Two months in, I am happy to report that my one day a week has been pretty life changing, which was the goal. I am hoping in 2014 that I have even more than one day a week to dedicate to this kind of exploration in my studio. Here is the progression of some of the pieces I’ve been working on. First, a reminder of where I started:

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And then…

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Some of the pieces are finished. Several of the paintings still need a lot of development (thank goodness there are always more Wednesdays). The shadowbox collages are going into a show at Bedford Gallery in December. The paintings I’ll put up for sale soon in my Big Cartel Shop. Stay tuned.

Happy Thursday!

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I Like Wednesdays

08/21/13

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A few weeks ago I shared that I was dedicating time once a week on Wednesdays to make personal work in my studio  (as opposed to commissioned illustration work, which is what I spend most of my time doing). Wednesday is turning out to be my favorite day of the week, as you might imagine.

I realized that I’ve been so busy painting and drawing that I haven’t cut paper (in my studio) since March 17 when I took Lisa Kokin’s mixed media class. This is crazy, especially for someone whose medium used to be collage. So I got out my scissors and exacto knife (along with the usual graphite, ink and gouache) and and finished this piece. I’m participating in a couple of group shows coming up, and she will probably also be for sale. I’ll keep you posted.

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{Gouache, ink, graphite and cut paper; finished piece is 11×14 inches, framed in shadowbox}

On another note, so many people wrote kind notes and tweets yesterday after I posted this short essay on comparison. I can’t respond to all of them (there were so many), but I wanted to say thank you to everyone who wrote & tweeted. Most simply said: “Yep, been there too” — and that alone was comforting to hear. It makes me remember that it is our humanness that connects us.

Happy Wednesday.

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On Making Time to Make Personal Work

07/25/13

34e4816af4a411e2a9ed22000a1fb773_7Part of achieving the work/life balance that I’ve been striving for is making time for creating personal work. I’ve written about this before, but as working artists go, I think busy working illustrators, in particular — especially busy illustrators — struggle with finding time to make work just for the sake of making work (as opposed to making work specifically for a client, and that’s what I mean by “personal” work). I’ve been really lucky in that I continue to get (and take) a really nice amount of paying work and with great clients on fantastic projects. And I’m so grateful for that. But the flip side is that time for creative exploration (unattached to any particular outcome) has fallen by the wayside. I made a decision before I left for Paris that from now until the end of the year I would take every Wednesday afternoon (for at least 5 hours) to make personal work in my studio. It would be sacred time, and only illness or other extreme circumstances could interrupt it.  Even if I am up against tight deadlines with client work, I’ll take this time to play in my studio.

Yesterday was my first of these Wednesdays, and it was everything I’d hoped for: relaxing and fun. I’d started a new abstract painting a couple of months ago and it’s been sitting in various stages of completion for a long time. In addition, I have several blank, gessoed canvases waiting for paint. So the first thing I did was hang them on the vast studio wall that has been sitting unadorned since I moved there in March. I have never before had the luxury of so much wall or floor space in a studio, and I am thrilled to be using it now.

My goal was to really dig into the abstract that I’d started, and I spent the afternoon incorporating line work into the piece — an idea I’d been wanting to carry out for some time. I really love doing detailed line work. I find it incredibly calming. I mostly do it with pens in my sketchbook but today I decided to take it to a canvas with a small brush and some soft body acrylic paint. The result is below.

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This piece is called Le Chemin, which means The Path in French. It’s 16×24 inches, gouache and acrylic on canvas.

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It was a hot one in my studio yesterday. When it’s hot outside, it’s particularly hot in my studio. When it’s cold, it’s particularly cold. Admittedly, I spent a good part of the afternoon taking breaks to sit on my sofa to drink water and recover from the minor swelter. I have to remind myself that sitting and doing nothing for periods of time is not only part of the creative process, but part of how to not be a crazy workaholic. And that, my friends, is precisely what I am aiming for.

 

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On Being Tattooed

06/18/13

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Tattoos? They are not for everyone. But I have eleven of them, and they are so much a part of me that I often forget that other people notice them. Late last year, I did a rare lengthy interview about my tattoos with photographer Caroline Lee, who also took photographs of my tattoos and my former studio in San Francisco. You can read the interview here and see the rest of the photos too.

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Me & The Good Life Project

01/10/13

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Full disclosure: I am mortified at the sight of myself on video. The first time I watched myself talk for 20 minutes after giving my Creative Mornings Talk I needed a stiff drink. However, a) I’m trying to get over worrying about my crooked mouth or sounding like a dork and  b) I had so much fun talking to Jonathan Fields of The Good Life Project last month that I’m sharing this 45 minute interview with you. It was filmed in my studio, and I talk about a lot of stuff (more topics than I can name here). I hope you enjoy. Thank you, Jonathan!

Psst: You might also like some of Jonathan’s other interviews, including interviews with Seth Godin and Brene Brown and a myriad of other creative entrepreneurs.

 

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thank you :: thank you

12/10/12

{“Can I haz cookie?” :: Wilfredo at my studio sale yesterday}

I want to thank everyone who came out to my studio sale yesterday. I was blown away at the attendance and the sales. To everyone who showed up, and especially to those of you who were able to purchase something from me: THANK YOU. I am so grateful that you support my work. I could not do what I do without you. And I could not adequately express that to everyone yesterday in person. Thank you, thank you.

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My Big Cartel Shop has far fewer things in it after yesterday, but for those of you who are still interested in making a purchase of original work before the holiday I’ve still got some good stuff in there. My last day to ship before closing my shop for the holidays is December 19 (and if you want something to arrive before Christmas, I advise purchasing by end of day Tuesday, December 11. If you do, it will ship December 12. I only ship on Wednesdays.)

Happy Monday!

CATEGORIES For Sale | My Studio
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Frequently Asked Questions :: Supplies

11/30/12

{the view from one of my work tables, taken in 2010}

One of the questions I get frequently is: What kind of supplies do you use in your work? So today I’m going to share a little bit of that with you. Art-making is a process of experimentation. I think it’s always smart to occasionally try new supplies (whether it’s a new medium or a new brand of medium), just to see if you might like something a little bit better. Taking advice or tips from other artists is also helpful. I have learned so much from the recommendations of friends.

Again, as always, my disclaimer: I do no speak for all artists here. I speak only for myself. These are the supplies I like & use. They may not work for you.

1) Paint. I use gouache. I occasionally also use acrylic (which mixes easily with the kind of gouache I use). I also occasionally use water colors. I like gouache because it is smooth, and it works well for me on a variety of surfaces. It is easy to both use thick (out of the tube with a little water) and to thin out (like water color with a lot of water). It does not have the “grip” that acrylic has, which can make it difficult when you are painting on a smooth, hard surface like masonite, but with practice that becomes easier. My favorite brand of gouache is Acryla. The color selection is lush and they mix nicely. It is more opaque than many gouaches. And that might be because it’s an acrylic-based watercolor paint. Many other gouaches are used with the binding agent gum arabic. Gouache is matte in finish, while acrylic paint can be a bit shiny. I like this, especially when I’m painting on paper.

2) Pens. One word: Micron. I love this pen, and I have about three in each width, from very tiny to thick. I do all my lettering with Microns. They are permanent and acid free. Finding the widths that work best for you (I tend to use .03-.08 the most often) can take some time, but I do use other widths for detail work or filler. I get most of my Microns at Flax Art & Design in San Francisco where you can pick and choose from a variety of sizes and colors.

3) Pencils. I use a regular old #2 for most of my drawings. And a good quality gum eraser. I sharpen often. I also use blending stumps and fixative.

4) Brushes. I don’t spend too much money on expensive brushes. I tend to use brushes that are about 6 inches long (I prefer these to long handled brushes), and I sometimes even buy the cheaper variety pack. I go through brushes very quickly (even expensive brushes). I tend to use angular, bright and flat brushes, along with liner brushes for detail work. Some of my brushes are so tiny that you can barely see the hairs on them! This is a great brush shape chart. I like brushes that are smooth (important for the kind of work I do), but also stiff (I don’t use water color brushes which can be softer). Experimenting with brushes is also important! It took me years to figure out what kinds of brushes work best for me.

5) Paper. I work on watercolor paper and regular drawing paper, depending on what I’m painting or drawing. I buy whatever is on sale, but I always look at whatever I buy to make sure it feels right (yes, touch the paper before you buy it!). I keep a variety of weights and colors around. I sometimes prefer painting on off-white paper rather than pure white because it scans better and looks less washed out.

6) Panels. I work on both wood panels and gessoed masonite panels. I like cradled panels the best because they are ready to hang. Sometimes I work on canvas too. I’m not wedded to any brand. I tend to buy what looks good quality and seems affordable.

7) Other. I also use Exacto Knives and scissors for paper cutting. I also use painters tape and a metal ruler for creating straight edges. I love circle and other shape templates. I use a Black and Decker Hand Sander to sand edges and smooth surfaces or add some distress to my work on wood. I sometimes also use transfer paper to transfer my sketches to the painting or drawing surface. When doing collage I use archival quality glue or glue sticks. Sometimes I use a glue gun when I’m making three dimensional work. I also own a miter saw to make frames for my paintings.

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I didn’t go to art school, so much of what I’ve learned about supplies has been through experimentation. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m using the “right” materials! But I love what John Cage said once: “Art is whatever you can get away with.” And, as a mostly self-taught artist, that as been my story.

You can view previous FAQ’s here. Happy Friday.

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Career Day on Drifter & the Gypsy!

11/27/12

I’m super excited to be featured over at Drifter & the Gypsy today for Micaela’s new Career Day series! I talk about my work as an illustrator and answer questions submitted by readers. You can check it out here. Thank you for inviting me, Micaela.

{Photo above by Victoria Smith, 2011}

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I’m Having a Holiday Open Studio!

11/20/12

Mark your calendars! I’m opening up my Mission District studio for visitors on Sunday, December 9! I’ll have tons of original art for sale at many price points plus refreshments. I hope you will swing by if you are in or near San Francisco!

CATEGORIES For Sale | My Studio
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One Man’s Trash…

10/09/12

{the bag of BRAVO candy right after I purchased them}

{basket of little bits of ephemera in my studio}

I am a scavenger. If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve been a collector of old and discarded things since I was a little girl.

When I was in Sweden last month, I discovered the candy BRAVO and bought it for the packaging (this happens a lot!). I love the colors, the graphics and the vintage aesthetic. I plan to make something (not sure what yet) out of the wrappers. Stay tuned for that.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

 

CATEGORIES Inspiration | My Studio
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Inspiration, Gathered

10/05/12

As promised, here’s a little shot of some of the visual paper inspiration I gathered on my trip last month, and a few things I already had in a pile in my studio. I hung them on a blank wall in my studio this week. Tomorrow I’m going to get a few new pieces of furniture for my studio, which feels good. I am outgrowing my current table space, so a new, bigger work table is coming in. I’m pretty excited about that. In other more depressing news, I found out yesterday my landlord is raising the rent in my art studio building significantly. My studio is in a really cool neighborhood in an expensive city, so in some ways I am not surprised. I don’t know how much longer I am going to be able to afford to stay in this beautiful, light filled space. I am in a conundrum about what to do. Hoping for some clarity soon.

CATEGORIES Inspiration | My Studio
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I’m in the Next Issue of Mollie Makes!

08/27/12

I’m so thrilled to be in the upcoming issue of the British Magazine Mollie Makes! Mollie Makes is published thirteen times a year. They curate craft from around the world into a gorgeous magazine, and in the current issue they’ve featured my studio!

You can subscribe to Mollie Makes here, and you can download the iPad version here.

CATEGORIES My Studio | Press
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This Guy

06/13/12

Every few days Wilfredo comes to my studio with me to hang out while I work. I’m not sure why, but he always gets really drowsy in my studio, and so all he does is curl up and sleep while he’s there. I guess that’s good because I’m usually there to work, and if he were wanting to play fetch like he normally does, I wouldn’t get much done.

The photos above are from yesterday. I love this guy so much. He’s a little angel.

CATEGORIES My Studio
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