Above: Page spred from my 7.75 x 9.75 inch Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper soft-covered journal. A direct brush portrait of Dick using a regular watercolor brush and Daniel Smith watercolors. I thought when better to show some more sketches of Dick than in an end of year wrap up when one of my goals for the year was to sketch more portraits of Dick, typically when he was watching TV. Also I wanted to make the point that one of the best ways to set and keep our art goals is to create series for ourselves to work with. By returning again and again to the same subject matter or theme we push ourselves to find visual vocabulary for those subjects that matter to us. We push ourselves to analyze where we need to focus for improvement. And we push ourselves to get more practice in, because more practice will go a long way to helping us achieve any of our creative goals.
It’s time for my end of year wrap up. I do self-evaluations several times during the year, to check my progress on my goals, but since starting the blog in 2008 I’ve done a reduced “public” version in an end-of-year post. My hope is that folks new to journaling, or people just picking up a pen to sketch will look at their own efforts and how they match their goals and reset or forge forward as needed.
The point of these posts isn’t for comparison with others, just comparison with yourself. Comparisons with others aren’t useful because you don’t really know all the issues, responsibilities, opportunities, etc. that someone else faced.
Left: A detail from the opening image. Besides working in a series to improve my speed and ability to deal with the "global" threat that are Dick's eyebrows, setting myself this series also forced me, after a long time "off" due to injury, to pick up brush and paint and sketch again. So a series has no end of uses in our creative lives.
For me, more than ever, doing an evaluation today is about looking for where I can find balance in my life.
So let’s dive in with health issues first. In 2014 I was still fighting shoulder and arm injuries that impacted my ability to cycle outside and to bind books. I countered all this by faithfully adhering to my physical therapy regime and not overdoing when I finally could get back on the road with my bike. I went frequently to the massage therapist to aid my recovery and maintain my working ability. I also gave up binding books for the year. The only books I bound in 2014 were for the classes I taught: one sample before each class to reacquaint myself with the structure I’d be teaching, and one book during the class. Very few books indeed. Oh, I did make a case for a pre-bound soft-covered book, but that’s a story for another day.
I found that giving up binding wasn’t enough. I discovered that the squeezy ink brushes I love to use, and even my Niji Waterbrush, contribute to the tendonitis issues in my dominant arm. So I also gave up marathons sessions with those tools and for many months gave up watercolor as well. I think I missed that most of all, because at least if I wanted the fun of slashing a swirl of ink across a page spread I could turn to the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen which doesn’t require any sqeezing.
Mouse handling was also a problem and I continue to look into more efficient and ergonomic ways to work the long hours I need to work at the computer, shifting the mouse about the desk.
I’m happy to say I made such great recovery that in the fall I signed up for a life drawing portrait session, hoping to get back into painting. I lasted 3 or 4 weeks before family duties and old injuries rebelled. I find that I simply cannot carry large bags of art supplies into an art co-op any longer. I could look into getting one of those suitcases you drag around, but there would still be the necessity of picking it up and lifting it in and out of the car. All actions which are complicated by my shoulder issues.
Left: I can't end 2014 without making a case for working even when you are ill. I caught the flu, despite having a flu shot, at the end of the year. Also despite having the flu I kept working not just on those projects I "had" to work on, but also in my journal. I kept working on my creative projects and that included my series of sketches of Dick. This sketch came on a particularly bad day. I couldn't stop coughing. But I wanted to work in my journal and feel I had accomplished something. I did a warm up on the opposite page and then started a sketch in the middle of this page (Dick's forehead) which went badly right away. I began again with his right eye (on the left) at the bottom of the page, thinking I would do his eye and his nose. That was the only goal. I did that and kept working at it between coughs until it started to look so good that I built up around it from there. I finally chucked it all in because I was coughing so much I didn't have patience to wait for the eye on the right to dry so I could do some rubbing out and correcting with new washes. I knew I really was done at that point. So you do have to know your limits, but your limits are further out there than you first suspect. And another desire that pushed me forward here was that this was one of the 4 journals I was working in, simultaneously, and with one more sketch after this it was finished. In fact I was able to finish them all as well as a journal I was testing, before the end of the year. I'll have something more to say about that on another day. I am relieved to be back in the land of one journal at a time!
What I learned from this experience is that if I want to return to life drawing co-op I have to find a way to scale back what I take with me. This shouldn’t be difficult because I do this every time I leave the house to sketch out in the city or the country—I take only what is needed. Why then should it be difficult for me to do that when I go to the co-op? Simply it is at the co-op that I find I want to take a variety of supplies with me so that I can work with mixed media and change tools on a whim depending on how things are going. I want that flexibility.
Be we can’t have everything we want and I have realized that I must scale back. So in 2015 I will be taking very little indeed to life drawing and my goals for life drawing will be adjusted to reflect those new boundaries and limitations. Balance.
2014 was a difficult year for me in general health. I got pneumonia and it was actually May 23 before I could go outside on my bike—others had been riding outside on clear roads for at least 4 weeks already. Because I still had shoulder and arm issues to deal with I went out this spring and purchased a new bicycle that I could ride in an upright position with minimal weight on my arms and hands. Additionally the front wheel had a shock absorber, of the type you find on mountain bikes. I also elected to ride the entire year on the stretch of biking path that is pretty much seamless. It’s only 5 miles and that meant many switchbacks to get in my daily miles, but it meant less wear on my upper body. So my goal was to ride outside as much as possible and by making these adjustments that goal was possible. I was able to ride 14 to 20 miles a day outside from May 23 to November 9, 2014. It snowed on November 10 and it wasn’t until the end of December that we got a warm spell (32-39 degrees) that would have made riding possible, but I had the flu by then. So my outdoor season ended on November 9 with 1,815 miles logged since May 23, not quite six months.
I’m frustrated by this because I’ve been able to log more miles in past years. But I remind myself that I was recovering from injury and illness.
I’m also frustrated by the fact that the new bike was heavier and I had a difficult time getting up to the speeds I was previously used to.
But then in all that frustration I reminded myself that I had taken steps to ensure I could ride with less wear and tear on my body, and that I was riding. Balance.
But I’m still going to argue that the 2014 season should have an asterisk.
Besides the fact that I didn’t bind in 2014 it was a weird year for journaling because only 3 of the journals I used in 2014 were made by me. I could have selected handmade journals off the storage shelf, journals I had made in advance and held back from various batches, but since I wasn’t painting I somehow didn’t have the heart for that. Instead I used commercially bound journals I really love like the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media paper journals (both hard-cover and soft-cover). I also reconnected with my “college roots” and started working in lined Japanese Journals in much the same way I worked while in college—lots of writing wedged in amongst the sketches and no real thought for composition; pages completed over the course of a day instead of in one sitting (so they were comprised of many elements); and more work from my imagination (which usually ends up in my written journals).
I’m actually thrilled at the final result. I got back something very special as I adapted to my needs of the time.
In 2014 I filled 18 journals (A through R), and completed 1,305 pages in the bound journals I kept. I still kept my loose pages journal and I filled one 9 x 12 inch box with 260 loose sheets. So my visual journal page total for the year is 1,565. (I also did 30 loose sheets of 22 x 30 inch paper for my fake journal for International Fake Journal Month, but I don’t usually add those to my total as I didn’t really do those did I?)
That’s more than my usual normal total for a year so I wanted to look more closely at that. The obvious thing that immediately jumps out at me is that I didn’t do many paintings in 2014. Maybe 10 or 12 paintings that were 9 x 12 inches or larger and of the “completed” state that I would consider worth exhibiting.
So few paintings is a concern for me. This tells me I’m spending too much time in the journal. It makes sense that I would be because I was recovering from physical injuries, but it’s also a reminder to watch myself. I can get lost for weeks in my journal, creating odd visual games and intrigues. But where is the balance?
For 2015 I’m setting time aside to work on more paintings. I’ve already outlined for myself what some of those painting themes will be. I’ll move back to balance with these goals in mind.
Looking at my journal output in this way I see that I did accomplish one of my journal goals for 2014—I moved past the emotional constipation I felt over what to personally expose in my journals. I examine what I need to examine and I simply don’t share my journals with others. If I share a piece on my blog I blot out text for privacy (which I’ve always done to some extent but now do without any qualms). I have too much private work to do and too little time in which to do it. I no longer take journals to my lectures. Instead I take selected pieces which I can talk about in a meaningful way during a slide show. I have definitely moved further along the privacy continuum, cycling back to a position I held before I started teaching. It feels very comfortable to do so. Balance.
While I didn’t get a lot of paintings done in 2014 I did make a successful return to online teaching. In 2011 I gave a class for Strathmore in the inaugural year of their online journaling classes. This year I created a class for Sketchbook Skool’s “Beginnings” semester, which first aired in April.
I had hoped to do more online classes in 2013 but eldercare intervened in a huge way. Sketchbook Skool was a nice push back. For 2015 I’ll be releasing more online classes. A comprehensive binding class will be reviewed in the next few weeks. I hope to have it available in February. I’ll also be bringing my Strathmore class back “out of the vault.” I will also finish editing my sketching animals from life at the Minnesota State Fair class in February or March.
All this time editing video reminds me of the need for balance. If I create these new classes the balance will come in less journal time and less painting time. So that will be the juggling I’ll attempt to keep tabs on going into 2015. I think that’s doable.
What remains difficult is finding a balance in elder care. But the more I think about the issues surrounding elder care the more I realize it isn’t so much an issue of balance as an issue of acceptance. There are some things we can do, and other things we cannot do.
In long-term relationships we witness the lives of others and depending on the circumstances we help where we can. And at every step there is a choice. Some of those choices make those things we previously wanted to accomplish no longer possible, or less possible in the same time frame.
Perhaps then elder care is the reality of life intensified into a shockingly vivid series of choices. And if we can’t learn balance in the midst of that maybe it’s simply beyond us.
I choose to believe that it is possible because I learn, examine, and learn more. And this makes me adaptable because I am aware of where my time is going, what my goals are, and how I want to live as an ethical person.
I hope you all find time as this year closes to think about your creative process and your artistic goals and outline a way that you can seek balance.
I also want to thank you all for reading my blog, for returning to it so frequently, for relying on it for information, for sharing your feedback (and movie picks) with me. I’ve written over two million words since I started the blog in October 2008. Almost 1,900 blog posts. It’s been a lot for you to put up with. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.
Maybe it’s time for another quiz in 2015?
I’m looking forward to seeing what part the blog will play in my creative life in 2015. Thanks for being a part of that so far.
You can read my 2013 End of Year Wrap Up here. It contains links to other wrap ups and evaluations and contains additional discussion about the importance I feel this practice has in any creative or thoughtful life.