Above: 11 x 15 inch sketch on cheap ("I'll fall apart if you put wet media on me like you're trying to do" Paper), with Pentel Pigment brush pen and Pentel Dye-based brush pen with water. Selfie, showing my painting shirt, sketched while standing before a mirror in the bathroom. I was sketching Dick on this evening and I flicked my brush up by my shoulder and even though he was sick and only half awake he started up and said, "Did you just wipe your brush on your shirt?" R: Huh? [looking up.] Did I? I don't know. D: You just wiped it right there. [Pointing to my shoulder.] R: Yeah, probably, I don't even notice. Look what I've got on. It hardly matters.—We laugh. I'm wearing a 20-year-old cotton sweatshirt, three sizes too big and torn out beneath both arm pits (seams just gave way) and all the hems at the neck and sleeves are frayed.
A couple times a year I take a little time to evaluate what I’ve been up to, what has been working, what goals are still unmet, and what new goals I see emerging. For the past several years I’ve been sharing my end-of-year self-evaluations on my blog. It allows me to share a little bit more of my life with readers, and model what I think is an essential behavior for effecting change in a creative life.
The look back at 2015 is harder this year. I lost a lot of people: two cousins, an aunt, an uncle, and several friends. Sometimes the deaths were expected because of advanced age. Other times not. Both are difficult to deal with, but both also insist that you take time to reflect on the importance of each individual in your life and the gifts of understanding, compassion, and friendship they bestowed on your life. Death also reminds me to hold my friends closer, to talk to them more. It works against my natural inclination to hunker down and work and work. When we lose people who loved life and fully participated in life it’s a reminder to keep seeking balance in our own lives as well, and to carry on their influence.
2015 was also a hard year for me physically. The hours I’d been putting into eldercare for Dick’s parents took their toll. I was ill from the end of December 2014 through May 2015. I had one week during that time when I wasn’t suffering from a cold, bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia.
It was a wake up call to change how I was living. I always got my cycling and physical therapy in before that, but I had been running on empty for too long. I was susceptible to every germ that visited the folks.
Dick and I had many discussions about how I could go forward in a healthy way, participating in eldercare for his folks. It’s interesting to me, and not a little humorous, that this change and realignment of boundaries over eldercare happened to coincide exactly with the folks’ own diminishing abilities to remember whether I had been there for six three- or four-hour visits a week, or two. Recently in fact my father-in-law announced on the phone to his daughter that I was dead, despite the fact that I’d happened to see him the three previous days in a row. We’ve shifted the dynamic of how I spend my time with them to protect my health, my work efforts, and ensure that they have companionship on a regular basis for what we believe, and hope, will be many more years to come.
In spite of this shift in balancing eldercare needs it was well into cycling season before I was able to get on my bike and ride outside again. I found it took several months before my lungs and legs worked as a unit. Even with that late start I was able to log 2,468.12 miles on the road in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I was able to keep that up with the help of a fabulous massage therapist, David Wicklund, and because I kept doing my physical therapy exercises for my neck and shoulder. I was even able to to keep up with a sometimes grueling online teaching schedule in May and July, typing eight hours or more a day, because of the strength I developed and the support.
Self-evaluation time is also an opportunity for me to focus on gratitude and not only am I grateful to David for helping me meet my health goals in 2015, I’m grateful to all my friends who “didn’t give up on me” all those weeks when I couldn’t leave the house because I was either ill or glued to the computer.
And I'm grateful to Dick, as well, for his patience, in putting up with what was a pretty crabby and out of sorts house-bound "Munchkin."
Throughout my life, however, there has been one key marker of how a given year really went—how many journal pages did I finish?
If the page count runs below “normal” I can look quickly to see what else was happening in my life that offset the journaling “effort.” I see quickly where the time traps are in my life. I find this an accurate and easy assessment asset to have—it allows me to organize and prepare for the next year.
I do not count any pages or sheets generated at life drawing co-op sessions as I’m able to generate up to 30 sheets of work in a two-hour period under those conditions. It would skew my totals for me to include them.
This year I created a total of 1145 journal pages. An average year in pages (just a little over my 3 pages a day norm).
Update 12.31.15 at 6:50 p.m.: A reader asked why I don't count volumes for a year? Since I make my own books (typically) and they are of different thicknesses, the volume count is useless to judge productivity. But I always mention my letter span for each year when I do my wrap up and I got caught in the digressions and forgot.
This year I filled volumes A through M. The loose pages are in boxes which get labeled differently and don't get a letter.
Of that total 1065 pages were in journals; 39 pages were in my small loose sheets journal; and 41 pages were in my large loose sheets journal. Loose sheet journal pages are done on a variety of different papers I want to experiment on, typically cut to 9 x 12 inches or smaller and stored in labeled boxes. This year I also worked on 11 x 15 inch and larger sheets.
A tendency to get larger and larger is something I have NOT really been trying to fight at all for the past three years. But this year’s loose sheet total is different in that I typically don’t work on loose sheets of the larger size—I just make paintings instead. This total of 80 loose sheet journal pages is low, compared to past years. Given that I spent so much of spring working on new work for the dog-art show (mentioned below), the low total for loose sheets is not surprising to me.
Now you can begin to see that in order to retrieve any of this material for later use either for bon mot in a conversation, notes I’ve developed for a class, or sketches I need so I can complete a painting, indexing my journals is essential for the way I work. You can read about how I index my journals here.
Above: 9 x 12 inch sheet of paper on which I did some quick, bad math about the 5 journals I had going on 11.27.15. I ended up finishing the Nideggen journal on December 28. The Kilimanjaro (misspelled on the chart) was completed on December 30. The last few days of December I did begin a new small pack journal (approx. 5 x 5 inches) to carry with me. It will become the first journal of 2016. I also lifted the ban on “loose sheet journal pages.” Read more about this chart in the post. Click on the image to view and enlargement.
I thought it might be fun for you to learn a little bit more about that total, so I’ve included my “chart” that I did one day during the Thanksgiving Day weekend, when I happened to look up at the shelf and see that I had five journals in progress at the same time.
Now normally I like to keep only one journal, but because of the excessive amount of typing and video editing I had been doing it was unwise to carry one of my usual 8 x 8 inch or so journals about with me. I needed something smaller. And having something smaller meant I still wanted something larger when I wasn’t out and about.
Since 2010 I’ve typically had one Fabriano Venezia 9 x 12 inch journal going in the studio. I do studies for paintings, portrait practice (sketching Dick, friends, and also people on TV). Additionally I collect tid-bits from things that I read and paste them in that journal. It’s an idea generating tool even more than my regular journal—because let’s face it, sometimes my regular journal is “simply” about my day, the way paint feels on the paper (typically some paper I love because I made a journal specifically out of it because I love that paper), and whether or not I’ve sketched more snow piles in a given winter than my friend Ken Avidor. (I am it seems a little competitive after all. Who knew it would come down to snow piles!)
Note: I no longer recommend Fabriano Venezia Journals in any size, as I have had two of them split at the binding on me after only light use, and recently a student wrote to me explaining the same thing had happened to him. I will be posting a review about this in the near future. I mention it here because I didn’t want you to think that past use of this commercially bound journal was an endorsement of future use.
Since 2013 I have used my favorite Japanese Lined notebooks (which have paper covers and sewn signatures) for the most private of my journals—the journals in which I write about my on-going projects, my thoughts about things that are happening around me. All the stuff I used to have in my visual journals but which filtered out as I taught more and more classes and brought journals to class for students to look at.
For me the journaling and sketching process, because it is the way I use my mind to think about the world, must first and foremost be about me as the primary audience, no one else. And I need to protect the privacy of that act of creation. This means that older journals might be brought to classes, and I would bring high quality prints of pages containing techniques or work I wanted to share with students, but I was no longer comfortable with so many people “rummaging in my mind.” Every artist is different on this score.
I don’t mind talking about things in my life or my creative process after the fact, but when something is on-going I like to keep it private. This ensures my responses and reactions are authentic and not showmanship. I don’t have time for that in my life. First and foremost I have to get my essential work done in the limited time I have on earth. And I do this best alone with my journal.
Think about this: If in a given year I do 1,145 journal pages and I post three times a week, sometimes with more than one image, but usually just with a single image, that means I’m only posting 156 to 220 images on average in a given year.
That’s 13 to 19 percent of my journal pages.
I’m posting things that I feel comfortable sharing or feel compelled to share. I look for pieces in my journal to share because they will allow me to talk about the topics I believe I’m ready to talk about, whether it’s eldercare or a new experiment I want to discuss with you because you need to try it too.
There’s a lot of editing going on here. (Says the woman who has written over 2 million words on this blog…Now you know why so many of my friends are exhausted all the time talking to me about all the things that interest me!)
I point this out so that readers are reminded to give thought to what they share online or in creative groups. I want to encourage people to think about how what they share impacts or effects their creative lives. Sometimes sharing is benign, but you have to be clear about your expectations in sharing. I share to pass along information I find helpful. Not to make friends (though who doesn’t love to influence people?). Be clear about why you are sharing work, with whom you’re sharing it, and what the value to you is in the sharing. It is important that you always protect your creative core.
The Japanese Lined Journals have been perfect for my process. I’ve seen a return to the chaotically organized way I journaled when I was an undergraduate. And I love it. I also love that the paper is cheap and buckles when I paint on it. As the books fill they have the most incredible texture that includes a symphony of paper rattling sounds. (Yes, I have the paper sickness.)
I had one of these lined journals in play on November 27, when I realized I had a lot of journals in progress.
I also had a 9 x 12 inch cold press watercolor paper journal—Kilimanjaro from Cheap Joe’s. I began it during the summer, sometime before the Minnesota State Fair. I was testing it to see whether or not I’d be taking one of them to this year’s Fair, for my journal. I did not.
I still had to finish the book however. I’m not compulsive about finishing books (really). If paper in a book is bad I’ll often just run through it doing a bunch of studies or warm up sketches. But the paper in this book is lovely, just not what I wanted to sketch on at the Fair.
I decided that finishing the book would help be explore cold press paper more, and support my return to painting and using a real brush. (It’s so heavenly to lay the Niji down and pick up a real brush.)
Book 5 in the chart was a small 5-1/2 inch square book made as a mock-up/test sample in 2001—it contained Rives Lightweight. That’s a paper that’s too light to paint on but which loves pen and pencil work. I had some in the studio when the mock-up was made. It never got used. It was so small it was perfect for carrying in my bag when bag-weight considerations were a top priority.
Actually I fell in love with this paper, especially the way the Sakura Pigma Sensei pens worked on it—their sharp tips cutting into it creating lines that looked more etched than drawn. I began to consider if I could give up paints in my journal for the joy of using those pens on that paper. And all that happened at the exact same time I was picking up a real brush for the first time in a long time.
The universe does like to send you little challenges now and then, to make you consider if you’re on the right path, and distract you from the big challenges that are just around the bend.
The other book on the chart is a 7-1/2 inch square Simple Round Back Spine book that I made with Nideggen. It too was a sample, but it was one I made in a live class, and because one of the students tore his paper incorrectly when I turned my back for no more than 30 seconds (really!!) and I had to give him several of my signatures so he could complete his project (administration had let two additional students sign up on the morning of the class, and while I had over prepped on cut materials we were barebones on any extra paper), the book is thinner than usual for that style when I make them.
Well after the State Fair I thought it would be a fun book to use in a month, and I really wanted to work on toned paper again. I stopped carrying it when my shoulder reacted and it sat neglected for a month before I picked it up again. You can never really neglect a book filled with Nideggen—they call to you.
But there I was on November 27 talking with Dick in the TV room and I happened to glance up at the shelf I keep the in-progress journals on and I freaked out.
As soon as the conversation was over (and I couldn’t get him out of the room fast enough) I started counting pages and making this chart. My math skills are not the greatest when I’m in a panic so I overestimated how many pages I would have to do each day to fill them up. Then I hit the ground running really really hard, gobbling up pages through the day and into the evening. Staying up late in fact.
When I finally did look up from the frenzy at the end of the first week and do a quick recount and some more division to find out how many pages I needed to do a day to finish them all by the end of the year, I realized I was actually not going to need to do 4 pages a day (my usual is 3 pages a day). I realized that I would run out of pages before the end of the month.
Then of course I had a good laugh, and I wrote this post.
But something great came out of this drive to finish. I painted more with watercolor and with gouache, sometimes spending longer than average on each page, while still doing more pages.
I focused on my goals of working with watercolor while my work world was toppling in around me, and the need to take the folks to this appointment or that appointment cropped up every other day.
The great thing that came out of this chart, however, was my ability to really focus my time between work, family, and art for the final month of the year.
In any end of year wrap up there is another thread I examine, besides the number of journal pages, to gauge my creative health.
I look at my non-journaling art—did I create stand alone paintings and participate in shows, and what type of time effort did the shows take, when compared to the return (in sales, recognition, commissions, and so on.)
I participated in three art shows this year. With friends Linda, Dean, and Marcia I set up in Linda’s space for the May Art-a-Whirl. (I didn’t have time to paint new work for that show and instead just offered prints for sale, already framed. The show was a complete bust for me, except for the interesting 3-days of time spent with Linda, Dean, and Marcia.
One of the things you learn when you show your work is whether or not people like what you’re putting out there. The other thing you learn is whether or not you’re hitting the price points. I kept my costs low by buying low cost (but attractive and serviceable) frames, spending money on good quality mats, and doing my own printing on my archival printer. Since my work was priced pretty much at cost, even if I had sold all of it I would not have covered my costs for printer ink, food for gallery visitors, and port-a-pottie rental. (We all shared in the last two expenses.) It was a risk I was willing to take because I wanted to see “what the price point was.”
I’m sad to report I can’t be sure I have any real information from that experience. Well, I have one piece of knowledge, I need to engage more with people coming in and actively discuss my work. Perhaps because I was just coming out of an almost 5-month long quarantine I didn’t engage people as much as I typically do. So energy level becomes something else I need to take into account when planning to participate in a show.
Later in the year I was asked to participate in a dog-art show. I created new work for that show. I showed only original paintings, no prints. But again I had mat and frame costs I had to keep down.
At this show I also didn’t make any sales, despite pricing my art lower than ever before. (It had been a couple years since I’d participated in a show and I thought my art prices should remain stagnant.) The difference was that many people came out to the show and complete strangers told me all the things they loved about my work. So while the work wasn’t priced right for them, it was at least appealing to them. That's a good bit of information to have.
I keep time sheets on everything I do. (Seriously, everything. Dick jokes that I would have a punch-card clock like Bill Murray’s character Bob in “What About Bob?” if he didn’t dissuade me twice a year.) From those records I can see that the efforts to create and package the art for those shows was definitely “lost.”
I was also pleased and excited to invited to participate in the “Love Letters” show at the Groveland Gallery. You can see the piece I created for that show here. It was for sale and it didn’t sell, despite a low price. It was a personal piece and I had no expectations that it would sell. I believe that sometimes you participate in shows because of a number of factors totally unrelated to sales. I’m very happy to have participated in this show.
In no small way the dog-art show and the invitation for “Love Letters” allowed me to move back into painting with gouache, after so many months of not being able to hold a brush at times. I look at that outcome as the real benefit of all the time spent on those activities.
When I take all of the above into account I see themes and tendencies emerge. I see areas I need to watch or time will be dissipated. I see where I need to put my focus for development of my own skills and for where I want to go as a teacher.
I see how I am able to manage “it all” even when deep into something I wonder if I can get through it.
As humans we have an immense capacity to get through really horrible shit. So the small things that happen to us need not derail us, and the bigger things, the things which leave huge holes in our heart, don’t leave us broken. We remain active and searching.
An evaluation at the end of the year, when the “stats” are in, revitalizes me. I’m ready to go for the next year. I know how I need to balance things, and moderate my expectations. I go into the new year with a realistic set of expectations and goals, many of which will probably be achieved. All of which I know are worth pursuing because I’ve consciously examined all aspects of my life and made choices that support those goals and expectations.
Sure there are many things not yet finished or goals reached. But the focus isn’t on those “failures.” The focus is on the nature of the events and my actions and my choices so that I can rethink and go at it again.
The other capacity we have as humans is our ability to adapt. Self-evaluation gives you an opportunity to do just that. To look honestly at what’s been accomplished and what is yet to be accomplished and make a plan.
It’s time to open the new day planner and write the lists and set the dates and show up to make it happen.
I hope you all have a fantastic and creative 2016. Thank you for spending your time checking in with me, for writing in, for playing along on Project Fridays, for writing to tell my your own materials experiences, for telling me which types of classes you are eager for, and especially for caring about paper.
Catch you in the new year. I’ve got some new commercially bound sketchbooks I’m going to review, I’ll finally get around to discussing the new color palette, and I can’t wait to get to the zoo!
Remember to sketch out in public as much as you can. You’re a role model for kids everywhere whose parents told them “You can’t grow up and be an artist, you have to work for a living.”
Show up and sketch and let those children see what’s possible: that life is a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot easier if you’re having fun sketching!
And yes, this was a 4,158 word post. It’s the end of the year—and I’m going with it. Thanks for staying up and reading it.