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Technology, Life, Letters, and Thank Goodness for Outside Biking!

March 29, 2017
Brush pen and gouache sketch on a pre-painted background in a large A4 Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbook. I was going to write something about painting with gouache today, but my bike rides have been going so well that it made me think of all the things I love in my life as much as gouache and well, read the post and find out about that. The text is almost unrelated to the image—except that painting in gouache makes me feel the same way cycling makes me feel—very connected and very happy indeed. See the other images in this post for more views of this work.

I’m going through the transition period to outside cycling up here in Minnesota. The weather, in the 70s for a few brief days last month has once again climbed up to the 50s. The sun has also cooperated. I’m glad, because cycling is the perfect way to blow off steam when computers and technical things go wrong.

We have so much technical stuff, so much technology,  in our lives now. Even my friends who insist on not being on Facebook struggle with a cell phone and constant contact.

I remember the days when I was a child and the phones were all attached to walls with cords! When my father traveled we received postcards and letters, and on the rare occasion a long distance phone call, the acoustics of which made it sound as if he were calling from the bottom of a metal tube.

Here’s the brush pen sketch for this page spread. I didn’t have lights set up so the lighting in the photo makes the colors shift from the final scan above (which is correct). But I was up late sketching and I wanted to catch the pen sketch before I painted. I was sketching the actor/director of the “Detectorists”—Mackenzie Crook. I thought you might like to see how I didn’t care much about getting a likeness in the brush pen sketch because I knew I was going to hide everything with gouache later. I had a lot of fun with the paint.

I wrote tons of letters in those days. Tons. I wrote to the friends I had in first grade, the first contemporary friends who could actually write. (I learned to read and write rather early.) Later I wrote to the friends I was leaving behind in fourth grade. Later still it letters helped me keep in touch with friend from ninth grade (or third form). This followed moves that left behind sophomore, junior, senior high school friends, and then college friends.

Over time my letter writing dwindled, replaced by emails. I still got the same comments—“too much,” “Can’t keep up,” “you’ll grade my grammar and spelling.” (That last because I worked as an editor—who makes tons of mistakes in her unedited missives!)

I’ve been told by people that they don’t like the way modern methods of connection truncate their communications. This has never happened to me. In January I wrote a text that went on for paragraphs. (Young folks all seem to want to text you, so OK, but I still have to say what I have to say.)

Friends recognize that the blog is really an outgrowth of all those letters sent long ago. That impulse to stay in touch.

Detail from today’s image gives a close up on how I’m moving the paint around.

But there is still that filter of technology. And when technology decides to be glitchy, as it often does, then it seems to me that life is much more stressful. Picking up a book, instead of sitting at the computer to work, seems odd and unusual. Not being able to stream my favorite show when I’m taking a work break. Having bad phone reception and connections make it impossible to not converse with work associates or friends.

I realize I’ve been both horribly spoiled by all this technology at the same time I’ve been walled in by it.

Spring reminds me that it’s time to break out from behind all those walls and get out in the sun. Biking allows me to get my heart rate pumping and return to work refreshed so I can cope with all the little glitches.

I won’t be writing letters again the way I once did, but I do have a huge stack of books waiting to be read, one by one. And a new schedule which takes me away from the computer a little earlier in the evening—I hope to paint more.

I hope you are getting out to enjoy the spring (or the fall, my other favorite season) and painting.

Burying the Lead: International Fake Journal Month Begins on Saturday!

If you would like an excuse to get away from your computer or other technology I’d like to suggest that you participate in International Fake Journaling Month. It starts April 1 of course—though it is no joke.

Each year in April I and a bunch of intrepid visual journal keepers ad0pt a persona and keep a fake journal, making one entry (or more) per day in April.

The entries are kept in the present moment just like regular journal entries—if you’re writing and drawing at 1 p.m. that’s the time you put on the entry. (You also put the day’s date.)

What’s the advantage to working as someone else documenting events that aren’t actually happening? Well you can read all about it my blog dedicated to this event.

Basically it’s a fun way to try a style of journaling that isn’t “you,” to use new media that you don’t yet understand, and to drive your internal critic absolutely bat**** crazy.

I’ve been doing this since I was a child and I’ve finally convinced people to play along. Why don’t you join us? (There’s a Facebook group where you can post your work.)

Oh, the other point I like to stress for people interested in participating is that I encourage people to set up a character who works only 30 minutes or less each day. That keeps the project something you can work into your life and have a better chance of finishing out the whole month with daily entries. (And it is so fun and satisfying to hold the journal at the end of the month!)

There are tips on finding a character, selecting a journal and medium, etc., on the Official International Fake Journal Blog. Go to that blog, scroll down until you see “Find Related Posts” in the right-hand column and then start clicking and reading on anything like “tips,” “characters,” “media selection,” you name it.

So the side effect of all this fakery is that participants get a boost in their daily journaling habit. Some actually develop such a habit for the first time. Some send their internal critics running in terror (such a nice turn of events). And we all have fun amazing each other with our discoveries. (I encourage people to write a wrap up evaluation of what happened for them at the end of the process.)

What could be more fun?

Well painting in gouache and cycling for two things—but I’m already doing those and as of Saturday I’ll be doing the third.

Want Some Video About International Fake Journal Month?

In 2015 Design Recharge artist Diane Gibbs interviewed me about the process of keeping a fake journal.

Part one—is here, we got a little side tracked and talked about visual journaling and sketching in general. So Diane had me back later for part 2!

Part two—is here, this time Diane and I talked about the guidelines and typical pitfalls first time fake journal keepers encounter. This video runs 65 minutes and is a great “short” introduction to the practice of keeping a fake journal.

  1. Reply

    I am totally with you on the multi-paragraph texts. I prefer text or email to phone calls (a minor language processing issue makes purely auditory input harder for me) but either way I can keep going and going. I probably should update my blog again, instead of boring my engineer husband with all my art-related thoughts, but managing the images from a phone is kind of a pain. I expect I’ll get back to it someday.

    1. Reply

      Yes, I can’t stop writing until I get all the connections out that I wanted to make, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a text. (I have one young friend who only uses text so now I have to actually watch to see if he sends one because it’s how we schedule.) It’s always something and I like to adapt.

      Yes, start up your blog again if you don’t have someone locally to talk about—get it out there. Writing about our process helps us improve that process. I think it makes me a better teacher. (Students don’t have to listen to all the rough drafts!)

      Don’t get me started on the phone—I hate the phone and the way it “manages” things.

    • Julana
    • March 29, 2017

    We had blessed childhoods. I treasure those packs of old letters from my mother and grandmother. (My mother and grandmorher couodn’t afford long distance phone calls.) I want to type them into an ebook for the grandchildren. We had a party line, when I was young. Neighbors could listen in to your conversations.

    This is the first year I am tempted to try that fake journal exercise. I somehow lost my mind recently and acquired samples of three kinds of pastels, a set of Holbein gouache, and a set of casein. So that fiction as a vehicle for playing at the desk makes sense. I guess the question is what kind of paper would be best for a range of media. Would you still recommend the Strathmore 500 series?

    1. Reply

      We did, I too have all the letters sent to me when I was a child. And, because a mentor in high school insisted, I also have carbon copies of all my letters from age 17 on. So I have complete conversations with people who managed to write back. (And of course once computers started up I have instant copies and always made a hard copy of my letters at the same time I printed one out to send in the mail.) It is no wonder I’m buried in boxes!

      I think you should put them together in a eBook along with photos of the family members referred to. It would be great.

      We never had a party line, but I loved the idea of one after seeing “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.”

      It would be great if you took on a new character and stepped into IFJM. I’m not a big fan of pastels for journal work because they are messy and you’ll need to spray them with fixative, and they will still be messy. But I have friends who use them in their journals so what the heck. Gouache and Casein would both work well on Strathmore 500 Series so that would be a great way to go. Alternately you might select a paper with rougher texture, like their watercolor book or some other brand that does cold press watercolor paper so you have more texture for the pastels, but that might be more of a hassle with the pastels—more texture, but maybe more smudge able?

        • Julana
        • March 31, 2017

        I have to laugh at the carbon copies, but what a treasure, now. Thank you for the photo idea.
        Since the local Blick is out of the Strathmore Mixed Media, maybe the watercolor one is a good idea, especially since it’s a new surface for me, and the Mixed Media I’ve used.
        I could leave the pastels for another day, and focus on casein for awhile. I got Richeson’s Set C, of five ir six tubes. Both James Gurney and Stephen Quiller like it, so got me curious. ( I did a test page, with freezer paper for a palette, which was strange. JG suggested that once.) They don’t seem to use it with line work.

          • Julana
          • March 31, 2017

          P.S. Just saw your IFJM blog advice to use a sketchbook or paper we have on hand, and realized I should do just that. I have four good choices on my shelf, and should probably use the least “precious,” to get full benefit of the discipline. That advice to stay in the present time and avoid imposing a narrative line helps, too.

          1. Great. Hope you have a fantastic April.

  2. Reply

    I hate talking on the phone, maybe because I work at home and so attend meetings via phone… ugggg I remind myself that I’m getting paid handsomely to listen to people drone on and on and on. My husband and a few very close friends are the only people that have my cell phone number and thus are able to text me… I mute it most of the time, so I check my text messages maybe once a day, or every few days. Unlike some people I see out and about, my husband and I eat dinner out and often leave our phones at home. I don’t understand why people are so consumed with cell phones these days, sad watching young kids in high chairs throwing food across the table at a Mom with her eyes glued to a phone instead of her child.

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