Artistic Literacy - The Importance of Knowing How to Draw

I'm just finishing up a 4-week on-line class by Mary Ann Moss called Sketchbookery. I have done drawing in life drawing classes, on a computer, and as an engineer (technical drawings). It all started when I was almost 30 years old and finally got the chance to take an art class. I'd been teaching technical classes at the University of California Extension and received a discount on taking classes so I used it to take "Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain."

I had an epiphany in that two-day class. I COULD draw! I had made an assumption that as an engineer, I had no artistic skill. What I learned in that class was the training and practice I had from mechanical drafting classes in high school directly applied to artistic drawing, though the reliance on triangles, rulers and lettering was missing.

The class started us by doing blind contour drawings. Then we moved on to contour drawings. We could peek at our papers, but the emphasis in both blind and regular contour drawing was more on the "seeing" and less on drawing.

In Sketchbookery, Mary Ann Moss kicked it up a notch with us. We were challenged to do contour drawing with a pen, rather than a pencil. This might seem like a small difference, but for me it was huge. First, I had not done contour drawing in years. I felt I had "graduated" beyond that to drawing more realistically, but I had gotten very relaxed in the "seeing" part of the drawing, and it showed in my work. Consequently, for the past 20 years, my art work has relied more on image transfer and collage, rather than original marks.  That's okay - collage and image transfer are beautiful and legitimate art forms. Getting reacquainted with drawing what I was seeing, in ink, woke up a beautiful space in my art - the space filled with my marks. Second, using a pen meant the marks are the marks. There would be no going back and erasing and adjusting. There is a certain amount of liberation when that thought is in your head and hand as you start to draw.

These past four weeks, I've found it so calming to draw this way - draw just the shape and line that I see. There is no pressure to draw a perfect flower or bottle, only the line of the edge that I see. That's a huge burden to be lifted. I'm in the class with 40 or more people who are posting their work to the share area of the class website. I have no idea of their competency levels, but I'm assuming they fall into a typical bell curve. Yet all of the drawing I've seen produced in the class is good. Very good. Some wonky stuff, including mine, but even that is very good. It's all recognizable. And the wonky part is that artist's fingerprint on their work - their signature.

Which leads me to my point: drawing, like math, writing,  and reading, is a core competency, or it should be. I wonder if all the people I run into day after day who say "I'm not an artist. I can't *** fill in the blanks ***" would feel differently about that mysterious art world if they had the ability to draw something they saw in a way they were pleased with it. That would help them understand and not be intimidated by the work of other artists too.

For me, it is absolutely thrilling to look at something, put a pen to paper, and look back and recognize it as the object of my interest. I believe that through simple contour drawing - a pen, some paper and a big heap of quiet time - anyone can draw if they are willing to slowly put to paper what they see. And when you can draw, you are free.


My Story, as An Artist - In My Right Mind

So thrilled to see that Belle Inspiration Magazine published this story about how I found creativity in France.  I took all the photos and wrote my story, complemented by quotes from family and friends.

It takes my breath away.



How Do You Want To Be Remembered?
Combined Media on Canvas/Found Materials 6x12 -- Artist: Laura McHugh

What do you do with your pieces that don't sell? 

Here's a dilemma many artists face: you, the artist, create a body of work - for a show or because you were excited about a theme, material, process.

After days/months/years, you now have 3 to 20 new pieces. You excitedly anticipate the show date approaching, and you price and title all the work. The night before the show opens, you view the hung work quietly, with no one else around. The silence envelopes you and you glow in the beauty you have created. Each piece is perfect. Each piece has a story to tell and an impact to be made on the people who will come through the door in the morning.

As you turn to leave the studio, you shut off the lights and as you set your head down onto your pillow, you reflect on the time, materials, inspirations, challenges and all that has gone into the making of this body of work. You envision engaged attendees to the show in animated discussions with you about your process. You vow to smile nicely at anyone who comments about how the color of a piece isn't quite right to go with their sofa, and ask for divine intervention should anyone request to change or create a piece that would match.

Morning comes and you have rested. The exhaustion you would normally feel from all the work leading up to this moment is pushed aside by the adrenaline coursing through your body. The time comes for visitors to arrive, and they do! They come streaming in, bounding to see the work and the studio space. They are animated, as you envisioned in your sleepy state the night before. They ask lots of questions, good questions. You reveal yourself and your secrets. You leave them alone a bit to read the titles on the pieces and reflect on their own impressions of the work, then you reengage, making sure you ask that they sign the guest book, which they happily do.

Then they leave. Without. Buying. Anything.  :(

This makes you sad. Somewhat because of the money, but it goes deeper than that. These pieces that didn't sell aren't in the hands of someone else so that they can connect and emanate their message, energy, vision to the world. The impact you hoped they would make is fleeting...maybe the people who came to the show and saw the work "got it." You didn't stand with them to view each piece, so you have no way of really knowing whether the work was heard and accepted. And if someone bought it, that is no guarantee that they "got" it. Their relationship with the piece is deeply personal and intimate and may or may not have anything to do with what you felt and intended when you created it.

All of that not withstanding, you are now out in your studio/gallery with seventeen pieces that have not found new homes.

What's a girl to do?  They need to be lovingly and carefully packaged up for storage. Maybe you can put 1-2 pieces in an upcoming show where the call or theme is perfectly aligned. You have an art giveway project - maybe you can leave the art out for people to find. But some of it is too big for this project, or maybe you need to rethink your size criteria. You can seek out venues who might want the art, for sale or as a donation.

What you DON'T want is for these pieces to end up at the thrift store. You buy canvases and other art materials there to make INTO art. Having your pieces end up back there would be complete and utter personal and creative failure .... So what's a girl to do?

My dilemma, for my art, is that it isn't necessarily nice. I make it because it comes through me as a message - a commentary on a current situation, an emotion I'm feeling, or even something more political. I haven't connected with the right audience for my pieces - someone as quirky and appreciative of the subtle messages as I am.

I might give some pieces away because the feedback I get from recipients of art in the Art For Everyone Project is SO satisfying. They all appreciate their new gifts and the stories of where the art ends up are amazing.

But I am also considering reincarnating certain pieces. For example, five small canvases I did as commentary on branding for huge corporations (McDonalds, Girl Scouts, Corona and Budweiser, and Smart Water) were understood and appreciated in the show, but probably will not find a permanent wall to hang on. Like the old masters who painted on a canvas, then drastically reworked the subject, or changed it altogether over the top of an existing work, I may do the same. I'm not pushed so much for resources to purchase more canvases, but I don't want to store any more art. Flow is an important value and I want to keep the work moving through my creative space. Bundling it up and using precious shelf space is not moving in the right direction for me.

These Corporate Branding pieces may end up with a new coat of paint over the top. I might paint images on them that are "prettier" as an experiment to see if that sells. I will know what is underneath. That message will still carry forward, even if it is covered up by a pleasant painting.

What do you do with your pieces that don't sell? 

Hooked.   Combined Media (Found Materials, Pen/Ink, Pencil) Mounted on Canvas
24x36 -- Artist: Laura McHugh


How Many of These Five Career Qualities Do You Want?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) posted an article today about what people want in careers:

      • Security
      • Freedom
      • Advancement
      • Engagement
      • Balance
For me, all of the above! (You could add over-achiever to that list, I guess.) But seriously, I want to be challenged and busy, and be making solid contributions that leads to acknowledgement of my contributions and advancement.

I've had enough years in my career (30+) and I am now delightfully finished with day-to-day single parenting four children, so I find balance is actually quite achievable.

Security helps me relax, knowing I can breathe a bit and risk being myself, bringing my creativity and personality to the table. The more secure I am, the more confidence, which in turn leads to feeling I can be more me.

Freedom means being able to be creative. Being an engineer and also an artist, I go from linear to fluid and everywhere in between. I like a career where I am free to pick the best solution or combination of solutions in the moment, using my gut instinct.

Advancement is room to grow. I value connection and the connection between what I do and where it takes me in my career is important to me. I want to be in an organization that fosters growth of its employees by advancing them, when ready, to take on more responsibility and make bigger contributions.

Engagement may be the most important of these five qualities for me. The older I get the more important it is for me to feel engaged and have a stake in my career, and for me to interact with others who engage with me. I can't really do my job of EHS very effectively if either party is not fully engaged.

And finally balance. As I mentioned above, I have a much better sense of what balance looks like and I have a lot more time to achieve balance. I have the experience to know that I don't have to bust my rear end after hours to keep up. I can be effective by working the normal number of hours, and the longer I work, the more efficient I get so that I'm actually down to a 40 hour week. Being an artist helps me so much - getting into that right side of my brain is the most relaxing soothing way to balance out my logical side ever.

Bring me a job opportunity that has 3, 4 or hopefully all 5 of these important qualities and I will be a productive and happy employee!


Distracted by a Job

I started a full-time job about five weeks ago. That has left me quite depleted. I'm not depleted, energy-wise. I've actually been pretty hyped up and feeling groovy. But there is something about putting my head into engineering work that takes away my penchant for critical thinking about art, issues and the world at large. I wonder if it is what comes from being in a corporate environment all day long? Drinking the kool-aid, so to speak.  I've been out of an office environment for about two years, so it is interesting to go back in there.

Things that have been on my mind instead are: 
  • How nice it is to have income, which leads directly to my ability and willingness to do some things around the house that were in need of maintenance. Really small things like buying a much needed new shower curtain and having someone come and clean the windows; 
  • Planning a small vacation away for the weekend;
  • Going out to lunch once a week to treat myself and enjoy it guilt-free; and
  • A little bit of retail therapy, which involved allowing myself to walk through the mall and Macy's and look at clothes, cosmetics and shoes, even though I didn't end up buying anything.
I have been doing art and now that I am up on a disciplined level with art, having had the better part of the last year to do it anytime I wanted, it is something I do for relaxation.

  • I've put together some prototype wedding invitations
  • I made a flyer for the King's Mountain cookie bake committee, and 
  • I made a flyer for the art show and sale my friend Diana and I are having in June.
I will get back to thinking about more important issues soon enough. Until then, I'm going to ponder why my brain hasn't been able to do both the job and caring about important things at the same time.


Focus, Pinky, Focus

I was reading a great blog by Kathleen Shannon reflecting on changes she's noticing after having her first baby a few weeks ago. Kathleen and her sister Tara Street have a fantastic branding company for creatives called Braid. I used Braid for some branding work on my tarts idea.
A big change like having a child, or changing jobs, moving, or losing a loved one, can bring forward the opportunity to reflect. Somehow in these times, our brains slow down and as Kathleen said, it is a little like when you travel and are more aware as you make your way through a new city. With the new baby snuggling, Kathleen was reflecting on her ability (or inability) to focus.
But what I noticed as I was reading this magazine is that my attention span is completely shot. I found myself skipping paragraphs and jumping pages. The equivalent of hopping from open tab to open tab in my browser. I was challenged to hold my focus on a beautiful magazine in my peaceful and picture-perfect breakfast nook. I found myself with a compulsive itch for the kind of chaos that only social media can seem to scratch these days. Now look, I don’t think the internet is bad (I mean, here I am). But it might be a problem when I’m 5 pages into a really great read and at the same time am habitually reaching for my phone to refresh Instagram for the 10th time in 20 minutes. (And on that note, I’ve also noticed that even TV can’t seem to hold my attention – I seem to mindlessly grab for my phone when I’m watching my shows too!) 
So I think I’d like to tweak my morning routine for a while and instead of absent-mindedly scrolling through my RSS feed and Pinterest I’m going to drag out all the magazines I’ve collected and practice giving real pages that I can turn my undivided attention.
This reminded me of exactly what Daniel Goleman was referring to when I listened to an interview with him on NPR recently. We are becoming attached to our electronics in a new and interesting way. You can read a lot more about that in Goleman's book, Focus. (Funny note: I recently got the Kindle app, but I will read this one in hard cover with a cup of tea by my side.)

Goleman's suggestion for developing your focus muscle: meditate. 

Aaaahhh. Namaste.


How Do You Know if You Have The Right Coach?

I've been debating whether to write this blog post for more than a year. I'm trained as a personal life coach. I've had a coach for 12 of the past 15-16 years. Not the same coach that whole time, but only two in that time.

How much progress should a person make with the help of a coach in 15 years? How do you know if the coaching challenges and advice are good or not?

My first coach was a woman I contacted when I learned about the field of personal coaching. Still a friend, many years later, I stopped coaching with SK when she started up a professional coaching practice and wanted to hire me into that model. What I got from SK during our coaching was a straight-forward and objective assessment of various personal and professional situations I found myself in. At the time, I was newly divorced, recovering from breast cancer and raising four rambunctious children on my own, while running my own engineering consulting practice.

I took a break after SK and I stopped coaching. I got through coach training and was coaching people myself and practicing self-management and a certain level of self-coaching.

After a couple of years flying solo, I heeded the recommendation that if you were going to be a coach, you should have a coach. I also had a deep-seated desire to branch out from engineering into art and become more of a professional artist, rather than a dabbler, so I sought a coach who could help me achieve those right-brained goals.

I worked with BZ for 10 years. In that time, I did achieve my goal of becoming a professional artist. I had shows, got a residency, and became firmly entrenched in my art community. All big personal wins. I also got fed up with corporate America and quit my well-paying job at the height of the economic wipeout in 2008-9.

Any coach will tell you - if not in a written agreement, at least informally - that your decisions are your own, as are your successes, or your failures. There's usually deemphasis on failures. Of course, you want your coach to help you win. Your coach wants you to win. Failure is discussed in terms of learning moments and you keep moving, after processing your disappointment, grief, anger, resentment.

I really hadn't thought much about the challenges my coach casually threw my way: quit my job, try being an artist, what if you did this or that? until another person coached by BZ - let's call him JT - shared his experiences with me.

JT's been searching for his path in life since finishing school a few years ago. He's a musician. Highly creative. Good degree. Wants to live in Seattle where there's a music scene, where he has friends, and where he went to college. But Seattle is economically challenging for him.  I see him making choices that are sporadic. Try this, then try that. Are these things he's coming up with, or his coach's suggestions? I'm not sure, but given my experience with BZ, I think many come from his coach.  And that's where I have a bit of an issue.

As a coaching client, you are paying your coach to, well, coach you. They are rooting for you and you are in love with everything they say. Every suggestion, coming from their subtle authority position, sounds like it could just be the thing to propel you to success, balance, whatever it is you are seeking. So you get a little sucked in to thinking that trying these things is going to be easy. Why not?

But then, after a few weeks or months of something not working very well, instead of spending time thinking about what could have been done better, you and your coaching are talking about the next big thing. Yay! You go! Sky's the limit! I'm being a little bit facetious here, like this vid of two gal coaches. But you get my drift.

A coach is a good thing. And being open to change is a good thing, especially if you are wanting things to change. But - or and as any good coach would say - steady progress toward a goal is important. A coach who is willy-nilly all over the board is not helping you. By choosing a goal and taking small, but consistent steps aligned with that goal, with the help of a coach, you will succeed and you will do it more quickly.  Why take 15 years when you could have taken only 5?