Latest Posts

Copying, Comparing, belonging and other worries.

It’s very hard to not look at what others are doing. It’s very hard not to start comparing ouselves. Wondering if we are original or just copying. It’s very hard to stop thinking: I should have started earlier, it will take me forever to get to where I want to be…

I am improving. I know that, but I’m also creatively blocked. It’s like I am saturated with images, colors, styles. It never stops.

This week I have been watching old movies, old by my standards, meaning movies from the ’80s and early ’90s. “That’s it” I said to myself, “I’m who I didn’t want to become: the lady that likes to look back.” But the truth is I wanted to remember what it was like to spend a whole afternoon doing activities of yore:  cutting up magazines and then doing stuff with them, without the fear of copyright infringement, without thinking is this a “derivative” work or am I blatantly copying?

The creative afternoons I had when it took me two days to make a mix tape complete with a handmade envelope, a case with all the tracks neatly written down, the letter explaining why each song was there and in that order… the long process of creating and the satisfaction of knowing that you had worked with other people’s stuff but that ultimately the product was yours… I want to feel that because lately as I draw and draw from reference photos, I’m always wondering if I’m creative. Or if I’m just a copyist.

Soul searching

There are days I don’t know what to draw, or what to doodle for that matter. In fact, I don’t know if I want to doodle or if I want to get out a piece of nice watercolor paper and try to paint something nicer.

There are days when I just don’t know where I’m heading with all this.

This past year, I have spent a lot of money on art supplies and maybe artists and hobbists will nod in agreement: Art Supplies are a drug.

But here is the thing, I look through my sketchbooks and I see no clear path, no emerging body of work, nevermind that my drawings are good or not, they have improved but where am I heading?

Bad habits

Since I started to draw I have become addicted to Instagram and Pinterest. There, I said it. With my morning coffee I browse Pinterest, with my head on my pillow I browse Instagram.

And in between the day, I toggle between the two.

This is the most consistent way of getting yourself blocked. Whether you write, create video or visual art, looking at the constant stream of stuff other people are making is going to block you.

To break this habit apps need to be removed. It’s the only remedy. There is no ” I should stop”, or “I promise myself”. The only remedy is the dancing app with the little cross.

Sure it’s easy to reinstall them. And even if they warn you: you will lose your data, it’s not true. But the fact that you do not have an automatic gesture to execute, is a good habit breaker.

Inspiration, again.

I discovered Creative Live, and since I’m in between jobs, I’ve had the chance to watch two classes so far.
One was Molly Hatch’s hand-made pattern design and the second one was Bonnie Christine, also pattern design but directly on Illustrator.

Both women have their inspiration thing down. I loved Bonnie’s approach, she insists on “sourcing our own inspiration”, meaning, take your own photographs and use them as you see fit. Draw or trace them, do whatever but these are yours and whatever you end up creating will be authentically yours from beginning to end.

Molly on the other hand, showed the essential way of doing patterns, completely hand-made up to where she scans and cleans them up in Photoshop. That day was one of those when I exclaim “I love the internet”. I caught both classes live.

Whales

While I continue to struggle with the question “what to draw”, I have been seeing whales.

Whales, leviathan’s, sea monsters. I have many ideas but I have a problem committing to a long-term project (like the imaginary animals)…

I think I’m in the search for freedom, but I can’t find it because I’m too contaminated by the creativity noise. What is creativity? It’s a word like Storytelling and Curating: these words are overused and abused.

The world is full of artists. I wonder if there is a place for me.

Artists and Self-Compassion

Self-compassion for artists

Impatience, scatterdness, information overload, learning, learning, learning.
Who has time for creativity or even a little self-compassion when you can’t do it all?

One day off, but we need to do errands, clean house, eat, clean kitchen, eat again, clean kitchen again. Load the washer, fold the clothes, put them away. You see a spider in the corner, you look up, a web on the ceiling, you need to vacuum. In the midst of all this, you pass your small portable studio lingering in the corner.

You’ve managed to keep up the 100 days project, but nothing more, no exploration, no new finished works.

The night falls quickly this time of year, without natural light, painting becomes difficult.

The day job is exhausting.

Who has time for creativity?

The question is almost painful when you take a five minute break and you open Tumblr.

An artist is standing in front of her finished piece. Someone has taken a beautiful picture of her, you see her back, she’s touching her hair and she is wearing a stunning tunic.

Everything about the picture is perfect, most of all the gigantic painting against the wall, finished and signed. Immortalized by the, most likely, professional photographer.

True story. It happened yesterday.

The hope was that my schedule would make it look like that. Finished piece after finished piece.

This evening, I have two choices, considering my tiredness, I can sit in front of the TV and watch a movie or I can do my two hours of painting.

Do you coerce yourself? or do you practice self-compassion. What are the consequences of self-coercion?

If I force myself, usually I end up feeling like I didn’t do anything. The thing I made myself do doesn’t count much, it only counts because I checked it off, while if I manage to ease myself into thinking I should do at least a little, I wind up doing the full stretch and sometimes more.

So don’t coerce yourself, gently approach the task and begin something. The check-mark on the to-do list isn’t what counts.

What counts is being happy for a piece that didn’t exist before.

Off to wet the paint and doodle.

Read more essays here

“I can do that” syndrome

Fashion illustration

When you look at art, do you have the “I can do that” syndrome? But can you really, at this point in your artistic path? Let’s find out.

Clearly, you won’t get anywhere by thinking you can’t do something, but between “can’t and can” there is a world of work.

I have been following my schedule almost every day. I have been making an imaginary animal for the 100 days project without missing a beat. Some days I rush through it, some days I take my time.

I keep checking books out of the library to “learn” more techniques or to learn the “secret” technique that will take my work from amateur to professional.

But there is none, there is a trick here, a trick there.

Mostly I spend my days staring at a work I like and breaking it into tiny pieces.

  • What size is it in reality?
  • What mediums did the artist use?
  • Did she draw it freehand?
  • Did she draw it on scrap paper and then with a light-box drew on top?
  • Does she just grab an Arches watercolour sheet and go at it with abandon?
  • What color palette is she using?
  • What can I learn just by looking intently and not having to resort to reading a book?
  • Where are the highlights, how did she achieve them?

At this point, I feel I’m still on a raft in the immense ocean that is illustration, watercolor, mixed media and the rest but I’m honing in on my preferences:

  • I like to work small
  • I prefer drawing melancholic, neurotic, innocent portraits
  • I favour monochromatic or full vibrant colors. No pastels.
  • I don’t like to draw nature, still life or buildings that much (despite loving Urban Sketching)
  • I DEFINITELY love flowy, inaccurate, scribbly art than high precision illustration.

The thing is, when you are pursuing your artistic expression, humility goes a long way. The “I can do that” frame of mind, puts pressure on the discovery process.

If you take a class and you sit down to really do the exercises, you will realize how difficult certain techniques are despite it looking so easy.

No, you can’t do that. Not yet.

And it’s OK, because if you look around you, there are other things you can do that you couldn’t just a month ago.

This isn’t Creativity Advice

Creativity Advice

Somewhere in the last couple of years, I decided I wouldn’t wait anymore for the “time to be right”. And it wasn’t some sort of creativity advice that along the lines of “just do it”.

We all know the deepest desires are sprinkled all over our history. If you go into your journals, your blogs, your photos you will find them in their purest form.
Even if you go through the magazines you’ve bought, or your Pinboards, everything is bursting with desire, and not the material kind, but the desire of doing.

I often wonder why we postpone what we want to do the most. The easiest answer is because: work comes first, kids come first, career, etc.

Talking to a friend who dreams of working with vintage furniture to renovate and remodel, she kept saying: maybe, one day. She works full time, she has two little kids, she gets up at 5:00 a.m. each morning.

Is the desire strong? will she ever do it? She’s good at it. She re-upholstered chairs in her home and they’re beautiful.

I tell her, it doesn’t have to be a full blown project. You can take ONE day a month to do a small piece. Take that day.

Maybe she would be unable to do a 100 day project, but she could do 12 chairs a year.

At the end of the year, if she wished to take it further she would have a body of work to start from.

This isn’t creativity advice

If I’d read this a year ago from someone else. I might have nodded in agreement but it wouldn’t have made me embark on 100 days of imaginary animals.

This happened because I didn’t want to wait until retirement, which is when most people embark on their creative endeavors.

But mostly, I was inspired by this tweet.

If this doesn’t make you start doing what your personal history has been trying to get you to do, then I don’t know what will.

Fear of the new sketchbook

Yesterday I went to Montpellier with a very specific mission: to buy a wonderful sketchbook for my visit to Florence at the end of August.

Getting to Montpellier isn’t very adventurous but it is a bit of a long ride.

I wanted to visit Le Géant des Beaux Arts, a fabulous Fine Arts chain store in France. The sketchbook I wanted, after reading through all the sketchbook reviews possible was the Fabriano Venezia. I also wanted a nice watercolour brush and a few drawing pens.

My visit was successful and not so expensive, I did wind up buying a tiny Winsor & Newton travel set too because, why not? I’ve been complaining about my Sakura set being too opaque and not layering nicely on paper. So I got a nifty Da Vinci brush made of squirrel hair and a Da Vinci flat brush.

Those are for my fashion illustrations, for sketching on location I’ll stay with brush pens for the moment.

I had my sketchbook! I couldn’t wait to get home and crack it open, make a first drawing. I would probably begin with a little Fashion sketch and then I might attempt to draw a street scene or something.

It is unexplainable and yet perfectly logical.

New sketchbook

The next day after my shopping spree I spent all day eyeing my Fabriano Venezia, wrapped in it’s plastic film.

In the morning I spent a few hours coding, doing Photoshop work and following an online class.

In the afternoon, I finished writing and revising a blog post.
At three o’clock I decided it was time to draw and paint. I looked at my sketchbook and decided to do laundry.

While the washing machine completed the cycle, I thought I would write a long email to a friend.
“After this email I will draw” I thought.

The laundry was done, I hung it out to dry.

I decided to go on Twitter. View my “Watch Later” list on YouTube.
Ok, I said, it’s time.

I put the sketchbook on my desk and suddenly I said, wait, I want to change the front picture on my website.
So I did that.

Then I decided to fold the laundry.

When I finally got around to drawing, I did not unpack the Fabriano, I took my little pocket sketchbook and drew the cover of this month’s L’Officiel.
Next, I looked at the old Moleskine that still had a couple of blank pages and decided to draw my kitchen.

It’s 9 p.m. and the Fabriano is still in it’s plastic film.

Showing Your Art

“I’m afraid you have talent” said my shrink. As she let out an uncomfortable little laugh. I’d shown her a photo my second-ever painting. The painting depicted a young woman holding back her head as she’s tying a headscarf. She’s in NY City walking down a graffiti splattered street.

The woman looks like she’s holding her ears instead of tying her head scarf. I attempted to make her look like Zadie Smith.

I guess that’s what made her laugh. She’s covering her ears. The world is too much.

Showing your artwork for the first time to someone outside your closest circle, or even to a spouse or best friend, is extremely difficult for some. For me it was life threatening. I chose to show it to my shrink because I know that whatever she thinks of me she is able to keep her poker face intact and I don’t feel judged.

When to show your art?

We just know. It’s gut instinct, you show what you think is “good enough” and what is “good enough” is that piece that when finished, you stare at it for a second and you don’t believe you made it.
At that moment you are at your most vulnerable and your most proud.

I always think it’s the only magical moment in which we become kids again. For real.

I recommend you wait at least a day after this moment happens whether you’re doing visual art or writing. You need to distance yourself from your work always. Many creators do this. It levels out emotion. You are less vulnerable and less proud at the same time. It lets you get serious about your work for moment.
Then, decide if you want to show it or not.

Why show your art?

Again, for distance. We become very precious about our creations. We want to own our work so we pepper it with licenses and copyright symbols but in reality, showing your work helps you see with a fresh pair of eyes. How will people see it? You imagine and you discover.

Even at it’s most basic, your work will teach something to someone else. Something new in most cases, or maybe something that should be avoided. Like when I see certain fashion illustrations that are quite pleasing to the eye but they are created from a mannequin and traced over and over.

How to show it?

Whether you’re writing or creating visual art

Online:

  • Flickr joining a group
  • A personal blog like Tumblr that makes it easy to upload, tag and share.
  • On a portfolio site like Carbonmade

If you want to share just with a select number of people you can simply put your files on a Dropbox folder and share the link.

You might feel compelled to accompany your work with commentary. It’s good if it will help you later on when you go back and study your progress. I do recommend tagging your work. Tumblr is good for this. Without taking the “likes” to heart, you can have a good measure of what kind of response does your art elicit.

A more elaborate way is creating a video or an mp3 if you wish to read aloud.
More and more people are concerning themselves with accessibility on the web. If your writing is also in audio format, many people with sight problems might be able to enjoy it.

Another medium I recently discovered is the Day One app for Mac. It has a beautiful interface, it allows everything from writing, to photo uploading, you can password protect it or share entries. You can also export entries into PDF which is great if at one point you would like to create an artist book.

How to react to positive feedback?

Positive feedback is equally dangerous as its counterpart. An author who has a best-seller or has won prestigious prizes or has received nothing but accolades might become paralyzed. Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love fame talked about this in one of her TED talks.

I recently asked a friend of mine to give me feedback on an article I was submitting to a magazine. She said, sure, but ask me concrete questions about what you want to know.

This is the most useful way to get feedback:

Ask concrete questions.

If you just ask: what do you think you will be met with the dreaded: it’s nice.

How to react to negative feedback?

Quick: is it from someone you know or is it from an anonymous moron online?

First case: is it gentle and thoughtful and around your concrete questions or did this person go on a tangent and start attacking your person?

This happened last year when I was building a website. Despite asking very concrete questions about color, layout and placement of sections this “friend” went way back to the history of our friendship and tried to sabotage my attempt at building this website by attacking who I was.

If it is constructive, it’s important to pay attention. In the last Writing Workshop I attended, I was lucky to receive lots of constructive criticism. It’s all good. It will push your work forward.

In the second case, if it’s an anonymous troll, ask them if they are trolling you and then ask them why. Then ask them if they are creating stuff themselves and if they’re not, tell them they should. I thought the mechanic was useful because a “hater” is normally someone who is unfulfilled and dislikes people doing things he or she would like to be doing.

Brené Brown spoke about this in her 99U conference. If people aren’t “in the arena” with you, meaning if they aren’t making stuff and showing it you don’t have to listen to them one bit.

Now, the tricky thing is to interiorize this because if a hurtful comment sticks too long, it will damage your creative pursuits. Write it somewhere:

The anonymous person who left a nasty comment is NOT making stuff, therefore they are miserable.

After breaking the ice

So you’ve shown your work.

What follows my deepest belief:

In order to be prolific you do not get hung up on what you’ve shown.

Karl Lagerfeld said it best:

Il faut dessiner pour la poubelle pour savoir ce qu’on veut.
We must draw for the wastebasket to learn what we want.

In the age of “hearts” and “likes” this is the most difficult and you must break free from it.

At this point the only goal is to create.

Links:

Carbonmade

Tumblr

Day One App

Elizabeth Gilbert

Brené Brown

The Act of Writing an Introvert’s Paradise

The Act of Writing

The act of writing is always intriguing. To see someone writing, cracks my curiosity wide open.

When I was young, I saw a classmate writing what seemed a letter. Without any conscience whatsoever I asked what she was writing and she replied: mind your own business!

This stuck with me. How dare I ask someone what he or she is writing, how dare I ask what he or she is about?
This is why I dislike small talk so much. It’s the act of never finding out what the person is about and yet, I always set a limit as to what I’m allowed to ask, even when I know people love to talk about themselves.

When blogs came along, it was paradise for me because I could read other people’s notebooks! Other people’s inner thoughts, something I could never do before. And they didn’t even have to know I was reading. Suddenly everyone was fascinating. I put people who blogged in an entire different category than everyday people: they were interesting. And I also blogged, so I was interesting too. For an introvert, this was paradise. I “talked” to people left and right, I started my email conversations with direct questions, no beating around the bush, no: where are you from? Do you have brothers and sisters? or the dreaded what do you do?

Empathy flowed freely. People wrote like no one was reading and it was beautiful.

Monetizing, Social Networks, How-to’s, Coaches

Then at one point there was this strange shift, with the democratization of blogging platforms out came the business world.

It was inevitable. Every revolution gets televised, monetized and ultimately killed. Just look at what’s happening to Net Neutrality. Look at natural resources…

Suddenly, people were writing too much. From things that sounded artificial to irrelevant inner monologues.

With the advent of Twitter, WordPress, Medium and other publishing platforms, writing shifted from reflection to pontification and we all fell into the trap. In 2009 I opened my Twitter account at the same time I closed my longest running blog. I also opened a Tumblr account to “scoop” the things I liked. I started chasing privacy by not publishing about my life so openly. To guard the people in my life that are not interested in being online at all, but with Twitter, the compulsion to publish the tiniest thought became uncontrollable. And I have a measly 5000 tweets unlike people who have hundreds of thousands.

Writing Online and Privacy

It’s difficult to calibrate. I love to write and when you write you rarely do it for yourself. You want to be read. Some of us want to find kindred spirits. Nothing makes me happier than someone writing: I feel like loneliness evaporates for a second.

The most important thing is that I’ve been aware of the algorithm lurking in our lives for a long time. The worst proof of this is managing my employers Facebook account when I don’t have one personally and seeing people I know pop up as suggestions. People who would never in a million years look at my employer’s page.

That was the first time I ever felt truly concerned. My personal email was nowhere linked to that FB account and yet, cousins who live in another country started appearing on my employer’s page. This was creepy.

I think I’ve written hundreds of essays regarding my desire to “retire” from the web. But it’s not realistic. I need the web too much, I love it in fact. I just hate to feel squeezed. Like if there is no internet, there is nothing and the power of few is ruling the world.

I’m at that point where Twitter has become tasteless and I’m really phasing out. I’ve used it successfully to arrange certain things with companies and services. That’s about it. Someone published a tweet recently that disarmed me completely:

None of my heroes are on Facebook.

There is nothing to say there. Really.

Confession

I snooped into someone’s diary. It wasn’t an intimate diary, it was more like a log of time and events although a bit obsessive, down to 5 minute intervals: “We left at 1:35, we arrived at 2:03. We started lunch at 12:23 we finished at 12:58.”

I found it fascinating, in between entries, there were doodles and and ideas for renovations.

I didn’t feel proud of myself but it sparked something in me. I want to record and write and keep. I want to write like I wrote in the early days of LiveJournal and Blogger, when there was no Wayback machine or Caché. When Google took ages to index your page.

I wanted to record specific moments, meals, feelings, thoughts -good ones and bad ones- and document myself again instead of watching others document themselves in public.

This journal gave me the spark to divide my life in two:

  • Regroup my internet presence into one website built by me.
  • Have a rich life offline that I can look back on and that when I’m gone it will be gone too.

This is a lot of work but the first step is taken. This site got built.

Here it is. First real post on my brand new site.