Exhausted but proud

Pencil drawing of a branch of Sorbus americana by Wren M. Allen. Botanical illustration of American mountain ash,.

The leafy branch exercise. The parking lot at a local supermarket has a lot of these trees with bright orange berries. It’s probably Sorbus americana, or American mountain ash.

Yesterday I uploaded the last files for the Drawing Fundamentals module of the RBGE Distance Diploma course, 3 hours ahead of the deadline. Each of the exercises in the module provided a progressive challenge to skills and creative approaches. Even though the instructor is sure to point out many details and techniques for improvement, I’m quite pleased with how well many of the pieces have turned out.

Completing the 15 drawings to spec was a real challenge–and not just technically. An important skill for this course is time management, and I’m not afraid to admit I seriously have some growth to do in that area!

The first 9 pieces took 6 weeks. The last 6 took two. Talk about a time crunch!

I never want to work under those stressful conditions again. Surviving, thriving and succeeding on this course requires a sustainability mindset similar to training for a marathon.

Training for the 2002 Houston Marathon taught me 2 lessons:

  • Consistent, less intense training sessions add up over time.
  • You can skip 1 or 2 weekly long runs over the 16-week training period, but more than that will cost you the chance to finish the race.

So what is sustainability training for a botanical artist? The painting module starts at the end of the month. That gives me time to practice some new work habits while progressing on my native tree and botany modules. Oh yeah, and get caught up on housework!

The search for a perfect botanical specimen

. . . Or, how to make the produce manager at your local grocery store run for the nearest exit! 😀

How important is cosmetic perfection of specimens  for botanical artists today?

Pineapples are in season–challenging to paint and delicious to eat!

Recently I had an idea for a painting of a pineapple, and went to a local grocery store to find one. There were lots of pineapples, and at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, most of the ones on display had battered and scarred leafy stems, thanks to rough handling during transportation. When I asked the produce manager on duty if there were any with “pretty” tops, he gave me the hairy eyeball, and told me to check back the next morning (when he would be safely off-duty, lol).

Contemporary botanical art has lots of examples of “damaged” fruit and flowers. There even seems to be a bit of a vogue for painting decayed and desiccated plants. However, most of these artworks feature natural imperfections such as the chewing of grazing insects or animals, scar tissue caused by diseases or parasites, the soft colors of detritus on the forest floor. Bruising, scars and rot caused by modern agricultural production and marketing are hard to find in contemporary botanical art.

So, the question is: How do botanical artists find those glossy specimens portrayed in their work? Do they just make statistical assumptions about the completed shape of that torn leaf and “fill in the blanks”? Or do they paint it warts and all, even if those commercially made warts aren’t as romantically pretty as a lacy, bug-eaten leaf?

If you’re a botanical artist/illustrator, are a realist painter or keep a sketchbook of observational drawings, please leave a comment and describe what you do and think about grocery store specimens! Or take the poll below.

Monday Morning Inspiration: Starting the slow season of slog

Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Don't give up on your creative goals for 2015!

Just get back in the saddle and ride, cowgirl.

It’s easy to work on your creative goals in January. You’re all fired up with energy from the holiday break and enthusiastic about all the great ideas you have for painting or writing projects in the coming year.

But by the end of the month, you’re running out of steam. It’s a lot harder to make one idea become reality than to keep dreaming up new ideas!

Or at least, I know I always have a problem keeping the zest alive once February begins! The Indian corn project I’m working on is a lot of insanely tiny rendering details. It’s so easy to allow myself to get distracted with other projects around the house or scroll through all the exciting things other people are doing online.

One thing that helped me get back on track was watching the film Tim’s Vermeer. (Thanks for the tip, ArtL8dy! 🙂 ) One of the notable things about the project Tim took on was just how much time painting all those little details required, and how much his energy ebbed and flowed throughout the process. It really helped re-energize me on my own detailed piece.

Here are some other ideas for regaining that creative mojo and making those exciting New Year’s plans come true.

  • Have your work area set up and ready to go all the time. This one deserves its own post! Seriously, if you have your current project and tools all laid out on the desk all the time, it’s so much easier to take advantage of any free time that comes your way.
  • Cut down on the number of things you have to do before you can do what you want to do. This is a toughie, especially if your creative work time is scheduled at the end of the day. You have to get home, change clothes, walk the dog, make supper, clean up supper, supervise homework, put the kids and dogs to bed, and only then can you start working on that novel. Whew! That to-do list is enough to exhaust anyone! The nice thing about working early in the morning is that you only need to roll out of bed and make a cup of coffee before you sit down at the drawing table. Other ways to cut your pre-studio to-do list are enlisting other family members to handle some of those chores or re-scheduling them to a more convenient time.
  • Get the electronics out of your studio. Just like sleep experts tell you to get the tv and computer out of the bedroom to get a good night’s sleep, so you should keep the digital toys out of your studio so you can focus on creating ideas instead of consuming other people’s. If you really *must* listen to music on your smartphone, dump the social media apps off it so they don’t distract you. If your work is digital, whether on a word processor or a graphics program, use an app like Self-Control to block the internet and email while you’re working.
  • Give yourself little rewards before, during and after your studio time. Make a cup of hot cocoa for that early morning session, or play your favorite music while you paint. Take the dog out for a brisk walk after you’ve hunched over your drawing table for a couple of hours.
  • Remember you’re in it for the long haul. When I lived in Norway, there was a newspaper article one Christmas season where the reporter asked a famous nutritionist about how to eat and stay slim during the holidays. He answered, “It’s not how you eat between December 1 and January 1 that matters as much as how you eat between January 1 and December 1.” Creative work is not like starting to jog on New Year’s Day and training for a 10-k race in 6 months. It’s like staying fit and enjoying exercise throughout your life. If you skip too many training runs, you might miss the race. But if you want to stay healthy, it’s more important to just get active on most days, even if you can’t manage a “perfect” workout every day. Achieving your creative goals is about doing a little something most days, and not beating yourself up about the weeks that go wrong.

What helps you get back in the saddle when you’ve had a creative dry spell?

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