Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I wish my dear readers a blessed Christmas. I am taking a little break from blogging, but will post again on New Year's Day.

I found the image on

And here is the King's College Choir singing my favorite carol.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New, almost ready coloring page

I think I will draw her again onto different paper with colored pencils, in the style of my gardening angels. I hope to get the coloring pages up for free downloads oh so soon.

The red wire basket in the upper left of the photo is an egg basket with today's gathering of eggs. It happened to be on the table where my son left it after going to the coop a few minutes ago. I thought it went nicely with the my old Walker's Shortbread tin pencil box.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I being poor have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 (by  W.B. Yeats, 1865-1939)

The painting is by Hungarian artist Ladislav Mednyanszky (1852-1919) and can be found at the Slovak National Gallery.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Encouraging creativity in my children

I am not an expert on creativity in children. I have not done a study. I have not read extensively on this topic.  My children are not creative, competent adults, proof that my methods were sound. I do not think I have all the answers for you and your children because you are not me and your children are not my children. But I can tell you some things I do that seem to help my kids and might help you encourage the young people in your life.

Perhaps most importantly I am creative in their presence. Sometimes this feels like a sacrifice. Sometimes I would rather be creative in solitude and silence (which does happen early in the morning before they get up). Sometimes I wish the little ones would not want to paint, model clay, cut snowflakes, embroider, string beads, or glue popsicle sticks nearby while I do my thing.  They make a mess and interrupt my flow with questions and chatter, though I don't allow big noise or horseplay in our creative space. But the sacrifice is worth it, and it is the life I have chosen. I may make a little less art because of it, but they make much more art, and all their lives I hope they will know that art is good work for grownups to do and associate it with loving companionship.

My older two are actually great company and are more independent in their ongoing projects. As a mom with lots of opinions it would be easy for me to interrupt them with advice, but I have learned to restrain myself.  Ill-timed advice breaks their stride, disrupts their flight pattern and leads to discouragement. If they are left in peace, I find they naturally improve and solve their problems without my input. If they request advice, I speak carefully, trying not to burden them with a right way to do something if there are lots of right ways. If they don't request advice and I think they need it, I try to give it strategically in simple, digestible bits to think about after they have set their project aside.

I take their creative ideas and work seriously, so they do too. I don't think of it as trivial child's play, so neither do they. Their ambitions to write books and make movies are interlocked in my mind and theirs with the writing, drawing, dreaming, brainstorming and organizing of theatrical moments they do every day.  Lucy was taught by my husband to keep a seed book, a note book where she jots down the plot and character ideas that seem always to be coming to her. I try to make sure she has long spaces of quiet to develop some of these ideas into stories. Even as I write my older two are hashing out the plot of a screenplay. I just overheard Lucy tell her brother that they can't do effects because they "don't have the budget for it." I am smiling.

When the weather is warm, they spend a lot of time outside and have always made art objects out of sticks, rocks, leaves, dirt, clay and blackened sticks from the fire-pit. I don't object to the dirt.

We read and listen to great books together, and the plots and characters are integrated into their play. Years ago I overheard a game they were playing that included both Sherlock Holmes and the terrifying Injun Joe from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.  I laughed inside but was pleased.

But sometimes their creative light gets dim. When this happens and they tell me they are bored, I usually realize it is because I have been lax in delegating household duties. Chores are great for making kids think of  wonderful creative things they wish they were doing. And too much mess in their own creative spaces smothers their imaginations, though they don't realize it's the mess getting them down, and they don't seem to remember that a clean desk can be a well of creative energy.

The other big suppressor of creativity in our household is the fatigue, grumpiness, and foggy brain that comes from food sensitivities. Whiny complaints about being bored or work being too hard accompanied by flushed cheeks or pallor and black circles under the eyes tell me that once again I need to adjust our eating. Which makes me want to whine, but I do what I have to do. It also makes me wonder how -many difficulties that people have with their children could be improved by different food.

On a different note, an idea I had in yesterday morning's creative time was to make coloring pages that could be downloaded free from this site. I made two yesterday and want to make a few more every week. I will put them up as soon as I figure out how to do it, although my inner perfectionist is muttering that these are not good enough to share (I think that's her looking grimly from behind my pretty tray). I have written two stories with my little angel characters, and I want to illustrate and try to publish them someday. Doing some black and white drawings to share seems like a good way to work on ideas while introducing the characters. (And no, I don't think coloring books hurt kids' creativity. I think they are a fun way to play with color!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014


In college  I interrupted my English major lifestyle of reading lots of unassigned books and putting off writing papers to take a life-drawing class that still informs how I make art. The professor praised my work and encouraged me to become a professional fine artist. "There is a place for you," he said, which were encouraging words, words I bring to mind sometimes when I feel insecure about making art. But I had lately discovered beautiful children's book illustrations and I thought that what I really wanted was to write and illustrate children's books. I loved (love) books, which was why I was an English major, but I didn't love them only as repositories of ideas. I loved the smooth, almost velvety texture of good paper fanning out from strong binding. I loved looking at pictures that illuminated words, and I liked enjoying art sitting in a comfortable chair. I showed my professor an out-of-class sketchbook with some fantasy illustration ideas I thought were pretty good and said I was interested in becoming an illustrator.

I still remember his condescending smile. The drawings were no doubt fussy and immature, different from what was developing in his helpful class, but mostly he didn't think my subject matter was worthy of  art. He didn't respect illustration as a profession. In so many words he asked me if I wouldn't rather be a real artist. "Not really," I thought. I felt embarrassed and emptied as I left his office. There were no illustration classes at my college anyway.

Too bad, huh? Though even if he had respected illustration as a legitimate way for artists to spend their time and had said something constructive, I might not have been able to go anywhere with it at that point because although I respected illustration as worthy of artists, I couldn't respect myself as an artist for a very long stretch of time. I got help with that later, and now I am well established on an exciting journey that makes me feel young and ambitious.  Maybe that's something people my age don't always get to feel.

Here's a smudgy, charcoal self-portrait from my college days. I was wearing glasses which had fallen halfway down my nose, but they seem to have worn almost completely away.

Soon after I graduated, one Halloween our pastor asked everyone who wanted to make a picture of a saint for All Saints Day (the day that Halloween, All Hallows Eve, is the eve of). I did this St. Francis painting super fast, for me. I should have done something like that every day!

I think I did this iris around the same time. I bought it at a florist shop--which is how it can have a forsythia blossom in the same composition. For some reason I cut this bit out of the larger composition. I was probably having trouble getting the yellow right in the forsythias. The water damage is interesting, I think

Angels in one form or another have fascinated me for a long time, This week's Illustration Friday prompt is "light" so I think I'll post this over there.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Even the sparrow: a beginning

"Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, a place near your altar, O Lord of hosts...." 

For a long while I've wanted to do a drawing of a sparrow and her nest with words from Psalm 84 hand lettered in the picture somehow. Today I sketched a little pile of ideas. This has the prettiest bird though maybe not the best idea.

And then we zoom out for a glimpse of the creative chaos (and, whoops, my unswept kitchen floor). When I am done in a few minutes I will clean it all up as the Flylady tells me to do, but for now this artist does not clean as she goes!

I have big questions about the composition. I want to suggest sacred space, hallowed ground, without putting in anything churchy. but a minute ago I started feeling impatient and thought "Oh, I'll just pick one of these compositions and go with it." Then I remembered a lecture on creativity by John Cleese. He said that one characteristic of creative people is a willingness to leave creative decisions unmade when there is time for it and they think they can come up with a better answer. This is not about perfectionist dithering, or fussing and fuming and erasing and redrawing something that should be left alone, but permission to let an idea germinate and branch out and go places. My plan is to do more loose sketches at night and see if my sleep brain comes up with something to discover in the morning.

This is not the lecture I remember, which was much longer and, from what I read in the comments, is now available for the paltry sum of $750. So we'll just glean what we can from this. It still has good stuff. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How many angels

In a college creative writing class a fellow student wrote a funny, rather brilliant poem (I thought) about looking through a microscope at the head of a pin, seeing the punch bowl, the chips, the scuff marks on the floor, but noting that "the angels were gone." He was thinking of that old story about the Byzantine church leaders cloistered away, wondering how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, while Mohammed's armies surrounded Constantinople. That story is, of course, completely made up. If you want to read about the real origin of this question, go to

But as I was mulling over what or if I would post on Illustration Friday for this week's prompt of "wobble," I remembered my acquaintance's delightful little poem, and decided to do a quick drawing of one of my angel characters trying to dance on the head of a pin. Here she is.

If you want to see more of these angels, go here in my blog.. There are angel posts before and after the one I linked to, making twelve in all. This one is my favorite.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sketching my kids

I know I need to sketch like a musician needs to play scales, so last night while the kids were sitting still-ish watching the Dick Van Dyke Show (very silly) on Youtube, I attempted some quick drawings in charcoal. 

I chose charcoal because I didn't want to erase or get otherwise persnickety, but I still did, in some of them. I believe firmly from experience that sketching things quickly again and again is a better way to improve my drawing than trying to get one drawing right, but the drive to labor over one image is powerful because it's rooted in fear. "Oh no, it doesn't look like her," I think. "I need to fix it to prove I'm really an artist." Then I get all tense and draw worse than ever.

I feel a little scared sharing these. You might figure out that I'm not a real artist. But I am sharing them, and I intend to sketch more and worse, like a real artist, so I can get better at it. Anyone want to join me?

(I only have four kids, though this looks like I have a dozen. And that's a lamp under the head at the top of the photograph. It's not supposed to look connected to anything. I just sketched a lamp close to where I sketched a head.)