Friday, October 11, 2019

Failure is vital for an artist

Sometimes, we all fall

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” ~ James Joyce

When we create something, our efforts sometimes seem to fall far short of our expectations.  This is normal.  Not only normal - it can open new doors for us, but first we have to be ready to see with new eyes.  This requires a certain mindset of non-judgement, of acceptance, of wholeheartedly embracing an idea that (to me at times) is often like cuddling a porcupine. 

We are on the first leg of our nature journal class, and our first plein air outing.  Sketching in the field is challenging enough, but if you are a beginner or brushing up on rusty skills, it can be a bit daunting!  Our group did very well, I’m glad to say.  However…

There was a bit of perceived failure among our new artists. 

“Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as time-released success.” ~ Robert Orben

The thing we call FAILURE
can be our inner GUIDE.

If we change the word FAILURE (and all of its baggage and heavy meanings) to GUIDE, everything changes.  Now we can let the thing we once called mistakes or failures become:

our teacher     a new path     deeper growth    
discovery     enchantment     joy

Joyful Pumpkin – a success and a failure!
Success = process and fun
Guide = foreshortened stem needs work

We cannot live without making mistakes or knowing failure, and How We Respond makes all the difference.

Failure and expectation are entwined:  we expect, it does not come to pass, we call it failure.  I try to approach each new sketch or painting with a plan, but with an open heart and mind to process.  Often a drawing starts off one way and turns into something else.  This is creation in action – a wonderful thing!  

Sometimes what we create is successful but also contains a mistake (or more).  Don’t let the mistake part overshadow the parts that work!  If what you’ve created filled your creative soul, don't let a wrong proportion, or a stray line or ink blot take that away.  Let perceived failure be the voice of your inner GUIDE.  And be aware that sometimes a mistake can make things work better!  This is where “seeing with new eyes” helps.  Put your work away and look at it again in a few days or weeks.  Ask a trusted friend or artist what they see.  You may discover something amazing.

“It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.” ~ Oprah Winfrey 

Arches hot-press watercolor paper, 140 lb.
Daniel Smith watercolor
Derwent watercolor pencil
Wax resist

About 6x9 in

Monday, September 9, 2019

If you build it…

If you plant thoughtfully and plan for basic needs, the birds and wildlife will come.  If you plan to delight the eye, design for serenity, and aim for (relatively) low maintenance, you create something more a sanctuary.  
Baltimore oriole invasion!

This nature journal entry is from last August, done when I visited my parents in northeastern Iowa.  This is part of their backyard!  Here’s what I saw:

  • Eight plus bird species (in an hour or so)
  • A bunny
  • Chipmunks
  • Squirrels
  • Butterflies, honeybees, bumblebees and other insects
Sort of a plein air (from inside!), but from direct observation – hence the start-and-stop lines and redraws.  Everything in nature moves!  Made in ink and watercolor on a Saturday afternoon, finished on Sunday afternoon.

One of the things that makes this a special place is the layout – it is a long and narrow lot with a wonderful viewing spot from inside the house.  This viewing spot is a picture window in the dining room that overlooks nearly the entire back of the property.  Someone can enjoy watching the never-ending show while lingering over a cup of coffee.  It’s also a convenient place to sketch and not frighten away the birds!

Another special thing is that this space is a collaboration between my parents – one gardens for shelter, beauty and food sources and one creates and maintains feeders for the birds (and small and large mammals).  Both create their own forms of functional art. 

We all get thirsty.
Interwoven into the garden spaces are water sources: shallow birdbaths at various heights.  Short grasses and flat limestone rocks delineate paths that wind through flowers, ferns, and small shrubs.  A few strategic benches invite visitors to sit, to meditate, to just rest. 

That weekend was a time of Baltimore orioles, a bird I seldom see in SW Florida.  Bright orange and black for the males, and a more subtle brownish-orange for the females and juveniles.  They came for the grape jelly (yes, my Dad has a soft heart for treats), the hummingbird nectar, and for a drink during their thirsty migration travels.  Small woodpeckers came too, for the seed and suet, flicking in and out of the picture nervously, but sometimes staying for a while.  All sorts of sparrows visited constantly, ever-adapting little bundles of cheeping and hopping feathers.  
Just passing through...
Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits are the more visible small mammals that come for food.  According to my parent’s reports, deer come through at dawn or dusk to forage and drink.  They live near a park and woodlands, so are treated to residential wildlife traveling through at odd times.

What else makes this space so special?  Design-wise, it’s full of varying but harmonious colors, different heights and textures, and the privacy of screening shrubs and trees -- all with a mindful eye for human needs.  Wildlife-wise, it fills the needs of living creatures, offering water, food, and shelter.  Expanding on that, the offerings are appropriate.  In other words:
  • The water sources are clean, at various heights (one is a flat saucer on the ground) and scattered throughout the space.  
  • The food is selected to attract certain species that live locally or migrate through the area.  Some is purchased (seed mixtures, nuts, suet, grape jelly) while some is planted.   Berry and fruit-and-nut bearing species here are highbush cranberry and dogwood shrubs, crabapple, maple and oak trees. 
    Pollinators need food too!  Butterflies, bees, and other insects are important to your garden’s health.  Some flowers are only pollinated by bees, while others are less picky.  We sometimes forget that pollination is a required step in order to make those berries or nuts.
  • The shelter has what certain species need.   There are high and low perches, as well as concealment cover for birds and small climbing chipmunks and squirrels.  Chipmunks need closer-spaced branches while squirrels can jump quite far!  Thick, low-growing shrubs, foliage or grasses provide shelter and cover for rabbits, chipmunks, and ground birds.  The green spaces in their garden are all connected for safer travel.  Is your overall environment a safe place?  Are you using herbicides and/or pesticides?  These do not create a healthy place to live.  Choose more natural methods of controlling pests or not at all.  Ask yourself two questions as a guide: “Would I want to live in the outdoor space I’ve created?”  and  “Would I want my children or small pets to eat, drink and sleep here?” 

Needs are also appropriate to the place and for the species attracted.  This is an urban area, so it’s designed for species that adapt well to town or city spaces.  If this was a rural setting, the design might shift into something very different.

Sanctuary.  Another view of the garden shows a place for humans, too.

 Remember that you have needs too!   Do you thrive with colorful blooms or relax better with serene greens?  Do you crave order or prefer a wildness in your habitat?  Will you observe, walk a path, or sit and read, or will you want to enjoy from afar?  Do you like tending to feeders or prefer that Mother Nature provides sustainable food sources?

I hope that all of the above inspires – if not to start your own backyard wildlife garden, but to appreciate the natural spaces you live, work and move through. There is an amazing world of life out there - if you start with even a single birdbath, they will come.

More resources:

The National Wildlife Federation (based in the US but for anyone): (many resources, including how to certify your yard as a wildlife habitat)

The Wildlife Trust (based in the UK but for anyone): (lots of how-to ideas and free downloadable  info packs)

Sketchbook Media:
“Baltimore Oriole Invasion”
Aquabee sketchbook, 6x9”
Sakura Micron Pigma artist pen, black 01
Daniel Smith watercolors
Round brushes, size 4 and 8

Fabriano Artistico CP 140 lb., about 6x9”
Mechanical pencil
Daniel Smith watercolors
Round brushes, size 4 and 8