I am pleased to have this illustration in Lawrence Magazine for a story about the Douglas County Corrections Facility’s writing program, in its current issue (Winter 2016). Tonight, December 5, 2016, there will be a related poetry reading and exhibit at the Lawrence Public Library, 7pm.
Here is a link to Lawrence Magazine on line. Find the story “Taking On Life” on p. 73, an artist profile of me on p. 33, and my illustration on pp. 76-77.
“The Toll” is a ballpoint pen drawing, 22″ x 30″, that I made for the exhibit “Currently Nontraditional” at the Lawrence Arts Center through Oct. 22, 2016. The exhibit includes works on paper by 12 artists, each responding to some aspect of what 2016 has meant to them.
Artist Statement about “The Toll”
2016 has been a year of violence, mass shootings (including one in Hesston, Kansas, near my hometown), terrorism and war. To depict the pain of 2016, I drew many individual paper cranes as the overall pattern in my drawing. Most cranes are marked, wounded or shot, crumpling and falling to the ground. A few shots miss and a few cranes survive. The paper crane became a symbol for international peace after Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, attempted to fold a thousand paper cranes before she died. My drawing is about the fragility of peace and the toll of violence, with an awareness that every person killed in a mass attack, is an individual who was loved and will be missed.
Animals–mostly birds but other critters too–have taken up residence in my art for many years. I didn’t exactly invite them. Like squirrels drawn to my bird feeder, I don’t recall intending to focus on critters but they have been drawn into my art. And yet I did put up the feeder, and I did create these images, and so of course I invited them. Birds, frogs, cats, cicadas, squirrels and other critters are with us in life and so too in my art. In Steamed (2011), a squirrel chatters noisily like so many colicky babies (or whistling teakettles), clamoring for attention. In Stir (2010), birds with human legs spring forth to dance or fly. And in Composition With Goose (2009), a calm cat and a very wound-up goose hold forth and argue.
But more recently, in the past half-year or so, I’ve changed a little. I am thinking more intentionally about critters, my relationship to them, and the impact of human activity and climate change on them. I think of my pictures as a stage and the animals and people in them as characters playing a part. But instead of using birds or squirrels to tell stories that are really about people, the critters I’m drawing now are playing the part of themselves and are part of the story. In Frog, My Friend, for example, a frog, a casualty of the South Lawrence Trafficway, is carried off by “Death.” Or maybe the frog is our pet frog that died because we just couldn’t take care of him right. Either way, the frog in this story is a frog. In Run!, a Prairie Chicken plays its own part, too, on the run from Death due to habitat destruction and Kansas politics. In Passenger Pigeon: Abstract Memory, a cloud of extinct Passenger Pigeons becomes abstract and fades from memory. In Robin, Been and Gone, a robin is depicted along with several robin-silhouettes, symbolizing presence and absence, a reminder of what pesticides can do to birds. These are of course my images for my very human purposes, too. But I hope that by thinking more about the role of animals in my work, I can remind viewers that we have a relationship with animals, and that this relationship is fragile.
Making work about the negative impact of humans on critters is a new direction in my art, the beginning of a
larger body of work. I was moved to think more about animals in the broadest sense of the word after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. Her book includes story after story of scientists worldwide documenting the process of animals becoming extinct because of human-caused global warming. Animals are leaving us now, and they are never coming back.
In my new work I am guided too by collaborating with my composer-friend Lynn Gumert, of Hightstown, NJ. Lynn and I have talked on the phone and we have exchanged emails, images, and sound. We are working together on loosely-related themes in our work, themes that include the impact of climate change on weather, animals, and us. Lynn is working on a series of related short saxophone quartet pieces, and eventually our work will be presented together. Her first notes to me depicted a river. Building on her compositions I am also playing with images of saxophones and literally drawing their “sound,” as in River Song. In this piece, a Mourning Dove plays a saxophone-river. This, too, is another experiment in visual storytelling.
Please join Karen Matheis and me for our two-person show at the Phoenix Underground, opening Final Friday, June 27, 2014, 5 – 9 pm, from June 27 – July 23 at the Phoenix Underground (825 Massachusetts, Lawrence, KS). I’ll show these works and others too, and almost all of them include animals.
Note: The flying squirrel-doodle to the left (12″ x 20″) is the subject of this blog and is the doodle that I refer to throughout. Other images are from my sketchbooks.
What’s in a doodle? Curly do-dads, texture, funny wings, big long tails, emotion, practice, improvisation, new ideas, new media, spilled tea. Even the sound of the word doodle suggests spontaneity and flow. Doodling is the quintessential imaginative drawing, and imaginative drawing is the theme of a new drawing class I’m planning for adult learners this Spring at the Lawrence Arts Center. This class is the reason I’m thinking about doodling at all and about the place of doodling in my own creative process.
I keep sketchbooks but often begin my explorations with writing. So when writing gives way to sketching, doodling, and drawing, a ballpoint pen is in my hand and is often what I use. I learned recently that ballpoint pens are the medium of choice for entire on-line communities of artists. And the January 2014 cover of ARTnews shows the work of ballpoint pen artist Toyin Odutola and inside the magazine is the work of other ballpoint pen artists, too. Inspired by these, I decided to explore this medium in a large-scale doodle-drawing to gain a better understanding of it not just for sketching but for “finished” work as well.
So already through the pen, art and life are connected in a doodle. Or maybe life itself is a doodle because in a doodle, everything feels connected. For example, the first time I saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was at the soccer fields in Overland Park, Kansas, and that little piece of history is in this doodle. It isn’t in it literally, but that experience led to something that led to something that is in it. When we returned from Overland Park that day, I looked for this beautiful grey-blue bird with the extravagant tail in my Kansas bird book and found it, “one of the most well-known birds in Kansas.” Ha! I was surprised and wondered what else I have never heard of. And perhaps more interestingly, what might be all around me that I have never seen?
The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher eventually led me to backyard birdwatching. When I was scribble-writing some ideas for this blog, I looked out the window at a zillion Starlings at my suet feeder and seconds later two Downy Woodpeckers were there, and then two Goldfinches and then a slew of Cardinals. The feeder is constantly churning with comings and goings and then, of course, there are squirrels. And there are squirrels in my doodle. It was several months after seeing the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that I decided to get some bird feeders. I got the cheapest feeders I could get — small, plastic and ugly — and a waterer too, and hung one at the side of the house and one in front. And the birds came! And the squirrels came too, lots and lots of squirrels. My husband gave me bigger and better bird feeders as gifts but also grumbled about the cost of feeding a whole neighborhood’s worth of squirrels. But he was the one to notice the littlest and cutest squirrels on the coldest of days saying, “We gotta keep those little guys alive!”
I began reading Bert Dodson’s book, Keys to Drawing with Imagination, and drank in his encouragement to doodle, to stretch your doodles in new directions, to noodle the doodles, and to mix them up. I joked about getting a bird-proof squirrel-feeder. Or how about a Squird feeder! Of course there are Flying Squirrels. But what if flying squirrels had actual wings? What if they had cicada wings?
Doodling odd flying squirrels made me think of those strange prehistoric creatures that surely should not be able to fly but surely did. Amidst my listening to jazz and “All Things Considered” on the radio as I doodled, I heard Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” interview author Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert talked about her new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In it she explores the fact that species are dying off so quickly due to the impact of humans, that it is a time of mass extinction, and is considered the sixth mass extinction on earth.
My flying squirrels will never exist but imagining that they could provided a moment of levity as I listened to Kolbert’s dark accounting of the extinctions of species now taking place as I doodled. I wrestled with the ugliness of it all in the vigorous marks I made in the tails of my flying squirrels. And that’s not all the bad news I was hearing as I worked. At this same time the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill to preserve “religious rights,” a bill really intended to take away the rights of gay and lesbian people should they ever be allowed marriage equality in Kansas. I explored the absurdity of it all as I doodled.
I went to KU’s Natural History Museum on the day I took my computer in for repairs. Little squirrels had been nesting in there, slowing it down and giving me that interminable spinning pie wheel. It had been a long while since I’d been to the museum, and I wanted to scope it out as a possible destination for my drawing students. There were old bones and taxidermied creatures. I came across a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and a flying squirrel (a dead but real one) and made a quick sketch of the squirrel. And I decided that I would like to make some art about animals that are gone.
And then the doodle was done. I liked some of the things that were going on in it, especially the bottom-most squirrel. The shape and pattern of it had a visual integrity that the more cartoon-like squirrels seemed to lack. I liked working with a Bic ballpoint but wasn’t fully satisfied with it either. I couldn’t get the darks dark enough. I figured out that the basic Bic crystal has a twin, the Bic crystal pens found in the pack of 12 colors, and with these I could eke out a slightly better black and darker blue. I wondered how this image would look in scratchboard, a medium I’ve used a lot. But in scratchboard, how could I keep the sense of spontaneity that I liked here, when I find the application of lines in Scratchboard to be more cumbersome?
The doodle helped me ask questions and forge other kinds of professional connections, too. I wanted a better-than-Bic pen for a blacker black and went on-line to find out how I could un-clog my old Rapidograph technical pens. Happily I found an on-line community to help me. When I posted my doodle on my Facebook page, a friend shared about an interesting on-line doodling community. And the doodle may have suggested a path forward on an illustration job that I’m working on. It even helped me process the beginnings of a collaboration with a composer-friend in New Jersey. We hope to explore a music/visual art collaboration and our point of departure will be nature, climate change, and extinction. For her part she will begin composing about a river. I will start with birds or frogs. Then we’ll trade our work and see how the other person’s art inspires a second round and hopefully many more.
Bert Dodson’s book, including his chapter on doodling, has helped me to push my work in small but significant ways. One key to drawing creatively is to simply draw at all, and through the process of making and working, ideas come. “We tend to think of imagination and creativity as qualities that people have. But in reality these qualities show up only in action–as something you do. Simply put, imagining is what you do in your head; creating is what you do on paper.”
Come see Declarations, a mixed-media on scratchboard piece at the opening reception for the exhibit “Make More Love!”
Final Friday, Jan. 31, 2014
5 – 9 pm
The Percolator is between 9th and 10th Streets and half a block east of New Hampshire St. It is in the alley behind the Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS.
My sketchbook for The Sketchbook Project is done! News, Boats, Better Angels: A Visual Journal, along with thousands of other sketchbooks from around the world, will be included in a traveling exhibit of artist books made this year. The project is coordinated by the Brooklyn Art Library, a branch of the Art House Co-op based in Brooklyn, NY. An on-line catalog of this year’s books will be coming soon.
I have long kept sketchbooks to examine my life and creative process, but this is the first time I’ve made one for public view. It is still a process-oriented book like my other sketchbooks, but in this one I focused on several ongoing themes: better angels (a theme I can’t quite explain but it has to do with grappling with what is the right thing to do), paper boats (a symbol for the flow of life), and news (my response to newspaper stories that struck me especially in an election year). I enjoyed the project because it has enabled me to share a looser, more personal kind of art with others, and I’m excited that I will be able to see other people’s sketchbooks, too.
For the first time I am participating in The Sketchbook Project, an annual project wherein thousands of people from across the world make a sketchbook to be included in a traveling exhibit of artist books, coordinated by the Brooklyn Art Library, a branch of the Art House Co-op based in Brooklyn, NY.
Participants pay a fee to the library for inclusion and are then mailed a small sketchbook to use during the year prior to the project’s ending date which this year is January 15, 2013. An additional fee allows participants to have their books digitized and included in an on-line display. Sketchbooks are the main attraction for this project, but all kinds of handmade books are welcome as long as they conform to a few basic guidelines.
I am planning to use this book as a way to loosen up a bit with my drawing. I anticipate that it will be a place where I will work more personally and spontaneously than I usually do, and yet in a way that is refined enough for me to feel comfortable with its public display. I plan to doodle, ramble and play, and to explore themes that I am working on in my daily art making process but that are not worked out yet. In my first spread I drew over a newspaper article that I glued down. The article is about the new healthcare law that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court yet still condemned by my state’s governor. I’m interested in making relationships and connections between personal experiences and the bigger world of politics and culture as seen through the media, particularly my daily newspaper, and especially during this year’s presidential campaign.
What should the city do with “This Green Space” — the open lot on 9th and New Hampshire beside the Lawrence Arts Center? A recent exhibit at the Lawrence Percolator put that question to the public. My response: build a playground! On Tuesday, April 27, a procession of Percolator members and volunteers took a model of the hotel proposed for that spot to City Hall, illustrating its large size in relation to other buildings and advocating for alternatives.