Monday #1: Happy Birthday!

I hope you did your time at the gym because it’s time for a big piece of cake…birthday cake, that is.  The Monday Blog is officially ONE YEAR OLD today!  Thanks to everyone who took the time to email me and to comment here and on Facebook last Monday… I’m happy to be in it for another year!

Fall is in the air!  It’s back to school time, summer is over and we get to put it all into high gear again.  I’m always excited about fall because this is some of my best creative time.  The kids are off on the school bus, my own school visits won’t start in full force until January, and I am able to spend more time in my studio than I get to at any other time of the year.  Much of the time I am focusing on whatever book I have coming up, currently a project called I Am A Garden, a collage illustrated picture book that will feature a variety of animals in geographically different, natural “garden” settings.

There are also some other things I’ve been playing around with and so, this week, to celebrate a year of creativity and get myself into the frame of mind to make lots of art, I’m bringing you into my studio for a peek.

These are my newest paintings…  miniatures.  They are small, 5×5 gallery wrapped canvases for those small places that need something colorful.  If you want to feel the sting of the slumping economy more than you do already, become an artist and try to sell ART after the latest market drops are announced.  Personally, I don’t think art is superfluous but do you think maybe that’s because I don’t have to buy it?  So, my answer to smaller budgets is smaller art… I call it recession art!

Despite a lively existence in both illustration and fine art, my art background has no BFA in it and, for the most part, it is firmly rooted in rather crafty beginnings.  Once upon a time, I could be found in a pile of jig-sawed pine boards and dried flowers, happily wielding a hot-glue gun.  These days, sometimes my humble past comes creeping in and I end up with what you see here.  These are pieces of moulding I found in my garage, cut crudely with a handsaw, collaged with painted paper from a phone book and embellished with beads and whatnot.  It’s kitchen kitsch meets repurposing, although I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with them yet.

And, here is the beginning of a nice commission I am working on this week.  Years ago, I did a collage called Tree Of Love. It was a large piece that featured an intricate, cut-paper tree that grew hearts instead of apples.  Because the tree, in general, is a wonderful metaphor for so many things–life, family, knowledge, love–I have recreated this particular piece several times now upon request, particularly for wedding and new baby gifts.  This one will be completed in a monochromatic palette of blues and purples.  You can see one of these trees of Love in progress at my Flickr stream.

I’ve been playing around with online art classes this year, mostly for drawing, which I’ve only just begun to do recently.  I started off with a rather traditional, still life drawing approach, but what really has me excited about drawing at the moment are these cranky, offbeat creatures that come out all scribbly and end up saying whatever is on their mind. I’ve talked with other children’s book authors and illustrators who agree that the public view of us is often very much based on our book products.  So, if we write and illustrate sweet, lyrical books, we are likely to be thought of as more sweet (and lyrical) than we really are in our day to day existence… speaking for myself, of course.  But, this type of drawing is a nice outlet and I’ve found that these weird critters are often just the right mouthpieces for my snarky stuff.

Now, speaking of drawing… here is one of THE FUNNEST things I’ve worked on in a long time.  First of all, it’s completely self-indulgent, which is something I rarely do so it feels almost like cutting math class or calling in fake-sick for work.  This is a handmade book I am making from a super fun online class with my friend, Carla Sonheim, called Junk Mail Artist’s Books.  Using a variety of junk mail, the objective is to create an illustrated book that really is, in my opinion, a challenging “visual puzzle.”  If you look closely, you will see that each page is a different size and shape, and the overlapping of pages causes the drawings to go off the top page and onto the page behind.  As you turn the page, you will see the lines from the previous page create the beginning of the next page’s illustration which you, the artist, must puzzle out, keeping in mind that this happens on both sides of the binding.  I’m nowhere near finished yet, but watch these four pages as they morph from one set of images to another with each turn of the page.

See the big bird with the head plumage talking to the little, plain, red bird? (And, for some unknown reason, I see birds in so many of the paint blobs… crazy, I know).  Watch what happens to these two friends, as well as the donkey-creature, as we turn the page.

Now watch what happens to the three flowers and the fish-bird thing.

Finally, see that little fish?

What’s truly amazing about this class is watching Carla demonstrate both her prep-work (the pages are created through cool steps of layered media) and her ability to “find” the images in, basically, a bunch of blobs.  As I work on the pages, I find that the drawing begins to take on a life of its own and the creatures and plants grow rather organically from one page to the next, but make absolutely no literal sense.  Text naturally flows from the characters for me, and a quirky, dreamy book is born in a manner that is completely opposite to that in which I usually make a book.  It is a very non-linear, but extremely meditative creative exercise that reminds me of the mind-mapping I did earlier this summer.   I wonder if kids who struggle with paying attention to the boring and tedious would groove on this kind of art activity as much as I do.

Finally, here are my Bad Babies.  I have ten of them right now.  These are the canvas projects that have me so stymied and so annoyed that I almost want to hit them with the Gesso and be done with it.  They sit in the corner, looking ugly and blowing raspberries at me all day long so I punish them by painting, splattering or smearing them with whatever paint and ink I have left from the Good Babies, no matter what color it is.  A few weeks ago, however, I admitted to my Facebook friends the artistic irony that has been with me since the very first mark I made: that these little devils usually turn into my favorites. But, shhhhhhh…. don’t tell them!  And, don’t hold your breath either.  Sometimes the road to artistic Nirvana is a long one.

Have a great week, everyone and thanks for coming back for another year of creativity, inspiration, running, fitness, learning and whatever other random thing might pop into my mind on Sunday.

TRY THIS WEEK: Take a quick inventory of all the amazing things YOU DO!

About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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2 Responses to Monday #1: Happy Birthday!

  1. Allen says:

    Happy Belated Birthday, 52 mondays.

  2. JudithAcht says:

    Happy silliness to you.
    Happy squeeness to you.
    Happy crownday in a silly way.
    Happy silliness to you!

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