Thursday, September 11, 2014

Simplifying is not always simple...

Getting rid of our too-many possessions--things we no longer want or need, clothes that don't fit us or our lifestyle, duplicates, things we've tried out but didn't work for us, things we've outgrown, physically or emotionally, hobbies we no longer enjoy--is a long process, for me.

And no, this tiny set didn't take up much room...but I didn't use or need it. 

Long, but necessary, and freeing.  I feel lighter and less encumbered.

How to go about it can be problematical.  Do I try for "the perfect recipient"?  Someone who needs or would most appreciate what I'm passing along?  (My, that process will slow you down!  It's lovely when we nail it, but it takes a whole lot longer...)

Do I take a box of unused art supplies to school, or our sketchcrawl group, or give them to an artistic friend, or someone with children who enjoy creativity?

(Yes, sometimes all of the above!  I've got a box hatching now for the sketchcrawl artists...)

Sometimes we take a box of miscellaneous things to our family gatherings and hope they'll fill a need; housewares, bedding, tools, clothing.  My youngest godchild looked stunning in a dress that just didn't work for me--too short, too clingy...

Sometimes--frequently!--we take things to a charity resale shop that will even unload the car for us if asked.  It feels good to benefit them while clearing out our space so we can breathe, and so there's room in closets and drawers.  Today, a box of miscellaneous things (we needed 4 thermoses...why?), last week a few books...

A heavy bag of clothes I don't wear went there recently; my closet already feels roomier, and I thought I had DONE this not long ago... 

I hate shopping, so buy online most often...and if I'm paying attention, return things that don't work in a timely manner!  Guess I didn't need those after all...

Then there's the jewelry I've made when I was in my  polymer clay phase...I've sold some, given away some, some is in my Etsy store, and I still have three big glass-topped display cases from when a shop in town carried my work...they closed a couple of years ago...

Pottery supplies...I no longer have access to a kiln, so Joseph took those to the basement for me.  I haven't quite given up on that one!  Pottery is practical alchemy, and I love it.

But then there's the table loom in the attic...a friend wanted it but we haven't made connections.  In two years...

Fabric I'll never sew...happily much of that is perfect for my beloved niece Jenny Hearn, who supplements her income by sewing for RenFaires and such, so off more of it goes as we dig through our attic stash...

Books I've read but won't read again, books on hobbies I no longer have time (or interest) for...and oh dear, books I MEANT to read, but didn't.  (Books are hardest for me...Amazon resale, sometimes, giveaway sometimes, but oh dear Lord so many, MANY more...)

Sometimes I sketch those things I've had trouble letting go of--so I still have them in my journal but I don't need them taking up room in my home--OR in my head.

I still have two of these--I love the M-86 from Hero and the little Noodler's pens, but the middle one has gone to a new home...along with a lot of my other fountain pens...

I am keeping those things I use frequently--ink pens that work, that glide, that make marks I like.  The others go.

Watercolor palettes that I use and depend on, and that are light enough to travel.  (At this age, I consider carefully the weight of my tools and equipment, often weighing them on the postal scale before packing for a trip.)

Paint colors I love and that do what I want them to--I'm not tempted by the latest triad, the tricksy new color, the faddish, interference colors and all.

Brushes that feel good in the hand and make the kind of marks my soul needs--like dancing.

Clothes that fit and flatter and suit my elusive and somewhat quirky "style."  COMFORT is essential, at my age, but I don't care to look like the iconic Walmart shopper (not that I even own a pair of pajama-bottoms...)  I don't care what's in, or proper, or "right for my age"...if I like it and it's comfortable, it stays.  If not...out.

Shoes that don't hurt, feel good, and offer just a bit of support--those definitely earn a place in my closet.  I just recently found some wonderful Japanese sandals that I've just lived in this more of the others go in the giveaway box!

Kitchen gadgets I actually USE get to stay; kitchen gadgets as "decor" are edging out the door.  I have an eclectic collection of old knives that are definitely part of my life as sometime cook.  They work, they hold an edge, they feel good in the hand.  Others?  Long gone.

And of course I need to "have an accord" with my husband; when I'm seriously into giveaway mode, nothing is safe!  He recently took a little camera back out of the box...ooops...

And yes, sometimes I list on eBay--look for Katestreasures or click the link.  Vintage ink pens, a big watercolor box I haven't used in an age, reenacting gear I no longer use...

And of course the books and CDs we publish via our small company, Graphics/Fine Arts Press, like this one...but then that's a whole different kettle of codfish.  We don't want to run out of those!

But oh my, listing/selling is a pain in the patoot!  Shooting photos, writing descriptions, packing things up, shipping...happily I am seeing that light at the end of THAT particular tunnel!  (Or so I tell myself...)

We haven't tried Craigslist, but sometimes Freecycle is a good option--list it and they come and take it away!

Except...when they don't show up.

How do I decide what goes and what stays?  Sometimes it's easy.  Sometimes the recycle bins are full to overflowing.  Some things I wonder why I kept them at ALL.  Sometimes I put things in the giveaway box, and take them back out, and put them back in, and...

But as a general rule, I keep things that are needful, useful, or that feed my soul.  

So Discardia remains satisfying and feels like progress, however glacial...and Andy Couturier's wonderful A Different Kind of Luxury continues to inspire me. I have lived with a whole lot less...and I am aiming for that fresh, open place again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We have a winner!

CONGRATULATIONS go to Morgan Golladay, our winner!

Please contact me at and let me know which class you'd like and I'll add you ASAP!

If you haven't already decided, explore these class options:  

Keeping an Artist's Journal
Ink & Wash
Quick Sketching 1
Quick Sketching 2
Quick-sketching in Color
Watercolor Pencil

Thank you for throwing your hat in the ring, everyone...this was so much fun I'll probably do it again in the future. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Creativity Giveaway--for you!

I hadn't done a giveaway on this blog for some time, and it just occurred to me--why not a "scholarship," for one of my mini-classes?!  (I know, I'm a wee tad slow sometimes...)


Explore these class options:  

Keeping an Artist's Journal
Ink & Wash
Quick Sketching 1
Quick Sketching 2
Quick-sketching in Color
Watercolor Pencil

All the images in this post are from the classes...

So take a peek on my website, here:, take a look at what classes are available, open the links, browse around, see what the feedback is like...

The classes have LOTS of videos, never seen by anyone but class members...

The winner gets to pick which 4-week, self-directed class to take.
Explore the options and throw your hat in the ring! 

Just leave a comment below and we'll pick the winner on Wednesday, September 10.

Good luck!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Creativity and Work and the Necessity of Taking a Break

...or "the freelancer's dilemma!"

I've just finished the big, intense, and very busy class for Danny Gregory's online "Sketchbook Skool," and desperately needed a break before jumping head first into the upcoming North Light book, Sketching on the Spot.  (And as those of you who took my class know, "just finished" really means a few weeks past, but it takes me time to recuperate these days!)

"And now for something completely different..."

Of course part of that difference took the form of just being quiet, and alone in my little shed studio as much as possible, save for my beloved husband and my cats.  Reading, listening to music, even playing a little on my old wooden whistle.

No computer, no phone...heaven.

Interacting with others sparingly and deliberately, and only those I chose to, for the most part.  (Class was wonderful and challenging, but almost every teacher I know who has been involved has also mentioned that it is exhausting--especially for us introverts.)

I know what I need!

Trying something different, a creative direction I hadn't taken in a long time, was one answer.  It is restorative, I think, to explore an entirely different form or medium.  For me, it has been printmaking.  Cutting my own printing blocks from soft rubber sheets that have largely taken the place of linoleum block or the woodblocks before them--and with my arthritic fingers it's just as well.  These cut like butter.

I dug out my 30 year old lino-cut tools you see above, and began to play.

Among my first stamps, this go-round--I love great blue herons, and wanted images of Norman, our silly, huge goldfish.

Fish, one-line cats, spirals, and the spiral in the hand that you find in many primitive has always captured my imagination.

More print blocks...
...a woven circle with wabi-sabi edges...and our friends the Copper Creek Band.

And MORE print blocks.  Yes, bears, too.  I think I'm done, now...
Really, this should be about enough...


I've always loved simple, bold prints--I had a brief foray into block cutting a few years ago when I wanted a larger version of the Newgrange spirals with which to embellish my journals.  This is one of my little accordion-fold sketch journals, with the stamp in use.

Last time I needed to cut stamps, I confined myself to a couple of spirals like this one.

The original meaning of these spirals has been lost in time; they are believed to have been carved 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland, and they speak to me.

The Trinity; Maiden, Mother, Crone; Earth, Water, Sky--make of them what you will, the triple spiral seems to draw us in.


As I mentioned in this post, though, we CAN manage to turn almost anything creative into Work.  Commerce.  A way to earn at least a part of our living, and all the attendant considerations that go with that metamorphosis--where to sell, to whom, how to get the word out...but often, I don't want to turn straw into gold. It's just fine as it is. Straw rocks.  Great mulch...

Someone asked if I sold my print, no, but thanks for asking.  (Whew, I resisted!)

And so I remain vigilant.

And remember to play!

Really, that's one reason I work so much in my journals now, rather than on sheets of watercolor paper.  Everything can NOT be about money.  I have to create because I have to create.  I don't sell my journals, I don't tear pages out.  (I do sometimes make a print, but hey...must feed my cats and keep the electricity on...)


And now, a couple of weeks after I wrote the draft of this post, I'm back to the grindstone of book production, back to working till almost 9 in the evenings, some nights...and I've put my lino-cut tools away.

Well......maybe just one more idea...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

And on the subject of what does and does not feed my soul...

Here are a couple of recent lists...

And a recent inspiration, Andy Couturier's playful and inspiring book on writing.  I think this comes under the headings of "inspiration, laughter, work, challenges" and more, from the list above...I'm having fun!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nurturing creativity...or killing it

Last time I explored some of the things (and they are many) that encourage creativity.  Things that delight me, light that spark, make me want to grab the nearest pencil or pen.  

Or yes, try a new Moroccan dish, design a tunic, make some Japanese tsukemono (kraut), solve a prickly problem or try a new approach to writing.  (Thank you Andy Couturier for your book and your class!)

The old Marrakech Cafe is what got me started on the Moroccan-food kick!   Now I make my own...

And for me (and for many of us), what can kill creativity--and the desire to create--are several. 

Like my very personal discipline of making a list on what nurtures creativity,  I find it helpful to write down those things that do not.  It fixes them in my mind and reminds me to run like a rabbit, for my own sanity and peace.  Sometimes that list is noticably shorther than the one that inspires creativity, and for that I am grateful.

But somehow this "list" got a bit wordier and a good deal less "listy"! Here goes...

Rules, with a capital R, for one.  You must NOT use this or that tool, you must NOT erase, you MUSTN'T use opaque paint with watercolor--or that feeling that you MUST do something every day, hence creating pressure to produce over being inspired or responding to something you care about. 

We are not factories. We are creative souls. 
The idea that you must use this medium or that, and you mustn't use the other one...for me, whatever works to express what I NEED to is what I use. If I want to use a pencil, I use it. If I want to go all ink, I do. If I jump right in with watercolor with no guidelines at all, then that's what the piece asked me to do. If I feel like giving myself guidelines--or making the underlying drawing the work itself, embellished with watercolor, then go to! If the piece calls for a touch of contrast where I've forgotten to leave one, a bright sparkle, I bring out the gouache or the white Sharpie!  

But uniformity in rules or requirements? Not for me, thanks.  Freedom to fly is what I need.

(Though actually, yes--I'll admit to a certain childish rebellion when faced with Rules--perhaps they DO encourage creativity, in a kind of reverse psychological way, for me!  "Oh, yeah??  Who sez?  Watch this!" Yes, I am a stubborn brat, why do you ask? )

Assignments--whether freelance, for pay, or casual prompts are not for me. Not any more.  If it hasn't come from within, it doesn't satisfy my creative urge.  (And mind you, many others find challenges and prompts extremely inspiring, making them their own.  Perhaps it's all my years as a freelance artist, stomach in knots until the client responds, that makes me dislike these things so thoroughly!)

I suspect copying someone else's work can compromise creativity, as well.  It's all right for learning a technique or understanding how the artist did what they did--after all, that's how artists learned, as apprentices, for generations.  But creative?   

Do you give a flying fig about "the Color of the Year?"  I don't.

Creativity is our OWN response--to a subject, a mood, a color, a quality of light.  A loved one.  Something we care about! 

Working from a photo is borderline, for me.  I'm not into photorealism, at all--a camera can do a much better job than I can, and truthfully I don't have the patience for such exacting work.  

And often, photos flatten the scene and obscure detail--especially on a sunny day with deep shadows.  The main challenge of translating the wonderful 3D world to the flat 2D surface has already been solved in a photo.  And we are often tempted to render it exactly as it appears, with little personal response, really.  No tweaking, creative editing, or immediate gut-level response.

Have I worked from photos?  Of course I have.  I take hundreds, and sometimes I can't wait to render them in watercolor--or interpret them in watercolor, perhaps I should say!  

Sometimes, back when I did much more freelance work than I do now--and thanks be to God I don't have to take every assignment that comes through the door, any more!--I frequently had to work from photos.  

When I did hundreds of illustrations for The Walker's Companion, a Nature Company guide (long out of print, and Nature Company is long out of business), they did NOT send me all over the US to do the field sketches!  What a dream assignment that would have been...

Often illustrators are asked to work far out of season, as well, in advance of the season for various wildflowers or other photos are our only recourse.  Most of my Country Living Magazine illustrations fit that profile, as well.  Baby bunnies are not born in January, but that may have been when I did this illustration.

I've done dozens of in-person demos with absolutely no opportunity to work in any other way...and of course, some of my favorite paintings have come from that necessity.  But I did interpret, not attempt to reproduce the photo, as you can probably tell, below.

This was a demo at Old English Garden Shoppe, in Missouri...a long way from Maine!

...and it was not winter when I painted this demo, also at the shop/gallery.  It's nearby, and I HAVE painted on that road, many times--but this was a demo in the evening, not a sunny winter afternoon.

Other things that can inhibit creativity?

  • The Inner Critic*
  • Pretty much any criticism (not the constructive kind, which, in fact, I am also not fond of!)
  • Active discouragement (parents, teachers, siblings or spouses can say the most deadening things...)
  • Lack of encouragement or understanding
  • Expectations--our own or others' (let it happen, let it flow.  Try being in the moment and see what develops.)
  • Too many suggestions or requests (for me this includes "why don't you do this or that, why don't you make a video on X, or would you teach on color theory/portraits/oil painting," etc.)
  • Lack of time
  • Lack of confidence
  • Comparing to others' work or skill
  • Not taking the creative urge seriously
  • Not giving ourselves permission to create
  • Not giving ourselves permission to explore
  • Waiting to find the perfect tool (brush, pen, pencil, paper, journal, whatever)
  • Exhaustion
  • Discomfort
  • Overscheduling
  • Overstimulation (too MUCH information, too many options, too many choices!)
  • Impatience with yourself
  • Expecting to improve without practice (some people think they either "have it or they don't."  Could you play the Canon in D the first time you sat at a piano?)

And alas, sometimes the clunky nature of sharing can suck the joy out of it. Photographing and tweaking, scanning and tweaking, uploading, may take more time than creating! So I give myself a break and just don't, unless I'm in the mood.

I know you can probably add to that list--I could, if I set my mind to it, but enough wallowing in the negative! 

We need to do more than add to a list.  We need to weed out those things that can be weeded, and find ways to deal with the negatives--creatively. 

Simplify, give ourselves permission to create, to play, to "waste" paper or pigment (it is never a waste, trust me.)  Set aside time, eat well, get more rest, turn off the TV, take a walk, breathe, use what we have rather than search for that special tool (the "special tool" is ourselves, our hands and minds and hearts.) 

And enjoy that moment...


*How do I suggest dealing with that Inner Critic?  Let ourselves greet that fearful, negative, or angry voice with kindness, gratitude and respect--it's only trying to keep us from failure, embarrassment or disappointment, after all.  Then suggest it take a nice long walk, have a cup of tea or a cookie, we're doing what we need to!  

What we were born to, really...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New Etsy Listings...original art

...and as I said, there WILL be occasional offerings here.

Tidepool, Maine--7 1/2" x 9 1/2", watercolor pencil

Alas, I did one of the completely squirrelly things that seem to happen when I have far too much on my plate...I recently sold one of my pieces of original art in the Etsy store, and then could NOT find it in any of the bins or envelopes that hold that stuff.  Even St. Anthony doesn't seem interested, this time!

Mind you I just SAW it a couple of weeks ago.  But...where?

Babble, babble...

The dear lady is extremely understanding and chose the image above as an alternate (thank you Sandi!), but having torn the studio apart for 3 days I finally offered her her pick of the new listings of similar price range (plus I'm going to send her a print of the lost one!). 

This is the one that was lost--I added the print to my Etsy store, siiigh.

While I was at it I got a few more from the bin scanned, tweaked, and listed...please take a peek in my Etsy shop, Cathy Johnson Art & More,  if you like!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nurturing Creativity

Playing with carving my own print blocks

I suppose we all have the occasional dry period when nothing seems exciting, when we just don't feel like picking up a brush, when we're tired or overwhelmed.  And in fact I have a whole post in the pipeline that will be a follow-up to this one, addressing those things that kill creativity--or at least inhibit it to the point of entropy.

And honestly, when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty, what inspires us--what nurtures that mischievous and elusive muse--is as individual as we are.

Often, what works for me is to make a list--well, two of them really.  One list of those things that feed my soul, and one of the things that definitely do NOT.  I have done this little exercise time and again through the helps me take compass readings and make sure I'm still on course, as well as where I need to jettison some cargo or turn the wheel a bit to starboard.

Who wouldn't wish to see a few more of those stars like silvery eyes in a velvet sky, eh? (And yes, of course my sailor husband would remind me that starboard isn't up--work with me here, all right? I'm sailing this imaginary sloop...)

I've been doing a lot of jettisoning, lately.  Simplifying, getting rid of excess Stuff--belongings, ideas, occupations, imaginary or outworn obligations.

Making room for Creativity.  For life.

For we ARE creative beings.  That's what we do. Whether we create a piece of art, a symphony, a happy child, a balanced budget, a good meal or order out of chaos, we are fulfilling that urge. I once wrote an article suggesting that that is what we have most in common with the Creator; I still believe that, and I'm more grateful than ever, 25 years later.

Dip pens cut from feathers or sticks

So.  What nurtures creativity?  What inspires me?

Here's my list--this week.  Make your own.  They may be quite similar, they may be entirely different, but they must be honest, straight from the heart. 

  • An open mind
  • Paying attention
  • Meditation
  • Listening to what really matters to me
  • The light on my sleeping husband's face
  • Quiet
  • Time
  • Books
  • Textures
  • Joseph's hands
  • Flavors
  • Play
  • New places
  • Old ones...heart homes, near and far--places that have touched me
  • Music
  • Rest
  • A new tool--a new pigment, a fountain pen that's smooth of nib, a vegetable peeler, whatever!
  • Paper I love to work on
  • Beauty
  • Nature
  • Light
  • Color
  • Learning
  • New ideas
  • Reviving old ones that work 
  • Taking time for me (if I give it all away, I have nothing left for any of us)
  • Honesty
  • Friends who "get it"  (Get what, you say?  Well, that's as individual as we are, as well.)
  • Art--seeing what others have done or are doing can spark a conflagration
  • Rembrandt sketches, Vermeer's chiaroscuro, Winslow Homer's watercolors...
  • A new direction (the stamps above were my balance from too many weeks of the same kind of thing)
  • A different medium--almost but not quite the same as above
  • The grace and antics of cats
  • A quiet chat with an old friend
  • A new discipline
  • Old photos
  • Time for memory
  • Interaction with others...for me, sparingly, but still...
  • A quote that speaks to me
  • That One Perfect Word--you know, the one that strikes the ear and makes everything different  
  • The sure and certain knowledge that there is no one right way when it comes to creativity

A friend's recent art on used teabags inspired these two...thank you, Palma.
My own technique was different...but her work let me take off from there!

And once I have my list?  I do more of that.  Whatever it is, whatever I have time for.  What bubbles to the top, what serendipity throws my way.  What insists I pay attention.





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