A New Arrival - How I Learn {Plus a Giveaway!}

This morning I finally opened up the large cardboard box that had been sitting in the corner of my bedroom since I arrived back in London. 

What could be inside, I wondered?

Look!  Advance copies of the new book I illustrated called

"How I Learn!" with Magination Press.

It will be released in August 2014, but I thought I'd share a sneaky peak with all my lovely readers. 

It's a story about three children who all have difficulty with learning in some way; one struggles to read, one struggles to write, and one struggles with math.  But, with the help of their parents and teachers, they all find a way to make learning easier!  

The story really touched me, because I often felt self-conscious about math when I was in elementary school.  I remember having to do mad minutes, where we had to solve 10 math questions in one minute.  They were simple adding and subtraction, and should have been easy, but the time pressure meant they were agony for me.  I just couldn't do them!  Math remained arduous until I had an amazing teacher in grade 12 who made everything clear for me.  (Thank-you so much Mr. Pries!)  

I can't wait to show you more of this book and some of the original sketches and paintings in August!  For now, this is all you get to see. 

 

Or, how about this?  Did you have trouble with anything in school, and was there someone who helped you through it? 

A Day in the Life of a Children's Book Illustrator

I thought it would be fun to share a typical day in my life as an illustrator.  Right now we're in Cape Town, but my routine rarely changes whether I'm here, in London or in Canada. It's just the scenery that changes.  

7am: Wake up. Stumble bleary eyed into the blinding sunshine in the kitchen. Pour a glass of cold orange juice and will myself to wake up. 

I wish I started my morning by reading something erudite, or meditating, but I usually end up checking Facebook...

8am: I walk down the hill to the post office to send off the most recent order from my Etsy shop.

Luckily it isn't far to go.  It's already so hot that I make sure to find all the patches of shade on the way there and back. 

This is the view I see on my way back up the hill.  Our house is the one with the brown door in the garden wall.  The frangipanis (also called plumeria) are blooming so beautifully this time of year. There's a wisp of a Table Cloth on top of Table Mountain. That means it's going to be a hot and windy day. 

8:30am: On my way back from the post office I like to stop by Vida e Caffe for a cappuccino.  Vida is a local coffee chain with a wacky, energetic feel. I love how they decorate their paper cups.  Which moustache are you?  I also love that they give a square of dark chocolate with every coffee order. I'll save mine for later.... 

{Coffee on the studio table and ready to work}

9am: I'm already hard at work and listening toBBC Radio 3 online. I love how the classical music gives a sense of order to my crazy imagination.

Right now I'm working on a big book project for Magination Press (a job I got through my agents at Advocate Art). The deadline is fast approaching, so there's no time to spare.

When I'm painting I go into a zen state. I focus. I breathe deeply. I concentrate on the colours and patterns unfolding under my hands.

Any work I do in the morning is like double work. It's that magical time of day when my ideas flow and time seems to cooperate with me.

10am: I find myself googling things like "chalkboard brushes" and "monarch butterflies" to look for references for my current project. I also spend a bit of time trying to win a game of solitaire while my paint dries.

{This is how illustrators do their hair... with a paintbrush.}

{Dive into the colour!}

12 noon:  Noon Gun!  Boom! You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but I always jump.  The noon gun has been marking midday in Cape Town since 1806.  It's loud; it echos between the mountains; sometimes I spill paint...

It wakes me from my painting reverie and I remember that I should eat lunch.  Wait a second, did I even eat breakfast?  (Usually not). I make beeline to the fridge and graze from last night's leftovers.

12:30pm: Back to the drawing board. Literally. By now I'm starting to lose concentration.

In the afternoon I often focus on smaller projects, or work on scanning or photoshopping illustrations I'd started the day before.

If I don't have pressing illustration work, I'll write blog posts, or brainstorm ideas for new projects.

....Oh dear, my eyes are drooping.

2pm: Time for that square of dark chocolate.  Thank-you Vida! 

3pm: Unless I have a super-stressful deadline, this is the end of my work day.  I take a long bath, to ease my aching muscles.  You wouldn't think working as an artist would be that strenuous, but hunching over paintings can make my shoulders so tight!

After my bath, I unfurl my back muscles with a short session of yoga.

3:30pm: I rush to the grocery store (aptly named "Pick and Pay," I laugh every time I think about it) and figure out what to make for dinner. Sometimes I pop into the bookstore for a little inspiration, or grab another coffee.

4pm: Skype time with my Mom in Canada!  She's finally awake and I can tell her all about my day.  

6pm onwards: I make supper, and my husband and I settle in for a relaxing evening. Sometimes we have a glass of wine; sometimes we watch a dvd; sometimes we read; sometimes we escape the heat and head to the seaside.

10pm: Time to curl up in bed and close my eyes. Tomorrow will be the same, all over again! 

Here's a one minute video I made of me painting... Enjoy! 

Swooning in the Cape Town heat {a little animation}

{Swoon!}

It's summer in Cape Town, and it's so hot.

So, so, so hot.

The noon gun has just fired (as it does every day). The air is so still that the reverberations from the blast have shaken the frangipani flowers from their branches, and now they're wafting down in front of my window. Across the street someone is playing sultry saxophone.

If I slouch in my chair (as I often do), I can see the top of Table Mountain peeking above the roof of our house.  It's shimmering in the heat today.

It's so hot that I think the paint is melting on my palette before I can even get my brush into it.

The heat always brings out the diva in my characters; they always seem to have minds of their own. This little girl was frustrated that I wasn't paying enough attention to her heat-induced swoon, so now she's swooning over and over and over again.  Ad infinitum.  

The grass is always greener on the other side isn't it?  I envy all you readers who are cozily cocooned in  winter.  Oh!  For the snow and the hot chocolates and the great big fuzzy scarves.  Enjoy it while you can!

{Note #1: I posted this little girl last year, but as I have so many new followers, I thought some of you might enjoy seeing her brought back to life)

{Note #2:  I'm not sure if the animated illustration works for email subscribers, so you might want to click through to the blog to see it.}

Being Inspired and Playing with Sketches

{Queen Elizabeth and her people}

One of my favourite things to do on a Saturday afternoon is go to an art gallery and sketch from the great masters.  A few weeks ago, I went to the

Elizabeth I and her People

 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London with my dear friend

Ayla Lepine

I had so much fun sketching Queen Elizabeth I and all her courtesans and contemporaries. There were so many hats!  So many outlandish costumes!  I decided to challenge myself, so I worked into the sketches with ink wash (which, unbelievably, I've never done before). I really loved the warm tones the sepia wash gives the sketches. 

Which made me wonder... why had I never tried it before?

This reminded me of how important it is to keep growing as a creative person.  I may spend every minute of my day drawing and painting, but it can still be too easy to fall into routines. I have a habit of reaching for the same art supplies every day.  

A year ago I was contacted by Whitney Sherman to contribute to her book

Playing with Sketches

.  She had been searching the blogosphere looking for innovative sketchbooks, and appreciated the way I regularly draw in museums, being inspired by the old masters.  

So much so that I've even written a children's book all about it! 

Playing with Sketches

 is a book with 50 creative exercises, grouped by difficulty and theme, designed to help you grow as an artist.  The exercises include word games, dimensional shapes, and inventive sketchbooks and letterforms, eventually creating a “toolkit” of ideas and skills developed through the process of play.

What's really great is that each exercise is illustrated with examples from real sketchbooks by real artists.  Whitney Sherman contacted artists and bloggers from around the world to feature in her book. She included their website or blog details, so if one particular exercise or artist really inspires you, you can hop online and check out more of their work. 

I'm featured in the section on drawing from the old masters.  

What kinds of things do you do to keep your creative fires burning?  How do you make sure you don't get mired in stagnant waters, but keep the river of ideas flowing freely?  I'd love to know! 

{A collection of left hands from the National Gallery, London}

{Here's the page I'm featured on!}

The sun will keep on rising and setting

{Full Moon - Camps Bay, Cape Town}

Just a little note to say: 

- I arrived home, acquired a vicious head cold, and immediately dove head-first into work towards some looming deadlines. 

- I'm resolving to do more landscape sketching/painting, and this is the fruits of my first effort. Yesterday the full moon was spectacular, inspiring, uplifting.  

-  The moon always reminds me to breathe deeply.  The world is bigger than we imagine, much bigger. There are possibilities of all description beyond our reckoning. When we're worrying about our little patch of earth (our careers, families, etc), sometimes a larger perspective is important.  As Anne of Green Gables said, "The sun will keep on rising or setting, whether I fail geometry or not."  

'Til next week!  

Oh, and I'd love to see you over on

Facebook

or

Twitter

.  Come say hello!  

Living Spherically: Being Multi-Passionate

You have to live spherically, in many directions. 

Never lose your childish enthusiasm

and things will come your way. 

Under the Tuscan Sun Movie

It's a rainy day, and that suits me just fine.  The world is quiet; all I can hear is the patter of raindrops on the roof.  Rain always makes the world feel intimate and manageable. I find I can concentrate better when the the distractions of the world are muted by soft rain.  

Speaking of distractions: I have a habit of thinking that I have to focus on just one "really important" project at a time.  I get overwhelmed when I have too many items on my to do list. 

 I sometimes wonder, if I simplified my life, and put all my energy into one project, would I reap larger rewards than if I worked on many different things at once?  

I'm not sure this is the right way to go about things, though. Wouldn't life become flat and one-dimensional? Surely pursuing more than one avenue makes life more interesting? Why can't we be multi-passionate? I love illustrating; I love writing; I love blogging. I think they all make valuable contributions to my creative life. 

I remember an episode of Dawson's Creek where Dawson was talking to someone about his love for films and film-making.  His bedroom was papered from floor to ceiling with movie posters.  The friend asked if he had any other interests.  

"No," he said, "Films are my life."  

"If you're not interested in anything else, what will you make films about?"the friend asked. "You can't make films about films." 

I guess that means we need to pursue our chosen path with single-minded enthusiasm, but also leave doors open for other interests to enrich our lives (and our creative projects).  Who knows where the next opportunity will come from? 

So, I'm resolving to live life

spherically

this week.  I will pursue all my passions with childish enthusiasm, and I won't let all these balls I'm juggling overwhelm me.  

What do you think?  Do you think if you have lots of passions you are diluting your energy? Or is having lots of passions a good thing? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Unleashing your inner creativity

I'm so grateful I started drawing and writing at an early age, before I realized what a daring thing it is to do...

...because creation is hard.

Have you ever sat in front of a blank page and willed a sentence or a line of drawing into existence?  What stopped you from starting?

Probably fear.

Fear of not being able to do it. Fear of not having any ideas. Fear that it will be horrible.  Fear that it will be really good, and then you'll have to live up to a new standard.  Fear that someone might say something devastating about it.  Fear that it won't be as good as.... (name your jealousy, Hemingway let's say, or Picasso).

When did that fear start?

I'm sure as a child you drew, and told stories, and sang and danced with exuberance and energy.

All children are artists.

They start out without self-consciousness as they play and paint and tell stories. They have no doubt that their drawing of a tiger balancing on a rainbow is the best thing you've ever seen.  They are convinced that the story they told you today, "and then a crocodile started playing the piano, and an ostrich was dancing" is the most fascinating thing you've ever heard. Except maybe for the story they told you yesterday, do you remember the one about the flying elephants?

Where has that child gone?  That inner child that can fight imaginary dragons and come home to supper having saved the world, and is ready for a glass of warm milk and bedtime...

That child is locked somewhere deep inside you.

And so is her exuberant courage; that's still there as well.

The trick is knowing how to unearth that courage hidden under all the anxieties of daily life. And once you've found that courage, how to protect it from the nay-sayers around you.

I don't have a bullet proof list of tips for this, but I have a few ideas...

(the examples I give deal with writing and drawing, but could work just as well for music, or quilting, or singing, or dancing.... )

1.  Ask yourself, "what's the worst that can happen?" You crumple of the piece of paper, or delete your document, and you've spent an hour writing or drawing something that didn't work. Sure, a grown-up might think of it as wasted time; a child wouldn't though. They'd think of it as a great hour of play, and maybe, just maybe, you've learned from your mistakes.

2. Start by making one mark on the paper.  Write, "The cat sat on the mat," and then ask yourself, "what next?" Or draw one line, and then another.  Draw a box. Draw a circle.  Draw the sun.  Just start.  And if you don't like it, crumple up the paper and go back to step #1.

3. Actually try to make something horrible.  Scribble on the paper. Press so hard with your pencil that it tears through to the other side. Mix all the colours together until you have muddy brown.  Write without any punctuation. Start spelling things how they sound, instead of correctly. Just bang at all the keys on the keyboard, and see what funny words and letters appear. Make a mess just for the sake of releasing all that anxiety. It's the best therapy in the world, and you might surprise yourself.

3. Take a nap.  Sometimes you're just tired. Treat your inner creative child gently, and you might find her cooperating.

4.  Make your favourite snack.  Really savour the flavours.

5. Reward yourself. When I was in grad school I would buy myself a pack of Cadbury chocolate buttons, and eat one button for every page of my dissertation that I'd edited. Children love rewards.  They love working towards them, and they love receiving them. Make it fun.  

Make it a game.

6. Write down all the things you're afraid of.  Once they're written down, some of them will sound as silly as the bogey-man under the bed; some of them will be valid. For the valid fears, make a list of reason why they will never happen. Make a list of reasons why you're brave enough.

7. Make lists of the things you loved when you were a child.  Some of these might unlock hidden inspiration or hidden courage, or just a little laughter.

8. Make lists of anything.

9.  Run around in the grass barefoot. Breathe fresh air.  Get some exercise. Your brain needs oxygen to be inspired.  Do a handstand.  Do a cartwheel.  Chase after pigeons. Lie on the ground and find shapes in the clouds.

10.  Arrange your supplies in order of colour, or size, or by how much you love them.  Isn't that lovely rainbow of pens beautiful?  When I was little I used to arrange all my bath toys and teddy bears.. it was a ritual of respect and admiration.  When you love the tools you work with, you'll do better work.

11. And, if all else fails, do #1, #2, and #3 over and over and over again until you actually start making something you really love.

12.  And then give your inner five-year-old a big hug.

The two of you are a great team.

Follow

Are you ready for the art of living?

Are you ready?

Yes!

I think I am... 

I hope so... 

What does it mean? ... 

I was going through my folders of pictures, trying to find a photo of myself for an upcoming blog feature, when I found this set. (see below for what I was wearing in the photos...)

There used to be a mural down the street from us that asked all the passing traffic, "R U ready for the art of living?"  Whenever we drove by I wanted to answer a resounding YES!

So, I painted "YES!" on a piece of paper with bright red paint (cadmium red, to be exact), and my husband and I walked down the hill to take some photos.

Several weeks later the city built a new bus stop right in front of that wall, and painted it beige.  

Beige!

 Isn't that just like life?  Just when it feels like everything's happy and wonderful, the world descends and turns everything beige.  Blech!

I recently attended a talk by Alexander McCall-Smith (author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books). He must be the happiest, most optimistic person I've ever met.  Every story or comment was bookended by a giggle or a big smile.  One of his comments, which resonated quite deeply with me was:

"The world may be a vale of tears, but we can't fix it by being miserable."

So, let's embrace the art of living!

I'm not exactly sure what the art of living is, mind you.  I think it must have something to do with being joyful in the moment, right here, right now.  And doing the best we can. And being kind to ourselves (and others).

What do you think the art of living is?  

I'm curious. Let's brainstorm and see if we can come up with a definition.  You can comment below. Or, if you're following by email you can email me at: jane@janeheinrichs.com .

Take a deep breath

Whew!  

I've spent practically every minute either relaxing with my husband or curled up under my duvet.  

I'm not exactly sick, though I do feel like I'm fighting something that's gnawing at my lungs. Mostly I think I just need time to breathe....really breathe... deeply...  slowly... fully.  

I opened my day-planner on Monday morning, and was delighted to see nothing written in it for the whole week.  No deadlines. No meetings.  Just a page of days ready to be filled with enjoyment. 

And what is more enjoyable than breathing?  Fresh clear air (even in the big city) is so refreshing. And then there's the fragrance of blossoms and coffee brewing...Heaven.

I think I've spent three days sitting in my studio, pencil in hand, but not drawing at all. Instead of drawing, I watched the sun move across the white sketchbook page and the curtains dance in the breeze. 

That makes me sound lazy.  Which isn't true at all.  

In our rushed culture we forget that some of our best ideas come in idleness. Inspiration comes when your mind has space to breathe.  After all, the word "inspire" means "to breathe in".  (from in and spirare which is the latin for "to breathe"). I wish I could write a book about the correlation between inspiration and breathing deeply, but for now, let's just give that thought some space to grow in our minds. 

And while I was sitting and staring at the curtains in the wind some marvellous ideas for illustrations pranced through my mind.  Oh! I'm so excited to start drawing tomorrow!  

Life is busy. I'm constantly reminding myself to keep moving forwards, to push through the busyness, but also to take time to breathe deep and smell the roses.  

I think that's what this little illustration is all about...  

When life is flying at a fantastic pace, why not take the roses with you?   

And remember to breathe deep and be inspired

(which might be the same thing, after all). 

I almost gave up

All that happens in London depends

more on you than you can ever believe.

Everything is created by the image you

carry within you. 

Anais Nin

I almost gave up. 

After years of rejections, I told myself that I would go to the London Book Fair one last time.  I would give it my best effort, and if nothing came from it, I would quit pursuing the world of traditional publishing, at least for a while. 

We've all heard those stories about how famous authors have wallpapered their spare bedrooms with rejections letters. I'm never sure if those stories are meant as cautionary tales or encouragement.  Certainly, when you're living it as a reality, it feels pretty hopeless. 

There's only so much rejection one person can take before they crack.  

I reached that point months ago.  But, I wanted to make one last effort, just to prove something to myself.  

So I printed my portfolio images on the best watercolour paper I could find.  I practiced my smile, which I would have to wear infallibly through good interviews and bad.  I filled my heart with hopeful thoughts, positivity, and (almost false) confidence. 

For three days I went from one portfolio review to another.  

You want to know the amazing thing?  

Suddenly people were noticing. They appreciated my illustrations.  They had constructive, even positive, things to say.  Some said they would call me back.  A week later, some of them did.  

And, dear readers, I signed with an illustration agent!  Advocate Art is now representing me as an illustrator. 

Signing with an agent isn't any kind of guarantee of success; I know plenty of illustrators who have agents and still don't get publishing contracts.  

But, right now, that's not the point.  The point is, I didn't give up, even when I was so close to throwing it all in. The point is, just when I thought all was lost, someone important appreciated what I had to say, and put their confidence in my talents.

Who knows where this will lead? I'm sure it will add interesting twists to this adventure! 

I saw this quote from Cheryl Strayed on

Meg Fee's blog

, I thought I'd share it here...  

Every last one of us

can do better than give up.

It may seem hopeless, but if there's a white fire of passion burning in your heart, there will be a way for it to become a reality. I'm sure of it.

Even if it takes more time than you think.

Balance

 

I have a confession to make: I didn't do any drawing at the seaside.  I didn't even open my sketchbook or unpack my pencils from my bag.  

Nope. 

All I did was sit and stare at this... 

{that might be my special bench}

I soaked in the infinity of the sea, the slow pace, and the refreshing sleep.  My soul geared down to neutral and I coasted at the speed of the breeze and the waves.  

Sometimes it is necessary to do nothing, and revel in it.  

But now I'm back in the studio and working hard, or at least trying to.  Things seem to be happening a lot slower than I'd planned.  

But you know what? It's ok.  I don't mind working slowly.  That way I can really enjoy what I'm doing.  Good work shouldn't be rushed.  

Here's a little quote by the novelist Amelia Barr, who advocates doing things slowly...

"Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration." 

*********

Dream Big

"Now," she said, startlingly down to business, "tell me what you expect from life. Fame and fortune aside -- those we take for granted."  

Truman Capote 

(from the unfinished novel "Answered Prayers")

We have been dreaming a lot in our house these past few weeks, months even.  The days have been filled with possibilities, what ifs, wonderings, brainstorming, lists, and many, many unanswered questions.  

The other day I sat in the garden, I picked up a frangipani flower, and I looked at the way the petals fold towards the middle with such architectural precision -- almost like a Frank Gehry building --  and it got me thinking about the nature of dreams.

What do we dream of?  Fame and Fortune aside.  (for that's too vague, and too prosaic) It's much better to hone your dreams, until they have the precision of a laser beam, cutting through the murk. 

I dream of inspiring people.  I dream that what I draw, or what I say, might illuminate some of the wonder of the universe that people are too busy (or to preoccupied) to see.  

Of course, I also dream of money and of recognition (I won't say fame, I'm too introverted for that). But those are all things we can't just dream about, those are things we have to constantly and tirelessly work towards

The dream, on the other hand, is that little pilot light in the soul that is always in danger of blowing out.  Any rejection, any setback, and the light extinguishes. It's the small light that guides our hearts in the right direction, and gives us courage in the dark nights. 

So, to all of you out there, tirelessly working towards your dreams, guard that little light with your life. And then work hard; work harder than you've ever worked before.  Never give up.  

And when life seems overwhelming, and your little light is flickering in the buffeting winds of the world, go pick up a flower, any flower, and contemplate the miraculous universe that made it.  While there are flowers, there is always hope.   

So, what do you dream?  What is that small light that burns in your soul? 

Follow your effort, not your dreams

Follow your effort, not your dreams.  

This is a truth that has been resonating deeply with me lately.

We often focus on what we dream for ourselves. In my case, it's dreams for my career as a writer and illustrator.  Where we are in the present moment is never good enough, there's always more to achieve, a farther star to reach.

This month (February) I have an illustration exhibiting at Foyles Bookstore in London.  It is an exhibit of the most promising up-and-coming SCBWI illustrators from 2012, and I'm very (very) proud to be included.  I'm excited because I'm in this amazing exhibition, hanging with all the other amazing illustrators, but also because Foyles is the best independent bookstore in London.  It's like a literary mecca for bibliophiles.

A few days ago I went to see the exhibition.  I admired all the amazing illustrations, and then I sat in the bookstore cafe and thought about life.  You see, several years ago I had a meeting in that exact spot with two editors regarding a children's book project for a major cultural museum in London.  I wanted that job so badly, and I was so nervous as I was pitching my portfolio.

Did I get the job?  Yes, I did.  But... the project fell through due to funding and other bureaucratic nightmares.  It was going to be my first major break, and I fell apart when the bad news came.

Sitting in that cafe, several years ago, I never could have imagined that my illustrations would one day be hanging on its walls.  

I never would have dreamed it could be possible. 

So you see?  It was all those days of effort, working for the sake of working, and trying to open doors whenever I found them, that led me to where I am today. (Not my dreams)

I still have far to go; and I'm still dreaming.  But I'm also so grateful for how far I have come. And I'm not going let setbacks keep me from working hard, for it's the hard work that will get you to where you want to go in the end.

What do you think?  

Looking through old sketchbooks

I used to do a lot more sketching than I'm doing now.  Yesterday, I was sitting in Johannesburg airport, bored out of my tree, and I started drawing.  I drew whatever I saw: the strange space-station-style architecture, the flat horizon, the huge thunderclouds.  And as I was drawing, I remembered how much I love it. It was like meeting an old friend, and realizing when you see their face how much you've missed them.  

I don't draw, really draw, nearly enough any more.  There always seems to be something else to do, even painting can get in the way. (because we all know that painting isn't really drawing)  

Yes, I'm an artist, and I don't draw every day.  It sounds terrible to admit it. 

This afternoon I had to open up the storage box that held all my old sketchbooks.  There was a client in the States who wanted a scan of a sketch I'd done at a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition a few years ago.  I didn't know exactly which book it was in, so I had to thumb through all of them.  

I hardly wanted to look; I wanted to cover my eyes and only peak through my fingers.  Sometimes I don't want to see my old illustrations, because I'm not happy with them.  Wouldn't the sketches be even worse? 

But I've decided that the only way to move forward is to be vulnerable. So I looked...

...And guess what!  I loved those old sketchbooks!  I loved how much I was experimenting; trying to figure out how to see the world on paper.  I loved that I made mistakes, and then drew more to figure out why something worked or didn't work. I loved how I could see the progression in my style and confidence.  

How do you feel about old work?  

I've posted both of these sketches on this blog before, but I thought I'd share them again.  

Here is one of the sketches of Joburg airport.

Those were the days

I'm having one of those "Anywhere-but-here" days.  You know the ones.  When things suddenly pile up and it feels like it might be easier to escape rather than face the immense to-do lists.

A lot of times when this happens I imagine myself escaping to somewhere I've never been.  Shall we follow Gauguin to Tahiti?

But this time I decided to imagine myself in a place I've been before; someplace where I was really happy.  I scanned through my travel pictures, and hit upon Tuscany.  Our time in Italy was filled with autumnal sunshine, wine, olive oil, and lots and lots of happiness.  (That's where we got engaged, after all!)

So here we are, an antidote to the to-do lists: a sketch of the many towers in San Gimignano, Tuscany.

What do you do, when you feel the to-do lists towering over your head?  I'd like to know!  

The Moveable Art Studio

Three months here... Nine months there

Always expecting, and always the unexpected.

Ian McCallum

So, I'm back in my Cape Town Studio.

That sounds so glamorous, when really it isn't.

I've been thinking a lot about where people do their creative work. A lot of writers and illustrators believe they need a specific room, the perfect place, in order to write, draw or paint. It's only in that magical, fertile, serene place that inspired ideas will form and come to fruition.

That isn't really possible for me at the moment because I travel a lot. My friends and family are scattered around the globe: Canada, Britain, South Africa, Swaziland, The Netherlands, Namibia. I need to be on the move

if I want to spend time with them.

So, my studio isn't a room, it's a satchel; I carry it around everywhere I go. It's filled with my art supplies, my computer and my scanner. I call it my "moveable studio." (like moveable feast) No matter where I am, I can get down to work at a moment's notice.

My "perfect place" to write or paint is actually wherever I am at the moment. My imagination takes hold and I'm transported into a world of stories and drawings. I don't even notice that I'm perched at a fold-out desk in a guest bedroom, or spread out over someone's kitchen table.

In the past year (since my last birthday), I've completed illustration jobs from tables and desks in Cape Town, London, Bologna, Amersfoort, Steinbach, Manzini, and Swakopmund. I have pictures of all the places except Bologna. It never occurred to me to photograph the hotel bedside table where I drew roughs in my down time between visits to the Children's Book Fair.

After all there is no such thing as a perfect place. There's only our imaginations, and the imagination can be used anywhere!

Where do you work?

I love to know how many of you have proper studio spaces, and how many of you work on kitchen tables, floors, or any other horizontal surface that might be available.

Here's an example of my basic art supplies...

My kitchen table in London

The Guest Bedroom in Amersfoort

The Basement in Steinbach

The Guest Bedroom in Manzini

The Kitchen Table in Swakopmund

Well, hello there, old friends

There is something cathartic about organizing the studio. These long lost friends of mine, sequestered in suitcases and plastic bags, have finally found their way back into the daylight. My brushes, pens, pencils, and paints have travelled with me across two hemispheres. From Cape Town to Winnipeg and back, with many stop-overs in between. They've served their wandering master well, with no complaints (except from the paint tubes... some exploded inflight and left my art-bag full of pigment) and now they've come to rest on a my studio table again.

One thing I've learned through all this travel and upheaval is that here is no 'magic' place to make art. I used to think that I needed a perfect studio, and all my art supplies arranged 'just so,' before I could create something worth-while. On this trip I haven't had that luxury; In fact, I've had to create illustrations for silly deadlines in all manner of inconvenient places. All that really matters is that I have the time to stop and draw, no matter where I happen to be sitting.

We're back in Cape Town for the next couple of months, and I'm back in my studio with the view of the grapevine and Table Mountain. I'm definitely going to have lots of work to do in the next few months, so perhaps this next statement is foolhardy... but... I want to start a drawing challenge.

I resolve to draw something every weekday and post it on this blog.

[There, I said it. Now you can keep me accountable!]

In my Cape Town Studio

At the moment I'm working on lots of stuff I can't share (*wink*). Hopefully I'll be able to share it in the near future. For the meantime, I thought I'd show you my studio table, and my little clothespin friend.

I need to find excuses to get out of the house, so I've started taking ballet classes. I took ballet as a child (as many little girls do), and then dropped it when I realized you had to perform on stage. I'm am not naturally comfortable in front of an audience. But, now that there's no pressure to perform, it's fun to reignite my love for dance and music.

To honour this newfound hobby, I made myself a clothespin dancer. She now keeps me company as I work on sketches and thumbnails for a new project.

And, do you want to know what's really funny? And it proves that I'm still basically a child at heart... I always snicker when the teacher says "now do that step three times derrière." Which basically means, do the step towards the back, instead of the front. But, as many of you may know, derrière is french for "backside," hence the childish snickers from the peanut gallery (i.e. me).

The importance of doing something else

Illustration by Carl Larsson

As New Year's Day approaches it is natural to take stock of one's life and ambitions. I've always considered myself lucky that I've known exactly what I wanted to do with my life: tell stories through words and pictures. But, this single-minded focus of passion can sometimes be too intense.

So, I think it is necessary to cultivate other interests. Sometimes it is important to follow one's curiosity in order to spark more inspiration. And, also, it isn't fun to be 'all work and no play' all the time.

My efforts in doing 'something else' are two-fold. One: I'm rekindling my love for playing piano. And, in the spirit of winter and all things Northern, I'm working my way through my rather heavy book of Edvard Grieg Piano Works. (Hence the Carl Larsson illustration to head this post; more Scandinavian inspiration).

And Two: I'm also contemplating a sabbatical in a rather different hemisphere. Some time-off to tend my creative inspiration and give some breathing space for the soul. (More on that later).

But, for this Christmas season, I want to leave you with a few songs from my Grieg Piano Book to inspire your creative studio time. I won't inflict my own playing on you, instead I've found some other, very accomplished, people on youtube to play them for you instead. Enjoy!

1.

Norwegian Melody

2.

Melodie

3.

Im Balladenton

4.

Matrosenlied

5. (the one I could play 10 years ago, and need to refresh...)

Hochzeitstag auf Troldhaugen

6. And... as a special treat, the piece I have been playing for 10 years, and still working towards perfection.

Poulenc's Novelette #1

.

And the best part of all this is that none of it really matters. Whether I play the pieces well or dismally is of no consequence to me or anyone. All I'm doing is keeping my soul engaged while I grope through the darkness trying to turn my passion into a reality.

One of my heroes, Madeliene L'Engle, often described how she would work tirelessly on perfecting her Bach fugues, because the mathematical precision of them helped her to order the plots of her stories. Perhaps that's what I'm doing, subconsciously... using music to help order my creative mind.

And, thinking about ordering plots... I must escape into my imagination and get back to writing chapter 4.

And, I'm curious about other illustrators 'other interests.' What do you do to keep your creative soul balanced?

Determination

... and how does a chair relate to determination?

This is how a book or story has to start.

Something rings in my head, like Great Tom. A knell...

Then I must invoke the magic word.

Oh, yes -- there is one.

All truly successful writers know it.

I shall whisper it in your ear:

BIC.

It stands for

Butt In Chair.

Really. Hard work is the only real magic there is...if the book in your head is to get onto the page.

Jane Yolen

"Take Joy" (p. 84)

Oh, and what a chair it is! The most creative, writery chair of my acquaintance. Something Hemingway would happily sit in whilst smoking and drinking gin.

The various chairs around our house have aided me in editing (re-writing) 3830 words of my 45000 word story. Three days of work: one thousand words per day (minimum). They say Stephen King writes 2000 words per day, but he's special, I'm sure. Or, he has some amazing chairs.

Hopefully my chairs will continue to cooperate in the next month, as I pull and push my characters around a dusty town in North Africa.