Louisiana Dragonflies

Dragonflies

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Thankfully brushing the dust off…

'Holding Hands' Copyright Kate Forman 2004

'Holding Hands' Copyright Kate Forman 2004

So, it has been a very long time since I’ve posted anything here. Unfortunately, I’ve been neglecting this blog and my other on-line presences: the website… the twitter….and the Facebook. As it turns out, it’s just as easy, if not easier, to be distracted and even overwhelmed by an abundance of good things. I’m used to griping about the ick and the gook — they’ve been my standard excuses for not marketing-painting-hustling enough — but I didn’t imagine that loveliness could be a de-railer too.

Plus, full confession: I was always walking a line between keeping the super personal & the super professional clear…I never saw myself as a blogger who’d use this forum as a diary. I wanted to blog to refine my sense of my presence on the web, market myself, get new ideas and words back, be a part of the times, and get better at using words to describe myself and my art. And then I hit this obstacle: how to express the super personal, super wonderful, and concede that it meant re-creating how and when to make art…

In short order: when I started this blog, not too long ago, I was a single childless lady who made most decisions, including artistic, within the wide open space that description entails. Now I am (happily, over joyously, breathtakingly) married and 32 weeks pregnant. It turns my head around, it amazes me, it inspires me, and…it’s changed me.

On top of that: two really cool illustration projects fell in my lap. I’m not complaining about any of this, no sireebob, I’m kicking up my heels in joy (okay: metaphorically, as I’m not jumping around at all these days.) However, all of this good stuff overwhelmed me…and in an attempt to prioritize this blog, and the above forums, went by the wayside.

But that’s not what I want, what I do want, now more than ever, is for  my ability to create art and generate an income from it to be consistent. So, taking a deep breath, I’m waltzing into this Thanksgiving Holiday giving thanks for the amazing goodness in my life: for my husband — who emboldens me, for my growing baby — who captivates me, for my friends and family who’ve always believed in me, and for my capacity to climb back on the horse, again, and continue trying to make this thing of a working artist…work.

Artists need vacations too.

'Traveling Suitcase' Copyright Kate Forman 2009

‘Traveling Suitcase’ Copyright Kate Forman 2009

Yup: it’s that wonderful time of year, vacation time. I’m a big believer in vacations, and I find that they’re sometimes hard to define for a working artist, as we often spend our time between a day job & hours reserved for making art, so often time off is used as more time for the art making. That’s great, but I’ve learned that there needs to be a balance between many open days in a row that can be reserved for making art and many open days in a row that can be used to just relax.

Some years ago I read ‘The Artist’s way,” by Julie Cameron. My good friend Asta currently belongs to an on-line community organized around the concepts of the book, and her enthusiasm has made me think about taking a stab & working the book’s “program” again, especially as the first time around I didn’t devote enough time to it — though I really connected to its principles.

One thing that I remember the most about the book, and appreciated, were the author’s words on the importance of “refreshing your eyes,” and getting a different view — even by taking a new walk in your old neighborhood. My Grandmother had many sayings she liked to dole out, and one that has always stayed with me, and resonated as I read the book, was her admonishment to: “have a view you never had before.” It’s pretty wise, and can be applied profoundly or simply. As artists I do think it’s important to constantly refresh our eyes, we have a great capacity to find magic in the mundane, but sometimes it’s nice to stand in front of a new view & give our peepers a charge.

Right now I’ve got my feet up typing this in Norwhich, Connecticut — several hours away from my beloved Queens. I grew up in a place not too dissimilar to Norwhich: a lovely mix of beautiful old buildings, many of which had seen better days, some urban poverty, and a desolate abandoned industrial section. My hometown is currently undergoing a financial renaissance, but Norwhich is still struggling with the fate of many old river towns — its local industries have been strangled by the malls and big stores, and what commerce exists within a walk doesn’t offer more than corner stores and/or bodegas.

Personally, I have a love hate response to gentrification: there’s something gloriously sad about proud old buildings whose owners obviously treat them with a lot of love, standing side by side with former glories who’ve been chopped into many apartments…it seems a bit more honest than some of the overly “cutesy” stuff that seems necessary to sustain a small city’s economy.

However, this is about vacation — and I’m enjoying myself: I like the views, and getting a taste of suburbia is interesting — the house we’re staying in has a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, and a food disposal in the sink (which I’ve never, ever, used before.) It’s definitely a more convenient life, in some ways, but having to get in the car to get everything isn’t so great – I do miss the convenience of walking around my neighborhood.

On this leg of the vacation I’m combining rest and art making time, and getting lots of reading in as well. I finally read Camus’ “‘The Stranger,” but I also packed three disc world series books by the brilliant & dangerously funny Terry Pratchett. Someday I’ll do a whole post on him — he writes like I wish I painted. Meanwhile, though, I wanted to end on a paragraph of his I read last night, it made me think about missing NYC, and comparing it to this life style — love for the big apple often gets expressed tritely, but in the brilliant Mr. Pratchett’s words regarding a booming metropolis in disc world I found some of my emotions perfectly captured:

Poets long ago gave up trying to describe the city. Now the more cunning ones try to excuse it. They say, well, maybe it is smelly, maybe it is overcrowded, maybe it is a bit like Hell would be if they shut the fires off and stabled a herd of incontinent cows there for a year, but you must admit that it is full of sheer, vibrant, dynamic life. And this is true, even though it is poets that are saying it. But people who aren’t poets say, so what? Mattresses tend to be full of life too, and no one writes odes to them. Citizens hate living there and, if they have to move away on business or adventure or, more usually, until some statute of limitations runs out, can’t wait to get back so they can enjoy hating living there some more. They put stickers on the backs of their carts saying “Ankh-Morpork–Loathe It or Leave it.” They call it the big Whaooni, after the fruit.

from Moving Pictures, by Terry Pratchett

For now, I’m off to have a view I never had before.

Ooh la la: MacBook Pro

'Future Bathroom' Copyright Kate Forman 2009

‘Future Bathroom’ Copyright Kate Forman 2009

Right now I’m typing this on my brand-spanking-new MacBook Pro. It feels good — very good. I’ve been a PC girl ever since I won my first computer off of an Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice bottle cap. I was a decorative painter at the time and tired after a long day of glazes/faux finishes and climbing ladders, and it took almost the whole drive back from Greenwhich, CT to NYC to accept that I was a “Grand Prize Winner.”

That was three clunky, slow, virus ridden desk-tops ago, and making the switch to a Mac felt good. There’s definitely a different vibe going on at the Apple Store: even though they were busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger every staff member was polite, kind, and enthusiastic. It felt a little like meeting very accepting in-laws, they were nonjudgmental of my PC past, and referred to me as a new member of the “family.”

Usually, I’m a technophobe and I don’t bother to hide it. When I did the illustration assignment at the top of this post the art director of the kids magazine asked that I draw two kids interacting with some of the future technological advancements mentioned in the article, but the not-so subliminal drawbacks to a life of relentless technological innovations were all mine (no more faking a sick day if the bathroom mirror can diagnose you…)

In addition, I’m also pretty thrifty (such a nicer word than “cheap.”) So laying down a serious amount of cash for some slick machinery felt odd, but not unpleasant. I will never, ever, give up the feel of making art with my hands, but I have found that my marketing plan and business organization is conducted almost exclusively over the internet now, and having a computer that is as user friendly and as art-oriented as this one is lovely — I have not wanted to throw it out a window even once. Not like my old desktop which would have been sailing over the Tri-Borough bridge, except that it was so flipping heavy. I know, I know, this is the honeymoon period & I’m sure there will be glitches along the way — just like with any longterm relationship, but I feel like this one is starting off with a lot of trust, love, and a huge commitment — and that’s comforting.

Learning how to accept a compliment

'Harvesting Water' Copyright Kate Forman 2004
‘Harvesting Water’ Copyright Kate Forman 2004

A long, long, time ago — when I was deep in the throes of an extremely awkward adolescence — my Aunt Liz gave me the following wise advice: “you better learn how to take a compliment.”

 I don’t remember anymore what prompted her to say that, but I imagine that I was probably melancholy and morose at the time. The words had quite an impact on me — I still think about them. I’m not very melancholy or morose anymore, though I have my moments, I guess we all do, but learning how to take a compliment is still something I’m working on.
 
Maybe it’s a woman thing? Maybe it’s an artist thing? It still amazes me when people like my artwork, and compliment it — especially when they notice and then comment on something I was trying to articulate in a painting but thought I hadn’t expressed successfully — the attention feels like a gift, and often overwhelms me with gratitude.
 
Lately a lot of wonderful things have been happening to me, and learning how to accept good things — and trust the attention to my artwork and the new opportunities it inspires — has been a learning curve.
 
The one I wanted to write about today regards my Australian friend Asta Lander. Asta is an incredibly positive person: she channels her creativity — expressed visually and via writing — for personal health and good, but also for the “greater good,” specifically human rights and women’s rights issues. For some perspective on her thought processes you can check out her blog
 
She’s inspired me — and displayed never-ending faith in me, even when I dropped the ball the first time we discussed collaborating on a project together. Her kindness, and compliments to my artwork, are bolstering — but it took me a while to know how to accept it.
 
Accepting that my artwork is reaching someone also means accepting that I’m being seen — art can be used to hide behind after all, and there’s something comforting in that, though stifling (did I mention that my moody adolescence was spent scowling over intricate notebook drawings…and not math homework?) Being seen is liberating, and a little scary: someone saying “I love your artwork, lets…” means that pipe dreams become real, and so does the effort.
 
I mentioned in a recent post that Australia has been very good to me — and that I’m learning to trust that goodness and the paths it seems to be leading me on. My vagueness around my collaboration with Asta is intentional, I’ll write more on our project when we’re more underway…but for now I wanted to give a clear, and seen, statement out to her, and to the universe — thanks for the compliments!

Subway Sketches

'Traveling for Care' Copyright Kate Forman 2003

'Traveling for Care' Copyright Kate Forman 2003

Today I took a nice ride out to Flushing, Queens on the 7 Train. The 7 Train, in case anyone was wondering, is NYC’s best train line — and I stand by that argument based on the following:

1. By the third stop in Queens it’s elevated & affords gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline & the passing queens neighborhoods below, and

 2. It’s a little like taking a train ride around the world, or, at least, the world’s cuisine: in a matter of minutes the 7 Train passes over fantastic Irish pubs, Turkish Restaurants & classic neighborhood Italian joints (Sunnyside,) wraps around a bend and becomes “little Ireland” — dozen or so real-deal Irish and Irish-American pubs (beginning of Woodside,) keeps heading East & passes over Columbian, Mexican, Ecuadorean and Phillipino bakeries & restaurants (end of Woodside,) chugs on over Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani and several Argentinian bakeries & restaurants (Jackson Heights,) glides past the Met’s CitiField & ends in Flushing: home to hundreds of Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese BBQs, restaurants, noodle shops, bakeries, street vendors, etc. How many other modes of transportation can claim all that culinary divergence?
 
But I digress: I was on my way out to Flushing to pick up two paintings I had hanging in a group show, curated by the fantastic Cyn McClean, at the Flushing YMCA. It’s a pretty lengthy subway ride, and I like to pass the time by drawing
my fellow passengers.

'Subway Sketch Guy with the paper bag' Copyright Kate Forman 2011

'Subway Sketch Guy with the paper bag' Copyright Kate Forman 2011

I’m always nervous at first, but by the time I was finished sketching the guy with the paper bag I was warmed up and enjoying the process.

 
'Subway Sketch Young Girl with her i-pod' Copyright Kate Forman 2011

'Subway Sketch Young Girl with her i-pod' Copyright Kate Forman 2011

I’ve been busted plenty of times (the young girl with the i-pod totally knew I was drawing her) but I usually find that people don’t seem to mind. A long time ago I was drawing a man and when my view of him was obstructed the elderly lady sitting next to me made the people standing in front of us move so I could keep drawing (talk about pressure,) and the man I was drawing graciously pretended not to notice…so I kept drawing.

 
This might sound creepy, but in my opinion the summer time is the best time for subway sketching due to two facts: 1. I can wear sunglasses (the 7 is elevated & flooded with sunshine) which obscures my obvious gaze and

'Subway Sketch Sleeping Lady with Glittery Shirt' Copyright Kate Forman 2011

'Subway Sketch Sleeping Lady with Glittery Shirt' Copyright Kate Forman 2011

2. People tend to be sleepy and not as aware of being drawn. Wow…that does sound creepy…and true. 

 
I noticed that by the time I got back home I was very relaxed, and not that concerned about the heat — one of the benefits of devoting all that attention to detail.
 
It made me remember the first editorial illustration assignment I ever got (up at the top of this post.) When the call came in I was elated, and terrified. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how to start, so instead I went out and drew on the 7 train. As a result, almost everyone in that painting is someone I sketched that day — just another gift from NYC.

Mashed Potatoes

Cats Cradle Copyright Kate Forman 2009
Cats Cradle Copyright Kate Forman 2009

This past weekend I went out to dinner with my fella and my folks. It was lovely. My Mother was torn between two entrees, and made her decision after speaking with Stella, our patient waitress. The deciding question? My Mother wanted to know if the mashed potatoes were real.

 Now, I don’t know how you feel about mashed potatoes. My guess is that some of you are pondering the deep existential question: how can mashed potatoes not be real? Whereas quite a few others are nodding their heads sagely and recalling all the many times you ate out and had to clear up the same important point.
 
I’ll level the playing field, it’s not a nice topic, and it’s not always easy to talk about, but the reality is that some people, and some restaurants, actually use something called “instant mashed potatoes,” and then attempt to pass that salty mess off as the real thing.
 
This is a bit of a jump, but I promise it’ll all make sense in the end…I watched an interesting little video today, brought to you by the nice folks at Agency Access: Creative Collision: Is Print Dead? I knew I wanted to incorporate it into this blog, but I spent all day painting and kicking it around in my mind, yet still hadn’t been able to articulate what I wanted to say…until my Cousin Chrissi brought me dinner…aka: a big plate of mashed potatoes from Doc Watson’s.
 
Rest assured, they’re the real deal, appropriate texture, occasional lump to assure authenticity, but not to detract from the flavor, not too much butter, just right. To quote my cousin, right around the time I was having a party in my mouth I also had an epiphany in my noggin.
 
The video, “Is Print Dead?” features the divergent viewpoints of many people in the graphic arts industry — illustrators, designers, photographers, art directors, etc. — on what they think the future of print is. It makes sense, our worlds are increasingly digital, newspapers are gasping for air, and the kindle is now a household name. However, the folks spotlighted in the video who made the case for print still being a viable industry and source of income used the words “texture” and “tangible” consistently, and posited that those two qualities are inherently attractive to us, the consumers, and will never really go out of style or marketability.
 
I agree, but I’m biased: my work is hands on, and so is the artwork I’m attracted to. I appreciate slick digital design and animation, but then I stand in front of one of my sister’s paintings and am in awe — and I find that even holding a print reproduction is more satisfying than just viewing it on-line (though do check her blog out — you won’t be disappointed!)
 
Digital makes “sense,” it’s cleaner, faster, and more flexible. A lot like…instant mashed potatoes. It’s technology, and it’s efficient. The thing is, it’s not nearly as satisfying. In a pinch, fine — just add water and mix, but if it’s really special, or if it’s needed for comfort, or for emotional impact, or to mark some significant event, shouldn’t it be tangible and textured?
 
Unlike the many things that send me into cataclysmic doomsday prophecies, this debate isn’t one of them. I agree with the print cheerleaders in the video: how things feel matter, and for those who appreciate the feeling, they’ll always seek out the real thing.

Keep kissing those (artistic) frogs

'Behind the scenes' Copyright Kate Forman 2006

‘Behind the scenes’ Copyright Kate Forman 2006

 This weekend was my beautiful god-daughter Jenna’s first communion. It was a blast: she looked like a wee princess, and kept her tiara on long after her pretty white dress and hand-knitted shawl came off. There was a lot of dancing among the young guests, but Jenna’s younger brother, Scott, my Godson, and I took some time to look through his sketchbook.

Scott is an amazing artist and he keeps an almost daily sketchbook. It’s awesome and filled with pictures of his imagination, including a castle he designed for his sister (what princess wouldn’t want a pink castle with a purple slide as the exit door?) and a cool green frog waving from  a cool turquoise lily pad.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: Scott’s self acceptance, and how all of us other keepers of sketchbooks and similar collections of dreams and ideas could learn a lot from it.

You see: the frog drawing, as compared to some other sketchbook pages, was, well, a little rough. Please understand, I’m not dissing Scott’s artistic talent, he’s WAY ahead of where most 5 year olds are developmentally. It’s just, the wave was a little off, and the posture on the lily pad was just a smidge un-frog like. On top of that, Scott’s name — drawn over the frog — had been crossed out in blue crayon, and the whole page had been ripped out of the book, and then stuck back in.

So I asked Scott what was up, and this is how he explained it to me: first he wrote his name, but then he didn’t like where it was, so he crossed it out, and then he thought he didn’t like the way the frog looked, so he ripped it out, but after a little bit he realized that he liked the drawing just the way it was, so he put it back in.

That’s all folks.

No breast-beating or loathing self-doubt, no torturous self talk or avoidance of sharing. Just an open, confident, loving ability to edit, and accept, with a healthy dose of matter-of-factness.

To top it all off, when I praised Scott for his truly wonderful drawings he very seriously looked me in the eyes and said: “yes, I am a great artist.”

Now I know I’m biased, he’s my Godson after all, but I really think he’s brilliant. So, the next time I’m painting and berating, or resenting a revision, or shrinking from self-promotion I’m going to keep young Mr. Scott in mind, and dial down the neurosis and up the acceptance.

To that end: I never liked the illustration that accompanys this blog. I still see it’s faults, but today I also reminded myself that I painted it while I was working 40+ hours a week, and operating on way too little sleep. It was an illustration for a children’s magazine, and a perfect fit for the article. There are things about it that I learned from, and wouldn’t repeat today, but I still really love the make-up guy — I painted him with greatness.

Wide awake and listening

'Wide Awake' Copyright 2007 Kate Forman

'Wide Awake' Copyright 2007 Kate Forman

My last two blog posts contained a fair amount of grumbling, and acknowledgement of the difficulties inherent (?) to being a working artist. Not this post, though, this one is going to be all about going with the flow and accepting direction when the universe appears to be trying to send a message that is not understood (yet.)

That’s why this image is up here. I painted it four years ago for a nice illustration assignment from Continental Magazine. I remember painting it, I was living in Staten Island at the time, it was a beautiful week late in spring, and my desk faced a window that looked out over the rooftops I included in the painting. I could occasionally hear ship horns from the New York Harbor just a few blocks away, and the only other sound that competed with the corner pizzaria delivery guy’s idling car radio was the cacaphony of little kids running out of the music school across the street.

Aside from the memories, I might only (until fairly recently) have mentionned that the woman in the painting is modelled after my good friend Kara (the more whimsical spot illustration that also accompanied the article is hanging in her bedroom.) However, for some reason, this painting has been generating activity. I’m not sure why, but I’m at along last beginning to think I’ve got to pay attention to it.

About a month ago a friend of a friend (the brilliant up-and-coming comedian Steve Grogan) approached me about buying a print of it, he said that the expression on the woman’s face expressed something he felt strongly connected too. We had a great conversation about art and inspiration, and I thought that was the end of that, except…

Then about a week later a woman I hadn’t spoken too in years approached me about entering a public art competition, based almost solely on her appreciation of this painting. So, heck yea, I entered the competition (still waiting to hear back – fingers crossed!) and I thought that was the end of that, except…

Then this week I got a phone call from Australia (I also have to say that Australia has been very kind to me as of late — but more about that in another post.) It was a very polite inquiry into the usage rights of this image, as an Australian University would like to use it for the opening of a new department on sleep studies.

Well, I’ll be darned. Now, in full disclosure: the university has no budget, and I almost got all dug into grumble mode, but then I finally acknowledged that this painting wants some air, and I have no business standing in its way.

So, I’m letting the university use it, and I’m liking the idea of my art also being a partner in all this. Maybe I’ve got to let it make some business decisions too, maybe I’ve got to trust that just making art is sometimes more than enough. Maybe making art is entering into some big cosmic conversation and the only way to get “the answers” I want to is to hunker down and listen, and follow.

You can’t burn the candle at both ends

'Toss Up' Copyright Kate Forman 2003

'Toss Up' Copyright Kate Forman 2003

 

My Grandfather passed away last week. It’s odd, because I posted about time management, and didn’t mention him. I suppose it was a little too new to write about. There are so many benefits to working from home, but I know from my day job that it’s easier to handle grief when the boss ain’t me. I can compartmentalize difficult feelings and focus on the task at hand when there’s an external force (bosses, co-workers, clients) right in front of me, but at home, even with a deadline or a healthy to-do-list, I find it much more difficult to make my emotions behave.

I have been blessed in my life to have two Grandfathers. They couldn’t have been more different, and they got a long like a house on fire. From my childhood to my adulthood their ability to laugh it up and find common interests (for example: paintings of riverboats,) made me happily surprised.

My Grandfather who just died was an insurance salesman, a pipe smoker, and prone to dressing mono-chromatically. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease fourteen years ago. Alzheimer’s is a mean disease, and it made me angry that his feisty personality, humor, and ability to quickly cut through b.s. was pervasively overcome.

My last post was a whine, I’ll admit. My problem with time management is that once I start doing something I find enjoyable, it’s hard for me to shift gears, even to another enjoyable task. Hence ‘painting days,’ and ensuing neglect to marketing.

In my defence, I’ve been this way for a long time. My Grandfather’s passing made me recall a night I slept over their house, when I was sent to bed I brought along a flashlight and was happily reading away when he knocked on the door and poked his head in. I braced myself for a stern reprimand (it wasn’t the first, or last, time I’d get caught reading when I should have been sleeping) but instead he smiled, took the pipe out of his mouth and said, “sister, you can’t burn the candle at both ends.”

I was 8, and I had to think long and hard about that imagery. Just now, writing it, it made me that combination of happy sad that comes from remembering childhood and Grandpa’s, but it also made me think that maybe being a working artist is attempting to burn the candle at both ends.

As he really did love to call anyone out on their tall tales and/or excuses, I know what he’d say if I ran that theory by him: (cover your eyes fair reader,) he’d call BULLSHIT. And then put the pipe back in.

Sigh. Back to priorities, time management, and shifting gears.