All pieces

A few weeks ago my little ladies and I were visiting the local library, as we often do. Vera B. William’s wonderful ‘A Chair for my Mother’ was one of the books the children’s librarian had displayed on top of the stack and I excitedly pulled it down and said to Lulu, “Lulu, Mommy used to work for the lady who made this book!” And Lulu said “Next, we go to the playground?” And that concluded my name dropping for the day.

When I was in my twenties I had the very good fortune to be an occasional studio assistant to the amazing Children’s book illustrator and author Vera B. Williams. Vera is pretty much as you imagine her: she has beautiful white hair, crinkly eyes, a perfectly raspy perfect Bronx accent, a strict policy of wearing skirts in the rain, and an ever present joie de vivre. Vera’s books are beautiful and very real.  The kids in her books grapple with things that real kids do: poverty, imperfect adults, life’s ups, and downs, good days and bad days. However, there isn’t anything depressing about Vera’s work. Life is worth living, despite all it’s twists and turns, and Vera’s kids live life to the fullest, minus any smarmy sugar coating.

One conversation, among the many interesting ones I was lucky to have with her, stands out in my mind, and is something I’ve reflected on ever since becoming a Mom. We were eating lunch and Vera mentioned that she’d been given a gift certificate to a cooking class, and then she laughed, and said that when she was home with her kids cooking had been one way to be artistic, but that now that she was working as a full time artist she rarely cooked anymore. I’m paraphrasing liberally, it was a long time ago, but I remember her listing some of the other ways she used to be artistic while she was raising her children, and I remember her acknowledging that she didn’t do much of those types of things anymore now that she was able to paint and write on her own schedule.

I remember being surprised, at the time I was walking around with the  “all of a piece” quote from Anna Karenina written in my address book, and my number one aspiration was to have everything in my life in one piece too: I wanted jobs, friends, a place to live, and a lifestyle that all moved cohesively in one socially conscious and artistic direction. The notion that the successful artist in front of me had ever not been completely put together and succinctly goal oriented was difficult to wrap my mind around. I was very young, and so thought I was very old, and had difficulty recognizing that life doubles around on itself, sometimes, and that, sometimes, the winding path, with plenty of rests, is the most productive.

Now, with two small halloween costumes draped over my art desk, along with an unfinished sketch, and finger paintings drying on the kitchen table, and jack o lanterns that still have to be carved, I take great comfort in that conversation with Vera. It was a gift, and there’s a reason I kept it tucked away in my mind. Someday soon, far sooner than I can imagine now, these little people will all be grown up and I’ll have more time to paint, but, for now, there are crinkly library books to read, sticks and leaves to collect, and small, pudgy, fists determined to have their moment at this keyboard too.

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.

So, while I’m taking it easy, maybe you’d like to read this…

'Private Conversation' Copyright Kate Forman

'Private Conversation' Copyright Kate Forman

Hate Marketing, Love Your Business? | cathypresland.com.

I just started following the above lady on my Twitter account. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Twitter for a long time, but lately I’ve been enjoying it — I don’t know how it directly relates my marketing plan in any way that will directly generate illustration jobs, but I’m trusting the experts (like Cathy above) who describe social media as integral to an artists marketing plan. Cathy also makes the point that whatever your marketing plan is you should enjoy it. I get that — I like Twitter, way more than I thought I would, mostly because of the people I’ve “met.” So far I’ve made at least one friend and creative collaborator, lots of other cool artists and crafters, and one actual, real life art director.

As I’m still on vacation painting, resting and reading, I’ve got a lot of time to think, and I’ve been tossing and turning my “direct mail and cold calling campaign to art directors.” Sigh. It’s practically non-existent…largely because I don’l like making phone calls. Actually, “dread” and “despise” are probably more accurate emotional descriptions. So I’ve got some more thinking and strategizing to do on that point…I can’t imagine there’s anyway to make it enjoyable, but maybe I need to be more creative…

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.

Would an illustration by any other name sell and tweet?

'Artist's House' Kate Forman coypright 2008

‘Artist’s House’ Kate Forman copyright 2008

Lately, I’ve been surrounded by several smart women who often refer to the “Secret,” that book made so instantly famous by Oprah. I don’t know that I’m full on board with its premise (though, to be fair, I’ve only ever learned about it via second-hand observations,) but I have always been a big believer in positive thoughts and imaginings.

Along those lines, I also subscribe to the theory that you have to, respectfully of course, shout your wishes out to the universe. It’s amazing to me the many things that seemed to drop into my life the very minute after I was finally able to specifically, and loudly, articulate what I wanted.

What I want is more illustration assignments and a licensing contract so that my images can work for me. Hold on…ahem…

HEY UNIVERSE, HI, KATE FORMAN HERE: I WANT MORE ILLUSTRATION ASSIGNMENTS. I WANT THEM TO PAY REALLY, REALLY WELL. ALSO, AND IMPORTANTLY, I WOULD LIKE A LICENSING CONTRACT SO THAT MY IMAGES CAN BE USED REPEATEDLY AND CREATIVELY TO MAKE ME MONEY. THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR ATTENTION AND KIND CONSIDERATION.

Gotta admit: that felt quite nice to shout out loud. However, I still have a problem, and that’s why I’m writing today: I need more specifics. See, I don’t think — and I’d really appreciate hearing others take on this — that the Universe responds well to broad generalized statements. Mine might not seem so broad, but I’m aware that I don’t stipulate exactly what kinds of illustration assignments, and exactly what kinds of licensing contracts.

Part of my problem is that I never quite narrowed down the markets I think my work is most relevant to, and I’m still struggling to assign the right adjectives to my work. Often people use words like “whimsical,” a co-worker recently described it as “dreamy,” and one reader of this blog used “humorous” to sum up my paintings.

If you have a wee moment, I’d love your feedback:

Thank you in advance for your attention and kind consideration.

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.

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.