Category: Sketchbook

Book Making!

Here’s a video of me illustrating a book 5 years ago. I use the same illustration technique I’m going to teach in my upcoming artist book class at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Illustrating a book is surprisingly easy if you start all the pages at once on a large sheet of paper.

When I make books for print I illustrate the pages individually but I love this technique because it teaches one how to make creative compositions, have a consistent aesthetic throughout the pages and quickly cuts through the intimidation factor.

My illustration style has developed tremendously since I started making books and I believe that this technique was critical in my development. Also, it’s really fun! I love art techniques that have an unpredictable element in them!

My next greeting card book is actually going to be a revised edition of The Gift of Birds, you’ll get to see that soon.

There’s still some spots in Artist’s Book Illuminated. Hope to see you there!

Innocence and Intimacy

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I’ve been researching the phenomena of Instagram influencers lately after developing a fascination with the reality that women can make a lot of money just posting photos of themselves online. I’m sort of a curmudgeon when it comes to fashion and beauty. I love clothes and a little make-up but I feel like it’s supposed to be a fun, light-hearted thing, not something that takes over one’s life unless it is one’s livelihood, financial or otherwise. What I found in my research is that women are in fact, making a livelihood of it.

I felt judgemental of people going to locations just to take photos of themselves without actually enjoying the place. Now I realize they are modeling. They aren’t going there to pretend it’s part of their life, they are going there because it’s a good place to take a photo shoot and they are, or want to be, fashion models. This may be obvious to all of you. To me it was a revelation. I could not figure out why anyone would follow an account of photos of one person in different outfits. It turns to be the latest version of looking through the Sears and Robuck catalog which I loved to do when I was a kid.

I feel it’s neat that women have greater access to make a living being stylists, art-directors and photographers. I do wish our culture could move to deeper places of creativity where it’s not about creating the appearance of a perfectly styled, trendy life but about living a deeply passionate, interior-guided life, but this is an antique problem.

My hope on Instagram is to connect with anyone who might enjoy my art, I don’t really need to do fashion shoots for that. I do get wound up more than I’d like to admit about how to best use my account. Sometimes I want to post only finished work. Sometimes I want to post photos of the adventures I have going about my life as an artist. Sometimes I want to post everything I make even if it sucks and has nothing to do with my current body of work.

The photo album I posted above are photos I took when I lived and worked in a tiny studio apartment on NW 20th in Portland when I was in my mid 30’s. This was before Instagram. I in no way considered myself a photographer. I was just enamored with having a little camera on my Nokia blackberry and I was enamored with the vintage charm of my apartment. Being a painter, it was fun to make compositions with the phone screen and no resources were wasted as they were when we used film.

When I look at them now I am struck with the inadvertent intimacy they create as a body of work. I feel nostalgic for the innocence of taking pictures solely for my own pleasure. I never arranged things for the pictures, I just recorded what was already there if it struck my fancy. It never occurred to me to change the decor of my home to improve my photos. I never even edited the photos. I don’t know if I will ever experience that again. It is challenging in the age of social media to celebrate the beauty of our lives without wanting to improve them, without seeing them through the eyes of a judging audience.

I want to do more research on how advertising usurps art and our experience of beauty. I would love to hear of any articles or resources you know of on the subject.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying One’s Studio

painting by Alexandra Schaefers in fluid acrylic of a sketch made at Jackson-Frazier Wetlands in Corvallis Oregon
from a sketch at Jackson-Frazier Wetlands in Corvallis, Oregon

I watched a few episodes of “Tidying up with Marie Kondo” with my mom and sister a month or two ago and when I came home I was beside myself with the desire to pile all my clothing on the bed and sift through it based on what sparked joy. I must admit if I had followed Kondo’s advice literally I would not own any pants. Nor would I have any clothes suitable for work.

I would have 12 pairs of socks, 3 dresses, 2 dressy winter coats, 2 flannel shirts, hiking shoes and no underwear what-so-ever. The idealist in me would love to take everything else to the thrift store to experience the reality of only owning things that spark joy. The part of me that hates shopping and would rather buy art supplies than apparel nixed the idea.

I did get rid of some things I know I don’t like or need and I bought Kondo’s book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, hoping it would shed light on this tangible spark of joy that is to guide one’s selection. It didn’t but I went through all my health and beauty products and appliances next anyway and was quite impressed with how lovely and spacious my bathroom was after-the-fact.

I tackled some other categories, all the while dreading what it would be like to Konmari my studio. I questioned whether or not that was even a good idea. Kondo believes one should have as few papers as possible and my art practice believes one should fill up as many pieces of paper as possible.

I know she isn’t talking about art when she says, strive to get rid of all papers. But I’ve always had an urge to dump all my past unsaleable work and trust my present art-making abilities to function without any history shoring me up. I do cull my studio regularly because I’m sensitive to clutter but I find it hard to let go of things I’ve created even if it’s just a loose sketch of a crow on copy paper.

In addition to all the other categories of miscellaneous stuff I used to guide my sorting I had: studio tools, art mediums, notebooks and journals, sketches and experiments, framed paintings, loose paintings, installations and artist books.

I mostly used common sense with my tools and mediums since holding these items all had the same sense of familiarity and appreciation that didn’t make a big emotional splash. There were things I know I don’t like to use that I am afraid to get rid of for no sensible reason, tools that are similar that I don’t need two of, tools I used to use and imagine I may use again someday. These are the things I got rid of, occasionally something would present an emotional attachment and I’d save it for the sentimental category Kondo recommends people tackle last. Her question, do I want this moving forward? was more useful to me than joy sparks.

Going through my drawings and experiments was the most challenging and rewarding part of the process. For this I got rid of things that weren’t exciting to look at which was as close as I got to experiencing sorting things by joy. What was left I sorted into piles: drawings that would make good paintings, studies I can still learn from, artifacts–aka experiments and paintings not good enough to sell but too good to throw away, historical pieces that I am attached to just because they show what I was doing way-back-when.

I put most of these into separate notebooks. I then made two paintings from old sketches, (one pictures above and one below) which seemed to immediately validate the worth of this tidying project.

I put all the studies I could still learn from into a portfolio which I’m using to inform my new painting journal, sometimes by painting them into the journal and then recycling them. Or sometimes by pasting them into the journal. This has been super fun and gives me a nice break from my endeavor to make good art.

I haven’t finished the entire Konmari method yet but I do think it was useful to apply it to my studio. It feels great to have a work space with only the tools I need and to have all my papers organized into collections that are useful to my creative process. I’d like to think I’ve been more productive.

Today I am laid up with what appears to be a sprained ankle. It didn’t seem like my rolled ankle was going to be an actual injury until I went to work at the restaurant and it gradually became very uncomfortable to walk on. Today is day two of resting and elevating it as much as possible. Tomorrow I hope to get back to some normal activity.

In the meantime I tinkered with my web-site a lot, revised my post about creative responsibility after a friend told me the original was heavy handed to say the least. Now I’ve written this post which I’ve been thinking about for a while. I know I should post pictures of my “new” studio space but the internet is so saturated with things like that I’d rather just post these paintings I made post-Konmari.

If you Konmari your studio I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

watercolor painting of a Northern Harrier flying over Bald Hill Natural Area in spring by artist Alexandra Schaefers
Harrier at Bald Hill in Corvallis, OR


Creative Responsibility

I’m having a lot of complicated thoughts about art and creativity today while being depressed about the shooting at Christchurch. That the killer used a GoPro to film his acts adds a whole new layer of disturb to the violence.

I love documenting my work and sharing it on the internet and somehow I feel that all of us who obsessively post our accomplishments online need to consider our responsibility when someone uses the same platforms and technologies to perform and share a really brutal and violent version of this shared obsession.

I’m not trying to imply we are responsible for what happened, but that we are responsible to consider what we might do moving forward to create a social media climate with no room for hate.

The platforms themselves need to be better at preventing content like that from spreading and from allowing hate-groups to organize on their sites. We need to think about how it was that this shooting was discussed in a chatroom ahead of time and didn’t get reported, how a violent person is able to get a hold of such powerful weapons and why we have a president who endorses racism and xenophobia.

But also, what have we created? So much of social media is divisive or a grand feedback loop inciting envy about how glamorous and charming everyone else’s lives are. It is a tool to connect and has been used to do some amazingly positive things but is the overwhelming reality is that it creates alienation? What else could spur such violence besides a very deep seated sense of alienation?

Culture follows creatives. We have an opportunity to have a profound impact on how people use social media. It is easy to get bogged down in how to earn a living in a society that doesn’t do a great job of making opportunity for artists but we can make some space to consider what direction we want to set for culture.

Do we really want to spend an hour setting up the perfect scene to photograph so that it looks like our morning coffee and laptop session is a Paris vacation? Or do we want to spend that time creating a beauty people can relate to, that they can find and celebrate in their own lives?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t share the beauty of a morning coffee if we are so inspired but there is a big difference between sharing the beauty we find in our lives versus staging a glamor we want other people to imagine we have and envy.

I may be off-base here, perhaps it is all the coaches and would-be influencers that are filling social media spaces with manicured lives. But they’re taking their cues from creatives so we still have an opportunity to make glamor passe and authenticity actually authentic.

I also believe strongly we need to avoid reproducing violent images in the name of drawing attention to a problem. I know it’s heavy-handed and judgemental to say so, but I think that’s the easy way out in most cases. I believe it is better to take the time to develop a body of work that states powerfully what we want it to without feeding more violent images into the minds of humanity. One artist who does this brilliantly is Nina Chanel Abney.

I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna. Beauty, as I understand it, can encompass all types of human experience and aesthetics but it doesn’t create alienation. It is a shared experience we all have access too if we aren’t side-tracked by a constant invalidation of our worth.

Even as an artist who paints trees and birds I get to choose whether I create with an intention to share or to aggrandize my own ego. I don’t expect that in one day I can revamp my entire personality but I do intend to pay more attention to my intentions, to try to connect to beauty more and worry about status less.

Studio Update

Painting Journal

When I was visiting Corvallis for the last art walk I got to see one of my favorite artists Carrie Tasman. I talked to her about how I wanted to develop a looser illustration style but I also missed my old neat and tidy illustrations and she suggested in this delightfully matter-of-fact tone to experiment with new styles in my sketchbook. That is really what sketchbooks are for. Somehow I get overly pragmatic with my sketchbook, all studies and story boards, loose drawings of ideas but very little experimenting. I started a new painting journal with the hope that it would help me be looser and more creative.

In other news I’ve decided my experiment in making art a hobby is complete. I don’t know how to make art into an actual livelihood financially but I can’t deny that it is my livelihood in terms of purpose and meaning and fulfillment.

I feel very fortunate to be able to wait tables and have plenty of time to immerse myself in my art. I’ve started doing a little research into the idea of book publishing. I don’t really think of my poem books as children’s books but other people do, maybe that would be a more natural fit for me.


Snow Book

Here is a video of a book I made from paintings and quotes of my last Landscape Diaries post. I used an old watercolor painting and I have to admit I like the random content book I made on repurposed paper better than the themed book but it was still really fun to make a video of it. Next time I need to set up better lighting.

Book Folios

 

In my recent decision to take a break from seeing art as a commercial venture I’ve been excited to get back to making art for the sake of exploration. I asked myself, If art is to be just a hobby what do I want to do? The answer was quite clear. I want to make books! said in a tone that suggested some passionate cursing be added to the statement. I also noticed a yen to make more tactile and less literal work.

For years I’ve wanted to shift from being an artist who writes to being a writer who arts but having invested a lot in my art education and seeing a lifelong pattern of losing interest in things before I’ve explored their full potential I thought it might be wise to question the premise.

Now I have a decent paying job I enjoy, ample time to work on projects, and a great need to stop putting pressure on myself to be a “successful” creative person. What’s wrong with reorienting, making mistakes or possibly being a fool now and then…or even often? We can’t all be CEOs for heaven’s sake.

I prefer Maya Angelou’s definition of success anyway, Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. We can all become instantly successful the moment we read that quote if we have the courage to believe in ourselves.

Currently I’m making folios of little paintings from sketches on previously used watercolor paper. I have a pure blank sheet for one side of the folio and old designs to work with or paint over on the other side. The above slide show documents my efforts so far. I’m going to stitch these folios together but I didn’t create a sequential story with the text, they are just random experiments.