Summer 2020

Today is the last day of summer. I recently started documenting my life and work with photos again. I stopped taking pictures regularly after I started using Instagram and became overwhelmed with the sheer volume of images, not to mention a little disturbed at the effort some people appeared to be exerting in order to make their life look good on social media. I didn’t stop taking pictures altogether but my goal became only to share what I thought my tiny social media audience would find meaningful about the week’s art making.

Now I’m taking them for myself again and collecting them by season on my web-site as part of my on-line sketchbook.

Studio Update

I had a great time at the Belmont Street Fair last month. Since then I’ve started a new book which will be my first attempt to channel my illustrations and writing into a children’s book format. So far I have the pages all sketched out and have been doing some studies to develop my style more intentionally before I start in. I also bought some new boards for stretching paper as I will have a lot more pages going at once than normal!

You can always catch the latest on my Instagram @alexandra.schaefers

I am taking a break from Landscape Diaries, because I feel like doing some experimental writing and not being on (or wishing I was sticking to) a posting schedule.

I just rearranged my web-site a bit. If you have opinions about that sort of thing, let me know what you think!

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


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.