Meme Week. OR: Writing out a “creative autobiography.”

Lesson #23409824098 About Blogging: Don’t promise to do something unless you do that task in that entry. Otherwise, it signs you up for failure, which is bad. Basically, we’ll wait until I’m more reliable and not prone to be taken for spontaneous adventures on the weekend. Rather than bemoan the fact that there are no Montana stories to post, however, I will attempt to live up to one promise I did make: the Twyla Tharp questionnaire on creative¬† biography. I’m not going to just jot down 33 questions in one go, though, oh no — what kind of blogger do you take me to be? No, I’m trying for actually posting five days a week, which means that I’m going to cut these questions up into little digests — duh. And so, here we go: Allison Brown’s Creative Autobiography, Part 1 of (presumably) 5.

Will it make me realize stuff about myself? Maybe. Will it make for good blogging? That is also a great question. Are we about to find out? Hell yeah we are.

ONE: What is the first creative moment you remember?

I have a few, depending on your frame of reference. In terms of making things: my art classes at Children’s Park, which is best described in polite language* as the crucible of my formative years. No matter how miserable my memories of the place may be, I will concede that they offered a great deal of educational opportunities in the early days of my experiences there. But even then, I remember feeling as if art was that thing that people foisted upon me as the thing I did well. Part of the reason why I resisted a career in studio art? I thought people expected me to do that, and that sounded terrible. It was only when I was in a place where everyone else was good, if not better, than myself that I started to love it for the sake of doing it.

But even before that, there was playing make-believe in the realm of my rose-printed room, making castles out of scarves and forging treks from old homelands to new. I was always fascinated by journeys, now that I remember it, whether it be the Underground Railroad or Russian Jews running from pogroms into the welcoming arms of Ellis Island. You would think that I would be a child that was inherently interested in the land of fantasy and magic, but I was only charmed by the idea of others making new lives out of rags and hard work. Interesting, now that I come to think of it — and really, if I’m being honest, I hadn’t thought about it until today.

TWO: Was there anyone there to witness or appreciate it?

I think so, in the case of Paragraph One. My mother was (and is) one of those crazy types in the sense that she was mad encouraging — and critical. She’d tell me how fantastic whatever it was that I’d make but also tell me why such and such wasn’t working correctly, mostly because I asked her why my picture wouldn’t look like hers. I still have some of my elementary school pottery, for Pete’s sake — and all because my mother kept it.

Paragraph Two, though? No, and that was because I hoarded my pretend. My imagination would make worlds so elaborate that I would narrate everything out loud, dancing and exploring and the like because I believed I was there in the moment. But I knew, even at that tender moment, that this was something I could only understand. As such, I was embarrassed and kept it to myself. This is something that I’m thankful I shed in my older years. If there’s anything collaborative writing taught me, it’s this: sharing elaborate pretend worlds with others is okay with the right people. The wrong ones were all around me as a kid though, and so I hid them — or tried. After all, everyone has his or her embarrassing slip-up now and again, and I certainly had my fair share. Fortunately, they were mostly with family. Mostly.

THREE: What is the best idea you’ve ever had?

Accepting that my failure at Purdue was valuable for knowing what not to do with my entire life.

FOUR: What made it great in your mind?

The above may not be inventive or anything involving my aesthetic ability, but it put me on my present track: Allison Brown, junior painter. It made me realize that the safe track is not the right track, that risking the fact that I will be hungry and cold and never secure in my paychecks for the rest of my life is better than withering away in a profession that stifles my heart and my soul. It sounds idealistic, fanciful even, but I’ve seen what doing something you hate for a steady paycheck does for your emotional well-being. It makes you a miserable cuss towards everyone around you, a terrible person to be. I’m still a volatile person right now, I think, and someone whose depression is always risking to burst to the surface from my mismanagement of stress and bottling everything until I’m bound to explode, but I know that I finally am doing something I love. It doesn’t grow old — and thank God for that.

FIVE: What is the dumbest idea?

In direct relation with 3 and 4: trying to convince myself that graphic design was my major.

SIX: What made it stupid?

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that it’s something that, in the words of a very wise woman, nourishes your soul. I knew it was bad the very day that I sat in the Design 3 studio and knew, with sinking dread, that I would hate every moment of my existence in that room. The fear of doing something just because I was good at it dominated my indecision RE: studio arts, ironically enough; I thought that by engaging in a design path, I would be able to be artistic whilst still getting a day job. Ha! If I could actually sell something, maybe I could be a graphic designer; as is, I hardly was able to sell Girl Scout cookies. Fucking Girl Scout cookies, folks. If that’s not a sign that this is not the career path for me, I don’t know what is.

SEVEN: Can you connect the dots that led you to this idea?

You know how everyone professes that artists live in cardboard boxes? You also know how scary it is to sometimes have to return your groceries to the supermarket? Imagine those two ideas converging on each other when you’re trying to make your Big Decisions in college. I’ve had embarrassing moments wherein fiscal irresponsibility have bitten me on the ass and a few years ago, when I was emotionally secure and hadn’t discovered how terrible the feeling of being a robot going through the motions of God knows what just so you can have something a little cushier than the bare essentials to life itself was, those memories were my motivator. And then I went to Purdue for a year and discovered everything I hated, dissolved into a fugue of apathetic disgust, and knew what real ennui actually was. But hey, youth is made for mistakes.

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* I can think of impolite ways of thinking of it, but I’m sure you wouldn’t want to hear any of them. Unless you would, in which case: tough cookies.

Hard knocks and creative habits.

This week has been rough balls. To quote a draft that’s hanging out in my WordPress account:

This week has already had me through the ringer and it’s only Wednesday. I won’t give too many boring, mopey details, but let’s just say that the 0:2 loss that the US suffered at the hands of Brazil at the friendly last night was probably the icing on the Anxiety and Hyperventilation Cake.

If we’re being honest here, the above is an understatement. After all, when one of your required hurdles in straightening out your financial aid is going to the state’s Federal Building, your stress levels are not at their healthiest lows. It’s definitely a great way to harsh your post-vacation mellow, which is why there is still a draft for my first Montana Tale lingering in the Drafts category instead of in front of your eyes. But fortunately, there’s a happy ending — mostly, the Fed Building and the IRS are not nearly as scary as I thought they would be and the gears are back in motion. There’s a wealth of other good things that have occurred within the past week that have kept me on the even keel, some of which were even featured in that famed draft that I keep making reference to in this post. Let me steal some of those Good Things* from there and add a few more of my own to the mix. It’ll be like giving you an actual entry!

  • I joined 20 Something Bloggers, as the little badge to the side with the link to my profile professes. So far, everyone has been too kind RE: leaving comments on my blog and the like. It said that I should invite friends, but a lot of the people that I talk to on the internet don’t usually blog and those who do… well, I don’t know, they might like to? Bueller? Bueller? Anyway, I’ll let the handful of readers I think I have from the IRLs read this and check it out of their own volition. In turn, if there’s anybody here from 20sb: hi! Welcome! I hope that my blog doesn’t (under)whelm you. I’m trying best to blog more frequently, etc. etc.; the fact that I have 3 posts this month is a miracle that I am celebrating as I type. You will find that my apologies for not updating as much as I “should” constitute at least 25% of the content on this blog. Actually, make that 30-43%, if we’re all being honest here. The rest, however, covers most of what the sidebar/”ABOUT” page is talking about, so hurrah!
  • Starting knitting again! I’m making a baby blanket for my hairdresser/magician and it’s going pretty well. A few more rows and I’ll be done with the border and starting on the ~inside~. It’s a superb apple green color! I’m also making my baby sister this cute little number and it’s coming along happily as it’s considerably speedier than a baby blanket. Also, thank god, it’s much more portable and kept me sane within the scary waits at the IRS. After that, I’m going to be making some socks with some leftover sock yarn that my mother bought ages ago and forgot she purchased and some new needles from KnitPicks. Basically, it’s one big fiber Renaissance.
  • I found a new collection of Dirty Jobs on Netflix. This is big. You have no idea.
  • I’ve also been reviving my reading practice, complete with getting through a book in a day again for the first time in… a long time! It was Big Fish. I enjoyed it. My big vacation book was The Innocents Abroad, which I enjoyed immensely despite my simplistic review to the contrary, and now I’m reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Go figure, but this my big transition into the actual content of my blog today — after all, it’s almost the beginning of school soon, so lord knows I need to get back on track RE: ruminating on ~creative process~. I hear it’s my non-apology schtick or something.

So, this book was recommended to me by a friend whose creative opinion I value very greatly. (Not that I don’t value her other opinions, but she’s a pretty keen illustrator/animator and therefore when she recommends something of a creative bent, especially when it applies to process, I sit up and listen. Ugh, this is probably going to just dig me a greater hole, but whatever.) It was big enough of a deal that I went to the library and held it on inter-library loan. That’s right, everybody: I went the distance for this book. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. It came into the library just yesterday and I’ve spent most of the morning perusing its advice on how to become a more productive creative being. I haven’t finished it, as my Goodreads account will attest, but I’ve chewed away a decent enough chunk to give an unsolicited verdict on the book at large.

So, Tharp sells this book as a universal approach for artists — that is to say, painters, writers, dancers, and musicians alike — that are struggling with making creation a regular part of their everyday lives. Mostly, this is true, but there are aspects of the book that read painfully as if she’s talking to dancers and dancers alone. The book is rife full of exercises that I find to be particularly important (and more on that later), but there are a few that make me balk — mostly, if not exclusively, because they read as if they’re for dancers only. I’m thinking of the Egg exercise especially, wherein Tharp instructs you to go into the fetal position and to take delight in whatever movement you create from that. Although I am belatedly realizing that I could apply this to my work as a figural painter (and yes, maybe some abstract work too), I’m failing to see how this could help a writer or musician. Furthermore, for someone who was an art history major, the way that Tharp talks about painting as a process makes me cringe sometimes. There’s also a self-satisfaction in her tone about talking that grates against my delicate sensibilities. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a mere twenty-three to her sixty-nine, but between the name-dropping (Maurice Sendak is my bff!!!1) and the way she talks about her successes and how you too can get there, I groan sometimes. Granted, I get it: she’s an insanely popular and successful choreographer that has decades of experiences that I can only imagine at this juncture in my life, but I think what bothers me about her occasional narcissism is that she’s supposed to be appealing to the everyperson who is trying to become creative too. That and she advocates temper tantrums at one juncture. Temper tantrums. Really? Maybe it’s just me, but anger never gets me anywhere. But whatever.

That being said, there is a great deal of good in this book. Her chapter on “The Box” is invaluable, because it appeals to that OCD organizer in me, as well as the part of me that needs (and loves) to do more research in order to make good work. As many past articles will opine in this blog, I frequently ache for a way to use my sketchbook that makes sense to me — and said chapter made oodles of noodles of sense! She also makes excellent points about what are cornerstones for creative prowess, involving memories, metaphor, and — yes — hard work. There is one questionnaire in particular that I think would be very valuable to anyone who wonders where their art may be coming from or what have you and I think I’m going to make it a series next week, knock on wood! I’m thinking about posting it on one of the 20sb groups next week, so we’ll see how that goes.

But first: taking back my weekend by posting two of my largest Montana stories. Because real girls post on their blogs on the weekends, damnit.

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* No Martha.

TUTORIAL: How To (Re)stretch A Canvas

Howdy, everybody! Although I plan on getting out Montana Tales starting tomorrow, I felt an itch to blog today… while re-stretching some canvases. And although I wager that most who are interested in such an endeavor already know how to stretch or re-stretch a canvas, it never hurts to write one of these doo-dads for the odd interested party! After all, say you’re a budding amateur painter that’s starting to become really invested in your habit. Depending on how much you paint as a whole, you can save a lot of money building your own canvases — especially if you’re able to find leftover paintings that have perfectly good frames underneath that you can salvage for your own illustrious purposes. Or maybe you want to make a frame that’s in a weird dimension that your craft store doesn’t have; in that case, knowing how to stretch your own canvas is also immensely helpful as a whole.

A note before we get started, though: I’m just using this article to talk about stretching canvases, not building a canvas from the ground up. There are a lot of options on how to build your own frames, from the dubiously flimsy stretchers you can get at the art supply to ripping your own boards and a lot of things in between. Building canvases is another story in of itself, not to mention one that would be kind of dangerous for me to photograph if I were to make a tutorial on it and post it on this blog — at least, the way I do it, which involves Serious Power Tools. I’d rather save that for the eventuality that I might have enough of a demand for such a tutorial and could draw illustrations on the subject. Also, that discussion would go over why not all stretcher frames are alike, etc. etc.

There’s also one more point I’m going to tack on here before we get down to business: not all salvaged frames are created equal! If you’re pretty sure you managed to inherit a painting that you want to paint over that’s on a store-bought frame, it’s just better altogether to re-gesso the piece and start from there. This may sound Greek to you, but it should make sense when you’re holding your frame in your hands. BUT I DIGRESS: let’s get on to actual Tutorialville, USA, which is behind the handy little “Read more!” link — oh, and in case you didn’t figure it out, this sucker is going to be mad image-heavy: Continue reading

Prodigal returns! Also, promises.

Yeesh, I’m back*! As if you couldn’t tell: I didn’t live blog nearly as much as I thought I was, but worry not — it’s for good reason! The bus wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, and once I arrived at my final destination, it was a blur of fun, excitement, and food. (Emphasis on food, seriously. There is a lady out in northern Montana by the name of Mrs. A. Chambers who makes such delicacies as chorizo biscuits and gravy, etc. etc. Bless her soul.) My visit can easily be summed up as great fun, made lots of new friends, hugged a lot, am now nursing depressing hole in my heart, and have had lots of life experiences. No, make that Life Experiences. Definitely, definitely capitalized.

But now it’s August, which means that Real Life (which also needs to be capitalized) is upon us. Real Life really decided to bite me in the butt today, but this also means fun studio time (!!!) starting, oh, tomorrow or so. To distract from the butt-biting aspects of Real Life, I think I’m going to try to write some of those Montana Trek-esque experiences down next week. If it makes it into a week-long series, then awesome! Otherwise, I’ll just consider it an awesome exercise in creative non-fiction and leave it at that. Seriously, that entire 1.5-2 weeks was too insane to not have me devote to such a practice.

Rather than give you an awfully slim update post**, let me unveil that little something that I wasn’t allowed to show you before I left. The little something in question? Homemade cards for the bride and groom at the center of Montana Trek! They’re not revolutionizing the wheel or anything of the sort, mind you, but they are definitely cute enough to earn a post in their own right. So, as they say in the France: on y va! (Alternatively: allons-y!)

Lovebirds!

For the joint card, the newlyweds received lovebirds!

Raptors?

Due to the bride's taste, I predicted that she would want a raptor card.

Squid.

However, the groom's taste was unknown; as such, I arbitrarily chose a squid. I mean, kraken are manly, right?

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* Admittedly, back much earlier than originally stated, but bus lag really does exist.
** This almost could have been an update-and-“Look at my new theme!” post, but it wasn’t. But you should still look.***
*** I am just saying. It’s pretty sweet.

MONTANA TREK: Also, I’m being leaked on.

The Milwaukee bus terminal is made of glass. Kind of really want to vacay here – not because of sweet terminals, though. Perhaps next year?

MONTANA TREK: The Beginning

On y va commencer, everybody. So far, looks like I managed to get one of the plush buses to Chicago. Plug-ins, even! Now to sleep?

The world’s easiest bread, I swear. MAKE IT NOW.

PITA BREAD: IT'S DELICIOUS.

MAKE IT NOW. THEN EAT IT.

So, you’re probably wondering what the above is. Rather than asking, how about you nut up, shut up, and read the post. (WARNING: today, I feel feisty. It’s because of the BREAD.)

Apparently, it takes a fair amount of work to plan a mad cheap trip across the country. Most of my week has been devoted to ensuring that I don’t have to delve into neon orange nacho cheeses and limp hamburgers at every terminal in the only way I know how: cooking my own damn food.

Given that I’m trying to cook for both trips, I’ve been worried about spoilage as much as I have nutrition. Ergo, I’ve been exploring lots of vegan and vegetarian foodstuffs since shit son, veggies ain’t gonna spoil much. (This is not extended to my tasty Thai tuna. That sounds really homoerotic, but whatever.) And what do I want to have as my be all end all bread to shovel my falafel and Nutella-granola sandwiches alike within? Oh, I don’t know, maybe some PITA BREAD?

Pita bread — and verily, all sorts of yeast breads — may seem scary for the novice baker, but to this I say “p’shaw.” Yeast bread is kind of low maintenance, really; first, you whisk up your little dudes to get them all alive and pumping, then you let them rise some more after you incorporate them into the dough. The most work you have to do with these guys is knead them for ten minutes — and really, if you can’t knead for ten minutes, then perhaps you should give up your card-carrying right as an Awesome Human Being.

Sorry, imaginary blog reader. That might have been a little harsh.

Anyway, please go behind the cut to read this super-easy recipe for pita bread that bakes up like a dream! If not, I will probably not punch you through the screen, but that’s mostly because I value my electronics and do not harbor any illusions RE: the feasibility of such an act actually harming you.

Continue reading