Do Something New Every Day

Do Something New - Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Ok. I exaggerate, it doesn’t have to be something new every day. It can just be every week. Or maybe every month? I don’t know. Just try and do something new, is all I’m saying.

Today (as in 2 weeks ago, when I wrote this) I went to Dinderbeck Studios, here in Grand Rapids (GR), and took a 4 hour long workshop on screenprinting. Before the workshop, I had never heard of screenprinting, or any other forms of printing besides digital, to be honest. And it was so much fun learning something new.

Screenprinting is a fairly simple process. You just make the image, transfer it to the screen, then apply paint and transfer it to your paper, canvas or cloth of choice. Some people do t-shirts through this process.

It’s great for making hand-made prints. It offers you the chance to make several copies of that one print, but each print somewhat unique – or you can make it be. It will always have, at least when I’m doing it, mistakes or small flaws.

I think that’s part of the beauty of it. It’s not perfect, it’s not the same, each one is unique. Hand-crafted. It allows for the artist to be a part of the reproduction process – Marx would appreciate the ability it gives the artist to be closer in touch with the “means of reproduction.” Bye bye alienation.

The workshop was also just great to get to know some people from GR. There were 5 of us. We each worked on our own prints, but at the end we exchanged ours with each other! So I ended up getting some free art for my room.

Below you can check out the prints I worked on. They allowed us to come for another week after, during their open hours, for free.

But the reason I’m sharing this: it’s because it’s one of those “new experiences” that has helped me get pumped up for art again. New experiences change the pacing that you make art and your thought process opens up to new pathways. However, it doesn’t have to be a new art form that does this – although new art forms can be great – but really just about anything new does it. Open up your brain pores to creativity.

You can explore a part of your city you’ve never dared to go to. Or it could be going to a new city or country. It can be going to a new café, or starting a new type of project – like a blog! It can be to go to a new event. Or even to try and recreate one of your old pieces, under a new light. It can be to go be a reading mentor at middle school. Or to help at a homeless shelter.

Anything that gets you thinking in new ways. Step out of your comfort zone. I know. It’s cozy there. But just do it. It’s fun. Sometimes.

If you’d like to get updates when blog posts come out, you can follow my Facebook page, or sign up for the mailing list that WordPress has setup — it’s on the bar to the side I believe!

Hope to see you soon! Or next week more precisely, at 10AM every Tuesdays and Thursdays.

What Made Me Cry This Week – Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen YangBoxers - by Gene Luen Yang\

For me as a Christian, reading Boxers and Saints was hard. The story highlights mistakes Christians have made through history, especially in their association with politics, power, and wars.

But it does it in a simple and beautiful way. The story arch is simple and direct.

In the first volume, the story of the leader “Little Bao”* from the Boxer Rebellion, in China, is told. It shows the struggle of his town and family under the oppression of Saints - by Gene Luen Yang“foreign devils:” westerners and Christians. And so we follow Little Bao’s rise to military power against the oppressors; he learns Kung Fu and how to “harness” powers from the Chinese gods.

Mixing mythology and day-to-day happenings, the book took me alongside the rise and downfall of the revolution. I cheered for them to some degree, I understood their suffering and pain, but soon began to see the inevitable end approaching under Bao’s leadership.

The art is clean with a consistent style and adds to that simplicity of the narrative. Bold lines, blocked in colors and simple shadows. The art can be celebrated for its ability to convey so much through so little. It enables the reader to tread quickly through the story, never losing sight of the plot.

Once Boxer ends, one cannot feel the sadness sinking in, was anything actually accomplished?

In Saints we follow a parallel story to Boxers, the story of Four.* Four is a girl with whom Bao has a brief encounter in Boxers. She is an outcast within her and family, who wants to become a Christian to get free food and to become a “devil” – or a Christian. She eventually also starts having visions of Joan D’Arc, whom she begins to look up to as source of inspiration and strength.

As her story is told we sympathize with her, and even with her wrong childish motives. We already know the end of her story, for it appears in Boxers. But we’re still curious: how will she change and become the character we saw in Boxers? And I’ll add, there was a minor surprise I didn’t see coming at the end of Saints.

As everything goes, I couldn’t help but feel deep sorrow for all the deaths and suffering on both sides. The two stories together drive in us a sense of empathy – that neither side was truly right nor wrong, that our world is just…broken. Yang’s writing breaks the notion of us vs. them. It felt like a story needed in today’s political scenario. For that reason, I hope many people will yet read it.

* Little Bao and Four as far as I understand do not represent real historical figures.

You can buy the two graphic novels through my affiliate links! Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang. That’ll help me keep the blog going, and keep me motivated! Plus I just really recommend these books. They’re great!

Another book I’ve read, some time ago, was Gene L. Yang’s book American Born Chinese. I read Boxers and Saints in the first place because of this graphic novel. Another awesome recommendation!

How To Avoid Interruptions

Why I Work at Night

I was in Brazil for a week this summer. Much of our extended family had gathered in one house down there for my sister’s Brazilian equivalent of a quinceñera. But I still needed to make art. And, while I think artists need to be able to show their art to others, solitude is a necessary ingredient for the creative process. With all the family back together I just needed to find the right time to get the least amount of interruptions.

That’s where the Night comes in, and by Night, I mean whenever everyone in your house is already asleep. The Night is very special because it offers you time to work on your art piece without any interruptions. This has become crucial to my creative process. And that’s because during the day interruptions seem to lurk around every corner.

Interruptions can be anything. People asking about your day, what you’re working on; or the need to pick up your little sister from downtown, or getting groceries. And one of the easiest ways I’ve found to avoid these is to either: find a place where you can’t be interrupted, i.e. a studio, or do it at Night in your house office, kitchen table, or basement.

But why even bother? At least for me, I’ve found that interruptions really hinder my speed. They don’t allow me to get in Flow, to reference ideas exposed in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book. And Flow makes for good art.

The creation and development of art takes a lot of focus. The more focused you are, the more space you have in your brain to come up with ideas. Art takes a lot of thought and ingenuity – the free association of ideas – to be well made.

Flow, the Creative Process, and Interruptions

Also without interruptions you can better focus on each individual tiny leaf, each one of the eyelashes, the variations of shadow and color. Once you’re done you’ll realize how much time has passed. How much better the piece has turned out. Fewer interruptions equals better art.

So, I found out that doing art at Night worked for me because there was no one to stop me. No one to interrupt or distract. It has worked for me most of the time – like when I don’t need to get up the next day at 6AM for an extra work shift (these are joy-killers let me tell you).

But what works for you? How do you avoid interruptions?

What Made Me Cry This Week – How Dante Can Save Your Life II

I Can Be An Artist (Quote From Text)

Cover of How Dante Can Save Your Life, by Rod DreherI thought I should fill you guys in to how the book How Dante Can Save Your Life, by Rod Dreher, ends. I wrote the previous What Made Me Cry This Week post before finishing it, but now I can give you the full picture.

After the ecstasy of the first chapters, I slowed down. I needed to let everything sink in. Dreher puts a lot of content into the book. It’s filled with great advice, and the book makes you question yourself. It invites you to do some self-analysis: what are my motives for my actions? Am I making an idol of family, money, friendship, sex? Have I been too harsh with friends? Have I judged them, even though I share in their same faults?

“When family and place and a way of life centered around them become ends in themselves rather the means to the good, they turn into idols.”

And that can be said of anything – as Dreher does throughout the book.

I Can Be An Artist (Quote From Text)One of the chapters that touched me the most was the one that dealt with the creation of art. It felt like Dreher was grabbing my heart and twisting it the way you may twist a towel to get the excess water out.

In recent times my mind has been focused on monetizing my art. I wanted to prove to my parents, friends, and everyone who’s there to see, that I can be an artist. That I can survive in this world through my creativity. I wanted to show them: “I have talent!”

The easiest way I could think of: to make money. The easiest way to make money? Get a following, an audience, grow a platform. Get people talking about you. Post on social media as constantly as you can. Create as much as you can. Self-market. Promote.

Basically: be famous and gain fortune and glory (or recognition). But Dreher’s prose pierced through.

“How much happier would young people be if they began their careers thinking not of the fame, fortune, and glory they will receive from professional accomplishment but rather of the good they can do for others.”

Ouch. It hurt. But he is right. And throughout the whole book that’s what I felt. I kept saying to myself as I read:

Ouch! That hurts.

But…

You’re right, Dreher.

Dreher, you couldn’t have said that better.

His beautiful prose never leaves the book, and he masterfully deals with every topic he touches on, piercing our hardened hearts.

If you’re considering buying this book, why not buy it from amazon through my affiliated link? That way I’ll get a tiny commission if you decide to buy the book! You’ll also be encouraging me to keep writing awesome reviews!

Last words: if you’d like to get updates when blog posts come out, you can follow my Facebook page, or sign up for the mailing list that WordPress has setup — it’s on the bar to the side I believe!

Hope to see you soon so we can cry together.

I’ve Done Enough

Seeking for Help and Motivation

It’s one of those days where I just don’t want to do anything. Just lie in bed and rest. Relax. I did a lot yesterday; I deserve it right? Well, it’s just Tuesday. Work still needs to get done.

Another pit. Another excuse.
When making art, it feels like there’s never an end to those. Everything seems to be an excuse to just not work that day.

I mean. I’m sitting right now in front of my computer trying to find motivation to do something. Just anything, really. To lift my pencil and make a mark. To open Photoshop and let it out. Whoever said being an artist was easy, didn’t try being one.

I’d like to leave a word of encouragement. I don’t know. Some nugget of positivism. Something that makes it worth your while reading this. But I feel like admitting the truth is sometimes the only thing we can do.BlogQuote05_A

I don’t always want to do art. A lot of times it just feels like another job, another task to get done. Another routine, another cycle.

How do you break that? How do you see art with new eyes, when art is all you see? Maybe go look at some engineering equations, or at the periodic table and memorize a couple elements. Maybe that will do it.

Here it is. A post, a tribute, to that wicked lazy side of life – the one that wants to hold you in your bed and never lift you out of there.

But now I’m off to make some art. Even if it’s horrible. Or repetitive. Or the same and unoriginal. I don’t have any motivation, but I’mma go do it.

You can follow my art page on Facebook or Instagram (@jandrewgilbert) to see my art and get notifications on blog updates!

What Made Me Cry This Week – How Dante Can Save Your Life

How Dante Can Save Your Life, by Rod DreherCover of How Dante Can Save Your Life, by Rod Dreher

Let’s be honest. I started writing this review when I was just 4 chapters into the book. What can I say? I was hooked by the first line and already wanted to cry midway through the second chapter. The book hit the write strings.

My parents have been telling me to read this book for some time. They even bought it through Amazon and sent it straight to my address; there’s no clearer way to say “Read!” I put it off for some time while I read some of the graphic novels I had lined up (there’s some reviews on that coming up!). Until the fateful day came when I reached for Rod Dreher’s book, inside the bus, going downtown. I read the first line, then almost missed my stop because I didn’t want to stop reading. I had to go back to it later — on the bus ride back.

First things first: you don’t have to read Dante’s Commedia to enjoy this book. Although reading Dreher’s book might have you reading the Commedia in the end, just like it has my mom. Now we can proceed.

Dreher has a beautiful prose, and weaves together memoir, poetry and real-life applications. The book is intended for any audience, as he makes sure to create paths for inclusion for those of faith, Catholic or not, as well as for the atheist and agnostic.

I can’t help but share it in his own words, because for me they were so beautiful: “It’s a book for people who have lost faith in love, in other people, in the family, in politics, in their careers, and in the possibility of worldly success.”

At the beginning, he gives a quick overview of his life, in similar fashion to a memoir. But he ties it in with what’s coming up: Dante and the impact the poet has had on the author.

This section deeply moved me because of how much I saw myself in Dreher. We’re both intellectually driven, both book worms, we both have somewhat complicated relationships with our parents.

Even though our lives are completely different, he is able to tie his own life to broad universal themes: our sense of exile – even when we go back to our childhood towns. I even wrote a very similar piece about this feeling – although poorly written in comparison, here.

I’ll fill you guys in on the rest next week, once I’m finished reading it!

But in the meantime, what do you think? Which books have just grabbed you by the soul? Do you also feel a sense of exile, no matter where you are?

Read Part II of this review!

How Dante Can Save Your Life, by Rod Dreher – Buy it through this link and support my work!

The Discipline to Create Art

Night Wolf - Illustration

This is something every artist struggles with. At least I do. It’s something I want to improve, to get better at: the discipline to make myself do art. The discipline to be my own boss. Why not write about it? Maybe it’ll make me more disciplined. And let’s be honest, I’m always writing for myself. So, whatever you get out of this, it’s a bonus.

How to be disciplined? Take one step at a time

If you read, watch, or follow other artists online, you’ll find out that, for someone pursuing a career in the field of creativity, “just surviving” college isn’t enough. School can only teach you so much. You need to spend time pursuing your own projects and your own dreams. One step at a time.

In fact, one of Jason Brubaker’s main pieces of advice from his book, Unnatural Talent, is to work on your personal project. Develop it, nourish it and make it grow. Something personal, that you feel passionate about.

So how do you do that? How do you discipline yourself to get your own projects done? I’m not sure, if I’m honest. I haven’t gotten to a point where I’m satisfied with my discipline. But I have made a couple of attempts at improving and learned some things from those. Here’s a list of suggestions and tips for you to try out:

 

Blog_Numbers1Choose a specific topic or style and stick with it for a week. See how you can say or show the same subject in a different way.

This can be a fun challenge to see how creative you can get within certain boundaries – like using a tool you’ve never had. Or making a series of 4 in. sized paintings. How creative can you be with the limitations you have?

 

Blog_Numbers2Get other people involved. Tell them you’ll work on a project for 7 straight days. Or let them have a sneak peek of your work in progress – put your honor on the line somehow.

This one is tricky, because if you don’t do what you promised you might feel bad about yourself and do even less. But it works great if it motivates to just sit down and do it. I usually tell one person about one project I want to work on, and to another person a different project. I’ll probably not do all of them, but at least one of those I’ll feel I need to get done, and indeed get it done.

 

Blog_Numbers3Set aside a time and place to work.

This is one of the most often-repeated-that-no-one-follows pieces of advice given. And hearing it again and again doesn’t make it easier. My tip is for you to find a special place where you can be by yourself, and spread out your materials and art. In that space that you have set aside eliminate as many distractions as you can. Turn off your cellphone, close all other tabs that are not-art-you’re-making-right-now-related. You might be amazed by how much you can do without technology distracting you.

Also, don’t be afraid to have a day in the week where you don’t do art. You need to rest from your art and just enjoy life! I consider it part of my self-care of the week. Making sure you don’t do art for a day will recharge you to come in super excited for the coming week!

 

Blog_Numbers4Look at yourself in the mirror. Stare deep into your eyes. Find your soul. Punch it a couple times until it realizes that making art is a necessity, not a commodity. And get to work.

Sometimes you just have to get to it. Stop making excuses and make art.

As I said. There’s no easy way to get discipline, or to keep yourself motivated. I’m still figuring it out for myself. But I think the last part of the trick is to never give up on being disciplined. Don’t stop trying to be disciplined just because you didn’t do art that one day, or that one week.

Never give up on being disciplined

Discipline can only come with a clear vision for what you want from your talent, natural or not. There will be days or weeks when you’ll be disciplined, and there’ll be days you’ll struggle with it. But just keep trying, for if you give up—there’s nothing we can do to help you out.

 

 

When You Fear that You’re a Hypocrite

Can I Call Myself That? An Artist? - Quote

Today I read some of Rod Dreher’s beautifully written book, How Can Dante Save Your Life. The prose, the style, Dreher’s life, Dante’s life. You feel so connected to them. Everything seems to fit in their place. I was even reading it today at a high schooler’s graduation party. A couple friends and I went for a walk. And I couldn’t help but read instead of, well, socializing.

During the walk, we went to this small children’s park and got on the swings. I was able to finish a chapter there. When walking back to the house, I felt like a hypocrite.

I mean—since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. Not an artist. That came later. What I wanted was to be a writer. Eventually I decided to be an artist because, well. I “had talent.” Or I guess other people believed in me. And grammar was hard.

When I finished reading the chapter from Dreher’s book, that childhood dream came back to me. I want to write. That was my dream. Am I hypocrite for saying that I’m an artist? Or for trying to be one?

I don’t know. But I think a lot of artists and writers have this notion that they have to be a “true” artist or writer to be called that. You have to get national awards, or make a living off of it. We see the titles of “artist” or “writer” like something to be deserved, merited.BlogQuote03_B

David Khalaf in his latest blog post wrote about how his dream of being a “writer” is now being put on the side. It’s heartbreaking to read the post. And he ends by questioning: “Am I writer? For a time I was. I hope I still am.”

And it brings me back to what I felt – like a hypocrite. I haven’t had any big breaks as an artist. I barely have a following on social media. I’m not complaining, I’m stating the facts. And being an artist wasn’t my dream as a kid. Can I call myself that? An artist?

I don’t know if I can. But what I do think is true, is that not knowing whether I’m an artist, a writer, a hobbyist, or just a kid searching for a place in this world, shouldn’t impede me from creating. Creating is beautiful, and a gift we should allow ourselves to enjoy.

Just because I don’t have the title, just because the identity makes me squirm—I feel like a tiny kid in adults’ clothing, trying to find my way amidst the excess cloth—that shouldn’t keep me from creating. Feeling like you don’t fit the title shouldn’t impede you from creating.

What Made Me Cry This Week

What makes you cry? Do you like crying?

If any art piece makes me cry,  I love it. That’s what art is for: those exhilarating emotions that make us cry.

It can be because the story is sad. Or because it just is too beautiful. Or because you know it’s not real. But you cry. The story, the colors, the music, something, touches you, it touches that calloused heart, and tears are shed.

WMM_01 That has been my experience with art. And if you’re like me, I invite you to my series of posts I’ll be doing: “What Made Me Cry This Week.” These will be posts where I share on what I’ve read, seen, or heard that has made me cry, that has made me dance and weep at the same time.

I’m hopeful these blog posts will have a small synopsis or something that makes it worth your time. Nothing too serious.  They will be short posts where I share what I love, most likely every Thursday.

Through this series I hope you find out new artists to follow or just read one of their works. I also hope to connect with you. For us to share what we love. For us to know that we’re not alone.

So feel free to comment, here and in the following posts: did you feel the same? Or was your feeling different? Is there another artist or work that you feel matches this one? What made you cry this week?

 

Coming to Terms With Judgement – Let The World See Your Art II

I started to be okay showing my art because I needed to get better. I needed insights that only other people can give. They gave new colors to the painting, drawing, illustration, article, or blog post… But I also started sharing just because I needed to get over the fear of judgement.

I think this is a fear every artist is born with, but I also believe every artist needs to get past it.

You know how they say that when facing danger our reaction is to either flight or fight? I think there’s one other response: paralysis. But, you know, it doesn’t rhyme, so they leave it out. Especially with art, I think fear creates a very intense paralysis response. For me, it almost never creates the fight reaction. And if you’re paralyzed you’re not creating.

The creator of the Dilbert cartoon, Scott Adams, has a quote that illustrates what I mean: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” So, allow yourself to make mistakes; fight it out and be creative. But after, and only after, you created, let the judgement come in to help you.

In my own art, for example, I tend to not draw bodies the most realistic. I like contorting them, making them almost fluid. Some people could see that as a mistake. They judge my lack of realism. Or maybe they think I don’t understand enough of anatomy. They judge, and that highlights my “mistake.” I can then choose: do I want that “mistake?” Or not? I chose to keep the fluid bodies.

I think judgement helps to highlight, or give attention, to our “mistakes.” We need to find out what those are, and then decide what to keep or not. I think I’ve seen time and again this idea of a two-fold process: be freely creative; then bring in your judgement, or your editor’s hat.

BlogQuote02_B

There’s a space for each process. During the “freely creative” stage there should be the least amount of judgement, and fear. You need to be able to explore, and exploring with fear doesn’t work. You’re stuck at home, never leaving your comfort zone.

For me, thinking of judgement as a guiding light that shows the path ahead has helped diminish my fears of it. Just because I still have to grow and learn doesn’t mean I should give up. It should be the opposite. Because I have to grow and learn, is why I can’t give up.

I have trained myself to view judgement as criticism. Every artist needs criticism to help them grow, and so I try to not take it personally. Judgement can work like answers to questions we have, pointing to new possibilities:

“Where can you go with your art? What might the path ahead look like?”

P.S.: A great book I’d recommend on this topic, if you’re interested to learn more, is the book Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmakingby David Bayles and Ted Orland. The book goes more in depth with the workings of fear and how to overcome it. We read this book for our intro to painting class; and I fell in love with it. Bayles and Orland’s writing was a great resource throughout the semester!