The 100 Drawings Project: February Update

Box turtle shell found in a creek bed 35 years ago. Interesting to examine and understand the structure of its skeleton through drawing.

My busy life involves balancing studio work with arts administration and advocacy for other artists. Pursuing drawing in a regularized way has always been an unrealized goal. That’s because drawing requires making time to stop, listen and be present in the moment. My ticker is set to always being on the move.

Last fall, before I accepted the position of President of the Surface Design Association, I had a serious talk with myself. I’d need to make a serious commitment to work-life balance or be swallowed up by administration and regret. But SDA is my homebody group and helping it develop and thrive in the future is important to me. So, just in the way that I took on careful planning for SDA and Iowa Artisans Gallery,  for which I work part time and am a co-owner, I decided to plan my studio life. In addition to creating works for the wall, I’d start a drawing series. I’d do it during the week, on several of my admin days. And so I have.  Today’s blog post is an update on that process, with 21 drawings into the collection.

Drawing has curious consequences. It teaches me to be more fearless. Taking risks is required, yet not risky. It doesn’t really matter. Drawing rests and re-sets the rational brain. This is helpful in the life of an administrator.

Some days, nothing gels. On those, it’s important to make the habit, to just keep going. I’ll work in my sketchbook, on paper, on fabric with matte medium, or on canvas with gesso, using pencil, brush and ink, watercolors, sticks, and acrylic paints. How about cut-up blue jeans or other clothing? That’s next. Sometimes attempt #8 leads me in a new direction. If nothing else, I can always tear up your paper and try again.

What’s in the fridge? mushrooms will do when the garden is fallow.

One other curious consequence: drawing allows me to acquire experience rather than always holding on to objects. Best to surround one’s self with the objects that hold meaning. The others? Draw them, commit them to deep, multi-sensory memory, and pass them along.

Stay tuned- more to come.

Drawing is also a good way to connect with a profound memory, in this case, the loss of a dear artist friend, Tom McAnulty, hit in January by a speeding motorcycle in New York City while crossing in the crosswalk. This is a sculpture he gave to me early in life.

The Studio Day: Creativity & the Great Balancing Act

Last September, I engaged in a much-needed weekend in my studio. Looking upon my upcoming role as Surface Design Association President, I knew I MUST prioritize making time for balance and creative work, so critical to making the rest of  life function well. In that,  I am just like 99.9% of our SDA members and all my other colleagues I know outside of SDA. All ages, all stages.

Suddenly I had an idea: talk about the importance of a studio day.  A day later, I read that I’m not alone in my thinking. Here’s the piece in the New York Times.

What follows are the closing comments I made at SDA’s Made/Aware: Socially-Engaged Practices Intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. (Read a wonderful summary of this event, written by Tamryn McDermott for SDA’s NewsBlog.) I appeared in my studio garb, my SDA “uniform” —apron, t-shirt and torn jeans, rubber gloves in my pockets. I spoke to this gathering of artists, educators, students, makers, who among them have amassed an impressive list of accomplishments and inquiry, with dedication and enthusiasm.

This is what I said, illustrated here with photos from my past:

We are first and foremost, a community of makers. Many of us working in textile and new media do this as a tactile antidote to our increasingly digital world. In whatever stages of life you find yourself—longtime artist, recent college grad, juggling paid employment, or retired but wanting to rekindle a longtime interest —creative work is never an easy fit into a busy life. The quest for work-life balance challenges all of us and increasingly is part of a national conversation, as recent media articles have pointed out.

Four friends at the Surface Design Conference, Kansas City Art Institute

SDA helps us to promote connections with our fellow makers. Our group of largely textile-centric makers is the most diverse of any national textile organizations available to us. The SDA Journal, Blog, and our members show us a broader way of thinking about what we do, as do SDA’s tools such as exhibitions, grants and fellow aficionados to talk shop with.

How do YOU make time for creativity? No one path fits all. Creative success is rarely about being secluded and monastic, — it’s about living fully within our lives, a frame of mind. Often, it’s about enjoying the ride, the process rather than the final outcome.

My own life confirms this. I joined SDA as a recent college grad and worked in my studio in addition to jobs and new motherhood. I always referred to my studio work as my fourth child. If I didn’t pay attention, it screamed and hollered. There was a time when my creative moment coincided with Mr Rogers Neighborhood on Public Television.

looms are great jungle gyms for toys

Archive photo: Astrid finishing handwoven ikat wall piece

learning fold and dip dye

Later, I saw firsthand how the kind of creative thinking that artists employ brought new ideas to the table in our  Downtown District, where I worked as a long time manager for Iowa Artisans Gallery, a 4000 square foot business with 200 artists, and served on committees for community initiatives. And it wasn’t just me. For a time, the interim head of the local Area Chamber of Commerce was a graphic designer who injected new life into the organization. As a business manager/owner, I hired artists with both retail and creative abilities, or others who simply wanted to be creative, encouraging them to pursue and fulfill their own personal life destinies as artists of all stripes.

Iowa Artisans Gallery staff, 2015

Throughout this time, I always tried to guard my studio day on Fridays.  Make no mistake: work-life balance is an issue for everyone I know.

I invite you to join me in making time for creativity during a weekly Studio Day, whether it’s by learning/contemplation only, or by active doing, —for an hour a day, a day a week, or many days every month, whatever fits. And wouldn’t it be great if SDA, as an organization, took a “studio day.” (Mind you, I’m not saying we should shut down our website  for a day a week, just that our Board, staff and members can commune together in that great notion.) We share the importance of creativity to the structure and balance of our lives.  Let the community of SDA members inspire us to be more than who we are working alone. It is not selfish. It is about good self-management practices that make us more meaningfully productive in all of life.

Lastly if you believe in SDA and its community, here are a few easy things you can do to help strengthen this organization. First, invite a friend to join the SDA community. Our membership numbers are crucial to publishing our robust, quarterly Journal. And there’s more, but that’s for a future discussion. Second, thank our advertising partners and suggest new ones. (I’ll do it here for the ones I have used for years in my own work: shout-outs and thanks to ProChemical & Dye, Testfabrics, Dharma Trading.) They wonder if their ads are unseen, down some big black hole. WE NOTICE!

So, I’ve come to the end of this little talk, and on behalf of the SDA Board, Staff and all of our volunteers, I wish you a safe and inspired journey home, to the heart of your creative work and life and your very own SDA uniform! Ciao!

Gallery staff having a painting day

Astrid teaching at Penland School of Crafts

Cat learning screenprinting at Home Ec Workshop

the sketchbook project- DONE!

My new years’ gift to myself: do the one studio thing I had the greatest need and drive for, starting to draw on a more regular basis. Along came The Sketchbook Project (see my October 18 post on drawing) with just enough deadline and incentive to make me finally commit. The result is not brilliant, but it’s done, and it’s opened my inner eye.

Here’s what I wrote about my experience:
Most artists I know wish they would draw more. I started drawing in college and for two years, it was all I wanted to do. Then I took up printmaking (markmaking!) and eventually, textiles.

In my textile work, I do a lot of printing and monoprinting- I love color and music and spontaneous expression. Drawing is the act of listening to the world around you, of being an observer as opposed to a participant. Damn it, it requires a lot of patience and concentration. It is meditative.

So, now that I have time to be more of an observer, it is time to draw again, to relearn, to connect hand, eye and head. I also wanted to learn to use sumi ink wash techniques; the world is not all black and white- there’s lots of grey. The sketchbook project gave me the kick in the pants to get this rolling. Being intimidated by the first page, I decided to start in the middle. I also did my drawing in 3 separate sketchbooks each session, to loosen me up and let me try varying papers and approaches. Sometimes I included those other drawings in the Official Sketchbook.

the last of the garden tomatoes
ah, the self-portrait. An excellent way to learn to draw. At my age, it’s like an exercise in geography, with mountains, valleys, rivers, desert, certainly more interesting topography, an exercise in humility rather than vanity. Oh, and those GLASSES! And no, not sad, just concentrating.
those birds, so hard to draw, one second and then they move again…I actually had much better examples in the sketchbook.
what’s this, you ask? a 15-year old strip of newspaper used to mask wet areas when I do screenprinting. Scanned a few. All about drawing. 

Sketchbook cover, inside and out, printed with my screenprint of artist hands and “tabbed” with a monoprinted fabric scrap, covered with matte medium.

Fun with mirrors…


For years, when my kids were around, I thought that the way to really make summers creatively productive would be to aim for a drawing a day. It was always hard to actually get to more substantive studio work during that time. Intentions then, and later for other regular drawing “devotions” always gave less than satisfying results. Only an occasional drawing, but when I did them, how revealing.

dog sitting, Sam: my own dog Tuck moves around too much

Two Surface Design Association (SDA) Conferences ago, and looking at the course offerings of Penland School of Crafts, I realized that although the array of techniques and workshops was stunning, what I really want most is to draw. To expand my visual vocabulary. For my hand to be more in touch with what I see and what I want to express. A drawing a day would do it.

Still, it’s hard to fit that in, hard to be the observer instead of the doer.

This year, I learned about The Sketchbook Project, where you sign up to participate by receiving and filling a blank “moleskine” type of sketchbook, which then goes to sketchbook library in Brooklyn, and potentially on display. Yes, it costs a bit to join and needs to be done by a certain date. Hey, we pay tuition for classes. Since this seemed like a good way to force myself into a habit, I gladly signed up.

Receiving the sketchbook was  a bit of a disappointment. Such thin cardboard covers. There’s no reason why participants can’t deconstruct the book, and insert new pages, as long as the size conforms to the guidelines.

I spent time being intimidated by the empty pages. How to start with a bang, not a wimper. Most of us who draw at all know that only 1 of 10 drawings is any good though all have something to teach or can jog our memories as to place and locations. Starting a new sketchbook meant for others was definitely intimidating. My solution? start in the middle. Add pages randomly, numbered as Page 1, Page 2, etc. That seems to be working. Other solution? Use three sketchbooks- my regular journal one, my larger pad, and the Sketchbook Project one. Start my day in one, and migrate to the others. Copy and collage when needed. It’s starting to happen.

I’m also adopting some techniques about holding a brush and using washes that I learned in a Chinese Painting class, with a teacher from China who spoke no English and his interpreter, who was hard to understand. We sat in a basement and drew symbolic landscape on a beautiful spring day. Ironic, but the techniques have truly been useful.

Along the way, I’ve also found some interesting web communities of sketchers, like Urban Sketchers. Like Life Sketcher, Stan Fellows, and others.

I haven’t done enough yet to really have an effect on my paintings and prints on fabrics, but that should come. For now, it’s a rich time of year to draw outside, to see potential in any view. For really, anything can be made into a drawing, and the most mundane subject matter can be the most interesting.  My sketchbook will not be glamorous, but it will be a step in the right direction, for me, made fun by sitting outside – and – simply – drawing.

what happens with modular repeats: dried Roma tomato