A Peek At My Art4Educators Poster Collection!

I’ve squirrelled away for the first half of my summer vacation, and it has been so amazing for my spirit, my family and my art.

Have you ever been working away when it hits you? This is where I am supposed to be.

That just happened to me. I took 1 and a half days a week this summer to focus on building my business, and figuring out what that even meant. Uh – I still don’t know, but anyway. I’ve been planning for a line of art for educators (aptly called “Art4Educators”), and working on collections of surface designs that could be licensed, and profiled for companies seeking licensees. I also launched a new service to illustrate people’s kids.

I thought I might get 1 or 2 interested buyers, but within 3 days, I sold out. Sold out meaning, I had 20 clients commission illustrations – and that is more than enough to keep me drawing and painting until school starts again! I am overwhelmed with the reality of how opening up space to create has translated into more business than I’ve ever had before.

One of the new products I’ll be offering in, I hope, September, is a line of updated inspirational/motivational posters for the classroom. As a teacher, I know I’m sick and tired of walking the halls and seeing the same outdated, tired, cheesy and frankly – tacky – posters in the halls and classrooms. But there aren’t many options for good ones.

That’s why I’ve created some with quotes that are relevant to today’s learner and today’s teacher – and are simple, beautiful and classy.

It was in the moment of reviewing these this evening that I was hit with that “You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing” moment.

And so – I’ve got to share some peeks at what I’m working on! These posters are created digitally, and are one side of my Art4Educators collection. The other side features hand-painted acrylic and mixed-media illustrations with quotes, and I am very excited to share those – when they’re ready!

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“I can’t do this!” *Mr. Patrick directs student to this poster*
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THIS is what I want my students to leave my class with – the understanding that it’s up to them, and that curiosity is the key to a life worth living.
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I made this one for my family, but it will make its way into my classroom, too. This is our family’s motto, our “golden rule” – and now it’s up for us to remember every day.
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I also made this one with a turquoise brushed background, and it is, dare I say, delicious.

How To Compliment Art (Without Saying It’s “Cute”)

The quickest compliment that seems to come up when artists (especially illustrators) share their work is: “Cute!”

Don’t get me wrong – most of the time, the work is cute.

But it’s also a little bit upsetting to hear that the creative thing you’ve spent hours, days, weeks – in some cases, months – working on is … cute.

These things are okay to call cute and leave it at cute:

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This would appropriate to call “cute.”
  • babies
  • puppies
  • playrooms
  • a new toy that was mass produced and not hand made

There are ways to say that something is cute without saying that it’s cute – or in addition to saying that it’s cute. I mean, you can give a real compliment! This is so valuable to us. We work alone, most of the time, and most of us do this in addition to full-time jobs and families and social lives. Hearing that something in our process or final product is seen by a viewer is invaluable.

I’ve been to art sales and had potential customers walk by my table and comment that my work is cute. Okay, that’s fine – they’re talking to each other and not to me, and they’re expressing a positive feeling in connection to my work. But you know … we can hear you. One time, a woman said, “Oh that’s so cute!” and then looked closer. When she saw my signature, she laughed and said to her husband, “Oh, I thought a student had made this.” Then she wrinkled her nose and walked away. Ouch.

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“Oh that’s so cute … oh. I thought a student had made this.” OUCH. (I can hear you!)

You see, even though it might actually be the cutest damn thing you’ve ever seen, there is so much more to the piece of art that it often feels like that work is dismissed. If you’re checking out a friend’s work, or scrolling through your favourite artist’s Facebook or Twitter or Instawhatever page, think before you comment.

“But how do I do this?” you ask. Here are some ideas:

 

  1. Take a few seconds to look – really look – and pick out something that you’re loving. Instead of saying, “That’s so cute!” you might say, “I love the expression on his face!” or, “These colours really work. I love this palette!”

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    “You’ve managed to give each little face a personality with just some fun hair and a black marker!” would be better than “That’s so cute!”
  2. Ask a question. “How did you know where to put her so that it would turn out so beautifully?” or “Tell me about how you put this together!” This is going to fuel a conversation, and you’ll end up learning a ton about the artist’s process. Artist’s love talking about their processes, because they are ever-evolving and exciting. It’s why we make art.

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    “Where did you get the idea to make this wolf so grumpy AND sassy?” you might ask instead of “He’s cute!”
  3. Make a connection. Identify what it is in the piece of art that draws you in, in relation to another piece of art, or an artist’s work, or a book you once read as a child, (note: for these connections, make sure the artist knows you don’t think they’re copying or mimicking that person or piece), or connect to an experience that you’ve had. You could phrase it with the “cute” compliment at the start, or at the end. “This reminds me of my favourite storybook from when I was a kid. I loved looking at the illustrations. They were so cute. This piece you’ve made is giving me the same feeling!” or “This is so cute – it’s bringing me back to the rocking chair with my mom, pouring over my favourite Maurice Sendak books!”

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    “This illustration is reminding me of my friend who is a little weird, and a little intimidating, but the gentlest soul,” would be a better way to connect and show consideration than “He’s got a weirdly cute face!”
  4. Identify its uniqueness. So maybe #3 won’t work, because you can’t connect it to anything – it’s original, it’s unique, it’s special. So say that. “This is so sweet, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it before.”

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    “There’s something about this painting that is so unique. I can tell you made it with a lot of passion,” would be a detailed way to compliment it without saying, “It’s really cute!”
  5. Ask for more. “This work is so great … where can I see more?” is a powerful message and compliment in itself.

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    “Do you have any other pieces like this?” would work. In the case of this piece, the best compliments came when a couple of friends said, “I want one too!” and ordered their own piece in this approach.
  6. Say nothing at all. If all you can come up with is “It’s cute,” in the equivalence to replying “I’m good!” when someone asks how you are, then it may be best to say nothing at all. At the very least, seek out another adjective.

 

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Kids, The Truth & Listening

17554461_10101725328516341_1201485348255692864_nI think that one of the biggest problems with adults is the inability to listen.

I mean, really listen.

We live in this fast-paced, texting-social-media-I’m-too-busy world, and even when we are slowing down and trying to tune in, I really think that it’s all too often an act.

Learning to shut up our own brains and listen is one of the hardest things to do. It takes effort, and focus, and it takes a lot of forgetting-your-pride.

I try (but often fail) to listen: listen to the whispers in my heart; listen to the nudges of the Universe; listen to my own responses. But most importantly, listening to my kids (biological and students) is the most important listening I think I can do.

The thing is … kids are honest. And if we slow down enough to listen – really listen – then we can dig into what is said/not said/demonstrated, and we can learn.

Imagine. A kid can teach an adult. (Insert studio-audience-canned-gasp here.)

The other morning, I was getting my two year old ready to go to his once-a-week visit to a sitter. I was buckling him in, and the conversation went:

Kingsley: “I’m goin’ to (sitters) and you’re goin’ to work, Daddy.”
Me: “Where do I work?”
Kingsley: “At school-o.”
Me: “What do I do at school?”
Kingsley: “You draw all day.”

I draw all day.

My heart stopped. I was listening.

My son, who has visited me at school but has never seen me draw there, because I don’t teach art and don’t really draw at school very often … my son had worked out what he sees, how I speak, and the pieces of his and my world, and boiled those down into my biggest wish: to draw all day.

I’m not saying the kid’s a psychic, or a mind reader. I am saying, sometimes it is clearer to a kid than it is to an adult. He’s right – I do want to draw all day. If I could afford to draw all day, I would be drawing all day.

But I’m not.

It’s time to keep listening.

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Getting On Task With A Chalkboard

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This post is part “How-To” and part “Creative Life Lessons.”
I had been talking about putting this chalkboard up since my studio-office was in the last studio-office (which is now our son’s room). I have been talking about ACTUALLY doing it since the summer, and even went so far as to buy the paint I’d need in September.

But you know – life happens. I’ve been writing and making art and raising kids and being a teacher, and somehow the chalkboard just never got up onto the wall.

Until it did. And now – I can’t believe I ever waited, or didn’t have it!

Putting it together was very simple and straightforward. These are the steps I followed:

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  1. Randomly block off a chunk of wall with masking tape, and judge it by eye, or as my
    wife calls it, “Patrick-style measuring.” Note: for the purpose of having the wood ready before hand, you may wish to actually measure it all first. I was not that well organized, and sort of lucked out that it even worked.
  2. Paint 2-3 coats of chalk paint. The beauty behind chalk paint is that it dries very quickly, so I was able to do all of the coats I needed in one night, and each coat only took about 5 minutes to put up onto the wall. The other beautiful thing is that since it will soon be marked up with chalk, the odd line of overlapping paint really does not matter.16996038_10101693858602301_1812734655181382082_n
  3. Let it dry overnight.
  4. Find some scrap wood. Okay, you may want to be more prepared than I was. I happened to have just enough pieces of 1x4x8 hanging around in the garage, leftover from another project. This stuff is rough, and I like that about it. It’s not meant to beautifully finish anything, but with the right stain, and in the right room, it’s perfect. It also costs a few dollars a piece at almost any lumber supplier or hardware store.
  5. 16939205_10101693858517471_4045315626190068656_nMeasure the wood to size and cut. I had measured the size that I’d painted, and then cut according to that. I opted not to worry about angling the corners. I prefer the blocked look.
  6. Stain the wood. I used Special Walnut from Minwax. It is my all time favourite stain – we use it for almost every project. It’s light, but brings out the rich darks in the wood, and is rustic without being overbearing. It’s like a just-right plaid shirt on a fall day.
  7. I used a nail gun to attach it to the wall – it’s the easiest way to do it, and you don’t need to worry about finding studs! But if you don’t have a nail gun accessible, you could glue (use construction adhesive), or screw, or nail it to the wall.
  8. This is maybe the most important step: cover your new board in chalk! I mean rub the chalk all over it – leave no space untouched. When you’ve done this, wash it off with a damp cloth. This allows the new chalk paint to take the chalk and not leave any “burns” – a burn with chalk is when your first drawing, doodle, mark, words, whatever – the first things you put on the board are permanently there, even after you wash it off. It’s a terrible ghost that will haunt you forever, so be sure to cover and wash.
  9. Use it.

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I’m using my chalkboard to help me with two specific areas of my work right now: my weekly accountability list, and my plotting for the second half of a novel I am working on. In the future, it may also be home to lists of clients and projects commissioned, orders made on prints, important dates, general ideas, picture book developments, and whatever else I need it for.

I love this board because of its flexibility, and because it brings importance to my ongoing work. It is a way of exploring ideas without having to save a file on a computer or track a piece of paper, and because it washes off so easily, there is a low commitment level. If I hate it, I can change it without any sweat.

I’m finding that seeing this when I walk into the space is inspiration in itself. There is a certain beauty in creative scratches on a chalkboard; in the lists and wonders and projects-in-motion. It keeps me on-task and motivated, inspired and excited. It feels importance because of its size, too.16999163_10101693858357791_7465253261281917625_n

This is really the next phase of my belief in having work ready to jump into at any time. I tend to keep lists on my phone and in a notebook on my desk, as well as in ongoing message and email format between myself and my critique partner, but this is in my face. I can’t lose it; it is the first thing I look at when I walk into the room.

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Dear Santa: An Author-Illustrator’s Christmas List

Dear Santa Claus,15644243_10101620029132151_2074435402_n

How’s it going? I hope you’ve had a restful summer and that the elves let you get some sleep. I will be leaving you some treats by the stockings, assuming the dogs don’t get to them. I hope your travels are safe and that you don’t run into any issues, like kids who are awake or overprotective cats, or fire marshals claiming that sliding down a chimney is against code.

This year for Christmas, I would love some tools to help me with my writing. More specifically, I would like:

  1. A lot more time. I know I talk about stealing time and finding time and getting up early, but what I wouldn’t give for a few hours during the normal daytime to just get things written down.
  2. A vision of the novel from the tail-end – could I just skip that whole revision stage?

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    This is my ugly Christmas sweater and my weird smile, at my full time job, where I steal ideas from weird things kids say and do. I call it research.
  3. An agent who gets me and all of my vision, who wishes to represent an author who writes picture books and middle grade novels, and who makes art for his own work and for others.
  4. A steady paycheck while writing and making art, without having to head off to a full time job every single day.
  5. More quiet.
  6. That old detached garage refinished into the finest, shabbiest-chicest studio and writing space ever. At least heated and mouse-free.
  7. A tribe. A real-life, in the flesh, meet up with me and keep up with me, kind of tribe.
  8. A quicker computer. I am so impatient.
  9. More time to sit and watch and play with my family. This is where the inspiration lives. And the magic and the joy.

I suppose you could bring me all of that, but what would I do with it? Sure, a quicker computer would be great, but when would I be reminded to slow down?

A steady paycheck – I have that, though I go off to work, but in that space lies so many ideas and stories that work their way into my writing and art. I’d better keep that job.

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Where else do you get paid to decorate a door, Home Alone style?

More time? I’ll probably just get roped into bringing MORE ideas to life, and then I will be asking for even MORE time. Greed leads to greed, after all.

Vision from the tail-end? I think I’d miss the magic and the journey. I care more about the process, anyway. It is more fun to be in a project, rather than trying to get it started.

More quiet? I’ve got enough of it. Maybe I need more noise.

An agent who gets all of my vision? I’m working on it. If you brought the agent, I’d be worried that they were only doing you a favour, instead of working with me for me and my vision.

The renovated studio would be awfully nice, but I already have a great space. I can wait for that one.

A tribe would be great, but right now I have all the tribe I need in my online critique friends and creative groups. I’m sure I’ll get there.

 

More time to sit and watch and play with my family – okay, you can bring me that.

Thanks, Santa – bring me that time with the family and I’ll have all I need.

Love,
Patrick

PS: Tell Rudolph I said hi, and I am greatly concerned that his reindeer friends are using him for his nose.

Staying In The Art: Christmas Edition

I’m always thinking about, and talking about, “staying the art.” This is my tried and true method for keeping the gremlins at bay and my soul full.

 

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Available as a print!

There are ebbs and flows with art, as with anything, and so it is with the holiday season. It is so, so, so easy to say “Fugheddaboutit!” – drop the pencils and pens and markers and paintbrushes and notebooks and ideas, and just take in the holidays for all of their wonder.

 

 

But then … that’s too difficult.

It’s too difficult to let those things go without losing momentum, calling forth the wolves of fear and the creativity-killing gremlins. Lord knows, I am busy and it would be very easy to sleep in until 6am in order to catch up on lost sleep, to focus my time solely on family gatherings and food and fun, to channel all of my energy into these last two weeks at work before a two week vacation, and to say “Hey, I get 2 weeks off, so I will just MEGA MAKE then!”

But if I just stop because of those reasons?

  • I’ll be super sad
  • I’ll be very easily irritated (just ask my wife)
  • I’ll have a tired soul
  • The ideas bursting in my head that can’t come forth in the tangible world will make me feel excited, then sad, then mad, then guilty, then lost and uninspired
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I’m losing it.

So it isn’t worth it to drop everything, but I also know that I can’t continue to work at the same pace as I do the rest of the year, without losing my mindAnd I am getting close … this morning on the way to school, I looked at the passenger seat and noticed my drill sitting there. Why did I bring a drill to school?! Losing. It.

It’s now about a shift in perspective.

I am doing the following in order to feel successful, to feel growth, to honour my need and desire to create, and to stay in the art while stepping back a bit:

  • I’ve focused my “to do” list on things that will bring me creative freedom: exploration, the things that have been tugging at my heart but I haven’t been fitting in (for me, right now, that is a few traditionally painted pieces over the prints I’ve been making for my shop, commissions and some writing/illustrating passion projects)

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  • Continue to carve out some time. It just may be less. Be okay with that. Last week, I worked from 5am-6am on my picture book dummy, and then at night, I worked on a commission. I was filling every little space with making art, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. This week and next, I’m finding that time, acknowledging it, and then only choosing to fill it with art for some of the time. I need to remember to breathe.
  • Get lost. Light a candle and play some great music. I love discovering new music with Youtube’s autoplay – I start with something that I like and a few songs in I am usually discovering something new. With the candle on the table, I’m breathing and experiencing the moment. It is a bit of a ritual, and I love getting lost in those moments.
  • I’ve given myself permission to explore and fail. I always have this in the back of my mind, but I am REALLY focused on it right now. Frankly, I think I am trying to fail and rule out what isn’t working for me. While I’m painting, I keep saying to myself, “Self, if this sucks, just don’t show anyone. If this is a failure, you can paint over it.” I’m trying to remind my deepest self that it is NOT wasting time to make failed art – just making it is a success.
  •  I’m journalling. I always WANT to journal and talk about it, but I have yet to make this practice stick. I usually don’t know what to say or write about, and feel awkward telling things to myself, so instead I have recently been making a page per week that I add to over time. I ask myself a question and I look for answers in my every day experiences. Which brings me to the next point, because this has been the focus of my journalling …
  • These last couple of weeks – which, by the way, lead up to me realizing that it was
    time to step back and just make – I’ve been intentionally seeking out beauty. The little things. THAT is inspiring – when you notice the nuance of the light or the way the snow lilts in the air; the inflection of a two year old’s voice or the whole-body-smile of a ten week old human being. Finding this beauty will shift perspectives, big time.

  • I don’t have a massive list of projects or goals. My list is more about being in the art, making stuff, and being present. Listening. It’s about taking some time to think about it, without a big product at the end. In essence, this is what all making is about, but of course, at some point we want to have something to show for our process. The next two weeks, though, aren’t about product, but are most certainly about process.

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  • Find some little fun projects that relate to the holidays. My wife and I have, for the last ten years, been making each other an ornament for Christmas. We go to the art store and we each have 5 minutes and $10, and we secretly race around the store looking for what we need and stealthily purchase the materials, then make-make-make in our alone time and give the gift on Christmas Eve. This fun activity keeps me thinking creatively, but isn’t about something I will post or share or sell.
  • Make something with someone else – like a kid. I painted last night with my 2 year old, and he mostly directed me. We painted on a hardboard canvas with watercolor over crayon scribbled, and then he suggested that we add salt. The results were really quite pretty, and since I was making with him, there was no pressure – it was just about being together. But, my soul was filled.

    In order to stay creative and in the art over the busy holidays, we need to focus on the art – not on skills, not on techniques, not even on the finished thing that we made, but simply being in the moment, being in the art, and being a creator.

    And most importantly – remember to listen.

Finding Your Style

Call it style or call it your look or the feel or whatever you want – we are talking about Voice. Writing or art, it doesn’t matter.


Your voice is the bit of you that is scientifically undetectable, until you have found it. It’s the little curls of lines and the way you turn a phrase. It grows and shifts and evolves over time. It’s the innate YOUness that radiates through your work.

To find out what your voice is:

1. Take a selection of the pieces (words or art) you just love from the last few years and look at them together.

2. Ask: Which are the ones I’m proud of? Which excite me?

3. Look for: commonalities between 3-4 pieces (or more – you’re looking for a pattern, be it color or line work or how that line curves, or a general vibe that you can’t name but you can see; you’re looking for how you weave a sentence together and how that works with its neighbours to become a paragraph and a page or a chapter; you’re looking for how you whittle words stylistically and when it works and when it doesn’t).

4. Consider: what don’t I like and how do I address that? Remember to give it some breathing room: do not analyze the thing you made or wrote last night.

5. Forget it all and just keep working. Your youness can’t be nailed down and it shouldn’t be caged. You need to keep working and it will show itself more and more. The issue is when you focus on style or voice over the practice of writing. Just make and let the voice rise up.

6. When you have stopped trying to “find your style”, your style will somehow find you. 

7. Enjoy the process. 

8. Repeat every few months or years. 

9. Remember to show up.