Process Post: We All Belong

It started with the idea that I needed to add some beauty to the school I work in.

I scratched down this idea:


and then I let it sit for a month. After lots of character sketching for other illustration projects, it all merged into a fully formed idea and I set to work.

As with most of my art, I painted the canvas out in black. I do this for several reasons, but mostly because the solid underpainting allows the colours to pop and contrast more in line with how they will look when finished, than if I painted them on a white canvas. I love using dry-brush effects, and so the black peeking through really helps to make the most of the rough brush strokes that I love.



Once I had finished all of the heads, I added some hair. For this piece, I knew I had to go with vibrant, wild hair. Partly, because it was going into an elementary school. Partly, because I needed to make these characters JUST far enough from looking like the kids in the school, so that the kids in the school could look up and see themselves represented.


With the hair almost complete, I went in and painted the white background using a very rough brush. This took a few coats in some spots. I wanted a textured look, not a solid look. This is where the black really gave me the most help.



Next, the faces:


And finally, the words. At first, I went with the lime green. After some consideration and feedback from my critique partner, we agreed that a higher contrast would make for a bigger impact. I roughly brushed in some black, leaving the lime green in place to peek through.


The result? A piece of art that features a pile of people, all of whom are different and wonderful and vibrant. As soon as I showed my class, they hopped up and started looking for the one that might look like them. They knew, instinctively – they all belonged. We all belong.


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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How To Get Organized (For Creatives)

I’m a highly organized and structured person. I’m also (even more) highly creative, abstract in thinking, and inspired every few minutes. I have millions – no, billions – of ideas, and I see things in pictures when I imagine them. My two year old walks around declaring, “I HAVE AN IDEA!” – I am much like him. I do the same thing. My wife even promised to listen to all of my ideas in her wedding vows.

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My latest acrylic piece, Educating The Heart.

These two sides of my brain (or maybe it’s my personality?) don’t always get along, but when they work together, future versions of myself are thankful.

As Creatives, having organization systems in place are really the only way to stay on track. Realistically, I can only complete so many projects in any given amount of time. I’m a full time teacher, a fuller time parent and husband, and I no longer have the ability to forget about sleeping. When ideas and inspiration hit, I need some way of tracking all of this so that I can actually follow through on the better ideas.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve got it figured out. I don’t. But Past Patrick has definitely found some ways of helping out Present and Future Patricks.

Here are my top ten tips for getting, and staying organized, creatively:

  1. Use email. Don’t delete emails to yourself! I often begin looking in my email for something that I am vaguely aware of making. I often find an image or word file that I sent to myself, and when I fall out of control on keeping up with my submission tracking for books, I check my emails (because I never delete any) for dates and notes.
  2. Start using a cloud-based storage system for creative work. I love Google Drive. It’s easy, I can drag and drop and I can access it anywhere. This means, if I find 10 minutes that I steal on my lunch at work, I can open it up and work. It means I can organize everything into files that work for me and not only do that when I’m at my personal computer.

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    “I Can & I Will” – available in my shop now!
  3. Organize as you go. It’s a pain sometimes, yes, but future you will be grateful. You might say, “Okay, this manuscript is for a picture book … it will be the first thing I put in a Picture Book Manuscripts In Progress folder.” Then, begin placing all of those types of manuscripts in that file. Put a sticky note on your computer/desk/wall/wherever you work most, so that you can recall where on earth did I save that stuff? The more you use it, the more likely it is to become a habit.I’m not an expert – my files are generally pretty wild. But I’ve been slowly working at this.

    I decided to start with my 2016 Writing Files. I organized my Google Drive by making a folder called “Writing” (I know, I know, we all have 18 of those). Then, inside I had been just popping in every new version of every manuscript, it was loaded with picture book dummies and submission tracking pages and idea lists. I organized it by creating subfolders: Works in Progress, and within that, “Middle Grade,” “Young Adult,” and “Picture Books”; I also created subfolders called “Finished Manuscripts” and within that subfolder, another folder for each completed manuscript, with everything required for submitting.

    The main idea was to clean up the main folder so that when I click into, I’m not overwhelmed and/or more importantly distracted by all of the files I’m working on!

  4. Make a gosh darned list. PRINT IT OUT. And keep an electronic copy updated. I don’t do this every day. In fact, it was August when I printed out my “master list” of current picture book ideas that are writeable/publishable (by my standards). I’ve been scribbling notes and ideas on and around it since then. I recently opened the electronic file and updated it. I’ve reprinted and now I will work from there. Because I saved it in a logical spot – on my Google Drive, in the Writing folder, in the subfolder “Works in Progress”, I will be able to find it more easily. If I can’t find it later, I can use the search option – because Google Drive syncs with my desktop app, and it is easy to search just about anywhere.(Note: Google is not paying me to amp up their Drive app. I just love it. Google has way better reach than I do!)
  5. Keep one “to do” notebook near your workspace. I tend to jot ideas and notes anywhere and everywhere. I try to jot those down in my To Do notebook, so that when I’m stuck or uninspired, I can just flip through the book.
  6. how-to-get-organized-for-creatives-patrick-guindon-art-2Be intentional. Name your files something you’ll remember; something that is explicit and maybe even long, using descriptive words that you know you will probably think of to describe the project. “MGWIP” is not a great file name for your untitled middle grade work in progress. “Middle Grade WIP – MG WIP – Boy Gets Lost In Woods” might be better (uh, if it’s about that).Also be intentional with your time. See tip #8.
  7. Sync everything to the same email account. If you’re going to use gmail, then when emailing yourself, email to that account. Sync your notes in your phone to that email. Sync your calendars so that you can schedule for yourself, and the reminder will show up everywhere. It simply takes a lot of work out of your searches.
  8. Take the time. It means that sometimes, you have to set aside 30 minutes to go through files. It also means that you need to make a decision about what you’re going to do and when. Sometimes, we can leave it to inspiration and that “pull” to a certain project – but when you’ve got lots of projects on the go, you need to have a plan. Maybe you wake up early to get more time in, or maybe you schedule out a few nights a week. You have to do what works for you, but you also have to do the work.
  9. Have a partner. This is someone who will hold you accountable. For me, it’s my art critique partner. In November, we were both feeling overwhelmed with all the things we WANTED to do, but were never getting to. We agreed to email rather than message a weekly to-do list. We send this on Sundays, usually, and then at the end of the week, we also send a little reflection. This is where we talk about how we did and how we’re feeling about it. Did we take on too much? Too little? We also make a conscious effort to keep the stories out of it. No excuses – we either did the work, or we didn’t.We decided to email because we regularly are in contact through messaging. It would be impossible to find the list at the end of the week, and there is something about the not-immediate pace of email that pushes us to pause, think, and reflect more carefully.
  10. Change. When your system isn’t working – when you can’t find something, or anything; when you are constantly overwhelmed; when you have nothing to show for a month of work – then it is time to change your system.

 

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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.

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.

The Ultimate Secret To Creativity

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I’ve often thought about what the ultimate strategy for creating might be – you know, like it is some magic bit of alchemy. I thought that knowing this secret would mean I could just make great stuff without even trying.

I thought, if I tell everyone I’m an artist and a writer, then when I finally sit down to make said art and words, they will just flow.

But it’s not a faucet. It takes work.

I’ll let you in on THE biggest, best-kept, hiding-in-plain-sight secret to it all.

Show up.

That’s it.

drawplaywriteJust show up. When you show up, you’re not really just showing up. If you do it regularly enough, it becomes a practice, and that takes discipline, and that is what happily creating is all about.

You show up. You arrive with an intention: to create. Whether it is for five minutes, half an hour, an hour, or if you have the luxury of a half day (or, gasp, a day?!): you arrive intentionally and you create.

And then you do it again.

And again.

Until you can proudly, confidently say: I am creative. I make things. I make things up. I tell stories, I sing songs, I make the world beautiful and thoughtful.

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Want more strategies to increase and improve your creative time? Check out these other posts:

Create To Create

How (& Why) I Became a Morning Person

Making Art: On Stolen Time

Exploring & Unlearning – Making Art Like a Toddler

Don’t forget to check out my new Etsy shop, too! There are 10 different prints, with more coming soon!

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Be Kind.

img_2419Being kind is the first rule in our home, and in my classroom. It is my preferred Golden Rule.

Just be kind!

So, I give you three options for a simple, whimsical and yet sophisticated design.

Hang it in a white or black frame and it will pop! Office, entrance, kids rooms, the kitchen, anywhere people gather or where you to be alone – this will remind you: be kind. To each other, to yourself, and to the places and things around you.

 

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Available in blue, turquoise and pink @ $25 a print (for 10×8).

The shop opens on December 1st, 2016 – hello! That’s THURSDAY! Visit the shop or link through my main website!

All purchases made in December will be able to receive 10% off with a coupon code that will be released on Wednesday, November 30th, 2016. Check back for it here, on Facebook or Instagram!!

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