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Author Archives: Harmony

Knee-Deep in Paint and Sinking Fast: On hauling myself out of the swamp of self-criticism and finding my lightness again

Knee-Deep in Paint and Sinking Fast: On hauling myself out of the swamp of self-criticism and finding my lightness again

When I sit down with a pencil and a picture of a kitty and/or corgi in my mind, all is well. Pencil goes to page, like so. And then pencil makes a picture. Easy, right?

 

kitty cartoon for painting

kitty sketch for a painting-in-progress

 

Well, it’s not exactly easy (especially for my dear, battered erasers), but it certainly has a note of simplicity to it.

Also: Fun! Lightness! Joy!

Now let’s take paint, squeeze it from its tube, and fling it toward the drawing just to see what happens.

Oh! Whoops. I went and got paint everywhere. SO cool.

 

Spritz spritz kersploosh

spritz spritz kersploosh!

 

And that is just the way paint should be. Playful and light. Filled with discovery. Simple. As fun as a pencil, only goopier. And colorfullier, too.

But something has changed.

A few months ago, when I started writing about my animal art on my blog, I felt explosions of joy, the fireworks of enthusiasm igniting inside me. I was fairly bursting to show you my cartoon kitties, corgis, and assorted animal goofiness.

Now, a few months have passed, and this week I have noticed myself stiffening as I approach a canvas.

I find myself criticizing my color choices, criticizing my cartoon animals, and steeping in seriousness over something that ought to be play.

 

sitting kitty 2

(I’ve made myself feel very small.)

 

I’m holding back on sharing the things I’ve created — delightful things (if I do say so myself), gorgeous mousie stories and doggie photos and kitty paintings that, a few months ago, would have filled me with bubbles of happiness.

Now they’re just languishing alone on my art table or my hard drive. The physical ones are occasionally getting sat upon by Shnoodle.

This experience — my self-criticism, my withholding of my treasures, as well as the Shnoodle-sitting — is interesting to notice.

In fact, I’m not sure I would have noticed, under normal conditions.

Lately, though, conditions have not been normal.

My body has needed some very focused attention in the past few weeks — rest, good food, dear friends, and laughter — to help me over a little rough patch.

After my long illness, I pay close attention to rough patches, tending to them before they grow out of control.

In this, I’ve returned to some mindbody skills I learned from Abigail Steidley of Anamsong, and am paying deep attention to my feelings.

“What am I feeling?” I ask myself again and again throughout the day. The answers, all arising from within, have sometimes surprised me.

  • Sadness and grief
    (when it seems like there is nothing to grieve)
  • Bubbling excitement and joy
    (when I am lying in bed and trying to sleep)
  • Pettiness and Pissed-off-ness (I insist that that is a word)
    (when I know there is no one to blame)

So, picture it:

Harmony Harrison, wild-haired, armored in a thick wool sweater, stalks toward her art table.

There, upon the table, lies a canvas. Not just any canvas, but a pimply college freshman canvas sweating out its midterms.

Meaning, it is a canvas upon which Harmony has painted, and with which she has not been satisfied.

Meaning, alternately, that Harmony thinks it is ugly enough to stop a heart at fifty paces, but she has staked her claim upon it, and dang it, she will finish it.

She grasps for foam brushes and clutches tubes of paint, girding herself for the battle.

Whoa-oa. Cut. Stop the presses. Rewind a little. Replay.
(In first person this time.)

I approach my art table. There, before me, lies a canvas.

 

chicken coop kitty wip2

 

I am having a response to the canvas. It is an uncomfortable response. It needs attention.

I feel a clutching sensation at my upper gut, so I breathe to it. Good. The clutching loosens.

I feel my eyes tighten. This is fine. Give it some breath. Let the tightness move. Good.

Now: How am I feeling?

Honestly, I’m feeling scared. I know I’ve shared my fears with readers in blog posts in the past, but this feels different.

Why, sweetie?

Because I know this painting, and all of its awkwardness, is gonna be shared now. Because I know it’s not just me who sees this canvas, but the whole wide world.

(The approximately 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000005% of the world who read this blog, that is.)

So what do you need?

Permission to play. Permission to do a really, really bad job. Permission to be a dork and dorkify my whole dang world.

Okay. Permission granted.

 

Cometh the Smoosh and the Spray

After this, I moved forward, feeling a little looser, a little lighter.

I knew that the canvas felt jangled, so I did what felt right: I smooshed cobalt teal paint over it with a cosmetic sponge, nearly, though not quite, obliterating the kitty.

The play was on.

One stencil, a few spray bottles, several hundred squirts, and much rubbing of rubbing alcohol later, I have something new:

 

 

I have a bit of cohesion.

In finding cohesion on the canvas, though, some of the joy of the image has been lost. The kitty’s face was wiped away with a wet cloth, but will return later. The difference in brightness between the two works-in-progress? Alas, it just reveals my non-skills in photographing art. (The second one is scanned.)

Is it done? No, not at all. There is so much more to be done — chiefly, paying attention to my inner self and following through until I feel satisfied.

Am I satisfied with this painting yet? (Ha ha ha! *snort*)

No, I’m not. But I am satisfied that it is a work-in-progress. And that is okay. I can let it breathe. I can love its tiny work-in-progress heart.

I can be satisfied that I am a work-in-progress, too.

…Or maybe I can’t.

The moment I typed that sentence about being a work-in-progress, I got caught in a jagged coughing fit that made me double over and caused tears to prickle in my eyes.

Coincidence? Hardly.

So maybe I’m not so satisfied. Maybe I do want to be perfect. Yeah, yeah. So I’m human.

Though I often wish I were a kitty. Because then I really would be perfect. Meow.

 

Miss Addie is Perfect you know

Miss Addie really is perfect, you know.

 

The Moral of this Story? It Never, Ever Ends.

I’ve been creating stuff — mostly wordy stuff, like stories and poems — for well over two decades.

So I know, from experience, that this cycle of creativity, criticism, self-coaching, and further creativity does not end. It only matures and deepens, if we help it along.

I’m grateful to have developed resilience with my writing for so many years. I can bring that resilience now to my new journey of drawing and painting animals.

That’s what I’m doing this week, and what I invite you to do along with me.

 

WWSS? (What Would Shnoodle Say?)

Shnoodle, one of my cats and my closest co-worker in my studio, always has a little something to say.

As I wrote this post, she reminded me, through animal wisdom:

 

Shnoodle circle

 

You know what you’re doing.

 

 

That goes for all of us creatives. We really do know what we’re doing. We do.

Gird though we might with attitude, grit though we may our teeth, this is actually a journey of softness and self-care.

Listen to the Shnoo. She knows.

 

 

“I Love –> (You)”: A brand-new kitty painting-in-progress (or maybe it’s many paintings-in-progress)

“I Love –> (You)”: A brand-new kitty painting-in-progress (or maybe it’s many paintings-in-progress)

Last week, I got a bug in my ear to play with something new.

Rather than start by creating a wild acrylic background for my cartoon paintings, like I did here, why not begin with simple, clean ink lines? Why not let those lines shine through?

 

i love you painting - ink on watercolor paper

the painting-in-progress as of today (no, it’s not quite yet a painting)

 

This thought was A) revolutionary (remember: I’m new to drawing and painting, so every other dang thing is revolutionary), and B) somewhat terrifying.

When I paint things like the Bossy Little Corgi, the paint changes everything.

I start with a drawing, sure, but end up with a painting that looks remarkably different. (And often it’s much, much cuter than the original drawing. Who’da thunk?)

But I decided to follow that little whisper in my ear, so I cracked out my art supplies and dug in.

 

A Wee Note on Art Supplies

After painting my last Bossy Little Corgi on paper taped to a chunk of scrap lumber (note: not recommended), I thought that this new painting might be painted on something a tiny bit more practical.

I followed the advice of my friend and reader, Debbie Goode (who is also a rip-snorting animal artist), and bought some acrylic paper.

For those uninitiated into the mysteries of acrylic paper, know this: it’s thick paper with a texturized surface that simulates the weave of canvas.

Precisely because it is paper and is not canvas, it is not intimidating. Hallelujah!

Mechanical pencil in hand, I put lead to faux canvas and doodled me a kitty.

 

i love you painting - initial sketch
Actually, I doodled me some composition lines first. Look closely at the faint lines that run drunkenly parallel to the edges of the page.

You see, I learned something recently.

I learned that there is such a thing as composition, and it can be achieved, in a simple way, by dividing your paper into nine same-sized rectangles, and then placing the focal point of your painting where four corners of those rectangles meet.

For this painting, I want all eyes to be glued to my kitty’s face.

So, I drew *ahem* rectangles (if you will allow that rectangles, in some dimensions, actually could be made of curves and wobbles) and placed my kitty face just so.

 

i love you painting - full kitty
Now, it was time to refine the kitty.

Cats, by their nature, are born refined. They can gallop through the house, clutching a live bat in their jaws, their cat eyes wild and spinning, but they will still look dignified.

(Note: This recently happened. My husband rescued the bat and brought it outside unharmed. It flew off into the night. Shnoodle was high on adrenaline for the next several hours. But her high was very, very refined.)

Cartoon kitties, unlike their living counterparts, are born without refinement and must attend finishing school.

Which is where my greatest superpower comes in:

 

The Power to Erase!

Let me introduce you to one of my dearest friends:

 

I love you painting - eraser

Reader, meet Tombow, my darling eraser

 

I am truly in love with erasers, a love made illicit by the Art Harpies of the world, who condemn all eraser-users to the fiery pits.

But I am not merely an eraser-user; I am an eraser-lover. In fact, I am in love with three erasers at the moment:

Though I wouldn’t be caught on a desert island without my Faber-Castell, the Tombow is my pride and joy.

Honestly, it’s not the best eraser in town when it comes to plain old erasing.

But the Tombow is a precision eraser. Its surface area is small, which means that I can erase fine lines, I can slim down lines that have grown too stout, and I can edge my way into tiny cracks in a drawing, erasing just so.

Which is what I did to the sweet kitty’s face:

 

i love you painting - kitty face 1

kitty face, version 1

 

i love you painting - kitty face 2

kitty face, version 2

 

One remarkable thing about this acrylic paper is that pencil marks erase off of it beautifully. As long as the page has not been gouged by the lead, the lines lift clean away. Again: Hallelujah!

 

A Shnoodly Intermission

Around about this time, Shnoodle leapt onto my art table, scattering paint bottles in her wake.

 

i love you painting - Shnoodle 2

Shnoodle on my art table

 

i love you painting - Shnoodle 1

Shnoodle on my actual art

 

I would like you to believe that I handled this visitation with calm and aplomb, but that is not true. As Shnoodle traipsed across my artwork, I squeaked in alarm, flapped my arms, and sputtered ineffectively.

Finally I gave in and snapped a few pictures.

At least her paws were not muddy. Thank goodness. Because I really couldn’t have stopped her.

 

The Drawing Progresses

I knew from the beginning that this painting-to-be would have some words on it. I just didn’t know what those words would be.

After Shnoodle zoomed through my art zone, I used animal communication to ask her what this kitty should say.

Shnoodle replied:

Shnoodle circle

 

I love.

 

“What do you love?” I asked.

Shnoodle circle

 

 I love me. (pause) And you.

 

So, the words “I Love –> (You)” came to be.

 

i love you painting - kitty with lettering

 

But wait — why does it say “Oh Hi”? Because of my…

 

Sideways Jaunt through Oh Hi Land

I knew where I was going. But a detour was in order.

So I started by lettering the first thing that came to my mind: “Oh Hi!”

When I was a kid, we had many cats. Three, in particular, were vicious and goofy, a gang of comic kitty thugs.

We called them the “Oh Hi’s” for no apparent reason. Each time we saw them, we’d chant “Oh Hi!” in falsetto voice.

After doodling a trip down memory lane (“Oh Hi, Memory Lane!”) I busted out my trusted eraser.

It’s true what they say: All that remains in the end is love.

 

i love you painting - pencil on watercolor paper

 

In Which I Break Up with an Art Supply. Temporarily.

At this point, I became vaguely dissatisfied with the acrylic paper. (Sorry, Debbie!) Sure, the paper had handled pencil well, but could it handle ink? My vision for this painting involved inking over my pencil lines, a prospect which filled me with fear. (Ink? Ink? I can’t erase ink!)

So I tried playing with ink pens on other pieces of acrylic paper, just to experiment without risk.

And I’m glad I did.

The pen nibs — good ones: Faber-Castell Pitt pens — skipped and bumped over the faux canvas surface. The lines joggled. I couldn’t get a smooth curve worth a darn.

Here are some of my attempts. You will notice that much tracing has occurred…

 

i love you painting - scratch paper

my many attempts to ink over the faux canvas texture

 

… and more tracing would soon occur, when I decided that what this painting really needed — what this painting had really needed all along, from the moment I conceived its idea as an inked-and-painted cartoon — was a smooth substrate, nearly texture-free.

Goodbye, acrylic paper. Hello, hotpress watercolor!

 

i love you painting - tracing paper

ink on tracing paper

 

I traced the image onto tracing paper using black pen so that I would have a dark line to trace over (again).

I then re-traced the image (in pencil) onto hotpress watercolor paper.

And then it was time for ink.

After a few moments of silence, I coached myself. “Remember to breathe,” I said, uncapping my pen. I set nib to page, drew a deep breath, and then drew a kitty.

Despite all my worry, all turned out well.

 

i love you painting - ink on watercolor paper

ink (over pencil) on hotpress watercolor paper

 

 

Where will this painting go next?

The painting is definitely going color-ward. I plan to seal the paper and then add transparent paint. I want the ink lines to shine through at the end.

Despite my temporary break-up with acrylic paper, I am truly jazzed about its potential. So I plan to paint the pencil-on-acrylic paper version as well — and I’m really curious to see the difference.

And — here’s something exciting! — I also plan to laser-print this cartoon directly onto hot-press watercolor paper so that I have an emergency backup image, ready in case my painting self-destructs!

Look for many paintings of this kitty in the future.

Now for the question that’s burning on your mind:

 

Why so dang many convoluted steps?

Why have I gone through so many complicated steps when it could have been way, way easier?

I’ve asked myself the same thing. Luckily, I’ve come up with an answer.

This painting-in-progress has gone through so many convoluted steps because A) I don’t know what I’m doing yet, and B) this project my teacher. It has presented me with one furry Zen puzzle after the other, urging me to learn.

And I have learned a few things. One thing I learned — or perhaps I knew all along — is that my artistic skills will grow in the service of my vision, so I want to keep my vision focused on that which I love.

Which just happens to be cartoon kitties. And corgis. And great big golden retrievers.

I also learned that ink doesn’t work well over acrylic paper. However, there’s a little bug in my ear that says that I could learn how to simulate ink with a slender brush and thinned-down acrylics… Perhaps I’ll post on that soon.

As far as inking goes, I was pretty terrified to use an indelible pen. (No erasers!) But I learned to moderate the risk by duplicating my image. I learned to gain skill through experimentation, and to breathe as the pen touches the page.

I also learned how to manage a cat leaping onto my art table: freak out, and then grab a camera.

Shnoodle, as wise as she is, had little to say on the inking process. Which is as it should be. Let’s keep those busy paws ink-free for now. ;-)

 

i love you painting - Shnoodle paw

the paw of potential artsy doom

 

 

 

Tucker, My Five-Minute Old Cat: Celebrating the oddities of my old orange kitty (who smacks me in the face)

Tucker, My Five-Minute Old Cat: Celebrating the oddities of my old orange kitty (who smacks me in the face)

 

Meet Tucker, the cuddliest monkey ever.

 Tucker and Harmony 1

 

Mr. Tucker has been part of our family for several years. But, like many of our animals, he had an entire life before this one, a life that remains a mystery.

One thing is sure, though: Somewhere in the past, he experienced a head trauma that changed his brain forever. (It also cost him most of his teeth, poor guy.)

Perhaps because of this, Tucker now does odd, odd things. Such as…

 

Tucker and the sky

 

Operatic Singing

Several times a day (but not much at night),  Tucker sings huge, yowling songs.

When I hear him, I rush to his side, breathless. But he just looks at me, blinks, and starts grooming. Or he asks for a snack.

Each time he sings, I check in with him intuitively, just by getting quiet and opening myself to his feelings. (That’s animal communication in a nutshell, by the way.)

Sometimes, I feel into his frustration. Sometimes, I feel his loneliness, like he can’t find his people. Other times, I feel his celebration: he just ate a treat, or had a cuddle, and life is good.

Still more often, he’s simply singing because he is part of the song of life, the way that our cat Shnoodle sings to the storm.

His old vet said all this singing was fine. “He’s an old guy,” she said. “They just sing sometimes. We don’t really know why.”

Between her opinion and my intuitive impressions, I think everything is okay.

 

Tucker up close

 

Clockwork Cuddling (complete with head smack)

Tucker sleeps through the night between me and my husband. But the moment I wake up in the morning, Tucker stirs and crawls toward me.

Still lying down, I lift my arm. Tucker wriggles up to my shoulder. Half-asleep, he snuggles into my side, resting his chin on my shoulder, his head against my cheek.

I wrap my arm around him as he purrs, and we both fall back into a light sleep together.

Every few moments, he looks up – mid-purr, mid-drool – and slams his head against my face in ecstasy. (He’s nearly given me black eyes.)

This cuddle happens every morning. Every morning. Like clockwork.

If for some reason, I don’t want a kitty cuddle (such as cuddle-induced shoulder pain, which has happened more than once), he climbs any available part of my body, force-snuggling until I give in.

 

Tucker winking

 

Barreling Toward Danger (no matter who growls)

When Tucker feels threatened, he rushes toward danger, not to confront it or to fight it, but to get away. Yes, to run away from danger he runs toward it. (I believe he thinks he can run around it, but that doesn’t always work out in his favor.)

Our sweet golden retriever, Daisy, has developed a decidedly unsweet side when it comes to Tucker. Because his behavior is erratic, because he runs toward her when she’s upset, Daisy has determined that Tucker’s very presence is growl-worthy.

 

Daisy close up

 

Daisy growls when Tucker enters a room. She growls when he comes close to her. She growls and lifts her head when he’s a few inches away, and flashes out all sorts of canine “go away” signals.

But does Tucker listen? No, he does not. He just barrels forward.

Sometimes my husband and I have to insert our bodies in front of him to divert his course. This is the only thing that will alter his path. When he changes direction, he blinks, confused for a moment, but then settles into his new reality.

Within minutes, Tucker seems to have forgotten everything that occurred, from growl to diversion. We call him the Five-Minute Old Cat, because he seems to live five minutes at a time, cheerfully forgetting the thousands of five-minute blocks that form his history.

 

Tucker walking

 

 

Yard-Induced Feral Cathood

The oddest thing that Tucker does, though, involves the great outdoors. When he steps out from under our roof, he changes.

He becomes something other than the cuddliest monkey ever. He becomes a feral being, distrusting and wary, stalking through the grass and moss. He hunkers beneath the rhododendrons. He slips, unseen, between the ferns and the firs, and he is no more.

Needless to say, Tucker is only allowed outdoors in very controlled situations.

 

Tucker and Harmony's feet

 

Our backyard is fenced. Tuck’s hindquarters have undergone some trauma of their own (one vet postulated a horse kick) and he’s not able to jump more than a foot or two. A low fence keeps him corralled.

So Tucker is allowed to stalk, slink, and slither his way through the backyard to his heart’s content. This gives him freedom beneath the great open sky. It gives him the chance to sprawl belly-to-earth, the posture I think cats were made for.

It also gives him a chance to sing for his public.

When Tucker sings outdoors, his voice rises to a fever pitch unparalleled during indoor performances. He screams and he shrieks. He screeches and cries. Neighbors rush over in panic, adrenaline sloshing through their veins.

Then Tucker appears from beneath a fuchsia bush, wide-eyed and purring, and we all feel sheepish with relief.

 

Tucker extreme close-up

 

Tucker is a mystery. We don’t know his origin story. We don’t know what hurt him, or how. We don’t know what made him the cuddliest monkey that ever did exist.

It’s strange that we don’t know, or can’t tell.

Here I am, an animal communicator, able to receive images, impressions, and even words from animals, able to hear stories from animals I’ve never met before — but from Tucker I receive mostly silence.

Maybe this is just who he is, how he is made, and how he has become. And maybe I don’t need his stories. Really, I only need him. I am cat-dependent, and he is one of my furriest addictions.

 

Harmony and Tucker 2

 

 

The Great Corgi Leap! In which real paint is put on real paper. Really.

The Great Corgi Leap! In which real paint is put on real paper. Really.

        The place: A darkened art studio. The time: Midnight. The weather: Cloudy with a chance of … horror! (Oh Noes!) You are probably wondering why I have called you here today. It is for one reason, and one reason alone: At least one of us here in this room is… aContinue Reading

On Grieving an Animal: exploring the loss that leads to transformation

On Grieving an Animal: exploring the loss that leads to transformation

    Earlier today, I was on the phone in an animal communication session with a client. It was all about grief, about losing a dearest animal friend, and in its way, it was beautiful. Beauty and grief. I still feel it: the waves of emotion washing through me, the sadness rising like a tideContinue Reading

Fly Corgi Fly! A walk-through of my new corgi painting, featuring many pictures, many digital layers, and a few heretofore unknown fears

Fly Corgi Fly! A walk-through of my new corgi painting, featuring many pictures, many digital layers, and a few heretofore unknown fears

  Meet my newest Bossy Little Corgi painting, a hybrid of acrylic, pencil, and digital art. I gotta admit — I’m pretty much in love, both with the corgi painting and with her process. ♥ Want to see how she came to be? Read on.     In the Beginning… Curiosity. It gets me everyContinue Reading

Singing to the Storm with Shnoodle: a roundabout adventure in intimacy and art

Singing to the Storm with Shnoodle: a roundabout adventure in intimacy and art

    A few days ago, a storm galloped in from the sea. Sand gusted across the beach in lacy currents. Trees leaned to the side then whipped upward again. Our whole house howled. Not literally, though. Throughout it, all the animals were chill. This was just a winter storm, after all. We get dozensContinue Reading

My First Bossy Little Corgi Painting (and a few thoughts on paint, fear, and control freakhood)

My First Bossy Little Corgi Painting (and a few thoughts on paint, fear, and control freakhood)

  Here she is! After much ado, my first Bossy Little Corgi painting!   Bossy Little Corgi 9×12 mixed media (acrylic, paper collage, pencil, marker) on 100 lb journal paper digitally scanned with an Epson Perfection V600 stitched together in Photoshop Elements She is my first painted Bossy Little Corgi. All others have been inContinue Reading

I’m Grateful Just to be Well: On illness, intuition, color hunger and more (and most definitely not about corgis… well, not much anyway)

I’m Grateful Just to be Well: On illness, intuition, color hunger and more (and most definitely not about corgis… well, not much anyway)

    Last week, I was starved for color in my art. In this week’s adventure, I fed that hunger. But first, this word from my body: Ugh. Truth is, I’ve been sick this week. I had a terrible cold concurrent with an episode of anemia. And it’s been scary. There was a good reasonContinue Reading

I Will Eat Every Scrap of Color in This Room: Becoming ravenous for color while exploring the link between animal communication and art

I Will Eat Every Scrap of Color in This Room: Becoming ravenous for color while exploring the link between animal communication and art

  I love pencils. I particularly love that pencils can be erased. If I want to, I can erase and re-create a corgi’s ear a million times.     But lately, after weeks of drawing in mechanical pencil, I’ve found a clandestine love: The love of color. There is a madness within me, a hunger,Continue Reading

 
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