Feed That Curious Cat, 30 Days

When I write my first book, it will most likely be entitled, Curiosity Cured the Cat. Just want to throw that out there, now. Each year, for a few years now, I have chosen a word as a theme for the year, something that shapes my art and life that year. Or, does the word/idea choose me? This particular year is CURIOSITY. As the year moves along and I read more about it and practice it, I am witnessing the healing power of curiosity and play. It turns out that play and curiosity are serious business in staying healthy. As an art teacher of 23 years, I have long been concerned about students losing their curiosity and creativity and do all I can to encourage it. As I turn the lens onto myself, I realize now more than ever that the curiosity-play prescription cannot be prescribed to me by anyone else. The curious questions that are imposed upon me are okay, but not my own. In 2008 I started an artist blog with the question, “What will happen if I drag these sculptures that I exhibited in New York City into the Minnesota winter woods, expose them to the elements, and document what happens?” The big and little, self-created what-ifs have so much power to awaken curiosity and purpose.

My Curiosity Journal idea started on a June family trip in Washington D.C., one of the days we went to the National Gallery of Art. In the NGA gift shop, a rainbow-paged “Bright Ideas” journal by Chronicle Books sparked an instant idea and a burst-y feeling welled up, “What if I draw on these brilliant colored pages with black and then turn the drawings into digital patterns?” I had already been on this patterned path, creating digital patterns from photos of my paintings. I had already started to have these patterns printed on fabric and wallpaper, and some had been in a recent gallery exhibit. This colorful journal was a quick way to infuse color into drawings and patterns, right? I needed new artistic motivation, right?  Right, although the great, and often frustrating, thing about curiosity is that you cannot really have a plan for it. When fully embraced, curiosity must be followed, and the only plan is to keep up with it, wherever it may legally lead. (As a mother and public school teacher, I feel like I must always have a legal disclaimer. Lame, I know.)

Full disclosure: as an exhausted middle school/high school art teacher on summer break, an artist whose exhibit had just come down and without a big art deadline, and a person needing some new sparks of motivation, the timing was right and ripe for this challenge. This was a self-created challenge, setting my own guidelines and playing as I sketched and made patterns. The idea of adding photos of the Minnesota summer surroundings came on the 3rd day. Sitting outside with the journal and iPhone each day became therapy. Artist heal thyself.

Throughout the 30 days (July 5-August 3, 2017), I kept going back to these 3 ways to feed curiosity:

  1. Keep asking, “What if...” Also known as, “What happens if…”
  2. Keep saying, “I wonder… if, why, what, where, how, who, when…”
  3. Keep following through with, “I have always wanted to…” Really, what is stopping me?

Days 1-6:
Day 2: What do I care about?

1. People. 2. Images. 3. Ideas.

I guess I like to break things into threes. Being consistent and not too perfectionist with this journal thing is hard, but what happens if I allow myself to jump into drawing each day without much of a plan, allowing some pretty crappy sketching. You know, as Anne Lamott says, “Shitty first drafts… Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it.” Thanks, Anne. Drawings happened, some crappy ones never shared, then patterns from the drawings, and then three posts on Instagram. Okay, I can do this. For how many days? We’ll see.

Day 3: Seriously, 3 days may be my limit! But I sat there, on the Walmart-outdoor-foldable-lounge chair (because we live too far from a Target and it's comfortable), and it happened. I was drawing on the “evergreen inspirations” page, after I changed it to “evergreen vibrations”. When the drawing wasn’t happening, I was taking photos of the gorgeous Minnesota morning before it heated up and started to get humid. On day 3, I starting to add a few photos of the surrounding beauty into the digital collages of drawings and patterns. I still wasn’t sure how many days I could keep this challenge going.

Day 5: Deep Reflections blue. This dog and cat will not leave me alone! Okay, I will photograph and draw them. For years I have been fascinated with wild animals in my drawing and painting (fox, wolves, and crows), but this dog and cat are right here staring at me (creeps), crawling all over me, and then laying on the ground like reclining studio models. I have been looking for new ideas, and they were laying right here. My adorable muses were hungry for food and attention. I was hungry for muses and maybe just a little attention on Instagram. My followers were slowly growing with new posts, and they loved the animals. I decided to shoot for 30 curious days in a row. The hashtag list grew each day, #curiouspatterns, #mycuriosityjournal, #curiosityCUREDthecat, #ArtByAWoman, etc. on @ti_besonen.

What if I don't really have a plan, and allow myself to do
some pretty crappy drawings that I trace onto the next pages
into something better? What if the shadows on the 
journal pages (from the trees above me, like tie-dye) 
become part of the pattern?

Days 7-12:
This cat seems unimpressed, and judgmental.
What if I ignore those inner critic voices, the cat, and my insecurities and just make art without hesitation? I am an artist. Artists make art, not perfection.

What if my limit is 10 days? 
OR, What if I draw variations of days 1-10 
for the next 10 days?

Days 13-18:
Since I have already made a lot of art in my life, the single idea of creating variations of former subjects and ideas can easily fill the rest of my life's work. Wow, onward. (How many times do we have to relearn that?)

Little One-eye, another muse.
Days 19-24:
What happens when I don't have an exhibit deadline, but allow myself to play with paint and self-created wallpaper patterns at the Grand Marais Art Colony? What if I meet the powerful work of other artists with gratitude instead of feeling threatened? What if I ask to place the powerful paintings of Janice Andrews all around me and sit in the middle? Dan has always wanted to fish on Lake Superior, and did while I was making art! What if I cut up small brushstroke-sized pieces of wallpaper and paint/collage with it? What if I create patterns from actual botanical samples on the colored journal pages? (Thank you to the generous artist and teacher, Hazel Belvo. My gratitude for her work and mentorship is boundless!)

Sitting in the paintings of Janice Andrews at Grand Marais Art Colony.
Dan and Mike, after a week of fishing with perfect weather.

Larger work on canvas, 
done at Grand Marais Art Colony.
Work in progress in a Grand Marais Art Colony studio. 
Photo by Hazel Belvo. 
Days 25-30: 
These days brought me back home in the outdoor spot with the cat inspecting my work, and me asking, what if I blind-contour clouds and an orange snack and create patterns? And, I have always wanted to place a door in the middle of a field.

Sitting outside with the journal and iPhone camera each day became therapy. Artist heal thyself. Like I said, the big and little, self-created what-ifs have so much power to awaken curiosity and purpose. We are never done being curious.

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