Making Art is Like Organizing Cooked Spaghetti

Warning! This post is a lot of complaining and elaborating about art making minutiae that may make you want to stab your hand with a pencil or click over to the Playbuzz quiz What Genre of Metal Are You? (I’m Industrial/Experimental). But if you have a creative addiction and like analyzing your monkey, read on.

If my title is true, trying to impose some control over floppy noodles is more fun than it sounds because making art is my favorite pastime. But how is something so pleasurable simultaneously so maddening? Is my inability to control it part of the appeal?

As I stated in my post Little Book of Abstracts, I decided to do only abstract art in my then recent blank art book. It went exceedingly well and I completed all the pages by late March, 2015. I thought I would share more of that here but I made the process too tedious. I wanted digital access to everything so I started scanning each page, got bored and gave up, or lost consciousness of the endeavor and stopped. I think I told myself that I was to use my computer free time to scan rather than web surf but that didn’t pan out. Also, I greatly prefer making new art to documenting old art so that might have contributed to the loss of enthusiasm. Most of my blogging about this happened in my head. Any mind readers out there who enjoyed my psychic posts? Your welcome.

3 new blank books_small

Upon completing book one, the most natural progression seemed to be making a Little Book of Abstracts #2.  I looked around on the web for a square hardcover blank book and couldn’t find anything I liked, most had spiral binding which is the worst.  So I ordered 3 more blank books from L. Cornelissen & Son in London and paid the same amount in shipping as I did for the books themselves. So worth it!  Take that frugal Caren. But no sooner had I done something a little extravagent, justified by previous success, than the mental momentum hit some existential traffic and productivity slowed to a crawl. Here’s what happened.

In book #1 I did the pages out of order, so for a long time many of the spreads had an image on one side and a blank page on the other. It looked nice and clean.

Orange Rectangle Blue Background_cc_smallPink frame around brown and grey_smallHowever, a number of the spreads had images on both sides as sometimes I would do a theme and variation kind of thing. Calligraphy Spread_small Brown and Blue Bleedthrough Spread_small

The inconsistency bothered me so I decided there should be imagery on every page. A cool thing started to happen where I would pair a dense marker based image with a light and subtle pencil based image.

grid bleedthrough with pencil circle_small multicolor cityscape on navy_small
Nevertheless, as the book filled out, I started to miss the clean blank pages and several drawings I felt were harmed by the newer drawing they got paired with. Green dino in multi color grid_small

This bummed me out. I told myself that in the next book, there would only by one drawing per spread.

So the rules for abstract book #2 was one drawing per page and they would be drawn in order, first drawing on page one, second drawing on page two, etc. I wanted to rebel immediately but told myself stick to the plan! I really liked my first drawing but for whatever reason, my second drawing was of a radically different style. They did not sit well together. In the first book that wasn’t a problem as they would be separated by mulitple pages and I would make the art between them harmonize.  Now I didn’t have that option. Seeing these two disparate images together every time I opened the book galled me. The problem just got worse, each successive page seemed to relate less and less to what had come before. Instead of feeling joy when I opened the book, I felt irritated. This is what I get for paying $30 in shipping!

I am always torn between rules and no rules. Of course there are always some rules. Whether you consciously create and follow them or take notice of them after your effort to see what they were, they are there. For example, a medium is a rule. If you are using markers, you aren’t using paint so the rule is markers. A rule is just a choice and art is full of choices. I have been paying a lot of attention to whether I am making my choices with my conscious mind or unconscious mind and to what effect. I think the most interesting stuff comes from the unconscious. No sooner does it come out then my conscious mind seizes on it and wants to make rules to help us get more. But the rules often backfire, like they did in the second book. It’s so frustrating.

Some where around the time I was finishing the first and starting the second book I had an idea for another abstract project with another set of rules. I would make larger abstracts on individual pieces of paper and get a frame I could put them in so that I could hang it up and see the work. It’s hard to get the little books to prop up and stay open so that I can step back and look at the art from a distance.

More on that project and how I think the unconscious works in art later.  Or tune into my live and uncensored psychic podcast where I do mental mixed martial arts cage fighting with myself while drawing more nonsense for no good reason because I am free and I can do as I please.

Little Book of Abstracts

I always have a little blank book that I do stuff in, write notes, draw pictures, tape photos.  They tend to be very visual but there are no rules.  I can do anything with them I feel like.  It’s a place to keep track of the now, make art, spend time with myself.  Here is a two minute video I made of one of the books a few years ago.  I give all the books names and this book was called Don’t Speak.

A friend of mine, Mick Kubiak*, also does this.  In addition, she has two specialty books that are only for art and each one has a theme. Trucks was completed some time ago and Circles is currently in process.  Every time I visit her, I ask to look at what she had added in the Circles book.  It is a great pleasure to see this body of work as it is being born, to witness the process, to see how previous drawings influence future drawings, how the drawings change over time, to see new breakthroughs in her technique.   I just adore her art work.  It really inspires me.

When I was in London last year, I bought a 5 1/2 inch square black hardcover blank book from a magical art supply store called L. Cornelissen & Son.  Their shop is on Great Russell Street, close to the British Museum.   At the time of purchase I was already working in a purple leather bound book titled iPhone Dynasty.  It’s named after the 2nd page in the book which is a drawing of an iPhone.  If you are interested in seeing the drawing, I posted it on June 9th, 2014 in my entry Enter the iPhone. Over the course of 2014 I started doing a considerable number of abstracts in iPhone Dynasty such as:


It started to occur to me that I could use the British book in the same way Mick does and make it an abstracts only book.  It would be cool to have an art only book, something I could show people without censorship.  However, I didn’t like the idea of giving up my “freedom”. What if Andy said something funny and I wanted to write it down, where would it go? Olive couldn’t draw in it. I couldn’t just whip something off or do whatever I felt like.  It would have to be “good”. How was that going to be fun?  The imaginary pressure was intense.  I mentally hemmed and hawed.  I didn’t do anything for a while.

Then I ran out of pages in iPhone Dynasty so I made a drawing in the new book. I didn’t like it very much and felt irritated. I made another drawing and liked it a lot.  I felt excited.  I made another and another and another.  I showed Andy and Olive.  Olive loved one of the spreads and insisted I not touch it again. Then Olive did some abstract work, an unprecedented departure from drawing ponies non stop. Andy did some abstract work.  What was going on?  I fixed the bad drawing.  That gave me a new rule. All drawings must be good!  We will work on everything until we like it!

With each addition, my desire to do more grew until I found myself where I am now, thinking that working in this book is the current great pleasure in life.  It reminds me of when I was painting.  It’s very satisfying to be adding to a body of work.  There is a feeling of sublime accomplishment.  It’s not just the output but the quivering harmony of surprise and ownership that one feels when viewing something you made from nothing.  How did I do that?  I really don’t know and yet I really did do it.

It’s a benign addiction.  What marvelous thing might I make next?  Of course this delight is intermingled more or less continuously with disgust.  How will I ever make THAT work?  Why did I make the background puke pink?  Did I just draw a hole through the paper?!!  That edge of disgust and delight is fascinating terrain. In my experience, that is where originality comes from.  I am not saying I am all that original but as an artist, I have to know how to get ideas.  I have to be good at it. This is where I sharpen my knife.

In the future, I am going to post photos from the drawings in this book and talk about them.  So stay tuned if that’s your bag.

Thank you to Mick for the inspiration.  Nothing gives others permission more than your own actions.


*Mick Kubiak is a talented therapist, writer and musician.  You can visit her blog at: