The Right Tools for the Job

Baby, life’s what you make it
Can’t escape it
Life’s What You Make It, Talk Talk

Awhile back, I was painting away at something and was feeling really frustrated. I was having the hardest time making the strokes behave the way I wanted them, kept grumbling to myself, making a mark, wiping it away, making a mark, wiping it away. Not. Having. Fun.

It took me a little span of frustration, but eventually I focused on the brush in my hand and realized I was trying to make square/right-angled strokes with an angled brush. Doh! How did that happen?

(Hold your horses, I feel a metaphor coming on…)

A little Art and Life Lesson right there: pay attention to your tools. Are they helping or hindering? Sometimes it’s obvious they are not working, but other times it’s subtle. Pay attention to those little niggling feelings that tell you “something’s not working quite right.” If something is proving difficult, perhaps consider the tool(s) you are using. Are they helping or hindering?

Fabric Background Squares

[ More squares…alternating fabric and acrylic. Experimenting with backgrounds. ]

This past week I needed to cut fabric into 1 inch squares. I actually have a nice pair of fabric scissors, although I can’t guarantee they didn’t get used to cut something else, I’m not my mother. (On a side note: I totally get now why the Fabric Scissors are not to be used to cut anything else but fabric, but as a kid, really? They look like scissors, they cut like scissors, so why not use them on the pipe cleaners you want to cut into little bitty pieces?) Anyway, I went about measuring and attempting to cut nice little squares with my fabric scissors.

Not only was I not having fun, but it took way too much time, and the results … not quite as evenly square nor consistently 1 inch as one would hope.

I’m not someone who sews or quilts, ok? But considering the “right tools” rule (and this time it was obvious), I knew that there had to be a better, more efficient (and more accurate) way to do this. My sister Tina does quilt, so I texted: “What’s the best way to cut a s**tload of fabric into 1 or 2 inch squares?”

Studio tools

[ Rotary fabric cutter = Tool of the Week; Canvas covered boards for experiments; Patti Brady and Nancy Reyner books on Acrylic painting techniques.]

Her answer was a rotary cutter, straight edge, and mat. I had the straight edge and mat, a trip to Joann’s procured a rotary cutter.

Oh. My. Goodness. What a difference the right tool makes! Ease, precision, and does the job it’s meant to do (note to self: pay attention, we don’t need any more stitches/scars on your left hand, and all the digits on that hand are needed). Seems a little silly, but using this cutter brought me some joy yesterday. Honest to God, joy from a rotary cutter. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

Permission Slips

Just words and someone’s signature on a piece of plain paper, nothing special really, but in grade school those magic little slips granted Official Permission, usually to do something fun like go on a field trip. Or, they allowed you to get out of something you didn’t want to do like P.E. (they did not, however, have as much going on as their cousin the Hall Pass, which gave you power to be special and be someplace everyone else was not).

Vacation is one of those few times I give myself permission to let go of the Daily Routine, the Lists, the Shoulds. While on vacation, I shut all that out: open my laptop as little as possible, generally don’t check email, don’t look at my phone/Facebook incessantly. If I want to lie on a couch and read all day, that’s perfectly fine. No guilt. That’s the key, I let myself off the hook and allow myself to ignore all the demands of Normal Daily Life (otherwise, it’s not really vacation, right?)

Of course, coming out of that zone and back into routine can be tricky.

I struggled a bit with getting back into the art routine, but gradually circled around it: cleaned my side of the studio, bought some boards to experiment on (I stumbled on a coupon at Michael’s for 50% off all regularly priced fine art supplies. One day only. That day! The coupon lotto win…), got out some books on acrylic techniques (because I wanted to try creating a faux encaustic effect), read the recipes for that and gathered materials…

And then I gave myself permission to screw up.

All those boards I bought, not one needs to end up a finished piece. They can all be ugly experiments, no pressure to make finished work. Just play. I have a distinct, overall end result in mind for the next iteration of my work, but I’m not quite sure how to get there yet, so I need to experiment. Play.

Studio experiments

[ Testing out faux encaustic recipes. Another tool that makes me happy is the green silicon spatula in this photo. It works so well for mixing thoroughly and scraping the edges of mixing containers (we have one in the kitchen too 🙂 ]

Nobody Knows How to Draw a Poinsettia

There was a drawing instructor at ArtCenter who quickly dispelled the notion that one needs to be able to draw from memory: “nobody knows how to draw a Poinsettia.” Basically, get a photo, or the real thing, and look at it. Or take a photo and trace it. Making something harder (or impossible) for yourself, struggling to create, doesn’t make the art any “better.” Figure out your process, your best/most useful set of tools, and start working from there. If that process and set of tools don’t work, try another one.

Or another one. But don’t give up.

Of course this applies to Life too. I know what tools/practices I need to incorporate daily to make me happy. I know what habits I need to discard and replace in order to live my Art Full Life to the fullest. Not saying it’s easy, by any means (small steps Sparky!), but I can honestly say that this past week has been one of those forward-moving weeks on all fronts.

And I may be repeating myself, but I’m not giving up.



This entry was posted in Art in Progress, Art Making, Motivation.


  1. Barb August 8, 2016 at 8:03 AM #


  2. Jackie August 8, 2016 at 2:11 PM #


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