On Art as Solace

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry

I went to the neighborhood grocery store today and the line outside and crowd inside was more busy than I had seen it since the very early, very panicky days of the pandemic. There’s a feeling of impending change, chaos, something hard to define. I have been asked a lot about what my plans are for Tuesday night, election night here in the US. This isn’t something I have had to consider in previous years, so I haven’t really had a good answer.

But like Wendell Berry, I recognize that the real journey begins when we realize there is no good answer, no clear road, and that real creative and innovative rewards can come from that as well. So, like other times when I have reached something that seems impossible to navigate around, I will be in my studio for the most part. When I’m creating with my hands, it frees up my mind to process without judgment, and in that processing I often find inspiration, motivation and hope. Honestly I will probably be spending less time online and more in my studio for the next few weeks, so if I don’t post for a little bit, that’s what’s-what.

Other things that my husband and I have planned for Tuesday include a text chain with his friends so that he feels socially connected, and also the two of us planning out some fun things for the remainder of 2020; things that are within our control in terms of geography, budget and pandemic considerations and so are unlikely to change or disappear. It is so important to have things to look forward to.

It will get better, it always does. Take care of yourself. Control what you can control and let the rest be what it will be. Go to your art materials, musical instrument, the draft of your novel or screenplay. Find a way to use this time for good.

Dura-Lar Butterflies

I love the look of stained glass, but my overflowing supply cabinet and relatively small studio space tell me now is not the time to learn a new craft! So, I tried painting on *Grafix Dura-Lar to mimic the effect for now.

I used a combination of ink and acrylics and lined it with Pebeo relief outliner to get more dimension and a stained glass edge effect.

I’m happy with the way it turned out, and because the Dura-Lar is more portable than a heavy window, I can move the pieces around to different windows, easily make larger pieces or switch them out for seasons, etc!

*I occasionally use affiliate links, when it’s a product I have used or personally recommend, and when it makes sense to do so.

Hold Steady

Good Gravy. Nothing like a little pandemic to make every life choice seem both vitally important and totally inconsequential. I think everyone’s theme word for the year simultaneously shifted to Survive. Rightfully so. It’s hard to focus on “enlightened” needs right now. I mean, when your house is burning, who cares if the bed is made?

None of us are in control right now, if we ever even were.

It’s a lot for me, and for you and for everyone in the whole world.

So what is an everyday person to do? Those of us who don’t work in a vital service industry or on the heroic front lines of health care probably find ourselves at a loss right now. We do the right thing by following public health policies, supporting local businesses, tipping extra…and then what? Speaking for myself, when I get to the part of my brain that controls my “what about me?” response, I don’t have a lot of answers right now.

But “what about me?” is a valid question. We function as a society and work for its good, but we matter as individuals, too. It matters if my business fails or if your company furloughs you. It matters that your kids can’t play with their best friends for who knows how long, or if you don’t get to hug your loved one when they’re ill. It matters! And it’s all happening at once!

The best I can come up with is to share some practical advice from a boss I really liked at a job I really hated.

This workplace was super toxic and extremely full of itself, and every day was an exercise in back room dealings, corporate caste systems and general treachery. It brought out the worst in everyone. But in the middle of all that was my team, which I liked and a boss, who I respected. When I’d go to her office to talk about the latest lie, injustice or general nonsense we had been subjected to and ask how to respond, she’d say “We are going to come to work every day, do our jobs and do our best. We will do exactly what we have been doing.” It was hard to hear sometimes, because it is human to want to react, to fight back or defend ourselves. But since then, I think of that advice when things get so chaotic that my judgement is clouded.

So right now, that’s what I am doing. There is too much to think about, and it is so hard to make decisions when the global landscape changes so quickly, not to mention the simple matter of all the extra steps we have to take to stay healthy and alive.

When things began to shut down, I panicked. My business was just starting to take off, and suddenly, not only could I literally not do it, I also had to try and stay top of mind with my (relatively new) connections without having anything real to offer. No travel meant no meaningful updates for my social channels, etc. I have been a freelance writer for years, but had decided to cut back to grow the business. Scramble time all around. I feel like I’ve pivoted so much I’m back at the beginning! And technically, we (in Texas) are still in month one!

But I am trying to follow the good advice that my former boss shared. Every day, I wake up and I go to work. I stay the course. I am trying new initiatives and projects but nothing drastically different than I was doing six weeks ago, and I’m not knocking myself out to put out new stuff all the time. I’ve temporarily resumed more freelance writing work, because its a known entity, and my other work doesn’t take up 40 hours right now. I’m trying really hard to stay in my lane and succeeding, mostly.

I’m creating art, of course, and writing creatively as well. But right now, those things seem like luxuries. Beneficial and important luxuries, but luxuries all the same. So, I’ll get back to that later, in a different post. I don’t want to be mistaken for being someone who thinks all of this a “blessing,” or a call to “slow down” or to “take time to dance.” If we are dancing, it is because there are hot coals under our feet.

Make room for pleasure, definitely and relax when you can. If you are a spiritual person, lean on your faith. But self care, and even spiritual faith can also look like showing up for your professional, family or personal responsibilities; doing what you need to do, and doing your best.

Take it day by day.

Coloring Pages on Etsy

In the spirit of trying new things in the “social distance” era, I’ll be posting some work as affordable coloring pages to purchase on Etsy. There are three up now, but I’ll add more over time so “Favorite” my store and check back often.

They follow the style of my other work, a little whimsical, a little magical, a little real. The first series is similar to my “Brilliant Disguises” pieces from years ago, and combine drawn portraits and digitally collaged pattern. (The Watermark won’t appear on the purchased files.)

It’s not a 100-percent match to my other work, because I had to draw in and reference styles that would translate well to coloring by someone else. I also had to draw and edit digitally, with stronger lines and inking vs. sketch. But the work is mine, originally drawn with some sourced digital collage pattern. I love it and hope you do, too!

“Strong Like a Lion” digital coloring page. Hand-drawn portrait and digital collage by Stephanie Khattak.

It’s so important right now to support independent artists and keep a bored world entertained, haha! I am sure we will see an uptick in participatory art like this. It’s important to me to make quality work and keep it affordable, and coloring pages seem like a good way to do that.

Happy Art-ing!

Making Oil Paint

An upside of the social distancing we are experiencing, is that there’s not much to entertain or distract me from my studio. When things get busy, it is one of the first activities to be pushed aside, which makes no sense, because when I am in there, almost immediately, I feel relaxed and productive. I think it’s human nature, or at least American nature, to feel that if something is “fun” than it isn’t work, and if it isn’t work, than it’s not as important as work. Even though I like my actual “work,” I am not immune to that attitude.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to work with oil paint, but my studio supplies are getting out of control and I don’t want to buy anything new until I work on that. But I have oil sticks, pigment and oil binder. So, I decided to try making my own oil paint from pigment and safflower oil, and with a little oil mixed into oil stick.

I used Earth Pigments and Schmincke pigments (Pthalo Green), with Winsor & Newton binder and Shiva sticks. Since I’m happy with the outcome, next time I’ll use some of my precious Kremer pigments! This method worked for me, since I work in small batches and at this time, am not producing collector-quality works for sale or display. When I decide to upgrade the work, I’ll do more research and upgrade the process and materials accordingly, I am sure.

There are so many ways that creative work can bring joy and satisfaction. I love being able to experiment with raw materials to make something new. I’m self aware enough to know that I am not the world’s best artist, and that’s okay. My creative satisfaction comes from the act of creating something completely new, whether it’s a piece of art, a rubber print block that I carved and used, or mixing up paint in an new shade or finish. I enjoy breaking things down to their component parts and then rebuilding them into something useful and custom-made.

In this chaos, for me at least, it’s going to be important to look beyond the usual for validation and happiness. Everything from client acquisition and feedback to social media measurement will dip, so those things aren’t accurate metrics right now. My business, like most businesses, will just have to be what it is for a little while, but I can regain some of that validation through my creative work. While I don’t know what life will look like on the other side of this, it really does help to identify healthy and creative things that I can control, and do more of those things while the world works itself out.

There wasn’t sparkly green, antique rose gold or sheer pink iridescent oil paint in my world before I went into the studio yesterday, and now there is. I can see it, mix it, paint with it, and finish the day knowing that I built one small thing that does what it’s supposed to do.