How I Learn

I am taking the free “Blogging 101” course offered on line by WordPress. I am supposed to write a post about the way I learn–what kind of learner am I.

It’s almost easier to say what kind of learner I am not. I do not learn strictly from books. I do not learn by memorization. I need to see the way things work, the relevance of it, how it is derived. I was a mediocre math student until I took Plane Geometry. When we had to write proofs for basic theorems (I’m not sure I have the terminology right here), I could do it, I could remember all the various steps to get there (i.e. “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”), and I enjoyed the puzzle-like nature of it. The next year, in Algebra 2, we were learning how to use the Quadratic Equation. Basically, you were expected to memorize what letters stood for what and then plug in the numbers and solve. I had no idea how to do it and really struggled. Two years later I took another year of math. This time we derived the Quadratic Equation. Whenever I needed to use it/apply it, I would just derive it; then I knew which numbers went where, and hopefully I would get the calculations right.

I am a very visual learner and I also learn better if I write things down. Things I compose on the computer are on the computer and not in my head. When I kept a paper calendar, I knew what I had going on every week, let alone every day. Now I keep my calendar on my computer and smart phone and I have to check almost every hour–it just does not get into my head–unless I write it down on a list or in my journal, which I keep by hand.

Where I learn best is through direct, repeated observation. I have an on-going art installation called the Moon Project. Every day I look for the moon and when I see it, I chart it in my journal. Every few years I compile the information into charts, graphs, drawings, and even sheet music. I now know a lot about the phases and movements of the moon and I know when and where to look for it. If I’ve lost track for a few days, I can think it out based on my last observations.

Everything I’m learning about the moon is known. Everything could be looked up on the internet. But what I’d learn then is how to look things up on the internet. I would not have nearly the same knowledge and relationship with the moon. And this practice has taught me to observe other things more closely and to trust my observations.

I feed the birds in my yard and I can now distinguish many species. But I also can see changes in their behavior through the year, as well. I have learned to teach myself to learn.

So I learn by doing better than any other way. I’m a good listener, good notetaker–tell me something interesting and I’ll remember it–IF it pertains to a question I have in my mind, that relates to what I’m working on. I guess it’s the “use it or lose it” principle.

And I like learning when it feels like a game, a puzzle, a challenge. How do you learn?

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My Inner Critic

On Thursday last, my SCBWI local network met for our annual “Creative Orgy,” an evening of eclectic exercises and activities designed to get the creative juices flowing, even in the depths of January cold. As co-rep of the Oak Park/near west Network, I help plan these events. The last activity we did was to make a puppet of our “Inner Critic,” that voice that had been whispering in our ear all evening–indeed, all day almost every day, in my experience. That voice that questions my worthiness, ability, intelligence, authority to write about what I intend to write (even this blog) or to paint and draw the subjects I choose. This is the voice that suggests I abandon projects as the initial excitement wears down and the going gets tough. This is the voice that says my drawings, sketches, watercolors are no good, unimportant, basically worthless.

Since this Inner Critic seems so real to me, I decided to give her substance and shape. My co-rep and I had gathered a bunch of supplies: crayons, markers, colored pencils; tape, glue, glue guns, staplers; and a whole bunch of collage materials including random papers and lots of string and yarn, among other things. We used paint-stirring sticks, paper plates, and coffee filters to form the puppets of our Inner Critics, and then we began to individualize and animate them.

Here’s mine:



See how she towers over me? She has one bloodshot eye and broken glasses, so her vision is not all that clear. Her hair is wild and full of debris, including a decaying leaf. She has what might have been a prim bow at her chin and one accusatory hand with a pointing finger. Her toothy mouth was cut from a postcard of a Day of the Dead scull. Her teeth are bared and clenched, forbidding communication or expression. As I worked on this puppet I talked to her and asked her questions.

She appears to be pretty gruesome, but she’s not really as powerful as she thinks. I actually really like her. If I listen to her for a little bit, then thank her for sharing, I can put her on a shelf or in a corner and ignore her contribution. She can save her “I told you so’s” for another time.

I got the idea to make a puppet of one’s inner critic from Laura Montenegro. In a class about creating a picture book dummy she showed us her Inner Critic, a puppet she had made. The minute she picked it up it came to life and began to talk. And then, after Laura had let it have it’s say, she put it in a corner.

That is what our puppets are for–they can spout their nay-saying for a little bit, and then we can thank them and put them in a corner and carry on with our work.


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Who I Am and Why I’m Here

Who I am and why I’m here:

I am a lover of books—I read books, I write books, I make books, I collect books. Something about paper, the smell, feel, content, color, size, design, cover—I love everything about books. I am an avid journal keeper and the published author of three children’s books.


Rattlesnake 2014 4.

I am also an artist. When I went to art school I intended to learn to draw people so I could illustrate the books I intended to write. Instead I fell in love with Art in a larger sense and while I created the images for one of my published books, I do not think of myself as an illustrator in the traditional sense.

So why write a blog? I often ask myself this question, since I write almost daily in my journal, which is strictly for myself. I use my journal to organize my life, to resolve questions, to store information. All my creativity begins in my journal. I see a blog as an opportunity to create and sustain a conversation with others beyond myself. It is a place to share experience and knowledge.

I think of my blog as “Notes From the Studio,” but I will not be limited to the studio walls. I intend to write about my works in progress, my travels and the sketching I do on the go, I also will write about exhibitions I see, books I find relevant, and the things I discover that support and sustain my creative life.

The blogs I follow inspire me with the content they share—posts that give me information, new ways to look at issues I care about, insight into the creative process of artists, writers, illustrators. Information about the art world and the publishing world.

If at the end of a year I have a record of travels, books read, documentation of works in progress. I will consider the blog successful. If I have been able to contribute to other creative people with the content of my blog, that will be a real bonus. And if I find a community forming around shared interests, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

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I’m going to add as many photos, in chronological order as I can. Later I’ll add the stories that go with them. For over a six week period I added and altered the Reliquary on a weekly, if not daily basis, using found, salvaged, and saved materials that all related in one way or another to my dad, his childhood, my childhood, and our relationship together. Here are the photos:Reliquary

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Several times each week I alter the reliquary and make a drawing. I am making up the rules for “reliquary” as I go along.

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What is a reliquary

I posed the question, What is a reliquary? I would love to hear what you think.

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Every reliquary needs a relic. Mine has a skull, among other things.

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