Part of being a trickster is embracing whimsy. Exercise 32 involved creating a magical object: here a magic bottle. The vessel itself once held a single shot of a very high quality absinthe we drank in Prague; the herbs were still in there, along with a number of perfect tiny seashells, petals from the first roses my husband ever gave me, beads from my wedding gown, blue glitter, and a few other things. The pink flowers I ripped off a headband my stepdaughter hadn’t worn in over a year.
Envelopes made out of old maps
Exercise 34 was one of the most fun ones; I’m sorry I haven’t got a picture, because the final step was to mail the completed project to someone. It began with directions on how to cut and fold an envelope out of an old map. Fortunately, I am the kind of person who owns many old maps. Then, the reader was asked to create some strange, whimsical work of art and mail it to someone with no explanation.
My best friend Jack knew about the Tricksters’ Hat and had done one partner project with me. I cut out a large image of Abraham Lincoln’s hat and then cut and paste letters, ransom-note style, to spell, “The trickster wears many hats.” Then I cut out a couple dozen tiny images of hats, all different: baseball hats, construction hats, fishing hats, Santa hats, an astronaut’s helmet. I folded the big hat, filled it with the little ones, inked a beautiful address, and then decided, since I had the key to his place and was taking his mail in while he was out of town, to create another fake stamp and also a super-fake jeweled return address label. Then I hid it in his real mail. I’m only sorry I didn’t get to see his face when he opened it. But he appreciated it very much.
Van Gogh’s iconic painting of Blue Irises in a Yellow Vase
It’s a really striking image, and much-copied. I love the thickness of the brush strokes, the boldness of the color.
My Blue Irises in a Yellow Vase.
Exercise 31 involved learning from others: pick a famous work, study it, learn from it, duplicate it, and then expand the project in some logical way. The example in the book suggested visiting a ballet school if, for example, your famous work was one of Degas’s.
I like the rougher look to Van Gogh’s work, how it seems sloppy, but it’s not. The colors weren’t really available to me with the materials at hand, but some of them made a nice showing there, anyway.
Orchids are hard; I’ve been trying to draw a passable orchid for years. I sketched this one slowly and then took it home to use the pastels. Somehow it looks meaty, rather than delicate, and I’m afraid there’s something the slightest bit obscene about it. Orchids are complicated.
Sketching in the gardens was so enjoyable. It’s definitely the sort of thing I want to incorporate into my artist’s life to a much greater degree.
Exercise 29: illustrate a quote. But not just any quote. It was supposed to be something with a bit of humor to it as well as depth. I struggled with this assignment for days, perusing Bartlett’s, surfing web pages full of inspirational quotes. I didn’t want to put any effort into illustrating a quote that wouldn’t be deeply meaningful to me, and most of my favorite quotes are fairly serious, primarily about writing and creativity.
Just as I was about to lose hope, I noticed a little scrap of paper tacked to the wall behind me, where I had written out this Robert Graves poem, “How and Why” from (I think) the book Ann at HIghwood Hall: Poems for Children, published in 1964. (It’s entirely possible it’s from a different book of poetry for children by the same author, but I think this is the one). I had long been fascinated with the light-hearted, but also sort of provocative rhyme, and he long intended to illustrate it with almost exactly the precise designs I used here.
It took several days to create the lettering (I made these up rather than using a known typeface), sketch everything out, and ink it in. I’d still like to do some further digital work to touch it up, but this is probably my favorite finished product; It’s framed and hanging on the wall, just as I’d imagined it for about a decade.
Exercise 21 required 4 squares, lightly taped together. The collage was built on top of the squares, which were then cut apart and rearranged several times. I saved my favorite images for the top layer. Cutting the work up was a bit difficult, emotionally.
As mentioned before, this book calls for many collages. After a while they all sort of blur together and I didn’t enjoy many of the later ones. I wanted more drawing, more painting, less cutting out, less pasting.
Exercise 28 Part 1: a collage representing obligation
Exercise 28 Part 2: a collage representing liberation
The prompts were different, but I’m not sure the results were substantively so.
Exercise 30: a collage pairing words and images to tell a story, without the words and images necessarily relating to one another.
It became routine for me, to sit up at night chopping images from magazine and gluing them down.
Exercise 39: a collage comprised exclusively of blue parts, with a little green and purple added at the end. I have no idea which end was supposed to be up.
Some of them were uplifting, but toward the end I was just phoning them in and not getting much out of the experience.
Exercise 43: make a collage while listening to evocative music and smelling evocative scents. Not really any different than my regular process. But then again, there are visual thematic elements that seem inspired by something ephemeral and uplifting, so who knows?
I do hope this image is sufficiently abstract/artistic to avoid suggesting straight up pornography. It’s not meant to be erotic; it’s meant to describe a dual principle.
Exercise 20 explored the concept of muse and duende. The term “duende” was new to me; Bantock uses it as a sort of counterpart to the muse. It was supposed to be executed in two pieces, on wood, and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t follow the directions, because I was really pleased with the finished product and the paper was not designed for this kind of paint. It would have looked and held up better on a more suitable canvas.
I followed the spirit of the instructions, if not the letter. I suppose most people would have drawn actual characters, but whichever entity, muse or duende, spoke to me, I was inspired. To highlight the sacred nature of the yoni and the lingam, I adorned the image with stick-on gems.
As soon as the library sent me the reserve notice for The Trickster’s Hat, I was eager to jump in. Some of the exercises involved writing or other forms of expression, but the majority of them were visual, and I needed no encouragement. It was just what I wanted.
Exercise 1: Draw a box with 4 sides, and, in 5 minutes, fill it with as many animals as possible in the box. Then, draw a box with 3 sides, and in 5 minutes, draw as many animals as possible escaping the box.
I didn’t love every exercise. Some of them were boring to me. Some of them seemed pointless. Some of them appeared geared to people with even less self-confidence in their creative ability than I had. But I did love a lot of them. Sometimes the ones I didn’t understand at first, or struggled with, or thought stupid, resulted in finished projects I could display with pride.
Exercise 3: Amass a quantity of postage stamps. Rip them up (no scissors) and create a small landscape without using any of the stamps’ design elements as the thing they represent.
Almost instantly, I was able to focus on creating, setting aside a big block of time every night, looking forward to that time and curious about the next exercise in the book.
The Alphabet of Desire was the hardest project I ever undertook. I’m not a magician, except in the sense of being an artist, and I found that the project asked a lot of me.
Some lettering work done for inspiration in the early days of the Alphabet of Desire. The font is based on Lucinda Black Letter.
I was unable to generate momentum, for instance, until I had organized all my books (over two thousand) into Library of Congress organization. Whenever I gained a little traction, something (for example, my wedding) slowed me down.
I got married.
I simply was not as good an artist as I wished.
After reading an advanced review of Nick Bantock’s The Trickster’s Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity, I wondered if a book could kick start my creative drive, help me immerse myself in art, and establish the foundations of regular creative work. The book hadn’t actually been published yet, but my local library system bought it for me as soon as it came out.