Category Archives: creative life



Some kind of a red bird from the Field Museum in Chicago

Something is currently happening to me, apparently much later than it does to normal human beings: I’m suddenly fascinated by birds.

It’s not that I ever held birds in contempt like I did watercolor painting, it’s just that they were part of the background, flitting about in the sky and leaving turds on the windshield. I knew there were a lot of birds in the world and that they were somehow an integral part of the ecosystem, though I could never be bothered to put up a bird feeder, say, or pause for a long, contemplative look at a bluejay.

But recently I’ve been really noticing birds and totally staring at them.

They are tiny dinosaurs. They are quite beautiful. And they can fly. How do they do that?

Do they have internal compasses? Where do they go during thunderstorms? How do they produce so many different sounds?

And what’s up with woodpeckers?

Mind, I still think birds are disease-riddled and the other day when my kids found an interesting feather in the backyard, I made them wear surgical gloves to pick it up. On the other hand, I’m currently reading the memoir of a woman who sets about training a goshawk and I sense the inevitability of a future in which I’m at a bird sanctuary wearing khaki shorts and binoculars and toting a watercolor sketchbook.

Which brings me to the other thing I’m mysteriously drawn to here in middle age: watercolor painting. I used to think it was a wimpy sort of medium. It brought to mind ladies in straw hats, wicker furniture, glasses of iced tea, and grade school. It was timid and flavorless. It was oil painting’s spineless and feeble-minded cousin.

But something about the grace and fluidity of watercolor painting is becoming increasingly attractive. I guess I appreciate subtlety and nuance more than I did in my younger years. And ever since taking a watercolor class while on vacation last week, I see that though it is quite approachable, watercolor is also a difficult and unforgiving medium.

Naturally, I am now impelled to wed my newfound love of birds with my newfound love of watercolor. So far I haven’t had much success, which is okay because according to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s going to take about 10,000 hours to master. In the meantime, I got myself a bird feeder and a second-hand ornithology lab notebook.



A page from my ornithology notebook


Fossil from the Field Museum in Chicago

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Ancient Japanese Secret

In the days before smart phones or even pocket cameras, Japanese fishermen used to keep paper and ink on their boats so they could document trophy catches by making rubbings of them. After washing the ink off, they could eat the fish and prove that it had existed.

Eventually the practice evolved into an art form called gyotaku (gyo “fish” + taku “rubbing”) and the fish prints were embellished with other media, or made from molds instead of the actual fish.

As soon as I learned about gyotaku I was desperate to try it. The only problem was that I couldn’t quite bring myself to look at, let alone touch, a dead fish.

But my husband is an avid fisherman and lover of Japanese printmaking. He graciously offered to bring home a fish so we could make a fish rubbing together (romantic!). And by “together,” I mean that I supplied the paper and ink and watched with one eye open as the P-Dawg did the rubbing. The process we used is very simple:

  1. Pat the fish thoroughly dry with a rag or paper towel.
  2. Rub a thin layer of ink over it (the P-Dawg used his bare hands but you could also probably use a brush).
  3. Put a piece of paper over the inked fish and press it down around the fish so that the whole surface of the fish comes into contact with the paper.

I would advise you not to rub too vigorously because when the P-Dawg was making this gyotaku, a very small amount of fish guts leaked out and got stuck to the paper. I had to Photoshop them out.

For our first gyotaku, I think it turned out pretty well. Next time, perhaps a slightly thinner layer of ink would bring out some more detail.

the fish print_edited-1

(The P-Dawg wants you to know that his fish rubbing is not yet complete, as he plans to embellish it with a golden eyeball. He also wants you to know that he doesn’t consider this fish a “trophy” catch.)

Here’s what we used:

  • One small perch from LaDue Reservoir in Geauga, Ohio
  • Sumi ink
  • Japanese kozo paper (because it’s lightweight but very durable, so it molds easily to the fish

The Fish

the ink_edited-1

The Ink

inking the fish_edited-1

The Inking

gyotaku with guts

The Print (Unedited)

I didn’t get a good photo of the rubbing process, but basically you place a piece of paper over the fish and . . . rub it.

(This post was cross-posted on my other blog, here.)

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Artist’s Dilemma

I Did Not Draw This

I Did Not Draw This

Today I was reading in the sunroom when I heard a loud buzzing sound. I turned my head to see a gigantic insect ricocheting from window to window and at first I thought it might be a wasp, but when it stopped to rest on the wall I could see that it wasn’t.  It was like a cross between a beetle and a dragonfly and Franz Kafka, and it was quite impressive in that grotesque way that large unidentifiable bugs are.

I killed it with the Yellow Pages.

Then I put the Yellow Pages on top of the dead insect and made a mental note to ask the P-Dawg to remove it when he comes home from work. There are situations in which I will personally remove a bug that I’ve killed, but not if it’s juicy.

I went back to reading my book though there was no longer any joy in it. I knew there was a big dead bug right next to the couch and there was no way I could un-know it. It also occurred to me that instead of killing that bug, I should have tried to draw it.

One thing I feel I don’t do enough as an artiste is draw from life. This is due partly to the fact that I’m fond of mythical creatures like dragons and mermaids. I know that in order to improve, I should practice drawing real things, but the fact is that I’ve been stuck inside the house all winter, the houseplants are dead-ish, and I don’t feel like sketching a bowl of bananas. That bug was the best thing that ever happened to me from a drawing from life standpoint, and I killed it.

Eventually I went over and lifted the phone book just to see if there was anything left for me to work with.

There wasn’t.

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I, Rima, Am a Creative Genius (Just Kidding)

IMG_1909Once upon a time I became weirdly interested in the blog of a Dutch woman who lived alone, seemed to have few friends or acquaintances, and rarely left her apartment. Yet she wrote, almost daily, about every detail of her waking life. Some days the Dutch woman would opt for English breakfast tea instead of Earl Gray, or notice that the eucalyptus was especially fragrant. The day she decided to re-arrange her living room furniture was like a ratings sweep episode for me.

She never disclosed her name or revealed any truly identifying information, but she did suggest that she was writing the blog as a form of therapy. I don’t know if I was taken with it because it was such an intimate window into a life very different from mine, or if I was just waiting to see if the Dutch woman would eventually leave her apartment. But I do remember being fascinated by her descriptions of the mundane, the way that simply by recording these things, she somehow elevated their importance. One day the blog just disappeared. I worried that something had happened to the Dutch woman and felt badly that I’d never commented. (But if truth be told, I would have not known what to say – just reading her words felt like a sort of intrusion.)


A few years ago, someone suggested that I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron because it is supposed to be an excellent resource for sparking creativity and at the time I really wanted to write fiction. When I finally looked it up last week on Amazon, I saw that the book had been pretty roundly trashed as a load of new age self-help garbage. I normally love new age self-help garbage, but these reviews made even me, a person who once tried to meditate myself into an out-of-body experience, pretty wary. Plus the cover was brick red and featured a mountain with a line of geese flying in front of it.

I bought it anyway. If you are not a particularly spiritual person, The Artist’s Way will definitely turn you off. The author’s basic premise is that humans, being creations of the Creator, have an innate need to create as well. And that if you recognize that truth and beauty come from a divine source, if you are open to the idea that creating is a way of acknowledging that divinity, it (the Divine) will guide you along a creative path. I don’t think it’s anything new under the sun, but Julia Cameron does have an interesting way of presenting it.

In fact it makes a lot of sense to me. And I really need some guidance along my path because I have a compulsion to create, a crapload of ideas, a smattering of talent, a dearth of self-confidence, and almost no focus. But you can’t just read The Artist’s Way and expect Great Thoughts to float down from the heavens. You have to do actual work, such as making lists and taking yourself out on dates and writing at least three pages of stream of consciousness thoughts first thing in the morning.

And you have to do affirmations, which, as some of you may remember, utterly failed me when I lost the amber brooch my husband gave me. But apparently these affirmations are really instrumental in guiding the arc of the universe in my favor. So I’ve actually used precious minutes of this past week writing sentences like, “I, Rima, am a talented artist” ten times. I follow them up by writing, “Just kidding” ten times after, which is not part of the creative exercise.

Still, I’ve been adhering to Cameron’s course pretty faithfully for eight days now. I don’t even mind the morning pages so much because I do them in the afternoon with a cup of coffee. And I must say that I have in fact experienced a few creative stirrings and moments of serendipity. It might just be what happens when you make something a priority, but it’s also part of what prompted me to start writing again. Julia Cameron is really big on “paying attention to” and delighting in (yeah – delighting) in the world around you as a way to spark creativity, and it seems to me that there is no better way to observe, record, and delight in the mundane than through this here blog.

The Dutch woman was on to something.

So here I am, back at the keyboard, which is very crusty due to the fact that I had pretty much given my laptop over to the children for the past year or so. In that time my eldest changed a lot of settings I don’t know how to undo. For this reason the computer tells me what time it is out loud every fifteen minutes, windows blow up and disappear without warning, and every once in a while a small cartoon animal will scamper across the screen.

I’m not planning making a habit out of telling you what I had for breakfast. But I am ready once again to document the daylights out of life (at least once a week.)


P.S. I changed my profile picture to show that I am getting older.

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