Sunday, October 23, 2016

Kill All Your Little Darlings (for Artists)

For this week's Diva Challenge #289 we looked to nature and the falling Autumn leaves. The maple tree in my front yard dropped this green one a few days ago and then overnight the rest on the tree turned a brilliant gold.

I decided to use CZT Lynn Mead's technique for "zentwining" around my leaf shape. For a little while I got really attached to how it looked at this initial stage and I was wary of doing more to the tile and potentially messing it up.

But there are no mistakes in Zentangle, right? Or rather, only opportunities to honor what shows up and to "fail forward."

zentangle zentwining leaf diva challenge 289
work in progress: zentwining patterned ribbons
"To be afraid of failure is to be afraid to learn. Failure is a wonderful way to experience life, because life is a learning experience. When I fail I should rejoice, because I am closer to finding what works! Yay failing!" -- Seb Barnett
This hesitation reminded me of a conversation I had recently with artist and educator Kirsten Wilhelm when I attended a two-day studio workshop at Northwest Encaustics in Seattle. I was struggling with where to go next on one of my paintings when Kirsten advised me to "kill my little darlings" which is a reference to some age-old writing advice that advocates ruthless editing for the good over the overall work.

Kirsten's approach to teaching de-emphasized the importance of a final result and prioritized experimentation, pushing boundaries, and going too far in order to really know what "far enough" looks like. When she heard people start to worry over a piece, as I was, she repeated this light-hearted mantra: "If you're not failing, then you're doing something wrong!"

Here's what happened when I kept developing this autumn leaf-inspired tile. I think, at the very least, this stage keeps the eye more interested than the original.

zentangle leaf zentwining shading Diva challenge 289
Autumn Leaf with Zentwine for Diva #289
on 6" x 6" bristol paper
Letting go of my attachment to the original drawing is a practice in itself that bears repeating. Artist Jane Davies kills her little darlings as part of creating the depth and dimension that is so integral to her signature style.
"I like to build layers on the canvas or paper to build in a sort of history and the sense that there is something under the surface. Which there is. There's -- I swear there's masterpieces under there but I've just covered them all up. Yeah, I paint over a lot of stuff. I get attached to the parts that I really spent a lot of time on and worked and worked and worked. But okay, I'm attached to it and I paint over it. Now we've got a new beginning." -- Jane Davies

I've got one last group challenge piece for week to share with you. Here's where I started my tile for It's A String Thing adventure #167:

zentangle IAST 167 ponio winflo
work in progress: Ponio, Winflo for IAST #167
Again, I was ready to leave it at this stage. There's a certain elegance in simplicity, like an uncluttered room. But there wasn't much interaction between the tangles. In the spirit of failing forward I pushed it a little further.

Almost certainly the Winflo and Ponio designs could still have more interaction, but for now this is where I leave it.

zentangle ponio winflo shading IAST
Ponio and Winflo for IAST 167
on traditional Zentangle tile
By the way, encaustic a painting technique that uses pigments mixed with hot wax and manipulated with fire. Here's a peak at one of my creations from the workshop. Follow me on Instagram to see more!


  1. Julie, it's always such a treat to visit your blog. Thank you for your inspiration and allowing us to keep up with your progress. I must say I absolutely love both of your tangle challenge pieces, they are so fresh and uniquely you. I have always wondered what encaustic art was and now may have to look into it as it looks to be fascinating. Thank you for sharing your work and your insights.

    1. Thank you so much, LezliB! Your kind encouragement really makes my day. I do hope you will check out encaustic art if you get a chance. It's a highly sensory experience because the finished pieces are so textured and touchable and because of the lovely aroma of the beeswax while you are painting. Fun!

  2. Woe, such a great post. Thanks for the video of Jane Davies, she is just like my best friend a real artist!

    1. Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by to visit, Anne! I just love Jane Davies' artwork. She has many tutorials on her YouTube channel and her blog as well. I can't get enough. :)

  3. I'm always looking forward to read your interesting blog and to see your beautiful artwork.
    You have made two beautiful tiles for those challenges, I like these zentwine technique very mutch and your result is great.
    On the other tile, we can see very clearly what a big difference the right use of shadows can give, thank you Julie to share with us.
    Your wax work is original, pretty and special, I love it!

    1. Isn't that Zentwine technique fun? I had to really sloooow down to keep my ribbon edges parallel -- very zen! Thanks so much for being a regular visitor and for the sweet notes you leave for me. :)