Art Reads: Six Easy Pieces

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Reading this book, Feynman’s voice rings with sonorous relateability - you can imagine him pacing in front of a lecture hall and expanding upon the emptiness of atoms.

There’s something oratory in the writing, yet, friendly. It’s unlike most physics reading experiences in this way, and you can see why Feynman was such a star of his time, and an eternal star ever after his passing. He could be talking while sitting and having a beer with you, or in front of 100 sophomores. This is Feynman’s accessible charm - he’s telling you great secrets, publicly.

Feynman’s compelling physics lessons always arrive with a dash of scale and analogy - an atom is the size of a room, the nucleus is the size of a speck of dust in the room, and the electrons are all around the room or the walls of the room itself.

Reading Feynman after reading everything Sagan feels like reading a prequel. Reading Feynman after Neil DeGrasse Tyson feels even more so. If born in 1960 or 1970, Feynman would have been a charismatic leader with his own TV Show, someone would have noticed and said “Wow this guy is amazing” and put him on air.

Richard Feynman juggling is a nice photo to accompany the chapter on The Theory of Gravitation

Richard Feynman juggling is a nice photo to accompany the chapter on The Theory of Gravitation

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The introduction to this edition of Six Easy Pieces states that Feynman probably failed to reach students with giving these lectures, and that in his own self assessment, his teaching efforts were mostly a failure - but I don’t exactly see how he could have failed. Maybe 90 of 100 undergrads in 1989 weren’t ready, or they weren’t reachable. People say that kids these days are dense, but it’s hard to imagine someone who couldn’t be compelled by Feynman. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

Perhaps the whole world loved him, but they just couldn’t react in the moment with Richard Feynman. They watched him careening by like a meteor, but they couldn’t get swept up in his magnitude. They couldn’t be amazed at an atom’s nucleus or the unknowability of most of physics. This is the only thing I can surmise as to why he thought he failed. I feel like I am trying to comfort an A+ student who is judging herself too hard.

The horrible condition of physics today for Feynman. We barely know what we don’t know, and we don’t know how far we have to go.

The horrible condition of physics today for Feynman. We barely know what we don’t know, and we don’t know how far we have to go.

There are some ways to find out mysteries in physics …

There are some ways to find out mysteries in physics …

Midway through the book there is this stunning footnote:

“For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

He’s right, the truths of physics are so wild, so outrageous, that the romance of reality is dramatically beyond tales of Chronos and Zeus. Feynman in this book is an entertainer - It’s Carl Sagan slicing a pie in Technicolor, it’s Neil Degrasse Tyson walking across a galaxy for millions of viewers on Netflix. All three physics superstars are like artists in this way, in that they take in outrageously abstract concepts and bring them to earth while at the same time admitting that we barely understand them.

Abstract ideas, even unknowable abstract ideas are communicable, but it takes an absolute master to take us there. 90% of us still may not get it.

Artist Takeaways:

Complex ideas can be communicated in a simple way

Even the smartest can still fail at understanding

The physical truth of the world is often far more romantic and outrageous than our own fictions

Overcoming Negative Self Talk as an Artist

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I asked artists in my community a question:

“What are some of your biggest pieces of negative self talk?”

It turned out that artists at all levels have inner-self haters and demons that would make a grown man weep on his knees. Not a single artist responded with “I never have defeatist thoughts” or “I never doubt my ideas.”

With self-talk defining our realities, and with the risk that self-talk could turn negative at any moment, we came up with a list of the nastiest myths and stories we tell ourselves as artists, as well as strategies to transcend negative self talk in art.

Self-Talk Foe #4: “These Materials are Too Nice to Use”

That perfect box of oil paints or pastels. Brushes made of the finest synthetic hair. The handmade paper from Tibet. The handmade paintbrush from France.

They’re great materials. So great that they’re TOO GOOD TO USE.

The ‘Too Good to Use’ problem will come up in all facets of life - cooking, business, clothing, everything. We’ve all done it - we’ve all bought a cooking oil that is so nice, we never use it, or wine that is so fine it sits on a shelf for years. Almost everyone has an outfit stationed in their closet that we think of as ‘too nice to wear.’ Or we’ve carefully made cookies that are so finely decorated, none of our guests want to eat them. Or we’ve been one of those guests who feels bad about eating the immaculately decorated cookies. Sometimes, things are just too perfect!

To bust this self talk:

The people who created the paint/markers/paper didn’t create it so that it could sit in a corner or sit in a box gathering dust. They created it for you, the artist, to use and thrive with. Even if the art you make is the worst art of all time, that is much better than the materials sitting unused in a box. It’s like the toys in Toy Story - they want dearly to be yours.

I had the ‘Too Good to Use’ problem with this set of Caran D’ache watercolor pencils. They all looked so perfect when I first opened the tray.

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After using the pencils for a while, the package no longer looks perfect or instagrammable, but, I kinda like it that way:

Self-Talk Foe #3: “I’ll Never be as good as my Peers/Friends/That Guy on Tumblr”

We all have that one friend who seems to float through the sky like an anime princess, wave their white-gloved hand, and magical art appears like fireworks all around them. I’ll call this person the Magical Art Friend. They pirouette, flutter their eyelashes, and BOOM - the most amazing art you’ve ever seen blossoms across their Instagram feed, perfect and fully-formed like Athena out of Zeus’s forehead, thousands of likes pouring in from across the galaxy. Now they’re on the cover of a magazine!

To bust this self talk:

Your Magical Art Friend also has a Magical Art Friend in their life.

They may be magical themselves, but there is a whole world of Magical Art Friends out there, with artists looking up to each other in an infinite hall of mirrors.

The Magical Art Friend also has ... unmagical moments. We’re all sharing our best moments on Instagram, but it’s good to know that this isn’t the whole picture. Sometimes things suck, for everyone, and sharing suckage in a hypercompetive environment doesn’t make sense. Things that suck also pass, we forget about them (or try), while we struggle to perserve good things. It only makes sense that after a while, everything looks very, very magical.

Self-Talk Foe #2: “I can’t start this project until I am a better artist”

Let’s start by saying this is a tough one. This piece of self-talk arrives at our mental doors wearing the garb of logic and restraint. Logic and restraint are good, right? Artists need it! Discipline is good!

Though discipline is good, we have to transcend this seemingly logical piece of self talk if we ever want to get anything done.

To bust this self talk:

Sit down with me. Have you ever seen the first few panels of Garfield? Garfield changes … a lot from Day 1 to the present day. Here’s old Garfield:

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The same can be said of The Simpsons. The first couple episodes do not represent what the Simpsons look like at all.

The characters and character designs… totally changed. They improved. And it was fine. Better than fine, even. The first couple tough installments blazed a path for a better vision.

As an artist you sometimes have to let yourself run into problems actively, take on what you can, circle back and make changes, or power forward, just get it released and in front of people. The reality of art is a bit like a particle of light under quantum theory - it’s a particle or a wave, depending on if someone looks at it or not. When art is observed, the reality of the art is different.

Self-Talk Foe #1: “The art I made does not match my vision”

Missing the mark. A failure to communicate. Poor execution.

Failed art hurts so bad.

We’ve all been there. We have a fantastic vision for the painting/drawing/animation/knitting project, and then upon execution … oh dear lord it looks terrible. It looks nothing like what we wanted!

This piece of negative self talk is the most brutal of all. It’s the reason why most people give up on art. It’s the reason we put down our pencils at around 6th grade and we tell ourselves “I’m not good at drawing.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t go away over time. The Vision is always there along with The Reality, two sides of the same spinning coin.

When the reality doesn’t match The Vision, it feels like a failure of engineering. It’s like getting a math problem wrong or asking your crush on a date and getting rejected. It’s like following a recipe with 1960s housewife diligence, and the cake still looks terrible.

To bust this self talk:

Remember that everybody fails and that failure happens all the time - we just don’t talk about failure. There’s no class in school where you talk about failure. Nobody goes to a weekly staff meeting and reads out a list of their failures.

Because we don’t talk about failure, it feels like failure doesn’t exist.

You know what, let’s talk about failure for a second. is a blog dedicated to cakes that don’t quite make the mark. Okay, that’s being nice. Explicitly stated, the cakes on the website are absolute wrecks. They are the saddest cakes you will ever see.

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What’s funny about Cakewrecks is there is a never-ending stream of cake wreckage content. Every day, there are new sets of wrecked cakes to see on Some wrecks are user-submitted, some are found by the website’s author, or curated and compiled out of other posts around the internet. But one thing is for certain: no matter where the cakes come from, there are many, many failed cakes out there. Cake making is hard.

Another way to get over this is to remember that sometimes, action can outperform vision. You might have a vision for a piece of art, but the more you draw, the more you chip away, sometimes action will take over.

Other people, not just artists, miss the mark all the time. We might try hard, we might pour hours of work and money into the perfect cake, we might have the most pristine vision of a cake in our head, and it might still fail and look nothing like the cake we envisioned at all.

Featured on the Clip Studio Paint website!

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Clip Studio Paint has featured one of my tweets on their Artist Testimonial page. The art is a sketch for a book I am working on for author Laurel McHargue. Laurel is awesome, one of my favorite books by Laurel is this one, Waterwight.

I love Clip Studio Paint and my ultimate dream is to bake a Clip Studio Paint appreciation cake and mail it to the software developers who made it. Clip Studio Paint understands artists and what artists need most!

Related blogs:

Clip Studio Paint for the iPad Pro (2017)

Clip Studio Paint AI Colorize Feature

Clip Studio Paint for the iPad Pro Revisited

The Punishing Truth of Art Critique

Haters are always there for you

Haters are always there for you

You’d hang a painting on the wall, and 30 people in a room would make comments on the painting. You couldn’t say anything while the other students were offering critique.

“I hate it.”

“It reminds me of my mom…”

“I don’t get it.”

“You could have worked on it harder.”

Ask anyone who has been through an art major or art school and they’ll probably talk for miles about the drama of critique. Usually, artists hate critique sessions. It drives deep seeds of unhappiness into artists, and it’s hard to say if it works as an educational model, but I will say that it’s an honest experience.

Critique is painful, but it is the most true-to-life moment of art school.

Once your art is done and out in the world, you can’t possibly defend every piece of criticism lodged against the work. It’s done, and you have to stand behind it, or be convinced to abandon it.

If 1000 people see the art and 200 people think it’s terrible, it’s impossible to argue and defend against 200 individual people.

You have to let it be.

A lot of people hated the paintings I made in school but I showed them anyways.

A lot of people hated the paintings I made in school but I showed them anyways.

The peace of critique is that there will always be people out there who don’t like what you do. Haters are like McDonalds - always there for you and always the same service, state after state, country after country. The sooner we accept this and move past it, probably the better.

Once when I was young, my family and I went to a swimming pool park in Florida and I made a sand sculpture of a turtle. An even younger girl, probably three years old, walked up to the turtle, looked it over for a few seconds, and ran her foot through it. I remember feeling sad for a second, and then realizing “It’s sand, it would all have washed away anyways” and “she’s a three year old, what do you expect?” and then feeling the liberation of letting it all go.

Most art disappears or gets destroyed. A lot of people hate art. A lot of people don’t get it. Do it anyways.

Related blogs:

What Makes a Helpful Art Critique

Paintings and Drawings of Cats

Real Cats: Bitty

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The painting above I made from a photo of cat on a rock in a pond - it was such a cool photo, I had to ask - how did the cat get there? And, why would she ever leave the rock? The rock seemed like such a cool place to be, surrounded by water and flower petals. 

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Real Cats: Marl

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I wanted to make a painting of my cousin's cat, Marl, who is a striped cat with beautiful markings. It was fun to paint Marl basking in the sun on a checkered carpet, it was especially fun to paint Marl's little footpads. 

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^ Here is Marley Cat hanging out at my cousin's place. 

Real Cats: Flash

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One day in Houston at my grandpa's house, a mostly white kitten appeared and stopped by to eat the kibbles of grandpa's much older cat, Xena. Fairly common in Houston, stray cats tend to come and go -  everyone in the family was expecting the wayward white kitten to move on to another house, but the kitten decided to stay. The kitten would appear intermittently and would race about the yard, and so the family named the kitten "Flash." He was fully adopted and now has his shots/tags and is overall here to stay. I made the above drawing of Flash in the garden, and the below drawing of Flash in Clip Studio Paint. Flash is white, but I reimagined him as a cat in the shade. 

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Imaginary Cats

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I started out this series of colorful cats in oil with a sort of "Wayne Thiebaud Cakes, but with Cats" kind of take. The thick oil paint makes the bright colors stand out quite a bit. I'd love to do more in this sereis with non-pale backgrounds, maybe more with leaves/foliage or household surroundings. Overall these were just fun to make. 

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Painting this cat's feet was fun. ^ At this level of thickness in paint, the paint takes on a sculptural quality, and I'm not even painting so much as sculpting or building dimensional form. I often start out paintings like this with a small undersketch in orange (so that it is easy to see) and then I fill out the full-bodied paint forms from there. It's interesting how no matter what kind of paintings you make, it all starts with the foundation of drawing. 

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Cats but with watercolor or acrylic ink. 

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For Inktober 2017 I made the cat above, what's interesting is people see a lot of different shapes in this cat. It's a bit like a cloud in this way.

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Several cats also make an appearance in Tilted Sun, a sci-fi fantasy comic that you can check out on