samedi 5 avril 2014

"What's your creative process?" series - part 7: Emmi Jormalainen, illustrator

I met Emmi on Christmas day of 2009, when I visited my friend Memi in Finland for the first time. Emmi was very kind to host me during my visit to Memi, and so I stayed with her for a few days. Then a little while later, I realised that I had been liking her and her friends' creations for quite a while, and that they were sharing a studio (Studio Panama)... where they kindly took me, for my greatest visual delight. I saw a tiny glimpse of Emmi working, and sat there for a while, with Memi and a cup of tea. I have beautiful memories from this vacation. Her visual universe is deep and filled with everyday-ness mixed with dreamy cuteness, colours and greys. Whenever I see her art, I feel warm inside. I am the happy and proud owner of a painting Emmi did for my therapy practice... It's very uplifting to see her art while I work with clients. People also look at the painting while they're thinking, and I always hope it inspires them too.
You can find Emmi's work on her personal page, and also on Studio Panama's page.
She has just released an experimental children's book with a visual storytelling, about a tree and the animals who live in it. It's called "Puu" ("Tree" in Finnish). You can purchase it from Studio Panama.

1) how do you usually describe what you do?
I'm working as an illustrator. I have MA in Graphic Design and my work is somewhere
between design, illustration and fine arts. I work with a wide range of projects (from websites
to book publishing, ad illustrations and children's books) but drawing is the dearest thing for me.

2) how and why did you start creating?
As a kid, we used to draw together with my mom. She is an interior architect so there were
always pens and papers available at home. I also played piano, but I was terribly bad in that.

3) could you describe the steps of your creative process?
I'm addicted to visual impulses. I travel a lot, watch movies, go to see art exhibitions, read
books and make little trips. If I'm on a laptop, I go through Instagram, pinterest, flickr or fffound
and search for inspirational stuff. I don't look for ready ideas, but colors, compositions and
way problems are solved.When I draw, I don't look at those images anymore, I just use the
mix of things I remember.

4) do you believe that what you do comes from yourself, or do you believe you are the

vessel of another "something" that expresses itself through you?
I think my working is my way to analyze and comprehend the world around me. I try to
visualize the things I see, feel and experience.

5) do you have habits concerning time, objects, location, when you are creating?
It's not magic. I just sit on my desk with paper and pen and start drawing. First 10 or so
drawings are always horrible but after that ideas start to flow.

6) does the "finished product" usually looks like what you had imagined, or do you

usually end up with something different than what you had in mind?
I think one is never really finished and nothing is ready or ultimate. If it is that, it becomes
boring. I start with an idea and it usually develops in the process but I work to get the finished
product to look like I imagined. When I get things ready, I'm already planning a next project.

7) how do you decide that a piece is finished?
When you can't add or change anything. Being finished doesn't mean it's good.

8 ) how important is it for you to share your creation with others? how do you impact / interact with their comments, criticism, opinions?
I share Studio Panama with 3 friends and it's essential to show and talk about works.
However, I have my trusted people from whom I take critique and who I give it to. It always
hurts, it makes you angry, but after a day you will feel better and you can see the point.

9) what is your relationship with your past creations?
I think every work is the reflection of the time and phase I was at that moment.

10) what is the easiest and the most difficult part of creating for you?
There is always a terrible moment of doubt in creative process. I hate it but nothing is
possible without that feeling of failing.

jeudi 6 mars 2014

"What's your creative process?" series - part 6: Valérie Leclercq (Half Asleep)

This entry has to start with two old stories.

Back in the early 2000's, I was in my late teens, and I had a fan site about Cat Power, through which I would regularly receive e-mails and mail from people sending me a copy of their zine, or stories about Chan Marshall, asking me to promote their photography website, etc. And one day, I got an e-mail from a french person asking me to listen to their band's demo. I think they had a cover band of Cat Power music, and they were called Metal Heart.

A little bit later, I was active on livejournal (yes, I am old), and I think there were people on there who would sometimes post photos of a singer named Half Asleep they would see at local shows.

Somehow those two pieces of information melted into this third event:

Fast forward 10-15 years, and I am standing inside a record store, staring at a Half Asleep LP, thinking it looks so nice. Then I remembered the information about Half Asleep, and the information about Metal Heart, the two collided into one false memory of "that band who sent me their demo once". So I bought the record (yay!), came home, put it on the shelf, and never listened to it (whyyyy? - no idea)

Then a year or two later, I was going on a second or third date with a boy who also happens to be friends with Valérie. He took me to her concert, after playing me some songs of hers... Now picture this. We were in a rock / metal bar, the stage fully decorated for Halloween, and Valérie was sitting alone right in the middle, on a chair, with her classical guitar. At that point, I thought she was the strongest person in the world. I can't remember if it was after or before the show, but I asked her "are you not nervous?" and she said "Yeah, but you get used to it".

Her music was so haunting, so terribly dark and strong and preciously fragile at the same time, the tensions in the sounds mirroring the tensions of her body language, still generously flooding the room with honesty. I got out of there so energised and excited and shaky and and and... You know, that feeling when you see that there is  something out there that kind of looks like something you have inside of you?

So then on a day of boredom, I picked up the record, played it, looked at the sleeve, and finally the pieces fell into place: Half Asleep is not Metal Heart (what happened to Metal Heart the Cat Power cover band anyway?). And the universe opened up. Since then, I got to know Valérie a tiny little bit more, saw her play a few times, with her friends and / or her sister, ... still a little bit petrified by the effect of her dark, courageous, melancholic songs on me...

Here are some videos for you to get an idea of what I'm talking about... Valérie kindly sent me all those links and I just can't make a selection, so here are all of them. You can also check out her bandcamp site, and her soundcloud page if you want to hear more!

And here are her answers to the questions! With some photos! :)

1) how do you usually describe what you do?

To people who ask what I do, I just say ‘music’ as a joke – but only because I assume they are asking to be polite and wouldn’t be interested in hearing a well-developed answer. Now to those who ask what kind of music, I always tell “songwriting” or acoustic songwriting. What I like about using “songwriting” as a label is that it is very flexible and does not point to any specific style of music. Instead what gives a songwriting project its identity is the songwriter’s personality. As a music lover, I am myself usually more attracted to solo artists because I find that when someone can freely follow his or her inspiration, the result is often more daring, more varied, more intimate too. Think: Robert Wyatt, Nico, Tim Buckley, PJ Harvey. What’s interesting to me is the unique, highly personal world each of these musicians created and the way their music evolved over the years. Scott Walker’s crooner ballads of the 60s have, in a sense, nothing to do with his violent experimental pieces of the 2000s, but they are all propositions formulated by a true songwriter, and they are all part of a greater unity defined by Walker’s intelligence and bold sensibility. I feel like bands are heavier to handle and their music is much more often defined by compromises than by sharp expressions of individuality. Unless they have a very strong leader, all that sticks out, all singular projections or excrescences, have to be shaved off so as to obtain a form that satisfies everyone involved. And any change of direction must be approved by three, four, five individuals, each with their own tastes and limits.

As a musician, I really hate compromise, especially when applied to music that I’ll later have to call my own. In everyday life, I am weak-willed, a real pushover, but strangely enough, I see myself as a really stubborn musician. I would never have thought that I’d have the courage to put music into the world on my own but I am glad this is ultimately the shape my project took. Now I am not sure I really have embraced all the freedom that comes with being a songwriter yet, in fact I am sure I haven’t. Being insolent or fearless wasn’t certainly part of my initial plan, I thought everything had already been done anyway and just wanted to create something genuine. But now, I can feel the excitement of large open spaces, I love to remember that I can do whatever I want and get really frustrated with people who have no other ambition than to stick to the rule.

2) how and why did you start creating?

I started to “write” music probably one or two years after I stopped taking music lessons and my mother, sister, brother and I moved out of Brussels. There was a piano in our new house and since I only had learned five short pieces in music classes, I quickly ran out of things to play. Also I was listening to so much music at the time and was so passionate about it. I can’t remember that well – I must have been about 13 or 14 – but I think I had just discovered Tori Amos and, retrospectively, it wouldn’t be surprising if her work inspired me to try writing music for myself. The first two years, I only “composed” short instrumental pieces on the piano (the quote marks mean I can’t technically write music so I don’t know if this can be called “composing”); I didn’t even consider trying to sing, the thought never crossed my mind. Then progressively, and because the voices and words of my favourite singer-songwriters exerted a growing fascination on me, these little pieces turned into songs.
Creating music was very exciting to me, I felt it was very rewarding too – both intellectually and emotionally. Today I can’t decide if I dove so deep into music because I was lonely, or if I was a lonely teenager only because music was such an essential part of my life that it didn’t leave room for much else. The latter interpretation may seem unlikely but the more I think of it, the more I wonder. I never was bullied at school, nor was I an outcast of any sort. Generally people liked me and I am sure some would have loved to have become closer friends. But I kept everyone at a safe distance and usually preferred spending hours alone in my room than with people who’d had the courage to elect me as friend and were trying to pull me by the hand. I had a very intense creative “interior life” as a teenager and life inside that space was so stimulating and warm, most of the time this is where I wanted to be. The strange contradiction here is that, in order to be creative, I needed and wanted isolation from the world and others, but then the product of this creativity turned out to be all about how much loneliness hurts. I don’t necessarily think you need to hurt to be creative. But looking back, I realise that this is what I’ve always done: cultivating solitude and a form of melancholy to sustain and feed my creative instincts. I am not sure what it says about me. Does it mean I am a fake? Sometimes I feel I haven’t suffered enough to be allowed to write such sad music. But the problem is also of an aesthetic nature: sad music is the only kind of music I want to write. Sad music makes me happy.

3) could you describe the steps of your creative process?

It always starts with the music. Usually, I sit at the piano or with my guitar and find a motif that I like which I then try to develop into a longer musical structure. At that point I always leave the composition open and start focusing on the lyrics and the vocal melody. I always let the words and meaning emerge from the music itself. I am not really a storyteller (or at least not in the purest sense of the word), there are rarely stories or particular themes, specific people or events I want to write about. The information music gives (which I try to absorb) are more elusive, they are emotions, feelings, images, memories. Writing is just one repeated attempt at pinning down and describing the fleeting sensations contained in the music itself. Of course, technically, it is not the music “speaking” here, but me. Music works as a revelator that singles out specific units from this infinite database constituted by my brain and body and pull them up to the surface. This whole process became very clear to me three years ago when I was trying to write one particular song. I had found on the guitar this five-note pattern that I really liked and didn’t know what to do with. I would probably have discarded it if it wasn’t for the strong visual impression it left on me. For days I had this image stuck in my head: it was just before twilight, at the edge of a sparse wood, I imagined two people standing hypnotized at the foot of an electric pole as if something powerful, unknown to men, was about to be revealed. Soon this first image merged with a memory I had of a walk I took with my friends Delphine Dora and Dana Hilliot a few years ago on a high plateau in central France. We were walking in the thickest of fogs, couldn’t see further than 6 or 7 meters in front of us. In the fields adjoining the road, pairs of eyes were emerging slowly, one by one, from the thick white cloud; cows were staring at us as if we were intruders and fog was their natural element. At one point, we heard a muffled electric buzzing sound and arrived at the foot of a wind turbine, the head of which we couldn’t even see when we raised our heads. The whole walk was very eerie, we didn’t talk much. Later I wove elements of these two visions into a text. It took me such a long time to do so, though, and the images triggered by these five little notes were so haunting, that these transient objects functioning as bridges between the music and the lyrics, were made more visible than usual. From the first vision, I kept the location, the electricity, a hypnotic sensation and the feelings of anticipation, excitement and fear. From the second episode, I kept the motion of walking, the buzzing sound, the hidden, quiet presence of livestock, etc. Writing lyrics, to me, feels like a patient game of association, like a long wandering through a timeless and a-geographical space where all possible things can be summoned and connected together to create something new. This something new is never fully about me, but also never fully about something else.
More pragmatically, my songs are in English but I always write the English text and the translated French version simultaneously, I don’t know why, it is as if I needed to gauge the relevance of the words in both languages to be sure of their impact. The vocal melody too, has to be constructed in simultaneity with the words. Once the lyrics and vocal melody are finished, the musical structure of the song can be adjusted, closed up and acquire its definitive form.

4) do you believe that what you do comes from yourself, or do you believe you are the vessel of another "something" that expresses itself through you?

I think it comes from myself but is at the same time so intensely mine that it becomes mysterious, even to me. I’ve always thought of music as an Absolute, as something larger than life, something that goes beyond understanding. There is this very strange succession of images that I get in my head when I think about this : the first is of Isabelle Huppert’s back and right arm at the 2001 Cannes festival bearing the inscription “God can thank Bach because Bach is the proof of God’s existence” (2001 was the year Haneke’s La Pianiste won the Palme d’Or); the second is an elevated view of the inside of a church, or more specifically a view of something floating in that large empty space trapped between the chairs and altar, and the stone vaults. I read in a book several months ago someone describing that floating entity as “cooled-down prayers” and I thought it was really beautiful but what I see there instead is Bach’s music (or at least what I know of it). The third image is a conglomerate of all Bergman’s movies, in a very deep, saturated black and white. Bergman and Bach: this might sound very pretentious but my attachment to those two figures is very simple and instinctive, and I’m sure I don’t understand half of what their work really is about but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that their work stands out in my mind as the very sensation of this Absolute, of this pure object which does not really care to advertise its presence to anyone, which is just floating there quietly and could very well be God. This protestant-ish austere intensity, I see it as a way to reach the very core of things. And when I “create” music, there is always a little bit of that. Not that I consciously try to touch or to incarnate this Absolute, not that I would ever be capable of doing so. But rather there is this idea that maybe “my” music comes both from me and from this mysterious core (that could be inside of me, or everywhere around me, or outside all things). Or maybe, music just comes from a place that has nothing to do with the mystery of music, only with the mystery of being, and strives to reach this Absolute of music on its own. Or maybe all this is bullshit and the only unfathomable, overflowing, overwhelming, transcendent thing that exists is in fact my love for music.

5) do you have habits concerning time, objects, location, when you are creating?

No particular habits. Or perhaps one: I usually need to be in the most isolated room of the apartment so that no one can hear what I’m doing, including my neighbours. This caused me to spend a fair amount of time in bathrooms and hallways.

6) does the "finished product" usually looks like what you had imagined, or do you usually end up with something different than what you had in mind?

No, it definitely never looks or sounds like what I had in mind when I started. Most of the time it’s really frustrating because it seems that what you can do is never as good as what you can imagine. Although I find that the largest gap between the imagined and the real song is often not in its basic structure and content, but most often in the arrangements. That’s probably because I rarely try to imagine a piece before I start writing it, my imagination usually hits full gear once its initial shape has been given to the piece. Visualizing the arrangements on the basis of a simple piano track, or voice and guitar track, is actually one of my favourite things to do in the world. While I listen to those first versions, I can hear a trumpet here, a trombone there, or a cello, or weird percussions, or I’ll try to sketch out the different vocal parts. I write my ideas down on scraps of paper which I generally lose then rediscover later. Since I am a slow “finisher”, it sometimes takes months and years before I start to record the arrangements. So I spend months and years with only idealized arrangements in my head and they are of course always grandiose, complex and beautiful. This is actually the stage at which I am now with my next album, and I am well aware of the fact that what I have in mind will never come to be, all the more so that I’ve asked other people to interfere and work with me on the songs. But that’s ok. It is always hard for me to let go because I have such a specific vision of what I want but I know I will have to, just as I will have to trust the talent of my collaborators. The beautiful thing though, is that it also means that I don’t know where I am going to end up. Letting go can lead you to pretty unexpected places and the excitement of that compensates for the loss of an imaginary perfection.

7) how do you decide that a piece is finished?

As far as the music is concerned, I generally reach a conclusion very instinctively. It all depends of the piece: if it has a more narrative, evolutive feel, then I have the tendency to attach additional parts to the early version. If I find that the different parts don’t flow organically into each other, or that one part or another doesn’t really add to the meaning of the piece, then I try to revert back to a simpler structure. The length of a song never worries me, I’d even say the longer the better. Short songs actually make me more nervous. For a short song to work, it has to be really strong and powerful. On this album I’m working on at the moment, something else happened too: three songs are actually built around one single chord, and in each case, the same reason prevented me to add other chords. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this but sometimes you find three or four notes that, when played together, create a very particular tension or atmosphere. I am very interested in tensions; one of the main themes or sensations that I want to explore in my work is that of the invisible threat. If you are familiar with Harold Pinter’s comedy of menace, that is partly what I try to achieve (but with a lot less humour because I can’t for the life of me inject humour into a song). Some of my favourite movies of the last decade are explorations of this idea of an intangible menace: Winter’s Bone, Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, even Von Trier’s Melancholia. And there is also something incredibly cinematographic in that particular feeling. Now if you’ve ever paid attention to movie soundtracks, you know that three notes are often enough to create tension. Often if you add more notes, other sensations will inevitably seep in, a ray of sunshine, some form of sadness, relief. So that’s what happened with those three one-chord songs. If I wanted them to speak exclusively of that feeling, if I wanted to never release the tension or open a door for the listener to slip out, I had to maintain this unique chord all along and add nothing more. And you’d think it is easy to do, but it is not. I kept trying to extend the pieces, to add parts or at least to find a second chord that would prolong the tone of the first and unlock the rest of the composition, but nothing worked. Ultimately, I gave up. Simplicity is definitively not my default mode. But I’m glad the songs are often strong enough to dictate what’s best for them.

Writing lyrics is a bit different. I used to be satisfied pretty quickly with what I wrote. But it was only the consequence of my disinterest for the specificity of the words I sang. I really started writing song lyrics because I wanted to use the sound of a voice, just as I wanted to use the sound of other instruments, and needed words and sentences to do so. Not that I was writing nonsensical rubbish. I’ve always loved writing and actually enjoyed finding images and sensations to describe. But I really started with the idea that my voice and the words I sang should not be considered more important than the main piano track or a flute melody. As a result, my lyrics were not published, my voice was purposefully under-mixed, etc. For some time, I let the music speak for itself while I, as a vocal human being, remained in hiding. Over the years and because other people gave me the courage to do so, I revealed myself through my voice more and more, to the point even of developing a real fascination for vocal music. Now that my voice can be heard distinctively, I have this desire for a greater precision in the words I use. Now I want to be satisfied with every single sentence I put down on paper whereas before I was ok with finding only three quarters of a song’s lyrics satisfying. It helps also that my English got better with the years and that I have more and more confidence in the grammatical form of what I write. Recently, and for the first time ever, I re-wrote entirely a song I was not happy with.

8 ) how important is it for you to share your creation with others? how do you impact / interact with their comments, criticism, opinions?

Oh it is really important to me. I don’t necessarily think that a song needs to be shared to have a meaning but sharing it definitely gives it a larger life, project it into another dimension. And there is the sharing with an audience, but also the sharing with other musicians. I’ve always thought that one of the best things about making music was getting to know other musicians. At the beginning, I relied a lot on the comments of my peers. They were like a mirror, I needed them to tell me what I was worth as a songwriter. What I got at the time was tremendous support and encouragements. I didn’t receive many negative comments although I can remember most of those I did receive very vividly. I was ten years younger then and those criticisms were often voiced by older and more experienced men who were telling me how better it was to do things this or that way, how this or that song should be. I am sure they only had good intentions and retrospectively not everything they said was completely off the mark, but I don’t think they realised how authoritative their advices sounded to the ears of a timid 19 year old woman. I wished they had the humility to insist that this was only their opinion and reflected only their personal musical tastes so that I could feel a dialogue was possible. But their comments felt patronizing, they just made me angry and so I dug my heels in. I was perhaps not ready for a dialogue at the time though. But ultimately, I am glad I did not really listen to any of them, especially after I realised that I, in fact, did not share their vision or understanding of music. I am terrified of conflicts as a rule and have a tendency to surround myself with kind-hearted people who I know will adapt to my non-confrontational personality. That’s just how it works for me, I don’t respond well to being antagonised, it just crushes me. I need support, encouragement, inspiration, that’s what will make me a better songwriter. If I want someone’s honest opinion, I know I can ask friends and musicians whose tastes I share and whose thoughtfulness I trust.

Negative comments from reviewers or strangers on the internet hurt too. But you learn to get past them. Obviously some criticisms are more hurtful than others. I am, for instance, really ok with people saying I can’t sing (which is partly true and I never pretended I could) or that they don’t like my voice. At the other end of the spectrum, the most upsetting situation would probably be when someone invalidates in one second all I am trying to say and do by calling it “whining”. Making music means exposing yourself and when someone takes that vulnerability to, basically, laugh at it, it always feels like a violent blow. This just makes you want to close up and never expose yourself again. We all want to mean something and music is the way I’ve found to achieve that, especially in my own eyes. But we’re also all yearning for connexions. I want people to connect with what I do and with who I am. If someone tells me he can’t find any ways to connect with my music, that’s fine. One reviewer wrote a couple of years ago that it was just too consistently dark for him, so much so that it felt sterile. I actually get that. There are different kinds of sensibilities and some don’t thrive or find meaning in darkness. It is something else entirely when someone shames you for attempting to communicate and tells you to crawl back to your hole. In fact, that’s how you silence whole groups of people, by making them believe they have nothing valuable to contribute to the world. Then those with the loudest voices have free reign to impose their idea of what is worthy of expression and what is not, until everyone starts to believe that these hierarchies are natural facts. I am so glad that music is so imperative to me that I am forced to push back, even if it is only at my own little level. I realise that the intimate mystical ramblings of a morose 29-year-old white European middle-class female is not something everybody is interested in hearing. And I certainly don’t believe that what I have to say is more important or relevant than what others have to say. On the contrary, I still often struggle with the thought of my own insignificance, as I think many people do. But now and again, someone comes to me and tells me they have been deeply moved with what they’ve heard, and this is enough for me to know that it is all worth it: that I am worth it, but also that making music is worth it and that people are worth it.

9) what is your relationship with your past creations?

They’re like old photographs. From time to time I take them out of the drawer and have a look at them. They’re always a bit faded and seem familiar and strange at the same time. They will always remind me of other chapters of my life, of this other person that was me then. Maybe I’ll miss that person and those who were around her at the time, maybe my chest will swell with pride for who she was or what she did, or maybe I’ll just think she wore ridiculous pants.

10) what is the easiest and the most difficult part of creating for you?

The most difficult part is to finish off what I’ve started. And to find time and energy to do so. The easiest part is to start something new.

You can find Half Asleep's music here and there.

dimanche 5 janvier 2014


We had a small winter break in Seville, where we had beautiful blue skies and sunshine... and the best food ever. And the orange trees. Everywhere!

lundi 23 décembre 2013

"What's your creative process?" series - part 5: Anke Weckmann

Here is Part 5 of this little blog entry series, this time featuring a very brilliant illustrator that I have been lucky enough to count among my internet acquaintances for almost 10 years now.
Anke Weckmann is a German-born Londoner who started drawing before she could walk. She finds inspiration in strong female characters - from Pippi Longstocking to Katniss Everdeen (!) -, colour pallets, shapes and textures, and in the details she notices when she goes for walks.
Her illustrations have appeared in many books and magazines (including Bitch magazine, my personal favourite!), and also on products (if you were in Korea not too long ago, you may have also seen her drawings on cosmetics from the brand Too Cool For School - I did!).

If you want more (you should!), you can check out Anke's website, her blog, follow her on twitter and tumblr, or support her art via her Etsy shop or her Society6 page.

1. How do you usually describe what you do?
I'm an illustrator and draw pictures for magazines, products and other things.
2. How and why did you start creating?
I started drawing before I could walk and I was always really drawn to making things. I remember begging people to show me how to crochet or sew and one of my favourite thing was to play outside and build dens. If I don't draw or make things I get unhappy very quickly.

3. Could you describe the steps of your creating process?
It really depends on the project and it doesn't always happen the same way. But most often I get ideas just by drawing in my sketchbook and I come back to them later when I'm working on projects. Occasionally I see the whole idea in my head before I draw it. But usually I find it most exciting to start drawing without knowing what I will draw or how it will turn out.

4. Do you believe that what you do comes from yourself, or do you believe that you are the vessel of another 'something' that expresses itself through you?
Is this referring to the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert? I really like her, but I do think that what I make come from me, but I also don't think it's coming from me inside a vacuum. It's something like my interpretation of my experiences and inspirations from the world around me and I'm sure the subconscious plays a big part.

5. Do you have habits concerning time, objects, location, when you are creating?
It depends what I'm doing. If I'm coming up with ideas then it can happen anywhere, as long as I have my sketchbook and pencils. Cafes and libraries seem to work perfectly for this stage, I can focus really well there and get a lot done. If I'm inking illustrations I need to be at my desk and have my light box, pens, paper etc. If I need to concentrate then I work best on my own, without music and without interruptions. At the colouring stage I need the computer and I'll happily listen to audiobooks and podcasts for hours.

6. Does the 'finished product' usually look like what you had imagined or do you usually end up with something different than you had imagined?
In some ways the finished product does look like I imagined, I think it's because after years of drawing I know how I draw and what my work looks like. It's not like when you first start drawing and you haven't developed your way of working yet and really don't know how your work will turn out at all. That said, I don't imagine things in too much detail. It would be so boring! Especially with personal work I often just start without any rough sketches and let the drawing surprise me.

7. How do you decide when a piece is finished?
It either feels finished and I'm happy with it, or occasionally I'm just completely sick of it, haha.

8. How important is it for you to share your creation with others? How do you impact/interact with their comments, criticisms, opinions?
It's really fun to share my work, it's one of the reasons I really like making work for products that people can use. My work is really personal to me so it's especially nice if people like it! And I like being able to share work with other artists and obviously see their work as well. If nobody ever saw my work I would still draw (most of the drawings in my sketchbook I never show), but in many ways illustrations exist to communicate, so sharing/publishing the work is an important part. Nice comments can also really cheer my up on a bad day when I feel like I've forgotten how to draw. I don't worry too much about negative criticism because I don't expect everybody to like my work, just as I don't love everybody else's work.

9. What is your relationship with past creations?
A lot I cringe at, especially things that are more than 3 years old. Other things I still really like. I tend to focus on what I'm working on or what I plan to draw next and not look at old work very often.

10. What is the easiest and the most difficult part of creating for you?
Being motivated/inspired to draw it the easiest part and the most fun! The most difficult part is all the other stuff - dealing with paperwork, contract negotiation, emails, taxes and the occasional existential crisis, i.e. "My work sucks, I'm going to be a postman instead".

dimanche 8 décembre 2013

Writing a new version of winter

We have moved houses! Finally I am out of the no man's land area of brussels surrounded by big concrete towers and shopping malls.

This neighborhood is interesting. It seems vibrant and full of friends in the nearby streets. There are lots of cooperative projects, lots of people who make music, and I even found a very very cheap yoga class close to where we live. So far, it feels good. Plus We see a park through our windows.

We are settling in, we are nesting for the winter.
If we can combine our two creative processes (mine being very happy-go-lucky and very quick; his being very thought-through and slow), we might write and record a series of winter songs together :)

Also, I am in the process of crocheting a big big blanket. So far I made 64 granny squares. I need about 300... Hopefully it'll be done by february.

New Home

New Home

New Home

New Home

new home

New home

New home

New home

dimanche 1 décembre 2013

"What's your creative process?" series - part 4: Shae Krispinsky from ...y los dos pistoles

Here is a much delayed episode of "what's your creative process"!

I am very happy to post this one particularly, because when I started reading what Shae wrote to me, I could not stop. I was nodding, saying "Yes! exactly!", made my partner read it (with little luck on the amazement front, he was just smiling in this "Yes, I know why you're so excited" way, but HE KNEW. Anyway, maybe you'll see what I mean too.

I met Shae only online. She was on my friends list on livejournal in the early-mid 2000's, and I think it had something to do with my nickname being "myralee", which was the title of a Cat Power album (which, if you know her current stuff, might surprise you in how honest and pure and dark it is). I think we added each other on the basis that we both liked Cat Power. Shae was not a usual livejournaler. She would rarely post photos, and really seemed to care about how she wrote and what she wrote. She too, was honest and inviting in the meanders of her searching spirit. I remember that we chatted a few times, and I told her I'd like to write songs, but I knew so few chords and so little about guitar that I wouldn't do it. She said that she had the same issue but she wanted to make music anyway. She gave me the link to a few of her songs, and I thought they were fabulous. Stemming from such an unwavering resolve to express oneself, through inner and outer obstacles that could seem as though they might destroy you for trying. Recently I have discovered her band's facebook page, and started "following" her again.

Nowadays she is part of the band ...y los dos pistoles, who is five years old this year. They are from Tampa, Florida, USA. Shae told me they have "shared the stage with musicians like Mates of State, Off With Their Heads, Lemuria, Fake Problems, William Elliot Whitmore, Samantha Crain and tons of great local and not-so-local bands."

You can listen to them and buy their music on their bandcamp, like them on facebook, follow them on tumblr, or check out Shae's personal tumblr

Here is what Shae wrote to me! Enjoy!

...y los dos pistoles (a purposefully bad translation of "...and the two pistols" - our original name was going to be delia gunnn y los dos pistoles (my old pseudonym) but I didn't want the guys to feel like they were just my backing band; they add so much to the songs and the band never would have happened without them, so we dropped my name, gave me the ellipses. I'm the ellipses, they're the pistols!) is Shae Krispinsky (guitar, vocals, harmonica), Derek Forrester (drums) and Russ Jovin (bass).

1. How do you usually describe what you do?

Stumped by the very first question! I guess I tell people I play in a band and write silly little songs. I am loath to call myself a musician, because as much as I love music, it was never really about the music. I consider myself a writer first and foremost. Music for me is about the lyrics.

2. How and why did you start creating?

I’ve written as long as I remember physically being able to write. My mom and grandma often read me stories before bed, and so when the time came to hold that crayon, it was a natural progression. If I didn’t like how a story ended, I rewrote it. In middle school, I found Sylvia Plath and wanted to be a poet. Somewhere, I have hundreds and hundreds of really bad poems in a giant 3-ring binder. I heard Bob Dylan when I was fifteen and realized that music is the way most people consume poetry, so I bought an acoustic guitar and taught myself how to play. Prior to that, I made up songs, little a capella melodies, out while taking bike rides or playing in the yard. I continuously sang to myself. (I still do.) One time, I couldn’t have been older than nine or ten, my mom asked me if I had been having a good conversation with myself—she had seen me out the window, and said my “mouth didn’t stop moving once.” I couldn’t admit I wasn’t talking, but singing. Music, writing, creation—growing up, these were secret pursuits, things done (when I thought I was) alone or late at night, locked in my bedroom.

3. Could you describe the steps of your creative process?

Movement and being alone are important. A lot of my songs begin either when out walking around or driving. Driving may be the most important part of my creative process, as it’s often the only time when I'm completely alone. Writing a song begins with a melody and some words. These typically come together. After that, once safely off the road, I pull out the journal, try to finish the lyrics, then pull out the guitar and try to find the chords that match the melody.

4. Do you believe that what you do comes from yourself, or do you believe you are the vessel of another something that expresses itself through you?

I’ve been thinking about this question for an hour now, and I’m still not sure how to answer it. A finished song—I got to the end, it’s done—feels like magic to me. I’ve played songs months after writing them and, in awe, asked myself, “How did I write this? How did I do this?” It’s not a statement about the quality of the finished product—writing a mediocre song is equally as magical as writing a decent song: It’s all a wonder. Those books or courses on How To Write A Song are suspect. How can you teach something like that? Of course, I don’t know much (or any) music theory, and so I never work from that foundation. It’s all intuition for me. Where does that intuition come from? I think that’s beyond the scope of the question, unless I want to get into the mess of my personal spiritual beliefs. It’s nice to think of myself as some sort of priestess, but I can’t really say that while keeping a straight face.

5. Do you have habits concerning time, objects, location when you are creating?

I’ve already touched upon this—I need to be alone, or at least, have the illusion of being alone. Convincing myself that my house-mates can’t hear me is almost as good as having the house to myself. Convincing myself other drivers around me can’t hear me shrieking in my car is crucial.

I’m not a morning person at all, so working in the evening or late at night yields better results. Those moments right before slumber, when the mind hasn’t yet turned off but the guards of consciousness are lowering—that’s a ripe time for lyrics.
Having a really good pen—in terms of ink-flow, not cost (I consistently use the Bic Crystal pens in blue)—helps, too. If the tactile sensation of writing feels good, I'll write more.

New guitars typically inspire a few new songs almost immediately. This is an expensive way to get out of writer’s block, but it works.

6. Does the finished product usually look like what you had imagined, or do you usually end up with something different than what you had in mind?

The finished product never sounds like what I first heard in my head. There are two major changing points through the creation of a song. The first is when I’m putting the guitar to the vocal melody. I can sing things that I simply don’t know how to translate to the guitar, and my knowledge of chords and fingerings is pretty basic, so I find myself having to “dumb down” the vocal line to get it to match the closest approximation I can actually play on the guitar.
The second change comes if and when I bring my song to my band. I might have an overall feel of what I want the song to be, but my band-mates mostly come up with what they’re playing on drums and bass themselves, so I’m always surprised by what they bring. I think of my songs as simple folk songs, but we’re a noisy rock band, so Derek and Russ (drummer and bassist, respectively) add a lot of body and power and counter-melodies that I would never be able to come up with on my own.

7. How do you decide that a piece is finished?

I wouldn’t be entirely joking if I were to say a piece is done when I get sick of working on it, but I wouldn’t be entirely honest either. My lyrics tend to have a structure or a movement, from doubt to resolve, so once I get to that resolve, I know I’m nearing the end. I don’t leave a lot of space for instrumental parts to my songs, so when the lyrics end, that’s generally when the song ends. With the band, though, we constantly tweak and change—Russ switches effects pedals regularly. Derek adds or alters drum fills here and there, and I might change my strumming pattern as the song requires or play around with enunciation as I’m inspired to. In this sense, a song is only finished when we stop playing it live.

8. How important is it to share your creations with others? How do you impact/interact with their comments, criticism, opinions?

My therapist said something one time when I was moaning about my art not having an effect on people, and since it didn't, what was the point in continuing. He said, “Do the artists who have had an effect on you know about it?” No, of course not! Bob Dylan doesn't know who I am. Ani Difranco, Kathleen Hanna, Chan Marshall, Bill Callahan, Veda Hille—none of them know how their music has saved me, changed me, altered my life. So just because it's unknown doesn't mean it's not happening. Maybe I won't ever affect anyone on the same level, or at all, but I have a better chance of it happening if I share myself and my music with others. And I encourage others to do the same.

Separating the creation from the creator is difficult . If someone is judging a song of mine, then they’re judging me, and I don’t want to be judged. Because of that, I spent many years hiding my writings and my songs. For whatever reason, I eventually felt compelled to put my music up online (under a pseudonym) and the people who reached out were mostly complimentary, which encouraged me to come out of the bedroom. 

Taking away the anonymity, playing out live, has forced me to step up my game in terms of what I release into the world. I have many songs that never get played to anyone. Because I don't like being judged (still; I don't think that ever goes away), I make a point to present the strongest songs/lyrics I can. I've accepted that I'm not for all markets and I'm going to keep doing this regardless of what anyone thinks. If people criticize negatively, I take what I find useful and do my best to ignore the rest.

9. What is your relationship with your past creations?

Critical, sometimes abashed, yet proud. I rarely go back and listen to my really old songs (or even the newer songs for that matter), but when I do, I admire my willingness to play around, have fun, go for it even though at the time of making them I felt very constrained—had to be quiet, had to keep it all a secret, etc. Growing up I remember my father telling me I sounded like a dying cat when I sang so I think it's amazing that little people-pleasing, spineless me turned against that and followed my heart and I have most of it recorded. Even if I sang off key, or my strumming fell off rhythm often (as it did), it's hard for me to not hear beyond that and hear the victory in those songs: I'm doing this, I did it.

10. What is the easiest and the most difficult part of creating for you?

No part of creating is easy for me, but it's mostly enjoyable and this makes it seem less difficult. The most difficult part is probably the most satisfying part: writing lyrics. Sometimes this comes natural and easy, the words flow with little effort on my part, but when it doesn't, it's painful. It's racking the brain for the perfect word, or a striking image, or something that's not cliché without being too purple or far-reaching. Since this is my focus, my fuel, I want the end result to be as strong as possible. The struggle is finding the balance between wording the ideas or feelings perfectly and forcing myself to say, “Good enough!” so I can finish.


...y los dos pistoles bandcamp - facebook - tumblr
Shae's personal tumblr

mardi 8 octobre 2013

3 new songs! And a blog recommendation!

After being silent for a while (after that collab I did with my friend that sounded soooo good with all the extra sounds and engineering and exquisite sound mastering on his part - eeeep!), I wrote three songs in three days :)

The first is a weird text I wrote stream-of-consciousness, almost unconsciously, I think it's about shitty childhoods and long winters spent waiting to get older.

The second, I wrote and recorded in 20 minutes, cause I had no more time to do it and I really wanted to do it, but you can totally hear it's a rushed project, I wrote after reading creepy white guy. There were things I had to testify of :)

And then the third one, that I just finished, is a text I wrote in my Big Wisdom Year of 2011, where I vowed to learn patience and observation. I always wanted to make a song with this text but it never worked, until today, where I had this text in mind all day long and felt the need to do a song with it. Also I needed to be very vocal?!

Maybe tomorrow a fourth song will come out of me?

Oh I want to add something, a recommendation of a blog: London Lotta. I used to follow Charlotta's livejournal way back (probably around ten years ago). She became a journalist and a writer, and her blog is just so pleasant to read. She recently wrote a post about her anxiety and depression, which was so honest, well written and inspiring...