Viewfinders: The Value of Looking Through a Hole

I’m about to go on and on about the value of looking through a hole. There are no metaphors involved, just a method that can save hours of dithering and frustration when composing a painting or sketch.

I carry a plastic shutter-style viewfinder, called a ViewCatcher, with me, for quick composing of drawings and sketches. Sometimes I just muse through it, which makes me look a like a freak. This little plastic square has made my work a great deal more efficient and harmonious.

They’re great for sketch outings, to determine what to include and what to leave out of a drawing. I’m notorious for running out of paper, failing to block out the composition first. Set the ratio of the viewfinder to match the page you’re using, then decide what you want to draw and how to compose it. I’ve been concentrating on composition in this fashion lately, making more successful drawings and paintings because of it. Thumbnail studies on yellow stickers helps tremendously, too.

On bright days, it’s good to be able to isolate a color, too. The little hole is great for that.

You can buy a ViewCatcher or you can make a perfectly good viewing tool for less.

My nephew took up drawing recently so I thought I’d send him one of his own, and was reminded that this fabulous item costs $9 to $15 (at Daniel Smith) – I suspect at the time I bought mine years ago I experienced hysterical amnesia after I looked at the receipt, so I decided to make one for him instead.

In my rather embarrassingly large collection of unused art supplies, I dug up a wire-bound Artist’s Trading Card format (2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ baseball card size) watercolor paper notebook. I figured I could cut holes in it and make a collection of commonly-used ratios, plus a tiny holepunched viewer to isolate colors. First I had to turn the white paper 50% grey.

I bought a Copic art marker in a color that matched the ViewCatcher, and bought that for about $3. Toner 5 Grey T05S is marked T5 on the end cap. There are other brands as well, or you could mix your own middle-grey color and paint the sheets. (So far materials are approaching the cost of just going and buying a ViewCatcher at full retail price. But I digress.) I colored a number of the little pages, then drew, labeled and cut small windows of popular ratios for drawing papers. You’ll still have the remaining pages for sketches and notes.

It’s a portable thing to carry; just flip out the proper page, compose your picture, and enjoy how much better your drawings are!

Posted in Be Artful | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

REVIEW: “100 Ways to Change Your Life”

So I’m in Cleveland working on some webdev bloggy projects at my friend John’s house and one night I’m staring at the computer screen feeling stuck. The weather is hot and humid and airless. After googling longingly about those Dyson fans, I google “how to get unstuck.” I find Nora Dunn of Wisebread’s article, Feeling Stuck? 100 Ways to Change Your Life. Sometimes making changes in your life seems forced and inorganic but we try these things anyway. Sometimes simple things work well. She found one of these exercises.

This exercise includes two of my very favorite pieces of subconscious brain-work, a brain-dump and hiding the results from your conscious mind so the subconscious can get to work without all the hectoring. It requires  Continue reading

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Get Anything Done: Go Stand on the Dock.

Years ago I rowed at a rowing club. I rowed singles, doubles, fours and eights. As a sculler I’d get thrown into any kind of boat where I might be needed. Even when I rowed a single, I usually went out on the water in the company of other rowers. The typical time to go on the lake was 5:30 AM for the calm water and a choice of boats. So I’d get up at 5:00 and show up at the dock at 5:30, get in a boat, row for an hour or two, and then go to work.

There is a bit of sacrifice with such a schedule, especially if you’re training every day and not all that competitive. It means  Continue reading

Posted in Syndromes & Solutions | 1 Comment

Eight Ways to Find People Like You

Pipers with their pipesI may well have found the secret to getting unstuck.

Find a place to belong. Find people like you.

A young woman at Chris Guillebeau’s 1000-maniac gathering in Portland, Oregon, the World Domination Summit, discovered that after enduring geographic and social isolation, she traveled 5000 miles away, and there was the answer to her isolation – she found “People Like Her.” In a place that says “You Belong Here.”

It occurred to me that this is also, for me, at the very heart of every frustrated moment in my current life. I’m not where I belong, with People Like Me. When this is in place, everything becomes easier, faster, more streamlined. When you’re not where you belong or with People Like You, even the basics become an unnecessary struggle.

So. HOW do you find People Like You? I’ll jump right to the eight metaphorical hurdles:

  1. I can’t find people like me.
  2. They already have each other and there’s no room for me.
  3. I can’t figure out how to reciprocate.
  4. I can’t afford to be with those people.
  5. I’m not sure these people are people like me.
  6. I’m not worthy.
  7. Fill your calendar with interesting possibilities.
  8. Exercise leadership and assemble your own group.

Continue reading

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REVIEW: Pick Four goal-setting workbooks


Pick Four (4 Pack – Designed to Share)
by Zig Ziglar and Seth Godin. 

The Great Recession Do-Over is a great opportunity for reinvention, but when you’ve slid into a rut looking at dirt walls, you need a view of the blue sky outside of the rut. (Yes, this is my intelligent summary of goal-achievement. Shut up.)

What’s needed to get out of the rut is movement. ANY movement.
A view outside of the rut,
and a plan. YOUR OWN plan. 

Continue reading

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Remember Who You Wanted to Be

Remember who you wanted to be
Just a quick note to show you a bumper sticker I found on a car in the parking lot at a mall in the outskirts of Tacoma.

My first thought was that it was wonderful and I just had to take a picture and share it.

My second thought was that the car and people with the car were in Tacoma. Remember faster, people. Remember that you wanted to be cowboys or deep sea explorers or fashion models, look right, look left, be overwhelmed by the contrast to where you are now, then get the hell out of Tacoma.


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Working Small: Refining Your Perfect Pocket Watercolor Travel Kit

Watercolor boxHaving something small and portable with which to be artful can be a great thing. Aside from painting something and mailing it off to a friend, there’s something about being prepared to record the colors you see around you. Drawing skill isn’t required; just a vague affinity to paint. Everything you need is in your coat pocket because you put your little 4×6 box there last night… 

For travel this summer I refined my usual watercolor paint kit of loose stuff in a zip-loc.  The key component in my new kit is a $3 4”x6” plastic Iris photo storage box  found at places like Michael’s and JoAnn Fabric that pulls it all together without a prolific use of rubber bands.  The kit doesn’t slow you down at airport checkpoints, fits in a pocket and is unobtrusive to use. The Iris 4”x6” photo storage box serves as an easel, drying box, and carrier. It stays securely shut and is rugged and easy to clean. Continue reading

Posted in Be Artful | 3 Comments

REVIEW: Arm & Hammer Spinbrush Doesn’t.

Spinbrush headThere’s a lot to like about the Arm & Hammer Spinbrush. For $8 you get an electric toothbrush that’s

  • battery-powered with AA batteries,
  • has a replaceable head a cap will fit on,
  • is ideal for travel,
  • isn’t “disposable” and
  • doesn’t cost $200 like a sonic toothbrush.

It’s amusing to use and does a great job cleaning back teeth with its spinning round head. Tonight I noticed two things about it.  Continue reading

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#trust30: Emerson-Inspired writing month

Emerson postage stampLinks to thirty days of divergences in sidebar…

Create something original every day of June! #Trust30 is an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge that encourages you to look within and trust yourself. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on your now, and to create direction for your future. 30 prompts from inspiring thought-leaders will guide you on your writing journey.

This is a stellar opportunity to write and create in a community of thinkers and writers without getting too thinky. Jump in, even if you’re a little late to the party! Links below. Below that, links to my 30 pages.  Continue reading

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“Pulling a Chuck.”

Two things happened recently that I thought related nicely to each other.

  • A friend of mine just emailed me to tell me he had just “Pulled a Respectable Chuck” (more on that in a minute) and quit his job. He decided that the ambiguity of having no employment is more bearable than the  job that unambiguously kills him a little each day.
  • I read with interest an article written by Alison Doyle of called “Good Reasons to Quit Your Job” and wanted to tell everyone I know to read it.

Dumping a job seems like heresy in this day of hard-to-get employment, at first glance. At second glance, it reminds me of all the bad crap that snowballs on your sorry ass when fear rules the day, your decisions, and your life.  Continue reading

Posted in Screw Fear | Tagged | 1 Comment

Limit: One Gimmick Per Design.

wade sans light

I took a really great class at Seattle Central Community College last year, called Typography for the Web, taught by Mike Sinkula. One of our first assignments was to design a monogram or logo for ourselves. I really thought that I was going to end up with something disappointing, having never designed a graphic thing that satisfied me in the past.

Our design process started with looking at tons of fonts for the letters we wanted to use. (Here are my typography class files if you want to see my youthful efforts. Be merciful.) I found a fantastic and ususually elegant font, Wade Sans Light, which I used to write my name. Then I thought about branding and constraining, like, if I put braces or brackets to contain the name, you know, like for coding, or a box, or something boxlike, or a shaded box background, and what if I put the letters on end or rotate them a little? Drop shadow. Everyone loves a drop shadow. I pretty much hated it all, except the letters themselves.  Continue reading

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Signs from a bus

1. There is a handwritten sign stuck to a chainlink fence in front of an empty old building in downtown Tacoma that says:


Heartfelt.  Wistful. Ironic….

2. There is a woman near the freeway ramp adjusting a large triangular metal street sign on a sidewalk tripod. She does something that makes perfect sense in the breeze: she places the sign broad side down, and steps back to consider her work. She nods in approval, drags deeply on her short cigarette, and as the bus I am riding rounds the corner I see the it is a “YIELD” sign, upside down.

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REVIEW: Three Classic New Thought Authors on Prosperity

There are three very good, comfortably quaint books on prosperity thinking that were written in the early part of the 20th century. They are

  • It Works!
  • The Magic of Believing and
  • The Science of Getting Rich

Before The Secret came roiling out of the publicity mill all Hollywood and Mythology, these uncomplicated little volumes served up prosperity thinking with a positive, down to earth helpful simplicity, and originally were available in affordable paperbacks aimed at the masses.  Continue reading

Posted in Think Your Thoughts | 1 Comment

Organize with Organic Triage the Big Stupid Box

Kid with BoxJust three steps to digging out

Let’s say your house is in disorder and you’re too disorganized to start to organize your organizing effort. Hey. It happens. Rome wasn’t organized in a day. You don’t have time to find a “system” or products to get started. You just need to get started. You’re too disorganized for methodology at the moment or you wouldn’t be in this mess, right?

Organizational products won’t help you just yet. Organizational methods, systems and tips won’t help you just yet, either. You need to dig out. (I trust you’re not one of those people on The Learning Channel’s “Truth be Told” show, who could do with less organizing and more pharmaceutical intervention.) I offer you, my beleaguered friend, the quickstart non-method: Organic Triage and the Big Stupid Box.  Continue reading

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Biology Trumps Poetry: The Antidote Next to the Poison

Slug on Nettle Leaf

It’s midnight and I’m with four high school biology teachers and a couple college bio students. We’re campers on private Speiden Island, one of the lesser San Juans, and enjoying a bright full-moon hike, looking for owls. One of the college girls goes after some small nocturnal animal in the bushes, hoping to catch it. She stops and announces that she stumbled into nettles and has nettle stings all over her legs.

Anyone from the Northwest knows that nettle stings aren’t fatal, but they burn and itch like a bastard and there never seems to be a treatment at hand. You can’t pee on them like you can a ray sting; antihistimine pills and creams don’t help, either. (Do a Google search for remedies and you’ll find that there aren’t any good ones.) And of course, on a private island far from a druggist (much less one who will open for a nettle victim at midnight) there’s never anything handy. Or is there?  Continue reading

Posted in Anything for Science | 2 Comments

Be Arthouse Cool for Pennies – Learn to Paint Watercolor Anywhere

Roitan box

One day I lamented that my life was lacking old-school artfulness, and I wanted to take up some art form that was compact, inexpensive, and that I could do anywhere. I thought I’d try watercolor. It proved to be less difficult than I’d thought, with the right instruction which I found for free. Here’s how I successfully got started:

Watercolor requires as a bare minimum, paint in three colors (red, yellow and blue) from which you mix all colors, a paintbrush, water, and paper. After some experimentation I came up with a nice inexpensive kit that resides in my small handbag ready to use whenever I sit down with coffee to kill an hour. Watercolor can be easy to learn with the right resources. We’ll get to learning how to paint in a minute. First, gear up for a life as a traveling artist. Continue reading

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Recovering From Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”

The year Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way came out, I was given three of them as gifts. I found the book unreadable, and re-gifted the volumes to those more appreciative. All the same, I knew there was good information lurking in the treacly prose as I scanned the pages.

Challenge Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” products in public and prepare for a beating from her mostly female fan base. The variety of items in her empire is large enough that you could receive a fortnightly beating with a different volume for about a year.  Continue reading

Posted in Be Artful | 14 Comments

REEELAAAX… Bradley Thompson’s instant hypnosis audios reviewed

Angels underfoot
Musing can be Dangerous

I enjoy meditation recordings because my mind is too squirrelly to meditate without a lot of help. In yoga classes I’m the twitchy one flipping the corner of the blanket with my toe. So when I find a hypnosis recording that claims it can help me in my ever-futile quest to find my Life’s Purpose, I decide to try it out on behalf of all the cynical seekers out there. (You know who you are, twitchy.)

Based on an emailing from Bradley Thompson, who seems like a reasonable and helpful guy who offers a phalanx of self-help products, I go to the web site and peruse what they sell.  Continue reading

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10,000 hours or 100 Set-ups? How to Get Good At Anything Fast

Graphic View 4x5
Graphic View 4×5 monorail

Ask a New York City cab driver, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and you will be told, “Practise, practise, practise.” There are lots of anecdotes about practise. In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell goes into detail about a concept of putting 10,000 hours of practise to become an expert at something. And though I never became an expert myself at large format photography, I was subjected to an exercise in repetition that gave me an excellent shot at competence.

Back in the 1980s I hauled my old Graphic View 4×5 camera to Vermont to study with artist Fred Picker at one of his workshops. Every day we’d take our behemoth cameras on wooden tripods out and take photographs, then come back to develop the sheet film at night. If we lost a picture opportunity due to fleeting light, a moving subject, or attack by cows, it was usually because we failed to set up our cameras fast enough. Fred could set a picture up and make the exposure in about a minute, a task that took me at least ten minutes. Continue reading

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