Inside the Playhouse: Flowers + Cartoons + Women, Oh My!

Sketch of a Woman by Alex Landers OuttaThePlayhouse.com

As I trudge back from a relaxing three-day weekend, I want to take some time to reflect on all that’s been going on here in the studio for the last few weeks. It’s been a pleasantly busy (and springy!) May.

There’s been writing – a short, animated piece, starring Saffron and Squid. Commissioned flower paintings for my friend Liz – a wonderful Mother’s Day gift, if I do say so myself. Finally hanging my work on the walls of our apartment – it’s a waste to have them sit, framed and ready, sad and waiting in the closet. And lots of sketching – I’m planning to start work on three large-scale canvases I picked up last month. Normally, white space can feel pretty daunting, but with ideas in hand, I’m feeling pretty jazzed to get up and running.

Here’s a peek at the goings-on:

 

I have a lot planned for the coming weeks. If you didn’t already get the memo, I’m publishing some of my “creative entrepreneur” posts over on StackStreet.com if you pop over, you’ll notice last week’s essay on getting the most out of your sick days is getting some play. I’ll be sharing over there anything relevant to millennial culture (whatever that is… aren’t we still inventing that as we go?), and crafting some articles just for them. So make sure to take a peek, and follow me on Facebook so you can be up on the latest news.

Love the visual inspiration from these mini-galleries? Check out even more on my Pinterest page. You can watch my inspiration boards grow, keep up with my artwork, and if you message me, I’d love to let you build my collections with me.

How was your Memorial Day weekend, Playhousers? Any new projects up your sleeve? What should I be writing about to help you along your creative endeavors? 

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Creativity At All Costs: The Art of Working With Illness

Creativity at ALL Costs: Making a "Sick Day" Work For You By Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com

It is nearly impossible in the traditional work environment we’ve created to let go and nurture ourselves during sickness. We’ve been conditioned to see illness as a block: something to work around, climb over, and run past, in order to return to our highest performing self.

In the process, however, we often pay our bodies, and our minds, a deep disrespect, and consequently, a real disservice. Feeling sick is not a hurdle to jump, nor is it a reason to panic and cease to move. As an immunodeficient person, I’ve had to be creative in my approach to getting sick. Even more so now that my work schedule and allotted “sick days” are my own to manage.

I know not all are blessed with the ability to call in sick when you should (and yes, you should), but we can all promise to take a little better care of ourselves.

With that in mind, here are a few ways I’ve learned not only to cope with illness, but to actually maximize its appearance in my work life.

  • Sleep: Give in to fatigue and let the body rest. This is the hardest step and the necessary first one. When you feel you should be doing other things, letting yourself sleep during the day can be an immense source of guilt. Instead, take comfort in the dreams you may stumble upon in the process; unconscious research for the work you will take on when this has passed.
    We should all be such Nap-Pro's as Daisy Dog. from Creativity at All Costs: Coping with Illness at Work by Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com
    Take a cue from the dogs, and take a nap. Daisy, here, is a pro.

    Sleep is restorative, and the dream state is gestation for every creative idea within your brain, so this is the perfect opportunity to get even more of it than usual. And remember: getting well is a project requiring ALL of your available attention.

  • Research: Can’t create? Get inspired. In your waking hours, absorb what’s around you. This doesn’t require a single move from the couch. Flip through magazines, play on Pinterest, read books, watch movies (watch SO many movies).
    Pin Away From Creativity at All Costs: Coping with Illness in Your Work by Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com
    I have so many boards on my Pinterest account -endless projects waiting to happen.

    Use your mandated rest time to quietly immerse yourself in all the wonderful, inspiring, pre-existing art already around you. Most of all, do not take for granted this time your body has set aside for you to expand and collect your thoughts. Appreciate your limitations, and use them to your advantage.

  • Meditate: Meditation can sound like a pressure cooker situation wherein you must sit perfectly still, clear your brain of any and all thoughts, and somehow stifle the sneeze that’s been building up in your sinuses for the last two hours. It doesn’t have to be this way. When I meditate, I focus on my breath, my work, my ideas, and my dreams. So long as it isn’t a source of stress, it’s dynamite to meditate on. Choosing an appropriate mantra can help you stay calm and – BONUS – encourage your immune system to get working again. Whatever it is – “I am an artist,” “I need rest,” “I allow myself to let go and get better,” – repeat it out loud, in your head, over and over and, as my YouTube Yoga buddy Adriene likes to say, consider it already done. 

It might seem like I’ve got this “letting myself be sick” thing down, but it’s taken me many years, and much assistance to get here. Therefore, I have a bevy of helpful links and apps (yes! there are SO many apps for that) to get you on your way to feeling good about feeling sick. Explore and use at your leisure 🙂

Mr. Mood – The most basic, wonderful, blissful little digital buddy in the world. Let Mr. Mood check in on you once a day, and let yourself keep track of how you’re feeling. A seriously awesome thing to do for yourself.

Stop, Breathe & Think – Mr. Mood’s more interactive brother. An amazing app for those just starting (or thinking about starting) a meditation practice.

The Wild Unknown Tarot – I turn to my old-fashioned Tarot cards whenever I need to turn a little bit inward. But for those of you on Android phones, my favorite illustrated pack now has a digital counterpart. Check it out for a healing mini-practice when you’re down.

Yoga with Adriene – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this chick is the best there is in online Yoga classes – maybe even trumping going to a class in person. She’ll teach you in a few quick minutes a day how to create and stick to your own home practice. And BONUS – she has specific routines for when you’re sick, stressed, and even suffering a headache.

Coming soon on OuttaThePlayhouse – a long-awaited How-To on creating beautiful (and effective!) art/craft/vendor fair displays.

Creating a Beautiful (and Effective!) Art/Craft/Vendor Display by Alex Landers at OuttaThePlayhouse.com
The Playhouse Traveling Display – a Sneak Peek…

Progress: Last Week’s Experiment Gets all Strung Out

It's a busy week of prep and new work in the Playhouse. Find more original art by Alex Landers at outtatheplayhouse.com

Busiest week ever! And that’s really, awfully, terribly exciting. But as I conquer the new projects, I haven’t forgotten the old.

Last week’s clay and acrylic “geodes” have been strung up and turned into pendants.

Geode Pendant by Alex Landers See more at  outtatheplayhouse.com
Simple, clean lines, with a geometric flair, no?

I’ve started designing the cords with a plain cotton string – this isn’t sturdy enough for the final piece, but if gives me a way to mock-up how I want each bead to be strung, and how it should fall.

I like the simplicity of the cotton string very much, so I’ll be out hunting for a more permanent cord that accomplishes a similar look, with a bit more heft to it – don’t want these snapping off or tangling up. I love art jewelry, but it’s still got to be wearable, right?

Now it’s back to the studio. Writing, writing and more writing is happening. I’m enjoying my free trial of Skillshare (Artist taught classes, online! You can grab a free month, too!). And laying out the remnants of my Etsy shop,

Original Art by Alex Landers Find More at outtatheplayhouse.com
Art to go!

prepping for a handmade fair in Mystic, Connecticut in a few weeks. Posts to come on art fair table design and my online art-class experience.


In unrelated news, how about this amazing piece I found just sitting pretty at the fairgrounds last weekend? A pleasant and unexpected surprise.

Found Art at the Durham, CT Fairgrounds  *Photo by Alex Landers* See more at outtatheplayhouse.com
A little found art at the Durham, CT Fairgrounds

Trash to Treasure: On Using Every Last Little Bit

Trash to Treasure: Making Clay Beads from Acrylic Leftovers By Alex Landers outtatheplayhouse.com

Mondays have become dedicated PLAY days – I get up, I do yoga, I drink tea, and then I crank up the music and make whatever I want.

This might be the only way I can make Mondays work for me. I don’t know how the rest of you 9-5ers get through them. Coffee? Minesweeper? Do they still make After Dark screensavers?

After Dark Flying Toasters!
After Dark Flying Toasters!

This week, it’s clay. I’m working with skills leftover from a high school ceramics class (it was a really good one!), but I’ve still got some craft left in me. I’ve used an air dry black clay as I have no access to a kiln. I’ve had a hard time finding an air dry medium that I actually like – paper clay is too flaky, lighter clays feel too foamy, I’m picky for no real reason except to be picky, etc. – but this dark mix by Active Plus is the right color and texture for… well, whatever it is I’m doing. And the directions are all in French + Spanish, so I can’t even know if I’m doing anything wrong! #Bonus

I’m always saving my scraps of acrylic paint off the palette and then trying to invent something to do with them. I had an art teacher once say, very smartly, that you shouldn’t paint on cardboard scraps unless you’ve got a really good f**king reason. I agree. But something about the end result of color mixing leftovers, created without any order or plan to them, is incredibly appealing to me. I can’t throw them out. So I peel them off and look for a pattern. Then, I piece together. (*Constant puzzling is just how I live my life*)

I’ve played with making jewelry pieces before, but never been completely satisfied. I’m looking for something stylish, not just art-teacher-chic (apologies to all funky art teachers – I actually really love your giant glasses and hand-dyed scarves and awesome ceramic brooches). But thus far, pretty satisfied with this process. They look like little man-made geodes, no?

Excited to string these up once they’re dry and see if there was actually a “really good f**king reason” for using these recycled bits.

Dobby, Studio Dog

Tattoo Design by artist Alex Landers outtatheplayhouse.com

It is supposed to be a Process Post day, but perhaps perfectly in line with how things seem to go here at The Playhouse, there’s been an interruption in that process, and I’m forced to deviate from the plan.

It is with great sadness that I say goodbye to my original creative consultant, artistic companion, taste-maker, style aficionado, and greatest critic.

My dog.

After an extremely healthy and productive 16(ish) years, the rescued chihuahua-fox terrier-greyhound-rodent-bird animal, who for so many years sat on a pillow next to whatever canvas I was working on, whatever play I was trying to finish – her time as canine ended this last week.

And now, I can only imagine, she exists somewhere in the ether. As a beautifully abstract form. The wobble in my lines.  The weird dot that wasn’t meant to be there, but looks oddly magnificent. When I think to myself, this isn’t good enough, I am not good enough, the work will never be good enough, her rather demanding and shrill bark will leap out of the empty and tell me I’m wrong.

Like any naive creative person, I did believe she’d live forever. Because beautiful things should live forever. 

And she will.

May she continue to live in the quiet strangeness of my art.

The Studio Dog on OuttaThePlayhouse.com
Dobby: Studio Dog + Creative Partner

Process #3: Deviate from the Plan

The Creative Process and Deviating from the Plan - on OuttaThePlayhouse.com by Alex Landers

This post is about a week late: how better to illustrate the next point in my creative process, Deviation!

Deviation: the action of departing from an established course or accepted standard.

Over the last two installments of this series, I’ve given you a lot of reasons to map out ideas, drafts, proposals. But let’s face it – too much prescribed business is boring; and once things get boring, they tend to get stale. Whenever possible (and probably when it shouldn’t be), I take a little mosey off the beaten path and behave like the rebellious teenager I always wanted to be (I wasn’t. That’s okay, too).

It is okay to take your project in a new direction. It is okay to abandon initial plans, and follow them somewhere entirely other than expected. It is okay to stop and smell the roses. Enjoy your process and let it surprise you – there may be wolves in the forest, but if you’re up on your fairy tale revisionists (i.e. Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Into the Woods), you’ll recall that Little Red Riding hood cuts her way out of the wolf that ate her up, and makes a fashionable cape out of the body (Original Broadway song provided here as proof). So, you know, own your deviance. You’ll get out of the woods just fine.

How do I apply this concept practically?

  • Exploring other media – Just because I thought this was a picture book, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be something else. Tired of writing in rhymes, I decided to spend some time painting. I went to my trusted Pinterest “Monster” board for images to work from. I painted a jelly-fish sort of creature.

    I liked the colors on my palette, so I ended up working on an old canvas and creating a stormy looking abstract, too.  It may not seem related, but it’s all informing the original project – and more importantly, keeping my momentum going.

  • Taking the story off on a tangent – I started in rhyme, but that doesn’t mean it has to continue that way. I became interested in this beastie I had drawn, and not knowing exactly where the story was headed, I thought I’d waltz a bit with characterization. One of my favorite activities, Character Interviews, comes from a wonderful Grad school professor. I keep this exercise (and many others) at the ready.
    The Creative Process and Deviating from the Plan - on OuttaThePlayhouse.com by Alex Landers
    Character Questionnaire at the ready!

    I won’t use all – or any – of this in the final piece, but asking my character these questions will provide me the kind of background I need to create a richer piece. Again, it’s all about activities that will inform the narrative.

  • Reading a book – Inevitably, I become sick of my own voice. This can be frustrating when you’re on a deadline, but ultimately, I just take it as a reminder that I’m not a total narcissist, and that’s a good thing. No need to stop work, though. I borrow someone else’s voice for a while and let my mind wander into their thoughts. It might inspire me, it might give me a new place to go, or it might remind me exactly what it is I don’t want to do with this project. And if it’s Lewis Carroll, it’ll just soothe me with its quiet nonsense.
    The Creative Process and Deviating from the Plan - on OuttaThePlayhouse.com by Alex Landers
    A little nonsense never hurt anyone.

    Alice and her Wonderland are very probably the key to life. Don’t ask me how I know that. It just seems terribly obvious, don’t you think?

How do you deviate? Or are you one of those perfect people who never gets stuck? Because if you exist, please email me directly and give me all of your secrets – Queen Deviant needs them.

But of course, this has to get back on track eventually. Hopefully by next week I’ll have steered my creativity back to a clear pathway, and be within site of that imaginary finish line. Join me?

Inspiration Board: Children’s Book Illustration

Finding Inspiration: Children's Book Illustration www.outtatheplayhouse.com

It’s been a week since I did some Playhouse upkeep – I visited Chicago for a brief moment, threw a jewelry party, met with an amazing artist, and even had time to fit in a few migraines (yeah, one of these things is not like the other – can’t wait for these to be a distant memory). But I find myself back in the studio/office/second-bedroom this week, getting to work on new projects and finishing old ones.

As I continue with my picture book project (next step, Deviation, to be chronicled tomorrow in a Progress post), I find myself collecting images from my favorite children’s book illustrators. And as I prepare to take on a new writing project with Mike McCafrey’s incredible photographs, I’m taken with images of children – real and imagined – from the pages of both children’s books, and the walls of art museums.

Here’s a peek at my inspiration board:

For more of Mike McCafrey’s gorgeous photography, visit and like his page on Facebook. I’m just in awe of his composition – can’t wait to update you as I add words to his frames.

To watch this board grow, follow OuttaThePlayhouse and my Illustrations board on Pinterest. Want to build it with me? Message me and I’d love to send you an invite.

Got a favorite illustrator? Share in the comments!