Mental and Visual Gymnastics

I don't know if you can read what Howard Finster, the late, great folk artist, wrote on the forehead of this self-portrait of him as a young man. It says, "mY. BRAINE IS COMPUTERISED FROM GOD. IT COMES DOWN TO MY. RIGHT HAND IN TO MY BRUSH. RIGHT.ON THE WOOD." 

Years ago when I lived in Atlanta I used to make many pilgrimages to Paradise Gardens, the incredible and very surreal home of the Reverend, himself. I own two of his pieces, including this one, above. He even signed it to me on the back. (and I have a photo of him doing that...) I loved (and still love) Howard for his fearless ability to create and turn everything into art. He even numbered each piece he did with his own crazy numbering system. The self-portrait is number: 29.000. 344 (which means number 29,344) and he created it May 14, 1993. 

I have never numbered my "works." Nor have I saved my dried up pens and worn out brushes to repurpose into "new art," like Howard did.

What I do have are journals. Piles of journals. They will never be "wore out," and at this point there are over five thousand-four hundred pages of my brain scatterings in them. If I didn't have these journals I would not be grounded. My ideas and thoughts would swirl around in the ionosphere and then disappear. I keep telling kids when I visit schools to "save everything" because you never know when something old will inspire you to create something new. 

I work out mentally and visually in my journals. I write whatever "comes down to my right hand in to my" pen. Some things are good. Some things are bad. Some things the jury is still out deliberating.

I wrote this poem the other day. I woke up and it was in my head, so I wrote it down. If you can't read my sloppy "inspiration" writing, I'll translate:

Do bats need batteries
Or else they won't run?
Do cats cause catastrophes
When they're out having fun?
Are bees unbelievable
When they're telling a story?
Are dogs doggone cute
When they find something gory?
Can fish be official 
When decisions are made?
Can ducks clog up ductwork
When they need to find shade?
Will ants be antagonistic 
If they go on vacation?
Will bears be unbearable
After hibernation?
Do cows kowtow
When they're feeling their oats?
Do sheep act sheepish
When missing their coats?
Do goats grow goatees
So they can look cool?
Do lions get lionized 
So they can rule?
Will cheetahs cheat
If they're taking a test?
Are gulls gullible
When choosing a nest?
Can families be familiar
Even if they are new?
Will you be unique
Because you are you?

I don't think this is worthy of publication, yet it's still fun. It's mental exercise, and good old word-play nonsense. I have a strong vein of Edward Lear running through me that my mother injected when I was a wee lass. I find that poems sprout unexpectedly like surprise Irises in my garden. You have to capture them before they fade into compost. Some of them have even worked their way into picture book potential. I nailed one recently with the help of a wonderful editor in New York. (yes, I'm being vague on purpose.) That poem is called, "Does A Feather Remember?"

One of the other many uses of my journal is also to work out my ideas visually before I head into my studio and start working with my "life:time art supplies."

This is where I play with thumbnails before they go to sketch dummies. Sometimes I cut and paste things, too. I'm never 100% certain of where I'm going until I get there, but with inspiration from artists like the "fearless Reverend Finster" I know that I have to just put it out there and see if it can have a life of its' own. 

I feel that my books are "my children," and I think that Howard Finster must have felt a similar kinship for each piece he created, otherwise why would he have numbered them? My journals themselves are numbered. This current one is number 28. The contents of each journal is my creative DNA- some strange code that eventually produces a book- or a work of art of some sort- or it just lets me do my creative exercise and keep that "braine computerised from God." 

Kids ask me if I write in my journal (or draw) every day. I wish that I was that disciplined. I'm much more of a "when the muse strikes" kind of artist. There have been stretches when the well is dry, and then there are single days that I've written 80 pages. The good news is that there are tons of seeds that I've planted in my journals over the years. The stories/ideas that start to blossom always let me know- and then I get down to business. 

It's the same for my real garden. In fact I'm finally heading out to plant peas. If I'm lucky they'll feed us in a couple of months. Meanwhile we'll eat the last of the beets, carrots and parsnips that I should have dug up a while back... somehow they've kept growing.
Not to be too cliché, but you can't reap if you don't sow. 
Pull out that journal and get going.

With Love,


  1. Nina, I LOVE the poem! If you don't have a whole collection for a poetry book, find an anthology opportunity! Or send it in to the Cricket Group.

  2. I love when you write about journaling, Nina. Thanks!


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