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This post was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. If you want to read all of my Read @ MPL posts, click here! Also, cross-posted at Happy Bodies!

February is still the time for self-improvement, so here are some books for anyone who wants to be more creative and who might need some inspiration for the New Year. Let these books be the kick in the behind you might need to get started.

The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre
Artists often have to work day jobs to make ends meet, and even people with no aspiration to be a professional artist might need an artistic outlet. This book provides artistic ideas about how to use your surroundings and the materials at hand to create small projects and incorporate creative thinking into your daily/weekly routine. A lot of the exercises in this book focus on helping you examine your priorities. What are the obstacles to you making art? What are the obstacles to you enjoying your job? How are you spending your time? How do you want to spend your time? This book is a supportive guide to figuring out the answers to those questions.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is another great book for figuring out how to be creative in your daily life. Kleon outlines 10 principles for making creativity a priority. Filled with some amazing quotes about creativity, Kleon draws from tons of fields to make some interesting points about making stuff. It doesn’t all have to be miraculous artistic genius, sometimes you just have to do something and keep doing something until things start to click. The tips in this book are particularly relevant because they focus on creativity in the digital world. Etiquette, putting your work out there, and citing your sources (in the often anonymous internet ether) are all covered.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
I think Lynda Barry is the absolute greatest, and this book is no exception. Simply put, it’s a book about writing and how to write. Barry is very encouraging and open, mixing stories about her life with instructions for writing exercises. Most of her comics and collages are on lined yellow legal paper, making it clear that artistic expression doesn’t have to be fancy and special. Art can happen anywhere! She talks a lot about how children create so much and without scrutiny, and when we get older we fall prey to judgment and the idea that we’re not really artists/writers/creators. This book is meant to help you see that the freedom and creativity we experience as children isn’t off limits as adults. We can create! We can dance! We can write! We can draw! We just need to get off our butts and do it.

And if you need a further inspiration, you should read Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. What’s that about? Just go back in time and read the review!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 17 books toward her goal of 200 books.

This was written for my work blog (what are the odds, right?) Read @ MPL.

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat.A common complaint about cookbooks is there aren’t enough pictures. Boy howdy do I have a cookbook for those complainers! Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. by Katie Shelly is a graphic cookbook where the recipes are drawn not written. Each recipe features drawings of the ingredients and the process of preparing the dish, with the instructions contained in the drawings. The recipes aren’t strict blueprints for perfect food, but more like a framework to experiment with. Instead of a recipe for tacos, she has “Some Thoughts on Tacos” featuring a huge variety of ingredients that you can combine in any way you want to create your perfect taco. People who are strict recipe followers probably won’t like this; it’s very loosey-goosey. Shelly does finish each recipe with a ribbon across the bottom of each page featuring the measurements and quantities of ingredients, so you aren’t totally out on a limb. If you want a taste of the cookbook (pun intended!), she has posted several preview recipes on her website.

In addition to the yummy food, I am totally smitten with Katie Shelly’s drawings. The lines are beautiful and clean, the colors bold, and the recipes very tempting. Cookbook innovation is pretty infrequent. People stopped trying to change it up once they figured out a standard format. And don’t get me wrong, that format is wonderfully efficient; but not all recipes have to be that way! This cookbook is beautiful, interesting, and delicious. Some cookbooks have a tone of haute cuisine, but Picture Cook is just an artist sharing her favorite recipes.

My absolute favorite part of this recipe is the hands. Mix! Around!

Cover photo via Goodreads.
Recipe photo from

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 2 books toward her goal of 200 books.

This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Have you ever lost a pet? Did that pet ever waltz right back into your house like nothing ever happened? That has happened to me, and it is also the premise of Caroline Paul’s book Lost Cat: a True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology.

Tibby & his view of the world

The book begins when Caroline Paul gets in a terrible accident where she breaks the tibia and fibula bones in her leg. That part is awful but also funny because her two cats at the heart of this book are also named Tibia and Fibula (or Tibby and Fibby for short). She’s home on the couch, feeling depressed, and attempting to heal when Tibby, the fraidy cat of the two, runs away. She feels this is literally adding insult to injury. She searches her neighborhood wailing for Tibby, hanging up posters, and feeling utterly worried about her beloved cat’s safety. She even enlists the help of a psychic, to no avail. Then after five weeks gone, Tibby walks back into the house. Not only that, but Tibby looks great! He isn’t underfed or dirty, he is just Tibby.

This is where Caroline Paul goes off the deep end. She becomes engrossed in a quest to find out where Tibby went. She wants to know who took care of him. Who heard her yelling for her lost cat and neglected to bring Tibby home? Clearly this person is some king of cat-napping monster. She uses cat-tracking GPS, a tiny cat’s-eye-view camera, and a cat communication class to deal with all her feelings of jealousy and betrayal. In addition to Paul’s sincere prose, the entire book is illustrated by her partner, Wendy McNaughton, whose work is truly excellent. She’s maybe best known (at least on the internet) for her series Meanwhile on the Rumpus.  Her drawings beautifully compliment Caroline’s ongoing neuroses (and prose). They are on this weird, purposeful journey together; and over the course of the book Tibby becomes their cat, not just Caroline’s cat.

Tibby, equipped with GPS.

Things happen in the second half of the book that I didn’t expect, and, be warned, not all happy things. But this story was so heartfelt and earnest, and so unlike what I expected from a book about cats. I definitely recommend this if you have cats or have had cats in the past, but I think it’s mostly a heartfelt story about a woman becoming obsessed with why something got lost.

N.B. The pictures came from an interview with Wendy MacNaughton & Caroline Paul on the Rumpus.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 187 books toward her goal of 200 books.

I cannot imagine my brain without Lynda Barry.

In January I started reading Blabber Blabber Blabber Blabber: Everything Vol. 1 Collected and Uncollected Comics from Around 1978-1982 and I LOVED it! My absolute favorites were Rita and Evette, twin sisters who are so totally weird. It’s not just the weird comics, but also how she draws and how her comics started and where they are now. The characters are weird, but also the style is weird and imperfect. I see a lot of beautiful, pristine drawings and comics but what I really love is the weird stuff. The stuff that looks almost like it could be done by anyone, but not quite because there’s this magical sensibility that fits so perfectly and is so lovely and abnormal. Barry fills the backgrounds with patterns, my favorite is bobby pins. Now all I want is some fabric that has bobby pins all over it. I’d make bobby pin dresses and maybe a coat. Definitely some linens too.

The second book of hers I picked up was Picture This. Holy WOW!! It’s part comics and part autobiographical musings on drawing. The near-sighted monkey appears throughout, making a mess in the kitchen and smoking a lot of cigarettes. Arna and Marlys are also all over this one, goofing off and sketching, sometimes hanging out and sometimes antagonizing each other. The book is divided into seasons, my favorite (and the first one in the book – i.e. I fell in love before I knew it was divided by season) is winter. She makes observations that I recognize in myself but I’ve never given a name to before this. Like sometimes in winter you just have to paint everything blue. That happens to me! Not just in winter though. When I get sad, everything in my sketchbook turns blue, almost because it has to. I draw, yes, but my drawings aren’t necessarily governed by me or my conscious brain. This book is so sensitive and perfect. She talks about insecurities about her drawings and her life. She talks about keeping brush to paper because she needs to; maybe because the drawing is keeping her there or because if she’s not drawing then what’s she doing anyways?

100 Demons (also called One! Hundred! Demons!) is up next. OH MY GOD. First, this 100 demons drawing exercise is something I really want to do. My life is governed by a lot of demons, big and small. Lynda Barry said that at first it was really difficult and awful but it became good after a while. Her demons, from girlishness to dancing, were so poignant and relevant to my life. Maybe it’s because she’s a redhead too. She was (is?) a freak loner, I am a freak loner! She draws a lot, I draw a lot! Everything she shares in her books is so honest and raw. These are feelings and demons that might be 30-40 years old but they are still very fresh. While I was reading I thought a lot about how I was (still am sometimes) both bully and victim. Hurt people hurt people is a phrase I first heard in the movie Greenberg, but I think about it all the time. It’s a good summary of how I was raised, and something I have to constantly think about to keep me from continuing the cycle.

The most recent Lynda Barry book I’ve read is called What It Is. This one is about writing like Picture This was about drawing.  There are cluttered parts and clear parts, and so much terrific advice about writing and creativity.  It was definitely my least favorite of these, but seriously I still absolutely love it.  The parts I like best were the autobiographical parts, which were less numerous in this book. The great thing about this one is that there’s an activity portion! It’s at the end of the book and it is a bunch of exercises to help loosen you up and start thinking creatively again. I think every adult could use an activity book like that, be they an office drone or a CEO or a teacher or an artist!

I know I came a little late to the Lynda Barry table, but I can’t imagine my brain without her. Everything she says, everything she draws makes so much sense to me in a way that is indescribable. I am genuinely at a loss for words when talking about her to other people, because I can say all the good stuff I like about her work but the most beautiful perfect thing is stuck in my brain.

You should listen to this interview she did with Talk of the Nation in 2008: Genius At Work: Lynda Barry, AND an interview on Talk of the Nation from 2010 Doodle Your Way Out of Writer’s Block. And a Review, What It Is Plumbs the Depths of Creativity.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 134 books toward her goal of 150 books.

This is a memoir about breast cancer, drawn in simple cartoons by self-taught cartoonist Miriam Engelberg. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 43 and, sadly, died at the age of 48.

The good: I LOVED that she wore a blue wig, and that was the wig that was most “her” despite being nothing like how she looked before she had cancer. I loved her observations about  support groups and people’s varied and ridiculous reactions to her diagnosis. I love that she watched a lot of TV, did a lot of crosswords, and read a lot of tabloids. She seemed like a really rad lady.

The not so good: I really wanted to like this more, but so much about it fell flat. I really really support people drawing comics just because, even if you aren’t super good at it. But I also feel like the more you draw the better you get at it, even if it’s just a teeny tiny bit! You don’t even have to try! You draw a lot, you get better at what you’re doing, even if what you’re doing is speech bubbles or repeated patterns or aliens or oncologists. I love atypical drawing/cartooning styles (like Lauren RednissEsther Pearl Watson, and sometimes even Maira Kalman falls into that category); drawings that aren’t your typical comic style, nor are they necessarily realistic or strictly representational. I think it’s weird that Engelberg read a lot of comics (she referenced my favorite person, Lynda Barry!) and drew so often, and this is her final product.

There were parts that I liked because she is relatable, but when she tried for jokes it was a lot like watching a multicam sitcom with a laugh track (really asking for the laugh), except it’s a book and there’s no laugh track! I loved when she approached the subject with humor not with comedy. Those observations were poignant and interesting, not gunning for a laugh.

I was just generally disappointed with this book. I wanted to like it so much more, but it just didn’t quite do it for me.


2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie hasread 94 books toward her goal of 150 books.


Mornings are a really difficult time for me.

August 09, 2010 8:33:35

There have been quite a few people who have taken a picture of themselves every day of the year and put them together into a time lapse video.  Those are interesting to me, but frankly how I look during the day and how that changes over a year isn’t really that interesting to me.  What I am really interested in is how people look when they wake up.  A few years ago when I was in advanced painting and drawing I did a book project where I drew pictures of my friends waking up in the morning.  The assignment was to use some kind of system (maps, playing cards, something like that) and do a project based on that.  I chose tally marks and drew images sort of emerging from a field of lines.

August 10, 2010 9:23:44

That project was really fun but it was difficult to get source material.  I had to ask my friends to take photos of themselves, and being busy college students, even if they really wanted to participate, it’s something that can pretty easily slip your mind.  So when I bought a new computer (shitty though it may be) one of the features I opted for was a built in camera.  Every morning (or as many mornings as I can) I take a photo of myself.   So far I have almost 150, starting in August 2010 to the present (some days I miss, other days when I look really funny I take more than one photo).  The photos are time and date stamped, so I can also track what time I got up (or at least what time I took the photo) throughout the year.

I am posting these drawings as I do them to my tumblr.  To see all the drawings in this series posted so far, you can go to

Panel from "Fun Home". Image from

I have been reading a lot lately.  This might not be unusual for most people, but it’s quite rare for me.  In addition to my Novel challenge (ha), I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A family tragicomic.  I am most familiar with the Bechdel move test, where in order to pass the movie has to have 1. two named female charcters, 2. who talk to one another, and 3. about something other than men.  I am also acquainted with her series Dykes to watch out for.  We have a ton of the books in the GSC library.

After I finished it, I talked a little bit with Scott (known for his love of all things comic).  He said that he liked it, but thought it didn’t quite succeed as a graphic novel.  That you could have taken out all the pictures and it would have been just as successful.  I can’t say I disagree, though I think the subject matter is far more compelling than any other graphic novels I have read.  I found the book so affecting.  I love reading about how she finally put a name to her sexuality in her college library, and the insatiable desire to read all things queer after that.  She reads Collette, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Well of Loneliness, all books I read in the past four years, and all books in the GSC library that  I worked so hard to wrangle and organize.  I think I’ll donate my copy to the library, because we don’t as yet have one but I definitely think we should.

Father-daughter relationships are always interesting to me.  Bechdel’s experience with her father was so unlike my own, but there were aspects of that relationship that I identified with.  It is odd to think of our parents as people unto themselves, and she seems to have had some extreme revelations about who her father really was.  It is heartbreaking both that she only started to know who her father was so close to his death and that he had lived so much of his life in secret.

In the last days of the term late at night in the depths of Boliou, I collaborated on a cup with Myla.  I threw and glazed the cup, Myla did the drawings.  Some of the majolica on the other cups crawled a little, but thankfully this one came out of the kiln perfectly.  I think one photo doesn’t really do the drawings justice, so I put a few together.

I also got a new computer recently, and the Windows photo gallery has the option to combine photos into a panorama.  I thought it would be funny to put photos of this cup in there and see what it came up with.  The result is definitely odd:

I was recently looking at A Plate A Day, which directed me to Musing about Mud, which in turn led me to discover an incredible exhibition at the Philadelphia Clay studio by Molly Hatch.  The exhibit, called Mimesis, is an exquisite show of cups and vases.  Hatch grew up in a family of artists and crafts people, so she is used to entertaining herself with creative endeavors.

One aspect of Hatch’s aesthetic that I really relate to is her affinity for decoration of hidden surfaces.

“A cup or a bowl is almost universally accessible and navigable as most people use them in their daily lives. For me, the blank cup is anonymous in a manner similar to a blank piece of paper. The three-dimensional surface tableware provides is rich with conceptual potential as a place for drawings and paintings. Interaction is encouraged through the decoration of hidden surfaces—the underside of a cup, beneath a lid or on a handle.”

Ceramic surfaces have so much potential for exploration and decoration.  I love artists use decorative traditions to explore ideas of craft and surface.  There is the meta aspect of drawing cups on cups, but I think looking at the work through that lens is really limiting (and not just because there are also vases, plates, drawings, and wallpaper painting in the show).  The cups on which she draws are not anything entirely remarkable; they are a series of simple, identical, white cups.  But the illustrated cups are very  intriguing.  They allude to ceramic history, especially functional ceramic objects that have been in china cabinets for centuries.  They are ordinary cups depicting ordinary cups, but pairing the two makes for a graceful and stunning object.  I generally thing most things look better when presented en masse, and in the show the cups are presented as a large set on pegs like you might see in someone’s kitchen (albeit within a frame).

I also really love her drawing style.  Her aesthetic is one I really relate to: beautifully decorative, but still subtle and simple.  She takes normally pristine decorative motifs and applies them in a way that shows great evidence that it was done by hand.  Applying imperfect marks to a pristine surface gives the pieces a lot of character and movement, characteristics I think are often lacking from a lot of glazed surfaces.  I am obviously showing my bias here, being that I am a ceramics person who also loves to draw.  I am tempted to gush all day about how much I love her work, but really you should have a look for yourself.

You can visit the exhibition website for more information and the gallery where all the images in this post came from:

And for more information about Molly Hatch, visit her website here:

This post is about neither paper nor clay.  Ha!

It’s about drawing and film.  For my Film Noir class (which was not as great as it might purport to be) we had to take noir photos around Northfield.  Other students in my class posed their friends and traipsed around town/campus looking for good places to shoot.  That sounds miserable to me.  I hate working with people, so I took the assignment to mean take photos around the town but of noir drawings.  So I drew on pavement, a hazardous waste barrel, an brick wall, a sewer grate, and an electrical box.  It was pretty fun.  I used a box of chalk that I found in the drawing studio and had a bunch of fun drawing on stuff around town.  Miraculously, I only got yelled at once.

And, yes, I know the captions are awful, but keep in mind this was a school project, and my very last Carleton project at that, so I was sort of phoning it in.


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