Learning and Creating in the New Year

I was recently reminded by a dear friend that in our hierarchy of fundamental human needs, shortly after we fulfill physical basics such as food, water, and shelter we also need aesthetic experiences and learning challenges. His simple words became my internal mantra for weeks, fending off my own worries about art while inspiring me to give fresh attention to the value of my artistic projects. Aesthetic awareness and curiosity are so central to human nature that it’s no wonder we feel such an attraction to imagine and begin arts-related projects and to take classes and read books to develop new skills. I know that choreographing the basics of food and shelter and physical health will continue to keep us all pretty busy, but I hope we can all remember the “other” essentials and find the satisfaction of learning something new and taking pleasure in creating something beautiful.

Since my rowdy imagination has a much bigger appetite for new projects than my overstuffed schedule could possibly accommodate it’s something of a relief that I get to pick out books for more than just myself. I decided to make all four of my browse-along picks for today’s post part of a “learning-to-do” theme with a music book, a cookbook, a handcraft book, and a visual arts book.

Something Old:so3

Our music section is more flush than usual with new books, including this well-worn copy of the classic songbook Rise Up Singing perfect for making music with family and friends in 2014. Arranged simply by subject with several songs per page, this overstuffed lyrics-and-chords book is one of the most popular group singing books of all time.

Something New:sn3Reading cookbooks is pretty practical for me as a busy mom because when I get tired and cooking feels like merely a necessary chore, cookbooks help me get renew my interest and excitement for creating beautiful foods for my family. I don’t always feel creative in the kitchen, but if a book can capture my imagination I’ll be ready to make the most of the time and ingredients I have.

Cultured foods are especially nourishing, and making buttermilk is an easy way to preserve your dairy surpluses for a longer time, too. (I first learned to make buttermilk last year–so simple and fun!) But I have barely begun to discover buttermilk’s cooking possibilities. The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook is a new 2013 release that greets us with a luscious cover and a bit of storytelling and then offers a feast of all sorts of buttermilk recipes for breads, pies and cakes, breakfasts, dressings, soups and much more. I think it captures the magic of small farms and whole foods home cooking perfectly to create a perfect mood for preparing a meal.

Something “Twiggy”:se3

Here is a woodworking craft book that uses the simplest tools and materials to help anyone get started with whittling. You don’t need a workshop or power tools or expensive trips to the lumberyard to whittle something charming, and it’s especially appealing to youth who enjoy hands-on projects. Like a class in book form, Whittling Twigs and Branches has plenty of information to help you choose and maintain your tools and select suitable woods for whittling, and then shows a number of projects that incorporate the natural shapes and bark of the wood.

Something Blue: sb3

I know it’s superficial to judge a book by the colors of its cover, but appearances matter, especially when the subject is painting. This isn’t the bluest book in the store, but these blue watercolored shadows caught my eye and the contents of this book tip the scales in its favor for a recommendation from me. Published by North Light Books, which sets a high standard in art instructional books, How to Paint Living Portraits presents a thorough introduction to portraiture. Roberta Clark gets it exactly right by focusing a great deal of the book on drawing and anatomy, and then spends plenty of time on color, lighting, and different paint media. This is definitely a solid introduction for any artist who wants to get started in or improve their portrait work. Even a little browse makes me feel like picking of a pencil and brush.

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