Category Archives: creativity

Poetry Challenge

This afternoon, I got a poetry challenge from my lovely Aunt Stephie – a poet and artist all around wonderful human being. Having had the gauntlet thrown at me, here is my answer to the title “Lost” written in 30 minutes…..

Lost

The last I saw the green ones
they were on the kitchen table near
the red cup with the peace sign
full of cold coffee.

I noticed them
because I knew I would need them
later to thread the sewing machine.

It’s really the progressives that I want though
so that I can see the expiration date
on the milk that got pushed to the back
of the refrigerator
and still identify whose dog is currently eating
the compost while I’m looking out the window.

I remember leaving the pair of tortoiseshells
in my pocket so that I would always have
them if I couldn’t find the others
but that was last week
and the wash has been done since then.

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Morning practice

I started listening this week to a series of lectures given by Eric Maisell on living your best life in the arts.  I listen in the car to make sure that I am a captive audience and my only distractions are the intrusions of my own daily thoughts and the traffic.  It is proving to be both revealing and very thought provoking.

The revealing part is how often my mind wanders to the trivia that I apparently think that I need to attend to even during the half hour that I am on the road, listening to something that I am truly engaged in.  More on that later.

This morning I decided that the intrusive thoughts might have distracted me enough so that I didn’t hear everything Eric had to say and that I should listen again.

There is a point in the lecture where he says that the truth is that most artists never fully show up and do the work we need to do.  Most of us don’t treat ourselves well, we don’t take care of ourselves so that we can be the best in our lives.  We need to prove ourselves to be the exception.

How will I prove myself?  How will I be the exception to the rule?  My first thought is how much work and commitment it will take.  That makes me tired and want to sit in front of the fire with another book on how to do this.

So – this morning on the way to work, as I am listening to the lecture again I am struck by something that I didn’t hear the first time.  As Eric is answering a question from someone about starting a practice setting aside time to work every morning (he calls this morning practice), he says that you have to find what works for you to make it happen – “figure out what the work is that fits in the morning” try to find “what works in that time” but you must do “the actual creating”.  Whoa – so this makes sense to me!  The first part of proving myself to be the exception has to be finding a way to make it work with the resources that I have – who I am, the time that is available to me, the people I surround myself with.

For me, I think this looks like getting up at 5 and using my morning time for planning my projects.  I will put my “moveable studio” – the bag that is always packed with my sketchbook, paints, pencils and so on – beside my chair where I have coffee in the morning.  I will use this morning hour to elaborate on ideas, plan projects and get set up so that when I have longer periods of time to use, I will be ready to work.

To prove myself to be the exception to the rule, I have to find a way to work with myself instead of against myself.  I have to understand what it means to take thoughtful care of myself.  I have to then give myself permission to take care of myself every minute of every day in a thoughtful way.

Time Suckers and Procrastination

1.        That slippery slope

Last year I took my TV and stuck it in the closet.  I figured “out of sight, out of mind” and since it was a time in my life when I felt strongly about modeling healthy behavior and since I had a lot going on in the evenings, it was easy to forget that it was lurking a few feet away behind a couple of flimsy louvered doors.

Instead of tuning in to one of the two channels that I actually get with the rabbit ears on the top of the set (yes, there is no cable in my house, no microwave, no automatic coffee maker), I knit socks and listened to music, I worked hard on a journal that I was writing and painting in.  I cooked.  I read.  I wandered about the house a bit but my mind was mine.

I did miss movies though and thanks to my then 17 year old son, found out that I could watch them on my computer.  It’s a tiny screen but if you sit close enough, who cares?  A couple of nights each week, we would sit together and watch a movie and then turn the computer off.  He taught me how I could stream them, which increased the number of viewing options I had exponentially.

One evening as I sat waiting for him to come home from an evening out, I decided I was tired and didn’t have enough energy to be creative or even to concentrate on my book so I went online and selected a movie and watched it by myself.  When it was over, I started an online Scrabble game just to pass the time; an occupation I had discovered during a time in my life when mental distraction was necessary to my sanity.  When I heard the door open, I closed the computer before I could be “caught”.

The number of evenings when I was too tired to be creative started to increase after that.  I was still secretive about my watching habits.  If no one knew, it didn’t seem to be quite as dangerous a transgression and after all, the TV was still in the closet.  I wasn’t watching every day and what the heck, I was tired at night.

From a friend, I found that a couple of TV shows that I had watched could be found on the internet.  This was getting dangerous.  The number of shows and movies that caught my attention could now easily entertain me every night of the week if I allowed them to.  Luckily, summer came and the afternoon sunshine turned into early evening sunshine.  The porch was open and the frogs were singing their sex songs.  I was being entertained by nature and my computer use stopped.

It is now fall again.  The evenings are getting dark and sometimes I have to light a fire to keep the house warm.  The computer is out on the table in the living room because it’s my only source of music at the moment.  I have watched a couple of movies at night.  I haven’t yet taken out my knitting and my journal is hidden deep in the case I use to haul it around.

Before the cold gets too deep and the nights too dark, I have a decision to make about my time.  I know what I want to do.  I know what would make me feel good about myself.  I know that time wasted is never returned.  I know that what you practice, you become.

I know that sometimes I am too tired to be creative and that watching movies can be fun.

Decisions can be made day by day as long as my practice is intentional.  More on that in part 2.

Singing Lessons

I am a closet singer.

Well – let’s say I’m an in the car with the radio turned up high singer.  I’m a shower singer.  I’m a singer on the beach with the wind blowing.  I’m a singer in the garden when no one is around.  And if my closet was big enough, I’d definitely be a closet singer.

My mother loved to sing.  I learned show tunes from her, standing by the piano listening to her wash that man right out of her hair.  My grandmother once admitted to me that the real reason she went to church every Sunday was so that she could sing.   I have four sisters who sing.  They have lovely voices, all of them.  Christmas carols at our house were sung with sweet harmonies.

I was the one who couldn’t carry a tune.  It became a joke.  Every time I opened my mouth to join in the refrain, a comment would be made.  As a young girl, I had a short stint in the church choir.  I remember being asked to sing a little more quietly, please.  I’m not sure if my voice was that bad or my enthusiasm so high that I wanted to belt those hymns out at the top of my voice.  Even then, I was trying to channel Janice.

Yesterday, I set myself up with singing lessons.

I am thrilled and terrified with the idea of learning to sing or as my teacher put it “finding my voice”.  I know where my voice is – it’s been cowering in the corners of my house behind the spiderwebs, coming out only when I’m alone.  It stays tucked into the glove compartment of my car bursting into the light during my commute.  It’s time to introduce it to my teacher and maybe later to my friends.  It’s time to teach it some table manners so that it doesn’t embarrass me in public.

Yep – I’m nervous about introducing my voice around.  It opens me up to the same teasing that I got as a girl when I sang in my family.  It’s possible that someone might ask me to sing a little more quietly like they did in church that day.

I set myself up with singing lessons.  It’s time to shake things up in my life; make some changes; take some risks and say yes to opportunities that arise.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I go back to singing alone?

What’s the best that can happen?  I told a new friend my singing story the other day – he said “I like it when you sing.”

Judging the World

As a farm girl, I raised my own dairy cows and showed them at the county fairs.  I was also trained to be a conformation judge of dairy animals.  My training took place in the early evenings at various town halls in the region.  My fellow trainees and I would be shown slides of cows side by side on a screen that had been set up on the stage in the front of the hall.  We would take turns describing and comparing the animals.  This prepared us to stand in a ring at the fair with young 4-Hers leading their animals around us in a big circle.  We would place the animals in descending order with the most beautiful and the strongest at the head.

During that training we were charged with not only judging the animals and deciding who would win the blue ribbon; we were asked to describe them without using the words good, better, best, bad, worse and worst.

I don’t judge cattle anymore but I do find myself using those forbidden words to judge the world around me.  If I happen to be having fun, I think “I’m having a good day”, if the sun is out, it’s “good weather”, if I feel crabby or sad, “I’m feeling bad”.  Instead of taking the time to reflect and describe the world around me with meaningful words, I take the easy route of judging my experience with my single word proclamations of good or bad, better or worse.

Last week I took a vacation with some good friends and noticed this habit I have of judging.  We all had bicycles with us and every bicycle was different.  I sat on the porch of the little cottage that was home for the time being and with time spread out before me like a soft carpet, I looked at the bikes.  My first instinct was to think about which bike was the “best”’ bike.  I noticed myself trying to do this and decided that instead, I would describe each bike, as it was, without placing a judgment on it.  I noticed the color, the tires, the type of frame and even looked at the wear on each bike.   I took the time to describe what I was seeing to myself in words.

Here is what happened to me.

Instead of seeing one bike as good and dismissing the other bikes as somehow inferior and so not worthy of my attention, suddenly all of the bikes deserved my attention.  Each one had qualities that were worth noting.  My attention to the detail in the bikes became more pointed.  My curiosity about the bikes was peaked and I found myself using my imagination to explain some of the detail that I explored.  By describing rather than judging, my world opened up and became more interesting and more appealing.

I’m back from vacation now and back in the busy world of work and commitments.  It is certainly more challenging to be mindful of myself and the world around me when time seems less like a carpet and more like a treadmill.  My experience with the bikes stays with me and reminds me of the possibilities and the pleasure that is there for the taking if I am willing to stop, move out of the habit of judging and take the time to describe.

Home Alone

This is the weekend to come to terms with my new status of single mom with only child away at college.

I intend to do some baking, continue reorganizing the house, garden, clean the pellet stove, get some exercise and pull at least one print.  This week I have been fairly busy with my friends who have been making sure that I’m not wandering incoherently around in an empty house or sobbing myself to sleep.  I have had lovely invitations to dinner and taken advantage of every one.  There comes a time when I have to see what it feels like to be alone for an extended period without the anticipation of my son coming home.  After all, the next time he will be home is Christmas.

In truth, I am looking forward to the alone time.  Last night I set up the radio so that there is more sound in the house than just me talking to myself or the cats (I’ve always talked out loud to whoever is or isn’t around so please don’t count this as “crazy cat lady” behavior – for me, its normal).  I intend to bake some bread for myself for the coming week to prove that I really do like to bake bread; it’s not just an activity that I do to nurture others.  And then there is the studio.  It is waiting for me like a living thing.  I hear it whisper to me as I glance its way.  I notice that the drafting table is cleaned off and waiting for a new plate.  The inks are patient for now but need stirring and want to sing their sticky songs as the brayer rolls over them.

I am excited about this.  I am looking forward to this private time.  I am happily anticipating a weekend of my own.  I’ll let you know how it goes…..

Back in the Saddle

Well – I’m really only stepping up on the stirrups at the moment but that saddle is looking more comfortable every day.  At least it’s on the horse!

So I’ve got about three thousand ideas for prints running around in my head at the moment and so now comes the part where I decide how to deal with them.

  • Do I write them all down so that I can work on them later?
  • Do I work on the most pressing one so that I don’t lose the power of its immediacy?
  • Do I clean the studio just a tiny bit more or work around the mess that is still left?
  • Do I sketch them all out and file them in the later pile?
  • Do I make myself a cup of tea and watch a movie?

All kidding aside, this is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the process for me.  After a time of studio drought, when the ideas start coming back and it seems like I could be productive in the studio, where do I begin and how do I keep the ideas from leaking out of my ears and running down the proverbial drain?

The answer in the past has always been to just run with the most urgent ideas.  Put ink to plate and just start.  Once working, ideas mature and morph into something that just might work on paper.

This year I have a new tool though.  For the past year I have been actively working on an art journal.  I have been using ink and watercolor to set down emotions and ideas as they come to me.   It is an improvisational way of working and it is fast and honestly, very satisfying.   The idea that comes to me as I write this is to keep doing what worked in the past; jumping on the most urgent idea and using that to guide me on my next round through the artistic process.  Along with that I will add the journal tool to explore some of the other ideas that seem to be more shy, less likely to jump and down and call out “Mememememememeeeee!!!”.

And that worry about ideas leaking out and running down the drain?  I just remembered an idea I had at least thirty years ago that still deserves some attention.  Sometimes they just won’t go away!

Vacation

It’s that time of year again.  Just like all of the mental health workers of the world, August is the time of year that I retreat from the world of my daily commute, internet access and the modern world.  Two blissful weeks spent in Maine, the first in the north woods on a pond with no electricity.  This is a family property that swells with cousins and aunts and uncles and children and dogs during the first week of August.  We spend our days catching up on news, swimming and climbing mountains.  Our evenings are card games and the occasional community bonfire.  I love this place.  I’ve been visiting since I was a little girl and will continue as long as I am able.  It is like going back in time.

The second week is rather more luxurious.  After all, there is electricity.  It is a house that my grandfather built on the rocky Maine coast.  This year I will be joined by my son for a weekend and then my art friends for the rest of the week.  My favorite time there is coffee on the deck as the sun rises.   I am anticipating great food and lots of creative fun.

Setting my intention for this time:

Relaxation – These weeks are the calm before the storm when I have to get ready for my son’s trip out west and his first year of college.

Mindfulness – I will work on staying in the moment and paying attention to what I am doing now.

Work – I intend to do some thinking and planning for a workshop that I am hosting later in the fall.

Play – I intend to have fun and make the most of my family and friends during this special time.

Standing Naked

Last night was the biweekly meeting of my art support group.  The group consists of four women artists.

Two of us are painters, one is a fiber artist and I’m the printmaker but that doesn’t matter.

We have varying commitments to our art in terms of time and livelihood but that doesn’t really matter either.

What does matter is that we have created a space amongst the four of us where we can share the most intimate pieces of our lives, including our art.  This is where pieces are shown first.  This is where ideas are introduced and tested.  It’s where we can admit our shortcomings and celebrate our victories, personal and artistic.  It’s where we can talk about our fears and brag about our accomplishments ad nauseum and no one actually vomits.  They cheer along with us or cry or hug or dance.

Why does this work so well?

Here are a couple of quotes for you:

Rosalind Russell – “Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.

and

Eric Maisel – “An artist feels vulnerable to begin with; and yet the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.“

So – Why does the group work?  Because it’s safe.  Because we know that what goes into the group, stays there.  Because we know that no matter what, we will get loving honesty from one another.  Because we depend on each other for support and we have committed ourselves to give support as it’s needed.

From what other people tell me, what we have in our group is special and not easy to find.   I’m not sure how we got so lucky to find the right people to make it work so well.  We’re all very different in our personalities and our art.  We don’t always agree.  But it is a safe place.  Maybe it’s because we have thrown all of ourselves into the group and not just our art.  We have celebrated weddings and births as well as shows.  There has been divorce and disappointment.

Making art is personal.  It is standing up naked.  It is discarding your armor.  When you can do that in front of friends who love you and know that you are safe and loved, it is amazingly powerful.

I have found that in this group of special women.  I can take the power that we make together and go out into the world.

Mentors and Teachers and Heroes, Oh My!

Monday, I visited a friend in her studio and was pressed into describing how I got myself started on this journey of printmaking.  I talked my way through the timeline – beginning with sewing, moving to surface design where I was using stamps, trying the same techniques on gourds and paper.  After I had wound my way through this time and technical path, I realized that the truth was that my work in printmaking has to be blamed on my first printmaking teacher.

In January of 2008 I flew out to Santa Fe to take a week long printmaking class with Ron Pokrasso.  The class was the result of a fellowship that I got through the school where I work.  Ron is an inspired teacher and wonderful human being.  If you are interested I would recommend him as a teacher any day.  I wrote the following paragraphs about the talk he gave us on the first day of our week with him.

“He said that if we were to be successful in the class, we would be exposing ourselves to him and each other while we worked.  He talked about how that could make us vulnerable to criticism and how our biggest critic was often ourselves.  He talked about passion and the nature of making art and that making ourselves vulnerable was an essential part of the process and because of that, we needed a safe place to work.  He asked us to be kind and supportive of one another and to be teachers as well as students.  He demanded that we be present while we were in the studio.  He told us to step outside of our comfort zone.  And he told us to take care of ourselves.

And then he did something surprising and unexpected.  He said that what he expected of us was that we show our vulnerability.  And that to be fair and to make a safe place for us to work, he was willing to do the same.   He would work along with us in class, he would show us his work in progress and at the end of the week, he would take us to his home, and to his studio where we would see his ideas like he had seen ours all week.  And then he started his first demonstration.”

Ron gave me permission to play in the studio.  He set up a safe place where students and teacher could talk about each other’s work in a way that was helpful and honest without the destructive criticism that is so often a part of art education.  Finding good teachers and mentors is a great joy.  I look forward to the time when I feel the confidence to play that role to someone else and give away what was once given to me.