Traveling to Creativity

I traveled to the small village of Ballycastle, Ireland in early June to take a week-longIMG_0763 printmaking workshop at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation.  The instructor, Ron Pokrasso is from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It would have been a cheaper option to take the class in “Beyond Monotype” at his home studio but I have been to Santa Fe numerous times and was looking forward to exploring new territory.  Since I love Irish music & culture and loathe hot weather, Ireland seemed like an ideal location.

IMG_0794Travel for the sake of travel is not my thing (see my post “The Reluctant Traveler”). Wandering around looking at tourist attractions is tedious for me.  If I have no other purpose to be there other than being just an observer, I am bored.  Give me a sense of purpose and IMG_0772I am engaged.  In the past, Spanish language immersions with homestays gave me the opportunity to experience Mexico & Central America on an intimate level.

Then about eight years ago, I realized if I was going to get serious about my art without domestic distractions, I was going to travel away from IMG_2248home and immerse myself in creativity for a good week.  I was fortunate to discover Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in N. New Mexico where I have returned most summers to get a creative & spiritual boost.  Even though I plan to return there in the future, I am widening my options now to other locations.

It’s been my experience that when I travel with a purpose, not only do I learn more skills, I develop deeper social & cultural connections.  There are so many options to chose from in this regard.  During this trip, we ran into an enthusiastic group traveling with a knitting and spinning focus.  There are trips and classes that are focused on gardening, photography, history, you name it.  Next year I hope to go to an Irish music camp in North Carolina.

If you are a reluctant traveler, as I am, or an experienced traveler, consider traveling to creativity in the future.  It will definitely add new dimensions to your skill set and give your travel more depth.IMG_0888

Departure 

I don’t know how you experienced travelers do it. For me to leave on any trip is a challenge, let alone an overseas trip. Here is a glimpse of my reality. The good news is, I am finally here my printmaking workshop at the Ballinglen Art Center, Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland.


It all started with an idea 

manifesting 

to a penciled entry on my calendar

Later changing to ink.

As the date drew closer and closer

Loose ends started appearing everywhere 

Coming out of crevices

I didn’t know existed.

I tripped repeatedly over them

And as one grabbed my ankle

I fell into a vortex 

Of whirling procrastination.

Round and round I went

Until I grabbed the

Dangling loose ends

Pulled myself up

Then tied them all together in a tight knot.

I finished gathering all my belongings

And left.

Breathless, I found my seat, buckled up

And sighed with relief.

The door closed

We taxied and took off.

Peering below were a few more loose ends

Shrinking in the distance 

Gyrating like frustrated cobras 

Trying to bite me.

But it was too late

I was off.

The Reluctant Traveler

On Saturday, June 3,  I will board a plane for three weeks in Ireland.  I feel both excitement and anxiety about this trip for I am a reluctant traveler.  You see I have this IMG_0749cozy little life in living in an old farmhouse in rural Oregon.  I don’t always feel that need to get away for I am “away.”  Mind you I will always jump at the chance to go camping, hiking or kayaking in the Pacific Northwest but heading across the ocean with a tourist guidebook in hand does not attract me.

Yet every few years I feel that pull to experience the unknown, go to a far off place and savor the sights and culture of someplace foreign.  The one caveat is that I need to travel with purpose, rather than being a tourist bouncing from attraction to attraction. I require a mission and an opportunity to learn about a new country from “the inside out” rather than just be a casual observer. When I was in my 20’s, my work in wildlife research & as a river guide required me to travel to the far reaches of bush Alaska.  Past adventures have also included numerous solo Spanish language immersions in Central America and Mexico with homestays with local families.  Once I traveled to Northern Guatemala alone, arriving Christmas night to a home in an impoverished town to participate in an environmental project there.  In 2013 I walked the Camino de Santiago from France through N Spain with a friend to mark my 60th birthday.  This type of travel is often uncomfortable but offers such opportunities for perspective & personal growth.

patharrisblackThis coming trip will not offer such extreme physical and emotional challenges as my previous journeys. I will make my way from Dublin by bus to the Ballinglen Art Center in the small village of Ballina to take a weeklong mono-printing workshop from artist Ron Prokrasso.  Three friends will join me at the workshop’s end.  We will spend 2 weeks traveling about NW Ireland in a rental car staying in several cottages we have reserved.

It will be a fabulous trip but I am already missing my “spousal equivalent” of 17 years, my two goofy dogs, the stray cat that comes to the porch every night to be fed, the hummingbirds that frequent the porch feeder, my studio & all the other ingredients that make up the life that I cherish.

IMG_0748But I will allow myself to be uprooted for a time to be pruned and enriched by the wonder & challenge that travel can present.  I hope to grow as an artist and bring back a host of fond memories as my souvenirs and a lot of new artwork.  Until then, I better get packing!clover-445255_1920

 

Van Gogh & the Question of Audience

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” Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much impatience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know? “

Vincent Van Goghletter to his brother Theo, June 24, 1880

I read this quote by Van Gogh last week on Austin Kleon’s blog last week which inspired the question of the value of audience.

Before I started to blog this year, I wrote in comfortable anonymity in a small leather bound journal for an audience of one- me.  Then I started my blog as a “must do” to help promote my visual art online.  This intention swiftly changed after I published my first blog post “You Just Start.”  To my amazement, I heard a little chime shortly after I hit the post button letting me know that one blogger had “liked” my post.  I was floored.  Really I had expected nothing, but the fact that my writing connected with someone emboldened post-impressionist-1424183_1920me to share more of my personal writing.

Several posts later I received my first follower which amazed me even more.  Then I began to join in the community by liking, commenting, & following others blogs.  As I have been building my audience, I have been an audience to others, adding such a rich dimension to my creative life.  Having an audience has been an affirmation that my creative expression has value to not only myself but to others.

Still, no matter what, I need to create with satisfying the audience of my own soul as my first priority.  When I create with the intention just to please others, my work seems hollow. That’s when I feel the most despair if no one “comes to my table.”  I will continue to write with or without an audience.  Luckily I don’t need to make money post-impressionist-1428128_1920from my writing and I will savor any audience that comes my way. The important thing is I be brave and share my work.

Van Gogh stayed true to his artistic vision even though he was penniless.  During his lifetime he never sold one painting.  He could have painted in the style of the day to generate income. What courage that took and we are so much the beneficiaries of that courage years after his death.  If only knew what a genius he was.  If only he could have experienced his audience.

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ESCAPING PERFECTIONISM

Perfectionism is a like having a raucous little beast, its claws firmly embedded in your 8f878f17bf65dcfb17b8b14daa544668shoulder, whispering in your ear that your work is not good enough. You need to try harder. You need to do more for it to pass muster. But you’re never quite satisfied and you’re filled with lingering doubt about the value of your work, and worse, yourself. It is the enemy of creativity. When I speak of perfectionism, I am not equating it with the precision required of a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. This kind of perfectionism does not lead to positive outcomes. It often goes hand in hand with unhappiness & anxiety.

Looking at my work now, one would never know that I am a recovering perfectionist. My work is often playful, spontaneous, & made of torn paper or clay forms that have intentionally been altered or misshapen in some way. I gravitate towards the asymmetrical & wonky shapes that you might find in a Dr. Suess book. It’s my private rebellion against perfection. In a round- about way, I’m rejecting the notion that our bodies must conform to a perfect ideal as celebrated by our culture.

The seeds of my perfectionism developed during my teenage years. I suffered from some misaligned parenting that left me carrying a heavy backpack of low self-esteem into my adulthood. The message I internalized from frequent criticism was that I was not good enough. As a result, I became critical of myself & began down the path of perfectionism to compensate.

Perfectionists often set themselves up for failure- or perceived failure. It made sense that one of my first art forms was calligraphy. To make proper letter forms, one has to be quite exacting. I strove to achieve the strictest proportions with my work, often starting over & over. Eventually, my body started to give me signals that made me begin to question my perfectionism. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome & neck & back pain. This started a period of intense self-examination since I was suffering from depression as well.

It took months of therapy and hard work on my part to begin to free myself from the grip that low self- esteem had on my psyche. I started taking medication to treat my depression.  Eventually, my perfectionism began to dissipate. Now I practice “imperfectionism.” This does not mean I am into sloppy craftsmanship, but rather that when I have expressed what I’ve needed to express I stop, walk away and declare it done. The little flaws that remain, unnoticed to others but myself, are no longer deal breakers. They are the marks that a human hand made Wave pot1the piece & not a machine.

I keep an awareness about me when I am working lest my evil little beast lands on my shoulder again. If my mood shifts from a positive one to anxiety, I start to question the motives in my work & refocus. It’s a great time to get up, flick the beast off & take a break.

The creative process should bring happiness. If your perfectionism is robbing you of that, it’s time to think about where it came from. Check out the books by Keri Smith such as Mess, The Manual of Accidents & Mistakes to loosen you up. Adopt the practice of “imperfectionism” & experience the joy you deserve.

The Creative Bone in Your Body

 

first coil pot
My first pot at 40 years old.

One of the most common complaints I hear as an art teacher and in conversation with others in the realm of art is “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Here’s the news…… you don’t have creative bones in your body. You have creative muscles. Whereas bones (at least in adults) don’t change much, muscles are changeable and can be strengthened.

We were all born creative beings. The problem with many is that their creativity was not nurtured either at home or at school or both. Then there is that nasty aspect of self-consciousness that creeps in as we grow-up. Still, creativity can persist in sneaky ways. I ask people to look at the manner they dress, decorate their house, garden, cook, parent, solve problems at work & so forth. It’s there waiting to be manifested.

Now if you are hungering to express yourself in the arts, you have to be willing to endure

3 tone Plate2
Later work

the painful practice of getting your creative muscles in shape after years of disuse. Just like getting yourself in good physical condition it can be uncomfortable & discouraging. But “show up” on a regular basis & you will get stronger, confident and feel good about yourself. No one learned how to play a musical instrument without regular practice and one will not sound very good at first. Even among those individuals who were born with any inherent talent from music to athletics, most need some kind of training & practice to succeed. Artists are no exception.

Give yourself permission to start. My childhood talent got unleashed at 40 when the instructor of my 5-year-old son’s clay class agreed to let me be a part of the class. There is nothing like being around a bunch of uninhibited kindergartners to unleash your creative force. Twenty some odd years later I am still a ceramic artist.

My advice to those eager to flex their creative muscles? Go take an art class. Best yet, sit in on a children’s class. Treat art as an inquiry, not a means for a finished product. Don’t judge yourself & allow for the messy, fun process of being a beginner.
taw-25-coverOne book that was my biggest cheerleader on my creative path was Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. All her books on creativity are fabulous but this one will help get you motivated. Now go forth & enjoy the journey.

Air Plant Love

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Imagine you are a plant and you don’t need roots to tether you to the Earth.  Instead you live in a cluster of other like-minded individuals, anchored in the canopies of trees & bushes in tropical & sub-tropical habitats. You have a great view with the company of birds & other tree dwelling animals. Forgoing roots, you inhale nutrients from soft breezes & the rain since you have developed trichomes, specialized structures on your leaves to do so. What looks like roots at your base  are actually anchors that  hold you to another tree or shrub. Like any other plant you can flower & make seeds but additionally you can produce “pups,”vegetative clones from your base.

 

Welcome to air plants, genus Tillandsia of the Bromeliad family (pineapples are bromeliads).  There are approximately 650 types of Tillandsias that exist. They are the nonconformists of the plant world- maybe that’s why I love them. I had been vaguely aware of these plucky little plants from displays in specialty stores. My minor in college was botany I I always considered myself a plant geek. Then one of my 6th grade science students gave me an air plant on a holder that his mother made from a rock, wire & beads.  Instantly I was smitten.   iron Rockin airplant CR

I began to imagine the possibilities of other artistic applications to combine with air plants.   That was my last year of teaching before retirement.  I was looking for some kind of artistic endeavor to immerse myself in post teaching that could tie in my numerous interests and perhaps generate some additional income. Thus I created ArtisanAirplants, a creative business endeavor where I could combine my work in ceramics & found objects with Tillandsias. Up went an Etsy shop and entry into art shows.Tilly flower 3

Some months later I found myself with 200 or so of these unique plants that looked like they could have escaped from another planet.   I started designing pieces designed for a certain species of air plant in mind. Many of my ceramic air plant holders are intentionally twisted & bent playing off the whimsical qualities of the plants. My work often reminds people of something out of a Dr. Suess landscape.  I also like to juxtapose them with non- natural objects such as vintage tools & hardware.

On travels around Oregon & beyond I am always on the lookout for what universe has to offer me for my art. You might find me frequenting thrift stores & garage sales for unusual accessories. My kayak & backpack will often be loaded down with rocks and other interesting pieces of flotsam & jetsam to use for pieces. Treasure hunting is an integral part of my artistic process.

Spanish moss curtain

If you are a plant lover, one great thing about Tillandsias are that they are so small that you can have lots of them. They adorn several of my window sills, walls, and hang over my kitchen sink.  I have a living bathroom “curtain” made of Spanish moss. Kids love them.  I tell my kid customers that they are easier to take care of than a hamster.Deer SKull PE 3 crop

There is a sad misconception that abounds that Tillandsias need  little or no care. If you do decide to bring air plants into your home, please be aware that they need carecropped-monklady-1 similar to a  houseplant, ie proper lighting, ventilation, & watering.  The main difference is that since they forgo soil, you need to water them by soaking & misting.  Avoid buying from big box stores as they don’t know how to care for them properly.  You best bet is a specialty plant store or an online air plant company.  

Consider them the next time you go to buy a gift, for a loved one or yourself.  They will make happy company.