For Those That Travel the Creative Path

I came across this lovely prose by Charlotte Eriksson as I perused the Goodreads website today. There is no title and is probably an excerpt from an essay. It is so appropriate for any one who is traveling the creative path…..

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“… so this is for us.
This is for us who sing, write, dance, act, study, run and love
and this is for doing it even if no one will ever know
because the beauty is in the act of doing it.
Not what it can lead to.
This is for the times I lose myself while writing, singing, playing
and no one is around and they will never know
but I will forever remember
and that shines brighter than any praise or fame or glory I will ever have,
and this is for you who write or play or read or sing
by yourself with the light off and door closed
when the world is asleep and the stars are aligned
and maybe no one will ever hear it
or read your words
or know your thoughts
but it doesn’t make it less glorious.
It makes it ethereal. Mysterious.
Infinite.
For it belongs to you and whatever God or spirit you believe in
and only you can decide how much it meant
and means
and will forever mean
and other people will experience it too
through you.
Through your spirit. Through the way you talk.
Through the way you walk and love and laugh and care
and I never meant to write this long
but what I want to say is:
Don’t try to present your art by making other people read or hear or see or touch it; make them feel it. Wear your art like your heart on your sleeve and keep it alive by making people feel a little better. Feel a little lighter. Create art in order for yourself to become yourself
and let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.

So go create. Take photographs in the wood, run alone in the rain and sing your heart out high up on a mountain
where no one will ever hear
and your very existence will be the most hypnotising scar.
Make your life be your art
and you will never be forgotten.”

― Charlotte Eriksson

The Power of Play, the Power of Clay

IMG_0003My last show is done for the year and perhaps indefinitely.  I am relieved to return to my ceramics studio without the stress of deadlines.  It’s playtime!

There is so much value in play.  I’m talking about for children as well as adults.  Taking time to play in an art form gives that other part of our brain a rest that worries and analyzes so our spirits can be released.  Unfortunately, our culture undervalues play in favor of productivity. As our schools have stripped theeducation-1814187_1920 arts from their curriculums in favor of core subjects, the population is becoming culturally illiterate, more plugged in, and more isolated.

hand-845269_1920Clay is one medium that immediately can turn adults into kids again and turn kids into kids again.  It’s tactile, versatile, and gives immediate satisfaction. If you need more play in your life, consider taking a ceramics class.  Enjoy the satisfaction of playing in mud again.  I wish everyone had access to clay. The world would be a better place.

Hands in Clay

When my hands touch clay

I lose myself

Deep in the soft, smooth sensation of mud

Sliding between my fingers

 

When my hands touch clay

I am a child at play

With infinite possibilities

 

When my hands touch clay

I become the earth

 

When my hands touch clay

I am Navaho, Pueblo, African, Asian, Aborigine

And of the ancient ones

Sharing the spirit of creation

Hidden in the clay

Waiting to be born

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Why I Write As a Visual Artist

d73458fbbe781b9b5b5e94dede7541f3-writing-help-on-writingI’ve kept a journal off and on since I was a junior in high school.  It was an assignment in my English class.  Long after the assignment was over, I kept on as I found it to be a way to clarify my thoughts and anchor myself quelling my teenage anxiety.

Away at college, I added to my journaling by writing letters to friends, often 3 to 4 double-sided pages.  I poured out my hopes and fears as a young adult on yellow lined legal pads. Never during that time did I consider my writing to have any type of creative value. My major was in the natural sciences and didn’t give language arts much if any thought.

Fast forward 40 odd years to my 60’s, now a retired middle school science teacher and a practicing artist, piles of journals stored in boxes in my attic.  Then, last fall I picked up a pencil and started reading & writing poetry every morning as an alternative to reading and listening to the news.  The 2016 election was driving me crazy.  Much to my surprise,035572205f481fafaa1112f666ff3c24 poetry started emanating from me.  Not only was the process satisfying creatively, it started becoming food for my visual artwork.  As time passed, my writing has continued to rescue me from the darkness of the world events. (I choose not to write about them either).

In January of this year, my blog followed the poetry.  Originally it was going to be a way to document my visual art processes, but it has turned into a platform to showcase my writing, photography as well as my artwork.  Again as with poetry, the satisfaction of writing a blog surprised me.

Julie Cameron of the Artist’s Way series suggests writing 3 full pages every morning.  She calls them “Morning Pages.”  Years back for a while I tried to do that.  Though I did receive plenty of insights, the 3 full pages exercise were just too prescriptive and forced to me and I began to avoid the process.

quotes-writing-william-h-gass-600x411Now I believe just write- daily in whatever form suits you.  For me sometimes that can be a few lines, an entire poem or just editing something I’ve written the day before. Anything to tame the squirrels running loose in my brain. It’s a creative act that can be achieved with the immediacy of pencil and paper. You don’t need paint, canvas, a studio, clay or kiln.  It’s a relatively quick process. Paint pictures with letters, words, and sentences.  When you aren’t inspired visually, find inspiration & clarity in your written expression. Free your psyche to give your visual art more direction than it’s ever had before.

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

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

 

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 SPACES IN-BETWEEN

Years ago a teacher once said to me when I was a student in an art class, “You should consider not using so much white space.” I looked at her incredulously.  Yes, my work pinned to the critique wall was markedly different than the wild expressions of the other students’ work that filled the board.  Mine was made of pure forms with a lot china-20152_1280of white space, or negative space surrounding them; the uncovered virgin-white paper a statement in itself.

For me, that remark was something like “change your soul.”  It was similar to the shaming I received as a young girl from my mother “you are too sensitive.”  Growing up I struggled to fit in a loud world & embrace the social norms that my young culture revered.  The music was too loud, venues claustrophobic, & the presence of too many people intimidating.  I was a misfit among misfits.

The book that rocked my perceptions of myself was Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain.  Suddenly my quirkiness made sense to me.  I was an introvert.  My previous perceptions of introverts were individuals that were uncomfortable with all social interactions.  Not so.  Now I realize Introverts can be social & have many connections.  The difference is we need to retreat to quiet to achieve balance in our lives.

I liken these respites to the white spaces in my artwork, the spaces in between the active parts where the eye can rest.  These pauses are a time of rejuvenation and, in my life, can be anything from a walk, a nap, reading a book, walking my dogs, gardening – or anything that brings my being back from the chaos of daily life.  Conversely, now I understand why the extroverts of our society want to bring us introverts into the fold of busy-ness.  They thrive in that energy & the majority sets the standards of what is normal.

After reading “Quiet,” I learned to honor the introverts in my classroom when I was teaching. If a student felt uncomfortable working in a group I allowed them to work alone. As long as they were learning, I was fine with their style.   I’ve learned to honor my own pace when traveling or hiking rather than suffering to keep up with wants of others.  For me, it’s not the destination but the jewels I find in-between point A & point B.  That might be as simple as a flower, a rock, or a conversation with a local.

Our driven multitasking culture celebrates doing more than being.  It would be healthy everyone, to slow down and find oneself in the spaces in between & honor those who march to a different beat. The magic for me is in the white space of life.  In these pauses, I can ponder, wonder, & feel whole in a world that moves at too fast of a pace for my tastes.  It’s been a relief to let go of the expectations of others & accept myself.  In the meantime, I still enjoy making art with a lot of white space.