Thinking “Inside a Box”

cell-1496385_1920Gas molecules will fly all over the place unless held in a container.  That’s what I’m like .  Unless I am contained in a structure, I am all over the map.  As a result, I can feel inefficient and anxious. Ironically it appears that in order for me to “think outside the box”, I need to be in one

For most, they have a structure imposed by a job, school, and/or family responsibilities.  That used to be me but 2 years ago I retired from teaching and now it’s up to me to create my own structure.  In other words, I get to be my own parent.  Scary.chest-2648225_1920

I make several kinds of visual art, play music, sing in a choir, and write, plus take care of an aging farmhouse on rural property.  I’m doing a little of this and a little of that.  As a result, my work is all over the place with no real sense of focus & accomplishment. I am “showing up” but irregularly without a clear set of goals. So after bumbling around for a while in this new found frontier of freedom, I realize that in order to function effectively I need to create my own “box” for myself to save me from chaos.

IMG_1647Recently I sent for books on the subject. Currently, I am reading ,  Goal Setting for People Who Hate to Set  Goals.”   This small book by Keith Ellis is helping me prioritize & set measurable goals step by step.  Today I am going to sit down, write out my goals and create a visual flowchart to follow.  For me, unless I write things down and have a visual posted in a place where I see it consistently, all will be a wash.

Some successes thus far: I have started to get up an hour earlier.  That helps a lot.   I also for some months now have been following a modified version of the house cleaning and organization system on flylady.net.  My house is way more in order and clean than ever before by just following her simple systematic approach.   I function much better in a clean, orderly environment.

If you have any tricks to stay focused and organized, I would love to know!

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Just Show Up

wrecker-2061697_1920No matter what rut you’re in, creative or otherwise, the only way to escape is by momentum.  Whether it be a running start with or without an external assist (think tow truck) as in a class.  Here is a free tow truck- watch the Mel Robbins’ Ted Talk.  She is a good motivator.

IMG_1551After a bit of a dry spell this summer (literally and figuratively), I decided to take the sage wisdom of other creatives and just SHOW-UP.  Anything is better than being miserable. So I have been just showing up to my studio with no great inspiration, choosing to do whatever caught my fancy.  “Junk collage” started me off, then I joined an informal mosaic group on Monday mornings that a friend of mine started.  ThenIMG_1549 there is nothing like SIGNING UP.  I have a couple of holiday shows now I need to create for.  Deadlines are a great motivator.  I bought a new bag of clay and I’m ready to go.

IMG_1547Creative dry spells are no fun.  There is a certain desperation and despair about these times.  But just like being physically out of shape, the only way to get in creative shape is to start moving.  It’s uncomfortable at first and discouraging to begin again.  Creative muscles get sore too.   That means baby steps.  Show up 10 minutes a day if that’s all you have in you and work up to more.

I’m not making masterpieces here, but I am making, and making is when I’m happiest.

 

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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.

When the Creative Party Ends

It happens sometimes to creatives- your head is filled with a party of ideas & inspirations and then all of a sudden the party is over.  You’re left with a bunch of rubble, an empty IMG_1398room, and a creative hangover.  That’s where I am at.  I’ve been here before and it’s not fun.  You feel lost, lonely & a sense of despair.  The one thing I do know “This too shall pass” (but not without some effort).

Parties can’t go on indefinitely.  At some point, you need to rest & recharge.  The first step is to clean up after the party- literally.  I am doing a total cleanup of my studio.  On Saturday I swept down my cement floor, got rid of unnecessary items that lined the walls and occupied the floor and then hosed down the entire thing.  Afterward, it smelled fresh and sweet.  Today I am cleaning and organizing my table surfaces.  For some reason cleaning my physical space also cleans my mental space.  It’s not a cure-all but sure is a positive start to make room for new ideas.  Best of all- It’s something I can do now and feel good about.

I wrote the following poem at my low point (also posted on “Poet’s Corner”).  I look forward to hearing the songs of birds again.

 

BURROW

If I had a burrow

I would crawl into it

Make a bed of soft moss

Block the entrance with piles of rock

And curl up & sleep until the songs of birds

Wove their way into my consciousness

To wake me

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Image courtesy http://animalia-life.club

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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The Creative Bone in Your Body

 

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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

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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.

On Finding Inspiration

 

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There is a magic in the creative process.  When I am totally in the  “zone,“ it seems as though some divine force plants a seed of inspiration into my psyche & leads me on a journey to bring from the ethos something new & different into the world.  Generally I need to be in a space where I am fully present-  at least with my own thoughts.  I don’t necessarily have to be in my studio.  Often inspiration comes on a walk or doing something as innocuous as washing dishes or weeding the garden.  At this point it is important for me to get the idea either in process immediately or at least written down, for inspiration can be as ephemeral as fairy dust in a breeze.

Sometimes I must plant a seed myself if nothing has been offered from above.  I keep a list spirit-of-g-r-horse-qeof concepts that fascinate me.  For example, a few of my favorites are migration, germination, metamorphosis & salmon.  I will make a list of every sub-concept  I can think of that has to do with that topic, pick a few & then tie them together into a piece.  The Illustrations that are shown in this post are from a triptych titled “The Spirit of Ghost Ranch.”  In these mixed media pieces, my goal was to embody different aspects of Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I  visit to take art classes & spiritually recharge most summers.

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Then there are times I must “prime the pump” for ideas.  One of my favorite hunting grounds is Pinterest.I can get inspiration from other artists & pin them to my own “board” for reference https://www.pinterest.com/wildntotions/.   One of the beauties of the Pinterest algorithm is that it will suggests similar pins that may be of interest to you, leading you down a rabbit hole of endless possibilities.  I can also prowl about blogs, and storefront galleries as well.  My go to guide when I am in a rut is the book, “Steal Like an Artist,” By Austin Kleon.  It’s maybe an hour read and so very encouraging
and inspirational.  If you need a tow truck, this is your go to guide. I refer to it over and over again.51b3zefka3l-_sx258_bo1204203200_

For the most part I work intuitively.  I just start putting down a scrap of paper,  a stencil, a swish of paint, sentence , or start to work a lump of clay  as bait for my muse.  Once I start down the creative path, I follow the breadcrumbs that she has left to tell me where to go next.  I know that if I am tired or stressed it not the right time for creative work- just like you don’t plant tender seedlings in bad weather.  Now it’s time to do something mindless & let my subconscious work in the background.

It’s all a mesmerizing journey of faith but it works- if you give yourself permission to let go & play.