Does Your Work Matter?

I frequently find myself questioning the worth of my creative endeavors.  It’s like being on a tight rope and then making the mistake of looking down and then falling.  Truly am my own worst critic.

Today I received a gift via Austin Kleon’s newsletter in my inbox to help counter those doubts.  Thank you, Austin for posting these wonderful words of wisdom from Martha Graham…

A story about meeting choreographer Martha Graham for a soda, as told by Agnes de Mille in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

Ok..let’s get on with it then!

“The Art of Noticing” a Book

Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.  Mary Oliver

I notice small things.  This probably started when I started birding and identifying plants in college.  Little brown birds become wrens, those spikey white flowers in a bog become bog orchids, rocks in a canyon tell stories.

As I slow down and notice things around me, the world becomes less chaotic.  When my cell phone is left behind and the portal to insanity shut off I can sit on the porch step and notice the honey bees probing in the flowers of autumn joy sedum and the variety of clouds in the sky.  Noticing helps me to be a more imaginative writer and artist.

A book, The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, recently came to my attention via Austin Kleon’s blog.  I checked it out from the library recently and have been impressed by the plethora of unique activities that will get the novice and experienced noticer into prime form.  Enjoy taking a color walk, documenting odd things from a road trip like gas stations, writing a review of manhole covers or fire hydrants, start drawing, write a field guide to the dogs in your neighborhood, write a poem about the items for sale in the check out line of a store, stop talking and inventory what sounds you hear.

If you need help downshifting into observation mode this book has the tools to do so.  Who needs Facebook and Instagram for entertainment when one knows how to notice?  As a new hardback it’s around $15, or check it out from the library as I did.  Everyday life will become full of new adventures.

Standing at the Crossroads of Should and Must

What is the metric of decision-making in our lives?  What bearing do we follow?  How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk?  Navigating one’s life is tricky business.

Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of Should and Must, Find & Follow Your Passion.”  I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears.  I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do.  This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)

I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding.  It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.

Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades.  Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way.  I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books.  It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.

Check it out!

At the Crossroads                                                                          

I choose

having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should

and the starvation that came with it

the unmapped one calls to me

a winding path fraught with obstacles

marked with warnings

I have only my compass

traverse unknown terrain

and stumble often as

scars collect on my body

brought to skinned knees

by vista after vista

but I am satisfied with my choice

and despite injuries

I revel in the challenge

my curiosity sated with memories

feeling fully alive

on this road I’ve taken

and that has made all the difference

Check out my other blog, onesweetearth on sustainable living

Photos by author- most from the book At The Crossroads of Should and Must

Crafting a Personal Credo

CREDO

“a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions”.

Over the years I have collected some words of wisdom that have guided me through this adventure we called life.  I decided to finally write them down in a format that was easily accessible.  At first, I considered a small booklet but then I settled on a poster format.  This would serve as a mini “Graffiti Wall” that I could access in an instant

This was a project I did not want to fuss over (avoid perfection, just get ‘er done).  I grabbed a 14” x 11” piece of cardboard, painted a coat of yellow paint over it with a little embellishment, put my cartoon self in the center, and then started writing my words and phrases on the board in different colors and sizes.  There is plenty of room for more guiding principles as this is an ongoing project.  You can never have enough words of wisdom.

I keep this posted in my studio and glance at it now and again.  It keeps me grounded as with my personal mission statement- but that’s a whole different post…

Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Layughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.

RedSkelton

The Art of the List

“It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive” 

John Lennon

There’s a grey zone between creative projects, that high of completing something big and the low of “Now what?” 

To ease out of the “what now “ doldrums I find great solace in making lists.  I find them grounding from to-do lists, not-to-do lists, to grocery lists.  I feel better with a rock-solid list.

This go around I decided to make a list of my symbols that I use or would like to use in my imagery and my writing as metaphors or prompts.  Here is my latest list.  Feel free to use any of it you like…

*all visuals in this post are from my daily planner or sketchbook

Stepping Up to a Creative Challenge

Mixed media painting by the author

I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel.  We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy.  Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it.  Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds.  This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.

I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors.  Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked.  Original art was out of my price range.  That left the task up to me to manifest the painting. 

Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination.  That was not an option in this case.  I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…

  1. Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
  2. Concept– what do I want to express?
  3. Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
  4. Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
  5. Timer to keep me on task (essential)

I broke down the project into small steps such as…

  1. Figure out the proper size of the painting
  2. A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
  3. Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
  4. Apply gesso
  5. Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
  6. Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.

I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.

Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby.  Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day.  To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities.  In that regard, my timer was my best friend.

The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom.  It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal.  I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece.  Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals.  Just start and keep going.

Notes on Tossing Out My Old Artwork

In the doldrums of this pandemic my creative image energies are ebbing more than flowing. It’s times like this at times all I can muster is to tidy up. Usually that involves just organizing my workspace. Then after years of procrastination I faced down the leaning pile of old cardboard portfolios full of aging class artwork and design projects that lurked in my closet. The problem is when you hang onto old work there’s really no room for new- physically or metaphorically.

 Bye-bye charcoal nudes, bye-bye watercolors, bye-bye drawings. Yep you were “A” quality, fun, but at this point, are not doing anyone any good including myself.  And woe to my son who would be stuck sorting  them out when I’m packed up to the Rock of Ages Rest Home. The recycling bin is full. I have a well stocked collage box and plenty of classy bookmarks as souvenirs. I took pictures of the T-shirts I designed and donated them to a thrift store where someone can put them to use. 

Bidding farewell to old creative work of any kind is like saying goodbye to parts of oneself- but thinking about it, all that hard work and practice is still with me deeply embedded in the work I do today. When I peruse all those past efforts I think of them as either good or bad but merely steps along the path to where I am as an artist today. 

We are but at some total of all our work and practice. The beat goes on.

I love my clean closet. 

That’s over with!

A Zine is Born

Zine (according to the Urban Dictionary)

Some sort of publication, usually mass-produced by photocopying(in some cases, scanned, put on the ‘net, or copied via fax)on any range of topics, but usually filled with passion. A means of telling one’s story, sharing thoughts, and/or artwork/comics/doodles.

The instructor for the Zine lesson of my year-long Words & Pictures class made a 16 page zine of his favorite mustards.  Now there’s a quirky idea.  How could I top my favorite mustards?

 I took a look back in my sketchbook and came across some silly doodles of triangles.  The triangle doodles eventually morphed into silly triangle birds.  Then I noticed that all the triangles happened to be isosceles triangles (two sides of equal length).  Hmm.  How about if I made a zine just about silly things made up from isosceles triangles.  Thus I went about writing and publishing my first zine, The Isosceles Triangle Illuminated.

This was a perfect pandemic project.  I had a hilarious time brainstorming and drawing my triangle ideas.  The hardest part was correctly photocopying the back to back so the pages would be in the correct order.  Instead of Holiday cards, I sent them out to friends for a good laugh. 

Want one of my isosceles triangle zines?  Use my contact page and for only $5.51 I will send you one!

For more info on making a zine click here

The Color of Clay

Clay can be dirt in the wrong hands, but clay can be art in the right hands.

Lupita Nyong’o

I work in clay when the mood arises.  In its simplest form, clay is mineral earth, devoid of organic matter. 

For millennia humans have dug their own to make vessels and pieces of art. The clay most artists use in modern times comes from factories.  Different formulations of minerals will mature at different temperatures and will have different properties that are specific to wheel or sculptural pieces. The hotter the temperature the clay fires to, the stronger the finished product.   I generally work in a midfire range clay that matures at approximately 2200 degrees F. 

Within that temperature range there is a variety of colors to choose from that range from white, tan, rust, and brown.  The color of the clay is from pigments or minerals that have been added.  For example, iron oxide gives terra cotta its deep rust color and burnt umber makes clay a toasty brown.

 I like to experiment with different colors of clay.  Since I work with sculptural rather than functional pieces (such as mug and bowls), I use glaze more as an embellishment, preferring to showcase the color of the clay body I’m working with.

When you purchase clay, the fired product will be a different color than the wet clay in the bag. Often white clay will appear gray in its wet form.  Dark clays will lighten or darken depending.

The firing process used to be literally done with a wood fire and in some places still is. I use an electric kiln to fire my pieces.  When the kiln gets up to temperature the individual particles of clay will vitrify, or fuse, creating a permanent, waterproof object.

The clay will perform the same, no matter how it’s colored- it’s how it’s molded that creates differences in strength.  It’s only by fire that clay unites as one.

Clay has so much to teach humanity.

Visit my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

The Zen of Doodling

Exploring “Creation Meditation”

Start with a shape, a circle perhaps?  Or maybe begin with a line, straight, zigzag, or a series of turns, twists and loop de loops?  Add onto what you started with maybe a pattern…Circle, line, circle, line, dots.  Punctuate with a triangle- just for fun.  Take those lines for a walk and see where they take you, putting off any specific destination in mind.   Work with in a small area like 2”x 2.”A calendar block, the back of a business card, or a post-it note is perfect.  A small space provides comfort lest you prefer journeying in a vast wilderness of white space. 

Work in pen so you won’t be tempted to erase.  Fill in some shapes if desired. Put letters, numbers, keyboard symbols, and words in your tool box.  Keep working until you feel an end point.  Then leave it.  Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes.  Often you will be charmed by a doodle that you didn’t like initially.

The rules are simple- no erasing, no judgment, no starting over. Let your hand go where it wants to go.  This is merely a creative exploration to see what comes up.  As you progress with this practice, maybe add recognizable objects.  I seem to be fond of birds, teapots and tea cups. Sometime my random shapes become objects without intention.  Odd cars and animals have been known to appear and I delight in building on to them.

 If you are a writer you can doodle with words and letters.  Start with one word and through a stream of consciousness; add more words that might relate.  Feel free to put them upside down, sideways, smaller, bigger, thick or thinner than the original word.

This exercise functions in some ways like Julie Cameron’s morning pages.  Allow your pen to express what it needs to express. Doodling has freed me to examine myself, my fears and my willingness to explore.  It allows me to have a little fun without worrying about outcome.

I started this practice because I no longer had time to do my visual art daily due to all my writing and home improvement projects I had undertaken.  Inspired by the book, If You can Doodle, You Can Paint, by Diane Culhane; I knew I had the time to do at least a daily doodle!  My day planner had an unused square.  First thing in the morning after I planned my day, I started doodling in that square before I got out of bed.

After several months of this, I have fallen in love with these quirky expressions to the point doodling has become a favorite art form.  As with any practice it has evolved.  I have developed more of a style with reoccurring themes.  Some of these have wound up as part of larger art pieces, and some I am going to expand into pieces in their own right.  Some have inspired stories, but the vast majority remains “creation meditations.”  This detachment from outcome can lead me to places I never would have gone.  As a result, I am less inhibited in my creative process. My doodles have gone wild inhabiting my journal, notes, or wherever there is a fallow piece of white space.

I doodled all through high school and university courses to help keep me focused.  Remembering this, when I taught a middle school, I allowed students my doodle during lectures when they did not have to take notes.  For many people like me, lines provide an anchor.  Now much later in life, I have again allowed myself the pleasure. 

Try it!  Buy yourself some special pens.  I am especially fond of the fine line pens from Jet Pens if you don’t have a local art supply store you can visit. 

Happy doodling!

PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.