This is a repost from 2017. I have been traveling and have not had the time to create fresh content. This essay of Gilbert’s is timeless no matter if you are a writer, artist, or musician. I reread it from time to time just to give myself a reality check!
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. She became instantly famous with her novel, Eat, Pray, Love but many readers don’t realize that she was a writer way before that and has published other noteworthy books. She writes a lot about creativity. If you haven’t read her book “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear” it’s a great read on the subject. Also, she has a riveting TED Talk that is well worth a watch.
A friend forwarded this essay of hers on writing. I enjoyed this so much and thought I’d share. You could substitute the words creative, artist, or musician for the word writer and it would still apply.
Sometimes people ask me for help or suggestions about how to write, or how to get published. Keeping in mind that this is all very ephemeral and personal, I will try to explain here everything that I believe about writing. I hope it is useful. It’s all I know.
I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.
If you are any type of creative person you probably have a cheerleader on one shoulder and your inner critic on the other. My muse is my cheerleader, that voice that feeds me sparky ideas and inspiration. My muse is the positive force in my life. My inner critic, in contrast, argues with my muse. She likes to shout words of discouragement and fear in my ear to the point I quiver with self-doubt. Unfortunately, she’s an annoying fact of my life.
I have come up with strategies to deal with this bitchy pest that tries to drown out the voice of my sweet muse. One of them was to give her a name and draw a picture of what she looks like….
Helga, my IC, is an ample pickle-shaped-figure with spiny whiskers protruding all over her grotesque, gelatinous body. She has a high whiney voice resembling the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. The only facial expression she has is a grimacing frown of disapproval.
Daphne, my muse is a sprite of a being that emits light from her colorful body. She dances with joy and speaks to me in cheerful songs of encouragement. Her voice is softer than Helga’s and can be easily drowned out.
I’ve become more adept at isolating those two voices by putting an identity to each. When Helga gets too annoying I visualize swiping her off my shoulder with a THWACK and then dropkicking her out the door. (So satisfying).
Inner critics tend to love periods of creative inactivity. The best way to keep the beast off your shoulder is to diligently keep up your work on a daily basis in some form. Even 15 minutes a day of seat time can make a huge difference can add up to a full article in a matter of days, a chapter, a painting. Set a timer and go.
You can read about the creative process and motivation all you want but the only way to have to leave your squawking inner critic behind is to build momentum. The bike won’t go unless you start peddling. The muse loves to feel the wind in her hair.
As a creative soul, it’s important to me to keep a fresh flow of ideas and perspectives entering my psyche so I can continue to grow. Taking classes is a wonderful way to do so. In recent years I’ve turned to more to online classes. Though I appreciate the human component in an actual class, in an online class I don’t have to commute and carve out a substantial chunk of my day to attend one session. I also have access to the video content so I can watch the lesson over and over again. In terms of engaging with other students, there has always been a dedicated Facebook page to post and comment on other students’ work.
As I am a non-traditional artist not wedded to just painting and drawing I find there is more of an eclectic selection of classes offered online. In the past, I have taken “Make Monotypes” (Gelli Printing) with Linda Germaine, “A Year of Painting” with Alena Hennessy, & currently, “Words & Pictures” produced by Carla Sondheim and friends. All these classes have been top-notch and reasonably priced. I made the mistake with “A Year of Painting” of not researching the artist’s style thoroughly. Though it was well taught ultimately the content was not for me.
If you are interested in taking an art class online, just Google online art classes in your specific media and then do some online research on the reviews as well as the artist’s work. Instagram is a good one for that. Also, consider MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are FREE.
I am having loads of fun at the moment with “Words and Pictures.” This class is currently getting me out of my comfort zone to explore lots of great ideas. A friend of mine signed up for the class as well which makes it even better. The current lessons are being taught by the infamous Martha Rich. We are quick sketching life around us and the conversations we hear (including internally). I have my first ones with this post.
Never taken an art class before? Go online. There is nobody to be self -conscious around but yourself!
There are times you will find yourself mired in a quandary. Sometimes the solution becomes clear in a relatively short amount of time and in others it takes a while to get clarity. Making art is a great metaphor for life in this regard.
I’ve had two art pieces that were finished – but not. Some things were missing and I did not know what. So I let them sit for weeks revisiting them from time to time. I had to let the questions percolate within me for months and be patient. Recently, I finished both pieces. All that mulling worked out in the long run.
The collage (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) piece pictured was mounted on a cradled (dimensional) board. Over the weeks I added more marks and contrast but it still wasn’t enough. I finally came to the realization that it needed a more definite frame around it. Thus I purchased a bigger cradled board, flipped it around, painted it a deep plum, and then mounted the collage board within it. Voila- closure!
The ceramic mask was the same way as I tried bits of this and that over weeks. In the end, I replaced the headdress of wheat with two lovely feathers, mounted a piece of an old earring on the forehead, and then glued brass nails around the neck area. That last step made the formerly boring piece really shine.
In both cases, it took me about three months to get resolution. The muse can be slow. Rushing won’t work. I do this same process with my writing. Put it away and let it stew for a while. There is nothing like having fresh eyes when looking upon a problem.
Solutions will come. Sometimes you just have to slow down and be patient!
“There is more to life than increasing its speed” Mahatma Gandhi
One of my intentions for the New Year is to manage my time more effectively. As a creative type, I am constantly let astray by shiny distractions – a crow woman of sorts. I found two books that are very helpful on the subject.
“Make Time” by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky gives clear strategies to simplify and prioritize your day in a way that will give your life less stress and more meaning. The two authors are self-described “time dorks.” They were so overstressed in their high tech world that they developed simple techniques to really focus on what matters by doing less. Besides providing you with a simple daily template this book is chalked full of strategies to help you deal with digital distractions, tips to eat and sleep more effectively, and even how to get the most out of your caffeine habit!
Then there is “Manage your Day to Day: Build Your Routine , Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind”published by 99U. This compact little book is geared more to the creative than Make Time. There is also some overlap. Each chapter is written by a different person in creative fields about building a successful creative routine. The chapters are short, there’s a lot of quotes(I love quotes) and you can open anywhere in the book for a little pick-me-up.
Check these out. Best wishes for a creative New Year!
“If you want to create something worthwhile in your life, you need to draw a line between the world’s demands and your own ambitions”Mark McGuinness
Every October the Art Harvest Studio Tour provides an opportunity for local artists to open up their studios for the public to get an intimate look at their work and process. Thirty or so juried artists about Yamhill County, Oregon participate. Studios are open for the first two three day weekends in October. Some artists are clustered in the local towns and others, like me, are peppered about the wine country in quaint settings. Art Harvest is in its 27th year. To visit studios there is an $8.00 fee for a button which acts as a wearable ticket to gain entry to the studios
For some Art Harvest is a purely recreational experience, making a fun day with friends, buying a few small items and going out for a nice lunch in between. Others are serious art buyers looking for unique pieces to purchase directly from the artist. Some drive as far as 200 miles away to make a weekend of it or fly from across the country to visit relatives during tour time.
For artists, it’s a chance to have a more interactive experience with people while avoiding the commissions and control that galleries levy. Often being on the studio tour can lead to other sales and contacts. I made sure I had items such as magnets and notecards of my prints that were only $5.00 for “takeaways” and for gifts. Most of my things were in the $20 to $50 range on up to a sculpture for $380.
I was on the tour 20 years ago and then had a hiatus for a teaching career and raising my son. Now in retirement, I thought I would give it one more shot. It’s a huge undertaking and expensive for the artist. The entry fee is $300 which pays for the glossy catalogs, advertising, buttons and a part-time coordinator. Artists must also volunteer on one of the many committees to make the tour function. On top of that, I had expenses of at least $200 for art supplies and display materials. That means I had to earn $500 before I would start to make any type of profit (For anyone wondering why art can be expensive, this is why!) Here is a timeline of the tour experience for the artist…
March– Submit application, images, and fees
April– juried in. Continue to amass a volume of work in ceramics and mixed media monoprints.
Summer– attend committee meetings. I served on the education committee to facilitate school children visiting participating studios. Make more art!
August– drop off two pieces of work to be in the Chehalem Cultural Center show running for the months of September and October. (Many stop by this exhibit first to decide which studios to visit). Be filmed by a local cable access show called Arts Alive. (See video here. My spot starts about 15 minutes in)
September– distribute signs and programs to local businesses and organizations. Get work framed. Clean out the studio with a dear friend who offered to help me. Drape tables, add lighting, hang wall pieces and arrange ceramics on the tables. It’s a huge undertaking to get a studio from a workspace to a display area!
October– Price all work. Place bright yellow At Harvest signs along the routes leading to my studio. Oct. 4-6 AM and Oct 11-13 open my studio from 10 am to 5 PM.
Fridays were very slow so I had time to finish up items not yet completed. Saturday & Sunday could get quite busy. I tried to spend as much time with people as I could to visit and answer questions. In between weekends I made a new herd of ceramic sheep as the first one was almost sold out. The following week was spent in recovery mode. I’m not used to that much talking and being “on” since I taught middle school!
Overall, the studio tour was a great success. Beyond making a respectable profit, it was so sweet to get such validation of my work. I had numerous visitors make a beeline for my studio after seeing my pieces at the Cultural Center show or seeing my page in the program. My new work is quite eclectic and unusual. Working alone as most artists do, I
have to work hard at times to keep my insecurities at bay so having such positive feedback was food for my soul. Thematically I range from whimsical to spiritual depending on what needs to manifest. It’s not for all but there were a fair number of people that resonated with it and gave me positive feedback. It was a great time to make new friends and connect with old ones
I let a few favorite pieces go during the sale. Thes beautiful pieces were kept in storage as I had no place to put them in my house. I was surprised at the twinges I felt as some of these were purchased and left the studio with happy customers. But art should be seen and enjoyed, not hidden away so they needed a new home. I was especially pleased when they were adopted by friends.
If you have not participated in a local open studio tour, try it! Lookup for them online in your area or afar. It will take you on a mind-opening adventure with not much expense.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali
So you walk into an art gallery or an art festival and there is the fruit of the artist in all of its magical glory, looking like it was created effortlessly. What you don’t see is the plethora of mistakes and sometimes heartaches that go into making art. It’s a part of the process. If you aren’t willing to fail, you are not going to learn. This is especially true in the medium of ceramics. There’s no way you can work with mud and transform it into permanent objects without running into some challenges. There are so many variables to contend with in the making- construction, drying, firing, glazing, and firing again at a temperature around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I opened my kiln to find my share of disappointments. The beautiful grape leaf plate on the upper left (traced from one of my grapevines leaves) has a crack down from the notch of the leaf shape. It’s still lovely but not saleable. I’ll use it though. No one will notice under a pile of carrot sticks. Those three lovely bowls with incised grape leaves rubbed with iron oxide all cracked. This was a puzzle. Maybe they got jostled when I removed them from the press mold? These will become part of a mosaic on my future walkway. Then there was the barn owl sculpture with hairline cracks in two places – maybe from cooling too quickly in the pit fire? I love this piece though and I am not sad to keep it.
The failed prints I have cut up and am using in other incarnations such as “quote blocks,” little sculptural pieces with collages.
Thankfully, there will be plenty of other lovely things to look at my studio sale- but the invisible mistakes will be just as much a part of it for me.
They are the cracked
The not quite right
Products of my hands
Victims of experimentation
Or forces beyond my understanding
Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart
Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others
I’m going back to just making art and not being an artist. Having had the goal for years of being a successful artist, I recently woke up to the fact that indeed, I had arrived. That means I’m good with where I’m at. It’s kind of like where to stop on a painting without overworking it. Once I attained the label of “Artist” it came with art fairs, shows, social media, websites, marketing, basically business. I am NOT a business person and am an introvert on top of it. Looking back I had way more satisfaction when I was just playing around and gifting my work to friends and family. Seeing looks of delight on their faces was payment enough.
I used to think that being accomplished was something akin to notoriety, profit, fame, status or similar. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion after many years, that for me, fulfillment is in the creative process and the sharing. Monetary gain is just an added bonus. It’s kind of like fishing. It’s great being out in nature no matter what and if you catch a fish- even better.
Now that I have less of my life before me than behind me, I am becoming very mindful of how I spend my life’s energy. Do I want to spend hours at my computer marketing my work on Facebook, Instagram, & Etsy? What am I giving up to do that? After experimenting with all that the last few years, it’s felt too sleazy, like dressing in clothes that aren’t me. Do I really need to brand myself? Seriously, I don’t want to fit in a box like Ritz Crackers. Art galleries are there for a reason. They take 50% of sales but they could work on the selling while I could be out hiking.
Author Marsha Sinetar, famously said in her 1989 book titled the same, “Do what you love, the money will follow.” Well, maybe. For me, it’s turned out to be “Do what you love because you love it- and get a day job that you can tolerate”. Retirement works too. Otherwise what you love may turn out to be another form of the daily grind.
It’s an individual thing crafting a creative life. THEY (whoever THEY are) may say do this and that, but ultimately it’s very personal what being successful is. For some, they are content with the time invested in marketing themselves. Their time is justified. I applaud them. But for me, creativity is a spiritual experience. Monetizing it takes away the joy. So with that realization, I am taking the priority of selling my art out of the equation.
My last public show will be the local Art Harvest Studio Tour in the first two weeks in October. Lately, I’ve been in the studio doing lots of work. I will have an array of mixed media prints, found object sculpture, and ceramics on display. After that, my remaining pieces will be in local galleries and online light. Then, I’m going to design that patio and walkway I’ve always wanted, write more, play more music, and do more hiking. See you on the trail!
It’s the growing season and my garden is being planted in stages. I marvel at the magic of seeds- how something so small can germinate to become a huge sunflower or a plant that offers juicy red tomatoes.
With the exceptions of weeds, seeds cannot manage successfully on their own in a garden. The soil must be tilled and enriched. Then once the seeds have been planted they must be nurtured with proper watering and attention lest they be eaten by some pest or choked by weeds. It’s work to bring seeds to their full potential of flower or food.
Ideas are so much like seeds. The soil of the mind must be fallow and fertile. To have a fallow mind, one must be open and ready to receive the seeds of ideas. Fertile means paying attention and being open. Ideas often come when the mind is relaxed like when you’re taking a shower, on a walk or doing something innocuous like washing the dishes. Having a head full of earbuds and social media is not conducive to collecting seeds the muse has to offer.
When they come, catch them by writing or sketching them in a notebook less they blow away into someone else’s “garden”. Then give them the attention they need to germinate.
Like seeds, not all ideas will manifest. Some are not viable. Then others are past their shelf life. Don’t be afraid to throw them out and get new ones.
I’ve had ideas like these artichoke plants that surprised me and grew into something much more than I expected. I started these plants last year from tiny seeds and now they are 6-foot record-setting monsters!
You don’t have to plant a garden. Just get a pot with healthy soil, some seeds, water them, and enjoy the magic of germination.