Last year I was looking for a daily creative practice that I could stick to. I was not much of a sketcher or morning pager. I needed something kind of short and sweet. Then I noticed the 2’ blank square in my 2020 day planner. Not much going on there but a few spillovers from my to-do list. I committed to filling up those square every day with a doodle or something creative. The ground rules are to use pen and have no judgement on what I come up with. Spontaneity is key.
Fast forward over a year later- my day planner practice is my creative kick start to the day. Not only does it get my pen to the paper in a nonthreatening way, I have created an artifact of my life to look back on though this crazy time of Covid and political craziness. Mostly I create a daily doodle, a weather report, a cartoon, quote, poem or something about my life with words and/or pictures. It’s been an evolving practice. Some have become finished pieces, most I don’t appreciate until I look back at them.
This year, 2021 I couldn’t find the same day planner so I made my own. I purchased a simple blank spiral sketchbook and glued some decorative paper. I customized it for words of the year and monthly goals and then grid out each week as they come along. At first I measured but now I just eyeball it letting the lines be as wonky as they want to be for interest.
My planner is now less about what I need to do but how I need to be…creative and fully alive, paying attention to the inspiration each day has to offer. I highly recommend trying out this daily practice.
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.
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.
PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.
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.
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.
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.