Freezer therapy...

Pastel on paper from aeons ago…

Pastel on paper from aeons ago…

Most of us have heard the story of the guy who adopted an ill-mannered parrot. The parrot had a hard life so the guy vowed to woo the parrot into changing with unfailing kindness. No matter what he tried the parrot was incorrigible. The parrot swore abusively, was rude, disrespectful and yet the guy held forth with forbearance. The parrot mocked and ridiculed the very person who saved him. This went on for some time with no effort on the part of the parrot to repent and change. One particularly difficult day, the guy lost his patience and tossed the parrot into the freezer hoping the parrot would cool off a bit. A couple of minutes later he opened the freezer and the parrot sidestepped docilely up his arm.

“Sir,” the parrot said, “I’m profoundly sorry for my ill-mannered behavior after you were kind enough to take me in. What I said and did was rude and loutish. It will never happen again.”

Very quietly the parrot asked,

“Sir, may I venture to ask what the chicken did?”

We drop the friend who is all about themselves, adroitly negotiate the intrusive co-worker, confront the abusive boss, and have at hand numerous ways to leave the narcissistic lover.

So. Why do we let our critic beat us up every time we attempt to make art, write the novel, play the concert, design a building or invent an easier way to install plumbing?

Here’s the news flash. The critic is ours to manage not the other way around, so why do we tolerate the disparaging voice in our head? We wouldn’t consider letting someone talk to us that way in any other situation and yet we do the dance with our critic, and possibly our shrink who is making a lot of money off of a non-existent figment of our imagination.

I’ve read we should give our critic a persona and name. Identify the gender of our critic. Really? In the same amount of time we could make work to get the happy hormones flowing. In the last century we’ve invented as many propitiations to our emotional insecurities as our ancient ancestors did to the volcanos. We’re supposed to eschew victim mentality, yet we let the critic badger us to creative death. Is there a certain cachet if we have an especially cranky critic?

Why spend any time on this dark-side brain candy? The critic only exists as we allow it to. If the critic is ours to create let’s conjure up a well-mannered, cultured colleague. The critic must be trained as we’ve trained our family, friends and coworkers to respect our boundaries. When we need an edit or critique, we can invite the critic in as a trusted collaborator on our terms. Under those conditions, the expertise our critic offers is invaluable. Any other time, the critic should live in the freezer.

Everyone's a critic...

Some of you have already seen this series of photos. One of the top-all-time-favorite stellar moments in the city. What doesn’t show was the week before. The same squirrel vying for attention with the journal I was writing in. This was the second time the curious little rodent showed up and a friend captured the moment. Thanks Sarah @makelemonaide.

Some of you have already seen this series of photos. One of the top-all-time-favorite stellar moments in the city. What doesn’t show was the week before. The same squirrel vying for attention with the journal I was writing in. This was the second time the curious little rodent showed up and a friend captured the moment. Thanks Sarah @makelemonaide.

A couple of artist friends recently questioned the point of spending their studio time trekking outside to paint or draw and expressed feeling pressure to produce “real work” for sale. I spend roughly 70% of my art making time in a studio and can attest inspiration abounds whenever and wherever we have a making idea and decide to act on it.

The interaction with even proximate nature, i.e. sidewalks through a city park, have nothing technically to contribute to the latest studio portrait or abstract. They have everything to do with keeping us alive and interested. Studies show getting out of our comfort zone increases our creativity.

For several years, at my favorite painting park, one goose slowly waddled in as close as possible and stretched its neck until it could look over the edge of my knee to eye the sketchbook in my lap. Stood there. Stared while the goose pals moved on. This happened enough times I could rule out the seeking free food theory - especially after I explained I don’t feed the Wild Things people bread because most of it will kill humans let alone the birds. The goose hung out for as long as I painted and found me every time I went to the garden. I’ve felt sad since it hasn’t been around last season or this spring. Either the goose found a girlfriend, met an unfortunate demise or didn’t like the direction my art making was going.

I’m posting a painting soon of a heron who let me photo and sketch him for over an hour from a few feet away. Then, the beautiful creature literally followed me from tree to tree while I walked through the park. When I left, he escorted me out to the gate. Some say herons can be mean and to take care. I feel companionship. I’m not worried. Watching birds in their natural space can teach us a lot about balance in our lives. Especially watching a heron do Tree Pose for an hour.

Last week, I went out for the first time this very cold spring. Easel set up, deep into the moment. Gradually an awareness of sound, plops at regular intervals around where I was standing, brought me back. My first thought was I don’t want bird poop on the page or down my neck. I investigated and discovered the miscreant was a squirrel perched on a high tree branch pitching rather large, and when they found target painful, seed pods. Aiming. On purpose. I don’t know if it was the same squirrel from the photo op last year saying hello or a stranger squirrel commenting on the quality of my painting. Everyone’s a critic.

The interaction got my attention. I researched the characteristics and behaviors of squirrels to ponder the example they may offer for my art and life. One of the most applicable learnings is squirrels have a lot of fun while they are working hard. Point taken.

These informative experiences are available for all of us if we are willing to be aware and respectful when they occur. Walking the neighborhood, the trees in an area about five blocks from my front door kept catching my eye. Motivated by fresh curiosity about the configuration for a possible painting, I pressed further into the growth and stumbled on a natural area! Thirteen years I’ve walked by. The beauty of the few acres with snow falling sparked a new painting series.

When we venture out in the world, we find surprises. These may become our primary subjects or the energy of discovery may suffuse other work. We develop a personal connection to the image when we make a record with sketches or photos. We own the piece with our whole being and all of our senses contribute if we choose to bring the moment to life again through our art.

If studio painting is your thing, I fully support you and go back to work.

If you have disabilities discouraging you from being out and about, know there are many safe parks with paved walks, easy parking and access. Paint the reflections of apartment windows across the street or the florals in the local grocery store.

If you want to join the conversation or have questions, please leave them below. I’d like to hear from you.

Next, some thoughts on how changing up occasionally in the studio benefits our creative work.

Does it get better than having fun while you're working?

Photo courtesy of Carlotta Collette.

Tonight was a great evening, the opening of a wonderful show celebrating the history of Oregon City at In Bocca al Lupo Fine Art.  Six of the artists in the show, from left, Gary L. Michael, David Mayfield, Randall David Tipton, Leslie Peterson, Moi and Leland John, photo courtesy of Carlotta Collette. I had a good time hanging out with old and new friends talking shop. The mutual admiration and respect flowed freely, not to mention an abundance of good humor. Times like this I really love my job...

Ancestors and creativity...

 

Have you ever come up against a creative block and tried everything you know with little results? Therapy, journaling, medication et al?

Sometimes, the genesis of the issue is found in the family history and a protected family story that may not be serving this generation. 

Unexamined family programs are often the nail holding our foot to the floor in personal progress ~ the “automatic” responses become very discouraging to someone who feels they’ve done “all they can” to heal their issues.  Once we understand what belongs to us and the part we carry from progenitors, our smaller percentage of the issue is usually very easily handled and healed. When we stop protecting the family story this frees up energy to focus creatively.

photo copyrighted

 

Groupie love...

True Confession: I’m in groupie love for the first time. 

Groupie love is a bit more discreet for a “mature” woman because the mere idea of jumping up and down while screaming is exhausting. 

Last year, an introduction to the work of Leonard Cohen shifted my world. This man’s music can reduce me to tears. Poet, author, musician, monk and an even bigger surprise, artist. I’m swooning over an (almost) octogenarian.

Sylvie Simmon’s book I’m Your Man chronicles the life of Leonard Cohen. Wading through the early years of sex, drugs, etc. I was wondering why I’d chosen to spend my time on this fellow. Then we hit Cohen’s middle years. The seeker. The modern mystic. The monk. The man with the guts to go back to work at seventy to recoup retirement stolen by a trusted friend. 

In “Dance Me To The End of Love” Cohen absorbed a heinous world event and metabolized it until he found beauty for the victims, writing a melody so evocative people choose it for their wedding song ~ when in truth the lyrics honor the musicians who were forced to play and watch as loved ones were marched to the gas chambers in Nazi death camps.  

Leonard Cohen has given me the great gift of a new way to perceive. Holding dichotomies in the same resonance without blame is the beginning of peace, a springboard for creativity.

 

  

Oregon Book Awards

A marvelous evening at the Oregon Book Awards. The theme of the winner’s comments, to me (we all hear and resonate differently with our experience to find meaning) is:

press on in spite of circumstances or who bludgeons you with can’t.

Pulitzer Prize nominee, Larry Colton’s colorful acceptance speech of the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award powerfully advocated the need to support teachers. He related failing his college placement English segment, and flunking the requisite remedial “bonehead English course.” His professor was less than kind, yet, Mr. Colton is honored for a lifetime spent writing and mentoring teachers.

Storm Large, whose one woman play Crazy Enough transformed my personal vision, won the Creative Nonfiction award for her autobiography by the same title.  All of my life, those who want desperately to maintain their status quo have told me I’m too much, too loud, too intense, too strong, too something very unacceptable and Ms. Large’s courage to share her story, in one magical evening shifted my perception and replaced the negative programming with the idea I too am “crazy enough” to make something wonderful with my talents and strenghts.

Ismet Prcic, in an after party conversation said his uncle told him he’d never accomplish anything because he “couldn’t speak English.” Mr. Prcic carried home the award for fiction. The take away for me was his closing remarks of acceptance,

“You can’t do it unless you do it.”

Portland writers are collegiate, open-hearted, fostering and generous with their time and abilities. A writer friend graciously remembered and asked me about my project even though we’d not seen each other for months. Affection and support undergirded encouragement and I came home from the evening feeling like Wonder Woman, ready to finish off a few books, screenplays and poems ~ one word at a time.

Crystal Springs ~ again...

Watercolor, Pitt pen and gouache sketch from a trip to the garden a couple of days ago. Thank you to Jacqueline Newbold for the ideas on how to prep a sketchbook. I find a light wash allowed to dry before the plein air session helps me get over myself and the ego need for “perfection” with a jump right in, damn the torpedos, energy.

Here’s a partially completed page with a wash of watercolor, divided by artist’s tape, in preparation for a field trip. The goose was from life and the fall scene from memories of a recent trip home to Alaska.

Emotions of Red...

November and December could fall through a manhole, never to be seen again, and I wouldn’t miss them.  Difficult memories trigger melancholy autumn reveries ~ if I agree to them. Some years are better than others and some experiences hurt too much for words.

Grief was the national endowment this holiday season and, over time, we’ll each find a way to pay tribute and evolve meaning for a better world.

I live for 21 December ~ the return of light. The week between Christmas and the new year is a period of reflection, chalking up progress, metabolizing regrets, setting intentions for the next twelve months, reorganizing for maximum efficiency and sending less used items to goodwill or recycle. I reevaluate my priorities and cast ahead to see if

the path I’m on will lead me to the feelings I want to have over the next 365 days.

This is a self portrait from the dark days of the past quarter. In her opening remarks at a Doll Gardner Gallery exhibit, Karen Van Hoy stated studies show red elicits aggressive responses yet when tinted down to pink, the same color is the most peaceful. I found the concept fascinating and experimented with the idea. This type of mark making has been with me for most of my life. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to elegant up and decided raw, unadulterated interaction with the support and medium is how I am able to most fully express.

Self Portrait in Contrasting Shades of Emotion, 2012. Oil paint and bars on canvas, 30” x 24”.

Constellations...

I’m excited about a new series I’ve been working on for the past few months.


The work is a radical departure from previous efforts and combines my love of sculpture, photography, painting and drawing.

These posted images are of photo transfers and acrylic skins on steel plate. I’m working in copper, aluminum and brass, as well as dimensional formats. The “paintings” combine my current images of contemporary structures with my father, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s photographic portraits.

The pieces give form to my interest in genetic memory and it’s impact on our beliefs and choices.

Friend and teacher, Corrine Loomis Diets, visited my studio recently. While she taught me the initial transfer techniques she remarked that she’s never seen anyone try color photo transfers or photo skins on larger metal supports. She was so enamored we took a field trip to my favorite suppliers so she could try a few for herself.

It’s always gratifying when explorative efforts spark creative dialogue.

Communion. Photo transfer and skins on steel, 18” x 12”.

The first larger effort and while technically this falls a bit short of my imaginitive mark, the communication of intent is satisfied. Communion combines my image of the Florence, Oregon bridge with a portrait my father took in the early 1950’s. 

No Clearance. Photo skins on steel, 18” x 12”.

Images of my father as a young boy (photographed by his father), and my father at the end of his life, illustrate the impact of self as observer in our lives. The structure is a railroad stop in Chewelah, Washington.

Suspending disbelief...

Oct 2012, graphite drawing

After two days, 860 pages (I’m always polite about reading the acknowledgments) and a struggle to learn the language, customs, geography and history of dwarves, elves, Urgals and dragons, I crashed landed back in reality this morning.

Suspending disbelief for an extended period is like a two week vacation in Neverland.

A bit more death and destruction than I prefer but I guess that’s the way it goes when you’re fighting an evil king-magician-spellcaster person who didn’t know for a couple of centuries what kind of pain he caused. The dragons hook up but sadly for the hero (and us) Eragon floats off into the sunset alone. Although, with a life expectancy of 1k years plus, he still has a chance to get the girl, or elf, or dwarf, or ….  Four books in umpty-dozen languages and a movie under his magic belt at age 27. A great start for Christopher Paolini author of “Inheritance.”

Suspending disbelief is a great tool for creatives.

Important Stuff ...

I forgot I was a blogger. 

            Life, sunshine, art, music - like a puppy down a rabbit trail, I’ve been sidetracked by anything that moves…or at least appears new and interesting. After a winter of hibernation, rest and rejuvenation, I’m off on the yellow brick road of one mini-adventure after another.

            I’ve written a couple of poems, polished up an entry for a writing contest, hung a small art show and took another piece in for framing to go up for the last week of the show. I’ve repaired some photographs, written the first half of a screenplay and performed with the orchestra in a pops concert with two more coming up. I’ve tried designing my own book of prose and images with marginal success.  I’ve spent time on the phone with my grandchildren. I haven’t used the new planner.  I’m having too much fun.

            Also, I ran out of things to pontificate about…well, not exactly.  A ramble about the energy words carry with them is waiting to be finished up…and an exploration of the way we create.  Pedantic subjects sounding as if they fill the measure of intention for this site. Not nearly as stimulating as sitting on the back step sucking in the scent of hyacinths until can’t recall why I went out there in the first place.

            I’ve dug in the dirt and succumbed to  the temptations of the garden store no matter how many years in a row I’ve promised myself I will not buy anything new before June. I sit in the rocker surrounded by color bursting out of plastic pots and feel like I’ve been given an intravenous injection of life. I’ve also been a captive in the cave of rain for so long I didn’t remember about sunburn.

            We put weed block down last year and the squirrels used it to line their condo so I have to pull up what’s left. I watched them poke the black cloth into their mouths until their cheeks were full and it hung down in front and they almost tripped taking weed block up the tree. I am consistently amazed at the sheer genius of the little beggars. Somewhere, there is a luxury accommodation for this year’s accouchement.

            It was comforting this evening to be sharing the twilight with birds back for the summer while I pulled weeds out of the rock wall. A blue jay lives in the Camilla. Somehow, I always pictured them as winter birds.

            When I took a break for a few minutes and sat under the Empress tree, I couldn’t figure out what the stuff was coming out of the sky.  Looking like black dandruff, it covered everything we’d so scrupulously painted white. A woodpecker was enlarging the nest from last year and throwing out miniscule chips. Sawdust changed to the gift of magic dust as it sifted down. Now, if I could just get him/her to clean my bathroom.

            In other words - no pun intended - while I’ve been enjoying the process of creative energy itself, and soaking up the imagination of nature in spring, I’ve forgotten to write about the important stuff.  I haven’t worried about whether or not my platform will hold up if the fairy godmother of all agents accidently stumbles over my blog or whether my work is strong enough to sustain scrutiny by the faithful writer friends who stop by to check the site - mostly to see if I’m still alive. They love me anyway and are used to, or becoming used to, my foibles.

            Speaking of which, I add my gratitude for those same faithful friends who move in and out of my life in their own seasons. They bring dynamite and blowtorches because candles and matches are too tame for all the big ideas we have. They stand solidly behind me with support and encouragement for impossible dreams. They shove chocolate through the mail slot on the bad days and deliver veggie platters to help recover from the chocolate binges.  I have wonderful friends.  And, I think I have spring fever.

The Planner

I’ve had a perfectly nice planner for some years now. Trim. Elegant. Professional looking with a luxurious red leather cover and inserts I buy every year to record the white rabbit experiences of life.

Last night, I bought a new one. An inexpensive department store variety. The kind a parent uses to keep track of the children’s activities. There’s a column for each day of the week and the bottom of each column is divided into four spaces. I guess any more children and two planners would be necessary.

Instead of inserting pictures of the kids under the plastic front cover, I slipped in my visioning pictures and inscribed my name beneath them. Not as classy as a red leather one. It does, however, have a certain energetic clout. Every time I pick up the planner, the photographs remind me of where I’m going with my life, spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and financially.

The four spaces at the bottom of each weekly column are labeled Child Weekly Plan. It gives me a space to track my “children”. The screenplay I want to complete by 1 May. The amount of time I spend on my health and fitness to enable investment in greater creative efforts. Daily visits with a spiritual discipline to return the harvest of peace and security. As I look at the visual space, the amount of time for mundania like day job appointments and haircuts is reduced by half. The balance of the space is wide open to receive my intention. Running three projects concurrently seems to be enough at one time.

I left one of the spaces for family and friends. The planner was a heads up to tend important relationships. Just as our goals and visions won’t come to fruition without persistent attention, our relationships will not thrive without care. I am reminded to connect regularly with the people who are important to me.

When I was at college, there was a professor whose home was an hour drive from the school. I went by his office without an appointment for clarification on some assignment and he reassured me by relating he built in an hour every day for such occurrences. He said someone was always in the ditch in the winter and dedicating an hour of his day let him know he had the time to stop and help on the way into work. If everyone managed to stay on the road he had even more time for people who dropped in. I’ve tried to implement his philosophy into my time management.

By checking in with myself and my goals on a daily basis I have the perspective to set or change priorities. Most importantly, I know when I need to build a space for myself to enjoy life. I know it’s important to set aside time to cultivate friendships or be available for an impromptu play date with my new neighbor. And remember the last time I did nothing to schedule more of it.

The best thing about this planner is that it offers child wisdom on each page. One of the pearls is: “Some people can tell what time it is by looking at the sun. But I have never been able to make out the numbers”. I think that is a great place to start in the process of “managing” our lives and our time.



Creativity and Rest

Sometimes, as creatives, we consider sleep an imposition.  I learned to view sleep as a deeply restorative time for my body and welcome a rich dream life as an exciting alternative to waking and working. Studies are beginning to persuade us sleep deprivation leads to everything from weight gain to chronic illness. We are coming to understand driving ourselves with stimulants to hyper generation of effort is counterproductive to what we as artists strive to achieve. Taking enough time in our lives to darken the room, settle back and enter sleep is imperative for our health and quality of life. We’re becoming more willing to acknowledge we need sleep.

There’s a difference between sleep and rest and we are not as able to embrace rest in our culture. 

Rest is not necessarily a shut your eyes, power down experience. In music, for example, the rest - the distance between the played notes - is as significant, vibrant and necessary as the melody itself to creating the experience we have. One of Webster’s definitions of rest is relief from anything distressing, annoying or tiring and pressure, stress or weight is lifted from us. In the pursuit of our endeavors, a rest becomes as important to us as it is to a symphony performance. The place in our life of doing no thing, of waiting, of being receptive to the Spirit of Becoming is what will move in us to make something out of the richness of no thing that existed before. Everything creates in our soul before it ever becomes art, music, dance or acrhitecture. The manifestation of the arts flow out of the invisible before they become form in our known world. We need to take the time to renew ourselves through rest.  To allow our genius a time of arranging, shaping and designing in us before it can birth.

In our Puritan driven ethic we have confused busy-ness with achievement. We are sold on the idea we have to look continually occupied to be socially acceptable or suffer the (often self-imposed) guilty consequences. The bottom line is we convert time into our ally and believe the clock that pushed relentlessly before is now our friend.  We woo the instants as a lover and realize to keep the relationship we must sacrifice for it. The offering is simple. We turn inward and connect with the sacredness of ourselves and our abilities. In the paradox - the doing of no thing - the rest - we can create and become everything we imagine to become.

Resting is imperative for people who want to be creative.  These are the moments strung together when we do no-thing, then take a break and do more of no-thing to gestate ideas to emerge when we return in creative high gear.  We stop and listen to our own breath; we are quiet enough to hear the leaves falling down through the branches in the fall, and sit in the sun to let ourselves be warmed without thought of what we must do to receive the gift. That space cultivates inspiration. The miraculous alchemy is by becoming inactive we manufacture an increase of energy to extend ourselves far past the period of usual physical accomplishment and time itself seems to extend and expand to accommodate our desire to bring forth.

Years ago, when I asked my youngest step-son what he was doing, he would say nothing. “You’re not sleeping?” (It looked to me like he might be sleeping.) “No, I’m doing nothing.” “You’re not watching t.v.?” “No, I’m doing nothing.” On we would dance through the list of options and he would come back to the core of his premise of doing no thing. I think, looking back, he was wiser at eleven than I ever will be about resting and doing no thing.  And believe me, he had the energy to prove it.

 

 

Honoring creativity where we find it...

I am privileged to play music with a great group of people. As a result of the “economic downturn” there haven’t been the usual financial donations to purchase new music scores. Some humorously said we should set up on the street in downtown Portland and put out our hat.  I told the orchestra I had a problem with that allusion because street people were actually trying to make an honest living when they offered their music to indifferent passersby. Intruding felt disrespectful to me. My husband told me later he had an hilarious picture of the chaos of sixty people with instruments, stands, sheet music and paraphernalia creating such a backup in traffic people had to go blocks out of their way to get around.  Whether or not  it was because he had to eventually go home with me, when he understood, my spouse agreed with me.

There is metaphor in here somewhere.  An orchestra needs money and its okay to hit people up for hefty donations.  A street musician does the same thing expecting much less and how far out of our way do we go to avoid him or her? People who perform on the avenues are making a straightforward attempt to earn their living and exchange for what they receive. Melody is one of the most powerful energies of the Universe and when a homeless person offers music they gift us.  They deserve remuneration just as those who appear in the posh venues do. For us, the only difference between a sidewalk concert and one in an elegant hall is, we are buying our physical and emotional comfort. Some of us are paying to be seen.  Some of us shell out the cash so we can say we have seen.

Street performers play in plain awful conditions - poor acoustics, noisy distractions, inattentive audiences, bad weather. In 2007, a world class violinist, Joshua Bell, played a 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin in the New York subway and had one person stop to listen for only three minutes.  Bell made $32 dollars and change for the same concert people purchase hundred dollar tickets to hear. “It was still almost hurtful sometimes when somebody just walked by when I really did try to play my best,” he said. “It was difficult to see.”

A homeless person who hasn’t had a meal in days starts muttering and we call them crazy. We label it psychotic break.  Religious fast for days and their mumbles and manifestations are called visions and canonized. We are one paycheck, one catastrophe, one label away from becoming the people we go to such lengths to avoid. The homeless are teaching us about ourselves.  How willing are we to examine and live in the depths of our compassion?

Joshua Bell playing in the subway illustrates it’s all in how we look at things, what we are willing to see. By honoring the creative beauty in others with our time and our money, as we are able, we honor our own creativity.

For the complete Joshua Bell story see the Washington Post story or for a synopsis the Reuters article.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSN1124665920070411