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.

Take a breath...

We’re so pressured in this country for product and outcome, we seldom give rest the respect it’s due as part of the creative process. After a press to make several pieces for the show, I am able to relax ~ at least in terms of art making. Gently clean the pastels. Sort them again by my palette and what makes sense to me. Enjoy how pretty they look before diving in and creating color chaos again. 

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.

 

  

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.

Intention and Carrots

The carrots in the cold bed garden are sprouted and at the stage where shoots differentiate into the ferny stalk we recognize and stop yanking out as another annoying weed. 

Poke a seed into the ground when it’s cold, dark, deluged with rain and there’s a reluctant nagging doubt spring will ever arrive. 

Abide.  Hope. 

Imagine the seed becoming a carrot. Or a beet.  Or an onion. We have no guarantee of what’s transpiring beneath the surface of the soil while we wait for germination to construct the end result.

Intention is rather like a carrot.

The smallest kernel of an idea or desire, sown  in the gloom of uncertainty where we can’t know for sure anything is happening. Time. Meditation and prayer.  Then a tendril of manifestation so small we could mistake it for random coincidence. Patience. A gradual recognition of stirrings for the next step and  glimpses of a propitious design. Intention aligned with universal movement and fruition.

Flow.

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.

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.

 

 

There’s a great Guthrie song lyric ~ “Blow up the tv, throw away the paper…”

      When people come to see me about faltering creative enthusiasm, I usually recommend a news fast for at least six weeks if not permanently.  I tell them to turn off all media stimulus – tv, radio, and throw out the newspaper.  My premise is that if we disconnect ourselves from the iron lung of the media telling us how to breathe we will take imaginative breath more freely on our own. We will begin to think for ourselves and find a center of peace from which to gift ourselves with inspired effort.
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