I am beginning a new book today, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking This was one of two recommended by Stan Kurth during the workshop this week. It seemed the perfect read for the angst and upset of endings and new beginnings, and a way to move past today's giants. It's a small book, but filled with juicy bits. Here's one that made me smile: Art is made by ordinary people. Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It's difficult to imagine the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots.
Oh my! I got the giggles imagining the caped crusader at the pottery wheel. The author goes on to praise our flaws as sources of strength (oh YAY! I am the world's strongest woman!) and suggests that art is about overcoming things. Like our journey into the woods, where we encounter our own fears in the form of giants and defeat them. I already love this book.
I will be journeying to the frosty north (well, Charlotte, NC) next weekend for the #100LoveNotes opening gala and to teach a workshop for ordinary people. If you want to come out and play with me, give me a shout! Workshop runs Friday and Saturday. Sign up here.
And in the final chapter, which was about creating the"Bubble" (elimination of distractions), she describes "the ideal creative state, one where creativity becomes a self-perpetuatiing habit." After this week, I felt a glimpse of understanding this - like I was grasping the thread dangling from the fabric of something really solid and beautiful.
We've been isolated here in the woods this month, exploring themes and creative philosophy and connecting. There are only ten more days, and then we will say "goodbye old pal" to this 30 day challenge. Perhaps this was the perfect day for a piece titled "Fall", which hints at endings.
There are all different kinds of bravery here in the woods.
I'm pretty good at solo bravery - setting out alone to accomplish a herculean task is much easier when no one is there to watch you maybe fail. I'm also pretty good at being brave when everyone else is doing it with me. That's easy and fun. "If everyone else jumped off of a bridge, would you?" Well, yes, if we were all doing it together and if it seemed remotely advantageous to do so (like adding "bridge jumping" to my resume).
The hardest kind of bravery, to me, is what Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls "the intimate bravery of letting ourselves be seen." By this he means being vulnerable, connecting with an open heart and truly revealing our inner selves. For most of my life, this has been the hardest thing of all.
And then there was art. Creating these pieces, each a little bit of my heart and soul, allowed me a way to be vulnerable. When you show someone a painting you created, it is a huge trust fall! But the more I painted and showed these tiny heart fragments, the easier it became. Until I started this blog.
Showing a piece of art is one thing, but telling my stories, sharing my thoughts...I cannot tell you how many times I nearly deleted an entire blog post in the beginning, rather than risk being vulnerable. And again, over time, it became easier and more organic. Now it is just something I naturally want to do. A painting doesn't really feel finished until there is a post to go with it.
If you ready to march headlong into the forest of vulnerability, ready this lovely bit about hugging meditation, created by Thich Nhat Hanh. And the next time we meet, dear reader, I will embrace you with all of my heart. :)
I don't know what the lay of the land is in your house, dear reader, but in my studio there is usually a wild rumpus, a fray, a melee, a brawl, a rumble and a monkey-pile going on. No matter how much I shout "order! order in the studio!" the creatures and characters have minds of their own and seem to forget the rules of polite cohabitation. Perhaps it's time to bring Cinderella's Prince over so he can teach them a little something about manners.
But outside the studio, my sisters and I have often been called "the polite family". It's comical how far we will go to make sure everyone is happy and no one's feathers are ruffled. Just deciding where to go for the day can be a mega-negotiation, with each of us ready to fall on our swords to make sure the others get what they want. Husbands and boyfriends and visitors might raise an eyebrow at our antics, but somehow it has worked for us, so we keep on.
I was delighted to come across this article on how to be polite. The author goes perhaps quite a bit further than my own family (for example, I might not bother to learn what the rules of etiquette are with prostitutes. Not that I wouldn't want to be polite with a prostitute, just that I don't tend to run in the same circle of friends. Of course, I've now become worried that I might have offended a prostitute or two, so please accept my apologies and perhaps we could have tea sometime), but I love the pure intention of mastering manners at the level of an art form. And I learned something from reading this - how to really connect and engage with someone during fluffy social banter with one sentence. And how to take connecting at social events to a competitive level in order to perhaps overcome some of my own introversion.
So as we continue this journey into the woods, I am going to work on perfecting my social manners just as suggested in the article. I am wondering what the troll will say when he's talking about his line of work, and I respond with "wow. That sounds hard".
This piece is the first in a new series - "The Four Seasons." One set of these has already been completed and sold as a private commission. I liked them so well, I started another set! Though I will post them one by one, let me know if you're interested in the four pieces as a set and I will bundle them on etsy, just for you!
High in her tower,
She sits by the hour,
Maintaining her hair.
Blithe and becoming and frequently humming
A lighthearted air:
From "Agony", Into the Woods
Ahhhhhhh, yes! These next three days are complete cheats during this 30 and 30 challenge. Painted in advance, these pieces allow me to spend some precious time in a workshop learning new skills and hobnobbing with other creatives. Kind of ideal for the midpoint of a paint marathon - it will recharge my creative batteries.
Artists are like Rapunzel, high in our towers, isolated from others, frequently humming...and that's important for the creative process. But Julia Cameron (the creative whisperer) tells us to get out and have frequent "Artist Dates" to refill our reservoir of experiences. It is amusing to me how far I will go to actually avoid doing something fun, letting the work fill up the hours day after day instead. So I put this workshop on the schedule a month ago, knowing then I would need it now.
Think of it as "rut prevention". Like a vitamin for keeping the muse healthy and interesting. One of the best rut-preventions is to learn someone else's techniques and approach to creating. I try to take at least three workshops per year, and it never fails to boost me up in a way I could never accomplish on my own.
This piece, "Whisky Tango", is the finale from last week's demonstration. This was a background piece, to which the trees and characters were added later. But they were inspired by the storytellers in the audience, two of whom had cats in their tales. I don't paint a lot of cats (which is odd, given I am a big cat on the zodiac), but LOVED creating this guy, whose expression has given me fits of giggling. His rider is obviously wondering about the wisdom of cat-wrangling - I wonder if they will set off into the forest or end up in a tangle as the Tango tries to climb a tree?
It"Interrupting Chicken of Love" - mixed media on aquabord, 9" x 12". Ready to frame, or can be leaned on a shelf. Available on etsy.
Now it's he and not you
Who'll be stuck with a shoe,
In a stew, in the goo.
And I've learned something, too,
Something I never knew,
On the steps of the palace.
From "On the Steps of the Palace", Into the Woods
Stuck with a shoe, in a stew, in the goo - oh yes, that was my day with art. This piece took ages and ages. I built it up, I scraped it down. I built it up again, and scraped it down again! There were at least three points where I was ready to chuck this in the trash and start a new board, believing this one to be cursed. And then, out of nowhere, it reached a point where I caught my breath a little and said "Oh!" and saw something magical taking place. I'm glad I stuck with it - it is now my all time favorite of my abstracts!
Fairytale characters are like that...faced with insurmountable odds, dragons, beasts, trolls. But they keep going, long past the time when most of us would throw in the towel. And they win, they are transformed, the story ends and another begins. If it weren't for this month's theme and the forest of fairytale creatures camped in my studio, I would have given up on this painting. But a theme is a theme, and now I've learned a valuable lesson about art from fictional characters.
So it seemed only appropriate to let the universe name this piece of art in the same way it decided if and when it would actually become a painting. I began playing with an abstract title generator (you're going to love this - check it out here) just to see what would come up. When I saw "Interrupting Chicken of Love", I laughed out loud and knew it was the one! The universe has a weird sense of humor. :)
"Into the Woods" - number 4 in a series of acrylic on aquabord, 6" x 6". Available on etsy.
Shiver and quiver, little tree,
Silver and gold throw down on me.
I'm off to get my wish...
From "Cinderella at the Grave", Into the Woods.
Half way through the 30 day challenge and our journey through the forest! I am on the final layers of a piece begun during the demonstration last week, so while it dries I have begun a new forest of trees, with more to reveal in the coming days. Part of the madness and fun of this challenge is the sheer number of pieces in progress at all times. Currently there are seven in various stages. I work well this way, but wonder if maybe it is because I don't know any better?
I'm reading the chapter in Tharp's book about skill. There was one sentence which jumped out and smacked me in the forehead: "Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness...in its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible." Wow. That's how I feel in my studio - everything is possible. The goal, says Tharp, quoting Hemingway, is "to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing." I realize that's a lot of quoting, but these bits resonated with me so strongly as part of my own path, my own truth - it was like Tharp was in my own head.
The book goes on to list an inventory of skills, with a focus on those needed by dancers. But I think some apply to most creative pursuits: perseverance, discipline, a sense of humor, political skill, partnering. The final item on the list is called "forever the child" - a sense of innocence. I really never thought of it as a skill before reading this book.
The older I get, the more I want to capture and dwell in that space of childlike innocence and fearlessness. And that space is exactly what I'm finding so far along this adventure into the woods.
So, dear reader, I invite you to join me in imagining what you would do if you believed anything were possible?
"Leola" - mixed media on aquabord, 16" x 20". Ready to frame, or can be leaned on a shelf. Available on Artfinder.
But slow, little girl,
Hark and hush-
The birds are singing sweetly.
You'll miss the birds completely,
You're traveling so fleetly.
From "Hello Little Girl", Into the Woods
Friday the 13th, mysterious and macabre. The perfect day to venture a little further into the woods. We're nearly halfway through our journey, so we will leave the village behind and set off to see what new adventures await.
Leola, which means "deer", is the next piece begun during the demonstration this week. You might recall my mentioning a queen with her drawers in a bunch? Well this was her! But as I slowed down and spent some time with her, she emerged, transformed, into a woodland spirit and bird whisperer. This lady did not want to be rushed into being. She asked for time, background music, tea and a soft approach to painting. Once I set the mood, she sweetly revealed herself. How perfect she is for today's lyric! And a reminder to me not to race through the journey. I don't want to miss the birds singing sweetly.
Aren't we all like the frustrated queen at times? When rushed, our ugly selves emerge, all covered in bitchy-resting-face (you know the look, squinty eyes and pursed lips, furrowed brow) and tight shoulders due to the stress monster riding piggy back through our day. And, if given a little time and a pause in our day, our faces relax, our smiles return and we are beautiful once again.
Today I will hark and hush, listen to sounds of Friday and perhaps sit a spell under the trees in the forest.
"Penelope and Arianna" - mixed media on aquabord, 16" x 20". SOLD
And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn't known before:
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
From "I Know Things Now", Into the Woods
I'm continuing in the Twyla Tharp book, this time the chapter called Spine. Spine is the next step after scratching. You scratch to find ideas of any kind - good or bad. Scratching is wild and passionate and uncensored. The spine is a good idea - one good, strong idea. Identifying the spine requires focus, careful thought, emotional connection...and secrecy. Tharp advises we keep the spine behind any project to ourselves. It might be apparent to the viewer or reader, and it might not. But the spine best serves the art when unannounced.
I spent a lot of time mulling over this idea, and re-reading the chapter. But I couldn't get away from the word spine, so that's where my trail through the forest is leading today. Let's follow those breadcrumbs...
You may know that my own spine was compromised when I was hit by a car last year. Something about a ton of metal hitting a body and a body hitting the pavement head-first causes irreparable damage to fragile bone structures. And sure, sure, there are lots of things I do to support myself now that I never had to do before, but I get mentally hung up on the whole thing when I'm told nothing will make it better. Sigh.
If I think of my spine as the base of my own creativity, my own big idea, then I have to find a better way to conceptualize disability and injury, or I will paint nothing but crying girls from now on. Who wants that? Not me! So one day at a time, I am thinking about the things I know now, many valuable things, that I hadn't known before. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I won't put my faith in a cape and a hood (or a helmet or stop signs or traffic laws), but I can delight in the new things I know, the joy pockets in the journey and the other types of strength that develop when physical strength is compromised.
I will keep scratching at this subject until I find the one great big idea that makes my spine, as it is now, strong and central. And as Tharp advises, I will keep that big idea to myself and protect its magic. But perhaps the idea will come through in my art - you might catch a glimpse now and then.
In the meantime, meet Penelope and her feathered friend, Arianna. Both were conceived and named in this week's art demonstration and finished yesterday. These two found their kindred spirit sister during the demonstration, and were adopted before they were even completed! I am so happy to know they are flying away to the home of a sweet artist whose sense of humor never fails to delight...and don't you think Penny must have a really strong spine to support that tower of hair? Just sayin'.
Jen Jovan and her imaJENation