She Has No Name

IntuitivePainting1When I began painting faces, I found it very challenging.  What I painted didn’t resemble the image I had in mind at all!  How my mind and hand translated a photo portrait onto a canvas was juvenile art.  Features–especially matching the eyes–were they the same size, at least close to the same size?  The same shape?  How much space between them? How far down on the face should they be?  Where is the nose in relation to the eyes? And the mouth?  Did I mention mixing a realistic skin tone?  And then, there is value contrast!  Yikes…the map of the face is an art that isn’t easy to master.

Several years of practice has improved my facility to draw a face with some degree of realism.  And, I can see that I need years more of practice before I feel accomplished in this area.  If ever.

And, so, I allow the whimsy that has been part of my artist’s signature.

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I do like the background in this painting.  The soft colors and images that sort of arise from the mist.  I also think about painting over the whole thing and discovering something else.  Remembering that it’s all part of the learning process, I have compassion for my newly formed artist self.  Compassion versus criticism.  Practice versus procrastination.  

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Remember the old adage “Patience is a virtue.”  It really is.  Making art–it can’t be rushed.  It can be…but the depth of what an artist gets from the creative process won’t be reached unless she is patient enough to be fully present with the work in process and with herself (himself).  Any work of art is always an inquiry.  With that, an answer won’t be forced but rather surfaces.

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These days, things are very serious.  I feel it in my body.  It’s easy to forget my body.  To relegate it to last place even though I have more time to tend it.  Yesterday, I came upon this little video by Elizabeth Gilbert.  What I love about it is that there are no words…

And now for something completely different,

LET’S DANCE!

https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/videos/235717154471860/

 

A Friend Was Dying

I continue to post paintings from the year 2016 on this blog and recall the inspiration behind them.  It was a prolific year for me.  I painted almost daily.  And when I couldn’t, I felt antsy and frustrated.  Picking up that brush and moving paint around often felt like the most grounded and satisfying part of my day.

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There was an early winter blizzard–a storm that blocked impasse.  The highway north was closed.  My friend was in hospice care thirty miles north of where I live.  There was no chance of me getting there to sit with her.  Thus, this cow…this pink cow!  I have no idea where this came from or what it actually symbolizes.  I only know that this is exactly what I was supposed to paint in the moment.

 

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Making art engages you.  It takes you on a parallel journey to whatever else is going on in your life.  Surrender is a large part of the creative process.  Through surrender, you discover something beyond what you already know about yourself and
the creative process.

Inherent in the surrender is a leap of faith.  Faith that what you are painting is serving some purpose beyond what you realize.  Yes, it is a distraction or a diversion from whatever else is going on in your life.  And, it also helps to integrate a difficult feeling.  It can offer a degree of acceptance in a circumstance where we feel helpless.  Calling on creativity in these moments heals something within.  There is a sense that this is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in this particular moment in time.

My friend passed away later that day.  Whenever I see this painting, I am reminded of her Goddess presence.

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What purpose has art and creativity in all of its forms served for you?  The old biblical saying “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” comes to mind…we each have a gift to be shared.  In the times of sheltering at home, it seems to take an added effort to discover ways to share your light…but then, you are creative beyond measure and I’m guessing you’re going to come up with some way to let your light be seen.

Collage

There is a technique to collage and yet, is there?

I collage on a 6″ by 6″ wood birch panel.  I choose from papers that I have on hand.  I had painted mini mandalas on these papers previously.  I cut or tear and paste, randomly arranging scraps of paper on the panel.  The plan is to collage a purple elephant that I painted a few years ago on this background.  The purple elephant is then to be the featured piece around which I build and complete this little work of art.

Against this backdrop of semi-circle suns and cresting mountains, I see a face.  A face that resembles a Maori woman or is she Swahili?  Or neither.  Anyway, that’s what occurs to me.  I bring her forth; the intuitive artist’s task is to follow where one is lead.  At first, she’s only a face floating at the top of the tiny piece, asserting herself.  Looking further, I see it is an entire person–there’s her neck and she’s wearing a dress of varied fabrics.  Earlier, I had done some silver leafing.  Using teal paint, I push the entire figure forward.

I stand back to see what else presents itself.  Is there anything more that wants to be seen and expressed?  I see that half of the elephant is another figure with a wildly striped tiger face wearing a purple garment.  This figure is standing and facing the first woman.  Now I have a decision to make.  Do I scrap my prized elephant and bring the second figure forward?  According to what I’ve experienced in the creative process, it appears that I do have to scrap the elephant to move this piece along.  Bye bye to the purple elephant–another time, another art piece perhaps.

Art can teach the artist about impermanence.  Non-attachment.  That my own desires and designs are secondary to an unfolding and evolving plan.

Ultimately, I forced my own desire and design and decided to keep the elephant.  It’s all been part of my process and this mixed media piece’s evolution.

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Conscious Ceremony

In our workaday world, it isn’t often possible to slow things down.  Depending on the demands of your life, your stage of life, where you live, etc., it may seem to be infeasible.  However, years ago, in the midst of a growing family and work outside the home, I began to claim time apart.  I converted a space in the roughly finished garage as my art, craft and sewing studio.  Giving myself this physical place, A Room of One’s Own, facilitated both my creative and contemplative process.

Back to the idea of Conscious Ceremony…Did I mention that I love the morning?  Especially on a day when I don’t have to rush out the door.  I’m working at minimizing adrenaline rushes.  This morning, before I get caught up in the momentum of the day, I’m going to harvest cherries from the cherry tree in my backyard.  This fleeting seasonal gift from the earth–if I don’t pick them soon, they’re going to be overripe or for the birds.  Then I’m going to blend the best cherry smoothie.  Sip it slowly, now, as I greet this day.

When I move into the day, sloooowly, I am able to bring a feeling of ceremony to my activities throughout the day.  Surprisingly, when I start the day in this way, I seem to “get more things done” if that is the goal.

As poets, writers and artists, we deepen into another level when we take such time apart.  Not something crammed into an already jammed schedule.  But truly A TIME APART.  There is a leisure to this  non-ordinary time, as if we had all the time in the world and could actually savor the moment.  This is how we deepen and evolve as creative beings.

This morning offers time enough to write my blog, to write in my journal, to practice drawing, to make my list for the day.  And, to be a witness to the determined sun rising over Quail Ridge.  All of this is ceremony!

Expressing the gratitude I feel for the beauty and appreciating the many wonders is ceremony.  Sipping this amazing smoothie, reveling in the generosity of a tree that shares its gifts with me–this nourishment to my body, mind and spirit.  Such a pure gift.  Deep awareness brought to the morning activities–this is ceremony.

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Taking Time Apart, Conscious Ceremony, can take five minutes or as long as you choose for your busy life.  It’s really the pause that you invite in as you move into your day.  Awareness, gratitude and presence do seem to be the key ingredients of this pause.

a potpourri of prompts

Over the past year plus, I’ve offered you a variety of writing and creative prompts. I would love to hear from you who have been following this blog.

  • Have you used any of the prompts?
  • Are there one or two that have been especially interesting, fruitful or fun for you?
  • How has this blog served your creative process?

Thank you for taking the time to reply.

Enjoy your creative life!

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The Enchantment of New Inspiration

In an earlier blog, “keep a door or window open,” I encouraged the artist to stay open so that more inspiration enters.  However, there is such a thing as Inspirational Overload.

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This is dangerous territory for me.  I am a great creative idea generator.  There are people who get paid for being “Ideas Men/Women.”  Innovators!  That is their job title.  They do not have to bring the idea to fruition…they just have to keep coming up with new and viable ideas.  Then, a team of creatives runs with the idea, developing it into a product.

When I get a new idea, I want to run with it, abandoning all of the other great ideas that are in various stages of development.  This is troublesome for me because, then, I don’t bring an earlier idea in process to completion. I surround myself with puddles of incompletion. Recognizing that I’m only one person with a limited amount of time and energy, I tap into my own frustration and immobility.

In such times,  I have learned to choose ONE THING that won’t take more than a few days to complete.  I follow it from start to finish while quieting the niggling voices that tug at me from every side.  I play my favorite music and get busy doing that one thing.  Whenever I am tempted to leave it in a state of partiality, I don’t walk away.  I stay with it.  I see it through to the end…completing the tiny details of it whether it is a piece of writing, a painting or a fabric creation.  I get it to that state where I can say with absolute finality.  THIS IS DONE!

Hooray!  I’ve completed something.  I’ve moved the paralyzing energy of inspirational overload.  I’ve created a piece!  It’s important to take time to bask in that feeling for a little while.  (Isn’t bask a great word?)

I’ve proven to myself that I have the focus and follow-through to bring something to completion.  In bringing a project to completion, there is fulfillment of the promise that was sparked with the original idea.  Now, I feel ready to go forward with whatever is next having renewed faith in my capability to complete something.

Creative Prompt:
Have you had this experience of the enchantment of new inspiration?  What is your method of dealing with this?  Do you have too many unfinished projects?  Try working on and completing one small thing.  What is your feeling afterwards?

Please feel free to share your own thoughts under the comments.

Note:  Why not gather a few friends and give yourself a party to show off your creation…toast yourself with apple cider, champagne or your beverage of choice!

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“Creativity is not Comfortable”

Awhile ago, I jotted down this quote from Billy Wilder,  “an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist….”  He is long gone from this earth plane…however, as you know, quotes live on.

Creative beings who’ve been practicing their art, know this quote–“Creativity is not comfortable”–in a deeply experiential way.  They understand the edges, precipices, walls; the angst, internal subterfuge and the pushing through.  They understand the daring and the doing despite doubts, fears and/or internal or external pressure to halt!

Why is creating so uncomfortable?  I think it is partly because when you are fully in the creative process, you, yourself go through changes as you create.

TRANSFORMATION could be a synonym for creativity.

Webster’s Dictionary, in defining transformation says “…to change a thing into a different thing.  Transform implies a major change in form, nature, or function…”

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On the canvas, I resist because things are going to be disrupted and perhaps even “ugly” for awhile.  If I am attached to what is on the canvas, it’s going to be hard to let it go.  When I’m backed into a creative corner, I have to make a move that can feel forced upon me in some way.  There is a risk as I leave my comfort zone and engage the unknown. This whole process brings to my awareness the stuck places inside of me, the resistance and lack of daring.  It’s complex, right?

Ultimately, I love my creations, whether poetry, prose, painting or crafting.  And I often surprise myself with what comes.

Writing Prompt:
Do you prefer your “comfort zone” when it comes to writing or making art?  Or do you enjoy the adventure beyond comfort?  When you venture past the borders of the familiar, do you experience doubt as to whether or not you can create something that is “successful”?  Is that a fair requirement of yourself as you are in this process?  And, do you care about what others are going to think?  Do you make that more important than staying true to your artist’s journey?

Write your answers to these questions in your writer’s journal.  Be truthful with yourself.

 

 

Now…and Then

“10,000 flowers in spring
the moon in autumn
a cool breeze in summer
snow in winter–
If your mind is not clouded
by unncecssary things
this is the best season of your life.”
by Wu-Men (Chinese poet)

Isn’t that a secret we’d like to have an answer to–how to stay present within this moment and not drift off into the past, future, fear, worry, conjecture, etc?  At least more of the time. Being present to one’s daily life experience is desirable.

However, when we write (or paint or create art), we move in all directions, don’t we? There is very little that is linear about the creative process, especially in the initial stages.  That said, I begin with an intention.  Even if I seem to veer off course.  For me, setting a creative intention rouses personal process. The goal then is to stay present with my process as I write or paint–wherever it might take me (even when it changes course from my original creative intention).

Year ago, I began reading a translation of the French author, Marcel Proust’s classic, Remembrance of Things Past, otherwise known as In Search of Lost Time.  At that time, I found that reading the first volume (one of seven) was both laborious and tedious.  My mind stumbled over the slow revelation and wanted to skip ahead to get to the story behind the array of descriptive words.

Today, I realize that one of the author’s intentions was to explore memory itself and take the reader on a journey through his process around resurrecting his memories.  He considered both voluntary memory and involuntary memory.  An often recounted episode from his book is the memory evoked when tasting a madeleine cake dipped in tea!

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

WRITING PROMPT:
Invoking a memory is considered a voluntary memory as you have chosen to retrieve a memory from the past and write about it. Proust compares voluntary memory to involuntary memory–which has a visceral quality to it and can therefore be expressed as a vivid and direct experience with greater impact for the writer and the reader.
Have you had this experience…something in the moment triggers an old memory and brings it fully into the present…so much so that all of your senses are awakened around that memory?  Have you written it down?

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In the movie Ratatouille, at the end, the food critic is sampling the chef’s ratatouille dish and is transported back to his childhood and the savory comfort food that his mother served him.  He is personally comforted by the memory as his tastebuds approve of the dish.

(Click on the play arrow and then click on “YouTube” on the bottom right corner and you will go directly to this clip.)

Leading Questions

When I paint, when I write or when I get stuck, I ask a leading question. Where do I go from here?  What would my protagonist do or say in this circumstance? Where does this poem want to go?  Or what color wants to come onto the canvas? Which line or mark can move this piece forward?  What if…I do this or try that? Then what? For it isn’t always flow, but sometimes a stumbling step, then another tripping step and then a fumbling move forward. Even a dreaded mistake can take you to the next level. It’s all part of it…this grand, unpredictable creative process.

As a beginning painter, my desire was often greater than my ability.  What did I do with that?  I continued the questioning.  And sometimes, I took a brush and black paint in frustration and swirled lines across my painting in process. Frequently, to my surprise, something new emerged from which I could move forward.

Basically, you become CONVERSATIONAL with whatever you’re doing–writing or painting. 

Life itself is really about “I wonder what is next?”  Because as much as we think we’re in familiar territory, we don’t know what the next moment might bring.  It is about fully trusting the unfolding creative process.

It also helps to see what you are doing as practice. You cannot know what you don’t know.  Through questioning, you remain open to discovery.  The faces that I drew and painted two years ago laid the platform for the faces that I draw and paint today.  I had to begin somewhere and to be patient with my development as an artist.  I spent time with faces. Today, I actually enjoy the challenge of drawing a three-quarter turned face.  I steeped myself in images of three-quarter turned faces–eyes, noses and lips in that profile position.  I memorized them, traced them, tore them from magazines, drew them, made tons of wonky faces.  And I learned from my mistakes.  I often asked, “What happens if I do this?”  These very words imply trial and error…and successes too.  And, I’m not there yet!inner2 (1)

WRITING PROMPT:
Revisit a work in progress that has been stalled (writing, painting, drawing) and begin a conversation with it.  Ask leading questions and respect the response(s) that you get. Allow the uncertainty and take the faltering steps as you move your work along. Allot yourself a sufficient amount of  time with this and see how leading questions work for you.

 

Poetry Handles the Big Stuff for Me

Salty Tears
© by Christine O’Brien

“Be brave, stay busy.”
Well-intentioned remedies for a broken heart,
but she’s no longer here for me to see.

Taste of salty tears
as I bake pumpkin cookies.
I’m sure she would do
something like this
if it were me who died.
Like Water for Chocolate
will those who partake
share this terrible grief?
I wonder.
Would it heal something in them?

This crazy, lonely, isolating grief.
Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe
and a falling leaf which softly
brushes my shoulder recalls her.
And then,
there are so many falling leaves…

The uncried tears from my entire life
tumble
until I’m wrung out;
and then there are more.
I search my house for
every tangible thing she gave me
–a scrap of blue velvet,
an old Christmas card,
the wired butterfly earrings
she fashioned for me–
all become more precious.

Any command to be done with this grief
too soon
rings false.

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This is one reason why I love poetry.  It helps me to navigate the tough stuff. Losing a dear friend, suddenly, a few years ago, I went into shock.  How could I make sense of this? How would I traverse this painful chasm?  While well-intentioned others want us to put on a brave front, everything inside says to feel this loss all the way down to the bone. Poetry has helped me with this countless times. Sometimes it is through reading other’s poetry that I find validation and support. Frequently, it is through my own writing that I am rescued.

WRITING PROMPT:
What about you?  As a writer, artist, poet, how do you handle the big stuff?  Do you try to avoid it?  Or do you enter this territory when you are called to? How does your creative process and chosen genre support you in writing or painting your way through loss or change?  Write about this in your journal.

WRITING TIP:
As we learn to process and integrate “the big stuff” of life, we become writers with depth.

Have a peaceful day.

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