Practice Doesn’t Mean Perfection

I’ve been practicing how to draw and paint faces.IMG_9403

As a ripening artist, I fall in love with each painting…even when it is far from perfect.  Like this one.  Learning a new technique taught by Sara Burch in Paint Your Heart and Soul‘s year-long online painting and creativity course, I realize that one eye is larger and a bit lower than the other.  Yet, this painting captures something for me that I was having trouble expressing in words.  This painting helped me to bring some disparate feelings together.

Learning and practicing a new technique was the primary purpose of this new-to-me process.   Perhaps there is a time and place to strive for excellence (rarely perfection?) or even one’s personal best.  As I am learning, there has also got to be plenty of room for play, experimentation and error…sometimes happy accidents.

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With writing, is it any different?  Writers strive for perfection as they craft their prose or poetry.  Do they ever reach it?  Levels of perfection are relative, it seems.  For with any final piece preparing to leap into the world, the writer decides, at some point, to let it go.  This is not based solely on whether a piece is “good enough”.  There is an inner sense of completion.  What wants to be said has been said in a way that is “kin” to the writer.  In using the word kin in this way, I intend that the writer has expressed him or herself in a way that is unique, particular or inherent.  When that goal is reached, then a painting or piece of writing can feel complete and ready to be launched.

When you write about someone, you look for the dissonant detail.  Perhaps this is also reflected in your greater body of work–that you allow the dissonant details into your writing thereby,  making a work your own.  Those details–which could be seen as imperfections–mark your work in some way.  Those details reveal to the reader “your style”.  Offering your work, with all of its perceived blemishes, does make one feel vulnerable.

Contemplation:
Do you find fulfillment in practicing your art or craft?  Are you tolerant of “mistakes” as you learn? Are you patient with your development as a writer or artist?  Can you spot the dissonant details in your work that make it stand out as YOURS?

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“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take
if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Being Alright With Looking Foolish!

IMG_9111This blog and the two following indirectly touch on the subject of  VULNERABILITY.  For when you share your work–painting, poetry, prose, thoughts, woodwork, sculpture, write a blog, etc., you are being vulnerable.

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It was deep winter in the mountains. An elder friend was in hospice care, settled in a home further north of where I live. The roads were impassable.

While I longed to visit her, I didn’t want to put myself in jeopardy.  Instead, I painted, not knowing where I would go or what needed expression.  Before long, I found myself painting with my fingers…and, of all things, a pink cow!  To this day, I don’t know why I was compelled to paint a pink cow using my fingers.  The tactile experience of painting with my fingers seemed essential.  This creative process helped me to transform the feeling of helplessness in regards to being unable to visit my friend.

Why did this help?  I don’t have an answer.  Some things really do dwell in the mystery or the deep unconscious and cannot be fathomed.  Perhaps they are before words.

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Poetry has also provided this sort of harmonizing effect for me.  When my father-in-law was dying, I turned to poetry.  Trying to understand my relationship with my parents or to make some sense of a long-term marriage that was ending, I turned to poetry.  Journal writing has been invaluable to me when facing life’s incongruities.  However, like painting, poetry has a way of containing wayward emotions while transforming them.

WRITING PROMPT:
For your journal:  Has art and/or writing and poetry helped you to express, uplift or in some way transform your difficult feelings?  Can you tolerate looking foolish in order to express and then share something that is deeply felt?

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Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer

Imagination and Fabrication

Imagination…

elephant

Excuse me, but is that a PURPLE ELEPHANT?

Why yes, it is.

Where in the world would you find a purple elephant?

In the realm of imagination, of course.

Artists love to paint elephants.  Some artists choose realism and create elephants that look like they have walked out of an African forest.  Other artists are inspired to paint whimsical elephants (like me).  There is room for both, of course.

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Writers of fiction are great fabricators–they take an idea for a story and let their imagination run with it.  And, if  permitted, the imagination can take you on a ride into the great unknown!  In a sense, fiction writers might begin their story with “I wonder what would happen if…”  and then take off into a flight of fancy.

When you write from the place of imagination, you typically want to have your story grounded in some “facts”.  Your reader appreciates some plausibility or credibility in order to hinge his/her mind onto something recognizable.

Years ago, I remember watching the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with the actor, Danny Kaye.  There was a remake in 2013 with Ben Stiller…I haven’t seen it yet…I think I’ll rent that one tonight.  This story is based on author James Thurber’s classic story of a daydreamer who drifts off into an imaginary world, escaping his mundane life.  He is, of course, the hero of his daydreams.

Writing Prompt:
In your writing, do you dare to enter the wild and unpredictable territory of imagination? Have you written from this place?  What story can you create out of thin air?  Even if you are a non-fiction writer, can you allow yourself the play that imagination steals one into?  Do you want to give it a try?  It might feel like you have veered off course, but why not?  Don’t new inventions rise from someone’s untethered imagination?  The questions being “How can I do this better or make this easier or what if I do this or try that, then what?”

EXPLORE

Poetry as “The Message in the Bottle”

Edward Hirsch referenced poetry as “a message in a bottle” to be found and opened at some future date by an anonymous reader.

When I paint a piece or write a poem, what or who do I have in mind?  What am I tuned into?  It varies.  Sometimes, as with this painting of the polar bear, I followed an intuitive flow that started with marks on a canvas. From these marks, three disco dancers emerged and quickly shape-shifted into three polar bears at the North Pole; then to a single polar bear with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.  Finally there was this solitary polar bear in a meadow.  The journey of this piece wasn’t decided by me ahead of time; what it wanted to become was disclosed as I stayed with the process.

What is the message of this painting?polar2

One cold and snowy winter’s night, I felt that existential loneliness.  I looked at my polar bear painting on the wall & I wondered what it felt like to wander, a solitude, across the melting ice floes of the North Pole.  What would it feel like to have your habitat disappearing beneath your feet?  What would it be like to be made for this icy world and to witness your world dissolving?  As the ice floes are melting, does this then predicate that the polar bear becomes extinct or does he metamorphose in some way to accommodate this once familiar, now changing world?

And so I wrote this sonnet to the polar bear, for myself in my loneliness and for the unknown finder of the message in the bottle.

Lonely
© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night.
The stars so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance:
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

For Your Contemplation:
I’ve talked about following your passion when writing poetry, prose or creating art. Sometimes, a fleeting feeling seems to govern your life. How do you respond to this? When feeling lonely or sad or some other uncomfortable feeling, I desire to be done with it as soon as possible.  I don’t want to dwell there.  Yet, I’ve learned to allow it the time it takes.  The truth is that we all feel lonely, sad or in grief at times.  To allow it is the courageous response…to create from it is to engage the common human thread of loneliness that each one of us experiences.  Your deep transitory feelings can be expressed through poetry, prose, painting & other creative venues.  You cannot decide who is going to pick up your bottled message on some lonely beach.  You can only hope that when they do, they find what is inside personally useful, portent, potent and perhaps powerful enough to induce change for the good of all.

Whimsy

Writing about serious topics can “weigh” on a writer after awhile. Yes, even when you are passionate about your subject.  Sometimes, you need nonsense. You need to break the spell of the seriousness of life.  Perhaps you need to go whimsical.

Why whimsy?  I started painting in 2014 because words weren’t working for me. The down-trodden, restrictive cycle of my thinking was binding me to false beliefs. I was stuck within a “circle of wagons” (an archaic phrase insinuating protection, but feeling like entrapment to me).   I wasn’t happy.

Registering for the online painting class, Brave Intuitive Painting, taught by Flora Bowley, I purchased a few canvases, paints and brushes and played. However, there was a seriousness even to this play. I wanted to do it “right”. Flora’s initiation into painting was a doorway into experimenting with color craving, abstraction, layering, personal symbols, intuition, freedom and more. While I wanted my outcome to be “like hers”, my own process and style overtook. What I needed, apparently, were images…though not realism, whimsical images. In fact, to my dismay, that was all that I could paint. Each painting began with no particular intention (other than following my intuition & Flora’s loose recommendations) and before too long, turned into an exercise in whimsy!

I was slightly embarrassed to post my art on the class Facebook page.  I wanted to produce beautiful, masterful art.  Animals that looked like real animals.  Or a bird that looked like a bird, at least.  Instead, something inside of me had to paint animals that looked like they were off the pages of a children’s book and perhaps rendered by a child.

Finally, I accepted this fact of my artistic life and began to appreciate what I was creating. Whimsical art. In retrospect, this was exactly what I needed at a time when my life was feeling too serious and restrictive.

PROMPT:
So do you have some whimsy in your otherwise serious life?  How does this side of you get to express?  Through silly poetry, made-up words, scribbling, doodling, dabbling in something that you have little experience with for the sole purpose of play?  Consider how you might bring whimsy as relief into your life.

ALLOW WHIMSY.

grouse1

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.

 

Creativity Breeds…CREATIVITY

I have been writing since I was age 27… quite awhile.  In 2014, I grew tired of words. Words engage inner patterns and I found myself going in circles with my thinking and writing.  I abandoned words…for a few years.

In the place of words, I found intuitive painting.  For the first time in my life, I wielded a paintbrush as a tool for self-expression.  I was a total beginner!  I engaged in a wordless conversation with each new painting.  Playing with color, shapes, imagery and symbols, opened inner doorways that words alone had not.  I discovered that I had the courage to allow a painting to unfold and become what it wanted to become.  I also discovered that the creative process is the creative process regardless of the way it expresses.  While I came up against obstacles or blocks as with writing, I made marks on the canvas that moved me through them…and I found the flow.

In these few years of not writing, I realized that I missed words.  I enjoy creative writing and considered how I could marry words and images, poetry and paint. I realized, experientially, that one creative expression enhances the other.  Often you think of yourself as this or that…writer or painter or crafter. When, in fact, you have access to any creative opening out there at any time. You only have to choose it and then, as with writing, show up and practice it. Today, I plot and write a blog and I make other art. I knit or craft or cook a gourmet meal.  It’s summer here–I walk in the forests and beside the lakes and take photos.

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You broaden your creative repertoire, not necessarily to become a famous artist or writer.  You do this because it expands you (it feeds your hungry, vast and expressive psyche) and your writing.  It really is about giving yourself a playground to explore all sorts of other media of self-expression. These days, there are many online art classes…many wonderful teachers. The art journal, mixing words and images, is an interesting and fun way to engage with both words and imagery.

Walking this morning, I encountered a woman I hadn’t met before in this small community. A conversation ensued & suddenly she stopped and beheld a field of flowers. She said “I love the way the light and shadow are enhancing the colors.  Isn’t that beautiful!” My response was “It is beautiful. Are you a photographer?”  It turns out that she is a photographer.

When you draw (or paint or use color or sculpt or take photos), you notice things in a deeper way.    This way of noticing makes you privy to nuances of color, light, shade, line, form, texture, etc….these are translated into descriptive elements for the writer or poet. This can only improve your writing.

WRITING PROMPT:
What other creative activities inspire, expand and enhance your writing? Gardening, cooking, sewing, crafting, knitting, pottery, playing a musical instrument, woodworking, jewelry-making, doodling?

In your WRITING journal, draw something.  Sit down in front of an object of your choice and draw it.  Use a graphite pencil and draw the lines–no judgment.  Don’t erase.  If it’s not quite right, play with it until it feels complete to you.  Then write about your process of drawing…your feelings, comfort or discomfort, the lines and shapes, the object itself, whatever you discover as you draw.

strawberries.drawing

WRITING TIP:
Drawing develops your focusing ability as it challenges you to render what you see. Drawing helps you to really see something and notice things that you might otherwise overlook.

*The first online art class I took, BRAVE INTUITIVE PAINTING, was taught by Flora Bowley.