Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

threefaces.1

 

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.

cropped-collage1.jpg

Unintentional Creativity

In a way, I think of Intentional Creativity as a more logical (or masculine) approach to directing your creativity.  The artist affects the process by choosing an intention.  The intention propels the creative expression in a mindful way “to support growth and healing.”  In other words, the artist “creates around their intention.”

Of equal value is unintentional creativity which I consider a “feminine” or intuitive approach to initiating making art.  Making random marks on a fresh canvas, dripping or swiping colors over the canvas, paint doodling, intuitively choosing colors, layering, etc. could seem to be “going nowhere.”  However, what I’ve found is that this is an opportunity for the deeper psyche to express itself.  As I get to a certain stage in this free play process, I might begin to see shapes, images rising to the surface of my awareness.  Some of them I bring forth, others retreat into the background.  Some I paint or collage over, others I refine.

This is my preference for now.  That said, I notice that once I paint the “I don’t know where this is going random marks,” I get to the place of crafting a painting.  Then my marks become more intentional as I bring a piece into its final form.  I can’t say that I have chosen a specific intention for the painting even at this point.  I’m allowing the piece to show and tell me what wants to be revealed.

Truly, both styles of painting overlap and weave through any process.  However, when I try to “force” my painting to go a certain way, I find that I can be blocked.  Any piece has a sort of self-determination.

I painted the piece below to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  For me, painting this felt like a wild ride that intensified as I went.  Painting is an energetic process.  There is the possibility of transformation both of the canvas and one’s own emotional state.

Tchaikovsky.2019

Cycles of Creation

“The cycle of creation, of rising and falling energy, is as it should be. In this sense there is no such thing as creative block, or writers block. There is a time when creative energy flows like a river underground and disappears for a time, in the meantime making something, creating a new body, and then emerging again.”

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I have known this to be true from my own experience.  When people talk of writer’s block or tell me that they are not inspired, I remind them of this.  That what we perceive as a block or a lack of inspiration only means that we have entered what I term the fertile void.  In this place, the material of the deep psyche is mingling with your life experiences and your soul quest.  It is in this place that something new is brewing.

Within the fertile void, there is a sort of amnesia.  Even the very things that I’ve been passionate about don’t arouse the energy to bring them to fruition.  And, I lose direction of where to go next with these passionate ideas.  Desolate and aimlessly wandering, I face frustration and lack impetus.  In those times, if I can remember that this too is part of the creative cycle, I might find some relief.  Learning to recognize and trust the creative process at such times, is helpful and hopeful.

This point of seeming stuckness in the creative cycle is not something that needs to be solved.  We see it mirrored in  the wiles and cycles of nature.  If we live in a place with four seasons, we are especially privy to these cycles.  Within her blossoming spring, simmering summer and picturesque autumn, we see momentum and purpose.  Then, that immobilizing frigid winter comes and there is limitation, slowing, hunkering down, waiting it out and inward searching.  When I remember to welcome the winter, I am privy to her gifts.  This fallow time of rest, going inside literally and figuratively,  allowing the integration, rather than resisting it helps.  Winter, this seemingly inert time, is vital to the creative process.  It is not only restorative, it harbors the potential of spring.

This does not mean that I am unproductive during the time of inwardness.  Instead, I can work on creative projects that I’ve stashed away…things like knitting or sewing or cooking a gourmet meal to share.  I might clear out some old files that really do feel stagnant.  I might study something new or even learn Spanish–a promise I’ve made to myself.

How do you experience the fallow time?  What resources do you call on to see you through?

 

How do you stand not being the best?

Comparison is a tender spot for many an artist.  Last week, at an art exhibit where I had a piece on display, I heard myself repeatedly minimizing my painting.  I had already walked around the exhibit and seen the work of masterful artists, some of whom had been painting for their entire lives.  Inwardly, I went into “I’ve only been painting for five  years.  I’ve learned what I’ve learned from online classes, my own practice and experience.  I never went to art school.”  In other words, I diminished my art and myself.

When someone complimented me or said they liked the painting, I said “You’re being kind.”  I heard myself nearly apologizing for my piece!  Where on earth did all of this self-denigration come from?  Thinking about it in retrospect, it feels painful.

Yesterday, when a friend said I should send an online portfolio of my art to a larger venue, like San Francisco or the bay area at least, I nearly laughed.  “You must be kidding!” I said.  But she wasn’t.  She had seen several groupings of my art and said that she recognized my unique style.  “You have a style,” she said.  “Why not try?” she queried.

So here it is, in my face once again–the artist produces a product.  It matters less about the “expertise” of the painting as to what the process was for me.  What is the journey I took to bring this painting into fruition?  Did I take the journey with acquiesce or protest?  Did I allow myself to be guided by the question what next?  Did I push through the “ugly” stages and arrive at a better place?  Did I say what I wanted to say?  Did I fall in love with my piece, finally?  I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR ANY OF THIS!

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Being an artist, like being a human, isn’t about comparison.  It is about SELF-EXPRESSION, your personal process and if you so choose, sharing your gifts with others.
In the Desiderata, the author reminds us “always there will be greater and lesser persons [artists] than yourself.”  

Finally, he says, “Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.”

 

 

How Introspective Are You?

Writers, one would surmise, are introspective people.  They witness things in their environment and within themselves.  They frequently process what they witness by writing it down.

Introspection:  “a reflective looking inward an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings” Webster’s Dictionary

According to the same dictionary, it’s about “self-examination, self-questioning, self-observation, self-searching, soul-searching”

IMG_9980

To elaborate on this, those who tend to be introspective do interface with their environment.  They go out into the world and have experiences.  It is then necessary for them to have downtime to process deeply in order to glean the lesson, meaning or the gem in what they have experienced.  Writing is one valuable  link to self-awareness and self-acceptance.  It enables integration.

As a writer, this introspection infuses the writing that you share publicly with truth bred of  inner work.

Does that make any sense?

We’re all unique.  I have friends who  extract information and learn very differently than I do.  There’s room for all of us, isn’t there, to be who we are?

Writing Prompt:
Be an observer of yourself in comparison to one other person.  Notice how you best process and integrate your experience.  Notice how the other person appears to process and integrate.  No judgment, only observation.  Write about it.

 

Inspired by a painting

The Dive
© by Christine O’Brien

TheDive2
Diving Bird by Christine 2018

Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
Buddha stillness.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.

This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.

Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
neither towards perfection
nor for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.

It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.

I surface a few feet away,
victorious,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.

****
I was invited to write and read a poem for an art gallery event.  The invitation was to choose a painting from the gallery show and write a poem to complement the painting.  I had two days.  I had been on a poetic hiatus and there is often the doubt “Do I have it in me to write poetry?”  I strolled through the gallery looking for a painting that resurrected my poetic voice.  There she was, the girl standing at the edge of the diving board.  I sat with her and asked what wanted to be spoken.  I took a photo and notes and went home.  This was not the first poem that came…the first poem was the process that lead me to this poem.

Writing Prompt:
Give yourself this challenge.  Go to an art gallery, stroll through and stop when you feel that gripping connection with a painting.  Then, sit with it for awhile, take notes, take a photo.  Go home (or to a cafe–make it an artist’s date) and write your poem.  This is such a special experience.  Do try it.

Note:  Remember the first poem may not be the final poem (nor the second or third).  Allow yourself to be in process with what wants to be spoken referring back to the painting as inspiration.

Note 2:  The artist is Jan Wurm.  Her painting is called “The Dive.”  I was hoping to include an image of the painting.  However, I have not received permission from the artist to date.