Category Archives: momentum

Inspiration and Ownership

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 In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me.” An idea is not diminished when more people use it. 

(from creative commons website)

I love the quote above. Such a good reminder.  In this time that we live in, when there seems to be a mad rush to define everything as private or corporate property, it can seem a little odd, or risky even, to just….. well, give things away. And I’m only human. What if someone “steals” an idea from this website and uses it for their own work? I can get carried away by that worry, from time to time. I’ve also talked to other artists who fear something being taken from them when they post their images or techniques online. But that in itself implies that we all “get” our ideas and “produce” our images in a vacuum. The fact is, we are all, every day, influenced by ideas and images out there. We can’t help it. 

Notice I put the words “steals”, “get” and “produce” in quotes- these are all concepts of ownership. And it really begs the question: are we the static “owners” of our ideas, or are we only the temporary guardians of our ideas before the go out into the world in their viral fashion, and produce more ideas?

 I am reminded of something that my favorite drawing teacher once told us- that we each have our own mark, our own hand. For better or worse, I could try and try to make a mark like you, but it would always still look like my mark. It would look like me trying to make a mark like you, but me still being me, it would most definitely be my mark. 

An important and intriguing thing to think about: how do we walk that line between individual protections, and protecting the open sharing ideas, which fuels all creativity?

One Year

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This post is to celebrate my daughter’s work. This past weekend, we drove down to Valencia, near L.A., and dropped her off at Cal Arts for a month long intensive art program (one of the more terrifying and exciting things I’ve done as the mother of a 15 year old). These are self-portraits she drew- exactly one year apart. The one on the left was finished last week, the one on the right last summer. I just think it’s such a testament to our capacity for growth. That truly, we are hardwired for growth. And hard work. It is rare that Alexandra is not either drawing or carrying one of her sketchbooks around. She lives for graphite. She would probably eat it if she could. If there were more hours in the day, she’d spend them drawing. I bought her three sketchbooks to last her the month she’ll be gone. She fills them so fast, I can hardly keep up. 

She inspires me.

Leap…..

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Sometimes, the hardest thing is simply beginning.

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And once I begin, it is rare that I want to stop. As I approach a painting session, or a block of time in my studio, or begin a new painting or body of work, my doubts and insecurities often crowd me, beckoning me toward some other soothing activity like working in the garden or reading a book. Baking cookies. Catching up on email. Cleaning the toilet.

No, really, it is fascinating to me that after 20-something years of painting, that I can still have these feelings. It’s like that squirmy, resistant feeling you get right before jumping into a cold lake or swimming pool. After jumping, I always get a little rush of adrenaline, and then have the thought that it’s really quite nice. Wonderful, even. 

How do I get to the other side of those feelings with my artwork? I remind myself to just begin.  Then I give myself permission to do something other than painting in my studio if I just do not feel the flow after a little while. I could tidy my studio, or do some preliminary drawings, I could go outside and photograph, make some color charts, write in my art journal. Whatever. But almost always, I find myself caught up in the riptide of creative momentum, and I paint. 

“Leap, and the net will appear”

-Unknown

Momentum, Revisited: Routines and Habits

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What makes a routine work? 

When I first started writing this blog, I had recently been to a yoga workshop, taught by Rod Stryker, called “Yoga of Fulfillment”. One of the most powerful things I came away with was the idea of a “Samkalpa”.  Samkalpa means a resolution, a resolve, or an intention. Mine is defined by my desire to have momentum in my studio time, and to feel the thread of fearless creativity running through my life, weaving what then seemed fractured, together. Since then, I’ve supervised the building of a studio in back of my home, to better integrate painting into my busy family life. I’ve been much more productive than I’ve been in a long time, and have at times felt the momentum running strong.

I’ve always gotten my household and homeschooling “work” done in the mornings, and eked out a few hours of painting in the afternoon. Most days. Much of the time, this works great, and I love the way my studio warms up in the afternoon, and the sun through the skylights. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how the first things I do in my day pretty much always get done. I don’t find myself wondering first thing in the morning, “hmm….. I have time to either take a shower or brush my teeth. Which one do I do?” But I do find myself having that mental converstation with myself over, say, painting and exercising at 4 in the afternoon. Or painting and seeing a friend. It dawned on me that the things I do first are- literally and figuratively- the things I put first. So I’m experimenting with getting out into my studio earlier (after I’ve brushed my teeth, of course!), and working a bit longer. It feels strange and different. But productive. 

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of it is not checking my email before I go out to work. But if I do, before I know it, I’m reading the New York Times online, or catching up on my blog reading- and there goes an hour. Or two. Ahem.

So I’m curious about you artists out there- what habits and routines do you have that help you get your creative work done? How have you changed unproductive habits to productive ones?

Avian Brilliance

Could anything be more beautiful?

My mom and dad came for a visit recently, and when my dad walked in, he was carrying this. Found under the tarp for their wood pile.(Thank you, dad!!) I felt a little badly that these poor eggs were abandoned, but I will look forward to painting this nest.  This nest is in fantastic shape- and the avian architectural brilliance is always startling. Every piece of grass and animal hair is woven- just so.

As for me, I feel like I am starting to weave myself together as I come off from a busy busy couple of months.  Thanks to those of you who emailed me and made sure that I knew that this blog matters!

Sometimes I forget that my most artistically productive times are fed and nurtured by things that I don’t always give credit to.  Like walking, gardening, knitting, exploring, reading,  relaxing and playing with my family ….  and doing nothing. Sometimes I want to be efficient and productive, and I replace that quiet nothingness or repetitive, rhythmic (but seemingly mindless) activity with something that delivers a more quantifiable something. And I feel my creative juices eventually start to dry up….. I suspect that the physics of our souls are very very different from the physics of matter. Or perhaps I just need to get smarter about what kind of productivity I want (or need) to invest in.  So, though I know there are times when I just have to “get things done” that aren’t particularly nurturing to my creativity, it feels really really nice to get my feet back on the ground and create some margin for myself. One of these days I’ll get it through my head that creativity needs *space* to happen.  That sometimes it takes a whole lotta nothin for the best things to happen.

I can’t sign off without introducing you to my new blogging partner.

Meet Mouse.

Our new kitty, and the terror of the neighborhood. He totally owns everything around here (including us), eats at at least 3 houses, and chases our neighbor’s cats. And he’s only 5 months old. This is not necessarily a good thing. But this cat redeems himself with a personality the size of Texas. He is a study in fearlessness. And goofiness. 

And this cat knows all about margin.

In Pursuit of Balance

As a busy summer draws to a close, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all of the things that I wanted to accomplish, but didn’t.  I always have high expectations of summer- I simultaneously envision grand swathes of leisure time, and massive productivity. Reading fluffy books outside in the sunshine coupled with tearing out and remodeling the bathroom.  Juggling just the right balance of beach picnics and bike rides with hours of undisturbed studio time.  I grossly misjudge the reality of life- that the daily demands of dishes and errands, housework and paperwork, email and all types of obligations, chosen and not, gobble up an amazing amount of my time. I wish I could clone myself sometimes so that I would have time to triple my studio time, be the mom and partner I want to be, bake my own bread, and learn to play violin, go and get my graduate degree, do yoga everyday….. My biggest challenge is figuring out (too often on the fly) what my priorities are. I am the quintessential gemini, with a finger in every pot. I have trouble saying no, and it gets me into trouble.  

All this is preamble to the fact that I have not been in the studio as much as I like, or blogging as much as I like, and some of the steam has gone out of my sails in my painting. And what I recognize is burnout. Not so much from doing too much, as not doing the things that allow productivity to continue… like riding a horse with out stopping to rest it or feed it, or water it. I’ve written in this blog about creative momentum, and how I keep that going. But it is not an automatically self-sustaining thing. If I am not careful, I tend to burn all of my creative fuel, my momentum carrying me forward, without stopping to gather, to practice new things, try new ideas, take risks, etc.  In my rush to complete new work for shows this summer, I’ve neglected the daily or weekly practice of renewal.  There is a certain safety in just focusing on an established body of work, and being productive in a measurable way…. sometimes process and exploratory work is not productive in the way that is easy to value- having a piece of artwork at the end of the day. Sometimes it just goes into the trash can, or sometimes nothing material comes of it at all. 

In avoiding this kind of work, it’s come to my attention that one of the things I avoid above others, that absolutely makes my stomach squirm is drawing.  This is surprising even to me, as my drawing skills aren’t exactly lacking.  I’ve spent many hours drawing. I can draw fairly well. So why the avoidance?  I’ve avoided keeping any kind of sketch book for close to twenty years. I think it has to do with how primary, how immediate it is.  It is an instant feedback process. An instant record of my perceptions, my state of mind, my patience, or more often the lack of. And so, so often it doesn’t produce anything I would want to show to someone else. It feels extremely personal to me. More so than painting. I’m not sure why. 

So in the spirit of doing something that scares me everyday (or at least often), I’ve started doing small drawings on watercolor paper.  In ink. So unforgiving. To me, it feels like walking a tightrope without a net. But I am convinced that if I can keep doing this, I will be better able to develop new ideas for paintings, and have more of a creative flow. Here are a few that I actually like

It doesn’t solve my problem of prioritizing, but it may help with creative burnout… It will definitely develop humility.

creative potential

One of the things I’ve been trying to do is look at creativity in a more global way….to try to be more aware of  the creativity that is woven into my life and of the way that feeds into more creativity.  As my awareness grows, so does my tendency to plant little seeds of creative potential as I go, and then watch as they build upon one another- sometimes in unexpected ways. The most obvious way is this:

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The first is a stack of cut plywood, waiting for sanding, and the second is same plywood, covered with paper, and waiting for the first coat of beeswax.  A lot of the time I don’t feel like doing the prep work, like this. It’s tedious, or boring. Not nearly as exciting as painting.  But if I don’t take breaks from painting to do work like this, I run out of painting supports, and it breaks my painting momentum.But it isn’t always so obvious.

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Here is a table in our family room…..in all of it’s glorious, messy, chaos. Talk about creative potential! A lot goes on at this table- worlds are created, characters come into being, objects are built…..and having the space set aside for this creates the potential for that. It’s an important part of our home life.  And my creative life.  It’s viral, creativity. It’s essential. And, honestly, does it get any better than this? 

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