Community and Creative Process

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I have lived in artistic communities since early adulthood. I love the energy, feel it even when I am alone in my room. There is affirmation of the value of creating within an art community. There is knowledge that process is important. The energy in a community where people participate in the creative process helps generate ideas, even as we disagree  about the relative value of specific pieces or particular forms of art.
Art for me has been a means of keeping an even keel in a crazy world.
Often when I create, whether a poem, a painting or a song, I don’t fully understand the symbols and juxtapositions of ideas until much later. Art is not a way to recreate reality, but distorts reality in order to fully portray it, like a curved glass will focus the sun’s rays on a single point, and result in a fire.

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photo of Baltimore rapper Wealth making a music video in Savage, Maryland.

 

Start

Start writing before the words of the day impose themselves on you. Start while you’re still asleep, just poured the first coffee. While the dream world still holds you in sway, while your conscious mind and worries haven’t yet had time to plant themselves firmly in your mind. Start before you start playing out the arguments you might use with your boss or husband that day. Start in the dark of winter mornings, when the ghosts of the past are still present, when the darkness hasn’t yet faded, as the sun slowly spreads shadows and light and the fall leaves shake in the morning breeze, casting prisms on the floor.

Knit Together

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I love trying new things and a knitting and crochet store just opened in my neighborhood. [www.thatsthepointneeedlecrafts.com]The yarn is seductive. It’s achingly soft, with marvelous colors, from muted, natural colors to bold, primary colors, which are actually used sari fibers spun together.

The store offered a free lesson; I couldn’t wait. I had learned some knitting when I was very young, but had long since forgotten it. I recalled swirling in the navy blue ice skating skirt my mother knit for me. Lace doilies lay across tables in my grandmother’s house, crocheted by my great-aunts. The white doilies were as delicate as snowflakes.

Recently, I saw sculptures made from crocheted yarn in the Visionary Arts Museum. [www.avam.org] A mathematician friend explained that crochet actually makes hyperbolic arches. [http://crochetcoralreef.org/crochet-coral-reef-book.php] After knitting a bit, I realized the art is mathematical, and not just because of the shapes, but because I needed to count stitches so as not to lose any. Also, my knitting wound itself into a shape somewhat like a DNA molecule, which I was assured, was normal.

As I sat practicing my knitting, women stopped by to shop and chat. One of the pleasures of knitting or crocheting is that it can be done while engaging in conversation. The women were around my age, middle aged or somewhat older. They fondled the yarn, discussed patterns, techniques, and the perfect needle.They were professional women from a large variety of fields, from computers to teaching to non-profit management. They also had a wide range of interests. I even met one woman who also did aikido!

I went home satisfied and excited. This week I plan to learn crocheting.

Slicing Through Artist Block: for my friend Vanessa

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There are those awful times when I didn’t feel like I’d ever have another idea.  For anything.  Everything I thought of, I’d already done several times over and I just can’t get motivated to do the next – dance with the same set of movements, another still life, or another poem about rain. I believe that you are your actions, rather than your thoughts and therefore, I could no longer count on my old identity as an artist.  (This is a somewhat comforting thought when you are occasionally homicidal toward coworkers or spouse or the really bad driver in front of you, as I am.)

In retrospect, I find that in those barren stretches I do things that eventually erupt into creativity again.  But I don’t realize it at the time.  Many of these times, I often feel the world heavy around me.  Or I’m running in too many directions because of desire to learn as much as possible about the world.  Or I wish to dissolve into fantasy (at which point I read a lot of novels).  I might be putting a lot of energy into work or politicking or socializing, or not have any energy at all.

Then, boom.  Something changes.  It could be as simple as the strep throat I am just getting over.  I  step back, slow down, and watch the world go by.  The ideas drift by like pollen in the spring air. Achoo, ideas start flowing into my thoughts and popping into my journals.  My journals start plumping.  It as if all that time I spent away from paints and song were simply a catalyst.

So here’s a list to step once more on the path of creation.  These are ideas for writing or art, my two main endeavors these days, but they are applicable to any art form.

1. Make your own list of things you’d like to do or learn but haven’t yet. Investigate what it would take to do one or two.  Maybe start one. (My latest favorites are jumping out of an airplane and learning welding.)

2. Work on writer’s prompts or art exercises.  You can find these on the web and in books.  My favorite books for writer’s prompts are Susan Wooldridge “Poem Crazy” and Josip Novakovitch “Fiction Writer’s Workshop.”  For art, I find inspiration reading books about symbolism in history and across cultures, or leafing through the art books I’ve accumulated.

3. Read books.  Go to museums.   Visit the theatre.  Enjoy friends.

4. Tell yourself you’re going to do something small.  Something that just takes 5 minutes.  A quick sketch or two of your cat.  A few random words about yourself or why you hate your boss.

5. Do something small as regularly as possible.  Maybe vow to make it once a day.  It’s okay if you don’t keep the vow and end up doing this once a week.  Keep going.

6. Turn off the media stream.  Give yourself some quiet time to think.  I like to take walks and just look and listen carefully.

7. Switch creative outlets.  If you’re a writer, try drawing.  If you’re a painter, try singing.  Sometimes trying something we don’t have any expectations of being good at is just what we need.  Beginner’s mind.  After, I find I approach my regular channels with that same beginner’s mind and a different perspective.

8. Do “morning pages,”  writing steadily for 3 pages anything that comes into your head.  Each day. (See rule above about daily work.) Don’t edit, don’t think much.  Try to spill words onto the page as fluidly and steadily as possible.  You can throw out the pages afterward.  I like doing this in the morning captivated by the warmth of a cup of coffee.  But any time in the day can work.

9. Remember the process of making art is the important part.  Whether the product is good or bad doesn’t matter.  The finished work is merely the by-product of the process.  Sometimes I like what I did. About 9 out of 10 times, I toss it in the garbage.

10. Be patient.  Know the muse will find you when you are both ready.  It will happen.

The Creative Process on Tuesday

Tuesdays are my off-from-work day.  I love them because most people (including my husband) are at work and I get to slack off all by myself.  So I putz around the house, clean a bit, read a bit, and then make it to the pottery studio for a few hours.  Then home again, where I eat a decently cooked meal for once. Perhaps I read some more or … whatever.  It it my day of no-plan.  Next I’m likely to fuss at my small garden and do other creative projects which are at hand.  Today, it is framing a beautiful picture of Ganesha and writing this blog entry.  Somehow the solitude and time to wander around the neighborhood or just wander through my small home is highly conducive to creativity.  The gentle act of moving and observing everything outside, or wandering inside and randomly picking up a poetry book, or pulling out construction paper and scissors generates spontaneous ideas.  Years ago, a friend told me that even if I didn’t have time to execute all my ideas, I could write them down and maybe get back to them later.  It was excellent advice.  Not only does it stop me from despairing that I will never get to any of my ideas, but it empties my head so that I can concentrate on the one idea I wish to act on now.  Which happens to be…writing this blog.  Right now.  In short, what I need most to be creative is lots of time.  It is not necessarily time directly related to creating.  There must be some time to let the ideas naturally germinate and grow, away from the pressure to be or do something.  It is time to absorb other people’s ideas, which naturally leads to my own creative process.  Some ideas of projects for today (only one or two of which I will get to) are:

finish sewing alterations of clothing

executing several pottery designs that I’ve been mulling over since Sunday, when I went to the Walters Museum’s Japanese pottery show

some sketching ideas I’ve been thinking about, such as another self portrait (haven’t done one in a while) or I might just sketch the cat

I’ve also been thinking about doing some really large painting projects to just play with large brush strokes

cutting out  colored construction paper to tape onto the front door as a precursor to painting an abstract design on it

starting another short story from the several ideas written in my notebook

trying to sound out one of the Child Ballads I’ve recently heard on the guitar

Ahh, or I could just stare out the window at the crab apple tree blossoms that are just opening, turning from bright pink buds to 5-petaled white flowers.  Or I could paint them….

Tuesdays are really good.

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(stoneware plate created in 2013 and painted last Tuesday)

painting, sketching and the muse

IMG_2222Thus far I’ve talked about the variety of creativity.  I was first opened to creative thought by drawing and dancing as a kid.  I remember climbing my favorite tree, a crab apple tree in the front yard, and discovering perspective by sketching the house across the suburban street.  As I grew through adolescence and young adulthood, I kept journals that contained everything I was thinking in words and drawings, prose and poetry.  I still keep these journals, although now they don’t have as much in them since I often write prose on the computer.  Poetry, which comes to me at random times, is still in the journals and also on all sorts of random scraps of paper.  The muse is chaos and does not come only when bidden.

And after a long hiatus, I am finally drawing and painting again.  It feels like the world has gotten bigger and beauty is everywhere. My favorite prayer is a Navaho one:

I see beauty in front of me.

I see beauty behind me.

I see beauty to the right of me.

I see beauty to the left of me.

I see beauty above me.

I see beauty below me.

In that spirit, I hope you will enjoy these samples of my art.

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Painted at Sparrow’s Point in Baltimore.

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A sketch done of my son when we were on vacation at the beach in Rehobeth, Delaware.

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This watercolor is of a wetlands near Kennedy airport in New York City. I attached it to re-bar that I found while wandering in the city.  At the time, I didn’t know what it was but it looked like the perfect frame for a small painting.

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One of my earliest oil paintings was done on wood I found.  I love painting on wood and it is easy to find scraps that are being thrown out from construction sites.

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A favorite corner of my home with two small paintings.  The larger painting is of my sister Kim, sitting on a bench at Clark Gardens on Long Island.  The smaller piece is oil on canvas stretched over hanger wire.  The photos are of my mom and great-grandmother.  There is a lovely porcelain cup given to me by Sensei Kiyota.  The figurines are of Shiva and Laksmi.  I picked up Laksmi when I was in India.  My husband coincidentally had Shiva well before we met.  Now they are together.

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Both the above and below paintings were done when I lived and worked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  It was still a rough neighborhood but was a growing artists’ community at that time.

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Above is my guardian angel.  She was painted after I had a horrific bicycling accident and my foot was run over by the tire of a street sweeper.  My foot looked just like it does in the painting before the doctor stitched it up, although it was (thank goodness) still attached.  After the accident my lawyer, Clay Evall, came to the house.  Clay told me later that when he saw the huge truck tire in my apartment (which I had used to practice bokken), he knew I’d somehow get better.