The muse demands attention, time, and willingness to make mistakes. They are fickle. Sometimes I hit a lovely poem or painting right away but more often it takes several tries, experiments, and manipulations of the material. Here’s a series of watercolor paintings I made of a lovely bouquet which was a work of art in itself (Thanks to the woman who put together this combination of flowers.) The first (with the lovely colorful background) seemed too tight, the second (the one that has Peter Max colors) was attempted using Procreate App on my iPad, the third (with more white space and a ladybug to offset the large flower at the bottom) is my favorite.
I have difficulty sitting still at times so sometimes during writers’ group I sketch. Here, I was trying to imagine the ghouls in Lisa’s story. They were scary in the story but no matter how hard I try, my monsters always come out sorta cute.
It’s fun to get out and experiment. Today I went to the zoo to sketch whatever animals I could find. The pelicans were standing around after eating, the bear dug itself a nest and fell asleep. And just as I was drawing a profile of the elephant, she turned her back to me and sauntered off.
I’ve kept notebooks to write ideas, scribble in, and well…scribble more in. Keeping them handy has helped me create my poems, stories, and art. Looking through my old notebooks is like going back in time and discovering who I was. Here’s a few drawings from the past year.
Trigger Warning: I draw my cat a lot. Cuteness overload may occur.
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.
photo of Baltimore rapper Wealth making a music video in Savage, Maryland.
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.
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.
under florescent lights
into paper airplanes
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.