Sustaining creativity takes intentionality and occasionally taking extended time to slow down and restore. So this fall, I committed to going on some weekend retreats and I spent more extended time in my studio engaging in my creative practices. After months of art shows, exhibitions, travel, moving and hanging art around the country, I could feel internally this longing to slow down and re-engage my creativity in a deeper way. It’s not always easy for me to stop and rest, but I knew I needed a season of longer and deeper quiet. I needed time for restoration and rejuvenation, that was a bit more than my normal weekly creative and self-care practices.
Over the last few days and weeks, I spent time working in my art journals, while watching the maple tree in my neighbor’s yard turn a glorious shade of scarlet. I experimented with some new art supplies. I cleaned through old files. I unearthed old ideas, thoughts and projects. I sought inspiration in books. I painted, cut, glued, sketched, and jotted down insights. I replenished the art supplies I had consumed during the year.
I made an inspiration board from cut-up magazines and art reproductions I love.
I went on walks in the prairie taking photos as I went. I cleaned up and organized my studio space, desk and office files. I sorted and put away all the things where they belonged. I spent time in quiet and solitude.
After engaging in these practices of paying attention to my daily world, my personal physical spaces, and looking deep within at my own interior life, it rejuvenated my creativity. Doing these practices with intentionality helped me to be ready to begin my personal painting process again.
And, so I’m now creating “on-the-way” work as I transition into a new season of possibilities, opportunities and challenges. We often under recognize the power of these practices to heal our weary bodies and souls, while simultaneously sustaining our creativity. But, this type of work allows the creativity to rise to the top after the internal sifting work is done.
I’ve been capturing this moment in time full of open-hearted space in color and texture on canvas. I’m creating from a place of quiet and rest rather than creating from the space of deadlines or exhaustion. I’m pouring forward towards the unknown right now. It’s never easy to step into the unknown…it being “unknown” and all…but, my deep underground work of creative and restorative practices makes my creativity sustainable and pulls me into the unknown future. It doesn’t follow a straight line. It is not linear work. But, it is fruitful. And, since we are all heading into the unknown together, I’d rather go in posture of “joyous going” while meandering my way here and there, listening deep and following the inner movement of my rivers of inspiration.
In this new year I’ve been thinking about deep focus- how sometimes I achieve it and sometimes I wander so far from the path. I accomplished some big tasks over the last season of creating art and sharing my work at art fairs and exhibits. Some of my work is more visible from the outside and some of it is unground and deeper quiet work that is much harder to detect. I was so struck by the words of Carol Green who so eloquently said, “Ultimately, what takes an artist to the next level is the integrity and presence of the art they make.” (Carol Green of Green Naftali Gallery in NY) She captures in succinct language the type of art that I believe flows out of periods of deep concentration and focus.
Deep focus is an all too rare commodity in our culture today. We are well aware of the many distractions that can so easily pull us out of places of flow and concentration no matter the type of work we do. I’ll admit that over the past two months I have experienced competing forces pulling for my time and attention and I allowed some things to fall off my schedule. It is easy for creatives to battle feelings of guilt when they drop out of activities for periods of time instead of celebrating focused attention to the large work at hand. The message our culture sends is that you have to be more, share more, do it all…when in reality these activities may be in direct opposition to the activities that will actually help you create the deep and meaningful work you long to produce. I don’t think the works of presence and integrity that our society so desperately needs in so many fields of study can occur without this ongoing deep focus of mind, spirit and heart.
Dear Creative Heart,
This is the time of year that I am spending hours in the studio fighting the battle of creative courage. It is the time of year when all the time spent dreaming and reflecting about what I will be creating in 2017 starts to unfold.
When the sun is shining and light is pouring through the windows of my upstairs sunroom studio, it helps me to find the inspiration to put the brush to canvas.
You can also find me this time of the year in my basement studio. This is a much bigger space so I have room for canvases in various stages from beginning to end. Some are drying from a layer of gesso which is the very first layer I apply to canvas. Some canvases have just had the clear line work laid down, and some have reached the finishing stages-ready for the sides to be painted and the multiple protective layers of isolation coat and varnish to be applied.
So many pieces are in progress right now…but still I work from this place of not knowing. It is in this place of not knowing where the battle of creative courage intensifies on an hourly and daily basis.
This is the place where I have to remind myself time and again that listening to what is in my heart is the way to taking the next step.
This is the place where I am deeply grateful that I have to opportunity to wrestle with translating thought, feeling and experience to the canvas in vibrant color.
Keep creating friends.
Keep ushering art into your life in all its various forms.
Look for the light, it is waiting to be found.
My dearest creative hearts,
I’m sitting at my computer desk gazing out of my window on a gorgeous fall afternoon- it is an unbelievable 72 degrees on Nov. 4. (I am born and raised in Iowa and we are long trained to start most any conversation with a comment on the weather!) And, now that the gorgeous weather conversation has got us going…what’s really on my heart and mind is a recent artistic challenge I’ve been wrestling with.
One question I have been frequently asked is “Do you have any paintings in neutral colors?” Now to be honest- I’ve met these requests to paint with more neutrals with a variety of responses…down right ignoring them, laughing them off, feigning interest while internally shouting “But I DON’T paint neutrals, they are boring”, followed by a crossing my arms pose while internally staking my claim “I paint COLOR!” Occasionally I would let myself wonder, maybe I could try it, but then a whole other host of excuses and fears would rise up. I would worry that in light of my earlier work with bright colors, I “shouldn’t paint neutrals” because it might dilute the signature colors I usually put on my palette. Artists are trained by professionals and gallery owners to do consistent work in a recognizable palette and style so that people can easily recognize the work-deviating from the known can create marketing challenges. But, underneath all the mental gymnastics, what I think was really going on was fear- fears I wouldn’t figure out the technical difficulties of switching to a new color palette, fears the paintings wouldn’t be beautiful (what if people don’t like them?), fears that maybe people would think maybe I was “going through a hard time” if I starting painting gray paintings. Oh- the power of fear to block our creative experiments!
I wish I could tell you that I was so self aware that right away I just started painting neutral paintings. But the reality is that I had to personally do the steps to the creative process that I have taught in my classes so many times throughout the years. One benefit of having painted for many years is that I am becoming more knowledgable about my own resistance patterns to creativity. Sometimes I can’t or don’t take the time to step back and figure out what is going on internally, to really digest what truly is getting in the way.
What finally helped to break my creative roadblock was taking a walk to one of my favorite places-Lake Red Rock. I explored again old territory by doing a slow walk across the remaining section of Horn’s Ferry Bridge that still rises above the Des Moines River.
I allowed myself to go and hang out at a place I have been hundreds of times before, but this time I saw it with fresh eyes. I walked the planks searching for inspiration and sure enough I found it-under my feet.
The weathered boards…
The creative cycle going full circle- a problem to solve, making something new from something old, letting the past speak into my future, letting my specific place in this world inform my art and inspire new creative leaps. A settling of my spirit in knowing that this series of work is authentic to me and my story and my places. And, that the seemingly simple requests for more paintings in a neutral color palette took me on a creative ride back to pieces of my own story.
You have the opportunity to purchase one of the new “Horns Ferry Bridge” series at any one of these three upcoming shows in central Iowa or by contacting me directly at the studio- just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested.
2016 Art Show Schedule
I’m also working on a collaborative painting with artist Chris Vance for the upcoming Paintpushers show “Collision”. Painting in progress now- make plans to see the collaborative piece and meet all the Paintpusher artists at the opening reception on Dec. 2 at the Des Moines Social Club!
2016 Art Exhibits