Friday, January 30, 2009

Flying Girl Writes Her Fire in the Sky, or Keep the Flame Burning

Flying Girl Writes Her Fire in the Sky, or Keep the Flame Burning
Golden Fluid Acrylics, Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils, White Gel Pen, Graphite on Paper 5x8"

Here Flying Girl is, made of flame. I wonder... does she recognize that she is made of the same stuff as the sun?

Why do we not acknowledge what is wonderful about ourselves? Why do we devalue our talents, think they aren't worthy of attention, love or pay? Why do we look at our stories and only see what is lacking, what is imperfect?

Today at naptime, I sat down in front of the computer, and felt guilt. I was going to be wasting my time, I thought, I was going to be doing nothing... when the truth is I am building something, I am saying something, I am making something. I find I do the same thing when I am parenting, wondering what's wrong with me when I am tired, when I've really done "nothing" all day. I don't recognize what I am giving, just what isn't done. Even if I'm writing a novel and painting everyday and raising kids and trying to build a business and just going about my regular business of living.

I see this too when I think about my friends' insecurities or in some of the projects going on around blogland, like in the 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women book club.

It's funny also that the Illustration Friday Prompt for this week is "Flawed," because it so fits into the meaning of this painting. Yet, I don't want to submit this for that theme because I feel like it doesn't fit quite right, because it's forcing the theme, but the truth is, this is the issue. Our feelings of being "flawed" of not being good enough, or not being real artists or worth being paid, they are false. We are perfect just the way we are.

Here Flying Girl is, as perfect as the sun, and I don't know if she recognizes it.

When I was painting it, I kept singing that Bonnie Raitt song, Luck of the Draw, with the lyrics that go
These things we do to keep the flame burning
and write our fires in the sky.

I used to sing that song as I bartended, thinking only about how far I had to go and how much I was sacrificing. I never thought that I was perfect just the way I was. I never thought that I was already there.

(If anyone is wondering about my first representation of a black FG and how I overcame my struggles with making one... I just thought about one of my dear friends and made this FG represent her. She's a thousand miles away from me right now, but still one of those people who act as a touchstone for me.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Flying Girl Was Only Waiting For This Moment to Arrive, or Blackbird

Flying Girl Was Only Waiting For This Moment to Arrive, or Blackbird
Golden Fluid Acrylic on Paper 5x8"

Here's what I did to the painting that I was completely unsatisfied with. Yes, that is a Beatles quote.
This is the painting that she came from. The one I didn't like. I like the idea, I do not like the execution. It is nothing like what I had in my head and for all my fixing, I could not make it work.

I do like, however how you can see the profile through the Flying Girl.

She is the most birdlike of all my Flying Girls. Once I painted her outline, and saw the bird coming out, I just had to go with it. And once I had gone with it, the song started playing in my head, and I had to take it all the way and paint her black.

On an interesting note, I keep trying to make some of my Flying Girls black, as in African American, but it never works out. Is it because she represents me and, although I am ethnic, one of the things about me is my exceedingly pale skin. But I've managed to represent blondes without feeling like I was forcing it, and the other thing about my appearance is my exceedingly dark hair. So what is my problem with making a Black woman? I do not know. It's not like Black culture does not have a powerful presence in my life, because it does, and always has. Maybe less so now at this point in my life. Maybe that's why.

I wonder if it's because I am so used to images and stories of Caucasian women. White skin as "absence of color." Stories and myths are generally about white women. I've been inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Madeline and various other characters. Maybe most of the dialog I'm hearing is about white women, and white women's issues. Maybe it's the same issue as when only men got to tell the stories, men then were the default normalcy. That's not to say Black women don't tell their own stories, but in my world right now, there is a sad lack of Black voices.

This post took an interesting turn. I wasn't expecting this, at all.

Maybe I am getting ready to get out of the world in my head and back into the real world again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

38 before 39 (Nov 19)

(In lieu of a painting, here I am in my writing corner, surrounded by some of my old favorite things that just arrived from storage in Brooklyn-- part of the reason why my art/writing routine is off kilter. I am surprised by how much better it feels to have my stuff-- and my library!-- with me again. I will share some of my old art with you once I've sorted through what I have. Some of it is still being held hostage at my sister's in NY.)

I have been uninspired by the painting I've been doing. I have an idea in my head, but it's not coming out right. I think it requires more time than I've had lately. I think it requires layers and details, and an extended session.... or more likely, it requires multiple sessions, where I give it air to breathe and allow different mindsets to filter in and affect the outcome. It requires space. And now I feel like I've gone and built it up, and now it has to be one whiz-bang painting. Darn it.

As an alternate to writing about creativity and my process, I think I will consider my upcoming year. Sure it seems like I've already done this, but not really. I've been thinking about the Portfolio Project, which is only 12 weeks long (ONLY 12 weeks long!) and I have my word for the year, which is BUILD. I even have a list of things to do before I'm forty, but I haven't thought about what I want to do for the year. So when I saw Hula Seventy and her post, I thought, now's the time!

1. Finish a final draft of Mythos. (working)
2. Get a driver's license.
3. Meet S's mom. (working)
4. Move into a new home.
5. Open my etsy store. (working)
6. Potty Train G (working)
7. Potty train AiAi
8. Make enough money to not have to get an extra job. (working)
9. Get a digital SLR camera.
10 Get a new computer.
11. Get new ballet flats.
12. Read Tarot professionally again.
13. Get a car.
14. Spend some time yard saleing and/or thrifting.
15. Write half of a first draft of a new novel.
16. Do nanowrimo again.
17. Do 100 paintings in 100 days.
18. Do the Portfolio Project. (working)
19. Start eating breakfast again. (working)
20. Start writing poetry again.
21. Send out some poetry to lit mags.
22. Figure out Flickr.
23. Get business cards.
24. Get an agent for my novel.
25. Publish some articles for pay.
26. Have fun decorating my house.
27. Have a real Birthday party for G
28. Have a functional, inspiring, comfortable studio/office. (working)
29. Start teaching workshops again.
30. Join a writing workshop.
31. Collect Flying Girl into some sort of book.
32. Put That Which Rises On Line. (just got from Brooklyn)
33. Put my Williamsburg Brooklyn Altered Book On Line. (just got from Brooklyn)
34. Write an outline for Creativity Book.
35. Cultivate friends irl.
36. Cultivate babysitters irl.
37. Visit P in Atlanta.
38. Get a grant.
39. Enjoy Life. (working)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Flying Girl and the Migration, or Flock

Flying Girl and the Migration, or Flock
Golden Fluid Acrylic, Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils on paper, 5x7

What is it I have to say? I do not even know. Perhaps it's because I am going through some sort of migration myself, and so can only see things from a distance. I am unable to see the details right at this moment. I am looking at movement and progress and dreams and goals and the past and the future. It's all very not grounded, it's just busy. Maybe that's why there's no horizon or land in this picture.

But I'm not even saying that's a bad thing at this moment. Part of the reason why is because I am getting near the 4 week mark of the portfolio project, and I am beginning to examine my progress so far. And in looking at that, I am beginning to look at what I want to focus on in the weeks ahead.

One third done with this puppy and well... I think my goals were meant for a woman without a 24 hour job as toddler wrangler.

Plus, I think I may have been pretending that I didn't still have to overcome my always struggles with the issues that I am now tackling. I may be closer than ever, but I am still chicken when it comes to putting my work out there as a professional.

That stuff doesn't go away. You may learn coping strategies, maybe even you learn to love the adventure, but I don't know how that deep insecurity goes away. Oh, maybe it does. Maybe it only feels like it doesn't when you're in the middle of it. Maybe that insecurity gets taken over by some other insecurity when you do finally manage to conquer it.

So in the end, it almost doesn't matter if I do indeed conquer my fears about being a fraud. (I just recently realized that's what a lot of it is about, that I'm faking, not a real artist or writer, just a poor kid pretending.) If I get over these fears, new ones will step up to take their place. So what matters is finding coping strategies for tackling your blockages.

An Incomplete List of Blockage Knockage-Downers

1. Lower the consequences. Make big things smaller. Break large goals into small pieces. A novel might be scary to you, but perhaps a chapter/short story at a time is manageable. Not a whole elaborate poem, but one that you can write on the subway from one stop to the next, or waiting in the car for that really long light to turn green. Maybe photos of your kids or your breakfast or your view outside your window are less frightening than the thought of being a "real" photographer who has models and stuff like that. For me, big paintings FREAK ME OUT. I never want to mess up or waste paint. I don't know where to start or where to set up even. Instead, years ago, I bought a tiny pad of 6x8" watercolor paper and a tiny travel watercolor set and would carry it with me. Nothing ever had to be special. All I needed was some time and something pretty to paint and I could sit down and whip something out. If it sucked, I could move on to the next. That period produced some of my very favorite and most well received paintings.

2. Switch media. Writing not going well for you? Paint a picture or play the guitar. For extra credit, paint a picture that reminds you of your writing. Collage a character study, make a map of your setting, sing a song that might be playing in the background. And if painting is stuck, try writing a poem about images you can't get away from. Keep your head in the writing game while using a different part of it to create. You know what also works? Turning on some music and dancing. That works too. Get that energy flowing and then sit back down to your project.

3. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Force yourself to work through the block. But only require that fifteen minutes (or alternately, require yourself to meet a quota-- 1000 words, or one painting a night.) Make a log or chart to mark your quota. Give yourself a sticker every time you meet a goal. Get so many stickers and get a treat. Hey, it's how I potty trained my son. Me, I just like to draw some graphs and rewards don't work for me, but it's about trying to find what works for you. If you keep moving, you push through your block. By refusing to give in to the "I can'ts" you actually end up doing what you were afraid you couldn't. No one says you have to love that stuff, the point is, you didn't give up the game, and I bet you will find some gems inside of that struggle.

4. Have you been working too hard and exhausting yourself? Are you blocked because you just need to stop and rest???? Then give yourself a break! Not working can be as important as working to art. Give yourself a night or two to just do things for yourself and not demand that you be productive. Beware though, that you don't take too much time off and lose your momentum. You want to build up good habits, and you don't want to lose your routine.

5. Oh, did I say you should get yourself a routine? You should. Whatever works for you, but something that gets your body in a habit of working. If you always sit down after the kids go to bed, turn on the tv and start painting, then if you don't paint... your night will feel empty and just WRONG. You may get tired of your routine, but it will keep you working even when you are struggling.

I'm going to stop here with my motivations, because there are five red birds in the painting, and I like to not overwhelm with too much info at once.

By the way, as I look at it, these suggestions aren't only good for creative pursuits. I can see how each of these techniques could help me in my struggle with house keeping. Or they could help with homework or studying. They could help with child rearing. I should have used some of these techniques when I was potty training the boy (although I did use the chart).

See, as life goes, so does art.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Flying Girl is Building her Scaffold, or Climb

Flying Girl is Building her Scaffold, or Climb
Golden fluid acrylics, Pitt Artist Pens, White Gel Pen

Oh, yes, that's how we get there. To those heights. We climb our ladders and put up our bracings, and build our climb out of memories and the sweat of our brow.

Interestingly, I just found some old notes and plans from 5 years ago, when I first started my blog. Yes, my old Wonderlanding blog began on January 19, 2004. You'd think I'd be farther along than I am with my blogging, but I had no idea the twists and turns that life would hold in store for me. And I had no idea how hard having kids was, either.

But, 5 years down the line, and I can see how I've build up my world to be something like what I wanted it to be. Yes, I thought the development would be one directional (as in all forward). No, I didn't take into account the complexity of some of my goals. No, I did not realize that some goals would fade out as I dealt with new ones. And I did not realize that I would have to go into survival mode, for a couple of years there.

My goals slowed down, when I had kids. I should remember that having kids was one of my big goals, and it was looking pretty grim on reaching that one, for a while. So, I think the sacrifice to my artistic goals was worth it.

But then again, as I think about my artistic development in those years when it was all going so much more slowly, I begin to wonder if instead of growing out and up, I grew inwards, stronger and more detailed, more secure. That's my scaffolding, preparing the way for how far I've come now. I feel like I have deeper motivation, now. I feel like my work has more meaning now. Not that it was shallow before, but it often seemed as if I was trying to make myself become who I was, instead of just BEING who I was. I feel like I have more understanding, now, and less desperation.

I feel bad for criticizing my younger self now. I know I meant the work I did then. And I really love some of it. Maybe I was trying to yoke my creativity to the meaning. The meaningfulness.

For example, back then, the books I was trying to write were literary fiction. My first book... I still love that one and hope to go back to it, but the one I lost (back up your computers, people) after I finished teaching... that one was me trying to write a literary story, and trying to wrestle the meaning into it. That main character is so bland. Was.

Now, I've acknowledged my first love of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and am enjoying myself much more as I write in genre. That's right. Not the high falutin' literary fiction. Just silly ole' SF/F.

My goals from back then? They'd gotten wet and smudged, so I couldn't see them all, but I know on the list was to start writing fiction again. I can check that one off my goals.

Maybe it's good that my old goals are faded into obscurity. It's okay to let go of your old desires, when new ones become available. It's okay to take new roads that you hadn't even seen on the map.

When you think back to the you of 5 years ago, or farther back... ten years ago... or when you were fifteen... what are the goals you wanted then? Have you reached any of those goals? Let any of them go? What do you think the 15 year old (or 20 year old, or 30 year old) you would say about your life now?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Flying Girl is Not There, or Wishes

Flying Girl is Not Quite There, or Wishes
Golden Fluid Acrylic, Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen, on paper, 5x8"

Here, I imagine FG trying to reach that city over there on the horizon... maybe the calmer island connected with the bridge. But the point is, she's still trying to get there, and unable to put down her load of good things. She sends ahead her good wishes, her dreams, hopes, intentions.

This is how I am feeling lately. Feeling the heavy load and the light hope, the distant objective, within sight finally, and the swirling seas, the swirling air.

I argue with myself about this feeling.

It isn't just about the destination, it's about the journey. I keep trying to remember this. At every moment we are trying to get somewhere else we have already arrived at our present location.

I took yesterday off... no blogging, no writing, no painting even. I read Twilight instead. Even with Twilight, I tried to keep my head from wanting to fix what is wrong with the book (oy, the perfect this and the perfect that-- like Disney for vampires) and instead just enjoy what is right(I prefer rash Jacob to perfect Edward). I also was not feeling well, and I chose to relax and enjoy instead of work and/or feel sorry for myself.

Today, I'm trying to get back on track. Today, I am hoping my novel will be gotten to (please stay asleep, chil'ren) and I will be able to focus on things I've been avoiding.

It helped to look at Jamie's interpretation of the next chapter of 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women. She's about Bolstering Your Staying Power... something I am always struggling with. It's so easy to get distracted... especially when you are already afraid of whatever it is you're supposed to be going after.

She asked the question "What helps you to be brave?" So thinking about the answer, I have realized the things that help me to be brave are also the things that help center me, ground me.

1. To Do lists! You wanna know how I pulled myself out of PPD? To Do lists... or atleast, they kept me from disappearing all together. To Do lists and Did Done lists. And when I was at my worst, I made lists of all the things, no matter how tiny and seemingly trivial that I had accomplished that day, from taking a shower to making a meal to writing 5 thousand words in my novel. Set my goals, break them down into steps, and then honor what I have done, even those things I didn't think to put on my list. If I am really down, I tend to lose my lists, which means i need them even more. When I am accomplishing things, I feel better. Productivity makes me feel good. I'm trying to figure out why... and how I can stop the reverse from happening (low productivity= low self esteem), but until then, here's where it is.

2. A creative community and the people saying "YES YOU CAN!" Sometimes that is a community in real life, sometimes its on line. A dialog between creatives. Feedback from people who believe in you. I could wish that I had more real life friends like this in my immediate neighborhood, but I am glad I still have my long distance friends and my internet friends so that I can keep up the conversation even when I am alone.

3. Other people's art/words/paths. Reading how other people reach their goals buoys my belief that it is possible... especially if they are not too far from where I am, if i feel like I can be like them. Not superstars, just regular artists. Also looking at art, finding art I love, it makes me want to be a part of that, be a part of that conversation. Or reading my favorite authors, whether fiction or non fiction. Oh yeah, and listening to music. I don't do that enough, but it really helps.

4. Somethings I have not been doing lately, also... journaling, both written and visual. Writing or visualizing my goals. Pinning down the amorphous ideas into something I can tangibly understand. Very Valuable. Knowing what you want specifically is the first battle.

As I think about these ideas that keep me going and help me be brave, I think about the students I used to teach. I see that I need the same things I needed to give them.

In order to feel up to challenges, they had to feel like they were CAPABLE of doing them. They had to have a solid understanding of where they were, and then they had to have the steps outlined for them so they could climb to the next level. They had to be given the scaffolding of skills that would get them there. Not a ten page essay on Hamlet the first day in tenth grade. An understanding of outlining, a discussion on soliloquy, a journal full of ruminations on motivation, short essays that they learn to critique themselves, and so on.

If you want to get to the top of a 100 foot monolith, and you see no way up, and you don't have the ability to fly like Flying Girl, or the skills of rock climbing (which you could conceivably learn) then you need to see that there is a path. What if instead of expecting ourselves to fly to that monolith, we laid ourselves a nice little scaffolding. What if we planted our beams, set our bracings, laid down our platforms, raised our ladders, and continued to do this until we got to the top.

That may be hard work, but it's not a miraculous task achieved only by the privileged and unearthly.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In Rain And Shine, or Union

In Rain And Shine, or Union
Golden Fluid Acrylics, Prismacolor watercolor pencils, Pitt Artist Pens on paper, 5x8"

I have to be quick because I promised my novel I would write before nap time squalls out.

This piece was inspired by all the Valentines day stuff I've seen around, lately. Why we need to give Valentines day a month preamble is beyond me. I'm not the V Day kind of girl, actually. Not the pink and red heart, angels, lace, long stem red roses or expectations kind of girl. Although I can really get down with some chocolate.

So not being the pink hearts kinda girl, I thought, what would my Valentine sentiment be like?

Here it is. Dark and kinda gloomy... but not really. Because it is honoring the truth that in order to open up to love, you have to open up to pain. It may hurt, but you can't close out the pain if you want the joy.

But, after my process began with this hearts and birds Valentine thing... I began thinking not about relationships with other people, but my relationship with myself.

I've decided that I am not longer going to beat myself up for not always being hearts and flowers and sunshine. I'm going to honor the rain and the silence too. I'm going to honor the imperfection... forget that urge to perfectionism, that is the urge to stasis, to death. I'm going to say, hell yeah, my stomach is wobbly. If I exercise or eat better it's not because there's anything wrong with my stomach, but because I want my body to feel good.

If my house is a mess, I'm not going to beat myself up about it. I'll clean it for order, maybe... but otherwise I'll remember the choices I am making, and why I take my nap time to create, instead of sweep cheerios.

If I am not going as quickly as I want in my novel, I am going to look at what is, at the care given to my children and myself, my art, my living, and say, this is my life as it is. Fighting against what it is isn't going to change my time limits or energy constraints. It just is. Not faster, not slower. Is.

In this time of New Years Resolutions, and Projects and Words to define my year, I'm going to be here now, and enjoy what I've got while I've got it. Not worry about failing to reach my goals or being afraid if I do or don't.

Doesn't mean I won't still be trying to get that novel into gear or open my shop or think about what I want in my future. I think if I make achieving my goals simply about the journey, and not about my worthiness as a human being, it will be a lot easier to achieve them. Plus, I'll enjoy the road.

It means I am going to honor my process, my speed, my conflicts, my fears, my goals, my loves, my joys, my pains, my moments, my skies, my girls flying and superheroes chasing after them.

It means, not only does a romantic couple need to stick together in the rain and the shine, but I need to stick together in the rain and shine. The union is within myself here.

I am, you see. Positive and negative both. I just am.

And so are you. You am, too. And I love you for your failures to be perfect.

Sickness and health, 'til death do you part from yourself... are you committed to you?

How would your life change if you loved yourself, even in your faults, flabby, lazy, sloppy, fearful faults?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winds of Change

Flying Girl and the Winds of Change, or Spring
Prismacolor watercolor pencils, Golden fluid acrylics on water 5x8"

I don't know what I have to say about this picture. I was inspired by a glimpse from my window of the neighbor's outdoor canopy. And a photo from Secret Notebooks of the wintry woods behind a barn. And Misty Mawn's color challenge. I am still working on white while she went through the entire rainbow. I don't know if this counts as white, even. And by the inauguration and the hope that I feel. And by the cold snap that is barreling through Florida. Fine, I don't have any snow, but this old house just isn't as weatherproofed as it would be if it were up north.

I'm thinking about where our creativity goes when we are in the silent phases. I really liked Leah's roots under the snow. Now, I love trees and roots, and keys, and snow, and dreamy ladies, so it's not too far to go to see my inspiration.

I'm thinking about natural cycles and how many people seem to be stumped now, when they were working so hard for their goals. Is it part of the process to leap forward and then stall out and then start creeping ahead again? I think it probably is, although it may not always be the way it goes.

I'm thinking about the box I got in the mail yesterday, full of packaging supplies, which should take me one step closer to being a professional. And is still sitting on a table, unopened.

I'm thinking about how my schedule and routines are shifting around, as the kids' nap is shifting, as my own energy is shifting. I'm finding that I am working on two or so paintings at a time, and not finishing one before I start the next, not start to finish the way I was back in October and November. I'm thinking giving the paintings a little space to breathe is making them a little more complicated as I add another day or night of consideration to their creation. I'm seeing that my novel rewriting is going slower than I wished it would.

I'm thinking about the coming months, and the changes that are about to happen. There are a few of them and probably big ones, but I don't know what changes exactly will happen and what their effects will be. I'm wondering if I can create my life to be closer to what I want, closer to what I need.

I'm wishing I had three hours a day to sit and write my novel... on top of the time I take for blogging and the time I take for painting.

I'm thinking I'm ready for Spring.

What are you thinking? Are you in a winter cycle of fallow? What cycles are you seeing? How are you hoping Spring will shape up for you?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inspiration: My House

Inspiration: My House
Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils, Golden Fluid Acrylics, Pitt Artist Pens

This is a continuation of my exploration and honoring of my Inspiration, for my book group of 12 secrets.

This weekend was a tough one for me, as I felt I was coming down with something and I was fighting against creating at every opportunity. But there it is. I've decided that I am not going to kick myself when the inspiration and motivation isn't there. I'm going to try to keep working, but if I don't, if I need to sleep instead, or if I need to read the book that just came from Amazon, or if the kids wake up from nap early and my writing time disappears (all of which happened this weekend) then I am not going to beat myself up over it.

I'm a mom who is an artist. I'm discovering what a journey this is in its own right. It's not like it was when I was a single gal who searched out jobs where I had my days free, or my summers free, or ones that would feed my creativity. It's not like I can sit on my couch all weekend with a journal and a paint set, or go to cafes and write for two days straight. This is a new situation and it takes delicate balancing. Time with the kids, time for the house, time for the guy, time for making money, time for my physical health and well being, time to relax... and time for the creating, time for the exploring, time for the finalizing.

I am working on not struggling with my own pace, my necessarily slow pace at moving to the next step. Maybe that's why I am having problems with inspiration right now, because I am about to make some sort of leap. I hope so. I'd like it.

But, onto the painting. I have been trying to paint in whites and pales, which is how this painting began. Every time I try, I get it wrong and am unsatisfied. I manage to fix the pictures, more or less, but they don't end up being whites/pales. That's okay, I think. I realized I haven't spent much time on those shades. This kind of thing takes work and concentration and practice. You have to discover your techniques... at least I do.

So I covered over my pales and made my house. This is my house of creativity. This is my comfy couch, where I write and sketch and watch tv, and sit with my coffee and cake while I ruminate, where I enjoy company that supports my creativity. This is my studio, with computer and easel and supplies, with space to move and to think. This is my gallery of work, the body of my creative existence, collected to inspire and remember. This is my library of resources, my books, my stories, my loves, my histories, my journals. This is my rooftop view, that allows me access to sky and perspective. These are my fire escapes, my alternate way out, way up, my silent spot for rumination. My sky is alive, my ground is fertile, my roots go deep and deeper still, my tree... well, she can be many things.

My house is not real. Or it is real, but it is not physical. My physical life has very little of this. A corner with a borrowed computer. A bedroom with a typing table and an old chair. An old couch in a shared tv room, a bag of paints and carry along supplies. This is my reality.

And you know what????

It works.

Hey, I want the dream studios that I've been seeing around the web. But that's not my life right now. Right now, I do what I have to. I find my dream in the corners. I make my art on a tv table while watching the kids play. I write in snatched moments between action and action.

It doesn't matter what your creative space looks like. It doesn't matter if it's not perfect. What matters is what you do.

What spaces/times/activities find you creative, despite their imperfection? What corners of the day do you manage to snatch a few moments for your art? I'd love to know. I'm always looking for new ways to get it done.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Luna Moth Flying Girl, or Inspiration

Luna Moth Flying Girl, or Inspiration
reads: She flies by night, into the pale
Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils, Golden Fluid Acrylics, Pitt Artist Pens on Paper

How ironic that on the day I wanted to write a post about Honoring my Inspiration for this book group, I was stymied by not having any.

No inspiration. No energy. No paintings. No blogging. Nothing to say.

Eventually, I worked something out struggling for a couple of days, but finishing too late to get good photo session light.

Maybe my psyche is trying to say something about the way inspiration and I go together.

That traditional view of inspiration that comes out of the blue and takes artists over is as delicate and elusive as the beautiful Luna Moth. They fly only at night, only a couple of times a year.

And did you know that Luna Moths have no mouths? That's right. No mouths. They do not exist to live. They exist only to reproduce and then they die. Fine, they leave their offspring to continue on, but I can not wait for my Luna Moth of inspiration.

I think inspiration for me is a lot harder work that catching a moth.

I think it's about showing up and practicing my craft. I think it's about following through with ideas and constantly revising as I go. This is not to say that I don't sometimes get taken over by the muse and get to float around in the deep night of inspiration, creating and making art and often forgetting to eat. No, that happens, but I can't depend upon it.

For instance, my novel. I've been working on it for about three years now. It started with a small idea... an inspiration, if you will, that fired me up. But I will tell you now, that if I had jumped on that inspiration, it would have died out. Instead, I held on to it. I wrote it down and let it sit there. I waited for more inspiration to join it. And slowly, the world in my head began to grow. I asked questions, like 'why' and 'how' and 'where' and 'who?' I kept searching for keys that would unlock the doors of this story, of the creativity. And then I started writing, very slowly.

And then I stopped. I was busy with a baby, you see. But when I remembered that nanowrimo was coming, I dusted it off... I didn't write anymore... no I worked at the ideas. I paid attention to characters, I wrote an outline, I researched things, I continued the work of gathering inspiration that would build into an idea which was sustainable.

Then in the furious weeks of nanowrimo, I wrote it all out. One might look at nano and say that it couldn't produce a good novel, but that would just be looking at the one session of "inspired" writing, and not all the work and commitment that went into building it.

Two years later, I'm still working on that book. On revisions and the second in the series. Two years later and inspiration is lovely when it hits, and that flow of inspiration might be what keeps me going on those days when nothing is coming, but it's the work that wrote the book. It's the work that makes one an artist.

If I keep showing up at my desk or my sketchbook, the inspiration will come. Like a moth to a flame, perhaps? But we have to keep that flame burning, even when we feel like it's our blood we're using as fuel.

Tee hee.

Just a little bit dramatic there.

But this is about honoring my inspiration, and I think in order to do that, I have to honor my process... truly what I think this blog is about... and I have to honor the hard work that goes into it. And I have to honor when there is no inspiration and my head is empty or too heavy or too tired to continue on.

I still don't have the key. I don't know how to make myself inspired all the time and constantly creative and productive without end. I think that's not possible. I think we have to honor ourselves for when we DON'T create. I think we have to not give up, even when it feels like there is no other way to go on.

Keep going.

That's honoring my inspiration, my faith in myself. Keep going. Don't give up. Even if I don't write a poem for five years, that poet is still there. Honor the silence, too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Long Journey

Flying Girl Receives Assistance on the Long Journey, or Elephant Spirit
White Gel Pen, Golden Fluid Acrylic, Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils.

This painting is about all the helpful spirits we encounter on our journey to ourselves. There really is no reason to do it alone. Help comes from everywhere if you are looking for it and allowing yourself to receive it.

It might come from the inside, your own ancient wisdom, that you so frequently ignore. It might come from words that you read, here or there, and that give you that frisson of understanding, connection. It might come from those real live people around you, the ones who give you a hug when you need it, or a home, or take the kids so you can do your work. It might be a question placed before you, which, when you search for the answer, gives you the key to your path. It might be someone's painting, or challenge, or prompt, that allows the soul to come out and see the light, see that the path is still there, and you are moving forward, and in the right direction.

I don't really want to explain the meaning behind this painting anymore than that, because, well, there's so much in it, I don't really know where to start, and I'd like you to take your own meaning from it.(detail) Flying Girl Receives Assistance on the Long Journey, or Elephant Spirit

But I will explain how I did it. Because I had fun.

It started with a blue watercolor pencil, as I sketched in the elephant. I didn't have a photo or a model, and relied upon my memory. I kind of think I did a good job. I like my elephant, even if the details aren't there. She's more the idea of an elephant anyway. I sketched her, and FG, and added swirls to her. I've been enjoying letting my sketch show through, so my choice of paint depended on how it would interact with the blue. I did the blue and cream the day before and was getting tired of that, so I picked purple, since it was transparent and I hadn't used it in a while. And then I thought I'd try some pale yellow to contrast the purple, and then thought, hey, why not try that old Quinadcridone gold in my bag that is always too bright for my needs. So I did, and while I enjoyed leaving the painterly brush marks, the contrast was too jarring, so, you know what I did? Tried to fix it with white, but that just, yuck, so... I glazed over all of it with the quinadcridone gold, purple, yellow, gold, white. And it all just mellowed out into a nice orange. I really like this orange. The heat of it, the depth of it. The brown/yellow that happened when it went over the purple. Surprising and satisfying. Ah, adventure.

Then I put it away and this morning, looked at it.

I still liked it, liked the overall orangeness. Like that I could still see the spirals of the blue sketch underneath and the layers of color and the brushmarks, but I could tell that it needed definition. How to get it?

As I sorted through the options in my mind, I knew I didn't want to cover the elephant or take away from the feel of her. I knew I wanted her to stand out, too. I thought about adding words, and then I decided the white gel pen was the best way to go. I never got around to adding words, as the patterns... the swirls echoing the elephant spirals, and the dots that remind me of aboriginal paintings, which I've always loved, they all took over. Now I love it.

The detail above is my favorite part. I like the water and the way it interacts with the spiral pattern and the dot pattern of the sand, and the shape the elephant's upturned (for luck) trunk makes.

This painting was created out of gathered inspiration, a growing love for elephants, experimentation and play.

I want to do more like that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Just Breathe

Flying Girl Comes to Meet Her Heart, or Just Breathe
Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils, Golden Fluid Acrylic on paper, 5x8

Here's what I've been thinking today.

Balance is not a static thing.

You don't find some set of circumstances where everything works and then just stay there, finally, everything going like clock work. That's a fantasy.

No. Balance is a fluid dynamic thing, and not about finding that one perfect answer and staying there. Balance is about always moving. It's about letting the setbacks and overwhelm and successes and understandings all kind of ride together so that you keep moving.

It's like running. The act of running is basically throwing yourself off balance so that if you don't catch yourself, you fall. By catching yourself, again and again, you move forward, speedily. I can't imagine how we could ever run without upsetting the perfect stasis we had in stillness.

Where does this come from?

Well, I realized that I have lost my ability to just sit down after the kids go to bed and paint. Now, I sit down and watch tv, surf the web, check email, flip through a magazine, and maybe sketch a little.

Last night, I watched American Idol, and then said, WTF? Why am I not painting while I sit here watching the boobiest of the tube? So I set the creaky wheels into motion, got my paint set, my journal, my anxieties and set up ready to go.

See, the thing is, I want to get my novel done, and I want to do so much else, so I thought I would ease up on my goals for painting. But what that has led me to, is a lack of commitment. I'm still painting, but, I will let myself go on a message board for three hours instead of doing my work (and my joy, let us not forget that this is a passion, not just an obligation).

Listening to Jen Lee's portfolio project podcast, and having her talk about Jen Lemen painting a hundred paintings, well... I thought, I want to do that! I can do that. I've done that. Why am I not doing that?

I feel like I let myself off the hook for my personal commitments, and got lazy.

What does all this have to do with balance?

The thing is, I am seeking balance. I want to live and be an artist. I want to be joyous and be productive. I want to make money and paint for the wholeness of my soul.

So afraid was I that I would be overwhelmed, that I low balled myself. I dropped down to the bar I had set for myself. So. Back to our inquiry about Living into Art. If I set the bar too high and don't give myself a break, I burn out. If I set the bar too low, I get lazy and don't achieve and lose focus and my practice falters.

How can we set a happy medium?

How about 5-7 new paintings a week. Finished. Or art pieces... so I can explore a new medium now and again. That means I paint every night, but can allow one or two not to be finished, or to take a couple of days. That would equal 50-70 paintings from this point, since it is the end of week two. You know. I have done some art almost every day, but because I knew I didn't have to finish, I was just phoning it in. I wasn't putting my heart into it.

Ah. There we are. Back to the Flying Girl. I was wondering how this post would connect.

How do you reach your heart? How do you meet it, when you know where it is, and all you have to do is make the journey? You just breathe. You point yourself in the direction you know you need to go, you set off, and then you JUST BREATHE.

You don't panic over having too much on your plate, or not enough. You don't kick yourself for not flying as fast as you think you should. You don't doubt that you are going in the right direction. You don't think you are a failure because the wind blows you off course, you just readjust your flight plan and keep going.

I see her, that heart, right over there... on the horizon... off I go.

Remember to breathe.

How are you doing on your goals? Is there some readjusting that you need to do to your flight plan? Is there some anxiety you need to let go of?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This is my day job.

Out of focus and all.

It's my night job, too. I may still be on duty, at 8pm, after bedtime. You never know when I'm getting the call... "MOMMEEEE!"

This is what it means to be a mother and an artist. I try to squeeze my work in whenever I can, in little bits and pieces. But mainly, I have to be disciplined and organized.

Is that my nature? I don't think so. If it were, I wouldn't have to work so hard to get to a place where I can write every day, paint every day, get dinner done every day, get the kids potty trained every day, get some sleep every day, be nice to myself every day, do it all every day. Seriously, I have to plan and practice and backslide and take breaks, and I still don't know if doing it every day is the best way for me to accomplish my ends.

But if I want it, I gotta do it. And I can't give up. Ever. Even when I fall and get wrapped up in whatever drama is in my head or in my life, I've got to pick myself back up and get back on the horse.

I found this blog that posts the Daily Routines of writers and other creative folk. It's very interesting to see what successful artists do to keep it working.

Today, they posted about John Grisham. To be honest, not my favorite writer, but it doesn't really matter the way he writes, the thing to look at here is how he gets it done.

His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed. In the Mississippi Legislature, there were "enormous amounts of wasted time" that would give him the opportunity to write.

"So I was very disciplined about it," he says, then quickly concedes he doesn't have such discipline now: "I don't have to."

The part that I particularly connected with was not the part where he woke up at 5am [shudder] but rather the part about having to be disciplined when he had the daily responsibilities of being a lawyer. I don't know which job is more trying, mothering two toddlers without help or lawyering, that's not really the point. The point is what it takes to get it done when your circumstances have you spending the bulk of your time doing other stuff.

I was talking to a college friend who is a published author, and I mentioned to him something about my schedule for writing. And he was impressed. "Now that's discipline," he said.

I never thought about it that way. It's necessity. It's the only way it's going to get done, if I really want it to get done. And like I said...

I really want it to get done.

What are the routines you are building into your life so that your art can live?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Inquiry: Living into Life

I took yesterday off. Except for a few details drawn in this piece. that I've been working on for a couple of days. This collage in my journal reminding me to live my life, to use my art to enrich my life. Life comes first. Riches come next. That means I have to step back from the ambition sometimes and just BE there in the day, in the moment, in the body.


Yes I did. I didn't feel guilty about not writing (well, maybe a little, until I decided a Sunday without work wasn't a bad thing). I struggle with the concept of taking a day off as I work on developing my daily writing habit. That's the struggle right there. If I want a daily writing habit, then how can I take a day off?

But, more than anything, I want to have a sustainable writing habit. What good is an everyday habit that exhausts me so I give up writing in a month? There has to be room for me to let go, if I am going to keep it up, I think.

Maybe if my day job was one where I had a couple of days off it would be a different story. But I barely get any non sleeping hours off of my day job. And my boss has a tendency to wake up with poopy diapers and/or crawl into bed in the middle of the night, so there's no guarantee I get time off during sleep, either.

On an interesting note, I wrote 3500 words today. Maybe if I log details like this, I will find out if my productivity increases regularly after taking a rest.

Anyway, it's interesting that during the Portfolio Project, which seems like it should be about PRODUCT, I am renewing my interest in process and in living. Living, not doing. Being.

Hey. I just had a thought.

When I teach, the portfolio is not simply a body of work. It is a record of the work the students have done, the things that they have learned, the struggles that they have overcome. Perhaps this version of a portfolio has influenced me more than a professional portfolio of work to sell or image to market.

I think my portfolio for me, right now, is not about that creating of a professional portfolio, but a document of my INQUIRY into how to become a working artist. How to live an artist's life.

You know what else I just did? I opened up my planning and idea notebook and made a list of questions I had about the business of art. Questions like what queries should look like, if I needed a business license to sell art, what to do about taxes. Maybe, just like I had my students do, I should do an idea web taking stock about what I already know about the business off art. I bet it's more than I thought I knew. That would give me a base to start on to BUILD the life I want to live, even in the areas where I am the most insecure.

And it is about building.

There is no way to have that castle in the sky dream without having the structure underneath it to hold it up.
City in the trees, or How We Rise
Pitt Artist Pens, White Gel Pen, Golden Fluid Acrylic

Coincidence that I drew this little city in the trees? No. I don't think so. Do you see all the building verbs in the trunk? I imagine the roots of the tree to have words about my past and education and experiences and all the things that have gotten me to the point where I can start building my little tree house of life.

I like to think that building a life takes all the elements that it might take to grow a tree, the fire of passion and the sun, the water of soul and fluidity, the earth to ground us, and the air that allows us to breathe, to think, to imagine.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Creativity Log

This is my weekly log in my beloved planning/ideas book. The illustrations are not mine, but by Jill Bliss. The book is put out by Chronicle books and I loves it. This is my second one. Luckily I found it at nice and ubiquitous Barnes and Noble.

Ah, but I am not here today to talk about the wonderful pages (some of which are grids... my favorite notebook format after plain pages). No, I am here to talk about the plan of my creativity.

Aside from the normal daily To Do lists and long term goals for life and shopping lists or outlines or whatever it is that I'm trying to pin down so I can get it done, I have found that, as an artist, and as a mom, too, I need to keep track of what I actually HAVE achieved. I need to pay attention to the steps that I am taking so that i can see how far I am coming.

Particularly with writing a long piece like a novel, it is easy to think you are getting nowhere, because you're still writing the damn thing, and you don't actually HAVE a novel to show for yourself. You have bits and pieces and the hours spent twiddling the words and dreaming up characters and writing this line and taking out that one.

The thing is, it's all that invisible and small work that leads you up to the big work of a novel.

So to feel like I am achieving something, not just shouting into the void and wasting my time, I mark down exactly how many words, how many pages I've written. How much of the book I've revised. How many hours or minutes I sat at my desk and worked.

I can watch my word total go up and up every day. I can watch as the pages pile up. Three pages doesn't seem like a lot to write, until you add up a hundred days of three pages each. Then you have the body of work. Voila, like magic. Like magic that goes at a snail's pace and is like pulling snail's teeth every squoosh of the way.

Another bonus to keeping a creative log, is that you can keep track of the mechanics of your creative process. When do you write? How often? How long are your creative sessions? How long does it take you to finish a piece or how long do so many words take you? Is there something that you always need to do first? Or afterwards? Also it's a good place to write notes or questions for the next time you sit down at your work.

Plus, it's a prod. I really want to write in my log every day, and I can't if I don't do the work. And I can't let those non-productive days slip away unnoticed... because they are evidenced in those unmarked slots.

A have a different log when I am doing nanowrimo, or solely focusing on writing, which is more detailed, with separate slots for separate writing sessions and adding up details as to how I got my writing done. But for these twelve weeks coming, I'm looking to find balance in my activities.

What I can see just looking at my log today is that I have only missed two days of writing this year (that's 7 out of 9 days writing). I thought I was doing much worse than that. Interesting. Another thing I notice, is that my pace is slowly picking up. Not steadily, but it is. Perhaps I am getting my writing practice back, even if it takes some limbering up to get there (and it does). I am also noticing that my revision process is going slower than my first draft process. I had hoped it would be the reverse, but oh well. You can't really force the process. Maybe it will get quicker when I get to the parts of the book that I want to keep, rather than where I am which is almost all new material.

I'm used to keeping a writing log, so none of the writing revelations are that new to me. But I'm learning some things by keeping track of my other projects and aims.

Here are my categories (they aren't all in this photo, because I adjusted the Week 2 log to fit better into my life.)

Me. (Me comes first. I think that's very important.)
Creativity Project.
Misc./Home (this is only a half column which shows you my priorities)

Here are the things I am learning from the rest of my Creativity Log.

When I write something down in the Me category, I acknowledge that I am taking care of myself so that I can fulfill my other roles better. I take seriously some things that I would otherwise have thought were a waste of time, although they are, in actuality, about recharging.
I also remember to take time and do things for my mental, physical and spiritual health.

I am writing whatever I do that day in regards to painting , drawing, collaging... or whatever. Actually, I'm going to have to think about all the things that go into visual art here-- like looking at other artists. This is helping me because I'm not doing the "painting a day" challenge like I was before, although I am trying to paint or draw every day. Writing down that I did a sketch reminds me that I am being creative here, even if I don't have a Finished Flying girl to show for it.

As to Blogging, I am trying to do it everyday-- but I am not putting attention into my other blogs, and I would like to, in a different manner. Maybe not so much theory and process. Plus, I'm writing down the titles/subjects of the blogs, so I can see it all right there.

And oh, Business. I can see in this Log how I am ignoring you. There is my prod to not let you slide into the shadows of fear and disappear to the daily doingness. Get to work there, Ro.

I remembered to put my kids on the Log. I want to acknowledge the large role that parenting has in my life right now, and that I am doing that almost every moment. I also want to keep track of where I am being creative as a parent. I'm not just putting potty training on this list. Although that's a HUGE deal. It's a reminder to me that creativity does not stop at painting and writing, but it's about LIVING creatively. I'm finding these tiny notes here are also reminding me to capture moments of joy.

When I added my new section on the Creativity Project, it was because I had just realized that while I was documenting my process with this Portfolio Project, I was also starting my Creativity book that I have been wanting to write forever.

Something I want to do with this log is put things in more than one category. A blog entry could also count as the Creativity Project. A Kid entry could also be a Me entry.

All in all, I am pleased with the format of my Creativity Log. I might adjust it later. I like that even more. That I can tweak it according to my living, rather than following some agenda planner or calendar. Who needs straight lines, anyway? It gets the job done rather remarkably.
This about making life explicit. And paying attention to it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Treehouses, Unfinished

Treehouses, unfinished.

My tree houses, play houses, dream houses, art shacks, writing rooms, creativity cottages. Yes. Unfinished. So many little projects with so little free time. But plenty of dreams.

I'm looking forward to finishing it tonight. Not that I have much brain power, right now. I've been sitting in front of my computer for an hour trying to figure out how to write this post. Uhm, make that two hours.

But it all just seems so momentous again. So many things to do, so many projects to take on. So much work so much work. So hard to pull my brain away from taking care of kids and the tv playing in the background and finding something to eat and worries about how the money situation will ever make sense again.

I'm getting lost in the list. The list of things to do and desires and musts.


Take it all back to the core.

Art to center myself. To understand. To breathe and to be.

Why do I have to keep reminding myself of these things? Why do I get overwhelmed with the task of making it something REAL. (which in my psyche means, paid for. Silly psyche.)

Why do I ask why and struggle against the process of beginning, or overwhelm? Why do I forget that it's all the way it's supposed to be.

Gosh darn it,
because that's the way it's supposed to be.

Okay. Here's where I am:
After 38-- fine, 33 years (since kindergarten) of being an artist, and 23 years of trying to be a novelist, and 20 years of being a poet, and 10 years of being a teacher, and 3 years of PPD where I lost it all, and one year more of getting it back... I'm ready to take it global.

No. I'm not ready to take it global, but I'm ready to GET ready to take it to the rest of the world and make it a career, not just a calling.

And it means I get frustrated and confused at the immensity of it all. And I get scared about not being good enough to be a professional, and the echoes of my poetry advisor saying I couldn't do it get louder and the panic sets in. And that's all normal, a normal part of the process. And it means I have to take it back to the scaffolding of the thing to remember why I've been doing it all in the first place.

It's about me, and understanding myself, and it's about the world, and helping others to understand themselves. It's about saying yes instead of no.

I just joined another group. Yes, another. Now on top of The Portfolio Project, and on top of Creative Everyday, I am doing a book blog based on the book The Twelve Secrets of Highly Creative People. Not to mention the third draft of my novel (this is the one I'm going to show people) and trying to get an etsy shop up. It's another 12 week project and I'm getting a little overwhelmed, but I know my motivation here. My motivation is to....

What's my motivation again? Am I trying to whip my creativity into shape? Harness her up to my goat cart? Prod her down the road of commerce? Yipes.

Maybe. And that might be why I joined this new group. To focus on my creativity for myself, not for making a living so I don't have to go back to teaching when the kids start school. To make paintings based on my insides, not some market. To open up the skin and get deep.

Oh yeah, and to have some fun, to do some playing, to center and breathe, to get messy with paints. And write about those people who have been living in my head for three years. And to take care of myself. And to have fun with the kids. And to live. Oh yeah.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Build Joy, or Play

Build Joy, or Play
Prismacolor Watercolor pencils, Golden Fluid Acrylics, Pitt Artist Pens, White Gel Pen

I had some technical difficulties yesterday, both computer and brainwiring.

Here are my lessons. First, if you can't upload photos, turn the computer off and on again and check if it's okay then (because this morning it worked fine). The same lesson works for digital cameras, celphones, dvd players and all those other indispensable electronic gadgets that didn't exist 20 years ago.

Second lesson: Don't stay up to watch Night of the Living Dead with your uncle so that you are then falling into bed with zombies running through your head, and decide to open up the last book of Harry Potter to chase the zombies away, but instead get caught up in the climax at Hogwarts, not closing the book until 3am. Because on that night, sure as tooting, the babygirl will wake up at 6:30 am and your day will be shot.

On to the story.

The story, my friends, is about play. That is the optional theme for the month over at Creative Everyday.

The last few days, in my "exploration" phase of my Portfolio Project I have been trying to reconfigure my head around what I REALLY wanted out of the project. All the work I had been doing before was more like what I thought I needed to get where I wanted to go... but what good is that if you are blocking all joy from entering???

The first thing I did was get all gloomy, because that's what I do.

The second thing I did was go on the internet and look around at what other people were doing. There was one about by Shayla about hiding in a tree. There was a video about doing an art journal a month at Suzi Blu's and there it was, it all came to me.

I didn't want to just do disconnected pieces of art to sell. I wanted to go back to who I used to be, the girl who carried a journal everywhere and filled it up at the drop of a hat, with poetry and art pieces, collages, inspiration, pages and pages of thoughts.

Granted, my life has changed, and I'm lucky if I have 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to finish a thought, and web logging has replaced much of my handwritten rumination, and yes, I want finished works that I can sell, BUT I still want to do the work that filled me up all those many years ago.

A lot of that was my play. My exploration. My sitting on swings and getting dizzy with the world going by. My leaning on a tree and looking up at the branches, watching them sway, reveling in the dappled light and the smell of growth and decay. My staring out the cafe window at the people passing. My getting messy with paints and glue. My digging moments out of my dreams and my past and bringing them to life again. My collecting images that capture me. My talking to friends about what it all means.

Oh, exploring and wondering and getting dirty and skinning knees, wandering and getting lost and found at the same time, reading and movie watching, dancing and listening to music, learning new things and getting obsessed with new loves.

I decided this week that I don't want my project or my life to be all about work. I've decided that I want my project to be about my life, and out of that, the work will flow.

So to remind me, I drew this treehouse, and the largest word is BUILD, and it turns into JOY and then into PLAY. It's not about Building a business (although it is) it's about building a life that is worth living. Work is a part of that, but if I focus everything on product product product commerce commerce commerce, I'm afraid that I might just freeze up and start shrinking.

And do you know the work it was to make this treehouse? It took me most of the week, including the times I had to set it aside and stare at it in dissatisfaction. It started out just a drawing with watercolor pencils, which I could manage while the kids watched Sesame Street. And I didn't like it. Then I painted it all with a layer of cream acrylic. And it was still too pink. And I stared and stared and stared and decided it needed definition, so I finally went in with a pen to pin down the thoughts and the words and the forms. There it started to take shape. I drew in the house. I added details. I added more thoughts in the leaves with white pen. Slowly it became something although it still didn't feel right.

Every time I sat down I added. I considered. I altered. I built this drawing much the way one might build a real play house. Starting with a foundation, a structure, adding the walls, adding the trims.

And then there came a time where it was close enough to being done that I could look at it and see where my discomfort had been the entire time. It was just too pink, too pastel. And I took out my medium dark pens, tan, green, beige, and gave it the definition I wanted. And then it was there. The way I wanted it. Take to places I hadn't quite intended, but being closer to what I felt than the original vision.

The truth is that while I am generally an optimist, I am not a pastel pollyanna. I need some weight to my bright, some shadows to the pink and green. Maybe the entire time, I wanted something a shade darker in my Play and my Joy. A little darkness to define the dawn, a little cold Winter to show us the soft Spring.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Flying Girl Whispers or I Will Give You A Home

Flying Girl Whispers or I Will Give You A Home
Golden Acrylics, Pitt Artist Pens, Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils

Yesterday I was confronted by the conflict between my ambitions and my reality. This painting took three days. Or was it four? I started it days ago, and left it sitting, not wanting to show it to anyone because it was just WRONG. Blech. The colors were jarring and it just was somewhat awkward. But I let it sit, rather than posting it wrong. I let it sit. I thought about what I was really wanting to do with my project, with my life, with my work. Then last night, after bad television and more hours of lack of ambition, (oh and a glass of port) I took my paint to the WRONG picture. I am actually really liking the layers of paint, lately. I'm enjoying glazing on top of what is already there and even more so, scumbling... which is glazing with opaque or semi opaque layers of a lighter color. So I tried it out with what was already there, and the words came to my head (probably due to my "gatherer" mindset this afternoon, as I scooted about the internet looking for inspiration and focus) and voila, everything came together in meaning.

The painting only succeeded when I gave up my expectations for it, for myself, for my project, for my productivity. I had to stop trying to PRODUCE, I had to stop trying to be PROFESSIONAL and come up with PERFECT (oh, lord, there it is, that's why I've been having so much trouble. My old nemesis, perfectionism) art so that I could sell it and make money.

The reality is life is what it is and my process is what it is and my time and energy are limited and I can't just WILL myself to so something that does not fit into the life I have. I had forgotten about the initial babysteps, or perhaps I thought I was "over" needing to take babysteps, because I had already come so far.

But it doesn't matter where you've already been, when you start something, you're always starting from point A. I thought I was at point C.


Luckily, I am watching many people as they struggle with their Portfolio Projects or their personal challenges or their New Year's resolutions or whatever it is we all have decided to tackle in this post holiday, pre the rest of the year period. It's not lucky that everyone is struggling, it's lucky that we are sharing our processes and through that sharing, learning that this is normal. Part of the process. Necessary. Expected.

Yay, we're normal.

So, let's back up a step. Let's not even think about what we really want to produce with everything we've taken on. Let's think about where we ARE. Where we have come from, and what we want to get out of this work, what we want to learn, how we want to grow.

Where have you come from? What is your experience with your work?

I grew up the child of artists and was supported in my art and writing from very young, both at home and in school. But I have always had it in my head that making money off of art or writing was nearly impossible and you had to be a genius to succeed and even then, The Man could always stop you. A couple of bad critiques and a couple of rejection letters later, and I shied even more away from publishing or selling work. From 92-97 I was poet, painter and novelist who waited tables and infrequently showed, performed or sent work out. From 97-03 I taught HS and wrote and painted when I wasn't working (yay summer). After that I bartended for a year and worked on my art and writing career again, then came the babies, and all art disappeared. Kaput for 3 years. This last year has been spent recovering that art and working my way up to where I could start over from where I was before getting pregnant.

What do you want to gain from your work? (Not what you want to produce, but what you want to gain out of taking this work on.)

I want to get to the point of my life where I have an infrastructure set up for being a professional. I want to know how to send work out and who to send it to and how to manage all the technical details. I don't want to be afraid of art and commerce. I want to have a regular writing and art practice. I want to share my fiction with people instead of hiding it away. I want to be clear and explicit about my process as I continue to work on this project. I want to help other people be creative as I build my own work. I want to roll with the punches and not lose momentum because of bad critiques or rejections or disappointments. I want to understand my own process and allow my own dips and lulls while maintaining my creative practice. I want to have faith that the work will come.

I wanted to do this in a linear manner, with my goals and my lists, but it turns out, it isn't linear. And it's not about the product. It's more about the creative process, which is more organic, and it's turning into, for me, more of an Inquiry than a business proposition. Let me tell you, I was not expecting that. So as I work this process, I'm going to go slow and take it one step at a time, whether the steps take me forward or backward a little.

What about you? Where are you coming from with your work? Where are you wanting to go? How's the process been for you so far?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Portfolio Project, Week One: Explore

Painting in Process/Blank

Let me tell you. This week has not been as productive as I was planning.

Last week, my Pre-Portfolio Project was all about thinking and planning and coming up with expectations and goals and plots and making it all bigger and more ambitious and WOO HOO let's just reach for our dreams and what a great year it will be!

And then came January First, the prospective start day... and I didn't start. I made a log, though, so I could keep track of what I didn't do... and what I did.

And day two and I slowly started writing things down and trying out ideas and sketching a little. I even painted a picture that I had no inspiration for but I just tried it out and came up with something that I didn't even like.

And day three and I started to write, fewer pages than I had planned. And I messed with the blog. And I painted a picture... with inspiration... but in fits and starts, because it flickered on and off, that inspiration, like a flashlight with dying batteries. And it isn't done, that picture. This picture, with the flying house inspired by a video posted over on Secret Notebooks.

But in these three days where I have not reached my goals, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what this all is, this project and this process.

It is
1. Not going to go from 0-60 in 60 seconds. No it's not. I already knew that was not how productivity develops, but I guess I thought I had been so busy before, I could just translate that business into a new project, but I can't. You still need to take baby steps in the beginning until you are warmed up for the great strides.

2. Not going to turn out to be what you expected. Will I finish my novel in a month? Probably not. Probably not even the 2 months I had scheduled. If I manage it in the whole three month period, it will be a blessing. Am I going to paint my initial 60 paintings (like I originally proposed) or even 24 finals, like I had settled on after looking at the whole list of expectations? Some of those other goals might get knocked right out of the project. Don't know. But the project might even end up being MORE than I expected. In fact, I am beginning to think that the project might help me outline my non-fiction creativity book that I have been tossing around for the last, oh 15 years.

3. Tough. And it's not the project itself that is the hardest work. The hardest work is the work that goes on within yourself. Questions to ask that inform it all: Who am I? What do I really want? What am I afraid of? What are the most important things in life? What am I willing to give up? What drives me? What do I have to share with the world? How can I believe in myself and my work?

So last night and this morning I made the realization that this week (maybe longer, because this project will probably change over the course of 12 weeks) is about exploring.

In it, I am exploring the ideas that I set forth before hand. Exploring my ability to reach my goals. Exploring the creative projects and finding what shape they will have.

In that exploration, I am allowed to get lost. I am allowed to blunder around, trip over my own two feet, get turned around and go backwards, take a new path, climb a tree for a better view, mark a rock with a piece of chalk to show where I've been, take a nap and start out again.

In exploring the boundaries of my project, I am allowed to not be inspired. To produce crappy paintings, or ones that seem more unfinished, like last night's piece. What started out inspired and ended up being a cypher for what is to come. I am allowed to write 3 times as many words as I actually keep. I am allowed to snap a hundred thousand digital photos and erase them all. I am allowed to cut my hair and consider that part of the process. I am allowed to scrap half my project and stick in and even more ambitious piece. I am allowed to start keeping track of the things I do to take care of myself, not just my project.

I am discovering this work. I am discovering my self. I am discovering the year. I am discovering the road as I go... in fact, not only am I discovering it, I am making it as I go.

Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.
(Traveler, there is no road. You make the road as you go.)
-Antonio Machado

What are you discovering this week about your project, your goals, your self? Take a chance and go off the beaten path of your intentions and discover something new. How is your path changing as you walk along it?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

My AiAi

Listen, I'm not picky. I take my wisdom any place I can get it, even if it's from the under two set.

Ivy has this new thing. A thing that could easily drive me batty. She has taken to coming up to me a million times a day and asking me, "Mama, whatchu doin'?" All day long, when I'm putting a spoon in my mouth or getting dinner ready or fixing a toy or writing. "Mama, whatchu doin'?"

After a couple days of this new trick of hers, trying to answer each question as it came, I decided I'd try to turn it back around on her.

"I'm eating/reading/making dinner, Ivy. What are YOU doing?"

And do you know what her answer was?

"My AiAi." Which in Ivy speak means, "Me Ivy." Every time I ask, same answer. "My AiAi."

I think she is saying she is just being Ivy.

What is Mama doing? A long list of activities to fill her day or feed everyone or get her somewhere. What is Ivy doing? Just being.

And that's good enough. I don't have to chase one more page of writing to be successful, or cook better meals or even enjoy each day to it's fullest. I don't have to be supporting my family with my art in twelve weeks or add one more thing to my list of tasks completed. I don't have to worry about what tomorrow brings or what I have to make right. I don't have write the greatest novel in the world. I don't even have to hit all my marks in my Portfolio Project. I just have to be me.

I found that intersected nicely with a podcast from Jen Lee and Jen Lemen on the Portfolio project, where they talk about beginners mind and and giving yourself some space for care and nurturing, and about it being better even if we don't make every project step to be so SIGNIFICANT. Remember it's a game, just as life is.

Here's a good quote from the podcast (although I am not sure which of them said it, since I don't recognize their voices yet and they both had colds.)

"It's really okay just to be. Just breathe. Do your work everyday for three months."
-Jen L. or Jen L.

And that's how it all gets done. It is a tricky bit of balancing, this committing to a thing while still allowing yourself to not be hung up on its doing. I have all intentions of completing it... but along with those intentions I am practicing the release of my expectations.

Oh yes, it's that trickiest of all Buddhist concepts. Non-attachment.

I'll keep you updated on how it goes.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Warrior Girl Warriors On, and You Can, Too!

Oh, such a day trying to deconstruct my weirdness.

I finally got it whittled down to: "I am avoiding something that scares me, even though it's not that big a deal."

It took me even more time before I took action and called the person I needed to talk to and requested the assistance I had been avoiding asking for.

Then I felt much better.

Then all of a sudden I could begin.

I started writing out a new scene outline for my revised novel. It's changed so much, I don't really just want to sit down and start writing without being clear on story and all the things I want to get to in the first few scenes.

I sketched out an idea for a new banner. I've had a Springtime banner up there since, well, the Spring. And what I have up there now? Well, that's no good, so I decided I would try to draw something. That's not true. I decided I would draw something since I didn't paint a picture yesterday, and when I had started, I thought, well, hey, why not just make that a banner, since it was on my mind anyway.

Here's the sketch.

I think it's a good idea, even if the photo isn't that good, because I want to keep it just the way it is. And I've discovered that if I want to keep something for my own, then it's good. I will probably turn it into a painting, but I still like the sketchy quality. Maybe I will incorporate the sketch into an underpainting and use sheer glazes and some opaque scumbling. I've been experimenting with that technique with the portraits, so I wonder what it would do to Flying Girl.

Here's what I have learned about my process in the last couple of days (and 38 years).

1. If I am scared of something and avoiding it, I freeze up everywhere else. Except I might be able to make a log or calendar or graph. Because I do stuff like that.

2. Once I take steps on the scary thing, I get some light and air into my brain and I can move forward.

3. If I don't know where to start, lists often help get me going. Lists where I figure out what I have to do. Lists where I write about important themes. Lists where I remember my blessings. Lists of things to tackle. Lists of things I've already done.

4. An outline helps me get my head back into work that I have not done in a while. The novel was far away, but when I started writing about what I wanted in the first chapter, so many other things came rushing back. A character sheet or place map or plot chart might do the same thing.

5. Sometimes I can't get my creative work done at night when I have scheduled it. That is okay. I can often still find a few moments the next day where I can keep the creative juices flowing. And even if it's not technically the same day, it still fits with my plan because I am flexible enough to allow room for my process and the reality of my day as a busy woman with no childcare and limited energy.

6. An awful lot of other people are going through something similar. I think it's part of the process of beginning. And that makes me feel like everything is going to be okay and I am not some sort of creative deficient who JUST CAN'T DO IT. Don't laugh. Everyone feels that way, even people who have been creating non stop for four months. And what that says is that even if you haven't created in four YEARS, you still aren't deficient and it IS normal to feel that way and everyone struggles through those feelings. So you can to do it, and so can I and it's going to be a great year even if, maybe because, we still struggle.

7. Oh yeah, and sometimes something you put on the back burner is actually bubbling away, not being ignored, and getting ready to be really tasty, if you just wait for the right time to stir it up again.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year. Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life

So was yesterday. So will be tomorrow.

Again and again we are given the gift of starting over. Every minute is the minute when we could decide to change our lives, to REALLY go after our dreams, to live into our selves.

So why do we place so much emphasis on days like January First? Building it up to be the time, the day, the moment when we finally RESOLVE to fix whatever is wrong with us.

It's all a fallacy.

There's nothing wrong with us.

Our life does not end at the stroke of midnight and begin again in the next instant, maybe better if we have someone to kiss.

This whole life thing, it's an adventure. It's all about making mistakes and taking steps and learning what comes next. It's not about achieving, it's about trying. It's not about winning, it's about being.
Mixed Media on paper, 9x10, 2003

So what the heck am I talking about? I'm not sure, because I had a beer with dinner and lightweight that I am, it all seems to make so much sense but I don't. Haha, no I joke.

What do I mean? We put to much pressure on ourselves to start everything over new just because the calendar flips from one year to the next. We build it up to mean something. We make THIS the YEAR where ALL our DREAMS come TRUE. The problem?

Let's say we planned on finishing our novel in, oh, eight weeks, and yet the first day of the goal, we didn't sit down to write, but instead spent the entire nap/break on internet surfing. Let's say that happens. Is it a disappointment? Maybe. Why couldn't we TACKLE THE UNIVERSE on our brand new day/brand new us? Why couldn't we DO WHAT WE SAID? Does it make it that much harder to try again tomorrow, when we are already A WHOLE DAY BEHIND? Do we keep focused on our goal, or are we already thinking, "I can't do this I fucked up already? Why bother, I'm such a loser?"

But all these dates in the calendar? Well, they aren't real. What's real is your will and your ability to rebound from setbacks and your commitment to the goals that you have considered important enough to dedicate your next 12 weeks or 6 months or year of your life to having.

We aren't losers because we don't hit every expectation. There isn't something wrong with us because we don't manage to jump out of the gate like a racehorse with a flaming jockey on his back. Let's step back and take the long view. Are we talking about our lives here? Or just living up to some resolution?

If it's the life that's important, then we need to allow setbacks, sickdays, gentleness, self love, falling off the wagon, and any other moment when things just don't meet our expectations.

We can NOT beat ourselves up for our imperfection. Instead, we simply pick up our intentions, dust them off and start focusing on the next step we plan to take to reach our goals. Don't obsess over why we can't write. No, don't do that... the next step after that is declaring it a writer's block, which might never end. What we do instead is start thinking, "Hmm, I wonder what my main character would do if she encountered this?" Or start jotting down ideas for our next painting. Or making lists of the next adventure we are going to start on.

We've got to ride this wave, you see, my friends, and keep moving forward (even if forward motion seems to be moving backwards, for the moment).
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