I’m in the home stretch for my upcoming art exhibit at Caplan Art Designs which opens October 5th! There are 22 paintings, 2 sculptures by me that are ready now. Number 25 is in progress more on that in a sec…
Besides creating the artwork itself I photographed each piece for the Gallery’s promotional uses. This week I did more photos of one of my 3d sculptures (8 inch cube) that I’ve titled “Independent As A Hog On Ice”. These photos below show the colors better than the post I did about “Independent As…” when I first finished it.
I’m in this video working on piece number 25 for my exhibit. I’ll title this painting “Ducks In A Row” when I’m finished.
Here below are photos of things in nature where I live in the Pacific Northwest that inspired my new color palette mentioned in my newsletter.
I enjoyed looking at the grey-blue sky, the blue-lavender mountains in the distance, the grey-green-blue of the river… and the greens of the trees…
On a rainy day I enjoyed the grey sky, the deep green trees…
I love the grey-blue and pale grey-yellow colors of river rocks…the flower colors of orange-red and orange-yellow and blue-lavender…
With these real-life colors noted I looked in this resource book about colors so I could plan my palette.
Here’s what a page from this book looks like so you can see how it was helpful.
At my local art supply store I bought a new empty palette with a lid (and another water brush just because I love them).
I also got 2 new tubes of gouache paints: a Paynes Grey-blue and a Vermilion red. All of the other tubes seen in the photo below I already had on hand. This arrangement of color is what’s new.
As you can see by looking between the color chart on the front of the book and my paint palette (and my palette note sheet) these colors are more natural, classic even.
I’ve been rereading “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. In this mind boggling jigsaw puzzle of a fictional story there is a character who begins photographing one tree regularly over a span of time.
Since there are many beautiful trees in my neighborhood that I can see from my front windows …
…. one of the ways I decided to test my new palette is to paint a tree multiple times. The character in the book by Richard Powers uses a nondigital photographic camera to record their view of a tree over time. But me being me I’m going to try to paint and draw some trees by hand…
Which of course led to drawing that same tree in ink.
There’s a few other trees I can see from my windows that I want to draw and paint too… and I realized I have a lot to learn about drawing trees. So I went to my local library for books on the topic.
Here’s a view out my window. The tree I’ve already painted is to the right in these photos. Notice how different the trees are in different times of day due to the changing light? It’s amazingly magical!
I did a couple of efforts at drawing and painting the birch trees to the left in the above photos.
Yes, I’ve got a lot to learn about trees! It’s exciting to be starting a new project just as one project, my Figures Of Speech exhibit, is finished as far as the creative process goes. Figures Of Speech is just beginning it’s life at the Caplan Art Designs Gallery – and is in the early stages of being talked about in a more public sense.
Talking about completed art that’s in an exhibit is very different from creating the art itself. I prefer doing the creating part to doing the publicity part but I know talking about my art is part of it and I find, ironically, that being in the midst of creating art – even when it’s wildly different from the work currently on exhibit – helps me to be able to talk about the art I’ve already completed without too much shyness.
Anyhoo, there will be more about my upcoming exhibit and my new projects in progress in upcoming newsletters and blog posts.
I hope the trees grow well and beautifully in your neck of the woods too.
My wife and I went to see the movie Barbie at the Mcmenamins St. John’s Theater and Pub – a friend suggested seeing Barbie at this particular theater because it might be easier for me to hear. She was right! And this theater has a closed captioning device that sit in the cup holder and has a positional gooseneck!!! This made it possible for deaf me to comfortably enjoy the movie! And boy did we enjoy it!! Had to have a beer afterwards and discuss it! What fun! We discussed the many subtle jokes in the backgrounds, small allusions to elements of consumer culture, in the various scenes. It made me aware all over again of how important small things are in our daily physical and mental lives.
In the walkway leading towards the theater I loved all of the trees and the various colors of greenery…
….and the “enchanted forest” entryway into the theater and pub.
Stepping inside the neighborhood pub itself was magical. It had an old-world artsy, funky, steam-punky, weird odd whimsical vibe that I enjoyed.
We want through the pub to go inside the wooden domed theater. It was possible to order food and beverage to be delivered to our theater seats. In front of each of the rows of seats were long communal table ledges just wide enough to hold plates and glasses. We didn’t order anything as I felt I had enough to do to prepare to “hear” the movie. The wooden dome and the art all around the perimeter were amazing to look at while we waited for the movie to begin.
The screen was at one end of the round room that seated perhaps 50 people.
When we bought our tickets I requested use of the closed captioning device. Then I wedged one end of the device into the cupholder and positioned the captioning end so it’d be under my view of the screen but yet not impeding anyone else’s view. Here’s me positioning the device.
Then the movie started and I turned my phone off and didn’t turn it back on till we got home. After the movie was over we sat in the pub having food and beverages while talking about the movie. There were so many fun things to see in the pub itself that besides going back for another movie – the captioning device worked wonderfully for me – I want to bring my sketchbook and draw. The food and beers were very good too but there were so many things to notice in the pub and outside around the pub that I ached for my notebook and sketchbook!
Here’s a look at my notebook where I write stuff I notice every day…
I find it such an odd curious thing, about myself and about most humans, that 9 pleasant things can happen within a day but the 1 unpleasant thing will usually get all of the emotion and attention. And besides that often we wait until something grabs our attention (usually negatively) before we tune in. So I try to be contrarian and give more of my feelings and attention to the good things. Also I try to do my own purposful noticing instead of waiting for something external to move me … but I take the pressure off by only asking of myself that I notice 7 small (hopefully) nice things per day.
This is a book I have appreciated, and highly recommend, about noticing things.
Kirt Vonnegut also writes about trying to notice nice things that happen every day specifically to notice when you’re happy. This book is ostensibly for young people but I figure the young people I’ve been in my 5-years-past-half-century lifetime are still inside me so I reread this book fairly often.
So I hope you’re having many pleasant moments today and that you remember to notice as many of them as you can.
My longterm readers know I’ve an interest in both creativity and mental health. When I saw “The Artist’s Mind” by Kathryn Vercillo I had to interview her. Fortunately Kathryn generously responded to my questions about her new book!
Clancy: What are you drinking while we’re chatting? I’m having a dark french roast coffee.
Vercillo: Yum. I am a lifelong coffee drinker with at least a couple of cups every morning, usually heavy on the cream.
Your new book is titled “The Artist’s Mind: the creative lives and mental health of famous artists” What made you think of the intersection of mental health and creativity as a topic to explore?
This is the work that I’ve been doing for a long time, something that grew out of a combination of my lived experience and personal interests. In my late twenties, I fell into a life-threatening depression, which I emerged out of with help from many things including crochet. (Here’s a podcast I recently did about that.) I started writing about the mental health benefits of crochet from my own perspective, hearing about it from others, one thing led to another and I spent about a decade developing an expertise in this area. I had an eight-year-long monthly column called Crochet Heals, I interviewed hundreds of people, and I learned a lot about how crochet specifically and crafting in general is therapeutic for people.
I ended up going to grad school to get a Masters in Psychological Studies. Over time, I became curious about why writing was therapeutic for me in ways that differed from crochet. Although there are many reasons, the primary one was that writing is my job that I get paid for and the monetization of the art changed it therapeutically. (Writing still offers me many benefits; it’s just different.) Another big part was that in depression (which recurs for me despite good treatment) I often go into brain fog and can’t write the way that I’d like to whereas I can still pick up hook and yarn and make something. So, I became curious about how mental health symptoms impact creativity. That’s what I’ve been studying in depth over the past few years and what I’m passionate about continuing to explore.
Why did you want to write a book about this topic as opposed to doing a podcast or a series of YouTube videos?
Well, the short answer is that I’m a writer 🙂
I actually have been thinking for a while that I want to do a podcast on this topic. I just feel a bit daunted by the technology of getting started. Audio and visuals aren’t my forte so there’s a learning curve there that I haven’t tackled, yet. However, it actually seems really easy to record audio on Substack, so I’m considering starting with a few things here and seeing how that goes.
I think we all have various stages of mental health during a day, a week a year… mental health (baring organic diseases), emotional health is rather like the weather – it has seasons, it changes and is affected by events, whether you slept well or if you’re hungry…so often being mentally healthy and maintaining it becomes about coping, recovery, and learning new thinking skills. So why does your book specifically focus on artists as opposed to say accountants?
I definitely agree with you on that. I also think that all of us are creative to some degree or another. (My go-to post to send people to on Substack is my post We are all artists with mental health experiences …) My book focuses on artists because that’s the particular relationship I’m interested in – “how do these challenges specifically affect people who make art for a living (or for whom it’s a huge portion of their lives?”
I think many of us tend to write the things that we ourselves want answers to, we try to write our way to those answers. Questions around “madness and genius” have always interested me. I read Kay Redfield Jamison’s books, for example, decades ago, with a strong interest in her experiences with bipolar hypo/mania as it relates to creativity. I am always trying to figure out my own relationship with art and mental health. And so I write about it and ask people about it and write more about it.
Accountants are important people, but I don’t have a particular interest in how mental health impacts them. This is true even in populations where I know that the topic is interesting … for example, mental health in the military has a lot of fascinating aspects and yet it doesn’t tend to draw me in personally (except perhaps in regards to how art, animal therapy, and virtual reality are being utilized in PTSD treatment.)
There’s also a little bit of behind-the-scenes to the book in that I was writing for a website called Sartle on this topic, and we collaborated together to bring this book into existence. So that’s why this book is specifically about famous painters and sculptors from history and not about other art forms. I research and want to further research and write about mental health among writers and poets and filmmakers and performance artists and musicians … This book is just a starting point.
As I read about Joan Miro, Diane Arbus, Jacob Lawrence, Gustave Dore, and several of the other artists in your book I began to notice how often cultural systemic events such as war, racism, intergenerational trauma and poverty impacted the artists mental health – it seemed that it was almost a chicken/egg question as to how much the artist was affected by the cultural time and place in which they lived and how much was personal. Are there ways artists today can creatively respond honestly to the real world without being pulled under by it personally?
It’s such a big question, isn’t it? One of the goals of my research is to puzzle together some general themes that affect artists with specific mental health conditions in order to offer individual artists some tips, support, and solutions for when challenges impact their art. So, for example, it’s common that depression creates fatigue, which reduces the ability to actually create, and one of the tips I can offer is to find portable, easily-doable art forms that don’t require a lot of set-up (choosing crochet instead of setting up a sewing machine, choosing watercolors and a sketchpad instead of oil paint and a canvas.) This is a pretty general example but the idea is to ultimately come up with a range of solutions for what people face.
I share this as relevant to your bigger question to note that my perspective is that it’s not “bad” that we have mental health experiences that change or impact our creativity. It’s all about figuring out what the impact is for us as individuals and how we want to work with that to make the most out of our art as well as our holistic health. I don’t think we can or should just try to stop all symptoms forever and have some constant peace and happiness where we joyfully create. That doesn’t seem realistic to me.
Just like we can’t separate ourselves from our minds, we can’t really separate ourselves from our experiences in the world. We are going to be impacted, informed, affected, altered, shaped by the intersectional experiences we have related to various aspects of identity and environment. How that impacts each of us differs, but I don’t think we can deny that we’re impacted. So to “creatively respond honestly to the real world without being pulled under by it personally” … I think that’s a matter of figuring out for yourself what the impact is and has been and what you want to do with that moving forward. Some people will want to make the crux of that their life’s work through their art. Some people will want to create art that is as separate from that as possible.
Each person’s experience of the role of art is going to be different. In terms of practical advice to someone who might ask me directly about creating art about difficult topics without being pulled under by it, I would say this:
● Ask yourself honestly (and often) whether creating art is helping or harming your mental health. If there’s harm, how can you mitigate the harm? For example, people who create art to process trauma can heal tremendously but the act can also be triggering. In such a case, pausing the work until it can be done in a therapeutic setting might be wise. Or changing your own setting, your materials, your approach.
● Practice balanced self-care as much as possible. I tend to get really immersed in my writing at the expense of other things if I’m not careful. So, I’m careful to make sure that I get some fresh air and read books just for pleasure and do other things than just dwell on the work.
● Find community. Artists can stay solo so much of the time but it helps a lot to be in community with people who have some of the same experiences or background that you do.
I also wonder how much of a role the availability of or lack of mental healthcare played in the lives of the artists you described… like Basquiat, I can’t help but wonder if he’d had access to a doctor who was not white would he still be painting today? Do you have any thoughts about diversity in mental healthcare? Is it better nowadays?
Oh so interesting that you picked Basquiat. I thought for sure you were about to name one of the artists from further back in history – for example, Richard Dadd who had no access to the kind of medication that sometimes helps people with schizophrenia today. But Basquiat is a great example of a more contemporary individual. And he shows how it’s complicated because it’s not just that he had no person of color as a doctor or therapist but really that there were such few other Black men in the art world then at all.
Is it better now? …
I want to start by acknowledging that I’m a cis-gender white female from a middle class background. So, I work to be aware of diversity issues particularly within the art and mental health fields, but I am limited to some extent by the privilege inherent in my own experience.
With that in mind … I think that it’s better but that we have a long way to go. There’s more representation of different types of diversity among therapists. There’s more training within the field about cultural considerations. And there’s decreasing stigma among many groups that previously tended to avoid therapy because it wasn’t culturally accepted, so more people of diverse backgrounds are benefiting from therapy. With the availability of telehealth, people from diverse backgrounds living across the US may find it easier than before to access mental health services from therapists representative of their own backgrounds. So, yes, it’s better.
But all that being said … a lot of issues still remain. When I personally have looked for a therapist vs. a psychologist vs. a psychiatrist, I have found that a majority of therapists are still white women, psychologists tend to be white men and women, and psychiatrists are mostly white men. That’s my personal experience here in the Bay Area. And when you factor in all of the other levels of intersectionality including income, there’s even more work to do. And then there are niche aspects of this topic – like mental health care (or lack thereof) in prisons which are disproportionately filled with people of color from low-income backgrounds. So, much work left to do …
In my own artistic life I’m aware of the positive changes in my mental health- and in my creative output – by relocating away from a conservative state that actively discriminates against women, LGBTQ and deafness and to a more liberal state where being female, LGBTQ and deaf doesn’t matter. I feel like in my new home there’s a place for my voice and my creativity is welcome. When we were thinking about moving I did wonder how the absence of actively struggling against society would affect my artwork. I was glad that you pointed out in your book that creating art is a way to cope with difficulties. It definitely is! I also think I saw you hint at artists, Yayoi Kusama and Alice Neel to name two, who were also creating art as a way to triumph. Did I really see that? Care to elaborate on art making as a way of coping and as a way of celebrating?
Oh, I think you touch on so many important things here. First of all, I grew up in Tucson and although Arizona is conservative, Tucson is liberal. When I was 26, I moved to San Francisco for no other reason than that I love it here and thrive creatively here. We have our problems (income disparity, a lack of racial/cultural diversity in comparison with large cities like New York) but for the most part it’s obviously a liberal place with opportunities for women, LGBTQ+ support, etc. And I really can’t imagine living somewhere that didn’t offer that.
Your story about your own move made me think of the moves that the artists in the book, and other artists I have researched made, and the impact on their art and mental health. For example, Georgia O’Keeffe had business/art success in New York but the city wasn’t good for her mentally, so she would often leave for quieter places, ultimately relocating to New Mexico. Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way is another author who writes about dividing her time between those same two places. Yayoi Kusama went to New York to make art but ultimately went back to Japan to inpatient mental health care. I think each artist has to answer for themselves the question of what “place” means to their mental health as well as to their art. For me, I hope to always be in San Francisco, and I believe that it’s good for my art and mental health to be here for many reasons … but it’s also a very expensive city to support myself in with writing and the financial stressors do impact both my mental health and my creativity.
Before moving on, I really want to highlight something else you said here: “I did wonder how the absence of actively struggling against society would affect my artwork.” That’s so interesting and I hope you’ll share more about that in your own writing. My immediate reaction is, “oh we still have plenty to struggle against even here.” My second, more considered, thought is that consciously or subconsciously I think that a lot of artists with mental health challenges worry that without their struggles they aren’t going to create great art. I think this directly relates to the trope of the tortured artist, which is where so much research into the relationship between art and mental health has been over the decades.
That’s key to what interests me about this topic: would we still be moved to create great art if we weren’t suffering? It’s what historically has been a challenge for a lot of people with bipolar disorder because medication might level them out but then leave them feeling numb and unable to create in the same way … the high of hypomania offers some people a level of creativity that they miss when they don’t have it. I think we’re always struggling with something as humans – whether that’s internal or external or a combination of both. I think that informs the art that we create.
Okay, so I’m giving a really long-winded answer to your question because I thought your points were so interesting. But what you actually asked about was “art making as a way of coping and as a way of celebrating.” You pointed out Kusama and Neel, two great examples. And I’d argue that to some degree every artist in the book does this. I think it’s the aspect of art that most mental health experts understand as well … art as therapy, art as healing. Life is really hard and making art and even viewing art can be ways to make it less hard, to cope with it, to, as you say, even triumph. Neel’s portraits really celebrate the different people she encountered, something I loved seeing when I visited an exhibit of her work, and her own famous nude self-portrait from her later years really speaks “triumph” to me. She has said that she felt suicidal all her life and yet only had one attempt in her youth and had a decades-long art-making career.
What did you drink while you worked on the manuscript? Did you have “help” from a cat or a dog?
Coffee with cream in the mornings, red wine at night, water when I’d remember that it’s important to drink water 🙂
When I first began the book, I had my dog Katara who really was my soulmate dog, but she passed early on in the writing of it. Before she passed, I had gotten my puppy, Bumi, so I still had him. He’s about 3 and a half now and we have a one year old pup named Kya as well. She’s always trying to “help” with Zoom calls and podcast interviews so I usually have to do those outside of the house 🙂 They’re great, though, and really do help in the sense that they remind me to stop writing sometimes and just be present in the moment with them. They’re rescues from the Korean dog meat trade industry.
Did you do anything- like read or go for walks- to help keep yourself inspired and excited about the topic as you worked?
The topic was then and still is constantly circulating in my brain, and I remain regularly excited about it. But specifically what I did for inspiration while actively working on the book was watch movies related to the artists. It was something that felt less like work than the reading and writing but was still inspiring.
In normal times I probably would have gone to more art shows and theatre events but I wrote much of it during the pandemic lockdown.
What was something you learned as a result of your work on this book that’s relevant to your own work as a writer?
It really helped me see my own work as a body of work that’s larger than the one thing I’m writing right at this moment. For each artist, I would really try to look at a big swath of their body of work. From that retrospective perspective, you can see a whole lifetime of work (albeit a short lifetime for a few of the artists.) This is alongside a lifetime of challenges, including for some (but not all) of the artists a lifetime of really challenging mental health symptoms. It reminded me that a life has so many ups and downs, ebbs and flows, summers and winters … and that so does the creative work. So in times when it’s hard for me to write, I remember that what I’m creating is a full body of work, not one article or one book.
What is one of your favorite self-care go-to techniques especially when you were writing this manuscript? What helps you now as you promote your book? Is it the same or different?
Massage. It’s one of the few things I really splurge on regularly. I spend a lot of time sitting at a computer and no matter how much I try to remember to stretch and take breaks and sit up better, I basically always have aching shoulders. So I go get massages fairly regularly. In fact, that was the thing I missed the most in the pandemic
Is there one section or part of your book that feels most satisfying to you, something that really is on target for your topic?
Ooh, good question. Honestly this book feels like just the tip of the iceberg for the research I’m continuing to do. I am satisfied with it in many ways but also see all the things I want to add to the next thing I do. Overall, though, I think what satisfies me more than a specific section is that I was able to bring in a range of different examples of how art helped and hindered different people and how mental health impacted art in many different ways. I hope that this opens up a conversation that goes deeper and broader.
What questions do you wish someone would ask you about your book?
The book went through a lot of changes in the editing process so I wish people would ask what isn’t in the book that I wanted to be in there. Although the answer to that is long and probably requires another book to say it all 🙂 But the short answer to that would be that I included “fun facts” for every chapter that didn’t make it into the final cut.
For example, from the Georgia O’Keeffe chapter:
Fun fact: Georgia O’Keeffe corresponded with a number of other artists with mental health issues. She was an early mentor to Yayoi Kusama who, like her, struggled with anxiety. She corresponded with Andy Warhol who has been suggested to have had a hoarding disorder, which is an anxiety disorder. And when she was in the hospital for depression, Frida Kahlo wrote to her.
Who did the illustrations for your book?
The cover design is by Molly Shields. The illustrations are by Tania Houtzager. And the book design overall is by Danielle D. Farmer. The publisher, Schiffer, organized all of that.
Where can we buy a copy?
On Amazon or from Schiffer … I hope that if you buy one, you find something inspiring in the pages. And if you like what you read, it really does help to leave positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
Thank you Kathryn for writing such a thoughtful and encouraging book! And thank you for taking the time to answer all of my questions!
This week I realized there are many cardboard box color variations. In my studio alone I count 10 different colors of brown box material. So the phrase “Thinking Outside The Box” has been on my mind and I’ve begun a new 8 inch wooden cube sculpture by painting it to look like a cardboard box. In the photo below my in progress sculpture is in the background and in the foreground is a box I’m using as a model for the flap-fold edges. (A different box was the model for the color…)
Here’s some of my thinking: I noticed that many commercial cardboard boxes have writing on them. In my city’s downtown there are murals on the sides of many of the buildings. Some of the murals have stylized text on them. The act of writing things down is a way to think…
So I began thinking “what about creating a character who is painting a mural with lettering on the outside of a cardboard box”?
Below is one of my sketchbook pages related to this project. I chose an elephant character because I also thought of the “memory of an elephant” phrase. That led to thoughts of how both memory and imagination are integral parts of creativity and the ability to think outside the boxes.
I did contemplate a cat character and cat boxes … as you see below my cat made certain I thought of this.
He even pointed out, by rubbing his chin emphatically on the box edge, that his favorite box is lovely shade of brown…
My cat’s chosen box is indeed a very nice brown color – and I do love cats – however I’m going with the elephant character in my artwork for the reasons described above… sorry kitty.
“Humph” pouts the cat.
Anyhoo, in addition to the meanings of particular words and phrases as I’m working on my sculpture I’m thinking about thinking itself; being creative, being logical and utilizing critical thinking skills. Generally I think and read regularly about mental and emotional health for many reasons but chiefly because our brains and thought processes are our main tools for creativity.
Creativity itself can be a tool for good mental health. Yes, there’s a chicken/egg aspect here – but regardless of whichever comes first I want to use my own thinking processes as well as I can. So besides reading philosophy or about mental health whenever I’m reading fiction, biographies and history I’m looking for the thinking, the words and actions over time that led to the events described as well as the responses to those events.
Recently I became aware of a new book “The Artist’s Mind” by Kathryn Vercillo. Because this book is directly on the topic that is on my mind so gosh-darn often I asked the author if I could chat with her about her book and share our conversation publicly. She kindly said yes!
Kathryn Vercillo even sent me a reader’s copy in a mail art envelope that she made! It was a fun touch! As of writing this blog post I’ve read her book and we’ve begun talking! [To somewhat reciprocate her generosity as well as to let her know where I’m coming from I sent her a copy of the book I illustrated for a psychiatrist “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit“.]
About the author: Kathryn Vercillo is a full time writer with a master’s degree in psychological studies. She is the owner of Create Me Free, a small business that researches the link between art and mental health in order to educate, inspire and empower artists to achieve financial and creative success while maintaining well being. She is the author of eight books, including Crochet Saved My Life, which is about the health benefits of handcrafting. When not creating, she’s enjoying life in San Francisco with her loved ones and her rescue pups.
We’re talking together about the content of Kathryn’s new book The Artist’s Mind and the many ways artists throughout history dealt with issues in the real world – stressors like illness, poverty, war, racism, bigotry etc – and kept creating their work. Naturally we’re also discussing coping skills artists can use today!
I’m enjoying a front row seat for her virtual book tour – it’s an amazing community effort – and I’m honored to have a backstage pass, so to speak, by getting to do an interview!
I look forward to sharing our finished conversation next Monday Aug 7th!
Human brains have the ability to be imaginative and creative. This ability is used, for example, when you imagine that a flat tire could happen and then, after checking the spare tire for soundness, you creatively pack the car so that if you do have a flat you don’t need to remove all of your luggage to get to the spare. Imagination and creativity are used in any “if this then that” kind of thinking. Of course not every person uses their ability to imagine or be creative and some use it constructively and others destructively. More on that in a sec.
When I say all humans are creative I mean that human brains experience the real world and then we process it, we make it make sense to us as best we know how, via our use of language and our cognitive system. That’s just part of being human. It’s what human brains do as automatically as breathing. Humans make symbolic sense of what we experience in the real world via figments of our imagination. How well we’re able to use symbols in response to the external world correlates to the qualities of our inner life. But this concept is not rigid. Sometimes poop just happens in life and there’s no symbolic sense to be made of it we just have to cope.
Even so, frequently exercising your imagination is like exercising any other part of your body, it helps keep it in working condition so it has a better chance to be helpful when it’s needed. Fine tuning your cognitive system coping skills is like practicing an exercise with a trainer to make sure things are working well and skill is improving. This falls under the category of cultivating your inner life or the life of the mind.
Writing, drawing, cooking, gardening, singing, dancing, wood furniture making, rug weaving are all learnable skills. Culturally we call these “creative arts” and tend to speak of people who do those skills well (because they practice a heck of a lot) “creative” or “talented”. But even if someone doesn’t cultivate specific skills like any of those they still have an inner life, they’re still imaginative and creative simply because they have a human brain and need to process, make sense of whatever happens or might happen using both their physical body and their symbol making mind. For example even someone who doesn’t consider themselves a writer can get a mental health benefit from processing their daily life events by writing in a journal by hand.
Also inspirational was a conversation I had with one of my college aged great nephews. We were talking about a video in which an older artist advises younger artists (and I’m paraphrasing) to ignore the people who just want to tear down whatever you’ve created by doing a version of the ‘no true Scotsman’ argument fallacy saying that your art “isn’t real art because it (fill in the blank)”. They are attempting to set themselves up as the one and only arbiter of what is/isn’t “real art” instead of you, the artist, deciding for yourself. You don’t have to accept anyone else’s definition of what art is. You can stay with your own feelings about your own art. My nephew said the video reminded him of a phrase he heard somewhere “obsession with hyper realism kills art”. That in turn reminded me of one of my adopted Dad’s favorite sayings “knowledge without imagination can be deadly.”
It’s nearly Father’s day so I’m going overboard on the Dad quotes – thank you for bearing with me.
Anyhoo, to be rigidly fixed on an idea (an imaginary notion), to think you “know” and to refuse to adjust or imagine that you might be wrong or that your ideas might not apply in a new situation or to fail to imagine that there could be anything bigger than what you think you know, well, that can be extremely harmful to yourself and everyone else around you. Misapplied cognition and rigid “knowledge” without some constructive imagination is woefully lacking in creativity, humility and humanity. It’s rather machine like really.
Which brings me to why I’m writing about this topic today. We care about our inner life because imagination and creativity are human attributes and we’re all we’ve got. Outsourcing human attributes, like letting someone else do your thinking for you, or letting someone (or something else) write your school essay for you doesn’t usually work out happily.
We’re here, we’re human, get used to being human, be the most fully human and the best human you can be!
Computers tend to have fixed ideas about many things like language, as anyone who has interacted with auto-correct or predictive text has experienced, and this often interrupts or even inhibits the flow of the human writer’s words. Have you ever tried to, on purpose, write a silly nonsense word using a computer? Yes, there’s a reason there are so many cartoons of a human frustrated with a computer!
As with the above mentioned mean art-troll “critics” you don’t have to accept or be bound by a computer’s preferences either! A human is an emotional being from the era of Homer (either Homer the Greek or Homer Simpson) while the computer is more rigidly pedantic and more literal and much less caring than the Vulcan Spock in Star Trek ever was.
It is okay to be human!
Human brains when they’re working well (no organic diseases) are constantly – and I do mean all the time – using imagination to make sense of the world. We experience with our 5 senses the external world then we have internal conversations with ourselves about “what it means”. Sometimes these internal conversations are helpful and sometimes they aren’t. (We can learn to direct that!) Then our inner conversation, whatever it is, runs through our cognitive processes: our organic body, how we feel, whether we slept well, if we’re hungry, our habitual ways of responding to the world or to certain words, our past experiences, things we’ve learned etc. In a nutshell we apply to the event that happened in the external real world multiple layers of our feelings-based inner life, and then we react for better or worse. This is just what human brains do often in lightning fast ways without us realizing we’re doing it.
Now we’re living with Star Trek level, more or less, technology while using the emotional brains of the Homeric era. If we’re smart we are still learning and practicing how to deal well with our personal Homeric brains because life continually happens whatever the available technology. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is a constant need for all humans at all ages and SEL is a vital ongoing aspect of our interior lives.
Troubles happen, to quote my Dad, when we forget that “feelings are guides not gods to be obeyed”. If you’ve ever gone to school or work when you didn’t feel like it you know what that quote means. But first we had to learn, somehow, that we could acknowledge the feelings and still do the hard stuff that we didn’t feel like doing. We developed coping strategies to help ourselves do that hard stuff… even if it’s an “ice cream afterwards” kind of deal. Even so sometimes due to events in life our emotions loom as large as a god… and in such times our cultivated inner life can be a solace.
My point is that even with the advanced computers in our daily lives the physical human brains we have in our skulls constantly go back and forth, by degrees, from the pole of what happens in the external world and the pole of our imaginations. The trick, according to my Dad, is to remember that our imagination and inner life, i.e. language and our cognitive coping skills, are adjustabletools for dealing with stuff that happens in the real world. If your tools aren’t helping you cope with the real world then the tools may need adjusting or maybe repair.
The importance of language and our inner life is, I think, reflected in the fact that in most human groups it’s considered rude to finish people’s sentences for them, to put words in their mouth, to interrupt or talk over someone. Many groups use some variation of passing around a talking stick or some physical device by which we know who is to speak and for what duration of time. These devices signal who is speaking even if the speaker has paused quietly for a time to think.
Similarly, because language accuracy matters to the creating of shared meanings between people, it is considered rude to assume you know for certain (without double checking) what someone meant when they said that. Or to definitively declare – in the fashion of colonialism – that you and only you know what is/isn’t good and that your personal standards *should* be adopted by everyone everywhere instantly.
To quote my Dad again “Put the words should and shouldn’t on a 50 pound brick and carry it with you at all times”.
Cultivating your inner life, being careful, gentle, flexible and aware of your own connections between matter (the world) and your mind (imagination) can help your own mental health and aid with the stressors of being alive. Including giving you the mental strength to stand by your own thoughts about things.
Additionally it can be useful to be generally aware of real-life people or, nowadays the technologies, that may try to insert themselves, constructively or destructively, between the external world and your own inner life. Such awareness can inspire a focus on whoever or whatever that might help you make better (not worse) connections between the world and your imagination.
This awareness of matter/mind external world/inner world technique can even be a useful tool for the practicing writer or visual artist as I map out here.
True, within the matter/mind continuum there’s no shortage of people who will tell you what to think, what to feel, who will finish your sentences for you, who will try to colonize your inner life, who will claim to “know what you need” and otherwise try to affect your personal relationship between the world and your own imagination.
Sometimes such people do harmful things – the abuser who is gaslighting and manipulating a victim.
Sometimes such people do helpful things – the teacher who is enlightening and encouraging a student.
Mostly the people we typically encounter are somewhere between these two harmful/helpful extremes.
Each of us have to figure out for ourselves ways to decide who or what is helpful, relevant or trustworthy.
Yes, your family, friends, a guru, a book, a politician, a cult leader may all queue up to give you the “correct” answers for this too. And you might or might not like the results. And you’ll still have to figure out some ways – apply imagination and creativity here – to decide what the results are, whether or not you like them, how you’ll respond and what you’ll do next. At the end of the day it’s up to you, it’s your choice of what kind of inner world you want to create and how it can help you deal with the external world.
And yet we are social beings. We need each other and we do learn from each other, all of our lives, various things about living. There’s a lot of trial and error involved. To quote dear Dad again…👇
For most things other people tell you about the world asking yourself the question “which wolf does it feed” is a useful guide. Also useful is the question “who benefits if I believe this?”. It can help to simply write regularly, daily, weekly, what happened, what so-and-so said, how that makes you feel, what it reminds you of, what you need or want or hope. It can help to watch both what someone says and what they do over time and evaluate for consistency and effects. (The CRAAP test is useful too)
Since processing the connections between the external world and our imaginations is reliant on our physical brains/bodies it also behooves us to eat well, to get enough sleep, to walk/exercise and to give ourselves the downtime needed to process our thoughts and feelings. It simply takes time to do something with our bodies that is expressive of our emotions.
To quote Dad again “Having feelings/thoughts? Write about it, draw about it, talk about it, make music or poetry about it…and by doing that with feelings you can name it, claim it and tame it.” There’s really no substitute for doing this yourself with your own hands and voice. Making these physical expressions of imagination and creativity is not about being perfect any more than playing tennis has to always be about becoming a professional tennis player. It is possible to practice an art form just for the fun, playful, inner life exercise in it.
Art events are collaborative acts of community. I hold on to that thought whenever I’m tired as I am now prior to an art opening. I focus on the fact that while I might be a visible part of my upcoming art exhibit I am just one part: there’s the Burnt Bridge Cellars winery and all of the local people who have made the wines, there’s the chef who’ll make the dinner, the musicians who’ll play, there’s the Caplan Art Designs Gallery who organizes things and there are my friends and the public who will come and eat and drink and look at my art. Then there are extended friends who can’t come in person to the exhibit but who will read and comment and share my artwork online. This is a large community of whom I am honored to be an active part! We are all doing this fun thing together! That thought sustains me as I finish packing up the artwork for delivery on Tuesday and as I create one of the last videos and the webpage that the gallery, the winery and my friends can use to share the fun!
Here’s one of the boxes full of my artwork.
Here’s the most recent video in which I talk about what inspired my exhibit.
Anyhoo, all of this reminds me of the similarities between beetles and artists which I wrote about in a recent newsletter. To sum up the newsletter briefly: beetles work towards the health of our soil and artists work towards the health of our society.
To relax and restore myself I’ve been playing with my art supplies with no thoughts of anything beyond having fun. We got new inks from the Birmingham Pen Company and had a lot of fun playing! https://www.birminghampens.com/
This is one of the books I’m enjoying reading in the evenings.
I haven’t had much time to try new cooking methods but my rice cooker has gotten quite a yummy workout. I have tried numerous “new to me” recipes that are variations on rice plus vegetables plus herbs and spices themes. To save some time occasionally I’ve used frozen chopped vegetables and canned beans. I’ve really appreciated the toss everything into the rice cooker press the cook button and walk away aspect of using a rice cooker. That has made meals easy and has sustained us.
While my overworked rice cooker has given us some tasty meals I am eagerly looking forward to seeing what the chef makes during my opening! I’m especially looking forward to seeing everyone in person and reading your comments online! Thank you in advance!
I’m posting this blog early this week as Monday is Memorial Day. I’ll leave you with a poppy…
I hope your week is pleasant! See you next Monday!
I’m emulating the bunnies in my recent paintings and artist books and taking a short social media break. I’m busy getting ready for upcoming art exhibits via Caplan Art Designs. I do plan to release a special artist book this week on my email newsletter A.M. Sketching but otherwise if I have any spare time I’m going to read books and cook something. Thank you for your support and encouragement. I’ll be back soon.
Here’s an advance peek at new paintings…
There’s a bunny taking a break in this recent artist book…
There’s a bunny taking a break in this artist book too…
I hope you’ll also have a break whenever you need one!
I asked my friends recently for ugly wallpaper suggestions that I could use for a painting I was working on. My friends are awesome and helped so much! The 1970’s avocado, orange and yellow combination was mentioned. So were weird rooster and chicken patterns and prickly cactus patterns. One friend talked about her pet peeve of framed pictures hanging askew.
Here’s me working on the painting and incorporating the suggestions of my friends.
… here’s a look at the painting on my easel in my studio.
Here’s a closer look at it in progress on my easel.
Here it is finished! I titled it “The Elephant In The Room”.
Now for “Running Around Loose” aka Montessori time for grownups! The playtime method is fully described here on my email newsletter https://sueclancy.substack.com/p/running-around-loose But here on this blog I’ll tell what we actually did intermittently over 3 days. Mostly I left my phone off and shoved deep in a pocket with a few exceptions:
… and when it rained we sat under awnings and marveled at how it can be sunny and rainy simultaneously!
Coffee shops abound… and I couldn’t resist drawing my coffee and the pastry we shared.
On the second day we spent time at Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukee Oregon. Or as we call it “the petting zoo for people who like to cook”. They have in one building; a restaurant, a grocery store (with many flours, gluten free, specialty ingredients and all sorts of foods to cook with) as well as dishes, kitchen utensils and equipment! We ate lunch here…
.. and while we were there we noticed these cute little one person sized casserole dishes! Yes, we got two of them!!
…and look at these adorable tea pots!! A jade green one came home with us!
On the third day we went for a 5 mile hike in Mt Tabor Park a 176 acre park in Portland Oregon.
On our hike I noticed these ivory-green flowers and liked the color. I want to try to mix paints to match it at the studio later.
It started raining slightly while we were still on our hike. By the time we got home it was raining harder! So it was nice to be home and reading “What To Read In The Rain” an anthology of short stories created as part of a writing workshop between kids (age 6 and up) and adult professional writers in the Seattle WA area. The non-profit that organizes these writing workshops is now called “The Bureau Of Fearless Ideas” and they work with teachers, students and the community to encourage writing and storytelling of all sorts. It’s a fun anthology to read on a rainy day!
Thinking later of things I’d noticed while we were outdoors I wrote a haiku poem and illustrated it in my sketchbook.
I hope you are able to go outside and play some too! See you next Monday.
Knowing how you feel, what you think and being able to talk clearly about it is an important skill to cultivate. This is true for everyone and especially true for anyone trying to do anything creative.
Creativity comes from a regular habit of observing the world and listening to yourself to your own thoughts and feelings. Creativity comes from trusting your own voice. Creativity comes from cultivating your attention, deepening the depths of your thoughts and playing with the possibilities there. Creativity, even humanity itself, relies upon individuals having an active inner life.
Basically this week I’ve been thinking a lot about how it’s helpful for mental health’s sake, to somehow make time everyday- at least 5 minutes- to check in with your five senses, to explore your own thoughts and have therapeutic conversations with yourself. Pens and paper are so useful for such inner conversations. My friend Neera also discusses this in her email newsletter and kindly mentioned me and my morning sketchbook efforts!
Speaking of my sketchbook efforts: This week on my sketchbook newsletter I finished sharing my entire book “C” and will begin sharing sketchbooks D and E soon.
I’m enjoying publishing my sketchbooks sequentially, warts and all, in a Substack email format – A.M. Sketching. I see it as a creative art project. I can share digitally whatever I’ve created in real life in a reader supported way – via both paid subscribers and free subscribers. The Substack format enables me to share my creations directly in an ebook or other downloadable format on a regular basis with people who have said (by subscribing) that they want to see my stuff. This way of publishing feels more sustainable both environmentally and creatively. Substack also feels like a more sane, humane platform for authors and artists and readers …fewer trolls… so far.
Anyhoo, the creative arc for creating a one of a kind artist book, printed book editions, fabric design productions and fine art prints can take multiple weeks or months of time. (And can be expensive to produce.) To create a one person fine art exhibit – 20 or more paintings in a themed group – can take a year. You see evidence of these long creative arcs here in this blog. So it’s nice to have my email newsletter that goes a bit faster and the dollars and support I get there gives me the encouragement I need to sustain my longer arcs. The support I get here on WordPress is valuable too – and I heartily thank you for it – yet I’ve never figured out, successfully, how to share downloadables here on WordPress. So I do my actual books and downloads on Substack where it’s easy. On the other hand WordPress doesn’t have word count limits as Substack does so here on my blog I can write in more depth about my creative life and why I created something. But then again WordPress can be buggy, cumbersome, with gremlins… Some pros and cons to both publishing platforms. The main thing I’m discovering is that it’s less expensive for me to share my actual work via an email newsletter on Substack and as a result of both its ease of use and less expense I’m able to share more of my art – and that itself feeds my soul!
And on my Substack newsletter I shared a Rabbit… more about that in a second…
To be healthy mentally we all need to regularly see beauty, we need gentle humor, we need to see patterns in our world and even to attempt to make them with our own hands.
Humans need rhythms as I’ve mentioned in recent blog posts. We simply, physically, need times when we can wander slowly, aimlessly and hear ourselves feel and think. Throughout our lives in order to have satisfied minds we need to repeatedly test what we think we know and what we think we like. Reading novels, writing and doodling are easy ways to give ourselves time to mentally wander and play.
And yes sometimes finding the time to mentally wander feels impossible in these days of 24-7 information onslaught, when our days seem so full of activities that it’s difficult to find moments of quiet respite … While thinking about that I drew in my sketchbook a pig with wings, hovering in the quiet air doodling…
That sketch led to my finished painting titled “When Pigs Fly”. It’s a tall skinny size, 18 inches tall by 8 inches wide. Eventually (the long arc of creativity again) it will be in fine art exhibits via Caplan Art Designs later this year.
Even though it’s hard sometimes to wrangle time for them the repeatable motions like walking and reading and doodling are reliably accessible, more accessible than a vacation cabin in the woods. And besides vacations we need regular mundane ways we can enable ourselves to hear ourselves think. This physical brain fact about the value of quiet and repeated motions as a self-care technique is related to why adult coloring books are a “thing” – coloring is another rhythmic activity that gives us space to calm and connect to ourselves.
Toward that notion this week I hand drew a coloring page and set up my artwork so that it can be downloaded and printed via my email newsletter. Alongside the coloring page I told a personal story… here’s where the Rabbit mentioned earlier comes in…
Teaser: As a deaf kid I had “Easter Bassets” from my mishearing of the word basket. My coloring book drawing in my newsletter was inspired by my Easter basset memory… you can download my drawing page to do coloring yourself or to read my personal story. Here’s the link: https://sueclancy.substack.com/p/leggs-easter-bassets-and-rabbits
Yes, I grew up and learned about the “k” language sounds … but I still like to think of the Basset Hound as the delivery system for treats this time of year … the rabbits may have done the egg decorating but the eggs got to you via the hounds !!
Now you know!
Here’s what the coloring page looks like. Again the actual download is here.
Also in the same Substack newsletter is a link for a book I wrote and illustrated for Storyberries titled “This Rabbit” – its about rabbits liking things – and as I mentioned knowing what you like is a skill to cultivate all of your life. (Watch out! More rabbits!)
I hope you can see how I’m experimenting with using both the Substack and WordPress platforms- more to the point I hope you’re enjoying what you see from me in both places!
Speaking of enjoying things – here is a photo of books I particularly enjoyed this week: one is a list of things the author Barbara Kipfer likes. I enjoy trying some of her preferences that are new to me. I also enjoy the reminders of things I’ve enjoyed in the past. The book on Zentangles is a wonderfully relaxing doodle prompts book.
A pleasant digression: A fun thing happened when we were at the Powell’s bookstore on Hawthorne street in Portland this week. In the poetry section where I was browsing was another adult, also browsing. With that adult was a kid sitting on the floor at their adult’s feet. The kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old, was looking, with a furrowed brow, at 8 books from a series, looking from one book to another in fairly rapid succession. After a bit of that activity the adult leaned down, picked up one of the books, looked at the price tag then at the array of 8 books and said “Let’s get them all.” The kid’s jaw dropped. “Really?” “Yes!” Said the adult. “Ooooh!!” breathed the kid scooping up the 8 books and hugging them. Big grin from the adult hero of the day.
Below are the used books we hugged home ourselves. Bread and poetry in our future! Both bread making and short poetry involve patterns and rhythms…
Here’s a novel I’m currently reading. It’s just relaxing and fun.
The text below was on a bookmark found in one of the used books we bought …it made me laugh.
I hope your week is has as many pleasing patterns and rhythms as possible.
See you next Monday.
P.S. if you’re curious about the books mentioned in this post you can find them here on Bookshop.org which benefits small independent bookstores.
I made postcards for friends with these 2 inks as seen on my Substack newsletter. As you know I see art as a way to connect with people.
Playing in my sketchbooks is a way to explore and experience new art supplies as well as my own thoughts and feelings. I used on of the larger 8 x 10 inch sized sketchbooks as seen in this recent post when I got a batch of new sketchbooks.
This week we visited a locally owned bookstore called Broadway Books. I love their curated poetry section and got two books of poetry and some “haikubes” for added wordplay fun!
Another day this week we went to a 2nd Powell’s bookstore location on Hawthorne street. They have completely different book selections in each of the Powell’s bookstores so it’s fun to visit the curated collections for a good browse.
And we celebrated our anniversary of 27 years together and 10 years married at one of our local craft brewpubs!!
What a great week of soaking up the fun and celebrating life!!
Much love to you all and thanks for sharing in the fun!!