Been thinking of how people can focus too much on things that are unlikely to happen and forget to see what really is possible – such as enjoying the here-and-now moments. I’ve also thought of related quotes and phrases: “Life is not a dress rehearsal” and “Take tarts when tarts are passed” and “If not now, when?”. These thoughts baked in my brain pan a while and out came this painting I’ve titled “Pie In The Sky”
As per my last post I’ve been starting new projects in my studio. I’m also having some down time to rest and recharge. While starting new projects I’m keeping in mind my studio statement. Here it is on a 2 by 3 inch paper thumbtacked to my art studio wall.
I jokingly say that my mission in life is to wear pencils down to nubs. And I do think that’s true on one level at least – I practice drawing and writing daily and lots of pencils get used. So that must be the point right?!
Yes, daily practice is indeed the point! (And yes, I like the Blackwing pencils a whole lot!)
But, seriously, these statements are true in my experience: “What you repeat sticks. What you don’t repeat goes away.” – “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.” and “Nothing has to go right today” – all of these concepts come from an artist book I did. (More about that here).
It has been crucial for me to purposefully design my daily artistic habits (repetitions!). And to focus on maintaining the habit-ness of creativity rather than being out-come based about my creative output. (it’s okay if today’s artwork is not perfect!)
It’s also important to take breaks. Both the design of daily creative habits and the breaks from them are part of making my creative life sustainable. The point is to have fun being creative and to keep it fun!
Over on my Instagram page I’ll post a pic of at least one of the things I’m doing to rest and recharge…
“Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable. And we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life’s experience.” – Robert Henri (American painter).
I’ve been thinking of that quote today – and thinking of the people who have told me that they want to “be more creative” but aren’t sure how to start or what to draw. I’ve been thinking of how easy it is now for me to find subject matter. But it wasn’t always so.
As a young art student one of my first college assignments was to “do a 4 foot by 4-foot painting in acrylic of any subject matter but it cannot be abstract.” Well that was a stumper. What to paint? My professor went on to tell my class about how we needed to look around our own lives, our own experiences and find subject matter there.
That helped somewhat but still… what to make art about? My college life seemed boring and un-dramatic. How to identify subject matter I cared about?
I muddled through the school assignment and over the years got better at coming up with subject matter. It took even more time for me to figure out that a system of “short bursts of creativity” worked best for me but here’s what I’ve learned on my personal quest for the fountain of continually-interesting-to-me artistic subject matter:
A. Keep a daily sketchbook, 5 to 10 minutes of work at a time, in which I draw or write about anything that occurs during a day that “catches my attention”. No censorship. No “trying to make art”. Just make notes, doodles. Play. Note the fun stuff, the things I’m grateful for and things that make me laugh or feel curious.
B. After several weeks or months of sketchbook work I look back through my book and notice any reoccurring themes and I list them.
C. I select one of the themes and set a series of creative appointments with myself to do a “real drawing” of that theme using good art materials. The creative appointments are 10 to 20 minutes of work/play at a time. I purposefully keep these sessions short! Repeat the creative appointments (aka short bursts of creativity) until the drawing is finished.
Then I select that same theme – or a similar one from my sketchbook – and do another “real drawing” – trying to do an even better job of communicating my thought or feeling. Again, no censorship, no “trying to make great art” – just trying to draw as neatly as possible, to convey as clearly as possible what “caught my attention”.
I keep working in my sketchbook every day even when I have a creative appointment with myself. Both of these 10 minute activities go on behind the scenes of my very busy professional artist life – and this “short bursts” concept could work within anyone’s “too busy” life and add more ongoing creativity. (Also, this concept builds on my “designing habits” concept from an earlier blog post: https://sueclancy.com/2017/03/29/designing-habits-6-ways/ )
Here’s a visual-thinking-drawing I did that describes this in a different way:
For me it has turned out that creativity is a lot like happiness – it follows me wherever I go. Below is a cartoon I drew about happiness that explains this concept in yet another way – it’s from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
You can also see one of my published sketchbooks as an ebook here: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/coffee-table-book
“Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive” – an old saying that Dr. Bob Hoke reminded me of often. I’ve been thinking of that today – and thinking of how easy it is to form habits, how quickly these habits become the “air” we breath. This air becomes so normal that we soon think that things have “always been this way”.
As a professional artist my job depends on my “thought systems” – the quality of my ideas and how well I’m able to communicate them. I’ve modified Dr. Hoke’s saying above to “Stay close to anything that makes you want to be creative”. My imagination is formed – fed – by my life experiences so I try to be careful what of my life experience becomes “normal”. I do not, for example, keep mint candies in my house/studio as I know I have a hard time eating just one. Similarly I purposefully create art studio habits that help me to happily achieve my goals:
- Keep favorite art supplies on hand, things I want to pick up and use.
- Leave some of the favorite art supplies or an in-progress project out on a work surface that I’ll see when I first walk into my studio. That way I get right to work.
- Keep a strict work schedule -be ruthless- decide what needs to be done/can be done within a day/work period and do it. (And no, I’m not always perfect at this – it’s a goal) At the end of each work day I make a list of what needs to be done tomorrow. This list is broken into small achievable steps like “gesso boards” – that can be easily picked up/begun.
- Keep a list of quotes, photos (etc.) that stimulate my creativity/good habits – I post these encouraging items somewhere visible. It is best if it is something that makes me smile and want to do my best.
- Keep phones and other distracting items out of the studio for set periods of time. See number 3 above again. Rinse. Repeat.
- Keep a list of favorite people – think of them and make something each day with them in mind. Keep a list of favorite places, foods, music, movies, books – etc – and use them as a “guiding light” for creative efforts. (i.e. view them as a mentor, a source of encouragement, something that feeds my good wolf/your better angels, reminds me that it CAN be done.) Create habits of happiness – and happiness out of habits.
Flannery O’Connor once said “I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”
For me it comes down to doing my best to be aware of what I pick up and spend time on – and choosing carefully. Below is a cartoon I drew that puts this concept in another way – it’s from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
I have an ancient Sufi saying posted on my studio wall “Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive”. So when I go sketching I’m looking for things in the world that catch my eye, gives me an artistic thought or two – and yes, makes me glad to be alive.
Which dovetails nicely with the Thanksgiving season. I’m glad to be alive and to be able to be an artist – and thankful for living in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by so much natural beauty and so many artistically inspiring places, people, dogs, cats and things… food and drink too…
So I’m flirting with thoughts of publishing my sketchbook as an ebook/artist book. Here are two of the potential pages about a place I hiked called “Hamilton Mountain”.
What do you think? To publish or not to publish. That is the question to take up after the holiday.
Sue Clancy’s sketch on Hamilton Mountain (pen, ink and watercolor)
“We need art and beauty because survival is insufficient.” Emily St. John Mandel
I’ve been thinking about that quote today and thinking about my responsibility as an artist to create beautiful, delightful, joyous – and even funny – things. Creations that are my own small way of helping myself and other people to live well, to feel and give love, to reach deep down into that playful place of the heart and mind where deep genuine laughs and gracious smiles come from.
Art making is my way of sitting down near the fearful wolf hiding under the mental bed – within myself, within all of us – and reaching out to soothe it, give it a favorite snack and even play with it until it (hopefully) giggles.
Here’s one of my fine art pieces containing a dog – a wolf ‘cousin’ – that is currently at the Caplan Art Designs gallery:
And here’s why I think it important to sit with the wolf…
page from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
Some of my favorite quotes about art – and some dog drawings – in my sketchbook.