Revisioning Creative Blocks

 

 

I spend a lot of time in formlessness while creating. I have transformed my relationship with the blank canvas so that I do not from feel so overwhelmed with the endless possibilities when beginning something new. I enjoy the flow that happens at this stage of creating. When an image start to take shape, what was unseen takes form.

 

This change of state can be difficult for me to navigate. I make a mark or choose a direction that is not ultimately what I want. It feels like what I am doing is not working. I feel stuck. The terms resistance, obstacles, blocks are how I used to describe this part of the creative process. My experience of a block while I am painting is one of frustration.

 

For years I sought to get out of that state and thought to myself, “What have I done wrong? How do I get back in the flow? Arrrgh!”

 

To better understand this stuck place, I decided to paint it. Instead of trying to avoid this place I welcomed it, and I experienced a shift. While I painted this stuck place with brown and black and grey the image began to evoke the earth, mud, and rock. Instead of seeing some menacing force in my way I saw something real, tangible, and solid. I thought, “Perhaps, you have mistaken solidity for resistance.”

 

Watercolor sketch, 10″ x 6.75″, 2017

 

This was a huge shift in perspective for me. When I stayed with the process and responded to this solid block instead of reacting to it (aka freaking out) I could see that it was not blocking me, it was offering me support. I saw rocks instead of blocks. 

 

Although my home state does not have that Alpine change in elevation, I regularly feel that pull to get climbing and navigating between the rocks. Nature, mud and rocks that I so enjoy have been key to revision “stuck” places in my artmaking. Being in nature, and climbing in particular, helps me understand creative blocks differently and now I can relate to them differently. I used to think something was in my way, now I see that I am being offered something to stand on.   

 

I now see allies where I once saw enemies.

 

To go from a receptive flow to an assertive navigation of the creative process requires a change in perspective first followed by a change in response. I now see that navigating that change is where I need more practice and patience. Nature and the creative process continue to add deep contentment to my life and I continue to discover much they support one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intersections

 

This is the first in an informal series of writings about the intersection between making art and travel. I am slowly returning to daily life after leaving Alaska. Likewise, I am uncovering the lessons bit by bit and discovering flashes of insight as the experience of Alaska meets my life.

 

My life certainly changed after this trip.

 

I previously understood the overlap of art and nature in a very direct way. I learned plein air painting long ago. I did not immediately love painting out of doors, and something about it did not pull at my soul. Sometimes, I did not feel like going out to hunt for a suitable composition and setting up my easel before I could paint. When I met nature in this way, it was no more than a box to check off: suitable location, check.

The level of presence I now bring to being in nature has significantly shifted its importance. I feel a strong pull toward natural spaces. The sounds, the colors, the wide open vistas, the stillness, and the primordial elements of nature grab my attention and stay with me.

 

Fully experiencing wild, natural spaces reminds me of my own wildness.

 

I experienced as much as I could on this trip, and I let go of those experiences not meant to be. The physical experience of these wild spaces became vital. Greater vitality was an unexpected reward. This Alaskan adventure showed me how much baseline energy and enthusiasm I have when in nature.

Being surrounded by the forests, rocks, rivers, mountains and sky was deeply restorative. In some instances I felt the pull to get even closer. I swam in the cold, glacier fed Kenai river and it was invigorating. I left that cold plunge and realized that such a swim was the ideal way to start off every day. In Alaska, I was a more active and engaged version of myself.

 

 

Being fully present meant that sometimes just being in the varied and expansive Alaskan landscapes was its own reward. Mountains were everywhere while I explored Alaska. I could reliably look up into the sky and see mountains: mountains in the mist, craggy mountains, mountains covered in green, mountains in the distance.

 

I was surrounded by a steady diet of mountains.

 

They flooded my vision for the duration of my trip, stayed with me, and are now appearing in my art. I can best illustrate this by sharing the example of a painting I started before I left for Alaska. I have since added multiple color washes, covered up sections that seemed too fussy, and rotated the painting so that I could benefit from fresh points of view. When photographing the work after the latest round of painting, I saw mountains. I had not intended to paint mountains, yet there they were.

I used to see the overlap of art and nature through plein air painting. When it came to art, I regarded nature from the the vantage point of a landscape to be framed and captured. The way I currently see the overlap between art and nature has shifted. The images and feelings I experienced in Alaska have stayed with me and are percolating to the surface.

 

Direct contact with wildness and wilderness is primary.

 

I love how travel to wild places changes you. There is a relationship between wild places and creativity that I am still coming to understand and nurture in my own life. Three years ago I headed to the woods and rolling hills of Southern Wisconsin for my first solo retreat to be in nature, make art, and clear my head. I wrote these words,  “I just need to be in this beautiful mess and see what is created next.

Stay tuned for my evolving thoughts on the overlap between artmaking and travel.

 

Travel Art Supplies

 

 

 

I am packing to travel to Alaska this week and I thought I would share what art supplies I am bringing. My goal is to fit all of the following into my camera bag:


Pencils 

Since I discovered Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils years ago I am a convert. I journal regularly and the speed and smoothness of the Blackwing is addictive. For my drawing needs, Stabilo watersoluble graphite and Derwent Graphitone in 6B can be used dry or wet.

Journals

Portability is the key for me when I am traveling. I like my journals to be small enough to bring with me anywhere. I have enjoyed Apica CD Notebooks in A6 size for the past two years. This ultra-smooth paper also handles light watercolor washes well. My traveler’s notebook in passport size is always with me. I add zippered pouches and folders inside to hold any and all momentos I collect during the trip.

Watercolor Paper

In addition to painting in my journal, I always bring along smaller pieces of watercolor paper. I am bringing two different kinds of 100% cotton paper from Khadi and Arches. I am also including a small piece of cardboard for support.

Travel Watercolor Box

I use a Van Gogh Travel watercolor box. I like the size of the travel palette. It has room for 12 half pans of color and six mixing wells. As I use and empty each half pan, I refill it with the artist watercolors from tubes I have on hand at home. It dries and hardens in the pan for easy travel.

Brushes

I lost the travel brush that came with my watercolor box. I choose brushes with short handles when I travel. I am bringing the brushes I use when I teach: Utrecht synthetic golden taklon Round size 8 and 16 and and Flat size ½ inch. Additionally, I fill and bring a Niji waterbrush so that I have available water no matter the location.

 

 

 

Oil & Watercolor Crayons

I use Caran d’ache brand for both. I love the smoothness of the oil pastels. I will use these under watercolor as a resist. Caran d’ache Neocolor II pastels apply like a crayon, but are water soluble. I bring my most used oil and watercolor pastels, not a full selection.

Pens

The Uniball Signo Gel Stick .7 is waterproof and allows for watercolor painting over and does not bleed. I love, love, love the Pentel Slicci .25. It is super-fine and bleeds a little when used with wet media. I also  bring along a Uniball Signo in white to add any details.

Color Pencils

I’ve been using Prismacolor color pencils as long as I can remember. I bring a nice complement of colors. I have so many little stubs, they don’t take up much space.

Additional Tools

I bring a small washcloth along for a rag. I include painter’s tape to affix watercolor paper to the cardboard. Bull clips help to keep my journal open so i can paint on a mostly flat surface. I also throw in an old credit card to use freely spread paint. I like to bring two small cups for water so I can always keep clean water in one. I keep my pens and pastels in a metal tin by Caran d’ache, and an old makeup brush bag is the right size for pencils.


There seems to be a theme here. I pack little pieces for portability and those that have more than one use so that I have options. Happy summer traveling all!!! Please share in the comments your favorite art supply to pack when you travel or your tried and true art travel hack.

 

 

Intuitive Painting

 

I was at a crossroads when intuitive painting came into my life. At that time my father had unexpectedly died. In response, I packed up and moved closer to my mom and decided to go to grad school. I didn’t want to return to my job and life after the funeral and taken it day by day as I grieved. Back then, I felt like I had to do something different, change something.  

I decided on a grad school out of state and moved. I started to take the necessary prerequisites. I threw myself into my studio classes and thoroughly enjoyed them. The instructors treated us as if we were already working artists. I loved the 24 hour access to the facilities and working for hour after hour.

But in between projects and critiques and long hours in both the darkroom and painting studio I heard a little whisper. This whisper was urging me to unpack my watercolor paints, the kind you can find in a plastic tray at any drugstore, and let the colors swirl around a bit. I didn’t have any special watercolor paper so I used grocery bags and the back of envelopes.

Somehow as liquid colors mixed in unexpected ways on that first grocery bag I was hooked. That very act spoke to something soulful in me that the loads of extended and enjoyable studio sessions had not. I was hooked on the exploration, I was hooked not having complete control, I was hooked on the surprise.

When I started to intuitively paint, it was easy and didn’t feel like another “to do.” I opened up to the discovery of what would happen next, how the colors would mix, and how the paintings often looked different after they dried.

 

Painting with watercolor in this exploratory way allowed me to engage in uncertainty without my usual need to control.

 

I didn’t know it then, but painting in this way was strengthening my intuition. Following this inner knowing felt effortless. The paintings were small and repeatable and I painted every day on whatever was handy. This was the beginning of a personal painting practice that has been with me for decades.

It is a practice that mirrors journal writing: direct, accessible, personal, and for my eyes only. The lack of censoring in stream-of-consciousness journal writing and this kind of spontaneous painting is important. Many of us have been conditioned to disregard our natural impulses.

 

We often censor ourselves and respond to acting on our intuition with thoughts like: I can’t, that’s too weird, and what will people think?!

 

In order to create spontaneously you need to feel safe enough to try things out without being judged. I’m so happy to offer a safe space for others to paint and follow their intuition. There are fewer and fewer opportunities in our lives to meander and imagine while there seems to be so much pressure to be productive.

Spontaneous creation also needs acceptance. All the starts and stops and missteps of creating are part of the process too. It’s all perfect. Spontaneous creation asks us to let go of needing to know where our artmaking will go before we begin. This ended up being deeply healing for my controlling younger self.

 

The uncertainty that often derails us in our daily lives is crucial and feels more like possibility when you adopt the mindset of an intuitive painter.

 

It seems paradoxical that the unknown and intuitive knowing are so closely related. Grieving, depressed younger me found her way through her grief. Intuitive painting was a huge part of that.

Intuition is important. It’s our instinct. What does your intuition have to tell you?

 

 

The Wisdom of Enough

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It’s a very American concept that more is always better. However, today I’d like to talk about the idea of enough. I am reminded of the idea of just this much, and no more that I first discovered the classic chinese text the Tao Te Ching. The Tao declares that a knife can only be sharpened to its precise sharpness. If you go beyond that place and continue to hone the knife, the knife itself begins to wear away. In this case, enough is absolutely perfect. No more, and no less. This concept of enough has helped me understand that more isn’t always better. I only need enough, and that has helped me relate to myself with greater compassion.

There is often a deep-seeded fear of scarcity behind that relentless pursuit of perfection. My younger self accepted as much praise, attention, notice, kind words, and recognition whenever and from wherever it was offered because I believed that there would never be enough to go around. If only became the hidden drive. If only I could do more and compete more and win more trophies and ribbons and straight A’s. If only I could do more, I would be more.

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Rethinking Time

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You all know how special it is to have Grandma in your life. There are more treats with Grandma,and she’s a lot less strict than Mom. Even though my Grandma didn’t live in the same city as I did growing up, we saw her a lot. She was the first—and best—babysitter my parents called. She came to our performances and recitals, and we spent every major holiday together. My Norwegian Grandma grew up on a farm and married a farmer. She was accustomed to growing and cooking her own food and sewing for her family. In fact, my Grandma was a voracious creator of quilts. She sewed so many different kinds of quilts. Every bed in her house was topped by one of her creations. She gave my sisters and me quilts to mark special occasions.

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A Conversation with the Seal

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Henri Cartier-Bresson was a photographer from the early twentieth century. He had no interest in staging or prearranging photographs and pioneered what came to be known as the decisive moment photograph. He became well-known for capturing human interactions with an eye for telling a story. I had my own metaphorical decisive moment when I was brainstorming the overarching theme for this business. I was employed in a job I knew I would leave. I knew that I wanted to start my own business. However, I didn’t know what that would look like. At that time I returned to a cherished book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.  After I reread a favorite story, a contemporary take on the myth of the seal woman, I had my own decisive a-ha moment. The seal’s movement into and out of the water and her need for both—along with the restorative properties of the water—inspired my business’ mission to help busy, giving women nourish themselves first.

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