Are you also a person struggling to develop a habit of creativity in your life? How is it going?
Here you will find monthly updates regarding my journey toward creativity. Perhaps your journey has some similarities?
It was all I could do to keep my head above water in September. Some days I needed to just set aside all my obligations and just go walking, or just paint. When I did sit down to paint, it was hard to concentrate. Every little thing seemed overwhelming. Mostly I just doodled. The technique of outlining the value shapes in old paintings was demonstrated by Sonja Hutchinson at a virtual meeting of the Northstar Watermedia Society. I like this technique a lot. Very meditative. When I do not know what to draw this is a great way to at least stay in the habit of creating. I do not know yet if anything I created in September is going to be worthy of being shown at the studio. I need to sit with these new images for awhile and see what happens next.
I had a retreat in August at CreatorSpace Retreat in Menahga, Minnesota. Having the chance to focus fully on art among other artists was just what I needed. I was able to alternate between time alone and time looking at art with other artists. I think I grew as an artist.
Returning home brought the challenge of how to continue the growth in my everyday life. I listened to a podcast about creativity by Lisa Congdon. She talked about the metaphor of a boat on the water. Make sure your boat is pointed toward your goal and don’t worry about if you are moving fast or slow. Moving in the right direction is what matters.
I created art almost every day in August. It felt great.
September so far is a different story. I started working full time again at school. It is good to be back with my colleagues and students, but it is also hard. Everything takes so much time and when I get home I am exhausted. The work is never done so sometimes I just set the work aside and try to point my boat back toward what I want. What I want is time outside and time creating art. More on this when it is time for the September update in a few weeks.
July is rough for me because it is the anniversary of my daughter’s passing. From the 13th to the 17th I gave myself permission to have zero expectations of myself and I refused any expectations that came from anyone else unless I truly wanted to do whatever it was that came up. On the 18th I decided to extend the dormancy one more day and on the 19th I was ready to see people again. Before and after that time I was actually fairly productive. The realization I had was that the dormant time made possible the productive time. Like nature in Minnesota, there are seasons. Don’t try to do summer things in winter, don’t try to do winter things in summer.
I’m interested in edible plants. Having that focus is great because I don’t have to wonder what I will draw or paint next. I create abstract backgrounds, I create small “first drafts”, and then I choose a plant and a background and start to draw. I like how they are turning out.
A show of my previous work is up at the hospital in Owatonna, Minnesota. It makes me happy to know that other people who have to spend time in a hospital might get some joy from viewing my work. At least it might be a distraction from waiting and worrying. When I was hanging out in a hospital two years ago, taking breaks was needed. My reason for bringing paintings to Owatonna was to give back.
When I saw the paintings up on the walls I had an unfamiliar emotion: I was proud of my work. Then I felt guilty for feeling proud. Then I reprimanded myself for feeling guilty for feeling proud. Right now as I type this I am telling myself that I am over-sharing. I am not deleting what I just typed because I know that if you don’t want to read this you will just close this tab and do something else and that is your choice. I am learning more and more to trust my instincts. Someone needed to read that and so I will leave it in.
Have a great day and maybe I’ll see you back here in about a month. I wonder what will happen next?
To reflect on June I looked back through my photos instead of my journal. My creativity practice was extremely inconsistent in June. There was a lot of “filling the well”. Times of creating art were short and on small papers but there were also big experiences and lots of reflecting on personal growth.
Re-entering the world of travel and being with other people had its joys and challenges. I had to face some fears to get at the joy. The ability to do that is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
I found that I was able to ride in a car up and down a mountain road full of hairpin turns (barely!) and I was rewarded by having some time with giant sequoia trees. I found I was able to return to Duluth, Minnesota and once again enjoy Lake Superior and all the natural beauty of that area. I struggled with my self-doubt to put together a collection of my work to display at the hospital in Owatonna, Minnesota. Having to transport my paintings to that show gave me an excuse to explore southern Minnesota. It was a pleasant surprise that there was so much to do and see.
I do not know yet how many of my paintings will be in that display. A big part of my creativity practice in June was learning to be ok with uncertainty and moving forward anyway.
I can not stress enough how much I recommend going through the process of getting ready for a show of your work. People who have experienced being around me when I am preparing for a show will laugh at that because I tend to complain about how hard it is and how long it takes. The biggest benefit is that it forces you to take an honest look at what you have created and say to yourself, “OK, this is where I am right now in my development as an artist”. When I agree to a show, I often think, “By that time I’ll have more work completed and this idea in my head will be down on paper”. Almost never does that turn out to be true. One thing that seems certain is that I can’t be certain. Still, I’m following this path to see where it leads.
This past month has been unlike any other month so far. The uncertainty of how to end a year of online teaching was daunting. Keeping up with incoming messages was the most challenging part. Certainly some important tasks went undone and some important messages were missed. That bothers me but I need to remind myself that I kept my guiding principles in the front of my mind and I did the best I could. The most important thing is that the students know that I notice them and I care. I imagine it is disappointing for the students who put their all into their work that their grade is an “S”, same as the students who did a minimum of work. That goes in the category of things outside my control. In an ideal world we would not need grades at all. Students would be motivated by their desire to learn and create. To see and be seen. Isn’t that what we all want?
Enough about my day job. All that consumed so much of my attention that there was not a lot of painting and hiking going on in May. The students are important. Also my studiomates are important. May is the month that has traditionally been Art-A-Whirl, the biggest art show of the year and the time when most of the sales happen. So in the midst of ending the school year, I also wanted to do what I could to promote the Northrup King Building. That all went well, but again, I wasn’t painting and hiking.
At the very end of May, I went on my first out of state vacation since the pandemic started. I’m writing this in the airport as I wait to return home to Minnesota. My husband, son, and I chose our experiences in a way that made each day unique. The first day was hiking in the Hollywood hills. The second day was exploring the beaches up and down the coast. The third day was a boat trip and aquarium visit. The fourth was sightseeing in Hollywood and meeting up with friends. The fifth was art museums. The sixth was Giant Sequoia trees. Today was all about food: Farmer’s Market in Visalia, Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood, and the Local Place (King’s Hawaiian) for pineapple soft serve ice cream. My flight is the red eye. I hope I can get a shuttle back to my car when my plane lands in the early morning.
I have lots of ideas now for future artworks but currently they are just that: ideas. I also need to tend to my health and other things that are important. It is a time to be kind to myself and give myself a pass for falling down on my daily artmaking. I’ll get back to it soon enough. The postcards are still the best medium for me because they are small and can be completed in one sitting. Sometimes they are line drawings in ink, sometimes watercolor washes, sometimes both.
One thing I noticed about the people using the trails in California: A large percentage of the hikers were people of color and I did not sense any tension from anyone regarding that fact. So refreshing!
After many months of feeling like these monthly updates are full of excuses for not getting much done, finally I feel like I am heading in the artistic direction I want to travel. At least for now. The poem assigned to me for the Poet-Artist Collaboration for Red Wing Arts was packed with imagery I could identify with. “I wipe the page dry of morning and wait for something unknown to be made clear”. Every day. “Instinct says what is one thing will soon be another”. Truth.
My process for most of my work in April was to fill a paper with color and texture and then look at it to decide what it was. Wait for it to become clear. The very plain grayish-purple one (middle right) became the intense purple and green picture of a person sitting under a tree that is now hanging in the Red Wing Arts Center until June.
It is very satisfying to spread the color onto the surface. It is very satisfying to add just enough detail to show the viewer what I see.
Sometimes I still like to just draw with a black pen on white paper. That is a different kind of satisfaction. It is like sculpting with wire. It is bending a line to create a representation of form.
I’d like to develop further the use of light and shadow. I’m not interested in photo-realism, I’m interested in creating shapes that suggest form. I know that what I need to do in order to develop further is simply to keep creating. That is ok with me.
Racial justice work continues to be very important to me and I continue to educate myself. I’m reading Do Better by Rachel Ricketts. I’m working with others at my church to figure out how we can identify and break down systems of oppression. It is often uncomfortable. That is the nature of this work. It is hard for white people (including myself) to get past fear and defensiveness. We need to accept that even though most injustice is not our fault, we can help to fight it. People are being bullied, harassed, and killed. How can we just stand there?
I am thinking back over the past month on this 3rd day of April. The poetry collaboration project is fueling much of my artmaking. It is helpful to have a hook to get me started. “Instinct tells me that what is one thing will soon be another” is one line from the poem by Lisa Higgs that has popped into my head at random times this past month. Another is “I wipe the page dry of morning and wait for something unknown to be made clear”.
That is a great description of my creative process this past month. Productivity has been a struggle. Motivation has been a struggle. There were many days this past month where I did very little beyond what was absolutely required of me. I was doing some questioning about what is important. Someone who has “make time for what is important” as a tagline should be doing more than I was doing. I got judgmental of myself and that just created a downward spiral.
Doing anything consistently is not my natural mode of operation. When I am excited about a project, I tend to let everything else slide until it is done. If I have to stop before it is done, I rarely am still as excited about it as I was when I started. I wonder if anyone reading this can relate?
The poetry collaboration is an event in Red Wing at the end of April. In the next few days I will decide which new piece is the best match for the poem. All the great ideas that are still just in my imagination will not be eligible. The poem is about the calm between waves of a storm. My “unproductive” time is like that. Listening time. Noticing time. I know that eventually the next wave of a storm of artmaking will happen. It always has. Usually it shows up when I stop worrying about if it is going to show up. Taking time to listen and notice is what fuels the next series of paintings.
Mixed media is my jam lately. Acrylic over old watercolor paintings. Paint pen over old acrylic paintings. Collage. Scraping into layers of old work. That yellow abstract watercolor hanging on the wall over my table is not going to stay there much longer. “instinct says that what is one things will soon be another”.
I’m writing this on March 6. I just re-read my journal entries from February. I don’t trust my memory as much as I used to. It seems that all my routines fell apart in February and if not for those journal entries I would think there was something wrong with that. In February I shifted toward a healthier attitude.
On February 6th I wrote, “I know if I show up at artmaking, interesting and satisfying things will happen”.
On February 14th, “I choose to enjoy moving through my day with curiosity and at the end of the day look back with gratitude.” I did not come up with either of those quotes myself, but I don’t remember where they came from.
I noticed that I was not choosing artmaking very often so I redid the art space in my home. it is much more inviting now and it is right next to my “office” so I can look over at it as I am working and know that it will not be long until I can shift my full attention over there.
On February 17th, it was time to read through 35 poems and select my favorites for the Red Wing Arts Poetry Artist Collaboration. That process fed my soul. So many of them really spoke to me and sparked ideas. I sent my list back to them and I was assigned “Downpour” by Lisa Higgs. It is a short, yet deep poem about the space between waves of a storm. I have some ideas started. A finished painting is due in April. It is good for me to have this “assignment”.
On February 18th, I was really concerned about the people in the South experiencing the winter storm and power outages. So many of them don’t have basic winter survival knowledge and I wanted to help. I enjoy the cold weather but that is because I have the proper gear and a warm place to rest. I had good intentions but didn’t follow through with action. I feel remorse regarding that.
The last week in February I had a lot of resistance in me. For some reason I had zero interest in posting to social media or promoting my art in any way. I think I needed some processing time. This is OK. The posts will return.
One last thing about my artistic process is related to racial justice. I’ve been attending conversations on this topic and learning a lot. My art has always been about what I notice and yet it seems inappropriate for me to promote art on that theme because I live in a white body. Some of my art is just for me so I can process and understand what I’ve learned. The sketch I made of Amanda Gorman is below. I decided to share just that one. I’m open to suggestions of how to use my art to further the cause of racial justice.
The November entry was written on December 18, the December entry was written on January 18, and now the January entry is written on February 17. A small step in the right direction. January was a month of small steps in the right direction for me. The day of the presidential inauguration was a happy day. I could sense the optimism in everyone around me. Watching Amanda Gorman recite her poem I was mesmerized. It was such a visual presentation. The yellow coat, red hairband, and brown hands gracefully punctuating the power of the words.
In January I pulled back from social media and I pulled back from promoting my art business. There is only so much a person can do in a day. I’m trying to focus on my personal journey through the creative process. I continue to add to this website because it is the record of my journey.
I have not gone back over my January journal and sketchbook pages like I usually do when I write these monthly updates. I don’t need to be so academic all the time. I can go on memory. I can play. Play is really the goal here. The joy of watching colors blend. The joy of being lost in watching an image appear on the paper or wood or canvas. I have not done a lot of scanning and uploading lately. It seems to be not the right time. When I have a bigger stack of new work I will edit the collection and then have a scan/upload day.
I had an aha moment about bridges. Bridges are connections between people across barriers. If the people on both sides each build half, it is done. Neither side should have to build the entire thing. I decided to call the square painting from last month, “Half a Bridge”.
January 18 today. Last month I did this task on December 18 so I am holding steady. This is a task I put on myself and yet it is public. I am simultaneously free of it and bound to it.
I am writing this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the U.S. it is a national holiday. A day to celebrate advances in civil rights and ponder next steps. We have a long way to go in this area. Mary Frances Berry said in an interview that she thinks the most important cause to fight for right now is climate change. I do not disagree but it surprised me that a woman who spent decades fighting for racial justice said this. She is looking at the needs of the entire world and that struck a deep chord in me. When I add to this page later in January I’ll continue this train of thought. It is not an either/or. It is a both/and.
Getting back to my creative journey through December 2020. My sketchbook is full of jigsaw puzzle piece abstractions. My walks were mostly short and close to home. On December 6, I wrote in my journal that I was “taking a zero day”. In the hiking world that means taking a break from your hike, but I meant that I was taking a break from productivity. Healthy rest is good. The next day I followed my interest in shading and did some sketches with realistic shading and found satisfaction in that. Many of my journal entries in December are about feeling stuck and trying different ways to get unstuck. One way that worked was to think of my brain as a computer that sometimes needs to reboot. A mantra I used for about a week was “find and replace: later with now”. As with most of these types of life hacks, the effectiveness was temporary. My subconscious is too smart. The change needs to be deeper. I participated in a 21 day “quest” set forth by Neale Donald Walsch called “Awaken the Species”. I recommend looking into it to see if it interests you. I’m not saying it solved my artist’s block, but I think it pointed me in a good direction. “Every act is self-definition” comes from that quest. Just now auto-correct wanted “quest” to become “question”. Interesting.
In December my art creations were small in size. Postcard paintings, acrylic paintings on wood, sketches. My son gave me paint markers for Christmas and I have enjoyed the way the paint flows so smoothly and evenly. I used them to update some old paintings that I was considering throwing away. I felt free to experiment on them because I had nothing to lose. The one of the Mississippi River turned out to be one of my favorites. At the very end of the month I started transferring photocopies of sketches to non-representational paintings. I like the results very much and am continuing to explore this process.
December 18 today. This practice has not moved in the direction I planned. I would like to say that will change, but currently I am at the stage of hoping that is true, not knowing that it is true.
A couple times in the past couple weeks I sat down to update this page about creativity practice. It is hard to come to terms with falling short of a goal. It is hard to forgive oneself and move on.
The 10 days of “Art Camp” that I planned for myself at Thanksgiving time have come and gone. A few new paintings that I like, a few new ideas. It was not the earth-moving, life-changing time that I had imagined, it was more of an incubation time for new ideas that are not yet fully developed.
Text as texture is an idea I’d like to explore. Choosing the words will be a tricky decision.
Jigsaw puzzle pieces and leaf shapes still interest me. I’ve written those words before.
Creating image responses to poetry interests me.
Contour line on abstract color interests me.
Recently the mental exercise of shading complex forms caught my attention.
How to use art to dismantle racism is a question in my mind.
Many possible directions. November started with hopes of increased focus but ended with branches of new ideas. Now I attempt to wrap this up. I wonder who might read this and why. It is not helpful to me to ponder that. If it is helpful to you to read it, I am glad.
I am struggling to decide what to write here for October. It is already November 11, so I must write something.
It is important to me to maintain this record of my journey.
I ran out of sketchbook pages and did not want to go out to get more. I have so much paper in the house. I found a blank sample sketchbook that was designed for students. It is paperback and has only about 10 pages. There are lines at the bottom for writing and a large space at the top for drawing. The front has a place for name and title. I titled it “Reboot 19”. In November of 2018 I wrote “Reboot 18” at the top of a sketchbook page. Not sure if that was the 18th or the 32nd time I committed to a creativity practice, but if that was the 18th, this is the 19th. I do not beat myself up if I miss a day, I celebrate each day that I do not miss.
I just completed the last page in that sketchbook yesterday. Today I search the drawers and closets in this house to find a new collection of papers. I plan to cut them all to the same size and keep them in a folder. There is value in the searching.
September went by in a blur.
We (the artists of Studio 321) decided to reopen the studio to the public on Saturdays and some evenings. This was not a huge stress, just one more straw on the camel’s back. We agreed to the Covid protocols and I am satisfied that we have a safe studio.
My teaching job required more hours of the day than in the past. We learned a lot in the spring about what worked and what didn’t. Many changes were implemented. I’m sure many reading this had similar experiences. Communication is a huge challenge. Everyone is overloaded and I know that when I am overloaded it is hard to manage the incoming messages. I tried to remember that as I needed others to receive messages from me. I needed to edit myself until I was sending only the essential information. Often I drafted emails and then decided it was not necessary to send them. Often I pondered the multitude of options for delivering content and checking for student understanding. Our systems still could be better but making changes too often is not helpful. I think we all can relate to the annoyance of getting updates to programs that were fine as they were.
So my creative energy went into the development of educational materials in September. Part of that energy will still be needed there. Luckily I can have some overlap between that creativity and my own artistic journey. It is all connected. My sketchbook is what I held onto during September. Lots of contour drawings of leaves, pinecones, my hands, and my feet.
One day when preparing for a lesson on blind contour drawing, it occurred to me that what I am doing for my job is a lot like blind contour drawing. I need to keep my eyes on the goal, move accordingly, and trust that it will be ok. It will turn out very different than I expected, and that is ok too.
August was a cocoon month. For some reason I felt a lot of resistance every time I planned to paint. I made myself paint and that was good to do. I continued to explore leaf shapes and shadows. Curved contour lines and layered color. When I hiked I just hiked. When I painted I just painted. There was not a lot of sitting outside on a trail with my art supplies. I miss that. It is within my power to make that happen. Most days I chose to do other things.
I was invited to be a part of two different anti-racism groups. It felt right to accept the invitations. I feel overwhelmed by the injustice I see all around me and am grateful to be around others who also want to do something about it. Most of us are white and still in the learning phase. People are dying. We need to step up our game.
It occurred to me that much of the trauma our society is facing has to do with breathing. Coronavirus attacks the lungs. “We Can’t Breathe” is the cry of our Black neighbors. Smoke from the fires in California covers huge parts of America. “Just Breathe” sounds like an insensitive thing to say these days. Making art seems frivolous. Maybe that thought is what is holding me back. Still, I will make art. AND be a part of those groups AND look for ways to be positive change. Some days, however, I just do nothing. The fact that doing nothing is an option for me is proof of my privilege and that is a fact that is not lost on me.
July was a month of great variety. I had a show at Gallery 176 in Park Rapids, Minnesota. I was concerned about the pandemic, but decided that masks, hand washing, and social distancing were enough to keep safe. I think we managed to maintain a safe space.
The middle week in July was the one year anniversary of my daughter’s accident and death. I was kind to myself and did not expect much of myself during that time. It was a rough week. A time for reflection. A time for not being around people.
Before and after that middle week I was focused on showing my art. It is a very different thing from creating the art, but also very important in the development of creativity. The process of verbalizing what I do and why I do it is so valuable for making it more clear in my own mind. Sharing my art with other people and hearing their reactions also gives clues to what I am saying with my art. Communication is a two-way street.
I was incredibly nervous about the Zoom reception for this show. It seemed to go well and was proof to me that I can do that sort of communication. It felt like when an achievement is unlocked in a video game. I have another tool in my tool belt.
I was invited to be on a committee that is looking at racial justice as it relates to our watercolor group that is currently mostly white. Right now we are just educating ourselves and looking for ways to support black artists in Minnesota. A good use of my time, I believe.
Going into August, I am putting more effort into the routine of doing art early in the day before other responsibilities get in the way. I’m noticing what makes me feel better and what makes me feel worse and moving toward what makes me feel better.
Just when I settle into a routine, things change or I change. I’m ok with this. I’m thinking of life as floating down a river. My boat has what I need. I can steer the boat but I can’t change the river. It is an interesting ride. Others are also floating on the river and everyone’s boat is a little different. I do not want to ramble on about this, just an observation. I’d be happy to continue this train of thought with you if you like.
I spent much time and energy preparing to show my work in Red Wing, Park Rapids, and Minneapolis. Showing work is important, creating work is more important. In June my painting times were parts of days, not many full days. I’d like to change that for July.
I’m still hiking mostly close to home, but finding new routes and loving it. Hopefully I can find a faster way to blog about them. My current writing process is very time consuming resulting in a long time between hiking posts. Usually I choose more hiking over writing.
In looking at the art of others, I find I am drawn to bold, complementary colors and loose line. My students know I often tell them not to let their drawings get “scribbly” and yet that is exactly what I have been creating lately. This might cause some difficulty for me in the fall. There is a difference between “scribbly: don’t care” and “scribbly: finding my way”. My intention is to use drawing to help me find my way. It is a hard concept for elementary aged students. So the rule is “no scribbles”. Sometimes I have said to students, “That looks a bit scribbly, but you know what? It works.”
The alphabet book I started in April is on hold at the letter “Q”. Too much blue. I often carry it with me thinking I will work on it. What happens next remains to be seen.
I was thinking of both my own art and art education in June. I’m educating myself on a more diverse art history. If you have resources or can point me in a direction to find good information on art history that represents the previously under-represented, please share!
My reflections on May 2020:
Distance teaching was hard and sapped my energy more than I expected.
My daughter would be fighting hard for justice right now. I miss her.
Black Lives Matter.
When I wrote the March entry on April 2 I judged myself harshly for my tardiness. Now I am writing the April entry on May 12 and I am OK with it.
My quarantine lifestyle includes a lot of being on the computer for my day job. When that is done, writing a blog post does not sound like a lot of fun. It is on my to-do list and there it sits. It is amazing to me how little I get done each day. In the “before times” my days were full of rushing from one task to the next because of the nature of my job. Others were right there with me and we needed to work together on a strict time schedule. I was efficient because anything else was not an option. Now everything is ambiguous and constantly evolving. What I do is mostly up to me, how I do it is up to me, when I do it is up to me. My days are absent of urgency. Most of my time is spent thoughtfully trying to figure out what needs to be done and how to do it. This is not a complaint. It is an observation. Actually, I think I am well suited to this lifestyle. I like to figure things out.
What feeds my soul is to discover something that makes me curious and create a response to it.
At the beginning of April I bought a blank book of watercolor paper with 26 pages. I have been creating an alphabet book. If I had done one page per day I would have finished it on April 30. I am over halfway and that is better than not starting. It is holding my attention. It makes me curious. I find myself thinking about words that start with the next letter in the series. The picture above is from my memory of the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. The big pack in the middle of one of the canoes was a person but I messed up. Trying to fix it made it worse so now it is a way-too-big pack of supplies. In the Boundary Waters there are lots of places where you need to portage (carry all your camping gear and your canoe). It is vital to bring only what you need. Experiencing that minimalism is part of the magic of the place. “J” is for Just What We Need. I was working on “O” earlier today. “Overthink” might become its title. It is a drawing of violets. Leaf shapes are still interesting to me. Rocks and water would also make an interesting “O” picture, but I have found lately that they remind me of my daughter’s accident and so they are still too painful. That is ok. Things can be painful. I can notice it, feel it, and decide to do something else. Violets are nice, too.
What a crazy ride this life is. I am writing this on April 2. Other tasks took priority.
In Minnesota, USA, March 12 was the day that everything started to shut down because of COVID19. It was the first day of my spring break and I was looking forward to spending lots of time hiking in Northern Minnesota and painting at Northrup King. If things were normal I would be at an art show opening in the city of Red Wing tonight. The drawing above would be framed and on display at Red Wing Arts for the Poetry-Art Collaboration. Instead I am sheltering in place. Luckily there are trails near my house and it is possible to walk and keep my distance from others. I am praying for all who are dealing with the pandemic. I am grateful that so far my husband, son, and I seem ok.
Make Time for what is Important.
Now I have lots of time. I also have lots I want to do. Each day still zips too fast. Self-care is important. Re-learning how to do my day job online is important. Walking and creating art are important. Sleeping is important. I have grief that comes to the surface when I have down time so that grief has been closer to the surface lately. Having time to deal with it through walking, drawing, and meditation is a blessing. If you are also dealing with grief, I recommend drawing the person and things that were important to that person. I find it helpful to also show the drawings to other people who knew her. The picture of her doing volunteer trail maintenance is on display at Blaine City Hall, but currently no one can go see it. When things get back to normal, go take a look. If you can spare the time, that is.
What I noticed about my creativity in March was that poems are a good way to get inspired. Once I dig into a poem that speaks to me, it can fuel a multitude of images.
In the January update I mentioned the show at the Benedictine Center. The above picture of knitting is what was displayed there. I was so glad to be a part of that. The winning work had the theme of being known by the tracks we leave. I really was able to connect with that! Writing the statement to go with my own painting was meaningful for me; thinking about how my spirituality is connected to my art. I focused on how our values are displayed by how we choose to spend our time. Knitting is the act of devoting time to create something for someone. How we spend our time creates the fabric of our life.
February in Minnesota. Not my favorite but at least it is the shortest month. Winter gets long. I was feeling like I needed a retreat. When I was at the opening of the exhibit at the Benedictine Center I decided I would do a personal retreat there. You can choose to be silent or not. You can choose to participate in worship or not. It was exactly what I needed. 3 days, 2 nights of being mostly by myself. I was able to do a lot of drawing and writing, getting ideas clear in my head. No distractions. Nearby is a nature area where I was able to do a lot of walking. Walking is the best way I know to feel connected to God and comfortable in my own skin at the same time. I guess February was a month to regroup. The momentum I was feeling in January is less, but I will be kind to myself and understand that an artist’s life is like that. I might be in a valley now but that will change. I stay positive. It matters how we talk to ourselves. “I will try to…” is replaced with “I am grateful for…” I am grateful for a life that allows time for reflection and artmaking.
I was glad to see the end of 2019. That was a hard year. January flew by in a blur. I said yes to many things, because they fit with what I want for my creative life. Currently I feel like I am running down a hill, barely able to keep my feet under me. This is ok with me! I will try not to sabotage the momentum. The picture of flowers above was selected to be the cover of a book of poetry by Micki Blenkush titled, “Now We Will Speak in Flowers”. I think publish date is June 2020. It is watercolor on Yupo paper, my new favorite paper. Another one of my paintings is currently in a juried show at the Benedictine Center in St. Paul. In July I am scheduled to be a guest artist at Gallery 176 in Park Rapids. In April I’ll be part of a poetry-art collaboration in Red Wing. January was the first month that my sales were greater than my expenses at the studio. The bookkeeping issue I was having in December is solved and I like the software I’m using. The business end of things is going well.
A wonderful tool for staying grounded is protecting my two hours of “me” time every morning. Those two hours are not always the same, but they are for me. Not the business, not school, not other people. Getting up early is sometimes hard, but worth it. My husband gave me a Julie Cameron “Artist’s Way” journal for Christmas and I have started each day with “morning pages”. If you are familiar with Cameron’s writing, you know that she recommends three hand-written pages of whatever pops into your head first thing every morning. It is a great way to get all those whirling thoughts out of your head and down where you can see them. Clarity is a wonderful thing. The only regret from last month is that my artmaking was less frequent. I do not want to give up morning pages, but I want morning sketch time too. If anyone figures out how to stop time, let me know!
For a few weeks in December, I got up at 5:00 AM every day. It was a good thing. I was tired but felt great. The first two hours of my day were for myself. “Pay yourself first” is the first rule of retirement planning, it is also a good rule for how to spend your time. Now it is winter break. I have slept in most days in the past week. I want to return to getting up at 5:00. It feels like a terrible waste to realize that it is noon and not much has happened yet.
My new favorite type of art to create is watercolor on Yupo paper. It is a super smooth plastic-like paper. It seems to be the craze lately. Water media artists either love it or hate it. I love it because you can always make adjustments and you can always bring back the white of the paper and change the color. Never a wasted piece of paper. Control is an illusion and this paper will teach that concept to you.
Grief was a huge part of December. It is the first Christmas since my daughter passed away. My therapist says it is good that I am mourning through the grief, not trying to go around it or turn away from it… Yeah… I saw a word picture that said, “Just Because Someone Carries it Well Doesn’t Mean It is Not Heavy”. That is truth. A Big Truth. Walking around Lake Como the other day was heavy with memory. I let myself feel it. It was like hydrogen peroxide on an infected wound. Clean it out, let it heal.
Visual connections are becoming noticable to me. Braids, flower petals, curvy paths, jigsaw puzzle pieces, leaves, cross country ski trails, ribbons, and moving water all have shapes that curve from wide to narrow. I have been exploring those shapes in my art.
On the business end of things, I have spent some time updating my online gallery and social media profiles. I opened a business account to keep my personal finances separate from art finances. I may need to ask for help in figuring out how to maintain my accounting. I thought it would be simple, it is not. Probably it is just my perfectionism rearing its ugly head and making it harder than it has to be. If it were someone else having this problem, I would tell them to take a step back and notice what is the main goal. Clear away all the details and only include what is important. Hmmm. Good advice.
The types of pictures I am creating lately are all over the place. Watching the colors blend and interact is fascinating to me. I also enjoy the effect of adding a cast shadow to suggest form. I do not like my work to get too realistic or fussy, I like to leave some parts unfinished. Leaves and flower petals provide endless shape variations. I am not bored with them yet. There is a nagging feeling that I SHOULD settle on a style and create a body of work and then promote that body of work. NAH. I am just going to keep creating what I feel like creating.
Many opportunities are presenting themselves lately. So far just small ones, but I am staying open to possibilities. Will I take on too much? Probably. That is my way.
In an effort to simplify I took a step back. I looked at all the things I am doing and decided it was too much. I deleted most of my online accounts. Now my art is only available online at FineArtAmerica.com. I’ll continue the social media at Instagram and Facebook. I think that will be manageable. If I am going to be able to take advantage of opportunities where my art creates positive change in the world, I need to step back from the unhelpful.
December 2020 update: https://shop.nemaa.org/artists/tammy-nara/ is my online marketplace. FineArtAmerica and Pixels merged and I still have a print-on-demand online shop there.
Top priortiy (on my artistic journey) is daily art making. Next is getting outside. After that I’ll think about posting to social media, writing a new blog post, and updating the online store. I need to stay open to noticing what could be next. I pray for discernment. I also pray for the energy and motivation to keep plugging away even when I do not feel like it.
Please call me out if I go too long between updates, it will motivate me to know someone notices!
I am more motivated than ever to put my own art in a place of importance in my life. My current struggle is to clarify for myself why I am choosing to put my time and energy here. I was reminded recently of a seminar I attended a couple years ago in which I took a “spiritual gifts assessment”. After a full day of introspection and talking with others in small groups, I came to the conclusion that my art is the way I can make a positive difference in the world. My mission statement is again in the editing phase. Here is my best attempt today: My art will communicate to others the value of getting involved in efforts that improve our relationships with each other and therefore improve our world. It is too long. Maybe it is as simple as my tagline, “Make Time for What is Important.” I have good days and bad days. I had a string of bad days in October when my grief came out sideways and I made very little progress on my goals. Little setbacks seemed like mountains. Today I am preparing to spend some time by myself away from home. I’ll meet up with my husband and son to mark my daughter’s birthday, but other than that I’ll have time to process and hopefully create art that motivates myself and others to make time for what is important.
My new life as an empty nest artist/hiker/teacher is about a month old. Suppertime is different. Instead of all four of us it is just my husband and I. Sometimes it is just me. I thought it would make me sad but actually it feels free. It is wonderful when our son is home and we have dinner together, but the absence of the task of supper is ok too.
I was dealing with an ankle injury a few weeks ago so I needed to hold back on hiking. That healed after about a week of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Now my knee is giving me trouble. Hopefully that will heal soon so I can get out and enjoy Minnesota autumn. The leaves are turning yellow, orange, and red. The air is crisp but not cold. There are trails I want to explore and see how they have changed with the season.
Since I am hiking less, I am knitting more. Drawing my knitting is interesting to me. I have a drawing at the studio that I hope to finish soon. It is a watercolor background with the drawing on top. Not sure yet if it will have another layer or not.
I am loving being part of the Northrup King Building community of artists. This is what I was missing. It is hard to create art in isolation. Interacting with other artists on a regular basis is so nourishing. I still feel very much the amateur, but I also feel it is ok in that place to be authentically myself. I have always thought myself a bit strange. It is so important to be ok with who you are. I am working on it.
In August I am trying to figure out a new normal. At the same time, I am trying not to think too much about the new school year about to begin. Some have asked if I am going to return to teaching in the fall. It is a financial necessity so yes, that is my plan.
I have good days and not-so-good days. Most days I still start with a sketch. That action increases the chances of it being a good day. If I do not know what to sketch I either pull out some photos to use as reference or doodle random jigsaw puzzle shapes. If I am feeling especially motivated I go outside. The sketch above was made while sitting outside in my front garden. There are many bees and butterflies that are attracted to the coneflowers and it restores my appreciation for nature and living things in general. Nature is healing.
Big news: I am going to enter the world of artists with actual studios. I agreed to rent part of a studio in the Northrup King building in Northeast Minneapolis. That will start in September. There will be nine of us in Studio 321. It is exciting that I will be part of a group of artists and have a space to work. I will also have some display space. So many unknowns, but it is the right time for this step.
July was a rough month although it started out great. I was sketching and painting puzzle pieces and edible plants. I also started an illuminated letter project. A writing workshop inspired me.
July 13 was the day my daughter fell while rock climbing. She passed away on July 17. I miss her terribly. The first week was hospital time. Nothing else. The second week I tried to draw but focus was not there. Doodling was soothing. There are tasks that need doing when a family member passes. The memorial service took all my energy. All of it. Last week in July was a cabin vacation with my siblings and mother. We are all introverts so it was very quiet there on that lake. It was exactly what I needed.
A few years ago a vivid dream of my Grandmother impacted me greatly. She was talking about me to God. She said, “She’ll be ok. As long as she draws.”
Recently when talking with a friend about decisions of how to spend our time she reminded me that we have had that same conversation before. I am grateful that she patiently reminded me that yes, it is ok to spend time hiking and painting even if the only person that benefits is me. She also asked good questions to get me thinking about my online presence. What will I keep doing, what will I stop doing? I don’t have time to hike and paint because I am maintaining an online presence about hiking and painting. That makes no sense. I need to keep this part simple. Question: “Why am I doing this?” Answer: “To connect with others who value art and the outdoors. To motivate myself to get outside and make art.”
Since June 2, 2019 I have started each day with my sketchbook and coffee. 6-2-19 was a new “Day 1” in my sketchbook. Today is 6-19-19. Starting over as many times as it takes is OK!
The following is from my blog post about hiking in Central Park in Roseville, Minnesota:
This is a park that has a long history with me. Many of my “reboots” began here. It is fitting to have this be today’s post since I need to restart my commitment to my artmaking yet again. That is ok. I’ll keep restarting as many times as it takes.
Today a child in a playground shouted, “I’m alive! I live! I survive!” Good for you, kid. Me too.
I was in a walk for suicide prevention. If you would like to support a walk near you, here is a link: https://afsp.donordrive.com/
What do you do when you need to get back into a habit you were trying to develop?
I hope you all are well. If hiking is your thing, keep hiking! If painting is your thing, keep painting! We are alive. We live. We survive.
Enter the Art Show Already! If you are at the beginning of trying to promote yourself as an artist as I have been for over 20 years now, this is my advice to you: Learn from my mistakes. Enter the art show already. Whatever it is. Do not let fear of how your efforts will appear to others hold you back. You will fail 100% of the things you do not try. I read that on “The Art of Blogging” and it still stays with me.
So many excuses. So many times starting and stopping. So much “That’s enough for today” but not getting back to it the next day. So much sitting in this chair wasting time while at the same time telling myself that I do not have the time.
In April, I had a painting in an art show. I felt completely inadequate, but did it anyway.
I do not want anyone to tell me I should not feel the way I do. I believe that to deny the feeling is to let it fester like an ignored foot blister after a long hike. It needs to be noticed and treated so it can heal. I simply want to acknowledge the feelings, tend to them, and move on. Continue to create. Continue to hike.
I went to the opening of the art show and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the wide range of art styles. I appreciated that the juror talked in detail about his process for selecting the winners and honorable mentions. He had specific categories and assigned points to each piece in each category. I agreed with his conclusions. All the winners were deserving of their awards and I now have specific goals I can work on to improve my work.
Mastery of the Material
Elements and Principles of Design
Level of Difficulty
Anything extra that adds to or subtracts from the visual experience
Skill is important, but not the only thing. Viewers appreciate when a difficult thing is attempted and done well. Sometimes a simple picture skillfully executed is even better. The last category included things like the quality of the framing, the title, and if it conveyed an idea or concept. I would have separated those things out into separate categories because I am all about conveying an idea or concept, but too many categories can become another problem. Combining categories is smart when trying to look at lots of works of art and make decisions.
I am sure that there are also displays of art by emerging artists near you. I encourage you to seek them out.
From my blog post, “Maze or Labyrinth?”
My creative process currently feels like a maze. There are too many choices. Maintaining this blog helps me put my thoughts in order. I now have a few drafts of blog posts that are the beginnings of ideas. The fact that I have that store of ideas is both reassuring and aggravating. Reassuring because I am confident that running out of ideas is not going to be a problem. Aggravating because of the hours I have spent editing posts that are still not ready.
Ideas for paintings are flooding in faster than I can get them down on paper or canvas. Sketching is all I have done this week so far. It seems inadequate. Maybe these ideas are all garbage, but I must get them down so that I can either develop them or move on. I know that my job is just to show up and do the work. That is my own advice that I have a hard time following. I do not know which path to choose, which ideas to spend time developing. Am I in a dead end? Is it time to turn around?
Something feels different about how my creative process is evolving. I believe it is a positive change. No shortage of ideas, just a shortage of time. I sense an urgency to record my ideas. The articles and videos and books that I’ve been reading inspire me but are also stealing my time. Wait. That is not acurate. They are not stealing my time, I am giving my time to them. It is all part of the process. I even picked up knitting again. It was a craving I noticed one day. That is the best way to describe it; I craved the repetition of knitting. I chose a simple project so that my mind could wander. Is knitting moving me forward in my creative process or is it a wrong turn in the maze?
The work I am producing seems to be developing a life of its own and I am a bit like an observer. I like that this is happening. It is getting easier to let go of judgement and just watch what happens with curiosity. I have read of this phenomenon happening to other artists and writers, if you have a story about this happening to you, please share!
From my blog post, “Show Up and Do the Work”
Painting and Hiking have some things in common and in other ways they are polar opposites.
I need both activities in my life but for very different reasons. Hiking is input: nature, fresh air, get the body moving. Painting is output: show what I notice, make connections, communicate ideas.
Both painting and hiking are achieved by many small actions. One more step, one more step. In both it is possible to get lost in the repetition of small actions. That feeling of being in the zone of automatic productive action is amazing. It is almost a meditative state. It does take some effort but each step leads to the next. There are interesting things to look at along the way. Sometimes surprises happen, even when in a place I have been before. Familiar things change with the seasons. Sometimes I notice the footprints of others, sometimes I am the first to be there. When the experience is like this, I feel fully alive. Hiking is almost always like this. When painting is like this, I make my best work.
Lately I have had more success with maintaining my hiking routine but less success with maintaining my painting routine. To be successful at hiking I simply need to show up and put in the miles. I can do that. There is no such thing as being good or bad at hiking. If you are putting one foot in front of the other, you are hiking. Painting is a little different. There is more to it than simply showing up and moving the brush across the paper or canvas. There is such a thing as being good or bad at painting.
The a-ha moment I had when hiking yesterday was the fallacy of that statement. I am not in a painting class. There will not be grades. The only requirements on my paintings are the ones I put there myself.
It is not my job to make sure that everything I create is amazing. It is my job to show up and do the work. Art does not have to be complicated, but I do tend to make it that way. I need to just put one foot in front of the other.
I am still fighting to overcome the perfectionism that has always crippled me. There is still fear that what I create will not be good, but creating nothing is no good either. I try to create and it does not turn out as I hoped. I see that I need more practice to hone my skills. I have been doing this how many years now and still my skills are only at this level? What am I even doing?
What I am doing is creating responses to things I have noticed. What I create is not good or bad, it is my response. It is authentically me. That is why I must paint. It is how I am me.
The belief that hiking and painting are different in the amount of talent required is false. I do not need to judge my performance in either one. I am aware that those who need to earn their living from their paintings may have a different view. I am speaking for my situation. I struggle to get anything down on the canvas or paper.
I know the solution: Show up and do the work.
From my blog post, “Joy and Gratitude”
Today is a gift. It is Monday. The weekend went by so fast. My to-do list was mostly still undone Sunday night and I was giving up. Accepting that I was about to have another week of scrambling from one thing to the next, I noticed my phone buzzing. My employer cancelled Monday due to the weather. Glory!
A gift of time. So precious. I slept well, I did some more of my to-do list, I relaxed, I bundled up and walked a satisfying long walk. It was 5 or 10 degrees above zero, Farenheit: no problem. Parts of the trail had no tracks yet in the fresh snow. I experienced the simple joy of re-establishing the trail. Making my mark on that blank white canvas.
I was enjoying being outside, taking photos of plants, noticing the crisp air, the sounds, the absence of wind, the sunshine. My thoughts turned to gratitude to God for creating this world and all the people in it. Why are more people not out here enjoying this? The next thought that popped into my head hit me hard: I am extremely lucky. I can go back inside whenever I want. There are people outside today not by choice. Many of them probably do not have warm coats, hats, mittens, and boots. The snow, the plants, and the crisp air are not so magical to them.
So. Now what? How can I continue to relish this glorious day knowing that suffering exists? Am I obligated to feel some guilt at my good fotune? Good questions. Good questions are often answered with other questions. Is it a fact that I felt joy being outside? Yes. Is that bad? No. Is it a fact that I am aware of the suffering of others? Yes. Is it bad to ignore the suffering of others? Yes. Is it within my power to aid those who are suffering? Yes.
I often pray as I walk. I believe that these thoughts are part of the prayer conversation. Looks like my next questions are How? and To what extent?
What am I adding to my to-do list now?
From my blog post, “Reboot #18”
Many times in my life I have decided that I would begin making art everyday. There have been many times that I wrote “Day 1” at the top of a sketchbook page. Sometimes I get up to Day 15 or 20 before the other important parts of my life require attention and the creation of art falls to the wayside. If the time between painting sessions gets too long, I get crabby and resentful of nothing in particular. When I pick up a paintbrush or pen again and get lost in the making of marks, my brain says, “Ah yes. This. I like this.” Again I write “Day 1” at the top of a sketchbook page and again a few days later I fail to keep it up.
At one point I decided that this self-inflicted expectation is unhealthy and I should stop. Maybe painting is something from my past and now it is time to move on. I did not paint for months. I got crabby. Registering for a painting class helped. When I talked with others in the class about this idea of giving up painting, I got emotional. That surprised me. Apparently painting is really important to me and I should keep doing it.
During that class, it seemed to me that I loved the act of painting but hated the thought of preparing for a show. Shows are a lot of work! In addition to the time and money needed to frame the paintings, there is the psychological stress of putting myself out there to be inspected and judged. The thought of building a body of work carried with it the expectation that a show would follow. That fear is what held me back. During the class I decided that I would make art without a thought to who would see it. I gave myself permission to make it just for me.
My subconscious did not believe me. It did not take long for my artmaking to disappear again. On November 11, 2018, I wrote “Reboot #18” at the top of my sketchbook. It has been not quite a month, but so far so good. I have no idea if this is actually the 18th time I have re-committed to a regular schedule of creating art. Probably it has been more times than that. The exact number is not important. It is the understanding that starting again is OK. Gone is the promise that it is just for me. That fear needs to be faced. Art is to be seen by other humans. The reactions of the others might be positive or negative, but I am who I am and my art is what it is. I may begin over again many more times in my life. I fall down and I get up. That is life.
If I can forgive myself for the times that I fail to create, I think I will create more often. Find the joy. For me, the joy is found watching the form and light appear the paper. “Ah yes. This. I like this.”