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 of my progress and thoughts about creativity. I hope you find them helpful.
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.
June 2020 update: https://artawhirl.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.”