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Monday, December 5, 2016

Messy Energy

I am in the middle of a project. It's one of those many days, lots of steps, multi-procedural projects. My studio looks like an explosion in an at school.

Although I believe in going with flow, I also believe that a well rested mind functions best, so I reluctantly put my tools down to prepare for bed.

Brushes must be cleaned. My pallet must be tidied. Dirty water must be dumped, the bowls must be scrubbed. Soiled paper towels are placed in the rubbish, fresh ones are laid out.

I am preparing my work space for tomorrow's endeavors. When I enter the studio, I want all to be in readiness for my work. 

Yet, as I make my way to my bed, my mind is not so easily tidied away. Thoughts rush one on another. Images appear in my mind's eye.

I keep my notebook and colored pencils next to my bed. I make quick visual notes, in my own personal shorthand of imagery. 

“When you do something you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

This philosophy applies to both the creative act itself as well as to good studio practice.  Yet sometimes a bonfire burns for days, even weeks. 

When I work on a project that takes days, I find that I must establish a rhythm of working, and a routine. The routine makes it possible to return to the piece the next day with minimum fuss.

Decades of work have taught me to lay out my tools and materials just so, like a matter chef preparing a meal. The French concept for this in cookery is "mise en place"...everything put in its proper place. It's both a noun and a verb.

As artists, our mise en place is both the physical studio set-up and the mental preparation necessary to work. This allows the flow of creative energy to begin almost as soon as we enter the studio. The knowledge that all is in readiness allows us to contemplate the work even before we arrive at the studio. 

It's morning. I enter my studio. My tools and materials greet me, invite me in to continue my work. It's going to be another busy day. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016


We all go through dry spells, when we create nothing. Illness, grief, exhaustion, fear, emotional upheaval, family crises, there are so many reasons to be in the desert.

The very awareness that we are not creating brings us guilt, which itself inhibits creation.

I can't solve your desert. But I can share with you how I deal with mine.

1. I collect random ephemera throughout my day. I have a place to store it. Periodically I sift through it. Nothing may click right now, but it has percolated through my mind, and something creative will result.

2. I go to inspirational places. My current place is Venice. The architecture, the light in the water, the colour of the water, it all speaks to me. Find a place, do what you must, sacrifice as you can, go there. Be there. Spend time there.

3. I reorganize my studio. Seeing it afresh sometimes sparks my creative tinder. Just touching my tools and materials can pull me to create.

4. I go where there are other artists. I eat where they eat. I read where they read. Is as if there is an air of creativity floating through the area.

5. I buy myself beautiful flowers. Walking through city streets with a bunch of beautiful flowers is somehow very empowering. Strangers admire you, or admire the flowers. You feel good about that. Silly, I know, but it does work.

6. I make a firm commitment to do a five minute sketch every day. What's five minutes? An easy commitment to keep.

7. I give away sketches. To strangers on the bus, to my waitstaff, to the people behind the counters. It's a little thing for me, but it may be the only piece of original art they have ever owned. It's a really big  thing for them.

8. I keep my phone camera on and take photos of things I see on the street. Nothing amazing, just ordinary things. Really powerful exercise, as it turns out.

9. Art engenders art. I go to the museums and spend time with art. I visit galleries and craft shops.

10. I forgive myself for not creating right now. We all dwell in the desert sometimes. Just remember, though, that the rain which falls percolates through the sand to become refreshing water of life.