Monday, April 12, 2010

Creative U-Turn

Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way, talks about Creative U-Turns.

They are described as self-inflicted sabotage resulting from fear of failure or success. They are designed to get us off-track in order to protect us from....what? From whatever sorts of frightening things being creative can bring up. Debilitating perfectionism? Criticism? Life changes?

An artistic U-turn arrives on a sudden wave of indifference. We greet our newly minted product or our delightful process with 'Aw, what does it matter anyhow? It's just a start. Everybody else is so much further ahead...' In dealing with creative U-Turns, we must first of all extend to ourselves sympathy. Creativity is scary.

She goes on to describe examples of creative U-turns, and boy, do I recognize myself in there.

I didn't think I was scared to do something as simple as post a small painting every week. But clearly, I am. Scared enough to stop if I think I can't pull it off well enough. I think what is scaring me the most is how nothing is coming out the way I want it to. I think something in me actually thought if I just took the leap, and started to paint, I would begin creating marvelous pieces. Some sort of miracle would occur. People would say: My God! You just started? It looks exactly like Matt James! And he's been painting for years.
(Aside: PLEASE do NOT feel as if you need to send me all sort of messages/emails of encouragement following this post. I am not fishing for any sort of compliment, just needing to openly share where I'm at at this stage of the game. Insert smiley face.)

My creative U-Turns take the form of getting so wrapped up in envisioning the finished product and then when it takes longer than I'd like for it to manifest, the joy it used to bring me evaporates, leaving me with a sort of bleak resentment.

And then I bail.

But here's the other thing, the underneath thing that is making me slightly anxious about this project: I don't exactly HAVE any extra creative time lying around. Not even, as it turns out, on Sundays. In an attempt to not have Ella, my 4-year-old smudge her little fingers through my wet paint, I have been trying to find time alone to carry out my painting commitment. But the truth is, if I'm going to get any painting done, I'm going to have to do it with my kids around.

And so I see my reasons for sabotage. The first - fear - can't be fixed.

"We cannot escape fear." Susan Jeffers says in her book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. "We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all our existing adventures."

The other reason - my admission that if I am to get any painting done it needs to be done with my kids - is manageable. Might even turn out to be a beautiful process. Messy, but beautiful.

I'm going to need some painting aprons or something.

And so on I go...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Enough said.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Painting #10

Okay. So I cheated a little this week. It came of bad time management, of spending too much of my Sunday sorting out my desk (I should have put it on my "later list", but it's gotten terribly long these days and a messy desk just sort of sneaks up on you and suddenly screams: Your life will be a creative/emotional/mental mess until you tidy me!!!!

In the tidying, I happened to go through an old box of photographs. Many of them were taken with film during a photo workshop 6 winters ago. I loved this proof sheet of a series of shots taken of my daughter, then two years old, on a cold March afternoon when the light was just right.

I sat with the box of photos for awhile and then decided to pin this one up on my bulletin board. Painting wise, nothing came that day but this forgotten proof sheet - of my baby girl on the stairs, on the bed, by the window - felt like enough.

(Okay, okay. I'll do two next week.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Painting #8

Last Sunday's painting was so dull, I had nothing to say. I'd been trying to get the effect of something I'd seen in a fancy home-decorating magazine. The result was that the whole process lacked that sense of letting loose, surrendering to process.

This past Sunday's was more enjoyable. Although I feel I am still miles away from painting the things I see in my head, I feel it is important to continue. A few synchronistic events have conspired to keep me going. A wonderful BOOK I stumbled across in the bookstore makes me feel like I could paint (and write) for days. Maira Kalman illustrated The Elements of Style, I discovered, and I'm not surprised, as I was always drawn to that cover.

Also, Iryn and I took a little stroll through a wonderful local art gallery and were both very inspired. I find I am more drawn to art that feels loose and childlike rather than tight, orderly lines. Also, I've decided I'm going to get out the hand sander and try sanding the backgrounds one of these days...

This one is a little "Dr. Seuss", n'est-ce pas?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I got a blog award!

Yay! My first blog award! Yes, it was given to me by my good friend Elle at ElleStraussBooks (who posted THIS BRILLIANT SPEECH called "Dare to Suck"-very timely I might add, since my last painting did not turn out the way I wanted it to) and YES, she may be then ONLY person leaving comments in the comments section as of yet, but I still appreciate it!

The way it works is I am supposed to tell you 7 random things about ME, and then pass the award on the 7 other bloggers.

So here goes:

1. I drink tea non-stop throughout the day and get a little panicky if I go too long without it. (It's not the caffeine, it's something about having a warm cup in my hands)
2. I will never under any circumstances eat balogne.
3. I am a great speller, but just realized I'm not really sure how to spell balogne. Balogna? Balonie? Hmm...
4. My husband put me on a cheese budget because I LOVE CHEESE! (Cheese toast, cheese omelette, cheese and crackers, cheese sprinkled on salad....cheese gumbo, cheese kabobs, coconut cheese, pineapple cheese)
5. I panic a little in the toilet paper aisle of the grocery store. Do I buy the 12-pack with 2-ply or the 8 pack with 4-ply, or Jumbo rolls, or the cheap stuff or the really fluffy stuff? agh!!!!!)
6. My favorite band is the Weakerthans.
7. I like to garden but so far I am not very good at it and last year I killed all my cucumbers.

I have decided that I will pass this award on to the writers of the blogs I visit most frequently so you can discover them too...

1. Jen at her lovely blog where she posts random things about life.
2. Keri at her fabulous and fun playground.
3. Mel at Little Girl in the Big City
4. Andrea at Superhero Journal
5. My beloved sisters at Shutter Sisters photo blog
6. Ridiculously amazing artist mom Amanda Blake Soule at Soulemama
7. Another FABULOUS blog I visit most frequently

See you Sunday~

Monday, February 8, 2010

Painting #6

Sunday was spent laid up in bed with a horrible migraine all day. I'd been having the "day in bed" fantasy again - I was feeling overwhelmed by all the kid and home stuff. I think there should be a centre where women can check themselves in a few times a year when they feel they are on the edge of losing it. I guess I got my wish, but not exactly the way I wanted. Fortunately, C was home to take care of the girls. In the evening, when I felt slightly recovered and staggered out in my pyjammas to get some food, Ella was affectionate and lovey, and brought me a gift bag.

"It's for you", she said.

I opened it to find two of the photos from our photo album glued to a piece of computer paper. Around the pictures she had drawn scribbly music notes with a thick black marker.

My first instinct was to correct her--I've told both the girls not to make crafts with the photos because I want them to stay there in the book where we can look at them whenever we want. But I couldn't do it. She had given it to me so sweetly and earnestly.

I looked at the photos. They were familiar. One of me 3 months postpartum, tired-looking and still carrying some extra pregnancy weight. I have Ella in my arms and I'm leaning down to kiss her face. The other photograph is of her and I on her first Christmas. I'm not wearing any makeup and I think I've just woken up. I look exhausted. Ella is snuggled against my shoulder. I am smiling slightly for the camera.

Lately I've been plagued by all sorts of thoughts: about how I have not done nearly enough with my life, about how I wish I could give my kids a better upbringing--trees to play in instead of just a small yard, animals instead of just the visiting stray cats. Aren't kids supposed to have a tree house and hills to play in? Isn't that the way the story is supposed to go?

Later, after the girls were in bed and I was feeling a wee bit better, I slumped around the house picking up toys, stray socks, bits of leggo. I saw the piece of paper with the photographs glued to it again. I picked it up. I didn't have enough time with her, was all I could think as I looked at her little baby face. I was so divided when she was born. I wasn't as present as I would have liked to have been.
Then, it was as if a kind, gentle voice said: Look. She drew music notes around the edges. She's trying to tell you that you are like music to her.

I started to cry. Because life some days feels like anything but music. At least yesterday did.

Today feels a little lighter, and althought I still feel a little shakey, I think I am on the mend.

I think that is why I am here painting. Van Gogh said "Could I not be of use and good for something? a picture I wish to say something that would console as music does."

Painting consoles me. As I painted this morning, I felt something being made right inside me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Painting #5 (Subtitle: Procrastination)

So I watched the Grammys instead of painting on Sunday and my inspiration dried up. All week I had been seeing a cat under a speckle of stars, but by Monday all I could drum up were these girls in front of a door.

It was my least pleasant and satisfying painting to date.

Oh well. I will keep looking up at my bulletin board to read the Barbara Sher quote I've had pinned up there for a few years now...."Great deeds are made up of small, steady actions, and it is these that you must learn to value and sustain."

Thank you Barbara.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Painting #4

Today's painting was inspired by a drawing that Ella made on Friday morning. Often, she'll come into my room when it's time to get up, and come to find me writing at my desk. Then she likes to color a picture with my colored hilighters or my fancy black felt. She made a picture of these cone-like figures with feet and--what are those lines across? Arms? I liked the shape of them and wanted to make a painting that included them.

I've played enough with paints before to know I love working with a few mediums--acrylics, pencil, indian ink, which I purchased a bottle of on a whim sometime last summer. I wanted to do these figures in oil pastels and smudge the edges, but didn't have a chance to make it to the art store this week. Maybe the smudged oil pastels will appear in future paintings, but not today.

What I am really enjoying about this process is working with what I have. As a writer and songwriter, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I DON'T have to work with... I need to learn to craft scenes more clearly, or sew the pieces of an essay together more seamlessly; if only I could play the banjo or find a cheap out-of-tune piano. Blah blah blah.

The detachment that has come with my Painting on Sundays project has given the the "whatever" attitude to get some work done. Maybe this is what Keri Smith means when she says you have to have enought "fuck you". Maybe it's what Julie Doiron meant the other night at the Streaming Cafe when she said that to keep doing music, a part of you has to believe that "you're the shit". (pardon all the profanities!)


It's a relief to be creating from this place, and I am intending to transfer it into other areas of my life.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Painting #3

I have to say, the bookshelf threw me. I'm not so into 3D.

But I'm enjoying the blotchy color and I like giving myelf permission to not have to do literal faces.

I began alone today, but the whole paint-needing-to-dry thing threw my time projection off again. I really need to get over this. I left it drying on the kitchen table, and got busy making soup, then went to finish it up quickly before supper. Or should I say, intended to finish it up quickly. As I started to squeeze colors, my 2 daughters couldn't resist. They promised they wouldn't get it on their clothes, and so I squeezed them each a little pallet. Iryn (age 7) painted a big black cloud (which seems fitting seeing as how she's been lately) and Ella (age 4) painted the two of us holding hands under the sun. The process was certainly not as peaceful as it had been earlier when I was alone, but it was good nonetheless. Maybe painting will become more of a communal thing around here than another one of my solitary pursuits. That would be fine with me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Painting #2

Okay, so it's Monday and I'm only now getting a chance to upload this. But here's my painting from Sunday...

So I laid out a layer of color first, and then realized I'd have to let it sit to dry.

I got all huffy and impatient.

After that, I painted some colored circles, but then realized I'd have to break to let THAT dry.

Then Ella, my four-year-old came over and ran her fingers through it.

I'm learning something about myself already.

I have this, er, issue, where I think everything going to take, like, 5 minutes, when really it takes half an hour or more.

This time issue thing seeps into every aspect of my life and I'm learning that its resistance is something that creates a lot of unnecessary frustration in me, and steals a lot of joy.

I've been like this as long as I can remember.

I've always run up stairs, always banged myself against walls, always burned myself on the stove trying to get something out too quickly, always spilled my tea trying to fill it too full.

I've always tried to find the shortcuts. In school, I avoided homework until the very last minute. All my grown-up life I have created work for myself where I could control my own hours so as to avoid the pressure of deadlines. This has resulted in having nauseatingly long to-do lists, and, at the end of the day, never feeling like I accomplished enough.

But recently, I've been noticing how depleting this habit is.

I dream of having a measuring stick within myself. Of being able, at the end of the day, to say "enough", and feel happy with the work I DID get done.

Last Christmas, after spending the whole fall dreaming of having a few empty days to myself to write, I took a trip up to a monastery to participate in a silent retreat for 3 days. Even there, with other people doing most of the cooking, and only a tiny cubicle of space to care for (a bed, a small desk, a lamp) I still felt myself resenting the small tasks that needed doing - having to make my bed as part of the monastery rules, having to share in the preparation or clean-up of one meal a day. I still only got a small amount of work done, and I still ended each day feeling like I didn't DO enough, didn't accomplish enough.

This is when I realized that - clearly - I had a problem.

Was I going to live my whole life resisting the small, menial tasks like brushing my teeth, doing the dishes, preparing healthy food and tidying up after myself? Obviously the right answer was no, but I needed to re-adjust my thinking more than a little bit in order to stop resisting these things in favor of more creative time. It became clear to me that I had in fact been, very simply put, resisting life itself.

Since then, I have been trying to make peace with time limits. Trying to make my lists smaller, trying to be more realistic about what I can accomplish in what amount of time. Whether I'm at a monastery, or at home with my 2 young daughters to care for and laundry to put away, I still only have a few hours a day to devote to creativity. Any more than this sets me off-balance, causes me to neglect other important things like walks or housework or eating (which leads to a diet of cheesetoast and plain yogurt - not altogether unhealthy, but seriously lacking in veggies!)

Julia Cameron, drawing on her experience as a recovered alcoholic, writes a lot about the idea of "creative sobriety"; a way of living where you are setting do-able goals, and not burning yourself out. Her writing quota is 3 pages a day. For such a prolific writer, this is amazing to me that she has gotten so far on such a small amount of daily writing.

Painting every Sunday is a good, grounded practice for me. On the one hand, it reminds me that I don't need a lot of time, I just need to get something down to feel satisfied and like I am moving closer to something. On the other hand, it reminds me that not everything is instant, like photography (maybe that's why I LOVE it so much!) Some things take time. It is necessary to honor this process, and to approach it with patience and respect. As Barbara Sher says in her wonderful book Wishcraft: "Great deeds are made up of small, steady actions, and it is these that you must learn to value and sustain."

By the end of this year, for better or worse, I will have painted 56 paintings. I will be that much closer to being able to paint those images that float through my head, calling to me in my dreams.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Painting #1


So it's Tuesday, January 5th.

I'm a wee bit lagging on the New Year's Resolutions thing....Between family gatherings and a headache and a surprise visit from a friend from out of town, I only sat down TODAY to scribble my intentions for the upcoming year.

One of my intentions is to paint more.

More, as in, more than once, like last year. Yes. HIGHLY disappointing considering it was on THE LIST of things I'd do more during 2009.

See, two years ago, I started seeing paintings in my mind as I'd fall asleep. Sometimes they were swirly patterns, sometimes faces, sometimes trees blowing in the wind. They were messy and colorful and strangely,deeply satisfying.

I have never really painted before - that is, since I was six and obsessed with painting Smurf Toadstool houses on big roll-out paper in Madame Piche's class. But everyone paints when they're six. However, last year, I wanted to start painting, badly. I pictured finding a little sliver of time 2 or 3 days a week to, you know, draw a picture, spread some paint around and...voila! The goal would be imperfection over perfection. Messes over meticulousness. Bravery over brilliance. I priced out canvases (yikes!), bought a tiny book, stocked up on acrylics, and prepared to let go....

This happened, as I mentioned, ONCE.

And why? Because this is what I do: I am constantly setting my jumps way too high, making big plans that inevitably set me up for frustration and failure.

Take recently for example: On January 30th, I started a blog called "A Year of Art". I intended to make a piece of art (a photo, sketch or painting) every day of the week and post it on that blog.

As soon as January kicked in, even just the THOUGHT of keeping it up made me want to take a nap. "There I go again." I thought. "Setting goals so high they're impossible to reach."

I suppose there's a pay-off to this. You get to slump your shoulders and give up. You get to blame something else--lack of time, the kids, too many wretched school newsletters to sign. This ensures that at the end of the day, you don't have to put yourself out there. Putting yourself out there, even to yourself, is FREAKY.

But the catch is that nothing gets done. And so long as you're relatively okay with that, it's fine. But I'm getting tired of it. Wasn't it Anais Nin who said: "And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."?

I'm not saying I'm going to blossom here. Please. I couldn't handle the pressure. But I am ready to open a little, to say that I want to paint, and to try, and to take the risk of making imperfect things.

And this is what I am slowly, oh, so slowly figuring out: that setting small goals is the only way anything gets done - around here anyway. Also at Mother Theresa's house, apparantly, because it was her that is known for having said: "We can do no great things; only small things with great love." And I have pinned this quote up on my bulletin board so I can stare at it every day.

So this blog is my small little offering to the art that seems to want to bloom inside of me.

I will not post something daily, I will probably not even make something daily.

But I will paint on Sundays. And I will post whatever I make here. And I may, if I feel so inclined, share my thoughts on creativity and other such things. Or not.

I look forward to meeting you along the way.

With love,

Kim McMechan