During this time of new realities we are living in, one healthy way I have found to process the changes in our culture and find my way back to my creative work is by taking frequent walks in nature.
This spring and summer I have made repeated walks around and around the circular path of my neighborhood park planted with a wide variety of interesting trees and a small natural prairie area.
One Saturday night this spring at the end of a challenging week, I stopped mid-walk around the park as I spied one of the wood benches. I didn’t sit on the bench, I laid down on my back sprawled across the bench-feet dangling over the arm. This is not normal behavior for me. But, I’d had it. I was overwhelmed. I closed my eyes, listened to the wind, and took a moment to just be.
Eventually, I opened my eyes and looked up. There was a tree reaching its branches out over me. I thought “Those leaves are beautiful dancing in the wind. Are those leaves aspen leaves? Do we even have aspen trees in Iowa? I know they are prevalent across the mountains in Colorado, but here in Iowa?”
And, that train of thought led to words, and then more thoughts led to more words, leading to this poem.
Maybe the birds always sing at this vibrant level in the spring
Maybe the crabapple blossoms always smell this sweet
Maybe the trees always burst forth this brightly green
Maybe the breeze always brushes across my skin this freshly
Maybe the taste of grilled anything has been too overlooked
Maybe the Aspen leaves have always quaked this splendidly
Maybe my ears have not been tuned in
Maybe my eyes have grown dull by not seeing deeply
Maybe my nose has been too bent to the grindstone
Maybe my taste buds have been too quickly satisfied
Maybe my skin has been trapped inside for too long
Maybe my presence to reality has been misplaced
Maybe having the world stop for a while has allowed nature to awaken
Maybe having my world stop for a while has helped me to pay attention
Maybe having life interrupted has led me to profound observation
Maybe having new rhythms has helped me to calm incessant noise
Maybe having moments to ponder gratitude has revived empathy
Maybe having a new reality
is not the end of everything
but a shift to renewed beginnings
Melynda Van Zee ©2020
Enjoy a peek inside my studio process as I created the painting, “Unraveling Towards a New Reality.”
Here’s to shifting to new realities and renewed beginnings!
Stay well friends,
Sustaining creativity takes intentionality and occasionally taking extended time to slow down and restore. So this fall, I committed to going on some weekend retreats and I spent more extended time in my studio engaging in my creative practices. After months of art shows, exhibitions, travel, moving and hanging art around the country, I could feel internally this longing to slow down and re-engage my creativity in a deeper way. It’s not always easy for me to stop and rest, but I knew I needed a season of longer and deeper quiet. I needed time for restoration and rejuvenation, that was a bit more than my normal weekly creative and self-care practices.
Over the last few days and weeks, I spent time working in my art journals, while watching the maple tree in my neighbor’s yard turn a glorious shade of scarlet. I experimented with some new art supplies. I cleaned through old files. I unearthed old ideas, thoughts and projects. I sought inspiration in books. I painted, cut, glued, sketched, and jotted down insights. I replenished the art supplies I had consumed during the year.
I made an inspiration board from cut-up magazines and art reproductions I love.
I went on walks in the prairie taking photos as I went. I cleaned up and organized my studio space, desk and office files. I sorted and put away all the things where they belonged. I spent time in quiet and solitude.
After engaging in these practices of paying attention to my daily world, my personal physical spaces, and looking deep within at my own interior life, it rejuvenated my creativity. Doing these practices with intentionality helped me to be ready to begin my personal painting process again.
And, so I’m now creating “on-the-way” work as I transition into a new season of possibilities, opportunities and challenges. We often under recognize the power of these practices to heal our weary bodies and souls, while simultaneously sustaining our creativity. But, this type of work allows the creativity to rise to the top after the internal sifting work is done.
I’ve been capturing this moment in time full of open-hearted space in color and texture on canvas. I’m creating from a place of quiet and rest rather than creating from the space of deadlines or exhaustion. I’m pouring forward towards the unknown right now. It’s never easy to step into the unknown…it being “unknown” and all…but, my deep underground work of creative and restorative practices makes my creativity sustainable and pulls me into the unknown future. It doesn’t follow a straight line. It is not linear work. But, it is fruitful. And, since we are all heading into the unknown together, I’d rather go in posture of “joyous going” while meandering my way here and there, listening deep and following the inner movement of my rivers of inspiration.
After a winter season of painting in my studio, I’m pleased to share with you my new Inner Core painting series. Last year I found myself painting a recurring image of a spiral shape. These spiral shapes were different from other spirals I had painted in the past. The shapes began in the center, but rather than spinning counter-clockwise around a center point, the lines flowed outward and came back to the center again. This movement repeated itself again and again around a central point.
Because it had continually been showing up in my work over and over, I let myself be more curious and continued to explore this shape-especially experimenting with multiple spiraling and overlapping shapes within the paintings. And, I challenged myself to paint these spiral shapes on a much larger scale. The shapes were bold, flowing, overlapping, multi-dimensional and soothing. I began working on four large canvases by pouring lines of acrylic paint from bottles and then adding layers of translucent paint. Slowly over the time I’ve worked within this imagery, the more I’ve become aware that a theme of focusing on the inner core of life was appearing before my eyes on the canvases.
Simultaneously, I’ve also been thinking about the concept that artists are often responding to the shifts, trends and realities of the culture within which they live. Sometimes adapting their work to the cultural norms and sometimes reacting against or speaking into the current cultural flow. As I reflect on our cultural life together, I’m increasingly alarmed by the way our communication with each other and knowledge of our personal selves is being eroded right before our eyes.
Awareness is one of the first skills I teach in creativity classes. And, I’m still somewhat incredulous how important it is that I teach this- how important it is that I teach people to “look”, to really look at the world within and around them. As a culture we have forgotten what it looks like to really pay attention to our particular physical and non-physical world. We are so absorbed in what other people think, what other people are saying, how other people are reacting to current political and societal ills that we have forgotten how to slow down and look at what is happening in our own hearts, in our own personal relationships, and in our own backyards.
We are afraid to look too deep, because there we might find the things we don’t want to face. As a culture we are numbing out with reactive living, technology or other mood altering habits. These invasive habits are our escape mechanisms.
My new Inner Core Series has arisen from my own journey of choosing an alternative path-a different way of showing up in the world. It is a path that involves focusing on my own inner core. My art practice is one of the crucial pieces of how I figure out who I am- who I am going to be in this world and how I am going to show up. Art gives me a healthy place to make all these explorations and process my world. It is a sensory experience-the intensity of the colors, the movement of the brush, the vibrancy of the creativity flowing through me.
It is in my art journals- in the gathering of visual information and sketching that I begin to quiet down the outside world and allow myself to explore my own unique visual ideas. I filter the ideas and sketches in my art journal and eventually some of the ideas end up as paintings. This process requires paying attention to my own heart, emotions, thoughts, decision making, responses and reactions.
This vulnerable journey feels like a giant creativity research project that I’ve been investigating for years. I don’t want to keep the results of this work to myself, so I keep sharing my discoveries and creations with you. Thank you for joining in with my on-going creativity research project. If you’d like to see more of the new series, the paintings are available to view in Paintings. Interested in purchasing a specific piece? Please contact me on our Contact page. Finally, if you’d like to see me at an art show this upcoming spring/summer season, the schedule is below.
A few years ago we packed up and moved our family to a new home in a new city with a new school and new employment. Every day leading up to the move was full of real estate issues, cleaning house, planning for the transition, etc, etc…Moving falls in the Top 5 list of most stressful life events we encounter-it is a time of rapid change.
I created “Catch My Breath” following this period of transition. Painting right through the transitions in my life has been a growth point for me-not waiting until the “perfect time in life to create”, but creating right in the middle of it. Painting helps me to process my life as I live it. I used to think “I’ll paint more someday when…”