In this new year I’ve been thinking about deep focus- how sometimes I achieve it and sometimes I wander so far from the path. I accomplished some big tasks over the last season of creating art and sharing my work at art fairs and exhibits. Some of my work is more visible from the outside and some of it is unground and deeper quiet work that is much harder to detect. I was so struck by the words of Carol Green who so eloquently said, “Ultimately, what takes an artist to the next level is the integrity and presence of the art they make.” (Carol Green of Green Naftali Gallery in NY) She captures in succinct language the type of art that I believe flows out of periods of deep concentration and focus.
Deep focus is an all too rare commodity in our culture today. We are well aware of the many distractions that can so easily pull us out of places of flow and concentration no matter the type of work we do. I’ll admit that over the past two months I have experienced competing forces pulling for my time and attention and I allowed some things to fall off my schedule. It is easy for creatives to battle feelings of guilt when they drop out of activities for periods of time instead of celebrating focused attention to the large work at hand. The message our culture sends is that you have to be more, share more, do it all…when in reality these activities may be in direct opposition to the activities that will actually help you create the deep and meaningful work you long to produce. I don’t think the works of presence and integrity that our society so desperately needs in so many fields of study can occur without this ongoing deep focus of mind, spirit and heart.
Dear Creative Heart,
This is the time of year that I am spending hours in the studio fighting the battle of creative courage. It is the time of year when all the time spent dreaming and reflecting about what I will be creating in 2017 starts to unfold.
When the sun is shining and light is pouring through the windows of my upstairs sunroom studio, it helps me to find the inspiration to put the brush to canvas.
You can also find me this time of the year in my basement studio. This is a much bigger space so I have room for canvases in various stages from beginning to end. Some are drying from a layer of gesso which is the very first layer I apply to canvas. Some canvases have just had the clear line work laid down, and some have reached the finishing stages-ready for the sides to be painted and the multiple protective layers of isolation coat and varnish to be applied.
So many pieces are in progress right now…but still I work from this place of not knowing. It is in this place of not knowing where the battle of creative courage intensifies on an hourly and daily basis.
This is the place where I have to remind myself time and again that listening to what is in my heart is the way to taking the next step.
This is the place where I am deeply grateful that I have to opportunity to wrestle with translating thought, feeling and experience to the canvas in vibrant color.
Keep creating friends.
Keep ushering art into your life in all its various forms.
Look for the light, it is waiting to be found.
My dearest creative hearts,
I’m sitting at my computer desk gazing out of my window on a gorgeous fall afternoon- it is an unbelievable 72 degrees on Nov. 4. (I am born and raised in Iowa and we are long trained to start most any conversation with a comment on the weather!) And, now that the gorgeous weather conversation has got us going…what’s really on my heart and mind is a recent artistic challenge I’ve been wrestling with.
One question I have been frequently asked is “Do you have any paintings in neutral colors?” Now to be honest- I’ve met these requests to paint with more neutrals with a variety of responses…down right ignoring them, laughing them off, feigning interest while internally shouting “But I DON’T paint neutrals, they are boring”, followed by a crossing my arms pose while internally staking my claim “I paint COLOR!” Occasionally I would let myself wonder, maybe I could try it, but then a whole other host of excuses and fears would rise up. I would worry that in light of my earlier work with bright colors, I “shouldn’t paint neutrals” because it might dilute the signature colors I usually put on my palette. Artists are trained by professionals and gallery owners to do consistent work in a recognizable palette and style so that people can easily recognize the work-deviating from the known can create marketing challenges. But, underneath all the mental gymnastics, what I think was really going on was fear- fears I wouldn’t figure out the technical difficulties of switching to a new color palette, fears the paintings wouldn’t be beautiful (what if people don’t like them?), fears that maybe people would think maybe I was “going through a hard time” if I starting painting gray paintings. Oh- the power of fear to block our creative experiments!
I wish I could tell you that I was so self aware that right away I just started painting neutral paintings. But the reality is that I had to personally do the steps to the creative process that I have taught in my classes so many times throughout the years. One benefit of having painted for many years is that I am becoming more knowledgable about my own resistance patterns to creativity. Sometimes I can’t or don’t take the time to step back and figure out what is going on internally, to really digest what truly is getting in the way.
What finally helped to break my creative roadblock was taking a walk to one of my favorite places-Lake Red Rock. I explored again old territory by doing a slow walk across the remaining section of Horn’s Ferry Bridge that still rises above the Des Moines River.
I allowed myself to go and hang out at a place I have been hundreds of times before, but this time I saw it with fresh eyes. I walked the planks searching for inspiration and sure enough I found it-under my feet.
The weathered boards…
The creative cycle going full circle- a problem to solve, making something new from something old, letting the past speak into my future, letting my specific place in this world inform my art and inspire new creative leaps. A settling of my spirit in knowing that this series of work is authentic to me and my story and my places. And, that the seemingly simple requests for more paintings in a neutral color palette took me on a creative ride back to pieces of my own story.
You have the opportunity to purchase one of the new “Horns Ferry Bridge” series at any one of these three upcoming shows in central Iowa or by contacting me directly at the studio- just send me an email (email@example.com) if you are interested.
2016 Art Show Schedule
I’m also working on a collaborative painting with artist Chris Vance for the upcoming Paintpushers show “Collision”. Painting in progress now- make plans to see the collaborative piece and meet all the Paintpusher artists at the opening reception on Dec. 2 at the Des Moines Social Club!
2016 Art Exhibits
Maybe if there were bright orange blinking lights right ahead of us we would take notice, but that doesn’t usually happen with our creative work. No, we usually don’t pay close enough attention and then we fall smack dab in the middle of one of the most deadly creative pitfalls-wanting to have it all figured out RIGHT NOW! Yes, we want to know how our creative projects are going to turn out. We want to know that customers are going to purchase our work before we offer it for sale. We want to be guaranteed that other people are going to love our work before we even make the work. We want to know a new technique we long to experiment with is going to “work” before we buy the art supplies to try it. Oh, there is just so much uncertainty in this whole creative thing!
I wish I could tell you it is all going to work out. I wish I could tell you that you will sell out the first print run of your new book or sell everything at your first art show. I wish I could guarantee you that the new technique you long to try is really going to work, but I can’t. I would hate for you not to have the practice of growing your own creative muscles. We don’t grow many muscles the first time we lift weights-it is the continual repetition that produces strength.
One of the biggest roadblocks to developing an ongoing creative practice is that most artists give up. We have a hard time dealing with uncertainty. We don’t give ourselves time for work to develop, to learn new techniques, or to take the long view. We want it all and we think we want it NOW. But, our creativity shouldn’t be at the service of our instant gratification needs. Our creative practice is one thing that may help us to counteract our “need to have it now” mentality. It may be the thing that develops our inner fortitude to keep going when things aren’t clear-when the path isn’t known. It is a skill and a muscle we all need to have as we traverse real life. We don’t get everything we want, when we want it. Everything doesn’t always work out perfectly. Not everyone is going to like your work or “get” your work, but there are people out there who will. Sometimes starting a new technique will lead you to new directions you couldn’t have imagined before.
When the resistance builds,
when you have a set back,
when things don’t go exactly as you planned,
that is not the time to give up.
You don’t need to have it all figured out. It is a journey and there are going to be switch backs and missed turns.
Why dear creative heart would you go on an adventure if you knew everything before you ever left home?
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