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December 2009

November 2009

Staying Creative During Distracting Times

This is my favorite time of year. I love seeing friends, having family visit, preparing festive meals - except for one thing.  This is also the time of the year when I feel the most distracted from my creative work.

I've tried to carve out studio time - but that hasn't worked.  Trying to ignore my withdrawal symptoms  makes them worse.  I want to be relaxed, to enjoy the days without the nagging worry that I'm supposed be doing something else.

This season I've decided on a different approach.  I've set my intention to use this time to step away from what I normally do creatively and learn something new.  I've been researching methods of paper making, and find myself fascinated by handmade books as sculpture and ephemeral art objects.  I've spent peaceful and creative moments gathering leaves and twigs from my yard and evenings curled up with books such as Bookcraft by Heather Weston. I'm learning about end papers, binders board, and reading paper making recipes. I'm discovering new inspiration - and because I can fit this activity around family gatherings and busy times I'm not worried that I'm missing out on something important - be it family or creatively oriented.

Discovering this coping method has been a priceless gift.  When I find myself unable to create during distracting times it can affect my ability to enjoy the important aspects of life outside my creative space. 

But finding a way that allows me to both enjoy the distractions while filling me with a new enthusiasm for when I can get back to the studio is empowering. It allows me to be present in the moment. 

Nobody knows better than you do where your soft underbelly of insecurity resides.  For me it's the fear that if I don't keep running faster and faster I'll slip to the back of the pack.  But at some point, I realized that my fear of missing out on the true important aspects of life was greater than my fear of failing, of changing...I wonder if the caterpillar feels that same conflict when he starts to spin his chrysalis.

Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Dawn Goldsmith


I recently connected with Dawn Goldsmith, a warm and talented free-lance writer who authors two excellent blogs: Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles, and WordsoGold.  She requested a guest interview with me about Ancient Artist for her Subversive Stitchers blog, and I agreed, but only if she returned the favor and let me post about what she is writing about, what inspires her, and how synchronicity plays such a valuable role in her life.  I think you will find her as warm, generous, and inspiring as I did. (Viewing Tip: you can easily enlarge the type on this blog by holding down the CTRL key while pressing the +  (plus) key several times.  To reduce the size, use the CTRL key and the - (minus) key.)

100_06651 I'm a nut about synchronicity, and where it leads me. If I pay attention and ACT upon the messages that come floating into my life, I am enriched!

My Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles blog is an act of synchronicity. The title came to me for a piece of fiction I 'needed' to write. But the novel didn't come together. I didn't want to forget the name. I didn't want to lose the connection it gave me to stitchers throughout the ages. Madam Defarge, Ruth McDowell, the line of women on both sides of my family tree who made utilitarian quilts with their prayers and beliefs and messages stitched in them. The Red Cross Quilts and Temperance Quilts and Abolition quilts and myths of Underground Railroads, and the symbolism of quilts including Celtic quilts. Quilts have offered comfort in every war. Every disaster and illness. I like to be connected to that aspect of quilts as well as the beauty they offer. Even ugly quilts are beautiful. And then there is the community of fabric lovers, not just quilters; fabric and yarn seem to bind us together in a community of extreme caring and generous spirit of sharing.

I knew quilts and I were to walk the path of life together when I hung my grandmother's 'fish and baskets' quilt on my living room wall. My boys named it 'fish and baskets' because one of the baskets turned sideways and looked like a fish. It reminded them of a Sunday school story and reminded me of Grandma's belief that nothing should be perfect. I imagine she turned that square sideways to achieve imperfection. One night I could not sleep, it was a full moon and the living room was nicely lit. I glanced at the quilt and it was different. The fish and baskets were gone and in its place I saw Greek urns and a different pieced background. The moonlight reacted with the background fabric making it step forward and the baskets disappeared into the shadows. I awoke the whole house to see the transformation. None of us look at quilts quite the same way after that.

So the Subversive Stitchers seemed a natural progression after a few essays sold to Christian Science Monitor about Real Men knitting and going to quilt shows. These are still my most favorite personal essays. I would love to do a full series of real men essays - of course the 'real man' is my husband, Derrol. He's also frugal in a generous way - he has always been my best subject for profitable essays.

Let me just clarify that I don't see myself as a creative person, which may explain my awe and adoration of the things people are doing who are guest blogging at Subversive Stitchers.  I am, if you haven't figured out by now, not a very good maker of quilts. The one I actually made - an Irish chain quilt - was burned up in a house fire. My collection of finished projects is quite small, but my stack of UFOs has been growing since I started Subversive Stitchers. I get inspired and then I find another guest blogger and get inspired again. And again. Someday I may finish them.

100_09635 I make things that serve a purpose or for gifts and those are for people who want things to serve purposes, so I rarely just create for the sake of creating. I took a class with Lyric Kinard about Playing with Paints and realized that I absolutely do not play enough. 

If we are talking about fabric creativity then I would say being an observer has been a detriment. Art is hands on and jump right in and do it. See what others are doing; get tips and technique help, perhaps. But the best way to get a feel for the materials and equipment is to use them. The more I do, the more I grow.

100_08342 As I mentioned in the blog, I have very little of my own work. If I actually make anything I give it away. Or as with the one bed quilt - it burned up in a house fire. I've attached photos of several projects that are in various stages of construction. The only one finished is the red and white nine-patch/red-work little quilt and the table runner. My 'art' is more with words.

I'm a freelance writer. I’m always writing or thinking about writing. But my priorities are at a strange intersection. As my husband’s health threatens to make him stop working, I need to be finding a money-making line of writing. Yet at the same time, my need to focus on creative writing keeps pressing me to devote more time to fiction. I have not resolved this situation. Ideally writing a best selling novel would take care of both needs. In all honesty, as the situation with my husband’s health continues, it becomes harder for me to think of anything but him. It is difficult to summon the energy or the focus to act upon any inspiration that might hit me on the head.

Normally my inspiration came in synchronistic or random pairings of events, words, thoughts, things. For example a discussion with a distant cousin where we reminisced about Grandma Molly’s house and the plants that the kids brought from school – arbor day handouts. They planted these in her yard which reminded me of heirloom plants and that led to an essay about the heirloom ‘plants’ growing on the family tree.

A thing that motivated another essay was a simple knitted potholder. Another inspiration – the scar on my thumb reminded me of conversations while washing dishes with Mom. Another inspiration – the neighbor woman, in her 70s or 80s, on a winter day came to our house, dropped down in the yard and made a snow angel in the fresh snow. It was her last visit, she was dying. And how the snow angel connected to death and dying with dignity. Watching the shuttle launch from our back yard for the first time reminded me of how I’ve grown up with the space race.


100_09713 Any advice I can give may only work for me. But I suggest finding the story of small things and how they connect to the most surprising things. The pot holder connected to gender roles. An early Christmas gift related to the change in the relationship between parents and adult children. Watching sandhill cranes chase the neighbor’s cat reminded me that I live in a Dr. Seuss world…. All of these thoughts were explored in essays that sold to The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, NBC News, Catholic Today, Birds and Blooms, etc. etc. etc. And as some of my favorite authors suggest: Butt in chair and write!

In writing, observation is part of the job since the majority of my writings are nonfiction for newspapers. But at the same time in writing the only way to become a great writer is to write. So there’s a balance between observing and doing.  

Now that I have reached a certain age and place in my life, I’m trying to find my way back to ‘play.’


Perhaps I just need to heed a poem by John H. Rhoades that I found on a very strong synchronistic day, titled Do More:


Do more

Do more than exist; live.

Do more than touch; feel.

Do more than look; observe.

Do more than read; absorb.

Do more than hear; listen.

Do more than listen; understand.

Do more than think; ponder.

Do more than talk; say something.

                                        ~by John H Rhoades


                                                                                       ~ Dawn Goldsmith, November 2009


Please visit Dawn's excellent blogs - you will find inspiration, laughter, camaraderie, and...synchronicity.  You won't be disappointed.

Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles




The Creative Brain

This is an art test:

  • Without thinking, clasp your hands together.  Which thumb is on top? 
  • Hold a straight object ( like a pencil or paint brush handle) out at arm's length, upright and lined up on an object across the room.  Using both eyes, focus on the pencil and slowly pull it toward you until it's about a foot or less from your nose.  Now close each eye, one at a time and see which eye is dominant (with your dominant eye, the pencil does not move, with the other eye, the pencil will jump over a notch).
  • Do you ever pick up a book or magazine and start thumbing through it backward, using your non-dominant hand?
  • Have you ever considered yourself to be ambidextrous?

Actually this isn't an art test, but a creativity test to see how well your right and left brain hemispheres work together.  If you are more of a *mixed-hander* you noticed something odd in the above tests.  Do you write with your right hand, but your left thumb, your left eye, and your left hand thumbing through magazines backward all cropped up?  There's a possible explanation why and you can read about it here.

But this is only a test.  Just for fun.  If it were real... 

My thanks to ArtsJournal: Daily Arts News for the link in this article. 

Redefining Your Expectations

One of my goals this year has been to be ruthless when it comes to evaluating my own work. 

It's not easy to evaluate accurately, or summon the courage to take a moderately successful painting and re-work it.  But that is my challenge.

In a previous post I talked about my thought process as I worked on the painting "Early Light."  I had been focused on issues in the middle ground around a center of interest.  When I finished the painting, I thought I had achieved the goals I'd set for myself, but after studying it for several days I concluded that the painting, while pleasant, did not communicate the experience that inspired it.

DSC04569 copy

Early Light, First Version

There were several areas in the first version of Early Light that bothered me. 

I truly felt the line of yellow trees appeared staged - which of course they were. 

I also felt I'd not achieved sufficient light in my shadowed bank, and had not left enough *air* in the painting as the trees move back into the distance.  Some of my edges were not skillfully rendered, particularly  where the water meets the rocks.

There was not enough variety or unity in the trees or the foreground, in that some surfaces were very uniformly painted (something I'd intended but which didn't work) and the trees - well, there were some beautifully rendered trees in the first version, but your eye jumps from tree to tree and they were so perfect they could have been painted at a tree farm.  I wanted to convey the wildness of the area.  In the second version I think you take in "trees" in one glance - enough information to inform while allowing imagination to take it from there.

The painting over all was cooler than I wanted, a consequence of my inexperience in painting on a very warm ground, and I hadn't captured the sense of light visually the way I remembered it emotionally.  I tried warming the foreground, but as we learn one way or the other, once you start messin' with the color you're messin' with the entire painting.  No *just one bravura stroke* in my bag of tricks yet. 

DSC04603 copy

Early Light Second Version

So this is what I ended up with, after moments of complete doubt about my decision to repaint, as well as confidence in my ability to *fix things.* 

But, after letting go of my apprehensions and believing in my ability to do what I intended,  I am much happier with the second version of this painting.  The color is warmer, more earthy.  The water and the rocks along the bank create a sense of solid ground, while the edges (lines) help move the eye back into the painting. You can see into the shadows to find suggested form.  I hope I've captured enough mystery and unpredictability now to engage the viewer.  But what to you think?