Flickr, Inspiration, & Envy

I love to look at Flickr and tumblr. My contacts there are wonderfully talented, and if I knew them well enough, I’d never stop telling them how their artwork is a constant source of inspiration for me. I learn from them and their art, and I’m grateful.

Most of the time.

I say that because, while I’m usually inspired, sometimes I’m just plain jealous:

“Ooohhh, look at those paint layers! I wish I could create something so subtle.”

“Now, why didn’t I think of that color combination?”

“Sigh. It will be years before I can draw that well… ”

Have you ever wondered if social media was invented just so you’d know how much better everyone else is? Have you ever logged off Facebook because you just couldn’t take seeing yet another photo of someone else’s beautiful kids in a stunning vacation setting?

You know what I mean.

It’s enough to make you throw your art journal and pencils in a deep desk drawer, lock it, and toss the key. Or almost enough, anyway.

Although I get discouraged, I keep drawing, collaging, and painting anyway. And then I go back to Flickr or tumblr to post it all.

Oh, no… Do you think I create envy in anyone when I post my journal pages online?

Nah. No way.

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Page 5, and Counting

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I just finished page five of my journal for The Sketchbook Project 2014. But I have no idea what I’ll do on page six, or seven, or the front cover.

And while I have a working title–Petal and Stem–I’m not yet sure how I’ll letter that.

Hmm… I have a lot of art to do!

In case you are wondering, this is not how I usually work. In fact, for each of my three previous submissions for The Sketchbook Project, I had every page carefully planned. I had already decided on a title and had a cover design all worked out for each one before I ever put pencil to paper.

If that seems a bit strict–or even forced–let me assure you that it wasn’t. The ideas for those previous books simply arrived in my mind fully formed. It just happened.

But this time, it didn’t happen. I waited a few weeks, and still, nothing. I started to worry that if I didn’t find inspiration soon, I’d run out of time. What to do?

I decided to just start drawing. And here I am, at page five! I am trusting that the book this journal wants to be will reveal itself page by page. I hope inspiration will come at some point, but maybe it won’t.

And I am ok with that, which is surprising. I’m used to being in control! But it feels good to let go, too, and try trusting the process.

Who I Will Be

The kind of artist I want to be isn’t afraid to try a new technique or style.

The artist I want to be remembers that inspiration is everywhere–and, more importantly, remembers to look for it.

The artist I want to be doesn’t blow her weekly gas and groceries budget at the art supply store.

She’s an artist who knows her strengths and weaknesses. (And most of the time, she’s ok with them.)

She doesn’t save the good paints and papers for herself, but shares them with her sons when they show interest, because there is always more where that came from.

(But not the watercolor brush that cost $23 and was worth every penny. Hands off!)

The artist I want to be will always wonder what really happened with Artemesia Gentileschi (don’t you?) while admiring her brave Judiths.

And she will be silly sometimes, serious sometimes, and will smile a lot.

And also will continue (for this week, anyway) to recommend “Exit Through the Gift Shop” to anyone who will listen.

The artist I want to be is humble, grateful, and determined; and thanks God every day for art that can touch the heart and make us better versions of ourselves.

But meanwhile, the artist I am is having fun. I hope you are, too!

Taking Back What Is Twisted

A little more than 10 years ago, when I still lived in New Jersey, I attended a two-day workshop with collage artist Jonathan Talbot. It was a wonderful class and the techniques I learned have become staples in my art methods.

But there was a lesson he taught that has followed me even beyond art making.

In the early part of the class, he showed us a page torn from a book. He explained that he would pass around the sheet so we could each tear off a piece to use in a collage. Everyone must tear off a piece, he explained, it was not optional.

When the page came to me, I immediately recognized that it was rag paper–very old rag paper. Plus, the print on it (was it letterpress?) had those funny ‘s’s that look like ‘f’s. I held my breath, tore off a piece, and passed it to the next student.

Once the sheet had made the rounds, Talbot asked us if we knew how old the paper we had just destroyed was. “One hundred years old!” someone guessed. “No, more like 500,” I said, my heart simultaneously racing and sinking. What had I done?

“Yes, 500 is a good guess,” Talbot responded, and everyone in the class groaned. But then he continued, “Ok, before you get too upset, answer this: What language is that on the page?” I looked down at my scrap and saw the phrase, “Gracias al Señor,” or “Thanks to the Lord,” so I said, in practically a whisper, “Spanish…”

“Yes!” he told us. “Anyone hear of the Spanish Inquisition? Good. So what you just tore up was a set of instructions for burning heretics. Now do you all feel better?” Relief passed through the class. “Nothing is too precious to be destroyed,” he concluded, and we went back to our works in progress.

The collage I made that includes that scrap hangs in my living room. I think about Talbot’s point often, and have reached an understanding of what he meant, and also what he didn’t.

That’s because to me, the lesson is also that there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. There is nothing that cannot be used as the raw material for art. Nothing is beyond hope.

In Letter 9 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, one devil explains to another that only God can create, and all tempters can do is twist His creations so that they are used unnaturally. (Devils did not create wine, for example, but they can tempt people to drink too much of it too often.) So I like to remember this: Art allows us to take back what is twisted, to take our own fires of The Inquisition and use that heat and light to restore beauty.

Too much?

I wonder about an alcoholic taking his or her first drink. Do they know, immediately, that what they just tasted might own them, control them, take their life? Do they know right away, and do they already feel that it is too late to turn back?

Yes, I have written about creating with feeling. I have written about my efforts to think less while making art. And I don’t take any of that back–and yet–I also wonder about the power of raw emotion. It’s uncontrollable power. Can it be destructive?

Sometimes when I am finished with a drawing (it might or might not be a good one), there seems to be such an amount of direct feeling in the lines on the paper that it defies the effort I used to create them. I wonder where that amount of emotion came from, and it scares me when I don’t know. Why? Because, somehow, it seems like a lack of effort to control my drawing, or to discipline myself, and that seems both irresponsible and dangerous.

I think of, years ago, watching Nirvana give their Unplugged performance on MTV. Anyone who saw the performance of the last song could have guessed that Kurt Cobain’s death would be tragic. Watching it, you see him express raw emotion that escapes him and will take control and torture him until he succumbs.

Maybe, being less talented that Kurt Cobain was, I don’t need to worry. Then again, I think I might strive for balance, just in case.

What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

So yes, I enjoy listening to Elvis Costello sometimes, and that song in particular.

But it was NPR that I was listening to when my mind started to wander (sorry, David Green) and I stumbled onto yet another blinding flash of the obvious.

I was thinking about people who are not happy. They may not be unhappy, but still, they feel something is missing, something is not right, and sometimes they are not sure what it is, or why they feel that way. And it makes my heart ache to see this.

I began to wonder why I don’t question myself more about my own happiness. “Do what makes you happy,” and “You deserve to be happy” are statements I hear and accept without skepticism. But should I? Is that all there is? Just being happy and doing what I want? Feeling entitled to something? While there is nothing funny or trivial about happiness, I  believe I might need something more. (And yes, I realize that does sound entitled.)

I realized (and this is what should have been obvious to me) that the question I have become preoccupied with is, “What is God’s will?” I spend more time wondering, “What should I do?” than asking “How do I feel?” It’s more about actions and attitude than about emotions. The emotions are secondary. Peace, love, and understanding are about what you do, not what you feel.

In his book The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton recalls his realization that anyone–anyone!–can be a saint, if they allow God to make them one. That sounds so much easier than it is! And there is no promise that such a path leads to happiness. But it might lead to something greater.

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” –Thomas Merton

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with art, or drawing, or journals. The answer: I’m not sure. But I do know that figuring out what to do depends on your opportunities to be quiet and listen sometimes. And art is a great way to be quiet. Creatively quiet, letting your mind wander into those blinding flashes of the obvious.

…and that’s how it goes…

I am sure anyone creative has experienced one or more of these extremes: you have time, but no inspiration; you have plenty of  ideas, but no time; you have both time and ideas, until you sit down and are facing a blank piece of paper, at which time either a child starts demanding attention or all your ideas evaporate. This past week I’ve experienced all three.

Taking those distance learning classes through Ithaca Collage  has really cut down my art time, my online time, my reading time … my time for everything! I am glad I am taking the classes because I am learning so much, most of which I can apply to my job immediately. I certain these nine months of hectic living will be worth it, even if I seem to be complaining.

However, I miss making art! I miss seeing the art of others online! Sigh…

My current compromise is this–be simple. Since I am only going to have a brief amount of free time to devote to art, I need to sketch something small, something uncomplicated, something I can finish fast. Either that, or it has to be something I can break down into simple steps, so I can put the piece away at a moment’s notice and then pick it up later (whenever “later” comes).

Doing pieces like this 4×4″ simple sketch of a branch keeps me from feeling like I have abandoned my sketchbook. Yes, I’ve already drawn branches just like this one a million times. But I tried to make it look more interesting by doing the sketch on a map–something colorful, instead of white paper. And no, it’s not my best sketch ever. But for now, it’s good enough!