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.

Making It Count

 

OK, so instead of whining about how little time I have, I thought I’d share five quick tips I use for making the most of my time.

1. The first should be obvious: get your stuff together. If you only have five, ten, or fifteen minutes to spare, you don’t want to waste it hunting down your journal or favorite pen. If you have a desk, keep the tools to use most often at arms reach. If you cannot leave items out (maybe you have little kids, like me), then just keep it all together in a shoebox up on a shelf.

2. Remember that it’s ok to be simple. Others may create complex layers in their pieces with sophisticated combinations of color and media. It’s ok if you don’t do that. It still counts as art.

3. Begin with the end in mind, like Stephen Covey says. It’s best if you have an idea of what you want to do when you first sit down. You don’t have to be holding the complete sketch or journal page layout in your head, but it helps to know which journal you want to work in, if you’ll be using watercolors or pencil, and so on. To keep from getting frustrated, it also helps to be clear at the onset how much you hope to get finished. Say to yourself, “I am just going to get a pencil sketch down, next time I’ll start to add watercolor.” (What do I think about on Friday afternoons when I am stuck in traffic? What journal page I am going to work on Saturday morning, of course!)

4. Work even when you’re not inspired–it lays the groundwork for when you are. Spend a few minutes cutting sheets to size, sharpening pencils, or creating interesting backgrounds you will collage or draw on top of later. For those times when you are inspired, remember to stop short of working through all your ideas. It works like this: if you sit down and work until you are stuck and have no ideas left, then you’ll never want to come back to that piece because you have no idea of what to do next. Stopping just short of your last idea, saying to yourself, “OK, I know what I am going to do next,” means that whenever you have a chance to come back, you already know what to do, and that smooths your transition back into the piece.

5. And the last is easy–or at least, it should be: have fun! Remember there should be some joy in creating. Don’t lose it!

Does It Take Five Minutes?

…’cause that’s what I have time for. Anything that takes five minutes or less gets done; everything else has to wait.

Having spent five and a half years getting used to the limited energy that a brain injury leaves you with, I feel ok about this. Although some interpret my attitude as either aloofness or self-importance, it isn’t either. I am used to prioritizing ruthlessly, to cutting things out of my schedule that  I really enjoy–knowing that I won’t really enjoy them anyway if I’m worn out.

A few minutes with my art journal here and there is all I’ve had time for. (I’ve had even less time to upload those pages to flickr or tumblr to share with others.) At least those time constraints have led to some interesting results. What is hastily done doesn’t have time to get precious, and what might seem careless can also seem care-free.

But I hate letting others down. I’ve got some pending blog posts and other updates to share here that I will get to–promise.

As soon as I have more than five minutes. 🙂

The Thing Itself

“Not Ideas About the Thing, But the Thing Itself” is a Wallace Steven poem that has fascinated me since I was first introduced to it in college. At the time, it was the most obscure poem I had ever read, and I just couldn’t figure it out. It was a “welcome to college where you’ll find out that you’re not as smart as you think you are” moment. It was a moment of authenticity.

And authenticity is what I think of when I read that poem today; after all, we seem to live in a culture that is hungry for experiences that are direct, immediate, and most importantly, authentic. This has a good side: protesters across the world can take videos with cell phones and instantly upload them to the internet to show us what their totalitarian leaders are really up to. On the other hand, it means that “The Jersey Shore” and other reality shows like it are the most popular shows on television. I have no numbers to prove this,  but instinct tells me that today more people read blogs than newspapers.

There’s more–think of how few people write first novels anymore. They write memoirs instead. And think of how professional wrestling has lost the interest of many, while the UFC is growing. The first time I saw an UFC fight on TV, I told my husband (a blue belt in jiu-jitsu), “But it just looks like two guys in a street fight!” Exactly. Whereas professional wrestling is a performance, this stuff looks real.

Our culture today rejects anything that seems too manufactured, too polished, too precious. We want the real thing.

But what does this have to do with journals and art? I wonder that myself.

It was a little less than 15 years ago when I first saw example of art journals at a presentation given by Tracy and Teesha Moore. The idea that you’d make art that is just for you–just like you’d write a diary that you never intended anyone else to read–and then show it, was so new that it was a shock to me. But now art journals and sketchbooks are hardly new; in fact, they seem to be all over. There’s the 1000 Journals Project. The Sketchbook Project. There are books and books of examples and how-to’s; there are websites, too.

It used to be that artists’ sketchbooks were private places where they worked out the challenges of larger, finished pieces that were intended for a wider audience. The finished piece was “the real thing.” Today the opposite seems to be true–those raw, unfinished pages seem more real. More genuine.

And so even if the popularity of “the Jersey Shore” makes me worry, more sketchbooks–and more art–in the world doesn’t.

Feeling Lucky

When I sit and quietly work in my journal, I can be present to the truth.

There are mornings when I forget.  I wake up without my constant struggles–like to walk and to balance–on my mind. But then I move to sit up and swing my legs over the edge of the bed, and the clumsy response of my body is a crushing blow.

All the frustration comes rushing back as I stumble out of the bedroom.

What am I now? Sometimes I can only think of what I am not: I am not the girl who used to get up early on the weekends, walk three miles to Starbucks, then relax with a new novel and my coffee. And I am not the girl who used to run 10 miles a week and loved it. And I am definitely not the girl people would look at and say, “You’re a lot stronger than you look,” when I’d carry a box or move a recliner.

That’s not me any more. Now I am a person who left behind all grace and dignity as I clawed my way out of the black hole that this brain tumor shoved me into. I know I am lucky to be alive; I have gained back many more abilities than the doctors ever thought I would. But sometimes, I get tired of being thankful.

Sometimes, I get tired of everything being an effort. I think of having to make that effort every single day for the rest of my life and I am overwhelmed with exhaustion by the thought. And then I think about how my type of tumor could come back at any time without warning, and the next time it could kill me.

That’s when I realize that being exhausted by life is a privilege.

Beautiful Ugly

You only enjoy what you are good at.” (–not sure who)

A simple idea that I reworked several times in my journal.

What if I love to draw, no matter what it looks like?

I ask myself this question a lot, because it’s a bit of a dilemma. After all, drawing is a visual art, and I am pretty sure art is supposed to look good.

But sometimes when I scribble, I have no real objective–and that’s the point of doodling, right? It’s to keep your hand (and part of your mind) occupied while the rest of you is busy doing something else. For me, that”something else” is a relaxed mental state that allows me to review, in my mind, whatever is troubling me in a non-judgemental way.

I work out problems. I temporarily forget disappointments. I feel hopeful that things will get better.

When I draw, or doodle, or makes marks on paper, of whatever you call it, or when I create a collage, it feels like I’m writing out a story without words. This means that I don’t have to try to find the right way to say something or even worry about grammar. I don’t have to wonder if someone will read it and misunderstand me, because I’m not trying to send a clear, comprehensible message. I can get it all out on paper, but feel safe at the same time.

So I keep working in my art journals, although most of the pages will never be “nice” enough to post to flickr or facebook. Because while the results might be ugly, but the process is beautiful.

Journals: By the Numbers

A simple journal page from one of the four journals I'm working in right now.

Some simple stats…

The number of  journals have I completed: 18

For how many years have I kept an art or visual journal?: 14

How many blank journals are in my art cabinet, waiting to be filled?: 6  (How many of those are Moleskines?: 3)

The number of art journals I am working in right now: 4  (That’s the most I’ve ever had going at once!)

The number of novels and memoirs that I started to read last month but put aside for my journals: 3

How many of my completed journals are now lost because I lent them to a friend who proved unworthy of that trust?: 2

The number of journals I currently have on loan to friends: 0

A Formula for (Creative) Freedom

Once I read this book, my visual journals were changed significantly.

It was a day, about a year ago, when I had just $30 to spare until my next paycheck. With that money, I needed to buy lunch for a few days that week, cover any expenses that might come up at my older son’s school (like a $10 contribution to a pizza party), plus I really wanted new shoes. Oh yeah, and the boys needed new clothes, too.

Yet I found myself at Micheal’s Arts & Crafts. (Oops.) Since I knew I had no money to spend there, I made a deal with myself–I’d limit my browsing to the $1 aisle. Good plan, right? How much trouble could I get into at the $1 aisle?

The problem with my plan is that at this Micheal’s, the $1 aisle ends at the book section. I realize this too late (books are a weakness of mine), and since looking at other’s art projects is a great way to find inspiration for your own, I am soon flipping the pages of books that I pick up from the shelves at random.

That’s how I found The Doodle Formula. The author, Adrienne Looman, is an adorable and talented scrapbook artist who seems to say, “Anyone can do this.” I love her whimsical doodles, and I believe her.

There is nothing in the book that implies, “If you’ve had brain surgery and your right hand doesn’t work that well any more, don’t bother.” And she calls this doodling, which sounds inviting–not like drawing, which sounds intense and intimidating and way beyond my post-surgery self.

I was immediately hooked. The book is almost $15, but I decided I could skip lunch.

Before challenging myself to "doodle," a painted background was the only hand work my collages included.

Now I love to add hand-drawn elements to a collage.

Another journal page I created after reading "The Doodle Formula."