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.

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!

…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!

My Randomness is Infinite

Trying out a stamp I carved....

Sometimes I feel that I need greater creative focus. You know how it is: I have limited time and energy, so whatever I can get done isn’t going to amount to much unless I focus on getting one thing done–all the way done–before moving on. Besides, I feel guilty whenever I find a half-finished and now-forgotten art project in a drawer or cabinet, all alone like an orphaned child.

Yet although I want to focus, there are times when I just can’t seem to make it happen–the line from the start of a project doesn’t seem to lead straight to its completion. For example, a while back Fran posted pictures of some of the stamps she carved by hand on her blog. They were wonderful, and I immediately remembered that I loved to carve stamps myself and that I had some Staedtler MasterCarve blocks ready and waiting in my art stash. I quickly got them out, put them on my desk, and started thinking of what to carve.

But that was back in October! And when did I finally carve that stamp? Just four days ago. I got tired of those blank carving blocks staring at me whenever I sat at my desk to work on another journal page or watercolor or drawing. “I have done so much–why haven’t I made time to carve a stamp?” I kept asking myself. Since I had no good answer (except that “lack of focus” thing), I did one stamp–had a lot of fun, by the way!–and put the other uncarved blocks away because I have way too much going on. I’m trying to make some cards to sell and maybe set up an Etsy account, remember?

These are great!

But just as I was promising myself that I would do better, my latest order from amazon.com arrived: a set of 12 Inktense Pencils and some watercolor paper. Once I peeked inside the pencil tin and saw the wonderful colors in there, I decided I’d start keeping that promise next week. (It took me six months to get around to carving a stamp–I wasn’t going to let these pencils sit unused for that long!)

In the end, I decided that I would compromise with myself this way: do something toward finishing one long-term project, then do something else that I just randomly want to try. (This makes these side projects seem move like a diversion than a distraction.) So this morning I photographed about half the cards I plan to offer for sale and, once that was done, I treated myself to some time with the new Inktense pencils. (Everyone says these are great, and they really are! So creamy to draw with, such bright colors when wet!) I hope that I may have found a balance between chaos and control, focus and randomness… we’ll see! After all, a quick count reveals that I have more than 30 books downloaded to my e-reader–none of them finished–yet.

Do I Dare?

Here in Texas, it’s spring. I’ve shed my sweaters, the boys can’t be kept inside, and, on Friday, our dog slipped the surly bonds of the backyard fence to run off for a few hours. Yes, we all have a bit more energy.

My mind has wandered, too, returning to an idea I’ve had many times before: making artwork to sell. Yet–do I dare?

Friends have told me that I could do it simply because I make artwork that they, themselves, would be willing to pay for. And, in fact, I’ve made pieces for those who have requested it and been paid a bit (a little bit) of money in return. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

And I don’t even mean the practical things like setting up an etsy.com store or a PayPal account or deciding prices. (Details like that can seem overwhelming!)

My hesitation is about “turning play into work.” It seems like just the other day I wrote about how making art needs to be a peaceful, joyous exercise for me. Will I lose that if I start creating artwork for sale? Will it suddenly seem more like a chore than a choice?

And yet, the lure of the validation of selling a piece (for money!) is hard to resist. It would be the same kind of silly excitement I feel whenever someone favorites an image of mine on flickr–I think, “someone likes it, really likes it!”–but exponentially more so. Of course, the potential for failure looms large in my mind too. (What if people like my stuff, but no enough to buy any of it?)

If, by now, you are thinking that I am over-thinking this, you are right. I should just get to work and make some cards, right? (I’ve already made about 10, which I will post soon!)

Now, With Feeling

The other day I was moving around the piles in my art area–pretending I was cleaning up–when I came across my first “real” watercolor painting. It is about 12 to 15 years old, and seeing it again surprised me in many ways with the memories it holds.

First, I remembered how disappointed I was when I had finished this painting. Somehow, it did not look the way I had intended. But now that I can no longer remember what I had in mind, I think, “well, it’s not so bad.” Years later, I find I can be easier on myself.

Then I remembered how much effort I had put into this painting: I had taken a recent photograph of my own, enlarged it on a copy machine, then traced it, transferred the tracing to watercolor paper, and then finally started painting. Whew! And the painting had taken hours–when I think about it, I can still feel the tension in my back and shoulders from hunching over that piece for longer than I should have. (It didn’t help that I had no art desk at the time and worked on the coffee table in the living room while sitting on the floor.)

No wonder I stayed away from watercolors for a while!

Today is different. In the past 12 or 15 years, I have learned that if working at art isn’t going to make me relaxed and at peace, I shouldn’t bother. As a result, my style is very different from what I attempted before: simple, sometimes abstracted, and only what I can create in the brief span of time when the kids are occupied with projects of their own. And instead of trying to achieve realism, I’m more interested in expressing feelings and emotions.

Yes, I may have given up my efforts for technical mastery, but I have found what enjoyment art can bring to my life. That seems like a fair trade to me.