Ready, Set, Go…Well, Maybe

The success of any creative effort depends on your expectations and how ready you are to do what you want to do.

What are your expectations for yourself? For the outcome of your effort? How prepared are you to meet your expectations?

Playbook strategy

There’s often a gap between where you are and where you want to be, what you can do and what you want to do. In other words, you may not be ready to do what you want to do. But don’t let that gap stop you. Just start where you are now. Ready, set, go!

 

 

 

Are you creative?

Good Measure-process img

Yes! If you feel desire (and we all do), you are a creative person. We tend to confuse “creative” and “talented,” and they do overlap, but they’re not inter-changeable. You can be talented and creative. You can also be creative and have little or limited talent, which I define as “an aptitude or skill.” The desire to create something, anything, is all you need to be creative.

Playbook strategy

For a week, keep a list of the times you cause something to happen.

Fields and Clouds

Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscapes look to you — your pleasure in the thing.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

When I passed by this Wisconsin farmstead on a summer day in 2015, I had to stop the car and just take it in. The cumulus clouds floating above a field of ripening grain was, as they used to say, “A Kodak moment.”

The small 6×6-inch oil painting was done on a birch board in 2015. I leaned into this painting, using a palatte knife to paint the field. I say “leaned in” because I’d only started painting again after setting aside my paints and brushes for 30-plus years. But something about this landscape gave me the courage to try. I gifted the painting to a friend, and it remains one of my favorites.

I’m painting the landscape again. This time on a 9×12-inch linen panel. The house is hidden, protected behind the windrow of trees. The small barn and silo, once so common in rural areas, are an anomaly in today’s world. Many of the older barns and silos have fallen into disrepair, or they’ve been replaced by sheet-metal barns and shiny aluminum silos. My motive for painting this little landscape (which still needs a little tweaking) is reason I stopped my car and took the photo — it was a beautiful summer day for watching clouds sweep past, high above the field.

Be Yourself

velveteen rabbit

I read two articles today about being “authentic.” The author of one article, a psychologist, said people misunderstand what it means to be authentic. She believes we begin life as a blank slate and create, or author, ourselves. She bolsters her argument that we create ourselves by referencing the fact that the words author and authentic share the root word “auth,” which means “to authorize.”  If I’m following the author’s logic, we can, if we choose, author ourselves, because we are blank slates.

I don’t agree with that starting point. Anyone who’s been around infants knows they’re born with likes and dislikes and they’re very ready to let everyone around them know what’s what.

The second article focused on how difficult and scary it is for us to be our authentic selves. The author of this article said we are afraid to let people see our true selves, because it’s not safe to share the truth about our struggles and challenges. We’re afraid we’ll be scorned and ridiculed if we show our vulnerabilities — how we’re real.

That got me to thinking, and what I remembered was the Velveteen Rabbit. In this children’s story, the rabbit wants nothing more than to become real, but the only way he can be real is if the boy loves him. How to be real was as much of a conundrum for the Velveteen Rabbit as it is for us. Being real is scary.

Over time, the boy does come to love the rabbit and because the boy loves him, the Velveteen Rabbit changes into a real rabbit. He then leaves the boy, joins the other rabbits in the forest, and lives like a real rabbit.

How can we be ourselves? Walt Whitman offers some insight.

You shall no longer take things at second of third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me;
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.

Do we, like the Velveteen Rabbit, need to be loved to be real? I think being loved helps.

There’s an easier way to be

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is contemplating death and the unfairness of life when he says that. He goes on to say:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to?

Hamlet is thinking about his father’s murder and the expectation that he will seek revenge, but he hesitates. For far less dramatic reasons than Hamlet’s, we have to make decisions every day about “being” in this world. We experience heartache and shocks to our being—who we are—because we live, and like Hamlet, we often wonder if it’s worth it to “take up arms against a sea of troubles.”

I told my parents I wanted to be an artist when I was in my early teens. My mom was silent on the subject, but my dad let me know what he thought. He was against the notion because, he said, “You can’t earn a living as an artist.”

It was easier then, as it is now, to earn a living wage by working for someone else. Some part of me abandoned the artist who lived inside and got on the merry-go-round that’s life. I went to college and then went on to earn a master’s degree in education. The question that fueled my desire to learn was: When most people hate what they do and often dislike who they work for, why do they tolerate a system that requires them to do what they’re told to do, what is expected, every day of their working lives? I paid $35,000 for the answer. But why do you think we learn to be other than we are? Because _________ (fill in the blank).

It often seems easier to do what is expected of us, to ride the merry-go-round, but is it? What did, or do, you want to create? Is there time in your life for you to do whatever it is that you need to do? Who do you think you are? Does the last question irritate you? Why?

Are you being urged to create something new?

A lunar eclipse occurred this morning (January 31) when the sun and moon were on opposite sides of earth. Our earth actually blocked the sun’s light from reaching the moon. For a brief time, the reflective moon was darkened as it passed through the earth’s shadow.

A bit of trivia

In ancient times, astronomers in Babylonia studied events that occurred around eclipses (there are a minimum of four eclipses every year), viewing them as omens that would impact humans in the months to come. According to these ancient scholars, eclipses could predict the death of kings. If Jupiter (the planet associated with kings) was not visible during the eclipse the king could die. FYI: Jupiter was visible in the predawn sky today during the eclipse today.

What astrologers have observed about lunar eclipses

The moon is at its fullest during a lunar eclipse and immediately after the eclipse it begins to diminish in size until it completely disappears about fourteen days later. Not everyone is equally sensitive to lunar activity all the time. But some of us will notice events occurring (in recent past and in the months ahead) that can be described as coincidence or even omens of what is to come.

The sun was in Aquarius and the moon in Leo during the eclipse today. If your birthday falls between January 28 and Feb 3 or between July 28 and August 3, you may be experiencing changes in some important relationships. If this is happening to you, you may also be thinking about what you can do or need to do now. These thoughts and any emotions attached to them are behind the urge to create something new.

I used a photo of settlers moving west during the 1800s because those folks who decided to create a new life had to make decisions about what to leave behind so they could make the cross-country journey. Their wagons could reliably carry about a thousand pounds, but many people packed their pianos, good china, and furniture in addition to all the food and supplies they needed for the months ahead. Once on the trail, they had to decide what was more important—their dream of a new life or their possessions. The trails west were littered with all that they had to leave behind if they wanted to survive the trip.

If you’re feeling the need to create something new, you need to decide what to abandon so you can survive and reach your destination. You may feel resistance to leaving what you have behind, and that resistance will limit your ability to create what you’re being urged to create for yourself.

 

 

What does fear of failing prevent you from doing?

7-100 Nod to Kahn

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.  ∼Edwin Land

I painted in my twenties and thirties. Then I put my paint box on a shelf in the basement and went on with life. The “idea” of painting sometime in the future never left me, but as time passed, fear set in and I began to believe painting—an activity that I loved—would remain shelved, like the supplies I’d left in the basement.

Three decades passed. I felt the urge to paint a couple of years before I actually picked up a brush and mixed paint on a palette or applied it to a canvas. But by the time I acknowledged to myself that I wanted to be the artist my younger self had believed in, I was too afraid to paint. So instead of painting, I got interested in polymer clay.

I didn’t want to use the clay to make jewelry or cute animals. I wanted to paint with clay. I searched the internet for examples and artists who used clay the way I wanted to use it and found few who had tried. In the meantime, I learned about the tools clay artists use and I started making small landscape clay paintings. The one above is 4×4 inches. I developed some skills with the medium, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t make the clay comply with my vision. Clay, like every medium, has its limitations.

Working with the clay had shown me that I wanted to paint landscapes. I also knew I couldn’t realize my vision using polymer clay. I needed to use paint. So I put aside the fear of failing and began again to paint. My “clay period” showed me some things about myself. It was an important and necessary step to take. But I’m so glad I decided to move past the fear, because that decision opened doors to new communities of people, new experiences, new confidence in myself, and it reconnected me to my joy, which is painting.

What brings you joy? What do you want to try doing? Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying.

Daily Practice is Fun!

Day 2

I joined artist Mary Glikerson’s 5-day challenge last week, and finished five quick studies (see here) for the challenge. The challenge was to paint for a set amount of time—20 to 40 minutes—and to stop when time was up. The intention: start a daily practice. All my studies took 40 minutes, but I plan to keep trying to get closer to 20 minutes.

It was a fun challenge, and it caused me to remember things I’d learned before and discover new things, combine objects in different ways to solve problems, test my skills with mixing and placement of color, and so much more. The work strengthened my creativity muscles, too.

Creativity: What is It?

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6×6″ oil on wood panel.

Ancient Greeks and Romans believed creativity implied freedom of action. Poets were thought to be creative, because they brought to life new worlds. Artists were not considered creative, because they copied what they saw—imitated, in other words—and didn’t create anything new. So it remained, with little real change, until roughly the 19th Century. Artists and writers could be craftspeople. Poets were the creators or art.

Perhaps the desire to upend this notion about who could be creative is what motivated and elevated some 20th Century artists to fame. Artists like Picasso, who painted mostly from his imagination, and Marcel Duchamp, who was associated with Cubism and the development of conceptual art (a theory the values concept more than the beauty of works of art) threw away the rules. They insisted on having the freedom to create by taking whatever actions they desired. They insisted on the freedom to create and were not be bound by rules.

It’s my opinion, which is shared by many, that abandoning aesthetics (subjective, emotional values that vary by culture) is risky—especially if the goal is to sell artwork. We rely on others to like our work and have positive emotional responses to it.

I took liberties with the landscape painting (above), emphasizing elements to my liking—implied freedom of action. Still, I copied what I saw, too. I do think of it as creative.

Thoughts? Do you consider yourself creative? Why, why not?

 

Begin Again: Let Go of Regret

In the years since I first read Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather, my life has “happened.” It’s easy to look back and feel some regret about what was abandoned or never realized, or to want time back so different decisions can be made. But time isn’t retrievable, and regret is uncomfortable. Like a prickly sweater, it doesn’t want us forget it’s there.

Regret is also a by-product of living. And while it may be difficult (or impossible) to forget things that did or didn’t happen, it’s possible to reframe how to think about things. I’m learning to let the feeling of regret be a reminder to live in the present and to let the past be. Prather’s words help me to do that and to use all the skills and experience I have now to create a present I can enjoy.

Excerpt from Notes to Myself

If I had only …
forgotten future greatness
and looked at green things and the buildings
and reached out to those around me
and smelled the air
and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations
and heard the rain on the roof
and put my arms around …
…it’s not too late
…it’s morning. I have been given
another day. Another day to hear and read
and smell and walk and love and glory
I am alive for another day.
Today, I don’t want to live for,

I want to live.

Anxiety is the realization that I might not reach the
rung on the opinion-ladder which I have
just set for myself. I fear death most
when I am about to exceed what others
expect of me; then death threatens to
cut me off from myself, because
“myself” is not yet.

Meaning does not exist in the future
and neither do I …

Hugh Prather wrote Notes to Myself in 1970.

 

It’s a New Year

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“Hope” 8×6″ oil on linen panel.

Updated January 10, 2018. Last year began well, but health problems surfaced in April that caused me to put painting and many other things on the back burner for the rest of the year. I’m just now starting to engage in many things I had to set aside during those months.

The painting “Hope” (above) was part of a personal challenge I started on January 1, 2017. I planned to finish 30 small plein air (painting on location) paintings in 30 days. The temperature that day was 35 degrees and it was sunny. But the highs in the near-future forecast were closer to 5 degrees. Burr! I started anyway, because I had set a goal and I felt hopeful about the future. I did adjust my plan a bit (because of cold weather) and worked on some paintings in my studio.

I might not have finished the challenge without a strategy that included asking my friend Karen, who is a personal coach, to help me be accountable. I arranged to send her a photo of each day’s painting, and I agreed that unless I broke a leg (or something equally awful happened), I would schedule a coaching session to talk about “why I was slacking off” if I missed more than two days in a row. Having that accountability helped me finish the challenge.

Think about what you want to accomplish this year. Then create a plan that includes a strategy for how you will be accountable, because these two things will help you reach you goals.

Paintings I completed for the January 2017 challenge can be seen here.