The Ebb

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the process of artistic creation fascinates me. There’s an aspect of ebb and flow to it that feels like a natural rhythm. The act of creating a piece of Art is much like the action of the tide. There’s the momentum of surf rushing onto the shore. The Flow. It’s full of energy and direction. The water follows as a force that comes from the ocean depths.

Then there’s the action of the water receding as it’s pulled back into the sea. The Ebb. The rush forward is more visible and more memorable, but the rush back has it’s own significance and challenges.

It has been my experience that the Flow occurs in those moments where time and thought recedes and you are in the slipstream of inspiration. All of your artistic training facilitates the forward push of the tide. The Flow is sweeter because you can accomplish what you wish without static.

The Ebb occurs when you shift out of that focus. It’s when you sit back and look at what you’ve made so far. It’s where you assess progress and plan your next steps. It’s also where you get pushed out of the Flow because you have poor technique or crappy materials.

I have never received advice or training on how to deal with the Ebb. Perhaps it’s singular and individual since it’s based on your own coping mechanisms and mental state. In my experience though, the Ebb is the place where the artist really hamstrings herself. This is where I drown myself in judgement. It’s the period of time when my cynical mind starts yammering on about ‘sale-ability’ and how inept or useless the whole endeavour is.

When the Ebb comes you are bereft of your muse. Without understanding the process as a tide however, each time it happens, you forget that the Flow will come once again.

This has often been my problem. I go through a prolific period of Flow and then one day there’s nothing there and I can feel the absence of inspiration and I think, “Well I guess I’m done forever.” What follows next is a desperate and predictable decline.

The self-recrimination that can spring out of the Ebb, can be crippling and actually defer the coming of the next surge. Deep in the Ebb, I think that that period of absence is actually who I am. In that headspace, I think that the inspiration is a Muse who has long left because I failed to be a suitable medium. This is not helpful. That kind of thinking means that I take months and sometimes years to do things that should take far less time.

The Flow is always going to come again. Whether it’s a week from now or two years from now – it’s a cycle and it will come again. Presence and Absence. Knowledge and then Doubt. I hamper my own progress by getting bogged down in a miasma of bullshit. I get down and out and miss the swell. This is what mismanaging the Ebb can do.

It’s important to remember that for the creative individual, the next Flow is inevitable. It will always come – so it’s important to spend your Ebb in productive reflection and spend it learning skills that will aid you when the next surge inevitably comes.

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Don’t hold your breath

Inhale: One, two, three, four, five – hold for two beats; exhale: five, four, three, two, one – hold for two; then repeat.

Concentrating on controlling my breathing creates space inside of me. Like wind blowing a sail, I am buoyed. In the space between breaths there is the peace of a placid ocean. When I greet that space there is a deep sense of homecoming that I too often deny.

I find that meditation for me is most efficacious through physical exercise that forces me to control my breathing.

When I was in labor with Maya, I got through it by focusing on my breathing and regulating that breathing through chanting. The Anusara invocation is a chant that feels at home within me. I would breath in for the duration of the 4 line verse :

ChantAnusa

and then release my breath slowly through a second repetition. This allowed me to control the fear and the pain.

When I’ve been in my best yoga form, I would be able to channel endurance and grace through my postures by focusing on my breathing. In those times, I would feel that elusive sense of transcendence that keeps you coming back to the floor. I would feel power, beauty and sweaty exhilaration beaming through me like I was the sun.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to get there. Years really.

Though I’m not back anywhere near there, I’ve learned something about strength. There is the strength it takes to do something awesomely well that you are innately good at. That is honourable and beautiful. What’s also beautiful and perhaps more meaningful for me at this point, is the strength required to journey back from a place of difficulty to a place of strength. When you’ve fallen far down a hill you’ve already climbed, it takes an incredible amount of will and self forgiveness to journey back up again.

I don’t show up to the challenge each day. I wish i did. But I’ve reopened the door and am taking steps. I tend to run in fits, stop for long rebellious periods of: “well I don’t need you either”, and then sprint again until I’m out of patience and breath. This is not a winning strategy.

Lately I get the feeling that I should try walking the whole way back up that mountain. I think I should try going steadily, one breath at a time.

One word at a time.

One difficult choice at a time.

One harrowing conversation at a time.

With painting, with yoga, with many creative endeavours and perhaps even fitness – it’s most important to show up with whatever regularity you can muster. If it’s 5 minutes of vinyasa a day – beautiful. If it’s one jagged sketch on the subway each day – lovely. If it’s 10 non-work or list related words a day – amazing.

The daily return – or the making of the ritual is the hardest part and often the most rewarding.

 

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Monday mornings

The thing about deciding to empower your creative self, is that once you do, your non-creative exploits start to grind you down. The thing about being a working mom, is that you wake up on Monday mornings, see your sleeping child and quietly grieve that you won’t spend all day with them again for another 5 days.

For me, my creative energy is not purely tied up in any one aesthetic pursuit, but rather, a certain dedication of spirit and current of ingenuity that I try to live with. It’s as much in the things that I make, as in the energy, planning and commitment I give to my loved ones, to my job and even to my diet. I began feeling this way about art and creativity when I was a teenager. I would look at the many Mechanics and IT people in my family and see how heavily invested they are in their work. How ingenious and commanding they are in their knowledge and skill; and I would think – Wow! What art! What soulful dedication! What worth!

In a sense it’s the mental action or inclination toward artfulness and really makes the difference to oneself and the world around you. Where, in our daily lives, the artifacts of our labor are so often disappointing, or not our own, it’s good to remember that the expression of our creative minds has value to ourselves and those around us.

So, as I begin my week, I try to remind myself of this. That, even though the work that I do in my professional life is often unremarkable and repetitive, that there are still parts of it that I can fully commit my creative spirit to. Sure, I really have to work at it sometimes, but really – who doesn’t? That’s just the shape of things. Sure, I miss my daughter, but really – she needs to eat and she needs to live somewhere, so I have to suck it up and work. Pretty much, the only thing that I really have control over is the attitude and spirit with which I approach my life.

So here’s to an awesome Monday. We’re going to make it one.

JumbieJewels

It’s Art Market time again! I’ve taken part in a couple of art markets. Before now I’ve mostly shown paintings & drawings. This year however, I will be showing jewellery.

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I started working with air-dry polymer clay a couple of months ago, experimenting with thickness, strength and hand painting techniques. I hadn’t worked with clay before, but I did a lot of research along the way. After a few batches of using the air-dry clay, I started using Sculpey oven bake polymer clay as an alternative. It has been an invigorating learning curve. It’s been a while since I’ve really dug my teeth into learning a new medium. Each batch I make is fresh and exciting to work on. I am sure that this is the beginning of a deeply satisfying, clay-filled journey.

This particular process is great for my immediate lifestyle. Polymer clay is easy to work on in small batches, for short bursts of time. It’s easy to get my creative ‘fix’ by working with colour and texture in such an immediate way. I’m reading about more traditional clay techniques as well, however I really don’t have the time/space/resources to make a traditional clay practice tenable.

When i was a kid I LOVED the NeverEnding Story. There was a scene in the movie that has always stuck with me – a huge, powerful stone giant sits and looks at his hands lamenting that and his big, strong hands were not strong enough to save his friends from the Nothing. He says, “They look like big, good, strong hands. Don’t they? I always thought that’s what they were… “ . That idea of your hands being the real agent of your ability has stuck with me. I put similar stock in my own hands. My eyes and hands do my work, and I’ve rediscovered the great great joy of getting my hands dirty.

As part of this new foray into jewellery, I am launching the JumbieJewels Etsy shop. I have a couple of things on there at the moment but really, I plan on populating it when the market is over. I’ll post here as well as on Instagram with updates.

So, in conclusion, if you’re in Toronto this weekend and you want to spend a sunny day in the park, come see the Christie Pits Art Crawl. Sunday 27th May from 9am-4pm.

Look for JumbieJewels and please stop by and say hello.

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The Toddler Art Critic

Yesterday, on the bus, while I was taking my daughter home from daycare, I had need of my sketchbook. My daughter was fretting and starting a major fuss because our trip was taking a long time due to rain and traffic. I had already read the books that we keep in the stroller for her. I had already given her snacks and water. We had even sang a couple of songs together (to the chagrin of the other passengers, I’m sure). With a few blocks further to go, I was running out of options for entertaining a 1-1/2 year old. I looked into my handbag to see what I could come up with and decided to show her my sketchbook.

 

My current sketchbook is a light grey Baron Fig notebook, given to me by my BFF Stacy. I think it’s about 3/4 full of sketches, lists and recipes. My daughter was fascinated. She flipped through the pages and her eyes lit up in absolute joy when she found a sketch of her dad. She pointed at it and began an enthusiastic chorus of ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!’. This lasted until she came to a sketch of our dog, Kai. She then started a chorus of ‘Kai! Kai! Kai! Dog! Dog! Dog!’. Then she went back to Daddy. All in all the sketches were a hit and they got us to our destination without the infant rage.

 

Funnily, the sketches she loves so much, were sketches that I thought were abject failures. I thought they were wonky and weird and not worth mention, but the Little One saw something in them – picked up on the resemblance that I thought I had totally missed. It felt pretty great. And it made me think more on what art is especially when it comes to portraiture. There’s something to be said about the vibe you can capture, even when you fail at resemblance.

 

In other news, I’m working on some clay things. I’m experimenting with polymer clay since I have not found any options near me for firing raw clay. I’ve looked up some videos on making a wire armature for figures and I hope to get some more clay to try out some of those. Also I’m working on some painted clay jewelry. I’ve been experimenting with techniques and will post when I have something I’m happy with.

 

As always, thanks for tuning in.

Asleep

My Instagram followers would have seen that I’ve been experimenting with portraits (to varying degrees of success). A friend of mine showed me a drawing that she started with pencils. I haven’t used pencils in a while now, so I thought I’d give them a try.

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This sketch, I worked on in 15 to 30 minute bursts over a 2 week period. As a source image, I used a photograph that I took of Mauri and Maya a few months ago. It’s a very personal and lovely moment that I’m really happy to have been able to capture. I’m looking forward to doing more pieces like this.

I’m really feeling the pencils, so I’ll probably stick with them for a bit.