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 :

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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.

When to Stop

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Every now and again, if you’re lucky, you experience a rare gush of creativity. It erupts out of the blue and when it does, you drop everything and dive for the brush, pen, or whatever so you can seize the magic. When you’re riding this wave, each tone you pick is the right one, and inspiration flows like an open stream. It is lovely, perfect, sexy magic.

Under the influence of this rare tide, with these pieces, I managed to do something that is usually a hard won victory in my creative process. I put down the brush and walked away at precisely the right moments.

Now gouache and watercolour are particularly tricky in this regard. With acrylic or oil, you always have a second chance should you misstep. With gouache or watercolour however, you can over work it in a heartbeat. One false dot of pigment and you have to watch your mistake bleed through the piece – forever muddying what was once crisp. When you overthink forms your brushstrokes go from bold and pure to wobbly and insipid. In each of these pieces, I felt that moment come – where my urge to blather on was held in check by the voice of experience that said – “no – it’s time to walk away” or “yes – put that brush to paper and trust where it goes”.

I’m going to continue working at this size (5″ x 7″) for a while longer. I feel that there’s a series happening here and I like its vibe. Also, now, after working on 300lb watercolour paper – I am forever spoiled. I can’t go back to 140lb. I am hardcore geeking out about it.

Inner Thirst

It sneaks up on you. Especially when your life is basically in service of another person. It starts with mild irritation at seemingly normal things. Then, that ever present irritation dips and rises throughout the day leading to cycles of negative thought. For me, it also manifests as a hunger for decadent food or shopping- though neither of those things ever fill the void. I think it’s a  sideways desire for richness and energy.

What is this? This is an existential need to center myself as well as a need to create. It’s a recurrent hunger that peaks when my days lack the time and space for grounding myself.

This is perhaps the hardest thing about being a mom so far – the desperate lack of time and means to regenerate my inner reservoir of peace and strength. I’m not unhappy, nor am I unable to care for my little girl. The need for existential grounding though remains a background thirst that grows and grows until I can’t ignore it anymore. I am getting better at acknowledging the signs. I haven’t yet reached a new rhythm that curtails this cycle of want, though I would like to build a better cycle with some built in time for grounding, each day.

The best ways for me to ground myself are through art, writing and yoga. This week I tried something new. I left all my gouache things on the dining table with some pre cut and prepared pieces of watercolour paper. I’m trying to make it as easy as possible to do a small burst of work. That seemed to have worked.

In addition, I have my yoga mat and yoga dvd ready to go as well. That system isn’t working AT ALL. I think I need to memorise the sequence and do it on my own when I have a sliver of time.

Writing has been more elusive. Where painting doesn’t require me to be coherent – writing does. I can paint in a headspace beyond words and be happy. It won’t necessarily be good – but it’ll happen and that’s all I really need sometimes. With writing though, I find that I need to more actively center myself in order to access the stream of words. I can’t satisfactorily sit and write for a 15 minute period unless, like now, I’ve been wanting to do it for a day and a half. So maybe I need to save up my words so that once a week I can commit a solid hour to it and let daddy take the baby.

These are the paintings I did this week. The black and white one I had planned on for a long time and I finally did it. It’s a piece I made for a friend.

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Drako

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For most of 2016, I’ve had this canvas on my easel. I worked on it very slowly, adding layers upon layers of colour. For long stretches of time it just sat there in a semi-finished state while I looked and it and thought about it. What was nice in working on this piece was that I didn’t rush myself into shaping it into ‘something’. I let it be what it grew to be and only in the last stages did I really shape it into the beastie it is now. Because I didn’t rush it, I was able to bring to this piece some of the techniques I’ve practiced this year with the gouache.

This piece is called Drako, for obvious reasons (because it looks like a dragon). In terms of the inspiration behind it though, there was a phrase that had come into my mind in the early stages, ‘sometimes you need a map’. That’s because this canvas started out as something very different (tones of pink) and after the canvas sat abandoned for a really long time, at the beginning of this year I took it in a very different direction that eventually led here. Each piece in a sense is a voyage of discovery. More often than not this is an exercise in getting out of my own way to allow the image to form into something cohesive instead of forcing it in one direction or another.

My existential art map is something I’ve developed over the years and actually over the course of writing this blog to date. Writing my reflections on each piece has helped me map out my process. It gives me faith that in those moments when I stare at the canvas and think – my god this is garbage – that if I keep going, it’ll move past garbage and become something I’m happy with.

I feel good about ending 2016 on this note. Thanks for tuning in.

 

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