Sometimes winter comes like this, with green and yellow leaves still on the tree. Not this year. The leaves have been gone for weeks, but yesterday it rained all day, and today the wind is howling. The rain has turned to snow. This is’t our first snow this autumn, but I think this one might be for keeps.
No matter. I’m so fortunate to live in a nice warm home, and when going outside isn’t much fun, you turn to your creative work. I swear that’s why Saskatchewan has so many writers and painters.
Last week, I wrote about how it was that I began to writing fiction. This set off a chain of introspection and emotion. You see, despite all the years, and the seven novels and various short stories later, I still write in complete obscurity. I have not been published and I’m concerned about self-publishing because frankly I have no idea how good or bad my storytelling and writing ability are. I know I am a better writer than I was at the beginning of the process, but I don’t have readers, and they are the final piece of the whole writing gig. Mostly, you only know yourself by looking at your community and seeing how or where you are alike or differ. Approval and appreciation, or the lack thereof help you know where you stand.
I can poke you in the eye with a bright image from my visual arts portfolio, every now and then, either here or on Facebook and Instagram and I get appreciative responses, but writing doesn’t enter your perception all in one go like images do. A reader is a more equal and intentional partner in the process.
So much mulling things over in my mind. Of course, the blues ensued. The upshot is that I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from writing to see what happens. It might be a wonderful relief, or maybe I’ll miss it so much I’ll be back at it in no time. We’ll see.
I’ll continue to post here every Monday morning, but mostly I’ll poke you in the eye with an image I’ve created. [picture a sticking-out-tongue emoticon here and then a smiley face]
Years ago, while going through a tough patch, I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I began to write Morning Pages. This, in case you don’t know, consists of writing three full pages, in cursive, about anything that comes to mind. The idea is, I think, to help you introspect, to figure out what you think, and believe, and if those beliefs and thoughts are true to you. They are meant to give you a voice, when you’re voice has shrivelled up and gone away.
Morning Pages are what started me writing fiction. Two things happened. I got very tired of my whiney daily litany of misery. The repeat, repeat, repeat pathos made me dispair. One morning I wrote three whole pages of Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
One day, I ended up writing in third person, and made my first attempt at writing fiction. Here is the first chapter of The Spell, if you’d like to see what happened. The Spell is young adult fantasy fiction. An dark plague has come to Erdry, and young Averil, third daughter of Doft the Mender, must create the spell that will destroy the darkness.
You know how, sometimes, there seems to be more than one person in your head? There is the smart wise person, the endless nag, the I know better than you guy, and the mouse that is the daily you? Sometimes, in the drivel that showed up under my pen, someone else spoke. Someone who was like my dad, wise and caring, but not my dad. Bit by bit I found out “D” was a dragon. Uh, huh, my own personal dragon. Not the indiscriminate terrorizor you read about in some books and comics, more like John Hurt in the TV series Merlin.
I still talk to “D”. Here’s what happened this morning after a whine about how a medication I’m taking isn’t doing enough:
D: I would roll my eyes, dear, but dragons don’t trouble themselves with eye rolling.
Me: [sticking tongue out at D] You’re a right bastard today. Go breath somewhere else.
A little conversation, not nearly as wise as some, but it reminded me not to take myself so seriously.
One of the hardest things in the making of art is judging improvement in your skills. We talk about the necessary 10,000 hours of practice that make you good at something. We think about that and decide maybe it isn’t 10,000 hours of practice that is needed, but instead, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to make you a master.
I’m old. I’ve had tens of thousands of hours of practice in all manner of things, and I don’t think I’m a master of anything. There are things other than practice that make you a better artist. An intimate familiarity with the things of music are a necessary tool but that knowledge alone doesn’t make art. What is necessary is an openness to experience, and an understanding that experience in one domain has an echo in another. That somehow, curiously, everything is fractal and this is that. This is a hard thing to practice.
So how do you judge? Sometimes you know you’ve reached a point of excellence by the reactions of others in your creative domain. Sometimes you know because one day you find that you, yourself, know that this thing you made is good. And sometimes you have no clue at all. You just keep doing it because there is something more to be said and something more to be proven, or understood.
My son enables my passion for new technologys. In 2001 he gave me a Wacom Graphire II. One of Wacom’s tiny digital drawing tablets. With the use of the included pen and a software that supported the hardware, you could make a painting direct to digital.
I made the painting above with this little Wacom tablet, in a software called GIMP. (I was all about Linux in 2001, and still have one Linux only computer). The lines are wobbly, but, art-wise, this painting is no worse than many I make today. In this case, I have no clue as to whether I’ve improved, so I’ll keep on keeping on until I do. Hmmm, how did I get that watercolour like look…
Above you see a harvest from my garden. I took this photo in the first few years we lived here.
It’s a holiday here in Canada, and though my weeks aren’t straitlaced by a nine-to-five job, I have decided to take the day off. Today is a fill up on gratitude day–oh, and turkey, and roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie, and…
Have a good day!!
At six this morning, I was lying in bed wondering what ink drawing I could make to illustrate #1 on the Inktober calendar: Poisonous. In a couple of drowse cycles I had it. I’d draw a tarantula. Right, and baby sitting next to a tarantula, and the baby is holding a baby bottle with a skull and cross bones on it.
And that is how too many projects are born.
Inktober, now in its 9th year, was a projected dreamt up by artist Jake Paker. The idea is to make an illustration that tells a story for prompt-word assigned to each day in October. It’s fun. Many artist do this each year. You make your drawing and post it to social media. I love social media in October. (And no, I don’t love it all the time.)
After giving it further thought, I’ve decided not to do Inktober this year. I really should, it would be such good practice for my visual storytelling, but the proliferation of projects can derail progress in your creative work like nothing else. I currently have 5+ things that I am serious about and want to complete. I am fortunate not to have to fit in a day job, but even without it, 5 things, and a family leaves something short-changed all the time. You never reach a momentum on anything.
Believe it or not, I didn’t realize that I was doing this project pile-up thing. I didn’t realize it until I read Jessica Abel’s Growing Gills early this year. Jessica’s book is about finding creative focus in your life. One of her best pieces of advice is to lose all those projects you collect and that drive you crazy with their demands. Focus on one project at a time. ONE. One ’til done.
That seems impossible to me. I write fiction and make visual art. So at the very least I always have two creative projects going. Add family life, and life in general, and I’m plenty busy.
However, if you find yourself with an itch to draw and your projects are finished, sign up for Inktober. I’m looking forward to seeing your work on social media.