Morning Pages and Magic

The Spell Card2
Dragon, 2018 Digital An, illustration of a scene in The Spell

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.

 

On Inspiration

2018-09-21 15.55.58
Blue Moon Rising, 2018, acrylic on panel

I read books on creativity all the time. I’m not sure if it’s because I, somehow, want to be assured that I’m creative, or whether I want to understand what goes on in that process. Either way, one thing that comes up time and again, is the admonition not to rely on inspiration. In fact talent and inspiration are two terms that almost everyone disses.

I understand it to an extent. Talents aren’t share equally among everyone, and we don’t want to make anyone feel bad because they were born with a little less of a particular talent than someone else. And there is in the creative community this idea that the talented rely only on their talent and don’t work hard. That’s wrong I think, but I’m going to leave that for another time.

Another thing that books on creativity disparage is inspiration. I’m not saying you should sit on your duff and wait for inspiration before you attempt your creative project, but for heaven sakes if it comes along grab it with both hands and enjoy the blessing.

In my last post I noted that I’d finally painted something I didn’t hate. I made a tiny beginning. Then a day later I had the opportunity to visit Lorenzo Dupuis’s studio. What a wonder! I still feel all melty inside when I think about his luminous work, and I was/am inspired. For months and months I’ve been feeling as though I’m repeating myself or taken what wasn’t mine from others. Now, there is a path, a way to learn, a voice to find and I’m going to follow that inspiration. And surprise, surprise there are hints that I’ve been moving in this direction for some time. Yes, I’m worried that my work will look too much like Lorenzo’s, and guess what, he worries that his work looks too much like someone else’s. Creativity is a funny circular thing. Accept your talent, your inspirations and make something of it!

Tiny Paintings, a Tiny Beginning

It’s almost too soon to write about it, and too soon to show these tiny paintings to you, but I’m taking a chance.

Some time ago I wrote, on this blog, that I was unable to paint. I’d been working in encaustic for years, and everything I did felt like a rehash of something I’d done before, or a poor imitation of something someone else had done. The downward spiral began after my last exhibition, which was a number of years ago. I pretended it wasn’t happening and I kept spinning my wheels until early this year, when I decided to stop trying to make paintings.

Instead, I made drawings, both analog and digital, and I did an occasional watercolour where drawing was more important than painting. I enjoyed this immensely, especially when I was able to set aside the pressure to be good. This pressure is something almost all creatives experience. It’s intrinsic pressure, not pressure put on you from an outside boss. We’re our own worst critic. This is a necessary thing, but it can at times be crippling.

Last week I told you that being social isn’t only a human necessity, it is important to help you see the world afresh. I’d had a week of socializing. A long time for an introvert, and I thought I’d need a week or more to get back into to doing my work, both writing and drawing.

It rained on Monday. September is a weather turning-point in Saskatchewan and it was cold. The last thing I needed was to make myself unhappy by trying to paint, but for the first time in months and months I wanted to.  I pulled out a tiny panel, and some oils and painted. The next day I made another tiny painting, and so it’s begun. Already, I see where I have connected to my past work, but I’m seeing it in new light. It has possibilities. It’s like seeing a few feet of the path in the dark forest.

It’s too early to judge but I see that I will discard some of these beginnings, maybe all of them, but one…one, even in this tiny format, might be the seed of a new painting phase.

Being Social, Being Creative

Visitors
Visitors, 2014, encaustic on panel

As a creative person I find I have two major modes: the inner mode, which is the one that rummages around in my mind looking for patterns and divergences. And the outer mode that engages in the world and socializes with other people.

For me those two ways are very distinct. When I’m in a creative groove I’m inner focused, sometimes to an extreme. I do not want to be disturbed by disturbing things, like the wrong kind of news, the wrong kinds of sounds, the wrong kinds of light and people.

But, soon enough something curious happens. Idea generation begins to stagnate, and boredom and self-doubt set in.

It is at this point that being social, meeting with people, and being outwardly focused is the thing I need. Now, as an introvert, I find it difficult to breach that ‘being social’ barrier. I go kicking and screaming into socializing. When I, finally, capitulate I have a wonderful time. I forget all about creating things. I don’t have solutions to a paintings in my head. I don’t connive ways for my story characters to find their way out of a difficult situation. In fact, I don’t think I could do those things if I tried. It takes me days after a social period to get back into my head, and into a creative mind-space. I make tentative attempts. Again I doubt myself. But little by little, I move back into that inward space, and lo! All those things I experienced during a social time well up and become energy for something new. And the cycle begins again.

We all need social connections and community. Some of us need more than others, but everyone needs at least a little and if you do creative work you’ll do well to remember that you need it more than most. Think about it. Without input there can be no real output.

 

 

On Being an Art Snob

It's Written
It’s Written, c 1990s acrylic on rice paper (30 x 48″)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I studied Fine Arts at the University of Saskatchewan we made a sharp distinction between ‘fine art’ and what was often termed as ‘Sunday painting’. This university was very influence by abstract expressonism, especially the works that came out of New York in the 40s and 50s. A Prairie province, like Saskatchewan, coming late to the dominion of Canada (1905) and always tending to feel a little backward, embraced New York and it’s ideas with with a fervor we didn’t give Canadian artists.

The university had an off campus college at a northern lake (Emma Lake) and people like Stanley Boxer, Clement Greenberg and Barnet Newman (and many more) were invited to teach.  I drank it all in.

As a young sprout I wanted desperately make good art. But I had no idea about this kind of painting at all. What I wanted to do was make drawings and paintings like Rembrandt. But I learned. Iit was exciting to hear the theories of these men of (yeah, mostly men, but my painting above was influenced by Helen Frankenthaler) were exciting and nicely laced with high spiritual thought. Little by little I developed what Mr. Greenberg would have called taste.

And, though not intentionally, I began to looked down on those who could draw realistically and render. I made massive paintings using no method that you might call traditional.

Fishing with My Father

Fishing with My Father, above, was entirely built from bits of paper, glued down on a sheet of plastic, and poured over with acrylic paint washes. Then I added more bits of paper, string and whatever looked interesting, to come up with this final product. The painting is 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide.

Fast forward many years:  I still like abstract expressionist art very much, but I’ve found myself yearning to draw and paint recognizable people and things. I long to render and get lost in the minutia of the subject. And guess what I’ve found. There are so very many artists, from Urban Sketchers to Illustrators who do marvellous work, that I in my ignorant pretentiousness never looked at.

So here’s a thing I’ve learned. There are all kinds of taste in art. In fact because I’m a painter, I’m now pretty much a dinosaur because current tastes are for video art, sound art, and compilations of ideas that have nothing to do with the kind of esthetic taste I was taught to cultivate.

So, here’s some advice, younguns, listen to many teachers, stay humble and learn from everyone.  Here’s to staying open!

 

 

 

 

I’m Back and I’m Fizzing

Fire

Lac Green Nord in the Province of Quebec, Canada, is an oasis. And doesn’t this fire look relaxing?

The only thing is that I’m not very good at relaxing, and to be honest when you are the playmate of a five-year-old granddaughter you don’t relax much. Little Maya who wakes up at 6:00 am told me earnestly on the evening the day after we arrived, that it would be a very good thing if I woke up earlier like she did.

Yes, Milady.

But sometimes it’s not about relaxation. It’s more about changing the input. If you keep feeding yourself the same mental diet day after day your creativity starves from lack of proper nourishment. Because I’m a head person (someone who lives more in thought than in the physical world), it is a good thing to change things up and try a sensory diet for a while. On this holiday I had every opportunity to add experiences to my mental diet. I plunged into the water, screamed when I was splashed, slapped Horseflies, whirled on a tube being towed by a boat. I went to a parade and visited family in a care home. I did no writing, not even my morning pages, and very little drawing.

At home now I have so many ideas and plans that I have to calm myself down and take a step back. I know from experience that in this stage of the creative process I will not be happy with anything I do, and everything will go too slow, and soon enough I’ll despair.

Therefore, I will pick the peas and shell them. I’ll write this blog. I’ll make a little careless drawing, and I’ll read the next chapter in The Chronos Project, (my time travel novel)  and consider how I can improve it. I’ll go slow.

Give yourself the grace of going slow at times. And you don’t have to be brilliant all the time either (she said, though she finds this hard advice to take).

Oh, and I did make these two scribbles, because, hey, creativity is like a drug. It’s not easy to stop and thankfully stopping isn’t necessary.

Creativity: How it Works

Globe atop the Turler Cosmos Clock
Globe atop the Turler Cosmos Clock

 

 

 

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have a partial manuscript I call The Chronos Project that I plan to revise.

The story is about Anna Wassar, a young ethics enforcer who works at a time-shifting facility, where historians of all sort shift to other time periods to do research in their particular field of interest.

Anna becomes aware that someone is bringing treasures from the past into the future, and that if she doesn’t stop them, the Temporal Ethics Commission will shut down the Chronos Project.

Anna shifts to 1940s Germany in pursuit of her suspect, and things do not go well.

Okay, not a bad premise. Maybe a bit Timecop, but the theme is different and I like it.

A number of years have past since I wrote the first version. Hey, I even tried a second version, and one hundred and twenty thousand words into it I still couldn’t make it work. Time has passed and I am ready to give it another try.

I printed the whole thing and  began to read it back to front. To my surprised I have many excellent scenes, and surely I can…but Anna, Anna doesn’t have enough agency, and what about the murder bus and the children at Görden at Brandenburg an der Havel? How am I going to make that all fit?

Never mind. I’ll be systematic. I will separate the story into point of view sections (there are five–OMG, way to many?) and then I will read each section and see if I have a decent character arc for that character and we’ll go from there. Right. That’s a plan.

Days pass and I don’t work. “Nope, will not,” says that recalcitrant brat in my head. “Can’t, can’t, can’t. Won’t! You know what? I don’t really like writing. I don’t want to write, anymore. Heck, I’m retired. I don’t have to do hard work and I won’t. Done. I’m done.”

Except that I begin to wake up dreaming writing. Yes, thoughts in another characters head, third person.

Then this morning in my journal:

Sunday, 3 June, 2018

(ping)

It was the third of June another sleepy, dusty, delta day

I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was bailin’ hay*

And I’m there. Yes, in the Mississippi delta, but no, not only there, but where ever the work is hard, where the air smells of fresh-mown hay, where dust lifts off a roadway and hangs in the air, where heat shimmers in the distance of—my daddy’s farm. I’m home.

(ping)

In an instant I remember others who catch me like that. Stephen King is one. Always, his words make me feel as though I’ve lived them myself. I’m two-hundred and eighty pound, gay Julianne Vernon,  in my pickup truck, horse trailer behind, driving down a quiet highway. In the distance I see a car stopped on the roadside, and I know what to do. I’ll stop and lend a hand. It’s what I do, what I’ve always done. It will be my undoing, but I don’t know it yet.

Synchronicity

I look over my Facebook feed and I see a post by a printing company. It’s a link to a blog post by Meribeth Deen. Meribeth talks about writing mentors and how we all need one, and maybe if we copy their words they’ll bring us to our words, and—ding, ding, ding.

I know what to do: Read Stephen King’s words, write Stephen’s words, and then write Anna Wassar, just a little, not much, not a great long thesis, just as much as I can see in a one inch frame.

That’s how it works, creativity. One small thing leads to another thing, and still another and these things spiral and gather, swarm, swoop and excite and suddenly you can’t wait to write, to paint, to dance your dance and sing your song.

 

*In 1967 Bobby Gentry wrote and performed Ode to Billy Joe and I loved that song. Bobby sang it beautifully, but what I loved most was the story. A whole and complete story in the lyrics of a 4 minutes song (it was longer in the original writing). It had everything necessary for story, including a mystery. What were Billy Joe and that girl throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge?