Category: Sketchbook

Creative Responsibility

I’m having a lot of complicated thoughts about art and creativity today while being depressed about the shooting at Christchurch. That the killer used a GoPro to film his acts adds a whole new layer of disturb to the violence.

I love documenting my work and sharing it on the internet and somehow I feel that all of us who obsessively post our accomplishments online need to consider our responsibility when someone uses the same platforms and technologies to perform and share a really brutal and violent version of this shared obsession.

I’m not trying to imply we are responsible for what happened, but that we are responsible to consider what we might do moving forward to create a social media climate with no room for hate.

The platforms themselves need to be better at preventing content like that from spreading and we certainly need to think about how it was that this shooting was discussed in a chatroom ahead of time and didn’t get reported, how a violent person is able to get a hold of such powerful weapons.

But also, what have we created? So much of social media is divisive or a grand feedback loop inciting envy about how glamorous and charming everyone else’s lives are. It is a tool to connect and has been used to do some amazingly positive things but is the overwhelming reality is that it creates alienation? What else could spur such violence besides a very deep seated sense of alienation?

Culture follows creatives. We have an opportunity to have a profound impact on how people use social media. It is easy to get bogged down in how to earn a living in a society that doesn’t do a great job of making opportunity for artists but we can make some space to consider what direction we want to set for culture.

Do we really want to spend an hour setting up the perfect scene to photograph so that it looks like our morning coffee and laptop session is a Paris vacation? Or do we want to spend that time creating a beauty people can relate to, that they can find and celebrate in their own lives?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t share the beauty of a morning coffee if we are so inspired but there is a big difference between sharing the beauty we find in our lives versus staging a glamor we want other people to imagine we have and envy.

I may be off-base here, perhaps it is all the coaches and would-be influencers that are filling social media spaces with manicured lives. But they’re taking their cues from creatives so we still have an opportunity to make glamor passe and authenticity actually authentic.

I also believe strongly we need to avoid reproducing reproduce violent images in the name of drawing attention to a problem. I know it’s heavy-handed and judgemental to say so, but I think that’s the easy way out in most cases. I believe it is better to take the time to develop a body of work that states powerfully what we want it to without feeding more violent images into the minds of humanity.

I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna. Beauty, as I understand it, can encompass all types of human experience and aesthetics but it doesn’t create alienation. It is a shared experience we all have access too if we aren’t side-tracked by a constant invalidation of our worth.

Even as an artist who paints trees and birds I get to choose whether I create with an intention to share or to aggrandize my own ego. I don’t expect that in one day I can revamp my entire personality but I do intend to pay more attention to my intentions, to try to connect to beauty more and worry about status less.

Studio Update

Painting Journal

When I was visiting Corvallis for the last art walk I got to see one of my favorite artists Carrie Tasman. I talked to her about how I wanted to develop a looser illustration style but I also missed my old neat and tidy illustrations and she suggested in this delightfully matter-of-fact tone to experiment with new styles in my sketchbook. That is really what sketchbooks are for. Somehow I get overly pragmatic with my sketchbook, all studies and story boards, loose drawings of ideas but very little experimenting. I started a new painting journal with the hope that it would help me be looser and more creative.

In other news I’ve decided my experiment in making art a hobby is complete. I don’t know how to make art into an actual livelihood financially but I can’t deny that it is my livelihood in terms of purpose and meaning and fulfillment.

I feel very fortunate to be able to wait tables and have plenty of time to immerse myself in my art. I’ve started doing a little research into the idea of book publishing. I don’t really think of my poem books as children’s books but other people do, maybe that would be a more natural fit for me.


Finding a Lost Trail

When I arrive at Marshall park three varied thrushes scatter from around the trailhead into the trees. I walk down to the bridge, over the creek, past the playground and up the trail—hopefully on my way to Tryon Creek State Park. Last time I got lost and wandered entirely too far on a deer trail with the absurd notion that this trail, despite being on a map of suggested walking routes put out by the city of Portland, is simply not well used.

As I descend toward the creek again I see a trail on the other side I hadn’t noticed last time. I realize that this was the spot where the trail became thin and unreliable last time so I assume not crossing had been my wrong turn. This time I walk on the wide log over the creek and follow the trail along the water and up the bank to the intersection of Arnold and Boones Ferry.

A couple blocks away I find the North Creek Trailhead. I am elated to have finally made it here after one failed attempt! I haven’t been on this side of the park much. The woods feel open where the creek winds through a wide marshy area, especially without the leaves of the deciduous trees filling in the space.

I walk through the park on my favorite trails admiring the maple blossoms and budding leaves. I love the way the new buds spring up right next to the remnants of fall, old seedpods still hanging on the branches, leaves stuck in the cruxes. It’s been such a cold winter, I am especially eager for spring.

Above me chestnut backed chickadees sing to each other in a cloud of high-pitched chatter. I only get a good look at one who peeks over a mossy branch before darting off into the high branches.

I admire a wren hopping about in the undergrowth loudly defending its territory. Down the trail a ways I find a sunny bench to have lunch on. Behind me a barred owl sings occasionally and I watch people walk their dogs past as I eat the two bread heels out of a bread bag identical to the one my sandwich is in at home in the fridge.

On the way back I startle several more groups of varied thrushes. They aren’t a rare bird but I’ve never seen so many in one walk before and it makes the day even more enchanted than finding a lost trail on the other side of a log bridge.

I’m surprised to find varied thrushes have bold black and white stripes on the underside of their wings. It’s so striking as they fly off through the deep greens. As I watch a female perched next to a broken branch right above the trail I also realize their lovely orange coloring is the exact same color as the inside of a tree before it weathers. I stay very still, watching until she flies off. Up the trail a bit I spy two males on the other side of some bare brush. I watch them foraging alongside the creek until a fellow with a dog passes and the birds scatter.

After I cross the log again and head up the hill I notice this part of the trail is not stable. It is in a terrible process of erosion which makes it seem unlikely to be a city-sanctioned trail. When planning my route I had expected to walk on streets more then I actually did before arriving at Tryon.

I pass a fork in the trail with no signage. I had taken the wider path assuming the narrower trail went into the nearest neighborhood. Now I get out my map and find that this was actually my wrong turn. I was supposed to take the narrower trail to the street.

What a dilemma! I just discovered this enchanting trail but feel morally obligated to take a boring street route next time. If the bank weren’t in such bad shape I wouldn’t mind taking the unmapped trail but it’s not good for the creek and all the life it supports having the bank wash down.

It’s tough sometimes to balance out our rights as mammals to be close to nature with our obligation as stewards to make sure we stop ruining our neighboring species’ habitat. In my ideal world, we restore so many natural areas and effuse our cities and neighborhoods with so much plant life and other-species habitat that we don’t feel deprived when we shut ourselves out of areas that need to be restored.

I walk the rest of the way home and eat my sandwich finally. It tastes all the better for having been missed.

Snow Book

Here is a video of a book I made from paintings and quotes of my last Landscape Diaries post. I used an old watercolor painting and I have to admit I like the random content book I made on repurposed paper better than the themed book but it was still really fun to make a video of it. Next time I need to set up better lighting.

Book Folios

 

In my recent decision to take a break from seeing art as a commercial venture I’ve been excited to get back to making art for the sake of exploration. I asked myself, If art is to be just a hobby what do I want to do? The answer was quite clear. I want to make books! said in a tone that suggested some passionate cursing be added to the statement. I also noticed a yen to make more tactile and less literal work.

For years I’ve wanted to shift from being an artist who writes to being a writer who arts but having invested a lot in my art education and seeing a lifelong pattern of losing interest in things before I’ve explored their full potential I thought it might be wise to question the premise.

Now I have a decent paying job I enjoy, ample time to work on projects, and a great need to stop putting pressure on myself to be a “successful” creative person. What’s wrong with reorienting, making mistakes or possibly being a fool now and then…or even often? We can’t all be CEOs for heaven’s sake.

I prefer Maya Angelou’s definition of success anyway, Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. We can all become instantly successful the moment we read that quote if we have the courage to believe in ourselves.

Currently I’m making folios of little paintings from sketches on previously used watercolor paper. I have a pure blank sheet for one side of the folio and old designs to work with or paint over on the other side. The above slide show documents my efforts so far. I’m going to stitch these folios together but I didn’t create a sequential story with the text, they are just random experiments.

August

August

July

July

Having Tea with the Artist’s Existential Dilemma

The other day I was perusing the internet when I read this beautiful quote by Courtney Martin on OnBeing’s Instagram, Make relationships that are reciprocal, not transactional. Makes lives that aren’t easy, but rife with good material. Make art that matters.

Inspired I looked up Martin and read a transcript from a commencement speech she made about the challenges of being an artist.

In one spot Martin talked about self-loathing and—not being the first time I’ve heard a creative person talk about self-loathing as a regular part of the journey—I decided to give the issue some thought.

My goal has always been to eradicate negative feelings toward myself. It’s a fight that emboldens it’s own enemy and becomes quickly futile. But what if this these feelings are just part of the creative ecology? Not that all artists suffer internally, but that there is a required quota many of us have been assigned to. Or maybe an intense desire for honesty gets transformed into a plague of self-loathing for those that carry even a tiny seed of self-doubt.

It occurred to me to try a different approach. Instead of responding to self-loathing by dismantling my entire life and value system down to bare dirt and intently questioning each scrap of wood and nail as I build it back up, maybe I could just invite the self-loathing to tea as I’ve heard some Buddhists do, inspired by stories of Buddha inviting his own demons to tea as an honored guests.

Hello Self-loathing, it is hard to be an artist today, what would you like to talk about?

Perhaps I could have some influence if I take the time to make friends with this state of mind. Eventually I could level with it: I know you’d like to take this opportunity to scour every thought I’ve ever had to see if I am the real thing but I can assure you that it’s not possible to know and doesn’t matter. I am not strong enough to be something else, you are stuck being an artist and possibly a fraud. Is there something less existential you might enjoy doing today?

In the past I’ve benefited from a similar exercise I learned in one of Cheri Huber’s many books on mediation practice. When I became mired in melancholy I would sit down and write from the voices of the sorry feelings. It was quite amazing. Emotions that seemed overwhelming and debilitating would boil down to very simple issues once I let them rant for a while: You haven’t done anything social all week, do you hate me or what? That’s an easy fix once I see it clearly and then I feel like a human again.

Another example: I am really stressed out about that class I have to teach next week and I am dreading doing the prep.

It is easier to negotiate with a voice than a feeling: You’ve gotten a lot of feedback that would suggest you are good at teaching. But also, I don’t care if you bomb this class, I’ll still be here for you. Remember the last three times I avoided doing class prep but once I got started it was fun?

It’s still hard to get started but it’s easier after airing the discontent and worry. I also have more time to do the prep when I feel I can stop planning how to get a loan to build a tiny house in the field at my mom’s as any good failure would do.

I imagine many healthy people have these conversations in their heads automatically before they bog down without really being aware of it. Also, I’m not convinced this would help someone with clinical depression but it works well enough for me to suggest it.

There is a gift, I’m sure, in a propensity toward self-doubt. All of our challenges have the power to make us compassionate, to make us more resilient and capable. But most of all they are the terrain before us and we have a right to be intrigued with our path instead of worrying about how to get to the place we think we should be.

June

Mostly June