The Sketchbook Project – The Joy Diary

joydiary01.frontcover.2018.blogMy little sketchbook, ‘The Joy Diary’, is complete.  Tomorrow I mail it back to the Brooklyn Art Library, where it will become a permanent part of The Sketchbook Project collection for 2018.

As an unexpected result of doing this project, I learned something new about my creative identity.

When I started the sketchbook, I thought of it the way I think of a body of work for an art show.  In an art show, I choose a theme that becomes a starting point, and each drawing becomes a singular point of view related to that theme.

As I worked on the third drawing in the sketchbook, I realized my concept and understanding was shifting.  This was not an art show with 21 themed-but-separate drawings.  Instead, this was one long drawing that moved from page to page.  I was seeing the drawings as sequential, telling a story.

I was seeing my sketchbook as a book.

In a single realization, I shifted from an artist using words in her drawings, to a writer using images and words on an equal footing.  I shifted myself and my creative process from ‘either/or’ to ‘and/also’.

joydiary05.page4and5.2018For years I said I was both artist and writer, but I saw these identities as separate and distinct, two hats that I exchanged and wore one at a time.  In the process of creating this sketchbook, artist and writer merged.  I shifted into one identity wearing one hat.

I have been heading this direction for most of my art career.  There are words on my drawings as far back as 2003.  Funny how I did not consciously see this coming, yet when I look back, the progression is obvious.

So what am I now?  How do I call myself both artist and writer, giving my images and words equal footing, without having to use a phrase four words long?

I’m not a graphic novelist, although I can see this one coming next, in the way the third draft of my book is currently forming itself.  This next shift will not be a surprise.

For now I continue to call myself both artist and writer.  The word ‘both’ is important, making image and word an equal part of who I am and what I create.  I am okay with that.  More than okay.  This shift in seeing myself and my work gives me both clarity and joy.

________________________

In this post:

The Sketchbook Project, Brooklyn Art Library, https://www.sketchbookproject.com/

See my entire sketchbook in page order on my art site at https://walkingowlstudio.ca/  Click on ‘Gallery’, and then click on ‘The Sketchbook Project – The Joy Diary’.

Writing Like Breathing

rainbow.flowers 017There are times when I write, and it feels like breathing.  This is one of them.

Like breath.  Essential, easy, effortless.  A flow that is so simple and natural I have no conscious awareness of activity and my involvement in it.  No awareness of time or place passing.

In these moments, I am.  It is that simple.  Two words, I am.  I feel no boundary between me and all around me.  I am.  We are.

This is pure pleasure, when writing is like breathing.  Writing for the pleasure of hearing thoughts pass through, for the pleasure of feeling my hand roll and loop and form words on a page.  Writing because here in this moment all is perfect.

When writing is like breathing, all is whole.  Nowhere is anything broken or chipped away.  I feel settled, at peace in mind and body, content in heart and spirit.

When writing is like breathing, I am blessed.  Writing this way, when it happens, is pure gift.  I am my truest self.  A feeling through every cell in my body, I am.  I am love, I am joy, I am breath.

When writing is like breathing, I am my river voice, flow and music.  I am life writing life.

I am.

Dance Me Across The Page

'Old Coyote Trick (Joy)'--Cat Fink
Old Coyote Trick (joy)

It’s not a day to be outside.  Wind and cold rain.  Grey sky.  The birds are hiding out in the snuggest places they can find.  Even the neighbour’s Irish Setter has not been through our yard on his usual patrol of the neighbourhood.

Like the birds, today I am in the snuggest place I can find.  In my studio, on the couch, Doctor Who blanket laid over my legs.  Vivaldi concertos playing on my laptop, and the heating turned up two degrees warmer than usual.

So much of what I do in my life is a search for major and minor comforts.

Today my big comfort is writing by hand.

I always write my first drafts by hand.  Moving a pencil across the lines of loose leaf paper is soothing to me.  There is a sweet, slow rhythm in this movement, a connection of mind and body that grounds me as I go.

Writing by hand is a waltz.  The sway and turn of my pencil forming patterns of words feels like the shift and slide of my feet on a dance floor.  Here is something created by my body and mind in partnered movement.  Each completed pattern of 1-2-3 is another thought, another sentence.

Of course I write on my laptop, too, but that is a different kind of dance.  The rhythm is staccato, my fingers hopping from key to key, my thoughts hopping as well.  I don’t feel partnered.  No, this is me at a high school Friday night dance, with the coloured lights flashing, the music at a full volume bounce off the walls, my feet pounding invented rhythms, loads of energy tearing through.

If I want a lyrical piece of writing, I begin with pencil and paper and hand.  If I want an in-your-face piece of writing, I go straight to the laptop.

If I had to choose only one set of writing tools, it would be pencil and paper.  My writing moves deepest by hand, and that is what I am always reaching for.  I want the place that touches the heart.  For me, that is pencil in hand and a waltz across the page.

______________________________

My heart

an invitation

dance with me it says.

We bow, step and turn,

my life marked out in breath and beat.

A path of love

a walk of light,

and when I reach your door

my heart to yours

an invitation.

Dance with me.

The Way Through Is Love

ibuiltmycastles
I Build My Castles in the Sky

I led a writing workshop last Saturday.  In the conversations and the writing, two life experiences showed up common to everyone.

Early in our lives, we discovered we loved creating with words, images, music, or movement.  Then later, someone told us with great certainty that we would never be a writer, an artist, a musician, a dancer, an actor, a you-name-it creative person.  Invariably, the someone making this pronouncement was in a position of authority or trust.  We were told by parents, teachers, and peers.

When this happened to me, the someone was a university art professor.

I heard “You will never be an artist.” and I stopped drawing for seventeen years.  Mine was not the longest gap.  One person in Saturday’s writing workshop was coming back to her love of creating after fifty years.  I have met people who never recovered from the experience.

This happens not only to those in the arts.  This happens to all of us.  We love doing something.  We have a dream.  And then someone says to us, “You will never be.  This will never be.”

Why does someone tell another person, “You will never be.  This will never be.”?

What makes someone so sure they know another person’s future?

I don’t know the answers to the questions I ask.  What I do know is that the way through hearing “you will never be” is love.

I left the visual arts degree program after hearing “you will never be.”  I still grieve the loss.  I wonder what I would be doing now, what kind of life I would have if I had stayed.  And at the same time, I know the life I did have prepared me to return to the art I loved and claim the title of Artist as mine.

During the years of not drawing, I kept my love of making things with my hands.  I found other ways to create.  I crocheted and embroidered and sewed.  I learned to weave, loved it, acquired a floor loom, and took over the extra bedroom in the house as my loom room.  I learned to spin and dye yarn.  My family and friends were the recipients of all this making.

I began calling myself a fibre artist, and loved how I felt when I used those words.  They felt like me.

Then I discovered a new love, weaving tapestry.

I saw complex images in my mind, the tapestries I wanted to weave.  But I discovered I was not able to recreate the images on paper, in preparation for planning the woven piece.

The Universe stepped in to support my love of making, and offered me two things.  My sister introduced me to the book The Artist’s Way, and I discovered there was an art school ten blocks from my home.  I said yes to both.

Love brought me full circle, back to drawing.

My love of creating with my hands would not let me go, and I listened to that love.  It helped me find ways of making that carried me through and healed me of you-will-never-be.

If someone says to you, “You will never be”, let yourself feel the hurt.  Then find a way to walk back into what you know you love, and walk through.  Love is your power.  I believe in you.

_______________________

In this post:

Book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, 25th Anniversary Edition published by Penguin, 2016.  Originally published by Tarcher Putnam in 1992, and republished by Tarcher Putnam in 2002.  Julia’s website is at http://juliacameronlive.com/

The Question Is The Answer

blogpost.mar1.2018

“She would not struggle to answer the questions but would let them do their work.

Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions.”

Yesterday I began reading a book recommended by a friend who is artist and writer.  Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, is the first novel of a detective series.  The quote is from the closing lines of Chapter Four.

There are no coincidences in life.  Each morning for the past three weeks I ask myself, “What gives me joy?”, and then let the question do its work.  I sit down at my studio work table.  I open my sketchbook to a blank page, and choose a pencil from the collection in the cup beside me.  I let my heart and mind become still.  And then I wait.

The reply is never long in coming.  Yesterday, joy is the piece of lapis lazuli that sits among other beloved stones on the table before me.  Today, joy is the bits of rainbow scattered around the studio walls, a gift of sunlight through the large raindrop-shaped crystal hanging in the window.

Joy is noticing joy, and learning over again how moments of joy are always scattered through my days like this morning’s rainbows, if only I stop and let myself notice.

Let myself see beauty.  Let myself feel joy.

There is a choice here of stopping, noticing, and allowing this to be in my life.  Noticing joy and beauty are vital to my writing and drawing.  I would be neither writer nor artist if I did not choose this every day.

Passion is my guide to creation.  Joy and beauty inspire me to see and feel, and then to ask, “What can I create from this?  How can I mirror this feeling in word and image?”

The questions are the answer.  They push me to seek, to feel my way into creating.  As I create, does this feel like joy?  Does this feel like beauty to me?  The answer is not in words.  The answer is in my feelings.

“Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions.”

The truth of what I ask and feel shows up in what I create.  The questions are simple.

What gives me joy?

What do I love?

What is beautiful to my eyes?

What is inspiring me today?

The writing or drawing, while I follow the path of my question, may not be simple but it is always my truth.

What gives me joy today?  The rainbows on my studio walls.  What is inspiring me today?  Jacqueline Winspear’s words that sparked this understanding and this post in reply.

Thank you, Jacqueline.  And thanks, Kate, for the recommendation.

_______________________

In this post:

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, Penguin Books, 2004.  A detective novel with heart.  The quote is from page 32.  http://jacquelinewinspear.com/

In the photo, above, is yesterday’s drawing for The Sketchbook Project 2018, Brooklyn Art Library.  https://www.sketchbookproject.com/libraries

When I Can’t Think Of Anything To Write

1.'Laid to Rest 80,000...Spirits (east)'--halfsize
‘Laid To Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (east)’

I’m stuck.

Usually when I write my morning pages, words show up for the blog post.  But not today.

Luckily, I know what to do.  Okay, I say to myself, start where I am.  This is advice taken to heart, from both Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron.  Wise words born of their years of creating, and generously shared with all.

Start where I am.

The last three days my creative energy has been focused on the sketchbook I’m doing (halfway through!) for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2018.  I’ve been happily playing with ideas and art materials, choosing what speaks to me, and creating it in the sketchbook.

Today I need to change gears, from image to word, and I feel stuck.

I go through fallow periods, both long and short, when the artist and writer in me rests.  This used to terrify me.  Panic.  Maybe I’ve stopped being an artist, stopped being a writer.  Maybe I’ve used up all my ideas.  I’ll never draw, never write again.

I have to have patience.

Patience is not my strong suit.

To soothe myself, I pull favourite books from my studio library and read about other artists and writers.  I experience their work, drawings, paintings, essays, and musings.  I notice how this colour shocks the colour next to it, how this phrase stops me breathless in its beauty.  I borrow other people’s creativity, while I wait for mine to rise again.  Their creativity gives me joy, and shifts me from fear into appreciation and possibility.

Creativity thrives in possibility.  Ideas show up, triggered by images and words that shine beauty into my heart.  Sooner or later, I am creating again.

Today the fallow period lasts a whole thirty minutes.  Hardly a test to my patience.  Definitely not enough time to go into panicked drama queen mode, thank goodness.

Thank you, Natalie and Julia, for your advice.  Thank you, every artist and writer who have lent me your creativity through the power of your images and words.  Thank you for sharing.  I am blessed to know you.

_______________________

In this post:

When soothing my patience through a fallow period, I especially love:

The Sound of Paper: starting from scratch by Julia Cameron, Penguin Publishing Group, 2005.  http://juliacameronlive.com/

Living Color: painting, writing, and the bones of seeing by Natalie Goldberg, Abrams, 2014.  http://nataliegoldberg.com/

Find the Brooklyn Art Library and The Sketchbook Project at  https://www.brooklynartlibrary.com/

Resisting Resistance

Cat Fink--'Old Coyote Trick (sticks and stones)'
Old Coyote Trick (sticks and stones) — Cat Fink

I wake up in an I-don’t-want-to-do-anything mood this morning.

I push through my morning routine.  I do my set of shoulder and neck stretches.  There is a flash of “that feels good” when I finish my last stretch, but it’s not enough to crack my mood.

I feel, as I eat breakfast, the desire to remain here at the table, reading.  The book is good, Closer To The Heart by my favourite fantasy writer Mercedes Lackey.  I do not want to put the book down, but this is more than desire to read a good book.  I am resisting moving into my studio and beginning my creative day.

I love drawing and writing.  Yesterday I played in the small sketchbook I received from the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2018.  No resistance showed up.

Today, though, there is a brick wall, ten feet high with “I don’t want to” stamped all over it.  I’m on this side.  My drawing and writing are on the other.

I know the trick.  Find the door in the wall.  If no door, then a ladder.  Maybe a bulldozer (I like that).  Or maybe I need help.

Asking for help is never my first choice.  Sometimes it should be.  Okay, help it is.

I reluctantly drop my book mark at page 148 of Mercedes’ book, leave the kitchen table, and move to my studio. I take my morning pages book from the pile of papers just to the right of me.  I pull a Mickey Mouse pencil from the collection sitting in the Starbucks grande frappaccino cup.  Morning pages are my first and biggest help.  I’m ready.

I start where I am.  Kicking my toes against this brick wall of resistance.  Leaning my back against it and muttering, “This feels crappy.”  And then adding, “You’re in my way.”

I built this wall.  I’m in my own way.

I begin wondering what it is I don’t want to do, that has put me in this mood. Continue reading “Resisting Resistance”

Creation Space: An Ode To Library Magic

1.'Containers for the Soul'--Cat Fink
‘Containers For The Soul’

Today the sun is out.  Fresh air and a change of view feel terribly appealing.  I have a book on hold at the public library.  I’ll go pick it up.

I walk into the library and head for the circulation desk.  As I walk, I hear in my mind the words ‘creation space’.

Oho.  I get it.  There is library magic arising.  Picking up the book on hold was only an excuse to get me here.  The real reason I am here—to write a blog post about libraries and creation space.  I borrow my book, join the librarian in praising the sunny day, then look for one of my favourite reading-writing-imagining spots.

And now here I am, writing.  I have a round table all to myself.  Books, Ipod, my canvas pencil case with the words ‘I like big books’ stencilled on it, pencils, and paper are scattered around me.  Total happiness.

I love libraries.  Libraries are home to me.  My favourite place in school and university was always the library.  The public library saw me, my sister, and my brother every Saturday, trading our piles of borrowed books for new piles of borrowed books.  Even through summer holidays, I never missed my weekly exchange of old words for new.

I love reading and writing and daydreaming in the library, but a library is more than a physical creation space.  A library gives me heart and mind space.  For me, a library is an entire universe of thought and imagination.  Every book on the shelves is a star, a planet, a solar system all its own where I can live if I choose.  I and my imagination have joyous permission and example from every writer whose books live on these shelves.  Their ideas and words whisper to me, “Come and play.”

I never say no to this invitation.  I know magic arises every time I say yes.

Sometimes I need a creation space wider than my studio and my single imagination.  Sometimes I need to connect with other imaginations.  A library is a space of all possibility.  Wandering along the shelves in the public library, I introduce myself to new-to-me writers and new-to-me ideas.  We connect, and my world expands.  What I thought was possible becomes infinite.

Yes, libraries, I love you.  Thank you for your gifts of infinite creation space and magic.