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How Things Will Turn Out

I have just signed up for a literary festival called When Words Collide which will take run for three days in August. Because I have volunteered to help with registration, I will receive free admission to the event. I am happy to volunteer and since the conference was full, it is the only way I am able to attend this years event. This will be my first foray into the world of fiction writing and I am excited to find out what I will learn. There are many speakers and workshops to choose from so I will need to sit down soon and make some plans.

I have enjoyed painting over the last 20 years and in the last year I have become interested in writing and would like to find out more about this creative outlet before I dismiss it outright as an option for me. Julia Cameron has long promoted morning pages as a pathway to creativity. She calls them “brain drains” and suggests that they serve to get rid of our “junk” emotions and thoughts in order to free our minds for more productive work. I did morning pages for quite awhile until I discovered that I was spending the small amount of time I had for creativity doing morning pages rather than painting. So I stopped doing them and did a lot more painting.

This isn’t to say that morning pages don’t work. Cameron is a writer so perhaps they work differently for writers than for painters. Indeed Gerald Weinberg in his book, “Weinberg on Writing” says “One way for smart people to be happy is to express themselves, to put out in the world the vast melange of thoughts and feelings whirling in their heads.”

I find myself with that vast melange of thoughts and feelings whirling in my head and don’t always know what to do about it. Yes, painting helps to quiet my mind and center it on the challenges at hand, that is, to get into the flow which is itself a path to happiness. But I sense that writing would provide a deeper vessel through which to process all those thoughts and feelings.

At the same time I am contemplating a change in creative direction, life has become more and more complicated as our IT company goes through growing pains and we start work on a long awaited cottage. There is not enough time to do it all and so I question the wisdom of adding on to my already full life a creative endeavor that will require another steep learning curve.

It helps a great deal that I have moved towards letting go of the outcome, at least when it comes to my creative expressions. I recognize that all artists have seasons of wonderful productivity and other times that can feel like a deep black hole. Again from Weinberg, “Success is a feeling not an event. With any feeling, it comes and goes and so at times I feel like I am succeeding and at times I feel like I am failing. All are part of the whole-story which is not finished yet.”

I love the quote from the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when the young hotel owner assures his guests, “It will all work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end yet.”

Perhaps right now it is difficult to see the pathway let alone know where it is going. The important thing is to keep moving forward, whether with giant leaps or baby steps, toward how things will turn out.

Creativity and Chocolate

If you are anything like me, sometimes my creative practise is like chocolate. That is, I mentally turn my creative practice into a treat that I reward myself with after I have done what I consider my real work, or my responsibilities. Just like chocolate, I know my creative practise is good for me but the problem comes when it becomes a reward. While I like the term creative practice because it implies a process rather than a product, when the word work is associated with creativity, it sets up a different mental image. When I do my creative work it isn’t a reward it is work, just like all the other work I do in a given day. And I for one like work.

I like chocolate too, but I know I should not have too much of it. In order to reach my creative goals it is not helpful for me to think of my creative work as chocolate, a treat. It is more helpful for me to think of it as work, a responsiblity I need to attend to every day.

Chocolate can be my reward for doing my creative work. I like that idea!

How about you? Is your creative time a little bit like chocolate that you use to reward yourself once you have fulfilled all your other responsibilities? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Drop me a comment!

Thanks for reading!

I Haven’t Been Painting for Awhile

The last five months have been filled with activity and pretty much devoid of painting. As a Creativity Coach I am loathed to admit my failures! But there it is. Now you know. Notice though that I said I have done little painting. I have however been using my creativity in other areas of my life. Although I am not entirely satisfied with what my creative practise has been in the last five months, it has been chugging along all the while.

Most of what I have been busy with has been family stuff and health issues. Nothing really serious with the health issues; nothing more serious than getting older and needing to deal with more things. Nothing more than having to pay attention to things like exercise, eating well and getting enough rest.

The family stuff included helping alter bridesmaid dresses and a wedding dress for my daughter’s wedding in Mexico in December, the busyness of Christmas and then a new grandchild born last month. There have also been quite a few deaths that have touched me in the last five months. An uncle died in September, an aunt in October, a close artist friend in November and another artist friend in January. All these deaths have reminded me that we only have so much time on this earth to accomplish what we want and need to do.

Now I face the challenge of getting back to my painting. I have lost my momentum and don’t know where to begin. It is important to realize that there is no easy way to begin again. Just knowing that can be helpful in lowering our expectation of ourselves. Here are some ideas:

  • Go into your studio or work area and ‘hang out’
  • Put on your favorite motivational music; music has a huge affect on our moods
  • Spend time cleaning up your work area or rearranging things more efficiently
  • Don’t get bogged down in cleaning up but use it as a place to start
  • Set up your materials and replenish what you are short on
  • Take a look at unfinished projects and see if they still have merit
  • Give yourself a little treat for whatever you accomplish
  • Plan to return tomorrow and keep doing what you love to do

I hope you get back on your creativity horse in the very near future. If you never got off, I hope your ride continues to bring you joy. If you have any ideas that have worked for you be sure to share them with us.

Planning for Flow

In his classic work Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains the importance of having flow experiences in our lives. These are experiences when we are so involved with what we are doing that we seem to lose track of time and even of ourselves. We leave the cares and worries of our life behind and become engage with the activity we are doing.

Much has been said about flow and artists. Many artists do their best work when they are in flow. This may be true but I am one artist that often finds it hard to get into flow. I am intrigued to read what Csikszentmihalyi has to say about artists and flow.

“The goals of an activity are not always as clear as those of tennis, and the feedback is often more ambiguous that the simple “I am not falling” information processed by the climber. A composer of music, for instance, may know that he wishes to write a song, or a flute concerto, but other that that, his goals are usually vague. And how does he know whether the notes he is writing down are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? The same situation holds true for the artist painting a picture, and for all activities that are creative or open-ended in nature. But these are all exceptions that prove the rule: unless a person learns to set goals and to recognize and gauge feedback in such activities, she will not enjoy them.” 1

That puts a different bent on the idea of art and flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it can be more difficult for artists to get into flow than for other people engaging in physical activities such as playing a sport or rock climbing. He includes reading, which is not a physical activity, as flow because it has clear cut goals and immediate feedback.

Csikszentmihalyi is saying that in order for creativity to be a flow activity, artists need to set clear short-term goals which provide them with immediate feedback. “I think I’ll paint a picture today” may not be as affective as having clear-cut steps to the process of painting a picture.

Here is a list of things a painter might consider:

      1. Decide on my subject
      2. Gather reference material
      3. Gather my supplies
      4. Prepare my ground
      5. Develop design
      6. Decide on values
      7. Chose my colour palette.
      8. Decide the steps for painting this subject

“But this really puts a damper on spontaneity”, you might say. Then ask yourself, “How often has a completely spontaneous work really turned out?” Even fully abstracted paintings require thought in the area of what supplies to use, what ground to use, the design, values and colours to use. So even what may in the end seem spontaneous is dependent on some planning.

The point here is not so much that everything has to be planned but rather that, by setting out small steps to accomplish, we set up a goal/feedback system that will help us to derive more pleasure out of what we are doing.

Once the painting part starts, perhaps taking photos of the painting at the end of each painting session may provide some feedback that is enjoyable and valuable for future work. It is something to think about.

1. page 55 Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity Coaching – Art and Flow

Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a wonderful book that I am reading through a second time just to get a better grasp on the ideas that are presented. Although written 20 years ago the book is still relevant today. Chicksentmehi is a social psychologist who coined the term “flow”, a concept that is important to all creative people.

“Flow tends to occur when a person’s skill are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. If challenges are too high one gets frustrated, then worried and eventually anxious. If challenges are too low relative to one’s skills one gets relaxed, then bored. If both challenges and skills are perceived to be low, one gets to feel apathetic. But when high challenges are matched with high skills, then the deep involvement that sets flow apart from ordinary life is likely to occur.” (Finding Flow p.30)

Csikszentmihalyi examines how we use our leisure time, differentiating active leisure from passive leisure. Passive leisure is doing things like watching TV, reading shallow books, gambling, drinking, etc. Active leisure involves choosing activities that are more likely to get you into flow such as cooking, exercise, fixing things, painting, learning, practising a musical instrument, etc. If active leisure brings us more satisfaction why do we often choose passive leisure over active leisure?

After a busy day or when we are feeling tired it is easier to choose passive leisure. Active leisure, on the other hand usually requires some sort of effort to get started. We may have to gather supplies, get out tools, get to another location, change clothes or similar preparations before we can begin our activity. We need to be willing to invest some energy into this preparation time before we can get into the more valuable activity we want to do.

Interestingly, once we are engaged in our chosen activity, we don’t necessarily feel happier, or at least no more happier than when we are busy with passive leisure. However once we are finished the activity we are more likely to feel fulfilled or proud of our efforts if we engaged in active leisure.

I certainly have experienced that need to put energy into getting over the threshold to start painting. I was away for a week at my daughter’s wedding in Mexico and upon returning found my painting desk covered with various things tossed there as I was busy packing. The mess on my desk needed to be dealt with before I could get to  painting. It just seemed easier to check my email or go shopping for Christmas than to face that mess. Yet in order to do paint I had to get over that threshold. Eventually I got my desk cleared off, finished and framed a painting and got ready to resume another one. Active leisure takes more energy to engage in but is far more fulfilling in the end.

The same ideas apply if your creative practise is also your full time job. You may find yourself procrastinating and putting off getting down to tackling that tricky part of your painting or your novel because it requires getting over the threshold of doing the necessary preparations to move forward with the work. If you view this as normal and recognize it for what it is, you may be more willing to put that little bit of effort into getting over the threshold. You then may find yourself rewarded with a period of flow when you are working at your best, using your considerable skills to meet the challenges of your creative practise.

Get Started Today!

This little Downy Woodpecker stopped by our suet feeder at our lake property.

This little Downy Woodpecker stopped by our suet feeder at our lake property.

As a Creativity Coach I help artists get back to doing the things they love to do.  If you are not doing your creative practice regularly you might try experimenting with what it feels like to do so. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

  • Even though you are busy, making a small commitment, even just 30 minutes three times a week, can have a huge impact on what you create and how your feel.
  • First thing in the morning is a great time but anytime that works for you is fine. Just make sure you schedule it into your day timer or smart phone. It would be even better if you set an alarm to remind yourself that it is time to stop and do your creative practice. And then, no excuses!
  • If you haven’t done your creative practice for a while, don’t be surprised if you have to do some preparation, cleaning up your work space and getting out supplies. Maybe you can do that the evening before so you are ready to do your creative practice at the time you have scheduled. You are less likely to be frustrated if you can jump right into your work.
  • Jump right into the hard part. If you have been putting off your creative practice because you are stumped or have come to a difficult part, now is the time to take the bull by the horns. All you have in front of you is a problem to be solved. If you do something so that you can’t salvage the work, is that any worse than never finishing the work? I don’t think so.
  • If you really mess things up, try to figure out what you learned from your errors. As Tall-Ben-Shahar says in his Positive Psychology course at Harvard, ”Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn”.
  • Most of all have FUN. Don’t take the work too seriously or yourself too seriously.
  • And get started TODAY!

 

Nurture Your Creativity!

Nurture Yourself!

 

It Makes All the Difference in my Day

One of many reference photos for paintings I took in Penticton, BC in May.

I’ve been really busy these last two months. I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks that I have been feeling dissatisfied with my life. I really don’t like rushing from one activity to the next without time to pause and reflect. I’ve even been doing stuff I like to do, like babysitting my granddaughter, working on a course for CCA certification, applying for grants, taking in the fall harvest, visiting my Mom in Calgary; things like that. What has really been missing is my creative practice. I still did some framing and getting ready for a show but I wasn’t doing my painting regularly.

Last Saturday I took myself to a coffee shop to do some writing. I found myself wandering off into my dissatisfaction and took some time to figure out what was really bothering me. Once I had identified the problem I also recognized that this was all under my control. So I set aside time this week to work on a painting first thing each morning, before I get busy with all the other things I am doing. No matter how many things I had on my to-do list, I committed to doing my creative practice first thing. And what a difference it makes in my day!

To be engaged in the creative process and lose myself in the painting and what it needs is refreshing and emotionally satisfying. Once I have painted for a while, I feel happy and throughout the day continue to engage with the painting at times when I am in my studio, looking at it from different angles and distances, and analyzing what needs to be done next. Even though I might not get back to actually painting that day, knowing I will be able to the next morning leaves me with a feeling that all is well.

Somehow, once I have painted, the rest of the day falls into place and I feel like I accomplish more because I am more energized. Painting helps me slow down and be less focused on outcome and more focused on the moment by moment process of each activity I am involved in. Energy and focus is a great combination to bring into the necessary activities of the day.

If you are not doing your creative practice regularly you might try experimenting with what it feels like to do so. I’ll give you some tips on how to get started in my next blog post.

 

Nurture Your Creativity!

Nurture Yourself!

Your “In Your Dreams” Studio

Have you ever looked at an art magazines article on a well know artist’s studio and thought, boy would I love a studio like that!  Wow, so much space and places to store materials and supplies.  So much room to step back and actually look at your work from a distance.  My next thought is usually, ya, in your dreams!

In fairness to the artist, they probably started out in a small, less than ideal studio space and have really worked for and earned the space they now occupy.  Most emerging artists I know need to carve out a space in which to do their creative work from a limited available space in their home.  Others I know have rented studio space and may enjoy a few more creative square feet.

My creative space is my studio which is simply one small room in a three bedroom bungalow.  It doesn’t have a north facing window but actually faces directly south.  I question the idea of a north facing window in a studio in our northern city of Edmonton.  It may work for the summer months but there is little natural light coming in during the winter months when the sun hovers on the southern horizon.  So generally I like my south facing studio.

I didn’t start out with a specific space in my home unless you want to call the kitchen table a dedicated space.  We also have a home based business so when our four kids also lived at home, space was definitely at a premium.  Gradually as the kids moved out I have been able to find my creative space in this cozy room, complete with a hand painted sign “Mom’s Studio” made by my daughter and hanging on the door.

Take some time to look at your creative space.  Is it working for you?  Are your materials and supplies easily accessible?  Are you able to go directly to work every day or do you have to wade through a lot of stuff in order to get started?  Does your creative space reflect who you are and what you love?  What does your creative space mean to you personally?  What small (or large) thing can you do today to make your creative space just a bit better or more functional?  What will you create in your creative space today?

Nurture Your Creativity! Nurture Yourself! 

To comment please click on ‘Your ‘In Your Dreams’ Studio” under Recent Posts on the sidebar.

Giving Up is Not an Option

I wish I could say that I have painted up a storm this week out at the lake.  I haven’t.  The painting I am working on is complex and I have come to the place where I don’t know where to go next.  I made a mistake and used an eraser to take out pencil lines and it left a noticeable smudge on my perfectly painted blue sky.  Airbrushing in clouds should do the trick but I couldn’t bring myself to bring along our 80 lb full-sized compressor to run the airbrush!  And my skills in airbrushing are limited so I have to really take my time to get it right.  So I am a bit stalled on this piece.  Add to that limited lighting in the trailer and I find myself under motivated to proceed.

So what does this have to do with creativity and/or creativity coaching?  Everything!  It is at the heart of self-coaching.  And it is at the heart of what I have to work at every day.  Listening to my self-talk I hear, “How can you be a creativity coach when you aren’t even painting yourself?”  “How can you call yourself an artist when you haven’t painted regularly all summer”  “You should just give up!”

Okay, okay, SELF, this is harsh.  Give up?  Just because I haven’t painted much this summer?  Give up?  No, SELF, that would be too easy.  I respond to SELF by saying, “yes, I haven’t painted much this summer for many reasons.  But I won’t give up.  I won’t give up being creative.  I might pour my creative energies into other areas of my life, but I won’t give up.  Giving up is not an option!”

As for Creativity Coaching, well, the focus there is not on MY creativity and creative projects but on those of my client’s.  I am a coach because I love helping people.  I love encouraging artists.  And I love seeing people reach their own creative potential and goals.

Nurture Your Creativity! Nurture Yourself!

To comment please click on “Giving Up is Not an Option” under Recent Posts on the sidebar.

Take time to reflect.

Eric Maisel suggests that all artists who want to maintain a creative life need to take time to reflect on their life.  He notes that worry is different than reflection and that we all worry too much and don’t reflect enough.  Why is that?  Could it be that self-reflection actually provokes anxiety?  It is difficult to set aside time for reflection in our busy lives.  It may seem like a waste of time but it is key to moving forward in your creativity.

Maisel says “To have a chance to live the creative life that you want to lead, you need to reflect on your personality, your culture, your relationships, your art work, the marketplace and so on.”  He asks us to reflect on the question “If I am not doing the work I’m intending to do, why am I not doing it?”

Definitely food for thought!

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