Category Archives: Discussion

My Creativity Toolbox

I was out of town for a few weeks and to be honest, had zero creative spark. Nada. Not even an ember, it was just plain extinguished. Now that I’m home in my little corner of Oregon and back at it, I started thinking about the tools I use to get those ideas burning again.

Here’s what I rely on the most:

  • Music is a HUGE part of my writing. I think more than anything it helps to keep me from getting distracted. And to get very specific here – I love writing to Celtic music. If I’m writing a really intense scene, bring on the Riverdance! I use Pandora (it’s free if you don’t mind the occasional commercial) and I have some very finely tuned stations to fit my “writing mood.”
  • After many years as I handwritten writer, I finally transitioned to writing direct on the computer several years ago. Maybe not as romantic, but a much more effective use of my time. But when I’m stuck, I always default back to scribbling on a piece of paper. Instead of focusing on writing actual prose, I “talk myself” through a block. Such as “Okay, what I am trying to say here. I’m trying to get this character to____.” Before you know it, your story is off and running.
  • Write/draw/compose/create by a window. Even if it’s dark out, it always helps.

I started getting curious about what other artists use as tools to help with creativity. Here’s a few ideas that I might add to my own toolbox that are easily available online:

  • Allow yourself to get lost on Flickr…there’s some amazing photography on there to peruse and you never know, you may find an image that inspires your own project. (If you actually use it, make sure it’s part of Creative Commons!)
  • Many sites recommended using Pinterest for ideas…now, this is a tricky site for me. I tend to get VERY distracted on Pinterest and before I know it, three hours have passed and nothing is accomplished except 30 more pins. But I found searching specifically for “art journal ideas” or “art therapy”  or “writing prompts” came up with some amazing options! So if you tread carefully, I think it is a great creativity sparker.
  • Motivational quotes can be a big, well, motivator. For me, I have a poster with a Margaret Atwood quote hanging right over my computer.
Proof.
Proof.

To be honest, many of the websites that boasted “motivational quotes” were drowned with ads. I’m recommending my go-to for quote finding…which is good ol’ Goodreads. If you search for “quotes” they have a huge selection organized by tags such as love, knowledge, power, etc.

What are some of the tools you use to help “spark” your creativity?

Accolades and Art

Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his Oscar.  This moves me even though I stopped watching the Academy Awards after the 2006 awards. The Oscars are notorious for not being really representative of a lot of the art put out there in cinema, and yet I’m so happy for DiCaprio.  There’s something really touching about this man who has worked in this industry since childhood be recognized by the best known award ceremony in the country. Even more touching was the standing ovation.  He received one at the Golden Globes too.

Why is it so important to us to be recognized?  Why is it so hard when we are not? I mean, we all know the general answers to these questions, but there seems to be moral assignation to whether something is properly recognized or not.  We hear about a struggling artist whose art only comes into prominence after their death and endures for many lifetimes and we shake our heads and say “what a shame”.

There also seems to be judgement if you desire acknowledgement or accolade within the art community.  If you do well in a work -a-day job, and you desire recognition your ambition is lauded.  If you crave applause at the end of a performance it’s inferred that you are a bit of an egoist.

There’s something about doing something artistic that leads people to believe it should be wholly satisfying in and of itself.  I wonder if this stems a bit from the idea that art is somehow not properly Work, that people are fortunate to be Artists.

Some YouTube Videos exist of famous musicians playing in public places, like the subway, and people rushing by and ignoring them.  Not even giving them a glance as a busker, much less as a Master.  It’s interesting to me that people are so shocked when a commuter walks by Lindsay Stirling without a second glance, but isn’t shocked to have say… Bryson Andres just playing in the street for their enjoyment.

I think that a social contract should exist between the people working to enrich the world around them and the people who enjoy that enrichment.  We sing, you clap,  we make art, you spend a moment to look at it.  A busker makes your morning?  Drop a few coins into their case or hat or whatever.

To start with, locally, as a community, we should be better engaged with recognizing, appreciating and encouraging each other. I mean, that’s the thing  we can change.  And be happy for each other when we receive recognition, that’s the other thing.

Gentle Reader, Strong Loss

deep forestYesterday, February 11,  my dear friend would have been 35, had he not left us 8 years ago.  I managed not to think about it in any sad way all day long, just in context of being terribly grateful for our short, intense friendship.  Once I tried to sleep, all I could feel was loss.

Like most people, I’ve lost quite a handful of people at this point in my life.  My grandmother who got me interested in painting and art,  the childhood mentor who encouraged my writing and my love for detective novels (just to name a couple).  The loss of a collaborator had ramifications that I still feel today.  He’s been gone 8 years and I still get the same sharp pain in my chest when I finish something and feel as if I have no one to show it to, no one that will understand the heartbeat of it.

Over the few years of our friendship, there were daily debates, all night calls to discuss Radiohead and how it’s like and unlike Classical Music and Art,  trips to the Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo where I learned appreciation for Modern Art, poems that flew back and forth, songs sung over the crappy pre-skype video services or phones propped up by the guitar.  We both used to write for this online community/blog thing, and from the first few interactions, I’d write my post knowing that he’d read it and get it and still tell me what could be better about it… I would post knowing that if no one else read it (and people did, it was a vibrant little community), he would read it and since he was my Gentle Reader, it didn’t matter to me if anyone else did. From the moment we connected via AIM (yes it was that long ago) there was constant feedback, revision, collaboration and camaraderie.

I read a quote on Tumblr last night, it said:

“One day, whether you

are 14

28

or 65

you will stumble upon

someone who will start a fire in you that cannot die.

However, the saddest,

most awful truth

you will ever come to find —

is they are not always with whom we spend our lives.”

-Beau Taplin from Hunting Season

It took me years to force myself to start to do things that mattered to me creatively after he died.  I knew it would piss him off, just stopping, but my grief was a tidal wave that would flatten me when I least expected it.  And I had lost my Reader, why did it matter if I made anything?

I had never needed that before, I spend most of my life just making things as it pleased me, or writing songs for a bigger audience.  I don’t know why the second I found my creative twin soul I couldn’t do without him.

I finally just started forcing myself.  Just knowing that I would be sad and it would suck, and that maybe I was just doing it for me. It helped a bit.  Therapy helped a bit.  Prayer helped a bit.  Doing The Thing helped in various amounts. But I didn’t get over it until I inundated my creative world with the permeating sense of impermanence.

The thing about grief is that I think it needs to be expressed, and we don’t always get to choose what that looks like.  Until I started writing and painting and drawing my grief, until I started to be completely bored and frustrated by loss, I just couldn’t get past it.  I thought chin up, make myself Do, make myself Carry On and it would lessen.  But time doesn’t heal some things, really.  I don’t know if it is healthy for other people, I don’t know if it was healthy for me. However, for me the only way I have found is through it.

It’s a strange thing, setting foot outside the door of my inner creative mind, and to express it these days, sort of without a net.  Although, the gift of having loved someone is that I do hear my grandmother’s voice, my mentor’s voice, my gentle reader for good or for grief, in every scrap I release to the wind.

My First “Leaguer” Blog Post

emotion It has been said people remember not what you do, but how you made them feel.  I’m not a “quick to make you feel at ease” type of person.  I pull no punches and say awkward things at the most inappropriate times.  I also have a habit of saying too much all at once (too often).  I am only aware of these instances  after the moment has passed.  Most of the time I have an objective, or a goal to accomplish because I see right through all the bull, the masks and the lies people tell themselves for their objectives and goals. Nevertheless, I have become more aware of the havoc I create by acting as my own form of “The Justice League” instead of looking within myself.  I think I am helping someone when in reality, I am only serving myself.  It’s a delicate balance to develop a social filter.

I serve at The Rock Church every Sunday either as a camera person or a Producer.  I enjoy serving – A LOT.  I like to observe worship with all the lights, the sounds and multitudes raising their arms in submission.  I get all teary in a way that “allows” me to feel when I see others acknowledge the Spirit moving about the room.  This is only a recent revelation.  Why?

I’m saying “I” a lot here because focusing on myself is something I love to avoid to the point of making all emotion unavailable.  This is an extremely slow process that happens over a very long time of isolation – even in the midst of those who love me or crowds of people.  I cannot confidently say I “feel” anything in between ultimate joy or acute fear unless lazy is counted on an emotion.   This is something I want to change desperately. Specifically for the reason that people I interact with on a regular basis do not know how to read me.  I mean, it’s getting pretty bad when someone approaches me with a puzzled look on their face when they ask “How are things?”.

Emotion is a scary thing.  It creates anarchy in the brain when unchecked and isolation when it’s out of balance.  Emotion when it is in balance allows us to enhance the human experience by sharing life through joy or empathy.  I recently RE-learned that smiling, genuinely smiling, more often – affects everyone around me.  Which brings me to the core of my fear – I don’t like to be responsible for someone else’s unhappiness, rejection or dissatisfaction.  Choosing not to react is an odd choice to make slowly over time.

Serving and spending more time in the Word has gently helped me to face the way God sees me.  Since I stopped reacting to how the world sees me I am feeling mostly peaceful but I admit I am still way out of balance.  I’m far from feeling burnt out because when I serve or study I feel one step closer to the person God created me to be.  empty full

Honoring The Natural World

February is the month where it has been winter too long for me.  I find myself feeling cold and fatigued and my creative outlook bleak.  I think that one of the things I forget to do in this part of the year is to connect with nature and contemplate the created world, and I suppose that is terribly fixable.

All of the Psalms that I find most passionate, most inspiring have that wonderful wildness about them that only being intimately acquainted with the creation can bring.  “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters…”  Psalm 29 goes on to talk of cedars, calfs, oxen, lightning…. oaks twisting, forests stripped bare.  It may seem like a hallmark of a book written in an ancient world, but the connection of the Word to the earth is as intentional as the Word creating the earth.  God put considerable work into this piece of art, and put it into our care, and I just completely forget about it sometimes.

In my comfy modern cave I forget to be stirred by the natural world.  I can be found under piles of soft blankets, laptop in front of my, cup of tea in my hand, and perhaps a cat nearby.  Sometimes I forget to look at the cat and marvel that an animal lives in the house with me, and become mildly annoyed that it is blocking me from watching “My Unfortunate Boyfriend” on Hulu.  By no means are these bad activities, but just like you can’t live on takeout alone and be truly well fed… one cannot live in their cocoon of constructed comfort and have one’s spirit fed in a holistic way.

I have planned out my February with the goal of going to museums and feeding my sense of wonder, but I have to re-assess and ensure that I’m also feeding my sense of awe and wonder of the Master Creative One. I shall never write a poem as lovely as a tree, I see the stars and hear the rolling thunder and proclaim How Great Thou Art, I shall listen to the declaration of glory from the heavens.  In other words, I hope you will join me in bundling up, and going for a walk.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

This last weekend I’ve been thinking about the process of going from Planning A Thing to Doing A Thing.  I’ve been in a season of planning for a while now, and getting the swirl of ideas from my brain, to paper broken down in actionable steps to execution has been a weirdly overwhelming experience.

It used to be that the big impediment to a project was a material component.  I needed some art supply or piece of equipment that I couldn’t afford and for what ever reason could not seem to find my way around, and often this issue would stop whatever plan completely.

Later, when I could Afford A Thing, the stumbling block becomes Time and Space.  I never seem to have the creative space I need, and even if I did I’m aware that I don’t have the glorious chunks of time I had back when I had little money to afford supplies since I wasn’t working the way that I work now.

For some reason (namely, that my brain is used to self-sabotaging and will scramble to cover up my insecurity and laziness with Reasons), I’m pretty sure that someone could come and give me a studio and pay me for my time tomorrow and I would see some other stumbling block that I never anticipated to keep me from Doing The Thing.

 

Planner

I worked with a really great therapist last year, and she started to get me back in the habit of journaling and journaling in different ways.  I started to break my ideas down into small, tasty, actionable steps.  I started to have a written record to keep me accountable to what I needed to accomplish.  I became one of those Planner Ladies that you see on Pinterest who lay out their goals on a timeline, and keep to do lists, and manage their time.  (If you are curious my journal is just a spiral bound sketchbook, and my planner is a MAMBI Happy Planner that I got on sale at Michael’s).  I felt like a fraud.  We will talk more about feeling like fraud another time, suffice it to say that I did not understand how to marry the side of my brain that works in office administration with the side of my brain that likes to make small mythological creatures out of clay and ink.  In fact, part of me really believed that they were antagonistic skills to each other, instead of realizing that they are vitally important parts of a whole.

 

Supplies

I’ve also realized that it is important to address some of these ideas that keep us from Doing, and that as in most things, these ideas are not unique to my own experience.  So I decided to go back to doing workshops/art meets using the kind of supplies you’d find in most kid’s schoolbags.  My big issue with that idea was… Space!  My friend Kiki mentioned we could use the big table in her tarot shop, and I immediately recoiled… I’ve been thinking about the parellels of art space and devotional space deeply for an upcoming post so working in a space where Tarot readings happen was not an easy idea for me.  But as I started praying about it, and looking for other options it became clear… an answer had been provided.  Not in a comfortable way for me, not in the way I expected, but I had opportunity.

So this weekend we made ATC’s at RockStar Tarot.  With crayola supplies and the leftover scraps from my collage work and papercraft.  And drank tea.  And had a good time. And no one “caught” paganism, we all just made art.  And the fraud police did not show up to call me a bad Christian or a fake artist.  So, I mean, I’m just saying… if you Did The Thing, that probably wouldn’t happen to you either.

Sondheim and Psalms

I was having lunch with my friend Kiki and we started to talk about the nature of religious art.  I love getting Kiki’s views on such things, she’s a pastor’s kid who is now a Buddhist/Pagan practitioner so she can offer a perspective I rarely consider.  She asked me why I thought that modern religious art of all kinds allows in any positive image even if it is mediocre and shies away from perhaps “darker” themes.  I see it in Christianity, she sees it in Buddhism but especially in the pagan world.

I told her that from my religion I can for conversation’s sake narrow it down to three things. First, I think we take Phillipians 4:8, which says:

     Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

and we make it into “Think of only nice things”.  Which is not what it says.  As Sondheim has pointed out to us “Nice is different from good”.  I think that we also take the “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes” and make value judgments based on how something makes us feel instead of how it is.  Comfort and Art don’t always go together, and yet it is nearly a requirement in modern religious work.

I also think that perhaps as a people who follow the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like the shifting shadows feel that anything that is part of the human experience and less than divine is not good to contemplate.  I am not sure if this is something left over from the marks of transcendentalism on mainstream religion or is part of legalism that thinks that we are totting up good and bad marks to be reviewed by a judging god.  There’s some idea (that I want to explore in another post some other time) that anything earthly and of this existence is intrinsically poisoned, and I just don’t believe that about a creation that was called “good”.

Last, I think that we have (sweeping generalization ahead) lost a couple key skills that are important in interacting with art in the faith community.  There are few churches where one may amicably disagree or change one’s mind without feeling that you are breeding strife.  Small issues become giant issues.  People’s salvation is called into question.  It’s a volatile place to view art from.  I also think that as a culture we are disinclined to interact with anything that requires us to analyze or defend in a real way… and effective Art almost always requires both things.

I don’t think any of these issues are insurmountable.  It’s like the way generationally we’ve realized that maybe the line between “Christian artist” and “believer who makes art” shouldn’t be so defined.  It was encouraging to me to hear that these are not issues unique to Christianity, which leads me to believe that these are tendencies of humans and not just Believing humans. Sometimes I forget that there are humans in that odd ritualistic amalgamation of church that is also Church.

There are so many believers out there that make art, and yet our access to them is so poor.  Walking into a Christian bookstore, or the Christian section of a bookstore, cruising the Christian section of iTunes or looking through faith based magazines tells us that as a movement we haven’t cultivated and valued that. And yet we exist, we are out there… so let’s keep questioning this.  Let us keep this Great Conversation going because it is good.