Creative Process

Intentional Work

Intentions anchor me in a season that feels whisked away by the wind, bringing me to center between rounds of "mommy, mommy, mommy" and pings of the phone and general domesticity. 
We still get to determine at least parts of our days and most of our interiors, no?

Bonus: Two reads I highly recommend.

 

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Stillness

Evening ritual of easy porch glider and sip of drink. But tonight's the kind of eerie quiet that makes one want to hide—the whole world holds its breath in anticipation…of what?

An otherworldly rattle answers from the southwest. I hardly have time to realize this imminent threat is more likely some form of plastic dragging from truck, then it relents.

My ears wait for the familiar melody of day’s end but there is only a hot and humid hush. No distant thunder. No chorus of birdsong. Only tweet of titmouse and hiss of cicada. I swat a mosquito and search for the beauty in the moment, as is my discipline of late, even in this disturbing stillness.

 Dia, 2018

Dia, 2018

That is it entirely: the stillness. The solace. This absence of activity is not an indication that something is amiss. The moment is not void, but full. Filled with peace.

It is complete.

It is enough.

Then the air slowly stirs. The flycatcher calls. A rumble rises as lawnmower stirs up dust and dog, and another dog, and another.

And just like that, my moment is lost. All is cacophony.

And questioning.

What do I want this new moment to be, at the very least, for me? Do I want to buzz with the noise surrounding, or settle into the stillness that was? Do we get to decide the tone of our own souls? Or are we at the mercy of every twist and turn of time?

I sit. And settle. And listen to the stillness within.

Spirit

Oh may it be so: “The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation hovers over the mind of the artist at work.” St Thomas Aquinas

 Cosmos, 2018

Cosmos, 2018

When life feels disjointed…

Aside from working on a series of feminine paintings (that's more than I was planning on saying, but I'm warming up to the idea of sharing them with y'all) parenting is 100% where I'm at right now. 

And looking at both of these efforts, I see that I'm shaping women on the canvas while doing some deep shaping of these two precious little women who call me Mommy. My life and art layered over one another with real similarities—but it gets clouded by the feeling that while I can see the potential in all of these women I'm just not sure if I have what it takes to help any of them fully achieve theirs.

So I edit, erase, study, learn, and try again. It's slow work right now, y'a'll, both in the studio and at home. But this is art at the life-level...no, at the soul-level. There's something beautiful about living these layers. Something honest and real and raw. 

Something artfully integrated. 

Deeply integrated.

When we stop and actually look at it, life is not as disjointed as it seems. Ask for integration and watch how life pulls the layers together, sliding one on top of the other until you see it all as one beautiful picture—all the questions you carry, all the random tasks and conversations, all the hopes and dreams. It all fits. Hold it up to the light to let the layers show through. There's a synchronicity there waiting to reveal what your current days are all about.

Flowers of Love and Hope

What do we do when others are hurting? We bring offerings of comfort and hope. And these flowers are my way of saying to the world: I love you and I care about your pain and we are all in this together. These flowers reach for healing and love and neighborliness, with their symbology of life and progress and growth. 

So in the quiet of my post-election studio, I held our aching hearts close to mine and I did what I could to spread love.

(For purchase, hop to mandythompson.com/still-lifes/)

 

Go get some inspiration.

I'm a die-hard believer that inspiration isn't something we must wait for while sitting on our hands until it comes. We can go out and get it. 

Take note of those things that spark inspiration and ideas. And return to them faithfully. This is the magic of Cameron's "artist dates" and the magic of the creative process in general.  

Shots from a recent trip to gather inspiration. Oh how my mind danced! 

 

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More Watering...

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It has something to do with being empty: these moments when we are supposed to be creating and yet we just can't bring ourselves to do it. When all our creative energy is required by life before we can devote any to the canvas, and then we wake up one day and the well is dry dry dry...

 

We've had a series of minor complications that seem to have completely knocked me out of flow. I'm supposed to be back in the studio slinging paint yesterday but I'm sitting in a big pile of don't wanna.

 

This is going to take more watering than I thought.

Fighting for Flow

Big changes take time to adjust to... And with a pile of changes asking for my creative energy, pushing paint has been slow.

  • New school year.
  • Family crises.

The rhythm should return in a week or less. And I'm curious to see what it will do to this pile of canvasses I've been prepping in the meantime.

Ready to get back in flow, and trusting that it will come.

What happens when you come visit the studio?

We just might make a little video! :) Tamela Buttrey, a beautiful giving soul who runs a catering business in order to support underprivileged children in Guatemala, came by my studio to share about being creative in the midst of parenting, how to interact with others' artwork, and the foundation of our friendship being the conversation of art. [embed]https://youtu.be/w__f8s4c53Q[/embed]

And part two, on mail art, the inspiration for my postcards, and the connection between the artist and collector? It's a fun one!!

[embed]https://youtu.be/T92mjPVoudI[/embed]

I'm so grateful for Tamela's support and influence on my art. True collectors don't know how significant they are to me, but I'm determined to change that. It takes a village to raise an artist and I can't do it without you.

Your creative process needs a Routine Machine.

routine machine Do you set aside creative time, to then spend half of it wondering what in the heck you're going to do? You sit down at your piano or in your studio or with your art journal and you don't know where to start? If this is a constant struggle for you, maybe it is time to whip you creative process into shape. It is time to stop flailing around aimlessly in your creative time and start flying!

How can you take control of your creative process? You use a streamlined, customized just-for-you creative routine that maximizes your creativity. Your creative process can go from flailing to flying in just one day, using a Routine Machine. The good news is that building a creative "Routine Machine" is easier than you think!Darwin info

And how does it work? It is built using creative triggers: A specific workspace? Tea? A walk outside? A quick sketch or sprint of writing? Morning pages? Putting on your smock and stepping into your studio? Pandora?  ...Think Pavlov, but for ideas.

An enlightening 99U article gives us the characteristics that make a creative routine work:

1. Uniqueness – it should be something (or a combination of things) you don’t associate with other activities, otherwise the effect will be diluted.

2. Emotional intensity – the kind you experience when you’re really immersed in creative work.

3. Repetition – the more times you experience the unique trigger in association with the emotions, the stronger the association becomes.

Your creative triggers can be anything used exclusively to tell your brain "it's go time" whether it's idea generation or get-it-done mode. Your brain will learn to respond to the triggers. Yes it's slightly animalistic, but use this fact to your benefit. Train your brain, y'all. Train your brain.

Austin Kleon, who is a master at making creativity look easy, explains how his daily routine and creative space work for him: "hopefully get out to the garage by 10AM or so. Then I’m out there until around 5 or so. I try to adhere to John Waters’ routine: make stuff up in the morning and sell it in the afternoon." Why does his creativity look so effortless? Because the man created his own custom built Routine Machine!

And how do I use my own Routine Machine? This is in constant flux, depending on the season and needs. I wake around 5:30. My morning journal/coffee/breakfast time can include meditation, reading, drawing, working on my "Big Three" (more on that soon), ideating, etc. My mornings are creatively focused (in the studio, churning out written content, working on some of my publishing projects). And my afternoons are for admin/marketing stuff. Then it's family time which rolls right into a restful evening. This ends with an evening "wind down." It often includes soft lighting, reading, and my favorite blanket. This wind down is essential, like a Pavlovian lullaby for my brain. Without it, I often have a hard time falling asleep.

My Routine Machine gives me the predictability and security I need in order to channel my "what's next" creative energies towards projects and paintings, instead of responding to disorganization. This routine is SO important that it's included in my creativity manifesto:

To maintain a level of creativity, I rely on new inspirations and old routines. I always find novel ways to create, whether it be through new tools of creating, or new mediums. Predictability and routine provide the best environments for my soul to have the energy to create. If life demands adaptation and change (both being very creative endeavors) then I will be depleted of my inner creativity.

Now, for that thing about the Big Three. One of the smallest and most useful cogs in my Routine Machine comes from Todd Henry, author of Accidental Creative. He says to keep your "BIG THREE" list in a prominent place in your organizational system. I keep in mine on little cards in my LifeBook system. The "Big Three" can come from projects or challenges that you're chewing on and working through, and you want to keep in the forefront of your attention. "You cannot concentrate on everything at once, so you need to regularly refine your list of critical creative priorities so that you train your mind to be on the lookout for solutions. " There's more from Todd in this Forbes Article on Creativity in the workplace.

Now, let's work on your Routine Machine to maximize your creative process and watch your creativity soar. Here are some useful resources that you can dig into to begin to think through your own Routine Machine!

You can scroll through an entire website, turned book, to help us learn from the daily routines of creative people.

Want others' daily routines in an infographic from InfoWeTrust? (Like Darwin's above.)Owaves

Want to make your day look like Darwin's? YES THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT, called Owaves (screenshot at the right).

OR, you can start with something less complex. In fact, I use the Lift App to create habits of the things I want to accomplish everyday. It's like a daily checklist, with stats!

So think it through—build a Routine Machine that works for you or adapt the one you already have! What does your creativity need? What would your ideal daily/weekly routine look like? What elements would it have? And what would you want to accomplish with it?

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Everyone Needs Creative Play

Play Yields Apparently, play is not just for children. I keep seeing it everywhere. My "paper mentors" seem like people who just play all day and out pop good ideas. Creativity just bubbles to the surface (read: burps) as they skip along all the merry fun activities they have planned. Yes, I know they work hard. I know they get stuff done. But gosh they make it look like fun. And I keep hearing them point towards play as a part of the restful, rich, creative life.

Leonie Dawson calls creative play Brain Holidays, insisting that "Your creative + spiritual + emotional selves all need energy + time too." Julia Cameron calls creative play artist dates; she can't say it better than this: "Artist dates are assigned play." Keri Smith has a box for readers to draw on her very own website. And I would bet money that Sark's favorite word is probably "fun."

These people are SERIOUS about play, y'all.

And when we understand the mechanics of creativity, we will take creative play more seriously.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, why should we "waste time?" Well, according to Scientific American "cerebral congestion," that tired sluggish mental state, has a cure and the cure sparks creativity! And WHO can argue with those experts?! Seriously. Haven't you experienced it? You're working on a project, hit a wall, then push and push and push. Finally you decide to give up—go do something else. And within 24hrs the wall just disappears. The solution to your problem shows up without your beckoning.

Seriously, the brain-science types say "a-ha moments" are a legit benefit of mental downtime. More from Scientific American: "Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime."

Read the article. It is incredible. You might hear angels sing. And it will lead you to this conclusion: Every person SHOULD take time out for creative play because it is a tried and true means of idea generation.

How can we say no to this? Well, our schedule usually gets in the way, right? Those pesky little responsibilities that take up our time... Okayyyy... So, what we need are some quick and effortless ways to engage in downtime:

  • Go on a picnic in your back yard.
  • Take your creativity for a walk.
  • Make mud pies.
  • Go shopping for a fun new creative toy.
  • Grab the frisbee and get some space to roam.
  • Hike. Bike. Climb.
  • Take a joy-ride, windows down, music up.
  • Roam Pinterest and call it "research."
  • Eat slowly at your favorite restaurant or cafe.
  • People watch. <--- This is a good one.
  • Spend some time journaling.
  • Try fingerprinting again!

What do I do? I get outside however I can. Or I take a nap, which is very restful play! Or I ride bikes with my girls. Or I do "research" on Pinterest!

So, JUST PLAY. Find ways to play play play. Plan a time for creative play at some point in the next two weeks. Or think about a daily moment of creative play. Let your creativity loose. Let it run wild for no objective reason. Goal-less play! Play yields Exploration which yields Discovery which yields Solutions.

How do you play? Where? When? Or do you need someone to remind you how to play?

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