Creative Play

My friend and fellow artist Julia Harrison wrote a recent blog post about what she calls "Creative Winter", why it can be necessary or even beneficial, and how to ride it out.  It is a wonderful, honest post, and, along with some of my current activities, it inspired me to contemplate how creative people get to be the idea factories they are in the first place and manage to sustain what, to the outside world, can look like a startlingly endless stream of inventiveness and energy throughout a lifetime.  From the countless TED talks I have stumbled across concerning creativity to the myriad books on the subject to the constant comments I receive about how "lucky" I am to be creative, there is no doubt about it that creativity is something humans appreciate, envy, covet, and try to cultivate in themselves, consciously or not.  Our creativity as a species leads to resourcefulness, which ultimately helps us both survive and thrive, and do so in all manner of styles with all sorts of different meanings and identities tied to them.  Personally, I believe that all of us are creative in some way (one need not wield a brush to be creative), but some of us choose to nourish our creativity more than others.  As far as those of us who do wield brushes are concerned, I suspect that most of us tend to have other creative hobbies that feed our love for color or spark our imaginations or renew our spirits so that we can keep coming back to our artwork with energy and passion.

For me, the secret of those of us who manage to be creative on a regular basis is not that we never burn out or need to shift focus or take breaks, but that we are not afraid to keep playing.  I mentioned creative play in my last post, but think the subject merits a little more discussion.  For some reason, as adults we forget how much of our previous learning and inspiration happened organically through play. . . and the ability to play comes through casting off our fear of our own ideas.  I paint regularly, but even when I do not find time to paint or am not able to experiment freely in paint for some reason, I never really stop making things or experimenting with new hobbies or letting my imagination enjoy itself.  I tend to feel my artistic best when I manage to dedicate plenty of time to these activities and I get cranky and stagnant when I do not.  At this point, creative play has become a normal habit for me. . . and while a lot of it that is not directly related to oil painting takes the form of practicing at the piano, photography, ballpoint pen sketches, I also have the tendency to take up literally any other constructive thing I have the sudden urge to dabble in from testing out the enfleurage method of perfumerie to refinishing a piano (I simply do not question or dismiss positive and constructive urges; I entertain them and see if they want to stick around).  In recent years, my old love of knitting has reawakened, and while I am here in Germany, I seem to be knitting more often than ever before.

Having taken on the challenge of finishing a massive pattern called the Find Your Fade Shawl, which I thought (rightly) would be perfect to take along on car trips or while listening in on Florian's trombone rehearsals, I find myself feverishly trying to finish the project before I have to leave so that we can do a photoshoot with it here.  I want to be able to look back on it as a piece I made here, a wonderful memory of my trip.  Consisting of 7 colors of the knitter's choice (the photo at the top of this post shows my progress when I was at color #2, but I am now nearing color #6), it feels like an artistic collaboration between the pattern designer, the indie dyers I bought my yarns from, and me, the curator and builder of this giant scheme.  I had to deliberate carefully about which colors to use and how I wanted them to be arranged, which led to much delightful sorting through my stash of beautiful colors and textures of yarn.  Now, seeing each row, each speckle, each color, weave out of my thoughts and into reality, often turning out even more interesting than I expected, certainly sparks my imagination.  Inspired by the yarns, Florian and I even tried dyeing our own with food coloring (the middle picture is the result of my first experiment).  Perhaps these first results are nowhere near the beauty of the coveted skeins I buy through Etsy and Instagram, but we gave it our best, the results look good enough to use, and we enjoyed the experience enough that now we know whether we would ever try it again-- that is, we most certainly would!  There are countless ways to engage in creative play from sewing to building furniture out of reclaimed wood to building or programming a computer (yes, even this can be creative play, as I have learned from spending time in a Makerspace on and off throughout the years). . . and being around others who are unafraid to play (such as the afore-mentioned Makers) makes inspiration all the more easy to find.

For me, even picking flowers by the roadside and arranging them nicely for a photo like the one at the bottom of this post is a kind of creative play. . . a chance to really enjoy the colors, the shapes of the flowers, explore them, see how they complement each other or create interesting contrasts, examine the way the blooms develop and open.  Play is more about the imagination than the equipment, and starting with what you have in the kitchen already or what you find in nature can often be more inspiring than buying expensive materials from the craft store.  When I was a child, my Mom showed me how to make chains out of pine needles and I spent plenty of time creating bracelets and necklaces for myself out of them.  While it may sound humble when many children have their own smartphones, little experiences like that were surprisingly satisfying and thought-provoking then, and I have tried my best not only to not forget them, but to revisit them as often as I can.

What are your thoughts on creativity?  Do you try to foster creativity in your life?  If so, how?


When Germany Calls

This blog has been sitting idle again simply because I have not.  Since my last post, I have been continuously engaged in commissions, and while I look forward to taking on new custom work in September, I am currently on a bit of a self-imposed break.  Being successfully self-employed requires knowing when to rest just as much as it requires motivation to work, and being a successful artist, as my former professor Dr. Meister used to tell me, requires regular creative play.  For me, that means painting whatever I feel like painting without pressure or deadlines and indulging in my love of textiles by knitting with the exquisitely handpainted yarns I have a tendency to collect.

My last vacation took me to Rome in 2013 and my last trip to Germany was even farther back, in 2008, but after I met my boyfriend Florian (who lives in Germany) last fall, it soon became clear that traveling was on the horizon again, and that I probably should not have waited so many years to take enough time off to enjoy a change of scenery.  I am currently writing this post from a pleasant small village in Bavaria, with a steady breeze wafting through the kitchen window and the dramatic clouds threatening rain over the Alps beyond.  I arrived here at the end of June and will remain here until the beginning of September.

We have been doing a bit of traveling around the area (a trip to Salzburg, Austria inspired the painting above), but after the first two weeks here, Florian had to go back to work, and we can only travel on weekends (we took a wonderful trip this past weekend to see old friends of mine in Dresden).  On these trips, I wind up taking hundreds of reference photos and imagining a million different ways to paint the things I see.  During the week now, I find myself with 7-10 hour stretches of alone time, with no real responsibilities, in a village where the only "distractions" are the pervasive green of the rolling grasses, the startling yellow of the sunflowers, and the ever-shifting clouds over the mountains.  This is probably for the best, because it gives me time to process all the things I have seen and try to put them on canvas while they are still fresh on my mind.  I spend my days painting, taking pictures of the scenery, writing in my journal, sitting on the balcony, or visiting the chickens and goats at a nearby farm.  I could take the bus into the larger neighboring town and probably will at some point, but I am currently too intrigued by the utter tranquility of a life of solitary meditations (and read Thoreau far too often as a teenager) to venture back into the rest of the world just yet.

When you strip away your daily job, your daily nuisances and distractions, the hangouts where you while away your hours, the constant buzz of life in a larger town where novelty has swept the imaginations of most of the inhabitants, where hype and events and new businesses and developments are constantly fighting for your attention, you have an unusual opportunity to look at yourself and your place in the world, and ask yourself if you really follow your priorities or not.  You ask yourself what you really care about.  How you would really like to spend your limited time on this Earth.  With little to no schedule and nobody holding you accountable, you ultimately have only yourself to depend on for a fulfilling day, and your work has to be its own reward.  In reality, this is always true, but we humans cloak ourselves in a lot of illusions and excuses whenever we get the chance.

And the burden of freedom and choice, for someone who has grown accustomed to habit and not having free time and allowing the the external world to lead one around, is simultaneously dazzling and daunting.  It forces the soul to let go of frustrations and delusions, to muster the strength to go forward in a more deliberate way than before.

In the coming weeks, I think it would be interesting to learn more about how artists live and work here in Germany, revisit a couple of the museums I enjoyed so greatly back in 2008, and look into some of the opportunities I might have to show or sell my work here. . . the downside of lots of free time alone is that laziness has a way of setting in and I really do enjoy giving myself goals. . . but for now, I will relish the opportunity to stop and look around for a while, to make sure those goals will be fulfilling ones before diving in.

If you like the work you have seen in this post or on Facebook or Instagram recently, feel free to inquire about prints or originals.  I will be offering two of my favorite pieces as limited edition prints when I return in September. . . for the details and to pre-order, please visit this Etsy link.