Creativity – Surprisingly Human…

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mixed media painting by Jo Ann Brown-Scott copyright 2013

Thought allied fearlessly to purpose becomes creative force. He who knows this is ready to become something higher and stronger than a bundle of wavering thoughts and fluctuating sensations. He who does this has become the conscious and intelligent wielder of his mental powers. (James Allen)

Many articles are written about creativity. It seems rather a newish thing, that after centuries of witnessing its manifestations but not bothering to stop and figure out what the internal dynamics of it are, we now seem to have the time to pick it apart and examine it more closely. Everybody wonders how it happens – what facilitates it, who gets it, how do we nurture it, does it peak and then decline with age, how it can be enhanced and how to increase its potential.

First of all, everybody gets their fair share because it awarded free at birth – absolutely no one is born without it. The degree to which it shows up depends upon which gene tendencies you begin to massage – because certain aspects of creativity can lay dormant if not discovered, acknowledged, encouraged, stroked and cared for. When I taught mixed media painting to adults, people came to my class who had been CEO’s of corporations, high earners and achievers, outstanding in their fields which of course requires enormous vision and creatiity. But they had waited until their retirement years to tentatively tap the latent but strong desire they had kept hidden to someday learn to paint. They had been extremely creative in other areas of their lives to the point where no one had a single clue they secretly wanted to paint. The desire had been put on the shelf or choked out entirely for years, so  that ambition of a different caliber could take the lead at the exclusion of all else.

The creativity was bound to come out sooner or later…or was it? We hear all the time about people who discover they can sing, dance, write, paint and numerous other creative activities well into their adult lives, and I say what a shame that they waited so long. I wish more people would live the wondrous, colorful world of creativity all along the journey and not confine it to the last couple chapters of the book of life. Think of it! Life is all about the journey…living in Technicolor is of great importance.

We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint box. And, for this, Audacity is the only ticket. (Winston Churchill)

There is no secret formula for being highly creative. The habits of the most gifted creative people vary enormously – they are observed and envied, scrutinized and examined by people who want more of what they see. The trick to being creative and using the potential that is already there inside you is to dig deep and know yourself. Define what you desire, ask yourself if it is true and appropriate to who you authentically are (because not every one of us has exactly what it takes to be a Steven Spielberg) and what you are unconsciously drawn to, and give it some oxygen. Bring it out to the light of day. It does not have to crowd out everything else, to the extent that you drop whatever else you were doing and give it your complete 100% ALL  (although that has worked for many people) but it does mean that you must give it a fighting chance to be heard, seen and nurtured. You have to be willing to bring it out of hiding and show it to the world, unapologetically, unselfconsciously, and even proudly, as you sharpen your skills and learn. You cannot be timid – you must be strong – gutsy –  not easily discouraged – able to listen to criticism –  and you must have confidence and trust yourself even on the days when you are less convinced that what you are offering to the world is worthy of attention. Creative people make mistakes, get embarrassed, sometimes make fools of themselves all the damn time – even the best of them. But they keep going. They have tenacity. They are resilient.

But you knew all that, right?

A heartfelt sense of aspiring cuts through negativity about yourself; it cuts through the heavy trips you lay on yourself. (Pema Chodron)

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The Creative Epiphany – The Year-Long Canvas Post #3….being underwhelmed

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Gesture #1 and #2 on the Year-Long Canvas – Big F****** Deal, right?

I must say that this Year-Long Canvas Project (see my archives for more explanation) is starting off as a non-event. Knowing how far I have to go on it and anticipating all the many layers of paint ahead of me, it seems irrelevant what my first gestures on the canvas are. I am ALREADY  yawning with it, eager to pick up speed. We all knew that would happen, but so soon?

My first brushstroke was not done with a brush – one of my favorite ways to begin a painting  is with a random swipe of my squeegee over liquid paint. I chose Paynes Gray. Why not a lighter color? Because I felt like being dramatic and I love the possibilities of Paynes Gray; it has more character than jet black. I chose to swipe it in the sort of diagonal direction so that I could  take advantage of the purposeful texture already there from my background color’s application.  Then a second color, Naples Yellow, using a palette knife and spontaneously adding a fling of splatter with it which will undoubtedly not matter one dot by the end of the painting but it got a few of my wiggles out and made me feel good. Not yet a third color. And no blending just yet.

Wow that was fun….sort of. Am I going slow enough? Such a pathetically small offering to the art Buddha.

I have other irons in the fire of course – several other canvases demanding my attention – so the lazy year long canvas ( I am sure it hates that nickname) is just standing over there in the corner now. It is very difficult for it to be a non-participant in the daily hum of things. I would not want it to be a sad painting, so I consciously decide to be joyful when I work on it the next time.

I guess I am predictably engaged in this process. So easy to know me and how I will handle it. So boring in my reaction. SOOO already feeling frustration. I am sure that my instructor knew full well what he was doing in offering this challenge to me. Painting like this is like biting your tongue until it bleeds with things you want to say. It is like knowing you will have a scrumptious dinner but not until next year.

I am silently screaming…..but I was told to make just a few gestures at each meeting of the canvas and me, allowing time between sessions to ponder and think and even meditate, I assume. How long between meetings? I don’t know. Restraint is the key word. It could vary immensely from month to month. It occurs to me that I am too old for a time factor like this. I try to make the most of every single day….because at a certain age you just never know. So I have trained myself to live in the NOW, savoring the moments. And I guess that is actually the point in a project of such long duration. But still, next year seems very far off.

But I can do it. I can restrain myself. Hey – you bet I can.

Here I go, doing nothing on it for awhile.

The Creative Epiphany – Year-Long Canvas Post #2

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Mixed Media Collage by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, copyright 2014

“Having a favourite colour is like having a favourite lung.”  (Sara Genn)

The other day, in my official #1 blog post about the one year-long canvas project I have been challenged to start, I showed you photos of my process of laying down the base coat of paint in preparation for the start of it. (See my Archives for that and also for further explanation of this challenge.) Now I am about ready to make my first gesture of color on the ONE YEAR LONG CANVAS. I think I will save that simple action for Monday’s class, but already I am asking myself what color I will use, and what type of brushstroke. My instructor’s directions ask that I take plenty of time between sessions with the painting, stringing the process out for a year while resisting all temptation to stop at certain places where I believe it could be called a powerful, strong, finished composition and call it done. Instead I need to keep going, obviously sacrificing that good work and morphing it into something else by adding more paint.

Keep in mind that this painting will be an abstract expressionist style, but don’t be of the assumption that since it is not going to be a realistic painting that it is any less difficult to start….you need to understand that abstract art is realism to its artist – it is just not always recognizable as any particular thing.

Now actually, considering the 365-day duration of this project and all of the many layers of paint it will ultimately carry, you might say that the initial gesture is irrelevant. If you look at my mixed media painting above, there is absolutely no way you could identify the first brushstroke. It is buried. From a practical standpoint the first stroke is probably irrelevant, but from an inspirational, emotional and spiritual viewpoint it is monumental in importance. So it seems to me, anyway, being the person expected to be making the gesture.

I once knew an artist who just could not ever bring himself to make the first brushstroke on any pure white sheet of expensive Arches rough watercolor paper. At the time I was a watercolor student and I knew the fear of that moment well – feeling frozen as you stand in front of the paper looking at it, sometimes for 20 minutes or more, waiting for the thaw of your mind and your arm as you talk yourself down from being so intimidated that you cannot speak, think or create. My friend came to a crazy solution to his problem – he took the paper outside and placed it in the driveway and ran over it several times with his car. That was his method for “having his way with it” and showing it who was boss. Then he could begin. It brings to mind the terrifying scene in the film “Captain Phillips” where the Somali pirates have boarded the ship, made it to the Captain’s perch and the scary leader of them says to the Tom Hanks character who is the Captain , “Look at me. Look at me! I am the Captain now!”

You have to take charge at some unexpected and opportune moment and show that paper or canvas who is in charge. I believe even the art Buddha would approve of that action. Once that is done you can lean back a little and loosen up, apologize to it for being so aggressive, and carry on with a gentler touch. Because in the long haul, you have to be friends with your art.

Next installment comes after Monday’s class.

The Creative Epiphany – You Gotta Sorta Like Courtney Love

photo courtesy of www.fanpop.com

The internet says that Courtney Love claims to have found the missing  triple 7 Malaysian airliner. You can find a photo of her designated target area on the BING website – follow this link –  http://wonderwall.msn.com/movies/the-shortlist-for-march-18-28535.gallery?photoId=134896&ocid=answw11

Oh good. I feel so much better now.

Geez, I wish we had asked her about it sooner – and a whole bunch of other things we have all been wondering about. Like where the hell is Amelia Earhardt.

Apparently Courtney is tuned into a website that enables people like you and me (and some who are not) to scan vast areas of ocean. She must have put aside her entire personal schedule to search for hours in behalf of all the others who apparently cannot find it, in spite of the technology they have access to.

She claims she has found, and has pinpointed, an area where she thinks she has seen an oil slick and possible debris. Well alrighty then. Full steam ahead. Get there ASAP! Somebody get Shepard Smith in on this….cause I love that guy. I really do.

What in the hell are we waiting for?

And while we are at it, has anyone thought of getting Pamela Anderson in on this search? I am going to have my people text her people…hope she’s not busy.

You just gotta love these girls…don’tcha…?

The Creative Epiphany – The One-Year Painting Challenge, Official Blog #1

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Denver Art Student’s League – the building, a classroom, the floor – March 17th, 2014    

In review – My esteemed instructor for Advanced Contemporary Painting, Homare Ikeda, has offered me a challenge – to work on a painting for a solid year. Certainly not at the exclusion of other work but parallel with all my other works. The canvas, we have decided, need not be larger than 30×40″ and could in fact be a bit smaller. The task, which of course I accepted, is more about the 365-day journey than the destination – more about having patience and resilience than the amount of time required – more about trusting yourself with the addition of each and every gesture than in asking for constant direction from the instructor. For a person like me who usually works quite fast, it is an exercise in pacing and meditation over the work being done.

**For the first two (unofficial) posts introducing this project, see my archives titled “Art Imitates Life, as they say…” published 3/13/2014 and “Back To The Classroom, Seeing Things Again for the First Time” published 3/11/2014

March 18th, 2014

Today I have begun. I have finally made my decision about the canvas size based upon Homare’s recommendation not to choose an odd-ball size (I was considering a tall narrow size of 20×60″) that would only add unnecessary frustration to this challenge. So the chosen size is 24×30″

It’s almost a blizzard now, where I am, in my second floor home studio south of the Denver metro area, but it won’t last long. It’s SPRING! Great day to paint. The north light in this room is wonderful, especially with lots of snow flying around outside.

I begin by painting the entire canvas with my favorite base color – unbleached titanium. It’s warm, it’s neutral, and it’s friendly with the color palette I usually hang with. I slap it on with a large palette knife because that also adds subtle texture, and I am all about texture, color and pattern.

palletteknife   closeup

blog1   texture

Now it has to dry before I can do anything else to it. That doesn’t take long, especially in Colorado’s altitude and low humidity, but you can also use a hair dryer if you are impatient, which I am supposed to NOT BE in this challenge. I am already getting excited to do more. Calm down. I need to watch it a lot, getting to know it. Calm down. Looking for inspiration. I might be hit with a flash of brilliance….something I want to do right away! Color! But I might not touch it again for several days…calm down.

Stay tuned……

The Creative Epiphany – Art Imitates Life, as they say…

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In my previous post I talked about beginning my first art class in decades at Denver Art Students League, and what it felt like to me, finding myself in a bare bones classroom again filled with people dedicated to the pursuit of creating abstract expressionist paintings. Let me just say that it was a thrill. To put it mildly. It was an indication, a life-marker in fact, that I was again going to take my art career seriously. Oh I have taken it seriously long before this, but there has recently been an interval of time when I was teaching art and not progressing much in the level of my own art. I did that for 3 years. Oh yes you do learn from teaching – you learn from your students and you stretch yourself as well because you are always searching for great new techniques to demonstrate. But as for me, I did not paint privately as much as I should have, for juried shows and galleries. I turned out a steady stream of art but none of it was critiqued and judged by anyone who was truly qualified, which is a mistake because an artist needs feedback and constructive criticism.

I also mentioned, in the previous post, the project I was offered – and challenged with – on the first day of class by my instructor. It is the challenge of making a commitment to work on one particular painting for a solid year, not to the exclusion of all other paintings but in addition to them – in other words I begin to do a painting and give it my thoughts and intermittent attention for a year’s worth of my time. I walk up to it, I work on it for however long it feels right, I put it down for a while, giving both me and the painting a refreshing rest to catch our breath. Of course most every artist works on some paintings over a long period of time during which the he/she artist might purposely ignore the piece, leaving it still alive but in a dormant coma in the closet, and then one day the he/she artist decides to pull it out of the closet and look at it again to actually “see it again for the first time”. That practice is highly beneficial, and usually in an instant, the he/she artist has new ideas popping into mind and the painting is conscious again, gasping for oxygen as its life gets moving in a second-chance new direction. I love saving the lives of  forgotten canvases. It is frugal and quite satisfying and it makes the art Buddha happy. The practice has proved effective time and again for me and many others. But not for a solid year…..and not while leaving it out in the studio where it takes up space for a 365 day period of time…. staring at you, screaming for attention, often driving you crazy I would assume. I am sure I will get sick & tired of looking at it sometimes. But I also assume that many learning opportunities will be associated with this challenge, which of course I immediately accepted. It has to be an exercise in patience, perseverance, dedication, determination, love/hate relationships, keeping an open mind, not being discouraged, striving consistently for excellence and not settling for the easiest and most obvious solutions, to name just a few of the ways to learn and mature as an artist from the experience.

Sounds a lot like life, don’t you think? Wow. Art imitates life all the damn time, in case you had not noticed.

I will be blogging about this, from time to time, with pictures of the work in progress. I have already had a small but significant wake-up call observation. This painting must be large. I could not work on a 24×36 for a long and winding, roller-coaster year….I need SPACE for a whole year. But guess what – I can’t fit a huge painting in my car, and I will have to be taking the canvas into my classroom from time to time for critiques. I have worked on very large canvases before but I had a different car then.

One option would be to do a diptych, each piece as large as my car could accommodate. Maybe that will work. I’ll figure it out I am sure.

So how large is your life canvas? Does it fit in your vehicle or are you living large?

The Creative Epiphany – Back to the Classroom; Seeing Things Again for the First Time

dasl   room  Art Students League of Denver

This afternoon at 1pm sharp I found myself in a bare-bones art classroom again, awaiting the arrival of my instructor for Advanced Contemporary Painting at the Denver Art Student’s League. I was excited to such a degree that I could not help remember all of my “first days” of school, from kindergarten through college at CU in Boulder, and the many art instructors I have enjoyed (one or two not so much) over a long and winding career in fine art. That I still have such a passion for painting speaks to how powerful the pull of creativity and the artistic process can be, should you choose to surrender yourself completely to it. I am an art slave, owned by and under the spell of art. The smell of the room, the years of dripped paint dried all over the floor, the organic nature of the spattered shirted people struggling through the door carrying all the magical paraphernalia required to nurture each artistic soul – that is what turns me on. It was like being in the legendary Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory only with paint. I was giddy with anticipation and nervous, hoping I was not assuming too much by choosing that class….

One particular relative of mine, although near and dear to my heart, keeps urging, almost demanding me to paint as I did 25 years ago when my subject matter was Colorado landscapes and they were selling like fine art hot cakes. But all of you who pick up brushes to express yourselves know that one must grow and evolve as an artist and that any self-respecting painter who does the same kind of theme all the live-long day through all the live-long years of his life is a boring person indeed. It is like reading and re-reading the same books, watching the same old movies you saw 25 years ago to the exclusion of all the new award-winning films, and it is certainly like living constantly in the past, resting on one’s past accomplishments until they get so raggedy that one is called an arrogant has-been in ridiculous denial of the NOW. Creative people, if nothing at all, must live in the NOW.

I have done that – I have kept current, tried much of the new wiz-bang stuff, produced a huge body of work, taught my skills to other people, showed in gallery situations and private shows and sold a good percentage of what I produced. But still, I need guidance from someone wiser than me – someone who sees my art in a different light. I want to do the best art of my life in this very decade of my life and be remembered for it. If there is ever a retrospective show in my honor, please let there be clearly visible, stunning evolution evident in that body of work.

I am again the student, and it feels so good. My first challenge, from Homare Ikeda my instructor, is to begin a painting and allow a full year to finish it. Obviously this is an exercise in patience, steady progress, resilience, determination and the evolution of working on a project with no pressure. Sounds easier than it will be, I am sure, but I cannot wait to get started. This painting would be done at home, using most class time for other paintings, so it will be picked up and continued at my own pace, then put down again for a rest until I am in the mood to pick it up again and add to it. Periodically I will take it into class for critiques and classroom work. What’s the purpose? To show change – to indicate progress – to evolve – to grow as an artist. To surprise myself! Exactly what I was hoping for.

I am going to keep track of this progress, take photos, and from time to time I will report here in this blog with a photo of my current incarnation of THE YEAR LONG PAINTING, so if you care enough to see what’s going on, please stay tuned. I will be as surprised as you are, I am sure.