Being Creative

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Paintings #1 and #2, not yet titled, copyright 2015 Jo Ann Brown Scott

There is something about a snowy, extra icy day that fires up my creativity. The sidewalks are a sheet of ice, the temps have plummeted from yesterday, there is thick, cotton gauze fog and no one who has a choice would be outside. And so we paint, me and my creativity. The light is perfect – bright with the outdoor whiteness, but no sun glare, no reflections in my north facing window. I always say that my most ideal conditions in which to paint, or write, are simply a good night’s sleep and a day when I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything.

I rolled out of bed about 8 am, a little late for me, went directly to the kitchen and made my famous chicken broccoli soup, eliminating any distractions about what I am going to eat today. It’s on the stove simmering, crusty Asiago bread nearby. This must be heaven.

As any artist is bound to do from time to time, I sometimes wish that I could paint a different way. It happens to the best of us; it is born not of boredom with what we are used to doing but a challenge to ourselves to accomplish a whole new look and make it sing, as if we had been doing it forever, just to prove we can. Every once in a while I give it a try. I usually paint with a confetti riot of color, and so my reaction against that tendency is to paint with a greatly subdued palette and far less action. That does not truly represent my normal joyful state of mind, (happy!) but I do have more subdued reflective moments of silence (yawn…) when I become rather meditative (almost asleep). If I can tap into that while I am standing upright painting, occasionally I get some fine results. If I try to do it twice,  I can, but I don’t necessarily like to, and I fall back into the fun stuff of going bananas with color; it seems to be the authentic me.

The second painting is subdued, for me. My version of restraint. (perhaps you are laughing now, at my version of restraint) but I kept it simple, the colors are there but not so plentiful and/or not so in your face. I wanted to do more, but I decided to eat lunch instead and let it go for a while and see if I can live with it the way it is.

With this blog I have two photos, the first abstract painting is a new one displaying my customary  expressionistic (controlled color pattern texture chaos) type of composition, and the next a much more toned down piece where as I worked I kept a lid on it. Over the holidays when I had some fun relatives over for lunch, my six year old niece, Finley, (with whom I  sometimes paint, and who calls me Great Jo because I am her great aunt) walked into my studio, saw the toned down painting on my work table and said to me, “Great Jo, this one is not finished – can I finish it for you?” Believe me, it was tempting to see what might have happened. I will file that idea away; and another time I will start something and let her finish it. It has to be a cut above elephants who paint, right?

By the way, yes it is a new year and I have not forgotten about the YEAR LONG CANVAS – she is looking longingly in my direction as we speak, jealous of my other work. She needs a fix, another session, and I will get to her soon. She reaches her one year “time up” about March 1st, and here we are in mid-January already. I have plans for the entire month of February, so my time is becoming scarce leading into her birthday. My next post will be for her, as she nears completion.

 

 

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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.

The Creative Epiphany – Exploring a New Creative Direction

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Let my first say that when I speak about artists, or creativity in general, and the creative gifts you received free at birth by the luck of the genes that the fates awarded you, I am addressing each and every one of you. We all receive creative gifts – in music, art, writing, photography, banking, engineering, cooking, dancing, designing, sports and I could go on and on. We all get some of the creative pie. The challenge in your life is to find your unique gift and use it well for your own satisfaction and for the greater good, as I often say.

For about six months now I have been stretching my artistic muscles – venturing forward into new territory whenever the fancy strikes me –  sometimes bravely, but more often barefoot and clueless, wearing pajamas at times – experimenting across artistic horizons. I have been attempting to find a new-ish artistic expression that will satisfy my constant need for creative adventure – thus tweaking and slightly altering my older style in that process. Since I have been painting for many decades now I do have a characteristic style, as is appropriate. It seems that no matter what I try, where I go creatively, and how much I rebel against myself, my distinguishable approach to art is a recognizable thread that runs through all. It can be maddening or it can feel comforting like an old blanket. The thought of drastic change feels rather…well…drastic. I am looking for a deep, soulful change that is a bit off-beat but still comfortable and satisfying for me. Many weeks I take two steps forward and one back, swaying back and forth into and out of my own damn self, looking hopefully for the day when I can take three steps forward and stay there.

Of course your art is a visual diary, revealing your unconscious but read-able state of mind as you paint images down through the years. If you have a body of work that goes way back, you will be able to remember what you were living through during each and every piece you painted. You will know instantly, by the level of skill and risk-taking in each historic and archival art piece, what it was in real life that prompted those mirrored emotions proudly displayed on canvas or paper. You are immensely proud of that creative record – you see it all as a timeline of your life. You are always curious to see where the bumpy and broken road will lead you next.

So when someone in your life does not understand your recent direction in art, nor does that person have the broad knowledge of art principle and history and theory with which to make an educated assessment of your new, risk-taking work, and/or does not have the self-awareness to realize that his/her critical remarks made to you are obviously built upon a house of cards that has no basis in art education – well then, that is pathetic and also hurtful. It should not be hurtful, considering the source, you think to yourself, but it is. We artists are all accustomed to criticism, of course. We are calloused and beaten up. We try to become accustomed to criticism in sheer self-defense because we get it by the boatload, not just from the art experts and the gallery owners but because everyone and their uncle has hollow remarks to make about art. Still, that particular kind of criticism spun of ignorance and innocence coming from the totally uninformed does not excuse it or render them worth polite and tolerant listening. It is not in my job description or yours to educate and inform people about art, so we need to be like Teflon and repel the unusable, unproductive critique. If push came to shove, however, I would be able to talk those people under the table – to bury them – on the subject of art. My passion and understanding of the subject knows no bounds.

Our primary job as an artist is to stretch – to grow – to continue to evolve, to whatever extent our skill level and our gift of creativity has afforded us. If we can manage to do that, then our message will always show up  in our art as freshly expressed and it will keep not just ourselves but our audience engaged and interested in our careers. People hate boredom and so do artists because we are people too. Things need some shaking up every once in a while when we get to the point where we can almost paint blindfolded because our work has become  – that dreaded word – predictable. We all know that we owe it to ourselves to keep moving forward. The people who are genuinely moved and fascinated with our art, at any stage, will continue to  be inspired enough to ask intelligent questions about what has been the catalyst for our recent evolution. They will remain our enlightened followers.

The others, the non-learners, the ones whose appreciation for creative growth and knowledge has been stunted, will eventually drop by the wayside and walk away shaking their heads in perpetual confusion. It is of no use to try and explain the whys and the wherefores of our changing art to them, and that is not our concern. People who truly care about art make it their passion and seek book-loads of information on the subject. I say, put your money where your mouth is and get thee to a library! And if they don’t care enough to research, just let them go – we do not have to ever make excuses for our art or attempt to explain its adventurous direction. That is not a good use of our time. It is no one’s business but ours.

It all boils down to the question of freedom of expression and the yearning to grow. We need to shake off the most idiotic of the inquiries and walk back into our studios and paint, smiling as we go.

The Creative Epiphany – When Creativity Messes With You, Part 1

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You know that feeling – you are drained of ideas, you are parched of imagination, desperate for inspiration – you are wondering if you will ever have another burst of brilliance in your lifetime. You try to force it, using your “last resort” tactics to entice the lovely vixen, CREATIVITY, back into your control. She is nowhere to be found – she took the last train for the coast. She always does this when you need her the most; she is fickle and she cheats on you with other guys. You are feeling powerless without her. You have been robbed of your favorite distinction – you feel so ordinary – so without your edge – so blank – so nowhere.

What to do, what to do…  Music? Food? Shopping? Sex?  Dancing? Running to nowhere? Mingling randomly with your fellow human beings? You wonder how long this vacancy will last. This exile from productivity. This emptiness.

The following is excerpted from my Introduction of my book, “THE CREATIVE EPIPHANY – Gifted Minds, Grand Realizations”:

“Creativity does have a down-side. After all, she is only human, isn’t she? She has ongoing relationship issues with Loneliness, Self-Doubt and Criticism. You have heard the expression, “There goes an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” Bingo. She does not always play well with others. She has problems fitting in. In spite of her flamboyant, life-of-the-party behavior, she can be quite shy. She sometimes leads a solitary life, fleeting in and out of thought incessantly at odd hours of the day and night and then disappearing for months at a time, completely off the radar. Creativity finds it painful to be taken for granted and does not ever come when she is sternly summoned. Even being labeled “creative” is a heavy load to carry through life. People expect a lot of Creativity. And she tires easily. Sometimes she burns herself up in a colorful flame-out. Then there is Depression…circling around Creativity’s camp like a hyena waiting for pieces of flesh, steadfastly marking his territory. Creativity is sometimes deeply fearful. She is plagued with insecurity. She has foot-stomping anger management issues. She hates criticism and feels tricked when it is called “creative criticism.” She is easily offended. But after a dry spell she appears again, rested and giving, ready for some fresh endeavor because she says, smiling, that she was missing you. To make up for her absence and undependability, Creativity takes you on serendipitous journeys you had never dreamed of taking. She shows you the world in one blink of her exotic eye.”

When Creativity finally decides to return, riding on a grand epiphany, lucky be you.

The next blog entry will explain what to look for and how you can facilitate that experience.

In the meantime, go have some fun, put it out of your mind – and relax!

Link to book –  www.epiphanysfriends.com

The Creative Epiphany – The Scheherazade Violin

2vioThe violin Scheherazade by Jo Ann Brown-Scott

While we are on the subject of creativity, let me tell you a story within a story. Just a little personal experience of sadness, discovery, healing and joy. A recent chapter in the biography of my art – a true tale, unembellished, able to stand firmly on its own merits. It has always seemed to me that my long career in art has provided me with more than enough fascinating stories – enough for a lifetime of enlightenment and inspiration. Stored in my mind are humorous anecdotes, disturbing happenings, brilliant realizations and numerous other categories of true occurences that have enriched and enhanced the initial act of creating a piece of artwork. Let me begin with this one…..

In the fall of 2010 while living in northern California I received an honored invitation to create a piece of artwork – a painted violin – for the DYAO – Denver Young Artists Orchestra. This long established, prestigious, charitable project involves the yearly selection of about 20 artists  who are invited to paint an actual violin (one that has been put out to pasture) in whatever flavor and style they are comfortable with. The violins then tour galleries for viewing, over several months in the Denver area, culminating in a gala event in the spring, where the violins are auctioned, thus funding the youth orchestra for the next season. www.paintedviolin.com   www.dyao.org

In that fall of 2010 my husband was very ill. I was thrilled with my violin invitation, and yet it was placed in my mind on the very back shelf of priorities…  As December arrived with holiday preparations and obligations, my husband worsened and finally died on December 7th. A week or so later the violin arrived at my door by UPS in a lovely case….at first I had no idea what the DYAO could possibly be sending me, and then I remembered. I made a mental note to notify them that I could not possibly participate in the violin event, as honored as I was to have been selected. I did not have it in me to paint.

After holiday season spent in Tahoe at my family’s gentle insistence, while recuperating from cataract surgery on my first eye and grieving the death of my husband, I arrived back home to face the hard reality of dealing with nasty insurance issues, ugly Social Security issues, clearing out my husband’s closets and office and trying to not have a meltdown. Trying very hard not to lose it, when I ran across the violin. The violin committee was expecting that it be shipped to them, all finished, by April 1st. They requested that it reflect my characteristic mixed media collage technique. I was convinced I could not possibly muster the artistic inspiration and strength to accomplish that. I had only emptiness where the creativity used to be.

As the weeks passed I began to wonder what I would, theoretically, do to the violin if I somehow could do it….if I decided to accept its challenge. Ideas gradually came to mind, creeping in under the  blanket of my sadness. Sort of warming me up. I reminded myself of other circumstances when my art had been my solace and my escape. As a diversion from the sad tasks I was dealing with all day long, I thought about the violin. I remembered when I was young and Mom used to play Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on Saturday mornings; music inspired by the ancient Persian Tales of the Arabian Nights. The music was haunting and exotic, and told the poetic fable of the handsome Sultan who demanded a different virgin be brought to his tent every night, then killed them the next day so that they could not be unfaithful to him. Enter the beautiful Persian Princess, Scheherazade, who made love to him, then told him an intriguing tale and promised to finish the story the following night. She returned, continued the tale night after night, and kept herself alive for many thousands of years, bearing his children and making him very happy.

I approached my collage papers and my paint with doubt and trepidation, wondering what would happen as I attempted to pull my creative gestures and thought processes up from the depths of my misery. I decided to incorporate meaningful mementoes and papers into the collage as omens of good will and peace of mind. I collaged the violin with the same coral and gold leaf paper I had used for the cover of my handmade wedding invitations as a tribute to my husband,  I used a gold circle, a link from a broken necklace of my mother’s. Then some polished stones that my daughter had given me were used to circle the arm of the violin like a bracelet. I added a hunk of clear crystal for good karma. I antiqued the  entire violin with gold paint, made a keyhole design on the backside as a symbol of entrance to a new life, used an East Indian paper around the edges…and I was quite happy and amazed with the results. I titled the violin Scheherazade, in honor of the Persian Princess, and nicknamed her “Scher”.

The story does not end there – with the violin project I was taken through a door to a new place in my life. A place where I was reassured that my life was going to begin again and there was still much to look forward to. As of this day I am still entering that door, leaving soon for my move to Denver where both family and some special friends await me with open arms.

Scher and I have been telling tales for years and years…..but mine are all true. People ask me often if I have any new stories. And I always do. This particular story is one of my best and will always be remembered as a pivotal point in my long life of change, resilience and renewal, three conditions upon which creativity thrives. The violin and my continued enthusiasm for life are my proof positive of that. I live, I love, I paint.

To see the 2010-2011 season of painted violins in which I participated, plus archives and the current season, visit www.paintedviolin.com or http://www.dyao.org

 

 

The Creative Epiphany – High on Life

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For quite some time now I have wanted to post a blog about creativity and its connection to being high on life. You know that feeling – well I certainly hope you do – when you wake up feeling like you might burst with potential. Your energy level is over the top, you somehow managed to acquire a handful of new ideas overnight and you will tackle and throttle anyone who stands between you and your desire to manifest this moment in time with a creative achievement. Whether you are an artist, a writer, a musician, a chef, a designer, an inventor, a mother of young children, a tour guide, a choreographer, a photographer, an architect or even a retired person who has the entire day free to create as you please, this rare day of open-ness and possibility is like nothing else. It is a luxury and a gift to have such enthusiasm.

Oh I have produced some of my best paintings on less than perfect days as well. I am not one of those artists who can’t paint, can’t think, and can’t be at all productive when my life is not ideal. In fact I run to my work table when I need comfort and escape. I usually get some good stuff done when I wring out all of my sadness and frustration and drip it onto a canvas. I find that process cleansing and therapeutic.

But those sparkling days of illumination and inspiration that come rarely and inconsistently are the ones I am talking about. They almost always arrive un-announced, because the element of breathless surprise is what gets your adrenaline going. However I personally believe there are things you can do to call out to them and tease those brilliant days into showing up…..

1) I believe it is important to take some calm days to incubate and marinate your ideas, keeping those infant ideas quiet, dormant and unexpressed while they form into full-fledged creative beings. Don’t feel like you must work at things every single day…..being creatively driven does not mean constant special FX action.

2) Get a good night’s sleep – your dreams often provide the answers.

3) Exercise outside, away from the gym, even if it’s raining or windy – notice things!

4) Keep an incubation file of ideas. Go to it for fun and profit.

5) Listen, be aware and communicate with friends and strangers. Ideas flow everywhere and from everybody – the smallest interaction can provide huge inspiration.

6) Last but not least – brand new is great but try to also build upon your best successful ideas. Think about how they can be tweaked and altered to grow them into bigger and better ideas. Rework, rebuild, recycle and get new improved results.

What is a creative epiphany? It is an answer you have been waiting for – new information – new inspiration – a light clicked on in the darkness that illuminates and feeds your creative efforts. A creative epiphany provides you with a grand realization that is sometimes life-changing on a day when you woke up feeling open and eager to receive it….a day when you were so high on life that you made yourself a magnet for such an experience. Lucky be you.