Creative Intentions

A very Happy New Year to you.

Busyness took over life for a little while, but this week I took the time to sit down and map out my (mostly) creative intentions for 2022. I decided to go with intentions instead of goals because creativity itself is something I live every day rather than an object of desire. Below is my Intentions 2022 poster.

I kept most of the intentions reasonably broad to allow a more panoramic view of how I want to spend my creative time this year, but also so I don’t get bogged down by the weight of too many ambitions. In the past I’ve found having too many specific goals to action overwhelming and demoralising. I still have projects I’d like to see realised sooner rather than later, but this year I’ve chosen to emphasise the joy of creating rather than on outcomes.

I didn’t paint any of the individual elements on the poster, rather I used clipart from various artists, which I purchased on Design Cuts and The Hungry Jpeg. These were put together using graphic design software, then printed it on A3 in colour where it will be pinned on my workspace wall to remind me to zoom out and look at the big picture.

Here’s to a year of being immersed in creativity, contemplation and tea.

Impetus for creative pursuits

I’ve been on the look out for a new ceramic watercolour mixing palette, appropriately sized and shaped for my workspace, so I looked on Etsy and loved the handcrafted palettes I saw there. There are such clever people out there. Unfortunately all the ones I liked shipped from overseas. The postage service is understandably overwhelmed these days, which means I don’t have a great deal of confidence in delivery times, much less items actually making it to Australia – shipping within Australia has been problematic recently too, and with the silly season upon us, I decided not to chance it. So I watched a couple of tutorials, bought some air dry clay, paint and varnish and had a go at making some custom palettes myself. I really enjoyed the process and the results aren’t awful. The one with paint is my first attempt. The other two have their first coats of white acrylic paint. It took the larger one the better part of a week to dry completely, because the east coast of Australia has been experiencing unseasonably overcast and rainy days. So I sculpted and waited, sanded and painted. Waited and painted and waited again until I was finally able to put the first coat of varnish on. It’s taken four days to paint one palette with multiple coats of acrylic paint and gloss varnish. In the end I like the result, even if they do look a little inelegant. They’re bespoke and they work. I even had a go at imprinting some sacrificial fern leaves in to left over clay for decorations (one is pictured in image above).

It’s good to learn new things. I’m happy to discover, it’s also an excellent way to instil some new impetus in your creative enterprise. My draft table is covered in tools and debris from my manufacturing, but I couldn’t be happier.

I had some creative downtimes this year, which I admittedly did worry over at times. I’m pleased to report that I am now finally feeling refreshed, motivated and adventurous again. Sometimes we need to look beyond the familiar, try something new, explore new ways to make in order to reawaken our creative power. I guess it’s possible to bore the creative self with artistic reruns and I think that’s what happened for me.

The palettes I made aren’t great works; they’re not going to make me any money, or even improve my paintings, but they were the jumper leads my creative engine needed right now. Very often it’s the act of creating itself which powers the internal creativity generator. This was a good project to rewet my appetite for crafting. I suspect I’ll make quite a few more palettes.

Creativity is not a luxury

Questions I ask myself at 2 am when I can’t sleep:

How much does the Earth weigh?

How fast are we travelling through the Milk Way?

Is it always this quiet?

Why aren’t my watercolours coming out as expected?

Why can’t I stop?

The question regarding watercolour expectations versus reality is simple to answer, at least for me: I’m not as patient as I need to be, plus I’m detail-orientated, which results in rushed, but surprisingly, overworked paintings – my paintings are seldom loose and flowing like the ones I see on Pinterest. My two favourite media, watercolour and pen and ink, both require a lot of time, patience and persistence to master. Sometimes I feel my tools and I at least have an understanding. Sometimes art is just hard work. I’ve spent a lot of the last month making disagreeable paintings, yet I persist as if I have no choice.

Art, even when it’s difficult, is important. Art has power, even if the artist her/himself feels powerless. All creative endeavours (including, and maybe even especially, music) are nurturing and healing; they create, connect and encourage communities across space and time. We are connected to the earliest artists all those millennia ago through the images they created on cave walls and in rocky outcrops. The makers of those images lived through physically and emotionally demanding times, but they didn’t just endure the hardships of their days, they flourished. We don’t know what sustained them, but I like to think creativity had a lot to do with it. This Ted Talk by Ethan Hawke sums it up best.

“Art’s not a luxury; it’s actually sustenance. We need it.” – Ethan Hawke

Your creative treasure chest

Creative block is a topic I keep revisiting because my thoughts on what it is and how to overcome it are always evolving. Creative block is an umbrella term which includes, but is not limited to, creativity fatigue, artist’s block, and the more well-known writer’s block. I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts on the topic, from people who have experienced it to varying degrees, to people who write about how to overcome it, and I’m still none the wiser on why it happens. What I have learned is there is no-one-size-fits-all approach to solving such dilemmas in creativity. The reasons for creative blocks are subjective, thus the solutions and/or steps to overcoming blocks will also be subjective. The key might have something to do with our own expectations and the solution might require forgiveness.

Lately I find myself in a period of low production. I hesitate to call my current state a “block” because I didn’t stop creating; my imagination is always active and engaged. What I am lacking is motivation. Creative motivation, at least in my case, is mostly intrinsic. Meaning, external motivations, such as financial or other rewards figure very low on my list of reasons for creating anything. They’re nice, but not necessary.

Once I would have agonised over this low level of production. I would have berated myself for it, told myself I was being lazy or defeatist, which could then have led to weeks of pointless self-flagellation. I feel comfortable admitting to this because I know it’s a common theme when it comes to creative flow and most of us have subjected ourselves to this at least once. These days I know the tap hasn’t been turned off, I’m just refilling the reservoir. What is still daunting, though, is that there’s no timetable. I can’t schedule the downtime or the (hopefully) inevitable reboot of the motivation to produce. Even after decades of being a creative and experiencing fluxes in levels of creativity, I can’t give myself an estimate on when this era will be finished. Will it be days, weeks, or months? All I do know is this as a new permanent state of mind.

What is helping now is redefining what counts as a creative outcome and tempering my expectations of myself. Jotting down ideas and making (even ugly) scribbles is still an act of creativity and one which I am content with for now.

Thinking deeply about not much

I am a deep thinker. I enjoy mulling over things I’ve read, heard or seen. But more than this, I love visualising, inventing and reflecting on scenarios or scenes to write and paint. It was said when I was a child that I had an “over-active imagination” and I was a daydreamer – sometimes by teachers in school reports. “She needs to apply herself” was a common refrain in those reports, but there was also an expectation I’d grow out it. Daydreaming was considered puerile and a waste of time. I think a lot of creatives can identify with this.

I didn’t listen. No matter how many times I got in trouble for looking out the window too long or not hearing all of the question, I would sneak away to the corners of my mind and explore. I still love being in my own head and it serves me well in the downtimes.

I wrote a lot of the ideas down over the years and kept them to remind me what a rich resource the human mind is. In this way the ideas, no matter how good or bad, will always exist in a library of potential. They can never be failures while ever they remain there. So I keep them and they keep me. If I could generate income from all the notions alone . . . well, I’d make a modest income because not all ideas are created equal. Some ideas are scaffolding for much bigger ideas, others are nutriments for embryonic projects. Most, though, are fragments of ideas whose function is really just to beget more ideas and to keep the creative furnace burning. There will be many of broken pieces and castoffs, and that’s ok. I am whiling away the hours doing the important work of procrastinating.

Refreshing your imagination

Sometimes you just need to let it happen and trust that your mind is incubating.

Where once it was widely seen as a character flaw, and even an act of avoiding responsibility, procrastination is now finding a niche for itself in the creative process. Procrastination can be seen as a form of creative incubation. It can give you a much needed distraction from the pressures of a project, and importantly, allow time to digest ideas, or mull over problems and solutions without over-thinking. Procrastination is an important state of mind and one we all know how to do intrinsically. Best of all, you don’t need special tools. You might feel like you’re engaging in fruitless daydreaming, but the mind knows where it goes.

Creative people are creative all the time, even when we don’t feel like we are. I have started to envision creativity as a chest filled with treasures. And it is always full. Frustratingly, ownership of the chest doesn’t guarantee me permanent access to the goodies within. Sometimes the lid closes, sometimes I just see a jumble of seemingly useless glitter, sometimes the jewels just aren’t my cup of tea. But there is always something in there. If I can’t identify the objects or I see nothing that interests me, it’s time to close the lid and go and bake. Or read a book, watch documentaries, make sketchbooks, or spend too many hours on Pinterest. The point is to stop looking so hard. Maybe look at something else for awhile. Procrastinate, refresh the imagination.

The act of envisioning the chest might itself be a pathway to breaking down whatever barriers are holding you back. After all, creativity begets creativity.

A tree on INPRNT.com and a promo code

I’ve just finished a rather large pen and ink and watercolour of an antarctic beech; those magnificent Gondwana relics, which I am blessed to live in the same state as. I have a collection of photos of two rather old trees in particular from several different pilgrimages. Unfortunately that still wasn’t enough for a faithful reproduction of either tree, so my tree is a mish-mash of the two.

The Keeper – pen and ink with Payne’s grey watercolour on 300 gsm hot press paper

From today until Sunday, 18 July I’m offering a 5% discount on all my giclée, canvas and acrylic prints from INPRNT.com. INPRNT offers high quality products using archival ink on high quality heavy paper. They also offer free shipping for applicable products. Use the promo code 9TK8XD for 5% off prints in my store.

Big inspiration from small creative superstars

It’s school holidays, cool and wet and unfortunately we had to go in to a three day lockdown in the first week of the mid-year break. My daughter already had some friends over, so we decided to do an art session to keep our minds off the big world out there. I covered the dining table with paper, gave them all some fairly robust multi-media paper and said go-for-it. Without hesitation or shyness they got to work straight away and churned out pages and pages of creative and colourful pieces. They brought a different kind of big world in to my home and that energy is still here days later.

Here are some of their pieces:

It is a marvel how easily children connect with their creative selves. Generally, they’re not afraid to experiment or make mistakes and they are usually proud of their accomplishments. Watching these three young creatives support and encourage each other was as rewarding as the art they created. They didn’t judge question each others art choices and were ready to share their own knowledge. I was glad to be a facilitator for them; it can only lead to more innovation. Days like these make me glad to be a creator and helped generate some inspiration for myself.

Challenges of nature journaling

One of the challenges of any nature journaling for the purposes of learning is finding a balance between enjoyment and enlightenment.

So far I’m achieving both, but not without some conscious decision-making. This has not been a passive sketching project. There are thousands of species of ferns, from many different groups – many I’ve never seen or heard of. Finding good reference photos for some has been a challenge. Knowing how many and which fern species from each genera to include on a page is another time-consuming concern, but all part of the process of enlightenment. It would also be easy to pick the least complex leaves to draw in order to finish pages quicker, but I feel this would misrepresent an ancient and diverse group of plants. Besides, the end result would be a less visually appealing spread.

As with most taxonomy and phylogeny, sometimes a species inclusion in a group doesn’t make sense, at least to a non-botanist like me, especially when the experts don’t agree. There have even been several occasions when there has been some ambiguity, even controversy, about a species’ placement within a particular group. I do my best with the taxonomic nomenclature, but systematics is not the reason for the journal so it doesn’t really matter if some of it is imprecise. I won’t be travelling the world identifying fern species any time soon.

Another minor issue I have is my own handwriting. I write in all caps because it’s more legible, but even then I keep it to a minimum because, frankly, it’s ugly. I’ve updated my Lamy Al-Star nib to a black stainless steel medium nib rather than the fine nib I was using as it is much smoother, so I am more inclined to use it. Clearly, though, I still need practice.

The final issue with a journal like this is time. I’m impatient to see a page done, but since a spread can take an afternoon to complete I won’t be finished any time soon. Fern leaves can be complicated, at least when it comes to drawing them.

Whatever the challenges, I am committed to seeing this sketchbook filled, no matter how much time it takes.

Ferns: a continuation of a visual journal

I have an appreciation for the diversity and charm of ferns, but I’m not a botanist, so defining their form isn’t always easy – understanding their taxonomy and phylogeny even less so, but that matters less to me than the act of journaling. My homage to ferns is mostly meditative, and it is lovely to look back and see the work I’ve done in this medium-sized journal. I’m a long way off from finishing it, which is ok, because I’m a long way off from finishing the division of ferns. There are over 10,000 species to play with, after all, and that’s only the extant species; there are many extinct species in the form of fossils that could probably fill a small sketchbook. Now there’s a challenging project.

More bovines, plus some wonderfully weird goats

Living bovines (from the family Bovidae, subfamily Bovinae) come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them could be mistaken for antelopes, which occupy a seperate subfamily (Antilopinae) within Bovidae.

From musk ox to ibex and barbery sheep, members of the subfamily Caprinae, on the other hand, are unmistakable and just a bit more difficult to sketch. This has been fun to do as I wind down of an evening.