Category Archives: Inspiration

How do you make creative work in a time of chaos?

This blog post is a long time coming. Stuck in my throat for months, today is the day when the not writing becomes more painful than the writing.

How do you make creative work in a time of chaos?

I’ve been asking myself this question for the better part of nine months, without coming to any conclusions. Over the past months, I have felt my energies pulled in areas where I am deeply concerned, but powerless to affect in an immediate sense. I have felt this from my audiences as well. It takes energy to engage with artwork. When you have spent your emotions for the day by calling your elected officials, or trying to engage with your racist cousin, you want nothing else than to sip your purchased wine and stroll past art festival booths without going in.

Great Unknown, a linocut by Elizabeth Busey

Elizabeth Busey. Great Unknown. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK. 18 x 18 in (image size), ed of 21.

I get it. I feel that way as well.

Instead of throwing myself into my materials and the swirling worries of the day, it is easier to numb my brain watching energetic people flip houses in thirty minutes to an hour. If only a fresh coat of paint, some exposed shiplap and a new backsplash of subway tile would wash away the horrors of each day’s news headlines.

Making things new. Making things better. These are valid, even valuable goals to have. But what if what I “do” now seems superfluous, even vapid and shallow? Should I create more? Should I press on with my body of work and wait until the skies clear?

Some would argue that your work should speak to the times. How I envy people whose artistic vision can dovetail seamlessly and speak directly to all of the pain, fear and anger that has arisen in the United States. Perhaps my work is an antidote to all of these feelings, but right now that does not seem to be enough.

How do you make creative work in a time of chaos?

I visited the Catalan region of Spain this summer with my husband. We spent time in the cities of Barcelona and Girona, and hiked in the Benasque region of the Pyrenees. I saw the works of the native sons of the region — Picasso and Miro. I’m not a devotee of either artist, but it was illuminating to see their progression as artists at museums that housed their work.

What was more illuminating in this trip was learning about the Spanish Civil War. Both cities still had public bomb shelters that were now contained in city parks. Plainly said, these shelters were built to protect the citizens from the bombs of their own government. Both Picasso and Miro escaped to France during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso painted his famous protest painting Guernica in 1937 in Paris, a protest of the German bombing of the city of the same name.

Some people today will create work in the vein of Picasso’s Guernica. That will be valuable. Yet most of us would not like this image to greet us daily on our living room walls.

Is creative work that is calm, peaceful, rejuvenating, or even hopeful appropriate today? Necessary?

I would like to think that it is.

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Staying Inspired When You Can’t Create

How do you stay inspired when you can’t create? Maybe your studio has been flooded by a wet spring. Perhaps the tendons and muscles in your thumbs demand rest. What if you are forced to be on bed rest to recover your health? Two on-line series provide me with inspiration, even when I have my feet up…

Dried ink -- up close supporting bar on my rubber roller.

When I can’t create, I look for unexpected images with my Iphone. This one is the supporting bar of one of the rollers in my studio.

Netflix’s Abstract

Netflix’s new eight part series Abstract is an absolute delight. Each 45-minute episode profiles a different design professional. We learn where their ideas come from, how they began, and most importantly how they go about creating.

Episodes include:

  • Christoph Niemann: Illustrator
  • Ilse Crawford: Interior Designer
  • Tinker Hatfield: Shoe Designer
  • Paula Scher: Graphic Designer
  • Platon: Photographer
  • Bjarke Ingels: Architect
  • Ralph Gilles: Automotive Designer
  • Es Devlin: Stage Designer

I used to have favorite episodes, but after seeing all of them, I would recommend watching them straight through. I find watching people create a calming yet stimulating experience, as well as a hopeful interlude while you wait to get back to your own creating.

Illustrator Christoph Niemann

Illustrator Christoph Niemann is the genius behind many notable New Yorker magazine covers.

Craft in America

Craft in America is a PBS series created in conjunction with the Craft in America Center. While most episodes focus on three -dimensional or low-relief two dimensional work, they do include printmaker Tom Killion in an episode on process. On the Craft in America site, you can search by episode theme, location and even medium. I could lose myself in this site for days.

Craft in America artistsCraft in America artists are fascinating to watch, and tell inspiring stories.

 

So whether you are cooped up by circumstance or weather or health, there is always something you can watch to stay inspired.

What are your inspirations?

 

 

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What does HOPE look like?

I love art installations. I have yet to create an installation purely of my own work, and so I turn to my greater community for help. Thankfully, the congregation at First United Church in Bloomington, Indiana is tolerant of my needs and gladly participates when I ask.

This winter, I was obsessed with finding hope. I asked the congregation, as well as the community groups that use our space, to send me images of hope from their cell phone cameras. My comment to them was that unless it was an image of their grocery list or the book they wanted to read, the content was probably something that other people might find hopeful.

wave of photographs on blue paper

An installation of photographs on blue paper creates a wave of hope in the hallway of First United Church, Bloomington, Indiana.

Assembling the wave of hope

Over the course of a month or so, I received 120 images, which I downloaded and sent off to be printed. My challenge was to combine these images in a way that made a statement, but did not require expensive framing and could be displayed easily on a painted cinderblock wall.

A few years ago, I had seen an installation of solar printmaking using cardboard and small loose-leaf binder rings. I decided to augment this idea to create what I was seeing as “A Wave of Hope.” I purchased four colors of blue scrapbooking paper — thick enough, but not too heavy — along with 500 1/2 inch binder rings. With a newly acquired ATG tape dispenser, I mounted the photos in either a landscape or portrait format on the blue paper. I drilled holes through the stacks of paper, and took the entire set to the site for assembly.

 

The challenge of the actual installing

With the help of my daughter Hannah, we created a makeshift armature out of dowel rods and the hanging system in the art hallway. We formed chains of imagery, linked with these rings and attached each one invisibly to the armature with fishing line. The chains moved up and down as if they were waves, but were attached to one another so that they did not twist and the entire piece had a bit more stability.

I don’t hear huge exclamations when people pass the installation, but they slow down and seem absorbed in the imagery. I think that is what hope is like — it will sneak up on you if only you are open to receive it.

If you are so moved– why not attach a hopeful image in the comment section?

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A creative life well lived

The world lost a creative soul recently. Donovan Walling was an example of someone who truly embraced every facet of his innate creativity. He was an educator by profession, one who traveled during his lifetime between the classroom and the scholarly world. But all the time, Donovan found the time to create.

I had the pleasure of touring his home once in search of artwork for an ekphrasis (writing about art) project I was doing with our congregation. The home he shared with his husband Sam is filled with paintings he created throughout his life. Earlier works were more geometric — including one above the living room fireplace that is six feet tall and was created on his garage floor. More recent work, such as Peace Like a River, are looser and more flowing. Donovan was never afraid to try something new. “I can always paint over it,” he insisted.

Donovan Walling. Peace Like a River. Acrylic on canvas. Installed at First United Church, Bloomington, Indiana.

Donovan wrote about his inspiration for Peace Like a River:

Peace Like a River was inspired by the hymn of the same name. My sense is that peace is a complicated concept. From a distance, the stylized blue river in this painting is a placid stripe against a neutral background. But when you look closer, the river of peace flows across a backdrop that is nuanced and chaotic, just as every life, close up, is more complex than it seems from a distance.

He wrote poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Because of his professional work, he developed publishing skills which he used to produce self-published volumes that he generously shared with his friends. Last fall he invited me to co-produce a volume focussing on justice issues with the congregation of First United Church, Bloomington. (You can read my contribution in this post.)

His creativity was fueled by every part of his life, some of which I had the pleasure of learning more about during his convalescence at home. Donovan was creative is the best way. He didn’t consider whether something he created would find a home with someone else or not. He was compelled to create as a way of sharing the honest details of who he was as a person, inviting others into his life. His was a creative life well lived.

 

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Finding the reset button means getting focused and motivated

April has come and gone, and so has my solo show. After the flurry of art making and promotion, I find myself in that strange place of limbo, not knowing exactly what to do next. No wonder authors of a successful books find it hard to write their next book. How do creative people go about finding the reset button?

This situation happens to me occasionally. Complicating matters, my quiet house/studio will be changing soon with the arrival of my young adult children who are home for the summer. So planning and motivating are crucial before my house becomes noisy and my schedule challenged.

The blessings of a road trip

As an environmentalist, I am chagrinned to admit that I love driving. Spring in the Midwest is intoxicating — where you are enveloped with every color of green and the clouds are unimaginably spectacular. On this particular road trip, my destination was Cincinnati, Ohio (about 2 and a half hours southeast) because I wanted to visit the non-profit gallery Manifest.

large storm clouds over fields

Rolls of storm clouds press upon me as I travel east.

Fantastic waves of storm clouds rushed me east. At Manifest, I was delighted to see work by my former relief printmaking professor Ed Bernstein in a group show entitled Drawn. At lunch, I was treated to a fast moving torrential downpour, followed by azure skies and staggering cumulus clouds. I began to ponder doing some small tonal studies of cumulus clouds, perhaps making use of mica powder. A new idea begins…

heavy clouds over Woodburn neighborhood in Cincinnati

Heavy clouds over the Cincinnati hills soon release their moisture.

Church spire seems to touch the rapidly moving clouds.

Churches are everywhere in Cincinnati. This one in the Woodburn neighborhood was so high it felt like I could almost touch the clouds rushing by.

Libraries are candy for the soul

This morning brought a Facebook post entitled 11 Nonfiction Books All Artists Will Want to Read. If I am honest, I often retreat into the world of murder mysteries, which are diverting but not very challenging to me and to my art. A quick visit to our local library yielded these beauties:

two memoirs by artists and writers

Two memoirs by artists and writers.

A quick stop in the science area, and I picked up some more inspiration…

books about weather and clouds

I am fascinated by the highway of clouds that flow above me and wonder about the science behind them.

Now for the real planning by getting focused

One danger with all this inspiration is that I buzz about my home studio, having lots of ideas but not accomplishing anything. I learned the value of planning at least six months ahead from Alyson Stanfield, so I grabbed a sheet of Stonehenge paper and started writing down categories of activities. The details — the to do’s — followed.

my own six month plan on paper

Emptying my brain of all of the goals and to-do’s helps me focus.

I love a good list, but acknowledge that without saying WHEN something will be done, the list is useless. With the exception of actual deadlines, I shy away from putting specific dates down. So I began circling things that needed to be done immediately in red. Other colors followed: end of May, end of July, end of summer. Today I will create goals for May, and every Sunday night I plan out the week. I’m posting this poster nearby to remind me of where I’m headed.

How do you reset and get motivated?

 

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Change the color and change the meaning

A few blogs ago I shared some images of the altocumulus undulatus clouds I snapped early one morning. While I loved the shape of these clouds, I don’t find their white to light blue coloring terribly compelling in an artistic sense. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was steered toward the blue greens when printing over orange and yellow. The final result is Harbinger in Teal.

Elizabeth Busey, Harbinger in Teal, Reduction Linocut, 18 x 28 in, edition of 24, $450.

Altocumulus undulatus clouds result from wind shear — an abrupt speed or directional shift that signals a change in the weather. Where I live, a weather change is often brought about by violent storms, and some people link strong storms with blue green clouds. So I embraced my uniquely colored clouds as an illustration of how the world feels to me at times.

Things are unsettled, changes may be coming, and it is not clear if they will be disastrous, or merely different. All we can do is watch the clouds, and hang on.

Hanging on while looking for hope

I took a break from the studio recently to visit Asheville, North Carolina and the surrounding countryside. With the radio turned off and a ban on reading the New York Times on my phone, I was able to capture some images that I found hopeful…

 

 

Hope really is an action, not just an emotion. Continuing to be hopeful in the face of the alternatives takes perseverance.

Keep looking for hope, and if you find some, please share it. The world needs lots of hope.

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Beauty of Beginnings

Ideas for new linocuts are all around me — in the sky, in my phone, in my sketchbook. I go through quite a process to determine if something is worthy of a new linoleum block. Many ideas don’t make it very far. Luckily I was treated to an incredible sight a few weeks ago that was perfect for my next linocut. Here is a quick recap of how I began:

Inspiration after perspiration

One Thursday morning I was walking out of my rowing class and was treated to this site. They are called altocumulus undulatus. I filled my phone with imagery from all angles. At home, I printed out some of these images on 11 x 17 inch photo paper so I could get a better sense of how the pattern would look if it was larger. Some patterns expand well, and others lose their appeal.

Prismacolor helps my planning.

From here I laid out all of the photographs and did some sketches, including some with colored pencils. Although I am not using the pencils in the exact layering technique that I will with my inks, the pencils do help me think about what colors are possible. I love Prismacolor pencils for this task because they have rich pigments and blend together on the page.

Almost ready for the first marks

After I created a final drawing, I used a large sheet of tracing paper and an 8B pencil to create my own carbon copy. Here I’ve transferred the darkest part of the clouds, but I still have to judge which part will be the white area. If I carved away all of the areas that are without graphite, the linocut would have too much white and would appear only two-dimensional.

New color and an old friend

Pygmalion’s Art Supply in downtown Bloomington, IN has a new custom color created each year by their staff, and the proceeds from the pigment sales go to a local organization. I have just a bit left of last year’s Saffron, and use it with a touch of Red Rhino Red to create the glowing orange for the first layer.

I admit that printing light orange over the entire block is a bit daring in a linocut that will also feature blue. But that is all part of the adventure of printing…

I leave you with my very first video filmed with my new Iphone tripod. As February turns to March, my thoughts turn to the Good Humor truck and an icy Dreamsicle. (Don’t drool on your keyboard or phone…)

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Developing your Creative Toolkit for Battling the Blahs

This blog post was delayed by the winter creative blahs. My usual blog writing afternoon found me stretched out on a sunny built-in couch, staring up at bare branches waving in the wind.

Later, another linocut artist trapped in a cold, snowy studio asked on-line: “How do you get through the doldrums?” So whether you are trapped in the snowy northern hemisphere, or the overheated southern, here are my best suggestions for getting through times when you just don’t feel creative.

Doing nothing might be best

Like an athlete, sometimes creative people don’t need to push, but to rest. Perhaps your mind needs rest, in the form of a nap or time spent not thinking about your current creation.

Clouds watching

Clouds are perfect for contemplation and meditation.

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Linocuts, rice paddies and Woody Guthrie

linocut of rice paddies reflecting a colorful sun.

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Freedom Highway. Reduction linocut on Rives BFK, edition of 10, 10 x 33in (image size), $375 unframed.

How do you work through ideas? Some people run. Others have long conversations in coffee houses. Many artists make art. I used to think that my explorations in art were more about the materials. But if I look at my work more retrospectively, I see my own thought processes come into focus.

Trying an idea one more time

My most recent linocut for 2017, Walking the Freedom Highway, was a second attempt to use a sketch originally inspired by rice paddies. I am especially drawn to the sinuous rhythms of the fields in Asia, where less available land means more creative agricultural layouts. Rice fields in the U.S. are sometimes sinuous, but mostly bordered by a familiar quadrilateral. As I printed, the forms began to remind me of many places I have visited throughout the United States.

How does the paper change the linocut?

Rice paddies reflecting setting sun on textured Asian paper

©Elizabeth Busey. Walking the Cloud Highway. Reduction linocut on Thai Unryu, edition of 3, 10 x 33 in (image size), $375 unframed

This linocut is long (10″ high by 33″ wide) and requires oversized, expensive paper. I discovered that I had a limited quantity of western cotton paper, but I was so eager to begin, that I decided to experiment once again. This time I used some Thai Unryu paper (which translates as “Cloud Dragon”)  that I had in a roll. This paper has thick fibers running through it which show up subtly in the printing.

Close-up of linocut printed on Thai Unryu paper. Thicker fibers show through the darker ink.

As you can see, the Thai Unryu makes the linocut softer and more velvety. Some of the pinks on the cotton paper are quite bright, so this softness may be appealing for some people. In the interest of clarity, I have named the three on Thai Unryu paper Walking the Cloud Highway.

What does patriotism have to do with rice paddies?

It is my practice to carve and print in the morning and early afternoon, before my hands, shoulders and mind get tired. I listen to an NPR program called 1A (in reference to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) As you might guess, many of the topics led me to think about what it means to be “an American…”

I never name my linocuts until after they are completed. As I was searching for an idea this morning, I came back to my feeling that it needed to be something patriotic. I say patriotic not in the nationalistic sense, but in the sense of deep affection for where I live and the people around me, even for people with whom I completely disagree. I decided to consult “This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie ©1956) — my favorite patriotic song. It has poetic, pointed lyrics, and even I can reach all of the notes.

New stanzas change the meaning

As I read the lyrics online, I was stunned to see that there are three stanzas that I never knew existed. Read this Wikipedia article for an interesting account of where these stanzas went.  I give you the entire song here to read, ponder, and perhaps even sing…

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was changing, As the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever made me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

 

 

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What does your art say?

What does your art say?

This is a question that comes to me regularly. Often it is helpful in deciding which imagery to pursue because it forces me to ask if it is visually or emotionally compelling. Recently the question has been asking something else…

When the question is critical and challenging

What difference do your brightly colored nature-pattern images make to the world? Why didn’t you work harder on your silk screen skills, or learn letter press? Then you could make art that really SAID something. This line of thinking is disquieting, and has been with me as I have carved and printed a long, narrow linocut inspired by waves and fields. Here’s the progression of the work…

layer 1layer 2layer 3layer 4

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