How do you find beauty in your own backyard? This was a question posed to me by my dear childhood friend Renee’s husband, Henry Styron, as part of an interview for his blog. The blog — Advice for Everyone (and other stuff) is a delightful combination of interviews with regular folk like me, and other things Henry has compiled from the more famous — from William Shakespeare to Ann Landers.
Finding your next great idea — or maybe you would call it connecting with your muse — can be difficult. I wonder if Georgie O’Keefe had self-doubts about her transition from dark cityscapes to colorful desert landscapes. I’m still mulling over what to do with my recent eclipse study, but have been recently captivated by the topographic map bookmarks we made at my recent Open Studio.
I created the drawing for the second block from a real topo map of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I have hiked this area which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest. It is filled with unexpected formations, from gorges to natural bridges, all noted by these squiggling lines. Back in my studio, most of my work does not depend on line work specifically, but I continue to be drawn to these topo lines.
Topo maps are helpful and beautiful…
We have a collection of hiking maps from our travels in North America and Europe. In our recent trip to the Pyrenees, my husband and I relied heavily on a topo map to get us safely down from an exposed trail during an afternoon thunderstorm. The lines told us that yes, the scree-filled avalanche chute was in fact the way down.
I find these lines aesthetically pleasing as well. After the Open Studios tour, I now have time to get back to work, and kept thinking about these lines. The bookmarks we created were colorful and visually active, but perhaps not complex enough for larger work. This is where Big Magic comes in…
Big Magic is essential reading
If you are a creative person of any type, you should get a copy of Big Magic and read it. I refer to mine so frequently that I don’t loan it out to anyone. In the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of several books including Eat, Pray, Love, discusses how to live sanely as a creative person. One of my favorite parts considers how we mistreat our creativity in our quest for fame or remuneration.
“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” (Gilbert. Big Magic, 154)
I am guilty at being unkind to my creativity when I demand to know before I start whether my next endeavor will be worthy of a frame — or a possible entry for a prominent show — or my next sale. When I yell, so to speak, nothing goes well.
So I’m back in the studio with two blocks, pushing topographical lines into new contexts. Will it work out? I have no idea. But grooving to my Spotify throwback list and rolling our fresh ink made for a memorable day. And there was no yelling…
I had a conversation recently with a friend who is a professional musician. She mentioned that she doesn’t listen to music at home. “It feels too much like work,” she admitted. She usually opts for television or non-music radio.
This observation resonated with me. There are times in my life where I need some sort of creative distraction to relax and alleviate stress. Because my visual art practice is what I do for a good part of my day – and is sometimes the source of my stress — I have been looking for other ways to be creative.
Trying something different
I recently signed up for a writing circle with a local nonprofit writing group called Women Writing for a Change. The topic of the six-week Thursday night writing circle is “Listening to Mystery: Writing, Presence and Poetry.” Each week, we begin with a poetry reading from various spiritual traditions and have a time of meditation. We do “fast writes” where we write furiously about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes we share our writing in small groups, and sometimes we read to the entire circle.
I am thoroughly enjoying the experience, in part because it is a creative practice that I am doing just for me. For two and a half hours my cell phone is silenced, and I am present to myself and my circle-mates. I have no ambitions to become a published writer. Creation for creation’s sake is a gift.
This class has also encouraged me to have a morning ritual to get myself into creative time. For years I have fought against the Morning Pages of Julia Cameron. Thanks to my writing circle, I have been beginning my creative time by emptying my monkeymind on the page and writing any thoughts about what I want to accomplish in the studio that day. Then I read a poem (my favorites are Mary Oliver and W.S. Merwin) and spend some time writing about something I hear in the poem, or something the muse brings me. After that, I am in a place to begin my studio time.
Dabble in something practical
I have also begun dabbling in designing fabrics using some of my patterns that I have simplified. I have no idea where this practice will take me, but I will at least reupholster my sagging dining room chairs and get some new pillows.
I find that with these new additions to my creative life, I am finding my studio time to be more energized and fruitful.
What do YOU do to enhance your creative practices?
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…
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.
- 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.
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.
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?
Inspiration is a quixotic thing. Sometimes an image’s meaning is obvious, but for me, the stories behind my linocuts make their presence known in the slow, methodical process of creating. Such was the case with the linoleum block I created for my recent experiments with silk. My musings inspired the following essay, a version of which will be published in a compendium about justice sponsored by First United Church, Bloomington, Indiana. It is the brainchild of my dear friend, writer and artist Donovan Walling.
I am fortunate to live and make my art in a naturally beautiful place. Hikes in the hills and hollows around Bloomington, Indiana often inspire my art. I recently completed a series where I needed a striking image of topographical lines. An area on a map of the Charles Deam Wilderness caught my eye. Poetically called Cope Hollow, it had fingered bottom lands with steep hill contours radiating out like ripples from a raindrop.
When I title my pieces, I strive for playful ambiguity. I want people to see their own experiences in the work. In this case, the actual place demanded acknowledgement. Ridges and hollows in this part of the world are named for early residents. Certain names are still quite common in the county, but no listings for Cope appear in the phone book.
Two unpublished articles from the public library provided the best information about the Deam Wilderness, which was officially designated as a wilderness area in 1982. This area was the last part of Monroe County to be settled beginning in 1823. Native Americans may have hunted here at a much earlier time, but they did not stay.
Almost all of the Deam Wilderness is part of the Norman Uplands, a formation of mostly siltstone that was sculpted by glacial run-off into drainages and steeply-sloped ridges. The desirable bottom lands were the first to be settled, but were subject to unpredictable spring flooding. The ridges were settled last, some so narrow they only had room for a house and a frog pond for water. Top soil here is extremely thin and the slopes were too steep to be settled. Making a living meant trying to raise enough crops and livestock to feed your family, and most families relied on logging for cash income.
Who would choose to live in such a place? Certainly those who had enough means would have kept right on going, reaching lands farther west that were much more suitable for a profitable economic life. Those who remained spent day after back breaking day felling trees and digging stumps, trying to coax crops and fodder from thin steep soils with inconsistent water. When the Forest Service began buying land for a national forest in 1935, it is no wonder many people jumped at the chance to sell out.
In my daily life, I am surrounded by people who are socioeconomically similar to me. Many are artists and friends. Some collect my work. A few generations ago, areas just around my home were the homesteads of people who clawed a subsistence living from an ungenerous land. Some lasted so that their names are still mentioned in the local paper. Others like the Cope family, have vanished.
Many around the world still experience this harsh life today. A search for statistics paints a sobering picture of poverty. How did I become so fortunate? It is hard to know how to help when the global problem is so vast. Perhaps it is best to start small, in my own backyard.
Cope Hollow is a good reminder.
I am in the throws of building enormous frames for my latest large linocuts Breath of Hermes and Summertide Brings the Derecho. I’m also planning for two new linocuts and they are in the messy stages as I try to push my linocuts to incorporate new techniques.
Digital Handmade sparks my creativity
My planning has been enriched by the discovery of Digital Handmade: Craftsmanship and the New Industrial Revolution by Lucy Johnston (2015). This beautifully photographed book highlights artists and designers who are using digital processes to push traditional media in new and challenging ways.
I was drawn to this title on my library’s new book shelf because of the ongoing dialogue in my head regarding use of new technologies versus the traditional printmaking value of the hand. As printmaker, I chafe at the use of the term gicleé prints to describe a photographic copy. But I fear this prejudice holds me back from creating new, more challenging work as I triumphantly tell people that everything I create is “by hand.” I had an aha! moment when I read the following quote from product designer Tord Boontji who fabricates intricate garlands cut from paper-thin sheets of silver, copper and brass: (more…)
I am suddenly longing to get back to carving and printing — as I have been consumed with gathering new imagery, and getting the work I have completed ready for new homes.
We recently escaped to Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan as a celebration of my husband’s milestone birthday. An unseasonable cold front had settled over the Midwest, so we were greeted with light snow, temperatures in the 40s and a furious wind. This gave us very atmospheric conditions to hike the dunes and the springtime woods, and provided me with lots of moving cloud pictures for inspiration. Here are some favorites…
The wind was blowing so hard — sometimes taking sand with it — that all I could do was point my Iphone in the direction of the clouds and push the volume buttons. We did take a moment to snap a quick self-portrait. Note the fleece headband — in May!
Back from our weekend, I have been madly framing and preparing to take my work to the Broad Ripple Art Fair at the Indianapolis Art Center. One of the greatest challenges — undertaken by my dear husband — was to create a way to transport all of my work and equipment in our RAV4. Here is his solution, complete with clips that hold the metal display panels together that he 3-D printed himself. Quite a mensch!
And yes, if you thought the RAV4 was riding a bit low despite being on an angled driveway, you would be correct. Always an adventure…
Travels, art delivery, holidays and my upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon have kept me from my next cloud linocut. But given that this is late March in the midwest, perhaps that is fortunate. I always have my phone with me, not so much to be connected with the outside world, but for the camera. Here are some of my most recent cloud captures — potential subjects for new work:
You never know when you will see really special formations. This one looks like part of a Kelvin-Hemlholtz formation.
This menacing beauty emerged after I drove through a complete white-out of rain. My husband took the image as I tried to regain my composure. I felt sure we were going to be engulfed.
In a landscape with very little elevation, clouds provide another dimension. I can’t really see the clouds reflected in the flooded fields from this angle, but that is what imagination is for.
When the sun and clouds compete for attention, you can get some spectacular effects.
This cloud followed us around on our Easter night walk in our neighborhood, and brought super-ball sized hail.
I hope my flight to Portland comes complete with some spectacular clouds as well, but perhaps since I want a smooth flight with no delays, that might be asking too much.
If you want to see images from the 2016 Southern Graphics Council International conference in Portland, Oregon you can follow me on Instagram at elizabethbusey. Or search for #sgci2016 for images from lots of printmakers.
New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday. No rushing about, no presents or expectations that probably won’t be met. Rather we have clean counters, a fresh page on the wall calendar, and time spent making homemade long-life noodles topped with smoked salmon and pesto cream sauce.
To begin the New Year, I send you some images with my best wishes for you in 2016.
HOPE — Marc Chagall must have had hope as he created his ethereal blue windows for the Church of St. Stephen in Mainz, Germany. These blues inspired this linocut. May you find hope this year, and remember, hope is an action.
PERSPECTIVE — May you evaluate all the opportunities that are provided to you and choose wisely. Spend your time on the things that are most important and will make the most difference to you, the ones you love, and the world.
UNEXPECTED JOY — May you find delightful surprises to punctuate the turbulence that all life brings. Why not share these joys with others?
Thanks for reading my blog. More linocuts to come in 2016, plus new explorations of other media. Peace, Elizabeth
Making art when you are worried or under stress can be hard. I created this linocut, entitled Hope Despite the Evidence, in response to a dear friend’s medical crisis. An homage to the great printmaker M.C. Escher, it portrays barren, flooded fields that capture a hopeful scene of blue skies and white clouds in a reflection. A wise friend observed recently that hope is more than an emotion — it is an action. Today I saw hope in action…
Hope arrived this morning at my progressive church in Bloomington, IN in the form of about ten members of our city who are of Turkish descent. Many are graduate students or faculty at Indiana University, but they are also members of a nonprofit organization — founded in the Midwest — that encourages Muslims to bring Noah’s Pudding to Christian congregations as a way of creating community and understanding.
The making of Noah’s Pudding is a cultural observance in the homes of both Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. It is created (with no animal products) by boiling grains and legumes and sometimes almonds with water and sugar to create a congealed pudding. After sitting overnight, dried fruits, other nuts and spices are simmered, and the entire creation is served cold topped with pomegranate. Recipes are large, and the intent is to make enough so you can share cups with all of your neighbors.
Our minister said that this observance had been scheduled long before the violence in San Bernadino, CA took place this week. He also observed that he could think of no better action that we could take in response to this violence than to establish warm relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters.
The pudding was delicious, and it was a joy to meet people who have traveled far from their warm, Mediterranean homes in order to study and to teach. They filled our stomachs, and our hearts. I am already wondering how we can reciprocate.
Hope is an action…