Monday, January 30, 2017

Lessons from an (Unused) Travel Sketchbook

I've just returned from a week-long business trip to Southern California. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to draw, paint, and write, I had absolutely zero time to even open the small sketchbook I took with me. Not being able to dive into some on-the-go creativity was heart-wrenching: all those palm trees, coastline views, Mediterranean mansions. . . all to be abandoned as on to the next meeting I went. 

The best I could do on any given day was try to memorize what I was seeing and hope to use some of those memories at a later, and more convenient time. My fingers were itching to get out my watercolor pencils, but to no avail. There was always another place to be, another traffic jam, and the weather was freezing!

Now that I'm back home, I'm evaluating what it meant to not have any restful down-time during my trip. Maybe there was a good reason for the extreme lack of playful opportunity. Rather than fussing and lamenting over my situation, maybe I was given the chance to experience:
  1. Acceptance. From the stop-and-go traffic, to the food on my plate (as usual, a lot of sandwiches and pizza thanks to my very limited vegetarian choices), to having a cold, and then having to move hotels after the first night (the resort we'd booked was anything but), I found it was easier--and more restful--to go with the flow rather than bemoan the hiccups. Even without the chance to draw (or read, for that matter), everything turned out good. In fact, it was better than good: it was interesting. That's a valuable attitude to bring to any creative project: allow myself the chance to observe, take it all in, and accept whatever happens without expectations.
  2. Curiosity. Although I'm a former California resident and frequent visitor, it's been several years since I've been back. A lot has changed--it always has been a dynamic place--and I wanted to see and investigate absolutely everything I could. In some respects it became more important to keep moving, searching out new places to see and experience, rather than to sit in one spot and draw. I felt alive and inspired by the constant movement, even if I couldn't take advantage of that feeling in the way I wanted to.
  3. Nostalgia. It was strange to discover many of my favorite landmarks demolished or boarded-up, or so gussied-up they were no longer recognizable. Memories of the past and especially of my childhood hit me with every step I took, strong and powerful feelings I know I want to put into both my writing and my artwork. Packing them away for "later"will, I believe, only make them richer and riper for when I'm ready to use them.
  4. Contentment. Two of my afternoons included quick stops to both South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island, two of the ritiziest malls in existence and where much of my old Cali-life centered around . However, on this visit I had no desire to shop. Instead, I was content with people-watching and admiring the architecture and window displays. It was nice to know that I had everything I wanted in life and couldn't be tempted by more, giving an extra sense of appreciation to when I do have the time to sit down and create art with my favorite supplies.
  5. Focus. Unable to capture anything on paper, I had to look at the world around me on a deeper level and with a different perspective. Many of my reference books on Chinese painting encourage artists to build up their "memory muscles" in order to make their paintings more individual, less rigid, and more personal than simply attempting to photocopy "reality." Without a camera or a pen in my hand, I was forced to "paint in my mind" and really remember: everything!
It was a productive trip, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but there's also no place like home. My own food, my own bed, my own bathroom, and my own studio--ah, and the time, the wonderful time to write and sketch and play again. The best feeling in the world.

Tip of the Day: "Not painting" and "not writing" days can be just as valuable as the days we get to sit with our journals or sketchbooks for hours on end. After all, to quote Natalie Goldberg, "When you are not writing, you are a writer too. It doesn't leave you." The same goes for painting, beading, collaging--whatever fills your passion. The next time you find yourself hampered by time and circumstance, keep in mind that you don't have to come to a complete stand-still. There's always a creative response we can make to every so-called "problem."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy 2017! Happy Goal-Setting!

Here we are: 2017 and ready to write, draw, paint, bead, dive into the mud and best of all: stay creative every day. It's become something of a tradition of mine to list and share my goals for the New Year here on my blog, and this year I hope to inspire many of you to do the same. Not only does listing my goals help me to achieve them, but my list also helps me to map out how to get there, especially when I use my journal to further discover my "goals within goals."

The main thing I've learned from this annual practice is to keep everything simple and centered on the goals I really want, rather than any tasks or chores I (often mistakenly) think I should, or have to do. 

So with that in mind, my goals for 2017 are to:
  1. Sell, or independently publish before the end of the year, my novel The Abyssal Plain. 2017 is the year!
  2. At the same time, I want to edit and have ready for 2018 publication my novel, Ghazal.
  3. When I'm not writing, I want to complete the illustrations for my poetry collection based on my 2015 trip to Taiwan (publication planned for either this, or next year). I hope to include at least twelve (maybe more) of these paintings depending on the cost of full-color printing.
  4. And when I'm not writing or painting, I plan to continue making pottery and jewelry, but this year there will be a twist: I'm making items themed to go with my existing fiction and non-fiction books. For instance, ceramic pencil cups and holders to fit with my how-to, The Essential Guide for New Writers, and/or necklaces and earrings my main character, Sara Elliott, might wear in Overtaken. It's a fun way to come up with fresh ideas for both beading and marketing, even writing, and I've already bought some new beads and charms to make the first necklace. (Hint: it includes a tiny bejeweled Eiffel Tower.)
  5. Read more non-fiction. A few days ago I finished reading the fourth book in the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan series: The Story of the Lost Child. I was so overwhelmed by the power of that particular story and the rest of the books in the series that I felt I needed a break from reading fiction; after all, what could compare? Consequently I found myself at a loss without a bedtime book until I realized I might prefer nonfiction for a change. I went to the library and on random impulse picked out a biography on Mao Zedong--a complete surprise to me. So far I'm finding the book very interesting, encouraging me to expand both my knowledge of world events as well as taking a chance on other books I might usually pass by.
To round out my goal list, I also have a word for the year: Poetry. It came into my head out of the blue, and at first I wondered if it simply related to my Taiwan poetry manuscript and art project. But soon after "hearing it" I realized it meant that I wanted to keep the year poetic, filled with metaphor and symbolism, and a personal dedication to using those metaphors in all I do, from journaling to cooking dinner. It's an interesting concept, and one I'm still exploring. I'll let you know what I find out as the year progresses.

In the meantime, I want to wish you all a very Happy and Exciting New Year--may all your dreams be poetic, strong, and achievable!

Tip of the Day: Goal-setting is a valuable practice no matter what time of year you choose to start, but to my mind there's nothing more positive and practical than listing your goals in January. To add extra sparkle and creativity, rather than just listing your goals on a sheet of scrap or binder paper, how about treating yourself to a new journal, some fancy and colorful pens, and a package of collage items? Create a vision board in your journal to go along with your written goals. And don't forget to share: leave a comment or two here at my blog to let us know what some of your plans are. Have a great year, everyone!