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."

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