drawing

Moments of incompetence

Dr. Lovett Weems told this story in his lazy Mississippi drawl:

A preaching professor at a seminary answered the phone late one night to hear one of his recent graduates in what could only be described as a panic.  The graduate explained that he had to prepare for a funeral the next day and needed help.  “I’m happy to help,” the professor explained, “but you learned this just last month.”  Instead of launching into the how-tos, the professor referred his student to the syllabus and to the scripture that might be helpful, hoping to encourage his student.  After he spoke, there was silence.  And then a wail at the end of the other line:  ” But you don’t understand!  This guy’s really dead!”

Dr. Weems explained that real learning happened in these moments of sheer incompetence. I guess I should be thankful that I keep finding myself in these moments, but right now it would be really nice to feel competent.

One way I’m feeling incompetent today is that I made the decision to reuse canvases that the art therapist at Iona was throwing away because they had huge acrylic splotches all over them.  I decided these would be just the thing to help me get over the blank canvas issues I was having at the time. The last two posts contain examples of the sense of freedom I felt at one time, splotches and all.  But the acrylic is beginning to be really annoying.  It is hard to draw a straight line.  The perspective in the Joy in Labor post was…labored.  Today, as I faced yet another one of these bumpy painting days, I decided that I couldn’t paint the way I usually do.  I would have to let the bumps have their way.

Playing with form and color

I’ve never felt competent with abstraction, but today the negative space beckoned.  I grabbed a sharpie and started.  An hour later, this is where I am.  Stepping back from the canvas, I was reminded of another painting I did a long time ago.

The very first painting I did was on a piece of board from the basement with five tubes of acrylic paint and one paint brush.  I really can’t remember what made me want to paint — perhaps it was that the kids were growing up and they didn’t need me so much in the evening.  I remember wanting to get this image out. See the black lines?  The blue?  This must be the way I find my way out of a problem.  Black lines and blue.

…and blue. Always blue.

In the practice of yoga, we are reminded that a beginner’s mind is something to be cultivated and valued.  The beginner’s mind has the wisdom of not knowing.  Nothing to say “you can’t do this,” or “don’t even try.”  A beginner’s mind hasn’t started to puff up about what it can do or do well.  It just is ready for the learning.

My take on these similarities is that the black lines allow my mind to focus — to see the form that is calling to me.  The blue is like the sky — open, vast, infinite.  Not a bad place to start to learn something new.  Finding form and sensing the freedom that wisdom brings.

Here’s the passage that I’m playing with as I get ready for tomorrow’s class:

Prevent trouble before it arises.  Put things in order before they exist.  The giant pine tree grows from a tiny sprout.  The journey of 1,000 miles begins beneath your feet.  Rushing into action, you fail.  Trying to grasp things, you lose them.  Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.  Therefore, the Master takes action by letting things take their corse.  He remains calm at the end as at the beginning.  He has nothing thus has nothing to lose.  What he desires is non-desire.  What he learns is to unlearn.  He simply reminds people of who they have always been.  He cares about nothing by the Tao.  Thus he can care for all things.  

-Lao Tzu

Trippin’ Creatively

Image

Tuesday, Beach

Going on vacation, just as I have started to putz around again with paints and galkyd, new canvases and fresh ideas is just a bit upsetting.  I’ll take the sketch pad and my mat, but I know from experience that the mat will stay rolled up and the sketch pad will contain lots of surreptitious drawings of bodies like the one I found in an old sketch book as I was packing up for the trip.

I remember this day well.  It was incredibly hot and the kids, who were young, were whiny.  The sun was harsh and created so little contrast.  Most people in their right minds had left the beach, except for these women. What drew me to this pair was the big toes stretching to the sky.

Funny how I am still drawn to feet and hands, especially in my yoga teaching and in my own practice.  Grounding all four corners of the feet, all the knuckles of the hands into the mat lock us into the earth where we are supported and from where we can breathe and balance.  The hands channel energy from the earth to lift and fly into arm balances.

So, as I leave my “work” with my recovering creativity, I will remember to that it isn’t where I’m drawing — it is what I am drawn to drawing.   To watch for toes stretching to the sun or any other thing that catches my imagination.

“Whatever your eye falls on – for it will fall on what you love – will lead you to the questions of your life, the questions that are incumbent upon you to answer, because that is how the mind works in concert with the eye. The things of this world draw us where we need to go.”  ―    Mary Rose O’Reilley,    The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd

Filling in the Form

Faded Bangkok 1969

I’m always two steps ahead of myself creatively.  I’m thinking about what a final series of paintings will be before I’ve even prepared the first canvas.  According to Julia Cameron, this is creative sabotage.  When we are thinking about the end goal, we are allowing ourselves to submit to the fear that our efforts won’t get us there, that we aren’t up to the task, that we aren’t worthy of the inspiration.  But since I’ve been doing the disciplines of morning pages and intentional creative play time, I find that the daydreaming about the future is harder to turn off.

Case in point: I drew this from a beautifully faded photo of my brother and me on a boat in Bangkok.  I loved the bright negative space in the photo.  This inspired me to spend time cataloguing my mother’s letters to her mother when we went to East Pakistan to live in 1969.  I spent Memorial Day placing the old tattered tissue paper hotel stationery and aerogram letters in plastic sleeves.  I started to journal the in-between the lines places of love and guilt of a young mother writing to a worried mother.

At about the same time, a warm wind of inspiration took a hold of me and I wrote a children’s book in one sitting.  I’m now working on the illustrations for it — slowly, steadily.  Sometimes painfully.

Where do these projects lead?  I know I shouldn’t care, but I want to work towards something. I want to devote my time to something that will come to fruition — and soon, dammit! Is that so wrong?

I turned to Pema Chodron’s Wisdom of No Escape last night as I was falling asleep and came upon a favorite passage.  It spoke to me in this instance.  (Sorry I can’t give you the page number — it has a place of great importance in my Kindle, but I’m disappointed that I can’t see the page numbers!)

“The experience of labeling your thoughts “thinking” also, over time, becomes much more vivid.  You may be completely caught up in a fantasy, in remembering the past or planning for the future, completely caught up , as if you had gotten on an airplane and flown away someplace.  You’re elsewhere and you are with other people and you’ve redecorated a room or you’ve relived a pleasant or unpleasant experience, or you’ve gotten all caught up in worrying about something that might happen…Then suddenly you realize, and you just come back.  It happens automatically.  You say to yourself, ‘Thinking,’ and you’re saying that, basically what you are doing is letting go of those thoughts.  You don’t repress the thought.  You acknowledge them as ‘thinking’ very clearly and kindly, but then you let them go.  Once you begin to get the hang of this, it’s incredibly powerful that you could be completely obsessed with hope and fear and all kinds of other thoughts and you could realize what you’ve been doing — without criticizing it — and you could let it go.  This is probably one of the most amazing tools you could be given, the ability to just let things go, not to be caught in the grip of your own angry thoughts, or passionate thoughts or worried thoughts or depressed thoughts.”  

Still recovering.  But at least I’m in the studio today. Sit still, breathe, work, and just be.