Filling the creative well – Who inspires you? (artists)

Who are other artists, illustrators or designers that inspire you?

Gretchen: Franck de las Mercedes he’s based in NYC, born in Nicaragua. he is the founder of the priority Peace Box. You could email him and he would send you this box. It was very abstract, expressionistic, with different colours. The box was totally empty, it wasn’t meant to be opened, but it would say things like ‘handle with care’, ‘peace in side’, ‘fragile’, ‘hope’. No matter where you lived in the world he would send you a box. I was so moved and inspired by this. He was just doing this off his own free will, his expression of giving to others and the world, he was financing this on his own, and was just compelled to keep doing that.

So I follow him and the different things that he’s doing, including public art related to peace. I really like that thing of leaving things in public places for people to stumble across and be inspired or moved or give them a sense of hope when there’s a lot of things going on that can really bring us down, I think art is such a great way to really neutralise some of that and uplift people. I’m really super inspired by the work that he does, it’s great.

I really like that thing of leaving things in public places for people to stumble across and be inspired or moved or give them a sense of hope… 

Nancy:  I am very inspired by the Surrealist movement and see many of my drawings and collaged landscapes to be surreal. I love works with natural materials or amorphous shapes that speak to me. Some of my favourite artists are: Henry Moore, Salvador Dali’, Louise Bourgeois, Remedios Varo, Patrick Dougherty, Andy Goldsworthy, Kiki Smith, Ruth Asawa, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Hans Bellmer to name a few.Here is a link to a Pinterest site with artists that inspire me.

Chris: I love comic books. Comic books are a huge huge inspiration. I can’t say enough how much comic books meant to me when I was growing up. Because while mum and dad were in the other room arguing I was in my room drawing and reading comics and escaping. But also when you look at an oil painting I swear to God those people are alchemists, what they do is magic, I don’t understand it, I’ve read books, but it’s just beyond me. But when I look at a comic book, I can study that line, and now that I know they use a brush I know how they make that, and so I could learn by seeing it. I could immediately see it and copy it.

Another person I owe a great debt to in life is Jim Henson who created the Muppets. That guy, for his sheer volume of imagination alone. Not to mention the fact that that was just sheet joy in the things he made…

Another person I owe a great debt to in life is Jim Henson who created the Muppets. That guy, for his sheer volume of imagination alone. Not to mention the fact that that was just sheet joy in the things he made, whether they were serious for movies, or whether they were humorous, for the muppets or sesame street. You know those simple puppets when I was 3 years old, were living things. Big Bird and Oscar the grouch were real things to me. Which is an amazing thing to be able to create life in that way.

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About the artists interviewed:
Nancy Lautenbach – I have worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, arts administratorand for 4 years owned a gallery/performance space called Ten Weston Gallery in Grand Rapids, MI where I grew up and lived until 1997. I am a practicing interdisciplinary artist working in a variety of media including: pen and ink, sculpture, ceramics, installation, fibers, and bookmaking. I always carry a sketchbook and/or camera with me. Read more here.

Chris Mostyn – I have taught art in middle school for over a decade now. I have seen a lot of amazing things from kids and some from teachers as well. I have also seen a lot of things that need to change. I have been an illustrator and gallery artist for years but it was always comics I loved best. In 2015 it dawned on me that I had a lot to say about art and teaching and comics would be a fun way to do it. So now, I continue to teach, make comics and ride bicycles around the Midwest. Read more here.

Gretchen Miller – I am a Cleveland based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist who enjoys finding inspiration, creating positive energy, and discovering transformation by working in mixed media, collage, altered art, art journaling, as well as organizing art exchanges and creative collaborations. My online art making community, 6 Degrees of Creativity unites concepts of social networking, connecting, collaboration, and creativity into an engaged global community of artists spreading creative goodness. Read more: Creativity in Motion. Read more here.

Image: Circles, oil pastel, J.Herriman

Filling the creative well – What inspires you? (places)

I don’t know about you but I find reading about what inspires other people, well, rather inspiring.

Over the next few months I’ll be sharing a glimpse into what is on the reading list, playlist and more from some of my favourite visual artists, art therapists and crafty folk who I’ve been speaking with lately.

What is the place in nature that most inspires you?

Nancy: I find spending time in the forest surrounded by trees to be the most inspiring environment to me. I often think of a metaphor of the wounded tree as one hit by lightening leaving a wound, while it leaves a charred hole, it also continues to grow, with creatures living inside or new life branching out from limbs above. Now I see these openings as places to be filled instead of looking at what is missing. What are the treasures that are found within?

Chris: Right behind the house when I was growing up there was this huge, forever big forest, it was a dense forest right behind the house.  We explored those woods forever especially during the summers. There was a squirrel in there that would throw nuts at you and there was a black pond, and an old abandoned tree fort and I swear it was 20 foot in the air, and we started nailing boards to it so we could use it. We’d steal like nails and hammers and wood from our dads garages. We spent a lot of time out in the woods and that would fire up our imagination. We would tell stories. Or when I got a car we would take my car on rainy nights to this place called Mendon Ponds which was a place that had all these big ponds and like a sunken hole pond called the Devils Bathtub. It was those kinds of places that had mystery that had more questions than answers that spurred on young imaginations and the desire to know something bigger about the world.

When I was growing up I loved the show ‘In Search of’ by Leonard Nimoy. Each week he’d do a show on different things like the Nascar lines, UFO’s Big Foot, that type of thing. I love the idea that that there are things out in the world that we’ve never seen. Like when glowing giant squids come up from the ocean or that giant fish with the dangly bit: I love that stuff. I the like mystery of the natural world. Mix that with monsters and super heroes and pop culture, I love that.

 I like the mystery of the natural world. Mix that with monsters and super heroes and pop culture, I love that.

chris monster
Image: Chris Mostyn

 

Gretchen: one of the places I find peaceful is the college Ursuline, that I teach at as an adjunct. They have a labyrinth on the campus and the campus is really beautiful, lots of grass and trees and really peaceful. They have a painted labyrinth and it’s a really calming site. I try to go out there and walk the labyrinth once every few months and be in that space.

About the artists interviewed:
Nancy Lautenbach
– I have worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, arts administratorand for 4 years owned a gallery/performance space called Ten Weston Gallery in Grand Rapids, MI where I grew up and lived until 1997. I am a practicing interdisciplinary artist working in a variety of media including: pen and ink, sculpture, ceramics, installation, fibers, and bookmaking.  I always carry a sketchbook and/or camera with me. Read more here.

Chris Mostyn – I have taught art in middle school for over a decade now. I have seen a lot of amazing things from kids and some from teachers as well. I have also seen a lot of things that need to change. I have been an illustrator and gallery artist for years but it was always comics I loved best. In 2015 it dawned on me that I had a lot to say about art and teaching and comics would be a fun way to do it. So now, I continue to teach, make comics and ride bicycles around the Midwest. Read more here.

Gretchen Miller – I am a Cleveland based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist who enjoys finding inspiration, creating positive energy, and discovering transformation by working in mixed media, collage, altered art, art journaling, as well as organizing art exchanges and creative collaborations. My online art making community, 6 Degrees of Creativity unites concepts of social networking, connecting, collaboration, and creativity into an engaged global community of artists spreading creative goodness. Read more: Creativity in Motion. Read more here.

Letting the strange pull of what we love transform our lives

The idea that we should do what we love – not to make money, not to get famous – but because we’ll be miserably, whiney cube-bots hiding our beautiful gifts from the world if we don’t is a central tenant of my teacher, mentor and friend Barbara Sher’s work.

But what is it like to discover what you love and follow the strange compelling pull of it into unknown territory?

I think it is to honour the seeds of potential inside ourselves, and to take one step in front of the other in directions that feel strangely delicious and compelling but for no good reason we can think of. And I think it works. Truly, at some bone-deep, certain like a solid piece of granite, and shimmery like a dragon fly’s wings level inside me, I think it works. I am certain, and at the same time can’t quite believe it does. It seems almost too magical, that by following our deep down pull towards things we transform and open up the paths before us and find ourselves happier and better suited to our lives.

I’ll give you an example.

When I was most miserable in my job 5 or so years ago, I found myself drawing simple line drawings and complaining on the page. Day after day, week after week. I made them into tiny little badly photocopied zines. I sold a couple. I kept making them. For no particular reason other than because it kept me alive. Sometimes I’d send them to my friends (oh you wanted an unsolicited litany of complaint in biro with stick figures arriving in your mailbox? You are WELCOME!) And sometimes it made me laugh, or cry a little, and that made everything easier. I had no grand plan or end point in mind, I just knew that drawing and writing made me feel better. 100’s of pages amassed. Now I work as an art therapist and creativity coach, helping people to find the daily piece of creativity that will make their lives richer and more authentic, and part of the reason I feel confident to do this work is because I have lived it and breathed it myself. Little did I know on those evenings with just a black pen to express myself that I was giving myself an apprenticeship in the healing powers of creative expression, that would help give me confidence to make a huge leap of a career shift.

But enough about me. Here is another.

I have a colleague who was in a bit of a slump for a few years. She wasn’t sure about her job, it wasn’t particularly fulfilling, her relationship came to an end, connection with extended family was a bit stressful, and she couldn’t seem to find her spark. Nothing much interested her, no hobbies or afterwork activities really called to her. The only thing that really spoke to her in a strange and hard to understand way was…Italy. Italian culture, mid century Italian literature, food, Italian film. The imagery of the golden undulating hills, the fresh crispness of the crinkled coastline, the optimism she perceived as steeped into the words of the thinkers from that country, the openness to debate and discussion, the humour. So she decided to go. On a trip across Northern Italy by herself. Going to jazz bars by herself. Meeting a local, where suddenly, there was a spark. Which led to a holiday romance, then an extended long distance romance, then visits across the seas, and before long it led to packing up and moving across the world to be together, a wedding, and now a beautiful little baby. The last time I saw her she was happier and more self assured than I had ever seen her.

I just read a book, ‘Julie and Julia’ (by Julie Powell).

Have you read it? Don’t let the sugary yellow and pink cover of the edition I read fool you – it’s not the badly written light fluffball of ‘chick lit’ (I know, I hate that term too) the cover suggests, it is a funny, well constructed, sharp and engaging look at the experience of the author over a one year period as she follows up her hard to explain, not exactly rational decision to cook all of the recipes from a cookbook by Julia Childs called Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is a great example of following the tug of what fascinates you, without knowing where it will lead, or why, or having it be a rational-minded step towards some predestined future. In her case making complicated French recipes every day in her tiny grotty New York apartment, led to her keeping a blog about it, which led to media coverage, which ultimately led to a book deal, which lead to a move (WITH MERYL STREEP STARRING!!) and being able to leave the sh*tty job she was bored in. From the book’s description of the journey anyway, it also sounds like it led to lots of self reflection and developing an encouraging inner voice and hope for the future. Not a bad outcome for a whim that her family probably thought was bonkers to begin with.

So.. do what you love. At least the nub of it – the solid core of what you love that brings the most fascination and satisfaction.

But let me warn you: it wont magically transform you into someone who is always chirpy, only eats kale smoothies, has perfect teeth, loves to jog before dawn and drives a platinum plated low emissions batman ferrari. It wont neccessarily give you a Willy Wonky style golden ticket out of your day job. It wont save you from losing your keys, tucking your skirt into your knickers accidentally, your one day death or the death of your loved ones, or even existential terror appearing at 4 in the morning sometimes. That, I’m sorry is the human condition and I don’t have a cure for that one. But what it WILL do is make your life more interesting, more authentically ‘you’ and more satisfying at a deep level. Which is nice even while when you are tucking your skirt out of your knickers awkwardly in the middle of a shopping centre or ferreting around at home for keys that are making you later and later for your next meeting.

To get there you might need to practice tuning out the ego (that says things like ‘it will have to be the BEST and BIGGEST project that makes us the MOST money and fame and gold stars’, because it loves us and thinks this is what makes us happy)… and practice tuning into the quiet inner voice (lets call it soul for the sake of having a name) that says ‘just do a little bit of it. In your pyjamas, in the soft morning light, let your fingers, eyes, mind, senses enjoy and delight in this thing you want to do, for no reason other than joy’. Because you see the soul loves us too, and knows that even though we often forget, the simple pleasures, the irrational and childlike delights make us truly happy.

Coming events

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For help to reconnect with your old dreams and the things that light you up, come along to my Sydney based face to face vision board workshop on 6th February. We use guided journalling, group discussion, collage and mixed media art fun to create a roadmap of what you love and care about and need more of in your life.

bigthingsIf you are located somewhere else and want to rediscover what makes you come alive, drop me a line about my art therapy informed coaching. I work with clients all over the world to help reconnect with dreams and make them happen, and we can make creating a vision for your year a key step in our work together.

 

 

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I am also running a very nourishing and relaxing 6-week Women’s Wellbeing Group on Wednesday evenings in Sydney. The next group is starting on Wednesday the 17th February in Glebe. To find out more or get your ticket see here.

Understanding the ‘Artist Date’

What is an artist date exactly? It’s the idea of making time for yourself, once a week, on your own, to do something ‘enchanting’. Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way, coined the term and describes it like this:

Some students ask, “What exactly is an Artist Date?” I tell them it is a weekly expedition to explore something that enchants or interests them. It may be a trip to a bird store, to a children’s bookstore, to a flower shop, to a museum. It does not need to be “high art.” In fact, if we think of our creative self as being an inner youngster, we will be on the right track. – Julia Cameron 

This gorgeous 2 minute vid from Julia Cameron explains it more.

I love this idea of regular, self-directed, indulgent PLAY! When I’m feeling creatively flat I have some go-to outings that perk me up.  Some of my favourite artist dates are:

  • me plus sketchbook at a wine bar or cafe,
  • a walk through the park on a sunny day to sit and look at the duck pond,
  • a solo visit to the cinema to see a film with a choc top,
  • go to a second hand shop and look at the plastic jewellery and sparkly brooches,
  • looking at children’s books or graphic novels in a book store,
  • a trip to a bead shop with all those delicious lolly looking globes of glass,
  • a bubble bath with my favourite book,
  • listen to new music,
  • draw a mandala,
  • plant some vegetable seedlings,
  • laying on the grass in the sun reading my book at the park,
  • writing cards and postcards including to friends far away,
  • a trip to an antique shop, and
  • definitely a trip to the local flower store or walk around my neighbourhood to look at /buy/ photograph flowers.

A key feature is that they are not FOR anything. There is no earnest, important, celebrated outcome. These dates ideally are not planned to help complete a project. We don’t do them because we ‘have to’. We let go of the goals in our life and instead let our senses and whimsy dictate our enjoyment for the afternoon.

This in turn helps top up the inner well ready for creative outputs.

Sound good?

What are your go to activities for an infusion of childlike play and wonder?

Searching for more raspberry moments

I was talking to a friend recently about how to get more ‘raspberry moments’ into our lives. I had just come back from a whirlwind week in Germany (I know, lucky me, right?) and part of the tales I had to share was one glorious sunny day spent in Nuremburg, in the old city, sketching, wandering through the marketplace, enjoying the bright blue European summer sky, and buying and then demolishing a punnet of raspberries (these very ones pictured above). I tried to convey how simple it was but how each raspberry tasted like it was bursting with essential raspberry-ness in my mouth, a complex, rich array of flavours that I had never fully appreciated. I wandered around the city with my friend, feeling happy, with raspberries on the tips of my fingers, eating one at a time with delight. (Have you eaten them like this – poking your finger into the hole, holding them up on your finger like a hat to admire it, and then piping your finger into your mouth? So childlike and so fun).

I am not an expert on how to create these. As far as I can tell, they come and go like butterflies, and trying to grab at them when they arrive makes them flutter away nervously to another garden.

I know that some things help create the basic conditions for these moments to show up in. For me that’s having had enough sleep, being well fed and watered, not being exhausted from prolonged stress, having a patch of time without competing agendas that send my brain into busy problem solving mode, and having a general sense of looking forward to something or of being excited by the moment. A sense of the new, and of curiosity and exploration helps, but also a sense of spaciousness in time and place, nothing to hurry for, nothing to ‘achieve’. It probably also helps when I’m feeling relatively psychologically ‘clean’ and not carrying a current burden of guilt or shame, or a story about my life or day that is burdening me.

This is a similar but slightly different feeling to the one I often get when I am lost in being engaged in something creative, like sitting at my desk making artworks using crayon and lost in the physicality of texture, colour, the feeling on my fingers etc (let’s call it a crayon moment*). In crayon moments/ flow I feel like I am pointed towards something, I am engrossed, I lose myself and lose track of time, I am captured in delight, but there is an end point, a little striving to begin with that helps push me into this zone. A raspberry moment on the other hand feels a bit more expansive and related to the senses for me: seeing the colours and new shapes around me, tasting the fruit, feeling the warmth of the air on my skin, hearing language that ripples over me because it isn’t one I speak. It is also about what is going on in my head: appreciating the light, and enjoying the easy company, revelling in the underlying feeling of wonder and accomplishment I had for being so far from home on an adventure, and feeling relief and the gentle free-fall of being safe and not knowing things and that being OK.

Someone once gave me a magnet for my fridge that said ‘plant a green tree and one day a singing bird will come’ or something like that. I think it’s a great perspective – inviting us to reflect on what is growing and lush and fresh in our lives, because this is what draws in what we would like to have visit us.

If I was working with a coaching client who wanted to get more of this type of feeling into their lives, I would probably suggest doing some detective work together to see what types of situations or experiences they have found engaging, expansive or fun in the past. Maybe we would do a guided visualisation and take them there to recall the feelings, the sounds, the people around, the ideas, their thoughts of themselves in that moment. Maybe this would help them remember in their body what that feels like. Maybe it would establish a gentle question mark, unanswered, for those memories and past experiences to drift to the surface over the days that follow. This kind of work could give some clues to the types of ‘artist dates’ they could take themselves on in future, to feed their creative well. And in all this, we would work to try too unhook the expectation from the experiment – so that these gentle acts of creating space, of pursuing delight would be free from self judgement if they did not yield butterflies or singing birds.

* though Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would probably call it flow