A Little Slow

After years of working on art, I realize I am not a genius. It’s ok to be a little slow. Sometimes the only way I can get something done is to do it slowly. With my cello students, we slow down the challenging parts until the rough edges wear down and things are more polished. If things are not clear, I can slow down and pay closer attention. The speeding up happens in a natural way when I’m ready.

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Sometimes time slows down. Especially when doing something new. So many new neural connections happening - my brain is stretched! I can only bite off little pieces - an hour here, two hours there. I try to visit my work often throughout the week and keep the momentum.

Slow grows. There’s a slow accumulation of time and energy that builds into something great. Over time, the new and challenging things become skills at the ready. And the snowflake has become a rolling snowball gathering momentum. I look around my studio and feel grateful this body of work now exists!

How do you go slow and grow?

Love or Fear?

It hit me in the heart like an arrow of pure truth.

“There are two ways to master an art - through love or through fear.”

A dear friend shared this quote with me on a hike to the Buddha Rocks at Shoshoni. So many years I had fear motivating my work. On a subtle level, I related to my teacher with inferiority and my peers with hostility. My learning process was sabotaged by my inner critic. It was hard to be with myself creatively.

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And now, as the dust has cleared from this exploded illusion, the open space is full of love. How to go about developing my work with love? Marinate in love and gratitude for my life and creative opportunities each morning. Dedicate the merit of my work to the benefit of others. Shake off negative states of mind and see them as passing storms. Release my grip on how things should be and give them space to grow and be as they are.

How do you do your work with love?

Just a Poem

Just sharing a poem today that is speaking to me in my life:

Seasons in the Mind by Kabir

There are seasons in the mind,
great currents and winds move there,

the true yogi ties a rein to them; a power plant
she becomes.

Winter, spring, summer, fall: these are pages
in a book the advanced can turn to,
and impart.

Order is a great benefit to the seeker,
otherwise living in one's own house can become as
walking through a marketplace

where all the merchants keep shouting,
"You owe me."

That does not sound like
much fun

and who could accomplish anything
in all that
noise.

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Epic in Increments

When I was new to making art regularly, a good friend asked me if I would make large paintings of my subjects. I had been making 12" x 16" paintings and I told her it felt like all I could handle at the time!

I had to get a handle on what I could handle, and then scale up from there.

Scaling up happens in a sweet spot somewhere between what I can handle and what is completely beyond me. Like the Buddha's insight  about the Middle Way listening to the musician on the river: "if you tighten the string too much it will break, if it is too loose it will make no sound."  

I have a tendency to want the next level of epic growth RIGHT NOW! Damnit!  Forcing things can do more harm than good, breaking the string. I am learning that my growth feels more like a slow cooker.

Scaling up is also contagious. Hanging out with people who are bigger than I am in the areas I wish to expand. Maybe they'll give me a ride in their airplane...

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I'm scaling up with a new painting: taking things larger, trying a few new techniques that are stabilized by methods I have been working on. Scaling up with a good foundation.

How do you scale up?

We all Made It

Through the holidays! Or at least to the home stretch. This is cause for celebration.

Isn’t it ironic that all of this merriment and downtime can leave us feeling a little off? Or sometimes like a train wreck. I can’t be the only one.

The holidays are no small occurrence. When I connected with my sangha this week, it was comforting to see that I’m not the only person welling up with things that need transcending. Community always helps me get perspective.

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I’m getting back to painting today. Over time, I have come to understand that my work is an essential part of staying in balance. Deep inside I start to crave it, like traction for a footstep to keep moving forward.

Cheers to digging in heels and growing! Cheers to your New Year!

Grateful for the Crux

“What if this is the crux?” I asked myself as Deepak and I went through our morning workout. Again and again I asked just a little more of myself.

The crux is the hardest part of the rock-climbing route, or anything that we do. It is often the point of no return. Once you make it through the crux, the end is in sight. And there could be more than one.

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Sometimes I am in the crux all day long.

In working, in playing, in loving, in living – if we are really doing it, we will come up to the crux.

The crux brings me face to face with my perceived limits. But I take a break - take a breath - and a solution is here. Usually it is an inner solution of clarity and release, a subtle shift.

This is exactly the process for a breakthrough. And it all started by getting to the crux.

Talent, Skill & Effort

Sometimes I only have a 30% chance of making art, doing yoga or something else productive. The things I want to do be the person I want to be. The trick of it is to convert the 30% inspiration into 100% action.

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Talent and inspiration are not the essence of making art. They are the initial impulse, sometimes a random bonus. The sprinkles on the cupcake.

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is ONLY developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

- Will Smith

Angela Duckworth quoted Will Smith in her book Grit, where she explores the science and psychology of high achievers. She comments:

 “With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

This reminded me of Swami Rudrananda’s meditation teaching:

“Effort over time equals growth.”

How we relate to and harness our effort matters so much more than pure talent.

Temporary Struggle

I worked on a painting yesterday and it was a very long two hours of effort. For most of that time, I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw on the canvas but I kept working at it to work things out. At the end, I got some space from the painting and the rocks came into view. Ahhh.

The other day I was looking at one of my favorite paintings and remembering the challenge of working through the details. I spent 4+ hours on Kelly’s face – a two-inch square area. I’m pretty sure I cried that afternoon.

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But all that struggle is gone now. In its place is a beautiful painting. I love looking at it every day and continue to see something new. And I feel so lucky that I was part of bringing this art into being.

 

Chill with the Chaos

Things usually look like hell for a large part of the painting process. Especially portraits - everyone looks old and blotchy. Not suitable for public viewing. A bystander might nod and hum in sympathy that I am working so hard at something so crappy.

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I heard a great quote - "if you are going through hell, keep going." I can really relate this to my spiritual growth and to the process of making art. One of my art and meditation friends said that she will put at least one mark on her painting everyday.

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The "in-between" phase of the process is actually where all the magic is setting in. Things feel unfamiliar because our brains are stretching and new neural pathways are forming. It is a journey into pure possibility and being a vehicle for creative energy.

Interestingly, I have made paintings more by rote, where the process is clear and the in-between wasn't a challenge. And these paintings lacked the magic and refinement. They almost felt like cartoons of a painting.

The more time I spend in the in-between, the more comfortable and relaxed I am navigating this new terrain.

What do you do in-between?

 

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Making art is not easy

A common misconception is that the experience of making art should feel like experiencing a finished work of art - refinement, release, beauty, revelation. Actually, it is challenging to do creative work and bring something into the world that wasn't here before.

It was comforting to hear Malcolm Gladwell's consideration of artistic refinement in his podcast last year (Listen here: http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/07-hallelujah). He talks about Cezanne working on the same subject repeatedly for greater refinement, often with a lot of dissatisfaction propelling the process. Gladwell also explores how a piece - the song Hallelujah - was brought into its fullness by a number of artists working together over decades. Art takes time!

Working at the dining room table at Cambridge Woodfired Pottery.  

Working at the dining room table at Cambridge Woodfired Pottery.  

One of the primary dead-ends to being creative is waiting until I feel like making art. I find that I have to dive into the work itself and make the act of working the reason to be there. This relates to the practice of yoga described in the Bhagavad Gita:

"To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction."

The real "work" of art, and the work of growing, involves going into the unknown. For me, it feels more like bushwhacking through the wilderness of my resistance and fear, and less like receiving sprinkles of easy inspiration and pixie dust ;)

What does the process feel like for you?

A work of lifestyle

As we prepare to move back to Colorado, Kelly is wrapping up his apprenticeship with Mark Skudlarek at Cambridge Pottery. It has been amazing to live on Tranquil Lane (not kidding) and experience the seasons of life in the pottery.

Mark is a production potter, which means that he makes functional pieces for daily life. His showroom includes: mugs, plates, lamps, casseroles, his famous 'chicken-bricks,' beer steins, planters, large-scale vessels, treasure boxes for your dresser...

Large vessels, a mug, and the kiln in the background - all by Mark

Large vessels, a mug, and the kiln in the background - all by Mark

Speaking of one of his pottery mentors, Warren McKenzie, Mark articulates that the 'work-of-art' in pottery is the entire lifestyle, facility and process:

  • Making clay and glazes from raw materials
  • Chopping and stacking wood for home and kiln
  • Turning pots (as Mark likes to say)
  • The wood firing, a 5-day process that happens twice a year producing a few thousand pots.
  • Home, family and community who gather around the pottery and its events

This process is called the production cycle and flows with the seasons, culminating in a tour in fall and spring. When someone takes home a piece of pottery, it becomes part of their life and they continue this creative process.

It has felt natural to practice meditation as we have lived with Mark in his artisan lifestyle for this year. Many days, I would bring my easel into the workshop and paint alongside the potters.

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We leave Tranquil Lane with a bittersweet sigh and a sense of gratitude as we say farewell for now to Mark and the boys. We will take methods and inspiration for pottery, life and art with us into our next chapter.

Check out Mark's work at www.cambridgepottery.com