Category Archives: Creativity

Starting Small

A new acquaintance Dani Antman comes to visit my studio and take a walk. She’s wanting to set up a studio in her home and start painting again. I tell her about “starting small,” the way a teacher of mine at the Kansas City Art Institute, Michael Meyers, once suggested: “Do whatever you can finish in the amount of time you have, use whatever you have—your name in script, for instance.” In those days I was holding down several teaching jobs and came home tired every day. I began making one-inch square, colored pencil drawings from cursive shapes. They soon demanded more from me and I gave it; I drew, fueled by the work, while listening for hours to classical music every night. One-inch drawings became six-inch grids became two-feet layered plexiglas acrylic paintings that I exhibited in my first museum competition.  

This is what we can do for one another: inspire the starting small with the belief that deeper engagement will multiply our efforts many-fold.


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Mind Clutter: A Reason to Write

Lately, my mind has been as cluttered as my closet. I needed to sort it out. Keeping up a blog was just one more thing to think about and I was failing. I had too many ideas, too much to say, not enough time, not enough conviction. 

Often it helps to approach a problem directly, to sit with my journal and puzzle it out or take a walk and listen for answers to stumble forth from the rhythm. Sometimes it’s best to sleep on it.

This morning I woke with clarity: a way to use the blogsphere to focus thoughts. The point is not whether anyone is reading this right now or not; the point is the framing that published writing requires and the satisfaction that comes from shaping thought with words. I’d enjoyed making a few posts since opening this blog in August 2008, but I wasn’t compelled to write regularly.

Yesterday, I committed to write daily about creativity. That decision begged questions: What about fiction? What about painting? Gardening? Music? Design? Sustainability? Joy? I love the broad strokes of creative process, but I also love craft and technique, details and story. I didn’t want to give up those topics, but I couldn’t effectively contain them all in one space. So rather than write fewer blogs, I would write more, more often.

Read to Write Books focuses on writing craft and close reading.

A Painter’s Garden digs into painting and gardening.

Earth in Concert revolves around creative collaboration, music, design, sustainable practices.

Wooleycat scampers playfully into children’s media.

Dennis Hysom will also contribute to Earth in Concert and Wooleycat.

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There are 364 days left in 2010, counting this one, which is half gone. That tallies to 8724  hours. Think of what we can accomplish, if we decide to make it happen. Starting today, I will use this blog to do more than occasionally share my musings. I will explore daily with you tenets of creativity as they benefit us individually and together.

On New Year’s Day 2009, I wrote lists of regrets and aspirations and copied them onto slips of paper. My husband wrote his, too. We carried the scraps out to the garden, where we burned the old in a tin can and planted the new in the earth. Yesterday, reading journal entries to rally resolutions for the coming year, I decided that, with a few updates, the 2009 list would suffice for 2010. While I’ve made progress toward my goals, so much remains to do. Perhaps you feel the same. It was a rough year. Everyone at the New Year’s Eve party I attended cheered the end of 2009. Our felt pain was relative: losing a parent or losing a job, piling on debt or plundering savings, feeling that life as we know it isn’t what we thought it would be.

I believe in doing what you love so you can do more of what you love. If the money follows, all the better. But the real payoff comes from creating opportunity and ability to engage in fulfilling work, love and care for others, enjoy life, and make the world a better place. If I’d had my way in 2009, I would have accomplished more (books, paintings, income, home repair) and healed family ills. I would have contributed more to causes and been a more active citizen. I would have kissed joy more often as it flew.

The first resolution listed for 2009 that I’ll keep for the new year is “waiting for something to happen.” It’s easy to fall into despair and creative impotence while waiting—whether for the economy to turn, an agent to respond, a child to mature, a congress to legislate. January of 2009 held great promise—Obama’s election buoyed my spirits and hopes for a changed world. But in my personal life, I was barely keeping my head above water. I lost work in my design business, fielded agent rejections of manuscripts, worried about family issues—aging parents, young adult son, and couldn’t focus on a book project about joy because I was too depressed.

Several decisions changed the course of events. Each one required action, time, and a leap of faith. A few of the most significant were:

Attended a retreat with NextNow focused on Global Coherence

Committed to a 3-person art exhibition at Falkirk Cultural Center for summer 2010

Helped move my parents into retirement living

Joined Make Mine a Million, a feisty group of women entrepreneurs

Attended an economic summit in Sebastopol sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce

Proposed teaching “Read to Write,” a 9-month fiction craft course at Copperfield’s Books—in support of the independent book store, writers and readers

Repurposed our brand “Earth in Concert” to encompass the many creative projects and services that Dennis Hysom and I offer individually and in collaboration

All of these decisions and experiences have brought new friendships, expanded thinking, greater sense of purpose, and hope for improving the world through our individual and collective small, persistent efforts.

This year, I will examine in this blog space those daily efforts, along with the occasional large, coherent bursts of accomplishment. Please join me in a discussion of cultivating the creative life and using what we discover to create positive change in 2010 and beyond.

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August Friends

My friend Carla calls from Hawaii. She’s the kind of friend who says, “I’ve been thinking of you,” and I know it’s true because I’ve been thinking of her, though we haven’t spoken in two years. A few days ago I ran into a mutual friend in the grocery store. That sparked my thoughts, but even before I’d had Carla on my mind. It’s August, the month when we used to walk St. Elmo Creek in Cazadero together to celebrate our close birth dates. I would lug stones up the bank and down the dirt road to the car to take home for the garden. They still line my paths and pile near the pond; a small stack marks my dog’s grave.

The friendship that Carla and I enjoy was woven together as were her willow chairs—those works of art that drew me to her the first day of our meeting on an Art Trails studio visit. I dropped by and stayed for hours. I returned time and again to walk the creek and paint log jams of fallen redwoods, pine and brush. Settled on Maui now, she’s surrounded by eucalyptus. She and her husband had the trees on their property cut down to prevent damage to their home during storms, but their neighbor’s towering ones could still collapse Carla’s greenhouse. It’s possible to prepare oneself for misfortune, but not to escape it. Stuff happens.

Much has happened to each of us in the fifteen years that we’ve known one another, but the conversation strips the stuff away. She has dealt with life’s sorrows and difficulties and is learning to draw with one- and two-point perspective. I weave my dramas in with hers—since we last spoke I confronted sadness that I never would have imagined. I tell her about the happiness pie—the 10% situational, 40% intentional, 50% genetic. Picture it, I say. It can be cherry, blackberry. She misses the berries. They’re abundant in Sonoma County this August. We would pick them on our creek walks, the juice purpling our fingers, the warm, sweet berries satisfying our hunger until, back in her kitchen, she prepared a lunch—salad, whatever—always a delicious mix of flavors. I love much about Carla and perhaps most that she cares so well for herself and others in an unhurried way. Even her voice is like a slow walk along the creek bank, her laugh now splashing across the ocean.


 "Split," oil on canvas, 42" x 36"

"Split," oil on canvas, 42" x 36"

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Architects of Our Lives: Making Sandcastles

This past week I witnessed the birth of a woman who, at 60-something, has glimpsed her lost desire to build sandcastles. Her awareness of self had been buried deeply by life’s difficulties: she said she didn’t know she had a self, and now she does. It was a miracle spoken softly in a small room. It was a shout to the heart and mind. “Ah-ha!”

We are architects from the get-go. Plop a child on a beach with a bucket, she soon will be carving her space—digging, scooping, and smoothing—building sandcastles, unconcerned that the tide will wash away her creation. What, then, prevents us from being designers of our lives at any age? What suppresses that natural instinct to carve a place where we desire to be in the world? What blinds us to that childish abandon—the belief that we can and deserve to see our visions and dreams fulfilled—if only fleetingly, impermanently. The impermanence being the rule of the game, enjoyed by children stomping on their own sculpted turrets, helping the tide at day’s end.

The sandcastle metaphor is useful at any age, at any stage of creativity. Artists continually discover self and manifest it in their work. This is not to say “selfish.” It is a continual spiritual exploration, a digging into a deeper place, a cracking open onto the world. 

In life, we go from sandcastles to dollhouses, treehouses, dorms, apartments, homes. In the interior realm of self and spirit, we remain the child with shovel and bucket, digging and carrying, heaping and shaping, untangling pearly shells and damp feathers from driftwood and seaweed. We labor in the sun, unaware how our tender shoulders and cheeks are reddening. The tide ebbs and now rises. We race against time, carving a moat, fashioning drawbridges from flotsam. The foamy water rushes in, encircling the castle, undermining the foundation. We shore it up, all seriousness and squealing with delight at our failure. The bridges collapse, doors fill with sand, turrets disintegrate. Someone calls our name—oh yes, there’s dinner to be eaten, chores, sleeping—so we leave it. The next morning, we begin again, down the beach or at our same spot, refashioning the sodden heaps of sand into a place where we can live fully for the time being.

This is the creative life. Every “ah-ha!” a miracle, a privilege and a gratitude.

Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 in.

Alright No. 3 from Island Songs, Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 in.

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Island in time

The San Francisco Airport Museums has an exhibition space in SFO’s United terminal that you pass through on your way to the gates. You can walk the wide carpeted concourse with Plexigas display booths on either side, or you can be conveyed on a moving belt past the displays. The exhibit this past weekend was painted pottery from Santa Catalina, an island off the Southern California coast. I walked the concourse.

On any given day, our senses are bombarded with more than we can take in. Those United passengers on the people-mover probably didn’t see my favorite tile nestled in its display with a panoply of others. The tile was exactly like the one that I had sketched in watercolor while visiting Catalina twenty-three years ago. In the main town of Avalon, colorful tiles wrap the quaint public square, which was built in the early 1900s. The small sketches I made there inspired a large group of oil paintings called Island Songs, which I worked on for two years following that Catalina trip. They were exhibited at the Plaza Gallery in the Bank of America headquarters building in San Francisco—124 paintings wrapping a contemporary public square. There’s much I could say about those paintings and may in future posts, but this post is a contemplation on a six-inch square piece of glazed clay. 

The tile triggered a rush of memories: a bright sunny day; white-washed, decorated stucco; a romantic island getaway with my husband. (I called him on my cell phone to reminisce.) I thought about how artistic inclination—seeing the tile, selecting it from all else in my vision, choosing to paint it—leads the artist to deeper exploration. In this instance, that first glance led to a series of 157 oil paintings, 20 x 20 inches square.

On the plane, I wrote a bit about the tile in my journal, then forgot about it during the weekend in Vail with my sister. Returning to San Francisco, I walked from the gate, thinking the thoughts of a disembarking passenger—baggage, shuttle bus. I came around the corner and whop! There it was.

The art that had transported me back more than twenty years did it again. The little tile beckoned, “You are older now, are even stepping into your own new decade, but you are timeless with me.” I had traveled 2600 miles to Colorado and back, but I felt as if the bigger journey was taking place in the concourse, standing in front of a display case, gazing at a fragment of clay made by an unknown person’s hands, long ago and faraway.

Watercolor of Catalina tile

Watercolor of Catalina tile

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Beauty becomes us

My husband, Dennis Hysom, and I post a reminder in our studios: 

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

I think it’s true. Our beautiful thoughts and actions become us. As do the ugly and unkind. “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” Rumi.

Prelude 7, Monotype

Prelude 7, Monotype




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