On Reading FINDING DIVINE INSPIRATION

Just a couple weeks before 2019 came to a close, I finished reading Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity by J. Scott McElroy. Much more than a book, it became the inspiration behind a deep spiritual assessment of why and how and with Whom I pursue all of my artistic and creative endeavors.

I know now that, if I truly want to make the most of my time and to produce anything of significance, I’m best to apply what I read in Finding Divine Inspiration. Here’s what that would mean—and here’s the challenge I set for myself in 2020 and beyond…

Why I create
I’ve mentioned it in previous posts: Making a living, making money, and making a name for myself are sure and certain temptations. But there’s so much more power in making for making’s sake—to revel in an idea, then the process. The end result should place a distant second to the truest heart of creativity: how and with Whom I create.

How I create
To be the person God created me to be, I need to discern and live into what He wants me to create for this world. In other words, creativity is a discipline. If indeed I believe I am a unique channel of the Holy Spirit and His purposes, then I should take that business to great heart. This is where my faith is tested, of course. A woman of true faith follows through with passion and energy, but I regret to admit that the Spirit’s leadings often fall on deaf ears and among a multitude of distractions. There is a different way—and I’m determined to find it. This year, I commit to take intentional steps in addressing the “how” of my creativity.

With Whom I create
It probably goes without saying, but part of my “how” is also to acknowledge the almighty “Who” right up front. In the companion journal of Finding Divine Inspiration, McElroy suggests a habit of dedication—to offer a routine prayer or to make some type of special mark on all pieces of art to acknowledge the creative process as a cooperative effort.

How easily I forget the constant presence and pursuit of God. How little I trust God—the Divine Inspiration who formed my passions and sparks my ideas—with an effort’s entire and ultimate purpose, be it personal time well spent with Him or a profound message to share with the world. As my church sings regularly in worship, “I will rest in the Father’s hands, leave the rest in the Father’s hands.”

Why? How? With Whom? These questions now shape the what of my creativity. Such enlightenment certainly doesn’t mean that my work is now ultra-theological or spiritual. In fact, I think my latest endeavors couldn’t be more rudimentary and secular. But, for me, they bear much more depth and meaning than many past projects simply because of the God-given purpose I now yearn to fulfill in my artistic time. Amen. May it be so.

On Seeing ABSTRACT: TYPEFACE DESIGN

After spending about a year away from the series, I made a repeat visit to “Abstract: The Art of Design” on Netflix (I first blogged about it in October 2018). This time, I learned about a typography guru and expert named Jonathan Hoefler, whose fascination with all things text dances on the line of obsession and whose processes for developing new font families are both sensical and surprising.

This particular episode of “Abstract” got me to thinking: No matter what kind of artistic methods we practice, our creativity may demonstrate a grand amalgamation of place, practicalities, and the past…

Think place
When Hoefler was commissioned to invent a typeface for the rebranding of the Guggenheim, he used the museum’s architecture as his muse. The rotunda, for example, spoke “openness and roundness” and “elevated and lofty” to him, thus he set about to develop letter forms that also embodied these traits. Then came his next challenge…

Think practical
The Guggenheim’s existing signage also informed Hoefler’s work. However, he knew that certain letters—like the “E” and “H” used on the museum’s facade—were “overly stylized,” even “distracting,” and would not transfer well to headlines and text. He had his work cut out for him.

When it comes to practicalities, Hoefler also brings up his assignment with Sports Illustrated. Way back in 1989 when Hoefler was still a novice typographer, he was hired to make headlines for the magazine. That eventually led to his creating a special font family called “Knockout,” which features various widths and heights, and can always be adjusted to fit a specific headline space.

Similarly, a typeface he developed for Rolling Stone carries four different styles, but are interchangeable and don’t effect page flows when swapped in and out. They called it “The Proteus Project,” which is comprised of the font families of “Ziggurat,” “Leviathan,” “Saracen,” and “Acropolis.”

Think past
Trailblazer. Trendsetter. Forward thinker. These are titles that Hoefler wears well in the world of typography. But what I find most interesting about his artistic process is his dependence on works of the past to formulate his next big idea. Hoefler studies antique timepieces, gravestones, maps, and typesetters catalogs, paying special attention to unique characters that have potential for new life in the digital design world. In other words, who knows what hidden gems are yet to be discovered just through Hoeffler’s skills in resurrection and adaptation.

So how is our own work reflecting the distinct personalities of place? Are we considering any practical applications outside the box of our current projects? And could we forage for some relics from the past that could help make our art become even more alive in the present? Hoefler does it—we can, too!

On Seeing FIRED UP STUDIOS

You could say I was pretty “fired up” to visit Saint John’s Pottery Studio last summer. Perhaps just as exciting was my discovery of Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley, Minn., which is just a stone’s throw away from my house.

Hundreds of original works of pottery grace the expansive gallery space of Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Through the magic of the Facebook algorithms that peg me as an art buff, I received an event notice to Fired Up Studios’ Annual Holiday Open House. I expected to come upon a small storefront with a few clay artists peddling their wares around a tepid carafe of coffee. Instead, Fired Up Studios is a grand and expansive pottery gallery/shop, along with a potter’s dream studio (plus they had a huge spread of goodies—that earned even more “brownie” points from me, pardon the pun).

For a fairly modest monthly membership fee, artists enjoy twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week access to all of the equipment and supplies they could ever need to throw, spin, and form piece after piece. And for us pottery fans, the gallery/shop is open every day and features affordable art to purchase and enjoy at home.

What’s more, Fired Up Studios has a heart for the community. As part of its holiday event, potters donated works to a silent auction benefitting Haven Housing, a Minneapolis non-profit helping women in crisis.

Membership wouldn’t make sense for me at this time—especially since I have never thrown a pot in my life—but my husband and I hope to attend the studios’ beginners class someday. For now, I continue to ponder my observations from my first visit:

Horse hair becomes a medium for producing ethereal shadows and fine lines once a piece reaches the kiln.

More than clay
Sure, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to working with clay alone, but my family was especially mesmerized by the pieces incorporating other elements, particularly fiber. One artist showcased work using horse hair. Yep, straight from a horse’s mane or tail. The hair is seared onto the clay in the kiln, producing fascinating fine lines and shadows.

Personal styles
I recently finished reading Lisa Congdon‘s latest book, Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. It offers tips on making a mark as a creative person. More than that, it celebrates the unique and distinctive styles that all of us offer to life’s landscape. In my roaming Fired Up Studios’ gallery, it became apparent to me they do the same.

Creative mash-up
It was also through Congdon that I grew an interest in and tried my hand at some simple pen-and-ink patterns. As a result, my eye really tuned into pieces bearing geometric and whimsical designs reminiscent of her techniques. Such collisions make me giddy, when a medium or technique or source of inspiration I already appreciate appears in a whole new context. This is what makes my artistic adventures so fulfilling, exciting, motivating—all of the words that compel me to read, see, learn, and try more in the world of art!

On Reading KEEP GOING

The book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon couldn’t have entered my life at a better time. In short, Kindergarten is killing me, and “just keep going” has become a mantra on which I now depend.

My daughter began school earlier this month and adjusted well to everything new: new people, new wake-up time, new bedtime, new routine altogether. As for me, not so much. However, Keep Going not only reminded me of the interests and passions that continue to have possibility in me, but also convicted me of some misconceptions I’ve held and misbehaviors I’ve adopted as I pursue the creative life. Through his book, Kleon challenged me to think or act differently in a number of ways, including the following:

Ignore the audience
I’ve worked in the realm of business communications and public relations for nearly twenty-five years. The concept and reality of audience is my industry’s biggest concern. The audience’s needs. The audience’s reactions. The audience’s attentiveness and current opinions.

Kleon poses, however, that the work of a true and focused creative is unfazed by audience. We should make what we make because we feel compelled in our own souls what we want to make. We should not depend on others’ positive or negative feedback to drive what we accomplish from day to day to day. We should resist the urge to monitor clicks and likes and comments as some kind of personal validation.

Uh, guilty, and point taken.

Tidying has its place
I’ve become a sucker for books and articles and blogs on cool studio spaces. The thing is I can see myself spending about ninety-five percent of my time making sure I have the best back-drop for making art, with just a nickel left for actual art-making.

Kleon’s position: Tidying has its place, namely with the tools needed to make art. Knowing where to find a brush or pen or pad of paper is definitely necessary for getting the job done, but not so much staging an environment that gets us “in the mood,” is photo-shoot ready, etc. If things get too cluttered or out-of-control, we can use tidying as a way to explore new ideas, says Kleon. The mess may reveal a collision of media and subject matter and technique that we hadn’t thought of before.

Just do it
When I resurrected this blog thanks to the motivation of Show Your Work!, another of Kleon’s books, I was determined to claim the title of artist (this was my idea, not Kleon’s). “Title schmitle” is what Keep Going got through to me (and now I can’t help but hear the cast of Meatballs chanting in my ear, “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter…”—yep, I’m definitely a product of the 70s).

Kleon puts it this way: “Forget the noun, do the verb… Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”

Along with this “doing business,” Kleon suggests that it be wrapped in playfulness, no end goal in mind. It’s okay to throw our work into the scrap heap. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to have fun with nothing to show for it. Imagine that.

Give gifts
I have also fallen prey to the glorification of Etsy and other money-making machines for creatives—that any success in these realms is the brightest jewel in the crown of creativity. I was absolutely moved and convicted by this quote from Quincy Jones that Kleon includes: “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.”

If I’m going to stay on this crazy creative course, I want it to be pure in motive. I want it to be rich in spiritual collaboration with the Almighty. I want it to be less about marketing and earning and getting ahead, and more about simply being and enjoying, and giving through and from the heart.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon—this book may be among the top five game-changing books of my creative career. Not only did it encourage my ongoing adventures in exploring and making of art, which has become more difficult in the face of transition. It also challenged my integrity, and that’s definitely something I want to maintain no matter where my artistic interests lie or take me.

Dear readers, I invite you to keep going with me! Join me in learning more from Kleon through these video links:
“How to Keep Going” (Bond 2018)
“Creative Is Not a Noun” (Scratch@MIT 2018)

On Seeing THE CREATIVE BRAIN

CreativeBrainThere’s nothing like a good documentary, and I ran across a winner on Netflix. The Creative Brain is written and presented by Dr. David Eagleman, whose twenty-plus years as a neuroscientist inspired this hour-long program. Watch The Creative Brain>>

Eagleman, who is also one of the authors of The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, interviews actors and musicians, nanotechnologists and architects, to “unlock the secrets of creativity.” His findings are both fascinating and motivating to those of us who define ourselves as makers, artists, and creatives—or who simply want to make an impact…

Human beings are special
Unlike other animals, we can “disengage our instincts” to see beyond the usual uses of things. For example, we can turn off our automatic response to eat when we see food. All of the possibilities that we are able to see in the world are “the foundation of our creativity.”

Originality is “bunk”
One of Eagleman’s guests describes jazz as a “mutt.” In other words, “being original is not about generating something out of nothing.” I think of all of the teachers, muses, and artistic ancestors who prove this point in my life—all of the books read and movies watched and music enjoyed. The list goes on. As a result, my contributions are the sum of a lot of input from various sources. Any originality is born from my unique life experience.

Creativity requires intentionality
Eagleman notes that, despite our great creative potential, humans remain wired to take “the path of least resistance”—to do what is easy. This path is the arch enemy of creativity. Eagleman closes his presentation with three tips for fighting the urge to live and work the same way day after day; I invite you to watch the show for these inspiring insights!

The program also concludes with a profile on a fine-arts elementary school, how it was saved from closing and now thrives given how creativity is “at the heart of every subject.” It just so happens that my own daughter will soon start Kindergarten in a similar setting, and The Creative Brain further affirms that we made the right choice. I trust that her education will help her become successful, innovative, and creative—to grow into an accomplished artist, musician, nanotechnologist, architect, or whatever she dreams to be!