On Seeing YESTERDAY

Imagine if the Beatles never existed.

Such is the premise of the movie “Yesterday,” now playing in theaters. The film is clever. It’s cute. It’s funny. And it got me to thinking.

Imagination is at the heart of creativity, and given that reality, there are endless possibilities around what we choose to draw, paint, write about, sing about, etc. Furthermore, there are possibilities revealed to us through regular day-to-day events and activities—a beautiful window box of flowers inspires us to replicate it on canvas, an interesting turn of phrase inspires us to write a poem—and possibilities that we would have never considered had we not sat down and primed our creative pump. The latter inspired the following exercise…

  1. “Imagine if the Beatles never existed.” In this sentence, “the Beatles” is the subject and “never existed” is an action. Let’s devise a list of several other subjects and actions. Here’s mine:
    • IMG_3710

      My two piles of subjects and actions

      Subjects: The Royal Family, a farmer, a Bible study group, the Trump administration, a tribe of aborigines, a high school marching band, an NFL football team, the Disney princesses

    • Actions: Started a forest fire, invented teleportation, biked across the U.S., cured cancer, vacationed in Italy, cloned themselves, owned a bakery, became super heroes
  2. I wrote all sixteen of my subjects and actions on separate pieces of paper. Keeping them separated in the two categories, I mixed up the papers and put them face down in two piles. Drawing one piece of paper from each pile, I arrived at the following possibilities—imagine if:
    • A high school marching band owned a bakery.
    • A tribe of aborigines biked across the U.S.
    • The Trump administration cured cancer.
    • A farmer started a forest fire.
    • The Royal Family cloned themselves.
    • A Bible study group invented teleportation.
    • The Disney princesses vacationed in Italy.
    • An NFL football team became super heroes.

I’m not one to dabble in fiction, but how fun would it be to take some of these ideas and develop them into complete stories or fantastical paintings or an all-out screenplay! “Imagine,” said John Lennon. Now you try it!


IMG_3717

Finished project: “Trinity” (Macrame)

Gallery

I completed my first piece of macrame and found a little corner for it to hang in my kitchen! Overall impression: Macrame is a full-body sport—I found it most comfortable to twist and tie while on my feet.

Read “On Trying MACRAME” post>>

On Reading TELL IT SLANT

TellItSlant

“The care of words is urgent Christian work.”
—Eugene H. Peterson

It was through the writings of Madeleine L’Engle and her best friend, Luci Shaw, that I discovered another one of their contemporaries Eugene H. Peterson. Best known for authoring The Message Bible, Peterson boasts a knack for taking age-old language and thought, and translating them into contemporary terms. His book Tell It Slant follows suit.

Poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell the truth but tell it slant,” which means to employ creativity and subtlety and ambiguity and “unhurried intimacies” to deepen our understanding of the many facets of life. Such is the inspiration behind Peterson’s book as he delves into the parables and prayers of Jesus Christ, and focuses on the various nuances of His teachings and conversations.

At the same time, through Tell It Slant, Peterson aims to “cultivate a sense of continuity between the prayers we offer to God and the conversations we have with the people we speak to and who speak to us. I want to nurture an awareness of the sanctity of words, the holy gift of language, regardless of whether it is directed vertically or horizontally. Just as Jesus did.”

As a writer by both trade and passion, I admire Peterson’s goal. And in reading Tell It Slant, I now count him among my “artistic ancestors,” those whose work will forever impact my own. I enjoyed every one of Tell It Slant‘s chapters, but I knew Peterson would leave a lasting impression on me in reading the introduction to a portion based on Luke 18:9-14:

It takes a storyteller to give us access to all that is going on—the swirling maelstrom of sound and silence, visible and invisible, in even the dowdiest of women, the dullest of men… 

Storytellers activate our imaginations to see and hear beneath the surface of life and involve us in the many dimensions of what is going on behind our backs or just around the corner. It takes a storyteller to reveal the beauty that dazzles like “shining from shook foil” (Gerard Manley Hopkins). 

Every time Jesus tells a story, the world of those who listen enlarges, understanding deepens, imaginations are energized. Without stories we end up with stereotypes—a flat earth with flat cardboard figures that have no texture or depth, no interior. 

Though my artistic explorations of late have focused on the visual, my ventures in writing and storytelling are the most constant way by which I exercise my creative muscle. And in Peterson’s words I find a new calling—even a personal prayer—related to those endeavors. May I continue to grow into a storyteller who values and demonstrates the sacred art of language, the beauty revealed through original insight and twist of phrase, and revulsion of the “flat.” May I dream to create that which “dazzles”!

 

Cultivating Creativity

As a member of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild (MCWG), I enjoy attending the organization’s monthly meetings for inspiration and accountability in my writing practice. However, more often than not, the subject matter applies to all of my creative endeavors. The most recent meeting was no different.

Michelle Rayburn, a published author and accomplished editor from Wisconsin, presented our group with “50 Ways to Cultivate Creativity.” About a dozen of those ideas applied to how “to handle a momentary lapse of creativity;” the rest dealt with “cultivating a lifestyle of creativity.” Rayburn encouraged us to record the ideas that resonated most with us; I ended up with nine that I hope—no, that I plan—to implement:

Idea 1: Create an atmosphere that inspires me.
Private. Bright. Functional. Orderly. These are a few of the qualities that make a space more inviting, comfortable and creativity-inducing for me. My husband and I talked this past summer about creating a space for art and writing, but were devising plans for our basement. After further contemplation, we agreed that the space needs to be upstairs with more natural light, less clutter, etc. The guest room it is! As a first step in the room’s transformation, we’re in the market for a murphy bed to help free up that space.

Idea 2: Switch between projects.
This seems like a no brainer: If I get frustrated or altogether stuck, work on something else. I’m never short of project ideas, so I hope to fight the hesitation to begin another one when the first is only half done. Guilt, be gone!

Idea 3: Have someone hold me to a deadline.
As a writer by trade, I know the power of a deadline, but it’s time to start applying the concept to other aspirations. For example, I’d love to have an entire book written over the next three years. It seems totally doable, but I know that some personal accountability is in order to help me through the paces. It might be time to return to a critique group, which in years past, compelled me to always have new material ready for each meeting.

Idea 4: Develop a creativity ritual.
I’m a morning person by nature, I know that for sure, but I’d love to get even more in tune with when I’m especially creative during the day and capitalize on that rhythm. The trick? Carving that time out on my calendar and making a standing appointment with myself to write, paint, and create in all sorts of different ways.

Idea 5: Practice spiritual discipline.
I am committed to growing in my faith every day and in all areas of life, but I’m yet to land on a routine that I stick to every day and in all areas of life. Of course, getting too legalistic about it will do me no good, but being very intentional about how I relate with the God I love and follow should be my top priority. I believe that relationship should, does, and will guide all I do, including writing and the making of art.

Idea 6: Get away for artist’s retreats on a regular basis.
I simply don’t “get” the folks who are totally void of creative ideas—my problem is exactly the opposite: sooooo many. Some dedicated time away to work on my growing list seems like a good way to make some progress on it.

Idea 7: Accrue vacation time.
In my day job, I’m a freelance writer. That means no PTO. Sure, I’ve taken days off and travelled here and there, but I’ve never thought about compensating myself through my own vacation time program of sorts. It’s time!

Idea 8: Remember that what I love or what I want to do is not a reward for doing what I don’t like to do.
This is indeed a creativity-robbing mindset for me, to think all the crappy housework and other demands need to get done before I sit down with my writing, an art project, a good book, etc. This idea is going to take some work, nothing short of brain surgery, but it seems like a healthier way to handle projects.

Idea 9: Use my cell phone more for recording ideas—set up Siri to document my ideas on the spot.
It frustrates me to no end when I know I had a great idea and it slips away. I’m not totally tied to my cell phone like some, but I like the idea of using it as a tool for capturing ideas in the car or anywhere on the run. I’m hoping Siri can help me do that very thing.

Are these ideas doable? Too ambitious? Time will tell, but I figure even if I adopt just one or two of these new habits, I’ve made some progress. Stay tuned!

 

What I Did This Summer

A number of months have passed since my last post, but I wouldn’t say it’s been any kind of lazy-days vacation; I’ve continued to enjoy my adventures in creative discovery and dabbling. Here are my top 5 artistic memories from Summer 2018:

Writers Workshop at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts – For its third year, Banfill-Locke hosted its writers workshop, this time around the theme “Tending Your Word Garden.” Through three breakout sessions, plus a collective reading at the end, I enjoyed fellowship with other writers, tested out some new techniques, heard some great work, and shared some of my own attempts from the day.

Art-a-Whirl – Wow! WOW! How did I not hear of this event before? Throughout Northeast Minneapolis, hundreds of art studios open their doors to the public. I didn’t take to the streets but spent all of my time in the Northrup King Building where floor upon floor is devoted to the making and selling of art. Before the next Art-a-Whirl next spring, I hope to go back to Northrup King on a first Thursday for a mini Art-a-Whirl.

“Loving Vincent” movie – I’m not sure how I came upon this film, but it was available at my public library and ended up being worth the watch. The storyline takes place a year after Vincent Van Gogh’s death and delves into his fragile mental health and strained relationships. But most fascinating is the fact that the entire movie is an oil painting in motion!

Crochet Along for a Cause – Led by Breann of Hooked on Homemade Happiness, hundreds of crocheters, including myself, are making “chemo caps” for people in cancer treatment. Every week for 14 weeks, Breann releases a pattern that we all try our hand at making in the colors of our choice. It’s fun to see all the different renditions posted on the group Facebook page.

Scarf selling at Banfill-Locke & Etsy – I finally got the ball rolling! Over the past several months, I’ve also crocheted dozens of thick and cozy infinity scarves—and now they’re officially for sale. The gift shop at Banfill-Locke is now carrying a few of these pieces, and my new Etsy shop, “By Hand by Barb,” is open for business. Watch for more products to be added over the coming months as I continue to claim my place and share my voice in the world of art!

Conclusions on Collage

Collage

The beginnings of “Consider” & “Wither”

It’s been a week since my husband and I attended a collages class together. Since then I’ve had some time to process the experience and to experiment on my own. Here are some of my key observations and learnings from the past several days…

Artists aren’t necessarily teachers
That’s apparent no matter their talent. I would even wager to guess that the more talent they have, the less effective they are in the classroom; perhaps they’ve achieved success by a certain standard, so works of another creative bent or caliber might not be seen as worthwhile or up to par. Don’t get me wrong, they’re often the right people from whom to learn new techniques. However, these aren’t always the people who are generous with applause or encouragement, no matter how far we rookies have come in applying ourselves or how unique our views on and expressions of the world. That’s my perception of artists turned art instructors these days anyway; I might sing a different tune after I attend another class.

I don’t like to wait
The techniques we learned in class took some patience. First, there was waiting for background paint to dry, then the substance we used to do image transfers. After all that, we had to rub and wipe, then rub and wipe some more and again and again to release the paper upon which the image transfer originated. This kind of start-stop-start-stop approach to art seems to prevent entrance into my best creative zone. In all honesty, I detest it.

I dig contemplative collage
So here’s the bottom line… Though the methods we learned in class are probably seen as more prestigious or professional, I have a fondness for good old-fashioned paper collage: taking images from old magazines and other sources, cutting them apart, and creating a whole new scene with the bits and pieces.

Over the past few days, I’ve started two collages: one currently titled “Consider” and inspired by Luke 12:27, and the other currently titled “Wither” and inspired by Isaiah 40:8. I love starting with something to contemplate, then turning it around in my heart and mind while hunting for images that seem to resonate with it. In other words, this kind of art-making gets me into “the zone.” This is where I find joy and meaning. This is a how I expect I’ll continue to grow and learn most as an artist and human being.