Tagged forest for the trees

Keeping in Mind the Old Tropes From New Age Days

I spent some time in my twenties involved in various mystical pursuits. They didn’t go very far, but some principles I thought were useful, and so I kept them even when I dropped the rest of the woo.

One of those is that when you feel you’re standing still, you’re actually growing more than in times of great excitement and action. The concept is similar to that of exercise is general, that training is growth, the competition is when you put that growth to use.

If you feel at all stagnant, do keep this in mind. As long as you’re still working, there’s growth even when it feels like you’re standing still.

The Critical Voice

I see it a lot watching music videos on YouTube or Twitter, comments deriding an imperfect performance or comparing musicians. It’s not that anybody’s above criticism, but it takes less effort to dismiss art than to look deeper than the surface.

It works for painting or visual art of other kinds, too. Things get tricky underneath. Things get weird. There’s subtext, technique, subtleties of all kinds.

Sometimes we get sloppy, sometimes we flub it. But it’s rewarding and helpful to look for the best of any work, to see what is done well or uniquely. Avoiding the bad is harder than trying for the good. It’s a new game that keeps me looking further.

Giving Due Thanks on a Designated Holiday

Gratitude is a common religious and/or spiritual practice around the world. Stepping back from your life and assessing the good things is sometimes even a helpful bit of balance. We’re often so close to the things we do every day, it can be hard to see anything but that struggle. But there’s always more.

I’m able to indulge in this work in part because of where I live and the family I was born into. It’s never been wealth, but neither extreme poverty, either. I have two healthy hands and a decent mind in a functioning brain. I’m luckier than everyone who was never born, and many who were.

I’m thankful that I can do this. I hope I can better my effort and time to improve the things I make.

The Haunting of the Season

Halloween never lasts long enough. I’m not much of a horror movie fan, but I like the idea of them, and am always up for a good one. More than that, I love the shift of light and life, when everything, well, falls.

Amidst the magic and spookiness that is the general tenor of autumn, I get restless, as if creating has kept pushing me forward, and I don’t quite know where I am.

The cusp of Thanksgiving (in the US) is a good time to look back a bit, to see where you’ve been and if you’re still on the path you should be. Art is tricky business. It’s holding onto water, trying to capture hints of smells on the street, stopping shadows and colors that change by the second. I always hope to keep moving, but nonetheless take time to look at the big picture. Focus can be isolating.

Figuring Out How Full the Glass Is

I did it again, left the blog too long and it was a little too late to post something yesterday. But it’s not that big a deal, I just resolve to be better in the future. Sometimes we miss.

I have a tendency to consider how much I haven’t done, rather than the opposite. But the only thing I think matters is what gets made. It doesn’t matter later what didn’t happen.

Optimist or pessimist, viewing how full my creative glass is misses the point most of the time. in the end, we only have this moment to make things and a possibility of making more in the future. What has passed can’t be re-lived. Recognizing I messed up a goal of mine—in this case daily blogging—is fine, as long as I leave it there and try again.

On the Street Where You Live

There are two pieces of media I think about when I ponder city life. there’s Rush’s “The Camera Eye,” where Neil Peart writes about how there’s

… a quality of light unique to every city’s streets

(1981)

and this is strangely true, and clearer the more I’ve traveled. Each city has a familiar rhythm and skeleton, but the light and the way it falls on everything is its own.

The other is Sesame Street. No place I’ve ever lived has generated as many parallel thoughts and connections to it as Portland, but there have always been some connections in every city I’ve called home.

The connections circle back to art and creation. We find inspiration in the work of others now more than ever, because of social media and the Internet itself. But there’s endless possibility right there on my street, in the ordinary stuff I encounter every day. The people, animals, vehicles, trees, buildings, sky, shadows. It’s easy to get overly familiar. But around the corner is some Snuffleupagus or Oscar the Grouch, a big, chunky letter A, that I haven’t really looked at before to see what makes it worthy of attention.

I try to remember whenever I can.

A Few Things I Love About Art

The photo above is number 799 in my camera roll. It’s an accident. I wasn’t trying to frame an image and pressed the shutter button by mistake. Is it art? It kind of is! It’s a pleasant minimalist composition. Art can be accidental, which is number 1.

Another 4:

  • It engages your sense while you make it and while you experience it, connecting artist and patron.
  • It makes us consider alternative interpretations of the world.
  • Few are famous enough to make a living at it, but everyone can do it.
  • There’s just. So. Much. Left. If ever I find myself thinking everything’s been tried, there are no new directions to explore, I’ll chance upon something unexpectedly weird, or watch kids draw. There’s always possibility.

Enhance, Zoom, Enhance, Crop, Saturate, Brighten

It’s standard practice to enhance photos for social media. Some rebel, using #nofilter to indicate a shot straight from the straight from the lens with no embellishments or alterations.

I don’t, however, adhere to the same practice in my drawing and painting very often. Though I find many initial sketches to have life and power, I spend a lot of time refining drawings on top of or referencing them, fussing with paint for hours, erasing, redrawing, slowly putting lines and shading in.

If I had more confidence, maybe I’d make the best sketches and spontaneous drawings my work. But I’m trying to get the life out of the thumbnail, to extract and apply its loose coolness into a refined piece. It’s a bit like rewriting: the first idea may be strong, but it has limitations, too. It’s the difference between a funny anecdote and a comedy film. Ideas are sometimes worth refinement.

Everything Is Both Good and Bad, Perspective Matters

I’m writing this from the bus, on my way to my day job. It’s a decent one, with some benefits and good cow-orkers. The only drawback is that it takes me and my focus away from art and writing.

I love the eternal struggle with art, puzzling out ways to bring vague ideas and feelings into perceivable forms, digital and physical. But it’s isolating and insular. If I stay inside too long, I don’t have the human input I believe enhances and sustains us.

Both sides of work have their gifts. Both have their own downsides. But together, they give me things I wouldn’t have with just one. Most of life is similar, very few events and things are all good or all bad. Even in terrible situations good can be had. The ideal job can have moments of tragedy.

It’s easy to label situations and things with a simple word. But we can look deeply. See a bigger view.

Periodic Be Kind to Yourself Post

Unless you’ve just forgiven yourself for failing to do something you’d determined to start, or lapsing on a new habit, or any similar creative project, it’s time to do so.

It is very easy to beat yourself up about failure. Today, give yourself a break. It’s okay to have failed or fallen short of your ideal.

The only snag is that—like forgiveness—you want to see resolve to change going forward.

And if you haven’t failed? It’s time to acknowledge how far you’ve come and be content. Be kind. Progress and skill aren’t served well by self-flagellation. Good job, you.