Category: Creativity

Just Move the Pen

I wrote that I’d like to publish a collection of poetry this year, so of course I need to start writing poetry regularly in order to make that happen.

I wrote two poems this fall, and haven’t moved the pen in that direction since. So one day last week I searched for poetry-writing exercises/prompts and saved a bunch of links to a folder on my bookmarks bar. This way, I wouldn’t have that hurdle the next time I’d try to write.

Finally, the other day I acted on my “10 minutes of writing poetry” to-do list item. Sitting down with the intention to write a poem will likely leave you frozen, so I sat down with the intention to do one of the prompts, that’s it. To get myself in the habit of regularly writing freely in this little notebook (from an issue of Flow), which I’ve dubbed my poetry notebook. To condition myself to be okay with writing shit on the page, so that better stuff can come later.

Although I never intended to show these pages with anyone, today I’m going to share what happened that day—as a reminder to myself of how ideas are born and why sitting to write anything for 10 minutes, no matter how “bad” it sounds, can be helpful to one’s creativity.

I went to the first link I had bookmarked and read the first prompt that appeared. Jennifer LoveGrove writes:

One that I’ve used from The Crafty Poet is where you choose a profession or worker of some kind – plumber, accountant, hairdresser, contractor, lawyer, whatever – then brainstorm a list of words associated with this job. I find nouns and verbs work best. The prompt suggests adding in some contrasting terms, which will add tension and depth later. Your title or starting point is to be “The ________________ said you need” and then you write from there, using your word list. My poem “The Mortgage Broker Asks for My Net Income from the Previous Year” in my recent book came out of this exercise.

I chose “teacher” and began to make a list of nouns, verbs, and some contrasting terms, writing whatever came to mind first:

Then on the left-hand page I wrote:

The teacher said you need to study
But I know you must also play

I continued on a new line:

Playing will teach you to share

But then I was bombarded with a bunch of other thoughts about sharing, that you’ll create and entertain yourself, too, plus all the other benefits of play. I noticed there was no rhyme scheme going on here, and I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But instead of halting and trying to write some “good” lines, I let my stream of consciousness continue:

and create and entertain yourself.
You’ll visit worlds never before seen
and

After writing “and,” my mind focused on “never before seen,” and flashed (you’ll see I never even finished the phrase) to the idea of a never-before-seen movie, a premiere. Almost instantaneously, my mind brought up the contrasting idea of painting a never-before-seen picture.

And then as if a water hydrant had cracked open, all of a sudden my pen began to spurt out a list of contrasting things to do, x or y, consume or create: scroll through memes or invent your own using a template, or even creating your own meme. To stare wistfully at a friend’s photo album from a trip to Costa Rica, or take a walk and marvel at nature’s beauties: a squirrel, a bird, a stone, a leaf.

After I had jotted those down, I turned to a fresh page and wrote this list:

Just like that, I now had the idea to write a poem that compares and contrasts different options of things to do—one which is an act of consumption and the other of creation. Its ideas of creation would hopefully inspire and prompt people to use their creativity immediately after reading.

Later I’ll go back to this list and start to make phrases, seeing what sort of structure the poem might take on.

But what’s important here is that it all began with an unrelated prompt about teaching, and allowing the pen to move. By not censoring myself and letting my pen write whatever words were coming to mind, I ended up drawing connections and now I have several ideas of possible poems to pursue!

I started with nothing, and in less than ten minutes I had ideas.

This is how it begins!

Just move the pen. This is how ideas are born.

Write anything and connections will be made, the mind will turn the soil, and with consistent practice shining down, over time, creations will bloom.

Just move the pen.

2017: The Year in Sketches

Five years back I was doing a “year in photos” post (2012 // 2013) in addition to my year in books. Since 2017 was my first full year of sketching, I thought I’d bring them all together and look back on the year through the lens of my sketchbook rather than my camera.

January

Above is my first sketch with Moment Sketchers, watching “Parenthood” on Netflix while sick in bed.

While waiting for my flight to Madrid in O’hare, backpack and personal compass in hand, I decided to do my first “out in public” sketch of the trip right there at the gate. I went to a nearby coffee shop and asked for a paper cup, then filled it up at a drinking fountain. I ended up using this very cup for water while painting throughout the following three months!

One day during my week-long Madrid visit I had a lunch and “blue wine” by myself at this restaurant, sketching the whole time I was there and finishing the painting later at the apartment.

This is a card I painted for a friend at Puerta de Alcalá—one of my favorite landmarks in Madrid. It’ll be fun to go back in the future and sketch it again, now that I have a full year under my belt.

February

At the start of the month I flew from Madrid to Naples, beginning my exploration of Italy.

I want to point out that above (and below too, actually—hah!) is an example of one of the sketches in my journal that I strongly dislike—it’s just displeasing for me to look at. That said, I enjoyed the afternoon I sat out on the balcony sketching this scene, which is why I’m sketching in the first place. To slow down and appreciate my surroundings and their corresponding moments, while slowly developing a new skill. Later on I’ll point out a few that I’m particularly pleased/proud of how they turned out, though the intention is always to enjoy the time spent playing with my watercolors.

Near the end of my stay in Naples I spent a day visiting Pompeii. When the week was over I headed to Rome.

After Rome I took the train to Florence, where I spent my next week tuning into smaller moments.

Above is another sketch I really don’t like to look at—but I can still remember that afternoon and the wander walking which brought me to this grassy side of the river. Plus, it’s the action of painting “messes” like these that moved me an inch further along towards “better looking” sketches. The only way out is through. To get better at something, you have to practice where you are now and keep going, even if your results aren’t pleasing to your eye. The act of sketching this scene still gave me experience looking at something and attempting to capture it in pen and watercolor. And it’s the accumulation of such experiences which helped me to paint some sketches I’m particularly proud of later on in the year.

Inspired by paintings in a watercolor journal I’d seen in a gift shop, I tried a new style in the sketch above, skipping the pencil and pen.

When the week was up I took a train to Bologna (where I puked for the first time—but not last—on these travels).

The above sketch is one I’m particularly fond of—both because I’m pleased with the result, and also because while sketching it I met a street poet who then introduced me to some of his friends at a nearby café: Urbana Cafe.

March

From Bologna I took a local train to tiny Dozza, where I worked on a small farm via HelpX for two weeks, in exchange for room and board.

When my farming days were up I took another train to Venice, where I’d spend my final week in Italy.

And then it was off to Munich to visit my friend Max.

Here’s the full story behind the above sketch, and below are two cute swings from Max’s kitchen.

And then I returned to Montpellier where I got to soak in the home comforts at Damien’s parents’ home.

One of my first days back—another Moment Sketchers weekend—allowed me to sketch at Parc du Peyrou, the very first place I’d sketched the day I bought my watercolors the previous fall. How fun to look back and compare!

April

This little sketch above is meaningful to me because it represents an inner shift that had taken place over the past few months, putting my creative pursuits first. That day Damien had to work on his motorcycle (or something), so I decided to take a walk in the nearby garrigue and paint. Later on I reflected that when we’d been together the previous year, I never went on a walk by myself to the beautiful nearby garrigue when we were at his parents’ home. Yet here we were with only a week together this visit, and I was happy spending my afternoon there painting and he was happy to bricoler. Often it’s going back to familiar places (home) and unconsciously breaking from old routines which shows me just how much things have changed underneath the surface.

Pooh Watercolor

I’m also proud of the above Pooh watercolor painting, made at the request of Damien’s mother for the nursery she runs out of her home. It was a moment where I could feel I was stretching myself by saying “yes”—stepping into uncharted territories: huge canvas, characters I hadn’t drawn before, knowing it would be on display—but saying “yes” was notably easier this time. (By this point I’d said “yes” to Giovanni in Florence when she’d asked me to paint her, sketched in public every place I’d visited, and continued to nurture a growth mindset when it came to painting. All of this came into play when I stepped up to the challenge and viewed Damien’s mother’s request as an invitation to try something on the border of my comfort zone.)

The very day she asked me about it, Damien and I took the tram into Montpellier to buy a big sheet of watercolor paper at an art shop and I ended up finishing the whole thing by nightfall. To go from “I’m not sure if I can do this” to “I did this!” in such a short timeframe—thanks to taking action—was quite powerful.

May

Once back in Wisconsin at the end of April, much of my time was spent working on the Trains on Main public art project, but May’s Moment Sketchers weekend got me out painting at a nearby park.

June

As you can see, it took the June Moment Sketchers weekend to break my month-long non-sketching streak. Thank you, Moment Sketchers community! Above you can see part of my garden, which was a defining element of my summer.

On a trip to Wausau to visit my great aunt Lois, she pulled out her chalks one night and gave my sister and I an art lesson. (Lois is an amazing oil painter and all-around artist.) Above is the fox I drew—another creation I’m proud of!

July

Painting my friend Chad’s niece (above) is when I created my 100 Portraits project—though again, it was a collection of moments (painting myself way back in January, saying “yes” to Giovanni’s portrait, etc.) which got the idea into my mind and propelled me to begin.

August

I made the above painting while putting together this site, specifically my Values page. It was quite impromptu—I just had the itch and put brush to paper—so I’m glad that I simply began creating before I had time to overthink anything, and I’m also pleased with the creation.

September

A new sketchbook came with me to Flagstaff, but with square pages to mix things up.

Here we go, above is another sketch I’m particularly not fond of, but once again, it brings to mind memories of sitting in the sun that day, soaking up live music, and browsing the art stands.

I worked on this desert sketch at a bar while friends gathered there to watch a football game. I don’t like football but I wanted to socialize, so this was a no-brainer for me. Especially after bringing my tiny watercolor kit everywhere with me since January, I didn’t think twice about painting during the game.

October

Orion

Charlie

The two portraits above, Orion and Charlie, are two I’m quite pleased with. They both turned out better than I expected (based on my past work and what each of these looked like at different points throughout the process), so that’s always a good feeling!

November

This Grand Canyon sketch fell on the “quick” side for me, since I started it in my tent one night (headlight on) with watercolors working from a picture, rather than sitting on site for 3-4 hours and beginning first with pencil and pen as I usually do. So I was surprised to receive comments on Instagram from the Moment Sketchers community with such high praise for this one. It’s interesting how your view of something as the creator can be quite different from how others view it; I’m open to it all.

Emilie

December

12-Hanna-Rose

I love this girl so much, but after I shared the portrait some family joked that she looked like an old woman. She’s 19 years old! (And cute!) I wondered aloud for a moment if I should take it off Instagram, not wanting to hurt her feelings or something with a less-than-stellar portrait.

But then my growth mindset regained control. (Phew.)

Painting this one was excellent practice. I learned to take more time getting the locations of facial features correct in pencil before jumping to pen (notably the eyes—they should be lower) and I enjoyed feeling gratitude towards Hanna Rose while painting her. And although I’m not over the moon with the final result, it’s loads better than I thought it would be (again, based on what it looked like during some earlier in-progress moments), so I’m proud of what I transformed it into. Finally, this is portrait #12/100! The twelfth watercolor portrait I’ve ever painted. Ever! So looking at it from that perspective, I have no reason to be anything but proud of this!

13-Colin

As if to prove that point (that the practice is helping), I was really satisfied with my next portrait of Colin.

At a dinner party in December, a friend asked if I would do a watercolor of his dog—my first commissioned piece, if you will. This was my first attempt, but I’m in the process of painting a second. My great aunt Lois helped me see that the right eye is in the wrong place, which is what throws it off. We spent the night before New Year’s Eve sketching this dog in pencil at her kitchen table, so that’ll be one of my first paintings of the new year.


Sketching has certainly been an integral part of this year, and I’m looking forward to painting even more in 2018!

What was integral to your year? Have you done any sketching/creating lately?

Christmas Poetry Project (+ Bamboo Toothbrushes)

My family typically doesn’t buy each other Christmas gifts—except for my parents, who would get stuff for us four kids—but this year we decided to start doing no gifts from anyone. We all have what we need and would rather spend time together playing games (or watching “The Office”) than to unwrap things our parents spent money on.

That said, since I had the two weeks before Christmas at home and the itch to create, I gave myself a mini-poetry project. I’d select a poem for each member of my family and gift it to them for Christmas.

This way, I’d be exposed to a greater number of poems during the selection process, helping me along on my poetry journey, while also spending $0 on homemade gifts. It was realistic and thus approachable.

I checked out a poetry anthology from the library and borrowed three other poetry collections from my grandma’s bookshelf:

Then I spent a few days browsing through all of them, looking for anything that reminded me of any of my five family members. I got most of my poems from “The Family Book of Best Loved Poems” (edited by David L. George), though I had some honorable mentions from all of the books.

After I had selected a poem for each family member, I wrote it out by hand on white card stock and then painted a watercolor border on watercolor paper. A little snip, snip, glue, glue, and they were done!

Here are the final poems:

Little Things

Life's Tests

Life

A Book by Emily Dickinson

A Prayer for Every Day

Everyone got a bamboo toothbrush from Mother’s Vault along with their poem, since I’d bought two 4-packs back in August before I moved to Arizona (specifically to give the extras out at Christmas).

For anyone who’s new to this idea, by the way, plastic toothbrushes will never biodegrade. Rather, they will fill our landfills and pollute our oceans. Here’s why bamboo is a fantastic alternative (from Mother’s Vault’s website):

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant with natural antimicrobial properties, making it the perfect material to use.  Our mao bamboo toothbrush is made from 100% real biodegradable bamboo, features BPA-free bristles and plastic free compostable packing. This means no plastic waste, no chemicals in your body and no waiting for trees to regrow.

That was the first time I’d ever bought a bamboo toothbrush, and after using it for the past three months, I’m definitely on board to stay bamboo!

Finally, I wrote out a poem for myself as well (while I was at it), featuring Mary Oliver’s “Moments.”

Moments by Mary Oliver

 

Have you given handmade gifts before? Are any of these poems familiar to you? Do any particularly resonate with you?

It’s Up to You…

My dad has been going through the file cabinets downstairs and today he handed me a file to toss or keep up in my room. They’re my old dental records—mostly bills and letters from my root canal and later orthodontics treatment.

I found a gem in that folder, though:

It’s a large booklet from my old orthodontist, which we probably received circa 2001. I don’t recall ever seeing it before, but the illustrations and text were entertaining enough that I wanted to share it here. Enjoy!

Finally, here’s the back cover:

And now that it’s documented here, I’ll be cutting up the illustrations for snail mail fun!

Creatives I’ve Supported in 2017

This year something that’s been on my mind more and more is how to support the creatives in my life and those whose work I’m a fan of. While you’ll see below that such loyalty is not limited to monetary support, I’ve been more aware of my purchasing power as well.

I’m getting a little better at checking Etsy when looking for a particular item/gift, rather than heading straight to Amazon (though Amazon is still very much a habit), and this fall I’ve been buying all of my painting supplies from a local art shop in Flagstaff.

It’s important for me to support the values I believe in—not just when it’s convenient for me. This means taking a closer look at my smaller, everyday actions—including purchases—and evaluating how well they align with my values. If we encourage and help the people who are bringing more kindness, creativity, and truth into the world, their impact will expand exponentially.

As I reflect on my year and this particular topic, the people below continue to pop up. I’m excited to share their work with you—because obviously I think they’re really cool people doing great things—but I’m also including some of my interactions with them. The purpose of sharing these is not to pat myself on the back, but rather to provide concrete ideas/examples of what support can look like.

Creatives I’ve Supported in 2017

Josh Lonsdale – Venice Walking Tour

Venice Walking Tour

While staying in Venice, I saw an event on Couchsurfing for a free walking tour, hosted by Josh. I’ve gone on many walking tours throughout my years of travel, but this was hands-down the best. Picture the Bill Bryson of walking tours. Josh was incredibly well spoken and pointed out such interesting details and nuggets of history that he had my full attention for the entire three hours. What a joy to experience that tour!

Surprisingly enough, this was only the second time he’d given the tour. Ever. He was trying it out via Couchsurfing to see if it’s something he could charge for, down the line. He accepted tips at the end, so I gave much more than I tip at “regular” walking tours. Then I gave him encouraging spoken words, assuring him that he could totally make a living doing this—the quality is superb.

When I got back to my hostel, I felt propelled to push him along even more, so I sent a message via Couchsurfing with some positive testimony, which he later used to advertise future walking tour events.

Kim Dinan – “The Yellow Envelope”

Kim Dinan - The Yellow Envelope

I’ve been a long-time reader of Kim’s blog, So Many Places, and thus a long-time fan of Kim. Naturally, then, I pre-ordered her book “The Yellow Envelope” late last year before it was released this April.

A few days after returning to the states this spring, I attended her book signing event at Barnes and Noble in Madison. I recommend the book to others and share her Yellow Envelope project on my site.

Meg Kissack – Couragemakers/That Hummingbird Life

Epic Shit Sessions - That Hummingbird Life

I hope you’ve heard me talk about The Couragemakers Podcast before, as it’s been a favorite of mine this year. To help support Meg’s fantastic podcast, I left a positive review on iTunes earlier in the year and often shared episodes via Twitter when I was active on the platform.

Since I align so well with her values and approaches, I also hired Meg as a mentor/coach for two of her “Epic Shit” session offerings: “Get Shit Rolling” (a brainstorming session for multi-passionate creatives) and “Get Shit Done” (an email accountability/encouragement experience). The (tangible) result? This very site! It was an even better experience than I could have imagined, and you can bet I provided feedback and testimony for this amazing Couragemaker.

Luke Thering – Musical Creations

Luke is my younger brother, a wonderful human being who plays piano (incredibly well) and composes (also incredibly well), among other actions. In past years I’ve supported him on Kickstarter and attended performances. What comes to mind right away for this past year was sharing two of his fun videos with others:

  • “Fire Sale” – Any “Arrested Development” fans out there should check this one out!
  • “My Best Friend” – In this video, Luke adds accompaniment to Key and Peele’s “best friend” comedy sketch

And while we’re on the topic, here’s a one-minute wintertime video that always brings a smile to my face:

Candace Rose Rardon – Moment Sketchers

Moment Sketchers

Another woman I’ve mentioned a lot this year is Candace Rose Rardon and her Moment Sketchers community (to which I belong). I support her by commenting on blog posts, sharing the community with others (writing about it, talking about it, inviting others to join me for the monthly sketch weekends), and encouraging fellow community members via Instagram comments.

James Hansen – FOUL The Webseries

A friend from high school is creating a webseries called “FOUL,” which he is funding thanks to Kickstarter. I was happy to contribute to the campaign when it was live.

 

Genevieve Lacombe – Atelier Art Postal

Genevieve Lacombe, a fellow Moment Sketcher, opened her Etsy shop this fall: Atelier Art Postal. I had lots of fun ordering and sending out the adorable postcards seen above. I left positive feedback on her Etsy page and shared the postcards on Instagram too.

Alexandra Franzen – “You’re Going to Survive”Alex Franzen You're Going to Survive

One of my favorite writers/humans/heroes, Alexandra Franzen, released a book this month: “You’re Going to Survive: True stories about adversity, rejection, defeat, terrible bosses, online trolls, 1-star Yelp reviews, and other soul-crushing experiences―and how to get through it”

I pre-ordered the book when she first announced it (the book just arrived a few days ago!) and I’ll be recommending it to anyone in need of her uplifting message.

Nicole Antoinette – Real Talk Radio

Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette

A podcast I’ve fallen in love with these past few months is Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette. She’s real-life friends with Alexandra Franzen (above), which is how I first learned of the podcast.

After listening to only a few episodes, it was an easy decision to make a pledge on Nicole’s Patreon page to help keep the podcast running.

Street Musicians/Poets/Bloggers

While traveling around Italy this spring, I tipped street musicians after enjoying their songs, and one afternoon in Bologna I “bought” a poem from an Italian street poet.

Online interactions with Matt Maldre reminded me how important it is to leave a comment on all blog posts I read—which I now try to do.

Celebrating Support Received

This year I’ve also been on the receiving end of such support. From a monetary view, I received $7 in tips from two people via Paypal donation (which I’d added to my Oh No She Madridn’t blog a few years ago—these are the first donations ever received) and I sold six copies of my Korean Food/Restaurant Guide on Gumroad. (Hooray!)

Just a few days ago this new blog received its first comment (thank you Eva!), and that’s definitely something to celebrate.

I have a folder on my desktop where I keep screenshots of tweets, emails, and other encouraging words from friends and fellow humans. I added several clips to this folder throughout the year and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed.

I appreciate the friends and family who came to the Trains on Main reception this summer, and all of the supportive words I’ve received—while travel sketching, speaking at the library, chatting with friends, via snail mail, etc.

How to Support Creatives in Your Life

As we move into the new year, I’ll keep an even closer eye out for ways to support the creatives I value. Remember, there are many ways to support creatives in your life—no matter how new/far they are on the journey. Here’s a starter list:

  • Comment on a blog post / Instagram post
  • Write a letter/email of encouragement
  • Recommend an encouraging book/post/podcast/community to your creative friend
  • Share one of their articles/creations/event info. on social media or by email
  • Send a gratitude or fan letter (here’s how to write a six-minute fan letter—see #1)
  • Support their Kickstarter
  • Pledge to support them via Patreon
  • Make a Paypal donation
  • Purchase one of their creations—for yourself or to give as a gift
  • Attend their shows/performances
  • Leave a positive review / offer testimony

 


Who do you support? How do you support creatives in your life? (Any more ideas I can add to this list?)