Friday, October 29, 2010

Encourage each other and build each other up!

Very encouraging teacher, Timothy Horn.
by Kate Merriman

OK, since I just posted about a Zen experience, let's mix it up!  (And don't worry, no particular religious view is required here, just finding these inputs inspiring my thoughts about art and creativity.)  This was a verse that I got from the Salvation Army (somehow) and that I had taped to my car's dashboard for years. 
From Thessalonians:  "Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Simple, eh?  Yet, not so common in real life. 

But when that uncommon spirit of encouragement and generosity happen with a group of artists, sparks fly, courage grows, art expands!

When I moved to Texas, I knew just about no one except a few coworkers.  Luckily, I did a little Googling and found the Plein Air Austin group.  At that point, I didn't really consider plein air or landscape really "my thing" but I did know that I wanted to meet some fellow painters and that plein air practice always honed my painting skill overall.  So I signed up and put a paint-out on my calendar.

Well, I stumbled into just that uncommon and delightful kind of group that does share, does encourage and has a thriving, contributing membership as a result.  On my first paint-out, it was the very simplest things that made a big difference: Laurel Daniel made time to come over and introduce herself, having spotted me as someone new.  Huge!   Others were welcoming and happy to talk about how and what they were painting.  The vibe was "come on down, no matter your skill level, and let's learn and enjoy together."

Groups where the opposite attitude prevails tend, in my experience, to wither away.  I've been reading "Linchpin" by Seth Godin and am loving his emphasis on how a generous-hearted, fearless attitude gets you everything but a poverty mentality (can't give you anything because then there will be less for me) shuts you down.  Same thing as Paul was saying (I think) to his buddies in Thessaloniki.

So, my points are these:

1 - take the time to find a group that has this generous spirit, even if the discipline or focus isn't what you thought you needed or wanted.
2 - if you are part of a group, reach out to newcomers, be generous with your encouragement.  Don't think of inspiration or knowledge as something that will diminish if shared.  Think the opposite.  Especially if you are in a leadership spot, your attitude will make an enormous impact on all the group's activity; trust me!
3 - give yourself a job with the group so you are more likely to show up.  I know when I have a commitment to bring something or help out in some way, my obligation to others will stand strong where my duty to my own artistic self might be floudering.  Regularly scheduled art activity keeps me from sinking into too long a spell of creative blockage when I do have a spell.

Ideas for finding a group that might keep that creative juice flowing:

1 - Sign up for a workshop or class.  Introduce yourself to the people whose spirit and art attract you.  Ask them what groups they enjoy or recommend. 
2 - Google around for local plein air and sketching (or sketch crawl) groups.  Read their blogs or community posts.  You can often see a lot about the group that way, but go check it out in person too.
3 - Don't put up with energy vampires and wet blankets.  Just walk away.
4 - Start your own group!  My mother saw me posting about some sketch-crawl stuff we were doing in Austin and was bummed that there wasn't a group like that near her.  But just a few days later, she turned that around and created her own little group who still meet regularly and seem to be having a blast.  Go Mom!
5 - Check out "Meetup".  I haven't tried this myself yet, but might soon!
6 - Look at "Links".  Often, when I find an artist who has a great energy and passion for sharing about creativity and art, I can find a 'links' page on their blog or website.  Those links can be a good source for ways to connect with others.

Go artists!
-- Kate Merriman

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Your Uniqueness: or, Why You Don't Have to Try So Hard

by Kate Merriman

On a wonderful plein air weekend trip to the Pedernales River area of Texas with my wonderful painter buddy Robin Cheers, I relayed a story to her that she asked I try to write up for this blog.

I'm not sure I can relay this so that it can be understood, but I will give it a try.

I think Robin and I were talking about that funny block we sometimes get when we see a subject we want to paint but the little inner gremlin says, "Well, why paint that?  You know that Penny Painter does paintings of (seashells / bank buildings / matchbooks) really well and all the time.  She's known for those.  The world doesn't need another painting of that same thing.  It's been DONE."

Sometimes, I have that gremlin try to convince me out of painting in that situation.  And often, remembering an experience I had at the Tassajara Zen Monastery on a beautiful meditation retreat can help me past it.  What's tricky is trying to put that experience into words, but again, I'm giving it a go.


We meditators were practicing some sitting and some paying attention in the zendo with teacher Ed Brown.  His wonderful sense of humor and lightness of spirit was lifting me all week.  Toward the end of our time of sitting quietly, one of the monks-in-training could be heard walking along the boardwalk just outside the zendo building and then ringing the gong that let all the kitchen helpers know it was time to start cooking dinner.

Ed mentioned this in the talk he gave us just after meditation.  He laughed and explained that although (and probably BECAUSE) the students ringing that gong were consciously stripping away personality and attempting to ring the bell with ultimate adherence to form, he could always tell exactly which student was ringing that gong.  Their true energy, absent the neurotic flourish of "personal form" that they might want to put into the gong ringing, remained.  Maybe I should not say "remained" but say "was made more apparent."

Shortly afterward, I was in a painting class led by the wonderful Gary Stutler at Napa Community College and the memory of the gong-ringer story resurfaced and suddenly made sense with art-making.  It was a thought perfectly aligned with some teaching that Gary was giving about how the energy of the artist shows up in every stroke - part of why he was recommending, for example, that we stand up and really move when we painted if we wanted a dynamic piece. 

So back to the painting of a seashell.  Let's say Penny Painter really does create wonderful paintings of seashells.  If you and Penny tried to paint the same shell with the same formal approach, same palette, same perspective, and if you and Penny let go of all clinging about inserting your "personalities" into that painting, it is clear that the true energy and essence of each of you would cause there to be two authentically interesting, unique paintings. 

Is that interesting enough to you to proceed with your painting?  If not, what else is motivating you to paint? 

Can you think of paintings you've seen where it seems the output of pure unique energy of a person, but seems also not muddied by "personality"?  Can you think of artworks where all you see is "personality"?  Are you drawn to one over the other?

Something to think about!

And hopefully, a story that can help nudge you over that "gremlin block" about uniqueness next time it comes up.

Go artists!
-- Kate Merriman

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Feeling uninspired? Has the joy of creating disappeared? You could be resisting a transition. You may fear losing collectors, fear rejections, or fear the unknown and the unfamiliar. More fearful than any of these is the truth that blocking yourself from experiencing the transition can drag you into lethargy and methodically dull work.

Consider transition an adventure. If you allow yourself to experiment with a new idea or direction, an “aha” moment can lead you into exciting creativity. Remember, it’s the ideas that the great artists were considering that inspired them to do great work. Artists can not live on technique alone. Be open to not just what you see with your eyes, but read about everything. Get out and talk with people. Travel to a new location. Hear some new music. Go to museums…and not just art museums. And when something hits you powerfully, allow yourself to sketch, paint, and ponder your way through to a new level of creativity. Consider transitions adventure; the possibilities are exciting!

-- Terri M Wells

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Challenge Yourself

I mentioned painting challenges in a previous post and have discovered a couple of open, online challenge groups that look pretty cool. Sometimes we just need an idea or a seed to spark our creative spirit. Seeing or trying something different is a good trick to get yourself back to work.
Check these out -

Virtual Paint Out
Monthly Painting Challenge
100 Paintings Challenge
Street View PaintOFF

-- Robin

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From

Pretty cool promotion for a new book by Steven Johnson -

Enjoy your weekend and may your ideas flow and connect.
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