Not being much for pranks, I’m cheerfully indulging myself in yet more gorgeous weather and pleasant mental ramblings:
I think I’ve discovered the three things which help me stay happiest with my life. Curiously, I’d not previously mentally verbalized them, and it wasn’t until I read someone else speaking of them that I realized this was what worked for me too:
- Time spent in nature,
- paying attention to my dreams, and
- writing (or some other creative outlet) — at least a little bit, every day.
Spending time in nature gives me time to think in a peaceful and lovely environment — a place where I can actually sort of hear myself think. I remember talking to a friend of mine recently whose iPod had broken. He was surprised to realize he’d been shorting himself ‘mental relaxation’ time; he used to daydream in the time he’d filled up with his iPod. He hadn’t realized that, though. He’d simply been listening to more and more things: music, audiobooks, podcasts, and more. He said it was a curious relief to have time during the day to dream; to have a moment or three when his head wasn’t constantly filled with noise.
That’s what I mean when I say I want to be able to hear myself think. I don’t do multi-tasking, and in my experience no one human really does — or can. Oh, there are those who think they do, but from what I’ve seen, what they’re actually doing is two or more things poorly and slowly, rather than one thing at a time with swift and pleasurable competence.
Secondly, paying attention to my dreams has become an enormously useful shorthand for me into what’s currently bothering me, or not. Admittedly, the dreams don’t always make perfect sense, but they do give me a moment to sort of poke around in my non-conscious mind: to check and see how things are going, and to make sure everything is fine. If there’s something bothering me, this way I discover it before it becomes a huge issue — like the unpleasant project I mentioned finally handing off, yesterday. If I’m happy both consciously and non-consciously, though, then I can more easily be creative — and life just feels better that way. ;)
Finally, the creativity — such as writing — just gives me pleasure. I’ve written stories, poetry, blog entries, articles, a magazine column, bios, web content, research papers, my thesis… I’ve been happily writing for most of my life, in fact. It doesn’t have to be of any particular type beyond creative and self-expressive, but I love crafting sentences, selecting the perfect words for what I want to say, rolling them around in my head like a handful of evocatively lovely jewels. Piecing them together into a beautiful mosaic representing my thoughts is a personal joy.
I paint for the same reason. My topics — even the commission pieces — are all visuals which somehow speak to me. I don’t paint to be life-like; I paint to express my internal belief in the beauty and sacredness of Life. Most of my commissions for clients have been of a similar nature; I’m always thrilled to hear their excitement and joy upon receiving their tambourines. As one happily put it, I gave visual form to the goddess who danced constantly within her; another thanked me for so beautifully presenting her with the iconic symbols by which she lived her life. I love doing that! For me, that’s part of the reason I paint: to share with others in the joyous sacrality of life. Sappy, perhaps, but true. :)
I work most often with acrylics, painting on canvases or leather-headed tambourines or hard-molded plastic figurines — and I’ll likely try more surfaces as time passes. I use acrylics because they’re an easy medium to work with. They spread smoothly and richly, with lovely vibrant colors. They dry quickly, but you can still quickly wipe away a mistake with a damp rag. Also, they clean up easily afterward with just water and soap. I enjoy all the tools I use: all these surface materials take the (sometimes greater than lifelike) brilliance of the acrylics really well. I like the feel of the leather and the canvas — the soft bumpiness of texture and taut tension beneath my fingertips, with the occasional beautiful flaw in the cured leather.
Since I was asked, here’s my process: I arrive at my personal designs after some preparation. Laying out my tools is a pleasure: it sort of builds anticipation in me as I prepare to create beautifully — to effectively give birth to something new to me. First I lay out the paints, brushes, a drink for myself so I don’t have to stop in mid-creativity, any necessary dropcloths, a small jar of water (for the brushes, not to drink), and my intended canvas. After that I make sure my environment is airy, well-lit, and comfortable, and I turn on some pleasant and evocative music. Then I sit down, light a candle to my muse, and spend a few moments meditating, to come up with what I shall create. That usually gives me a visual to start from, and I’ll do a quick pencil sketch of what I want on my chosen ‘canvas.’ Then I squeeze out a little of the desired colors of paint, pick up my damp brush, dab them lightly in the paint… and begin Creation.
I’m afraid describing my artistic process in words does not do it justice; there is a feeling of impending pleasure, a small but growing excitement, which accompanies painting for me. I don’t know how to properly explain the tactile enjoyment, for example, of the smooth, slow, winding stroke of the brush on the surface, or the small touches of pride I feel when I notice how cleanly and beautifully the wet paint gleams precisely the way I want it.
It is in moments like that, that I find the supposed constant self-disparagement of the ‘true’ artist utterly unfathomable — can they not feel the joy of spontaneous creation? Do they not realize there is a perfection, a depthless beauty in any sincerely and heart-felt crafted goal? It all sounds a bit pretentious written up like this, but I’ve found if I think of it as magnificent and joyous, then it’s far more enjoyable and beautiful to do… and I can then better communicate through painted creativity.