Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

Know The Moment [on KS Friday]

“A work needs to relax toward finality. It cannot be pushed, it cannot be worried, it cannot be analyzed to completion. Pushing against the natural rhythms of creation will just churn up the waters. Clarity comes only when the waters settle and the air clears.” ~Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

Because I tend to speak in metaphors in a world enamored with goals, what I say often, at first, goes unheard. Skip is stewarding an amazing creation and has, from my perspective, just passed a significant milestone. I told him that, in working with many playwrights and painters and actors, there is an initial phase in every creative process in which the creator works for form. It’s like the tide going out, dumping everything down on the page to gather and find the story-form. Then, in a beautifully mysterious moment, the tide turns and finding form is no longer the intention. Clarity becomes the aim. Skip is a listener. Metaphors tossed into an analytic frame generally seem out of place or perhaps arrive too early to the party. But I’ve learned they are seeds that, when planted, begin to work their way up through the crusty soil.

John Guare said that a writer has to write ten bad pages to arrive at a single good page. The ten bad pages are the search for form. Reducing ten into an essence of one is the work of clarity. The phases, the exhale for form and the inhale of clarity, are two different yet interrelated energies.

When I am working on a canvas I might evolve the image for days. Sketching, painting, wiping, adjusting, wiping, sketching, painting. The search for form. Adding and subtracting. Moving the composition, tilting the symmetry. And then, something clicks and I know. The painting is formed and now the pursuit is to hold its hand and bring it into the light. Inhale.

Because my father recently passed, followed hard upon by my dear Ruby, I have been reviewing much of my life. Roger used to say that the first 30 years of life were about trying to become something and then, one day, you realize that you are that thing you were trying to become. The rest is learning how to be it. Searching for form. And then, clarifying. I think Roger was half-right. Becoming and being are cycles, not arrivals.

The cycles of my life are explicit. I enter into worlds that I know nothing about – either by accident or invitation. That I know nothing about the world is precisely why I’m invited in – or bumble in. I see it. I bring it metaphors. It is uncomfortable to not-know so I learn about the world as an outsider. It helps me see more clearly. I know the moment when form turns toward clarity. I see when the process roils into an eddy. I understand how to free stuck energy. I’m a midwife to creative process, a guide across unseen bridges.

We stood in the November sun admiring the giant flowers against the blue sky. I loved the idea that I was experiencing an ant’s view. These past many years I have been looking for the new form. Pushing. What was I? What am I now? And, in a beautifully mysterious moment, I realized that the tide was at long last coming in.

read Kerri’s blog post about GIANT FLOWERS

find Kerri’s music on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

Reach Purely [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Art, as best practiced and understood over the centuries, is a spiritual as much as technical pursuit.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

It was disconcerting. It still is. The illusion was so distinct that I had to show the book to Kerri and ask if she saw it, too. Each morning I read a few pages from Kent Nerburn’s book. This morning, in a chapter entitled The Divine Thread, I turned the page and a single paragraph, just a few sentences, was printed in a font twice the size as anything else on the page. I read it a few times since the author had given the section such obvious emphasis. After the I finished the chapter, I looked back to reread the oversized section – and it was printed in the same size font as everything else. It wasn’t emphasized at all. The shock of it made me dizzy.

“Art, however, does create this touch. It speaks in different voices, different rhythms, different languages. There is no place in the human heart it cannot reach.”

Paul taught his student-actors that they had an obligation to something greater. “When you choose to get on the stage, you have the power to impact other people’s lives. Do not take that responsibility lightly.” Your art, your creation, if purely intended, will reach the heart of another – purely. Even the loneliest painter knows the transcendence of the expansive energy that comes through in the moment of creation. Transcendence is all inclusive.

I have been humbled by the great artists I’ve known. Teachers, mentors, and others. I’ve been humbled by their humility. Tom, a brilliant director of plays and believer of possibility, influenced more artists than any person I know. He was tortured by the size and scope of his gift. At the end of his life, sitting before a fire in his cabin, he was, for a moment lost in thought. I watched his revelation come to the surface. He looked into his wine and said, “I think I did my best work when I was a just starting, when I was second grade teacher. It was pure imagination. I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that we could have fun telling stories and going on adventures where our imaginations led us. It was pure.”

I met a few teachers who’d been second grade students in that classroom of long ago. They told me that year changed their lives. They touched his heart and he touched theirs. Shrunken heads and planning expeditions to the Amazon. Maps and budgets and “What do we need to bring to survive?” They spent weeks preparing for “blind day,” an exploration of the world through the full scope of senses. “What could we learn if we didn’t rely on our sight? What would we need to prepare to help each other?” he asked. Pure.

For our wedding, Julia made for us a small box with a Klimt’sThe Kiss” decoupaged on the lid. Inside, she placed a few Euros. A metaphor. Great love as a container for great adventure. We placed the box in our sitting room in a spot where we see it everyday.

Kerri knelt on the dock to get this photograph of the water. “The color!” she gasped. Pull up an image of “The Kiss” – or any of Klimt’s paintings for a closer inspection and you’ll see this water pattern. Klimt might have painted it. He studied swirls in water, swimming color on the reflection of the surface. I’m certain of it.

Great love. Great adventure. Tom. Julia. Paul. Art that is pure. My head spins. There is no place in the human heart that art cannot reach.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

images of water © kerri sherwood 2021

Learn Where To Listen [on KS Friday]

“Her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be so she grew up to be the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” ~ Nikita Gill

A long time ago I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a young fox who had extraordinary abilities. Her talents made her an outlier in the pack, something strange, so they hammered her into compliance. She buried her gifts. The story is, of course, how she came to embrace her gifts despite the court of fox-public opinion.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” It is a lesson that every artist must learn. Do your work. YOUR work. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will walk by without a second glance. You can never determine what another person sees or thinks so waste no energy in that fruitless cause. Do your work.

It’s a tough lesson, a mammoth paradox, since we are, after all, a pack animal, a social being. An artist has no reason to work if there is no audience or community to receive the work. Traditionally, artists live on the edge of the community so they can both see in and express what they see but also serve as a channel to what lies beyond the spiritual perimeter. The tightrope walk is about belonging while marginalized enough to remain clear-sighted. The artist must step back from the painting in order to see it.

I’m enjoying a slow read through Kent Nerburn‘s book, Dancing With The Gods: Reflections On Life And Art. Master Miller recommended it and I’m finding the simple wisdom of an artist-elder a refreshing daily meditation. Were I to write a sequel to my long-ago-children’s-book, it would be about this: coming back to your gift is not a one-and-done affair. It is a cycle. We embrace it and run from it and embrace it and lose it and find it and smother it and resurrect it and step back and look at it. Again and again. To become the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, is not an achievement, an arrival platform, it is a relationship. Yes, with the community, but it is mostly a walk with your self and what lies beyond that spiritual perimeter. It is ongoing. Never static. Somedays you are the strongest of the strong. And, on other days, you are empty and weak. Full spectrum palette. The only way to know and reflect all of the colors of life is to experience them firsthand. And, so, it is imperative to learn where to listen, where to invest your tender care.

The gift grows as more colors enter the paint box.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HER MOTHER TOLD HER

Kerri’s albums are available in iTunes or streaming on Pandora

Lookit [on KS Friday]

“It was not that he had nothing to say, he just hadn’t realized that what he had to say was enough.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

Kerri practices what Kent Nerburn calls “the art of close inspection.” When we are on the trail or in the backyard or in the kitchen, she’ll suddenly jump, grab her camera, and take a shot of some gorgeous detail. A reflection. A flower. A texture. I would have walked by without ever noticing. She sees detail. And, she is never off duty; she is always looking. Seeing.

I know her images are authentic – meaning that she is not trying to “make art” or make grand statements or be clever – because she is tickled by what she captures. “Lookit!” she exclaims as she shows me the image. Her delight is as pure as her eye-for-composition.

When I moved to Wisconsin and put my studio in the basement, she’d take photos of my paintings. Never the full painting, always a detail. It unnerved me a bit because the composition of her detail-image was always much better than my composition of the full painting. “Lookit!” she’d say, showing me the image. We called them “morsels.” I started studying her morsel-shots. My musician-wife was a secret master of visual composition and I had much to learn. She encouraged me to take photos of my works-in-progress as a way of standing back from the painting, as a way of seeing what my eyes could no longer see.

I’ve been drawing cartoons for months. This series is special because it is simple, pared down. How much expression can I capture in a simple line – in fact, in the fewest lines possible? The art of close inspection is having an impact on me. I’m getting paid to draw this series and am fully aware that they might never see the light of day. And, it simply does not matter. I love them. I know they are pure because, with each new cartoon, I race down the stairs (my drafting table is upstairs) and say, “Lookit!” as I hand them over to Kerri to finish them with her photoshop magic. After she performs her magic, she brings the computer to me and says, “Lookit!” and I smile. “Doyoulikeit?’ she asks.

“Ilikeit.”

read Kerri’s blog post about FALL FLOWERS

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

you come to realize/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood