Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Witnessing a Miracle of Nature

     Mark and I (and Magnolia the Magnificent, our Shih-tzu) were privileged to witness a miracle of nature this past weekend--newly hatched baby sea turtles scurrying to the ocean. Since I seldom go to the beach without a camera, usually for taking painting reference photos, I was able to snap a few pictures, including my size seven, medium foot in some to show how small these babies are. After a few photos, I was happier to simply watch in awe as the turtles scampered by.

     Sea turtles often hatch at night, when it is safer from most predators, but these emerged before 8 p.m. We are thankful they did, because being present was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Onlookers waved birds away as dozens--perhaps almost 100--little turtles headed straight for the ocean. They were quite fast, and overcame most obstacles. Even a footprint in the sand can create a mound more like a huge dune for these little ones, but they steadfastly kept on going--over, around, whatever it took. If they flipped over, they waved their legs awhile, but usually needed to extend their long necks and flip themselves right side up with their heads. Although we are not supposed to touch them, some onlookers couldn't resist "helping" the turtles who seemed to be in trouble. It is particularly amazing that they knew which way to go from their nest well above the high tide line because it was still light enough out that their usual guidance system of going toward to lightest area (at night, the glow of the water) would have been weak.

      If you would like to know more about these amazing animals, now a protected species given the steep drop in their numbers, here is one interesting web site. I am awed and thankful to have been present to see in person what we had only watched on TV before. That Saturday evening is now in my memory bank along with other remarkable scenes I can call to mind when I need a lift--or anytime I begin to recall the multitude of experiences of nature I am thankful for.
Question of the day: What unique, remarkable experiences of nature live in your thankfulness memory bank?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Encouragement of Past Achievements

     In the previous post, I mentioned having hit a fallow time in my painting. Browsing images of some of my past paintings was helpful--especially the works that were most difficult to complete. The dune bridge piece pictured here was very stubborn and resisted my efforts to produce a harmonious composition for some time. Looking at it now and recalling the many wrong turns I took in painting "Spring Breeze" reminded me of the wisdom of the saying "this too shall pass". I have felt reluctant to paint, unproductive, and just plain unable before. So, feeling that way should not be scary now and certainly is no excuse for hopelessness. 

     Linda Blondheim's e-critique service helped me rescue this piece from what seemed like an impossible mess. Some of the fixes she suggested did not work; others were ideal. Some of the adjustments I tried on my own were helpful; others were disastrous. But, with persistence, the sort of painting I envisioned creating finally emerged. In the visual arts, some revisions can't be evaluated until you see them in relation to everything else in the composition. Fortunately,  acrylic paints permit painting out unsatisfactory areas and covering them with new shapes, colors, and forms. I would be lost without the possibility of "do-overs".

     The main problem with what you might call the "first draft" was a lack of balance, I think. Keeping the viewer returning to a central focal point gives a work its power, and the wildflowers competed with the foot bridge for awhile. Also, being too literal about the slope of the dunes I had photographed for reference left me with too little variation in the line of the dunes. Since the horizon is inescapably straight, I needed to exaggerate the height of the left side dune and add more undulations to the dune outline (without overdoing it) as a contrast to that straight line. One trick I used to "try on" various dune lines was to cut a paper outline and tape it over the piece--then a different outline, etc., until it looked about right. 

     So, looking back on creative challenges I have faced and coped with in the past helped me get past the funky time and get back to work. "Spring Breeze" and other works remind me of the inevitable ups and downs of the creative process. This is not the first time I have felt as though I have forgotten how to paint, nor will it be the last time. All I need to remember is that the frustration has always been a temporary speed bump and that with faith and patience, the joy of creating will return.
Question of the day: Can you recall a troublesome season you experienced that you were able to work through in time? Can you draw strength from those memories to help you face new challenges?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Handling A Fallow Time for Creativity

     A few weeks ago, I showed you this photo from our trip to Maryland and commented that the clouds to the north at this Chesapeake Bay park were a dramatic contrast to the clear sky to the south at the very same moment, shown in another photo on that post. Recently, my creative skies have been on the cloudy side. Not totally bleak, mind you; there had been plenty of beauty in life just as there is in this scene. However, the creative process--my painting in particular--had gone somewhat stale.

     During the last couple of weeks, I have not felt like painting, and when I forced myself to the easel, the results were not satisfying. In addition, instead of being relaxing and absorbing, the painting process felt tense and unproductive. I gained renewed admiration and respect for professional painters, writers, and many others who create for a living and do not have the option of taking a break from the process as I did. Their self-discipline is inspiring--and difficult to emulate.

     When farmers let fields lie fallow for a season, the soil can renew and the new crop planted afterwards is healthier and produces better. It is definitely too early to tell if my (relatively brief) fallow creative season will lead to anything remotely similar. The good news is that the lull is apparently past for now, and painting is fun again. I am working on several pieces that I will show Linda Blondheim soon via photo images for her illuminating e-critique response. Whatever blocked the creative painting process resulted in unsatisfactory efforts for a time, but now it feels as though I have pushed through those particular difficult areas and am moving forward. 

     Possible responses to fallow periods include spending time away from the activity, as I did, or trying an oblique approach to the work. I could have shifted to goal-free sketching or tried a series of brushwork or other basic exercises to loosen up and move on. That might have been better, but for some reason seemed too much "like work". I am fortunate and thankful that giving myself a break from painting helped me return with joy. It did require getting behind myself and pushing at first, but the fuzzy feeling has passed and the clouds are parting.
Question of the day: How have you coped with the inevitable enthusiasm gaps in your work or hobby activities?