In the depths of troubling, disturbing times, finding inspiration feels hopelessly overwhelming. Darkness is casting its troubling shadow around the world. There are so many things to be upset and concerned about – So much anger – So much violence – So much distrust – So much frustration – So much division – So much disappointment – So much despair – So much inequity. I am distraught and overcome with grief. A sense of helplessness clouds my vision and I am uncertain of how I can make a difference. Finding inspiration seems irrelevant and making art seems trivial. This is a completely different feeling than experiencing creative block.
Rescued by Reading
Reading Mary Oliver’s newest book of selected essays, Upstream, I was struck by the following lines.
“Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest of respect.”
Ok, so my tiny nail in all of this overwhelming mess is to continue to make art, to continue to teach art making as a way to heal and grow and thrive, and to continue to build a community that embraces mindful art practices that ushers us all into living fully engaged lives. That is my job so I got to work. Thank you Mary Oliver for getting me out of my creative funk.
Finding Inspiration in Trusting the Process
I do not remember when I first painted a handful of white canvases black. But there they were stacked up in a corner of my studio. Unsure of how to start, I thought of painting them white again as there was already so much darkness consuming our world. Instead I ended up painting more canvases black. There was something that felt really good about that.
All year long, I’ve been breathing, thinking, and making mandalas. This is partly due to an on-line eCourse I’m developing. Creating Brave: Mindful Mandalas is an eight week class on how to use mandala-making as a form of stress reduction and healing.
But making mandalas is nothing new to me as I have been creating these circle drawings for my own private use for many years.
My mandala practice is a way for me to play, unplug, de-stress, unwind and get lost in the creative process. These small drawings are daily sketchbook doodles. Sometimes I use the app, Bamboo Paper, on my IPad to drawn them when I don’t have my supplies on hand. As I draw and scribble, thoughts come to mind and I write these down within the mandala.
I wander around in my brain. I release things. I discover things and I always feel better after I create one.
Now seemed like the time to take my private mandala practice into my public art making.
Mindful Mandalas: From Darkness into Light
I am used to staring at a blank white canvas or a white piece of thick paper, but this large black canvas, well I was at a loss of what materials to use and how to begin. So I sat for a day, just staring. Inspiration struck in the middle of the night – mark off the canvas with wide bands that can accept words. Begin by writing. Write whatever comes to mind and see where it leads. Use a white china marker.
I could not wait to get to the studio and begin.
The writing came easily as this is something I usually do within my art making practice but usually it is at the end of creating, not the beginning. I began with phrases such as ‘How do we go forward when….” or “So now is the time to…” Using the white waxy china marker to record my words made the letters seem more like marks and patterns than legible expressions.
The more I wrote, the more I had to say. There more I had to say, the more questions I had. Emotions emerged. Anger. Frustration. Betrayal. Fear. Hopelessness. Worry. Sadness. Embarrassment…
The late afternoon sun poured in through the tiny window of my studio, casting a beautiful pattern on the canvas. It was then that I decided to a draw a radiating mandala starting in the center of the canvas and work outward. As I began, I wove in and out of drawing and tracing the cast shadows.
Slowly I realized these patterns, these shadows were being cast by the prayer flags that grace my studio’s ceilings. I stopped, took a deep breath and looked around my studio. I saw Beauty. Courage. Protest. Confidence. Bravery. Perseverance. Hopefulness. Dedication. Education. Communication. Protection.
The times we are living in are ominously troubling. For now, I have found some creative inspiration in painting fierce light and color into the darkness. These paintings are a testament to the courage, and fortitude needed to face what is in front of us. Finding inspiration in troubling time is a matter of trust.
Where and how do you find creative inspiration in troubling times?