Outside My Comfort Zone

Forced Out of My Comfort Zone: Incidental Findings

Incidental Findings

Incidental Findings

– My Comfort Zone Crumbles –

Nothing like a health scare to yank you out of your comfort zone.  A series of tangled, messy health issues, and a couple of major surgeries, hijacked my life force and creative energy.   Although, I’ve been teaching art and healing for over 20 years and making art for over 40, my “comfort zone” came to a screeching halt as I was consumed with all things medical.

Thankfully a year and a half later, I’m on the other side of the fear and physical aggravation, regaining my strength and finding my way into a new normal.  What I did not expect was how difficult the emotional and spiritual dimensions of recovery would be.  Stepping back into my creative process, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.  The aftermath is hard to sort out but it is nudging me towards a greater understanding of the uncertainties of life, my inevitable mortality and what matters most.

– Creativity Leads the Way –

Outside My Comfort Zone

Our workshop setting

As I begin to heal and reclaim my physical self, my right brain strangely did not feel at home in my studio.  In many ways, I am not who I was.  What I needed was a kick-ass jump start so I stepped outside of my creative comfort zone and signed up for a three day workshop taught by the abstract painter, Brucie Holler.  This evolving series of work, Incidental Findings, is what came out of that experience.

The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself…  Alan Alda

– Beginning Anew –

We began with thick chunky sticks of black charcoal – outside my comfort zone.   We drew blind contours of a huge still life set up in the middle of the room – certainly outside my comfort zone.

Following lines of interest and motivating shapes

Following lines of interest and motivating shapes

Using thick chunky sticks of black charcoal, I drew several awkward, clumsy blind contour drawings of a tabletop still-life.  If you are not familiar with the term blind contour drawing, it simply means that you draw the outer edge of the shape or object you are observing. You never look at your paper.  Your eyes and your hands become one.  Awkwardly, I fell into the process, slowly becoming absorbed in the process.  Time disappeared.  It felt really good.

Folding these sketches in half and then half again and then tearing them into quadrants was liberating.  I did not like my renderings – my mess of unwieldy lines and clunky shapes were cumbersome, and clumsy. Happily, I tossed them into the trashcan but no, it turns out these were to be the beginning, the starting point of our next drawings.

“Pick several and glue one on each sheet of paper.” she said.  “This will be where you will start from.  This is your beginning.”

It is a humbling experience to pick a single interesting line or a motivating shape and allow it to open the way.  Large, smooth surfaced papers taped up on the wall anxiously waited to receive my mark-making, my brush strokes, my doodles, my creative play…

Trusting the movement of the charcoal in my hand with nothing to guide it but how it felt in the moment, how it looked in relationship to what was placed before it.  With no outside visual reference but my response to what was already on the page – not within my comfort zone.  The process – excitingly mesmerizing.

I wrestled and struggled through but once I added color to these drawings they transformed into rich iconic abstractions and on the third day, this process already felt like a new home.

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These three days reinforced the importance of trusting there is great value in getting uncomfortably lost.  I learned when I allow myself to move beyond what I already know, I am free to make incidental findings and unintentionally discover where I just might need to go next.  My expanding comfort zone understands the importance of being open to newness, to risk, and to the things that occur merely by chance or without intention.

Ready for Exhibition

Creative Block: My Frozen Pile

Silencing our inner critic takes years of practice.

Silencing our inner critic takes years of practice.

My Creative Block, My Fierce Inner Critic usually shows up when I’m wearing too many hats and just squeezing in studio time between all the other demands of a wonderfully full and rich life.  It happens when I am worn down and bone tired.  When “The Funk” malaise settles in and my creativity becomes frozen. The voice of my Creative Block is tireless and repeats phrases like – “This stuff is crap and it is going to end up in the land fill anyway so why waste your time.  Do something productive.  This is all so self-indulgent.”  Behind this voice is fear of failure.

Life is too short to let fear makes decisions for you!

Life is too short to let fear make decisions for you!

If you haven’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book, Big Magic, she has a terrific section on all the negative things we say to ourselves that keep us frozen. Needless to say, when I find myself in this icy land of unworthiness, I get discouraged, and set aside whatever I am working on.  This usually makes matters worse because the creative process feeds me in a way that nothing else does.

I always return to my studio table in a terrible funk, wondering what on earth is wrong with me.  When I settle down into the process, I usually find my way into whatever prompted “the funk.”  When things are not quite speech ready, when the messiness of life rumbles just below the surface, my practice of art making usually rescues me.

Advice from Artists on How to Overcome Creative Block, Handle Criticism, and Nurture Your Sense of Self-Worth

Works-in-Progress: Frozen

Over the past year, I’ve created some artwork that I just couldn’t seem to finish. Creative block strikes again.  I refer to them as my frozen pile, my works-in-progress. There are a handful of encaustics that I just couldn’t quite wrap up, a few paintings needing something, and some mono-types begging for more attention.  Rilke’s words of wisdom became my creative mantra.

Creative Block

Waiting for some creative attention

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”

But the questions were going on way too long and I was becoming frustrated and blocked.  I felt frozen. Maybe the best place for these frustrated artworks was the sacred BONFIRE, something I have always wanted to do but haven’t had the nerve.  It seemed too murderous.

The Thaw Begins

Tibetan monks create sand mandala

Patient, focused, meditative process

My thaw began slowly in November when two Tibetan Buddhist Monks came to Columbia to create a Sand Mandala for Healing Icons 20th Anniversary.  Witnessing this incredibly patient and intricate process made me realize I simply needed more uninterrupted studio time.  My hummingbird approach to making art was just not working.  I needed larger chunks of devoted time.  I also fell in love with what they created.  The sand mandala of healing was full of vibrant colored, patterned symbols that literally pulsated with energy.  I wanted my art work to have that same life force.

 

Travel – Getting Outside My Normal

Moroccan Desert

Free spirited under azure skies and oh the sienna Sahara sand

My journey to Morocco, a couple weeks later, further enlivened my lackluster creative self.  As one who has always been filled with wanderlust, I love the challenge of stepping outside my comfort zone into a different kind of breathing space where my senses open into things I have never seen, smelled, heard or tasted before.  Morocco did not disappoint.

It is a country brimming with wild contrasts – the modern and the ancient living side by side.  The fortune tellers, magicians, gypsies, snake charmers, minstrels, and storytellers, live within “modern” Morocco.  The overwhelmingly chaotic serpentine souks (markets) of Marrakesh and Fez are the perfect fusion of color, energy and vibrancy.  It is palpable. My creative side was charmed, soul and spirit enchanted.

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Alchemy of Gold, Copper & Silver

When I returned to my frozen pile of Works-in-Progress, I knew that the end of 2015 had paved the way for me to breathe life into the unanswerable questions.  Gold, Copper and Silver leaf have become my saviors.

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Heidi Darr-Hope featured on SCETV's Original SC

SCETV: Original SC – Portrait of an Artist

Creating a 5 minute video portrait that sums up an artist’s work is not an easy task!   The creator of the SCETV series Original SC, Tabitha Safdi, does an extraordinary job of it.  I received an email from Tabitha the very first day of December. She had gotten wind of Healing Icons 20th Anniversary and wanted to meet me.  Well, I can’t even begin to tell you how over-the-top busy every single day of November was.

Crazy Wonderful November

For Vista Studios 25th anniversary exhibit, I collaborated with my grandson, Wyatt.

For Vista Studios 25th Anniversary Exhibit, I collaborated with my 3 year old grandson, Wyatt.

My final arts as healing workshop of the year was held on the 7th, the Tibetan monks who were here to create a Sand Mandala for our anniversary left on the 8th, Our Circles of Life Exhibition was dismantled on the 9th,  the studios where I practice making art, Vista Studios, opened its 25th anniversary exhibition on the 12th, and I left for Morocco on the 13th.  I returned from Morocco (more on that later) on the 22nd and left for Daufuski Island to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family on the 25th.  Ah, home sweet home on the last day of November.

When I spoke with Tabitha, I was assuming she would want to meet in January 2016.   Actually, she was hoping to air this series in January.  Yikes!  Deep breath!  Anxiety!  Deep Breath!

Let the Filming Begin

Holding an Intuitive Mandala Practice...

A small group of survivors gathered for an Intuitive Mandala Practice.

Tabitha and I met at my studio to chat.  She loved my creative space so we decided to do the filming there. A few days later she emailed me some interview questions to ponder.  Terror started to creep in – self-doubt and stage fright all rolled in together.  I called a handful of my students to see if they would participate.  Tuesday, December 8th, we spent the whole day filming.  You’d think that after the filming was done, my anxious mind could rest.  Oh no.  Now I worried that what I said was not good enough.  I’d wake up at night thinking – Why did I say that? I should have said this and I forgot to say…

Mind chatter at its best!

On Thursday February 3rd, this aired on SCETV’s Palmetto Scene. I am honored to be included in this series.

Original SC

Tabitha films our Intuitive Mandala Practice.

Tabitha films our Intuitive Mandala Practice.

Original SC features stories of everyday South Carolinians living, working and experiencing all that the Palmetto State has to offer.

“We could do a million stories on the beauty of this state, from the rolling mountains of the Upstate to the beautiful seas of the Low Country. Our state is truly unique, but what really makes South Carolina sweet is its amazing people.”

 

From our State Paper, an article featuring Vista Studios 25 anniversary.

Making Room for Art: Thank You Vista Studios

Vista Studio #2. Where I have been practicing art off and on for 25 years.

Vista Studio #2. Where I have been practicing art off and on for 25 years.

Vista Studios is my saving grace. There is no place like it.  In one stop, you can find 12 extraordinarily dedicated and talented artists.  We are multi-generational, men and women working in a variety of mediums. Having a studio there for almost 25 years, has afforded me two yearly exhibition opportunities – April’s Artista Vista and November’s Vista Lights.  For these two group exhibitions, the Vista Studios artists always hung fresh new art.  I said almost 25 years because when my two wonderful children where in their late teens, I wanted to witness every single minute of those wild and crazy jammed packed times!

Creating within an environment where, as fellow art-mate Stephen Chesley puts it, the art spirit lives has been nurturing, inspiring and encouraging.  Dedicating a life to the arts is not an easy path, so to be surrounded by other artists who get “it” is tremendous.

“Artists are sort of like priests. They’re supposed to bring something to the community … because they’re driven to,” added artist Yaghjian. “They offer insight and inspiration. And when a country or community doesn’t value that, it’s in danger of going all the way to commerce, all the way to business.”

2015 was an incredibly full year, most of which was spent getting my arms around how to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Healing Icons.  For the past 20 years, I have dedicated the majority of my time to developing and sustaining our mission to teach creativity as a form of stress reduction and healing to adult cancer patients.  With the help of an incredible board of directors, we pulled off a celebratory extravaganza for our community. But you can read more about all this in our Healing Icons Blog.

I am thankful to Vista Studios – to the art spirit that lives within the space and to my fellow artists.  You both keep me creating Art.

April’s Artista Vista: Gossip

A detail of Out on a Limb, the art work I created for our Vista Studios Artista Vista Exhibition: Gossip.

A detail of Out on a Limb, the art work I created for our Vista Studios Artista Vista Exhibition: Gossip.

Deciding on the themes for our exhibitions always prompts great lively conversation.  This time we decided to play the game of Gossip, but instead of passing a phrase around in whispers, we passed around our own artworks.  The circle started with Charles Courtney Curran’s painting “Sunset, The Envious Fox,” that was currently on exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art.  Chief Curator of the CMA, Will South, selected the piece that started our game,  Eileen Blythe started. No one else saw the piece from the museum and all the subsequent creations were held in secret until the work was hung.  She passed her’s to Michel who passed hers to David who passed his to Pat who passed her’s to Laura who passed her’s to me…and so forth.  Suzan Lentz did a great explanation of all this on her blog so follow this link if you’d like to see all of the Gossip.

I sat with Laura Spong’s painting for quite sometimes, not knowing where or how to start.  Her non-objective painting style, meaning she really does not want you to see any physically identifiable things in her work, was challenging.  I wanted to absorb her creative process and respond to it through my creative process.  I decided I would make a list of words that her painting elicited for me.

Vista Studios Gossip Game, #5, Laura Spong.

Vista Studios Gossip Game, Laura Spong’s painting that i responded to. Can you see the “musical Note” area I am referring to?

Primitive.  Aboriginal.  Intuitive.  Bold.  Earth. Questioning.  Conversational. Lyrical.  Dance. Arc.  Freedom.  Flight.  Blocks.  Steps.  Movement.  Wind.

In the middle, right hand side were marks that did not remind me of Laura’s typical mark-making. They looked like musical notes blowing in the wind. I had an unfinished monoprint so I began making marks with black ink, colored pencils and some paint.

Out on a Limb. What I created, responding to Laura's artwork. Can you see the influence?

Out on a Limb. What I created, responding to Laura’s artwork. Can you see the influence?

As usual, when I feel the work is completed, I sit with the image for awhile.  Then I take a couple of deep breaths and begin writing directly onto the piece.  I am always amazed.

 

Out on a Limb

She had gone out on a limb before
But somehow she had lost her confidence,
Fearful of taking the risks
Her heart longed for
But today something shifted and she knew
It was time for a change,
Time to leap, to take the risk.

November’s Vista Lights:
Vista [email protected]: New and Collaborative Work

Announcing Vista Studios@25. Love this crazy photo The State Newspaper took!

Announcing our Vista Lights Exhibition: Vista [email protected] Love this crazy photo The State Newspaper took!

 

Wyatt and I were ready to jump in and create!

Wyatt and I were ready to jump in and create!

 

In keeping with the theme of my current series of work, I decided to go Out On A Limb and ask my 3 year old grandson to be my collaborator for this exhibit.

I have been creating art for over 40 years and he is just beginning.  Of course, he has had the preschool kind of art but not a real studio experience and he wants nothing to do with Crayons. Instead, he prefers all things that his Nana uses.
We have been playing with wide markers and thick graphite pencils, drawing fast lines, slow lines, thick curvy lines, quiet lines and very loud lines.  We laugh and giggle at the shapes that our lines create and many times are very serious about what shows up on the paper.  I love to watch as he loads the wide bristled brushes with paint and with focused attention glides the brush across the paper hesitating a bit as the color bumps into his drawn lines and shapes.  He has been playing with painting on his drawings, and drawing on his paintings.
Creating for the joy of it, the two of us just getting lost in the process and seeing where it leads.

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My paintings and mixed media mono-types along side Wyatt's paintings.

My paintings and mixed media mono-types along side Wyatt’s paintings.

Other Creative Musings: Shoes for O’Keeffe

2015 marks the 100th year since Georgia O’Keeffe’s formative time and experiences as a professor of art at Columbia College.  My father, Guthrie Darr, taught in the music department at Columbia College for 44 years, and during my undergraduate studies, I spent a couple of years there in the art department.  So when Judy Hubbard asked me to brainstorm with her about her upcoming “O’Keeffe” exhibition at Columbia College, I was thrilled. Judy and I have been pals for around 30 years.  We know each other well, can say anything to each other so when she a we had a blast. What Judy created, with a little help from her friends, was a true gift to our community!

Me and My O'Keeffe Shoes

Me and My O’Keeffe Shoes

 

Envisioning O’Keeffe, is the title Judy gave to her installation.  The exhibition features more than 50 pairs of shoes transformed by South Carolina women of all ages.   All of the artistic interpretations are inspired by O’Keeffe’s journey and legacy.

IMG_1433

“I was inspired by the compassionate letter that 26 year old  Frida Kahlo wrote to 46 year old Georgia O’Keeffe in 1933.  Depressed and brutally exhausted from not being able to complete a commission, Georgia was put on bed rest and ordered not to paint for an entire year.  Frida understood her angst and through the art of the written word expressed her support for the tenderness of creative spirit!

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”

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End Note: Saving the Sad Note for Last

You might have noticed earlier that I used the words has been, well yes, this, our 26th year will be our last.  Our building will become something else in 2017.  Our landlords have been kind and generous and supportive for over a quarter of a century and that is something to be thankful for.  Once a warehouse district that no one wanted to traverse, The Vista is now brimming with boutique hotels, restaurants, bars, and retail shops.
Me and My O'Keeffe Shoes

Creative Musings: Shoes for O’Keeffe

2015 marks the year! 100 years ago Georgia O’Keeffe was a professor of art at Columbia College.  She was a focused and self-supporting twenty-eight year old when she arrived in Columbia, SC.  It is here where she planted the seeds for her mature abstract expressionist style.  My community is celebrating her creative period at Columbia College with a year of city wide offerings.

My father, Guthrie Darr, taught in the music department at Columbia College for 44 years, and during my undergraduate studies, I spent a couple of years there in the art department.  So when Judy Hubbard asked me to brainstorm with her about her upcoming “O’Keeffe” exhibition at Columbia College, I was thrilled. Judy and I have been pals for around 30 years.  We know each other well, can say anything to each other so when she a we had a blast.

What Judy created, with a little help from her friends, was a true gift to our community!

 

Me and My O'Keeffe Shoes

Me and My O’Keeffe Shoes

 

Envisioning O’Keeffe, is the title Judy gave to her installation.  The exhibition features more than 50 pairs of shoes transformed by South Carolina women of all ages.   All of the artistic interpretations are inspired by O’Keeffe’s journey and legacy.

 

IMG_1433

Envisioning O’Keeffe, Installation by Judy Hubbard

“I was inspired by the compassionate letter that 26 year old  Frida Kahlo wrote to 46 year old Georgia O’Keeffe in 1933.  Depressed and brutally exhausted from not being able to complete a commission, Georgia was put on bed rest and ordered not to paint for an entire year.  Frida understood her angst and through the art of the written word expressed her support for the tenderness of creative spirit!

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”

Frida Kahlo wrote a compassionate letter to Georgia O'Keeffe in 1933

Frida Kahlo wrote a compassionate letter to Georgia O’Keeffe in 1933.

 

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Thanks to Judy Hubbard for the opportunity to be a small part of “Envisioning O’Keeffe.”

Share your thoughts, your reflections…