On Being Productive

I meant to post this in January.

But I do not respond well to deadlines. When I was a child, I liked making schedules but never followed them. In fact, I enjoyed breaking my own rules.

I am now old enough to internalize my anxiety… but this is what gives me hope. I still genuinely care.

I care to be productive… and I believe it is possible to avoid the feeling that I am wasting my time.

I am not proposing anything that has to do with discipline. I am saying I think I can harness the anxiety I feel and channel it into being productive.

Much like “tracking.”

I keep a daily dairy, where I make note of very specific things. If I do anything that goes towards my YouTube channel, for example, I write it in blue. If I don’t see any writing in blue for a couple of days, I start to wonder about myself and where my life is going.

In the last few months, I believe I have been more productive than I would’ve been if I did not keep a diary. (Sorry, though, for being away from this blog… for anyone still out there who might read this.)

I have a 40 hour work week, which only allows me to do creative work a couple of hours in the morning on weekdays and a few hours each day on my days off. This adds to my sense of impending doom, as I know that if I don’t get something done the first couple of hours of the day, I will not get anything done that entire day.

This usually leads me to do something, even if it’s a very small task.

~^..^~

This past year, I’ve been having a lot of fun buying new supplies, and I spent time swatching watercolors and experimenting with them in my scketchbooks. I did this with no plan, no intention of working on any long term goals. I just wanted to play.

In October, I tried to surreptitiously edge myself into a sort of discipline. I participated in Inktober and painted 13 glorious birds. I learned a lot. I also felt exhausted and after a couple of attempts, I actually have yet to go back and finish the sketchbook.

I tried drawing each bird realistically, and then treated the brush the way I would a pencil, like I was still drawing and not painting.

Each bird showed me where I am, technically, and how I much I need to learn about perspective and proportions.

I know I have a lot to learn. But, honestly, it’s not the fun part of painting… and while I develop my skills, I want to continue to have fun.

Can I do both?

Of course. The fun part is being creative.

Even though I may be drawing something mundane, there is my way of drawing that something.

While experimenting with the colors, I have to think about which colors look good together and how I might apply them and what marks I can make.  

I found myself thinking of mundane scenes recently and how I could compose them.

There is the mood the color palette would help to create. There is line quality and how they might flow on the surface. There may be something happening or something is about to happen.

Overall, I think I am moving towards storytelling. Which is very vague… but I think I’m naturally moving on from just painting a figure with no context. I learned that this is not fun… for me…

What’s fun is telling the story the subject is in.

I know this is a matter of taste. This is the direction I find myself going towards and I understand this is a personal journey…

… and that’s all… Each day, I believe I am stepping towards something… even though it may not be clear today what that is.

Value and Ego

Writers have the power to create meaning. Each word is a concept and the use of the word — on a communal level — helps us develop the concept by how we use the word.

Writers can elicit emotions and that has value for the emotion and its potential influence. Influence can have a bearing on the tangible, but looking at the value of the tangible, I wonder about  value itself.

Is value real?

Looking at the little things one day, I see value.

Looking at the same little things another day, I don’t see value, and the lack of value helps me see the role I had in what I saw before.

This feels like a matter of psychology.

I think I see what I want to see.

Most days I see the good.

Other days, it’s easier if I did not have the tangible in front of me. It’s easier if I could only imagine what it would feel like to have them. I could imagine that they or some other thing could bring me joy.

But that’s pessimistic. Why focus on the lack of something? Why not focus on the good?  If you see value in X, even if it’s only on some days, then X can have value. It is, then, a matter of psychology.

I feel like I am chasing a high, and when it’s gone, I feel like I am only looking for the next thing that can amuse me.

If this is a matter of psychology, then what I say might not have value to anyone else, and I want others to see what I see.

I want to see something that is true.

I wonder if I’m looking for something to believe in.

Or does the desire for others to see what I see stem from something else… validation? Verification? Some sense of unification or a desire for reliability… to know that not everything has to change so much and so often.  

Some days, my work will not leave me with a high but only the work itself.

The challenge is to continue with the work and seeing the value in the work.

It shouldn’t feel like work. No, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. If I say “work,” I can mean it is born out of or elicits a sense of discipline. Saying “X feels like a chore” is not like saying “while doing X I feel a sense of discipline”

Does “sense of discipline” go back to self-worth?

If you start taking pride in having a sense of discipline and it has become a way for you to see yourself, then it has become a matter of ego. If you are guided by a sense of discipline and  it’s just a feeling born out of the rhythm of the routine, then it is a part of one’s quality of life.

I sound like somebody consumed by her ego, and that’s sad given how little I have to show for it.

But why do I fault myself for this?

It’s a distraction.

So? What if I can still get the work done?

It’s not just about being productive or what I produce. I am also working on becoming a better human being.

But isn’t one’s concern over being a better human being a matter of ego?

I want to work on myself and do so not for the sake of feeling proud.

Hmm… maybe I have a problem with how chasing the feeling of pride can feel like chasing another high.

It feels superficial.

It feels like it’s only for the sake of how one feels and that can change day by day.

This is a part of a small series of posts, called Notes for a Younger Self. I’ve edited them to make them more cohesive.

Van Gogh and Nature

Van Gogh: Master Draughtsman by Sjraar Van Heugten

Looking at my previous post, I realize I may have been looking for discussions about style in a book that focuses on technique. On the other hand, I’m not sure you can discuss a person’s style without reducing it to an artist’s technique or without resorting to another approach.

For Van Gogh, I am inclined to look through the lens of psychology. Van Gogh’s father was a pastor and Van Gogh himself wanted to join the clergy for a short time, and knowing this, I cannot help but interpret his drawings as being imbued with religious or spiritual connotations.1 

He may have also suffered from manic-depressive disorder, and maybe I’m letting this color my view of him as well, but I think it’s thus fitting that he personified his surroundings. When he described the fields in Drenthe at sunset, he was rather poetic.

“… ‘when a poor little figure is moving through the twilight — when that vast sun-scorched earth stands out darkly against the lilac hues of the evening sky, and the very last little dark-blue line at the horizon separates the earth from the sky — that same irritatingly monotonous spot can be as sublime as a Jules Dupre.’”2 (47)

Everything is animated and I think how he saw the world informed him of how he conveyed the beauty of it to his audience.

When looking at his drawing, Pollard Birches (1884), I was inclined to look too closely at the details and glossed over how the lines work in concert, how they move the eye up from the ground to the sky. He struck a very neat or ‘perfect’ balance between the horizontal lines keeping one’s view of the trees steady and their branches reaching vertically above and between the horizontal line of the horizon and the lines of the grass guiding one’s eyes away from the base of the drawing toward the branches of the trees.

Meanwhile, there are two human figures standing apart from each other while among the trees. The trees are more than them, while they and the trees are all apart of their greater, natural surroundings.

Heugten describes Pollard Birches as “one of the best examples of the soulful character Van Gogh was capable of injecting into his landscapes…; he felt a great sympathy for these pruned trees with their striking, somewhat melancholy appearance.” (61)

It’s hard to say what is “soulful,” visually, and what is melancholy, but if I do not think of the work in a way that leads me back to thinking about people or the artist himself or myself, I lose sight of a major part of what’s beautiful about the work .

When we are in nature, we can see that aesthetic appreciation need not be in terms of oneself or ourselves. It can be about our natural habitat, about the ‘other’ beyond oneself, beyond human civilization. When looking at Van Gogh’s drawings, however, I am not appreciating nature but what the artist wanted to express with his depictions of nature. Maybe how he felt about the trees or his relationship to them or maybe how he saw himself vis a vis his own life.

——————————–

1 I wish I could compare this to a less biased view but I had known this about him before seeing his drawings for the first time.

2 This is from a letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, but I’m quoting it second hand from Heugten’s book. Heugten in turn took quotes from De brievan van Vincent van Gogh, ed Han van Crimpen and Monique Berends-Albert, 4 vols., The Hague 1990; and The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, 3 vols., Greenwich (Conn.), 1958

Heugten, Sjraar, et al. Van Gogh: master Draughtsman. Harry N Abrams, Inc, 2005, pp 47, 61

On the Subject of Style

I wanted to talk about style but quickly realized I couldn’t make any generalizations, because it’s so personal and subjective. Instead, I found myself looking at where I am as an artist.

I

I wrote the following description of my work a few months ago and it still holds true.

I like to look at what the most basic component of a drawing can do. EG, flow of a line or variations in line quality. There is often an interaction between two or more components: between the colors of each and/or how each occupies space. There may be a definable subject, like a vase or flowers. But I’m not exploring what an actual vase or flower looks like. I am exploring what the elements that compose the subject can do: the style of line, how it depicts the subject, how it may vary in what emotions it may elicit from the style itself.

When I consider color, I want the surface to get as much attention as the medium. So how smooth or textured a surface is can influence what medium I choose. It becomes one component that can interact with other components of the work.

Overall, my drawings are a meditative process as I mark the surface line by line. It is about interactions as much as it about rhythm.

It’s good to explore, but I think style goes beyond this; also, I might maintain some intent for a handful of works but then I’ll move on to something else. So my attempt at writing an artist statement above may have been premature.

Maybe a sense of style will reveal itself after a culmination of many works over time. It may require I get some distance from my work to see what path I’ve been on.

II

I’ve been thinking about how to create mood, and I find that watercolor helps me express a mood I currently enjoy as artist and audience. It’s often where I am or where I want to be, mentally.

I created color cards the other day, and the process of simply applying the medium to a surface was soothing and showed me the potential for larger works.

Color Cards for E-Sumi watercolor series Shadow Black by Boku Undo

I also created cards for washes of Lipton Black Tea and Sencha Green Tea. Lipton Tea is an old favorite while Sencha barely showed even after six washes.

I am looking for mediums that can produce a soft and subtle tone, although I say this while reading a book on Van Gogh as Master Draughtsman, whose use of oils were suitable for something more aggressive and exalting.

I mention him here only because I know I can admire his work while knowing I do not make the same choices for my own work as he had for his. I think it’s important to develop a sense of what your choices will be. I don’t want to reduce the creative process to a matter of taste, because one’s approach and intent also influence one’s choices, but at the same time I am guided by my sense of taste with almost every choice I make in the creation of a work.

Oasis (2020)

III

I want to go beyond relying on “intuition” and have a better sense of what I’m doing.

I think I may have been confusing intuition with taste.

Intuition, I believe, is the subconscious culling lessons learned and applying knowledge I might not be conscious of, while taste is a matter of what is pleasing to me. The latter is a product of my personal experience and my current frame of mind.

IV  

I’ve been breaking down the idea of being creatively blocked, at least for myself. I had to first see my overall work as going beyond any individual work. Being aware of my own frame of mind helps me change my approach from following how I feel intuitively to being conscious of the idea I’m responding to, asking questions and observing the idea at play.

Seeing my creative process as a way to explore, I had a silly notion that the more I know the less creative I would be. I say silly because I couldn’t possibly run out of things to explore. Moreover, being creative is equally driven by a desire to express oneself.

I think about how artists might go through multiple phases throughout one’s career, and I don’t think a change in one’s approach or intent for one’s work will necessarily change one’s style; although having seen more and learned more, one’s style might evolve.

When thinking about the style of a given artist, I ask myself, Do I see the same artist in one’s early work as I do in one’s later work?

V

It is important to know what I want to get out of being creative.

Overall, being creative is a way for me to think freely, and to do this, I have to see more and know more. I have to live my life. I have to engage with the world around me.

Of course, I don’t have to do everything all at once. I can manage my creative impulses on my own terms.

I believe there is a balance between engaging with others and being honest with what one shares.