There are times in my life when everything seems to be a crazy ball of chaos. Take now, for example. Ha.. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’ve been hearing this from many friends lately, too. And we could use whatever type of metaphor that fits: a roller coaster, that sort of thing. Something that contains ups as well as downs, maybe some twists and turns, and all else in between. When I feel this way, I still have to get things done, but I can choose to selectively hibernate from other things. I’ve found that my sketchbooks have been so helpful for me in this way. I do meditate, and many times, I treat the times I use to draw in my sketchbook as a means of meditation.
I think it’s important to be realistic about including all of what’s going on and taking the time to sort it out, even when there are deadlines to be met. Maybe that’s why the very nature of my process seems to include the unexpected along with the deliberate. In doing the work – the painting, the illustrations, the ideation – I tend to utilize both the exploration into unknown as well as the familiar. For me, this ties into remaining patient. To be aware that these things are always there. The unknown and the familiar. That awareness keeps me grounded and helps me remain patient during times when all else might have me scrambling to retreat somewhere far away from everything. I can’t retreat entirely. It’s not possible, especially with deadlines to meet and bills to pay. Besides, that balance of it all is what life is. If we really stopped to think about how chaotic the very nature of our existence is, it would be pretty intense and undoubtedly overwhelming. So.. bits of short retreats help. I do those daily, and often times, it’s a diving into my sketchbook for a little while here and there.
These moments are key to helping the rest of my work go more smoothly as well. Short breaks to meditate and sketch have to be a part of the day in order for the the work I have on my plate to sort itself out too – no matter how busy I am and how much work I have on my plate. A lot of times, the work I do in my sketchbook is an answer to what I might be trying to figure out in a painting I’m working on or a group of illustrations I’m in the middle of. The sketchbook is a conversation – a dialog with the pages, a reciprocity. Sketching is a way of posing a question in the form of making marks and allowing for a response, new possibilities, new ways of responding and creating. It’s a working through of things. It’s an exploration of ways to communicate through imagery, and ways to find the means or medium that would work well to indicate that pictorial communication.
I write a lot too, and I’ve found that the balance of writing and sketching is a great way of working things through. A lot of times, the subjects I tend to write about are responses to what’s happening around me. It’s most times just for me, as a way to help me sort things out. Sometimes, my writing may be just lists of visuals and memories. And then I find the words I’ve written combined with the sketches I’d done around the same time tend to inform the painting I’m working on. Really, they’re all informing one another – because, truly, they’re all going through the same filter: me. This definitely requires patience and being present. To be aware of my surroundings and allow for them to come out naturally as I’m sketching, painting, or writing. In this case, it’s not a photographic snapshot of it, but a representation of the memory that was evoked by depicting a mood it created or a visual cue or note as a response to it using the medium I sketch or take notes with.
I can look back at a group of paintings and remember distinctly what was happening at that time of my life, even if the paintings aren’t necessarily obviously depicting those personal events or feelings. I can also see bits of memories as far back as my childhood in the abstract areas – a combination of all things from back then to now, converging in one image. This happens in my personal work as well as the illustration work I do. It’s inevitable, and I tend to not fight it. It’s just how I’ve always been.
I think it’s pretty clear when taking a look at my work that it tends to exemplify all of this (for instance, see my article Stories Of Real Life And Overcoming Adversity here), but in this case I’ll use my painting, The Rune Writer (see below), as just one example. It was done around the same time as I’d written two free-form phrase poems/lists (see below), and the sketches I’ve posted here in this article were mostly all done around the same time. I’ve no doubt they’re all informing each other, though they weren’t done to necessarily accompany one another. I wrote the lists as reminders to myself of good things I cherish about these moments in my life, one being from my childhood and one being from my current life. Both are lists of daily and/or familiar things to me, and these lists came very easily and quickly, as they are basically listing some of the simple things I love in my surroundings, as a reminder to myself of what’s good. These lists may not be ‘poetically correct,’ but *correctness* wasn’t the goal. I’ve found that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, taking a few minutes to write a list of good things in my life (past and/or present) really helps to get through it sometimes. In these lists below, I refer to the runes as an example of the magic of memories – of what these simple things will always bring me, and that they will always be there. Basically, I’m the one who’s placed them there (symbolically speaking), for myself to find them later. It’s a reminder that there are things all around us that can inspire us, but we have to be open to finding them and then commit them to memory in order to utilize them later when we need them.
Old Runes in The Field
Through the dry grass off the beaten path
Under a canopy of branches
A ladder of wooden planks and a treehouse
A small rune is there on the trunk of an old oak
At the bank across the pond
A peacock’s tail makes rings that expand
I skip a tiny rock to answer back
A small rune is there on the hardened dirt
I hum and play the piano in the air to remember
Something that will play itself out later
The river is just down the path
A small rune is there on a wooden stump
Worms and tadpoles at the pond’s edge
Moss floats on the still water’s surface
In my pockets I carry magic stones
A small rune is there on a broken concrete wall
A hawk circles above and calls out
Then a rustle in the weeds near my feet
Dry cracked pathways converge
A small rune is there on an old empty sign
The river water is rushing up ahead
A snake along the edge of the dirt path
Cliffs above the trees across the water
A small rune is there on the face of the cliffside
The sitting rock waits for me there
Rushing water soothes my busy mind
Time stands still
And a small rune is always there.
New Runes Among the Canyons
Trees that sway outside my window
Lizards that change colors
A melancholy duo of piano and violin
A small rune is there, scratched into the desktop
A day-long drive for a short adventure
Light through the trees, orange around the edges
Sprinklers in the golden hour
A small rune is there on the abandoned house wall
Sunset over the ocean water
On the fringes, the convergence of sky and water at twilight
Crashing waves and wind in my hair
A small rune is there drawn in the sand
Crows in the yard and hawks on the fence
The peacocks call, coyotes run across the path
A smile from a neighbor and his friendly dog
A small rune is there in the trail of a snail
Cats on the bookcase sharing an avocado
Early morning fog and chickens clucking
Playing with an old worn paintbrush in a cardboard box
A small rune is there in the torn edges
Clouds in the shape of all of the things in my mind
The flooded pathway after a long day of rain
Bees and hummingbirds in the backyard flowers
A small rune is there on the terra cotta pots
Notes pinned to the edges of my easel
Music that floats across the lofted ceiling
Morning phone calls and letters that appear from thin air
Time stands still.
And a small rune is always there.
So.. this (all of the above) is one of my ways of remaining patient and resilient when I feel like things are really chaotic. To welcome it all in, and let it filter through me. This way of working may not be for everyone, but I’ve found it works well for me. It’s really become the very nature of how I work and it fits my temperament. I think it’s important to find that sense of our own filter in our search for whatever it is we may be searching for. How we fit among it all, and how we make our way through it and swim along with it. And this shows itself in all ways we function, not only in our art, but in everything we do. None of it is separate. It all goes together. And it’s essential to our workflow as well as our wellbeing.
I hope you’re able to take a few minutes to make a short list of some good things, and to try sketching about them too, if you can. To not necessarily sketch from direct observation, but to just see what comes out when you think of these things. Have a great day!