Creative soiree One 2016

After many requests to restart the creative soiree sessions I had organised last year, we finally had one yesterday. What a gathering- architects, documentary film makers, theatre artists, fine artists from six different countries or ethnicities (one from Homs, Syria). Some people had brought with them works of art and books that inspired them (Living out Loud by Keri Smith, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; and Harnessing your creativity by Twyla Tharp). People of different backgrounds and age range from 70s to 30s added to the diversity. Naturally, I asked whether the artists of 1960-70s were of as high calibre as contemporary creatives of today or whether we are seeing the very frightening times of permanent loss of creativity. Hence follows a very short summary of the four hour event.

The interview with Marwa Al- Sabouni, conducted via Skype started us off on the question of value of architecture. Does architecture allow us to be frivolous or is it generous? Is it a technical or a social art? Marwa, is a 34-year-old architect and mother of two, who lives in Homs where she was born, amidst some of the most vicious fighting that the Syrian civil war has seen. With her architect husband, she has opened a bookshop after their practice was shut in the conflict. Remarkably, amongst all this chaos and danger, she has written a book about her life with a preface by Roger Scruton. For someone living day to day (as she described), the charmingly calm and articulate Marwa, made it clear that she thinks that architecture must contribute to society. Unlike fine art, architecture has a purpose beyond beauty and though it must be beautiful; architecture must also help to solve the problems that the world faces. The genius is not separate from society.

Another aspect that came up was the concept of waiting for the inspiration, or waiting for the muse. Instead of waiting, as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has described one must meet the muse every day by showing up for work. Luck is about preparation or being ready to meet luck. To be prepared one must work every day, flex the creative muscles everyday- that is meeting the muse everyday, to show up for work. To capture one remarkable idea, one must prepare many. The pop artist, Prince, who died recently, came up as an inspiration- apparently there is a vault full of his work. He worked everyday and created many songs, not all of which saw the light of day. But the important thing was the creative practice in which he participated every day.

But it is not easy, given internal or external difficulties. But such difficulties also present opportunities and hone our creativity. Marwa’s external problems make it difficult but not impossible. David, a fine artist, who was a contemporary of David Hockney at the Royal College of Arts in the 1960s and taught art there and at Central St Martins, is colour blind. He described how as a child, when he drew a yellow cow, was told off by his art teacher, ‘Cows are not yellow!’ He persevered thanks to a supportive family. An enlightened teacher gave him his first commission, aged 12- to draw French gothic cathedrals. David brought in his black and white digital art- a new media in which he has now ventured in his seventies. Creativity evolves constantly. I was reminded of Hockney’s digital art made on his iPhone. What makes us less creative is fear. We need to believe we are fully creative, right now, wherever we are.

So in a way, creativity is about discovering yourself. As someone remarked, to be human is to be creative. But as a consequence of being creative, one will invariably fail as one tries different things. But as one only hears about successes, not failures, one imagines that the creative person got it right the first time. But in schools and further education, we are not taught the value of failure or even risk taking. We like safety, it seems, so it appears that our work has lost some of the edginess or even exploration. Ideas that are not used, bother us as they sit in the back of our minds as time passes. Artists, architects and other creative people took many risks in the 1960s and 1970s which saw the flowering of ideas. However, the world now presents many new problems- all of which need resourceful, innovative and creative solutions. So lets get out of our safety mode and experiment as much as we can. Creativity is not dying out, it is only transforming- that was our conclusion.

 

Travel drawings

Before the advent of digital cameras and the art of selfies, were the simple tools of sketching and notes.  Recently  I was looking at my quick sketches and paintings made in five different continents in the 1990s.  Most were made in no more than 15 minutes, and yet looking at them more than 20 years later, I can remember how I made the drawing, how hot/sunny or cold it was, how I was feeling and what the place felt like.  This can done even today.  It is sometimes good to get your head out of the camera and observe what is going on. Find a bit of time to sketch and paint. I used all sorts of things- one painting was done using cherry juice.  Travel is also time for creative rejuvenation!

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making portraits

Last week I finished my first portrait commission.  A good camera and a skilled photographer can take good photos of a person but when a portrait is commissioned, it needs to be much more than just a likeness.  Something extra is needed.  While trying to do this portrait, I found out that you need the eyes and mind of a child to look for details- the up or down turn of the mouth, the way the ears stick out, the hair line, the shape of the eye brows, shape of eyes, etc.  This can be much more important than getting hair and eye colours exactly right.  This was my first attempt and clearly did not look like the person I was drawing.

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After many attempts, this is what I got-

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Immediately you can tell the first one was not right at all!  The finished portrait was made with natural colours such as turmeric, coffee, onion skins and indigo along with pencils to reflect the personality of the man who likes spicy food and travel.  Hope the person likes it!

Tools of the trade

I have been recently looking into what computers can do for artists.  And so, I looked at ‘Photoshop’ from Adobe.  As an artist, I work in a similar way to Photoshop- altering colours, collage, cutting pasting, overlays of paint, etc.

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Playing around with it, I discovered that how ever good computers are, they can’t replicate the human eye, hand and most importantly the ‘creative mistakes’.  A little oddity, a tiny mistake, a misplaced drop of paint- these bring humanity to the work.  As the architect, Michael Graves wrote in the New York Times, “Drawings express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands…I have a real purpose in making each drawing, either to remember something or to study something. Each one is part of a process and not an end in itself.”

While a computer drawing of one thing will look the same if copied by many different people, the drawing made of something by one person will be unique.  So yes, computers have their use in replication but the human spirit has its unique creativity.  So for now, I will be sticking to my drawing instruments that include amongst other things, a tooth brush, comb, chop sticks, and sand.

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Five rules of being creative

I have been reading a lot about creative people and it struck me that they are not all how they are pictured to be- undisciplined, messy, chaotic and unreliable.  But these are just stereotypes.  Creatives come from all kinds of backgrounds, they may be women or men and from different religions and cultures.  However, what they have in common are these –

1. They are good observers– Creative people tend to see and hear things that others miss out.  This ability aids them in their creativity and work.

2. They are organised and tidy– they can find whatever they need and do what they need to do because they are organised and tidy.  By being like this, they can work at a good pace and without stressing themselves.

3. They are disciplined– They have schedules, which include times when they do creative things and other times when they do organised and boring stuff.  They recognise that in order to do the important stuff, they might have to do urgent stuff first to create space.  They don’t party all the time, they do it when they’ve finished their work.

4. They discard the shallow and go for the deep– they do the important stuff that only they can do, anything other minor stuff they drop.  Except housekeeping stuff that they need to do regularly so that it does not become urgent and disorganised.

5. They keep healthy– in order to be creative, they need to stay at peak condition.  Their work:life balance is good and they don’t spend hours working- they have fun too. They take breaks, exercise and eat healthily.

what creativity means to you and you

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Last week I attended an art workshop. Using materials and techniques I would not otherwise use, I created couple of large drawings.  Although my instinct is to go back to what I was doing before, yet by doing something different, I feel I have extended my creative limits.  I was like a child at this workshop, trying colours such as black and white spray paint and stencils- which I have not used before. I used calligraphic pens and rulers too- some new things for me.

Perhaps these things are not new to you.  The point that I am making is to try new things whenever you get a chance. Not only does it extend your repertoire but also tells you why you like what you do.  So now I realise why I paint the way I do- for instance, I like telling stories through my work so I use found objects, newspaper cuttings, cards and photographs.  This is one of my paintings below. It is called ‘Looking, Watching, Seeing’ about fear told through different events that happened in 1976-77.

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Creativity is the only thing that is a relationship between you and you.  Everything else is a relationship between you and someone else- and that relationship can be good or bad, depending upon you and another.  However, the relationship between you and you is only dependent upon one person- you.  It is the gift you give to yourself.  Whether your work is liked or you became rich through it, depends upon the relationship between you and someone else (the viewer/patron) but that is not in your gift.  It is beyond your control.  Your creativity is your gift to yourself, regardless of external gifts. So always gift yourself!

Creative Soiree 2

This are the conclusions from the last creative soiree I organised with the theme of ‘Overcoming barriers to creativity’.  This time participants had to bring in a recent piece of work- anything from poetry to sculpture. The idea was not to critique the work itself but for the person to describe how they overcame barriers in order to create that work. The evening kicked off with videos of Annie Fennymore and Sargy Mann (sadly recently passed away)- both blind artists, who have managed to overcome their physical limitations to create art. As a result of the discussion, we came up with a list of ‘tools’ that could be used to overcome barriers to creativity- whether internal (procrastination, self defeating thoughts, etc) or external (money, time, etc).

1. Use paper– Paul Klee said to take the line for a walk. When stuck in rut, use paper to think out ideas. An architect used CAD drawings to work out a circulation route in a complex plan by actually drawing on the plans.

2. Look and look– learn to look and observe without analysing or judging. Often looking at something like that opens up fresh ideas. A piece of sculpture brought by one of the participants was created by looking carefully and working on a single sheet of metal from all angles.

3. Tell a story– Each piece of work- written or artistic- connects to another person via a story. Traditional story tellers and balladeers knew that. Even architects can tell stories through their buildings. As long as we have experiences, we have a story to tell- said Sargy Mann. So use your experiences- good or bad- to connect with the world. Nothing need be a barrier.

4. Create constraints– By limiting resources or creating artificial constraints, one can be even more creative. Jackson Pollock (paint splashes and drips) and Jasper Johns (cross hatch series) both used this technique. A sculptor described how he used only one sheet of metal. A fine artist described how she used just one pint brush or one colour to create constraints.

5. Finally, organise yourself- In order to be creative, manage your time and money! Different people mentioned different barriers- money, work, time, children etc and how they overcome these issues in order to be creative.

A creative soiree

After perhaps too many years of thinking about this, I finally hosted a ‘creative soiree’ yesterday.  The idea was to get different kinds of creatives- artists, designers, poets, writers, photographers and dreamers- to come together to talk about creativity and the barriers they may face to realising their creative potential.  I was so pleased when many accepted.  As the tea and wine flowed and food warmed the cold evening, conversations also flowed and hearts warmed to each other’s experiences of creativity.  The talk ‘Pursuit of happiness’ by the late architect, Professor Libby Burton, that I have used on this blog site before, started off the evening.  From the theories of creativity to the work of creatives- such as the architects Peter Zumthor and Joseph Allen Stein, the Bauhaus, the artist Gerhard Richter, the gardener/blogger, Frances Bellord and Peter Fay, designer Bernard Newman, inspirational writer Julia Cameron and many others- an intense and in depth discussion of what it takes to be a ‘creative’ rather than a ‘technician’ followed.  Difficult as it was to fully document the evening, I have tried to put together some of the main points below-

1. Do something every day that expresses your creativity.  It could be even be a piece of early morning ‘Stream-of-consciousness writing’ as advised by Julia Cameron.  And don’t worry about what others think about your creation. Do it for yourself, not for others. If you don’t express yourself, then you de-value your life if you don’t use the gifts that you have. Remember who you are.  But one has to be disciplined enough to do this everyday in a self unconscious way.

2. Remember your creative self everyday.  You have a financial self that strives to earn to make a living so that you can put a roof over your head and put food into your mouth and you have a caring self that may be caring for others but do not forget that you also have a creative self too.  Try to go back to being a child sometime- being creative is about having a space for ‘play’ in your everyday life.  The daily grind, problems and deadlines may actually focus your creative energy.

3. It doesn’t matter if no one ‘gets’ your work!  Share your work, your talent.  Engage others in the process of creation.  Judgment, justification and self flagellation are the biggest obstacles to creativity.  We also had a lively debate about the ‘modern’ need to reference everything.  The great works of art we love starting from those flowing paintings made by cave dwellers (perhaps that would be called ‘naive art’ today), didn’t need to be referenced to something else- they were just pure creativity.  It is best to reference something after you have understood it perfectly yourself.

4. Produce lots of work and learn to ditch.  Careful editing, keeping of scrapbooks, digital photos of creating the work, thinking deeply about the process and documenting what works and what doesn’t makes the creative journey productive and interesting.  Forget the pursuit of perfection- walk away from it. Does everything have to be for one’s impending future success?

5. Get into the making. Get your hands dirty- by actually making it, writing it or painting it.  Without that actual feel of materials and how they come together, one can’t be creative.  That is why many projects fail because we thought too much without actually doing something!

PS- I am hoping to have more of these creative soirees and if you are in London and want to come, do let me know. 

acceptance and art

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I was very fortunate yesterday to hear Annie Fennymore speaking about her process of creating art.  Annie gradually went blind as a young woman until she lost her sight completely in her forties.  At the age of 49, she lost her grand daughter which turned to be the last straw but also proved to be the start of her career as an artist.  Her husband gave her some quick drying DIY putty and using the long ‘ropes’ made with putty, she created her first painting which she is holding in the above photograph.  This painting of a cottage is very simple, almost childlike-but for her this was a huge step forward.  In the years following, she developed her style to a mature style of abstract colourful paintings that she says reveal her passion and love for life.  She has exhibited all over the UK and has won awards including a commendation for Helen Keeler International awards.  A selection of her works are exhibited at the moment at the Moorfields eye hospital in London where I am am outpatient too, with my eye problems. Do go and visit if you can.

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Initially Annie depended on her memory for colours and shapes. Today she uses a number of electronic aids (colour identifiers) for the blind all of which have the software that converts all text into speech. These gadgets enable her to label her tubes of paint using a system which tells her the colour of the paint or the surface. She uses her finger tips to ‘paint’ on her colours after realising the painting in her head. Using ‘glue tack’ she outlines her painting just as someone would use a pencil and then she colours it in.  Annie jokes that her adorable guide dog, Amber, often emerges out of her studios covered in paint!  The drawing on the right is of Amber.  Annie uses putty, PVA, paper and even toilet paper to create textures on her paintings.  The painting on the left was made on driftwood.

I have written about ‘blind art’ before but Annie made me realise something very deep about being an artist.  She said that she accepted her situation, she did not fight it.  Instead she funnelled that energy into creativity.  Now, I have spent a lot of my life fighting for things, fighting on behalf of other people.  As I grow older and with increasing ill health, I see that sadly that energy could have been spent creatively instead.  However, it is never too late to learn.  Today, with great humbleness, I accept many of the situations I find myself and have decided to move on, concentrating instead on revealing my creativity and following my heart.  Thank you, Annie!

http://www.blindalleyart.co.uk/index.html

hanging a picture

I never knew how much deliberation and care would go into hanging a picture.  My friend had given a lovely chalk and pencil sketch to me as a present for my birthday in November.  But for nearly two months, it stayed under a desk while I looked at it daily and wondered where I would put it up.  The thing was that his style of drawing was very different to mine and I couldn’t see a way to put it up without a stylistic conflict.  It was not a huge ethical dilemma, a world changing event, it wasn’t something of even local importance but it became something deeply important to me.  I wanted to hang the picture to acknowledge his very personal and beautiful gift to me but without a conflict.  I wanted artistic harmony.  After all, even though I paint, I have never been able to give any of my paintings away, even though I have been asked many times- I am too close to them, it’s like losing a baby for me.  Sometimes, I even wondered if people would take a painting of mine and then throw it away.  They would be throwing a bit of me away.  Anyway, I think this is my struggle.  But I was deeply appreciative of my friends’s generous gesture.  So finally a couple of weeks ago, I decided to put it up.  It meant I had to move several of my own works as wall space has become very precious.  As I debated and adjusted, lifted, nailed, then took off everything again to do it again, it became like a Zen meditation for me.  After the initial struggle to find the space, the exact location for it became a joyful adventure.  As soon as I started to smile, I knew I was winning.  How strange that hanging a picture should take that long but how satisfying the journey.  As for the result, you can judge yourself.  The chalk and pencil sketch on the right is from my friend, the rest of the pictures are mostly by myself except for the two of the calligraphy works- one by a teacher in Istanbul and the other one by William Morris.  The top and bottom left are my works.  IMG_3429

It is a strange mixture but it works.