We often limit our creativity to the fields in which we are trained. Can exploring new territory enrich our experience?
Last fall I was attending a concert, a lovely performance, while exhausted and deeply afraid of falling asleep. In order to stay engaged with the music, I covered the back of my program with a variety of plantlike textures that the sounds suggested to me. The experience was so therapeutic that I have found myself drawing with increasing frequency.
The five drawings that I am sharing with you today form a set titled Metamorphic Fairies. They started out as free draws, something like large scale doodles.
The elements are organic shapes, some plantlike and others more animal in nature, fused and juxtaposed. They didn’t make much sense to me until I read Jo Walton’s novel Among Others, inhabited by strange organic fairies.
In the same way that oak trees have acorns and hand-shaped leaves, and hazels have hazelnuts and little curved leaves, most fairies are gnarly and grey or green or brown, and there’s generally something hairy about them somewhere.This one was grey, very gnarly indeed, and well over towards the hideous part of the spectrum.
–Jo Walton, Among Others
All of the sudden I knew what, or rather who, my drawings were. I grew up with a fascination for folklore. Some of the happiest memories of my childhood are of picking out books about fairies at Half Price Books. My copy of Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s Faeries has a ruined spine from all the hours I spent poring over the fantastic illustrations. I pulled those books off the shelf for the first time in years and dived in, easily finding the characters suggested by my drawings. The elements of the pictures came together to make startling sense and also to invoke archetypal resonance. If I didn’t believe in the existence of such creatures, I could believe and recognize the significance behind them. It was wonderful to experience the enjoyment of my childhood self again, completely mesmerized by stories and pictures. It was like returning home.
Images from these books had been embedded in my subconscious where they had knocked around, combining with my imagination to produce new images. When my mind relaxed these fell out, testament to the power of what we put into our minds when we are children. This didn’t happen when I was singing or writing, things that I fancy that I know how to do, whatever that means. It happened when I was drawing, something so outside of my training and experience that I suspended judgment and created in a new, almost unconscious way. Synchronicity was free to operate because I had no plan and no sense as to the value or function of what I was creating.
There is something very soothing about the act of drawing itself. Perhaps it has to do with the simplicity of taking a pencil to paper and seeing what appears. I’m not interested in making representational sketches or even in creating something that makes sense. When I draw, I let myself play with texture and form, usually rotating the paper as I add new elements so that the image doesn’t have a definite top. At some point I discover my favorite view and sign the piece in a way that affirms that view. If I can’t decide, I sign on an ambiguous angle.
Often artistry is reduced to the act of reproducing a successful formula. It is easy to get so attached to the applause or the accolades that we receive for delivering the expected product that we forget to allow ourselves space to grow and innovate. We lose the ability to be surprised. What would happen if we allowed ourselves the joy of not knowing what we are doing and allowed others to have that same experience?
If you see any interesting connections in these pieces or if you have a favorite I would love to know about it. Thanks for reading!