Saturday May 27, 2023
Scrum for One
Saturday May 27, 2023
Saturday May 27, 2023
In this episode I explore a productivity method for creativity called Scrum for One.
Scrum for One by Dustin Wax
Rugby player image: Hassan Omar Wamwayi
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about the creative process. In it, I explore ways to avoid creative blocks and procrastination.
If you're a fellow multipotentialite, someone who has many different creative pursuits, you might relate to the struggle of juggling different projects at the same time. This episode in particular might interest you if you have a multitude of creative projects going on at once. I'll be talking about a planning technique I use called Scrum for One.
It's the beginning of the day and I've just finished my first cup of coffee. I'm on my iPad, scrolling through the news, scanning through my Instagram feed, and then watching some new videos on YouTube.
The news is depressing and boring. Instagram is full of amazing artwork that causes me to focus on my lack of productivity. And YouTube? Well, it's just full of people ranting.
I look at my phone and realize that I have only two minutes before my first client meeting of the day.
But you know what? My client work goes smoothly. I'm a member of my client's technology services team. And we use the Agile methodology to guide our software development. It seems to work pretty well. As a team we're working on many different projects at once and Agile helps us stay focused and productive.
The day is busy, so by the end of the day I'm mentally exhausted. I end up doom-scrolling on my iPad again. I'm not making any progress on my many personal creative projects.
The contrast between work and my free time is palpable. At work I'm focused and productive and I feel supported, in large part due to the team successful use of Agile.
And so I start to wonder. Even though Agile is intended for teams, could there be a personal version of Agile?
It's a strange question to ask whether you could apply Agile to your own artistic process. The myth of creative work is that it has to be magical and spontaneous. We make up that you can't force creativity, that you need to wait for the muses to show up before you can do any meaningful creative work.
Multipotentialites in particular thrive on spontaneity and novelty, so being tied to a process or methodology might lead to a lack of excitement. The idea of using a methodology like Agile for personal creativity can be quite intimidating for some people.
Perfectionists might also shy away from such a process. Agile emphasizes using the tools, materials, and time at hand, instead of waiting for the perfect moment. For perfectionists, this might seem like a constraint that limits their ability to achieve perfection in their art.
But my curiosity is peaked. So I Google Agile for personal use. And the first article that shows up is Scrum for One by Dustin Wax. I'm intrigued, so I read on.
Agile puts a great emphasis on constant feedback. Dustin explains that the term scrum comes from rugby and represents the team huddle after each play. In agile, the daily standup meetings give team members the ability to report on progress and identify any needs going forward. The meetings are typically no more than 15 minutes long.
In the Scrum for One model you check in with yourself every day. This could be in a journal or a diary or on a simple notepad. You make notes on how your projects are going and you identify any needs going forward, perhaps noting something that you might want to research or noting a tool or material to add to a shopping list.
The daily check-in is also an opportunity for self-reflection. “How did I do today? What worked well? What can I do better?”
This enhanced self-awareness is one of the primary benefits of the model. It helps you identify things to improve. You make frequent adjustments to your work habits instead of waiting until the end of a long project to figure out what you can do better.
Another Scrum for One principle is to work with what you have so that projects don't stall. Most project plans will have many steps, so if you can't make progress on one step, you could probably make some progress on another step. And if you're like me and have multiple projects, you can probably make progress on another project while you wait to restart the one you're stuck on.
With daily check-ins, it's important to work towards clearly define short-term goals. Vague goals that stretch over months are often discouraging. It's much better to have reasonable but meaningful goals that you can name and measure every day.
If you're writing a book which can take months, create a daily goal of 500 to a thousand words a day. Then in your daily scrum check-in you have a measure that you can reflect upon.
Setting short-term goals and tracking progress daily allows you to stay focused and motivated. Breaking down larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks helps you prioritize your time and make progress in multiple projects simultaneously.
The last Agile principle that can be applied to your personal process is the sprint plan. This is a planning step where you decide what project or projects you'll be working on over the next week or so. It could be just a simple checklist. But the important thing is to have it out and visible as you work on your projects and also when you do your daily check-ins.
In a traditional Agile sprint, you would be responsible for just one project or set of tasks. But in Scrum for One that may not be practical. After all, we have all kinds of roles that we play in our daily lives. What does help though is to set aside consistent time to work on your own stuff. And even the simplest of sprint plans can help you focus during the time that you've blocked off for your own creative projects.
Dustin explains that this is not anything like a complete productivity system. But just applying the daily check-in process is a big benefit. He says, “The next time you're stuck ask yourself the simple question, ‘What's standing in my way right now?’ And see if that doesn't lead to, ‘Okay, what am I going to do about it?’”
I have to admit I was never much of a planner. It wasn't that I couldn't focus, I can. But every day I would find myself interested in something new. This is something that many multipotentialites experience. I was starting projects but not finishing many of them. I felt aimless in my own creative goals. I blamed myself for not being productive enough. By the time I was finished with work and family, I was too tired for creative work. And when I did have time, I faced decision paralysis, not knowing how to start or what to start.
Scrum for One changed all of that for me. I started using it when I applied for and was accepted in a local artist-in-residence program. I had three months to finish five different kinetic art pieces. And I needed something that would keep me on track.
Every weekend I created a new sprint plan. And during the week I worked on my projects and did a daily check-in with myself. “How was I doing? Is there something I needed? What was I going to work on next?”
One thing I realized early on is that I could be quite productive in the early morning. I had over an hour and a half of time every day between breakfast and when I started my client work that was previously spent surfing the web and other mindless stuff.
And where before I would struggle to decide what I wanted to do in the mornings, I now had that decided the night before. Each morning I was jumping right into my project because I knew what I was going to do.
What using this method revealed to me was that in addition to helping me finish the art pieces on time, it was helping me change my view of myself. What I like about Scrum for One is the emphasis on introspection and self-reflection. “How am I doing?” is such a powerful question. I'm no longer blaming myself for not being productive.
And I don't feel that I've lost any spontaneity. I have the flexibility to choose to do something different from my sprint plan every day. And as a multipotentialite that flexibility is freeing.
As for perfectionism, I've always felt that was more of a strategy to hide your talents than to use them well. Scrum for One encourages you to use your creativity, even if the time isn’t right or you don't have the right tools and materials.
I often find that I have a creative breakthrough when I'm faced with limitations. For example, I made a prototype automaton of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fighting with lightsabers. I made it with cardboard and Popsicle sticks. And the motions were crude and imprecise, but that imprecision gave the figures a human-like quality as well as a feeling of weariness that seems appropriate for the battle.
I don't find Scrum for One intimidating at all. In fact, it's just the opposite. It's comfortable because it's routine. And I feel a sense of constant course correction. Decision paralysis has basically disappeared because I'm making small affirmative decisions in my daily scrum check-ins.
So that's my journey with Scrum for One. As I wrap up this episode, I want to challenge you to try Scrum for One in your own creative process. Whether you're a writer, a painter, a musician or creator of any kind, give this a go.
It doesn't require you to turn your life upside down or to commit to a rigorous regimen. It just requires a few minutes every day to check in with yourself. Plan your sprints, break down your creative goals into manageable daily tasks and reflect on your progress regularly. And remember it's okay to adjust your plan along the way. That's the beauty of the system.
The important thing is not how well you stick to the plan. But how well you listen to yourself. Honor your own process and find your path to productivity. This methodology is not about perfection, but about continuous progress.
Thank you for tuning in to today's Creative Shoofly podcast. Your time and interest are truly appreciated. If this episode inspired you consider subscribing and sharing your thoughts on Apple Podcasts. Remember, embrace your creative spirit, continue exploring, imagining and making. Every idea, every brush stroke, every note matters.
See you in the next episode.
Saturday May 06, 2023
You And I Make A Thing with Michael Tarnoff
Saturday May 06, 2023
Saturday May 06, 2023
In this episode I collaborate with artist Michael Tarnoff to make self-portraits inspired by Chuck Close.
O'Hanlon Center for the Arts
Michael Tarnoff's Instagram
Chuck Close Website
Wikipedia Entry for Chuck Close
Procreate for the iPad
Interlude music: https://www.heise.de/select/ct/2017/13/1497796312321798
Michael's Self Portrait
Thomas' Self Portrait
Thomas: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about exploring the creative journey as an artist. And in this episode, I'm continuing my improvisational experiment that I call You And I Make A Thing.
I invited my friend Michael to come up with a theme or project that we could do together. I hope you will enjoy hearing about our project, as much as we did doing it.
My guest today is Michael Tarnoff. Michael is a painter, a mixed media artist, as well as a photographer and all-around creative person. Welcome Michael.
Michael: Thank you for having me Thomas.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm glad to have you, Michael. I'm curious, before we get started, I'm want to know if there's some creative project that you've been working on or you're planning to work on right now?
Michael: Well, you know with COVID, things changed for me artistically [00:01:00] as far as access to my painting space and such, and I've been doing more photography and small works. And right now, we're in the mountains in the Utah area and I've been fascinated with ice and snow and cold and what happens with nature with that.
So I've been thinking about, in the back of my mind, a series of photographs and just thinking about them as a series of what nature does in the cold. Because I never really lived in the cold and witnessed it.
Michael: There's just fascinating things like when the fog comes in and then the cold comes in. If there's just the right amount of humidity, ice crystals form everywhere and it looks, it's just, it's magic.
So I'm just kind of keeping my eyes open for that and just being witness to the magic that nature creates.
Thomas: Well that's great, that sounds like a real process of discovery.
Michael: It is, it is. I love that you say that because where I got most of my art learning [00:02:00] from, not so much teaching but learning I'll call it, was at O'Hanlan Center for the Arts in Mill Valley. And the founder Ann O'Hanlan, one of my favorite sayings of hers was, “Exploration comes first, discovery perhaps later.”
Michael: And it’s just, it's so true when it comes to art and life.
So it's really, this really is a process of exploration and discovery, with, I mean the medium is nature and the cold and what, how it's so much different from the temperate Bay Area.
Thomas: Right, right.
Thomas: And I've been following you on Instagram, and your photographs have been just brilliant.
Michael: Thank you.
Thomas: For my listeners, I'll put a link to Michael's Instagram in the show notes. Well, exploration I think is a good segue into what we're going to be doing today, which is You And I Make A Thing. And as you know, what my goal here is to come up with [00:03:00] something that we can do together, either something that we do in parallel or something that we actually collaborate on.
And Michael, prior to our conversation today, I've asked you to come up with three things that you might be interested in doing, and I've done the same. And what I was thinking of is that we'd just bounce back and forth with our ideas and then we'll see if we can coalesce on something that sounds like fun.
How about that?
Michael: That sounds great.
Thomas: Why don't you start with something that's on your list.
Michael: Okay. Let me preface it with saying that when you asked me to think of these things, it actually was harder than I thought it was going to be. And I couldn't because I'm just I'm so spontaneous with my art. I actually never think about what I want to do ahead of time and just sort of let the process flow with that in that moment.
Michael: I mean, I might know ahead of time I'm going to draw just because of, you know, whatever's happening.
Michael: [00:04:00] So this was, this was very different for me. So the first thing I thought of, and these were all things, at least a couple of 'em were things that I've always thought about, but I have never done.
Thomas: Uh huh.
Michael: The first one was doing encaustic painting. Which is painting with paint that is mixed with wax and it sort of creates, on like a panel, it creates this dreamy kind of thing.
And I've never done it before. I don't know how to do it. and I don't even know if it's practical, but it was the very first thing I thought of because I've always wanted to try it.
Thomas: So I do follow a number of artists and I've seen a number of encaustic paintings, and they are sort of dreamy. They're sort of lots of different colors flowing and mixing. And that's what you're talking about, right?
Michael: Right. I mean, you can do realistic stuff. I'm not a realistic painter, but one could do that with encaustic painting. But it just sounds like so much fun. I it would be quite an exploration and discovery process.
Thomas: So I'm curious, is the wax [00:05:00] hot
Michael: Yes. Yes.
Thomas: Oh, it's hot. Oh it's hot wax. Okay. Interesting. And then you're mixing maybe like oil paints or something?
Michael: Yeah. I think, or acrylic. I don't, I actually have no idea. I think you can do acrylic, may have to wear a mask.
Thomas: I would imagine. Yes. It sounds interesting.
Thomas: I mean, I love sort of dreamy and very colorful palettes and drawings and, they don't need to be realistic at all. I just, I don't know about you Michael, but I really respond to color a lot.
Michael: Yeah, I'm a colorist. Yeah.
Thomas: Yeah. All right, well let's bookmark that one and let's see where this goes. So on my list, I've been fascinated with assemblage. You know, like box assemblage, Joseph Cornell type.
Thomas: And I've noticed that there are at least a couple artists out [00:06:00] there that are doing, I guess what they call small box assemblage. They'll take, these little boxes that your iPhone comes in, or even smaller, like little jewelry boxes and then using found art, they'll put an assemblage together.
Michael: Oh, wonderful.
Michael: I've dabbled in that a tiny bit, maybe one or two in my Saturday art class at the center over the 20 plus years that I was there. And it was fun.
Thomas: It's an interesting process to use found art as opposed to, I guess the best way to put it is, is like starting with an idea.
Thomas: It's that exploration thing really. It's like, okay, let's see what happens here.
Michael: Mm-hmm. Oh, love it.
Thomas: What's, what's next on your list?
Michael: Okay. My next one is, I've never worked with Sculpey Clay.
Thomas: Uh huh.
Michael: I've felt it and played with it, but I've actually never [00:07:00] taken it, sculpted something out of it, baked it, and then painted it.
Michael: As simple as that sounds, I've never done it and I think it would really bring out my child, and my adult at the same time to kind of co-create something, again abstract.
But, I even looked into like, can you buy bulk kind of uncolored sculpey and you can. So simple but kind of.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, I played with clay but I've never fired anything before or hardened it before. So that sounds interesting. And then, you know, and not painted it after.
Michael: Right, and that's the beauty of Sculpey is that you can… I guess I maybe you might even be able to paint it beforehand, I don't know. But you harden it in the oven. So it's, you don't need a kiln to do it.
Thomas: Right, exactly. I like that. All right,[00:08:00] well, my next one is not very well defined. The note that I have here is mail art collage. The idea is to combine the idea of mail art and collaging together. So it might be just a collage postcard, or something that we put in an envelope and then just send to each other
Michael: Oh, that's fun.
Thomas: Yeah. Maybe as almost like a call and response type of thing.
Michael: Oh my goodness. Huh. You know, that I could envision doing it together where you start one and then you send it, partially completed.
Michael: And then you respond and we go back and forth.
Thomas: Uh huh
Thomas: Maybe like a little folded book where the pages are things that we fill in with collage. Or [00:09:00] like a zebra fold? Not no, what's the name? Where they, where you fold it? Accordion! Like an accordion fold. That's what I meant. Yeah.
Thomas: Oh, okay.
Michael: Yeah. I don't know. It sounds like a neat idea.
Thomas: Alright. What's the last one on your list?
Michael: All right. Hopefully you know the artist, Chuck Close?
Thomas: I don't, no. Tell me.
Michael: He did self-portraits, huge self-portraits, and what he did was he narrowed down and magnified into little, he would make a little grid pattern. So maybe it would be a nine-foot by six-foot self-portrait. Right. But he would make grids that were maybe one inch by one inch, or two inch by two inch. And he would zoom in on the photograph and see what the swirl pattern or color pattern might look like.
Michael: And he would paint that in each little box. And so he would, [00:10:00] he would abstract. Build this grid with swirls and colors, and then when you step back, it became a portrait.
Michael: Which was, I was always fascinated by it. And I thought that would be fun to do, like self-portraits of each other.
Michael: And you know, obviously we're not going to do nine by seven feet, so maybe a nine by 12, or something that can be mailed easily.
Thomas: Right, right.
Michael: But you can get a small grid on a nine by 12 and just kind of zoom in on a photograph and instead of drawing, as though you're drawing a face, you just draw what's in that grid, the kind of the shapes and the colors as best you can, and then you move on to the next.
And then you sort of end up with, you know, it's not always going to be this pretty image, which is kind of fun. Not all of his were either, he celebrated the ones that were kind of goofy looking too.
Michael: So his last name is [00:11:00] C L O S E, first name Chuck. I highly recommend you Google him and see if we do it this time or not.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, I will.
Michael: But that would be fun.
Thomas: I've been playing with Procreate on the iPad and I can totally see how you could have the the photo, then have another layer that is the grid, and then you just pinch open and then have another layer where you then do the drawing in in different brushes and different whatever.
Michael: Oh, I love that! I would actually love to know how to do that too, because I don’t know how to mix photo and drawing together in digital format.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. And actually, I mean, I'm just thinking about this. This is something that we could share easily over email, right? Or file sharing or whatever to get going.
Okay. Well, I'm chuckling a [00:12:00] little bit because my last one is like somewhat related and I don't even know what I was thinking here.
I just wrote down the words wild selfies and I guess the image that comes to mind is like, yeah, I live 20 minutes from the beach, so I'd probably go down on the beach and just, you know, wild poses or jumps up in the air. I don't know what it might be
Michael: Hmm, that's fun.
Michael: You know, I mean, we can each expand on that too. But I want to throw this into the mix just for you and the listeners. I've been on Instagram, there's some amazing artists on Instagram. I really just use Instagram for following artists. And there are a group, many photographers who do what's called Intentional Camera Movement.
Michael: And they purposely move their. [00:13:00] To create visual effects.
Thomas: Oh, right.
Michael: And there are some that are, I mean, they're like gorgeous abstract paintings. They're so beautiful.
Thomas: They're holding the shutter open. Is that what they're doing?
Michael: I'm not sure, I generally only take photographs with my iPhone because even though I have very nice equipment, the phone just fits in my pocket and I usually take photographs when I go hiking.
Thomas: The iPhone is so good actually.
Michael: It's actually quite good. The only way I've been able to do it is at night when the iPhone has a longer exposure and I can play with moving it.
So you kind of, there would be some exploration into how do you get enough light, but not too much light and, but those would be some wild selfies for sure. That would be fun to try.
Thomas: Yeah. Well, I think we have six fantastic ideas and, and I felt a lot of energy around all of 'em.
Thomas: So I'm [00:14:00] curious now, what, which one did you feel a lot of energy around in particular? I have one that I did.
Michael: I think the one that I got the most energy around as much because I think it combined a couple of what we talked about and the ease of sharing was this idea of these sort of Chuck Close style wild painted selfies using Procreate.
Thomas: I agree.
Michael: And we can share, you know, constantly in progress sharing and it's, it's digital makes it very easy to do it. Since I'm, you know, we're 800 miles apart so.
Thomas: I totally agree. That's the one that I just felt, “Wow, okay.” That's something that I've never done before. And I can totally see, I can already visualize how I might be doing it, at least, for me working on Procreate on the iPad. Do, do you have Procreate?[00:15:00]
Michael: I don't, but I suppose I can get it, so yeah.
Thomas: Yeah, it's not, it's not that expensive. I think it's just, if I remember right, I think it's just $9.95 or something like that.
Michael: I can definitely get it.
Thomas: Wow, Michael, this went really quick, which I'm delighted about, and I'm also just, I'm just excited about how all of these ideas were really good.
Thomas: I mean, I definitely was sort of imagining something I might be making in Sculpey. And the encaustic painting sounds very interesting as well. But, I think we found something that is actually really exciting here.
Michael: I do too. And as a tangent, you know, this could be expanded to many people. Where you take any photograph and it could be a photograph of somebody that we don't even know, and you divide it into nine. So you would need nine different people, you know about it in nine [00:16:00] sections.
And then each person takes that and they have to be exactly the same size and that each person takes that. And then we all agree on the size of the grid that we're going to use. And then we each do one ninth and all our focus is on our little piece, and then you bring them all together and see how they form.
Thomas: It's like a quilt
Michael: A lot of fun too. Yes. That's a lot of fun too.
Thomas: Thank you for this offer. I'm going to go and look up Chuck Close now and see what he's come up with.
Michael: Oh, for sure. Yeah.
Thomas: All right. Very good. we'll be in touch as far as the logistics and all that kind of stuff.
Michael: I'm looking forward to it, Thomas.
Thomas: In just a moment. I'll return with Michael. To talk about how we did. On our Chuck close portrait adventure.
(Editor’s note. The musical interlude was performed in Sonic Pi and was created by Pit Noack. The complete code listing is available here: https://www.heise.de/select/ct/2017/13/1497796312321798 )
Thomas: Well, hello Michael. How's it going?
Michael: I'm well Thomas, how are you?
Thomas: I'm doing great. I have to say I had such a great time with this You And I Make A Thing and creating a self-portrait on the iPad. It was a very interesting experience.
Michael: Yes, I could wax away about my experience with it, highs and lows, but I can go into more detail about it, but it was fun.
Thomas: Let me read to you a quote from Chuck Close. He was interviewed by Cleveland, Ohio's The Plain Dealer newspaper, and he [00:18:00] made a choice in 1967 to make art hard for himself and force a personal artistic breakthrough by abandoning the paintbrush.
He said, “I threw away the tools. I chose to do things I had no facility with. The choice not to do something is, in a funny way more positive than the choice to do something. If you impose a limit to not do something you've done before, it'll push you to where you've never gone before.”
When I read that, I thought, wow, that's exactly what we were doing here, isn't it?
Michael: Yes. That's great.
Thomas: I'm always delighted when I read the thought processes of artists that I follow and admire, and in this case learned about, that sort of mirror some thinking that was going on in my mind. In this case about going places that I've never gone before.
Michael: Yeah, this process that we took was, [00:19:00] well by nature my design. It was new to each of us and there were aspects that I love and aspects that I struggled with. It was very, very different process from how I normally create.
Thomas: Well expand on that. How did you feel at the very beginning? You know, after we had talked.
Michael: Well, I there was a, so the combination of excitement and also newness. I think I had purchased Procreate on another recommendation years ago. I had never done anything with it. And so there was a learning curve. I just went to YouTube videos, and I think you may have sent some videos as well.
So I learned how to, you know, have the background photo so that I could then adjust it, things with that, and choosing the grid size. And then it was a matter of the different pens and such. It was all very new to me. And so I'm sure it, you know, to get to where I am, I think I've probably learned maybe one or two percent of what you can do with Procreate. [00:20:00] And I started with sort of the elements that I felt most comfortable with.
Michael: So my creative process is completely different from this. I never draw something that I think I want to draw, or the idea of what I'm going to draw is never there. It's never a specific thing. I draw more from stream of consciousness or in the present, or I must be channeling something. I don't, I actually don't know what, where it comes from.
And it just comes out of me. And I often make myself go into a very healthy struggle, if you will, so that I can get myself out of it.
Michael: So my art goes through many iterations. It's always abstract. Sometimes it turns into a really cool abstract image that does look like something, but that's not the intent or it's, that's more of a fun ending.
Michael: So mine is always, I'm never intending to do anything other than just be with the [00:21:00] creative process of art and let it flow.
And that's what, that's my charge. I just, I mean, it's just the greatest feeling in the world.
Thomas: So this felt, this really felt different for you?
Michael: Completely different because I was doing something. So it was in the beginning there was a push-pull on how do I do it so that I could, I have still a creative process that's flowing and actually draw something.
And I just started to let go of what I was drawing and get into the meditative movement of it. Following the lines and letting my hand move with the, you know, the apple pencil on my iPad. And, it was fun, in segments where I would get lost were when there weren't any lines to follow.
And so I was split to where do I make it up? Or do I zoom in more, or do I make the background image darker so I can see it?
It was just, it was, you know, there was a lot of mistakes. There was a huge chunk where I put it all in the wrong layer. I [00:22:00] put a bunch of my drawing on the actual the photograph layer. That was lost, so I had to draw it again, which was fun. Again, this was all a good learning process.
But I think I went through a doldrum with it, for a couple reasons, which was really fascinating. One was that I, except for my really large paintings, I don't spend a lot of time on one art piece.
Michael: I usually, it can be a few hours to many hours, but then I'll move on to the next art piece.
Even with some of my canvases. It can be like that with my large canvases, you know, like four feet by seven.
Michael: I will spend months, if not a year working on them, you know, once a week, twice a week. They just go through that many iterations and it takes that long to do it.
Quite frankly, with this, it's just the size of an iPad, right? Hundred by hundred grid.
Michael: I would get to a point where I would realize my arc for creating it was done so [00:23:00] I'd have to recreate a new arc. And it made me look at the piece differently, it made me look at the process differently and more at first, more constricting and like, ah, why is this like this?
And then after I got rid of that voice or I let that voice speak and then I said, okay, what's next?
It was more how do I, you know, I'm creating something really cool here. I'm, I'm creating something representational that I'm not focused on that because I'm only focused on each little grid and I'm gonna pour my creativity into each grid.
And when I zoom back out, we'll see what it looks like. And I'm not even done with mine, which is kind of exciting.
Thomas: I think it looks great as it is already. I mean, to me it has almost like a quilt feel to it.
Michael: Yes, you're right.
Thomas: Which I think is fabulous. I want to know more about what you mean by arc. I want you to elaborate on what you mean by arc. Does [00:24:00] that mean like the arc of getting into a creative or an in inspired moment? Is that what that means?
Michael: So for me, arc in when I'm doing art, what I'm creating, there's, it's undefined as far as time. And when I'm doing something that's not intentionally representational, that's just a free flow, I just follow the arc, so I'll just start drawing and, and, and usually it builds on itself, sort of this beginning.
You have a set a space, right? Sometimes it, you know, with or without music, but you have to get into it, it's a process actually.
Sometimes you, it just comes immediately and you're just, you're in the flow within the first few seconds.
Thomas: Would you say that there's like an act one, act two, act three? Is that what you're getting, at?
Michael: There is.
Thomas: It sounds to me that there's like a beginning, middle, and end. And, when you were at the end, you were [00:25:00] a little bit, I don't want to say lost, but…
Michael: I would say it was the middle.
Thomas: Oh, oh, I see.
Michael: In the beginning, I got into the flow. I got excited about it, and then I thought when I spent as much time as I did, figuring out the pens and working on this little bit, and I zoomed out and I thought, Oh boy, I just spent an hour and I've barely done, I felt like I barely did anything.
I thought, wow, this is going to take way longer than I thought it was, which is why I contacted you and said, we're going to need more time here. Which you graciously, agreed to.
And so I think my middle got, I don't know what the right word is. I don't know if it's interrupted, but the flow was changed.
And at first I resisted it because I just, I naturally flow when I create. I've never had an interruption before, but I still held the first act. It was, it's always, that's the beauty of art, right? Your first act is always there, [00:26:00] um, unless you pick up a new piece of paper.
And so, it was just a very long middle for me.
Michael: I'm coming to the, it almost feels like in this piece I'm coming to the end of one arc and beginning another, or I've done that multiple times on this piece.
It's actually forced me to do that. From the way that I normally create to the way to create, so two things, both with the fact that we're, we're doing something that's intentionally representational and in a grid, right?
So we're limiting what we do. And also, I don't do that much creation digitally. feeling the paper or the canvas, feeling the pencil or the pen, and feeling the friction as that moves across.
Thomas: That tactile feeling.
Michael: That tactile feeling is so important. I didn't realize how important it was until we got deeper into this. I've done shorter drawings on the iPad and those were short arcs, you know, an hour, maybe two at most. [00:27:00]
But when it gets longer, I'm missing that sound of the pencil. Right? I'm going to draw right now. Just that sound when you're hatching or when you're shading.
I'm still drawing right now cause it's, kind of, it's fun. There's this element that I was missing, a connection to the piece of art that I am still learning how to let go of the friction that happens with in-person art.
That's not the right word… Versus the immediacy of when the pen touches the pad, it's creating something. And obviously the apple pencil, if you, whether it's angled or your pressure, it does change things, but I'm still, it's all very new.
Thomas: Right. And then the fact that we were doing the grid and you're, we're essentially starting over with every grid.
Michael: Yes, yes.
Thomas: I can see where that sort of lost feeling in the middle of it [00:28:00] is like, oh, okay, I just did something and now I'm starting again. And almost like Groundhog Day.
Thomas: So, you know, I experienced a lot of the same thing in mine. I laughed when you said, oh, I was, I was starting to paint another wrong layer. I can't tell you how many times I was started to paint the wrong layer.
And in fact, I did finish mine a little bit earlier and just recently I opened up the iPad again because I needed to save it and then send it to you. And I realized I was trying to move it around. And I realized that instead of moving it around, I was painting again.
And it's like uh oh! and frantically undoing. But there were a couple strokes that weren't in the undo stack anymore. And so I actually now have to go back and fix a few of the grids because I accidentally painted over them and. And so, or maybe I'll leave it there. I don't know.
Michael: Yeah, I think so.
Thomas: It [00:29:00] kind of looks goofy to me, but, you know, it's just how it is, right? When you see something that other people maybe not see or they see it differently. But learning the layers was an interesting process. And also it just, it tripped me up quite a bit. It was nice that Procreate does have a grid feature that kind of made it easy.
Michael: That was great.
Thomas: So for me, I felt it, it was also a little bit weird like painting over a picture of me.
Thomas: And so it took me a while before that photo of me staring back at me sort of just faded into the background. It took me a while for just to say, oh, okay, I'm just, you know, I'm doing a process here.
The thing that never went away from me though, were the eyes and the mouth. I mean, that's sort of where you know, our brains focus on, on eyes and mouth. and that's the part that I had [00:30:00] to like, go over several times.
Like, okay, that mouth doesn't look right and I need to, start again. So I ended up spending a lot of time on the eyes and the mouth specifically to try to find something that would translate into this, you know, gridded picture.
Thomas: I'm curious, did you have an aha moment at any point where it's like, oh!
Michael: I, well, I had a few of them. The biggest one was, you know, when you're drawing or painting on top of a photograph, It always looks fuller and more complete until you turn off the photo layer and then it's obviously it's clearer. It's white behind everything that's, that you haven't drawn on,
Michael: Plus all of your ink colors now look different.
Michael: So I think my biggest aha moment was early on when I remembered to turn off the photo layer. And I saw all these crazy line. I was [00:31:00] maybe 10% done and I saw all these crazy lines and, and, and these weird colors.
And I'm thinking, where, where is this coming from? Like I could see that it was sort of my nose and part of my eye. I think that's, think I started right in my, in that part of my face.
But it was, shocking to think like, oh, these colors don't look anything like my photo, like the, I couldn't figure out, and I still can't figure out how you get the right color. That's a mystery still to me.
But there was that moment. I think my hair, which in the photo is big and curly. That's been a kind of a wonderful struggle to get the way I wanted to look. Which I don't actually know what that is yet. It's more of a feel to try to figure out how to make it look something like what I think I want it to look like without actually knowing what that is, right?
I don't, I don't actually have the answer yet because I don't, I haven't seen it, but I've gone through my hair twice now and I'm still only about 50%. I don't even know if I'm [00:32:00] 50% done. Because I still want to play with my hair actually has lots of different colors in it, shades. It almost looks like it's highlighted.
Michael: So that's actually really hard. And so the kind of, the aha moment is, and I've always felt this way, even when I've, you know, you see, great paintings, by Sargent or, um, I'm forgetting all the great painters at the moment in my head, but hair is always one of the most amazing things that artists are able to do, and I've always been in awe in doing it.
Now I can see why, because it's such a fascinating, it's such a fine thing to zoom in on and try to do in blocks.
Thomas: Well, I think you did a great job. As far as what I'm seeing so far, and to our listeners, you're welcome to go to the show notes and you'll see both of our portraits there. You've [00:33:00] selected some washes for sort of the base color, and then you have some sort of fine line work that, uh, almost to me looks like, you know, the terrain maps that have the elevations and all that kind of stuff.
Michael: Well, I am a civil engineer,
Thomas: There you go.
Michael: I think it comes out naturally.
Thomas: Yeah, I think it's great. So I had a few aha moments. One was that I made a layer specifically for swatches because there's a way in procreate where you just tap down on a color and hold, and it'll pick up that color. I picked that up from a YouTube.
So that was sort of a nice little discovery for me. It was, “Oh yeah, create a swatch layer because otherwise those colors ain't coming back.” You know if you're using, like, I used a pen that was called bleach, and so it it's not the full color. It's sort of a runny stained version of that color [00:34:00] that I was using.
Michael: I want to hear your other aha, aha moments. But I'm now, I'm excited to go find that feature. Because I was looking for something where I could use like an eyedropper to grab a previous color and I just, I couldn't figure it out.
The reason mine is a myriad of different colors is because I was trying to guess what the, what color to use each time.
Thomas: Oh, right, right. The other one that I used is the color tool has something called harmony mode, where you can pick a pair of complimentary colors or triad of colors. And so I was using triads in mine. I was sort of filling my squares with like a base color and then covering it with a complimentary color.
Thomas: And then putting a dot in the middle to change the gray scale value, like the density. So my thought was, okay, I'm going to create some complimentary colors and then put the dots in to sort of change the [00:35:00] value, the overall value when you pull back.
Michael: Oh, interesting.
I'm looking at yours right now. It's so great. It has, elements of, uh, Andy Warhol.
Thomas: And for the hair, I just did short strokes. I didn't really spend so much time on it because,
Michael: It's brilliant.
Thomas: Yeah, I had to do my beard and then I had to do my curly hair. What I decided there is I would do strokes, but I, the strokes would remain within the grid. So I wasn't taking the strokes beyond each grid. So each grid was sort of self-contained in terms of that. And I just tried to make sure that I was following the direction of the hair.
Michael: Are your grids and your squares of colors, are those in a different layer from your hair?
Thomas: No. And, but I should have! I think that one of the things I learned here was, is that layers are good, you know, and the more layers you do, the better. [00:36:00] And definitely when you leave it, leave it on a layer that, that you can, you know, erase stuff on.
Because I left it on my main layer. And then, like I said, I came back later and I was trying to move it around and I was actually painting over. It's like, “Oh no!”
Michael: Well, and you kind of created a, you created a grid, like your grid is defined on your painting.
Thomas: Right. And you mentioned how like when you took away the photograph layer that it changed and so I actually had to create a background layer that was sort of a neutral, like 50% gray. And I played with that a little bit and I made it really dark. I made it light, but I finally sort of settled on sort of in that middle 50% gray as a background, because otherwise to me the photo didn't look dense enough.
Michael: And [00:37:00] it's gray background on well, and the listeners will have a look at the images, but you're from your shoulders up, there's one background, and then down below you've got white. There's lots of white that's in there that really helps break up. It creates tension and it helps divide your, painting really nicely.
Thomas: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I didn't, that wasn't intentional.
Michael: That wasn't intentional. Oh, it's fantastic.
Thomas: Thank you. I was just following the photograph, so I'd taken the photograph in my bathroom and there's a yellow wall behind me and so that's why I chose that color. And then the shirt, you know, was a sort of a darker gray shirt.
Michael: Will the photographs be on the notes as well so they can see what it looks like or just
Thomas: Yes. Yeah.
Michael: Oh, great. Good.
Michael: Did you choose the colors for your face and your hair? You, you wanted a more abstract and [00:38:00] fun direction?
Thomas: Yeah, sort of an orange-ish color. I was contemplating to actually to do like a, like a blueish or greenish, but I just, I thought, well, that might look a little bit too ghoulish. So I went with a warm color.
Thomas: I had to play with the colors a little bit, definitely.
Michael: Well, it's it. Yours is definitely playful.
Thomas: Yeah. Thank you. It was also a playful pose that was kind of fun to do the pose.
Thomas: So Michael, what would you say or recommend to someone who was going to try this or something similar to this?
Michael: I would say, well, okay, I was going to say learn the tools and et cetera.
But one of the things that I learned from, where I kind of learned how to create and see and perceive, O'Hanlan Center for the Arts in Mill Valley, was that it's all about seeing and perceiving and kind of [00:39:00] developing that, and letting go of what we've learned in school and the media, whatever that art is, this one thing and it's perfect and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I would throw all that out the window or set it aside depending on, on your feelings on it. And let mistakes happen and let them be a part of your piece.
Because it's a part, you're creating a part of you, you're creating a journal entry. And so you can, you know, there is no… I used to know an artist who if she didn't like something, she would stick it in the the sink and then turn on the water and, and let the stuff wash off until she's kind of saw a cool part of it that she wanted to keep.
And then she would pull it away and dab it dry and, and then continue. The erase tool can work like that. But I think that I've spent most of my now 24 years drawing, and creating, hardly ever using an eraser and just building on and [00:40:00] incorporating mistakes. And if, if you really like something, don't let it rule the painting or what you're creating.
And, you know, kind of have fun with this and let it, you know, choose your grid size carefully because it makes a big difference in how long it's going to take.
Thomas: Yeah. Sure does.
Michael: But I'm fascinated by what I've, I would, uh, not in my lifetime would I ever create something like this unless I had agreed to do it with you. Because I would've lost interest and I would've like, you know what I, this isn't for me, but because you asked me and we, I agreed and we, you know, made this challenge for ourselves. I stuck to it.
So make it so that you know how much time is going to take and then give yourself the time to do it, because it's a really fun process.
Thomas: And what’s embedded in what you just said there is to make it a collaboration.
Thomas: There's something about creating art in collaboration that [00:41:00] really is a little bit different than when you're just sitting by yourself in your studio. I mean, we did this by ourselves, but we were still doing it in collaboration and it makes all the difference in the world.
Michael: I one hundred percent agree!
Thomas: Yeah. and I also wanted to say that there is really something personal about doing a self-portrait. You know, it's different. It really feels different. It's…
Thomas: … you know, that's me. It's, it's…
Michael: Yeah! Is that, is that what I look like?
Thomas: …a picture of me.
Thomas: Well, Michael, thank you so much for this. This was, this was a real delight and I'm glad we went through this. I'm looking forward to seeing how yours evolves. Let me know as it evolves and at some point if you say, okay, I'm done with it, then let me know as well. I'd love to see it.
But this was really a fun project and, and thank you for, sort of guiding us in this [00:42:00] direction of Chuck Close. I'm so delighted to have learned about the artist and what he did so thank you very much.
Michael: Thank you for inviting me, uh, Thomas. It's been a delight.
Thomas: That's all for today's episode of the Creative Shoofly podcast. I hope you've enjoyed our conversation. The goal of You And I Make A Thing is to step outside our comfort zone and embrace the uncertainty of trying something new. I hope we've inspired you to take a leap into the unknown. Thank you for tuning in. And I look forward to sharing more insights and experiences with you in my next episode. Keep creating and never stop exploring
Friday Mar 31, 2023
Should I A.I.?
Friday Mar 31, 2023
Friday Mar 31, 2023
In this episode I explore Artificial Intelligence and some of the issues around artists using AI in their creative process. I hope you will enjoy hearing and thinking about these issues.
Links For Further Reading and Viewing
Tech guru Jaron Lanier: ‘The danger isn’t that AI destroys us. It’s that it drives us insane’
Bill Gates: The Age of AI Has Begun
IBM Technology: What are Generative AI models?
The ultimate list of AI tools for creators
How to use ChatGPT to improve your creative process
Generative AI for Makers: AI Has Truly Arrived — and It’s Here to Help You Make and Craft
Artificial Intelligence Art School Meltdown | The Looming Crisis
Eric Schmidt talks about concerns around AI
Links to books and websites mentioned in this podcast
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, by Jaron Lanier
You Are Not A Gadget, by Jaron Lanier
Creative programming workshop with Sonic Pi
Hashtags #processing and #p5js
Some of the above are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from them.
[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. In this episode, I ask myself, what do I do with all these AI tools that are becoming available? How should I use these tools in my creative process? And how do I maintain integrity as I do?
These questions might be on your mind too, and I hope that I shed at least a little bit of light on the topic.
I am recording this in March of 2023, and there's been an explosion of AI announcements. All of a sudden, AI is everywhere. Everyone seems to be talking about it, and it feels almost like it's being jammed on our throats.
Yeah, we've been using Siri and Alexa and Hey Google for years now, and we know that recommendation algorithms have been limiting what we get to see on social platforms and in places like Netflix.[00:01:00] But while those services are a form of artificial intelligence, we were quickly jaded about how mediocre and dull they were.
But the latest AIs come in the form of image generators like Stable Diffusion and chatbots like OpenAI's ChatGPT. And they seem lightyears ahead of those earlier tools. And scarier too.
The AI image generators in particular caused quite a stir in the art community when they were introduced in 2021. Not only were these AI tools creating an image in minutes that would take an artist hours and days to create, but the tools were trained on images found on the internet, including images that artists had posted themselves. That felt a lot like theft.
But these are clearly creative tools. And they have me thinking about creativity and the ethics involved. Can AI help me in any of my creative processes? And if they can, how should I be [00:02:00] using AI?
The recent hubbub really started when the latest version of ChatGPT was launched in November of 2022. That was ChatGPT 3.5, and people took notice of its impressive capabilities. ChatGPT gained a hundred million users in just a few months. To put that into perspective, Gmail took five years to get to a hundred million users.
In just the last few weeks, there have been a number of follow-on announcements. ChatGPT was upgraded to version four. Google announced their chatbot called Bard, and they're also integrating AI in their workspace tools.
Microsoft released Bing Chat as an alternative way to find information with Bing. They also announced that they would be including an AI tool called Copilot in their office suite, meaning that you'll be able to have AI assist you when you're creating content in Word documents [00:03:00] and PowerPoint slides, and also when you're sending emails using Outlook.
Many other companies announced that they're integrating AI generative tools into their existing products. Canva announced that they're adding AI so that you can use text to describe a design, and it'll create a Facebook cover page, a YouTube profile picture, YouTube intro and outros, Instagram post and story and so forth, all from one text description.
GitHub announced their co-pilot X that helps coders code faster. Ubisoft announced a dialogue generator for game development and Metahuman showed facial motion capture using just an iPhone, and this allows them to animate characters with very realistic facial expressions.
With all these announcements, it does feel like AI is taking over at this point. Artists are asking themselves a lot of questions.
How can I use these tools ethically and [00:04:00] morally?
How will it affect the marketplace for art and creative products?
Will it make me a dull person?
These are all important questions. So, let's first talk about what AI really is, and then we can see how we can adapt any of it into our creative process.
So, let's first get something out of the way. Artificial intelligence is not conscious intelligence. Some people describe it as an enhanced version of auto complete. I like that metaphor. All of these systems are trained on a large amount of data, and they create texts and images based on what they've been trained on. I like to think of AI as a statistics engine with some randomness thrown in.
ChatGPT has been trained on 300 billion words from around the internet. From that training, it is able to guess what word comes next for a given prompt. Bing Chat is based on the same engine, [00:05:00] and Google's Bard is based on a similar large language model called LamMDA.
Another example is the DeepL Translator. It translates from one language to another based on millions of translations it has been trained on.
Other AI tools are similarly trained. Image generators like Midjourney, dall-E, and Stable Diffusion are trained on large numbers of images that have been captioned with text. They're able to generate new images based on text prompts.
Transcription tools like Descript and Otter.ai, were trained on millions of voice samples to allow them to transcribe audio to text. Descript, PlayHT and others have text to speech capabilities that generate very realistic voices, again by being trained on millions of examples.
All of these tools have been under development for many years, but they have now gotten to the point where they're quite good. And technology companies like [00:06:00] Canva and Adobe are rushing to incorporate them into the creativity products we use every day.
So, these tools are now here and ready for us to use.
The thing that has me thinking about the impact of AI is what Microsoft and Google recently announced. They both are incorporating chat-based AI tools into Microsoft 365 and Google workspace. These tools are targeted at the workplace, and that means that millions of people will soon be getting very comfortable prompting these AIs for answers about their businesses, and also to generate text for emails and presentations.
AI generated content will become ubiquitous in a very short amount of time, and since it is in a business context, it will most likely not be marked as being generated. All of this will be widely accepted because the use of AI will increase productivity. Some estimates say that world GDP will increase by 7% over the next 10 [00:07:00] years. That's a massive amount!
But what happens if I use AI to create an image that is based on someone else's intellectual property? How do I as an artist give credit or even payment if the AI tool doesn't even have the capability to tell me what the source was?
I recently read a great Guardian interview with Jaron Lanier. He's a futurist, a technologist, an artist, and he's considered the godfather of virtual reality. He's been in the industry a long time.
His take is the danger isn't that AI will destroy us. It's that it'll drive us insane. In the interview, Lanier says that he doesn't even like the term artificial intelligence, objecting to the idea that the technology is actually intelligent.
Just because a chatbot can pull information from millions of sources and express ideas in a language we can understand, that doesn't [00:08:00] make it better than us.
Lanier's mission is to champion the human over the digital. In his book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, he argues that the internet is making us dull and uncreative. His worry is that we'll use technology as agents of manipulation. We become mutually unintelligible because we are slaves to the algorithms that corral our attention into silos.
So, he says that we have a responsibility to act morally and humanely. In spite of his view on what the internet has become, he believes that AI tools like ChatGPT and Google's Bard could provide hope for the digital world. A good AI can open us to ideas and knowledge that we weren't seeking before. A well-designed chatbot would spark both curiosity and play.
It could also keep track of the sources of information that it was trained on, and if the chatbot relied on something you created, [00:09:00] you could get paid for it. In a system where there is shared sense of responsibility and liability, everything works better. He calls it data dignity.
In his book, You Are Not A Gadget, he said that the point of technology was to make the world more creative, expressive, empathetic, and interesting. He reminds us to remind ourselves of our humanity.
What Jaron says is heartening to me. Like him, I do believe that the goal of technology is to help us be more expressive and more empathetic. I think we can use AI tools without compromising our humanity or our integrity.
I've already been using Descript for three years now, taking advantage of its AI-based transcription to make audio editing much easier for me. Descript allows me to edit the text, and it edits the audio waveform for me based on those text edits. It's so much faster than fiddling with the waveform [00:10:00] directly.
When I record my voice, I speak with a lot of ums and ahs. Descript automatically highlights all of those ums and ahs so that I can get rid of them with one click.
Descript even has a voice generation feature called overdub. I've trained Descript with my own voice, and it allows me to replace words and phrases where I misspoke or I want to say something with more clarity, and I don't want to have to set up the microphone again to rerecord it. Descript generates the new text with my voice.
When it comes to writing, however, like when I write a podcast script, I don't use AI to generate any of the words. These are all my own words.
That said, I often will ask ChatGPT for a word or phrase. I'll say, “Hey, what's a more precise word for this concept?” For example, I recently asked, “What is the Inc. Corp or Limited part of a company name called?” ChatGPT informed me that it was called the legal [00:11:00] designation.
It's the sort of thing I once used Google for, and then I would need to follow a link. But ChatGPT gives me the answer right away, and it helps my writing be clearer.
Another thing I do when I start a podcast script is to have ChatGPT ask me questions. I'll say, “I'm writing about this topic. What questions would you ask me if you were to interview me?” I find this a great way to jumpstart writing my first draft. I take those questions and either type out the answers or I just record the answers, and I use Descript's AI to transcribe them into text.
It's a real time saver. It gets me to my first draft much more quickly than by starting with a blank page.
Another way that I use ChatGPT is to critique my writing. I'll say, “Here's an idea that I'm trying to express. How well did I do?” ChatGPT at that point will usually [00:12:00] say, I did a great job. So not all that useful, but then I ask if I missed anything, and it will usually come up with a point or two that I hadn't thought of.
For me, that's a godsend. It's like having a friend look over your work and make suggestions. I feel this has improved my writing quite a lot.
Again, I'm not using AI to create any of the text, but it is making suggestions that I can then think about and write in my own words.
As far as AI image generation, I don't find myself very interested in it. I did once use an AI image generator to help me with a scene that I was drawing in a comic because I needed to have a reference to draw to.
So, I said, “Show me someone speaking at a podium with the audience in front of them,” and it created something good enough for me to then create my comic. The image I created was all mine, but the AI provided a reference.
I think this idea of [00:13:00] references is a good way to take advantage of AI tools in the creative process.
I do want to make a distinction about generative art that is created by writing an algorithm where I create the algorithm to make the art. That's not AI, and the algorithm is not trained on other artists' work. That's me thinking of a program to make and shape the image, and I enjoy that immensely because it's very challenging and creative to think of an algorithm and to figure out how to make the computer make the image that I'm imagining in my mind.
If you're interested in seeing examples of non-AI generative art, look for the hashtag #processing or hashtag #p5js. I'll put links to them in the show notes.
I think going forward it is important as an artist to have full disclosure. In the past, I've never disclosed what technologies I use to make a certain piece of art. In most cases, it was [00:14:00] obvious in context.
I mostly use ProCreate on the iPad and Pixelmator on the Mac for digital art. I use Processing for generative art. I use Ableton Live for my music and so forth.
But going forward I plan to fully disclose what AI and tools I use in making my art, including when I don't use any AI at all. At the end of my podcast, I'll disclose what AI tools I used, if any for that episode.
I think from now on, so many people are going to be using AI in their daily lives, and it's going to be hard to distinguish whether someone's used AI in the work that they did.
To me, that represents a real opportunity. Because the world's going to be flooded with content that was created by AI. And people are going to be seeking out art that was not created with AI. I think it's actually going to make that sort of art, the art created by an actual human, [00:15:00] more valuable.
I think artists have an opportunity to use AI technology to become more creative, more expressive, and more empathetic. But artists need to push for control over how their works are being used. and they need to insist that any AI that they use fully disclose the sources.
And I do think an artist needs to be very clear whether an art piece that they created was created by artificial intelligence, or if they just simply use AI tools to help them to create that artwork. I want to know that an art piece was created by a person, and I think the art world is pretty smart and will make distinctions fairly quickly about whether a piece of art that was generated by AI has any value.
I'm using AI in my podcast production process. But ultimately, these are my words. These are my thoughts, and I'm using AI just simply to help me be a little bit more productive, a little bit [00:16:00] more creative, and a little bit more expressive, and that's where I find a comfortable balance in using AI in my creative process.
How will you be using AI in the stuff that you make and what steps are you going to take to make sure that you maintain integrity in the work that you create?
I myself think that this is a really fascinating topic and in particular because we are now at the moment in time when all of these AI tools are being released into the world and we are just starting to figure out how to use them and how to live with them.
So, in preparing this episode, I consulted a number of different articles and YouTubes on this topic, and I've linked to them in the show notes. So please refer to the show [00:17:00] notes and take a look at these. I think you'll find them very interesting.
And so, onto my disclosures. All the words in this episode are mine, except for some paraphrasing that I did from the Guardian article about Jaron Lanier.
I did all of the post-production using the Descript tool, and that does use AI for transcribing my voice. And I also used ChatGPT to ask me some questions about this topic and that helped me to get to my first draft.
The cover art that I'm using for this episode was created by an algorithm that I wrote specifically for this episode, and I assembled the cover art using Pixelmator on the Mac.
The short melody that I use at the beginning and between segments is a Sonic Pi program called Play Pattern Fun, that is part of the Me Hack It Sonic Pi programming workshop.[00:18:00]
That's it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If you like these episodes, please consider subscribing to the Creative Shoofly wherever you get your podcasts.
And that's it for now. Be well and be creative.
Tuesday Mar 21, 2023
Mind Maps are Liberating
Tuesday Mar 21, 2023
Tuesday Mar 21, 2023
In this episode I talk about how I use mind maps and why I find them liberating. Mind maps are an important part of my creative toolbox, but my mind mapping process is a bit different from the traditional form. I hope you will enjoy hearing about it.
Links mentioned in this podcast
A Writer's Time, by Kenneth Atchity
The above is an affiliate link and I may earn a small commission from it.
Mind Map Examples
My original mind map for this episode. I wrote the first draft directly from this mind map.
This second mind map is for a podcasting workshop that I will be giving at Hunt and Gather in May 2023. I developed this into a traditional outline and from there I created slides for the presentation.
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about exploring the creative journey as an artist, and in this episode, I want to talk about mind maps and how I use them in my creative process.
What I like about mind maps is they're quick, they help me discover connections, and they help me overcome my inner self-editor.
I don't know about you, but I get stuck a lot. I get blank page syndrome when starting a new project. I have a vague idea of what I need to do, but I don't know what I should write down first.
The tool that first comes to mind is outlining. I think most of us learned outlining in school and outlines can be good, but I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about the order. What comes first and what's next, and does this belong in a sub-bullet or in its own thing? And does this thing even belong here? Outlining is one hard decision after another, and I find that trying to make an outline from scratch is a big struggle.
So I find myself avoiding starting the whole process. I distract myself with something else like surfing, YouTube, or seeing what's been posted on eBay today.
But a while ago I discovered mind mapping. It's not a new technique. It was created by Tony Buzan and became popular in the ‘60s and the ‘70s. I think I first picked it up in the ‘90s when I was reading a book about creative writing.
I don't recall the name of the author or the book, but it emphasized that mind mapping promised a better way to organize ideas. It promised speed and ease. it also promised liberation from that voice in your head that was always saying no, which I thought was quite a claim to make. How could a breakthrough tool for making organizing easier also free your mind?
And if it really does that, why isn't everybody using it?
I think there's a natural reluctance to try something that few people are talking about. No one I know or met was using mind maps, and if they were, they weren't telling me. I don't know if mind mapping is taught in school today.
It certainly wasn't in my day. I imagine that a mind map would be a hard thing to grade as a teacher because each mind map is so unique to the person making it.
Some folks probably also wonder how it is relevant to the creative process. They might ask whether anything is really wrong with the standard approach of outlining and making simple lists as an organizing principle.
When I mention mind mapping, others also say that it's far too complicated. When you go online and look at examples of mind maps, a lot of them look like works of art, like a beautiful tree with a thick trunk and gorgeous multicolor leaves. People have also told me that mind-mapping software is too complicated and too expensive.
My answer to all of these concerns is to just keep it simple.
For my mind maps, I use paper and pen, and they're definitely not works of art. I rarely use color and unless someone asks, I don't show them to anyone. In fact, once I'm done with them, they usually go in the trash.
You're probably listening to me now thinking if they go in the trash, how can they be useful?
Well, let me explain. For me, mind mapping is about getting as many ideas down on paper and out of my head as fast as I can. I start in the center of the paper and I write down the idea that I want to explore. I'll draw a circle around it, and then I draw a line to another part of the paper. I write down whatever pops into my head, and then I draw lines from that and write down more related ideas.
There are really no rules. I just draw lines from idea to idea wherever there's space on the paper. Eventually, my paper is filled with a mess of circles, lines, and ideas, and it looks like a crazy spider with big padded feet. In fact, another name for this is Spider Diagram.
The goal is to brainstorm, make connections, and most importantly, avoid my inner editor. It's that inner editor that is always getting in the way. You know the voice that says, “Don't you dare write that down! That's silly! You'll look like a fool! That's not important! That's irrelevant!”
When I'm outlining, my mind naturally tries to organize, and organizing means editing. But when I mind map, I'm not organizing. All I'm doing is connecting. And I do this as fast as I can. As I'm writing things down and a thought occurs and I find myself hesitating, I tell myself, “Don't edit! Just write it down.”
There's usually a point when I slow down and I can't think of any more ideas or connections. It's at this point that I notice which parts of the map attract more of my attention. There's a moment when I look at the map and realize, oh, this part over here is really interesting.
The map is showing me what I should pay attention to and what I should work on first. When the mind map is done, I usually know what my next step is. Sometimes it might be making a formal outline or maybe a project plan. It all depends on what my mind map is about.
It was British educator Tony Buzan who created mind mapping, and I want to emphasize that I don't follow his exact method. He emphasizes that each branch should be labeled with only a single word and that you should incorporate images and color.
The principle behind the single-word rule is that single words are likely to conjure more connected ideas. In other words, if you put down phrases or whole sentences, you potentially limit yourself to fewer connections.
I see the usefulness in that approach, but in practice, I have not seen my approach of writing whole phrases as a limitation. In fact, when I learned mind mapping, the emphasis was not so much on connections as it was on speed. I learned that the main goal was to get down as much as you can without editing yourself.
For me, it's the quickness that makes mind maps effective.
And I do sometimes draw images and use colors, but not at the expense of being fast. Buzan emphasizes that mind mapping is a great tool for taking notes at lectures or while reading a book. I do that sometimes and it is true. It is actually a great tool for those things. The visual and connected nature of mind maps makes them great for recalling ideas later, but I'm not using mind mapping for taking notes. The goal is to get ideas stuck in my head out and down on paper.
There's a technique using index cards that's very similar to how I do mind mapping. Kenneth Achity in his book, A Writer's Time, talks about how the mind contains a multitude of voices.
In his model, there's a continent that represents the unconscious mind and its memories.
There are islands that represent the thoughts, ideas, and perceptions that the conscious mind is currently aware of and actively engaged with.
And finally, there's an inner editor who mediates the conversation between the islands and the continent and who will often prevent those connections from being made.
Atchity suggests using index cards to help make those connections all while setting the inner editor aside.
For example, if you're writing a short story, you can write individual scenes and snippets of dialogue on each card, even if you don't know yet what order the scenes will occur, or if a particular scene even makes sense.
Once you've collected a number of scenes, you can arrange them in order to see what would make sense story-wise. In the process of putting them in order, you might surprise yourself with a scene order that never occurred to you. And often the process of putting scenes in order will spur more ideas for more scenes and dialogue or help clarify something that was missing.
I tried this with a short story that I wrote recently for the B0ardside zine, and I was delighted with how well it worked. The key to this method was to start explicitly by not concerning myself with the order of the scenes.
Just as I do with mind mapping, I just thought of as many scene ideas as I could, in a short amount of time. Only after I had exhausted myself of ideas did I allow my inner editor to join in the fun of creating a story.
For those of you who do creative writing, I'll post a link to the book in the show notes. I've been using mind mapping and Atchity's index card technique for many years now. And what I now know is that the key for both of them is to sidestep my inner editor.
The breakthrough for me was when I realized that my inner editor is a trusted partner in the creative process, but I needed to delay or hold it off until the time was right. I need my inner editor to take a vacation at the start of any project until I had enough ideas on paper from which I could make new and interesting connections.
Ideas are there inside of you. You need a tool to get them out on paper.
I like mind maps for this process because they're quick. They help me make connections, and most importantly, they help me overcome my inner self-editor.
When it comes to your inner editor, make a deal with it. Send it off on a vacation. Get all of those great ideas out of your head and onto paper. Make connections that hadn't occurred to you before. And then when you're ready, call the inner editor back in to do its job.
The mind mapping process does not need to be complicated. I took the basic ideas of mind mapping and made them my own. I encourage you to do the same. I hope that you'll give mind maps a try in your creative process.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Creative Shoofly. If you're interested, please visit creativeshoofly.com and you can see a few examples of mind maps that I've done recently, including the mind map that I did to create today's episode.
If you like today's episode and want to hear more about the creative process, please consider subscribing to the Creative Shoofly wherever you get your podcasts.
That's it for now. Be well and be creative.
Friday Feb 17, 2023
You And I Make a Thing with Tara Bahna-James
Friday Feb 17, 2023
Friday Feb 17, 2023
In this episode, I'm continuing my improvisational experiment that I call You And I Make A Thing. I invited my friend Tara to come up with a theme or project that we could do together. I hope you will enjoy hearing about our project as much as we did doing it.
Links mentioned in this podcast
Tara’s SoundCloud album: My Favorite Things, Sacred and Secular Seasonal Music
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Issa Rae Teaches Creating Outside the Lines on Masterclass
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Some of these links are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from them.
The fallen cypress tree in Golden Gate Park
The fallen tree in Westchester NY near the reservoir
Thomas: My guest today is Tara Bahna-James. Hello, Tara.
Tara: Hi, Thomas.
Thomas: How's it going?
Tara: Great. Great. Thanks so much. I'm happy to be here.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm happy that you're here. Tara is a playwright, singer, and performer, educator and essayist. She's co-authored six musicals and her shows and songs have been performed at theaters and festivals across the United States. And [00:01:00] about a year ago, Tara released an album on SoundCloud called My Favorite Things, Sacred and Secular Seasonal Music. And I've listened to it and it's wonderful. It's so beautiful. You have a, you have a beautiful voice, Tara.
Tara: Thank you.
Thomas: Before we get started with You And I Make a Thing, I want to ask you, Tell us about a creative thing that you are making at the moment or something that you're planning to make soon.
Tara: So right now, I've been spending a lot of time outdoors recently, in all seasons just because, just before the pandemic began, I moved to sort of a more rural area than I was living before. And so there have been actually surprisingly, lots of opportunities to just sort of get out and hike and, so I've been thinking about trees a lot.
So at present, a previous collaborator of mine, Jonathan Portera, who I've, worked with several times on musical season, brilliant composer. He and I have been talking for a long time about beginning a new [00:02:00] work together and we don't know a lot about it, but we know that we're both fascinated with the life cycles of trees and the connections of trees to fungi.
Tara: And so I exactly where that's gonna take us.
But I think that's kind the direction that we're going in right now.
Thomas: That's great. That's wonderful. I mean, there's, there's a lot there to study and research and talk about and create from. Trees are like us and they're also very different from us in some ways. And, you know, in the sense that their lifespans can be much, much longer than ours.
And they have these, beautiful connections. You mentioned fungi and many trees have that symbiotic relationship with fungi. The fungi give them nourishment and the trees give the fungi nourishment in a different way in return. It's very [00:03:00] interesting.
Tara: What I'm also, what I'm in particularly fascinated by is that, just like from what I said, from spending time outdoors more often, just the way that wilderness affords you simultaneously a real stillness and also company at the same time. And I'm reading Braiding Sweetgrass right now for the first time and there's this beautiful quote that I just came across. I don't have the book in front of me, so I'm not gonna get it right, I'm sure.
But it was something about how the land recognizes you or knows you even when you don't necessarily recognize yourself. And immediately that resonated for me as something that I feel like I experience, even if I'm in a very new place. There's when I'm out hiking, if it's by myself or with dogs, I always, there's just this, this sort of sense of being recognized and not alone in the world. You know, even when in one's solitude.
And that's [00:04:00] just, that's something that feels, um, it's funny, I wanna say it feels very songful to me. It feels very musical, but that's not quite what I'm getting at because it's actually the stillness and the quiet of those moments that I so love.
But there's, there's something in there I guess, that speaks, that I want to give voice to that experience. So I think that's where that's coming from, that desire to write to that place.
Thomas: A little bit of like validation of the self when you're with the trees,
Tara: I dunno if it's the self, it's the family, I guess. Right? It's like the, yeah. The connection to all things. The mystic nature that poets love so much. So, yeah.
Thomas: Well, wonderful. I'll be looking forward to seeing how that evolves, and I'm sure you'll let me know when you've manifested it.
Thomas: Well, [00:05:00] Tara, I'm so excited to be doing this episode with you. And specifically the idea of You And I Make A Thing. And I have to admit, I have some butterflies at the moment, which of course is the whole point of this exercise is to get together with you, to collaborate with you on something and we don't know yet what it's gonna be.
So, for those of you listening, Tara and I have not decided on something ahead of time. The point of what we're doing right now is to be in the moment and to improvise an idea. But I did, Tara, I did ask you to think of three things that you've thought about doing at some point and you haven't tried yet, and maybe it's something you might want to try.
And I've also have three things that I came up with. And I was thinking that we could sort of bounce back and forth. You could say a thing, I could say a thing. And then, you know, once we have both of our three things said, then we can sort of, I guess just sit with it and say, [00:06:00] oh, you wanna try that?
Tara: Sounds good.
Thomas: Do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?
Tara: I don't mind going first. I don't know if my ideas are meant to, well, I just, I felt a lot of freedom in the invitation, I'll just say that.
Tara: In terms of whether what I pick is thematic or about form or technology. so I just sort of riffed on that. I think my three are very different from one another.
So the first. also inspired by the book I'm reading right now, was for us to make some kind of natural art existing in either time or space. And the ideas that we would create it as kind of a call and response. Like either outdoor art, and it could be temporary art. It could be the kind of thing that maybe we document with a photograph or something, but then it sort of gets washed away. Or perhaps a ritual that is, informed by our [00:07:00] distance.
So the ideas behind this are basically the two ideas are, one, that it exists outside in some way. And two, that our working from so many miles apart collaboratively enhance the experience and the project rather than be you know, any kind of debility in creating what we're creating. So that it sort of informs the whole process.
The fact that we're, we're doing this in two different times and places. Yeah.
Thomas: I love that idea. I mean, there's already like sparkles going around my mind here. That's a fantastic idea. And we are on opposite coasts. I'm on the West Coast and you're on the East Coast.
Tara: Right. This way.
Thomas: And are, are you, are you close to the shore. Are you close to, to the Atlantic? There where you are?
Tara: I'm not too close. I'm close enough. Certainly. It's about an hour's drive for me, I'd say. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Thomas: All right. I think [00:08:00] that actually sort of, ties into two of mine, believe it or not.
Tara: Oh, great. Great.
Thomas: So I've had this idea, so thank you for that. And let's bookmark that and let's see what shows up with these other ideas. So I have this thing that I've been thinking about wanting to do, and I call it skewer quotes. And in my imagination, what I do is I take an old typewriter. I actually have access to an old style typewriter. And type out a thought. Cut it out, paste it onto a skewer, you know, like one of those, things that you get Maraschino cherries in a cocktail, or a small skewer. And then go out to the dunes here at the beach and just plant it in the dunes for somebody else to find.
Tara: Oh my. I love that. That's interesting. That does feel very close to what I thought, doesn't it?
Tara: [00:09:00] So what do the skewers part come from? Is it just for a way so that you can sort of, so that they won't blow away basically, so that you can attach them to something?
Thomas: Yeah, so you can stick 'em in the ground.
Tara: Okay, got it.
Thomas: So in my craft shop, my garage, with all these materials that I have, I have a lot of crafty items. And whenever I go to some of the local little tchotchke shops, we have a lot of Asian stores that sell teacups and bowls and, and strainers and you name it, right, for the kitchen.
And it's all very inexpensive because it's just, hey, you know, this is for daily use. It's not fine China or anything like that. And in those shops, I'm always looking for things that I could repurpose for crafts. So in my craft box of tongue depressors and swizzle sticks and all that, [00:10:00] I have like bundles and bundles of skewers that, you know, normally would be in the kitchen, but they're here in in my craft studio and waiting to be used.
So that's where the, skewer comes from. And I just thought skewer quote also has a ring to it. Like there is a little bit of tension when you say skewer.
Thomas: Because you're poking something.
Tara: That that, honestly, that's what strikes me too, and it sounds aggressive in that way, I guess. Or not aggressive, but you know what I mean, or something. I don't know. I guess I'm trying to find a way of interpreting that. But why? I'm not gonna look for ways to interpret anything.
I'm gonna let it unfold. But I found myself sort of looking for a way into that part of it.
Thomas: Well, there is the cooking metaphor, right? I mean, you're taking your piece of onion and your piece of mushroom and the piece of, you know, bell pepper and all that, and making it into something that looks a little bit decorative and then you put on the grill.
Tara: Right, right, [00:11:00] right, right. That's so funny. Yeah. Yeah.
Thomas: All right, well that was number two. We still have four more to go. Let's see where this goes.
Tara: So my next idea was, so I've done some visual art in the past, not very much. I sketch a little bit, but it's probably the art form that I do least frequently. Or the one that I've heard of that I do least frequently. So something visual, and I was thinking, I've always wanted to make functional art.
Once I made a cup in a glassblowing workshop that I had. And it was just, I was so delightfully proud of it forever ever and ever. It's just such a special experience. So this thought was just that we would take some functional thing that we both decided to make, and then like either decide on a functional thing that we would then each reinterpret with our own choice of material.
Or that we would create together based on sort of part problem solving and talking [00:12:00] through, maybe making our ideal, you know, form of the whatever. Like form, like newfangled form of a chair say, or whatever. And just yeah, like approach it in a sort of a problem-solving way so that the end result was a new creation of some kind.
Thomas: And so when you say functional, that could be. like any, just anything that a person would use,
Tara: Like, when I was little, I always wanted to, I told my mother, my nose was always cold in the winter. And I had this idea that somebody should make nose cozies, like instead, like just for your nose, you know? Now of course I'm aware of all these hats and things that exist to like cover the nose. But like you know, but just the idea that there was like a little, almost like just like a tea cozy, like a little knit fabric that would sort of sit on the end of your nose that you could wear with maybe straps and you know, maybe it would look like little animal noses or something like.
Thomas: I love that.
Tara: Yeah, it could be something that you've wanted to exist too. It doesn't have to be [00:13:00] typical.
Thomas: All right. I like that. Let's see. Now you got me thinking. All right. Before I start thinking too much, I'm gonna propose my next idea. I've been wanting to make something called a mini box assemblage. An an assemblage or a box assemblage, is an art form where the artist takes a box and then basically makes like a three-dimensional collage.
It's like collaging, but using found objects, right?
Thomas: But I'm thinking of more of the mini version. And, you know, when you get jewelry in a small box. It's usually these white little cardboard boxes with a piece of cotton in them.
Thomas: You familiar with those?
Thomas: I was thinking what would it be like to take a box like that and make a collage from that, like [00:14:00] find smaller three-dimensional things and create, an assemblage, a collage out of that. And that's something that I've been, considering.
Tara: This kinda reminds me of dioramas. Do you make those in school?
Thomas: I do, I do make dioramas, and it is sort of like a diorama, except that it's usually less representational, it's more abstract. It's more abstract in, in the sense of a collage, like when you do a paper cut collage.
Tara: Okay. Hmm.
Thomas: All right, so how about you? You have one more thing, right?
Tara: My last thing, yeah, so this idea is probably the least developed and it, oh, do you know, it's so funny. I had, one of the ideas that I took off my list was collage. So there's that resonance with your three-dimensional one actually. So there, there's resonance there too.
But anyway, the third idea was just to use a technology, or a format in writing that I don't typically [00:15:00] use. So I've always wanted to, I like the idea of working in film or video, but usually the technology's intimidating to me to the extent where I sort of put off working with it. But I know you're much more tech savvy than I am.
So I guess if there was some technology that you've been curious about that you haven't tried out yet that we could sort of play around in. Or like, I write a lot of scripts, but I don't typically write scripts for film and video. So maybe something like that. And something I, another idea that came to mind along those lines that feels kind of goofy to me, but fun is to actually write a pilot.
Like write a TV pilot or something like that. Like come up with a situation and then write the first episode for whatever show that would be.
Thomas: Oh, that's cool. I subscribe to Masterclass and one of the artists that I follow there is Issa Rae. And she's done, you know, a fabulous job with her series. And her class all is all about that. It's all about creating a pilot and how do you go [00:16:00] about it and how do you create the characters and stuff like that.
Thomas: Yeah. I'm gonna tell you one more here and then we can step back a little bit and make a decision. So the last one is, have you seen the book Griffin and Sabine?
Tara: Oh, I've heard of it, but I can't remember. Is it, is it letters to one another?
Thomas: It's letters. So the idea is that there's an artist that lives in England, his name is Griffin, and he gets this mysterious letter from Sabine. She's in New Zealand, and she reveals that she can see him. So they're writing letters back and forth. And of course this unnerves him as like, how in the world is this person, Sabine able to see me? Like, she can visualize him.
And the book itself is basically you open a page and there's an envelope, and then you open the envelope and open the letter and there's the [00:17:00] letter, right? And I thought, but that's such a terrific way to tell a story of, you know, these letters back and forth.
So anyway, one of these days I want to attempt something like that.
Tara: So is the idea that we would create kind of an epistolary novel, or is there the idea that we would write letters as ourselves back and forth to each other and then create some artwork out of that and, I don't know. And I guess I'm curious as whether we're writing, if that's the case, are we writing as characters or we're writing as ourselves as you say.
Thomas: I would think we're writing as characters. I think we would decide, okay, let's do a story around this thing, this topic, and then decide what the letters are going back and forth. So anyway, that's my third idea.
Thomas: There's so much here, isn't there?
Tara: There really is! Eager to pair this with the TV pilot idea since the other two [00:18:00] seem to go so well together. You know, although I guess maybe the three dimensional collage is not so much like the functional art but it feels like, each of our three ideas in our set were divergent from one another in similar ways. Does that make sense?
Thomas: It is. Yeah, I agree. Definite similarities there. I have to say that, I mean, they all resonate with me and I'm sure they're resonating with you as well, but I have to say that your first idea of going out into the wilderness and making something ephemeral really did resonate with me. What about you? how's this all hit for you?
Tara: I feel open to them all, but I think I agree that, that one, I think that first idea really resonated in a way that felt like it was, I could see it taking shape. Does that make sense? Like, I feel like it was probably the most developed idea that I had.
And also, I [00:19:00] think of your three, it was also your most developed idea. So, I guess I'm blending them. You're talking about the first idea and I guess I'm talking about one and two as a unit for some reason. So when you say going down to the dunes, are you talking about combining the skewer quotes with the first idea or, exclusively like diving into the first idea to try to see what comes up.
Thomas: Well, how do you feel about the skewer quotes?
Tara: I like the skewer quotes except that I don't know how I feel about the skewers, but I mean, I could also use tongue depressors or something like that.
Thomas: It doesn't have to be a skewer.
Tara: And I also, yeah, and I also don't know how to wrap my mind around I'm trying to sort of wrap my brain around how we could do it in a way that didn't create trash ultimately. You know what I mean?
Thomas: Yeah, well, we don't have to leave it there.
Thomas: In [00:20:00] this sense, it's like we could create something that is literally ephemeral and we just go down there, we photograph it, or interact with it or do something with it.
Tara: Or we could, we could, place elements that are already in the space, in a way that, that leaves behind some kind of message or some kind of communication.
Thomas: Like an echo or a shadow.
Thomas: like that.
Tara: Yeah. And I also like, so part of the first idea was that there's that call in response element to it.
So I don't know if that means yet that one of us creates something. I mean, there's also, you know, we could, because of modern technology, we could literally be doing this at the same time and communicating about it. Or we could go into the space and have an experience or create something and then share it with the other [00:21:00] person so that then the other person would respond to it.
Thomas: I like the idea of call and response.
Tara: Mm-hmm. Maybe that's our theme. Maybe that whole, that's our theme call and response. And that's the idea that we're creating around.
So we could like pick a space that we're each gonna go into and then respond to the notion of call and response. And then listen for what's in the space and then respond to it or listen for our art partner on the other side of the coast. And then respond to what we're picking up, you know?
Thomas: I like that. That's great.
Thomas: We have our idea.
Tara: Good, awesome.
In just a moment, Tara and I will return what the results of artistic adventure to the outdoors. But before we do that, I'd like to play for you. One of Tara's songs on her album. [00:22:00] My Favorite Things, Sacred and Secular Music. It's called Riu Chiu and it was arranged by Mike Magatagan.
Thomas: That was Tara Bahna- James singing Riu Chiu. And I'll put a link to her album on SoundCloud in the show notes. Now, back to our conversation about You And I Make a Thing.
Thomas: Well, Tara, welcome back! It's been a while since we've last spoke.
Tara: Indeed, indeed. Thank you. It's great to be here.
Thomas: And thank you for playing along and doing this thing with me. The You And I Make a Thing. I am just so delighted with what we both came up with. And what I thought we would start with is to talk a little bit about what we were thinking before we got started with our adventure to the [00:25:00] outdoors.
Thomas: And I'll start. When we did our first conversation, it was just before New Year's, and right after that, we had a quite a bit of weather come through here in California. We had a number of storms that just, you know, came through one after the other.
So I was waiting to find a break in the weather to go out and do something. But I have to admit that I was a little struggling a little bit to try to figure out what it is that I wanted to do. You know, we said that we wanted to create some sort of ephemeral art. And my initial thought was to go down to the beach, but with the weather we were having, it just didn't make sense to go there.
Thomas: So I couldn't figure out what I was gonna do, you know, was I gonna go down to the beach and play in the sand, do some sort of dance, make some images in the sand or whatever? I was struggling for quite a while to come up with [00:26:00] something. And before I proceed with how I sort of found what I wanted to do, I'm just curious about what you were feeling going into this.
Tara: Yeah, I guess I had a kind of similar experience. I also envisioned myself on the beach, somewhere in Sanford maybe. And the reason it didn't work out that way, is more because of what came up for me when I saw what you had done initially, which is great. I'm glad it worked out that way.
But I also wasn't really sure of the direction I wanted to go in. I tend to gestate things for a while before I create an artistic piece. I'm waiting for influences from all the parts of my world to sort of gather. You know, it takes me a while to figure out what themes I've been turning over in the various parts of my life, what wants to be birthed, you know?
And so, so I think that's where I was with [00:27:00] it. And also, as I mentioned in what I wrote for you about the work after I had done it. I think what was particularly challenging for this piece was that it really wasn't restrictive at all in terms of what we were supposed to bring to each other.
I also felt like, okay, it could be experiential, it can be the form of something. I guess I had a feeling after our conversation that what we were talking about doing was leaving some mark of an experience in nature that we had had.
Like not necessarily leaving something behind, because I think we wanted it to sort of live in the landscape and not become trash.
But I did feel like it was, you know, it was like the meeting place between an experience and an artifact, but it wasn't fully an artifact.
And I think that definitely presented a challenge in terms of conceiving it from the beginning. Because I felt like going through [00:28:00] it was going to reveal what it was. If that makes sense.
Thomas: I want to pick up on something you mentioned about it just being so open-ended. Art is hard when it's open-ended right?
I mean, that's why if you look at Instagram and places like that, everybody's always doing like daily prompts. Someone comes up with a list of the prompts for February and today you're gonna be doing something about oranges or whatever it might be. And having it not be so open-ended actually stimulates creativity. Right?
Thomas: So this was a challenge in that way. It was really open-ended.
There was a point where I said, oh, you know, I think I'm actually gonna go to Golden Gate Park instead of going to the beach. And so I started imagining like, what could I take with me that I could do something [00:29:00] with, but I wouldn't leave it there.
And I have this huge coil of jute rope and I was thinking of taking the rope and stringing it from tree to tree and maybe even having me in as part of it.
And then what happened was someone posted a picture of a tree that had fallen during the storms that we had. And this particular tree is actually fairly well known to me. The reason is, it was growing right on the edge of a lake called Metson Lake. And it was a hundred year old cypress tree.
And the way it was next to the lake, it was almost like leaning into the lake. The the tree was leaning a little bit and it looked like it had one foot, if you will, one, big root right into the lake itself. And it toppled during the storms. When I read that, the first thing I felt was a kind of sadness.
Because of the [00:30:00] way the tree was positioned almost over the water, it always had this amazing reflection in the water. So it was almost like a part of the lake, or a part of the scene.
And the lake is only a 15 minute walk away from where I live, and so I would go there often and just sit in one of the benches.
And so it was an integral part of that scene, if you will, even though I don't think that I had created a a personal relationship with the tree, if you understand what I mean.
And now to see this tree toppled, all of a sudden it's like it felt personal, right? Is because it's like, oh, that scene will never, I'll never be able to see that scene again.
I'll never be able to see that tall tree and the reflection as well.
So after I learned about it after a couple days, I actually took a walk over there and took a look. And what struck me about it is, you know, first of all, the tree had fallen directly [00:31:00] into the lake. And the base of the tree is six feet or more in width.
So it was laying on its side, but underneath the tree was all sand because this area that used to be all sand dunes, right? And so this tree had grown on these sand dunes and yet the roots hadn't gone straight down at all. The roots had just simply gone to the side, which is I guess what Cypress trees do.
They don't send a big tap root downward at all. So I was a little bit surprised to see that a big patch of sand, just where the tree was standing. And so after I'd seen that, I went home and thought about it more and thought about our project here. And that's when it occurred to me. I said, you know, that plot of sand, would be a good canvas to do something with.
And as we had talked about in our previous conversation, I wanted to use materials that I found there. And the thing that [00:32:00] occurred to me is like a galaxy. And reason I thought about that is because it's been on my mind.
I've been thinking about the fact that we're in this great big Milky Way galaxy on a planet circling the sun and the solar system is circling in the the galaxy.
So it just was on, on the top of my mind. And so that's what I did. I went out and I was hoping to find some flowers, which I did. There was a lot of little yellow oxalis flowers blooming. And I got a few of those, put them in the center, and then I took pine needles and did a sort of a spiral around them. And then I was just noticing a clumps of lichen everywhere. So I just had to sort of finish it with having lichen on the outside.
I know that galaxies don't have lichen, but you know, it spoke to me for whatever reason. So that's what I came up with. I felt for me it was sort of a way to honor the tree and come to some sort of internal peace about the fact that the tree is now no longer standing.
[00:33:00] And, and it brought up a lot of feelings for me, but we'll get to that in a little moment. So now I'm curious to know how you felt when you received my email with the pictures.
Tara: Yeah, it's so interesting to hear you talk about them too, because it's different. It changes. I'm glad we didn't talk about it more before I received them.
Cuz it was really lovely to just take in the images and the story of the tree falling and your relationship to it without the background of what brought you to those ideas.
So, I also just wanna say, I love what you said about it helped you make peace with the fact that that experience of the landscape in that way with the tree standing was gone.
That there was, there's like an element of specifically of grieving, but I'm more thinking that it just speaks to me how [00:34:00] often, you know, there's an event and, I mean, if I can assume that we have a relatively similar culture. Our North American culture in this day and age, as United States citizens, has less acknowledgement of those rights of passage and the human need to like do some kind of ritual to really fully process.
Tara: You know, so I love that because I feel like although mine was more of a gratitude ritual rather than for mourning, although it was also around a dead tree, or dying tree.
It's funny, it feels even funny to use the word dying with trees because I'm just so aware of their part of the circle of life. It's just so evident when you see them beginning to decay and other life forms like growing on them and the mushrooms and the spiders sort of taking them over. And moss or whatever. Yeah, it's just such a, such an interesting thing to think about from the perspective of this human life.
And, but anyway, I felt like [00:35:00] that was also a really strong part of it for me, that I was trying to show up for feelings, that it may not have occurred to me to stop and process if we hadn't been doing this.
Cuz it was such a peripheral, you know, like that tree, like your tree as well, it sounds like, it's not like you communicated with it directly or saw it every single day. But it was still in your world and it was still another being that you had a relational experience with, you know?
Thomas: And that I had reason to have gratitude for.
Tara: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Right, right.
So when I saw your photos, the image of the fallen tree definitely spoke to me first because I saw in it this fallen tree that I was familiar with here on the East coast, that I frequently passed when I was walking dogs. I've worked part-time as a dog sitter in addition to a bunch of other [00:36:00] things.
And so I have occasion to go hiking with dogs very, very often. And this is one of my favorite places to go hiking with them by the reservoir in Westchester County.
And so the tree, I knew that for me, that image of your tree was connected to this particular tree.
There's no other tree that I see so frequently where I'm like staring at its root system, just sort of like right in the path. It’s a landmark. It's sort of how I mark how far I've gone along the path when I'm walking with these dogs.
And there's something kind of ominous about it. It's like, you know, having fallen, it symbolizes death in some kind of way, but it's also, it's just very underworldy, literally, literally.
I mean, it's teaming with life, right? It's like all of these sort of, all of these sort of creatures living in the, in the dirt, hanging from its roots.
You know, it's an area that, I do have [00:37:00] relationships with several trees that when I pass them, I move to, you know, to touch them or hug them or sit by them or what, you know.
This is a tree that I always kind of kept my distance from because it was sort of gnarly and muddy and like, you know, like the dogs love running and smelling and eating and chewing everything on the path, but I'm like taking my dainty little steps to sort of stay on the straight and narrow and not step in anything too gross, you know?
And so I didn't. I had sort of distance from the street, and yet it was, as you say, it's like, it was a part of my world and something to have gratitude for. It was something that I recognized. It was something that helped to create the space that was this sanctuary for me and it's like playground for me.
So that was the first thing, is that your image is, immediately gave me clarity about where my part of the project was gonna take place. I knew I was gonna have to go to the tree.
Tara: The reason I was also very interested to hear you talk about the galaxy is [00:38:00] because, I didn't realize it at the time, I think, but to me, the notion of the galaxy also has that sense of like, there's so much life within it.
Right? It's this, it's this sort of visual structure. It's like when we look at galaxies, we're so far removed from them that they become really abstract and geometric, when in actuality it's just teaming with life. I mean, at least ours is.
And so that also sort of spoke to the experience of the tree. That the underbelly or underfoot of the tree is kind of this, you know, I see it as this sort of one round, like this one geometric experience that I have this kind of distant relationship to, but an actuality, it's an entire ecosystem.
So, that was really meaningful to me. And then also I mentioned just the visual of looking at the galaxy that you created, it really brought up the image of a nest to me, there was something that felt very [00:39:00] nest like, and I think it's the needles, the pine needles.
It just felt soft. It felt like the kind of like, if I were a bird, it felt like it was the kind of materials that I might gather, be interested in, you know. And there was something that was so, it was so contained and round and it was a, you know, it felt like a kind of civilized expression of emotion. And, to me, that evoked nest also.
So, and I don't know that thought made it into my creation as much. But anyway, but I thought it was interesting and it definitely, I guess, colored how I, what I thought was going on with the project.
Thomas: One thing that occurs me to me too as we're talking about this is, you know, when we behold trees, we are in awe of them because they are so tall and they're so much larger than us.
Thomas: And when a tree falls down, at least for me, that root structure, seeing the underside [00:40:00] and the roots just splayed out is awe-inspiring in a totally different way, you know, because it is, it's still large, right?
I mean, the foot of this tree was, it was more than six feet, because that's, now I'm thinking about, it's taller than me. So it's like a different type of awe. To see a tree in that state. Because it's like, wow, even the base is so large.
Tara: Absolutely. And when I looked at my tree again that day that I was working on the project, I also, for the first time, really stepped back and saw how much ground its trunk covered sprawled across, you know, just. I don't even, I can't even fathom. I don't spend that much time measuring things.
But I mean, it was just much, much taller than I ever envisioned. I took a panoramic shot of it before I left. And what was remarkable is like there were branches that I hadn't [00:41:00] realized were part of that tree until I really intentionally stepped back and took it all in and recognized how much of the landscape was made up of that tree.
Thomas: So Tara, tell me a little bit about the ritual that you performed at the tree.
Tara: Yeah. So I while we were working on this, I was reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass. Which is just such a tremendous work of everything, of memoir, of meditation, of honoring the plant life and ancestors in her life. It's just a beautiful, beautiful book.
I'm still not finished with it, but I just love it. And she has a chapter in which she talks about how when she was a child, her father would like, they would camp. And in the morning her father always made sure to pour the first cup of coffee out to the earth as an [00:42:00] offering.
It's like an echo of this, I hope I'm saying it right, Potawatomi ritual. And so that chapter talks a lot about ways in which the ritual life of her ancestors survived into her little nuclear family that was much more modernized and integrated.
But that there were these things that remained. And one of them was this sense of the importance of living with gratitude and reciprocity with the land and, you know, relationship. And that that's one of the ways that it lived for her in this ritual that she sort of took for granted it or, didn't, you know, realize the depth of it when she first experienced it.
So anyway, so I guess what happened for me is that when I realized that the images that you took brought me to this tree in my mind and made me want to go to this tree.[00:43:00] I realized that what I had for, you know, if I were gonna go to make an offering to this tree or in that space, it would be one of gratitude, because that's land that I've used for so often.
I'm years now, and I just not, I just never quite had, you know, I mean, I think I probably even do say thank you sometimes. I'm just a really verbal person and I'm a singer and it's very rare I go walking in the woods without singing something or, you know, talking to myself or the dogs or whoever I'm with.
So I'm sure at some point, you know, said some kind of thanks, but it wasn't for its own sake. It wasn't like I was making the trip to do that. And so I thought I'm gonna make this trip to say thank you. I'm gonna go to that space and just experience it differently, consciously reflecting on what it's meant to me and saying thank you.
And so, I borrowed her ritual and I took my [00:44:00] morning beverage, some of my morning beverage, which I did not prepare on the spot because I hadn't camped there.
Lately I've been drinking this delicious, this, you know, fad of mushroom coffee, which doesn't actually have coffee in it. And I just love this, this morning beverage. It's got like a cacao and turmeric and all these mushrooms and it's quite delicious and spicy and...
Thomas: That sounds delicious.
Tara: It is totally delicious and so I thought, okay, I'm gonna take some of this with me. And I was looking for, for the right day for a while, because while we have not had the kind of storms that California experienced, we have had, severe drops in temperature. Like within 24 hours, it'll go from 60 degrees to 20 degrees or something like that.
So I've been sort of waiting for the right time when I would wanna linger in outdoors and, and I got that opportunity.
And I just, went to the reservoir and I went for a hike by myself And I stopped at the tree.
And then while I was [00:45:00] there, also in homage to your galaxy, I created my own galaxy of pine cones. There was an abundance of these beautiful pine cones. Many, many different sizes. And so I made this little swirl of a galaxy and I said a prayer of gratitude to the tree and to the space, to the water and to the trees and to the wind and everything that created this beautiful landscape that I found myself in.
And then I poured out the mushroom brew and I also said a Buddhist metta prayer, um, like loving kindness prayer. And that was it. And then I just sort of stayed for a while and took that in.
Thomas: I did too.
Tara: Yeah. And listen, there's so much to, I just love to listen to the wind.
It's one of my favorite ways to write my morning pages. For those who don't know, and probably your listeners do, I'm talking about the, the Julia Cameron's morning pages that are part of the Artist's Way.
So [00:46:00] I, whenever I write my morning pages, I try to do so outside so that I can listen to the wind while I'm writing and it completely transforms my experience.
It just brings you present so immediately, and I feel instinctively that there are messages on the wind and that there's some part of my unconscious mind that understands what those are, in a way that I could never articulate or quite understand consciously.
And so I just listened and then I walked the length of the trail that I usually walk and saw it with different awareness.
And also at a different time of day, I should say. That was really nice too. Because I wasn't going on the schedule I usually go on. It was just sort of the middle of the day and it was a beautiful slant of light. That everything was like golden and glimmering.
Thomas: Yeah. The light was different.
Tara: It was really lovely. It's a good experience.
Thomas: Yeah. I did the same thing after I made my piece there. I went and sat down and just took it all in.
Thomas: And it was a [00:47:00] wonderful thing to do it. You know, we're talking about gratitude. So I do want to express my gratitude to you for coming up with this idea because it's something that, um, I would've not have done otherwise.
And it was way more profound than I expected it to.
Tara: Aw, I'm so glad. I felt like it's so funny that you say that. I don't even, I'm not, I haven't even registered that it was my idea. It feels like it was sort of organic.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, we, yes, we sort of went back and forth with it. But I guess what I want to say is I'm just so full of gratitude for us having done this together. Because it's not something I would've experienced.
And what this really drives home for me is that especially when it comes to making art that you've never done before, I always find that I am going to experience something, I'm gonna discover [00:48:00] something about myself that I hadn't discovered before, and it becomes so much more about that than the actual piece itself, the actual art itself.
So that's something that is wondrous to me. I think it's just magical that you can say, oh, I'm gonna do this piece of art that I've never done before. And in the process of doing it, you've just find out about more about yourself than anything else.
Tara: Mm, absolutely. Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. Yeah. And it's such a relief in its way when you realize that that is part of the point.
Tara: Because it just frees you to be process oriented.
And I don't think art ever really works when it's not process oriented, but somehow I still manage to, I don't know.
There's always deeper into that awareness to go for me. Like there's always some part of me when [00:49:00] I'm creating something, I guess that needs to be reminded of that.
I guess that I realized that that is a way, like that's sometimes finding my way into a piece of work can be just about like committing to the process and not, you know, I don't have to have decided what forms something will take. I like the notion of a letting the theme decide the form makes a lot of sense. Like the content I think often decides the form.
But I felt like this sort of took it to another level and that it's also fine to just sort of dive in, with your process being your prompt, essentially.
Tara, thank you and thank you for this wonderful project. And for our listeners, I will post a couple of pictures in the show notes so you can see what Tara and I did come up with. [00:50:00]
Tara, in your writing to me. I really loved your closing thoughts and I'm wondering if you could read the last paragraph that starts with, “It feels like a privilege…”
It feels like a privilege to me now. That there are still places on earth where we humans get to leave behind the world. We have built and spent some time with the feeling of being outnumbered by other species. It's how I feel when I spend a lot of time among dogs too. What a gift to be outnumbered in this way. An infant among giants.
What is there to do, but do our best to learn their language? What begins out of necessity becomes a portal to new perceptions and experiences. I wish for this fluency from time to time. I wish it for all of us in time.
Thomas: Thank you [00:51:00] for listening to this episode of the Creative Shoofly. I'm Thomas Beutel. Be well and be creative.
Sunday Oct 16, 2022
You And I Make A Thing with Mercedes - The Duel
Sunday Oct 16, 2022
Sunday Oct 16, 2022
In this episode, I speak with my friend Mercedes about the duel that takes place between the many inner voices that encourage and discourage us as artists.
Links mentioned in this episode:
The B0ardside - http://theb0ardside.com/
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel.
This podcast is about exploring the creative journey as an artist. And in this episode, I wanted to try something new and improvisational. I call it, You and I Make a Thing. I invited my friend Mercedes to come up with a theme or project that we could do together. And then talk about.
My intent was to combine two recordings, one where we decide on what to do, and then the second, a week or two later where we talk about what we did. Well, it turns out that Mercedes was way ahead of me as you'll see. I think you'll like this conversation.
Well, Mercedes, welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm so excited to be talking with you today about our topic and we will expand on that in just a bit.
I know you as a musician, a songwriter, a painter and a writer of words, and I'm sure many, many other things. I'm just curious to know, are there any creative projects that you're working on at the moment?
Mercedes: Well, first of all Thomas, thank you so much for having me here. This has been a great experience preparing for this and yes, there are a lot of things going on in my mind.
So, you know, I am multipotentialite, so I don't have one project in hand and usually have a fan of them. But basically I'm working on using my mediums, music, performing basically my piano, fine arts, painting some cards and canvases and doing some writing to incorporate my idea of soul making and this connection to the inner power into my work.
I've been like going around it for several years naming it as creativity or life skills, but I want to put it in a way that I can share with other people what the artistic journey has been for me. But most of all, how it has taught me to live, to live from authenticity.
Thomas: Mm. Right. I love that. I love that notion of creating from authenticity, because that's when it feels right, when it feels the most true. And you mentioned being a multipotentialite, and I am a multipotentialite too, so I can totally relate to having so many different creative projects going on at once.
It's the same for me, and part of the reason that I continue to do this podcast, the Creative Shoofly, is also to discover what the creative journey is for me. So thank you for that.
You know, when I spoke with you Mercedes the last time, I didn't record our session. And the reason was that we were just talking about, you know, what is it that we wanted to do?
And I told you I had come up with this idea of You and I Make a Thing. And my concept there was that we would have a conversation about what type of things do we want to work on that we might not have done before.
And you asked me some questions at the time, and I gave you an example. And I said, Mercedes, this was back about a month ago. I was working at the time on creating a comic and it was about a bit of local history here in San Francisco. It was called the Broderick-Terry duel, where two politicians had a duel and one of them was killed in the process.
And it had a big impact on local politics here and on California for that matter as well.
And I was telling you how, I was struggling a little bit with that because I'd never made a comic before. and you said, I love that idea. Let's do the duel!
Which was a little bit unexpected at that point because I was just giving what I was doing as an example. But actually, it's kind of perfect because I really was struggling at that point.
You said the duel is a sort of perfect metaphor, so I'd like to know a little bit about what were you thinking in that moment and why did that resonate for you?
Mercedes: Well, it is because for me, being an artist wasn't an easy choice. It was not what everybody was expecting from me, not even myself. For many times in my life, I even felt it like this very funny series called Monk, always comes to me -- it's a blessing and a curse.
Mercedes: You know? So the discovery of being an artist that started with being a musician, for me was kind of a blessing.
I thought like something marvelous had opened, but the journey was very painful. Because I started very old because there was a lot of opposition and lack of support. So…
Thomas: Lack of support from people around you?
Mercedes: From people around me, from the country, from lack of resources.
Mercedes: I started to be a classical musician at 17 where everybody's graduating.
Thomas: Oh yeah. Uh-huh.
Mercedes: Yeah. But what I discovered through my experience as a student, as a teacher, as a lecturer and all that, was that when I was teaching and doing music, it was beyond music. I was teaching and learning about life.
Mercedes: And from since I was ever a kid, my search was about the meaning of life.
Why it seemed around me that life was so lack of luster, like so much suffering, so much lack of enthusiasm, engagement, when what I saw was a lot of beauty, wonder. And I couldn't understand that because I felt it completely different.
Mercedes: So I discovered that part of the things is that since we are born, we are taught not to be yourself, not to free, not to answer the call of our souls. But it's there openly talking to us when we are kids, through imagination, through the joy, through the exploration.
So instead of growing up into that joy, exploration and embracing of the call, you know, we grow apart. We bury it. We even see it rejected with shame or guilt.
So my journey as an artist has to rediscover that spark of divinity that we come from, is actually the life that will take us in a long journey of a fulfilled life.
My music taught me a lot about it because when you're learning to play an instrument, I always told my students and or people around me, it's like a polygraph. It's a truth machine. You cannot fake it.
Mercedes: You might, after a lot of time, a lot of training and technique, you might fake it.
But artistry cannot be fake. Real connection with that magic, that it's beyond you. That when it's not about you, your ego, but about the beauty of the message you channel, that cannot be faked. And that needs complete commitment and surrender to who you are and who you will be.
And that's very scary, Thomas, extremely scary because you feel completely vulnerable.
I think that I felt most of my life completely naked and, and incapable of protecting myself. What I did was to start building protections. But if you build protections and you quiet the inner voice of your soul, of your purpose, you don't become happier. You don't become more creative.
My solution at the time was to become secretive. I hid all my talents. I just share it very, very little with some people or didn't share it at all.
But when you have this fire inside of you, for me, what's completely impossible to quelch, that's why I mean it's a curse. You know, I try many times to quit. But I couldn't, so I found this weird ground where in which, okay, I will keep growing as an artist, growing all that is inside of me, but I will do it in secret.
Thomas: Mm. Okay.
Mercedes: Which also beats the purpose because the idea of art is transcendence, is transformation, is to share it with others. It's not for you. You are just a vessel, just a channel.
Thomas: You mentioned the word enthusiasm. and the root of that word, actually, if you look at it, means filled with God or filled with spirit.
And, enthusiasm used to be an insult. It meant that these people are dancing around for no reason whatsoever they're being animated by some spirit and it's not themselves, but it's actually the opposite is true. When you're filled with that spirit, that's the true you coming through, That's the true part of you coming through.
Mercedes: And the problem Thomas, I see in today's world is that not only we criticize, it's that we have become suspicious of everything that we cannot see.
Mercedes: Suspicious of all those invisible and intangible things that actually make for our humanity and connected us with that eternal part of us, which we are supposed to enjoy and expand.
And that's the place where the metaphor came from. When you talked about the duel for me was, you know, all my fireworks inside my head went on because I said yes.
Thomas: Say, say more about that. Say more about what the duel meant for you.
Mercedes: Okay. It's about the journey of, you know, we have seen this in a hero's journey. We have seen this in books and stories.
I wasn't battling the outside monsters or dragons or an army. I was battling my own demons.
Mercedes: So the duel was this battling of what I call my angel voices, which are the voices of my inner power, of my source, of my, of my soul, telling me this is what you are meant to do. “Do it!”
And then the voices of my demons, which is the voices of all my training, experience, past wounds. The beliefs that constrain me that say, “You cannot do that. You don't deserve it. What are you doing? No, you cannot do that. That's not how the world works. You know? You have to follow the standards. You have to do what other people say. You cannot be different. That's not right!”
So this duel has been a constant in my process of growth to become an artist, you know?
And I couldn't escape it so that duel continued and just expanded. There was sometimes when somebody very important to me told me, “You have to stop being a musician. You don't see that. That doesn't pay. You have to study something else. You have to become some something else.”
And I say, “Okay, I became a fine arts and sculptor.”
Thomas: Uh huh.
Mercedes: “No, I didn't tell you. that wasn't what I wanted you to do. I want you to do something else.”
Thomas: So these are outside voices telling you.
Mercedes: These are real voices that were in agreement with my inner (demon) voices that constantly remind me of what they said. Every time I failed or felt doubt of things didn't go well.
A part of me was terrified. What if what all these people told me it's true. And I am just, you know, to myself.
Thomas: The inner demon voices were getting validation from the outside, is what you're saying.
Mercedes: Yes. Yes,
Thomas: I see, okay.
Mercedes: So they come in the sense of constant doubt, the fear of showing up as I am, they're trying to use white gloves to decorate my way of feeling talking or expressing in a way that can be understood or not attacked by others.
But the problem is, Thomas, that for example when I paint, when I write, especially when I play my piano, I cannot use white gloves because it doesn't come out.
You know, music.
Thomas: You can't use white gloves?
Mercedes: No, what I can say is that I cannot fake it. And that is what is so terrifying about being in stage for me was, as a pianist, is because I couldn't fake it. I couldn't make the truth sound less, ethereal or soulful or more standard.
I couldn't, and it was terrifying then to show up and say, “Well, I'm sorry. I cannot fake it here.”
It's not that I can fake it in other stages. But what I'm trying to say is that when you are an artist, if you really want to express, there is no way you can use logic rationalization. It's not the frontal lobe handling.
It's something inside of you that takes over. Because if not you will, you will go nuts. You know, there are too many things that are happening at the same time. No mind can handle them all.
Thomas: Well, Mercedes, I know that this discussion, of the inner duel inspired you because you surprised and delighted me by sending a recording to me, maybe a week or week and a half after we had our first discussion.
And it's a wonderful recording, and what I will do is I will put portions of your recording at the end of this podcast.
You describe in your recording this idea of the artistic journey as a hero’s journey and the duel that happens within. And you interleave that with your piano compositions, the songs that you composed specifically for it.
And I thought it was so wonderful because you were really expressing emotion through your piano performance. I was just so delighted to receive that from you. So I want to say a big thank you for doing that.
I have some questions about that. We've already gone over some of in our discussion already. You mentioned in your recording, one of the things that you said was emotions are mirrors to the deathly unconscious beliefs, myths and impossible standards.
Say a little bit more about that. I like how you say that emotions are mirrors.
Mercedes: Okay, so remember that one of the premises we decided for this experience was to do something we have never done before.
Mercedes: So for me, composing in the moment. And as I was thinking about putting words was like, “Okay, I'm completely vulnerable here. I don't know what is gonna come out. I don't.”
I wanted to do something completely new that I didn't feel I had like, you know, once like the right, because you know, I'm not an expert in this because I wanted to bring all those emotions on.
So when I say the emotions are mirrors, it's that every time we feel these complex emotions, and I'm talking more about those emotions that constrains us.
I’m not talking about love. I'm not talking about wonder or surrender or appreciation.
I'm talking about fear. I'm talking about guilt or shame. these emotions come all up and interrupt the process of creation.
Mercedes: So you’re playing, and instead of playing naturally, your hands are completely stiff. Your muscles start to feel painful.
You have butterflies in your stomach and you start missing notes.
Or the ideas just go away, or you are like stuttering over something, that it's your own voice, your own creation.
But why is this? Well, this is because I'm bringing up a bunch of, and I'm gonna name it trash from the past that I've given so much importance that has become my default.
Mercedes: So the only way I can, I can actually understand this is by facing them, which I won't say is an easy task.
Thomas: It isn't.
Mercedes: After you pass this shame or, guilt. And I am grateful to you Thomas for giving me the opportunity to do this because the fact that I promise you I will do it, made me continue to do it.
Even though, all those emotions were coming, you have to feel all, those emotions and let them go. To reach appreciation, to reach gratitude, to understand, oh, the why I do this.
It's not because I need to prove something. It's not because the world is asking me. It's not because this is what musicians are supposed to do.
It's because I love it. It's because I breathe music. It's because when I am doing this and I get goose bumps in this moment, I feel more alive than ever.
It doesn't matter if my mind tells me, “You don't deserve it. You are not good enough.”
My heart tells me, “This is you!”
Thomas: Right Mercedes, I felt almost exactly the same thing when I was going through what I was going through.
So I'm a member of a local artist collective called The B0ardside. There's four of us, and I was asked to contribute to an upcoming zine, and in this case it, it was a comic about the Broderick-Terry Duel.
And I had never created a comic before. So I felt the same thing. It's like, I was grateful and thankful for them giving me that prompt, And I've done many, many creative things in my past.
I'm a maker. I like to make things, but I've never done this specific thing before and I didn't read a lot of comics when I was a kid. I read, some MAD magazine and when I was a little older, I liked the Far Side from Gary Larson.
And here I am saying yes to drawing comics for the first time.
You're so right. It's like, it was a struggle, right?
I had to learn new tools. I had to learn how to use procreate on the iPad and I had to figure out how to use comic life on the Mac. And how do I make these things? How do I make it look like something?
And I got the first panel done, I had to do a total of nine panels. And when I got the first panel done, You're right. I felt so alive by it. I felt so like, wow, I can do this. “I can actually see a path, a creative path through, creating the final product.” A
And that aliveness is just, it's indescribable really. It really is indescribable. I was definitely battling imposter syndrome. “Who do you think you are drawing comics?”
I was feeling just massive resistance. And I finished that first panel and it felt amazing, and it's like, “Okay, now I can move on.”
Mercedes: And I have to say that he shared it with me and it was really amazing.
Thomas: Thank you.
Mercedes: And I would like to add Thomas that’s part of the problem. I say first is that when you learn some techniques for one piece, when (you) play an instrument, those techniques will serve you as an scaffolding step for other higher level pieces.
So what I'm trying to say is that the skills we learn, if we learn them well, they are transferable to any field.
Thomas: They really are.
Mercedes: Yes. And part of the problem we have as artists and as everything in this society of today, is that we think we have to be perfect from the beginning because what we see is the results.
We don't see the journey, the hero journey. We don't see the battle. We don't see the failures. We don't see the pain.
We don't see the rewards would you only see all these artists is just great? Look what he did. And then if you try to compare yourself to that end result, and you know the, the gap, it's impossible. It's impossible.
Thomas: I'd like you to, to comment a little bit about… you mentioned in your recording about mentors and about going to YouTube and different places. Talk a little bit about that.
Mercedes: Yes, of course. I've been a rebel student. I am a very good student, but I'm also a rebel.
I'd like to gather information and I like to feel that information that is given to me is not only solid, grounded, but it's, but also can help me see the world in different ways.
So nowadays… you know, when I was a student, because I was too old supposedly, I couldn't go to music school. So I have to somehow do what you in America can do in some humanistic careers, which is build your own.
Thomas: Uh huh.
Mercedes: So I'm the kind of person who builds her own mentorship, a group of associates help first. You know, of course I would love to have people around me or go to school sometimes or do things, and sometimes I can.
But there are other resources, and for that internet nowadays is fantastic. If you know how to research, you can find amazing, amazing, amazing information.
So my mentors are, of course, some of the teachers I had in life. But most of all, Thomas, my mentors have been books. I have been looking for things in your truth to get inspirations and listening to myself, even if it's all twisted, I'm full of doubt listening to myself.
Thomas: Yeah. I totally agree with that, and we are actually so blessed nowadays to connect in so many different ways.
Sometimes mentors come along sort of unexpectedly, and wouldn't have guessed that that's where, an important message comes from. For me, I was really stuck and I needed a diversion.
And so I put on Disney Plus and there was a documentary about Industrial Light and Magic, the company that made the special effects for the original Star Wars.
Thomas: And they were in a sort of a similar place. They were trying to create effects that had never been done before. They had already spent a million dollars, creating the cameras and the equipment to take the shots, but they hardly had any shots done whatsoever.
And the movie was just months away from being released in the theaters. And, so at one point it looked like they were going to fail.
But the one word that sort of permeated that a whole organization was persistence. The documentary said that's what it was about. It was all about persistence.
You know what's funny about that is, I'm sitting there, I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking that's exactly. What I need at that moment. I needed to hear that at that moment to just persist. And, and so like I said, I wasn't expecting to hear any particular mentoring messages at all.
I just needed a diversion at that point. But it was the right message at the right time for me. And I said to myself, that's what I need. I need to persist. I just need to keep at it and keep at it and keep at it, and I'll get through it. and so it was a really nice message to receive at that point in time.
Sometimes I feel like the universe just is there for you,
Thomas: If you're listening, if you're open to it.
Mercedes: Yes. And if you allow me, I would like to say that I had a similar experience as yours in one of the worst, lowest moments of my life. A real, real, real, real dark night of the soul.
I came up with a series a BBC series. It was like, you know, I was like numb. I'm gonna say I felt so bad that day that I even told my soul that it was fired. “I fire you!”
Thomas: Oh no.
Mercedes: And this, I watched all the episodes. It was a BBC take of Merlin as a youth.
And that inspired me, the path I am now in life. That series caused me to reflect on many, many things that I knew and perhaps have forgot.
And, you know, you touch also about something that we as human beings and as an artist, forget that it's easy when you are traveling a path that others have traveled to gain insights and I Thank you.
Thank you for all of you who share so generously your findings and your knowledge through all these channels, books, and YouTube have made it accessible.
Now there's a difference when you are doing something that never has been done because there are no models, and that's the moment where you wrestle with so many demons and doubt and where you need a lot of persistence and trust the truth of your vision because you're going to fail a lot.
And we are in a society that doesn't understand failure as a step of exploration, as a compass to, you know, to go back into the correct track that will take you where you want to go.
So yes, it's very hard when you are doing something that nobody else has done or where you see a vision of something that you cannot find other’s responses.
But then you have to trust to gather whatever little insights you can gather around and trust your intuition. That's a tall order nowadays because we are not taught that.
Thomas: It is, it is. But I like what you said earlier about how every skill is transferable. And that's something we always have to keep in mind, that, this is actually very true for multipotentialites, right?
We sometimes lose sight of the fact that we have all these different skills that we've gained from all the different avenues that we've gone down.
And that is something that's powerful that allows you to do something that's never been done before because you can take little bits from this and that, that you've learned all these little bits, and put them together and create something brand new.
Mercedes: And I was thinking about, yes, multipotentialites can make of that an event like the four-of-live because we can put so many skills and transfer so many skills that you can see fireworks going everywhere.
But we have to remember that everybody, everybody is creative.
Mercedes: Everybody is creative and that is the essence of creativity.
Whatever can be used in multiple ways, just if you give it a chance.
Thomas: Yeah. Mercedes, so how did you feel once you finished your recording for me? What came out of that for you?
Mercedes: Okay. I felt excited. Nervous. Surprised.
Mercedes: Yes, because I am sometimes surprised of the things I can do when I put my mind into.
Mercedes: And one of the things I love about doing this kind of thing with, like what you proposed, Thomas, or in other communities that I've been involved is I always go for the challenges.
Because the challenges, and I do it in a natural way not to prove anything, not I try, if there's a challenge inside of me, something asks, “Well, let's try it. What if?”
And that's how I discovered I could write poetry. That's how I discovered I could write books or tell stories because somebody, throw a challenge as a doubt, you know.
And I said, “I'll take it!”
And then yes, I sweat. I might cry, I might tremble, I might, you know, knock my head on the wall and say, “Why the big mouth? Why you always have to do this?”
But at the end, things come up. And when you are at the end of the journey, I look back and think, “Oh, oh my God, really? I can do this?”
And you might not continue to develop that specific skill or specific thing you were doing, but you know how many doors open when you discovered that you have more skills or abilities that you ever thought possible.
Thomas: That's so true. It's so true. And I was surprised too. You know, I'm surprised on a couple levels. One is I'm surprised about what's come out of this journey that we're doing right now in this podcast. and I was also surprised when I finished the comic.
And I said, “Wow, I can do that!”
And, and you're absolutely right. I don't know if I'm going to do another comic at some point. But now I know I can and it's just a wonderful feeling. It's a great feeling.
What a gift it is to surprise ourselves.
Mercedes: Yes, it is. It is.
Thomas: It's amazing. It's amazing. Mercedes, thank you so much. This, this was a wonderful conversation and a wonderful journey, a wonderful project. I want you to know how, grateful I am for you to play along, to discover and to be surprised.
I'm just so grateful. Thank you.
Mercedes: Well, thank you to you too Thomas for giving me this opportunity to explore and learn more about myself, the creative process, and to have an opportunity to tell others.
All that wonderful richness of creation of power is also inside of you. You don't have to be a multipotentialite. You don't have to be an artist.
You just have to be you and the world is blessed for having you.
So you know, dare to explore. Dare to fail. Dare to succeed. Dare to try things.
Dare to allow your, your inner force, your soul to come up and guide you because what comes. It's wonderful.
Thomas: That was You and I Make a Thing with my friend Mercedes. I really enjoyed exploring this idea and I'm planning to record more episodes like this. So please stay tuned.
My Broderick-Terry duel comic was published in issue number 4 of the B0ardside Zine. And I'll put a link to it in the show notes.
Mercedes recorded her thoughts of the inner duel as prose and music. And rather than link to it, I've added it to the end of this podcast. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Monday Jun 14, 2021
Ep. 9 - The Joy of Making Art with Doug Gorney
Monday Jun 14, 2021
Monday Jun 14, 2021
In this episode, I chat with my friend, Doug Gorney about the joy of making art. What I appreciate about Doug is his passion and warmth on the subject. I think you'll really enjoy hearing about Doug's creative journey.
Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay
Links mentioned in this episode:
Doug Gorney’s website – https://gorney.studio
Doug’s Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/outeravenuesart/
Sunset Sketchers - https://www.facebook.com/groups/SunsetSketchers
The B0ardside - http://theb0ardside.com/
Outside Lands – Western Neighborhoods Project - https://outsidelands.org/
Outside Lands Podcast - https://outsidelands.org/podcast/
Books mentioned in this episode:
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
The above are affiliate links.
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process, and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art. Well, welcome back everyone to the Creative Shoofly. Today I have guest and a friend of mine, Doug Gorney. He is a brilliant artist. He's the founder and organizer of Sunset Sketchers, our local urban sketching group here in the neighborhood. And also a member of the B0ardside collective.
Doug welcome. I've been looking forward to have you on today.
Doug: Thanks, Thomas. Well I'm very excited to be here and to talk about creativity with you.
Thomas: Doug, can you start by telling us just a little bit about your background in the creative world? How did you get started?
Doug: Well, my career path is rather circuitous, but I was always interested in the creative arts. I spent most of my time in high school, in the art room or the art teacher's office, hanging out and doing art and taking as many art classes as I could.
I sort of majored in art in high school, as if there were such a thing. And then going on to college, I came back to art in my senior year, sort of minored in art and then got a lot of encouragement from a sculpture teacher who told me that this was really something that I should consider doing for a living. That I was, that I had some facility
And I was majoring in history, which is a springboard into many fields like unemployment. So I was open to suggestion and this seems like a sign. So I went on to art school from there. Once I graduated from UC Berkeley and really was going after another bachelor's degree because I didn't have the equivalent of a BFA that would have allowed me to get a master's degree.
And I didn't, also having been away from art and then just come back to it. I didn't really know what I was doing. So another a BFA program seemed appropriate. I started at, then California college of arts and crafts now, California college of the arts, and then transferred to the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I was for a year and a half.
And that was very interesting and seemed to be pretty promising. I was developing more of a sculptural style, sculptural language of my own. But life took a series of left turns as it will. And I didn't come back to art for another 30 years after that point. I didn't really even pick up a pencil during that whole time.
What I was doing for a lot of the time was, well, I've been practicing transcendental meditation since I was 13 years old. And this was a practice that was very fulfilling for me on an, on a very holistic level.
So I went in, I became a teacher of the TM program and was full time in the TM organization and teaching TM for a number of years. And then another sort of compass shift occurred.
And I while still enjoying the practice and enjoying teaching, I started to feel that I should be doing something more creative, something more personal. And so I came back to the Bay Area after traveling and living all over the continent and in the UK for awhile. So I came back to the Bay Area with a vague notion that I should be doing some creative stuff. And I was trying a bunch of things in music. I was with the stars agency here in San Francisco doing commercial acting and modeling
and voiceover. I was working with my brother, making a comedy CD. And also with some little success doing design.
But what really stuck at that point was writing. So I basically became a writer, primarily commercial copywriting, but with as much creative writing as I could.
But nothing that really seemed like that it was my life's direction. Now at a certain point around 2011, my father had a stroke. And he lived up in Napa. He and my stepmother lived alone and she was going to need some help, taking care of him as he recovered.
And so I moved up there to Napa and live there for a year and a half. During that time, you know, he was a very accomplished surgeon and really...
Thomas: your father was.
Doug: He was, yeah.
And an important figure in his profession and in bed here. He was quite reduced.
One thing though that he still could do and always had a facility for was art. He had a studio that he had put together in his home. And so he was doing art during the day. And to have something to do with him, I got a sketchbook and some pencils for the first time in almost 30 years started sketching with him.
And he enjoyed that. And I did too.
Thomas: Was he sketching or was he painting or what kind of art that was doing?
Doug: He was doing a little painting. His preferred medium actually was colored pencils. Yeah. He was quite, quite good with the colored pencils. Sometimes I thought he, he liked collecting the colored pencils more than actually using them. And actually he since passed on and I have inherited about 8,000 colored pencils and I don't really use them, but they're gorgeous anyway, so.
I found in sketching myself, sketching him in large part, and I'm so glad that I have those sketches, that I hadn't even in my time away from creating art and mind you, I really hadn't done anything in art at all.
I really don't. I think I did a single even doodle during this whole time, that I hadn't lost it. It was still there somehow. And if anything, it had gotten a little more mature. Somehow, it was as if in the back of my mind, somewhere in consciousness, I had been working on that neurophysical connection that creates a visual art.
And so I moved back to San Francisco. And then was really when I moved to the Sunset that, and, and I should say that I kept, I kept sketching a bit. I kept my sketchbook up having reestablish the practice, but it was when I moved to the Sunset in 2015 ish, I was so inspired by the light and space and forms of the Sunset, which even though I had grown up in San Francisco, was a new place to me. Really, the marine light and the Dolger homes. It all seemed very strange and foreign. I'd never, ever been out here. And so I really seem to inspire me to call me to, to sketch it, to render it
Thomas: I think you had written somewhere that you grew up in North Beach.
Doug: That's correct. Yeah. Telegraph Hill, really. I sometimes say North Beach just because it's more general and people might know it more and it seems maybe a little less elite. But it was really, it was really Telegraph Hill, that I, uh, that I grew up on. I was born, uh, technically I was born in the Mission in San Francisco, but that was just the hospital. But I for all intents purposes, I was born on Telegraph Hill. Grew up there until college really.
Thomas: A native San Franciscan.
Doug: And one of, one of like three or four total. But so anyway, I started really drawing the Sunset. It became my muse, seemed to call out to me to, to tell its story because San Francisco, of course is a, is a much storied place. And Lord knows we have many images of it and in art and music and movies and television and so forth.
But the part of San Francisco in which we live the Western part, the Sunset District, is often ignored and not even San Franciscans, such as myself know much about it.
And so, uh, it seemed to want another person to help, to help tell a story to, to paint its picture, so to speak. And and so that's become a thing for me. People started asking me to paint their houses. I do, I should say watercolor, by the way, is my primary medium, sometimes pen and ink fountain pen, but always watercolor.
So people started giving me commissions to uh, paint pictures of their houses here in the Sunset. And I've been doing that pretty much full time for the last three years. And that's that's been very fulfilling.
Thomas: That's fantastic. Can you tell me a little bit about, how the Sunset Sketchers started.
Doug: Sure. I started of course, I don't think anything, any of this, well, any of it, as far as my career goes would have been possible without the internet. Which was, you know, I'm of the pre-internet generation, I'm that old. And, uh, and so when I started to sketch the Sunset, I put my
stuff online on, Facebook and Instagram and Nextdoor and whatnot. And this not only got me a nice reception from homeowners, as I mentioned before, but from other artists, which was very important to me, who said this is very nice work and also would it be nice to sketch the Sunset together?
There are quite a few creative artists out here in these Western neighborhoods, but it's more, it's more quiet out here. It's more spread out. There are fewer gathering places, gathering points. I think there is a tendency to feel cutoff or at least not not have a community, a creative community out here.
And that's something I should say that we're we're doing more, not only with the Sunset Sketchers, but with the B0ardside collective, which you had mentioned, in which you and I are both part of. And so artists got in touch when I post something and say, wouldn't it be fun to, to have a sketching group.
So I coined the name, Sunset Skechers. It's not a real reach creatively to go with that one. And then uh, Tammy Tsark, who's another very talented Sunset artist, helped me and created a Facebook page to act as a gathering point and an announcement place for meetups.
And we started meeting a few artists and I had both full-time professional artists and also very talented um, part-time, I don't want to use the word hobbyist because it's such a value judgment to it. But, but artists who were professionals at other things but had an art background. And we have been meeting for about three years now.
And it's been growing quite a bit and we've met now all over the Sunset District, our five miles square area of Western San Francisco, but the beach as well as other adjacent parts of Western San Francisco.
And it's been a lot of fun.
Thomas: I've been utterly delighted to meet so many of the artists because you don't know until they sort of come out and you meet them and it's like, yeah, there are a lot of artists in the Sunset.
Doug: There really are. And another podcast from the west side of San Francisco, Outsidelands uh, which I've gotten a lot from, has had some episodes where they've talked more about the creative professionals and innovators who have come from, lived in, or grew up on or grown up on the west side.
And there really seems to be a tradition, here in the outside lands of, of thinking outside the box. I mean, we are, we are at a remove from the rest of San Francisco. And also if you look at it from a space where we moved a bit from the rest of the continent, we're really on the edge here.
Uh it's you know, next stop Japan. And there is a, there is a feeling of being, of being in some kind of liminal space that I think is a good, good, good place for artists to create. For us to be able to think creatively, to get in touch with our creative selves, without being distracted by the, the Hurlyburly activity of the central city.
Thomas: For my listeners who are not particularly familiar with San Francisco, We are on a peninsula.
We're surrounded on three sides, the west, north, and east side with water. But the center of the city is a set of Hills that are, that are almost a thousand feet high, so almost 300 meters high. And so the city is really divided, even though it's just a small, you know, seven mile by seven mile square place.
The, the city is divided in that way. And one of the unique aspects. Of being near the ocean is, is that we on the west side get a lot of fog, because the water's cold here and the east side of the city, which is only a few miles to the east, they have a lot more sunshine than we do out here.
Doug: It should be noted that the temperature, the ambient temperature can vary between one point in the city and another by as much as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Uh, and that, and we are usually the low point, uh, and the hub of that, of that variance here in the Sunset District.
Thomas: So Doug, the creative Shoofly is about breaking through blocks and finding joy in the act of creating. So I'm wondering what, aspect of making your art brings you the most joy?
Doug: The, the notion of doing this full time, of being finally a full-time artist. Which I guess I was supposed to have done or was, was in the process of doing, 35 or so years ago. Um, The notion of actually doing that is so radical. That someone could indulge themselves in creativity and have as their means of income
being a creative artist, seems so radical and revolutionary. And almost I can, I can do this, I can get away with this, that, that in and of itself just doing it is joyful. It's almost a giddy sense of joy that, Hey look, I'm creating art, full time. People are paying me to do that. I'm paying my rent that way.
And I am an artist. So that is almost a, a radical declaration of creative independence that has a fierce joy, in and of its own. And of course there are many aspects to creating the art and some are more joyful than others. One thing that I am, dealing with these days is that my bread and butter, if you will. Which is, I do primarily portraits of people's houses, watercolor, and some of watercolor and pen and ink portraits of, of the distinctive architecture that we have out here in the Sunset District, for our homeowners. Which has been, it's such a gift to be able to do and has taught me so very much about the medium and about art in general.
In pursuing that as a vocation, and particularly in creating as realistic or representational, an image as I can of someone's home, someone who has entrusted me to render an image of their much loved home. So that, that has been a great. Discipline. And, and it provides me with profound satisfaction when I can do that.
But there is also artist inside of me that is interested perhaps in exploring other spaces. An artists that was doing that sort of exploratory training and research if you will, in art school. But then there was this kind of arrested development, as I was doing other very important things to develop me as a human.
I had really left art and now that I've returned to it, there are things that I want to find out things that I don't even know what they are yet. But I want to see what lies out there, what I might do, what I might find inside me. So I have been taking more time of late, each day, trying to carve out some time from my mornings, similar to the, to the process you have mentioned in your podcast that you have been going through,
to do stuff that's just for me, mostly going out, just getting myself out of my studio slash bedroom, which has been really important, just for, you know, breathing fresh air, and getting out and sketching the world from life. And doing it in a way that is not for any audience, not even thinking of, sharing it with anyone, and just trying stuff.
Getting into the sandbox
Doug: Exactly. Getting into the sandbox and playing, just trying stuff, getting messy, pushing myself to the point of making mistakes and through making mistakes. So that has been a tremendously joyful addition to my art practice. And that's what's currently providing me the most joy. In that process too,
it's a little bit like a visual morning pages, you know, the Artist's Way talk about, talks about the importance of doing your four morning pages of writing. Right when you wake up just don't don't edit, don't direct it. Just let it go. Just write whatever's on your mind, whatever comes out. So it's kind of that, but in a visual sense. And that has, that has opened the door to some very other interesting lines that seem to be coming out of more abstract work and some collage now.
And I'm really excited by it. And I can see it going somewhere as more finished and possibly when it was marketable line of art.
Thomas: When you start your morning and you you're going out into the sandbox that metaphorical sandbox, do you have any, any mantras or any rituals or anything that you tell yourself when you go out there?
Doug: I not sure. The, the act of, I would just say that the act of doing it, of actually doing it, not just thinking about, well, I really should do something like that as you really should take some time for myself to the act of actually getting up, putting on my, my little day pack with all of my, paper and watercolors, then my drawing kit in it and getting out of the house, putting on shoes, getting out of the house.
That is, um, that is quite again a radical act and also a little bit of a ritual. The more I do it and the more I do it at the same time, the more that in and of itself becomes a very, very important ritual. And beyond that, I think that's the main thing and I'm, so I'm really, so, amazed still, or maybe amazed is putting it a bit strongly, but so surprised to find myself
out of the house, in the morning, just by myself, sketching, what I want and doing what I want. That I'm, I'm still so suffused with, the surprise and the excitement of, of the possibility inherent in that act. I'd suppose that's the main thing at this point. That's kind of the, the only thing I can even think about is wow, I'm out here. Yeah. The, I should say too, that the Sunset Skechers has provided that too. We do it every weekend. But that's, that's of course just one day during the week. And also being the organizer, which is not an onerous task at all. It's really a great, it's very gratifying to create a space and a place for
artists to come out and sketch together from life. Many, many of these artists being my friends now. Um, But there's still there's some organizational tasks involved in all this. So you, you can't just completely lose yourself in it for as long as you want, as I can with this personal artist journey that I take each morning.
Thomas: That makes me think of another aspect of being in a place where we have so many artists that live around us and have so many different talents. And that is one of collaboration. We also have the B0ardside collective, which is a highly collaborative venture.
You know, I know for myself that almost all of the art that I practice is done solo, is done on my own. But there is something that is just so exhilarating when you collaborate on a project. And I'm wondering what your thoughts on that is.
Doug: I absolutely agree. It's a very different, a very different kind of thing. It's the joy of, of teamwork and cooperation first. And even more primarily, the aspect of human fellowship, which is something that you can really miss well at. So many of us have missed around the world during this pandemic.
But also which one can really miss as a, as a creative artist in this society. And particularly where we're doing so much of our stuff online. And I have to say with regard to the pandemic that my life didn't actually change very much at all during the pandemic, because I, you know, I tend to, I get up and I
go to work on the commission I'm working on at my desk. And then I may, give myself a treat and go out for lunch and see someone on the sidewalk when I'm doing that. I'm not a lonely person, but, it, it can be a little bit isolating, I should say, professionally. So the B0ardside and the Sunset Sketchers have been great opportunities to have fellowship with fellow creatives.
Thomas: One of the things that, um,
Thomas: that I noticed during the pandemic is how, how well and how strongly we pull together as the Sunset Sketchers. As an example, we, we figured out how to sketch together on Zoom. And the B0ardside as well is, you know, we were staying in touch and we were collaborating on things, even though we weren't necessarily meeting.
And so feel that in some ways our collaborations became even a little bit stronger just because by, you know, because we needed to.
Doug: I agree. I agree. I think that, as you say, figuring out those other channels of collaboration really strengthened the way that, that we work together in the, in the work that we've done. And it has also shown particularly in the case of the Sunset Sketchers, how strong of a desire there is for people to create together.
Um, And I should just say that. that's there's always a feeling that San Francisco, the rest of the world kind of ignores you, won't come to you, so you have to do something yourself.
But we, in that self-sufficiency, we were the only group who was when there wasn't a lockdown who was actually meeting. We found a way to meet together, wearing masks and being appropriately distanced and so forth. And we, we still are as of this recording. We're still the only sketching group in Northern California that I know of that is doing in-person sketching meetups. So that's been wonderful, but I wanted it to come back to, to one thing that we had been talking about. Before, um, about the B0ardside collective. And one of the ways in which it has been wonderful is in this area of collaboration that you were speaking, that we were talking about it a little bit earlier.
It is uh, a truly collaborative effort. The B0ardside is two things, primarily. First of all, it's a physical space. Um, It's in the back of a residence, near the beach. And the owner of the house, our friend Thorston Sideboard has really wanted to turn it into a space for the arts, for visual art exhibits, and also for concerts,
readings and other creative events. And we have worked together very well to make that happen. We've had a few shows now. We're actually having another show. So the 19th and 20th, (June 2021w) the Art of Entropy, the artist Bianca Nandzik who goes by the name of Entropy. A wonderful multimedia installation, and in curating and, and mounting these exhibits, it's really an all hands, situation where everybody plays a role and contributes and thinks together about the best way to
put these things on. And then on the day of and it's always wonderful and festive, and we have bands music, and the neighbors are cranking up their bubble machines. But everybody is collaborating to really make a creative event happen. The other primary function of B0ardside collective is the zine that we put out, which is called oddly enough B0ardside. And that is something that all of us contribute to, all of us collectively edit.
Thorsten I should say does the lion's share of the design and layout and so forth, but we've all written things and created art to go into the zine, created the covers for it. So it's a very cooperative and very fulfilling effort and something that it's by its nature
probably wouldn't happen if we were doing it individually. It's very existence, to say nothing of its nature is due to the fact that we are a collective and they were that we're working collaboratively.
Thomas: One thing that's so exciting to me is just the great variety of art styles and types and talents. I mean, we have visual artists, we have sculptors, we have people who use code, uh, mute, create music, do writing. I mean, it, it, it really covers almost everything you can think of, uh, in, in terms of, uh, what you can do creatively.
It's, it's pretty amazing.
Doug: I just, uh, and this is just a, maybe a sidebar to the story, but in thinking about how we work as a collective, beyond fulfilling the specific tasks that we've set out for ourselves, or the the purview of our organization. It's also, something that I think has paid off as far as acting as a resource for us to use in our individual medium, media, mediums. I'm thinking just as one example of a project I was working on, a commission that I had for someone. They had a house with a beautiful view of the western avenues and the ocean beyond. With a beautiful 180 degree sweep from Bohemian Grove to the south, to Marin county, to the north and the Marin Headlands.
And they want to be to capture the whole thing, that view, but in a way that would let them remember because they were about to move, let them remember their beautiful living room. So I was wrestling with how to do this. Because if you sort of stood in the middle of the living room, of course you would see the windows, but you couldn't really get
the view in any way that would, register. So, this was, this was just kind of bouncing around in my head. One of the wonderful things about the B0ardside is that, upcoming show or not, we always have a weekly meeting to discuss. There's always something to discuss.
It's just nice to have that as a, as a creative get together that you can have during the week. And I, I brought this up, I just sort of floated this idea and Thorston Sideboard, who I'd mentioned to you earlier is a very talented comics, artists, comic book artists.
Thomas: And graphic novels,
Doug: Yeah, exactly. And so he thought about my visual problem from his perspective, and he came back with a great solution, which was very much comics centered. And he said, well, just do it panel by panel,
just like we do in the comics. And each panel will be one window. And you could look at the window and sort of center the window frame within the frame of the, of that comics panel, if you will, and if there are four windows, then you do four panels and each one is a slice of the view.
And, that made a lot of sense. And that's exactly what I did. It worked out pretty well and the client was delighted, but I just liked so much that it was that kind of collaborative, creative thinking that really drew upon the strength of a collective I've always wanted.
I must say since my, since my younger days of being so fascinated by the Dada artists and Fluxus and various of the other Europeans, slightly anarchic, very sort of beyond modernist movements that were going on that really created the visual art of the 20th century.
I wanted to be part of a collective that just seemed like the greatest, the greatest thing. And now I am, and it's, very fulfilling.
Thomas: It's very emergent, right? There's just so much that can, can come out of, of being in a collective.
Thomas: I want to end with this question. I'm wondering, what you are most looking forward to, or what's exciting you, in terms of art.
Doug: Well it's interesting you should ask that. Because coming back to earlier in my conversation, I had mentioned this new style or this new line of work that seems to be coming out of its own accord, more expressionist, more abstract, more, more out of the box.
And that really has me very excited. Because it is more personal. Because I don't know where it's going. And that sense of the unexpected and the sense of taking a journey. You never know exactly what you'll find on your journey. That's kind of why you're taking your journey.
And also this art is driven very much and in a way that's, that's more unlike the, the more detailed, precise representative work that I do. It's driven by the very inchoate, very expressive, and emotional, I might say. And sometimes messy creativity that's inside. So
certain of the work that I'm doing now starts with me just putting my pen on the page and then an automatic process takes over, in which the pen just really, it's going to sound very woo woo, but the pen just moves to really of its own accord, um,
Thomas: The art is using you as an instrument
Doug: Well, yeah.
Thomas: to create itself.
Doug: Now that that is an interesting thing right there, you said, and I, I feel, that idea of writ large is really almost what's governed my whole career as an artist, if you will. But it's a very pure distillation now where I'm coming up with things that are drawing themselves.
Sometimes I'm just looking at my arm moving. It's okay. Are we done yet? No, we're not done. We have to keep going. Okay. Now. No. All right. And then that that part of it finishes and I may use a bit more of my, my intellect slash super ego individualized personality, my conscious self to make some decisions about what should be done to take it to a next level, make it more presentable by adding watercolor within some of the fields of squiggly lines.
But that all is, is very exciting and it feels very integrating. It feels like a journey on which I'm just beginning and I don't know where it will go and where it will take my art, but it has me and I, I keep returning to this because I've been, I've been talking to people about it, how excited I am, and it's kind of scary, and what does this mean for my career, et cetera.
But it's very exciting and it's exciting I think, now that I'm talking to you. I think it's exciting mostly because it gets to the core of the creative process. It's just sort of pure unfiltered unmitigated, uh, Uh, on adulterated creativity
happening. And that's, uh, a really interesting process.
So who knows where it will go, but it sure is exciting.
Thomas: well, Doug, this has been a wonderful conversation. I just want to acknowledge how, I mean, I'm, I'm feeling excited just by you telling me that. By telling me how you're feeling about it and what, what comes up for you. So, so thank you.
Doug: Well, thank you, Thomas. And I, I, I've not only enjoyed working with you and as a part of the board side collective and as a fellow Sunset Sketcher, but also so enjoyed seeing your creativity expressed itself in the completely Sui generis work that you are doing, with your, uh, particularly well with everything you do, your wide and very creativity. I particularly, uh, enjoy the, the way that you're able to wed your
background is, a technologically, adept person and a maker, with your, with your creative vision and come up with some really singular creations. So, and, and also, uh, now I'm really spreading it on thick, but I've really, really, really been enjoying your podcast. Particularly what you
are saying about creativity and so much of it resonates with the processes that I've been going through and as well it's, and I've listened to a lot of podcasts.
I mean, working by myself all day, I can listen to a lot of podcasts as I scribble away and yours is exceptionally well produced and thoughtful. And, it's always a pleasure to listen to.
Thomas: Well, thank you, Doug. I really appreciate that. I am so excited for the near future, you know, with B0ardside and with things opening up again, I'm really excited for what's going to happen.
Doug: well, thank you, Thomas. Thank you for the opportunity to, to talk. It's been a lot of fun.
After my conversation with Doug, I realized that I'd forgotten to ask how people can view his art or ask for a commission. You can visit his website at gorney.studio. That's G O R N E Y.studio. His email is [email protected]. You can also see his art on his Instagram @outeravenuesart.
Doug mentioned both the Sunset Sketchers and B0ardside. You can find the sunset Sketchers on Facebook. Just search for sunset Sketchers in the search bar, the board side has a website.
It's theb0ardside.com. Except that it's spelled this way… T H E B the number zero A R D S I D E.com. And as always, I will have all the links mentioned in this podcast at the top of the show notes. Once again, I'd like to thank you for listening to this podcast.
I really appreciate that you take the time to listen. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Doug and I hope there was something in our conversation that will help spark your creativity. And I would love to get any feedback that you have. You can email me at [email protected].
I hope you'll join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then, stay safe and stay creative.
Wednesday Jun 02, 2021
Ep. 8 - Effie, The Blind Spot Bot
Wednesday Jun 02, 2021
Wednesday Jun 02, 2021
In this episode I learn about my blind spot and how to respond to it.
Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay
Links mentioned in this episode:
INFP Personality Type
Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process, and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.
I stay pretty busy. I have a great client base that keeps sending me interesting projects. I also have a bunch of my own creative projects, things I've started, things I've planned, things that I still dream about. As I mentioned in a previous podcast, I carve out two hours each weekday morning to work on my own stuff and I've been sticking to it.
So why does it feel like I'm not accomplishing much? Why do I have a nagging feeling that I'm just spinning my wheels?
I recently read up on my Myers Briggs type. INFPs like me are said to have vibrant, passionate inner lives. They're said to be creative and imaginative and introspective to the core. That all resonates with me pretty well.
INFPs are also said to be unrealistic self-critical and often unfocused. Yep. That pretty much nails it too.
I was looking over my 15-month goal calendar recently and an inner voice showed up. "Why aren't you finished yet?" It's like a bot, no feelings, no compassion. Just nagging. "Look at all these goals you need to hurry up and do them all now."
I gritted my teeth. As someone who is introspective, I needed to understand where this voice is coming from and respond to it somehow.
Maybe I can appease it, satisfy it, make a compromise, something so that it would just shut up.
My first thought was, I'll speak to this voice daily. Last year I started a daily completion journal. This is where I write down what I work on creatively that day. It feels great to look at that journal and see all the things I've worked on since I started it. But writing down what I've been completing didn't seem to be satisfying that bot-like voice. "You have so many goals," it kept saying, "how are you going to do those?"
I also do a daily check-in and reflection. It's part of my scrum-for-one process that I've mentioned before.
The scrum or huddle is just me. It's a solo huddle where I check in with myself and ask, "How are things going? What's working well? what's getting in the way?"
So I tried adding a short conversation with that bot voice, a sort of dialogue with Mr. Hurry-Up-and-Finish.
But I found that I was not very effective in arguing on my behalf. No matter what I said, pointing out how much I was doing every day, every week, explaining how much progress I was making, and learning new techniques, the bot voice would just say it wasn't enough. "Hurry up!" it always said.
I work with a wonderful coach on these very issues, and she pointed me to a resource on INFPs that I hadn't seen before.
It's called Personality Hacker. They have an interesting approach to Myers-Briggs. Instead of being focused on behaviors, they focus on how the mind works and how each personality type learns information and makes decisions.
One of the things they propose is that each personality type has a blind spot. My blind spot is called Effectiveness.
For INFPs, it's the voice of unrealistic expectations. It asks things like, "How can I make this work?" and "What will it take to get the job done, regardless of feelings?"
Effectiveness is a type of extroverted thinking. And for certain Myers-Briggs types, it's actually the primary way of thinking and decision-making. It's their strength.
But for an introverted-feeling person like me, it's really the opposite of the way I do things. Effectiveness is my blind spot.
So I decided to call it Effie the Blind Spot Bot.
When I thought through why I was making any progress in addressing Effie's nagging... I realized that it was Effie's voice that was driving that conversation.
Have you ever had a big slap-on-the-forehead moment when you realize something really basic and all you can do is laugh at yourself?
That impulse to use Effectiveness to figure out how to get the job done, regardless of my feelings... that was exactly what I was trying to do to appease that Effectiveness voice, to satisfy it somehow and calm it down.
I was chasing my own tail, going round and round and never quite catching it.
Effie my blind spot bot says, "How can we get this done, regardless of feelings?" It sounds straightforward and it sounds like a reasonable request.
But what I've learned is that leading with my blind spot doesn't work. It isn't a place of strength for me.
My strength is introverted feeling, the I F in INFP. When I start something creative, the question that I ask from a place of strength is, "Does it feel right? Does it feel authentic?"
These questions focus on alignment.
And when I ask these questions, I find that I have more energy around a project, and I'm far more committed over the long-term to get it done. As Personality Hacker points out, each of the personality types has its strengths and blind spots.
If you're interested in learning about yours, I recommend checking out the Personality Hacker website and their podcast.
I've always found that examining my own motivation, especially around creativity is the strangest thing. It seems so elusive and hard to figure out. It's like an internal database without a query language.
That's why I appreciate resources like Personality Hacker. They build a language that helps with that examination.
All of this is a wonderful revelation to me. Had my coach not pointed me to Personality Hacker, I would not have learned about Effie. Now whenever that voice speaks up and tries to hurry me up, or complains about not finishing projects, I remind myself to think about alignment. I ask myself, does it feel right.
By doing that my creative projects are now far more successful and satisfying. I recently embarked on a new project of learning live coding for music. It's complex and it has a really steep learning curve. But it's so rewarding when I create music that feels good to me.
Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you take the time to listen. I hope there was something in this podcast that will help spark your creativity. And I would love to get any feedback that you have. You can email me at [email protected].
I hope you'll join me for the next episode of creative shoofly. Until then, stay safe and stay creative.