Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plan B

"You can't fit a square peg into a round hole."  Handsome Husband

Last week I started a line of inquiry into Michael Gelb’s national best seller, “How to think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Seven steps to Genius Every Day”. I had truly hoped that reading this book with Mavis and with you would open our collective minds to the mysteries of creative thought and endeavor.

Abandon Ship.

Like wearing 6-inch heels to the prom, this book was a bad fit. I fell in love with the idea, but the reality didn’t match up.

No offense, Mr. Gelb. You did what you needed to do to sell your book. The truth is, however, that this is not about Leonardo Da Vinci, or steps to genius. But then, if you had titled it “How to Think Like Bernie Schwartz, Seven Steps to Paying Attention”, no one, including Bernie Schwartz, would be paying attention.

What Gelb does do is remind us that there’s a pretty amazing world out there, and that we may be unaware of that because we have narrowed our focus to those ideas that are habitual, or perhaps have a foundation that needs to be re-examined. He has developed some interesting exercises that are designed to prompt us to open our minds, not only to new experiences, but also to the understanding of how we got to where we are. I like that. It’s a good thing to examine the roots of our opinions and thoughts, especially as our world gets smaller and smaller and we mix and mingle with others from histories much different than our own.

I’m glad I own the book, and I’ll peruse it now and then remind myself to pause and wonder about those things I may be passing by. I can dash around full of myself with the best of them, passing up opportunities to learn new things in my desire to get somewhere faster. In fact, just the other morning as I was scurrying to an early morning meeting I heard the ghost of Leonardo whispering to me to slow down and absorb the exquisite quiet of the morning air. I did, and my day was better for it.

I will also go to the library and check out a book about Leonardo and figure out for myself who this man was, and why we don’t see more of his type around. And I’ll give myself a pass on becoming a genius. It’s probably overrated anyway.

You’re excused too.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Be Like Leo - Step One

Long time collaborator Mavis Penney and I have, from time to time, read the same books together for both pleasure and elucidation, sharing points we've been challenged by or disagreed with. It's been great for me to use brain cells that might not be used otherwise. Recently we agreed to read Michael Gelb's book, "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci".  For fun we're inviting you to join us in this conversation.

This is not a Cliff's Notes version of Gelb's book. My intention is not to critique Gelb's research or writing style. The purpose of this study is to examine what one author has determined to be a system to which one might subscribe, the goal of which is to improve one's investment in their world. And that's a really convoluted way of saying that we're taking a look at Gelb's recipe for getting more out of each day, and for going to bed with a bit more satisfaction than we had yesterday.
My first thought at Mavis' suggestion for reading this book was, "Sure!" After all, who wouldn't like to think like the greatest thinker of all time? I'm in!"  Creator of the first flying machine, sculptor, painter, scientist, architect and all around ponderer of just about everything, Leonardo is considered one of the greatest minds since, well, ever.  Leonardo da Vinci is the primary example of human potential in the realm of discovery and renaissance thinking. For the next 7 weeks, this blog will focus on each of Gelb's "steps" for enhancing our inner Leonardo.  Will I march into March able to understand algebra, or the theory behind atomic energy?  Probably not. But I - and you if you choose to come along - will hopefully use these exercises to expand our horizons just a bit to include a new sense of wonder and appreciation for the world in which we live.  

How does one achieve the kind of status given to Leonardo Da Vinci?  You're thinking "Sure, get someone to pay me to do nothing but think all day and I could come up with some pretty cool stuff, too." Let's just get this on the table right off the bat, shall we?  Let's agree that Leonardo lived in a special time.  It was safe to think outside the box and test new theories after centuries of heavy handed control condemning anything approaching enlightenment.  Da Vinci also had benefactors, which allowed him the time and resources to ponder deeply anything that caught his attention. 

Even at that, he was different than the average 15th Century guy.  Why?

Gelb says the first step to thinking like Leonardo is to be curious. About everything.

Are you? And why not?

Today we are repeatedly clobbered with alarms, bells, whistles, and warnings to slow down, hurry up and move over. Elevators have music to chase away the intense boredom that sweeps over us during the several seconds - seconds - that we wait to arrive at the next floor. Children, youth and adults focus on tiny little electronic hand-held games and gadgets to fill the spaces between jobs, games, dance lessons and real conversations. From the time they can stand upright and alone, children are whisked off to lessons, games and pageants for "learning experiences".  Which leads me to education, which is not learning at all, but "outcomes".  Who would Leonardo Da Vinci have been had he been born  in the last 60 years?  That's something to think about.

We don't have time to be curious. More honestly, we don't take time.  (Using Google  to flit around from link to link chasing information doesn't count as curiosity.)

Gelb invites us, in a series of exercises and assignments, to take that time.  To pay attention.  To pause and ask: how?  Why?  What color?  How did it get that way? And when?

Curiosita.  Take time, unplug and s l o w  d o w n.  Wonder about something, anything.  A shadow. A texture.  A rule.  A religion. Allow that question to form.  You don't even have to dash out and find the answer, at least not yet.  For now allow wonder and interest to develop and grow.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moving Forward

In the spirit of last week's post (where've I been, where'm I going?), I'm going to share a couple of images that I thought were done. I've even gone so far as to post them here recently for the world to see. However, after not having had them on my easel for a couple of weeks, I decided that, nope, there were still some things that needed tweaking.
This actually happens a lot. I don't know if it's the excitement of the creative process or the brain's ability to edit what we see to what we desire to see, but oftentimes a painting needs some breathing room and a fresh eye before it can be declared "finis!". What looks lovely and complete on Monday will sometimes look a bit unkempt by Friday. This sort of hide and seek can go on for several days or even weeks. It's just part of the process.  ( A painter I admire immensely shared with me that his wife will not allow his paintings to be hung in their own home because he keeps taking them off the wall to finish them - again.)

This pastel painting was "finished" a couple of weeks ago.  As you can see, I even wrapped it with a border and copyright notice. 
Yesterday I was straightening up my studio (no comments please) and looked at it one more time.  The delight and pleasure I'd hoped to  experience just wasn't there anymore, and that's not a good feeling to have.  Back onto the easel it went.
(Aside - when people ask how long a painting takes, it's hard to explain that alot of the work that goes into a painting involves thinking about it, staring at it, ignoring it and more thinking about it. I painted a delightful landscape that took 6 years - s i x  y e a r s - to finish, and it was only 6 inches by 8 inches! But ooh, baby, when it was done, it was finis!)

©2011 Patricia Scarborough Foxtail Winter, 9x12 pastel
The changes I made were subtle but important.  Deepening some colors, a few visible strokes in the right places, breaking up some of the spaces in the distance all helped to bring the painting to completion. Again. So far.

©2010 Patricia Scarborough Platte River Recharge, 9x12 oil
Same situation with this painting.  I thought I loved it, and then happened to glance across it looking for something else.  It hit me that I needed to make a few adjustments to be completely satisfied, or at least as satisfied as an artist can be about her work.
©2011 Patricia Scarborough Platte River Recharge 11 x 14 oil
Again, the changes are not huge, but important, at least to me.  And to be quite honest, seeing this painting in a new environment shows me that there are one or two more little tweaks...
In another vein altogether, Mavis and I are reading Michael Gelb's "How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci". Over the years we've read Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" and Molly Gordon's "Accidental Entrepreneur" together as well.  We've discovered that despite the fact that we live in different countries, we share a desire to learn and to challenge ourselves and each other. Discussing a subject from our different viewpoints is enlightening and challenging.  To that end, we've decided to read one chapter in Gelb's book weekly, and discuss our discoveries with each other.  I'm inviting you to join us in this adventure.  Artist or plumber, accountant or race car driver, you will probably have an experience to share that we can all benefit from.  We'll start here, at this blog.  We may change to facebook if we decide the conversation flows more smoothly.  I'll let you know.

Take a quick peek over your shoulder to see where you've been, and open yourself up to see where you want to go.  See you next week.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Looking Back, Planning Ahead

I've spent the last week wrapping up 2010 and preparing for 2011.  Rather than charge forth with all the moxie I can muster, Handsome Husband reminded me that sometimes one must look back on what's been accomplished before making plans to move forward. "How do you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been?" he asked. He's a smart one, HH.
I'm reminded of his grandfather, who would ask, "Where they going? Where they been?" as he waited for his turn to cross a busy intersection. Maybe he wasn't just talking about traffic.  Where have I been?  More importantly, where am I going?

To find out where I'm headed, I'm looking back today, and inviting you to come along.  Rather than bring out everything, including my baby booties, let's limit it to the last 5 years.

 ©2005 Patricia Scarborough, Receding Waters 28x36 pastel

©2006 Patricia Scarborough, Well Traveled, 26x38 pastel

©2006 Patricia Scarborough, Waiting, 8x10 pastel

©2007 Patricia Scarborough, Mill Road, 24x18 pastel

 ©2008 Patricia Scarborough, Cone Flowers, 7x5 plein air oil

©2008 Patricia Scarborough, Indian Summer, 24x18 pastel

©2008 Patricia Scarborough, West Edge of Town, 5x7 oil

©2009 Patricia Scarborough, Leaves on Blue Water, 24x18 pastel

©2009 Patricia Scarborough, Three Crows, 8x10 oil

©2009 Patricia Scarborough, Last Light, 22x21 pastel

©2010 Patricia Scarborough, Platte River Recharge, 11x14 oil
©2010 Patricia Scarborough, Hibernal, 12x16 pastel

©2010 Patricia Scarborough, New Day, 12x16 pastel
After a review of some of my favorite - and not so favorite - paintings of the last 5 years, (you don't get to see those) I think I know where I'm going.   I've got plans, baby.  HH, Grandpa and I, we know where we're going.
Do you?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I Got Moxie

Haven't got your resolutions for the New Year completed yet?
Hold on a sec, and consider a new approach.

Christine Kane, singer-wongwriter, life coach and all around fabulous human spirit, has an inspired way of looking at how you can move into your new year.  Go ahead, take a peek, I can wait.

Who among us hasn't made a laundry list of goals and achievements for the coming 12 months?  It's de rigueur don'tcha know? Usually the list starts off with something about weight, or getting in shape. Move on to being nicer, or more tolerant or less meddling.  In the case of creative types, add a museum exhibit or a major award in a juried show.  Wrap it up with global peace and puppy for every child. Did I mention getting in shape?

You know the scenario.  February rolls around, your righteous indignation is the only thing getting a workout and there's no more time to get into your studio than there was last year.  The world is still at war and those darn kids won't leave their wii's long enough to even notice there's a dog chewing the furniture.  Another set of resolutions bites the dust.

A few years ago I took Christine's nudge to a new life to heart. Rather than make another resolution that would only gather dust, I selected a word to hold in my heart during the new year. The first year I chose the word 'engage'.  The visual for me was two gears moving together to mesh, thereby moving an entire set of gears and machinery into motion. Whispering engage into my own ear helped move me up into higher levels of self awareness, creativity and health. It was gentle and yet persistant.  It was a powerful enough experience that I used the same word again the next year.  The benefit is that there's no achieving a particular result or completing a singular task thereby ending the exercise. It's truly a gift that keeps giving all year long.

   This year my word will be moxie.  Originally the name of a carbonated beverage in the first decades of the 1900's, today moxie has connotations of pep, determination and spunk.  Feeling uninspired today?  C'mon, get some moxie!  Need to make that appointment but feeling kind of shy?  Moxie! Ready to move a new direction with my art?  You got it - moxie. And conversely, when I need to back off, rest and reconsider, it'll take moxie to allow that too.

Plus, it's just plain fun to say.  M o x i e.

The Cowardly Lion was given the word courage by a kind Wizard.  It was just a word, but what a word it was.  The Tin Man likewise. Scarecrow's word for the year was brains, which opened up a world unknown to him before that moment. How would they have grown had the Wizard asked them for their New Years resolutions? Chances are they'd be right back where they were when Dorothy found them.

Lay down your list of resolutions and start fresh.
What will your word for the new year be?