Solitude and Creativity – Lonely, Alone, Loner?

Awhile back, almost exactly two years ago, I wrote on my blog about my personal experience with being alone and exploring whether I was lonely, alone or a loner. I continue to struggle with the balance between solitude (being alone) and loneliness. I’ve been single now for 20 years, and the subject can be a bit depressing, and also quite uplifting at times.  I have always felt art-making played an important role in how I feel about this, and about myself.

This topic was re-stimulated when I heard a recent Cambridge Forum called Loneliness in the Digital Age. In the forum, they explored whether people are lonely or in solitude by choice.  Is a person at peace with being alone vs. aching with loneliness? Figuring this out is an inside job for all of us, but I know making art/being creative can help.

A commenter to this forum said the following (I will add the attribution when I get it; she was a member of the audience):

There is an interesting paradox – that loneliness actually has something to do with being alone. People feel less lonely when they can connect with themselves, and there are ways to do that. Meditation is one. Passionate involvement with a cause is another. And there is creativity.

We don’t need group activity in everything. Certain things of course. If we have to build something – a bridge – we need group people. We need a meeting like this with group people. However, there are times when we have to be alone and we have to connect with ourselves and we have to know who we are. The eastern philosophers said you have to know yourself, and it is not easy to do that.

But if one is connected to one’s self by various methods, and passionate creativity is the most important one, then I think those people are much much less lonely.

The act of creating is a connection to something meaningful outside of ourselves. When our neural pathways for connection are stimulated, we can more easily be alone and have it be solitude rather than loneliness because we are held within something greater than ourselves. 

One of my favorite pieces of writing is Guardian of My Solitude by Rainer Marie Rilke:

A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude. Each realizes and accepts that even between the closest of human beings, infinite distance continues to exist. In such a loving and accepting atmosphere, a wonderful living side by side is born and can grow up.

For me, this prose highlights how even when in a relationship, one needs some alone time and how much better if your partner not only realizes that need, but fiercely protects it on your behalf, and likewise. This guardianship is a safety net – a way to be held within something greater than ourselves.

Art-making can fulfill the same need for those of us who aren’t in a relationship or who are in one but with someone who does not “get” that need for alone time. It involves stimulating the neural pathways, at a scientific level, and may go beyond that in connecting us to our higher power, if you are inclined to believe that too.

My past five weeks of art-making in solitude have been a healing time. I started out in deep sorrow about some personal issues and made “sorrow collages.” After four weeks, and 130 pieces of art I made, I began to feel lighter and more hopeful. I’m now in the “hope collages” stage of my art-making. Of course, sorrowful times could return at any moment, but I see an arc inside me from sorrow to hope and on through to faith. The art-making has been critical to figuring this out from the inside out.

So today, go make some art or do something creative. You’ll feel a part of something bigger than yourself, held in safety. Then, you can choose solitude.

When Is A Piece “Done” – Stamp or No Stamp?

Put A Fork In It

You’ve heard that expression “put a fork in it.” Meaning Done. Complete. Ready to go to the table to be eaten. How does “done” apply to art making? It is one of the most difficult and agonizing decisions when you are making art – when to quit?

I see people new to art making go too far all the time. Less is more, but they don’t trust themselves or there is some internal dialog or investment that more is more. I took a painting class a long long time ago in a land far far away (actually, just Merritt Junior College in Oakland CA) and learned so much from the simple pre-class critiques. The instructor would have us pin up our paintings and one-by-one he would visit each one and ask us “What is working here?” and “What is not working?”

But the most informative thing he did was put his hand up to block out parts of the painting, effectively “erasing” them from our view. We could reconsider the piece without that thing that may have gone too far.  Then, he would suggest things in the piece that might benefit from being repeated, such as a dot in the background if repeated over and over would make an interesting pattern in the piece. That seemed to be a lesson in the power of mark-making.

Quit While You’re Ahead

I learned to make a piece, stop a bit short, and put it up on my windowsill at work when I arrived in the morning. All day, the piece would catch my eye and at some point the light bulb would come on. Aha! It needs…..this or that…. Then I would rush home to add that thing. But I am usually starting with less is more.

Sometimes I go too far and that is when collage is a good approach. Collage is the equivalent of the instructor’s hand over the piece. I can take a swath of tissue paper and glue it over the parts of the painting that aren’t working, then do more over that tissue paper, like in this piece:



By the way, this piece is still not finished. I want to emphasize the tree, but haven’t quite decided how to do that – with a pen? with watercolor?

Or I can crop down the piece, being brutal to take out extraneous background and close in on the subject so that it really shines. Sometimes less breathing room around a piece is more.

The Stamps…Oh The Stamps

And then there are the postage stamps. Luscious vintage French (mostly) postage stamps I keep in a little container on my bench.

Some pieces just aren’t finished until they have a stamp on them. After making nearly 150 pieces with stamps figuring in somewhere on each, I am no closer to understanding why some pieces benefit from the stamp and why I would never put a stamp on others.

I do use stamps when I have made an actual drawing or painting boo-boo that I want to hide.

That’s the best place to put the stamp. Or the piece seems unfinished and I cannot think of what more I could paint into it to make it work. So I retreat to the little bucket o’stamps and pick something.

I decide quickly. I don’t agonize over it. Typically find the right stamp after 3-4 tries in my pile – mostly based on color harmony. Then I go on to where and what orientation.

I feel such a sense of peace when the stamp is finally glued in place. Completion. Closure. It is the oddest thing. I’m exploring the other pieces I’m doing where a stamp would seem cheap or trite, and how to achieve that same feeling of closure. I’m not sure what that is just yet, but it shows me just how emotional art making can be.

Art at Lunch – Quarter to One, or Don’t Drink The Water and I Hope I Get Caught

I’m writing a book. And by book, I mean a real book, and it may bleed out into blog posts, Facebook posts, and other formats to get the information out there to you all. The book is called Art at Lunch.  Keep up with the making of the book, which might include some working on it at lunch, by visiting my book website: Art at Lunch.

What is Art at Lunch?
Art at Lunch is just that – making art during your lunchtime. Serious art. Art you can use to build a larger body of work, work out ideas, build skills with or creatively solve a work-related problem while making art.

I work in an office job. I love my job, but I dream about doing art all day. I rush home after work every day to make art.  I’m single with no kids at home, so this getting to art at night may be easier for me than some. However, I do have a busy social calendar, and on the nights I have other plans, I find myself dreaming about getting back into the studio.

My studio is a wonderful place to spread out and do big, messy, complicated things like printmaking, collaging with big stacks of found materials, three dimensional work, and anything involving a lot of smelly glue and pots of paint. However, there are many, many art-related things I can work on for just a few minutes at a stretch that help me build skills, stay in practice and build my capacity for doing shows or creating larger bodies of work. Another benefit of doing art in those small, precious moments at work is that it is SO relaxing, and low-calorie!

I am guessing maybe there are lots of other people like me out there who don’t know how to pull of this thing of art-making at work… maybe because they are too shy to try, or not quite sure how to get started.

My aim is to make this EASY for you by providing short lessons/ideas for you to try in a variety of mediums. We’ll give you a list of all the materials – keeping that simple too – and tips and tricks to give you instant success that will help you build confidence quickly. The better you feel, the more art you will make!

My belief is that we all want to be creative – it is in our basic nature as human beings – a survival skill, really. With just a wee bit of information, encouragement and some ideas, I have seen people take off and soar almost immediately. This book will give your art-making wings.

Don’t Drink The Water

Here I am today getting ready for “lunch.” In my lunch bag that I packed before leaving for work was my trusty Moleskine journal containing a line drawing I did last night at an art meeting, my watercolor palette (QoR tin), a water brush, and a rag. I fetched a nice paper cup of water from the cooler outside my office.

Have you seen this joke about artists? Don’t be accidentally drinking your painting water!

I Hope I Get Caught

It used to be that I was worried that my doodling in meetings, making art-related copies on the copy machine, or *gasp* painting in my office would be found out by my co-workers or superiors and that I would be perceived as not-serious, not working through my lunch hour, not not not.

I’ve been practicing making Art at Lunch for about a year now and just today my mind wandered to this place: I HOPE I get caught watercoloring at my desk!!! It’s lunchtime, which is my time. I’m not doing anything against the rules with my materials. It’s my choice whether to spend time wolfing down a sandwich or making a beautiful watercolor.

Getting caught doing something wrong is a mindset, a bad mindset, my mindset. Instead, I imagined what it would be like for someone to come in to hand me an invoice, ask me a question, or request a service and notice what I was doing and stop and watch me paint and then say Hey, I’d like to do that too.

What if instead of hiding in my office, I was painting down in the lunchroom? What if a whole table of us were painting, drawing, knitting, and chatting? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Just something to think about.



Moving Into Hope

It’s been a month since I started making Sorrow Collages. They are parked in two galleries here and here.  In 30 days, I made around 150 collages. Some were small and fast, like this one.

Others were more involved, like this series of three.





What I can say for sure about each one is that it helped me process through a lot of sorrow. Every night I would go to my studio and work, in silence. Less about crying, more about just feeling shell-shocked. Feeling nothing. In that month, I revisited a lot of old work that I just couldn’t toss, but that wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own. I gave it new life and it gave me a lot of pleasure in return. The work was very satisfying.

It was clear to me that I was using art-making to work through the effects of some majorly sad events in my life. It really took all that time and space for some deep hurts and anxieties to percolate up and clear.

I thought I would just keep making collages in this series called Sorrow Collages and I even went so far as to make some books to put the collages in. The books are full.

Then this weekend, on Sunday, my friend Karen Jaw-Madson gave me some fluorescent paints to try. I came home and immediately put them to paper. I also had met with my friend Diane Costello over the weekend, and we talked about image transfer techniques. It reminded me I had all the materials to do image transfers but just hadn’t gotten to it since taking a class in 2009.

I painted this with the fluorescents, then got to doing three image transfers that evening. My work changed with these collages which I shared with a small art group in a text message. My friend Len told me they seemed full of hope, not sorrow and I have to admit, I realized I was feeling better.

By tonight, I had made this. Even I can see it is full of hope. The new series, Hope Collages, is here and again, less about the colors I choose and the subject matter, and more about how I’m feeling at the source.



What Sorrow Collages Are Teaching Me

Art can teach you things, if you let it.  This Sorrow Collage project I’ve been doing recently has taught me a lot and has really helped me get through the past 10 days.

I’m an art “hoarder,” in that I can’t throw even the worst pieces I make away. I figure I can always cut it up, work over the top of it, fold it into a box….the possibilities are endless and sometimes the worst pieces make the best starts to these other projects. Over the past 5-6 years, I’ve done many small reject prints or paintings that are tucked away in a box or my flat file.

There is something about putting a stamp on them makes me now feel they are complete and need to be out of the box and into this collage collection where they now belong. Collage purists, I know many of these are not “true collages.” And, it is liberating to be going through this old art. I’m so so happy I still have the pieces.

They are original art by me, made into Sorrow Collages by adding the stamp, or more. My art, my rules! 🙂