It's intriguing, what you can manifest in your life. When you identify deeply with an idea, a vision.... compulsion takes hold. There's nothing else to it, that's how stuff happens.Read More
Discovering your Soul Nook
14 months ago I did a google search that changed my creative life.
I typed "Art retreat Ireland", hit return and winced. Two things were going through my mind: 1) I shouldn't be doing this.
2) I need to do this.
Search presented it's results and the next thing I know I'm looking at a web page offering 'A Space for Dreaming", in 8 weeks time, in Bantry, Co Cork. A couple of days later, I'm in the post office sending off a postal order to secure my place. I made arrangements to kennel the dog, cattery (yes I made that a verb) the cat, I hurled next month's rent under the bus, followed by Ms Inner Critic, booked a hotel room.... and then I panicked. What was I doing going to an art retreat?
But, of course I knew.
I was going to find and entrench myself in a creative community. I was latching on. That there would be amazing art workshops was a bonus, but I was looking for something more, connection.
I went with that intention, I showed up, I got in there and I made myself known.
The creative identity doesn't exist in a vacuum.
You can't just don your apron and go about your day if there is nobody around you to play with, talk to, learn from, cheer. Who will you share your creative joy with? Your discoveries, your challenges? Who will encourage you, who will inspire you? Who will understand?
In his book 'Show Your Work', Austin Kleon address the 'lone genius' myth about being a creative. This is the misleading (and damaging) idea that the 'true' artist is inspirationally independent, not in need of social stimulus, a lone genius at work. Kind of like an immaculate conception, his muse just arrives, directly on the horse of God. I must say, I can relate. I always used to place artists on pedestals, attributing to them the classification of genius.
Kleon refers to Brian Eno's reflection on being an art student in which he says,
'like all art students, I was encouraged to believe that there were a few great figures like Picasso and Kandinsky, Rembrandt and Giotto and so on who sort-of appeared out of nowhere and produced artistic revolution.'
However, unsatisfied with this, Mr Eno discovered that there was no such thing as an immaculate conception, that
'there was sometimes very fertile scenes involving ... all sorts of people who created a kind of ecology of talent. And out of that ecology arose some wonderful work. So I came up with this word “scenius” – and scenius is the intelligence of a whole… operation or group of people. Let’s forget the idea of “genius” for a little while...'
Thank GOD! I don't have to be a genius to make art! Phew... where's me crayons?
How liberating is that?
And I've found it to be true. I was always 'creative', I always had creative friends, but at one point in my life, I went off course and fell into a more rigid set up. I found myself sneaking my creative life, because I was alienated from my sources. And while my creative self still managed to survive, the longing inside me for something more grew stronger than the need for safety. I knew what I needed to do was to surround myself again, find a scene in which to implant myself, create the conditions under which I could not just survive, but thrive.
That art retreat in Bantry was the 'coming out' of a creative identity I had been afraid to embody. I refer to it and my decision to show up, as the gift that keeps on giving. It has led to my connecting with artists and makers all over the world. I have been inspired and encouraged to grow and flourish and I'm always nurturing and growing those connections.
Every connection I've made since stems from this. It's like being listed in the creative Golden Pages! I am now a proud member of a group here in Ireland, a network of creative entrepreneurs brought together by Tara Prendergast, a creative business strategist at the helm of Biscuit. I have joined many networking groups in my time and I have to say, I've always felt like a bit of a spare at the meetings and events, maybe it's a bit cliche, but I just 'never fit in'. Maybe it's just me, but I think creatives need to do that kind of thing waaay less formally (although no less effectively) and Tara knows this, so our get togethers feel very different.
Moral of the story?
So, what I'm saying to you is this... GET OUT THERE and find a community. Stop waiting until you're 'good enough'. It probably won't be a geographically convenient community, so, to quote a friend of mine at the dinner table,"stretch or starve". The kind of people you're missing in your life are not all contained in your local area, it's not 'handy'. You wont bump into them or happen across them by chance. You have to reach out but let me tell you, it's worth it.
Join a FB group, take a class, pm an artist you admire, comment on their threads, their blogs, we don't bite, in fact we love that! Why not go the whole hog, give yourself a panic attack and sign up for that retreat that you have always found excuses not to attend.
You're always welcome to come and play with me in Sligo!! That's what I'm readying for you there, a big ol gathering place for all our creative selves to get together, be nurtured and inspired.
One more thing
A friend I recently made, only made possible through this kind of reaching out, gave me a little book the other day called "When I loved myself enough", by Kim Mc Millan. It's a beautiful little book celebrating the gifts we are capable of giving ourselves, once we make one very important decision.... that we are worthy. I have it open right now on my desk... here's what it says...
"When I loved myself enough, I quit settling for too little"
And on that thought....
Always, Amanda xoxo
Inspiration is essential. Inspiration is hope. Inspiration is the key to animation. Before I started painting, and even since I have began, I had little understanding of what makes an artist. I didn't know what a creative process was, even though in hindsight, I can see that I've always had one. Before becoming an artist,
I would write. Whether that be for work, school, college, journalling, letters, whatever, I have always had something to express. For a long time, words were my default medium.
Over the past 18 months I have been not only comitted to and developing a conscious creative practice, but I've been observing how I work. The ebbs and flows. What brings me to the table and what I'm doing when I'm away from it.
Turns out, I'm never away from my practice.
Somebody recently posted a story on facebook that I'd like to share with you. I can't remember who it was or where I saw it, but I'm sure it was in one of many creative groups I frequent online.
On a beautiful day, this lady was fuelling her car. As happens on beautiful days and to artists in particular, the woman was in a world of her own, admiring the sun setting over the distant hills, when a man beside her, also fuelling his car, struck up a casual conversation. In doing so, he jolted her out of a trance and she engaged with him. He asked her what she did for a living. She told him she was an artist, to which he replied "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you while you were working!"
I love that. He got it.
Here's what I understand now.
Even when we're not 'at the table', physically making art, we are working on our art.
To borrow the phrase, 'one cannot serve from an empty vessel', the same is true for creativity. We MUST fill our cups with inspiration. SOAK IN IT. DRINK IT IN.
My partner understands this about me. When I 'drift off into my zone, I've had friends ask 'Is everything ok?'. That I seem 'a little distant', 'a little down' sometimes. I've been at pains to explain that it's not that anything's wrong and that I don't mean to withdraw, but sometimes it just happens. Sometimes I am 'at work' when I'm sitting on a bench in a park, drinking a milkshake with you. I don't mean to check out and when I become aware I'm doing it, I feel bad. But I also can't help it. That's the way my creativity works, I am mentally taking stock, figuring out how a piece of work I'm inspired by was created, rehearsing the next expiriment in my head. I could be playing with words, gestating, feeling the onset of labour as a new poem or post decides how it wants to be born. So, It's not you, it's me... My mind is a busy place. I'm often pregnant with thought. I dont have to be at my table or easel to be working and I also don't have a 'switch', with which I can control inspiration, accessing or suppressing it on demand.
I see this play out in my own practice now. How is it that I can not have sat at my table or stood at my easel for two whole weeks and then on return, spill out a series of paintings that somehow show growth? Because I'm always in practice and a big part of that is being tuned and soaked into what's happening around me.
Before I stepped into this identity, as Amanda the artist, I made several attempts to paint. Each time, I would chose an image I liked and I would recreate it. Then, having reaped the reward of my achievement, I would attempt to fly solo, and paint something without reference. Never worked. Because I thought I had to pull a painting out of thin air.. I would give up, deflated, frustrated and disappointed, chalking my mimicked painting down as a fluke.
~ BECAUSE I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND ~
Inspiration does not live in a vacuum. It does not live in my head. It is not inside me. What's inside me is passion, desire, curiousity, enthusiasm... they're my drivers, my strenghts. The inspiration is out there, coming through and from the expressions of 'other'...nature, experience, music, art.
This penny only dropped when I married my own strengths, with the strengths of others.
So today, I want to share with you a gallery of what and who is inspiring and teaching me right now. Enjoy!
(In good manners, etiquette and respect, all artists names and images link to their respective websites)
See Cy Twombly page on Artsy's website here
Always, Amanda xoxo
p.s. I archive all who inspire me on my 'Artist Crush' Pinterest board, which I pin to regularly and you can follow here.
"Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a little." ~ WB Yeats
When I recently came across this statement by WB Yeats, I immediately understood what he meant. I was blown away. I can't even tell you what it affirmed in me. Only a poet could nail it.
Ever since I can remember, I have sought refuge from the world. When I was very young, I remember imagining a secret underground space in our garden. In this space, me and my friends could gather and we would have a world, all to ourselves, in which we could play. My coveted world was a safe space, a fun place, a thing of wonder.
As I got a little older, I got my wish.
I grew up in the countryside. We spent long days building camps, forts and bases. This was our turf. We would gather, sit on blocks, arranged in a circle, they were like altars. We would tell stories, jokes and tales, tease each other and play.
Hay barns, fields, farms and forestry were the canvas on which to express ourselves and that, we did. We created a world of our own, we tended to it. We belonged. It was our place of retreat, the fortress of our becoming.
Those were the best days. I feel blessed to have known them.
I think I have always yearned for that again. A world in which I could devote myself, to be free again, to be me again. Because we should never stop becoming, should we?
We think 'adulthood' is the destination.. once we grow up, there's no more becoming, there's no one else I could be. This is it. This is me. We settle.
I was just thinking about it today, it's not about growing up.. it's about growing out. Pushing out our edges. Embodying as much of ourselves as we can.
I think this has defined my journey all along. I now know, this is what my recurring dream, the one in which I discover secret rooms in endless houses, is about. I believe I have been all my adult years trying to find my way back to a time in my life I cherished. It was sacred. I believe it's what has brought out my creativity and why creative practice has become so important to me. It is my way in to the practice of devotion.
12 Years ago, I began envisioning an idea of a gathering place, somewhere that would act as a touchstone, somewhere I could gather with the likeminded and delve in again to 'becoming ourselves'. It's a world I have been itching to create.
But first, I had a lot of learning to do, a lot of mistakes to make, a dose of what it costs the soul to settle. I had to get really fired up. Now It's clear. I've identified the way in, the way back to devotion is to exercise our creative powers. The powers through which we can express and shape ourselves.
To me, this means to engage in activities and with people that help you reconnect with your true self, your essence. To keep alive in you, your hope, your joy, your spirit. To animate in you, the person you already know you are, want to be or are becoming.
I want to build a camp for that.
Somewhere to retreat from 'the desperate field of battle'. To connect you (and me) with others who will get it and want the same thing. To find a tribe, a community, a sense of belonging. Think of it as a charging station.
I've been readying myself for years. It's time.
I'm in the early stages of building my dwelling, far from the maddening crowd; in honour of hope and the nurturing of memories of who we are, though creative self and soul nourishing activities.
I have found a space, in which I will host gatherings. It's in the vibrant and inspiring Craft Village in Rathcormack, Co Sligo. Right in the shadow of the majestic Ben Bulben, less than a mile from the resting place of WB Yeats and right on the Wild Atlantic Way. In this space, there are ancient faery forts, nature trails and authentic round wicker huts. There is a creative community and a weekly market. It's welcoming, it's recharging, it's enchanting.
There is such beauty and inspiration in this place. It feels so right (and a little bit wobbly). I know I have found a place to call home and to continue the work of becoming. And I want you to accompany me.
We are all artists. We just need a space to find ourselves again <3
My new creative space, Pilgrim Soul has been born. I'll post more updates as they happen.
I'm so excited (and nervous) but mostly excited.
I'll be creating a mailing list soon (ahem, the perpetual long finger) so you can sign up & stay in touch!
Always, Amanda xoxo
This past year, I have been trying to answer the questions of creative identity. Who am I as an artist?
What’s important to me? Why? What do I stand for? What do I believe? Embody as an artist? What drives me?
I have to be honest and say, it’s laborious work achieving clarity about these things. I have found it hard to nail my colours to the mast. But I’m getting there.
I DO know what feels inauthentic though, so every time I pick up a touchstone that doesn't ‘feel’ right, I know. And I’ve picked up many.
Here’s what I’ve figured out so far, here’s where I do have clarity.
Being real about the human experience.
What does this even mean?
It means acknowledging the full spectrum of emotions we experience in response to life. It means being honest with yourself about how you experience yourself and others. Further, (for me) it means affording these experiences actual , healthy expression in order to live a more dynamic, authentic, empowering and rewarding emotional existence.
I know that when I say this, or try to explain it, it always comes out awkwardly. I just sound like a dictionary falling down the stairs. How can I say this in a simpler way?
It means having a hand in creating realities that enrich you, make you big instead of small.
Sigh… so hard to articulate. Are you getting me?
I’m in a distillation process of getting this idea across in simpler terms. Bear with me, I will.
Why is self expression important?
I have always been as close to my sadness / dark side / shadow, whatever you want to call it, as I have been to my light. I always thought this was a bad thing. It’s not.
You know what’s worse? Resistance. Selective entertaining of the emotional life.
Having no container for expressing that which you'd rather not experience, is like sailing a little boat in a big ocean. Fine on a calm day, but when the storm comes you’re kinda fucked aren't you?
Learning the art of self expression will take you on a journey in which you become the ocean. What a powerful thought that is.
There ya go… that’s what’s important to me. As an artist, thats what I stand for.
So, how'd I do?
Often, if we’ve have been walking alone for some time, we may suddenly see someone also walking their path, who may appear more certain in their stride than we. So, we find ourselves trying to catch up and join them, because we’re struggling to trust ourselves and we’d rather walk wherever you’re going and get there, than stay here and get lost on our own.
Yes, we can catch up and walk together for a while, but the only time the path feels like our own, is when it is. But how do you know?
There's an art to trusting your own compass and setting your own course.
We’re all fellow travellers. Then there’s people like Orly Avineri. She is a guide.
This was my second workshop with Orly. The theme of this workshop was hollow spaces.
In my last post, I wrote of the hollow girl I see when I revisit an earlier time in my life. I wrote that it still hurts to remember her. I wrote about how I’ve come to understand why, but that it still packs an emotional punch. Enough sometimes to make me cry.
What I didn’t write, because it’s what I hadn't yet reconciled, is my relationship NOW with that hollow girl. As if some kind of ghost, she has continued to haunt me.
I realise I've been afraid of her. Afraid she will return.
All hollow places are, by nature, functional. The trick is to understand their purpose.
Orly spoke at her workshop of what she meant by hollow spaces. Her view is that a hollow space is one where life is accommodated and facilitated. The nests, the vessels, the wombs. The nooks and crannies that house aliveness. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I think I have continued to identify and associate hollow spaces with emptiness, bereavement, loss.
The irony is that it was out of that hollow space that my yearning to feel alive surfaced. After this weekend, I understand now that my hollow space contained a gift. It’s where THIS life, the ME I am today, was housed.
My hollowness was a gestation, a pregnancy, my creative life waiting to be birthed.
In that post, I shared also that a fundamental part of my recovery process was the practice of noticing what made me come alive and seeking out these experiences. I did that instinctually, this blows my mind!
Just as the acorn contains the blueprint for the oak it will become, emptiness contains the blueprint for fullness.
That’s why it hurt. Because deep down, I knew exactly, the me I was failing to be. My hollow space contained the blueprint for the life I was meant to live.
By the end of these three soul stirring days, I had come to change my definition of hollow from something empty to something hallowed. Today I sit here re-aligned. My compass calibrated and my spirit inspired to set off down the path again. I have a new understanding of where I began and why.
Once again, Orly has worked her magic.
She led me back to my hollow space and allowed me to understand it,
not as an abyss, but as a dwelling.
Buíochas Orly, thank you.
So, fellow traveller, let me ask you this…. What is the blueprint in your hollow space?
You can read the full poem here. Sweet Darkness by David Whyte
All my life I’ve been drawn to creative people. In my experience, there are two basic types.
The Little miss (and Mr) Sunshines
The openly expressive creatives. Ah, these boys and girls are fun. You feel good in their company. They are interesting and inspiring. They make you think, they make you smile. They’re curious about you, themselves, the world. They’re interested, engaged, connected. They have intriguing practices. They thrive on abundance. They own who they are and rock it. They’re passionate, they know how to LOVE but they’re not ashamed or shy about hating what they can't love.
I’ve never left an openly creative persons company not having felt inspired.
Have you ever hung out with a repressed creative person? Welcome to shitty town! Not fun.
They seethe in their paralysis. They scathe in their scarcity. Stagnant, resentful, they are consumed with self loathing. So much so, should one dare to see in them, anything other than the pathetic creature they believe themselves to be, then they will loathe you too. They channel all their energy away from appreciation and into cynical critisicm. You leave their company feeling like someone just put a wet blanket over your fire. Because they did.
They are the wet blanket.
Which creative type would you rather be around? Which would you rather be?
I’ve been both.
Facebook has this app. If you sign up, it offers you your memories on the anniversary of the years they happened.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been confronted with all the memories leading up to this day in 2010.
2010 was the year I’d rather forget. It also happens to be the year I began the process of recovering my creative self.
Here are some of the photo memories FB reminded me of from around that time.
You know what I see when I look at these photos? A vessel… a hollow girl, who was completely worn out in her mission to contain herself. I was a Gollum.
To look at these photos still hurts. Because I remember her. I remember being her. It was hell to be her and it was hell to be around her.
It’s also still quite emotional, I’ve been trying for 2 days now to figure out how to write about it…every time I tap into what I remember about this version of me, tears roll down my face.
Why? Because I know now who was inside that vessel. My little miss, without her sunshine. An abandoned girl, her fire smothered by the wet blanket of a person she was horrified to have become.
That’s what the tears are about. I cry because at that time, I thought the part of me who is sitting here typing this right now, my creative self, was dead.
It’s the strangest thing, to remember such grief and now to experience such gratitude for having been wrong.
Within days of these photos being taken, I called truce on a long standing war with my self. For the first time in my life, I declared a definite. I was done.
That decision came from my bones, it was a commitment.
This was my mantra… and to this day, I find it to be true.
That moment marked the leaving behind of emptiness and the beginning of a journey in which each step has been about filling the void with love and passion and joy and….. ME!
So how did I do it?
I began a couple of practices, which I will share in the coming weeks, one of which was noticing what makes me feel alive and seeking out those experiences.
What those experiences had in common was true self expression.
Lemme tell you… I expressed the shit out of myself! It was amazing and I highly recommend it.
I found myself once again in the company of openly creative people. The ones who own it. I was encouraged, I was inspired. I was reminded of the me I wanted to be.
It was the fuel that fed and the path that led back to my creative fire…and oh my god, this time, I let it burn.
What gallant people are the openly creative. I want to be like them.
So, what burns your creative fire?
Always, Amanda xoxo
Something in me changed last year. I can't explain it. For someone practiced in the habit of pushing the boat out, I did something very out of character.
I'm a bit of a control freak, a fixer... a need to always feel on top of, if not ahead of where I'm at.
As if readiness suddenly arrives, announcing with total confidence that a journey may begin.
It's a well rehearsed worry, based in the belief that I'm not ready, not good enough...yet'.
Then almost a year ago, I kind of threw myself out the door only half dressed. It was a fit of inspiration and I've been running around like a half naked women trying to dress herself in motion ever since. (Might explain the dreams)
So, what I realise now is that the not ready...not enough, has to be part of the journey. You can't wait for that to expire first, before beginning something.
You have to start somewhere. Although it's a hard habit to break, what I also realise is that when inspiration strikes, you get infected by something more powerful than worry. When truly, deeply inspired, the driving seat is reclaimed.
I'll be honest. I'm easily overwhelmed. It doesn't take much to stress me out.
Yesterday, as I traveled between 3 meetings, covering over 300 miles, I absorbed a huge amount of information, support, guidance and assistance. My mind, although stuffed, also (as usual) found room for question and doubt.
I spent my day with 3 people, non of whom question my readiness or ability. Each took time out of their day to help me navigate the next steps on this path, they only see my potential. This has been the case not just yesterday but over the past few months. I have had nothing but believers, encouragers and teachers show up for me!
"Oh my god, what have I done!" I confided in one, who is a friend I've know a long time. "well, you can't give up" was her response. Simple. That was NOT an option.
You know how they say sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees? Well, my friend saw me struggling in the thickets, she grabbed a strimmers and she hacked.
Taking out her phone, she googled something I had been 'unable' to find through my 'I can't' filter, made a call and within minutes, we had a plan.
As I was driving home, my heart still racing, my throat tight and the knotted ball in my belly, I got so sick of myself and this reaction to challenge. Stress and overwhelm... it's exhausting and it does me no favours.
So I had a re-frame. I asked myself "why am I the only one worried about my ability?". "Why am I driving home from a day filled with guidance, inspiration and challenge with a feeling of dread?"
"Why don't I reach for gratitude instead?" And so I did. And suddenly, everything felt better, it all felt right.
I only have where I'm at, now, today. Where I'm headed is dictated entirely by me embracing that. I have to stop worrying about the lack of a woods because there 'aren't enough' trees. There will be, in time but only by planting them, one by one, by one.
One tree at a time... that's my plan.
I want to follow this up with a practice, so that I don't just arrive at it via anxiety anymore. I want to cultivate Gratitude, make it my go-to. I've spent too many years cultivating dread... I'm done.
If you have any suggestions on cultivating gratitude please let me know! I love music and audiobooks, so suggestions are welcome :)