How About Your Personal Projects?

The Cambridge Research professor Brian R. Little, author of “Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being” asks about our personal projects – how many we have and what they are.

Since the 1980s, Little has studied “trait psychology,” which looks at patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion, and he specifically peers through a lens of personal projects. For him these projects must have “personal saliency” – be significant for the individual. He finds people “typically report that they are pursuing about 15 personal projects at any one time.”

I read about Little’s book in connection with creativity, and was curious about his use of projects to define us. His book sometimes employs obscure (to me) words where simpler ones might do, but I reread and made notes to try to comprehend the chapter “Personal Projects: The Happiness of Pursuit.”

Little writes: “Personal projects are the things we are doing or planning on doing in our everyday lives. Personal projects can range from routine acts (e.g. ‘put out the cat’) to the overarching commitments of a lifetime (e.g. ‘liberate my people’). They may be solo pursuits or communal ventures, self-initiated or thrust upon us, deeply pleasurable or the bane of our existence. As our personal projects go, so does our sense of well-being.”

This might fall into the category of “duh” – that modern catch-all for the obvious (yes we do feel better when we get something done), but his ideas expand my list of core (really important to me) projects to include things I wouldn’t have thought of as projects. People differ in their reaction to the word “project,” but it’s interesting to think about what affects our sense of well-being.

My husband and I had a good time comparing lists when we went out to dinner the other night. Because Little devotes a chapter to personality and environmental preferences, I was curious about where my husband needed to live to support his core list. And, while making my list, I realized lists change over time, 10 years ago mine was very different.

The meaningful project and the easily done project have different effects – the latter alone is insufficient to assure well-being (too bad given how often I let the cat out), and meaningful projects tend to be complicated and harder to complete. Not surprisingly, Little says, “Well-being is enhanced when both efficacy and meaning are experienced within the same projects.”

Tangling with Little’s book is a project – but a rewarding one.

frances-waiting-to-come-in

 

 

Save

“The Jealous Curator”

The Canadian Danielle Krysa describes herself as a curator “who is inspired (and just a tad jealous) of amazing contemporary art, every day.” Each day she presents a new artist on her website, and on Saturday Krysa records a podcast interview with an artist, “Art For Your Ear.”

I began listening to her podcast back when she first started it last year, and now she has a rich archive of interviews. Something calms and focuses me about her voice (often infused with a chuckle) and relaxed interview style. Often infectiously inspiring by their dedication, artists talk about their back stories, studios, and working methods. Alone at work I feel like I’m eavesdropping on an interesting conversation between people who share my proclivities.

Krysa becomes part of the narrative. She’s got a great sense of humor, and I’ve liked hearing about her own struggles (art school) and successes (books: “Creative Block,” “Collage,” and a new book, “Your Inner Critic Is A Big Jerk,” all published by Chronicle Books, and hilarious collages on Instagram with 96.1 K followers!) (https://www.instagram.com/thejealouscurator/?hl=en)

You can listen on iTunes or by this archive link where Krysa provides images of work by the artist. It’s a treat to see the work and listen:

http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/art-for-your-ear-podcast/

(If you are curious, here’s a fascinating one to start with, the English installation artist, Rebecca Louise Law: http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/2016/08/05/painting-with-flowers/)

I’m about to go to Alaska for the arrival of Baby Brother either as scheduled or in a lickety split hurry, so after this I’ll post a little series I’ve been working on (often while listening to “The Jealous Curator”).

Jealous Curator

Save

Save

Save

Save

Sumi-e On A Saturday

A good way to have a good time? Spend a Saturday at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, in a classroom full of sunshine and students eager to try their hands at sumi-e painting.

The instructor, petite and gracious Louise Kikuchi, told us a little sumi-e lore – about the indelible ink and how it is made, about absorbent paper and brush strokes: “the only stroke you can make at this moment.”

On large pieces of newsprint we copied each introduced character, beginning with the symbols for one, two, three, graduating to horse, cat, willow tree. We finished the day with a landscape.

Each time after we did our best effort on a piece of rice paper (often not so interesting as practice marks), Kikuchi would hold up our offerings and gently comment, describing her impressions of our lines: lively, fierce, graceful.

I loved having a brush in hand all day – making me realize yet again how important it is to focus, devote time, and have materials ready. So if I fix these lacks, posting results will bring some color to February.

And I will use color, because luckily I haven’t a sumi-e ink bar, or I would get sidetracked grinding the bar and making ink rich and dark like Kukichi’s.

Sumi paintings

 

On Painting

For years I had a print ad for the venerable Art Students League on my wall. Below a small line drawing was the art school’s motto: “Nulla Dies Sine Linea” – “No Day Without a Line.”

So when I read about the book, “Art Students League of New York On Painting: Lessons and Mediums, Styles, and Methods” by James L. McElhinney and the instructors of the Arts Students League of New York (offered by “Blogging for Books”), I was curious. I spent several days in January reading with pleasure this hefty volume and taking notes.

Written by instructors at the school, the book is divided into three sections with different formats: Lessons and Demos, Advice and Philosophies and Interviews. Two-page spreads titled Lessons in Print give instructions about accomplishing particular paintings. Writings by these different people provide an expansive view of the history of painting, introduce artists (both traditional and innovative), describe techniques, inspirations, and studios, and reveal working and teaching methods.

While they share technical details, much of the pleasure comes from painters’ revelations about the underpinnings of a life in art. They speak of artistic awakenings, (many were struck at a young age by an experience at a museum), paths to becoming an artist, and methods of work. Pages of the artists’ paintings are followed by a gallery of images from accomplished students. The reproduced art, both lavish and beautiful, often fills the page.

Much about art and painting is to be learned from this book, because artists accustomed to communicating describe the making of paintings. With some the artspeak gets thick – but others deliver words of wisdom. Sharon Sprung who paints figures and gorgeous textiles says: “My advice to everyone is to look harder, look more than you paint. Immerse yourself in the visual world. Ask a lot of yourself, but without negativity and self-doubt. You need to risk being wrong if you ever want to be right.”

James L. McElhinney, the author, works in the field and paints in long skinny Moleskine books, making visual journals. Of artists and sketchbooks he writes: “The greatest benefit of journal work may be that it returns painting to a devotional scale – an environment in which painting can be experienced on an individual level where painters and viewers might pursue more intimate conversations.”

Near the end is an interview with Knox Martin, an artist who vehemently distinguishes drawing from sketching. He answers a question this way: “One lovely thing I do: I had a botanical print because it’s descriptive of the plant itself. Every stem and joint is exactly, honestly detailed.” He describes drawing from the print in pen and ink and then enlivening it by extending leaves and pushing stems – “Without making it unrecognizable, the leaves and folds began to rotate this way and that until the whole rectangle was activated.”

Martin is an abstract painter, and no image accompanies his words, but words, descriptions in a good book, can inspire – set one off on a new path!

(Following the example of blogger friends, I signed up for and received this book from the “Blogging For Books” program in exchange for an honest review. More information about the book here.)

Art Students League book cover

Change It Up

This first month of a new year, I’m thinking about change – who likes it, who loathes it, and about my conflicted relationship to it. I’m envious of people who began life with a childhood in one place, aware that my peripatetic childhood inclines me to motion. And I’ve always thought it a mistake to be so eager to change things in some way.

And then I read a wonderful article (here) by the novelist Jhumpa Lahirie about her passion for the Italian language, an obsession pursued so ably she can write eloquently in Italian (translated here by Ferrante’s translator). Lahirie says writing in Italian makes her a “tougher, freer writer, who, taking root again, grows in a different way.” She writes:

“One could say that the mechanism of metamorphosis is the only element of life that never changes. The journey of every individual, every country, every historical epoch – of the entire universe and all it contains – is nothing but a series of changes, at times subtle, at times deep without which we would stand still.”

Born in America to immigrant parents from West Bengal, Lahirie describes her mother as coping with that move by “a refusal to modify her aspect,” while Lahirie always felt for herself an “insistence on transforming.” Lahirie’s embrace of change is so strong:

“The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us. Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember. They give structure to our existence. Almost all the rest is oblivion.”

Oblivion!

She ties change to her reason for art: “I think the power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching through a work of art, for something that alters us, that we weren’t aware of before.”

Lahirie acknowledges changes can be small – “at times subtle,” and they can be a “salvation or a loss” – maybe some of both. She finds much positive in the act of change itself. Viewing change as positive puts me in mind of the resistance born of negatives associated with change – risk and fear and their relatives.

I like Lahirie’s view better – making change happen with permission and encouragement!

Amaryllis changing

 

New Beginnings in the New Year!

If you are thinking about how to shape 2015 to pursue a project, space remains in The Workroom beginning the 12th of January. You could join the friendly, interesting group coming together for this session! (More info here on the blog under “The Workroom” category or at www.katygilmore.com. Please just email me to sign up: herspiritsrose@gmail.com).

I include words from some past participants (and thank them for great comments!), because their feedback explains The Workroom best:

“I LOVED The Workroom. I don’t know that I would change anything…I liked your daily posts very much – they were brief, relevant, and good motivators. I think your comments to our posts were the most helpful part of the course, and the other participants’ comments added much too. The group aspect of The Workroom is definitely important. My expectations were more than met – thank you!” Michelle T.

“I got so much out of the experience. I loved your steady and encouraging posts, the weekly page postings by participants, and all the commenting. I was able to knuckle down and find an area of focus and a new approach to my schedule.” Carol H.

“I allowed myself to take the creative process seriously, as a study or a discipline or a practice, giving myself time, space and energy to pursue the process. It was a permission slip.” Caroline S.

“I liked your ‘themed week’ approach. You were very organized and the way you had constructed The Workroom made a lot of sense. I felt confident – that you had spent time thinking about how this would work best, and that made me feel maybe I could be successful in it.

I very much appreciated the daily themed posts during the weeks. It helped me to have you touching in each day. Helped me to begin building the ‘daily’ muscle, too. Knowing you are doing your daily work helped me to try to do mine.

My expectations were met and exceeded and it was just such a deep pleasure. So many of us (I now believe) have this deep desire to do this/our work and it is worth a LOT to have someone create the space and structure for the support and encouragement to just do it and to understand that there are basic needs to satisfy in order to give yourself a good shot at success: routine, habit, encouragement, someone to point you towards the resolution (inner and outer) that you might need, etc.” Margy C.

“This was a new experience for all of us, and to my mind an incredibly successful one. The most surprising thing for me is the closeness I feel to everyone in the group. And I think that is partly due to your guidance and the way you talked about everyone’s posts. You set a good standard and I think we all tried to follow it.”  Carol B.

“I enjoyed all the posts and definitely all the comments. At first I was leery, resistant to all the computer time. As the time passed, I enjoyed that time and my new skills. I feel like I have a new circle of caring friends.”  Pat H.

“When we started and friends asked me about “The Workroom.” I had difficulty explaining exactly how it would work. Now that we’re done, I ‘d recommend the Workroom to anyone stuck or starting a project.

Your postings have been excellent. So well thought out and very timely. I marvel at how you figured out what we would need and when we’d need it. You integrated inspirational quotes, references, your own ideas very well — sometimes within one Post even. The sideline topics of books, quotes, etc. are helpful since they are easy to access in a glance.

Setting up Weekly Pages for us worked well, too. Your feedback to each of our Pages was very thoughtful in helping us sort out the next step or think of approaching something in a different way.

The success of the Workroom can also be measured by the way everyone participated so creatively with their own projects and also the depth and sincerity of their comments to one another.

Everything worked! I can’t think of anything to change. Congratulations and THANK YOU!”
“I learned a lot about myself and also feel the spirit of kinship with the others. And honestly, I would recommend The Workroom for a lot of people. I told a friend about it yesterday and she said, ‘why with a group?’. And I explained to her the support and creative spirit that comes with reading about other people being creative and then feeling it from yourself.”  Judy R.

“The daily posts kept me going and inspired. The comments from fellow participants were great. Having a deadline once a week and at a certain time meant that there was closure on that week’s work. Thank you, too, for responding to questions so rapidly.”  N.D.

Workroom post

Do You Know About Skillshare?

On its website Skillshare offers series of project-based video classes about design, business, technology and more, presented by experts in their field. You may buy some courses outright for $19 or buy a monthly subscription for $9.95, and take as many classes as you want. Skillshare provides some classes focusing on creativity and innovation for free, and often offers a free trial month.

Skillshare knows that we learn best by doing. This year I’ve been working through classes in InDesign and Photoshop. I made the little booklet I posted last week for The Workroom as my project in Anne Ditmeyer’s InDesign class. Each time I look at her videos I learn something, and in the last month Ditmeyer has been offering helpful critiques of class projects.

Some classes lend themselves to just watching, like Jack Zerby’s “Fundamentals of Design: How to Think Like a Designer.” Zerby whips through a cogent, concise overview of design principles in videos that total less than two hours, lighting on concepts like visual hierarchy, type, and color. By revealing a touch of designer fairy dust, he makes one look anew at the designed world around us.

But best of all, a few weeks ago, a Skillshare email offered “Creative Non-fiction: Write Truth With Style” by Susan Orlean. Wow. If you are interested in writing, any kind of writing, this is a gem.

In 14 short video lessons, each so well-crafted and organized, Orlean traces her process, using as example a piece she wrote some 20 years ago: “The American Male at Age 10.” She’s funny and engaging – and so generous with the details of how she works. (More here about Orlean and the class from the Skillshare blog: http://blog.skillshare.com/eight-things-we-learned-about-susan-orlean/)

For the class project, Orlean suggested a 750-word piece about “the most mysterious person you know.” I thought about it all the time I watched the videos (I rationed myself to one a day while I worked on Frances’s adventures, though I often relistened while painting).

I’m a long-time fan of Orlean, from her New Yorker articles to “The Orchid Thief” – and I was thrilled to discover this class. And her prompt does make you consider your cohort.

Who is the most mysterious person you know?

 

Mysterious Hat