Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Dry Spell...

Flute making--transitioning to sketching more again.  I hope.
I've been exploring the meaning or origins of my dry spell--we all have them, and they can be simply cyclical, or indicative of time for a change.  Growth, perhaps. Sometimes other things capture our interests...and this past year, it was flutemaking, for me.  This is a vessel flute, sometimes called an ocarina.  It was made from a cedar tree from my land that bark beetles had excavated their beautiful designs on, and I love it.

My first flute, of deer bone I found in the woods...
I became fascinated by the earliest bone flutes, some 40,000 + years old, and imagined it would be simple to make one.  It's not...but the challenge captured my imagination, off and on, for 2 years.  I was playing it yesterday, out at the lake...

But honestly, in thinking about it--and coming across old journal entries--I see it's an ongoing challenge to keep sketching, keep making art, keep simply being who I always thought I was, despite the changes life throws at all of us.  I've sketched when traveling, at family gatherings, in meetings, in big cities, deserts, and deep forest.  I've sketched broad vistas and tiny microcosms at my feet.  I've sketched to celebrate and to calm myself in a hospital setting, to cope and to delight.

Waiting through Joseph's long surgery a few years ago...
 So what does contribute to our dry spells?

Probably many factors, and perhaps as individual as we are.

I just came across a note in an old journal--years old, actually: "feeling frustrated with my sketching time, lately--always hurried and shallow and meaningless."  Uh oh.  That wasn't good.  I need meaning...and I suspect most of us do.

Part of the problem, at that time, was adjusting to my recent remarriage...supportive though Joseph is, and he is, I realized I didn't want to bore him, keep him waiting, inconvenience him.  We often feel that way when traveling with non-sketchers, I've heard it over and over from fellow artists, and I was no exception.  (And yes, J. used to sketch some with me, and that was lovely!  But his interests have taken him in a different direction...) 

One day, I simply told him what I needed--what a concept, right??  Time to finish, not to feel rushed...and he of course understood completely!  If I said I needed to finish a sketch, we sat there till I finished.  Sometimes he read, sometimes he napped.  He even initiated sketching opportunities, asking if I wanted to stop by a gorgeous lake in New York state, or if I wanted to go to Cooley Lake.  When my sis died, he knew I need to process loss by sketching in nature, and bundled me into the car to get OUT there.  That's one problem solved...

I did a LOT of sketching in parking lots...J. shops and I don't like to.  And in fact that became the inspiration for my quick sketching mini-classes on my website!  Lemons to lemonade...
Sometimes, it's outside pressure.  It begins to feel like a job, and obligation.  Meeting the expectations of others, especially if you're an inveterate teacher, as I am.  A sketch a day.  People telling me to sketch this or that, whether or not I felt moved to do so.  "Aren't you going to sketch that?  Where's your sketchbook?" As I said above, meaningless begins to wear on our pleasure in doing it.

I have several friends who have quit or madly scaled back sharing online...again, it began to feel like an obligation.  It's not.

That's one reason I don't do challenges.  I want meaning, not an assignment, and I don't enjoy the pressure.  No "30 sketches in 30 days" or "100 People" (or noses, or eyes, or whatever) for me, thank you.  I know many people who thrive on it, and produce wonderful, imaginative work...but I feel trapped.  It's a personal quirk.  (I discussed that in some length in this post.)

Part of the problem sometimes, is frustration with materials.  I know--"it's a poor workman who blames his tools," blah blah quack quack.  But dammit, it IS frustrating!  I moved from technical pens to fountain pens, and years later I am STILL searching for the line variation I like, with a smooth nib, in a super dependable pen--the right size for my small hands.  Oh yes, and ideally that will work with water-resistant ink so I can watercolor over it.  Like my technical pens used to do.

And yet, I keep experimenting, so there you are.  I must like frustration!

I have page after page of pen tests...

...and brush tests, and color tests...

Drives me nuts when I don't like my drawing instrument, brush, or paper surface.  And so a LOT of my journal pages are just testing, like the two above.  Looking for what works best for the effect I want or the way it feels in my hand.

Now our lives have changed again, with the elderly dog we've rescued.  I have indeed sketched her some, but I also find she's not exactly conducive to sketching on the spot...Joseph's fishing has changed more into walking the pooch, as well.  She's a love, but she's made a big change...

And sadly, here is the most recent journal entry on the subject of the latest of my intermittent dry spells, just about a week ago:

"I think I have lost confidence in my sketching--as if it matters if it's not a perfect likeness.  Guess what?  It never was.  Perfect is not possible.  I don't want to lose my plesure in the moment, in the act of sketching itself, in capturing the moment, however fleeting, not worrying about making a false step.

Well.  not worrying, exactly.  I know I will, and do, and always have. 

So what is going on with this?  Yes, criticism bugs me, I'll admit it.  It sucks the fun out of it for me--the life out of it, really.  But that's after the fact, after the actual act of sketching.  What, I'm pre-emptively defensive now?"  It was good to get it down on paper.

(That issue is addressed beautifully in the brilliant Terri Windling's blog post, here, by the way.)

And then there's the issue of just not feeling like taking on some complex subject.  It's too much. I adore Stephanie Law's work, and my botanical artist friends, and so many others who incororate texture and color and pattern and detail.  But...it just feels overwhelming to begin.

And yet...what I find truly fulfilling is to sit and draw contemplatively...a tree, an interesting stone, a tangle of brush...

I suppose the upshot of all of this musing is that we all have been there, and will be there again.  I am beginning to enjoy sketching again.  I'm not doing all that much with flute making.  I'm exploring materials, yes, but actually feeling the glimmers of "yes, I'd like to sketch that!"

And so, last night, I did.

Frustrations and all--whiney pooch, too-smooth paper, ink I'd forgotten was water soluble, I enjoyed this!


  1. I think you have remained creative (flutes) but it just took on a different form for a while. Sometimes we need to shift about, change direction, and find a new release method. :) But your heart will return to what it loves. Your sketching is always beautiful to me. :) So are your flutes. ;)

  2. I’m relating to so much of this and your link where you talk about ‘jobligations’ (I love that word, brilliant!). I’m just emerging from a dry spell and I know the real meaning for me lies in slowing down, getting outside preferably, and connecting with what I’m seeing and drawing. But there is this other part that wants to pin me down and says it needs to be daily or it’s meaningless. But I know from experience that daily projects simply don’t work for me, because that’s not about meaning. That’s about work.

    Pah! I really know how to take the joy out of something for myself - it’s a tendency I really have to watch.

    1. I SO understand, Sarah! We tend to measure our worth by how much we do, not how much we LIVE fully. Not good.

  3. Oh, your post brought me to tears... because while my art is very different than yours, I've been right there. Tired of doing it because it has been my job, and I finally admitted to myself that years of making art my job, the need to make art to please others, making art to fit the criteria of someone else, having it always looked over and judged... well, it made me so tired I simply want to stop.

    To make art for only my own pleasure. Or not.

    Thank you for being an artist I so admire, and for saying all this publicly. How wonderful to know I'm not the only one who is competent at a medium she loves and yet it's complicated... that burned out, dry spell. Thank you. Thank you so much.

    1. Sharon, I hope you can find an answer! That's exactly where I've gotten with it, more than once.

  4. Thank you so much. This post really spoke to me. I'd been cruising along, finished a great piece and then lost all inspiration. Burnout from a very intense year focused on business. Fear that I'd never be inspired again. And a deep wish just to stop having to work so hard all the time. No fun. Now, I'm in recovery trying to find the flow again. I had just put this in big letters in my journal today, 'MORE FUN'. I'm trusting that it's out there and I'll find it.

  5. I agree with you about the challenges. They just shut me down. I wish they didn’t, but glad I’m not the only one.

    1. I don't care if they do or not, it's just not me. I guess I spent too many years doing freelance, and pleasing others for pay. We obviously HAVE to earn a living, and some of that involves doing just that, but for creative work I need it to be personal and heartfelt.


I'd love your feedback...please share your thoughts!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin