Yes, it’s been one of the most unusual Julys I can remember.
As I write, I am nearing the close of a solo pilgrimage to one of my childhood havens, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. I am eager to share reflections and tips for pursuing your creative practice. Quiet time can be healing.
Carmel is world-renowned for its rugged shorelines, mystic cypress trees bent by the wind, the almost too charming architecture initiated by Hugh Comstock in the early 1900s,, and Pebble Beach. In the early 1900s – writers, musicians, painters, actors flocked to the colony and established a haven for creativity.
These childhood photos tell you my story: Mom 'n me, four generations at Carmel Beach (late 50's)
I think it's easy to see why I am drawn: I feel especially close to my parents when I visit Carmel and relive memories, while creating new ones.
My childhood in the 50’s and early 60’s included annual visits to Carmel. My artist mother would scope out galleries and sketch as we drove the coastline. This was an era of beginning tourism, but, for the most part, our visits to Point Lobos and along the famed 17 Mile Drive were met with few fellow travelers. Fast forward – this week it was teeming with tourists, most masked, and in town, many cafes have moved into the streets. I remained isolated cooking my own meals.
I cherish time for reflection and the silent birthday retreat; the time has been sweet despite startling differences from other visits.
Cartwheelin' - me definitely a few years ago; my mother would carve a mermaid in the sand at China Cove and I was able to sculpt one for my daughter on a mother-daughter trip in 2011; and China Cove on a sunny visit in 2015 with our son and his wife. The cove is now a seal sanctuary, off limits to humans.
So – my admonition -- create a retreat for yourself. You may not be able to escape as I did. Simulate a beach or mountain or desert retreat atmosphere in your home or studio! Where are those seashells? The woodsy cabin treasures? Desert detritus you have collected? What creative activity do you wish to pursue?
During time alone, I read short devotions and poetry, journal, take long walks and sketch. When my own family traveled, (my adult children still tease me about bringing a dictionary when camping) I had a bottle of magnetic words for inspiration; during my retreat, I pour out a few each morning and ponder. This morning’s random words were: book, new, release, tree, drown, yes, skeleton… I immediately began to think of the old figurative cypress trees along the 17 Mile Drive that were named, The Ghost Tree, The Witch tree...long ago fallen.
Historical photo of the famous "Witch Tree" landmark
at Pescadero Point, Pebble Beach, September 1962.
The tree was blown down by a storm on January 14, 1964.
Quiet time can be healing – even 45 minutes can do wonders - as a restorative gift. If you have not read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s 1955 classic, Gift from the Sea, consider it required reading! (and it led to the title of my original blog, Desert Argonauta!) I am grateful for my physical get-away to escape the busyness of even an isolated life, Zoom meetings, mundane chores, and caring for others.
My words from the jar (love the plexiglass coffee table!); books, tea, candlelight; feet up on the deck; a walk along the beach, desk view, beach at twilight (the Walker House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the distance).
Lessons from this week:
Be kind. The world is in incredible turmoil. No matter what issues you take to heart, some are easily offended. Stay true to your beliefs, but in love with patience.
Be kind to yourself!
Remember your childhood and honor those who stood out as role models. What made your time with them special? Be that light in someone else’s life – AFTER your retreat!
PAINTING / CREATIVITY TIPS
If it is in your soul, paint, (write, sing, dance, make music)!
Short opportunities can be golden: a sketch, a color study, a few apt words.
If moved, paint outdoors (or from life, flowers, objects, your imagination)!
Grab whatever supplies you have and go to your subject. It may be in the backyard, from your car seat, a public bench—or climb a bluff. Go where the sun and mood take you and be open to opportunity: a parking spot, a bench. Take what you can carry. Take a quick hike to see if what you need: a chair (or sit on a rock, bench, stump), easel to paint? small notebook to sketch or watercolor? backpack.
When people see me out painting, many remark, “Oh I would love to do that! "You already know my response!
Your image will most likely never be what you imagined, but you will improve the more you paint or draw. Don’t be “precious” about your drawings; they are exercises!
Loosen up! Try new techniques: watercolor, sketching with a twig dipped in ink (or coffee), scratching with charcoal, scribbling…my quick study after a slow deliberate drawing is often more satisfying, more evocative of the subject.
The watercolor sketches below show a long version (left) and a quick version without preliminary pencil (right). The last one was after I packed up - hit the trail , took another look and had to do one more!
Color awareness. Not only do weather and time of day affect color, but place plays a huge role. Latitude and geography change the entire scheme. My Southern California desert palette is significantly different from the cooler grey tones of the Central Coast. Allow yourself time to adjust. Keep painting. Be patient but persist in simulating the colors you see. Imitate the appearance or character of what you see.
Each exercise is a small lesson in color, shape, value. Imagine these as taking notes! Remember the photograph does not equal the human eye! But it offers a record.
Think design and simplify! What you leave out is more important than what you include. What is the essential quality of your subject? I think this applies to writing, painting, composing and all art forms.
Be brave: talk to local artists. Ask questions. Listen to artists' advice, but adjust to your practice, what works for you.
Encourage other artists: I had a fun conversation with this young man (above) at Carmel Beach, Sean Conroy, painting from his colorful van.
Persist! You will be frustrated by small things: closure of parks, forgetting items, lack of restrooms, light and fog moving in and out, a fence – persist!
Sometimes, the best refuge is a public spot – I notice such a difference in where I situate myself, masked, distanced. I often drive around a block three times, waiting for an opening. Be open to those who may stop and visit; take your cards, why not?
Two on the trail - delighted to be photographed
Sketching through the fence at Cypress Point- I knew I could look out and imagine it not there!
Take only what you need (and can carry), but double check: paper towels? water/medium? brushes? –and don’t draw on the back of another watercolor in your tablet as I am wont to do.
Take snacks, a lightweight backpack, and wear clothes with zippered pockets (one for my tiny zippered pocket wallet designed by artist friend Christine Lamb and one for my phone).
Be alert. As an older woman I feel safer, BUT I am always alert. I use the same if not more stringent safety precautions in the U.S. as elsewhere.
How much is God revealing to me? How much am I listening and watching? I think Moses of the Bible was a visual learner; God used a burning bush to get his attention! God certainly reveals his majesty to me daily as I observe, hear and smell the beauty of the sea, rocks, even my desert home.
Find a place where – YOU can take
Find your roots
Retreat and grow!
My REAL answer to the black and white selfie challenge (yes I took this!) I posted a more flattering shot on Instagram, but I think this comes closer to the real me. Yes, I’m now turning into my great grandmother (shown in one of the first photos on this post!) Tear in the hat and all! Doing what I love. Painting at the beach! and my mask in reverse makes a vintage neck tie.
What is the headline for this photo? FINDING MY ROOTS
Note: The last 15 months have challenged us! This month I encourage you to learn from the isolation and I wish you a cautious, but joyous June reopening!
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