anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Draw Your Breath

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“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.
Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Have you taken time to breathe lately?

Yes, I know you are breathing. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t, but have you actively taken time to breathe lately? There is a difference, after all.

I do this exercise as a warm up in classes sometimes. A way to bring people into the present moment. Creativity, as I hope you have picked up on by now, is a great tool for that.

Breath is essential, we all know that. We have to breathe to stay alive. But breath is also essential for stress management. Feeling stuck in fight-or-flight mode right now? That’s not good for our physical or emotional health, and if we focus on our breathing we can actually work to reset our nervous system.

This activity is intended to bring a little more awareness and attention to your breath, to offer up a few intentional moments of calm. A simple practice that you could incorporate into any part of your day.

Supplies:

  • Paper
  • Pen, pencil, or marker

Grab your drawing/writing device and place it on your paper. Close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath. Allow the breath to dictate where your pen and pencil goes. No rules for this besides following your breath. Maybe the breath feels continual, maybe it feels choppy and more like scattered marks. Draw for as long as you need to.

Open your eyes, look at your paper, notice.

Close your eyes again. Before you let the pen or pencil do anything, take a couple of deep breaths. Focus on the inhale, breathing all the way into the belly, and then letting that breath slowly come all the way back out. Keep with this deep breathing and bring your pen or pencil to the paper, allowing the breath to guide the stroke. Draw for as long as you need to.

Open your eyes, look at your paper, notice.

Breathe. 

This was a prompt featured in Creative Fuel Challenge, a semi-regular newsletter with creative prompts. I usually send it out twice a week, and it’s intended to inspire a little but of extra time for creativity in your day. Sign up here.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 6, 2020 at 12:14

Benefit Women’s Wisdom Project Prints

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I have a new collection of six different 8×10″ prints from my Women’s Wisdom Project collection, and 50% of each print is being donated to a different organization.

Here are the prints currently available and the organizations that they are supporting:

I am excited to be able to use this artwork in this way, and I hope that you consider buying one and supporting one of these causes.

Written by Anna Brones

June 18, 2020 at 10:34

How to Celebrate Swedish Midsummer (A Free Zine)

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This coming weekend marks the celebration of Swedish midsommar. In honor, I made a zine that you can download, print, and fold at home. It even includes a recipe for a strawberry and cardamom cake. If you need help on how to cut and fold this zine, you can find instructions for that here (as well as a zine about another favorite Swedish custom of mine: fika).

Want more inspiration for celebrating Swedish midsummer? Here are a few ideas for planning a Swedish Midsummer dinner, which includes some additional links to recipes.

To download the zine click here. It is designed to be printed on a 8.5×11″ piece of paper.

This zine is free to download and print, but in exchange, I would like to ask you to consider making a donation to the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, or any local organization in your community that’s focused on the intersection of race and food. I have always loved celebrating midsommar because it’s very much a celebration of seasonal food, and given the ongoing inequities in access to food and access to land for BIPOC communities, I think that this is a great time to highlight that food justice is racial justice.  

Written by Anna Brones

June 17, 2020 at 10:17

If You Can Cook Camp Food, You Have All the Skills You Need for Quarantine Cooking (Here are a Few Recipes)

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What do quarantine and camping have in common? “Not much” you say, as you stare at your living room wall for the 572nd time today, dreaming of outdoor trips. No, at the outset there aren’t a lot of parallels. But if you do spend time outside, there’s one thing that you just might be well trained to do in this moment: make food.

In the outdoor kitchen, you’re limited by ingredients, just like right at this moment you’re wondering how to turn yet another can of cans into dinner. Yes, quarantine cooking and camp cooking require some of the exact same creative skills.

A few years ago, my friend Brendan Leonard and I wrote a book called Best Served Wild, devoted to the outdoor kitchen. And yes, a few of those recipes were inventions of necessity, born out of needing to use things up (hello, banana fritters).

Turns out, that’s exactly how we are cooking in our kitchens right now. Go to the back of the pantry, find a can of beans, maybe a half dried out carrot in the fridge and figure out what the fuck to make for dinner.

We wanted to help you out, so we pulled together five different camp cooking recipes that felt right for this moment. And just like in the outdoors, don’t forget your spice kit or the hot sauce.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

April 29, 2020 at 12:55

Mapping Imaginary Islands

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About a year ago I met my friend Paula Flach. We were both at a film festival together, and somehow our paths had seemed destined to converge. Since that initial meeting she has challenged me to see the world a little differently, to appreciate things a little more. She has become an essential part of my own creative process.

Paula and I both have an obsession with islands. In fact we had even applied for a collaborative artist residency on an island this summer. We won’t be going to that residency (obviously), and when I forwarded her the email from the residency she responded with this: “I guess 2020 is an island in and of itself.”

It’s true. This year does feel like an island. Remote, disconnected, solitary.

There are dark and bright sides to islands, they are full of allure and of fear. They are harbors of restorative solitude but also isolation. But they are also magical, special places.

When I first started writing these challenges, I reached out to Paula to ask if she would write a guest prompt that involved islands. She is really good at imaginative mapping, and I thought that this could be useful in pushing our own creative boundaries, in particular during a moment of separation and isolation. If you can’t meet with your friends, if you can’t travel to the places you love, if you can’t find a sense of normalcy, you do the next best thing: you create that place—you make your own island. 

We put together this guide to help you do just that. I hope you enjoy

Imaginative Mapping: Making Your Own Island
By Paula Flach

An island is an easy concept and can yet be infinitely complex. A world unto itself, an island can hold all the opposites, all the lightness and all the darkness within one confined space.

These days, we are required to spend our time exactly there—a confined space. But what could be a claustrophobic idea, can also hold boundless creativity. This is where an imaginary island comes in. A place that you can escape to in your mind, and on paper, and maybe even one where you want to invite others.

  • What would an island for you and your friends look like?
  • What does the island of your social distancing look like?
  • What does an island of solidarity look like? Is it really an island or rather a peninsula?
  • Or what does the feeling of isolation look like?

I have used imaginary mapping to scrutinize my inner life and literally map out my emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Unsurprisingly, it helps to see things a little clearer and creating maps of common places also elicits a feeling of togetherness which is essential for the human spirit.

Today we are going to map our own islands, as an exercise of imaginary travel to get us out of the confines of quarantine and social-distancing, but also to create the worlds we want to exist within.

Island Mapping Inspiration
Whatever island you choose to draw, here are a few  things to think about

  • Is it a single island or an archipelago? Will there be bridges that perhaps connect smaller islands?
  • Are there any ferries going to and from the island?Is the island in the tropics or in a colder climate?
  • Are there mountain ranges on the island? Or lakes? Rivers and bays?
  • Are there any roads, paths or is it all wild?

Naming Your Island
Run wild with ideas when it comes to the name for your island. The name of the island, and the ensuing names of all of the island’s elements, all build a family.

Naming Elements on the Island
Now we get to the details and inner workings of your island. Start by thinking about if there is a  feeling/a sensation/a sight that you long for. Make a bay that bears the name of it.
Then think of natural resources that can be found on the isle. What flora and fauna resides on the island? What kind of weather can you expect there? What is the sea around it called? Any straits that one can sail through?

How to Draw Your Island
If you are drawing with just a pencil you might add some contour lines to give your island an elevation profile. Maybe indicate some mountains, river deltas or lakes.

If you work with watercolors, play with the coincidental flows of liquid on the page. It might produce a wonderful mountain range or a natural bay.

Go Further
Drawing your island and naming it and all of its elements might be enough. But you also might want to go a little further. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a description of the island
  • Write the island’s history
  • Make a list of the flora and fauna on the island, turn it identification chart

Let us all meet on our imaginary islands and watch the waves crash against the shores and the sun set on the horizon.

A version of this post appeared in Creative Fuel Challenge, a newsletter full of prompts/projects intended to inspire creativity and art-making. 

Written by Anna Brones

April 24, 2020 at 13:09

How to Fika (A Zine You Can Print and Color at Home)

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Happy book birthday!

Five years ago, Johanna Kindvall and I released our book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. In honor of our 5th book birthday, we decided to put together a zine devoted to the basics of fika.

Maybe you have our book on your shelf, maybe you’re a fika aficionado, or maybe you’re entirely new to fika, the Swedish coffee break. Regardless of what your fika background is, we made this zine so that you can easily print it at home, color it in, and add your own drawings. There’s a recipe for chokladbollar, Swedish chocolate balls, too. We wouldn’t want you to go without a fika treat.

Why fika?

In this time when a lot of us are at home and socially distancing, fika seems like a good ritual to remind ourselves to take a little break from the onslaught of news, and find a little space to just be present.

Slow down.

Take a deep breath.

Recalibrate.

Why not plan a virtual fika?

Fika is often a social affair, but you can fika and still practice social distancing. Why not use this as an excuse to call a friend and have a virtual fika? Call a friend, plan a time to chat (maybe on video?), and then each of you brings your coffee and treats. It’s that simple.

Make “stay home and fika” your new mantra—click here to download and print the How to Fika zine.

This zine is designed to print on a 8.5×11″ piece of printer paper.

How to Make Your Zine

If you’ve never made a one-page zine before, it involves a little cutting and folding. See where the dotted lines are? That’s where you are going to fold. Then you’ll cut and refold into the zine.

Here’s a video that breaks down the process, and there’s a visual guide here.

Planning a virtual fika? Share it with us! We have been using the hashtags #virtualfika and #stayhomeandfika. You can find us @johannakindvall and @annabrones.

Illustrations by Johanna Kindvall

Interested in other books? Here are a few more that I have written

Written by Anna Brones

April 7, 2020 at 09:04

Five Lessons on Art and Creativity from Women Artists

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“Habits gradually change the face of one’s life as time changes one’s physical face; & one does not know it.”

-Virginia Woolf, diary entry, April 13, 1929

This Virginia Woolf quote is printed in the first pages of Mason Currey‘s book Daily Rituals: Women at Workan exploration of how creative minds get to work.

The book is a follow up to Currey’s first book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and is a concerted effort to focus on women artists and in the process, as well as offer up some sense of guidance to readers who might be struggling with their own creative practice. Sometimes, in order to do the work, it’s helpful to know how the people who came before you did theirs.

There are 143 different women in the book, from writers to fashion designers to choreographers. Women artists have—as many women artists still do—experience a particular set of battles when it comes to expressing their creativity. This shines through in the book, and encourages an even greater sense of respect for the creative work that these women were able to produce.

“Most grew up in societies that ignored or rejected women’s creative work, and many had parents or spouses who vigorously opposed their attempts to prioritize self-expression over the traditional roles of wife, mother, and homemaker,” writes Currey. “A number of them had children and faced excruciating choices in balancing the needs of their dependents with their own ambitions. Virtually all of the, confronted sexism among their audiences and among the gatekeepers to professional success—the editors, publishers, curators, critics, patrons, and other tastemakers who, over and over, just happened to find men’s work superior. And this does not even take into account the woman artist’s internal obstacles, the various species of anger, guilt, and resentment that come with forcing the world to make space for you and your achievements.”

I like both of Currey’s books because they get to the heart of what is essential to the person’s creative practice. But as a woman, Daily Rituals: Women at Work particularly resonates, and every time I pick it up I feel like I get something new from it. In fact, it is the kind of book that you can turn into its own daily ritual, reading one entry with your morning cup of coffee.

Inspired by the book, I asked Currey if I could create a few papercuts based off of some of the women he had profiled. He chose the women, and I in turn worked to figure out the main “lesson” that Currey had documented, and that the rest of us could take to heart. These “lessons” are by no means the one takeaway from these women, but I think that they are lessons that can resonate for all of us.

Commit to your craft

Creativity requires work, and no one understood this better than Coco Chanel. Born into poverty, she ended up building an iconic fashion empire, the result of an incredible commitment to her craft.

Welcome dissatisfaction

When we are satisfied with our work, there is nothing to push us forward, something that choreographer Martha Graham knew well. Despite a lifetime of achievements and recognition, Graham was driven by what Currey calls a “chronic dissatisfaction.” We want to be able to revel in our work, to enjoy the process. But a little dissatisfaction will always help to challenge us to continue to evolve in our creative practice.

 

Prepare intensely

Even when creative work flows, when we hit that stride that’s somewhere between magical and mystical, it is on the back of countless hours of preparation. If we don’t lay the ground work, we can’t let go and let serendipity take over. Nina Simone spent countless hours not just practicing, but understanding the spaces where she played. She would spend the afternoon before a show in a music hall, to get an understanding of where people would sit, how close to the stage they would be, what the lighting would be like, where the microphones would be placed. Simone took in every single detail, so that “by the time I got on stage I knew exactly what I was doing.”

 

Be relentlessly curious

As Currey writes in his book, Susan Sontag “succeeded, in large degree, thanks to her seemingly boundless energy.” That energy led to the consumption of books, film, conversations—essentially an insatiable curiosity of everything that was around her. That curiosity helped to shape her world, and her broad amount of references. If we stay curious, we can do nothing but keep learning.

Use art as relief

Art helps us to process, to heal, and who better to exemplify this than Yayoi Kusama. She checked herself into the Tokyo mental hospital in 1977 and she still lives there today, continually creating art as a way to fight her pain, anxiety, and fear. As she calls it, “art medicine.” A reminder that no matter where we are in our lives, we can all tap into this restorative element of art making.

Want to win a copy of Daily Rituals: Women at Work?

In honor of Women’s History Month, I am giving away a couple of copies away. To enter to win, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be pulling two names at random and announcing them in my next monthly installment of Creative Fuel.

Written by Anna Brones

March 31, 2020 at 09:35

How to Make a Zine

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Zines are part of a long history of self-publishing, a way for people to get their thoughts, ideas, and manifestos out into the world. Essentially since the invention of the printing press, people have been finding ways to publish things that are outside of the mainstream. There are even zine libraries.

You might perhaps remember the feminist punk zine riot grrrl from the 1990s. Or maybe you’re a fan of the zines that indie publisher Microcosm Publishing is behind. Or maybe you’ve seen a stack of zines at your local coffee shop or bookstore.

Maybe you have never heard of zines at all, but are itching to tell a story or get a thought out into the world.

Then making a zine is for you.

The simplest way to make a zine is with a single piece of paper.

To help out with this project, I reached out to visual artist, journalist, and author Sarah Mirk. She spent the last year making a zine every single day! She was kind enough to share her top five tips for zine-making below, and she also has this easy-to-print free PDF that shows you how to make one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

March 23, 2020 at 09:05

Keep Making Art

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Keep. Making. Art.

Art and creativity can help us through our darkest moments, and I hope that you will keep this mantra in your head. Now that many of us are at home because of quarantine and social distancing measures, it might be just be time to add a little art practice to your every day.

I started a campaign this week called Creative Fuel Challenge (you can sign up here) and I am so inspired by all of the artists who are sharing their creativity in a variety of ways.

Here are some (free) resources if you are looking for art challenges and prompts:

I will keep updating this list, so if you know of others please feel free to contact me so that I can add them!

Written by Anna Brones

March 17, 2020 at 11:46

Lessons from Making 100 Papercut Portraits of 100 Women

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Two years ago I set out to make 100 papercut portraits of inspiring women, calling it Women’s Wisdom Project.

100 is a lot. But it’s also very little. 
Making 100 portraits is a large endeavor. There’s a lot of work that went into creating this series.

But the number 100 is minuscule compared to how many inspiring, insightful women have come before us, are around us today, and who will lead us tomorrow. What do we lose when we disregard their stories? When we don’t give them a platform?

To me, these have become essential questions as I have worked on this series. Our stories carry power, so do our questions.

Life is made up of complexity and nuance
History, stories, and wisdom are complex and nuanced, in stark contrast to the simplicity of my medium’s black and white nature. We do not live in this simplified duality. Our lives are messy, gritty, chaotic.

Each of these papercuts has involved quotes, and I have also constantly been reminded of what we lose when we only focus on tiny snippets of what someone once said. After all, quotes are simplified, clean versions of otherwise complex stories. Not to mention how many quotes are misattributed, or entirely fabricated.

It is important to do our homework. To not take everything at face value. Certainly, there is power in a condensed statement of wisdom. But there is always so much more behind.

I hope this work sparks a conversation, that it is a springboard for learning more, not just about women in history, but about the stories of women around us.

You need a support team
We often view art as the work of an individual. We have a cultural vision of the lone, struggling, tortured artist, one who uses their medium to work through their pain and emotions. But art doesn’t only come out of pain, and it’s certainly not created in a vacuum.

Creativity can require solitude, but it also needs collaboration, and it certainly needs support, some emotional scaffolding if you will. If you are going to embark on a creative journey, you need people to love and support you, to cheer you on when you can’t cheer on yourself.

We move forward together.

We have so much to learn and so much share
The word “wisdom” can feel loaded. Something that’s unattainable, something that requires a lifetime to achieve. And yet as I have asked women where they have gotten memorable pieces of wisdom, it is often from the people closest to them. A parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher.

It is perhaps natural that we look to changemakers and leaders for guidance. After all, these are the people who have a fantastic and beautiful ability to distill the human experience into bits of understanding, be it through words, through pictures, through film, through speeches. But most often, the answers that we seek are nearby. They are held by people close to us. Available just by asking.

If so much wisdom is carried in those around us, imagine how much lies with ourselves? How much do we have to offer?

Life is a series of asking questions
There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we’ll never know. Every time I have sat down to research another woman to profile for this project, it has led me to many other stories, many other threads. It is physically impossible for me to pursue all of them, just as it is physically impossible for us to have a grasp of everything around us.

We can’t read every book, we can’t watch every film, we can’t keep up on every current event, we can’t have a deep understanding of every moment in history. But what we can do is to constantly ask questions.

We can sustain the curiosity to continually drive us to ask questions. This is what creates progress. It’s what keeps us alive.

The Anonymous and the Untitled have power
I debated a lot over the 100th piece in the series. Who would it be? What wisdom did I want to showcase?

Several years ago, my mother and I were at an art museum, and I started paying attention to the number of “anonymous” labels. In an exhibit devoted to folk art, there were several quilts, some of them attributed to the artist, but many of them by “anonymous”—the stories of their creators (most likely women) lost to history. The same was true in a gallery with pieces of Native American art. Stunning pieces of art and craftsmanship, simply with “anonymous” on the label below.

#100 in Women’s Wisdom Project is therefore devoted to exactly that: the unheard, the unseen, the unrepresented, and the stories, wisdom, and power that they have carried, do carry, and will carry. Let us all have the wisdom to pay attention and listen.

The Women’s Wisdom Project is up at Vashon Center for the Arts March 6-29. 2020.

A version of this post appeared in my monthly newsletter Creative Fuel

Written by Anna Brones

March 6, 2020 at 10:28