anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Archive for the ‘Design + Creativity’ Category

Armchair Travel Sketchbook

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“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

– Twyla Tharp

What does travel do for us? We travel for many reasons. Sometimes it’s to new places for unexpected experiences. Sometimes it’s to well-known places that feed our soul, places that provide a sense of calm and grounding. Sometimes it’s simply because we need a reset.

Today is for conjuring up a little bit of the magic of travel without going anywhere. We’re going to do a bit of armchair travel journaling. A dose of travel without leaving home.

Supplies:

  • Pen or pencil
  • Paper or notebook

Optional:

  • Watercolors, markers, etc.
  • Reference photos or an old travel sketchbook

When I travel, I am not always great at keeping a travel journal or sketchbook, but when I do, I always love looking back on them. I think the main draw of a travel sketchbook is that when you come across a sketch from one of your travels, you always think “oh, I remember that day.” Yet in the moment, when you’re hesitating to put pen to paper, it’s so easy to think to yourself, “I can’t draw that.”

But no matter how quick or messy a travel sketch is, when I have looked back at them later, I have never once thought “that’s terrible.” Instead, those sketches evoke feelings and memories. They capture not just places but moments in time. They hold smells and sounds and textures.

Today we will focus on exactly that, and it doesn’t matter what the end result is. It’s the practice of taking yourself somewhere else through art.

There are two ways to go about this prompt, pick whichever one works for you.

Prompt #1: A meditation on place

In this prompt, you are going to pretend that you are in a place that you want to go to. Ideally it’s a place that you have already been to and love, because you are going to work on mentally putting yourself in that place.

Close your eyes for a moment and envision that place. Where are you sitting? What are you looking at? What temperature is it? What do you hear? What do you smell?

When you open your eyes, write a short travel journal entry, as if you were in that place. I think it’s helpful to choose a time of day for this journal entry, which will of course help to guide you with what activities you would be doing in that moment. It can also be helpful to make a little bullet list of all the elements your senses are picking up on.

Once you have done a little writing about where you are, what you are seeing, and what you are feeling, add some drawings. I think it’s helpful to focus on a few objects that help to capture the feeling of a place. So let’s say you put yourself on a beautiful beach somewhere tropical; focus less on capturing the entirety of the beach and everything that’s on it, and focus instead on a handful of individual elements that feel true to the scene. The blue of the water, a towel, a shell on the sand.

I found that after doing this exercise, it was clear from what I had written and drawn that I was craving certain things. Things that could be found in that place, but also things that I could do for myself here at home. So maybe doing this exercise will allow for a little introspection on where you are emotionally and what you’re craving right now.

Prompt #2: Take inspiration from a favorite travel photo

It’s always fun to go back through photos of where we have been before. Find a photo from a trip that you loved and use that as your reference photo.

You can choose to write about that moment, or draw it, or both.

When drawing, same thing here as above: challenge yourself to focus on a few different elements that you really want to highlight. Or maybe you want to let loose a bit and make a blind contour drawing based on your reference photo.

Whatever prompt you do (or maybe you do both!) I hope you enjoy a little armchair travel. As Twyla Tharp says, run away, even if it’s only for a little bit.

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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Like my work and want to see more? Consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon

Written by Anna Brones

July 13, 2020 at 10:48

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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Like my work and want to see more? Consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon

Written by Anna Brones

July 6, 2020 at 12:14

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

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

Give Your Creative Self Time to Breathe

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Are you ever so slightly overwhelmed by the month of January? The expectations and anticipation that come with the blank slate of a new year?

In writing my monthly newsletter Creative Fuel, I was considering what this year means politically and culturally (an election year after all), and the intensity of the news in the last couple of weeks. Wildfires. War. Crisis.

There’s no one antidote to any of that, but I do know that if we are to work our way through big problems as a society, if we are to take ownership over our everyday lives, if we are to build better communities, if we are to challenge the status quo, then creativity isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

If creativity is a necessity, then investing in our creative selves—no matter who we are or what we do—is a matter of ensuring that we show up in the world. That we are awake. That we stand up for what we believe in. That we help to spark change, in big ways and in small ways.

interviewed author and journalist Alice Feiring this month for my Women’s Wisdom Project series, and she said this: “Writers and other artists give voice to what others cannot or will not articulate.”

That got me thinking: as an artist, as a writer, as a creatively inclined person, what are you going to articulate?

At this beginning of a new decade, I have been thinking a lot about the intentions behind creativity. Yet I look at that question, know its importance, and know that it’s one I need to ask myself.

Not quite yet. The creative self needs time.

You might think that I would kick off this year with some grandiose essay about the importance of setting up a creative resolution for the year. Or strategizing about a new project. Quite the opposite.

I want you to allow yourself to take the time you need.

January is a month of goals and resolutions. Of new projects, of new commitments. We take a tiny moment for our winter hibernation, two weeks if we’re lucky to have a vacation around the holidays, only a few days for some. We try to slow down, but we’re exhausted after the madness of the holiday season. We’re burnt out. We need time off. We need time to rejuvenate. And so we try to slow down, and then January 1st rolls around with the intense expectation that we have rejuvenated, that we have healed, and that we are ready to commit to a newer, better version of ourselves.

It’s an unrealistic expectation. It’s an expectation that’s driven by outcome, leaving the process quickly behind.

There’s a reason we do this: the first month of the year is a prime time to assess and make sure we are moving forward in what feels like a good direction.

In order to do that, I think January should be an in between month. A month where we ease into the new year, where we extend our hibernation, where we let ideas marinate. Where we allow our bodies and minds to catch up, where we take a collective breath that allows us to refocus on our forward movement in a way that isn’t frantic and reactive.

Toss out the expectations. Avoid the goals. Instead, breathe. Refocus. Rejuvenate.

In this in between space, before we launch into something new, before we ask ourselves what we want to accomplish in the year, I would like to offer up the practice of intentions.

Intentions are not goals, they are not resolutions, they are a commitment to ourselves about how we show up in the world, how we participate in relationships, how we do our work, how we take part in humanity.

Intentions guide our creativity, helping us to navigate when the water gets murky. Intentions carry us, challenge us, invite us to open up as humans.

I would ask this: as an artist, as a writer, as a creatively inclined person, as a human being, what is your intention?

Asking this question means asking not what you will do, but who you will be.

Our intention is our “why” behind whatever it is that we end up choosing to articulate.

Our intention is our commitment to our process.

The good news is, you have the entire month, the entire year, your entire life to keep thinking about it, evolving it, adapting it.

A version of this was originally featured in my monthly newsletter Creative Fuel. Sign up to get more creative inspiration directly in your email.

Written by Anna Brones

January 13, 2020 at 14:47

DIY Scandinavian Woven Hearts

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Making things is good for us. Crafting can be similar to meditation and making things with our hands improves our mental health and makes us happier. Making things is intuitive – after all, it is in our human nature to create – and it allows us to connect to others, to come up with new ideas. Usually, investing in creativity results in more creativity.

You don’t have to come up with an involved handmade gift to get the benefit of making something. This is why I like simple creative holiday projects. Even small handmade objects to decorate the house give us the opportunity to use our hands and exert our creativity. That is time well spent.

I always make a batch of woven paper hearts this time of year (featured in my digital Advent calendar last year). These are quite common in Scandinavia. Bigger ones made with stronger paper can even be hung on the tree and used to hold holiday treats, like nuts or chocolates. The perfect way to put your hands to work and get the creative juices flowing.

DIY Scandinavian Woven Hearts

Find two pieces of paper of contrasting color. Usually these are done in red and white, but we’re here to be creative, so feel free to use your imagination.

Fold them both and cut a rectangular shape, with one end rounded. The straight edge should be where the paper is folded.

Cut two lines, so that the piece of paper is separated into thirds. Cut these lines about 3/4 of the way up, towards the rounded edge.

The cut lines create “loops” in the paper. Weave the two pieces of paper together by placing the first loop of Color A into the first loop of Color B, then inside of the next loop, and outside of the third loop. With the next loop, do the opposite, so start by placing the loop of Color A outside of the first loop of Color B, etc.

This all sounds more convoluted than it is, and will make sense when you do it. FYI: the two pieces don’t always weave together super smoothly, but with some maneuvering, you will get there in the end! Here is another visual that I didn’t make myself but that is also helpful.

Cut a straight strip of paper for a handle and glue or tape it to the inside of the heart.

Hang on an available branch or share the creative act and give away to a friend.

Written by Anna Brones

December 3, 2019 at 11:24

Sign Up for 2019 Digital Advent Calendar: 24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being

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24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being is an advent calendar that I have made for the last two years, with the intention of creating a little magic every day during the month of December, so that it’s not just a countdown but an everyday celebration. It’s a focus on slowing down, finding balance and contentedness. The calendar is created as an antidote to the consumer frenzy that has come to define this month, a challenge to ground yourself wherever you are and reconnect with both yourself and the people around you.

I’m bringing it back again this year! This will be the third annual 24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being and I am looking forward to working on it and putting it out in the world. It all starts on Sunday December 1st and I wanted to give you a heads up now so that you could subscribe and be sure to get it in your inbox when December begins.

This year will be a little different, and if you’ve received the advent calendar in the past, or are currently subscribed to my newsletter list, you will still need to sign up. If you would like to signup for 24 Days of Making, Doing and Being$5 will get you access to the entire advent calendar.

The daily email will include artwork, prompts, recipes, etc. and you will be able to access the archives too. For the last two years, I have kept the calendar free of charge, but as it has grown it has taken more and more time and energy to produce, and offering it for a small fee allows me to keep the production of it just a little more sustainable.

And yes, of course you can get a subscription for a friend!

Witch Fika Greeting Cards

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I just got a batch of greeting cards made with my “Witch Fika” papercut illustration. These are perfect for writing notes to everyone in your coven.

After all, who doesn’t love a handwritten note from their favorite witch?

Available in my shop.

Written by Anna Brones

October 16, 2019 at 12:20