anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘creative practice

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

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

Cheryl Strayed

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“We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.”

-Cheryl Strayed

At the end of May, I was lucky enough to sit down with Cheryl Strayed and interview her for the Women’s Wisdom Project. Cheryl and I had met a few times over the years while attending Mountainfilm, and I was honored that she graciously offered to spend an hour with me talking about all things related to wisdom.

Of course, I knew that this conversation would need to go a little above and beyond just a papercut portrait, or even a Q&A. So I asked my friend Gale Straub at She Explores if she would be interested in having me record the interview and we could turn it into a podcast. I got another yes, and soon found myself nervously preparing to record an interview with a new recording device that I had never used.

I say this because I think that context is everything. There’s always a back story, and in this case, the back story was that I wanted to doing something that I really didn’t know how to do (audio recording), and doubt and fear immediately kicked in at the back of my mind (“what if you ruin this audio entirely?”).

I dove in anyway.

Cheryl and I had a wonderful conversation. It’s a conversation that I have thought about so many times since. As for the audio? Well, it wasn’t perfect. But Gale (with a lot of work, that I am very grateful for) managed to turn it into a podcast episode, which you can listen to here.

It was a reminder that you have to push past fear. That things won’t always be perfect, but you’ll learn along the way. That’s a lot of what Cheryl and I talked about in our conversation. I replayed this part of our interview a few times as I was working on putting this piece together:

“One of my quotes in Tiny, Beautiful Things and in Brave Enough is that you give fear a seat at the table. You say, ‘welcome fear, your presence is an indication to me that I’m doing the work I’m meant to be doing.’ Because fear is part of our best work.”

Fear is part of our best work. Remember that.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast, but I wanted to capture some of my favorite parts of the interview here so that you could read them as well (including a couple of things that didn’t make it into the podcast).

I listened to this interview several times, wondering what bit of wisdom I would pull from Cheryl to use as the quote in her papercut. That’s the thing about quotes; they are always snippets, and this conversation was so rich, there was no way to boil it down to one sentence.

But there was one that stood out: “We are all responsible for finding beauty in our lives even when things are difficult.” Even Cheryl will admit that this bit of wisdom isn’t hers. It’s her mother’s. I chose it, because I think that it embodies the fact that wisdom is all around us, that it’s never just “ours.” Wisdom is passed down, it evolves, we offer it to others, and they pass it along to someone else.

We have so much to share with each other, and most often, the most meaningful wisdom and advice that guides is doesn’t come from a notable public figure, but in fact, from the people closest to us.

Anna: You are a prime person to talk to about wisdom, because I think a lot of people seek wisdom from you. 

Cheryl: It’s always strange for me to hear that I’m some sort of fount of wisdom and that’s always been the funny, an uneasy position that I’ve been in, not just as an advice giver as Dear Sugar, but even my other books Wild and, and my novel Torch. My books have always been read in this way that people take from them advice. So much of what I’ve been interested in as a writer is our emotional lives, our relationships, the ways that we love and lose and suffer and recover and grapple with how to be in the world.

What ends up happening is because I have spent so many years really examining that and thinking about that and writing about that, I ended up seeming like this figure, this wise woman. And I have to say, it makes me laugh because because I’ve got so much to learn. I think maybe part of the thing I feel grateful about when it comes to wisdom, it does come from that place of having a lot to learn and it comes from that place of being somebody who has had to do a lot of living and a lot of experiencing and a lot of loving and losing and making mistakes and making amends and trying to figure out the better way.

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Written by Anna Brones

August 8, 2018 at 10:56

Creativity is Messy Work

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This week, I put together a selection of work to show at my local library. After gathering it together (last minute, of course) I took a step back to look at it. I hated all of it. This quickly led to questioning my worth as an artist and a creative individual. I know better than that, but the feeling gnawed at me for the rest of the day, and I went to bed still feeling frustrated.

I woke up the next morning and immediately thought of my irritation. It was early morning, and I had a new day ahead of me. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this should not be a point of frustration, but instead a challenge to do more, to do things differently, to push myself. I realized that the reason I didn’t like my work was that it didn’t feel like I had gone deep enough, as if I had only skimmed the surface. I had taken the easy route. And if I didn’t like that work, it was simply an indicator that it was time to step things up a bit.

We often think of creativity as a lightning bolt striking from above, crashing down to earth and energizing its recipient with a stroke of genius. From there the ideas flow.

So when that doesn’t happen, we resist the work. We ask ourselves why the creativity isn’t flowing. We make up excuses. Most commonly, “If only I felt inspired, then I would create something…”

How many times have you said that to yourself? I know that I have. Regularly, in fact, as an excuse to get out of sitting down to do the work. Often that sense that we need to feel inspired is because we’re under the assumption that we have to create something great. That we need perfection straight out of the gate. So we avoid doing the work out of fear of failing, of not being perfect, of not creating a masterpiece.

The reality is that we can’t create a masterpiece every single time. We have to work through plenty of ideas that don’t end up working out before coming on one that does.  Creative work isn’t clean and perfect. Creative work is messy. As Joseph Chilton Pearce put it, “to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Even sitting down to write this post I didn’t really know where I was going with it. In fact, I thought to myself, “do you even have the authority to write about this?” But as I started writing – just the simple act of putting ideas into words – my brain started to jump from one idea to the other. And while that mean little voice in the back of my head never really goes away, when I finally dive into working on something, at least it knows that I’m too busy to listen and it’s time to shut up.

“If only…”

One thing is certain: if we only created when we felt inspired, we might never make anything. Creativity isn’t something that we’re born with, it’s something that we work at. Unfortunately, we don’t always function in a system that encourages creativity and creative thinking, which is why it’s easy to (falsely) assume that we’re either creative or we’re not. There are of course those blissful moments when inspiration strikes, the proverbial lightning bolt, and maybe we have a few more of those every once in awhile if we are good at investing time in improving our creative practice. But most of the time, ideas come to fruition because we sit down and do the work that needs to be done. We write the essay. We draw the sketch. We brainstorm. We think. We edit. We come up with something new. We get out of the way of ourselves and our hangups and our expectations and we keep working. We work through the mess.

But to do that work, we need to invest time in our creative selves.

“Why do I need creativity?” you ask yourself, “I’m not an artist.”

Whatever you identify as, we all need creativity in our lives.

To be creative is to be able to create something out of nothing, whether that’s a painting, a story, or even a business idea. To think creatively is to incorporate all of the inspiration and ideas that you have opened your brain to over time into something new. To make new connections, new associations. To think out of the box. To push past your expectations and find new ground.

To be creative, we don’t need to feel inspired, but we do need to be awake.

Being awake means being open to the small joys around you. Being awake means seeing the lines, the textures, the colors, the details in the big things but also the smallest of things. Being awake means finding beauty in the darkness. Being awake means showing love and compassion. Being awake means facing the world with an open heart. Being awake means seeing, hearing, feeling.

Where to begin? Literally, anywhere. There are so many activities that fuel creative thinking and help us to improve our creative practice. In fact, you probably already do some of them – like spending time outside, exercising, daydreaming. Even being bored helps you to be creative (something to consider next time you reach for your phone). My all time favorite: taking a coffee break, or anything that gives your brain a little free space to just wander instead of focusing on to-do lists.

Need a jumping off point? I love Jocelyn K. Glei‘s work, and it’s all about this stuff. She has an excellent roundup of ways to find more creativity and meaning in your daily work.

Whatever you do, don’t expect perfection, or easy answers. Seek out the messy bits, that’s where the good stuff is.

Excited about reawakening your own creative practice? I’m co-teaching a workshop in October devoted to just that. You can find more info here.

Written by Anna Brones

July 6, 2018 at 06:04

Share What You Make

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A few months ago I was visiting my friend Amy on Cape Cod. While there, we went to a cafe for lunch. It was a cozy place, the kind you could sit and read for awhile, and they had an assortment of magazines – the bright, beautiful indie ones with gorgeous photos, you know the kind. I happened to have a copy of Comestible (the food journal that I publish) with me, and I stashed it in the pile, my own small act of guerrilla marketing.

Thanks to Instagram, I found out that a few weeks ago, someone happened upon it while visiting the same cafe. The person was so moved by it that she wrote about it on her blog. The entry was titled “Hope.”

Here is an excerpt:

“While I waited for my breakfast, I paged through a short stack of literary journals with titles I didn’t recognize. Some were rich in bold, brash photography, but one in particular — a collection of essays and poetry called Comestible — stood alone. Stark in detail and void of ads, each page is an unvarnished offering from writer to reader. 

The candor and vulnerability present in every piece reminded me that sometimes life on Earth is beautiful and sometimes it’s sufferable; expecting it to be different is the real mistake. Also, though our creations will be flawed, we should share them anyway. Doing so is a reminder to self and other that we are alike more than we differ. To create is to live, and to share what we make is to offer hope and healing from the inside out.”

I was so touched by her words, and it was the reminder that I needed that whatever we put into the world inevitably has an impact.

Creating, whatever our medium is – words, painting, dance, food – can often feel like a personal act, something that we do because it sustains us. I know that I write and make art because I just feel that I need to, it’s how I process the world around me. It’s what keeps me balanced and sane.

But when we share what we create, we have the opportunity to impact someone else. That might be someone that we know, or it might be a total stranger. Those moments of exchange can be small and individual, or larger, but regardless of their size, they are all meaningful.

What if as part of our creative practice, we included a sharing practice? Not to show off our work, not in the hopes of getting acclaim, but simply to bring joy to someone else.

We all have the power to inspire each other, to encourage each other, to help each other heal. In a time where it feels like we need more of that, why not take time for the little acts which do just that?

Written by Anna Brones

June 29, 2018 at 09:51

Awaken: A Creative Retreat

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What is creativity? How do we cultivate it? Why do we need it? How does creativity keep us awake? How do we maintain a sustainable creative practice?

These are questions that I have been thinking a lot about over the last few months and I am thrilled that these questions are going to come to life in the form of a creative workshop that I am leading with my friend Sara Close as a Creative Expression Immersion for Hello Soul.

This October, we will be convening in Montana near Glacier National Park for a retreat called Awaken. This is a retreat that will combine yoga + soulcraft + creative work + whitespace, all intended to wake up that creative fire in you.

A few months ago, I did a workshop that Sara led. As a part of it, she led a yoga session that was focused on challenging us to exist in the space “in between” – in between our creative/expressive/emotional self and our rational/reserved/practical self. That yoga practice did something to me. I ended it by bawling my eyes out, something that has never happened to me during a yoga session before. It opened me up in a way that I really needed at that precise moment, challenging me to push myself creatively and throw myself into projects with a vengeance. Most of all, it helped me to embrace who I was and where I was and give impostor syndrome a swift quick in the pants.

All to say, Sara is amazing and I am so honored that I get to lead this retreat with her. If you need a few days to recalibrate, to reawaken your creative practice, to be inspired and find new ideas, to kickstart a new creative routine – this retreat is for you.

“When we become aware in the moment, we can look around us and consciously decide what to do with the resources available to us. We can make art: both literally, and perhaps more importantly, figuratively… after all, problem solving, empathy, conversation, leadership, our side hustles… it’s ALL art.

That’s what this retreat is about: creative practice as a vehicle to awaken the self. Getting out of the way of yourself.”

Awaken will take place October 18-21 at Dancing Spirit Ranch in Northwest Montana. More information and registration here.

Written by Anna Brones

June 15, 2018 at 11:26