anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘creativity

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

Lisa Congdon

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“An artist is someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.”

-Lisa Congdon

Even if you don’t know her name, it’s hard not to have come across the work of Lisa Congdon. Her illustrations have been featured in numerous books and magazines, her wisdom about working as an artist is inspiration for many seeking a creative path, and her bright, bold, thoughtful work has become a visual statement against the oppressive and divisive politics of our time, a balm for many of us.

I have followed Lisa’s work for years, and knew that I wanted to feature her in the Women’s Wisdom Project. But would she say yes to taking the time to do a Q&A?

If there is one thing that I respect about Lisa, it’s that she is very publicly open about how she manages her time, and the necessity of saying no. She recently launched a collaboration with Emily McDowell and she has a new retail space in Portland. All to say, Lisa has a lot on her plate, and I was so grateful when she responded to my email and agreed to answer a few questions.

Originally, I had thought about using either of these quotes in her papercut portrait:

“Want to get better at something? Keep doing it.”

“Every single person who chooses to embark on a creative path has to work at it… You have to stay open and constantly move outside what’s comfortable.”

All of those words have power, particularly for those of us in a creative field, whether it’s personally or professionally. But eventually I landed on something that she wrote in her answers in this Q&A. That an artist is “someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.”

Why this quote in particular?

The topic of what we call ourselves often comes up in conversation with friends and colleagues. When you are in a creative field, there is sometimes a fear or pushback to feeling like you get to define yourself with a certain term. Simran Sethi talked about this in our interview, not feeling like she could comfortably call herself a writer. I too have felt this many times, hesitating at the terms “artist” or “writer,” wondering if I have permission to employ them.

Instead of defining who we are and what we do on our own terms, we often seek external validation. In our culture, usually that’s money. The Virginia Woolf quote comes to mind: “Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”

But you are not an artist because someone pays you to make art. You are an artist simply because you are involved in the act of creating. That’s why Lisa’s quote stuck with me, a reminder to reinvest in the creative act, to continue to be intentional about creative work.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?
Lisa: Wisdom to me is perspective. Perspective on life, the flow of life, the ups and downs of life, the relative seriousness of life’s events, understanding that all things pass, even good and exciting things, especially the difficult things. It’s an ease, a loosening of the grip. The perspective that comes with wisdom grows naturally with age, and it’s very comforting.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

I haven’t seen her in years, but I had a therapist in my early/mid thirties who literally helped me change my life. Previous to working with her, I thought of myself as a victim, as someone who had no agency over her life or happiness. I was really, really depressed and suffered from extreme anxiety. And she helped me shift my perspective to see that I had the power to create the life I wanted through what I believed about myself and about life. Low and behold, I worked on changing my beliefs about life and my own worthiness, and my happiness grew. She taught me that it was my attitude about life’s events — not life’s events themselves — that would determine the quality of my life, and that I should look at even difficult experiences as opportunities to learn more about myself and to grow. Everything shifted for me as a result. I ceased being a victim and began being creative. I began making art. Everything opened up as a result.

What does the word “artist” mean to you?

Someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.

I think a lot about our cultural use of the words “productive” and “prolific.” Especially in creative fields, these are certainly viewed as positive things, often given as a compliment. And yet, I think that it distracts us from the importance of the process of creative work, because we are instead so focused on the outcome. You are a full-time artist, so how do you find that balance between producing artwork to keep yourself financially flourishing and investing in a process that fuels you?

I am one of those people who others describe as “productive” and “prolific.” People ask, “When do you sleep?” assuming that people who are prolific also do not enact self care or know how to recharge. I think one of the beautiful things about my path so far is that I have pushed the envelope so many times (working too much!) and have managed now to learn the sweet spot where the creative experience and productivity meet but don’t overwhelm me. I’ve made the mistake of taking on too much work or committing myself to too many projects in the past, and I’ve learned when I do that I basically just stressed out and I feel like crap physically and emotionally. So what’s the point? A new client on the client list? Something new to show in the portfolio? Those outcomes mean little if you are miserable in the process of achieving them. My work right now is finding just the right amount of work to pay the bills and feel creatively challenged, but also to do as much of my own personal work as possible (and I’m lucky because I can monetize my personal work), and find time to explore, try new things, and also to rest, ride my bike and enjoy my life. That work is hard because you have to be so self aware. You have to say no when something doesn’t serve that end, even when it’s a beautiful carrot. You have to be super present. It’s daily work. I’m into it, though. I want to feel happy and relaxed. Getting older makes me want to really live what I have left.

Do you experience creative blocks? If so, how do you deal with them?

I do sometimes, but not too often, because I am always actively seeking out inspiration and I also have en enormous amount of grit that helps me work through blocks. In my experience, creative blocks are either exhaustion or fear. So I try to suss out which it is in any particular situation. And then I either rest of push myself through the fear of failure or whatever I’m scared of.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

YOU ARE A SMART, CREATIVE BEING. YOU WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

March 22, 2019 at 08:07

Creative Fuel

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In need of a creative kick in the pants this year? Sign up for my newsletter to receive Creative Fuel.

Creative Fuel is going to be a monthly newsletter, sent out the first Friday of every month.

Creativity has always played an important role in my life, but it wasn’t until this last year that I really started to dig into the word and all of its implications. The more time I spent thinking about it, the more I was inspired, knowing that everyone gets to be creative, and that if we want to feel more creative, we have so many simple tools available to do just that.

So that’s what Creative Fuel is here to do: help us invest in and awaken our creative selves. Every month will be an exploration of the creative process, either through prompts or food for thought.

The first one goes out on Friday January 4, 2019. I hope you’ll sign up!

Written by Anna Brones

January 3, 2019 at 19:52

Surprise Art

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I love making things. I also love giving art to people, and I believe that our world is better with more art in it.

I wanted to offer something for the upcoming holiday season, but I didn’t have the capacity to invest money in items like prints or calendars. Instead, I want to offer small pieces of original artwork for people to keep or give away.

But here’s the catch: you don’t know what you’re getting. This is surprise art!

Between now and December 5th I will be making a series of small papercuts. Each one will be matted and wrapped. Place an order and you receive one of these pieces, which I will be sending out in two installments. Because I wrap them immediately after making them, I don’t know who is getting what. Consider it “grab bag art,” like when you were a kid and bought one of those paper bags at the toy store and had no idea what would be inside.

Each piece is mounted in a 5×7″ black mat and ready for framing. You can buy it for yourself, or for a friend, and feel free to order as many as you want. Because it’s a surprise, they are priced a little lower than my original pieces, the intent being to provide affordable artwork to bring a little joy to you and anyone you want to gift it to.

You can order here.

Written by Anna Brones

October 16, 2018 at 08:39

Nature’s Pace

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“Bark looks like islands. Nature’s map.”

I had written those few words next to a line drawing of bark in my sketchbook. I had stood close to a fir tree, so close I could inhale its smell, closely inspecting and drawing with my black pen the lines that I saw. Now that I look at the drawing it doesn’t really resemble bark anymore. But it certainly looks like islands.

How often do we take the time to see? The time to listen? The time to be?

I thought about this a lot last month during a three-week creative residency at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. A creative residency is one of those wonderful things that allows you the time and space to let your creative mind wander, and I am so grateful for getting that time. I spent those three weeks with as much physical as mental wandering. After all, the two do go hand in hand.

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Written by Anna Brones

September 7, 2018 at 08:36

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