Cat Bennett, in the book The Confident Creative: Drawing to Free the Hand and the Mind, includes a section on making marks. It was decided that this could be a nonthreatening way to get people who had not drawn since they were children to just begin to make marks on the page. In our journey through this book, filled beyond its cover with intuitive insight into the creative process, I’m including quotes from the pages along with my own suggestions for inspiring, playing with, and developing your creativity and relationship with your muse.
1) Making marks frees our hand from the judgements of our mind and catapults us into the space of playfulness and presence . . . It trains the mind to let go. It trains us to just be and to see.
I’ve commented on our inner critic numerous times. So often is it our own fear of judgement from others that we blame for not making our art public. Actually, it is the battlefield of our creativity, where one side is the ego with its criticisms and opinions about whether or not we are any good at all, and on the other end is our heart, tender and bruised from the careless stomping of the ego, critics, and perhaps well-meaning friends. Should we share our work with others, allow it to see the light of day? Return to the question of: for whom do you write? If the answer is that you write for yourself, then it is you engaged in a battle of wills with the ego, who perhaps has a near perfect record of wins. Decide if you create because you heed the soft, gentle whisperings of your muse and know that you are asked (sometimes prodded and shoved) to bring forth something that others need to see or read or hear or taste or feel. If this is your reason, then hush the ego and allow the muse to direct your hand. In my experience, it is only when I let go of all agendas, of time, of needing to control the flow and instead allow it to sweep me along, that what was trying to come through me can find its way. There is great joy to be discovered in present-moment creation, when we toss off the confines of how the art should show up.
Think about the questions asked in the previous paragraph, and allow your answers to guide your hand or your eye or your feet. Keep asking, continue to create, back and forth until you arrive unequivocably at the point where it doesn’t matter if criticisms arise from within or are felt from outside yourself. Can you allow yourself to be fulfilled simply by playing with your muse and wholeheartedly investing in your art? If not, that’s okay. If you’re teetering, keep asking, continue to create.
2) Scribbling is hypnotic and freeing. The more we practice, the more we learn to slip into it with ease . . . We aren’t thinking a lot. Thought darts in, but leaves us just as quickly when we return to focus on what we’re doing. This is what yoga calls one-pointed focus; all of our attention is on our hand and what is emerging . . . We’re totally present in the moment.
In an earlier post, I commented on all the places I have written. I’ve added more to the list since then, if only for the chance to practice the ability to slip away from judgement and into the place of now where there is only the pen and the paper and the direction of flow. I was recently asked if I have trouble writing sometimes or if I forget what I wanted to write. No on both counts, but for slightly different reasons. Because my muse speaks so loudly to me (probably due to my many years of ignoring it, it felt the need to use a megaphone on occasion) at certain times, and at other instances I’ve worked to quiet everything, inside and out, and waited, usually patiently, for the barest hint of the essence of my muse, that I can pick up where I’ve left off, even if it’s in the middle of a sentence a week later. How do I do this? Practice. I practice shutting out visual and auditory stimuli, so I write in crowed bars and restaurants and while waiting in line for the bathroom and at the beach. It doesn’t matter where I leave off, as when I write, what comes out is what is meant to be on the page.
Try it out for yourself. Begin in your favorite place, and train your critic to sit and stay while you paint, write, compose, dance, photograph, cook, or sculpt. Then set a timer to interrupt yourself, or prearrange for a friend to phone you, mildly disrupting your creativity. How quickly can you return to where you left off, slipping away from the distraction and back into the present? Gradually begin to lengthen the time between your creative bouts (yes, I know I’ve written about consistent creativity, but this is a different exercise). A couple of hours to a day to a week. Can you return to the thread? Try finishing the chapter or the song or the painting (if you are taking pictures or cooking, you have a very small window here), and when you return, pick up the pen or the brush and decide if you would do something different, finish the chapter or the story or the write the last stanza any differently that you have already. This will help you discern if you can be comfortable with leaving something unfinished and trusting that whatever emerges when you return is what is supposed to be there. Is there a right way or a wrong way? No. This is just a suggestion for honing your focus and becoming more intimate with your creative process.
3) This magical moment occurs right in the midst of drawing and its creative intelligence at work, making order out of chaos . . . Both the artist and the viewer create meaning as they look at the marks and allow their own feeling to surface.
This is something that I think everyone who partakes in creativity should remember: what the artist intended might be very different from what the viewer perceives. There is some responsibility of the artist to put something out there that has some order, that makes a bit of sense. Whether the one who views the piece will have the same experience or thoughts or feelings as the one who created it, we can hope. But it won’t be the exact same, as I’ve stated before, because everyone has their own filters through which they see the world, which is created by their experience.
The “order out of chaos” I believe is the understanding that the artist gleans about themselves and what they see around them, as well as what the viewer recognizes in themselves or their environment. Have you spent much time pondering what ideas or thoughts or answers are offered to you when you create? If not, check it out. Are there “ah-ha” moments? Particular emotions that arise? Memories? Do you want your viewer to have the same experience?
4) In drawing, we can’t really hide. If we hide, it’s quite clear that we are doing so. Our presence or absence shows up on the page.
And perhaps this is the crux of why so many artists choose to keep their work from the world: either they were absent in the creative process and believe their project to be a farce and that viewers will see it, or that they have revealed some or all of themselves and are terrified to be so exposed. All of creativity expresses some part of ourselves, and I do think that there is some part of us that lingers in everything that we create. We tell people our preferences, our history, our dreams by the words or notes or colors or perspectives that we use. It is impossible for me to hide during the creative process, and sometimes I’m a bit disgusted or amazed or driven to laughter at the pieces of me that I leave for the world to view, to judge, to love or to discard. But I’ve made the choice to be honest, open, for that is when the flow is least inhibited. Do you find yourself hiding? Do you think you are more truthful in your work than in other areas of your life? Is it more freeing to create than to engage in relationships? Which one contains more fear of judgement?
5) . . . the simple practice of making marks catapults us instantaneously into total presence, oneness with the moment. It’s the place of peace and happiness. Drawing is yoga.
Yoga suggests that if everyone wants happiness, it can only be found in the present. The past is gone and cannot be changed, and the future is yet unwritten. While we’re spending time in either place, worrying, concerned over how people have, or may, perceive us, what might happen and if we have any power over prevention or manifestation, we’re missing our connection with our muse. I’ve stated that it is impossible to connect with creativity unless one is in the now. This is where joy resides, and what are artistic endeavors besides a representation of the peace and love that exists only in the present and only when we recognize that our muse moves through us? And how do we approach our muse? By “making marks”, whether that is a squiggly line, a few words, a measure or two of notes, a brush stroke, a shuffle and tap of with a foot, a gathering of ingredients, or the first click of the shutter. We begin simply, with no agenda, no perceived outcomes. I don’t know if the play comes and then the now, or it is the other way around. What I do know is that once it starts, it has a life of its own, and I willfully join in the ride. Why? Because I, like all of you, want to be happy now.
Unsure as to whether or not you’d like to share your work? Take a look at mine at www.myjoyenterprises.com I began simply. I made a few marks. I’ve come to understand my muse and myself and how to quiet the ego and bring myself to now. Please leave a comment on techniques that are successful for you.