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Filling the well

Because we are creatures of our society which prizes productivity so highly, we can come to judge ourselves by measuring our output and expecting that output to be consistent and constant. Such self judgement does not acknowledge the rhythm of the creative life. There are times when we draw from the well and there are times when we must refill the well. There are natural rhythms to creativity. Periods of flourish follow periods of incubation, and sometimes one must rest to allow the creative energies to resurge. We must go where we find delight and drink it into our souls, refreshing ourselves. I first learned of the concept of filling the well in Julia Cameron's book, “The Artist's Way” a book that outlines a program to overcome creative blocks.

" Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish – an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. Any extended period of piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well... As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. " Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

As I was getting ready to leave to go to Wave Hill, I thought about how I used to walk around with a sketch book in hand. Wherever I went I carried my sketchbook and pencils. Many times when I would sketch outdoors, I was dissatisfied with the product, the judgmental voices that are poison for an artist would begin. Once I had a camera on my phone I gave up sketching as note taking, substituting the quick snap shot. There is a benefit to this practice, see all the pretty images displayed here?

The thing is, sketching is better. When you sketch, regardless of the resulting product, you benefit from the time spent in attentiveness. The state of mind is similar to that produced by meditation, in that your mind is free of other distractions as you train your mind to connect what the eye sees to what the hand draws.

“Art is born in attention.” ― Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Realizing this, I am deciding to resume my practice of sketching outdoors. The challenge, at least for me, is to be able to focus so completely on the study I am doing that I am not distracted by people passing or hovering. Becoming aware of others eyes on your work immediately invites judgment. The practice of acknowledging the distraction and then moving your focus back to the work at hand is the same practice followed in meditation. Noticing that the mind has become engaged in thought ( and especially thoughts of judgement of the "Oh no this will never work" and the "why did you ever think you could do this?" kind) and gently moving your awareness back to the center is key to not being in thrall to the chattering mind. Engaging in this practice is a challenge that pays off in multiple ways beyond the development of drawing skill or facility. Just as regular meditation develops focus and teaches you to observe your reactions rather than becoming ensnared in your emotional reactions to some occurrence, sketching will strengthen my ability to suspend judgment while I am working freeing creativity and increase my awareness and powers of observation.

I did not sketch on this visit to Wave Hill. I was in the company of a most tolerant person,still (and this particular companion is very generous, letting me pause in front of paintings, sculpture, flowers etc. ) still there is a limit…. so for a sketching excursion I better be by myself.

I am off this week for a meditation retreat for more filling of the well. See you on the other side....

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