Artists, Creativity, and Depression

I spent some time going back through blog posts, as I have been at this over two years, and over 200 posts. I can see why people keep journals and diaries. I never have, but this blog is acting like that for me. I had to laugh at some of the early Photoshop exercises – I was pretty basic. But on the other hand, when I sometimes wonder about my skills growing with PS, I can certainly see that they have!
I was particularly taken with the interview with Eric Maisel, author of The Van Gogh Blues, about creativity and depression. I’ve had a good year, with depression really at bay, but it’s worth it to read through is insights again. I’m sharing a couple of questions with you from the earlier interview.

Me: Eric, can you tell us what The Van Gogh Blues is about?

Eric: For more than 25 years I’ve been looking at the realities of the creative life and the make-up of the creative person in books like Fearless Creating, Creativity for Life, Coaching the Artist Within, and lots of others. A certain theme or idea began to emerge: that creative people are people who stand in relation to life in a certain way—they see themselves as active meaning-makers rather than as passive folks with no stake in the world and no inner potential to realize. This orientation makes meaning a certain kind of problem for them—if, in their own estimation, they aren’t making sufficient meaning, they get down. I began to see that this “simple” dynamic helped explain why so many creative people—I would say all of us at one time or another time—get the blues.

To say this more crisply, it seemed to me that the depression that we see in creative people was best conceptualized as existential depression, rather than as biological, psychological, or social depression. This meant that the treatment had to be existential in nature. You could medicate a depressed artist but you probably weren’t really getting at what was bothering him, namely that the meaning had leaked out of his life and that, as a result, he was just going through the motions, paralyzed by his meaning crisis.

Me: Are you saying that whenever a creative person is depressed, we are looking at existential depression? Or might that person be depressed in “some other way”?

Eric: When you’re depressed, especially if you are severely depressed, if the depression won’t go away, or if it comes back regularly, you owe it to yourself to get a medical work-up, because the cause might be biological and antidepressants might prove valuable. You also owe it to yourself to do some psychological work (hopefully with a sensible, talented, and effective therapist), as there may be psychological issues at play. But you ALSO owe it to yourself to explore whether the depression might be existential in nature and to see if your “treatment plan” should revolve around some key existential actions like reaffirming that your efforts matter and reinvesting meaning in your art and your life.

Me: So you’re saying that a person who decides, for whatever reason, that she is going to be a “meaning maker,” is more likely to get depressed by virtue of that very decision. In addition to telling herself that she matters and that her creative work matters, what else should she do to “keep meaning afloat” in her life? What else helps?

Eric: I think it is a great help just to have a “vocabulary of meaning” and to have language to use so that you know what is going on in your life. If you can’t accurately name a thing, it is very hard to think about that thing. That’s why I present a whole vocabulary of meaning in The Van Gogh Blues and introduce ideas and phrases like “meaning effort,” “meaning drain,” “meaning container,” and many others. When we get a rejection letter, we want to be able to say, “Oh, this is a meaning threat to my life as a novelist” and instantly reinvest meaning in our decision to write novels, because if we don’t think that way and speak that way, it is terribly easy to let that rejection letter precipitate a meaning crisis and get us seriously blue. By reminding ourselves that is our job not only to make meaning but also to maintain meaning when it is threatened, we get in the habit of remembering that we and we alone are in charge of keeping meaning afloat—no one else will do that for us. Having a vocabulary of meaning available to talk about these matters is a crucial part of the process.

Interested in more? Try these posts:
Part 1 Interview
More with Eric Maisel

And…don’t forget about our contest! Help us with a NAME!!

Desert Spring!

So after an hour of trying to figure out Picasa (the MAC beta version), I realized rather than more frustration, just add the photos the way I normally do….

The morning was glorious, took a long walk, walked every cul-de-sac, and gloried in a desert spring. I have so much more appreciation for the desert, living here this second time. Enjoy spring! These photos don’t even begin to do justice the the morning sites. Everything’s in bloom, there’s textures all around.

Two Years Ago…

As I work through the blogging class, I’m aware that I’ve had my blog a while (250+ posts, and over two years), and I was looking at Google Analytics today, checking on one of the clicked-on pages. Turns out it’s from almost exactly 2 years ago – check out what I was working on! Looking at this made me realize how far I have come with my Photoshop skills – I was so proud of that piece – and I still think it’s a good piece – would make a good card….ooohhhh – write that idea down….the mind has been a sieve lately.

Took a great walk this morning, out an hour, over 30 pictures of the neighborhood – they’ll follow shortly. Spring is amazing here in the new neighborhood!


I wanted to go back to my glass pics from the Chihuly exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. My intent was to just manipulate a few and crop them to post. I hadn’t really intended to do lots more to them. Until….

I chose this one with the purple glass. Here’s the original.

Not a bad photo, but too much distraction. The amazing glass mimics the ripples throughout the cactus. It is truly spectacular to see. I wanted to emphasize that part of the picture, but then there’s all these shadows and people in the background. I know about the cloning tool to remove unwanted things like lampposts, but I decided to go the whole way and remove the people. The more I did, the more I learned – where to sample and make it appear like there were more cactus. I started creating cactus beds where there weren’t any, and they looked natural. I discovered that I could increase the size of the photo until I was almost at the pixel level, which gave me much more control of the cloning/removal process. The signs went away, the people went away, shadows I didn’t want went away.

I found I wasn’t satisfied, because the photo kept looking better and better! I worked on the columns. I love the adobe orange and wanted to lighten the dark more. I tried some brushes, after sampling some colors – it was okay. Then with the “move” tool I clicked on the black shadows of the cactus, jumped them to another layer, and lightened through an adjustment. The ground became lighter, without sacrificing the work already done. I did that 4 different times to get shadows lightened. Then I looked at the columns again, jumped them to a new layer, same process, and smoothed out some of the cloning strokes. Lots of previous learning just snapped into place. Here’s the “finished” look at Chihuly glass:

As always comments are welcome! I know many reading this are experts at Photoshop. I’m learning, and enjoying at the same time. You can look back some of the very early posts to see how far I’ve come!

Earlier work:
Hawaiian Surf
Orange Fabric
Seasons 1
Moon Series

Creating – Part 1

I’m going to start out trying to document the process I am going through to create some of these “garden fantasy” images. You have a basic stone wall, much more interesting in person. I have been fascinated with walls and the interplay of textures, so I want to see what I can do to make this a more interesting image. I usually start with basic adjustments, and what you see below is the application of shadows and highlights – which I only discovered a few months ago. You should see that the cement mortar holding the rocks together is now light enough to see.

From here I usually look to balancing any color issues. I ended up with adding to the blue tint, as it makes the rock wall have some more depth. PLus, it’s more appealing to me, and it seems more like the actual wall on the day we were at the gardens.

This next is intriguing – I tried a hue filter, and it looks as if a few of those rocks are bottom-lit – it’s somewhat intriguing.

I love gradients. When I finally started to work with them, I discovered interesting effects. This one looks like underwater, with bioluminescence on the rocks – or are they shells of some underwater life form?

This is another gradient that reminds me of satellite imagery from space. I can see snow, and the popping up of land forms – which seems like it should be reversed, but now I feel like I’m in the “definitely intriguing” area.

Oohhh, dinosaur eggs! Looks fairly menacing – from yet another gradient.

Now I feel like I am really in the realm of fantasy. I added a marbled pattern after selecting the rocks and adding them to another layer. I also cropped out the grass at the bottom. I used a stroke in a fine orange, and now this wall looks like a volcanic eruption, with the magma just below the surface. This is where I’m going to continue.

Comments welcome – what else would you suggest?

And – check out our contest!

Contest Time!

I will preface this by saying I have never done this – either contest or gallery show, so it’s all new! But as you can see from a previous post, I m in need of a title to unite all our work. There are three (and possibly a fourth, who is a photographer) of us putting this together. The only restriction from the park gallery is that the focus has to be Southwestern, which is not a problem at all. And – I want something more exciting than “Southwestern Art.”

That said, we have fiber art from marbled fabrics, digital manipulation of images, both with and without marbling, and some great stand-along photography of the Southwest. You can see some examples here, and you can scroll through older posts. Plus, The Art of Fabric, our website, has examples of fiber art. The image at the top of this post is an example – and the drama is lost on this size! The show isn’t just about marbling, which would simplify our title tremendously, but in the directions some of the marbling is taking us, as well as digital experimentation with Photoshop. We are trying to be unique in the marbling niche, and the digital work seems to be providing that.

But – we also don’t want the show to be exclusively digital marbling. Consequently, we want suggestions. And to the winning suggestion, you will get a four-pack of note cards with original digital marbling images. You get to see some of our new work before too many others do.

So comment away – if there are several title suggestions that are the same, the one submitted first will be judged the winner. I’ll keep an ongoing commentary as we develop the show, piece by piece – even if it is 4 years away. We will be ready!

Additional examples of art work – scroll through the past posts – there is usually some art work that is included in each posting.

The Digital Generation

I have spent a little bit of time today surfing sites on creativity – just to keep up with what’s new on the Net. I came across this from hypography – a forum for science and technology: Will the Digital Age Destroy Creativity? Certainly provocative!

One thing about teaching at the high school level. I have become very aware of digital devices and teenagers. My students still can’t understand two things: why I always know when they are texting (head down, hands in lap, not listening), and why my phone doesn’t do anything more than make a call. I’ve been reading a lot about the changing technologies and their impact in the classrooms, and I am trying to understand and utilize more of what the kids know and can do with these new digital devices.

But I gotta tell ya – I truly believe there is more to life than always texting or having earphones stuck all the time. And loud? I tell the kids if I can hear their iPod it is definitely too loud! I wonder about hearing loss in the next decade. I wonder about the ability to read a book, rather than opt for music – not that I have anything against music. I’m enjoying all the portable availability of lots of tunes.

This takes us back to the initial question: is the digital age destroying creativity?

For me personally, an unqualified NO! My artwork is taking advantage of technological wonders – Photoshop, blogging, eBay, networking, and the like. But I still like my quiet time, and I still will always want to own books. However, I don’t always want to be “on call” with a phone/computer that never lets me rest. I just want to let hubby know if I am going to be late, or if the bus is delayed – those kinds of things.

Marc Prensky writes about what he calls “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” I would definitely qualify as a digital immigrant – I’m new to all this. I’m adapting (all right, to a point), and I love what I can now do.

But – what about this current generation? They’re immediately on their cells or listening to music. Are they so plugged in that they will be content with texting and always listening to music? BUt am I so much of a dinosaur that what I think truly is valuable is outmoded and ancient?

What do you think? Is the digital age destroying creativity?

Organization Queen!

I have said several times before that I don’t want to miss opportunities this year – I want to market and take advantage of what happens through increased marketing. But- I still need to be able to make art. I can see how a person can get pulled in several directions.

While I did work on some images over the spring break, I also spent a lot of time organizing myself. I figure in this way I can really plan out time for creativity, sewing, digital marbling, and the like. So I’m inviting you along on this organization/creativity journey, with some goodies along the way. Let me know what I am forgetting, and as I share plans, let me know any stumbling blocks. This size of show (even though a small gallery) is new for me.

First up, we have an art show at a small gallery in four years. I know, plenty of time, right? But time goes faster than we think, and there are four of us involved to coordinate. The organizer of the small gallery, attached to a small park, remarked that when she calls people a year ahead of time to set official dates, most say, “So soon?” That won’t be me! I spent about an hour yesterday with beginning planning. I’m the type of person who plans well, trying to anticipate anything and everything that is needed to make an event go smoothly (probably all those years of directing middle school theater!). Here’s the list – let me know what I have forgotten….

* Title for Show – several types of art – announcing a contest tomorrow!
* Framed pieces – fiber and digital
* Alternative hanging – does everything need to be framed?
* Tiles and sizes
* Cards/stationery
* Small prints
* Packaging
* Postcards for advertising
* Brochure for show
* Opening reception – once we have dates
* “Artist Weekends” – meet the artists
* Prices – for everything and how to split costs, sales
* Actual fiber pieces, existing and new
* List of Invites – both of us
* Publicity plan – not too soon to start getting ideas down
* Budget – split two ways
* Business cards – need to be sure have enough
* Websites updated for publicity
* Portfolio – serious update – could work on that now
* Overall timeline and deadlines – what I call backplanning

Other posts you might be interested in:
Marketing 101
Now What?

Nine Blogs I Read Regularly

I wrote in an earlier post about the struggle to balance the need to make art and be creative, along with the need to build a business. If I am going to create, then I have to ensure I don’t get bogged down on the computer – which as we all know is extremely easy to do! So – here’s a list of what I read regularly – for inspiration, humor, and just plain fun:

El Milagro Studio – Anne Lockard, she of the Fiber Pirates, does some pretty amazing church banners. Plus she’s an incredible lady, and I just love hearing about her adventures.

TED – ideas worth spreading. Not really a blog, but this is an outstanding place to see videos on creativity and “ideas worth spreading.” Everything is inspirational.

Enchanted Revelry – I first “met” Tristan on the QuiltArt list, and he’s a theater geek from way back – as am I – but Tristan actually still does theater – and I gave up directing middle schoolers years ago (something about age…). Tristan is into all kinds of arts – and his vintage pictures are fabulous.

The Future Buzz is great to subscribe to – lots of ideas on marketing, plus some great photos. This link is specific to creativity: how to be more creative – it’s one I reread regularly.

The Summer Tomato – upgrading your healthy style. I stumbled on this blog as a result of a blogging class I am taking, and I loved Darya’s crisp, clean photos and healthy eating ideas. This isn’t your “diet” page, but a lifestyle change.

Penelope’s Trunk – this is a link to another specific article: how to build a career as an artist.

Dr. Matt Lyon is a former student, and I was delighted to find he is in alternative medicine. His posts are always thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Learn Me Good is a great way for me to appreciate the humor in our lives as teachers, to celebrate what doesn’t work in the classroom, and to generally keep up-to-date with education and teaching in the blogosphere.

Fiber Arts/Mixed Media – my second social media group, outside of Facebook. Already picked up lots of ideas, as well as some potential art shows to enter this year.

Top Ten Reasons Martha Stewart Doesn’t Know Marbling!

Martha Stewart on the Today Show, demonstrating “marbleizing” and promoting her new book, The Encyclopedia of Crafts. What’s wrong with this picture? Here’s a quick “Top Ten.”

1. Marbleizing? It’s called “marbling,” or “ebru” (the Turkish name), and anything else is an insult to marblers around the world.

2. Easy? Good marbling isn’t easy. This is a centuries-old art form, practiced by masters around the world. I’ve spent close to 17 years learning this art form, and I’m still learning! It was 10 years of work before we really felt we had fabric that we thought was good enough to sell commercially. Guilds used to put members to death for sharing secrets of marbling.

3. Italy? Not the birthplace of marbling, as Martha stated to a nationwide audience. Turkey is still the home to learn from the masters.

4. Paint brushes? We don’t use no stinkin’ paint brushes! Horse hair, at least! And we make ouor own!

5. Methyl cellulose? Martha stated it was fine to use, no problems, but she managed to ignore the warning that comes on the back not to inhale the stuff. Most practicing marblers use carrageenan, a natural seaweed found in many of our processed foods.

6. Recipes? Granted, it was a five-minute segment, but if you are going to encourage people to marble, as least reference recipes for an alum bath and the carrageenan bath. IT’S NOT JELLO! and a marbling bath can be very temperamental, depending on temperature and humidity.

7. Tools? Sheesh, Martha, we marblers make all our tools, and it’s time-consuming. Just because you have toothpicks and pins doesn’t mean the tools are cheap – either in price or measurements. It took us several years to collect the information and successfully make a bouquet comb.

8. Patterns? Martha, you used a toothpick to swirl a few drops of paint, and you told Meredith she was doing fine. Do you remember that Meredith disagreed with you? You didn’t lay the paper correctly, and you certainly didn’t do any of the really amazing patterns that can be had by beginners.

9. Crafts? Martha, you showed lots of applications, but bottom line? None of them were great examples of what can truly be done with marbling. At least you could have had great products.

10. How many pages? Oh, you the queen of how-to books, don’t you realize just how many books are available on marbling? Books, not pages. Art, not craft. Love, not money.

Glass, Glass, Glass!

What a gorgeous two days! And Suzan, WE had the better time – so there! We headed north to the Botanical Gardens in Phoenix to visit not only the Gardens but the Chihuly glass installation. Wow. Very simply, wow. We strolled for three hours through immense, incredible desert gardens of numerous cactus, punctuated by amazing glass sculptures throughout. This is what greeted us at the entrance, after walking under a mandala-type roof that cast a wonderful shadow on the sand, thinking you could walk in a circular labyrinth forever, if you wanted.

I cropped out unwanted people, but I kept the blooming cacti for added depth, to see just how large this sculpture was. It was noon, and the light was still what I would call “morning light,” but ready to change over, so this was quite bright. Here’s a close-up.

This is just immense. And the way it fits with its surroundings is wonderful. As we continued through the Gardens, every piece (except for one, in my opinion) fit the surroundings and echoed the lines of the various cactus. I love the various greens, because from New England to the desert, the variety of greens in spring speaks volumes to the design of Mother Nature.

To our left were these amazing red spires, very much like the blooms on various types of aloe each spring. They are dramatic from a distance, but close up you can see the “veins” in the glass work, and as the sun changes the effect you get also changes.

Here’s a close-up – these pictures just don’t do the glass justice.

I’ve been pondering on my fascination with glass. I know I could never work with it as a medium because of my lack of depth perception. However, I am fascinated with the whole process. I think I first saw glass blown at Jamestown, some 25 years ago, using sand right off the river beach, much like it had been done thousands of years ago. Since that visit, any time there is a glass-blowing exhibition, we are there. I had heard about Chihuly, and when we had our trunk show in Scottsdale at Textures several years ago, I saw some of his bowls. Talk about color!!! We have a glass studio in Tucson that we visit whenever they have open studios, and I could sit for hours watching the process. I guess I will always watch from a distance, and then hopefully own some glass at a later date.

More photos to follow!


Spring break started today at 1:40 for our school district. Needless to say the kids weren’t particularly interested in the finer points of function notation. I did have to spend some time yesterday reminding them to spell the word “function” correctly – there are two “n’s” in the word…use your imagination!

Going to spend the day in Scottsdale tomorrow, seeing the Chihuly glass exhibit at the Botanical Gardens, as well as working with my digital partner Suzan. We have a show to get ready for, and entries to work on. Our get-togethers are always a great time – lots of inspiration – too bad we are not closer. Thank heavens for the internet!

I finished uploading a few pieces we have worked on so we can access them tomorrow with Wi-Fi. And I need some hints on a few Photoshop tricks so I can begin to organize some of my gallery work.

The piece that starts this entry is something I am trying out. I bought a clip-art book from Dover of art deco images, since Dover is public domain and no worry about copyright. I wanted to have some designs that I could work with putting marbled fabrics into, without having to do the design completely myself. Once I figured out how to paste a pattern into the design, I went to town with ideas. This is really stretching my skills to another level, which is one of the things I want to work on.

The original of this image is left – pretty bland compared to the new changes in the top design. One of the things that I really like about this new image is that it works both from a distance and up close. From a distance you see these wonderful swirling suns, and upon closer inspection you can see the various marbled patterns. Very intriguing close up, and somewhat soothing from a distance.

Over the years we have been able to create a couple of quilted pieces that do the same thing. It’s what we strive for to make the pieces really interesting. It took as quite a while to be ale to actually sell our piece we called The Wave (you can see it at our website The Art of Fabric), but when we were offered enough money, we realized we were ready to sell it! This was one of our first framed pieces, and from a distance it looked like a crashing wave. From up close you were engulfed in the breaking wave along the shore. It remains a great piece.

My Top Ten Inspirational Books

If you’re a reader like I am – and have been as long as I can remember – then you have your own lists of “great” books. I tend to be inspired by great stories, nonfiction, as well as fiction. I’m the kind of person who turns the television off and wants absolute silence (except for nature sounds outside) to finish a book. I’m the kind of person who will read till the end of the last chapter ends, even if it’s past my bedtime (and during the school year, that’s really critical!). I’m the kind of person who wants to own books, so when I get depressed I go book shopping! If you’re looking at the bold, you know there’s more than 10, but what can I say? I LOVE BOOKS! So here goes:

** Exodus by Leon Uris – I was young, impressionable, and didn’t realize historical fiction could be so good. I have learned over the years that there were serious inaccuracies, but I still love the story.

** The World is Flat by Thomas Freidman – a recent read, and I have been stunned by how fast the world has changed and is changing – and how I can use technology (like my blog) to market myself and my art.

**We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman – subtitled “The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese – I am a sucker for all things about strong women. This is a story that needs to be told over and over, lest we forget these amazing women.

**Animal Dreams (fiction) and **Small Wonders (essays) by Barbara Kingsolver – great writer, and she lived in Tucson for many years. Her essays are strongly rooted in the environment, and Animal Dreams reached into my battered soul in many ways.

** The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – one of the greatest teachers ever – if we could only all be like him and affect so many students to reach beyond good to great.

** The Source by James MIchener – I’ve read most everything by him, Hawaii several times (especially after living and teaching there), and The Source has such an interesting history-and-religion mesh.

** To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – if only we all could have an Atticus Finch in our lives – that morality, that kindness.

** The Edge of the Sea of Cortez by Betty Hupp and Marilyn Malone – these two 70-plus ladies took all the photographs and combed almost every inch of the tide waters of the Sea of Cortez to produce this amazing book. Inspirational because I want to be like them when I’m up there!

**The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner – I got the main idea for my thesis from his first few chapters about learning for genuine understanding as opposed to just learning to take a test. This has governed how I present lessons in class. And…it’s a much easier read than Frames of Mind!!

**Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman – an eye opener when I first started teaching, and it probably turned me into the education rebel that I am! Also ** The Essential 55 by Ron Clark – one of the current books on education by an amazing teacher – lots of great things to think about bringing to my students.

Oops – nearly forgot ** Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride – again, speaks to our battered souls and helps us heal. Subtitled “Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.”

What would you add? I’m always looking for another great read!

Writing an Elevator Pitch

I signed up for 31 Days to a Better Blog, since I am really focusing on marketing and being “out there” for opportunities. Problogger is sponsoring this, and already I am finding it helpful. An “elevator pitch” is essentially a “grabber.” I remember Bill asking us constantly with the Learning Center to “have one sentence that will describe what you do.” That’s what I’m doing now.

What most people do not realize about marbling is that it is a centuries’-old art form, and practitioners who shared information and tricks of the trade outside of their guild could be put to death. When I first started marbling, Dean and I had a really difficult time finding information, especially about how to make particular tools. Now, thanks in large part to the folks on the marbling digest, everyone world-wide is sharing information and trying to reclaim some of the ancient methods. That in itself should make for a good hook:

“A Centuries-Old Art Made Modern”

That should make a good tagline, and in the “About Me” section I can elaborate on this.

We have used for the last 10 years “Hand-marbled Fine Art Fabrics,” which had a great ring to it. THe problem with that now is that we don’t do much custom work anymore – we just don’t enjoy it as much as we did. So that’s going to go by the wayside.

One of the things about marbling that is so addictive is watching the paints swirl, and then the patterns appear. There is a wonderful connection to ancient practices, a sense of history (being a history major) that I really love. Being self-taught, this blog is a way for me to experiment and record the process – something I have found very handy over the last two years, especially since I can look at it and know I really did do some art work!

The Kids are Right…

…I am officially a geek:
i am a total geek

Check out! Take the test – I dare you….

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