Saturday, June 19, 2010

When Less Creates More

Do you ever feel like you're able to be more creative when you have fewer options, fewer choices?

I've been thinking about this a lot since that post from a couple weeks ago where I wrote about how great if felt to be deeply immersed and productive in designing our front garden; a creative mode that frequently eludes me.  So often, the blocks I experience are dumbfounding because it's the exact opposite of what I would typically consider to be "artist's block."  At any given moment I'm often overflowing with inspiration and the desire to express myself.  My muse is almost too prolific.  However, there's a disconnect when it comes to channeling that inspiration and imagination into something tangible.  And I'm learning that more and better ideas, inspiration, art supplies, etc., is not the way out.

It was while I was photographing these pages from my journal, which I worked on during our camping/road-trip last month, that a little light bulb in my brain started to flicker with that realization. 
These pages showed me just how much creativity I was able to tap into during those nine days on the road, despite having only my journal and a plastic zippered pouch containing the most basic of art supplies. 

Honestly, it didn't come as a total surprise, this wave of vacation-induced artistic inspiration.  I knew the distance from home and work  and the separation from my day-to-day responsibilities would do me good.  But still, there was something to meditate on -- this opportunity to choose simplicity versus a wealth of supplies, projects, and ideas.  Was less definitely more in this case?
It was really when I started to think back to all the other times I've actually been able to get into a sustained mode of creativity that my light-bulb moment began to illuminate this part of myself long misunderstood; the part that made me wonder if there was such a thing as adult-onset ADD.  Actually, it was sort of a "well duh" moment because the pattern was quite obvious and it had a lot to do with choices.
I remembered summer internships back in college that took me across the country with only  those possessions that could fit in a suitcase.  Then there were the short-term housing situations in my 20s that required most of my belongings be put in storage or left behind with my parents.  Traveling abroad, classes, workshops, all of these--in their own way--created a focused environment that allowed me to settle into an artistic mode without feeling like I might suddenly spin off in a million different distracted directions, as I often do at home.
Delightfully focused is how I felt when I was painting that little building with the red tile roof at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. No responsibilities, but also, just a perfect handful of choices.  Reading, journaling, daydreaming, walking, painting -- that was about it.  All rich with possibilities, yet being able to count them on one hand made it so easy.  Even more easy perhaps because I never stopped to wonder if I had chosen wrongly.  Heck, there was no need to think I might be sacrificing one interest for another because with only five options, I could easily transition to another later in the day or week!  At this rate, I could sample all the flavors in my proverbial ice cream shop!

It was immensely satisfying to sit and sketch and paint for hours that afternoon while Erik was off exploring and learning from the seasoned naturalists wandering the refuge headquarters.  I got a weird sunburn on my leg that particular day after somehow missing a wee bit of skin in my frequent sunscreen applications.  Now I have this ribbon-sized tan on my left thigh that is a daily reminder of those blissful hours spent with my journal.
I collaged these pages after breakfast one morning at the Frenchglen Hotel, where I found an assortment of local newspapers and tourist brochures that had interesting images.  Totally random and spontaneous.  Hadn't even thought to bring a pair of scissors so everything was torn!
Occasionally Erik would leave his Birds of Oregon book lying around and I'd flip through it and draw a bird we'd seen that day.
So now, with this realization that too many choices can be the absolute downfall of my creative focus, I'm making some little shifts in my life -- shifts toward simplicity and organization, as well as some self-imposed limits on the number of projects and ideas I attempt to chase at any given time.  They are helping.  I'll write more about this later as these shifts turn to positive habits (hopefully :-).
I thought I'd end with a few more of my favorite photos from the trip -- a good reminder of the rejuvenation that came out of that week of simple living:
Our campsite at Willow Creek Hot Springs was about as remote as you can get by car in Oregon.  An hour's drive down a rough gravel road, we had the place to ourselves.  This is me out looking for obsidian rock.
There were many times we had to pull off the road so I could take pictures of the cows.  This photo was taken on a really rainy morning, but the moo-moos didn't seem to mind too much.
Old buildings also got their fair share of camera time.  This Greek Revival farmhouse is a real gem and very old as far as houses in Oregon go.  I was amused by its state of disrepair juxtaposed with a satellite dish.  We saw that a lot.
Since we were sleeping on the ground for so many nights, I wanted to bring along a few comforts from home, including a thin futon mattress that folded nicely in the back of the Subaru and several warm quilts.  Mummy-style sleeping bags are not my favorite to sleep in, though they do make sense on backpacking trips.
Silliness out on the Alvord Desert playa. 
Frenchglen is one of the charming little towns we visited.  And by little, I mean, "Population 12" little.   We stayed in the hotel one night and enjoyed breakfast there twice.
My Bird Nerd.  :-)
We saw so many of these sweet 'lil Yellow Warblers.
And I sure wouldn't mind another soak in that hot spring at the Alvord Desert.  This photo was taken looking toward the desert; in the opposite direction are the Steens Mountains.  Quite the panorama! 

Ah, good memories!  Hope you all have a great weekend!