When we tell people about our travel plans, they always want to know whether this is a working vacation or a pure vacation. I am never quite sure how to answer that. My regular at-home life is hardly what most people would describe as a normal working schedule, and our traveling life doesn’t differ so much from that. But that’s complicated to explain, so I usually just say, “Yeeeeeahhhhh… working vacation.”
That said, there are definite challenges to maintaining the “work” part of my life while we’re traveling. At home, I do plenty of exploring, but I know most things will be around indefinitely (or, rather, I know I will be around them indefinitely), so there’s no urgency. Here, though, there are at least three museums I want to visit — and four neighborhoods, a day trip, three road trips, and two weekend events – and we’ve only got forty days remaining before we leave for Glasgow. So on any given morning or afternoon, I have to decide whether I’d rather stay in and work, or go out and play. Yes, yes, my work and play are not mutually exclusive, and that’s a huge gift. But the quality (and by “quality” I mean both “nature” and “standard”) of my work and play changes if I combine them. That is to say, I write differently in a cafe than I do at the kitchen table; I concentrate differently, and choose different subjects, if I sketch in a park as opposed to at a desk at home. In other words, I say that I write and draw/paint, but each of those comprises several different styles of activity, and I have to make time for them all.
As I articulated in my artist statement, I’m equally invested both in living/experiencing, and interpreting/making meaning of what that feels like for me. As I’m finding on our travels, those are definitely distinct processes – at least they are for me. When I’m out experiencing something (like Saturday’s day out), I am mostly just being. I can do some sketches and take some photos; I can jot down notes. But that is not processing; I’m just taking down observations, and I don’t know whether ever they’ll become anything more. In fact, sometimes the important observations aren’t even the ones I record on the spot. This is something it took me a while to grasp. Sometimes I’ll be out and I’ll think I’m having a throwaway experience, but I’ll get home and dream of it that night and think of it the whole week after, and realize that that building I thought I hated, or that experience that seemed pretty boring, actually made a deep impression. Then do I begin to realize what that experience meant for me, and how I might want to record it in writing or images. I’ve written before of my conviction that creation is actually just a process of organization and selection. I don’t know if that works for other people, but it’s absolutely true for me.
I was talking to Elwin once and he said he’s found that it just takes a long time to write something. I haven’t yet had the experience of working on a single project for years, but I do get what he means. Actually, I think we’re always writing (or painting, or whatever), in that we’re always thinking and processing and reformulating; with any given piece that I really feel is representative of myself, I can always trace some of its creative threads back to specific experiences or questions. The first version of “Chickens,” for example, was created in a burst of inspiration and energy during the first session of IWL. On the surface, it looked like our instructor just set us an assignment and then I made this cool piece, but actually, the piece came from a lot of stuff that had been percolating for ages and hit upon this particular outlet as its point of emergence.
Now that I write it all out, I realize that the way I create is also the way I make decisions about how to spend my time: taking a mass of possibility and sifting and selecting and sorting it into a manageable format. I mean, how else does one answer the question, “What should I do now?” when there is no immediate deadline? Some days, I confess, I just don’t succeed; I answer the question with “I don’t know” (which really means I’ve answered, “waste the afternoon on the Internet”). But most of the time, I know there are several viable options, and it’s my job to figure out the best and most important use of my time at the moment. Too much exploring means not enough time to record or processing time; too much processing means I run around in mental circles, dissecting the same things over and over again. Too much “going with the flow” means never prioritizing; over-rigid to-do lists mean never making space for spontaneity and opportunity. It is always a complex, delicate balance, and though navigating that balance is often exhausting (especially now that we’re traveling), I still can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else.
I love your new header image! The redesign touches took me by surprise, but after my double take, I got into the new swing of things.
My own “artist’s” thought process is something I ponder at times, but in a loose sense because I can get bogged down by the ‘loudness’ of my mind. I’ve been trying to hush the ‘crowd’ lately hoping that will make my most pressing work flow better, but I’m not having much success. I was thinking of writing a post about it today to help myself clarify the effect my lack of sleep is causing in all the areas of my life. I might have the energy for that. I might not.
When you write about your work process and attitudes toward it, it helps me think about my own work from new angles. That’s a wonderful thing, for artists especially. Thanks.
I like the sky blue, but I bet you’re doing what I was doing a few days ago. 😉 I can’t wait to see what you decide on. 🙂
If what you were doing was putting up changes, getting frustrated by them, and then planning new changes, then yes. 😉
Thank you, Ré!! You’re the first person who has seen them (and commented) besides Erik, so it’s good to know the changes work for you. 🙂 In the past couple of weeks I have looked at tons of new sites (travel blogs and comics, mostly), so that got me thinking about the way newcomers to a site look for and experience its content. I’m trying to make mine a little friendlier to strangers.
I get bogged down by the loudness of my mind too — last night when I went to bed I was feeling very tired of myself and wanting to just get out of my head for a while.
I love your comment and I hear you on appreciating learning about others’ work process. I feel the same way and I’m glad this post helped you think about yours! Maybe in the post it sounds like I’ve known these things for ages, but writing the post definitely helped me articulate the process in a way I hadn’t done before, so it was a big benefit to me too.
I was caught by your comment about writing differently in different locations. I can understand because I write differently with pen and paper than with laptop. But I’m wondering about your artwork. If you have ever painted a similar object, in two different locations, to see how the painting turned out? And if so, which did you like better and why? With writing there is a more tactile connection with pen and paper than laptop, but with painting it’s the same tools, just the environment that would be different, so I’m curious how that would influence the outcome.
Hi Lisa! Actually, I think of the environment as very much one of the tools of painting. I don’t know if other people feel the same way, but I suspect so, because of the attention many artists give to setting up their studios just so. The environment affects the lighting, the backdrop, the space, the conditions, and the mood (which for me is just as important as anything else). I haven’t painted the exact same subject in two different locations, but I’ve definitely painted similar subjects in different spaces (home, out in public, at a studio or in a classroom), and they come out very differently.
For example: in a studio or classroom, I can spread out more and I’m not so conscious of having to keep things clean, and if I’m painting from a model, the model is usually several yards away from me. This results in larger, freer, looser work. At home (since I don’t have a studio), I normally only have the space to work on a smallish piece of paper on a desk that is covered with non-painting items, and if I’m painting from a photo or object, that item is usually very close to me — say 6-10 inches away. (Even if I’m painting from a model, that person will be much closer to me than if we were in a classroom.) Out in public, everything is moving, and I’m also a little self-conscious, so I feel a jittery urgency to get things down quickly; my work in public spaces tends to be sketchier and even smaller than what I might do at home — but it has a little more of the immediacy of the studio, because of the energy of all the people around.
Do you write with different types of pens/pencils and different sizes/types of paper or journal? I do, and they always feel a little different to me. There’s not as much of a shift there as there is with the change of painting environment, but it’s kind of similar as far as affecting my mood and the kinds of things I feel ready to write about.
I have recently taken a lot of “working vacations” myself. Because I work from home mostly…and can work mostly anywhere…it’s even harder for me to draw a line.
Hi Stephanie, thanks for commenting! I agree — it’s really hard to draw lines when working from home, though it’s really important to do so. My husband works from home too, so we’re always dealing with this not just as individuals, but as a couple. Now that we’re traveling together and we are each other’s primary source of company, it’s an even bigger consideration!
Going back and reading recent entries I realize I failed to acknowledge your new header, Lisa. I love the color and simplicity and lightness it depicts, and it is very fitting for where you currently are in your life. However, I will always love the collage in your original header. It said so much about who you are/were at that time when you were not living out of a suitcase:) You are having to switch identities and I image this might be part of the mourning process you mentioned yesterday. You are walking the fence between yesterday (yourself in California) and today (the footloose girl untethered to place. Boy, freedom gets complicated, doesn’t it?
Oh, thank you, Sherry! I like it too, though it looks a little fuzzy on my computer, so I’m thinking of painting a new one with the same kind of feel.
Yes on changing identities and how that’s an ongoing process. I’ve noticed that sometimes I’ll be leaving the apartment and I’ll feel funny because I’m not carrying very much. It’s strange, because usually I’m not carrying less than I did at home, but maybe I’m feeling the lightness of decreased emotional baggage somehow. I keep thinking I need to do some more writing about how it feels to be traveling. None of my posts so far have seemed to capture it in its entirety. But that will come. 🙂 We’ve only been out for a month! !!!!!