Tag: billwatterson

Music is Great

As I type this, I’m listening to music. The three cockatiels who live in the cage behind me are chirping their approval. They chirp loudly whenever I sit at my computer to remind me to play some music for their entertainment.

I don’t always work to music. However, it’s nice to do sometimes. Music seems to make it easier to tap into that timeless, emotional, artistic part of my brain.

Sometimes I worry that adding a soundtrack makes me think my work is better than it is. I think that maybe I’ll use the music as a crutch, and neglect to add the emotional cues to my work, relying on the music, even though the reader won’t have that benefit. I always make sure to reread my work without listening to music, just in case.

There is no denying that music adds to my creativity. I do most of my brainstorming for my cartoons at my children’s orchestra and choir concerts. There is something about live music that just makes it more alive and electric somehow. Listening to recordings just isn’t the same.

Recordings are great too, though, when live music isn’t available. It’s nice to have music on demand. Often, I just want to hear a particular song or three, and it’s so nice to be able to listen to it right then. Technology can be awesome.

Music can be a comfort, a support, an encouragement. It reinforces memories and influences emotions. It’s pretty powerful. Of course, music is an art form itself, and musicians are artists. Speaking to emotions, the heart, the memory, is one of the things that art does best.

Since artists are people too, the art they experience affects their emotions and in turn affects their art. I believe that just as music can inspire me and others as we write, paint, and create, there are musicians who are influenced by writers and painters and other artists as they create their art. Seeing, hearing, experiencing the work of other artists is inspiring.

So, if you are seeking for a boost of creativity, listening to music is a great place to start. Which music? Well, whatever music you find inspiring. I assume that depends on what you need at the moment. I know I listen to a variety of different things at different times.

Do you listen to music as you work? Does it boost your creativity? What kinds of music do you like to listen to?

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My Drafts File

I think a drafts file is an important writing tool. What is it? It’s the file where I keep unfinished stories and blog posts. Most of them are only a few paragraphs long. Why keep them? Well, that needs a longer explanation.

When I write a story for my blog, I start with an idea I find interesting. I think about it for a while until I can imagine where the story will go and maybe a few scenes or lines of dialogue. And then I sit down and write and see where it goes from there.

Sometimes it doesn’t go where I expected. That can be interesting, or it can be a problem. Sometimes as I’m writing I realize that what I had planned just won’t work. Or that it’s too similar to something else I wrote. There are many reasons that my writing stops in the middle.

When I’m not sure where to go next, and I’ve given myself a little time to think about it, I give up on whatever I’m writing. I copy it into my drafts file and save it for later. And while I’m there, I look at the other unfinished stories and see if there is one that I have some new ideas for that I can write instead.

Strangely enough, there often is something that will work. I’ll read a story fragment and I’ll see a new path to an ending that I didn’t see before. Sometimes, I’ll start writing and have to stop again and copy the new, slightly longer fragment to my drafts file. Then I’ll try something else. Usually, however, the new path works and I have something else to write and post.

I also keep a story idea notebook and some comic sketchbooks that I use for ideas. One of my rules is that when I have an idea, I need to add it to the book without judging it right away. Often, I think that an idea isn’t very good at the time, but later I like it much better.

It works the same way with my drafts file. The stories that I have abandoned as broken often turn out to be fixable. It’s just hard to see the fix when I’m stuck and can’t continue writing the story in the direction I initially planned.

Life is like that sometimes I guess. Problems sometimes need time and patience and a different perspective. Things that we can’t seem to fix right away may have a fix we can’t see right now.

June Johnson once said that she was late picking up her husband and felt terrible. She was sure that this was a problem that couldn’t be fixed, because she couldn’t travel back in time. But, when she arrived, her husband was just getting out of his meeting. The meeting ran late, so she wasn’t late picking up her husband. The problem was fixable in a way she hadn’t expected.

In a parenting class, the teacher once told us a story from the French Revolution. I’ve since searched for the story, but can’t find it, so I don’t know if it’s true or not. A mob of citizens had gathered to protest in the town square, and a soldier was sent by his superiors to fire on the rabble. If he refused, he would be killed for treason. If he fired on the mob, he would be killing townspeople that he knew well.

It may seem an impossible dilemma. The soldier, however, saw a third option. He went out, and announced, “I have been ordered to fire on the rabble. However, I see many good citizens among you. Would the good citizens leave, so that I can fire on the rabble?” The mob dispersed, and when no one was left, he fired a few shots in the air and left, duty done.

There is a path. In the story or painting you’re stuck on. In the problem you can’t solve. In the decision you need to make. It may take time and patience and prayer and a different perspective. You may need to set it aside or ask for advice. There is a way. Even if you can’t see it yet. That’s why I keep a drafts file.

Do you keep a drafts file? An idea file or notebook or sketchbook? Do you find that you can fix a broken or stuck story or picture if you leave it alone and come back to it later?

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Life in Transition

Spring is changing to summer here. The school year is ending. I have a few weeks before my children are out of school and my schedule and routine will change.

Life is full of changes, big and small. People move. Their family size changes. They go on trips. They try something new, and stop doing things that aren’t working for them.

From my comic diaries on 8-25-18, as we left for Yellowstone National Park.

Even good changes can be stressful. However, there are ways to cope with change and make the transition easier. This will cut down on the stress and help with recovery time.

First, look ahead. Unexpected change is especially difficult. Like a driver scanning the road ahead for potential problems, look at the future and possible changes that may occur. Using my upcoming change as an example, the school year ending, how will that impact my schedule? What would my daily routine look like after the change? What things will need to be different?

Second, make a plan. This works even for surprise changes. As soon as you know there is going to be a change, you can plan for it. What are my goals? How can I achieve them now? What steps will I need to take? How is it different than before?

Watercolor painting of the Mississippi River as we saw it on a summer-long vacation to Wisconsin.

Third, follow up on your plan. If you know your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them, then it’s time to follow through. I want to continue to practice art. I know that with the kids home, I will have less time to myself during the day. So, I need to get my practice in earlier before I get caught up in projects and such.

Looking ahead, and knowing this is my plan, I can brainstorm different ways to make sure it happens. I might want to try out different times and see what works best. I might want to set alarms on my phone. I could plan incentives like a walk to the park or a cup of peppermint tea for if I get my work done by a specific time.

Other changes may require dropping art for a time and planning on when you can pick it back up. Or it may mean dropping some things and not others. Or changing what you are doing. Or combining things.

When you don’t think about how to handle the change, it is all to easy to let everything go. Months later, you look around and realize how long it’s been since you last painted or sketched or wrote anything. At that point, momentum is against you, and it becomes increasingly difficult to pick anything up. Your life has filled itself up with other things and you’ve become comfortable with the way things are. To pick things back up would require another change.

Watercolor painting of Mount Rushmore as we saw it on a summer-long vacation to Wisconsin.

As difficult as it is, any planning you can do will help. Remember what is important to you. Remember your goals and dreams. Think about what it will take to achieve them, and then work with the change. Perhaps, once you’re on the other side and the stress is over, you’ll be glad for the chance it gave you to reaffirm your goals and think about how to best reach them.

Watercolor painting of Little Big Horn as we saw it on a summer-long vacation to Wisconsin.

What changes are you coping with? What are your plans to achieve your goals despite the change? How will you follow through with those plans?

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The Cup Theory of Stress and Me

The cup theory says that your ability to handle stress is like a cup. As things occur during the day, good and bad, stress fills your cup. When your cup fills and you keep adding things, your cup overflows. That’s when you melt down.

When you start the day already overwhelmed and worried, or in pain, or depressed, or otherwise stressed, then your cup starts out partly filled. You can handle less. Even if it’s good things, or things that you normally can handle without too much difficulty, if your cup is full, you can’t handle it today.

That’s why there are some days where you can’t make yourself do one more thing, even if it’s something that would only take five minutes. That’s why there are days where you have to hide away so that you don’t snap at people for laughing too loud. Have you ever felt out of control and it scared you? This might be why.

Adding new things to your schedule can be difficult on stressful days. On those days, you may be struggling to complete your normal schedule. That’s okay. Worrying about what you can’t do will just add to your stress.

So, what does this have to do with me and my art? Well, as an introvert, days and weeks where I’ve had to socialize a lot are stressful. I have to recover from them. Even when it’s people I like and I’ve enjoyed the social event, it’s stressful. Good stress is still stress.

While I’m recovering, something has to give. I can fit less into my schedule. The easy thing to give up is my art. Learning something new is more stressful than a familiar activity, and so dropping it temporarily is such a relief.

Yet, just because it’s the easy thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing. If I find that I’ve been dropping my art or procrastinating it and running out of time for more than two weeks, I need to take a close look at my schedule.

It’s not good to be regularly stressed and overwhelmed. If that’s happening, I may need to give some things up, even if they are good, positive things. Or I may need to ask for help. Either way, I need to find a way to lower my stress levels and bring my life back in balance.

In this way, my art practice can act as an early warning system. If I’m too stressed to do something that I want to do and enjoy doing, and it keeps happening, something is wrong. It’s good to have that warning before I get sick or start snapping at people.

I once went to a talk by Nancy Young. (Her family runs this remarkable website:
https://www.alyoung.com/ and publishes the Storybook Home Journal.) She said that she knew she’d been away from home too much if her little laundry room started overflowing and her youngest child became clingy. They were areas in her life that could not absorb neglect. She said it was like a barometer, measuring the pressure on her home and family. When she saw the signs, she knew it meant that she had to cancel some outside commitments and spend more time at home.

What are the signs that you’re under too much pressure? What areas in your life cannot absorb neglect? Have you ever felt like your cup of stress is too full? What do you do to bring things back in balance?

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Looking At Art

It’s interesting to look at artwork made by other people. It’s inspiring to see how well other people create. But not every artwork is meant to convey technical skill. So what am I looking for when I look at work that isn’t photo-realistic?

One of the first things I look at is the title. It can sometimes give a clue on what the artist was thinking. How does it relate to the artwork? Does it seem like there’s a connection?

Some artwork is telling a story. Are there characters that might be doing something interesting? Does it look like something is happening? What could the characters be thinking about?

Other artwork is meant to convey feeling. How do I feel as I look at the work? Do the colors or shapes suggest ideas or emotions? How are they placed withing space? How does that make me feel?

Art can make a statement. Does it seem to relate to a relationship or current event? Is the content strange, off-putting or controversial? What do I think the artist is trying to say?

Of course, I don’t always have any of this in mind when I look at a piece of artwork. Sometimes the artist will write a thorough explanation and post it in a guide book or right next to the work. Then I can choose whether to factor their wishes into what I think of the piece.

And I can choose to think whatever I want. My opinion of the artwork doesn’t have to be based on the artist’s intent. Once I view it, I am participating in determining the meaning for myself.

Perhaps for me the meaning of a particular painting is that cats are scary. Or that eating in bed leaves crumbs and is a bad idea. Or I could decide that the red painting is far too angry and I’m not going to look at it much at all.

I could decide that modern art is boring, and no one can tell me that I’m wrong. They can say that not everyone thinks that, and that can be true too. It’s part of the fun of looking at art.

When art is hidden away with no one to look at it, it has a lot less meaning than art that other people can look at. If art has lots of different meanings, that just means that it’s been looked at and thought about often. So, don’t be afraid to have your own opinion about what you look at.

I think that the more meaning you find, the more interesting a painting is. But to find meaning, you have to spend time with the painting and give it more than just a glance. That’s when looking at artwork made by other people becomes interesting and inspiring.

What is your favorite artwork? What kind of art do you like? Why? What do you look for when you look at art?

 

The Joy in Participation

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Art is different when you create it. You notice things, tiny details that you skip over as a member of the audience. I think this is true for all kinds of art.

Last weekend, I sang in a choir. We spent months practicing a dozen or so songs. Within a matter of hours, the performances ended, and we turned in our binders. In past years, I listened in the audience to this same choir perform. The experiences were very different.

Spending months with the songs, I learned the words. I learned the intricate harmonies and how they fit together. The songs stuck in my head between practices, and I hummed them as I washed the dishes. By the time we performed the songs, it almost seemed anticlimactic. I still hum the songs as I wash dishes. Though the performance is done, the music isn’t over.

As an audience member, I thought the music was lovely. Listening to it sparked so many ideas! I didn’t always understand the words, but that didn’t matter. Though I quickly forgot how the music sounded, I remembered how it made me feel and the impression of its loveliness. It was not the same lasting experience as singing in the choir.

When I copy an illustration I admire, I discover so many overlooked details, hidden faces and patterns and figures.

I find myself admiring an expression or the shape of a hand or a lovely combination of colors. “Oh, that’s how you do that,” I realize.

When I make just the right line here or match the right shade there, it feels like victory. You learn so much by doing. Copying art forces me to slow down and focus on details, one at a time.

I admire my favorite artists more after carefully trying to recreate their work.

This does not mean that I have to make a perfect copy or sing all the right notes to appreciate art. I make mistakes much more often than I like. I think the joy comes from putting in the effort and spending time seeing the intricacy revealed when you spend time in careful study.

A special joy comes when I create something of my own. Even if it turns out terrible, during the moments that I’m totally absorbed in writing or painting or singing, I feel outside of time. Completely focusing on how to make something work is a joy of its own.

Several of my illustrations. I love some of them and don’t love many of them. But they are mine.

It feels like the joy of solving a problem or putting together a puzzle. It’s that moment when you put another piece in, and it fits. There are many more pieces left to go, but in that moment when you realize that this one piece is in just the right place, there is that “aha!” of recognition. “Ah, I see. This is how it goes. I thought it did, and I was right! What is the next piece?”

I love to go to concerts. I love to look at artwork, even when I don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin to recreate it. I love feeling inspired. There is so much joy in finding loveliness in the world, and you can find it in so many places.

Yet there is a special joy found in participation. I think it enhances my appreciation of art when it’s my turn in the audience again, because I’ve learned to look and listen more closely. If I’m in the audience next year, I’ll probably enjoy the choir numbers much more than I did last year. But, after the hard work and practice I put in this year, I honestly hope that next year I’m in the choir.

Have you found joy in participating in art? What do you enjoy doing? Do you think it helps you better appreciate the work of other artists?

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