“What if imagination and art are not frosting at all – but the fountainhead of human experience”- Rollo May
A few years ago I was in the mindset that my art was something I could do “on the side”- that mothering took precedence. That was right for me at the time. But then my friend Jaimie asked me if I wanted to do Julia Cameron’s self-guided course “The Artist’s Way” with her.
At first I responded that it wasn’t the best time for me, what with homeschooling my older child and having a baby whose needs were around the clock. I wanted to be- and still want to- present for my family and not feel pulled in more directions than feels healthy.
Then, later that night, after saying I didn’t have time, I felt something bubbling up in me. I realized I had to make time for this course. From my friend’s description, The Artist’s Way and all that it entailed sounded nourishing and clarifying, a new way of understanding my creativity.
Cameron writes: “Creativity is an experience- to my eye, a spiritual experience. It does not matter which way you think of it: creativity leading to spirituality or spirituality leading to creativity. In fact I do not make a distinction between the two.” I read Cameron’s spiritual principles and doodled around the text box, feeling myself bursting with agreement- “Yes! This is true for me!”
As a mother and artist I needed to refuel with exactly this – a program designed to nourish myself as a whole person and help shine a light on areas to tune into, to find answers deep within. I knew that wouldn’t happen just by snapping my fingers. I had to do the work- put in the time to read the book and have disciplined commitment to completing the “homework” in order to truly figure out what I needed at this stage of my life, and as far into the future as I could contemplate…
My cousin Merle has often observed “we’re always in transition”. (And truly, when have you not been in transition?) Sometimes we find ourselves in huge, obvious transitions like giving birth to a new life; other times they are more subtle… My friend’s casual invitation to join her and hold each other accountable through The Artist’s Way made me realize that I was experiencing a subtle inner shift in my creative energy. A shift away from creating a new human being, to giving visual expression to my mind’s eye. To my aesthetic. My point of view. To all the things that I want to express.
It wasn’t the first time my creative energy had shifted. I’ve “been an artist” since I picked up a paintbrush in preschool. One of my earliest childhood memories is of mixing red and white paint and discovering with sheer joy the color pink! In my 20’s I grew into the title “artist”, naming my niche artwork and art workshops “Pasuk Art”. (literally “verse” art. More on that another time!) Before giving birth to my first child I had a very well planned out shift from artist to mother. I finished my art commissions a week before my due date (I know, I was cutting it close!), and tucked my art supplies away neatly, not sure when I’d want to return to creating art.
The path back to my art and to balancing art, career, motherhood, homeschooling- was less clear cut.
It didn’t happen all in one day, like giving birth to a child. It was -and is- a gradual re-balancing between the creativity of motherhood and my professional creativity. I had noticed little thoughts or impulses along the way. While caring for my children’s physical and emotional needs, holding a sleeping baby in my arms, I was in one blissful moment perfectly content and ironically, as soon as I had identified that contentedness – the very next moment longing to exist in two bodies- one that could continue holding my baby and the other that could run to my studio, my sanctuary, my “room of my own.” Dip my pen in ink and write letters and words on smooth paper and fill them with designs and color.
I remember when my first child was about 6 weeks, or was it a couple months? I received a call about a ketubah commission. Did I have time? Energy? Yes! I wanted to work. I found a wonderful trusted babysitter, who came to our home, held my baby, walked him for a couple of hours in the fresh air, so I could get to my paper and ink.
I had to use my time well. That proved to be an incredible blessing. The gift of constraints on my time led me to work in a more concentrated way than I’d ever had to. I would visualize, in advance of the babysitter’s arrival, what I would work on during my block of time. As I held and nursed my son, I would recall an anecdote my dad had shared with me years earlier about a conductor who reviewed a musical score on a flight and later that day conducted the orchestra without having ever rehearsed together. As a teenager I didn’t quite get it. But as a new mother I felt I had mental super powers. I felt focused, efficient, energized.
I made notes in the margins of my work log- “I love letters”. I was a little surprised by the purity of my enjoyment and I knew I needed to document it. I was a witness to myself. I recorded the proof for myself that I simply love drawing letters (especially Hebrew). In blocked moments I have looked back at those notes and remember that all I have to do to get unblocked is sit down and put the pen to the paper. Sometimes easier said than done, especially when I don’t have the clear cut boundaries of a 3-hour block of babysitter time. But when I’m willing to break through and I sit down to draw/carve/collage/whatever the medium may be… it starts to flow freely and I feel happy.
We moved to a different area of the country, and no more babysitter. Life got busier with a toddler, and a second baby. I put my creative forces into my children as I explored the experience of being with my children nearly every waking (and being awakened) hour of the day.
I still took every chance I had to work on my artwork, but it was more like dipping my toe in the water, than swimming. As my mentor Tobi Kahn and I discussed during that time of toe dipping, that’s what it was like for him, too, when his children were little. And that was comforting to hear.
The Artist’s Way entered my life at a time I wasn’t planning to shift. I was planning on keeping my art neatly tucked away “on the side”, maybe a couple hours every few weeks.
With the words “Do you want to do The Artist’s Way together?”, all of a sudden a door opened and I saw my creative energy inside of me, patiently waiting to be tended to. I was ready at this exact moment to run forward with all my senses lit up and pay attention. I bought the book and dove in without pause. I plowed straight through the course- all 12 weeks. [View a snapshot of the 12 weeks of content on Julia’s website] And it felt great.
I felt empowered to create time – that I previously thought I didn’t have- for “morning pages” (stream of consciousness journaling that unearths answers from within).
I discovered what “Artists Dates” (solo outings for play and inspiration) were possible within my family’s schedule. I challenged myself and I was also gentle with myself. And I was happy with what I discovered- I have an inner creative fire that I need to express visually. I need to. It can’t wait until my children are older and I “have more time.” I have to make time now. I have to figure out a way to balance mothering and my own creating.
And that’s what I’m doing. Diving in full-force is now something that my children appreciate about me, at least I think/hope. My 3 year old accompanies me to the mom and pop fine art printing shop in Philadelphia that I bring my artwork to to get photographed, and to print giclees (archival prints). He points to my drawings- and his, and his brother’s- and says “Artwork”. I like this.
My 8 year old is a budding artist in his own right and he often works beside me in my studio with professional tools and materials. That’s important to me.
Both of my sons know that when I’m sketching they can play on the floor of my studio. And that when I’m working on what could become a finished piece of artwork, a slight movement – even opening the door to see if it’s an okay time to enter- could cause vibrations that would make my dip pen or paintbrush shift every so slightly. So, for the most part they respect that they need to stay out of my studio at those times. But of course I also have to be flexible and sometimes I end up with a toddler on my lap, and so I tuck away my “good” work, and shift to a sketch pad.
Sometimes I need to stay up late in the quiet of the night to find space to create and other times I can carve out time and space in the daylight.
When I’m working on the computer my children reach for the keyboard and mouse. But when I sit at my drafting table they can see what I’m doing and understand it (in their own way). They can work beside me and feel that we’re working together. Sometimes we talk while I sketch. Other times I play music and we all listen to the music and draw. Other times I let them know I need to be quiet to listen to my thoughts.
As a homeschooler – or more accurately, unschooler – I believe that children can learn “everything through anything”. When my children are near me while I work, I think about all that they are learning- Hebrew, Torah, poetry, color, the interplay of light and shadows. How to use a ruler, protractor, t-square, triangle…and so much more. They are learning that I love my work and that I work hard. I also hope to communicate healthy boundaries between work, email, social media, etc. Life is a work in progress!
The artwork I share with you today, Gam Zeh Ya’avor – you can view here on Etsy
was commissioned by Rabbis David and Jennie Rosenn (thank you!) during the current Covid-19 pandemic with the idea that I would reproduce the artwork and make it accessible to all. The words Gam Zeh Ya’avor- this too shall pass- said famously by so many – King Solomon, Abraham Lincoln and my Grandma Bobby z”l to name a few- is relevant to just about everything in this life. King Solomon asked his servant to find a ring with the words that could make a happy man sad – and a sad man happy. (The story is in my mother-in-law Peninnah Schram’s book The Hungry Clothes.)
The English was calligraphed with a broad-edged dip pen (a metal nip attached to a handle) dipped in walnut ink (which is not made from walnuts but actually from English peat moss). The Hebrew was drawn with a pointed dip pen and several small watercolor brushes, dipped in watercolor and ink. Illuminating the Hebrew letters was a meditation for me. WIth every stressor that popped into my mind, I constantly was drawn back to the words in front of me. And breathed a deep breath. And felt reassured that I’m in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.
If life is hard at the moment, the words Gam Zeh Ya’avor may bring comfort. If everything feels perfect/stable/comfortable, this phrase may sting. But even if it stings, the pain of thinking of losing what you have now may clarify what’s most important to you.
At that moment a few years ago when I had the opportunity presented to me to begin the journey of The Artist’s Way or to turn it down I felt the words Gam Zeh Ya’avor in my heart. This life will pass one way or another, and I’m choosing to seize the moment and get crystal clear about how I want to spend my time here. I want to create art. A lot of it. I put no boundaries on what type of art. Whatever I used to think, that my art was an “on the side” this kind of thing is no longer. I welcome what will come.
I invite you along on my art journey. Since I’ve discovered that my creativity is “not frosting at all- but the fountainhead of human experience” I’ve figured out how to devote serious (and playful) time to being creative. Because I have to. Because I love to. Because I owe it to myself, my family, and because it’s my contribution to my community at large. I hope you will read along on my blog and be inspired.
And, as Julia Cameron says, all humans are inherently creative beings. So if you read my message and feel a quiet voice speaking to you, saying to pick up a camera, paintbrush, a pencil, a saw…anything that is a tool for creativity, I urge you to make space for that voice and follow it.
That voice inside of me is no longer quiet. It’s a song that calls to me everyday to translate the thoughts, longings and wrestlings of my mind and heart into a visual, tangible piece of artwork. And please let me know if you do! I’d love to hear about your creative journeys.
But it’s not a solo. It requires collaboration with other artists- more to come on that – and an audience. Please subscribe to confirm that you’ll be an active audience member.
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Here’s looking forward to enriching each other’s lives!
Shana tova/ Happy New Year,