Monday, May 1, 2017

Guest Post: Sheri Nugent

At the close of my most recent post in the Minding My Muse series, a reader named Sheri Nugent posted a lovely comment, including a wonderful book recommendation: Drawing on the Artist Within by Betty Edwards. I bought the book and invited Sheri to write a guest blog post. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading the story of her creative journey and taking a peek into her artist's notebook as much as I have.

 Finding My Inner Artist 
by Sheri Nugent

At age 62, I am finally becoming the artist I have tried to be for most of my life. Over the years I have experimented with many types of art – painting, drawing, pastels, pencil, pen and ink. An  endless exploration of art supply stores. Nothing ever satisfied. I felt that I had two problems: no talent and nothing interesting to say. So I gave up.

And then, four months ago, I discovered that those weren’t my problems after all. A friend wrote about drawing mandalas as a form of meditation on her blog. I took the online class that she referred to for no other purpose than to relax. It was Inauguration Day and I needed something to do with my hands while obsessively watching cable news. I learned that drawing mandalas has been a meditative practice in many cultures over thousands of years. It does not require any particular talent for drawing. The technique is formulaic – and once you learn the basics, you simply start in the center and make it up as you go. A more disciplined form of doodling, really. 

I found it to be astonishingly calming. My first mandala took me about four hours to finish. During those four hours I felt like I was in a cozy, creative bubble where time and external noises just stopped. I posted Mandala #1 on Facebook with a brief story – an encouragement to my friends to try it as a means of relaxing.
(Mandala #1) In order to calm myself as I watch and listen to the escalating madness we are experiencing, I am trying something new rather than shredding my cuticles. I made this tonight. It's a mandala, and it's meant to be soothing and meditative. It was a lovely 3 hours with MSNBC in the background. I feel significantly better, calmer. This works for me.
The reason this technique worked for me was that it demanded that my inner critic just shut up for once. The point of drawing the mandala was not the product – it was the process. It didn’t matter if it was good or not. The only reason to do it was the process of creating and relaxing in the moment without fixating about the outcome. And to prove that to myself, to reinforce that intention, I posted the mandalas on Facebook. 

By the time I finished Mandala #8, I began to notice that I usually liked the finished product. With practice, I was improving. And that was encouraging. The process of doing each mandala opened up my creative eye more and more. Because I took judgment out of the equation, I learned how to work around “mistakes” and transform them into “design opportunities.” The more I didn’t allow the critic to stop me from finishing a piece, the braver I got to try new things. If the outcome doesn’t matter, why not keep going?
(Mandala #8)  Snow Day in Seattle
On my tenth mandala, I had a new idea. I added a drawing of a tree inside the structure of the mandala circle. It took much longer to draw but I just followed the idea to wherever it took me. It’s not a perfectly drawn tree. Before this experiment in mandalas, if I would have set out to draw a tree, I would’ve decided long before it was finished that it was not good, thrown it out, and quit drawing.
(Mandala #10)  I had an idea - what if the knot in a tree was the center circle in a mandala? That idea grew into this. Mandalas literally do grow. Starting in the center and growing into whatever it decides to be. Every time - and especially true on this one - from about 20% in the process through maybe 60%, I am quite certain that I've ruined it. Nevertheless, I persist, and the end result is always indeed worth finishing. Not ruined after all. This is such a rewarding art form. And a great life practice of not giving up. I encourage everyone to give it a try.
By Mandala #18, I was fully committed to incorporating drawn objects in the mandalas. The early pattern mandalas were great for starting out. I needed structure and techniques to guide me. But as I followed the muse, mandala after mandala, I felt like I was creating something new. They were much more personal pieces – pictures and stories that meant something to me. This was no longer a traditional mandala. Maybe it’s not even a mandala anymore. It doesn’t matter. My art. My rules.
(Mandala #18)  Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
I continued to share them on Facebook because my friends were so generous with their comments and the pieces seemed to be enjoyed. In my mind, in the face of so much tension in the world, I was putting something positive out there. Good or bad – it’s my creative expression of positivity and that’s all that mattered.

Along the way, I learned a lot about which tools I’m most comfortable with. I’ve experimented with types of paper, markers, pens – learning what works and what doesn’t give me the look I am going for. Nothing wasted, nothing ruined. All part of the learning process. I also learned that the circle structure is the foundation for me. I’ve noticed that I naturally gravitate toward circles so it makes sense that I was drawn to this art form. It now takes me about 16 hours to finish a piece – which is nice. I’m learning patience and attention to detail.

Four months later, I am working on Mandala #45. Now, I have settled on a structure that works for me – I draw my personal pictures in the form of a mandala and write a paragraph or two to accompany it as a complete piece.

Sometimes I draw a story – an idea that I’ve seen and want to interpret. Sometimes I draw a memory. I get ideas from friends, from something I’ve read, or something I’ve seen on a walk.
The transformation I’ve experienced personally is far beyond learning to “draw better.” By unlocking that creativity that I think is inside all of us, I notice my surroundings more. I’m more observant, more present (as opposed to lost in my own head), more confident, more willing to risk failing and try anyway – and, yes – much more relaxed. I am excited to see where I’ll be after the 10,000 hours of practice it takes to achieve so-called mastery. I’ve done the math – it will take me 6.86 years.
(Mandala #43)  A couple of times per year I get very lucky. A swarm of bees move onto one of my trees. It happens incredibly fast - nothing happening at all and then like a flash - a huge swarm of bees about the size of a basketball in my tree. I was terrified the first time it happened, but I've learned to appreciate them, to love them. They are completely harmless and are just passing through for a couple of days while the scouts search for their next home. I watch them closely. I'm fascinated by them. Then they are gone. Every year I watch carefully so I can see how they depart. I miss it every time. For some reason, bees make me feel hopeful. Nature doing its job. What is more beautiful than that?

I’ve learned that self-imposed barriers – like believing I have no talent and nothing interesting to say – are just nonsense. We all have talent and we all have something interesting to say. I wish all of my friends and loved ones would share whatever their creativity is with me. I certainly love sharing mine with them. We are all artists, aren’t we?


Unknown said...

I love the story of your process. So much more than "doodling ". Thank your sharing the inspiration behind all of your art, and yes it is definitely considered art!

Sandra Sward said...

What a gift "you" are!! The expression of "you" is always unique, intelligent & inspiring. Touche'. Plus, love your art ��

Sandra Sward said...

What a gift "you" are!! The expression of "you" is always unique, intelligent & inspiring. Touche'. Plus, love your art ��