Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Creative Fingerprints

Preparing for my first paid calligraphy job of the year. Wish I could have this clean desk in a separate room as a dedicated studio. The dreaming continues!
Some people believe in fate. Others in coincidences. I believe in God-incidences.

I've written before about how I died and came back to life, and how when I came back, I questioned everything of who I was before the burnout. I've also shared how God gave creativity back to me delightfully and unexpectedly through a series of specifically timed opportunities.

I recognize the same divine fingerprints again, the pattern of multiple unsolicited creative jobs coming in a short period.

Shortly after I began the Writer's Challenge, I am quiet enough to recognize the inner voice of my scary dream calling out. Then I declare it out loud, almost accidentally: I am a calligrapher

Five days later, an old friend commissions me for a calligraphy piece. Two days after that, I receive an email from a total stranger. "Can you do calligraphy for me?" Umm, yeah! But how did you get my email contact? And did someone tell you about my declaration? It turns out he was sent by an old classmate who advertised her graphic design services on Craigslist. Calligraphy was beyond her scope.

I battle my usual fear. What if I can't translate their vision into reality? What if my style isn't what they're looking for? (This is a heightened concern especially when it's a friend who comes straight to me without shopping around to see if other styles suit their vision better.) I fear the day when I fail to deliver a client's vision.

Of course it is an irrational fear. Both have generously showered me with their positive feedback. Oh, the flood of relief that comes when they like a sketched concept in the first pass! I'm excited to buy new supplies as my old paints dried up with the last creative drought.

So I saw another fingerprint today, while taking a break after starting this blog last night. Today I receive an automated email from Behance, an online community of creative professionals. Apparently last year I began setting up an account for an online portfolio in my last creative spurt, but I didn't finish. Thus the email prompt to resume the account and showcase my work online.

Browsing others' portfolios triggers a whole host of other insecurities. It's one thing for my friends and family to say I'm talented, but it's another fear to share my work with a professional community who can recognize the difference between beginner's skill and a well-formed craft. Their work, and this Writer's Challenge, has given me a sober view of my need to practice and hone my ability. But they have also inspired me to do just that and cultivate what I've been given. 

While I do that, I'll keep my eyes and heart tuned for the next fingerprint. Because divine fingerprints, and the One whose hands they belong to, give me courage to face my fears.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I am a Calligrapher

Apparently Picasso said, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." Or as  the wise King Solomon said, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

One of the reasons I prefer calligraphy over drawing is that drawing is not my forte. When my handwriting is on what I call "good behaviour," accentuated by a smooth pen with the perfect point, a sheet of thick paper, on a just-right surface, I can write something and it can look artistic or beautiful without me doing much else to it.

I may not have been born with stunning supermodel looks, but I was given great penmanship. Some of my artist friends think in images a lot, but for me, I love the forms of the letters themselves. I like to play with how letters fit together in a word, or in a phrase in a given space.

There's a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that I love about the pen nib gliding across a physical page. During a defining time of transition and decision making a few years ago, I switched my journaling from paper to electronic, because I type faster than I can write. The thoughts were flowing too fast for me to journal old school with pen and paper. But after the transition passed, I went back to my beloved pen and paper.

When I'm working on a piece for someone who wants some elements of drawing included with the words, I usually have a freakout internally. I fight the usual barrage of doubts, "What if I can't draw the style they're looking for? What if I can't draw the item in a way that is intelligible and recognizable?"

But then, I am saved by the act of stealing. I google to find what other illustrators have done. And then I copy it in the most simple style that I can. For example, I'm working on a piece that is to include a golden retriever. How in the world do I draw it so that it looks like a dog and not some abstract art or worse, a butchered animal? Fortunately, as a calligrapher, the words are the main focus, not the images. (To be clear, the act of thievery today in the image above is a stolen quote, not a stolen image.)

Oh my! Did you catch that? I almost missed it myself... That's the first time I've ever called myself that! It totally just slipped out on its own. Looks like we're back to a Day 1 declarationI am a calligrapher. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 5: Prepare

Two steps ago on the Great Writer's Challenge, I decided to start and resurrect an old creative dream of mine. This dream doesn't exactly have to do with pure writing, but it does have to do with words. I am not revealing the full dream yet, but it does include calligraphy. So wherever possible for the rest of this challenge, I am going to use the accountability provided by the challenge to try to keep breathing that dream to life. This means there will be less pure writing posts, and more calligraphy.

I'm being quite literal with these challenges, for this step of "preparing" includes shipping something out, and getting feedback. So here is an old piece I did that has a possible connection to my future dream.

I'm going to leave it super open ended. What do you think? Where could you see something like this being used, shown, or printed?

Friday, June 08, 2012

Day 3: Just Do It!

So Day 3 on the 15 Habits of Great Writers Challenge is: INITIATE. In other words, just do it. Start already! And every day is a new chance to start, again. 

I'm a terrible starter. Even waking up to get the day started is a momentous task. I can procrastinate for several hours on a task that takes only one hour to finish. Getting into a groove is really hard for me. My running personality mirrors this struggle. The first few miles are just sluggish where all I want to do is quit. This happens every time I run, guaranteed. And pretty much everywhere else in life, I naturally resist starting.

But enough procrastinating by whining about how much I hate starting. So the challenge assignment is to:
  1. Choose yourself. Write down "I am a_____" somewhere secret.
  2. Start something you're scared of.
I really had to think about this, because there are no natural instincts or dreams within me to choose anything related specifically to writing to fill in that blank. As for starting something I'm scared of, I have the same struggle with no natural fears related to writing. I have never dreamed about publishing a book or becoming an author...

... but I have dreamed another creative dream for a long time. The dream died with my burnout, but then it emerged again, quite unexpectedly. The fire burned for about half a year, but now, the embers have been burning low for the past year.

That scary dream is the one I think I'm going to try starting again. I filled in the blank and wrote it in big, bold, all caps letters. And I'm going to keep it a secret. And I'm going to pull out my old musings on the dream. Let's get the party started again!

What's your scary hope? What's a dream that needs to be resurrected?
What's one small step that you can take to get started?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Day 2: Wait and Believe

Since I've been given life again after burnout, life has been... full. I'm thankful for renewed energy to engage meaningfully in relationships and work. With all that's been swirling on, both growth inside my heart, and outside around me, it seems perhaps a bit odd to be feel like I'm in waiting. At work we're waiting for some doors of partnership to open. Personally, I'm waiting for clarity in my creative dreams and relational hopes. And yet again, I'm waiting for the right roommate to come along in the right time.

Working with my team at Prayer Current, we've been talking and praying through the idea of "waiting in prayer." One of the key places this idea comes from is Jesus' last interactions with the disciples after his resurrection. After giving the disciples a clear mission, you'd think they were good to go out and accomplish the mission! Yes Jesus told them to wait, and stay in the city until they received power from on high. They had the mission, but they needed to be equipped with the power to do it.

I'm increasingly struck by just how opposite Jesus' kingdom values are with how our natural human wisdom works. We live in a world that tells you to charge ahead and create your own destiny. But my story as a follower of Jesus includes a character much greater and more powerful than me who takes a central focus in the story of my life. God created me, knitted me together in my mother's womb, and gives me breath each day. He is the author of my life.

So if God is the one writing my story, I want to check in with him, talk with him, listen and wait, to see what the next steps are, to see the direction to come, to get all that I need to move forward. Even more, I need to get to know the Author more, so that I can recognize him and his voice, and trust that he can write a way better story than I ever could!

Waiting is not just sitting around, doing nothing, twiddling my thumbs, expecting everything to fall from the sky into my lap with no effort on my part. I'm talking about the kind of waiting where there is action happening... below the surface, often undetected to the natural eye. This kind of waiting is a time of formation, involving almost always a subtle (or sometimes drastic) growth in my heart, and sometimes a stirring of external circumstances and timing before a door opens to walk through. It takes discernment and a supernatural eye to recognize the action that happens in waiting, internally and externally.

Right now it feels a bit like I'm pregnant. I'm leaning toward, expecting, anticipating something within me that feels like it's growing and forming. Never mind that I'm not sure exactly what I'm giving birth to exactly, though I have some early conceptions. I guess it's still too early to tell if it's a boy or a girl.

Yesterday was Day 2 in the 15 Habits of Great Writers Challenge. The second habit of great writers Jeff Goin introduced was, "Believe." He writes, "We choose to see the invisible inside ourselves and bring it to light." When I wait in prayer, it's a foundational step in believing -- choosing to believe God's power, choosing to receive and believe the "divine invisible" that's been placed inside me, and letting Jesus call out the light. 

I love Jeff's counterintuitive practicality here, "How do we turn something like belief into action? We don't. Not yet, anyway. Instead, we marinate... We become what we fixate on. So today, believe it. Tomorrow, do it." The way he describes it, believing sounds a lot like "waiting" to me. Wait/Believe. Respond/Act. Believe. Act. This is the rhythm of walking in belief and faith, as a Writer, and as a follower of Jesus.

Where are you needing to wait, believe, marinate?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Day 1: I Declare I'm A...

There's something of a pattern of reluctance towards putting any "labels" on myself.... I don't call myself a runner (even though I've run ridiculous distances). And I certainly don't call myself a writer (even though I have this on-again-off-again blog). Somehow I am more comfortable with calling myself a "person who runs" or a "person who writes." 

This slight technical difference in words makes me feel less defined by the action, or less committed to the image of the label. Somehow I've managed to concoct some specific view of what I think a good writer should be. I don't write like ___, whose authentic and transparent voice I admire. I'm not sarcastic and smart in my writing like ____. I won't get you rolling on the floor laughing like ____. I'm not even a grammar geek or grammar nazi. My vocabulary feels too simple. I'm not a strong reader, so how could I be a good writer? I mean, who goes and gets a Bachelors in Communication, deliberately avoiding taking a single English class? 

To declare I am a writer feels like too much accountability to let anyone outside my own head hear it. In the world of my head, I am safe and content to simply dream up ideas, but never really act on them. I remember talking with some close friends about some ideas I was excited to explore. Several months later, I ran into one of them shopping at a craft show. As we caught up, she asked, "So, how's it going with getting _____ going?" Oops, did I share that idea out loud? Can I take it back?

Recently I was doing an online quiz where you had to choose the best word out of each set of four words that best describes you. There was a defining parameter - to choose your answer based on what you were like as a child. It actually tripped me up a little because in a lot of ways I have changed. But I think what they were getting at was the idea that we are often our most natural selves in childhood, with the least inhibitions and piles of fears or hurt that inevitably accumulate as we grow into adults navigating our way through life in the world. 

It got me thinking about the intense, unfiltered, fearless little girl I used to be. This writing challenge reminded me that I used to create illustrated story books  when I was about 8. I wrote a simple story line, and I even drew some pictures (though I still claim I can't draw to save my life now). 

What happened to her? I think it's time to respond to the divine whisper I heard in my heart not long ago to write more. I think it's time to call her out again.

Hey, World! I declare I am a writer.  
This post is my effort in taking up Jeff Goin's Day 1 of Great Habits of Writers Challenge