Frightened by the loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy? If we do those things, we will have surrendered our chance to participate in forming the future... Or shall we seize the courage necessary to preserve our sensitivity, awareness and responsibility in the face of radical change...
Rollo wrote that in The Courage to Create in 1972. I just picked it up again, having felt a distinct lack of courage lately, for creating included. I'm usually the Pollyanna of prickly situations. I can usually figure out a way to see how "bad things" can have "good" consequences, and vice versa. Like the zen parable of the farmer and his son: Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows? Sometimes it's more of a challenge. It's felt like we've all been traveling on the dark side of the moon these days. Luckily a couple of more experienced artist friends gave me a good wake up shout. "It's time to get to work," they said. "This is what artists were made for."
I started by looking at art from other times of flux in our history. Especially appealing were wartime posters, and of those especially the ones calling women to work. And this one in particular by artist Adolph Treidler for the United War Work Campaign and the YWCA in 1918:
Not just because of her rocking overalls with the ample pockets for doing things that take serious tools, but her posture of steely determination, victory, and with one foot forward as if to say, "I'm moving on ahead, no matter what is happening."
As usual, I let these things sink in to my subconscious while I occupy my mind with something else, like the incessant cleaning of my work space. Then I get cozy somewhere and let my hands do the thinking. I try to keep my thoughts out of it and see what comes.
The star came in conversation with the former blue "Y" triangle, and the year appeared unexpectedly. The heroine arose with more of an expression of hope and joy than I anticipated. Which was encouraging-- to find out I had some of that still somewhere inside.
I've been watercolouring directly onto my original sketches in my brown paper sketchbook, and I did that here too. First, the figure, then I scanned her into photoshop to work out a background palette, then went back to water media to finish the it by hand from my tiny mobile studio box that I've been working out of in the zen center cabin. (I'm getting used to this downsizing.)
Scanned in again to take out some of the paper buckling shadows via stamp tool. I adjusted the lettering a bit, but not too much. I'm not after slick graphics anymore. Showing the hand-done-ness of things is important.
I worked on her in between traveling and my zen duties for three weeks. During the process I came to the idea that our work as artists now isn't to convince the public that we are a crucial part of any society, but instead reminding each other that we are a crucial part of every society; to the strengthen the conviction we need to do the work in a world chilly to our efforts.
Forty years forward, Rollo's words are still is required reading for anyone trying to make anything new, or shape a different sort of life, or speak what feels important and unpopular. Again and again. Most recommended for keeping a copy on hand at all times this year.