I’ve been looking into some of my limiting beliefs about both my ability to create art and about how we all create art in general. This memory – a mix of good and bad feelings – is prominent enough that I think about it often.
In the 3rd grade I read a book called Dominic, by William Steig. I don’t remember much about it, except that I really, really liked it. Turns out, it’s a book about a dog who kind of hits the road. That the book resonated so much is interesting in and of itself, considering how my life has taken shape.
We made diorama for the book we were reading. It was during this process that my dad showed me how I could draw a graph over a drawing and then draw the same graph on another piece of paper and use it to copy the original.
I drew a bunch of the books’ characters that way and handed in my diorama. I was thrilled that I could replicate the characters in a way that made the diorama look like a pop-up version of the book.
I remember very strongly that the teacher asked, “Did you draw those yourself?” I remember that she seemed skeptical when I answered yes; like she thought I was lying. I don’t want this to be the story of an evil adult squashing my creativity. I liked this teacher, and she liked me. Looking back, I assume she was surprised at what I had made because I had probably never made something that looked like that before.
Why does this memory, of all the moments, stick so strongly in my mind? It’s strong enough that I’ve thought about it many, many times over 35 years. This memory has affected choices I’ve made a beliefs I have about what tools I am “allowed” to use when I create art and how much I can say that a piece of work is mine. That, “Yes, I made this.”
How will this story change now that I’ve brought it out into the light?
This is the continuation of some thoughts I’ve been thinking and discussions I’ve been having around the idea of talent.
As a guitar teacher, I spend a great deal of lesson time on the mechanics of playing the guitar. The sounds that musicians are able to achieve from the guitar are wildly varied, and it can take some work for students to expand their physical habits to allow for those sounds to be achieved.
In my limited time as an art student, there hasn’t been much talk of the physical movements needed to achieve my goals. It really caught my attention when my art teacher mentioned an exercise a teacher had her perform in art school where they had to draw circles on a piece of news print.
I took some time this morning to try it out. I stood arms length away from the paper and just drew circles. The first one is one that I unconsciously “completed”. I drew to the counterclockwise to make the first half and then started again and completed it at the top.
The rest are made with one continuous movement; standing an arm’s length away from the paper.
Some things I noticed:
Starting at the top and drawing counterclockwise, the charcoal slid right along the page. But, when I needed to swing up to complete the circle, my arm had a much more difficult time controlling the line. Instead of being loose, the line would skip. As my arm tensed to gain control, the line would become too shallow or to wide.
I started to close my eyes. This is something that I know from guitar playing. We, as musicians, can play a lot more accurately than we might think with our eyes closed. Sometimes, we’re even better with our eyes closed.
I closed my eyes and got a picture of the circle I wanted to draw in my mind, and then I’d draw it.
If completing the circle was the goal, I was MUCH more accurate than I thought I would be.
If I drew counterclockwise with my eyes closed, I was able to complete the circle almost every time.
If I drew clockwise with my eyes closed, it was much more challenging. I almost never completed a circle.
On drawing clockwise – I thought it was very interesting that I had to be very, very deliberate if I wanted to draw clockwise. Many times I’d think, “OK. I’m going to draw this one clockwise.” But, then I’d put the charcoal down and end up drawing counterclockwise. This happened several times in a row. I realized that I had to be much, much more deliberate if I wanted to draw counterclockwise.
What do you think? Do people have a talent for drawing circles? How good do you think one could become as a circle drawer? Do you like them? Are the completed circles the only ones that you like?
I keep track of the number of times I do certain activities in my life. This comes from a pretty severe case of perfectionism/”fear of the blank page”. Keeping track of this stuff has helped me immensely over the years, and is actually how I developed the Sticker Method: Creating a Habit of Practice.
This year saw a lot of change in my life. I moved to Marquette, MI in last November of 2019. Between Jan. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31 of 2020 I lived in five places for at least a month and, including other travel, all total I slept in about 15 different beds.
And, then there’s the pandemic.
Basically what I’m saying is, that is why my numbers are not as complete as I would like them to be. I know that I kept track of my numbers for all the months, but I can’t find where I wrote them down! I only have numbers for seven months, which is SUCH A BUMMER!
We’ll say that there were 215 days available (in the months that I have data for)
Music making = 189 days = 88% (This is the first year of collecting this data)
Visual Art/Writing = 150 days = 70% (Down 16% from 2019.)
Body/Mind Work = 169 days = 80% (Up 53% from 2019).
Skateboarding = Well, this is a sad one. I got 30 days in, in the late spring and early summer, BUT, I broke my shoulder on July 10, 2020 and I have retired from skateboarding.
In addition, I started collecting some data on how many days I work on my “business” (that is not my actual teaching.) This is a very new category and I’m still not sure how to keep track of it. I hope to have more conclusive data next year.
Quarterly Focus Words for 2019 (I got this idea from the Being Boss podcast.)
Quarter 1 = Nurture
Quarter 2 = Patience
Quarter 3 = Prepare
Quarter 4 = Clarity
Goals for 2021
Music-Making – I’d be happy to maintain these numbers. It was so helpful to re-engage with the Dozen a Day piano books. It’s so helpful to have a concrete set of musical exercises to play in the mornings.
Visual Art/Writing – I think that this will be stronger in 2021. I am much more confident with my work as a visual artist. And, I’ve found many ways to “break through” in those moments when I am feeling unsure.
Body/Mind Work – I mean, I could actually see myself being able to get to 365 days. That would really be something. I wonder. 312 days would be six times a week. 300 days would be 82%. I wonder.
Every year I teach the Music Station at an incredible sports/art/music/community-building camp called Basketball in the Barrio, in Segundo Barrio, El Paso, Texas. We couldn’t hold the camp in 2020, so Coach Denisse Franco and I wrote a theme song which, hopefully, we’ll all be able to sing for camp in 2021.
Give it a listen and we’ll sing it at camp next year!
I take visual art classes with the most amazing person; Kaye Buchman. Her art classes have moved online and it has been a highlight of the week to meet with her and the other students. I’ve been saying that the pandemic has taught me that, “A good teacher in person is going to be a good teacher online,” and Kye certainly proves that to be true.
Kaye and I always talk music almost as much as we do art, so I wanted to write a theme song for her art studio; KB Studio. Building community is the name of the game at Kaye’s studio, so I was thrilled when one of the other students, Mary Ridley, agreed to sing the song I wrote. Enjoy the music and take a look at kbstudio.us if you want to build your visual art practice. She is fantastic.
You can listen to the song right here. And, you can download the notation of the song, here.
This fall I published my latest zine, The Sticker Method: Creating a Habit of Practice. This is a method for taking a lot of the stress that can come with being a learner/do-er out of our lives. I’ve developed the method over my lifetime as both a teacher and a student.
I am a user of The Sticker Method and one of my favorite aspects of it is that the method can be used for anything. If you’ve heard my music, seen my drawings, watched my skateboard videos, or if we’ve talked about developing a habit of going to the gym, then you’ve seen The Sticker Method in action.
What are you going to practice? I’d love to know. Drop me a note at email@example.com.
I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. And, I teach a lot of guitar players that haven’t played for very long (comparatively).
Learning to play is a lot of work, and for the most part it’s very solitary work, so “the public” only sees the “finished” product.
As a teacher, I can tell that it is difficult for students (especially adult students) to believe that I have had, and continue to have, all those same challenges that they have. I’m not special, I’ve just been doing it for a long time. The work isn’t any easier, I just know how to do the work.
Here is a short excerpt of a tune I recently wrote. It has a part right in the middle where my fingers need to make a move that they are not familiar with. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice! Slow down. Play with intention. Don’t let your habit take over because your habit doesn’t know it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played this very short section over the past couple days. Finally, it’s starting to come together.
It’s taken a lot of work. The work is the thing to do.
I was inspired to write this tune after a recent conversation with my friend Amanda Healen in which we were talking about my mending from some physical health challenges and about her time tending to her garden.
I wrote it on my tenor banjo.
Give it a listen below. And, you can download the standard notation of the tune, here.
We can’t have camp this year because of the pandemic. So, Coach Denisse Franco and I wrote a little song to share with the campers. Today, in Segundo Barrio, El Paso TX, some of the coaches will be distributing care packages with books, sports equipment and a zine with this song. It’s called Amigos de Basketball en el Barrio.
Since 2016 I’ve been the music director at the best summer camp. It’s called Basketball in the Barrio and it is the most amazing sports, literacy, health and fitness, music, poetry, social justice, visual art camp you’ll ever experience.
I wrote the tune and made the zine. Coach Denisse wrote the lyrics. I think you’ll agree that they are very fitting for this challenging time in our society.
Here are the lyrics. Download a zine to help you learn the song here. A recording of me singing and playing the song is after the lyrics.
Pronto jugaremos, sí. Yo te cuido y tú a mí. – Coach Denisse