Staggering Spirit: Chasing Creativity in the Wind

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Spirit Stag • 11 x 17″ limited edition reduction print

Last night I was watching a documentary about The Eagles, the legendary country rock band from LA. They burned bright with creative energy for 10 years, and when success and #1 singles started pouring in the band started simmering internally until after 10 years of forced creativity together the wind of change whistled in and snuffed the flame (almost) permanently.

Creativity is a slippery, elusive thing. It’s like cupping a drink of water; if you don’t sip that quenching liquid quickly it all leaks out around your fingers and leaves your throat parched. You can’t hold it long. Like quantum science you never know for sure where it’s going to be or where it’s coming from at any given moment, but when inspiration hits you better take advantage because its appearance is fleeting and startles easily.

This morning I read this quote in The Painter’s Keys, a twice-weekly letter sent by Sara Genn (artist & daughter to lauded Canadian painter Robert Genn) the following quote:

“The trick to being truly creative… is to be completely unselfconscious. To resist the urge to self-censor. To not-give-a-shit what anybody thinks. That’s why children are so good at it. And why people with Volkswagens, and mortgages, Personal Equity Plans and matching Louis Vuitton luggage are not.” – Linds Redding

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: how does one foster creativity in one’s self? Redding is correct in that many of our modern trappings do interfere. I know from experience the pressure to create knowing that my artist income is the only thing making sure there is food on my family’s table. For years I’ve been searching for a better balance: do I take the stable, bespoke work or gamble with turning customers away and focusing on making great art?

I have found that the clamour of every day living, parenting, small-business owning, and all the other things that just simply ‘are’ in life consume 90% of time and creative energy, and it takes another 8% to get to ‘that space’ that allows me to generate, refine, and articulate artistic ideas that are more than just competent.

I’m realizing now that as Anie and I attempt simplify our lives, I take on less and less ‘custom’ work and push further into that risky ‘artist’ range where there is no safety net… just blessed cool air whooshing past as we fall.

Some may find that scary, and with good reason: It is. Calling yourself an artist is a life-long pursuit because no one can confirm or deny that truth except for the artist themselves… and as artists we are chronic self-doubters.

What I’m finding, however, instead of fear in the free-fall, is joy: I can’t remember being happier. I’ve always been a slow-burn, long-game kind of a guy. I’m willing to be patient, never content to sit and wait, but my progress (self-assessed) has been a crawl forward rather than a sprint. It’s taken me 41 years to find this path but now that I’m on it the Armies of the Nations will have a tough job getting me off.

All that to let you in on this new truth: Clawhammer Press is changing a bit. The past 4 years have been stellar and crazy and wonderful. We’ve worked with some amazing people, and learned some hard lessons. In the end though I realize that I have to chase that happy… and right now that happy is coming from expunging ideas from my head that have been rattling around for years. It’s about finding models and industries and clients that allow Clawhammer Press to do what we do best: Create forward-thinking art with a historic process, to create memorable projects for memorable people, and much of the time that person will be me chasing my spirit animal through the woods.

This is part of the reason why artist are chronically low-income. We realize that often the trappings of success come with golden handcuffs and we need to dance on that razor’s edge of survival in order to generate enough inner turmoil to generate passion to generate ideas. Whether or not it’s true in each artist’s life, security has the perception of complacency. If you don’t need anything why would you chase an intangible thing through an imaginary forest? As Mickey Rourke says in his film Barfly “It’s a cage with golden bars”. Being an artist with a family, I have to be more pragmatic than some but I still get that sense: I must chase the white stag.

I don’t have a lot of information for you about what this all means exactly in practical terms (I’d tell you if I know), but don’t worry because there’s no urgency. Clawhammer Press not going anywhere, but I did want to give you all the heads up that we’re refining our vision and narrowing the focus of our headlights. I’m going to keep chasing that spark and trying to let that extraneous distractions fall away.

Someday, when the fires have burned hot and long, like The Eagles, I’ll let those winds carry me on to the next thing. For now, however, keep your eyes out for the signposts on the journey…  it’ll be hot off the press.

10-4.

-mike

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