watercolor painted irises by Katie Leavens

The past three-hundred-and-thirty-some-odd days have been an emotionally & creatively taxing time. Not only has all the constant news (pandemic, social justice, & election) been distracting and distressing, but it has left little room in my brain to "waste" time and just create. I've had this feeling that this is the time I should be producing meaningful work—that I should be finally making the work that gets me noticed. But this led to its own issues of paralysis. The pressure is so great to make good, meaningful art, that I can't produce any ideas whatsoever. We keep hearing that things will get better, give it a few more days, a few more weeks, a for more months.

Now, we are a year into this pandemic. I have decided enough is enough. I have to figure out how to create again. It doesn't matter if it is meaningful. It doesn't matter if it's a new & unique idea. It doesn't matter if it's technically impressive. Because I have learned, if I do not create consistently it's almost impossible to come up with new, meaningful ideas.

For the last two weeks, I have been taking time to just create. I wanted to find a method that would only take fifteen minutes. A few years ago, I had tried automatic drawing as a form of meditation. It was a useful tool to get me to sit down and put pencil to paper. Because the purpose is not to produce meaningful work or even finished work, it reduces the built-up internal pressure. The goal was to just make marks.

During that time, I also viewed a show put on by Thomas Ingmire at the San Francisco Public Library. That show had work he collaborated on with composers. He made marks inspired by their music and created alphabets from those marks. His work came out abstract and full of emotion.

calligraphic piece inspired by music by Thomas Ingmire
Piece from Thomas Ingmire's show "Visual Poety: A Lyrical Twist" at the San Francisco Public Library in February 2019

Combining these two methods would get me to make marks & then to turn it into a low-level creativity exercise. I started the first week by selecting a tool whose range of mark-making I wanted to explore. I warmed up a little bit with that tool—to work out some kinks in the tool (some still had the gum they shipped with), my hand, and my head. Then, I would put on a random song. The first few days were songs from my favorite list. As the week went on, I felt safe enough to stretch myself with music I had not heard before. I created marks inspired by the music for the span of one song. When the song was over, I identified markings that seemed indicative of that page. I pulled out letterforms that naturally formed among those marks. From there, I quickly developed an alphabet and wrote out a pangram where I could massage the forms a bit.

automatic drawing with Chinese brush transition to alphabet & pangram by Katie Leavens
automatic drawing with long tail Chinese brush to song "Sweet Step" by Julia Jackson with transition steps to alphabet & pangram by Katie Leavens
automatic drawing with Japanese brush with transition steps to alphabet & pangram by Katie Leavens
automatic drawing with ruling pen with transition steps to alphabet & pangram by Katie Leavens
Automatic drawings made to music, than transitions to alphabet & pangram.
painting of birds, and feathers in grey, blue, red and turquoise with lettering "i've got a big butt & I cannot lie" by Katie Leavens
painted indigo open circle with modern brush lettering in maroon "unlimited access" by Katie Leavens
painted vertical lines in shades of blue strategically connected to create letters spelling "wonder, observe, study, do" by Katie Leavens

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