HIIT for Creativity

HIIT for Creativity

Sometime in 2015 I started making 9 inch by 9 inch abstracts with alcohol based markers. I do this activity most weekend nights. Pre-pandemic, I would also socialize but I usually make about one a week. I haven’t counted my output but it’s a lot.

Maybe a year ago the supplies were organized, markers separated by colors into three containers (warm, cool and neutral), finished work dated and put in box. Now there are many containers with no categorization. Worse, there are four pads of paper, each holding undated finished pieces, some that still have the tape I use to hang them while working. A few are quite good. One I felt should be framed and hung. How had it gotten so neglected? One was stunningly bad. Color selection is atrocious. Why put baby blue with so many warms tones? Composition is maybe the worst ever. The opposite of harmony. Looking at it is like eating a lunch of leftovers from three culturally distinct meals, spaghetti with seaweed salad and a few bites of burrito. That one is never going into the box!

I was noticing all of this as I set up last night. It made me a little uneasy. What is all this about? my mind demanded to know. What exactly are you doing here? What’s the point? You’re awfully messy. If you can’t even preserve the ones you’ve already made, why are you making more?

Ack! I couldn’t put the music on fast enough!

With monkey mind diverted by song I choose some markers and got to it. Ten songs later and a good way into the piece I started pondering again, but with a more enthusiastic perspective. Doing this is practice for everything else. If I can be brave enough to confront a blank piece of paper and not walk away until it’s totally filled, I can do that in other arenas as well. I can do that in my job, which requires a lot of stamina and creative decision making. I can do that in my relationships, which require me to fully be present and open to unknown terrain, some of it quite anxiety producing. By engaging over and over in creative uncertainty, watching it resolve through choice and time, I learn that I am competent to do that. There is almost nothing more useful.

Making one mark after another over and over makes me stronger. It’s a workout for creativity. It’s like a very targeted exercise that uses repetition to build of intuitive muscle matter. Some are good and I feel so grateful. Some are hideous and I hate it. It’s not about getting it right every time, it’s about getting it done and learning from what the finalized piece has to offer.

I like the thoughts I have while making art so much more than the thoughts I have when I am only thinking about making it.



I am a stickler about accuracy and my headline does not match my essay. I didn’t draw a sufficient parallel to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). I just used the word as a synonym for workout because Workout for Creativity is Blah! Maybe another time, goodness knows I’ve been known to do a part one and part two of a topic.

What’s Your Affinity? I Like Gray

What’s Your Affinity? I Like Gray

Remedios Vara is the kind of artist I would like to be. Transcendent subject matter, master level skill, unique and vast imagination, rendered in oil paint, preserved for centuries.

This is my art. Simple subject, basic skill. I’ll leave the critique of my imagination up to you but it’s clearly not as vast. I make faces, not worlds. They are so impermanent that some blow away before I can even photograph them.

When I see art I admire, my chatty inner critique likes to start up a conversation by saying: you know you’re not a very good artist, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not being an artist that concerns me. I could try to make the kind of art I admire. I have tried. Nothing impressive has come of it. But making art is not about replicating or imitating what you are attracted to. The reason to make your own body of work is to discover what you have a natural affinity for. What do you do when there is no impetus at all except for your own? What do you make when you let yourself make? Art really isn’t even a useful word because it suggests things in galleries and museums, things already made and vetted. Art for me is a practice so it could be anything that one really pays attention to, refines and gives birth to. When we give ourselves permission to do this, we learn what we have an affinity for. I apparently have an affinity for gray.

Affinity and attraction are not the same. Just as I am attracted to Remedios Vara, I am also attracted to bold patterns and colors. When I see brightly patterned dresses for sale on Instagram, I immediately favorite it just in case I want to return and buy myself a little panache. But what am I wearing while I indulge in these wild imaginations? A gray t-shirt and old jeans. What’s my favorite item of clothing? A classic black motorcycle boot. What was my favorite thing before I stupidly lost it? A gray felt cap. Most of my clothes are gray, navy or black. I am comfortable in those colors. When I put on the type of thing I am attracted to, I feel like car alarm going off in the middle of the night. I don’t like it. I might even hate it.

So, the other day I noticed most of my sidewalk faces are gray. Obviously because pavement is gray. Is this coincidence or affinity? I am comfortable in this terrain, I notice the nuances of gray, of minimal, of repetition. I don’t get tired of it and that’s affinity. I can keep going year after year because of affinity. I don’t need to ask anyone else if it’s good because of affinity. Now husband might say different, I’m always requesting/demanding his curatorial eye. I really like to show him my little people. Mostly we agree but if we don’t, he is either confirming my own fear that one is a bit lackluster or sharpening my confidence through accepting disagreement without changing course. That’s affinity.

Moving away from imitation and into affinity is a move from scarcity to abundance. It’s the place where you can do a lifetime of work. It’s a place where you can meet yourself.