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May 2012

The advice of a master

Nattadon Hill

In relation to yesterday's question, Frank Lloyd Wright believed that these were the most important assets for the young architects who studied under him to cultivate:

1. An honest ego in a healthy body
2. An eye to see nature
3. A heart to feel nature
4. Courage to follow nature
5. A sense of proportion (humor)
6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work
7. Fertility of imagination
8. Capacity for faith and rebellion
9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance
10. Instinctive cooperation

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature," he told them. "It will never fail you.”

Photograph: At the back of our hill: farmers' fields and the distant moor

The dialogue of flowers

Tilly among the bluebells on Nattadon Hill

"The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms.  Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him."  - Auguste Rodin

Bluebells on Nattadon Hill

Poppy fields near Argenteuil by Claude Monet

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."  - Claude Monet

Tilly, a 3-year-old Springador, among the bluebellsPainting: "Poppy Fields near Argenteuil" by Claude Monet. Photographs: Nattadon Hill.

When you fear you're just no good....

Myrtle street waltz

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

"A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” - Ira Glass

These are very true words, and I certainly wish someone had said them to me. I would have agonised less about the huge distance between the complex visions in my imagination and what I was able to put on the page in drawings and text. That distance never completely goes away...but it does get steadily smaller with time, hard work, and experience. In a youth-obsessed culture that over-emphasises early genius and the glamor of overnight success, it's good to remind young people beginning their artistic lives that you don't have to show up at the table as the artist you're going to be, you grow and work yourself into that artist. You unfold into that artist over years and decades.

If you could go back and speak to your younger self, or your beginning self, what would your advice be...?

Picture above: a drawing from my early days of  making art, back in Boston in the 1980s

Food Revolutionaries

Lovely veggies (photo from the Chagfood blog)

Saturday was Food Revolution Day (sponsored by the Jamie Oliver Foundation), with people all over England joining together to celebrate the beginning of the growing season and to promote locally-grown foods, and food education. The folks at Chagfood, our local Community Market Garden, participated by hosting an Open Day, so we trundled along to visit the newly planted fields, with Howard's mum, brother, and nephew in tow....

Herb garden and veg field beyond

Herb garden


Gypsy caravan

Young plants in one of the poly-tunnels

Kid's table


I've written about Chagfood in a previous post -- and about Samson, a Welsh-cob/Dartmoor-pony cross, who helps to plough the fields and haul boxes of produce into the village:

Sampson and EdEd Hamer with Samson

Sampson drawing the ploughSamson ploughing, with Ed Hamer & Chinnie Kingsbury




Food is important in our household...and I say that as someone who spent my youth basically living on popcorn and coffee, god help me. But art-making requires mental clarity, steady reserves of energy, and the physical strength for long periods of concentrated focus...all of which become a good deal harder to maintain once the blush of youth has passed (especially for those of us with medical problems to complicate the matter). As we climb into our 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, all that age-old, boringly practical advice takes on fresh relevance: we actually do need good food, good sleep, and good exercise to keep those interior motors humming. When we ignore these things, and run ourselves down, art-making suffers. Or slows down. Or stops.

Sometimes when young people ask me for advice about embarking on careers in art professions, they're surprised when I put "take care of your health" (i.e., don't live on popcorn and coffee) at the top of the list. But creative work takes stamina. Concentration takes stamina. And the natural stamina of youth, alas, simply doesn't last forever. If we're in the arts for the long haul (and we are, aren't we?), then we need to do all we can to make sure these good bodies we inhabit will last a long while and serve us well. Good food. Good sleep. Good exercise. There are no shortcuts.

And if the food is local, organic, and delivered by a horse named Sampson, so much the better....

Howard Gayton, Terri Windling, Sampson at Chagfood's Food Revolution DayHoward, and me, with Samson.

The Chagfood GatesThe Chagfood gates. All are welcome.

Photo credits: Some of the pictures above come from the Chagfood blog, the photo of me was taken by Howard, the others were snapped by me on a cloudy Saturday afternoon here in the hills of Devon.