I’ve been studying for the last few years to become a lawyer, and I feel terribly out of touch with my creative side. I used to paint, draw and dance, but now I simply don’t have time. I am worried that I will lose my ability to do these things if I don’t have some kind of outlet, but I also have no idea how I can fit it into my schedule. Do you have any advice?
I suggest you start by treating yourself to ‘One Sketch a Day: A Visual Diary’, a delightfully produced sketchbook with half a page per day left blank for your drawings. Choose a time of day that you will always create this sketch. It could be first thing in the morning, when your brain is jumbled with dreams. Or in your lunch break, grabbing a latte in a café, when you can percolate thoughts into your sketchbook. Or last thing at night, before you go to bed, let ideas float into this little book. This way, you will build up a visual dictionary of your thoughts, perceptions and dreams, which you can draw upon for paintings when you have longer stretches of time for letting out your artistic daemons.
If need a fillip to inspire you to give vent to your thwarted creativity, explore the writing and painting of Leonora Carrington. This formidable lady died only a year ago, at the age of 94, having lived a remarkable life. She was strong-willed from the first, resolutely ignoring the clamouring thong around her when she was on parade as a debutante, reading ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ by Aldous Huxley in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot when she should have been flirting with eligible bachelors. She shortly fell in love with the artist Max Ernst (who was married, to boot), and fast became the darling of the Surrealist movement. She is remembered for putting her guests’ hair into omelettes when they stayed the night, and painting her feet with mustard at a restaurant. She wrote surreal short stories and painted beautiful quirky paintings.
But when Ernst was imprisoned in France she suffered greatly, leading to a nervous breakdown. She spent six months in an institution where she was given convulsive therapy and therapeutic drugs that are now banned, and was declared incurably insane. When her family came for her, she fled for Mexico where she was to become its most famous female artist. Her sculptures adorn its public parks, with their inviting mixture of beast and human, bird and woman, deer and man. Carrington’s paintings are technically masterful and bursting with imagination. Have a look at the excellent book ‘Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art’ by Susan L Aberth. This is beautifully illustrated, showing Carrington’s masterpieces and lesser known works. They are the kind of paintings that make you want to grab your own brush.
Meanwhile, read Carrington’s ‘The Hearing Trumpet’. This is written in the voice of 92-year-old Marian Letherby, who is deaf, toothless, and bearded: “Indeed I do have a short grey beard which conventional people would find repulsive. Personally I find it rather gallant”. Her friend Carmella gives her an ornate hearing trumpet, through which she learns that she is to be sent to a sinister institution, The Well of Light Brotherhood. Once there, she loses none of her vigour, but dauntlessly scales the roofs of her fellow inmates’ domiciles, leads a hunger strike, and battles against the Brotherhood’s beliefs in self-abnegation and denial. Her tactics pay off and we enter into the realms of alchemy and surrealism at the end of the novel.
This book is written with superb dry humour; it is funny and odd, and makes you feel as if the world can indeed be created by your own hands, and that alchemy waits at the corner of domestic existence. Take a lump of clay, and make something out of it. Dance around your kitchen, feeling like you’ll live until you are 180, as do some of the ancients in this life-giving book. Grab your moments of creativity when you can, inspired by Carrington.
Ella Berthoud is a bibliotherapist with The School of Life. For more information about the service please click here. Join us for our next Creativity Workshop with Michael Atavar on Saturday 19 May, for more information and to book tickets please click here.