Replenishing the creative well: Art Jam Recipe #1 – A Classic Russian Cosmic Twist

Since I was a young art student at the Toronto School of Art and later at York University where I did my Bachelor of Fine Arts, I have enjoyed the privilege of friendship with a dear artist friend of Russian descent (she prefers to be anonymous, but I will promote her website here). She continues to be a great comfort and inspiration to me through all these years. Our friendship was grounded in a foundational bonding experience that was honed over several trips to northern Ontario during winter breaks to escape Toronto with our partners.

I was reminded how important this friendship was and our foundational art practice in the incredibly hot summer of 2015 in Toronto, Ontario.  The reunification was profound for many reasons which I belabour in another blog post about vertigo and the salvation of bookbinding, but here I just want to share in this first journal a recipe for art jamming.

The Ingredients

Suffice to say that many ingredients of a successful Art Jam were present once again:

  • fabulous friends and/or family or both,
  • long, winding conversations,
  • food and drink,
  • location,
  • chill music, and
  • various materials.

It is vital that while engaging in an Art Jam that most of these ingredients be present. Of course, feel free to embellish or restrain as necessary.




Connect with people

Now, I know a lot of people are attached to the idea that artists are solitary creatures, labouring away in isolation in their studio or trudging through wild landscapes battling the elements, or sawing their ears off in existential angst all in the name of art. I too have subscribed to some of that thinking and have practised a bit of it as well (maybe not the ear sawing). I have been known to say how much art-making is torture and, well I admit, some days I just want to burn the studio down. Or do as an artist I saw in Venice did.  He created a fantastic outdoor installation with paint cans full of ashes of all his paintings that he burned and canned and then arranged in various configurations over the little bridges in Venice. He called the work something like “400 useless paintings”.  I get that feeling often. But on other days I find my purpose. On those days I am thankful I didn’t torch the place after all.

When I look back, I see that those are the days I connected with people and had the best time. The despair and loneliness of the studio are gone.  So, ingredient #1 for me is people. Oh, and some food and beverages help too. There is nothing like breaking bread to warm the souls of friends.

Chef Paul and the Russian, toasting the beginning of a fabulous weekend with my partner Michael and I on Georgian Bay.


Connect with materials, get out of your head

When we were kids, we could spend hours just laying on the floor with colouring books, plasticine, or those books with the cutout figures, arranging and re-arranging, kneading and scratching endlessly. We did the same thing in the sandbox and at the beach. It was meditative and stimulating.  But when you grow up, go to art school or start taking classes (especially with teachers who feed you a bunch of nonsense about art-making or teach from a book and never demonstrate anything because they can’t), you become inhibited and alienated from materials, which are the life-blood of artists. Ask any painter what they love about painting, and they will probably speak first about the materiality of paint, the smell of linseed oil (me, I love turpentine – don’t bother me with odourless turps), and the transparencies or viscosity or impasto qualities they are striving for.

I do not subscribe to the idea that painting is dead by the way. As an artist who also works with digital media, and I have worked in television production as well, I reject the idea that digital has replaced painting or any other material art-form such as printmaking. I believe we are coming back to materials, after a long sojourn through digital.

One thing I have learned is that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to creating. I have spent far too much time pondering and second-guessing my content or being frozen worrying about what others will think and other stupid stuff.

My favourite teacher and mentor Don Bonham (1940-2014), used to say that the artist had three concerns: form, aesthetic, and content. You could talk about form (which is both the material form and the outcome) and aesthetic, but content was the artist’s privilege; that was your own business and you didn’t need to rationalize it. That was a relief because as young students we had very little going on in our heads anyway and understanding what we were doing in terms of content was unlikely.

Reconnecting with my art friends around a table loaded with materials gets me going and can get you going too. So a second important rule is to just connect with your art materials. Indulge. Don’t hold back. Draw, paint, layer, scratch, collage, paste, tear, and write. Artists are rooted in materials, and this is an easy way to find inspiration.

Connect to a place

Actually, location is everything and nothing when it comes to a successful Art Jam.

By this I mean that it doesn’t matter where you are, the location will become more memorable with the potency of the Art Jam experience if the other ingredients are present. Coming together and creating without preconceptions about what you are doing, or think you are doing, makes the location immaterial. Intention and place become one.

You could be in the backyard, at the dining room table, or at a beautiful beach. I have found that it actually doesn’t matter. What matters is that we come together with the intention of art jamming and it just flows from there.

IMG_20150704_164656The back patio under the grapevine, Toronto, Ontario. Even in this dense  Toronto neighbourhood, there is a little paradise.

ReConnecting and sustaining the Art Jam connections

In that summer of 2015, I learned some invaluable lessons about myself, about creativity, companionship, collaboration, and the power of letting go. Art-making is not all fun and games and playing, it is hard work and often necessitates isolation. On the other hand gallery rejections, daily life and grinding work schedules (the ones that pay if you aren’t making a living from your art), health, and family responsibilities can all drain the creative reserves. I needed to replenish the vessel which had somehow dried up.  I got a refill by reconnecting with the classic Russian Cosmic Twist Art Jam which in turn helped me to find a way back to myself.  I knew then that I could sustain it by making future Art Jam connections that I shall blog about soon.

Handmade “painted journal” created at a Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild workshop led by Marlene Pomeroy

If you have a story or comments about your own methods for sustaining creativity or inspiration and fighting despair, please leave your comments below. I am curious to hear your stories.

I would also like to thank and acknowledge my cousin Anne Cathcart who gave me the title for ‘art jam’ when I made a post about one on my Studio H Canada Facebook – her response was “I love art jam!” and it stuck with me from there. Thanks, Anne!!







4 thoughts on “Replenishing the creative well: Art Jam Recipe #1 – A Classic Russian Cosmic Twist

  1. I have not blogged before so will only write a short comment in case it does not work!!! I love the idea of art jamming. Heidi, remember you brought over tools to do zindles & we sat on my deck playing around with designs and colours. I think art jamming is an amazing idea & would love to find a place/people/music to pursue this concept. I sit at my table listening to music whilst looking out onto the street doing watercolours, but how wonderful to share ideas or just physical presence of good friends during this process. How much better the art would be with all that energy. When we chatted last week or whenever it was & Heidi you mentioned coming out to Metchosin & sharing time in your studio together. I want to make that happen soon as your energy would be so good for my creativity. Hopefully I could give that energy back. Maybe we could think of an art jamming weekend or retreat or something like that. Up to it?

    1. Thank you for the comment Shayndelynne! Yes, we will Art Jam when you come back to Victoria – I can’t wait! My next Art Jam blog is about one I did with Connie and Pam. Stay tuned.

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