Creative Process as Practice


In 1990, I first met and began studying with the composer, pianist and bassoonist Bill Douglas. He introduced me to the idea that music could be approached as a method of contemplative practice – a way of completely engaging oneself in order to develop a deeper understanding and experience of presence or “nowness”. He showed me that through a disciplined daily practice of music, one could gradually deepen one’s experience of life itself. This idea completely transformed my approach to music and art and continues to deeply affect my world view and day-to-day experience of life.

Later, I studied calligraphy, design and bookmaking intensively with Laurie Doctor and drawing and painting with Robert Spellman, two other mentors who also deeply embody the idea of artistic endeavor as an on-going contemplative practice of presence, wakefulness and a complete, direct engagement with life.

Essentially, artistic expression for me is part of a daily, engaged contemplative practice. Not practice in the sense of making an effort to improve technical skill, though that does apparently seem to happen over time, but rather a conscious, intentional effort of engaging life fully. This engagement is an attempt towards a direct, somatic experience of one’s situation without the intervention of preconceived, habitual ways of viewing the world. For me, creating art and music are doorways for opening to this amazing world – a receptive way of seeing and hearing accurately and precisely what is happening in each moment. It’s an incredibly enjoyable way of trying to stay “on the needlepoint of nowness” as Bill would say. It’s been my experience that over time, this daily effort shifts something internally, though it’s hard to say exactly what. It doesn’t really matter if today’s practice is a piano,  a journal, a walk outdoors with my camera, a blank piece of watercolor paper or a page ready for lettering. It all folds into an on-going intimate engagement with the world of my experience. It’s a way of gently and persistently opening to more fully engage and participate in this amazing mystery of life.

When I teach, it is this quality of gently persistent, uplifted presence that I hope most to transmit to others. It includes the characteristics of curiosity and enchantment and, while the technical aspects of the subject are important to be sure, it is the quality of open, clear and receptive awareness that will have the most benefit in the long run. Accessing this state of mind regularly affects our lives in a deep, persuasive way, regardless of whether we become accountants, ski instructors, radio DJs, musicians or sign painters.

Most of the work on this website is the result of “showing up to the page” everyday. I’m not necessarily setting out to make art. I’m just following a daily thread of quiet presence each day in an deeply enjoyable and fulfilling way, even when what happens that day ends up in the rubbish bin. It’s the moment-to-moment somatic experience that always fulfills.