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An Interview with James Warren Perry

Painter James Warren Perry talks about self-regenerating art, giving thanks, and why he aims for irony-free, unrepentant beauty.

Sanctuary #3, 42" x 72" acrylic on canvas,  private collection. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

Sanctuary #3, 42″ x 72″ acrylic on canvas,
private collection. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

What helps you generate new ideas?

Travel is a wonderful way to feed your creativity. You’re taken out of your normal context and can assess things in your daily life from a different point of view. I paint all over the world. When I’m off in Southeast Asia and then come back to Northern California, the shapes that seem very familiar to me on a day-to-day basis somehow seem quite exotic.

Do you have any day-to-day habits that you rely on?

I’m really glad that you used that word — “habit.” Honestly, most artists that I know who have had sustained periods of productivity — people who have made careers of it — are very regular in their working habits. They just get up in the morning and they do it. Getting in the habit, that’s the thing that will sustain you much more than the stereotype of the artist who’s in the throes of creativity.

If you look at how artists have been portrayed in films, most of it’s not great. [laughter] I always think of Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life. He’s in the throes of madness. Most people I know that are pretty darn good artists, they’re just somehow regular people. They just get up in the morning and work.

On your website you talk about the importance of quieting your mind and giving focused attention. Are there any techniques in particular that you use to accomplish that?

I’m a lousy meditator. Or, let’s say I’m a very undisciplined meditator. But on the other hand my painting is very meditative. If I’m out on location, I’ll find something that really speaks to me. And I’ll set up and just take a big deep breath before I get going. And I’ll meditate.

I’ll also give thanks. I have a ritual: I paint with water-based paints, and every time I clean out my bucket, I always drop a little bit of water on the ground. It’s just my way of giving back and saying thank you and being very present about what it is that I’m going to receive. Even the most mundane moments can be very special, if we choose to be conscious.

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Category: Visual Arts/Design

An Interview with Howard Kremer, aka Dragon Boy Suede

Stand up comic, sitcom writer, and rapper Howard Kremer talks about the upside of getting bored easily, the power of changing one thing, and finding his name scribbled in a copy of The Artist's Way.

What techniques do you use to help you come up with new ideas?

Howard Kremer, aka Dragon Boy SuedeI take walks. I find that if I’m stationary, sometimes it’s not going to happen. I take drives. I’ll force myself to go to bed if I’m not tired, because if I lay there and toss and turn then I get ideas. Other than that I have — I guess they’re formulas? I’ll change one thing. I’ll look at an object or a situation or a show and just change one thing about it. What if oranges were square? What if Gilbert Gottfried was the star of 24? If you change one thing in a dynamic, it changes all the other relationships, so you start to be able to abstract it and look at it in a different way.

Does listening to music help your productivity or get in the way? For me, for example, taking a long walk without music can be a big help.

Oh completely. An iPod, or even having the radio on in the house, or if you’re going for a drive and you have a CD in, you’re just not going to really create during that time. Which sometimes is good because you have to absorb too. Joe Strummer said that — you have to have input to have output.

Can you describe the creative process you use when you’re working on a sitcom script? Is there anything in particular that you do to stay focused and get your work done?

Yeah, well, we have deadlines.

[laughter] That’s pretty straightforward — have deadlines and hit them.

Yeah. You know, I have a writing partner. A lot of times, we come up with the raw ideas for the story and then go meet at a coffee shop to work them out and distill them down to what we want to do. One of us will have an idea for a show, and then we’ll try to see if we can expand it into a pitch. And we’ll get together and flesh that out day by day. We meet for a couple of hours about three times a week.

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Category: Stage/Screen, Writing

An Interview with Maggie Nelson

Author and teacher Maggie Nelson talks about why research is "like throwing crap in a cauldron" (in a good way), and how she handles those tricky times in between.

Maggie NelsonCan you describe your creative process?

I have few to no patterns, and even less dogma about how to write, or how I write. Poetry tends to come to me naturally or not at all. I spent years trying out different exercises and forms like most everyone, but the truth is that I don’t do that anymore. It may sound mystical or retro or simply depressing, but I increasingly feel myself to be a hostage to poetic impulse. I usually have to wait until a poem comes along, or until I see what’s there to be written, as Robert Creeley once put it. For me a poem often begins as a constellation of words coursing through my head like little electric shocks. This often happens when I’m in great pain or pleasure, doing laps in a pool, or in the bardo between sleeping and waking. I don’t know why. The words feel like irritants in the soft lap of an oyster, as Henry James had it. Then the pearl — if one could call it that with a straight face — starts to congeal around the irritant. A snowball in the muck.

As for non-poetry projects, that’s a different story. Usually I do a lot of reading or research until something takes possession of me. I think of research like throwing lots of crap in a cauldron — bones, feathers, blood, everything — and turning up the heat: eventually it has to come to a boil. (Whether you make something edible is a different question.) Or, let me put it this way: Often a baby in a subway station will scream back at a loud train hurtling through. If you send a train of information hurtling through your brain often and fast enough, and if the train screeches loudly enough, you may eventually find yourself yelling back.

Are there any techniques that you use to spark new poems or gather up ideas?

I don’t use any techniques per se…but I take a lot of notes, wandering around in the world. I used to keep diaries, then legal pads; now I don’t know what I keep. Scraps, I guess. I tend to write a poetry based on fact and feeling, or the fact of feeling, or the feeling of fact, etc., which mostly means I write down “facts” — observed things that interest me in the world — and, alongside, my feelings (loosely defined). Painter Joan Mitchell once described her gargantuan abstract paintings as “remembered landscapes which involve my feelings”; I think of my poems similarly, though I usually try to write from within the landscape rather than from my memory of it — to avoid nostalgia, or bad faith. Two sections of my next book of poems, Something Bright, Then Holes, bear this out literally: The first section, “The Canal Diaries,” was written in a single notebook at the shore of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn; the second, “The Hospital for Special Care,” was written at a friend’s bedside in a hospital by that name. I like site-specific projects. Maybe because if I plunk myself down in a place with a pen, I rarely find myself bored.

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Category: Writing

An Interview with Jeff Raz

Clown, playwright, actor, and teacher Jeff Raz talks about sneaking up on a laugh, writing a play in a week, and what to do when inspiration shows up at 6:30 Sunday morning.

Jeff RazDo you have any techniques you use to help you get into a more inspired mode?

You know, I usually don’t think in [those terms] because I’ve made a living doing this since I was 15. I’m kind of a blue-collar guy in that way. I go to work. The way I look at it and the way that works for me is, I just keep plugging ahead.

I started as a juggler. As a juggler, you can always get up and throw the balls. Or you get up and you throw the clubs. No inspiration needed. Throw the damn things. If they’re in the air, wonderful. It they’re on the ground, throw ’em again. It’s kind of simple.

When I write a play, what I do is, once I’ve got the research going and I’ve got it floating around in my head, I’ll try to write the whole play in a week. Just write the f****r. And it’s terrible. (I got this from Annie Lamott, from her book Bird by Bird.) So I just do that, and then I can edit it, which I do better than creating from whole cloth. And again, both of those [steps] are kind of designed to make sure I know what the job of the day is. I don’t do well waiting for inspiration.

Now, the other morning I was working ten-show weeks, which means I’m on stage for twenty-five hours a week, which is a huge amount of stage time. I get done at 11 o’clock. I get home and the turnaround between Saturday night and when I have to be back on-site at 11 o’clock putting on makeup the next morning is the tough one. And then we had a cabaret after, so we actually had an eleven-show week. I was getting really tired. But sonofabitch if I’m not up at 6:30 on Sunday morning with ideas about the show.

And why do you think that is?

JR: Just because inspiration has its own schedule. It’s not particularly good about sticking with my schedule. But my theory on that is, OK, great. I mulled them over, I wrote them down, tried them in the show, they went great. I was happy….

Laughs are elusive. You can’t head right for a laugh — it’ll go away. You can get people to cry. You can head right for a dramatic moment or a sad moment, and you can usually get it. But you can’t head right for a laugh. You have to let the laugh come or sneak around the side. The same thing for inspiration. For me, just keep working, and if inspiration chooses to show up, great. I rather it not show up at 6:30 in the morning. It could’ve waited till 9. But the job is to write down the inspiration when it comes and know how to use it later.

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Category: Stage/Screen, Writing

Tip (and Technique) Jar

What works for you? We’re compiling a list of what people find helps them get inspired, stay all wooshed up, and most of, get creative work done. Add your thoughts to the comments below.

Category: Uncategorized

Community Project Log

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Category: Uncategorized