Painter Bev Byerley on creativity

The west coast land­scape is the cre­at­ive in­spir­a­tion for most of Bev Byerley’s paintings. 

As a writer, cre­ativ­ity in­trigues me. Why do we seek it? How do we find it? 

While I con­tin­ue to ex­plore the concept in my per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life, I’m also curi­ous about how people in oth­er fields of artist­ic en­deavor, find their muse. Painter Bev Byerley was kind enough to share her thoughts below. 

First of all, I take pho­tos of my fa­vor­ite places. Usually it’s just a few in­ter­est­ing lines I see in these pho­tos that sparks my cre­at­ive interest.

Then I sketch the bare bones, em­phas­iz­ing the lines that I find in­triguing, with a paint brush and dark col­oured paint. After the ini­tial sketch I’m full of artist­ic ex­cite­ment and be­gin to block in col­ours and cov­er the canvas.

It’s usu­ally about this time that I real­ize just how much work it’s go­ing to take to pro­duce the im­age I have in my head. My en­ergy level wanes and I have to push my­self to keep going.

But when I do, there comes the point that I can see the fin­ish line and the ini­tial spark re­turns with all the en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm to com­plete the piece.

For me, paint­ing is like walk­ing a long dis­tance; pla­cing one foot in front of an­oth­er, and an­oth­er, and another…

Then sud­denly you’re there.

To view more of Bev’s work, vis­it www​.bevby​er​ley​.com. 


What fuels your creativity?

Being cre­at­ive can be as chal­len­ging as grabbing a hand­ful of fog. The mind and body may be will­ing, but the muse of­ten chooses its own time to ap­pear. Some people seem to be in a con­stant state of cre­at­ive con­scious­ness, while oth­ers grunt and grind their way along as if push­ing a two-ton rock up a steep hill.

But soon­er or later, most cre­at­ives ex­per­i­ence an “aha!” mo­ment that pro­pels them for­ward on a rush of star-stud­ded euphoria.

So, what flips the switch from mundane to innovative?

Sometimes I can write my way into a cre­at­ive flow by play­ing with a vari­ety of words, scen­ari­os and ran­dom com­bin­a­tions. Or a walk in the woods or along the Salish Sea can trans­form neb­u­lous thoughts into a quirky idea.

And, al­though far less en­joy­able, cre­at­ive thoughts also emerge while do­ing some­thing mind­less like wash­ing dishes or vacuuming.

But even when strug­gling, I’m drawn to the craft of story.

Curiosity is the driv­ing force be­hind my cre­ativ­ity. Even as a child I was al­ways ask­ing ques­tions and si­lently watch­ing what people did and the ways oth­ers re­acted. I want to know why some­thing hap­pens and how people be­come who they are.

Inspiration is usu­ally sparked by an ex­tern­al in­cid­ent: rot­ting fish be­ing con­ver­ted into oo­ligan grease, a cou­gar scream­ing in the green­space be­hind my home or feel­ing un­com­fort­able around the home­less in my community.

I’m in­trigued by the reas­ons people live and act the way they do. And of the dark that lies be­low the sur­face some­times swim­ming to the top to wreak hav­oc. What’s the back­story? How do people change? Or even survive?

In pre­vi­ous books, I’ve ex­amined re­la­tion­ships between people and wild­life, the land­scape, and oth­er cul­tures. Now I’m ex­plor­ing a more in­tim­ate re­la­tion­ship, that of a fam­ily shattered by past events, nev­er ac­know­ledged or spoken about.

Switching from non­fic­tion to fic­tion is a chal­lenge, lead­ing to much thought and con­tem­pla­tion. On his web­site, in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned au­thor Michael Connelly says he re­cently cre­ated a new series, “Because you have to write like a shark. You keep mov­ing or you die creatively.”

Now I’m ex­er­cising my cre­at­ive muscles in dif­fer­ent ways and learn­ing new as­pects of the story-telling jour­ney. Writing like a shark in­volves change and step­ping out­side my com­fort zone.

I nev­er know how each dance with the muse will turn out but that’s part of the charm. Every story is an adventure.


How I beat the worst writers block ever – twice

I was stuck. On page one.

Life stuff had hal­ted my writ­ing for months but today was the day I’d re­claim my real life. The only prob­lem was noth­ing got bet­ter after the first page. In fact, the first ten chapters of the nov­el I was work­ing on prob­ably con­tained the worst words I’d ever written.

It was like get­ting into a brand new, shiny red Mercedes with black leath­er seats and then hav­ing a fis­sure crack open on all sides of the vehicle with no way over it.

I stewed, fret­ted and cursed. But no mat­ter how much I stared at the page, I couldn’t get past this road­b­lock. Usually, a walk on the beach or in the woods clears the way for cre­ativ­ity. But there seemed no way back into this story.

In my 30+ years of writ­ing, I’d nev­er been this stuck be­fore. It was like ter­min­al con­stip­a­tion of the brain.

Finally, Harold Macy, a friend and writ­ing col­league since my wanna be a writer days, told me to ditch start­ing at the be­gin­ning of the story and to just dive in any­where. Another long­time writ­ing friend, Caroline Woodward, said she was go­ing to write 1,000 words a day for a month. I wondered if I could too.

Following Harold’s ad­vice, I chose the cli­max of my story — where there was plenty of ac­tion and ex­cite­ment — as my re-entry point to the nov­el. The en­ergy was palp­able and work­ing back­wards was eye-open­ing. I couldn’t re­mem­ber if I’d set up events in pre­vi­ous chapters so it was al­ways a sur­prise. It was al­most like read­ing a book in­stead of writ­ing one.

One thou­sand words a day – or even more – no prob­lem. I was elated!

Then I got to chapter 10 and the red Mercedes screeched to a halt. The first third of the book still sucked. I felt like the guy in this photo — lots of ideas and all bad, bad, bad.

I was back where I star­ted. But in­stead of a crevice, the Andes Mountains had sprung up in the road and there was no way over, through or around them.  The prob­lem was, I still really liked the story and didn’t want to aban­don it.

I felt like a fail­ure and wondered if I should give up writ­ing. Be con­tent with what I’d already ac­com­plished. But, if I didn’t write, what would I do?

Then Derrick, a tai chi buddy, told me a story about one of his wife’s cats. I’m not a cat per­son but the couple’s struggle with Sophie stuck in my mind. A few days later I watched a 2003 Russian com­ing of age film, The Return.

A scruffy, doped up cat and two young boys ad­just­ing to the re­turn of their fath­er was all it took. The moun­tains crumbled to dust and the Mercedes roared to life. I wrote a pro­logue and totally re­vised chapter one. The mo­mentum kept up for re­vi­sions of the fol­low­ing chapters. After months of angst, I was writ­ing again. And lov­ing it.

So, what did I learn about deal­ing with a double whammy of a writ­ing logjam?

-Be open to find­ing in­spir­a­tion any­where, on a bus, in the gro­cery store or in between moves on a check­er board.

-Set writ­ing goals and stick to them. The act of writ­ing it­self can shake some­thing loose.

-Approach your story from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent angle, try work­ing back­wards, in­tro­du­cing a new char­ac­ter or chan­ging a character’s point of view.

-Don’t be shy about shar­ing your woes and listen­ing to suggestions.

-And per­haps most im­port­antly, if you be­lieve in your story, don’t give up.


Feature im­age cred­it: iStock 1085064170 Moussa81




All the Bears Sing

Harold Macy is an elo­quent and gif­ted writer who cap­tures the soul of a per­son, an­im­al or the land­scape in a sen­tence or two or even less.

His most re­cent book, a col­lec­tion of short stor­ies titled All the Bears Sing, is in­hab­ited by a range of coastal char­ac­ters ran­ging from gentle souls to those who find them­selves stand­ing on the out­skirts of main­stream so­ci­ety either by choice or circumstance.

And, no mat­ter which lens the au­thor is look­ing through, each per­son­al­ity is ex­plored from the in­side out, be­com­ing as real as your next-door neighbour.

I met Harold 36 years ago at a writ­ing con­fer­ence at Strathcona Park Lodge. We were wanna be writers thrilled to be shar­ing meals and con­ver­sa­tion with real au­thors and even a pub­lish­er. I re­mem­ber sit­ting on the floor of Harold’s cab­in one af­ter­noon read­ing pages from his ma­nu­script while he poun­ded away on an old elec­tric typewriter.

San Josef, the nov­el he was work­ing on, re­mains close to my heart, both for the in­trigue and in­sight into the story of Danes at­tempt­ing to settle the north­ern tip of Vancouver Island, as well as the be­gin­ning of a friend­ship that has las­ted decades.

Like most writers, work­ing and rais­ing a fam­ily meant Harold juggled com­mit­ments with writ­ing time. Now he bal­ances the chal­lenges of Parkinson’s with words on the page.

But writ­ing has re­mained a steady com­pan­ion. Over the years, a series of note­books have resided in Harold’s pock­et and on his bed­side table ready to cap­ture ran­dom thoughts. When words co­alesce into a story, he turns them over to Judy, his wife and trus­ted first reader.

Harold’s award-win­ning short stor­ies have ap­peared in Prism International, Malahat Review, Orion and oth­er lit­er­ary pub­lic­a­tions. His first book, The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So Too the Heart, was pub­lished in 2011. 

All the Bears Sing is the cul­min­a­tion of a life­time of liv­ing and work­ing in the woods on the BC coast, of­ten with a big dog by his side. Harold is an as­tute ob­serv­er of people, an­im­als and the nat­ur­al world. His words come from a deep place; his stor­ies are evoc­at­ive and thought-provoking.