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…
After fifty plus years of at least semi-conscious introspection I conclude I am somewhat disorganized. I no longer fight this, but accept it as an essential element of my creative being. A certain amount of order is necessary to actually pull a concept into tangible manifestation; however this does not begin in a writer’s room.
The first writer’s room is in my mind, independence from distracting stimuli the only requirement. Because I live in wilderness and consequently am extremely sound sensitive, earplugs are sometimes needed for this writer’s room.
Luckily the creative force is powerful and absorbing. Mrs. Ferguson, my grade five teacher, called it ‘daydreaming’ and encouraged me to write down the beautiful thoughts and word strings so I could weave them together into a larger narrative. Hence a pen and notebook are also needed in my writer’s room.
Often a writer, including me, takes years to birth a book from a stew of incomplete ideas so, at a certain time, a physical space becomes important. I must be comfortable to write; good back support, padded arm rests, feet at the right height from the floor. In my writer’s room a black ‘wheelie chair’ has pride of place. My neighbor built a cedar picnic table for me, which I painted white and is now stained with layers of paint splashes. The half of it dedicated to writing is stacked with piles of notes relevant to several projects.
When I raise my eyes from the computer, one window reveals the camellia, clematis and Japanese maple tree – color for all seasons and a rest from the screen. The other window shows ever-changing sky, distant islands and closer conifers. Both views allow me contemplation space and eye relaxation. Windows are essential for my writer’s room.
On a shelf below the window sits a CD player/radio. Often my daughter Theda’s inspirational music plays. Nearby, a bookshelf rich with the beauty and meaning of the ages; dictionary and thesaurus, books about root words, the writer’s art and artist’s rights, books of other authors’ journeys of discovery and on every aspect of my favorite topic, the coastal world I inhabit.
My writer’s room is my artist’s studio, which embraced its dual role around 2000. It was a comfortable transition as my writing habits are the same as my painting habits… notice, contemplate, imagine, notate, gather, assemble, sit in one place often enough to shape something new and interesting. I love my writer’s rooms.
Paula’s note: Yvonne Maximchuk is an artist and author of three books including a memoir of her wilderness life in the Broughton Archipelago, Drawn to Sea – From Paintbrush to Chainsaw, Carving out a Life on BC’s Rugged Raincoast. Yvonne and the legendary Billy Proctor are touring Vancouver Island with their new publication Tide Rips and Back Eddies, Bill Proctor’s Tales of Blackfish Sound. Dates and venues can be found at www.yvonnemaximchuk.com.
The act of writing is a fine balance between hard work and inspiration. Personally I lean towards the worker-bee end of this spectrum and have spent many years slogging away, chained to my desk while putting in the necessary hours with dogged persistence. There have been spells of rebellion when I’ve surrendered to the seduction of an inspiration which has usually taken me over the top, requiring ruthless editing on the return to worker-bee mode.
In recent years I have found my balance as a writer by crab-walking away from these two extremes to place myself somewhere apparently quite different, but ironically in balance. The essence of this exercise is that I catch myself by surprise. I will tell you a story.
Several years ago I travelled to Cuba, laptop in hand, for a three-month stay. My intention was to write a novel I had been researching for several years, a dark accumulation within me. The novel was set in WWII Europe and it dealt with a family whose absent father was interned during the war as a fascist.
I sat on the patio shuffling through papers and notebooks, listening to roosters crowing and pigs snorting nearby, frustration building in me as I tried to place myself under the dark cloud of Europe while all I wanted to do was jump on my bicycle and cruise the streets of Baracoa.
After a week I shoved my research papers back into my briefcase and began writing stories about the life going on around me – about my Cuban friends and their daily adventures, and about my own struggle to understand their extraordinary culture.
Cuba, like much of Latin America and the Caribbean, is a surrealistic place where North Americans and Europeans are confounded by the absence of that familiar logic which enables us to function smoothly. Typically I hit the wall half way through my annual stay in Cuba, then I can surrender and fully enter the Cuban reality.
Thus evolved my collection of Cuban stories – In the Embrace of theAlligator – Cubans call their island ‘el caíman’ – the alligator. I did not intend to publish a collection of stories about Cuba. I began to write those stories out of desperation because I have to write. That is how I make sense of the world. The stories crept up on me, demanding to be written and shared.
Intention is a great and necessary thing — it gives direction — but enslavement to it is death. Everything must break away from its origins in order to achieve full potential. What I’m talking about is letting go of control in order to let the characters breathe, to let the story live.
I believe that most characters are emanations of the writer, and that there is a mystery which requires us to stand aside and wait to be surprised, challenged, and enlightened by our own creations. Writing at its best is a journey of discovery, and while the writer must be in control she must hold the reins very loosely and be prepared to let the alligator take her deep, to the limits of her lung capacity, with trust that she will surface to rewrite and edit what she has learned, and to cruise the streets once more for inspiration.
Paula’s note: Amanda Hale is the author of three novels, a collection of stories, and a novella. She is also a poet, screenwriter, and has recently written a libretto. Amanda divides her time between Hornby Island, Toronto, and Cuba. To find out more visit www.amandahale.com.
Well, contrary to Susan and Harold’s experiences with book signings, I actually looked forward to my book launch of West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales with a good deal of confidence. Perhaps too much.
For one, I have no shortage of tasteful, better quality shirts in my closet. (Christmas presents over the years from Mom and also courtesy of Paula’s brother who manages the fashionable outdoor store, REI, in San Francisco). Plus I had just bought a new pair of black jeans. And since I don’t live in Merville like Harold, my fingernails stay reasonably clean.
But I do make sure I get a haircut just before a presentation. Otherwise, my unruly, white locks tend to make me look like a deranged Albert Einstein.
Also, I credit my ability to stay relaxed before a group to the fact that I’ve given a fair amount of slide shows and presentations over the years. And for some bizarre reason, I’ve become a more social animal as I age and actually enjoy standing up in front of a group. (This been a surprise to Paula who often reminds me that I used to be a quiet and retiring Fanny Bay recluse.)
Last fall I had my book launch at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. And, gad sakes! some 60+ people turned up and they were all out there in front of me!! Man, I was pumped and I think my publicist from Harbour Publishing was surprised too. Turns out she misjudged the number of people who would attend and hadn’t purchased enough pastry items; a disappointment for those late getting to the goodies table.
The PowerPoint presentation went over exceedingly well. A good indication of success was the comments afterwards and question period that lasted for about 15 minutes. The worst thing that can happen at the end of a presentation is that everyone sits there with a deadpan, bored expression on their faces.
So I was brimming with an overwhelming sense of success and goodwill as I made my way to the book signing table where a crowd had already lined up. Then it happened; about seven signed copies along.
As I looked up at this big, middle-aged, balding guy with a pony tail I asked, “Who should I make it out to?” And he answers, “Rick James!” I did a double take and replied, “No, that’s me, the author, I mean, what’s your name?”
“Rick James!” he declared again. “Don’t you remember me from the old days in Victoria? How could ya forget, I mean, we not only have the same name…” And continues in an overly loud voice, “Oh man! We even used to smoke dope together at Keith’s place on Burdett back in the early 70s!”
Thankfully most of the folks around the table were old friends or work colleagues who were probably already aware of my past. Still, I could tell some people were startled. You know, the strangers I had managed to convince over the past hour that I should be looked upon as a respectable West Coast maritime historian and writer. Who knows what they thought after the other Rick James finished talking?
So there you go, no matter how well prepared – and groomed – a person is for a book signing, something totally unexpected can still bring you to back to reality with a jolt.