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.


Creativity and goofing off

Scientific stud­ies re­veal that not think­ing gives cre­ativ­ity a big boost.

That means do­ing some­thing that doesn’t re­quire much con­cen­tra­tion, such as go­ing for a walk or wash­ing the dishes, is more likely to res­ult in an ima­gin­at­ive idea or the solu­tion to a prob­lem than sit­ting at your desk strain­ing your brain into an acute case of constipation.

It turns out that the mind op­er­ates in two modes: lin­ear and cre­at­ive. The first, which most of us are in most of the time, helps us plan and ac­com­plish our day-to-day tasks and long-term goals.

The second is more of a free­wheel­ing state pop­u­lated by day­dreams, ran­dom ideas and off-the wall thoughts. Some call it goof­ing off.

It’s this free­dom from fo­cused think­ing that opens the door to cre­ativ­ity. It works best when the body is act­ive, and the brain min­im­ally en­gaged. So, walk­ing (alone or with a si­lent com­pan­ion) is good, scrolling through your so­cial me­dia feeds is not.

Throughout his­tory, fam­ous people have cred­ited non-think­ing mo­ments to cre­at­ive in­spir­a­tion. Mozart claimed he of­ten “heard” his mu­sic while on a walk, while Albert Einstein coun­ted on Mozart’s sym­phon­ies to loosen the cre­ativ­ity tap when he was stuck.

Unfortunately, our cul­ture and there­fore our brains have been trained to go, go go and we of­ten don’t get enough — or maybe any — idle time.

In a Psychology Today art­icle titled, “3 Ridiculously Easy Tips for More Creativity and Happiness,” Emma Seppälä suggests:

-Make sure you have some down­time every day

-Do some­thing dif­fer­ent, meet someone dif­fer­ent or read or watch some­thing different

-Play, wheth­er it be sports, or with your chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, or pet(s).

Those all open the door to a broad­er per­spect­ive and thus more in­vent­ive thoughts. In fact, re­search­ers say, di­vid­ing your day into fo­cused and non-fo­cused think­ing seg­ments is most pro­duct­ive. It will likely boost your mood too.

As George MacDonald, Scottish au­thor and ment­or to Lewis Carroll, once said, “Work is not al­ways re­quired. There is such a thing as sac­red idleness.”


Creativity and Covid-19

Covid-19 and the res­ult­ing re­stric­tions are like liv­ing in a sci­ence fic­tion movie only the end doesn’t ar­rive in two hours. We fret about toi­let pa­per, people who in­vade our two metre space and loved ones that are now kept at a dis­tance. The tilt in our world was sud­den and the fu­ture re­mains uncertain.

People cope with stress and change in dif­fer­ent ways. My in­stinct was to sleep and for the first month I clocked in nine hours or more a night plus an af­ter­noon nap. I haven’t slept that much since I was a teenager.

My partner’s cop­ing crutch is chocol­ate. During the first week of phys­ic­al dis­tan­cing, Rick brought home two gi­ant slabs of chocol­ate cake, two pounds of Belgian chocol­ate and two boxes of chocol­ate cook­ies. At some point, we real­ized that ex­cess­ive sleep­ing and gor­ging on chocol­ate was not sus­tain­able long-term.

I turned, as I have for much of my life, to writ­ing. To me, writ­ing is a place in my mind where there are many doors and end­less op­por­tun­it­ies for ex­plor­a­tion and adventure.

But on oc­ca­sion, it’s dif­fi­cult to ac­cess this place. For a while, Covid-19 was an in­vis­ible wall res­ult­ing in lots of white space on my laptop screen. And I wasn’t the only one. Artists aban­doned their easels; some writers didn’t even turn on their computers.

So, how to prime the cre­ativ­ity pump in the midst of a glob­al pan­dem­ic? Unfortunately, there’s no ma­gic trick to se­duce the muse into a vis­it. But go­ing for a walk can pro­duce start­ling results.

According to an art­icle by psy­cho­lo­gist Sian Beilock in “Psychology Today,” an abund­ance of con­cen­tra­tion can kill cre­ativ­ity.  On the oth­er hand, do­ing some­thing that re­quires only a small amount of con­cen­tra­tion such as wash­ing the car, va­cu­um­ing the rug or brush­ing the dog of­ten al­lows the brain to con­nect thoughts in new and per­haps un­usu­al ways.

When I told chiro­pract­or, Alicia Steele, that I fre­quently find solu­tions to writ­ing prob­lems while walk­ing, she ex­plained that the bi­lat­er­al move­ment of arms and legs pro­motes activ­ity in both sides of the brain.

Taking a break and do­ing some­thing re­l­at­ively mind­less can en­hance cre­ativ­ity. The trick is to not think about the prob­lem you’re try­ing to solve.

As for stress, I’ve al­ways found writ­ing an es­cape from the wor­ries my brain chooses to ru­min­ate on and sus­pect many cre­at­ive folks feel the same.

No one ex­plains it bet­ter than Graham Greene in Ways of Escape: Writing is a form of ther­apy; some­times I won­der how all those who do not write, com­pose, or paint can man­age to es­cape the mad­ness, mel­an­cho­lia, the pan­ic and fear which is in­her­ent in a hu­man situation.”

Photo by Rick James