Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Brush-Mind Book

My sister, artist Pam Barick, makes handmade books. She finds good paper stock, interesting art-paper for covers, then creates handmade blank books, to give as gifts. I use some of these books for my handwritten journals, from time to time. I use others for gathering random thoughts in one place, notes, ideas, even recipes.

I have one particular book my sister made that I use for brush calligraphy drawing and writing. I may only write or draw in this handmade journal a few times a year. Gradually the book is becoming a collection of artistic thoughts, images, drawings, and sayings, mostly Zen-related, in the calligraphic haiga tradition, and mostly inspired by and following in the footsteps of Western Zen artist-writers Paul Reps and Frederick Franck. I reserve this handmade journal for this particular body of work. I keep the book close at hand, most of the time, even though I don't make marks in it very often. Sometimes I go back through it, to remind myself of an insight I may have had a year ago, that I have since forgotten and need to remember. Sometimes I pick it up and wonder, who made this? certainly not I! It's not an artist's sketchbook, it's not full of technically-perfect drawings, it's not not full of private journal entries. (There are one or two, that's all.) It's a handmade book full of handwritten jottings.

It's a brush-mind book, a book in which the writer is following the brush, often starting with an enso that becomes a drawing. A thought that grows into something more. A quiet book, a contemplative book.

One day it will be finished—only in the sense that there will be no more blank pages available to be filled. One that day, I will open another of my sister's handmade blank journal books (I have a stash I've set aside just for this purpose), and begin again this brush-mind work. Or, rather, continue it, in a new volume. The brush-mind book doesn't end, it doesn't conclude, it goes on.

Brush-mind happens in my other journals, too. My journals used to be written thoughts only, my inner strivings, my figuring it out by writing it out journal, my thinking-is-linking journal. Poems have often been begotten therein. Now those "regular" journals also contain brush-mind drawings, sayings, enso, and things that could easily fit into this brush-mind book. I don't try to contain it in one place, one arena. Following the brush, wherever it leads you, is what brush-mind is all about.

I recommend that writers, artists, and other creatives make and keep some version of a brush-mind book. If you keep a brush-mind book, there are a few things to remember.

Keeping a brush-mind book is not about "making art." It's not about craft, or perfectionism, or brilliance. It's a very small, quiet book, which you keep for your own contemplation. There is no-one to critique your brush-mind book, not even yourself. Get out of that artist's mind, and into a mind much quieter and simpler. Don't edit yourself. Be spontaneous. Let a drawing be less than wonderful, because even though it's not a perfect work of art, it contains the spirit and feeling of the moment you drew it.

Keeping a brush-mind book ought to be a sensual experience, as well as a contemplative one. If you make your own book, make it out of fine paper, exquisite cover-imagery, and good materials. Make it durable, make it lovely to hold in the hand and page through. Don't skimp on your personal satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a journal-book to use as a brush-mind book. Just make sure that's it a beautiful book that you love to hold and contemplate. Find an interesting blank book at a bookstore or art-supply store. Maybe it will have on its cover an image from your favorite artist, or a saying by your favorite poet.

You can copy aphorisms and poems into the book, to gather together the wisdom that inspires and directs your life and work.

Use a fine pen. Go out of your way to purchase the most beautiful pen you can find. That pen or brush you always wanted, but never gave yourself permission to own before now. Writing with a fine pen or brush needs to be a sensual and pleasurable experience in its own rite. I use Japanese calligraphy brush pens for my brush-mind book, especially one particular Pentel refillable cartridge brush-pen manufactured in Japan and only available in the USA at Japanese stationary stores that import Japanese writing materials. I could buy this brush-pen online, and yet I enjoy shopping for it in person. Whenever I'm in San Francisco, I stock up. I go way out of my way to find and use these kinds of pens. I turn my pen-hunting into its own adventure, and make it into a meaningful, pleasurable experience in its own rite.

All these side-paths and by-ways turn your brush-mind book into something special, something unique, something to be treasured and kept for years. We value most that which we have worked to attain. We value most that which we have sacrificed our time and effort to obtain. Be consciously aware of this when you go looking for materials for your art. Don't be casual, and don't be callous, and take it for granted. Be mindful.

Becoming mindful is why we keep a brush-mind book. Making a brush-mind book, and drawing in it, and writing in it, is a form of mindfulness practice in itself. A form of art-as-meditation, art-as-mindfulness. You're not making great art in your brush-mind book: you're making your self.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

When I used to produce art I worked on a draftsman's board using rulers and compasses and triangles. I never guessed a line - I measured. Once the drawing was completed I would transfer it to a Daler board using carbon paper and then re-ink every line. Then I would paint using the tiniest brushes and dots of paint making sure I never crossed the line. Each painting took weeks. I loved looking for new equipment, pens, paints and I have a drawer full of the stuff which I'll never use again. Not now AutoCAD and similar programmes exist although I doubt I'll ever find the time to learn how to use them.

My use of language is the same, careful and precise - no leakage.

I wouldn't know what to do with one of your sister's books. I wouldn't want to deface it. I might have a go on a blank sheet but books like that are for copying finished works into - in my head anyway. But it would be the letting go that I would find hard. Art for me is all about control.

10:43 AM  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

Pretty artistic family, Art. Nice stuff.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Jim, why am I not surprised that it was all about control with you? :) When I was young, I did do a lot of drawing with technical pens, because I liked the precise line they gave. I learned to use technical pens in geology, making precision drawings, more like the draughtsman's style you're referring too. I did a fair bit of that for college, though, so when I drew I usually broke out of that box. I've rarely been one for believing that art needed to be photorealistic—and for that, I have always been a photographer. Different tools, different approaches, different results.

AutoCAD rocks, but it does have a steep learning curve. I didn't keep up with AutoCAD after awhile, so I'm out of date with it.

Putting finished pieces in a handmade book sounds exactly appropriate to me. I do that, too, in other books. This blog is mroe for finished pieces, too, as you know.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, John—

Thanks. My sister, when we were kids, was always considered by my family to be the visual artist while I was always considered to be the musician. Of course it's not so simple, and there was overlap. But you're right, both of us have always been very creative, and our parents did encourage it, which parents ought to do, I think.

10:52 AM  

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