This summer I read “Life of David Hockney: A Novel” by Catherine Cusset in a rainforest bookshop.
It was translated into English from French by Teresa Lavender Fagan.
Here are some of my favourite works of his with quotes from the book that stood out to me:
“He had to be patient and have confidence. The feeling of failure was part of the creative process. Every artist – painter, musician, writer – knew this.”
“Her childlike innocence seemed to her son the most precious thing in the world. Only a child looked at the world in that way, without being distracted by the stupid preoccupations of adults. Only a child observed ants that gathered crumbs, ladybugs, drops of water falling on leaves, puddles, and stones.”
“If he no longer sought to create a great painting, but simply painted what mattered to him. He would be closer to the truth and to life.”
“I’m very conscious of all that has happened in art during the last seventy-five years. I don’t ignore it; I feel I’ve tried to assimilate it into my kind of art.”
When Austin Kleon posted a photo of some handwritten piano music on his Instagram stories, I screenshot it out of curiosity.
Last night I pulled up that screenshot and played through the four bars on repeat and fell in love.
Avril 14th by Aphex Twins is a short but beautiful piece, repetitive but satisfying, wistful but not melancholy. Basically the perfect song to learn on piano.
I started playing the piano at the age of four but never accomplished much on it (other than writing my own songs).
I would cry if forced to practice by my parents, never did grades and I can’t remember ever memorising a piece of music. Now feels like the time to apply some self-discipline and memorise a small piece from start to finish, just to prove my ten year old self that practicing piano isn’t actually too hard or unbearable.
This is my favourite version of the song, played on the pedal steel guitar by Will Van Horn (who also has a fantastic EP on Spotify and co.)
It was one of those moments you forget how much you crave.
Amidst the constant smoke over Melbourne (I’ve never wanted it to rain so bad) and in the company of many delicious cups of coffee, a friend and I talked about bushfires and family and the year’s beginning.
I was struck about the synergy that comes from talking talking to people who get where you’re coming from.
We don’t think the same things or agree on everything, but there’s a mutual love and understanding underpinning conversations and experiences.
Another good friend, Jenny, is an inspiration to me. She wrote this on her blog: “People have been able to encourage me and enjoy my work because I have actually shown it to them.”
It’s like when you’re in primary school and it’s show and tell time…
“…there’s something so powerful about people you love sharing a love of something with you.” – Ollie Kendall
They love what you’ve made, because they love you.
The hardest part of writing – both songwriting and copywriting – is showing up day after day and doing the work.
Even harder than showing up to your desk to do that work, opening a brand new page or looking at an unfinished project, is finding a sense of possibility when it feels like it’s evaporated.
The word possibility means:
something being possible
one’s utmost power, capacity, or ability
potential or prospective value
from the Latin possibilis “able to be done”
This morning when I sat down to work, I did not feel that what I set out to do was possible. My sense of possibility was chased away by the warring magpies outside (and possibly some sad news from late last night).
Hope is another name for the sense of possibility. And somehow, I clawed hope back this afternoon and found some of the energy I needed to stay focused and do what I needed to.
These are some of the questions I asked myself to regain some of my creative energy and optimism in my work today:
“something being possible” Have I done this before? Has someone else done this before? Do I just need more time? Probably, the answer to this question is yes, and if it’s no…here’s an opportunity to create some history. Be the first. You can do it.
“one’s utmost power, capacity or ability” What 5 things can I do that aren’t dependent on anyone else? What can I create? Who can I connect with? What’s within my power? Usually, there’s at least one action available.
“potential or prospective value” What skills do I have that are valuable? What can I do now that could open a door in the future? What skills can I practice right now that might help me later?
“able to be done” What am I able to do? What tools can I use right now? Ideas include: research the problem I feel stuck on, ask someone for help, tell a friend I’m having a bad day, experiment and see if something works, or put a timer on and give myself permission to stop.
Some days it’s better to call it quits and go for a walk or do something (anything!) else rather than beat yourself up. But when you’re navigating the creative process everyday, it helps to know that even on a low day there are still ways to keep going.
Consistency is probably the most magical ingredient in all creative works. If I never gave up…what would be possible?
I have a favourite way to walk to my local supermarket.
My route takes me past a front garden with an archway and giant daisies, a park with oak trees and cherry blossom in the spring, and a house with a golden Labrador and a rambling, flower-filled front yard.
This morning while I walked, I wondered whether the people who planted these gardens would be surprised to know how much I detoured out of my way just to walk past their garden.
I don’t think we’ll ever know the full impact we’ve had on people’s lives. But it makes it worth trying to leave a trail of beauty wherever we go.
Other people can see in us what we can’t always see in ourselves.
In 2014 I finished university and graduated with a music degree. While I appreciate what I learned now, at the time it felt like I was sucked into a black hole of self-doubt.
Songwriting, scat singing, performances on multiple instruments, tests on theory and history and arranging music – studying what you love is a paradox of delight and torture when you’re being marked out of 100.
A standardised test is a necessary evil that ignores prior knowledge, the technique you’ve had to relearn and the time it takes to assimilate new information. It ignores your performance anxiety. It ignores whether or not you’re interested in imitating a singing style from 50 years ago. And it ignores how much your identity is wrapped up in what you do (whoops).
After three years of practice and lectures and performances, the final recital was the final obstacle to jump and as the auditorium filled with friends and family, all I could think was that I just wanted to get it done and get out of there.
The hour flew past in a whirl of notes and instrument changes, and then with a final flourish and a bow, it was over.
Six years later as I clean out my paper files, I find one of the mark sheets from my final performance.
It’s the only one I kept, written by my improvisation tutor, a man who pushed me hard on my instrument and didn’t budge when I complained about how hard his tests were.
He knew I could do what he was asking me to do. And on the mark sheet, he didn’t just make comments about how each song was performed:
He painted the bigger picture for me at a time when my ability to see past the numbers on a scoresheet was at an all time low.
He saw the growth in me as a musician and a composer over the three years I studied with him, and he could see my musical identity beginning to emerge from the assignments and the exercises we played everyday.
His comments were honest but they were also kind, and unlike the numbers on the sheet, he knew where I had come from and where I was going musically.
As the new year and new decade kicks in, I know that I’m prone to losing sight of the bigger picture. But I want to continue to grow, to see what other people see in me, and to help others see themselves as I see them too.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” – Fred Rogers
As Christmas approaches with the weight and speed of a limited express train to Mernda, I’ve been preparing the final touches for my band’s first single release.
When I booked the first recording session, it was a very last minute decision. I happened to have a day off, the bassist and drummer were free, and I managed to find an engineer and recording space who were free (Jono from Good Mood Melbourne is great and also mixed the track for us).
What started off as feeling like a great idea quickly became ‘okay wow, this is a bit more complicated than I thought’. And from there it only got more difficult. I’ve never felt so in over my head!
But yesterday I found this page from Austin Kleon’s ‘Steal Like An Artist Journal’ (image above) and to my surprise, the journey of creating this single matched Kleon’s mapped out project shape. Cue the “I’m not the only one!!” happy dance.
Now that the dark night of the soul part of the project is over, all that’s left is to finalise the artwork and send the song off for online distribution.
If you’re interested, this is the timeline of bringing ‘Sober’ to life:
August 2018: I wrote the song ‘Sober’ in my bedroom in Moonee Ponds.
September 2018: Brandon (bassist) and I jammed this song in my backyard where he came up with the bass riff.
October 2018 to May 2019: The full Wilde line up jammed ‘Sober’ and we played it live, tried out arrangements and added three backing vocalists! I also rewrote the lyrics for the verse a few times.
May 2019: After a copyright drama, I rewrote the chorus (including chords, melody and lyrics) two days before we went into the studio to record it.
June 2019: Laura (drummer), Brandon and I recorded the rhythm parts in the Good Mood Melbourne studio.
June 2019 to November 2019: Jacob (guitarist) and I recorded electric guitar parts at his house; I recorded acoustic guitar, voice and percussion parts in my bedroom; I also rewrote the bridge and main guitar riff.
November 2019: Jono at Good Mood Melbourne mixed the track across two sessions.
November 2019: I sent the final mix to be mastered by Pheek.
December 2019: Artwork for the single cover finalised and song sent for release!
“Dave Bower hates my guts. Why? Because I’ve got guts.” – Floyd Dominy
Creative blocks are a pain in the ass.
Whether it’s fear, a feeling of impossibility, or old wounds flaring up again, when you’re blocked it can be exhausting to sit down at the designated time to create.
I’ve been reading a great series of essays by writer John McPhee and was struck by his admission that everything he wrote about during his career was connected to the topics he was originally interested in at high school.
“New pieces can shoot up from other pieces, pursuing connections that run through the ground like rhizomes.” – John McPhee
It takes guts to move through the blocks. It also takes guts to keep on creating, even when you’re in the flow.
Agnes de Mille once said: “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”
“Some of his colleagues were dubious that he could pull it off. But Dr. Goodenough was not dissuaded. ‘I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.’
My brother and I have a quote that we often write down or talk about: “que voulez vous”, meaning “what do you want?”
It’s a question that requires courage to ask, because the answer usually provokes action, and sometimes moving on.
I realised last week that all my repeat listen songs were about moving on (and getting over…thanks John Mayer).
My favourite French jazz singer Cyrille Aimée released an entire album called “Move On” and I didn’t even realise the titles were all the same until I put all the tracks in one playlist and saw the words staring back at me.
In her bio, she wrote:
“She’s also taken to telling her own story to audiences and students alike, hoping to pass along the same fervor for living an improvisatory life that the gypsies awoke in her…She also teaches master classes for aspiring musicians, emphasizing an aware and spontaneous life – including a call to look up from smartphones and other addicting devices of modern existence – over technique and rote repetition.”
Move on, get out of the rut, experiment, try something new, test every possibility…I think there’s a common theme screaming out at me!