The creative talents of a number of successful Island artists, actors, musicians, and writers have spilled over to new artistic mediums - writers who design; actors and musicians who paint or write. Artists who experience the call of new forms of expression beyond their original areas of success can learn some essential lessons about the creative process.
Photo by Peter Simon
Ronni Simon went from being a potter to becoming a successful screenwriter with film and television writing credits. Then, only three years ago, another creative shift: while crocheting, an idea occurred to her to combine that craft with jewelry design.
"I can't take credit for it," Ms. Simon says. "I like to say the Jewelry Goddess came down and tapped me. I look at my pieces and I'm amazed that I made them. I can see them for what they are, without ego. I have a sense that the work is coming through me. I've found my true calling." A partner with husband, Peter, in the Simon Gallery in Vineyard Haven, her distinctive and ornate jewelry is carried in stores from New York to Texas.
While Ms. Simon's art has changed, the inspiration, the sense of immediacy and of knowing, remains familiar. "Writing has felt like that, hearing a random idea that became a complete story idea in a moment," she says. "Writing is more active, design is more contemplative, but I have the sense that when I am designing, the piece's character is defining itself as I work on it, just like the characters did when I was writing. Designing is more isolated, but it feels freer. There are no limitations and it doesn't stop. I recently found a piece of driftwood and began applying the jewelry technique and that's giving me a new direction. More like sculpting. I can see large wall hangings with this form, using found objects that are drawn together."
Photo by Danielle Zerbonne
Paul Size, a self-educated Texas native, is a guitarist with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. His recent commitment to painting has changed both him and his music. "It's the idea that everything's connected," he says. "Einstein's molecular physics work was about the connectivity between everything. Art is like that. 'The Artist's Way,' a book by Julia Cameron, got me started. The premise is that the universe or God, or whatever you call it, is a creative force. and that it was okay for me to pursue art. As a young kid in Texas, that meant guitar music."
According to Mr. Size, one art form reveals the way to another: "Painting opens me more to my music," he says. "It always comes back to the music... The more I pursue it, the more open I become. For me, painting is a way to be musical... The feeling is like a little kid seeing the world with wonder and awe."
Being engrossed in either art forms has the effect of suspending time. He explains, "Playing music with Johnny and the guys is like a basketball team. When we are in the zone, there are no individual players - we are all in the same place. What's interesting is how the audience recognizes it and responds. There's that same sense of timelessness. And you can't grab it or hold it; you can only be with it.
Mr. Size believes artistic expression in some form is within everyone. "We are extensions, creations, really, of a creative universe, so why wouldn't we able to access creativity?" he asks. "Not thinking is a huge part. It's like the unconscious is talking to the conscious."
Mr. Size is quick to credit his mentor, the late Island bluesman Maynard Silva: "Maynard was my Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was always telling me to loosen up, to let the kid inside try. And to make mistakes. Maynard believed it was essential that we be willing to make mistakes. I miss him."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Brooke Adams, a film and television actress, wife of actor Tony Shalhoub, believes that acting, painting, and directing (she's about to make her debut) are the same thing. "I most like to paint people because the face displays both what we want to show and what we are attempting not to expose - small details mean something," she says. "Actors and directors look for the same thing. It's about the human condition."
There are other crossovers: "I like painting because there is no waiting for a scene, but when you are doing the work it feels the same, like it's going through you," says Ms. Adams. "You put in a color and it informs the rest of the painting. Or you write a word out of instinct - you don't know why - then later find that word or color was necessary to make the right ending."
Like Mr. Size, Ms. Adams appreciates the spiritual quality involved in a creative pursuit. "I get that feeling whenever I'm working at a higher level of spirit - the work flows," she says. "But it's not easy. After the last [gallery] show, I felt like I had eaten too much sugar, that the paintings were crappy. Having some facility in one form doesn't guarantee mastery of another."
She admits, "Being an actress is like being an athlete. Careers can be short. Painting came along just in time. I like myself better."
Photo by Susan Safford
Islander Jemima James has been writing and performing her own folk and country music for decades. Her sons, Willy and Sam Mason, are following in her musical tradition. But music wasn't her first artistic calling, and with 170 pages of a first novel under her belt, it isn't her last.
Ms. James explains, "I wanted to be an illustrator at the Boston Museum School, then got involved with music, started a band, eventually became a staff songwriter at Famous Music in New York and worked in music and in recording studios in L.A. But the music never took off to where I could support myself, and music can be a hard life. I wanted kids, so I came back to the Vineyard as a pre-school teacher, playing in wintertime as music is meant to be, without the other stuff."
Ms. James began writing short pieces four years ago, but has begun writing a novel, based loosely on parts of her life and relationships. "I had to grow up," she says. "Become disciplined. Write every day. It's good for me, keeps me looking inward."
Echoing the sentiments of Ms. Simon, Mr. Size, and Ms. Adams, Ms. James says, "The best stuff I want to tap into is the same for both [music and writing], and it happens when I'm not thinking. The flow, the un-interruptedness, is pure unadulterated joy. The ceremony and discipline of writing daily can access it. It's being proactive about creativity and it's connected with the rest of life."
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.