Summer Crosbie: There isn’t a colour I don’t love
Summer Crosbie is a writer and artist who was born in Atlanta, Georgia and now resides in the United Kingdom. She holds a BA and MA in Psychology and is pursuing art and writing full time.
Your works have not ceased entrancing me since the day I saw one last year. It still amazes me that you started painting just a year ago. How did it all begin?
Wow! Thank you. It amazes me how God opened a floodgate of creativity in me; the way the Universe has risen up to meet me has been nothing short of divine grace especially because I’d never drawn or painted before. I’d been going through some major ‘restoration work’ (being of a certain age) and I found myself struggling like mad to cope with the challenges of my daughter leaving home to start her own life, re-evaluating the strength of my marriage and going through the menopause. I suddenly found myself at a loss as to how to feel needed. I’m sure a vast number of women will relate to this stage of life and how the idea of opening up to your own gifts can be daunting.
Simply put, one afternoon I was in the grocery store stationery department and I was expecting a friend and her 15-year-old daughter for a visit. I saw a mindfulness coloring book on the shelf and thought it would be nice to give that to my friend’s daughter. I bought it only to have my friend cancel the visit last-minute. I was disappointed and thought, ‘What am I going to do with this now?’ I opened it up and thought I’d give it a try. I bought some watercolour pencils and as soon as I completed the first image, I was hooked. I found I could instinctively pick colours, create gradation and work on intricate designs with many facets but I couldn’t understand how I was able to do it.
One day my husband, Simon, said I should try watercolour; he had an old tray somewhere in the attic. He fetched it down and I began to play around with mixing colours and varying amounts of water. I work on some creating highlights and shadows but soon became unsatisfied with putting watercolour on low grade paper (I was still using the coloring book). Simon suggested I get some watercolour paper but the idea of moving on to ‘real art paper’ made me nervous so I simply said, ‘God, please teach me to paint’ and went to bed. I went and bought that art paper the next day, August 3rd 2016.
Over the next four months I produced over 130 watercolour and acrylic paintings on paper. It was literally pouring out of me.
Summer, it took nine days to reply you because the background story of your art making leaves me astounded. So I stayed in all available quietude and wonder to take in your story. Wonderful, I must say. I would say that time did its magic to bring you to this stage. And then 130 paintings on paper within four months. Interesting you mentioned that “God opened a floodgate of creativity” in you. This reminds me of Federico García Lorca’s lecture, ‘Theory and Play of the Duende’. What are your experiences of the muse in you? What spirits, moods, psyches do you go through while painting? I am interested in your mention or translation of God in relation to your art processes.
This word ‘muse’ fascinates me. I understand it conceptually but don’t really relate to it personally. The honest truth is that I don’t experience anything consciously when I create. I don’t plan or have intention prior to creating a piece; it’s all subconscious/divine flow. On rare occasions, I experience emotion while painting or drawing but I’m not sure if this is the spirit of creativity in general or the music I listen to while working or a combination of the two. I suppose, in the end, it doesn’t really matter and some deep part of me doesn’t wish to quantify it anyway.
I loved reading up on ‘Theory and Play of the Duende’, which I’d never heard mentioned before. It made perfect sense to me! My experience is that the celestial is channeling through me and primarily every resulting thing relates to the inner landscape of my psyche. When I was a very young child, I suffered unimaginable things and this caused my mind to fracture. Lots of artists are emotionally fluid but the introduction of serious trauma took my fluidity a step further and created separate identities to cope with the tragedies. Only in the past few years have I been able to comprehend this reality and begin the healing process of becoming whole again. I relied on God (however one chooses to express that idea matters not to me) and my faith in His perpetual protection and presence to arrive where I am today. I mention all this because it preceded the ‘creativity flooding’ and because you asked about my translation of God in relation to my art. The Almighty works in an orderly fashion and in what often appears to be a mysterious way but as I look back over the course of my life, I see that everything came in the correct order at the right time. Before painting landed in my realm, I was given two gifts, which increase the more I use them. One is intercession for others through prayer (which is simply ‘conversation’ with the Highest Power) and the other is healing (this is also something which flows through me and does not originate with me). Once I surrendered any need to understand why God gave me these gifts, I was prepared to receive and utilize further creative gifts.
My understanding of all this has meant that I have no need for anyone else to understand or validate my expressions, my work, my art; is there a right way to label it? This is difficult for some of my artist friends with which to grapple because they’re used to giving feedback or constructive advice; they are concerned with things I might not be. To some it is spiritually challenging because it doesn’t make sense when they compare it with their experience. I have no sense of pride (how could I?) but simply receive the outpouring of the universe. It’s a miracle to me and that God would use such a beautiful and nourishing method to create ‘core healing’…well, quite frankly, it blows my mind.
When you’re not painting or drawing, what are you doing? What’s a typical day for you besides making art?
A typical day for me… well, first and foremost, I tend to my family and home, which are everything to me. I talk with my daughter every day over FaceTime and make sure she’s got everything she needs. We laugh a lot and we understand each other. My husband is a self-contained unit and doesn’t need too much from me but I always try to make sure the house is a pleasant place for him to return to. I work hard to create a calm and uplifting space. I want anyone who visits us to have a safe harbor. I have OCD and I’ve battled hard and long to overcome the destructive elements of the disease (intrusive thoughts and compulsions) but it’s a plus that it helps me make a space in which I can grow, create and rest. I’m thankful for that.
And because I know so many people around the world, my day is always about connecting. I have up to 25 WhatsApp conversations on the go at any one time and I do a lot of praying for people’s needs. I write prayers, voice note prayers and say prayers silently. I have phone calls from people who want to shoot the shit, give me the skinny or call me with serious needs. They know I’ll stop what I’m doing and get on my knees for them. This is the ultimate blessing for me, to take the concerns of others before God. I take it extremely seriously.
I’m also a ghost writer and editor for a lot of young creatives who want to present their thesis or dissertations or texts as concisely and correctly as possible. I have a strong background in writing of all sorts and this helps me to hone in on fine tuning areas which are perhaps more challenging to some. Then I have work for which I get credit. Recently I got the opportunity to start contributing to an amazing publication for creatives, Voixmeetsmode, an online and print magazine of the highest order. This is a complete delight to me.
Like all creatives, I have my struggles and demons and so some of my day is spent meditating and thinking and processing pain, challenges or things from the past as they naturally arise. I have prayer partners and I meet with them on Mondays and Fridays. I play the piano and I use that time to get in tune with the non-thinking part of myself. I praise God, especially whenever I am low and that is what a typical day is like.
What are your favorite colors?
There are entire websites dedicated to the discussion of color and the perceptions of the ocular tools we use to interpret them. They talk about the number of nerve cells the eyes possess and how they manage wavelengths of light and motion. Like everything about humans, sight is complex and crushingly beautiful in its operational capabilities.
Asking what my favorite color is made me smile deeply though. I was transported back to childhood and those exquisitely pure questions we used to ask to understand someone else.
Truthfully, there isn’t a color I don’t love. Each variation produces such vastly different sensations and that’s where my joy lies. I suppose I gravitate towards deep, bright colors because they increase the feeling of bold confidence in creation and in self and yet I’m currently deeply entrenched in a series of black on white geometrics and abstracts, which prompts conversations about absence of light, pigment or color and the mixture of all colors or reflection of color. I can’t comment on what moves me from one type of expression to another or why it happens but somehow I sense that each leads seamlessly to the next. Perhaps each stage has a finite life and this I happily accept, if so.
Color and movement are instinctual in that no conscious process occurs when selecting them, mixing or diluting them nor when putting my foot on the artistic gas or brake. I began this black on white set in the fourth week of July 2017 and in eight months, I’ve produced 180 abstract works. They are intricate and time-consuming but that’s the wonder of the process. I started in pencil because I didn’t have the confidence to commit to ink fearing ‘mistakes’. Now I understand that mistakes are an important part of the process and that they always lead to beautiful things.
That’s an interesting thought on mistakes. People are afraid to try their hand at things for fear of mistakes or failing. What words do you have for fellow artists who battle with the impulse to ‘avoid’ mistakes in the making of art?
I was always one of those people who wanted to please and so I obeyed the rules, and there were so many rules. I didn’t move right or left if I thought someone wanted me to move forward, backward or stand still.
If creating art is a subconscious expression of beliefs and emotions that lie deep within us, then the way in which we create art, by its very nature, must be directly impacted by those things. The more honest, even brutal, introspection we allow to take place, the more honest our art will be. If we are being honest, what more can we ask of ourselves? If we trust what comes out and what comes to life, nothing can be considered a ‘mistake’.
I strongly believe everything that happens is meant to happen and ‘all is well’, no matter the circumstances. I apply this to every facet of my life, my work and my art. In the beginning, to help myself overcome fear, I would talk to myself and say things like, ‘it’s only a canvas or a piece of paper, it’s only paint or ink. What does it matter?’
And I realized that once I removed those barriers, all fear disappeared and I could get on with trusting myself, the process and the Divine. I could breathe and sleep and work!
Let’s talk about the collection and promotion of your art: what do you envision?
I’m not sure if I think like other artists when it comes to this idea. I have no sense of a commercial-pressing; by that I mean, the need to market myself or the work for commercial purposes. I’m not in the position, at the moment, of having to sell my work in order to live. I have so much respect for artists who are in this position and the struggle that goes along with it. I could honestly say I almost don’t dare think in those terms. I do envision a beautiful studio with light and space; a place to be messy and wild, to be at peace and reflect; to connect with the celestial. I know it’s already been provided and that fills me with joy.
I might be one of those artists who never gets recognition. I might get recognition long after I’m dead. I might gain some respect while I’m still living. I can’t concentrate on those as concerns. They don’t hold validity for me because I don’t know what all that means anyway. Why would I be more concerned with what someone in the art world thought than perhaps with what my neighbour thought about my work? How would it matter if no one stopped in front of a piece I’d made and felt something transformational or moving? How does it matter if they do?
The universe is in control of what happens and I’m comfortable with that. I’m not the least bit drawn to promote myself or to run away from anything the universe might bring. It’s not up to me. All I can do is let it flow and be thankful. I do it because I can’t not.
You showed me a recent drawing of yours titled, ‘My Psyche Map’. What is your psyche map?
All my work is related to my internal ‘state of affairs’, my ‘mental geography’. I believe my mental undoing will be the making of me in the end and I explore this subconsciously through art. It’s an involuntary process, which began through the act of surrender.
I think that everything has been building up to this point where what has been unclear becomes transparent, what was perceived as impossible becomes possible and what was a handicap becomes my greatest gift.
My psyche map is a drawing of my unique psychological landscape. How I understand the fragments of my original self and the causation of their formation. It’s taken me years to make sense of the ‘noise in my head’ and ‘my many selves’. And I doubt I’m done yet. Perhaps I’m only on the cusp of this revelation.
Interestingly, you studied Psychology and Psychotherapy at undergraduate and post graduate levels. This gives you a better plane to understand your agencies, right?
I did a Bachelors and Masters in Psychology. The first at Florida State University in 1982 and the second at The Human Relations Institute in Carpinteria, California in 1988. Both programs were a boon to self-awareness and therapeutic discovery.
There’s a widely-held belief amongst those in the profession that people subconsciously choose this field because they have a personal need to understand themselves, their family of origin and the wider world around them. Simply put ‘to fix themselves’.
Of course, I thought I chose it to help others. I hope it’s true that I’ve been a grounded and wise journey-partner to many but you’d have to ask my clients about that. It’s definitely true to say that my life has been aided, simplified and, at times, made clearer with the help of psychological skills, both inherent and learned.
The best way to understand yourself is to work actively at it; to live and love with conscious intention. To accept that the shadows have as much bearing and validity as the light. To stop hiding from yourself and others and embrace that you are fully human.
This background has propelled me, along with my faith in Jesus Christ and a relatively new understanding of the principles of the Universe, to accept my frailties and my giftings as natural partners for growth.
Learning ‘to be’ rather than ‘to do’ came from a quote I read by the author Phillip Yancey, ‘There is nothing I can do to make God love me more and there is nothing I can do to make God love me less’. Though I was raised in the Christian Church and am a Pastor’s kid, I never truly understood grace in my spirit until I read those words.
My presence here is a gift that God gave to Himself and so is yours. It is the nature of the Divine Source, which is love (which is a spirit) that is constant, unchanging, regardless of what I do or don’t do. That blew my mind and heart away. And I say all this because this grace is not only my literal salvation but my figurative salvation, too. That’s from where the painting and drawing sprang. It’s the heart of what is freely given and, in my humble opinion, the source of all creativity.
You have geometric sketches, you have done some three-dimensional art if I can recall, there is oil painting, there is the literary as well—you write poetry. Which is your most preferred medium?
Each medium has its pleasures I suppose. Writing and poetry are my ‘brain outlets’ and painting and drawing are my ‘soul outlets’. That may be a strange way to put it because writing and poetry are very much from the emotional dimension for me, as well, but I associate it with my brain nonetheless. I store experiences there that somehow have words attached to them and so that’s how they arrive, too. The soul expressions are subconscious and other-worldly so they tend to manifest when I paint and draw. I confess that I don’t feel too comfortable with oils yet. I think they require a special gift. I favor acrylic and gouache as they move with ease and I don’t have the patience to grasp what oils seem to require. As I mentioned previously, I seem to experiencing stages of various types of creativity and move into and out of them. I don’t make that decision myself but I know in my spirit when something new is knocking on the door. Abstract ink drawing seems to be hanging around for awhile so I’d say that’s where my heart is now.
I notice you don’t really put your work online. Why is that?
There are some works still on Facebook which I posted in the first year but everything from Instagram has been erased because something in me felt compelled to remove them. Somehow it began to feel like it was counter-productive to the process, and I wanted to evade that temptation to care what people thought, to negate any possibility for comment and just concentrate my whole self on producing. The works became increasingly personal and somehow inviting comment seemed counterintuitive.
I have a very tight inner circle and only a handful of people ever see my work now. I can trust them to approach the work in the true spirit of observation, inviting visceral responses. I don’t really like to title my works anymore either because this subconsciously sets the viewer on an interpretative path influenced by me, and I want to avoid that altogether. One has to make room for an experience and keep back. The artist’s job is to facilitate (if one is going to show one’s work) an opportunity to engage with something which originates in the celestial. What I experience while creating in the sacred stream may be completely different from what someone experiences while viewing it, and I want to honor that. It is deeply edifying to hear someone talk about what they ‘see’ or ‘feel’ in response to the work, especially if they have spent time with it respectfully and reverently.
I’ve been thinking about your recent drawings. In many ways I have this vision of them as figurines, sculptures and architectural inventions; some as prints on fabrics, mats, ceramics, etc. First, my mind is on the thought that this is some forecast process—a bringing into being the future of tech, arts and architecture. Somehow my mind is linking up all this to the Renaissance, the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Donato Bramante. Also, I am trying to trace the line of relationship between dreams, the liminal and the future, i.e. what is to come particularly. What’s your experience of the subconscious with regard to your art or even your daily life in general? In the instance of you drawing, is there a separate world you fly into? Oh, God, am I returning to your ‘psyche map’?
Sometimes my head is so deep in focus mode that I don’t register such precious feedback. When I first read this question, I was overwhelmed, possibly subconsciously feeling undeserving, and I moved on immediately. It’s an incredible thing to read all the possibilities you see for my art. I’m not there yet, completely unable to think in these terms and so I skipped it completely and answered the final part of the question only. You made me circle back and I want to thank you for that because it’s clarified some things for me. Your words ‘forecast process’ jumped out and resonated with me. It does feel like my journey is a foreshadowing, hinting at things to come. This fills me with awe and it feels connected to manifestation, as well. Sometimes I just say things out loud out of nowhere. Like one day I said, ‘I don’t know how exactly but I think I’m going to work in fashion. It might be writing about fashion’. Then the work with Voixmeetsmode came along. My husband said, ‘hmmmm’ from the other side of the room. Another day I said, ‘I can see my art studio. It’s huge and full of light. It’s built from wood and it’s beautiful’. Again, another ‘hmmmm’. I’m smiling even as I type this now because I know that studio is coming.
When you say you link this all up with the Renaissance and works of da Vinci and Bramante, well, I don’t know what to say. I feel humbled. In terms of tracing the line of connection between dreams and the future, I feel sure these are interwoven, but which comes first I do not know. God doesn’t exist in time and so perhaps the future, as we call it, happens first and then the now is really the past. It just appears to come in the opposite order in the earthly realm. Lofty thoughts and all but I believe that’s entirely possible. Maybe a dream is like cosmic dust that streams into our brains, our souls, our hearts and it becomes the truth. And maybe it does that because it’s actually already happened in the celestial world. This is why I prefer to be ‘other worldly’. All the great stuff happens there!
So, I believe I’m detaching more and more from the physical realm because I’m sick of being ‘in my head’. I consciously limit the time I spend on the conscious plane because that doesn’t take me where I belong. I’m an over-thinker and this is something from which I feel compelled to refrain. Generally speaking, moving in to the subconscious is something most of us don’t recognize when it’s happening. We do it without awareness or choice. However, the more I live with conscious intention, the more I pay attention, the more I can feel the difference between the two states.
If I could say that I choose to move in and out of these states using a magic formula or incantation, it might be pleasing to some but I don’t. I don’t make it happen; I have simply learned to recognize it by feeling. In a way that’s a relief, too, because I don’t experience any pressure to get ready or make it happen.
At this point, I’m not sure if I can identify one or more particular parts of me as ‘artist’ or ‘writer’ or ‘poet’. I suppose that’s a distinct possibility, but it’s not a selling point. I find that idea repugnant. This is the first and may be the last time I have spoken about this publicly, but it could explain why I’m suddenly able to produce so prolifically. It’s also possible that it’s a gift from God for my healing. And I don’t know if my ‘psyche map’ is complete yet. If you’d asked me to map my internal geography two years ago, it would look different than it does today. This is because I’ve opened up to the process so much more now. I don’t have an agenda or any shame. Whatever comes to light, let it.