Between the Lines

Kathy Steffen

To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world. — Chinese proverb

Art comes in many languages. A century ago (OK, I might be exaggerating there) while working in corporate America, I decided to try something new and attended a class in stained glass and mosaic. Falling in love with glass, I made windows, candle holders, sun-catchers, even lamps — and found a new way to communicate to the world through glass art. Next new thing: a creative writing class, my first step in quite a journey. I left the corporate world for writing and, again, my creative language expanded.

I am currently in search of a new language of art. I’m taking some mixed media, assemblage art, illustration, and even a poetry class to see what else sparks my creative soul. I’m attempting to take my own creative writing advice and allowing myself to be lousy at first, no matter what I’m trying. So how can you explore a new language?

Commit to being a lifelong learner. There are classes everywhere! Treat yourself to an online or in-person class that piques your interest. I began dabbling in assemblage art after a class at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point. Add taking one to your New Year’s resolution list. Bonus: You will meet fun people and make some new friends, too!

Journal about beginning your journey. My journal is becoming more doodles mixed in with words, and that began my thinking about language beyond words. Here are some prompts to get you started. Answer in words and doodles. What do you like? (Pay attention to what intrigues you. Painting? Glass? Writing? Sewing? Pottery? Sculpture?) What do you dream of doing? Begin listing your creative goals.

Try something new! Don’t be afraid — jump right in. Don’t expect to be an expert immediately. I’m sure Yo-Yo Ma didn’t pick up the cello and play perfectly his first time. Don’t expect genius from yourself. All you need is a desire to learn.

Collect ideas, then explore. I began a Word file listing ideas for projects. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do something, just capture your concepts on paper. When one won’t let you go, research how you can bring it in to the world.

Make an appointment with yourself for creative time. Nothing happens unless you “face the page.” Or drawing sheet. Or sheet of glass. Or lump of clay. Or …

After 20 years, three traditionally published novels, short stories and essays, 10-plus years of teaching, and 12 years of Voice articles (this is my 142nd article!), this is my last as I retire my writing career and “Between the Lines.” I can’t thank you enough, dear reader, and of course, Mary Friedel-Hunt and Sara Lomasz Flesch, for asking me to join and continue on this wonderful Voice adventure. My (new!) art will appear at the Spring Green Community Library in June 2022. Stop by in June and you’ll see where my new language takes me!

Kathy Steffen is the award-winning author of First, There is a River, Jasper Mountain, and Theater of Illusion. She is off to find her next chapter of creative life from her home in Spring Green that she shares with her husband and kitties.