Saturday, December 6, 2014

Skating On Thin Ice

Each year I paint a painting for my Christmas cards.  This little guy is from a figurine a friend gave me.  I think it's so cute.  While I was painting it I thought about how little art I've been able to do. This little painting reminds me a little of the last two years!  Sometimes life seems slippery and you really struggle to keep your balance and stay standing.  Sometimes you fall. And baby, that ice is hard! But you get back up and keep struggling to stay upright. Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea to put thin blades on shoes, creating ice skates.  Ice skates make traveling on the ice easier.  Once you get the hang of it!  After you learn the skills it takes to skate with blades, it becomes a graceful way to move on the slick ice.  The blade cuts into the ice allowing the skate to gra
sp the ice.  Once the skater learns the skills required to maneuver, skating becomes a vehicle for movement. Beyond just movement, it can also be used as expression with the beauty of a fluid and graceful dance.
Life is like a frozen pond at times. Sometimes it's though to navigate.  You have to learn new ways to deal with things.  It becomes slippery and how to remain on your feet is unclear.  So you find some skates. Then you learn to navigate the ice and acquire new skills that help you maneuver the once treacherous ice. Things might not be any less slippery, but you learn to work with what you got and make the most of the ice.  I read that ice skating is the fastest way to move--but without will struggle.  So the very ice that slows your progress can become the thing that speeds it, once you learn to work with what you've got! Art is like this too. Once you have the skills needed, you are able to express yourself.  Your medium becomes a vehicle for a fluid dance of expression.  That's not to say there are not hours or practice you must put in to get to that place.  But each hour of practice brings you closer to gestalt.  That state where all the skills become automatic and you can concentrate on the concept and not the process. And that's when the magic happens!
Art (and life) can find you on slippery ice.  A place of uncertainty or fear.  Buy some skates! Learn a new skill or take that skill further. You will fall. You will hurt when you fall.  But you need to get up and try again! Don't let the fall keep you down. Let failure be your teacher!  Be kind to yourself too. Perfection can be our enemy.  I think you should strive to some standard, but Sometimes it's enough to stand on the ice that day.
I guess my message is:  when art, or life, finds you on ice---learn to skate!
Wishing all a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with art!  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Time, Life & Art


To all of you who look forward to a little art inspiration in you inbox, thank you for reading.  But it's hard to write about art when you're not doing any! (Well, that depends on how you classify "doing art" which I will talk about later) So I thought I'd revisit the theme of  "What do you do when your life crowds out your art?" 

Jobs, family & other obligations take up lots of time.  You busily go through your days, that turn into weeks and then years, of no art.  And you are left wondering, is it really important to me?  Because if it was, I would MAKE time for it.  And that's true.  

And it's not.  (It's scary, but that's pretty much how I view all of life!). If only life were all about intention, priorities, will.  I don't know about you, but my life is more complicated than that. I have good intentions, priorities and a fair amount of willpower.  Yet I remain 20 pounds overweight, have a list of unread books and exotic places I've not made it to yet, I'm not a millionaire and have quite a few lofty goals that may never see completion. That's my reality. 

I admire others who can focus to achieve.  Like a laser, they focus their beam of intention to their latest goal.  Nothing deters and eventually they reach their objective.  Then, they find a new focus and off they go.  Achieving the achievable.   And we applaud wildly.  Bravo!  Because we wish we could or would do that.  Achieve the achievable.  And if it's so achievable, why don't we achieve more?  Could it be that that laser focus, that beam of intention -- is NARROW?  They focus.  All else is an unnecessary distraction.  That's the key. A narrow focus. (and all else hinders)

I've realized that while admirable, I have a wider lens.  Yes, I have passion and focus but I'm easily distracted. I have many interests and I view life as a pleasant stroll with detours. Those detours are what makes it interesting!  I'm sure I'm ADHD and that that explains a lot.  I have accepted my inability to stay with a thing for more than two hours without complete tedium setting in.  Can I push through that?  Yes, when I have to.  Another key. When I have to.

Art is not a "have to" for most of us.  After I stopped teaching to care for my dad, I mourned like I had lost a friend.  I love teaching.  And because I was teaching, I was making art because it was required.  When I didn't "have to" anymore, I found I didn't.  Worse yet, I didn't "feel" like making art.  Letting go of all that I was doing before gave me the time and space to do other more important things that needed to be done.  I couldn't do it all.  Something had to give.  I tried.  Unfortunately, in the end it was the art.  Or at least the kind of art I was used to making.

For a while, I just felt very sorry for myself.  Who was I without my art?  I thought it was so much a part of my being, my identity.  Still, if found I really didn't do it when I had the time!  It seemed like an all or nothing proposition for me. Either I was a working artist producing framed paintings for shows and such, or I wasn't one. As though I needed to sacrifice my art because I didn't have the time "to do it right".  I was making excuses.  I wanted to do it my way or basically not at all. I'm complicated. :)  and honestly, I just didn't want the pressure of deadlines. So I resisted art entirely.  For some reason, I thought that meant forever and that I wasn't really an artist anymore. I lacked dedication.  Not hard core. I should push thru.  Use the art to heal. Blah, blah. 

Then one day I picked up a pencil and I doodled a bit on my "to do" list. It took five minutes, but Something in me shifted.  A couple of days later, I doodled on a napkin in a restaurant.  And a few days later, on the church bulletin. (Yes, I was listening to the sermon!)  it was through those small doodles that I realized that being creative is like breathing.  I didn't stop being a creative being because I stopped producing.  Does that make sense? 
I'm still a creative being even tho I don't have time for large finished works.  I was still creating paintings in my mind, admiring others work, appreciating the long evening light on the trees and the cast shadows that would be a perfect landscape...if I still painted. (Can you hear the violins?) 

One day I realized I might want to make art that day.  Then I thought "darn, that means I have to drag all this stuff out and clean off my studio table and..." So I didn't.  A few days later I wanted to again, but it seemed like just to much effort, so I didn't.  But I had the desire.  And little by little, I've been feeding that flame again.  My art has changed in the last two years.  In the next few blogs I thought I'd share my thoughts on how to make art when you have no time to make art.  How to make art when your life and circumstances crowd out your desire and need to make art.  I'd like to look at how you find time or focus on art when your life is so full of other things, important things. Let's make art a part of your life, not something on your bucket list. No an all or nothing proposition. Something to feed your spirit and heal your soul.  And about making art that is personal and meaningful without a huge time investment. Art that enriches your soul, but does not add to your "to do" list.  Art that heals, stimulates, energizes, and takes you places.  Art that is flexible and goes where you do.

No matter where you are in life, I'm finding you can always take your art.  Art and life are not separate --and both are a journey.  Slow down and take the time to enjoy the whole of it.  Those detours off the main path may lead to great adventures.  Be open to distraction and allow yourself to go off course.  Who knows what you may find off the beaten path?  The path is over rated!  

Friday, August 15, 2014

When Art Won't Sleep

What I look like after a few nights without much sleep! 
I cant sleep.  It happens sometimes.  I'm tired, but sleep evades me.  Laying in bed, my mind just thinks.  Its what minds do, I know.  But somehow, I always lay there feeling trapped in my mind and on my bed. Thoughts running along without releasing to sleep.

Its like something is left undone. Some tension. Years ago, I quit fighting it and started getting up and putting my thoughts, however random, to paper or typing them.  This seems to stop it and give me some kind of release.  Its like I empty my head onto paper or my computer.  Then, when my head is empty, I am ready to sleep. (no empty head jokes!)

It usually lasts for a few nights in a row until I break the pattern. I think, I have no proof mind you, its just a theory based on unreliable thoughts during sleepless nights, but I think I can't sleep because my creative side needs to be heard.  Does that sound strange?  Or does that sound perfectly logical to you?

So I empty the thoughts in words, of black and white.  Something almost solid. And here's what I usually hear/see: I need to stop and find a space in time to create something. What is so silly is I should be able to figure this out much quicker after all these years.  I guess I'm a slow learner.  More likely I continually underestimated the strength of my creative side and the need to express it. Even after all these years.  Its just not an option to NOT create any more.

It's harder these days to make time or indulge my creative self.  It's like an old friend I need to reconnect with.  But there was a time when that friend was silent and I was afraid I'd never hear from her again.  I'm glad she's back, even if it means I am awake at 2AM.

I will reread this in the morning to see if its just too wacko to put out there!  Whether the creative spirit abandons or calls and cannot be satisfied, I know enough artists to know we all have tension when the creativity is blocked for whatever reason.  You may experience it differently than a lack of sleep.  But take a look next time you feel frustrated and have no reason.  You may need to create to satisfy it.  There is art you need to make.

Tomorrow's going to be a long day.  And I know one thing that will be added to the "to do" list.  Make art.  And then I will sleep.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I've Got Time. Really.

How is your summer going?  Mine is going pretty well!  But it's going.  Really fast.  It's August already and my list of things "to do"and " to enjoy" has hardly a dent in it.  Life keeps getting in the way.  Unexpected things that demand attention. I try not to let them "steal my joy",  but they do steal my time.  No worries, I tell myself, you've got time.  But I never seem to have enough time.  Where does it go?  What do I do with it?

I think sometimes I worship my lists and am a slave to them and to time. Tic, tock, tic, tock.  I make these list and measure my day by how many things get checked off.  How productive I am.  I have many lists.  So much to do!  I mean, that's life, right?  Stuff to do.  People to see.  Places to go.  Accomplishment.  Something to show for my time. You can't waste time, right?  It's gone so fast and we must make the most of it.  Squeeze the most out of every second.

And it is gone fast.  And we do need to get things done.  I'm just wondering about all the striving.  And doing.  Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel.  Lots of motion, but not really going anywhere!  And where should I go?  There are volumes on living a purposeful life and self help.  The seven habits and all that.  I wonder.  If I just work and garden and draw, have a good laugh, is that enough?  

I don't want to be remembered for my clean floors or sparkling windows or even my art.  I want to be remembered for some kindness I may have done. For a comforting word spoken at the right time.  Maybe for my laughter.  For taking the time for others.  And ok, maybe I want to leave behind some decent art :)

Today,  I stopped and, well, just stopped.   Today I put down the list and drew.  I drew my dad.  Brushed the dog.  Picked some veggies.  Sat in the sun.  The world has not stopped because I didn't scratch six things off a list.

Forget the list.  Today, I don't have TIME for a list!  

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Art of Illustrating and Writing a Children"s Picture Book.


It's been a very busy summer.  I apologize for the lack of posts here!  I have them in my head but no time to blog them.  I will get back on my schedule and be blogging again soon --

In the meantime, I've posted a link to a review I did for Empty Easel and Craftsy.  I think it was published two weeks ago, so the 50% offer on the class is over--sorry!  But I recommend these classes.  Good instruction for the price. 

Thanks for reading and enjoy this amazing summer!  Above all, make art!  

Empty Easel Craftsy Course Review

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watering Weeds

I'm a gardener.  Every year, beginning in the earliest months of spring, the war on weeds begins.  Weeds are hardy little buggers.  Among the first things to emerge from the frozen earth, weeds signal the end of winter - long before the more desirable perennial and food offerings I've planted make their appearance.  Does a weed think "Gee, if I get a head start I have a good chance of holding this piece of earth over that pampered cultivated crap that human plants!  Can't she see the beauty I bring to the landscape?"  I'm very sure it does think that.  If weeds had brains.

But weeds don't have brains, they have a millennia of natural selection on their side. Weeds have something better than brains.  Weeds have  (millions?) of years of practice being weeds.  Adapting and multiplying.  Leaving seed that may be buried for eons only to be unearthed by some act of God (or my hoe) to rise again.  Sound a little like a horror movie?  Ah, "Return of the Weed".

Weeds are tough.  They tolerate very little water or too much.  They thrive on neglect and despise rich soil.  And weeds...well, weeds also propagate.  They are so efficient at seeding themselves that it boggles the mind of the humble gardener who just wants to grow some food, for Pete's sake!   

As you can guess, I've been weeding.  And weeding.  And even weeding some more.  I'm not a fan of weeding. But I find a satisfaction from ridding the soil of those nasty weeds, leaving tidy garden beds.  For a week.  Tops.  Leave weeding for two weeks and you have a problem of epic proportion.Why despise the weed?  They are just trying to survive after all!  But weeds crowd out desirable plants by multiplying magically somehow, so well that they actually take over the space and choke the garden plant.  A weeds roots greedily take up the nutrients in the soil meant for the plants that we grow to nourish us.  Essentially weeds rob other plants of the things necessary to grow and thrive.   

To help the plants I have planted reach their flowering glory, or my table as nourishment, I wage my war on the weed.  And I ALWAYS weed before I water.  I just can not water in good conscience, the weed.   Watering weeds is encouraging them to stay--and bring others. Watering weeds doubles your work load. "Oh, just this week?"  I might hear myself say.  "Those few small little weeds will not cause much trouble."  I can water them just this once and pull them next week.  Well,  I'm here to say that I have gone back out the very next day after watering only to find I need a machete and flame thrower to destroy what was a mere day ago just a tiny little weed!  NO! No watering weeds.  My mother always said "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well" or, don't water your weeds.  

As I was weeding yesterday I was thinking about a few comments in some social media threads I had read.  The general idea was that practice makes perfect.  We all know that saying and I'm sure we all understand its truth.  But what struck me as I was weeding out invasive plants that thrive in the fertile soil I cultivate, was that bad habits are like weeds.  Eager to fill the empty spaces and take over my carefully tended plot, bad habits can crowd out good intentions or lessons learned.  And once planted and heaven forbid, watered, they become monsters that are not easily dealt with.  

It is not enough to just fill a canvas.  While practice makes perfect and Malcolm Gladwells idea of 10,000 hours is admirable, this is only true if you practice good technique. 10,000 hours of practicing incorrectly means you have become very good at doing it wrong! So my thoughts are as simple as my vow to weed before I water.  If you are working hard at your art remember that you will not get better practicing the wrong things.  No, practicing your skills correctly will make your work better.  Doing the same wrong thing over and over will only water the weed.  

But if you are a novice gardener, how do you identify a weed?  How does the budding artist know if they are doing it right?  Well, good teachers can help with that. (wink, wink). But so can a book, video, or another artist whose work you admire.  The great thing about art is that you never arrive.  You are always on a journey to learn.  Your work is never finished and your painting never perfect.  There is always something to learn. And just like the garden, you must continually work to keep the weeds at bay. Keep your practice free of the things that want to crowd it out.  And remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Is Art Like Riding A Bike?

Last summer I bought a bike.  I haven't really ridden much since I got rid of my old bike.  No time, other things to do.  But I've always loved to ride.  There is something about riding a bike.  (and swinging on a swing--)  I love being outdoors riding with the wind in my face.  So what does riding a bike have to do with art?  

Well, I hadn't ridden in quite a while.  But I was never worried that I couldn't ride again.  You know the expression "its like riding a bike-once you learn, you never forget."  So I hopped on and off I went.  Have you ever taken a few months or maybe a year (or many ) off from doing art?  Did you forget how to do art?  No, it's like riding a bike!  You might be rusty and a little wobbly, but it all comes back to you.  You might need to ease in by exercising those creative muscles slowly back to their former strength.  Your physical muscles have memory and so do your art muscles.  They will return with some work.

And what happens if you take a fall?  I recently took a spill that hurt my ego much more than my body. Joggers and traffic all witnessed as I stopped short and went over the handlebars.  I have a nice imprint of the skid resist sidewalk on my thigh, a sore hand and other minor injuries.  But what hurt more was being witnessed!  I haven't talked to a biker yet who hasn't had an accident.  Get back on the bike!   Staying in a safe gym on a stationary bike takes me nowhere.  I may get exercise, but there is no scenery!  No sunshine and blue skies.  

The same goes for your art.  Do you fear being witnessed?  Afraid to paint in public or show your work?  Afraid to fail or hear critical comments?  Just as every biker will experience an accident, every artist will have a critic and a painting (or many) fail.  Just understand and accept that it's going to happen.  Knowing this takes some of the sting out of it.  Others have gone before and done the same.  Get back to the art!  There are experiences out there you won't know until you get out of the studio! 

What are your goals?  At first, I wanted something to get me out of the house, give me some exercise and relieve some stress.  After that initial period, my goal was leisure and pleasure.  Soon, I amped it up for cardio.  Now, I'm riding with others and it is a lifestyle change I hope carries into retirement since you can ride at almost any age.  Biking is an activity many take up as they get older.  It's much easier on the knees but can still give the benefits of other forms of exercise.  

When I look back on my growth as an artist, I noticed those goals changed over time also.  I took classes to get out of the house and away from a toddler.  Mental health was the key here!  I enjoyed it and did well.  Then I amped it up and began to show and join art groups.  I began to teach and win awards.  Today, I'm finding other artists to interact with and have realized that my art can be taken anywhere I go in life and during any stage and any age. I may not be doing my art for the same reasons today, but it is something that enriches my life.  

Exercise helps us with balance, which we lose as we age.  Riding a bike is great for this since you literally balance the whole time.  Excercise helps relieve stress and gives us a feeling of well being.  I notice my art balances me too.  I sometimes don't realize how much balance art brings to my life.  Art is an outlet for me and if I neglect doing it for myself, for fun, I become unbalanced.  Exercise and art balance you mentally and physically.  But your Art can become unbalanced as well.  When our focus becomes the finished product and not the process.  Or when we paint for sales or ribbons. Maybe we get in a rut and don't challenge oursleves.  By exercising our creative selves and getting out of our comfort zone, we find balance.

Equipment.  Enough said?  Do we need another reason to shop?  First it was the bike. Then came the  stuff.  My husband teases me about my biking gear.  I have the helmet, gloves, glasses, clothes and heart rate monitor.  I didn't get it all at once.  I added to it as I found the need.  But I'll tell you what, I'm glad I had that helmet and those gloves the other day!  My glove looks a little mangled and while I didn't hit my head, it reminded me how quick accidents happen.  You need to be prepared with the right equipment!

If you are just starting to make art, take a class and invest in some good materials.  It certainly makes the job easier and art making is hard work!  You need the right equipment.  Why make it harder with limited skills and sub standard tools?  You don't have to buy the best.  But you are making ART, you are an artist!  It is important.  Whether for your mental health, personal enjoyment or to show, make the best art you can with the best materials you can afford.  Having said that, a standard 2B pencil and a sketch pad is really all you need to make art.  But you can make a lot of different marks with a lot of different pencils!  

Give yourself the gift of making art.  I started riding again for the reasons I stated above.  But right away I noticed when I rode my bike I left the responsibilities and care of others behind.  For a time, I was alone and in my own world.  I was enjoying this time carved out of a busy life, just for me.  That's the mental health.  I was relieving stress but also getting much needed exercise.  I don't need to go into the health benefits of regular exercise.  I'm sure, unless you live on another planet you've heard.  Physically and mentally, it is a win, win activity.  

Making art is another win, win activity.  Have you ever noticed that you lose track of time and go into a "zone" when you are creating.  Studies show that making art improves cognitive function and memory and reduces common symptoms of dementia.  It strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills. Creative activities reduce stress and depression.  Creating increased blood flow to the brain by 10%, especially to the pleasure centers, similar to falling in love. Studies on people with chronic illness show that helps balance their loss and gives them relief from the illness for a time.  Making art produces a meditative effect.  Heck, making art is just good for you! 

So, I hope you either get your bike down out of storage or dust off those old art supplies.  Preferably both.  If you are already actively making art, think about how you can change it up and exercise a different muscle group by joining a group, having a paint date with a friend, taking a class, buying that new easel.  Keep it fresh and fun.  But above all, do it for you!