There May be Snow on the Ground, but there is “Spring” in My Step!

First day of Spring 2015

It seems that Mother Nature got the wrong memo on Friday. Instead of sending sunshine and flowers for the first day of Spring, she delivered around 5 inches of snow. While the snow won’t stick around for long, according to the forecast colder than normal temperatures will be here for a while.

In spite of the cold temps and Spring snow showers (which by the way were beautiful), I have emerged from the season of Winter blues earlier and stronger than ever before. First day of Spring 2015The seasonal feelings of sadness and depression arrived right on schedule in late October, but unlike previous years, my spirits began to lighten toward the end of February instead of the end of March. There have been years in which the black cloud of seasonal depression didn’t lift until well into April.

If you’re not familiar with Season Affect Disorder (SAD), it’s a mood disorder which is characterized by depression and it happens at the same time every year. It zaps your energy, makes it a challenge to get out of bed, and turns the world into a “glass half empty” kind of place.

There seems to be a direct correlation with the lack of sunshine and shorter days and the onset of the feelings of depression. For me,they seem to creep in so slowly that I don’t recognize them until it’s too late. I find myself thinking, “wow it’s not going to affect me this year,” then the hammer falls and I find myself almost physically unable to get out of bed in the morning.

Last year I discovered the value of light therapy in the morning and the evening. And I stumbled onto the benefits of having a creative outlet to occupy my evenings. Even with these tools to fight the negative feelings and lethargy, the winter of 2014 was one of my most difficult bouts with this condition.

This year I decided not to wait and see whether or not the inevitable would happen. I began using my lamp that mimics natural outdoor light at the beginning of October (before the feelings of depression started to hit me), made a conscious choice to do something creative every day, and registered for a drawing class to make sure I got out of the house.

For the most part it worked. While I still experienced feelings of sadness, they were nowhere near as severe as in previous years. I believe one of the major benefits of my early and consistent treatment approach is that the cloud lifted sooner.

A few weeks ago I added a new tool to my arsenal, a natural light “Wake-up Light.” I very quickly became a fan.

Wake-up Light

The light simulates the sun rising. The light starts to illuminate 30 minutes before the alarm is set to go off and by the time the alarm chirps, it’s fully lit. The theory is that the emulation of sunrise releases certain chemicals in the brain that say “it’s time to wake up.” I don’t know about the science behind it, but I do know that it works for me.

Since day one of using it, I’ve found it easier to get up in the morning and I absolutely have more energy throughout the day. Over the past three weeks I’ve moved my wake up time from 8 am to 6:30 am and am beginning to fear I might be in danger of becoming a morning person. :)

I honestly believe that it’s helped to accelerate the earlier than normal exit of those pesky winter blues.

The “Spring” in my step has motivated me to register for a half-marathon in June and exercise is once again a part of my daily routine.

Hello Spring!

Weekend Shenanigans and Celebrating Friendship

mardi gras feature image

Seven years ago, I stumbled across an online community for wannabe triathletes as well as triathlon veterans, not a place I’d ever  have imagined myself fitting in. Much to my surprise, through online fitness challenges, mentoring forums, and individual training blogs I’ve “met” and formed friendships with people across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Over the past seven years, many of us have also become friends on Facebook, but the connection on BT (beginnertriathlete.com) remains a special one. People check in on each other weekly, if not daily.

We’ve “watched” each other’s children grow up, celebrated personal victories, and mourned together over the loss of friends and parents. We’ve sent virtual hugs and cried real tears during times of personal hardship and have kicked up our heels with joy for the good and happy times. We’re cheerleaders and confidants.

On more than one occasion I’ve taken a train, plane, or automobile to travel hundreds of miles meet one of my virtual friends in real life. What may shock some, will seem cool to others – not only did I travel to meet them, they welcomed me with open arms, amazing hospitality, and a place to rest my head for a night or two, even longer if needed.

The majority of my trips have been related to participating in a race. There’s nothing better than having a safe and welcoming place to stay the night before an event. It’s also awesome to share the early morning pre-race ritual and jitters with someone who is experiencing the same feelings.

Being connected on more than one social platform has its advantages. You always know when one of your friends is planning a party and can casually take them up on their “open invitation” to come visit. It’s simply a matter of keeping an eye open for pictures of large shipments of Mardi Gras beads to posted on Facebook and inviting oneself in a comment.

inviting myself to the party on facebook mardi gras beads

The response was almost immediate and I was DARED to attend.

the dare to attend

I made some noise about accepting the DARE, asked for some details and started to seriously consider making the trip from Philadelphia to Lake Lure, North Carolina to attend the party.

the details

The party was scheduled for February 28th, so the weather forecast played a role in the final decision. As it turns out, I threaded the needle and made the 12 hour drive (each way) in between winter storms.

The weekend shenanigans kicked off on Friday night in Roanoke, VA. I made it to my halfway point just in time to see the lights in the hotel restaurant go dark. Fortunately the Holiday Inn that Hotwire selected for me offered complimentary shuttle service to and from any of the local eating establishments.

I chose TGI Fridays because it was close, I had a coupon, and figured it would be laid back and quiet since it was fairly late. My expectations were more than a little off; there was only one seat left at the bar and a ten minute wait for a table. I opted for the bar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a place where everyone gets carded, the females are on the prowl, and the males are primed for the hunt. I also don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much bling, leather, and leopard print in a single room. Too bad the fashion police weren’t there to call out the woman in the skin tight body suit –  embellished with tiny imprints of the “hang loose”surfer hand symbol (can’t even describe how bad it was).

Who knew that I’d picked one of the local hot spots for singles to hang out? So much more I could write about the evening, but it’s time to move on to the main event.

I arrived in Lake Lure on time and not in the least bit frazzled. Between Google Maps and my friend’s most excellent directions there was no way I could make a wrong turn or miss my destination.

We had just enough time for a hug, a walk around the property, a glass of wine, and a bit of gabbing before the co-hosts and guests began to arrive. The house looked spectacular, every inch of the main floor was covered in beads and sparkles.

038

Of course, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without costumes and masks. After much laughter and exchanging of hats, we concluded that Robin’s outfit called for the Jester’s hat and the 1920’s circa feathers worked best for me.

mardi gras party

We looked cute, but I’m fairly certain the cape won the prize for best costume.

the cape

The food was incredible.

Amazing food

Once the party started, the dining room was the most popular room at the party, well maybe with the exception the other side of the house where the Tarot card reader was burning incense and tapping into the future.

Each guest picked a number when they arrived and when their “number was up” it was time for their reading. Somehow or another, my number was 3, not saying it was rigged in any way – just saying I’m lucky. :)

The night was filled with toasts to newly wedded couples, explanations of why I was there, wine bottle opening demonstrations, roulette for high stakes prizes, and most likely some neighborhood gossip which went over my head. It was a wonderful evening, but there seemed to be too few hours between putting my head on the pillow and the knock on my door in the morning.

A sinfully delicious breakfast was followed by a long, long nap, and a delightful dinner. What could be a better way to spend a day?

Sadly the party is over (for this year). The beads and masks have been gathered, the dog and kitty cats are once again free to roam the house, and I am safely back in PA.

the party is over

The story is far from over though. I look forward to future shenanigans and an ongoing friendship.

Beauty Often Emerges in Spite of (or maybe because of) Adversity

Three Little Birds_02_05_2015

For the past week or so I’d been moving along swimmingly and without any creative bumps in my quest to paint a tree and Three Little Birds that will bring peace, inspiration, and happiness to whoever sees it. It’s been a process of figuring out how to scale a 6 x 8 inch ink drawing to a much larger canvas and also how to translate it using a new and unfamiliar medium, not to mention the addition of a new design element, the 3 Little Birds.

tree of hope

Much to my surprise, the sketch came easily and transferring the position of the tree from a vertical orientation to a horizontal one happened naturally.

Three Little Birds

My confidence grew with each brush stroke and the painting began to take shape.

Three Little Birds_02_03_2015

Just when I started feeling really good about the painting and the fact that I hadn’t encountered any obstacles,

Three Little Birds_02_04_2015

I hit a fairly major bump in the road. I was trying too hard to make the red bird perfect. What I ended up with was a serious mess.

In an attempt to erase my mistake and start over, I ended up turning background of the very important space between the blue and green bird into the color that makes you cringe when you take the laundry out of the washer and realize that your favorite red sweater somehow made it into a load of whites. Both the delicate whites and the red sweater are ruined.

Unable to just let it go, I waited for the pink streaks to dry and covered them with a thick layer of white.

Three Little Birds_02_05_2015

Not sure why, but I didn’t toss the painting out. Maybe it’s because of the time I’d already invested or maybe it was because of the vision I had of the finished piece, or maybe it was just plain stubbornness that made me keep going.

I stepped away from it overnight and revisited the situation the next morning. The answer came to me, and while it’s not perfect (because nothing ever is), it’s beautiful and I feel very good about the outcome.

Three Little Birds_02_06_2015

All of the above can be applied to almost any circumstance in life; it’s tempting to just give up when things don’t go according to plan or when life gets messy. But when we hang on and keep trying, even if it’s by our fingernails, things do have a way of turning out.

Sometimes art (and life) doesn’t go quite according to plan.

That’s why we need to be able to take a step back and figure out how to make the best of a situation, even when it looks messy and hopeless.

Almost nothing is as it appears on the surface and almost no one has achieved anything of significance without making and recovering from a mistake or two along the way.

Under Construction and Enjoying the Mess

3 little birds in living color

I am always amazed by the way that things happen in life when you least expect them and how often they come at just the right time. A few weeks ago a friend of mine reached out and asked me to do a painting for her inspired by one of my drawings and her anthem, Bob Marley’s song Three Little Birds.

tree of hope

The funny thing is that although I knew the lyrics well, I realized that I had no idea what the title of the song was.

At any rate the reintroduction to the song and the reminder that although everything doesn’t always turn out the way we plan, every little thing will be alright. During the cold and cloudy winter days, this project has given me something bright and positive to focus on and the song has become my anthem for 2015.

It’s also presented an opportunity for me to spread my artistic wings in more than a few ways.

My friend is planning on putting the piece over her fireplace and wants a piece that is 24 x 36. My original tree fits is 6 x 8 and is in a vertical space, not a horizontal one so I’m not quite sure how I’m going to make that work, but one challenge at a time.

The first challenge was to figure out how to draw the birds. I requested and received a few pictures of birdies that she liked and I’ve been doing some experimenting. I accidentally put four little red birds on the branch in the first drawing because I was so excited when the birds I’d been practicing on the side actually turned out well. :) Four birds also filled the space better, so it’s all good.tree of hope with birds_v1 w color

In the second practice session, I successfully incorporated the three birds, although they got a little lost among all of the bubbles so I’m re-thinking the colors a bit to make sure they pop.

3 little birds in living color

The second challenge was the size. For the past two years I haven’t created anything that is larger than 8 1/2 x 11 and the majority of my drawings are 6 x 8 or 7 x 10. I get very intimidated when I think about filling all of the white space, not to mention the challenges associated with making something look both “real” and big. Granted this isn’t a drawing based on realism, but it’s still necessary to properly translate the idea which can be more difficult in a larger space, at least for me.

As luck would have it, I started a new art class on January 15th and in just two sessions I’ve already gained more confidence in drawing “big.” This past week, while the other students drew and painted the complex relationships between the objects on the table,

still life

I drew the vase and then the bowl.

Vase and Bowl

 

Three years ago, I would have considered this to be an abysmal failure but I’ve learned to focus on where I’m at in the process and to consider the progress in my own work and not how it compares to others.

In many ways I’m as thrilled with this piece as I’ve ever been with any finished drawing. In my mind, both objects look more “real” and recognizable than any of my previous attempts at capturing a still life on paper. It’s also giving me the confidence I need to fill a much larger canvas.

When my instructor sees that I’m getting frustrated by the multiple lines and mess on my paper, he reminds me that part of art (and life) is about making a mess while we’re learning. If you think about it, in order to grow as people, it means we’re sort of “under construction” throughout life, and sometimes it’s messy.

The third challenge was the medium. Ink and color pencils have been my mainstay for quite a while now, but neither is appropriate for such a large piece. Acrylic paint is the medium I keep coming back to.

Coincidentally, the online art journaling class I’m taking has a new home and the instructor launched an updated version of the lessons.The introduction included information and thoughts about the importance of quality paper in art.

It made me stop and think.

In the spirit of starting anew and with the acknowledgement that we deserve our canvas, whatever form it takes, to be of quality, I ordered a new journal for the class. It seemed appropriate to carry the “everything is going to be alright” theme through on the cover of my new art journal.

It was also a good way to play a little with paints before I tackle a large painting.

2_3 Little Birds art Journal cover_in color_final

The back cover was the perfect place to try another version of three little birds on for size.

3 little birds journal_back cover final

The paints I used are fine for crafts and journals, but not for a full size painting, so my next stop on this journey is the art supply store for proper paints and a canvas or two.

All of these independent projects have  been a great way to experiment with mixing mediums and learning how they play nicely together (or not).

It’s also been an excellent way for me to discover and play with elements such as the Three Little Birds that will be an important part of the painting that I will be starting in the next week or so.

I’m very happy with the way both the individual drawings and the journal cover turned out; it sets a great tone to start filling the pages in between with the assignments from the lessons. It’s going to be interesting to figure out when and how to work on things for my “in real life” class, my online class, and the larger painting project that this has all been a part of.

Who knew that one little doodle would turn into a giant construction zone? :)

 

I’m “Drawing the Line”

tree of hope

Life is full of ironies if one is paying attention.

Over Thanksgiving, I registered for a drawing class at the Princeton Arts Council. The description of the class emphasized expanding on basic drawing skills and learning how to compose a piece of art from concept to completion.

It sounded challenging and appropriate for my current skill and confidence level. As luck (or fate) would have it, the class was cancelled and reminiscent of 3 years ago, I was offered the opportunity to attend a more advanced class as an alternative. Unlike 3 years ago, I accepted the alternative option without hesitation.

When I received the email that the class had been canceled, I couldn’t help but think back to the first day of my drawing class three years ago and how hesitant and uncertain I was.

What I didn’t realize then, but I know now is that art is all about lines. To quote a friend of mine, “Line quality is a big element in art and it is elementary and needs consideration. Even if ignored, line quality should be a considered choice.

To be honest, my first drawing blew me away – I seriously had no idea that anything like this was hiding inside of me. It took me weeks to complete, but in the end I was amazed at what came out of my pencils.

sunflower_first drawing in over 20 years

What strikes me now, looking back at it is the lack of certainty in the lines. They’re technically correct and the shading is really quite nice, but the lines lack confidence and purpose.

Contrast the drawing of the sunflower with a recent doodle, a surrealistic or maybe fanciful tree:

tree of hope

The lines are strong and considered.

I debated about whether or not the drawing was finished. The black and white lines were mesmerizing, but it didn’t feel “done.”

The lines were ready to be embellished with color.

tree of hope

Ironically, the description of the class I will be starting on Tuesday includes this:

Color is not just a “pretty embellishment”, but has a profound significance and role in our visual perception and, subsequently, is a powerful tool in our art making. Understanding these functions of color is the focal point of this class.

The class is geared toward “students with experience in drawing and painting.”

It’s clear that I’ll be taking a class with students far more advanced than me, but on the other hand, I’ve learned a lot about “drawing the line” and my recent experiences tell me that it’s more than OK to let those “lines” take you to a new place.

Refrigerator Art

fridge art

I find that sometimes I draw something in my art journal that I’m thrilled about because it shows progress, but I choose not to share it because it’s so far from perfect.

Tonight my mind wandered to memories of refrigerator art. As children we were proud to have our works of art displayed in one of the most prominent places in the house – the front of the refrigerator.

We weren’t concerned about the fact that the nose was a bit wonky or that the shading was far from perfect, we simply enjoyed the process and we bubbled over with joy about our progress. We were darn proud to have our drawings on display, even the practice pages.

As adults we are often-times afraid to share things we create that aren’t perfect and we’re also reluctant to admit that it required a lot of trial and error to achieve a less than perfect outcome.

practice builds confidence

To take it a step further, I think that as adults, we’re afraid to try new things because we might not succeed.  There’s also a bit of “why bother” if there’s no way to monetize it.

It’s too bad we’re conditioned to think that way because there is absolute joy in learning something new and feeling proud about showing it off the same way you did as a child.

There’s also so much more to art and creativity than trying to find a way to monetize it. It’s a way to touch people’s lives. We commune through words, art, music, food, and nature; it’s how we truly connect with each other as human beings.

Celebrate your inner child and show off your refrigerator art (even the works in progress) off with pride and joy.

fridge art

Welcoming the New Year with an Open Heart

new years resolutions_dreamcatcher_i am worthy

I had this really great and “philosophical” post about new years resolutions written and ready to post and I made one wrong move and all 700 words or more are now somewhere in cyberspace never to be read.

Maybe it was a sign that I was being too preachy rather than writing from my heart.

Long story short, I decided to take a different approach to setting resolutions or goals for the new year. Instead of setting goals like “losing weight” or “regaining physical fitness” (both of which I need to do),instead I let my subconscious flow through art.

I created two lists, the first one contains very specific things that I want in a relationship. As I drew, I focused on my desires and let them guide me. It looks like a dream-catcher or a tambourine – maybe I was channeling my inner Stevie Nicks. :)

dreamcatcher

The second list was bigger – it was my version of a New Year’s resolution.

new years resolutions

In a nutshell, my resolutions boil down to this:

  • Believe in yourself
  • Rejoice in your gifts
  • Explore the unknown
  • Accept compliments
  • Refrain from judging without understanding
  • Love and take care of yourself so that you may serve and give to others

Above all else know that we are all worthy of love and happiness.

new years resolutions_dreamcatcher_i am worthy

Happy 2015!

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, but it does Build Confidence

9_let the journey begin

One of my mantra’s is, “it’s never too late,” and I truly believe it. Sure there are points in life when it may be too late to achieve certain goals, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on ourselves or stop discovering the talents and interests that may have been buried by life’s circumstances.

One of the things that gets in our way of trying new things is a fear of failure, or maybe more accurately it’s a fear of not being able to do whatever we’re thinking about trying to some preconceived notion of “excellence.”

For the past 3 years I’ve enjoyed a later-in-life discovery about me; I’m an artist. In spite of the fact that I now describe myself as an artist and a writer without hesitation, there is still a fair amount of self-doubt when it comes to certain aspects of creativity.

My drawing lessons started with complex pieces of artwork which required an understanding of two-point perspective and shading. They were challenging to say the least.

progress on perspective_07_finaljpg

It took me weeks to finish the lessons that the other students finished in hours. The outcome was something I felt good about, but the process was stressful and may be the reason why my creative outlet became very abstract and I’ve stayed away from drawing “real things.”

Colorful Ink Drawing on handmade flax paper

For the past year I’ve been partial to flowers and trees.

inktober_10_19_2014tree series_seasons

 

My journal has become a place where I express my thoughts through both words and art. Surprisingly a face emerged one night a few weeks ago.

an attempt at a face

I posted it on Facebook and one of my artist friends recommended I check out an online class called “Supplies Me” and explore the possibility of learning to draw faces. (something I’ve avoided like the plague)

The video introduction to the class hooked me right away. The instructor, Jane Davenport, is all about having fun while learning. Her emphasis on practice building confidence rather than perfection is a unique way of framing an art class.

I jumped in with both feet, ordered a foreign art supply called Gesso to prep the pages of a new journal. Gesso is a white paint mixture that you use to add texture to an ordinary piece of paper. It primes the paper to allow paint or other mediums to adhere and bond to the page.

I ordered the Gesso and a brush; as soon as they arrived I prepped the first two pages of my journal.  I had a hard time deciding whether or not I should use the spiral-bound Moleskin one or this inexpensive sketchbook I picked up at the Michaels a few weeks ago.

I chose the sketchbook. The funny thing is that I didn’t realize until making the choice that there is a title on the cover of the journal; it reads, Art Education Book Five, how ironic is that?!

Instructions for the first lesson were simply to “play.” My Peerless Watercolor sheets and color pencils were what called to me – so I prepped the first two pages, including the inside cover, and started the journal in my comfort zone – trees. :)

9_let the journey begin

Lesson 2 was about as far from my comfort zone as I could imagine, we jumped right into drawing faces!

I experimented with a couple of faces on my own before watching the instructional video as a bit of an experiment and to have a record of my starting point. It turns out I seem to be more comfortable drawing eyes that are closed.

practice faces 12_15_2014

 

practice face_12_19_2014

Thankfully the instructor set a comfortable stage for a challenging homework assignment – draw lots and lots of faces.  I think the first one is my favorite,

practice face_12_20_2014

but there are some fun things about the other faces as well.

practice faces_0001_12_20_2014practice faces_0002_12_20_2014

I’m also learning a bit about how Gesso works and feels under my ink and pencil, what smudges and how to prevent unwanted lines and colors from ruining the pages.

In preparation for the mixed media challenge for this week, we learned some tricks to help us learn how to draw the human body.

practice faces_starting body parts

I’ve no idea where this class is going to take me – what I do know is that I’m really glad that I didn’t let my fears keep me from trying something new.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does build confidence and can open up new worlds.

The “Heart” of Journaling

garden flower notebook

It was a good and productive weekend. I even managed to take some time off Friday night to attend the drum circle and yesterday morning I curled up with a cup of coffee and my neglected journal.

Ever since discovering the teachings of Julia Cameron a few years ago, I’ve been fairly faithful to writing my morning pages. Three pages (or so) of peace and quiet, a safe haven in which one can be as petty or prophetic as they want to be while taking refuge between the covers of the journal.

It’s a place to clear out the bad thoughts and make room for the good ones, a place to express fears, make dreams, and ponder. I’m not a morning person in any way shape or form, so sometimes my morning pages are written after midnight – it still counts as morning, right? I do try and avoid the late night writing because it usually gets my mind going rather than relaxing it, which is why I’ve taken to sometimes drawing instead of expressing my feelings through words.

Yesterday I filled 10 pages of my journal with words. I guess I had more on my mind and in my heart than I realized. So much is changing lately, and in so many good ways. Strange thing is that I tend to reflect on what I’ve come through as a part of being thankful for where I am now; it’s seems to be a part of my process.

For me journaling is different from keeping a diary. I remember keeping a diary as a teenager; confiding to the pages kept private by a slender lock, but never really revealing the truth. A diary is a record of events sprinkled with glimpses into the heart.

A journal is a record of the journey as experienced from the heart. It’s a place to express your thoughts, clear your mind, doubt your doubts, and dream your dreams.

The majority of my journals are spiral bound notebooks; I prefer that they have a pretty and colorful cover. Lately I’ve been writing in a bound journal, something about it feels a bit more permanent which is interesting.

My most recent journal also contains more drawing interspersed throughout the words than any before it. In an odd way I think it’s led me to my current art exploration and the creation of an art only journal – a different way to record feelings rather than dates and times.

Last night I created this card to accompany a Christmas gift of a journal for my niece. It’s fun for me to combine art and words in a meaningful way.

journal card

My hope is that she finds writing to be a way to express herself that she comes to know that A Journal is….a safe pace to bring your dreams to life and to put your fears to sleep.

I know she’s going to love the notebook. I also included some fun pens for her to experiment with.

garden flower notebook

The Stockings are Hung

the stockings are hung

I love decorating my house for the Holidays. There’s something special about the way the decorations bring a lighthearted and hopeful feeling into each room.

This year is going to be a very different one for me. For the first time since my oldest two children were born we will be apart at Christmas. We’ve shared some great memories in this house, including running out of oil (which means no heat) on Christmas morning.

The timing of the holiday combined with vacation eligibility (or lack there of) as well as the high cost of travel forced us to come to the conclusion that this year we would not be able to be together. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience and I guess in some ways it’s probably a sign of times to come.

We’re entering that transitory stage in life where my kids are building their own lives, and so too shall I continue to build mine.

I have to confess that I debated with myself about whether or not to decorate this year given the fact that we won’t all be together. When it came right down to it though, I couldn’t bear the thought of a stockingless mantel at Christmas-time.

My youngest son won’t actually admit it, but I think he would have been secretly disappointed if I had chosen not to decorate.

Regardless of whether or not we’re all under the same roof to celebrate during this time of year, our love for each other runs strong and deep.  It seems to me, that’s what the holidays are really about.

 

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas