Lessons in Leadership

It’s odd, but true that one of my most profound learning experiences as a leader has also been one of my best-kept secrets. It’s an experience that caused me so much shame and embarrassment that I haven’t shared it with many people – in fact, I just recently shared it with my parents more than 20 years after it happened.

As a young supervisor, I entered my new role with unearned confidence after having been the President of the University Program Council at my college, coupled with many summers of managing lifeguards at a local country club and a short stint in retail.

Little did I know what the business world expected and would require from me.

I entered the “real” work world as the supervisor of a small call-center for a printing company. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous interviewing tactics of my then manager. They included describing the dimensions of block of wood, which was somehow supposed to relate to printing – I actually never understood the connection.

Anyway, fast forward to my role as the Customer Service Supervisor (yes I was hired).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job. After all, “everyone “loved me.”

Turns out, it was time for a significant course correction.

The company (ahead of its time) conducted an employee satisfaction survey, “guaranteed to be anonymous.” The survey included the opportunity to give direct feedback about your supervisor, and honesty was encouraged.

The survey was sent, the results were received and the feedback sessions were scheduled.

I’m reasonably sure my feedback session was the first. It was awful, no, let’s make that horrible. Not only was the feedback hard to hear – the setting was worse.

Imagine sitting in a conference room surrounded by your direct reports, the V.P. of HR (aka the daughter of the owner of the company, in this case) and your nemesis. In other words, I was sitting at a table with the people who had been asked to provide “anonymous” feedback about my performance as their supervisor.

It also included the woman who had been hired to be promoted into the position I wholeheartedly and mistakenly believed should have been mine. Could there be a more uncomfortable setting? I think not – it was beyond awkward for everyone.

Long story short, and I’ll get to the point. The feedback I received was painful to hear but honest and accurate.

The next morning, after a night of endless tears, I made myself get out of bed and go to work. Just as I got to my desk, the phone rang, the name and extension number on the display signaled it was John O’Brien, the president company. I froze, then shakily picked up the receiver and said, “This is Beth.”

He asked me to come to his office.

I was terrified of the outcome – sure I would be fired because I had received such a terrible review from the survey. But here’s how the conversation went.

“Beth, yesterday was a tough day for you. First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for how the feedback was delivered. That was not my intention, and unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the right way to communicate the feedback. I own that, and you should have never received the feedback in a group setting, it should have been private.

Having said that, it happened. Tell me what you think about what was said and what you heard, separate from the way you received it.”

After a deep breath and through barely held back tears, I responded, “It was hard to hear, but it was accurate. I do try too hard to be liked instead of giving people honest feedback that might be difficult to hear but would help them grow. There were many things said that I need to improve on and change. The list is long.”

His reply as he handed me a tissue, “You have choices now, Beth. What are you going to do?”

“John, it’s embarrassing to admit, but what they said was right, and like I said, it was hard to hear, but it’s obvious I need to make some changes.  I’ll need help along the way, but I want to make this work.”

“You have great potential, I knew you’d make the right choice, and I’ll help you in every way I can. We both learned valuable lessons yesterday and today. Let’s put this  experience behind us, but learn from it.”

Looking back, the choice seemed rather obvious to me at the time, purely from an “I need to keep my job” perspective. But as it turns out, this was one of, if not the biggest and best lessons in leadership I have ever learned.

The lesson was painful but straightforward. People look to a leader to help them grow, not to be a friend. It’s essential to believe in people and to take a personal interest in their lives and in their success, but boundaries are important and necessary. Being a leader is important and bears responsibility. As a mother, I often-times liken it to parenthood.

We want the best for our kids, we are stewards of their lives – after all, we brought them into the world. While we didn’t bring the people we work with into the world, we spend more time with them than we do our own children when it’s all said and done. So, as leaders, and we all are in one way or another, we have the responsibility and the privilege to care for the people we interact with. Especially if we are in a leadership role.

The people we work with rely on us to show both honesty and compassion in our relationships with them. What they may or may not understand is that it’s not always easy. I’d never thought about it before, but I now realize that John O’Brien probably dreaded the conversation with me, maybe nearly as much as I dreaded facing him.

In the end, he owned his part in the debacle but didn’t let me lose sight of the leadership lesson I needed to learn. John O’Brien was someone who owned his mistakes, made the needs of his employees a priority and helped people develop. In other words, he was a servant leader long before it was a corporate buzz word.

While the experience was undoubtedly the most humiliating one of my professional career, it was also the most important one. Because of it, I learned what it means to be a leader and it changed the course of my career for the better.

Recently I attended a leadership workshop, which brought the experience full circle. It involved a “360 review.” This basically means questions are sent to your manager, peers and direct reports requesting feedback on your effectiveness as a leader.

I’ll leave it at this, John would be proud of the leader I’ve become.

First Kisses…

I’m thinking that everyone remembers their first kiss. I’d also be willing to go out on a limb and speculate that most of those first kisses were awkward rather than breathtaking…

Just guessing.

It’s awkward, that first kiss – sometimes it comes when you least expect it, like at a cast party after a middle school play and you have no idea what do to when lips meet lips and you still have a Frito chip dissolving on your tongue.

How does one prepare for that?

During play rehearsals, we were carefully coached on the art of “fake” kissing on stage. It was a unique approach, not sure if it was widely taught or just local.

It involved very carefully placed stage movements and hand over mouth placements to keep the hand to hand meeting appear to be between lips and not between hands clasped over lips. I have no idea if it actually worked or if the audience just chuckled.

Although my role in the play involved no “kissing” roles, the star of the play – I still remember his name, kissed me at the cast party. Well, it wasn’t that great – there was the Frito in my mouth and I wasn’t expecting an actual kiss. Let’s just say it was awkward.

Dating again, as a “person of a certain age,” has introduced a whole new round of first kisses. It’s no less awkward the second time around. At least I know more than I did when I was 14. Just saying…

Snapdragons and Butterflies

It seems appropriate and fitting to reblog this today – it’s my grandmother’s birthday. 🙂

it's a whole new world

purple snapdragon and white butterfly - medium charcoal pencil and color pencil with a touch of ink and pastel Snapdragons and Butterflies

Today is my maternal Grandmother’s birthday.  If I’ve done my math correctly she would have 101 years young today. I have many wonderful memories of her which include learning how to properly knead the dough, the taste of homemade bread fresh from the oven, and playing  “boutique” for hours on end.  However, the image that most often comes to mind when I think of her is one of snapdragons and butterflies.

It seemed appropriate to post an essay entitled Snapdragons and Butterflies to commemorate her birthday.  I wrote it in December 2010 and it’s one of my earliest completed pieces as well as one of my favorites.  It also seemed fitting to illustrate the post with my first solo drawing.  Although my original idea was to create a realistic interpretation of my favorite flower I decided a version that was more child-like was the way to go…

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Silly Rabbit, Piano Lessons are for Grown-Ups!

The piano has always been a part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are of Grandma Marion playing carols in the crowded living room after a traditional Christmas dinner of Swedish meatballs, lefsa, lutefisk and rømmegrøt. (Yes, I’m a bit Norwegian).

Surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins, the 24th of December was full of warmth, even on the coldest of winter nights in North Dakota. I do believe my love of music, especially the piano is rooted in large part with memories of her. My piano is part of her legacy.

I took lessons as a child and through my teenage years. If memory serves me correctly, I made weekly trips to my instructor’s house until I graduated from high school. I don’t ever remember dreading practicing or going to the weekly lesson. I also don’t remember looking forward to it.

To the best of my recollection, I liked my teacher a great deal, hated playing in recitals, always had trouble remembering the right fingering and was somewhat relieved to be “done” playing the piano as I entered my college years.

Thankfully, my parents were wiser than me, and when my grandmother passed away, they used part of my dad’s inheritance to purchase a piano for me. It seemed like the right thing to do, although I never dreamt it would mean that I’d ever touch the keyboard again.

They bought me a beautiful upright, made by Yamaha – which according to my new piano tuner is one of the best.

Anna tuning Beth's Piano

The details are fuzzy, but soon after the purchase, I arranged lessons for myself and my three children. We all advanced at different speeds, and I’m not sure why we stopped our Saturday lessons, but by the time we did I had made my way through most of John Thompson’s fourth-grade series. For anyone familiar with the series, you’ll understand why I’m proud of this accomplishment.

My piano and I were separated for three years when I moved from Nebraska to Pennsylvania.  We were reunited thanks to the generosity of friends, but in spite of the reunion, it went unplayed for the better part of eleven years, that is, until recently.

Inspiration comes at the strangest times and often-times in the most unexpected ways. My new boss and I were talking about music, and I happened to mention that I had a piano.

“Do you play?” he asked.

“I used to, but I’m beyond rusty and my piano is horribly out of tune.”

He said, “Why don’t you get it tuned and start playing again?”

“Hmmm, that’s a good question, maybe I’ll look into it.”

His comment and the rest of the conversation motivated me to get serious about at least getting my piano back in tune after 11 years of traveling back and forth across the country.

Finding a piano tuner was much easier than finding a teacher – but after a few weeks of Googling, I found both and I couldn’t be happier with both discoveries.

Anna or A. Ajemian is a second generation piano tuner – she mastered the art of piano tuning against her father’s advice. He wanted her to pursue a “respectable job” for a woman. In other words, he thought she should find a “nice office job.” Thank goodness she ignored his advice!

Three weeks after having my piano tuned I had my first lesson with Mark. He welcomed me warmly and I felt at home as I took my place on the bench in front of the obviously well played and loved white upright against the main wall in his studio.

We talked and I explained that I had taken lessons for many years and the focus of my study had been on classical and jazz. I shared that I’m at a point in my life that I just want to have fun with music, and while I want to learn and be challenged I don’t feel a need to graduate from John Thompson’s Fifth (and last) grade level book.

He said “I know exactly what you need,” and flipped through a book of sheet music intended for someone who plays the ukulele. I was dumbfounded and wondered for a moment whether or not I had made the right choice for a teacher; ukulele sheet music only has a single note melody line – no chords, no bass clef. I was perplexed and had no idea how this was going to work out.

After settling on a song, he asked me, “Do you know how to chord?”

I responded by playing the middle C chord with some authority. He beamed, “Yes that’s it! Now, do you know what the inversion of that chord is?”

I looked at him blankly. He went on to explain how chord inversions are different ways to play the same chord, each position is called a different inversion depending on what the bass note is. He guided me through some basic chord formations, and I felt both comfortable and challenged. It was clear to me then, I had most definitely found the right teacher.

It was scheduled to be a 30-minute lesson, so at 8:35, five minutes over the scheduled time, I fully expected him to give me my homework, not to say, “Start from the top again and incorporate the chord work we just talked about.”

I did, certainly not flawlessly (not even close), but I did my best and it was fun.

At 9:05 he wrapped up the lesson and gave me my homework assignment, which includes a lot of work around root and inversion cords while working a Bob Dylan classic, “Blowing in the Wind.”

As we were wrapping up, he said, “Your lessons won’t usually be this long, they’ll be in the neighborhood of 30 minutes or slightly more. But tonight I was inspired to keep going because of how quickly you were catching on.

It’s clear you’ve had excellent musical training and have talent. Because of your background, you made more progress in 30 minutes than some students make in months. This is going to be fun!”

I’m going to enjoy learning something completely different from playing classical music. It’s also cool to know that all of the years of playing and practicing songs from the various grade levels of “John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano” paid off.

I’ve had great fun practicing this week, even if my cat doesn’t seem to appreciate it.

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I’m excited to see where this new adventure takes me!

If you’ve made it this far, here’s a sound bite from my first week of practice – it’s far from perfect, but it makes me smile nonetheless.

For the second time in my life, I’m proof positive that piano lessons are not just for kids. I also won’t be surprised if my next lesson includes a lot of focus on the importance of finger position on the keyboard. I have a feeling it would have made some of the chord transitions much smoother.

All in all, it’s so much fun to explore something familiar, but yet brand new.

 

 

Peat and Repeat

Just because a recipe made its way into a church cookbook doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. That’s a lesson I learned many years ago when I was cooking for a family of five.

Apparently the same holds true for recipes that are delivered by a meal delivery service. A lesson I learned recently,  as a part of my attempts to master the art and science of cooking for one.

Cooking for Five

When my kids were growing up they were all very active in sports, at school and hanging out with friends. Evening mealtime was a very important time of the day for our family and we made it a point to sit down together whenever we could – no cell phones allowed, to share a meal and the highlights or sometimes lowlights of the day.

The older they got, the more difficult it became to come home from work and prepare a home-cooked meal and we found ourselves eating out way too often; a fattening and expensive habit. I wanted to find a way to help us all eat healthier, at home, and at the same time take the drudgery out of the daily task of figuring out what to make for dinner and then prepare it.

The answer was a weekend of mass meal preparation. Over the course of a few years, I fine-tuned my technique for prepping somewhere between 20 and 25 meals from taking up an entire weekend to a single day. Somehow, I found a way to complete everything from grocery shopping to cleaning up in a little over eight hours. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner” changed from “ugh, I don’t know” to “let’s go pick something out of the freezer.”

It was a family affair and usually included loud music, dancing and off-key singing into the head of a wooden spoon which did a fine job of doubling as a microphone. The day always ended with dinner at Fernandos, our favorite Mexican restaurant. After all that food prep, I figured I had earned the treat.

The one downside to this approach was that it was tempting to make the same meals over and over again because I had learned how to prep them and practically knew the recipe and ingredients by heart. In an effort to add variety into the stacks of plastic storage containers and gallon-size freezer bags that filled the freezer, I started including a few new recipes in each of the monthly meal prep events.

Peat or Repeat

For many people, I would guess that hearing the words “peat and repeat,” may conjure up a memory of the riddle: “Pete and repeat went fishing. Pete fell out of the boat, who was left?”

In our house, it had a double meaning. Each time I served one of the new recipes, the family would vote on whether or not it was worthy of repeating. The meals that didn’t make the cut were voted off the table and categorized as a “peat,” the opposite of repeat.

The worst peat I ever made didn’t even make it to the table, let alone a family vote. It was a recipe for barbecue chicken from a church cookbook. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking when I combined ketchup and frozen lemonade concentrate poured it over the chicken and turned the crockpot on before leaving for work. (I know!)

I’m not sure why I thought that just because a recipe made it into a church cookbook meant that it was going to be good, but I did.

Thank goodness I was the first one home that day. I walked in the kitchen and almost gagged when the sickly sweet smell of ketchup combined with lemonade hit me. I didn’t think twice and while holding my breath, I unplugged the crockpot and dumped its contents into the trashcan in the driveway.

Needless to say, that recipe was an unequivocal peat and we had dinner at Fernandos that night.

Cooking for One

There have been a lot of changes in my life as I’ve transitioned from the time in my life when I regularly cooked for five and sometimes more, to most often trying to figure out how to cook for one.

Oddly, or maybe not, it’s been one of the more difficult things for me to figure out. The first challenge for me was getting used to the lack of a need to have leftovers on hand to serve as midnight snacks during impromptu visits from my youngest son and his friends. The second challenge, and not a small one for me, was in finding recipes that serve one and appealed to me.

There are some pretty good resources out there and I did manage to find more than a few that seemed worth trying. This led to challenge number three, grocery shopping for recipes for one and also challenge number four, having the motivation to cook after work.

I tried a meal delivery service in an attempt to solve three out of four of the excuses for not preparing healthy meals for myself. After one too many ingredient substitutions, the worst of which was when they sent brussel sprouts instead of asparagus, I canceled the service. Once again found myself falling back into the habit of eating at restaurants, one in particular, far too often.

A little over a month ago, I decided to give a different meal delivery service a try and I’ve been trying new things. For the past few weeks, I’ve been “zesting” limes and lemons, charring corn and goodness knows how many other new food preparation methods that were previously unfamiliar to me.

Much to my surprise, I’m actually enjoying learning these new techniques and with the exception of one “peat”, I’ve been very happy with all of the recipes. The ingredients are intended to make a meal for two, but I find the serving sizes to be more than generous and in some cases, could feed at least four. This means I have just the right amount of leftovers for meals throughout the week and I have variety.

It’s worth noting that my grocery bill has gone down, I throw away less food – in particular, produce because the service sends me just what I need. I’ve even made a few of the “repeats” on my own.

As with a church cookbook though, not every recipe is worthy of a repeat just because it’s featured as a menu selection on a meal delivery service website. Although I’m sure the odds are probably higher than the church cookbook.

Going forward, for me, any recipe with couscous or cooked spinach is an automatic peat, or in this case, a do not order.

Tuning into Life in Liverpool

It’s a little hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve moved four times in the past 11 years.

First from a five-bedroom house in Omaha, NE to a three bedroom apartment in Yardley, a township in Pennsylvania, located just north of Philadelphia. There was barely enough room for our basic belongings so I had to move my piano to my mother-in-law’s basement with the hope that someday I would find a way to get it back.

Next, my youngest son and I moved out of the three bedroom apartment into a three bedroom house. A house that had more space than we had furniture and the perfect wall for my piano, which, unfortunately, was still in Omaha.

Three years to the day that we arrived in Pennsylvania, I received a phone call.  The message was brief.

“Your piano is here; can you meet us today to accept delivery?”

Thanks to the generosity of my dear friends Dick and Gina, my piano and I were once again reunited.

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Although it was a bit out of tune after three years of neglect, it still sounded amazing to my ears. I practically wore the keyboard out playing Annie’s Song by John Denver over and over again. For some reason, it’s the only song that I can just sit down and play after being away from the keyboard for years. Not perfectly for sure, but at least it’s somewhat recognizable.

Fast forward to September of 2016 when life’s circumstances catapulted me back to Omaha, and into second floor two bedroom apartment. This time the piano came with me and there was a beautiful spot for it, but knowing how sound carries through hardwood floors, it went unplayed for the two years I lived there.

It sadly became a beautiful, out of tune and sentimental piece of accent furniture; all the same, I was happy it had remained part of my physical space.

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I fully imagined myself staying at my job in Omaha for a number of years, not forever, but certainly for longer than two years. The Universe or maybe Fate had other plans in mind for the final month of 2018.

On Tuesday, December 4th, the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings, the next day they loaded up the truck and I relocated to a pet-friendly hotel with Mia. Thursday morning, I loaded up the car – cat and all, and began the drive from Eastern Nebraska to Upstate New York.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

Three days later I set up camp in my new townhouse with an air mattress, cardboard box night stands, a couple of inexpensive lamps from Walmart and Miss Mia – my still mysterious cat.

Air mattress and cardboard box night stands

Over the course of a week, my furniture was delivered. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, and if it hadn’t been for the piano bench precariously perched on top of a stack of boxes, I would have doubted that my piano had been delivered.

boxes piled high

After weeks of unpacking that seemed like they would never end, the main floor of my townhouse is mostly in order and not only did I find my piano, I was able to fill this corner of my new abode with character.

Beth's piano and pictures

The largest piece above the piano is a piece of lacework that my dad’s Aunt Gladys created. It’s called Hardanger and is a form of embroidery, origins unknown, but for some reason flourished in Norway.

The dried flower pieces that surround it were created by my maternal grandmother.

Thankfully one of my coworkers volunteered to help me out. Hanging this arrangement is not a one short person job. 😄

It hadn’t occurred to me before today that this arrangement of art is a wonderful representation of both sides of my family.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the reason I have a piano in the first place is directly related to Grandma Marion, my dad’s mom. I do believe my love of music, especially the piano, is rooted in large part with my memories of her. My piano is part of her legacy.

I’m so happy it’s all in place!

Finally to the real reason for this update.

After eleven years of disruption, my piano is now as perfectly tuned as possible.

I found A. Ajemian, a second generation piano tuner, via Google – as we find most products and services these days; the appointment was confirmed through text messages.

Finally, after 11 years and four moves, my piano would be back in tune.

As it turns out that there is at least one other human being on earth with a bad sense of direction, even worse than mine. She called me 45 minutes after she was due to arrive and announced that she was lost. Somehow I was able to sort out where she was and guide her to my driveway.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve given five other people the very same directions and all of them found my place without trouble. 🙂

Before my move to Pennslyvania, I had the piano tuned on a regular basis. I honestly never took much interest in the process. Once a year, the piano tuner’s wife called to make an appointment, they showed up, he tuned the piano while I went about my business, I wrote a check and they left.

This time, however, I had a much stronger interest in seeing how the process worked, well that, and Anna – the “A” in A. Ajemian, was quite talkative. Plus, I really had no other “business” to attend to.

Anna (I like knowing her first name), carried in her father’s toolbox and in between anecdotes about why she loves pianos manufactured by Yamaha (my piano is a Yamaha), settled into the task at hand.

Anna tuning Beth's Piano Once she settled in, she became quite serious and focused. I’m mystified by the tools and techniques that she used to work her way through correcting one tinny octave after another. But somehow she did.

It was fascinating to watch how her facial expressions changed from pinched to relaxed as she brought the strings behind the keys back into tune. Each time she finished a big section, it was time for tea and a chat.

We shared two cups of tea this morning.

Her dad was a piano tuner. As a young woman, she decided she couldn’t let this art form die with him. Apparently, he wasn’t very keen on having her follow in his footsteps.

“Find a nice office job. Tuning pianos is not a proper job for a woman.”

She ignored his advice, carries his toolbox to this day and now, thanks to this legacy, my piano is once again in tune and it’s brought me one step closer to feeling my home is complete.

In an unexpected final moment, Anna, the piano tuner, snagged me for an impromptu selfie.

I obviously didn’t have time to make sure every hair was in place, but I’m sharing the moment anyway.

Beth and Anna

And yes, I have played Annie’s Song by John Denver numerous times in the past two days.

New Beginnings and Beautiful Outcomes

Every artist was first an amateur.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hot Shops Art Center is home  to more than 80 local professional artists and multiple gallery spaces. Although I haven’t yet attended one, I’ve heard the bi-annual Open Houses are amazing and grow in popularity each year. A visit to the Hot Shops is definitely now on my artist’s date list!

As an amateur artist, never in a million years did I think that I’d have the opportunity to create art in such an inspiring place, but the weekend of October 13th a dream I didn’t even know I had, came true.

The night before, with no small amount of nervousness about the workshop and jumping into unknown territory, I loaded up my car with a laundry basket full of supplies, along with a half dozen big scary canvases.IMG_5044

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The name of the workshop was “Big Juicy Abstracts,” taught by Beverly Todd, a local professional artist, and beautiful human being.

The list of materials, which included canvases, specifically called out the requested size of canvas. 38″ x 38,” as a starting point – in case you’re wondering, that’s equivalent to the height of a taller than average three year old.

The majority of my artwork has been completed on canvases and pieces of drawing paper between the sizes of 5″ x 7″ and 10″ x 20″, with two exceptions.

The first and most significant was the three little birds painting I created a few years ago at a friend’s request.33_three little birds final on white background

Over the past two years, I’ve dabbled in acrylic through multiple visits to local paint and sip venues

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and through spending countless hours on YouTube channeling the techniques of other artists to create something uniquely mine.

Flower liquid pour

I’ve learned a lot, have had tremendous fun experimenting, but something has been missing – the opportunity for a more structured, hand’s on learning environment.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for such an opportunity until I saw the promotional post for the workshop in my Facebook feed. Although I normally dislike the promo zone on Facebook, in this instance I was grateful for it.

The weather was gray and gloomy, but my spirits were high as I unloaded my car and traversed to the open studio space. I was the last to arrive, which surprisingly meant that I ended up with the best spot in the room, the one with the most natural light.

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I set up my station as quickly as possible and settled in to learn and explore.

Abstract art is an interesting concept, so often we judge “good art” based upon how accurately it represents our physical world. In other words, how well the artist recreated a landscape or the impression of a person or an object through paint, ink or pencil.

Abstract art, is often criticized and misunderstood. I have to confess that prior to learning a bit more about the art of being abstract, I too have thought, “Why is this piece of art great? A five year old could have done this.”

What I know now, is that part of makes abstract art great – is exactly that. It’s created from the heart and soul, from a place of feeling. A place that’s sometimes happy and sometimes sad – a place that’s completely human. That’s how children create, from the heart and without overthinking it.

Over the course of the two day workshop, I also learned that while abstract pieces may appear to be randomly assembled to the untrained eye – there are very purposeful intentions behind the patterns that have emerged on the canvas.

We took time to “loosen up” and try some creative techniques on for size, things like making marks on a canvas with charcoal before painting.

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Seemingly insignificant actions, with unexpected outcomes.

By putting myself into a playful state of mind, and by following the intuitive input of the teacher – I quit procrastinating and painted.

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I’m not going to lie – it was a struggle to get to this point. The concept of painting on a such a large canvas was intimidating, and watching the seasoned artists around me fill their canvases with paint made me pause and wonder whether or not I was in the right place.

In many preceding drawing and painting classes, I’d never completed the work during the allotted class time. Frozen by my comparing mind, I’ve almost always allowed perfectionism to trump playfulness.

What I came to understand later in the day, as we shared our art – and what we learned, is that I’m far from alone. Even the most experienced artists in the group felt like they’d stepped way outside of their comfort zone and were unsure, but happy with where they had landed.

As it turns out, we’re not really alone. We just need to be brave enough to try.

In an unprecedented weekend, I completed not just one – but three pieces of art. I do believe it’s the first time, outside of a paint and sip experience, that I’ve actually completed a piece within the time-frame allotted.

This piece was particularly daunting, the size of the canvas was beyond my imagination, or so I thought.

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It was a fabulous high energy weekend! I somehow think it’s a glimpse into the future.

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Change is the One Thing in Life that is Certain

“I’ve suffered a great number of catastrophes in my life, most of which have never happened.” ~ Mark Twain

There have been times in my life when I feel like I’ve jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, in other words – moved from one difficult situation to one even worse.

What I’ve learned from these times is that nothing is certain, except that there will always be change, and that sometimes being in the fire – dancing through the flames – serves to make me stronger.

Last weekend, I walked through fire. Not just metaphorically, I literally (yes, this is an appropriate time to use this word) walked across a bed of hot coals. It was an unbelievable experience.

There’s no part of me that woke up last Friday morning and thought, hmmmm…tonight I’m going to walk across a bed of hot coals.

I don’t have any pictures of it. My phone and camera were safely tucked away in my room, and for some reason I resisted the urge to run to the elevator and collect the technology that might help me capture the moment.

Thankfully, a few people did capture the moment and were willing to share it.

firewalk
Photo by Jeanine Moravec Weise

The woman in the picture isn’t me, but it could be.

The first time I walked across the bed of hot coals, I was simply carried by the energy of the group. It wasn’t without intention, but it wasn’t specific to me.

The second time I stood in front of the path of burning embers, I raised my hands above my head and shouted “Abundance!” I heard two hundred voices echo my intent as I crossed the fiery pit.

The path to Abundance is paved with challenges, it won’t be easy – but it will be worth it.

The key is to live each day without making up what tomorrow will bring and accepting that the only thing that is certain is change.

Ideas Are Meant to Be Shared, Not Hidden

DO NOT COVET YOUR IDEAS. Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you. The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually you’ll become stale. ~ Paul Arden

About a month ago, I experienced a a strange case of mistaken identity at one of the local Paint & Sip shops. The encounter left me bewildered and disturbed; in a nut-shell, I was accused of signing up for the class with the purpose of “stealing ideas” for a competitor. Every once in a while, an unpleasant experience will stick with me for longer than I want it to, and this has been one of them.

The good news is that it fueled a creative growth spurt and challenged me to explore and try new ideas. It’s been an interesting process that started with hours of watching YouTube videos on a quest to learn how to add texture to acrylic paintings.

It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube. Tissue paper and Modge Podge are my new best friends!

There’s No Such Thing As a New Idea

Mark Twain says it best.

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

After watching dozens of videos and absorbing the various ways other artists use tissue paper and Modge Podge into their creations, I prepped a few canvases and gave it a whirl. I didn’t have any tissue paper on hand, but I did have an envelope full of handmade paper from one of my adventures in Pennsylvania.

Five years after attending my first paper-making workshop, I finally found a way to use some of the pieces I’d experimented on with ink pens. It took a bit to muster up the courage to rip, crinkle and paste the individual pieces of artwork onto a canvas, especially since I had no idea how or if it would turn out.

I’m happy to say that it turned out beautifully and it’s now part of my office decor.

colorful handmade paper collage

After the “incident” at the Paint & Sip class I randomly decided to go the Family Dollar store and see what kind of tissue paper they had on hand so I could continue experimenting with collaging.

Brightly colored balloons layered on top of a tissue paper sunset now also occupy a couple of walls in my office.

balloon collage 2

 

balloon collage background

Repainting a Canvas…

Until recently, the only artwork that I displayed in my office were paintings from the various Paint & Sip adventures. Now all of the walls but one contain my “own” creations, or in other words, pieces that were inspired by many difference sources but weren’t the result of a two hour guided class.

Replacing my Paint & Sip darlings accelerated the need to decide what to do with the completed paintings that were piling up behind the door. I couldn’t bear the thought of tossing them, but it also didn’t make sense to hang onto a bunch of paintings that would probably never hang on a wall again.

The answer came to me one night after hanging up a new mixed media piece in my bathroom. Coincidentally- or maybe not, I hung it next to the first painting I completed at the Corky Canvas.

It might sound strange, but in this one image, I saw my past, present and future as an artist. The realization of how far my work has progressed since last fall surprised me more than a little bit and it inspired me with an idea to recycle my Paint & Sip pieces into new works of visual art.

past and present

Just like with my handmade paper, it was scary to take the first step and potentially ruin something I had created and held dear. Without a particular plan in mind, I moved the painting from the bathroom wall to the easel and started the process.

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Step 1: Prepare the canvas with Gesso

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Step 2: Add texture with white tissue paper and Modge Podge,

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Step 3: Paint the background by mixing gold and white paint

gold and white paint

Steps 4 – 6: Paint some flowers, add some stems and apply a few finishing touches.

Oila! An original painting , completely inspired other artist’s work and ideas.

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The past month has flown by and my makeshift studio has been in constant use. It’s amazing how one three hour experience fueled a month’s worth of creative growth and exploration.

It’s too bad that some people are so worried that someone is going to steal or take credit for their ideas; they’re missing out on one of the best parts of life, sharing.