Make Art and Share it With the World – The Sidewalk Chalk Project

I grew up in the Midwest and there was nothing better than a warm Spring day to shake off the chill of winter and enjoy being outside. As the days heated up, the countdown for school letting out for summer began. My childhood memories of summer are full of things like sleeping in, chasing fire flies, swimming pools, games of kick the can and decorating the neighborhood with sidewalk chalk.

Not all children are as fortunate as I was, we certainly weren’t wealthy but I always had everything I needed and then some. Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how very fine and fragile the line is between those who have and those not.
I can’t say that I’ve experienced it first hand, but I would imagine that summer days are just as easily filled with boredom and feelings of hopelessness rather than joy and lightheartedness if your family is on the verge of poverty.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what feels like a state of scarcity in our world and to convince ourselves that the problems are too big for us to influence or change.

The Power of One

My friend, Jennifer Broderick, an artist in Ohio is an amazing example of how “just one person” can make a difference. Earlier this spring, a neighborhood with sidewalks decorated with sidewalk chalk art caught her eye, as did the evidence of a lack of financial means. Over the course of a few weeks and more than a few walks, the sight of children playing outdoors and the smiles on their faces was the start of something big.

Toward the end of April, Jennifer posted some pictures of her driveway which was covered in big X’s and O’s; it turns out that she had started leaving packages of chalk and notes of encouragement outside her house to inspire the children in the neighborhood to continue to play outside. Her post motivated more than a few artists from across the country to contact her directly and offer to donate chalk and money to help her with this inspirational project.

Driveway covered in sidewalk chalk
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

A few instant messages later, I placed an order for a package of big, fat pieces of sidewalk chalk in assorted colors and thanks to Amazon’s most excellent product recommendation engine, the order also included a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen wands. I thought that the bubbles would be a great extra surprise and something the kids would enjoy.

The image of kids playing with the bubbles was so delightful and distracting that I neglected to update the ship to address with Jennifer’s information and the order was on its way to Pennsylvania thanks to Amazon’s exceptionally fast fulfillment process.

Two days later the unopened box occupied the space next to my piano and my intention to send it to Jennifer was thwarted by news that caused an unwelcome turn of events in my own financial situation. In light of my change in circumstance, it seemed like spending money to ship the chalk and bubbles wouldn’t be prudent.

For the next couple of months, I enjoyed following the progress of Jennifer’s sidewalk chalk artists as their works of art transformed her neighborhood into an outdoor art show.

Sidewalk Chalk Heart and Circle Art
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

Project Sidewalk Chalk had evolved from Jennifer leaving sidewalk chalk on her front stoop to a full-blown community outreach project. Throughout the summer, she is attending numerous events to hand out individual packages of chalk to over 300 children within the community. Each donation includes a warm personal note from Jennifer explaining a little about the project and to spread the message: “Remember to be safe, make art and share it with the world.”


In the meantime the sidewalk chalk I’d purchased was still taking up space in my living room and I continued to debate with myself over spending the money to ship it.

What was holding me back? The bubbles. I knew that the shipping cost for the chalk and the bubbles combined would be more than what I had paid for the entire order, it didn’t make sense to pay return shipping on the order for the same reason and so the box continued to take up space.

Last week I had an “aha” moment! The bubbles and the chalk did not have to stay together and if I just shipped the chalk it would be affordable and although my personal situation hadn’t changed it felt like the right way to spend a few dollars. I wrote Jennifer a note, drove to the local shipping store and sent the chalk to Ohio with a prayer of thanks and a smile.

The only thing left was to figure out what an empty nester was going to do with a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen bubble wands.

Facebook to the Rescue!

I took a picture of the bubbles and accessories and posted it in “Lower Makefield is a Great Place to Live,” the Facebook group for the community I live in.

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Almost immediately a woman from the area responded, “I’d be…I have granddaughters that love bubbles.” I sent her a friend request and an instant message to make arrangements, it quickly turned into an “It’s a small world” kind of moment.

She had been blowing bubbles with her grandchildren a couple of days before; they enjoyed it so much she used up an entire bubble wand and she was planning to buy more before they visited her again. Her youngest grandson is 15 months old and has Downs, she was also using the bubbles as a way to potentially help him to gain fine motor skills by reaching out to grab at them while one or more float in front of him.

As we made the pick up arrangements, we discovered that not only do we share the same zip code, our houses are less than 5 miles apart, her husband was a former patient of my chiropractor and she and her husband did some work with a lawyer who rented office space from my chiropractor when she owned the building. Crazy!

The bubbles are now in the loving hands of a grandmother and her grandchildren. 124 pieces of sidewalk chalk made it safely to Ohio.

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Jennifer privately shared a few pictures of children who had already received their gift; they were adorable! We want to keep them safe, so I can’t share the pics publicly – but I’m sure you can imagine the smiles that surrounded the “Thank You” sign as they posed with their sidewalk chalk for the camera.

Believe in Possibilities

Sometimes it can be tough to believe in positive outcomes, especially if you’re going through a stretch of “bad luck.” Like many people, there have been times in my life that have really tested my faith and my ability to be optimistic.

I’ve always considered myself to be a “cup half full” kind of person, however I’ve come to the realization that there is more to having a positive outlook on life giving lip service to the belief that “everything will be alright,” but letting the chatter in your head control your actions.

One of the many blessings in my life are my parents, they have lived through many difficult situations and have always maintained a positive outlook on life. My dad is a big believer in the power of a PMA, aka – positive mental attitude, and he lives it every day of his life. That’s not to say that there aren’t days that his optimism wavers, he’s human after all.

PMA could also stand for, perseverance means achievement; my dad faces every obstacle head on and somehow finds now to make the word No mean Next Opportunity.

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The drawing is from an art journal that I created as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions and to help me remain focused on the positive as I’ve been working my way through a recent set of challenges.

Near the beginning of this most recent “Adventure,” my friend Marilyn, gave me a beautiful postcard with this very meaningful quote from Art Mitchell – “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

The message really reinforces the way my dad approaches life and never gives up.

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Father’s day seems like perfect time to share a personal story of perseverance and growth, with many thanks to my dad for his unwavering support and for being an amazing role model for all of us. I am deeply grateful for all he has done for me and I know he is a big part of the reason that I am the woman I am today.

A look into the past….

On a warm September day in 2008, I watched the movers load our belongings onto the truck with mixed emotions and a few tears on my face. My thoughts ping-ponged back and forth between sadness and joyful hope. It was difficult to be leaving friends, family, a beautiful home and everything that was familiar and safe.But it was exciting to think about the possibilities that our future in Pennsylvania held.

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When I accepted the job in Pennsylvania, it seemed like nothing could go wrong and the future held nothing but rainbows and unicorns. Maybe I wasn’t quite that optimistic (or unrealistic), but I was really confident that it was the best thing that could have happened for my family and myself both personally and professionally.

We put our house on the market and my seven month commute between Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia began. It was a rather grueling trek back and forth, but it offered the opportunity for my daughter to finish out her senior year of high school without moving.

My youngest son was 12, and although I knew it would be difficult for him to move and adjust to a new school, new and very different living arrangements – I was confident that he would be able to adapt and in the long run it would help him grow and develop in positive ways.

Our move to Pennsylvania has been full of new beginnings and life changing events, but not at all in the way I would have imagined them to unfold.

I had landed my “dream job” with a financially sound company, or so I thought. The job was great, but the financial health of the company was not; two months after my start date, they declared Chapter 11. I was scared, but because I was the primary income earner, we had no choice but to move and hope for the best.

The real estate market in Omaha was depressed, just like everywhere else in the country. In spite of St Joseph statues and wonderful real estate agents, we were unable to sell before we moved, which meant that our new home was going to be in an apartment.

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It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was such a major change for all of us and it was not what I had hoped for. My unrealistic and unhealthy belief at the time was that we moved “because of me” so it was my responsibility to make everything perfect and as familiar as possible rather than asking for help and support.

After moving the challenges and obstacles seemed to gain momentum and magnitude.

In those days the voices in my head were working overtime.

I spent every minute of every day worrying. I hashed and rehashed the decision to move.  I beat myself up about the fact that the house back in Nebraska hadn’t sold and we were losing money every month. I speculated about the viability of the company I worked for and whether or not it would emerge from Chapter 11 and if I would be spared from any future layoffs.

I blamed myself for my husband’s unhappiness and deepening depression. I spent hours agonizing about my youngest son Christian and the fact that the ‘normal’ trials of being in eighth grade were amplified by a new school in a new state, being the only child left at home, and having to make new friends – something that is easier said than done when you’re the new kid from Nebraska and you started school almost three weeks late. I wondered if we’d be able to afford to fly my oldest kids, Jeff and Katie, out for occasional visits and I held myself accountable for it all, most of all, for the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to fix any of it.

There was no escaping the voices and daily I slipped further and further into a self-imposed state of emotional isolation. At work I found myself going through the motions and while I interacted with my direct reports, a handful of co-workers, and of course my boss. For the most part, I kept to myself and limited my contact with people to office hours only. I quit calling or even sending email updates to friends, and I talked to my parents and kids only when I thought I could fake a positive attitude.

I had no choice but to drag myself into work every day and do my best to appear upbeat and confident.  As the primary and now sole income earner I couldn’t afford to lose my job and it was the only escape I had from the dreary apartment and my relentless anxiety.  The voices took a back seat for a while every day while I managed my way through the work day. They were always there but just not as loud. By this point in time I’d had years of practice in compartmentalizing my personal life and my work life.  Lessons learned early in my career taught me to keep people at arm’s length and keep my personal life to myself.

Back then I didn’t realize or understand one of the underlying messages my dad lives,believes and had tried to communicate to me – worry doesn’t change tomorrow, it just takes the joy out of today.

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There were so many things I didn’t understand during that time in my life; concepts and practices that would have helped me maneuver more easily through a divorce, the financial strain and embarrassment that accompanied nearly foreclosing on my house and the challenges and blessings of being a single mom in a city half-way across the country from my family and closest friends.

I’ve not only made it through the majority of the initial challenges that came after my move; life is much richer because of them. It sounds strange to say, but I’m actually grateful for them because I’ve learned:

Self Love is the first step…

Self love is not the same as self indulgence or self acceptance. It means that we treat our bodies and our minds well, enjoy the person we are in the present, forgive and release the people and things from our past that hold us back and embrace our future with confidence.

I could write an entire book about the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years; lessons about being present and not dwelling on the past, tools for facing difficulties with positivity instead of catastrophizing and letting the negative chatter in my head control my actions.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and the most important one is that we only destroy our selves and sabotage our happiness when we hang on to regrets from the past, refuse to forgive ourselves for being human and compare ourselves to others as a way to measure success.

I suspect my dad finds the whole ‘self love’ thing to be a bit ‘woo woo,’ but I think that’s because he has an innate understanding of the importance of it.

Being Present is the next step…

I have never met two people who are as good at making the most of every experience as my parents. We moved a lot while I was growing up, and each time we moved they approached it as though it was the last place they would ever live and quickly made friends and became a part of the community.

My parents don’t “vacation,” they take trips. Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Hawaii with them. The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

Talk about being present in the moment and making the most of things! I know for a fact that there were plenty of things on his mind that were “worry worthy,” but instead of focusing on things outside of his control, he chose to embrace the moment and experience something new.

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He may sometimes get lost in his own thoughts, but he definitely knows how to live life to it’s fullest and doesn’t let challenges or obstacles weigh him down.

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Believe in Possibilities….

Believing in possibilities is so much easier and rewarding than speculating about all of the possible negative outcomes that may (or most likely not) happen as a result of a current situation.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Many, many thanks to my dad for all he has taught me about the power of positive thinking and the importance of believing in possibilities.

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I Thought it was just a Drawing Class, but it Turned out to be a Lot More

Bursting Into Fall

We all have days in our life that are significant turning points. Often-times we tend to think only about major life events such as getting married, the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one as the milestones along the way that shape us the most.

These events certainly are important and life changing, but I sometimes think some of the less apparent interactions and activities may play as big of a role as the obvious ones. I can think of more than a few such days in my life and how something as small and innocuous as signing up for a drawing class as an adult has changed my life in ways I never would have imagined.

On March 1, 2012 I hesitantly opened the door to a whole new world, I thought it was just the door to an art studio. Three and a half years ago I was afraid to pick up a pencil and draw a circle on a piece of paper. Today I can say with pride and joy that I’ve sold a few pieces of work and thoroughly enjoy exercising my creativity nearly every day.

Bursting Into Fall

More importantly, I can say that crossing the threshold into the art studio on that cold day in March set into motion a series of experiences that have helped me become a better person. I thought I was just going to learn how to draw, but it turned out to be much much more.

It’s ok to be perfectly imperfect

In fact it’s totally awesome to be perfectly imperfect. Whether it’s human nature or societal expectations, we almost all have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and deem ourselves a “failure” if we feel that we don’t measure up. I’ve learned that it’s both an exhausting and limiting way to live.

My teacher of this lesson has been art, specifically drawing in ink. When you draw in ink, if the pen slips and goes in an unintended direction there are two choices. You can crumple up the drawing and give up, or you can find a way to make it work. More often than not, there’s a way turn the mishap into a part of the drawing; I’ve come to think of this as“knowing how to resolve the lines.” And it’s an approach that can be applied in all areas of my life.

I still find it strange, but I no longer dread making mistakes because I know they often-times turn out even better than the original idea after I take a step back and think about how to make the “oops” work in my favor. Believe it or not, this fun little ink rendition of a cat perched in a tree looking at a full moon is full of “happy accidents.” 🙂

cat in a tree

It doesn’t work every time, and that’s ok too, it’s all about recognizing the difference between an opportunity that might be different from what we planned and also knowing when to cut our losses short and move on. It’s also having faith that even though there are obstacles and set backs, we’re still moving in the right direction and we never know how things are going to turn out in the end.

It’s never too late to bloom

It is never to late to learn something new and potentially discover things about yourself that you didn’t know. I really do believe this.

Sure there are certain things that it may be too late to attempt, it’s unlikely that I’ll become an astronaut – but then again I’ve never had the desire to be one, so that’s perfectly ok.

Lately it’s occurred to me that we tend to think about successful people in a somewhat one dimensional way. We look at where they are today and mistakenly think that they’ve always enjoyed success and abundance. My bet is that in most cases, the people we maybe envy because they “have it so easy,” are people who kept moving forward, kept learning and adapting to overcome and succeed in spite of the set backs and heart breaks along the way.

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We are all teachers and students

During the course of my life, I’ve been blessed with good teachers and I don’t mean just in the classroom. If you think about it, nearly every moment of every day and certainly almost every interaction has the potential to be a teaching moment.

The lessons don’t all have to be big and earth shattering, the small lessons are just as important. The key is to be open to learning from others as well as sharing what you have experienced. You never know how you might inspire or touch someone in a positive way and all of us should be striving to constantly learn and grow.

Even Michelangelo has been quoted as saying, “I am still learning.”

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Perseverance, Faith and Self-Confidence

Lastly, for today, March 1, 2012 opened the door to being aware of and understanding the importance of perseverance, faith and self-confidence.

It took me roughly three weeks to finish my first drawing for the class, it took everyone else roughly three hours. It was no small feat for me to keep going and not compare myself to others in the class, but at the end of the three weeks, I was amazed and pleased with the outcome. It was a lesson in perseverance in addition to drawing and shading.

For me, art is a bit like meditating and it forces me to be present in the moment rather than worrying about the future or “what ifing” about the past. The act of spending more time in the here and now and less time trying to control the outcome has deepened my faith and belief that what I need will be taken care of.

The more I let go of trying to control the outcomes, the more at peace I become.

Self-confidence – wow, it’s actually amazing when I think about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown since that fateful day in March. Now instead of feeling nervous and anxious about taking a beginning level drawing class, I seek out opportunities that are challenging and will stretch my skills, knowing that the classroom will be full of artists much more advanced than me.

The confidence that I’ve gained through improving my skills and learning new things has overflowed into the rest of my life as well and I’ve never felt better about the person I am, inside and out.

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Yep, I thought it was just a drawing class, but it changed my life.

Rain Doesn’t Make a Day Awful, it Just Makes it Wet

Saturday was a plan C sort of day. A few weeks ago my friend Dan invited me to join him and his parents to check out the Tall Ships Festival on the riverfront in Philadelphia. A trip into Philly to spend an afternoon with friends is always fun and the festival was a unique opportunity to learn a little about naval history.

L’Hermione, L’Hermione, “A French replica of the 145’ long Concorde class frigate of the French Navy.” Image credit: Tall Ships® Philadelphia Camden

As luck would have it, the forecast for Saturday was 100% chance of rain in the afternoon, not exactly the best kind of weather for an outside activity like touring massive ships with very tall masts and impressive sails.

Dan called to let me know that our group had expanded from 4 to 6 people and because of the rain he was organizing plan B, a visit to the Barnes Foundation Museum and dinner in Center City. Exploring one of the finest collections of Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings sounded like a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Between Thursday and Friday afternoon, the size of our group dwindled from 6 to 4 to 2. Dan’s condo is in the middle of a kitchen remodel and since the Barnes Foundation is something that can be visited at any time, it made more sense for his parents to visit another time. It also made sense to move to Plan C, a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A new exhibit, Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting, had just opened at the Museum of Art and we wanted to see the collection before it moved on to another city. We reviewed the train schedule and he ordered our tickets for the exhibit to allow for plenty of time between the trains arrival and the admission time.

I love taking the train into Philly it’s fun to be able to relax and read or people watch instead of being stressed out by heavy traffic, potholes, and parking in the city. The train station is always lively and it’s not uncommon to hear the beat of drums or a beautiful harmony created by two violins played in unison.music performers in the train station

The clapping hands and tapping feet within the audience energized the drumming, dancing, and singing. I couldn’t resist putting a dollar in each of the buckets on the “stage” that hosted these 5 enthusiastic performers.

Dan and I met up on the other side of the station and ventured out into the drizzle to hail a cab. We started our adventure at a local pub and sampled a couple of beers while catching up and waiting for our assigned time for entering the exhibit to arrive. It was a short distance between the pub and the museum and although we used our umbrellas they barely got wet.

The museum supplied an audio recording to add background and insights about various paintings and artists featured in the exhibit. It was a great idea except I couldn’t get them to work properly for the life of me. Sooo, after trying and fumbling with two different devices I gave up and just enjoyed the masterpieces through my own eyes and interpretations.

At the end of the tour Dan surprised me with a gift of 6 tiny color pencils from the museum gift shop – I think it’s one of the best presents I’ve ever received. 🙂 They’re almost too cute to use.

color pencils from the museum

Our walk from the museum to the restaurant was an entirely different story from the walk earlier in the afternoon. I held my umbrella as close to my head as possible and followed Dan’s feet through the wet sidewalks and puddle filled streets.

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By the time we got to the restaurant our clothes were dripping and we could do nothing but laugh about our state of severe sogginess. I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t look in a mirror, I can only imagine that my hair must have resembled something that belonged on the head of a clown and not anything like it did when I started the day.

The restaurant is located in a renovated firehouse and has some of the best beef brisket I’ve ever eaten. (In case you’re wondering, the person in the picture is a random stranger who was sitting at the bar)

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It’s across the street from the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum – which is now on my list of “must do adventures.”

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After dinner we managed to hail a cab to the train station, but not quite soon enough to avoid getting drenched again – proving once again that neither of us were going to melt in the rain.

In reality, it would have been tempting to stay home and plan our adventure for a sunny or at least dry day, but we would have missed out on an awesome day and time spent with a good friend.

Start with the bigger picture and worry about the details later

Recently I’ve been learning about composition in creating two dimensional art. It’s not just about how the objects relate to each other, it’s also about how the artist relates to the objects.

The first step is to decide which components of a setting are interesting and intriguing enough to be a part of the composition, then you have to think about how much space you have and how to go about making the most of it.

We’re given an entire canvas to fill so there’s no sense in leaving uninteresting blank spaces around the subject matter.

Once we know what we want to include and maybe more importantly why we want to include them it’s time to start putting things into position  – loosely defining the shapes, locations, and relationships between the objects within the composition.

It’s tempting (for me anyway) to concentrate on one part of a drawing in an attempt to perfect it’s shape and dimension without regard to the larger picture and how it relates to it’s neighbors.

The interesting thing about art is that even the spaces and shapes between the objects are a part of the story and give clues to the artist about the relationships between the objects.

One of my biggest obstacles and sticking points when it comes to drawing is overcoming the desire to draw what I think I should see vs what is really in front of me.

Today’s art class started on time and as usual the small group of students surrounded the subject matter with easels, paints, and pencils. My seat was at an angle which presented a challenge for me.

When I look at something that I know is circular in shape from a head-on perspective that’s how I want to draw it. It’s hard for me to draw the perfect circle as a squished hoop even though that’s how it really looks from my vantage point.

But after some guidance I figured out how to do it. And I began to grasp an understanding of why it’s important to start with the larger shapes and relationships and refine them without immediately jumping into the detail.

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Composing art is actually a lot like life. We often-times get bogged down in the details and worry too much about making one particular aspect of our life “perfect” before moving on.

When we take a step back and consider the entire picture and all that life has to offer, it becomes easier to envision the shape we want things to take and how the different aspects of our life fit together.

My drawing isn’t finished, but there’s a sense of direction and a feeling of progress.

The details are the finishing touches not the starting point.

Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright

Three Little Birds Acrylic Painting

It’s almost impossible for me to believe that it’s been 3 months since I first wrote about my 3 Little Birds Project. Where does the time go?! 

How it All Started

It all started with the size and medium that has become my favorite and that I’m most comfortable with. My collection of ink pens and markers is well organized and I’ve also been told it’s also enviable.

Ink Pens

During the months leading up to the 3 Little Birds project, I’d grown extremely comfortable using ink on canvases the size of a greeting card to create a variety of drawings inspired by nature.

Hydrangea Ink Drawing

I was content spending my evenings immersed in this world of comfortable familiarity.

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It was without conscious intention that I branched out slightly in subject matter and a sea of swirling dots and teardrops became the leaves on a tiny whimsical tree.

Tree of Hope
An explosion of color brought the tree to life.

tree of hope

Little did I know, that this small step out of my comfort zone would set the wheels in motion and lead me into an unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating place: a friend of mine reached out and asked me to do a painting for her inspired by this whimsical tree and her anthem, Bob Marley’s song Three Little Birds.

The Facebook conversation went something like this:

S: “Hey. I am inspired! I need something above my fireplace. you can create it!” 🙂

Me: “what are you picturing?”

S: “So my new mantra is three little birds. Bob Marly song. But i need color. Your tree with an inset with 3 little birds in colors would be incredible. Your first commission!”

Me: “omg, my drawings are small.”

S: “You’re going Big!” 30 x 20 at least.”

Me: “holy buckets! that’s big for me, but okee dokee”

S: “Get ready for the big blow up! I’m confident that you got it.”

In some ways it seemed a little crazy to say yes. After all, I had extremely limited experience with painting, had never drawn a bird, and had never drawn anything that big, and it was going to hang over her fireplace for many to see.

I don’t know how to explain it, but although it was scary and intimidating, it was also exciting to think about trying something new, big, and different.

3 Little Birds Come to Life

From the beginning of January to the end of March my dining room table was covered with a bright yellow “Kinder Mess Matt,” aka a plastic table cloth designed to protect nice surfaces from messy craft projects. (designed for children, perfect for me)

Three Little Birds
In the beginning, I stuck with ink to gain confidence in drawing cute little birds and experiment with the color and composition.

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After playing with acrylic paint to decorate the cover of an art journal
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I bought a canvas and spent a few weeks learning what it felt like to work on a surface other than paper, which brushes worked best, and how to recover from mistakes .

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At long last I was ready to tackle the final version. Admittedly, the difference in size between the original and the yet to be completed final version of the tree was more than a bit overwhelming to think about.
Canvas size comparisons
The large version didn’t get off to a smooth start. Thank goodness acrylic makes it easy to completely cover one tree with a layer (or two) of paint and allows the artist to keep on going without having to abandon the canvas.

Now for the fun part, lots and lots of color. I started with red,

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added in some yellow, green, and blue along with the three little birds so they wouldn’t get lost.

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Mia was my faithful art buddy throughout the entire project, although she may have just been interested in keeping an eye on the birds.

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The devil is in the details. Truth to be told, this was my favorite part of the project. I can lose myself for hours in the small but important details.

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A little over two months after I posted the ink drawing that inspired it all I finished the painting,

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had it packed and shipped to Omaha, NE and it’s now hanging above my friend’s fireplace.

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The entire project was fun, rewarding, and challenging. It made me stretch in ways that felt uncomfortable at first but ultimately helped me grow and gain confidence.

It was another lesson reinforcing the importance of being open to possibilities and the value of saying “yes” to trying something new even if it scares us.

Perhaps more importantly it was a reminder that there is potential living within each of us that is far greater than we can possibly imagine.

3 Little Birds, the slide show

I wish I could have set the slide show to the Bob Marley tune, but licensing it was a bit out of my price range, so I opted for something free and “sunny sounding.

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

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

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? 🙂

 

Refrigerator 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