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

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

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.

Serendipity

Drum with music notes - Ink Drawing

Have you ever heard of Horace Walpole? Neither had I until this morning after Googling the origin/definition of the word serendipity. It turns out it was coined by Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford in 1754.

It’s interesting that a word that means fortunate happenstance was defined by a man described as an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.

Serendipity is one of my all-time favorite words and I’m often reminded of how many of my experiences and opportunities are nothing I could have orchestrated. It boggles my mind to think about how everything that happens in life becomes intertwined.

One event, often-times an unpleasant or unwanted one, can result in an outcome that is better than we could have imagined and it exposes us to new ideas, people, and possibilities.

A few years ago my chiropractor had to close the doors on his practice. I was devastated and had no idea how I was ever going to find someone to take his place and provide the same type of care and support.

Location was the only criteria I used to choose a new doctor from the list of recommendations. Since I knew nothing about any of them and I have a track record of getting lost in unfamiliar areas, it made the most sense to pick the one closest to my house.

Enter serendipity

I’ve now been seeing her for almost 3 years and it’s become increasingly clear that she isn’t a doctor you go to see because your back hurts, she’s a person you see because you want to live a full life and understand what it means to accept who you are and how to tap into your potential. She understands a lot about how the mind, the body, and the universe are intertwined.

Her teaching and healing practices have introduced me to many new ideas and techniques. Among my favorites are  NET (neural emotional technique), the teachings of Louise Hay, and drum circles.

She hosts a drum circle the second Friday of the month and it’s an event I do my best not to miss. Never in a million years did I think that I would be comfortable sitting among a group of strangers while playing a drum or another type of percussion instrument, but I am.

Drum with music notes - Ink Drawing

Last night the group was an equal mix of regulars and newbies which is always fun. Sometimes the music we make is more orchestra-like and the sets ebb and flow with a sense of purpose and beauty.

Other times, like last night, the beat is more primal and the sounds of each individual drum are more prevalent. The music may have been a little more off-beat but still beautiful in its own unique way.

The leader of the drum circle ends each evening with a meditation. His gentle words guide our imaginations to beautiful beaches, mountains, forests, and other beautiful places where the night skies are always filled with stars and the days are sunny, warm, and breezy.

Last night we took flight and drifted peacefully over a meadow reaching down to touch the softness of the multicolored petals of the flowers below us.

Ink Flower with multi-colored petals

It’s strange to think that I might have missed out on these experiences if not for an unexpected and undesired disruption. Serendipity is all around us; it’s a matter of being open to new possibilities.

I Speak for Myself

I Speak for Myself

It’s hard to believe that this art and journaling project is winding down and will be concluding within the next few weeks. Unless something gets in the way, I will end up writing the final entry on my birthday.

It started as a personal challenge to create one small piece of artwork and focus on a positive thought for each day; it has somehow morphed into a journey of personal growth.

My early entries into the art journal were direct quotes from Louise Hay, author of “You can Heal Your Life.” In fact the original plan was to use one of her direct quotes as the message for the day. After about five or six entries into the project I changed direction and began using her affirmations as inspiration and wrote positive thoughts of my own.

water color backgroundsIn addition to changing my approach to the actual words of inspiration, the process for creating the individual pieces of art started one way and ended up being completely different. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t very practical to paint the card and create the artwork one at a time, so I modified the process and started to paint anywhere from 10 to two dozen at a time.

I take things quite literally, and when I first started creating the actual entries ahead of the next day felt like I was cheating the process and the goal to “focus on one positive thought” for the day.

What happened in reality is that it freed me up to focus on my writing. Writing a journal entry for the saying on each piece of artwork was also not part of the original plan.

The only thing that was actually part of the plan was to share the thought for the day along with the inspiration and maybe say a few words about it.

Over the course of the past 113 days and 108 entries, my writing has grown and changed from high level observations and interpretations. It’s become much more personal and “real.” I’ve found great joy in expressing myself freely and honestly. My creative confidence has increased and I believe it is reflected by the difference between my first entry

I release the pattern in me that created this. I am at peace with the world. Louise Hay

and my most recent ones.

There are Always Options

I Speak for Myself

The project and the process has kept my head in a positive place during some difficult times and has been a great reminder that we can use negative energies such as fear, anger, and doubt to create something wonderful and worth sharing.

Peace Surrounds Me

Peace Surrounds Me

July 11th was the second Friday of the month, which for the past four months in my world meant it was time to enjoy another drum circle.

This one was extra special to me because my youngest son and his girlfriend agreed to be my guests. At dinner I did my best to give them a preview so they would know what to expect.

The one and only prediction I knew would come true is that they would be by far the youngest people in the group. Beyond that, each circle creates a unique footprint that becomes a part of each participant’s memory but impossible to recreate.

During my short exposure to drum circles, it’s common for our leader to start the evening with a question. He asks each of us to describe how we feel with one word. The words included perplexed, nervous, anxious, happy, optimistic, flurried, and uncertain.

Stormy weather got in our way in June, but we lucked out in July – and instead of playing our instruments under a roof, our heads were covered by clouds and the only light was the setting sun followed by the rising of a nearly full moon. The sounds of city life were present but unimportant as each of us found and followed a rhythm that was uniquely ours, but also part of the group’s.

It may only be me, but in my mind, together we traveled to distant lands while beating our drums. We became part of a rain forest; alive with chirps, clicks, and the gentle rhythms of nature while each of us played a small hand held instrument. We also learned that almost anything can be used to create a musical sound, including an empty coffee can – as long as it still has its yellow lid. 🙂

The sun set, the moon rose, and the evening ended with a walk along the beach.

Each of us played our own quiet sound, keeping in harmony with the underlying heartbeat that led the group. I have no doubt that others also heard the waves and felt the sand between their toes as we took a moment to imagine and dream.

The evening ended with the same question it started with.

“How do you feel?”

We all used different words to describe feelings of gratitude for the chance to be temporarily transported away from our worries and fears to place where our hearts felt surrounded by peace.

Peace Surrounds Me

I Choose to Excel

I choose to Excel

One of the first personal essays I remember writing was about the definition of success. As many idealistic teenagers do, I challenged traditional ways success is measured and questioned whether or not money and material things equal happiness. I’m sure it wasn’t, but at the time I thought the writing was brilliant and wise beyond my years.

I’ve waged a quiet and strange rebellion against the notion of personal achievement for a very long time.

Our society expects us to make life choices at a very young age. We also live in a world that encourages young people to put their hobbies and interests on hold so they can buckle down and focus on “what’s important in life.” Don’t get me wrong, earning a living and providing for yourself and your family is important. I just sometimes wonder if we do so at the expense of excelling at who we truly are as human beings.

In some ways I regret that I didn’t discover my inner writer and artist until later in life, in other ways it’s probably a blessing. I’m fortunate enough to have had the option to pursue and do well in a business career. It’s been a wild and very strange ride. Looking back, I can’t help but think that I worked too many hours and had my eye on the wrong goal.

Actually, I’m not even sure if I had a goal in mind other than to advance to the next rung on the corporate ladder. Truth to be told, I climbed each rung with hesitation. I’ve come to realize that my qualms about taking that next step were twofold.

I secretly knew that I could do the job, but was afraid that becoming “bigger” would change the way people viewed me. In my mind, there was a risk of being seen as either conceited or foolish, two traits no one wants in a friend. There was also a fear that that I would be forever trapped living a lie instead of following my dream.

I have to admit that there was a fundamental problem; I didn’t know what my dream was. You can’t expect to be able to follow your dreams if you don’t know what they are and can’t articulate them.

It’s also difficult at best to excel at something you’re not passionate about.

There are more than a few things in my business world that honestly excite, amaze, and motivate me; but the time I spend on my creative writing and art brings me far more joy and satisfaction.

The harsh reality is that the left side of my brain (the logical business minded side) is in a much better position to pay the rent and buy groceries than the artistic side of my brain is. And we all know that it can be difficult at best to achieve financial security, let alone prosperity through a career in art.

So the question is this – How do I follow my passion, become financially secure, and also have money and time left over to have fun and find a way to contribute to the community?

Through Julia Cameron’s teachings I have come to understand and appreciate that the world isn’t an “either/or” one. There are artists of all kinds who earn a living by working a day job and pursue their craft on the side. Some are eventually able to devote themselves to their passion full time, but most do not.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to work with a personal coach, I thought the sessions would help me define my business goals and map out a plan for success. When I wrote my “dream” statement, not a single word about my business came out of my head.

My Dream

I have a dream, and my dream is to become a published author with books in multiple genres. The most important one to me is entitled “A Leap of Faith, an Artist’s Journey into the Light.”

It is a story of discovery; it is my story of self-discovery and coming into my own. It will be inspiring to people who think it is too late for them and for people who have similar feelings about themselves as I do, but don’t have the words with which to express their thoughts.

I am driven to write because I want to be of service to others, I want to help young people make good choices and I want to help people at any stage of life realize that they can change, they can recover and soar. I particularly want to help women understand that they can be care-givers without giving up their identity, the importance of being in positive relationships, and we are all stronger than we know.

I want to teach and inspire, I want to help, I want to change the world and make it a better place. My dream is to do so through my writing, I will make people laugh, make them cry, help them feel, and make them think. I have experienced and survived things that should be shared in a way that will be helpful to others. I have the talent, I have the drive, and I now have the conviction to pursue my dreams and write my first book and many more.

A few months after defining my dream in words, I chose to put “A Leap of Faith” aside so I could focus on building a business. It was the practical and right thing to do.

Recent conversations with a new connection in my business world have made me realize that I’d lost sight of my dream have also been selling myself short career-wise. Over the past couple of weeks, my vision is beginning to take shape again and surprisingly it’s also growing bigger.

It’s time to do redraw the boundaries within which I’m living and release my fears about becoming bigger. The time has come to really define the dream and turn wishes into actions.

I choose to Excel

My Future is Secure

My Future is Secure

Some days, my affirmation or thought for the day keeps thoughts churning in the back of my mind during the day as I focus on the tasks at hand. Today is one of those days. In fact tonight, I’m even wondering what prompted me to create this entry, “My Future is Secure.”

The notion of a secure future is almost laughable on the surface. No one has a crystal ball or can predict what will come to pass. Financial stability is a myth because one never knows what will happen or what will not. We all live day to day hoping for the best and working hard to avoid the worst. Much, if not most of the future lies outside of our control.

I don’t mean to sound like a doomsayer, because I’m not. The reality is, life is unpredictable and uncertain and there are many reasons we have every right to doubt the security of our individual and combined futures.

I can speak from personal experience. I’ve gone from owning a beautiful house to near foreclosure and being thankful for the opportunity to rent and care for my current home and artist’s vessel.

One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was when a Sheriff knocked on my door to serve me papers about my house and the debt owed. I knew it was coming, but I was mortified all the same. Thank goodness I was home and my son, who was 14 at the time, didn’t have to answer the door and wonder.

I’d done everything humanly possible to avoid the situation, but when the money runs out – it runs out, and you are only left with the options offered or allowed by the rules and regulations. If only the options had included compromise and reason instead of legalese and a lack of humanity.

I thought I’d never get past the experience, let alone be able to share it.

I’ve learned that my future isn’t secure or certain in the traditional ways we think of our lives. We’re taught to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). What we’re not taught is how to handle it when things like the housing market crash turn our world upside down.

What has gotten me through the difficult times and keeps me focused on the unbelievable and amazing possibilities the future holds, are the people in my life.

My future is not certain, but it is secure. It’s not secure in that I know where every dollar is coming from or that I have any idea what tomorrow brings, but I know that no matter what tomorrow morning brings my family and friends will be there for me and I will be there for them.

My Future is Secure