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.

fun flowers

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.”

new paper_experimenting with ink

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.

dreams and memories_final

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

A Beautiful Lesson in the Art of Giving and Receiving

Today I went for a walk, little did I know that I would be taught a most valuable lesson about giving and receiving, from a 4 year old girl.

About 1/2 way through my walk I crossed paths with two women and 5 little girls who were enjoying the sights along the canal. I couldn’t help but notice the little blonde girl walking toward me and how proudly she held four goose feathers in her hands.

She looked up at me and stretched out her hands, “would you like one of my beautiful feathers?”

“Of course I would, thank you so much for such a wonderful gift.”

Her entire body, not just her face, lit up with the pleasure she felt in giving me this very precious gift.

As I walked away, goose feather in hand, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. It was clear that to her, this was not a dirty goose feather, it was magical and beautiful. Tossing it aside wasn’t an option. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her face if we crossed paths again and I had tossed aside her gift.

The perfect solution came to me and I tucked the feather into my pony tail.

I thought about the nature of giving and receiving. It’s become clear to me that being a good receiver is equally important as being a generous giver. This tiny girl’s face lit up the world with joy when I accepted her gift, I can’t help but think that her light would have dimmed if her gift had been rejected or ignored.

On the final stretch of my walk I encountered the group again. Tiny brown eyes looked up at me asking, “do you still have the feather I gave you?”

I pointed to my pony tail and turned around on the path, “what do you think?”

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.

“I do too.”

She held out the three remaining feathers, “would you like one more?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh yes, you need two.”

“Shall I put this one in my pony tail also?”

Tiny hands clapped and she said “yes.”

I tucked the second goose feather into my hair and turned so she could see it.

“Oh my, you look like you have two beautiful birds on your head.”

Words can’t describe the warmth that filled my heart or the smile that spread over my face and hers.

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Artist’s note: The feature image represents my interpretation of the day. Out of context I doubt it has much meaning, but I like to think that my little friend would find it beautiful.

feathers

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.

tree series_seasons

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.

6_tree of hope with birds_v1 w color_cropped

After playing with acrylic paint to decorate the cover of an art journal
3 little birds journal_back cover final
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 .

20_FullSizeRender (2)
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,

21b-006
added in some yellow, green, and blue along with the three little birds so they wouldn’t get lost.

22b_24_017

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.

31_IMG_1226

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

33_three little birds final on white background

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

34_3 little birds flew home

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.

I’m “Drawing the Line”

Life is full of ironies if one is paying attention.

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

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

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

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

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

sunflower_first drawing in over 20 years

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

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

tree of hope

The lines are strong and considered.

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

The lines were ready to be embellished with color.

tree of hope

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

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

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

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

Refrigerator Art

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

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

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

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

practice builds confidence

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

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

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

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

fridge art

Welcoming the New Year with an Open Heart

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

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

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

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

dreamcatcher

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

new years resolutions

In a nutshell, my resolutions boil down to this:

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

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

new years resolutions_dreamcatcher_i am worthy

Happy 2015!

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

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

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

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

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

progress on perspective_07_finaljpg

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

Colorful Ink Drawing on handmade flax paper

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

inktober_10_19_2014tree series_seasons

 

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

an attempt at a face

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

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

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

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

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

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

9_let the journey begin

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

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

practice faces 12_15_2014

 

practice face_12_19_2014

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

practice face_12_20_2014

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

practice faces_0001_12_20_2014practice faces_0002_12_20_2014

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

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

practice faces_starting body parts

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

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

The “Heart” of Journaling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

journal card

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

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

garden flower notebook