Blessed Unrest

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"There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others" - Martha Graham

Have you noticed that it feels like we're always searching for something when it comes to making our art? We're often making multitudes of decisions that feel like they may have potentially dire consequences. Looking for the way forward, the next step. Risking everything that has come before to possibly get something even better...even closer to our vision. There is a longing that never seems to go away and a pursuit, the search, that gets under your skin and into your bones and makes you ache.....because you know you have to do it.

We must make our art. It allows us to be well, to be connected and to be seen, heard, a contributor. Each of us has our own reasons, but a common purpose can be found and connects us deeply to each other and to life. So we embark on this search, knowing it may be challenging, but believing it's necessary. I like to think that it's a calling that must be answered, and when we do it allows us to live our truth.

I've often referred to a letter written by Martha Graham to dancer Agnes DeMille, where she describes a queer Divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest, that accompanies all forms of art making. It reminds me to embrace the struggle that I often feel when attempting to bring my art forward, to paint the vision, even if I fall short and feel the sting of that. Again, I feel the search. Why can't I get there? Where is "there"?

This is when I have to be persistent and know that what I do now is going to be a game changer. If I buckle under the weight of what this will ask of me, emotionally and physically, I will never make the art that I want to make. That's a certainty. But, if I can hold a space for the discomfort of the search and the learning and the failures, then I have a chance. And the question is then, what will I choose?

Art making requires learning techniques, principles, skills...and it also requires learning how to think, how to feel, how to be mindful of the space you build into your creative work. As an artist, if you can give energy to both of these places and nurture them equally, you'll make great art and experience all the richness of the process as well.

What helps you to stay connected to your art making when you’re feeling stuck or challenged?

Reflection and Re-entry

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It has been some time since my last blog post and so much has happened since then….I’ve barely had time to write….or make art, for that matter.

In many of my earlier posts I have mentioned my connection to my mentor, Nicholas Wilton, and the journey I’ve been on since my work with him began in 2014. It has brought me to look at all the ways in which I connect to my creative self and has opened my mind to possibilities and is helping me to develop the limitless thinking mindset.

At first I thought the work I did with Nick was just about strengthening my painting, but so much more has come up for me to discover as I pay closer attention to what feels right and what speaks to me strongly. From accepting the role that fear and resistance plays in the creative process, to talking about my own experiences with art making, in this more public forum, it’s been quite the ride!

This past spring I was asked by Nick to be a part of his support team for an on-line art course, ‘The Art2Life Creative Visionary Program or ‘CVP’ for short. It was an intense and very focused three months of work with over 200 artists participating. I was able to utilize many of my coaching skills, by supporting others with their own challenges around the creative process, while sharpening my critical eye by offering daily feedback on the art that this talented group of artists were making.

The whole experience of being an on-line facilitator wasn’t planned, but supporting these participants, and being a part of the stellar Art2life Team, was a very enriching experience to have had…and I am thrilled to be a part of Nick’s vision for helping artists succeed with their work and creative lives.

Although I often take breaks from my own art making to further other projects and fulfill commitments to our design business, this is probably the longest break that I’ve had. I’m reflecting on it now, as I find I’m noticing my resistance to the re-entry. Where was I and how to start back?

One of the aspects of the work I was doing with CVP was supporting the participating artists with their creative practice…and I refer to it as a practice because that is exactly what it is. It’s necessary to stay regularly engaged with our creativity, our art, in order to reap the benefits of the work and develop and grow as artists. It is like anything that takes our focus and commitment – meditating, playing an instrument or training for a marathon. However, it is not always possible at times, because of external circumstances, to do our work. So how do we keep the connection going so that re-entry isn’t so challenging?

During these times we have to find ways to prime the creative juices, still keeping our eye engaged and our mind drifting to that space where creativity comes from. For me, that often involves looking at art, walking in nature, reading about another artist’s process, or working in my sketchbook. Somehow just having a thread, a delicate but tangible connection, is all it takes to keep plugged in.

I was grateful that during my time working with the CVP program, I was looking at and talking about art all day. I saw so much of myself and my work through the reflections of others. What they were feeling and struggling with, I could relate to…I’ve been there many times. What they celebrated and accomplished felt very much the same as when I had succeeded at preparing work for an exhibition or a commission.

Artists share so many common challenges with their work and have the same desires and hopes for their art form. It’s nice to experience that, knowing that you’re not alone…we’re more alike than we are different in this way.

Over these past three months, those artists constantly inspired me with their courage…their willingness to show their works in progress, take feedback, make changes, face the difficulty of comparing themselves to other more seasoned artists. Everyday I saw tremendous desire and passion for the art they were making and the art they wanted to make….it was truly inspiring!

Those amazing CVP participants gave me so much more than they could ever have known…..through them I stayed connected. And, even though re-entry feels a little uncomfortable right now, all those tendrils and threads that I built up over the past few months have woven a bridge for me to cross over, assisting me to get to where I need to go now…back to my art and back to my passion.

How do you keep yourself connected to your creative work during a long absence? I would love to hear your thoughts…

The Creation Myth

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In my last blog post I talked about ‘drift time’, often disguised as daydreaming, and how absolutely critical it is to the creative process. In this post I want to explore some other ideas about our lives as working artists, writers…creatives.

As well as making art and exploring the creative process, I also work as a creativity coach. It has been a quiet addition to my skill set that I haven’t spoken about publicly, until now…and something I’m building on and incorporating into my life and work.

I’ve always had a passion for helping others, so this work has brought together two of my deepest interests – art making and the way we relate to our art. So far it’s been endlessly gratifying. It’s work that I really enjoy and plan to build upon this year.

What I’m finding most fascinating is the discovery of the commonalities that many creatives share in being able to support and nurture their art making. One of the major topics I discuss with those I work with is this ‘drift time’. Why it’s important, how to make more room for it in our lives, and what to do when the noise in our head is drowning out any possibility of connecting with our ideas so we can be in a place for inspiration to show up.

We talk about having to make a conscious effort to not fall into the trap of being distracted, or being ‘pinged’ as I heard someone once call it, out of our creative mindset. The ‘ping’ being the latest email or text coming in…and that compulsion to look at it. It’s addictive and takes discipline to not allow yourself to succumb to temptation. I know….because I struggle with it constantly!

One of the things I’ve noticed for myself is that traversing the vast unknown, which is what creativity is, naturally generates anxiety. We inherently don’t want to encounter the unknown….and for good reason. It’s risky! So we subconsciously find ways to avoid what’s uncomfortable and we take ourselves out of that discomfort by way of distractions….like social media or household chores. “I’ll just finish up this really important load of laundry before I get in the studio.” Really!?!

The distraction of technology has the added edge of making us feel like we’re being productive, when we’re really just avoiding doing our creative work. We can disguise it as research, getting ready, or even essential learning. And on some level this may be true….but if we’re always getting ready, we’re simply not getting to the making of the actual art.

So it is essential that we get ourselves to our creative work even when we feel uninspired or full up with chatter or unable to focus.

One thing that helps me get into a better space for creativity is a transition ritual upon entering the studio. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Its purpose is really just to bring my awareness to the present moment and help me open my mind to the drift time.

My transition ritual involves lighting an essential oil infuser in the studio, making a cup of tea, and taking a few minutes to write in my sketchbook journal. Somehow these small acts indicate that I’m ready to move into a different space and I find my mind unlocks from all the noise and starts to gently begin to drift. Before long I’m ready to work on something, anything….and the creative flow is with me.

In fact, some of my best studio days occur on the days when I really didn’t think I had it in me because I was so scattered and noisy in my head. This realization has helped me immensely and I work closely with my clients to get them to a place where they can do this for themselves as well. It’s kind of a freeing experience actually. It gives us a sense of empowerment to know that we can shift our mind space and do what it is we we’re meant to do….make our art.

As painter Chuck Close says “I don’t work with inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.”

It’s a myth that we artists wait for inspiration to strike before getting to work. An essential part of being a working artist is showing up and making our art. Inspiration will find you working!

Do you have any transition rituals that help bring you into your creative space? I would love to hear about any insights you have on this topic….please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below…and then promptly get yourself back into the studio!

Drift Time

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Recently I listened to an interview on CBC with musician, artist and poet Patti Smith. She spoke about the importance of what she called ‘drift time’ to the creative process. Patti defined drift time as a vast, quiet space that we drop into when we allow ourselves to daydream. Not going over our to do lists, not ruminating on what we haven’t got done yet, not projecting into the future and planning, but just letting our thoughts run amuck and drift about in some sort of creative playground.

I don’t know about you, but in recent years I have noticed an increasing challenge with just allowing my mind to drift. It seems that as my attention is being called to absorb more and more information, flowing to us at an alarming rate, I’m having to work harder at giving my mind that wonderful drift space from which to create. It now seems that finding ways to connect to this drift time has to be a part of my creative practice…a type of ‘making space within’.

Not that many years ago things were much different for me….before iPhones and Facebook. I spent more time in quiet contemplation and wrote more in my journal. I often just sat somewhere and let my mind go….watching birds, or waves crashing on the shoreline. It was an easy addition to my day, and there seemed to be more time for it somehow.

I realize that the amount of time in a day hasn’t changed…we all still have the same 24 hours. But it’s me that has changedI’ve become less able to easily access that part of my brain that just floats and plays. I’m often aware of this low grade feeling that I should be doing something, looking at something or checking something. It’s a strange, new, and powerful impulse that has taken hold due to my now necessary relationship with technology.

This awareness of my new relationship to time makes me feel a little sad for what I’ve lost along the way….but I realize there is also opportunity here. An opportunity in this fast-paced information age to self-reflect, to see how I can give back to myself that which most supports my creative life.

In fact some of the greatest creative thinkers of our time understood this need for letting our imagination flow, drifting about in free association and play. Albert Einstein was very much an advocate of daydreaming and claimed that his ‘thought experiments’ led to the development of some of his most important works.

I believe we are coming to a time where we are finding more value in cultivating our creative mind-space. We know it’s important to preserve and nurture…that it has a deep purpose in our lives and our ability to create and innovate.

Sometimes it takes a little contrast to reveal to us the true value of something. Perhaps my challenge with staying present with myself, and open to inspiration, has shown me how very necessary it is and brought me to a place where I now make time for taking time. Drift time….

Is drift time important in your life? Your creative work? In my next post I’ll share some strategies that help me create that space in my life, and tell you about how I’m also helping others to do the same.

Story Telling

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I want to tell you a story. One that reminds me of how important connection is in art making. I’ve shared this story with a few close friends and each time I retell it I feel its potency and meaning more deeply. And in sharing this, I realize that I’m revealing even more about myself – taking the risk of being seen – again! So here goes…..

A few months back I received an email from a man by the name of Edgar Barens. He had found my work on a Tumblr site and searched me out. He was looking for a painting for his living room and after looking at my inventory of available work, we decided that he would commission me to make a painting the right size for his space….which turned out to be 2ft x 6ft.

Now I don’t often do commissions because I find them quite a challenge. If the client is too prescriptive then I find myself getting too tight and concerned with the outcome and the work suffers. It doesn’t have the energy that I would like it to have. But I’ve been fortunate over the years to have patrons that appreciate my process and allow me “my” space in the work. This was the case with Edgar as well. He was great.

In getting to know him I found out that he is a director and film maker and had recently made a film called ‘Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall’, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2014 for Best Short Documentary film. This 40 minute documentary tells the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner incarcerated in the Iowa State Penitentiary and the hospice workers, inmates themselves, that cared for him.

Edgar gave me an opportunity to watch his film and I was deeply moved by it. I found the story of Jack Hall particularly poignant and was left with a simple truth….that no matter who we may have become during our lifetime, death is the great equalizer. We are all fragile beings at the end of our lives, needing the love and caring of others to transition out of our bodies. This film communicated that so well in its layered, emotive way. Quite frankly, I thought it was brilliant…and I want everyone to see it. The message is powerful, and needed. Thank you, Edgar!

In discussing the details around Edgar’s painting I asked a few questions of him…what he was responding to in my work and what palette I should utilize, etc. He mentioned in one exchange that if in anyway his film inspired the painting, that would be wonderful…but, not wanting to be too directive, he didn’t make it a necessity and left it at that. You see his father was an artist as well and Edgar understands a lot about the creative process – allowing the artist to have enough space and freedom to do their work is important to him…and his work.

So I began the painting. It started off pretty well in its beginnings and then about mid-way along I got stalled. My mind started running amuck with the thoughts that often accompany doing commissions. Should it have more blue? Will he like it? Does the whole thing feel completely wrong? And on it goes. I really wanted to make a good painting for this very deserving patron….and it was getting sticky with expectation and self-pressure.

After a couple of weeks of this “stickiness”, and becoming increasingly frustrated with myself, I did the only thing I could think to do. I surrendered. I sat in my studio and spoke out loud “ I can’t do this!! Someone else has to finish this painting for me!” I buried my head in my hands and breathed out. “Let it go”, I told myself. When I looked up again, and focused on the unfinished painting on my studio wall, I saw it – the completed painting perfectly formed in my mind.

There before my eyes was the narrative (my narrative) of Edgar’s film. I hadn’t seen it before as I was working the piece. I don’t typically utilize narrative in my work, and really hadn’t given any energy to his comment about his film influencing the painting, so this was a surprise. A welcome, amazing surprise. I knew what I needed to do to finish the piece and I got back to work. It all flowed very quickly from that point on.

Once finished I sent an image of the painting to Edgar and shared the experience with him and the narrative that I was working with. Here is the beginning of what I wrote to him:

“I read this painting like a book from left to right. It tells a story – the story of your film. The left side of the panel represents the prison, the institution, its walls, the cold concrete enclosure – the history of lives lived there – layers of time building upon each other. In the lower left corner is a small patch of blue and it represents the spirit of those lives lived there. It’s small and weighed down by the heaviness of prison life – but there, as it is within all of us.”

A day or so went by and I wondered if I had completely messed this up, when Edgar finally emailed me back with his response.

He was flabbergasted (his words) by the piece, but especially to see the small patch of blue in a sea of grey. He told me that it reminded him of a lino cut his father did back in the 70’s when Edgar’s aunt and uncle were incarcerated in Spain for their anti-Franco political views. In his father’s lino cut he had a small patch of sky blue in a large, imposing brick wall – which was representative of the only patch of light and hope available to his loved ones during their imprisonment. Another aunt, who is a poet, was subsequently inspired to write a poem about that patch of sky. Edgar has never forgotten it, he tells me.

So what happened here? And how did it happen? I’m not certain I can articulate it clearly, but it feels to me that in the surrendering of control I allowed for another source to influence me and guide my direction. I rely on this often in my own work…trusting, quieting the thoughts, surrendering to what wants to come through in my painting. But never quite in this powerful way.

This time it felt more potent and externally guided because of all of the crazy connections that were made between Edgar’s family history and this painting. My intention was to make a painting worthy of Edgar and his amazing film. I am endlessly grateful for the muses that stepped in and finished that painting. Life continues to inspire me with its mysteries. We know so little of the forces at work in our lives.

Have you ever had an experience like this with your own creative work? I would love to hear about it.

You can find out more information about Edgar Baren’s film, ‘Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall’ through the film’s website: www.prisonterminal.com

Freeing Yourself

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“As an artist, you have to keep freeing yourself” – Charline Von Heyl

I read this quote recently and immediately felt the truth and wisdom in it. It resonated for me on so many levels…mostly because freeing myself is something that has been a life long pursuit – even long before I encountered the self imposed challenges that being an artist can bring about.

However, through the act of art making, I became more fully aware of this need to free myself. It was necessary in order to stay the course, make authentic work and face the fears that bubbled up as I took risks and extended myself to become more visible through blogging and social media. Art has been a tremendous teacher for me. So I continue to work on freeing myself….but what does this really mean?

For me, I have found that the way to free myself has come through being open to seeing myself more clearly. Looking at the aspects of myself that limit me and attending to them. I try, as much as possible, to stay in a place of curiosity and avoid judging myself for not being better, more or different than I am right now. A form of radical self-acceptance is needed.

One of the most remarkable aspects to art making is that, if you’re willing to look deep enough, you can find yourself there. You can see the evidence of who you are. The choices you make and the way you respond to the challenges is the way you are in life.

“We paint who we are” – Jackson Pollock

How this works for me is interesting. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about art and fear…as this is one aspect I’m continually working to free myself from. I’m a work in progress…always will be and that’s just fine with me. Throwing the need for being perfect to the curb….thank goodness!

Another area I’m working on freeing myself from is the perception of time. I have a full and busy life and there are times I don’t make it to the studio often enough. And I struggle with competing needs and what I choose to prioritize. In exploring this (remember the curiosity piece) I realized that I have a way of valuing work that is related to remuneration – sort of a cost vs. benefit kind of thing.

As we know, art making brings us many personal benefits, but often doesn’t fully pay the bills. Many artists do other things to support themselves. This is true for me as well….and life is about balance, all things being valued in a hierarchy of what’s most important to attend to – what need is calling the most.

Often times, sadly, my studio time is preempted by other needs. And although I accept this and know why it is so….I feel the tug of how important it is to devote time to my art in order to develop further in my work. I can get myself in quite a turmoil over it all. Hence the need to free myself from this cycle…it’s not useful or healthy.

If I look at it from the perspective of how this reflects an aspect of myself, I can see that my pattern is to often give to others first, making their needs more important than mine. I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to my commitments and that can lead to negating my own needs – that being the need to make art. Somehow because my art making doesn’t yet provide me with a healthy income, I can’t justify pre-empting something else that supports my livelihood. Whether it be for our design business or for our home, these balancing of needs are always at play.

So I’m working on freeing myself from this pattern and becoming more respectful of my studio time. Freeing myself of the guilt I often feel when I’m spending hours in my creative space while the demands of life wait just outside the door.

Tell me, can you relate? How do you balance the competing needs in your life? I wonder, is it different for women than for men?

Interestingly for me, art making it is my deepest calling. And yet I ‘m not always able to honour it in the way that I would like. Freeing myself from this would be the greatest gift I could give myself.

I’d love to hear any strategies you’ve used to make your art a priority. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. And here’s to more freedom!



Following The Flow

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“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it”
– Pablo Picasso

Making art, whether it be through painting, writing, dance….any form of creative expression, requires a certain freedom and willingness to stay open, to engage what comes and trust the process. Following the flow.

In the early stages of creating it is not a good time to engage our thinking minds…there will be plenty of time for that later. But, what we do want while we are creating is to be as limitless as possible…allowing ourselves to play, experiment and discover. The only real requirement is to show up and be willing to follow.

I know this and yet I continually need to reinstate this into my painting practice because I easily slip back into fearful, analytical thinking much too soon.

So here are some guidelines I developed for myself that help me to stay present and open to flow in my own work. I also find they are great reminders that stave off the anxiety and fear that can arise while working…..perhaps they’ll be helpful for you as well.

RISK EVERYTHING – In order to get results we must be willing and unafraid to fail – Big Time!

RE-FRAME FAILURE – It means you are pushing and challenging yourself. The work will strengthen as a result. Acceptance of the inevitability of failure is necessary for growth and by re-framing it we can learn, instead of feeling defeated.

LISTEN – For the next impulse, the surprising idea, the part of you that knows you can. Pay more attention to that. Refrain from listening to the inner critic that wants to shut you down.

KILL THE KITTY (PRECIOUSNESS) – Everything must be sacrificed in art for the betterment of the work. Even if you love it beyond measure – let it go if it needs to. Practice outrageous detachment!

LET IT SHOW – The work benefits from the changes, the corrections and the covering up. Let what lies underneath – even the mistakes – show through. This builds history, adds depth, richness and narrative to the work.

STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST – As Austin Kleon states in his wonderful little book of the same name, what you respond to in the work of others tells you so much about what wants to live in your own work. Don’t copy, but allow for the influence. It will be yours simply through the act of transmutation – coming through you.

DO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT – If you’re blocked and unable to move anywhere in your work, do work in another medium. Prime the pump of your creative juices by taking away the need to make “your” work.

MORE IS MORE – Having multiple pieces on the go at one time allows you to keep moving in the work. If you get stuck on one piece don’t stranglehold it into submission, that energy will show in the work. Step away and work on another. It will likely reveal to you what you need to know to move forward in the piece you left.

RELEASE TENSION – Play with your creativity in ways that are fun. Don’t “make” anything….just move, scribble, scream, stamp, cut up, glue down, write poetry, interview yourself.

REMIND YOURSELF THAT EVERYTHING CHANGES – And this will too. Tomorrow could bring the best work of your life. Don’t allow yourself to feel defeated by one bad day of your creative work.

TRUST – The process, the signposts, the yearnings, the nonsensical, the intuition, the wild idea, the page. Use everything as opportunity for your growth.

SHOW UP – Be a place for greatness and inspiration to show up. Being in your studio working regularly allows for the work to come through. Don’t wait for the next idea or inspiration to arrive, but rather be working on something when it does.

THE ACT OF WORKING BRINGS IDEAS – One thing leads to another. Just start. Anywhere. With anything. It gets things flowing. Turn off your thoughts as much as possible…there will be plenty of time for thinking later. Know that there is a time to be in the automatic, responsive, right brain and then a time to look, analyze, decide…being in your left brain. You want to quiet the critical brain while you create your art.

ACKNOWLEDGE – Recognize yourself for every effort towards supporting your art, your work, your creativity. In today’s information-heavy world, anytime we spend in creative play and work is an accomplishment. Acknowledge yourself often!!

What strategies and guidelines do you use to keep yourself present in your work, quieting fear and staying open? I would love to hear about them in the comments. Thanks for sharing!

The Fear Factor

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All of us experience fear at some point in our lives. Fear of the unknown. Fear of loss. Fear of success, even. It’s a complicated relationship and one that throughout our lives we come face to face with whether we want to or not. What we resist persists and our deepest fears need to come to the surface to be healed, released and conquered.

As a shy, introverted child I found fear in everything, especially others’ judgements. Life seemed to be a minefield of challenges to be faced. But very early on I discovered my art to be a respite from all that scared me. It felt like a safe place to be….so I lived there constantly, drawing and imagining in my private world. Thank goodness for crayons, pencils and paper!

Throughout my life, like many of you, I was brought closer to fear than I ever thought I’d be. It seems to be the natural order of things. I can see that now.

At  age 14 a bad car accident left my face torn apart and I needed multiple surgeries to repair the damage. Then at age 20, insecure and vulnerable, I married a very damaged man whose personal pain led to years of drug and alcohol abuse. Eleven years later I found my way out of that marriage through intensive counselling, but only after having endured much pain and suffering that only codependency can bring.

So having faced and survived all those early life obstacles, how could the act of making art, the place I always found my solace, be fear generating. Well, it can. It does. And, it will.

It was this deep truth that rose to the surface rather rapidly as I engaged in the mentorship program and my work with Nicholas Wilton. I felt a little blind-sided by it, I’ll admit. I thought I had found ways to push through the fear and resistance when I was in my arts program. After all, I’ve been in my art practice for nearly ten years by now…how could fear be the issue that was holding me back?

This is how deceptive fear is….it lurks away, posing as other things. But when we get right down to it, being able to work authentically, freely and passionately as an artist requires understanding fear and resistance in a new way. Steven Pressfield writes about this very clearly in his book ‘The War of Art’.

Steven states that being an artist takes courage, tenacity and a willingness to meet the dragon of resistance consistently. It takes a willingness to risk, to expose yourself to criticism and most importantly, to understand and companion your relationship with fear.

This became the greatest teaching I received throughout the mentorship program. More important than how to make a painting was the knowledge of what was standing in my way of making that painting…what I was risking, what I had to surrender and what I had to accept…..about myself and how I needed to be in order to work strongly.

I’m still practicing what I learned throughout that time. It will likely be a lifelong endeavour. But I am grateful to know this about myself and I suspect…well, actually, I know….that many artists deal with the same issue. Perhaps you know what I am speaking about.

Feel free to share with me your relationship to fear in your work and your life….either here in the comments below or by sending me an email. I’m fascinated by this topic now and welcome any exchange you’d like to have about it. Bring it on!

Right now I’m working on my “Befriending Fear Manifesto”!

The Value of a Good Teacher

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In recent years, I have been reunited with my high school art teacher. He’s a dashing, eloquent and pragmatic 91 year old. His name is Michael Hemming.

I took double blocks of art from him during my high school years and couldn’t get enough of his art history classes. They often included lengthy slide shows with accompanying narratives full of details about the artists’ lives that not only helped me to understand their art more fully, but had me certain that he knew each artist personally. The anecdotes and personal insights into their work were so engaging that as a teenager, even when dealing with all the teenage narcissistic obsessiveness that is teenage life at times, I could not wait for his art history lessons each week.

Listening to Mr. Hemming’s lectures I felt passion, respect, and admiration beyond words. He saw each artist as valuable to art history in some way and that’s how he presented them…..each one having shown us an idea and way of painting that would inspire those who came after. We started with the early cave paintings in Lascaux, France and ended with Abstract Expressionism, I believe. After all it was the mid-70s and Post Modernism was in full swing.

Truth is it made me want to be an artist even more deeply than I already did. I wanted to have what I did mean something and to tap into some deeper understanding and truth.

I believed then, and still do now, that artists are plugged in differently. And, through that difference comes an awareness of how much more there is to know about the world in which we live. This makes us walk through the world with an eye to see the unseen and the unnoticed. It’s like a role we must play not only because we are so surprised that others don’t always see this, but because it aligns naturally with the act of art making and creating. Observation, interpretation, absorption and re-interpretation….all this because our artistic mind wants this as its fuel….its need.

So recently I spent an evening with Mr. Hemming at a holiday gathering where he was introduced to a few other artists and an avid art collector. He was quickly recognized for his natural wit and profound understanding of art history and soon gathered a number of individuals around him to talk about art. As I observed him, as artists do, I noticed a sense of deep gratitude rising within myself. And although I had realized this before, I felt fully just how privileged I was to have this man as my art teacher in my youth. He took me, the artist, so seriously and had such a commitment to enhancing the natural talent that he saw in his students, including me, that I flourished under his tutelage and really owned my desire to be an artist.

Although I didn’t actually assume my artistic life fully until much later, I believe that Mr. Hemming’s art classes changed my life and opened a place within myself that had not yet been accessed. Because of that I knew definitively that I was an artist. I just hadn’t realized the depth of that moment until, sitting at that party, I watched my beloved teacher offering up his opinion of a young artist’s work. To the young man, who was asking Mr. Hemming to look at a recent painting he’d captured on his cell phone, Mr. Hemming simply replied “Symmetry is your enemy”.

In that one short sentence he had given a critique, a suggestion, an opportunity, a conundrum to this young artist. This is what I loved about him. He could offer his opinion, his critique, while giving you the task of having to dig further within yourself and your work to fully get it. And when you did, you knew that you had just been seen, supported and made stronger through the process. He is a teacher that knows it is most important to guide the student to their own understanding of what their work needs. That’s how they’ll actually learn. And when his guidance is peppered with an anecdotal narrative from the work of a great master, like Cezanne for example, his favourite artist, you really feel that connection to all of art history…and that you are a part of it as well.

Still makes me tingle to this day….thank you, from the depth of my being, Mr. Hemming.

Beginning Again

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This past year I completed a mentorship program with artist and teacher, Nicholas Wilton. It was during the latter part of 2013 that I found myself adrift and decided that I needed to shake things up. This is the first part of the story of how I found myself again…..through my art practice.

Why
I get asked this question all the time. Why? Why did I feel like I needed to be mentored?

In thinking about my response to this question, I went back to my application for the program. At the time I was really desperate for something to shift my energy and attitude around my work. Over the years of working as an exhibiting artist, with local gallery representation and testing the waters further afield with a gallery in Toronto, I started to lose track of why I was painting.

I found I wasn’t able to focus on my painting. I was constantly working at getting the next opportunity to show my work, and yet with declining economic times, art sales had dropped off and several galleries had closed. It seemed like the hardship of being an artist was starting to infuse my art practice and I was becoming uninspired, purposeless and somewhat confused.

This showed up as avoidance of the actual studio work. Every time I stepped into the studio to paint, I’d be flooded with feelings of discouragement and a low grade anxiety that taunted me to just try to work at something that seemed to be going nowhere. Sometimes I succeeded in pushing through and a lot of times I just ducked out.

It was a frightening feeling and something I had never experienced with my art. My painting had always been a place of fulfillment and freedom. Sure there was a certain tension in the form of resistance that I have had to come to understand, and even embrace, as a working artist. But this was more than that. Something had really changed for me and I wasn’t completely clear what it was all about. I just knew it felt like disconnect and struggle. Truthfully, I felt like I had abandoned myself on some level.

What I did know is that I wanted to be challenged again. To grow and be pushed. I wanted to gain strength in my work and confidence in myself. I wanted to find my way back to what it felt like to paint for the sake of just painting, not because I had a show on the horizon. I wanted something to open me up and clean my insides….fill me with potential, possibility and hope. I wanted to be inspired and alive and I wanted the work I was doing to feel more alive as well.

When I read Nick’s invitation to the program I just knew it was right for me….and it may not be for everybody. But, I could feel an uncontrollable impulse to do it. Even though it was a long way from here…Nick’s studio is located in Sausalito CA, I wanted to be somewhere completely different. A new art environment, with new approaches and ideas about how to make good paintings. And, there was also support for the business end of being a professional artist.

The business of art is often something artists have to struggle along with, finding out through experience what works and what doesn’t work. And, it’s changing so much right now….so much more is required of an artist. Gone are the days where you can lock yourself away in your studio and expect your gallery to promote your work. So this, too, was part of my need. To understand how to shift myself from the private place I love to be in, to the more transparent, putting it out there kind of artist. Being seen. Being vulnerable.

So, during the seven months of the program there were many layers that Nick and I peeled away so that I could look at what was really going on for me. Some of it I thought I’d already conquered years ago…but it turns out there was more. So much more….that is for the next chapter of this story.

Thanks so much for being here…and please do let me know if you’ve ever felt this way with your own art practice…and what might have been helpful for you. I would love to hear about it.

Diving In

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Welcome to my blog…those are words I never thought I’d hear myself saying. You see, I’m not a writer. I’m an artist and my preferred communication is through paint, charcoal and anything else that makes a mark. So, why am I here and why am I starting along this path of sharing in this way with you? Good Question.

Well this past year, I’ve been challenging myself to take risks, to do things that make me uncomfortable, to grow and push up against what I believe I am capable of. It’s not easy work, but it’s rewarding in surprising ways. “There is strength in being seen”….is a quote I read somewhere that sums it up, nicely.

If you’re anything like me, privacy has always been more comfortable than exposing my creative expression to the world. I believe mostly because it feels safer not to and safety has it’s rewards also. But, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t allow for much more to arrive in my life, to expand my perceptions, so I stay the same and I don’t really grow. And, I’m interested in growth, change and how that shapes us. This has always been a focus in my painting, and through my work I’ve witnessed myself evolve as a result of the shifts I’ve made in my art. It’s as if I am seeing parts of myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to…so it’s been a revelation at times. Frightening, often.

So, now in this connected world that we live in, I feel like it’s time to open up and engage more deeply with you. Because I believe we are more alike than we know and that through risking, opening and being vulnerable we can create a forum for that sharing to be explored. Maybe it will help you in someway….I’m certain it will help me.

The intention of this blog is to be about the inner workings of being a ‘creative’, a right-brained thinker, an art maker. I’ll share about my process with making my art – the challenges, the triumphs, the surprises and everything else that goes with the territory. It will, of course, be from my perspective…and may seem a little like navel gazing at times. But, I know no other way to be real than to talk honestly, and from my heart, about my experience and my life as an artist.

I welcome you to share with me as much, or as little as you like….I’d love to hear what comes up for you in response to something I’ve offered here. Consider it an invitation to be seen yourself….we’ll do it together. And, I know many of you are already doing that…and you’re inspiring to me!

In my next post, I’ll share with you my experience with a Mentorship program I took this past year. It, in large part, is why I am writing these words today. I have such gratitude for all the gifts I received from the work I did with Nicholas Wilton and the mentorship community. It has been transformational for me.

Thank you for reading and joining me here….if you know someone that you think might like to share in this exchange, please share this blog post with them and let’s start building community together.