Saturday, January 9, 2016

Be Present

The first week of 2016 has come and gone.  It's been a tough start because it began with a personal loss.  A dear friend passed away on January 2nd after a very long illness.  The wife he left behind is one of my favorite people.  She is my hero and I am in awe of her strength.  She handled each and every trying situation with grace and patience.  I could feel God's presence in every moment. The dawn of this new year hasn't been an easy one, yet the experience has inspired me to rethink my goals for 2016.

I will be present. I am committing myself to practicing mindfulness in all activities, situations and interactions.

Practicing mindfulness and presence may sound easy to some people, but for me it's going to be a challenge.  My days seem to be filled with activities and interactions where I don't have time to pause,  let alone think!  I'm overwhelmed by "busyness" and reacting to stimuli.  I haven't made it a practice to stop, think, consider different options and just breathe.

Journal page 12  /29/15-1/7/16

Here are some ways I will practice mindfulness:

I will listen more than I speak.
I will freely give my time to others.
I will keep my surroundings free of clutter.
I will inspire others without constraints.
I will create my own art every day.
I will not gossip or pass judgement.
I will practice meditation and yoga.
I will pray before taking action.
I will be present.

Like many people, I've found setting goals is essential to successfully accomplishing difficult tasks.  I also know the best goals stretch me beyond my comfort zone.  When I'm pushed to my limits, I'm inspired to find strength.  As I design my happy, healthy and wealthy goals for 2016 I will include mindfulness.  I will be completely present and there will be an added sweetness to my accomplishments.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Curious Creative

Watercolor on paper         12x18            2015
Just about every day of my teaching career I've had at least I one student ask me the same question.  From kindergarten through 12th grade they're all curious about the same thing.  Before I even let them in the art room they want information.  Sometimes they stop me in the hall when they first get off the bus.  I might be deep in conversation with another person and I'll feel a tug on my sleeve.  As I turn around they'll ask me, “What are we doing in art today?”

At times I feel a little impatient or annoyed.  I'm not going to go into all of the things we need to do in class.  I would have to repeat the answer over and over again.  Plus whatever I say will lead to more questions.  I don't have time for all of that!  

But I ask myself the same kinds questions everyday. I start my wakeful thinking with curiosity.  As I get out of bed in the morning I ask myself things like:
- What am I going to wear?
- What am I going to eat?
- What's on my agenda?
- How am I going to get it all done?

Some mornings I approach the day with a sense of dread because of all the things I "need" to do. Taking care of my obligations can deflate my enthusiasm and, at times, paralyze me.  I procrastinate, avoid, make excuses and end up feeling stressed and frustrated. I'm worry more about taking care of things rather than just enjoying the day.

What kind of attitudes would I get if burdened my students with the specifics of academic objectives? What if I told them what they really needed to accomplish in each class?  What if I said, "you're going to be exposed to a standard of learning where you will be using drawing, cutting and gluing to create a work of art."

But instead I say:
First Grade               12 x 18             Mixed Media Collage

"We're going to get in my rocketship and fly to the moon! We're about to do something AWESOME!"

I started using this phrase when I taught middle school.  At first it was just an answer to preserve my sanity.  Then it became part of my regular dialog. Sometimes my answer prompts more questions:

"You have a rocketship?"
"How long does it take to get to the moon?"
"What are we going to do when we get there?"

Or it starts a discussion:

"Do you think she's telling the truth?"
"Do you see the rocketship?"
"Do you think we'll be back for lunch?"

Or sometimes it just makes them smile.

My hope is for my students to enter the classroom excited.  I want them to be seeking answers, instead of dreading the lesson. When they see paint, glue, crayons, brushes and papers, I want them to feel inspired to experiment.  So when I call them to attention, they're enthusiastic to hear what I have to say.  I can then steer the artroom rocketship as they expand their creative curiosity.   Some days we even sprinkle on a little glitter!

Curiousity is the root of all learning.  Asking questions gets ideas flowing.  My brain, like those of my students, questions everything.  And like them, I'm seeking inspirational answers, instead of boring "to-do" lists.  

So I'm challenging myself to begin each day with a simple question:

"What awesome thing am I going to accomplish today?"

Then I'll polish up my rocketship and fly to the moon.

Do you want to come?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Retreat to Create

Last weekend Hobby and I held our first Dare to Create Retreat in beautiful Weems, Virginia.  Our program was about designing a new life theme through creativity.  We began with food, cocktails, and art projects as everyone painted glasses and illustrated scarves.  After dinner we then explored our stories with an exercise to discover our core values.

Saturday began with a meditation and some yoga on the dock.  It was a beautiful morning as the light sparkled on the water with fish jumping and birds singing.  Even the most timid and inexperienced participants felt the release as we opened our minds and stretched our bodies.

Then it was time for some art play.  We printed, painted, stamped and drew as new techniques and materials were explored.  At times the materials were overwhelming, but with laughter and collaboration everyone was inspired.

After lunch we began to pull everything together as we introduced visual journaling.  Each page can represent a different ideas in designing a new life theme.  Values, love, songs, dreams and selfportraits were some of ideas participants focused on.

And the results are beautiful!

 I would share all of their pages but some are very personal.  A life theme journal can be share or just remain private.  Visual journaling is more about the process than the product.  Let go of your old stories and write a new one!

Our last project was to create Artist Trading Cards.  These "mini-masterpieces" are little creative doodles we made using watercolors, pens, stamps and collages.  I'll share these images in a future blog post!

I hope this weekend was as rewarding for all the participants as it was for me.  I learned so much from these amazing women and can't wait to continue our creative collaboration!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


So far this year has been like an ultra long marathon.  There were times when I felt like I was running in cement shoes through mountains of marbles.  I'd trudge along, slide back, inch forward, get off course or just simply crash into a wall.  I was bombarded with ideas, demands, committments and challenges. But now I see the finish line up ahead.

In just a few weeks I'll be finishing up my time in Texas.  When I'd agreed to move here in 2012 it was for 5 years.  Then a combination of things happened and my time was extended an additional 3 years.

It's time for many changes.  I'm heading back to Virginia to enjoy the next phase in my life.  In August I'll start a new job in a familiar place.  Back to an elementary art room at a school where my teaching career began.  I'm excited and a little nervous. But change is good and I'm ready.

I'm returning to my hometown a different person than when I left.  I am happy for so many reasons. I'm married to an amazing man who I adore.  I create every day and I inspire others to do so. I'm so much healthier.  I've lost over 60 pounds and have completed 10 half marathons.  And I've learned to focus on my core values:  Creativity, Learning, Collaboration, Happiness and Family.

This summer is going to be a busy one and I'm planning on enjoying every minute!   But I'm going to try to take some time to calm my mind and breathe.

Creating a Labyrinth is a little journaling exercise I designed to help with focus.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Details, Details, Details.

 Architectural details can be frustrating at times. I get my sky just right, but when I step back I notice my lines are not right.  So I pulled out my biggest ruler and a water soluble pencil.  This type of pencil blends really well with acrylic paint so I can easily soften the lines.

Before #1
 After I redrew the lines I had to change some of the angles.  I did so by reworking the negative spaces around the railing.  I used a dark green and matte medium because I knew I was going to develop the sea grass in those areas later.

Before #2

I then lightened those negative spaces and began to add shadows to the boardwalk.  But it still didn't look right to me.

Progress as of 11/14/14
So I pulled out my ruler again and this time I drew my lines with white paint. All of these alterations required me to repaint parts of the sky and water.  Details require lots and lots of modifications and patience.

The boardwalk still isn't finished but the lines are better.  So it was time to attack the sea grass.  Using small brush strokes of  greens, golds and sand colors the dunes are beginning to take shape.

I think I'll take the weekend off.  I'll attack the rest of the details next week.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Painting is not always easy.

before # 1
before #2
Sometimes my paintings are created with relative ease. Other times the process is a struggle. I have to continue to work on the image by changing colors, textures, values and details. This creation hasn't been easy.

The under painting in "before #1" was too vibrant so I muted in in "before #2" by adding layer's of grays and greens.  But I still wasn't quite where I wanted to be.  So I began to re-establish the composition in my foreground by redrawing the boardwalk in charcoal and white paint.  (Don't worry the boardwalk isn't done - still has a long way to go!)

Then I started to experiment with different treatments on the dunes. I wanted to create the feeling of an early morning sunrise. I wanted to try different levels of detail.  On the left I tried a more realistic approach by defining individual grasses

left closeup

When I started to work on the right side I took a more abstract approach to representing the dunes. I blurred the sand and grasses a little more.  To me the right "feels" more appropriate for the time of day.  It still needs some more work, but I think this is the direction I'll be going on both sides.

Trial and error is my favorite way to paint.  I try to always keep an open mind when I start a painting session.  I experiment with colors and techniques.  At times I fail, wipe off paint, cover over areas and start again.  Underneath my acrylic are layers my creative journey.  Always learning. . . . .

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Time Bandits

Some nights I go to bed wondering where the day has gone.  While I start off with good intentions I seem to get sidetracked by so many things.  As a creative artist I tend to put my own work on hold while I take care of the squeakiest wheels.  Fall can be  the most difficult for me because I try to cram too many things into too little time.  Right now my life is full of Time Bandits

This topic came up when I was recently chatting with with my friend and business partner Hobby Parent.  She reminded me that everyone has the same 24 hours in their day and we need to start guarding our time. During this conversation we decided the best way to thwart these time bandits is to get back to setting goals, committing to daily actions and keeping each other accountable.

My list of time bandits:
  1. television
  2. social media
  3. email
  4. phone calls
  5. chores
  6. people
My list of things I really want to accomplish:
  1. daily creating
  2. writing
  3. organizing my home
  4. releashing weight
  5. increasing training
  6. high quality interactions with people.

So for the month of November I'm setting the goal to use my time purposefully.  I'm not going to let my time be stolen by insignificant activities.  I'm going to cut back on allowing Time Bandits to keep me from my goals.

So here's my plan:
1.  If I'm watching TV I will multi-task- crochet, doodle, sit-ups
2.  No more than 30 minutes of social media - I'll set a timer
3.  I'll clean out my email box every day for 15 minutes
4.  I'll make phone calls when I'm walking the dog.
5.  I'll spend 30 minutes a day cleaning/organizing my home
6.  I'll schedule time with the people I want to spend time with.  This could be a meal, a phone call or skype. 

And tomorrow I'll get back to my painting - - - -