I wrote this article in March 2016. It is still one of my all-time favorites. I truly believe +creativity -stress. If I did have a cause, this would be it: to help people see the benefits of a creative practice, of any size. The benefit is in the doing. Here is the original article.
Maybe you have heard of the term creative flow. It is when you are so immersed in the creative act that you experience a sense of flow where you are totally in the moment and the ideas appear almost effortlessly one after another. You feel so absorbed in the task that you lose a sense of time and place. It would take a fire alarm to drag you away from your activity. This is one of those things that you just know it when you're in it. I know what it feels like and tweak the conditions to get there regularly through my creative habits. Of course, some days your creative pursuit does not feel so flowy. That is OK. I keep it short on those days. But I still am in the studio. I never just give up. I may make something I am not happy with, but I just show up.
I am back in the studio after a month break. My current project is an EcoMemory artwork commissioned by three families for a local Montessori school. This EcoMemory project was offered as a fundraising opportunity for families to donate money to the school and purchase a custom piece of art that will remain in the school. The subject matter of this EcoMemory project is to capture these 5 children’s favorite places in their nature playground. This school is fortunate enough to have a wooded area, a creek, wetlands and a prairie area. This is the last phase of my Artist-in-Residence at this same local Montessori school. You can read more about it HERE and HERE. It has been a great adventure working with the staff and students at the school.
Phase 1 of this EcoMemory project was to meet the five children whose families bought the commission. It was truly a magical visit because they took me on a tour of their nature playground favorite places and shared fabulous details of what it’s like to be a child at recess at the school. I got to see it through their eyes. I felt like I was 10 years old again.
So our cat Koa is now two years old. As an update to my article Lessons from a Kitten, I can add another lesson, letting go of perfectionism. There are many sweet things about our two cats. But there are some annoying things too. I can handle these imperfections because of all the good they bring to our family. I can focus on the good qualities. It is ok that they are not perfectly behaved cats. Here is the original article.
Lessons from a Kitten
We got a new Siberian kitten last Saturday. He is 11 weeks old and, of course, absolutely adorable. His name is Koa. We named him after the native Hawaiian wood Koa because he's an orange tabby and looks like the Koa wood's grain pattern. Needless to say, I have been spending a lot of time with him because he pretty much needs constant attention and supervision unless he is sleeping.
For the first time in many months (sometimes it feels like years), my family and I had a Lazy Sunday this week. We woke up whenever we wanted to. We had no commitments. We did not need to be someplace at a certain time. We decided to go to our local Botanic Garden and see the blooming Corpse flower. This has been a big event at our Botanic Garden in Chicago when these things bloom because they are very rare, very weird-looking and very smelly. Hence the name Corpse flower. Then we just walked around to see some of the Bulb garden which was filled with daffodils. We had a leisurely lunch. It was fantastic. My goal for years has been to have a day like this once a week, a Lazy Sunday. For families sometimes this is impossible especially if the children are in sports. Coaches do not care about rest and relaxation. Our culture does not seem to value relaxation anymore. I’m not quite sure why because I think it is one of the most important things you can do to boost your creativity.
These past two weeks I have found my artistic motivation very low and I have not felt well enough to continue my 100 day project. After a much needed pep talk with myself, I remembered the first article I ever wrote for this blog, Very Relaxed. Being frustrated about not feeling well is frankly not a way to be very creative. The secret is to be very relaxed. I will continue my 100 day project when I am feeling well enough to be very relaxed and enjoy the process again. I thought I would share my first article below as a reminder of Bill Murray’s advice.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art just opened a David Hockney exhibit entitled 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life. Each person is someone he knows personally, like his dentist, Museum curators, etc, Each person sat for a "20 hour exposure" as Hockney says which can be rather intimidating having someone study you for that long of a time.I heard about the exhibit through an interview with Hockney on the PBS Newshour. Read more about the interview HERE. The following exchange jumped out at me as I listened to the interview.
As I wrote about last week, I decided to do the 100 Day Project at the very last minute. I decided I would use some of the lessons I’ve learned from the 100 Day Project over the past few years, basically that a daily challenge gets you to create stuff you may not otherwise create without that structure. So I thought about a project I had hidden away in my “do this sometime in the future” mental file. I’m always fascinated by transparent colors and overlays of different colors using watercolors probably because that is one thing I can not do with solid colors of fabric sewn together.
I decided yesterday, the day before the 100 Day Project of 2018 starts, that “ I am in!” In December of 2017, I stopped my Every Day Project that had continued for two and a half years since the 100 Day Project I started in 2015. To be honest, I have really missed the every day creative practice. So I thought I can do a project this year learning a new creative technique I have been dreaming about for quite a while. The beauty of the 100 Day Project is that it gives you an excuse to do something you have been thinking about doing anyway and it gives you the necessary structure to actually just start.
Spring break vacation is this week so I am including an article I wrote about the 100 Day Project in 2016. If you are struggling to just create something because you know you feel happier with a creative outlet in your life, this article may be helpful to you if you want to do a 100 day challenge or even a 7 day challenge. How you set up the parameters of the challenge are key to the success of the challenge. More about this year’s topic next week.
I have been thinking about starting a new weekly series later this spring in May or June. April is dedicated to three upcoming EcoMemory commissions. However, I do miss the regular routine of working on a series. So I am daydreaming about what to do. We have this one oak tree in our backyard which I’m fascinated with because we planted it a few years ago smack dab in the middle of the prairie in our backyard. From our house we look east and see the sunrise over the prairie. Every day is different. Every season is different. My idea is to create a weekly series of pieces similar to Monet’s Haystacks series where the subject matter is the same but the lighting and seasons change. The focal point is my favorite oak tree surrounded by the prairie grasses and flowers with the trees surrounding the prairie further away.
For me, spring is a time of renewal and gratitude. I am so looking forward to all the colors of spring flowers and green vegetation. As I write this article, today is the first day of spring and it got me thinking about my gratitude for you readers. Thank you for reading my Studio Notes😁 I am blown away by the thoughtful comments and emails that I receive from you readers. It really is why I keep writing. Every writer needs those readers to make it all worth while.
Spring has got me thinking about renewal and fresh ideas. I am curious about what my readers are thinking? What motivates you to read my Studio Notes? What value do you take away after you read it? What topics are you interested in learning more about? After writing over 100 weekly Studio Notes, I would like to focus on what really resonates with my readers.
Readers have shared productivity app tips, businesses to follow, their connection to nature, being vulnerable and talking about struggles to keep creating on a regular basis and more. This desire to share makes me feel very humbled and grateful for the trust you have given me.
In a reflective mood, I wondered what can I do to show my appreciation. My answer was offering to share what I have learned over these 20 years of creating.
The Winter Artist in Residence idea came to fruition because of my friend Julia. She works at a Montessori school as the Outdoor Classroom Instructor. I wrote about this in January. Click HERE to read more. As part of the Winter Artist in Residence, I taught workshops for kids which I wrote about HERE. As a thank you to my friend for helping me run these workshops, I offered to create an EcoMemory for her as a form of bartering services, my creating art for her and she helping me run a classroom of active young children. There is no way I could have done these workshops without her.
Back in January, we sat down to talk about her special place in nature. She knew what this was about so she had spent some time thinking about her special place. It’s interesting to note other people I have interviewed so far for their custom EcoMemory thought about nostalgic times from their childhood. My friend decided she wanted to do something more in the present moment that would remind her of her sense of contentment in nature. She wanted to be reminded of the beauty and joy of just being in nature especially during her regular runs in a local nature preserve. The advantages of this is I know exactly where this nature preserve is located. So I went and scouted out the location and took actual photos of the landscape. This helped with my design work.
For the past few weeks, I have been writing in my Studio Notes about what I’ve learned while developing this EcoMemory process and how I am improving the process with each new client. The next EcoMemory I created is for my friend Pam from Seattle. She has been involved with my EcoMemory idea from the very beginning. As I described this idea to her, how I wanted to make my art more personal and meaningful to my future clients by helping them reconnect to their special place in nature, she immediately told me she had a budget and she wanted me to make two for her. Double the fun! Of course, I was ecstatic. We settled on a time and we had a Skype conversation so we could feel like we were talking to each other in the same room, at least as much as you can, using a laptop screen.
Pam described being in a rowboat on a calm lake in northern Minnesota early in the morning as a young child. She looked over the edge of the boat and saw these beautiful colorful sunfish swimming in the water. Now Pam is an artist herself and loves color as it is a way for her to express her ideas through her art.
After I created my first EcoMemory piece for my geology professor Dr. Palmquist, "Partridge Point in Lake Superior” (Read about it HERE), I wondered what would be my next step. I thought, who really gets my abstract landscape art. I immediately thought of Jackie Skarritt. Click HERE to see her Instagram Page. We have been Instagram friends for a few years and she always would comment so insightfully on both design issues and color palette. She would highlight the complicated designs or the teeniest little piece of fabric that I had inserted and thought no one would notice. But Jackie noticed, and would comment about it on Instagram. She would look at my Clouds series and say she looked up at the sky and it was exactly like what she saw in a recent daily square from that Clouds series. I knew that we saw the world in similar ways. So next step, I direct messaged her in Instagram and asked if I could call her about a project I had in mind.
She could not have been more gracious. We talked for an hour and found out we have many things in common.
In the Fall of 2017, I had this idea to create art inspired by special places in nature. In my mind, this sounded like a great idea to help people reconnect to how they feel in nature. The art would tap into people's memories of time spent in nature. But I was not sure how to actually do it. Whatever it was going to actually be, I decided to call the process an EcoMemory Experience.
We were visiting our college alma mater, Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin in November of 2017 as we brought our youngest child on a college visit to check it out and I knew we were visiting with my favorite professor for coffee. This coincidence got me thinking. When I was a student, my professor Dr. Palmquist and I did field work for this project on a small rock island right off the shore in Lake Superior near Marquette, Michigan. I never forgot the beauty of the lake and those gorgeous dark rocks with pink mineral veins (in geology called dikes). So, a week before our trip, I just started pulling fabric and cutting it up and sewing it back together again. I made my first EcoMemory artwork for my favorite Geology Professor based on my Senior Honors Geology Project. I captured the feeling in this piece entitled "Partridge Point in Lake Superior." I presented the artwork to Dr. Palmquist and this is what he had to say about it.
Phase One of my Winter Artist in Residence at a local Montessori school finished last week. This phase consisted of workshops for two different age groups: primary children (ages 3-6 years old) with their parents and the elementary school kids (6-9 years old) by themselves. I created this workshop specific for this school and age groups. The workshop is called Connect to Nature through Art where we discuss thinking about your favorite place in nature, remembering how it makes us feel and then using our imagination to create art showing this special place. I taught them how to tear construction paper into small pieces and glue the pieces onto a larger sheet of thick watercolor paper as their canvas.
In previous editions of my Studio Notes, I’ve talked about having a period of self reflection to think about what went well last year and what not so well. Then I use that information to decide what I want to focus on for 2018. Remember, this is very personal and obviously specific to me. I thought about not even including this in my blog. But I realized when you read about other people doing this kind of pondering exercise, it makes you, the reader, reflect on what you would choose as what went well and what did not go well and hopefully, what are your goals for this upcoming year. So, I include my State of the Union as an example for you to think about the possibilities.
I was inspired by Paul Jarvis's State of the Union in his weekly newsletter to write my own. I’ve written about Paul Jarvis before and have followed his work for years. His honesty and humor gave me a good example to follow. I find this high level bird's eye view of the past year very helpful because sometimes you get so caught up in the every day routine, you don’t take the time to step back and see what has happened in the past year for good or bad.
Recently, I started thinking about where do people who love nature hang out. Thinking about this idea sparked another idea about being an Artist in Residence at a nature center. I could make art at that location and be surrounded by people who appreciate nature and actively seek to spend more time in nature. I thought about people I knew who could help me think more about this idea. I have a friend who I went to summer camp with as a child in Maine who lives in my local area. She works as the Outdoor Classroom Director for the local Montessori school. (How cool is that title!) So Montessori schools place a lot of emphasis on nature and being outdoors year round. This particular facility is fortunate enough to have a wetlands, prairie and woods on their property for their students.
My friend and I met a few times to talk about the possibilities and now I am the Winter Artist in Residence at the school for the next month. T
This new year of 2018 has brought some changes to my art practice. I am trading in the daily squares from the Every Day Project for weekly EcoMemory larger pieces. This shift in my thinking started last fall when I decided most of my Every Day Project series are based on nature like the Forest and Clouds series. I realized when I thought about how I felt in nature and the emotions from those places in nature and then translated that into my art, the effect was a lot more powerful. This is the beauty of Instagram when you get instant feedback on your artwork. This idea of the emotional power behind the art coupled with my desire to make my art personal for clients and really serve my clients would lead me to a new idea, EcoMemory commissions.
I completed sewing the 25 daily squares of the Coral Reef series on Sunday. The final piece is in My Shop.
Here is how I describe it. Imagine the feeling of swimming underwater and seeing the coral reef healthy, colorful and full of life. This is the feeling I evoke with the Coral Reef series. This series is inspired by the documentary Chasing Coral. The documentary is available on Netflix and is a wonderful movie to watch with family over the holidays. If you are curious about how I make each piece, I sew all the daily squares in consecutive order from Day 1 to 25 into one big square and then wrap that around a 24 in.² stretched canvas frame. The impact of the blues for the water in the top row and the natural colors for the sand on the bottom row are a little subtle because of the edges being wrapped around the stretch canvas frame. But there are enough little hints of the water blue and sand color that I’m still pleased with the outcome. The Coral Reef series is now for sale my website. Click HERE to see he finished piece in my shop.
Last week I finished sewing together the Forest. It has become one of my favorites because this series taught me about the power of emotion evoked by the art and the idea behind the art. As I state in the article below, "Art evokes an emotion. Then what does this Forest series say? The calm greens and blues remind you of the peace you feel in nature as you are standing in the forest yourself." Consistent with my new way of presenting my art, I wrapped the sewn pieces around a stretched canvas frame. Since this was a larger piece, I was not quite sure how it would turn out. Happily, it all worked out. The Forest is now for sale on my website just in time for holiday gift giving. If you know someone who loves to be among trees and feel that calming presence, consider giving them the gift of original art.
It is this that time again. December is my month to think about what went well this past year and what did not go well. I wrote about this last year in the article, Why do an Annual Review? This review and planning time is like a combination of a spa and brainstorming session smashed together. Everyone needs to feel relaxed to come up with good creative ideas. So I’m going to be figuring out that balance over the next month of December.
Another question I’ve been asking myself is how do I want to spend my time? One of my favorite creative business guys Paul Jarvis posed this question in one of his newsletters. His idea is to figure out this question and work backwards as to the kind of things you want to do to fill your day. Play to your strengths and focus on those type of activities. You will do them better anyway than forcing yourself to do something you do not really even want to do. These guiding questions will help me figure out my 2018 focuses.
Most people have heard by now about the power of gratitude. It’s almost a cliché. People say "Yeah, Yeah. I know I should write a gratitude list or be grateful for all the good things that I have in my life. " As with all ideas that become clichés, there is a profound truth embedded in them.
When we live in a state of gratitude you begin to see the good all around you. When you start looking for the good around you, you see even more and more good in your life. The power of gratitude is that it appears to magnify the good in your life. Perhaps the good in your life has always been there and it’s a question of seeing and acknowledging it
Many people attribute the quote “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” to Albert Einstein. Based on my research, there’s no substantiation for this actually being said by him or in his writings. But it is true none the less, whoever said it. As an artist, it is easy to be overwhelmed by feeling we have either too much creativity or too little creativity. It can feel like a pendulum swing between two many ideas and creative block.