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Studio Report 1

Magic can happen in a studio. — Benny Green

I’ve been promising a peek into my new studio for awhile now but it’s been a much longer road than we originally planned on but moving day has finally arrived.

A little background

Our home has been reinvented quite a few times over its 125 year life. Each iteration left behind its own reminders. The old wood floors and beamed ceilings hint at its original purpose – the village general store and community meeting hall.

In the 1960’s, one of the storekeepers built an apartment on the second floor. Sometime in the 1990’s the first floor store added a fish and chip restaurant with a separate dining hall outside overlooking the Bay of Fundy. That’s the smaller blue building to the right in the photo below.

Finally, a previous owner turned it into a home and a few years later, we entered the picture.Nova Scotia Home

The Summer House

When we bought this place 2 years ago, we called that small blue outbuilding the “summer house”. We had no idea what to do with it, if anything. It became kind of a catch-all, storing stuff from the move we didn’t have a place for and firewood for the winter

Since our attention was elsewhere, we ignored it that first year, waiting for inspiration to strike.

the original summer house
The yard side before construction began

Making it up as we go

The truth is, since our decision to move here we’ve been making it up as we go. All our working lives we were planners with defined goals and an action plan to get there – most of which didn’t work out as planned.  One day we decided to try something completely different and follow that still, small voice of intuition. We would look for where we are being led, rather than running ahead, trying to control the outcome.

I’m happy to report this approach works amazingly well!

That’s why, one morning when I woke up, I looked at my husband and said, “We’ve got the perfect setup. Let’s try a BnB.”

And he replied, “Sure. Why not?”

Seriously. That simple.

The BnB idea worked out so well, we added a second bedroom suite this year – which meant my studio and his workshop needed new quarters. Luckily, we had the right spot waiting.

Work begins

Last winter, my husband divided his time between the second BnB suite and the studio/workshop. First thing he had to do was level it up because it was sliding downhill towards the Bay.

The Bay side prior to construction work

Then he opened up the sides, rebuilding and insulating as he went along. You can see the beautiful view I have from the studio windows. It’s also north facing so the light is perfect!

studio build
Look at that view!

studio build

In order to echo the Maritime flavour of the buildings and homes around us we went with board and batten siding and a gray stain. I love it and we’ve had lots of positive comments from the neighbours.

Next week the scaffolding comes down

The New Studio

The studio area is now dry walled and painted and I’m moving in this week. There’s trim work to be done and closet doors to go on but I can still work with that going on around me.

That’s where the open wall was in the previous picture!

Once I’ve got things set up so I can paint and host workshops (and lots of paintings hung on that deep red wall) I’ll share more photos. Watch for Part 2 of this post.

Right now I have to run. I’ve got shelves to fill and paintings to hang!

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Focus on what works

Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.  — Anon

A radical shift

In our culture, shifting the focus to look for what’s strong in our creative work can be a radical idea because we’re taught early to find what’s wrong and fix it.

A few years ago I trained in the Amherst Artist and Writers Method with Pat Schneider. Pat changed the trajectory of many lives with her writing workshops. No less than Julia Cameron calls her a ‘fuse-lighter’. Taking that training with her was a highpoint for me.

One of the very wise things (among  many) I learned from Pat was to focus on what’s strong and successful in a new piece of writing. I’ve come to realize it’s good advice for any creative endeavour in its baby stages.

After training with Pat, I went on and facilitated my own writing workshops. As my students heard from the others in the group about what they liked and what touched them, the writer naturally repeated what worked as they developed their piece. The “other stuff’ fell away.

I witnessed the power of this shift over and over as I worked with my writers.

However, there was one student who felt irritated and uncomfortable when I wouldn’t tell her what to ‘fix’ after the group gave her glowing feedback. She dismissed what she did well – which was actually quite a bit. She was convinced we weren’t telling her the truth about her work.

I get it.

The marketing industry makes a lot of money convincing me I need to be fixed. They taught me to focus on flaws and ignore the good stuff. Like my dissatisfied student, it seems too simplistic to simply build on what works. It can also feel hard to let the other stuff go. The stuff that holds me back and clutters up my creative landscape.

For a long time I bought into the idea that it’s easier to fix something rather than to build on strength. Until I witnessed the power of the building approach in those writing workshops. These days I try to remember to look for what I like and more importantly, to ask for help finding it.

Talking to another artist awhile back, she showed me a watercolour she’d done and lamented that while she loved the lower part of the painting, she’d “ruined” the top. I suggested she tear off the top and keep the good bit. (I think I actually saw the lightbulb go off.)

She ripped that painting almost in half, framed the bit she liked and sold it not long after.

Most of us are terrible at judging these things for ourselves. I know I am because I see where I fell short of the original vision I had and my Inner Critic uses that as ammunition.

I simply can’t be an objective observer. None of us can. Sometimes we need help to see clearly.

Find and ask

First, find someone who can be objective – which usually rules out family and friends.

Second, whatever you do, don’t ask for feedback or constructive criticism.  Not when you’re work is in its early stages. Most of us are trained to default to the negative so be very deliberate in how you word your request.

“What works? What speaks to you? What attracts you here? How does it make you feel?”

All good questions.  If the person I’m asking starts to go to The Dark Side, I try to redirect them with another question. Whether it’s my art or writing, I need to know when/where the piece catches their attention.

This is valuable information.

Try it yourself sometime. You will probably be surprised at what others see in your work. Things you totally overlooked or dismissed. Things you can do more of.

Keep learning

None of this means we shouldn’t take risks, learn from others and practice our craft. We need mistakes – lots of them – to grow and constructive criticism of mature work can help us improve.

But we must also identify our personal sparks of brilliance so we can fan them into flames. Our creative work becomes mediocre and vanilla when we ignore our own gifts.

Want to learn more? Join the waiting list for Synchonize: Blend Your Life and Creativity. Registration opens soon for this Fall.

What are you waiting for

Build a personalized creative practice

that fits the life you lead today.

Get ready for your future.

Get on the waiting list for the next session

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Meet my creative friend: Donna Mulholland

Donna Mulholland

This month I’d like to introduce you to Donna Mulholland.

While we’ve never met in the real world, I’ve been following Donna Mulholland’s Instagram account for awhile now and her work always gives me a lift. To me, she makes joy visible.

I took a chance, contacted her and she graciously agreed to be part of this series, another example of the generosity of creatives.

Thanks, Donna. Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit Donna Mulholland Studios and meet you in the real world.

What does “being creative” mean to you?

For me, being creative comes down to being curious about the world and curious about trying new things. I always want to know “what will happen if …?” What will happen if I try this … or that?

I’ve always loved the quote “creativity is another word for courage” because you must face the fear of failure to go outside your comfort zone where the real creative breakthroughs happen. I like to think of myself as a creative explorer seeking adventure. No risk, no thrill, eh?

When did you first realize that you absolutely had to lead a creative life?

Donna Mulholland

I was a creative kid. I was always doodling or drawing on a piece of paper, writing stories or running around pretending that I was a horse. Fast forward thirty plus years, to the day I noticed a sign for a watercolor class on the bulletin board at my sons’ elementary school. I started the class in January 2006, totally unaware how that one action was going to change my life.

I soon began drawing and painting practically every day, and the darndest thing was that drawing and painting changed me … it opened me up in ways I had no idea were even possible. Within 3 years, I had left my government career to pursue creativity and painting further.

What inspires you?

At this time of year, nature is a huge inspiration. I adore my daily walks on the trails of my beautiful city. There’s always something new to see and appreciate as the seasons change. Music is another important inspiration. I also find that when I am taking good care of myself inspiration is more likely to find me.

Donna MulhollandWhat do you want your art to communicate?

I want my art to uplift, to inspire and to communicate freedom and joy. I used to think that being told that my art was happy was an insult, as if my work was shallow and unsubstantial, but now I realize that it’s a gift to express and share freedom and joy.

Describe your creative process. What kind of patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

There are two general approaches I take to painting. The first is totally intuitive, where I simply stand in front of paper or canvas and see where the paint takes me. This is my favourite approach, and if it leads to something I like, it may lead to a new series.

Donna Mulholland

The second approach is when I start with an intention or concept that I want to explore further and paint intuitively from there. With both approaches, I am always cognizant of the principles of design as I paint. Often, I journal when I paint so that I can remember intentions, thoughts and such. This comes in handy when it’s time to title a painting and write a blurb about it for social media.

My current studio in my home is deliciously private and quiet, so I find I don’t require special routines and rituals beyond my favourite Spotify playlist and a beverage. Certainly, in the past I have tried and enjoyed many different tools to plug me into my creative stream before I started to paint; including meditation, yoga, affirmations, burning palo santo and such.

What is the most challenging part of the creative process for you and how do you meet that challenge?

The lulls between creative periods can be challenging. There is always the fear that creativity won’t return. Turning on some music and playing with no expected outcome can get me going again. It’s like eating one potato chip … after one taste you have to try another and another!

Alternatively, leaving the studio for activities that fill my well also works. It basically comes down to believing in myself and taking good care of myself. (Also read on for my answer to the next question!)

Donna MulhollandWhat’s the best advice you were ever given about how to be more creative?

“If you don’t fall off the horse now and again you aren’t trying hard enough.”

That is, if your paintings are all turning out well, it’s not a good thing. It means you’re being too careful. You need to push beyond the comfort zone and have some failures to really grow as a person and as an artist. A bonus is that something extraordinarily good often follows a not-so-good painting.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?

One of my business goals this year is to reach 10,000 Instagram followers. I started the year with 3500 followers and at the time this was published, I had about 7700 followers. I’d be thrilled if you checked out my account and followed me at @donnamulhollandstudio at

Thanks so much!


Latest Hot Links: You can find out what’s new at Donna Mulholland Studio in one place at

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Contact: Got a question? Email me at

Donna Mulholland

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Ideas have ancestors

geneology of ideas

“Look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots. In ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.” George R.R. Martin

It’s all been done before…and that’s fantastic!

Ideas are the seeds of creativity. And yet, as artists and writers we often get discouraged thinking “It’s all been done before.”

That’s the good news. No, really. It IS good news because I’m not sure anyone is wholly original. We build on each other’s ideas. That’s why I say that ‘ideas have ancestors.’ We can trace their lineage.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet (and it sounds like he got his plot elsewhere.) Along came the creators of West Side Story who basically told the same story but changed it. George R.R. Martin took a story from history, amped it up and made it his own.

You’re probably thinking “But, Aprille, what about Leonardo da Vinci?” (Insert any creative hero here.)

They got their ideas from somewhere else, often the natural world around them. They saw what everyone else saw but  through the lens of curiosity.

Make it your own

What could you create today starting with the inspiration of something else? How would you change it to make it truly your own? I’m not advocating copying. That’s just plain bad karma.  But inspiration? That’s a good thing.

Inspiration always starts somewhere. Steve Jobs got his design idea for the Ipad on a Zen retreat. The designer of Velcro was a hunter who had to pick cockle-burs off his pants and wondered how they stuck there.

The geneology of an idea

Austin Kleon, in his brilliant book “Steal Like an Artist” talks about the ‘geneology of ideas’. I love this concept. So much in fact, that I did as he advised and spent time reading about an artist I greatly admire. From there I tracked down her influencers and saw how they inspired her.

From that I got a whole slew of creative ideas, all of them uniquely mine and yet…not. I can trace their family tree.

See what I mean? It’s not about being an original. It’s about seeing things in a new way by building on our creative ‘ancestors’. I’m not sure anyone starts from nothing. Ideas have family trees.

Gives a whole new meaning to recycling, doesn’t it?

Who are your creative heroes? How have they influenced you? Share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Longing for more creative expression?

Join me for the next session and sync up your life and creative soul.

What are you waiting for

Build a personalized creative practice

that fits the life you lead today.

Get ready for your future.

Get on the waiting list for the next session

By signing up here you are agreeing to receive occasional emails from me with information about Synchronize.

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Sketching to Experience the World

Power of Sketching

Drawing is first about taking something with all the senses, letting what is simply be as it is, without judging it. – Jeanne Carbonetti, The Yoga of Drawing

Call it what you will

Sketched from my deck

I love sketching. While it’s a good creative warm-up, it’s even better as an antidote to the distractions all around me. It reminds me to pay attention because the world is a pretty amazing place.

Sketching is available to anyone because there’s no need to call yourself ‘artist’. No need even to share what you produce. I have pages and pages of sketches for ‘my eyes only’. You can even throw away what you produce because it’s NOT about the product.

It’s about being present for that moment and really noticing the world again.

It’s all about curiosity

Sketching makes me pay attention and examine small details.

It shifts me out of auto-pilot and helps me to let go of preconceived ideas about how the world around me ‘should’ look.  When I really get into flow, I focus in without judgment about the object I’m studying or what my hand produces on the paper.

Perhaps ‘doodle’ is a better word because it strips away that serious artist overtone.  It’s about curiosity and taking a closer look.

Carpe Diem and Sketch

Sketch of a tide pool
Tide Pool

Keep it simple and your tools handy so you can do this anytime, anywhere. Seize every opportunity.

Choose a pencil or fine-line marker that you like. I prefer a marker because my lines feel more confident. The energy is just different when I know I must commit and can’t erase. I also keep a few watercolour pencils with me because I like colour but it’s not necessary.

The paper itself isn’t important. While it’s nice to have sketchbook, the back of a napkin also works. As I said, it’s not about the end product but the process.

Then just do it.

Try it

Sketch something in your environment right now. Start by taking a second look.

Is the top of a mug really round or something else when it’s in front of you. How do the shadows fall? Is there a glint of light on this somewhere? How do the pieces line up? Or not? Is the top bigger than the bottom?

sketch of boats
Fishing boats by the Margaretsville wharf

You get the idea.

Then just make some marks on the paper. Once you start, it gets easier. Don’t judge the marks you make. They’re not important.

You only need a few minutes. Do it on your lunch hour or while the kids nap. It’s a practice you can squeeze into any schedule and can help you feel more grounded because for those few minutes, you’re paying attention.

Invisible Rule holding you back?

Sketch of the Point
On the Point by the lighthouse

If you’re hesitating I’ll bet the conversation in your head sounds something like “I could never do that.”.

Who made up that rule?

Change the inner dialog to a curious question — “What if I tried this?”.

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Hard to find creative time in a busy life?

I’m putting together an online course that can help with that.


What are you waiting for

Build a personalized creative practice

that fits the life you lead today.

Get ready for your future.

Get on the waiting list for the next session

By signing up here you are agreeing to receive occasional emails from me with information about Synchronize.

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Pricing Your Work and Other Things: Business advice for creatives

You need some basic business skills as a creative if you want to earn a living from your work. Pricing your work isn’t always easy.

Here’s some advice on this podcast I did with my friend Joan Sotkin on her Prosperity Place show. 


  • Telling your story is how you connect with your market.
  • Even creatives can learn basic business skills.
  • Too many creatives undercharge for their work or services.
  • We talk about why it’s difficult to decide what to charge for your work.
  • Because your art comes easy doesn’t mean it has less value.
  • Many creatives are multipaths and multipotentialites who are good at a number of things.
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The Wonder of Nova Scotia: Inspired by Place

Stuff your eyes with wonder

Stuff your eyes with wonder. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. — Ray Bradbury

Baby eyes

Babies intrigue me…and it’s not just because they are so blinkin’ cute.

I love the way they observe the world around them, soaking it all in without judgment. Their eyes are so bright and clear. I especially love how they stare back without self-consciousness. It’s their wide-open curiosity I find so appealing.

It’s no wonder kids are so creative. They haven’t built up filters and preconceived notions about how things should be. Everything is a miracle to them. They’re still asking questions.

Here in Nova Scotia I find myself having a similar experience. This new-to-me place re-awakened my curiosity and filled my creative well in a way I thought was long gone. Thank heavens I was wrong!

Curiosity and wonder hold the seeds of creativity

The Tide Pool Wonder

Being by the Bay of Fundy is key for me. Large bodies of water stoke my own sense of wonder.

Every morning I walk the dog down to the shoreline  where we wander among the rock formations and check out tide pools. Now that the warm days are here, I usually perch somewhere and spend a few quiet moments gazing over the water, listening to the waves washing in and out.

(There’s even a word for that whispery sound. Did you know that? Susurration. Isn’t that perfect?)

I love the far horizon and the smell of salt in the air. Seated there, I take deep breaths in and breathe out gratitude and feel real peace again.

waves and wonder

When I was a kid, I looked forward to summer visits with my aunt and cousins on Narragansett Bay. Those were the days before cars were air-conditioned so I would sit by the car window and try to pinpoint the first whiff of salt as we got closer.

Happiness still smells like salt air to me.

rock formations and wonder

The rocks on “my” beach are old volcanic formations, sculpted by the awesome Fundy tides and storms. They remind me of pieces of modern art. I love walking among them, making up names for some of the formations. They’re becoming familiar friends but I wonder if I’ll recognize them after next winter’s storms.

There is almost always a breeze against my skin, ruffling my hair but it’s the clarity of the air that especially delights me as an artist. I’ve had visitors comment on how different the colours are here. (And the stars!). Everything seems more vivid.

Except, of course, when the fog rolls in and sound is muted and everything takes on a dreamy quality. (Or eerie if you’re a Stephen King fan.)

All in all, it’s the perfect environment for this artist and writer. Definitely feels like home.

Definitely feeds my creative heart.

See with fresh eyes

While you may not want to move across the country to a completely new environment, you can still feed your own sense of wonder right where you are. You just need to see with fresh eyes.

Break out of familiar habits and routines. Strike out in a different direction. Choose a new route to work. Turn left instead of right. You don’t even need to leave your neighbourhood. Just getting out of the car and walking your own street lets you experience the familiar in a fresh way.

When was the last time you ‘stuffed your eyes with wonder?”

Join us in the Creative Fire Café


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Meet My Creative Friend: Elizabeth Cottrell

The creative art of writing

This month my guest creative is Elizabeth Cottrell, a heart-based writer I’ve come to know in the virtual world. Although we hang out in similar circles and have many friends in common in the real world, our paths have never actually crossed except online. I hope one day we get to share a cup of tea and some face-to-face time because I consider her a friend in a very real way.

In the meantime, it’s my pleasure to introduce her to you and the creative art she practices.

What does “being creative” mean to you?

Being creative, to me, is tapping into a more intuitive, spiritual side of myself for guidance from God’s Holy Spirit on how to live, how to interact with others, and how to write. Others may use different names for this higher power: Source, Light, Abba, Yahweh… We shouldn’t get too hung up on semantics. When something is True (with a capital T), I believe it transcends all religions, labels, and limitations. Creativity is a universal energy to which everyone has access if they open themselves up to it.

When did you first realize that you absolutely had to lead a creative life?

I’m guessing my answer to this might be a bit different than for many of your other guests on this blog. It has been—and continues to be—a journey, not a moment in time.

For way too many years, I thought I was not creative at all. I am a math/science/business person and was not drawn to traditionally artistic practices. The closest I ever got to creating a real painting myself was with one of those step-by-step courses where I was told exactly what to do…not much more advanced than paint-by-number! I thought I was just “left-brained,” and while I have always appreciated art in nature and art made by others, I never felt called to create it myself. So I concluded that I wasn’t creative.

About ten years ago, in an effort to explore my more whimsical side and get to know myself better, I participated in an online class by Cyndi Briggs called “Play in May.” Cyndi told us that if we ever felt resistance to her suggested activities, we should sit with those feelings and ask ourselves why we felt that way.

Her first assignment was to gather all the art supplies in our house – colored pencils, glue, glitter, stickers, markers, crayons, paints, blank paper etc. and identify a space somewhere to use them creatively. Wow, resistance slammed me like a sledgehammer, partly because I didn’t even have those kinds of supplies around (except what was left from my now-grown children). But being the “Obliger” I am, I followed instructions and started having a conversation with myself:

Me: “Self, why don’t you want to do this assignment?”

Myself: “Well, it just feels like a waste of time.

Me: “Okay, self, but what else do you have to do that’s more important?”

Myself: “Good grief, just about anything! I’ve got a client’s job to finish and groceries to buy and laundry to do and …”

This “conversation” continued in this vein for a few more minutes. Fortunately I was very patient, because finally, I very calmly asked myself:

Me: “So, you’ve got a blank sheet of paper there. What would you like to do with it?”

And suddenly, in a flash of enlightenment, my response was:

Myself: “ I want to put words on it!”

Eureka! The colors and emotions could pour forth through my pen. They didn’t have to only come through traditional art supplies. For me, this was truly a breakthrough moment.

From then on, I began to redefine and greatly expand what I understood to be creativity. I’ve come to realize I AM creative after all! I write personal notes that recipients call to thank me for. I often find the right words for awkward and difficult situations. My blog posts resonate with readers. I help clients find solutions to communications issues they have. Even the ability I have in a board meeting to take in a lot of complicated information and synthesize it to its core elements is, in itself, a type of creativity.

I’m still not drawn to the studio arts, but I’ve started cutting out beautiful or interesting pictures from magazines to decorate my journals. I’d like to take a drawing class to teach me how to be more observant. Being part of Aprille’s Creative Fire Café has deepened my appreciation for ways to stimulate my creativity.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by anyone who seems called to take the ordinary tools available to any of us and make something fresh and new. I am especially inspired by writers who can use everyday words in thrilling and unique ways to transport me to places and experiences I couldn’t otherwise know. Annie Dillard’s writing gave me fresh eyes for nature. Mary Oliver’s poetry shifts my thinking about the world around me.

What do you want your art to communicate?

I want, more than anything, for my words to encourage, comfort, and inspire—to remind my readers and anyone whose paths and mine intersect that they are worthy and special, and important to the whole of life. It would make me so happy to know that my words might be an antidote to the shrill and polarizing voices of our culture today.

Describe your creative process. What kind of patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

My morning routine is perhaps the best practice I’ve developed (thus far) for creating space for Spirit to speak and move in and through me. I like to get dressed before coming downstairs. That feels like an important step towards a mindset of readiness for the day. I make a pot of coffee, and while it’s brewing, I stretch and drink a glass of water to rehydrate after the long night. Often I step outside to breathe in the fresh country air and enjoy the sights and sounds of a Shenandoah Valley morning. I give thanks for the day and its opportunities.

With coffee in hand, I head to my favorite chair—an upholstered rocker/swivel chair—surrounded by books and writing supplies. I begin with Scripture and devotional reading. This helps to settle me down and “primes the pump” for a receptive mindset. I go through my own “Heartspoken’s Morning Checklist for Spiritual Well-Being” (Click Here to download). This practice often inspires writing in one of my journals. I use a lap desk, and I prefer fountain pens and high-quality paper.

While there are some days when I “hit the floor running” without this special time, the day goes better when I fit it in. It is a “marinating time” when ideas and thoughts have a little extra space to declare themselves.

What is the most challenging part of the creative process for you and how do you meet that challenge?

Information overload, distractions, and interruptions are all challenging to me. Meditation has helped me re-frame the distractions and interruptions and begin to view them as divinely-inspired. Sometimes the phone call or email that feels like an interruption is an opportunity to touch someone and be a channel for God’s love.

I still think it’s helpful to set boundaries to protect the time and space we need to nurture our creativity. Getting up before anyone else is up or likely to call and interrupt works best for me, but my success in meeting the challenges effectively varies from great to dismal.

What’s the best advice you were ever given about how to be more creative?

Two come to mind – one has come from many sources, but most powerfully from the work of Dr. Brené Brown: Stop comparing yourself to anyone else! Each of us is unique, yet we waste so much mental and emotional energy when we feel “less than.” Her book Gifts of Imperfection addresses this propensity for self-comparison directly. We’ve got to learn to appreciate the creative gifts of others without it making us feel our own gifts are small in comparison.

The second comes from creative business coach Laura West. At a retreat several years ago, she suggested we adopt this practice: “Say No more often and Yes more fully.” This is such important advice, especially for those of us who tend to think we should just because we can. I call this “The Tyranny of Shoulds.” The reason it relates to creativity is because when we burden ourselves with activities we’re not really called to do, it squeezes out the time and space required for creativity to flourish in us.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?

I just want to thank you, Aprille, for creating a community that celebrates and nourishes creativity. You have walked the walk and shared your highs and lows, and you’ve been generous in finding and sharing ideas and practices we can implement ourselves for a more creative life.

“I’ve been lots of things in my life—from farm girl to leprosy researcher; from wife and mother to bank board chairman—but at my core, I’m a connector and encourager whose artistic tools of choice are fountain pen and paper and whose deepest desire is to be a channel for God’s light and love as long as I’m able.”

Elizabeth CottrellElizabeth is a freelance writer​/blogger​ ​and ghostwriter​​ ​at​ ​and ​ You can connect with her here:

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Art at the Speed of Life

Art at the speed of life

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, would answer you: I am here to live out loud. – Émile Zola

Last week, life demanded something new from me.

We left the house at sunrise, headed for my husband’s knee surgery. It was a day of firsts. First surgery ever for him. First time I was the one waiting. First time so far away from family support when life felt scary.

For the six months prior we kept busy, focused on finishing projects like the new BnB suite and my studio. The last 30 days were particularly intense. Toward the end of all our rushing about, we had to keep re-evaluating what we had time for and what could wait. Creative time fell off my list of priorities.

As we drove to Kentville, I took a deep breath and noticed the world around me again.

Mist in low-lying places. A pheasant pacing along the shoulder of the rural road. The silhouette of a lone hawk on the phone line, looking for her breakfast. Soft pink on the eastern horizon, gradually brightening to a sunny day. The spring green of fields and trees.

Now that the (successful) surgery is behind us, I’ve taken on the role of caretaker, which still devours a lot of hours in my day. My studio is waiting for me to return and I’m okay with that. This is what you do for someone you love.

What does this rather personal story have to do with art and creativity?


A lot actually.  Art should happen while we are living very real, very human lives. If we aren’t connected to the people around us, how can our art communicate anything meaningful?

I’m sure you’ve read posts, watched videos and listened to other artists who advise “Just follow your passion”. The experts (and those clever memes) tell us, “If it was really important you’d find time.” The implication seems to be creative passion must take precedent over everything else or we’re not really serious about our art.

We nod our heads because it sounds like great advice and then beat ourselves up, wondering why we can’t find the time or energy to ‘just do it.’

I know if this is true for me, it’s also true for a lot you reading this.

Finding the balance in life

The truth is, this is one more example of those social media ‘echo chambers’ people are talking about. Hearing only one side of any story distorts our perception of what it takes to lead a meaningful life. Because those of us who are artists and writers often seek out creative experts focused on their chosen topic, we can miss the counterbalance of what it means to cope with real life.

It becomes a trap of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. And if I’ve learned nothing else, life is about balance. Ever tried to stand on one foot? In order to retain your balance, your leg and ankle are making constant small adjustments. Balance means adjusting, not rigidity.

We live in a world of contrasts. If our goal is peace of mind then we must let go of the judgments. Both light and shadow are necessary. Ask any artist. Without the shadow, how do you show light?

Filling the well

Life is like a wellWe fill our creative wells by living full lives and living sometimes demands a lot of us.  When we embrace the ups and downs, we have something to say when we do get into our studios or back to our desks.

We must be about life’s business if we want our creative expression to touch other hearts. We must be real. There are times when that passion we’re following will mean taking care of personal needs or a loved one, time with a child or being an active part of our community. It all matters.

Meaningful art doesn’t happen in a bubble. And when life gets crazy busy, as mine did, we can try to fit some tiny snippets of creativity around the other priorities. They act as reminders that this too, is part of who you are.

I did a couple of small sketches and made notes in the little book I keep in my purse. I used my phone to take reference photos. I browsed Pinterest for inspiration and ideas for when my schedule has more space. I knit while I keep my husband company as he heals. I stayed connected to my Facebook group of creative folk.

Meanwhile my focus is on my husband. Underneath, the creative urge is building, like steam under pressure. When the time is right and I return to my studio, I’ll have lots to work with.



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Muse Flash: Simplify

Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify. – Henry David Thoreau

Simplify. Sounds so easy but here I am, once again, learning the lessons of simplicity. To ask myself if I really need to do ________(fill in the blank) or is it a distraction? Does this painting need this level of detail or am I fussing too much? Do I really need to do this chore or is it busy work?

Getting too ‘fussy’ results in chases down rabbit holes and procrastination.

I have to stop myself and ask “Who made up this rule anyhow? My standard? Or someone else’s?”

A good case in point is my MuseLetter. I can get so caught up in what the ‘gurus’ say I must do that I overcomplicate things. It’s far more important to listen to what my subscribers say they what.

When I simplify, everything else flows

simplifyTime and again, people tell me they like the MuseLetter I send out because its simple and short. They can take a couple of minutes out of a busy day to be inspired.

That’s also the reason I like it. It’s simple which means it doesn’t take hours to create but it keeps me in touch. When I try to get “fancy” I end up procrastinating.

The same thing works in my paintings. When I keep composition pared down to the essentials, I feel a different energy and I find people respond to it differently.

In my art work, it’s the same question. “What does the viewer want?”

The simple answer for me is they want to share my experience. Keeping it simple feels lighter and I like the idea of inviting my viewer to be part of the creative process as their imagination fills in the details.

Embracing simplicity

So my creative mantra is “Simplify…simplify” because who doesn’t love it when life flows along easily?

What about you? What keeps you in flow?