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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?

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Muse Flash: Tell the Story

Tell a story

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T. S. Eliot

Choosing the head or the heart

I have to watch myself or I get too “heady” when I’m painting and I forget to tell a story. My background in designing computer systems may have something to do with that.

We like sheepFor that reason, I’m consciously painting “looser” these days. I try to avoid realism, not because it can’t be a story but for me, it becomes an exercise in skill, not story.

Loose, however, is not easy. My Inner Perfectionist wants it to look like a photo. (So does my husband, who just doesn’t ‘get’ anything else.)

To help break away, I’m experimenting with acrylics, bigger brushes, pouring and other mediums such as collage. I’m kicking myself because I gave away all my encaustic supplies before we moved. (Note to self: NEVER give away art supplies.)

As I play with these new (to me) materials, my inner dialog goes something like, ” What am I curious about? What do I feel? What do I want this to say…wait…that doesn’t look real…Oh, right. Back to story.”

Ask the right questions

The trick seems to be sticking with the right questions. The ones about heart, emotion, meaning and story. Doing a piece that is technically well-executed feels…well…satisfying and when I let it, the detailed work pulls me in. The problem is, it doesn’t share anything about me except that I know how to handle a brush and familiar medium.

So I’m on a quest to reach deeper and deeper. To tell a story with my art. To let my inner artist out more and more.

I may end up back where I started but I’m hoping the journey will teach me how to tell my story on a heart to heart level. That’s the powerful kind of art I long to make.

What are you exploring? What story do you want to share?

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13 Ways to be Creative Every Day

In my last post I suggested we need to be creatively active every day in order to ‘stay in love’ with our muse.

When I first came across that idea, I balked. I couldn’t always be in my studio. Sometimes, life gets in the way. Or I need a break because the well is dry.

Then I shifted my idea on what “being creative’ actually meant. After all, I’m the first one to tell others that creativity isn’t necessarily art, dance, literature, etc. Which, of course, is what many people flash on if you say ‘creative’.

Apparently, I’d fallen into the same narrow mindset.

So I dusted it off (my mind, that is) and put my thinking cap on. Surely I could come up with a list of alternatives for those days when the Muse takes a break.

Some suggestions

1. Try a new recipe. I confess. Cooking isn’t my favourite thing but I do love baking so my new recipe will probably be a sweet treat. No one in my house will object.

2. Do a small daily sketch for 30 days. Committing to 15 minutes a day during a Passion Project is what started me down this road. I highly recommend it as a practice. Cathy Nichols, a mixed media artist I follow is doing hers on small tags. I may give this a try myself.

3. Do some gardening. Get your hands dirty. If you live in an apartment, offer to help a friend. Gardening is guaranteed to fire up all your senses.

taking a walk4. Walk with your camera. Toting my camera, I notice more details and special moments. So yes. You could just take a walk, but I find the camera is a good reminder to stay present and not make up a shopping list in my head.

5. Get out old art materials and see what ideas they trigger. I bought the materials to make rubber stamps awhile back, made a few stamps and had fun. Now the materials sit in a basket in a cupboard. Time to get them down and make some new ones.

6. Quilt. It doesn’t have to be a large project but fabric offers pattern and colour. Piecing a project means deconstructing and re-imagining. Totally creative and inspiring.

7. Have projects bookmarked in magazines and books? Grab one randomly and do the first marked project. Or go to the library and browse a section you don’t normally visit. Pull out a random book and see what it inspires.

8. Rearrange the furniture.  A fresh perspective on a familiar place always gives me a lift.

9. Draw a mandala. I love these geometric forms. I don’t have to think about them the same way, especially if I use a compass and protractor but they always feel so satisfying.

10. Zen Doodle. Not much to add to that. Highly addictive.

11. Browse Pinterest. Find some artists you admire and see what they have on their boards. (Here’s a link to my boards in case you’d like to check them out.)

12. Again on Pinterest, create a  board of images that inspire you.  No need to second-guess or  explain it to anyone. Let it be your highly personal source of inspiration.

13. Hang out in the Creative Fire Café. This is my online creative community and the conversations are inspiring and helpful. Join us?

That’s my list. Thirteen creative alternatives.

What’s on your list? Share your ideas and inspire us!

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Muse Flash: Be the Verb

Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day. Barbara De Angelis

I know. This is an art blog, not a relationship blog.

Or is it?

BE a verb and be creative every dayRecently we watched “Big Eyes” on Netflix, a movie based on a true story. The motivations of the two lead characters fascinated me. The wife, artist Margaret Keane, allowed her husband Walter Keane to claim her work as his.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the story itself but at one point I turned to my husband and said, “He wants the title, not the work.”

Like a good marriage, you first fall in love with your creativity. But you can’t be passive about it if you want a long term relationship. You must commit and work at it. And some days? It ain’t easy.

But it’s always worth it.

So to paraphrase Barbara De Angelis – “Creativity isn’t a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your muse every day.”

If you agree, why not “be a verb” and share this. Thanks!

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15 Reasons Why I Believe Creative Expression is Vital

Recently I asked myself these questions, “Why do I believe so passionately that creative expression is a sacred trust? Why do I believe it’s vital to leading a full life?”

It wasn’t always like that

I grew up around people who taught taking time to paint and draw was a frivolous use of a precious resource. The leaders of the church I attended taught fiction was like telling lies. Dire warnings that following my own path threatened the natural order of the universe. People I respected told me creativity was highly suspect and safer to steer clear.

Why the next thing you knew, I’d be thinking independantly!

Not my truth

Is it any wonder I felt confused? What I heard didn’t line up with inner wisdom.

It was years before I realized those message told me more about the messengers and not about truth. Their words and warnings reflected warped belief systems, disappointed dreams and their own legacy of distorted messages.

Creative expression or follow the herd

Then one day, I challenged those messages.

Choosing my own path of creative expression

So here I am. Passionately devoted to my own creative path as well as to helping others find theirs.

Today I ask why is that so important to me? Why do I feel words like “sacred trust” are accurate?

Like I always do when I reflect, I turned to my journal and made a list.

 

In no particular order, here it is:

1. Creativity helps us uncover our own truth. It reveals us to ourselves and ultimately, to others.

2. Leading a creative life leaves a mark that says “I was here”. It creates a legacy.

3. Creativity is a form of meditation. When we are in ‘flow’, time disappears. In our chaotic, fast-paced society, this is rare and valuable.

4. As an antidote to our frenetic modern life, anything that reduces our stress offers health benefits.

5. What we are creatively passionate about reveals something to us about our core values.

6.  Anything that nourishes our soul is a positive response to all the negativity that surrounds us these days.

7.  It’s our birthright. We are all born creative. How we express that creativity is unique to each of us.

8. Creativity is a source of personal power. It’s our voice.

9. Creative expression can be a powerful form of protest and activism. Despots and dictators have good reason to be afraid of creative expression.

10. It’s a powerful way to teach without preaching. Let your creations do the talking.

11. Creativity connects us. We find others on the same path as us or we discover intersections and enhance each others’ journey.

12. Creative expression makes us more aware of the world around us.  (When I sketch something I know it in a more intimate way than a mere glance offers.)

13. It expands our world. Think of what we owe to inventors, innovators, photographers, chefs, gardeners, etc, etc .

14. Play. The world needs less seriousness and more joy.

15. Creative living offers the satisfaction of being fully alive, using our gifts.

What did I miss?

Help me to add to this list by replying in the comments.

I’m including a pdf of 15 Reasons to Be Creative. Click the link to download. No need to sign up for anything.

Post it by your desk or in your studio. Share it with anyone who is struggling against old messaging to find their path.

It’s that important.

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Book Review – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic

Today, I welcome Elizabeth Cottrell to the blog. She is a writer and creative friend who generously offered to share her review of “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”.

Redefining creativity

From the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Q: What is creativity?
A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration”

There are a few books in my life that I want to buy several copies and share with my dearest family and friends. Brené Brown’s books are among them, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is another. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, because I didn’t jump on the bandwagon for the author’s famous book Eat, Pray Love, which took the world by storm many years ago ( some loved it, some hated it). I have recently started following Elizabeth Gilbert again — she has grown up; she’s a marvelous and engaging writer with a wicked sense of humor; and she is motivating and inspiring. I follow her Facebook page and enjoy her posts.

Who is this book for?

As with most books, timing is everything, and while I could blithely say this book is for everyone, it is probably going to resonate with you more at certain times than others. However, Elizabeth Gilbert is not so timid in her introduction:

I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure…The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.

So right from the beginning, she throws down the gauntlet with that challenge…because who wants to live just a mundane existence, right? And who isn’t tantalized by a good treasure hunt? With those words, I was hooked and ready for the adventure.

Creativity Myths Busted

While this book flows well and is an easy read, it can also be put down and picked up without losing continuity. It’s like a necklace of jewels strung together, each beautiful or interesting itself, but even more lovely as a necklace.

Myth-busting is an entertaining and enlightening part of Big Magic. Gilbert takes on some of the myths about creativity that hold us back or paralyze us.

  • We have to kill off our fear of our creativity. No, she says. It’s too likely that when you kill off your fear, you kill off your creativity too. She advocates acknowledging and leaning into your fear. “The less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.”
  • Our worth is measured by our successes or failures. No, our worth is measured by our dedication to our path.
  • Your muse is yours alone. Gilbert believes inspiration is energy seeking a human partner to be made manifest. So if one human refuses to embrace and cultivate it, it will move on elsewhere. She shares a fascinating personal story to demonstrate this.
  • There are creative geniuses. She would say there are people who embrace genius.
  • True creatives must do something original. Gilbert says, “Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.”
  • True creatives must suffer and starve. “There is no dishonor in having a job.”

Question the common wisdom

One of Gilbert’s gifts is taking common/trite sayings and turning them on their ear. A good example of this is the question often asked by motivational types in an attempt to help their students identify their true calling: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Gilbert sees this differently and asks instead, “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” That’s a question to test your passion, for sure.

One of the reasons I particularly enjoyed this book is because of my own conflicted feelings about creativity and how narrowly I used to define it. I’ve written about it before (See “Are You An Artist?”), but for years, I was sure I wasn’t the least bit creative. I was a science major with no obvious aptitude for drawing, painting, or thinking up fiction plots. My only skills were all about logic, productivity, business, or common sense.

Or so I thought.

Several years ago, I had the startling revelation that creativity manifests itself in lots of different ways, including business, marketing, networking. When I have a blank piece of paper and colored markers in front of me, I may not want to make a picture, but what I DO want to put on the paper is WORDS. So now that I’ve embraced the notion I’m creative after all, I can’t get enough of reading about creativity. Gilbert’s words on the back of this book’s dust jacket are compelling:

Creativity is sacred, 
and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously,
and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are
accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and
a wonderful privilege.
The work wants to be made, and
it wants to be made through you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, through Big Magic, made me want to say YES to the adventure of uncovering the hidden treasures within me. What books have you read that motivate and inspire you to live your most creative, wholehearted life?


Elizabeth Gilbert has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a best book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and O: The Oprah Magazine.


Elizabeth Cottrell, Big Magic reviewElizabeth Cottrell, author of this review, hales from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She is a freelance writer and blogger at Heartspoken.com.

“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.”
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Muse Flash: Make Time Work For You

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. – Micheal Altshuler

My most popular post is about how to find time for your art. Seems everyone is looking for more time to devote to their art.

Last week Nova Scotia experienced the fourth nor’easter in about two weeks. Watching the snow swirl and the waves crash on the shore below us reminded me of those stormy days I struggled into work in the city. I’d dream about staying home close to a warm fire, doing something I loved.

After three storms, it struck me I still hadn’t done anything about that dream.

What was I waiting for?Time to paint on a stormy afternoon

Decision made, I set up a small painting area near the fire and that’s where I spent my afternoon. Watching the storm out the windows to my left. Drinking tea. Making art. Living the dream.

That pocket of time was right under my nose and I almost missed it. Almost.

I turned off my autopilot, climbed into the pilot’s seat and took back control.

Take the time

You might not be gifted with a whole afternoon as I was but most of us can find fifteen minutes in almost every day. Keep a small sketchbook and pencil handy and be awake to those moments that come our way.

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Creative Courage

Creative Fear and Courage

The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow. –Jim Hightower

Reasons or excuses?

Matisse’s famous quote  “Creativity takes courage” is almost a cliché, we’ve heard it so often. It’s everywhere in memes and posters but maybe that’s because as artists, we know it’s true. If fear wasn’t part of the creative experience, we’d be neck-deep in new art, products, recipes, gardens, etc., etc.

Sadly, fear holds too many of us back from our creative potential. 

It took me a long time to get past my own fears, most of which were related to perfectionism. However, I called it “being responsible”. After all, I had a family to care for and a business to build. 

They turned out to be my excuses.

Not what it seems

We all have our own justifications but if you actually look at what’s lurking behind our wall of words, we find fear. 

It took me a long time to understand that staying in my comfort zone robbed me of too much. The price is high. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, it costs our lives.

By avoiding the full creative life available to us, we simply keep repeating what looks (falsely) safe and sure. The same thing, over and over. We never actually live. We become dead fish. 

It’s okay to be afraid

Think of your fear as a gift. It’s a signal that you’re up to something and it’s the only way to experience that courage Matisse speaks of.  Working through it builds confidence, stretching our capacity to create.

Each of us must come to terms with it because it’s an integral part of the process. The truth is, not one of us can grow creatively without some stress and learning to live with discomfort. Answering the call means a willingness to be seen, warts and all, because art is deeply personal and uncertain. There’s no such thing as ‘fearless creating’, no matter what the gurus say.

Creativity asks us to be vulnerable and expose our hearts. Click To Tweet

Don’t tell me exposure isn’t scary!  And, after accepting the risk and doing our work, nothing is guaranteed except a need to continue creating.

How to manage the fear

After all my years of excuses, I finally realized the work itself (and the risk) could be “chunked down” again and again until the fear felt manageable. It needed to be small enough not to wake up my flight-or-fight mode

With practice, I built a tolerance for discomfort and found myself able to take bigger creative risks. The blank canvas stopped looking like a chasm and more like an opportunity.

If you’re avoiding your own creative nudge, start with small steps. Three years ago, I committed to 15 minutes of creative action every day for 30 days. Often it was just a doodle in a sketchbook but if I spent those 15 minutes, it counted.

I ended up with a book of little sketches but I also built my creative muscle and developed a habit. And I still refer back to those sketches for inspiration. 

What you choose may be different (although if my example works for you, please use it!) The point is to make it small enough that it doesn’t scare off your inner child, the muse or whatever you want to call that urge.

Courage is not the absence of fear.

Like sunshine and shadow, we need fear to experience courage. When we tiptoe past our fears, something pretty amazing waits for us. Our real life. 

I highly recommend this book about the Kaizen way for help on how to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. (Affiliate Link)

Make your own journey

We all make our creative journeys. If you’d like some company for the trip, sign up for The MuseLetter. Following five “mini-muse lessons” to help you get {re} acquainted with your creative spirit, you’ll receive about 1-2 times a month ideas, creative prompts, news and stories you won’t find here on the blog. 

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Muse Flash: Creative Flow

Flow — the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task — is a strong contributor to creativity. When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating. — Scott Barry Kaufman, Huffington Post

I love it when I get into flow. I mentioned once that I have this inner clock that never seems to stop ticking. It can be a royal pain at times.

However the clock stands still when I enter that mental state called “flow”.

I’ve been doing some digging, hoping to understand what it takes to achieve that sense of timelessness.  I’ve discovered its like trying to fall asleep by trying to fall asleep. Doesn’t work so well.

There’s good news, however. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has studied this phenomenon extensively, this state of mind happens when we challenge ourselves by doing things that require some skill and commitment on our part.

Its about being awake to our life and paying attention, not just living on auto-pilot. (He has also written quite a few books about this subject which you can find here.)

He calls Flow the “joy of complete engagement.” Sure sounds like something I’d like more of in my creative life.

So if I’m understanding this right, it’s about paying attention and being willing to challenge myself. To get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.

That means something different for each of us but I know what I will do to find more Flow.

How about you?

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Muse Flash: Get out of the studio

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?  — Ralph Marston

The picnic tables in the park down the street are calling to me. They overlook the bay and I plan to visit them soon with my paints and sketchbook for a little plein air work.

I love my studio but lately I’m hungry to be out where I can smell the ocean and feel the wind. After a dreary, rain-soaked season, I feel flat and empty.

It’s been an easy winter but still…it is winter. At first, I enjoy being cocooned indoors but by March I’ve been inside too long, despite daily walks with the dog.

It’s time to escape and energize my art heart.

One day this week, I’ll take my sketchbook, walk over the our park and set up on one of the tables. The neighbours may think I’m a bit touched but then again, who cares what anyone else thinks?

Even if I don’t paint, it’s never a waste of time to watch waves and listen to the wind.

We all need to get out of our studios and get back into life or we run the risk of growing stale.

Care to join me?