Take Time To Enjoy the Gift

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work. – Emile Zola

Time away is a gift

This year, being away for a whole month was a first for both of us.

A month changes things, providing distance and perspective. It made me see I was in danger of filling my schedule with things that took me away from what I really wanted. Putting together a program to help artists find time was keeping me too busy to paint.

How’s that for irony?

So I took a deep breath, slowed down and asked,

2019 Planner“What do I really want in 2019?”

Easy. I want to prioritize my painting.

That means committing to a daily practice of drawing and painting, taking time to be a student and making my art a priority rather than an afterthought. Like practicing daily scales, I need to put in the work.

We all have our own ways of bringing our dreams to life, but what we do each day, at a ‘right here, right now’ level, will determine whether we get there.  — Tara Leaver, Artist

And, as we all know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When I say “Yes” to something then I must say “No” to something else.

“What is necessary and what is distraction?”

When I arrived back home I began making time for my dreams by looking at the “mental clutter” I had allowed into my life. Like physical clutter, it took up space, made it hard to navigate and gathered dust.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to subscribe to things as I’m browsing because they catch my eye or I want their ‘freebie’ or there’s a program I’m interested in. That means I end up on a lot of lists if I’m not careful.

Now I looked at each and every promotion and update that came through my inbox and held it up for scrutiny.

  1. Did I even sign up for this? Even with all the anti-spam laws, I still get added to lists without my permission. Those are an easy decision. Unsubscribe.
  2. Is this information pertinent to me anymore? More often than not the answer was No because my life has changed so much. Unsubscribe.
  3. When was the last time I read the information this sender provides? If I can’t even remember – unsubscribe.

Now I’ll admit that unsubscribing sometimes felt a little like breaking up. Often they ask “Why” and it’s tempting to write “It’s not you, it’s me”. Mostly though, I skip giving a reason unless the sender is a friend in the real world.

This is an ongoing process but the difference in less than a week was phenomenal. My inbox holds only those things I deem important to me personally or to my renewed focus on the painting.

the gift of mental decluttering
And speaking of distractions…

Where do I want to invest time on social platforms? Do I have a reason for being there?

For me, it boils down to Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, which make sense to me as a visual artist. I deleted my profile on LinkedIn because I’m not in the corporate/business world any longer. The jury is still out about Twitter.

I left a number of Facebook groups because I wasn’t interacting or they belonged to a different phase of my life. My Creative Fire Café , of course, stays put. I love the community we created and what we learn from each other. The social aspect of Facebook is also a gift because it keeps me in touch with family and friends.

Gift of Changing “The way it’s always been”the gift of studio time

The “Yes” part means daily time in my studio, painting and learning. In the past, I held a belief that my creative time “had” to be in the morning. And yet, I easily slipped into an afternoon routine which feels natural.

By taking care of a few things each morning such as social media, my coaching practice and biz admin (and yes, household chores) I relax and totally focus on my art in the afternoons. Up to now, I hadn’t even recognized that feeling of “something’s not done” and the pressure it created to hurry through my painting time.

Now the parent part of my brain says “Right. Chores are done. Go play.”

The gift of self care via a dog

Gift of Self-Care

At the end of my studio time, right on the dot of 4:00, Joey the Dog comes in, sits down and stares hard at me. He’s letting me know in no uncertain terms, it’s time for his walk. It’s like having my own personal trainer.

These days I find myself taking longer walks which means more fresh air and exercise. Because my other priorities now have their place, I am free to enjoy the moment plus the exercise loosens me up after sitting for so long. When I get back to the house, my husband and I have a cup of tea and spend some quiet time together.

Without even trying, I’m practicing better self-care and enjoying quality time with the spouse, a precious gift.

The Sum of the Equation

All of these small changes add up. Fast. I see positive growth in my art which translates into feeling relaxed and happy, knowing my dreams are getting daily attention. I even sleep better. My time is being spent on priorities, not busy work.

What strategies have worked for you when it comes to finding more time to focus on your priorities?

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.

 

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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?

Meet my creative friend: Karen Richardson

I’m very excited about introducing you to this month’s guest artist – Karen Richardson.

I first met Karen Richardson when we visited her home during a Studio Tour and came away with one of her paintings. Later, I enrolled in her workshops and along the way discovered a good friend. Before my move to Nova Scotia we got together regularly to paint and encourage one another.

Let me introduce you to my friend, Karen Richardson, an extraordinary watercolour artist.  I have no doubt she will inspire you as much as she inspires me.

Karen Richardson painting
Time to Head South
What does “being creative” mean to you?
Karen Richardson painting
Stillwater Lily

For me, creativity comes in many forms. It is an activity that is so absorbing that I lose track of time and of my surroundings. Creative pursuits make my troubles fade away and leave me feeling happy and re-energized. I can be creative as a gourmet cook and baker; as a home gardener designing layout, shape, colour, and bloom time of my perennial beds; as a designer of my web site; as a writer of my artist’s-life-and-travels blog and my painting instruction book; as a photographer of my travel adventures; as a creator of mini-videos for social media posts; and, most importantly, as a painter of realistic landscapes and nature studies.

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

There has never been a time in my life where artistic creativity was absent. As a young child, I enjoyed playing with construction paper, scissors, colouring books, and drawing pencils, and in high school I excelled in a sophisticated arts program. But back then, I could not envision a practical career in fine art, so my life took a different path.

About ten years later, a chance night school course rekindled my love of watercolour painting, and I began moonlighting as a professional artist at age 29, while working full time at a day job. My art was therapy for my stressful career, (and my day job skills helped me build the business side of my art), for the next 18 years.

Finally, at age 47, when my husband retired, I became a full time artist. Later, I began teaching watercolour workshops, and that lead to the publication of Watercolour Toolbox, my painting instruction book. So far, in the 32-year span of my fine art business, over 600 of my paintings have made their way into art collections in 19 countries.

I have been heard to say, jokingly, that I became an artist by accident, then an art instructor by accident, and then an author by accident. But if I really think about it, maybe I always was destined for this artistic path. Looking back and looking forward, the journey feels absolutely authentic to me.

Karen Richardson painting
Leaves and Lichen
What inspires you?

My husband and I love to travel, and we have been privileged to explore every province and territory in Canada, every state of the USA, and several countries abroad. I carry a pocket camera everywhere we go, so I can capture fleeting moments of inspiration. RV touring, hiking, motorcycling, snowmobiling, ATVing, kayaking, and gardening provide unique images for my paintings. My instinct is to seek out peaceful surroundings – natural places that rejuvenate the spirit. My paintings reflect this feeling of inner harmony.

What do you want your art to communicate?

When I see something in Nature that is worthy of celebration, I want to capture that feeling of heartfelt awe and wonder in a painting. My artistic mission is to uplift, to share a moment of focused calm; in short – ‘making the world a happier place, one painting at a time’. (That is my business tagline.)

Karen Richardson painting
Hunter’s Moon
What’s the best advice you were ever given about how to be more creative?

I believe in the famous quotation from Chuck Thomas Close (American photorealist painter and photographer): “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”  I share his belief “that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea’.“

Describe your creative process. What kind of patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Karen Richardson gallery
Karen’s Home Gallery

My year is divided roughly in thirds; 4 months of travel, 4 months of teaching watercolour workshops in my studio and at local galleries, and 4 months of intense painting time in my studio. During my studio painting time, my goal is to complete one painting a week on average. During my teaching time I produce at about half that rate, with my class demonstration paintings becoming saleable inventory. During our travel months I only paint a few hours each week, finishing a couple of paintings while on the road in our travel trailer. Most of my photography work is done during our travel months and becomes the inspiration for my studio paintings.

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

Often my studio painting time takes a back seat to other activities in my art business and life in general. For me, two strategies help to avoid this problem. One strategy is to have external commitments to create new work. This could be scheduling weekly time to paint with a buddy, partnering with art galleries to sell my paintings (and therefore I commit to supply a certain volume of new work to support those galleries), or exhibiting at art fairs and open studio events. Another strategy is to schedule regular painting time each week, while getting ‘buy-in’ from family and friends to respect that schedule.

Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?
Karen Richardson studio
Karen’s Studio

Recently, I completed an 18-month online ‘Art Business Academy’ course, in which I was coached by a gallery owner in Arizona and had to complete a new assignment every second week. The goal was to expand the number of galleries showing and selling my paintings, by ramping up all aspects of my art business to a highly professional level. Thanks to my ABA lessons, I now have 7 gallery partners across Ontario.

Connect with Karen Richardson:

https://karenrichardson.ca/

http://watercolourtoolbox.com/

https://www.facebook.com/karen.richardson.studio

https://www.facebook.com/StoneGardenArt/

https://www.instagram.com/stonegardenart/

Order Karen’s award-winning book for watercolour artists by clicking the image below:

(*affilliate link*)

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 argued with it. “I couldn’t always be in my studio. Sometimes, life gets in the way.  I need a break when 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. Make it “hand-sized”. Something you can complete in a day or two. Fabric and thread offer pattern and colour in a different medium as well as a tactile experience. 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 except to say it’s 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.) Or just search on random words or ideas like “pink”, “winter”, etc.

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. Find your creative “ancestors”.

What creative person inspires you? Find out who inspired them. Who is in the creative ‘family tree’?

That’s my list. Thirteen creative alternatives.

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