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My Cure for Procrastination

Art is inevitable

Stop in the middle. Never stop working at the natural barriers. The next time you start working, the barrier will be the first thing you encounter, and you won’t have the momentum to overcome it. — Ernest Hemingway

Procrastination wasn’t a word I applied to myself. My husband would second that because if something needs doing, I can’t rest until it’s done. However, I did have a hard time getting on track again once I completed a painting. It wasn’t because I was putting it off but more because I didn’t know where to start.

Back when I taught creative writing I always mentioned Hemingway’s process to my students as sound advice to help them avoid the quicksand of creative procrastination. Knowing what you want to write next keeps the ‘juice’ flowing. I just never applied it to my painting process until now. Talk about tunnel vision!

Cure Procrastination. Have lots on the go

Up until a few weeks ago, I worked on one piece at a time. I called it “focus” but now I see it created a natural barrier to the next piece. When I finished a painting, it took me a few days to find my next subject and face the blank sheet of paper. Flailing about, trying to decide on “What next?” is my version of creative procrastination. It frustrated the heck out of me.

I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to start 3-4 pieces at the same time but I will be forever grateful to the Muse for that whisper in my ear.

Since that AHA moment, I look forward to getting to my studio each day. Knowing what I’m going to work on feels liberating. Spread across the two tables where I paint are pieces in different stages so I can always find a place to start. I also keep a list of ideas and reference photos tacked up over my table. Also, working in a series helps. As I finish a piece, I choose something, start the sketch and do my colour tests.

I’ve completed a number of pieces in the last few weeks because of my “new” habit. It’s also why I haven’t posted on the blog for awhile. I’ve been too busy in the studio!

Found a fix for your procrastination habit? Please, share it in the comments and spread the word.

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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.”

I am here to do more than just complete a To Do list. Click To Tweet

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?

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Playing at The Art Shack

Margaretsville Lighthouse

It’s my turn to cover a shift at The Art Shack today so I brought along some art supplies to play with.

One of those items was a bottle of acrylic artist ink.

I follow artist Marion Boddy-Evans’ blog and she posted an experiment she did which inspired me to give drawing with ink a try.

Line drawing I sketched in a line drawing to follow (which is also the view from the Shack window. Hard not to be inspired.)

Then, using the ink dropper like a pencil, I drew in the lighthouse, cliff and the dark edge of the water.

Next I dampened the water area with a clean brush, being careful not to touch the ink until it was all damp. After that I just let the ink do what it wanted to do, spreading out into the damp paper.Ink drawing

I liked the effect so much I did a little of the same in the cliff to add more texture and finally on the shadow side of the lighthouse.

Really enjoyed playing with this and can see me doing more.

If you give this a try yourself, please share in the comments. Id love to hear what you think.

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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*)

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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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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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From the Studio: My Comfort Zone Challenge

My comfort zone felt safe but it also kept me from growing.

Recently I tried something that wasn’t really new. Just something I left behind years ago – painting with acrylics but it definitely moved me beyond my current comfort zone. 

Everything old is new again

I used to teach decorative painting using acrylics. You’ve seen stuff like it on Pinterest, I’m sure, decorating tables and other furniture using fluid brush strokes and simulating 3D. I loved it and still have a few of my pieces decorating my home.

The problem was I travelled (a lot) on business, which meant airplanes and luggage. I didn’t quite trust packing acrylic paints in with my business clothes so I switched to watercolours. They seemed less risky and cleaning my brushes in a hotel sink was easy.

This meant learning a whole new way of painting because, if you use both acrylics and watercolors, you know they require slightly different techniques. So I made the decision to focus on the watercolours and abandon the acrylics. I didn’t have time or budget to learn and practice both mediums.

I never worked with acrylics again – until recently. 

Stretching the comfort zone

Frankly, I was a little concerned about trying them again, afraid I might find it confusing to switch back and forth. Plus I spent a lot of time and money bringing my watercolour skills up to snuff. Did I really want to start back at the beginning again?

(I think perfectionism might have been running that train of thought.)

Road Block, Acrylics
Road Block

But my comfort zone felt stale. I wanted something with a different energy and vibe and acrylics kept calling to me. So when I dropped off my paintings at Roundhill Studio for their Wee Art show, I noticed her flyer for an acrylic class. I threw caution to the wind and registered on the spot. (That way I wouldn’t change my mind.)

When I showed up for class, I was pleasantly surprised how my watercolour skills crossed over. The brush didn’t change, only the medium. (Duh.)

I felt so excited and pleased with the painting of sheep I created that day, I went back to my own studio and started pumping out acrylic paintings. I’ve done a number of them since that workshop a few weeks back. More importantly, I’m outside my comfort zone, having a lot of fun!

What I learned

The Flirt, acrylics
The Flirt

I still paint with watercolour but in a completely different style. They tend to be much more detailed while the acrylic paint brings out my loose and playful side. I find it easy to move back and forth between both mediums and styles, which surprised and excites me.

All this time I’ve hesitated only to discover that each one informs and enriches the other. I might never have know this if I had continued to shy away.

Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way and leave the safety of the comfort zone. When stopped listening to that story holding me back, I learned a little more about what I was capable of.

What’s something new you’d like to try? Have you stretched your comfort zone lately? Share what you found there in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 

 

 

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Muse Flash: Intuition

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. — Steve Jobs

I used to read that quote and only see the part about time and not wasting it. I have an inner clock that just keeps on ticking, reminding me that time is a-wastin’.

It was only recently I really took note of that last sentence in the quote. The one about trusting my heart and intuition.

When I make art from my head it’s almost always about technique and marketability. When I trust my heart, the art speaks. Maybe not to everyone but the ones who do hear it? They’re my peeps.

Besides, even if it only ever speaks to me, that’s enough because in committing to a creative life, art starts with exploring the inner self.

This week, before you sit down to create, take a moment to get out of your head and connect to your heart.

What changes?