The Cha-Cha of Confidence

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An unexpected pause in my errands, to record a moment of delicious sunlight.

You may have noticed I haven’t written much about sketching, or watercolor, or art supplies lately. Instead, I seem to be fixated on writing about how to best use one’s time for the most pleasant result at the end of the day. Nothing wrong with that, but where did the obsession with sketching go?

It hasn’t gone anywhere really, in fact it is more focused than ever, just elsewhere.  All of my energy these last many weeks has gone into the nuts-and-bolts work of writing a book that has been nipping at my heels for quite a while. The writing is now finished and polished, and all that’s left to do are a few more illustrations. Then, out of the blue, I felt a jab to the gut:

Who needs another how-to book about sketching?

It felt like a sudden stick in my bicycle spokes, stopped me dead in my tracks. Who are you kidding, girl?

Then this morning a fellow-blogger’s post landed in my inbox. These words hit home (underlined emphasis mine):

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Learn a skill– We all have something to share, to give… music, writing or something that the locals can get some benefit out of…your skill works wonders in uplifting the environment and oneself.

“Know the Elements of Life- The slow deep breathing… long walking times tune your heart and lungs in its own right into meditation order. The purest form of seeing and keeping ourselves and nature in check and healthy.

“Visit local writers, teachers and local artisans- One of my favorite things after I settle down at a place is to look out for people who are living intimately within themselves and are the bed rock of the society. You can walk around asking for such people if you are curious enough to know something deeper… I did have to learn a few things the hard way but many things that I have mentioned here were received through a long time of seeing. Very slowly without me being aware of it. But I can tell you that the source of it all was only being respectful, first and foremost to yourself. That’s it! Respecting oneself.

“Regardless of what you may think, my only reason to be here writing is to become a bridge for anyone who is seeking…, to share ideas, resources, memories that even if you are not there, your mere thought can uplift somebody’s moment.”

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I thank this gentle man, Narayan Kaudinya, whose writing I only know about because he stumbled across one of my blog posts and liked it. The feeling is mutual.

So you see, that is how life works. We each are going along just fine with our to-do lists and daily activities, content, questioning nothing. Then it happens, out of nowhere comes a smidgeon of self-doubt, because you realize most of your friends may like you well enough, but they don’t give a fig about joining you in that hobby of yours that for you is the meaning of life itself.

After finishing the final draft of my book last week, I looked at the next steps, how to hire a graphic designer, and decide the best route to self-publishing both an ebook and a paperback because after all, everyone reads ebooks nowadays, but I really, really want my pride and joy to be held in people’s hands as well. Then I did  a little market research on Amazon, to see what sort of books are already out there in my tiny niche market, and I was met with a tsunami of 5-star reviews, gazillions of copies sold, artists whose books turn into workshops and webinars and world tours, and my shoulders just drooped.

“I just wanted to write a little book, that’s all,” I said to myself. “Something to help anyone who is a sketching wannabe and doesn’t know where to start. I don’t want to build a business. I just want to write this little book, print it, make it available to anyone who wants it, and get back to my simple, pleasant life. That’s all.”

My new acquaintance Narayan reminded me that my humble ambitions are enough. It may be un-American to have no interest in tooting one’s horn, but there you have it. I am back on track, thank goodness. I scared myself for a minute there.

What do you do when your belief in yourself falters? When you lose sight of the value of your particular contribution to this world? How do you regain your balance?

I try to remember The Cha-Cha of Confidence, a phrase I just made up but it seems to describe my experience fairly well. I move forward and back, side to side, shift the weight from one foot to the other, and it looks like I really know what I’m doing if I don’t lose my balance, right?

When I do start to topple a little, I try to wear the momentary discomfort as a loose garment, to paraphrase St Francis of Assisi. I know something will come along, unbidden by me, to tap me gently on the shoulder and reawaken me to the fact that who I am and what I am doing are both just fine the way they are.

Hitting this little bump of insecurity actually put me back in touch with the readers I hope to have for this book.

Bring me your timid, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be able to sketch for fun, but who don’t know what to ask first. Guide them to this book, that will hopefully bring them a laugh and a very small supply list. Let me hold their hand until they smile, turn to me and say, “I’m good now, I can head out on my own. But can we get together for coffee later so I can show you what I did?”

Certainly, I say, returning their smile. That’s all I ever wanted.

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Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Musings on Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Your lists may be stopping you

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Stop nagging me!

There’s one sure-fire way to take yourself out of this beautiful present moment:

Make a List.

With the most innocent of intentions, many of us start the day by sitting down with a fresh piece of paper, jotting down the day of the week at the top, underlining it, then listing the appointments we have scheduled for the day. These are important: they are commitments that affect other people, whether it means being on time for a doctor’s appointment, a scheduled car repair, or a Zoom meeting right here at the home office desk.

Appointments. Good things to remember.

Semi-Appointments.

A word I just invented, ‘semi-appointments’ are deadline-free commitments that are nevertheless tied to real appointments. Like getting a bloodwork test done before the doctor’s appointment. Like stopping at the gas station on the way to the repair shop, or else the car will run out of gas on the way there. Like putting the finishing touches on a presentation, well in advance of the scheduled Zoom conference meeting.

But what about all that other ‘to-do’ stuff?

There’s a place for that too, but not  on your daily list!

Instead, follow the lead of the Day-Timer™ Company, and create a Grass-Catcher List.  This sheet of paper (does anyone still use paper?) will be fertile feeding ground when you are between appointments and still full of energy for a productive day.

It is not a place for every whimsically nice idea that crosses your mind: this is not brainstorming. Your Grass-Catcher List is only used to jot down things you need to remember. Its real power is that it gives you a way to stop interrupting yourself.  Here’s how.

The In’s and Out’s of my Grass-Catcher List

My Grass-Catcher List is divided in half vertically. The columns are called: In and Out, (shorthand for “At Home” and “Errands”).

The ‘In’ Side

Phone Calls’- Under this subheading I note the calls I want to make in the next week or so, no order of importance, just as I think of them.

Computer’-  When I’m working on a big writing project, I don’t want to interrupt myself evey time I think of an email I need to send or a product I want to research online. Instead, I just jot it down under ‘Computer’ on my G-C List.

Listen’- This is my list of the monthly membership Patreon sites and podcasts I support financially. That reminds me to listen to them when I want a break.

What I don’t write down is just as important as what I do write down.

I never list ‘wash dishes’, ‘vacuuming’,  ‘tidy up’. I do those things when the spirit moves me, not because some taunting bit of ink is ‘shoulding’ all over me.

At the opposite end of the joy spectrum, I never, ever add my favorite hobbies to a task list. This is for two reasons: one, there’s no risk of my forgetting them and two, I don’t want joy tainted with duty.

The ‘Out’ Side

I no longer drive, so my Out list has two sub-categories:

Walk- This could include the ATM machine, my local pharmacy, and a specialty item at the local co-op a block from where I live.

Bus/Car- I’m back taking public transportation cautiously, and luckily I also have friends who will drive me to stores beyond easy walking distance. Here I write down extraneous errands that are not urgent, but that I want to remember the next time I am out.

Groceries- Ah yes, an on-going list for me. Again, I only write down the things I want to be sure to remember, because most of my shopping is ‘produce-browsing.’

Not included- I never write down things that “might be fun to do while I’m out,” because that bright idea becomes clutter, blocking the way for bright ideas to come. If I have spare time while I’m actually out and about (for example, while I’m waiting for my bus), I can trust my gut instinct to come up with something exhilerating to do in that moment. No need for a list.

And there is my point.

Even in pandemic days, it can feel like there’s not time enough to do what needs to be done. Getting to the root of that sense of being ‘behind schedule’ is important work, maybe the most valuable investigative work you will ever do.  An unfinished to-do list can become a needless weight on your soul. I want to help you attain a greater sense of satisfaction and spontaneity out of every day, so here’s your challenge:

1- For one whole week, refrain from creating your usual drill-sergeant to-do lists.

2- Instead, on a small piece of paper, jot down only your Appointments and Semi-Appointments for the day. 

3- Start a Grass-Catcher List, including only things you really want to remember to do at some point in the next couple weeks, no longer.

4- Use your Grass-Catcher List as a Shopping List whenever you find yourself at an unexpected ‘meadow’ in your day. When you look at the Grass-Catcher List, be sure to pause and notice if you are asking what you should do next, vs. what you want to do next. If nothing on the G-C List grabs your interest, you are then free to look around and consult your marvelous Intuition as well.

Finally, at the end of each day, see if you have a strangely elevated sense of pleasure and accomplishment.  You met all you commitments and did quite a bit more. You spent most of your day in the Present Moment, trusting your instincts over and over again. You came to see you never needed to hold your own feet to the fire at all.

A List can be a tool or a weapon. Choose wisely.

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P.S.: Today happens to be this blog’s 4th birthday. My how it has grown, as has my confort level in creating it.  And for that, you certainly are partially responsible.

Posted in Musings on Life | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Enough, Equanimity, and Selective Indifference

Enough

What a powerful word.

Even in these days of pandemic semi-lockdown, it is still easy to get the sense you are not doing ‘enough.’ That thought can be in my head before I even fully awaken in the morning! Not a good way to start a day.

But then, as usual, my first stop of the day is my bathroom, where I am greeted by this sign that I bought from an artisan a few years ago.

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Of course, it is a takeoff on the expression, “Dare to be Different”, but in truth, this feels far more radical. It is choosing Selective Intentional Indifference, choosing to not have an opinion on every little thing in life, and rather, reserving your concern for things that truly matter.

Equanimity

Here in America, on July 30th, we had a brief respite from the insanity of pandemic, racism, violence, and governmental overreach. The three-and-a-half-hour display of clarity, reverence, intelligence, and hope occurred at the funeral celebrating the life of our beloved elder statesman John Robert Lewis. It felt like time-travel, to listen to eloquent respect coming from past presidents on both sides of the American party system, from men and women, from blacks and whites, from young and not-so-young. There were tears of loss and tears of hope.  I am so glad I witnessed it as it was happening. Fresh air, fresh commitment. So much to learn from that gathering of good hearts.

John Lewis understood equanimity, a beautiful word meaning “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” He got into “good trouble” often, and kept his cool. He knew his cause was a long marathon, not a sprint.

At the heart of this calm persistence, in any one of us, is knowing deep in your heart when you have done enough for today. Not forever, not for good, but for today.

Bringing It Home

That is why I have a brief check-in with my journal most mornings, to greet the day, to acknowledge any appointments I have during the upcoming hours, and to make a loose plan so that by the end of the day I am in accord with the notion of Enough.

In order to understand Enough, I must Dare to Be Indifferent to all sorts of things throughout the day. Living alone in Covid Times, I am as susceptible as anyone to Excessive Up-To-The-Minute Minutia offered up by dozens of cable TV stations all clamoring for my attention. They do not deserve it, for it is in precious short supply.

I know what Enough News looks like. For me, two specific hours a day gets me everything I need.

I know what Enough Food means, and that takes planning ahead so I make good, fulfilling choices.

I know what Enough Exercise is, although I find it challenging at times.

I know what Enough Creative Time is, although I rarely settle for Enough. Creative time is writing this blog, working on a sketching manual that I plan to publish before the end of the year, reading watercolor books or watching watercolor instruction videos to learn even more about my heart-of-hearts favorite pastime.

I know what Enough Social Contact in a day is. I try to have about an hour of quality one-on-one time a day with another living human, either phone time or the now-common “Zoom time.” Occasionally I also see someone in person, and it feels like a very special occasion.

I know what Enough Work on Social Justice is (which of course is never truly enough), but it is more than nothing. I educate myself. I write letters of support to my truly wonderful legislators. I donate miniscule amounts of money hoping it makes a difference. I vote. Man do I vote.

And I take my personal version of Social Justice into my daily life by thanking people whenever I can. By being patient when I go to the pharmacy or grocery store, and thanking the clerk every single time. I listen to friends who have different views than I do, and I ask myself, ‘What would John Lewis do?’ I do my best, I fall short, but it is better than Nothing. It is Enough for Today.

Enough. Equanimity. Selective Indifference.

Verse 5 from my favorite poem, Desiderata, states, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

In addition, I recommend refraining from comparing our insides with someone else’s outsides. We always come up short, and besides, it is a waste of precious time.

Get a journal, better yet a sketchbook. Greet the day daily. See how your life improves.

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Posted in Musings on Life | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Mysterious Clockface Revelation

Welcome to gym class for artists.

No, I am not kidding. Pull out your pens and sketchbooks, kick off your shoes, and get ready to be amazed.

We are going to draw analog clock faces.

Whether you are an artist or not, manual dexterity always comes in handy, so give this a try, everyone.

I am right-handed so I am speaking from that perspective. You lefties are not off the hook though, your instructions are here too. Besides, you are so used to translating from a Rightie-Dominant World, I am sure you will understand everything from the git-go.

First, draw a circle, about 1-2 inches across, no larger. A wobbly one is fine really. Put a dot in the middle. Then draw a line from the middle to where 12 o’clock would be. (Just one hand you knuckle-head, not two!)

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Okay, now do the same traveling around the circle, drawing lines from the center to 1, to 2, to 3 etc. (or create the spokes of a wagon wheel if you are already thinking of watching Bonanza instead). Draw in all the hours on the same clock face (or all the spokes on the wheel), starting at the middle and aiming for the edge of the circle each time.

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If you are anything like me (and about a zillion other righties), you will do just fine until you reach about 7:00-7:30, then suddenly your lines will be really wobbly. What the heck??

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Here is what’s happening. If you watch your hand carefully, you will see it too.

As a rightie, all around the right side of the circle, you have been using your palm muscles and your fingers a lot, flexing and stretching those fingers like crazy. But suddenly at about 7:30, you discover that your fingers are already fairly extended, just to hold the pen properly. You are left with no ‘wiggle room’, literally, when you need to push a line away from your palm.

“How on earth can you do that??”

You have to resort to the next best thing: using your very clumsy wrist, the same wrist that can conduct a symphony orchestra, but probably stinks at threading a needle.

So now you know you have a dumb wrist. We all do at the beginning. Stay with me here, it gets weirder.

The ClockWork Continues:  start in a fresh circle, continuing around clockwise, but now draw from the rim inward. Start at 12 o’clock and drawing a line to the center. Not hard, right? Okay, now place your pen at 1 o’clock on the same circle and draw a line to the same center, landing on the bull’s eye. Not so easy right? Continuing on you may struggle a bit, and discover many of the lines on the right side of the clock are wonky.  “What the heck” for the second time, right?? Here’s why.

If you are a rightie, the hardest lines to draw are always from right to left. And obviously, the opposite direction is true for lefties.

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“Yeah, but who cares?”

I knew you’d ask.

Answer: You do.

Because eventually you will want to sketch a beautiful landscape, including enchanting buildings, and no amount of study of the theory of perspective is going to allow you to draw a credible barn roof if you have dumb wrist muscles. I have ruined more than one drawing by starting at the peak of the roof, drawing a beautiful line from the peak to the lower right eave, but when I tried to draw the other side of the roof, the wobbly result (which ended somewhere in the hayfield) was a dead give-away that I was a rookie. It is not because we don’t understand perspective. We simply have a muscle deficit. The good news is that you now know an artist body-building exercise.

Here’s your homework (or home play really):

Practice drawing a full array of circles on a page in your sketchbook. (Yes, in your sketchbook. You’ll find those wobbles endearing later when you’re an old pro.)

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Then fill them in one by one.

First circle: draw from the center out.

Second circle: draw from the rim in to the hub.

Go clockwise (12-1-2-3 etc.) for half of the circles, counterclockwise (12-11-10 etc.) for the other half.

Change direction often, keep your wrist muscles really confused.

That’ll make you slow down, that’s a good thing.

Don’t press down too hard. Be gentle.

Don’t forget to breathe. Stop clenching your teeth! This is fun, remember?!

Finally, two bits of good news:

  • Practicing is delightfully mindless, dead simple, and can be done while watching too much TV or when you are on hold with customer service at any company including, cringe, your internet provider. Easy, mindless, and…
  • Holy moly, all those silly circles and wagon-spokes actually build your wrist control! I am not kidding you!

I was amazed myself. I thought I was just wasting time and paper. It took a while for me to get in the habit of doing lots of pages of this mindless exercise over a long period of time. (It helped that I was in a lot of boring meetings, sitting in the back row so no one could discover that I was, in truth, not taking notes at all; I was doing drawing exercises.)

Which is why, much to my surprise, after a lot of ‘wagon wheel practice’, I had the joy of accurately drawing the rooflines in these two sketches, quickly and with confidence. Easy. Effortless. It surprised me, honestly.

The same can happen for you, all you need is a little practice telling time.

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Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Grounded…but in a good way

I gave myself another treat today—as my reward for donning shoes and a visor and a mask and venturing forth into the semi-safe great outdoors for some welcome exercise, I indulged in an iced coffee and a sweet at my favorite patio-café-in-the-shade. A delightful place to write leisurely Morning Pages that sometimes, including today,  turn into a blog post.

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(Today’s post is more of a Ponder Wander than a sketching lesson, so consider yourself forewarned.)

We are nearing the end of Summer School in my small circle of creative friends (see prior posts “For God’s Sake, Get a Tribe!” and “Recent Travels with My Tribe”). Yet again,  a lovely feeling of contentment seems to have settled over me when I wasn’t looking.  I often select three words at the end of Summer School, which then become my North Star Trio to help me prioritze my time in the coming year. My three words for the 2020-2021 season drifted into my journal just now.  They are Gentle – Kind – Integrated.

Gentle

For me, this has a lot to do with tempo, pacing myself to be in alignment with whatever energy I have at the moment. About six weeks ago I pulled a muscle in my back, and I learned quickly that ‘powering through’ pain is not always wise or even possible. So I am learning how to move gently when in pain, neither pushing nor giving up completely. (I definitely do not want to become a crotchety old couch potato!) Which leads me to the second word.

Kind

Akin to gentle, but not the same really. At the moment, ‘kind’ feels more like an action word to me. Kind is not just the absence of unkind. Instead, it is an intention, an approach, and finally an action. Being kind to my friends is easy, but I can always make it more vibrant by adding a layer of extra action. I can be the one who places the call to check in, rather than simply answering the phone when it rings. I can make a point of remembering a birthday or anniversary, or recalling that someone is healing from an injury and may enjoy a friendly voice. There are many ways I can step up my game on Kindness. Which brings me to the final word.

Integrated

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‘Integrated’: a word which for me is the opposite of ‘distracted’. I want to feel that my life has not been merely a collection of fragmented moments (as I have so often thought), but instead has always had a substantial thread coursing through its center. Were it not for the adrenaline-addled myopia that seems to be inherent in the human condition, perhaps many of us might have a deeper sense of connection to our own lives and to one another.

In recent years I have kept a Month-End Summary in my journal, each and every month, to look back and catch up with myself really. Even in this time of semi-lock-down, when I don’t leave my beloved loft apartment for days on end, I often feel that I have been running in circles, dashing from one check-list item to another, losing myself in the process. The alternative requires only the smallest of shifts, simply pausing at the end of each task  to be pleased, satisfied, that I paid the bills, made that phone call, tended to those dirty dishes.

Look how far we have come!

It is no longer the middle of March. By my count this is approximately Day 116. There is still so much to fear, so much loss of life, and more to come. There is deep unrest in my country as well as around the world, because it seems the pandemic was simply the missing ingredient in the soup kettle of discontent that has been burbling for centuries around the world. The pandemic was the baking soda for the simmering vinegar of inequity our human race has created for itself. It is so easy to feel that life is now officially Hell, and that Dystopia has arrived. This is not a stretch of the imagination.

But, for better or worse, we still have us.

I still have the innate ability to wake up, to observe my own thoughts, and question if they are serving me well. This is my greatest point of power.

A dear mentor of mine describes those thoughts that serve no purpose other than derailing oneself as “The Annoying Roommate.” I have really taken this to heart, have given her a name (pick any name you like, but make it funny), and now whenever the voice of judgement or uncertainty or discouragement arises, I just shrug and say, “Oh, you again?”

Calling it your Annoying Roommate helps to give those unhelpful thoughts a bit of distance, so that you needn’t waste time owning them, untangling them, or even discarding them. They are, after all, just the rantings of your Annoying Roommate. Then you are free to return to your own path, your own deepest focus / values, so you may set your course for the next week, month, or simply the next moment. You are free to get back to your original focus on kindness, justice, and generosity to everyone in your circle of influence, saving a bit for yourself as well, of course.

It helps to have a navigation device to guide your course: I like the notion of Three Good Words. For the next year I’m choosing Gentle, Kind, and Integrated. Destination unknown, but the path will clearly be all mine.

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Cafe Time–whether pondering, writing, or sketching–is never wasted time.

 

What guiding lights might you choose for the next many moments of your time on this earth? Take time to listen to your heart and choose wisely.

 

 

Posted in Look-at-That! Pouches, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Gentle Momentum

I was talking with a friend recently about the difference between inspiration and duty. Sure enough, within 12 hours, I came across not one but three webinars whose focus was on just that, so here we are.

Have you ever made a list in the evening of all the things you wanted to accomplish the next day, a list that you were quite excited about? Then the next day, not so much.

There is such a big difference between an Inspired Action List and a Dutiful To-Do List, isn’t there? If it’s something I am consistently eager to do every day (like my daily journal meditation), I easily create a rhythm that is deeply satisfying and rewarding. The exact same activity on a lifeless To-Do List would feel like obedience to a tyrant whose handwriting is oddly familiar…

I suspect this post may be more helpful for people like me who tend to think too much. I developed that not-so-great habit by working for many years in jobs where strategizing and long-range planning were right there in my job description. I was paid to create crystal-ball projections, write up final reports for programs, describing successes and shortfalls, closing with yet more projections about ‘next steps.’

Even now, in retirement, I find myself ‘strategizing’ my time when I don’t need to, simply because it is a bad habit. In the last year I have gone beyond questioning its value to seeing this culturally-sanctioned habit comes with a very high price.

Chronic ‘Strategizing’ Puts a Barrier Between Me and My Gut Instincts

An example, from life to sketching and back. Stay with me here.

Often when I take my beginning sketchbook students out for an on-site, ‘plein air’ class, they happily sally forth, shiny new art supplies in hand, park themselves on their brand new, highly-portable, over-priced camp stools, take a deep breath, and then start to look around. At that point I usually see the life blood drain out of their faces, and I wait for their predictable next line.

“I have no idea what to draw!” they moan. “There is too much to choose from!”

That’s when I hit them with the very first exercise, guaranteed to make them moan even more, but alas, it works. You can do it at home yourself, right now. Before you start, you will need a pen (any pen) and a piece of paper. A sketchbook, a sheet of copy paper, a plain paper bag perhaps. Get comfortable, here we go.

There are only three simple steps.

First, grab your viewfinder. You can easily make your own by grabbing a junk-mail envelope out of your recycling trash (feeling clever already, right?) Check out the photos below—make it a square, cut a hole, label it as shown for inspiration.

Second, hold it up in front of you using your non-dominant hand, close your eyes, extend your arm and move it through the air like you are conducting an orchestra, keeping the paper upright, hole facing you. You will look like a fool, but no worries.

Finally, stop waving your silly arm, hold steady, and open your eyes. Look through the hole, right where it is. “Oh No!” you exclaim. “That isn’t worth drawing!”  Silly you, wrong again.

Because the subject matter doesn’t matter.

Now the pressure is off because after all, you didn’t decide to draw the corner of that garbage can, it just appeared on its own. Next hold your arm steady, take a deep breath, and just stare at the hole for a little while, right where it is. Start in the top right corner of the opening, let your gaze drift down that right-hand edge, and notice at what point some object in the viewfinder’s hole touches that edge. Is it halfway down? A little less? A little more?

Continue around the square, just noticing those ‘hot spots’, those intersections of an object in the hole with the frame surrounding it. Imagine a little buzz of electric energy at each of those intersections. Suddenly that dirty corner of the garbage can has become an abstract shape, one that you can’t get wrong because, after all, it is an abstract shape.

Next, give that arm a little rest, and pick up your pen in your dominant hand. Draw a small square on your paper, and then reposition your viewfinder in the air, as close as possible to its original spot so you get to see that now-familiar abstract image again.

Now, drawing on your paper (not on the viewfinder!), make  ‘spark marks’ (dots) at each place on your square’s perimeter where you already identified hot spot intersections. Then, starting at any dot you like, slowly draw the line as it grows from the spark toward the inner part of your image area. And there you have it.

The dots around the perimeter are your safety net, the inner space is your playground.

With each mark, you are deciding (subconsciously) how funky you want to be today.

Do you feel like making bold, emphatic lines?

Are you making soft gentle lines that are crying out to have shading added, so your shapes become volumes?

Do you catch yourself thinking, “Okay next time I want to use a fatter pen, a gel pen, a pencil, a Sharpie…”?

Congratulations, you have arrived at Pen Dancing, which is far more fun than drawing.

The purpose of that exercise is two-fold:

You got over yourself. This is most important: to see that what you draw is nowhere near as important as that you draw.

Secondly, whether you know it or not, you are not just developing hand-eye coordination, you are actually doing push-ups with these amazing miniscule muscles you didn’t even know you had in your drawing hand. This is something I learned from Shoo Rayner, in this enchanting video from 2013, “Why You Should Practice Drawing”. With every innocuous swerve of your pen you are increasing your dexterity.

“That’s fine for drawing, but how do I get a Viewfinder for my Life?”

First off, when you are drawing, you are giving your strategic, long-range-planning mind a rest. Never a bad thing.

Next, the Viewfinder for Your Life is closer than you think. Here’s how you make one.

First, as your other viewfinder says, ‘Take time to compose yourself.’

Look at your agenda for the day, and note any time-specific appointments you may have. You may want to even set an audible reminder on your phone, so you can forget about it until you hear the bell. That frees up head space.

Next, pick something you’d like to do to launch your day. You are not planning your life, or even your day really, you are simply picking something you would love to do for the next 20 minutes. I mean that, ‘love to do.’ Think excitement, not check-list. Think carrot, not stick. Then do it.

I have found that even washing the dishes can be exciting when that ‘chore’ has been nagging at me, and suddenly I picture how good it feels to have the kitchen all sparkly clean. Notice, this is a ‘sudden picture’, an inspiration, not a strategy where I am pushing the mule to move.

Every day, multiple times a day, I ask myself, “What do I want to do next?” It often does include washing the dishes, paying bills, going for a walk, putting 20 more minutes into my next book, and even taking a nap. Confession: that last one, taking a nap, is the hardest because it is new to me. That one still has some “who do you think you are” attached to it, but that is only Thought, so I dismiss it for what it is. It is not depression, it is not laziness. It is just a dang nap, and I have discovered a 15-minute lie-down is often more therapeutic than a walk.

If I have no idea what I ‘want’ to do, it is probably because my brain is clogged with thoughts of what I ‘should’ do. That is a priceless insight. What a world of difference there is in asking, “What do I want to do next?” instead of “What should I do next?”

Oddly enough, either way I usually get everything done.

When using the question “What should I do next?” all day long,  I am left feeling dutiful, obedient, and a bit spent.

With the other approach I end my day feeling inspired, content, and a bit pleased with myself.

Sketching, Life, it is all the same thing.

Compose Yourself. Pick something enticing. Then go for it.

 

 

(In case you’re interested, here is a really durable, useful viewfinder. I bought one years ago and love it.)

(PS #2: Stay tuned for my next post, called The Mysterious Clock-Face Revelation, wherein I discover the secret of the wonky roof-line.)

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Recent Travels with My Tribe

Part 2:

I learned a great deal from my past three Summer School courses. I barely recognize the woman I was in 2017, the woman who struggled to answer the question:

“If expense were not an issue and you had a 6-month sabbatical, what would you like to do?”

My answer? Crickets.

During that first Summer School in 2017, I realized that for years I had been leading a reasonably happy life, working full time, had a small group of lovely friends, but I had no dreams whatsoever. I was mildly depressed, but had nothing to complain about, right?

I was very clear on what frightened me: physical illness (which has visited me often), financial loss…you know, the usuals. Most of all I was afraid of disappointing (or God-forbid angering) the people I cared about. I lived in fear of being judged, while all the while I was slowly crucifying myself. I came to understand that without a dream, I could only focus on avoiding pitfalls, and that is no way to live.

Rereading my notes from the last three Summer Schools, I am amazed. My circle of creative friends now consists of about a dozen amazing people. We could never meet up for coffee because we live all over the world: Oregon, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Australia. We are not all writers or painters or embroiderers or bloggers or knitters, but that doesn’t matter because what we do have in common is Mutual Enthusiasm, and the willingness to show up even on our not-so-great days, to cheer each other on.

Creative output flourished this past year: It is because of their unfailing support that in the last twelve months, little by little, I was able to create forty blog posts and have a successful watercolor exhibit selling over twenty-five paintings.

Resilience also appeared unexpectedly: When I killed a perfectly good laptop with a cup of tea, I barely missed a beat,  scrounging together the money for a new, smaller computer. No time wasted grieving or berating. Why? Because I was clear–I needed one to continue doing what I do, being who I am.

Vision is about Perspective too: I experienced more complications with my dwindling eyesight, but rather than letting it discourage me like it did thirty years ago, it inspired me to push on even harder for the time I have left to see.

Reaching beyond my neighborhood: In January I combined my love of writing and watercolor, and pitched a proposal to an international education travel organization. They liked my ideas, and preliminary plans were in the works when the pandemic hit. No worries: God willing, when the pandemic has run its course, that project may be resurrected as well.

This past year would have slipped through my fingers if I were not preparing for Week One of our next Summer School: the week where we look back and identify the high points and challenges of the prior year. (Remember “Seize the Sieve”? Very Important!)

So here’s my point.

Sometimes it’s helpful to look back over your shoulder, simply to see where you started losing the thread of your creative passion, settling for tidying the house instead. But we don’t linger looking back, because there is serious dreaming to be done.

Next, we look at where we are today, and let ourselves dream a bit (or a lot), possibly using a guidance system for support.

Then finally, we each make a plan. We write out the dream in a love letter to the Universe. We write about our creative goals, and at the same time make a plan for how we will take care of our creative hearts along the way. We infuse our plan with a gentle affection for our sweet self.

Then each of us shares this plan, this personal North Star for the coming year, with the inner circle of our tribe, and they share theirs with us. We make a plan to get together, online or in person, regularly, even weekly, to check in and cheer each other on.

It is important to also create a private daily practice, to remind yourself why you are showing up for life in this brand new way. Thanks to the Artist’s Way course, I write Morning Pages daily, and I feel off-balance if for some reason I skip a day. Those pages are my car-pool lane to Gobsmacking Insights.

I don’t need to write the greatest American novel or finest blog post ever or paint a watercolor that appears on the cover of Time magazine. What I do need to do is befriend the woman I am, whom I have treated so unkindly over the years, pushing her to get better and better at things that didn’t fill her heart. I struggled so hard to fit in, in worlds where I didn’t belong in the first place. Now the entire world is my home, because I found my tribe.

You deserve to be understood and applauded. Remember: the only thing worse than a blank page is a blank stare. Get a tribe. Surround yourself with a few wonderful people who get you, get your heart and soul, and are applauding all the way.

Then get ready to soar.

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With a little perseverance and the right tribe, you too can create a glorious mess like this! Every page of every sketchbook is a vivid reflection of time well spent.

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Sketchbooks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

For God’s Sake, Get a Tribe!

It’s that time of year again, when a few friends and I spend four weeks planning out our dreams and goals for the upcoming year, and of course in order to do this, we begin by looking back on the year just ending. The reason we do it now, as opposed to using a tradition calendar year, is because our project is called Summer School.

Remember your first experience with the notion of ‘summer school’? As a kid I thought of it as the long version of school detention. The students that had to go to Summer School had been absent too much (or absent-minded too much), so in order to be promoted to the next grade level, they had to put in extra time in a sweltering classroom while the rest of us kids were either goofing off, having summer jobs, or spending time with our families. Summer School was like a punishment for having been dull or distracted. It wasn’t at all like other summer learning experiences, like going to Music Camp, or Sailing Camp, or Scout Camp. No, it was Summer School. (Cue dark, minor-key chord, struck twice.)

Over recent years I too had become overly distracted and I needed to do extra work in order to advance to the next level. The purpose of our Summer School is to help us recall what we were learning before we got distracted by paying bills, going to work, tending to a rambunctious family and aging parents. Somewhere along the way, each of us had lost track of the syllabus and had gone into survival mode instead. I had found myself feeling like the proverbial nerdy kid stuck in an endless series of gym classes.

So, what do you do? For a while you suck it up, you survive, but you sense you’ve lost the thread entirely. After a while, if you are lucky, you hit a point where you just can’t carry on. That is when you need Summer School.

In order for Grown-Up Summer School to really work, you need exactly three things:

  • First and foremost, you need you, curious brilliant you, clamoring for the joie de vivre that you know is possible, but you just forgot where you put it, perhaps under the piles of laundry and dirty dishes and doctor appointments.
  • Second, you need a methodology that you don’t have to invent. You cannot be both teacher and student, so let yourself be led by a loving, gentle, clear mentor. If you long for the freedom to experience creativity through writing, visual arts, craftsmanship, music, or theatre, then the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a possible guide for you. I just completed the twelve-week program and it was life-changing, much more so than when I read the book in 1992 when it was first published. The reason it worked so well this time is simple: I was not doing it alone.
  • You need a tribe. Finding the one that actually fits your needs may be the hardest work of your life, as well as the most rewarding. Many dead-end roads will present themselves. For example, over the years I easily found people who enjoyed watercolor, or sketching, or writing, or heart-led spirituality, or playfulness, or cartooning, but none of those rabbit holes seemed to connect underground. There was no warren–there were only individual nests. In the past I felt forced to choose between them, and tried to let the rest of my heart’s desires wither, a Sophie’s Choice of the soul. Excruciating, but it seemed like the only way to go.

A few years ago, I began again to search for a tribe that would support all the sides of the diamond that is me (and is you as well, in case you didn’t know). It is so much easier now, lucky you! Back at the beginning of my search, there were no such things as Facebook Groups or even Facebook (founded in 2004), no Meet-Up groups (created in 2002), no Sketchbook Skool (founded in 2014), no Zoom video chat rooms (created in 2011). All you had back then were your local colleges, garden clubs, civic organizations, and adult-ed art classes. They were wonderful at teaching specific techniques and skills, but were less focused on creating deep and meaningful community.

And community, your true tribe, is that third essential ingredient.  It is what you need in order to get yourself back on track. You need and deserve a group of like-minded folks who also feel they have misplaced their joy, want it back, and are willing to put in some serious time to rediscover it. This is not a new idea really: there’s a reason why young boys form garage bands to learn to play music better. Even if you suck, you don’t suck alone.

But first things first: now it’s time for you to ponder. Do you sense a fulfillment gap in your life?

Part 2 to follow shortly…

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Turn those bumps into turn signals. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Posted in Cartoons, Musings on Life, My Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scotland: A Lack of Words Speaks Volumes

 

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I am in the middle of going back through all 92 of the blog posts I have created in the last four years, tidying them up a bit, deleting some, seeing things from a fresh perspective.

I read one from September 2016, could have simply left it and moved on, but I kept thinking, no, this one should be shared again. The blog post is about a film that for me is oddly uplifting during the pandemic we are now experiencing together. The film offers perspective.

Below you will see the link to my post, and at the bottom of it you will also find a link to the 75-minute documentary film which is available for free with Amazon Prime (a DVD is also available for purchase.)

From Scotland With Love.

Enjoy.

 

 

Posted in Musings on Life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reopening the World: Will you forfeit what you have gained?

Although I would never say this worldwide pandemic has been a blessing in any sense, many people have discovered that running at a snail’s pace has its perks.

The question is, even though you may be on the verge of returning to work or to a busy social schedule, will you be able to still keep a nugget of slow rhythm in part of your day? As we begin to look outward to the possibility of work and family and friends and travel –all the buzz that was Life-Before-Covid– can you choose to sanctify a 20-minute chunk of time each day to continue your Humble Creative Habit?

So many of us never have had the willpower to practice sitting meditation. We got fidgety. We never had time to take the twelve-week art class. Besides, it was too expensive or we were too self-conscious.

But then in March or April 2020, when we had nothing better to do and were a bit restless as well, we pulled out that dusty half-filled sketchbook from 1997, opened it up, and made a mark on the next empty page.

The mark read: “A New Beginning: April 2020

Carrying the sketchbook and pencil under our arm, we then walked into the kitchen, picked up that tomato, onion, cutting board, and the old paring knife that Mom always used, walked back to the dining room, plopped them on the table, and started to stare.

First we noticed the bright reflections on the tomato, created by the sunlight from the window. Then we noticed the deep dark shadows cast on the table beside the two vegetables. That shadow made the base of the tomato and onion almost indistinguishable from the table itself. We gazed at big shapes, no details.

Then the pen found its way into our hand, and we were amazed at the trail it left behind on the paper, as two eyes and a hand figure-skated together over each nook and cranny. We smiled, thinking how curious it is that this talented pen is the very same one we had used to create the grocery list that reminded us to buy those exact vegetables.

Then suddenly we notice we are almost bored, so we stop, and look at what we have done. We are not all that impressed, yet we are somehow more contented than we were before we began. Then if we are very brave, we gather up our still life, walk back to the kitchen, take that knife and make a sacrificial offering of that lovely tomato and onion, letting them transform into food for bodily nourishment as well as food for thought.

Developing Loyalty to Nourishing Habits

Your Humble Creative Habit, if you choose to sustain it, can easily become your favorite low-maintenance friend, always there, demanding nothing, giving you something to instinctively miss when you have been apart for too long.

When sketching, you can take a deep breath about 10 minutes in, and it feels just like a hug. During that Breath-Break I stretch a little, look around at my surroundings, come up for air, literally, before I dive back in for one last go at the page. It is easy to know when I am done—it is when I am no longer spell-bound. Even if the sketch isn’t done, I am. And since it’s my sketchbook, my meditation, who cares? It served its purpose.

I don’t have any local friends who really ‘get’ what I do, and that’s fine because I have intimate friends in faraway lands who have the exact same artistic-DNA that I have. We are Sketchbook Siblings, Creative Cousins, who upon our very first meeting exclaimed, “Wow, how have you been?” as if we were old buddies. There is a recognition among tribe members.

I have taken my very portable art-toolkit for a walk a few times recently, and after sketching the most mundane objects (like a stone wall, a fire hydrant, and a café patio), I felt reenergized in a way that is hard to describe.

Taking the time to sketch daily feels like an odd sort of victory lap.

With endless unanswered emails, bills to pay, vacuuming to be done, and dirty dishes in the sink, it is an act of rebellion and integrity to say,

“No, first things first. I need to go look at something.”

And when you return from your artistic trance, you are better for it. The world is better for it. Look at that!

 

(In case you’re curious: Handbook Watercolor Sketchbook, Pentel Waterbrush, Pilot G-2-Bold Gel Pen)

Posted in Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments