Globetrotting as a Local Sport

Living about an hour away from a large, relatively old city means I can go there, I don’t have to go there, so I rarely go there. You can know intellectually that you are near a goldmine, but gee, it takes effort to grab the pick, right? Well, this past weekend I grabbed the pick.

On Saturday morning I got on the bus here in Concord and 90 minutes later found myself in the heart of Boston, meeting up with my niece to start our 48-hour adventure together. We met at South Station and decided to head off to Boston Public Library, a famous place I had never visited.

The current incarnation of the Library was completed in 1895 and its main architect Charles Follen McKim dubbed it his “palace for the people.” I spent a lot of time taking photos, and made a commitment to myself to come back soon for a whole day, sketchbook in hand, of course.

 

The Library alone was stunning not to mention the Courtyard…

 

and the John Singer Sargent murals in the Sargent Gallery.img_20191102_102229

 

 

From there we traveled by subway and foot to a delicious lunch at a North End Italian restaurant, then onward on the perfect fall day to my niece’s home in the East End, a stunning fourth floor brick-walled apartment with a surprise feature of private roof-top garden and seating area. The view of the Boston skyline from the rooftop was breath-taking.fb_img_1573050571418-1

 

Day 2: Our weekend together was actually designed around a Sunday afternoon gathering of  Urban Sketchers Boston , a first for me and very exciting! After brunch on Newbury Street with my niece and her friend Joanna, the three of us walked to the Urban Sketchers meeting place on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Berkeley St, near the Church of the Covenant.

This church is one of Boston’s many hidden gems. Built about 180 years ago in the Back Bay area and redesigned by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in 1896, we decided to visit inside before settling down to sketch outdoors. We were met at the door by the docent, a quintessential Boston elder woman, slim, classy, upright, dressed simply (think tweed) with hair pulled up and back in a casual bun. This lovely woman launched into her speech about the history of Back Bay and of the church, and directed us to the donation box with encouragement (but not pressure) to contribute. Understatement sold me of course.

Beyond the vestibule, we arrived in the main sanctuary and although the interior was very dark, I used my camera to zoom in on the windows and woodwork and was amazed at the beauty of this undoubtedly underappreciated building. I cannot fathom the costs to maintain such a place. This four-minute video  here gives just a small sense of how impressive our visit was.  I will return.

 

We eventually left the church and despite the chill in air, several regular members of Urban Sketchers Boston appeared right on schedule. After brief hellos, my niece, her friend, and I found a stone bench where we hunkered down for the next two hours. The three of us picked totally different subjects to draw (that always fascinates me): Joanna,  despite being a beginner, took on the hardest subject, the cathedral itself, and did an amazing job. Carra took on people, sketching two of the sketchers as well as the view of a distant steeple framed by the branches of a tree. Very creative! At one point the three of us got laughing at ourselves, joking about how wonky our sketches were, and one of the regular artists strolled by with a smile and said, “You sound like a bunch of giggling school girls!” Of course! Just because some artists may frown a bit, it is not because we are serious or unapproachable, we are just squinting, or thinking, “What the heck is going on here?” Carra, Joanna, and I were just there to have fun, thus the laughter. At about 3pm the ten of us reconvened around a park bench, laid out our sketchbooks, and admired each other’s efforts.

 

Urban Sketchers Boston meets every single weekend, year ’round, indoors and outdoors, being mindful to always choose meeting places that are accessible by public transportation. This is just the kind of group I have tried to create in Concord. In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if a group of my ‘sketchy friends’ here could take the bus from Concord to Boston to draw with these folks again before springtime returns? What a great way to break up the wintertime blues. Whether it is at a cafe or museum or gallery in Boston, I am up for it.

As I rode the bus home to NH, something felt oddly familiar. It seemed like I was returning from another trip to England, without even having  gotten on a plane. For less than $40 round-trip, I can take the bus to Boston any day (especially when USk Boston is gathering), and by the end of the day I will have refilled my creativity tank. Sketching with others makes the whole experience so much richer.

If you’re interested, check out Urban Sketchers Boston on Facebook, and let me know when you’re up for joining me on the next Sketchbook Adventure! You will be amazed, guaranteed.

Posted in Art-Making, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching, Watercolor | 2 Comments

It’s all about the P.A.U.S.E.

Two days ago I taught my last marathon art class for the foreseeable future.
It was not my last art class, not by a long shot. But I won’t attempt to do another five-hour-straight “everything you need to know to have a rewarding daily sketchbook practice” brain download for a long time.
Instead, starting next month we are launching Sketchbook Adventure Club at Kimball Jenkins School of Art. As a ‘club’, we are counting on folks dropping in more than once, with the intention of learning, sharing, and reconnecting with friends. You will also greet “friends you haven’t met yet”,  but who are guaranteed to be from your tribe because they too are developing a “Look At THAT!” attitude. You can read more about The Club at  this link —- and sign up if you are interested.
In the meantime, I’d like to share the first lesson from the class I taught Saturday, so you can get a head start on your very own daily doodling habit.

First, why bother?

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Because in less than five minutes you will be able to create a header like this for the top of your journal page, and instantly will have captured a memory before you even start writing.

“But I don’t want to carry a lot of supplies with me all the time…”

Really. This is it.10 21 19 blog post 1
The fewer supplies, the fewer decisions. Sweet.

And we’re off! Lesson One Begins.

Get two pens: one a ballpoint and one either a felt tip or a gel pen. Avoid fine point pens, you want at least ‘medium point,’ preferably ‘bold’. You will discover that one pen (the ball-point) is water-resistant after a few seconds drying time, and the other is not. The latter is one of those annoying pens that smudges and bleeds all over if a rain storm catches you with your grocery list in your hand. This annoying pen is a gold mine.
Here is your first homework, best done on a early page of your crispy wonderful new sketchbook, but you can also use the back of a CVS receipt. (You will have plenty of room, right?)

Step 1: 10 21 19 blog post 4

Take the ballpoint, and with a very light touch, see how fine a line you can draw with it. Make it about 4-5 inches long if you like, nice and wobbly, and it’s fine if it has some breaks in it. It takes more muscle control than you might imagine, so don’t try too hard just yet. Then, little by little, in the next lines, press down a little harder each time until finally you draw a line that is the fattest line that pen can create. Voila! You now see that you don’t need a whole collection of pens to get different line weights.

Step 2:10 21 19 blog post 5

Go crazy! With your newly discovered skills, plant a field. Or at least the edge of a field. Practice flicking the pen, from grass root to grass tip, at various angles, You will make firm contact at the base of the blade of grass, and then as you flick, the pen will lift off the paper in a very attractive manner. Good job!

Step 3:10 21 19 blog post 6

Heavy Lifting. Now you get to build a stone wall, all by yourself as you sit in your comfy chair. First, lightly draw a horizontal line and then draw a series of wonky circles on top of the line, each circle touching the one next to it but not overlapping. (Remember to vary the amount of pressure you use, you’ll get an interesting line that way.)10 21 19 blog post 7After you have finished your first row, you can start stacking the next row of boulders, wonky shaped yet again, but in a way so that they fit together, somewhat, with the row below. Much easier to demonstrate than describe in writing.

Now do these exercises again with the other pen, making sure it is water-soluble. (If you want to buy a pen just for this, try a Pilot G-2 Bold (10) or a PaperMate Flair.)

Step 4:

This is the really fun part, but you need just one more piece of equipment. Any small watercolor brush dipped in water will do, but in a real pinch you might try a cotton swab that you have dipped in water and pinched into a bit of a point. Now, look at the stone wall you built with the water-soluble pen. Think of where the shadows would be: along the bottom of the rocks and along the ground. Now gently touch the lower edge of each rock with the very tip of your brush or q-tip, and see what happens. 10 21 19 blog post 8Voila #2, you have created the illusion of depth, of three dimensions. Add a few blades of grass (i.e. pen flicks) in front of your stone wall, along the ground, and you have created your first utterly credible spontaneous drawing without even intending to do so!

So here’s the P.A.U.S.E.

Pay Attention: When you sit down to sketch, do yourself a favor and spend as long as you like simply sitting with your sketchbook in your lap, just scanning your surroundings and waiting to see what makes you smile. Then…

Use Space: Zero in, zoom in, so your subject matter is something you can wrap your arms around. I mean literally. No panoramas because you’ll get lost. How about a carrot.10 21 19 blog 8Or a piece of lettuce. Or curly kale if you really want to get wacky. Avoid man-made, symmetrical objects like a vase or a coffee mug because your Inner Critic will have a field day. Organic things are much more forgiving, and if you pick a fruit or vegetable, when you are finished drawing you can ‘kill the model’ and have it for dinner so no one is the wiser. And finally, by far the most important instruction is…

Enjoy. That is the one and only reason to do this. Who needs another way to pick on oneself? Nobody I know. Your sketchbook is a place to explore what your eyes are enjoying. You will discover that whereas photographers just look at the scenes in front of them, you, lucky you, get to look at that AND watch as a brand new, never-existed-before image is developing before your very eyes. It is your Line Dance of the Day. You get to watch your pen dance across the page, make some moves on its own that came as a shock to you, and you get to love it all. There are no warts, just beauty.

And tomorrow we get to P.A.U.S.E. all over again. Lucky us, right??

Pay Attention. Use Space. Enjoy.  10 21 19 blog 9

Posted in Art-Making, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching, Watercolor | 3 Comments

Finding new ways to manage my satisfaction, rather than my life

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you find yourself stunned at the end of another week, saying, “Where the heck has the time gone, and what on earth have I accomplished?”

For about a month I have been experimenting with a new ‘planner.’ Ugh, I cringe even writing that word. How many of us pen-friendly people own stacks of half-finished date books, journals, planner systems that each guaranteed to help us get out of our own way and become successful beyond our wildest imaginations. The problem is, most of them don’t ask a few basic questions first, like:

“Who the heck are you?”

“What blows your skirt up à la Marilyn Monroe?”

“Where do your longings belong?”

Early in September I started using my brand new Monk Manual and in three short weeks I have learned a lot about myself. I discovered I am not disorganized, but rather I am rebellious, a long-overdue state after decades of blind, quaking obedience and contrition to any and all authority figures. “No more!” I proclaim jubilantly.  Now I even tell myself, “You are not the boss of me!” It can be problematic at times, thus I struggle to follow even my own plans.

Enter the Monk Manual. Mine arrived in the mail on Saturday September 7th, and it felt like Christmas. “Yay, my next illusion of a clean slate! Let’s have at it!”

The Monk Manual company’s complete attention to detail is impressive: beautifully classy-yet-understated packaging, carefully wrapped around a truly lovely bound journal. If you are sensitive to aesthetics and enjoy the mere act of thinking, of planning and reflecting, you would love this book. Even if you are not in the market for a planner, I highly recommend checking out his website anyway. It offers a series of videos that entice and excite and, above all, made great sense to me.

The first video to watch is found at the bottom of the Home page, check it out here.

The next one you might like is under ‘About’, and is the  Starter Guide  .

Here is what I have learned so far:

Morning Has Broken

1- “The Carrot”: My Morning Focus Time (sitting quietly at my desk for just a few minutes first thing, with my Monk Manual, my cup of coffee, and a deep breath) helps me to feel purposeful daily.

2- “The Stick”: If I skip the morning step (especially after having done it for several days in a row), I find I have this weird, nagging sense that I am either behind schedule or off track,  ALL DAY LONG, even if I have a very productive day! Isn’t that crazy? But it is true. Of course beginning one’s day in contemplation has been done by millions, including monks, for centuries. It comes by many names: prayer, meditation, morning pages, and more.

3- The Secret Only My Doctors Know

I have an additional incentive for being very, very gentle with myself first thing in the morning.  I have been gifted and cursed with an extremely active dream life, as vivid to me as anything happening when biologically ‘awake’. Every single night, for as far back as I can remember, I have drifted off to sleep like a perfectly normal person, but then eight or so hours later I am so deeply embedded in the action movie my head has created, that leaving it to ‘wake up’ is like being dragged through a wall by an impatient drill sergeant. At best I often wake up depressed. At worst I am angry that Life has yet again ripped the remote control from my hand. Then I struggle to get up to sea level, where other people arrive effortlessly upon awakening each morning. After years of medical research including medications and sleep studies, the sleep doctor finally concluded, “Perhaps this is just the kind of brain you have,” and suggested I start my days as gently as possible, even if it means getting up earlier to have time to ‘return to the planet.’ Not always easy, but a silent Morning Focus Time helps. (By the way, if you are one of these people too, we should talk.)

Eventide

My Evening Reflection Time (again, very brief), ensures that my successes do not slip through my fingers, leaving only the dark stuff in my memory bank.

There is a prompt on the weekly reflection page that states, “God is teaching me…” If like me this make you twitch a little, it is easy to change it to, “Life is teaching me…” or my preference, “I am learning…”  Oddly enough, this is now one of my favorite weekly questions.

1- I have learned I often expect too much from a day, that I don’t leave room for a head cold or a low energy day.

2- I have learned that although this journal suggests three ‘Priorities’ a day, at my age I am happier with just one. For a while I made maintaining my health an official daily Priority, but it backfired. I do my best from day to day with the basics of food, exercise, hydrating, etc, but I can’t afford to have that be my official “Priority”. If I do, then my whole day is wrapped up in physical self-care and I lose the point of why I would even want a long life! So I do what I need to do to make all those things relatively simple (check the weather in advance to plan my walks outside, have a weekly grocery list that only needs tweaking from time to time) and then I just call it good, rather than assessing my success at the end of every day and giving myself a D-Minus if I slipped up.

3- Finally, and best of all, I discovered that if I slow down, I can get so much more done.

—————-

I can’t leave a blog post with no illustrations, of course. So here are a couple visual examples of the insights I have had recently, thanks in part to the Monk Manual and my new morning and evening rhythms:

Watercolour Trees

I have been at the finishing stages of more than one watercolor painting, just to discover (too late, sadly) that I stink at creating trees in the way I envision them. It dawned on me last week that rather than ruining sheet after sheet of perfectly good paper, I could create a whole page dedicated to nothing but lousy trees! It would save money, minimize despair, and it would be hard to get through the whole exercise without learning at least something. I had a blast, needless to say. No plan, just planting. Here it is.

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Vivid Vignettes

I also wanted to have a quick way to explore specific elements of a landscape, so I divided a page into twelve squares, intending to just paint a different sky in each one. When I was finished, I looked at it a while and decided to place a horizon line in each square, just to give it a sense of sky vs. land. Again I thought I was finished, but suddenly realized I was actually having fun so I decided to take a walk from those far horizon’s distant hills to the foreground in each mini-sketch, and discover if I would need to swim, or hike, or slog through a marsh, or  climb a fence. By then, curiously enough, each vignette was calling the shots. I just looked at each scene until I could see what was missing. I was not thinking at all. Completing this sheet took about a week, because I only worked on it when I felt drawn to it, and that is why it worked out so well.

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Draw What Drew You. Do What Calls You.

A brilliant man once said the only thing we need to know is that our conscious mind is a brass band and our intuition is a wooden flute. Until you know how to calm the brass band, you will never be able to hear the wooden flute which, by the way, is playing constantly yet is rarely heard. For me, the first step to quieting the cymbals is to place a pen in my hand, if only balanced on the web between my thumb and index finger. I feel the difference immediately; it is a step in the right direction.

Then I gently ask myself, “To be honest, what would you absolutely love to do today?” The answer appears like magic on the page. After that, my One Priority and I are free to start the day together.

Posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Life Insights | 6 Comments

“Why not do it now?”

The other day I found myself at one of those betwixt times, several to-do tasks completed and a little gap of time before an afternoon appointment. No time to start a new project, but too much time to waste on Facebook. What to do?

Easy!  Hoist my shoulder bag and head outside, simply because it is not yet winter!

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Right outside my door is a lovely plaza called Bicentennial Square in Concord NH. I found a place to sit near an art installation made of strategically placed stones and stone sculptures. After some slow breathing and looking around, I decided to spend time getting to know Hole Rock (just behind Split Rock).

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It is so relaxing to start a sketch knowing I will use only my fountain pen and my water brush that contains diluted ink. So simple, just ‘relax and focus’, a great combination.

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As I closed my sketchbook and stood up to leave, a thought-prompt leapt to mind:

“The Last Thing I Saw Was…”

I found myself taking notes on an unbidden rush of words—

“The last thing I saw before I left home was…”

“The last thing I saw before the bus arrived was…”

“The last thing I saw before the plane took off was…”

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Why not do it now?

Look around, wherever you are, then focus on something, anything. Look at it for a full minute, study it, then shut your eyes. If you are in public and that feels odd, you can put your hands in front of your eyes and rub your forehead like we all do when we are overtired. No one will even notice. But you will.

“The last thing I saw before I closed my eyes was…”

Think about it for a moment, then try to remember it in black and white. Were there deep shadows anywhere? Was the light bouncing off a particular place? Was it rough, smooth, polished, angular, rounded?

In my last post, I explained a thing that I call “eye-stutters”, when your glance is interrupted by a visual second thought. That ricocheted glance is a clue to something you might want to observe in detail. At any moment you can pause and decide to breathe with a rock, with a tree, with a broken brick on the patio of Bicentennial Square.

“Why not do it now?” It only takes a minute.

You might be amazed at what you suddenly see. I once did a drawing in a small sketchbook using the same art supplies I used for the sketch above. When I showed the sketch to a friend, they said, “It looks like the Grand Canyon!” I smiled and agreed, yes, it did look like that.

In truth it was a zoomed-in drawing of a parking-lot pothole that contained a bit of gravel and a cigarette butt.

I tell my students, “Anything Worth Seeing Is Worth Sketching.” If something causes an ‘eye-stutter’, it is asking for a second look.

Who knows what you might see if you look long enough.

Posted in Art-Making, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks | Leave a comment

I’m just sittin’ here, taking notes…

That’s all my artwork is. My hieroglyphic representation of “Whoa, look at that! No, zoom in. I mean it, REALLY look at that!”

First, a place to sit. Then slowly scan the area until the skip happens, when my glance stutters, and looks back. Something caught my little reptilian brain. Was it a sudden change in texture? Zoom in fast, is there danger?

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No, for now we are safe. What is that pop of color in a sea of gray? Need I be concerned?

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Ah. We are safe, and we are interested. And now we begin.

I open my sketchbook and start to draw with my fountain pen. Suddenly I realize I am looking at two things: the subject and the sketchbook. “Wow, this is twice as interesting! And those pen lines are really funky!”

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After a while the paints come out. And the water cup. (“Hope I don’t dump it on my shoe this time…”) Then the play begins.

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Wet, dry. Dark, light. Warm, cool. Loose, tight. So many things to balance all at once!

(Can you hear Khachaturian’s “Saber Dance”  yet?)

But here’s the difference.

When I hear that intensely suspenseful song, I smile. I relax. Because I know what I am doing. I am looking, I am seeing. I am taking notes.

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I used to fear dropping a sword, breaking a spinning plate, missing the mark. I swam in fear, as do many of my students. But now I am excited because I have discovered it was never really about the artwork, not for me. It was about my ability to notice things other people overlook. I may or may not be able to capture it in a rendering, but no matter.

I was there. There to witness what I was seeing, to show that rock, that leaf, that shadow the same attention I would show a dear friend. I know how to ‘trance’ myself, and I do so whenever I have time.

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Because being entranced is not far at all from falling in love.

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Posted in Art-Making, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Watercolor | 6 Comments

That Dang Adolescent Period

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A few years back I came across a great video on the importance of doing watercolor value studies. I wish I had saved the link because I would love to give this man credit for changing my life.

The big shift for me was not even about value studies. It was about postponing homicide. Stay with me on this.

In this watercolor demo the instructor was using just one color: Payne’s Grey, Indigo, something like that, a strong blue black. The photo used for inspiration was a vertical black-and-white city scene, tall buildings, lots of contrast, but lots of detail as well. The instructor was breaking it down into five values: the white of the paper, light gray, medium gray, dark gray, and limited black to accent small features. No fiddling with in-between shading allowed.

He said that on a scale of one to ten (white being one and black being ten), most amateur watercolor paintings only show values ranging from about four to six. No punchy darks, no strong whites, more like a gentle watercolor Gregorian chant, eliciting a mildly enthusiastic, “Hmm, nice…” from most viewers.

This YouTube instructor worked along, painting and chatting, with great confidence, lots of encouragement for his viewers, but then, little by little, he started to lose it. He stammered a little, and then explained that it is very hard to talk and paint at the same time, which is true.

But I think something else was going on as well. He hadn’t stammered at the beginning of the painting because back then, he was in charge. Now halfway into it, the paper was not just ‘receiving’ paint, was not just listening, but it was starting to talk back. This happens in watercolor way more than in other painting medium for two reasons:

1- the ‘water+color’ can and do move on their own, thanks to gravity and the invisible capillary action on the surface and within the paper itself. Not only does watercolor paint have legs of its own, but

2- it changes color, dramatically, all the time! I am not kidding you, it does, all on its own, simply by drying. Every single color calms down when it dries, so if the color is right when you put it down wet, it will be dull and insipid when it dries. That is why you have to scare the heck out of yourself initially, train yourself not to flinch when you first put down the watery paint, otherwise you will end up with a dull-as-dishwater painting every single time.

When the video instructor got halfway into his demo, he realized he had misjudged the darkness of one of the three shades of gray (perhaps because it had dried!), and he tried to fix it without looking like he had miscalculated. To his credit, he did not start over, he did not stop the filming, he just kept going. What he did do was share a secret that has changed my artistic life. He said,

“Every artist who has been practicing their craft for any length of time knows that every painting goes through an Adolescent Period. This is when you have serious thoughts of giving up, chucking it all, and starting over again. If all paintings undergo this phase, how do you know if you are wasting your time on a disaster or simply hanging in there long enough to get to the other side? (You might well ask any parent the same question!) The thing is, you don’t know. But you can stop being surprised by it, and that in itself is a sort of victory. The silent muttering I do when I stop painting, look and look again, and decide how to proceed next, is a little moment of Homicide Postponement. This sketch demo might end up a total disaster, but I am not convinced it is time to give up quite yet. So let’s carry on…”

He moved along with the lesson, ending up with a very convincing late afternoon street scene, using just five values. As successful as his demo was, the long term take-away for me was the “expect to be annoyed at some point” lesson.

The high-wire balancing act I do while creating every single one of my watercolors will of course be invisible at my upcoming one-woman show here in Concord in March 2020. All the viewer will see will be the final credits, none of the scraps that ended up on the cutting room floor. When they say, “Gee, I wish I had your talent”, I will smile and simply say to myself, “Honey, you have no idea…”

It is not that a lot of paper ends up in the trash- that is more of a Mozart / Van Gogh / Hollywood depiction of an artist’s temperament. What goes unseen is the pause, the ponder, and the problem-solving. An average working artist has far more moments of ‘dang’ and ‘harrumph’ and ‘time to step away’ than any collector could imagine.

If you could be a fly on the wall of my studio you might hear, “What the heck am I doing? I have no idea what to do next. Must be that adolescent period. Time to walk away, have a cup of tea, and see if it simmers down while I am gone.”

And oddly enough, it usually does.

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My latest series, harrumphs mostly edited out:

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Masking fluid on window frame, pops of color accents, new approach.

 

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Flood in background color, not realizing it would be too yellow. Painted at night by incandescent light.

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Tempering the yellow a bit, adding more details.

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Black Isle Rose Wall, Munlochy, Scotland

Posted in Art-Making, Life Insights, Watercolor | 11 Comments

Think about your outfits

Women speaks ptg for blog

“A Woman’s Silence Still Speaks”© , watercolor by Bobbie Herron, 1990

I was talking with a small group of online friends yesterday and I suddenly realized I am more comfortable self-disclosing to them than I am to almost anyone I know in the town where I live. And that got me thinking, “Why is that?”

The group I am speaking of began a few years ago (I have been a member for three years) and it was formed as a private mutual-interest group for people who are creative and also have a chronic situation (medical for most of us) that limits our energy. The guiding challenge of the group is, “If your life is medically demanding, how can you carve out creative time every day, if only a little time, in order to make that life of yours more worth living?”

Each week we meet online, set a timer, and spend the next 20 minutes in silence. During that time we each look at our upcoming week, make a plan, and set two goals. One is a manageable “creative goal”, and the other a “self-care goal”, usually something that might look simple to others, but is crucial to protect each of our energy resources. When the timer rings, we chat for a while, declare each of our latest goals, then go our merry ways. The following week we have a brief check-in to see how everyone got on (no pressure ever!), then set the timer again to plan ways to nudge our creative projects along, a week at a time.

For me, surprisingly, the most important result of my three years’ of work with this group has not been the Tangibles: the three art shows, or starting to teach art locally, or starting to write my memoir, or creating a blog where I can post reflections such as this one.

The most important result for me has been my experience of Progressive Integrity.

Integrity

We often think of the definition, “the state of being honest and having strong moral principles.” What resonates for me is the additional definition, “the state of being whole and undivided.” From Latin, meaning “intact”.

As you may remember from my last post, I traveled to England in May to visit a woman who is part of this online group. We had never met in person, but we had met weekly online for over two years and I had reason to believe we might get along well enough. In truth, we got along famously, and after ten delightful days with her, I arrived back in New Hampshire energized and eager to weed out all my possessions, to replicate the liberation I felt during my travel experience.

The Clean-Out Project went well enough for a while, but sadly, slowly, in the weeks that followed, the Black Dog of mild depression returned. So familiar, so annoying, so relentless. What to do? I slogged through it for a couple months, and yesterday in our group session, I had an epiphany.

Maybe, just maybe, the outfits in my closet are not the problem. Maybe the behavioral ‘outfits’ I wear are what’s really weighing me down.

I used Marie Kondo’s question, but with a twist.

“Does this situation spark joy?” I ask myself as I survey my datebook.

What clubs /church / etc. do I attend regularly? Do they spark joy, or do I just go to avoid loneliness?

Same goes for volunteer jobs. They may be important and valuable, but is this one a good fit for me, or is it just for my next Girl Scout badge? 

Do I say yes to every luncheon invitation I get, just because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?

Do I hang out often with people who are nice enough but not very alive?

Do I ever feel extremely drained after being at a social gathering? Is being in that setting always draining?  

Am I so afraid of being judgmental that I won’t even allow myself to be discerning?

What the heck do I really want from the rest of my life?

The Next Step

As a senior citizen, I know for a fact I have very limited time left on the planet. I can’t afford to waste any more of that precious time. So here’s my homework (for you as well if you like):

1- Make a brutally honest list, for my eyes only, of time-killers I want to eliminate

2- Make a list of things I desperately do want to experience

3- Post those two lists in the front of my journal, to reread weekly.

4- Start Week 1 of The Experiment:  Get out my datebook, and review my plans for the upcoming week. Keep in mind List 1 and List 2. Give it my best effort, remembering this is a new way of being in the world.

4- At the end of the week, check in with myself, just like I do with my group, and ask, “How did I get on?”

See how it feels to be intact, have deeper integrity for one week.

See how it feels to eliminate all ‘out-fits’ that no longer fit.

If you like it, repeat weekly, knowing you’ll get better and better at it. And as Michael Nobbs says, let us know how you got on.

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If you are interested in learning about the roots of this wonderful approach, check out Michael Nobbs on Patreon. A worthy man, humble and inspirational.  https://www.patreon.com/gogently/overview

 

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