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31 December 2013

A World of Possibility


Here we are, once again, on the brink of a New Year! Though not quite a holiday in the American sense of the word, it is an occasion I really treasure.

Last night I sat down to make a list of the events and accomplishments of the past year and to reflect on my personal growth and direction my life has taken. 2012 was a year of adventure and big dreams in Germany; 2013 was filled with more ordinary and practical milestones. Most significantly, I finally completed my Bachelor's Degree and found a job in my field and that allows me freedom and room to be creative. I introduced "my" children – the kiddos I work with – to crochet, art journaling, NaNoWriMo, color theory, and principles of drawing, among scores of other art projects. I also reveled in and thoroughly soaked up each and every season: I spent nearly the entirety of the summer barefoot; witnessed wee robins taking their first flights; studied firefly dance and the daily adventures of six sweet chickens; reveled in thunderstorms; marveled at the first snow of the season; and ate ripe pawpaws from the tree. After eleven long months, my love and I finally were together again and (eep!) began to make solid plans for our future. I crossed two goals off of my bucket list, having visited a Connecticut beach in December, the sand covered in snow and the waves reflecting the waking sun's golden light, and attending the annual PostSecret Picnic. I read. I sewed. I created.

My word for this past year, chosen in early January, was awakening. The manifestation of this intent, I think, wasn't quite what I expected: instead of awakening big dreams and focusing on developing spiritually and in self-love and growth, I believe I instead was faced with an awakening of what some call the "real world" – the reality of wages and legislative barriers, student loans and ordinary life.

I have chosen the word charge for 2014. I am a bit surprised, to be honest, that I was inspired by a word that is aggressive, but I think I am in need of and ready for this push. "Charge" is both a verb and a noun, and I hope that it will inspire me both to 1) charge into my life whole-heartedly with determination, confidence, and courage, prepared to meet whatever comes my way with the faith that I am strong enough to persevere and to 2) find and nurture the things that charge me, sending electricity through my spine, bringing me to life, and renewing my energy.



< Here's to big, beautiful things and magical everyday things that will greet us tomorrow and the months and year to follow. Here's to highs and lows taken in stride, big celebrations for accomplishments both large and small, to self-growth and self-discovery and self-love, to treating others as you would treat yourself and treating yourself the way you would others, to friends and family and challenges and breakthroughs and everything else life sends our way. It will be a wonderful year, darling, whatever comes.

Wishing you the most wonderful turning of the year, my dearest friends. All my love – Happy New Year!

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
         

                                                                                    - Neil Gaiman

16 November 2013

Semi-Organized Thoughts on Cultivating the Self


selfish: "(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure"
self-centered: "preoccupied with oneself and one's affairs"

I find it so difficult, somehow, to talk about practicing selfishness. In my family, or my social circles, society as a whole, or perhaps all of these, egged on in my own mind, I have come to believe, against my own will, that to acknowledge the self and her wonderful, unique qualities is detestably egotistic and conceited.

For years, I have been trying to accept permission to love myself. Now, having intensely practiced self-acceptance (it is a habit that requires effort; some days are harder than others), I am trying to give myself permission to love myself in a way that the whole world can see and acknowledge, by doing what I want to do; standing up for myself; ignoring or putting aside others' expectations, opinions, or hopes and dreams for me that are not my own; not being concerned by what other people think of me; putting myself first; saying no and not being overwhelmed by guilt; and setting boundaries and sticking to them.

For too long I believed that being a kind, good, likable person meant denying absolutely everything I felt, dreamt of, and needed, and instead putting every other human – and their needs, opinions, expectations, and requests – above me and my own self. I thought that, if I were to push my self aside and ignore her entirely and continually, others would love me. I thought, paradoxically, that if I denied myself I would be happy.

Of course I wasn't. Instead, I was resentful, depressed, and felt unacknowledged for all I did. Even worse, because I never increased my happiness, I thought that I was not being selfless enough.

It's hard to practice self-love. I feel sometimes that I am being greedy and narcissistic and that I am the archetype of a gluttonous, spiteful, vain soul who feels that she deserves absolutely everything and is responsible for nothing. (Think of all those ads and commercials we are continually bombarded with: you deserve this. You need this. Get what you want.*)

*As I write these mantras, I realize the messages themselves, stripped of product, are truthful, but when tied to sick consumerist and capitalistic values that chant "more more more", I feel sick.

What is the line between selfishness and self-confidence, between selflessness and self-denial? How can I continue to practice self-love without denying others' selves, and practice love of others without falling into a habit of self-denial? Do women, in particular, feel that selflessness and voicelessness equal their worth? (I'd love to hear from you; all I know is what I myself have experienced.) Does motherhood – or the biological fact that any of us women could be mothers – further emphasize our potential for biologically-induced self-denial? What about this concept of superwoman, the modern mother who does it all?

The age-old maxim "do unto others as you would have done unto you" is a good one to follow. But I have found that to find balance I need to practice the reverse, too: "do unto yourself as you would do for others:" give yourself love, and patience, and comfort. Lift yourself up. Have faith in your abilities and your goodness and your wholeness and your talents, imperfect as you may be.

10 November 2013

Still Here


Click here to see this image full-size.
Yes, I am.

I have been busy trying to learn how to balance work with, well, everything else. My family is selling their home, too, and the amount of work it takes to prepare and show a house is exhausting. In other words, I have been, for the most part, surviving the day-to-day, attempting to keep up on my sleep, and squeezing in other things when I can.

Some Most days I feel like this.

I am grateful, though, that I have the opportunity to bring creativity to the classroom in which I teach. The kiddos and I have done air-dry clay (which was a bit of a fail: I ran out of cornstarch and added too much water, I think, and it ended up way too sticky and cracked once dry), shaving cream leaves, a mossy nature garden, crayon-shaving suncatchers, leaves ironed in wax paper, Q-tip skeletons, a basic art journal (they painted in a craft paper book), and a trace-yourself-and-color-it-in project. We began making puppets last Tuesday, and will continue to make more, as well as a cardboard puppet theater, this coming week.

Also happening soon? A visit from my love, the first reunion in almost a year. He will be here for the holidays – all of them, from Thanksgiving to New Year's! – and, as you can imagine, I am tremendously excited.

For the past week or so thoughts about the Self have been churning in my head: what it means to be selfish, selfless, self-centered, and what social norms and expectations surround these concepts. I've been thinking, too, about the roles of woman, artist, child of an alcoholic, and survivor of emotional abuse fit into my own beliefs about the Self.

Stay tuned.
Now? I'm going to go paint in my sketchbook!

23 September 2013

Turning



Yesterday was the first day of autumn, whose presence is quietly, but steadily, making itself known. Apples and pears are ripening, falling unexpectedly to the ground with satisfying thumps. Trees are looking a little more bare, and here and there leaves are rich reds or golden yellow. There is a distinct chill in the air that wasn't present only a few weeks ago, and when I began my new job in August, I witnessed the sun rise every morning; now, the world slumbers just a little bit longer.

As I get older, the world spins a bit faster and I can be more fully present in the seasons, appreciating each more deeply, knowing that the next will come soon enough. The transition is always surprisingly subtle, and it is only with open eyes that one can see – or feel – the fading of one season and the approach of another.



Work has been all-consuming and challenging and in the most wonderful moments, a joy. I am still adjusting to the unusual hours (3-6 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening) and very much hope that, with the right amount of nightly sleep, midday naps, and caffeine in the late morning, I will be able to once again regularly do the things I love to do.

The two images above are from things I have shared with the children. The first is a simple project; all you need is water-soluble markers and water. Cover the page with big blocks of color, then paint with water and watch the colors swirl. Be sure to put something underneath the paper as the markers bleed heavily.

The second is a collaborative drawing I did with two kindergarteners. One drew the bird and the other helped me color with crayons, and so together we created a whimsical portrait reminiscent of Mica Angela Hendricks and her daughter's artwork. I plan to add these pieces – and other doodles, sketches, and projects I have done at work – to my art journal and/or Sketchbook Project notebook.



And speaking of which..

I was so anxious about starting to fill the pages of the designated book that I decided the best way to get started was to deconstruct! I used a staple remover to take out all the bound pages, and doing so was such a relief. Fear of the blank page can be so paralyzing. (Incidentally, I never finished or sent in that year's Sketchbook.)

I have been playing with loose watercolor paper (see last image) and at the moment plan to cut the new pages to size and re-bind the book. Of course, these ideas may change with time. But I will send in my book this year – that much I can promise!



I miss you, sweet readers. Let's catch up. How has life been treating you of late?

02 September 2013

Ode to Summer



September: a month of change, of autumn's arrival, of lengthening nights and fading green and cooler days. Summer has quietly begun to slip away, and the plants mourn her as they bear their last fruits and a leaf here and there turns brown and crispy. The corn has been harvested, the wild raspberries are long gone, and only a few brave flowers still linger in the garden. The sun rises later and later, and I awake in darkness as I get ready for work in the mornings.

Yes, autumn is on her way.



This summer has been a magnificent one, and I have enjoyed it fully. I have appreciated every blossom, every bumbling bee and floating butterfly, each ripening of fruit, and the symphony of cicadas, birds, and crickets that has serenaded me for months. I treasured the arrival of the fireflies and soaked up their magic for the short time they danced and blinked across the earth.

Each sweet summer night and sweltering day, each kissing sunbeam, each barefoot step – I have loved them all. Knowing this, that I have celebrated and loved and been thankful and present for each and every day, I can open my arms wide and without reservation welcome the next change and the next season. Spring will come again soon enough.

25 August 2013

And Some of Them Were Not



This spread is the first in a new art journal, inspired by vivid dreams I had had the night before of snakes, gates, and searching for eggs. I'm using this book, from 1977, that I bought in a thrift store for a few dollars. I cut out every third page, to make the book less thick, then used Modge Podge to glue pages together two at a time. (See a video tutorial here!) This process both makes the pages more sturdy and reduces the number of page spreads, both of which are important when filling a page with paint, collage, and other materials that will dramatically increase the thickness of the book – and strain the spine – by the time all the pages have been filled.



As a departure from my usual methods, I did quite a bit of collage with magazine images and security envelopes. I also printed out written interpretations of the symbolism of my dreams and pasted them onto the page, added some lettering, doodled some stars, and created a peek-a-boo gate by cutting strips out of the page and lining them with packaging tape.

I have to admit: while I don't especially like the outcome of the page, through creating it I have been able to capture exactly the emotions associated with creating it, the dreams and the messages I believe they contained, and the thoughts passing through my mind in that moment. For that, I am very pleased!

18 August 2013

Life Lately



Hi, sweet souls!

Last month I was hired by the YMCA to lead before- and after-school programs in two public schools. The school year officially begins this coming week, but in the meantime I've been helping out with seven-, eight-, and nine-year-olds at the Y's summer camp. It's been enormously fun (and tremendously exhausting, thus my absence this past week), and I'm grateful for once again having a regular schedule and something to keep me occupied. Plus, I adore kiddos!

In other art-related news, I've put together a new art journal and have already completed my first page, which I'll be sharing soon. I've also once again signed up for the Sketchbook Project – will you join me? After I received my little book I realized that, while I have overcome my fear of starting a new art journal, knowing that perhaps hundreds (thousands?) of people will see the art for the Sketchbook Project has me very anxious. I'm going to do a post on this soon, as I think this is something that every artist experiences in their lifetime. Let's kick Fear of Criticism in the butt together!

Lastly, if you like these photos, you should follow me on Instagram! I share peeks into my life often, including several videos, (this one is my current favorite). I'd love to see you there!

16 August 2013

Video: Opportunity, Sexiness, and Living Life



Don't be put off by a first impression: this video gives me chills and makes me want to be a better person, for myself and for the world. Happy weekend!

PS. I know I've been absent this week; look for a post this weekend, where I'll share what I've been doing and what this coming week will bring.

07 August 2013

Familiar Abstraction



This is my latest finished art journal page. Recently I've been working almost exclusively in acrylic paint (far different from my usual wildness of stick-everything-down mixed media approach!), and it's been a lovely experience. Since taking an oil painting class a year ago, I've been trying to move away from using paint directly from the bottle, instead mixing colors into something new and unique; this expansion of my color palette also helps my pages look less similar to one another, allowing me to experiment more with style and mood and achieve a wider range of expression.



This particular page was very simple, and is easily duplicated: using a ballpoint pen, I traced backwards letters using alphabet stencils (similar ones here), painted the negative space red, then created an abstract third layer using blue, pink, and red acrylic and thick white gesso. I love the movement of the outcome.

Abstract art is something I am really drawn to. Realistic paintings or sketches are impressive, but, personally, I find imperfect work much more enchanting and a greater representation and expression of the artist's inner world. I absolutely love Michelle Armas' paintings – her beautifully colored abstract work is cheerful, bubbly, and inviting. As an exercise two semesters ago, we were instructed to use nature as inspiration for an abstract piece, something that apparently inspires many abstract pieces. I'd love to continue to experiment with taking the familiar and manipulating it into a new world, much like macro photography opens one's eyes to the unfamiliar within the very ordinary.

What art styles are you drawn to? Why? I'd love to hear!



01 August 2013

Geometric



Welcome, August! The passage of time still surprises me with its speed, and I am determined to enjoy every remaining moment of this beautiful season! We have had some cool(er) days recently, reminding me that autumn is not far off. I am looking forward to layers and mugs of hot tea, but will miss the sunshine and barefeet – but isn't that always how goodbyes are? Bittersweet glances at what has been and excitement for what it to come. I'll be stepping into a new role this month as I officially begin my new job. More on that soon!

These photos are of two of my most recent art journal pages, inspired in part by this book. It is filled with meditative art, "drawings [that] have evolved into a distinct visual lexicon designed to awaken heightened states of consciousness". The simplicity and depth of this art is really beautiful. (Read more about this art here.)

To paint solid shapes, conscious to make clean lines and consistent color, is meditative, at least personally: the concentration it takes pushes all other thoughts from one's mind. I really enjoyed doing these spreads and likely will try this technique again in the future.



The spread below is actually painted with two different shades of turquoise, but no matter how I tried I couldn't capture this – it just looks like one side is in shadow! The pink and the red shapes are intentionally different, too. This one was painted directly onto the page, while the spread above was painted on top of several layers of paint and collage.

Would you give this technique a try? What forms of art or techniques do you find most soothing and meditative?

28 July 2013

Finishing Touches: Art Journal Two



While there are still a few unfinished pages in my Mother Goose art journal, I decided to decorate the cover in order to make it feel more complete. My first art journal – the one I handmade – has a couple of pages that I never finished, but I felt that it had reached a balance and I was comfortable with the final product, imperfect as it was.

My first journal was a paperback whose cover I collaged and painted. This book is a hardback and I wanted to try something new: a composition-book-inspired map cover. Read on to make your own!



Materials needed:
  • a map big enough to cover your journal plus 2 inches (~5 cm) on all sides
  • spray adhesive
  • label sticker (optional)
  • clear packing tape
  • wide black tape
First, spray the back of the map with adhesive following the can's instructions. Carefully place it on the journal, gently pressing out air bubbles with a rolling pin (or similar makeshift tool), starting in the center and moving outwards. Fold over the edges and adhere to the inside cover.

If you want to use a label like I did, stick it to the map now. If you wanted to write or doodle or paint or otherwise further decorate the cover, do it now!

Use the packing tape in strips to cover the front and the back of the book cover on top of the map, wrapping around the edges and pressing out air bubbles. (Using pressure to burnish the tape will make it more invisible.) This will protect the paper from dirt, wear, water, et cetera.

Finally, tape the spine using the black tape. Tada! You have a customized, colorful journal cover!

I think I'm going to go back and use packing tape on my first art journal; even though I used a clear protective finish after the collage, it has in the past three years seen some wear and tear.

24 July 2013

Sweet Dreams, Little One


My pup found a sweet little bunny with velvet fur, tiny ears, and a pink belly, and I kept it warm in hopes that it would be alright. Sadly, it never revived. So I gave it a small funeral worthy of such a precious creature.

You may think it's morbid, or maybe silly, to spend my time like this and then share it here. But I think nature is a marvelous and magical thing, and a glimpse at this wild rabbit and the chance to honor the life that existed, however briefly, was a beautiful moment. I hope you'll be able to share that with me, too.

I found an old iPhone box (it was just the right size) and filled it with teased cotton balls and dried and fresh grass, making a comfortable nest for the baby to rest in. I laid him in gently, then tucked some downy feathers and tiny flowers around his little body. I wished him well, then buried him under red dirt in the shade of a bush. It's a lovely spot, and he'll be forever serenaded by birds and comforted by dancing sunlight.



It's strange, but I miss him a little bit.
Sweet dreams, little one. You are loved.

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