Monthly Archives: January 2012

Wise Words: Receiving Ideas

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I don’t know exactly where ideas from, but when I’m working well ideas just appear. I’ve heard other people say similar things-so it’s one of the ways I know there’s help and guidance out there. It’s just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard.

-Jim Henson

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Time Savers for Busy Artists

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…or anyone who’s crunched for time really. Since going back to work full-time, I’m learning to manage my time better to make more time for art and writing. It’s not easy! I know that plenty of other artists may have children or other commitments on top of a full-time job, so learning to use our time wisely is paramount to our creative work.

I’m still figuring this out as I go, but I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Always make time for self-care: This might seem like the opposite of saving time, but if I blow off my daily walk, journaling, or sleep, my energy plummets and I end up wasting a lot more time because my body and mind are dragging. It’s worth it to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep, a daily walk, and some journaling in the morning or evening. Find out what you need to keep your batteries charge and make that your number one priority. Everything else will follow.
  2. Streamline food prep: My two tools for this are batch cooking and the almighty crockpot. Each weekend or whenever I have time, I boil a dozen eggs or so, roast some veggies, maybe cook up some beans, and prep anything else I’ll need to assemble quick meals and snacks throughout the week. The crockpot is my best friend lately. I use it for making bone broth, beans, soup, and most dinners during the week, which turn into leftovers for lunches. It can be as simple as a chicken breast and some salsa on low for eight hours, and I just throw it in a tortilla when I get home. Done.
  3. Consolidate errands: Instead of running a bunch of isolated errands throughout the week, I do them all at once on the shortest route possible. If I have library books to return, I’ll do my grocery shopping at the store across the street and run any other errands I have in that part of town, like post office runs or picking up art supplies. If I need to put my husband’s check in the bank, I’ll shop at that grocery store and buy my cousin’s wedding gift at the Shopko next door. I try to do only one errand run every week.
  4. Know your priorities: I have a wash and wear haircut and my makeup routine takes about ninety seconds. I don’t waste time styling my hair or doing smoky cat eyes, because it’s not on my priority list. I don’t spend much time on Facebook, I don’t watch TV, and I wash my hair every other day. Know what’s important to you and what’s not. Cut out the rest.
  5. Streamline housework: Keep a container of Lysol wipes in the bathroom and wipe everything down once or twice a week after your shower. This keeps things looking clean for longer between thorough cleaning. Take one morning or even every other week or so to dust, mop the kitchen floor, and run a vacuum. If you have higher housekeeping standards than this, that’s fine, but be willing to sacrifice more of your creative time.
  6. Use cash: This is also a handy budgeting tips. Remove set amounts of cash for groceries, entertainment, and other expenses. This way, you can see how much you have to spend, and since that money is already accounted for, that’s less time balancing the checkbook and keeping track of the budget. Maybe not much time, but when I actually do this, it saves me money and brain space.
  7. Learn to use little spare minutes: Eight minutes before work to read a few pages, 30 seconds lulls at work for some deep breathing, ten minutes to collage something onto a painting. You don’t have to fill every second with activity, but rather learn to appreciate the spare minutes.

Time is a gift. This isn’t the busiest I’ve ever been, not by a long shot, but being busy teaches me how to appreciate my time really learn to take care of myself, to discipline myself to think clearly and understand what’s important to me. I don’t have children. I only have one job that takes 40 hours of my time every week. I don’t go to school. I could have a lot less time on my hands, and sometimes I feel weak for struggling with what I do have. True, winter is a rough season for me and things seem a lot harder right now, and I’m still adjusting, I’m trying to start my art career, and it’s a lot for me.

Do what you can do, and feel good about it. Time is precious, no matter how much or how little you have.

Beautiful Winter

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for more than a day or two, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of winter. In fact, this is the time of year when I usually begin my annual “daffodil mope,” where I feel dead and gray inside until the first daffodils pop up and fill me with hope.

I have to admit though, winter can be pretty sometimes. Though I much prefer sunshine, flowers, and green grass, it’s hard not to appreciate the silver and blue palette of winter.

I woke up to the first decent snowfall we’ve had all year, and I decided to get outside for a tromp through our famous Utah powder before it melted off the tree branches.

I love the way snow looks when it clings to the branches. It makes my neighborhood look like Narnia.

It just goes to show that there’s beauty in everything, even and especially the uncomfortable things.

 

The Importance of Creative Playtime

Last week, I looked forward to a beautiful Saturday filled with long walks or a hike and filling my creative well.

It rained, hailed, and snowed the entire day. Sam was away working for the weekend, so it was just me, the cat, and the weather.

Gloomy days like that are hard on me sometimes, but I spent the morning curled up with a book, hoping things would clear up so I could go for a walk,  but they never did. By midday, I felt super antsy. I decided to sit withT that feeling for a minute and find out what I really needed.

It was simple: I needed to lighten up, loosen up, and play around. I needed some “Creative Playtime.” I took some of my Christmas money, drove through some monster puddles to the store and picked up some mini canvases, then came home and changed into my paint clothes, put on The Muppet Show,  and play with new images, new techniques, and other little surprises that I might want to include in my larger paintings. I made a tiny painting for my desk at work so I could remember that part of myself even when things get busy.

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way, so this concept was similar to the “Artist Date” the author recommends, the special time dedicating to nurturing your creativity. Here are some ideas of how can nurture your own creativity.

It’s been awhile since I’ve allowed it, but I feel like I need creative exploration and experimentation, but at the same time the other part of my brain is screaming “No! You must be productive! Build your career! Make work to sell, then promote it! Every second that you’re not sleeping or at work should be dedicated to this!”

That’s the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t always correct. Maximizing every second of every day is like dieting and communism. It works on paper but not in real life because it doesn’t account for human limits or free will. I know better than to trust that kind of logic. I can’t spend every minute of that other 8 hours painting and marketing. My work will run dry and I’ll burn out in not time.

So screw that other part of my brain. I’m in charge, and I say it’s playtime. I want to keep my well filled, try a few new techniques and mediums, sketch, read, and take good care of myself so I’ll have the energy and clarity to be at my creative best. I want to be as open as possible.

Part of the reason I went back to work full-time was to remove some pressure from my art and free up some brain space that was previously occupied by money and career stress. I have the freedom to loosen up now. Not everything I make has to be top quality, I don’t have to make everything with the intention to sell. I can make something just for me if I really feel like it. I can play with different mediums and it’s ok if they don’t work out. I think this will ultimately do great things for my work.

Here’s a few ideas for my upcoming creative playtime (and yours too!):

  • I’ve always wanted to try bookmaking, and now I feel like it’s time to actually find the tools and try it. It’s been on the back burner for years, but now I feel like I’m being called to do it.
  • I miss reading novels, so I hereby dedicate my lunchbreaks to leisurely reading.
  • No more skipping exercise or cutting walks short to make time for more “important” things. I need that movement. It feeds my soul and my creativity in a way that nothing else does. My body needs that, my mind needs it.
  • I want to play with new techniques I’ve been wanting to incorporate into my work.
  • I rarely draw anymore. Drawing is the backbone of art, so I’d like to spend some time with a sketchbook and a pencil, working on what I see.
  • I want to get outside more, visit galleries, and go on other outings that fill me.

Do you ever allow yourself some creative playtime? If you did, what would you do? How would it help you?

Wise Words: What Holds Us Back

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It  is not because things are difficult that we do not dare;

it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

-Seneca

Your Secret Lives

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I thought I’d share a fun little treat for your imagination. I’ve been playing with this all week and it’s actually led to some interesting revelations.

I got this idea from an exercise in The Artist’s Way, and then a friend of mine started a Pinterest board called “The secret life I’ve always wanted it to live!” and filled it with the most gorgeous, gypsy-themed photos. I’m planning to steal this idea and create my own “secret life” vision board, or maybe a few of them, or maybe a whole series of artwork of some kind!

So here it is:

If you had, say, 5 other lives to live,  who would you be in each of them? 

Just play with that for awhile. I don’t know about you, but my imagination went totally nuts.

Here’s what I came up with:

1-I’d live up in or by the mountains with a horse and some chickens. I’d go for lots of long rides and hikes, I’d grow a lot of my own food and make my own cheese. I’d do lots of looking and not much talking.

2-I’d be a contemporary dancer. I’ve always wanted to dance, I paint dancers a lot, and even though my skills are somewhat less than extraordinary, I don’t doubt that there’s a dancer in me somewhere.

3-A minimalist traveler, living out of a backpack and working my way around the world. I’d observe, write, draw, connect, and let things flow out of my life as quickly as they flow in. Drink it in, express it, move on.

4-A musician. I actually have a lot of undeveloped musical talent, I just don’t know what I’d do with it at this point. In this imaginary life, I’d be a drummer in a rock band, I’d carry a harmonica in my purse with a notebook full of song lyrics. I’d take the time to train my voice properly and keep my piano and composing skills sharp.

5-A geologist/rock climber. I’d travel to explore and study the world’s most beautiful landscapes and write all about it.

Then I got carried away and came up with one more:

6-A surfer, with long wavy hair and a beach shack. I’d surf and swim in the ocean every day, eat mangoes to my heart’s content and get around town on a skateboard in my cargo shorts and tank tops. I’d never run out of sunshine.

This is a silly, self-indulgent little game, but I learned that by doing this, I was actually tapping into neglected parts of myself that long to be expressed. 

I really encourage you to make a list of your own and then mine it for clues to what you might be secretly longing for in your life. Noticing leads to consciousness of this longing, and consciousness leads to plans, which lead to action. This doesn’t have to lead to a big drastic life overhaul though. I like my life and being an artistwriter and I chose that life for a reason.

However, here’s what my secret lives are telling me:

  • I need to get outside more. Several of these lives are all about the outdoors; rock climbing, surfing, hiking, and horseback riding. I don’t need to move to the country, but I can go hiking a lot more often, maybe plan a trip to a national park or a beach to learn to surf. I live in Utah for crying out loud, so I’m sure I can find a way to ride horses every once in awhile. That’s actually a big one. I grew up riding horses, but I haven’t ridden in years. This is a sign that it’s time to get back in the saddle, literally.
  • Just because I’ve chosen visual art and writing as my mediums doesn’t mean that I should let my musical talents go to waste. I took piano and voice lessons for many years and I used to compose, but I’m quite rusty. I feel very untrained, but music is a very intuitive thing for me and I know it’s an important part of my life. I could look into bringing my piano home from my parents’ house, or I could ask to practice on a piano at my church a few days a week.
  • I need to set up a separate savings account to save for trips. If you’ve seen my Handprint List, you know that travel is important to me. I’ve made it to China and New York so far, but I’ve got a long way to go. It’s unlikely that I’ll pull up roots to travel Eat Pray Love style, but this little action will help get me on a plane to somewhere. Baby steps.
  • Finally, I need to connect to my body. I’ve always been a very cerebral person, so I’ve spent my life as a brain riding around in a very awkward, unconditioned puppet body. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to dance, so maybe I should look into taking a class. The nice thing about me working full-time again is that I have a lot of extra wiggle room in my budget, so things like a dance class is feasible.

Look at your own imaginary lives and notice what you can do NOW to feed those parts of yourself. They can be as simple as picking up a library book about a topic you’ve always wanted to learn about, or visiting a local farm to milk a cow. You don’t have to pull up roots (unless that’s what you’re being called to do) but you can expand your horizon a  bit.

What are your secret lives? What are they telling you? 

Wise Words: Our True Nature

I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.

-Julia Cameron, from The Artist’s Way

Filling your Creative Well

I haven’t touched my paintbrushes in about a week.

A few weeks ago, I would’ve completely beaten myself up over that.

As I sit on my studio floor writing this, the canvas I prepared last week with a base coat of blue-black lays in front of me, unmoved from that spot since I laid it down to let the paint dry.

You might know from my post last week that I’ve returned to work full-time, and I believe that’s a great thing for me right now. If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you also know that I believe that every challenge offers precious wisdom. 

I’ve always struggled with full-time work, mostly because I’ve had a lot of demanding jobs, but also because I don’t like being on someone else’s schedule and 40 hours or more every  week just tends to wear me out sometimes. I need a lot of time to think and reflect, and sometimes that’s hard to do when I work full-time and try to do a million other things.

So, the wisdom here is to learn to take exquisite care of myself while working full-time and starting my art career. At least I have a head-start on this job  because I really do love it and I’ve been working there for a few months. It’s not like I’m throwing myself into something completely new, but any big schedule change requires some adjustments.

While I’m settling into this new situation, I’m clearing a lot of other things off my plate. I’m taking it easy and making sure I have meals and snacks prepared for work, that I get enough sleep, journaling, and keeping things maintained. I’m even adjusting my sleeping schedule so that I have more time for creative stuff in the morning before work.  I’ve been thinking about art, but nothing is pulling me into the studio right now. I don’t see art when I look at trees or the sky right now.

However, I wouldn’t call this a block. I’m not concerned at all even though this would have terrified me a few weeks ago. I know that creativity needs to be nurtured in order to flow, and once I settle into things and things don’t require as much consciousness to maintain, I know that my imagination will start wandering again and I’ll get that itch. It’ll come back. It always does.

I’ve been working through The Artist’s Way and early on it talks about the vital importance of filling the “well,” which is our internal reservoir of images and ideas from which we draw our inspiration. Laura Hollick’s latest video expresses the importance of tending our “inner garden.” I’ve understood this concept for awhile, usually thinking of it as a process of “creative intake” and “creative output,” but I feel that receiving two reminders in one week is a gentle nudge in the right direction. I need to fill my well. I need to tend my garden. I’ve been so busy keeping the rest of my life together that I haven’t had room in my head or my schedule or the openness to keep my inner creative shelves stocked.

Maybe I should stick to the well and garden metaphors, yeah?

But how to we tend that garden?

It’s different for everyone, but to water our creative hibiscus flowers, we simply need to do things and visit places that inspire us. Read a good book. Go window shopping. Visit an art gallery or a museum. Go hiking. Listen to music that stirs you. Drive. Mess around with a new art medium. Whatever fills your soul with electricity, or at least that’s what inspiration feels like to me.

So, with things settling down, I’m working on tending that garden. When it’s flourishing again, the art will come.

This is the first time I haven’t felt uncomfortable with creative blockage, to say the least. Isn’t it incredible how life sends us the messages we need? We just need to hear them.

Wise Words: Surround yourself with Support

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Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

Mark Twain

10 Signs that you Need to Slow Down

Stress is a major creativity killer. The problem is, a lot of us don’t recognize it until we’re three quarters of the way through a bag of Oreos or in the doctor’s office with a diagnosis for adrenal fatigue.

The trick to handling stress is to stop it before it starts. Easier said than done. If you miss that train though, the second-best thing is to know how to recognize stress so you can know when you need to back off.

Know your red flags. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. You aren’t living in the moment: If you’re always thinking about the past or the future-to do lists, making ends meet, what you’ll make for dinner, why did you do that, you didn’t get enough done-then your brain is overloaded and you need to take some time to breathe.
  2. You feel disconnected from your body: When I’m overly busy, the first thing to go is my body connection. I find myself eating out of habit or convenience rather than waiting for my hunger signals, I stay up late, and I eat a lot more sugar. It’s worth it to take the time to reestablish communication from your body. Yoga or “lie down” meditation works well for me.
  3. You can’t do one thing at a time: You eat lunch while answering emails, make to-do lists during church (guilty), things like that. Multi-tasking is not as efficient as it seems. It just causes more stress and renders us unable to give each task the care it deserves.
  4. It takes you forever to fall asleep because your mind is going in a million different directions.
  5. You find it hard to relax because you feel like you should be doing something else.
  6. You feel like you don’t get enough done: When you allow yourself to give each task the time it deserves, you feel much more accomplished because you know you did a good job, and you did it deliberately. You were present. Feeling like you haven’t done enough is also a sign that you need to be gentle with yourself, respect your limits, and possibly manage your time better. Find ways to work smarter, not harder.
  7. Your body is protesting: You’re face starts to resemble the surface of Mars, your pants are tight, you feel a drag in the afternoon, you can’t get out of bed in the morning or get to sleep at night, your back hurts-sound familiar? That’s your body screaming for attention. In the hustle and bustle, you’re poor body has been neglected because you haven’t been listening to it. Listen to it, find out what it needs, and do it.
  8. “Fun” stuff doesn’t feel so fun because you’d rather veg: When I’m stressed, you’d think that making art and writing is a great stress-reliever. If I catch stress early, creating does feel great, but if I let stress get too far along without kicking it in the butt, I find that I don’t feel like painting. All I want to do is sit on the couch with a box of Fererro Rocher and watch Fraggle Rock. If I don’t have the mental energy to create, I know something’s gotta give.
  9. The tiniest things overwhelm you: When my life feels like a minefield, the idea of balancing my checkbook or washing the dishes seems gargantuan. It’s not because I have better things to do, it’s because I feel like I already have so many things piled up on me that emailing a gallery director feels like it’ll crush me. Secret: it’s not the little task that’s daunting, it’s the collective weight of that and the other 234 things you think you have to do, or the weight of worry. Dump that weight. You don’t need it.
  10. You feel numb: The way that most of us deal with stress is to turn off. We go into Robot Mode so that we can push through whatever needs to get done without those pesky emotions or intuition whining in our ear to slow down. If you can’t hear your intuition, that’s a good sign that you’d better tune into it. It’s there to take care of you.

Breathe.  Delegate. Get some perspective. Learning to recognize your own red flags is the first step to dealing with them. Life is much too short for stress.