Candy, cats, and coloring: The great equalizers

On Thursday mornings, I hang out with my niece before taking her to kindergarten.

She’s a good sport. She knows I don’t like to play dolls and that I don’t know the plot to “Frozen” very well. So she humors me and opts to do other things, like sculpting with play dough…and COLORING!

This morning we were two peas in a pod. We sat together, coloring and discussing important things — our favorite colors and seasons and all that good stuff.   We snitched candy off of her gingerbread house (Shhh, don’t tell her mom!). I convinced her that it was okay to color penguins with purple and green crayons. She convinced me that pink can be an okay color…sometimes. We laughed, we made cat noises, we teased each other. She oozed her Christmas cheer all over me, and I soaked it up like a sponge.

Candy, cats, coloring…that’s all we needed to bridge the decades between us. Art is fun and snacks are great. Hugs are precious and kids are amazing. Christmas is joy, gumdrops are sticky. Cats are cats. Aunt Jacque is weird.

Sometimes, life is as simple as that. Thank goodness there are kids to remind us of that!

img_0205

She draws good cats!

...and pretty awesome gingerbread houses

…and pretty awesome gingerbread houses

Like I said, we’re two peas in a pod. Earlier this week, I was drawing cats and houses, too! (Which isn’t surprising, I guess, since I tend to draw those things a lot…)

Pen and ink illustration of a cat watching birds from the top window of a CRAZY tower house, by Jacque Oman Clinton

(can you see the tiny cat, watching the birds in the upstairs window?)

It’s the holidays, dear friends. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the simple stuff!

 

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The Election, Existential Art Questions, & Great Horned Owls

Since the election back in November, I’ve found myself struggling to come up with things to say here on the blog. Not because I don’t have things to talk about, and certainly not because I don’t have artwork to show, but because I’ve been feeling very self-conscious about making myself “heard”. The election and its aftermath forced me to confront certain realities that I had hitherto been ignoring in order to play around in my idealistic tree house in the clouds, and to be honest, it left me feeling like a deflated pompous fool.

It was like the world was shouting: “HELLO! WAKE UP, KID! Did you know that people living in the USA are unhappy enough that they are willing to put THIS GUY in charge, even after all the hurtful, discriminatory, and blatantly untruthful things he has said?”

Oh! Clearly I’ve been missing something. Clearly I’ve been living in a bubble.

I am guilty of making great and incorrect assumptions about how other people think and feel. Here on this blog, I’ve been trying to offer pithy little bits of wisdom about life – things that I’ve discovered through making art every day that seem to apply to things beyond art-making itself. I’ve been trying to articulate my belief that you, too, can learn valuable and enriching things about life, yourself, and everything in between, just by being mindful and engaged with what you do.  I’ve been trying to spread excitement…to infect you with curiosity and creative joy. But what does any of this even mean?!

“Mindfulness?” “Creative Living?” Meticulous drawings of CANDY CORN?! Art?! What planet am I living on?

That’s the voice that has been popping into my head each week whenever I’ve sat down to write a blog post.

I felt afraid that all of this was just a selfish exploitation of my “privilege” – an insensitive and frivolous pursuit that makes a mockery of real issues like trying to earn enough money for food or suffering under systematic racial oppression. I didn’t want to rock the boat by suggesting that art is important and worthwhile. I didn’t want to somehow insult you with my small thoughts and mental struggles. I didn’t want to say things in a public space that could be used against me some day, or say things with confidence now that I might change my mind about later (as one is apt to do as one grows and learns). I didn’t want to add to the opinionated noise that clogs up the internet and gets blown out of context and makes fools of us all.

But then, while flipping through Danny Gregory’s book: “An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators, and Designers”, I found a few passages that brought me peace of mind and re-established my belief that art is necessary.

First, while talking about sketchbooks and artist’s journals, Gregory says this:

“The pages unfold like a story, a journey, a life. Each of the books is a slender slice of a life…as you turn the pages, you feel the time pass. You see moments being recorded in sequence. You see ideas unfold and deepen. You see risks, mistakes, regrets, thoughts, lessons, dreams, all set down in ink for posterity…”

Then he goes on to point out the effect sketching has on the artist’s own life. Life is

 “enriched by living in the moment instead of doing sudoku, contemplating the world as it passes—even if it is serving up just a glimpse of a Kmart parking lot or a slumbering night-shift worker.”

And then, talking about his own reasons for keeping an art journal, he says this:

“I just draw the things around me that count…mundane stuff that I used to pass blithely by every day until I stopped to notice what my life was made up of, the blessings I need to count to give myself meaning.”

And that’s it, right there. Art shows us life, helps us make contact with it. It gives glimpses of our humanness, our journey. It helps us to pay attention, to focus on things we care about. It is personal but it is also universal. It’s not a waste of time. It’s in our blood.

So I’m here, to keep doing what I do and to keep sharing my stuff. It’s what I can do to add to this grand tapestry of human history, culture, and collective experience. Art is how I connect and communicate, and I can’t live without it. Plus, it brings me joy, and joy is worth sharing, right? Goodness knows I like seeing OTHER people’s art and experiences and journeys through life…

Blah blah, okay, I know. Enough already, where’s the art? I’m getting to it! Geez.

In the spirit of cherishing the gifts of the present moment, I give you this:

watercolor and ink illustration of a great horned owl by Jacque Oman Clinton

“Great Horned Owl”

because the sun just set a moment ago and now I can hear two Great Horned Owls hooting in the backyard. (Backstory: I first heard them on Sunday evening when I was taking out the trash. Later that night, as I lay in bed, I kept thinking about how grateful I was for owls to serenade me and make taking out the trash seem like a magical treat. The next morning I woke up figuring I better document my owl “sighting” (even though I didn’t actually see them) in my sketchbook. You know, for “posterity”. But things got a little unscientific somewhere along the way…and I ended up with this.)

watercolor and ink illustration of a great horned owl by Jacque Oman Clinton

 

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New Prints on Etsy! Friendly Dogs, Cozy Birds, Oh my!

My new studio is up and running! Which means I am able, once again, to make prints!

Looking for things to decorate your home and keep your spirits up this winter? Maybe these cozy birds will do the trick."Fall Fashion Line" Sparrows on Wire illustration print by Jacque Oman Clinton

Or perhaps you’d rather hang this seriously adorable dachshund on your wall so he can bid you “Good Day” each time you pass by?"Dachshund Greetings" illustration print by Jacque Oman Clinton

Head over to my Etsy shop to get ’em while they’re fresh!Etsy prints featuring illustrations by Jacque Oman Clinton

In other news, I thought I’d share a few helpful things that I came across in my listening/reading this week. Each expresses sentiments that I agree with and sheds light on issues that I think about often. Hearing other people’s insight on familiar themes can be so clarifying and reassuring to the psyche! Thank goodness other people are more articulate than I! Anyway, these 3 things stood out to me this week so I’m passing them along:

  1. Author/artist Austin Kleon wrote a little piece on his blog titled The Pram in the Hall. It’s about being an artist AND a good parent/person; how important it is to find good role models; and how our every day responsibilities/routines contribute to rather than detract from our artistic endeavors. “Art is for life, not the other way around.” So true, so true. Check it out! (Disclaimer: he curses once or twice).
  2. NPR interviewed illustrator and artist Christoph Niemann about his “Sunday Sketches“. I encourage you to listen to the audio version of the interview to get the full effect (it’s not very long). He talks about the unknowns in the art-making process, the inevitability of creative discomfort, and the importance of not letting social media dictate the art you make. At the very end, he also talks about how frustrating it can be when people don’t recognize how much work goes into making illustrations, a fact that he dislikes but nevertheless accepts because it’s just part of the job. “You can’t have people like the work that you create and also be in awe of how hard it is to do it,” he says. Here’s an excerpt:

    “People say: ‘Oh, you’re so talented. I could never do that.’ I always feel like: No. When you listen to a pianist playing a Beethoven sonata … you would never say: Oh, I couldn’t do that [because of talent. It’s] because, well, you didn’t sit down for 10,000 hours and practice. It’s all about sitting down and the time you spend at your desk.

  3. And finally, in this week’s episode of Note to Self (one of my favorite podcasts), host Manoush Zomorodi interviewed spiritual advisor and former Google employee  Chade-Meng Tan about mindfulness and how it can be used to cultivate joy, peace, and compassion. It’s got lots of helpful tidbits — like how we can turn the aforementioned virtues into habits and how we shouldn’t shun technology, but instead learn to use it wisely. Also….listening to this episode just makes you feel good! So head over there and give it a try. One of my favorite things that he said is about how mindfulness opens up our capacity to be creative:

    “An analogy that I’ll give is: if you drop a pebble in choppy waters, you don’t see ripples very well, but if that water is completely calm, you drop pebbles in it, you can see all the beautiful ripples and how they interact, and then you can see the ideas very clearly, you can see hidden directions very clearly, and you say “oh wait a minute, I never thought of that before!”

I hope you enjoy the links. If you end up checking them out, feel free to comment below with your thoughts! I’d love to know what you think.

Have a happy and healthy week, and remember, whatever ends up happening with the presidential election on Tuesday, at least we have this: the Cubs won the 2016 World Series! Woohoo!

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The Timelessness of the Simple

While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been “debating” (bickering?) their lovely hearts out, I’ve been wrangling with an idealogical conflict of my own. For several days (more like weeks), now, I’ve been duking it out with myself over a great and formidable question:

“What to be for Halloween?”

Yes. It’s tough stuff.

After tossing aside my initial ideas, which included dressing up like Maid Marian (actually, I prefer Madam Cluck), Abraham Lincoln, and Captain Janeway from Star Trek, I decided to confine my ideas within the boundaries of a single theme. And, since I’m really a 5 year old (albeit an adult-sized one), the theme I chose was “iconic childhood characters.”

Characters like Madeline

The Man with the Yellow Hat (from “Curious George“)…

Charlie Brown

and Cookie Monster.

And let’s not forget our gaming friends like Pac-Man and Mario.

(I also considered the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, a childhood staple that’s basically a character itself.)

And it was then that I noticed one of those happy truths about life:

It’s often the simplest of things that become the most timeless.

Madeline, Curious George, and Charlie Brown — they were drawn in such a simple style. The illustrations are wonderfully loose and sketchy, with just the essential details. And yet they remain memorable and dear from one generation to the next.

Cookie Monster? He’s a googley-eyed piece of carpet whose single fixation is yet another of life’s simple delights: the good old, tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie.

Pacman? He’s a circle with a mouth. He eats pixels.

And let’s not forget that Mario is just a humble plumber, fighting bad guys in world of cotton ball clouds and potted flowers. A genius concept? Not really. But wonderful, yes.

Which is all a roundabout way for me to get to the point I’m actually trying to make:

A full and splendid life doesn’t have to be a complicated life. And, in a similar vein, what you contribute to the world doesn’t have to be complex and heady in order to be of value. Memories are made from the smallest of moments: like standing barefoot in the shallows of Lake Itasca (the headwaters of the Mississippi, dontcha know), or eating Stove Top stuffing next to Uncle Joe every Thanksgiving. Art is made of lines and color. Hugs are made of arms and hearts. Life is made of days and minutes, and they’re all meaningful in their own right.

So in the age of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), I encourage you not to discount the simple things. Your life, your ideas, your creations…no matter how big or small… might just be what someone else needs to see in order to access the joy residing in their heart. Open your eyes, breathe deeply, and remember that life is good. Let yourself be moved by the simple things. Be curious. Share. Laugh. There is much to experience and savor, no matter who, what, or where you are.

(Here are my own simple contributions to entertain you this week. They’re little sketchbook tidbits, made in the cracks of time between other projects I’ve got going on (as always, stay tuned for more on that)…)

pen and ink illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton of a quail in a smoking jacket

Quail in a Smoking Jacket

quick apple sketches by Jacque Oman Clinton

apples!

Nothing amazing, but just the same, thanks for stopping by. Now go enjoy your weekends, y’all!

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The Button Jar

ink and watercolor button illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton

“Buttons”, ink and watercolor

4 years ago, my husband and I — newly engaged at the time — received an early wedding present from a friend. This friend (a true gentleman and scholar) was about to leave for Liberia on a Peace Corps mission and wasn’t going to make it to our wedding. In a grand gesture of heartfelt congratulations, he gave us one of the greatest gifts ever. He gave us…

…the button jar.The Button Jar

Brace yourselves, you know what’s coming: metaphors. Oh how I love them!

Man, oh man, the button jar is great. Who can resist a collection of colorful round things?! But it’s more than just a shiny vessel of visual delight. It has become, in my mind, a symbol of home. Of OUR home — my husband’s and mine — and the life that we are building together.

It’s a jar of buttons, but it’s also a jar of memories. Some are small, some are big. Each one is colorful in its own poignant way.

It’s a jar of possibilities and hope. There are many ways one could use those buttons — it’s a jar full of potential! It’s like our future and all the adventures ahead.  It’s filled with unknown and wonderful things that will make us stronger and bring us closer.

It’s a jar filled with all the tiny, special moments — from the mundane to the spectacular — that accumulate, day after day, year after year, and make this a truly blessed life.

I bring this up now because, since moving into our first HOUSE, it seems like we’ve been adding a lot of button moments to our jar. It’s been a new and exciting adventure, and it’s fun tackling this “home owning” thing together. There are buttons for the peaceful nights that we’ve plunked down, exhausted, on the couch and listened to the crickets chirping through the open windows. There’s a button for the afternoon that we dismantled the clothes dryer, and one or two buttons for the almost daily trips to Home Depot. There are buttons for the lights that don’t work yet and buttons for the neighbor’s dogs. There are lots of buttons, so I won’t list them all.

I made the ink and watercolor drawing above (which I’ll turn into a print and put on Etsy as soon as I unearth all my printing supplies from the chaos that is my unfinished new studio) simply because the buttons were colorful and cute. They were calling out to me amidst the disorder of half-unpacked boxes and post-moving clutter, begging me to draw them. In retrospect, of course, I see that, like most other things I make, this is a documentary drawing, helping chronicle my life.

Yes, life. Ain’t it great?

It sure is. Bye!

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To be an unassuming chronicler of life

Artists — be they writers, photographers, painters, musicians, or other – have different goals and reasons for why they create. Some claim their craft is a way of bringing fantasy to life, or of probing the subconscious.  Others say they make art to express specific ideas, to explore certain topics, or to give a voice to the voiceless. Some want to make the world a more beautiful place. And many don’t know why they create, they just know that “they must”.

I’ve slowly been making my way through the book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In it, I came across some words about the poet Mark Strand that really hit home for me.

“Patiently watching and listening to events unfolding around him, alternating between passionate involvement and sardonic detachment, [Strand] has found the pattern that best fits the predilections of his consciousness: to be an unassuming yet precise chronicler of life.”

“His craft” Mikkahily says “is to express in arresting and accurate language what he has learned from witnessing life”.

“Some artists get so involved in their creations that they lose their appetite for raw experience, but Strand welcomes ordinary life—puttering in the yard, having meals with the family, going on hikes, lecturing, even shopping.”

After all, “…the enterprise of writing makes sense only within the context of a broader, more mundane reality.”

Ah, to be a chronicler of life. Yes. That’s what it is.

Mundane, patterned, repetitive, unpredictable, beautiful, heartbreaking, changing, simple, complex, amazing life. I want to draw it all. Every day, forever.

Fall Walking - Crunching on Leaves

An old fall-y watercolor and ink illustration from my Illustration Friday days. It reminds me of back-to-school. Fall — such a poignant season of life!

In a field

I am the absence

of field.

This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.

 

When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in

to fill the spaces

where my body’s been.

 

We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep things whole.

– Mark Strand (Keeping Things Whole)

 

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Art Show Follow Up: Making Faith a Habit & Other Things I Learned

As you might remember, last Thursday, I participated as a featured artist at “REVEAL”, RAW Boston’s summer showcase for artists, designers, photographers, stylists, and musicians. I’m happy to report that it went well and that it was worth all the effort I put in to my preparations for it. And now…it’s over, which means I can get back to MAKING stuff! (I’m very excited about that). But since the show experience warrants some reflection, please bear with me as I devote just one more post to talking a bit (okay, maybe a lot) about it.

my booth

my booth

racks of prints for sale

racks of prints for sale

So…the showcase was a great time! I felt good about the work I showed and how I represented myself. I had the pleasure of talking to other artists and exchanging valuable insights. (I have to say, it felt particularly good to be able to pass on some helpful tips to people who are going through things that I have gone through myself! Turns out I’ve learned a few things over the years!) The whole experience – from the weeks spent in preparation to the final take-down – was full of personal growth and learning.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Anxiety and fear are inevitable, but I can make room for them without losing sight of the larger picture. Okay, I know it wasn’t the Emmys or anything, but even so, I was very nervous about the event. I felt angsty from the very beginning, when I found out that I would be participating. My nervousness peaked the day before the show, when I had to repeatedly tell myself that “I know I feel like I’m going to die right now, but it is just anxiety, and I don’t have to freak out about it.” During the weeks before the show, this anxiety popped up a lot, but instead of fighting against it (and feeling bad about it, wishing it would go away, and generally feeling like a pathetic speck of a person) I decided to accept it as another part of the game. Whenever I felt stress pressing down, I reminded myself that there were infinite ways that the show could play out, and since I have no ability to know or control the future, I would just do what I thought was best, have faith, and keep my mind open to the possibility that good things might come out of it. And surprisingly, the day OF the event, I felt fine! For one thing, I had the comfort of knowing that I was well prepared. But also, my mind was in a good place after spending so many weeks practicing faith, openness, and positivity.
  2. People are shy. We are all insecure about something. It’s a funny dynamic — the insecure artist and the insecure viewer, side by side, feeling awkward. I think people are afraid to talk to artists about their work because they don’t want to “say the wrong thing” or sound like they “don’t know anything about art”. But I’m not going to judge you for “not getting it” or for never taking some dumb art history class. And I don’t make art with the expectation that you’ll see it the way I see it. I want to hear what it is that you see! — how does it make you feel? What stories does it conjure up, what does it remind you of? I LOVE it when people tell me what my work means to them. It fuels the drive to keep making stuff. It satisfies the “longing-for-connection” aspect of being creative. And it reveals amazing things about the diversity of human experience.
  3. And artists are shy, too. Instinctually, I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to impose myself on them while they look at my work, or dare to assume that they find it engaging in any way. But I suspect that, more often than not, people appreciate hearing the artist tell the story behind their work, even when the story isn’t linear or…much of a “story” at all. (i.e. “I did this before getting dressed to go to my friend’s wedding…I needed to do something creative and it just sort of came to me. I started drawing a whale, because whales need to be drawn, and then of course I realized it should be wearing a sweater.”) I like to see the humanness of other people’s artwork. It helps me feel connected to the work and to the artist. Showing viewers that the work is a process — that it’s a living thing — opens doors for communication. Then the artwork isn’t just a final “product”, but instead acts as a jumping off point for a richer connection. Art is made with time, energy, brains, and countless unexpected external influences. It’s a very human expression of divergent thinking and the way we make associations in our minds. When people understand that, it makes art less “intimidating”, less inaccessible. It’s all just another opportunity for connection!
  4. People really like dogs. My illustrated dog prints are always a big hit, and they are the most frequently bought items in my Etsy store. People always comment on them. But surprisingly (and I’m okay with this!), no one bought any dog prints at this show. Dogs are a personal thing, I guess. Everyone wanted it to be THEIR dog.
  5. My experiences have taught me lessons that are worth passing on to other artists! For example: Finding a good way to make prints of their artwork seems to be a VERY common struggle for artists. Which company should you use? How can you ensure that the print quality is excellent? How much are you willing to PAY to have prints made? I make all my prints myself. I am so happy with my Canon Pixma printer – it is getting old now, but it does a MARVELOUS job making high quality prints that I’ve been able to sell all over the place. Sure it took a lot of trouble-shooting (and a lot of frustration!) to get the print quality just right, and I had to test a lot of different papers before I found one I liked, but I eventually established a system for making prints that I am proud of. Now, I have no problem telling people that it is worth it to invest in a printer and good paper and to take the time to learn to make prints in-house.
  6. The human digestive system is very…emotional. I had no appetite the whole day of the show, and had to force myself to eat regular meals so I wouldn’t pass out at the event. For dinner before the show, I made sure to eat the blandest of sandwiches (a tough thing, because I love me some SPICE), but I STILL got indigestion! My mom saved the night with the emergency Rolaids she found in her purse (she’s my hero). And then, of course, as soon as I got home and put on my PJ’s, I found that I was starving! It was the sweet, sweet release of tension leaving my body, and so…I celebrated with ice cream and chips 🙂
  7. I’m not the only person who needs to retreat and recharge. The day was long – set up started at 1 and the event wasn’t until 7 PM. I certainly wasn’t the only artist there who needed to take 5 minutes to sit in the car and regroup before the show.
  8. That one should not be in such haste to pack up and beat the traffic at the end of the show that one leaves important things behind. Bye-bye extension cords. Bye-bye print racks. (On the other hand, if that’s the hardest lesson I had to learn that night – not to leave stuff behind — then all-in-all, I’d say it went quite well!)
  9. And finally, I was reminded of this very humbling and mind-blowing truth: I am tremendously blessed to be in the situation that I am in. I’ve had the support of my family, my husband, and my closest friends for my entire life. No one (other than the occasional stranger) has ever tried to convince me not to pursue art. When I have my doubts, my parents and my husband are the ones who tell me to have faith and keep going. They’ve always given me the space, time, and freedom to create. They’ve been patient and understanding. They’ve helped me with projects, shows, buying materials, and growing a business. They’ve prodded me to challenge and stretch myself and to take the next step when it’s been time to do so. They’ve spread the word to others, and they’ve helped open doors. They’ve been so generous – I’ve never had to live off of government cheese or go it alone. Without them, I wouldn’t be doing this. It takes a village, as they say.

To my husband, and to my parents: I’m sorry that all I can ever do is say thank you, and that no matter how many times I say it, it will never be enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And with that, I bid you, good day. Thanks to everyone who came out to the show. It meant a lot to see you there and have your support!

Oh, and Happy September, yo.

"Hey Shorty" sunflower illustration

a sunflower sketch for September

 

 

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Looking for Rainbows

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou, Letter to my Daughter

A rainbow landed on my painting

A rainbow landed on my painting

work in progress - watercolor "chipped paint" painting (nothing like painting paint!)

work in progress – watercolor “chipped paint” painting (nothing like painting paint!)

I saw a lot of rainbows this week – both indoors and outdoors. They came from rainstorms, sprinklers, and window prisms, and each was a welcome gift of hope and joy. The more I payed attention and looked for rainbows, the more I saw them.

A lot of things in life seem to work like that — you see what you choose to see. So why not choose to see rainbows?

Sometimes, at the end of a rainbow, you find a pot of gold. And sometimes you don't. But it's still a rainbow, and that's the real treasure, anyway.

Sometimes, at the end of a rainbow, you find a pot of gold. And sometimes you don’t. But it’s still a rainbow, and that’s the real treasure, anyway.

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Learning to Honor “Creative Time” Despite a Busy Schedule

This is turning out to be a summer full of good things. Art shows, a Paul McCartney concert at Fenway Park (thus fulfilling my childhood dream of seeing a Beatle in REAL LIFE!!!), celebrations with family and friends (weddings, birthdays, togetherness, oh my!), and…(drum roll please)…buying our first house!our first home (birdhouse)

Yay! I’m SO excited about the house. We’ll start making our move over the next few weeks. Planning has been in full swing and soon it will be time to tackle the PACKING. Let’s be honest: moving, as exciting as it is, is also a lot of work. But I look forward to making this place home – a place that, over time, will undoubtedly become special as we live, work, grow and play there. We are very blessed, and I am mightily grateful, indeed.

Meanwhile, I’m also busy preparing for another exciting event: the upcoming art showcase, REVEAL. Making and matting prints, pricing everything, figuring out display and marketing logistics, gathering all my materials, writing statements…show prep ends up taking more time than one might think.

Prints for Upcoming Show

making prints

Interspersed amongst the many tasks of moving and show prepping are an upcoming wedding and a few family get-togethers. So many good things. Good things that all demand time, energy, and commitment.

So…all is well and I’m happy as a clam, right? Well…to be honest, until recently, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Well, not really overwhelmed, actually, but just sort of…dead inside. Empty. Detached. If I wasn’t feeling numb, then I was feeling anxious about my responsibilities and annoyed about having to attend to them.

Which in turn, made me feel bad because…aren’t I supposed to be happy about all these good things? How can I be so ungrateful? Not only that, but compared to other people, my load seems pretty small. Other people constantly juggle more things than this. What’s wrong with me? (blah blah, broken record, so typical)…

But! I’m feeling better now. What changed? My attitude, of course!

It occurred to me that there were 2 things in particular that were getting me down. Things that, once identified, I realized I could change:

  1. I was holding on to exceedingly high personal expectations. “I am going to be SO flawlessly prepared to showcase my artwork and impress everyone. And I’m going to get all my work done for the show before THIS weekend, so that I can focus on moving and my other commitments in the weeks following.” “I am going to ROCK this move – I will be so organized with the packing that it will be stress-free and painless. I’m going to clean our apartment so well that the landlord isn’t even going to have to clean it before the next people move in. That shower is going to glisten!” And “I’m going to be the best wife/daughter/sister/aunt/friend during all the get-togethers. I’ll be present for every single moment and full of energy, too.”
  2. I was not allowing myself any time to do CREATIVE work. In pursuit of perfectly executing the expectations listed above — preparing for the show and organizing for the move — I couldn’t justify taking time to create NEW things.  It seemed like a selfish luxury, something that should be “backburner-ed” until all the hustle has died down.

Obviously, such high expectations (issue #1) are a real trip-up. You know how, growing up, “they” always encouraged you to “do your best?” in every situation? Well, that’s always been kind of a killer. Theoretically, my best could always be better, right? I could always sacrifice more to go the extra mile…maybe forgo sleep, or dinner, or sanity. There’s simply no gauge for what “my best” really is and it’s a shaky ideal to aim for.

Once I realized I was thinking that way, I remembered something my husband has pointed out to me numerous times. If I change the focus from “doing the best” to “doing something meaningful”, it’s a lot easier to move forward. “Perfect” is not the goal. The goal is to be engaged and connected to what I am doing, to do MEANINGFUL work – work that I can feel proud of doing, for which I don’t feel ashamed claiming ownership, and work that connects me to the people and the experiences at hand.

That second issue, though — the need to honor my “creative time” — that took a little longer for me to get comfortable with. How can I justify telling people that I need to be alone this morning so that I can sketch out some fuzzy creative ideas that are dancing around in my brain? Surely, I don’t really need that.

But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that when I stop creating for a period, I begin to feel detached and dead. Over and over again, I’ve had to relearn the importance of honoring my “creative time”. It’s no small thing. A mere 30 minutes of drawing/painting/sketching can rejuvenate my sense of vitality and restore my desire to interact with the world. It’s wonderful, and it’s an easy thing to do! In the grand scheme of things — of all the strategies out there for keeping oneself afloat — it’s not a very demanding thing to do.

Even so, I had to hear it from someone else’s before I was willing to reclaim my “sacred” creative time. In the book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: “Perhaps the most difficult thing for a creative individual to bear is the sense of loss and emptiness experienced when, for some reason or another, he or she cannot work. This is especially painful when a person feels one’s creativity drying out; then the whole self-concept is jeopardized.” He goes on to say “When the person is working in the area of his or her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.”

YES! I know what he’s talking about! When I experience that bliss, I see things with greater clarity. My senses turn back on and I feel whole. When I feel whole, I can connect with life — I can connect with YOU — and act with more grace, conscientiousness, and intention than when I cut myself off from creative pursuits.

And now, instead of tying this all up with a nice concluding bow, I’m going to call it finished and go put my words into action by taking 20 minutes to draw before it’s time to cook dinner.

Oh, but one more thing. Grandma, if you’re reading this: hi! I love you. Just wanted to say that.

Ok, bye.

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The Jungle of My Mind, Plus A Commissioned Jungle-Themed Painting

Hi folks! Hope you’ve been having a good summer!

Summer, with its shameless abundance of visual splendors, is a wonderful and dangerous time for my creative brain. Every thing I look at– be it a homegrown tomato, one of the neighbor’s perfect marigolds, or the ever-changing cloudscape– inspires an idea for some piece of art that I could make, if only I had infinite time, energy, and concentration. A five minute walk down the sidewalk turns into a bombardment of ideas. They hit me one after another with such speed that they knock the wind out of me, leaving me (mentally) sprawled out on the sidewalk, grasping, with great futility, to capture them all before they escape beyond reach. Don’t get me wrong, it’s truly exhilarating to have my brain go into creative hyperdrive each summer. But I have to be careful or else the excitement gets TOO big, the ideas come TOO fast, and I get TOO attached to each and every one of them. Then I crash, hard, when I have to face the reality that I can’t conceivably pay artistic homage to every inspiration I have.

Thankfully, I can maneuver through Summer’s jungle of ideas just fine as long as I remember to “let it go”. Don’t get too attached to my ideas. Don’t fool myself into thinking that I have to create every painting that I’m inspired to make. It’s another one of those secrets to living a balanced and fulfilling life, a secret discovered through art-making but applicable to all things:

Let. It. Go. (cue “Frozen” music).

Speaking of jungles, here’s one I created for a client who wanted to hang some “animal art” in her son’s bedroom. It’s done in gauche and ink.

Jungle_Illustration

I’m particularly fond of the frog.

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