Throw Doubt Away: You ARE an Artist.

crab apple blossoms (sketching during breakfast)

crab apple blossoms (sketching during breakfast)

I spend too much time feeling like I’m not a real artist because I don’t churn out amazing work every day. Often, the end of the week comes and I feel distraught over how seemingly little progress I’ve made on my paintings. There are days that I don’t get to paint much at all — where I have to try to take satisfaction in a doodle during breakfast because the rest of the day will be filled with the not-so-thrilling busywork of framing, matting, scanning, and e-mailing.

I begin most days wondering “is today the day that it’s all going to click? If I run fast enough, will I finally fit everything in?” I chase the crushing ideal of a daily routine that is perfectly balanced and productive — where I effortlessly manage my time so that the painting, marketing, networking, practicing, learning, writing, documenting, planning, and accounting all get done…with time to spare for life’s other demands like exercise, eating, relationships, sleep and leisure.

It’s a fantasy that sets me up for disappointment, and it robs me of the joy that comes from what I DO get to work on each day.

Why is it that I can have several paintings that I’m working on, a solo show that I’m getting ready for, and my work hanging in the homes of strangers, and STILL feel like I’m not an artist? If a friend told me this, I’d call her out for talking nonsense.

The only way I’m ever going to feel like an artist is if I decide to call myself one, and choose to own it despite my niggling self-doubt.

So I’m choosing that now. Next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll tell them the same thing I’ve been saying for years: “I’m an artist”. But instead of looking at the floor and brushing it off as if I’m only half- serious, I’ll be sure to stand tall, look them in the eye, and say it with pride.

Because you know what? I AM proud. And I’m not going to downplay how happy I am that I get to do this work.

(A special thanks to Lisa Congdon whose fantastic blog post inspired me to “own it”).

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The Art of Spring, the Art of Winter

“Every Spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.” – Ellis Peters

Iris (Dragon tail)

“Dragon tail Iris”, watercolor, 2011 (incidentally, a winter project)

So true. Year after year, winter gives way to tulips, violets, irises, dandelions… and it fills me with delight and wonder. The grass turns green and my energy is restored. Long days, bright colors…each year, it’s a reliable and welcome source of joy.

Winter has its inspirations, too, but they require more effort to find. Much energy goes into keeping a positive attitude, and I have to pump myself up to go forth and seek ideas that engage me. It takes a lot of work to gain and maintain the momentum needed to get simple things done. And it takes even MORE work to hold onto a sense of purpose about what I’m doing. The energy required to get up and seek inspiration comes at a cost, leaving little behind when it comes time to put those ideas to action.

But I’m human, with a brain and a knack for adapting, so I’ve figured out how to deal with winter, and it’s enjoyable in its own, temporary way. I’ve found it to be an optimal time for doing slow, obsessive projects that require most of their planning upfront (like the Bittersweet paintings). I put effort into finding an idea that excites me, and then lay out the parameters before beginning. I make the big decisions beforehand, and I take care to outline a satisfying, doable trajectory. This way, I only have to rely on “feeling inspired” at the beginning, when the idea takes root. Once it’s set in motion, I can then rely on the more predictable appeal of hard work to see it through. I wake up each morning knowing I have something to work on, and knowing HOW to work on it. What inspires me in the winter, then, are things that are meticulous, detailed, and that will expand my technical mastery. During these times, the joy of creating relies heavily on the satisfaction of physically doing the work — of engaging with the materials and obsessing over the details – and of falling into a comfortable harmony with a world that seems quiet and still.

But something shifts in spring. Nature is less stingy, and inspiration literally grows on trees. Unlike Winter, Spring heaps energy onto my plate like a grandma feeding pork chops to her grandsons. It gives, and gives abundantly. Suddenly, I’m awash in life and meaning, and it’s begging to be expressed.

It’s not just the flowers that sweep me off my feet. It’s the change in daylight, the singing birds, the nostalgic smell of warm asphalt and mulch, and the re-emergence of my neighbors from their winter dens. I don’t have to scrunch up to keep warm. There is no bracing myself against the biting wind or staring at the ground to protect my eyes from the sun’s harsh angle. Now I can expand, breathe, and let myself feel my body as the sun warms my cheeks and the wind knots my hair. That reconnection to body and earth reminds me that I’m a part of this beautiful universe, and it is from that that my sense of purpose is re-awakened. Life matters, moments are beautiful, memories are precious…etc. All of this fuels my creative drive, amplifying the persistent need to “capture” and express these bountiful moments so that others may feel the goodness I’m feeling, too.

But of course, this comes with its own challenges. Because now I’m FULL of energy and ideas and purpose, but it will scatter all over the place if I don’t take some measures control it. Then I’ll end up good and tan, with lots of dirt on my bare feet, but winter will come and I’ll have gotten nothing done.

So usually, things go like this: For one week, I let myself frolic, untethered, through the creative whirlwind (and pollen induced blur) that arises during those first days of TRUE spring—those days when nature comes back to life and I can walk outside without a jacket. My imagination goes wild and I usually don’t sleep much because I’m on a roll brainstorming about the nine million projects I’d like to undertake.

I become like a hummingbird that can’t stop flying because it has to keep finding more delicious flowers to drink from so it can sustain its crazy metabolism. Only, instead of nectar, I’m drinking inspirational fodder, which I need to sustain my hungry creativity. I let myself flit around, delighting in my ideas, stockpiling energy and inspiration. I write long lists of potential projects in my notebooks. I take a lot of ugly reference photos. I write down specific feelings, thoughts, and words that will help me remember. Though I create very little, it feels very productive.

I don’t hold back and I don’t take the season’s change for granted. It is a welcome restoration to what feels like my more natural state: that state in which my zest for life drives me to explore my curiosities and try to recreate them on the page. (I say it feels like my “natural” state because when I’m in it, I feel like I’m thriving. It seems to contribute to my well-being somehow). For that precious week, I indulge my exuberance. And then I try to settle down and get back into a work routine.

My cache of ideas, gathered in that first burst of Spring excitement, becomes a sustainable energy source. This makes it easier to maintain a productive routine. I go to bed and wake up excited about my projects. I cherish my routine because it moves me daily, bit by bit, down the list of projects I have in my head.  Of course I know I won’t be able get to ALL the ideas on my list, not in one season or in one lifetime. But that is a WONDERFUL motivator because it means I’ll always have something to do. There will always be a reason to keep trying, another carrot dangling before me. Life won’t get dull unless I decide to stop listening to my curiosity and creativity (which, in all likelihood, seems impossible since these things are inherent to being HUMAN). This is an excellent incentive to take care of myself and to honor my days, because I want to keep having that creative experience of seeing beauty and getting lost in it.

Thanks goodness Spring will come again next year, and with it, more ideas and energy. With such knowledge, I can buzz forth, landing on the flowers that catch my eye, relishing the freedom of Spring’s abundant generosity. I’m free from worrying too much about “keeping up with my ideas” because there will always be enough. Yes, as long as the years keep turning, there will be enough.

(What are these lists of new project ideas, you ask? I guess you’ll have to keep coming back to see!)

Iris (Dragon Tail) framed(One last thing: Thank you for reading this. I fear that my posts may be beginning to sound redundant. Certainly I’ve written about spring before. But each year, I learn and grow so much, and as I come to understand myself more, life becomes better and better, artistically and otherwise. I hope you know that I only share these personal insights because I think they might be helpful to you on your own path, not because I love to talk about myself. I think we all benefit from seeing how other people pursue a meaningful life, and I’m just as interested to know how YOU do it! So if you can relate at all, to the change in seasons, or anything else I said, please DO share in the comments below!)

 

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Custom Watercolor Wedding Invitations: Spring Flowers

My friends, it’s March! I was shocked to see the first of the crocuses blooming last week (in February!). Last year at this time, everything was covered in mountains of snow.  I don’t think I saw grass until April! But now?! Spring is in the air!

And so is wedding season!

Over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of working with two very wonderful people to help create their custom-made wedding stationary, which included save-the-date cards, invitations, and thank-you’s. The bride had the beautiful idea to use green and purple hellebores, ferns, and trilliums to adorn the cards – a genius combination, if I do say so myself! I painted the flowers and ferns with watercolor, and then we worked together to come up with the overall layout, wording, and fonts. It has been a great project to brighten up the winter.

Here’s the invitation (I gave them Norwegian alter egos for the public version):Custom Watercolor Wedding Invitation: Hellebores and Fern

Custom Wedding Invitation Photo

And here’s the design for the Save-the-dates:

Custom Save-the-Dates

I’ll hold off on showing you the design for the thank-you’s since they haven’t been sent out yet (the wedding day has to come first, you know).

Thanks for looking! Hopefully, this got you PUMPED for Spring!

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Spring Sketches (And More Dandelions)

Nature is full of metaphors. If you ever need a reminder that life will be fresh and different tomorrow, walk the same path for three consecutive days and note the dandelions each time. It’s remarkable how quickly they progress from flower to seed. It’s a helpful way to gain perspective on life — In a bad mood? Don’t fret. Like a dandelion, a mood has its natural course.  It will pass like a {*cheesiness alert} dandelion puff in the wind.

Dandelions Seed Puff

dandelion puffs

Dandelions No Seeds

their seeds all blew away

Maple Seed Sketch

maple seeds scattered on all the walkways like confetti

 

Door View

enjoying the spring breeze and happy bird sounds through the screen door

 

People & Sheep

practicing sketching people (and sheep)

 

sunflowers

Sometimes I unconsciously doodle when I’m on the phone. Apparently last week’s conversations inspired sunflowers.

 

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Breakfast Doodles

I’ve got some bigger projects going on these days — a couple of commissions, my ever-progressing children’s book, and preparations for the Summer Arts Festival next month (where I’ll be selling watercolor originals). Good stuff. Always keeping on keeping on!

To keep myself balanced, I’ve continued the practice of taking time to just let loose and doodle. In particular, I’ve observed that when I sketch during breakfast, it gets me energized for the rest of the day. It clears out my head so I can focus better on the “big” stuff without feeling antsy about wanting to draw distracting things like dandelions and tree bark and koalas and all those wonderful things.

I’ve always loved breakfast, and drawing makes it even better! Here’s my recipe for a healthy, happy way to start the day:

Combine oats, eggs, water, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and shredded zucchini in a large bowl. Microwave 2-3 minutes. Add fresh blueberries and strawberries and microwave 1-2 minutes more. Top with almond butter. Serve alongside coffee and sketchbook.

Sprinkle liberally with doodles. (Watercolor optional, but delicious).

Tulip

Tulip

Another bandana-clad dachshund

Another bandana-clad dachshund

Sidewalk dandelions, graffiti style

Sidewalk dandelions, graffiti style

(did I mention that I love dandelions?)

(did I mention that I love dandelions?)

can never decide if I like things better with or without ink

can never decide if I like things better with or without ink

sketches_Farm

(In case it needs clarifying, this is not supposed to be a freaky girl head hovering above a cute pastoral scene. They are two separate sketches, yo)

 

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Wandering and Watching

Today I’m sharing some sketches I’ve made while out and about town. They are field sketches, so to speak, of my new environment here in the Northeast.

It takes discipline to actually sit down and sketch when I’m out walking. I get all hyped up on creative adrenaline while I’m walking through this Smörgåsbord of textures, patterns, colors, and action, and instead of calming down and focusing on any one thing, I keep walking and making an infinitely long mental list of things to come back and draw later, with the hope that someday I might find myself feeling more disciplined.

But, really, I know I’ll only be more disciplined tomorrow if I practice it today. So I’ve been reigning myself in with one simple rule: Every time I go out, I have to draw SOMETHING, even if it’s just a 10 second sketch. It’s been a good enough guideline for me so far. It keeps me from getting caught up in the expectation that I could possibly draw everything I see, and that is very freeing, since holding on to such expectations sets me up to feel disappointed rather than appreciative of the experience at hand. And, obviously, my rule is good because it keeps me from drawing nothing. It’s fun to brainstorm creative ideas, but it’s also fun (and more productive) to create. My rule has helped me balance between the two.Salem Houses SpringTrolley Depot

Salem Common
St Nicholas Church

 

 

 

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Winter leftovers and a Welcome to Spring!

Hiydee hey.

Spring has burst onto the scene here in Massachusetts and it’s a glorious thing. Gone be the winter coats! Gone be the ritual struggles to bundle up before leaving the house! Suddenly it’s so easy to just grab my sketchbook and walk out the door.  And let me tell you, this city of ours has some excellent fodder for my HUNGRY herd of creative, over-wintered brain cows…

But before I get to sharing the first-fruits of my quest to become Salem’s resident sketcher (I’ll be like that guy you see everywhere who is always taking photos to document events, only I’ll be more of a wind-blown looking lady who always has a sketchbook, a runny nose {allergies! can’t complain though because, woo spring!} and a mustard stain on the boob of her shirt {what can I say, I love a good sauce}), let me first say goodbye to winter by sharing some snippets and doodles that I didn’t get around to posting earlier. They’re not necessarily wintery in content, but still, they were done in the days when inspiration had to come from things other than the splendid experience of being outside.

How few lines does it take to capture "essence of cat"?

How few lines does it take to capture “essence of cat”?

"Hello, Lobster. I think you are delicious."

“Hello, Lobster. I think you are delicious.”

Bouquet from my husband! A good remedy for stubborn dreary moods.

Bouquet from my husband! A good remedy for stubborn dreary moods.

Inspired by an old timey exhibit at the local Peabody Essex Museum, I went home and pretended I was a silversmith, engraving decorative silverware for classy, cake-serving ladies.

Inspired by an old timey exhibit at the local Peabody Essex Museum, I went home and pretended I was a silversmith, engraving decorative silverware for classy, cake-serving ladies.

In another life, my husband has a seafood restaurant named "Fishenelli's". One morning, I needed something to doodle, so I decided to make it's logo.

In another life, my husband has a seafood restaurant named “Fishenelli’s”. One morning, I needed something to doodle, so I decided to make its logo.

Winter rain.

Winter rain.

These are winter’s remnants. Now get ready, Salem! I’ve got a sketchbook and one million creative itches to scratch. I’ll be watching you.

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Doodles from the Archives: Winter Musk Oxen and Spring Tulips

I’m feeling a bit under the weather this week. As a result, I’ve slowed down artistic production in favor of getting acquainted with the couch. I have a hard time being sick because I don’t like doing nothing…it makes me feel guilty (even though I shouldn’t). Yesterday, I found myself engaged in the following dialogue with myself:

Me: I don’t feel well, I should probably just stop trying to “work” and let myself do nothing. Maybe I’ll actually be able to fall asleep. You know, like a nap?

Myself: Yeah, but you have stuff to do. Here’s a list of 100 things that I just made up that you should feel stressed about not doing RIGHT NOW. Also, I’m continuing to add to this list as we speak. And if you don’t do these things…well, you can’t even imagine how terrible that would be…

Me: But, these are all deadlines made up…can’t I just put them aside for right now and think about them more rationally when I’m feeling better?

Myself: No, you procrastinating fool! Have you no pride?! You’re useless!

Me: I have enough pride to take care of myself when I need taking care of. I’m going to go take a nap. Get lost.

Myself: Suit yourself. But riddle me this Batman: Does the President of the United States take sick days?

Me: …..?….(slumps off in defeat)……

In order to prove to myself that I wasn’t useless, I looked back through the piles of old sketchbooks I have accumulated over the years. It’s always an uplifting surprise to find the gems that are hiding among the pages. It serves as mental protection against all those times when I feel like I’m “creating nothing good”, because I look back and see that, even in moments when I felt like I was just making scribbles to pass the time, I was actually creating pretty interesting things.

Even the little things — like the doodles that seemed insignificant when I first made them — can bring brightness to a grumpy, mucous-y day. 

Ok, ok, on to the art. These are from some sketchbooks I filled in college. Consider this a celebration of the upcoming change of seasons.

First, we have a winter-themed page of Musk Oxen drawings:

MuskOxen_Doodle

Followed by a colored pencil drawing (or design or whatever) of some tulips, in anticipation of spring:

Spring_Tulips

Enjoy! (and I’ll be less negative next time, I promise) 🙂

 

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