I am an extremely sensitive artist type person. Fear, anxiety and self doubt can cause stagnation in my abstract art practice, and life in general.
But thankfully, I have found tools to help get past these times of sluggishness. One of these tools is surfing. There is nothing that puts me in the moment and shows me my place within the universe quite like being in the waves.
Thank you to TinyBuddha.com for publishing yet another one of my essays, How Surfing Helped Me Turn My Fear and Anxiety into Confidence. Take a read and comment below and/or share if it resonates with you.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! Don't forget to get outside and play after all that turkey and pie!
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Being a self-employed West Coast abstract artist is a dream come true but staying on task and moving forward means being consistent and disciplined with my routine.
School is back in session. Amen. Hallelujah Brothers and Sisters. For those of you who have children, you definitely know the struggle of keeping a routine during the Summertime. If you have children and work from home, you REALLY know this struggle. And if you happen to be a parent, who works from home and is easily distracted by outdoor adventure and activities…well…you get it…
I think all-in-all I’ve been pretty good about keeping forward momentum this Summer. At the same time, I’ve also been trying to get in a decent amount of ocean time, relaxation and fun. Now that Summer is in its twilight and school has started, I’m really excited to get back to my work routine.
It's hard to work when there is fun to be had and meadows of flowers to run through... Photo by Jayden Becker.
Routine: noun - A regular course of procedure without which I aimlessly walk in circles pretending to be productive...and then go surfing.
Last blog post I talked about one of the most asked questions I get as an West Coast abstract artist: “Where do your ideas come from?” Today, I’d like to talk about the second most asked question I get: “How do you stay on track working from home?” This is, apparently, a common struggle for anyone who doesn’t have to punch anyone else’s clock but their own. Unfortunately for the question askers, I cannot totally relate to this struggle because as long as I have a good routine in place, it isn’t hard for me at all to stay on task.
However, after being asked this question for the 80th time, I have been giving it more thought, and I realize that I do have a few things consistently in play that help keep me accountable to my routine. Here are a few of the strategies I utilize to keep me on track.
- Social Media is my Boss. I post to social media every day. Almost without fail. In order to be able to post new content every day, I have to make new content. Meaning, I have to be actively creating abstract art in the studio. If I haven’t gotten in the studio and made a healthy amount of progress throughout the week, I have nothing to share with my followers. I do keep a back log of images that can be used in a pinch in case of illness or a surf report that cannot be ignored, but for the most part, I try to stay productive.
- Calendar it out! I keep an electronic calendar that I put my weekly tasks on. Monday is blog writing day. Tuesdays, I collect website/social media analytics to make sure I’m going in the right direction. Wednesday and Thursdays, I reach out to media and influencers and check out education webinars. Friday I schedule social media for the week. Blog posts go live on the first and the fifteenth, work in progress/studio sneak peaks are eblasted the second week of the month and new available work for sale email is sent the third week. And yes, I’m aware I missed most of these for August…dern ocean kept calling me back for more! It’s Summer for Pete’s sake…we’ve all got to give ourselves a break every now and again…
- Progress in the studio yields more progress in the studio. Huh? Well what I mean is that the more art I create, the more I want to create, the easier it is to get started and move from task to task. The comments and likes I get on social media motivate me to share the next steps. The more I’m working, the more ideas I get, the more techniques I discover and the more excited I am about working.
I mean come on! Summer goofing is hard to pass up!
Photo by Jayden Becker
Having a routine leads to progress. Progress equals growth. Growth makes me excited and excitement creates a desire to work more.
That being said, I’m SO very glad that school is back in session because the degenerate surfer in me was starting to more and more choose the surf over the work. And while I am in full support of engaging in the activities that keep me inspired (as surfing does), I’m also aware that mid-August thoughts of renting the house out and living in the surf van are not the healthiest for my work ethic.
So, it’s time to pull back the reigns, turn up the hustle and get back to a proper pace. Here’s to the new school year, more progress, growth and excitement. Let’s rock and roll. I'll try not to get too terribly distracted by the pretty flowers.
Photo at top is Shrimp 36x36 Acrylic & Paper on Canvas. #2 in my Louisiana inspired series.
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For this West Coast abstract artist, dealing with rejection is just part of putting myself and my art out into the world.
In the past week, I have received 2 rejection emails for articles I wrote, very little response to a social media challenge that I’ve been working 2 months on, and an art show that yielded no sales. Oy…all of that sure doesn’t feel too good on the old confidence level.
If you know me, you know that I have a very healthy work ethic. I’m a goal oriented doer. I have the ability to get more tasks done in one day than most and this didn’t change for me, as it does for some, when I started working for myself at home.
So, when I received a flurry of rejection this past week, the work horse side of my ego took a supreme hit. “What the hell?! I’ve been working my ass off! Doing ALL THE THINGS that I’m supposed to do to grow my business. Why isn’t this working?”
Being a professional abstract artist means consistently putting one foot in front of the other, but sometimes a rest is in order.
I received advice from my artist group and my mother (who is a novelist) that it might be time to take a little rest. This is not my instinct. My default to “failure” is to work harder. But this advice, mixed with exhaustion and a touch of sadness, led me to take a few days off.
After two days of loafing around, one cheeseburger with tater tots, a carton of chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream and more episodes of “The Good Wife” than I care to admit to, I was ready to get back to work with a renewed sense of optimism. That makes rejection recovery sound pretty simple but I have to note a few things about dealing with “failure”:
By doing the following, I am able to renew my creative energy and confidence and get back to making abstract paintings.
- Shift your perspective, Woman. I need to stop using the word “failure”. These periods of time when more people are saying “no” than “yes” are not total defeats. I’m new at what I’m doing. The fact that I’ve only been at this 6 months and have had multiple acceptances (2 shows under my belt and another in August, articles published, press from local media…) and multiple rejections mean one thing: I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is putting myself out there and which also means I’m going to hear the word “no" often…but I also have heard “yes” plenty of times too.
- Chill Out, Lady. My Mom told me that early in her career, she and another writer friend of hers decided that when rejection hit particularly hard, they deserved at least one day of feeling sorry for themselves and room to mope. I’m a sensitive artist. Sometimes ignoring negative feelings is not effective for me to move on. I have to honor the crap-ass feeling. Usually this happens when I’m more tired than I realize anyway and rest and relaxation is exactly the remedy.
- Get back on the damn horse, Artist. This week I continued work on a botanical and nature inspired series that I’m doing for my August show. The style of abstract painting is different than what I have been doing and the change was refreshing. I’m also deciding that it might be time for a strategy change in my marketing and PR efforts. I still haven’t found all of my audience and after six months of my current tactics, it’s probably time to move on to new ones.
That doesn’t mean I’ve failed! It means that I’m making progress. I know more now than I knew last year and I will learn even more in another 6 months.
I am a sensitive artist by nature. Sometimes exhaustion, frustration and sadness just have to be honored in order to move forward.
By now, you’re probably all familiar with the old WWII British motivational poster, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I’ve seen many satires of this poster all done in red and white with the crown at top that say things like: “Run Around and Freak Out” and “I am Latina! I Cannot Keep Calm!” I often thought there should be one for artists that says “Keep Painting and Cry Often” (maybe with a cheeseburger on top instead of a crown).
All joking aside, sometimes the emotional release is necessary for continuance. So is rest. And the funny thing is that once I cried, ate junk food, slept and binge watched Alicia Florrick, I was able to be calm and carry on. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to glimpse defeat in order for the fire of persistence to start burning again.
Rest and relaxation allows me to take flight once again.
And so, I shall close with a silly poem as #4 on my list should be “don’t take myself so damn seriously”:
I'm a West Coast Abstract Artist who struggles with anxiety and negative thinking.
Thankfully I'm not alone. I wanted to thank Tiny Buddha for including my article, "My Proactive 8-Part Plan For Beating Anxiety and Negativity".
The response to this has been overwhelming. Thank you all for commenting, sending messages, emails, etc. I am truly humbled.
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The abundance of ocean art and surf paintings is proof of just how much inspiration the ocean gives.
I've just returned from Baja and although the surf Gods were not really stirring things up in my favor this trip, I left Mexico reminded, once again, of the power of Mother Ocean. Visually, there is nothing in comparison with looking out over the vastness of the ocean. There seems to be no end, and in comparison to the self centered, ego driven, social media heavy life that people in our culture gravitate toward, the ocean puts us humans in our place and makes us remember how small we really are.
Mother Ocean astounds me. Graceful, beautiful, and I am yet a twig in comparison to her power.
Mentally, the ocean seems to change my brain waves. My gerbil wheel of a thought process slows down when I'm ocean side allowing me to ponder more deeply and not be so reactive. Physically, the ocean lets me know that I am nothing in relation to even her "small surf", as seen by the mighty mouse of a wave that grabbed me under water, flipped me around 4 times, and injured my back on the last day we were there. (An hour later I was standing in a taco shack and salt water came pouring out my nose.) At times she beats me down, but in doing so I get stronger and stronger.
But I love her so. Even if she kicks my ass every now and then. She keeps me in check. She helps me remember what's important. She reminds me to be present in my life. And she encourages me to keep challenging myself even when I feel I've been beaten.
While my art is not as "surfcentric" as some, it is certainly influenced by the ebbing and flowing of the tides and the ever changing, yet somehow repetitive surface of the water.
Below are images of some of my very favorite ocean and surf inspired art.
These artists see Mother Ocean through the eyes of water dwellers. If they're anything like me, a piece of them feels like it's missing the longer they're away from the sea. Sand in my toes and water up my nose. Yeah. That's my happy place.
Wolfgang Bloch: Wolfgang's painting are moody, mysterious and alluring; reminiscent of the the beauty and danger of the ocean. Calming to look at yet uncomfortable in their darkness and distance, these paintings are the simultaneous trepidation and elation I experience sitting on my surf board on the edge of the ocean. So joyous to be on the water yet unsure about the world under my dangling feet and the white thunder that will inevitably come rushing towards shore.
Untitled NO. 175, Mixed Media, Wolfgang Bloch
Untitled NO. 7, Oil on Vintage Painting & Wood, Wolfgang Bloch
NO. 1025, Oil on Wood Panel, Wolfgang Bloch
Untitled NO. 3, Oil on Vintage Wood, Wolfgang Bloch
Pelican, Reclaimed Indonesian Teak, Ross McDowell
Hammer Time, On Reclaimed Indonesian Teak, Ross McDowell
Honu, On Reclaimed Indonesian Teak, Ross McDowell
Complexity, Water Color By Heather Ritts
Purity, Water Color By Heather Ritts
Fourth Watch, David Macomber
Wind and Waves, David Macomber
North County, Joe Vickers
The Original Birdy Beach, Joe Vickers
Panhandle Summer, Joe Vickers
The drawing at top was done by me about 4 years ago. Just pencil on paper.
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Fear Makes Me a Better Artist, Mountain Biker, Surfer, Skier, Mom, Wife...
Half way through my bike ride I stopped, ripped off my helmet, threw it to the ground and immediately burst into tears. I had been mountain biking regularly for about 3 years and I couldn’t understand why I was still so scared. I kept waiting for it to let up; for the fear to subside so I could bike with confidence; so I wouldn’t tremble whenever I went around a blind turn or when there was a sheer drop-off just a few feet away. It never got better. The moment I got on the bike, I was scared. That was all there was to it. As I picked up my helmet and inspected it for cracks, I asked “why on earth am I doing this to myself?”
This is the same fear I encounter every day in my work as an abstract artist. Fear is alive and well and looms in my studio like a dark cloud. It follows me to the computer when I’m trying to figure out marketing and social media. It gets blustery when I sit down to write blog posts (because I’m a visual artist, not a writer!). It starts to drizzle when I think about the future and if my choice to make art my living is a prudent thing to do.
After that bike ride, I made a decision to stop riding. I would no longer try so hard to do things that scared me like that. That evening, I ran into my buddy, Nick. (No, not on my bike…at a concert.) Nick is also a mountain biker. I vented that I was tired of the fear, tired of feeling timid, and that I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better. Then Nick told me something that changed my life: IT NEVER GOES AWAY. He said that after years and years of riding, he still gets scared and get this…he likes it. It’s part of why he rides. ?????????WTF????????? Nick encouraged me not to quit and to embrace the fear. It was a tactic I had never thought of.
Mountain biking on Applegate Lake. It took me a long time to get used to the sheer drop-off to my right. Photo by Chris Goodyear.
Fear and Art is Another Version of Fear and Life
When I call myself an artist, I feel scared. When I start a new painting, I’m scared. When I decided to quit my job, and pursue art, I was so terrified that I got acid reflux and had to quit drinking coffee (true story). But here’s the deal: some of the things that bring me the greatest pleasures in life are things that I’m scared of. Mountain biking, surfing, skiing, being a good mother and wife, abstract painting… I have the same reaction to them all. I’m scared of failing so I work harder at it.
Abstract Art Inspiration Comes with Accepting the Reality of Fear
What Nick said to me changed everything. I got back on the bike, this time, with a reframe of fear in my mind. “Ok Fear! You’re here! I’m here! Neither of us are going anywhere so let’s try to work together, yeah?” I started peddling and a strange thing happened. When I knew that fear was a natural reaction, it didn’t scare me as much. It didn’t go away, but I wasn’t paralyzed by it and it didn’t influence my motor skills. Riding became smoother and I became a better biker.
I have written before that I used to live my life driven by fear. It’s true. But what I have been able to do through outdoor sports like mountain biking is to re-define my relationship with fear. There are times when fear means “STOP NOW” and there are times when I can brush it off my shoulder.
Smiling on the Dread and Terror portion of the North Umpqua trail.
Photo by Chris Goodyear
The Freedom of Art: Doing My Art Anyway Even If I Am Scared
Think of it in terms of a different emotion, happiness. When I found out that I was going to be published in an art journal, I was so happy that I bounced up and down and hugged everyone around me and shrieked in excitement. But does that mean that every time I feel happy that I need to do an ecstatic freak out dance of happiness? I would go so far as to say that would not be normal behavior.
I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. I don’t know if I will succeed as an abstract artist but maybe all I need to do is live with that insecurity knowing that it very well may never go away. I do know one thing, staying still is no way to move forward. There a sure-fire way of falling over on a bike in a creek crossing and that is to stop peddling. I think I’ll put one peddle in front of the other and keep moving. Through moments of doubt when painting, through insecurities that tell me I’m not good enough. I’m not going to stop and stare at that because then I’ll just be stopped and one thing is for sure…I do not enjoy and have never enjoyed being still. I got things to do and people to see and paintings to paint and hustles to hustle. Onward!
Artwork at top is Divide and Conjure 12x12 on Birch Board
"My Hustle has a Hustle." - Artist Ronald Sanchez
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I have not been in the ocean for over 2 months, which is the longest lapse in the past 5 years or so. I have been working on a website, setting up and keeping up with social media, learning how to create ads, reaching out to potential customers and making art. On top of that there is family, which is always a priority, and rest (because if I don’t get enough rest, apparently I go bat shit crazy). What has been lost? Exercise and getting to the coast.
I’ve been trying to be better about exercise and I can gerbil at the gym with the best of them, but I need to get outside. I’ve been thinking about my love for surfing, mountain biking and skiing and why those activities are part of my art practice; part of my formula for creativity.
Me surfing in Del Norte, CA. Photo credit: Christian Dalbec
When I was in art school at Boston University, Professor Peter Hoss http://www.peterhoss.com/, my drawing teacher and the only teacher that I really connected with, made us read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Zen and the Art of Archery. While I haven’t read either in over 20 years (I probably should as a refresher), they resonated with me so deeply that I scored the highest in the class on the written tests pertaining to these books. It boggled my mind that I could see the message in these books so clearly and yet be so uninspired by art school. In the most abbreviated and loose interpretation, the Zen books are about getting lost in the moment. Going to such a meditative space when engaged in an activity that you love, that all else slips away and time melts. Even though I wasn’t happy in art school, I clearly knew what that was like and recognized that I felt it when making art.
Me in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo credit: Chris Goodyear
When I am on a surf board in the ocean, I do not have time to interpret the thoughts in my head. When a wave is approaching me, my body and mind are one and I can only “do now”. It puts me in a present state the same way that flying down a trail on a bike, or down a mountain on skis does as well. There is no time to think about my actions, I just have to trust that my body will react to what my brain observes and know that if I simply relax and roll with it, I have the best outcomes. Engaging in these sports feeds the part of my brain that is able to let go and just be.
Skiing on Mount Shasta. Photo credit: Chris Goodyear
Each time I fill up that bucket of present-being, it flows into every part of my life. My art is richer, deeper and more complex. Balance and composition are not such a struggle. Color choice is not overthought. It is easier to surrender to the moment. One thing flows to the next in a smooth and graceful stream of action and a painting appears.
When I don’t fill up that bucket I am more resistant to that stream. When that bucket is running on fumes, I overthink and swim against the current. I can keep it from running out entirely by practicing seated meditation each morning and getting out to hike, but my brain can still get lost in thought when doing both. I need to be part of the speed that gravity creates or to feel the power of the waves. Engaging with forces that I cannot control results in an overflowing abundance of present sight. I have to focus on, and only on, what is happening NOW. The ticker tape of thought is paused and instinct kicks in. Brain and body work together in a brief moment of synchronicity, where there is no time to question either.
That being said, I best be planning to get to the ocean soon. Even if just for the day. Even if the surf report is less than ideal and that blasted south wind is whipping. I need to get out, paddle around, say hi to the sea lions and literally be immersed in nature. So down the Redwood Highway I go to the wind lashed, foggy, rugged, temperamental paradise of the Northern California Coast. Time to inhale the marine layer and get lost in the sound of the waves. Surf’s up y’all.
Painting at top is Quiver 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas - A gift for my amazing surfer dude husband.
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