Tag: mixed media

In Search of New Art Ideas: 3 Ways I Collect Inspiration

As an abstract artist, the most common question I receive is "Where do you get your ideas?" Having giving this much thought, I realize that the answer is all around, and inside me.

I am preparing for my third show of the Summer and boy, my soul is tired.  I was so excited at the response that I received when looking for places to exhibit my work.  It wasn’t expected and so when three different places offered me shows for June, July and August, I knew that I was in for a busy Summer.

I have been working consistently and was able to have completely new paintings for each show.  Making the art isn’t hard for me.  I don’t really have to wait for inspiration to come.  I have a schedule that I’m on the computer the first half of the day doing marketing and admin, and I’m in the studio the second half making abstract art and for the most part, I’ve stuck to it with ease.  

The most common question that I’ve gotten is “where do you get your ideas?” and it’s a bit of a tough one to answer.  My first instinct is to respond that the ideas happen in the moment as I practice abstract expressionism, which by definition, is spontaneous.  But after answering the question for the 15th time, I’m realizing that I may be becoming less spontaneous and more thoughtful as time goes on.

Sometimes the most simple shape can have the most meaningful impact in my abstract paintings.

Paper_Airplane Cut Out Abstract ArtOne of many paper airplane cut outs for my kiddo's birthday gift.

My daughter is turning 16 this month (holy crap) and she asked for a new painting for her room, which we are going to paint and make over for her birthday.  When I was beginning her painting, I thought about objects and images that she likes, and a sharp yet light paper airplane shape stuck out to me.  And so, I began Nora’s painting with paper cut outs of 16 dark paper airplanes and 16 light ones (she is amazingly balanced for an almost 16-year-old). 

The painting came out fantastic. (I'll share it with you all after her birthday.) It was the first time that I used an actual “thing” for my paper cut out instead just a repeating shape like a circle, diamond or hexagon.  It was whimsical and fun without being immature and it managed to retain sophistication.  And upon completion, my brain was immediately flooded with images from my own childhood growing up in New Orleans and the swamps of Louisiana.

Inspiration may come from many different places but images from my childhood in Louisiana are allowing me to create more meaningful pieces. 

Pelican In Flight Paper Cut Out for Abstract PaintingOne of many different pelicans cut for the first of my Louisiana series. (See finished painting at top.)

I settled on pelicans for a second experiment and began a painting using the same process that I used for Nora’s paper airplanes.  I'm so pleased with how it turned out.  I have sketches now for a Louisiana series that has images of shrimp, hurricanes, fishing hooks, fleur de lis, snowballs…  There are a lot of ideas and this is how I plan on spending my Autumn.  I’m can’t wait to dive in. 

This series is more personal and I’m finding that it is reminding me of some of my old artistic inspirations that I got from children’s book illustrations.  I can’t wait to see how the series turns out.  In sketching these images, I began to realize that even in the paintings that seemingly come out of nowhere, just as these Louisiana images came to mind and I was able to observe and collect them into my sketch book, I have been collecting ideas for my abstracts in similar ways all along.

Marigny Goodyear Abstract Art Shrimp Paper Cut Out"Shrimp Again?!" A common dinner time complaint from me as a "spoiled by fresh gulf seafood" kid. #2 in my Louisiana series.

Want new creative ideas for your abstract art?  Just look around.  Observation is an important tool.

So, when I’m interested in finding inspiration, here is my tip to myself:  Be Observant.  I mean this in a few different ways:

  1. Observe what gives me a “charge”. I took Nora to see Taylor Swift in 2015 and at one point during the show, her dancers had huge paper airplanes on sticks and they were flying them over the crowd.  Visually, it was right up my alley.  It was playful, whimsical, surreal and a little magical.  I felt a fire of amazement begin to burn in my chest at the visual impact that these simple paper airplanes had on the audience.  Nora felt it too…we still talk about how amazing it was thus, the paper airplane painting.

 

  1. Observe recurring images in my head. Ever since I was a kid, I loved to watch the pelicans sore over the bayou.  When I learned to surf as an adult, I was so excited to see them surf the air currents over the waves.  I didn’t know they could do that as we didn’t have waves like that in the bayous.  After beginning my pelican painting, I realized that I have a ton of these simple images in my head.  They are all special to me and I believe that connection can be seen in the painting.  It is more personal.

 

  1. Observe all the time. One night I was out to dinner and the server brought over our silverware rolled up in napkins.  The napkin rolls were secured with strips of paper about an inch or so thick and were covered in an intriguing prism like purple and blue pattern.  I took everyone’s little piece of paper from their napkin rolls home and included them in a painting.  I also have taken candy wrappers and foils, wrapping paper, cocktail napkins in pretty prints…  Art supplies are everywhere. I’m in the habit of being on constant look out for them.

Prism Napkin Ring Scrap Paper Unbelievably cool paper used as napkins rings at a local restaurant. 

It took about 2 years for this habit to develop.  But now, I have to carry a little sketch book with me at all times as when I see inspiration in my head (or on my dinner table) I know that I have to catch it quick or it may be forgotten.  Last night I thought of another great New Orleans image and this morning it’s gone.  I was lazy and didn’t make a note of it and there it goes.  Out into the ethers.  I hope I remember it later. 

So, if you’re wondering where I begin, the answer is that I simply look around both externally and internally for those little nuggets.  Who knew a simple paper airplane or a silhouette of a pelican in flight could be inspiration for a painting? A better question is why wouldn't it be?  Thankfully there are an infinite amount of ideas flying around and all I have to is pluck them and put it in my pocket, or in my sketchbook.  It’s just that simple. 

How and/or where do you find inspiration?  Please tell me in the comments below.  Thanks for your input!  Please share this post if it resonates with you.

Photo at top is the first from my Louisiana series.  Pelicans 36X36 Paper, Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas.  

How Fear Makes Me a Better Abstract Artist

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 Applegate Lake Applegate Valley OregonMountain 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. 

mountain biking dread and terror trail north umpqua oregon
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

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!

How the Tortured Artist Persona is Actually the Process in Motion (even if it makes me want to puke.)

Pain and Art

I woke up this morning feeling defeat.  My painting is not coming along easily.  I’m running out of regional interior designers to email and art consultants to contact.  I still haven’t made that first sale to a stranger that I have put so much importance on.  My day job is ending in about a week.  I have to make it to the blasted grocery store today.  My scalp is itchy and my knee hurts.  Bitch, bitch, bitch… 

Suffering is Part of the Process

This part of the process isn’t easy.  The part where I am nearly physically sick.  The part where I doubt myself.  Every time I go through the same panic; the same nausea; the same “it will never come easily again!” feeling.  I will fail!  I will fail! I will fail!  I was actually walking around my studio saying “It’s awful! It’s terrible!  The most horrible I’ve ever done! I’m doomed!” (Enter thunder clap here.)  Oh, the drama!

mixed media abstract painting
 This is where it started.  I like it at this point but it is too "wall paper" like.  Time to take chances.

I have been through this process enough to know that over this hump is a real step forward.  Past this point, the painting has a history.  History ain’t always pretty, but it sure makes things more interesting and it allows room for learning and growth.    A painting has to have a past before it can have a present.  It is a gestation; a metamorphosis.  Even if it makes me want to vomit.  I mean…I got morning sickness while pregnant, right? 

 mixed media abstract paintingWell that's kind of cool...but still, something is missing. More chance taking ensues. 

Pain Brings Depth to Art 

When people ask me if I miss New Orleans, I say that I miss the architecture and the history.  I miss the oldness of the place.  I miss the ghosts.  New Orleans has lived so many lives, both beautiful and frightening.  It has so many layers and it is these layers that create fascination and mystery.  The ghosts of my frustration bring tension to the party.  It creates a mystery to unravel.  Otherwise my paintings are just pretty things on a wall.  

mixed media abstract paintingDetail of the "Oh Lord what have I done" moment. 

I figured all of this out while going through this painting’s grueling process. Prior to this painting, I have ridden out this feeling thinking that something is wrong with me.  There is nothing wrong with me or this blasted piece.  I know that I shouldn’t look at it as a crappy painting…it’s not even done yet. Without this step, the place beyond does not exist.  That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to witness.  I still feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

 mixed media abstract artSwitching directions is nerve racking but often necessary. Even though it is now muddy and I'm not sure where to go, I already feel better.

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Suffering is justified as soon as it becomes the raw material of beauty.”  So, I begin today with a cup of coffee and some blog post writing in order to step away from the perceived piece of poop on my easel.  I know that with just the right amount of space and by allowing this God-awful feeling to have a role, a thing of beauty awaits.  It is part of my process and if I have to shed a few tears sometimes to get there, so be it.

 mixed media abstract painting artHere and at top is The Bus 48x48 Mixed Media on Canvas.  Sometimes you just have to get on and take the ride.

I’m not saying that all artists are tortured or that pain is necessary to create art, but it seems to be the case for me and that’s ok.  Anyway, the only thing that’s really wrong with me is that I think something is wrong with me.  That has always been the case and if that isn’t a tortured artist quote then I don’t know what is.

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!

If Opinions are Like A**holes, is Advice Actually Helpful to Artists?

I’ve been pushing this painting around as if I’m rearranging a room.  No huge, OMG changes but slowly the composition has been coming together and while I know it’s not done yet, I’ve been having fun with this one instead of feeling the dread “why isn’t this coming together?” feeling.  I’ve been thoughtful with my brush strokes while still letting my heart guide me.  It’s a balance that feels so good when it’s present.  Too much heart and the composition tends to get lost and the pallet is all over the place.  Too much thought and the painting is tight and has a feeling of being bound.  So, I’m feeling pretty good…

…Then I send the in-progress picture to my Mentor.  She likes it but says to be careful about being too tidy and that I need to be looser with my brush strokes.  I feel frustration coming over because it had felt so good when I was doing it and now I’m questioning that I actually know when I attain that important balance of heart and head and maybe I can’t really recognize it and if I can’t recognize it then maybe I’m not doing it right and if I’m not doing it right then maybe blah blah blah… and now my brain is off to the races.  I only need one little bit of doubt to creep in and everything else, all the hard work and that wonderful feeling of balance is, in my mind, shot to shit.  Not to mention I’ve already forgotten that she said she liked it.

abstract, art, expressionism, painting, contemporary, wip, work in progress, artist, mixed media
Too Tidy...?

I have a tendency to lean towards insecurity so by default I take things way too personally and generally assign too much importance to what other people think.  This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with my Mentor.  She is a wonderful artist and a lovely friend who gives terrific advice.  She has a wealth of knowledge and experience.  She has guided me to the place where I am now.  She is invaluable and I don’t know what I would do without her.  That being said, I think that as an artist, I need to be able to draw a line between the soul of the art, and other people’s advice.

Artist, skeptisismWilamena and I are skeptical of opinions

When someone gives me advice, I tend to take it.  Especially when it comes from people that I love and/or respect.  Why wouldn’t I take it?  They know more than me.  They are further along in their careers than I am.  I should take the advice…right?  I’m thinking the answer is, not always.  And that’s the tricky part.  How do I know when I should take the advice and when I should continue on as I have been? 

 safety first, mask, sanding, good adviceMy carpenter Husband says that I should use a mask while sanding...that sounds like good advice from a reliable source.

I’m an emotional person who tends to think in extremes.  I go from smiling and being amenable to everyone’s advice to feeling resentful and vowing never to take anyone’s recommendations ever again.  (Blog on being a tortured artist forthcoming.)  I make the best decisions when I can remove my insecurity from the situation and ask the simple question “Is that right for me and my art?”  For instance, I’m looking at my piece 24 hours of cool down later and now that the comments are not so raw, yes, I can indeed see that there are areas that are too tight and tidy.  That doesn’t mean that the entire piece is bad, for Pete’s sake!  Breathe Girl!



Cross Town Traffic 24x24 Mixed Media on Canvas...and she was right...it was way too tight and tidy.

I suppose that what I need to learn is to do is to say “Thank you” and then give my emotions time to chill before making the decision to fully heed the opinions of others...or not.  There is a practicality about advice when it comes from a trusted, experienced source but there is also a point at which I know what’s best within my own process. So, I need to practice getting my Om on in order to find my own voice within this sea of people that know more than me.  And let’s face it, sometimes a painting needs a little crazy to balance out the practical. That may just be the contrast that this painting needed.

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!

How Gravity and Waves Aid My Creative Process

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. 

surf, surfer girl, ocean, beach, waves, cold water surfingMe 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.

mountain biking, biking, exercise, coast, trailMe 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, ski, winter fun, snow, mount shasta, mountain

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.

mountain, hike, mount ashland, outdoors

On top of Mount Ashland.  Photo credit: Chris Goodyear

 

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. 

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!

 

 

When in Doubt Do! Words to Live By…As an Artist

My Mom always encouraged me to listen to my gut.  To be honest, I wasn’t very good at it at all.  Strike that…I could hear it, but I was terrible at basing my decisions on what my instincts were telling me.  I would become confused by what I thought others’ expectations were of me.  What did they want me to do?  How could I best please them?  It has taken me a long time to not only listen to my inner most self but also base my decision making on these gut reactions.

mixed media abstract painting work in progress
Step 1: Throw some paint on a panel. 

I brought a serious art practice back into my life about 3 years ago when I quit drinking.  It was during this time that I had to learn how to do basic things…like how to make decisions based on my best self.  To thine own self be true became words to live by.  Words that I had heard a million times but never truly grasped their meaning. 

This re-learning became the hardest process that I have ever gone through to date.  I realized that I was a liar.  Sounds harsh, I know, but I had lived my life ignoring what I knew what was best for me because I was scared others would disapprove, and thus I had lived my entire life coming from a dishonest place.  It was a blow.  I had always prided myself on being a good friend, a good Mom, one whom others could depend on, but how good a person could I be when underneath all of these good deeds was a horrifying resentment of nearly every person I had a relationship with.  “I made these decisions to make you happy and it’s not working out at all!!!  How dare you?!”  Or, “I did this for you!  So obviously it is your fault!”.   I was under the illusion that if I based all that I did on how it affected others, I was not only a better person, but I was selfless and giving.  It was a lie.  I was doing a disservice to myself, my family, my friends.  It was heartbreaking to realize how I had let myself down and in turn, let everyone around me down as well.

mixed media abstract painting work in progressStep 2: Try some letter stensiles and paper with a random floral pattern.

 

As I was maneuvering through the vast hallways of my brain, painting became my outlet where anything goes.  Safety was thrown out the window, and I could jump off as many proverbial cliffs as I wanted to.  I want to paint over half of what I just did…do it.  I want to peel off half the paper that I spent two days putting on…why not?  I want to change my pallet half way through because, fuck it, that’s why.  Nothing was safe.  Nothing was too precious.  Nothing needed to be saved. 

mixed media abstract painting work in progressStep 3: Add more paint in a totally different palette.

 

I LOVE this about art.  The moment that an idea enters my head, usually doubt isn’t far behind.  But what does it matter?  If my painting is for me and only me, then whose approval do I need to make these decisions?  I’ll tell you who…NO ONE.  So when I’m surfing and there’s an 8 foot wall of water coming at me and doubt creeps in saying that I am not in the right spot to take off on that wave, I listen.  But when I’m at my easel and I’ve been painstakingly creating a meticulous pattern out of paper that I have cut hundreds of pieces of so they are the same size, and all of a sudden I want to paint a huge diamond over it, why not?  I can always re-create the pattern.  In fact, if I look at a painting and I know that I can recreate it, then it is time to jump off the cliff.  Grab a different medium.  Experiment with a paint brush that is ten times larger than the one I’ve been using.  Do something to shake things up.

mixed media abstract painting work in progressStep 4: Add crazy dense pattern and some striped paper.

There’s a Luscious Jackson song where at the end they chant “Live Slow. Die Old”.  I have taken these words to heart over the past three years.  I lived hard and fast the first 36 years of my life and slowing down feels good, but I admit, I get squirrelly.  I enjoy listening to my teenage daughter’s drama at school because I miss drama.  I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the excitement.  It makes risk taking with my artwork easier because it is risk without any fallout.  I can take a screwdriver to the wood panel that I’ve been working and scratch the heck out of it. I may not like the outcome, but then again, it might be awesome. 

I believe that in my art, there are no mistakes.  Only opportunities that come from taking chances.  It keeps me fresh and alive.  It creates interest and depth.  It makes the rebellious twinkle in my eye stay bright and let’s face it, I do and have always tended to lean against the grain and that is where I am comfortable…and that is ok.  It’s who I am and TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE.  So excuse me…I have a few canvases to go and blow up. 

mixed media abstract paintingStep 5: Draw large graphite oval.  It was obvsiously missing.
 Finished painting here and at top is called Brainiac 30"x30" Mixed Media on Panel

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!

How Art Helps Me Battle Negativity

I am a master of disguises.  Not just because I grew up in New Orleans and I’m quite the experienced costumed reveler.  No, I am a master because you would never know that I battle anxiety and to a lesser degree, depression every single day.  Outwardly I have spent the majority of my life an extravert, a social director, hostess with the mostess and, up until I quit drinking, the life of the party.  First one out and last one up. 

Alcohol allowed me to hide in plain sight the feelings of inadequacy and fear so I could be alongside my peers in what I perceived to be how one should be in order to be social and popular.  When alcohol stopped working for me and sobriety crept in, I was suddenly an introvert.  The social anxieties that I had hid from for 36 years were suddenly ever present, terrifying, disorienting and at times debilitating. 

Coming to grips with the fact that I have probably always been an introvert wearing an extrovert costume was an insight into myself that wasn’t all that welcome.  The people that I saw as “cool” were most definitely not introverts.  Without drinking, the mask became harder to put on.  I could only be myself and I have never necessarily liked myself very much.  My physical attributes were never “in style”.  The things I was good at have never been the “right” things. I have never felt right in the world. I know exactly what Smokey Robinson was feeling when he wrote Tears of a Clown:

Now if I appear to be carefree
It's only to camouflage my sadness
In order to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness

That’s what it was…a show.  Three months after I quit drinking, I started painting.  I have an art background, but I had not stoked that fire in many years, and painting was never my favorite medium.  But so it began.  Not having many painting supplies (I had long since given away most of them from my art school days) I started with simple paintings on paper.  I would sit in the corner of my dining room and paint; sometimes for hours at a time.  I didn’t know what I was trying to paint or if I had any clear intention at all, but I could feel the pull of a far off realm encouraging me to dive into the paper, into the color, to make any stroke with the paint brush that popped into my head. 

 I wasn’t at that point thinking about color wheels or composition.  It was a  call from my Self to myself.  I began painting with fervor, experimenting with  anything and everything that came to my hand.  It was within these arts  induced trances that I was calm, breath and heart beat steady, without  thought of the terrifying thing called sobriety on which I was embarking.  In  fact, I wouldn’t be thinking about anything. 

surfer girl, surf, surfboard, ocean, waves, beachPhoto of me feeling camera shy...and scoping out some waves
(Photo Credit: Chris Goodyear)

 It was and is an active meditation for me and it carries over into my every  day.  The more I practice this, the more influence it has on my confidence.  I  can speak up with a greater ease.  I’m not so worried about what people  are saying about me (because let’s be honest….usually they’re not saying anything at all).   I am sometimes amazed at what I create.  The process is what keeps me active and the end products make me proud.  This is not me pretending to be anything.  This is not a deception because it would be impossible to fake it.  It is as honest as I can live and honesty is the base of my confidence; it is unshakable.  It allows me to live peacefully in the present, leaving resentments and expectations at the door.     

I’m always expecting something to go wrong. I’m constantly taking deep breaths so my heartbeat doesn’t pound in my chest.  I’m scared of saying or doing the wrong things around people that I don’t know very well or who I look up to.  Three years and a body of work later I know now what has happened.  Without getting into a long spiritual conversation, I can say that I was given a gift.  I began painting at the same time I started a seated meditation practice and began taking surfing to another level.  These are all the same practice and when I don’t tend to these activities, my anxiety grows and depression is usually pretty close behind. 

Staying active in mindfulness is about as easy as getting to the gym to exercise.  So hard to begin and yet the feeling of accomplishment and nourishment is unparalleled.  So I keep at it.  I know that my feelings are not always facts but I do know that when I paint, the dire feelings that I have about going to the grocery melt away.  The fear of living up to everyone’s expectations is squashed.  I actually feel more beautiful when I paint and more comfortable in my own skin.  Even when I’m not happy with how a painting is going.  At least I am doing it.  I’m putting myself out there.  I’m taking chances.  I’m excited about what comes next instead of terrified by it.  Those feelings stay with me after I wash my brushes and clean up my studio.  I am less likely to slip into negative thought patterns and I am in general, a happier person. 

So I think I’ll stick with it. Plus, I see how far I have come over the past 3 years and instead of being terrified that I’m going to lose it or that people won’t like it, I am excited to see where it will go next.  I look forward to surprising myself over and over again. 

Painting at top is Storm 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!

 

Why I Make Art

As I sit down to write my very first blog post, I thought I should probably start simply and to the point.  Why is it that I make art? In order to answer this question, I have to clear my head of all the complicated, swirling explanations that want to manifest, because it is really quite simple and I have a habit of over complicating things.  I make art because I have to.  I didn’t always know that it was such a huge part of me.  When I was a much younger and an active artist, I knew.  But somewhere along the road of college majors, different career paths and having a family, I forgot.  It seems silly now.  I mean, how do you forget who you are?  But I did. Now, middle-aged and quite tired of playing the career game, it is very clear.  I am an artist and thus, I make art because it is the only thing that I have ever done that I was truly comfortable doing.  It fits effortlessly.

When I was in my late teens and in the visual arts program at Boston University, art felt stifling.  It was too classical and there was not enough experimentation.  I ended up with a business degree from the BU School of Hospitality.  The culinary classes were more of a creative outlet than the art program was.  It was there that much confusion began.  I never believed that art was a career where I could make a living.  It was a hobby.  An outlet not to be taken seriously.  The funny thing is that my family, teachers and friends supported me in my art.  They all seemed to think it was a realistic path for me.  I have been plagued most of my life with negative self-talk and a lack of confidence.  Thus, when I switched majors to study accounting, marketing and food & beverage management, I was leaving the only part of me that really mattered behind.  Since then, I have been a round peg trying to shove myself into square spaces.

 

I have always been an all or nothing kind of girl:  Relationships, food, alcohol, jobs, whatever it was didn’t matter.  I was either all in or all out.  It was the same for art.  Once I left the BU art building, I think I stepped foot in it once over my next four years.  In my nearly 20-year search for my career path I worked in restaurants, for caterers, yoga studios, accounting and brokerage firms, a city magazine sales office, an internal education department at a medical school and finally, organizing other people at a non-profit where I have been for the past 8 years.  In that time, I busted out the hot glue gun and papier-mache to make Mardi Gras crowns or other costume accessories and I created elaborate meals and table settings, but that was the extent of my artistry.  During the “Big Search”, my alcohol intake continued to grow as a crutch to mask feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in.  I drank to feel confident.  It wasn’t until sobriety hit that I realized what I had been ignoring for so long:  I am an artist and I need to make art.

I was sober only a few months when abstract paintings began flowing from me.  Painting became my meditation.  I then started focusing on the activities that would aid my creativity.  Sitting meditation, a practice of which I begin every day, became habit.  Being outside, especially in the ocean surfing but also mountain biking, skiing and hiking was how I prioritized my free time.  I realize that all of these practices have this in common: they put you in the moment.  Learning how to shut off the constantly nagging (and mostly negative) internal dialog.   Because my art is an expression of the present and if I don’t actively stoke that fire, it grows dimmer. 

I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since February of 2013.  In that time, I have created a body of work that I am proud of.  I haven’t felt pride like this since my art room days of high school.  It seeps into all areas of my life.  I can better speak up for myself with confidence.  I recognize self-care as a life line for myself and all those around me that I care for.  And…I’m surfing like the Bad Ass Mama that I am.  So I ask myself, “Why do I make art”?  The simple answer is because I HAVE to.  Because without it, I am an empty shell constantly searching for answers that have been there all the time but I chose to ignore.  I make art because it lights up my face and my daughter can see that light and she tells me that she’s proud of me.  I do it because it brings happiness to me and my family.  In fact, after doing this consistently over the past 3 years, I can’t help feel a sadness that it took me so long to see what is now so obvious.  I suppose I had other things to do, and I know that all those experiences will help me down this new, yet old path.  I’m so glad that I’m back here.  I missed it so much. 

 

Painting at top is Derby Day 12"x12" Mixed Media on Birch Board.

Join my mailing list and Be in the KNow!