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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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.
One 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.
One 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.
"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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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”:
When sitting on the sofa, eating crappy food and feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t improve your mood, it’s time to take a different approach to attitude adjusting.
I have just come off a week-long gloom binge. I wasn’t feeling well at all. My work wasn’t satisfying, my home life irritated me, exercise was an unattainable motivation and food…well…if it wasn’t made from sugar or high levels of sodium, I wasn’t interested.
As a sensitive and moody artist who is prone to anxiety and depression, it can be hard at times to pull myself from the depths of my own head. Once I’m there, the darkness can wrap around me like a blanket which, oddly enough, can feel rather comforting. Instead of craving things that would improve the situation, I hunker down, binge on television, cry in the shower, eat ice cream for dinner and procrastinate doing anything that could possibly be good for me. It affects my productivity in EVERYTHING.
Last week, while in the midst of a down-swing, I continued working on a painting and although I worked on it every day, I didn’t make much progress. That is kind of indicative of how my mood affects my day-to-day. When I’m in a negative head space, everything seems to take longer and my actions don’t seem as productive as I know they can be. It’s like everything is done in vain which depresses me even more…OH THE DRAMA OF IT ALL!
On Friday, after my 12th biscotti, 7th grilled cheese sandwich and 4th failed attempt to get to the gym, I had to do something. I chose to take the same attitude towards my day-to-day that I take when I’m stuck on a painting. JUST DO ANYTHING. Seriously. The more different, the better.
Just as in abstract painting, contrast can also be the solution to depressive moods. Trying something opposite to instinct can help.
I decided to approve my teenage daughter’s proposed 8-person sleepover. I know what you’re thinking: “WTF?! You’re fighting the doldrums by inviting a slew of crazed teenagers over?!” Yes, that’s exactly what I did. To justify this decision to my melancholia, I told myself that I would now have the weekend to finish cracking out on crappy food, as that is what the human teenager consumes at a sleepover.
What I was hoping is that all of these fresh faced, energetic, silly-as-hell children running around my house would totally obliterate the misery problem at hand. You try being stuck in a funk on a Saturday night when girls are being dragged across the floor laughing hysterically, sporadic dance parties are popping up on your front lawn and THIS is standing in your kitchen:
The point is that it got me out of my spin cycle. I woke up in my van Sunday morning (yes, I gave up the comfort of my house to the juveniles for the night) and joyfully cooked pancakes and scrambled eggs for a mess of youngsters. I found it amusing (instead of frustrating) when an iphone was found under one of our cars, when I realized that two entire jars of pickles were eaten by one 90-pound girl (ew) and when I was repeatedly asked for something to eat while I was in the middle of cooking a meal.
As it turns out, my Mother was right…it really is important to get outside and play on a beautiful day.
That afternoon, I got outside for the first time in a week and gardened (another one of those activities that is so hard for me to start, yet feels so good when finished). Monday, I woke up and rocked that painting, continuing on in a completely different direction from where I started. I had been painting in a pretty dark pallet so I took a light blue and painted over about 85% of my painting.
When in doubt, just do anything.
After a brief panic attack, (and another biscotti) I took the canvas outside and started sanding the paint down. Layers of texture and color slowly emerged through the light blue, creating a dreamy, twisted, complicated junglescape. Out emerged something I never could have planned or imagined and it was beautiful.
When I needed a break from that, I got on my bike and hauled ass on the bike path for about an hour. In that time, I was able to release most of the remaining dark cloud that I had been dragging around. It was really hard to pay attention to the blahs when I chose to engage with the outdoors for a minute. It’s Spring, Moody Artist! For Pete’s sake, go outside and play!
Today is Tuesday and I still feel my bad mood hiding out and waiting for an opening to creep back in. But instead of engaging with it, I’ve decided to write about the ridiculousness of it all. After lunch, I will incorporate some darks back into this painting and then I’m going mountain biking.
Detail of the painting after working a dark blue back in. Sometimes you just have to keep doing the opposite thing until you land where it all comes together.
The only constant mood is the changing one
We all go through ups and downs. If I’ve learned anything in my 40 years being human, it’s that there is no such thing as an endless good or bad mood. They are all temporary and part of a much bigger picture. It’s where we choose to focus that’s important. I’m always amazed when a once huge problem doesn’t seem quite so big when I don’t stop and stare at it. I mean, it’s Spring in Southern Oregon…I’d much rather stop and stare at the wild flowers.
Sometimes, it seems such an easier choice to curl up on the sofa and continue on with the pity party but right now I have to take the 180 degree turn that will get the spark back into my eyes and the motivation back into my hands. If I choose to remain stuck in my mood, that’s all I’ll be…stuck. Just like with my painting, I have to take action and I can’t wait to think of the “perfect” solution. Just shake it up! Throw caution to the wind, paint onto the canvas, and when in doubt, and if it’s available to you, laugh with a bunch of goofy kids (I hear puppies work too).
When you feel stagnation set in, what do you do to get unstuck? Let me know in the comments below. Goodness knows I need all the strategies that I can get!
Painting at top is Blue Music, 36x36, Paper, Acrylic and Watercolor Crayon on Canvas
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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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