Artist Profile: Nicholas Wilton - Building Communities of Creatives One Workshop at a Time

Being a career west coast abstract artist would not be possible without the help of talented teachers.

When I first started this journey of becoming a professional artist, I was running solely on emotion and old, ignored art supplies.  I didn’t have a goal.  I didn’t know that this would be my career.  I was merely trying to express feelings of remorse, anger and agitation that were alarmingly amplified when I decided to quit drinking.  No longer comforted by simply burying these discomforts under the weight of alcohol, I unearthed them and then needed a tool for dealing with the difficulties that bubbled up.  

I had leftover paint, paper and some brushes and so I started.  I had never done abstract painting before, but sobriety was just about all my brain could handle.  Thinking about realistic details of a still life, or…let’s be honest here…trying to do anything with any specificity at all was really difficult.  I just began to move my brush-holding hand and abstracts are what sprung from my fingertips.  And it saved me.  

Finding art again was an unexpected gift given to me by my willingness to let go of old coping mechanisms and being open to getting to know myself.  Self-awareness had never been my strong suit.  So, discovering that I am an artist was amazing and at the same time, a “well duh” moment.  I knew it all along, I just ignored it because I didn’t think it was practical road to travel.

Guidance from an established west coast abstract artist and teacher was the inspiration I didn't know I needed.

Nicholas Wilton West Coast Abstract Mixed Media Artist
Nicholas Wilton is a Sausalito, CA based abstract artist and teacher whose workshop I attended flipped me into action.  I have been painting consistently since.

 

A year into my self-administered art therapy adventure, a good friend suggested that I take an Art 2 Life workshop taught by Sausalito, CA based abstract artist, Nicholas Wilton.  After briefly checking out his website, I was immediately attracted to Nick’s art.  His use of shape, repeated pattern, movement and vibrant colors widened my eyes and motivated me to learn more.  I signed up and drove to California for 5 days of art making.  It was the best thing that I have ever done for my art, my confidence and my career. 

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life Workshop Westerbeke RanchDay #1 of Nicholas Wilton's Art 2 Life Workshop at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma. 

Nick taught his 6 art principles which included color, harmony, value and design.  Many of these had been introduced to me in my long abandoned fine arts schooling but not thought of since, and they were important reminders, but his 6th principle was the most important and influencing….Soul.  Heeding soul was not taught in art world academia and wasn’t that what I was really working on?  Cleansing, listening, being receptive and responding to my soul?  Without knowing it, Nick was reiterating what I had been learning over the past year…to thine own self be true. 

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life WorkshopDay #4: My works in progress at Nick's Art 2 Life Workshop.  The finished version of the one in the right corner is at the top of this blog post.

Nick also believes in the importance of having a community to lean on as well as contribute to.  Over the past couple of years, he has continued to be a huge support and inspiration to me through his art, blogs, video lessons and willingness to make time for students like me.  He recently made himself available for a 15-minute interview so that I may share some of his wisdom with you. 

If you are an artist needing direction, I highly recommend his workshops and if you can’t afford those, just sign up for his blog "The Artlife".  He often sends out videos discussing his work, process and problem solving.  Read on for our conversation about his influences, challenges and maneuvering through the business of art. 

A 15 minute interview with west coast abstract artist, Nicholas Wilton.

MG: You seem to be a master of creating patterns without making the painting have a “wallpaper” feel.  Is that something that you have to work for or does it come naturally? 

NW: People always say to make exciting design, you have to have a variety of sizes and shapes and things, and you can, for sure…but you can also [work within] a pattern.  If the pattern is repeating, that can be somewhat monotonous because when we look at one part of the picture, the same kind of feeling occurs in another part of the picture, so that’s the recipe for sort of boring somebody.

Nicholas Wilton Color-Field-1 Abstract Painting Mixed Media ArtNicholas Wilton, Color Field One, 36x40, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

But if you can offer differences within that context, that can become really interesting.  So, for example, maybe the pattern repeats, but the color is different on different parts of the pattern. Then that becomes noticeable and interesting.  Or maybe the texture is different.  (Pointing to the painting above.) That painting looks like little chips of color [in rows].  That’s not a very particularly exciting pattern because the pattern isn’t really anything…just a bunch of colors…but I’m talking about colors and the conversation about color.  All of the sizes are the same and they are in a line but I’m really paying attention and offering the viewer something that’s different.  There are contrasts that happen to be in the [different] colors.  Patterns can be wallpaper like but when you change things within that, then it becomes exciting.

MG: The first artist you studied with was a stained-glass artist Ludwig Schaffrath.  How did working with glass influence how you paint now?  What was the biggest lesson that you learned from him as a new artist that you carry with you today?

NW: Well I entered into it more as a craft.  I liked making things, so I was learning how to make stained glass.  The thing about stained glass is that [you start with] incredible pieces of glass.  Some are translucent.  Some are transparent. There’s glass from Germany that’s really beautiful. What you learn pretty quickly is that maybe it’s the materials that are so amazing. 

Let’s say you pull out this amazing piece of glass that you love. It’s so beautiful just on its own. Then you cut it up and you make a flower out of it... So, I became interested in the questions of why do I keep taking this amazing material and turning it into pictures that happens to be made out of stained glass, but really weren’t very good?  When you think about a picture of a stained-glass flower, it’s kind of bric-a-brac. It can be kind of cheesy.  So, I started to look around at different artists that were doing work as good as the materials.  

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life Workshop Work TableAn Art 2 Life Workshop table.  The raw materials are just as important as the finished product

 

Ludwig Schaffrath was making these incredible modern day monastery windows…very contemporary and very much in alignment with the glass. I was seduced by the materials because of the caliber of the finished product.  The materials were so good that it upped my game to get better at designing and using it. What I learned from this gentleman when I was 15, is that the only thing you can really do is something personal and unique.  If you want to copy reality, that’s fine but you have to do it in a way that’s personal. He was the first one to press that idea that I still teach today and try to do in my own work.

MG: I recall you saying in a workshop that you can try to make your art look like another artists’ but it’s never going to.  It’s always going to look like you. 

NW: Yeah.  We can try on different ways of working.  I can copy an artist for a day and try to make my art look like theirs but you won’t stay there very long because it’s not very interesting because they’ve already done it.  But it is important for you to pull out and discover the reason why you were attracted to their work.  You might love Mark Rothko but you don’t want to be Mark Rothko.  You just want to understand the way he’s using color because that’s what you love.  I wouldn’t want to do a Mark Rothko painting because he already did them all.  People learn that eventually and they move on. 

Nicholas Wilton Bone-Yard Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Bone Yard, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery (I LOVE this one.)

MG: What is the most challenging part of being an artist at a professional level?

NW: I think there are three parts: 1. Isolation 2. Not having all of the information to do this…it takes time to have all of the information, how to paint, what to do when you get stuck, all of that technical stuff and then 3. Having the right place to do it.   I couldn’t make these paintings in a small room anymore.  I had to move to a bigger space and it was scary.  I had to pay more, I wasn’t sure I could do it… Having a practice that works…that’s something you have to learn.  They don’t teach that.  Having a good community and a solid art practice or approach and just the basic information.  That is what I teach in my online courses and workshops.  If you can give that to people, that does it…. especially the community part.

Nicholas Wilton Millwork Abstract Painting Mixed Media ArtNicholas Wilton, Millwork, 60x60, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG:  So creating a community of artists that you see regularly and having people that you talk with often…

NW:  Yeah and even connected on a Facebook group or whatever.  I’m really interested in creating community…that’s why I’m talking to you right now. We are staying connected.  We might not have talked for a long time but we’re connected and I just believe that’s a path that allows me or anybody to do this rather unusual activity and pull it off successfully. 

MG: You teach workshops as well as painting.  Do you enjoy one more than the other? Do you feel that teaching and painting complement each other?  How? 

NW: They work in conjunction.  I don’t think I could teach if I wasn’t doing the practice.  I have my own personal practice and then I’m helping people develop theirs.  I do these Sunday blog posts and those are done completely spontaneously.  I’m painting and then I learn something new or I’m getting new perspective and I just share that with people. Certainly, the teaching is derived from the painting. And teaching clarifies my own practice.  The best I ever paint is after 7 days of teaching a workshop.  I go home and I can pretty much guarantee that I’m painting more confidently and probably a little bit differently than I was before I left.  So, it’s a win/win as far as I’m concerned.  It works for me.

Also, you can’t forget that by teaching I’m getting inspired by all of these other people.  When I see your painting and what you’re doing…you’re painting larger now…I get that juice from you.  There’s been an exchange because we’ve worked together a little and I see what you’re doing and it’s bigger and it’s “wow!” and that fires me up and my day is just a little bit better and I use that energy to go do this challenge (pointing around the studio). 

Nicholas Wilton Pin-Point Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Pin Point, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG: You had a gift line business adventure at one time.  How did you feel when that opportunity came along and why did you ultimately decide that it wasn’t for you? 

NW: I created the opportunity in a way because I was tired of doing illustrations…you get paid for one and then do another one and another one and another one… I would make some really good art but it would just disappear so I thought “how can I make some of this art stay around?” and the idea of putting it on products, gifts specifically, like trays, boxes and tote bags, came along and I worked with some friends and we created a company. 

What happened though was that the momentum, the need, the desire to sell, that directed the company, of course…that’s the whole point…to make money.  But my direction was partly that, but to also make the best possible work I could.  And at one point, one of our biggest sellers were basically little tiny cheap reproductions of paintings that you could get at Walmart or Bed Bath and Beyond for like $5. I saw my own personal work [reproduced] but I was uncomfortable because I’m also a fine artist and I had done a lot of work to keep my work at a premium, to keep the prices high, to make it prestigious, because it is. It’s what I do.  It’s really important.  But I saw that this was cannibalizing that and I didn’t like that.  It didn’t feel good to me.  And when something doesn’t feel good to me, regardless of the money, I know from art, from my life, you don’t do continue doing that.  You do something else. There are alternatives.

Nicholas Wilton Blue-Storm Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Blue Storm, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG: Spring is almost here.  Seeing as nature is such a big influence for you, do you notice that your paintings and pallet choices change when the seasons change? 

NW: Yeah.  I think so. My studio isn’t heated and I’m warmer now, which is half the problem.  I get so damn cold in here because these ceilings are so high so I’m bundled up in the Winter and it’s just a hard road for a few months.  Also, I think Spring is more of an opening and unfolding and Winter is a closing more.  There is an ease to it and a looseness and more color.  I think there tends to be, over the course of an artist’s career, to go from control to more and more loose and more and more exploration and an opening or broadening and I think that relates to seasons as well.

MG: What piece of advice would you give a young artist starting out and does that advice change if someone is starting out as a young artist vs. an older artist? 

NW: I just think it’s important to realize that each person, old, young, whatever, whoever, if they’re interested in doing this and if they can pay attention to what they love, and really focus on that and look within themselves, that’s really the path to making personal, authentic, sellable, desirable work that you love.  That’s the path and that’s available and they have everything they need they just may need some guidance.  Everybody’s unique and everybody can therefore make unique and personal work.  They just have to pay attention to themselves.

Learn more about Nicholas Wilton on his website.

The painting at top by me is "Original Bubble" 12x12 Acrylic, Paper and Graphite on Birch Board and was one of the pieces I created while attending Nicholas Wilton's Art 2 Life Workshop in 2014.  

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Comments (5):

Marigny on

Rebecca – Thank you so much for reading!

Rebecca Janes on

Hi great posts on Nicholas Wilton and the other ones also. thanks.

Marigny on

Judy – You are most welcome! Thanks for the comment. He is amazing and generous.

Jan – Thank you very much! Yes…I feel very lucky, indeed.

Judy Levit on

Marigny, this was a great interview. Thank you for making it available. I took Nick’s CVP online course and I am also so very happy that I found him! I have learned so much and love being a part of the continuing online community.

Jan Allsopp on

Great interview Marigny! I’m a NW fan too having done his CVP online course. I’d so love to do a workshop with him sometime. You are lucky to have such a good and generous teacher in your life. So nice that you’ve kept in touch.

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How I Found Calm within the Anxiety Tornado by Organizing My Life

I have anxiety, but I'm learning how to successfully move through the tornado with (a bit more) grace, by shifting my thoughts and actions elsewhere.

 

It’s been an internal shit storm kind of week.  Not a catastrophic storm, by any means, but I’d say a category one, debris flinging, inconvenient tornado.  A baby tornado, if you will. 

Seeing as I was flying so high, predicted the down fall, and then…well…fell, I’m a little bummed out about this current tropical depression.  I thought maybe the high would last forever this time...and it didn’t.  That’s ok, because as always, I’m convinced to find a silver lining within the thunder clouds. 

I realize that finding the joy when chaos looms is not an easy thing to do.  When I feel down, everything is down.  It’s like the baseline for joy loses altitude due to the tectonic plate shift within my head.  The amount of altitude that is lost is based on the severity of the anxiety. 

In this case, last week’s anxiety attack built up slowly until it spilled out all over my dining room table during dinner. Thankfully, I was quick to talk about it (very quick…like a million words per minute quick), and resolve it before the spiral took hold. 

That was a week ago and I have been pretty jumpy ever since.  I’ve also found myself taking things waaaaaaay too personally.  I’ve had my feelings hurt by basically everyone I know over the past seven days. 



This period of time after an anxiety attack, even a little one like this one, is like a hangover.

 

This period of time after an anxiety attack, even a little one like this one, is like a hangover.  I’m exhausted, a bit depressed, shaky, and I want nothing but to lie on the sofa, watch Netflix, and eat copious amounts of crappy food until the wreckage is cleaned up. 

I do not have that luxury right now.  I have a million things to do, both for my work and personal life, including volunteering at two upcoming surfer girl retreats. I have been looking forward to these events for months, and in order to make them happen, I have to get ahead on my to do list. 

So, I’ve decided to concentrate on work and physical activity.  I went to my weekly Yoga class and I’ve been getting up each morning and going for a three mile walk while the air is still brisk out.  I’m also mantra-ing myself to death on these walks: “You are strong!  You are killing it at work! You will succeed!”.   

Normally, my first instinct would be to go surfing, but it wasn’t this time. Instead, my first instinct was to get shit done.  I think that my head felt so cluttered with the wreckage, that I needed to do a bit of cleaning. 

The past two months have been pretty dang surfcentric, anyway, so I decided to stayed home and went from task to task, annihilating the internal trash, and organizing the projectile brain debris back into its filing cabinets. I’m pretty much caught up on all the office work that had fallen behind and, YES LAWD, it feels good!      

I also finished the commission that was sitting on my easel.  I visited my woodworking friend, and got holes drilled for the next batch of Love Clubs, thus lining up my next creative move after the commission is finished and shipped off. (Stay tuned for more on a new Love Club series!) 

Half way through the week, I realized that my mind set was improving.  A week-and-a-half later, I’m nearly all the way healed, but still feeling a bit irritable and I'm still taking things personally.  *deep sigh. I’m getting there. 

In the midst of all of this, I'm proud to say that I’ve stayed pretty dang calm.  When I’ve needed to voice the things that were annoying me to my family, I’ve done so in a reasonable and humbling way.  Also, my emotional state isn't as volatile as it has been in the past, after an attack. 

 

I took action, and stayed active.

I think the reason why is because I didn’t wallow in the anxiety puddle.  I didn’t “woe as me” myself to death, and allow the depression part of the hang over to take hold.  Instead, I took action, and stayed active. 

I made improvements and progress within my work life, beginning with creating a daily to do list each morning, which directs me and helps me keep focus and momentum.  Sometimes I think half the anxiety battle is getting past those moments when I just want to surrender to the void. 

But the thing is, there is nothing in the void…that’s why it’s called the void.  It’s like eating empty calories.  It might taste good while you’re doing it, but if you do it for too long and too often, you’re going to have some health issues and a hell of a tummy ache. 

We all go through these moments of overwhelm.  For me, the key is to not let the overwhelm grow and take over.  I managed to avoid that by keeping momentum. By concentrating on actions that further something I care about, I didn’t head into panic central. 

In fact, the opposite happened.  I actually started feeling accomplished and like I was doing exactly was I was supposed to, instead of running around like a headless chicken. Maybe I’m tired of bumping into walls. Maybe I’m just getting better with practice.

Whatever the case may be, it worked, simply because I GOT TO WORK.  I have a number of completed projects to show for it, and I’m caught up so I can go to my surfer girl retreats without anything hanging over my head.

In the comments below, I’d love you to tell me one action that you could take the next time anxiety attempts to blow your house down, to keep you moving in the right direction instead of letting anxiety derail you. May the force be with you.


The image at top is from my Lovely Mess series.  Fractured Comfort, Acrylic & Paper on Canvas, 8"x8", $160.
Comfort can come and go.  It can break and heal.  It's an ebb and flow.  The trick is to not fall into the cracks and to focus on what's positive. The hearts are torn and partially hidden but they are there...  CLICK HERE to have this reminder for your own.

 

 

I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes.  To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure.

How I Predicted My Last Anxiety Attack and It Made My Brain Go Wonky

If it’s true that we manifest our own destiny, is it also possible that we manifest our own suffering?  Does that mean we can stop it as well?

Last week I talked about how I’ve been feeling so good that it’s hard not to believe a down swing is right around the corner.  I discussed the mind fuck that this creates for me as it causes me to question if I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That was last Thursday.

On Monday night, I had a panic attack, just as I predicted.  Even though I felt it brewing all day, I remained positive that perhaps it was nothing.  That, of course, could also be called denial. 

By the time my hubbie got home from work, I was completely irritable.  He told me something and asked me to keep it in confidence and my reply was to get totally defensive and ask if he thought I went around gossiping all the time.  (I mean, why else would he say that, right?)

Of course, that wasn’t the case, and that is partially why I asked.  It is important for me to know when I’m being overly sensitive (anxiety), and taking everything completely personally (anxiety), and feeling annoyed/depressed/jumpy at him and everything else around me (anxiety/anxiety/anxiety).

 

The familiar thoughts that everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around, that I’m a nuisance, and that he was completely disgusted with me because I was crumbling right in front of him, all began to dig deep and set roots into my brain.

 

I sat down with him to eat dinner and felt the pressure building up behind my eyes, like my head would explode any second.  The familiar thoughts that everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around, that I’m a nuisance, and that he was completely disgusted with me because I was crumbling right in front of him, all began to dig deep and set roots into my brain.

I talked through it.  Half rambling, half crying, but talking never-the-less.  I interrupted myself to take long, deep breaths.  I shook my hands down at my sides to release some of the vibrations that I felt running through my body.  I described to him the feeling of having 100 ideas circulating in my head all at once and how the words feel like they get tied up in knots around my tongue.

Part of my rambling was that I kind of believe I did it to myself.  I mean, last week I straight up said I was due for a low, and here it was just five days later.  WTF?  Part of me thinks that I am responsible.  Part of me thinks that I’m giving myself WAY too much credit.  I mean, am I really that powerful?

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that I was in a vast open space, there didn’t even seem to be a ground, and in the middle, was what I can only describe as an enormous, tangled, cluster fuck.  It was an ever moving and shifting mass of wires, cables, and rope of varying sizes and textures, that was knotting in on itself in constant movement.  It was terrifying and as big as a mountain.

In the dream, I would feel an incredible amount of internal space, like the distance between my shoulder and hand was miles long.  You know that hell hallway in dreams that keeps getting longer?  Well imagine that feeling, but inside your body.

Then my gaze would go from the cluster, to a tiny daisy, just below it in its shadow.  That simplicity was comforting.  Then I would wake.

For years, I had this dream.  I still have it occasionally, usually when I have a fever.  It is the only visual I have for a panic attack.  Just thinking about it can bring up a shaky feeling in my belly.  But maybe it has been trying to tell me something, even all those years ago.

I DO believe that I brought on my anxiety attack.  I’m the person that would play hooky and call in sick to work, only to ACTUALLY get sick like 4 days later.  My brain body connection is strong and apparently still listening to old stories.  I made my brain go wonky by telling it that it was due to go wonky. 

But I think there may be something in those dreams that was telling me a secret.  That tiny flower sitting in the shadow of the madness is the key.  It always has been. 

Last week, I told myself that I was going to have a bout of anxiety.  I can’t help thinking those thoughts.  I wish I could but they are decades of habit in the making.  But maybe, with the help of that daisy, I can begin to reframe them, and start developing a new habit of focusing on something small and beautiful within the noise.

In reality, I’ve been processing this all year.  I created an entire series of paintings called, A Lovely Mess, which is all about finding the beauty within the chaos.  That’s what the dream was trying to tell me all along. 

The tornado may be huge, looming, chaotic, and loud.  It may be casting a huge shadow on everything around it, but look closely.  I bet there is a tiny bit of beauty in that shadow whose only existence is to say, “I’m still here!  I have always been here!  My roots are deep! I will never leave!”

So, the next time my brain goes wonky, or I predict that it’s due to go wonky, or when I can’t seem to see anything beautiful amongst the chaos, I’m going to think about that flower.  My hope is that by just changing the thought pattern, the attack won’t happen.  I’ll keep you posted.

Do you feel you manifest your own anxiety?  How do you keep it at bay? In the comments below, I’d love to know if you have a go to mantra, breathing exercise, or any other strategy for stopping anxiety before it grips you.  If not, maybe try my flower?  Let me know how it goes.

 

I have obviously been looking for my flower all along.  The painting at top is from my Lovely Mess series. Tending the Garden, 8"x8", Acrylic and Paper on Canvas.  It is for purchase for $160. CLICK HERE to purchase.    

Search for the beauty in the chaos.  It's still there amongst the noise.

 
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes.  To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the Anxiety Cycle by Allowing Positivity to Rule

Sorry, negativity. There’s a new sheriff in town.

I’m just going to admit it.  I’ve been feeling pretty dang pleased with myself these days.  Being one who is aware of my anxiety cycles, I’m at the top of the wave right now.  Peaking in bliss and comfort.  I feel strong.  My energy is good.  My confidence is on point.  To be honest, I’m at the part of the cycle when I feel like maybe, just maybe, this time the peak won’t end. 

That thought brings with it a certain trepidation.  “Is everything too good to be true?  When will the down swing start?”  Then my mind will go on a full-fledged spiral. “Had I not started thinking about the down side, would it not have come?  Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy?” 

Then I’ll begin beating myself up for thinking negatively while I’m up so high.  “You just can’t stand the high without the low. Huh, Girl?  Maybe you like it somehow.  Maybe you need the lows so you feel the highs…”  The maybes can go on forever.

But something feels different to me.  My anxiety is rooted in my previous lack of being able to communicate my feelings, needs and wants.  It grew from past destructive behaviors that I abandoned over six years ago.  I have worked hard, for literally years, to change my mind set and thought patterns. 

So why should my anxiety cycle be the same?  Why shouldn’t I believe that the high can last longer now and maybe the low, isn’t quite as far down as it used to be.  Isn’t it plausible that my story can change? Yes. Yes, it is.

I cannot remember the last time that I was asked a question, and felt my words clumsily stumble over themselves in my mouth; rearranging their order based on what I thought the asker wanted the answer to be.  It’s different now.  I am clear.  I say what I think and feel. 

I say it in conversation and when I write these essays.  I say it when I’m in the ocean and standing at my easel.  My language is now rooted in strength and clarity.  My decision making based on the feeling sparked inside. 

What choice brings joy? 

What choice brings complications? 

What choice is plain none of my business? 

When I pick up my paint brush and create a shape on the canvas, my next move is based on what feels good.  When I think, “Now it’s time for red,” I don’t have an internal dialog on why or if that’s “right”, or that maybe I should use purple instead, or that red isn’t the new black, and I should choose something that’s trending…  I start mixing paint.  

When I’ve been on my surfboard for three hours and I’m getting tired, I may think to myself, “I’m just going to paddle past the break and rest for a minute.” I don’t then do head laps, wondering if that makes me look weak, or makes women surfers look bad, or that I should be able to keep going for another hour...  I paddle out and roll off my board to rest on the ocean surface for a moment.

I’m close to that in every decision I make.  Almost a knee jerk reaction.  Nearly involuntary.  Nearly.  But damn, I’m feeling so good.  Now if I could only stop worrying about when I’m not going to be feeling good. 

Sometimes I wonder if anxiety moves around the body.  I certainly have felt it in my stomach and in my heart beat.  I have felt it steal my voice from my throat.  I have felt it in my knees, shoulders, hips and wrists.  It likes to settle behind my eyes.

I’m curious as to when moves from physical manifestations to holding court in my brain.  I wonder how much is actually within my control?  How much is chemical?  What portion is simply bad wiring? 

Ah the questions… They could go on forever.  I think I’m going to say “no” to the questions before they are fully formed.  As soon as I feel them brewing between my eyes, I’ll just interrupt them.  They won’t be able to come to maturity.  Just, “No, anxiety, absolutely not.” 

We, people who suffer with anxious brains, are challenged decision makers.  It’s not because we lack the faculties. It’s because we hear 10 different scenarios, in 10 different volumes, all presenting themselves to us at once, when we’re asked what we want for fucking dinner. 

Now that I’ve changed some of my thinking and created stronger patterns, it might be time for the good changes to hijack the negative habits. I mean, positivity has been doing cross fit in my brain for years now.  I think it might be time for a coup to get negativity out of the lobel office. 

If I’m being completely honest, I think that has happened already.  I just don’t want to jinx it!

 

The painting at top is from my Lovely Mess series.  Enamored Flaws, 12"x12", Acrylic and Paper on Canvas.  Framed in a gold floater frame.  It is for purchase for $480. CLICK HERE to purchase.  Search for the beauty in the chaos.  It's still there amongst the noise.

 

I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes.  To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure 

How I Choose Beauty While Accepting Chaos

Take the beauty as it comes.  Accept the chaos along the way.

I’ve been thinking, painting, and writing a lot lately about transition, chaos, and the beauty that may sometimes be hidden by the two.  During the hardest times of my life, the most challenging feelings within the hardships were always the same: fear and hopelessness.

We are in a tenuous time right now, and one where the default emotions could easily be fear and hopelessness. There are so many things to be angry and scared about.  Children in cages, xenophobia, racism, sexism and environmental doom come to mind.  I’m sure you could add to that list without batting an eye. 

I’m a sensitive person.  By typing the above 2 paragraphs, my eyes have filled with tears.  If I chose to focus on these things full time, I’m not sure I could go on.  I have to find a balance between wanting to be educated, aware, and of service, and not wanting to go bat shit crazy. 

I have a few notes on my desk for what I thought were 4 separate blog posts, but I realize that they are all notes for this one.  How to cope in this darkness.  How to stay light.  How to see the beauty amongst all of this insanity.  The following is a short and by no means complete list of how I’m managing to put one foot in front of the other right now. 

And just so you know, I take these steps bravely, with enthusiasm, and with the belief that there is a positive future ahead.  I’m not crying in my coffee every morning at all.  In many ways, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.  (Which may or may not be totally fucked up, but hey, I’ve never really done things in the “right” way or order, so it kind of makes sense.)

#1 Stop, Drop, and Breathe

The simplest of my strategies.  When I get in my head, I can actually get so lost in my thoughts that I begin to panic.  My heart rate quickens and my breath becomes shallower. I get mildly confused, like I can’t hold onto one thought at a time.  They keep slipping through my grasp.  I’ll feel tears behind my eyes like they are trying to bust through a dam.  If you’re familiar with anxiety, then you know what I’m describing: an anxiety attack.  

I’ve learned how to stop this cycle before it gets beyond the shallow breathing, and the solution is pretty dern obvious.  I make myself breathe better.  It goes like this: Inhale for a four count. Hold the breath for a four count. Exhale for an 8 count. Repeat as long as necessary for my heart rate to slow and the panic to subside.  It usually doesn’t take that long, although I’ve been practicing it for a while now. 

#2 Graciously take the beauty as it comes and accept the chaos along the way. 

Remember when we were little and we read children’s stories and many of them ended with the line, “…and they all lived happily ever after.”  Yeah…what a crock of shit that lesson is. It took me a laughably long time to realize that doesn’t happen.  I may have “happily after” periods of time but that “ever” part is a problem. 

I have issues with teaching our children that there is a finish line they’ll one day reach in life.  As much as I hate sounding like a downer, that finish line…well…it’s death.  That is the ONLY finish line there actually is.  Everything else is one big, fat, journey, and one that is filled with both incredible hardships, and infinite beauty. 

The trick for me was learning how to not completely fall apart, slip into self-victimization or into hopelessness during the hard times.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel those things, but I have a new way of dealing with them: acceptance that they will come, and they will go. And also, that the beauty found in everyday life does not disappear in hard times. 

We need to learn from our pain but not focus on it too much.  Our focus must be directed at the beautiful growth that comes afterwards.    


The beauty may get pushed onto the back burner for a minute while we’re putting out our proverbial fires, but it’s always there.  Searching it out when things are hard may seem to be counter-intuitive, but man, does it make life’s monkey wrenches easier to handle.  If I think about it, fire, while a destructive element that can cause pain, is also mesmerizingly beautiful and an exceptional tool, if used correctly. 

Also, did you know that some seeds must reach a certain temperature in order to germinate?  Fires can be a literal necessity for growth to occur.  We need to learn from our pain but not focus on it too much.  Our focus must be directed at the beautiful growth that comes because of the hardship.    

#3 Laugh in the face of adversity 

Have you ever had one of those moments where so many things are going wrong at once that you drop to the floor in a fit of laughter?  Well I have. Sometimes there is simply nothing else to do.  I suppose I could (and do at times) cry, scream, pass out and/or eat crappy food.  However, laughter is much more fun. 

My Love Club project is a great example of this.  I got overwhelmed by the idea that my rights as a woman could be stripped from me, while also being confronted with the fact that we have never been treated equally, and the feeling that we are expected to live up to unrealistic beauty and “lady-like” standards, while operating with grace in this world that seems to belittle and underestimate us. Not mention that we don’t feel very safe in said world.  I’m seething just typing this.

That anger led to the Love Club. A satirical art project meant to bring attention to everything I wrote above. I had to laugh at the ridiculousness that my friend down in California didn’t feel safe walking her Pitbull in the park across from her house.  I had to find humor that women are carrying hammers with them on their morning jogs.  I had to chuckle at the fact that I don’t know if it’s safer to make eye contact, smile, and say hello to strange men on the street, and risk a nasty sneer and an up and down sexual assessment, or not respond to the hello, steel myself while looking straight ahead, and risk being called a snotty bitch for not engaging.

I channeled that anger and frustration into art that I found hilarious, and yet meaningful.  I had to put it somewhere.  Otherwise, I felt pretty dang hopeless.

#4 Look to others for inspiration 

Sometimes I can’t find the inspiration within myself.  I’m overwhelmed with such a feeling of hopelessness that all I want is the comfort and safety of my bed. Times like these, I feel, are the most tenuous for me.  I will say that this particular brand of anxiety doesn’t happen to me as much anymore because I take pro-active steps to not let it get that far.  Other times, it can’t be helped. I have been dug out of that place before by others who inspire me.  Most are women.  My current favorite femme de force: Bethany Hamilton.

“I didn’t need easy.  I just needed possible.”  - Bethany Hamilton


When she was 13-years-old, Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark while surfing at her home break in Hawaii.  She was back in the ocean surfing 4 weeks later, and won her first championship within 2 years.  Her spiritual life, love of family, and passion for surfing got her through and now she’s a wife and mother of two with no less than 6 championship titles under her belt.  She does all this with one arm.  ONE ARM!

Not only that, but in 2016, when she was nominated for a ESPY in the category of “Best Female Athlete with a Disability”, she pulled her name out of the running.  Her reasoning?  “To me, the word "disabled" does not match my life, and who I am, and what I've accomplished and the way I go about every single day.” She went on to say that if she had been nominated for “best adaptive athlete”, she would have accepted it gladly.

Of her amazing recovery and career, she says, “I didn’t need easy.  I just needed possible.” Yeah…they don’t call her the Soul Surfer for nothing.  Women like her make me believe that I can do anything and that nothing is out of reach…if I’m willing to work for it.  Also, her experience was harrowing.  She nearly died, was disfigured, and still saw the beauty and positivity within her life.  Man, most of my anxiety is caused by much smaller problems. She helps me put my troubles into perspective.

These are just a few of my tools.  We all must find what works for us.  If we don’t, I fear that we will be a people buried under layers of anger, dissatisfaction and anxiety.  This perspective will come easily for some, and require work for others, but like Bethany said, it doesn’t need to be easy, just possible, and the possibilities are endless.

 

 The sketch at top is for a new painting commission that I am ever grateful to be hired to do. 
I'm a lucky lady.  

 

I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes.  To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure 

That Year I Had a "Lump" in My Throat: How My Anxiety Manifests Physically

Anxiety presents itself in different ways depending on the person. For me, it can manifest both mentally and physically.

 

There is an evil connection between my mind and my body.  Ok, it’s probably not actually “evil”, but it sure feels like it sometimes. Here’s how it works: I have something going on that’s causing me stress.  I use my tools which are to keep a good work pace up, exercise, some meditation, get in the ocean and make art. 

Apparently, this isn’t what I should be doing.  What should I be doing?  I have no freakin’ idea, but my mind will let me know that my attempts to tamper the stress are futile. How does it communicate to me?  By sending pain signals all over my body.  

Chronic, undiagnosed knee pain started when I was about 13.

 

As I got older, I managed to get that to calm down, only to have my back, hips and shoulders flare up. If it got bad enough, even my wrists would hurt.  In my 30s I learned some mental exercises to get the pain signals sent to my joints to stop…and they did, for the most part…and then the migraines started.

There was never any diagnosis or reason for the pain.  No injury, autoimmune, or other illness.  It was pretty frustrating until I learned about the mind body connection.  Our minds are powerful things that always look for the path of least resistance.  Once those pain pathways are established, it’s challenging to get them to change.

I know this all sounds a little bit “woo woo”, but I genuinely believe this and I believe it because I no longer have the joint problems unless I’m under a huge load of stress. I also know it because I once had a lump in my throat for an entire year.

One morning, a little less than 3 years ago, I woke up with a mass in my throat.  I could feel it all the time.  It was ever present.  When I talked, swallowed, yawned, laid down to sleep, it was always there.  I could actually press on my throat and feel a little "pop" happen.  I went to see my doctor.

My primary care physician knows about my struggle with anxiety and depression.  I have been very open with her about how I choose to deal with it, and my desire to not take pharmaceuticals.  I stopped going to see doctors a long time ago whenever I felt pain (although we address it each year at my annual checkup), but this time was different. I had an actual lump in my throat, so I went to see her.

What she told me blew my mind.  There was absolutely nothing there.  No lump.  No mass.  No obstruction what so ever.  She told me that feeling as though there is a lump in your throat is one of the most common anxiety symptoms that people get. It’s not my body.  It’s my mind. 

A good friend of mine, who does lean towards the “woo woo” side of healing, told me that this feeling is in direct correlation with not speaking my truth.  I tried to roll my eyes at this, but I also knew that having quit drinking a few years prior, I was just now learning how to communicate my wants and needs, so it oddly made sense. 

 

I was giving up a good paying job with people who had treated me like family for nearly a decade, to jump off a cliff into my own business.  I spent my final 30 days there thinking I was getting a tumor. 

 

What else had happened just before the “lump” showed up?  I gave notice at my day job in order to become a full-time, professional artist.  I had never not had a regular job.  This was an unknown that I was barreling into head first.  I was terrified of failing and letting down myself and my loved ones. I was giving up a good paying job with people who had treated me like family for nearly a decade, to jump off a cliff into my own business.  I spent my final 30 days there thinking I was getting a tumor. 

I was fucking scared.  Fear, it seems, is a straight path to discomfort for me.  This also made a lot of sense to me as I had recently come to the realization that I had spent the majority of my life terrified of just about everything.  So, my mind sent a signal saying, “Hey!  She’s not dealing with her fear in a healthy way and I don’t know what to do with all of this anxious energy, so I’m going to put it in her throat.”    

After my visit to the doc, I increased my exercise regime, I got into the ocean more often, and I brought a regular meditation practice into my life.  I was going through one of my biggest transitions to date. If I failed, the only person to blame was myself.  By the end of my first year in business, the “lump” still in my throat, I actually thought about throwing in the towel. 

I questioned if I was strong enough for the stress of being an entrepreneur. I doubted my abilities as an artist.  I was completely overwhelmed in having to learn about marketing in this age of social media and how to stand out in a world that has infinite content to choose from. I had wanted to embrace myself fully, knowing that art was at the root of who I am.  For the first time, I was actually being myself.  So, why was I so scared?  Why all the self-doubt?  

There is a cycle that starts for me that is extremely hard to stop once it’s in motion.  I get scared.  I don’t talk about it. Fear manifests itself in pain and/or discomfort. I get freaked out about that.  I still don’t talk about it.  The pain and discomfort gets worse and now I’m completely beside myself thinking I could very well be dying.  The pain and discomfort goes into overdrive.  And on and on I go until I'm a puddle on the floor.

I decided that there was no way I could handle another year like that.  I had to make a decision. I was in front of my bathroom mirror and I looked at myself in the eyes and said, “This is bull shit. Either be an artist and run your business bravely and with confidence, or just quit already and go beg for your job back.”  Then I lost it.  The idea of quitting because I was scared was awful.  Was I really going to give up like that?

No.  I was not.  I wanted this.  Bad.  I looked back up at myself with resolve.  Eyes hardened, banishing the victim that had been standing there mere seconds before.  I decided that there was no room and no purpose for the fear.  I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?  I make no money, have to rent out my house, and go adventure in my van.  That didn’t sound all that bad, actually.  While I did have to remind myself of this regularly, the “lump” was gone within the month.  No kidding.

Anxiety is a bitch.  Untreated anxiety, makes me physically hurt.  I don’t have the lump anymore but sometimes, when I’m particularly stressed, I feel it a little.  My joint pain is not the issue it used to be.  When I feel it creeping in, usually all I have to do is ask, “What’s actually bothering you, Marigny?” and it goes away.  Seriously.

Sometimes I think we simply need to check in with ourselves more often.  My mom and I talk most days and I ask her every time how she’s doing.  How often do we ask ourselves that? In a world where we are constantly looking for outward approval, maybe it would do good to check inward with ourselves every now and then. 

Moving forward, I’m going to attempt to build a new pathway in my brain.  Every time I ask someone how they’re doing, I will also ask myself because I think we could all use a little more STLC: Self-Tender-Loving-Care. 

 

The painting at top is from my Lovely Mess series and is titled, Incoming Tide, 8x10, Acrylic and Paper on Canvas.  $360 includes gold floater frame. 

 

I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes.  To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure 

How Sitting in a Huge, Steamy Pile of Transition is a Little Bit Stressful.

We are in the middle of a huge, hot, steamy, stanky pile of transition, and it is scary AF.

 

There is no doubt that we are all up to our eye balls in stress and anxiety.  Adults are feeling it.  Kids are feeling it.  People (like me) who were once only wanting to see and spread “positive news” on Facebook are no longer able to ignore it. (And by the way, I felt it even when I was ignoring it….I don’t know why I thought denial was a sound strategy…) The bottom line is, shit is fucked up right now.  We are in a huge Pile Of Transition.  It’s a big, hot, steamy, stanky pile, and folks are getting stuck in it whether they like it or not.

When we get stuck in the P.O.T. we all react differently.  Some folks will sit in it and quietly let it happen while closing their eyes and hoping it will simply disappear (see “positive news spreader” as described above).  Others, are trying desperately to make sure that everyone else is also in the P.O.T., or are at the very least least aware of the P.O.T., and so they attempt to educate us all on the areas of the P.O.T. they are most passionate about. 

Many have fallen into a place of despair and can’t see anything but the P.O.T., while others are so pissed about the P.O.T. that they’re yelling, screaming, and stomping their feet, meanwhile the P.O.T. is splashing all over the damn place.  And then there are those, and I think this may be the largest group, who are terrified of this P.O.T.  They can’t see an end to this mess, are not sure where it’s heading or what they should be doing, and the unknowingness scares the crap out of them. 

We are an anxious people.  

 

People are scared, y’all.  I’m scared, I admit it.  Any sort of transition is hard.  I mean, the old saying about moving and funerals being the two hardest things a family can go through is totally true.  That being said, we are a people, 327 million strong, who are moving and mourning ALL AT ONCE.  We are fucked up right now.    

Women’s rights are being threatened.  Racial tensions are being called out.  The Earth is LITERALLY DYING. Climate change is wreaking havoc.  Politically speaking…honestly, I can’t even go there, but one of the worst fears I have has to do with our White House and global war. Not to mention the divide within our country that only seems to be getting bigger by the day.  I mean, in what universe did I ever think that white supremacy would be an issue in this day and age?

One of the biggest mind fucks for me has been the realization that I have been living blind.  Women haven’t just now begun being treated unequally.  Many if not all black Americans will tell you that race problems have been here this whole time.  People have been screaming about environmental issues for a long as I can remember.  Remember Save the Whales in the 80s?  That’s probably my first memory of seeing environmentalists at work.  That was almost 40 years ago!

So why now?  Has the age of the internet managed to disperse information so effectively that we are all now finally well educated about the health of our planet?  Has the ability to upload videos of white people calling the cops on black people, who are simply living their lives, finally shown us the reality of race relations?  Have we been so indoctrinated into a Hollywood culture that it took famous people calling out other famous people’s unforgivable assaults and sexual objectifications for us to take this shit seriously?

Or does it even matter why now? 

We’re here.  We’ve created this pile of transformation either through our own actions, indifference or denial.  Now we have to work as a people to get out of it.  Queue panic here because this is where it gets hard for me.  Are we past the point of being able to do that?  Can we work together at all? We are so divided.  

 

This is not comfortable.  I am not comfortable.  Change is not comfortable. 

 

But then there is hope.  I have a substantial amount of hope in my heart that all of this is leading us to a better way of living.  I know from my own personal transformation, that change is fucking hard, but possible, and so worth it in the end….until the next change, that is.  I am a woman who used to be completely ruled by fear, who is now having lengthy conversations with friends and strangers about how to get past it.  It’s a surprise to me too.

 

Acceptance, hope and patience is what we need to embrace in order to get us out of our P.O.T. 

 

We must accept where we are now, and accept how we got here.  We must keep hope alive that we can dig out of our pile and also accept that this is going to take some time.  Even if there is a shift in White House power, this is going to take a minute to resolve.  And I’m not sure resolution is what we’re looking for. 

Evolution may be a better word.  When I was a kid, and we were learning about evolution, I would look at that drawing of man, as we went from walking on all fours to standing upright with a spear in hand, and often wondered if man noticed evolution as it was happening.  Did man ever look around and say, “Hey Guys!  Anyone notice we don’t walk on all fours anymore?” or, “Hey Y’all! I don’t have so much body hair these days! You?”  

Granted, this current evolution may be a psychic change more than a physical one, but that is what we are experiencing.  We are in the middle, if not at the tipping point, of an evolution.  If you think about it, that’s pretty freakin’ cool.  Scary, yes, but cool never-the-less.

So, what in the hell are we supposed to do?  I wish I could say.  I think each of us has our own way of dealing with the current P.O.T. and so I will only speak for myself.  I have come to the realization that I cannot remove myself from the P.O.T. and that I am also not above it.  None of us are.  I must engage, but I also have the option to engage in a way that is healthy for me. 

I do know that the time for me to be quiet and polite is over.  I’m not saying that we all have to be out on the street, yelling and carrying signs (although that’s fantastic), but we can all be doing something each and every day to help make the world a better place.

For starts, we can be kinder to each other.  We can look each other in the eye.  Even strangers.  Even the one holding the sign that says, “Anything Helps”.  I can’t afford to give everyone money, but I can certainly make eye contact and say hello. 

We can start by treating people, ALL PEOPLE, like they matter.  It’s small, but it’s something, and hopefully something that will give people hope because, frankly, we’ve each been acting like the world revolves around our individual selves for far too long.  We are small, so let’s help each other crawl out of this P.O.T. and walk upright, with spear in hand, because if kindness is step 1, then step 2 is fighting for myself AND the person standing next to me regardless of sex, race, economics or politics.  We are one.  Let’s start acting like it.

 

The painting at top is from my Lovely Mess series and is titled, Night Rainbow (24x24, Acrylic & Paper on Canvas, $1200). This is a nod to one of my favorite children's books by Cooper Edens called, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow. Edens also suggests, "If there is no happy ending, make one out of cookie dough."  Making our own happy ending seems like good advice, these days.  

  

I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes.  To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure