As an artist I’m always noticing and observing. Most of the time I think that I’m being clever and quite sneaky about my observations; I am solely in the background, not part of the story. This week however, I was in the midst of it whether I wanted to be or not. The forces of nature took over.
For the last three days, every time I stepped outside, I was surrounded by butterflies. As I walked down the street they playfully circled around me. As I laid at the beach they fluttered about my head like little fairies. At first, I just smiled at these beautiful little creatures and let them become an afterthought. But everywhere I went there they were, secretly whispering into my ears, “see us, notice us, dance with us”.
So of course I researched the symbolism of a butterfly and found that most often it is associated with change or transformation, and in many cases this change is connected to one’s soul. Most importantly, as far as I can tell this change tends to be positive, full of hope and life.
Although I’m not completely whacky where I believe that everything is symbolic of something else, I’d like to think that occasionally there are earthly signs that guide us if we are open to them, and this one seemed to slap me in the face.
Who knows, maybe nothing will come of it, or maybe I am now a bit more prepared to embrace whatever grand changes unfold.
As a child I was deathly afraid of dogs. Even if a dog was on the other side of the street, I would start crying and make my mom pick me up until the dog and the fear passed. I’m not exactly sure why I was so scared but as I reflect back, I was pretty much afraid of everything all the way up until I left home for college. Perhaps it was a combination of overprotective parents along with my quirky, introverted personality. Anyways from that moment on nothing scared me anymore...I still can’t quite figure out what prompted the change, but I imagine that the freedom of taking care of myself and meeting new people opened my mind to endless possibilities, and fiercely confronting everything I once feared.
Somewhere along the way, I went from deathly afraid of dogs to loving pretty much every dog I have had the pleasure of meeting. I no longer saw their wolf-like qualities and large fangs, but instead saw their kind demeanor, warm hearts and instinctive, protective nature.
Most of all, I LOVE Bear! He’s not even my dog; he’s my sister’s dog. We have this special connection that I can’t really explain. I babysit and visit him often enough where now my life would be empty without him. He is playful and loving, wild yet calm, and brings me an inner joy unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Perhaps for the first time I understand what it means to be unconditionally loved.
The artwork above is silly and simple and just popped into my head as I was thinking of Bear this week. Just like me he enjoys the simple pleasures found in nature. One day I might commit to adopt a dog of my own. But till then, I’m lucky that I get to spend so much time with this big guy, who is now over 100 pounds by the way!
As we get older, we tend to live the same year over and over again, and still call it living. It’s usually not intentional and it’s a common habit for us to fall into. I think some of it stems from fear of change, and some of it stems from a sense of responsibility. However, I’ve come to realize that we only have this one life, and I don’t want to waste it falling into my own version of the movie, Groundhog’s Day.
One of my absolute favorite things to do is to take road trips. Each summer I try to travel to a new place. I love the experiences that happen along the way. I love the intimate moments of meeting strangers, and running into beautiful places that I couldn’t have possibly imagined exist in real life. And most of all I love the inspiration I get to continue creating my artwork.
I truly believe that life should be an adventure. If we make the mistake of looking back all of the time, we miss what lies ahead. As many of my readers know I’ve come to embrace change instead of fear it, and let me tell you that life has been infinitely better.
So this summer as soon as the school year lets out, this art teacher is dusting her feet of this big city and heading out to Virginia. I’m packing up the Jeep full of art supplies, crappy food and loud rock music, and hitting the open road.
Why did I share this story with you? I suppose it's a reminder that you too have the power to create your own adventures and only you can make them happen. So if you’re stuck in a rut, snap out of it for goodness sake, and go experience something amazing!
"I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me."
I must say that this has been the darkest of winters as far back as I can remember. Never have I felt as surrounded by ill will, suffering and anger as I have these past few months. There were loved ones going through the most difficult kinds of heart ache, I experienced broken relationships with those closest to me, and at work I came across some of the most challenging behavior students I have had thus far in my teaching career. It seemed as if the light would never return.
But something amazing happened this week. It was almost as if some sort of magical door opened and brought the light back into my life. I didn’t even try; it just happened. It was one of those weeks where I made it through every green light on my way to work. I have a new group of students who are once again amazing, fun and kind. Relationships are slowly repairing themselves and others that are not-so-good are dissolving naturally as they should. It feels as though balance has been restored, along with my sanity.
I suppose it's good to go through these dark experiences from time to time so that when the light comes back, we appreciate it that much more. And as always with every experience, good, bad, or absolutely terrible, we can learn from these situations if we choose to reflect on them.
So the moral of this story is just when you think you can’t take anymore and you’re sitting in a dark, empty room with no way out, know that with absolute certainty, the light will find its way back to you.
Spirituality means something different to everyone. For some it means being part of an organized religion, for others it may be a personal connection through meditation, private prayer, quiet reflection, yoga, etc., and for certain folks, it’s a combination of practices.
For me the journey is ongoing and forever changing. While I know that some things will forever remain a mystery, I still question instead of follow blindly. I believe in miracles as much as I believe in science. Every so often something happens to me or I meet someone who makes me question my beliefs all over again.
What I do believe is that there is something greater beyond what we see and know. I like to call this entity God, even though it may not be in the traditional sense. I feel closest to God when I am surrounded by nature, especially bodies of water; and trees, I love trees! I love how each tree leans a certain way, and how some are weathered while others are newly born. I love how majestically they stand and how they protect us from sun and wind and other elements of nature. I love how each branch twists and bends in a different way, sometimes intertwining with other branches and sometimes all on its own. I love how trees shed their leaves in the darkest, coldest of days and then spring to life once again. I could paint trees the rest of my life and be perfectly happy.
On a side note, I was dating this fellow a short time ago and during our brief relationship we had taken a few road trips together. As we drove, I would point out how much I loved certain trees along the way. Being the angry, bitter little man that he was, he grew exponentially annoyed with me, finally exploding, “they all look exactly the same!". I kinda knew right then and there that it wouldn’t last;)
Meanwhile on this past Easter Sunday, I chose to be close to God by surrounding myself in nature and doing what I love most...painting, of course! I sat by the lake, found a fantastic tree with a little shade, and I tried to capture a little tiny piece of this miraculous world in my painting. It actually ended up not being a very good painting, but the process of it made it all worth while.
For me my spirituality will always be connected to nature and often expressed through my art. Wishing everyone a very happy Easter and a hope that you’ve found your own connection to your spirituality on this Easter Sunday and in each day that lies ahead.
I had the urge to work with watercolors again this fine, snowy morning in April (Snow in April? What the !*^#?).
Anyway, as I sketched out my idea I day dreamt of crimson flowing silk. Interestingly enough I hated myself in red for most of my life. My sister always looked really pretty in red when we were younger. I both loved and envied how she wore it so well. I think it was too bold for me because I didn’t want to be seen back then; I wanted to sort of blend in with the background.
Only recently have I embraced the rich, bold flavors of red: a bit of crimson, a touch of ruby, a sprinkle of rose to dress up my wardrobe. Perhaps now the difference is that every so often I want to stand out a bit. It’s funny how something as simple as a color can mean so much more than just a color. Even still today I only wear red on rare occasions when the mood strikes me.
So why the dead bird? This part of my artwork was inspired by a lovely story that my friend shared with me. This past week as she walked to work she saw not one, but three dead birds. Not so lovely yet, right? However, upon looking up possible meanings she found out that a dead bird can often symbolize a new beginning. So instead of seeing things in a negative way, keep in mind that things aren’t always as they seem. I’d like to think that the dead birds represent a mourning of sorts, where one has to mourn the past in order to begin again.
The only certainty in life is that things will change, over and over and over again. As important as it is to remember the past, especially those great memories, it is equally important to embrace what is to come. After all, without new beginnings life would be rather dull now wouldn’t it?
Life has gotten a bit crazy these past few weeks. Between colds, house guests, and an overload of work (the work that pays the bills), I haven’t had much time for my own art lately. But as I preach over and over again, we must find time to feed our souls and go to our happy places.
I decided to take a break and make time for that which I love most. I didn’t know what I was going to paint right up until I painted it. Let me just say that it is such an awesome experience to start with a blank canvas and end up with something so completely unexpected and beautiful. I began by simply mixing my favorite colors together without giving much thought to my next steps. Sometimes you can’t overthink things; you just have to let them happen and see what materializes.
I’m going to call this one Dreaming Landscapes. I imagine that this place might actually exist somewhere in the world and I hope I get to see it one day, but for now it's solely from my imagination. Lately I’ve been thinking about how small I am in comparison to this giant world we occupy for a brief moment. We go about our daily lives and get caught up in routines, forgetting to experience all that the world has to offer. Perhaps this beautiful place that I painted today is a reminder that I need to get back to seeing the world and enjoying small moments.
Maybe we all need to just let go a little...
This week I realized that for the past few months I have been surrounded by people who seem to be going through some very big life changes. It got me to thinking about how we handle change and how we process letting go of things.
When something that was once great in your life comes to an end, it’s very similar to the end of your favorite song, especially if music moves you the way that it moves me. You want it to last forever, but as you hear the last chorus, you just know it’s over. The finality of it is bitter sweet.
But think about it this way. If you love a song and you just keep playing the same song over and over again, eventually it becomes the absolute last thing that you want to here. What was once amazing is now mundane or even maddening. Logically we know it’s not possible for things to last forever exactly the way they are in our best moments, but many of us hold onto the impossible until we’re forced to let go.
Therefore when something is indeed over, whether it be a career or a relationship, it seems that it is better for your soul and well being to let it go peacefully and without regret. Enjoy the memories and all of the good things that you got from that experience, and move into the next chapter of your life.
Eventually, the music comes back again, perhaps in a different way. So when the music stops for you, be patient, close the door and turn off the lights. Eventually it will find it’s way back to you.
As an artist and teacher, I constantly need to have my creative energy flowing. It can be a bit daunting to keep my own work going when I’m full on teaching and also trying to keep pushing my students to be self-sufficient and self-motivated in their own creative endeavors.
Most of the time, my creative side runs on autopilot and ideas just come to me. Things that I see or experience in the real world trigger something, and my artwork builds into something completely original only slightly based on my initial thought. It’s quite amazing actually.
But every once in a while, I shut down. My imagination literally looks like a blank page in a sketchbook, or sometimes like a black hole. It’s not just a creative block, it feels more like my creativity was sucked into a vortex and may never return. So dramatic, I know! This is when I go back to my previous work to figure out where my past inspiration came from.
The summer before I switched careers, I was in the final stages of my Masters in Art Education. I had just spent six years in night school while working full time, and six months student teaching without any sort of income; I was pretty much at the end of my rope. But I told myself to keep drawing, keep making art, and if I keep doing what I love I will be okay. Keep in mind that when you put that much pressure on yourself and you can’t pay your bills, it’s really hard to focus on creativity.
So I went out for a walk. Everyday. I took photos all around the city. I took photos at the park, at the zoo, at the beach, and I just kept on walking for what seemed like hours and hours each day.
Then, I went back to my condo, and looked through all of my photos. I studied all of the beautiful places that I captured with my camera. Then I fell asleep and dreamt of these places in a completely different way. They turned into one big alternate universe. They turned into the drawing above, and a whole collection of drawings similar to that one.
As I drew a sort of calmness fell over me and much of the anxiety went away. Eventually everything worked out. I don’t think I would have made it if I'd lost the ability to create. It is what got me through that summer and into my first year of teaching. It’s what got me through the most difficult times in my life really.
You may be wondering where in Chicago I took the picture that inspired the drawing above and ended my creative vortex. If you’ve ever been to Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a statue of a man on a horse know as the Ulysses S. Grand statue. Underneath this statue is a small tunnel. Who knew that the real beauty, for me anyways, was not the statue but what lied beneath it.
So now when I feel uninspired, I go out and I see the world, I meet people, I travel, I live a little more, I look a little closer and it always comes back to me. I think about all of the artists and musicians whom I’m inspired by, and what it comes down to is that I like what they have to say and most often I feel a connection through similar experiences and points of view. Art really does bring us together in the most intimate way. And for some of us, it is our lifeline.
Today I’m going to brag just a tiny bit about how amazing my extended family is. About once a month we try to get together, and our monthly outing happened to be last night. As we were enjoying each others’ company, laughing and just having a fun night out like always, I came to the realization of how lucky I am to be born into such a remarkable family.
With these very special people there is no jealousy and no judgement. We just enjoy each other for who we are. It's natural, simple and the purest kind of love. As I lied in bed last night feeling perfectly content, I reflected back on all of the times these folks have been there to support me and hold me up, if you will. When I decided to pursue my endeavors as an artist, which I’m sure most people would find to be a little crazy in my late thirties, I felt nothing but love and encouragement from these dear folks.
When my parents moved out of state my extended family, without a second thought, invited me into their homes for all of the major holidays so I wouldn’t feel alone. This artwork pays tribute to the incredible people whom, simply by chance, I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by. Thank you for reaching out to hold my hand when I needed you, and thank you for bringing so much laughter into my life.
ART INSPIRED BY LIFE