Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Creative Constraints Revisited, and the Act of Showing Up

So, I've set on this journey to create constraints for myself. So far, I like what's happening. I'm actually creating art. I'm doing it. I'm proving to myself that I can create, curate and share. That I can set a schedule and stick to it. Is it easy? No. Is it worth being able to share my creations with the world? Absofriggenlutely! Am I getting a lot out of inspiring others to do the same? More than I ever imagined! That's actually the best part! My decision to do this was really to get me out of my creative rut, and to hold myself publicly accountable. But I wasn't really thinking about how it would inspire others to uncover their creative abilities as well. That's what it's all about, right?

The constraints I made have kept choice out of the equation. The hardest part is choosing an image to paint from, so I should remove that as well. Because I currently have this choice, I'm picking and choosing based on what I think might be easier or less time consuming. I thought the hibiscus would be a simple one, but it turned out to be way more complex than I thought. And some of the ones that I think will be hard may not be at all.

What's happening is I'm retraining my brain to look at things differently - to break what I'm seeing down to its parts: where the shadows are falling, how the object is shaped, where it falls compositionally, and more. It's tuning my eye, as well as my eye-to-hand coordination. I also feel like my handwriting has improved drastically! Too bad you can't see it with all this typing...

This has also opened me up to realize that if I do want to create something, all I have to do is schedule the regular time for it. Consistency and limitations are key. If I want to write a screenplay, or shoot a video, or paint a picture off my Instagram feed, all I have to do is be deliberate with my goal, and my time. Right now, it's just about breaking through my creative block. It's also about recognizing this process, and the importance of constraints, as well as the effectiveness of showing up.

Showing up is half the battle. Once I've decided that Wednesday night is my night to paint, Wednesday night is my night to paint. But if I'm going to be busy on Wednesday (queue Flight of the Conchords' Business Time song here), then I'm going to MAKE time on another night to make up for it. Tuesday night will be painting night, so that I can still hit my Thursday morning deadline. 

It's about showing up. It's about being consistent, not only for the audience with which you're sharing your work, but with yourself. The more constistent and routine we are with our output, the harder it is to fall out of habit. I've been making my bed every single morning for a year. Prior to that, it'd maybe happen once a week, if that. But to better prepare me for each day, I decided that it was going to become a part of my morning routine, once and for all. Now, it's the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning, because I know that if I don't do it then, it'll never happen. But I've also noticed that when I do make my bed, I am less likely to leave messes in other parts of my home. I feel a sense of order and balance, like I'm ready for anything. It also makes crawling into bed at the end of a long day all the more enticing.

Showing up creatively has also helped me with staying consistent with my exercise regime. I am much more likely to get up and go to the gym, because that's my morning hours are for. Nothing else. I know that I feel better and have more mental clarity and energy after working out than days when I choose not to. It's as simple and obvious as that. Working out means that I do better at my job, eat better foods, drink more water, and get more sleep. (Although I am up kinda late working on this post...) I find myself much more in tune now with how I'm feeling, physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

Showing up is not just important for our creativity, our brand, or our following, it's critical to our overall well-being. I speak from experience, because it wasn't until I started making time for myself, that I started to see the trickle effect in my life. It isn't living life by rules, it's living life by choice, rooted in what we know to be true about ourselves. Realizing what works and what doesn't is half the battle. Making a change to last a lifetime is a completely different story.

And it all starts with making the time, showing up, and doing the work. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Painting #3: The Hibiscus of Poipu

Today's painting is based on a photo that was taken during my most recent visit to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Staying on the south side in Poipu, my dad, his wife, and I would walk the mile down the road to the local shopping plaza. Along the path, we'd see sea turtles, bobbing up and down among the waves as they crashed up against the rocky shore, cactus sprinkled along the terrain, and ridiculously vibrant and mesmerizing hibiscus flowers.

There's nothing quite like the fragrance that emulates from the landscape of Hawaii. I remember it distinctively as a little girl, when my family surprised me with a trip to the island. I held onto that memory as long as I possibly could. Returning to the island several years later, it all came back to me. The locale was just as beautiful and pungent as I had remembered, if not more, especially since I was of an age where I was truly able to embrace and appreciate that powerful energy. When I was young, it was nothing short of magical. Today, it's more along the lines of divine.

I have a few other photos that I'll be using during this project, so I can go into more detail about my experiences then, but it's safe to say that Kauai is without a doubt my favorite place on the planet. Even though I have yet to travel off of this continent, I already know that nothing will come close to the beauty and awe that is Kauai.

#3: The Hibiscus of Poipu (4x4 inches, watercolor)

Original Instagram photo:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Art of Making Time

Painting #2: Central California Sunset (4x4 inches, watercolor)

Original Instagram photo:

This photo was taken during a trip to Central California to see my horse, Uno. My mom and I had stopped for dinner at Chipotle (our regular vegan-friendly spot when we're on the road), and the sunset was just too beautiful to pass up. This was taken from the parking lot, so you can see some of the lights in the picture. I took creative license, though, and left them out of the painting.

What I love so much about Instagram, and taking photos with an iPhone, is that you just never know where you're going to be when beauty strikes you. Having the ability to capture the moment (and then paint it a year later), is indeed, priceless. 

But I can't just post a photo of my next watercolor painting and then call it a day. I need some meaty content to serve up with it. So today, I want to talk about creating time. 

Wait, creating time? Doesn't everyone have the same 24 hours in a day? Yep. Which is why we have to be intentional with setting it aside for the things that truly matter to us.

I could use time to clean up my apartment (and most definitely should), but it ain't happening unless it's important to me in some way. If having a clean living space, that's organized and ready for me to be creative and spontaneous and relaxed in, well that's a different story. I can take time to go to the gym, but that treadmill won't see the likes of me unless it's going to serve a greater purpose. By realizing that exercising actually makes me a happier, more productive person, I no longer need to rely on the number of calories I'll burn as motivation.

So, if I've determined that cleaning my aparment and working out are important to me, then I must MAKE the time to do them. 

I spend most of my day managing calendars for other people. It's my job to make sure the colleagues I support are having the right conversations, at the right time, with the right people. Their time is valueable, and hard to comeby, so unless we MAKE time for them to meet about an important issue, it simply won't happen. 

This concept of setting aside time seems super rudamentary. Like, Duh! Then why don't we do this with the things that really REALLY matter to us? Like living our dream, taking risks, creating art, taking that trip, etc?

It's easy to get caught up in the things that we think are important to us, or what we think we're supposed to do. If you're simply doing it because you think you should, you aren't making time for yourself. You're letting your life situation take control. 

If we stopped and asked ourselves what we would REALLY prefer to be doing right now, chances are, it's not this. I'm flattered by the fact that you are actually taking the time to read it, but let's face it, there's definitely something deep within you that would rather be brought to fruition than this. It's okay that you're choosing to not do it right now, but it's important - critical, rather - that you recognize what it is, and why you're avoiding it. 

When it came to starting this art project, of painting/drawing two of my instagram photos per week, and publishing them online, I had to start by setting aside time. Well, first, I needed to determine my WHY. I came to terms with the fact that I just needed some sort of creative routine. I needed to remind myself that I am, in fact, very capable of being an artist. Of drawing, painting, and writing about it. But the only way I was going to prove that to myself and the world was to actually MAKE the time to show up and do the work. 

I had to treat MY schedule with the same level of importance as everyone else's. 

We make time by making a choice. When we choose to do the things that matter the most to us, we find a way to make them happen.

All images Copyright ® 2015 by Samantha Samuels

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Exercise in Creative Constraint

I owe a lot of things to the Seanwes Podcast, the main one being the fact that I'm completely inspired to get myself back on track creatively. 

If you know me, then you know that I grew up an artist. I loved to draw. I wasn't one of those kids who carried their sketchbook around with them, though. I liked too many other things for art to be all-encompassing, but, when it came time to draw, I excelled at it. Drawing allowed me to be who I was, fully, and I never remember a time when I wasn't thinking about the next thing I would create.

Over the years, the time I committed to creating diminished, and I became less and less 'interested'. My brain, now stronger in other areas such as customer service, project management, and business, made the thought of doing something creative (or what is typically considered creative) completely overwhelming to me. I missed that part of me, though. I still had the muscle, it was just greatly underused. I hadn't lost the craving to be an artist, I just lost the strength. I felt so far removed from it, that I had lost my way back.

In Sean's most recent episode, cleverly titled "6 Ways to Stay Motivated (and How to Find Drive in the First Place", he talked about the importance of setting aside specific time to be creative. That means actually scheduling it on the calendar, so that it holds just as much weight as anything and everything else. In a prior episode, "Boosting Creativity by Reducing Choice", he stressed the importance of creating constraints to work within. 

This notion of creating limitation stuck me at my core. I had never approached creativity this way before, but it's so true. When we're given constraints, we can't help but be creative. I know this to be true in other areas of my life, like living on a written budget, since I don't use credit cards, or eating off of a plant-based diet. There are natural limitations with both, and I seem to have no problem living within them.

But when it came to producing artwork, I always assumed that more choice meant more creativity, but that left me creating next to nothing. In the rare occurrence when I was called upon to draw or paint something, however, you bet your breeches that what I produced was awesome. Not because I had a stroke of genius, heck no! It was simply because there were restrictions and guidelines in place that naturally sparked creative problem solving.

So that brings me to my new personal challenge. I wanted to test this theory for myself. I wanted to see if creating constraints actually worked in this area of my life. I started brainstorming projects I could work on. What if I only had 4x4 inches of workspace? What if my tool was a marker? What if...? 

I then decided that maybe I would post a picture on Instagram, and then later that night, do a painting of that picture. Interesting. Then I realized that I've already taken hundreds of Instagram photos, many of which I'd like to turn into paintings. So why start taking more? Why not go back and retrieve ones that have been long forgotten? 

It was settled, then. I'd set my restrictions. Here they are:

1. I have to use an Instagram photo (that I had already taken) as inspiration.
2. I can only use watercolor (although, I might switch up the medium later).
3. I can only use a 4x4 inch surface area.
4. I will only give myself an hour to paint the image.
5. I must carve out time (on my calendar) on Sunday and Wednesday evenings to do the painting, posting it on my blog the following morning.
6. I will produce 2 paintings a week, for a year. GULP! But I have over 100 images in my 'favorites' folder, that are just dying to get out onto the page, so I might as well go big!

My goal with this challenge is to get me past my creative block and to build momentum. By intentionally dedicating time during the week to paint, I can already tell that I'll feel more inclined to carve out other chunks of time for other endeavors, like writing or animating. It's a snowball effect, really. And by making my creativity a priority, it's going to open up the channels in ways I have yet to imagine.

Here is painting #1: 

Bonsai Tree at the Huntington (4"x4"; watercolor)

Original Instagram photo:

I took this photo during a recent visit to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA in November, 2014. There are so many areas of the grounds to explore, one being an amazing Bonsai tree exhibit in the 'Japanese Gardens'. This particular tree was positioned at the entrance to the exhibit. It was a warm afternoon, and the haze of the sky was settling in. The peacefulness of the garden was both enchanting and grounding. I chose this photograph to be the first one I painted, primarily because of its balance and zen-like simplicity, as well as it's representation of exercising constraint. The trees used in these types of exhibits naturally grow to be massive, but are instead formed into a truly unique works of art. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of this. I hope you tag along!


Images Copyright ® 2015 by Samantha Samuels

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Power of Breaking Habits

Lately, it's been so easy for me to fall into the same patterns I always have. Over-eating, over-spending, over-analyzing. I'm less relaxed, less free, less creative. From what I hear, when we break our routines, we're more likely to free ourselves from our daily bonds. I hadn't really experienced this first hand until yesterday.

But before I get to that, about a year ago, I joined an amazing program called the Skinny Dip Society. During the 12-week immersion program, I learned how to alter my morning routines so I could start the day fresh and equipped to take on anything. From making my bed daily, to taking probiotics, to listening to a theme song, each new thing I added seemed to ground me even more. 

Unfortunately, I tend to rely heavily on those routines. They're great, but I'm less likely to mix things up. If I'm comfortable where I am, I'm not going to change it. I'm sure it's quite a common reoccurrence.

The issue lately is that I haven't been super comfortable. I've been uncomfortable. I keep looking at various things to change, but nothing seems to help. The problem isn't my environment. The problem lies in my perspective. And in order to change habits, you must change your perspective. At least I think that's how you do it...

This particular morning, I woke up immensly groggy. I had spent the night before crouched on the bathroom floor, waiting for my dinner to make an encore. It wasn't the food per-se, it was the fact that I had eaten way too much the day before. I was upset and stressed and I had been turning to the only cure I found useful in my darkened mind: snacking. 

Luckily, not only did I wake up in a sleepy haze, I woke with a lighter heart. I realized I had been carrying so much burden, that it was finally time to just take things easy. I planned on staying in my apartment futzing around (maybe putting stuff away or clearing out crap I no longer needed) while listening to a podcast. A typical morning, if I chose to stay in. 

Instead, my phone dinged. It was my friend Cristina. We met at work a few years ago, and couldn't stop conversing about God, spirituality, relationships, and reaching our highest potential. We can always sense when the other is out of alignment, and try everything in our power to help get them back on course.

"Do you want to go to a movie this morning?" She said. Sitting in a 2-hour movie that started at 9am wasn't really the morning I was aiming for, but I did want to spend time with her, so we agreed to grabbing breakfast in our neighborhood. 

I had pre-determined that I needed to consume more green-juice, so I suggested we hit up a new place that specialized in whipping up fruits and veggies into liquid form. It was just what the doctor ordered. I would do it every day if I could...

Then we strolled down the thoroughfare to another favorite coffee shop, where we swapped inspirational quotes and stories about our love life. We're both in the dating stage, in which we feel challenged (frustrated, yet determined) each and every day. We share ideas, philosophies, successes, and failures. She introduced me to relationship guru Alison Armstrong a couple years ago, who's work has changed both of our lives. (I couldn't recommend her work enough, however, you must be ready for a huge shift, because her way of thinking is completely different than most women's).

We then decided that I needed to get outside and do something creative and uplifting. Cristina suggested the Emeryville Marina, a quiet spot along the San Francisco Bay. It was a destination I had yet to visit, but we arrived in a flash, my 'real' camera in hand. She encouraged me to take some photos, knowing how much I love photography, and how much it brings me to life. 

The weather was unusually hot for the last day in January. Hardly a breeze, yet you could see for miles. It was, in my opinion, perfect. We strolled around the pier and snapped photos, met one of the sailors who lives in the marina, who delighted in showing how his dog, Scotty, could jump up and down from trash cans. We listened to a saxaphone player practicing against the rocks. We saw a seal popping it's head out from the water. We skipped, like school girls, laughing and completely out of breath, and were cheered on by walkers passing by. 

We broke our routine. 

We then found a somewhat-comfortable spot to sit amongst the pile of jagged rocks that ran along the water front, facing downtown San Francisco. The skyline was so immensly beautiful, that I needed  at least a few weeks to soak it all in. 

I longed to be across the water and in the city. The guy I had been recently dating lived there, and I could practically see his neighborhood from our spot on the rocks. I hadn't heard from him in what seemed like an eternity, so I was left assuming we were no longer going to see each other, which made this apparent separation even more acute. All I wanted was to be in the city with him. 

These feelings rushed through me as I sat there in the warm January sun. And then I realized that I was holding on too hard. I was clinging to old thoughts, old feelings, old needs. The 'aha' moment that I had there on those rocks hit me hard. I was longing for a relationship; a reason to love,  but I had to let go. I had to allow that bay to be where it was. I had to release the 'catch', and if it was meant to be, it would come back, but if not, then something greater will. 

I had to trust. 

The blessing of that moment in the marina was quite apparent. Had it not been for Cristina's determination to get me out of the house and out of my funk, I would have never ended up there. I wouldn't have taken photos, I wouldn't have skipped like a 7 year old (which by the way, is impossible to do and stay miserable at the same time), I wouldn't have had a green juice instead of coffee, and I wouldn't have looked out across that water and realized that I had to let go. 

Breaking habits, at least for me - on that morning, unlocked so much. Having made that realization, I was able to go through the rest of the day without the heavy burden of rejection. I could feel the bruise that it had left behind, but I no longer felt the weight. 

Or maybe I was just sore from all that skipping...

Here are some of the photos I captured during our visit:

All photos Copyright ® 2015 by Samantha Samuels