Friday, April 17, 2015

Maintaining Balance

Lately I've been so caught up in life's situations, that I've fallen out of balance. When I ask myself what I'm truly needing from life, it's balance.

Before I started this creative constraints project, my life centered around work. I felt like I got enough time to my self, but it didn't seem like there was a lot of room for creativity, (which is the reason why I started this project in the first place). But now, I'm finding it hard to do all of it. Work is getting busier, yet my external pursuits are gaining more and more momentum. While I would love to do all of it, something has to fall off.

Because I have the tendancy to overload my schedule, my health (both mental and physical) tend to dwindle first. I'd rather sit here and work on this blog post for my audience (because I want to maintain consistency and follow through), than go to the gym. But for someone who's health is the most important thing, I can't let that happen.

It doesn't mean I'm stopping this project altogether, though. The unexpected outpour of incredible feedback from each of you has provided me with enough fuel and momentum to continue with the twice a week painting, but I need to pull back on my writing.

I miss writing for the sake of writing, and I hope that within that, I'll feel inspired again to share some of those insights with my audience. But for now, I'm going to stick to posting just the paintings (along with their back-story), via the blog, Facebook, and Instagram.

This isn't easy, but I want you all to know how much fun it's been for me to share my creative insights with you. Your feedback has been incredibly powerful at fueling my own creativity and consistency, and I look forward to sharing my writing with you again very soon!

But for now, here's painting #15: Pebble Beach (4x4 inches, watercolor).

I created this painting as a birthday present for my dad, Keith. We visited this spot about a year ago (hence the Instagram post below). It was a really hard one to get the scale right (I'm not used to these small canvases), but I always love the challenge of a landscape.

It's such an exquisite location. It's no surprise that it's home to one of the best golf courses in the world. 

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Fear of Letting Go

I'm a dreamer. I like to dream big. I always have. But lately, I've been feeling overwhelmed by the massive amount of time and energy required to make my dreams come true. It's so much easier to dream than it is to try and not achieve what we've always wanted.

To me, failure and falling are two separate things. When we choose to settle for mediocracy and familiarity, that's failure. Success requires letting go of that familiarity, and falling a few times in order to get there.

When we first learn how to ride a bike, we start out using training wheels. But they only serve us for a short period of time. There comes a point at which you must take them off. Sure, you can continue using training wheels for the rest of your life. It's easy and comfortable, but you're not going to be able to fully ride if you don't evolve to a regular bike.

Once we remove them, it's a known fact that we will fall over and skin up our knees. It's an inevitable part of learning. But once we've fallen a few times, we start to get the hang of it, and soon enough, we're riding farther, faster, and with more confidence than we ever thought possible. Oh, and we never need to go back to using those training wheels. They're long gone.

That's how I like to think of moving from mediocracy to success. We have to let go of what's no longer serving us in order to evolve.

We have to.

Letting go of what's safe and comfortable is actually more terrifying (and therefore debilitating) than the fear of not achieving what we've set out to achieve, or the fear of success (reaching our dreams).

I'll admit, my biggest fear is letting go. I even have an art print by Katie Daisy on my desk that says 'Let Go', because I have to constantly remind myself to do so.

Deep down, we know we have what it takes to be wildly successful. But the road that we must travel down in order to get there is dark and treacherous. The road of mediocracy that we're currently on is light and fluffy - like a hot stack of pancakes. While delicious, it may not be serving us anymore. We may not feel challenged or happy on this soft and cozy road, but it's familiar, so we have trouble letting it go.

In order to achieve the greatness that lurks within us, we have to make the conscious choice to journey down the road less traveled. Think about the last time you went on a hike. Did you ever venture off the beaten path to a place that was far more beautiful and captivating than anything you would have seen otherwise? That's how we have to approach chasing our dreams. Our dreams don't exist on the road to mediocracy. They're just beyond the bend, close enough that we can feel them, taste them, even hear them, but we won't be able to see them until we take the risk and blaze our own trail.

Letting go requires trust. It requires faith. It requires staying aligned with what you truly desire in life. Just like riding a bike, as soon as you make the choice to evolve from training wheels, you're going to fall a few times and skin up your knees, but you'll never need to retreat back to where you once were. Your trail won't be easy to travel down, but the rewards of what's waiting for you at your destination far outweigh what you would have gotten had you played it safe.

So go ahead, take the jump.

Painting #14: Close Encounters (4x4 inches, watercolor)

Original Instagram post, inspired by a sign I saw on the side of a telescope through which I was observing a solar eclipse. I found it pretty profound...

Monday, April 6, 2015

Taking One Step At a Time

Slowing down is no longer a part of our culture. We've become accustomed to doing things quickly and efficiently. While I'm not a proponent of wasting time, I'm starting to realize the importance of slowing down and paying attention to the step I'm taking right now.

There's so much I want to do. I want to spend time investing in my job and career. I want to get out of debt, get healthier, lose weight, spend more time painting and working on my blog. I want to spend time traveling, seeing friends, riding my horse, shooting photos, and more.

If I try to do all of those things at once (which usually happens), I'll burn out. Even if I'm doing things I love, if I'm not taking each step slowly and deliberately, I can run myself into the ground. Not good.

Lately, when I try focusing on achieving my goals, I feel like I can't gain any traction. As soon as I start working on getting myself healthy, I end up spending more money than I want to. If I shift my focus to getting out of debt, my health declines. Clearly something isn't working.

There's got to be a way to balance everything and still succeed in the end. I did learn, though, (from listening to Dave Ramsey for the past 3 years), that a person can't pay off debt and build wealth at the same time and gain much traction. One has to slow down and do one thing at a time. He's even laid out 7 'Baby Steps' to help his listeners and readers stay on track. This principle has helped me with staying on a budget and getting rid of my credit card debt (for the first time in my life). While I still have additional debt to pay down (and a ways to go), what if I applied this same principle to the other areas of my life?

Focusing on what I have to do right now, while embracing and enjoying it, is the only way I'm going to achieve my goals, whether they be heath, career, financial, creative, or spiritual.

When it comes to my creative goals, there's a lot of exciting things I want to accomplish. I want to create more art. I want to blog more. I want to start a video series. I want to open an online shop. But right now, I can't do all of those things. I have to start small. My first and foremost goal is to get through my 'Creative Constraint' project (serving up 100 paintings over the course of a year).

The truth is, when it comes to achieving a goal, I'll never be able to climb the mountain if I have too many other things distracting me from reaching my destination. It's survival. The only thing that matters is whether or not I make it out alive. In that moment, nothing else is important.

If I approach each goal one at a time head on, as if it's the most important thing in my life, there's no reason why I can't achieve it. But if I try to climb a mountain while distracted by all of the other 'shoulds' in my life, I'll never reach the pinnacle. Dave Ramsey always refers to the Momentum Theorem: "Focused intensity, over time, multiplied by God, equals unstoppable momentum".

It all comes down to priority. We have to ask ourselves what the most important thing in our lives is right now. Is it getting out of debt, or shedding the extra 20 pounds you've been carrying around for the past 15 years? Both are important, but what's more important to you right now? You can't work on both equally at the same time, because there's always going to be a give and take. If you choose one, let that be the priority first and foremost. Use the momentum theorem to knock it out, and move on to the next.

Once you've chosen the path you're going to walk down, you have to take it slow. Making changes in your life that are outside of your 'status quo' will never be easy to adjust to. But if that's all you're having to focus on, then you won't be as likely to be distracted by another path that presents itself to you.

Travel slowly enough to actually recognize and appreciate what it is you're going through at that moment. There will be a lot to take in, and at times you may get distracted, or feel like you're not gaining any traction, or that the path isn't leading you in the right direction. You must trust your intentions, and keep your focus on the goal. It's the only way to achieve what you truly desire.

Painting #13: A Snail's Journey (4x4 inches, watercolor)

Original Instagram Photo:

I noticed this little guy making its way across the pavement leading up to my building at work. I couldn't help but find wonder in how it clearly and deliberately took one step at a time; the evenness of its pattern bewildering to me. It was such a clear metaphor of how important it is to slow down and put one foot in front of the other. It may seem like it's taking forever to reach your destination, but if it's the one thing you're focusing on, you're bound to get there.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Writing for Your Own Sake

I've noticed that my primary reason for sitting down to write lately is to share some fantastical piece of wisdom that had been circulating around within me for the few days prior. Some days, the material does not pour out as easily. Today was one of those days.

Instead of trying to write something heady and grandiose, I decided to just write about what was on my mind. I wouldn't put it on a blog, I would just get my thoughts out. So that's what I did. I wrote about what had been weighing me down lately. When I feel overwhelmed by a lot of things, this approach to releasing the thoughts that continue to swirl around in my head seems to help.

Then I thought (in addition to all the other things I was thinking), why don't I write about writing? So that's what I'm doing now.

I started writing for my own sake last summer. I'd get up early, and spend the first 30 minutes of my day just brain dumping. It was so much more therapeutic than I had anticipated, so I continued doing it. While I prefer to write that way, I've noticed that it's more effective for me to get my thoughts out toward the end of the day, so they won't bother me while I sleep. My writing isn't always coherant in the evenings, but it definitely helps me work through the issues of the day.

But if you can write in the morning (before you check your facebook feed), do. There's something really special about getting up and creating something. We so quickly and easily move into consumption-mode, that by the time we sit down to write or draw or whatever, we've lost the energy needed to produce. There's more science behind it, of course, but that's the gist of it. I've noticed a huge difference in the work I produce in the mornings vs. the evenings. So play around with it, and see what works best for you.

Writing, regardless of the time of day, helps bring clarity to whatever issue I'm facing. If I'm able to write about it, and actually see the words on the page (or in this case, on the screen), I'm able to see just how insigificant (or monumental) those thoughts, feelings, and insecurites are. I've unlocked so much about myself just by writing. While most of it is nonsensical (and should avoid a social platform by any and all means), I'm able to uncover the key pieces that I would like to share publicly. Most of my blog posts were derived this way.

Regardless of whether or not you publish your work, however, it's critical to write or journal in some way. Sharing your thoughts (even if it's just with your computer), is essential to understanding them. If you let them roll around in your mind for too long, they'll end up all lumpy and out of balance. Or, they'll end up perfectly round, and then there's no chance in breaking them apart.

Okay, I'm getting philosophical again. Basically, if you feel yourself getting too heady - or where you're trying to create something out of nothing, write about what IS happening. Write for your own sake, and soon enough, your idea for your next blog post, painting, or design will present itself.

Introducing, Painting #12: Cloud Study (4x4 inches, watercolor) - I wanted to give it some awesome name like 'Get Your Head Back in the Clouds', but sometimes it's just fun to paint something for no reason other than to simply enjoy the process. :)

Original Instagram Photo:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pulling Back the Curtain: A Closer Look At My Process

Recently, a lot of people have been asking me about my process. Having just finished my 11th painting, I think it's the perfect time to pull back the curtain and show how I get from point A to B.

Here goes...

It's 7:30 on a Wednesday night. I've just clocked 9 hours at work and I'm beat. All I want to do when I get home is gorge on corn chips and hummus (my go-to comfort food). I haven't written a blog post yet, or chosen the image that I plan on painting that night. Dishes are piling up in the sink. My gym bag stares at me from across the room, asking to be unloaded and packed again for the next morning.

The things that I am pulled to 'tend to' linger, but I know there is an audience that will expect my work to post online that following morning. This is something I've committed to, and I have no choice but to show up and do the work.

I wolf something down, switch into my pajamas and plant myself at my desk. I browse through my gallery of pre-selected Instagram photos (the ones that I determined were appropriate for watercolor paintings), and land on one that has some sort of resonance with what I'm going through at the moment. Because I include a blog post with each painting, I want to write and paint about something relevant. It amazes me that each time I sit down to do this, there's always an image that fits within the topic of choosing. Funny how their purpose is manifesting in this way...

I then turn on an audiobook or podcast to occupy my left brain. I've discovered over the years that I produce much better work when I'm not constantly judging it along the way. If I'm listening to an audiobook or podcast (not music), my left brain has something to analyze and think about, while my right brain is freed up to simply create. It's a crazy unscientific phenomenon, but it works. And I can't produce without doing it. When it comes to writing, however, I have to play instrumental-only music. It's just easier to come up with my own words when I'm not listening to someone else's. (Lately, I've been listening to the Steve Jobs biography and After the Jump when I'm painting).

Once all that's going, I fill a jar with water and get to work.

1. I start by quickly 'blocking in' my painting area using a coaster and masking tape. It's roughly 4x4 inches, and an easy way of measuring it. It doesn't have to be perfect. Again, this is a project of producing work, not perfection.

2. Using a basic mechanical pencil, I then sketch in the image I've chosen. I use a gummy eraser to extract any graphite I don't want in my final painting. I try to keep my sketches light enough that it doesn't stain the page if I try to erase, but dark enough that I'll be able to see certain outlines once I start laying down the paint.

3. I then prep my paint colors. I use two cheap plastic palettes to do my mixing. When I first started, I was much better about cleaning off my paint palettes after finishing a project. Now, I just leave them be on my desk. I need to start washing them off right away, to make it easier to start the next project. It's so much better having a clean surface on which to mix paint. What a concept!

4. Once I've landed on a matching color, I start to lay it in. I'm no watercolor expert, but I've noticed that by starting with lighter colors (and reserving spots on the page for extreme white), it's always easier to go back in and apply the dark. (How to paint with watercolors is an entirely different blog topic, so I'll keep this part short.) The entire painting process takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes depending on the complexity of the image. I've made a point of keeping my paintings small so I can stay within these time constraints. Some paintings have taken me longer than that, but it's a good parameter to try to stay within.

5. After the painting has dried, I peel back the tape to reveal the final image, and sign it with a pen.

6. I then start photographing the image. I have to prop it up in such a way that my desk lamp shines on it evenly, in order to get the best representation possible. I could go crazy here, and I probably should, but I at this point, I just want to get my work out there. It doesn't have to be perfect.

7. I upload the photo to my computer, and do any minor tweaks in iPhoto. My iPhone's color calibrator is pretty crappy, so I choose to make adjustments in order to get it back to it's original look and feel. I then re-export the image to my phone for Instagram.

8. After the painting and photographing process is over, I get to work on my blog post. Ideally, I would have been jotting ideas down during the past couple days, but I've been so busy, that most of the time I'm starting from scratch. (By this time, it's closer to 10pm). What usually ends up happening is me starting half-lidded at my computer screen typing whatever makes sense at the time out onto the page.

9. As soon as I get all of my ideas out, I break away from my computer, clean my brushes and my workspace, wash my face, and crawl into bed. Working this late at night is not preferable, but it's the only time I have right now, so I'm making it work. Ideally, I'd spread out the work over a few days, so I'm not trying to cram it all in the night before (or morning of) posting.

10. I go back in the morning and have trouble deciphering what I had intended the night before, but it's a good time to edit work. In the morning I'm always more refreshed and clear-minded. I upload my work to blogger, and continue editing, switching from preview to edit modes until it's just right.  Once the post makes (enough) sense, I upload my painting, along with the original Instagram photo, and publish it.

11. I like to post my work to Instagram first. I feel like my followers there just want to see the image as quickly as possible. I also like to use Instagram to share some behind-the-scenes photos during my process. It helps bring transparency to my work.

12. I then go and share the blog post on Twitter. I've learned to leave a nugget of information - a tag line, if you will - to represent what my post is about. I don't usually use this platform to share the painting, however. Just a cool, quick message, and the post link, and I'm out.

13. Finally, I post to Facebook. I like to include whatever insight I had during the writing process, and share that along with my painting, and link to my blog. This platform gets all three. I've chosen to limit viewing access to just my friends, but if this blog/following grows enough, I'll create a separate Facebook feed for anyone to follow.

And that's it! That's my process, start to finish. Not glamorous, just simple. The hardest part is letting go of all the other things I feel like I 'should' be doing, and let myself create artwork. It easily fell off my priority list, but when I started putting it at the top, I realized that everything else got done, too. And I'm so much more happy, content, balanced and satisfied as a result.

I hope this helps bring some clarity to what I do and how I do it. :)

Introducing Painting #11: The Red Curtain (4x4 inches, watercolor)

Original Instagram photo:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Act of Setting Bigger Goals

This concept of reaching for the stars isn't new. It's as old as the day is long. So why don't more of us do it? Do we assume that because the stars are out of reach that we can't catch anything? What if the stars were within our grasp, would we go for them then?

If you know me, then you know that I like to set huge lofty goals - and reach them. There are few things that I feel are beyond my grasp, and if I believe they'll happen, they usually do. Obviously, the journey in which I got there was not so cut and dry (I was tempted to give up several times), but trusting that I'd end up at my destination was the reason why I ultimately arrived.

Over the past few years, I've been inspired to start a blog of my own. Currently, I have this existing blogger platform, which is a great starting point, but I have dreams of turning it into something bigger: a brand; a business -something that serves others by consistently delivering high-quality content.

Not only have I set big goals with regards to my career, I have embarked on other so-called-impossible journeys, such as getting out of debt and living with out credit cards. As a vegan (or, as my friends call, vague-an, when I sway and have eggs or fish), I've tried numerous kinds of diets, avoiding meat and dairy, and now soy. From managing my checkbook to regulating the foods I'm consuming, my life has become more and more restrictive.

It's within these boundaries that I've often felt stifled and frustrated, but as a result, I've become more passionate and creative. Okay, so I only have 'x' amount of dollars coming in? If that's all I get to spend this month, what are my priorities? What can I cut out that I no longer need? Okay, I can't eat meat or dairy? Time to experiment with all the other kinds of foods out there (and there's a lot!).

Having started this most recent 'creative constraints' painting project, the lightbulb went off. I finally made the connection with just how easy it is to produce work when there are restrictions at play. When we set up boundaries and constraints, we're forced to think outside the box. Sometimes, without even realizing it.

In addition to craving more areas of creative expression, I've also been struggling with maintaining a healthy work/life balance. During my day job, I work between 45 and 50 hours per week, so the time in which I have to work on outside 'projects' (or even cooking dinner at home) is minimal. I want to change that. I want to break down the barriers between a busy life and a healthy lifestyle.

Naturally, my mind has started wandering to new possibilities. Where could my project and blog go from here? What else can I produce and share each week? What are my followers craving? How can I serve them, while still working towards my bigger goal?

I envision my blog expanding to not only sharing my thoughts on creativity, but on living a balanced life on all fronts. From managing a budget each week, to picking affordable, healthy recipes that can be prepared at home for the week. I've been trying to live this way for the past few years, and it's time to pass on the wisdom and the knowledge I've gained thus far.

Just because I've been doing this for a while, doesn't mean it's easy for me to stick to, though. Living within restrictions is hard, and I struggle with it on a daily basis. Though, if I turn my attention to helping others through their own frustrations, I, too, will feel inspired and motivated to stay on track.

I'm planning on rolling out these changes slowly. I want to take the time and energy necessary to really create a space that will allow me to share high-quality work, as well provide a top-notch user experience. Making these ideas and philosophies (as well as failures) public is extremely important to me, and I plan on letting it grow at its own pace.

If you're excited to hear more about this next step in my journey, please let me know what areas you'd like for me to touch on. This is about helping you, the reader, and I want this experience to be valueable and uplifting. I need your help in getting me there.

Introducing Painting #10: Dinner for One (4x4 inches, watercolor) - Also known as 'healthy living on a budget'.

Original Instagram Photo:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Staying Motivated by Recognizing Your Audience

This week, it's been hard for me to stay motivated.

• Am I doing something that people actually like?
• Am I resonating with an audience?
• Do I even have an audience?
• Does any of this even matter?

The truth is, I should be doing this regardless of whether or not I have an audience. My goal in starting this project was to produce more content, to get myself back on a creative routine, and to actually stick to something. So far, I've been pretty proud of myself. The work I've done has been humbling, yet solidifying in the fact that I need to continue.

There have been days when it was clear that I was making a difference. That I did, in fact, have an audience, that they were paying attention, and that they were inspired by the work I was doing. This by-product of a somewhat selfish goal is actually the most rewarding part. But when the days come that my work doesn't seem to have an impact, I can't help but feel let down and unmotivated.

But what's truly in my control and what isn't? I can't force anyone to like my work. I can't force it to be inspiring. I can, however, continue to create it. I can continue to publish it, to write about it, and to keep doing it over and over again, because it's true to me. It feels in alignment with what I should be doing now, whether or not it resonates with anyone else. If it does, then wonderful! But if it doesn't, I have to ask myself if the work resonated with me at all. If it did, then I succeeded. If it didn't, then I need to re-evaluate why it is I'm doing the work, and how I can dive deeper into it.

On the flip side, the amount of 'likes' I get on facebook or instagram can actually keep me motivated to create work. Any lack of responses, while at first can be crushing, ultimately gets me fired up to create something even better. If my audience didn't respond to something, then I just have to make something that will. But it's important to remember, though, that even if it rings true for me, doesn't mean it'll ring true for others.

It's also important not to get caught up in the 'like' cycle. This can be rather addicting, and posting work simply to see how many people 'like' it, isn't a healthy intention. The 'likes' can be a gauge, but it's relative. The more followers you have may provide more likes, but percentage-wise, there won't be that much of a difference.

When you create work that's true to you, your audience will grow naturally. Instead of focusing on gaining followers, focus on the ones who are already following. They're following you because your work or voice resonates with them. Earn their loyalty by consistently showing up and providing high-quality content. The more you focus on the ones who are already 'sold', you're staying true to your artistic voice. When you create work simply because you think someone else will like it, you're selling yourself short. Be true and honest not only with your audience, but with yourself.

The work is derived from passion; from the need to create and produce based on your own voice and perspective. But to stay motivated, you must remember that the people who are inspired by your work, are counting on your consistency. You may not touch or reach everyone you know, but the 4 or 5 or 500 people that are influenced in some way by it, those are the ones you are creating for. Think about them when you're producing your work, and your motivation will manifest from there. Think of your audience and the words of admiration and appreciation they've expressed. Think of the ones who have followed you from the beginning. Think of how you feel when you follow the work of artists you admire. You get up in the morning to see the work they've published, simply because you know it will brighten your day. Your work can brighten someone else's day, too. Someone you may not even know, or may ever know.

Again, you can't control how people will feel about your work. But, if you create from a place of truth, honesty and passion, you will attract those that are longing it. You will naturally inspire and influence others in ways you never thought possible. You are doing this for you, but you're doing this for them, too. It's as if both parties are sharing in a dance of motivation, inspiration and creation.

Introducing Painting #9: 'Repurposed' (4x4 inches, watercolor).

The earrings featured in this piece were ones I created out of vintage beads, found amidst my grandmother's costume jewelry. I love how retro, yet glamorous, they look. 

I've decided to donate this pair, along with several others I had designed over the past year or so, to a work-sanctioned silent auction, supporting a colleague's daughter, who's fighting a rare disease. You can read more here:

Original Instagram photo: