Do We Need Magic to Create?

Greetings my dear readers,

I’ve been away for a while, busy with life, and probably will be again very soon.  More on that later.  But for now, I would like to share with you some wisdom I learned while reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. I first read his book The War of Art a few years back, which talks about fighting against “The Resistance” in order to pursue your creative work and accomplish your goals. He was referring to that inner critic inside your head that provides nothing but negative self-talk. That voice never goes away, but you can learn to quiet it and trust yourself.

I just finished reading another one of his books, Turning Pro, also excellent. Several passages struck me, but one really stood out, especially as it pertains to my word for the year: MAGIC. He talks throughout the book about the amateur vs. the professional mindset and how that can make all the difference. We must let go of self-doubt and procrastination by establishing discipline and striving for excellence. But one question remains.

What about the magic?

He’s referring to flashes of brilliance and moments where we feel the muse speaking directly to us.  Shouldn’t we wait for those moments? His answer is no.

“The monk glimpses the face of God not by scaling a peak in the Himalayas, but by sitting still in silence.”

This is not to say that we should do nothing. On the contrary, we should sit down in the chair every day and attempt to write, draw, design, etc. No matter how we’re feeling. No matter what is on our mind. Because eventually we’ll get there. But waiting around to get there isn’t going to make anything happen. Achieving a moment of greatness won’t do it. We’ll only be waiting for the next moment. But showing up in front of the silence of the blank page will. Every time we face that challenge, we’ll grow stronger, and be more likely to come back again and again to do the work. To make something happen.

“In order to achieve ‘flow,’ ‘magic,’ ‘the zone,’ we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike. We set our palms against the stones in the garden wall and search, search, search until at last, in the instant when we’re ready to give up, our fingers fasten upon the secret door.”

I’m sure you’ve all experienced the magic moment before: The Flash of Greatness. But I’m calling on you to experience something more. It’s the same magic, but there’s another way in, which involves a little more searching, a little extra effort. You get there simply by starting. You’re in the tunnel, and it’s dark, lonely. But you dig anyway. Keep going. Claw your way through. Until you see a light. And before you know it, you’re in the zone, and you’re not even sure how you got there. But you know, if you did it once, you can do it again. Because you’re not waiting for it to show up. You’re going after it.

Find your magic. Find it every day. But don’t wait around for it to appear. All you have to do is begin. Start by playing. The magic will want to play too. It can’t resist. And before you know it, you will have created something unique, dynamic, and all your own. Not perfect, but something you can be proud of. Something born not out of a moment of greatness, but through patience and effort. And that which is created from such a hard-won battle is truly inspiring.

Turn Your Routines into Rituals

Happy Summer!  I’ve been away for a while, partly do to injuring my left wrist while paddle boarding Memorial weekend.  But I’m back, and here to talk to you about how you can turn your everyday routines (boring!) into amazing life-changing rituals.

I saw the above quote while on a recent trip to New York City.  You see random stuff like this posted all over the city, and you can never really be sure if it’s advertising, artwork, or just a random rant.  But this one struck both my husband and I so much that we had to take a photo.

We all have daily routines: washing dishes, doing laundry, answering emails, taking the dog for a walk, driving to work.  We do these things over and over every single day, and mostly it just feels like a big waste of time or at the very least a nuisance.  But can we make these trivial, monotonous moments meaningful?  The answer is YES.

Some of my creative rituals include:

  • putting on my blue polka-dot robe to get ready to write
  • listening to Joss Stone’s “Clean Water” while cleaning up my art space to get in the mood to paint
  • giving my lucky Petoskey stone a squeeze before I send out a submission
  • thinking about my characters or plot problems while exercising or washing the dishes

Performing these rituals help me take on the creative tasks day in and day out.  They motivate me to do the work.

I also have rituals before I go to bed to get ready for sleep.  I drink a cup of tea and do gentle yoga or meditate with a special mantra.  Sometimes I take a bath and mull over the day, before letting it all go.  Then I count my thoughts until they disappear.  Just by engaging in this ritual, my  body knows it’s time to unwind.

Other useful rituals I do that you might enjoy:

  • call a friend for social time while taking a walk and listen more than you talk
  • focus on the world around you and experience it with all five senses
  • meditate on different quantities of empty space while staying in the present moment, a technique known as open focus, which allows your brain a break

Rituals add excitement and meaning to your every day.  They feel more like preparation.

So go get ready already!  Because your next big adventure could be right around the corner.

 

 

 

Notan: Harmonizing Darks and Lights

I’ve been taking some art classes this week.  While studying composition, I came across the Japanese term, “notan” which literally means “dark-light.”  It’s a fascinating design concept centered around the idea of creating harmony in a drawing through value contrast.  When darks and lights are dynamically balanced, the result is a more pleasing work of art.

More specifically, dark shapes are placed against light shapes and light shapes are placed against dark shapes.  Relationships are formed through this interaction of dark and light.  Neither white nor black dominates.  Consider a portrait drawing done in grayscale.  Notice how the effect of the drawing improves when a dark background surrounds the lit part of the face and a light background surrounds the shadowed part of the face.

According to Dorr Bothwell’s book, Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design, the way that positive and negative space interact has meaning.  Both shape and background have equal importance.

This design principle can be used for all types of artwork including painting, pottery, and photography.  One of the simplest and most well-known representations of the concept of notan is the yin-yang symbol, which depicts the dual nature of the world and literally means, “dark-bright.”

Imagine your life in terms of notan.  How might you see the world differently?  Notice how the stars stand out in the night sky or how your shadow stands out on the wall.  The beauty of dark and light is all around us.  As artists, we must have the courage to draw it.  And in life, we must be willing to see it.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”   — Anne Frank

 

To learn more about the Japanese concept of white space, termed “yohaku,” see my post here.

 

New Mantra: “Pursue Excellence. Ignore Success.”

The Atlas Slave was an unfinished work by Michaelangelo.

I’ve been a fan of Deepak Chopra ever since I read his book, The spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence, which is all about synchronicity.
Earlier this year, I came across a great article, “Deepak Chopra: A Life of Fullfillment,” where Chopra talks all about success.  Given that he’s both a spiritual leader and a highly successful individual, I was excited to hear what he had to say on the subject.  As expected, he had many wise words.
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To start, here is some sage advice:
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“If you focus on success, you’ll have stress. But if you pursue excellence, success will be guaranteed.”  –Deepak Chopra
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To go along with that he  says, “Try hard and you will succeed.
 Try too hard and you will fail.”
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I think this is especially important for artists to remember, although anyone who is a perfectionist at heart or an over-achiever can benefit from these words.  Sometimes when we want something, we try so hard to get it that we end up not getting it.  It’s important to remember to relax, enjoy life, and take your time.  In other words, don’t take life too seriously!  😉  That doesn’t mean avoiding hard work or showing up every day for the task.  Rather it means, be kind to yourself if you have a down day or don’t complete as much as you hoped.
 
Chopra says, “Being locked up in your own mindset means being locked out of the world around you,” and as artists, that’s the last thing we want.
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If pursuing excellence sounds a little too much like pursuing perfection, you can look at it a different way and pursue fulfillment.
 
Here are some other strategies.
  • Create something of value that wasn’t there before.
  • Focus on:  “Creativity, imagination, insight, intuition, conscious choice-making, love, compassion, understanding…” rather than instant gratification.
  • Adopt a growth mindset and see opportunities rather than adversity.
  • Engage the “unfriendlies” and dissect their point of view until you find the inherent value.
  • Remember that true creativity requires an open mind and curiosity.
 “I define success as the following,” Chopra says. “No. 1, the progressive realization of worthy goals. No. 2, the ability to love and have compassion. No. 3, to be in touch with the creative source inside you. And No. 4, to ultimately move from success to significance.”

Finding Your Center

What if I told you there was a spot on Earth that marked the world’s center.  Would you want to go?

The axis mundi is known to be the world’s center point connecting sky and earth where all four directions meet.  There are actually many symbolic representations of this point including structures like lighthouses (no wonder I love them!) and natural formations like mountains.

I was lucky enough to encounter several of these on my recent trip to Italy.  One was at the Pantheon in Rome.  It has a concrete dome with a central opening (oculus) to the sky.  And what a view!  The height to the oculus measures the same as its diameter–142 ft.  And if you stand in the center underneath it and look up into the sky, you certainly feel connected to something higher.

Another axis mundi was seen on a hike in the Cinque Terre from Monterosso to Vernazza.  I couldn’t ignore the spot where the earth and especially the sea met the sky.  It was like I was staring at the edge of the world.  Or perhaps it was the center.  I could not tell, only that it was breathtaking.

A skyscraper can also serve as an axis mundi.  I just saw the movie The Walk about Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  I dare say he was experiencing a divine moment when he did that.

One of the greatest symbols of an axis mundi in literature, religion, and myth is the Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life.  Like all trees, this tree exists on three planes–heaven, earth, and underworld (where its roots are)–and symbolizes immortality.  It makes you look at trees just a little bit differently, doesn’t it?

I was also delighted to discover that the mandala represents an axis mundi.  No wonder they’re such a powerful tool for meditation and centering one’s self!

Even more mind-bending is the notion that the human body itself can serve as an axis mundi.  The Renaissance image of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci symbolizes the axis mundi.  Furthermore, many religions view the human body as a temple and prayer as a column from earth to heaven.  Do you see the connection?

Now, what if I told you the world’s center was right where you stand?  Strive to connect with heaven and earth in this moment.  Then you will find the center inside of you.

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” –Lao Tzu

“I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the center of your being.” –Confucius

 

Discovering My Roots in Italy


Hello my dear readers and sorry for the long absence!  My husband and I were celebrating our 5 year anniversary in Italy–an amazing trip which has been on my bucket list for a long time.  It’s quite gratifying to accomplish one of my dreams!  This trip was far more than just a vacation or celebration.  I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, as I’m part Italian.  One quarter to be exact.  I’d been wanting to delve into my roots and explore part of my cultural background.  Just as my first trip to Japan helped me to understand my Japanese husband better, this trip to Italy helped me understand myself better.

I thought it might be fun to document some of the things I affirmed about myself and share them with you.

  • I understand part of why I was raised Catholic, as this religion played a huge part in developing Italian culture and politics.  The pope and the Vatican are here, which is like a world unto itself.  I can also see why I have an interest in mythology, given Rome’s history which included Greek and Latin influences.  Visiting the Pantheon was quite a unique experience, since it’s been the site of religious worship since about 27 BC!  Even the current building dates back to about 126 AD!
  • I can see why I love learning, knowledge, and books.  So many great minds had the freedom to explore and experiment here including Marco Polo (we visited his actual stomping ground) as well as Amerigo Vespucci and Galileo.  Travel, maps, and stars–all our favorite things!
  • Italians are passionate and emotional by nature but at times disorganized, as am I 🙂  But gratefully, they really seem to know how to enjoy life!  Which brings me to my next point.
  •  The Italian workday typically starts at 9 or 10am with a long lunch from about 12 or 1 to 3pm.  Shops often close in the evening around 7pm with an 8 or 9pm dinner hour.  This suits my night owl tendencies and sleeping habits.  Perhaps I’ve been running on Italian time all along 😉
  • And the last thing I would like to highlight is..well…the art, of course!  From The Roman Empire, to the Medieval period, culminating in the Italian Renaissance, there was no shortage of creativity here.  So many advancements were made in terms of both subject matter and drawing/sculpting techniques.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David statue, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (2 paintings by Botticelli) was awe-inspiring to say the least.  I felt without a doubt that art is in my genes.  It’s who I am, and I don’t ever want to forget that.

I encourage all of you to explore what makes you unique.  If you don’t have the ability to travel, then head to your nearest library or bookstore and do some research.  Check out your genealogy and family tree online.  I think the more we can understand where we came from, the better we can know ourselves, and the more we can connect to others.

Ciao for now!

Quote for the Day: Happiness

We all want to be happy.  The pursuit of happiness is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.  Will Smith even starred in a movie about it.  But what does it really mean to be happy?

I recently watched a TED Talk that offered another model for this ideal.

“The happiness of pursuit”

Instead of always trying to accomplish something in order to find happiness, we might want to consider finding happiness as we try to accomplish something.

Shawn Achor says in his talk entitled The Happy Secret to Better Work, “Every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change it. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there.”

So go after what you want.  But instead of viewing happiness as a destination, see if you can find happiness along the way.

 

The Key to Success: A Journal of Steps

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I keep an affirmation journal.  In it, I write down all the accomplishments I’ve made towards my creative goals as well as the positive feedback I’ve received.  It’s useful to go back from time to time and read over the list to remind yourself how far you’ve come.  It also helps combat the negative voice in your head.  When you confront that negative voice with your list of accomplishments, it’s amazing how quickly the voice becomes silent.

But what I want to share with you today is how I learned about a way to take this concept one step further.  Awhile back, a fellow blogger, Timothy Pike, started following my blog.  One of his posts caught my attention.  He titled it, “My life changed, literally overnight, when I started keeping a success journal.”  You can read more about it here.  I quickly learned that his success journal was far more detailed than mine.  Partly because he committed to writing down at least one accomplishment for every day of the year.

While I was only writing what I considered worthy accomplishments: having a successful art show or receiving encouraging feedback from an agent or editor, this blogger suggests that you write down every action you take towards your goal.  For instance, not just winning a contest, but entering one.  Not just completing a novel, but coming up with an amazing new character.  And certainly don’t limit your accomplishments only to moments where others have responded favorably to your work.  You need to feel a sense of worth from within yourself, so you can trust yourself and continue moving forward.

The most amazing discovery, as noted by this blogger, is what happens when you start keeping this success journal.  It not only lifts you up, it also pushes you to take further action towards your goals.  You literally want to have things to write down in your success journal, so you keep taking steps.  Action is always the key to success.

So what are you waiting for?  Take a step in the direction of your dreams.  Then write it down!  You’ll be surprised at how quickly you want to take another step.

 

“Get to Work” Playlist

I don’t know about all of you, but for me, sometimes getting to work can be quite a challenge, especially since I work from home.  There are so many distractions!

So I’ve developed a system, or rather a series of mind tricks, that I can use to get myself to work OR back to work if I’m taking a break.

  • The most recent is the “Get to Work” playlist.  It takes a little time to make the playlist, but once it’s done, the results are so rewarding!  The bonus: you get your creative muscle working by picking out songs.  One song I chose was recommended to me by a good friend.  It’s called “Over and Over” by Madonna, in the early years.  The tune is very 80s, but the words are what count.  She reminds us that we must get up again, over and over.  Think of that Weeble Wobble toy that can’t stay down!
  • Make tea or coffee.  The simple act of getting up can really get you going.  Before you know it, you’ll have forgotten all about the tea until it’s cold 😉
  • Have a mantra or two that you repeat to yourself to get moving.  Add a little action, like a punch or a high kick, and it will really solidify your start.
  • If you’re really down, go to your list of affirmations–the reminders of all the things you’ve accomplished and all the positive messages you’ve received over time.  Everyone needs a little encouragement, time and again, to quiet the negative voices in the background.
  • Practice gratefulness.  Nothing like reminding yourself of what you have to help you forget what you might be lacking.  It helps cure boredom, too, which is really just a form of fear.
  • If you have a work space, get up and get it ready for work.  The simple act of cleaning off your desk can make you feel ready to tackle new projects.  Just don’t let it turn into an all-day cleaning marathon 😉
  • Take 15 minute breaks at the end of each hour with a reward (nothing too distracting).  It might sound counterintuitive, but it actually helps refresh the mind so you can go longer and stronger.  It’s good to give the eyes a break from the computer screen, too.  Practice blinking to keep those eyes from going dry from too much staring.  Some healthy rewards include doing a few yoga stretches or taking a quick walk, having a little protein snack, or drinking more water or tea.

So go make that playlist.  I guarantee that even after one song, you’ll be ready to get to work.  And FYI, if you’re in the middle of a project and you feel stuck and want to bolt–Don’t.  Turn on one of your songs, instead.  It often does the trick to keep your body in the chair long enough so you can work through the problem creatively rather than run away from it.

Now get to work! 😉

 

Interview with Photographer Katherine Carver

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I recently had the honor of interviewing my longtime friend, photographer Katherine Carver.  Read on to learn about her love of dogs, passion for travel, and current creative project photographing shelter dogs.  Prepare to be inspired!

1.  What/who are your influences?

My major influence in my work is my curiosity, my dogs, and my need and desire to work through and communicate my ideas visually.

Photographers I admire are: Diane Arbus; Sally Mann; Francesca Woodman.

2.  Explain your process as a photographer. 

I am drawn to creating images with wonderful lighting that simultaneously go beyond the literal.  My goal is to create layered and didactic images.  I want to leave viewers with a new way of looking at dogs in their natural world.  If I am not working on my photography, I feel uncomfortable.  I am always thinking about my work.  I am enjoying the journey, trying to stay present in each moment, and I will see where things lead.  I do believe that I will always be examining our human relationship with animals.

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3. Tell us about your current project.

I have been working on a long-term photography project with dogs as the subject matter and focus of this project for the past two years, and I am still working on this project.  Biscuit, our first dog who was a rescue, is the inspiration for this work.  The goal of this body of work, once it is completed, is to raise awareness — to connect the dogs to circumstances where humans fail to act in a responsible manner and to further study the relationship between dog and human.  I want to leave the viewer with a new way of perceiving dogs and our relationship with dogs.  This body of work is still evolving as I am currently in the midst of this project.  I am hopeful once this project is completed, it will lead to an exhibition and to publishing a book.

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4.  Have you always been a dog lover?  How did this come about?  Tell us about your dogs.  How did dogs, especially shelter dogs, come to be the focus of your photography?

Dogs have not always been a part of my life.  In fact, I did not grow up with any animals.  It was not until my husband and I adopted a Shetland sheepdog named Biscuit, our first dog who was a rescue, that our entire view of dogs shifted.  Biscuit changed our lives for the better and we are ardent supporters of dog rescue.  Biscuit opened up a part of us that is difficult to articulate in words.  He added an entirely new facet to our lives, and we cannot imagine our lives without a little rescue Sheltie family member.  Photography has always been a part of my life, but after adopting Biscuit, I became fascinated with dogs.  Biscuit awakened a desire for me to carry my camera everywhere — creating images that preserve fleeting moments that chronicled Biscuit’s story forever.  Biscuit was the inspiration for my great curiosity and study of dogs in my work.  Biscuit created an entryway into another world, an ‘animal world,’ which I had never experienced.  It changed my life forever in many ways that I did not anticipate.  He taught me, for example, to be more present, aware, and patient.  He also taught me to have more gratitude for the small things in life.  I believe animals have a way of teaching us all about ourselves if we are willing to open our hearts and invest fully in the experience.  Sadly, Biscuit passed away last summer.  Our time together was short, but filled with enough memories to last a lifetime.  Last fall, we adopted another rescue sheltie named Victory in Biscuit’s honor.  Even though at the time we lost our Biscuit, we thought it was unimaginable to love another dog as much as we loved Biscuit; however, Victory, a rescue sheltie, came into our lives and she has stolen our hearts and we love her so much and she is just as much an integral part of our lives as our Biscuit.  We believe that Biscuit sent her to us.  Victory has been a perfect fit and she brings us so much joy and she has really grown in so many ways physically and emotionally since we adopted her.  I am a firm believer in dog rescue.  There are so many dogs who need a second chance.  Biscuit’s (and Victory’s) story is living proof of this sentiment.  When we first met Biscuit he was simultaneously the most handsome and the saddest dog we had ever seen.  He was wondering the streets of North Carolina, abandoned and severely malnourished, and covered in urine with a virtually nonexistent fur coat.  He was timid, shy, and riddled with anxiety when we first brought him home.  Through dog rescue, Biscuit was given an opportunity to blossom and flourish.

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5.  You and your husband like to travel.  What are some of your favorite destinations?  Describe your ideal vacation.  How does travel inspire your work?

My husband and I have been fortunate to be able to travel together.  However, my husband, prior to us meeting, was much more of a world traveler than me!  We have traveled abroad together to France, Monaco, and Israel.  The rest of our travels have been by car as we included Biscuit and continue to include Victory on our trips together.  They are family, and they have been part of any trip we have taken together!  They make our vacations better and we have many fond memories while on vacation.  We have made several trips to Nova Scotia; we have been to Quebec most recently this past summer; and we have traveled domestically as well.  For me, my ideal vacation is similar to some of the vacations we have taken — renting a house on the water for several weeks, taking each day as it comes, with lots of time to rest, time to ponder, time to read, and time to relax.  This past summer we traveled to Quebec and it was very nice to have some down time and spend quality time with my husband and Victory!  It was the first time I did not do any work during vacation.  I came back refreshed and rejuvenated with some new ideas for my project.  I think that rest and a change of scenery is really important for anyone.  For me, it helps get the creative juices flowing!

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6.  Describe your artistic approach to photography.

I am not sure if I have an artistic approach per se with my work.  I am drawn to issues that I am very curious about, and I want to communicate visually through my images.  I think that it is vital to have intellect behind your work to support the message you are trying to communicate visually through the images.

7.  What advice can you offer other artists?

Follow your curiosity and keep going and pushing forward no matter what.  Maintain a consistent daily art practice and don’t be afraid to question, to take risks, and to push your boundaries with your work.  I think it is also helpful to find a few people who you trust to provide feedback on your work while you are working through a body of work.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  The process of making art is uncertain and uncomfortable at times; and this is why perseverance is key and I believe that the Universe will support you in kind.

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You can view her work at http://www.katherinecarver.com/; her blog at http://www.biscuitsspace.com/; and follow along on Instagram @katherine_carver.

 

 

 

 

 

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