Amy DixonOne of my favourite ways to stay inspired is to read about how other people put their creativity into practice and learn to live creative lives. Every so often, I’ll be interviewing someone who is letting their creative light shine. Hopefully, these folks will inspire you as much as they inspire me.

I got to know Amy and her stunning paintings on Instagram before reaching out and asking her to meet in real life. We both felt like we'd already known each other for awhile, which is a cool feeling! I love chatting with her about art and creativity, and am excited to share her insights with you.

What sort of creative work do you do?

Mostly landscape and abstract painting – but I tend to get obsessed with lots of side projects too, like knitting, macramé, needlepoint, photography, sewing... I have a lot of random half finished projects around my art studio. If you need art supplies for pretty much any project you can think of, come see me. I likely have a dusty box with everything you need.  (more…)

reading list winter 2017

Photo by Kristine MacDonald

I'm stepping away from the heavy stuff this week to bring you a list of books! Fun, inspiring, beautiful, and possibly magical books. Since this post is a month overdue, and since I spent most of the Christmas holidays reading, I had a huge list of books and though I narrowed them down to my absolute favourites the list is still super long. Buckle up! And maybe take a couple of weeks off work ;) Enjoy!

Children's Books

One year, my mom brought home a stack of children's books for us to read over Christmas, and ever since then I've started doing the same. I often check Brain Pickings' lists of books for recommendations, and my favourites are below.

The Day I Became A Bird by Ingrid Chabbert

Super cute story about a boy trying to become something he's not to impress a girl.

Daytime Visions: An Alphabet by Isol

Not your average alphabet book. Matt says it's dark - I say it's full of depth. (more…)

social anxietyThis is the fourth in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here

In the first part of this series, I talked about how social anxiety has impacted my life, and the things I did that made it worse. The second post was about all the ways that I've been working on changing my mindset from fear to openness, and the last post was about the things I've done to push my boundaries and leave my comfort zone. Today is the final post in the series and I'm going to share where I'm at with the process right now and where I see myself going.

How I'm using my voice more than before:

  • Giving my opinion - I have a clear understanding of what I believe and am often able to articulate it instead of feeling fuzzy and unsure.
  • Speaking up in large groups - I used to always feel overwhelmed and like I was fighting for attention. I still do sometimes, depending on the group, but I'm more ready to put my hand up or just jump in when I see an opening. I feel like what I have to say is just as important as anyone else and I try to make myself heard.
  • Blogging and being vulnerable on the internet - While my personal Facebook doesn't see much from me, here on this blog and over on Instagram I am frequently opening up about personal things. If I think it will help someone, I'm less afraid to share it.
  • Idle chit-chat - I used to always marvel at why it took people so long to leave meetings or classrooms. I would pack my stuff up and be the first one out, usually because I wasn't stopping to talk to anyone on the way out. I also used to always dread breaks during meetings. Now I'm reasonably comfortable initiating small talk and filling time. And I'm rarely the first person to leave a room.
  • I trust that I always have something to say, even when I'm anxious - usually it's just a matter of taking a breath and seeing what comes up. I don't filter myself like I used to, judging every thought as too stupid or uninteresting to say out loud. Now I'll say whatever I think of to keep the conversation going, and I don't blame myself if it stalls.

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social anxietyThis is the third in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here, the second post here and look for the final instalment in two weeks.  

In the first part of this series, I talked about how social anxiety has impacted my life, and the things I did that made it worse. My last post was about all the ways that I've been working on changing my mindset from fear to openness. Since having a healthier mindset doesn't change anything without actually putting myself out there, this week I'm covering some of the actions, behaviors and situations that have pushed me outside my comfort zone, and helped me become stronger and less fearful. If you haven't already, make sure you read last week's post on mindset shifts, since I've found that pushing myself to do scary things without bringing a ton of mindfulness, softness, and self-care to the table just makes me feel worse about myself.

As I did last week, I'll also try to share some ways that you can apply what I've learned to your own situation, however different it may be from mine.  (more…)

overcoming social anxietyThis is the second in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here and look for the next instalment in two weeks.  

In my last post I wrote about my struggles with social anxiety and all the things I did that made it worse: obsessing over what was wrong with me, trying to fix myself, reading endless books about communication and social skills, putting my tale of woe on repeat, and letting other people define me. In this post and the next one, I want to share what I've done that has helped, and how you can apply what I've learned to your own life.

For me there are two components to loosening the bonds of social anxiety: changing my thoughts and changing my behaviors. I've learned that one doesn't really work without the other.

I've always been one to put myself in scary situations, sometimes with the goal of forcing the anxiety out. While this can help, without doing the mental groundwork, it often just made me miserable instead.

This week I'm covering ways that I have been able to change my mindset: to go from feeling like there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed to finding ways to accept myself and work with what I had. (more…)

Social anxiety - Finding my VoiceThis is the first in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Look for the next instalment in two weeks.  

For most of my life, I have felt like someone who doesn't speak up. Dozens of people have told me that I am quiet, aloof, standoffish, cold and too introverted and over the years I absorbed those words as being an essential part of who I was.

I had a hard time dating because I could never think of anything to say. I got lost in big groups because I didn't want to fight for attention. I never raised my hand in class - even when part of my grade depended on participation. I never stayed to mingle after a class or meeting - I would grab my stuff and leave - even if I was surrounded by friendly faces.

Talking to people has been my biggest challenge and the biggest obstacle between me and my dreams. I always believed that I would never get what I wanted because I couldn't make connections. I've never found a mentor because I never asked for help or advice from anyone. The only time I ever applied for something that required reference letters, I nearly gave up because my teachers said they didn't know me well enough to write a reference.

Until a few months ago, I still believed that being quiet would be my downfall. That despite all the celebration of introverts that has been happening in the world, I was still hopelessly flawed.

Recently, however, I noticed that something had changed. After all the years and all the wishing and hoping to be different, I could suddenly see that I was different. (more…)

Goat sticking out tongue - Moving mindfully through mistakes

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
― George Bernard Shaw

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
― Albert Einstein

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

We've all heard variations on the above quotes about mistakes, about how inevitable and even important they are. They mean that we're growing and moving forward. But as I was looking for inspiration to write this post, I found that these quotes were the opposite of helpful. I can know intellectually that making mistakes is all part of the process and that it doesn't reflect on who I am, but in the moment it sure feels like it does. All the glib quotes in the world won't make rear-ending someone or hurting a friend feel okay.

When I realize I've made a mistake I can feel my stomach drop, like the floor just fell out from under me. Depending on the severity, a slow burning panic might start to spread across my body and I feel like I'm flailing - attempting to grab at the edges of reality like it's a page I can turn back to when I was doing things right, or a sheet I can pull over my head. And then the stories start spinning, telling me that I'm stupid or selfish or a terrible driver who doesn't deserve to be on the road.

When it comes to mistakes,  I'm interested in figuring out two things:

1. What do we do with the pain it causes?

2. How can we avoid letting the negative stories take control and shape our vision of who we are?

There are many reasons we make mistakes: we're not paying attention, we're tired or overwhelmed, we're overconfident, we're pushing our limits, we're trying something new and don't know enough yet, or we're suffering from straight up bad luck. Each of these has something different to teach us, as long as we don't let the pain carry us away.

Here are some ways that I'm learning to be mindful about my mistakes: (more…)

simple truthsThis has become another annual tradition of mine: going through my journals and lists from last year to find simple nuggets of wisdom. These are the aha's that shaped my year and that I hope to bring forward into a new year. So many of these seem like common sense, but they're good reminders of the basics. Hopefully they spark some learning for you as well. (You can see lists from past years here and here.)

Creativity:

  • Do household chores after creative work. I don't know how many times I caught myself doing laundry or dishes on my art days, and then wondering why I didn't get anything done! Now I've made a firm rule that I won't do any chores until I've finished my art for the day.
  • Sometimes you have to start writing before you know what you're writing about. (True for most creative pursuits!)
  • Setting aside a minimum amount of time to spend on art in a day helps me stay focused. Last year it was four hours, since that's the max that I can focus on any one project in a day.
  • Judgement is what separates us from our creativity. Learning to observe that judgement can help to move past it. I learned this while I was teaching my Creative Adventuring class: I asked the students to observe their surroundings without judgement and we got into a great discussion about mindfulness and creativity!
  • If you stop creating, the ideas get jammed up and have nowhere to go so they stop flowing. Keep the taps open. My mom shared this with me and it's totally true.
  • Don't expect satisfaction from creative work. Sometimes it will feel good and sometimes it won't - the point is to just keep doing it no matter what. (Martha Graham said, "No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”)
  • The creative process is not linear. No matter how hard you work at it there will always be bad work now and then.
  • Making stuff eases my anxiety. Getting lost in a project can be a huge help.
  • Every mark is a learning experience.
  • Distractions and mind wandering are part of my process - I don't need to be so hard on myself.
  • I need to schedule time to clean up after projects to keep my space functional.
  • Don't over-practice. I had more fun at my last dance recital than I have in years because I was more focused on enjoying the dance than making it perfect. I practised just enough to learn the steps and then let it be.
  • I refuse to be grumpy because of art. Stress is inevitable but grumpiness has no place in my art practice.

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Light Installation - ZoominescenceWhat a wonderful way to finish 2016 - with a project that I'm super proud of and can't stop talking about. I was happy to partner with the Dying Light Collective, partly because I got to work with my partner, Matt, and partly because they were able to make it look a lot better than I would have on my own. I was in charge of building the sculpture and they made the lights run.

Our local Edmonton Valley Zoo has been hosting a winter light festival called Zoominescence for a few years, but this was the first year they invited artists to submit projects. We sent in a proposal back in July and were pretty excited when it was accepted.

Our idea was to build a large anatomical heart with light flowing in and out of it to represent blood. The theme that they gave us was renewable energy so we wanted to set up a mechanism where people would generate the power needed to run the lights. It didn't turn out exactly how we wanted but we were still happy with it in the end. (more…)

2016 has been a strange year, hasn't it? The world went a little nuts and the news brought me to tears more than a few times. Professionally I also hit some bumps with cancelled workshops and low art sales. It would be easy enough to write the year off completely.

But it wasn't all bad, and I think it's important to spend some time looking back at the good things that happened. In my personal life I know there are plenty of happy memories to revisit but I was feeling down about my professional progress, until I made this list. Looking at all the projects I've worked on over the year remind me that even thought there's a lot that I want to do differently next year, I still have plenty to be proud of.

Here are my top creative projects, moments, and adventures from 2016.  (more…)