good enough

"So we have to be patient with ourselves. Over and over again we think we need to be somewhere else, and we must find the truth right here, right now; we must find our joy here, now. How seductive it is, the thought of tomorrow. We must find our understanding here. We must find it here; it is always here; this is where the grass is green." - John Tarrant

My partner, Matt, ran a course over the winter to teach people basic mechanical skills by rebuilding a motorbike. They named the finished result "Good Enough," and it was recently featured in a local bike show, with all its quirks and flaws. I love this so much.

I had a rough day at work last week and wanted to treat myself to a night of enjoyment. After dinner, I had an hour before heading out to see a play and I decided to work on a drawing that's been taking weeks to finish. I enjoyed that hour tremendously, and was even happy with the results, but later that night I started to berate myself for only finding an hour to draw this whole week, and for only finishing a two-inch square in that time. I started to resent my job and my other responsibilities and wished that I could just spend the whole day making art.

But then I remembered that life doesn't work that way. That—having all the time and energy I want to make art—is a fantasy that even winning the lottery won't making come true. There will always be days when I have nothing to say, when drawing feels tortuous, or when mundane things like earning money, doing laundry and scrubbing floors will have to take precedence. There will be days when the only creative act I make all day is to snap a quick photo on my lunch break. (more…)

in the studio

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern."  Annie Dillard (Source)

I just found this quote and it feels like the perfect description for both the power and the futility of a creative schedule. I have ideas about how I want to spend my time and they almost never match reality. But I try, week after week, to impose a sense of order on my days to help me feel like I'm accomplishing something and moving forward. As I've written about before, routine and habit help to cement our creative practice. Without this structure, our ideas float off and become lost in the flurry of our days, in the "wreck of time."

This is what my daily routine looks like.

At the office

Three and a half years ago I took a leap and started working part-time— three days a week—so that I could have two days for making art. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made and I'm so grateful for those two days. But it also means that creating a schedule and routine is a bit tricky since my week is carved up into separate sections. After all this time my schedule is far from perfect, but I do have a pretty good idea of what works best for me. (more…)

These last few months have been tough for the world. At times like these, it's easy to believe that we're surrounded by hate and fear on every side. While my heart breaks every time I hear about another terrorist attack or hate crime, I also have a relentless hope in humanity and in our ability to overcome these struggles.

Albert Einstein said that "The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe."

I believe we live in a friendly universe that is also full of fear and pain. I believe that art and creativity can help ease the fear and pain and can help show us a way through.

Here are a few things I've found on the internet lately that remind me that humanity has the capacity to be strong and beautiful, even when it seems like the world is falling apart around us.

Art that carries a powerful message of peace.

A list of books to read when nothing seems to make sense anymore.

The most beautiful comment on protecting the Arctic.

"They destroy. We rebuild." This made me cry in the most hopeful way: (more…)

way through envyWe all know that envy is bad for us. We know that we shouldn't compare our insides to other people's outsides. We know that jealousy keeps us small when we really want to expand.

But it's just so darn hard to let go of, isn't it?

Personally, I feel like I am constantly getting stuck in the envy trap. Here are just a few scenarios that make my monkey brain go wild:

  • People who "fell into" their current, amazingly successful roles. They barely try and the world is breaking down their door to consume everything they make.
  • People who say that their Instagram followings started at 500 with just "family and friends."
  • People who develop thriving businesses using only word of mouth.
  • Basically, anyone who's success seems to come easily.

You might notice a theme running through these statements. They all rely on a story that I'm telling about how these people got to where they are. This story usually includes something along the lines of, "They're good at this and I'm not, they are succeeding and I'm not, they have something that I will never have so I should just stop trying." This quickly turns into "I'm not good enough. Nothing I do is enough."

I recently realized that it's this train of thoughts that follows from the feeling of envy that is destructive, rather than the envy itself. As a result, I'm working on dealing with envy in a constructive and positive way. Because these negative thoughts are based on stories that I tell myself, I can usually find my way through the negative feelings by examining and questioning these stories, and the beliefs that they're based on.

Finding a way through envy

If you find yourself in the grip of comparison and envy, here's something that you can try. Go for a walk or find a quiet place to sit. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself these questions: (more…)

organizing my studio

"To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so, where you do not know who your friends are, you don't know what you owe anybody or what they owe you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be." Joseph Campbell

My sacred space has been a long time coming. I've lived in my current home for almost two years and have been using a very quick and dirty organizational system in the spare bedroom that I use as a studio. It was always messy because so many things didn't have homes. It was hard to find things and hard to keep track of what I had. And every time I taught a workshop I had to pull supplies out of many different spots and then put them back afterward (which usually doesn't happen for a few weeks.)

Every time I move to a new home and have to set up a new studio, it takes some time to figure out, to find a rhythm and a system. Finally, after a few days of knee-deep hard work, a lot of help from my partner and months of tweaking, my studio feels clean, functional, and inspiring. I walk by and can't wait to get in there and start making something.

(more…)

summerOh summer. So juicy and wonderful and yet so fleeting. Way up north as we are, we spend the whole year thinking about it and then have to run to catch up when it finally arrives. I used to make lists of everything I wanted to do in a summer, but I've stopped since I generally find myself feeling overwhelmed and more than a little frantic when June hits and there is so much to do: markets to prepare for, weddings to attend, camping trips to plan, family gatherings and barbecues and festivals. Before you know it, the season is yawning and curling up under a blanket of leaves to sleep for another year.

I often wish I could spend my summers in a cabin in the woods, or by a beach with nothing to do besides walk, write, make stuff and stare at the sky. Instead, I'm slowly learning to slow down and make space for the small wonders that summer brings. At the same time, I'm learning to appreciate all the seasons in their own right, so that summer doesn't bear the full weight of my desires and expectations.

The book The Way of the Happy Woman is about embracing the phases of our days, months, and years, and changing our habits to suit each one. I've loved reading about how to embrace summer's wild energy of celebration and fun, and how to take care of myself in the midst of it.

Here are my commandments for keeping summer both beautiful and manageable: (more…)

Recovering from being a straigh-A studentI have a confession to make: from elementary through high school, I was a straight A student.

If you asked anyone to describe me during those years they probably would have said 'quiet' and 'smart'. For a long time, that was how I saw myself as well, with my identity being completely shaped by my ability to get the right answers.

I had high standards and more than a touch of perfectionism. My poor parents would stay up with me the night before an assignment was due as I cried that it wasn't good enough (though it was miles ahead of what most other kids were doing.)

I got really good at figuring out what teachers wanted and doing exactly that. I excelled at multiple choice tests to the point where I found them fun. On the other hand, tests that involved creating something on the spot—for example, using a prompt to write a story—would reduce me to tears.

I relaxed a tiny bit in university once I realized that it didn't really matter what was on my transcript since I wasn't interested in grad school (and once I learned that my acting teachers wouldn't give me anything better than a B+ not matter how hard I tried) but I still stuck to the program. Pay attention in class, do your homework, follow instructions. (more…)

Brady Black - Serious CreaturesOne 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 first discovered Brady's work when someone mentioned the @seriouscreatures account in a webinar about Instagram. I followed it because it seemed like he was having so much fun and engaging so much with his community. His drawing prompts have been a huge inspiration in my own drawing journey and I love his playful style.

Brady Black - Serious Creatures

What sort of creative work do you do?

My wife, Amber, and I have an illustration shop called “Serious Creatures”. I do the illustration work and Amber does all the business stuff. Beyond selling products derived from my artwork, we also try to inspire and encourage imagination in people and have a few projects on Instagram towards this end.

#SCDrawWithMe is a drawing challenge every other week to help you think outside of the box and stretch your imagination.

#BlobDraw is a every other week picture of a watercolor blob that I encourage others to tell me what they “see” in it and then I pick one and try to draw it. Very Rorschach test-like.

We also have a growing series of video art tutorials on our website aimed at teaching kids how to draw in a fun way. (more…)

What I have been reading, learning and thinking about in the last four months. Fiction, non-fiction, art books, and a movie.I love doing these book lists because it gives me a clear idea of where I have spent my mental energy in the last four months. This time, I can see that I've spent a LOT of time reading self-improvement books around creativity, collaboration, and productivity. I wonder if I have anything to show for it...

I've also noticed that the lists are getting longer and longer. I'm not sure if that's because I'm reading more or if it's that I'm more careful about choosing good books (and finishing them!) because I know I'll be writing about them later. Either way, here is a good long list of what I have been enjoying over the last four months.

Fiction

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

With a style touching on magical realism, a captivating story, and sweet, good-natured characters, this book hit me right in the feels. The character's speech was highly poetic, which pulled me out of the story occasionally but was so beautiful that I didn't mind. The novel follows two characters throughout the Second World War: a blind girl in Paris who has to evacuate with her father, and a radio-obsessed boy in Germany who goes to a military school to escape a life working in the mines. Woven between them is the story of a centuries-old diamond with a romantic back story. I often have a hard time with war stories, but—with a few exceptions—this one tended more toward the fanciful than the frightening, so it didn't stress me out too much. (more…)

sound

When it comes to creativity, it’s important to have a constant stream of inspiration to draw from. If we choose to pay attention to them, our senses can offer bucket loads of material as we move through each day hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Paying attention to our senses helps us live in the moment, excites our curiosity, and can make us more in tune with our natural impulses. However, so many of us—myself included—go through our days without really feeling much of anything. To deepen my own awareness, I wrote a post on each of our senses, explaining some ways that we can focus more intently on that sense and wake ourselves up to the variety of experiences around us. This is the last one. Hopefully, they’ll help you too. I’ve also written about taste, sight, and smell, and touch.

Hearing

What do you think of when you think of your sense of hearing? Music? Birds chirping? Hearing loss? Next to sight, our sense of hearing is probably the one we use the most in an average day. It lets us communicate with our co-workers and loved ones, helps alert us when a car is approaching a crosswalk, and allows us to wake up on time when our alarm goes off. It also adds an incredible amount of texture and depth to our daily lives since we can pick up on so many different sounds at once: "Our hearing system does not blend the frequencies of different sounds, as the visual system does when different wavelengths of light are mixed to produce color. Instead, it separates complex sounds into their component tones or frequencies so that we can follow different voices or instruments as we listen to conversations or to music." (more…)