walkingWalking is one of those things that seems mundane, purely practical, and frequently inconvenient. We do it when we have somewhere to go, often in a hurry, often wishing that we had a more efficient mode of transportation. I'm thinking of rushing through airports to get to our gate, stressed that it's so far from security, running out for lunch or a coffee before sitting back at our desk, or shuffling to the car or bus and back again.

I remember a time when walking felt like brushing my teeth or putting away laundry: something that I had to do but didn't pay much attention to. In university parking was in high demand and I remember how bummed I was when I had to pay for a spot that was a 15-minute walk from my classes, and how tiresome it was to trek back and forth, especially on cold, dark winter mornings.

Of course, there are times when we choose to walk, like when we hike through the woods or mountains, or when we explore a new city. At these moments, walking feels like a blissful detour from real life. We slow down and appreciate what we experience. Walking is the goal itself, rather than a means to an end.  (more…)

installation at Kaleido FestivalI just spent my weekend doing what I love more than almost anything: creating a piece of art that inspired wonder and joy in the people who saw it. I worked with my friend, Kristi Gurski, to create an art installation on a lamppost as part of Kaleido Family Arts Festival's '24-Hour Deck Out a Lamppost Competition.' It was a lot of work but I was so happy with how it turned out and I would do it all again to see the way peoples' faces lit up when they caught sight of it.

Last year I wrote about Kaleido Festival and how much I love the lamppost installations that artists do every year. It's wonderful to see what artists do with such specific constraints, and how much the installations help to transform the festival grounds into something magical and unexpected. Since I was working for the festival, last year I threw together a quick installation but this year I decided to do it right. I asked Kristi, who has done two lamppost installations in the past, to join me and was so glad that she said yes.

Read on to learn about how we came up with our ideas, how we put it together, and what I learned in the process. (more…)

dallas curow

Photo by Andria Lindquist

One 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 met Dallas at a Creative Mornings event shortly after she had moved to Edmonton. Right away it was clear that we had lots to talk about and I've really enjoyed getting to know her as she settles into our city. She's very generous with her wisdom about creativity, social media, and running a small business, and, of course, she takes beautiful photographs. I can't wait for our next tea date!

What sort of creative work do you do?

I am primarily a photographer and makeup artist, but I often do bits of art direction, styling and hair in my work as well. I run two photography studios: Dallas Curow Photography, which is my portrait, wedding and lifestyle brand, and I’m in the process of launching Dallas Alexandra, the name under which I shoot commercial and editorial work. My goal, for every project, is to take the raw materials (setting, lighting, subjects) and create a little bit of magic in each frame. I want to create a wonderful experience that yields the best photographs people have ever seen of themselves, and let the images be a memory of the joyful and empowering experience.

Have you always thought of yourself as a creative person? Why or why not?

Yes, as long as I remember, I’ve felt driven to create. I feel energized creating something, and parched and depleted when I’m not creating. I do better when I’m creating rather than consuming; happier when active than passive. I’ve been lucky to have many creative outlets. For a long time, it was classical singing and musical theatre, plus theatre direction, and I’d love to find my way back to those artforms soon. At other times it was painting and drawing. I’ve always loved writing and have often found work as a writer/editor. But photography has always been a part of my life. (more…)

drawing projectTomorrow a yearlong project comes to a close. Last September I started sending out weekly emails to a small group of people who agreed to join me in an experiment. I wanted to see if I could confront my inner critic and my fear of drawing and find a way to make drawing feel fun again. I've spent the last twelve months reading drawing books and blogs, obsessively searching for drawing quotes, writing about drawing, and, of course, drawing. It has been quite an adventure.

This last year I've tried new materials, visited new places, and drawn subjects that I probably never would have otherwise. I've dealt with frustration, boredom, and disappointment and I've enjoyed wonder, delight, and a sense of flow. (more…)

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…)