I 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…)
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 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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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…)
This year, for the first time, I wrote out a sort of 'strategic plan' for my business. I decided what I wanted to accomplish for the year, what my top priorities were, and how I was going to achieve them. I decided that the one thing I wanted to accomplish this year, even if I got nothing else done, was to build a steady teaching schedule. I felt very good about my plan and my ability to make it happen, and for a couple of months, it seemed like everything was on track to work exactly how I had planned it.
Then it all fell apart. I spent two weeks tearing myself apart for a commission, rushed to try to prepare for my upcoming workshops, only to cancel them when no one registered. That's four workshops that I've canceled this year due to low enrollment. It seemed to me that my "plan" wasn't really working after all. (more…)
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. On the first Friday of each month, 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've been following Tara's work for a few years now and am inspired by her in so many ways. Not only is she a talented painter but her mission is similar to mine: helping people access their creativity. I've been enjoying watching her painting evolve, and the dreamy ocean photographs she posts on Instagram always brighten my day.
Follow Your Sun
It's crazy to think how much the role of the internet in our lives has changed in our lifetimes. From non-existent when I was a kid, to using chat rooms as a pre-teen, to my obsession with looking things up, and beyond. Since I am almost always plugged into something, I thought I would share where I spend most of my time online.
Favourite podcasts - I listen to podcasts when I'm doing mundane, routine tasks at the art table, or when I'm making dinner, doing dishes or laundry, or anything else that requires my hands and eyes but not my brain or ears. I'm a little bit addicted to these I think...
- Dear Sugar - An advice column turned radio show. Hosts Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond are deeply wise and insightful and I love hearing their take on their listener's problems.
- This American Life - Super popular, and for good reason. One of the first podcasts I listened to, the variety of stories always keeps me coming back.
- Radiolab - Sometimes sciency, often not, this show finds incredibly compelling stories and facts and shares them using brilliantly edited sound and music.
- Surprisingly Awesome - They take a supposedly boring topic, like broccoli or concrete, and tell you all the ways that it is actually amazing. There have been quite a few mind-blowing moments thus far.
- Reply All - A show about the internet that also manages to delve into some strange and fascinating places. And the hosts are quite funny at times.
- Planet Money - Super quick snippets about how the world of money works - I always learn something new and am usually entertained in the process.
- Magic Lessons - Elizabeth Gilbert coaches people through creative struggles. They've only done one season so far but the second one is in the works!
- On Being - Krista Tippett interviews spiritual and thought leaders and goes deep into what it means to be human. Prepare to breathe deep and open your consciousness.
Last year I decided to start taking regular "spa days" where I spend an entire day doing only things that energize and replenish me. I see them as a way to step away from my constant need to produce and accomplish and instead simply soak up inspiration. This doesn't mean hours of scrolling Instagram, but instead a conscious process of seeking. Maybe you've heard of Julia Cameron's concept of Artist Dates, from her book The Artist's Way. Her explanation describes the purpose of a spa day perfectly:
"The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore
something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly
“artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the
imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the
play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well
of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask
yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it."
My plan was to take a spa day every two months or so, but I've been bad and haven't had a proper one in over six months. The trick is to schedule them, and then stick to the schedule, no matter how badly you think you need to get work done that day—which is what I have not been doing. I usually like to schedule them after a big project or deadline so that I can fuel up for whatever comes next but every time I finish something there's always something else on the horizon so I keep postponing them.
Does this sound familiar? Do you put off taking time off or resting because there's just too much to do? I think it's pretty common in our society and the truth is no one else is going to plan our breaks for us. We need to take control of our calendars and declare spaces that are just for us. Are you with me? Here's how you can plan your own spa day: (more…)
At this time last year, I was wandering around the Middle East and wasn't about to take on any sort of creative commitment. This year, however, when I saw Elle Luna's #the100dayproject come around again, I knew I had to get in on it.
If you're not familiar with the project, the gist of it is that you decide to do something creative for 100 days and post about it on Instagram. You create your own hashtag so that all your posts can be found easily and you use #the100dayproject so that your work can be found by others. I love scrolling through the hashtag and seeing what people are coming up with.
I wanted to do something simple that wouldn't take me away from the work of my Drawing Project but that would also challenge me to engage every single day. I thought about doing 100 days of cartoons about my life but I was already focused on drawing and didn't want to add to that workload. I thought about whether there were things that I wanted to do more of in my everyday life and immediately realized it had to be field notes. Of course.
Field notes are the name that I give to any sketches drawn or notes written "in the field"—the field being anywhere that isn't at home or at work. They imply notetaking in the moment and the recording of observations. I tend to take a lot of field notes while traveling but I've been wanting to get into the habit in my regular life as well. I'm always coming home from walks with stories of the 'amazing' (at least to me) birds or flowers that I saw and I wanted to start intentionally recording these moments.
Thus began #100daysoffieldnotes. I'm on Day 9 and loving it. It's easy enough that I don't feel stressed about it (like other daily projects I've attempted), but it also makes me keep my head up and my eyes open when I'm walking around. Every time I catch myself staring at the sidewalk worrying about how anxious I feel (or some other meaningless thought spiral) I remember that I need to pay attention so I can find things to write down.
What am I writing? Anything that catches my eye and anything out of the ordinary. It doesn't have to be wildlife, and it doesn't have to really be that interesting. Today I saw three bananas at the foot of a light pole, yesterday I saw three cats on one block. Last week I went for what was supposed to be a short walk and spent 30 minutes stalking woodpeckers, juncos, and robins, taking notes the whole time. Sometimes I record sounds, sometimes smells, and sometimes I sketch whatever is in front of me when I have a minute—yesterday it was empty seats on the bus.
Why pay attention to bananas and cats and empty seats? Because paying attention, as I've written about before, builds creativity. When I announced the project, my mom posted this quote from Edward de Bono on my Facebook page and it couldn't be more accurate: "One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity."
What things are you taking for granted? What are you passing by each day without noticing? What creative connections are you missing, what ideas are you ignoring?
If you want to practice the art of taking field notes—the art of paying attention—join me in my workshop this Sunday at the Edmonton Resilience Festival. It's called Creative Adventuring: Finding Inspiration in your Everyday Surroundings. We'll spend some time wandering around outside, noticing everything that we can and collecting notes, sketches, photos, and artifacts. Then we'll come together, using what we found to create a collaborative art piece.