Stepping out of your comfort zone

I’m taking a winderful online class with Danny Gregory called “Sketchbook Skool”, which is helping me step out of that comfort zone. Here is one result.

 Yes, I’m still out here. Being creative (drawing, photographing, writing) when I manage to come out of my rabbit hole and face the light. Oh, but it so cozy in there–I’ve got wifi and e-books and all my stuff and fresh almond milk in the fridge (don’t ask how THAT happened). I also have my IPad, which is now about 2 1/2 years old and has sort of become my link to the outside world. Starting my day by checking email, the ever-important updates on Facebook (she says with a bit of sarcasm, but really, it’s very addictive). But, speaking of rabbit holes, it makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland when I start reading the links people post and go far astray from the practical concerns of the day until the white rabbit is looming in my face with his big watch saying “We’re late!”. For a very important date (yes, that laundry doesn’t do it itself).

That is a very well-defined comfort zone. It keeps my fears and unmet desires at bay. It is also a place where the inspirational posters on the wall tend to hinge on the negative, giving me reasons to stay in, peering from behind the curtains muttering “I can’t go out because I’m too…(fill in the blank)”. Stepping out of it is always a little daunting, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Even being creative is a bit daunting at times. For me, being creative is jumping out of my comfort zone, even if using my creativity is what I seem to be born to do, in this case to share with you (the reader) something that inspires me (which means putting my words or images out there for all to read). Moving out of your comfort zone means being exposed and vulnerable. It also means paying attention to what is going on in your head, instead of focusing on other people all the time. That’s not selfish, as one (well, this one) might assume, but oh so necessary.

On a LinkedIn email, I clicked on this post by Holywood Producer Brian Grazer, about “disruption” and how stepping out of his comfort zone to talk to people inspires him. I found his words to be quite true, and a reminder that stepping out of that zone will reap benefits and help you grow. I hope you find it equally inspiring:

It’s a reminder to me that most of the learning moments and memorable times in my life have come from stepping out (in some cases being dragged out, but thankful later) of my comfort zone. It’s much easier to lie in bed with the covers over my head at times, but I get a lot more out of life by pulling them off and taking the first step into the day ahead. It doesn’t mean I should do something dubious, unlawful, or against my moral character or common sense, but taking the time to listen to an opposing or unusual viewpoint (yes, listening can be a creative act–intake informs output), or facing your fears can be character building and informative. Even trying to do or be something you never imagined you could do or be, or talk to someone you couldn’t imagine would give you the time of day. Or even getting around to do something that seems like it might be boring (really, that is one of our fears, too, isn’t it?) and finding hidden gems of truth and life. Life is short, opportunities pass. (Oh, young friend, you will learn that time only speeds up as you get older.)

Yep, staying in the rabbit hole is sometimes necessary, too. You do need time to digest new experiences and to let ideas percolate and form. But don’t stay in there forever. Peak out and see what the day holds for you. order your jolt of caffeine small, medium or large: have something new for breakfast, go to talk with Grandma for lunch, or have a big meal after you cannonball off the high dive into the pool, screaming all the way down (metaphorically speaking, whatever that means to you–just be sure there is plenty of water in the pool, you want to live to tell about it). Small or big, it will give you something to grow on and share. Maybe the laundry will do itself.  

Thamks for the inspiration, Brian!

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Facebook blues


I’ve been a little lax with keeping up my creativity sharing, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been creative. No, sir, dishes go undone, laundry isn’t put away–all the usual as I pursue that elusive butterfly in my brain. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time on Facebook admiring everyone else’s creativity? At any rate, creativity is nothing if not impulsive. I felt that itch this morning to write a rhyme and illustrate it with one of my photos. And, of course, to share. Now, on to other things! Feel free to download the image and share this on your Facebook page. Just please leave the copyright intact (you know us artists, we like credit). Enjoy!

And don’t worry, I’m not looking for dinner invitations. Just consider this a collective hug.

Photo with poem

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What light through yonder window

Shadows created by light striking bowl

Light reveals and transforms

I am passionate about light. Like a moth to a bulb, I am drawn to the sun’s warmth and power, sometimes searing my wings. It awakens the creativity within me and everything bathed in the glow is to me a visual masterpiece.

It’s been a while since I’ve made a blog post. It seems that writing a post is reserved for those moments when inspiration strikes so poignantly that I must share. Creative pursuits are an everyday occurrence in my life, but I don’t always write about them. Maybe I take them for granted? But sometimes life slows down enough for me to think of how creativity works in my life, and to marvel at how the best creations aren’t even of our own making. Creativity can be about intention, or it can be about noticing what is around you.

This week’s activities involved a discussion about book cover design, an evening of cardmaking, and a workshop with adults and small and wild and insistent creative people to make chrismons (decorations for a church Christmas tree involving copious amounts of glue and gold glitter). I loved seeing how a three-year age difference between sisters affected their style of creativity – the older one drawing carefully only with gold marker, and the younger gleefully churning out joyous pieces with great globs of glitter glue outside the lines.  Each was happily creating in their own way. I came home and continued to glue and glitter with help from my niece. I had fun, and at the end of it all felt, well, happy! And it made me want to do more, to pay attention to that creative side of me. Sometimes we creative folk get in the doldrums and need something to get us out of the grey corner we are moping in. We need a little light to shine in and draw us out. And maybe a little glitter.

That was a lot of activity for a few days (cleaning up for a party, vacuuming, standing at the glitter station) and my back complained. Today, fortunately, I had no appointments, and eventually found myself in my dining room, resting on a chair in the sun, feeling my back twinge, listening to the fast chk-chk-chk of the dollar store nodding flower and the slower tick-tick of a clock work together.

Rhythms started to form in my head as I watched dust motes settle in the window and bits of glitter blink on the table in the sunlight. As I and the cat watched out the window, time seemed to stand still, in beat with my heart. If you are still and quiet, you start to notice things–in your head, around you, through your senses. The sun was my partner in this reverie–it touched yellow leaves of a birch tree from behind and they glowed like gold leaf in contrast to the grey street beyond. The cat stood in silhouette on the table. Items on the windowsill stood illuminated in full detail–candlesticks and sailboats under interrogation–where have you been? where are you going? Light traced the edges of a dish and revealed the ornate pattern on its bowl, then became a pool of white light as it filled the base, traveling on to create a creature of shadow by spilling through the delicate lace of its porcelain body.

Light draws me, ignites me. And for that I am grateful.

Sometimes your body knows more than your brain about what you need. Your body needs to heal. Your soul needs to be filled. Sit down, be quiet, and pay attention. The show is about to begin.

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The joy of cut and paste

click for larger version

My reconstruction of a drawing by Mica Angela Hendricks and her daughter.

Lucky is the child with an artistic mother. My favorite moments with my mother all seem to have to do with creating. One of the projects I remember best as a very young child was a huge scrapbook with illustrations and photos of every kind pasted into it. This was meant to keep me amused by looking at it, but really, it was a way to keep my mother amused. She adored cutting pictures out of magazines and tucking them away to be pasted into a book later.

She had a background as an occupational therapist, and perhaps this was an activity that she used in therapy with the wounded World War II veterans she encountered in her work after the war. These skills came in handy when raising children, particularly one born with an itch to create. Early on, I picked up the scissors and paste and started doing my own versions. They are a wonderful walk through the years, observing the changes in style and illustration. We loved images together.

I would like to introduce another very lucky kid–the daughter of illustrator Mica Angela Hendricks. Mica has a wonderful blog called “The Busy Mockingbird”, and gives examples of how she lets her four-year-old daughter embellish and finish illustrations that she has started. They are crazy and delightful. Her blog post this morning shared one of these as an invitation to use it to cut and paste. I did my own version (see above) and had a wonderful time cutting and pasting away. It was great therapy and served to jump-start my creative battery for the day.

Get your own at Mica’s blog site: and share it with her if you can.

Here is Mica’s justifiably popular post about collaborating with her daughter:

Happy cutting and pasting! And remember, especially if you’re an artist, it’s fun to share!

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The Tribble with Keeping Calm

Keep Calm banner

The original “Keep Calm” banner gracing my office door.

I first saw the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” while eating in a British restaurant in Kansas. The words were printed boldly in white on a red banner. It was just what I needed to see. At the time I needed a tough mantra to deal with a sad and difficult time in my life—my mother had just died, and my brother and I were faced with the task of dealing with our grief while also trying to prepare for an estate sale. I bought a banner just like it for myself at the local Brit store, where I learned that it was originally a poster created to keep London citizens positive during WWII (although never used). I hung it in Mom’s house in a place where I would see it every day while I sifted through a lifetime of our precious memories deciding what to keep and what to discard. It served to give me a strong positive vibe when I wanted to scream and run away. It eventually came home with me and graces my office door. It still gives me strength.

Unfortunately, what was unique and important to me at one time seems to have become a bit trite with overuse and rampant mutation. I am fascinated with the copy-and-change phenomenon surrounding this poster. It has become a template for an expansive collection of memes. My understanding of a “meme”: start with one image and keep changing it while retaining some part of the original. One recent example is the photo of a smirking Olympic gymnast which has been inserted into a million different oddball scenes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her face in place of the crown. Would that be a double meme?

Keep Calm banner using Comic Sans

Keep Calm and use Comic Sans!

A basic template is a unification tool—particularly handy for marketing or creating a brand where you want the public to recognize your style while you change the message as needed. It can include particular colors, a specific font or placement of text, or a logo or specific image. If all items are changed but one, we may still recognize the template behind the new design. Even the shape of the background stripped of all visual content can be recognizable (the beauty of logo design). With a copyright free template, such as the “keep calm” poster, the possibilities of new use are endless. Do we change the font, the color, the image of the crown, or the wording? How far can we go before nobody sees the original in the replication?

My turn to participate in this global design challenge! I have always felt that typefaces have personalities and their use can give a message different meanings—sad, serious, happy, modern, antique, etc. It seems very odd when you turn the tables on a design and use a typeface that gives a different meaning to the original message. I have tried that here, using Comic Sans (as far as I could get from the stiff-upper-lip original font), and indeed, it looks very silly to me, changing the serious tone of the original completely.

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick banner

What Teddy would create if he could meme…
Design by Jane Reed Wilson
Moose art – Clipart by Ron Leishman

I went a step further, wondering what I could do differently while still using Comic Sans. The basic meme theme (sorry, I had to say that) seems to be to insert your own mantra and go. I inserted a quote from one of my favorite presidents, Teddy Roosevelt: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. This is not a very “comic” statement, surely, but by replacing the crown with a cartoon moose (symbolic of Teddy’s Bull Moose political party) carrying a stick, something clicked. The image and the type font work together in their own goofy way, and the use of a cartoon and a comic font change this message, too, almost ridiculing it. It’s a long way from the original image while retaining a smidgeon of the original format. Is that the rule? I have now joined the global redesign of the “Keep Calm” poster! I could keep going. But I have other things to do now.

Does the replication of this image remind anyone of the original Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”? I love this particular episode. (Spoiler ahead!) It introduced a lovable furry muff-like creature called a “tribble” that bred quickly aboard the Enterprise as the brood fed on a grain shipment. In the end most of the tribbles died (sniff), and it turned out that they were the canary in the coal mine, alerting the crew that the enemy had poisoned the entire shipment. Aside from being poisoned, the tribbles quit breeding if they quit eating. Maybe the way to get this cliché to die is to quit feeding it. Or should it keep mutating? And just be sent somewhere where it “will be no tribble at all”…?

I wonder if the name of the original designer of the poster was Cyrano Jones.

Insert “Keep Calm” into Google and you will find a plethora of links about the subject. I share a few below:

Want to buy the font? Try

Want to make your own “parody” and have it reproduced on a kitchen towel? Apparently I could have saved a few hours messing around in Photoshop (but NO, I had to do it MY way). Here are two links to help you put your mantra to work drying those dishes:

Lastly, read this blog post by typography blogger Gareth Stranks, who has ably explained the history and expressed some of my sentiments about the subject:

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Creative procrastination

My abstract photo

My successful entry into a juried abstract exhibition at the Philadelphia Sketch Club

I have been itching to write on my blog for a few days, and although I can’t think of anything terribly profound to say, I think that I better get this out of my system. It is possible, too, that this is a new form of procrastination for me. Or is it?

When faced with the prospect of finishing a job for someone else, I am often overcome with the urge to do anything but. I must organize my to-do list. I suddenly want to do that other personal project I’ve had on the list for the last six months and haven’t gotten to yet. I have to write that letter to an old friend that I should have written after I got her Christmas letter (she probably thinks I’m dead, because she’s not on Facebook). And I must tell everyone that I got ANOTHER photo into a juried show (check the link for previews here!

What does it matter how the project gets done? It’s only my own health and emotional welfare that is at stake here. Hopefully the client in another state will have no idea of how hard it is to figuratively chain my ankle to a chair in order to get at their terribly interesting project. And actually, it is interesting. There is nothing more interesting to me than finding or creating words and images and putting them into some kind of visually appealing order. So, why wait?

I may never know the answer to that one. I do know a lot of terrific and productive creative people who have the same problem getting started or keeping going on a project. Danny Gregory, my favorite drawing guru, talks about “monkey brain”. Check out his thoughts on the subject here: Danny is talking more about the voice in your head that tells you not to even try being creative because you suck at it. He has lots of good tips for banishing that voice, including just get started by doing something simple. For me that translates into reorganizing my address book, but I get his point. Do SOMEthing towards the project at hand, and the rest will start to flow.

The discipline to get started and keep going seems to be heavily related to respecting your own time. When you work at home, it is extremely difficult not to think of all the other things that need doing, or that you want to do but have been putting off. Suddenly the thought of devoting a section of time that you might waste anyway to something specific sends a little whirlwind of panic into your calm and peaceful life. Must get it ALL done!

Helen Mallon is a terrific writer based in Philadelphia. (I was honored to create digital “covers” for her short stories, available on Amazon – To my eye, she seems to have tackled the demons of procrastination. She has, as do many creative people, her own projects (she’s writing a novel, and writes short stories and poetry), as well as those projects for other people from which she earns a living. But I know that she struggles with that impish urge to jump up from the desk and do anything but what she needs to get at. She has said that the writer Louise Erdrich said she used to tie herself down with scarves in order to write. I would probably spend too much time deciding which scarves to use, and might even have to dash out to Kohl’s to see what else I could find.

I’m sure there is a great psychological explanation for why we creatives procrastinate, and there may even be some artistic types out there who don’t. Believe me, the thrill of staying up until 4 am on a deadline grew old a long time ago, but I still find myself using that golden available time in the afternoon to do something else that could really wait instead of forging ahead on a project. Does the mere thought of a commitment to a client suddenly stimulate all the creative cells and make everything seem important? I can get a lot done in a short time and probably spend more time worrying about getting it done than actually doing it (and in the mean time get a lot of other stuff done). I think that knowing this is probably the first step to salvation. “Just do it” may be an overworked phrase, but sometimes it makes a lot of sense. That would give me more time to watch “Project Runway” or get some sleep later. Wouldn’t it be fun if Project Runway’s contestant mentor Tim Gunn would show up every now and then and say in his quiet and caring way “So, how are you doing?”

Okay, I think I’ve got that out of my system now. I have taken an hour and a half to acknowledge and muse about my own creative process and share it with you. I think perhaps that was just as important as working on my project. It will get done, it always does.

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Photo by Jane Reed Wilson

Photo by Jane Reed Wilson appearing in the PHOTOGraphy 2013 Exhibition at the Philadelphia Sketch Club

We know we’re creative. We’ve been making our mark since we were old enough to play with our food. Many of us, however, feel the need to have that little bit of recognition for the superlative way we mix our mashed potatoes with our peas. I think that’s perfectly natural. We’ve been getting praise all our lives for things we simply did right, like tying our shoelaces, never mind tying them better than anyone else. Heck, we’ve gotten praise for just participating! “That was a great orchestra concert!” said Dad in response to my junior high efforts at playing the cello. He probably had his fingers in his ears during the concert, but that’s love. (Or, maybe it was that good?)

I recently entered a juried photo exhibition at the Philadelphia Sketch Club and had a piece accepted. That takes praise to another level—praise from people who don’t even know you and are judging your work and not just trying to tell you they love you. It affirms what you are capable of, and not just that you exist or participate. Getting in the show is a bit of a rush, and the little “likes” I got from Facebook friends when I announced it felt like applause. No wonder Sally Field gushed so that time she won an Oscar—“You like me!”

Outside praise makes you feel that your work has hit a level of skill associated with accepted norms for “greatness”. We always seem to be looking “up” to someone we deem more professional to tell us we’re “getting there”. “I thought of Aaron Siskind when I saw your photo”, the head juror told me. I was thrilled to hear that, because I thought the same thing when I picked it from my raft of thumbnails.

Would it have meant less coming from my next door neighbor? Will someone use my name in a similar comparison some day? I think that the names of great artists enter the vocabulary as a frame of reference—it is easier to say “Aaron Siskind” than it is to spend more words describing how much you like this close-up of a weather-beaten object where the paint is peeling away in interesting layers and patterns. Comparison to a famous name can sometimes more efficiently imply the level of feeling evoked by this piece of art than can a simple description of it. Until you “get there”, your work is happily derivative.

There are plenty of artists and writers and musicians who are happy to work in seclusion and create with no thought in mind of sharing their creative efforts. I visited a friend recently who paints for the sheer joy of painting and putting her thoughts on canvas in color and form. This is not what she does for a living. I was honored to be shown this very personal side of her life. I looked at her amazingly beautiful and fascinating images and thought “you should have a show!”, but she doesn’t need that.

I am a bit shy about showing my work, but I love to see the smile that comes over someone’s face when they see something they like in what I’ve drawn or photographed (or written). In some cases, that item feels a bit like a baby whom I would like the viewer to fawn over. “Isn’t she cute? She looks just like you!” Sharing my sketchbook with someone is like letting a stranger into my home. Once they see it, they will be a stranger no longer. They might even have to do the dishes.

Sometimes we are wary of letting these strangers in. What if they trash the place? What if they turn their nose up at my beautiful, creative work? What if they think my little scratchings on paper or my snapshots are silly and of no consequence and make fun of me? I believe these childish thoughts, whether we are aware of them or not, are at the base of any argument we have about entering any kind of artistic exhibition. Horrors, what if we lose?

All I can say is, if you don’t enter a contest, you have no chance of getting in or winning that contest. No outside affirmation awaits if you don’t show your work. I found out about this exhibition a week before entries were due, and perhaps the short time frame goaded me into a “why not” attitude. I banished the inner child to its room and prepared entries. In a few days, I had prints made, found some frames, put everything together and submitted three framed prints (in the pouring rain, no less) to the club.

I was thrilled when I checked their website the following week to discover that one of my photographs was accepted (click on photo for larger version). I didn’t win a prize, but I did get into this juried show in which half of the entries were not accepted. I saw some of these rejected entries when I picked my own rejects up and I thought many of them were amazing. There was a lot of competition. I felt lucky.

This last weekend, I attended the opening reception for the exhibit on the sweltering second floor studio of the oldest sketch club in the country (circa 1860). I happily schmoozed with other artists and photographers while we sipped wine and fanned ourselves with leftover exhibition postcards. We applauded the winners as they had their photos taken with head juror Tony Ward, world-renowned professional photographer. Attending the event itself felt like an award.

Do we need affirmation as artists? Should creative expression simply be a Zen-like activity to boost emotional and mental health? I don’t think there are “yes” or “no” answers to either of these questions. We are all individuals with different needs. As for me, it felt really good to have a place on the wall with my fellow artists, and to have someone say that I could join the game.

On the flip side, my rejects are still wonderful to me and are already gracing the walls of my home. I still get great therapeutic benefit by making drawings of dubious quality in my sketchbook, even if nobody ever sees them. I like to look at them from time to time, and they each carry a memory of the time I drew them and show me a piece of my journey in life and my path as an artist.

I see there is another show to gear up for—this time an all-media abstract juried exhibition. It’s time to spend a few happy hours looking through my photos and art to see if I have anything I think worthy. It sure would be easier to have the jurors go through all my files and say with a shout, “this one is the best!” But it doesn’t work that way. We must be our own jurors and find the few WE think are best.

Choosing what to enter was an interesting exercise in taking an objective eye to my own work. I brought my husband in to help me choose after I had narrowed my selection down to fifty photos, then ten. In the end, his input was very valuable. We separately thought the best photo I could enter was later the one that did get in the show! Maybe that is what entering contests is all about—looking at our own work and thinking about what we think works and what doesn’t and what stands out as memorable—mentally and emotionally owning what we have created and acknowledging that it is all worthy of praise.

By the way, if anyone can guess where this photo was taken and what it is, I will send you a nice 8×10 signed print suitable for framing (family members excepted, you’ll probably get one for Christmas).

To see the rest of the show, go to the Philadelphia Sketch Club website and link to their Facebook page.

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A Creative Love Letter to Boston

Duck statue

Make way for ducklings

I’m thinking about procrastination and why it is so hard to get started on projects sometimes. For instance, I haven’t posted to this blog in a while. It’s not that I haven’t felt creative, or haven’t had anything to say about the subject. I’ve just been too busy to combine heart and soul with words that seem to fit and inspire. Sometimes I don’t take time to do the things I truly love because I want to wait until I can give them the proper time or attention. Sometimes I am waiting for creative lightning to strike. Another side to creative procrastination can be delaying projects (think “homework”) until it is clear that there is not a lot of time left to complete them, and that the consequences of not completing them are undesirable. Then there is a scramble to finish on time and, surprisingly, the results are often better than imagined, despite the worry and hurry—as with my master’s thesis.

Back in the dinosaur age (i.e. “pre-computer”), I went to Boston University for two years and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. The degree program was for me a bit of a “finishing school” in the profession I had been working in for the four years after college. Prodding from family members convinced me that achieving this additional degree would be a feather in my cap and perhaps lead to a better-paying job. It also enabled me to teach at the college level. What it really did for me was to give me the focus on graphic design that I had not gained at the undergraduate level, having taken only one class in graphic design my last semester at the University of Kansas. I moved to Boston after graduation, interned at a magazine and the rest is history.

Sun shining through trees on Boston Common-click for larger image

Looking west from Boston Common

During those two years at BU, I and my fellow graduate graphic designers designed a variety of projects from building signage to wine labels. We did not use computers—we used tracing paper or Letraset transfer letters to comp type, we drew detailed layouts with markers and pencil, we used stat cameras to create mechanicals from which we created finished products—very old school! My thesis consisted of a gallery showing of my chosen subject at a group exhibition. My subject was based on a lifelong love—color. My general focus was the emotional and physical effects of color—how we perceive it, how it affects us, and how we use it and why.

My instructor indicated to me that this was perhaps a little too broad a subject. He came to me the spring of the thesis exhibition to tell me he wasn’t convinced I could complete a presentation on time, and if I didn’t get started, I might not graduate. That was chilling, and the kick in the pants I needed. I sprang into action and spent the two weeks before the show in my cubicle frantically cutting out pieces of colored paper and getting lightheaded from the fumes of the rubber cement I used to adhere them to Fomecore board.

Ducks from the Boston Public Garden-click for larger image

Ducks from the Boston Public Garden

In addition to displaying text panels and examples describing color theory, I used all that information to create a series of posters that combined things dear to my heart—photography and graphic design…and Boston.

I trudged all over Boston with my camera (remember, this is pre-digital) and took photos of all the things I loved about my adopted city. Tall buildings with a bit of blue sky peaking between them. Blurry green and yellow shots of the subway. The North End with colorful store fronts, and Christmas lights and flags decorating old brick buildings. The New England Aquarium. Fanueil Hall Marketplace. With inspiration from these photographs and others I created semi-abstract posters to show how color could evoke feelings of different areas of a city. I completed my work in time for the thesis exhibition, where I displayed both the posters and their inspirational photos.

There was another project during that time—I needed to create a slide presentation that told a story. I asked a fellow student to let me take photos of him as if he were running in the Boston Marathon and lifting his arms in elation as he “crossed” the finish line. I loved the marathon. I would often hang out with friends on Beacon Street the day of the marathon, cheering on every sweaty runner who went puffing by. I thought marathoners were rock stars, especially the ones that took five hours to finish.

Tall buildings in Boston-click for larger image

The variety of Boston architecture

Those slower but hardy runners and their friends and families are the ones who were the victims of the horrific bombings this week on April 15 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The bombings are an unbelievably evil act that is hard to comprehend—people out for a fun day experience the kind of trauma found in war casualties. Three young people are killed just as their lives are beginning.

Those of us who love Boston—but now live far away—feel a bit helpless as to how to help the city that will always be a part of us. These sad events have made me think again of the place I called home for 23 years. I think back to a time when I used this wonderful city as a subject for the biggest personal creative project I ever had. I could have chosen any subject to demonstrate how one can use color, but in choosing Boston itself, I believe now that I was simply showing my love for the city without being aware of it. Sometimes we are not always aware of how much we love someone (or someplace) until something unexpectedly awful happens to them.

Flags on the Boston waterfront-click for larger image

Flags on the Boston waterfront

Boston, I love you. I am thinking of your people who are injured or dead because of this unthinkable act of violence, and wish you and them peace and healing. I don’t know what to say or do, except to tell you that you are under my skin. Your colors, sights, and sounds live with me and bring me warm memories.

I truly believe that once you draw or photograph something that it becomes familiar to you and part of you. You have taken the time to notice it and be with it in the moment. You will always carry with you the intensity of the time you spent with your subject. You own it. It owns you. Boston owns me. And I like that.

I’m sorry that lightning did indeed have to strike for me to feel I had something to write about after four months of blogging silence. I do have another project hanging fire, but somehow sending a love note to Boston during its toughest week ever seems more important. We all have our own creative process and maybe it doesn’t matter how a project gets done. We do what we have to do and maybe find unexpected muses along the way—as Boston was for me.

Boston, you got me to the finish line so many years ago. Thanks for the time you spent with me to make me your own. You have colored who I am.

Jane at MFA Thesis Exhibit in Boston 1985

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A Creative New Year Ahead


As with all weeks after Christmas, I am itching to play with all the new creative tools (OK, OK, “toys”) I received under the tree. Not the least of which was an IPad that I didn’t even ask for (but SOMEone was paying attention when I would drool over them at Best Buy while playing with the art apps on them). One of the first things I downloaded from the App Store was a nifty program called “ArtStudio”. Not bad for $4.99, and the greeting above is this morning’s effort, created while a cat nestles on my foot. With a cat asleep on my foot that means I can’t move anyway, so I might as well create. Thanks, Tom, I needed that impetus to play!

I have been so busy lately that I haven’t posted here in a while. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been creative or felt the itch to be, at least. It means I haven’t taken the TIME to write here or even implement my creative ideas as much as I wish (oh, K-cup wreath, you’ll have to wait for next Christmas). Why do we feel guilty to take time away from bills and chores to do something that feeds the very core of us? Sometimes we fill our time with visiting and performing and other wonderful things, but those louder voices push away the time for quieter, more internal endeavors. Even those of us who create for a living need to make ourselves the client now and then–it’s a different kind of mindset. I get so much peace out of time spent creating, yet somehow I forget that quiet joy when other things come knocking at the door.

Taking TIME to do what fills your soul and makes you who you are should not be considered a selfish act. It is a fearless act, however, as we often don’t know what form an act of creativity will take or what it will dredge up from our well of hidden hopes and dreams. We are afraid we will get lost in it and we will waste TIME when we could be doing things we think we SHOULD be doing. We know what to expect from chores and activity–we know what will happen if the bills aren’t paid and we know that seeing friends and singing in the choir give us intrinsic immediate joy. They are reliable and predictable results. We don’t always know what to expect from creativity and it can be a bit daunting to plunge into the unknown. We also get twice as much for our efforts–a finished product we can see, read, hear, or taste and also a raft of thoughts that rush to gallop alongside as we create. Always, always, I am enriched by an act of creativity. It opens a door through which insight may enter.

I’d like to be brave this year. I’d like to reach up and take TIME in both fists to see who I am inside. My wish for you this year is for you also to take TIME (don’t worry, I left you some) to do those things that really make you tick and connect you with the sleeping thoughts within. I know a lot of people are dealing with a tough year ahead, and taking time for themselves seems trivial. Au contraire! Taking time to observe and record and emote is so important. It’s scary, too, to slow down long enough to see what we are inside, to hear the inner voices of hope and fear without drowning them out. This “time for yourself” is healing and growth. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. It’s the process that’s important. I wish them and you some quiet amid the storm.

I’d like to add that meeting kindred souls is a wonderful thing. Sharing your creations and creative experiences and thoughts with others of similar interest can expand and inspire your creative world. My plunge into blogging has been validated by meeting the other wonderfully thoughtful and creative bloggers I have found here–people who love what they do and willingly share that product of inner connection.

Happy Creative New Year, everyone!


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Do creative projects have a lifespan?

Statue by Pauline Rankin Reed

Statue made in college by my mother

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not to dispose of things that I have created. For that matter, even things that other people have created. I find myself inundated with a lifetime of graphic design projects, watercolors, photographs, craft projects, you name it, that languish in boxes and portfolios scattered throughout my home. I am hard pressed to let go, as if these items have lives for which I am responsible.

I was fortunate to be the daughter of a creative mother. She was an occupational therapist and artist and dollmaker and general expert craft enthusiast. She knew exactly what projects to give me to keep my little creative self occupied on a rainy day (or any day—it was hard to get me to do anything but read and be creative). And she rarely disposed of anything that she (or we) created. Sadly, she is gone, but many of her own projects live on in my home. She also added to my own pile of acidified art by saving my grade school efforts in crayon on construction paper. Yes, that is love.

Two events occurred recently that forced me to think about the impermanence of art, and gave me the opportunity to ponder on the lifespan of creative projects.

I returned to my hometown a lot in the last year to deal with settling my mother’s estate, and work with my brother to properly dispense of her possessions. One of the items he kept was a small statue that she had made in a college art class – an elegant wire-framed plaster sculpture with fluid Modigliani lines of a woman and a dog, the brown paint crackling in an interesting textural way to show the white plaster beneath.

All is but dust in the wind (yes, I’m from Kansas). My brother called to give me the bad news—the statue had been accidentally broken beyond repair and had to be discarded. We were both a bit wistful about this. Losing this item that she had made, and that we had grown up admiring, was like losing a piece of her—particularly since we knew how much love and care she put into everything she made.

Tibetan monk creating sand mandala

Tibetan monk creating sand mandala

In another recent visit to my hometown, I visited the Spencer Museum of Art on the campus of Kansas University. I witnessed the installation of a sand mandala for world peace created by exiled Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery. A few monks knelt on a marble floor, slowly filling a huge circle with sand to depict religious symbols and images from nature. Brightly colored sand was fed through a long metal cone to create tight detail, each grain released to the artwork by rubbing the tube with a stick. The room was quiet enough to hear a faint droning as the stick was rubbed against the cone, creating a meditative atmosphere. At the end of the day’s work, the monks sat in a semi-circle for a period of chanting—hauntingly led by a monk with a deep bass voice, the prayer rising from his throat like a leviathan slowly emerging from the depths of the sea. The next day, the entire beautifully and carefully created work of sand art was to be swept up and thrown in a pond on campus during a special ceremony. The entire process is available to view in a fascinating video, available at this link:

There are many types of creative acts, some of which are meant to be enjoyed in the moment, among them food, theater and music. Writing is a creative act that is not dependent on its physical form and may be translated into any number of modes, including audio. But visual art is often a single physical creation and exists to be kept and hopefully enjoyed until the basement floods or the cat knocks it over.

I was moved in witnessing the activity of the monks in creating a work of art that was never meant to be permanent. I considered such an activity to be an act of letting go of earthly bonds on their part, and I admired them for it. They were not the ones rushing around taking photos of their work, as many did that evening, but rather gave ceremony to the short-lived act and intent of their project.

We often do not willingly let go of things, or people, or memories. More often than not, we are forced to do so by physical forces beyond our control, such as the case with the broken statue. Things we don’t plan for happen. My mother died. My basement flooded last year. I think of my friends in New Jersey who may have lost so many personal belongings in Hurricane Sandy. I weep with them.

My lesson from these recent experiences has been to learn to embrace the “letting go”—not an easy task. I try to do so in a controlled fashion, but sometimes nature and decay help me along. I think at issue is the opportunity to say goodbye. A little ceremony and recognition of the creative act might be in order.

Have a glass of wine when you crumple up those early charcoal efforts from freshman life drawing class. Go into the next project with a sense of sharing and more attention paid to process than result. Say a prayer before, during and after. “Letting go” means that there will be room for other creative thoughts to enter. “Letting go” means that weight will be lifted that will enable you to soar higher.

I still have great respect for all creative projects (even the ones I don’t care for), whether I create them or other people do. Sure, keep them if they mean something to you and you have room. But I would like to think that less time archiving means more time to let the creative process flow. There is something bright within us that grows and learns with each new project. Give it room.

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