Posted in Creativity, Notes to Myself

I am Angry and Afraid

If only…

different decisions had been made or different people had showed up or…

But decisions were made by those who did show up and the outcome has left me feeling like a stranger in a foreign place. I’ve been forced down a different road and toward a place I don’t want to be in. I’ve wandered through this new landscape and listened to conversations. It’s a hostile, strange place where strangers are not welcome.

The road behind me, the one I arrived here on, has been closed.

I’ve been throwing my energy in every direction, trying to find a way out and all I’ve found is more anger, more hostility. False fronts have been built to cover up the ugliness of this place. I’ve  learned that walls are being built and defenses are growing.

I am angry and afraid…

What can I do? What decisions can I make? What do I need to know?

That is what I asked myself as I sat in meditation this past Wednesday morning. On the floor in front of me sat a deck of Tarot cards. I cut the deck and flipped the first card over.

The Empress III


I spent some time with the image, noticing things: the color green, a mountain and a cave, a stream of water that runs past the Empress, who carries an unborn child and a sheaf of harvested grain from the field that is behind her; a shield, a tiny bird, three flowers growing. The Empress is resting (grounded) and looking forward as she listens to the bird. And she hears:

Pay attention to the messages, be grounded and know that you have the resources at hand to be what you need to be. Be the Empress in thought, word, and deed. Stay close to the stream. Face the future and remember the trinity. You are creative.


Image is from The Nigel Jackson Tarot

Posted in Creativity, Deliberate Practice, Playbook Strategy, Plein Air

Showing Up Matters Most


A blank canvas, or the blank page, IS uncertainty. Every time I set up to paint, I feel uncertain about many things. I’m unsure of my ability to paint a tree trunk or water so it looks “right.” I don’t know if the composition I see is the best composition. Perhaps there is a better one. I don’t feel confident about a lot of the decisions I’ll make while painting. I’m not certain I can convey what I’m thinking in this blog post. The only way  that I know of to move from uncertainty to less uncertainty is to keep trying. And that’s the beauty of deliberate practice.

We can work with a coach or teacher, who will assign things to practice doing. Or we can design our own deliberate practice. I attended a workshop in September and the woman who taught the workshop told us that doing 50 studies in 50 days would really help us to improve our plein air work. I’ve started a new 6 x 8-inch painting every day since September 24. I have to paint for one hour, but I don’t have to finish the piece. Removing the requirement to “finish” what I start has been liberating! Rather than being focused on the product (finished art), I stay focused on the practice. Each painting is an opportunity to practice doing what is difficult and finding answers to overcome limitations. I’ve learned a lot about the work of painting. Just as important, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Some of the most important (to me) things I’ve learned include:

  • Keep it simple. What I can accomplish in a given period of time is DIRECTLY related to the level of complexity I choose to introduce in to a study. EVERY different element (water, clouds, trees, rocks, hills, sunlight and shadows, color, distance, and on and on) ups the ante and increases uncertainty, because more things must be resolved. I continue to struggle with this even after doing 31 starts. But it is essential for me to understand not only what I can paint but also how much time it will take. Plein air (working on location) painting is challenging, because the sun is always moving, which causes colors to change and shadows to move so things can look different very quickly.
  • Every effort is successful on some level if I’m learning. The criteria for my deliberate practice is to show up every day, start a new painting, and paint for one hour. About one in five paintings is what I’d consider good enough to show someone. More often, though, the paintings themselves are not that great. Since I’m not focused as much on overall results, I can appreciate the little things in each piece and I can see where I’m improving.

I could go on for a while about all that I’ve learned, but this is enough for today. It’s not perfect, but if some small part of this resonates, the effort was successful.



Posted in Creativity, Playbook Strategy

Making Art Matters


Oil on 6 x 6-inch birch panel.

A couple years ago, a man who has spent his entire adult life becoming an exceptional, world-renowned astrologer began sharing his knowledge on Facebook for free. Now in his seventies, he wants to give back to those who have supported and sustained him and his work. In one of his very early astrological posts, he shared that he felt concern about what he was doing because not many people were clicking on “Like.” Using the Like button on Facebook is the way we  express our approval.

So when we post something, such a photo of our artwork, we tend to keep track of the number of Likes the post gets. Lots of Likes means lots of love—and approval. Seeking approval is in our nature; it might even be tied to our basic need to survive and thrive. But seeking approval can also make us feel vulnerable and to question whether or not what we have to offer is good enough to be valued by others. When my astrologer friend mentioned his concern about not getting a lot of likes, he was questioning the value of his work.

It’s common for writers to avoid writing because someone else has already written the same kind of story and gotten it published. The insecure writer will say to him or her self, “why bother.” Fear of rejection (the opposite of approval) and the feeling of not being good enough are always behind the “why bother” attitude.

We want to matter to people, to be liked. And we want what we create to matter, as well. While wanting to matter may be human nature, it also contains danger. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is a theory Abraham Maslov proposed in 1943. He had observed that people exist on five basic psychological levels. The most basic need is the physiological need to survive (food, clothing, and shelter). After basic survival is the need to feel safe, which is followed by the need to belong and feel loved. When these needs are met, we feel good about ourselves in the context of our lives—we feel valued in the world. The danger that I mentioned exists when we depend on others to determine our value, which may be one of the best reasons to heed the advice: Make your art and let it go. Detach from the outcome.

I’ve been working on a challenge to do 50 small painting studies in 50 days. When I started doing the daily paintings, I would post a photo of the work on Facebook. Some of the studies were good, others not so good. I just wanted to share my progress, and then I got caught up in the “like” thing. So I stopped posting photos of the studies I’ve been doing. The benefit I realized after I stopped posting photos is that I’m able to experience “letting go of the result.” The value to me is in doing the work, because it’s bringing me closer to being the painter I can be.

I did the small painting that accompanies this post last summer, before I’d taken lessons with anyone and before I knew how to paint aerial perspective. It’s raw. And it is one of my favorite pieces, because I “felt” how it should be painted. It represents me.

At the top of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualization. According to Maslov, “What a man [or woman] can be, he [she] must be.” I agree, and I think that’s what the urge to create is all about. Emotions are fickle though. Some days we feel awesome. Other days not so great. We want and seek approval from others. The strategy that leads to personal success, I believe, involves recognizing and valuing ourselves and what we do for as many hours of the day as possible.