The Artful Lunchnote

I have been making lunchnotes for my son since he started kindergarten in 2011. I felt it was a way to let him know that my husband and I were thinking about him even if we weren’t around him; a way to encourage him and let him know we care very much about him.

The sentiment for my son has never changed, however, I was surprised to see what it did for me. It required a discipline that was hard at times, but not something I ever felt like breaking. My daily art practice was really born out of making these lunchnotes and I’m incredibly grateful for that essential practice.

I spend my first 30 minutes of the day eating my oatmeal and drinking my tea at my art table making a lunchnote. Starting my day this way is much better than checking social media, reviewing or making a ‘to do’ list or ramming right into the needs of the day. I get to ease into my day creatively. Not just occasionally – every day!

I have come to realize that having a daily practice for my creativity is incredibly significant. The same way I exercise regularly to be healthy and vital, I practice art regularly and consistently to flex my creativity attitude and disposition. I’m no fine artist and I’m not aiming to have my art hanging in galleries. But my goals as an everyday artist are substantial: I aim to express myself creatively, prolifically and in an ever-evolving way. Anyone who does that is an artist.

I made a video for you, my fellow everyday artist, in case you’re interested in using some of what I’m doing to express yourself creatively and share it with one of your loved ones. Enjoy! Let me know how it goes!

Why Make Art?

People are ready to live differently. Really differently. So differently that they consider giving up their employment to be their own boss. They take on going green despite inconveniences of doing so. They make time for personal indulgences for the mere reason of feeling happy. And not only are they indulging, but they’re taking these indulgences more seriously than they ever have before. “Yes, actually, I like writing so much, I think I will write a book.”

People are wanting to live differently so that they love their lives and themselves more. No other reason needed. And they’re taking more risks in order to accomplish that. Why not? It’s not like the job market is very stable, maybe being an entrepreneur is any more risky than having an employer? Maybe the time and investment of having a net zero, green home is worth the time and investment to live more freely? People are considering much more “wild” things than they have before – for themselves.

PhoneCoverOrdinaryGodBut I also see that its hard. It comes with great soul searching. There is a lot to be ‘lost’ about these days. There is a lot of doubt and uncertainty. And it comes in so many different forms because we all have our own different kinds of baggage. And we don’t even want to be dealing with baggage anymore either – we just want to cut to the chase and thrive! The ‘woe is me’ phase is wrung out. Not only do we not want that for ourselves, we want to leave anyone singing that tune outside of our company; it’s not productive or helping our psyche. Heck, we’re still internally doing a lot of that to ourselves, we don’t need to be around it, too.

Art making is a way to work it all out.

But you have to get past the idea that making art is about decoration. And technique. And artistic skill. It can be about those things, but it doesn’t need to be. People don’t often stop to consider that art making can be their vehicle to thriving.

PhoneCoverPowerfulBlueEyesWhen you strip away all of the market around art and the politics and the techniques, what’s left is the person making marks on a page – making decisions about what pleases him or herself, finding inspiration, messing it up, working it out, paying attention. That person – asking those questions of themselves and taking those chances – is an artist. That person is a regular person who has chosen to dig deep, show up and invest in themselves.

Often times the kind of person who uses art making to facilitate their own change is the kind of person who believes in something (doesn’t even matter what exactly). They tend to take on personal routines like yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer, whatever because they believe in their own malleability. And they are internally driven to do these things for themselves in order to see and be that positive change.

So it is with art making. If you can get past the part where art making is for decoration. Art making is for YOU to connect with YOU.

PhoneCoverMotherNature

 

Art is Not a Skill

I’m listening to the Unmistakable Creative with Dave Gray and I’m recognizing so many parallels with why I bother with art at all. Art for me is about learning, understanding, inquiry, expressing and communicating difficult concepts and emotions, as well as indulging in the ability to shape what we want in life.

Many people shy away from art making because they feel like they’re not skilled enough. This makes me extremely frustrated and I want to yell “that’s a cop out!!” I feel like people know better deep down in their hearts. There is not level of skill at which someone has the right to call themselves an artist. It’s not about skill. It’s about something much harder, which is why I think it’s so convenient to use the universally accepted excuse that they don’t have the technical skills to do it.

Making art is so much bigger than the technical aptitude that goes into it (although as David mentions, many times having the technical aptitude brings more confidence). Making art is about how you feel, what you’re thinking about, what you care about, what’s going on. And none of those things require you to be a Rembrandt to do it.

People who make art with little or no skill are exceptional people and I celebrate them! Their sense of courage and their ability to sidestep the judgement and shame that often accompany expressiveness is tremendous. I support these people wholeheartedly because they know what matters and they act on it despite what others think; they have courage. And they’re willing to exercise a rare power. Because they can.

I hope you enjoy this podcast as much as I have: Drawing to Make Sense of the World with Dave Gray.

I make art to evolve myself and my world.
I make art to get messy and to mess up.
I make art to understand what the heck is going on.
I make art to learn.
I make art to hone my instinct.
I make art to contemplate.
I make art to play.
I make art to be me.

Why do you make art? 

Dare to Share

I made a mistake the first time I ran ‘Stoke Your Creative Fire‘ online workshop: I told them they didn’t have to share their personal art making. I created a private online forum for people to share, but I also told them that what they were making was very personal and sharing was optional. Most people didn’t share. And I think that hurt them. It’s now time for some tough love.

Even though I still believe that your art making is and should be for yourself, and that you have to be careful who you share your personal stuff with, I’ve now reconsidered my policy on sharing. The benefits of sharing are staggering; significant enough to devise new approaches.

Benefits of Sharing your Work

Sharing your work is the ongoing journey that helps shape your creative voice. Without it, you don’t grow the way you otherwise would:

You become more accountable with yourself. It’s harder to be in denial about what you’re doing, feeling, wanting or trying to accomplish when you put something out there into the world for friends and perhaps even strangers to see. You try harder on behalf of yourself. You don’t half-ass it or you start to get much more clear that you are, in fact, half-assing it.

You raise your own bar. By putting your stuff out there, you are asserting a certain amount of conviction and overcoming excuses. You rise to the occasion and start aiming at your own standards because it’s so personal to you. I did this with the lunchnotes I make for my son’s lunch every day. I’ve done this for almost four years so far but only started posting them every day on Instagram. Since starting to post them, I’ve really upped my game. Recently my son (who rarely says much of anything) let me know how much the recent ones are so compelling to him. He’d love whatever I put in there, and I really try hard to create thoughtful pieces, but I have to admit that since posting them, I’ve notched it up and will continue to.

You become clearer about what you want and what motivates you. You can only copy other people for so long before you call yourself on it and then face the big question: what do *I* want???? And then you have to figure out how to say it in your art making. This forced clarity is really uncomfortable; if you don’t put it out there, you won’t face and move through your discomfort to discover what you really want.

You become stronger. When you share your art, you are taking calculated risks. Not everyone will understand what you’re doing or like what you’ve made. Some may decide to critique something that needs no critique. But by choosing to share, you increase your aptitude for courageous living, taking risks, being yourself and being able to face fears.

You find your creative voice. If you don’t share your work, you may be denying that you have a creative voice, or you’re not fully realizing your creative voice, or perhaps you’re embarrassed about not being in touch with your creative voice. Hiding from it doesn’t help you get in touch with it. Sharing it helps you find it.

You become well-positioned to share your creative voice in its fullest. Through regular sharing, it will eventually become salient that you are growing and changing. You will be able to see it in the quality of the things you’ve shared. At some point, you’ll be ready to really take ownership of the creative voice you’ve found in yourself and since you’ve been sharing all along, it won’t feel like any ordeal to reveal more of your voice. People will have become acclimated to what you share and when you finally hit stride with it, they’re ready for it just as you are. Plus, your truest friends will have cheered you on this whole time and they’ll be there to help you celebrate your creative voice.

You break out of bad habits. As much as we want the attributes listed above, many of us are still not willing to share. We still live in a culture where shame and shaming is pervasive: shame keeps us from doing what we really want and causes people to criticize others for who they are. However, with the techniques listed below, you break old patterns of comparison-mongering, negative self-feedback, shame and looking at the negative.

Self-Compassionate Ways to Share Your Art

Let’s say you make a piece of art that you’re not entirely happy with or that you filled with completely personal reflections. You’re not likely to want to share that. There are ways to share that allows one to partake in the benefits of sharing while maintaining privacy. You can ease into the benefits listed above by taking these semi-private approaches to sharing. Here are some self-compassionate ways to share your work:

Make it Hard to Read: 1. Scribble Write:  You can write your reflections on the page in an illegible form. Who has to read them? Really? No one else needs to read them and nor really do you. It’s enough to write them even if you can’t read them. 2. Write super tiny. Most people won’t go through the work to read anything super tiny. 3. Write around in a circle. Again, too much work involved in trying to sort out any secrets.

The Cover Over You can write a stream of conscious writing on the page and then cover over it with paint or collage so that it’s not longer readable. You may decide to let certain words peek through but essentially the mood and intent is captured regardless of ability to see them.

Create a Feature Sometimes I’ll write something I’m thinking about on another sheet of paper and then integrate it somehow on the page: create a flap so you can close it (open the page to read it) or rip it up and collage the pieces into the page so only snippets can be seen

Put the Writing Within the Image You can tuck words in shadows, between lines, in foliage, anywhere where it will visually appear to be texture at first glance. Basically look for hiding places. It also makes the art more mysterious and rich.

Subsection-share When you take a picture of your art to share in social media, just take a picture of a selective section of it. Close-cropped photos always look fantastic anyway. Plus, the affect will make people more curious and appreciate that you’re not an open book.

I wrote really tiny, illegibly and in a circle. The important thing to me is that I expressed myself, whether you are able to know the full extent of it or not.
uncertain03
I’ve written things I’m uncertain about on the backside of the decorated gift tag attached to this spread.
IMG_20141211_104736~2
You have no idea that there’s a whole lot more writing on this page. Nor do you know that I’m conscientious about what’s written there.

So, my new policy is that you should share what you make. This is the path toward finding your creative voice and give you the self-recognition that you are a truly creative soul.

Old Book, New Story

Someone once asked me what kind of art journal I use because they were having a hard time finding the perfect mixed media journal. I see little debates about this, too: getting a journal with thick enough paper, with adequate texture, etc etc. Maybe these things should matter to me more than they do. Fact is, I don’t give them a whole lot of thought.

I have a stack of books that I pulled out of a recycling bin and I just upcycle them for my art journals. I’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t and I was looking for some company when I was ready to make another. So I invited some friends to join me. If you’re interested in making your own art journal out of a book, perhaps this can inspire and help you, too!

Using an old book for an art journal may not seem practical for folks who have high standards about sketchbooks. But I love it for so many reasons:

  • No more ‘blank page’: the book content offers a background for your art and your subconscious thinking. Marks are already made!
  • Upcycling is the way to go: as much as recycling is good for our earth, upcycling is even better. It’s repurposing something without the effort or money involved in breaking it down into a reusable material; you just use it.
  • Every upcycled art journal is totally unique: you’re not going to find another just like yours. And it’s infused with personality from day one, unlike a blank journal.

What do you like about using a book for an art journal?

 

Opt Out of Money?

I’m on this ‘opting out’ kick and I’m seeing keen examples of how opting out creates excellent opportunities for humanity — how opting out is actually a deliberate choice for opting in to something better.

The example I ran into today is MONEY. The Positive Money group in the UK posits that by opting out of our current banking system, we stand to gain big social, economic and environmental improvements.

What does it mean to opt out of the banking system?

First, it’s helpful to realize the extent to which we’re living under the thumb of our current banking system:

The first time I watched that video a few years ago, I was stunned. I totally understand it. But what’s there to do?? It seems so much bigger than me! What does it mean to opt out? What does that even look like?? Like this:

I look at the simple changes recommended and it’s a little hard to find the action I, as an individual, can take to begin my opt out. Living a debt-free life can help, but an ideal that feels only accomplishable against great odds; and as the video says, you paying down your debts means someone else somewhere else is gaining a debt to maintain this system. For now, I’ve signed their petition and have my radar up. I want to better understand how us regular folks can actively make an ‘opt out’ kind of choice. And I want to hear what you think, too.

I add money/banking to my current running examples of things to opt out of, in addition to standardized testing and housing system & dependent energy systems.

What does it mean to opt into YOU?

As I ponder all of these boxes we’ve put ourselves in, I continue to look for personally empowering and tractable ways where I can unplug from things that keep us in these boxes. What is keeping me from being able to plug into this exquisite world and life we have going on right here?

Plugging in kinds of activities could be a lot of things like doing yoga, meditating, focusing on a hobby, going for a walk, paying attention, crafting and maintaining meaningful relationships. But the thing they all have in common is that they all have YOU at the center of them. For me, it’s making art. Art is a way to opt out of scripted experiences by off-roading with my own creativity. I’m opting out of brick brain, coma-inducing systems and zombie-creating programs – I choose to feed my own creativity and artistry as a stop gap measure against being overcome by these things.

Art has inherent in it risk, experiment, failure, growth, reward, adventure, curiosity, wonder, love, excitement and many more things that simply aren’t available to the capacity and lack of limits that anything within a system might try to provide. So this small thing of opting in to me is actually a really huge thing.

What does opting out to opt in mean to you? What are examples in your life?

Our Frontier

After working for a corporation for 13 years and then stepping away, I wanted to indulge in life not constrained by “the system.” My husband and I bought land in upstate New York late last year and started this dream adventure of creating a place not beholden to any system. In many ways, this is a form of opting out that seems like such a theme in our life right now if we can be brave enough to really explore the possibilities. It’s more than opting out: it’s about choosing ourselves.

Here’s a partial tour of our new place:

We purchased the 12.9 acres based on what we saw along this path. In consequent visits we created a path circumnavigating the parcel and visited our neighbor, the beaver, in the wetland along the back edge.

IMG_20141109_135315
Max visiting the beaver

 

We’re flexible about our dream, which started out with aspirations of a 450 sf tiny home with swimming pond. I’m learning just how hard it is to build a tiny home given codes, covenants and budget. Before you suggest to me that we ought to look into a tiny home on wheels as a way around the codes, note that each region is different and ours is under a covenant that regards anything with wheels as ‘temporary’ and can only be on the parcel 90 days (essentially over the summer) and then needs to be stored elsewhere the rest of the time. That doesn’t work for us.

I’m learning about codes in our area too. In 1987, Manhattan put in place a restriction that apartments couldn’t be less than 400 square feet. In recent years, there has been talk of overturning that restriction for the ‘micro apartment.’ Here’s a bit of irony for you: the minimum square footage for a home in New York is 720 square feet. We would need to submit for a variance to create the size of space already permitted 3 hours away.

I’m also learning that the infrastructure required, whether energy saving and green or not, comes with a hefty cost even before you talk about what kind of building you want to set there. It may still be worth it, but we don’t have those funds lying around and it’s not clear yet whether financing will be something we can handle. We’ve considered building an Earthship (a radically sustainable building) thinking that would be cheaper since it uses recycled materials, but it’s not, and it tends to freak out inspectors big time.

I’m continuing to gather information to investigate different ways of making this work. In the meantime, we plan to build a fancy treehouse for Max and am seriously contemplating a platform tent so we can have a destination point this summer. This weekend we meet with an excavator to plan for a driveway. And in a few more weeks, we meet with a DEC forester who will help us come up with a plan for optimizing our woodland. This is an amazing service; anyone with woods in the northeast should take advantage of it!

Let me know what kinds of ‘opt out’ experiences you’re planning for yourself; I’d love to hear about them!! In the meantime, my daily opt-in-to-me practice continues to be my art making. <3

Opting out to opt in

The decision to opt my son out of state testing felt like an act of civil disobedience and it gave me pause; we were considering it well before Cuomo angered the teacher’s union with his education plan, which helped make our choice to opt out crystal clear. In the state of New York the results are used to determine the adequacy of his teachers (50%) along with an assessment from an outside observer (35%). And we don’t get to see the results of the test.

Teacher assessments being tied to children performance on the tests wasn’t the only reason. I couldn’t shake this feeling that my son’s access to creative well-being and enthusiasm for learning at school has been compromised. And as another mother said and has been quoted in lohud, “You know, you have to be very careful if you’re a politician about coming between a parent and their children…”. So my husband and I acted out of the compelling force to do what we thought best for our son, his future, his peers, and our community of teachers.

This test takes six days. Three days for the ELA and three days for math. They’ve finished the first three days last week and from what I hear of it so far, it’s a special form of educational torture. Estimates say that most children will struggle. Testing authorities fail to understand that growth mindset plays a far higher factor than knowledge-building in terms of a child’s ability to be college ready or job ready.

My son, on the other hand, sat in the cafeteria with the pack of books and his writing notebook. Each day of testing he was looking forward to school “I’m so excited that I get to read!” It’s been a really special time for him to be self-directed in his learning and that his learning felt self-indulgent (yay!). Instead of spending his time being demoralized, he’s engaged and empowered. He also gets to use the time to write his book; something the test prep all year prohibited him from being able to do.

The math portion happens this week. We’re continuing to do his multiplication and division flashcards each morning because I agree with the Common Core idea that attaining fluency is good. I disagree that the best way to attain it is by being timed. For most kids, this is a recipe for choking, degradation of self-worth and an opportunity for anxiety over the expectations we’ve established for our children. So we do our flashcards repeatedly, even when the other kids are backing off because the test is so arduous. And Max will get to figure out how he wants to fill his 70 minutes each day with his own learning.

IMG_20150414_070622

I’ve heard of many school districts ostracizing the children whose parents have opted them out. Things are getting nasty in some places. Thankfully not in Ossining. I spent 40 minutes on the phone with the principle of our school about how the opting out works, how our child will be treated and wrapped up the discussion with some exciting ideas about how to differentiate his education! Our school district is exceptionally supportive and I am grateful!

What I am learning as a parent and as a creative is that opting out is indeed an act of civil disobedience. However, by opting my son out of the system, I am opting him in to something very powerful: him.  With that comes tremendous personal responsibility, something that the system has been trying to compensate for. With the advent of No Child Left Behind came this sense that the system has to take responsibility to make up for the lack of empowered participation by some of its constituents. A noble idea but by taking over, self-responsibility is not part of the picture. And not all of us are cool with that. As hard as it may be, I want my family to thrive on our own terms, not be scaffolded and limited on the terms set out by the system.

I believe that education needs to allow students to have abundant ‘figure it out’ moments. Give them space to experiment, fail, wonder, be curious, have some self-direction.

Opting out is a theme in my life the past few years and really coming into sharp focus right now. There seems to be a lot of things to oppose: education, banking, corporate culture, etc. Which means there are a lot of reasons to opt in to something else — that something else being the same thing: yourself. Funny how YOU and I are the answer to the woes our society faces today. We choose. And the right answer is to choose ourselves.

Motherhood and Creativity

I am so proud to be a minor contributor to Suzi Banks Baum‘s new video “The Permission Slip.” She shows the hope and forward momentum of creating and does a brilliant job of fusing this sense of ‘creating’ we mothers have, whether it be in creating works of art like writing or painting or works of art like human beings. It’s a messy process and a necessary ingredient is not knowing. But we needn’t feel like we need to hold back.

Enjoy:

How to High Jump Playfully

track_Tracee_HJ3

They don’t call Bernie DeKoven the Shaman of Play for nothing. He is an exceptional advocate for living life playfully in body, mind and spirit. One day over Twitter we were discussing play and competitive sports, he invited me to write a guest blog for his blog. There was no hesitation for me. It was an opportunity to say something about my years of competition and something most people don’t see or think of when they watch a competition. In fact, the same philosophy you’ll read in the piece I wrote applies to making art … and a lot of other things in life! Enjoy: http://www.aplayfulpath.com/how-to-high-jump-playfully/