Thursday, July 27, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 17

Esperanza, digital artistry muse of story
What’s your story?

Sebastian Michaels in his 21 Days to Creative Abundance program paraphrases a quote from Tony Robbins, saying: The only thing preventing you from getting where you want to be is the STORY you are telling yourself.

There are a few common stories we artists tell ourselves:
  1. I’m not a real artist; I didn’t go to art school.
  2. I’m not a real artist; I’m just a weekend dabbler.
  3. I’m not a real artist; I can’t draw.
  4. I’m not a real artist; I got rejected by a gallery.
  5. I’m not a real artist; I’ve never sold anything.
  6. I’m not a real artist; my work doesn’t have a profound message.
  7. I’m not a real artist; I just mess around with photos.

I bet we could go on. My particular story was that I wasn’t born creative or artistic. For years I knew that was true because no one ever made over my childhood artwork or called me creative. So, for thirty years after I left home, I let that story dictate my life.

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until I turned 50 that I began to entertain the thought that I might be creative. And, this is the ridiculous part, I was teaching creativity by then and telling my classes that *everyone* is creative (which I truly believe) while the little voice in my head whispered … “except you. You are the exception to the rule."

I tried a multitude of media … drawing, watercolor, pastels (oh what a mess I made there!), acrylics, colored pencils and markers. Bupkis. I did manage to do a few collages that I liked but my skills sucked and there were always wrinkles, air bubbles and loose edges in each piece.

Then, I discovered digital collage and my story began to crack. I could do this. So, I started cycling through the other stories one by one. I think I’m done now. I am making art. I am an artist. It’s not my call whether it’s good or bad. It just is. Just as I just am. 

When we think about it, these stories sound pretty silly. If someone plays golf on a sunny weekend, we call her a golfer, even if she doesn’t break 100 … even if, heaven forbid, she doesn’t keep score. People who cook are cooks, people who sing are singers,  people who make art are artists.

So, what new story shall we tell ourselves? I think I’ll choose this one ... feel free to claim it for your own:  
I’m an artist. I make art that sometimes thrills me and sometimes frustrates me. However, I am deeply grateful that I get to participate in this process of putting bits and pieces of the real world together to create what calls to me from my imagination. I am a digital artist.
Challenge #17 was to rework a previous piece, print it, and give it to someone. I picked a piece that I thought was finished, and, it was, mostly. However, while working on it, it developed a new identity.

I knew this image somehow represented my muse, but today, I decided that it is the first in a series of muses for digital artists. (I may be getting a bit carried away with this whole “series” and “projects” idea.)

Digital artistry operates on the same principles as other art, so the Muses who watch over this process each have their own area they protect and inspire. And, just like the sister-goddesses of Greek Myth, there are nine digital artistry muses.

The first we’re meeting is the digital artistry muse of story. Her name is Esperanza (Hope) because sometimes all the elements of an image come together to create a story, and, in that moment, hope is born into the world. 
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 16

Weird Story: Many years ago, I attended a Consciousness & Business conference in Puerto Vallarta. While there, I met a Mexican guy who recommended a Siddha Yoga group in Santa Barbara, where I lived at the time. I really liked it and went to their New Year’s celebration weekend.

One day, after getting up early for meditation, by mid-afternoon I was ready for a nap. Just as I was falling asleep, a word popped into my head and I forced myself to write it down and then went to sleep.

When I woke up, I found the note and the word was “estudia.” At the time, I knew a smattering of Spanish, enough to know that it meant “study” … or could mean “es tu día,” it’s your day. I thought it was interesting but just tucked it away as a “who knows?"

The challenge I worked on for today was about creating a visual reminder of a resolution important for our art. Since I had already decided that studying Spanish a critical skill for my art, I decided that needed to be the reminder piece.. 

I have long loved Mary Oliver’s line, “One day, you finally knew what you had to do and began …,” so I started playing with those words, stripping them down to their essence and turning them into Spanish, changing tenses, adjusting the person, trying to find the right look and sound. For most of the time, I was using the infinitive for study: estudiar. Then I decided it had to be a command and looked up that tense only to find: estudia.

Suddenly, in that moment, that nappy word on a scrap of paper came back to me. Weird? Coincidence? A message from the Universe or just a word? I’m choosing to take it as a confirmation that I should be studying Spanish and, perhaps, it has just taken me a long and winding path to get here.

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 15

María Félix's Star
On more than one occasion since I’ve been here on Lake Chapala, I’ve heard about María Félix, the beautiful Mexican movie star. Last week I finally made it to Hotel Real de Chapala where they have many photos of her and a large wall painting which I photographed for the image above. I asked who the artist was but no one seemed to know.

What caught my imagination
through all of this wasn’t what she accomplished, but what she refused. She was the darling of the golden age of Mexican cinema, starring in 47 films, but never went to Hollywood, as did her contemporary Dolores del Rio. La Doña, as María was known, said it was because Hollywood only offered her “Indian” parts. However, some say it was because she refused to learn English. Either way, she never achieved her Hollywood star.

In our 21 Days to Creative Abundance program, Sebastian Michaels states that we have to be clear about our artistic vision … what do we want to BE as an artist?

It is clear to me that I want to capture some of the color and magic of Mexico, both in images and words. To do that, I need better skills with photography and Photoshop. However, this weekend I recognized another skill, or lack thereof, that limits my progress. 

Ceremonial headdress of the drummer.
I was at a celebration at the lake where a religious celebration of water was taking place. It was a sensory feast: colorful outfits, tall feathered headdresses, drumming and ankle seed pods creating rhythms as the dancers danced. Later there was a long poem dramatically read by a woman in indigenous clothing. My eyes were filled with the color and motion but my ears were filled with cotton.

Because my Spanish skills are still minimal, I wasn’t getting the meaning and depth of the ceremony. I had an opportunity to talk to people about their ceremony … except I didn’t have the language so I remain with dozens of unanswered questions.

It dawned on me that what will make a huge difference to my art is being able to understand more about what I’m seeing and experiencing. To gain those insights, I need to speak Spanish. Somewhat like La Doña, if I refuse to do the work necessary to become fluent in Spanish, I will be limiting myself to English subjects or to a superficial take on what I find here in Mexico.

Studying Spanish is critical to my art. This program of learning more about the artistry of Photoshop has been so exciting that I’ve spent most of my time submerged in layers, extractions and blend modes. I’ve neglected my Spanish studies because they don’t have that same “pop” of accomplishment.

It is easy in most places in Mexico to get by with English, so drifting along, distracted by all the attractions, becomes normal. Sebastian reminds me that, if I’m clear about what I want my art life to be, I have to refuse to let lack of language skill undermine that creative life and limit my art.

Mi nuevo compromiso: estudiaré mucho! 

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Monday, July 24, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 14

Be Seen!
"In my experience, it is rarely a matter of struggling with HOW to become an abundantly creative and successful artist. It’s almost always, at the bottom of it all, a matter of finding a strong enough WHY.” — Sebastian Michaels.

Why we make art is a challenging question for me, one with so many answers … because we can, because we have to, because it’s how we find out who we are, because ….
Why do we … why do I … make art? I’m beyond thinking that it’s about making a living or being recognized. However, from the moment I discovered digital art or digital collage, and felt that first wow! of creating something that pleased me and spoke to me, I was hooked.

For me, I think the payoff is self-discovery with, sometimes, the added benefit of appreciation from others. Part of me is still that kid from Kansas who never, ever expected to make art or live a creative life. No one is more surprised, and grateful, than I am to get to be part of this nebulous thing called art and creativity.

That doesn’t mean it can’t also be frustrating. Yesterday was an example. I am loathe to post the result of almost a whole day of things not working. However, just because I struggled and failed to create a pleasing composition doesn’t mean the struggle wasn’t worth it. Ugly children are loved as much as the cute ones. (I hope.)

Challenge #14 was described as: Imagine this composition to be a page torn from a secret journal from childhood. The whole idea threw me into chaos. I couldn’t make it work, couldn’t even figure out what I wanted to say. My childhood journal history was mixed. I was drawn to journals but afraid to put my words on the page.

The more I struggled with this project, the more I realized that, as a child, I was afraid of being seen, more comfortable being lost in a book than digging into my own thoughts and feelings and risking exposing them to the world. Even my handwriting was tiny and illegible. Being a wordless chameleon was safe.

Still as an adult, I had difficulty with journals, fearful that my words were dangerous … to me, perhaps to others. Collage helped. Putting images together allowed me to play with beauty and open up to new insights while maintaining a safe zone. And, sometimes, a few words demanded their space on the page.

So, yesterday as I tried to find a way to get all this onto a digital canvas, I struggled with truth about my past and the beauty of my present and tried to find a way to blend them together. I wasn’t really thinking much about Sebastian’s question of why we create art … until the final two words landed on the canvas: Be seen!

I think that is my why. I am on the last phase of this life journey. There are a limited number of years left for me to discover who I am, why I’m here, and “what’s it all about, Alfie?”

Exploring the world with my camera and making art from what I find, tells me who I am, and, perhaps, in some way, helps others know who they are.  That’s the biggest WHY I can find.

Be seen. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes which apparently comes from Bali. 
“Someone out there needs you. 
Live your life so they can find you."

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 13

Today, Sebastian Michaels is challenging us to go deeper into our art projects.

I have mind mapped a bunch of projects and chosen two. The first will be a picture book, titled, for now, Trees: Known and Dreamt filled with real and digital art trees combined with a poem I wrote years ago about trees I’ve known.
The second is a longer term project for my granddaughter who will turn thirteen about a year from now. It will be a picture and word book focused on Mexico. Her father is part Mexican but they don’t celebrate that heritage so I want to show her some of the beauty and magic of Mexico.

Book #1 can be done rather quickly and could even be Christmas presents. I am going to the states in early October so I could have them ready to deliver or ship by then. First Deadline: rough layout of pages, words and images: August 15.

Book #2 still needs the concept worked out. Mexico is big. What part of it do I want to capture and how? My first deadline will be to have that scoped out by September 1.

I love Sebastian’s key project question:  
“What would make this SO MUCH cooler?”

And, as I was thinking about that question, the thought hit:  what if we went on a trip to a few places in Mexico and took photos along the way that could be put into the book … hers as well as mine? The title could be Reyna Meets Mexico. Thank you, Michael, this just got way fun.
Ernest Hemingway on big projects:
"You will ache and you’re going to love it. It will crush you and you are still going to love all of it. Doesn’t it sound lovely beyond belief?"
Sebastian says, “Projects are going to challenge you. They’re going to push you. Count on it. If they’re worth a damn, they’re going to be hard."

Challenge #13 asked us to split a long canvas in half lengthwise and work with the idea of summer and winter. I tried. I really did but summer and winter wouldn’t stay in their places and I wound up with the image above. By the time I reached what I thought was "done," I had far more layers to be deleted than I did active ones.

BTW, a note on inspiration. Years ago my friend ReAnn Scott, an amazing world traveler, and I went to San Francisco where she wanted to see a museum show on Gaultier, the designer. I didn't really want to go. She's a clothes person and I'm not. I barely knew who Gaultier was but did remember that he designed Madonna's  cone bra, not an accomplishment that impressed me much. Reluctantly, I went.

OMG! It was the most fabulous exhibit I've ever been to. Not only were his designs completely outrageous and beautiful, but the exhibit itself was technologically amazing. The mannequins talked. Their mouths even moved and they had expressions. It was all done with cameras, but it made my head spin. I took hundreds of pictures and the two sisters in the image above came from that exhibit.

The lesson I learned was to notice my resistance and do it anyway. Over the years since then I've often noticed that if I will just do what I was resisting, gifts are waiting.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Aquí en México

The face of Mexico

What a cultural feast the last two days have been!

Alcatraz (a flowering plant)
Art Auction. There was an art auction in the plaza to benefit two local families, hosted and auctioned by well-known local artist and muralist Efren Gonzales. I, of course, did not plan to buy anything, but, of course, did. I fell in love with this painting by Xill (pronounced Jill) Fessenden. It positively glowed and I was delighted that it was somewhat within my budget.

Mariachi concert. I’ve never been a fan of mariachi music so I decided to attend a concert, especially since this music originated in my new home state of Jalisco. There’s definitely a difference between concert level mariachi music, recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, and what I was used to in restaurants. 

There were ten musicians playing violins, guitars (including a vihuela, a high-pitched, round-backed guitar and a bass guitar called a guitarrón that provide rhythm) a trumpet and a Mexican folk harp which the harpist played with blinding speed like a jazz instrument during one solo. It was the older guy’s birthday (I think) and he sang a couple of solos. What a voice! He could hold a high octave note so long most of us were growing uncomfortable.

Another treat of the concert were songs by Lola, La Tequilera (as far as I can tell, that means someone who can make tequila.) While I didn’t know what most of her words were, she belted one out with such force and emotion, it made me weep. And to top it off, costumed dancers who were a delightful sweep of color and rhythm.

What made the evening truly special, though, was that the mariachis were backed up by a local high school symphony who were given opportunities to solo. It may sound trite, but the evening had so much heart.

Celebration. To celebrate International Love and Gratitude to Water Day in honor of the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto, there were many ceremonial activities at the malecón including dances, poetry, and music. It was a feast for the senses and here are a few photos. Unfortunately, I don’t have names for these people yet but hope to soon.

A woman read a poem by Nezahualcoyotl, "Coyote who Fasts") (April 28, 1402 – June 4, 1472) who was a philosopher, warrior, architect, poet and ruler of the city-state of Texcoco in pre-Columbian era Mexico.  In the poem there is a listing of things found here in Mexico, thus the refrain “Aquí en Mexico."

According to Wikipedia: Nezahualcoyotl is best remembered for his poetry, but according to accounts by his descendants and biographers, he had an experience of an "Unknown, Unknowable Lord of Everywhere" to whom he built an entirely empty temple in which no blood sacrifices of any kind were allowed — not even those of animals. However, he allowed human sacrifices to continue in his other temples.

Here are a few more photos from the ceremony. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 12

Artist Card
I think there’s an important rule Sebastian Michaels has neglected to tell us … never go to bed with an unfinished art project. 
Rain woke me up about 2 a.m. and I started thinking I had just the right image for my unfinished project.  By 2:30, I gave up sleep and was at my computer.

I have to admit I was a little irritated when my phone alert went off at 9 am telling me to get up and CREATE!. 

Today’s message  for the 21 Days to Creative Abundance project should be: go back to bed, but it isn’t. It’s about organizing work into projects. Sebastian gives three ways to judge a potential project:

  • Is it meaningful for you?
  • Does it make you a little bit uncomfortable because it’s slightly out of your reach?
  • What will you wind up at the end of the project?

He also offers us a great quote from author Neil Gaiman:
“Looking back, I’ve had a remarkable ride. I’m not sure I can call it a career, because career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book,  comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who … and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list."
Our assignment is to brainstorm ideas for projects … a task I will take on after my nap.

Challenge #12 was to create an artist card, closer to a postcard size than a business card. I’ve made a lot of these over the years, for myself and other artists. This was fun because it challenged me to do something new. 

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 11

Day 11 … half-way through the 21 days. I didn’t know if I would make it to this point without a pause. My computer has been wonky. I made an appointment to meet the computer people from Guadalajara, and, of course, by the time they got here, it was working perfectly. Something’s going on, but for now I’m on track.

My morning creative routine is settling into place and I’m finding that, for me, there are two keys: setting up the night before so that nothing’s in my way when I get up, and the phone alerts that mark the timed, 50-minute work blocks. Plus, knowing that all of this happens in the morning which leaves my afternoons free for exploring, having lunch with a friend, reading or whatever.

I also really like the “Way of Life” app which calls to me to review my habits at the end of each day and gives me a visual of how I did for the day.

Challenge #11. This called for a triptych of a story in three acts: Setting, Character, and Climax. Years ago I wrote several “50 words or less” stories so I used one of them in the image above. Very fun to find photos to pair with the words. 

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 10

Color, Color, Color!
The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add ROUTINES and 
RITUALS to your working life 
designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.” ~ Cal Newport, author of Deep Work

Sebastian Michaels in his creative abundance program, advocates developing the habit of working in timed blocks of 25 to 50 minutes followed by a short break. I’ve set up three 50 minute block alerts in the morning, signaled by a high energy song that makes me get out of my chair and dance. After dancing a song’s worth, I push the snooze button and when it goes off, I’m back to my computer, re-energized.
I’m finding that the timed aspect of this process keeps me from wandering off to check email … or the refrigerator. Also helpful for the email part of this was turning off my notifications that tell me when a new email has arrived. (Most of them are junk mail or political stuff that just takes me way off track anyway.)

Challenge #10 - for this challenge, we were called to capture a great passion on canvas and to be big, bold, focused on the passion and dramatic. Color seems to be the driver, the passion, in my art so I focused on that and incorporated a small piece of art I did years ago, one of the few I brought to Mexico with me. 
Two base photos:

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here,

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 9

Dancing on a Dime
The Creative Abundance process reminds me to start my day by asking the three morning questions:
  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What am I excited about?
  3. What do I want to create today?
I am grateful to have the time to go through this process of exploring my creative life and immensely grateful to even have a creative life. It isn’t where I started out in life and I’m the last person who would have ever thought I would have one.

I am excited about all the new techniques I’m learning and for being forced to try new things, even when I don’t want to. Like today. Challenge #9 insists that we search Flickr for images that are opposition to each other. I never use other people’s images so this is not something I’m looking forward to. However, it has occurred to me that, by looking at other people’s photos, I am expanding my own perspective. I will probably find this a useful exercise.

And, I am going to create an image of opposition somehow using the instructions given in Challenge #9.

Challenge #9 - Opposites In Conflict (w/ Flickr Images). MUST use Flickr creative commons images. Somehow the words, “Dancing on a Dime” dropped into my mind and I saw a ballerina. The first image that emerged was fun but looked like a commercial dance poster with no conflict or opposition. I was going to move on but it haunted me so a rework wound up with the image above. Not quite as postery but I was still compelled to keep on and wound up with this version. Who knows where this could go?

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 8

Dragon Dog
Sebastian Michaels talks a lot about our creative routines and how we can “engineer” greater creativity. He says our job is not to find the muse but, rather, to show up consistently so she can find us and to create an attractive invitation for her.

I know absolutely that my best creative times are in the morning and since I am doing digital art, my creative space is where my computer is. Fortunately, I work on a laptop, so I can go other places with it. What I have found in the last few days, however, is that going out with just my camera, myjournal and a pen, has a completely different feel and takes me into different thought processes. It’s more of a “pre-creation” experience, allowing more space for the “what-ifs."
 Side note: As I was writing this post, I suddenly heard Barbra Streisand singing, “You don’t bring me flowers anymore.” Perhaps my muse wants flowers?
Going out with just my camera and my journal has a joyful, just-exploring feel to it. There’s no pressure to deliver something, it’s just gathering sights and impressions. 

Sebastian also asked us to find triggers that invite the Muse. For me, I know that one reliable method is just browsing through my photos. This has always worked, but what Sebastian’s guidance prompts is looking for photos that not only inspire me but somehow seem like they want to play together.

Earlier I mentioned the app: Way of Life. If you’re a visual thinker, you may like this app. It gives you a simple process for checking off your habits at the end of the day and shows your week with bright red and green boxes which are so much more dramatic than just check marks. My ugly index card approach is gone forever. Yesterday, I missed studying Spanish so I got 4 greens and 1 red.

The important point is that it made me realize I have to have a special time for Spanish. Not my creative early morning time, but still a time when I have the energy needed for learning. I like going out for a walk around noon so I’m going to complete my 30 minutes of Spanish study before I can go for my walk. 
Challenge #8 was about photo compositing, putting things together that don't belong together in a way that looks real. The specific instructions were to put something inside of something else. With the dog I chose, that was tricky because he was tied up with a rope. I can't say this was a favorite challenge.
Base photos for this challenge were:

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 7

Shattered Dreams
Well begun is half done!

That’s not exactly the way Sebastian Michaels said it for the 21 Days to Creative Abundance program, but that's the way I can remember it.

It basically says that the way we begin our day sets up the rest of the day. He has several suggestions for making it the best, most creative day possible. One that I thought would be useful was to establish a morning routine designed to get me off to a good start.

Morning Routine

I have become rather haphazard about cleaning the kitchen before I go to bed which means part of my first hour of the day goes toward cleaning up yesterday. So, last night I cleaned the kitchen (about 3.5 minutes), set up the coffee, laid out my clothes, and put out my yoga mat.

Sebastian suggests spending part of your first hour of the day journaling about three questions:
  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What am I excited about?
  3. What do I want to create today?
I really like this way of beginning the day. It feels like I've cleaned my "shoulds" off the table and now I can play with what I love.

Challenge #7 - Marquee Layer Offsets. Take an image, cut it into rectangles so that it still retains some of its original aspect. Remove original picture and drop in a new image under the rectangles. Play.

I took a picture of an abandoned house many years ago and it has haunted me. For this image a picture of a bullet hole in the rear window of a car helped create a shattered sense.

This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 6

Coming Together
It’s the key to how effective we are. Understanding our own cycle of energy, knowing when we’re at our energetic best and spending that prime energy time on what we most want to accomplish are keys to living the life we want to live.

Eat for Energy - what amps our energy and what drains it? I’m opting for more fiber. I like the idea of opting for more food rather than focusing on what I should eat less of.
Move more - I’ve set alerts for Dance Time accompanied by high energy music.
Meditation - Sebastian Michaels uses what he calls “gateway meditation” … deep listening to a piece of classical music.
Habit Tracking app - “Way of Life” free version allows you to track three habits. I’ve been doing this on index cards for a few weeks so I immediately paid $4.99 for the premium version and am tracking 5 habits.

Photo Artistry Challenge #6 focused on creating a triptych of landscape items. This challenged me from the beginning. I couldn’t find a division of the canvas that pleased me, base photos that I chose didn’t play well together, and I didn’t like the suggested texture overlays. I must have created and deleted twenty or more layers before the image above felt finished. When I finally got the title for the piece, I thought I should call it "Coming Together ... Finally!"

These challenges are really important to our learning processes and probably the more frustrating they are, the more we’re learning. Or, at least that’s what I keep telling myself. 
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photo Artistry" programs. More information here.