Saturday, August 19, 2017

Desert Wind blows right through me

Desert Wind
There is a song sung by Jevetta Steele that has haunted me for years. I wasn’t thinking about it this morning when I began this piece but it quickly began to play through my head. The song, “Calling You," comes from the movie “Bagdad Cafe” and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1988.

As I worked on this piece, a range of bright, luscious colors showed up and that’s where I wanted it to go. However, sometimes these things have a mind of their own and a more subdued and almost melancholy palette insisted on getting its own way and also demanded a title that wasn’t what I wanted. 
I wonder who’s in charge here?

I also wonder how the brain works. What takes it down these rabbit holes and is there a reason for its venturing into places I don’t seem to have conscious control over? Oh, I could force it into lock step with my druthers but I kind of like these side trips that make me think about things in a different way. I guess that’s part of the fun of art … never knowing where the muse and I are going to wind up. 
Who needs drugs anyway?


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We cannot go backward

Photo by Todd Robertson
I came of age on the edge of darkness. My senior year in high school was spent in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where I saw “whites only” drinking fountains and there were no black faces in my school. I went to college in Oklahoma and heard tales of black students having to sit in a roped off area of the law school classes. In the dorms, we had long conversations about whether or not we would want to swim in the same pool with “them." At my first "real" job, I was shunned because I went to break with the only black person in the all-women department supervised by, of course, a man.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly progressive family, but it wasn’t filled with hate. When I looked at the photos from the Charlottesville rally, what struck me was the angry hate that filled the faces of the young, white men. What happened to them? How did they get to a place of such deep hatred, teetering on the edge of violence?

It reminded me of a time in the early 1990s when I visited the compound of the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group led by Richard Butler from his compound outside Hayden, Idaho. I was writing a novel about white supremacists and, at the time, the Aryan Nations was a well-known terrorist group. I wanted to see for myself what they looked like and what they said in a one-to-one conversation. I was surprised when they granted me an interview. I was a nobody from no where.

When I drove into the compound in my tiny rental car, two old dogs came up to the car, tails wagging, which somewhat relieved the pounding of my heart. At least the dogs were friendly.

The compound had a rural, run down look: worn wooden buildings, people sitting in chairs on a long front porch. I noticed two, young tow-headed children coloring on the porch steps. I could have been visiting my grandparents.

Butler’s office was a make-do metal building overflowing with papers, pictures of Hitler, swastikas and t-shirts for the believers. Butler was in his mid-70s and was kindly enough as he began to spew a well-rehearsed stream of how white people are threatened and have to stand up for themselves. He had heard all of my questions before. His answers were ready and pat so he didn't mind that I was recording them.

After about an hour of his disturbing monologue, I left. As I walked to my car, I glanced over at the children and could see what they were coloring: swastikas. That image of those young, innocent children coloring a symbol of hate shocked my system. I managed to get my car started, but as soon as I was off their property, I stopped and wept and still tear up thinking about them. That was about 25 years ago. Were they part of the torch-carrying crowd in Charlottesville? 

When Jimmy Fallon said in his powerful message, “We cannot go backward,” it made me weep again. Weep for the hard-earned progress made  over the past few decades, when all it took was one man with no moral compass to puncture the apparently unhealed wound underlying that progress.

We have much work to do. We cannot go backwards. However, those of us who believe in love, have to find a way to connect with those who hate. It reminds me of Edward Markham's poem Outwitted:

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But, love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle and took him in!

We cannot go backwards. We have to draw a bigger circle. Each one of us who believes in love has to try to pass that love along to those who may have literally spent their chiildhoods amidst hate. Last year's election separated us into camps, divided friends and families as we drew a line in the sand and defended our positions, creating "them" and "us."

We cannot go backwards. Gandhi said, "We have to be the change we want to see in the world." We must have the "wit to win."

If we want to see a world of love, we have to BE love. Maybe it's time to refriend the people we've unfriended on Facebook. Maybe we can't understand their political position, but each one of them is a person: a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son. Each of them is carrying wounds that cannot be seen, facing fears that darken their days.

If we can't love them, how can we expect those young men in Charlottesville to put down their torches?

We cannot go backwards.

Many years ago I was at a spirituality in business conference in Puerto Vallarta. During a break I was walking down the sidewalk and a young man was walking toward me focused on something in his hands. The sidewalk was narrow and we were on a collision course. Suddenly, the thought came to me: He with the most awareness has to be the one that moves. Of course, I just stepped aside and he moved on unaware of the life lesson he had just provided.

Those of us who know and believe in love are aware of its importance and power. We have to be the ones making the first move. We don't have to accept or condone their hatred or positions, but we do need to love the person.

We cannot go backwards.

Photo Credit: The photo above comes from a newspaper article taken during a Klan march in Gainesville, Ga., by photographer Todd Robertson on Saturday, September 5, 1992.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Day 9 Implementation: Talking to Buddha

Talking to Buddha
 A friend sends me a monthly outlook from a wise woman in Alaska. This month’s report struck me with the term “fierce stillness.”

It occurs to me, on this 30th day of Sebastian Michaels’ program of creative abundance, that the morning and evening routines he has suggested are a form of fierce stillness.

By fiercely following a self-designed set of routines for evening and morning, I have created a stillness within myself and my day. It’s beginning to feel like a calm center forming, from which whatever love resides within me can flow forth into the world. In other words, it feels more like clearing roadkill bug juice from a windshield. I can see more clearly in order to follow the path I’ve chosen.

Thank you, Sebastian Michaels for creating a simple, motivating program to help so many of us establish routines that support our creative endeavors.

This image, “Talking to Buddha” comes from reworking an older image and adding a momma and her chicks I met yesterday. She was fiercely protective of her brood and, actually, not very silent about it. However, for some reason she reminded me of the term fierce silence.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Day 8 Implementation: The beauty of a clean desktop

Give Peace a Chance (revised)
One of the simplest habits I’ve developed over the past 29 days is cleaning my computer desktop every day. 
I have a tendency to overload my desktop with images and screen shots. Before this program to help us develop creative routines, I would sometimes have dozens, maybe even a hundred items on my desktop. It was often over-whelming as I lost track of what was there.

Now it’s part of my evening routine to trash everything not still being used. Somehow that clean desktop makes me feel more organized and focused. Those simple things are so important.

Nine years ago, I created the image below. I loved the metal sculpture of a policeman I found somewhere along the way and created an image titled “Give Peace a Chance." It didn’t work. 
Give Peace a Chance (old)
 This morning I pulled it out and applied some new techniques and new insights and wound up with the image at the top of the page. There is still something about the image that pulls me and I still don’t think it’s “there.” 
I wonder if I come back to it a year from now, if I will have found the new tools and techniques and the new imagination to bring what’s lurking there to the forefront? 
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michaels' "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Day 7 Implementation: Evening Routine

Home Sweet Home!
Sebastian Michaels emphasizes the importance of having a good morning routine to start your day in the direction of what you want to create. I agree completely.

However, what I am finding even more important is my Evening Routine. Before this 21days … plus 9 days of implementation … program, my evening routine was a typical email-facebook cycle until time to go to bed, leaving dishes in the kitchen sink and bits of clutter here and there. Nothing dramatic, but leaving about 20-30 minutes of busy work to be done before starting my “real” day the next morning.

Now, I realize that my evening routine is critical for protecting my morning creative energies and setting up the next day. My evening routine starts at 9:00 pm with a phone alert to update my "Way of Life" app and shut down my computer. That gives me an untethered-to-technology hour to wind down, read, relax and get ready for sleep.

To support both morning and evening routines, I have created a two-sided refrigerator card … one side for the morning routine, one side for evening. In the evening, after I finish cleaning the kitchen, clearing clutter, putting my gratitude journal on the table where I sit with my morning coffee, and laying out my yoga mat on the floor, I turn the card over to Morning Routine so I will be ready for the new day.

I’ve always thought I must be a bit simple-minded. I definitely need simple routines. My fridge card gives me the reminders I need to do mundane, but important, things like charging batteries and asking myself every day what I truly want to create.

My first husband once told me I had no bad habits. I thought, “how nice …” until he continued, “you have no bad habits … you have no good habits … you have no habits.” It took me awhile to realize I was driving his engineer-self crazy with my unstructured approach to life.

It took me even longer to realize I was driving myself a little crazy, also. Now I know that I’ll always find it easy to break habits as I go wandering off the path following a bright blip on the horizon. That’s okay. With my Evening/Morning Routine card, I have a gentle spirit sitting on my shoulder saying, “Come back … wake-up … create the life you want."

One of the fun things I’ve been doing is going back through old art rejects and applying new tools to them. “Home Sweet Home!” above comes from a photo of an abandoned house found in Arkansas. I never could quite get the image to work … but, now I have a new toy box and I think this one is fun. 
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michaels' "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Day 6 Implementation: Routine vs Spontaneity

Wisdom Moon (revised)
This morning I awoke with my morning routines doing battle with the desire to take an excursion to Chapala to see a Oaxaca market. After 3.2 minutes of debate I decided that the routines suggested by Sebastian Michaels are intended to energize creativity not crush it. Grabbing my camera and bus fare, I walked out the door. 

The market turned out to be mediocre but the feeling of being free and alive in the world was heavenly and, during a leisurely breakfast on the malecón, I thought about one of the projects I’m working on and my excitement about it grew.

Perhaps following these routines is somewhat like flying an airliner that’s always slightly off course. The routine is a flight path intended to keep you headed in the right direction. The important thing is not to be exact … or exacting … about it, but just to be able to see when you need to adjust your efforts back to the path you’ve chosen.

After discovering Photoshop's  Color Lookup yesterday, I’ve decided to get better acquainted with it. I chose a piece I liked but wasn’t completely happy with … "Wisdom Moon” ... and ran it through all of the Color lookup profiles. Of course, I didn't get into all the permutations of blend modes and opacity changes ... I only have one lifetime that I know of.

Wisdom Moon (original)
Here’s a copy of the original and the image above is the one I chose as the final version. 
Below is the page of thumbnails that give you a sense of how much you can alter an image just by using Color Lookup. I really liked the Blue tone - abstract ... and even the gray tone abstract ...  but finally chose the one above.
Photoshop Color Lookup thumbnails
 This post was prompted by Sebastian Michaels' "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Day 5 Implementation: Edgy Amber

Edgy Amber
It’s Saturday morning. Even though I’m retired and nothing external differentiates my days, Saturday mornings still feel different … free, lazy, open to whatever comes my way. 
What came my way this morning was a conversation I had this week from a man who had been deported from the US and separated from his family.

Regardless of political positions, his is a disturbing story of a person who has worked hard all his life and now finds himself homeless, without family support, and disconnected from everything he has known. HIs story haunts me and, with my morning cup of coffee, I started writing a blog post about him and the current political situation.

An hour went by before I remembered my morning routine and asked myself: Is this how I want to spend my time? Not that writing about the world’s situation is a bad thing … just, is this what excites me? Is this what I want to create?

So, I went to my journal and asked the three morning questions and decided today would a play date. A companion on the Awake journey made a comment about a Photoshop technique I had never used … one that turned out to be a previously unopened toy box. 

"Edgy Amber" emerged from that toy box many hours later. I won't call it art but where else could I play with Mardi Gras beads, masks, party store supplies and my first digital painting? Edgy Amber is the name of one of the effects available from Photoshop's Color Lookup, my new toy box.

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Day 4 Implementation: Hanging out with Friends

Hanging out with Friends
Observation: I’m at the awkward stage of the artist’s journey … that confusing territory between the place where you’re just delighted that something … anything … shows up, and that place of confidence where you can actually follow an inspiration and create something that is crafted by your intention.

It needs a name, this place. Uncertainty. Doubt. The Slough of Despond. (A bit overly dramatic and already used.) 
Thinking about what to call this place led me to Google the stages of artistic development. As is true of almost anything, the number of stages seems to always be 3, 5, or 7. What did even numbers do wrong as to be so shunned?

There is one guy, Dr. Viktor Lowenfeld, who published “Creative and Mental Growth,” who uses six stages but his stages end at age 16 and relate only to style of art. Not very helpful to those of us who started late.

One model offers 3 stages: emerging, mid-career, and established. That’s only useful if you’re trying to understand commercial progression.

An article on finding your creative voice, helped. Loved the advice and the encouragement, but it didn’t answer the question. This model uses four stages, basically described as:
  • Discovery Phase. It’s when you suddenly become fascinated with an idea or a new direction for your work, but you don’t yet have a clear path forward.
  • Emulation Phase. By mimicking the work of their influencers, artists are able to build a basic platform of skills necessary to eventually branch out and explore new territory.
  • Discovery Phase. In this phase, you may suddenly feel suffocated by the work of your heroes and may see an opportunity that you feel a little ill-equipped for, but feel compelled to rise to the challenge anyway. You begin taking risks as you sail out into uncharted waters.
  • Crisis Phase. Once you become known for something, it’s tempting to begin to protect the thing you’re known for. 
Quotes from the article:

"For many of us, the perception of incompetence is the worst sin, at least psychologically. We would rather live with the perception of invulnerability than test our limits and discover that we actually have some."

"Be brave, hone your skills, and develop your unique voice."

Maybe what I’m trying to describe is the gap that Ira Glass talks about in his popular quote:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

That works for me. For ten years I’ve been delighted with almost anything that showed up. Now, I want that “special thing” even though I don’t quite know what it is. It’s okay if it takes awhile.

As for the challenge: I'm going straight to Awake and skipping the two-page magazine spread. It’s my time off for good behavior. 😉 And, maybe I’ll come back to it later ... maybe.
For today, I hung out with a bright spirit who left too soon. She was a mighty magnet of people, bright colors and love, and I think of the flowers in this image as the many, many people she touched with her love. The Buddha image was actually a statue in her yard. I like thinking about her hanging out with her friends and teachers. It helps take away the sting of her leaving.
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Implementation Day 3: Missing Missy

Missing Missy
These nine days of implementation are about developing routines that support our creative life. I’ve dutifully set up my morning and evening routines and feel more focused than I have for a long time. … At least I did until today. 
Most of my days are simple and open. Today wasn’t. My morning routine fizzled and I’m already pushing into my evening routine while trying to catch up. 

Bottom line: Tomorrow’s a new day. 


The next exercise of the 26 Photo Artistry challenges is about selling something. I’m opting out of this one. It’s not a bad challenge but it’s just not one I want to do. Unfortunately, the next one, the next-to-the-last one, is one I’m not sure I’m ready to do. It’s about a pet. Maybe it’s time. Maybe it will be healing. Maybe it won’t.

After thinking about it, I decided it was time and began a piece about Missy. It was full of puffy clouds, god rays and roses, as well as some of my favorite images of her. It turned into a mess. Especially when I added an image of a piece of fabric I shot in the mercado. I liked the fabric part but the rest was a hot lump of cliche.

Today, while doing a lot of other things, I decided I wanted to go for a soft, ethereal look. By the time the other parts of my day were done, I had the first layers planned and expected to easily develop that soft, misty look I see other artists do. Nope.

The one thing that kept calling me was that bit of lacy fabric. Suddenly I realized that was the metaphor I had been looking for: Missy was part of the fabric of my life for almost ten years. Now that fabric is no longer what it was. Immediately I had an emotional reaction that said this was right approach.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Implementation Day 2: Child of Stardust

Child of Stardust
This is such an interesting journey. Yesterday, I worked hard, made two completely different versions of the image I was trying to create and wasn’t truly happy with either.

Today, I threw two images together and they fell in love with each other and I couldn’t do anything except tweak here and there.

The instructions for this challenge said to create a piece that should, "invite us to let go of whatever might otherwise be troubling us in our lives, and give us a few precious, lazy minutes where we can stop fidgeting with our daily concerns and imagined worries and dramas ... and just take a moment to enjoy something beautiful ... and perhaps find something extraordinary quietly awaiting us there."

The rules were … no clocks, no words, keep it simple and keep it light. Digital art tends to go dark with all the layers, so keeping it light is a challenge. I didn’t manage to do that in this piece, so I put a light frame around it. That will have to be enough. 
Does this actually give me "a few precious, lazy minutes?" I'm not sure, I just know it makes my heart sing. Perhaps because it comes from two favorite photos ... a face-painted child at a music festival and an oil slick. One of my earliest memories of delight came from oil slicks after rain. They still enchant me. I also love the idea of how we came together from stardust. All in all, I really like this one.
Is it okay to say that?
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Louise Gallagher’s Rebellion: She Persisted

Artist: Louise Gallagher
Eight years ago I met a blog sister: Louise Gallagher. She’s from Canada and we’ve never met in person. However, our paths have interwoven through the years through our blogs, emails and an occasional Skype. I have come to love this woman for her heart, spirit and joy of living.

Louise is one of the most heart-centered, creative people I’ve met on my journey. Recently, she was inspired by the Congressional shunning of Elizabeth Warren and the words: "Nevertheless, she persisted” bitterly uttered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when she refused to bow to his will. (He must truly regret that bit of oratory and the women's movement it launched.)

After watching the actions of Senator Warren and hearing the dismissive words of Senator McConnell, Louise vowed to do a series of twelve paintings with the theme of “she persisted.” She has now completed 44.

Louise says: 
This series is my rebellion.

I am not a placard bearing, slogan chanting protester. I am strong and forthright. Willing to step in and be heard. In my way.
Louise’s rebellion inspires me, gives me permission to be socially active … my way. I highly recommend connecting with Louise and her words and art through her blog:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Implementation Day 1: Photoshop Artistry

Turn My Ship Around
Since Implementation Day 1 coincides with the first of the month, there is a lot of organization going on. I always try to set up my intentions for the month and take an assessment of my well-being, primarily health and financial on the first day of the month.

What I realized this morning was that a good morning routine actually depends on a good evening routine. What I do before I go to bed helps set up the morning. My evening routine looks like this:

Evening Routine:
8 pm photo organization
9 pm - 5 minutes delete emails
Review accountability - Way of Life
Computer off
Clean kitchen
Check electronic batteries
Put out yoga mat

Do remember that this is a NEW routine. We’ll see how it holds up.

I am going to continue through the PA challenges during the next 9 days, but not necessarily with the urgency to complete one every day. Today is exercise 22 about creating an image from a song. The three songs I chose to listen to were:
  • Amarantine by Enya
  • Turn My Ship Around by Jeremy Buck
  • Calling You by Jevetta Steele
After listening, I realized I could go with any of them, but the first photos that leapt forward fit the Jeremy Buck song and turned into the image above.

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