Monday, July 31, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 21

Harmonia: Amor Y Gratitud
This is Day 21. Yes, I made it, but is that enough? Apparently not.

For some reason, Sebastian Michaels of 21 Days to Creative Abundance seems to think we should actually implement all the information and techniques he has offered us for the past 21 days.  He wants us to IMPLEMENT the plan we’ve been putting together for the next NINE days. Imagine!

Okay, I recognize that he’s given us some great advice and tools and tips. Probably the biggest thing for me was to create projects, art projects. I have been so overwhelmingly grateful to make art at all, I haven’t thought much about deliberately attempting a project. It seems a bit like trying to schedule magic. 

However, I now have two projects that I love thinking about, although one scares me and calls up all those doubts that come along with trying to do something new and a bit outside our comfort zones.

I’ve started on a series of nine muses for digital art. The first two came rather easily but where would the other seven come from? I’m committed to using only my own photography in my images and I’m not sure I have enough muse-worthy images.

That was my thinking when I sat down this morning and started browsing through photos. Soon, I had three that seemed to want to play together and Harmonia was born.

So, yes, Sebastian, I will sign up for another 9 days of implementation. Tomorrow morning I will try to put all the pieces of the plan together.
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 20

Artwork at Sacramento International Airport
Day 20 begins two days of wrap up and developing a clear plan for living the creatively abundant life.
Fundamentals of the plan:

  • Lock in a morning routine … “If you win your morning, you win the day."-- Sebastian Michaels.
Include movement and answer the three questions.
  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What am I excited about?
  3. What do I want to create today?
  • Decide on one or more specific artistic projects.
  • Schedule tasks related to your artistic project every week.
  • Work in focused blocks of time without distractions.
  • Develop an accountability process.

Today’s challenge is about capturing and editing a self-portrait on a cell phone. As I was leaving the US for Mexico, I found an amazing piece of art in the Sacramento International airport. Only my iPhone was handy so at least I got that part of the challenge right, but I manipulated the image in Photoshop on my laptop.

I was intrigued with this photo but it’s also something of a mess so I had few expectations as I began to play, layering on unrelated stuff and watching it turn into pure chaos, reminding me of Nietzsche’s quote:

"One must have chaos in oneself 
in order to give birth to a dancing star."        
 -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Not that I think the result is a dancing star. However, it was fun.
Caught in Selfie Hell
This post was prompted by Sebastian Michael's "21 Days to Creative Living" and "Photoshop Artistry" programs. More information here.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 19

Water Dancer

Today Sebastion Michaels asks us to tackle Procrastination. 

His suggestions include being clear about what you want to do and why, having an easy “on-ramp” to your art, making a list of what needs to be done on your art project so you can always know what’s next, and having an accountability partner.

Generosity. In the past few days, I discovered something not on his list that works for me. One of our challenges was to complete a piece of work and give it to someone. I knew who I wanted to give a particular piece to and this morning that desire pulled me into making art when I might have done something else.

Follow your energy. I'm adding this as a procrastination technique. Today's challenge was to create a book cover. I found myself doing anything but going to Photoshop and finally realized I really didn't want to do this challenge. I've done a lot of book covers so it didn't feel fresh. When I shifted to creating an image for my series on digital artistry muses, I couldn't wait to get to my computer. Sometimes, if a task just feels like slogging uphill through muck, maybe it's time to turn around and skip downhill.

My easy on-ramp is simple … just browsing through my photos or spending time organizing them throws open the doors to Photoshop and makes me want to see how one or more photos might play together.

The list is something I need to do. I’ve identified three projects I want to work on, but I need a simple to do list for each of them, posted in a place where I can review them easily.

The accountability partner is a challenge. People are busy and they have their own projects. I’m thinking that maybe deadlines and having a recipient for each project might keep the fires stoked.

Since one of my projects is the creation of images for the nine muses of digital art, I’ve decided to make a separate blog page for them which will also be a little accountability pressure as I create images for each of them. The photo above is a young Mexican woman who is the stimulus for the second muse, Bailanda. Check out this page to see the muses.

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

21 Days to Creative Abundance - Day 18

The story unfolds. We do our work, focus on gratitude and love, but still the Universe sends us the unexpected, some of it delightfully good, some of it heartbreakingly bad. All of it mingles into this thing we call life.

I decided today would be the day that I would deal with Missy’s left over food. I have a friend who will take the bag of gourmet food, but also have an almost full bag of “back-up” kibble that I bought when we unexpectedly ran out of her regular food.

A friend told me about a woman who rescues dogs who would like the food, so I set off to find her with only minimal clues as to where she lived. Obviously, the clues weren’t sufficient because I wound up with a different woman, but our conversation revealed that she was getting ready to deliver food to some starving dogs and would be happy to take my offering.

The story she told me began to ring a bell. A Canadian man rescues dogs but he had to make a trip back to Canada and left someone else in charge of feeding the dogs, six or seven of them. Apparently that person disappeared and the dogs are starving, eating newspaper and barking all the time.

Missy, 3 months, on her way to her new home.
When I asked for a few more details, we discovered that it was one of those dogs that rushed Missy and caused her to get hit. The cycle of all of this makes me shake my head and weep. I’ve tried not to blame the other dog, but I have to admit to having hard feelings toward it. Now, I find that the poor dog was apparently trying to escape its abuse and starvation. Missy’s food will help feed that same dog.

It’s too complicated for me to comprehend, but it feels like karma in action.

Challenge #18 directed us to create three images of specific sizes that would hang together, each individually whole yet related to the others and all tied together with one word. I started trying to find a theme and pulled up a lot of keyword photos but nothing was sparking. 
I decided to let the images come to me, so I randomly browsed through my favorites file and pulled three that jumped out at me and then looked for some common element that tied them together. The above image … Findings … were all things that took my breath away when I found them ... a mural in San Miguel de Allende by Sego, the inside of a cathedral (San Francisco, I think), and a big horn skull hanging on a fence in New Mexico superimposed on a high desert sunrise in the eastern Sierra where I lived for two years.
I started to use the theme word "golden" because each image has a golden tone, but love the idea of finding unexpected beauty. I also love the feeling of letting things come to me, letting stories unfold, being open to the unexpected regardless of whether or not I would choose to have those things come to me.

There are streams of thought that hold that we can affect what comes our way ... we can attract good things, magnetize or manifest connections and abundance. I like those thoughts and believe that when we think like that, we change ourselves and that affects our own actions and our surroundings. I don't know if it goes beyond that, but I do know that we are in charge of how we react to what comes our way. We can make art out of the materials we have at hand. We can create life and love from the circumstances around us.

"Findings" feels like a word that helps me remember to honor what comes my way.

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.