Archive for Art


Today’s Message from Your Muse

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How can your environment better serve your creativity?

For instance, what’s put away that needs to be out?

What’s out that needs to be put away?

What do you need to carry with you?

What do you need to leave at home?

What outdated supplies do you keep that maybe another artist/teacher/kid can use instead?

Creating an environment that serves your creativity is truly empowering.

And YOU, my artistic friend, are worth it!

Yes, Create Your Power Space!

Love, Your Devoted Muse

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The holiday season is a perfect storm of creative motivation because it has 2 critical drivers built right in:

  1. A deadline (the holiday itself).
    Most people are helped by deadlines because deadlines are structure and frankly, most of us function better with structure.
  2. A  concrete reason why (giving a gift).
    When you live a busy life and want to insert creativity into your already overloaded schedule, a concrete reason that matters to you–like giving a gift–can be a critical piece in keeping you motivated.

But another reason these 2 motivators are so helpful is that they let you create while simultaneously shielding you from more debilitating issues often simmering below the surface–the complicated emotional stuff that makes it had to get started in the humdrum routine of your daily life.

Let me explain.

Self Esteem

Even though it’s not mentioned much, it actually takes a lot of self-esteem to create. Seriously, a lot.

The more personal your vision for a particular project, the more self-esteem it takes.

When your motivation for creating something is simply personal, it often doesn’t take long to lose your drive to continue as soon as anything goes not-quite-as-originally-envisioned–especially when the big meanie in your head smells blood and takes that as her cue to start rolling her eyes and getting sarcastic.

It’s easy to feel silly and think, “Why bother?”

And yet, as we all know too well, you don’t “voila!” become a whole human being with great self-esteem just out of a deep desire to let go of your garbage belief systems–they are. after all, fully developed systems that self-perpetuate.

So what’s a girl to do?

The Healing is in the Doing

The only way to build up your self-esteem to really create what you’re born to create is to just start making stuff without all that required self-esteem–but with whatever self-esteem you can muster at the moment.

I know it probably sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t.

The more you create, the more courage you have to continue to create and–here’s the kicker–the more room you make for that creating to become bigger/more/deeper/richer/braver/ than what you’re currently doing now.

SO worth the effort.

You may have heavy feelings about your creativity or talent or skill level, but it’s important to find ways to dig back in anyway because you’re NOT going to cure your heavy feelings first and then make stuff. It just doesn’t work that way.

Instead, your heavy feelings will go away greatly diminish as you face them in the act of creating.

Every step you take on your creative path is progress and you must continue that journey any chance you have with whatever energy or focus you can muster because it is your job to be your best self.

And to do that, you must use whatever crutch will help you–and two of my favorite crutches are DEADLINES AND REASONS!

YES! Thank you Holidays!

DI(F)Y: Do It (for) Yourself

Now I’m going to take this thought one step further and suggest you introduce a little selfishness into the equation!

Selfish Angle #1: Make it Easy

You could use the holidays to have some creative success–make something that’s guaranteed to work to give you some confidence and have fun–a little bit of creating with no heaviness attached might be just the perfect thing to feed your creative heart.

For instance, you could buy an ornament kit from me, make some simple gifts that are fun, pretty and super EASY and just remember how good it feels to use your hands and “make.”

Or, if ornaments aren’t your thing, do something else–maybe make simple earrings from beautiful beads–or whatever project strikes your fancy AND feels easy, do-able and fun.

The point is, why struggle?

Selfish Angle #2: Learn A New Technique

This one can be a bit more challenging, but one of my favorite holiday gift making angles is to make my gifts based on whatever skill or technique I’m obsessed with learning at that moment.

For instance, one year I decided I really wanted to learn how to create decoupage plates and I made these. I needed a good motivator to learn that skill and giving those gifts was a great one. They were a lot of work but I was thrilled with the result and so were my recipients.

The year I bought myself a serger, the women in my family each got a serged top because I wanted to learn how to use my machine. (Perhaps not my most successful gift giving season that year, but hey, I learned a lot and I tried hard! )

This year, I’m going to tackle metal clay jewelry. I’ve been wanting to learn metal clay for a few years now but just haven’t gotten to it–so the holiday provides me with my reason and a deadline to make it happen.

Success Sneaks Up on You

Both these simple strategies that insert your creative priorities into your gift giving can help you make the holidays work for you and continue to provide you with straightforward reasons to make things all year long (think birthdays!)

This structure of regular creating will slowly free you up over time AND help you build a creative momentum (the real ticket). Soon, you’ll notice your  creative activity getting bigger and braver and increasingly satisfying.

And that, let me tell ya, feels great.

How About You?

What do you think about all this? Will you make any holiday gifts this year? Will you use the holiday to learn something new or do something that relaxes and fulfills you–or…………………………BOTH? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!


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An Un-Natural Talent?

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Hurricane Sandy hit the NJ/NY area hard–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

The range of loss was huge–I lost power for a few days but that was all. Most of my friends in Brooklyn were completely untouched, but couldn’t get anywhere while the subways weren’t working. A colleague in Long Island lost her entire house and felt lucky to escape with her life.

One thing everyone shares, though, is the discombobulation.

Every time I see someone I haven’t seen since the storm, the conversation usually starts there–are you safe–who was affected and how. Eventually one of us mentions having difficulty getting back to business or being productive. When I describe it as feeling “discombobulated” whomever I’m talking to quickly agrees–yes, that’s how I feel. Discombobulated.

It’s made me remember that we humans are like dogs–we’re pack animals. Social. Some of us in this region are struggling mightily, some of us not so much, but all of us feel it.  We are recovering together and even though the physical environment for many of us is back to normal, we, as a group, are not yet.

This reminder has made me think about ALL the ways our individual feelings are created by our larger associations–we are also our families, our cultures, and our environments. And those collective connections affect the way we think, how we feel and what we believe.

The Collective Unconscious

For instance, I was listening to an NPR story about differing Western and Eastern beliefs about school and learning–how in this country we tend to believe that someone succeeds in school because they are naturally intelligent, and how many Asian cultures believe that someone succeeds in school through hard work. Intelligence is much less discussed and focused on.

The story described a study that was done with American and Japanese first-graders–they were all given a math problem beyond their grade level to see how long they’d struggle with it.

The American children stopped after 30 seconds (literally) and explained that it was too hard, that they hadn’t gotten to that yet. A classroom of Japanese 6 year olds worked on the problem for the entire hour and only stopped when the researchers intervened because finding something hard, or a struggle, wasn’t a reason to stop.

Interesting difference.

So of course the commentator went on to discuss how there were strengths and weaknesses in both,but I walked away from that story completely enamored with this concept of treating struggle as a normal part of the learning process rather than functioning as a sign one should quit.

Not only because it IS a natural part of the learning process, but because it buys you so much…everything–time, patience, mercy–you don’t have to decide you’re a failure, for instance, if you haven’t mastered something in whatever unreasonable amount of time in which you usually reach that conclusion–it makes you treat all the obstacles in any project as normal.

In terms of creativity and art making, most people I meet think that you’re either a natural talent or you’re not. Which actually doesn’t leave much room for struggle and perseverance.

For instance, a friend of mine confided that she’d like to start drawing again, but she can’t bring herself to do it because her husband is so much better than she is. He also draws all the time.

I reminded her that it would actually be kind of weird (and unfair even) if she could draw as well as he when she never does it and he does it all the time. She smiled ruefully. How can you let yourself start creating if you think that struggle means you should read the writing on the wall and give up?

And if you think about it, it’s actually a kind of weird back-handed compliment to her husband–like, sure, he does it, but he’s naturally good at it, so it’s not an effort somehow–which actually completely disregards his commitment and makes the time he’s put in invisible.

Untying the Knot

Respecting the struggle is respecting yourself. Accepting the struggle is honoring the process.

And yet, when things get hard, it’s so tantalizing to believe, “I guess I don’t have that special knack, that natural talent.” It’s hard to sink into the struggle with loving patience–and one of the reasons it’s hard is because you’re not alone in this belief– it turns out we have a collective cultural belief about ease and talent that makes us judge ourselves harshly and give up too quickly.

It’s hard because you’re not just working to untie the knot of your own confusion and unhelpful beliefs, you’re un-tying yourself from the entire culture’s knot of confusion and unhelpful beliefs.

But just because it’s a struggle to buck the tide of the larger society, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And as our culture ALSO likes to say “If it isn’t hard, it isn’t worth doing.” (Yay for contradiction!)

Do you allow yourself to struggle? Do you expect yourself to be good at something instantly? Do you not like to struggle with art skills in particular because you think you’re should be better at it than you are because you’re arty?

Please share your thoughts in the comments, your experiences might help someone else!

I love the radio show “This American Life” and its host Ira Glass. (If you don’t listen to that show, you’re really missing out.)

So when I found out that Ira Glass has made 4 videos on the creative process, I had to watch them.

(Well, ostensibly, he’s talking about story-telling and the art of making stories for the radio because that’s what he does, but really, he’s talking about the creative process. So if you don’t make stories, every time he says the word  “stories” just replace it with the word “visual art” in your mind and it all still works.)

I loved all four, but I’m thinking that you probably won’t watch all four. But you should watch at least one.

So I’ve picked #3 and I’m sticking it here because he talks about something that no one really mentions when they discuss the creative process–what to do when what you make doesn’t measure up to your own taste level–what you personally consider really good.

He talks about why that’s completely normal, and the simple thing you must do to get beyond it. I love that he’s done this.

(And I’m not going to tell you what that simple thing is, because I want you to watch it. :-) )

So even though he’s talking about stories and story-telling, it’s relevant for ALL creators of anything.

Here it is, I hope you watch it:

Your thoughts?


Is Inspiration Like a Butterfly?

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I was at a networking event chatting with someone who studied creativity–the academic, scientificky stuff, the parts of the brain, the naming of the parts.

Does your Creative Breakthroughs Collage tele-class use the “blah blah blah” thing with the brain?

No idea.

But he also didn’t make things. And then when I said to him, “you know, you don’t need to be inspired to be creative,” he looked so disappointed.

I said, “I’ve made things for a living on a deadline for a long time which means that I had to regularly create things whether I was inspired or not. The difference between my inspired work and my un-inspired work is pretty much nil.”

Since this is a favorite topic of mine, (poor guy!) I continued:

“But that’s not a bad thing, it’s a great thing” I said, “because I know my creative abilities are available to me all the time.”

He still looked a little disappointed.

Ah, Romance

Our romantic ideas about inspiration are powerful and sexy and well, romantic.

We love inspiration because it feels good–it feels real and special and different from everyday life, and we ALL love that.

But inspiration is also like a butterfly or a hummingbird–who knows when she’s going visit, let alone land long enough to get a good look at her and breathe in her delicate beauty.

So if you wait to be inspired before you start creating, well, you could wait a long time.

But in the same way a gardener can plant a a butterfly bush to draw butterflies into her world, you can plant the seeds that will invite inspiration into your life more regularly.

Well really, it’s just one seed.

And that seed is? Yep, you guessed it.


Don’t wait to be inspired to create. Start creating and you’ll get inspired.

That’s how it works. I promise this is true.

It doesn’t matter how simple you keep it. 20 Minutes here, 20 Minutes there is fantastic.

Go be by yourself, or sit in front of the TV with the whole fam, it really doesn’t matter.

Oh, and another helpful thing! Either

  • do something really important to you
  • or try something where you feel less emotionally invested in the outcome

Just do whichever one lets you feel safe enough or motivated enough to get started–it’s usually one or the other.

Be Kind

It does help if you can be gentle and generous with yourself and your creative attempts because everyone, everyone, everyone makes bad stuff sometimes.

Which also means it’s okay to make bad stuff because everyone does it and, THEREFORE, it’s not damning evidence proving that you suck.

And you know, the mean voices keep inspiration away, not the other way around.

Inspiration can’t get rid of the mean voices.

In fact, when you start pulling the mean-voice-weeds out of your creative garden, inspiration will actually start to flutter in more often because it’s safe and you’ve been tending things and making a welcoming atmosphere.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Now I also know the mean voices can be hard to get rid of, so next week I’ll talk about a meditation or two you might do to make room for other more positive voices.

In the meantime, remember–don’t wait to get inspired to create. Start creating and you’ll feel inspired.


What do you think? Have you been waiting to be inspired or do you already create regularly and find what I’m saying here to be true yourself? Wherever you are in the creative process, please share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!


Get Inspired by Mark Bradford

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The Creative Process

This summer, one of my best friends  saw the collage artist and recent MacArthur Award winner Mark Bradford speak at a conference for art teachers in Chicago and was blown away.

This weekend, she came down from Vermont to visit me and we hopped on the subway to the Studio Museum in Harlem (great museum with a warm, lovely vibe) to see his latest work.

While we were there, we sat down to watch a PBS Art 21 episode about him, and it was awesome.

I love the way he talks about his creative process!

And since you know I like to talk about the creative process a lot here on the blog, I wanted to share the link to this video with you. Please, WATCH IT–you’ll be inspired, I promise.

It’s so good. He’s so good. Art21 is so good.

It’s all good-good-good.

Mark Bradford Video

Here’s the link:

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The Collaboration Conversation

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Every Friday I write the 20 Minute Club Minutes–because using a timer for what I call the 20 Minute Technique can keep your creative momentum going in your busy, time-crunched life–20 minutes at a pop.

Please join in and share your 20 Minute Experiences in the Comments–good/bad, it’s all fair game, because sharing your experiences about the process is a great way to figure things out and increase your creativity.


My 20 Minute Club experiences this week have been all about collaboration.

I’m collaborating on a series of pieces with a fantastically talented close friend, and it’s so fulfilling and exciting.

We began our collaboration with a broad….direction, I guess, and a love for the same kind of materials.

And now we’re slowly developing that direction as we make our initial work. One of us starts something and then we hand it off to the other.

She gave me her latest “start” almost 2 weeks ago.

I brought it home and then walked by it, stared at it, rearranged it, remembered it, and pondered for about 10 days until I suddenly got what I call my flash–this is when I’m thinking about a piece and an image suddenly pops into my head in a particular way that tells me–start here.

(All of the above was invisible work, by the way. To an outsider, it looked like a pile of fabric was awkwardly sitting on top of my printer while I ignored it.)

Once I got my flash, I had something to do. I spent the weekend immersed in a conversation with our project and can’t wait to pass it back to her.

The Conversation

What I love about collaborating is that it’s an even richer conversation than when you listen and respond to your own work by yourself.

As I’m creating, I’m not only responding to the work in front of me, but I’m conversing with my friend in my head as I work, with what I’m adding to what she gave me, as well as with our shared ideas about our project–our vision, if you will, even though that’s pretty broad at this point.

The cooperating feels fantastic. The direction that the work takes when it comes from 2 people instead of just yourself, and the feeling of connection while making art–so often a solitary pursuit–gives the aesthetic experience itself such depth.

But working with someone else also gives you another fantastic personal benefit–it helps you build and maintain that all-important creative momentum because it’s a powerful way to have support and accountability built into the creative experience.

Because it’s hard to always have to come up with that kind of energy on your own.

And in order to live your life as an artist these days, when you’re probably making your living doing something else, it’s really helpful to find different ways to have a supported creative experience.

(That’s what the Creative Breakthroughs Collage Tele-classes are all about–SUPPORT!!)

And when you find the right person to work with, it all falls into place.

Neither of us needs to have a lot of control (well, over this particular project :-) ), both of us care about intention and details, and we’re both approaching the process with curiosity rather than expectations.

And maybe my favorite part is that even though we think really differently and make things differently, we both trust and respect the other person’s aesthetic AND we want to build on what the other one does, rather than fight it.

I haven’t had this much art fun in a long time.

Is there someone you could collaborate with?


Appreciating yourself is an important part of the 20 Minute Club because it helps you keep your creative momentum going.

Carving out the time to create is important of course, but it’s not enough. Getting (and eventually staying) on your own side is a critical factor for helping you take bigger risks with your work, get yourself out of a creative rut, or just enjoy the process more.

Taking the time to remember to appreciate yourself and all your efforts (big or small, creative or not) is a powerful way to make this happen.


Here are my five self-appreciations for this week:

1. I appreciate everything I brought to my collaboration project as I added to it and grew it this last weekend.

2. I appreciate how I much more awareness I’m bringing to certain defeatist thinking patterns and trying to both accept them as they are, and not indulge them at the same time.

3. I appreciate how much I’m learning about the difference between acceptance and succumbing.

4. I appreciate how simply continuing to work on a big project is providing me answers when I feel like I don’t know what to do next.

5.  I appreciate my lifelong desire to grow and let go and be free and how that desire helps me face hard things and move forward.

Your Turn

How about you? How was your creative week? Do you ever collaborate with friends on art or craft work? Would you like to…or maybe not? Please share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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