Traveling to Tibet


No, I’m not really going to Tibet. But I feel like I’ve been there after reading The Skull Mantra by Elliot Pattison.

That’s what’s so great about mystery series. You not only get a good story, you experience worlds you’d never know otherwise.

In this case, the setting is the story. It’s about what happens when a peaceful, spiritual culture (Tibet) meets the brutal efficiency of invaders (China). You can’t help but root for the Tibetans, even when you know the outcome.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Reading this made me want to know more about the Tibet that was. And I got a glimpse of it last night, watching the movie Seven Years in Tibet.

It’s the true story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China’s takeover of Tibet.

It’s not a great movie, but it does show what happens when civilizations clash—something we all need to know about in today’s world.

So please join me in a prayer for peace. Om mani padme hum.

“Good artists copy; great artists steal”

johnalcorn copy
Copying John Alcorn, inTreasured Southern Family Recipes 5.27.15

That’s what Picasso said, and it has a nice ring to it. But what does it mean?

This has been a hot topic among artists, and there are too many perspectives to summarize.  So I’ll just give you my conclusions, based on their knowledge and my experience.

johnalcorn copy 2_edited-1
Copying John Alcorn, Treasured Southern Family Recipes 5.27.15

Copying is a good way to learn. By copying your heroes, you learn about their process and how they arrived at the results you admire. And it’s all good, as long as you don’t try to pass it off as your own.

That’s a relief, because I’ve spent a lot of this week copying the work of John Alcorn, a mid-century artist/illustrator I admire. You can see the results in my sketches.

Stealing is about transforming others’ ideas into your own. The thinking here is that there is no such thing as an original idea; everything is a juxtaposition.

That’s okay, because when you put existing ideas together and add yourself, you turn the work into something else: art.

You can do this. If you’re wanting to create and don’t know what to do, Austin Kleon has a suggestion. “Think of your work as a collage. Steal two or more ideas from your favorite artists and start juxtaposing them.”

Better yet, read his five-star book, Steal Like an Artist.

From Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

A few favorite tools

3.14.15 (Pi Day)

I’m teaching a journal class, something I’ve thought about on and off for years.

Why now? Maybe because the women in my Artist’s Way group made it so easy. Or maybe because I realized I’m no longer a beginner.

In fact you could say I’m an expert, having kept a journal for 40 years or so, and a visual journal for the last 10.

I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’m learning even more from my class. One thing I learned right away is that new journalers want to know which tools to use for what.

If you know me, you know that I like almost any art/craft supply: pens, pencils, markers, stamps, stencils, paper, paint, fabric, yarn, clay, beads. But I love only a few.

These are the ones I keep coming back to and use all the time.

Hope this helps, because I’m determined to inspire you to express yourself—and have fun with it!

Tiny pleasures are huge

lifeone'sownI’ve been recommending this book lately, to everyone from my 25-year-old niece to my 60-something friends. Which is somewhat surprising, considering that I first read A Life of One’s Own 30 years ago.

What makes it stick with me? Joanna Field (pseudonym for Marion Milner) describes her journey of self-knowledge, starting in her late 20s, when she realized she had no idea who she was. Everything she knew about herself came from outside: from her parents, friends, culture.

So Milner decided to notice what made her happy and record it in a journal ( a great exercise for anyone interested in the inward journey). She found, as many of us do, that happiness is in the smallest things: a gust of wind, toes in the dirt, chocolate…

I learned that during the worst depression of my life. In fact, it was what saved me.

That’s why I love a phrase I read in a recent interview with a woman managing a rare and horrible illness. She said the only god she prays to these days is “the god of tiny pleasures.”

Amen, sister.

The Confidence to Listen

13-6confidencemirror copyWhere does confidence come from?  Wish I knew, because I’d like some more.

At least part of it must be how other people see us and what they reflect back.

But for that to make a difference, we’d have to listen to what they’re saying. And if you’re like me, you don’t.

I didn’t realize that until Coleen looked at my shoes and said, “You’re so stylish!” Although I’d heard it before, this was the first time I actually heard it, which made me wonder why.

I thought of all the people in my life and the positive things they say, and how I never really listen (though the negative comments lodge in my brain forever).

What happens to the good stuff? Usually, I discount the words as they’re spoken.  “What does he know about it? She’s just saying that to be nice. He says that to everyone. She must have really low standards,” and on and on and on and on…

There’s another stopping point for certain words, since I attribute them to someone else and act like they’re already taken.  For instance, stylish belongs to my mother and Lynda and smart is about Steve and Sam.

That’s not right; I know it and so do you. But to tackle twisted thinking, you first have to hear your self-talk, and that’s what one compliment—maybe the first I’ve ever heard—did for me.

So bring it on folks. I’m ready for all the adulation you can muster.

Honoring the queen of sticky notes

marlenessticky notes1
Journal page, with wash tape, found postcard, and notes from Marlene, April 2015

What a difference 12 weeks can make!

That’s how long it takes to make it through the Artist’s Way, recover your creativity and make powerful changes in your life.

At least that’s what happened in our group, thanks to Marlene Pelligrino, our facilitator and companion on  the Artist’s Way. It couldn’t have been easy to keep us on task, get us to shut up, help us confront the uncomfortable, and dare to make real changes.

But look at the results:

  • Margaret found her inner strength
  • Coleen merged her engineering brain and artist brain
  • Shelia uncovered her true self
  • Avril returned to psychic readings
  • I’m teaching a visual journaling class
  • You’re taking a color mixing class

So thanks Marlene, for your big heart, radiant energy, and profound sticky notes. And thank you to everyone in our group, for your listening, sharing, tears and laughs. After all,

What are we here for, if not to make life less difficult for each other? – George Eliot

How to Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh

thichn“Understanding is love’s other name,” Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in his latest meditation, How To Love.

He makes one of life’s great challenges so simple. And so beautiful, as summarized by Maria Popova in her weekly “interestingness digest,” BrainPickings.

“To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand we need to listen,” Nhat Hanh tells us. That means expanding our hearts:

When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited. We can’t accept or tolerate others and demand that they change. But when our hearts expand…we accept others as they are and then they have a chance to transform. 

But the capacity to love doesn’t just transform our loved ones. It inevitably transforms us.

If you have understanding and love, then every moment—whether it’s spent making breakfast, driving the car, watering the garden or doing anything else in your day—can be a moment of joy.

howtoloveThere’s just one more piece of the equation, perhaps harder than any other: to love ourselves. Nhat Hahn’s advice:

Trust that you have a good and compassionate nature. You are part of the universe. You are made of stars.


One small step for a duck

duck2This is my “vision board,” a map of sorts, created after nine weeks of doing The Artist’s Way.

It’s actually the second one I made. The first tried to say so much about my dreams, it wound up saying nothing. That’s what makes this a great example of how the creative process works, at least for me.

1. First ideas are rarely the best ideas. What comes to my mind first is probably the same thought everyone has. The result is expected, predictable, safe. Boring.

2. There’s no way to do things well without first doing them poorly. To learn something, you have to be willing to fail. Besides, “mistakes” are often the opening to new, more interesting compositions (as in the black paper covering up where I spilled ink).

3. Ideas come from all over the place.  I cut the ducklings out of a book years ago and the words from a recent magazine— and somehow they wound up together on my desk (magic, in my mind).

4. Surprise yourself. You could say ducks are my totem: it’s one of Sam’s nicknames for me; my mother gave me many duck sculptures; and I often feel like an “odd duck.” But I wasn’t thinking of any of these things when I made this piece.

5. Express your unique self. My style has always been about simplicity and clarity, as you can see above. One image and three words: I can remember that and keep it in mind as I go about my day.

The vision boards of the other members of our group are as unique as we are. And isn’t that ultimately the purpose of art?

Chaos vs. order

Her side

Order is the shape upon which beauty depends.

Thanks PearI Buck: I couldn’t agree more. Order clears my mind, calms my soul,  and pleases my eye.

His side

Unfortunately, the forces of chaos are powerful. There’s even a word for it: entropy, which means that systems tend toward disorder.

I live with three people and two cats who are just fine with that. I don’t think there’s anything malicious in their disregard; they simply don’t see a problem till I freak out.

Then, of course, I’m the bad guy. Someone might even say bitch.

But is it too much to ask that people rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher? I don’t think so.  Is it fair that I straighten up after everyone else? No way. Is it likely to change? Not if entropy has anything to do with it.

So chaos, you win. But don’t even think about messing with my studio—or get ready for WAR.

Think process, not product

cover1edMy birthday present: going away with Sam, leaving everything else behind, taking an art class, and making a very cool journal. I can’t think of a better way to turn 65.

greenwomanI’m talking about two and a half days of making art, instruction from mixed media artist Pam Garrison, access to every art supply you can imagine, great food, and good company.

In other words, heaven.

Pam taught us how to bind a unique book and use mixed graffitimedia in new ways.  She encouraged us to get out of our comfort zone, try new things and remember “it’s about process, not product.” Besides,

“We can always fix it!”

The class was at Donna Downey’s Studio in Huntersville, NC (just outside Charlotte), which is a spectacular place for art play.

The classes are not cheap, but you get what you’ve treestencilpaid for: learning from national artists, getting support for your art, and being treated like royalty.

Donna Downey observing our class

Donna provides everything you need and then some: a  room full of tools, materials and supplies; breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks; and her overflowing spirit, humor and graciousness.

So if you live anywhere nearby, do yourself a favor and register for a class. And if you live far away—register for a class, too.  You deserve it.