Happy New Year: Inner growth or outer goals?

Amaryllis flower buds symbolize growth and hope for the new year.

A bulb contains inside itself all the energy it needs to grow into a beautiful flower.

2016 is off to a big bang, at least in my studio! Another painting module has begun, I’m in the research phase for two art history papers, and tomorrow I go to the natural history museum in Albuquerque to examine and draw a pine borer beetle for the Native Tree project.

Busy, busy, busy!

Has the new year started off at great speed for you, too?

At the start of every year, I usually take some time to share my goals or hopes for the year ahead and make suggestions for interesting reading about goals and resolutions (see here for 2015, for 2014, for 2013, and for 2012.)

It seems to me that the most easily achieved goals are external ones. They are easy to accomplish because you can directly measure them, put them on a schedule or deadline. They are concrete. You either lost 10 pounds or you didn’t. You threw out your old paperwork and organized your office, or it’s still messy. You went to the gym 3x a week, or you stayed home and watched tv.

Etc, etc.

But what about internal goals?

This year, I realized that I need to do some deep growth work on my inner self, both physical, mental and spiritual. In December, I was at a doctor’s office for my shoulder and neck injury, and he said, “What you do now for fitness in your fifties is what will set you up for good health in your sixties, seventies and late old age.”

I realized that his statement didn’t just apply to my body, but also my soul.

All those mental mechanisms that each of us has to defend ourselves from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune get stronger and more automatic as we age. They get so powerful that finally they don’t work anymore! Instead of helping us cope, they hinder us from thriving!

What do we do then?

  • We have to abandon our old crusty forts of self-defense.
  • We must learn to observe reality without inserting our old interpretive filters.
  • We need to re-connect to others and allow ourselves to be open to the moment instead of responding to the past.
  • We have to grow.

The problem is, that growth is very hard to quantify. It’s impossible to be 10 pounds happier! You can’t do 50 patience crunches every morning before work. 😉

Inner growth is an easy goal to abandon because it’s hard to see progress. But sometimes, you need to change so you can be easier and freer as you move into the next stage of life.

So my mantra for 2016 is, “Heal within.” I want to heal my shoulder, my brain and my heart. I want to be able to be fit and strong inside and out for a happy old age.

What is your vision for this brand new year of 2016?

Warmest wishes for happiness and health to you all in this New Year!

Monday Morning Inspiration: Starting the slow season of slog

Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Don't give up on your creative goals for 2015!

Just get back in the saddle and ride, cowgirl.

It’s easy to work on your creative goals in January. You’re all fired up with energy from the holiday break and enthusiastic about all the great ideas you have for painting or writing projects in the coming year.

But by the end of the month, you’re running out of steam. It’s a lot harder to make one idea become reality than to keep dreaming up new ideas!

Or at least, I know I always have a problem keeping the zest alive once February begins! The Indian corn project I’m working on is a lot of insanely tiny rendering details. It’s so easy to allow myself to get distracted with other projects around the house or scroll through all the exciting things other people are doing online.

One thing that helped me get back on track was watching the film Tim’s Vermeer. (Thanks for the tip, ArtL8dy! 🙂 ) One of the notable things about the project Tim took on was just how much time painting all those little details required, and how much his energy ebbed and flowed throughout the process. It really helped re-energize me on my own detailed piece.

Here are some other ideas for regaining that creative mojo and making those exciting New Year’s plans come true.

  • Have your work area set up and ready to go all the time. This one deserves its own post! Seriously, if you have your current project and tools all laid out on the desk all the time, it’s so much easier to take advantage of any free time that comes your way.
  • Cut down on the number of things you have to do before you can do what you want to do. This is a toughie, especially if your creative work time is scheduled at the end of the day. You have to get home, change clothes, walk the dog, make supper, clean up supper, supervise homework, put the kids and dogs to bed, and only then can you start working on that novel. Whew! That to-do list is enough to exhaust anyone! The nice thing about working early in the morning is that you only need to roll out of bed and make a cup of coffee before you sit down at the drawing table. Other ways to cut your pre-studio to-do list are enlisting other family members to handle some of those chores or re-scheduling them to a more convenient time.
  • Get the electronics out of your studio. Just like sleep experts tell you to get the tv and computer out of the bedroom to get a good night’s sleep, so you should keep the digital toys out of your studio so you can focus on creating ideas instead of consuming other people’s. If you really *must* listen to music on your smartphone, dump the social media apps off it so they don’t distract you. If your work is digital, whether on a word processor or a graphics program, use an app like Self-Control to block the internet and email while you’re working.
  • Give yourself little rewards before, during and after your studio time. Make a cup of hot cocoa for that early morning session, or play your favorite music while you paint. Take the dog out for a brisk walk after you’ve hunched over your drawing table for a couple of hours.
  • Remember you’re in it for the long haul. When I lived in Norway, there was a newspaper article one Christmas season where the reporter asked a famous nutritionist about how to eat and stay slim during the holidays. He answered, “It’s not how you eat between December 1 and January 1 that matters as much as how you eat between January 1 and December 1.” Creative work is not like starting to jog on New Year’s Day and training for a 10-k race in 6 months. It’s like staying fit and enjoying exercise throughout your life. If you skip too many training runs, you might miss the race. But if you want to stay healthy, it’s more important to just get active on most days, even if you can’t manage a “perfect” workout every day. Achieving your creative goals is about doing a little something most days, and not beating yourself up about the weeks that go wrong.

What helps you get back in the saddle when you’ve had a creative dry spell?

Art is my life: What artists can learn from dancers

inspirational quote, Art is my Life, tips for artists,

Some tips from dancers on how to make art the centerpiece of your life.

When I first returned to university for art school, I signed up for a ballet and modern dance class to ensure I’d get my dance and fitness fix during the semester ahead.

On the first day of class, the instructor introduced herself, and said, “Dance is my life.” She went on to explain that while she didn’t expect *us* to live with dance at the center of our lives, we should understand her worldview as she taught the course.

“Dance is my life.” That simple statement really affected me as a would-be art student. What does it mean to place your creative expression at the gravitational center of your daily life?

As creative artists, dancers lead very short professional lives. While some few manage to perform for 20 years or transition to choreography, most dancers retire after about 10 years onstage and pursue work as dance teachers or in other fields. As a result, a dancer leads a tightly concentrated existence, one designed to maximize their physical ability and creative artistry.

We artists with longer creative lifespans can learn a lot from the way dancers focus their daily lives around their creative practice.

What are some of the habits and attitudes we can learn from dancers?

  • Your body is your instrument. Take care of it as the powerful tool it is. Despite media reports about eating disorders or worse, most dancers actually take very good care of their bodies. Malnutrition, lack of sleep or drug abuse only leads to injury, and no dancer can afford to be sidelined for a season. Eating right, getting a good night’s sleep and staying fit will also increase your endurance and energy in the painting studio.
  • Block out time for your art and during studio time focus only on your art.
    Dancers arrange their daily schedule in chunks of 60 or 90 minutes, the length of a class or rehearsal. During class, they focus on nothing but the technique or choreography that they are working on at that moment. The annoyances of daily life stay outside the studio doors until rehearsal’s over, then they go make that phone call or run errands on their break. Multi-tasking just makes you frazzled and unable to concentrate on the details of your work.
  • Take time out to rest and recover.
    Monday is traditionally “dark night” in the theater world, where dancers take a day off from performing 8 shows a week. It’s the day they’ll book a massage or chiropodist visit, take a private class, go for a swim or a sauna, maybe listen to a new musical score. Dancers use their day off to rejuvenate their creative energy, not just run errands or catch up on housework. Why not give it a try?
  • Dance for fun.
    Dancers LOVE to dance! They watch cheesy dance movies like “Black Swan.” They listen to new kinds of music to discover potential scores for their next choreography. They enjoy going to discos and busting a move. They fill their free time with all manner of things related to their central passion. Try going on sketch crawls, reading artist bios, joining non-artist friends at a paint your own ceramics party. Make art into your entertainment.

And finally, the most important thing that dancers do:

  • Take class every day.
    Every working dancer in the world shows up at class first thing in the morning, every morning of their life. For a dancer, class is the source of fitness and technical control, the place to learn and improve their art, the connection to their body and creative minds. It is the core of their creative existence. Keeping a daily sketchbook gives us artists that same chance to learn and improve our craft. Draw and observe the world every single day.

Art is my life. What can you do today to make that come true?

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