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!

The Native Tree Project

Mature piñon pine tree, Pinus edulis, on the banks of a small arroyo in the high desert of New Mexico.

This piñon pine near my home will be the model for a 2-year portfolio project.

As part of the RBGE Distance Diploma in Botanical Illustration, I need to document the life of a native or historic tree for 2 years.

Choosing a tree was surprisingly difficult. I was very enamored of the heirloom varieties of apple, pear and apricot trees that were planted throughout the Four Corners states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the Randall Davey Audubon Center here in Santa Fe has such an old orchard dating back to the 1890s, and I talked with them about using one of their trees in exchange for a lecture or exhibit to help with their programming. Unfortunately, their orchard doesn’t always bear fruit every year due to the extreme climate at the top of Canyon Road. I couldn’t find another tree of the same variety to serve as an understudy if the star couldn’t perform, so the search continued.

A horse chestnut on Canyon Road at the Santa Fe Historical Foundation’s HQ, El Zaguan, caught my eye. The last survivor of an historical garden and chestnut grove dating to the 1850s, this imposing specimen is a beautiful anomaly in this desert city. The foundation’s office staff gave me the impression that the foundation was not going to work hard to save the tree if its health began to fail as, “it had already lived past its normal lifespan.” So the hunt continued.

The aspen grove located in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also intrigued me. Aspens are like grass: essentially a large, single, clone organism. This particular grove is perhaps one of the largest in North America. Even though this grove is just across town, getting there entails a 45-minute drive–in good weather. I’ll need to be able to check on the tree’s status at least weekly, and more frequently at key lifecycle points, so this was rather inconvenient.

Finally, I realized the answer was in front of my eyes. The piñon pine, or Pinus edulis, is the state tree of New Mexico. It also grows all over the high desert around my exurban house in an environment described as piñon-juniper woodlands. It’s an important food source for animals and humans. Individual trees have beautiful forms, sculpted by wind and weather. Existential drama comes from an epidemic onslaught of an insect pest.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me more about this icon of the Southwest!

Ready to work: A brief studio tour

A panorama view of botanical artist Wren Allen's studio, with paper storage, flex-arm lamps and a drawing table.

Where the magic happens: My studio.

Sometimes I think there are 2 kinds of people when it comes to organizing a creative workspace:

  • People who like a clean, empty desk at the end of the day;
  • People who let stuff pile up while they’re working on a project and clean up before starting the next one.

I’m in the latter group. 😉

One of the first things I did after finishing up the drawing module portfolio was to clean off my drawing table and work surfaces, re-organize my pencils, throw out dead specimens, and generally build an atmosphere of calm before the next storm of creative chaos hits.

A drawing table with slant board, flowers and a drawing pad in Wren Allen's studio.

Ready to get back to work. A new drawing board to help prevent neck crunching plus some inspiring subjects to draw!

Enjoy it now, it won’t last long! 🙂

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