This is What We Do

Last Saturday, January 21st, I walked in the Women’s March on Washington. It was an amazing, peaceful gathering of people, united in protest. We were 500,000+ women and men packed shoulder to shoulder. At one point, I couldn’t lift my arms because we were sandwiched together so closely. As someone who is not comfortable with crowds, I still felt like I was in a safe space.

Our fellow marchers had travelled all night from all over the country. I met people from Oregon, Texas, New York, Indiana, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

In addition to the signature pink pussy hats, there were many signs.

A guy walking behind me commented, “Wow, there’s so much angry creativity here.”

The day wasn’t about creativity, but it’s what we do— right? As artists, and simply as human, creative beings, we channel our anger, loss, heartbreak, love, hope, and experiences onto the page or canvas.

If we want to understand a society, we study their art.

SNL political spoofs remind me of Shakespeare’s satires and tragedies.

The knitting of the pink pussy hats (…and gigantic uterus shown here!) reminds me of quilting bees and how women have historically sewn their stories and messages into quilts.

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Some of my favorite moments from the day are as follows:

The song Quiet became a flash mob, sung around the world.

One group handed my friend a folded note. They were distributing various quotes of inspiration and freedom.

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There was a group from Savannah, Georgia carrying signs painted by artist Panhandle Slim. Each sign had a quote from a writer, poet, singer, artist, character, or public figure. Read more about this incredible artist and his story here.

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Whatever you are feeling right now, take time to immerse yourself in your art— express and articulate, breathe and heal. Wishing you peace, my friends.

5th Grade Makeup Project

I recently decided the corner of my office needed some color. The white walls were glaring at me, but I couldn’t hang an expensive piece of artwork there. I needed to paint something myself.

…And since we’ve determined that painting is not one of my fortes, I decided to try a stenciling project.

…However, in addition to my lack of painting skills, I should also admit that I’ve always had some anxiety related to stenciling. It is one of the few D’s I remember receiving in school.

I was in fifth grade, and I’d never received a D before, never mind in Art class. What’s up with that?! Apparently I didn’t follow instructions, and my work was messy. When I asked my teacher about it, she pointed to the paint I had brushed beyond the stencil borders.

Yes, well… I could see how that was a basic stenciling requirement.

35+ years later, I felt ready to try again, and I promised myself to be very patient with the process.

And even though I was feeling some pressure with such a structured craft, picking out the colors and paint still allowed me to be creative.

I used Martha Stewart Satin Craft Multi-Surface paints in a combination of blues:

  • Base: Deep Sea #32081
  • Light: Summer Haze #32023
  • Dark: Blue Sky #32021

The steps for stenciling are simple (Sure!):

  1. Paint the canvas with the base color. Allow it to dry completely.
  2. Place the clean stencil onto the dry canvas to plan the stencil location. If you are planning a symmetrical design, measure evenly between each stencil placement or use multiple stencils.
  3. Use masking tape to lightly secure the stencil to the painted canvas. Use as little tape as possible.
  4. Dab the stencil brush into the paint.
  5. Dab the stencil brush onto your palette (or a scrap piece of paper) until the excess paint is removed.
  6. Dab the paint onto the stencil, starting from the stencil border and brushing in towards the center. Do not brush outward.
  7. Take your time. Breathe.

Of course, you might want to search for more accurate instructions from a pro (Not someone who is permanently scarred from fifth grade art class!). I also recommend practicing your stencil technique beforehand on a piece of paper like I did.

This combination of blues turned out to be exactly what I wanted. The colors are calming, and the satin finish absorbs light instead of reflecting it. I am happy with how it turned out…and I’m crossing my fingers for a B this time around.

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The Spark of Childhood Memories

As a snowstorm worked its way across the country this weekend, I was taken back to my favorite memories from childhood. We only got a dusting here in Atlanta, but early Saturday morning, I could hear kids in the neighborhood laughing and screaming as they played outside.

For me, a snow day began with the strategic layering of clothing: long underwear, jeans, turtleneck, sweatshirt, and then ski pants and a puffy jacket. Each foot wore two pairs of socks, a plastic baggie, and boots lined with fleece. Of course I wore mittens, a hat, and a scarf too.

My brother and I would step outside to play, moving at the warp speed of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

With our backs in the snow, we’d sweep our arms and legs to make angels. We’d roll onto our stomachs and crunch the snow in our mittened hands, testing it for density and stick. The best snow would stick together for the perfect snowball, which could be rolled across the yard to make the ultimate snowman.

We’d build forts out of the huge mounds of snow lining the freshly-shoveled driveway. I liked to carve shelves and buckets out of the pile. Then, we’d pack snowballs, stockpiling them in our forts for a snowball fight with friends.

Those were the best days. Playing hard. Sweating in my snowsuit even though it was minus-something degrees out.

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It is fun to tap into those childhood memories. Even though they were many years ago, time-traveling through them is a vivid experience.

And maybe that is why, Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, recommends childhood memories as an inspiration point for writing.

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”

She goes on to describe how to branch out from there. Beyond, “just sit and write,” as some authors advise, Lamott provides tangible exercises for writing. She also shares anecdotes from her life. Reading Bird by Bird is like taking a writing semester with Lamott as the professor (Oh, to dream!).

There is a reason why Bird by Bird is one of the most recommended books for writers. If you’ve already read it, it may be time to read it again. And if you’ve lost your will to sit and write, start with the spark of a childhood memory.

Finding an Answer

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a resolution is defined as follows:

“the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”

and

“the act or process of resolving: as

  • the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
  • the act of answering : solving
  • the act of determining…”

I bolded the words I just love in this definition: finding an answer, simpler, and solving.

This definition seems so much friendlier to me than the self-torture goals most of us set in the New Year. Nowhere in the definition does it mention deprivation, starvation, or rigorous workouts.

Yes, this is a good time of year to review what is important to us. It is the time of year to reset and take better care of ourselves. It is the time for long walks, journaling, and meditation.

I hope you will give yourself a resolution for more joy the answer of creativity.

If you need scientists to tell you how good creativity is for your brain and your health, read Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It.

If you’re waiting for permission and validation to create your art, listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast #204. (And let’s just revel for a moment in her conversation about immersion with Mark Nepo. I think immersion is my favorite word for the year ahead. What will you immerse yourself in this year?)

If you feel that you’re too old to start, read/watch Hollywood Reporter’s Creative Until You Die. (language warning on these clips!).

Instead of “no pain, no gain,” give yourself a resolution that will bring you joy. If one hour a day is too much of a commitment, start small. Try one hour a week or one hour a month. …One hour just for you, to let your brain wander, dream, and solve problems.

Sign up for a class or workshop, write in your journal, set up a creative space just for you.

It’s time to play and create.

Happy New Year.