My word for the year is peaceful

Business gurus and motivational speakers encourage people to adopt a word as a guide for their intentions for the New Year. A bit less specific than a resolution. My word for 2019 is peaceful.

Detail of my latest monoprint collage…which makes me feel peaceful.

When I first decided to write this blog, I worried I would sound like an annoying middle-class person who has the luxury of working for myself. Certainly there are innumerable products and services that one can obtain in their quest for peace, but are they necessary? I challenged myself to come up with a few things that anyone can do to seek peace that cost nothing. Here are some suggestions:

Consider your posture 
We spend our lives hunched — over computers or phones or books or worktables. By engaging your core muscles, sitting up straight and relaxing your shoulders, you open up your chest. This gives your lungs more opportunity to open, you become taller and may feel more supported.

Think about your breathing
Is your breath shallow — especially when you are sitting down (and might be hunched over?) Take a moment to breathe deeply, imagining your lungs filling completely and then emptying fully. You can do this at any time without anyone knowing. Try it during your evening commute or a stressful meeting.

Hit unsubscribe
I’m assuming if you are reading this that you have some internet connectivity and probably an email address. There are a myriad of things to worry about in our world, and many of them have organizations that will email you…incessantly. Be honest with yourself — how many of these email messages do you actually read? You can still care about issues without having daily doses of hysteria-pitched text thrown into your day.

Choose when to engage
Consider taking unnecessary notifications off your phone, and making use of special VIP lists for email you can’t afford to miss. Decide when you will read or listen to news. Do it at a time when you can give the world happenings your full attention. If it is in the background, why not put on some music or an audio book instead?

Why is being peaceful important to me…and to you?

When I don’t feel peaceful — when my mind is filled with anxiety — I make terrible art. And then I feel discouraged, and more anxious, creating a vicious cycle. Being peaceful isn’t just for people who make creative work all day. Peaceful drivers make for safer streets. Peaceful teachers have more patience. Perhaps peaceful legislators will find ways to work together. The possibilities are endless.

What is your word for 2019? Might I suggest peaceful?

Wishing you peace…

Finding the reset button means getting focused and motivated

April has come and gone, and so has my solo show. After the flurry of art making and promotion, I find myself in that strange place of limbo, not knowing exactly what to do next. No wonder authors of a successful books find it hard to write their next book. How do creative people go about finding the reset button?

This situation happens to me occasionally. Complicating matters, my quiet house/studio will be changing soon with the arrival of my young adult children who are home for the summer. So planning and motivating are crucial before my house becomes noisy and my schedule challenged.

The blessings of a road trip

As an environmentalist, I am chagrinned to admit that I love driving. Spring in the Midwest is intoxicating — where you are enveloped with every color of green and the clouds are unimaginably spectacular. On this particular road trip, my destination was Cincinnati, Ohio (about 2 and a half hours southeast) because I wanted to visit the non-profit gallery Manifest.

large storm clouds over fields
Rolls of storm clouds press upon me as I travel east.

Fantastic waves of storm clouds rushed me east. At Manifest, I was delighted to see work by my former relief printmaking professor Ed Bernstein in a group show entitled Drawn. At lunch, I was treated to a fast moving torrential downpour, followed by azure skies and staggering cumulus clouds. I began to ponder doing some small tonal studies of cumulus clouds, perhaps making use of mica powder. A new idea begins…

heavy clouds over Woodburn neighborhood in Cincinnati
Heavy clouds over the Cincinnati hills soon release their moisture.

Church spire seems to touch the rapidly moving clouds.
Churches are everywhere in Cincinnati. This one in the Woodburn neighborhood was so high it felt like I could almost touch the clouds rushing by.

Libraries are candy for the soul

This morning brought a Facebook post entitled 11 Nonfiction Books All Artists Will Want to Read. If I am honest, I often retreat into the world of murder mysteries, which are diverting but not very challenging to me and to my art. A quick visit to our local library yielded these beauties:

two memoirs by artists and writers
Two memoirs by artists and writers.

A quick stop in the science area, and I picked up some more inspiration…

books about weather and clouds
I am fascinated by the highway of clouds that flow above me and wonder about the science behind them.

Now for the real planning by getting focused

One danger with all this inspiration is that I buzz about my home studio, having lots of ideas but not accomplishing anything. I learned the value of planning at least six months ahead from Alyson Stanfield, so I grabbed a sheet of Stonehenge paper and started writing down categories of activities. The details — the to do’s — followed.

my own six month plan on paper
Emptying my brain of all of the goals and to-do’s helps me focus.

I love a good list, but acknowledge that without saying WHEN something will be done, the list is useless. With the exception of actual deadlines, I shy away from putting specific dates down. So I began circling things that needed to be done immediately in red. Other colors followed: end of May, end of July, end of summer. Today I will create goals for May, and every Sunday night I plan out the week. I’m posting this poster nearby to remind me of where I’m headed.

How do you reset and get motivated?


Artists need to be in shape

Artists need to be in shape. This is not one of those annual missives that occur around the New Year, exhorting people to improve their physical health. Artists certainly don’t need to be athletes, but art making is a physical activity, and thus taking care of your body is extremely important.

The studio is an inherently physical place.

All it takes is one twinge

I have been working out at an exercise studio almost daily since August. I started this regime for stress relief and distraction, but I do find that I feel more fit and strong. Yet all of this bodywork could not save me from injuring myself while lifting the heavy block for Emancipation of the Sun. It is 25 x 40 inches and weighs about ten pounds. As I tried to lift it up and over the rollers and gears on my press, I felt something give in my shoulder. This led to two weeks of complete incapacity, ibuprofen and heating pads. Finally, my GP sent me to physical therapy.

Posture is everything

In my two weeks of agony, I discovered that if I stood with rigid military posture, the muscle spasms and tingling in my left shoulder blade would subside. My physical therapist confirmed that my tendency to slump my shoulders and lean forward, plus my weak shoulder muscles, were the problem. Exercises with colorful bands were prescribed, plus a way to stretch out the front of my shoulders which get tight when leaning forward.

I purchased a three foot firm foam roller, and now use it frequently to open up my chest. It is hard to keep perfect posture when I am carving, or rolling out ink, and taking a break each hour to stretch is very helpful. Most things we do — whether at a desk, looking at our electronics or working in the studio — encourage us to lean forward and slump our shoulders, so I highly recommend the foam roller.

Getting support for standing

On printing days, I can stand for hours. I find that two things help keep my legs and feet in good condition. Compression calf sleeves — sold to runners who suffer from shin splints — keep the blood flowing up from my feet and ankles and make me feel less tired. Plus they come in super neon colors.

I haven’t been brave enough to wear my calf sleeves with shorts yet.

The floor in my studio is a cement slab which can be hard on the feet, even when I am wearing good shoes or clogs. I purchased two anti-fatigue mats for my studio that I can move around depending on my activity.

Do not forget your hands

The length of  time I can spend in the studio is often governed by how my hands are feeling. I can only carve for a few hours, and need to take lots of breaks, especially when I am using my Foredom drill. I found these gloves meant for knitters help support my hands and keep them warm in the winter.

Pushing too hard for productivity

The biggest danger to my artistic practice is my impatience. I wish I could carve or print for hours upon hours, but I know that my productivity in the coming days will only suffer if I push too hard. Stopping before things hurt, stretching, going for a power walk and switching activities are just some of my artistic training strategies.

What secrets do you have for keeping your creative self in the best physical shape?

Evaluating my artist year

I spend many of my days working on discrete activities. Carve this layer, print the next color, build a frame… Like most things in life, I find it difficult to assess on any given day whether I am going in the right direction or not. I am always struck at the similarities between being an artist and gambling. On a few golden days, an acceptance arrives in my email, or a new collector takes a linocut home. But the vast majority of days the activities go on without reward or comment.

Summertide Brings the Derecho and its cousin Breath of Hermes were my most challenging linocuts of the year. They were perhaps my favorites as well.

Evaluation is a way of getting an overall picture of how I am doing. For the curious, here are the things I will be evaluating this year… Continue reading “Evaluating my artist year”