Number Three (Process Post)

I’ve called this piece Number Three (for obvious reasons).

I wanted to play on the whole third child thing by using my wife’s preggo silhouette as the 3. That led to adding in the other kids, and then I felt left out so I added myself to it.

These three process shots, and the final image, show you some of my process. Redrawing, value studies and colour palette have become my standard for working, and usually come out successfully (it’s all relative).

Also – OMG!!!! NUMBER THREE!!!!!! I am so freaking excited and in love and happy-happy-happy. Life is amazing. 🙂 (Coming September 2018 – what is it about us and September? I’m the only one who wasn’t born in September!)

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After some drawing and redrawing, this was the first image. It just didn’t work for me.
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So, I moved the kids, redrew Kingsley and added myself. I also adjusted Steph’s head to connect with the kids.
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The value study pushed me around the feet and the busy where we all connect.
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The final image in my favourite colour palette, which I gave to my wife for Valentine’s Day.
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On Creative Living: Discipline & Balance

It doesn’t matter how disciplined you are. Sometimes, life has other plans.

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This past week was one of those weeks. I work from 5-6am on my art and writing passion projects, and I usually work from 8-10pm on commissions or carry-over from the morning. I’m also knee-deep in report card season, a less than exciting time in the life of a teacher. That alone should have slowed me down, but I am disciplined. I work hard, because I know what I want. No one is paying me to work on my passion projects (yet), but I show up and do it anyway.

Except for this week. The boys caught some viruses. Nasty bugs. My wife had special work commitments, so I took 3 days off in the end. Report cards or not, I was at home working on those little humans instead of everything else that I had lined up. (Um, for the record, I am completely okay with this, because I wish I was a stay at home dad anyway.)

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The usual nap time break, where on a weekend I would slip away to the studio to work on something creative? Nope. Magnus coughed himself awake and spent the rest of the time slipping in and out of coughing and crying fits on my chest. Kingsley needed to cuddle and be hugged most of the day.

Putting them down for bed early to get extra rest, I thought, might give me some extra time. Nope. Even though they went to sleep, I couldn’t slip away to work. I was too drained. I watched TV instead. I read a bit. I thought about some art I’d like to make. I worried about report cards and if my students were doing okay with different supply teachers every day.

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Reflecting on it is peculiar. A year ago, I’d have seen the week as a huge success. I completed and mailed out a commission. I finished six pages of a picture book dummy revision. I wrote 102 personalized report card comments. Yet, I have become so accustomed to

producing and progressing so much more, that my bar is now set higher. This is discipline in action.

So how do we balance our work, family and creative lives?

Well, we don’t.

We are disciplined. We work hard. We set tangible goals and lofty-big-idea goals. We track progress. We keep trying. We shrug off the rejection letters and tweak our projects. We get up at 5am and work. And then, we forgive ourselves when we don’t. Because sometimes, we can’t. We must live happy lives in order to be creative, and that does mean that every now and then, we forgive our lapse in discipline and we watch TV, and day dream, and let our babies drool on our shirts, and clean the toilet even when it doesn’t really need to be done. We are human.

27653717_10102011956800961_676300210_oForget balance. I believe in harmony. At the end of the day, if my soul feels happy, then I have succeeded. I check in with myself. I ask myself if I really deserved the break I gave myself, or the push I gave myself. I take stock of every bit of pressure and expectation coming in from others and coming from myself, and then I let myself breathe, because I know that once these boys feel better, I will return to my projects. It’s not over because I took 4 days off/did less creating than I would have normally & liked to have done over those 4 days. I will complete that picture book dummy revision. I will complete the line of illustrations I’m working on. I will write something new.

How do we balance it all? We don’t. We harmonize it. We make it feel right, and we forgive ourselves when it doesn’t.

New Painting Reveal: Love! (An Explosive Sound)

To say that I’m excited about this one is an understatement. I’m so freaking excited about it!

I’ve been toiling away at this one with a rare approach to my work: only work when inspired to. This means that the timing, the external pressures, the weather, the paint supply, every single little thing had to line up for me to feel that surge of raw excitement to work on this. Even the moon had to line up with Venus AND Mars! (Kidding. I’m a little weird, but not that weird. Yet.)

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This large piece started out as something else altogether. I tried a few different paintings on the canvas, but they never went anywhere. I kept painting over top, and on the eve of Magnus’s first birthday, I was reminiscing about the last year with him. He joined the family as #2, but is a force to be reckoned with. Wild, hilarious, creative, independent, and musically driven. We spent the first two months sleepless as he screamed and it seemed that only loud renditions of Sia’s Chandelier did the trick to soothe him for short bits of time. He’s grown into this unique, incredible person, all his own.

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In an attempt to capture his vibrant, bursting personality, I had the vision for this piece. I immediately named it Love! (An Explosive Sound) to honour his energy, his vocal skills, his smile that bursts a room into laughter, and his amazing musicality. He hears any rhythm, stops what he’s doing, and breaks into dance. This piece is an Ode to Magnus. It’s a visual representation of the bursts of love that explode every time I think of him, look at him, kiss him, talk to him, see a picture of him … everything about his being, I tried to throw into this piece.

I think it’s sometimes overlooked, to put a piece of art in a child’s room that isn’t filled with cozy animals and soft tones or primary colours. Yet, I wanted to give him something special. Something he would love now, and as he grows.

And so, here are some photos of my process, and of the beautiful, wild Magnus with his original piece, created on canvas with acrylic paint (neon and metallic tones included), crayon, paper (dictionary pages and the sheet music to Mockingbird), and white charcoal pencil.

This video is from when I first started the process, after a couple of base coats.

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And then, some progress shots of the instruments:

Finally, Love! (An Explosive Sound):

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Kids, The Truth & Listening

17554461_10101725328516341_1201485348255692864_nI think that one of the biggest problems with adults is the inability to listen.

I mean, really listen.

We live in this fast-paced, texting-social-media-I’m-too-busy world, and even when we are slowing down and trying to tune in, I really think that it’s all too often an act.

Learning to shut up our own brains and listen is one of the hardest things to do. It takes effort, and focus, and it takes a lot of forgetting-your-pride.

I try (but often fail) to listen: listen to the whispers in my heart; listen to the nudges of the Universe; listen to my own responses. But most importantly, listening to my kids (biological and students) is the most important listening I think I can do.

The thing is … kids are honest. And if we slow down enough to listen – really listen – then we can dig into what is said/not said/demonstrated, and we can learn.

Imagine. A kid can teach an adult. (Insert studio-audience-canned-gasp here.)

The other morning, I was getting my two year old ready to go to his once-a-week visit to a sitter. I was buckling him in, and the conversation went:

Kingsley: “I’m goin’ to (sitters) and you’re goin’ to work, Daddy.”
Me: “Where do I work?”
Kingsley: “At school-o.”
Me: “What do I do at school?”
Kingsley: “You draw all day.”

I draw all day.

My heart stopped. I was listening.

My son, who has visited me at school but has never seen me draw there, because I don’t teach art and don’t really draw at school very often … my son had worked out what he sees, how I speak, and the pieces of his and my world, and boiled those down into my biggest wish: to draw all day.

I’m not saying the kid’s a psychic, or a mind reader. I am saying, sometimes it is clearer to a kid than it is to an adult. He’s right – I do want to draw all day. If I could afford to draw all day, I would be drawing all day.

But I’m not.

It’s time to keep listening.

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Staying In The Art: Christmas Edition

I’m always thinking about, and talking about, “staying the art.” This is my tried and true method for keeping the gremlins at bay and my soul full.

 

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Available as a print!

There are ebbs and flows with art, as with anything, and so it is with the holiday season. It is so, so, so easy to say “Fugheddaboutit!” – drop the pencils and pens and markers and paintbrushes and notebooks and ideas, and just take in the holidays for all of their wonder.

 

 

But then … that’s too difficult.

It’s too difficult to let those things go without losing momentum, calling forth the wolves of fear and the creativity-killing gremlins. Lord knows, I am busy and it would be very easy to sleep in until 6am in order to catch up on lost sleep, to focus my time solely on family gatherings and food and fun, to channel all of my energy into these last two weeks at work before a two week vacation, and to say “Hey, I get 2 weeks off, so I will just MEGA MAKE then!”

But if I just stop because of those reasons?

  • I’ll be super sad
  • I’ll be very easily irritated (just ask my wife)
  • I’ll have a tired soul
  • The ideas bursting in my head that can’t come forth in the tangible world will make me feel excited, then sad, then mad, then guilty, then lost and uninspired
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I’m losing it.

So it isn’t worth it to drop everything, but I also know that I can’t continue to work at the same pace as I do the rest of the year, without losing my mindAnd I am getting close … this morning on the way to school, I looked at the passenger seat and noticed my drill sitting there. Why did I bring a drill to school?! Losing. It.

It’s now about a shift in perspective.

I am doing the following in order to feel successful, to feel growth, to honour my need and desire to create, and to stay in the art while stepping back a bit:

  • I’ve focused my “to do” list on things that will bring me creative freedom: exploration, the things that have been tugging at my heart but I haven’t been fitting in (for me, right now, that is a few traditionally painted pieces over the prints I’ve been making for my shop, commissions and some writing/illustrating passion projects)

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  • Continue to carve out some time. It just may be less. Be okay with that. Last week, I worked from 5am-6am on my picture book dummy, and then at night, I worked on a commission. I was filling every little space with making art, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. This week and next, I’m finding that time, acknowledging it, and then only choosing to fill it with art for some of the time. I need to remember to breathe.
  • Get lost. Light a candle and play some great music. I love discovering new music with Youtube’s autoplay – I start with something that I like and a few songs in I am usually discovering something new. With the candle on the table, I’m breathing and experiencing the moment. It is a bit of a ritual, and I love getting lost in those moments.
  • I’ve given myself permission to explore and fail. I always have this in the back of my mind, but I am REALLY focused on it right now. Frankly, I think I am trying to fail and rule out what isn’t working for me. While I’m painting, I keep saying to myself, “Self, if this sucks, just don’t show anyone. If this is a failure, you can paint over it.” I’m trying to remind my deepest self that it is NOT wasting time to make failed art – just making it is a success.
  •  I’m journalling. I always WANT to journal and talk about it, but I have yet to make this practice stick. I usually don’t know what to say or write about, and feel awkward telling things to myself, so instead I have recently been making a page per week that I add to over time. I ask myself a question and I look for answers in my every day experiences. Which brings me to the next point, because this has been the focus of my journalling …
  • These last couple of weeks – which, by the way, lead up to me realizing that it was
    time to step back and just make – I’ve been intentionally seeking out beauty. The little things. THAT is inspiring – when you notice the nuance of the light or the way the snow lilts in the air; the inflection of a two year old’s voice or the whole-body-smile of a ten week old human being. Finding this beauty will shift perspectives, big time.

  • I don’t have a massive list of projects or goals. My list is more about being in the art, making stuff, and being present. Listening. It’s about taking some time to think about it, without a big product at the end. In essence, this is what all making is about, but of course, at some point we want to have something to show for our process. The next two weeks, though, aren’t about product, but are most certainly about process.

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  • Find some little fun projects that relate to the holidays. My wife and I have, for the last ten years, been making each other an ornament for Christmas. We go to the art store and we each have 5 minutes and $10, and we secretly race around the store looking for what we need and stealthily purchase the materials, then make-make-make in our alone time and give the gift on Christmas Eve. This fun activity keeps me thinking creatively, but isn’t about something I will post or share or sell.
  • Make something with someone else – like a kid. I painted last night with my 2 year old, and he mostly directed me. We painted on a hardboard canvas with watercolor over crayon scribbled, and then he suggested that we add salt. The results were really quite pretty, and since I was making with him, there was no pressure – it was just about being together. But, my soul was filled.

    In order to stay creative and in the art over the busy holidays, we need to focus on the art – not on skills, not on techniques, not even on the finished thing that we made, but simply being in the moment, being in the art, and being a creator.

    And most importantly – remember to listen.

#ArtistsForLove: We Stand With You

When Kelly Rae Roberts posted her #artistsforlove piece, along with a blog loaded with gorgeous pieces sending the same message, I felt the call to create my own.

I talk to my students about this all the time.

I stand for kindness, respect, love, hope, and kindness. Above all else – above math concepts and spelling, above scores on standardized testing – I stand for these things.

I stand with all indigenous people, muslims, LGBTQ, immigrants, alter-abled, women, the disenfranchised, refugees, all people of colour, veterans, survivors, and anyone feeling alone and scared.

If you would like to join in, then create your own and share it for free with the hashtag #artistsforlove. You don’t even need to be an artist. You can just be someone who feels called to stand with the world, and all of the people who live within it.

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How (& Why) I Became a Morning Person

I’ve always wanted to be a morning person. I’ve read book after book for creative people saying, “If you get up before anyone else, you’ll get more done!” I knew it was probably true, but I told myself the same story: I’m NOT a morning person.

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From my Instagram. 🙂

WANT TO KNOW HOW AND SKIP THE WHY? Scroll down to the lists – the #1 MOST IMPORTANT TIP is the last one! 🙂

The thing is, I used
to be a night person. But after having one baby, I was no longer a night person. I wasn’t a morning person. I was a “from 10am to 2pm” person. The rest of the time? Exhausted!

Something had to change. I wasn’t working regularly enough and I wasn’t getting to the never-ending list of ideas I had. I knew I wanted to work on them, and I knew I didn’t want to wait until retirement, or summer break, or the weekend, or the next lifetime to get to these ideas.

And then … we had another baby.

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Isn’t he just perfect? I would eat him up if I could.

I realized deeply, in my gut and my heart and my soul, that my time for creating could easily slip away. My very “ness” was at risk. With one kid, you’ve got time. There are naps, there’s after bedtime, there’s whenever Mommy takes him so that I can create. But with two? Nope. That time was waiting to be sucked up. Pooping on different schedules, napping on different schedules, eating at different times? I knew that eventually it would even out (we aren’t there yet) and that I would have some more time to work on my creative endeavours, but I also knew that if I got into the habit of NOT making, then starting again would be very difficult.

So, I decided it was time to invest in inspiration, and not production. The result would be improved productivity, but the intention was simply to steal some time to work for ME. (I mean, all art should be worked on for the artist, right?)

I bought a book on creative business, from Kelly Rae Roberts, and I set to work reading it. This is how week 1 of becoming a morning person started.

  • Week 1: Read every morning for 30 minutes before everyone else wakes up. For our house, that meant 5:30. That meant, I needed to get a short haircut and shower at night, instead of in the morning. At 5:30, when I rolled out of bed, I would have 30 minutes to read before Kingsley would be waking up and I would be getting him ready for his day.
  • Week 2: Continue reading every morning, but keep a sketchbook near by. Inspiration was starting to come by, because I kept showing up … even on the weekend. Inspiration wanted to flirt. (Inspiration is a sassy one!)
  • Week 3: Back the time up by 10 minutes. This meant I was rolling out of bed by 5:20, and making my way downstairs by 5:25. But, then my book finished. So now what?!
  • Week 4: Make it 5:15 and work on a list. I made a deal with my critique partner, and told her I would be emailing her on Sunday night with my To Do list for the week. I kept it manageable and interesting: work on this manuscript, work on those thumbnail illustrations, develop ideas for this sequence, etc. Nothing that was too heavy, but something that was meaningful enough to bother with so early in the morning. I also told her I would be checking in again on Friday to let her know how my list went. We agreed that this would NOT include stories – those stories that let you off the hook or excuse laziness. If I didn’t do something, I would say I didn’t, and that would be that.
  • Week 5: Keeping it at 5:15. Continuing with the list. Making space in my time for reflecting and meditating on myself.

And now, it’s a habit. So I continue to back it up, and will continue doing so until I am at my desk, working, at 5am on the dot.

So that it is all easy and nice to say, but what did I do to really make it work? I had tried in the past and nothing worked. I really think that the pressure I put on myself, to feed my soul, with 2 kids – to keep making and doing and being myself – to find the time and space to do this – to not let go of it – is what pushed me the most.

But these tips … I wish I’d had them before:

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    No – eating cupcakes at 5am is not a recommended practice for becoming a morning person!

    Reading something inspiring helped with the first 2 weeks, as I was forming this new habit and setting down the foundation for my new “morning person-ness” (I didn’t let myself read any other time, so I was hungry for it!)

  • Setting up the night before: I always set the coffee maker and timer now. At first, I even put the mug and spoon out so that all I had to do was pour. You really want to treat yourself and get to know all the little hooks you’ll let yourself off of, so that you can stop it before it happens. Think of it as time travel.
  • Checking my list the night before. This helps me keep it in my head so that when I wake up, I know what I am about to go and do. There is no sit-and-wonder-which-project-to-work-on time.
  • Putting out what I’ll need: tomorrow, I’ll be working on wrapping up a chapter of a middle grade novel I am about half way into writing. It is a hard scene and I have told myself stories about it. I realized tonight that it is fear feeding this beastly excuse-making I’ve been doing. Tomorrow, I’m writing. My computer is set up for it, and the file is open and waiting to be written on. On days when I sketch,
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    Setting up the night before is a huge improver for morning productivity. In addition, invest in yourself by prepping the things you know you will soon need – here you can see several prepped canvasses, waiting for me to steal some time to work on them.

    I make sure that everything I will need is ready, including WHAT I am sketching. If it’s a painting day, the paint is out and ready. There is no wondering and waiting that happens.

  • Keeping accountable with a partner who will keep me accountable. (It helps when it is a mutual agreement – it’s nice to be on both sides of the fence/in both roles, so that it feels balanced and your different voices are heard!)
  • This one is the most important. Weekends are archaic! In parenting world, they are busy and wild and chaotic. If you want to be a morning person, then there is no sleeping in on Saturday. For me, sleeping in means I feel guilty, I feel groggy, and I struggle for a week to get back to waking up early. I may go a bit easier on myself, because I make my To Do lists for Monday-Friday, but I still work on something. At the very least, I am up, breathing and centring and reminding myself that it is going to be a great day.
  • THIS ONE IS MAYBE MORE IMPORTANT! Sleep according to sleep cycles. I use http://www.sleepyti.me, and I just check it before bed. I want to make sure I’m waking up BETWEEN sleep cycles and not in the middle of. THIS has made the BIGGEST difference to my overall feelings of being awake and refreshed!

 

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