On Creative Living: Discipline & Balance

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


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.)


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.


#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.






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.

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.

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,
    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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Learning from Little People

A long time ago (probably not that long ago) I thought that big people taught little people. 

That was wrong. Very wrong.

The things worth knowing – the most important things – I’m learning from the little people.

Joy. I’m looking for what makes me feel this uninhibited joy now. And it feels good.

Curiosity. Playfulness. Mistakes. How to learn. They’re so connected and they’re so important. At school, in my art, as I write. Setting aside the critical gremlins and blissfully making stuff (up) is opening new sides of my creativity. 

Persistence. He repeats himself until he is heard. He tries and tries and tries. And I’m learning the power of true persistence through his learning. 

Love. Loving without question, without expectation of anything in return. Loving people and animals and places and activities. Love, love, love. It feels good.

Truth. Honesty. Saying the things that make you happy and excited and joyful, loud and clear for all to hear. Being kind in this honest truth, and letting yourself feel. This. We need more of this in our lives!

How different might this world be if all of the big people listened, watched and learned more from the little people? How much more beautiful would our days be? How much more honest and true would our writing be? How much more of ourselves would shine through our art? 

I am so grateful for having two pure humans at home to teach me. 

Finding Time For Creativity

Finding time for creativity is hard, no matter what your life situation is.

When I was single and living alone, I would stay up all night and my daytime work would suffer. This seemed to come in spurts and wasn’t very conducive to my creative development.

When I got married, I wanted to regulate things more. I set up a schedule for a project I was working on, and I got the project done. This seemed to work well.

When I had a kid, everything changed.

Suddenly, I was more productive than I had ever been.


I’m not sure why, but something about knowing I didn’t have the freedom of all the time after work seemed to kick me in the behind and set me in motion.

And these kids? They’re the best reason to play hookey from Creativity and sleep when there’s a spare moment, yes. But they’re also the best reason to live the life I am passionate about, because they’re watching and see my energy and happiness, my passion and joy, all of the things that are ME that come through when I am living my life creatively.

Here are my top tips on finding and sustaining creative time and opportunities:

  • Schedule your creative time. If that means you get 30 minutes, 3 times a week, then that’s what it means. If it means that those 30 minutes are from 7-7:30 after the kid goes to bed, or if it means that you just owe yourself 30 minutes before you go to bed, then that’s what it means. Only able to carve out 10 minutes? No problem. But stick to it. No excuses.
  • Small but regular is best. Don’t tell yourself “I will work 40 hours on this project this week!” That isn’t manageable and it isn’t attractive to think about. Make the time reasonable and doable. If you go over, then great!!! I usually find that my 30 minutes that are scheduled turn into more, depending on where I am in the project. Momentum is powerful.
  • Think about what it means to be creative to you, and for your current project. In writing, it isn’t all about writing the prose. It’
    s planning, researching, plotting, reviewing, revising, and writing the prose. My 30 minutes last night consisted of reading over the last 2 chapters and touching up some phrasing issues (about 20 minutes) and then plotting the next 3 chapters in very concise point form notes (about 10 minutes). The alarm went off after 30 minutes and I worked for about 4 more minutes before feeling I’d wrapped up my current work well enough to go on with my night.
  • Be kind to yourself, but be hard on yourself. It’s all well and good to say, “It’s okay that you didn’t do X, because it’s a hard week and maybe next week it will come easier.” It won’t. And it’s never going to be finished at that rate. So roll up your sleeves, be gentle with yourself about the work that you do create, but for Heaven’s sake, create something. Get something done.
  • Tidy your work space. I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before, but sometimes the thing that gets in my way is the massive pile of crap that piles up when I’m knee deep into a project. A 20 minute tidy (maybe that could be the first scheduled goal) and you will feel refreshed and ready to work. I usually do, anyway.
  • Seek out inspiration. Right now I am reading Flying Lessons, by Kelly Rae Roberts, and it has got me ALL KINDS of INSPIRED! I can’t slow my heartbeat or simmer the passion that has been bubbling up all of these years, and this book is amplifying all of this!
  • Life changes, life happens, but creators must create. Don’t belittle yourself by saying your creativity can wait. It can’t. And it shouldn’t.

Why You’ve Got To Stop With The Stick People

“Don’t worry about it, I can only draw stickmen.”

This common sentiment from parents and teachers is driving me NUTS. It’s also sometimes said as, “I can’t even draw a stick man!”

Seriously?! Enough already.

There are a few things going on here, so let’s get deep down into it, because I am sick and tired of this bogus sentiment shutting down creativity and limiting possibility.

The reason you either can’t draw a stick man, or can “only” draw is stick man, is because you’re lazy and you have no confidence. You aren’t willing to take a risk, you aren’t willing to build a skill and you are more than happy to limit the kids you live or work with as they find comfort in your chorus of ONLY drawing stick men or NOT EVEN bothering.

Guess what? I can’t really draw stick men. In fact, I couldn’t really draw PEOPLE until a year or so ago. There was a reason I stuck to monsters. 

But guess what else? As I practiced, copied characters I liked and pushed myself to learn, I found myself more comfortable with it. I experimented, tried different things and made a lot of REALLY UGLY PEOPLE DRAWINGS. But every now and then, I can draw one I like.

It’s about time and it’s about grit and it’s about effort and it’s about not having to perform on freaking command.

What are we teaching our kids when we tell them not to worry about it, because we too cannot or can only draw a stick figure? We are teaching them:

  1. Effort doesn’t matter. Just stick to the simple forms.
  2. You don’t need to push yourself. I didn’t, and so what? So you probably don’t need to try hard in math or on the field or with your reading and writing, either. If it doesn’t apply to you, don’t bother!
  3. Art is for artistes. Only the uniquely gifted may create openly and without fear. (Guess what? The “uniquely gifted” have worked their asses off and create with massive amounts of fear, most of the time. But they actually push and try.)
  4. Art doesn’t matter. Just get something on your page. You don’t need to try to find your voice or communicate anything beyond a stick with a head.
  5. You can be like me. I don’t want you to be better.

I’m not saying that you have to draw well. I’m not saying that everyone must be creative and artistic. I am, however, saying that you’ve GOT to stop limiting the imagination, exploration and fascination that kids can have with the world around them by tipping the first art-domino with one well-intended line: “I can’t even draw a stick man!”

You Remind Me Of You

I was driving home tonight and had Jack Johnson on shuffle on my Apple Music stream. This song came on, and I’d never heard it before (somehow) and it seems to me like it could be the most important song for parents to hear.

The simplicity of the lyrics is the perfect metaphor for the simplicity of it all: everyone is just who they are.

We so often seek identity for our kids. We want them to be like us. We want to see ourselves in them. Strangers will comment on who they look like and so will the closest family members. “He got that from his daddy!” or “That’s you when you were little.” These are common choruses.

But the thing is … no.

He’s his own person. I am not the holder of his identity. I am not the one who decides his interests and I certainly never want to be that, either.

So here, so easily, Jack Johnson sums it up perfectly, without a single complication:

Well your mama made you pretty
And your mama made you sweet
Your daddy gave you daydreams
And more cushion in your seat
Your mama gave you those windows
To your beautiful soul
Your daddy got more love for you
Than you could ever know

You remind me of you
Yes you do now
You remind me of you
Yes you do