I’m often asked when I teach the Artist’s Way if I do the morning pages myself and if I do them every day. The answer is yes, I do morning pages myself, and I do them more often than not. Some days I reach the full three pages and others I stop at two. There are days when I don’t do them because of scheduling, or life gets in the way, but I do return to them.
I was thinking about my morning pages yesterday morning as I was preparing for the day. I have a current session that is winding down and I have a new session starting in June. My first thought was, “You deserve a break. Don’t do the morning pages for the next few weeks, but then start back up I was thinking about my morning pages yesterday morning as I was preparing for the day. I have a current session that is winding down, and I have a new session starting in June. My first thought was, “You deserve a break. Don’t do the morning pages for the next few weeks, but then start back up again when the new session starts.” Almost immediately after that, my brain started ruminating over all the things I want to do, how I’ve felt unfocused lately with everything going on, and I needed to pick a couple of projects instead of being superficial with a dozen projects. “I need focus!” my brain screamed at me.
It was at that moment when I started going the list of tools I have to refocus that it dawned on me It was at that moment when I started going the list of tools, I have to refocus that it dawned on me that I need the morning pages now more than ever. So I sat down with my morning pages, wrote out how I was feeling, where I wanted to focus, and decided to let go of things that weren’t working for me. I took a walk, and then out of my pages combined with the walk, I produced an action plan for the upcoming week. I then knocked out some items, which then allowed me some me time. In the afternoon, I picked up my sketchbook and sat on the deck, and sketched a rhododendron bush. I found a sweet little “star” in the blossom straight across from me to start.
Sometimes when you think you don’t need to do the morning pages–or journaling, or writing, or sketching, or reflection that is when you need to do them.
Sometimes you need to refuel your creativity well, and an easy way to do that is go on an Artist’s Date with yourself. If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. The idea is to get out by yourself and experience the world around you, and in return, your creative juices will flow. This is not only good for working artists, writers, and other creatives, but I would say this is also a good idea for anyone needing a source of inspiration for work as well. Innovation comes from creativity and inspiration, and you don’t get that from staring at a screen full of email in your office or on your phone.
The hard part of this is that you are not allowed to bring your partner, family, or friends with you. You have to do it alone. Now I know I have been railing in person about getting away from “bowling alone”, however, in this case, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time caring for family, an Artist’s Date alone can be a godsend and a way to recapture a “room of one’s own.”
Not sure what to do for an Artist’s Date? Here is a list of ideas for the Greater Seattle and Eastside area.
We live in a golden age of learning. Pick any subject you would like to learn, and someone has posted a free video on Youtube. You can join a massive online (or MOOC) class at Coursera or EdX and learn from the best professors at the top Universities. You can pay a subscription and have quality courses from experts at Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning with courses that are available 24 hours a day to teach you how to analyze a spreadsheet or give a business presentation. You can join Master Class to learn film-making directly from David Lynch or Storytelling from Neil Gaiman. The possibilities are endless, and I’m proud to say that I’ve done my part by working on democratizing learning.
We have a feast before us. And I would never want to go back. I think about my process of starting a business. In just the space of a couple of weeks, I’ve watched small business marketing courses on LinkedIn Learning, a video on tracking your business expenses on Youtube, and attended two webinars on products. These quick online learning lessons were exactly what I needed to understand a technology or business problem at the moment.
However…while online learning is great for a lot of things–I’m going to say that learning in person is even better. It is time for us to stop bowling alone, or learning alone, and get back out there in small community groups and learn from an instructor, learn from one another and engage with our neighbors.
If you aren’t familiar with the term bowling alone, it comes from the title of the essay, and later a book by Robert D. Putman that spoke about the loss of Civic Engagement in the United States. Published in 2000, and seriously, if Putnam saw that things were bad in 2000, remember this was the time before smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix binging, etc. The year 2000? 2019 is calling and asks you to hold their beer.
I think it is time to meld the best of both worlds again. Keep the options from online, but add a little real-life interaction into the mix–especially if you want to learn a craft or become an expert on a topic. For myself, that came in the form of Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell, a small art school run by my long-time friend Charlene Freeman. The school sits in an older building at the edge of Bothell and is light and airy with two floors of classroom space.
What I’ve found there is that third place. Third place is a term to describe a social space that is separate from home (the first place), and work (the second place). I started by taking a course on the Artist’s Way with Charlene. I spent twelve weeks with a small group of wonderful women talking about our creative lives and spurring one another on. I could have just read the book, but being in a group together, going through the chapters, and holding one another accountable was key for the experience. On our last night together, the class met at the Beardslee Pub in Bothell to celebrate with one another and to pledge to meet back up in a few months to see where we were on our Artist’s journey.
I didn’t stop there. I decided to take a Nature Sketchbook class from Charlene. You can learn more about why I thought that class was the push I needed here. But here I want to stress again that when I entered the classroom, there were women there who had taken courses at the school before and the class felt more community. While I learned about watercolor and sketching techniques, I also learned more about the women around me. Some were working artists, and some were naturalists, and some were newbies with no connection like me. My favorite part of each session was where people would share their sketches from the previous week. Did I mention there were working artists? It would be easy to be intimidated, but instead, it was inspiring.
I recently finished a Sketchbook Journaling class, and while the people are different, again there were many repeat Cloud 9 students. With each class, this place feels more like home. We even went to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (get it third place?) to sketch people in real life. Our last class was spent roaming around Bothell Landing, and I spent a nice hour sketching with others at a picnic table. While learning, I’ve had good conversations with other students and feel more like I’m part of a community.
This isn’t to say that I’ve completely abandoned online learning or plan to. For my artwork, I like cruising Youtube channels with watercolor artists. Sometimes I run them in the background while I’m working and I’ve learned some things from them. I watched filmmaker David Lynch’s Master Class to learn more about how he creates. But I tell you, having the person next to you tell you that they like a palette you used or the bird you drew is much more rewarding than 1000 likes on a twitter or Instagram post. Having feedback directly from the instructor about your work is far more instructive than reading comments below a Youtube video and never getting direct feedback.
Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also published The 8th Habit. The 8th habit is to find your voice & inspire others to find theirs. With that, I’m taking what I learned in the Artist’s Way workshop from Char and my fellow students, and I’ll be sharing that with others by facilitating the next session of the Artist’s Way workshop this fall at Cloud 9. I hope you will join me and others from our community there.
Ever since my husband and I first met, we’ve spent May and June evenings out on our side deck. We fix a fancy drink–the first year it was Mai Tais from scratch and this year it is an Old Fashioned. We sit out on the deck with our drinks in hand and watch the sunset over Seattle in the distance.
When we set up this year, John noted that we haven’t spent much time since the Election. But this year, we say, “F*ck that. Life goes on and we are going to enjoy it.” We will sit out every nice evening until Batty flies erratically by to tell us it is time to go in.
I used to draw all the time when I was an adolescent. I drew endless horses and copied pictures from my Teen magazines. I sketched all the major actors (quite badly) in Gone with the Wind. I created fantasy house plans and fantasy pets. Since that time I may have doodled a little during meetings. I had some faces I liked to draw and I would also sketch animals in their purest five-year-old sense, barely better than a stick figure with thick legs. And lots of spirals. I think the last time I had truly sketched was one afternoon at the Ashland Oregon Festival. I bought a journal and sketched an ink drawing of Shakespeare while sitting on a blanket in the sun in the park. I must have been in my mid-twenties which puts that a couple of decades in the past.
Not that I haven’t wanted to quit being creative. I kept busy with other crafts like needlepoint and quilting. But now, that was over a decade ago.
I’ve wanted to get back to drawing and I’ve also always wanted to try watercolor. For the past few years, I can’t tell you the number of sketchbooks and pen & pencil sets I’ve bought intending to start. Then I would sit and stare at a blank page not knowing where to begin. Eventually, the journals would be absconded by the kids and the pencil sets would be broken apart and doled out to be found broken and crammed in the corners of the SUV right where the vacuum wouldn’t reach.
Needing an outlet for my creativity, I took the Artist’s Way workshop offered at Cloud 9 Art School with Charlene Freeman and that class changed my life. I had been searching and needed to uncover that side of myself again that made room for art. While that class allowed me to explore through my morning pages and my Artist’s Dates, I started making some changes in my life and my appearance. First, I chopped all my hair off. That act was simply liberating. I bought a new pink purse and tied a cherry blossom scarf I bought to it because sometimes you have to look the part to find your muse.
Next, I decided to take a sketching class at Cloud 9. Since Charlene is such a fantastic teacher I signed up for her Nature Sketchbooking class. I bought all of the class materials–which were listed on her site. A proper mixed media journal, some paint brushes, and a Field Artist Pro Travel Watercolor Set with 12 half pan colors.
What happened next was just as liberating as getting my hair pixied. The first day of class Charlene had us pick a natural item to draw and paint. There were feathers, and other items, but I chose the small leaf. Charlene had us fill in a title page in our sketchbook and then we were to go to town with our pens and the watercolors.
That was it. That was all I needed. Someone to tell me, “Here is a leaf. Sketch it and then paint it.” That simple leaf was the push I needed. I started taking photos of nature around me–other leaves and started drawing them. I grabbed an illustration from a Pinterest board of a Stellar Jay and I painted that. I captured flowers in my garden and in my kitchen window. I found an image of a pinecone tattoo, put it to paper and colored it in how I thought it should look. A jaunty duck strolled past me at Chateau Ste Michelle and demanded to be memorialized. Postcards, book illustrations, Sunset magazine photos, everything has become fodder for my sketchbook. Mr. Squirrely Squirrel (or Doug the Squirrel) decided the kitchen windows birdhouse was scalable allowing me to get in close enough for a couple of character studies.
I’m waiting for the paint to dry on the last page of my first sketchbook– some mushrooms from an old botanical print. I’m taking another sketchbook class and I’ll be facilitating the next session of the Artist Way at Cloud 9. I hope you’ll join me there. What sort of push have you been waiting for? What kind of creativity have you been putting off in your life and you are ready to say, “Now is the time.” Let’s do this together!