Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

I’m not sure where I learned them, but as soon as I did, I realized how powerful they were. They work best to dispel my natural tendency to let a simple disappointment snowball into a full-scale self-directed character assassination. I can’t tell you how many of my paintings don’t quite turn out, how many times I’ve run out of cadmium yellow light just when I really needed it, how much time I waste scrolling on whatever app has captured my attention. 

Oh well

It magically opens these wondrous gates to self acceptance and, more importantly, moving on. There’s an implied “shucks” in there too (because it’s best said with a sigh) so I can properly acknowledge my disappointment and just keep going. I’ve said it recently when I walked into the studio ready to paint only to see an overflowing trash can in my path. I wished I’d emptied it at the end of my last session, readying my space for this new moment, but, oh well– I tied it up, brought it out. I’ve said it as I’ve obliterated an entire painting with a large swipe of the palette knife, ready to start over with all I’ve learned. Oh well. I’ll try again.

It’s bigger than the studio, too. It applies to avocados I let get too ripe, alarms I don’t set, and children who are on cloud nine one moment and in the depths of angst the next. 

There’s power in “Oh, well” and I aim to exhaust it. What words or phrases give you power? I’d love to know.

Below is a video collection of  studio “oh well’s”. I hope you enjoy it (mostly because making it was a series of stumbles itself). It certainly brought a smile to my face. Most especially that last clip. 

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Let it take the time it takes.

Let it take the time it takes.

In May, my husband and I made two years of marriage. I was painting at two weddings in New Orleans so we decided to stay there an extra night to celebrate. It was Memorial Day weekend and the crowded streets and busy restaurants proved less than relaxing for my mountain-loving spouse. We navigated our way through pods of twenty-somethings at the rooftop pool of our hotel and talked to each other over competing bluetooth speakers blaring various music we realized we’d never heard before. 

But the title of this post isn’t, “On being 40,” so I’ll get to the point. We were walking to a coffee shop when I passed a sign on the sidewalk that read, “Let it take the time it takes.” I realized immediately that I’d been walking quickly, that I was antsy to get to whatever it was we were going to do that day (we had no plans). I snapped a photo of the sign, took a deep breath, and didn’t worry about passing up the slow walkers in front of me. We’d get there when we got there.

We decided our next anniversary trip would involve some kind of altitude and a city where we don’t already spend a lot of working hours, but  “Let it take the time it takes” worked its way into my brain and has built a little nest there becoming a friendly and consistent mantra. 

I bring it with me to the studio in particular. I want so much to create paintings easily and effortlessly. I want them to be large and impactful, coherent, honest and consistent. I want it not to be hard. 

But some days it just is. I’m stuck, frustrated, tired, or bored. It feels like the work isn’t going anywhere or that I’ve run out of ideas. But then, always, without warning or invocation, the strokes become less strained, the paintings build on one another. One idea finds its way onto yet another canvas and this time, this time, I see it, I feel it, I can’t wait to try it out on the next one. Why these creative bursts require drought and darkness to precede them, I’ll never be sure. But I do know the less-than-glorious moments are just part of the time it always takes.

This past month has had its fair share of interruptions, distractions, unchecked boxes, and inconsistencies. Somewhere in all that, my studio time flourished, the precious boon of showing up, of trying anyway. The gift of letting things take the time they take without fuss or fight.

I have two very large paintings and several smaller pieces I’m eager to share. They will all be on display at Gallery After Hours this Friday, August 12 from 6-8 pm and then available online Saturday, August 13 at 10 am. You can see some details from the new paintings below. 

I hope you’re finding ways to let things take the time they take. I’d love to hear about it.

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Watchless.

Watchless.

 

“Today” by Mary Oliver 

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

 

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

 

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

 

Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.

 

A door into the temple opened for me unexpectedly:

Way back in long-lost May, I was playing basketball with my oldest stepson (he will be more than happy to tell you that he beat me) when, scrambling for a loose ball, I cracked my Apple watch on the pavement. It didn’t seem like the end of the world, just a scratch, and I’m not very particular about such things. But then the watch started activating the emergency call system without being prompted. It would start beeping menacingly and counting down from five. Sometimes I could get it to stop, and a few times it went right on ahead and called 911, and I had to profusely apologize for wasting the dispatcher’s time. I quickly decided just to turn it off (which also activated the emergency call system). I think it was trying to break up with me. 

It’s been about one fully watchless week. After a long walk with my husband on a quick anniversary trip, we joked that while he had 20,000 steps, I had none. Without a means to measure them, certainly they could not exist. Without a watch, was I even a person at all? Did passerbys just see a man walking down a path chatting to some invisible force just to his right? 

As fate would have it, a business outside our hotel posted this sign on the sidewalk we passed each day of our trip, another reminder that time does not need to be incessantly watched over, managed or even observed. 

It’s been a full week of not knowing how many steps I’ve taken, miles I’ve walked or run, how many calories I’ve burned. It’s been a week of not getting texts on my wrist and then whispering a response into it. I’ve been slower to respond. I’ve missed things.

But for all I’ve missed, I’ve gained perhaps twice as much. I’m noticing the gifts this little change has offered to me–  enjoying a walk instead of the numbers it grants me at the end, working intuitively on a painting rather than setting timers for how long a certain part should take me. 

I wrote recently about how I memorized Mary Oliver’s “When I am Among the Trees” and what a joy having those words stored inside me has been and how often I access them. I have repeated to myself daily the end of that poem, even more so since breaking the watch: “And you too have come into the world to do this/to go easy/to be filled with light/ and to shine.” Instead of measuring all the things a watch can, I’m using this line as my ruler– if I am doing these three things, it does not matter the miles, the emails, the to do’s, the social media posts (or the number of likes and comments). If I, too, have come into the world to do these things (and I think we all have) they supersede all else, releasing me of the burden to constantly do more. 

The poem that begins this post is written into the background of the painting that you also see at the start. I think “Today” is up next for me to memorize. So that I can cling to it when I’m all bustle and no stillness.

I’m already shopping for a new watch, but I’m not in a rush to buy it. When I do settle in on one, I’m going to take off many of the notifications I’ve previously relied on. I’m going to have a healthier watch relationship. If before I was a stalker to time, now I want to let it do its thing as I do mine. Mindful of but not obsessed with it. 

I would love to know where you find quiet, how you slow down, and if anything has ever shown you that not measuring might be the easiest route to joy

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10 Things Saving My Life Right Now

In my 40th year, I have discovered the joy of lists. I make them on my phone, on scraps of paper, in my sketchbook, and now, here on my blog. Here are ten small things making a big difference in my life right now. 

1. The Lazy Genius Podcast. A new discovery for me. The tagline was all I needed to be hooked: be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t. My priorities have been off lately; or, rather, non-existent. I’ve been putting as much effort into finding matching socks as I am developing new painting ideas. In fact, this podcast is the reason for this post at all. Host, Kendra Adachi, has a couple episodes I listened to recently where she lists ten things saving her life right now and encourages listeners to do the same. Voila. I’m doing it. It feels good to name what’s working.

2. 10 minute yoga. I have painfully tight hamstrings, love the idea of yoga, and almost never do it. Because I can’t fit it in. My cup already runneth over. But the past couple weeks, I’ve given myself permission to do it in smaller quantities and still say it counts. Ten minutes I can manage. Ten minutes for five days, and I’ve got more yoga miles logged than I normally do in a month. My current favorite is Yoga with Kassandra on youtube mostly because she has so many ten minute options. I can fit them in almost any time of day. My hamstrings are thanking me.

3. A reusable cup with a straw. I’ve been drinking water out of a large, fancy, expensive Yeti water bottle for a year or so now. It’s got a cap with a straw-like contraption that lifts up to drink, but it’s just not the same. Sometimes, I like to really guzzle. When I’ve got a straw, I drink more water. Just a fact. Getting a less expensive cup has upped my water game by 75% (just kidding, I have no idea by how much, but definitely a big increase). Hydration has made me feel better. My skin looks good. This cup is also smaller than the Yeti, and I like the feeling of drinking the whole thing first thing in the morning and filling it up again vs. less refills with the bigger one. Not sure what that says about me, but it’s working.

4. Heavy Duty Paint Tube Wringer like this one. GAME CHANGER. Not exaggerating. I know not everyone who reads this is an artist, but even if you are just a casual one, a dabbler, or a hobbyist, I cannot recommend this product enough! I’ve had a plastic, cheaper version of this for years– there is just no comparison. Upgrading to this bad boy has revolutionized my studio time. I can get all the paint out of the tube cleanly and easily. I’ve been working my way through the overwhelming pile of ⅔ empty tubes I’ve (probably for years now) just tossed aside in favor of a new tube to spare the hassle of fighting the last bits out.

5. Hugs. Both the boys who are still at home have begun to really like giving and getting them (don’t tell the little one that I’ve noticed it). I often just have to open my arms (with eye contact) and someone in my house is sure to fall into them. And hugs (caveat: with people I know very well) are my love language.

6. Reading on my porch. The weather in South Mississippi is currently perfect, and I expect it to be so for at least another 24 hours before the oppressive heat sets in. I have taken to reading on my porch couch as a prelude to short little live-changing naps. 

7. Gummy vitamins. For years I’ve invested in fancy vitamins packets I would, more often than not, forget to take. Because my youngest is obsessed with his gummy vitamins and asks daily, “can I have my vitamins now,” I decided to buy an adult version. I’ve not skipped a day since getting them. They are so good. I’ve noticed a big difference mostly in my fingernails which used to break often but now grow quickly and are far stronger. 

8. Sarah Ellen. She is my one, shining star of an employee. My company of 1 doubled in size– talk about growth! In the spirit of the lazy genius way, I’ve worked really hard on prioritizing the things that matter most to me (my paintings, this blog) and giving more of the other tasks to Sarah Ellen who, honestly, hits them out of the park. It tastes like liberation.

9. Poetry. Last month I was painting at a wedding in Audubon park which has some of the most magnificent oak trees. They never fail to mesmerize me. I was busy setting up, sketching, and fighting the wind, so I couldn’t just pull out my phone, but I found myself reaching for Mary Oliver’s Poem, “When I am among the Trees.” I didn’t actually know exactly how it went, and I didn’t have the free hands to look it up. So on my hour + drive home, I traded in my normal podcast routine for playing the poem being recited aloud on youtube over and over again until I’d memorized it. It took me the entire ride, but it was worth it. The very next time I had an outdoor wedding, I easily accessed the poem (from my brain). I’ve turned to it often since then. Because now I have it, cherish it, in a way I just couldn’t before I’d memorized it. Now I can, as Billy Collins says “walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch” whenever I like. 

I also recently discovered the New Yorker’s poetry podcast where host Kevin Young masterfully interviews contemporary poets who read a poem from another poet in the magazine’s archives and then read one of their own poems. These are refreshingly insightful but still very accessible discussions of beautiful poems.  If you like contemporary poetry, it’s a must listen.

10. Grocery Delivery. ‘Nuff said. 

That’s my list. If there were a theme, I’d say it’s something about guilt, and mostly purging it by focusing on what matters to me without apology.

Do you use any of these things or have something great you’ve recently discovered? What is saving your life right now? I would LOVE to know in the comments. 

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Painting in a series and what it taught me

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The Curse of Parenting No One Tells You About

School is in session. Well, not exactly. I’ve got a meet the teacher Wednesday and the first day of kindergarten is officially Friday.

I have spent the last two months at the snowball stand, zoo, swimming pool, beach, theme park, often lamenting my freedom. I have somehow created paintings during episodes of PBS’s Wild Kratts or when my now (suddenly and without warning) non-napper became enthralled with legos. Enthralled: not asking every two seconds for me to pull stuck bricks apart or which vehicle I like better only to disagree with me when I answer. Don’t ask me what I like more if you are just going to tell me what I like more

But here is the curse of parenting I never would have imagined and no one ever warned me about and the first thing I will tell my son should karma ever deliver him children of his own:

As much as your child exhausts you, as much as all you need is a little space to get some things done, the moment he or she is gone for an extended period of time and often in the care of strangers, the anxiety is tenfold.

I know it by now. I know that very anxiety will subside when routine takes over– when the great unknown of his teacher and friends and schedules bows down to soothing ritual. I will again, one day soon, paint in my studio without worrying what he’s doing and if he’s okay. I will look up to find it is already after three and rush to pick him up. But until then, Friday will be filled with clock watching and nail biting. I will try to paint and not be able to. I will have my phone constantly at my side just in case the school calls. I will hug him twice as hard when I pick him up.

At a writer’s workshop once, I was given index cards with single words on them and asked to make a poem. Each round there was a new challenge: use only these words, dismiss up to two, add up to three of your own. The parameters were so tight, so limited, I thought there was no way anyone’s poem would be worth anything.

But they were. Without all the excess, the poems seemed to open right to the heart of things. They were beautiful. To say summer limited my work time is an understatement. I was trying to keep up my routine and host camp mom. I dare say what I accomplished with those stringent limitations, if not thoroughly beautiful, is a great start to what is to come this school year when, for seven or so hours a day my job is to create. 

I hope you’ll follow along.