Outside My Comfort Zone

Forced Out of My Comfort Zone: Incidental Findings

Incidental Findings

Incidental Findings

– My Comfort Zone Crumbles –

Nothing like a health scare to yank you out of your comfort zone.  A series of tangled, messy health issues, and a couple of major surgeries, hijacked my life force and creative energy.   Although, I’ve been teaching art and healing for over 20 years and making art for over 40, my “comfort zone” came to a screeching halt as I was consumed with all things medical.

Thankfully a year and a half later, I’m on the other side of the fear and physical aggravation, regaining my strength and finding my way into a new normal.  What I did not expect was how difficult the emotional and spiritual dimensions of recovery would be.  Stepping back into my creative process, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.  The aftermath is hard to sort out but it is nudging me towards a greater understanding of the uncertainties of life, my inevitable mortality and what matters most.

– Creativity Leads the Way –

Outside My Comfort Zone

Our workshop setting

As I begin to heal and reclaim my physical self, my right brain strangely did not feel at home in my studio.  In many ways, I am not who I was.  What I needed was a kick-ass jump start so I stepped outside of my creative comfort zone and signed up for a three day workshop taught by the abstract painter, Brucie Holler.  This evolving series of work, Incidental Findings, is what came out of that experience.

The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself…  Alan Alda

– Beginning Anew –

We began with thick chunky sticks of black charcoal – outside my comfort zone.   We drew blind contours of a huge still life set up in the middle of the room – certainly outside my comfort zone.

Following lines of interest and motivating shapes

Following lines of interest and motivating shapes

Using thick chunky sticks of black charcoal, I drew several awkward, clumsy blind contour drawings of a tabletop still-life.  If you are not familiar with the term blind contour drawing, it simply means that you draw the outer edge of the shape or object you are observing. You never look at your paper.  Your eyes and your hands become one.  Awkwardly, I fell into the process, slowly becoming absorbed in the process.  Time disappeared.  It felt really good.

Folding these sketches in half and then half again and then tearing them into quadrants was liberating.  I did not like my renderings – my mess of unwieldy lines and clunky shapes were cumbersome, and clumsy. Happily, I tossed them into the trashcan but no, it turns out these were to be the beginning, the starting point of our next drawings.

“Pick several and glue one on each sheet of paper.” she said.  “This will be where you will start from.  This is your beginning.”

It is a humbling experience to pick a single interesting line or a motivating shape and allow it to open the way.  Large, smooth surfaced papers taped up on the wall anxiously waited to receive my mark-making, my brush strokes, my doodles, my creative play…

Trusting the movement of the charcoal in my hand with nothing to guide it but how it felt in the moment, how it looked in relationship to what was placed before it.  With no outside visual reference but my response to what was already on the page – not within my comfort zone.  The process – excitingly mesmerizing.

I wrestled and struggled through but once I added color to these drawings they transformed into rich iconic abstractions and on the third day, this process already felt like a new home.

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These three days reinforced the importance of trusting there is great value in getting uncomfortably lost.  I learned when I allow myself to move beyond what I already know, I am free to make incidental findings and unintentionally discover where I just might need to go next.  My expanding comfort zone understands the importance of being open to newness, to risk, and to the things that occur merely by chance or without intention.

Finding Creative Inspiration

Finding Inspiration in Troubling Times

In the depths of troubling, disturbing times, finding inspiration feels hopelessly overwhelming.  Darkness is casting its troubling shadow around the world.  There are so many things to be upset and concerned about – So much anger – So much violence – So much distrust –  So much frustration – So much division –  So much disappointment – So much despair – So much inequity.  I am distraught and overcome with grief.  A sense of helplessness clouds my vision and I am uncertain of how I can make a difference.  Finding inspiration seems irrelevant and making art seems trivial.  This is a completely different feeling than experiencing creative block.

Rescued by Reading

finding creative inspiration

Finding Creative Inspiration in the words of poets is one of my mainstays.

Reading Mary Oliver’s newest book of selected essays, Upstream, I was struck by the following lines.

“Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity.  May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.  May I stay forever in the stream.  May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest of respect.”

Ok, so my tiny nail in all of this overwhelming mess is to continue to make art, to continue to teach art making as a way to heal and grow and thrive, and to continue to build a community that embraces mindful art practices that ushers us all into living fully engaged lives.  That is my job so I got to work.  Thank you Mary Oliver for getting me out of my creative funk.

Finding Inspiration in Trusting the Process

finding creative inspiration

It was cathartic to slather these white canvas with black gesso.

I do not remember when I first painted a handful of white canvases black.  But there they were stacked up in a corner of my studio. Unsure of how to start, I thought of painting them white again as there was already so much darkness consuming our world.  Instead I ended up painting more canvases black. There was something that felt really good about that.

All year long, I’ve been breathing, thinking, and making mandalas.  This is partly due to an on-line eCourse I’m developing.  Creating Brave: Mindful Mandalas is an eight week class on how to use mandala-making as a form of stress reduction and healing.

But making mandalas is nothing new to me as I have been creating these circle drawings for my own private use for many years.


finding inspirationMy mandala practice is a way for me to play, unplug, de-stress, unwind and get lost in the creative process.  These small drawings are daily sketchbook doodles. Sometimes I use the app, Bamboo Paper, on my IPad to drawn them when I don’t have my supplies on hand. As I draw and scribble, thoughts come to mind and I write these down within the mandala.

I wander around in my brain. I release things.  I discover things and I always feel better after I create one.

Now seemed like the time to take my private mandala practice into my public art making.

Finding inspiration

Finding inspiration in my sketchbook mandala drawings

Mindful Mandalas: From Darkness into Light

finding inspiration

Meditating, reflecting on a blank black canvas

I am used to staring at a blank white canvas or a white piece of thick paper, but this large black canvas, well I was at a loss of what materials to use and how to begin.  So I sat for a day, just staring. Inspiration struck in the middle of the night – mark off the canvas with wide bands that can accept words.  Begin by writing.  Write whatever comes to mind and see where it leads.  Use a white china marker.

I could not wait to get to the studio and begin.

The writing came easily as this is something I usually do within my art making practice but usually it is at the end of creating, not the beginning.  I began with phrases such as ‘How do we go forward when….” or “So now is the time to…”  Using the white waxy china marker to record my words made the letters seem more like marks and patterns than legible expressions.

The more I wrote, the more I had to say.  There more I had to say, the more questions I had.  Emotions emerged.  Anger. Frustration. Betrayal. Fear. Hopelessness.  Worry.  Sadness.  Embarrassment…

finding inspiration
The late afternoon sun poured in through the tiny window of my studio, casting a beautiful pattern on the canvas.  It was then that I decided to a draw a radiating mandala starting in the center of the canvas and work outward.  As I began, I wove in and out of drawing and tracing the cast shadows.

Slowly I realized these patterns, these shadows were being cast by the prayer flags that grace my studio’s ceilings.  I stopped, took a deep breath and looked around my studio.  I saw Beauty. Courage.  Protest. Confidence. Bravery.  Perseverance.  Hopefulness. Dedication.  Education. Communication.  Protection.

The times we are living in are ominously troubling.  For now, I have found some creative inspiration in painting fierce light and color into the darkness.  These paintings are a testament to the courage, and fortitude needed to face what is in front of us.  Finding inspiration in troubling time is a matter of trust.

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Where and how do you find creative inspiration in troubling times?