Tag Archives: creativity

A Serendipitous Studio Visit

Rainy days are studio days, and today I got to hang out in the beautiful and inspiring studio of Sarah Haskell.

A mutual friend connected us when she saw my work and exclaimed, “you have to meet Sarah!” But what none of us knew is that Sarah and I had already met…

I can remember it so clearly, the days in sixth grade when we had an artist in residence. It felt really special to have an artist from outside of school come visit and create a project with us. I can still recall the piece we made as a class. It had a background of woven fabric strips, and on top we made little figures and objects to tell a story. In fact it was the story of Martin Luther King. I had made a little speech bubble for him that said “I have a dream”…

I was thinking about all of this as Sarah went into the house to fetch me a glass of water, and a certain woven fabric piece in the corner caught my eye. When I began my weaving journey, I would sometimes stop and wonder about this visiting artist who was a weaver, and clearly inspired my own weaving journey from a young age (I have another inspiring weaving story you can read about here). And yet 20 years later, I found myself closer to solving that mystery than I have ever been before…

When Sarah came back from the kitchen, I asked her about the fabric-woven piece in the corner. She had made it with a classroom as an artist in residence. When I told her about the piece I had made and what school I went to, she exclaimed “Yes, that was me!”

She went over to one of her bookcases stuffed with all sorts of inspirational art books and show catalogs and pulled out a couple of binders. She plopped them on the work table next to her neatly organized bundles of heddles and began flipping the pages.

“I remember, your class did the Civil Rights movement,” she said as years of all of the many colorful school projects she had done flashed by. We’re talking hundreds of projects! And then we found it, photographic proof from many years ago, that Sarah Haskell was my very first weaving teacher!

As far as Sarah knows, I’m her first student to become a tapestry weaver!

We spent the rest of our afternoon sharing stories about being artists, and Sarah gave me many helpful tips about being a practicing artist and where to show my work. She encouraged me to write and speak publicly about my weavings and the inspiration behind them, and how to pursue those opportunities. I loved learning that Sarah and I create in similar ways: a complete design or image pops into our heads – from a dream or meditation – and we feel consumed by it until we bring it to life…

Sarah’s studio is also filled with her gorgeous hand-dyed indigo yarn…

I’m inspired by her series of houses, particularly because of their doorways …

“The House of Fear” This piece is behind glass, hence the glare.

This piece was woven like a brocade, and many people wrote their fears on the weft used to weave the house. I love the strong dynamic lines stitched into the fabric that give the impression of how harsh and sharp fear can often feel.

Once upon a time, Sarah was a tapestry weaver…

I left Sarah’s studio with some new catalogs to add to my art library, my mind full of inspiration, and a heart bursting with gratitude and awe…

A beautiful poem in Sarah’s teaching binder

It’s incredible how life circles back around, and one finds themselves almost being lead by an invisible force to… something, some sort of mysterious destiny that is meant for them. It’s a mystery because we don’t get to know how, or when, or why the story unfolds the way it does, we just get to experience it. And when we open our hearts and minds to this unfolding, we find many serendipitous moments of a life well-lived and well-loved.

If you’d like to see more of Sarah Haskell’s work you can visit her site at www.sarahhaskell.com

Keep creating!

~Laura

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Tapestries, Monet, and Escher, oh my! Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2 about my recent trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston… and to my new favorite bakery.  Is it ridiculous to go to Boston just for some pastries? 

Growing up, there was a print by M. C. Escher at the top of the stairs.  I can remember running up them as fast as I could, only to stop and stare curiously at the other-wordly image of a fish underwater.  But where were the trees?  Are those reflections or the trees’ roots? Was the fish floating in space? Was it in a shallow puddle?  Was I upside down?20180423_131240.jpg

I’m still not entirely sure, and I’m quite happy with that…

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I was surprised to learn that these are lithographs.  My whole life up until now, I thought they were pencil drawings.  The skills and patience required for lithography makes Escher’s art even more impressive…

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I enjoy Escher’s playfulness, especially in this piece.  Instead of simply drawing the mirror’s reflection in this still life (which was probably really boring) the artist chose to create a more interesting reflection.  I wonder if this is a street he had been down many times, or if he just created it in his own imagination.  I could stare at Escher’s work for hours, get completely lost in it, and come back with a whole new way of looking at the world…

 

 

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His tessellations are astounding…

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Some of my photos didn’t come out well.  The room was dim and there were lots of people to wiggle around.  I also didn’t want to stay behind my camera the whole time!

Next, we went upstairs to see the Monet paintings…

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It’s hard to see in these photos, but there are so many bits of color within color.  I wonder how this inspiration will transform my weft bundles…

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Mum wanted to show me some of her favorite rooms, like the Egyptian rooms filled with sarcophagi and hieroglyphs and amulets and mummification tools.  I felt weird taking photos of these things, it felt somewhat disrespectful.  But I took some photos along the way!

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I love this statue of Juno in the Ancient World wing.  She’s probably about 15 feet tall…

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Ganesh!

The last room Mum wanted me to see was one she called the Buddha Room.  Again, no pictures, it felt too sacred and it was incredibly dark.  We sat in silence for a few moments, looking at the various Buddhas from different parts of Asia.

Then we had a little lunch in the courtyard before zooming off to the bakery in Beacon Hill.  It’s called Tatte Bakery, by the way, and you should go like, right now.

It was a super fun and busy day, and I’m already planning on going back to the MFA and exploring more of the Art of the Ancient World exhibits!

Until next time, keep creating!

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The Museum of Fine Arts from the courtyard

 

Tapestries, Monet, and Escher, oh my! Part 1

This is part 1 of 2 on my recent adventure to Boston to see the art museums with my mom… and to indulge in the most delicious pastries I’ve ever had.  Seriously.

My mum has a favorite place to go in Boston.  She’s seen it grow and change and become increasingly popular for tourists and the city’s residents since she was just a young college student.  She has some great memories of this magical place, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and she brought me there a couple years ago to see one of her favorite rooms, which is filled with tapestries!

But on that trip, the room was closed for ceiling repairs!  I was able to enjoy some of the other tapestries in the stairwells and hallways, and so I left feeling like the trip was still a success.  And I knew I would come back to see just how magical these other mysterious tapestries are.

So a couple of weeks ago, we went back down to Boston, and I made sure I called the museum a few days before just to check that all of the tapestries were hanging!  The Gardner is bustling at opening time these days.  School trips, tourists, and residents are drawn to the serene oasis that is this beautiful Italian style villa just off the subway line.  Mum can remember walking through the central courtyard (these days it’s closed off) and seldom seeing another soul as she meandered through the many rooms filled with treasures.  Today we wiggle past the other visitors and make a bee line for the second floor.  Not only are we in Boston to see the tapestries, we’re also planning on heading over to the Museum of Fine Arts for the M. C. Escher exhibit and to a little bakery up in Beacon Hill, all before catching the 5:15 bus back to New Hampshire.

Going to the tapestry rooms on the second floor was a great idea, as the other early birds are still mingling in the courtyard and lower galleries.  The first tapestry room is large and lavish, and filled with various arrangements of seating (which fyi, you’re not allowed to put your bum on).  The tapestries here, which I remarkably forgot to photograph 😦 depict various garden scenes.  The colors have faded to mostly warm blues, greens, and pale yellows, which coordinated perfectly with the upholstered furniture.

The second room was even grander than the first, and the tapestries even more remarkable. Thankfully I photographed these tapestries!  The room reminded me of the old taverns you see in movies, with its dark wood and post-and-beam ceilings, and a fireplace the size of a Chevy van.  It has the feeling of grandeur, an excited expectancy of visitors and entertainment, and also a quiet comfort.  Mum remembers coming to this room for musical performances in the evenings, sitting in the warm ethereal glow of the medieval candelabras as the music enchanted a mesmerized audience.  The museum still puts on these performances, and I hope to experience one someday!

And I’m so glad I returned just to see these tapestries, for they are gigantic, full of exquisite details, and a true feast for the eyes!  My photography skills can’t do them justice, so hopefully you can see them for yourself someday.  I did get a few great detail shots and I also tried to capture the scale of these large pieces.  I didn’t take notes on names or workshops, but I do know they were made in Belgium… or is it Brussels?  Or is Brussels in Belgium?  Well, guess I need to go back!

Again, apologies for my terrible note taking!  I mostly regret it because now I have nothing to go off of but my own photos…

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with chairs for scale…

Obviously there will be more trips back in my future…

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So much detail and beautiful, long hachure lines…

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Detail of women’s dress from above.  I can’t even imagine weaving this.  First there is the pattern of the brocade fabric to produce, and second is trying to capture the sheen of the fabric with hachure! This would be quite the test of patience… and eye sight!

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I love this scene, especially the castle just barely visible in the upper right.  And just look at those elegant gowns and hairdos! It’s easy to forget these are tapestries…

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The large borders of irises and lily of the valley unify the weavings in this series…

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The hunting scene…

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My mom noted how uneven the eyes are in this weaving, and how difficult it must be to create symmetry like what we see in a face.  She encouraged me to photograph this to remind myself that even master weavers had difficulties with capturing symmetry…

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This gorgeous tapestry, woven at a very fine sett, hangs above the doorway, and is really hard to photograph! But even from this view you can get an idea of all of the tiny details…

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My mum, looking out over the courtyard…

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You have to look everywhere around here. Some of the neatest things are above your head! And pretty much everything, from the floor tiles to the windows to the paint colors were purchased by Isabella and brought over from Europe.

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Isabella’s collection even includes this lovely Botticelli…

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overlooking the courtyard…

That’s all for part 1. Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll show you some of the Monets’, Eschers’, and random statues we viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts.  Until then, keep creating!

Shadow Play

I recently took on a very, shall we say, intriguing challenge.  As someone who loves colors and how they play and interact together and blending on the bobbin, I decided to join my local tapestry weaving group in a collaborative weaving.  The challenging part? We could only use shades of gray and just one. other. color.

With the arrival of the ATA’s unjuried small format show, one of our members broached the topic of a collaborative weaving project at the Joan Baxter workshop in October.  Since we all live across New England, how would we unify our pieces for the ATA’s unjuried small format show?  She asked Joan for some creative suggestions, and Joan brought up the idea of using mostly shades of gray to be the unifying theme.  The introduction of one other color – a personal and individual choice, along with composition – would give us plenty of creative freedom while keeping to the requirements of the group’s challenge.

Many of us bought the Granite Collection of wool weft yarns from Weavers Bazaar, including myself, but I was stumped as to what my other color would be.  Since I was already changing up my palette with grays, I didn’t want to just go with one of my old favorites for the other color.  I wanted to challenge myself to think outside of the box, to stretch beyond my usual comfort zone of blues and purples. At the same time, I was pondering over some design ideas.  I thought of mountains rising out of the mists, a little river winding through a valley, or even my mom’s gray cat, Cole…

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Awwww!

They were nice designs, but then I came across a short article about Carl Jung’s theory of the “Golden Shadow”, and I became intrigued.

On her blog Expressive Art Inspirations, Shelley Klammer writes how the golden shadow can be one of our greatest teachers.  Anytime we feel deep admiration for another person’s creativity or passion or success, it is really a reflection of our own power and potential.  Yet many of us have tamped down our most creative and powerful versions of self, sometimes because we’re trying to fit in with the mainstream, and other times because of roots going all the way back to childhood.  Whatever the source happens to be, the golden shadow is a beautiful invitation for us to open up and learn from our hidden, and often times most lovable, aspects of the soul. Klammer writes…

“The Golden Shadow is the soul part of ourselves that offers a particular strength of love to heal the areas where we have experienced the most hurt and lack.”

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I’ve always felt a bit intimidated by the idea of shadow work, feeling like I’d rather not face the horrible monsters hidden in my subconscious.  In the past few months, however, I began to feel more curious and unafraid of the shadow, especially after reading about the benefits of working with the golden version!  I wanted to see what I could learn from it, and as a friend and I discussed my gray scale weaving challenge, she mentioned opportunities being like open doors, and that was when I saw my final composition. I actually drew it on my antiquated smart phone first…

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All artists should be well-practiced in the area of Stick Figure drawing!

If any of you lovely readers are curious about the golden shadow, there seems to be quite a bit of info out there on the web, not to mention some books I saw on Amazon.  I plan on diving deeper into this subject as well; the act of weaving this little piece has certainly peaked my curiosity!

And if you’re craving more weaver nerd stuff (like technical notes and learning experiences from this piece) then please read on…

This weaving was done on a Hokett loom, which has easily become one of my most beloved weaving tools.  The sett is 12 epi with a cotton seine twine.  As I mentioned earlier, I bought the Granite Collection of fine weight wool yarn from Weavers Bazaar, and this is what I worked with almost exclusively.  I’m actually not very familiar with this yarn, and when I have used it in the past, I’ve mixed it in with a wool weft yarn from Norway that I purchase from Between & etc. I love this long-staple Norwegian yarn; it’s soft, vibrant, and plays well with the warp.  I recently discovered that with this yarn, my weft bundle of 3 strands for 10 epi was too small, and the “bead” of the surface of the tapestry was subtle.  The Weavers Bazaar yarn is even finer, tightly spun and requires a bit more bubbling than what I’m used to.  At 4 strands for 12 epi, I had some tension troubles in the beginning, but I soon got my sett back to normal…

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Bubble those wefts, weavers!

I soon found that 4 weft strands in each bundle was a pretty good size.  With enough bubbling, the yarn creates a crisp fabric with minimal fuzziness, due to it’s tight spin.  I of course, didn’t bother to sample, and that would have been especially helpful as this was a new weft yarn (and the only weft yarn) I was using. Another challenge with this piece that I realized very quickly was how difficult it was for my eyes to tell the shades of gray apart, especially when they were just one shade different.  So I numbered each tube and then kept very accurate notes on my sketch.  Believe me, my sanity (and my eyes) depended on it!

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A little rainbow blip came along to help me keep my faith amongst all of these numbers.

So in the end, my passion for both tapestry weaving and understanding my golden shadow came together to produce this…

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“The Meeting of Shadows”, 4.5″ x 8″, 2018, cotton warp, wool weft, metallic thread

In the end, I’m really glad I decided to give myself a challenge by working with a different palette of colors, for trying out new materials, and broadening my creative design ideas.  It’s easy to stay in our comfort zones, away from the shadows, but when we step into the light of our own creative potential, we may find that the shadows are filled with glorious possibilities!

Keep creating!

~Laura

From the Woods to the Sea

A Tapestry Weaving Retreat with Joan Baxter

With my travel sketchbook and camera in tow, I wandered down the old dirt road to the sea.  The autumn sun was casting a soft amber light upon the trees as it made it’s journey below the horizon.  The woods suddenly parted and I found myself in a private secluded bay with little waves gently crashing upon the sand.  I climbed up onto the old crumbling jetty and sat on a rock, watching the golden sky fade to dusk.  An overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe washed over me.  I was here in this place of beauty and tranquility, where the woods meet the sea, and about to enjoy five whole days of everything tapestry weaving with one of my most favorite tapestry artists, Joan Baxter.

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From the time I met Joan, I felt as though she were a familiar friend, like perhaps maybe she was one of my beloved faculty members from college. She greeted me warmly as she laid out a dazzling spectrum of her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns.  The room we would be using was dark and cozy, surrounded by forests and near to the retreat center’s chapel.  It was in this room, with my fellow tapestry weavers, covered with yarn, books, looms, and bobbins, and fueled by Joan’s tutorials and evening talks, that my imagination sprang to life.

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How do the places and landscapes we hold dear to our hearts change with the passage of time?  This was the question Joan Baxter asked us to ponder over the months leading up to our workshop.  Compiling sketches and photos of our favorite place at different times of the day, we were asked to do some color studies.  Using our own yarn, and some of Joan’s, we played with colors of different values and hues.  We also had some of her samples to inspire us.  Joan is a magician when it comes to playing with and mixing colors…

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A sampling of Joan’s beautiful samples…

 

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And here’s mine!

During the day, she gave tutorials to small groups of us on how to create dots, flecks, and color blends. She really inspired me to become more bold with my weft colors, and to understand how to carry consistent colors from one area to another, like with a reflection on water or creating transparency.

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A tutorial on weaving dots.  Joan enjoys simple weaving equipment like wooden frame looms and pipe looms…

 

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More dots and flecks (and check out that beautiful bobbin!)

For this theme of the passage of time, I chose to visit a small lake by my parent’s house.  I visited many times over the summer, always drawn to the sparkle of sunlight across the water and the forest that surrounded it’s shore.  It wasn’t until the fall, right before the retreat, that I noticed a lone tree that stood out from the others.  It had transformed into a brilliant golden yellow, and I had an a-ha moment: This tree would be the focal point of my composition…

 

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I thought I could weave an entire tapestry in five days! I must have been crazy.  The only tapestry I ever wove in five days is the size of a small photograph! Joan encouraged us to not weave for more than four to five hours a day, so as to not strain our eyes. So we went for walks, mingled and chatted with each other about our ideas, shared books and tips, were treated to several of Joan’s inspiring slideshows, and were fed three meals a day by the retreat staff.  The food was simple and nourishing and I loved that.  I found the simplicity and humbleness of our accommodations to be the perfect backdrop to focus on my art and my time with my new weaving friends.

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The view from my bedroom window…

And I noticed my idea for my tapestry was beginning to change and be shaped by the beauty of the retreat center grounds.  I was particulary inspired by Joan to think differently about how to weave water.  I’ve always woven flat, mirror-like reflections, but Joan encouraged me to think about time transpiring and how I could create that.  I began going down to the little bay to observe how ocean waves would rise and fall.  Sometimes I’d go down to the pond and throw pebbles to watch the ripples fan out.  I realized I wanted to capture the multi-dimensional appearance of those ripples moving across the water.  This was my sample of that idea…

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This sample was meant to try the techniques of carrying one consistent color throughout the water, capturing the light and shadow of a water ripple, the lines of a labyrinth underneath, and one of my trees golden yellow leaves (which ended up looking like carpet from the 1970s)

I’ve always been drawn to labyrinths as a symbol for personal and spiritual journeys.  I was so excited to see the retreat center had a lovely and simple one created from mowed grass and some shrubby trees.  I also knew I wanted to incorporate this symbol into my final design as well, perhaps underneath the water’s surface…

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So after a few days of observing and sketching, I had a pretty solid idea for my Time inspired tapestry.  When the last day of the retreat came, I was sad and yet also eager to get back home to try some of my new ideas and techniques I had learned.  I also had a new appreciation for myself as an artist, and the endlessly inspiring life we artists can live if we just open up to it.  It was an unforgettable experience to learn from Joan, and also it was the first time meeting some of my fellow members of the tapestry group TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) who hosted this event.  While I still haven’t started the piece inspired by this workshop (I know! I know! I’m getting to it!), I’ve noticed how my design ideas have shifted and finalized in my mind.  I feel ready to at least do some sketching and get the loom warped, and I guess I need to do a few more samples, too!

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My favorite weft blend, I love admiring it just on the bobbin…

 

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A postcard of Joan Baxter’s weavings showing her use of dots

If you get the chance I highly recommend taking a workshop or retreat.  It’s a fantastic way to meet and be inspired by other artists, form amazing connections, and learn a new thing or two!

Keep creating!

~Laura

Pressing Matters

An iron and it’s companion ironing board do you no good when they’re tucked away in a closet.  And in that same vein, keeping your unfinished tiny tapestries confined to a shoebox do you no good as well.  I recently finished my little weaving, Kingdom of the Winter Woods, in 5 days, which is a record for me!  But it wasn’t really finished.  Sure I had cut it off the loom and finished the ends, but could I really bear to throw it in the shoebox with all of the other unfinished weavings?  How would it, or any of the other tiny tapestries, be seen and enjoyed from inside a shoebox?

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It seemed so sad, all of my lovely little weavings sitting in a dark little box.  So out came the iron and the ironing board and the old pressing cloth, and everyone got their hems pressed!

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The pressing was impressive

And now in the evenings when I have some free time, I carefully stitch down the hems, and ponder how I want to show all of these little pieces, even if their just in my own home…

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The fact that they’re all finished and ready to be displayed makes me feel like I can move forward to make more art.

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Forest Dreaming, Kingdom of the Winter Woods, and part 1 of my lotus series. I clearly love blue and weaving stars and sparkles!

Making art is a wonderful and fulfilling passion of mine, and I also believe that part of that passion is to share what I create with others and to spread more beauty and happiness and peace in the world.  But I can’t do that from inside of a shoebox.  I also can’t just weave these beautiful images and never really finish them.  So here’s to finally finishing all of these weavings, and who knows, maybe I’ll find a sense of joy and even relaxation in this seemingly mundane process!

How do you complete your projects?  One at a time? When the pile begins to feel overwhelming? An Excel spreadsheet?

Happy creating!

Reflections on a Life I Love…

I took myself on an Artist’s Date today, after spending some time yesterday evening quietly reflecting on where I’m at in my life. I felt a major shift come over me in terms of the who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s, why’s, and how’s of the life I’m currently living. A good and honest look at things revealed to me many answers to my questions of what is my life purpose, what are my goals, where do I find inspiration, who do I want to spend time with, etc. The questions seemed so big and yet the answers are so simple, it’s just a matter of me living them everyday, and also paying attention to how they show up. I think sometimes I can get so caught up in life and what I want to have that I forget that I already have everything I need. It’s all right in front of me. It’s the essence of who I really am, my source of inspiration and joy.

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My favorite view across the lake

This is what led me to the woods today. It’s been ages since I stopped by to marvel at the sweeping limbs of the tall pine trees, to feel the breeze against my skin as it drifts across the lake, to turn off the constant chatter in my brain and tune into the bird songs that fill the forest. It’s all about the present moment and the beauty around me. Being in nature is where I feel like my truest and most authentic self. It’s where all of the drama of everyday life completely melts away, and all that’s left is peace. I can’t believe I haven’t gone on more adventures to the mountains and the forests since I moved back home, but after today I know it’s a priority. I need many more Artist’s Dates to the source of where my inspiration and creativity begins, even if it’s just once a month. My schedule can get filled up very quickly with all of the things I’d like to do (and some I don’t want to do but need to, for instance, adulting), but taking some time away from it all is the one thing that always brings me back home.

Keep creating,

Laura