Tag Archives: motivation

The Myth of Mastery

I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, but a master of none…”  I’ve always wanted to be a master of something, whether it was piano, or guitar, or baking, or drawing, but nothing has propelled me to want to be a master like tapestry weaving.  While I was sitting at the loom working on figuring out how to create a particular effect in this latest weaving, I started to really ponder my drive for mastery.

I began imagining what it would be like to create a tapestry and know exactly how to execute everything.  How would it feel to just weave that design and not have to re-weave a certain area three times in order to get it right?  What would it be like to know exactly which colors to blend and how to use them?  To just magically be able to do it all on the first try?

It actually sounds ridiculously boring.

Yes, I hope to gain skills and knowledge, to grasp techniques and be able to execute them.  I want to be able to troubleshoot and problem solve so that I can one day help others who are just starting out on their own weaving path.  But more than anything, I want to always be learning and growing and trying new things… because that’s the good stuff.  I live for those “Aha!” moments, like working through a challenging design and finally getting it right.  As a self-professed Instagram and Pinterest junkie, I absolutely love seeing the innovative and creative ways that other tapestry weavers and artists are doing their thing.  There’s an endless stream of inspiration out there because everyone has a different approach and a different way of creating.  Some might be more traditional while others are a bit off the wall (that may or may not be a tapestry joke), and it’s all great inspirational material.  Tapestry is both ancient and contemporary, and there’s about as many ways to do things as there are weavers.  That’s what I love about it and why it’s a medium I feel really passionate about.

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My first attempt at weaving the highlights on a tree at the bottom. On top, and after ripping the work out three times, I finally got it right! I love the feeling of success when I work through a certain problem a bunch of times and then discover the solution!

My mom, who is a prolific and versatile artist, has always told me that art should be an adventure.  To me, mastery has meant reaching a level where you can go no further, and that few have reached.  Right now, I’m going to bust my own myth for myself: I think a master is someone who has reached a level of expert skills and knowledge, but they always have the spirit of the student within them.  They continue to play and explore and learn because they know that the creative journey has no end.  They seek out challenges and innovative ways of doing things.  So now, being the master sounds just as exciting as being the student, because it’s all about the journey.

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I Love a Good Beginning

It’s true, I love a good beginning.  That feeling when you sit down with a book and after a few pages you think, “Oh, this is gonna be good.”  Or when you hear a new song and the rhythm or the harmony or the vocals hit you right in the feels.  A newly discovered walking route, adorable neighborhood, or path in the woods. When you meet the person who becomes your best friend.  A fresh start, a clean slate, when all things seem possible.

I also love the beginnings that slowly unfold.  When your not so sure about that crazy leap of faith you just took, but then you start noticing the tiny miracles that occur as the result.  The person who you never imagined would be a friend, and what a wonderful friend they turned out to be. The quickening plot, the road that delivers surprisingly stunning views, the blossoming romance, springtime.

beloved1But while these good beginnings are nice and certainly welcome, I also appreciate a difficult beginning and everything it teaches me about patience, courage, and self-compassion. Rough starts come in many forms, and currently mine is with my latest weaving.  I’m really jazzed about it and really frustrated all at the same time.  I planned the whole thing out to be a certain size and only now do I realize I easily could have made it bigger.  Why do I automatically tend to work so small with such tiny detail?  Sometimes I feel like weaving so small makes me want to rip my hair out.  Maybe I could weave with that….

Well, I decided to take the whole thing apart, right back to when I tied on the warps.  It’s amazing how three to four hours worth of work can be taken out in less than half the time.  The process of tapestry weaving is so much more than just following the cartoon.  The techniques and experimenting along the way can add some time onto the piece.  However I tend think of it as time well spent because I always learn something new through trial and error.  I’m sure the more experienced weavers out there have a better understanding of how to get the effects they want, but I’ve also seen evidence of these weavers ripping hours worth of work out, too.  It may be that we are our own worst critics, but I also think it’s something else…design1

In the past, may well-meaning friends have lunged towards me shouting a slow motion “Noooooooo…” as I took an eraser to the drawing I spent countless hours on, or covered up the painting that just wasn’t working, or ripped out seams and rows of weaving.  Sure the work is beautiful to them, but I’m also doing this work for myself.  It’s my dedication to my ideas and creativity that makes me courageous enough to know when to start over, even if I feel a huge sense of guilt.  Even if I fear I may not ever get it right.  Even if I feel I’ve already spent enough time on it.  I think many other artists feel this same way.  We know we wont be able to live with the finished results if we had pushed through and tried to make it work.  Sometimes the solution to a rough beginning is to take what we’ve learned and start over.  Sometimes the solution is to scratch the whole idea all together.  I’ve done that too. Of course, this always has to be kept in check when it’s the drive for perfection that is causing us to continually start over.  Perfection can do the opposite of what we want it to do.  Perfection can be a real creativity killer…

 

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Discovering what didn’t work before has helped me to change a few things about the design, a big one being the overall size.  I haven’t even started weaving this improved piece and I’m already glad I decided to start over.  I’m also glad I don’t have a deadline!  Whether the beginning is slow and meandering, or fast and thrilling, sometimes the most important thing is just to start, and to not be afraid to start over.

 

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Resolution: Make More Art

Sorry I haven’t posted in so long.  I have a whole list of reasons for my absence, but mostly it’s that I’ve been too busy.  Too busy caring about what other people will think of my work to make any work.  I’ve been paralyzed with self-doubt and fear, worse than my years in undergrad sitting through another grueling critique.

“It’s so… trite,” were the words of my art professor in regards to a felted piece I made with an owl on it.  Now I made this piece BEFORE owls came back into fashion and you could wear them on shirts, leggings, and socks and pour salt and pepper from ceramic owl shakers into an owl shaped bowl and eat your delicious whatever with owl chopsticks. You’re welcome.

Despite how crappy I felt after this particular critique, I still brought that felted owl bag with me out in public.  The first day I was out shopping I had three people ask me where I got it.  I probably should have just sold it to one of them, but I still had that lingering feeling, that word “trite” hanging over my head like an unrelenting rain cloud.  It just wasn’t good enough, even for the complete stranger who had to know where I got it. I eventually gave it away to a friend, but my love for putting animals on things has never gone away.

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I’ve often sketched out designs for tapestries or paintings that feature animals, stars, moons, and my passion for adding just a hint of sparkly gold.  But then my art school critic challenges me to consider just how trite it is.  Where is the concept?  The social/political/environmental struggle?  Where does it talk about the important topics of our times like gun violence, equal rights for women and trans people, and justice for the lives of young black people that were violently taken away?

I know what my work means to me, and what I want it to mean to the viewer.  My work is a reprieve, an exhale, the brightness of moon light on a dark, cold winter night.  My art illustrates the beauty and magic that still exists under the surface of the harsh realities of current events.  It’s not naivety, it’s not delusion or denial, and it’s not even trite.  My school had a motto: “Learn the rules to break the rules.”  I may have lacked the level of conceptual understanding my teacher wanted me to have, but I gained the technical knowledge to create what I’m here to make.

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I normally don’t create New Years resolutions because I feel like life is always a work in progress, and positive change doesn’t have to wait for the first day of the year.  And like everybody else who loses motivation for their resolutions, I hate the feeling of guilt when I fail.  However, I think this is the year I learn to stop giving a s**t what other people think of my work.  Not everyone is going to like it and that’s fine.  I can’t let it affect me personally.  There’s lots of art out there that I don’t like, Instagram accounts that I don’t follow, but those artists are still making.  My only responsibility is to make my art.  And to other artists who doubt themselves and their work, you need to make your art too, because there are people in this world who need it, whether it’s trite or not.

 

Open Fields and Endless Skies

The last line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” always makes my heart skip a beat, like a wise elder asking you the quintessential question that has the power to change your whole life if you allow it.

Around the end of this past February, I knew it was time to make a change, and not just a change-my-job or change-my-haircut kind of change, but a true life-altering, get-rid-of-your-stuff, move-across-the-country kind of upheaval of everything I knew and loved.  At times I told myself ‘You must be crazy to give this all up’.  But I did it because I felt there was more out there for me, if only I could trust the guidance of my deep wellspring of intuition.

It takes a lot of courage to listen and trust the wisdom of our intuition, because it doesn’t speak in words, but in hunches and feelings.  It can also feel heartbreaking to follow your intuition as it leads you down your path, because that also means leaving people and places that you love behind just to follow a “feeling”.   I wish my intuition would send me clearly written emails saying “Hey, do this” or “move here” or “you should take that job”.  But instead I have to learn the fine art of listening to and following where my intuition wants me to go, and right now it wants me to be back home in New Hampshire.  Forget what everybody else says and does.  Forget if all the cool young people are packing up and moving out west.  The one thing I’ve learned through this whole experience is all that really matters is where I want to be and what I want to do with my life.  There may be loss and deep grievances along the way, but I believe there are also blessings and miracles to be had as well.

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Right now I need to live amongst trees and birds and summer rain and wide open spaces.  A few days ago my parents and I went out hiking with one of the neighbors in Northwood Meadows.

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These are exactly the kind of views I need for my health and happiness, and ultimately for the vitality of my art.  Open fields, endless skies, wind, bird songs, the sense of limitless potential, my spirit soaring among the clouds.  I really don’t know what I’ll be doing here besides weaving and drawing and painting, and maybe even taking a dance or music class.  But I can say, it feels like the next right step, and that’s all I need to have faith in.

20150411_153935Spring will be here soon, in fact the snow that carpeted the yard is almost all melted.  And the one thing that Spring always brings is new growth, new beginnings, new adventures, new everything.  Change is constant in this life, so whether you’re like me and you shipped all of your most beloved possessions across the country, or you’re stuck in an unhappy situation waiting for that calling, listen closely for that little voice of wisdom.  It’s barely above a whisper, but if you leave your heart open and your brain chatter off, you just might hear it’s deep wisdom and simple desire to bring happiness to your life.

 

The End and the Beginning

Hey, remember how I said a while back that I was going to finish this tapestry by the end of January?  Well I did it, I just forgot to tell everyone about it!  While I was out for a walk this evening the bright full moon shining down on me reminded me of this piece, and how happy I am that it’s finished…

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Compass, 2015, 14.5″ x 22″, cotton, wool

This piece embodies my own inner journey of finding and following my inner light, my “compass”, to wherever it may lead me.  Often times the voice that keeps me small and safe overpowers the soft and steady whispers of my intuition.  Ever notice how fear and worry sound so big and loud and commanding inside your head?  “Don’t do that!  You’ll never succeed.  Stay right where you are or you might make a big mistake!  What if you fail?”

But the voice of truth and wisdom is delicate and heartfelt, like bird songs in the morning.  “Why don’t you give it a shot?  You never know until you try.  This opportunity might be just what you need,” or even, “you can do great things.”

By finding and following our own inner compass, we find what our truth is, what our goals and dreams are, what we want to bring to the world, and the courage to follow that through.  This tapestry marks the end and the beginning for me, a time to get more in touch with the art I want to create.  I realize I want to work more with the symbols and stories in my own imagination, and for my own sense of personal and creative satisfaction.  I’ve been trying to design and weave tapestries to fit the demands of competitive juried shows, and while I’ve certainly had some success, it hasn’t felt authentic.  I don’t enjoy creating something to hopefully appease the aesthetic tastes of the jurors, just for the hope of tacking another show onto my resume.  I want to make art for myself, and let it reach out to those who are meant to be touched by it.  I’m not a contemporary conceptual artist, at least not right now.  My interests lie in nature and animals, mythology and storytelling.  Once I get back to the loom, it will be to weave the stories of the world into life.

A Looming Deadline

compass_wip1Almost done!  I’ve set my own deadline to finish this tapestry by January 30th, because sometimes all it takes is a looming deadline (ha, get it?) to get me to sit on the weaving bench.  I think I’ve got about an inch left, then I’ll weave the hem, and then it’s off the loom!   I’ve been breezing through this weaving with a renewed feeling of passion and enthusiasm, and I know the boxing classes have a big part to play in this.  I’m building new muscle skills, not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and creatively as well.  I go to class feeling terrified of what insane workout I’ll push my way through today, and leave feeling so much appreciation for my coaches, my courage, and my strength.  I carry this feeling of resilience, this deep appreciation for how strong I am, courageous I am, for everything I know I can do, to my art practice and the rest of my life.  Boxing is teaching me to go deeper, to push harder, to love myself, my creativity, and my life more than I ever have before.

I’m also currently building the next online tapestry exhibit for the American Tapestry Alliance.  The curator picked some magnificent pieces and it’s been so fun to see so many incredible artworks.  I’m sorry I can’t give you any details, but I’ll post a link on here when the show goes live for those who are interested!

A New Year’s List for a New Journey

On New Years Eve, I wanted to write something uplifting and hopeful and inspiring to start the transition into 2015.  I wanted to give you, my dear reader, a message to help kick-start your year on the right path, to help you accomplish your dreams and goals.  But lately I’ve felt like I didn’t have it in me, that there was no way I could write something with that kind of positive energy.  Lately I’ve felt angry and frustrated, and not with anything or anyone in particular.  One day I’ll be angry and agitated, the next I’ll be crying.  My close friends who have done a lot of personal healing know what I’m talking about, some of them call it “deep work”.  If you’ve ever been there yourself, then you know what I’m talking about, and I’m sure you know how frustrating it can feel.   But I was reminded of a saying I once read, “the medicine is in the wound”, and that is where I found the inspiration for this post.

I don’t do anger well.  To me, and most other people, its an emotion that feels dark, heavy, and negative.  Who wants to be angry when you could be happy?  Well, I’m sure we’d all agree if we could be happy all the time we would, but then we would have nothing to compare our joy to.  Instead we’d probably just feel apathetic or indifferent.  I’ve always felt that anger was a volatile emotion, that feeling it would turn me into some crazy, out-of-control, violent person.  So I’ve been stuffing it since I was a kid, and I think now it’s finally caught up to me.  I haven’t been able to work on my weaving much because the anger and frustration doesn’t translate well to delicate and detailed work.  So while I’ve been taking a break from my tapestry, I’ve been finding new tools and ideas to help me work through these darker emotions.

In the dark is where the first stage of new life happens, where the seed first cracks it’s hard, protective shell, and tender leaves reach up towards the light.  It’s where we rest, where dream-time brings us insights, where ideas grow, and new life takes shape.  The time in the dark is never hurried; everything that is preparing for growth needs time and care to be ready to be born.  There is vitality hidden in the dark.  And life is very cyclical, we all go through phases of blooming in the garden, soaking up the sun’s rays while others admire us.  Sometimes the weeds choke us and threaten to take us down.  And there usually always comes a time when we retreat back into the restorative cocoon of the darkness, back into our roots to rest and prepare to be reborn again come our next springtime.

During our time in this fertile soil, its important to actually do our personal work, mend what’s been broken, and remember that the darkness isn’t forever.  We will eventually be called back into the light, and to carry with us the gifts we have uncovered from our sacred wounds.

While I’ve been taking a break from weaving, I’ve been discovering new tools and ideas to help me work through these shadow emotions.  I’ve put together this list to serve anyone who is also feeling overwhelmed, stressed, stuck, or wanting change, now or in the future.

1. Gratitude ListsIf you’ve read anything about living a more positive life or how to manifest your deepest wishes, one of the suggestions you’ll find is writing a gratitude list.  But I use it not to just get what I want, I use it to change my perspective.  Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, grumpy, angry, or just plain ungrateful, I write a gratitude list.  It always, ALWAYS changes my  outlook.  On New Years Eve I wrote a gratitude list for everything that happened to me in 2014.  While it was several pages long, it was also filled with simple things.  Like #12: “All of the magical hikes I’ve been on out here.”  Or #15: “Practicing patience.”  #24: “Learning how resilient I am.”  And #30, my favorite: “All of the chocolate I’ve eaten.”

The little things really add up, and they’re not that hard to find, trust me.  Even finding just one thing to be grateful for, like a kind person’s smile, can start to shift your perspective.  Now imagine finding those little things everyday for 30 days.  Imagine a whole year.

2. When energy gets stuck and needs to be released, it can’t always come out as art, even ugly, dirty, messy art, or beautiful, light, and inspiring art.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Occasionally it needs a physical outlet in order to be set free.  The mornings are usually when I get fresh hits of inspiration, and the other day as I got out of bed and felt the angry energy rise up in me, I saw myself in a boxing class.  I never thought of myself as someone who would ever want to try boxing, but there I was in a safe environment, able to release my emotions.  I signed up for a no contact, women’s only boxing class.  Thankfully we wont be fighting each other.  I may want to punch a punching bag, but I have absolutely no interest in punching someone else or getting punched in the face!

3.  Faith, and I’m not just talking church or George Michael.  When we find ourselves feeling like we’re drowning in sudden changes, forces beyond our control, shadow emotions, and feeling unable to get our heads above water for long, having faith in something is what can get us through.  I have what I refer to as “a spiritual posse”, a collection of various spirits, teachers, and guides I’ve chosen that I turn to when I need help.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a saint, an angel, the woods, or your cat, just start with having faith that you will get through, and you will get through.

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4.  Have patience.  Sometimes when we’re looking to create change in our lives, or to get through a storm, or to reach our goals, we can lose patience.  Keep in mind that we’re all on different paths.  Keep an open heart to what personal success looks like for you.  Sometimes when I feel like I don’t have what I want, I do step 1 above and I discover that I have everything I need.  What you want will come, just keep an open heart and give it time.

5.  Be easy on yourself.  This isn’t a competition, no ones’ perfect even if they appear that way.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens

6.  Take inspiration from the success of others.  Seeing someone climb the ladder of their dreams and accomplish big goals can make anyone feel jealous, and wonder when it will be their time to shine.  I used to feel jealous of others’ success stories, but now I use them as a great source of inspiration to follow my own dreams.  Hearing about anyone making a living doing what they love and bringing positive change to the world fills me with so much joy, hope, and motivation.  Someone living their life through the gifts they bring to the world is also a gift for those of us wanting to do the same; it shows us that with unwavering dedication, patience, and a pure passion for what we do, we can also accomplish incredible things.  Usually after hearing or reading such good news, I’ll sit down at my loom and work away, feeling pure inspiration for what it is I do.  I simply love these stories.  Because if they can do it I can too, and so can you.

7.  Have funI don’t wait until the storm passes or things to get better to go forth and make the most of life.  I don’t sit around thinking that because I’m in a funk, I have to stay there and wait for it to be over.  Whenever I’m feeling grumpy, I watch youtube videos of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, or clips from Louis CK’s stand-up performances.  I often find myself laughing so hard I’m crying, and I’ve totally forgotten about my grumpiness.  Like gratitude lists, laughter has a profound ability to drastically change our outlook, even if for a few minutes.  And that’s all it takes to ride the waves to smoother sailing.

8.  Do something nice for others, and something nice for you.  It doesn’t have to cost you a penny.  It can be offering an ear to listen, a compliment (as long as it’s sincere!), or bringing food to an ill friend.  Last night, I decided to do something nice for myself that I know I’ve needed to do to help me grow as a professional artist.  I bought the domain name for this blog! 

One thing I do know is that crossing that threshold from the darkness and into the next stage of life will make me feel more confident, with a deeper sense of faith and trust in the work that I do and the life I live.   And that although there will be more hard days to come, having practiced these steps will give me the strength to keep weaving through the storms with serenity and grace.

My mom took this picture of South Sister in Oregon from this past summer.  My step-dad and I are the two tiny specks on the trail!

My mom took this picture of South Sister in Oregon this past summer. My step-dad and I are the two tiny specks on the trail!

Happy 2015 to you all!  I wish you great happiness, success, and opportunities to heal and let go of whatever is holding you back from accomplishing your dreams!