Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Puppy Love

Every time I draw or paint a dog portrait, I fall a little bit in love with my subject. Dogs intrigue me as they are the true embodiment of mindfulness. They are always fully present in whatever it is they engage in and they bring a wholeheartedness to everything they do.

Unlike people, canines don't hold grudges and even dogs that may have had an abusive past are able to bring their hopefulness into the present moment and attach to a new owner. Their love is unconditional and their loyalty is unparalleled. Carrying no self-consciousness, they live from their gut without the restraint of self-doubt and judgement.

My deep love and admiration for dogs is hardwired into my genetics dating back generations in my family. As an infant, my mother was saved by the family German Shepherd, Lux, while sunning outside on a winter's day. My grandmother had left my 5 month-old mother in a carriage out in front of the house, just at the edge of a portico (this was not unusual behavior back in the day). A large chunk of snow melted off the roof of the overhang and landed on top of the carriage and my mother. The dog barked persistently until my grandmother came out and rescued my mom. And so began our family legacy of dog worshipping.

As a shout out to the many people I love, who also love cats, I respect and honor their affection and devotion to felines. I have never been able to crack the cat's code and while I admire their beauty, I don't understand their behavior... but I am open to learning. In terms of painting cats, I am confused by their eyes which have a complex diamond-shaped iris. Dogs eyes are much simpler, comprised of an iris and pupil round and similar to ours Yet, I know I will be attempting to overcome this unknown and capture the essence of the cat in a drawing some time soon. 

Ideally, the reference photo I work from has the eyes well-lighted and sharply focused. Like any portrait, all the features need to bear a likeness to the subject. But for me to capture the essence of my canine models, I start with the eyes as they will ultimately determine the success of the painting. When photographing your dog, try holding a treat or favorite toy near the camera/phone. This will bring their gaze toward you. If shooting outdoors, you will find early morning or late afternoon provide the best light for creating shadows and highlights.

Over time I have observed that the default mode for most dogs is happy and content. Perhaps this is derived from their ability to live simply in the moment, without the advanced thought processes that keep us humans lost in our patterns of thought. Through mindfulness, I can bring myself closer to that state and experience the sweet contentment that I see on my own sweet Molly's face.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Distorted Reflections

Water distorts everything it reflects to some degree. On a calm, windless day the differences may be almost imperceptible. On wavy days the water creates a mashup of light, motion and shadow, jumbling the reflected visuals into something unrecognizable. Then there are days like the one above, when my shadow image reflected from the dock is clear, but gently retooled into something mystical.

This image could be a metaphor for the distortion we carry in our deeply-held concept of ourselves. Throughout our lives we create a narrative of who we are. Much of that story is based on past experience, conjecture into the future, and is not an accurate rendering of who you are in this moment. When we live within that constructed version of the self, we work hard to manipulate the world around us to maintain that concept of the self. But it is a hopeless endeavor as we cannot control anything beyond ourselves. Letting go of the facade of self opens you up to vast opportunity to live differently... to allow yourself to evolve naturally, without restriction.
The book "The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer, offers a deeper look into this phenomenon. Singer discusses the role of ego in driving our thoughts and behavior. Once you have an awareness of this dynamic, you can see the power ego has over how you live your life. With awareness comes the chance to move away from the narrative of who you are, and open yourself up to who you might become.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Why write?

That is the question I have asked myself for the past two years when I have chosen not to. Is there anything I might say that will help to improve someone's life? Can I plant the seeds of curiosity in a person's soul that will cause them to explore ways to exist more peacefully within themselves? Will talking about my personal struggle with art inspire someone to persevere when they come face to face with the blank canvas and an empty mind?

Although I may never know the answer to those questions, I am compelled from somewhere deep within to write about the intersection of my two passions, art and mindfulness.

Both mindfulness and creating art (or music, or any creative endeavor) offer the opportunity to drill down into personal authenticity, which is both frightening and exhilarating. This journey into mindfulness is an ongoing adventure which offers many gifts along the way... the greatest one for me being the discovery of contentment. In our society, happiness is the implied goal, with the concept of contentment being overlooked as a less-worthy objective. But happiness and joy are only momentary spikes in the duality of our emotions and will alternate with disappointment and despair. Contentment rides quietly in the middle, offering a comforting sense of calm and gratitude, which is available to us all.

This sustained calm within the soul opens up many new channels within us... including self-awareness, compassion and creativity. When we exist mindfully in the present, we are not defined by our past (which is often recalled inaccurately) or limited by our worry and fear of the future (which is completely unknown and beyond our control). In this state of equanimity the mind is able to see a spaciousness of unlimited possibility.

As mindfulness guides the creative process, art can flow organically, suspending the harsh filter of self-judgement. The process of disengaging with self critique is challenging for most artists, but is possible. Focusing on being fully present in creative process, as opposed to obsessive judgement of the final product, helps to shift this dynamic over time.

With my reincarnated blog, Lookology, I hope to provide thought-provoking imagery and words that will engage those who are interested in developing a more peaceful way of living through mindfulness. With the focus on mindfulness comes a natural connection to the creative process and I will explore how it can enhance the art making experience. Writing this blog will also serve as an important reminder to me to stay anchored in the present, which is in fact, the only moment that we actually have.

For those who would like to take a first step into finding awareness, please check out this weekly meditation and discussion group:

Full disclaimer:
I am not an authority on any of the above. Regarding mindfulness, I have spent the last four years delving into Buddhist concepts, attending "sanghas" (Buddhist prayer groups), and meeting with like-minded souls. I am also about to embark on meditation teacher training in hopes of sharing the benefits of mindfulness with others.

The study of Buddhism stretches back thousands of years, and many wise people have written words of guidance. Yet, it is only necessary to scratch the surface of these ancient and modern teachings to begin finding the deep peacefulness within. In future posts I will be suggesting some books that can provide comprehensive understanding and simple steps to embark on this journey.  


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My First Art Acquisition

What art does an artist want on the walls their own home? 

That is a something I have thought about over the years. The question is even more important to me now, because I have minimal wall space in my home and I have to choose very carefully. My own art is already hanging in a few spots, but I also want to surround myself with works of art that inspire and move me in some way. To own a work of art by someone I know and respect adds an extra dimension of pleasure to my experience.

So, I am happy to start my art collection with an original pastel painting by my teacher, Jeanne Rosier Smith. I heard of Jeanne a few years ago, when my first pastel teacher described her technique and beautiful paintings of waves. Eventually, I made my way into her classes (which wasn't easy!) and when I viewed her seascapes up close I was stunned. I didn't know it was possible for pastels to capture the translucent quality of waves with such painterly strokes. 

When viewing the new painting from 8 or 10 feet back I see color and light dancing across the crashing wave to create an image that could almost be a photograph. But as I move closer, I understand that Jeanne has created an illusion for the viewer through perfectly planned strokes and blocks of color. 

The new piece, "I Can See Clearly Now", is the start of what I hope will be a well-planned collection of my favorite artists. And I can't think of a better beginning.

You can view more of Jeanne Rosier Smith's gorgeous pastel art at:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Painting a Memory

In 2013 I was fortunate to travel to India for a wedding and spend ten days exploring this remarkable country. The trip was memorable on many levels, especially sharing in the joyous wedding of people we love and seeing the country through their eyes.

From an artist's perspective, India is undoubtedly one of the most visually compelling places you could ever hope to see. Once you are able to turn down the volume, aromas and chaos you can focus on the ultra-vibrant colors that populate this region.

In the photograph (on the right) we had stopped for lunch during our camel ride adventure at a location in Rohet. While we enjoyed icy cold drinks and catered lunch I was fascinated by the women working busily at the water's edge. At first I felt guilty under the luxurious shade of the tent, but as I watched the women I could see the playful interactions between them and the laughter from them was refreshing.

Even on this steaming hot day, they were layered in gorgeous, patterned clothing. The silky head wraps were nearly transparent and cast a soft, tinted glow over the other layers adding to the complexity of colors. In my pastel painting (on the left) I worked to capture the vibrancy of the fabrics as they appeared against the neutral foreground of the dust and dirt. What was most fulfilling about this process was the opportunity to use pastel colors that generally don't see alot of action. Especially in this combination. While creating this artwork I found myself sinking back into the memory of that day and enjoyed reliving the unique experiences we had in India.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Flow of Still Life

Flow is defined as a state of complete absorption in an activity which leads to energized focus and increased enjoyment of the process. 

While carefully crafting the subtle intricacies of the pears' shape, and texture I lost all awareness of time and self. Whatever part of my brain that generally nags me with worry, self-doubt and the sense of a never-ending rush softly departed from my psyche and left me open to the joy of pure focus.

From time to time, as I stepped back to view my art in progress, I would feel the familiar voice begin to criticize my work. But as soon as I put pastel to paper I became entranced again. At the end of my two hours working on this piece I gently returned my consciousness to the room and felt almost giddy from the invaluable respite from my overactive mind.    

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Yoga and the Art of Looking at Nothing

Yoga and I have never mixed. I like fast, adrenaline-inducing exercise like skating, biking, sailing and anything combining speed with a dash of danger. Frothy waves rushing by me and gravel blurring beneath my feet demand my attention and have been my favored activities since I was a teen.

But yoga keeps coming back for me. I have tried probably twenty times over the past forty years and every time the same thing. Not strenuous enough, too slow, boring, tedious. And you want me to close my eyes and quiet my mind? Insane.

Last year while nursing my injury of the month I decided to venture forth into the land of Namaste once more. It was a gentle yoga class taught by a calm, patient woman name Michelle. The first twenty minutes of the first class I plotted my escape. When everyone is facing due east in their warrior 1 pose, I will sprint west and out the door to freedom.

Then, at minute fifteen something started to shift in me. I watched Michelle, eyes closed, as she spoke of self-acceptance and gratitude. The tranquility radiating from her was mesmerizing and I wanted to get me some of that zen stuff too. I closed my eyes tentatively and did not disappear as I had anticipated. In fact, I started to feel more present than I had in a very long time. With my eyes closed I no longer had to judge myself or others and that was an unexpected gift. From time to time I still peeked around the studio. Was I in the right pose? Was everyone looking at me?

Nearing the end of class our instructor had us lay back into Shavasana (or corpse pose) where we are completely still and alone within ourselves. Hard to believe that being alone with myself could be more frightening than thrusting my downward facing dog butt out in front of thirty other yoga participants.

Still, I persevered and many months later I finally understand the yoga mystique. I choose to stop the endless chatter and judgement in my head as I release all "the thoughts that do not serve me" and kick them softly downstream like wayward logs in a river. Or I place them on puffy clouds and gently blow them off into the vast sky.

As we return to the close of class gratitude oozes out of me and I am now reluctant to open my eyes and leave behind the gorgeous views I have seen within. But I know I will be back because I'm gonna  get me some more of that beautiful zen.

Puppy Love

Every time I draw or paint a dog portrait, I fall a little bit in love with my subject. Dogs intrigue me as they are the true embodiment ...