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.  


An Unexpected Pause

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