Twenty Six

On Sunday, I turned twenty six. I woke up to a beautiful, sun-drenched morning, went for a walk serenaded by birds, and did an it's-my-birthday photo session. This is becoming a yearly tradition. (And, incidentally, I don't care what others think about selfies and the people who take them).

I felt like a warrioress. I am amazed and overwhelmed and so proud of myself at how far I have come emotionally and mentally in the last years. I arrive this new birthday with ever-increasing confidence in my abilities and my worth. And those 'truths' I told myself over and over for years? Now, I actually believe them: I deserve happiness. I do not have to please everybody. It's okay to stop apologizing. I have permission to choose and chase my own dreams. I am whole and good and worthy of love.

Change has been a constant this year, and far more of it will come in the next few months. At times, it is terrifying to think of the uncertainty ahead, but in other moments, I look to the future and know that I am more than ready for and capable of meeting new challenges; I shall do so with grace, flexibility, and perseverance. I will find success and joy on the other side of fear and in the wide world that lies outside my comfort zone. (Erm.. It might be unnecessary, but I want to make clear that there are no babies on the horizon!)

Here's to a new age and a new chapter – to growth – and to adventure!

See past birthdays: Twenty Five // Twenty Four // Twenty Three // Twenty Two

Let's Talk Shame, Authenticity, & Vulnerability

Bloggers have been talking about authenticity for quite a while – years, in fact. I'm late to the game. There've been discussions about personal versus public spheres, the perception of perfection, creating a "real" space or an "honest" space or a "professional" or "happy" space, conversations about filtering one's thoughts and creating a virtual persona.

I wonder, sometimes, what my readers think of me. (After all, I have only ever met one of you in person.) I wonder what kind of person I represent here – what or whom I've created, unconsciously, in this space over the past five years. I wonder if I have been true to myself, as I currently am, or who I want to be.. or perhaps they are both me, or perhaps I can never be defined in such simple terms, either online or in person.

I have for a long time felt that exposing my flaws would chase others away, whether in romantic relationships or friendships, or here.

Well, screw that.
I am who I am.

And I am making a change this year: I want to break down the walls I've built as protection, and I want the light to come streaming in.

I'm human. I get angry. I can be extremely messy. I curse. I don't do laundry as often as I should I go weeks without doing laundry. I am an impulse buyer. I don't cry often, but when I do, it's an all-day affair. I am liberal. I take medications. I have days when I do nothing more than surf Pinterest and eat popcorn.

But you know what I'm most hesitant to tell people? That I live at home.
Yes, I am nearly 26 years old and I still live with my mother. Cue all the social stigma, the late-night-show jokes, the images of stereotyped 30-year-old "losers" who have never had girlfriends.

That's me. Sort of.

But stripped of all that subjective guilt and heavy imagery weighing me down, I am a college graduate – with, yes, tens of thousands of student loan debt – who wants nothing more than to have a liveable salary and a steady job (preferably with an organization I support) and an apartment of her own. And a cat. Oh, and that le boyfriend be granted a visa so we can eliminate the "long distance" prefix of our relationship. But you know.

I guess what I'm saying is that life is sometimes really hard. We feel alone and think we're failures, or that our best just isn't good enough. We have big dreams that we keep close to our hearts because it hurts too much to hope. We come home from work exhausted, feeling unappreciated, knowing that tomorrow the same old s--- is going to happen all over again. And we dream of a vacation but just keep pressing on because what else can you do?

Oh, darling, I see you. I see you not because I know all the answers or how the journey will end, but because I am right there with you. I see how hard you try. I see you get up, bruised and bloodied, after being knocked down once again by life's unfair and unexpected blows. I understand. I know.

And I think that this is what makes us human – all the ups and downs and disappointment and pressing on anyway. I think we all struggle, even the most perfect of the perfect, from celebrities and bloggers to us normal folk. We all have awful, sucky days (or months.. or years). And we're going to get through it. Together.

So chin up, baby. Forget what others think and be who you are, because it's hard enough trying to manage normal life (taxes, relationships, jobs, etc. etc.) without trying to invent and maintain some fantasy you. We, the ordinary, are going to accomplish amazing things. Just you wait and see.

Soul Conversations

Even after years of art journaling, I still create many things I don't especially like. Take this spread for example: while I like the color scheme and individual elements, the whole leaves me – I can't put my finger on it. Unsettled? Needled? Uncomfortable?

As I write this, I think back to what prompted me to create this page: I had had an argument with someone close to me, and I came to my art supplies indignant and defiant and angry. It's funny how, even unintentionally, my emotions become tangled in my creations; I am my art, and my art is me. A beautiful realization, even if the sentiment recorded in this spread is not a particularly cheerful one.

How much is your artwork partnered with your emotions? Do you ever look back at your work and see unexpected messages peering out from the pages? More and more, I find that my art journal is a place for my unconscious self to speak to my aware self, communicating things I have hidden, avoided, or turned deaf ears upon, if only I take the time to look. Slightly scary, and pretty cool.

So yes, even though this spread makes me uncomfortable in ways I can't quite articulate, I am grateful to have had the chance to empty my head and heart through intuitive painting and collage, capturing a moment in time that will represent my journey and whisper words of wisdom to my present, aware self again and again. I so love art journaling.

Springtime Dreams

This has been a brute of a winter, with temperatures hovering well below freezing and so much snow that the ground has been covered for months. I try my very hardest to appreciate each and every season, knowing that each has its gifts and beauty and purpose, but my patience is wearing and I am longing for winter to pass the torch.

(I do believe that this will be the most marvelous, welcome spring yet. After all this white and cold, the life that appears from every branch, bulb, and nest will bring boundless joy and wonder.)

The forecast is calling for another significant snowfall tonight, so in quiet protest, I'd like to share some photos from last spring. Will you please join me in sending warm, gentle, sunny thoughts to the northern hemisphere?

8 Myths About Art Journaling

One of the most wonderful things about art journaling – and one of the hardest to become comfortable with – is that there is no wrong way to do it. You can't screw up. Which means, too, that there are no guidelines for what is "right" or "good", and it can be difficult to find your way without any boundaries at all.

Additionally, especially while embarking into newness, we set expectations based on the results of individuals who have spent years honing their style and technique. I thought I'd address some of the myths that I have struggled with while on my own art journaling journey, in hopes of helping you to be gentle with yourself while you begin or continue with your artistic journey.

The Myths

1. You need a main focus/image.
Sometimes my pages are dominated by a central image, but usually they are not. Often, a color scheme is all I use to tie a spread together. Try creating a page that feels loose and spontaneous and purposefully vast, try creating a page with a main focus, and try creating one that has a balance – and decide for yourself what feels best for you.

2. You need text – text that is beautiful and wise and poignantly written about growth or struggle.
This is one that I struggled with for a long time. I felt like I was missing some important element of the process of art journaling by not being struck by some magnificent revelation while painting. But I have found that, for me, it is the process that is most important, and I don't have use a quote to prove (to myself or to others) how art journaling benefits me.

Alternately, if you are looking to use text in your art but don't know what to write, try a stream-of-consciousness approach: write for a set amount of time without stopping and without thinking too hard about what comes next. (For example: "Now I'm doing stream-of-consciousness but I don't really know what I'm writing and it's weird but oh well I'm trying to fill up text and here's the end of the sentence.") Most of the text in my art journal is this kind of writing!

3. You need to paint.
Scared of paint? No worries. Start with what you feel comfortable with, whether it be collage, ballpoint pen, crayon, sharpie, pencil, marker, charcoal, or something else entirely.

4. You need to draw/paint/sketch figures.
Nope. Creating realistic images takes time, patience, and passion. If you are interested in getting better, go for it! Otherwise, skip what you're not interested in (or yet not ready to attempt) and experiment with color, texture, and other abstract concepts, or use magazine or catalogue images for figures you want to include. You can also check this out if you want some tips.

5. You need expensive materials.
In art journaling, cheap is possible without sacrificing beauty. Try using items you probably already have at home or can snap up for just a few dollars: a thrifted book, watercolors and brushes from the dollar store, newspaper, crayons, magazines, tissue paper, scrap paper, glue stick, staples, masking tape, ink-jet printed text and images. And, if you want to spring for it, an acrylic paint set under $10. Crayola brand has some fantastic materials, too, many for under $5.

Using cheaper materials, incidentally, lessens the fear of wasting product and makes it easier to experiment!

6. Every page has to be "finished" before you start the next one.
One of my greatest inspirations once posted something that forever changed how I approached my art journal. I paraphrase: "If you don't like what you've created, turn the page and start again." It takes courage to stop, turn to a new page, release whatever frustration you may be feeling, and try something new. But my goodness, loves, is it so exhilarating to give yourself permission to screw up and move on!

Don't spend all your time and energy wrestling with something that isn't turning out the way you've envisioned. Put it behind you, turn the page, and start again.

7. The pages have to be done in order.
I skip around in my art journal all the time, inspired by the images that are on the pages of my thrifted books and my whimsy. Follow your instinct! Incidentally, if you are using an altered book, switching between working in the first half and the last half of the book actually helps to keep the spine more even.

8. You are a serious art journaler only if you do it every day.
This is something I still struggle with: admitting that months sometimes go by between when I pick up my brush. But you know what? Fact is, I paint when the inspiration strikes, and that means that I do not paint regularly. While I know that I love art journaling, and often I fall into a creative streak when I force myself to put color on the pages, it is important for us to be gentle with ourselves, especially when it comes to our passions.

Is there anything that you have struggled with while art journaling? What is holding you back?

The Process of Union

Of late, I've been inspired by the pink/black combination showing up in artwork by Carissa Paige (here, here), Mati Rose (here, here), and iHanna (here). So, having yet another snow day (is spring here yet?!), I played and experimented with this color palette all afternoon in my Busy Day Journal.

This spread contains a variety of materials: acrylic paint, stickers, collage bits (found notes, receipts, illustrations, magazine clippings, tissue paper), rubber date stamp, washi tape from here, india ink, and white gel pen.

I had a wonderful start, gluing down this and that without too much thought, pulled along by instinct and the process of creating. It was when I started noticing the results of my work, liking the way it was all coming together, and switching to a focus on the outcome (perhaps you recognize the fear of not wanting to "mess it all up"?) that I started fumbling and growing frustrated. So I threw a bit more paint on and called it quits; personally, it is best to just walk away when I have my focus on perfection rather than enjoyment of the creative process.

I also noticed repeating symbols emerging from the pages. Union is a theme that snuck in a few times, from a fortune cookie fortune (that apparently was covered up) that said, "In union, there is strength." to a free sticker I got at a concert a few months ago. I noticed the irony, too, in having difficulty unifying the pages while they shouted "union" at me. There is a repetition of the feminine, too, from the text on the right side of the page – part of a magazine ad – to the two illustrations of women, to a bit of text that reads, "little girl".

I think, though completely unintentional, thoughts about Valentine's Day, love, romance, and marriage emerged in my artwork. This is something that I adore about art: sometimes it provides a release of intense emotion, and other times it reveals my own hidden emotions to me!

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I did this art journal spread while waiting for pages in my Sketchbook Project to dry. It was inspired by my word of the yearcharge – and the possibilities 2014 presents, much like the spread I did contemplating a new year in late 2009.

The bright rainbow that appeared surprised me, as I usually try to stick to a palette of 3 or 4 colors, but the energy and vivacity of the spread makes me happy!

I hope you'll forgive this short post; I am a bit braindead after watching about seven straight hours of Olympic coverage! More soon, sweet souls. All my love.


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