Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Space Between

sketch of gift
sepia ink in Moleskine cahier sketchbook
©2011 Stacy L. Rowan

I always enjoy the days between Christmas and New Year. The kids are off from school and on a break from all activities. My husband typically takes vacation so he can be home with us as well.

Although we often schedule time to visit with family or plan a fun activity or two, life during this week generally moves at a slower pace. It gives time for relaxing after the bustle of the holidays, for reflecting on the blessings of the current year and for planning for the year about to start.

During this time I tend to allow myself time off from studio work, but I do like to plop down with a sketchbook and have some fun.

As part of my review of the year, I counted how many sketches I had scanned into my computer files. Since the start of 2011 I have created and scanned 37 sketches. I have to say I am quite pleased with that number since one of my goals for the year was to sketch more frequently. I have already decided to make it a goal to improve on my number of sketches again in 2012.

My most recent sketch is shown above and is of one of my Christmas presents.

Do you have any presents that you receive every year?

I do. Every year my aunt gives me a glass ornament for my tree. Most of the times it is a glass icicle. And every year I look forward to this gift. It is always one of my favorites!

This year I received a beautiful purplish-pink twisted icicle. I only started adding colored icicles to my collection a few years ago (most of my icicles are made form clear glass) and now I wonder why I didn't do it sooner. They are fabulous!

So is there a gift that you receive every year? Is it something you look forward to or something you can't wait to re-gift to someone else? Or perhaps you give the same gift to someone on your list every year? Either way, I'd love to hear about it!

Happy New Year! I hope you are enjoying the last days of 2011 and looking forward to the start of 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Christmas greens and flowers
approx. 5" x 5" watercolor on paper
©2010 Stacy L. Rowan
sketched on one of the quiet days after Christmas last year

Wishing you and yours a holiday filled with laughter, love and all things joyous!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Finding Balance

drawing #8 WIP - tap dance series
graphite on paper
©2011 Stacy L. Rowan

This week I went with my family to see the documentary "Being Elmo". It is the story of how Kevin Clash became the puppeteer behind Sesame Street's most beloved monster.

It is an excellent film about a man who followed his passion to become one of the most respected professionals in his field. I highly recommend the movie!

Based on the trailer, I expected the feel-good side of this story. But within this uplifting story there was also a little regret.

Mr. Clash spoke about how the demand for Elmo meant he that he traveled a lot and worked many hours. His passion for his work took him away from home and his daughter. You could see his sadness at missing out on some of the moments in her life.

I really appreciated his honesty on that topic. It was good to see that mastery doesn't come without tough choices. Many times that detail is glossed over in Cinderella-like stories of success.

But the truth is, everyone has to find a balance - the combination of working towards mastery of something they love and living the rest of their life - that works for them. It is often a trial and error process of testing different combinations until you find the balance that feels right.

Mastery is not a gift that some lucky people are just born with. It is the result of action, choices, decision and hard work.

I regularly evaluate the choices I am making to see if they support the balance that is important to me. I check to see if my actions support my priorities of family life, taking care of my health and spending time on my passion (art). If I've gotten off track, then it is time to start making different choices.

My balancing act this week included fitting studio time and some exercise in around our Christmas preparations. I tried a new-to-me approach this past Monday.

Monday was a cool, overcast day and as soon as I crawled out of my warm, cozy bed I was chilly. I have learned from experience that when I sit still at my studio table for a few hours I often get cold. I am too "in the zone" when I am working to notice it happening, but once I stop I realize I am quite chilled! (It doesn't take much to get me cold. My husband claims I only have a 5 degree temperature window in which I am actually comfortable.)

I decided to try and avoid the chill by chopping up my exercise into intervals. I started with about 7 minutes of brisk walking on the treadmill. Then I spent an hour drawing. Followed by another 7 to 8 minutes of walking, an hour of drawing, etc.

At the end of my time I had managed about two and a half hours of drawing and two and a half miles of walking! And after my first interval of walking I wasn't cold the rest of the day! This is a balancing tactic that I will definitely use again.

My drawing time was spent working on the above tap piece. I am really happy with how it is coming together.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

7 Tips for Having a Less Busy Holiday Season

Quick 2 minute sketch of holiday decoration
Sketched while out to lunch for hubby's birthday
Sepia Pitt brush pen in Moleskine cahier sketchbook
©2011 Stacy L. Rowan

In my last blog post, I shared how I burned myself while preparing dinner. It was the second burn in as many weeks. And although I could claim the two burns as an impossible-to-correct short coming and use them as an excuse to never cook again... oh wait, now there's a thought!
...But to be honest, the culprit here is distraction and not my lack of cooking skills.

So I promised that in addition to telling you of my kitchen woes, I would share some tips for how to be less busy. I have decided it makes sense to focus on tips for being less busy during the holiday season.

And here they are...

1. Decide to be less busy
This is the first, and I believe most important, step. You need to decide that you are done with the "run around like a chicken with your head cut off" busy-ness. And I don't mean a knee-jerk "Of course I want to be less busy" type decision. I mean a real, clear decision backed by the commitment to make the hard choices necessary to give this decision life.

2. Decide what is most important for your holiday season.
Is it most important for you to spend time with friends? Is the holiday nothing without the family traditions you grew up with? Does the true meaning of the season come to you when you are elbow deep in volunteering opportunities? Or is your main goal to win the neighborhood decorating contest? Whatever the answer, determine the two or three things that make the holiday special to you. Then make sure to get those things on your calendar.

3. Make a list of what needs to be done and what is optional - Be honest!
Okay, so it is probably unlikely that you can go the entire holiday season without grocery shopping - unless you can bribe pay someone to do it for you. And the kids will probably disown you be a little upset if they don't get any presents. But do you really need to string popcorn garland for each of the thirteen evergreen trees in your yard. Will the birds really appreciate it so much more than the feeder full of store bought birdseed? I think not.

4. For the optional list, decide in advance what activities you are not going to participate in.
If you are committed to being less busy, then it only makes sense that you are not going be able to take part in every opportunity that the holidays send your way. Make it easier to turn down the events that don't make the cut by making the decision in advance and determining how to graciously decline. Not only will your schedule be more open, but you will be less stressed if you don't have to come up with a reason to say "no" on the spot.

5. Relax your standards.
I tell my kids that it is unreasonable to expect to be the best at everything they do. The same goes for us adults.It is okay to plan to do some, or even many, of the optional items. But if you want to leave time to squeeze in a few hours of sleep or peaceful reflection over the next few weeks, you might want to lower your standards. Try only putting up the decorations that have the most visual impact or the ones that have the most sentimental value. Instead of cooking 27 different varieties of cookies, focus on the two or three you really love. Instead of running around to every store within a 50 mile radius trying to get the best price on that gift, be content with getting a good price at the second store you visit.

6. Ask for help.
This one is especially for the women out there. Yes, I know that no one can do things exactly the way you like them done. And yes I know it would take longer to train them how to do it your way than to just do it yourself. But the kids might love to get out the decorations or bake the cookies or put the stamps on the holiday cards. Yes, it might not be the way you would do it, in which case I would suggest you refer to tip #5 above.

7. Remind yourself to relax, take a few deep breaths and enjoy the holiday.
I think I often feel busier than I am because I tell myself that I am busy. The list of 'things to do' runs around in my head along with the phrase "busy, Busy, BUSY!" said in the voice of the magician from Frosty the Snowman. But when I slow down my mind and take time to enjoy what I am doing, I often find that I still have plenty of time to get everything done. The way I feel is wrapped up in whatever story I am telling myself. So why not make it a story that makes me happy?

And now one bonus tip to help you with next year's holiday season...
This year when the celebrations are over and its time to take the holiday decorations down, instead of putting them all together in one box, pack them away in smaller containers. Label each bag or box with the room where the decorations came from. All of the items from the kitchen go in one box. The stuff from the living room is in another bag. You will be amazed at how much time this saves next year when it is time to decorate again.

I hope you find these tips helpful and are able to enjoy a less busy, more relaxing holiday season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Dangers of Multi-Tasking

Vase of flowers - sketch
Pitt brush pen and Inktense pencils in Moleskine watercolor sketchbook
©2011 Stacy L. Rowan

Forgive me for any typos you find in this blog post. I am trying to type without using one of the fingers on my left hand.

I burnt my pointer finger tonight while I was making dinner. I accidentally grabbed the handle of the frying pan below the plastic portion. Not smart. Especially since I did the same thing two weeks ago. (Luckily I am right handed so I can still hold a pencil or paint brush.)

You might be tempted to believe I am a slow learner, having made the same mistake twice in one month. But I believe the truth to be more about distraction.

I was in a hurry trying to get dinner on the table before everyone had to be run to their evening activities. I was thinking of all the things I had to do after dinner. And tomorrow. And the next day. And every day between now and Christmas.

I wasn't thinking about how this pan is lighter than my cast iron skillet so I don't need to grab it so far down the handle. I wasn't thinking about how the plastic handle doesn't continue all the way to the bowl of the pan.

Distraction from multi-tasking seems to be a pretty common part of modern life. From applying make-up or talking on the cell phone while driving, to reading the paper while eating breakfast, or taking care of emails while "watching" kids sporting events.

People pride themselves on being able to accomplish multiple things at once.

However, one of the things I have realized that I love about days spent is my studio is the luxury of concentrating on one thing at a time. When I am creating art I have a singular focus. And I love it.

I love not having to juggle multiple tasks. I love getting engrossed in the creative process and not caring, or even noticing, that the hours are sliding by.

The act of creating art quiets my mind. The quiet feels peaceful, relaxing. It allows me to enjoy the activity at hand, and the moment I am living in, without thinking about or worrying about what the next hour or day or month will bring.

I want more of that feeling in my life.

I want less of the busy, multi-tasking, grabbing the hot pan feeling.

Next time I'll tell you some of my ideas on how to have a less busy life. I realize the blister on my finger points to my needing more practice with this concept. After tonight's run in with the frying pan I suddenly have a burning desire to do just that.