Visual diary for the day...coalescing the spiritual and material world.
I never thought I'd live past the age of 32. And here I am, 45. I can’t tell you how surreal it was to wake up in Sweden on the morning of my 32nd birthday. As my friends sang “grattis på födelsedagen” over my bed, I looked down at my hands and couldn’t believe I was still here.
My father died at 32. It’s strange to be far outliving him. He was my hero, despite the fact that he was unemployed, overweight, smoked, and drank too much. He had a walloping laugh that filled the room and called for a hard pat on the back. That coming September of ‘76 was going to be a big one for me. I was turning five and starting kindergarten the very same week. Every day he walked my little brother and me to the quiet school playground, where I would coil my fingers through the chain link fence and envision my new life at the end of summer. He'd sit me high on his shoulders, where I felt like I was on top of the world. He couldn’t wait to walk me to my first day of school and promised to throw me the biggest birthday party ever.
That August afternoon felt different. The scent of lilacs swept through the kitchen windows as my father broke down and cried at the table. Hunched over the job postings in the paper, deeply worried about money. As he stood up to take the dog out for a walk my mom hugged him and said, “At least we have each other.” He smiled, wiped his eyes, and headed out.
My father never returned from that walk.
Something is wrong, flashed deep in my bones. All traces of laughter drained from the rooms. The eyes of the visitors were vacant and lifeless, like the windows of a house in a blackout.
When I asked where he was, no one would tell me. They would just mutter, “He got a job. He went to work.” But deep inside I knew that not to be true. I'd lie in the grass, stare up at the clouds, and tell myself that I was lucky just to have him for that little glimpse of time. A week later I blew out the candles, my wish carrying the wisdom of an old woman who understands how precious life really is.
Winter was a long stretch of stunned silence. For a while there it felt like everything around me was dissolving. It was, still is. My art table gathered dust and piles of books and what-nots. By May the light found its way through the cracks. When chaos swirls outside me, I go inward. I dove deep into meditation with sound classes to open up the microchakras. With each note I felt expansion and life piercing through. The days spilled into nights out with friends at the Bandshell in Prospect Park, karaoke, a circle back to Nashville, book signings at BEA and ALA in San Francisco. Life is good when we learn to accept what is and embrace the changes. Today I set the intention of creating a rhythm again. I lovingly scrubbed my art table and made space for inspiration. Haven’t started working yet, but the supplies are out.
Now it’s just a matter of showing up each day.
My first copy of Nobody! arrived! I am thrilled with it! Hits stores May 15th....time to celebrate.
Come check out the kickoff to our blog series That's So Interesting! and book giveaway at: http://theweirdseries.com/blog/
Since sending off Nobody! to the printers, life has felt strange. To wake up on a weekend without an alarm...it hasn't quite sunk in yet...my eyes still open at 5:30. It's hard to believe that I am free to roll over and slip back to sleep. Saying yes to invitations has been liberating. Australia Day! Juno drinks and snow days! Sledding in Prospect Park! It's been about 11 months since I've said yes to pretty much everything and it feels so good.
But I get restless quick. I don't think I was done with the book for an hour before I started signing up for classes. I joined a Pilates studio, some cooking classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute (Warming Up with Winter Spices and Authentic Curries...yummy cozy winter dishes) and my favorite of all, painting classes at the Met in February. Below is a picture of me painting at the Met last winter. I was thrilled to see it up on the Met website. What better way for me to spend my Sundays? I get to expand my skills and take the pressure off of what I will create next. Yay freedom!
I just crossed the finish line illustrating the latest book written by one of the loveliest people on the planet, Erin Frankel. Nobody! comes out May 2015. Now I sit here and wonder....what's next??
I know I know…the silence is deafening. It may appear that there has been no movement lately, but things are not as quiet as they appear. Life has been a tsunami of profound shifts. My parents have been going through a life threatening illness which has made the last year very challenging. Through the suffering there have been moments of stillness and beauty that are hard to describe. Stages unfold in waves…forgiveness, anger, love, resistance, grief, acceptance. We hit every note in the spectrum, each note being a necessary part of the process. There have been moments without words, only tears, and a hand touching another. The pain is staggering at times, but we have learned to walk with it and carry on with life. To stay in a creative flow and push the emotions aside at work has me digging deep for new ways of finding peace with the present moment. I have deep admiration for the caretakers of the world.
It's hard to believe that one year ago I was filled with paralyzing fear of speaking in public. 2014 has been my year of saying yes to things that scare the crap out of me. I have been doing a slew of readings, art activities and discussions with kids about bullying in schools and bookstores. It is by far the most rewarding work I have ever done. When I initially sat down at the drawing table I set the intention of sending love to the children with every line. I had no idea that the love would come rushing back tenfold.
In February I led a mind-body-creativity workshop during a yoga retreat in the Berkshires with my friend Beth and the lovely yoga teacher, Liza Keogh. What a stunning experience! To witness the group let go and transform while creating was fascinating. It was a weekend of community cooking, laughter, tears, and bonding with such beautiful women. With all that has been going on I have struggled with giving myself permission to relax and rejuvenate. But taking a step away and diving into yoga and meditation and connecting with like-minded souls has been such a gift. These new experiences have been a such a sweet surprise.
Last weekend I attended a Channeling Your Creativity workshop at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck led by Alanis Morisette and James Van Praagh. A weekend full of recognizing who or what has been holding me back, breaking down walls, being vulnerable, building friendships, journaling, meditating and dancing. A wall came down...a door opened. It doesn't get better than that.
And let’s not forget that illustrating has officially begun on our next children’s book! I can’t share any of the rough sketches, so there might not be any new artwork up for a while. It is a continuation of The Weird Series, but focusing on the journey of Thomas. I am nose to the grindstone (on weekends and weeknights). Oh how I hope one day I can be a full time illustrator/writer and devote all of my energies to what I love.
One of my best friends in the world is Beth Williamson-Ruse. Our twenty four year journey together has taken us down very different paths, but our connection has been unwavering. As we have grown and leaned on each other through good times and bad, our minds and healing rituals have blended beautifully. We always feel better when we put down the phone. With Beth being a teacher and mind-body practitioner and me being a creative spirit and designer, our talks are always woven with wellness and encouragement to keep challenging ourselves. For years we have dreamt of working together and now that dream is coming to fruition. The lovely yoga retreat leader, Liza Keogh, has graciously invited us to design a workshop during her retreat in the Berkshires February 21-23. The theme of the retreat is Every Body Has a Story. Our workshop will sink the group into that theme a little deeper through mind-body and creativity connection. Liza will lead us through three glorious days of yoga, journaling, and meditation...my heart expands just thinking about it.
Don't be fooled, I am terrified. But isn't life about vulnerability and letting go?
You can read about the retreat here: http://www.lizakeogh.com/blog/
And you can visit Beth here: http://bethwilliamsonruse.com/
"For me it seems that by advancing into unknown territories, I enter into my life." -Isabelle Eberhardt
I usually spend a lot of time on the first of January making lists of what I want in the year ahead. This year was different. I shifted from thinking to doing. Since winter is a time of reflection, I did ask myself one little question.
What in me is frozen?
Answer: my creativity.
I started loosening up in November, but it was time to kick it up a notch. So I sat my bum at the drawing table. My tools are now out at all times so that I am always ready. I decided to stay in on New Year's Eve to draw and set my intention in motion. And let me tell ya, it felt so good to wake up with a drawing instead of a hangover!
In December I started writing down my dreams every morning in a beautiful red book, Carl Jung style. I have noticed that this ritual is helping me to remember my dreams (and nightmares) more clearly. The polar bear drawing is based on one of those dreams.
I have also been having fun drawing from old photos of my ancestors. We have a slew of wacky self portraits of Uncle Stephan. He was in the States from Germany for only three years in the mid 30's to make money to send back to his family. I am not sure that he actually worked, but he did have a good time taking photos. Yesterday I drew my great grandmother Eva who passed away when I was two months old. It has been so fun bringing them back to life. I plan on doing many more.
It feels so good to begin the year with a bang!
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust
The last few months have been magic. I set aside my nights and weekends to be solely for exploration, sleuthing, and play. I released the "shoulds" and filled my free time with painting classes. I spent Saturdays watercoloring at Brooklyn Art Space and Sundays figurative painting at the Met. I escaped to Portland, ME and explored the cobblestone streets, laughed and ate till I couldn't breathe, and made some wonderful discoveries at the Maine Historical Society. What a thrill it was to sift through old photos and read old articles from art openings of the 1860's. Postcards and beautifully hand written letters have rekindled my love of old fashioned correspondence. I have been making weekly trips to the New York Public Library to read in the rare book room. What a treasure that space is! They have a wonderful show on now called, Why Children's Books Matter. I feel so expanded and ready to breathe some life into my next creative endeavor. This just might be my new way of living...less pressure, more pleasure.
It's here! Scholastic Art Magazine interviewed me as a Textile Designer for Gap in the November issue. Click on the photo to read it!
After attending the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in LA this summer, I headed to Portland, OR to process my thoughts before returning home. I was so lit up with inspiration following the lectures of some of my favorite illustrators like David Wiesner, Carson Ellis, and after meeting the wondrous Marla Frazee.
But I was also found myself flooded with anxiety as the words of one of the most reputable agents spun through my mind, "Get your priorities straight...everything you do has consequences... don't overextend yourself...don't compromise the quality of your work..."
Going back home and heading into the Fall/Holiday crunch in the fashion industry is all consuming and filled me with so much fear that my dreams were going to slip away. How does one balance full time responsibilities, find love, pursue their dreams, hone their skills, live healthy and fully, fill up on friends and family, and feel financially safe?
Stop stop stop. Rewind.
As Marla Frazee signed my copy of Stars, she told me to watch a documentary on Virginia Lee Burton after hearing that I work as a textile designer. It was the first thing I did when I returned home to Brooklyn. I knew of her books Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, The Little House, and Choo Choo, but I didn't know about the woman behind those magical stories. Virginia was a dancer, designer, painter, and sculptor. She was a mother and wife that lived an artistic life and surrounded herself with creative people. In 1941, she founded the textile collective Folly Cove Designers in Massachusetts. Their work can still be found in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY.
Now that is a true Renaissance woman.
I will follow her lead and make a point to slow down, surround myself with creative minds, and just enjoy where I am at. My dreams will not happen overnight, but I can plant some seeds every day till I get there. Thank you, Virginia, for reminding me that I can live a full and creative life filled with joy and grace. There is no rush, there is only now.
My great friend and author of the Weird Series, Erin Frankel, and the incredible gang at Free Spirit Publishing flew in for BEA last weekend. After years of working remotely on our series (NY-Spain-Minneapolis), it was so incredible for us all to be together signing books and connecting with our readers. I am so grateful to all of the people that opened up and shared their deeply moving stories with us. I feel humbled, full of compassion, and so ready to begin a new project for all of the children out there that feel alone.
"There is great power in witnessing other’s stories, in hearing the struggles and triumphs of a well deserved win. Stories create deep connections and inspire action; they influence how we think and create meaning. Stories can connect us to our own inner strength…then we can reframe, stop self-sabotage and make deliberate choices."
I fell off the grid for a while and I have to say, it felt good. In my quest to get out of my own way, I took a break from illustrating and have directed all of my focus on my voice. Some of us creative types like to hide in the shadows, but if there is one thing that I have learned in the children's book industry, that doesn't fly. So I have been facing my fears of being seen and heard and joined a group voice class. I felt like a jumped off a cliff naked in front of thousands of people. It was pretty life changing. Obstacles, awakenings, you name it. I will spare you the gruesome details, but let's just say that there was a barrel involved. I'll stop there. I overcame a lot of old stuff that has been holding me back and I am singing a lot more at home, something that I have always been too self conscious to do (my poor neighbors!). Maybe this will open me up to do readings, teaching, and dare I say Karaoke. I also started a children's book writing course which has lit me up from the moment the first word went down. Hopefully this is the beginning of my journey towards becoming a writer/illustrator. Time will tell.
I often hear people say that they are too old to follow their dreams. Bah! There is so much beauty in the world, so much of it growing richer with each day that passes. I always try to see each day with the eyes of a child to balance out the grown up me that feels confined in my cubicle. I will always nurture my curiosity and never stop exploring. Lately I have been drawn to collage, totally out of the blue. I think it has something to do with my love of music. I have been seeing bursts of colors in the notes and I want to catch them and lay them down in compositions on paper. I have been having flashbacks to a room I stepped into at The Met years ago. The walls were lined with small and intimate collages that were so breathtaking. The memory of them has left me curious about the creator. Her name was Anne Ryan. She was a self-taught writer, painter, and print maker who began her creative work at the age of fifty. She took up collage at the age of fifty eight and died six years later. How inspiring is that? Imagine if she had given up out of fear that she was too old? Instead she chose to follow her passion and out spilled 400 beautiful pieces of work that the world is still enjoying. I took the day off yesterday to rummage through the incredible collection of paper at New York Central Art Supply. I was swept away by the colors and textures and the 40's music filling the air. This weekend I am locking myself up to play. I have no idea if anything decent will come out of me, but I don't care. It is all about the journey.
I always love the turning of a new chapter. My resolution for the year is to get out of my own way. My entire life I have allowed my fears to hold me back. Once I finished illustrating the book series I had to face some of my biggest, most debilitating fears. Sharing my work, opening up, speaking in public. I spent many a night in the last year racked with anxiety. But something shifted in me over the Christmas break. I realized that in order to follow my calling, I have to get out of my own way. What is it that I am afraid of anyway? Is it even real? I have been conditioned to hide in the background, but if I want to evolve and reach out to children in a big way, then that thinking no longer serves me. So no more fear. And now I will be doing a storytime/craft event at Barnes & Noble on January 26th! When I feel the anxiety rise, I shift my thoughts to the children. I realize now that it isn't about me, it is about opening up and connecting with the world in a new way.
P.S: I created the piece "The Truce" on my Illustration page as a way of making peace with fear. It was very satisfying!
Last week I received a lovely message from a very dear artist friend. He told me that a pinhole photograph I took of the Bow River in Banff in 2005 is part of a group show at Evans Contemporary in Ontario. The photo holds some of my favorite memories and represents a time of creative expansion. A beautiful reminder to kick off the new year.
Everyone who knows me knows that I get really excited when it comes time to put up my Christmas village. Yesterday I spent hours lovingly and painstakingly drawing the cobblestone street. I love it! I wish I could shrink to a mini and and pop into the Ritz for a fancy holiday cocktail.