I once made a Pinterest board with photos of my board of directors or mentor tree as suggested in Elle Luna’s Skillshare class but I never actually printed any of the images. Instead I have been insisting on creating small graphite and watercolor illustrations of them in different styles.
Like Alejandra, who I’ve painted realistically, I’ve drawn her in pencil and in ink and her photo is the only one I printed and pinned on my wall. I have read her books, her diaries tirelessly. She is an icon of Latin American letters. Tumblr is full of quotes by her yet, she is one of the most dangerous poets to love. She suffered from a beast of a depression that kept her awake night after night, she wrote and wrote about fear, loneliness, agony, she searched for the precise word each time, and found that sadly sometimes there is no precise word.
She took her own life at the age of 36.
Despite her sadness, it feels alright to admire her and make her words mine, even in all their brutality.
Being highly sensitive, means the amplification of everything, sounds, smells and emotions. In our culture we tend to run away from “negative” emotions so much that it feels like a race without a finish line. What I do, and this is a spin from MBSR is to sit with those emotions, even if they feel overwhelming and let myself channel them into whatever shape they might take.
If they make you write, draw, sing, cry, scream, so be it. I don’t think it’s beneficial to try to trick ourselves into false positivism anymore than to reach for the numbing effect of our phones, our remote controls, a glass of wine, a pill, etc.
When I read Alejandra’s diaries it feels like a dark hole starts pulsating outwards, so much truth, so much feeling. An intensity disguised as non-intensity.
And as such, I unconsciously draw her again and again.
I’m writing this from Montreal. The month in France came to its conclusion. We are home.
It feels strange to look out the window and see the same sad, post-winter backyards, the patches of snow that refuse to melt. The trees that can’t grow leaves because the weather is still not warm enough.
It was hard to be away for a month and yet, it seems it went in a blink of an eye. The final week was a struggle because most regular Airbnb’s are usually furnished for short term stays and if you are staying longer there are a few additional things you have to take into consideration.
For the entire month I couldn’t do any sort of workout. One day I tried to do Essentrics but it didn’t work very well. I didn’t have a yoga mat and the floor was slippery. The chairs were hard, the futon was excruciating. The street was incredibly noisy. People yell a lot at night.
I had a pile of art supplies. I’d brought everything: good watercolor paper, two sketchbooks, two palettes full of paint. I had the Pentel paintbrush, water brushes, microns, you name it. And yet, I could barely take out a pencil. I didn’t know what to draw, what to paint. I was completely uninspired. I was stressing about this major pause in my projects, about how I would get back to the swing of things.
We visited a small town called Aix-les-bains. It has more charm than Grenoble and it’s a lot cleaner. They have a beautiful lake which we found after walking aimlessly for about an hour. It was the first day in months we were able to sit for a good while in the sun.
I managed to pull out the sketchbook and just went back to the basics. Value studies, thumbnails. At that point I realized my impatience has hindred me more than I thought. In my quest for becoming good quickly, I skipped essential practices that are extremely powerful. Doing pencil studies before painting is so helpful, especially when you haven’t yet trained your eye-hand coordination. I’m so “desperate” to paint with my brush and stop having to sketch in pencil that I ruin more paper than I want. As I did these quick studies, I realized how my lack of humility and patience had blocked me during this trip.
I truly believed I would walk around, sketchbook in hand and paint these amazing urban landscapes. Well, surprise Luisa, you haven’t practiced in a year and… do you really want to do urban sketching?
As I felt the month winding down and very little to show for it in terms of art making, I was feeling discouraged. But then I noticed how as I did other activities, like writing and reading for hours (sometimes until 2AM) my brain was giving me a direction. It was telling me that yes, I can paint watercolors, I can keep practicing urban sketching, I can continue to make beautiful leggings for the poets of body movement and create artwork for lovely notebooks. I can continue to make portraits, but there has to be a common ground. There has to be a meeting point where my love of words, pictures, philosophy and ideas meet. And so I didn’t paint much, but I came home with the seed of a project. Its time has come.
If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you had a brief introduction. I am reaching out to people quietly and gathering stories, thoughts, perspectives on a topic that is rarely discussed.
I feel like I’m finally finding a thread.
Donc, merci la France, for the bookstores, for the magazines, for the exhibitions. For the pastries and the fantastic wine. For the mountains, your beautiful language, the delicious morning bread. For the color palette, the postcards and the diversity you still embrace.
I am in a city that does not have the stereotypical French glamour. It’s not Paris and it’s not the charming little wine village. Some days I don’t even feel I’m in France if it weren’t for the pastries and the daily wine. So this week three has been less about feelings of travel than it is about trying to do something productive with my time.
I’ve done a lot of writing. Not much painting although I did attempt a small illustration to practice the humble watercolor process. Watercolors are easy to transport but you still need a bit of a setup and since the Airbnb is tiny, I have to clear up everything afterwards, this routine doesn’t help my motivation too much.
Yesterday I had a very overwhelming feeling of sadness because I had nowhere to go except roam through the uninteresting streets that I have roamed fifty times already. I could simply stay in the apartment and hammer away at the computer, but then again. Why come this far to do that?
Hey, you digital nomads
When you post a photo of your laptop beside a mango cocktail, did you really enjoy it or was it over before you even noticed, as you typed the perfect caption for your Instagram photo?
Of course I am happy to be able to travel but sometimes travel is not quite vacation and the thought of not taking advantage of being abroad vs. working is a conflict that I can’t seem to resolve. As a routine sets, the days speed up and suddenly it seems like I was never really here.
Oh, darn. This brain of mine.
So I take a walk and give myself a mission. Go to a bookstore where I’m happiest. There is so much to read and such little suitcase space. I wanted to find the new book by Ina Mihalache / Solange, who I deeply admire for the simple reason that she creates what she’s compelled to create. She is fearless though her Solange character seems the opposite.
I spent a couple of hours browsing books, sighing at every turn. It suddenly dawned on me that I’m reading French as I always dreamed. No barriers. I absorb a different kind of literary beauty after years of reading exclusively in English. The variety of stories and characters amazes me. In the past few years I’ve felt like there is a fuzzy similarity among American and Canadian books. They all seem written by MFA graduates following a formula. They don’t inspire me.
On the other hand literature in Spanish has a different problem. Working at a bookstore specializing in hispanic literature I should know. Every time we get the new releases, four out of five books has a writer as a main character. Really? There are no other possible main characters?
Bookstores are my refuge. My life seems to gravitate around either a bookstore or a library. I recently revisited that classic video on How to be alone. I remember it revolutionized my heart. So as I roam the city of Grenoble while my husband has work to do, I remember this song/poem and I go be alone where I feel most happy.
The first thing I noticed in Lyon was the sky. The trace of airplanes that flew by a few moments before.
We arrived early after a short train ride in which I fell asleep. I can never not fall asleep on a train. It’s my favorite mode of transportation. The soft lull and the silence. The huge windows, the scenery that changes. That feeling of “how things were” vs. the modern TGV comforts. Plus, when I look at my watch and it’s 8:22, departure time on my ticket and the train begins to move, that’s what my dreams are made of.
I love to walk the streets in a new city if I’m there only for the day, I don’t feel the need to go into a museum or visit touristy places.
Downtown seems somewhat luxurious. Beautiful boutiques with super expensive items. Eye candy everywhere. We had coffee at Le Grand Café des Négociants and we remembered that sometimes French customer service is still very French. It doesn’t matter how sumptuous a place is, they can always ruin your experience by kicking you out when they feel like it with a subtle “Peut-je vous encaisser monseiurdame?” before you even finish your coffee.
On an aside note: coffee shops in France keep their distinction, either by having a terrace where you can shamelessly people-watch or by combining brasserie-coffeeshop-restaurant, they co-exist with Starbucks just fine, but this time around I’ve seen more North American style coffee shops including name and menu completely in English which is a bit of a pity.
We did stop at the Musée de l’Imprimerie et de la communication graphique. The museum was in renovation and unfortunately the Andy Warhol exhibit begins later in the month but it was fascinating to read and see about the most amazing invention: the printing press. Yup, even more amazing than the smart phone, in my humble opinion.
While Montreal is still buried in snow, here magnolias and tulips are in full bloom:
And of course, bookshops.
You can see the bookseller behind the window. No computer, a life of reading. So satisfying to see.
Finally, I have come to terms that I am not an Urban Sketcher. It takes me a while to summon the courage to open my book and draw and it doesn’t help that I’m with a travel companion who wants to move, move, move all the time. So in the evening I decided to try a bit of direct watercolor (without preliminary sketch) painting.
If you are ever considering becoming a plant-based eater and you still wonder if it’s worth it. I urge you to draw an animal and observe it closely. This dignified cow with her beautiful eyes just made me tear up while I was painting it. Surely it’s not longer in this world.
As I walked down the stairs of our Airbnb I told my husband (again) that I was in turmoil because I couldn’t decide where to focus my energy, what my priorities should be now that we are in France for the whole month. I finished the MBSR and I thought: I’m well on the way to learning to approach things a little different.
But noooo! My brain is too set on its anxious, overdrive ways. It controls me. And so, I resisted coming to France for so long because I didn’t want to leave my projects hanging (plus flying!) I made sure I brought everything I needed to get my work done, both on the e-commerce front and the watercolor front. But when you’re travelling and working, not necessarily all the time but for a longer period, a feeling seems to develop: “I should be out there exploring” versus “I should be working”. And so I’m here in a small, very French, studio, tramways are passing by on the street below, cars honking. I look out the window and see this beautiful European architecture in the foreground and the beautiful Alps in the background.
And then it was clear as the snowy mountain against the blue sky: I love France. I love being here. I love the lifestyle but most of all, I love their culture. There are bookshops every few blocks, there are magazine shops and stands all over the place. People still READ THE PAPER on paper. And the conversations… oh my, I was here in 2014 for three months and nothing has changed, people actually have what seems, in-depth conversations, not small talk. I don’t see people walking with their phones out like zombies. Or at least not as much as in North America. There is this quality of life that feels so good. Sure, the French have their quirks and I don’t think I would be able to live here full time, despite my husband’s dreams, but I wouldn’t mind spending a full year.
We walked the streets being careful of the Tramway and we ended up in a little cinema where no pop corn is sold, so no munching and paper crunching during the film. We watched Three Billboards in a tiny theatre on a Monday night. Walking home afterwards surrounded by beautiful buildings is what romance is made of, I must say.
We spent the previous Sunday with my husband’s colleagues and their kids. They took us to Chateau de Vizille which is surrounded by a beautiful park. So a walk in the wintery landscape gave me the inspiration to take out some photos and practice what I learned in the Dark Botanical Photography class on Skillshare. That day I was a bit moody. I wanted to do some sketching but when you’re in a group outing it isn’t too cool to keep people waiting so I took photos:
Finally, one week after arriving here I finally pulled out my sketchbook and used just two of my new paints: Daniel Smith Moongloow and Quinacridone Gold and painted tea and tea cups beside my pile of museum brochures.
I knew I would reach this state of calm acceptance but I also needed to not fight the tsunami that comes from being plucked out of my environment and my routine. I’m sure it’s hereditary.
I don’t shop. Or at least I don’t until I absolutely have to when my clothes look so tattered they’re embarrassing.
I haven’t worked in an office in more than 10 years and when I did, back in Mexico, they preferred uniforms: polyester pants and faux-silk blouses.
Fashion to me was something utterly superficial I judged the people who took it seriously.
But the truth is I had been paying attention to fashion all my life. It’s unavoidable, nobody can escape this form of self-expression and though I have never studied it, never considered myself officially interested, I just love it.
You wouldn’t imagine it if you saw me. I’m a geek. I wear sweaters, jeans, t-shirts. My hair is a mess, I hardly wear make-up and I have no sense of personal style. But my eyes fixate on Tilda Swinton’s dresses in the movie A Bigger Splash, I literally got goosebumps and idolize women like Iris Apfel and Vivienne Westwood.
Every now and then I log into my local library’s digital resources to watch old catwalk shows.
But I spend close to zero dollars in fashion, except when I buy The Gentlewoman and allow myself to go a bit lunatic with the amazing clothes that are showcased in it.
This fascination intrigues me. If I had tons of money would I buy the clothes? or do I simply look adoringly at them like artwork?
I wanted to examine this because in my never-ending quest for finding my path, I have to trust one thing: my personal taste.
What attracts me to Fashion:
There is no creative field where people can remix as much as in Fashion. Rarely do renowned designers accuse others of plagiarism. Everybody seems to be OK with the mash-up. And if you look closely at catwalk shows, even if certain trends emerge, everything looks distinct.
I saw one season 1 of Project Runway, I saw Dior and I, I saw Lagerfeld’s documentary: you need special talent with your hands. You can’t wing it.
Of the designer and the person who wears the clothes. Bill Cunningham brought us as much self-expression as we could stand and enjoy. To dress for oneself is the first creative expression of the day, even if you dress as simply as I do.
Strength of character
Two words: Vivienne Westwood.
I get all my color inspiration from Fashion.
When you are creating art, it’s easy to get cycled into the same topics over and over. In a collection, the Designer has a story in mind, from there, inspiration is found everywhere and they push the limits to where many of us don’t dare.
Maybe top designers need to respond to the bottom-line, but indie designers have a mission and they do what they want.
When things get rough in the world, it seems that fashion can rescue you and feed you actual beauty. From the beautiful prints on clothes, to the stages, the music, the colors, the clothes. It’s a suspension of reality.
Openness and diversity
In the past couple of years, gender has blurred, models from all ethnicities are now featured in campaigns and shows. Fashion allows everyone to be who they want to be.
Certainly there is the dark side of it. So here are the aspects I don’t like:
Let’s face it. It will always be superficial to think about appearances when one thinks about the issues of the world. And yet, with all that, there is no stopping this industry,even in the toughest times.
I laughed with The September Issue and with The Devil Wears Prada, but the industry continues to have tremendous gatekeepers. And I can’t even get my head wrapped around the money behind it.
Self-explanatory. The impact on the lives of people who work in factories and the impact on the environment are shameful.
How much damage has the Fashion industry done to young women’s perception of themselves, their bodies and who they are. Fortunately,the rise of independent designers and the reach of the web is slowly changing changing that: Refinery29, Beth Ditto even The Gentlewoman (just to name a few), break down age and ethnicity and body image barriers.
But it is the art, the creativity and the phenomenal freedom to mix and match without being afraid of the “copy-cat” police that continues to push the Fashion industry forward. I recently watched (out of curiosity) the Skillshare class of Agus Cattaneo and though it’s 3 hours long, it’s incredibly interesting. She shows her process as a cool-hunter, those who unearth the upcoming trends and I recommend it just to get a new window of inspiration.
Of course I love to look at the work of Fashion Illustrators. In fact, one of the first drawings that made me go: oh, I wish I could draw, was Garance Doré’s illustrations.
And don’t even get me started on vintage clothes – that’s a topic for another post.
Whatever your creative outlet is, where does your inspiration come from? Where does your personal taste jump out of its seat? Is it old movies, posters, postcards, dresses, scarves, decor?
It happens often to me. I get so involved with an activity that I love that I don’t see the danger signs of burnout.
Burnout is a term that we throw around to describe when we have done more than we could and our body and mind feel it. It’s seems to have a badge of honor hidden in it though. If you say you burned out it’s because you worked really hard so you are some sort of hero.
The first online class I took as I started drawing was Sketchbook Skool ( yes, they write it like that). I must have been in the second batch of students that took Beginning. Recently the founder, Danny Gregory wrote a beautiful and honest post about of how “doing what you love” can backfire, aptly titled Why I started to suck and how I plan to stop
“Welcome to Capitalism®. If you take money, you must have a bank account. To open a business bank account, you need to be a corporation. To be a corporation, you need a lawyer and accountants. To operate globally in a non-traditional business, you need more lawyers and accountants. Soon, instead of spending all our time making videos with our friends, we were doing a lot of administrative work that was not in our DNA.”
Of course, this is the story of every Startup. Some have the DNA but never achieve success and so they suffer for it. Others who don’t have the DNA hit the jackpot and their life turns upside down. And what is supposed to be waiting at the end? Happiness, they say.
But what hit me the most is how he described his relationship to his blog and his writing. For the past year his blog had become a promotional tool only, like so many blogs today.
He posted about his book launches, his interviews, his public appearances, and rarely about creativity. One of my favorite videos on Vimeo is his Art Before Breakfast movie. That video inspired me so much, but the videos after that became purely promotional.
I identify with this blog-writing thing. I’ve blogged on and off since 1998 and it’s always been the place where I “explored my brain”. I wrote and organized my ideas, made plans, flushed out feelings, etc.
Blogging brought me focus.
This blog, art and Danny’s post
I haven’t really looked back at my archives in this blog. This is the metamorphosis it has suffered:
It started as a way to learn how to build a blog on Jekyll (if you’re not in the web development world, it’s just a static platform for blogging.)
Once I had it up and running, I thought I’d write about creativity, talent and art.
I kept fiddling with code and at the same time I started to listen to “entrepreneurship” podcasts.
I started to write strange self-help type of posts.
Tried to build a mailing list without knowing what I wanted to share. (Now I do!)
Two weeks ago I started testing promotional tools, like Pay with a tweet. I started to use Buffer, I loaded up on Instagram hashtags to promote my clip art. But I felt weird doing that. This blog, before I took any classes, was about exploring creativity.
“I also decided that I would have to deeply examine and reconsider everything else I had on my plate. Blogging helps me further that goal. It is the seed-bed out of which grow all my ideas, projects and connections. I pledged to get back to writing new (non-self-promoting essays) several times a week, starting today.”
– Danny Gregory
This morning I went to a client’s office like I do every Tuesday. In the morning I had been painting in my sketchbook. It was so hard to pull away and go outside into this manic-depressive weather in Montreal. And as I walked to the Metro, I got increasingly sad. I realized, yet again, that my motivation for drawing is driven by “the entrepreneurship dream” instead of creating.
Why is this?
The money I’ve spent in the past year has been quite a lot. Between brushes, paints, paper and classes, I don’t even want to look at my bank statement. And I can’t stop. I’m even embarassed to say that I am visiting my local art store once a week. I don’t need any more brushes.
A friend tells me: but you don’t drink, smoke or buy superficial stuff… actually I don’t even buy what I need, like shoes. If I have to buy shoes, I calculate in terms of how much paint I won’t be able to buy. Sort of when I calculated how many CD’s I wouldn’t be able to buy if I ate when I was in college.
Second, I became a freelance web developer in January. Which means if I don’t work, I have no income. So I started thinking about creating a second business selling digital products that can tide me over if there is no work coming in.
But creating any business, as tiny as you imagine it takes a lot of work. To get it off the ground requirse a lot of unpaid hours and this can translate into…you guessed it.. burnout.
I look around my office / studio. It’s been a dream of mine to have a studio for the longest time. But in the past couple of weeks, I have grown tired of the mess, of the unfinished paintings, of the pile of supplies and notebooks and sketchbooks I’ve purchased compulsively. I berate myself for endleslly scrolling and looking at other people’s artwork not to appreciate it but to envy it sometimes. And I also berate myself for not working actively on new clip art sets or not getting my butt off my chair and make some prints already… and stock that etsy shop and promote it like mad, and…
One thing I hate is to feel I’m doing what everybody else is doing. I’ve always hated it. My favorite illustration says it all, and yet, here I am, endlessly following because I don’t have much of a choice if I’m learning. I have to see what and how other people create. I can’t reinvent the wheel.
So as Danny says, blogging or journalling in general, is always good for regaining direction.
In my case, if I manage to write either here on in my paper journal I might achieve a sense of balance. I might be once again, objective about what I want to do.
So far, I have narrowed down to the fact I love writing intriguing portraits and I want so badly to master watercolor to bring them to life… but nothing will happen overnight and this fact requires constant reminding.
There is beautiful stuff being crated every day online and offline I need to stop looking for a little while.
I love New England. Every time we go, I drown in literature. Vermont or New Hampshire, driving through the roads, looking up into the mountains. Dreaming about a lifestyle in the forest, in a classic cottage, a large piece of land that you can only see through the trunks of the trees. An attic with a view to the White Mountains, a desk full of papers and writing implemements and a large living room with a the fireplace going. Peace and quiet.
I’m always amazed at how friendly Americans are. I’m not a small-talker, and I’m always caught off-guard when at the grocery store the cashier jokes and talks about the weather or makes a remark. When the waiter suggests that we should choose something different and share between my husband and I, instead of just “keeping to himself”.
My family lived in the U.S. in the early 80’s. I was six years old and I started first grade there. My two strongest memories from my first contact with the U.S. are:
Toys R Us and the school library.
I have visited the US on numerous occasions, for work and for pleasure but there is always aprehension. Especially since 2001. When I visited with my Mexican passport, it was always a hassle. I got finger-printed and my photo was taken more times than I can count. Fortunately I never had a terrible experience but I was always nervous. The US has had a major influence in my culture (in everyone’s culture in fact) even if it’s borrowed culture. In New England, part of the magic is precisely the hint of a British mode de vie, mixed with the decidedly American country lifestyle.
We stopped at a typical bakery. Proudly advertising they had won the state’s best donuts. The owners, two very chubby ladies that looked like sisters. The bakery was inside a worn-down cottage, with interiors so old they could fall apart any second. The smell and look of greasy, intensely sugary baked good, and the pots of coffee were not impressive, but we bought a donut. It was, exquisite.
We hit the outlets of North Conway. I’m not much of a shopper but I desperately needed new clothes. Again, friendly employees at every door. Although I run away from them, I couldn’t avoid the lady at the intimates shop who made a remark about my choice of undies.
We made the terrible mistake of having lunch at Applebee’s. We didn’t eat anything until the next day though we went to a grocery store to get some fruit and memories from when I was a kid came flooding back. Grocery stores haven’t changed much. Small towners like to catch up with the people ringing up their apples and ice-cream. (My God, this is a country of ice-cream lovers.)
I took my Fabriano Venezia sketchbook, one pen, my small Winsor and Newton watercolor set. And I just experimented and played. I bought a brush and sumi ink which will be yet another source of discovery.
Since I started to work from home I’ve run into some of the bad habits that come with this new working mode. One of them being that, since we moved out of the Plateau and down south-west of the city, I tend to take less leisure walks. I’ve stayed indoors way too much .
Today though a bit of snowfall we went over to the Plateau Mont Royal. I lived there for the first six years of my life in Montreal. I walked a lot, I never used the metro. I loved leaving my apartment for half an hour, walk down any street, see people, do some window shopping, grab a coffee and then go back home.
We took a long walk from Place des Arts up to Mont-Royal and sadly, this bourrough is pretty worn out. Dozens of empty store fronts, ugly tags all over the once beautiful murals, several new Starbucks cafés where there used to be more indie cafés. Many of the shops I loved are out of business. Maybe it’s just winter fatigue but in spite of all the the good years I lived the Plateau’s style de vie, I don’t think I’d return to live there. In fact, I think it would be impossible with the housing costs these days.
I don’t cook much. In fact, I rarely, rarely cook. I’m not good at it, it bores me, I don’t like to manipulate food and inevitably I make a terrible mess when I’m doing it. But today I decided to take out the slow cooker and put some food in it. Immediately I regretted it. Part of the food I was to pre-sauté on a pan, fell out of the pan and onto the stove burning right into the ceramic. Bad mood followed. Crankiness and despair.
However, one thing can immediately transform my cooking-induced grumpiness: it’s visiting this bookstore.
I could spend a day there.
I do miss living in a more lively neighborhood. Especially because going to a café to work is much more accessible than where I am. The nearest decent cafés are about 20 minutes away on foot or metro, either way it’s a waste of time so I endure my cabin fever until it’s bike season.
I’m in transition. It’s a softer way to say I’m in between jobs. I’ve never been unemployed in my life. This new status is bizarre and at the same time full of opportunity but my darky brain doesn’t want to see it that way. Thus I don’t sleep. I wait to hear back, I wait for the call that will put everything into motion.
Why is it that the things we do as “work” only count as such when there is money involved? Why isn’t everything work?
I make lists in my head, I plan, I fill my time doing things I dreamed about when I was a full time employee, minus the expenses. These things include:
Drawing and painting
Doing a 30 day workout challenge and not missing a day so far.
Taking an illustrative design class that convinces me that I could be an artistic designer someday.
Going to museums
Spending an afternoon doing lettering and calligraphy with a friend
Taking notes about what I read
Watching people in the subway and in the library.
Planning on going on a safari to hunt a Gelli Plate
Opening my eyes again.
Nevertheless, at night, in bed, I cross the day in my calendar and I wonder why nothing moved. How tricky our minds are.
Last year at the same time, I was trapped and wishing I wasn’t. Now I’m free and wishing I was trapped.