Owls are intereprted in many different ways. Many people fear the owl because they represent death. However, I like to think of them as messengers of what is unknown in our life. Just as the owl flies back and forth into the darkness. So, can we move from the physical world to the spiritual. The place where magic, mystery and ancient knowledge resides.
This week, I went on a nature hike with my daughter and watched how she “watched.” Much like the owl, who takes in it’s surroundings she stayed focused on her task whether that be building a snowman or picking up a forgotten leaf from fall. Yet, she is keeping that balance of consistently “checking in” on the inside, examining with a inquisitive eye on what lies before her and looking within with silent wisdom.
This is what I search for in my art and in my walk through life. Being OK with the unknown yet knowing that I am gently being guided by the mystery of life and finding meaning along the way that leads me closer to who I am and where I am the most free.
Like the owl that flies overhead, wisdom allows me to sense what is felt but not seen. Or, what I know that which is true but cannot be proven with all out certainty..
A craft can help us to check in to this wisdom. “Tinkering,” as they call it is not a waste of time but rather can be looked at as a way to find one’s quiet center. Give time for this wisdom that is yours and yours alone!
Sharing a True Legacy..Honor, Passion and Purpose. Women’s Air Service Pilot (W.A.S.P.) Elizabeth Strohfus
Elizabeth “Liz” Strohfus ( formerly Betty Wall). WWII W.A.S.P. (Women’s Air Service Pilot)
When you meet a person of great bravery and character it is hard to forget. Our paths crossed right in front of the waffle iron at the local hotel that my in-laws were staying at. A great big smile, a sparkle in her eyes is what I first took note of in this 92 year old American hero.
She was one of only 1074 Women Air Force Service Pilots ” or “W.A.S.P.S” as they were called. Strohfus taught instrument flying to male cadets and later ferried B-17 and AT-6 war birds around the country, according to the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame website. They were even put through drills that challenged their flying abilities and that men would later rely upon in real life combat situations.
The military disbanded the W.A.S.P. program in 1944, before the war ended, and sent the women home without veteran status. After the war “nobody wanted to hear about women pilots,” Strohfus said. They didn’t even know we existed. I had everything in my closet, my uniform, my pictures, my books. I told the kids, “when I die, put it in my coffin.”
However, she hasn’t put a lid on this story. Not in the least. Instead, she is keeping it alive. At air shows, schools and even for my family during our waffle breakfast. As she should, because in telling her story, she is honoring her legacy and the legacies of all the service men and women she served with.
She is sharing the importance of following one’s dream. Following a dream that seemed almost impossible for a young woman in the 1940s. She wanted to fly, and serve her country. “I would have done anything to help the war effort, we all did,” said Strohfus.
Telling the story of a group of women who served right along with the men. A group of women who were humble, gracious and selfless. They had a passion for flying and were willing to fly to support the war effort. A story that is no longer forgotten but remembered and told by a woman with sparkly eyes and dangling aircraft earrings.
Strohfus recently was awarded the congressional medal of honor along with the two hundred surviving W.A.S.PS. Her humility was apparent Strohfus said she’s glad to finally receive recognition for her achievements. But then she paused and grinned and said, “The award is nice, but heck, I just like to fly airplanes.”
We should all pay homage to this woman. For her perseverance to follow her dreams despite all obstacles that may have been in her way and for what she did for our country, for our freedom. We should continue to share her story, pay it forward. keep it alive
The decision to create art, is one that can be easy or one that is laden with struggle, fear or plain old procrastination. Just as in life, as it unfolds for us stage by stage we see our part within it and make every effort to be an active participant. Or, we put on the brakes, being pulled along for the ride.
Creating is an active example of decision making. In art we begin the process by choosing whether to draw or paint. Or in which order. A rough sketch here, some color there it all takes shape into our idea of what we are creating. There takes planning. Whether we are conscious of it or not there is thought. In order for the artist to make an informed decision of what there next step may be there is an instinct that is relied upon. A gut instinct, or a natural inkling on what to do next.
Creating helps us develop this part of us that has this desire to put our own story into the world. Whether that be a piece of art, or a sharing who we are with others, we are pushed move out from our center. Like a ripple in a pond, once we throw that first stone, our center widens to include ideas, people and ways of doing things that we may not have considered in the past. Art shakes up what is within us that may be stuck or feeling as though we do not have something important to say. We are no longer silenced, we have a voice.
Making marks on paper, putting pigment where we feel it is needed. This aesthetic decision making we knew as children. It was a tactile way of finding our way in the moment. We were first presented with a set of tools, a paintbrush, a pencil, a crayon that we could choose and act upon. One stroke led to another, until we knew our piece was finished. The beginning and ending of something we created had a natural order to it that felt complete or whole when it was done. Without questioning when or how to make our next move we proceeded with a confidence that was only threatened as we aged. Those first marks turned into symbols of what had importance and meaning. If you remember your art as a child there was a story that took place in your sketches. As a child artist, you made a story of your world and how you had seen yourself within it. You had created a feeling and depth within an image that that told your unique story and how you fit in the overall plan.
Creating art provides us with options which is part of the decision making process. When we create art there are unlimited options available to us. Even, when we see limitation in our art there is often unlimited opportunities and choices available to us. Art proceeds to expand our horizon to see further than we thought we could. This expanded view unveils solutions to perceived problems.
When we create we bring an image from the inner world to the outer. This starts with a feeling of inspiration! Starting from this place of true inspiration is a good way to make art but also helps us create the change in our life that we crave. The more we can listen to our own story from the inside and translate it to the outside world the more happy we will be with the outcomes of our decision making.
Regular exercise in art making helps us organize our creative ideas. It also helps us focus or concentrate on what is important. The bits of information we get during these times of art making or creating helps shape who we are and what we want in our life.
With art, when you pick up the pen or paintbrush on day two or fifteen of practice you pick it up right back up where you have left off. The image or idea was there all along and with patience and practice one can continue to fill out its boarders until there is a clear picture. Thus, being led to a clearer understanding of the choices that were made and what decisions need to be made and acted on.
Then it comes down to acting. Acting on our instincts, throwing that first pebble again. This takes trust and a knowing that the decisions that we make will provide a sustenance that will make us want to create again.
The experience of life balance or attempt for life balance was so clear to me recently while flying my first kite. Just to get it off the ground felt like a miracle in aeronautics. Our five year old was the kite runner, yet there was so much wind he only needed to hold it in place as the wind moved past it. This whole process, of waiting, holding and balancing the kite is very much like the process of following life and where it may lead us.
The kite flyer is in all of us, consistently striving to hold onto our anchor or dowel as life pulls and tugs us in new directions. Our failures, let downs, and personal blocks are sometimes (old ways), that as humans, we try to hold onto. Trying something different like flying a kite can put a different perspective of how life can really be. It was amazing how just a little wind little wind can lift one to experience life effortlessly.
In life and in kite flying, we wait with anticipation for that right lift that will carry us with minimal effort or force. Because, with too much tether we barely catch our lift but rather limp along. A balance of letting out enough of who we are in the world without giving all of what we have in us away. With a little grit and determination, we hold on tight and we force change or things to happen for us in a certain way. A particular outcome. Forcing something that does not fit keeps us grounded. The fewer options we think we have in our life keeps us grounded. Creativity thrives on the many, on the endless possibilities that is available to us if we are open and willing to listen. Letting go and listening to the our inner compass helps us determine which way the wind is blowing or whether we need to put forth effort or be guided in the moment. When we live this way we discover self determination and a new life that appears without lift.
So we wait, and listen, to be guided by something greater than who we are. And just like that we are air bound! How we got there we do not know, yet we are there just the same. We watch in amazement as we fly, soar with pure joy and exhilaration. It almost takes our breath away. Quickly, we learn to be guided. It pulls on our heart strings, and we remember yes this is how it feels to be free. Feeling our way along, we fall behind this force, we are led and we have “let go.”
This freedom, we may have felt at times in our life or not at all. This is uncharted territory to be in this new place of unexpected change and growth. If we feed into this fear we will suddenly be taken off course or take a sudden nose dive back to earth.
Without knowing where the winds of change may take us we start to feel the same anxiety we felt before we ever left the ground. We worry that there may not be enough wind to fill our sails. We start to question what fills us out. Keeps us expansive and fulfills us from within. We pay attention to the wind direction, to those things are in our life that fulfill us.
So we gently fall behind this grace once again, and there is stillness. Pure, stillness and a peace as we hang in the balance of where life can begin for us. Being fully present to where it may lead us. To be gentle with ourselves and others as we change and as life changes around us. The freedom to be more of who we are without imposing too many restrictions.
When I was on my walk this week, I noticed the flower bed that we pass was still empty of any type of growth. But, just beyond its borders there were tiny crocuses peeking their heads among the grass. This was obviously not the intention of the retirement home who have been known to plant the artificial variety.
What came to mind is that nature does not fit into tiny boxes. Nor, does it flourish there. It takes up space where it knows it will be best nurtured and cared for. Fresh air, an open field, flourishing outside the lines of the status quo.
Being happy with who one is and where one is headed in life reminds me of the tiny crocus. For some of us it means forging a path that is off the beaten path. Or not our usual course of action. What this means for each of us is different yet important. Planning the design of our life takes a certain type of artistry. Drawing out the rough sketches, of where we want our life to take shape and grow. This takes the ability to reflect on what type of space that speaks to the heart. And to not be surprised with the fact that when we listen to our heart it often takes us beyond the well kept borders of where we thought we belonged.
The esteemed author Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes that “eccentricity is the first sign of giftedness.” Which to me means the little bits and pieces that makes us unique or “eccentric,” is the best place to live from. When we live beyond self-imposed borders we quickly learn that our gifts and talents that we came here with has a place or a design in the world. And that we add color and character and often complement those in our life who also are also working at embracing who they are.
There are artists that plan their composition carefully ahead of time and there are others that compose as they go. And there are some like myself that do a little bit of both. Doing a rough sketch helps me have a framework to start from. I have noticed that for some artists they can look at the world and paint it exactly how it is seen. Almost like a photograph it turns out as an exact replica of what they are painting. I am amazed and have great respect for how this process works for them. But, for me I have learned that this does not work. I like working from the sketch as a framework than expanding beyond those borders to let it take me where it will. A different color here, new shape there. Having some traces of the original but also taking on a life of its own. This is where I feel at home, having a little bit of freedom and taking a big sigh of relief knowing that my life or work does not need to look like anything real to the outside world.
There is no right way of composing in life or art. I do not claim to be an expert in either. Rather, a faithful gardener who is constantly seeking new ways of framing my art and life in such a way that speaks to the heart.
“Sunrise in the Mountains.” Oil on Canvas
How does art inspire hope? It often stretches apart of us that knows no restrictions but pure potential and unlimited possibilities. While I am working I often find this place in my art where it feels a bit wild, and I am not sure where it is all heading. I want to pull in the reigns, step back or throw in the towel all together. But, I am learning to let it be and come back to it in a while. Or, waiting to just jump in and allowing it take me in different directions.
Allowing it to be wild, or living from the edges often leads us to something new or not experienced. I am learning to live from this place. This place is called hope, where new things happen because following the usual course of action leads us to the usual places in both art and life.
When I start out on a painting there is so much anticipation, of what I want it to be or where I would like it to go. This anticipation or energy that builds momentum and carries the painting is what I am learning to be comfortable with. This excitement or anticipation can quickly turn to anxiety if not allowed to run its course. Being ok with that energy or momentum is where hope lies. That hope fuels what we do and how we do it. But there is also fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of how it will all turn out. The fear and hope are all mixed together. Maybe, the hope and fear originate from the same place and it is just our interpretation of it that defines it as either anticipation or dread.
I like the word “interpretation” because I think of art. I have been in many courses where as artists we interpret another’s work. One person may see pure potential or hope within a painting and another picks out all the little imperfections or mismarks.
Isn’t life this way? How we define what it is to us personally with all the unexpected mismarks that happen along the way. Our persistence to create in our life and leaning toward a little more towards hope than fear. This is how art can fuel us and give us life. Art can sustain this hope. It can provide us with greater meaning and help us practice how to live in a place of hope. Art can provide little nuggets of truth along the way or moments of clarity that show us where next to make our mark. Feeling the anticipation, not defining it solely as fear but as the momentum or energy needed to take us to a new place in our life.
In the painting above “Sunrise in the Mountains,” there were many times of not knowing where it would lead. I often paint from what inspires or provides hope. I found a photograph on the internet of an aerial shot of a sunrise in the clouds. I loved this perspective of seeing a sunrise from above the clouds. Seen from a completely different point of view. I work from literally from the edges and work my way across the canvas adding layers upon layers of paint. From the edges are where the magic happens and the image takes shape. What appeared was a golden mountain peeking out from the sunrise within ribbons of cascading clouds. The mountain can symbolize many things but to me it speaks of the grandeur that is within all of us. A beacon of hope leading us on our way.
With spring approaching, I think of all the beautiful flowers that are the first to arrive on the scene. I also, think of how lovely it would be to have a garden. I do not claim to be a gardener, but I have a great respect for the practice of being an active participant of something like a garden that has a natural cycle to it. Whether we are tending the earth, our children or our jobs. We watch what we tend with an inquisitive eye as it changes, takes on new forms and guides us in new directions.
The act of gardening is a true example of this change we can be a part of as things in our life fall away only to reveal what is budding deep within. The exercise of working the land and working with one’s hands not knowing if what we plant will come to life. But, planting it anyways. Being quiet, and caring for something outside of oneself where one finds clarity and greater meaning.
There is planning involved where just like the blank canvas, the gardener busily plans in the winter months what will be apart of their landscape in the spring. Flowers, bean plants, potatoes, raspberry bushes. There is anticipation and excitement in the planning of what will be. The act of planning, putting our dreams “in action,” by putting a part of ourselves in the world. With a hope and a knowing that after the long months of winter spring is sure to arrive.
As an artist, I understand the connection to a place like a garden. Whether it be in our garden or the studio there is a place where we do our inner work where we plant the seeds of what we hope for in our life and then wait. We go back to this inner place, or go underground when there is heartache, grief or loss. We till the earth, plant the seed in the empty places in our life and wait for the budding of new life to show itself to us once again. We take its cue, we take care of this new life and make sure that it is not overtaken or overcrowded with the life around it. We protect it, our creative life from that which will pull us away from it all together. It is our place where we say YES- I am willing to put my story into this and be part of what it has to teach me about death, growth , and renewed life.
Having this place like a garden can be where we see more clearly the “good” that we have in our life or that what we contribute to others. This “good” has beauty and importance and something that we may have discounted from our life all together. The “good” that you do in the world, where it may seem small has a greater meaning to others than you can imagine. The “good” work that you do in the world has a story, and a place where it flowers. It is up to you to recognize this inner beauty within yourself and how it feeds those around you. IT is important and should be celebrated.
Celebrated in a place like a garden, or in a piece of art where all our senses are taken in and we are in complete awe of how beauty often arrives where we least expect. Yet, it also arrives in the places where we put on our apron, roll up our sleeves and put our whole heart and soul into. There is inherent abundance within a well kept garden, where we see truly what we have in our life verses what we have not.
“Ambiguous Rose”- Unfinished Oil on Canvas (work in progress)
Inspiration, fear, the unknown. All describe the moments before putting paint to the blank canvas. What the blank canvas represents can all be a state of mind. We are either fearful of the unknown or feel inspired by what could be. What I have learned recently is that new ideas suddenly emerge when they are in right relationship with one another. Often when we think something is out of place it can really be in perfect harmony if left alone in its natural place.
Without the right context it doesn’t make sense. I learned this first hand this week while working on a new oil painting of a brilliant pink rose. There is always that moment while I am painting where I get lost, not seeing the whole. With my nose literally right up in the canvas I am at a loss at which way to go. Do I add more pigment here? Was I too bold there? Are my values in harmony with one another? Often when I get to this stage it is the white space or the unknown surrounding the image that I work on next. Because, I tell myself that without right context like in the case of the “ambiguous rose” it does not look like much of anything but a smattering of pink on white canvas.
So, I start adding context. I think of what I may have done in the past that pulled a painting together. Waiting to be led and wondering if there will be struggle. Will there be obstacles along the way or will the path be clear? Most likely the struggle will surface but there will also be moments of pure clarity and knowingness how to proceed. Without giving much energy or emphasis on the “I think I may screw this up,” category but instead maybe just letting things be.
Sometimes by letting things be we think we are in the procrastination mode. However, there may be something deep within us that knows that even in the messiness or out of place something may look it has a place somewhere or somehow it’s just we can’t quite put our finger on it yet.
The unfinished canvas is in all of us. We are all beautiful and messy all at once. That is to change who we are or to subvert to someone else’s idea of who we should be is forgetting our own relationship to the world. The bigger picture. We all want to matter and feel that we fit somehow in all the aspects of our life. Yet, like the unfinished canvas we are all works in progress. Looking for ways to receive all those life giving elements needed to feel that sense of completion or wholeness within ourselves.
To change who we are for convenient sake or for someone else is like cutting the roots from a tree. All life-giving elements disappear in an instant. Often we subvert because we think we are being too bold. We tell ourselves to stop being who we truly are because it might just be too much. We conform because we think it is the only way to get through this world. Yet, few transformative experiences in life are tidy, neat and make any type of sense in the moment. They take time and often need that messy process of getting to know ourselves and our relationship to those around us.
When I look at a painting, it is in the relationship of color next to color that helps the image make sense. The interplay of each unique brush stroke having a life of one’s own but also contributing to overall pattern of the painting.True original expression cannot be planned in advance. And neither can we. As creators in our life and in our work the best we can do is to remain true to ourselves and open to what is moving in and around us. Without cutting ourselves off from what feeds us, fuels us, and allows us to be bold. Bold as defined by who we are without conforming to who we are not.
So, I will continue to work on my “ambiguous rose,” letting her take shape, not cutting her at her roots. But, allowing her to grow in context to her surroundings. Right where she is at in the moment, changing, evolving and occasionally getting the sense that she is right where she belongs.
“Weaver’s Daughter” Watercolor on Arches, Alisha K. Duckett
I recently, was introduced to the concept of the “handcrafted life,” and was intrigued with the idea of it. It goes something like this, a handcrafted life is based on how you envision your life unfolding. It takes a lifetime to accomplish because itis where you focus your creative energies every day. It is a practice of bringing the inner life into the outer life in your own unique way.
For me, art has been the bridge from the inner to the outer. The practice of painting, writing or crafting is where a piece of the inner is shone brilliantly for all to see. But, most importantly from my vantage point as the artist. Because as the artist, you work with what you’ve got. As is in the handcrafted life, you gather that which is available and ready to you. You pick up what works, and turn it into something that has relevance and meaning. Similar to stringing a necklace, gathering those odds and end pieces only to string together some type of beauty. It may not be the type that the outside world sees as beauty, but it is beauty non-the less. Because it is yours to behold, working patiently, stringing piece by piece, the parts of yourself that you want to put out into the world. What is your gifts, or way of expressing yourself that will have relevance to the outside world? How do you want to make your mark in such a way that is not necessarily earth-shattering but rather quiet, thoughtful and on purpose with who you are?
I suggest taking up a craft. Because, every time you create you infuse a little bit of you and what is going on in your life into your work. And if you have the discipline to tinker away at your work whatever it may be. What is important or beautiful to you is suddenly there not by accident but on purpose. Because it was there all along, just waiting for you to take the time to become aware. It is just now that you were able to see it for what it is. You will then have that well-stained shirt that says you have attempted to make something from nothing and that IT matters!
The creative life is not pre-programmed and neither should our life feel that way. when a life is hand crafted you are able take that spontaneity from your heart and art only to put it right back into your creative efforts in life. A cycle of turning within , creating, holding it up, taking it in, only to start the process all over again.
When I painted “weaver’s daughter,” pictured above. I was inspired by the cliff dwellings of the native tribes of the southwest and my time there. I learned that the people that lived there were weavers. The thought of weaving, one’s life from the inside out suddenly had great meaning. So, I painted the “weaver’s daughter,” the one that takes thread from that land, dyes it from pigments from the earth and weaves a beautiful image or story. A story that had meaning for the craftswoman, and one that she wanted to pass down to her children and her children’s children. I love the idea that there is legacy or ancient wisdom that the weaver’s wanted to pass along to help their loved ones on their journey in life. Maybe, a story that steers them to look for the answers to life’s pressing questions from some deep resounding space within. Only to weave the answers into a complete pattern that is a vision for the weaver and her crafting of the soul filled life.
“Intuition leads her heart, leads her soul, fills her with life.” Alisha K. Duckett
Intuition, defined as “a quick and ready insight;” independent from knowledge or from reason. It can flower within us and make our lives more whole. Gently pushing us in the direction that is more aligned with who we are.
Listening to, trusting and acting on your intuitive inner guidance is an art form in itself. Think back to the times when it was not the right timing for something. You just knew. There is a harmony and flow within intuition that is rhythmic like a wave. You can choose to stand up and ride the wave at the right moment. Catch it’s sudden insight. Or, choose to hesitate. Any hesitation, and you gain no momentum and miss the wave completely.
Following it’s insight can be risky because it does not follow a linear clear path. The path is often not logical or rational but has a destination none the less. In-tuition leads from the inside out drawing us out of our comfort zones. It is however, pushing us toward something that reminds us of our true selves. An aspect of ourselves that may not have been nourished now suddenly is given the right elements to grow and flourish. Intuition can lead us to what makes us happy or made us happy once but was forgotten.
To look within and to listen is to invite new life or new way of doing something in. Art can do this for us. It can draw us within allowing emotion and intuition to slowly take over and spill out on paper. It may just be some markings on a paper, that soon lead to an image that can have meaning and significance in our life. Or a song that you play over and over until it just makes sense.
You do not have to consider yourself an artist to do this. Just starting the process, mixing the colors, stepping back, being silent, taking it in. Letting it be, and waiting to feel the silent nudging to tell you what to do next.