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When Words Collide 2015

ID-10020413I just returned home from When Words Collides (@WWCyyc15) in Calgary, Alberta, an award-winning festival for writers, bloggers, editors and readers mainly of fiction. It was three days of non-stop workshops, panels and lectures. Each hour participants could choose from eight or nine of these classes, depending on their interests and needs. Wow, what a weekend.

I really enjoyed volunteering because it instantly acquainted me with new people and made me feel like one of the group, even though this was my first time there. I came away having made some new friends, some of whom I hope to connect up with now that I am back in Edmonton.

People were amazingly friendly at the festival which is really interesting being that many of the people there tend towards being introverts like me. I can hold my own in a social setting but it can drain me and I enjoy being alone. I am sure this holds true for many of the attendants there.

The program really works because it is an intensive learning experience interspersed with short periods of time to connect with others and find out a bit about their creative lives. It also was a time of expanded thinking as I sat in on classes on how to use Twitter and how to self-publish as well as those of author’s like Canadian Sc-Fi writer Robert J. Sawyer who talked about his journey as an author and what has and hasn’t worked for him.

Now I find myself at home, with expectations for what I want to accomplish and instead there is work that must be done for the business, unpacking, tending a neglected garden, arranging a small birthday celebration for my husband, in short, life.

Last evening I spent a bit of my time trying out my new Twitter skills, thanks to help from Catherine Saykaly-Stevens (TheNetworkingWeb.com). Now I am writing this.

For those of you busy with life, a few minutes here or there to do even the smallest creative activity can help to make you feel like you are moving forward. In the end, that is all this creative life is, one moment, one hour, one week at a time.

Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Tribute to an Artist

Today I pause to pay tribute to a friend and artist who died on Saturday, November 22, 2014. Carla was not yet 60, still in the prime of her creative life. She had many artistic plans, hopes and dreams and things she wanted to accomplish. All that has been cut short and will now not be realized.

However, what Carla leaves behind may be even more important than what she had hoped to accomplish in the future. She was an active member of several local art clubs. But Carla was never a just a member. Rather she used her considerable stills in organization and financial expertise to take on the jobs such as treasurer and grant proposal chair for these art groups. Often jobs that are difficult to fill, especially among artists, Carla would make sure that all the details were in order and documented in a timely way. She really was on top of things and even had the knowledge to wisely invest club endowments, even through these days of low interest rates, so that the interest could be used for scholarships.

More than that, Carla knew how to be a good friend. She was interested in other people in general and in their artistic journey in particular. Not one to be an extravert, she still had a knack for seeking out newcomers; finding out about their art and making them feel welcome. She also had the ability to size up a difficult or controversial situation and bring kindness and gentleness to it.

Carla also leaves behind a sizable body of work, much of which was sold and some of which has been collected by the city in which she lived. Her art was something she truly loved to do and she poured herself into it. Her paintings speak of her love for bold colors, nature and landscape.

Her interest in and the energy she put into the Artist Run Studio she belonged to has helped to ground that endeavor and to establish it in the community as a valuable asset. Her relationships with many of the other artists were longstanding and important to her.

I will miss Carla so very much; for her art, for her contributions but mostly for the genuine caring person that she was. She knew how to love deeply and in return she was deeply loved.

Peace Can’t Be Taken for Granted

Today we remember those around the world who have fought in wars to protect our freedom here in Canada. My paternal grandfather, Jack Harrowby Harrow fought for England in WWI and my father, Peter Gorden Harrow fought for Canada in WWII. Both were fortunate to have returned home safely to live out their lives in Canada.

As I listen to the Remembrance Day Ceremonies on the radio I think about the many Canadian War Artists who documented the various wars Canada has participated in. I want to highlight two such artists mostly because both have died within the last two year.

Molly Lamb Bobak was born in 1922 and died just this year (2014) in March. She was a Canadian teacher, writer, print maker and oil and watercolour painter. She joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corp (CWAC) in 1942 and became the first Canadian woman appointed as official war-artist and sent overseas to document Canada’s war effort, particularly the work of the CWAC. She served in that role from 1945 to 1946. Molly with her new husband, the artist Bruno Bobak, returned to Canada after the war and taught part-time at the Vancouver School of Art and the University of British Columbia as she raised her family. In 1960 she moved with her family to Fredericton, NB where she continued to teach and paint. Of the 32 official war artists in World War II, she was the last surviving member.

David Alexander Colville was born in 1920 in Toronto, ON. The family later lived in St. Catharines, and then Amherst, NS. In 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian Army in the infantry. He painted in Yorkshire and took part in the Royal Canadian Navy’s landings in southern France. Because he was a fine-arts student, he was made a war artist in May 1944. After the war Colville did a painting call “Infantry at Nilmegen” which represents a platoon of Canadian Soldiers marching along both sides of a road. It is now in the Canadian War Museum. In the painting Colville portrays both heroism and enduring persistence in the difficult conditions of war which included constant danger. The face of the first man in the painting is a portrait of Colville’s father. Alex Colville died in July 2013 in his home in Wolfville, NS at the age of 92. He was the second last surviving member of the 32 official war artists in WWII.

The concept of being a war artist seems so very outdated today in our world of twitter and social media where photos and commentary on world events are broadcast immediately around the world into our phones and tablets. Yet the paintings done by these war artists are an important part of our history and often the viewer connects with the events portrayed in paintings in a very emotional way.

Today we celebrate the relative peace we have enjoyed in Canada over the last 70 years. Neither my husband nor my son haven been called to fight in a war on behalf of Canada. But many of our Canadian soldiers have continued to fight on our behalf and some have given their lives for our freedom. Today may we celebrate peace and remember that peace is not a given in our lives. Peace can’t be taken for granted.

It Makes All the Difference in my Day

One of many reference photos for paintings I took in Penticton, BC in May.

I’ve been really busy these last two months. I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks that I have been feeling dissatisfied with my life. I really don’t like rushing from one activity to the next without time to pause and reflect. I’ve even been doing stuff I like to do, like babysitting my granddaughter, working on a course for CCA certification, applying for grants, taking in the fall harvest, visiting my Mom in Calgary; things like that. What has really been missing is my creative practice. I still did some framing and getting ready for a show but I wasn’t doing my painting regularly.

Last Saturday I took myself to a coffee shop to do some writing. I found myself wandering off into my dissatisfaction and took some time to figure out what was really bothering me. Once I had identified the problem I also recognized that this was all under my control. So I set aside time this week to work on a painting first thing each morning, before I get busy with all the other things I am doing. No matter how many things I had on my to-do list, I committed to doing my creative practice first thing. And what a difference it makes in my day!

To be engaged in the creative process and lose myself in the painting and what it needs is refreshing and emotionally satisfying. Once I have painted for a while, I feel happy and throughout the day continue to engage with the painting at times when I am in my studio, looking at it from different angles and distances, and analyzing what needs to be done next. Even though I might not get back to actually painting that day, knowing I will be able to the next morning leaves me with a feeling that all is well.

Somehow, once I have painted, the rest of the day falls into place and I feel like I accomplish more because I am more energized. Painting helps me slow down and be less focused on outcome and more focused on the moment by moment process of each activity I am involved in. Energy and focus is a great combination to bring into the necessary activities of the day.

If you are not doing your creative practice regularly you might try experimenting with what it feels like to do so. I’ll give you some tips on how to get started in my next blog post.


Nurture Your Creativity!

Nurture Yourself!

Practise or Work – Which Do You Do?

In the past I have been referring to us creatives as doing our creative work. This is a perfectly fine term for what we do – painting, sculpting, writing, carving, welding, gardening or whatever it is you do to exercise your creativity. But lately I’ve been exploring the use of the term creative practice.

Creative work is a good term because it implies a certain seriousness about what we are doing. It is work. It takes effort and it requires a commitment. We may take ourselves more seriously when we envision what we are doing as work. It certainly takes mental work. In fact, it can be difficult to do creative work for many hours in a row without a break. Our brains consume large amounts of glucose as we think about what we are doing and respond to the problems we encounter. We can be really tired after a day of Creative work. The word work is often equated with receiving money so if you are doing your creative work as a business or to sell your creations, maybe you like the word work.

Creative practice on the other hand has a ring of being a little less daunting. Practicing the piano may take a lot of energy but it is different from the work of preforming. If we see ourselves as practicing our creativity it takes away some of the intensity and may allow us to feel freer to explore and try new things. Creative practice, like creative work also suggests regular commitment. We may find that creative practice is more intrinsically rewarding to us. There is an element of fun to practice as well as a sense of striving to improve our skills. I equate practice with learning, growing and gaining confidence.

I think I’m going to go with Creative practice. Now it’s time to go and do some!

Camera Disaster


The sky really was this colour!  No filter needed.

The sky really was this colour!

Disaster hit last week when I placed my camera on a chair, turned around and heard a crash. My telephoto lens had partly broken away from the camera looking for all the world like a scene in a Bugs Bunny cartoon with springs and broken parts flying off. At that moment my camera became my priority so I dropped what I was doing and rushed over to Don’s Phone to have the damage assessed. The final verdict – Camera seems to be okay. Lens is toast. Yes, I can order a new one, yes at least the camera is fine, yes I was really upset. The real problem is what it costs to replace the lens and restore what I had before the accident.

It is now three days later and I am at our lake property enjoying a golden fall day.  The Black-capped Chickadees are everywhere, along with Red and White-Breasted Nuthatches and Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.  Today the cost of a new lens doesn’t matters as much as not having a telephoto lens to capture those ethereal Chickadees. Why is that important to me? I have hundreds of photos of chickadees that are waiting to be painted. In many ways, taking photos engages me with my environment. It allows me to look closer, to feel the pulse of nature at a different level. It gives me a goal to strive for – the perfect reference photo. Yet as I gaze up through the yellow leaves and am awed by the colour of the sky, I realize there is value in engaging with the bigger picture, the entire view, not just what I can focus on with my telephoto lens. That’s why painting outside on a day like today brings a freshness to my painting practice that is hard to capture in the studio. We have good days and we have bad days. This is definitely a good day.

Painting Outdoors in September

It is a Saturday in September. I find myself at our lake property surrounded by golden leaves and frantic Black-capped Chickadee. The Chickadees are fighting for time at the feeder to gorge themselves on black oil sunflower seeds. They are arriving about every four seconds, calling and flitting in the aspen saplings and mature poplars that create the backdrop for the feeder.

It is hard for me to concentrate on what I am trying to do. I am getting ready to do a demonstration at a local cultural day event this coming weekend. I have been working in acrylics for the last six months but return to watercolour for this demo. Watercolour is my ‘comfort‘ medium, one in which I have some hard-earned skills. It is just plain easier for me. Still, with either a Chickadee or falling leaf vying for my attention, my concentration is constantly being interrupted. A Chickadee lands close by and I grab my camera.

Now back to my painting, I’m not exactly “plein air” painting although the tern means “painting in the outdoor daylight.” I’m just not painting a scene in front of me. I am working from a reference of a Black-capped Chickadee. I could be doing that in my studio yet, painting outdoors just feels so good. The sun shines on my back and warms me. The leaves flutter down on the table. Colours look more fresh and vibrant. I am surrounded by the colours I’m using in my painting. If only every painting day could be like this!

The To-Do List

Okay, so I have a million things on my to-do list both yesterday and today and I feel like I have been running non-stop for the last two days, well maybe the last five days.  This isn’t the way I like things to be.  I don’t thrive on busyness.  I don’t thrive on going from one activity to the next without a bit of down time to what?  Well, just to be!

One of the things I have been working on is actually slowing down in order to get more done.  This seems to be counterproductive but it actually works.  It’s really about focusing.  My default is to constantly be thinking ahead to the other things that have to be done and then trying to do more than one thing (often two or three) at a time.  Although this seems to work to get things accomplished, what it doesn’t do is leave me with a sense of accomplishment.  What I feel like is rushed and dissatisfied with the way things are.

However, if I make myself slow down and focus on the task at hand, I feel much happier and relaxed.  Is this a more efficient way?  I don’t really know but I do know that it is more important to me to “feel” good about what I do than to just tick off things on a to-do list.  Yes, it feels good to tick things off but that good feeling only lasts a nanosecond and the more pervasive feeling of being rushed and overwhelmed remains.

It is a dull, overcast day here in Edmonton.  A perfect day to take one activity at a time and focus on it.  A perfect day to move a little slower and breath more deeply.  A perfect day to focus on enjoying one task at a time and to know that all these things will get done at the right time.  Even this blog!

Nurture Your Creativity! Nurture Yourself!

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A bit of sunshine can energize Albertans

I’ve been waiting for a day like this!  All right, I live in Edmonton and a far too frequent topic is the weather.  But after what seemed like a very overcast January, today is amazing.  Sunny, +4 and a pretty hefty wind, but still beautiful.  I opened up all the windows in the house for awhile just to let in the fresh air.

Those of us living in northern climates really have a challenge working ‘plein air’ especially if you work in watercolours that freeze at normal winter temperatures.  After awhile the studio tends to get a bit boring and stuffy.  Maybe our work tends to get a bit boring and stuffy too.  Breaking the routine is a great way to infuse some energy into yourself and your creativity.

Today I sat in the sun for a 1/2 hour.  I looked pretty goofy sitting on my front porch with my winter jacket on and my sleeves and pants pushed up to expose as much skin as possible.  Sheltered from the wind I was surprisingly comfortable.  The sun is still very low but I could feel a tiny bit of heat in it at least at 12 noon.  The sunshine and the thought of spring energized me today.

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