What will it be?

There is something I feel compelled to make. It’s been simmering in my subconscious for almost a year now.

The catch?

I’m not really sure what it is or how to go about it.

I know this: it’s a story. I woke up one day and watched the whole thing unfold in front of my eyes. It was a weird experience. But I saw it. Fully formed. There in front of me. Made. Done. Dusted. Out in the world. And I somehow knew that I was the one who made that happen.

Here’s the thing though. That’s all I know. It could be a book. It could be a short film. It could be lots of things – all of which I have absolutely no idea how to make.

The second catch?

It has no words.

Everything I see about it is illustrated. It’s all in images, no dialogue. But I am NOT an illustrator. Okay, I spent a lot of time last year practicing illustration because of this idea. I took drawing classes. I sat every day and doodled. I practiced drawing my breakfast, the view from my window, anything I saw. Still, I don’t know that my skills are up to this task.

That means I have three choices: get my skills up to the task (that could take a really long time), do it anyway even though I don’t think I have the talent, or find a collaborator, someone who does know how to illustrate and who could capture the idea in the way I saw it.

All of these things are freaky for me.

I really have no idea the best way to go about any of those. I don’t know that I will ever have the illustration style I envision for this project. I don’t know if I would be happy with it if my attempt doesn’t capture what I see in my head. And I don’t know if I trust someone else to feel the essence of the story clearly enough to draw it out.

It’s a conundrum. But I do feel really drawn to this project (pun accidental, but I’ll leave it). So I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It’s either do it or don’t do it, and the doing it will happen as it happens. I’ll just have to see where it goes and how it unfolds.

Watch this space.

Many Topics, One Blog

My blog often feels all over the map. I’m a traveller, an expat, half of a diving duo (hoping to open a place of our own), a doodler, a curiosity seeker and many others. Trying to fit that into a blog that makes sense, that has a sense of cohesion has been tricky for me and often the result is that I don’t write as much as I want to because it feels like there is no focus. I am reblogging this post because a) it is incredibly helpful, giving ideas for how to organise a blog like mine b) is a great reminder that it’s okay for your personality to be the focus, not a topic and c) because I don’t want to lose track of it in the future when I need reminding again. It’s a great help if you are like me and think that pretty much everything in the world is wonderfully fascinating and worth writing about!

The Daily Post

We all deal with blogger’s block sometimes. But what about the opposite, when you have dozens of things you want to blog about? Are you going to turn your audience off by blogging on a range of topics? How can you have a focused brand if your posts are all over the map?

You had your focus all along!

Some blogs take a narrow look at a particular subject, because of the blogger’s interests and goals. Others are wide-ranging reflections of their authors’ interests. If that’s you, it doesn’t mean your blog has no focus — it means the focus is, essentially, your point of view.

(Does that sound self-centered? I think about it like this: I blog not because I think the world needs Michelle’s Precious Opinions*, but because telling my stories connects me to other people in a way that makes both our lives richer.)

*They are pretty great opinions, though.

We’re drawn to blogs…

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It’s That Time Again

New Year’s Resolutions

They come from a good place. They arise from our desire to make our lives something more, to grow as people, to do more for the world, for ourselves, for others. But they almost immediately become a trap. They chain us to something that may not remain relevant to us for an entire year. We look back on them and get angry with ourselves for not staying true to them, for not fulfilling our promise. It’s not healthy. We create a cage and then punish ourselves for not wanting to be in it.

This year, I have been working hard to cut away ties from the past. I’ve thrown out old ideas for blog posts I’ve collected. I’ve trashed notes one creative projects. I’ve cleared out old emails, old documents, old photos that I was holding onto only because they were attached to some future plan.

It’s not been easy for me. I tend to hold onto ideas (and to physical items) that link me with feelings I had about how my future would be. In other words, my present is holding onto past ideas of my future.

The problem with that is that it makes my present about everything but the present. When I am not sure what I want to work on, I go to those lists for “inspiration”. But those ideas came from a place I am no longer in, so they are not relevant to my current situation. I’ve written about this before, when I first started this process: outdated ideas are the opposite of insightful.

Still, getting rid of past ideas has been a really hard thing. I have seriously struggled to do it. I’ve worked on it all year and still have things I hold on to “just in case.” When it comes down to it though, I’m using those ideas to hold myself back.  Having those lists is the best distraction in the world because it allows me to look for ideas there instead of digging into myself and acknowledging what I really need to be working on now, in this moment.

I am working hard to really look at the moment I am in, what I am interested in now, what makes me curious now, what makes me excited now and do that thing. New Year’s resolutions don’t fit the mold for that. They are the cart before the horse. On December 31st, we decide all the things we need to do for the next year, despite the fact that we have no idea what will come into our lives, what will inspire us, what will move us, what will light us up with creative energy. They tell us what we have to do without allowing room for change, for growth, for diversion.

This year, instead of making a list of creative projects (and this is seriously the hardest thing for me!), I am going to create a space where I document the things I end up doing over the course of the year.

I like this approach for two reasons.

It feels so open and full of potential! The future is suddenly allowed to become whatever it wants to. My creative energy isn’t forced into something I may not be interested in after a few weeks.

It also means that at the end of the year I will have a list of things I did that I never planned to do – things that I accomplished purely because I found them interesting, because they sparked my curiosity, because they were exactly what I needed at that moment.

I love the surprise that brings. Instead of knowing what I will be doing (or not doing and feeling guilty about), I will watch a list of things grow over the year and be able to look back on these things that made me happy, made me excited, made my life sparkle just a little bit more.

I have no idea what I will get up to over the next year in my creative life, but I know I am looking forward to seeing that list at the end of the year and smiling at how life takes us to unexpected places when we let it.

See you next time,

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Not Too Shabby

Hi all,

Long time no chat. As it turns out, there are certain things in life that suck the creative life force out of you pretty quickly. I have been in the thick of one of those things for the last month and a half and am happy to announce that I finally walked out the door and will never look back.

Hooray, huzzah and all the other happy, onomatopoetic sentiments one can muster!

This liberation has allowed my mental imagery to shift back to bursts of color, fanciful designs and long-shelved project concepts. One such whim is a series of Oman-based postcards I’ve had floating around in my head for quite some time. I saw visions of these over the summer, but, as is so often the case, when my vision is clearest my resistance is strongest.

My problem is that I’m not an artist. I mean I AM an artist, I have the soul of an artist, the inclinations of an artist, the desire to make art central to my life…but artists are just so so cool and talented, right?

I am NOT cool or talented.

I’ve talked about this before: it seems that making art is really about letting go of what we think we have to be in order to be an artist so we can just get on with making art.

Lessons learned are often revisited, it seems.

My resistance stems from the fact that, when presented with a fantastic image in my mind, my hand struggles to render it on the page. It’s a real battle, folks. I want so much to share what I’ve got in my head, but the only tools I can think to do it with seem to lock up and refuse to cooperate the minute I touch them. Woe is me.

Here’s where the letting go comes into play.

I won’t ever be a Rembrandt. I won’t ever draw still lifes with peaches so ripe you can smell them through the canvas. I won’t ever draw a dog that looks like anything but a pig.

But maybe I’m destined to draw the best damn pig ever. Maybe my style is abstraction, imperfection, essence as opposed to replication. Maybe that’s just who I am. Maybe that’s my thing, the way I share what’s in my head.

There are talented people in the world – incredibly amazingly talented people – and, rather than envy them, I would like to be proud of them, encourage them, support them, send people their way because they deserve to be found and fawned over.

The only way I can have the energy to promote other people, however, is if I put myself out there as much as they do. When it comes down to it, we all feel the same way when it comes to sharing our work. We all respect and appreciate other people with beautiful talents. And we all battle imposter syndrome every time we sit down to the page. All of us.

We’re all constantly re-learning that there is no spoon. There is no creative blessing that makes some people artists and other people not. There’s only art. Making stuff. Trying things out. Experimenting. Practice. And, above all, having fun and not worrying about the end result.

Letting go and riding on the wings of your creative voice. That’s where the joy is at anyway, isn’t it? For some that might be in mastering the details of a portrait, for others it might be expressing their emotions with flashes of paint across a wall. For me, making art means playing with whatever ideas come to mind in that moment without concern about the final product.

That makes it sound so easy. Oh boy. Let me tell you right now that it is not. Letting go of the dissonance between the images in my mind and the replication I make on paper can be a serious battle – which is weird because the words themselves imply something so simple.

“Letting go” alludes to a muscular decision, an action that can be done with the zap of a few neurons. Maybe it can for some, but for me it feels like just the opposite. It often takes all the energy I can muster.

I’m working on this by trying to get myself to the page / the canvas / the paper as often as i can but, as you can see, I often avoid the battle all together by just disappearing from my creative pursuits for long periods of time. I’d love to say it won’t happen again, that I’ll see you regularly from now on, but that would just let us both down.

For today, at least, I have great news: I finally sat down with this postcard concept and gave it a whirl. Here’s the final product for you to oooh and ahhh over.

Wadi Shab Sketch with color and pen-002

For those of you who don’t live in Oman, this is a painting of possibly my favorite wadi around: Wadi Shab (here’s where you appreciate the pun in the title of this post…I’ll wait…)

Because of the previously mentioned internal battle I have when I’m making art, I also wanted to share the process with you – mainly to show you that I really did plan to give up a few times along the way.

Scanned Work

I’m learning that, to get to the end product, you have to make your way there in stages. Don’t laugh. It really was news to me. I always thought artists pulled up a canvas and worked their way from top left to bottom right, every line a perfectly finished product until they reached the end. That’s very much not the case. Each work is a lasagna of refinement. You start with the basics, the general layout, the big essential elements and work your way to the details (there’s a life lesson in there I’m sure).

The funny thing was, nothing looked like the end product until I actually got to the end. It wasn’t until I scanned the last image in and saw it on my computer that I thought “Well damn! That looks like exactly what I had in my mind! Whaddya think of that?”

I didn’t see that coming.

All along the way I wanted to stop and give up, frustrated that it wasn’t what I thought it would be, what it could be. But, for a change of pace, I didn’t. This one time I kept telling myself it was just practice, my first attempt and nothing more, that it didn’t matter what it looked like at the end because I was learning along the way.

I don’t know how I managed to let go with this one, but I’m pretty freakin’ pleased with the result. I’m even more pleased that I forced myself to learn my lesson once again while still having fun along the way. And I’m pleased that I could think of such a fitting title for this post while also making it a cheesy pun.

I’m easily pleased.

Until next time.

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Moving!

Hello all,

I wanted to let you know that, as of today, I am officially changing websites from this one to my new artist site fromNoelle.com. It’s an easier place for me to play with different ideas, experiment with my art and writing, and organise all my projects in a more perusable way. Hopefully you will come along for the ride and follow along with me there too :).

Because you have all been so kind and supportive this last year, I also wanted to give you a sneak peek at the next post going up on the new site! I’ve been playing with watercolor a lot this last week and finally got brave enough to attempt a scene of Oman I’ve wanted to paint for ages.

A sneak peek of the next post on fromNoelle.com!

A sneak peek of the next post on fromNoelle.com!

Thanks for all the support you’ve given the last year here on Three Miles an Hour. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the new site!

Best,

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Next!

Hi friends,

Well, it’s finally finished. It took a little longer than I hoped but I am happy (and  pretty proud) to say that I finished my mandala project! Yay!!

Now that I am on the other side, I can definitely say I will be making more of these (they have a tendency to doodle themselves out all the time now). With well over the required 30 attempts under my belt, I now have a much better feel for what kind of style I like and what is natural for me. I tried a lot of things and played with a lot of ideas, and in the end I found myself constantly going back to the Indian motifs. There is just something about those patterns that moves my soul. I can’t get enough.

Although I made more mandalas than I have pictured here, I wanted to show you a sample that reflects the process as a whole, not just the best pieces. Some of them are absolutely awful and that’s part of the reality of testing things like this out. I had some brilliant ideas that I just could not get on paper. I also had some days where I thought it was going pear-shaped and then it ended up becoming a piece I really liked.

So without further ado, I give you: my mandalas!

Along with the photos, I’ll share with you some things I learned in the process about mandalas in general and my style and preferences in particular. Hopefully it’s helpful for anyone trying to figure out their own groove with their art. Continue reading

My Mandala

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I don’t like being stuck.

To give you an example, let’s look at my work history, shall we? In my 15 years as an adult, I have worked:

  • at a chocolate shop
  • at a book store
  • at a vet clinic
  • in a hotel
  • at a university
  • at a human rights NGO
  • at a financial institution
  • as an accountant
  • as a manager
  • as a financial advisor
  • as an intern
  • as a nanny
  • as a tutor
  • as the owner of my own business
  • as a blogger
  • a walker
  • as a newbie artist

I don’t like being stuck.

I don’t stick with things for long because, you know what, I don’t have a lot of time and I want to do lots of things. My work philosophy is that if I know how to do all the parts of my job, it is time to move on to something new. If I apply for a job it is because I want to learn how to do the things I am meant to do there, not because I know them already. I like learning, I like growing, I like a challenge.

Here’s the downside though: I get scared of committing to things because I think of the innumerable other things I *could* be doing with that time. I get scared that if I throw myself into a project (like, I don’t know, learning how to make art or illustrate a book, hypothetically) that I will be stuck with it forever…dun dun dun. I give it a half-assed attempt and then when I still suck I tell myself that it was obviously a bad idea and I should find a new project.

Combine this train of thought with the fear (of both failure and success) I have over becoming an artist, and pretty much nothing gets done. I find ways to stay busy so I feel like I am making progress, but not very deep down I know that I am actually running away from committing to the things I sincerely want to be doing.

It’s a problem.

I was pondering on this situation and it reminded me of relationships. You know how sometimes people are scared of getting married so they just move in together? I was thinking that might be a good approach to this problem. Marriage is big and scary and forever. Moving in is a month to month kind of deal.

If I apply the same approach to my art, it’s much less scary. I don’t have to make grand announcements to the world, promises about things I will do forever, vows to remain loyal to a project. I can have a  month to month relationship with a project; agree that we’ll see how it goes and move forward from there; give it my best shot, make it my one and only, but understand that we aren’t legally obligated to each other for as long as we both shall live.

To that end, I decided that this month I will move in with mandalas. I’ve found some amazing artists on Instagram who do incredible things with mandalas and it is really inspiring stuff. I haven’t ever made them before but I’ve always been drawn to the Indian/tribal/folky style that accompanies them, and I’d love to learn some of the techniques. I’ve made a few this week and I notice small improvements every time, which is really motivating to see.

Here are a few for your viewing pleasure:

The Earth Reversed

My first mandala! To learn the basics of construction, I went to the great site CreateMixedMedia.com. I titled this The Earth Reversed because it made me think of an inverted view of the universe: the core of the earth is on the outside then it moves in through the ocean, the land, and into the sun and heavens. Drawing it reminded me that life is all about perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mandala #2. This was a late night session where I couldn’t get to sleep because I was too excited about drawing. I was feeling Indiany and went with some of the motifs I have seen in lots of henna patterns recently. I like how delicate it looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015-06-23

In my third attempt, I was inspired by Anna Eidenberg (probably the person I most frequently stalk on Instagram). She does amazing things with mandalas. I noticed that she doesn’t always hold herself within the boundaries of the circles or other geometric elements but often breaks out with beautiful organic shapes. I used that idea as a starting off point for this piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So for this month, I am moving in with manadalas (does the plural have an s?). I’ll make 30 of them. It might not be one every day – we’ll aim for an average – and I’ll see what other projects call my name at the end of that time. I’m not committed to this being my thing forever, but, to paraphrase Andy Grammar, during this month I might meet other projects at the bar who are super hot and want to buy me drinks, but I will stay true to my mandala (hehe – I am pretty pleased with that pun).

See you next time!

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PS you should probably listen to this song right now. I’m slighty obsessed.

An Aristic Retreat

Voices from Within

Cutting the ribbon to kick off the show! Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery

One of the most liberating things I have done in my quest to unleash my inner artist is to suck up my fears and attend the Gailani Art Retreat in Muscat. The idea of painting in front of other people was absolutely terrifying, and for the majority of my first retreat I was actually shaking a little. But I made it through the first one, eagerly went back for a second, and am happy to announce that one of my paintings was in the retreat’s Voices from Within exhibition last Saturday!

At my last retreat, I met a muse in a new 9-year old friend who had no fear about changing things up mid course. When I was stuck she wouldn't hesitate to throw something on the canvas to give me a new starting point. It was fantastic! There's nothing like a kid to help you paint without fear.

At my last retreat, I met a muse in a new 9-year old friend who had no fear about changing things up mid-course. When I was stuck, she wouldn’t hesitate to throw something on the canvas to give me a new starting point. It was fantastic! There’s nothing like a kid to help you paint without fear. Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery

These retreats are such a breath of fresh air. The purpose is not to create amazing pieces of art (though they create themselves anyway!), it is to spend an entire day dedicated to allowing your artistic expression to find its way to the canvas.

If at any point, you appear to be planning, plotting, outlining or in any other way deciding on the future of a piece, Gailani (the fantastic artist and founder of the retreats) will come by and mess everything up for you. He’ll turn the canvas upside down, streak red paint across your blue background or take your brush away and slap your hands on the canvas. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process, which makes every moment interesting and exciting. Every stroke, every motion is about doing what you feel inspired to do.

Gailani Retreat Growth

These paintings came from the retreat theme of growth. I have come to see growth as a natural and inevitable fact of life – a guaranteed outcome from everything we do – but it is something I have often tried to control in my own life. I’ve attempted to force growth in a predetermined direction (despite its inclination otherwise) or inhibit it to maintain my own status quo out of fear. This retreat challenged me to let growth happen as it wants to without judging it, forcing it, censoring it or editing it. Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery.

Although I couldn’t be in Muscat for the exhibition, I am really pleased to know that it had a huge turnout (over 430 guests!) and inspired more people to look to art as a way of finding their voice. I certainly look forward to meeting some of them at the next retreat.

To read more about the exhibition, check out the Times of Oman write up here! It really captures the purpose of the retreats and the brave and engaging spirit of all the people who participate in it. I’m so glad I’ve found this group of artists in my new hometown.

See you next time!

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An Artistic Retreat

Voices from Within

Cutting the ribbon to kick off the show! Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery

One of the most liberating things I have done in my quest to unleash my inner artist is to suck up my fears and attend the Gailani Art Retreat in Muscat. The idea of painting in front of other people was absolutely terrifying, and for the majority of my first retreat I was actually shaking a little. But I made it through the first one, eagerly went back for a second, and am happy to announce that one of my paintings was in the retreat’s Voices from Within exhibition last Saturday!

At my last retreat, I met a muse in a new 9-year old friend who had no fear about changing things up mid course. When I was stuck she wouldn't hesitate to throw something on the canvas to give me a new starting point. It was fantastic! There's nothing like a kid to help you paint without fear.

At my last retreat, I met a muse in a new 9-year old friend who had no fear about changing things up mid-course. When I was stuck, she wouldn’t hesitate to throw something on the canvas to give me a new starting point. It was fantastic! There’s nothing like a kid to help you paint without fear. Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery

These retreats are such a breath of fresh air. The purpose is not to create amazing pieces of art (though they create themselves anyway!), it is to spend an entire day dedicated to allowing your artistic expression to find its way to the canvas.

If at any point, you appear to be planning, plotting, outlining or in any other way deciding on the future of a piece, Gailani (the fantastic artist and founder of the retreats) will come by and mess everything up for you. He’ll turn the canvas upside down, streak red paint across your blue background or take your brush away and slap your hands on the canvas. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process, which makes every moment interesting and exciting. Every stroke, every motion is about doing what you feel inspired to do.

Gailani Retreat Growth

These paintings came from the retreat theme of growth. I have come to see growth as a natural and inevitable fact of life – a guaranteed outcome from everything we do – but it is something I have often tried to control in my own life. I’ve attempted to force growth in a predetermined direction (despite its inclination otherwise) or inhibit it to maintain my own status quo out of fear. This retreat challenged me to let growth happen as it wants to without judging it, forcing it, censoring it or editing it. Photo credit: ReeHan Photographic Gallery.

Although I couldn’t be in Muscat for the exhibition, I am really pleased to know that it had a huge turnout (over 430 guests!) and inspired more people to look to art as a way of finding their voice. I certainly look forward to meeting some of them at the next retreat.

To read more about the exhibition, check out the Times of Oman write up here! It really captures the purpose of the retreats and the brave and engaging spirit of all the people who participate in it. I’m so glad I’ve found this group of artists in my new hometown.

See you next time!

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