Posted in Life

Pioneer Day Musings

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The way of the pioneer is always rough. –Harvey S. Firestone

Today is Pioneer Day.  For those of you from areas that don’t observe this holiday, it remembers and honors pioneers both past and present, but most especially those pioneers that made the journey across the American continent and settled the West.  They were people willing to brave the harsh conditions for hope of a better life, many of them driven away from their old homes by persecution.

When I was a teenager I had the opportunity to participate in a pioneer trek reenactment, where we donned old-fashioned clothes, piled as little gear as possible in wooden handcarts, and hiked across the Wyoming wilderness for a few days.  Going into this experience, I’ll admit was not thrilled. I had to leave marching band camp a day early to make the trek and arrived with three hours of sleep and a sprained ankle. But the next few days changed my life.

On the first day we only walked a few miles, pulling our carts through the historic site at Martin’s Cove, and the leaders told us the cove’s story.  A group heading west had gotten a late start and had mishaps along the way, and didn’t cross the continental divide before winter set in. Many died of hunger and exposure to the elements, but many were rescued and brought into the cove, which provided some shelter from the winter storms.  I was in awe, not only that the tired company kept pushing forward, but that some who had already made it to the Salt Lake Valley would go back out into that storm to rescue the struggling company.

We were organized in small groups and called ourselves “families,” with one shared handcart per family that we took turns pushing.  My “parents” were rock solid, always helping push the cart, keeping us all hydrated, and keeping our spirits up. I had three “sisters,” two around my age and one a few years younger, and we bonded within the first quarter mile.  My three “brothers” took chivalry to new levels and were constantly pushing on the cart. They never implied that we couldn’t do it, but they never made us ask for help.  I covered the last two miles of the day with the oldest brother, and we talked nonstop about everything, life, school, health, religion, politics–all this with a boy I hadn’t even known hours before.  I imagined pioneer families traveling in a similar fashion: talking, singing, all helping push, nothing but each other and the trail.

The next day was our longest, covering over fifteen miles on the trail known as Rocky Ridge.  The day was long, hot, dusty, and sweaty, and the ridge was very aptly named. We pushed our little handcart up steady hills and across narrow rivers, over rocks so worn down that we could still see grooves cut into the rock from years of wagon wheels.  Halfway through the day we had the “women’s pull,” where the women from each family pulled the handcarts up an incline without the men’s assistance.  All the internet articles and rallies could never mean more to the feminist in me than those few minutes where I struggled up the hill with my sisters, in memory of all the single women and single mothers who made the journey west alone.  I can barely image the strain of being a single mom with all my modern conveniences; I can’t even fathom what these women endured.

After over a dozen miles as we neared the end of the trail, something magical started to happen.  We were so tired and sore, but our muscles stopped protesting. I’d done about all the mental complaining I had the capacity for, and my brain finally moved on and stared looking around.  The dry flat frontier, with all it’s orange rocks and grayish sagebrush, looked newly beautiful against the strikingly blue sky. My siblings faces, free of makeup and worn with lack of sleep and trail dust, looked newly beautiful as their happiness and sudden energy shone through.  Our wobbly handcart continued its familiar creaking, my water continued to taste like dirt, my blisters continued to pop, our pa continued cracking terrible jokes, and my brothers continued kicking pebbles ahead of them on the trail. I caught some sense of what the original trek might have been like, and I could feel their persistence and hope in those worn down rocks.  And as we walked down the final hill, my dad who had come to help prepare food came running up to meet me, and cried and hugged like fools.

That night we all had enough every to walk another fifteen miles.  We pulled up our full skirts and waded through a river, skipped rocks, explored the brush, built fires, practiced the square dances we’d learned, sang every tired old pioneer song we knew.  We were all nasty and dirty and achy but no one bothered to notice. When we packed up the next day and headed home, the world seemed somehow altered.

This Pioneer Day, I’m celebrating the beautiful country these people settled that I get to live in without putting in the effort.  I’m celebrating my ancestors who walked those trails, and my newfound family who walked those trails with me. Most of all, I’m celebrating human tenacity, our ability to laugh and sing even in the darkest times, and our innate drive to press forward into the unknown and accomplish the impossible.

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Posted in Life, Painting, Writing

Taken Seriously

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Photo by Pixabay

If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. –Gary Vaynerchuk

I’m kind of self-conscious about my art.  

I’ve known several other creative people that are; I think it may be an occupational hazard.  Creators often hesitate to share their work with others, and I think there are multiple reasons why.  Of course we all have our self-doubts, and sometimes don’t want to share for fear of being told we’re awful.  We also often create in a vacuum, with only our own thoughts and feedback, so sharing our work can just feel plain weird.  

For me, there is one underlying fear that I think is the main cause of my hesitation: the fear of not being taken seriously.

I’m sure you know what I mean.  When you create something, you put a part of yourself into it.  Sharing your masterpiece with someone you care about can feel like baring your soul.  And as much as it would hurt if they hated it, it hurts more if they’re indifferent or patronizing or treat it like it’s nothing.  Suddenly you’re a little kid again, proudly showing your dad the picture you colored, only to be met with the crushing and distracted “that’s nice sweetie, please don’t bother daddy right now.”  We’d like to think that we’re all past that stage–that now we’re mature, we’re self-assured, we use real supplies and not discount craft kits, and we are “real” artists. But there are always those who, whether they mean to or not, still treat our creating like a kid having fun with crayons.  Fun, sometimes cool, a good pastime, but nothing meaningful or valuable.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a casual artist.  Art is fun, and if you want to just do it as a fun hobby, that’s great.  But I wanted more than that. I wanted my art to be more than just a pastime, and I wanted other people to see it as more too.  

When I was in my second semester of college taking a painting concepts class, I mentioned to my mom that I might want to try working toward being a professional artist.  And she literally laughed out loud. She recovered quickly and for the rest of the conversation spoke very carefully, trying to both show support for me and talk me out of it.  I really can’t blame her for reacting the way she did. I’ve always been practical and was quite successfully pursuing a STEM major. She knew I liked to paint and draw, but she still saw it as just a hobby.  

It was around this point that I realized the heart of the issue: I wasn’t taking myself seriously.  I enjoyed creating, I knew I wasn’t terrible, and part of me really did want to seriously pursue it.  But part of me saw myself just like my mom did. I still felt like just a kid playing with art supplies; harmless, fun, maybe diverting, but nothing professional or real.  Painting was my minor, not my major. Art was what I did in my spare time, and I usually didn’t let anyone see it. After talking to my mom that day, I realized she and everyone else wouldn’t take my art seriously because I didn’t either.

That is one of the most important things I’ve learned in all my years creating: as cheesy as it sounds, you have to believe in yourself first.  Sometimes there will be people who love seeing what you make, but those who will actually support you making it a career are few and far between.  Sometimes there will be people who hate what you do. Sometimes there will be people who just see it as a waste of time and needless use of pollusive chemicals.  People will always have their own opinions and you usually can’t change them.  For me, my family is always very positive about my art but are all too practical to really want me to pursue it.  That’s okay.  They’re right, it really isn’t a practical option for me to throw all my efforts toward art.  I’m still learning, and to an extent my art is still just a hobby.  But if I ever want it to become more than that, it’ll have to start with me.  They’ll never believe in it unless I do.

I still haven’t really worked out this issue, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on being taken seriously as an artist (or writer, or filmmaker, or musician, or any creative thing you do).  For any of you who have felt like I did, remember that you’re the one creating, not anyone else.  You’re the artist.  You’ve earned that title.  Take yourself seriously.  Just not too seriously 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized

#TBT: When I Was Graduating High School and Over-analyzed Everything

At this point I’m torn between future and past, between the urge to move on with life and the compelling tug of being a kid while I can.

Part of me longs for it to end now, that sarcastic voice in the back of my head that’s felt senioritis for months, justifies every act of procrastination, and stubbornly insists that I’ve already done my time.  That voice is frustrated, irritated with the very thought of doing this mess for another year, bored of standardized spoon-fed learning that serves her no purpose of pleasure, fed up with this quarantined crowd of drama and hormones.  More than anything else, that voice is tired.  So tired she wants to curl up in a ball and there remain for eons.  She’s mentally and physically done.  She wants to sleep.  She wants to quit.

Part of me yearns to finish but not to go to sleep–to wake up.  To shake off the dreamlike dust of this sheltered town and blaze into action.  She wants to springboard off of graduation and hit the ground running.  She wants to explore oceans and forage through forests.  She wants to move and run and dream and make something happen, make her mark on this world. In a sense, she is also tired: tired of waiting for life, tired of gazing into the future, sitting in a desk, taking notes, scanning tests, conforming to the system, letting anything outside control her life.  She wants to live, right now, at the top of her lungs.

Part of me is relieved it isn’t yet over.  Part of me can’t forget the stories, the laughs, the music, the arguments, the memories.  She’s reminiscing, filing away ballots and essays and awards, clinging to any shred of happiness and refusing to let go.  She doesn’t like to admit it, but she’s afraid. She’s afraid afraid to move on, afraid to let go, afraid she won’t be able to handle the unknown vista of adulthood.  The thought of childhood ending makes her want to hide in a blanket fort and refuse to be dragged out.  She worries that the best years of life are passing her by.  She wishes she could turn back the clock, slow time, hold on a moment longer.

Part of me is simply content.  She loves high school.  She’s knows it will end but she knows it will be okay.  She’s unsure about the future, but she’ll face it as it comes. She accepts that she can’t control everything and no longer wants to try to.  She embraces the highs and endures the lows, looking for stars in the dark nights, rejoicing that thorn bushes have roses. She lives each moment for what it is.  She likes to think hers the healthiest way to approach the issue. 

–Spring 2016

Posted in Painting

100 Bad Paintings: How to Combat Perfectionism

crumpled paper on gray surface
Photo by Steve Johnson

Every artist has a closet full of bad paintings. –Unknown

As an artist, I struggle with perfectionism.  I’m sure you’ve done it too. Paints and pencils can be expensive, so we don’t want to waste them making trash.  We love art and want to make ours really good, obviously, so we set high expectations. Inevitably, we don’t always measure up, and it’s so easy to get frustrated or give way to unhealthy doubts and criticism.  

We know this.  We know we shouldn’t do this to ourselves, but so often, we do anyway.

So what is the solution?  

Here are six practical tips and suggestions that I’ve found have helped me in the past, as well as some I’m just starting to implement.

  1. Aim for improvement, not perfection.  Your art is not going to be perfect, especially not at first, so if that is your goal then you’re doomed to disappoint yourself.  The goal is not to be perfect right now; the goal is to improve.  As long as your art is getting better, you are succeeding.  Always remember that.
  2. Compare to your past work.  When you think your current project is looking really bad, pull out some of your old paintings and sketchbooks.  Even find some from your childhood.  If you’re anything like me, some of that old artwork will be so ugly it’s humiliating, and suddenly your current project looks much better.  Maybe it’s not perfect, but it’s much better than you used to be.  Again, the goal is improvement.  Seeing your progress can give you a boost of hope.
  3.  Find specific, fixable flaws.  When you see mistakes in your art, try to pinpoint exactly what it is about it that you don’t like.  Don’t just say “this is bad”: what about it is bad, and how could it be better?  Is the color too dull?  Is the angle too steep? Is the value too light or too dark?  Phrased like that, it’s much more obvious to see how the problem can be solved.  Dark values can be lightened, angles can be adjusted, colors can be remixed.  If you’ve messed up past the point of reasonable return, that’s okay too; at least you know what went wrong and can avoid making the same mistake again.
  4. Remember you are still learning.  The first time you tried anything, you were probably terrible at it.  Think of a baby becoming a track runner. They didn’t get it on their first try, or their second try, or their first several dozen tries.  But no one gets mad at them or calls them a failure for it.  Of course not!  They’re just a baby, and they’re still learning, and over time you can see the progress.  Once they can stand, they can start to walk.  Then they can try to run.  Then they can learn more technique, build endurance, and run faster. A professional track runner is never done, because they are always working to improve.  It’s the same for us as artists. None of us are beyond getting better. We’re like little kids learning how to run; some have been doing it for longer, some have some natural talent. Just like with kids, it doesn’t make sense to beat ourselves up for not being fantastic yet.  Of course not! We’re still learning, and over time you can see the progress.
  5. Realize that many artists hate their art before it’s done.  I saw a Facebook post recently that outlined the creative process in six simple steps: 1) This is awesome.  2) This is tricky.  3) This is trash.  4) I am trash.  5) This might be okay. 6)  This is awesome. I literally laughed out loud when I read this because it is so true for me.  All my paintings look hideous in their middle stages.  Almost every artist I’ve met works in a similar pattern. We start out inspired, then get frustrated and want to quit.  But if we stick with it and push through the yucky middle parts, it usually works out in the end.  So if you start to hate the piece you’re working on, join the club. Give it another shot.  You can probably make it better if you don’t quit on it.
  6. Make tons and tons of art.  This one comes with a story.  My old art professor told us the story of the only day he remembers from his ceramics class.  His teacher divided the group in two, instructing one half to create a perfect pot and instructing the other half to make as many pots as they could.  The hour passed, with the first group bent over in concentration and the second group rapidly emptying buckets of clay. At the end of the class, guess whose pots looked better?  The group that made several. They didn’t waste time trying to be perfect, they just focused on the process, and in the end they were more perfect for it.  I’ve heard several variations of the quote, but it goes something like this: you have to make 100 bad paintings before you’ll make any good ones.  I love the idea behind this quote. Your first several tries at learning something new are going to be awful, so you might as well get started and get them over with!  It’s not wasting your time because it makes you better, and it actually will get you where you want to be much faster. Set a goal to make five paintings in a week, or a drawing every day for a week.  Just dive right in, get your hands dirty, and bust out a bunch of art. Let it be less than perfect–just make stuff. The only way to get better is to practice, the more practice the better.

In the spirit of combating perfectionism I’m challenging myself to focus more on quantity than quality for the next few months, and I invite you to join me.  Let’s get our hands dirty and get some mileage behind our brushes. We’ll probably make a bunch of ugly art, but who cares? It’s all part of the process. At the end of a few months, we can spread out all of our creations and see how much effort we put in.

And maybe we’ll find that they aren’t so bad after all.

What do you to combat perfectionism?  Let’s help each other out in the comments 🙂

Posted in Life, Painting, Writing

The Inner Artist

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Photo by Jadson Thomas

I recently watched an interview with Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2, and he said something I haven’t stopped thinking about since.

[Part of Jack-Jack’s character came from] the idea that babies learn multiple languages easily before that door closes.  And you run into it all the time. I’d be drawing and somebody would say, ‘I wish I could draw,’ and I’d look at them and go, ‘Well, you did once, didn’t you?’  It’s just that somewhere along the line, you either stopped believing you could, or you lost interest in it. But everybody starts out drawing — it’s kind of natural — and the idea behind Jack-Jack is meant to tap into that. –Brad Bird

As children, when we are still innocent and genuine and relatively unspoiled by outside forces, what did we all like to do?  We liked to color. We liked to make sculptures out of mud, pick flowers, make up stories, smear glue all over the table and leave handprints on the walls.  I used to sit at our wooden kitchen table with scratch paper and a vat of crayons and spend hours, making everything from characters to floor plans to maps of my made up worlds.  I was young enough not to care what anyone thought of it, or if it would have good retail value, or if there was some more practical use of my time.  I drew, for the sole reason that I liked it and it made me happy.

This goes all the way back to the roots of human life.  Even in the earliest civilizations when people struggled just to survive, we have found evidence that they were making art.  They drew on cave walls, carved little designs into their tools, decorated the edges of their clothing.  Being an artist or a craftsman was a legitimate profession, even when there wasn’t enough food to sustain everyone or enough materials to spare; that’s how important this was.  Throughout time we can see this very human trait of creation, a core desire to make things beautiful and not just functional.

As adults in a modern society, we often try to cover up our inner artist.  We don’t draw anymore because, well, that’s what kids do. We stopped believing we could, lost interest, or moved on to more “adult-like” pursuits.  

But that inner artist is still there. It’s the part of you that watches for rainbows after a storm and sees shapes in the clouds. It’s the part of you that feels oddly satisfied seeing pouring paint or playing with slime made out of Elmer’s glue.  When your favorite song comes on, it’s the part of you that can still dance like nobody’s watching.

So to all the people who say they just aren’t the creative type, and all who claim to be but find themselves stuck in a rut, I challenge you to get reconnect with your inner artist.  Try a new recipe.  Try redecorating your living room. Try to play the piano again.  In a world that grows increasingly mechanical, professional, and emotionless, try to create something new and colorful and raw.  After all, we don’t just want our lives to be functional; we want them to be beautiful.

Posted in Uncategorized

#TBT: Arizona Sunset

I painted this in high school because I missed living in Arizona, and because it seemed like an easy project to tackle. I wanted to recreate the view of the sun setting over the backyard, framed by palm trees and the fence that surrounded the pool. It wasn’t expertly done, but I still like this piece for its simplicity and the memories it brings back. It reminds me that art doesn’t have to be perfect or complicated to make someone happy.

Posted in Life

America and Independence

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I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love. That’s what I see. That’s the America I know! –Barack Obama

Today we celebrated America’s Independence Day, and I have many thoughts.

We hear a lot of negativity about America.  “America is the most wasteful country, uses way more than its share of natural resources, and is ruining the planet.”  “America has the worst education system of the first world countries and we’re falling behind.” “People only celebrate the Fourth of July out of blind nationalism.”  “Trump is the worst thing that could’ve happened, Americans are such idiots.” “This country is founded on white male supremacy and discrimination.”

“America isn’t really the land of the free.”

These comments bother me.  

Now, despite being from a small Idaho town, I’m not blind to the problems this country faces.  I see the headlines and hear the stories. I know the deep flaws in the system. I’ve seen discrimination firsthand, seen the havoc we wreak on the ecosystem, seen the internet blow up over Trump’s latest outlandish comment or policy decision.  I get it. We have issues. When I read the stories and see how we’re affecting our planet, sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the sadness of it. We need to do better, much better. I don’t celebrate Independence Day out of blind nationalism or ignorance.

I celebrate Independence Day because it celebrates independence. I celebrate Independence Day because it pays respect to our armed forces and veterans.  I celebrate Independence Day because it calls back countless memories of childhood with sparklers and cheesecake and catching candy at parades, listening to Sousa marches and Fanfare for the Common Man, watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and America Rock, marching in the city parade, seeing my dad hang up the flag and read us scriptures about freedom.  It celebrates when the flag raises and the anthem plays and I never fail to feel something.

It celebrates the fact that when I see things in the world that are wrong, I have the right to speak out and do something about it.  The way some people talk, you’d think America was a third world dictatorship set up in the hunger games arena and ruled by the Stasi.  But there is the very key distinction: those people are talking.  I think sometimes we forget that the simple ability to complain is a right that people died for, not something we can take for granted.  We can instead be grateful we’re blessed enough to even have time to complain, and not spend every minute working to put food on the table or fearing for our lives.  We can instead use our freedom to accomplish something, to try to fix the problems we see both foreign and domestic.

I celebrate the countless people who fought for the American dream and built the nation I’m fortunate to live in.  I celebrate our founding fathers, who may have gotten a lot wrong but definitely got a lot right, especially considering where they came from and what they had to work with.  I celebrate all those who fought in battle and gave their last full measure of devotion so I and countless others could call themselves free.

Despite how far we still have to go, I celebrate how far we have come.

It’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you or me or anything else.  Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!  Either I’m dead right or I’m crazy! –Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington