Creative Pursuits

Celebrating a Small Win

This month, the prompt from the Ali Edwards OLW team is all about celebrating our small wins . . . which is a really great topic for any month, actually. (I highly recommend thinking about the little things you DID accomplish . . . rather than all the things you didn't get around to.)

Anyway, I thought I'd share one of my small wins with you today.


Last spring, I was experiencing a bit of a "breakthrough" with my painting. I could actually tell . . . that my paintings were improving; that all the lessons I'd been learning were coming together.

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I was finding the time (making the time) to do a little painting every day, and that regular practice was beginning to pay off for me.


I was challenging myself and trying new things . . . just going for it in ways I didn't before. I was becoming more confident -- and more comfortable about taking risks.

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But then . . . I needed to clear out my "studio" (I laugh when I call it that; it sounds so pretentious . . . and it's really just my desk in Brian's old room where I have my painting stuff permanently set up) so Erin could use it as her office during her month-long stay with us.

I packed up my painting stuff (and there is a lot of "stuff" involved), and moved it to a work table in the basement where I planned to continue painting every day. After all, I was on a roll! 

But you know what? I never touched the stuff again once I moved it down to that table. I didn't even arrange it so I COULD paint. It just sat there, making me feel bad every time I walked by. So that painting of the barn up there? The first painting in this post? It's the last thing I've painted since mid-May. Even after Erin left (a month ago now!), I just left all that painting stuff sitting in a sad heap on that work table.

But over the weekend, I decided enough was enough. I forced myself to clear off that work table in the basement, and drag all my painting stuff back up to my (ahem) "studio" and set things to rights again.


I haven't actually picked up my paintbrushes yet. But that's not really the point here. I took the first step. I put things back together, which paves the way for my being able to paint again.

And that, my friends, is a small win that I'm celebrating today.


How about you? What small win might you be celebrating this month?


Putting an Accent on the Holiday

I haven't been knitting much lately. Oh, I have another Musselburgh hat on the needles (for Tom, but not for Christmas) that I work on while watching TV. But lately I've been sewing (Christmas gifts) and doing some embroidery (because I'm smitten) and . . . well . . . poking fiber into linen with a needle.


I made a needle felted poinsettia pillow.

I bought this kit last year (oops . . . . tried to link, but the shop's website is closed for the holidays and restocking; sorry), but I was too busy cranking out gifts so I put it away (true to form) and tried not to feel too guilty about it. Anyway. I pulled the kit out at Thanksgiving and decided to give it a go this year.

I really love needle felting. There's something therapeutic about handling that fleece and then poking at it with a sharp needle. Repeatedly. It's good for stress; kind of mindful.

Anyway. This is a really simple kit (I really wish I could share a link. . . ). Very straightforward. Kind of like paint-by-numbers, only with fiber instead of paint. It started out looking like this . . . 


The design is printed onto the (pre-sewn!) linen pillow cover, and you just apply the fiber - by poking - as drawn out for you.


Felted Sky kits are very well put together. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, there are links to videos if you want to see the steps along the way, and all the materials are included. (Again, wish I could share a link.) This is considered an "easy" or "beginner" level kit, and I would agree . . . although it is a bigger project and still takes some time to complete. (Poking fiber with a needle is not necessarily a fast process. . . )

I did veer off the instructions a bit, though. I decided to spice things up a bit . . . 


(I wanted to add a little "depth" to the piece, so I added some "shadows." But the pillow doesn't really need that.

When I was finished with the needle felting, I just gave it a good steam press and popped it over a pillow form.

A lovely Christmas accent!


It makes me smile every time I walk into the room.


(Here's a link to the Felted Sky Studios Instagram account if you want to check out some of their products/designs.)


How about you?
What are you making these days?



A Fiber-y Landscape

Earlier this spring, something fiber-y/painterly showed up in my Instagram feed . . . and it spoke to me immediately. (It was this kit from Felted Sky.) And I should clarify here . . . It didn't just speak to me. It yelled my name and YOO-HOOed - loudly - from across the way.

Now I've done a bit of needle felting, and I actually really enjoy it. And I've done quite a lot of painting watercolor landscapes, and I really enjoy that, too. So painting-with-fiber seems to be an appealling combination and right up my alley.

Yeah. I fell hard, friends.
Because this kit? It checked ALL my boxes!

Landscape (check)
Lake-in-the-woods (check)
Painting . . . (check)
WITH FIBER (check)

I ordered it.

I decided it would be my summer, up north project! Something I could take up to the cabin and work on while I'm there -- and, once complete, I could hang the finished object right on the wall up there.


I had no idea how much fun this thing would be!


Can you say . . .  addictive?

SO much more fun than I expected it to be.
It's meditative and satisfying.
I'm having a hard time putting it down!


The kit comes with everything you need (including the frame) (although you do already need to have a mat). There are very detailed and step-by-step directions (although the painter in me is veering from the directions a bit here and there), and there is a video to accompany the instructions as well (although I haven't used that).

I thought this project would last me all summer.


But . . . now I'm thinking it might not last me the week!


How about you? What are you making right now?


Old Dogs, New Tricks

A couple of months ago, Vicki told us all about this very fun online cooking class she and her sister took together. And that got me thinking! My sister's birthday was coming up (at the time; it's a month passed now) . . . and maybe I could give her an online cooking class that we could take together! Wouldn't that be fun?

So I got more information from Vicki . . . and started digging around. Now, New Orleans style cooking (the class Vicki and her sister did) probably wouldn't appeal much to my sister. While she likes to cook, that's not really in her wheelhouse. I needed to cast my net a little further. . . and then I found that Sur La Table has a huge selection of online cooking and baking classes.


My sister loves to bake -- so I signed us both up for a 2-session croissant baking class. My thinking was that neither of us would attempt croissants on our own. They're technically difficult and the recipes/directions are totally intimidating . . . so it seemed a class setting might be the best way to learn how to make them. Plus . . . croissants immediately remind us of our travels together (and our shared love for Louise Penny's "Three Pines" book series).

We had our class this past weekend.


It was really fun! The advance materials were good, and we were able to get ourselves prepped and ready to go before the class started. (Reading too far ahead, though, was still totally intimidating! Laminated dough is not for the weak of heart . . . ) The pacing was good, so we were able to keep up with the steps along with the online instruction.


The tips and tricks were invaluable. And for me, the professional tips on rolling out dough . . . worth the price of admission right there!


And by the end of Day 1, we had laminated croissant dough proofing in the refrigerator . . . 


. . . all ready for Day 2. Which was all rolling, cutting, and shaping our croissants. More proofing . . . 


And finally . . . baking!


And, in the end, we each had a delicious batch of croissants!


They were seriously GOOD.


And I feel confident enough to make them again . . . on my own!

My sister had great success with her batch of croissants, too. It was a lot of fun to take the class with my sister. Although we couldn't see each other during the class (neither of us turned our cameras on), we texted and shared photos with each other throughout both sessions. Maybe I'll be able to talk her into another baking class soon . . . French Apple Tarte Tartin, maybe? Or Raspberry Macarons?

You really can teach old dogs new tricks!


Cut and Paste

If you've ever joined Ali Edwards for her One Little Word year-long workshop, you know that February . . . is vision board month. Some people really enjoy making vision boards; some people hate it. Me? I LOVE it! (I make little vision boards for myself all the time, in fact.)

There is nothing I find more centering . . . than sitting with a pile of magazines in front of me and a pair of scissors in my hand. Just clipping out images and words that resonate in some way. 


It's not about your "word" (if you have one) - or any other "goal." It's just about choosing what inspires. Words that speak to you. Images that appeal to you. It's a way to . . . see what pops up.


I ended up just creating my vision board this month right in the pages of my word-journal. 


I really like the way they turned out. A little introspective. Quiet. Kind of grounded. The way I want to feel this year.
(And - bonus! - I have plenty of extra clipped images to make more pages later.)

How about you? Do you like to cut and paste? Have you ever tried making a vision board?

True Confessions: A Different Kind of Making

I've been creating some sort of "family calendar" every year since 1992. It started when Erin was in preschool. Her teacher had the kids each make a monthly calendar featuring special kid-art (I remember lots of handprints. . . ). I ended up adding a photo of the kids to each month - and I gave the calendar to my parents for Christmas.

Big hit!

So the next year, I made them another calendar. This was back in the days before digital cameras, so I created monthly scrapbook layouts using printed photos and kid-art and pretty paper. It was pretty quick and easy, and again . . . 

Big hit!

And so it continued. Every year I made a calendar for my parents. "Technology" improved each year. Paper companies started creating pre-made calendars you could purchase, with pop-in spots for you to just add your own photos. (Still nothing digital, of course.) Voilà! Instant and easy gift that my parents loved! I just saved a few photos each year for the calendar and made quick work of the whole thing.

And then . . . came the digital camera.
And Shutterfly.

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Suddenly, there was a big upgrade in the photo calendar department! With a commenserate upgrade in the time it took to put one together each year. Not just "popping in a photo" anymore. Oh, no! All of a sudden it was a multi-step, time intensive project: culling through the 100s (maybe 1000s) of digital photos I so casually snapped all year long, uploading those photos to Shutterfly, making sure each family member was (kinda) represented equally - and that the photos (kinda) fit the month.

But, boy! Did those printed Shutterfly calendars look great! My parents LOVED them. And because it was all digital, you could get price breaks when you ordered more - so I started ordering one for myself, too.

And Shutterfly calendar technology just kept marching on! Soon you could personalize the dang things with birthdays and holidays -- and add MORE pictures to the little date squares. There were themes and formatting upgrades. It just kept getting more and more "professional" looking -- and . . . more and more time-intensive to actually DO.

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But . . . these calendars were my parents' most cherished gift every year. My mom used to say, wistfully, "I wish your sister would make me one, too." Now my sister has many, many talents and gifts. Photography is not her thing, and she's had no desire to create digital calendars. This is not a shortcoming in any way. She just . . . didn't want to go down the create-photo-calendar-for-our-parents path. So I expanded my calendar project to encompass ALL OF US. And our pets, too!

For years, it became my most dreaded holiday task. It became . . .  The Daunting Family Calendar. It took hours and hours every year. (And it made me really grumpy and not much fun to be around while I was doing it.) Gathering photos. Sorting photos. Uploading photos. Creating the calendar pages. So much work! But so worth it every year. My parents loved the calendars, my sister loved the calendar. I loved having it FINISHED. 

Then the kids went to college. They wanted their own copies of the Family Calendar. (Because how else would they know when everybody's birthdays were???) So I was now creating this monster calendar incorporating photos of/from 9 people and a growing number of dogs and cats! 

Big task. Many hours of work. But . . . the calendars turned out beautifully and, really, everybody loved them! So. I continued on. (It was only once a year anyway.)

Then, in 2016, my Mom died. The kids were all grown and scattered to the winds. My dad was downsizing and moving to a small apartment. I was overwhelmed with many things. I decided to . . . let the calendar go. We'd had a great run with it, but I just didn't have the heart for it. (How could I make a Family Calendar without my MOM in it???) Everyone understood. So 2017 became the Year Without a Family Calendar.

And you know what? We all missed it.

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So I started making them again for 2018. But I tried to make it more manageable for myself. Fewer photos. Fewer "special dates" on the calendar pages. I stopped including my sister's family (she was okay with it; she had grown weary of my constant nagging for photos she didn't like taking in the first place anyway). It's still a giant task. But. . . still a favorite gift. 

And a huge silver lining:  I have the most wonderful stack of Family Calendars going back to 2004 now (the first year I created a digital calendar).

I am right now, this week, putting the finishing touches on this year's Family Calendar. (I'm late this year. I lost track of the time.) Like always, I'll be so glad and relieved when it's done! But you know what else? I've enjoyed the process this year! Having less on my calendar and to-do list helps. But it's also been such a treat to scroll through my photos and see that . . . we've really made the best of a really crappy year! All of us. Yeah. The photos are different this year . . . we've got masks in some of them, "pandemic hair" in most of them, we're working from home and not-going-anywhere, and - most notably - we're not together. But we're . . . there. And we're smiling. And we look even . . . happy.

It's good perspective for me right now.
A nice reality check.
I'm really GLAD I'm creating the Family Calendar this year!
(But I'll still be really glad to get it off my list today. . . )


(The photos in this post are of the 2020 version of the Family Calendar, now hanging in my mudroom.)

A Pandemic Silver Lining Story

Today's post is in the Doing Things Differently Because Pandemic (And Finding That's a Good Thing) camp.

As I've mentioned over the years here, I regularly take art classes at our local KIA art school. I actually started taking photography classes right after I finished my chemo treatments (12 years ago now!!!) as a way to "move forward" after cancer treatment. But then, I switched over to drawing . . . and then colored pencil drawing . . . and, finally, about 5 years ago, to watercolor.


Watercolor . . . was what I really wanted all along. 

But watercolor is hard. And intimidating. It's one of the least forgiving of the painting "media" to work with. Because once you've got that paint on the page, there is no erasing, no turning back! (Although there are tricks. . . ) And that water. Oh, so much water sometimes. . . 

Anyway. Watercolor was especially challenging for me. I've taken lots of art classes in the past, but never watercolor. There is so much to learn, and it takes a lot of practice to get things looking even kinda-sorta like you imagine they might, or want them to. It is hard not to judge yourself harshly - with any art form, but I think especially with watercolor - because watercolor looks so easy, so simple, so . . . flowing and gentle and natural.

(It's not.)

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I have learned many, many lessons as a beginner watercolorist. My most important lessons, though, have had nothing to do with materials or technique or (the ever-elusive) "water management." No. My most important lessons have been all about myself.  Just allowing myself to be . . . Not Good; that it's okay to BE a beginner; to manage my expectations and learn from experience. 

These are hard lessons. (Or, at least, they are for me.)  My watercolor classes are a mix of students -- some who are just starting out (me) thrown right in with experienced students who didn't really need a "class" as much as they needed the weekly discipline and support of a "painting group." Oh, man. The intimidation at first was overwhelming! But, ultimately I found this kind of class structure to be a powerful learning environment. The experienced students were welcoming and encouraging and supportive. They helped me improve -- and, more importantly, they gradually became MY support group, too!

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Our pre-pandemic, 3-hour, in-person class sessions always kicked off with what our instructor called "show-and-tell" . . . when each of us shared what we'd been working on - at any stage in the process - for critique. (This is where the "support" part of all this really came in to play -- because the critique was always matched up with what the student needed. Newer, beginning students got encouraging words and helpful feedback, while more experienced students got the serious feedback they needed.) Then, our instructor would move on to the "demo" part of class. She'd select some piece for us to paint together -- always different styles, always different source material. She'd demo. She'd teach. We could either paint along with her . . . or just watch.

I always, always . . . just watched.
I almost never painted in class!

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I would go home after class, and sometimes try the demo on my own. But often, I didn't. (I did paint other things. I was big on the practicing; just not with the demos.) I had plenty of excuses for not doing the demos, but - if I'm honest with myself -  I was afraid to fail. I didn't want to paint in front of other people and have them see my attempt go right off the rails right off the bat. (Even though they wouldn't have cared and most of them went off the rails right off the bat, too.) I practiced my painting at home, privately . . . in my own little "studio" . . . and never really got the very freeing benefit of just . . . letting loose and trying new things on the fly!


Enter the pandemic.

Last May, my watercolor instructor moved her classes to a Zoom-based format (which was super awkward at first, but it really works now). It's been so wonderful to be with my watercolor group again! And we follow the same format as always . . . first the "show-and-tell"/critique, followed by the "demo." The big difference?

I paint along with the demos now!

Part of it is that I do the Zoom class right in my "studio," where all my painting stuff is already set up and it's very convenient to just . . . paint. But I know that the bigger part is that . . . I'm not worried about having a "bad start" in front of people. Because, of course, no one can see what you're doing on Zoom unless you show them!

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Over the past several months, I can tell that my painting is improving. I'm gaining more confidence about just . . . diving in and beginning. I'm (kinda-sorta) developing my own style. It's liberating to feel like I don't have to try to make my piece look just like the instructor's demo lesson. And . . .  I don't hesitate anymore to hold up my in-progress demo when our instructor asks at the end of class if anyone would like to show what they've been working on.

And this is big.

Maybe . . . by the time we all get to meet together for class in person again . . . I'll paint right there in real time!
And that is a Pandemic Silver Lining!


(The photos in this post are from my class sketch book, each showing a "demo" I painted during my Zoom classes.) (Including this one. In progress. From yesterday.)

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Inspiration You Can Eat

You never know when inspiration will strike.

It could be . . . a pattern of leaves. Or the light falling across the landscape. Maybe it's a shadow. Or the way colors work together. A particular texture, even.

Or . . . it could be a simple colander full of fresh blueberries that gets the inspiration flowing!


That happened to me yesterday. I didn't wake up planning to go on a bit of a baking binge, but it happened all the same . . . as soon as I saw those blueberries. (And smelled the fresh nectarines on my counter.) (And maybe it could even be the latest season of The Great British Baking Show. Who knows?)

But, suddenly, I was all in!


First up, pie crust. Then, while that cooled in the fridge, I was on to blueberry muffins. (Which were quite fine, warm from the oven with a glass of Chardonnay out on the patio, I might add.)


But then. . . the pièce de résistance! 

A blueberry nectarine galette. (Kinda like a pie, but more rustic and a little less fussy.)


And that, folks? 
That was dinner!


Inspiration . . . you can eat!

In Progress

We're having "work days" here at our cottage this week. Deep cleaning. Household tasks. Putting in the docks. "Lumberjacking." (Taking care of felled trees and clearning out some space at our "beach" -- now non-existent due to rising lake levels.)

Not much time for fun and games. 

Or knitting.

But my watercolor class still meets via Zoom on Tuesday nights! We're working on still life compositions right now. Mine . . . has a definite up north feel . . . 


In progress. . . coming along.
(Bonus points if you can tell what it is.)

What are you working on these days?



My New (ab)Normal

I haven't picked up my paintbrushes since the pandemic canceled my watercolor classes in early March.

I've wanted to.
I think about painting quite a lot.
I even organized all my painting stuff.

I just . . . haven't.

So I was really excited when my watercolor instructor contacted me two weeks ago and explained she was going to do a "pilot" watercolor class on Zoom . . . and she asked me if I'd like to participate. 

Hell YES!  


Last night was our first class. (Bonus about Zoom classes: I can even do this from our cabin up north . . . where we are this week.)  It wasn't without its technical glitches, that's for sure.  But I think she'll work things out as we go.  (After all, this is a "pilot" class.)  I don't know that this format would work for a beginning class, but for this group . . . well, we all know each other because we've been painting together for years, and we've got the watercolor basics down already.  So that helps in this new format.

It felt really good to get everything set up before class.


And to just work through lesson elements in my little sketchbook.


It felt nice.
Almost (but not quite) . . . normal.
I guess you could say it was my new (ab)normal.


Reminder:  If you haven't already joined the discussion of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, please do check out the discussion questions posted yesterday here (Bonny's blog), here (Carole's blog), and here (my post yesterday).