Category: Reading Nook

A Capsule Wardrobe for Your Art Supplies? Meet Your Supply Set

Perhaps you’ve heard of a capsule wardrobe – a small collection of interchangeable pieces that simplifies your choices and makes your life easier. What if we applied the same principles to our art supplies?

So often we creatives get overwhelmed by all the options available to us. We’ve stockpiled mounds of supplies but don’t know what to choose or use. We’ve bought 17 thin-tipped black permanent pens looking for “the one.” We’ve been gifted with yarn that’s pretty but not practical. We experimented with embossing and realized it wasn’t for us. We’ve compensated for not having creative time by buying creative supplies. We love plenty but at some point joyful abundance becomes a mess of “stuff” that makes our hearts sink not soar.

Cut through creative chaos by creating a supply set.

Let’s start this as a mental exercise designed to help us get clear on which supplies we do love, want and use. Let’s imagine bringing our supplies down to a collection of go-to favourites: a supply set. This set consists of two levels: the core and the complement.

The core is made up of those things that you can’t live without, those things that are so deeply a part of your creative life that you use them all the time. Identifying these will make it quick and easy for you to know which supplies must always be on-hand and restocked. You’ll also know exactly what to put together when you travel. These are the non-negotiables, the must-haves, the “I’m committed to” items in your creative toolkit.

The complement are those things that round out your supplies so you feel free to do the types of creative projects that call to you. No, you won’t have every colour or variation but you will have more than enough to create something wonderful. Having a well thought-out complement instead of just “more” keeps your energy focused and your space uncluttered. You could change up your complement each season. In the fall it might be full of crochet and card-making supplies. In the winter, colouring books and coloured pencils. Knowing your complement makes it easier to have everything organized and available. By eliminating the need to make multiple choices, set up and strike each time, you can spend your creative time actually creating.

So, here’s the key question. How many items in a Supply Set?

A Supply Set is 7 Core Items and 33 Complement Items.

Now, it’s going to be up to you what constitutes an item. Go with what seems reasonable and in the spirit of the project. For example, I might consider a box of crayons an item even though there are 64 crayons in that box. I would do this because it is small and contained. Whereas “yarn” or “paint” is more of a category than a component. There’s no way to draw any boundaries around that.

How specific do you get when choosing your items? Do what is useful to you. You might say  “a watercolour paint set” but if you really mean “my Pelikan opaque watercolour set with 24 colours,” then say that. If the specifics are important, be specific.

Maybe you’re already wondering whether you can tweak the numbers to suit your needs. As always in the studio, this is meant to be a support and a starting point not a set of immutable rules.  I encourage you to experiment to figure out what works for you but before you do, see what happens when you play with the 7/33 configuration. Give that a chance to teach you something about your self and your priorities when it comes to art supplies.

Here’s My 7/33 Art Supply Set

I had fun and learned a lot about my creative priorities when I put together my Supply Set. You’ll see that with some things I’m very specific and with others more general. I noticed that reflects how experienced I am with a particular medium. I know, for example, which scissors I want to use but feel less sure about which paintbrushes are essential. That’s useful. It draws my attention to where I still learning and I will refine the list over time.

With the complement, you’ll also notice that I didn’t group my supplies by category. Instead I focused on priority order not only so I could get a sense what was most important but also to notice if/where the energy of the list starts to peter out. If I found myself adding things for the sake of hitting 33 items, I would choose to go with a smaller list.

I’ve included some links if I am referring to a very specific item or to give you a general idea of what I’m talking about.

My Core 7:

  1. journal
  2. black ink finepoint Uniball pen
  3. my camera
  4. Cutterbee scissors
  5. UHU glue stick
  6. Prismacolour coloured pencils
  7. a magazine (Vogue/Artful Blogging/Arabella)

My Complement 33:

1. My Pelikan opaque watercolour set with 24 colours
2. A round #10 watercolour brush
3. A water brush pen
4. Strathmore art journal
5. A pad of watercolour paper (cold press)(example)
6. a Uniball Signo white gel pen
7. A set of gel pens (including glitter)(example)
8. Watercolour pencils (example)
9. A set of chalk pastels
10. 3 permanent black pens of varying tip sizes
11. A set of crayons
12. A set of markers
13. A set of oil pastels
14. A few copic markers or other brand that goes on translucent (example)
15. A larger flat watercolour brush
16. A smaller detail-sized watercolour brush
17. Matte medium
18. Gesso
19. A dedicated brush for medium
20.-27. Acrylic paints
27.-29. Acrylic paint brushes
30. Set of graphite pencils
31. Kneadable eraser
32. Gelli plates
33. Xuan paper

When I look at this list I feel anything but deprived. In fact, I find it a well-stocked studio! I even included some playful and new extras. Could I use more brushes? Sure. More paints? Always! Are there wonderful things that didn’t make the cut? You bet. Stamps, dyes, ephemera, paper cutters, punches, fabric, wire, yarn – none of that made the list. That’s useful information. Also, though they are in my complement, I actually consider my watercolour set and round brush a part of my core. That’s useful information too.

Make your 7/33 Supply Set and see what it reveals to you. If you find yourself feeling freer, clearer and more inspired, take the next step and put together your set. No need to get rid of anything. Just box up what’s not on your list and create an inviting layout with what is. As you live with your Supply Set, see how it impacts your creative experience.  Is it easier to get started? Is there anything you miss? Is there something you thought essential that you never pick up at all? Let this be a process of discovery and refinement about you as a creative artist.

The key to our creative lives is that we actually get creating. If you find yourself overwhelmed by stuff and supplies, if you find it difficult to focus and prioritize, make a supply set and see where it leads. As you become more and more attuned to the needs and desires of your creative heart, you’ll know how to choose a 7/33 list that fits you just right.

What would you put in your 7/33 Supply Set?

Magic is All Around Us

Magic is all around us.

It lives on unexpected paths and in open invitations. It’s tucked into the books on your shelves and plays among the plants in your garden.

Magic is in the shoes that fit just right and the skirt that makes you dance.

Magic is in that perfectly ripe strawberry. It adds the je ne sais quoi to a meal. It draws routes on the map in your glove compartment. It dances on the whirling chain of your bike.

It’s in the wind that caresses your shoulders and the sun that kisses your cheeks. It’s in the friendly face of a stranger and the freckles on your best friend’s nose.

It’s in moody skies and your lover’s eyes and the purr of a welcoming cat.

Magic tickles our toes with a desire to adventure.

It sings our heart awake.

It calls us out of our shell to shine.

It inspires us to create.

Magic is all around us, as common as house sparrows and cups of tea.

Its in the spaces between these letters.

It lives between you and me.

Let’s open up to magic. Let’s remember what we always knew.

As a part of this magnificent world, we are magic too.

Dreaming Impossible Dreams

Me, sitting in a lovely bistro in Avignon, France – a dream come true.

Recently I realized that I had stopped dreaming impossible dreams.

I’ve been wearing my practical pants and sensible shoes. I’ve been working with what’s working and getting into a habit of maintaining – all of which is good. But without impossible dreams, I’ve found myself a little bit empty, a little dull around the edges. Without impossible dreams to draw me out into the adventure of the great beyond, I find my borders getting a little smaller and my spirit getting a little sleepier.

Why do we avoid impossible dreams?

Because sometimes they hurt. Deeply.

You look at that brochure for art school, you peruse your friend’s travel-filled Instagram feed, you see that creative blogger joyfully leap from their full-time job to online entrepreneurship and you cry or growl or simply turn it off. You turn off not only the stimulus but your feeling about it.

A mix of desire and deprivation is just too much for the heart to bear.

But that desire is your true north and when you turn it off, you lose a part of who you are.

Whatever you are in your heart, be that an artist, a world-traveller, a chef, a dancer, an author, whatever, you must find a way to express that part of your soul. An impossible dream can serve as a focal point, a light to guide the way.

An impossible dream can be the brilliant sun on the horizon line calling you to move and to become.

As you journey to what you believe to be an unreachable destination many things can happen.  Yes, you can get discouraged. Yes, you can get lost and you can get hurt. But you can also get stronger and grow your courage and I can guarantee you that you will have experiences that you never would have had otherwise. Sure, you might not become a full-time artist but you will create art. You will study and hone your skills. You will build a body of work and an artistic voice.  On the road to that dream, you may build a C.V. and enter exhibits. You may have one, two, three solo shows. Your friends and family will come to know you as “the artist” and you will have spent hours, in fact, days, months, years of your life doing something that your soul loves to do.

Imagine that.

Isn’t that better than turning off that desire? Isn’t that better than deciding not to dream?

I’ve decided that it is.

And so, I have invited some old and familiar dreams into my heart again, dreams I had stopped thinking about, dreams I had relegated to the world of “impossible”. Now, when this dream comes up, I no longer respond with a dull ache and deep sadness. Instead, there is a fresh and mischievous twinkle in my eye as I begin again to wonder, “What if?”

We are not defined by achieving our dreams but through having the dream in the first place and the journey we take on the road our heart dreams of will take us places that enrich our lives and awaken our souls.


Who Do I Have to Be for You to Believe Me?

Who do I have to be for you to believe me when I say that you are creative?

Would you believe me if I was a world-renowned painter? A grammy-award-winning pop star? A New York Times best-selling author? Would you believe me if I had 10,000 social media followers? 20,000? 100,000? What about if I was a researcher, an academic, a scientist? Would you believe me if I pulled out extensive studies into the nature of human beings and creativity and showed you where you are on the spectrum? For you to believe me, would I have to be beautiful, with long flowing hair, a boho outfit and tribal tattoos? Would you need me to be a dream, a rival, a star?

Who would I have to be for you to believe me when I say that you have everything you need inside of you to be an artist?

What if I was a person, just like you, who had to find her way, who was sometimes scared and sometimes confident, who sometimes grabbed the brass ring and sometimes cried in bed, who sometimes got chosen but often didn’t, who did the smart thing and studied English at school, who worked a regular job – until she didn’t – who first and foremost loved the arts but was daunted and discouraged much of the time but also sometimes brave, a person who refused to choose just one art and forsake all others, a person who isn’t a rock star or a top Etsy seller or a blog sensation but who lived every day, to the best of her ability, a true, committed, creative life, one she could feel proud of and at peace with.

Would you hear me then?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter who I am at all, it matters what I stir in you. Maybe it’s when something I say brings tears or goosebumps, evokes hope or sorrow, makes you uncomfortable or wildly alive.

Maybe it’s simply when the truth in me connects to the truth in you that suddenly you know who you are and what you are here to do.

Despite what the marketers say, I don’t want to prove myself to you. I don’t want to serve up a daily buffet of the credentials of my creative coolness. I don’t want to trot out proof that I am worthy. And I don’t want you to have to either.

Let’s get out of the proving and into the arts.

Let’s start with knowing that we are all worthy and from there let’s dive into the work. Let’s be in the discussion together. Let’s wrestle with the challenges and share the learning. Let’s be brave and scared and messy. Let’s take small steps alongside big and bold ones. Let’s be reflective and solitary and brilliant. Let’s be connected and expressive and fun. Let’s open our hearts and stretch our minds, reveling in harmony and rising to challenges. Let’s make it easier for one another, not harder. Let’s try new things and hone our skills and experience life to the fullest. Let’s shine our light and wear what we want and let’s, above all, be artists.

Let’s tell our stories and create our work. Let’s paint and draw and sing. Let’s dance and act and write poetry. Let’s be keen observers of life and ourselves. Let’s be endlessly curious and wildly generous with our gifts. Let’s immerse ourselves in our subject matter. Let’s create from the truth that’s within us and present to the world that’s around us.

Let’s do it without the need to prove. Let’s do it without the demand for reward. Let’s do it because it is who we are, without guilt or apology, for all of our days.

Let’s start here. Let’s start now

A Neglected Garden Still Blooms

I love my garden but with all the rain and all the busy, I haven’t had a chance to get out there much this spring. The other day, I joined the kittens looking out the back window and these amazing pink blooms called to me.

I grabbed my camera and braved the overgrown grass and the dandelions, noticing how much was in need of pruning and of weeding, and came to stand in front of these magnificent beauties.

Yes, I felt badly for not having tended the garden.

Yes, I didn’t want to look and see the mess. It’s easier to hide my neglect when I simply stay inside.

Oh… but what I would have missed.

This works the same way with our creative hearts. We may have been too busy. Times may have been too hard. It may have been weeks, months or years since we have tended to our artistic soul. Maybe we never have.

But we needn’t worry. Our creativity is firmly planted within, ready to bloom. You just have to find the courage to look.

JRS Tree Peony

Practice What Is Right

Tanya's Altar
“Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right.” Barbara Brown Taylor.

One sunny day this week, I walked over to my dear friend Tanya Geisler’s for a morning of co-working. We do this regularly, sitting at opposite sides of her dining room table, encouraging one another as we take on the work of our dreams.

We prefaced our work, as we often do, with coffee, connection and conversation, filling each other in on our lives and our work, what we’re celebrating and what we’re wrestling with. This week, I shared with Tanya a shocking dream I’d had about being fired and deserving it. I knew this dream was about me not living up to some of my commitments to myself. There were things I knew I should* be doing and, for a long time, I’d been making other choices. The dream was my subconscious (and/or the powers that be) telling me that it was well past time to make a change. As an example, I told Tanya that one of the things that I knew I was meant to be doing was meditating. I just knew it in my bones.

Tanya said, “Then there is nothing for you to do but to meditate. You can go use my altar right now.”

Right now?

I squirmed.

I said thank you.

I deflected.

As our conversation moved on, I felt myself coming around. Somewhere inside me I found a willingness to say yes: yes to Tanya’s graciousness, yes to the call to meditate, yes to the better part of myself.

Here’s what happened when I said yes.

Tanya walked me up to her beautiful altar, an altar sparkling in gemstones and blessed by statues of Buddha, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswati, an altar infused with love and devotion. She offered up her sacred space to me, giving me extra candles, tarot cards to pull from, a cushion to sit on and then she let me be.

I took my seat.

I immediately felt this sense of rightness with myself. I lit a candle and started my practice.

Within moments the majestic Matteo entered the room, the most elusive of Tanya’s three cats. He brushed himself up against my forearm. He rubbed against my lower back, his luscious tail passing along my skin where it was exposed between my sweater and my pants. He purred.

I reached out and pet him, giving thanks for his presence and this beautiful sign from the Universe that yes, this sitting is right.

After a brief moment, I was called back to the practice, as though someone had dropped this lesson in my heart:

“Enjoy the blessings of the practice but don’t let them draw you away from the practice. Come back.”

As I brought my attention back to my breath, another of Tanya’s cats entered the room, the blue-eyed beauty Ramona, talkative as ever. It was as though the Universe was saying, “Did you hear that lesson? What will you do?”

And so I basked in the energy of “cat” and I stayed with my practice. With downcast eyes, I paid attention to my breath and as I did I could see a glistening thread of gold between my heart and the candle. Perhaps it was the interplay of light and my allergies but even if that is so, as I watched the golden energy move between my heart and the candle’s flame, I knew it was another sign that I was in the right place, doing the right thing and that in that moment, all was well.

Note: A New Wisdom Core conversation exclusively for students of The Academy is coming soon. Tanya and I will talk about the challenges and rewards of stepping into your starring role.

* Should isn’t always a dirty word.

Honour the Work

As a teenager, I studied dance with a teacher who became one of the most important mentors I have had in my creative life, Marjorie Keith. One of the powerful lessons that she taught me was that no matter where we were, no matter what we were doing, it was important to honour the work. We honoured the work when we gave her our full attention. We honoured the work when we gave the choreography our all. We honoured the work when we sewed the costumes with care, sold the tickets with diligence and taught the little ones with love.

Honouring the work is not about discipline. It’s about magic. It’s about letting the muses know that you are here and you are ready.  It’s about receiving them in a way that makes them want to come back. It’s about creating the conditions for inspiration and creativity to thrive.

Honouring the work is about creating a gateway for the magic of art to come into this world and light the way – for ourselves and for one another.

This sounds rather woo, doesn’t it? It’s all true – and it’s practical too.

When we honour the work, we get more done. When we honour the work, we progress in our skills. When we honour the work, others take us more seriously. When we honour the work, we take ourselves more seriously too.

What are some of the ways that we can honour the work?

Give the work your full attention. Be present.

Give the work the time it needs. Be patient.

Hone your craft. Be persistent.

Give your best effort. Be wholehearted.

Defend and champion the work. Be a hero.

Honouring the work is a part of the culture of the studio.

It lays and then strengthens the foundations on which our mighty creative energy can be unleashed into the world. The stronger this foundation, the more powerful the creative energy that can be channeled through us, the greater the light we’ll shine.

This week, in your efforts, great and small, lay the foundations for magic. Honour the work.