On Your Mark, Get Set …

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Lochinvar and I are gearing up for the Fountain Festival next weekend (yikes!), so we’ve been in sprint mode since Monday. I have finished up the last of the pieces for the show and Lochinvar photographed them and listed them on the website. Today I am writing artist statements, printing price tags, hemming tablecloths, and gathering paperwork while Lochinvar assembles the booth in the garage for a trial run. (Occasionally, of course, I have to go out and kibitz about where to hang specific pieces and give my creations a critical once over in the bright light of day.)

One of the items I am writing today is a process page that shows how pieces are created. I think people often don’t consider all the small steps necessary to create a piece of art. They say, “Oh, it’s a decorated bottle,” as if someone waved her hands, did a dance, and magically transformed a dusty dumpster dive piece of trash into an artful treasure by sheer will power.  People don’t seem to realize that bottle took elbow grease, inspiration, a myriad of materials, a good deal of time, and a host of steps to make. Other artists that I have seen at shows combat this mentality with an explanation of their process and materials, so I thought I would give it a shot, too. Here goes:

Hi, I’m Jenny and I rescue things: discarded bottles, old candy boxes, beat up toys, hand-me-down trays … all of these items (and many more) live in my studio stash waiting to be reimagined into something new. (To be honest, my work space sometimes looks like the Island of Misfit Toys with odd pieces of stuff scattered about in various states of becoming.)

While some of my art is completed on conventional mediums like canvas and card stock, I’m much more interested in the trash-to-treasure process, so here’s what it looks like for something as simple as a discarded bottle.

 

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Most of my bottles come from the trash, though sometimes people give them to me. Other items come from yard sales and thrift stores. (Half price day at Goodwill is always a treat!) “Junking” for hidden treasure is one of my favorite pastimes.

Of course the first step for any item is a thorough cleaning. Labels are removed and grime is scrubbed off.

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Next, everything gets two coats of gesso to create a paintable surface and block any colors or blemishes that did not come off with cleaning.

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The bottles (or boxes or toys, etc.) get two to three coats of paint. I am partial to indoor acrylic paint (the kind that goes on walls) for this step because it is durable and sample sizes come in lots of cool colors. I also use plaster of Paris to create my own chalk paint for this step.

Some items get acrylic craft paint, which usually requires extra coats. The type of paint is dictated by the material it is going on.

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After the base coats are dry, every motif that’s going on the item has to be created on paper, card stock, wallpaper, sheet music, book pages, etc. using a variety of inks, paint, pencils, and pastels.

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Once the elements are done, they get a coat of fixative  to seal the work and add a subtle sheen.

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Next, the elements are applied to the item with a variety of adhesives (depending on the materials) and craft or fabric paint and glitter are added to the edges.

23316727_1500196130016923_7630399991227667318_nThe final step is attaching embellishments like beads, rhinestones, and costume jewelry. It can be tricky to get the embellishments to stay put while the glue dries.

 Once everything is glued in place, the final product is ready to be signed and photographed for the website.

 

 

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It’s all a Matter of Perspective

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When 2017 began, I purchased a goal-setting journal and spent a good deal of time mapping out my big picture for the year. My goals included mundane things like eat better (which I have done), lose 30 pounds and keep it off (which I have failed to do), and learn to let go of what I cannot change (which I’m still working on). My goal list also included making time to create and moving my business forward with an over arching theme: The year I become an artist.

At the time, it seemed like I was dreaming big with the idea of becoming an artist, as if some magical event would transpire in the wee hours of the morning, and I would wake up to birds chirping, the sun shining, and a bright “Artist” badge waiting in my jewelry box. Instead, over the last nine months I have struggled every day to call myself an artist.

One day when I was staring at myself in the mirror trying to decide if I looked like an artist (as if there is some specific way I should appear) and (of course) finding the image woefully lacking, my Lochinvar worked to reassure me by taping some affirmations inside the medicine cabinet door. Now, every morning I read (yes, out loud) four small messages that remind me to be keep trying. (Once more into the breach!)

I try to replay those messages in my head when confronted with frustrations and failures from snarky comments like, “Huh, I could draw that,” to my inability to create a website with a functional shopping cart. And, overall, I think I’m making progress thanks to some recent successes.

A few weeks ago I was juried into the Fountain Festival, a large arts fair in Fountain Hills (AZ) scheduled for Veteran’s Weekend (Nov. 10-12). The organizers required me to submit multiple photos of my pieces and explain my materials, process, etc. When I received the e-mail accepting my work in the drawing category, I felt a sense of vindication. Funny how one email that referred to me as an “artist” and had information about displaying my “work” can make such a difference.  I’m still waiting for similar messages from organizers of a couple more large art fairs, but acceptance at the first one certainly gives me hope.

In addition, Lochinvar has worked diligently to straighten out the website situation. He has our site up and running (HOORAY!), so someone besides friends and family can actually see what I’ve been doing in my studio. (Check it out here.)

Finally, last week I was accepted as a full member of the San Tan Artist’s Guild (S.T.A.G.) which is made up of about 60 artists in a wide variety of mediums. As part of the application process I was asked to bring a few pieces of work to show members of the guild at the September meeting, which was pretty nerve wracking. However, by the end of the night, I left feeling like the people I met took it for granted that I was an artist. They talked to me as if I were an artist; they looked at my pieces as if they were art. (I guess that badge was lying around somewhere after all.)

Because of these recent events, I am starting to see myself as an artist, but I’m not sure that I will succeed by the end of the year. After all, the voice in my head is perpetually critical, and my seeming inability to defend myself against naysayers is troublesome for the warrior woman I think I should be.  Fall is upon us, and I can feel the days growing weary after the scorching heat of summer. With only a few months left to accomplish my goal, I keep reminding myself that it’s all a matter of perspective. That moving forward, moving the needle, just moving is sometimes enough.

 

Processing

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I tell myself every year that I’m not going to do school work during the summer, but I always end up taking classes, attending week-long planning sessions, putting together presentations, writing quizzes, scouring the internet for cool lesson ideas, and reading articles in preparation for the next school session. This year has been no different.

As I feel the summer drawing to a close (I’m signed up to conduct freshman boot camp in a week and a half.), I realize there are several things that I wanted to accomplish that haven’t gotten done. Some of them are deep cleaning house chores, but several of them deal with creating myself as an artist. So, I decided to ignore the chores and work on the art. That means I’ve spent some frustrating hours rebuilding my new website. (Yes, this is the third time. Cross your fingers; it’s almost done!) It also means sending applications to be juried into a couple of local artists’ groups. Yesterday, one of the applications asked me to describe my “process.”

This set me back for a few minutes while I contemplated how I go about creating anything. The creative process is different for each of us, and I’ve never really thought about what mine looks like from an outsider’s point of view. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pretty silly and somewhat invisible.

First, I turn on my tunes. I have a 262-song playlist on my computer that I use specifically for creating. It includes the likes of Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Bread, Jim Croce, The Fifth Dimension, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, .38 Special, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, Charlie Daniels, Molly Hatchet, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, and many, many more musicians. The cranked up music usually leads to me singing along (loudly) and dancing around my work room. (Yup! This is the silly part, but it feels good!)

Usually, the theme has been rolling around in my brain for a few days. (This is the invisible part.) I lie awake in the silence of the wee hours of the morning envisioning topics like angels, sweet felines, the ocean, flowers, or butterflies – all among my favorites. In my head, I see beautiful watery colors that swirl and roll together like storm clouds. Thus, by the time I get to my studio space, I have an idea that’s been bubbling up for a day or two, so I start pulling materials while I’m dancing about.

Last January I reorganized my creative space by sorting all of my materials by color. (Previously, they had been sorted by type or theme. For example, all the ribbons were in one box, and all the paper flowers in another.) Now, pulling out a basket of color is a great deal of fun. I empty the basket on to my work table and start sorting through the items to get some inspiration for dressing up my theme.

Next, I leave the mess on my table and head to my drawing space to create the big ideas that I’m going to paint, color, and embellish. While I’m usually a very organized and tidy person, the chaos of the dumped basket with a pile of drawing pens and music playing creates a free and fun atmosphere that lightens my soul. Which, of course, is the point of the whole exercise.

After I have completed the drawing, I take it back to the table and transfer it to whatever background I’ll be using like card stock, a canvas, an old tray, a cigar box, etc. (Recently, I picked up a small curio cabinet with three little shelves which has been calling my name.) Once the main ideas are on the background, the fun really begins. I break out the paint or alcohol markers and sift through embellishments.

At this point, I usually decide I need a couple of other colors or at least some metallic touches to spice up the piece. So, I “have” to break out another basket of stuff to play with. Of course, after a couple of baskets are dumped, the chaos can become overwhelming, and I need to walk away for awhile. (Here, my feline friends hope that I’ll forget to close the door to my work room so they can knock everything off the table and play with it.) It’s usually a day or two before I get back to finish my project, and by that time my brain has sorted out the details of its own accord. So when I open the door, I’m confronted with a “mess” to clean up, leaving out only what I’ve thought about for the last 24-48 hours. I crank up the music, put stuff back into baskets, and move along with my piece.

Allowing my brain time to process something on the back burner, making a mess, and then figuring out how to clean it up and finish what I started seems to be my way of dealing with just about any project I’m working on from planning a dinner party to creating a research unit for my English classes, or constructing a piece of art. I know that it’s really the down time that gets the job done. So, when I feel I have the most work to accomplish, I often have to remind myself to do something else, that walking away for a short time will provide the answers I need.

 

 

The Devil’s in the Details

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Popular advice on living and working goes two ways: “Don’t sweat the small stuff” or “Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves.”

No wonder I’m always so confused! The paradoxical nature of these philosophies can create problems in life management. (At least it has for me lately.) As we move closer to launching our new product line (Colarting – where coloring becomes art) and our new website, the details seem to be ganging up on me and holding me down.

Two nights ago I spent three hours looking at embellishments online – weighing the pros and cons of rhinestone size, shape, and color; checking a ruler for relative size of charms; figuring out per piece prices on packaging; comparing the merits of glitter cord versus metallic cord … you get the picture. After dangling my toes in the wholesale supply market I presented my list to Lochinvar like a cat dropping a goldfish at her owner’s feet (and with about the same result). Needless to say he really just didn’t know what to do with this detailed list of shiny bits meant for our kits. (This is a good example of how to not sweat the small stuff – get someone else to do it for you. Of course, the down side to that is you are stuck with someone else’s decisions.) On the other hand, the right assortment of embellishments will add value to our pieces and (hopefully) make people want to buy them. Ultimately, Lochinvar did what all good partners do – he said, “This looks great!” and smiled encouragingly, even though he wasn’t really sure what I had done.

So, every time I spend hours doing something that looks insignificant I find myself contemplating whether or not I’m overthinking it or spinning my wheels for too long. After all, I have a deadline to meet. Which, of course, is another double-edged sword. While some people balk at deadlines, I tend to thrive under them. My ability to work under tight deadlines helped me land (and keep) my first writing job at The Mountain Press (my hometown newspaper), and it’s a skill that has served me well over my 23-year teaching career (especially when it comes to getting essays graded). However, deadlines are also stressful. They impose a sense of urgency that keeps me awake at night and demands time away from relaxing activities like enjoying a dirty martini and a James Bond movie with a cat in my lap.

I guess, in the end, the trick is choosing which details to give time to. If I sweat the right details (but not all the details) perhaps that will be enough.

 

 

Crafting Can Save the World (or at least your sanity)

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Frequently people ask me what I “get” out of crafting. They point out that it takes a lot of time, it can be messy, and the materials take up valuable storage space. While all of these ideas are true to some extent, crafting provides a plethora of benefits.

working-with-handsWorking with your hands invites a “can-do” attitude. Each time we create something, we learn that we are capable of creating something. I realize this sounds simplistic, but the truth in that statement can be profound. Many of us spend our lives thinking we’re not capable of doing something. We tell ourselves we could never have that job, or be in charge of that project, or finish that degree. This negative self-talk convinces us that we are not able to complete complex tasks. However, when we create, we learn through trial and error. We use productive struggle in a safe environment. After all, craft projects are not matters of life and death, so we’re allowed to get them wrong, and then fix them on the next attempt. With each small success we learn that we CAN do things; we CAN figure out how something is put together; we CAN have another shot; we CAN change our minds; we CAN learn and grow and become.

accomplishmentCrafting gives us something to show for our effort. This goes hand-in-hand with that can-do attitude by providing a sense of accomplishment. Many of us are frustrated in our jobs because at the end of the day we don’t feel like we’re any closer to success than we were the day before. This kind of frustration is rampant in my profession because as a teacher it can sometimes be years (if ever) before a student tells me how I helped him or what I taught her. While I do the best I can every day, at times I just need to feel that I finished a project so I can step back and admire my handiwork.

imaginingCrafting helps us see the world in a different way. Many of us spend our days in front of a screen – television, smart phone, computer monitor, etc. These bright, moving projections (or static lines of text – as the case may be) frame our world with visual, but non-tangible elements. (After all, we can’t pet that adorable Lil Bub no matter how many times we smile at her photo.) This removal of texture and three-dimensional objects can make the world seem flat and far-removed. When we manipulate wood, paper, fabric, beads, or paint, we come into physical contact with our surroundings. Our brains and eyes are provided with a different kind of stimuli which in turn helps us see our environment, our world, from a new perspective (not to mention giving our tired eyes a rest).

color-and-textureCrafting is cathartic. Color holds connotations for our society at large and for each of us individually. Vibrant colors like red, orange, and yellow make us feel alive and energetic spurring us to move forward. When we create something using these colors it seems to become imbued with that energy, and perhaps the creation makes us smile each time we see it on display. Colors like blue, green, and purple express another mood. Thus my studio becomes a place where I can express emotions freely without having to explain them to anyone.

giving_a_giftCrafting a gift for someone shows how much you care. I know that sometimes “homemade” conjures up images of clay ashtrays and cotton ball Santas made by our elementary-aged kiddos, but a piece of art contains a lot of heart. (Cheesy, but true!) When we make something beautiful for a friend or family member we are giving that person a piece of ourselves and a reminder of our most precious resource – time. These kinds of gifts can become cherished mementos of loved ones. As a matter of fact, Lochinvar and I have a Valentine’s Day tradition of only spending a dollar for each year we have been together. While we’re coming up on our 23rd anniversary which provides a little leeway, this was extremely challenging when we were young (and poor). One year he spent two dollars on some pastel colored paper. He cut the paper into squares and folded them into origami flowers. Then he used wire remnants to make stems and put them in a vase from our cabinet using old marbles to hold them in place. This lovely reminder of his gentleness and care lived on my desk at school for many years (until time and moving made them so ragtag that they fell apart). Each day when I came to work and saw my paper bouquet I felt loved. There is strength in that lasting warmth, for the giver and the receiver.

alg-knitting-jpgCrafting can be a social event. While I carry out most of my artistic endeavors alone in my studio with old rock and roll playing in the background, sometimes others get involved in my projects. Several years ago I created a fairy wand from silk flowers, ribbon, duct tape, and light weight dowels. These wands were thematically related to a musical that Lochinvar was directing at school, and we planned to sell them as a fundraiser. Since this required us to make quite a few, we created a little assembly line operation and enlisted the help of others. By the time we were done, not only did we have fairy wands but we also had memories of laughter and fun. A craft project is a great “in” with people. Creating something concrete together also helps create intangible connections with those around us.

Hopefully, the next time someone says, “I just don’t get it,” you’ll be able to explain why she should join our crafty ranks to save the world – even if it’s just one little corner of it.

 

 

The Crooked Path

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It’s time for a revelation. Are you ready? Starting a business while holding down a full time job is stressful. (Who would have thought it, right?) Some days – like today – I just feel stuck. So, this blog entry is my attempt to push through it.

My personal Catch-22 goes like this: I’m tired and stressed from work, so I want to play a stupid video game and sit in front of the idiot box instead of building the website, researching marketing information, or creating a product line. However, if I don’t spend time building the website, researching marketing information, or creating a product line, I’m further behind than I was before, and I feel like a waste of space at the end of the evening. Can anyone else relate?

I knew that committing to making the business work would mean long days, and it’s not really the hours that trouble me. It’s more about the “business” part of the business. When people think about selling their beautiful artwork and creations as a business, we envision ourselves spending our precious coins of time immersed in color and pattern and paint and ribbon and glitter and a thousand other bits and pieces of decorative minutia.

Unfortunately, the reality is that my hours have been spent in front of a screen trying to figure out where a computer engineer put the tools I need to resize a particular picture and link it to a successive page of the website. Since I’m not really the engineer type, this is often a bigger struggle than it might seem.

In addition, life seems to just get in the way. Have a 30-minute stress-relieving bike ride penciled in this afternoon? Guess again – a student who has been absent for a week needs to stay late and catch up.

Think you’ll be able to knock that blog entry out during lunch today? Wrong – you have to spend the time comforting a colleague who is having a tough day and just wants to quit.

Think you have a solid two-hour block of time to figure out the difference between copyright and trademark AND how to apply for either and/or both? Nope – a family member needs some love and support instead.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I will choose helping another human being – loved one, friend, student, etc. – over working on the computer every time. I don’t begrudge anyone I care about the time I give them. Still, prioritizing people sometimes comes at the expense of what I think I should be doing. I have extremely high expectations of myself and my ability to “do it all.”

Perhaps what I really need to learn is that I don’t have to do it all now. Maybe my take away is that it’s good to schedule my time, but it’s better to be flexible with it, and best to be kind to myself when things go awry. After all, I am here writing a blog instead of retreating into a game. I am doing my best to stay on track and follow the road wherever it goes – through the twists and turns that create a crooked path to success. I need to remember that the goal hasn’t moved, and I’m still making progress. Baby steps forward are still progress.

 

 

The Color of Spring

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Everyone has a favorite color. Mine is blue. I love all shades from pale, nearly white icy blue to the deepest inky midnight-funk-jazz blue. A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Glacier Bay in Alaska where the gray, mineral-filled water makes the ice appear a vibrant aquamarine. It was heaven. Of course, if you just slide around the color wheel a step, you’ll hit the greens – which are also near and dear to my heart. So, imagine my excitement when I took a look at the Pantone Color of the Year – “Greenery.” (FYI: According to the website, Pantone’s color of the year is “A symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our global culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.”)

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I realize that Pantone released this color choice about a month ago, but (apparently) I’m not on the inside track for these things. Go figure. This color of lemon leaves, early March grass, and Kermit the Frog, represents a pretty big leap from the 2016 colors of the year (Yes, there were two!) which were Rose Quartz and Serenity – think pale pink married to pale blue to create some lovely shades of hazy purple. Excluding those dreamy tones, the colors have been bold and/or vibrant for the last 10 years: Marsala (2015), Radiant Orchid (2014), Emerald (2013), Tangerine Tango (2012), Honeysuckle (2011), Turquoise (2010), Mimosa (2009), Blue Iris (2008) and Chili Pepper (2007). However, in 2006 the color was Sand Dollar.

All day I’ve been contemplating Sand Dollar. Though the color is definitely a neutral beige, the name conjures up the perfume of salty air, the feel of the waves tugging at my toes, and the sun reaching its golden tendrils across a blue expanse as it sinks below the horizon. (Sigh.)

Just naming a hue carries such visceral associations that I can close my eyes and picture the last time I saw it and contemplate what a wonderful, colorful world we live in.

 

A Real Who’s Who

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Well, I have done it. I have taken the plunge and am in the process of building a website. (I just keep remembering the man who ate an elephant – one bite at a time!) It is a little intimidating but interesting. I’m learning about all kinds of tools, and layout, and content needed for thecockeyedcolorist.com . However, as a creative endeavor it is also fun. I enjoy the process, and I’m having a good time writing some of the descriptors. (Although the artist statement still eludes me, and that will be the topic of a future post.) In the meantime, I’d like to give you a sneak peak of one of our pages by including the About Us content describing our staff.

toasting-our-friends-5-2Jenny Medlock (aka The Cockeyed Colorist) is the (not so) evil genius behind a diabolical plot to save the world through crafting by making people smile whether they want to or not.

 

toasting-our-friends-6-2Jeffrey Medlock (aka Lochinvar) is the organization’s Yes Man, as in “Yes, I know you can do it!” and “Yes, I’m here to help!” His jack-of-all-trades role keeps the machinery moving forward.

 

stanzi-1-2Stanzilicious Poufy Pants is the Efficiency Expert. She calls the staff to the basement to work every day and provides periodic petting breaks to her servants – I mean workers.

 

banditBanditulyumptious is the Cat Encouragement Officer (CEO) who brings incentive toys to the workers and makes sure everyone knows when it’s time to quit for dinner.

 

smudge-2Smudgicles (aka Old Blue Eyes) is Chaircat of the Board who oversees the whole production. From her seat of power she supervises the CEO and doles out responsibilities to the minions.

 

licorice-2Licorice is the Chief Fool and Art Critic (CFAC) who sees himself as a feline Jackson Pollock working in cat spit instead of gloss enamel.

 

georgie3Georgie Porgy is the Chief of Annoying Technology (CAT) who is never around when you need her. She specializes in hiding until problems are solved, unless someone shakes the treat jar.

And there you have it – the creative team behind our new website and our new product line (Coming Soon!) We hope your life is as colorful as ours!

 

More Bang for a Buck

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I know that many crafters are already familiar with the great “stuff” available at the dollar store, but sometimes I get excited about my finds and just have to share. A couple of days ago I was treading water between the end of school and the beginning of a meeting, so I stopped at a local Dollar Tree to pick up a snack. Of course, I couldn’t just hop in and out without perusing all the goodies – many of which just seemed to kamikaze off the shelves into my basket (go figure)!

I (obviously) started my excursion on the craft aisle where I found several kinds of glitter paint and glue. I was surprised to see the glitter hot glue sticks since those are not frequently available outside of craft stores. I also did not expect to see the large pieces of foam core / display board. These make a nice, sturdy foundation for lots of crafty ideas. Of course, the itty bitty clothes pins, colored buttons, and butterfly jewels are just too cute.

The office supply aisle yielded some pretty snazzy stickers and a couple of just fun items. I have to call your attention to the paper bracelets, though. These were hanging with the teacher/bulletin board items. I’m sure they’re meant to be reminders sent home to parents of small children. (Write the reminder and tape it around the child’s wrist so s/he doesn’t forget to tell Mom and Dad.) Still, I thought they could be pretty useful for remembering to bring something home or pick up something at the store. (Write your reminder and tape it around the handle of your purse or the steering wheel of your car.) Of course, many people do this sort of thing with sticky notes, but they always seem to fall off of where ever I place them.

Next stop was the toy aisle. I found a couple of nifty things to color for use in my classroom. (I thought the glittery poster board background on the balloon picture was really fun.) The other item is a colorable notebook cover and who doesn’t need more fun on their English notes? In addition, I found a bunch of cute puzzles. (Now, you have to understand that Lochinvar is a gifted puzzle person. He just glances at the pieces and knows where they go! This is a cool super power, but extremely frustrating to the rest of us mere mortals.) I envision that these could become the background for some nifty artwork. For example, complete the puzzle and glue it together. Then use a wash to tone down the colors and paint something related on top. How fun would that be?

Over on the wrapping paper aisle I found a series of “Diva” gift bags with the cutest cruel shoes. I envision cutting out the shoes and the words to use in a collage. Besides, who doesn’t love shoes? Of course, I have to love the pictures instead of the real thing because my feet would never tolerate such heels. I’d probably break an ankle just trying them on!

Over on the “home” aisle – where you find picture frames, small tools, etc. – I located these large-scale vinyl wall stickers. While I already have some of the floral and butterfly motifs, the over-sized elephant, birds, and balloon were newer designs. They actually come in two pieces which get matched up on the wall; although it would be cool to attach the stickers to an inexpensive canvas to give them a more artsy feel. It would also be fun to color the elephant before putting him up somewhere.

Overall, any time spent getting inspiration is a good time, but when those inspiration pieces are only a dollar, it’s even better! I hope you find colorful inspiration in your world.

 

Living Better is Art

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Over the holidays Lochinvar and I took some time to rethink how we live. We both agreed that we need to live “better” which means changing how we approach daily tasks and time allocation. This includes spending less time in front of the television and more time pursuing creative endeavors, being more mindful of what’s happening around us and less absorbed in our cell phones, scheduling down time to make sure we feel mentally rested each day, and going out to “do things” instead of focusing on chores. (Yes, they still get done, but they are of secondary importance.)

In addition to this mental switch we have decided to treat our bodies to better living, too. Like most Americans we could stand to lose a few pounds, but more than that we just need to move. To that end, we have started building 30 minute “work outs” (and I use the term loosely) into our schedule three times a week. Getting some exercise has always been low on our to do list because (like everyone else who works 40+ hours a week) we’re tired. However, we feel that our bodies will reward us with some extra stamina for all the walking we do on annual vacations, so we’re willing to try. In addition, we have decided that exercise need not be just a four-letter word (like “walk” or “bike”) but also a five-letter word (like “dance”). To this end we are attempting to teach ourselves West Coast Swing dancing.

Yesterday I found a good video series that has the basics in small bite-sized chunks, and we gave it a whirl. (Here’s the link to Swing Shoes if you’d like to learn, too!) While neither of us is a particularly great dancer, we did have some laughs (and some frustration) trying to dance in the living room. After practicing the basic steps while counting together, we put on Pandora and tried to move with the music. Overall we did alright, I think. This morning I could still remember the basic steps we learned yesterday (which is a win for me). But when the music didn’t seem to exactly fit the beat (thank you Mr. Music aka Lochinvar) we lost the West Coast Swing and reverted to Two Stepping. Of course, if the goal is to raise the heart rate a little, this works. On the other hand, if the goal is to learn to Swing dance before our cruise next summer, this digression was not helpful. Hopefully, we’ll be able to add a couple more moves later this week.

In the interest of variety, we rode our bicycles today which is always an enjoyable activity. January in the Valley of the Sun generally holds clear skies and temperatures in the 60’s. The fresh air feels good breezing past my face, and the green belts are lush with winter grass. As an added bonus, everyone we meet who is walking a dog, playing with kids in the park, or taking an evening stroll, smiles and waves as we roll by. This friendliness is contributing to our sense of living well since it makes us feel connected to our neighborhood and the people around us who usually go unnoticed.

I really hope we can maintain our commitment to these changes. Although the “old” me wants to come home and be a couch potato, the “new” me is enjoying the sense of accomplishment and time well spent at the end of the day. Over the last couple of years our lives had become so hectic that we rushed through everything and focused all of our energy on work. But our recent discussions reminded both of us that our jobs are how we make a living, but it’s what we do with the rest of our time that makes a life.