How to Paint an Egg

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Pick up a copy of this month's Food Network Magazine and you'll see 50 Easter eggs designed and decorated by artists from each of the 50 states.

Through some stroke of luck, yours truly was asked to create little old Rhode Island's egg!

I chose the iconic Castle Hill Lighthouse in Newport, which has been a beacon for seafaring types since 1890. It's got the distinction of being on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a peaceful spot to catch the sun setting over the water. 

For those who want to try their hand at painting their own lighthouse egg, here's a step by step painting tutorial.

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STEP 1: Prep the Egg

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Grab yourself a 6 pack of white eggs and boil a few of them up just in case one or two crack while cooking. If you're a vegan or want something more permanent, you can buy wooden eggs at the craft store, in which case you'll want to put a layer of gesso or primer on before you start painting. 

In order to keep the egg from rolling around while you work on it, place it on a folded hand towel for stability.

STEP 2: Make a Preliminary Sketch

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Ideally, you have your own image of a lighthouse for reference, but if not you can do a Google image search for it. (Generally, you should never recreate a photographer's work directly, but since you're painting your egg for "personal use" and not for sales, you don't need to worry much about that.)

Using pencil, ink, and colored pencils I drew the lighthouse on paper first to become familiar with it. It helped me to choose what not to include. Since the egg is such a small surface you don't want to get too detail-oriented. Try to stick to larger, descriptive shapes.

STEP 3: Paint the Sunset

With one of your medium-sized brushes wet the outside of the egg. When it dries to just damp use your watercolors to lay down the colors for your sunset background. Using the blue paint create the horizon line of where the water meets the sky. Let the colors overlap and run together a little bit.

STEP 4: Sketch the Lighthouse onto the Egg

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Now you'll want to lightly sketch the image right onto the egg. You do this after the watercolor background is on so you can edit and erase as you go. You'll find it a little challenging to draw on a curved surface, so be sure to keep checking your lines by looking straight down onto the egg as you work. 

STEP 5: Paint the Underlayer

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I used black acrylic paint to outline my drawing first, then filled in the basics with solid color in order to create a foundational layer. 

STEP 6: Add Your Details

Once the underlayer is dry, focus on creating shape and form by adding in highlights and shadows on the rocks and stones of the lighthouse. Use a light, medium, and dark grey-black to create dimension on the lighthouse roof. Using a thin brush add in the rungs of the balcony railing. Mix up a variety of greens in order to add in some grasses to the foreground. Lastly, add in a little texture to the ocean and - voilà! - your "Instagram ready" lighthouse egg is born! 

If you use this tutorial, post a pic and tag me on Facebook or Instagram!

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

When you look back on the journey of being an artist who do you need to forgive? I mean, if you've been doing this for any amount of time, there will be people to forgive.

The person who ripped off your idea. The person who told you to keep your day job after they saw what you made. The person who balked at your prices. The person who insulted you in front of your peers. The person who promised you that show (or book, or deal, or golden opportunity) and then flaked and disappeared. The person who never paid you for your work.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

When I look back at my creative journey and start to tally up what I call "a million little humiliations" I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people I could forgive. And I feel bitter all over again. Why SHOULD I forgive them? What they did sucked.

But then I remember they're not the ones being held back by the past. They're not the ones hanging on to an unresolvable situation. They're not the ones waiting for an omniscient voice to boom from the sky, "You were right! They were wrong!"

It's just plain ineffective to live in the wounded place.

(How do you know when you're living in the wounded place? When someone presents you an opportunity and you approach it defensively. When you think about your past and feel bitter. When you overcompensate by trying to be perfect. When you turn down viable offers for fear of being hurt. When you believe all the negative crap people have said about you or your work.)

Talking about this today a dear friend and fellow entrepreneur reminded me that I am not the person I used to be. I am stronger, wiser, more powerful. And because of that I would never be caught alive in most any of those situations I used to put myself in when I was younger, situations that were breeding grounds for stress, anxiety and humiliation.

The great irony is that all of those hard moments with all of those jerks are what lead me to a place of greater strength. They're actually the reason my boundaries are stronger. The reason I can say no to opportunities that seem too good to be true. The reason I can spot a jerk, or a drama queen, or an abuser, or a hustler a mile away. The reason I value peace in my life above all else.

When I look at it through that lens and see the bigger picture, I know that my creative spirit was forged in the fire, and that I can forgive those people because they were part of one big, messy, painful soul plan that helped me step into my power.

And that's pretty cool.

But you know what else? There's one person who needs forgiveness more than any of these people. Me. (Extrapolating: the person you most need to forgive is you.)

I mean, how could we have let ourselves settle for less, or ignore our intuition, or stay in an abusive situation, or allow other people's opinions to shape us so thoroughly, or believe what that rejection letter said about work we knew was true to our heart?

I try to remember that we all show up with a stunted child inside, or with a family wound, or with an unconscious pattern, and when I remember that it becomes a lot easier to give myself a break.

Every one of us has been hurt by other people. The question is, will we keep letting that pain hold us back from our creative destiny, or will we release it and move forward?

Photo credit: Patrick Humphries/CC

 

Artists, It's Time to Get Over Feeling Icky about Self Promotion

As artists we strive to be authentic. We search for truth as we take something unseen and bring it to light. Our creativity is born of our unique vision, heart, and soul. It's hard then to see the concept of making a sale as fitting in with this pure self-expression. Time and again, through mass media and even our own artistic creations (particularly film and TV), we've been shown that salespeople are inauthentic. At best they're shallow and pleasantly disconnected (the QVC archetype), and at worst they're slimy, underhanded manipulators greedy for our hard-earned cash (the Snake Oil archetype).

With this kind of spectrum we're naturally repelled by the idea of trying to sell something.

We take the day job and keep art as a side gig or hobby, so it remains untarnished by the murky underworld of money. Yet, we simultaneously lament our lack of time and opportunity when it comes to our art.

Time and again artists who become successful at selling their own wares are seen as "sell-outs," the art world's dirtiest word and most scathing insult.

We've come to believe that artists who achieve status as not only full-time artists, but financially sound ones at that, lose something in the process - their soul, their vision, their edge.

This is unfair and a double standard. We can't yearn for a culture that supports artists then criticize those who receive support - monetary or otherwise. At this point in our cultural history, sales is no longer something to shy away from due to an outdated belief that doing so requires pimping a product we don't care about to an unsuspecting audience.

Selling is simply about finding a compatible home for the work we make so we can continue to make it. Today, artists who want to be doing it full-time must embrace making a living from their art, and understand that our creative expression doesn't just remain intact in the face of money, but thrives with the acquisition of it.

Truthfully, when we're turned off by someone promoting themselves it's not that they're promoting themselves, it's how they're doing it.

Being authentic is easier than ever. Thanks to the internet and social media we can now directly connect our daily lives with a growing audience. We can share images or thoughts about our creative process. We can ask questions to engage with fans, or for informative feedback. We can show works-in-progress, bringing people into the fold as we navigate our way through creation. We can even post about our kids, our animals, our food and more.

We can do these things, and we should if we want to be financially successful. These authentic day-to-day offerings are how we share our essence and our work with people we feel aligned with, people who want to own what we make. It's time for creative folks to show up, be visible, and let go of the idea that it's wrong to promote our work. The world needs successful, authentic, creative people who embrace their life's purpose by allowing themselves to be supported.

And, hey, even if you put yourself out there and don't make many sales for whatever reason (a reason you'll likely uncover if you keep at it), you can be sure that sharing your creative work will inspire other potential creators to express themselves, or encourage fellow artists to show up and be seen too.

If you want to learn to become a better receiver - of joy, pleasure, money, creativity, and more - please join me for theTao of Receivingonline program starting May 24, 2015!

Photo by MartinaK15/cc

 

Receive More. More Creativity. More Money. More Love.

I was tired. Tired of struggling with my creative work. Tired of being broke. Tired of working so hard and never getting over that elusive "hump" - you know, the place where once you get over it you can kick back and relax for a bit.

I asked the universe what I needed to do and the answer was, "Let yourself receive."

In the past month I've spoken with 10 experts around various aspects of receiving. I spoke to intuitive painting teacher Chris Zydel about receiving creativity; I spoke to business mentor Ava Waits about receiving money; I spoke with spiritual wellness Barbara Schultz around receiving guidance; I spoke with MA Yoga founder Jessica Jennings about the body as a receiver, and many more people about various aspects of receiving.

I took all those awesome conversations and used them as the basis for an online program that can help other artists or inner space explorers receive more - more love, more pleasure, more money, more creativity.

The Tao of Receiving online program starts on May 24, 2015 and will be a 40 day hands-on experience that uses participants own lives as the basis for experimenting with receiving more.

I'm excited about this program and its possibilities. I hope you'll join us!

 

Are You an Artist Who Gives, Gives, Gives?

When I was a child my mother once said to me, exasperated, "You can't save the whole world, you know!" Oh, but I tried.

Like many creative types, I was a sensitive kid. I wanted to fix everything. I wanted to make everyone happy, to make them smile, to take away their pain.

As a young adult, I spent many hours volunteering with a number of organizations, and even took a course called "Volunteering in the Community." Upon graduation I became a VISTA Volunteer (think domestic Peace Corps) for not one year of service, but two. Later, as a middle school teacher I brought students to tutor disenfranchised youth and to serve food in soup kitchens. I had them dumpster dive to find materials for an Earth Day-inspired "trashion" show. Later still I rescued an abused dog and took up fostering for a time, had Christmas parties where I asked folks to bring donations to the local shelter.

Through it all I was the friend who would listen to your drama, the one you could call at any time with any problem. I gave advice. So much advice. I was always there to "help." I was the employee that would settle for less so my employers could have more. I was the artist that gave her work away because she felt uncomfortable taking money when other people had nothing. Over and over again I relinquished my time, money, and energy in the spirit of "giving."

Guess what? I could not save the world. Surprise, surprise!

Turns out there's a reason the phrase "bleeding heart" exists. After years of giving, giving, giving - much of it with misguided intent - my heart felt drained. (So did my adrenals and my bank account!)

In short, I was tapped out. Fried. Toast. I mean, I even went to the doctor to get tested for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

It has taken YEARS of retreating, regrouping, and redefining myself to become rejuvenated again. I have learned the importance of balance and boundaries. I have learned that over-giving creates dependency and powerlessness. I have learned no one is going to value you and your time if you don't value it first. I have learned that money is an important and necessary tool.

Alas, old habits die hard it seems, because not long ago I felt the weight of a challenging situation in my life. I asked my Invisible Support Team (ie. guides, angels, dearly departed dog - you get the gist) to tell me one thing - just one! - that could change this situation in my life in a permanent and lasting way.

The answer was, "Let yourself receive."

In thinking about that nugget of inspiration I realized that many people confuse receiving with taking. Taking is greedy and selfish and comes from a place of fear. Receiving is natural, joyous, and comes from a place of empowerment. There can be no giving without receiving.

When we give without receiving we create imbalance.

With this in mind I have created a new online program that will allow me and a group of like-minded artists and "inner space explorers" to understand receiving in a deeper way, most especially in a way that shifts our thoughts and behaviors.

The Tao of Receiving program is a 40 day experiment that uses our own lives as Receiving Laboratories. It's designed to help you receive more - more love, more forgiveness, more money, more joy. You can find out all the details here.

If you can relate to my story about giving, giving, giving, I do hope you'll join me from May 24th to July 2nd, 2015 for this one-of-a-kind program.

In the end, when we give and receive equally and from a place of love, we are doing all of us a great service.

Photo Credit: Purple Rain/CC

 

Are You Leaving Enough White Space?

In the film industry when a producer, manager, agent (or, more likely, their assistants) receives a screenplay, the first thing they are said to do is flip through the pages looking at the ratio of white space to black text.

If there isn't enough white space the script automatically goes into the rejection pile. It sounds harsh, but it's for good reason since, generally speaking, one page of a screenplay is equivalent to one minute on the screen.

The white space shows the executive that the writer understands this tight, relatively unforgiving structure. It lets them know the writer did not succumb to flowery, descriptive language, that they likely didn't include a boatload of unimportant details, and that they didn't - God willing - meander.

In screenwriting and in life white space is necessary.

The presence of white space in screenwriting holds the promise of a focused, nuanced, yet engaging and entertaining script. It says, "I'm readable! I might even be a page turner!" That white space is breathing room. It's the pause between ideas, or the time jump between locations and scenes. White space is an exhale.

In life the white space reminds us that we cannot exist within the constant chatter of metaphoric black text. We cannot focus only on output and accomplishments. We must build in the pauses and breaks, because they allow us to rest and help us gather momentum to give birth to the Next Thing.

The birth metaphor is apt, because as with childbirth, we artists conceive, gestate, and labor. The white space is pregnancy, and it can't be rushed, hurried, or skimmed over. Yet, in our culture, we aren't taught to value the white space.

We are taught to be Productivity Machines, and, therefore, are prone to imbalance.

If you don't regularly step back and look at your creative practice as a whole, I recommend it. It's a living thing and it needs tending to. Ask yourself, "Am I leaving enough time in between? Am I exhaling? Am I balanced and focused?"

When we honor the white space we bring ourselves back to center and allow for a more fruitful creative life.

 

Don't Do What I Did

When I was a budding screenwriter I would do more than 20 revisions on a script before sending it to contests, managers, or production companies. Typically, professional screenwriters do 3 to 5 revisions before sending their work out. So even though I had to tack on some extra work for being a newbie, 20 revisions was total OVERKILL. It's no exaggeration to say that I spent years doing something that should've taken months. Instead of having 10 screenplays in my arsenal, I had 3. Some lessons I've learned in hindsight:

* Trying to make each work perfect is short-sighted. Instead of looking at your creative practice or creative career as a marathon, you're treating like a sprint. In doing so, you sacrifice the big picture for the small.

* The quest for perfection comes from a place of insecurity. We claim that we're only trying to "do our best," when really we're obsessively looking for flaws and missteps and systematically eradicating them in order to avoid the judgement of others.

* The most successful people abide by the rule of, "Done is better than perfect." Instead of giving in to the fear and mistrust of our own abilities, we have to retrain ourselves to do our best within the time, energy and expertise currently available then move on to the next so the work can continue to flow - and grow.

If you find yourself tending toward perfection more than completion take a look at your motivation. Is it driven by love or fear? If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't belabor my work. I'd have released it sooner rather than later and let it live on its own. Too many creative opportunities passed me by while I was searching for "perfection."

 

All Creativelike: 6 Questions with Children's Book Author Anika Denise

I recently had the great pleasure of producing and directing the above book trailer for Anika Denise, a wonderfully talented and wise children's book author. We had a blast filming her delightful family (and - extra bonus - there was copious amounts of chocolate cake!) Anika wrote about the production experience on her blog here, and I'm thrilled to feature her here today as she answers six questions about creativity and business.

1) Anika, can you tell us a little about the creative work you do? I'm a writer—mainly of children's books, although I also write poetry. Picture books were a first love, and I continue to enjoy reading them, writing them and collecting them. I love the interplay between words and illustrations, the perfectly placed page turn, the wide open wordless spread, the economy of language, the rhythm and pacing. As an art form, picture books are unique to me and endlessly fascinating. I'm not a visual artist, but I think visually—and write that way—so perhaps that's why I'm drawn to the them. I also write early chapter books and middle grade novels.

2) How would you define creativity? Creativity is channeling the gifts within you, outward. It's energy. It's how you enter the world. It can be derived from joy, pain, grief, bliss—whatever, but creativity to me is the essence of an individual, put forth. Something of the person is then recognizable in whatever he or she has created.

Conversely, I think our creations shape us. We understand ourselves a little more. We grow and change through them.

3) What are your daily and weekly habits and practices? I'd love to be able to answer this question with a more assured "this is what I do regularly," but my life doesn't work that way right now. I have three kids, one not yet in pre-school, I'm married to a freelance illustrator whose schedule can be erratic and demanding, so I work when I can, for as much time as I can manage. I have an informal bargain with myself to write at least five days a week (which I routinely break). My writer's life is unbalanced at best, consisting of long stretches of productivity followed by just as long periods of distraction. I think the key is, I understand that this is a temporary situation, that my schedule will normalize as my children grow older, and the time for a more stable writing routine will come. In short, I don't sweat it. I congratulate myself on being able to create among the chaos! If I do anything with regularity it is this: when inspiration strikes, I give over to it entirely and enjoy the process. I get outdoors for a little while every day. I try to get enough sleep. I read. Books are vital. They're the air I breathe.

4) How do you handle the balance between the creative and business ends of things? That's a very timely question. I'm in the midst of launching a new picture book and doing everything I can think of to publicize it. Publishers' marketing budgets are shrinking, which means more of the promotion falls to the author. So, at this particular moment, it feels like the business end is eclipsing the creative side, but again, it's about acceptance. Giving my book a better chance in the marketplace is a worthy endeavor, and although it pulls me away from writing, it's what I have to do. Also, I feel like marketing is creative work and try to view it that way. The book trailer we did, for instance, felt very much like making art to sell art. I love that.

5) Any advice for aspiring children's book authors? Read as much as you can. Keep writing and finish, even if you feel it's not perfect, or needs work. Finish the draft. Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and go to the conferences and local chapter events. Put yourself out there. Be fearless.

Practice, patience and perseverance rule the day in this business.

6) What's next for you? Next up is a picture book with HarperCollins Children's called, "Monster Trucks!" releasing in 2016. Until now, I've exclusively worked on books with my husband Chris. This will be the first one I do with a different illustrator, so it's a new experience for me. Nate Wragg, a visual development artist for Pixar, has signed on to illustrate. I'm excited to see how he brings it to life. Chris and I have another picture book in the works, and I continue to slowly develop longer works of fiction that I hope to have under contract soon. I just need to follow my own advice: be brave, and finish.

Anika Denise is the author of “Baking Day at Grandma’s,” (Philomel, 2014) “Bella and Stella Come Home,” (Philomel, 2010) and “Pigs Love Potatoes” (Philomel, 2007.) In 2016, HarperCollins Children’s Books will release her forthcoming title, “Monster Trucks!” Her books have been praised by Parents’ Choice Foundation, The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and the Rhode Island Center for the Book. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Barrington, Rhode Island. For more information about Anika’s books, visit her website.