Random Monday: Hello, Friends

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While I’ve been enjoying my Monday sabbatical, I will tell all of you, my dear readers, that I do miss you and I’ve so appreciated all the messages I’ve gotten from all of you saying that you miss me. My father passed away June 5 and, since then, I have been trying to manage my calendar and keep my stress levels at just below a fever pitch. Finding time for calm and connecting with good people has been key.

This fall, there will be a new iteration of my blog at http://www.darsworld.com. It is unlikely to have the same, rigid Monday structure or the consistent journalistic style but, instead, be more of a personal reflection of my life as a creative person. My sweet partner and I are in the middle of relocating to New Hope, PA right now which heralds in a whole new chapter, both personally and professionally, and I look forward to all the new inspiration that will come from living in such a creatively charmed town and how I will share it with the world.

Stay tuned.

But now, it’s time for some CTL– that’s CREATIVE TOUGH LOVE… read on… My colleague, Deb Barends, and I absolutely love doing our Creativity Institute every summer. If you’ve been there with us, you know it’s like nineteen tons of inspirational fun. We’ve been fortunate to have amazing, and pretty famous, guest instructors like Carla SonheimPamela Swallow, Brod Bagert and Gerald Fierst, to name a few. In the beginning, it was mostly geared towards teachers but, since 2011 it grew to attract creative souls of all kinds. This year we have the illustrative Diana Trout from Philadelphia and the talented Lisa Firke from the DC area.

BUT GUESS WHAT??? If we don’t get FOUR more people to sign up we are going to have to CANCEL for the first time in ever!! We aren’t beating around the bush here, people. We’ve dropped the “regular” price and everyone can sign up for the “early bird” price– $275.00. It’s TWO FULL DAYS of projects, all your supplies, FOUR unique workshops by different instructors and, did I mention? IT INCLUDES LUNCH AND CHOCOLATE!!!? Seriously, try to find a better deal. NJ Create is going on right now and you can bet, if you’re there, they can’t come close.

SO, THIS IS IT GUYS. Many of you said you wanted to come, planned to come, blah, blah, blah. Message me now if you are for reals. Go towww.teachingoutofthebox.wordpress.com and download the registration form. Send it in or, much to our disappointment, we will have to try to see you again in 2015.

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Monday #41: Father’s Day

Dar and Dad

I’m celebrating Father’s Day two Sundays early this year. I bring you this post from a bedside vigil I’ve been sharing with my mother and my sister. My father, pictured here with me just four weeks ago in what would be our last photograph together, was rushed to the hospital this past Thursday. With conditions that were not only irreversible but worsening, he was removed from all life support on Saturday morning as per his wishes.

If you have ever spent the hours watching over someone who is on their way to the next journey, you know there are many things to say, many tears to be shed, many stories to be told and many emotions to be navigated. It is a challenge, at this moment, to even attempt to articulate the importance of this man in my life… he has been my dad, my mentor, my confidant, my spiritual teacher, one of my best and most trusted friends, and, in many ways, my soulmate as an artist. The things I will miss with his departure from this life are too numerous for me to even understand right now and the ache in my heart is deep and intense.

This will also be my last post at 52 Mondays. While, I didn’t intend to announce these two things at once, it seems appropriate in a way considering that my dad was always my biggest fan here. Many of the posts, in fact, came directly from long, philosophical phone conversations my dad and I had over the almost four years I’ve been keeping this blog and, often, he would be the first to read and comment. As I posted last week, I have a new website (www.darsworld.com) and, in time, I will add a blog-ish section but I’ve decided that right now I need to move forward with some other parts of my life as an artist and put this on hold for a bit. It has not been an easy decision.

Thank you all for being a part of this experiment, for your beautiful comments and emails, and for all the ways you’ve told me you’ve been inspired, motivated or moved to thoughtfulness by my posts. I have grown so much as a human and a writer by keeping this blog and I am so grateful to you, my readers, for being a part of this. I have enjoyed becoming a blogger with you all.

I will leave the 52 Mondays blog up “forever,” whatever that means in cyberspace, and I will post any announcements about any new blog-ish thing here when it happens. Until then, I am wishing you all many more marvelous Mondays.

And as I spend these days beside one of the best human beings I have ever had the privilege to know and love, praying and hoping for his passage to be swift and painless, I will say this to you: Be kind. Always be kind to one another. Tell each other those important things when you feel them. Savor the little moments that, in our busy and hectic lives, are tempting to not notice. They will be the ones you cherish forever.

This photograph was taken just seconds before I left for the St. Louis airport to return to my life in New Jersey. The last thing my dad said to me is, “Dar, love is forever. It is the thing that remains.” Indeed.

Love, Peace & Blessings,

Dar

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Monday #40: Get Fresh

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Ah, spring. It’s the season of renewal, rebirth and freshness. Greens and yellows and pinks replace grays and browns, rain falls down to wash away the winter, rejuvenate the soil and bring forth new sprouts. Weather is unpredictable which makes me think of “fresh”–as in Mother Nature not caring a bit that we want to wear our new sandals and sundresses. She is taking advantage of Spring. She is getting fresh with us!

I’ve been getting  fresh too. I’m llooking at my career and trying to see the ways I can expand what I do, thinking about my art and learning new ways to use it. I’ve been taking classes and attending conferences and events. Most of all, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be classified as just a children’s book author or just a painter or just an instructor–or just anything. My “work” in this life, is as varied and dynamic as the seasons and, rather than keep trying to fit myself into some definition of what I “do,” I’m embracing all the parts and letting them all live together in harmony.

And, so, drum roll, please… I’m rolling out my new website, www.darsworld.com. I have been thinking and talking about a new site for almost three years and, finally, I decided to do something about it. It is still under construction–indeed, in order to stay fresh, it will always  be under construction, but I’m pleased to be sharing this new little sprout. It represents, for the first time, all the things I do in this world. When I figure out how to let you guys subscribe, I plan to move the blog over. I don’t fancy myself an IT expert, by any stretch of the imagination and, admittedly, I would have posted there today if I could have figured it out!! But, that’s OK. I once thought I’d have to have everything all put together before I announced anything like a new site but I’m feeling good about making small steps. Small steps are definitely in order for this project. Breathe and move forward one bit at a time.

But, now, enough about me… what about you? What in your life could use a little freshening up? When is the last time you thought about actually making a change in some part of your life and, moreover, why didn’t you? We are all so full of dreams, so full of plans. We dream and plan big, don’t we? But we often put our dreams and plans on hold because there never seems to be enough… enough what? Time, money, time, money, time, time, time.

Stop.

Think about something that you want to change or do in your life. Think about that thing that has been on your mind so long–that thing you always push aside because you’ve convinced yourself it’s too hard, too complicated, too overwhelming. It could be silly thing, like a website, or it could be something much more deep and emotional.

Begin to imagine what it might feel like to be on the other side. For just a moment, put aside all the fears that keep you from moving forward and quiet the voice that tells you all the reasons you can’t do what you so desire. Now, ask yourself this question: What one, small thing could I do right now to begin the motion of this change?

Let it be so small that someone might laugh at your “progress.” Maybe it will take 20 seconds. Maybe it will even take less. But, it will be done. Tomorrow, think of the next small thing…

It’s springtime, my friends. Get fresh!

TRY THIS WEEK: Think of your small step toward fresh changes.

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Monday #39: Start Small… Conquer Big

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Overwhelm. We all know it. It happens and it happens again. It’s a result of many parts of our lives… social, financial, professional, personal… things seem to pile up and we feel it: OVERWHELM. Generally what happens is a variation on anxiety, procrastination or paralysis. Or, sometimes, all three of these things happen. You know it and I know it.

What to do? If you can believe with me for a moment that big changes come from very small steps then here are some very small steps to begin to deal with overwhelm. Try one or all of them to see if you can start to chip away at your own feelings of being overwhelmed and move onto a new space where you can feel more empowered and in control.

1. Breathe. Really, breathe. Take a moment and just breathe. I mean stop whatever you are doing, be still, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Try ten. Trust me, it works.

2. Ask yourself this: What’s working right now? Among all the chaos and things you must do, there are truly things that are working for you all the time. Overwhelm wants us to forget about the things that are working. Don’t forget about them. Stop to take inventory of what’s working… even if there are only one or two things. Feel the goodness of that. Be grateful.

3. Ask yourself this very important question: What if I didn’t have to do/think about/deal with all these things right now?

4. Take a moment to ask yourself this: What do I really need to do right now? What is the one thing that I could do that will alleviate the most stress?

5. Consider this question very, very, very seriously: What can I do to make this more FUN?

You may have noticed that all but one of the things to do on this list are questions. That’s because your brain loves questions. In fact, your brain doesn’t even care if there are answers to the questions, it loves them anyway. Questions get your brain working in a positive, problem-solving way. You can use my questions here or come up with your own; your brain will appreciate any and all of them.

The important thing is to stop, breathe and then let your brain do the good work it knows how to do when you slip into overwhelm. What would it feel like to know that the power to overcome this feeling is within you?!

TRY THIS WEEK: Conquer overwhelm!

 

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Monday #38: The Kids Are Alright

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This past weekend was Cabaret at my children’s high school. It is the annual, year-end variety show which features the school’s two most charismatic seniors as the emcees and a diverse lineup of acts that are imagined, designed, produced and performed by any student in the school who is interested in auditioning. I started going four years ago when my oldest son, Ethan, made it into jazz band as a freshman. The jazz band plays all the musical introductions and interludes during the two hour event.

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My son, Ethan, on right, playing alto saxophone.

Ethan is a senior this year so, unless his younger brother, Caleb, makes the switch from clarinet to saxophone that the director has been asking him to do, this will have been my last year with a kid in the Cabaret. I might just keep going, though, because it is some of the most inspiring performances you’ll see in the arts in our town and has got to be one of the best shows you can see for ten bucks. It was kind of bittersweet to see my son do his last high school sax playing.

All sentimentality aside, every time I’ve been to this event, I have been impressed on so many levels. There is a lot of negative talk about this generation of kids and, personally, I feel a lot of what might be ailing them and their personalities comes from some serious missteps by the adults in their lives, but that is another topic entirely. What I see when I go to a production like this, however, is the enormous capacity these young adults have for imagination, creativity, collaboration, expression and, most notably, support for each other.

Here are just a few examples of some of the wide range of diverse talents these teens had on display:

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A choreographed dance in homemade light suits that had the ability to have certain portions lit at different times. IMG_3775

A local dance star who clearly revels in the skill, flexibility and movement for which he has trained his body so diligently.IMG_3774

A beautiful acoustic duet that capitalized on two unique voices rather than the more “canned” style of the highly trained musical theatre student.IMG_3773

Fun, playful and sexy belly dancing.

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A silly tap dance number in inflated “fat suits.”IMG_3765

Bouncy, fun group fiddle playing.IMG_3764

And, of course, a talented boy band.

There were many more acts worth noting but you can see what I mean by diversity, can’t you? When I see so many young people with such a variety of talents and creative interests, it makes me feel very hopeful about their ability to join a world that so desperately needs people with the power to imagine, delight and inspire others. I respect that they understand their own creative skills and are excited about sharing them with an audience for the sole purpose of enjoyment and fun. It is quite a departure from their day-to-day living–one in which we push them to accomplish the things that will bring good grades and monetary success which is, unfortunately, what the world seems to have dictated for all of us. These silly, extravagant evenings let us all indulge for a moment in being in our own joy, both as participants and spectators.

And, as inspiring and fun as all these young performers were, what I have consistently noticed lately in all venues where I witness young people perform in front of their peers is a touching and unwavering support they have for each other, seemingly simply for the act of performing. Encouraging shout-outs, clapping and singing along and mad cheering for each other is always present and, when I first encountered this, I was kind of surprised. I remember the cruel days of junior high when an off note in a choral performance yielded instant heckling and many kids wouldn’t even dream of getting on a stage for fear of the social repercussions. My own single–and failed– attempt at cheerleader tryouts was, indeed, a dark cloud in that entire school year and one that surely influenced my desire to ever try out for anything again. These kids are far more supportive of each other’s courage, far more engaged in each other’s individual art forms, and far more willing to appreciate what it takes to put oneself out there for public scrutiny than were the teens of my own youth. And, it seems to me that they can acknowledge greatness in each other. They clap, they hoot, they give the love.

We know so well how to talk about what’s wrong with them but sometimes, well, the kids are alright.

TRY THIS WEEK: See what’s right with them.

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Monday #37: Critics Say

Dar-by-Aiko

A few weeks ago I was given this drawing. It is a portrait of me drawn by a fourth grade student named Aiko. She told me she drew it special, with pink eye shadow, a “stylish” hair-do and–I particularly love this– a fancy wetsuit. Aiko is a smart, precocious, spunky and outgoing girl who loves to learn and has lots of friends at her school. Her teacher calls her a gift to everyone in the class. Aiko is severely vision impaired. (You can see her braille writing at the top). When I asked her aide how much she can see, she said she has one “pinhole” of vision in the periphery of her left eye.

I posted this on my Facebook page, along with the description, and immediately got about 50 “likes.” People who commented said it was inspiring, sweet and beautiful. A few made mention that they were delighted by the off proportions, especially the portrayal of my neck which is long and graceful like a swan, wouldn’t you say?

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A few weeks later, one of the art blogs I follow, The Painter’s Keys by Robert Genn, made a post about former President George Bush’s painting “hobby.” While George Bush doing paintings is not new news and we have seen the quirky dog and cat paintings all over the internet, this critique was focused on his vast collection of portraits.

Bush Putin Painting

All politics aside, the first comments on the blog were surprisingly fierce. “Professional” portrait artists quickly weighed in with all their really hard criticisms on his choices of color,  his missing sense of proportion and overall execution. Most agreed that Bush clearly showed no chance without some serious schooling and should give it up. In a little while, some artists–me included–defended the self-taught, non-art-school, late blooming creative who has the guts to pick up a paintbrush at all. I’ll admit that I found him a disastrous world leader but I actually quite like his art. I think it’s rather nice in its non-perfection. I am pretty pleased with his animal paintings and feel curious about his attraction to portraiture.

 

Dar Booth 2014

Yesterday I did a show in Philadelphia. I have been an artist who does street festivals for about 15 years now so I have heard everything when it comes to what people will say about another person’s art–including one of the most amusing comments, “I could do that.” But yesterday a woman came into my booth and, after studying my paintings, prints, and my books for some time said, “It’s so nice that you have a hobby like this.” Hobby. I know that most of the general public has no idea what it means to really be an artist and to actually choose this way to make a living. It’s funny that she could look around at a booth like mine and consider this a “hobby,” isn’t it? And, I really take all these comments in stride, of course, but they do make for good Facebook discussion topics and this one struck a big, humorous chord with my fellow creatives.

So, all these things get me thinking about how we all perceive art. Who gets to put something weird out there and not get shot down by a world full of critics? Is it OK to slam a grown man who hasn’t been to art school, but not a little blind girl? Is it a valid perception to view some people as having art hobbies, even if they are obviously “working”? My friend and colleague, Paige, posted a brilliant response to my Facebook post on hobby artists:

Do you think at the root of it might be that some people have had it so thoroughly pounded into their brains that a person can’t make a living being creative that they assume it must be a hobby? You do amazing work,Dar, and have so much to be proud of. And a huge part of what I think you’ve accomplished is not being dragged down by that lie that most people succumb to—which is that it’s not even possible, and that work is definitionally something that sucks. You know what I mean?

Yes, I do  know what you mean, Paige. And I think you’re right. When we are adults, perhaps most of us feel that the thing we work at must be hard and unpleasant. Maybe we also believe we must be schooled and certified to have it be real. I love what I do. I support a family doing what I do. I work at it every day, sometimes with weird and long hours. It is not always easy and I often feel the pressure of deadlines and the expectations of others. But it also brings me immense joy and it makes me feel fully human. I get the feeling that Aiko and George both know that feeling, whether or not they have to pay their rent with their portraits. I am of the opinion that anyone who wants to criticize me or any other artist should meditate a little bit on what probably deserves a little self-reflection.

TRY THIS WEEK: Quiet the critic.

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