simple is okay


About 15 years ago I painted this little graphic on the wall in my kitchen. I painted a dark teal stripe to break up the space on one wall and wanted to add a little extra something to bring the spaces together. Since I love circles, I decided to play with them. My favorite shapes and favorite colors both came together so effortlessly...

It seems like that graphic would have been a perfect jumping off point to investigate further, but in my mind the ease and effortlessness only meant that I wasn’t pushing myself enough. Once, I had a design teacher that upon reviewing my portfolio said, “Ah, yes, I know you are used to getting A’s, but I am not sure you are working hard enough.” At the time, I was not very skilled at speaking up for myself, so I quietly soaked up her words without any question. From that day forward, I made it a point to work even harder, making sure I didn’t reach for the simple solution.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about simplicity and effortlessness in a new light—curious how these terms have gotten a bum rap in my mind. I’ve noticed that when I am working with a mindset of ease, all my work flows. It doesn’t mean that I am trying to rush or cut corners; rather it’s a desire to work with my strengths and be in a state of ease rather than stress.

Part of my turning away from the simple, graphic style I painted in my kitchen is that since it came so easily and naturally, I felt I was cheating somehow. I thought I had better dig in and find a more difficult way to make my art—I needed to experience some sort of struggle with it to prove I was working. So I walked away from the simple graphic color in order to try other styles.

Of course in the effort to make it more difficult, I was squeezing a lot of the joy out of my process.

Over the past few months, I have been working to reconnect to the joy of making while I am knee deep in creating. I am realizing it is more important to be full of joy rather than full of struggle because joy is what I want people to feel when they view my art. And the feelings that I create with are what will last.

I am realizing that simple doesn’t mean a lack of skill or attention to detail. Nor does it mean that I am not continually searching how to stretch my skills and grow. I feel that aligning with simplicity is helping me distill my skills and my voice by clearing out the clutter and distractions..

Simple is perfect.

making just for joy

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out at the blacksmith forge—my son works and I sit and draw/paint. Usually the music is blaring—heavy metal, of course—and there is a lot of hammering. It’s quite noisy, but there’s something peaceful about the place with the cold winter air blowing in through the open garage door and the grinders throwing sparks as people finish their pieces. There’s a wooden bench I sit on that is close to one of the forges so I can stay warm while I work.

This night, a new face was in the group, a boy around my son’s age and he seemed pretty new to blacksmithing. He had a few pieces of steel he was working on trying to get them to bend to his imagination. He was working close to my bench and I could see he was watching me as I scribbled and marked up my paper. I smiled and soon he was asking me what I was up to.

I used to be shy about working on art in public mainly because I wasn’t always so confident about my work. I wanted things to be perfect before showing them to anyone. These days, I feel like it is more important than ever to be making and sharing our work in every stage—that’s how we learn, that’s how we help each other grow. I found out that having conversations with people about making art brought me joy. I felt better after chatting with someone.

I showed him the drawing I was working on and told him how the lines and scribbles came together for me one day as I was experimenting and trying something new. He smiled wide and nodded, yes, that was how he liked to make art, too. “You never know what you might get sometimes, but you have to try,” he said. That was exactly how adding color to these abstract drawings had come about for me—I was curious how it would look and dove in.  s i m p l e .

Following what brings us joy is a simple process. We have to listen to those little nudges of ideas that pop up and try them out to discern what we like. The more we allow ourselves to follow our joy, the more we end up discovering what exactly fills us up and creates that joy. The first step is all about giving ourselves permission to try.

it’s not about the art


Staring at a blank piece of paper is daunting, but making the first couple of marks can be even more of a challenge. It’s not so much the physical act of making a mark that is the challenge, rather it’s sitting with the chatter in your mind that tells you those marks are no good—that they won’t lead you anywhere near your desired outcome.

This chatter is what is trying to pull you off course; it tries to insinuate that what you are doing is a waste of time; that you would be better off if you quit and used your time more wisely. The chatter tries to sway you to believe that your art isn’t important and it’s no good.

Funny thing is, there is a thread of truth to the chatter—it’s not the art that is important. The finished piece is nice, but it’s the process of making the art that holds the treasure. By choosing to focus on being present with the process of making your art instead of your chattering mind you strengthen your resolve, you strengthen your confidence, and you begin to trust your creativity. You begin to learn how to put play and experimentation above results and that will lead you straight into the joy of making.

your own scavenger hunt


When you spend consistent time creating you begin to notice what you enjoy making—maybe it’s drawing flowers, maybe it’s making dog leashes, maybe it’s making cakes. With time and practice, you learn to trust yourself to know how to make what you like and find your way out of mistakes or problems. Once this practice becomes routine, you develop a rhythm to your work that flows freely from your core.

If you want to find your creative flow, you have to find what you want to make, and you must also find what inspires you to keep the flow going. You will have to discover what fills you up, what sparks your creativity, and what encourages you to dig deeper.

I like to think of this as a scavenger hunt—where I am always on the lookout for the big and little things that catch my eye. For me, I always love to investigate flower pods and moss stalks. I like to take my time on walks to notice what is growing in the little cracks in the rock walls along my streets. I take a lot of pictures, a lot. I don’t always refer back to them, but the pause to notice the plants and frame them in my camera gives me another opportunity to soak up details.

Art is more a way of living and being rather than just producing something with your hands. Allow yourself to slow down and notice what calls your attention.

you know you best


I think one aspect that gives people stress when it comes to being creative is that they don’t want to make a mistake, they don’t want to mess up. Since many of our schools have dropped art making, we have forgotten how to just play around and discover what we like.

Giving yourself space to play and not make something is freeing. It’s a chance to discover what speaks to you, what you enjoy and what you want to do more of.

For me, there are 2 aspects to trying something new, one is the first initial reaction of ugh, yuck, this is horrible, and then there is the second, once I have had a chance to dive in and get my hands dirty where I usually realize that this new activity isn’t so bad. If I stick with my initial reaction, I never stretch—I never experiment and make new discoveries.

Once I make it past the ‘this isn’t so bad stage,’ I can allow myself to really assess what I like and what I don’t. Do I like the line that is made when I draw a pencil through wet paint, or do I prefer marking on dry paint? Do I like the color red with that orange? Do I like painting with watercolors or acrylics best? What speaks to your heart as you are creating? When you align with that feeling, your creations will speak to others as well.

In order to be your best authority, you need to get to know what excites you, what helps you feel challenged and what helps you feel whole. In the case of art, that means you must give yourself permission to roll up your sleeves and make a lot of messes. It can be frustrating to push paint around and end up with a big blob of yuck, but that’s what it takes. If paint isn’t your thing, then find what is. This is your opportunity to make a mark, to make your voice heard, no matter the materials used.

Art is what we make with our hands and the way we share our hearts with the world. It takes practice to strengthen and hone our voice.