Making Bad Art Really IS Good for You!

I recently read an article that made me extremely happy. It discussed a study that found that making art can reduce stress levels, whether or not you have any experience.  (You can read the full article here.) A group of 39 people of varying ages, races, genders, and experience making art spent 45 minutes either doing collages, modelling with clay, or drawing with markers. Of the people in the study, 75% of them had lower cortisol levels after the session (cortisol is a biological indicator of stress).

And get this—the levels didn’t differ based on prior experience with art-making! Isn’t that great news? It’s just as I said in my old post, “Making Bad Art Is Good for You”—and now there’s scientific proof that’s true! It really takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

So, here’s your prescription from Dr. Ashley, lol: Create something! Today, or this week, I invite you to set aside some time to play. Get creative in whatever way makes you happiest, whether that’s doodling, coloring, drawing, painting, collage, sewing, knitting, crocheting, cooking, gardening, decorating your home, photography, clay modeling, making music, arranging shells on the beach—whatever feels the most fun. Let yourself just enjoy the process without judging the result (easier said than done, I know, but try it!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t, because you “don’t know how”? There are tons of instructional videos out there. Or you could even—gasp—just play around without any instructions at all! (This makes my inner perfectionist freak out, so I know it’s a good idea!) Go for it! You have nothing to lose and a happier, healthier self to gain!

You can also take classes, which I enjoy because then you’re interacting with other creative souls as well as learning something new. If that appeals to you, you may want to check out the women’s art camp I’ve talked about before (here, here, and here). I’m actually teaching there this year (on creating a restorative daily ritual) and I’m already counting the days! I can’t wait to immerse myself in that magical experience again, connecting with fascinating women and creating our hearts out just for the fun of it! This year’s camp is Wednesday, November 6 through Sunday, November 10 in Hunt, Texas. You can learn more at www.luckystarartcamp.com.

Meanwhile, go play! It’s good for you!

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Creating a Vision Book

I recently took a fabulous online course called Magical Mornings by Meghan Genge, which I thought was just about creating a morning ritual but turned out to be so much more than that. (I highly recommend the course if you want some really lovely, deep practices to help you “find clarity on who you are, and a sustainable way of creating a life full of wonder”: check it out here.)

Anyway, one of the practices she suggested was a vision book, which is a twist on the vision boarding process. If you’re not familiar with vision boarding, it’s where you go through magazines and cut out pictures that appeal to you—perhaps places you want to visit, or ways you want your home to look, or specific items you’d like to own—and paste them on pieces of cardboard or foamcore. Generally, people create vision boards to represent things that they want in their lives.

Meghan’s idea was more about evoking feelings. She talked about a picture she had found of a tree house overlooking the sea in Scandinavia. The picture called to her not because it was a house she wanted to live in or a place she wanted to visit, but because it made her feel a certain way: “excited, delighted, and slightly squirmy with possibilities.”

In this practice, you choose images because of how they make you feel—whatever feeling feels good, and that you want more of in your life, whether it’s excited, full of potential, happy, intrigued, open, or something else—and cut those out. So instead of a specific car you want, you might choose an image of a woman driving down a coastal highway in a convertible, because you like how free and adventurous it makes you feel. Then you paste the pictures in a journal or sketchbook that you can flip through at any time.

Years ago Kate Spade ran a magazine ad that featured a woman dressed up and smiling—obviously having the time of her life at some sort of elegant party—and the caption was something like: “She had a glass of champagne in her hand and confetti in her hair.” I was completely captivated by that ad and that sentiment, so much so that I tore it out and taped it to the wall. I wanted to feel like that woman more often—carefree, on top of the world, beautiful, fun. That’s the sort of image I’m talking about.

Go through a variety of magazines and cut out any image that appeals to you on that gut level, even if it doesn’t make any logical sense at the moment. Once you have a nice pile, select the ones that really resonate—that make you feel “squirmy with possibilities” or just feel like a deep internal yes. Then put those aside for a day or two. Come back to them after that time, and sit with each one, seeing if it still feels wonderful. If so, paste it into your journal.

Then whenever you want a lift—when you want to connect to those wonderful feelings—pull that journal out and slowly flip through the pages, allowing the images to bring out those feelings in you. You can make this a daily ritual, to plug you into those emotions every day.

Add images as you come across them. And if at some point one or more of the images in your journal no longer feels right, tear it out or paste over it! This journal should be evolving, not static—just as you are. Sound like fun? Try it for a while, and let me know what you think!

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Join Our Creative Community!

I am so excited to announce the launch of the Creation Co-op: an online creative community for women. Over the past year I’ve been part of a wonderful group of women who have been dreaming and scheming together, and now we’re ready to share our vision with you!

The Creation Co-op is a community of women who are committed to reclaiming our full creative power. We believe that creation is our birthright, and that every act of creativity supports us in becoming exactly who we were created to be. As we create, we remember who we are and how to trust ourselves.

Important note: this is not about being an “artist.” Anyone can participate, regardless of what you consider to be your “skill level.” This is about enjoying the creative process, whatever that means for you. It could be “art” but it could also be cooking, gardening, homecare—whatever brings you joy and helps you feel more connected to your authentic self.

We create together “for the Love of Creation”—meaning that we focus on the delight of our creative experiences, not just on the end result. This is something that is so important, but as I’ve discussed here before, often very difficult to do. I’m thrilled to be part of a group that will help me keep remembering how to find joy in the process and stop judging the product.

Our contributors share their authentic experiences with creation through artistic self-expression as well as the practice of consciously creating a meaningful life through healing and self-care. We view life as a beautiful, heartbreaking, non-linear journey of healing that is meant to be traveled in the company of like-minded sisters.

In the first session, “Befriending Ourselves,” we’ve each created videos about our own struggles to do this and the practices/ideas/tools we’ve found that help. Session 1 will be released on May 20. If you register before then, you’ll receive 25% off! Here are all the details.

Purchasing a session enables you to become a member of our Creation Co-op Private Community on Facebook. This is where the magic happens: each week we will share our creations, connect, and have fun together (and we plan to do in-person gatherings in the future!). Information about joining our private community is included in the full PDF package that you will receive on the session’s release date.

If you’re interested in joining this adventure, I’ve got a coupon code for a free pass to Session 1! Just email me and let me know that you want in!

Follow the Creation Co-op on Instagram and Facebook for details, fun videos (including bloopers!), and more opportunities to win! Please feel free to share this info with anyone you think might benefit from it—the more the merrier!

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Approaching Your Life as a Work of Art

Each one of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before. … So it is with creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

I’m continuing to read Simple Abundance—at 700+ pages, I’ll be at it for a while!—and I’m continuing to find all sorts of interesting insights. (See first post here.) Something that has really struck me is this concept of creating our daily lives as works of art.  Breathnach recommends to “start thinking of your life as a work-in-progress. Works-in-progress are never perfect. But changes can be made to the rough draft during rewrites. Another color can be added to the canvas. The film can be tightened during editing. Art evolves. So does life. Art is never stagnant. Neither is life. The beautiful, authentic life you are creating for yourself and those you love is your art. It’s the highest art.”

Wow. Thinking of my life as a work-in-progress is a simple concept, but it feels radically freeing to me. It essentially takes the pressure off.  And approaching each day as if it is art I am creating—rather than just a to-do list I have to get through—really elevates everything.

Breathnach also talks about how to make our lives more nourishing by scattering moments of joy throughout. She says, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment.”

Of course, as a “joy detective,” I love this idea. Something you can do, which I have done before, is to make a Bliss List: a list of simple pleasures that bring you joy. Then do at least one thing from it every day. Here are some of the items on my list:

·         Reading

·         Sitting in the sun

·         Savoring a cup of tea

·         Watching classic movies

·         Fresh flowers

·         Listening to jazz

·         Hugging

·         Toast with butter

·         Chocolate

·         Sitting and doing nothing (especially on a rainy day)

Breathnach also suggests trying to do daily tasks mindfully to “restore serenity to your daily endeavors.” She says, “Serene women do not get sidetracked. Sidetracked women, who scatter their energies to the four winds, never achieve serenity. … Concentrate slowly on completing one task at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over.”

She says that we will wonder how we’ll manage to get everything done this way, but “I assure you that you will accomplish all you set out to do and need to do with much more ease, efficiency, pleasure, and satisfaction.” In fact, studies are now proving that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. Plus, this approach just feels better to me.

What do you think about these concepts? Do you also find them comforting and supportive? I’d love to hear. You can let me know by replying to this email, or in the comments below.

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Be Your Note

I found this lovely Rumi poem the other day and it really resonated with me. I can be plagued with self-doubt, especially about whether or not my creative work is valuable and helpful. If you ever have that feeling, perhaps it will encourage you to continue on, as it did me.

Each Note

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.

Each note is a need coming through one of us

a passion, a longing-pain.

Remember the lips

where the wind-breath note originated,

and let your note be clear.

Don’t try to end it.

Be your note.

I’ll show you how it’s enough.

Go up on the roof at night

in this city of the soul.

Let everyone climb on their roofs

and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

Jalāl, Al-Dīn Rūmī. “Each Note.” The Essential Rumi. Trans. Coleman Barks. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1995

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The Restorative Power of Retreats

What a difference a year makes! I recently returned from Lucky Star Art Camp, and while I was there I reflected on how much I’ve changed since I first attended in November, 2016. I have stretched myself way beyond my comfort zone, beginning with going to Lucky Star last year completely alone and not knowing a soul in advance. I was scared, but proud of myself for doing it anyway. I also had been feeling a deep yearning to be creative, but had no idea how and zero confidence in my ability. And, I felt silly, selfish, and irresponsible to be spending time and money on something that was not “productive” or “purposeful.”

Then I took my first class, began to loosen up, and gradually learned to let go and enjoy the process for what it was giving me rather than focusing on what I created. I also discovered how friendly, open, and supportive everyone was, and how delightful it feels to be surrounded by kindred spirits united in a common goal of creating and connecting.

This year, I felt way more comfortable from the beginning, and I was much more relaxed in my approach to the classes. (At least I had gotten better at stemming the rising tide of performance anxiety and ignoring that critical voice in my head.) I’ve been channeling my creativity into my book project over the last six months, but had been missing the hands-on fun of making art. It felt so blissful to dive in to each of my classes and be fully present in the moment.

 I made beaded necklaces, learned watercolor and whimsical lettering techniques, and played around with acrylic paint while sitting by the river. I did acquire some skills, but I also practiced letting go of my expectations, which was way more valuable.  I was even able to display some of my creations during “show and tell” the last evening of camp. They weren’t perfect or professional, but I was still proud—and putting my imperfect art out for all to see was quite an accomplishment for me.

What makes Lucky Star so special? Certainly the people are a huge factor—from creator Lisa Hamlyn Field and the team of family and friends helping her, whose enthusiasm and energy are contagious, to the gracious and generous staff of Camp Waldemar, to the inspiring creative souls who teach the classes, to the fun and supportive women who attend—everyone contributes to making the experience unforgettable. Sitting around the campfire at night, telling jokes, sharing, and singing along as the resident singer/songwriter Mandy Rowden plays her guitar—you feel like part of a vibrant sisterhood. That sort of connection with other women can be lacking in our hectic lives, and it’s so vital.

Also, the setting is spectacular. Waldemar is a restorative, spiritual spot. You feel it the minute you turn into the drive: the peace, the beauty, the history, the magic. On the last afternoon I lay for hours next to the river, listening to the waterfall downstream and watching the breeze blow through the cypress trees. Horses came down to drink and splash around. Small groups of women were gathered at different spots, talking and making art. It was a powerful tonic. I am so envious of the girls who get to spend months there in the summer.

And then there’s the food! I’ve never had such nourishing, delicious meals in all my life. The staff prepares everything with tons of love, and it shows. They make every dish so tasty and appealing, I find myself eating way more than I usually do at home! But as another camper noted, mysteriously, we don’t gain weight while we’re there. Despite eating three large meals a day for nearly four days (and dessert! at lunch AND dinner!), I’m not any heavier when I come home. We theorized that it’s because the food is prepared both healthily and lovingly, and that our creative exertions burn a lot more calories than you’d imagine!

I had thought that perhaps I’d built up last year’s experience in my mind, making it seem much more wonderful than it really was—but no, it was just as incredible as I’d remembered. I’m so glad I went back and immersed myself in that magic once again. I feel creatively recharged and personally restored. I remember now that retreats like this do have a purpose—they renew our spirits so that we can return to our lives with fresh energy and enthusiasm. It’s not irresponsible or silly. It may be selfish, but in the best sort of way—taking care of oneself is necessary for a good life. I talked with one camper who said her husband was so struck by how happy she was after coming home from camp her first year that he insisted she go every year. It makes a real difference in the quality of our lives—and our loved ones’ lives—when we are happy, and activities like this fill us up. I can’t wait for next year!

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Making Bad Art Is Good for You!

Tomorrow I leave for Lucky Star Art Camp! I’m so excited to be giving myself this gift for the second year in a row. Last year, I was nervous—I didn’t know anyone else and wasn’t sure what to expect. But I quickly discovered a wonderful group of kindred spirits—women of all ages coming together to feast on creativity (and some really excellent food)! And the setting was magical—a working girls’ summer camp on the banks of the Guadaloupe River, complete with campfires and horseback riding! I left camp last year rejuvenated, with a new awareness of just how much joy making art gives me.

Last year, before I found out about Lucky Star, I kept feeling a pull to paint. I was tired of working with words all the time and wanted to make something with my hands. I wanted a creative experience that allowed my mind to relax, to find that feeling of flow. I began messing around with acrylics and watercolors, and had fun even as I cringed at my lack of ability.

When I found out about Lucky Star and signed up for it, I thought I’d get some guidance there on how to make better art so I could stop feeling embarrassed about my creations. But what I actually learned was infinitely more powerful and useful.  I learned how to give myself permission to make bad art—to just create for the sake of creating, regardless of the results. We were shown how to do the crafts in the various classes, but the emphasis was on enjoying ourselves while we were learning, as opposed to trying to “get it right.” The point was to feel that thrill of making something, not to judge what we made.

While I was initially intimidated because of my lack of art experience, this relaxed approach helped me open up and begin playing around.  I discovered that the process of creating was what really made me happy: process, not product. And isn’t that what life is really about? How many times have we heard, “it’s the journey, not the destination”?  When I finally let go of self-judgment and anxiety about how I was doing, it was amazing. While I was making art, I felt full of joy. I was calm and centered. It was pure pleasure for pleasure’s sake, which feels decadent when you’re a goals-driven adult!

It was exhilarating to not worry about being productive. In regular life, I tend to pack as much as possible into each day, and I feel like I’m slacking if I relax or do something just for fun during the “work” day. But I know that it’s actually essential to take that time for myself. All work and no play makes me not only dull, but also impatient, resentful, and tired. After I came back from camp last year, I made the commitment to spend some time creating each week—and I actually managed to do it for most of the year!

But the past few months have been incredibly busy, and I haven’t done any art in a long time. I miss it, and I’m craving that bliss again. I’m also craving the freedom of four days away from responsibility, with all meals provided! That will be sweet indeed. I’m so grateful to Lisa Hamlyn Field for dreaming up this amazing camp. After I return, I’m sure I will have a whole fresh set of insights to share!

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A Letter to Your Inner Creator from Love

The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, "Big Magic"

You were meant to create great things and now is the time to start.

Believe you are coming into your own and all is unfolding as it should. I will help make your dreams happen, if you'll believe in me. Just relax, and trust, and believe.

You can have what you dream of in your heart of hearts, and the way to get it is not to slave and scrimp and suffer. It is to let go; be pleasantly expectant and receptive. Open the channel between us fully. Trust in yourself--trust in me--and it is there. I am here. I am with you always, guiding. Keep listening to me, and release your fear.

Open your heart and your eyes, quiet your mind, and have faith. Unshakeable faith in me, in you, in all of us. In our incredible powers. Let go of the scarcity beliefs. Let go of the illusion of limitations and lack. Accept the enormity of love’s power.

Expect amazing things! What you most wish for can happen, and it will be so fun you won't believe it! Don't stress. I know it's hard. Keep being vulnerable and putting yourself out there. The right connections will happen and the best outcomes will occur. You will get what you want. Just do the play work and I will do the rest. You are taken care of, my dear.

Keep on in faith and love, and soon you will be a vibrant creative being, living and working at your highest potential, loving every part of your life--fulfilled, having fun connecting with kindred spirits, and creating up a storm. It will be magical, and you will laugh at the magnificence of it all. You will share it with others, and you will transform their lives as well. This is what love and trust can do.