Learning Forward…

Are you an over-thinker like me? Do you stay awake rehashing conversations or other experiences that didn’t go as planned? Do you have a hard time letting go of “mistakes” made? 

One of the things I’ve done in my sabbatical is take classes — art classes, specifically. There are so many benefits to taking classes. 

  • Benefit 1: Being a student again reminds me of the student experience and bring it closer into focus as I return to the classroom.
  • Benefit 2: Sitting under various teachers exposes me to so many more teaching strategies, approaches, and postures.
  • Benefit 3 (which may be #1 in reality): learning new things!!!

I took a class on color mixing from Julie Jeanseau, who taught a lot of great lessons but one that has been sticking with me is that sometimes a painting has taught us all it can teach us and instead of trying to “fix” it or make it perfect, we need to take what we’ve learned and apply it to the next painting. Move forward. 

Not only did this give me permission to move on from a piece, but also to think about applying this concept to other areas of my life — coaching, teaching, interpreting, and peopling 🙂

It has given me permission to not feel guilty and spiral in overthinking after any “mistake” but to consider, “what am I taking from this to apply to future similar experiences?” and move forward. 

In recent weeks, I’ve taken the following lessons forward:

– Keep working in known areas until you are comfortable navigating to novel areas

– Ask more questions, there are other outlets for your musings

– Can I make this even more simple??

Questions to Deepen Our Practice

– What am I taking away from this experience? 

– What is important about doing this differently in the future? 

– What will remind me to engage in this new way? 

What’s the through-line?!

Courageous Art is a monthly gathering of reflective souls who are unfolding in real time. 

We engage in reflective art around a theme. Typically, as the facilitator of the experience, I identify a theme ahead of time and communicate it to the registrants via email confirming their registration and providing information about how to join. 

Last month, the theme didn’t come to me as it normally does …I was stuck and sensed a need to invite the group into the theme identification process. The only thing that had come to my mind was something about “transition.” 

We started the session with our normal introductions & sharing what mediums we had brought for our creative reflective process. Then I tasked us with a freewrite in response to “what is on your mind tonight, what do you need? ” OR  “when I consider transition, I think…..” We freewrote for about 2 mins and then reported out. 

It seemed everyone had some sort of transition in mind. Given that it was the end of the year typical transitions were discussed in terms of one year ending and another beginning. But also there were themes around job transitions, role transitions, and self-discovery types of transitions. 

I won’t go through a play by play of all that we did that night, but I do want to share some of the profound takeaways that I had from the evening. One of the things I love about doing these sessions online versus in person is that I get to play along and benefit on a different level than I have in the past as a facilitator. (A perk from the restrictions of COVID). 


  • There is a liminal space between where we’ve been and where we are going – some folks talked about it as a hallway, or visualized it as a foyer or lobby area before entering the next room. This space is important and not to be rushed through – there is work to be done in the “in between” – some of that work is rest, some release, some baby steps forward, some taking stock of what you have in that liminal space and what you want to continue carrying. 
  • There is a through-line that connects the before, not yet, and now – that through-line is you. You are with you, your experiences, your feelings, your filters, and your beliefs all travel with you as your journey continues unfolding. For me, on that night, the through-line was a wave which represents “this too shall pass”  – the good and the bad will pass, it will not always be this way. It brought me back to a tattoo I got on my 40th birthday with the same wave and sentiment. 
  • The before, not yet, and now are fluid spaces, not rigidly traveled through never to be touched again, but rather they are places that exist in you, your inner landscape and serve to bolster you along the journey. Bringing you comfort, rest, lessons, and courage for what is ahead.

As I reflect on that night now, more than a month later, I am grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to slow my mind and really take stock of my current stop on the journey. Grateful for the community of other reflective souls who unpack and share their journeys allowing us all to learn and grow from one another. And grateful to be seen by others, seen in their stories, and seen in my stories – recognizing the common reflection of humanity.

Deconstruction & Reconstruction: A Metaphor for the Times

I wrote recently about disorientation and the disorientation. We’ve all been experiencing because of COVID and the disorientation that we are commonly sharing. However, disorientation happens in regular life, too. When we are not in COVID and we are not in, you know, global pandemic. So as I’ve had some time to think about some things and do some decluttering. I have been wondering what to do with the inventory that I have of artwork that I’ve created.

I mentioned this in my recent artist newsletter that the artwork that I’ve created it’s already served its purpose. For me it’s about the process not the product. I’m happy to pass along to others, or sell to others, if it brings them joy and if it brings color and texture into their life in their world. But I don’t necessarily do art to sell it which is probably weird for an artist. I love when people resonate with something that I produce and support me by investing in it, and that sort of thing so don’t get me wrong I’m totally happy to sell my art, but it’s not why I create art.

Anyway, as I always do – I turned to Google or Pinterest to collect ideas about what people do with their inventory. And the answer is ranged from burn them to just keep painting over them to donate them to a hospital to all kinds of things. But one comment that I really resonated with was the idea of reusing pieces. So not the idea of painting over. But the idea that you would deconstruct a canvas to then use those pieces of materials to reconstruct something else, like a collage. So I’m intrigued by this idea and I took two canvases two very small canvases yesterday and deconstructed them. And what that meant was I took some scissors to it. And then as soon as I made a cut – I ripped, and it had frayed edges, and it had pieces of a focal point missing, that sort of thing.

Then I played around with collage pieces – like gelli print papers on deli paper, like other practice pieces of paper, stickers, book pages, and music sheets. I don’t think I did washi tape in this iteration at all. And then I looked at the canvas pieces and I wondered what I wanted to do with them.

One of them had a rose like flower on it and I cut it out. I cut it away from the background it was originally in, and it had been created with modeling paste. And so it had a 3d texture to it. And then I used the rest of the background and cut leaves or leaf shaped things out of it. And then started playing around with composition. Composition of what it could look like for this small canvas that was probably a 6×6 to then be translated and reconstructed with new elements into an 9×12 paper piece of artwork.

It was a really interesting process, it was a lot of fun.

I’m not an expert in collage, and I tend to take things just a step too far. So I did two pieces yesterday and one of them I like a lot, and the other one I took too far. And so I’m going to have to play around with that. But I think there are some significant metaphors of deconstruction and reconstruction. I think we often see disorientation or disruption. Deconstructing what we’ve always believed or deconstructing the way things have always been or deconstructing those kinds of things. But I don’t often hear a lot of discussion about the next step.

So we came from a place of orientation, a place of something that had originally been constructed. And now we’re in this disoriented place where deconstruction is happening. But if I just left my artwork in pieces on my on my table, and never attempted to integrate them with new elements. That’s just trash.

But if I can take the bits from what was or what was deconstructed, if I can take the bits and put them to new use and and introduce them to different elements and create a new thing, then the deconstruction part is a part of the entire journey and a part of the entire process, and nothing is wasted in that process.

And so I think in our world right now we have a whole lot of deconstruction happening. And that is probably a good thing, but it’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is in reorientation and reconstruction. And then it will all happen again of course right this is a cyclical process it’s not once and done. But we are right now in a very uncomfortable deconstruction and disorienting place, but it is not the end of the story, and just taking time to do that artwork yesterday, gave me a renewed hope.
Reminding me of what I believe that this is not the end of the story. Then I can continue to endure the disorientation and the deconstruction with the hope for what is going to be reconstructed.

I’ll link to other blogs I’ve written about disorientation if that would be helpful to you. And I’m probably going to continue to play with this idea of deconstruction of canvases and playing around with collage, and delving into composition and learning more about composition, from a technical standpoint because it’s not like I said it’s not an area of my expertise.

So I have a couple of reflective questions for you.
◆ What are areas in your life that you would label as deconstructing or in a phase of deconstruction?
◆ When you look back at your life, can you see this cycle of construction deconstruction reconstruction, or orientation disorientation reorientation? What do you now know about yourself from reflecting on those cycles in your life in previous times.
◆ And I guess the final question would be how are you navigating right now. Are you aware of the phase that you’re in, are you how are you navigating that? How do you want to navigate that?

I would love to hear about your reflections, feel free to email me at arsmithstudios@gmail.com.

**I dictated this using the otter.ai app so the tone is very conversational (on purpose)**

Abstract Florals

One of the places I find most inspiring is checking out Donna Downey’s artwork and process videos. I bought her Abstract Florals online course awhile back and worked through some of these pieces with the concepts and principles from it.

I’m challenged by depth and shading…..I don’t get the “make your darks darker and your lights lighter” intuitively, I don’t see where it needs to happen. But I LOVE how these turned out. The character and personality of each one.

Most of them are also what I call redeemed canvases. Layered on top of deep texture underneath. This helps avoid the flatness that can happen when creating a singular image.

These pieces are far from perfect and yet that is what brings them character. It is what is intriguing about them. Again, art really does parallel life – it is our imperfections that give us character and make us intriguing. So, then why are we always trying to hide our imperfections rather than celebrating them? What if we were to embrace rather than try to fix….??

Oooh…there’s that word “fix” again – why am I constantly wanting to fix things -others, myself, etc? What if it doesn’t need to be fixed?!?



Trust & Vulnerability

This series is an exploration of trust and vulnerability – in the abstract. I posted on instagram the following:

This definition of trust shared by Brene Brown in her book “Braving the Wilderness says “Charles Feltman had the “most beautiful definition of trust,” which was “Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.”⠀

“Feltman says that distrust is what I’ve shared with you that is important to me is not safe with you,” ⠀

I have been thinking a lot about this concept of trust and what it is that I value that I am (or not) willing to make vulnerable to the actions of someone else – is it my sense of self & worthiness, is it my career, is it my kids, is it my money, is it my privacy…..?? ⠀

This imagery – shapes, colors – came to me while I was attending a professional training. The idea of trust and vulnerability is critical in my line of work – the work of connecting people to one another and educating future generations. Are we willing to hold our values, beliefs, and things that are important to us with open hands? Am I willing to approach other’s values, beliefs, and things they hold important gently and with respect? Or do I put up walls around things I value – not allowing any outside influence? Do I force my way through to impose upon other’s valued items?

How can I seek to be gentle in this world – gentle to myself and to others? Does it look like asking more than answering? What about observing more than interjecting? What about solitude more than noise?

What is your relationship to trust and vulnerability? Gentleness?

Body Series


Bodies….. we need them to function. They carry us around, faithfully – and sometimes not so faithfully. They are objects of contempt. Objects of affection. Women’s bodies create life in miraculous ways. And yet are never enough. They are judged unworthy.

This series is a challenge for me to embrace what is and celebrate that which is. These each have names like – compassionate, weary, defeated, BELOVED, sabbath, contemplative, beauty, complicated, and fearless.

I’m interested in reconciling…in some recent work I’m doing around grief and trying to learn how to grieve well, I have come across the elements of grieving loss – it requires forgiveness – of self, of other – and then reconciliation…. Reconciliation can look lots of different ways – no contact, limited contact, connection, or full, restored relationship.

I wonder what reconciliation can look like…. does it look like sitting in discomfort? Does it look like breathing? Deeper. Does it look like trial and error? Does it look like changed expectations or removing expectations? Does it look like celebration?

Trees and life

Trees……splatters….. colors….layers…..texture

Life is weird…..and art is a parallel. So many layers get packed on our lives year after year. So many colors and interactions added to the canvas.

And like a tree we have unseen and seen parts – roots like the depths of our souls, branches like our external achievements and titles, leaves of color and shape that reflect our varied relationships with friends and family.

The splatter-y leaves of relationship are so fun, free, and unpredictable. But also sometimes land in places that we don’t anticipate or didn’t want. But we roll with it – learn, grow, and adjust. Lose leaves. Grow new ones. Year after year. I love the undpredictability in art, but I struggle to control in real life – so much to learn from my art.

Do you embrace the unpredictability or attempt to control?

Planning an “Art Release”

After publishing about “why I’m selling my artwork,” it was exciting to post items and sell a few. Then realized I don’t think I can keep up with selling piece by piece as I create them. I need to be able to focus on creating and experimenting.

I saw an instagram post from an artist who was talking about finishing up pieces for an upcoming “art release.” That got me thinking about that model and I think that is what will work for me…or at least is worthy experimenting.

So, I will continue working on pieces and sharing them with you all in progress and when complete, but will have an art release date when all the pieces will go up for sale.

The first art release date will be: June 1, 2018, 12 noon PST

Held Series Continued

held_safeI actually have a commission to create another pair of hands on a large canvas. I have also received a LOT of positive feedback about the woman in the hands piece from last week.

I have been playing around with curly-haired girls being held safely and securing in the palm of God’s hands. This next one (time-lapse of creation process below), I’ve entitled “Embrace.”

This is not the commissioned piece but is getting me closer to it. I also like the progression the curly-haired girl took from the music page, to standing out in the painting, to being embedded in messiness and chaos, but also embraced fully.

What are you practicing right now? Where is it leading you? What are you preparing for?