Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Flip-Your-World Drawing

 "It is a familiar fact that colours of a landscape become more vivid when seen with the head upside-down. The change of physical position does not cause a new physical element to be injected, but it does signify that a somewhat different organism is acting”. John Dewey, 1934

I've decided to join the 30 Day Rewild your Life Challenge run by Alissa Wild and. Kevin Park of We are Wildness It started yesterday, April 1st (it's not too late to join) and the idea is to make time for 30 minutes each day for the month of April. There is a great facebook group where people are sharing their gorgeous pics from all over the world. I've decided to head into nature daily and create.

So after dropping my daughter off the at WOLF nature program I headed out to beautiful south facing Mehinnick Beach and found myself stretching out over a big log looking up at the sky and overhanging tawny Arbutus branches.

 It's at that moment when I had the idea to draw from my upside down position. 

To my surprise, when I got home I checked my email and turns out today's Rewild activity was about perspective- mostly getting up high to get an overview- but getting a fresh perspective none-the-less....

Here's a fun video of flip you world drawing I did. Give it a try, it's super relaxing and fun!

Flip Your World Drawing VIDEO

After you finish the Rewilding your life challenge ( get in touch with your creative nature. Join the 21 Day Creative by Nature Art Boost online at Royal Roads University starting May 5, 2014

(Dewey1934: 249)
to be injected, but it does signify that somewhat different organism is acting”
(Dewey1934: 249).
vivid when seen with the head upside down. The change of physical position does not cause new physical element
to be injected, but it does signify that somewhat different organism is acting”
(Dewey1934: 249).
vivid when seen with the head upside down. The change of physical position does not cause new physical element
to be injected, but it does signify that somewhat different organism is acting”
(Dewey1934: 249).
vivid when seen with the head upside down. The change of physical position does not cause new physical element
to be injected, but it does signify that somewhat different organism is acting”
(Dewey1934: 249).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Doodling and the Spontaneous Art of Nature Connection

We are here to become integral with the larger Earth community. The community itself and each of its members has ultimately a wild component, a creative spontaneity that is its deepest reality, its most profound mystery. (Thomas Berry, 1999: 48)
One day as I walked home along the back roads of my island home I noticed nature's doodles in the bark of trees, on blades of grass, in the dirt, on leaves. Even the cracks in the paved portion of my route had a doodling quality to them. The sheer number of these creations reminded me of a capacity we share with nature- spontaneous creativity.
This post is a brief celebration of this shared capacity and how utilizing it not only brings joy to our lives but strengthens our relationship to the living earth. Each time we create with no plan, we spark a powerful shift to feeling, intuition and sensation that puts us in intimate relationship with self and Earth. We access our inherent capacity for creativity and connection while we feel more whole as wild aspects of self jump into awareness and onto the page. Practices that support this shift can be so helpful.
To better understand the power of spontaneous drawing and painting, educator and psychoanalyist Marion Milner (1957) chronicled her personal journey to knowing self and the world through spontaneous expressive art, or what she termed free drawing. She titled her book On Not Being Able to Paint and used the pen name Joanna Field as hers was a deeply personal journey and ultimately stood in sharp contrast to educational and analytic values at the time. She took it upon herself to make a drawing or painting each time she felt a strong emotion or simply felt the need to create. She aptly described her experience of a shift to a state of more complete awareness, each time she created:
When painting,…., there occurred,……,a fusion into a never-before-known wholeness; not only were the object and oneself no longer felt to be separate, but neither were thought and sensation and feeling and action.
She concludes:
So what the artist,…, is doing, fundamentally, is not recreating in the sense of making again what has been lost (although he is doing this), but creating what is, because he is creating the power to perceive it. By continually breaking up the established familiar patterns (familiar in his particular culture and time in history) of logical common sense divisions of me-not-me, he really is creating “nature”, including human nature. (Field, 1957: 161)
The more we are able to nurture our own spontaneity, the more sustainable and ecologically sound our thoughts, actions and feelings become. We learn to trust what comes spontaneously as having a kind of natural connected intelligence of its own. Further, by awakening our spontaneous nature we better align with other creatures in the moment and access our capacity to empathize.
Empathy, compassion for all life, including ourselves, is about feeling another’s feelings, seeing through another’s eyes, truly experiencing another without fear of losing self. According to storyteller and ecophilosopher David Abram we are born wired to empathize with the living earth.
We have such potentially grand powers for empathy and communication, since there is something in us of every animal, and something of plants, and of stones and of seas, for we are woven of the same fabric as everything on earth, and our textures and rhythms are those of the planet itself. (Abram, 1988: 313)
Free drawing awakened Marion Milner`s creative nature. By following the core principles of creating spontaneously, it can do the same for you.
“Spontaneous” means “occurring or caused by natural impulse” (Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 1988). The word “spontaneous” is synonymous with “instinctive”, “automatic”, “involuntary”, “uninhibited”, “unforced” and “natural” (Rogets College Thesaurus, 1978).
Spontaneous art creation can take many forms including but not limited to: sculpture, poetry, drawing, improvisational music, painting, dance, movement, writing, and drama. However, the medium used is secondary to the nature of the process of letting go of the analytical mind and shifting to a place where creative impulses can run free. Most exciting for me has been the discovery that spontaneous painting and drawing can be done anywhere at any time.
The backbone of spontaneous creating involves proceeding with no plan. We let what is meant to happen, take place as it shall. In its purest form this is a challenge because the analytical habit of planning is deeply engrained.
It is perhaps the most universal problem…how to replace in us the will to form with the will to accept natural form(Wu Kuang-Ming, 1982:115)
This is where closing your eyes, using your non dominant hand, and using both hands, along with regular practice helps smooth the way to a shift from thinking, to feeling, sensing and intuiting. We can also spontaneously create with dreams, body sensations, plants, animals, our 6th sense, texture, sounds etc. In these instances I often talk of drawing and painting as a way of tracking an experience but we can also riff with these experiences, like we are in one big improvisational dance.
In fact, spontaneous drawing looks and feels suspiciously like doodling. Yes doodling, that much maligned free-form drawing expression you might find yourself doing on a restaurant napkin, or in my daughter`s case, on the leg of her jeans.
When she was seven my daughter said she was double minded. She can remember every detail of a story being read to her while she draws, cuts paper or sews. She says it is harder for her to concentrate if her hands are not engaged in something creative.
When I was a child, doodling didn`t really get the credit it deserves.”Stop doodling and do your Math”, my grade school teacher would cry out. Doodling was seen as dawdling, meandering without focus or purpose, wasting time, getting nothing done.
I still like to doodle. I like to dream on the page, go with no plan, not apply myself and play with line and colour with a sleepy mind, with no particular direction. Somehow when I doodle while on the phone I become deeply present with the person with whom I am speaking while I also understand more about how I am feeling as I watch an image unfold. I can actually see how the dialogue feels.
There is now research to support the notion that doodling helps to awaken more of our capacity for engagement. Doodling activist Sunni Brown agrees that doodling has had a bad rap. Click here to listen to her Doodler`s Unite TED talk where she puts to rest the myth of doodling being a waste of time. In her latest book The Doodle Revolution (2012) she claims to prove that doodling can ignite your whole brain. Psychologist Jackie Andrade published an article in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology (February 2009) entitled: What Does Doodling Do? In it she recounts improved concentration and a 29% improvement in memory retention of participants who doodled while listening to a list of names over the phone versus those who didn't.
In conclusion, simply setting an intention to be more spontaneous is a powerful easily accessible channel for connection that makes us empathic participants in the Earth story. If we pay attention to and act on what draws us in, we can spontaneously respond with a creative gesture to what nature presents to us anywhere, in any given moment, Over time, repeatedly creating spontaneously teaches us how to shift into a body-mind state that better aligns us to live in harmony with ourself and all earth beings. We are able to feel, to perceive, to meld more fully with the world. We activate our full human capacity for connection and participation. We access a fresh way to know self and Earth through our creative nature.
I invite you to try it yourself.
Grab three pieces of paper and a pen, close your eyes and let your right hand run freely across the page like a wild horse. Then turn over your page, switch hands and let your left hand out to play. End by drawing with your eyes closed using both hands at the same time.Follow where your hands lead. Truly savour this time and rest your attention on the sensations associated with the movement of your hands. Take a minute to reflect on this experience. Is there anything you noticed?
What fun!
Maybe your images will look something like this…
I invite you to follow up drawing with a nature walk. Where do you see doodles? What draws you in? Where can you doodle today? Maybe it`s on an icy rock, sand, a car window…..
The possibilities are endless.
Finally here`s a link to a video called Ice Art I made just after the Ontario ice storm last Christmas. It shows you can truly be spontaneous anywhere, at any time!

Maybe it`s time to start your own spontaneous art practice.To learn more visit: or join me at Royal Roads University for a special online course the Creative by Nature Art Boost

Abram, D. (1988) Notes from the Thami Valley of Nepal on “The Rest of the World” in D. LaChapelle Sacred land, sacred sex, rapture of the deep: Concerning deep ecology and celebrating life. (pp 313) Silverton Colorado: Finn Hill Arts

Andrade, J. (2009) What Does Doodling Do? Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology
Berry, T. (1999) The great work: Our way in to the future. New York: Bell Tower

Brown, S. (2012) The doodle revolution: Unlock the power to think differently. Toronto: Penguin

Field, J. (1957) On Not Being Able to Paint. Las Angeles: Tarcher

Kuang-Ming, W. (1982) Chang Tzu: The world philosopher at play. New York: Scholar's Press

Monday, December 16, 2013


Past and future have dissolved, and I'm held in the white eternity of a moment so astonishing it melts all my words. All weight has lifted; the innumerable downward trajectories have convinced my senses that I am floating, or rather rising slowly upward, and the ground itself rising beneath me- the Earth and I ascending weightless through space.
-David Abram
The Air Aware
  Mind and mood on a breathing planet, 
Orion magazine Sept/Oct 2009

   Art-making whether it is photography or painting can help us see the living world in inspiring new ways. 

   My obsession with snow started a few weeks ago when the internet was abuzz with Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov's gorgeous macro photography of individual snow flakes In elementary school science class we are taught that each snowflake is an unique crystal but I never imagined they could be as beautiful as Kljatov reveals them to be....

    Canadian Paul Burwell has also revealed snowflake beauty through photography.

     And as far back as the late 1800's Wilson Bentley was photographing and sharing images of snowflakes to the amazement of the public In fact in 1885, using a specially designed microscope coupled with a camera he became the first person to successfully photograph one. 

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated., When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind."        
Snow Crystal Image Link to snowflakes page                -Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley 1925

    The first snow fall of the season here on the west coast of Canada got me thinking beyond celebrating the microscopic beauty of individual flakes, and instead drew my attention to the unique dance each does on its way to the ground. I've long been fascinated by the amazing spiraling dance of individual leaves in the fall. It seemed like a perfect time to draw and paint with falling crystals now that the season has shifted. My intention was to explore, have fun and deepen  our connection.

   The result is an artful encounter with falling snow entitled SNOW ART No special tools were needed to give this a go. Just some some pens, some paint and a sense of adventure....... That means you can try this too!


Friday, November 22, 2013


I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.         -Sylvia Plath 

       This is one of my favourite creative energizers: drawing and painting with light and shadow. There are two parts to this offering: “outside-in” artful engagement with nature’s shadows and “inside-out” artful engagement with our own shadow selves. Shadows have been on my mind a lot lately.

   Maybe it’s because in the Pacific Northwest, at this wintery time of year, the sun is very low in the sky and shadows are prolific and incredibly long as they wrap their tentacles across forest pathways, roads and over walls.

   A few weeks ago, while trick or treating with my husband and daughter I was struck by the gorgeous branch shadow that appeared on my husband’s right cheek. It was created when a child illuminated her way with a flashlight along a bushy stretch of dark road. The effect was spell-binding as a moving tree face emerged, alive, yet with a complex tattoo of branchy pathlines.

    Then two weeks later I watched a compelling contemporary dance performance entitled Frontier choregraphed by Crystal Pike. Dancers in white were embraced, supported, impeded, tracked, and intimidated by black shadowy figures with wild bird-like gestures. As the light dancers moved, tension was created by the continual presence of shadow selves or what Pike likens to dark matter, that mysterious parallel shadow universe that mirrors, sometimes bursts through and continually shapes our own.

    There has always been something about the dance of shadow on a wall or on a face that intrigues me. Maybe it’s their monochromatic nature or the clarity of their silhouette. Though even more likely it’s their continual movement. For unless created by artificial light, a shadow is always moving and changing- often very quickly since its very existence is directly tied to the movement of the earth relative to the sun. Drawing and painting shadow and light can place us in direct contact with this natural movement and change. We see and feel the movement of life.

 … the shadow of Wild Woman still lurks behind us during our days and in our nights. No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us                              is definitely four-footed.     ― Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs 

    In a parallel way, giving in-the-moment creative expression to shadow selves, thoughts, or impulses offers insight, releases energy and makes us feel more whole. Hidden aspects of self come into the light slowly revealing their power to transform our lives. By making art in the service of knowing ourselves more fully, we can slowly turn up the light and see what shadows reveal themselves because where there is bright light there is also shadow.

 Part I: Drawing and painting with nature’s shadows 

 Pick a bright day for this activity. Begin your session by setting an intention (see the Create Cycle in Sag-ing 8 To intend originates from the French entendre, intendre "to direct one's attention" (in Modern French principally "to hear"), from the Latin intendere "turn one's attention, strain," literally to "stretch out, extend". Record your intention then let it go. Literally. Setting an intention is like dropping a pebble into a still well of water and watching the ripples blossom outwards. By dropping your pebble into the well, you can then trace the meaning of your journey back to its source when you are finished. Don’t consciously hold on to the original intention, rather just carry on and create. Take a few moments and write down what you are curious about or what you are drawn toward today. Take your art supplies (see Sage-ing 9 for a materials list as you wander outside and open to a plant, animal, or tree whose shadow really appeals to you. Ask permission to engage.

    To begin this activity it is probably enough to simply focus on tracing shapes and staying present to what is happening in the moment. Draw and paint by balancing the use of each hand, creating with both hands for part of the session and painting relatively equal amounts of time with your eyes open and closed. Close your eyes to choose the paint colours at least half the time. Work slowly (see Sage-ing 8 and 9 for lots of ideas about how to proceed). Here is a video taken at the Cortes Island Children’s Forest where I drew with light and shadow and the following narrative describes an encounter with the shadows of an apple tree in my front yard.

 I worked quickly to trace the branch shadows because they moved enough to be unrecognizable in the very short time it took me to pop up and run to my studio to get my camera. I felt incredibly free as I alternated outlining the shapes created by the shadows and the dappled sunlight.

    Then I painted inside the outlines. It was fun choosing the paint by running my fingers over the palette and letting my hand choose the colours. I painted the light spaces in and around the shadows. I loved giving colour to this beautiful dappled light. For my second painting, I again started by tracing shadows but this time I gave them colour and left the sun lit areas alone. The shadows moved a great deal in the short time it took to paint them. For my third painting I quickly painted the shadows free hand. This was very loose and freeing yet I needed to stay focused and decisive to quickly paint either the light or shadowed areas without outlining them first. When all three paintings were complete, I laid them down on the ground on top of the shadows that had inspired their creation.

   Immediately I envisioned outlining the whole tree onto a larger piece of paper. Outlining light and shadow then painting on a large piece of mural paper seemed like an exciting extension.So I ran to my studio to look at paper options and I chose vellum because it’s both smooth and shadowy.

   I laid frosty vellum under the shadows of the apple tree. I coloured in the shadows free hand with gold oil stick. I realized quickly that I needed to outline the shadows first if I wanted them on the page. So, I traced the limbs, branches, and leaves in black marker and mused that it could be fun to work in watercolour or fluid acrylic to quickly paint the moving shadows. Then I took the banner to my studio where I could lie it down on a smooth service because I found the grass to be too uneven to paint on. I was compelled to paint the shadows gold and the dappled light shapes all different colours. I finished the session by recording what I noticed and wondered about then began my inside-out image.

Part II: Draw and paint shadow selves 

    Our inner world is a complex exquisite and powerful play of colours, lights and shadows, a cathedral of consciousness as glorious as the natural world itself.                                                                                 –Julia Cameron 

    Now I invite you to draw and paint spontaneously on a new page. Follow what attracts by tracking the flow of what fits easily in the moment. Begin an image by closing your eyes and drawing random shapes and lines. Use both hands at least part of the time. After 5 minutes or so bring your paints out and close your eyes to choose the colours. Keep your eyes closed as you paint with wild abandon, alternating hands and having fun. Do this for as long as you’d like. If it’s easier to paint in pitch darkness rather than closing your eyes, I invite you to try that. When you feel finished open your eyes. This is like turning on the light to better see a shadow image- the one created in the “dark”.

   Using coloured watercolour pencils or permanent marker (wait until the paint is dry before using marker or the ink will stop running) outline interesting areas, define shadowy shapes, deepen and darken colour. Just as you outlined light and shadow in Part I, outline and define shape and colour in this new image. What is asking to be illuminated? Watch this video to learn how to extend your drawings and paintings 

    To finish, dialogue with a shape, a being, a colour, a natural shadow…. You can ask, “Is there anything you’d like to share?” Also take a few moments to record anything you noticed while you were creating and anything you wonder about. Take a few moments to revisit your original intention. Are there any new insights, observations or questions you have? Close by expressing gratitude in some way. Consider sharing your images and experiences on the new Creative by Nature Art Boost share space