It’s ok to go slow

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Take a deep breath. Wherever you are is where you’re meant to be. It’s the perfect starting place for the journey ahead. 

Where do you want to go? All it takes is small, slow steps and you’ll get there. 

It’s ok to go slow. 

I’m slowly working towards my illustration deadlines. Work is going well, but I’m choosing not to be overwhelmed by complications or setbacks. Slow work is better work, because I can focus on excellence (but not perfection, of course! )

Space Light and Inspiration for 2018

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On the first day of the year I always take a deep breath and tidy the house to create space for new possibilities to arrive in the coming days and months. There is a deep connection between breathing and space and creativity.

This is something I want to explore in the coming weeks.

“Inspiration” means “to breathe in” in Latin. Does that resonate with you? I’m going to send out a newsletter meditating on breathing and inspiration at the end of this month.

Why not sign up to learn more? 

Taking a moment

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Lately life has felt like a mad dash to the finish line carrying an egg in a spoon and balancing a stack of books on my head. I have an illustration deadline in a week, which has thrown all my carefully balanced schedules into flux. This morning, after a few hours of intense work, I took 30 minutes to sip a hot chocolate and daydream at our local cafe. How's your Monday going?

Slowing Down

{Peter Harrison Asleep. A watercolour by John Singer Sargent. 1905}

If last week was a blur, this week has been a delicious slowing down. 

I'm lying in bed with my laptop on my knees.  A bird is singing merrily in the garden, enjoying a late afternoon splash in the birdbath.  

I haven't had a day off in three weeks.  I worked every weekday and every weekend, from dawn until dusk, hunched over my studio table, paintbrush in hand.  By the time I'd finished the project, my hands were so stiff I had to practically pry my fingers off the brush. 

This one deadline may have passed, but there are still a few more fast approaching on the horizon.  I spent the morning making a schedule for myself.  A gentle schedule. A schedule sprinkled generously with down time. 

I resolve, going forwards, to honour weekends; to take at least one day off each week.

You don't realize how important it is, until you're deprived of the luxury.  The worst isn't even the physical fatigue, but the mental burnout. It's absolutely impossible to generate original, interesting ideas when your brain feels like mush!

I also want to get back into doing other things, like playing the piano, dancing and reading all your fantastic blogs.  New activities add so much richness and inspiration to life.  

So here's my quote for the week, because Eddie Cantor can say it way better than I can: 

Slow down and enjoy life.  It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast--you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.

I going to spend this weekend curled up with a book, just like Peter Harrison did in 1905 (see above), dreaming of all the gorgeous illustrations I intend to paint in the coming months.

Do you have any special rituals or favourite things to do on your days off?  I'd love to hear from you! 

 

Be Gentle With Yourself: Turning the Golden Rule Inside-Out

Be gentle with yourself. 

You are a child of the universe, 

no less than the trees and the stars; 

you have a right to be here. 

And whether or not it is clear to you, 

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Max Ehrmann "Desiderata" 1927

This week I've had to remind myself to treat myself gently.

It's been a crazy week: two important deadlines coupled with a few days of illness.  When I fall behind I get frustrated.  I talk to myself in my studio, and I say things like, "you should work faster," or "how come this is taking you so long?"  But of course, that only makes me feel worse.

If it were someone else, I'd say, "Go slow; take your time. You do your best work when you're not stressed."  

Sometimes I think the line "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" should be reversed into "Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you."  Or more simply: love yourself as much as you love others. Honestly, we treat other people (strangers, even) much better than we treat ourselves most of the time. 

We chide ourselves for not meeting our unreasonable expectations, for not achieving what we set out to do, for not meeting our ridiculously impossible goals.  We would never dare to think any of that about another person, let alone say it out loud.  

So why do we say it to ourselves?

Next time you find you're berating yourself, try something new...  Hold your tender soul in your arms and soothe your starved, abandoned, neglected heart. I call it turning the golden rule inside out.

You would do it for anyone else if they were feeling stressed, wouldn't you?  So, make sure you do it for yourself, too. 

Your spirit will immediately lift.  

What do you think?  Does any of this resonate with you? Please share in the comments below.

Today is... Pink

I am submerged in a sea of pink.  

Pink coffee mugs. 

Pink paint.

Pink pencils.

Pink fairies.

The very pink of perfection. 

A few years ago I was working on a very pink painting of the Queen of Hearts. I showed the work in progress to my friend Ayla . Mostly I had been using Permanent Rose straight out of the tube. She wrinkled up her nose and said, "Well, you know, there are lots of different kinds of pink." 

And how right she was! 

Just like there are lots of different kinds of happiness.  

Today I am content/happy.  You know that warm glow of comfort you get when you're drinking your cup of tea, and you're working on a project that's going well, and the sun is shining?  

What colour of happiness are you today? 

Unleashing your inner creativity

I'm so grateful I started drawing and writing at an early age, before I realized what a daring thing it is to do...

...because creation is hard.

Have you ever sat in front of a blank page and willed a sentence or a line of drawing into existence?  What stopped you from starting?

Probably fear.

Fear of not being able to do it. Fear of not having any ideas. Fear that it will be horrible.  Fear that it will be really good, and then you'll have to live up to a new standard.  Fear that someone might say something devastating about it.  Fear that it won't be as good as.... (name your jealousy, Hemingway let's say, or Picasso).

When did that fear start?

I'm sure as a child you drew, and told stories, and sang and danced with exuberance and energy.

All children are artists.

They start out without self-consciousness as they play and paint and tell stories. They have no doubt that their drawing of a tiger balancing on a rainbow is the best thing you've ever seen.  They are convinced that the story they told you today, "and then a crocodile started playing the piano, and an ostrich was dancing" is the most fascinating thing you've ever heard. Except maybe for the story they told you yesterday, do you remember the one about the flying elephants?

Where has that child gone?  That inner child that can fight imaginary dragons and come home to supper having saved the world, and is ready for a glass of warm milk and bedtime...

That child is locked somewhere deep inside you.

And so is her exuberant courage; that's still there as well.

The trick is knowing how to unearth that courage hidden under all the anxieties of daily life. And once you've found that courage, how to protect it from the nay-sayers around you.

I don't have a bullet proof list of tips for this, but I have a few ideas...

(the examples I give deal with writing and drawing, but could work just as well for music, or quilting, or singing, or dancing.... )

1.  Ask yourself, "what's the worst that can happen?" You crumple of the piece of paper, or delete your document, and you've spent an hour writing or drawing something that didn't work. Sure, a grown-up might think of it as wasted time; a child wouldn't though. They'd think of it as a great hour of play, and maybe, just maybe, you've learned from your mistakes.

2. Start by making one mark on the paper.  Write, "The cat sat on the mat," and then ask yourself, "what next?" Or draw one line, and then another.  Draw a box. Draw a circle.  Draw the sun.  Just start.  And if you don't like it, crumple up the paper and go back to step #1.

3. Actually try to make something horrible.  Scribble on the paper. Press so hard with your pencil that it tears through to the other side. Mix all the colours together until you have muddy brown.  Write without any punctuation. Start spelling things how they sound, instead of correctly. Just bang at all the keys on the keyboard, and see what funny words and letters appear. Make a mess just for the sake of releasing all that anxiety. It's the best therapy in the world, and you might surprise yourself.

3. Take a nap.  Sometimes you're just tired. Treat your inner creative child gently, and you might find her cooperating.

4.  Make your favourite snack.  Really savour the flavours.

5. Reward yourself. When I was in grad school I would buy myself a pack of Cadbury chocolate buttons, and eat one button for every page of my dissertation that I'd edited. Children love rewards.  They love working towards them, and they love receiving them. Make it fun.  

Make it a game.

6. Write down all the things you're afraid of.  Once they're written down, some of them will sound as silly as the bogey-man under the bed; some of them will be valid. For the valid fears, make a list of reason why they will never happen. Make a list of reasons why you're brave enough.

7. Make lists of the things you loved when you were a child.  Some of these might unlock hidden inspiration or hidden courage, or just a little laughter.

8. Make lists of anything.

9.  Run around in the grass barefoot. Breathe fresh air.  Get some exercise. Your brain needs oxygen to be inspired.  Do a handstand.  Do a cartwheel.  Chase after pigeons. Lie on the ground and find shapes in the clouds.

10.  Arrange your supplies in order of colour, or size, or by how much you love them.  Isn't that lovely rainbow of pens beautiful?  When I was little I used to arrange all my bath toys and teddy bears.. it was a ritual of respect and admiration.  When you love the tools you work with, you'll do better work.

11. And, if all else fails, do #1, #2, and #3 over and over and over again until you actually start making something you really love.

12.  And then give your inner five-year-old a big hug.

The two of you are a great team.

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Letting Go and Letting in the Light

One cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Andre Gide

I've been working super-duper hard on my portfolio this week, and blogging Wednesday has crept up from behind as a surprise. 

As it turns out, I don't have many thoughts to share today, as I've been spending every day thinking in pictures.  Sometimes my mind forms sentences and paragraphs, and sometimes it forms shapes and colours; sometimes expressing myself in pictures feels more natural than words (and vice versa).  

If I were completely honest, I'd tell you about how insecure I'm feeling about my portfolio. It's almost like stage fright. Now that I'm preparing illustrations for an important audience, I'm suddenly feeling small and inadequate.  All I want to do is hide behind the curtains and procrastinate by sharpening pencils until they're stubs. 

So, I've been distracting myself with pretty pictures.  We all know pinterest is lovely, but what about all those lovely photos you've taken yourself, and have hiding on your hard drive?  

Here are just a few thoughts and images that are inspiring me right now....  

Let's throw open the windows of possibility and let the light in.... 

{Bath Abbey, March 2013}

Isn't this photo fantastic? I took it on a recent trip to visit my cousins in Bath.  There was a mirror table, near the transept, which was meant to make it easier to see the gorgeous carving on the ceiling.  Instead I focused my camera at the reflection of the stained glass windows.  There's something so serene and uplifting about the luminous coloured light from stained glass windows. I can't fail to be inspired.  

Are you ready for the art of living?

Are you ready?

Yes!

I think I am... 

I hope so... 

What does it mean? ... 

I was going through my folders of pictures, trying to find a photo of myself for an upcoming blog feature, when I found this set. (see below for what I was wearing in the photos...)

There used to be a mural down the street from us that asked all the passing traffic, "R U ready for the art of living?"  Whenever we drove by I wanted to answer a resounding YES!

So, I painted "YES!" on a piece of paper with bright red paint (cadmium red, to be exact), and my husband and I walked down the hill to take some photos.

Several weeks later the city built a new bus stop right in front of that wall, and painted it beige.  

Beige!

 Isn't that just like life?  Just when it feels like everything's happy and wonderful, the world descends and turns everything beige.  Blech!

I recently attended a talk by Alexander McCall-Smith (author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books). He must be the happiest, most optimistic person I've ever met.  Every story or comment was bookended by a giggle or a big smile.  One of his comments, which resonated quite deeply with me was:

"The world may be a vale of tears, but we can't fix it by being miserable."

So, let's embrace the art of living!

I'm not exactly sure what the art of living is, mind you.  I think it must have something to do with being joyful in the moment, right here, right now.  And doing the best we can. And being kind to ourselves (and others).

What do you think the art of living is?  

I'm curious. Let's brainstorm and see if we can come up with a definition.  You can comment below. Or, if you're following by email you can email me at: jane@janeheinrichs.com .

Take a deep breath

Whew!  

I've spent practically every minute either relaxing with my husband or curled up under my duvet.  

I'm not exactly sick, though I do feel like I'm fighting something that's gnawing at my lungs. Mostly I think I just need time to breathe....really breathe... deeply...  slowly... fully.  

I opened my day-planner on Monday morning, and was delighted to see nothing written in it for the whole week.  No deadlines. No meetings.  Just a page of days ready to be filled with enjoyment. 

And what is more enjoyable than breathing?  Fresh clear air (even in the big city) is so refreshing. And then there's the fragrance of blossoms and coffee brewing...Heaven.

I think I've spent three days sitting in my studio, pencil in hand, but not drawing at all. Instead of drawing, I watched the sun move across the white sketchbook page and the curtains dance in the breeze. 

That makes me sound lazy.  Which isn't true at all.  

In our rushed culture we forget that some of our best ideas come in idleness. Inspiration comes when your mind has space to breathe.  After all, the word "inspire" means "to breathe in".  (from in and spirare which is the latin for "to breathe"). I wish I could write a book about the correlation between inspiration and breathing deeply, but for now, let's just give that thought some space to grow in our minds. 

And while I was sitting and staring at the curtains in the wind some marvellous ideas for illustrations pranced through my mind.  Oh! I'm so excited to start drawing tomorrow!  

Life is busy. I'm constantly reminding myself to keep moving forwards, to push through the busyness, but also to take time to breathe deep and smell the roses.  

I think that's what this little illustration is all about...  

When life is flying at a fantastic pace, why not take the roses with you?   

And remember to breathe deep and be inspired

(which might be the same thing, after all). 

I almost gave up

All that happens in London depends

more on you than you can ever believe.

Everything is created by the image you

carry within you. 

Anais Nin

I almost gave up. 

After years of rejections, I told myself that I would go to the London Book Fair one last time.  I would give it my best effort, and if nothing came from it, I would quit pursuing the world of traditional publishing, at least for a while. 

We've all heard those stories about how famous authors have wallpapered their spare bedrooms with rejections letters. I'm never sure if those stories are meant as cautionary tales or encouragement.  Certainly, when you're living it as a reality, it feels pretty hopeless. 

There's only so much rejection one person can take before they crack.  

I reached that point months ago.  But, I wanted to make one last effort, just to prove something to myself.  

So I printed my portfolio images on the best watercolour paper I could find.  I practiced my smile, which I would have to wear infallibly through good interviews and bad.  I filled my heart with hopeful thoughts, positivity, and (almost false) confidence. 

For three days I went from one portfolio review to another.  

You want to know the amazing thing?  

Suddenly people were noticing. They appreciated my illustrations.  They had constructive, even positive, things to say.  Some said they would call me back.  A week later, some of them did.  

And, dear readers, I signed with an illustration agent!  Advocate Art is now representing me as an illustrator. 

Signing with an agent isn't any kind of guarantee of success; I know plenty of illustrators who have agents and still don't get publishing contracts.  

But, right now, that's not the point.  The point is, I didn't give up, even when I was so close to throwing it all in. The point is, just when I thought all was lost, someone important appreciated what I had to say, and put their confidence in my talents.

Who knows where this will lead? I'm sure it will add interesting twists to this adventure! 

I saw this quote from Cheryl Strayed on

Meg Fee's blog

, I thought I'd share it here...  

Every last one of us

can do better than give up.

It may seem hopeless, but if there's a white fire of passion burning in your heart, there will be a way for it to become a reality. I'm sure of it.

Even if it takes more time than you think.

Balance

 

I have a confession to make: I didn't do any drawing at the seaside.  I didn't even open my sketchbook or unpack my pencils from my bag.  

Nope. 

All I did was sit and stare at this... 

{that might be my special bench}

I soaked in the infinity of the sea, the slow pace, and the refreshing sleep.  My soul geared down to neutral and I coasted at the speed of the breeze and the waves.  

Sometimes it is necessary to do nothing, and revel in it.  

But now I'm back in the studio and working hard, or at least trying to.  Things seem to be happening a lot slower than I'd planned.  

But you know what? It's ok.  I don't mind working slowly.  That way I can really enjoy what I'm doing.  Good work shouldn't be rushed.  

Here's a little quote by the novelist Amelia Barr, who advocates doing things slowly...

"Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration." 

*********

Dream Big

"Now," she said, startlingly down to business, "tell me what you expect from life. Fame and fortune aside -- those we take for granted."  

Truman Capote 

(from the unfinished novel "Answered Prayers")

We have been dreaming a lot in our house these past few weeks, months even.  The days have been filled with possibilities, what ifs, wonderings, brainstorming, lists, and many, many unanswered questions.  

The other day I sat in the garden, I picked up a frangipani flower, and I looked at the way the petals fold towards the middle with such architectural precision -- almost like a Frank Gehry building --  and it got me thinking about the nature of dreams.

What do we dream of?  Fame and Fortune aside.  (for that's too vague, and too prosaic) It's much better to hone your dreams, until they have the precision of a laser beam, cutting through the murk. 

I dream of inspiring people.  I dream that what I draw, or what I say, might illuminate some of the wonder of the universe that people are too busy (or to preoccupied) to see.  

Of course, I also dream of money and of recognition (I won't say fame, I'm too introverted for that). But those are all things we can't just dream about, those are things we have to constantly and tirelessly work towards

The dream, on the other hand, is that little pilot light in the soul that is always in danger of blowing out.  Any rejection, any setback, and the light extinguishes. It's the small light that guides our hearts in the right direction, and gives us courage in the dark nights. 

So, to all of you out there, tirelessly working towards your dreams, guard that little light with your life. And then work hard; work harder than you've ever worked before.  Never give up.  

And when life seems overwhelming, and your little light is flickering in the buffeting winds of the world, go pick up a flower, any flower, and contemplate the miraculous universe that made it.  While there are flowers, there is always hope.   

So, what do you dream?  What is that small light that burns in your soul? 

Those were the days

I'm having one of those "Anywhere-but-here" days.  You know the ones.  When things suddenly pile up and it feels like it might be easier to escape rather than face the immense to-do lists.

A lot of times when this happens I imagine myself escaping to somewhere I've never been.  Shall we follow Gauguin to Tahiti?

But this time I decided to imagine myself in a place I've been before; someplace where I was really happy.  I scanned through my travel pictures, and hit upon Tuscany.  Our time in Italy was filled with autumnal sunshine, wine, olive oil, and lots and lots of happiness.  (That's where we got engaged, after all!)

So here we are, an antidote to the to-do lists: a sketch of the many towers in San Gimignano, Tuscany.

What do you do, when you feel the to-do lists towering over your head?  I'd like to know!  

Adventures in... Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

I just returned from a weekend in Dublin, visiting a friend who recently got a job lecturing in medieval art history (think the Book of Kells) at Trinity College Dublin (I'm so proud of her!). 

I've never been a very good at keeping travel sketchbooks, so I decided that my one goal for this trip was to take some time to do some sketching.  Luckily it wasn't too cold in Dublin, so I didn't have to try to hold a pencil with mittens.  

I only brought pencils along with me; I tend to pack far too many art supplies and then never use them at all.  This time, I only travelled with a selection of pencils, an eraser and a sketchbook.  The simplicity of my supplies made the sketching less intimidating.  There were no decisions to be made (pen or pencil?  Colour or no?), and less to carry in my satchel.  

I haven't posted all my sketches.  Many of them were really messy, just little doodles to help me remember moments I enjoyed.      

This trip to Dublin was a substitute for going to Bologna.  The past two years I have joined thousands of children's book writers and illustrators in an annual pilgrimage to the Bologna Children's Book Fair.  I love the fair, and I love spending time with so many talented and inspiring people...  

But this year is different...  

For the longest time I've been working relentlessly towards my goal of becoming a children's book writer and illustrator.  I love what I do, and I love striving for ever-greater opportunities... but... somehow...the relentless pursuit of one goal at the expense of everything else results in a very flat and shallow life.  

I need to take a small step back to spend time with my friends; have new experiences; be inspired by the random things I encounter. 

And on that note, I need to hunker down in my studio and work towards another illustration deadline (due Friday! eek!).   

Dublin Castle

Georgian House and Plane Tree, Dawson Street, Dublin