Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Definition of Art

All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. ~Eckhart Tolle

I think its important to have a concept of what Art is before setting out to create it. In my opinion, Art is always a personal philosophy, which is to say that its nothing more than a reasoned opinion. My philosophy on Art has been developed and refined over 30 years of thinking on the subject in conjunction with the practice of it. Were I an eloquent writer I could express my definition in a succinct phrase that captured the essence my thoughts, but alas, I am not such a writer. Instead I give you a long explanation and hope you indulge me with your patience.

In my view, Art is made up of two parts: The activity of art and the experience of art. I will go into greater detail in future posts on each of these parts, but for now, I give you the summary.

The Activity of Art
Whether you are a painter, dancer, musician, writer (or any number of other things), Art arises from a human activity. As such, I believe almost any human activity that requires creativity can be "artful." Art arises from mastery. It means attaining a level of expertise in both knowledge and execution that consistently produces results at the highest level.

The Experience of Art
Whenever we view, hear, touch, taste, or smell the creation of any human being, we may potentially experience art. It is anything that someone else does that resonates with our inner selves. It is those things that suspend us in awe and does not wane with repeated exposure.

The Experience in the Activity
It is possible for the artist to experience art within the activity of creating it. It occurs when the artist reaches a state of optimal performance - what athletes refer to as "the zone" or what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "Flow." It is something many, if not all of us have experienced at some point. It is the feeling we have when we are completely focused, relaxed, and in tune with ourselves. It is difficult to reproduce those moments of optimal performance, but with enough knowledge and practice, we can improve our receptiveness to it.

For me, regardless of how well a painting may turn out, art is in that feeling - the feeling that the painting is creating itself. It is an odd combination of sensations: letting go and being in complete control at the same time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Wonderland

"There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself." ~Ruth Stout

Winter has come. The first major snowfall of the year and the view outside the studio is beautiful.

I have been working on a post about my definition of art. It is a long topic, so I am breaking it up into smaller posts. Hopefully it is easier to digest that way.

In the mean time, let's just enjoy the snow.

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.

~Bill Morgan, Jr.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maintaining Balance

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving"
~ Albert Einstein

Balance is a fleeting state. Whether it is physical, mental, spiritual, or in reference to our lives, it requires a multitude of constant adjustments to maintain. I think we all take that for granted in the brief moments we achieve balance and grow frustrated when we stumble and struggle to find it again.

I realize I have been lax in posting to this blog. Let's just say I needed to take some time to find my balance again. I will be making an effort to post more frequently - at least once a week. In addition to my philosophical musings, I will be posting more snippets of works in progress, instructional posts on drawing and painting, as well as the occasional update on the state of my career as a fine art professional.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mia: WIP Part 2

Been working on this off and on for the past couple weeks. Lots of drawing corrections and decided to give it an overall cooler color temperature. Hopefully, I'll finish it up this coming week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The illusion of control

“The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realize we're not.” ~ Brian Kessler

How much time do you spend trying to control your environment, your circumstances, or the people around you? Perhaps the better question is, do you believe that you have the power to control any of these things? If you answered, yes to that question, then I can relate. I used to believe I could control most anything. However, I've learned that control is an illusion.

True control means that you are either omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), or both. If you believe you are either of these things, then I suggest calling a mental health professional immediately. I think most of us know that we are neither and yet we often behave as if we are.

In the absence of those two powers, we attempt to exercise what we perceive as control in many ways: Deception (lies), seduction (emotional manipulation), coercion (force), and avoidance being a few of the common ways. More often, it is with a combination of those methods. Despite how successful we may be in using those tools to get what we want (or avoid what we don't want), it is hubris to think that no one sees through our lies, that everyone is subject to our charms, that we are strong enough to overpower the rest of the population, or that we can live in avoidance of everything we perceive as a threat. Additionally, there are forces that will always be beyond our control. We cannot make it stop raining. We cannot make someone love us. We cannot avoid death.

Please don't get the message that our choices and actions are meaningless. I don't believe they are. The mistake we make is in confusing the concept of "control" with the idea of "influence." True control means we can dictate the outcomes. Influence means we can affect the outcomes, but we must accept the possibility that things may not turn out the way we want them to. Influence is a powerful thing, but it is not control. Consider this. You can make every correct choice, execute perfectly, and still not get the result that you want.

Allow me to illustrate with an example. You want to avoid an early death, so you make a commitment to eating healthy, exercising, and generally following the advice of the scientific community in what they report as the best foods and methods for achieving your goal. In most cases you will probably succeed as long as you stick with the plan. That is your influence over your own body. However, in making this lifestyle change, you begin eating more vegetables. You buy a bag of pre-made salad from the grocery store and consume it for dinner. The lettuce in the salad is tainted with E.coli and as a result you fall ill and die. Its unlikely to occur in real life you say? Well it did happen a few years ago and they pulled much of the lettuce from the shelves. The point of the example is not to make you fear the minute possibility that your food may be contaminated. It is to demonstrate that it is possible for us to get the exact opposite result in trying to attain a goal. In this case, in trying to avoid an early death, an untimely death is exactly what it led to.

“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” ~ Jean de La Fontaine

There will always be things that are beyond your sphere of influence. It is not easy to put forth your best effort knowing that it may not be enough. However, it is important to remember that often it will be. Life is not about the odds, percentages, or probabilities. Modern life makes a wealth of information available to us, but it seems the accessibility of that information produces as much fear as it does comfort. It may be comforting to see that the murder rate of the town we live in is low, but low doesn't mean that you are completely safe, just as a high murder rate doesn't automatically make you unsafe. It may be scary to see that 90% of businesses fail, but it doesn't mean you absolutely will fail if you start that business you've always dreamed of opening. It just means it won't be easy. Life is an endless stream of unforeseen circumstances. It is what keeps things interesting for some, and terrifying for others.

In the end, there is only one thing we can ever hope to control - ourselves. That in itself is difficult enough. It means accepting that sometimes we will fail, but by changing the way we think and feel about failure, we can cope with it better. It means sometimes we will allow our fears to control our actions, but by mastering our fears we can work towards changing our future actions. It means understanding that sometimes there are no answers or explanations for the things that happen to us, but by believing in our own strength, we can endure.

I think if we all spent more time in learning to control our own thoughts, emotions, and actions, instead of everything else around us, we would feel less stress, have less conflict, and generally feel more positive about the world. In taking control of ourselves, we take control of the world as we experience it, and in how we influence it.

"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world."
~ unknown monk 1100A.D

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mia: A work in progress

I always love paintings at this stage of development (probably because I haven't lost it yet and there is still the possibility of success). Hopefully I can pull this one off.

She may be recognizable to some of you. If not, she is one of the little princesses that call me uncle.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Never confuse memory for thinking

Empty your cup...

The Japanese master Nan-in gave audience to a professor of philosophy. Serving tea, Nan-in filled his visitor's cup, and kept pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could restrain himself no longer: "Stop! The cup is over full, no more will go in." Nan-in said: "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."
Experience is a wonderful teacher. It guides our decisions and helps keep us out of trouble. However, experience tends to be more relevant for simple situations such as stepping over that crack in the sidewalk as we walk out to get the mail or avoiding that particular drink that gives us the killer hangover the next day. Most of life's activities and interactions are much more complicated and simple experience may not be enough to make good decisions. Its important to remember that prejudice, fear, and hate come from experience too.

This is a lesson I seem to have to learn repeatedly. It appears to be human nature to find patterns - things that we can rely on to give structure to the world around us - and as such we use experience as the building blocks for our belief system. As we all know, beliefs can be wrong. Take prejudice as an example. A few limited encounters with a certain race, gender, or age group can wrongly affect all our future interactions with that particular group of people.

The same is true with our activities. I managed a lot of people in my life and it always amazed me how people fell into working patterns that consistently resulted in failure, but because it was based on their experience of having worked successfully in the past, they refused to change their strategy. As a result, I spent a great deal of my time teaching people to "never confuse memory for thinking." I was reminded of this recently as I began a new portrait and reached for the same colors to mix for a flesh tone that worked successfully in my last painting instead of really looking at the model and deciding what color I needed based on her complexion and the effects of the lighting. Painting is too complicated of an activity to rely solely on memory.

We need to remember experience is only a guide, not a set of rules. The challenge is being able to view each new situation with a fresh set of eyes while remembering the lessons of the past. That is living in the present. Otherwise, even though life progresses along, we remain stuck in the past, unable to adapt to the changing situations around us. Our ability to survive and prosper boils down to nothing more than our ability to solve problems. Problem solving is a thinking activity and not merely the ability to recall the past. It doesn't mean we should dismiss the past. It means we should remember the past for what it is - an outcome that was the result of a certain set of circumstances and decisions. Just because the situation we face tomorrow has similarities to what may have happened to us yesterday, does not make it the same situation. It most definitely is not (at the very least its a different day).

So, I challenge you - the next time you find yourself in a situation where you make a snap judgement based on a past experience - whether it be about a relationship, a work decision, or a new purchase - stop to ask yourself if you are making your decision based on a memory or on the merits of the situation before you. Its normal for us to fall into patterns. Sometimes those patterns are self-destructive. It's not always easy to find our way out of those destructive patterns, but at least for me, I find it helpful to begin by saying to myself, "empty your cup."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Portrait of Scarlett: Step-by-Step

I thought I'd give everyone a break from my philosophical rants and show a demo of a recent study I completed. Paintings such as these are only for my personal development and not for sale. My original paintings will be done from live models or my own photos, if necessary.

My reference picture is something I found on the internet of actress Scarlett Johansson. Mainly, I'm working on my drawing skills with brush and paint (instead of painting over a charcoal drawing). You can click on any of the images to see a larger version. For you painters out there, I've noted the color mixtures used in each step.

Step 1: Value Block-in

I'm just putting some color down to place and size the head on the canvas. I also want to see the value relationships between the areas in light vs. the areas in shadow. Flesh color mixed with Cad. Orange, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White. Shadow color is a mix of Burnt Sienna with a little Viridian.

Step 2: Painting the Eyes and Nose

Starting to get the main features of the face and putting some of the hair color in so I can evaluate the flesh color against something other than the white of the canvas. Hair color mixed with Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White, and a touch of Viridian. I add Ultramarine or Alizarin Crimson to the flesh color to warm or cool it for various areas of the face. I take the eyes and nose to a fairly high level of finish before moving on to make sure my value relationships are reading correctly.

Step 3: Painting the Mouth and Neck

I mark in the lips and shadow under the chin. At this point I'm unhappy with the placement of the features and start looking for my propane torch to use the panel as kindling. Damn, no torch. I step back and take a good long look to see what isn't working for me. After 3 cups of coffee and a lot of cussing, I realize the eyes are too small, too far apart, and at the wrong angle. The hair on the right side of her head extends too far away from her face. Nose is too big, and lips are too full.

Step 4: Fixing the Drawing

That's better. I've corrected the things I saw in the previous step and continue refining shapes. In the past I would have wiped the painting off and started over, but I wanted to force myself to find the problems and fix them this time.

Step 5: Block in Sweater and Hand

I adjust the shape of the lips and start modeling them using mainly the flesh color warmed with Cad. Red and Alizarin. I block in the sweater with a mixture of Burnt Sienna with a touch of Viridian and mark the location of the hand.

Step 6: Finish

"Scarlett" Oil on Linen 11" x 14"

I model the hand very simply so as not to detract from my main focal point of the head. Paint in a background so I have some paint to work edges as I finish out the hair. Add a darker, cooler color over the sweater using Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue, keeping it loose to indicate the folds in the material.

Photographs don't record color well, so I've compressed the value range down so the darks don't go black and the lights are not pure white. Something you learn when you paint from life.

I could have easily worked on this for another week, but its just an exercise, so I'll put this one to bed and start on something else.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Talent is irrelevant

"You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through." ~ Rosalynn Carter

Its hard for me to go a week without someone telling me how talented I am. Quite honestly, I hate hearing that. The reason I hate it so much is because I don't believe in talent. However, I have learned over time that its usually best just to reply with a simple, "Thanks" and move on.

People seem to want to believe there is something magical about someone's ability to do any creative act whether it be music, painting, dancing, or anything else that requires a certain level of skill. I can tell you, there is no magic. Talent is one of those things that is always assigned after the fact. No one sees the hundreds, if not thousands of hours spent alone practicing, studying, and developing the skill required to do it. They only see the the end result of all that work.

I admit, people may be "wired" differently that give them an edge in doing a certain activity, but as far as I'm concerned that edge is razor thin, if it even exists. Furthermore, it seems preposterous to say that anyone is predisposed to perform activities that are a human creation such as painting. Human history extends back over 2 million years and yet its only been about 600 hundred years since human beings could paint a picture of other humans in any realistic sense (humans were able to accomplish this in sculpture over a thousand years earlier). If there was a thing such as "talent" I would think this would have happened much sooner. To say one has a talent for painting (or drawing) is like saying someone has a talent for playing video games. Did the talent for that activity exist before the existence of the activity? While your brain circles that question for a while lets consider that maybe what we call talent is simply a heightened sense of things.

We experience the world through our senses and some people may have senses more acute in one area than another. For instance a person with a heightened sense of taste may be a better chef or wine maker than others. A person with a heightened sense of smell may be better at developing perfumes. A person with better vision may be better at painting. Wait. Really? It seems ridiculous to say one can be a better painter because they have better vision. I'm near sighted and on top of that, I have monocular vision. Due to complications at birth, my right eye was damaged and I'm nearly blind in that eye, so I've learned to see mostly with my left eye. Clearly I do not have an advantage in the visual arena.

So what is talent? Well, I don't ask that question because its irrelevant to me. Whether talent exists or not, whether it can be defined or not, does not make a difference in what I choose to do. I've always been in awe of the beauty around me and I've always wanted a way to depict that beauty in some way. I chose to do it in paint. That interest in the visual world motivated me to learn and practice drawing from a very young age. As a boy I spent countless hours at the library or book stores studying books on drawing and painting. I filled countless notebooks with my sketches. I got into trouble countless times for doodling when I should have been paying attention to something else.

The reason I am trying to dispel the myth of talent is this - I think the idea of talent is one of the more prevalent self-limiting beliefs in our society. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard in my life, "wow, I would love to do that, but I just don't have any talent." Even when I explain to people that talent is unnecessary for them to learn how to draw or paint, they still don't do it because they can't let go of the notion that some magical innate ability is a prerequisite. Not once have I been asked by one of these people to teach them how to draw or paint. I can only chuckle and think to myself, "how much 'love' can they really have for doing it if they won't even try."

I think its damaging to society for people to believe that such a thing as talent exists. I'd rather they believe anything is possible with hard work and dedication. To understand that knowledge precedes execution. To strive for excellence and mastery. To be critical of oneself and not be satisfied with things being "good enough". Obviously its not healthy to be overly critical of oneself. That is why I am my biggest fan, as well as my worst critic. I think the combination is necessary to stay motivated in what I am doing while always looking for ways to improve. Attaining mastery in any activity is a life-long pursuit. Its chasing perfection, knowing that you can never catch it. But its a noble pursuit nonetheless. As Robert Henri says, "It's a wrong idea that a master is a finished person. Masters are very faulty, they haven't learned everything and they know it. Finished persons are very common - people who are closed up, quite satisfied that there is little or nothing more to learn."

As with any activity, the most difficult and important step is the first one. Finishing is not nearly as difficult as starting. That is true whether its painting a masterpiece or a running a marathon. So what are you waiting for? Get started.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Know Thyself

I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.
~ Kahlil Gibran

This seems to be the appropriate post to make a disclaimer. I don't presume to have any answers. What I write in this blog represents only what I have learned in my life. In the words of Socrates, the only thing I know is that I don't know much. I truly believe that. I have done my best to learn from the great teachers throughout history and apply their lessons to my life. In some cases it took a very long time before I was able to grasp the truth in their ideas. In my last post, I wrote briefly about the ancient Greek aphorism, "Right thinking leads to right emotion and right emotion leads to right action." I pondered those words for nearly a decade before the truth of that statement dawned on me.

Emotions guide our every action, even the most trivial. If you don't believe me allow me to pose a question. Why do you brush your teeth? I'm sure most of you automatically responded in your minds with something along the lines of "its a habit" or "so my teeth stay healthy". I'll argue that its one of two emotions, or possibly a combination of the two, that compels you to routinely stick a brush in your mouth. If you are honest with yourself, the answer is likely that you either fear what will happen if you don't brush your teeth (the pain of a cavity, poor appearance, or fear of rejection because of bad breath), or you love your own appearance enough to maintain it (vanity). Chances are its a bit of both. I'm not making value judgments about what the proper motivation for oral hygiene should be. I'm simply making the statement that there is a motivation behind every choice we make and that motivation is one or more emotions and behind those emotions are one or more beliefs that make us feel that way.

The reason I make that point is this. We are all more alike than we are different. Its easy to look around us and point out the differences between ourselves and the people we encounter in our daily lives. Often those perceived differences can be a source of great frustration. How frequently do you think to yourself, "why did he do that?" or "what is wrong with her?". Thoughts such as those are an expression of how we feel about those differences. However if you reflect on the motivations that guide your own actions, you will realize that people are all the same. We all want to be accepted as part of the "tribe", respected as an individual, receive love, and live without fear (the list is much longer, but I will let you fill in the rest). The problem is this. We all express our emotions differently.

As an example, it is complicated enough when we all fear different things, but even when we fear the same things, we express that fear differently. One person's fear of rejection may manifest itself as someone who appears brash and rude and for another it may expose itself as overly friendly or even promiscuous behavior. For those that fear failure, it may be expressed by being a workaholic or conversely by simply not trying at all. In my experience, that difference in the expression of our emotions is the source of more conflict and confusion than any other in human relationships.

Once I realized this it changed the way I viewed people and more importantly, it changed the way I reacted to the things they did. It does not mean that I stopped getting frustrated, disappointed, or disgusted with people. I still do. However, its easier for me to identify the emotions that are motivating their actions and it helped me to control my reactions because I could relate to it.

Fear is our most basic emotion. It is the reason why we lie, make excuses, avoid doing certain activities, get caught up in activities that are self-destructive, avoid pursuing our dreams, and it is the reason why we resist change. Its why its such an effective tool in advertising campaigns and as a means for control by our parents and other authority figures. But fear is also useful. It can help us to understand our "authentic selves" and help us to identify the things we truly want in life. Once we are able to look upon ourselves without illusion and see the emotions that guide our choices, we can begin to find the courage to master those fears. Notice I said, "master", not "eliminate".

People often comment on how courageous I am to have quit my job to follow a dream. The truth is that if I were courageous, I would have done it much sooner. Don't get me wrong, it still scared the hell out of me. Fine art painting is a profession where few succeed and all you hear about anymore is how bad the economy is. My last post should have explained what finally gave me the courage to do it. However, I have to find that courage anew every day. Fear will give me all the excuses I need if I choose to go out and find a regular job tomorrow. The act of taking the leap did not eliminate the fear. I work at mastering my fear every day.

One of my greatest fears is facing a blank canvas. That fear kept me from painting for many years. I feel the empty face of the canvas staring back at me and daring me to fail. Each day it feels as though the canvas and I are engaged in mortal combat. I either walk away having bloodied the canvas with paint and hung it on my wall like a trophy head, or I wipe it clean as if I were its slave and return it back to that state which intimidates me so much. These days the canvas wins more often than I do, but I go back every day to face it again. Each day I pick up a brush and set it to the canvas is a day that I have mastered my fear.

"The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day." ~ Steven Pressfield, author of
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Obviously, fear is not the only emotion we feel, and therefore not the only emotion that can influence our behaviors. I just think it is the most basic emotion and the one emotion over all others that prevents us from living the lives we want. I also believe that if fear is our most basic emotion, then love is our most evolved emotion. It seems to be one of the few emotions that is capable of overriding fear. It is why a mother will rush into a burning building to save her child. It is why a soldier jumps on a grenade to save his comrades. Their love for those people is greater than their fear of death. It applies to ideas as well as people. I value the truth. Which is to say that I love the truth. Fear still tempts me to lie but my love for the truth makes me tell it and then take my lumps. My love of art and the pursuit of mastery helps me find the courage to master my fear of the blank canvas and the fear of failure.

Please don't get the impression that I'm one of those people that walks around handing out flowers telling people love is the answer. I'm not. Its just an observation about how love of a thing can help you overcome your fear of another thing. Just as often, it is fear that dominates and keeps us from nurturing and protecting the things we love. Love has its own problems too. Just as we express our fears differently, we express our love differently as well. Take a moment to think about how that affects your relationships. We wrongly assume that because we have one idea of love, that the people in our lives will automatically know what our conception of it is. It then causes conflict because we get frustrated when they don't demonstrate their affection for us in the way that we want them to.

So what is the point of all this? Simply this. Know thyself. It is not an easy task to strip away the bullshit we hide beneath, remove the armor, and set aside the persona we project to the world, to see the naked self - but its worth it. You may not like what you find there, but there is strength in arming yourself with the truth. It is the place where "right thinking" begins. The right emotions and actions will follow. You can't change your reality by living in the world of illusion you create for yourself. Once you truly know yourself, you will understand everyone at the most basic level and many things that you find so difficult in life will become much easier. You'll be less concerned with what people think about you and stop living in fear of how they might react to the things you do or say. It will be easier to communicate what you want and have people listen. You will become a better listener, more tolerant, patient, and understanding to the people you care about and even the ones you don't. The things that prevented you from getting the things that you truly want out of life will no longer seem insurmountable. You'll stop being a walking ego, going around complaining about all the problems with people without realizing that you are the problem.

In knowing oneself you set yourself on a path to master your fear. Once you achieve mastery, fear loses its power over you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. "
~ Anatole France

I spent most of my career in technology or management. It was good to me...I worked with some great people, did some interesting things, and made good money...but something was always missing. It took almost 10 years of feeling "stuck" before I figured out what to do and how to do it. I finally realized, it was not something that I could change simply by trying to solve it in my head like a logic problem.

Making a career change is difficult, more so if you've been working in your field for any significant duration. It takes a lot of time and money to become good at what you do. The longer you do it, the harder it seems to abandon it for something else because you see the return you have received on your investment (position, salary, benefits, contacts, etc.). One becomes accustomed to the lifestyle these things provide and once you have them its hard to conceive of your life without them. Therein lies the true problem - it is not in making change that is difficult, its in the way we feel about what we do and the way we feel about losing what it provides.

The old Greek philosophers said, "right thinking leads to right emotion and right emotion leads to right action." It took me a very long time to understand this. My first reaction was to say that I act based on my thoughts, sure sometimes my feelings, but mostly my thoughts. Now I realize that every action, even the most trivial, is based on our emotions. I'll write more on that in a later post, but the important thing I learned from this as it pertains to my work is that thinking about the "what" I wanted to do wasn't going to change how I felt about giving up what I had worked so hard for. The only way that was going to happen was by re-prioritizing what was important to me...to get myself into "right thinking".

Life is short. Its a cliche, I know. Its something everyone says and knows on a rational level. However, until you feel your mortality on an emotional level, you probably wont make any significant change. I suppose its like the patient that is told they have a year left to live. In one single moment the things that used to be important to them become insignificant and those things that were low on the priority list rise to the top. Once I began thinking correctly about what I wanted out of life, I began to feel my mortality and then it was easy to determine what I wanted to do.

I've had an interest in the visual arts for as long as I can remember. I imagined my dream job in the visual arts field and the answer was clear - fine art painter. So that is what I committed myself to doing. It didn't happen over night, however once I made the decision it no longer became a struggle in deciding what to do. I just had to take steps to get there. Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "I have a dream job too and I cant just go do it." My reply is simple. You haven't committed yourself to doing it. If you did you would start taking actions that would get you where you want to be. At that point it becomes a matter of survival and we are all geared to survive.

For me, that meant moving out of the large house I was living in (and the large mortgage attached to it), giving up some luxuries like cable TV or eating out, and generally reducing my lifestyle to a point that I could sustain on a minimal income for a while. We really don't need much to live comfortably. Most of the modern conveniences we take for granted are luxuries. Could you live without the fancy cell phone with the expensive data plan? Could you live without the designer clothes? Could you live without the new car? Sure you could. You choose not to. Our culture seems to train us to think in terms of escalating economies. Work, make money, buy stuff, work more, make more money, buy better stuff, and the cycle perpetuates itself. Its hard to take a step back. We envision our future as an extension of who we are right now and what we have at the moment. So the internal dialog sounds something like, "If I work for x more years, I'll have my house paid off and then I can..." There are a million variations of that dialog as it relates to the size of your retirement account or the raise you are expecting, but it all pretty much assumes you will have the same income you have now or more. I started by putting a stop to that type of thinking.

Secondly, and more importantly, I set aside time every day to work on the things that would get me to my goal. Every journey begins with a single step and you follow it up with another step, and then another. Eventually all those steps get you to your destination. So I disciplined myself to work for an hour every day (or more if I had the time) to researching, studying, drawing, painting, etc. Those activities that would eventually get me where I want to go. Whether you take one step a day or a thousand is really up to you and what you are willing to sacrifice to do it. In the winter of 2008 those steps got me to a point where I could quit my job and paint full-time.

My new office:
"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. "

Kahlil Gibran

I'm not a commercially successful painter yet (which isn't all that important to me). However, I am painting every day with the intent of selling my work and I know I will get there. I once saw an interview with a woman who built a successful interior design company. She was asked what inspired her to start her company. She said she asked herself what would she do if she couldn't fail. Those words stuck with me.

When I announced my intentions to the people in my life, expectedly many responded with concern about what I was doing. The common thing I heard was in regards to the "big risk" I was taking. I don't see it as a risk. Quite the contrary. The conventional wisdom is you work hard, plan, save, invest, and then do what you want when you retire. I thought that way for a long time too. However, let's revisit the "life is short" thought for a moment. We will all die someday. The problem is that we don't know our expiration date. We can only estimate it based on family history and average lifespan figures. However, this estimation can be grossly wrong. We could live 20 years more than we expected or 20 years less. So we plan for the best case scenario - a long healthy life. So in the conventional way of thinking you tell yourself that you are doing what is unsatisfying now because it will get you the life you want later. In other words, you are gambling that you live long enough to reap the benefits of your sacrifice today. I'm living the life I dreamed of today. I sacrificed the things that weren't absolutely necessary to support it. So, I ask you, who is taking the risk?

Now, I don't have children and I probably never will, so I don't know how that would affect my thinking on the subject. However, I do know that if I had children, I would want them to become perfect versions of me - in attitude and in lifestyle. I suspect every parent feels the same way. I think we are all humble enough to know that we are not perfect and egotistical enough to think we are correct in our perspective of the world. So, I would want to teach them how to live the life they truly want and not simply how to make money, buy stuff, and lead safe, uninteresting lives. I don't know how I would teach them that (or have them believe me) without doing it myself. The absence of offspring is also the reason why such an intensely private person like myself is writing this blog. Without someone to teach my life lessons to, I decided to give the lessons I have learned in life to the world. Maybe it can help someone. If it does, it was worth it.

In the coming months I'll be posting a website dedicated to my paintings at http://www.jungfineart.com/. This blog will mainly be used to share my thoughts on life and art. I welcome your thoughts in return.