We Are Very Angry

01/20/17

Shortly after the election in November, I sat down with Maria Molfino, who hosts the podcast Heroine: Women’s Creative Leadership. We weren’t sitting down to talk about the election. In fact, we mostly talk about other things — things like what I was like as a kid (and how that changed when I hit puberty), and women stepping into their creative power, and the unsexy parts of my work. I hope you will give it a listen*.

But inevitably, at the end of the podcast, Maria asked me about using my art for activism. At the time the podcast was recorded the election had just happened. In some ways, I was still in shock. Even though I’ve never been shy about sharing my views online, I was just then beginning to think about how I would use both my art and my platform online to express my views and influence others in a more powerful way. I also talked about this very thing with Sandi over at Crafty Planner in our recent podcast episode, also recorded after the election. It’s been on my mind a lot. It’s something I think about nearly every day.

My question has been: how will I use my social media platform and my creative expression to contribute to activism?

In the last two months I have made some major shifts in this area. I have begun to care less about losing followers or attracting trolls, and I have begun caring more about speaking my truth, regardless of what happens as a result. I have begun to participate in fundraisers and political campaigns online. I have begun donating part of the money I make as an artist to organizations and political causes I care about. I have been openly expressing my grief to my 125,000 Instagram followers.

Part of that shift has come from watching other artists, in particular fellow women artists, speak their beliefs on social media and through their actions. It has been one of the most inspiring and liberating experiences of my life to sit amongst so many creatives expressing their dismay and anger.

Yes, we are angry!

We are very angry.

That’s right: YOU ARE NOT ALONE in your anger or sadness or grief.

You are not alone!

For me, action has helped keep me from falling into the pit of despair.

Here are some things I am doing, and I encourage you to do too:

+Use your pain to express yourself.
+Make time to express your feelings and beliefs through your art.
+Own your anger or frustration. Do not let others tell you to “settle down.”
+Be authentic: say what you feel and in a way that you would say it. Speak your truth!
+Stop worrying about whether people will stop following you or like what you post.
+Participate in fundraisers with your work.
+Support causes you care about through your art — raise money, encourage others to donate, do pro-bono work for them.
+Connect with other artists who are also interested in using their work and platforms to shed light on political issues and human rights issues you care about; collaborate with them!
+Research workshops in your community that teach about activism for artists. Participate in local initiatives.
+Follow and support fellow artists who are using their platforms to express themselves. This is a time to unite!

Tomorrow I am off to the Women’s March in Portland. Next week you’ll see a short video I made for a post-election cause I’m very excited about. After that, other things. I will not remain quiet.

In love and light,
Lisa

*If you enjoy Maria’s Heroine podcast, you can also find it & subscribe to future episodes in iTunes here: bit.ly/herpod

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On Burnout and the Slow Rebuilding

12/22/16

True story: I started my career as an artist ten years ago as eager a beaver as you can imagine. I was the textbook illustrator and artist at the beginning of her career (except for that I was already in my late 30’s when I began). I was building my client base, finding my voice, experimenting with mediums, building my portfolio and dreaming about where I wanted to go next. It was scary, yes (I made no money for the first three years), but I loved it. I was motivated in a way I had never been motivated to do anything in my life. It took me about four years to really get going, and then once I did, opportunities began happening for me very quickly.

Since 2010, I have written and/or illustrated 15 books (seven of those my own) and worked with over 65 illustration and licensing clients. I’ve also recorded nine classes, 21 podcasts and stood on stage and spoken at 27 different events. Just this past year alone I flew on 28 different airplanes. Amazing things have happened for me in the past six years. I’ve worked with fantastic clients and on dream projects. I do not take those things lightly. I am enormously grateful for every opportunity I’ve had. I feel extremely lucky.

But (and this is not the first time I’ve admitted this in the past six years), all of that work has, over time, also made me really tired and, as a result, I found myself earlier this year at an entirely new level of unmotivated, stressed, and cranky — a level unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I started by admitting this to my wife, employee and friends, and then, slowly, in fits and starts, here on the Internet to the people who follow my work.

To be clear, I don’t think my situation is special or unique. I know from talking about my struggle with scores of other creatives that many share it (you can listen to my conversation with artist Samantha Hahn here, in which we discuss this and related issues). Turns out, it’s very common for artists and writers to catch a wave of opportunity that is both wild and exhilarating but also dangerously unending. After a time, we want to jump off the wave and take a rest (or maybe just do something different for awhile), but the wave is going so fast we feel like we don’t have the chance, or, worse yet, we are scared to jump off for fear we will never be able to get back on.

Ironically, for me, the constant work, while good for my portfolio and pocketbook and growth of my career, began to do the worst possible thing: it began to kill my sense of creativity and excitement about making art. Worse than feeling tired or cranky or constantly stressed, this, to me, was the most frightening side effect. Over the past year, in particular, my work began to feel dull and monotonous. I began to worry I’d lost “it” all together — not just my will to make art, but my ability to innovate or make anything that mattered or that anyone would have any interest in looking at or consuming. I know this wasn’t reality, but it was how I felt. I began even to ask myself existential questions about the point of life all together.

I am sure by now (if you have gotten this far in this sad and woeful tale) you are looking for me to now transition to sharing a happy ending to this story — the next part wherein I make some solid changes in my life, learn a bunch of things, and am no longer tired or anxious and have regained a renewed sense of creativity.

The problem is life doesn’t always go that easily and changes don’t happen that quickly, at least not most of the time. I have made a lot of changes over the past four months —  to slow the fuck down, to take pressure off myself, and to regain a true sense of excitement and motivation about making art again. And I’m making progress in all three of these areas. But recovering from six years of bonkers might take me a long time, at least that’s what others who’ve been through it have told me.

Another true story: I used to be one of those super annoying people who, when asked by others, “What do you do when you get creatively blocked?” would say, “I don’t ever get creatively blocked!” And, until a couple of years ago, it was true; I was a font of unending energy for my work and for putting ideas onto paper and canvas. So part of my work now is not comparing my new reality to my old reality. My work is accepting what is, and taking the process of regaining energy for my work one day at a time.

I am taking an active (rather than passive) approach to recouping a sense of excitement and inspiration. I have begun diving into new subject matter and revisiting old subject matter. I even went back to using a medium (gouache paint) that I haven’t used in years. I am trying to pay deep attention to what I want to make and less and less attention to what I think my audience might want to see from me. I made the move to get a second, larger studio space in which I can experiment on large surfaces and get messy.

So the good news is that I am beginning to feel a sense of motivation and inspiration again. I’ve started several new bodies of work and I’ve jumped wholeheartedly back into my sketchbook (I even changed the orientation of my sketchbook from horizontal to vertical as a new way of looking at things). I am also being extremely judicious about accepting opportunities for collaborations and projects going forward, all in an effort to create space and energy for my own exploration and innovation.

Part of me feels like telling this story is self-indulgent. Who should really care about my burnout? And I don’t honestly think anyone should. But maybe it can be useful as a tale of warning for those of you seekers out there who aspire “to have it all” as an artist. Working toward success can come with a price. So at some point, you may end up here too. Perhaps that many of us end up here is unavoidable. Maybe it is a normal part of the process: pushing the boundaries until you implode, and then rebuilding.

One hopeful thing I have learned: it is possible to ride a wave, hop off, and hop back on. It’s also true that some waves die, but new waves always come along for us. So now my work is figuring out when to hop on a wave, and when to hop off. Similarly, which waves to ride and for how long. And when to just lie on the beach for awhile.

On that note, happy 2017. I hope to be back here writing more next year. And I’ve got lots of other fun things planned. See you then.

(Side note: the illustration above is from my upcoming book, A Glorious Freedom, out October 2017 from Chronicle Books. There it will accompany an essay by writer Caroline Paul about learning to surf at 50.)

CATEGORIES: Personal Essays
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Jonathan Fields on How to Live a Good Life

10/19/16

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About four years ago, I received an email from a guy named Jonathan Fields. He had started a program called The Good Life Project, which, at the time, was a broadcast web show that filmed in depth interviews with mission-driven entrepreneurs and artists (it’s now a podcast). Jonathan mentioned in the email that he’d discovered my work & heard bits of my story through my friend Maria Popova, and was interested in interviewing me for his series. I googled Jonathan’s name and discovered he was a respected author, speaker, teacher and thought leader in the world of entrepreneurship. I quickly said yes to the interview, and Jonathan came to San Francisco to interview me in my studio three weeks later. Little did I know that after our initial interview, Jonathan and I would go on to be friends, that he would write the foreword to my book Art Inc, and that this year — four years after we met — his work would set my life on a new trajectory.

So now you know my background with Jonathan, in a nutshell. You may also know that a few months ago, I wrote this blog post about What Makes a Good Life? To be clear, this blog post was more a proclamation about needing to change things in my life in order to feel more grounded and less stressed, and not a set of answers. In fact, I’ve been on a quest of sorts since early last year to find new, more profound meaning in my life. Over the past ten years, I fell very deeply into my work as an artist and have been enormously devoted to my career, which has brought me fantastic opportunity, financial stability, and profound internal satisfaction. I am so grateful. It’s part of what has given (and continues to give) my life meaning and purpose. But I also found that I was beginning to feel really burned out and tired, with very little time devoted to relaxing or having fun. As a result, I have spent much of the past year outside of my work reading, taking classes and otherwise exploring the notion of what makes a good life — attempting to continue the work that is meaningful to me, but at a different pace and with a new goal to feel more joy and calm.

Now comes the intersection of the two stories: Jonathan Fields and my quest. Since we met in 2012, Jonathan’s Good Life Project has spawned an entire community of people, a camp, resources and more. This past August I was a keynote speaker at Jonathan’s Camp GLP (short for Good Life Project). Camp GLP is a summer camp for 350 grown ups, filled with usual camp-like things: workshops, pool time, eating in a mess hall, games and even a good old fashioned talent show. I decided not only to accept the speaking invitation from Jonathan, but to participate fully in camp. I’m a textbook introvert — large groups of people make me really uncomfortable — but I dove into the discomfort of camp (and my continued soul searching) with all my heart. And not too surprisingly, the four days were profound for me. Thank you to Jonathan and some of the other speakers and workshop leaders at camp, I made some huge discoveries and began to get some answers about my aforementioned quest (more on that in a minute).

I also learned at Camp that Jonathan had written a new book, entitled (yep, that’s right): How to Live a Good Life, which was released just this week. Immediately after camp he sent me an advanced copy, and I’ve spent much of the last two months studying it. It is a compilation of everything he’s learned over the course of his own personal quest to live a good life, talking to interesting and engaged people about how they live and immersing himself in scientific research.

A book with the answers to my big existential questions about what makes a good life? Yes, please!

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Two important things: first, this book isn’t about how to be happy. Instead, it’s about living with a sense of connection, purpose, ease and discovery, which is going to look different for everyone. Second, this book isn’t one ounce preachy or dogmatic. Instead, it’s filled with a super easy to understand framework for and ideas about changes you can make in your life that will help you to live with a stronger sense of connection, purpose, ease and discovery — and with more awareness and intention.

To be clear, Jonathan’s book is not intended to be a quick fix. Much of what he writes about are simple practices — stuff I intuitively know (and I am sure many of you already know) will lead to more calm, more joy and a better overall quality of life. But it’s all stuff that I also know requires a certain amount of commitment — turning things off & turning other things on, breaking deeply rooted habits & trying new things — not just once or twice, but every day. Much of what causes us to feel pain in the first place is stuff of our own making: things like over-working, connection to our devices and disconnection from others, self absorption and fear of change. And choosing intentionally to break those unhealthy patterns is hard, and we don’t necessarily have the discipline or patience to do it, even though the payoff would be tremendous.

I’m approaching the changes I’m making one day at a time. The first thing I began working on was meditation (Jonathan talks a lot about the power of meditation, and has practiced daily meditation himself for years). I am on day 53 of daily meditation, which just this week became something I look forward to each morning instead of being something I dread (you can read what I wrote about my meditation a couple of weeks ago here). I can also feel the positive effects of meditation spilling into the other parts of my life.

Another thing I am working on is disconnecting from social media. In the last month, I have spent about 1/4 of the time that I used to spend on Instagram and my personal Facebook page. Social media is not only a time suck, but it can be an energy suck. Social media has so many benefits (and my business wouldn’t be what it is without it), but it’s also a place for comparison and overwhelm. Staying off social media has helped my sense of calm enormously.

I’m also continuing to work on saying no when I don’t have time or energy for something (Jonathan calls this “practice the loving no”) — and that goes for social plans and work opportunities.

I’m also working on gratitude, focusing on and expressing thanks to the universe for what I do have instead of what I’ve been left out of or what’s missing or who might not like me (stuff most of us spend way too much time thinking about).

And, finally, I’ve been having way more fun. In the past two weeks, I’ve been out dancing three times. Recently, I got on stage in a sparkly gold outfit and platinum wig and danced by myself in front of 450 people at a conference where I was the emcee. I’m starting to realize how much things like playing hooky and staying up past my bedtime are essential for my 48 year old self to feel alive. Oh, and I’ve done all of this stuff sober (I also cut way back on drinking).

If you are in a place where any of this resonates for you — you want a new path or you are on a path already and you want to feed yourself more inspiration and tools, get yourself a copy of How to Live a Good Life. I promise if you are open to making some shifts, you won’t be disappointed.

Have a great Wednesday.

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On Changing the Story

10/06/16

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A couple of months ago, I decided to re-up my commitment to a daily meditation practice. I’ve written about meditation here on this blog before (here and here, both from 2013), and over the years I’ve had a difficult time keeping it up after a few weeks. I’m too busy, I can’t settle down into it, I’m too distracted, and I’m not a morning person were all running excuses in my mind. Essentially, I was unable to make it a habit. I decided this time was going to be different. I’ve been reading a lot about (and working a lot on) living a more peaceful, less anxious life, and every single thing I read, from Eastern philosophers to Western medical doctors alike, suggests daily meditation as away to improve and heal countless aspects of life — from concentration to self awareness to acceptance to an overall sense of well-being to cardiovascular health to slowing aging — and most of all, to relieving the weight of stress and anxiety.

I’ve been contemplating big questions about my life and art practice in my continual search for meaning, and I believe meditation can help me here too — in gaining clarity as I move through my life and make decisions about how to spend my time and energy. So here I am again, trying again to do this thing that has the potential to change my life for the better.

This time, as a way of staying accountable and also for some good guidance, I’ve been checking in with a meditation teacher who I met over the summer, and about 10 days into my new practice, we had a call over the phone. He asked me how it was going, and I said that I was having trouble settling down — that when I sat and began to breathe, I was plagued with every thing I’d forgotten to do that morning or the previous day. For example: Oh, man, I forgot to email so-and-so back! Or: Oh crap, I forgot to take the trash out. And my only urge was to write those thoughts down while I was meditating so I wouldn’t forget them again.

“So, to clarify,” he said, “It’s like when you begin to clear your mind, all the thoughts that have been buried come to the surface?”

“Yes,” I responded, “That’s exactly it. And I can’t get them out.”

“When do you meditate and what do you do before you meditate?” he asked. I told him that I got up at 6 am every day, got dressed, went downstairs, drank coffee, ate breakfast, went to a very loud and intense spin class at my spin gym, came home, showered, got dressed again, and went in to a quiet room to meditate before heading to my studio for a day’s work.

“I think you have too much stimulation and opportunity for your mind to start reeling before you’re meditating,” he said. “What about if you woke up and went straight into that quiet room to sit — before coffee or food or spin class or any opportunity to look at your iPhone. Make it the first thing you do in the morning and not the last thing you do before you go to work. Our minds are most conducive to meditation first thing in the morning.”

“Oh, I’m not a morning person,” I responded immediately. “That would mean I would have to wake up at 5:30 so I could get to spin class on time, and it’s getting darker in the morning and I am terrible at waking up early. I could never meditate straight out of bed at 5:30 a.m.”

“You said you get up at 6 am normally?” he asked.

“Yes,” I responded, “pretty much every day.”

“Then I have news for you,” he chuckled. “You are a morning person.”

I blushed and took a deep sigh. He continued, “I take it that you are not a morning person is a story you have been telling yourself for a long time — possibly since you were a kid?” I admitted that it was. In my teenage years I was known in my house for being grumpy in the morning. My mom used to joke that you don’t talk to Lisa until she’s had her bagel and coffee and it was at least 10 am.

“That’s the story you’ve been telling yourself — that you can’t wake up early to do anything, much less meditate, because you don’t like waking up early,” he said. “But the truth is, you already wake up early. And you do lots of things, like make coffee and go to a vigorous exercise class — almost every day. So why not change the story?”

“You mean start to think of myself as a morning person so I can get up even earlier to meditate?” I asked.

“Yes, change the story so that it’s no longer ‘I can’t because’ to ‘I can.’ See what happens.”

“Okay, I’ll try that. But how do I keep from falling asleep at 5:30 am when I go into that quiet room to sit before I’ve had my coffee?” I asked.

He told me to get up first thing and drink a glass of water. Water wakes us up, he told me. “And stretch a bit. Then go sit up with a straight posture. Light a candle. You won’t fall asleep, I promise.”

So the very next day I changed my story. I set my alarm for 5:30. And it really sucked when it went off. But I didn’t hit snooze. I drank some water. And sat up and stretched my arms. And went into my quiet room and lit a candle. And guess what? My mind was already so quiet from just waking up that I didn’t think of one thing I’d forgotten to do the day before. It was one of the most peaceful meditations I’d ever had.

I discovered a wonderful app (The Insight Timer) that both times your meditations for you and offers tons of guided mediations. Last night I went to my first group meditation in over 10 years. I am taking an online class from Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. I am happy to report that I have woken up early and meditated for 40 days straight now. My mediations are not always peaceful. In fact, most of the time they are not. And it sometimes feels excruciating to go beyond 10 minutes. But I’m doing it, and, like everything in life, it takes practice (or so I’ve heard.)

I’ve also begun to wonder what other stories I tell myself that limit what I feel I can do or accomplish in my life? Where else I might need to change a story I tell myself to open myself up to new possibilities?

Thanks for listening. And have a great Thursday, friends.

CATEGORIES: Personal Essays
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Reflections on my Self Portrait Challenge

09/15/16

{Once a week for 10 weeks I drew my self portrait; this is a slideshow of all 10, in order}

This past June I was in London for a speaking engagement. I hadn’t been to London since 1998, so I took a week to explore the city for the first time in 18 years. I love museums and I love portraits, so naturally one of the first places I visited was the National Portrait Gallery. While I walked the different rooms of the Gallery, I noticed how many of the portraits were artists’ self portraits. I’ve been an artist for almost 20 years and a working artist for 10, and I realized that day that I’d only drawn a portrait of myself maybe two times in the past 17 years, and the last time was many years ago. I couldn’t stop thinking about that fact for the rest of the day.

Part of how I make my living is drawing other people’s portraits — mostly for books. But the idea of drawing myself filled me with anxiety. I try to look at my anxiety as something calling my attention, so later that day I asked myself: What was I afraid of? What if I attempted to draw a self portrait a week for several weeks in a row? How hard could that be?

I went back to the apartment where I was staying that evening and began drawing the first of the series of self portraits in my sketchbook (it’s the first in the video above). Each week for the 10 weeks that followed, I made 10 self portraits (all of them in my sketchbook) and posted them on Instagram. People were instantly curious about my process: was I looking in a mirror? Was I drawing from memory?

The first thing to know is that I cannot draw myself from memory! At least not accurately. I am someone who can draw a likeness, but only from looking at reference. In this case, I took a picture of myself with my iPhone each week and looked at that while I made each portrait. Some weeks I attempted an accurate, proportioned portrait, and some weeks I focused more on my feelings, and one week I allowed myself to go super messy and almost abstracted. I created the least technically correct portrait the week after I returned from two weeks in France in early August, when I was hit with the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced. It might be the most accurate portrait I drew the entire series! One week I even drew myself as Marie Antoinette after visiting Versailles in France. I was traveling a lot this summer, and so there are portraits from London, Austin (Texas), Paris France, Antibes France and Rock Hill (New York); and of course, my home, Portland, Oregon.

The best part of the experiment (which is now officially over; I feel done) was pushing myself to do this thing that previously scared me. I learned that I could do it, not once or twice, but many times over. And each time the result looked different! In the end, the drawing part ended up being fairly easy for me. The hardest part was actually posting the photos of the portraits on Instagram. It felt incredibly vulnerable to both draw myself and then to share those drawings with my 115,000 followers. “Wow, so interesting how you see yourself!” people would comment. What does that mean??, I’d think to myself.  And then one week, something like “Maybe next time you could smile.” Maybe this isn’t about posing for the camera, I thought. Somehow sharing my self portraits felt like the most vulnerable thing I had ever done on the internet (and I’ve shared some pretty vulnerable things on the internet, including writing some very personal essays on this blog). It was like every week I said, Hey, everyone, look at me! And look at how I see myself! And look at how badly I draw myself! And that felt so raw. Of course, many of my followers instantly understood the rawness of the project and were enormously supportive and encouraging. Many of them acknowledged that this is not something they could ever do, or that they’d be scared to try.

I have always liked the saying, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” (no one really knows who said this, but it’s widely attributed to the great Eleanor Roosevelt). Thank you to everyone who followed along and engaged with my project. You made it less scary.

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