My Insignificance

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

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Insignificance. It’s a word (but more of a feeling) that I’ve been thinking about a lot. That I’d argue we all think about a lot. Constantly even. We are all living our lives in a constant quest for some sort of significance. In our work and in our relationships. We all want to be seen. Valued. Significant in something or to someone. We live in a culture that values fame. Likes. Achievement. Be the best. The smartest, richest, happiest, and best looking person. But in our quest for significance, we constantly fall short. Of course. We aren’t the smartest, richest, happiest, or best looking person. Annnnnnd cue existential crisis. 

But is insignificance really something to be feared? 

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When visiting National Parks, one of the things I value most is the scale of it all. Driving across vast open spaces, hiking in the midst of tall trees, with huge mountain ranges towering over me. I feel my own insignificance. It’s visceral. I am a small part of a huge and beautiful world — one that’s existed before me and will exist after me. 

I’m not (obviously) the only one who feels this way. Reminders of our own insignificance are a big part of why anyone goes into nature. To remember our place in the world. So why is insignificance seen as a negative in all other situations? 

We live in a world that is more connected than ever before. I can have a conversation with a friend on another continent after reading an article posted one minute ago about a story that is unfolding across the country in real time. We have access to everything. We are constantly bombarded with notifications of the rich and famous. Those achieving things we’ve never even let ourselves dream of. And by the way they’re like, probably 12. We can’t compete.

So the downside to this fame obsessed culture is that we see the best of everything. The smartest, richest, happiest, and best looking people are constantly in our feeds. And we compare our own achievements to theirs. The big fish in a small pond analogy doesn’t really exist anymore. We are all small fish in the huge pond of life. And while we innately know that on some level — we now have the added existential challenge of seeing it. Constantly. 

And when we compare ourselves against the most significant our fear of insignificance is only strengthened.

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You know those 2 types of people memes? You’re either a  _____ or a _____ person. You set one alarm or fifteen. You put your ketchup on the side or on top of your french fries. You use a bookmark or you dog ear the pages. You pick a side consistently. While I generally think there is a huge amount of nuance and gray area in almost everything — I do think there is a consistency when it comes to the fear of insignificance: those who embrace it, and those who don’t.

The people who are afraid of their own insignificance are in a constant state of anxiety. They’re comparing. They conflate their sense of purpose with their rank in absolutes. If they aren’t the smartest, richest, or best looking then they aren’t anything. Second place is the first loser. Of course, these people aren’t totally delusional and upon recognizing that there is even one person better than them at anything — they shut down. Become disillusioned. Identity crisis. Existential angst. Whatever buzzword that’s currently being used to describe the dread that is taking over a good portion of our entire generation. 

And this realization leads to another bifurcation: you either give up, or you lash out. You believe you never deserved anything and are actually the worst at everything, or you still feel entitled to the best, feel like anyone who disagrees is a cheater, and then bully anyone who says otherwise. And hey guys guess what? Neither one of these people is likable (just fyi). 

Happy and content people are those who recognize and even embrace their insignificance in the world. They aren’t afraid of it. Don’t stay up at night because someone else got more Instagram likes. They know that they can’t be fully there or supportive of anyone else if they think they are the center of the universe.

They know the world doesn’t revolve around them. 

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When I think about the fear of insignificance, I think of fear in general. Some is healthy and serves an important purpose, but too much is dangerous. We should care about our lives. Do our best. Set goals and achieve them. Contribute something meaningful in our work and in our relationships — but we shouldn’t wreck ourselves in the attempt to achieve unrealistic absolutes. 

As a teacher I spend a lot of time differentiating. Because not every kid is the same. They don’t come in with the same skills or brains or attitudes. They are interested in different things. They process differently and the entry is different for everyone. An A+ isn’t the only way to master a skill. It’s the same in our lives. Our goals and achievements will look different than everyone else’s. And that doesn’t make one better or worse, or more or less significant than another.

Our ultimate insignificance leads to freedom. Really. There are so many people, places, things — I will never see it all, be it all, or the best at literally anything! (and if I am at some moment in time, chances are that will eventually be forgotten) That frees me up to so much. 

There are so many things you will never do or ever be or even see — we are insignificant in the grand show of life — a small part of a big and beautiful universe — so why do we care so much about these other — also insignificant — things? Why are we so convinced that in order to be anything we have to be the best at everything?

You are not the center of the universe. At all. And holy crap thank goodness — otherwise your bad day would throw everything out of orbit. 

Let me explain.

Earlier this week I was super sick and was forced to call in to work at the last minute. As a teacher, (and someone who has a tendency to think they are the center of the universe) I was super stressed about what would happen while I was gone. Who I would disappoint, what would get lost, and how would this one day off irrevocably ruin 150+ children’s lives (and my own). As I reluctantly opened my email the next day with one eye closed and a grimace anticipating what I was sure would be hoards of mean, disapproving, and urgent emails… I was surprised (somehow still, after all these years) to have not even one email regarding my absence. No one needed anything. I didn’t ruin anyone’s life. I didn’t miss any meetings or make anyone mad. The world kept turning. 

Shocking. I know. 

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In fact, generally, I’m pretty sure no one even notices when I’m gone (maybe not even all of the kids in my actual classes) — and once I get past my own ego I’ve realized that’s a great thing. It means I’m doing my job well, not the opposite. Things can — and do — go on without me. 

We are so conditioned to see the best and worst extremes that we miss the value in the middle. Significance is like anything in life — it’s relative. Things that are significant or insignificant to you are just that — to you. Everyone’s problems are more significant, their experiences more meaningful and the quality of their work more professional — to themselves.

It’s okay to just be okay at something. Humans have limitations. You can’t actually hack every area of your life for “unlimited productivity” or “crush all the obstacles in your path”. And that’s okay. It makes room for the things that, well, the things you still probably won’t ever be the best at — but the things in which you enjoy the attempt. 

While insignificance can lead to feelings of disassociation and loss of identity — it also can make us feel more connected. Our own awareness of our place in the world has the ability to shift our focus from our self to the greater good. In fact, feeling insignificant has actually been shown to increase altruism. When I realize I’m not the absolute in anything, I can spend more time using my abilities to strengthen others. I mean, there’s no I in team right? 

So the next time you start to doubt your significance in the world please remember that yes, you are insignificant. In a big and beautiful world. On a scale we cannot comprehend. And that’s a good thing. It gives you room for the significance that matters — in personal relationships and the smaller scale, but ultimately more important parts of life. 

Your purpose in life isn’t rated on a scale of absolutes. It’s all relative. You aren’t the best at anything — but is anyone really? 

So just be you.
 

Questing

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

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Quest: (according to dictionary.com) a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something. Medieval Romance - an adventurous expedition undertaken by a knight or knights to secure or achieve something.

My definition: finding purpose through the pursuit of big goals and seeking adventure.

What do you find purpose in? If you’re like me, probably a myriad of things bring purpose to your life. I find purpose in my work, my service, and my family - but I need something more. I need a quest - and I’d argue that we all do.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that, “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

To me, the pursuit of happiness is within the pursuit itself. The big, overarching goal or project that keeps me up at night. Right now, that goal is to visit all 59 US National Parks by 2025. A big goal to be sure, but that’s the beauty of it! Let me explain..

As part of another quest - last year’s 52 book reading challenge - I read the book “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau. He spent a decade visiting every country in the world and wrote this guide to help others on their quests - big or small.

He has some ground rules for quests that I applied to mine as well:

It must be a challenge

There are currently 59 National Parks. I have visited 19 as of this writing, and as a frequent park visitor have met many people on the same quest as I am. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

While a great deal of the National Parks are in the West, many are difficult to reach. Alaska boasts eight parks, including three (Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley and Glacier Bay) that have no roads and can only be entered by boat, plane, or foot. There are two in Hawaii, one in the US Virgin Islands, one in American Samoa (the only park south of the equator) and three within the lower 48 accessible only by boat or plane (Isle Royale, Channel Islands, and Dry Tortugas). Even the parks that are “easier” to travel to are almost always in remote locations that requires a car, time, and considerable effort to get to.

It must require sacrifice

A quest can and should be something fun and enjoyable, but if it’s too easy it’s just a hobby. A quest is an adventure, an honorable pursuit leading to a worthy achievement - it’s going to take some sacrifice. Before pursuing a quest, it’s essential that you understand the sacrifices that will be involved. Time and money are the obvious sacrifices that are generally underestimated. I think of it as the “What am I not doing because of this?” question. If you aren’t okay with the trade-offs, don’t pursue it.

Personally, I’m okay with the trade-offs. I am gone on most long weekends and for several weeks in the summer, so I’ve missed trips with friends or events at home because I’m driving somewhere in the middle of a desert. Additionally, I’ve spent almost all my extra money on this pursuit. I have a National Parks Annual Pass ($80) which is a great deal, but there are a lot of extra costs. The obvious: gas, plane tickets, lodging, souvenirs, food - and the not so obvious: cell phone reception booster, special gear, ferries to the island parks, etc.

It must require considerable effort and persistence

Again, if it’s easy everyone would do it. If everyone did it then it wouldn’t be special. It wouldn’t be adventurous. It wouldn’t be a quest. Persistence has always been one of my greatest (and maybe worst) qualities. If I want to do something, I do it no matter what. If your quest isn’t something that inspires persistence, then it’s probably not the right one for you.

It must be clearly defined

This seems like such an obvious one, but also something that I don’t think a lot of us do. Just like any goal, it must be specific, otherwise when will you know you’ve met it? What motivation will you have to keep going? If my goal was to “visit as many National Parks as possible” well then, I’ve already done that - 19 is far more than most people I know. But then what? I’m just done? No way! I want to go to them all, and I want to do it by 2025. The time element is important to me. It’s long enough to be realistic, but still short enough to be challenging. I can’t sit around for years wishing or planning - I have to do it now.

Challenges

While a quest should be challenging in itself, there are other challenges that you have to consider before undertaking one. Along with the aforementioned cost and time, there is also the element of risk. Everyone has their own risk tolerance - mine is actually fairly low - and a quest, like anything in life, is going to stretch it.

Another challenge is other people’s opinions. In fact, this is probably the most challenging part for many people. I mean, we know what opinions are like.. and everybody's got one. A quest, long term goal, pursuit, adventure, project - whatever you want to call it - is a very personal thing. I’m sure there are some people reading this who have no desire to visit even a few National Parks and think it’s a self indulgent waste of time. To that I say - ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  You don’t have to. But I do.

Chris Guillebeau writes in his book that, “There’s an obsession factor with many quests. When you wake up at night consumed by an idea, that’s when you’ve found a quest.” That’s just how mine started. I visited several National Parks before it became “my thing” which later became a quest. (hence why I never started getting Park Passport stamps - don’t make the same mistake!) As I visited more, it became more important, then an obsession. I literally stay awake at night and get up early in the morning to plan trips, book airbnbs, and read travel forums. Remember, the happiness is in the pursuit.

There’s also some argument that pursuits like mine are somehow elitist - and I get it. Actually, I kind of agree. I’m very lucky to be in a position where I have money and time to do this when for many people that is not the case. Until our basic needs are met - and beyond - it isn’t necessarily realistic or worthy to gallivant around the nation looking for bison and WPA postcards. But while it’s important to be aware of privilege, I think, for a lot of people a quest is fully within their reach - it's just not a priority in their lives. Just like any other habit, we pursue the things that are a priority. And like Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

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Then What?

What happens when you achieve what you set out to do? Well, I haven’t yet so I can’t say for sure, but the obvious first step is - get a new goal! Find another quest - maybe it’s an extension of your last or maybe it’s something totally different. But don’t become stagnant. Life is a journey after all, not a destination. If you allow yourself to spend too much time celebrating your success it may actually have the opposite effect and leave you feeling empty.

Why?

Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” We want to experience life as fully as possible, with as much joy as possible. Through a quest we find purpose through achievement, but also gain so many other tangible and intangible things. For me, I’ve gained all kinds of skills and expanded my worldview, but the two most important results I’ve seen so far are greater confidence and empathy. Confidence from doing it all on my own, and empathy from spending time all over the country with people I'd never encounter otherwise.

I’ve also gained a lot from sharing my experiences. One of the core values I try to cultivate in my life is leadership, and I believe that I am able to sharpen those skills through this quest. John Quincy Adams said that, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” I’m inspired every day by others who are on the same and different quests - by their photos online, their blogs, and their words - and hope to inspire others in some way.

So what are you waiting for? Maybe you're already on a quest - make it public, share your experiences, heck - overshare (I certainly do). If you're not - start brainstorming. Make a list that seems totally unrealistic then ask yourself why. Why do I want to do this? Why do I think it's unrealistic? What could I change in my life and priorities to make this happen? and do I want to do that? Then get started! As Albert Einstein said, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all of our lives.” So pursue your truth. Get a little obsessive if necessary, but make progress! That's where the happiness lies. 

“'The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.' So, too, for a quest. The most important thing is continuing to make progress.” - Chris Guillebeau

30 for 30

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.' - Kurt Vonnegut

As I get older time seems to pass by much more quickly. It's easy to become negative and wonder where the time has gone. Each year at my birthday I try to take an inventory of the year - what was good, what was bad - recognize it all. While this year was difficult in a lot of ways, it was really mostly amazing. I made a list of some of the amazing things from this year - 30 places I went as a 30 year old - and thought I would share. You can fit a lot into a year y'all. 

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park

3. Yellowstone National Park

4. Red Rocks

5. Santa Fe, New Mexico

6. Garden of the Gods

8. Aspen, CO

11. Vail, CO

15. Rocky Mountain National Park

16. NYC

17. Custer State Park

24. Idaho Springs

25. Dead Horse State Park

26. Crazy Horse

30. Monmouth IL - home :) 

The Anticipation Phase

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.” 
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I love traveling to strange places off the beaten path. I love road trips, I love exploring, and I love finding hidden gems along the way. All of these things bring me a lot of happiness. But something that brings as much or more happiness is just the process of planning the trip. I love researching, I love planning, I love talking with friends and gathering recommendations. Of course I am not alone in this.

Trips, like a good story or a lesson, come in three phases: the anticipation phase, the savoring phase, and the reflection phase. As a teacher, the beginning of a lesson serves the most important purpose - the "hook" or in educational terms, the "anticipatory set". The anticipatory set is meant to "focus students attention, provide a brief practice and/or develop a readiness for instruction to follow" it "helps students to get mentally or physically ready" for the days objective. The anticipation is what drives the lesson. It is when the inquiry starts and (hopefully) the curiosity is ignited. 

Anticipation, in general, works this way. The latin root of anticipate - ante-capio literally means to take before or to cause something to happen sooner. When you are anticipating something, the positive emotions associated with what you are anticipating happen sooner. If you are going on a great vacation, getting married, or buying a house, you feel the happiness boost well before the event takes place. 

And it's not just anecdotal, there are several studies that back me up on this. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life found that among participants, the majority of people felt happiest before a trip - even more so than on the trip itself. Another study commissioned by booking.com found similar results. In the study, 72% of people experienced an immediate high when booking a trip, 56% said they were at their happiest when booking, and over a third said they thought about their trip once or more per day for a quick pick me up. 

These studies aren't surprising when you think of the vast history of delayed gratification research. People who are able to delay gratification have always been posited to be happier in the long term. Like the famous 1970's cookie and marshmallow experiments where the children who could delay their gratification received not only another cookie or marshmallow but were found to later do better in school, have less behavior problems, higher SAT scores, higher incomes and on and on. The trajectory for those who couldn't was much more negative.

What does this have to do with anticipation? Well, there is a ton of research that suggests that not only does delaying gratification build willpower and more successful people, but it actually makes the thing you have delayed that much more satisfying. 

According to Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and happiness researcher, "it is better to immerse yourself" into the planning and anticipation stages of a trip for many reasons. It helps to actually smooth over discrepancies in your expectations vs reality of the trip, you learn something new, and it gives moments of novelty to your everyday routine. 

Novelty is at the crux of anticipatory planning for me. As University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has found in her research, because of the concept of "hedonic adaptation" we return to our baseline levels of happiness after adapting to positive and negative experiences. Basically, once we get what we've wanted we adapt to it - it becomes our new normal and alas, it becomes boring and we take it for granted. The way she and other researchers suggest to counteract the adaptation is through novelty, variety, and surprise. Simply changing your daily routine to spend ten minutes researching an airbnb or a trail you want to hike can provide the variety to keep your levels of happiness up. 

So how can you apply this to your life? Well, plan something! It can be a year in advance! In fact, that would be awesome - you have a whole year to anticipate and plan. Here are some things I do in the Anticipatory Phase:

Pinterest Boards

I create a pinterest board for trips I have coming up. That way I can browse through posts about the area, specific things I want to see, photography, packing tips etc. and pin the things that excite me. I may never go back to any of the boards but the excitement is in the creating. 

Books

Of course! I have nothing without books. Read about the place you are going! I read Astoria before visiting the Grand Tetons, a Georgia O'Keeffee biography before visiting Santa Fe, and read parts of Wild pretty much anytime I go on a hike. There is a great website: Longitude Books that has books organized geographically (so smart). 

Movies/TV

Watch a movie that's set in the area, watch a TV show with a similar backdrop (or exact hello Westworld), look up documentaries on YouTube.. the possibilities are endless. I've spent many nights watching random internet videos of Bishops Castle or Arcosanti (currently anticipating) to prepare for a trip. 

Blogs/Podcasts/Articles

Basically, google it. There is information on everything in a form of communication that you enjoy. Trust me. (Or just start here)

Shopping

Buy some new gear! Even if it's something small. I bought a new pair of leggings before I went to NYC that I've needed for months but it felt special to "buy them for New York". 

Countdown Apps

This is just fun (well if you have some available phone storage). There are many apps that countdown to events in your life. I generally download one once I have a trip confirmed, set my arrival time, maybe a background photo of where I am going, and I can look at it whenever I need a pick me up. It sounds small but it's really kind of gratifying. 

And finally...

Talk About It!

Talk to your friends about your trip. Social bonds increase happiness already so it's a double win. And you'd be surprised how many people have already been to the seemingly obscure Utopian off-grid community you are going to and they can be great resources. 

So don't be afraid to anticipate. Don't fall into the trap (that I sometimes do) of being afraid to think too much or plan too much so you won't be let down. Because even if the trip is a letdown, you've experienced a lot of joy already. :) 

 

inspiration: ed abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” 
― Edward Abbey

When I started oil painting, portraits intimidated me. The idea of capturing someones spirit on a 2-D canvas was a daunting thought - but once I started I knew I had hit my creative groove. The only problem then and now is grappling with the ever present question of "who do I paint?"

My portraits usually fit into three categories: iconic images, inspirational people, and people that I know personally. Ed Abbey fits into the first two - iconic and also inspirational. 

Ed Abbey was many things but most notably an author and wilderness advocate. His most popular works are  The Monkey Wrench Gang - a work of fiction that has inspired "monkeywrenchers" - non violent sabotage/vandalism as form of environmental protest -  since it's publication and his non-fiction work Desert Solitaire (super recommended) about his time as a seasonal park ranger at Arches National Park.

Sidenote: I reread Desert Solitaire before my trip to Arches last summer and pretended to be Ed Abbey the whole time. (see below) :) 

Abbey was (and still is) controversial and polarizing in almost every aspect of his life. He was married five times, spent nearly his entire life on the FBI watch list due to his anarchist and anti-war views, and was vocal about his critique of public land policies. 

Controversy aside, I feel a kinship with Abbey mostly due to his love of the four-corners area and the passion with which he lived out his convictions. 

I also love a good inspirational quote - and Abbey is up there with John Muir in the prolific inspirational nature quote category. Here are some of my favorites: 

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” 

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” 

“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.” 

“Freedom begins between the ears.” 

“There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere.” 

“Most of my wandering in the desert i've done alone. not so much from choice as from necessity - I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” 

“I now find the most marvelous things in the everyday, the ordinary, the common, the simple and tangible.” 

“If it's knowledge and wisdom you want, then seek out the company of those who do real work for an honest purpose.” 

"You can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you'll see something, maybe.”
―Edward Abbey

 

Read more about Abbey here and here

inspiration: mister rogers

“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”
― Fred Rogers

When starting a new portrait, I generally look to those who are inspirational to me in some way as the subject. (I mean duh - who would want to spend hours painting someone who wasn't??) One of my favorite portraits of an inspirational person is of Mister Rogers. 

"You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are."
 - Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers was, of course, the host, creator, composer etc for Mister Rogers Neighborhood for 33 years. But he was much more than that. He was trained in music composition, a trained pilot, an ordained Presbyterian minister, a puppeteer, author, educator and activist. He received over 40 honorary degrees during his life, never did a paid endorsement, was a lifelong vegetarian and still personally answered all pieces of fan mail. 

While all of those accomplishments are incredible - the thing that I love most about Mister Rogers is the message of worth and love that he made it his mission to portray through his show. He purposefully and intentionally created his show to help children deal with difficulties and learn to be comfortable as themselves. I remember watching as a child and feeling the comfort viscerally. 

As a teacher I try to make my classroom and interactions with children display the same sort of "message of inherent worth and unconditional lovability ... encouraging them to express their emotions with honesty." (Saint Fred - The Atlantic) Because, like he said at the end of each episode: 

“You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” 

(and it's true.)

Painting is oil on canvas, 12 x 16 and for sale :) Contact me if you are interested! 

inspiration: georgia o'keeffe

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for." - Georgia O'Keeffe
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As an artist (and a person) I'm always looking for inspiration. To say that Georgia O'Keeffe is an inspiration would be an understatement. There is a reason she is the most famous female artist and one of the most photographed and written about women of the last century. 

So rather than add to the vast writing about O'Keeffe I'll try to (briefly) explain why I personally am drawn to not just her work, but her life and her spirit. 

"To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.” - Georgia O'Keeffe

I've only been seriously painting for the last year or so and all that time I have fought a bit of an inner battle over sharing my work. While my constant social media stream may say otherwise, it is difficult to put your work out for judgement. Making anything is an act of courage and O'Keeffe is a great example of living courageously.

O'Keeffe made art her way when female artists weren't as respected as they are now. She was the first woman to have a retrospective show at the MoMA and as her obituary in the New York Times noted, she "raised the awareness of the American public to the fact that a woman could be the equal of any man in her chosen field…she left her mark on the history of American art and made it possible for other women to explore a new gamut of symbolic and ambiguous imagery.”

ghost ranch
ghost ranch

Chimney Rock trail at ghost ranch, Abiquiu NM

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not. ” - Georgia O'Keeffe

I am inspired by O'Keeffe to take time to look at things deeply. To take all the beauty that surrounds me and create without excuses or reservations. 

The New York Times noted that she "would wrap herself in a blanket and wait, shivering, in the cold dark for a sunrise to paint; would climb a ladder to see the stars from a roof, and hop around in her stockings on an enormous canvas to add final touches before all the paint dried."  

That is how I want to live my life. 

Photos: Left  Right

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” - Georgia O'Keeffe

I think about this quote a lot - especially on planes (ha) But seriously, I've made a great effort the last few years to acknowledge fear and keep going. I would never have some of the amazing experiences that I have if I allowed fear to rule. And because of that, one of the greatest compliments I can receive is that I am brave. 

Georgia was brave - brave in her art and her life. She lived the way she wanted to and did the things she wanted to. She made the backseat of her Ford Model A into a painting studio, she took a rafting trip down the Colorado river at 74 and painted until she became blind - (but then she started sculpting!) She was always evolving and paving the way for so many women and artists to come after her. 

There are so many things that are inspirational to me about O'Keeffe I could ramble on and on but her work and photographs are (of course) the main inspiration. So here are a few of my favorites, some paintings I'm working on, pictures from a few visits to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch (one of her homes) in Abiquiu, and a short video if you're as much of a fan girl as I am! Enjoy and be inspired :)

Photos: Left   Right

ghost ranch

Photos: Left Right

Photos: Left Right

ghost ranch

She once famously said of Cerro Pedernal (pictured):

"It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." - Georgia O'Keeffe

If you've made it this far check out this video from the O'Keeffe museum (that I have watched in its entirety all three times I've visited) :) 

My First Portrait - Kurt Vonnegut

"Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something" - KV

People often ask me how long I've been painting - or what my training is. They are surprised to find that I just started painting portraits about 14 months ago on a whim. I've been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut for as long as I can remember and was inspired by the above quote to do more than just create, but to try something new. So I found the photo below and got to work. 

My process is fairly simple. I start with a regular canvas usually from Michaels or somewhere similar and pencil sketch a photo that I like. I start with the face itself, and fill in colors/shapes without regard for any details. It's important to use several shades of a color rather than immediately try to lighten or darken with white and black. I add in those last.

I usually stop there for one sitting. I paint fairly fast and the first layer could be only 30 minutes or so of work. The next day or two (or hour) I start in on more details, but with the same basic idea of colors/shapes/variation in tones. The only real difference is I'm using a smaller brush and - duh - smaller brushstrokes result. The process of building the facial expressions is my favorite part. 

The last part of my process is generally more details and sometimes an unexpected element (like the red below) depending on what I'm working on. The whole process could take as little as a few hours or as long as a few months! I tend to come back to paintings a lot and I've used the same basic process since I started. 

This was my first portrait ever and the first printed canvas I sold through the store after getting the site up! You can too - here :) 

Stay tuned for a more in depth look at paints, brushes, mediums etc! (and maybe another gif!!) 

<3