The unapologetic, raw, unedited interpretation of living life. Each of us is the artist of our own life, constantly remolding, reworking, and roughing out the details and applying what we've learned to the changing canvas. There are no do-overs, no take backs...just rough cuts that release what lies inside us.

I saw the angel in stone and I carved until I set him free. - Michelangelo

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kaizen: The pursuit of continuous improvement

A few years ago, I came across a word that would change the way I pursued my goals, lived my life, and faced the world.  The word was Kaizen. 
Kaizen (改善?), Japanese for "improvement", or "change for the better" refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement.
The key to a Kaizen approach to anything is knowing that this is not a quick fix to what is wrong with your life or business.  The process is slow, it is steady, it is a commitment to a lifetime of looking for a better way.  So many times I want the better way right now! This is not reality and is a sign of immaturity as a leader.

The Artistic Leader knows that the final masterpiece cannot happen overnight, it requires intentional effort over time. Applying careful layers as the transformation of canvas to art takes place. People on your team are not overnight successes, there is a learning curve, a process of coaching and development.

Set the pace, work your plan and be open to possibility of being better tomorrow than you are today because of having a life open to continuous, paced improvement to be the best you!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blank Canvas: Where Potential and Intimidation Collide

The most intimidating thing in the world is a blank piece of paper.  Once I begin the process of putting marks on the stark white background, things begin to happen, but the time lapse before that major milestone occurs is painful and seems to last an eternity.  It isn't because I don't have any ideas - no shortage there- it is not knowing where to start.  What idea needs to come first?  All of that whiteness just staring at me, taunting my innermost thoughts, discouraging any ounce of confidence there was lurking at the end of my pen.  I freeze and my ideas shrink back into the dark depths that are the epicenter of my creativity.

What holds us back from starting?  Well, all that whiteness!  Who would want to clutter up perfection with a mistake or worse, with something no one wants to see?

How many times in your life have you not started because you just didn't know how or are too afraid of messing up and there you would be exposed on paper, the whiteness tarnished by imperfection! The first instinct is to ball it up and hide it away, with nothing to show for it but resentment and guilt.

Our often it is thought of as a hindrance, an obstacle, as though we first need to get over being a human so we can move on to do bigger and better things with our lives.   We all start with a blank canvas, a white piece of paper upon which to write our life story, to build our masterpiece.  I know I put off making that first mark because I wanted it to be magnificent, something people would write songs about and teach in History classes.  While all that waiting took place, my marks were made for happened anyway.

It came down to taking a momentary step back in order for me to see the whole canvas, to envision the page not with randomly placed slashes and ink blots, rather where lines could be drawn and forms developed; words could be added and a plot could thicken with the richness of life.  The page had potential...but it took life to make those first few momentous marks, that force us to relinquish our control and open our eyes to possibility.

What stops you from taking that first step?  What is your blank canvas?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Woven Threads: Moments of clarity

Every so often as we go about our lives, there are what I call Moments of Clarity.  Moments that you will one day sit back and relish, relive, and see precisley where in your life those experiences made in impact.  Some of those moments for me where spent being a part of someone else's journey, someone else's story.  It is in these precious moments of intertwined threads of life that we begin to see we are just small parts of a larger masterpiece.  Just thin colorful threads in a gigantic tapestry that spans time and place.

One such time in my life was last summer.  My husband and I traveled to Nicaragua for a mission work trip and I watched time stand still for a moment while threads interlocked, hearts broke and lives were changed forever.  The first day in the village, the children gathered at the work site.  Within moments, the site was scattered with butterfiles "Las Mariposas".  The children managed to catch a few and bring them to us; they spent the entire morning thrashing the bushes to bring us handfuls of them.  As the week went on, we all remembered that morning which began with one simple joy and our campanionship grew in the days that followed.  We learned their stories, they learned what made us laugh and sing; we built them a school, they tore down the walls around our hearts.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  I also hope you find time to appreciate today the little things in your life, the little things that bring you joy and bring you closer to others. These moments of clarity will be the times in your life when the chisel will meet with the rough edges of your material and you will begin to etch out what lies within it. 

El hijo Pequenito (the Little Boy)

As the mariposa flies
he sits beside and watches
in the field he rests
he looks on with intentful eyes
his smile a radiant white
Onward it flies and swoops and swings
in his heart he wishes
A brighter day tomorrow brings
for now the hope builds stronger
He sits alone but within the sky
a friend, a flutter, a future
He spreads his arms as if to fly
his eyes close tight against the breeze
to soar, to float, to take flight
a cloud he amost touches
Now he soars along with them
the world now far below
on each flower they rest their wings
the ground a memory of a life once lived
now a distant trace
He sings a song, his wings spread wide
this time to soar forever. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Artistic Leadership: Even a Free Spirit needs a plan

I walk the line between a nerd and a free spirit.  This does not seem typical of what most might describe as "artsy", and I am not someone that gets that privileged title at first glance either. I enjoy organization and I have a deeply rooted need for things to be correct and how I like them to be.  On the other hand, I enjoy allowing my words to "take walks" and discover themselves; I crock pot ideas and let them slowly release their flavor until finally something brilliant emerges.  Together, this twisted material with twiney data and numbers mixed with colorful words and mind maps makes up who I am. 

So rule number 1 in planning: Find YOU
As an artist, it is essential to know who you are: it allows you to appreciate others and their work.  Knowing there is talent and true giftedness in an area allows me to focus on what it is I am most gifted to do.  This can be extremely difficult if you are used to plowing into a project full speed (I know because that was me).  Maturity in your skill comes when you are willing to place trust in those who are gifted beyond you in another area.  A wonderful freedom and sense of balance arises when you sit in your gift and allow it to cling to you, wrap itself around you, and interlace with your accomplishments and root itself in your soul. Think of this not as a heavy blanket, but a pair of custom overalls, with places for you to put your tools, a way for you to still have flexibility and movement, and an identity all your own.

Rule number 2:  No rabbit trails!
Yesterday I was chatting with a branding and marketing consultant and he used the phrase "sideways energy".  I just love what a visual that created for me.  In the world of branding, this occurs when you have too many distractions in what you are trying to convey to your audience, such as multiple logos or competing vision statements within your organization.  This can just as easily happen in your life.  You cannot move forward if you are moving sideways; it is physically impossible.  Try this:  only step sideways while trying to walk forward...did you fall?  (thought so.)  The point is you cannot be in two places at once; you have to pick a direction and follow it.

Rule number 2.5:  Enter the Free spirit with a plan
As you are moving in a forward direction, plan in hand, eye to the sky, intensely following your route to making your reality, there is some benefit to taking a risk and seeing where a new path can take you.  I say this with caution, a free spirit with a plan knows where he is when he takes the detour.  This is important because it will determine the direction he heads if he gets into trouble.  Not knowing all the details can be liberating and a chance to let your creative muscles stretch out and breathe.  At the end, you may surprise yourself at what you can accomplish, what you learn along the way, and how much farther ahead you will be.

Artists were not all created equal in the sense that we sit barefoot under trees with pallet in hand or lead lives that are messy and wild.  Some of us walk in business shoes and suits waiting to take others to places they have never dreamed, some dabble in finger paint and change generations one child at a time.  No matter what your gift, what space you currently occupy there is an artist restless within you, get to know him...see where he takes you!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tapestry - A Virtual Art Project

Did you really think we'd be building a blog about Art and not participate in a project together?  I find it grounds me to take a moment and consider where I have been and how those events weave together to form who I am becoming today.  If you are tangled up in the threads, you will not be able to appreciate the tapestry.  Through this exercise, we can begin to weave together the dangling threads and connect them to your spirit.  In every good art project, we need to define what we are making and then provide our creative minds with some guidelines.
Tapestry: A piece of thick textile fabric with pictures or designs formed by weaving colored weft threads or by embroidering on canvas, used as a wall hanging or furniture covering.
Personal Tapestry:
Think back over your life and identify 3 - 5 events, circumstances which challenged you. Connect them with what you currently experience..your "now".  What was the outcome?  Was it what you expected?  How did it influence something in your life today?

Take it to the next level and list the lesson learned or what area of your life was being developed by each thread.

Here are 3 of mine:
Appreciation and Awareness - I grew up with two siblings with disabilities: my sister was born with profound hearing loss and my brother has a rare disorder called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome (KTWS) in additional to some other considerations as a result of a difficult childbirth.  In my formative years, I knew that not everyone gets a fully equipped tool kit, some of us have to perfect the use of other tools to compensate and still be able to create a full life.  Communication become a huge focus of my life and has greatly influenced career choices and my approach to my work.

Irony (2 parts)- My undergraduate degree was in Psychology, though I studied several studio art courses.  The plan was to become an Art Therapist, instead I became a mother of two amazing human beings who challenge everything I learned in school.  1) In the past month, I have found a book I used during my senior project entitled How Talk so you Kid will Listen and Listen so your Kids will Talk.  I will be reading it for the third time.  2) Those studio classes have redefined who I am.  It was during that season that I began uncovering who I really was.  Art allowed me to put pictures to what I was feeling and express ideas about who I was so I could deal with them on the surface. 

Expressing myself through art and approaching all things with an interest beyond what lie on the surface is where my dangling threads began weaving a tapestry that I could see and appreciate to the fullest.  How about yours?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Flexibility of the mind: Sometimes you just have to push the envelope

I have been waiting for the right time to tell you about my Toilet Lamp project.  It seems talking about pushing the proverbial envelope is probably a great opportunity to let you in on one of my favorite projects, not because it of the final project when it became what it was supposed to be, rather because of where it took me as an artist and as a creator.  My senior year of college, I decided I would double major in Art.  I was taking 3 studio courses, for those not familiar with the demand of these classes - it meant I lived in one of three studios for the semester and spent all of my hard earned tips on art supplies.  I was immersed in a world centered around innovation and output; it was intense.

Enter: The toilet
My 3-dimensional class challenged me, stretched my imagination, and pushed me farther to do more with less and less with more.  A few weeks into class I became consumed with turning a household object into some abstract piece.  Then one night my roommate and I were taking a late night trip to get coffee and I saw - it was white, porcelain, and needed a few rounds of bleach but it was going to be part of something amazing.  We squished a perfectly used toilet into my 1994 Ford Escort hatchback and headed to campus (Don't judge me...I thought it was gross too, but worth every cringe).  It then lived in the studio, waiting, taunting me as project after project I tried to incorporate it.  My professor talked me out of every idea, threatening for it make it's exit.  Then it happened, weeks of patience and brainstorming.  We had to make a lamp.  It was the final project of the class...the light bulb went off (pardon the pun).  I went to work.

The plan
The idea was simple:  the bowl would contain a blue light bulb, affixed under the seat and the flusher would function as the switch to turn it on and off.  I decoupaged the entire seat and porcelain with cut outs from the newspaper - A statement that society shouldn't dictate how we feel about ourselves. On the morning of the project my professor saved mine for last as the toilet had become almost a mascot in the class.  I pressed the flusher and on came the blue haze from the abyss within the bowl.  It was victorious!

Transforming ideas, stretching the limits
The process of the Toilet Lamp was never about the lamp.  It was about stretching a material far beyond its original potential.  The only thing that toilet was ever going to be was...a toilet. Not very glamorous.  I made it more by seeing something no one else wanted to see.  Being able to wait and see where the process would lead us took a great deal of self-control and exploration. In my professional life, I am never satisfied with the status quo.  There is an intrinsic desire within me to take things where no one else has, okay it is probably borderline on obsession, but it keeps things moving forward.  It takes ideas places and to people within an organization that were not part of its original journey.

What journey are you on today?  What if you took an area of your life and stepped one inch beyond where you thought you should stop, would the next inch be easier, what about the one after that?  Once you have flexibility of the mind, the world of possibilities is endless because you will no longer see the horizon line...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Truth to Materials: A fluid and flexible approach

In relation to 20th century direct carving, Truth to Materials refers to the way in which the sculptor responds to the nature of the block being carved as much as the subject. Changes in colouration and imperfections revealed while carving the block are incorporated as features in the finished sculpture.  Since the sculptor cannot know in advance what imperfections will be revealed during the course of carving, a more flexible and fluid approach is required.
In releasing the magnificent opus that lies within you, it must be understood that there are going to be some decisions, some flaws, and almost certainly a disappointment or two.  But what the artistic leader does with them is where the truth is not just revealed, but made part of the overall work. Once the carving begins the artist has two choices, fight the reality or allow the material determine and expand his creativity.

My Truth: Wood is wood and marble is marble, no matter how hard one tries to become the other.  For a long time, I struggled with the material I was given; when I looked around me I saw shiny, sleek marble ready to be formed into flawless works of art, but all I saw in the mirror was an irregular chunk of wood with knots and ridges. I enjoyed acting like marble, sitting next to marble but only found myself more frustrated that my results were not marble-like.

Allow the truth to be part of the project.  After several years of fighting against the grain (pun intended) of who I was, life hit me hard and when I regained my ability to stand I looked in the mirror with new eyes. I saw the strength in my material and began to see how unique I looked.  The carving changed, the material was allowed to show.  I still appreciate the beauty, smoothness, and flair of marble, but enjoy the experience of finding new truths about myself as each day the material becomes more interesting and what truly lies within the material is revealed.

What is your truth? It takes patience and a enormous helping of humility to uncover who you truly are and what may lie beneath layers of what you have been attempting to be.  It takes great care to allow the work to change based on what you may find...

If you lead a might it benefit you to look at the people you lead with the eyes of a sculptor? What might come out of allowing the essence of who is on your team determine the direction you go next?  It takes more time, more vision, and a whole lot of hard work, but in the end your project and your team may become something beyond your imagination.

...He looked at the piece of stone and said, "I will release the angel that lies within it" ~Michelangelo