My “Hanko” – Japanese Traditional Name Seal

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Here I celebrate the first use of a my “Hanko” (my name in traditional Japanese Kanji characters.)  This stamp is a gift from my amazing daughter, Jessica who has just returned from a skiing holiday in Japan.

In Japan, “Hanko” can be used in place of a signature to sign documents, contracts and confirm a person’s identity.

I have never been keen on signing my artworks so this “Hanko” is a perfect replacement.

If you are planning to live in Japan you will need to have a “Hanko” made for official documents and personal use.

The portrait is one of Burmese politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, winner 1991 Nobel Peace prize.  She was silenced by house arrest and subsequent detention.



Suchness – How is Your Subject Different?


Often times the word “suchness” or “Isness” is quoted in writings about the Zen arts.  And what does suchness mean?

Suchness is what characterizes the subject’s uniqueness among other scenes or similar subjects.  This may not be one characteristic but more likely several characteristics which distinguish it from another.  A landscape has suchness as does a bowl, vase of flowers, person or any object.

Suchness is what is actually taking place at the moment of your interaction with the subject.  It is a statement being communicated by the subject at this very moment as it is in all its completeness, in this instant of reality.

Suchness is about the object speaking to you and saying “Here I am, in this moment in time, I occupy this space for now.”  “I have a right to be here, please recognize me for my uniqueness.”

My painting above of a beach cabin near my father’s house was done many years ago before my study of the Zen arts.  I would do it differently now yet believe it shows the suchness of the place.  The cabin makes a statement saying “I am here!”

Does your artwork communicate the “isness” or “suchness” of your subject?

What is a Barrier?

Perspective Drawing with Ruler

We all suffer from a barrier or two as we struggle to find balance in our art and every day lives.  Trying to run away from them is futile, if we do, they stay with us.

Barriers could be fear, hesitancy, anger, prejudice or something of your very own.

The following barriers are sometimes common to artists:

Holding on to an idea, such as being original.  The idea of your work being original can become your own hell.  When the goal of originality becomes your focus, your idea is no longer original.  The artist is merely trying to be different. Originality actually means “coming from the source” and is enabled by craftsmanship, skill and diligent practice, not by trying to stand out in the crowd. 

Being full of ourselves. To be full of yourself creates a boundary completely governed by our feelings and ideas.  When we are full of ourselves, our best art cannot flow, the muse has no space to enter.  Your boundary crowds out her space.

Being attached to our creations. Let your work go with a bow.  This way you release your artwork in recognition of the knowledge and skill you have learned in the process of creation.

If we are over invested in our work, our judgment goes out the window.  We see only perfection and evolution stops.

You are only a temporary custodian of your work,  do it for the world and are pleased to pass it on and evolve through the learning process even further.

Anger  Your work may be dynamic and exciting but in reality it could be filled with anger. The creative feedback group (see previous posts) will hastily enlighten you regarding this aspect.

It helps to paint anger deliberately, feel it and see it in your work in order to become empowered enough to let it go.

Painful experiences. This is a rich place to take a look at yourself and sometimes the only way to get through a barrier is to become the barrier itself. This may be the last thing you want to do.  Becoming cathartic by imagining you are the painful experience yourself then proceeding to work is a powerful way of moving through this barrier. Use of metaphor may also help you put your painful experiences down.

Working with barriers can’t be rushed, it only comes together through time and patience. The creative feedback group (see previous posts) can provide powerful insight into your progress through their assessment of your work.

Do you have any unusual barriers to your artwork and have you a knowledge of how to work with them?  Please comment if you do.

How to Participate in a Creative Feedback Group


If you read my last post you would understand why it is important and beneficial to become a member of a creative feedback group.

Here are some tips on how to participate in the group:

  • Have the image placed away from you, it is important not to look at it yet.
  • Make yourself comfortable and completely relax your body starting from your eyes and going down to your toes.
  • Be aware of any tension around the muscles of your eyes and let it go if need be.
  • Focus your energy within then move that energy up to the back of your closed eyelids.
  • Have the painting turned around and open your eyes.  Take a flash look at the image then close your eyes again.
  • Try to see the image in the back of your closed eyelids.  How does it feel?
  • If you can’t remember parts of the image, fill them in even if you think you may have it wrong.
  • Open your eyes and slowly take in the complete image at length.  See how it feels to you, not what you think about it.  What does it remind you of?  How does it feel in your body?  Feelings can be nervousness, excitement or even relaxation.
  • Ask yourself “What is the artist trying to say?” “Am I attracted to some parts more than others?  “Are there parts of the work I find distasteful?  “Should I sit on it and leave my judgment until later?”
  • How does this image feel beneath my feet, soft, spongy, slimy, wet, hard?
  • Are there any sounds or smells I can recognize?
  • Does the image continue beyond the borders in your imagination?

Now you are ready to give feedback.

The group are acting as a mirror back to the artist and their feedback is invaluable.

Do you have the courage to form a committed group to assist your artist friends?  Whichever way, likewise will be returned to you.



Willing Participants? – How to Form a Creative Feedback Group

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Did you know that a small group of willing participants can form a group to assist you greatly in your arts practice? These individuals can assist by way of forming a creative feedback group.

The people do not necessarily have to be artists.  In fact, they can be anyone interested in looking at your art.  The amazing thing is that whoever these people are, the comments about the art are usually not that different.   A group of 3 to 4 is ideal.

On the down side, it takes time, patience and commitment to form an effective feedback group.

Here are some tips for the artist ready to form a creative feedback group:

  • As an artist, it is important for you to know that group members will be expressing their “feelings” about the work, not their ideas, criticisms or opinions.
  • Respect their opinion totally.  Get yourself out of the way by being careful not to only hear what you want to hear in accordance with your notion of your work.  Listen carefully! This takes practice.
  • Seeking approval puts you in a negative position by stifling risk-taking in future work.  Once approval has been given, you may tend to create work that will continue pleasing the group.   Consequently, you may then scale back on experimentation and exploration of new ways of working.
  • Bear in mind that some of the greatest work has been produced by people who are willing to be rejected.  Go ahead, really test them!

My next post will include instructions for the participants of the feedback group.  There is a specific way of viewing the art and you will be surprised to read about this unusual process.

Enlarging the Universe – 5 Tips to Help You Understand the Creative Process

Tree Drawings

When you make art you bring into existence something that has not appeared before.  It has turned up out of the void and enlarges the universe.  This is your unique way of experiencing life, no one else can show the subject the way you do.  If the work truly comes from within you feel a sense of fulfillment and completion.

Some of the elements happening in the creative process are:

  • The Muse – A feeling of inspiration that walks you through the creative process.
  • The Hara – A place within you that feels still and grounded.
  • Chi – The energy in you and all things.  The spirit of something you are inspired by.
  • Resonance – This arises from Chi.  It is a faint feeling of recognition between the subject and you. In simple terms, it is when the subject screams at you, “Paint me!”
  • The art of expression – ideally, this flows from you to the creation unfettered and unhindered until the work creates itself.

To access the muse, it helps to cultivate a quiet space within yourself. This can be done through quiet restful times gardening, cycling, walking, running, doing housework etc.  To me, this is a much better way to meditate than sitting in silence which I find uncomfortable and boring.  Thoughts will come, it is best to acknowledge them and let them go allowing your mind to be still if you can.

Chi is spiritual and physical power and it fills the universe.  A lifeless work of art, is a work without chi or spirit. Chi is engaged through your intuition, not your intellect. It helps to ask yourself, “What chi or energy does this subject radiate”?  Once you experience that chi, a resonance develops.

Resonance is a coupling of two vibrational frequencies, and in this case between you and the subject.  Only then are you able to commence the expression of your art.

Lastly, you may want to edit your work by removing the unnecessary elements.  A Zen aesthetic is one of simplicity and peacefulness.  By erasing the extras you get down to the essence of what you intended to say.

The last step is to express gratitude for the subject and the resonance it has provided.  You can than let go of the subject, the feelings and the process of what you have created.

The above pen work from my sketchbook is a result of seeing in new ways and a resonance between some trees in the woods and me.

Have you any sketches or stories of when you have had a vibrational connection to something you have drawn/painted?  What made you choose it?  Did you feel a sense of fulfillment and delight after you created the work?  Do you consider the work to have chi?

Are You The Chosen One? – How to Choose Your Subject

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Of course, most of us are constantly filled with inspiration.  And my guess is that ideas continue to dance in your head 24 hours a day even when you are dreaming.  However, as a professional,  there may be times when you are put in the position of selecting a subject to work on.

In today’s post I will leave you with 9 Zen tips on how to select a subject.  These tips are secret artists’ business and are not known to all so this is a rare opportunity to get with the program and produce some great work.  It’s all in the process…..

  • It is always a good idea to tune in to how you are feeling before you start.  The subject you choose will naturally reflect that feeling. 
  • Go ahead with an open mind and no pre-conceived ideas about what you are looking for. 
  • Go out into the landscape and let resonance (a feeling of recognition between the subject and the artist) guide you. 
  • The subject will choose you if you allow it. 
  • Be patient, your presence will be acknowledged when your subject has chosen you. 
  • Eventually, the subject will show subtle ways to reveal itself to you. 
  • It is wise to take your time with commencing your work as subjects reveal different aspects of themselves if you are able to be patient and allow this to unfold. 
  • Be careful not to name your subject or project your pre-conceived ideas on how it should look or be.  If you do this, your perception will close and the subject will not show what else it is. 
  • Be aware that subjects change with time and reveal themselves differently depending on the changing light, atmosphere, temperature, your feelings or perhaps a deepening of your perceptive ability. 

The resonance between you and the subject will rise and fall over time and your intuition will tell you when the resonance is greatest.  This is the best time to create.  It is important to allow the energy to run its course and to grab the chance to express yourself without inhibitions when the time is right.  You can always edit your work later if you wish.

To know if you’re on the right track it helps to ask yourself:

Do I feel a vibrational resonance between the subject and myself?  “Has a bond been created between us?”

This can work just as well with photographs.  It is best to choose a selection of shots showing places you have actually been.  That way, you can tune into your memory of the sounds, smells, tastes and touches of the landscape you are chosen by.

Go forth!  See beyond the obvious and ordinary!