Friday, January 11, 2019

I'm writing a book

First iteration of the cover for my book

If you follow me on Instagram, then you most likely already know that I'm in the process of writing and self publishing a book. It's something that has been on my mind for a while : a way to continue my train of thoughts along some of the paintings I created recently and to share my findings with those who can also benefit from it. The book is more a series of essays based on 21 paintings from the Strings of Thoughts series. I was inspired to call it Visual Meditations. Below is an excerpt from the introduction in the book. 

What are visual meditations ? 

Have you ever been in a situation at one point in your life where you think you should be happy because you’ve “arrived” but all you can think of is “Is that it? What now?” Do you keep going and pretend to feel fulfilled or do you do something about it? And if you do, what do you do? 

I found myself in this situation on multiple occasions and every time it was during a major crossroad in my life: a time where I had to make a decision to go one way or another. One way was the easy, known and secure path that would most likely lead to boredom and resentment. That way would also require stimulants and distractions to numb that feeling and keep me going. The other way was unknown and scary but with the possibility of a more fulfilling life while addressing that sinking feeling that something was not right. What helped me arrive to those crossroads and able to make the best decision for myself was what I like to call visual meditations. A tool that, time and time again, helps me disconnect from the many distractions of the world and help me connect to the voice within so that I can get the answers I need at the time. 

It’s something that we all have access to but are often too distracted to pay attention to. All the answers you need for all the problems in your life can be found within you. External tools can help you find your way in, but they cannot give you the answers because they don’t have all the knowledge and understanding of who you are and what your experiences have been. They can only inspire and guide you, they can’t give you the answers, only you can do that. So visual meditations are tools to help you find the answers you need, hidden in your subconscious. 

How does it work ? 

My art cart at the market
Our subconscious mind does not understand the language of words. It understands the language of images. That’s why we’re constantly bombarded with images, sending messages to our subconscious and making us act accordingly. A picture is worth a thousand words. If you want to remember something you associate it with a picture. 

For example, I recently took an online quiz about car logos for fun. I have little to no interest in cars, but I was shocked when the results showed that I could accurately match the name of the brand to the logo about 95% of the time. The other 5% were from brands that are not commonly seen in North America. How is that possible, when I have no interest in cars? Living in the city, I see cars all the time, and I also see car commercials even if I don’t consciously watch them. They are in ads on the screen, in posters in the subway, on someone’s shirt passing by, etc. I don’t need to pay attention to them for them to be registered in my mind. But when it’s time to look into the images, my brain will automatically bring out the information that has been stored in my subconscious. Looking the image and asking a question will bring out the answers from within. 

Visual meditations use the same principle. The only difference is that they will help you bring information that is important to you as opposed to try to convince you to buy something. In these abstract images, your subconscious will recognize something. The same way the check mark logo from Nike will prompt the thought "Just do it" in your mind and probably a lot of images related to that, what your subconscious brings out of these abstract paintings will bring out thoughts related to your life and state of mind. When you start writing them down, you’ll basically start pulling at a thread of thoughts hidden within your mind and start analyzing and observing them to find your answers. 

A lot of the time, commercial visual cues are dis-empowering and prompt you to keep buying things as a remedy for the symptoms created by these dis-empowering visuals, and it makes you dependent on them. Unlike visual commercials, visual artworks are meant to empower you instead. They are abstract enough to enable you to see your own images and stories within them. Our minds are that powerful! They help you pull out what’s hidden in your subconscious from the background to the forefront and coach you into discovering if they are thoughts that are yours or that were fed to you so often that you started to confuse them for being yours. Also, it gives you the opportunity to decided if there are thoughts you want to keep of if they are thoughts you want to discard and replace with new and better ones, that are more empowering to you and serve you better and also make you overall happier in life. 

We live in a world that is very fast paced and distracting. If you don’t pay attention and take time to take a step back and decide what you want, you’re helping other people achieve their dreams and you never really have time for yourself to be yourself and find meaning in your life. Unless a major event interrupts their lives, many people live in a “machine’ that was designed to keep them off their true path and destiny. A life of chasing the proverbial dangling carrot and end up at the end of their life feeling disappointed and regretting not taking more ownership of their lives. 

Visual meditations are a creative way to start helping you detach from that machine, or Matrix and allow you to start tapping into your own self and figuring out what you can do to make sure you make the most out of your life. You get to live a life that is perfectly designed for you as opposed to you trying to fit into a life that is designed to keep you feeding the machine and never really coming into your own true powers. 

How did it started? 

My art cart at the market
I’ve been focusing on painting clouds for the past 2 years and the more I paint them, the more they reveal concepts I wasn’t aware of. At first it started as something fun to do in my art journals. Then it grew into a series of cloud paintings to create a body of work. After painting 100 of them, I entered a new phase of cloud paintings realizing that they could represent more than clouds : they were a visual representation of thoughts. 

One day, I got this idea to paint strings amongst the clouds and this launched the Strings of Thoughts series. It started as a simple project to participate in a local artisans market. I had a couple of wood panels and decided to use them to explore the Strings of Thoughts concept with a limited colour palette. Soon after, I noticed that there was a lot more to it than the imagery, and speaking to some of the people who came to see my booth and purchased some of the paintings, I realized that they triggered different thoughts for different people and things that I didn’t see myself. It’s still fascinating to me that they can represent different things to different people. It made me understand that art is collaborative: The viewer is also part of the creation. Based on their own mind and experiences, they will be able to uncover a different story that has a personal meaning to them. Their subconscious will essentially reveal an image that will bring other thoughts and emotions along with it. 

At the market, there was a lady who was particularly fond of one of my paintings in the shape of a spiral. It reminded her of the conch from her home in the Caribbeans, of her curls of her natural hair, of how prevalent and important this shape was in her life and how significant it was in her understanding and pride of who she was. She pointed out all sort of connections that I hadn’t noticed before and I was fascinated. She purchased the painting and it looked like she had much more to discover about it, more specifically about what it would help bring to the surface from within. What I love about this is that it triggered her own stories and memories, and reminders of what’s important to her in her life at that point in time. That’s the power I see behind these visuals, they allow you to meditate in a different way, it’s more like pondering on things that matters the most to you, giving you the space not just to absorb information but to find what’s within you and use that to your highest of goodness. The paintings are not only a representation of my thoughts, they are also a representation of the thoughts of the people who are observing them and connecting with them. 

What's in the book ? 

Sold Paintings not included in the book

In this book you will go through each of the 21 paintings from the Strings of Thoughts Series. For each of the paintings, you’re invited to first take some time to observe the paintings and listen to what your mind is telling you as you watch them and take some notes. Then you can see as an example my thought process observing the same paintings. They may help trigger more thoughts of your own. There are also a couple questions at the end of each section to help you dig deeper into what it all means to you. Take some time to answer them either by writing or drawing what comes to mind during this process. There are no wrong answers. What’s important is that it’s meaningful to you , that it makes sense to you and that it can help you in whatever way you could use the help. Trust yourself as you go through each of the paintings. You can go in order or you can start with the painting that you gravitate towards the most. 

Meditation is about observing your thoughts. Visual meditation is about observing your thoughts with the help of visual cues. I’m inviting you to ponder on each image and think about what you see, how you feel about them, what you think about them, how they move you and why. This is a nice way to go within and also to be present. What you see will reveal interesting thoughts that are relevant to your current life.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Happy New Year

And just like that, we're in 2019! I had a chance to spend the last couple days of the previous year with Newton and some close friends in Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to many Canadian Wineries. We had great weather, especially considering the fact that we were at the end of December! We sampled some wine at Westcott Vineyard, visited the town that looks like a Christmas card, walked in vineyards,  saw some horses, visited the lavender store, explored an old barn and met great people. 

It was my first time visiting this area of Ontario and it was very inspiring. I hope to be able to come back with the Toronto Urban Sketcher group for a day trip during the summer. There was something about the colour palette of the area that looked like a finished painting and perfect for artists. I also learned about an annual lavender festival that would be perfect for the group. I didn't take a lot of pictures during our short stay but I snapped a couple photos of some inspiring scenes as shown below. There was an interesting pattern created by frozen water on the ground that reminded me of contour lines. I also learned about milkweed pods They are absolutely beautiful! They are the only host plants for Monarch Butterflies and also serve as a great source of food for them and other pollinator species. The way the seeds float in the air when you open them is really inspiring. I even took some short videos of them. Not sure what they will be used for, but they might come in handy in the future. 

I'm hoping to get back to blogging on a regular basis this year. Wish me luck. There so many things I feel I could share but often get trapped into analysis paralysis mode because I'm trying to make it "perfect". The goal is really just to share and keep an online record of things I find interesting and inspiring, trips, etc.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Honoring Death

As Halloween and the Day of the Dead are fast approaching, it dawned on me that perhaps these celebrations emerged from observing nature when I pulled an interesting combination of cards from my Cloud Oracle Card deck and my Tarot Card deck on Instagram recently. 

From time to time, I like to pick a card and post insights on how the card can be interpreted.“Honoring” was the next Cloud Oracle card to be featured and I decided to pick a tarot card to go with it. The card that jumped out was the Death card. I was a little taken back at first, but my reaction was quickly replaced by an Aha moment: “Of course, it makes sense!” I thought, “We are right at the beginning of the Season of death : which signals the end of summer and the start of fall".  
We've also recently entered Scorpio season in the zodiac which is also represented as the Death card in the tarot deck. (I've been learning a little bit more about the Zodiac and Tarot lately, can you tell?) 

Death and birth are like two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, like the end of something as the trigger for the beginning of something else. So instead of dreading it, we could honor it, take time to appreciate this beautiful part of the cycle of life where the leaves change colour and create a beautiful warm colour palette outside while the temperature drops, the dry leaves on the ground make nice sounds as we walk on them, the squirrels are running around burying nuts wherever they think is best ahead of the upcoming winter, etc. During this period, the days also get darker sooner, we tend to want to stay home a little more. It’s all part of the process of the cycle of nature that we’re part of, whether we're aware of it or not. Is it a coincidence that this is when we somehow ended up celebrating holidays such as Halloween and the Day of the Dead during this time? 

Here's how I read these cards : I see this combination (Honoring & Death) as an invitation to slow down, appreciate and pay attention to what’s going on around us in nature during this time and find ways to stay aligned with it in our day to day lives. Just like the trees are shedding their leaves in preparation for winter, it’s a great time to let go of what no longer serves us. Just as days turn into night sooner, it’s great time to go more inwards and spend time with ourselves. Just like the squirrels are hiding nuts for the winter, we could also preserve some items for the colder days. Although we’re fortunate to live in a place where we can just step out in a store and get whatever we need or order it, there’s something to be said about having some essentials close at hand so that we can just cozy up at home, and enjoy time spend indoors in a warm space, surrounded by people we love. Something as simple as making sure you have hot tea or hot chocolate available to just sit in your favourite area at home and read a book or watch your favourite show, or take some time to take a nice warm bath on the weekend. As we say goodbye to the summer, we can honour the coming winter season by appreciating little rituals during the fall season to get us ready for winter by taking care of our mind, body and soul.  

Here's to taking the time to honor the season and taking some time for yourselves. I hope you have a great fall season and get some time to fully enjoy this part of life. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Mindfulness Art Series

Mindfulness is described as "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations". I chose to call my second series of cloud paintings Mindfulness because they enabled me to become more aware of my surroundings and the many connections clouds have with the mind.

How did it all started? 

How did I become interested in clouds? It probably started a long time ago, when I used to observe shapes in the clouds as a kid. But I progressively became more acutely aware of them over the past couple years. I believe the turning point was when I saw a cloud shaped like a question mark during a trip to Washington DC, as shown in the picture. Not only had I never seen a cloud shaped like that before, but it appeared while I had a lot of questions in my mind. Seeing this cloud at that very moment felt like a personal message,  a reflection of my own mind, encouraging me to keep asking questions and to look for signs.

Unbeknown's to me at the time, it is after that trip that I started to pay more attention to clouds. I was taking more pictures of clouds. I was even paying more attention to them when I was sketching buildings, taking extra time to depict the sky in the background. It was as if, subconsciously I was slowly bringing them in the forefront. At the same time, as a closet artist, I had been longing for a more creative and fulfilling life. But I kept starting and abandoning many art projects, over and over again : Searching for the "right" topic to cover, battling between what I was curious about and what I thought would be successful.

This constant dance of starting and stoping art projects was very draining and never satisfying. I was afraid to step into unchartered territory. Who was I to start creating these elaborate ideas? Was I ready? Was it too early? Was it crazy? What would others think? I had tons of creative ideas flooding my mind yet I was afraid to pick up a brush and turn them into real paintings. As a result, I avoided painting these ideas for as long as I could, and released the creative pressure by doing more sketches until that one day I found a large discarded canvas in the recycling room and I decided to bring it home with me and try to paint something big. I had removed one of my excuses for not painting. In my mind, using a recycled canvas would be ok because if the painting didn't work out, I wouldn't have wasted a brand new canvas. The canvas sat on a table for several months before I decided to prime it to start something new. And it took another couple weeks before I finally decided to paint one of my ideas on it. It was my version of an Orphic Egg, based on an ancient mythical Greek story that I decided to call Creation. I even recorded myself painting it and uploaded the video on YouTube.  

What a rush! I loved every aspect of the process: painting, recording and editing the video. I had finally done it. My first large painting! This gave me confidence to enlist it in a couple art contests and put it up for sale. But when I didn't get the same enthusiasm I had for the painting, doubt came back.  Maybe it was too big, maybe it was too soon, maybe it wasn’t good enough, maybe it was too weird. So I put the painting aside and went back to creating smaller more “normal” artworks. I retreated into my comfortable setting of making sketches in my sketchbook. But Something was missing. I kept wanted to paint more. So I decided to just pick one simple topic and run with it. As I was trying to figure out what subject to focus on, I finally realized that one constant subject in all my recent attempts were clouds. They even made an appearance in my first large painting and they were fun to paint. So I thought : Why not spend an entire year painting clouds as an non-intimidating way to create more artwork? So at the beginning of 2017 I decided clouds were going to be my muse, my main subject for the year. As I started to paint clouds I became aware of a Kickstarter Project initiative called Make 100 to encourage creators to create more. This was the perfect opportunity to keep me accountable. So I enrolled and decided to create 100 small cloud paintings.

From 100 Cloud Paintings to the Mindfulness Series

Before the Mindfulness Series, there was the 100 Cloud Paintings Series through the Make 100 Kickstarter project. It was the perfect opportunity for me to complete an art project from start to finish and practice making clouds. It had a deadline and, if successful, people would be able to buy the art. To keep me on track and focused, I limited my colour palette and proceeded to create 100 small paintings on 6" x 6" acrylic papers. It was fun to see them evolved as I was getting more comfortable with the tools and the medium. I was also recording videos of the process to help fund my campaign. Unfortunately, the project didn't get funded. I was disappointed, but I was already on a roll and I wasn't going to stop until all 100 clouds were painted. Having put so much time and effort into it and not to mentioned the many social media posts about it, I didn't want it to be another abandoned art project. Besides, it was fun. So I completed the 100 clouds and in the end I was able to sell two original paintings at the time, from that series.

Taking the cloud paintings to another level

I thought that painting 100 clouds would get them out of my system. Instead, they open new doors. My focus on this one simple subject somehow expanded it. I heard Tony Robbins say that "What you focus on grow". I feel this is what happened with my cloud paintings. As I completed all 100 cloud paintings, I realized that the cloud represented more then just clouds, they also represented thoughts , concepts and ideas. What if I explored cloud paintings as thoughts? What would various thoughts look like? What if different thoughts could have different shapes and characteristics? What if I place the thought clouds into different settings? What if I went a little larger? What now? A new challenge.  Now that I was done with the 100 small cloud paintings I felt comfortable increasing the size of the canvas from 6"x6" to 9" x 12".

The first two larger paintings I create were very simple : Chasing Clouds No 1 and No 2. I simply painted landscapes with cloud formations to put the clouds in context. I thought they were good but boring. It was safe start but it didn't feel right. I needed a challenge. Chasing clouds felt pointless, I needed to focus on the fact that they weren't just clouds they were thoughts, ideas, concepts. I needed to create around that : Clouds as a representation of the mind, because I had realized how much the mind had a big influence on the outcome. I had realized that clouds were a reflection of our state of mind and out experience which was giving them shapes and meaning. An everyone had their own interpretation based on their own experiences, which was fascinating to me. I needed to create around that, and that's essentially how the Mindfulness Series was born.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

My Mural Internship : Answering the Call to Adventure

This trip felt like the embodiment of the Fools card from tarot. I was embarking on an adventure with just my luggage, hope and no idea what I was going to find on the other side. 

Earlier in the spring I got an opportunity to get a 1.5 month internship as a muralist artist assistant with John Pugh, an American trompe-l'oeil mural artist with large murals  in various areas of the world. It was one of these serendipitous opportunities that happened just at the right time and based on a series of events that led me to find myself in Northern California for the very first time. 

Me minutes before leaving the hotel to go to the airport and miss my flight. Fortunately I was able to get another flight and get there in the afternoon. A good tip when flying with an overlay is to book the earliest flight possible so that if there's any issues, there's time to hopefully fix it before the end of the day.  

It all started with me finding out about the 18th National Mural Symposium by Mural Routes last year, and deciding to participate. While there,  I learned a bit more about the mural opportunities in the city of Toronto, met various organizers and mural artists both local and international. One of the presenters there was John Pugh and I was very impressed with his work. Fast forward a couple months later, I joined Mural Routes as a member, started to attend a couple events from Street art Toronto and took one of the classes from Mural Routes called Introduction to Mural Art. There I met some great artists and decided to create a facebook group (Toronto Mural Artists) to keep in touch and help each other find opportunities to create murals. This simple gesture led to one of the members posting about the internship opportunity with John to which I replied and soon after, I was on my way to California. It was both exciting and scary at the same time, which I hear is a good thing. 
This was an large artwork in the San Francisco airport.  There should be a lot more artwork in airports. Hopefully some of my art will end up in airports one day soon. I should look into that. 

Going there was quite the growing experience for me as I had never been to Northern California before, I had never stayed in a stranger's house before, and aside from the fact that other artists had been there before, I had no idea what to expect. But there were also many signs that were telling me it was the right thing to do : My lease was ending around the same time, I had no idea where I was going to live yet and I had created a vision board a the beginning of the year wishing to be surrounded by big trees, and this was exactly where the internship was going to take place. So I decided to answer what was for me a call to adventure. I put all my stuff in storage a couple days before leaving, and headed off to a little town called Truckee, California. 

I tend to believe that everything happens for a reason. Despite staying at the hotel right next to the airport the day of my trip, I ended up missing my morning flight. There was an unusual delays at security check and a large group of us missed our flights. Fortunately, I was able to rebook another flight 2 hours later including my layover in San Francisco. 

I ended up arriving in Reno, in the afternoon where I was picked up by John and his wife Annie. Before heading their home in Truckee (30 minutes away), we stopped over at another person's home to check out an RV, as they were looking to buy one to travel around the US in the summer to install murals. Since I got there later then expected, I ended up going with them. As soon as I stepped off the car, an Italian Greyhound ran towards me, jumped at me and gave me tones of kisses and then left. I was surprised, because not only are they an uncommon breed of dogs, they are not known to be overly friendly to strangers.  I took it as another sign that I was where I was meant to be even though I was a little nervous leaving my own Italian Greyhound (Newton) in the care of others for that long. For some reason, that encounter made me feel like it would be alright. 

After being picked up by John and Annie on the road. I really enjoyed seeing the mountains all around us. It was a nice contrast from the city. 

Then we went out for a nice dinner at a restaurant in Reno. I took in the natural beauty of the area on our way to Truckee. There was a beautiful sunset giving the mountains a beautiful colour and the moon was shining bright. I was inspired by nature from the minute I stepped out of the plane.  When we arrived at the house,  I was greeted by two giant dogs, Austin and Banff, both Irish Wolfhounds who happen to be of the same family as Italian Greyhound. Banff showed affection right away as you can see in the picture below where I was trying to take a selfie with him. And after a tour of the house and art studio, I headed to bed, ready for something new. 

The colours on the mountain during the sunset were amazing. I couldn't help but take a lot of pictures on our way to their house. 

My intension for this trip was to be present as much as possible, observe and learn from every opportunity that presented itself. I ended up not only learning about mural art, but about myself, nature, California and the people I met during this trip. I'll be sharing this little adventure over the next couple posts and hopefully you get something valuable out of it.