Don’t Dig up in Doubt What You Planted in Faith

I can’t begin to count the number of times I thought of a great idea for a new product or a new way to solve a problem and then quickly shrug it off. Then, a couple years (and sometimes only a few months later) I discover that someone else who had that same idea and actually did something about it, turned it into reality. Has that ever happened to you? If so, you’re not alone. It is said that most people kill their dreams before they are even born. I’m definitely one of them. However, thanks to some inspiration from many people, I decided to pursue this idea of creating a coloring book. I had no valid excuses not to try. What’s the worst that could happen? I would be the only one who likes the book and I would gain experience from self publishing my first book. That’s not so bad. And what’s the best thing that could happen? On top of that, others would also be able to enjoy the benefits from coloring in a new book made by me. So I went on and produced it. I took a couple steps toward my goal and then, almost at the finish line, doubt started to creep in: Should I really do this? Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, calls it the Resistance. In fact, he said that it’s at the finish line that Resistance is the strongest. I can attest to that. I felt it. Fortunately I found a way to overcome it. 
Our ideas are in such a fragile state at the beginning of their implementation that it’s best not to talk about them too much until they are strong enough to withstand criticism : criticism from ourselves and from others who cannot possibly see our vision. When you do something for the first time, it’s easy to find all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t do it. Coincidentally, I came across this quote at the right time from Elisabeth Elliot which said “Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith”. It really resonated to me and reminded me that we have to give our ideas a chance to grow. 
Our ideas are like seeds. These seeds can turn into plants that represent our vision, what we imagine will come out of those ideas. Once we’ve planted a seed, all we have to do is make sure we give it the right amount of water, sunlight and time to grow into the plant we envisioned. And just like a plant, our idea takes work, care and time. When we let doubt dictate our actions, we essentially start digging the seed out of the ground before it has a chance to grow. So I kept at it, and finished the book as planned. There’s still a lot of work for me to do, but I’m happy to say that the book is not only available on Amazon, but it’s already in the hands of people in Canada, the US and the UK!

What are some of the ideas you have that keep reoccurring in your life and that you keep killing before they get a chance to take root? How would your life change if you carved out 15-30 minutes a day until the end of the year to give that idea a chance to grow? Why don’t you give it a try?

Toronto McLaughlin Planetarium Awaiting its Demolition Sentence

Nestled between the Royal Ontario Museum and Falconer Hall, the Toronto McLaughlin Planetarium is awaiting its demolition sentence. This unique building with a spherical roof opened its door to the public in 1968 with what was once state-of-the-art equipments to educate people about space. Now it serves as a temporary office space and a storage facility. It's very unfortunate that there doesn't seem to be any effort put into preserving and effectively using such a unique and important building. The McLaughlin Planetarium is apparently one of only ten planetarium in Canada. With all the available technologies and interests for arts and science in the city, it's difficult to understand why no one has found a way to put it to better use, specially considering the fact that it's in a prime location where other museums are within walking distance. 

As a way to essentially preserve part of the history of the city, I organized a sketching session with members of the Toronto Urban Sketchers group this weekend to capture the building before it is gone for good. The sketches from this building as well as other disappearing landmarks, will be part of an illustrated book we're currently working on. You can see more sketches from our session here

Everyone Has a Plan until They Get Punched in the Mouth

Mike Tyson quote portrait by MJ I learned a little while ago, especially when working as an interior designer, that no plans, as thorough and detailed as they can be, will completely prepare you for dealing with any situation. They help but you will still have to improvise. So you have to learn to roll with the punches, adapt and take action. Taking action very often is the difficult part, the part when a lot of us freeze and feel stuck. Some are fortunate enough to figure out a way around it and some give up and resign themselves to their unfortunate situation. When people endure unpleasant situations in a defeatist type of way, where they resign themselves to complain about their situation as opposed to doing something about it, it’s what many call “learned helplessness”. I had never heard of that term before this year and it fascinated me. Of course it caused me to look inward and look for situations where I might have displayed that behaviour, accepting what I don’t want and resigning myself to thinking that “it’s just the way things are”, not even trying to do something about it. And now every so often, I take the time to take a step back, look at my situation and see where I’m displaying that kind of behaviour and make adjustments. It’s a challenging task as it’s impossible to be completely objective about it but it’s doable. 

Interestingly enough, in his book What to do When it’s Your Turn (and it’s Always Your Turn), Seth Godin talks about it in a story where two executives are on their way up in an escalator, when the escalator suddenly stops moving and they get “stuck” between two floors. One of them starts yelling for help while the other, frustrated, just waits for help to come. This scene from a Becel commercial illustrates what many people do in their lives whenever they feel stuck. They don’t do anything about it and wait for someone or something to save them, when they could simply do the work themselves. This really shook me because it’s so ridiculous to think that they couldn’t think of just walking up the escalator and be on their way. But at the same time when I start looking at some of the things I might have been complaining about, I realized that in some aspects of my life, I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been waiting for something or someone instead of just doing the work myself. Figure it out, that’s the beauty of life. So let’s just say that I’ve been a little more vigilant and I keep that book close as a reminder to not just wait for something to happen. Make it happen. It might work, it might not. Doesn’t matter, at least you’re moving forward. 

With that in mind, I’m currently working with the members of the Toronto Urban Sketchers group to produce a book about the disappearing landmarks in Toronto with plans to sell the book and have them exhibit their work at a show in the fall. I’ve never done anything like this before but it’s a fun project I’ve been meaning for a while to do so we’ll see where it goes. So far so good. 

In which areas of your life are you displaying learned helplessness? What can you do to help yourself and get ahead instead of waiting?

Sketching at IKEA

A couple weeks ago I organized a sketching event at IKEA. It's an idea I got from another urban sketcher in Sweden and I thought it would be a great option for us when it's cold outside. It was my first time visiting the IKEA in Toronto, which his weird because I used to be there all the time before moving to Toronto. It was great to be back and see all the decor and items. Made me want to come back, specially considering how easy it is to get there. There's also an IKEA shuttle bus from the subway station directly to IKEA, even though you can walk from the station to the store in about 5-10 minutes. 

I sketched one of the set up they had at the entrance as well as a portion of the self-serve area on the main floor. It was interesting to hear the conversation going on while sitting at the patio display. The comments on the patio furniture were all positive.  I recorded snippets of it while sketching (shown in the photo on the right). 

My Coloring Book is Now on Amazon

I did it! I created my first coloring book and it's now available on Amazon. The process has been a very interesting experience and by going against my previous habit of planning more than accomplishing, I was able to get it done. Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles, talks about the idea of shooting first and aiming second, as no amount of planning can ever fully prepare you for any endeavour. You have to take a leap of faith and trust that you will figure it out as you take action. This coloring book is the manifestation of me taking action. I imagine there's still a lot to learn, but it's very satisfying to be able to see an actual product made by me. I also created a little video (shown above) about it to show what it looks like inside. Again, I'm new to making videos, but I learned as I worked on it, and I'm quite happy with the results. 

The amazon version of the book was made using CreateSpace. It's a great platform that enables creators to self publish and print physical books that are printed in the US. I ordered a couple proofs, that came in no time and enabled me to check the book before making it available online. I'm quite impressed with the quality of the book. I also printed a "homemade" version of the book at a local print shop to see how it would look like using thicker paper (65-lb). It's quite nice as well and perfect for markers. It's a little more expensive but I'm thinking about selling them directly as a special edition if there's a demand for it. I also created a free sample version of the book as a trial. If you're interested, just sign up below to get the file.

You can also find out more about this project here.

Fear Is the Weak Chain Holding Back the Powerful Elephant That Is Your Life Dream

Fear quote by MJ
Ever been in a position where you have something important to do for yourself but you keep doing everything else to avoid doing it? That’s something I constantly have to fight through in order to get certain things done, like writing a blog post, organizing an event, painting an idea, starting or finishing a project, exercising regularly and even writing this. Why?

Fear : fear of the possibility of failure, fear of not reaching my goals, fear of disappointing myself or my peers, fear of the unknown, and even fear of being wildly successful. Each goal is like a powerful elephant held up by discouraging thoughts. And although these thoughts seem convincing, they are no match to our ability to overcome them. Fear will never go away, it will always be there, because it has its place in our lives. Still it shouldn’t stop you from accomplishing the things you would like to accomplish. I think the difference between those who seem to fearlessly live their dream life and those who wish they could is in the way they react to their fears. I’m not an expert, I’m learning from others who found a way to overcome their fears and accomplish great things and I would like to share what I’ve learned so far and what has been working for me (mind you I still have work to do):
  • Acknowledge your fear for what it really is 
  • Take action in spite of your fears 

1. Acknowledge your fear for what it really is 
What is fear anyway? Is it rational? Can it really hold you back or did you decide to give it the power to hold you back? 

I was listening to an interview with artist Ann Rea a little while ago and she was talking about a friend she used to work with and who was a cancer survivor. Her friend dreamed of becoming an interior decorator but was working a soul sucking office job instead. She had no debts, no kids and a supporting husband but for some reason she was more afraid of starting a new career in a field she loved than to go through chemotherapy. She died unfortunately without ever giving herself a chance to at least try. This was a wake up call for Ann Rea who decided to turn her own dream into reality. She quit her job, moved to her dream city and started earning more money doing what she loves: painting. Now she also coaches other artists on how to thrive while doing what they love. She faced her fear and came out the other side a better and stronger person. 

If you don’t take the time to really face your fears and to evaluate them, chances are you’ll perceive them as being much bigger than they need to be. Think about something you've been dreaming about but have been avoiding out of fear. Now think about one of the worst things that has happened in your life. Is your current fear of something that could happen worst than what already happened? I'll guess it's probably not. Not only did it happened, but you faced the worst and you survived. Chances are you’re probably stronger because of it. So could it be that you’ve been giving that fear a little too much power over you and that by going ahead anyway, you’ll find out that you are stronger than you think you are? No matter what the outcome is, you’ll learn something and grow. As far as I know, no one ever regrets facing their fears in the long run. 

2. Take action in spite of your fears 

Fear will never go away. It’s part of the process. However, the more you take action, the smaller your fear becomes and the more powerful you'll feel. 

I used to be scared of driving alone across the border but when an opportunity for a sketching event came up, I started to think about it a little bit more rationally because I really wanted to go. So I thought “What exactly am I afraid of? I have a cell phone if I get lost. There are road signs along the way. I can prepare and see the entire trip on Google map before going. I speak English. Many people will be going as well. It’s not like if it’s in the middle of nowhere”. I really was running out of reasons to be afraid. So I went. I drove 5 hours to Ithaca, New York by myself. My first solo drive across the border and the longest I’ve ever driven to date. And yes, I felt very empowered once I conquered my fear. Now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore because I took action. Not only that, I met a lot of great people and learned a lot of new sketching tricks. I’m even thinking about doing it again this year. 

Fear keeps you from moving forward only because you think it’s stronger than you, not because it is. What fear are you willing to face and conquer this month?

Peek inside my sketchbook

I love watching other artists' sketchbooks, online and offline. They always inspire me. I get to do this a lot during our urban sketching session in the city and it's something that I think most artists love to do. So I figured why not share them online as well. A couple days later, here's my first video showing the content of my tiniest sketchbook in a little over four minutes. 

I received this little sketchbook while attending the urban sketchers symposium in Barcelona back in 2013. I really like it because it used to fit in my pockets or purse, so I could easily sketch anywhere at any time. In this case, most of the sketches were made while riding public transport in Toronto. There are some sketches from restaurants and bars as well. I also brought it with me on my way to Montreal while riding the train. Since we were stopped for a long time, I had a chance to sketch and colour some of the scenery on the way there too. 

You Know It’s Art When the Check Clears

The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair
A couple weeks ago I went to check out The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair. It’s a great little exhibition enabling artists to connect directly with potential buyers. Part of the exhibition this year included a competition where artists were invited to create a piece of artwork involving typography. The winner for me was the one shown above by artist Jim Bourke of a portrait of Andy Warhol and one of his quote : “ You know it’s art when the check clears”, answering the question : What is art anyway ?

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s checks started to clear when he was in his early twenties. He had a dream of becoming a famous artist, and went on to make his dream come true in a relatively short period of time. The Art Gallery of Ontario is currently exhibiting some of his work (the show ends on May 10th) , so I went to see what art is from his point of view.

Viewing his art felt like seeing a portion of the North American culture through his eyes. Most of his work was not about him but about people and events around him. I think that’s a clue to what makes art valuable to others enough for them to pay for it. This reminds me of what many successful entrepreneurs promote : the importance of taking yourself out of the equation and find ways to be of service to others. In the case of Basquiat, I think it was more about his message and how his art made people feel when viewing it as opposed to how perfectly one color blended into another or how perfect the canvas was stretched over the frame. I try to keep that in mind when I find myself seemingly hypnotized by the minute unimportant details taking me out of focus from my main goal. Perhaps that was one of Basquiat’s strengths and that’s why he succeeded.

Art is an emotional trigger that changes shape from one point of view to another. Art is in the eye of the beholder. If a person sees value in the artwork, that person will gladly pay for it. So I think Andy Warhol said it best: "You know it’s art when the check clears".

Basquiat at the AGO Basquiat at the AGO

Urban Sketching at 401 Richmond

Earlier this month, I organized a sketching event at 401 Richmond for the Toronto Urban Sketchers group. It's a very interesting restored heritage building right in the middle of the city and is home to several artists, cultural producers, microentreprises, galleries, festivals and shops. It's always a bit of a challenge to find indoor spaces that will accommodate a large number of people comfortably with interesting things to sketch when it's cold outside, but this building fits the bill. It wasn't too cold in the sun so some people event ventured outside in the courtyard and created beautiful sketches. (You can see them on the Toronto Urban Sketchers blog and Facebook page

Manning the event and taking pictures of the sketchers tend to eat into my sketching time, but I managed to sketch the view from the second floor into a parking lot. There was this skinny long building right in the middle of the parking lot and a little parking shack next to it, surrounded by tons of barrels. Weird. It also looks like the top floor is someone's home. If that's the case, the surroundings are not very welcoming and the stair leading straight to the parking lot are rather steep. There's absolutely no green space around it either, kind of sad.  

I usually get to play "Where's the Urban Sketcher" during these event, capturing them in their element, totally focused on what they are sketching. I managed to capture quite a few in the zone. It's great to see how they benefit from this relaxing activity and how they interact with one another. 

The event is typically divided in two sketching sessions. For the second part, I spend most of the time exploring the building with some of the participant but still squeezed in a quick sketch of a really neat art installation made out of drinking straws, shown below.   

2015 Reading Challenge - First Quarter

What have you been reading lately?

Shown above are the books I read over the past three months. It's interesting for me to see how books just "land on my laps".  Despite having a list of books to read for my reading challenge this year, there seems to be certain books that find their way ahead of the list. Seth Godin, Zig Ziglar, James Altucher, Jason Gaignard and Robin Sharma's books were amongst those who skipped the reading list line this first quarter of the year. I'm happy to report that I'm 3 books ahead of schedule, according to Goodreads. Audiobooks are a big help in keeping up with the challenge. Perhaps I can increase the amount of books I read over the next three month. I'm curious to see what kind of books will end up on my read list in June.

Invest in yourself. Read a good book!