Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Thoughts are things

Do you have a friend, a relative or a colleague who’s always complaining? Have you ever noticed that they often seem to find themselves in unfortunate situations? What if one of the main causes of their unfortunate situations is their way of thinking? What if our thoughts attract these unfortunate situations, like a magnet attracts metal. And the more we think and complain about everything that’s going wrong, the more they seem to happen. What if our thoughts really create our environment?

“Thoughts are things”. The first time I heard that concept was while watching a motivational video compilations featuring Will Smith. I didn't really get it at the time, but it stuck with me and my search to get a better understanding of what he meant lead me to discover various authors and speakers such as Napoleon Hill, Bob Proctor, Wallace D Wattles, Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Gilbert, and many more. And I started to get a better understanding of the concept behind the idea that our thoughts and emotions affect our environment. It’s essentially what the book The Secret is trying to convey. The part that was unclear to me was the importance of the emotion behind the thoughts. Emotion is key. As I pay attention to what's going on around me, I can now see how thoughts fuelled by emotions can become things.

This is what inspired this painting called Thoughts are Things. As I mentioned before, this year I felt compelled to paint clouds using the colour trends of the year and later discovered that my painting are essentially a representation of what I see around me. As an artist, I observe and see the world differently and reproduce it visually to share a new perspective with you. I paint was feels right and analyze it after. And after completing this particular painting I started to notice parallels with what I see around me and in the media : people (including myself who create their own negative environment by holding on to thoughts they don’t like ). The problem is, the more we hold on to those negative thoughts clouds, the stronger they can become. Those little negative thought-clouds fuelled by our emotions soon become storm clouds, casting more shadow into our lives, and if we keep holding on, those storm clouds can turn into tornadoes, turning our world upside down.

I can see how the more we focus on negative thoughts, the more negative events we can attract. They don’t need to be our own thoughts to have this effect. Watching the news and witnessing a lot of negative press can get us emotionally involved in nurturing thoughts that has nothing to do with us. But by latching on to them, they start to affect our own lives. I see that a lot, especially when it comes to politics lately. You may have seen many example on your Facebook feed like me, of people just arguing online about events that are completely out of their real lives and affecting their own genuine relationships which has a direct impact on their lives.

So what’s the solution? We can’t avoid all negative thoughts but we can be mindful, observe them from a distance, let them pass by without holding on to them and focus on the thoughts we want to materialize instead. It takes practice because it doesn’t necessarily comes naturally to all of us, but it makes life a lot more enjoyable. Instead of focusing on what we don’t want, we can focus on what we can, fuel these positive thoughts with our positive emotions, and these emotions will then fuel our actions and we’ll see our worlds change for the better.

Head over to Cafe Press to get a print of this artwork

Monday, June 05, 2017

Uncovering Saskatchewan's historical faux pas from sketching the Devonian Pond

Yesterday, the Toronto Urban Sketchers headed over to the Devonian Square, near the Ryerson Image Centre, to sketch the Devonian Pond, also known as Lake Devo. I was hoping to get a nice picturesque pond with the surrounded buildings and boulders reflected on the water, but there was no water. Just a couple puddles here and there, probably from the rain earlier that day and some discarded coffee cups. There was also large images of a lady wrapped in a bright red fabric standing on a rock pasted onto a couple boulders . Not what I was expecting, but then again, Toronto is always full of surprises. 

It turns out that the images are part of a temporary art installation by artist Lori Blondeau regarding Indigenous identity. It was a bit shocking a first to see this but not nearly as shocking as it must have been for the Crees and Assiniboin who saw their 400-tons sacred gathering rock blown up by the government in 1966 to make way for the man-made Lake Diefenbaker, named after the John G. Diefenbaker, former Prime Minister of Canada. Knowing a little bit more of the story behind the installation, it makes a little more sense. I can see the parallel between the sacred rock in the 1960s that was destroyed to make way for a man-made lake vs an empty man-made pond using imported boulder from the Canadian Shield plastered, almost like a graffiti on a natural stone, with the image of a Cree artist defiantly and ironically standing on a rock in pristine nature wearing a red cloth. 

From what I understand, this installation brings more awareness so that we can hopefully make better decisions.  It's great to be aware of these stories to get a better understanding of the complexities of our history. But, where do we go from there? What's the next step to make things better? Apparently the site it still considered sacred despite being 60 ft under water. Steven Thair, a diver in Saskatchewan discovered the remains of the rock and is looking to make a documentary about it. He's also looking for experienced Cree divers who would be able to work with him. 

You never know what you're going to find out when you take the time to sketch the city. We had a great turn out. About 20 sketchers showed up to sketch the empty pond and surrounding areas. You can see more images on Facebook and Instagram

Friday, June 02, 2017

Chasing Clouds

Here's a quick little clip showing the acrylic cloud formations of one of my recent paintings. I hope you enjoy it too. 😊

Music: Dark Hallway by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. (via YouTube Library)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Don't let fear be your guide

Yesterday I listened to an audiobook called The Instant Millionaire: A Tale of Wisdom and Wealth by Mark Fisher. It was a nice little story about a man who's unhappy with his life and met a self-made millionaire who teaches him the secret of becoming wealthy in all aspects of his life. It's a beautiful story full of great simple insights that really resonated with me. I'm probably going to listen to it again because it reminded me of various lessons I've been picking up along my journey so far, but I haven't necessarily applied all of them. 

One quote that particularly struck me wast the one shown above : "Don't let fear be your guide". How many of us make decisions or avoid making decision out of fear? I know I still do it and too often. The silly thing is that a lot of those fears are silly : fear of the unknown, fear of getting hurt, fear of hurting other people, fear of feeling judged, fear of feeling embarrassed, fear of making a mistake. The longer they stay in my mind, the bigger the can become if I don't take a step back and look at these fear honestly with a certain amount of detachment. Most of them are not life threatening. They're just uncomfortable. And uncomfortable is where growth happens. So it was a nice little reminder for me to get uncomfortable in order to keep growing. Silly things like going to an event even though I don't know anyone. What's the worst that can happen? Nothing really, but I'll learn and experience something new.

Another beautiful quote that I really connected with was this one :

Always remember that at a certain height there are no clouds. If there are clouds in your life it’s because your soul hasn’t soared high enough. Many people make the mistake of fighting against their problems. What you must do is raise yourself above those problems once and for all. The heart of the rose will lead you above the clouds where the sky is forever clear.
Mark Fisher, The Instant Millionaire: A Tale of Wisdom and Wealth

This quote is freakishly aligned with my thoughts regarding my art project on clouds this year and almost reenergized my determination to pursue my call to paint clouds

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Timeraiser Toronto Party was a Success

I first heard of Timeraiser when I lived in Ottawa back in 2009. It's a unique concept that enables artists to sell their artwork to the organization which, in turn, enables art patrons to bid for the artwork in exchange for their time volunteering for various non-for-profit organizations. Fast forward 6 years later, I decided to attend the event in Toronto last night and it was quite inspiring. 

There was a lot of interesting artwork, a lot people interested in volunteering in exchange for the artwork as well as great live art installations by various local artists. I didn't plan on staying long but I ended up staying for 4 hours! 

Artists were making portraits of the visitors. The lines were long to get the opportunity to be sketched by them. It's quite impressive that they were producing so many portraits surrounded by so much activity around them.  

An artist called dahae invited visitors to co-create art pieces with her by leaving their handprints on canvas fabric fixed on the wall. 

Some artist quietly created their work in their bubble while others involved visitors in their work. It's interesting to see the different way artists create. 

I was particularly fond of the work of Jonathan Edwin Simpon who patiently engrave wood trucks with letters creating some sort of poem. Very inspiring!

I really like the way it was set up. There was drinks and food for everyone as well as a clever game Timeraiser put together. We were given a Nonprofit Passport including the logos of each of the participating organizations. They had a booth in the main area to talk to visitors. And for each representative we spoke to, we got a stamp on our passport. If we collected at least 6 stamps, we could participate to a contest to win a prize. This encouraged visitors (including myself) to go talk to the organizations reps and find out the amazing work some of them do. In my case, I found out about groups I genuinely would love to get involved with. Kudo's to Timeraiser for an effective solution to getting more people to connect.

From what I gather, it was a huge success. Timeraiser Toronto raised 15,863 volunteer hours last night. There's  probably more to come from those who, like me, who plan to connect with great organizations such as Emerging Young ArtistsFull Circle and Luminato amongst many others. And if you're interested in participating as an artist, they are still accepting submission for their online version here : 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Expand your vision and change your perspective using creativity.

I will be taking part in a workshop to help people better manage their stress this coming Saturday, April 29 2017 at 2PM along with some fellow wellness experts to provide a complete practical guide addressing various aspects of the effects stress have on your body and how to protect yourself from it.

Get your ticket here : 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Are you living your life in survival mode ?

"It's hard to flourish when we're in survival mode"

This was an insight that came to me during a recent conversation with a friend. It got me thinking : How many people are currently living in survival mode, focused on making it through another day, on autopilot, working 5 to 9 on a 9 to 5 job, anticipating every Friday nights and dreading every Monday mornings? How does that affect their quality of life?

Surviving goes beyond our ability to feed ourselves or have a safe place to live. It also has to do with our ability to express ourselves. Unfortunately, that is often taken away from us as a result of us trying to keep up with the Jones, following the heard, or being trapped in Reaction Mode where we're reacting to everything that life seems to throw at us without a second to take a step back,  breathe, and figure out a better way to live. This can eventually lead to depression or worst.

Sometimes all we need to get out of survival mode is a broader perspective. Something as simple as taking a step back to look at our situation from a new point of view. When we're in survival mode we tend to have tunnel vision. We only see what's in front of us. In that case, it can help to have a friend, a motivational book, podcast or video to give us a glimpse into what's possible. Other times, an event will cause us to snap out of it long enough to realize what's going on and change things. This is what happened to me when I was living in survival mode.

A couple years ago, I was living in survival mode. I became aware of it when I found myself searching on Google for ideas on what to do to have fun on my birthday. "How ridiculous!" I thought, "Who asks Google how to have fun? How can I not know what I want to do for fun? What happened?". It seems like I had forgotten what I loved to do for fun. I had been working really hard the previous years to the point where was struggling to take a well deserved break and enjoy myself.  What's the point of doing all this work if I don't get to enjoy life? Those thoughts became my "White Rabbit". So I decided to take on the role of Alice and follow these thoughts to find answers for myself.

Following the White Rabbit 

I quickly realized that I wouldn't find my answers out there but within. So I started to dig deep, got back into journaling to search my mind for some answers. For me journaling was my gateway out of survival mode. It allowed me to take a step back and see my situation from a new perspective. I would ask myself a question, write it down in my journal and then record anything that came to mind. This resulted in many pages of words, diagrams and sketches and after a little while I realized that what really made me happy was to create in the form of drawings. I used to draw all the time as a child. Drawing was my thing. I would spend hours drawing anything for fun. With that answer in hand, I decided to bring drawing back into my life.

I started to draw whenever I had a little bit of free time and then I signed up for a life drawing class once a week with a friend. In class, I would spend hours observing and reproducing what I was looking at on paper. Time slowed down. I was present and fully engaged in the process. Drawing was a mindfulness exercise and as a bonus I would come back home with something I was proud of. The more I sketched the more I wanted to sketch. This led me to urban sketching, where I was not only drawing but also exploring my environment with a renewed perspective. I was appreciating the simple things more and enjoying the life we're so blessed to have.

Drawing was now an easy tool for me to relax and enjoy life. I wasn't stressed anymore, I felt happier and I no longer felt like I needed to be in survival mode. I had found a way to make time for myself and having fun. One of my favourite sketchbook is the one I made during two trips to Las Vegas. It was one of the first time in a while when I really felt like I was reconnecting with myself and was enjoying life. If you'd like to see the sketches I made, I recently made a video flipping through that sketchbook below : 

Helping others reconnect with their creative side

This self exploration journey eventually led to me moving to Toronto and founding the Toronto Urban Sketchers where, in a sense, I now get to hold space for fellow creatives to reconnect with their creative sides and come out of survival mode. I believe that we are all here to create. It could be in the form of drawing, coding, painting, talking, cooking, teaching, dancing, building or more. The key is to first take the time to find out what creating looks like for us and then make space in our lives for it. Creating enables us to express ourselves, which in turns makes us happy and help us flourish. It also energizes us and enable us to face our problem with more resilience. Failing to be creative tends to keeps us in survival mode with tunnel vision, missing out on many wonderful life experiences.

If you're currently living in survival mode, I really hope that this will encourage you to follow your own White Rabbit to rediscover your unique creative toolbox so you can start expressing yourself out of survival mode and into thriving mode. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Comparison is the thief of a successful life

Imagine if Professor X from the X-men wasted time wishing he could look more like Wolverine, regularly working out at the gym to bulk up, going through all kinds of surgeries, and combat classes to emulate Wolverine instead of investing his time perfecting his natural telepathic abilities and create his school. How would that affect his life and the life of everyone around him?  

I was talking with some friends the other day about how comparing ourselves to other people is not only detrimental to ourselves but to everyone around us as well. That’s because by spending time picking at what we can’t do because of what we don’t have, as opposed to strengthening what we can do using what we do have, it robs everyone who would benefit from our unique abilities. We are all born with a unique set of skills and gifts. When we work with them and share the fruits of our labour with others, we essentially become superheroes helping and inspiring others.
I think that’s why many people admire popular public figures like Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates. They each have something unique that they are really good at. By focusing on their skills, they accomplished great things for themselves and others. They also inspired many along the way to do the same for themselves. Both Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are like superheroes to those who connect and relate with them, not because they are better then others, but because they chose to focus on their strengths. Anyone can do the same. The reason why most don’t is because they tend to spend more time trying to fix what they perceive as flaws as opposed to nurturing and growing their unique gifts and talents: their superpower.
If you’re familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk, I think that’s what he means when he talks about the importance of becoming self aware as the starting point to a successful life on your own terms. This is something I’ve been pondering on lately (maybe something for you to ponder on as well) : asking myself What kind of superpower would I have as a superhero based on my personality, skills and natural abilities ? And most importantly : Am I making full use of them right now or am I waisting time comparing myself to others?
What about you? What do you think?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Self discovery through art

As I was putting together this latest video about my 100 cloud paintings project, I realized that there seems to be a right brain left brain game going on while I create the paintings. Despite the fact that my intent while creating the paintings is always to make them look different, perhaps because I paint them in pairs, the pairs have a lot of similar traits, just like non identical twins. 

This didn't occurred to me until I saw them side by side in the video. I wonder if it's because of my setup painting them side by side or because I used the same colour palette. Maybe both? Even the first two, sold painting to two different collectors, were from the same painting session. What does it mean? Who knows. 

Another interesting insight from this discovery is that, is it also reveals another part of my personality: a particular affinity for balance and symmetry. The more I paint the more I discover about myself. How you do anything is how you do everything. I think this says a lot about how art can support people in figuring things out about themselves if they are open to it. For me it's a great way to find clues to many existential questions such as : Who am I?   

If you're looking in finding things out about yourself, I would definitely recommend using a form of art as a tool to bring out some clues from your subconscious mind into light. It may even help you find your true purpose in life. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Failing Forward - 5 benefits from my "unsuccessful" Kickstarter project

You win or you learn. Despite not reaching my goal for my Kickstarter project, I survived the imagined humiliation of having an unsuccessful crowdfunding project online. Who knew it wasn't as big of a deal as I thought it would be! Don't get me wrong, it was quite the roller coaster of oscillating between confidence and self doubt, constantly switching between my desire to keep going vs my desire to give up. What kept me going is that I really want to make these paintings and I kept learning new things along the way. Besides, all of the people I admire for achieving great things, failed many times before. What's one failed project? The thing is, if you're not failing you're not trying hard enough. If you're not trying hard enough, you'll stay where you are. So I kept going and came out the other side with a handful of insights and skills that will surely serve me in my current and future endeavors.

My benefits came in the form of five upgrades in the following area : 
  1. Quality
  2. Productivity
  3. Creativity
  4. Social media
  5. Online business

1. Quality : I improved my art  

Practice makes perfect. Although  I haven't reached the famous 10,000 hours of painting clouds yet, I'm closer today then I was a month ago. Repeating the same process using various colours and shapes gave me insights on how to best use and mix the colours to be able to get more depth into the paintings. With practice I came to better understand how to mix the light and the dark colors to create more depth and I also allowed myself to experiment with colours I may not have tried to combined together otherwise. Some were surprisingly complementary.  I can already see the difference from the first painting to the 30th, and can only imagine how much better the will look by painting number 100. 

2.  Productivity : I made more art 

This is what 30 cloud paintings look like
One of the things I kept in mind while learning about the life of Picasso is that he was very productive. He has thousands of paintings to his name. In order to become better and more successful I know I have to produce more work: pay the 10,000 hours entry fee to the Notable Artist Party. Challenges like this was a great excuse to get to it. No amount of theorizing, reading or watching instructional videos will ever come close to the effect of taking action. This project was my main focus for the month of February. Being focused on one goal made me more productive and I probably created more paintings in that month then I ever did. 30 paintings, that's a little more then a painting a day. The Make 100 Kickstarter challenge made me accountable and as a result I became more productive and I have 32 finished artworks to show for. It doesn't stop here. I'm only a little over 30% done and despite not being funded, I'm continuing the process so that I get to 100 painted clouds by the end of March,  as planned. 

3.  Creativity : I got many new ideas

Doing something for the first time forced me to think outside the box and what I'm used to. For me, thinking of new ways to bring my artwork in front of people required more creativity. It also let me to create different videos (like the one below) based on suggestions from peers and ideas that emerge from various conversations about this project. It also gave me a chance to come up with new ways to present the artwork on social media, different ways to photograph my work, and different ways to describe my work.

This focused challenge also made me see my subject from a new angle and I'm realizing that I'm not only painting clouds, but I'm painting thoughts or a reflection of them. The more I'm diving into the "why" behind my inspiration to create these paintings, the more I'm discovering opportunities to express my own thoughts and insights through my art and also it enable others who see it to discover more about their own thoughts through them as well. I'm realizing that clouds are thoughts and we give them meaning depending on our own stories and experiences of life. I get a feeling that the clouds are just the first step in this creative journey, which makes me more eager to complete my challenge this month so I can dive into its second stage.

4. Social Media : I have a better understanding of its impact

First : Gary Vaynerchuk is right : Facebook trumps all social media platform at the moment. I documented all the actions I took over the course of the month (where I posted, what I posted, how many times I posted, etc) and got the results from Google Analytics regarding where the clicks came from. By far, Facebook was the most effective, followed by Instagram. I also saw the difference videos make compared to pictures. Video created spikes of interest compared to any other posts. Working on this project also made me realize that I'm not yet fully benefiting from the capacity of social media platforms to reach the right people. I've barely skimmed the surface. 

I also learned that while it's great to get views they don't equate purchases. I was fortunate enough to have my project partially funded so I also got a bit of insights regarding where they came from and as I suspected, it's far easier for someone in the Kickstarter community who has backed projects before to back your project then to get someone new in the system. Nevertheless my click to sale ratio, based on the available data was 1%, which is good for a beginner. This means that had I been able to get the page viewed by 5000 people, I likely would have reached my goal. 

As it turned out, both backers had backed projects before and I suspect that had there been a way to reach out to art backers via Kickstarter's mailing list, this project would have gotten a better chance at being fully funded. The main issue for me was not enough views. Perhaps a 60 day campaign would have given me a more time to get a better hold of the online marketing aspect of the project. I would say marketing is probably one of the most important aspect of a Kickstarter project like this. 

I've always kept google analytics at bay because there seems to be so much data to look through, but at the same time, its valuable information tells you how your presentation and products are received by the public. It's definitely something that I need to use more often.Throughout my campaign, I've learned about the benefits of using tools like Google Analytics to get an idea of what's working and what's not, what gets attention and what doesn't. Starting this project with the goal of making it successful prompt me to look for avenues to spread my message and reach the right backers looking for such a project. This meant that I had to be more active online and post on a consistent basis. Using Google Analytics, I was able to see the impact of my posts.

5. Online Business : I have new tools to create a better online store 

Participating to this project made things a little more real in terms of the process of creating a piece of artwork, selling it and shipping it to it's collector. I realized that I had a few steps in the process that needed tweaking and refinement. For example, once the Kickstarted was over I realized that my artstore on Square, only accepts purchases from Canada after a client from the United States tried to purchase one of the paintings. I had no idea this was even an issue. Why they would create the system that way, is beyond my comprehension, but that little bit of information got me working on alternative ways to enable clients from other countries to purchase my artwork. It's still in the works, but I'm currently using Paypal, which makes it easier. If there's anything I learned from listening to people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Tai Lopez is that when it comes to selling items online, make it as easy as possible for any interested party to get your product.


All in all, this experience turned out to be very valuable for me. It was worth it, and dare I say, I would do it again. I guess, going through it made me grow a little more and I have a better appreciation and understanding of what it takes to succeed : repeated failures leading the way to success. So, no matter what difficulty or obstacles lies ahead of your dreams, don't give up. The guys in the video below didn't and look where that attitude took them.