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. 

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.

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. 

Hello 2018

Happy new year to you and yours! 

The new year is a great time to refocus and redesign which is exactly what I intend to do. There is so many ways to connect online, it can be a little overwhelming, so as I'm redesigning things, I'll put a break on this site for now until it's properly redesigned. In the mean time, connect with me via Instagram, Facebook and YouTube where I've been spending a bit more time. 

All the best for 2018!

- MJ