A couple of months ago, I bought a sketchbook with the intention of participating to the Inktober challenge this year. It seems like challenges are a great way for me to get things done and keep me focused on the task at hand. 

I haven't been sketching for a while (Too long!), and this is a great opportunity to get back at it and stick with it (fingers crossed). I don't want to wait till October because coming up with a concept, sketching and inking takes time, especially doing every day. And if there's too much to do, it easy to give up. Fortunately, the prompts for the year have recently been posted, so I took it upon myself to start sketching now September and leave the inking for next month in October. 

I have no idea how they are going to end up but let's see where they take me. At least I now have a plan to sketch and draw daily for the next two months. Maybe I'll even colour in November. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves! I even put another constraint on this project for me to stay focused: I need to practice sketching people, so I decided to restrict my subject to people with the prompts. 

Above are my interpretation of the three first prompts: Ring, Mindless and Bait. I'm also posting the thinking behind my illustrations on Instagram: @illustrationsbymj. Feel free to follow along, like and comment.  


After years of going back and forth, thinking about what's the best way to update my website, I finally stopped thinking and started doing. You'll see some changes throughout the process, as I organize my content. For now there are two new pages: One for my paintings and another one for my illustrations and client work (currently under construction). More soon! 

The book behind the cards

I finally received hard copies of my book and created a short video showing where the visual meditation cards idea came from. It started with original paintings, then a book about them, and now the cards. The great thing about the cards is that they are also a great way to collect artwork without taking a huge amount of space. The campaign is currently going on Kickstarter until March 29, 2019. My goal is to raise $5555 (Canadian) to cover the printing, shipping, and also make a bit of profit along the way to create more things in the future. 

In terms of advertising for the campaign, I have some catching up to do. So far, I've been posting about it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and created updates directly on Kickstarter and sent it to my mailing list as well as added links to my email signature. I'll keep you posted on the results from the various marketing experiments I do. This is what I'm starting with at the moment. $197 out of $5,555 raised thus far and 37 days to go. Challenge accepted! 

IKEA Illustrated

I added another challenge to my list of things to create this year. Since I'd like to improve my digital drawing skills and make good use of my iPad and Apple pencil,  I challenged myself to recreate illustrations from images found in an IKEA catalog. It contains a lot of illustration options so I won't need to spend too much time searching for reference images. I don't have any set number of illustrations to create this year. My goal is to keep producing them and ideally go through the entire catalog. 

These are the first three illustrations I made earlier this year. I'll be posting them on my other Instagram account @illustrationsbymj as they get completed. I noticed that these types of challenges tends to bring new ideas, so it will be interesting to see what comes out of this one. 

Fear the fear and do it anyway

Do you sometimes come up with an idea to do something you've never done before and then quickly find an excuse not to do it? I tend to do this more often than I would like to admit. Then I start to think: What if implementing that idea could make a positive impact on someone’s life? How selfish would it be for me to keep these ideas to myself for fear of what some people would think and completely ignore even if just one person who would benefit from it? This was the motivation that got me to take a chance and write a book to share not only my artwork but my personal experiences along with it.

9 weeks ago, I took a chance. I committed to turn a series of paintings into a zine that I called Mindful Meditations. To keep me accountable, I posted my progress in my Insta Stories (under Book). It took some discipline and a lot of self-compassion to get there. I changed my morning routine to include a 2-hour writing session on a daily basis. I had to remind myself not to be too hard on myself when I missed a day or two and to keep going the next day. But, soon I had a completed book and even a little confirmation that it would help someone in a positive way.

I posted a couple of chapters of my book on Medium and received this wonderful response from a random reader:

The book is not perfect but it is intended to help awaken something inside those who are ready for it. I feel that a lot of people need more time to think for themselves, go within and find out what makes them happy from the inside out. In a sense it follows the principle described by Wayne Dyer's quote: "Don't die with your music still in you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul."As I'm discovering that for myself with the help of my artwork and my own experiences, I'd like to share that with others.

If you would like to know more about it, you can read some sample here. And if you'd like to get your copy, it's now available on Amazon as a paperback book and as an e-book.  If you check it out, let me know what you think about it and how I could make it better next time. 
 I would love it and be very thankful I you leave a review. 

Paint More

One of my intentions for 2019 is to paint more. It's one of the things I feel I could have done a lot more in 2018. but didn't. Not that I didn't paint, but I know I could have done a lot more and I could have taken a lot more risks in the way I paint. It's this idea of having to create the perfect painting that seems to be the cause of interruptions in my flow of painting, but at the same time, I know that if I don't paint, I can't get better at it. I recently saw a short video from Gary Vaynerchuk stating that perfectionism is a mask for a lack of confidence. I can relate to that. And at the same time, confidence is built on hours and hours of practice. Consciously I know that subconsciously I'm obviously not there yet, otherwise I wouldn't be so hesitant to paint. My way around it lately has been to create "ugly paintings" in my planners and journals. I don't always show them and keep reminding myself that I don't need to. The goal is just to get into the habit of painting without having to think about it.

Part of me is still trying to find "the perfect topic" for the year in terms of what I should paint and what would look good on Instagram. But I'm also writing this down so that I see how ridiculous it is to think about that rather than just paint and see where it takes me. Most often, the series develop on their own. I have a couple of ideas here and there that don't seem to be connected, but they will probably make more sense after they are painted. 

Above is an example of a painting I started a couple days ago and that's not quite done yet. I'm not sure where it's going but I let it do its thing. It was created during two different sessions. I just filled the pages with colors I was inspired to use during the first session. I seem to have something for gold paint lately. And on the second session, I decided to add more gold to make the shape look more like clouds and a bit of yellow to add more dimension to them. It's not quite done yet, but I'm waiting for another random inspiration to continue this one.

The same goes for writing and blogging more. There's so much I want to share but I hesitate to post because it's not perfect or it's "too late" to write about it because the time has already passed, like my time in Truckee California last year. But I think these are just excuses as well. So I'll make an effort to not only paint more but also blog and write more.

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.

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.