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Things were whirling out of control.

Every day was an exercise in survival. Lots of take-out dinners, scrambling to complete daily tasks, to keep up with the rotating chaos of laundry, dishes and trash. I could feel life slipping through my fingers, days passing by without significance.

It made me sad.

I love life. I want to feel it, breathe it, enjoy it, relish it. To soak up the moments wherever I am.

I declared war upon stress and overload.

I formulated the first stages of a peaceful plan of attack, which has been in action for a week or two now. Small steps to get me going in the right direction, as I detail a larger front to find a more permanent peace:

1. Worst Case Scenario dismissal

Awake with anxieties, I started asking myself, “What’s the worst that can happen if…” I found that the answers were never as terrible as the stress that was boiling in my busy, responsible mind.

2. French Music & Open Windows

For the past week, each morning as I pull out of the driveway I roll down the windows and crank up Carla Bruni’s Little French Songs. It is so nice. So relaxing. To feel the cool Autumn air in my hair, on my hands, listening to music that transports me to Paris, reminding me of a bigger, wider world…happy sigh… I feel the sky open up above me, and I feel my feet more firmly planted in my place. I notice the rays of sunlight wash over me as I drive the beautiful winding roads, and I am ready to live life with my eyes open.

With my car fully loaded with kids one afternoon, I brought them into this peaceful experience. In the rear view mirror, I watched as my 5 year old son closed his eyes to “see” what the songs brought to his mind. They thought it was awesome. On one song, they felt like birds in the clouds. Then things got more elaborate. They envisioned a funny king penguin with an ice crown on his ice throne, and ice palace with penguin servants who slid down ramps on their bellies. Yep. I asked them to draw their penguins later:

A few days later, my son asked me “Mom, can you roll down the windows and turn on that music so we can breathe?”

Pretty much sums it up.

3. Vision Adjustment

When I hit the peak of stress one afternoon, I was sitting in the car waiting for my daughter’s dance class to end after two failed attempts to run errands (due to uninteresting, but irritating complications). While we waited, my son hung out the open window, singing away to the world, completely oblivious to any cares. My stress evaporated as I watched him, and I gained a new perspective.

Taking a step back from the to-do list and noticing the real, tangible situations around me has helped tremendously… looking at the clouds, the people, the fallen leaves instead of passing by on a mission to somewhere else.

“Pay attention, just for a moment. Think to yourself, This is my life, right now. I need to remember.” -Roxana Robinson

4. Up and at ’em

This one is tough. But everyday after I (or more correctly my husband) drag myself out of bed at 5:15am, have that waiting cup of coffee (my requirement for getting up an hour earlier than usual), and wake up a little, I find reward. I have about 45 minutes to just sit, sip coffee, do whatever I want or nothing at all. No getting ready, no requests from kids, no noises, no demands. My husband writes on his blog, and I sit in a leather chair in my warm robe sipping coffee. It’s nice. It starts the day in peace instead of hurry.

“Stillness in your body leads to quiet in your mind.” -Elona Landau

We’ll see if I can keep that one up…

My Favorite Chair, Ink sketch

My Favorite Chair, Ink sketch

My kind and ever-patient art critic

My kind and ever-patient art critic

It’s the moment when your artist’s angst is at its peak. Your anxiety and self-doubt threatens to swallow you whole as you contemplate your progress, your vision, your work-in-progress. You turn and address your spouse: “Woe is me! I am but a worm in the world of art! This eye is not right! This brush stroke out of place!” The profuse encouraging support fails to reinflate your confidence. You know something is artistically awry and such flattery falls on deaf ears. You ask for serious improvement suggestions. Bad idea.

It’s the moment when you soar in self-satisfaction over your seemingly greatest achievement. Your triumph is palpable as you gaze lovingly at your finished product. Eyes misty and senses blurred, you see only an image of perfection. Then you look more closely. And you see a flaw. Then another. You turn and address your loved-one: “I thought it was perfect! But, alas, I see flaw after flaw after flaw! How can I remedy this calamity?!” You’ve asked for a critique of your art-baby. You’ve opened yourself up to criticism. From a much loved, highly involved relation-of-sorts. Bad idea.

Whether in highs or lows, we are all – not just artists! – so very sensitive to criticism. I know when, in my own personal melodrama, I’ve asked for my husband’s honest and open and I-promise-not-to-get-upset opinion, it is a farce: I will get upset. It’s like asking if you look fat in a dress. No answer is acceptable.

True, true…art is free and open and without rules. As artists we can paint or draw or sculpt or carve however we want, whatever we want, and who’s to say if it is good or bad, right or wrong, perfect or imperfect. But, still…some things are better than others, and most things can be improved.

So, our lesson for today is this:

Don’t be so hard on our invited critics.

Or else don’t ask if the metaphorical dress makes you look fat.

My poor husband…how does he put up with having an artist for a wife!

Piece by Piece

Mary Liz Ingram —  February 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Sometimes creating art can be a lot like completing a puzzle. I have the pieces, and it’s a matter of putting them all together.

Join me for a quick step-by-step journey, as I put the pieces together to form my latest pastel, “Cotton Whispers”:

The first piece to the puzzle begins in my mind: an inspiration; an experience; a mist of a final product. The next piece comes with my references: photographs taken on a family vacation, cotton bolls saved here and there.

Beginning the sketch

Beginning the sketch

The next step is the charcoal sketch: Continue Reading…

I’d like to introduce you to a member of the family. This unique relative likes to think outside the box, does not like to be constrained, and has an oily quality.

Meet soft pastel’s cousin, the oil pastel.

regular sized oil pastels

regular sized oil pastels

Now, let me tell you how I met the oil pastel, well, good oil pastels. We can all remember those crayon-like oil pastels from school art class; how their waxy marks just make a smeary mess. Who knew there was something better out there!? It’s like the difference between blackboard chalk and good soft pastels: like a whole different art medium. But I digress… Continue Reading…

pastels & card

my pastels & card

There they are, those beautiful sticks of soft pastels. They are about the size of my pointer finger, and while mine may be a bit messy, they are full of beautiful, creamy, vibrant color.

I have my pastel card cut and I’m ready to begin.

Wow: big pastel, tiny paper. How is it to be done???

My biggest sellers are mini pastels, 2×3″ to 4×4″ pastels on card, framed. When teaching classes, one of the tricks my students are encouraged to master is the ability to hold a chunky pastel just right, in order to achieve a very fine line. It can be done!

No matter how rounded my pastels look, I can always find an edge. Sometimes I have to break them (painful, I know…but it must be done!), or use a small “crumb.” When handled correctly, I can get a thin eyelash even on a small piece of art. Continue Reading…

My Nemesis

Mary Liz Ingram —  January 24, 2013 — 3 Comments

You know the feeling: your nemesis approaches. You want to cringe away; your eyes narrow, lips compress. Your palms might begin to sweat, or you get fidgety, anxiety rising. The dreaded moment draws near when you and your adversary are forced to interact.

It’s time I confess my greatest enemy. Continue Reading…

Doing a back flip

Mary Liz Ingram —  January 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

I go on and on about the glories of textured pastel paper-which I love and prefer-but sometimes, I do use a piece of “regular” pastel paper…with a twist. While I mostly use Ampersand Pastelbords and Sennelier La Carte pastel card, I often choose a sheet of pastel paper for soft subjects, like a baby’s face. However, I do NOT like the little dots that show up on most papers.

So, I just flip it over and use the back! Continue Reading…

Since my previous post about SpectraFix Pastel Fixative, I’ve had some questions from readers and new developments on my own. I want to take a moment to add to the discussion, so we as artists can have the most information to create the best results possible! Continue Reading…

Ah, pastels…so vibrant, so soft, so many possibilities. And so SMEARABLE!! After working for hours on a fine portrait, the last thing you want to have happen is someone come swipe it with their fingers.

Trust me. This has happened…

Little fingers have swiped right across the eyes of one of my completed pastel portraits. I’ve also had a big bouncy ball bounce off a portrait, a cat walk on and slide down (using claws!) a big commission, the wind catch a finished piece and slide it face down across a parking lot, a child’s jacket thrown on top of a piece while waiting to frame it, and on separate occasions, several customers at a frame shop come over and (for some reason) rub their fingers right on my pastel painting (???).

These pastels need protection!!!! Continue Reading…