Scenery Along the Way

If you have been following “Cats Out of the Box,” you know that I am an avid hiker.  Last year I challenged myself to hike 50 miles along trails before the end of Labor Day weekend and I reached my goal.  I have a new hiking challenge for this year…. the hard goal is 75 miles before the end of Labor day weekend.  But I also have a soft goal of hiking 100 miles before November 1st.  I don’t have a reward for these goals.  For me, the reward is being out on the trail, companionship with others who enjoy the great outdoors as much as I do and of course, the incredible views along the trail.

I also set goals for myself as an artist every year.  The following are my goals for 2016:

  • Creative Work Goal 205  (This number is based on a point system that I have developed for myself and not on an actual number of pieces.)
  • Enter a juried show
  • Participate in a group show or exhibition.
  • Teach creativity classes
  • Develop a website
  • Write 2 posts a month on my blog “Cats Out of the Box.”

I do not have a reward for my art goals either.  To me, the reward is accomplishing what I have set out to do.  I set a challenge and then try to beat it.

This got me thinking about setting goals.

I have the type of personality that I enjoy having goals to work towards.  If I do not reach all of my hiking or art goals that is okay.  What is important to me is the process and having something to strive towards.  There are occasions where (and I am going to use a baseball metaphor that will make my dad proud) life throws a curve ball.  And the goals that you had set are no longer viable or obtainable.  It happens.  Guess what?  It is okay.  You reorganize, re-evaluate and determine new goals.

Not everyone who sets goals is that flexible.  You know the type.  They have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, 5-year, 10-year, etc. plans.  They are so busy planning out their lives that you wonder if they even enjoying living.  And when something doesn’t go as planned….. well, lets just say that you don’t want to be around them.  There is having drive to accomplish things and there is being driven by your goals.

“A truly happy person enjoys the scenery along a detour.” -unknown

A friend of mine said that he chooses a general direction in life or work and then works hard towards that direction.  He has drive but has learned not to be obsessive or overly specific.  This helps keep him on course despite any potential failures along the way.

In my creativity classes, we call what my friend does setting an intention.  Intentions are the gentler, broader version of goal setting.  An intention I set for myself is to be healthier.  Towards this intention I focus on the foods that I eat and where they come from.  I exercise on a regular basis through yoga, walking and hiking.  I try to make sure I am getting enough rest at night and that my day job does not cause an excessive amount of stress.  You get the idea.  I am trying to take care of myself by making healthy choices that are all inspired by my intention.

The perspective I take towards my goals and intentions is this …. I set them.  I work towards accomplishing them.  I enjoy working towards accomplishing them.  They enhance my life.  They do not control my life.  If I do not accomplish everything on my list, it is okay.  It gives me something to strive towards next year.   After all, for me, it’s not about reaching the end of the path…. it’s enjoying the scenery along the way.


Processing the Process

A creative and artistic friend of mine gave me a square foot canvas at the beginning of May.  She said that it is for a show at the Public Library for the month of June.  The theme is “Life After Death” and the canvas is due June 1st.  She then asked, “Do you think you can get it done in time?”  I responded, “No problem.”  I was thinking that I could use a good creative challenge.

Blank canvas

Later when I was sitting looking at the canvas, I thought, what the flock did I get myself into?  (No this is not a post about saying no and setting boundaries.)  “Life After Death.”  That theme could quite literally go anywhere.

A couple of days later, I was talking to a friend about the canvas and the theme.  She said that is a wonderful theme.  There is so much you can do with it.  There are so may ways you can go.  I know that she was being positive and helping me process the possibilities.  But it kinda freaked me out.  Okay, it freaked me out a lot.

Suddenly this didn’t feel like a creative challenge.  It felt like an impossible task.  And the theme…… seemed huge.  Gigantic.  Too big for me to come up with a single idea.  I felt like the scene from the animated movie Big Hero 6 where the character Hiro is trying to come up with an idea for the science fair.  “Nothing!  No Ideas! Useless, empty brain!”

So I walked away from the canvas and did some mundane housework (washed dishes, threw in a load of laundry, etc.).  The theme “Life After Death” kept rolling around in my head.  Sometimes inspiration strikes in the middle of doing mundane, every day tasks.  Since that didn’t seem to be working, I decided to email a friend of mine who lets me bounce creative conundrums off of him.

Much like this blog I told him the background.  Then I told him about the phone call to my friend.  I then expressed my feelings of being overwhelmed by the theme.  As I was typing the email to him, I realized that every time I said or typed the theme the song “Ancient Evenings” by the Canadian band Glass Tiger started playing in my head.  I started thinking about the lyrics of the song and how this song always makes me think of ancient Egypt.  Eureka!  I had an idea.  It wasn’t a fully fleshed out idea.  But it was an idea!  I had a start.  Something to work off of.  A point to go from.  The muse had spoken.  What helped me get to the idea was typing out my ideas and thoughts to my friend.


Believe it or not, an idea is really just a beginning.  Once I have an idea, I then know where to start searching or a better word may be researching.  Sometimes this phase of the process requires me to go to a library or do research on the internet.  But as fate would have it, this has been a lifelong area of interest and my particular favorite in art history classes.  I have many books and resource materials to use.

The idea that I kept coming back to was Anubis weighing the soul (Ka/Ba), which in Egyptian mythology is found in the heart, against an ostrich feather.  A scroll found in the tomb of Tutankhamen illustrates this.  But I did not want to copy the scroll, I wanted to do something inspired by it.


As a Narrative Collage Artist, there is a second part to the research process…… the pulling of materials and deciding how much I want to paint, draw or collage.  I decided to paint the canvas black.  I pulled out some papyrus paper.  I drew a cartouche, but this is not a typical one because it is not a name or inscription.  Mine is about the story of Anubis weighing the Ka/Ba and the soul going on to the afterlife.  Finally I painted Anubis on the main portion of the canvas.

Finished Canvas

This is the finished canvas.

Sometimes the process is the hardest part.  I have to work through what I want to share.  Once I had the general idea, I was able to research and found a particular area of interest, the story of Anubis weighing the soul, I started narrowing in on what I wanted my canvas to look like…..say.

Work through the process.  It isn’t always comfortable.  There are times it is easy.  There are times when it is hard as hell.  The thing is to not give up.  Push through until you finish.  Try things.  If it doesn’t work, canvas can be painted over.  Collage can be torn up and used in something else.  Work through the process.  Whatever that process is for you.  Do the work.