by admin on February 12, 2015

Barbara Fredrickson, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEP Lab) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is teaching a course on Positive Psychology through Coursera. Her research on the impact of positive emotions shows that even though they may seem fleeting, they can increase our overall well-being.

An exercise that is part of week one of the course involves choosing one of ten positive emotions to explore actively by creating a portfolio of mementos, memories, reminders and objects around that one emotion that brings it to life.

In an article published by Dr. Fredrickson, she explains the circumstances where joy emerges and what can come from experiencing joy.

“Joy emerges when one’s current circumstances present unexpected good fortune. People feel joy, for instance, when receiving good news or a pleasant surprise. Joy creates the urge to play and get involved, or what Frijda (1986) termed free activation, defined as an “aimless, unasked-for readiness to engage in whatever interaction presents itself” (p. 89). The durable resources created through play are the skills acquired through the experiential learning it prompts.”

I choose joy to focus on and then was delighted to see the relationship to play. I have said many times recently that I want to play more… joy and play such a lovely loop.

Here is the beginning of my reflections on JOY.

Willow’s Beach Wedding – snow in the forecast

My oldest daughter had a 3 part wedding: the first was a civil ceremony with immediate family in British Columbia, second was a celebration and exchange of commitments with friends and community at a hall later that same day and several months later was a summer celebration with family and friends at our cottage in Ontario. Part 1 was a formality that was not deemed to be important compared to the time with people who mattered the most.

Snow was forecast and that is no small thing in Victoria BC. People stay home and off the roads. The justice of the peace was shocked that we wanted to walk the block down to Willow’s Beach for the vows. We had had a great casual lunch of Italian wedding soup and Jen had her black wedding dress on. Whether it was snubbing her nose at convention or not it was her being true to herself. She just liked that dress. We had Frances Litman as our photographer. Jen’s husband-to-be was not so sure about photos. The ceremony was short and sweet and yet we had big grins. The lone dog on the beach on this pre-snow day came to the wedding. Everything was so right. Everyone threw their coats off and Frances the consummate professional worked her magic in a matter of minutes.

It was a bit of a surprise how joyful we felt. After all it was freezing and not the main event, but the wonderful feeling remains with me as I look at this photo.

This Kid
My grandson is associated with so many positive emotions. This photo was taken on a cold and rainy August Wednesday in Fenelon Falls at the weekly Museum Tea. It was the perfect day to stay on the sofa reading but we went into town and sat out in the elements for tea and scones. It was a juggling act to keep both our treats and ourselves dry, but no one was complaining. Wee Arlo was delighted to have people playing with him and having fun. I love this moment of connection and the joy in being together even though we were huddled and making jokes about how uncomfortable we were. Sometimes I catch moments between my daughter and her son which warm my heart as I see how lovely she is with him. His delight in the small things he finds is a never-ending source of joy.

The last day of a ski holiday
I remember the joy that I would feel usually during one run at the end of the day especially if it was sunny. I was never a good skier but every once and a while everything would fall into place and I would find my rhythm. I always played an old Motown tune in my head and getting into sync with it was so much fun. I felt light and uplifted and carried away. This is not a clip of anyone I know but has the music and freedom that reminds me of those experiences.

Spring Sun
I’ve always loved that first time the ground is warm enough and you get to lie down and bake in the sun for the first time. When I was an elementary school kid I also remember the first day you could walk to school without wearing heavy winter boots. My feet felt so light that I skipped all the way and stayed out playing as long as I could. It was pure freedom.

William Blake : Eternity

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise

Remember when HAPPY made you happy
I love how people latched onto this positive message and had such fun expressing it – some joyful moments at the time even if we did overdose on it and it lost some its gleam. People were really playful and creative with this song.


Practice, Practice, Practice

by admin on January 25, 2015

There’s that old chestnut…

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice”?

Apparently no one knows the origin of that joke but there is some wisdom in there for people who want to develop and advance their work.

At the beginning of classes with new and not so new painters, two common threads emerge. People want to loosen up and create paintings that aren’t overworked but alive and marked by their authentic hand. Perhaps the other and definitely more perplexing thread is that so often people who say they want to paint don’t actually paint very much. The excuses are as original as “the dog ate my homework.” They are too busy with work, kids, aging parents, demanding spouses, charity work and so on and so on. When asked how much they paint, the fact that they haven’t picked up a brush since the last class they took a year or two ago hangs awkwardly in the air.

Will power may not be the answer.

Neither is self-flagellation.

Creating an environment where getting to paint or draw or do something on a regular daily or weekly basis is a natural outcome of circumstances might be the ticket. Changing behaviour requires some understanding.

Recent research indicates that our conscious, logical brain – the one that we hope is in control – is really only responsible for 20% of our decision making. It appears that our subconscious brain is the ultimate decision maker. It is the part of our brain that is in charge of what we decide to do.

The part of our brain know as the reptilian brain operates outside of our conscious awareness, and functions at a survival level to save us from perceived threats. There is also the mammalian brain that stores emotional memories at a subconscious level as well. Any conscious intention created with the conscious rational neo-cortex needs to by-pass any reaction from the subconscious.

Putting yourself out into the world can be a scarey proposition. We hesitate due to fear of criticism or being misunderstood or misinterpreted. As beginners we also understand that our skill has not yet caught up to our vision of where we want to go with our work. There is pain in this recognition.

The subconscious parts of our brain can create logical rational reasons why we can’t paint to keep us from experiencing these threats. That’s where we buy into our own stories of too busy, too poor too whatever.

This is rather like dealing with the boogeyman. However if you check under the bed and keep the nightlight on he goes away. The moral of the story here is to set up your environment to support making the work happen. This has to be something that works for you not what might work for some so called expert or your friend.

For some a hundred day challenge to draw or paint or take a photo daily for a restricted period of time is an impetus that feels manageable. People that commit to this often report that they are so glad that they dedicated the time as they learned so much and saw their work improve in leaps and bounds.

I have also known artists that share studio space just for the sake of getting started with a blank canvas on a regular basis. Seeing others engaged in the process can spark ideas that are bigger than any negative subconscious messages.

Enrolling in classes works for others. You have to know if this gets you into flow or not.

It may be as simple as setting up a dedicated space that is sacred to you and ready at all times. If you have to drag the paintbox out from under the bed and clear off the kitchen table, you are already behind the eight ball.

Personally I know that I work best with lots of good supplies on hand, a well lit and well ventilated space with lots of room to spread out multiple canvases and see them in their various stages of completion. It is also best if I can leave things in mid-thought so that I can pick up where I left off rather than clearing the decks after each session.

The most I grew as an artist was when I was a partner with 4 other artists in a gallery in a trendy part of Toronto. We hung a new show every month so I need to produce a number of works on a consistent basis. This was a real impetus to paint – a lot. The other part of the equation was that I was exposed to feedback from a diverse audience. Generally I don’t relish the idea of feedback – even though consciously I realize its value. The surprising effect was that interacting with the public in the gallery was inspiring. Hearing people’s questions about the creative process and their assessment of my work calmed my own inner critic and fears of judgment. Who knew!

The more I practiced I could feel that I was gaining unconscious competence with paint and brushes. My work was looser and more a reflection of where I wanted to take the painting. This isn’t a fairy tale. The boogeyman didn’t disappear altogether. Our gallery in the Distillery District wasn’t the equivalent of hanging in the Carnegie Hall of galleries. BUT there was hope.

What should you be practicing to make the mark you want with your work? And how can you set up your environment to conspire in your favour and keep the boogeyman at bay?


Colouring Books and Choices About Staying Inside the Lines or Not

September 3, 2013

I do not remember ever being given a blank sheet of paper to draw on when I was a kid. Of course this was so long ago it was back before dirt was invented. I do recall colouring books. Nothing specific. No images come to mind just that everything was provided including lines of a […]

Read the full article →

Warm-ups Pay Dividends

January 12, 2011

In “Outliers”author Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours required to develop mastery. So many art classes that I have attended are filled with people who are frustrated by lack of progress but who only paint the few hours that they are in class. Even then people often race from demo to attempting to duplicate […]

Read the full article →

Here We Go

January 4, 2011

Every workshop that I can remember attending where the instructor asked about goals and intentions for the class included at least one person who wanted “to loosen up.” On the other hand there are also too many participants who are focused on getting it right… whatever that means. I’d love to climb 100 feet above […]

Read the full article →


January 3, 2011

Ideas and threads that return and call for reflection… love to start a conversation if anything resonates

Read the full article →