Mapping a New Future

During my hiatus, I am using this time to hone my skills so that I can be of even greater benefit to a future employer. One of these skills that I'm really excited about learning is graphic facilitation. If you haven't heard of this before, it's basically capturing dialogue onto large sheets of paper using pictures, words and colors. This approach helps people “see” their thinking and is super helpful for strategic planning and visioning discussions, helping simplify complex issues and cultivate big-picture thinking. I'm still in the beginning stages, but I'd love to practice with some friendlies. So if you have any planning meetings coming up, consider inviting me to help capture what's going on. 

I'm also taking some fabulous classes at the School of Visual Concepts (if you don't know about this resource, check them out!) including Infographics, Data-Driven Design Sprint, and Sketching for UX Designers, Researchers and Developers. It's a fabulous place to learn from top-notch professionals in the field as well as network. 

On top of applying for creative director positions, one of the options I'm exploring career-wise is instructional design. This seems like a natural path because I love to create and deliver learning programs that increase other people's skills and knowledge. 

So it was really great to be invited recently to speak at both Green River College as well as Eastside Arts Collective about using their creative power for good. It was exciting to deliver workshops that connected adults young and old to their passions. 

This time to reflect, refresh, and renew has been such a gift because I'm able to say YES to new opportunities. If you or your company has some needs that creativity can help solve, please contact me. I'd love to help!

"Steffanie Lorig's presentation about her work with Art with Heart and her books for children/teens touched my heart. With some writing exercises, she helped us to access our own wishes and ways we could take social action." —CuriousJoan, Sammamish

New Pathways

Parting is such sweet sorrow and new beginnings lead to new possibilities. But there tends to be misgivings, misadventures, or possibly missteps along the way. To avoid negative consequences, the moment I left the social enterprise I started and nurtured for 21 years, I began working with a career coach to help me suss out what it was exactly that I should do with the rest of my professional life. 

The process was both enlightening and difficult—I had learned so many different skills as a small business owner, so it was important to recognize what activities truly energized me so that I could make those a priority during my new search. Putting it on paper was clarifying. I realized that I had learned how to create and manage a budget, work with a variety of personalities, coach and mentor employees, and make order out of chaos. I could do all these things again, but what was my best use? My coach helped me realize that design thinking is what makes me stand apart. My background in design and my interest in business processes and entrepreneurship give me a unique perspective and ability to problem-solve. 

As I consider the many employment paths that are out there, I continue to redefine my niche and explore new possibilities. I'll be taking on contract and freelance work to keep me connected, learning, and growing. I want to offer workshops to encourage latent creativity in others. And naturally, feeding my own inner creative muse will be part of my daily routine. I'll have time to explore various art methods and techniques. It's exciting... and addicting.  

Living in the unknown is actually not something I'm comfortable with. I am a planner and not knowing what next week or next month holds is hard for me. I don't know how exactly I'll pay the mortgage in two months, but with each new meeting and each new project, a new path unfolds like a gift. I hope to encounter you along this journey. Maybe we can learn from and support each other along the way. After all, isn't that what life is all about?

Linkages

Words—said in person or typed out—are links to our character, judgement, and heart. As a leader, my words are weighed more heavily than most. I am judged for what I say and how I respond, so it matters that I be thoughtful. But because of my childhood, I found conflict intolerable and withdrew from anything that smacked of friction, staying quiet and distant in the heat of battle. 

Some people have the gift of gab and are able to respond in the moment during an argument or conflict. But I found that type of immediate response outside of my ability. Deep inside, I just wanted to be liked and accepted, and had a strong desire for peace and stability. And so I ignored conflict, hiding my true feelings, and pretending no problem existed.

As a new and young CEO, this was a miserable way to run a business. I'd hide behind time, hoping a particular issue would just disappear. Or I'd spend hours after work typing well-crafted emails, hoping the recipient could hear my tone and intention, rather than read it through the lens of the bitterness I had created. I felt that I needed time to say the right thing—the helpful thing. But these passive approaches never patched things up. Instead, the rings of connection would eventually break down, fracturing relationships and undercutting my influence.

I began taking management workshops where I learned I was doing everything wrong. I learned that direct communication created deeper attachments. Everyone just wants to feel heard and understood. It was my job to make sure they had a platform for that, but that together we could create a path forward.  

If you too tend to avoid conflict in hopes that things will just get better on their own, here are some of the most valuable lessons I learned: 

  • Avoid blaming and shaming language: stay professional with the aim of showing up as your best self.
  • Be assertive, not aggressive: think ahead of time how you can state your needs without emotion and use "video language" (only stating facts that can be seen; avoiding interpretation and judgement).
  • Make a face-to-face appointment to discuss the issue over coffee, creating a neutral platform for both voices. By removing the conversation from your place of power, it communicates that you really care about the relationship.
  • Repeat what you think you heard. Share what you are thinking and feeling then ask him or her to repeat what s/he thinks you said. Continue until you are both on the same page.
  • Remove the situation from your self-image. Nine times out of ten, it's not personal...you both are reacting not just to the circumstance at hand, you are also reacting to the way you've been treated in the past—stored responses and cognitive filters that distort perceptions.

I am far from perfect and I need to continually remind myself of this advice—after all, I'm re-wiring and creating new cognitive pathways in my brain that are different than the ones that I learned as a child. As Lynne Eisaguirre, an author and former practicing employment attorney says, "We need to learn to listen as witnesses... to learn to listen to what is objectively there, as opposed to our messy stew of memory and desire." And with that, we can overcome past childhood experiences and create new and more healthy attachments with our employees and coworkers.

Predictions

When I was thirteen years old, my dad enrolled me in a youth employment program. What that meant was that while my friends were having pool parties, going to the movies, or watching TV, I was in a government building with no windows at a desk near my chain-smoking boss' office. My job was to answer and manage nine phone lines, do filing, and anything else I was asked to do. During my breaks, I'd read Seventeen magazine, a rag aimed at teen girls that offered self-confidence advice, fashion tips, recipes, and suggestions for trendy new things to try.

The office was ten miles away and my parents were busy, so I had to learn how to take the city bus all by myself. As a mostly-sheltered teen, I think this was the hardest part of my summer. Older men seemed to gravitate my direction and—even though there were plenty of other seats—they tended to settle down right beside me, creeping me out.

One of the riders on my regular route would sit nearby but not right next to me. He was on the youngish side—somewhere between twenty and twenty five. He was nice enough but smelled of malt liquor and cigarettes. He would smile a toothless grin each morning and eventually we began chatting, little bits at a time. His name was Kevin. He was kind, and I started looking forward to seeing him since he seemed to keep the scarier men away.

During lunch, I read an article entitled, "Palm Reading for Fun and Profit." It seemed pretty straight forward and so I decided to test it out on my friend on the way home.

Artwork by Julie Paschkis

Artwork by Julie Paschkis

I told Kevin about my new-found skill and asked him to hold out his hand. As I moved my finger up and down the deepened, calloused grooves of his hand, I said things like, "Oh...interesting!" and "Hmmm..." and "Wow!" Impressed by the adjectives, he pressed me to tell him more.

"Well," I said, flush with sudden power, "This line is your life line. It tells you how long you'll live."

"Yes? And...?"

I looked into his eyes and saw total belief.

"Well... according to your palm, you are going to have a long and happy life!"

He seemed relieved. I continued.

"And this? This is your love line. See how it branches off here? This shows how many kids you are going to have. It looks like... hmm... three. Yes. Three."

His gummy grin told me he was buying it. With my new found power, I realized I could say just about anything. I returned to gazing at his palm.

"You have had a hard life, " I said.

"Whoa. My palm told you that?"

Actually everything about you told me that.

"Yes," I continued, "but even though your life has been hard, great things are in store for you... I can see that by your fate line. But..."

"But what?"

"But, you will need to make some changes that will help you get there. Only you know what you need to do to make that happen."

It was his stop. He got up, thanked me profusely, and exited the bus. It looked like he was beaming. That was the last time I saw Kevin. 

I don't know what happened to him after that, but I wish him the best and hope that that he left with the fresh possibilities that Seventeen magazine and I predicted. 

Inner Critic 24/7

Art critic Jerry Saltz had this salty observation about the creative process, "As an artist, you wake up thinking you know. By noon, you question everything. You’re better at bedtime. Then you wake up at 3 a.m. with the thought, 'My work sucks.'”

Okay. I'm not sure about you, but it's as if Jerry's been overhearing the thoughts I've been having lately. Returning from my five-day intensive art workshop, I was on a high for quite a while. I painted every chance I got. But of course, life gets in the way, and now I'm down to weekends only. The interesting thing is that the further I get away from that magical time, the louder my inner critic seems to get. 

About a month after I started posting my work, I told my mom about my new site and sent her the URL for my paintings. A week later, I checked in to see what she thought. "Well," she began tentatively, "Some of it is pleasant to look at..."

Sigh. So my mother doesn't like my work. Okay. That's fine. But it does add a bit of fuel to that 3 a.m. wake-up voice. 

The truth is that our brains do us no favors. They twist on themselves–starting from one end (Wow! I can't believe I did that! It's so cool!) to the other (Oh my gosh. How embarrassing. How could I have ever thought that was good?). 

Is there a balance? Maybe, maybe not. I do know though that just noticing that the inner critic is there helps give a bit more power over it. So now I know that when I hear that voice start to whisper mean things into my ear, I am listening to a fickle liar with a propensity for hyperbole.

I have noticed that my inner critic tends to get more negative after I've had a difficult day, or not gotten enough sleep, or when I've eaten too much bread. It also noticed that it has nicer things to say after a day of checking things off my list or getting some "likes" on Facebook for a funny post about my kid.

Just being aware of the inner critic's tendency to vacillate helps me picture it more like a that weird neighbor who has no filter--we know to expect something rude or critical; she just can't help herself. But knowledge is power–-now we can brace ourselves as she approaches and find our happy place.

So Jerry, when I wake at 3 a.m. I'll remember that even though my inner critic is telling me that I am wasting time in my studio, I can quickly fall back to sleep knowing that the voice does not necessarily represent truth. I can now dream of paint and brushstrokes and as I wake to a Saturday with no obligations, I can run downstairs to discover new adventures with my brush. And remember that as long as I get enjoyment from it, it doesn't matter that my mom isn't going to display my art on her walls. They wouldn't match her furniture anyways.

Typography: Numbers

As a former design geek, I get excited when I see hand-applied or scruffy, old numbers in random spots. Thought you might too.

Typography: Hand-Hewn Signage

Random, handwritten signage has such charm...

Notes from Jesse Reno's Workshop

JesseReno-handpainting

I was looking for a workshop that could jumpstart my creativity. I had spent the last year sitting in my basement studio doing the same thing over and over again. Some finished pieces I liked, but most felt "expected." I had lost my verve. Jesse Reno's class was just what I needed. 

I chose to go to his workshop after watching a video of his painting process. He poured paint into his hands and then attacked the canvas. I had never seen anyone do anything like it before. Watching it happen, my pulse quickened. It was exciting. Primal. Perfect. 

The week-long art retreat was held at a place called Hacienda Mosaico in Puerto Vallarta. There were five students in all in the outdoor studio; each of us got our own table and easel. For the first demo, Jesse got down on his hands and knees before a tarp and a primed canvas and began pouring paint into his hands. As he worked and talked, I witnessed the transformation of the canvas, and a seed began to grow in me. At one point, tears flew down my cheeks - as they always do when I witness pure, holy beauty. 

The next five days were all about unlearning everything I had been taught up to that point. I learned so many things, but here are the top six: 

1. Don't define the outcome before you start

Also known as the "Don't Kick Your Own Ass" rule. By setting up an expectation of what you want the painting to look like before you've even started, you've set yourself up for disappointment. Don't get preoccupied with what it's going to look like in the end - when we do, we struggle to make it. But there's no map – just a journey that changes every step of the way. Expectation corrupts. Perfection is death. Anxiety only begets more anxiety.  

2. Yes, and...

PaInting is a lot like improv. If something unexpected happens in your art, it's as if you've been handed an opportunity to act. Don't ignore it or move past it. Accept it and work with it. Do it quick to avoid over-thinking it. Made a mistake? No big deal – something interesting can finally happen now. 

3. Be a student of your own expression

Destroy the canvas - bring it on! Get tangled. Get messy. Play. Interact. Smash. Fracture. Bury. Resurrect. Build up a base then isolate elements you like; cover up the ones you don't. Build, take away, build, then take away again. Restraint does not allow wholeness. Let the art take you where it wants to go – random interactions are inspiring and can take you places you would have never expected to go. Don't illustrate or conceptualize. The magic happens when you are lost. 

4. Fix it right away or ELSE

If there's an area you aren't excited about, cover it. Change it. If you don't, you will get used to it and will find that future decisions will be hampered by this compromise. What was there before doesn't matter. 

5. Keep on Moving

Keep several canvases going at once so that you have distance and something to move onto when you get stuck or bored. This also prevents a painting from feeling too "precious." The more canvases you have going on at once, the more you will have to celebrate. Jesse will sometimes put away a canvas for a month, so that when he looks at it again, he can see it with fresh eyes and not be afraid to add to it - or start over again on top of it. He says that he knows a painting is done when the canvas connects to his truth.

6. Pay Your Dues

You can't expect to hit a few balls around and have the Yankees banging down your door. It's work. At times it's hard work. It's about putting in the time. Sometimes the lows will be lower than the highs. But it's worth it, like anything else that's difficult. Stick to it and you'll have learned to silence the inner critic and grab the joy that comes in the freedom of understanding what's important to you.

 

Learning to Let Go

I recently took a class from art brut extraordinaire, Jesse Reno, who helped me see painting from a different angle. Watching and listening to him as he created his detailed and extraordinary creations before my eyes was enough to change my perspective about creative expression. He had a lot to say about life as well – about letting go of the end result and letting surprise, chance, and fate take you where it will.

The artwork below may or may not be done. I'll see what I think of them in a week or so. I have a couple others that aren't ready for prime time so I'm not posting those.

I am still processing all the things I learned during my week with Jesse, so I'm not where I will be in a month or a year, but it was a fantastic kick-start / ass-kicking to helping me move in the direction I want to go. I have a lot of unlearning to do...


TRANSITIONS

Some transitions happen no matter if you are prepared for them or not. The transition from summer to fall. The transition from middle to high school. These happen whether you want them to or not. But other transitions are birthed in unexpected moments that rattle your cage and shake your very foundation - sparked by a simple shift in perspective, or something tragic. My biggest transition came when three very disparate things came together at the same time: a heart-wrenching diagnosis, an unanticipated gift, and an overheard conversation. 

1. A Heart-Wrenching Diagnosis

Linda Baker had been on Art with Heart's Board of Directors for seven years, three of which she served as Board President. She brought a calm understanding to the meetings. She made sure every voice was heard, making sure the extroverts didn't control the conversations. She encouraged transparency and trust. She was an expert listener and gently exposed the deeper meaning behind a question. She was a mentor, a leader and a friend and she gave me courage and hope. She led with her heart and was revered by all.

During our October 2013 Board meeting, she was in a particularly good mood and the gathering was especially jovial. One week later, she was having surgery to remove a fast-growing brain tumor. She fought the cancer for six months before she lost her battle. It was a loss that rocked many people's lives, including mine. I miss her on a daily basis and her fragility caused me to think about my own.

2. An Unanticipated Gift

A month into Linda's diagnosis, Art with Heart's yearly benefit luncheon took place. Our special guest speakers included two women from Newtown, Connecticut who reflected on our work in their community after the 12/14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the lives of twenty children. One of our guests was a first-timer, invited by a board member who couldn't make it. After hearing testimony of the impact of our work, she wrote on her donation pledge card, "Please call me." When we called, she shared that she had considered leaving us a bequest in her will, but had decided that she wanted us to have the money now – and wrote a very generous check. This unexpected gift allowed us, for the first time in our almost 20 year history, to think proactively. For the first time, we could let go of the daily struggle to stay above the water, and explore our hope for the future. Her donation gave us the gift of possibility.

3. An Overheard Conversation

At the same time, my husband was going through a transition from a job he had held for 21 years. I connected him to a career coach and sat in on their first few meetings as he got comfortable with the idea. One of the questions she asked him struck me. "If you could design your perfect job, why wouldn't you?" That question kept nagging me. I had been overwhelmed with the responsibility of running Art with Heart for quite some time, and found myself working 60-hour weeks quite often. I was running on empty. What if I could return to doing what I love best? What if Art with Heart could find someone who actually enjoyed the things that I struggled with? What if I don't make that change now? How much longer can I keep up this pace? 

These three significant moments gelled in one defining moment. Over Christmas break, I mulled things over, and at the December meeting, I announced my intention to make a change to the Board. I told them that I wanted to stay with the organization, but needed to redefine my role so that I could return to what I was best at. My heart had been longing for this for years. I just hadn't noticed until these catalysts woke me up and propelled me into a new way of thinking.

Fortunately, the Board was in agreement and together we set upon the journey of transitioning into a new role. To prepare, I interviewed "founders that stayed" to find out what their journey was like. I also interviewed the people who came after them to hear their perspectives and challenges. I learned a lot about letting go and preparing the way so that letting go would be possible. The best thing that happened during this time was that someone mentioned that their process was helped along when they hired a Change Management Consultant. After much research, we interviewed seven different consultants to find the right fit. Kathleen Hosfeld was recommended to us by one of our long-time advisors. She was the only one who mentioned that grief would be part of the challenge and spoke about both the head and the heart of this organizational change. I knew she was the person we had been looking for.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

Kathleen worked closely with the Board, the staff, and myself to predict and manage the risks and the stress associated with this transition. Through the process, she gave me the tools I needed to prepare the way for our new Managing Director. She helped me get what was "inside my head" out and into various documents that helped define what it was I had been doing for so many years. She helped me manage the tsunami of anxiety that churned inside me as we made difficult decisions and interviewed candidates for the new position. 

We hired a wonderful person, Cynthia Dasté, and my heart is once again filled with hope. We are still in the early stages of this journey, but with the unexpected gifts that these three transitions gave me – insight, possibility, and courage – I am moving forward.

I know Linda is watching and I know she would have approved.

THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION

We recently attended a dinner party with several other couples that we had known casually for years. During the evening's particularly lively discussion, one guest ventured, "You cannot live your life for others because you would find yourself poured out, completely empty."

This reminded me of another statement I had heard from another source, "I'll volunteer when I'm retired."

While it's true that "compassion fatigue" does strike those who give and give and give – the majority of people I know find that they are actually renewed rather than depleted when they help others. I'm not sure where you stand on things, but I feel that these two points of view (which are, in fact, one and the same) are diametrically opposed to what someone in this century should be thinking. Let me explain why.

Today on the way home from work, I tuned in to the radio and heard details about the Michael Brown shooting and the resulting unrest in Ferguson, MO. I heard about a 9-year old who accidentally shot her firearms instructor. With an Uzi. I heard about an overdose. A suicide. 1,400 children sexually exploited in the UK. A grim view of the staggering troubles in this world – all in less than 5 minutes.

Yes, boundaries are important, to be sure. But I couldn't help but feel that an attitude that isolates us deprives the world of much needed compassion and robs us of years of joy that giving back brings.

In the nonprofit circle I live in, I witness both the overwhelming need, and the incomprehensible joy that comes when kindness changes the life path of another human being.

When we think of the needs of others and tend to them unselfishly, we stand to improve our own happiness. It's a scientific fact that altruistic behavior releases endorphins, giving what's known as the "helper's high." A study of the National Institutes of Health found that when people donated money to worthy causes, the brain associates it with pleasure, connection, and trust. And I know plenty of therapists who prescribe volunteering as an aid to depression.

By taking the lens off our own problems and making concerted efforts to help others who are overburdened by greater difficulties, we feel needed and connected to something larger than ourselves.

Giving to others should be a daily act, a habit – something we seek out on purpose. It is our vocation – what we are called to do, what we need to do to have a healthy future. In this way, I believe we demonstrate true selflessness and experience true joy.

We have limited time. I believe that what we do with it is a demonstration of true character. Investing time only pleasing yourself is, well, selfish – plain and simple. You can spend your down time just watching TV and eating in fancy restaurants. But, in the end, are you a better person? Is it a better world?

No one is expected to take on all of the world's problems, but I encourage you to thoughtfully decide how you are going to heal the brokenness that is all around us. Find something you are passionate about and parlay it into a way of changing lives.

Enjoy cooking? The local homeless shelter could use your help. Love dogs? Call the nearest shelter and ask about volunteer opportunities. Passionate about children? Volunteer at the hospital to be a baby cuddler. Wish the neighborhood was tidier? Grab your kids and take a walk and make a game out of who can pick up the most garbage. Can't seem to fit anything else in your schedule? Let your wallet do the work. Live in a way that makes room for those in need. 

Be deliberate in how you are going to be remembered. Make it real. Make it happen. Make a difference.

As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.
— Mary Anne Radmacher

CREATIVITY THAT HEALS

I was honored to be interviewed by FlintPeople.com recently. Here's a teaser...

FP: Can you think back to a big win, a celebratory moment for Art with Heart?

SL: Art with Heart is peppered with them! Miracles & celebrations and unexpected blessings. One unexpected blessing that happened early on which I’m still amazed at – we had divided the printing of “Oodles of Doodles” up between many printers. One of the printers called up and said – I can’t do the 10,000 that you want me to do. I’m going to fall short by 750. So we were going to be left with uneven books. The next day I received a phone call that said, “Hey, I just found out, there is this paper house that is about to throw away all of this paper, unless you want to use it.” It was exactly the right amount of paper that we needed to finish the project. That was just amazing. Through the years – donors, supporters, volunteers, advisers – all these people who’ve come up and said “I want to help.”  They’re all moments to celebrate... READ MORE >>

OH NO

Oh No, Mixed Media by Steffanie Lorig
Oh No, Mixed Media by Steffanie Lorig

My husband was running out of time at his job. They were going to close his department and he had limited time to figure out the rest of his life. He had been teaching at that school for 21 years and now he had to start over again.

He called me at 4:30 in a panic, sending me into problem-solving mode. During the car ride home, I came up with a plan. I knew if I didn't get him to agree to it that day, the window of opportunity would shut forever. I sat him down as soon as I walk in the door and I told him The Plan That Would Make Everything Alright.

"We are going to make two investments before the money runs out. The first thing we're going to do is get the basement ready to rent (just in case). Then we're going to find you a career coach to help you through this," I spoke the words carefully as I held his hand, knowing that at any moment, he might crumble or bolt.

"The Look" showed up on his face right away. I couldn't tell which of the prospects horrified him more - a stranger living in our house or spending money on a career coach. We stood a very real chance of losing the house - especially if he couldn't find another job right away- since renting in Seattle can be more expensive than owning in many neighborhoods. With my nonprofit life and his teaching career, we were barely hanging on as it was. So he reluctantly agreed.

Create, Mixed Media Collage by Steffanie Lorig
Create, Mixed Media Collage by Steffanie Lorig

SPACE TO CREATE

We got busy figuring out what we needed to do to get the space ready. He worked it out in SketchUp - because he's just awesome that way. He picked up everything from Ikea and worked on it on weekends, secretly hoping that what he was building was going to end up becoming our art studio.

We found a career coach who had a marketing background – someone who could understand the creative mind. They met about six times, with lots of phone calls and emails in between. She buoyed up his courage, reviewed his LinkedIn profile, and helped edit his cover letters and resumes. 

All his hard work paid off. He got a job at a University (yeah!) and now we have a studio space that we are fully utilizing (although his next basement project is going to be a man cave media center). 

I don't know why I this surprised me, but now that we have an actual studio space set up, I am doing art again on a regular basis. It's absolutely thrilling. I've had a few people over for art and chocolate dates, which just adds to the glorious satisfaction of the space. My husband uses the space for sketching and sometimes just for organizing and spreading things out.

If you, like me, had to do art on your kitchen table in between meals, guests, and life, I would encourage you to try to find a more permanent spot. 

Nothing kills creativity faster than having to put your supplies away so you can eat spaghetti with your family. Or, if that's not possible, do what Mike Kerr does - pack a briefcase with art supplies and take your show on the road. Coffee houses, libraries, cafes are usually willing to put up with you if you buy something every once in a while. Don't let space limitations limit your creativity. I did for far too long and now I am making up for lost time.

COME OUT TO PLAY

“Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity  that is not hampered by opinion.” 

Red Haircrow

Oftentimes, when I feel creative, I start with whatever I have in front of me. That often leads to frustration and I crumble up the paper or abandon it within half an hour. Why? Because usually, what I have within reach is a pen and a piece of paper, and I'm not very good at drawing. Often what I see in my head is worlds away from what I actually sketch.

But if I'm smart, I move away from pen and ink before thoughts of giving up overtake me, and I grab my collage and paint supplies. What I appreciate about these items is that they seem more forgiving of my limited abilities. They help me create without criticism. With pen and ink, it's so black and white. It's obvious when my start line and end line don't touch exactly to create the illusion of perfection. It's obvious when my hand gets shaky or tired - the lines start smooth and confident and then a muscle twitch blows the whole thing to hell.

So, paint, old magazines and ephemera become my way to embrace my sloppy, imprecise methods and they actually celebrate with me when "mistakes" happen. Fine artists who have mastered the art of "copying" from nature would scoff, certainly, but for me, art is all about expression. I actually find realism a little bit... boring.

Of course, I admire the craft that someone had to master in order to make an orange look like an orange, but I guess I would rather look at an orange that had something to say about the artist - their mood or their history or something more than "i am an orange."

I like humorous people and I like art that makes me smile - or even wince. So, I guess my approach is playful. I like to play when I'm making art. If it's not fun, what's the point?

So, I guess what I'm saying is that your art, my art, should reflect the kid inside you that wants to escape the doldrums of school (or work) and just let loose. Next time your doodles or drawings disappoint you, I encourage you to reach for something a little different - something that invites your inner child to get messy.

ICON | POWERFUL

Volunteers help put together the Zine after the workshop.

Volunteers help put together the Zine after the workshop.

Since 2003, I have had the good fortune to be involved on and off with a fabulous group of illustrators who formed a national conference called ICON. I was invited me to speak and my topic was "The Ripple Effect: Turning Passion to Action." It was well-attended, and I met many illustrators whose work I admired and who had donated their time and talent and time to Art with Heart's books.

The next year they asked me to join the Board of Directors to help plan the next one. I served as Secretary. Ann Field was the Board President, and the legendary Seymour Chwast served as Board Vice President, along with a list of other insanely talented illustrators such as Ron ChanCraig FrazierJoe MorseWhitney Sherman, and Molly Zakrajsek

We worked as a team for two years – some parts of the planing were unbelievably difficult, and some parts were seamless – yet I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Which is why when they asked me to be involved again this year at ICON8, I said yes without hesitation. This time, they asked me to run a workshop and I chose the subject "Using Your Powers for Good." I led everyone in an activity from Chill & Spill about personal power and we brought everyone's artwork together to form a 'Zine.

Participants told me later that they actually had a hard time using art to express themselves because most of their art is "for hire" - it's someone else's idea, someone else's art direction. So to make it personal was a challenge, but a good one.

I think it is hard to make room for personal, meaningful creativity in my own personal life, but it is something that I'm finding helps center and strengthen me. It helps me feel less hopeless in a world that seems to be falling apart. It helps me feel that I have something to say, even though I'm usually too shy to say it out loud. It helps me find my personal power. 

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM

Artwork by Gina Triplett for Art with Heart's Chill & Spill journal

Artwork by Gina Triplett for Art with Heart's Chill & Spill journal

Dreams. They can reveal so much if we learn to listen to the messages they hold.  Sometimes they are just wacky. But other times, they can shape your future, look at things from a different angle, helping us solve perplexing problems that seem to have no answer during our waking hours.

Have you ever had a dream that lingers with you all day? You can still feel the sensations you felt in the dream. You may carry the anger or sorrow or joy with you hours later.

Sometimes I have dreams about unfinished business. In the dream, I accomplish all sorts of things, and because it feels so real, I am surprised to find that upon awaking, nothing was actually done. Then the rest of the day feels redundant.

You can tell that there's something more to certain dreams, but its often hard to put your finger on it – not at first anyways. It's like a blind taste test – you know you know the flavor, but you can't quite place it.

I've had dreams that haunt me for days, holding onto my brain and teasing me to find a deeper meaning. One dream in particular involved a baby who kept stretching out her little chubby arms up towards me. As I bent to pick her up, I couldn't lift her – she was too heavy. The harder I tried, the heavier she became.

When I went in closer to figure out the problem, I discovered that her skin was shiny gold. As I tried again, I realized that she was made of gold, through and through.

Artwork by Steffanie Lorig

Artwork by Steffanie Lorig

I asked passers-by if they could help, and eventually, together we all cradled her in our arms and carried on as one unit the rest of the dream. When I awoke, I could feel the weight and the strain on my muscles from the burden.

All day long, I mulled over all the possible meanings. My first thought was that it had something to do with my own baby, but that answer didn't quite seem to fit.

As I began my day at work, thoughts of this golden child kept resurfacing. Then all at once, it hit me. I realized the baby was really the nonprofit organization I had founded years before. In reality, it had gotten so big, so heavy, so unwieldy I just couldn't handle it by myself anymore.

Once the metaphor seemed to fit, I realized that the dream was telling me that I needed to reach out to others for support to keep things moving, or the organization would stay in the same place, rooted in one place. This dream helped me realize the change that had to happen and I began taking steps to reach out to others.

Some people write their dreams down as soon as they wake up. Some add extra time into their morning routine to allow themselves to bask in the memories of the dream and begin to recognize if there are any patterns or things that show up time and time again. I have done both but not with consistency. I have drawn them in my sketchbook too, as some dreams are far too complex for words.  I think that whatever method you use to think about or memorialize dreams, it's important to take time to dissect them for a closer look. You never know what you'll find yourself talking to yourself about.

IF YOU CAN, YOU SHOULD

When I first moved to Seattle, I knew no one besides my husband and his college buddy. It was a lonely business trying to find a job and make friends. We had one car and we were living 20 minutes outside downtown in a townhouse with no furniture. Our sleepy marina town closed down at 7:00 at night and our closest neighbors either worked nights, or dealt drugs from their driveways during the day.

I spent every waking moment trying to get a job to help me escape the absolute boredom I felt. During one of my interviews, the Art Director asked me if I was a member of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) or if I had heard of the School of Visual Concepts. Being both receptive and desperate, I joined AIGA immediately and began taking classes as SVC. Her advice changed my experience dramatically. Instead of pining away, waiting for my employed spouse to return home, I now had places to go and people to meet.

One of the greatest benefits of jointing the AIGA was that it had plenty of opportunities to volunteer. And boy did I. Jumping in with both feet, I helped plan events, as well as volunteered with inner city kids doing art projects, and eventually was invited to join the Board.

Jesse Doquilo, the president at the time, asked what my motivation to join the board was and I told him I wanted to use my talent to give back. He put me in charge of Community Outreach, a brand new position, and told me to define it. And, oh, by the way, you have 70 volunteers waiting for you to tell them what to do. I was given carte blanche.

So...wow. Where to start? Too much freedom can create confusion or stagnation, so I started winnowing the choices down. 

Continue reading the story in an  article I wrote for Communication Arts >>

SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE

When I was growing up, there seemed to be an understanding. If you were female, you would make a great teacher. Or nurse. Or mother.

For some reason, these options felt too limiting to me and didn't appeal to me at all. I had different aspirations. Maybe it was because I was a little bit rebellious or maybe because my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be – and I believed them.

I knew I couldn't be a teacher because I saw how rotten my classmates were to our teachers (especially Mr. Guppy...they were unimaginably horrific to that poor man).

I couldn't be a nurse because I didn't like touching strangers, especially if they were sweaty or bloody or... strange. And then there was the role of wife and mother. This seemed to me to be a dead end as well – especially the mother part.

I didn't dislike kids, in fact I imagined myself as the lady who baked cookies for all the neighborhood children who had rotten parents. I imagined that I would help in the nursery at Sunday School so I could get my cuteness-fix. Then their parents would come pick them up and I could keep focused on a career that would bring me gobs of money.

I had boyfriends on and off through the years, but my mind never wavered if the subject came up. But during my junior year in college, I met The One. In fact, I felt like he was so perfect for me, that I began wanting babies with him – lots of them. Twelve of them to be exact, according to my journal.

In this relationship, the prospect of having children became a joyous side benefit of a life filled with love and him. Then we broke up and I was crushed. Absolutely. Fully. Totally. Crushed. I barely held it together during my classes. The moment they were over, I'd rush to my second-hand couch in my crooked little apartment, and sob, blubber, and weep the rest of the day away. I was a mess.

Many months later, I met someone else. He seemed nice enough. He was funny. He had promise. He wasn't a terrible person. So, little by little, I let go of the yearning for Mr. Right and thought I could settle for Mr. Good Enough. But the idea of having children with Mr. G.E. filled me with the same ideas I had held as a teen. In fact, the more I got to know G.E., the more my unconscious mind realized that he still was a child and the idea of having babies with him filled me with anxiety. I was not having children with this man.

Long story short, I did end up with the man of my dreams (thank God). But the mind-shift was complete. I had grown up shunning the prospect of having kids, then embraced it, then shunned it once again. This time it was final.

And so, before Mr. Right (Rick) and I got married and set up house, I told him that I was not interested in having children. Rick said he wanted whatever I wanted, and so it was decided. No babies for us.

Five years later, I got pregnant. The next nine months were an emotional roller coaster. What would happen to my career? Was my ladder climb over? Was my rise to the top just a dream? As time passed, I got used to the idea, but I prayed, if I have to have a kid, please make it a girl. I just can't handle a boy.

When our little one was born, the midwife asked Rick to help. As he helped welcome the child, he whispered into my ear, "Honey, your little girl has a penis." I burst into tears.

The birth had been hard on my body. Rick is six feet tall and a lumberjack of a man. I am 11 inches shorter and small boned. The boy took after his dad, and need I say, I sustained some injuries that had me bedridden for three weeks. This turned out to be a gift, as I wasn't able to return to life as normal immediately. Instead I was "trapped" in bed with my newborn. During this time, I got to know this little human being and fell deeply and madly in love.

Now I can't imagine life without him. He has taught me so much about love, laughter, life, creativity, compassion, and imagination. My career took some unexpected twists and my priorities shifted a bit – and that's okay.

I now have a pretty clear understanding of both sides of the fence – life sans children and life filled with them. They both have their benefits and their drawbacks. I'm happy that I had time for both. The first five years of marriage without our son helped us solidify our relationship. And these last 15 years of marriage with our boy have been an adventure that I wouldn't trade for anything. Through it all, I have worked on my professional journey – with a better balance than before.

The biggest thing I learned was that perspective shifts over time. Meeting the love of my life gave me a viewpoint I hadn't had before. Having a child certainly shifted everything around. And my career – even though I'm still on the path and find great joy in it – takes a backseat to more important things like cuddles, naps and exploring the backyard.

Sometimes decisions are based on limited information. Sometimes your gut gives you new information that you hadn't considered before. And sometimes life throws you into situations you never thought you'd be in. End goals can change. And that's not always a bad thing.