Whenever I've lost myself, I know that I can always walk out into nature to find my pieces again. She is always there like a mother ready to nurture my soul. Towering trees, delicate flowers, forest paths, tiny creatures, waves of the ocean, frozen ponds, swaying grasses, mountain trails, shadows in moonlight, wild creations, or warm sunlight. She is ever present.
And in her companionship, I find myself.
I've always found solace in nature. I know that I'm not alone in the need to go to nature to be healed. These quiet moments of self reflection as we are out roaming the vast landscapes of this beautiful planet are a universal experience. In the quiet and beauty of nature we can hear our soul speak to us. Nature reflects back to us the qualities we both want and need to possess within our own selves
During my walks in nature's arms, I've found comfort in the landscapes through which I've walked. These landscapes have found themselves onto my canvases and were the beginning of my journey back into expressing my emotions through paint. As I walked through a dark season in life, I felt the need to express the emotions I experienced in a more raw manner through painting the landscapes of the human face and telling our stories through portraits. A healing occurred as I painted the emotions of each stage of pain and healing that I went through. I would sometimes find myself writing furiously while I sat by a quiet lake near my home. My journal the spring board for the next painting I felt compelled to create. A passion arose for capturing the human experience of those who at one time or another had also journeyed through the darkness.
No more poignant a year than 2020 to remind us that we all walk in darkness at one point or another. These last several months as I've watch our stories unfold, I have seen that nature is where we turn to time and again to heal our souls.
For this reason, it feels fitting to re-release prints and cards captured from landscapes near my home here in Canada. These pieces were a healing to me as I painted the feeling of freedom found in the vast open fields, the unique colors of each season, and the embrace of nature's peaceful presence.
May these pieces bring you calm and nurture your souls the way the tranquility of nature always soothes mine.
What In The World Is Chiaroscuro?
I’ve always been drawn to the play between light and shadow. How about you?
For me I think back to walking in the forest and feeling drawn to the vast difference between navy shadows cast from the trees, and the green and gold patches lit up by the strobes of sunlight that are able to peek through them. This contrast also intrigues me in paintings and drawings. There is a technique called Chiaroscuro - "chiaro" meaning bright or lit up, and "scuro" meaning dark - that was initially used by some Great Masters to create impact in their art. Watch my time lapse video below to hear more about this technique and follow me as I create a dramatic pencil drawing of Alana Sparrow - instagram.com/alanasparrow
Art That Honors Our Whole Story
The play between light and shadow creates shapes, emotions, and a sense of drama. I was inspired to create this pencil drawing because the model seemed to portray both strength and softness, determination and vulnerability. I am fueled to create art that honors our whole story as women and as humans - that shows the power that can arise from being vulnerable. When I drew this piece, I thought of all women. I thought about how our eyes tell stories unspoken. Eyes that seek to understand our place, and that are looking to connect. And when I look in the mirror and see light falling on my features, I try to remember and honor my story. That I’ve earned every line, shadow and gray hair. I also try to remember the sparkle in my eye that holds my goofy side, and the determination to never give up or give in.
Am I the Only One Who is Curious About People's Stories?
When I see people, I often find myself wondering what their lives are like. Am I the only one?
Watch my video below and let me know if you think the same things that I do.
The Woman Who Inspired This Pencil Drawing
And now a little bit about this incredible human that I had the honor to draw - she was the winner of my Sketch giveaway last November. For those of you that know Loretta, you will agree with me that she has the warmest and kindest smile. She just beams with enthusiasm for life.
But hers wasn't always an easy path.
Loretta grew up with many siblings, cousins and a lot of family around. Yet her life took a painful turn when she lost her mom at the tender age of 11. At such a young age, Loretta had to find ways to survive the pain. As survivors often do, she coped in ways that led her to lose parts of herself by focusing on making others happy. Looking back at her life now, Loretta realizes that it is essential to allow oneself to experience and even honor the feelings that loss and pain bring, and on the other hand also allow oneself to find happiness.
Life continued on, and one of Loretta's greatest joys was becoming a mom to two boys. Now grown men, she values the supportive love that they give to her, just as she did for them when they were children.
But questions remained, "Why don't I feel like I have it all together now?" "What do I like?" Loretta set out to prioritize feeling good and decided that she also wanted to help others in midlife to feel the same way. Authentically sharing her journey in her blog, www.lorettasayer.com/blog and on her IG page, instagram.com/introspective.adventurer , she leads her readers on a path of discovery.
The enthusiasm for growing, learning and being adventurous, all in a real way, makes reading her words like a good book that is hard to put down.
As she herself says, "My goal is to be authentic, raw, honest and vulnerable while exploring what it is that makes us who we are." It is in her exploration, that her story is emerging.
Follow this vivacious, fun and introspective adventurer, Loretta Sayers! I guarantee that you be drawn in by her charisma - and you just might learn something about yourself along the way.
When my husband asked me to create a piece for his parents I felt honored. However, I was unsure of how I would create a piece that would feel contemporary, speak to their deep love for each other, and not come across as simply another static drawing.
As I often do, I found myself looking at other artists work on Pinterest for inspiration, and came across some incredible pieces that really gave the feeling of having life within them. The pieces I loved the most were ones where the artist had used a really loose style of cross hatching. Of course – cross hatching! I instantly remembered experimenting with this technique in school, and I had a feeling that this would be the technique that would create a feeling of life in this piece too.
Cross hatching is basically just what is sounds like. Short pencil lines are used side by side to create the shading, and then pencil lines are created cross ways to the first ones. Each layer builds on the other, and creates darker and darker tones, depending on how many times you go over an area.
I really love the way that the cross-hatching technique created a feeling of movement in this couple’s portrait. As I slowly hatched the lines, I felt as if I was almost referencing their years together. With each layer, I thought about the stories of their lives. The places they lived, the children they had. The ups and downs of life woven into an intricate fabric. Stories of tears, stories of laughter and of love. Good times, hard times - times we all experience.
Follow along with my goofy self, and watch my time lapse art video to see the finished portrait!
In Search of Creating Powerful Portrait Paintings
Have you ever noticed that the pace of our lives is kind of like the seasons?
There are times when we are in full “go-mode”, creating, travelling, collaborating, building. I think I would compare go-mode to the spring and summer seasons.
Then there are times where we are more introspective, and the days slow down, perhaps we return to learning, reading, pondering, planning. Though these cycles don’t always coincide with the literal seasons, many times they do. I think that I am finding myself in one of the slower seasons. The days are colder, and I am outside less, which gives me more time inside and creating paintings in my studio. I am also traveling less, and I find myself going deeper within and having more inspirational ideas for my art. With that comes the desire to learn new ways of expressing emotion in my portrait paintings.
My Secret Experiments Using Techniques From Other Artists
For the next few months, I will be experimenting and following the techniques of other artists, to both improve my skills as a portrait and figure artist, discover new ways to tell my stories, and create paintings with meaning.
This week I painted along with Casey Baugh, a contemporary portrait painting artist who began using charcoal at the age of 13 and has perfected his skill of interpreting the human form through charcoal and paint.
Watch this time-lapse video to see me follow one of Casey’s paintings and listen to some of the musings of my mind while I’m creating an oil portrait painting.
Watch My Time-lapse Video of the Portrait Painting Experiment Below
Creating Paintings With Meaning
When I paint a portrait or figure painting, it is just as much about the meaning behind the piece as it is the technique. My goal is to capture the essence of a person during a certain moment in time.
What colors will I choose to tell the story of each person I paint? Will they be light and airy, or dark and foreboding? If I choose darker tones, will I still create light landing on the features in a way that speaks of hope.
Brushstrokes can also be quick and edgy to express motion or impulsive feelings. Or they can be blended to soften the look conveying peace and stillness.
There is so much that fascinates me about the human face. Things that we pick up on in our everyday interactions without even realizing it. The direction of the eye, an upturned corner of the mouth, a creased brow. One little change and the whole portrait can take on a different emotion, or even end up looking like another person completely.
I was fascinated with the way Casey casually blocked in large sections of dark, light and basic color, looking for tone and value, before being concerned with detail. I feel that this manner of creating a painting creates a more contemporary portrait. I know that I will definitely be using this oil painting technique in future pieces.
I Found a Sisterhood!
Let me tell you about my weekend in LA! The one where I met like minded people who made me laugh, reflect and even cry tears of understanding, connection and compassion. Where I heard the most beautiful voice of a world-renowned singer and teacher. When I learned tips in self confidence from a model who walked the runways of Paris. Where I enjoyed a gala full of dancing, great food and even greater company. Where I had the chance to share and listen to personal stories. When I had a personal professional photo shoot. And where I formed collaborations with other businesses created by women and for women.
Just where does a girl living in a small town in Ontario, Canada get to do all these amazing things in one weekend?
Well, she gets on a plane, flies to LA and goes to Fiercecon of course!
Fiercecon is explained as ‘not a conference, but a connection”, and it couldn’t be more true! Coordinated by Catherine Grace O'Connel and her team, it is a connection of women in midlife and beyond, where no "mean vibes" are allowed. A safe space where a sisterhood can be created. A sisterhood that boosts confidence, forms friendships, explores ideas, creates collaborations and encourages success. Here are a few beautiful ways that a sisterhood can accomplish these things.
Let Me Introduce Sarah Nicole Landry - @TheBirdsPapaya
Before I get into the 5 steps, I want to introduce you to an amazing woman that is rocking her journey to self esteem. Sarah Nicole Landry is a mom of three, who has struggled most of her life with loving her self mostly because of the messages she received and internalized from our looks obsessed society.
Who of us hasn’t looked at the way women are featured in the media and felt “less-than”? I know I have. My forehead was too high, my nose not thin enough, lips too thin, skin not smooth enough, boobs too small, and on and on went my fight with my looks. So too, Sarah Nicole struggled with her ideal vision of how she should look. Even after losing 100 lbs, she still struggled with self esteem. This is when she realized that allowing societal views to shape her own self confidence was a losing battle. Today she advocates for loving yourself right where you are in your journey. She champions being grateful to our unique bodies for their amazing accomplishments; moving, loving, growing babies, breathing and carrying us through all of this life’s ups and downs. For weekly inspiration, you can follow this beautiful woman's "journal of life & love after massive change" on Instagram @thebirdspapaya , and her blog and podcast!!
Now Onto The 5 Steps To Boost Your Self Confidence - That Have Nothing To Do With Looks...
With world mental health day approaching on October 10, it’s a good time to get positive. A great way to do this is to remove the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues. I’ve heard it expressed in this really concise and powerful way. Mental health is like physical health, we all have it. We all need to look after it.
Just as there is no shame in breaking an ankle, needing glasses, or taking heart medicine, so too for our mental health. There is no shame in needing help to think, feel and react in ways that we want.
I respect when someone with celebrity status uses their voice to help others.
Enter Lady Gaga.
Having endured less than ideal mental health at various times in her life, she began the foundation “Born This Way” to support the wellness of young people while being fiercely kind, compassionate, accepting and inclusive. She is unafraid to say that she herself has struggled, and she wants to help others so that they do not need to suffer alone and in silence. Part of the mission statement at the Born This Way foundation reads, “We celebrate the individuality of those we serve, and we revere the bravery it takes to reach out and start the conversation. Together, we’re building a community that provides approachable resources, fosters genuine connection, and drives action.”
Three very powerful ideas leap off the page when I read this statement. “Celebrate the individuality”, “Start the conversation”, and “Genuine connection”.
These ideas are all very actionable. Herein lies the extremely easy way that we can all celebrate World Mental Health Day this October. And it’s free.
In the summer of 2014, my children and I went through a particularly challenging season. During that time, we received food, friendship, counseling and care from our community. Since then, it has been in my heart to give back to others even in small ways, as I am able. When the local YWCA approached me asking if I could donate a piece of my art for their upcoming “She Talks” event, I agreed and was especially excited to have a small share in an evening where women from different walks of life, would come together to share and listen to stories of tenacity and grit. Stories that connect, uplift and draw us closer together.
I present to you the 7 inspiring women who spoke that evening and a bit of their stories that will touch your heart.
I Haven't Shared This With People Too Often
I’m going to tell you something that I don’t share with people too often. For context reasons you should know that I kind of lack confidence, although I’d say in the last 5 or so years, I’ve definitely gained more than I used to have. Due to this lack of confidence and the fact that I’m not the type of person to tell the world my problems, when I do share parts of my story here on social media, it’s because I feel that by putting it out there, someone else might be helped. So, here’s the thing I want to share.
I’ve contemplated suicide a few times in my life.
Maybe we should call it “through her eyes” … in her hands,"
- what do you think?' asked Hannah Linn, Executive Director at the Bracebridge YWCA, (see more about her HERE) as we brainstormed ideas for our all women art show that we had co-conspired to plan just in time for International Women’s Day this past March.
I thought it was a brilliant name, and so was born an art show, with over 20 Canadian female artists from Ontario, Canada contributing pieces to the event.
As an artist myself, and always looking for inspiration, I wondered what inspired these other women and how they came up with their unique ways of painting. Lucky for me I was able to get to know some amazing women during the show and ask some questions guaranteed to inspire you in your creative process.
How does she do it?
“I don’t know how she does it, she is so strong”.
Have you ever heard that said? I’ve not only heard it, but I myself have said it about others.
It’s always spoken with a sort of awe that these women are still able to stand, to carry on, to breathe, to have such inner strength. They’ve faced dreadful circumstances, ones that we can’t imagine having to endure ourselves - and if we did, we’re fearful that we would probably die. Maybe they’ve survived some sort of abuse, been diagnosed with an illness, lost of a dear friend or family member, or survived some other sort of tragedy. Yet these are often the women who go on to help others. They become the coaches, the motivational speakers, and the leaders we look up to.
How do they do it?
The pathway to inner strength
As I sit on my deck on this beautiful July morning, I am reminded of how much nature helps me to reconnect with my inner voice and brings such peace to my soul. The stillness of towering trees, the constancy of the flowing river, birds singing their morning songs, and the sun creating ever-changing blue, purple and golden hues as it rises in the sky.
Before my young boys wake up and the stillness of the morning is broken, I think about my own childhood. I try to reconnect with who I was. I think about the dark times in my life and how they shaped me...
I began painting this series of paintings as part of my growth journey. I'd already explored more difficult emotions and painted about my journey through them. But now I was ready to go from coping with and navigating difficult emotions to exploring ways I could develop inner strength, and hold onto hope when the next of life's challenges decided to come my way. I also knew that many others were on similar journeys, and I wanted to begin conversations, share our insights, and inspire others to understand the foundations of becoming, and staying a strong woman - or human really. While there are many emotions that help build our character, I believe that the four I chose to paint for this series “Elements”, create a foundation, and that the others will come after these four are firmly rooted.
I've also come to realize that it is how we respond to challenges, that shapes who we become. We can either become bitter, forever angry, and crumple under the weight of adversity, or we can choose to learn. Each lesson adding new layers to our character. This is where the 4 qualities of a great leader come in. Experience is the best teacher, and for any that have gone through adversity and thrived, they are in a unique position to help others do the same.
Click on an image to see the paintings that inspired this post in my Shop.
Remember feeling bliss?
As Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week and Mental Health Month approach, we may ask ourselves some deep questions. Maybe we ask, 'at what age did we forget how to just being happy?'. Barring an abusive childhood, when we were children we simply did things because they made us happy.
Play all day without once wondering what we might look like in a mirror? ALL day!
Scarf down our favorite treats without once worrying about calories? Absolutely!
Dance like no one was watching? Yep! (At around 5 years of age, I once twirled around the room after my mother’s dance class was over. Everyone cleared the floor just for my solo lol. Sadly, I would never dream of that now!)
Smile like goofballs for a picture? Count me in!
Then something shifts...
Can Art be a Partner to Greater Emotional and Mental Well Being?
I paint as a way to express emotions, as a sort of therapy, a way to tell stories, mine or those of others. This new series entitled "Elements" is no different. Each painting is a reminder and inspiration to remember the foundations of becoming and staying a strong woman - or human really. While there are many traits that can build our character, and strengthen our mental health, I believe that the four I chose to paint for this series “Elements”, are foundational, and that the others will come after these four are firmly rooted. Continue reading to see how I believe that hope, strength, bliss and self-love can lead to superior mental and emotional well being.*
When we send out a seed, we never know how it will grow. When I approached Hannah Lin, Executive Director of the YWCA Muskoka regarding an art show celebrating women in the arts, neither of us could have envisioned the response both from the artists and those who would join us in the celebrations.
With this year’s IWD Day theme, “Balance For Better”, I’d like to talk about what International Women’s Day means to me. Some may think that advocates of women’s celebrations or movements mean that we are putting men down. This is absolutely not the case. Rather, we are looking for a balance where a deficit has existed.
I didn't have a healthy amount of self-love...
It all started when I realized I had been making life choices that proved that I didn't have a healthy amount of self-love. I used to think that by doing and becoming the best wife, mother, daughter, housekeeper, worker, etc that I could be, I would be worthy of love. When I didn't get the reactions I had hoped for, I would spiral into self loathing, and try even harder.
...RECIPE FOR DISASTER.
When women come together to build each other up, there's a magic that happens. We start to realize we are not alone in our dreams, our goals or even our fears. And then we begin to believe in ourselves a little more. We add a few layers of confidence. We start making plans to build our dreams, we take actual steps to reach our goals and we begin to believe that we can make a difference. This is what happened when women from around Muskoka gathered at the YWCA in Bracebridge to finalize plans for our spring show at The Chapel Gallery in Bracebridge, ON, last Friday, January 18th.
I thought I'd have everything figured out...
When I was young I thought that once I was an adult, I'd have everything figured out. So once I had "grown up" and still questioned myself or my decisions, I thought that something was wrong with me . Now I realize that our life is a journey of growing, learning and constantly figuring things out. I also know that I'm not alone in these feelings. This painting "Labyrinth" portrays the feeling of not knowing which decision is right or wrong. The times when our thoughts swirl, and every decision seems right and every decision seems wrong. What I've learned is that when we are faced with decisions these are opportunities for growth.
We hear a lot about loving ourselves. But to be honest I'm still figuring out exactly what that means, and how to do that. It's easy for me to love you, my readers, to see your beauty. But when it comes to me, I'm still working on ironing out the wrinkles of my own self love journey. I figured I'm probably not the only one, so I've looked for a little help from Motivational Speaker and Success Coach, Lisa Cybaniak, to share her insights with you.
Read Lisa's blog post where she gives us 4 Actionable steps to change our thoughts, our life, and learn self love....
The Meaning of Life - What is the meaning of life? by Lisa Cybaniak
This is the age old question. Perhaps everyone’s meaning is different. Perhaps we all have our own meaning to seek. Or perhaps, just maybe, at the root of everyone’s quest is really how to love themselves.
On the surface, learning how to love yourself seems simple. You just do it, don’t you? Tell me then, when things go wrong in your day, what is your first response? Is it to blame yourself, tell yourself you knew you couldn’t do it anyway, throw in the towel and pretend like it didn’t matter anyway?
Or maybe it is to ask ‘why me?’ and feel like despite your best efforts, nothing ever turns out the way you planned? Or worse yet, maybe you sabotage yourself in little ways without even realizing it – not completing a task, not putting in full effort, not showing up, not studying for that test/exam – just so that when you fail, it’s not a surprise, because wouldn’t it be so much worse to complete that task with your full effort and attention, putting forth your best foot, only to not succeed?
After all, success is everything, right? Wait a second though…. What is success? Does that mean things have to go perfectly the first time, or can you still be successful if you faced struggles head on, made mistakes and learned from them, to go on to find success and happiness?
I’m asking a whole lot of questions here, but they are not pointless. Success is directly linked to our value of ourselves. If you related to any of the above, then maybe you don’t value yourself as much as you initially thought. Maybe there is room for you to learn how to change your thoughts, love yourself, and then go after the life you deserve, mistakes and all.
As we build walls around ourselves or allow others to impose prison walls for us, we have to deal with a myriad of difficult emotions. As a coping mechanism and to keep the peace, many of us have decided it easier and safer to swallow our feelings. Pain, hurt, rage all kept inside in order to maintain a calm exterior. I call this "swallowing the storm". Thus was born the idea for my painting "Bridle". The interesting thing that I've learned is that when we don't honour our feelings and give them a healthy outlet, they just "come out sideways". They can present themselves as anxiety, illness, addiction, or any other unhealthy coping mechanism. While I continued to make myself swallow the storm, holding in my emotions and allowing others to hurl their emotions at me without repercussions, I began to lose myself.
There is a path many women take while journeying through difficult experiences. I believe that in the journey to self love, we first need to come to terms with our emotions. Sad or happy, scared or courageous, allowing ourselves to be human, to feel, and to honour the emotions as they come and go - as long as we don't use them as an excuse to hurt others.
I am so pleased that many were affected by the theme of my recent solo art show at The Chapel Gallery in Bracebridge, and that a dialogue was started around this path to healing.