We Burn Brighter Together

Angels with one wing

Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I just returned from our annual week’s stay on Martha’s Vineyard. Since 1997, my family has vacationed together there. Early on, my sister discovered painter Margot Datz lived on the island. She’s illustrated most of Carly Simon’s children’s picture books. I was crazy about her work. I made up my mind to track her down and introduce myself, although it took me a couple of years to work up the courage to call her. My resistance came from having placed  her on a “one who has arrived” pedestal. After finally meeting Margot, her warmth and candor assured me she was not above me. We stood eye to eye. I now call her a friend and a more generous one you’ll never find.

Margot Datz on one of my Vineyard visits

This year when I reconnected with Margot she was frantically finishing paintings for her show in August. True to her nature, she dropped her paintbrushes to bring me to tea at her friend, author/illustrator, Susan Branch‘s home. After reading Susan’s memoir, A Fine Romance, I was dying to meet the woman behind that gorgeous book. Margot was delighted to make that happen.

When we pulled up to Susan’s house, a weird déjà vu came over me. In Susan’s blogs and books, she shares musings and observations of her daily life. They are illustrated to perfection with her watercolors and photographs. As she introduced me to her husband, Joe, I had to restrain myself from saying, “We’ve already met,” because we had, in her writings. From reading her posts, I recognized every charming inch of her house, even her cats. Susan’s life, like her heart, is an open book.

Susan's cat Jack

Susan’s cat Jack

The three of us sat around her kitchen table and sipped Susan’s own private blend of delectable tea. We talked about our lives as artists and other things. All three of us agreed to liking intimate gatherings over parties. No chitchat for us. We are of the soul-connection variety. When I confessed that I had no idea I could write before I began blogging, they tittered in unison, “No one does!” Really? So that means that I’m not alone but share a sort of universal creative process. Hmmm. Knowing that comforted me. I am not an oddball. I am an artist.

Susan Branch in her studio

Susan Branch in her studio

He who lights his candle from mine, receives light without darkening me. ~ Thomas Jefferson

In my youth, I felt quite competitive toward professional creatives who, as I saw it, were living my dream. I was beneath them always grasping for what was out of my reach. I viewed the world as having only so many openings to be filled by people in the arts. If others arrived, that meant there was less of a chance that I could. The only way to find success was to somehow maneuver around them and snatch their light.

Thank goodness for the beneficent women who’ve shown up and taught me different. They’ve encouraged me and believed in me. Unthreatened, they’ve made it their business to help figure out a way for me to market my gifts to the world. Forging a friendship with Margot left me with the awareness that no one makes it alone. Bringing your heart’s desire to fruition is never a solitary act. It hadn’t occurred to me someone would actually allow me to light my candle from there’s. Wouldn’t I be stealing their flame? No, the truth of the matter is together we burn brighter.

Margot’s book, “A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids” with it’s sage observations is the perfect gift for any of your sister-friends.

 

Susan's "A Fine Romance" is a work of art, part love story, part travel guide. Not to be missed by anyone who yearns to tour England.

Susan’s “A Fine Romance” is a work of art, part love story, part travel guide. Not to be missed by anyone who yearns to tour England.

*Click here to sign up for my inspiring every other Wednesday email

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

In Art and Life: Perfectionism is the Enemy

I Heart the Moon 12014 © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

I Heart the Moon 12014 © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Perfectionism is the enemy in art – and just about everything.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve developed a pattern of procrastination when I begin a new illustration. I circle over my Arche’s hot-pressed watercolor paper like a hawk stuck on repeat. I think about it, plan out my method of approach, resolve to zero in on it and then am interrupted. It’s always something that is a faux “can’t wait” situation. What is this? I’m an artist. Isn’t painting supposed to be my passion? Why am I so easily pulled off course? Next, I berate myself for becoming distracted and vow to start my image first thing…tomorrow.

After about two weeks of this push and pull, I finally force myself to begin. I sit down, grip the pencil tightly and have my eyes inches from the paper to begin the preliminary drawing. It must be perfect. I must be perfect. No wonder I have trouble getting started. I’ve discovered that in pursuing flawlessness I was perfecting the joy and life right out of my art.

“It’s very important to enjoy what you’re doing or else you are always going to procrastinate.” – James Altucher

The more I’ve evolved as a person, the more I’ve embraced my humanity and know many of my character defects are simply survival skills gone awry. Unbeknownst to me, the more I accepted myself, the tighter I gripped my paintbrushes. Losing the enjoyment of my craft, made me wonder what would happen if I painted with abandon. Would it bring back the pleasure and make my artwork come alive? I was ready to experiment. The above piece, I Heart the Moon is the result. I had labored over an earlier version of it in 2012. That one took me six weeks to complete. The new interpretation took two weeks, and l loved painting it. I let the watercolor swirl and land where it wanted to. Unrestricted, filling in the details with colored pencil was no longer drudgery but fun. I felt free. Procrastination didn’t mean I was lazy or a failure. It was just signaling to me that my method wasn’t working.

I Heart the Moon © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

I Heart the Moon 2012 © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Next, I decided to post both pictures on Facebook and take a vote to see which illustration my followers preferred. I was happy to know the new rendering was the favorite, but it wasn’t unanimous like I thought it would be. Some still liked the one that I had done in my “being perfect” stage. Did that mean I was wrong about my up-tightness transferring itself to my art? I don’t think so. What it did confirm is there is an audience for every phase of my work, something  I’m particularly grateful for.

“Safety is all well and good: I prefer freedom.” – E.B. White

My art and it’s process are a metaphor for my life. When I pay attention to both, so much is revealed to me. Holding back who I am in any area, not only does a disservice to myself, but to the world too. Dumbing down the “gift of me” is something I learned in childhood. It kept me off the radar of unsafe people. It took years of unraveling before I felt secure enough to risk living uncensored. Letting go, something I resisted, has ended up bringing me great rewards. The truth of who we are is revealed in every spontaneous action we take.  And for me, hiding is no longer an option. I know too much.

*Click here to sign up for my inspiring every other Wednesday email

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

American Hope

god-bless-america_edited-1

“Children are hopes” – Novalis

I began work on the above illustration in 1999 through the advice of my then agent. It was all over the news at the time, that an immigrant family had named their newborn “America” in hopes of not being deported. The baby’s parents desperately wanted to give their child a better life than the one they had fled. My rep thought it would be a great way to capitalize on the event and draw attention to my art. I am a follower of directions and immediately began work on the illustration. Shortly after that, I parted ways with my rep, realizing we didn’t share the same vision for marketing my work. I didn’t abandon my drawing, though. I finished it knowing the baby wrapped in the flag wasn’t specific to one child but symbolized all of America’s children.

“See, there’s the land of America…which you have to defend. But there’s also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it’s an idea.” – Bono

True, our nation’s physical beauty is vast. And although magnificent, it’s not what makes America, America. My ancestors didn’t leave County Cork, Ireland, during the potato famine to find a more striking landscape. What brought them here were the intangibles. They were under the thumb of English landlords and came to a new world that promised freedom for their families. Freedom meant opportunity and most of all hope. And like their sons and daughters, it must be cherished and protected at all costs.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”Ronald Reagan

On June 9, 2014 a boy from the village of Mokena, Illinois, where I live, was killed in Afghanistan. Private Aaron Toppen was only nineteen and died serving the country he loved. He left behind a mother, sisters, a girlfriend and countless others. With him he took a piece of all our hearts. He was laid to rest in a casket wrapped in stars, stripes and the love of our community. In my mind’s eye, I can see his spirit joining the ranks of a heavenly guard appointed to keep watch over our children. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

pam-and-aaron-toppen1_edited-1

Aaron Toppen’s mother adjusts a medal before her son’s Turning Blue Ceremony.

Mokena honors Aaron Toppen

Mokena welcomes Aaron home.

*Click here to sign up for my inspiring every other Wednesday email

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com