Live From the Inside Out

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -Steve Jobs

Live From the Inside Out

Live from the inside out. That’s my motto for the year. I have put the kibosh on following social convention and fulfilling other’s expectations. Living in a box of someone else’s making leaves little room for sharing your gifts with the world.

Over the years, I’ve learned to actually feel when my heart is speaking to me. It takes quieting the mind to discern the embedded whisper. Granted, many times I’ve ignored that guidance and gone into my brain. There is nothing like trying to reason your way to safety for a sense of false security. Being safe and being an artist do not go hand in hand.

I’m a firm believer that we are born to share our gifts with the world. The older I get the clearer it becomes that I’m just passing through this realm. That knowledge is what has brought me to the decision to take directions from within. Living from the inside feels risky until I consider the ticking clock. American author Erma Bombeck said,  “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”

Allegra was the perfect model for my illustration. Living from the inside out is something she was born doing.

Allegra was the perfect model for my illustration. Living from the inside out is something she was born doing.

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

 

Grandchildren: A Shift in Focus

Joy on EarthMy first grandchild, Cameron John Shanahan, was born on April 8, 2014. I was looking forward to his arrival from the moment my son, Brian, and his wife, Pam, told me they were expecting. In fact, I jumped up and down and whooped like I had won the lottery. Now he is finally here, and I am a grandma. His birth has brought out unencumbered tenderness in me. Gone is the overwhelming sense of responsibility I felt with the birth of each of my children. It’s not my job to make sure he moves through the world safely. I can relax because Cam is in the most excellent of hands, knowing that leaves me free to just love him.

Brian, Pam and Cam on Easter Sunday 2014

Brian, Pam and Cam on Easter Sunday 2014

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children. ~Alex Haley

I had two marvelous grandmothers. Grandma Fahrner and Grandma Ragen were a stable presence in my life. They were interested in me and loved me for who I was. They were like the fairy godmother in Sleeping Beauty who used her magic to tone down the curse a wicked fairy had put on the little princess. My grandmas didn’t have the power to break the spell of being raised by maladjusted parents, but they could soften the blow. And soften the blow they did. Without them, I don’t know how I would have survived my upbringing. With the dad and mom Cam is blessed with, he doesn’t need me to be his port in the storm. What I will give him is my time. I will answer his questions and look into his eyes when he talks to me. I will nurture his creativity and read to him. I will share with him what the world was like when I grew up and connect him to his ancestors. I will believe in his dreams. He will know I love him by the way my eyes light up when he enters the room.

My Grandma Fahrner, my brother Steve, me, and my Grandma Ragen on Mother's Day, 1958

My Grandma Fahrner, my brother Steve, me, and my Grandma Ragen on Mother’s Day, 1958

In Arianna Huffington’s wonderful book Thrive she writes of how Americans stress and obsess over the trivial things in their lives. She believes most people will only shift their focus to what is truly important when a crisis hits. A death or serious illness usually does it. I have decided I don’t need a catastrophe to let go of the inessential and pay attention to what really matters. I have a grandson.

My Grandson, Cameron John

My Grandson, Cameron John

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

Joy to the World

Joy filled to the top and spilling over, that’s what the holiday season brings. Since 2000, I’ve tried to capture that joy in a Christmas card I create in memory of my nephew. TJ, short for Timothy James, was so full of life anything less would dishonor him. Snatched from us without warning, he died 17 years ago when he was only 23.

The holiday cards are sold to raise money for a scholarship fund formed in my nephew’s name. To date over $150,000. has been dispersed to kids his parents believe their son would have chosen. Like TJ, many of the recipients have been wrestlers or students who’ve had to work at their studies harder than most. TJ had more than his share of learning problems but took them on and overcame them with heart.

A child of the foster care system, when TJ was 10 he came to my sister Laura and her husband Bob seemingly by accident. Laura, a social worker, was called by TJ’s caseworker to see if they could take him for the weekend on emergency. They did, and his stay stretched from weeks to months until they knew he was there for good. TJ had come home.

TJ struggled in school. He had profound hearing loss in his left ear and a learning disability that made it difficult to read. Laura shared her love of books by reading to him every night. That, along with exceptional teachers, helped TJ to blossom in his school studies. By the time he reached high school, he was an accomplished athlete. He excelled in football and wrestling. When it was time for college, TJ went to Eastern Illinois University on a wrestling scholarship.

In 1996, his senior year of college, TJ and his friends had gathered at a park to celebrate completing their final exams. A warm spring day, some of the kids decided to brave the swirling river and jump in. The water was especially treacherous that year because of an abundance of rain in the previous weeks. My nephew, always a lover of risk, was able to jump in and get back out. On his second try, the current pulled TJ to the spillway while he struggled to keep his head above water. His friend Joe attempted to save him, but they were both pulled under. By all accounts the boys perished around 4:00 PM that day.

At the same time my sister Laura was driving TJ’s little sisters Molly (5) and Elyse (7) home from school. Suddenly Elyse pointed to the sky and said, “Look Mama at the two angels! Can’t you see them? Right there in the clouds.” As hard as she looked Laura could see nothing but billowing sky. Later my sister told me her daughter’s assuredness of what she saw sent a small wave of fear through her. Could the angels mean something horrible had happened? Only later, when the shock began to fade, were Laura and Bob able to connect the time of their son’s passing with the angelic appearance.

Some may say the heavenly visitors appeared at the exact time of TJ’s passing by Divine appointment. What better way to help ease his little sisters’ pain then by letting them know their brother and his friend were in heaven? Bob looked at it more as TJ personally reaching out to Molly and Elyse. He was glad his son had thought of the girls and made the effort to connect with them as he passed from this world to the next. Every year I incorporate an angel in my card design to remind us that although no longer in the physical, TJ is always with us. Death isn’t strong enough to extinguish his bright light.

TJ brought much joy to the world. He was smart and loving and creative and kind. Yet, at the same time, he could be moody and selfish and inconsiderate. After he died, found among his things was a list he compiled to inspire himself in his goal to be an All-American wrestler. At the bottom of the page he wrote, “It is not where you start. It is where you finish.” As a child he endeared much sadness and neglect before he landed with my sister and her husband. From a rocky start, he accomplished much. He was perfectly imperfect in his humanity. And anyone who was lucky enough to know him wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing.

*To purchase cards click here.

The last picture of TJ with Molly and Elyse. Taken after  an EIU Senior Night wresting meet.

The last picture of TJ with Molly and Elyse. Taken after an EIU Senior Night wresting meet.

I converted Sayla playing with her slime (last year's favorite Christmas gift) into an angel pouring snowflakes from a jar.

I converted a snapshot of my model Sayla playing with her “slime” (last year’s favorite Christmas gift) into an angel pouring snowflakes from a jar.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. http://www.sueshanahan.com

Go Ask Alice

It was a warm summer day that gave rise to the tale Charles Dodgson wove to entertain his neighbors, Alice Liddell and her sisters. Boating down the river Thames, he spun a tale of pure magic for the girls. At Alice’s insistence he wrote it down, so the story wouldn’t disappear. In 1865, it was published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. Nearly every year since that time a new edition of the book is published somewhere in the world.

An interesting man, Charles Dodgson was a mathematician and a scholar. In other words, the left side of his brain was highly developed. How in the world did he access the level of artistry needed to create his wonderland masterpiece? I think by making up the story for the sheer pleasure of it. No pressure to perform in any capacity, his lighthearted muse was given free rein. What came through him was a gift to delight the ages.

Once again, the lazy days of summer are upon us. A perfect time to untether our imaginations and dabble in our creativity. There is no better time to try something new, just for the fun of it. Charles, a shy bachelor, certainly was out of his element when he penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the Liddell girls. Who knows what we are capable of bringing forth in the spirit of joy.

And it’s down the rabbit hole we go…

I based Alice on my niece Andi. A more perfect Alice there never was.

I based my Alice paper doll on my niece Andi. A more perfect Alice there never was.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

 www.sueshanahan.com

Ready to Let Go

And why are children the most beautiful flowers of all? Because they allow themselves to be who they are. Without agendas, they flourish in the now. Whether the sun shines or buckets of rain pour, it’s a good day. We are all born with a sense of wonder,  but it soon fades. We learn not to trust our own nature. It happens to some earlier than others, but it’s rarely escaped. This lack of trust is the root of why we think we have to control every aspect of our lives. It’s not only self-defeating but futile. I’ve spent years praying for my hands to unclasp the control I hold so tightly. I have come a long way. I’ve discovered that I don’t know what is best for others or myself. I am open to what life brings me – most times.

 An area I’ve found impossible to loosen my grip on is my creative process. I have a schedule in my mind that I’m never able to adhere to. Always pushing, I resist any interruption in my work flow. When something does get me off track, the wheels of reprimand begin turning in my brain. Why do I hold on so tightly? Because my creativity burns like a fire in me. I’ve guarded and protected it my whole life. I’m afraid to let it run its own course. If I do that, will it eventually die away?

 Matthew 6:34 reads, “Therefore do not worry for tomorrow; for tomorrow will look after its own.” Does that mean if I let go, my commissions will be completed in perfect timing? Have my attempts to direct the flow actually interfered with the Creator’s plan? Why am I so insistent that illustrating is a 9 to 5 job anyway? My attempts to manage only seem to bring frustration.

 I am ready to take a leap of faith and live like a child. That means being immersed in the now and turning my creative undertakings completely over to God. I’ve done that in other areas of my life. Remembering the peace of being guided makes this leap less scary. I’ve learned life works itself out and to count on the missing pieces coming to me. Stress is a sure sign I’ve taken control back. What spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle shared in a lecture makes good sense to me, “Enjoy the doing in the now. With the enjoyment of the doing also comes the power that flows into it. Enjoy the energy that flows into the doing and it becomes empowered. And then the goal looks after itself.”

 Yes, I’m ready to let go. If flowers and children blossom at exactly the right time, then my paintings will too.

 Is there anything you cling too?

Aine, my little muse.

Aine, my little muse.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

 www.sueshanahan.com

Dreams Begin in Books

Dreams Begin in Books

There is no substitute for a book in the life of a child.
– Mary Ellen Chase, Recipe for a Magic Childhood (1952)

Dreams Begin in Books

When I was a little girl, I decided the most wonderful things in the world were books. They were my friends. They kept me company when I was lonely and showed me a bigger world when I felt like I didn’t fit in. Around age ten is when Little Women captured me. I loved Jo March. She was self-conscious but pushed the boundaries of being proper anyway. She was a bold, outspoken dreamer. She revealed myself to me. I wanted to grow up to be Jo March but with a paintbrush.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, had modeled Jo after herself. Louisa was an ordinary woman who lived and breathed. In reading about the real Jo, I made the connection that art is created by flesh and blood. It comes through everyday people, to inspire us all. And so began my dream to become an artist…

In honor National Reading Month, Auryn Inc. is giving one of their children’s book apps away every day in March. My app Love You to the Moon & Back will be free on March 22nd. You can get a link to the offer by going to Apps by Auryn’s Facebook page on that day. I will send out a reminder on the 22nd to everyone who has signed up for my blog.

Share the love of reading with a child. Ignite their imagination.

Rachel looked like she was plucked from the 1940's. She had the perfect look for the vintage feel I was going for.

Rachel looked like she was plucked from the 1940’s. She had the perfect look for the vintage feel I was going for.

Ashley lived down the street from me. She was a delight and had no problem dropping everything to model for me.

Ashley lived down the street from me. She was a delight and had no problem dropping everything to model for me.

A detail of the original art. In it is a huge mistake I missed until a third grader pointed it out. During a school visit she asked me why the book cover was backwards. I couldn't believe that I hadn't noticed that. A clear case of missing the forest for the trees.

A detail of the original art. In it is a huge mistake I missed until a third grader pointed it out. During a school visit she asked me why the book cover was backwards. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed that. A clear case of missing the forest for the trees.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved

www.sueshanahan.com

Live From the Inside Out

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -Steve Jobs

Live fro the Inside Out

Live from the Inside Out

Live from the inside out. That’s my motto for the year. I have put the kibosh on following social convention and fulfilling other’s expectations. Living in a box of someone else’s making leaves little room for sharing your gifts with the world.

Over the years, I’ve learned to actually feel when my heart is speaking to me. It takes quieting the mind to discern the embedded whisper. Granted, many times I’ve ignored that guidance and gone into my brain. There is nothing like trying to reason your way to safety for a sense of false security. Being safe and being an artist do not go hand in hand.

I’m a firm believer that we are born to share our gifts with the world. The older I get the clearer it becomes that I’m just passing through this realm. That knowledge is what has brought me to the decision to take directions from within. Living from the inside feels risky until I consider the ticking clock. American author Erma Bombeck said,  “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”

Allegra was the perfect model for my illustration. Living from the inside out is something she was born doing.

Allegra was the perfect model for my illustration. Living from the inside out is something she was born doing.

Me too.

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