Painting with Abandon

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“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon.” – Patti Smith

Last month I finished up the second of two very detailed portrait commissions. I’d been working on them since before the first of the year. In my artistic process, I lay down a wash of watercolor on paper and then alternate layers of colored pencil and paint until I feel like the image is totally in focus. I end up with stunning results, but I was beginning to avoid my drawing table and had to figure out why.  After some reflection, I realized that my painting style had become so tedious I was beginning to resist it. I had to figure out a way too work faster. I was ready to create something for fun.

I determined I needed to let go of my perfectionism and decided to explore only using watercolor in my next piece. In a very real way, that medium can’t be controlled. Trying to rework a watercolor can be the ruin of it. You have to work fast knowing that you can’t always direct the pigment’s course.

“The making of art is no different than prayer “- Rainn Wilson

The above image is the result of my “painting with abandon experiment.” It’s based on the daughter of an artist I know. I purposely worked from photographs of poor quality, so that I wouldn’t be able to labor over the details. I was forcing myself to fill in the blanks with my imagination. In my watercolor, I began by painting the night sky. I loaded my brush with water and soaked the paper. Next, I laid down the color and watched it flow and pool. Then I sprinkled salt on the wet pigment, so it would crystallized and texture the sky. I loved how the watercolor paints had a life of their own. I was exhilarated with the results. I knew something higher was painting through me. I could feel the presence of the Divine.

I remember painting like this as a child. The joy of expectancy that I felt back then was akin to prayer. It was the physical act of “letting go and letting God.” I was never certain what I was going to end up with, but I knew it was going to be good.

I decided to call my painting, “Dancing with the Moon,” because of the magic I found in painting my subject without restraint. I have to admit that I ended up using some colored pencil to refine the details on the image. Even so, the painting took only four days to complete, verses the six weeks my last piece did.

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” – Vincent Van Gogh

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Last week my niece, Andi, and I visited the Chicago Art Institute to see the Van Gogh exhibit. The experience filled our artist souls and reminded me of how I used to paint with vibrant colors. In my early twenties, I poured over Van Gogh’s paintings in my huge coffee table book that cataloged his works. My eyes drank in the vivid pigments he used. I began painting with bold complimentary colors like he had learned to. Over the years, my devotion to color was lost in my pursuit of mastering the minutia of realism. I wondered if my decision to paint with less restraint meant that all those years I had spent on meticulous detail were a waste of time? Andi looked at me and said, “I think you had to perfect your technique before you could be loose with it. You couldn’t have the latter without the former.”

Her words reminded me that we are always on course. Our best efforts are never wasted on God’s good, green Earth. And now it was time for me to begin painting with abandon, in brilliant color…

She Was the Moon and Stars to Me 1

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

Five Ways to Step into Freedom

“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key ” ~ Already Gone, The Eagles

My family of origin wasn’t the healthiest. My dad, an alcoholic, was married to my mom a beautiful, spoiled woman with narcissistic tendencies. Being raised by that pair was not the optimal foundation for a healthy life. For as long as I can remember, I felt shame about who I was. But buried inside all the emotional abuse I suffered was a gift. That gift was the belief that there was something wrong with me. That conviction is what lead me to seek help. Years of unraveling through self-examination and therapy gave me so much insight. They left me knowing who I was and what I wanted, but I was still afraid to live it. My parents where no longer the key holders of my prison of living small. I was.

Many of us let outside circumstances define us and have dumbed ourselves down in an effort to keep ourselves safe. If you’re ready for more than just surviving life, below are five tips to help you to begin to move forward and live free.

1) The first step to being fully alive is the recognition that you are the one holding yourself back. This is the cornerstone for all the other steps. When you get that at a deep level, you can decide your path to freedom. Whether it’s therapy, a twelve step group or the support of good friends, use the resources that are available.

2)  There is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, “acting as if.” Visualize what it would feel and look like to not hold yourself back. In the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer, “You’ll see it when you believe it.” Then visualize a self-aware confident you throughout the day and before you go to sleep at night.

3) Practice not playing small in one area of your life at a time. One place I really held myself back was in my writing. When I made a pact to speak my truth in my blog, I did that one post at a time. I was surprised and touched that so many readers related with the real me. That helped me to extend speaking my truth in other areas of my life. The thought of living your authentic self in every aspect of your life, all at once, can be overwhelming. Baby steps feel safe and build confidence.

4) Don’t use the words like he, she, it, or they coupled with the phrase, “…made me feel a certain way.” Switch it to, “I allowed them to make me feel that way.” For example change, “She makes me feel bad about myself” to “I allowed her to make me feel bad about myself.” That comes from a place of power not victimhood. After all, we do have choices. When you live as a victim, you’re helping yourself to stay stuck.

5) Get strength from a power greater than yourself. I seriously don’t believe I could have moved past my self-defeating behaviors without that kind of help. Call it grace, or call it God, there is a force for good that can be summoned. Ask.

“The power you give others belongs to you. Take it back and take yourself where you would go.” ~ Alan Cohen

Liberating yourself is empowering but also can bring up some fear. Don’t let it turn you around. It’s just the frightened child surfacing, trying to keep you safe. Taking directions from fear may have actually kept you from harm at one time, but it’s now outlived its usefulness. To break the pattern, observe your feelings but don’t give them any credence. Simply let them pass through you. You are a grown-up now and have the right to experience life to the fullest. By holding yourself back, you deprive the world of an irreplaceable gift….you.

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

12 Ways to Help Remove the Barriers to Self-Love

Bloom

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“Treat yourself as if you were someone inexpressibly dear to you” – Tweeted by Agapi Stassinopoulos 

Do you live with the chatter of a critical voice in your mind? You know the voice I’m talking about. It drones on in the background scolding your every move. It finds fault with how you look, how you feel and who you are. Like a weed, it wraps around your heart and hinders your growth. I have tried to stop that voice by focusing on it, analyzing its origins, and reasoning it away. The harder I pushed the stronger a hold it had on me until one day I realized the truth about it. The “voice of rebuke” was only trying to keep me safe. At some level, I believed I wasn’t good enough and had to be monitored. I thought fitting into the standards of the world was the only way I would be lovable.

I was born innocent. We all are. We come to this planet unsullied, delighting in ourselves. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for many of us to lose our way. We turn in self-love for self-loathing. There are many reasons why our perception becomes so skewed. In part, my roadblocks to self-love formed in response to my disapproving mother. An unhappy woman, she pointed out my “wrongness” to me on a daily basis. I carried those beliefs with me into my adulthood. I struggled for years to overcome them until one day I decided to get over it and get on with it. I resolved to set my old way of thinking down and love myself. I found that I could not get of rid my self-contempt by force of will. But it did lose it’s grip and disappear on its own by my living as if I did love myself. If you don’t have what it takes to do that, ask the Universe for help and try the suggestions below.

1) Pay attention to how you speak to yourself. Do you belittle yourself? When I grasped that I had allowed my mother’s voice to live on in my head I quieted it by shifting my focus to thoughts of encouragement and self-appreciation.

2) Take care of yourself physically When I felt under the weather I used to just push through it. If I was too ill to do that, I would beat myself up for being “lazy.” Today I make sure I get enough rest and nourish my body. I’m amazed by how much better l feel when I treat myself like I matter.

3) Do I schedule fun into my life? It seems silly to have to find time for this but people who are hard on themselves rarely prioritize fun. Joy and laughter heal and are important facets of self-love.

4) Am I critical of others? I’ve learned that if I’m hard on others I use the same standard of judgement on myself. The reverse is also true. The more accepting I am of another’s humanity, the more I accepting of my own.

5) Do I forgive others? This can be hard, especially when deliberately cruel behavior is involved. Learning to let go of resentments became a necessity when I realized I hold myself to the same standard as I do others. The easiest way for me to forgive a misdeed is to look at the situation from a higher vantage point. When I see the big picture it’s easier to recognize that most folks are doing all they’re capable of. Even when their actions are directed at me it’s still not personal. Having that mindset doesn’t necessarily mean I spend time with unkind people. Staying out of harm’s way is an aspect of self-love.

6) Do I trust my inner guidance? Trusting your perception is a big way to affirm yourself. Honor your “inner knowing” by being mindful of it. Using the phrase “I should”  is a red flag that means you’re not listening to your heart but trying to fit into someone else’s mold.

7) Mirror work Louise Hay is famous for sharing her “mirror work” technique with the world. Through it people have leaned to love themselves by making a practice of holding a mirror, lookIng into their eyes and affirming, “I love you. I really love you.”  Try it. It works.

8) Learn to accept the love of others. This suggestion is simple but not easy because we’ve been conditioned to believe if we love ourselves we’re conceited. When someone pays you a complement, or gives you a gift, be a gracious receiver. Simply say, “Thank you.”

9) Go where you are valued. Allowing yourself to be disrespected, even in subtle ways, fuels feelings of not being good enough.

10) Write down five things a day that you appreciate about yourself.  They can be a accomplishments, setting a boundary or even how cute your hair looks. Anything positive about yourself is worth including.

11) Don’t suppress your emotions. When you push down your emotions you are in part rejecting yourself. Allow your feelings to surface and flow through you. The more you accept them, the quicker they will pass.

12) Ask yourself, “What would I want someone I love to do in this situation? And then do that.

………………………………….

I in no way mean to imply that I’ve mastered the above list. Sometimes I do fall back into my old ways, but I don’t stay there for long. As soon as I catch myself slipping I shift my focus to the tools above.

I’ve found the more I love myself, the more I allow good things to come to me. Today, instead of trying to make my goals materialize, I just I work on loving myself. Somehow this makes fertile ground for my dreams to bloom in ways I couldn’t have imagined. “Love is the miracle cure and when you are willing to love yourself every area of your life works out better,” explains Louise. This certainly has held true in my life. Isn’t it worth a try in yours?

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

Let Freedom Ring for All

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“America did not invent human rights.  Human rights invented America.” – Jimmy Carter

When the founders of our nation landed on the shores of Cape Cod, it was with the pursuit of religious freedom. All the other truths we’ve fought for since that time, stemmed from this same quest. The belief that no one has the right to define God or how we worship, has opened the door for an all-inclusive loving God to walk through. With no religious dogma, no one is excluded. We are free to be who we are.  In 1955, Rosa Parks claimed that freedom when she refused to move to the back of the bus and began the Civil Rights movement. Eunice Shriver was certain of it when she fought for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and helped form the Special Olympics.  In June 2015 gay couples felt it when the Supreme Court legalized same sex-marriage across the country, giving them the identical federal rights as heterosexual couples. It doesn’t matter what we look like, if we are handicapped, or who we love, we are all welcomed into the fold. The Creator delights in us exactly as we are. And why shouldn’t he? We are his handiwork.

I am deeply grateful to be born in the land of liberty. Our freedom is sacred and worth defending. July 4th is a day to celebrate this gift and remember all who have fought and died for it. As fireworks light up the sky, we watch with hands over our hearts, in awe of our servicemen and women. Without them our independence would not exist.

“The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man. The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should become.” – Ronald Reagan

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

American Hope

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“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.

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

Mokena honors Aaron Toppen

Mokena welcomes Aaron home.

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

 

Let Freedom Ring

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  – The Declaration of Independence

When the founders of our nation landed on the shores of Cape Cod, it was with the pursuit of religious freedom. All the other truths we’ve fought for since that time, stemmed from this same quest. The thought that no one has the right to define God or how we worship, opened the door for an all-inclusive loving God to walk through. With no religious dogma, no one is excluded. We are free to be who we are. In 1955, Rosa Parks knew that when she refused to move to the back of the bus and began the Civil Rights movement. Last week Edith Windsor knew it when the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, giving gay and lesbian marriages the same federal rights as heterosexual couples. No matter what race, sex, size or disabilities we have, we are all welcomed into the fold. It doesn’t matter how we worship or who we love, the Creator delights in us exactly as we are. And why wouldn’t he? We are his handiwork.

I am deeply grateful to be born in the land of liberty. Our freedom is sacred and worth defending. July 4th is a day to celebrate this gift and remember all who have fought and died for it.  As we watch fireworks light up the sky, with hands over our hearts, to our servicemen and women we stand in awe.

“America did not invent human rights. Human rights invented America.” – Jimmy Carter

This is one of the photos I based Let Freedom Ring on. I was moved to create it after the World Trade Centers were destroyed.

This is one of the photos I based my illustration, “Let Freedom Ring” on. I was moved to create it after the World Trade Centers were destroyed.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

 www.sueshanahan.com