The Magic of Creativity

Snuggle Bunny

“Listen to the music inside. Can’t you hear what it says to you?” – Van Morrison

As an artist, I try to honor the muse that guides me. Over time, I’ve gotten better at paying attention and following its lead. Years before I was a grandmother, an idea took residence in my heart. I could clearly see a blue-eyed, blond haired baby, around six months old, being hugged by his mama. Around them were written the words, “Snuggle bunny, you’re my honey.” I neatly folded and tucked this concept away to be brought to life when I had a grandchild.

I became a grandmother for the first time in the spring of 2014. Shortly after my son, Brian, and his wife, Pam, announced they were having a boy, I began my search for the perfect bunny outfit for him to wear in my “Snuggle Bunny” illustration. One thing was certain, I did not want my grandson wearing a costume in which he could be mistaken for a girl. After combing the internet, I came across a darling grey, hooded sweater with bunny ears. Perfect. I was all set to photograph my grandbaby wearing it when the time was right. Now all I had to do was be patient and let the rest of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Cameron John Shanahan was welcomed into the world on April 8th. I was over the moon for him. I couldn’t wait for my grandson to be six months old so I could draw him as my “Snuggle Bunny.”

When Cam was around three months old, Pam sent me the most endearing selfie she had taken of them together. In it there was something so enchanting about the look of wonder on my grandchild’s face. They reminded me of sea creatures looking through a porthole. Because Pam is enamored with the ocean, I had envisioned painting a watercolor of her and Cam as mermaids, but not until he was a toddler. Seeing that selfie changed all of that. Bam, my creative juices were flowing now! I began working on a mermaid portrait based on that image. It would be the perfect Christmas present for their little family.

Pam and Cam selfie

Pam and Cam selfie

Meanwhile, on November 17th, our oldest son, Rob, and his wife, Emily, gave birth to our second grandchild, Logan James. My husband and I were overwhelmed with joy. I couldn’t wait to capture our newest grandchild’s essence in a painting. I was certain the perfect scenario to place him in would be revealed after I got to know him.

Humming in the background, was my quest to get the perfect picture of Cameron in the rabbit sweater. He was already past the age I had envisioned for the baby in my bunny illustration. One day in December, I asked his mom to bring the bunny sweater over with Cameron, so I could photograph him in it. I had decided to move forward without having her in the illustration, as she had already been included in the mermaid portrait with her little guy. At one point, I thought that maybe Logan was the baby I’d seen in my mind’s eye, but quickly dismissed the thought. No, I had bought the sweater for Cam before he was even born. I felt bound to my original plan.

After Cameron arrived, I began trying to make him smile for the camera, but he would have none of it. He sat stone-faced as I tried to make him laugh. I gave up. Letting go of my inflexibility opened the door for Logan to come through. I came to the realization that he was the baby I had envisioned all along. With his blue eyes, blond hair and chubbiness, he was the snuggle bunny I had visualized!


Cameron being very unsmiley indeed.

I immediately began making plans to photograph Logan with his mom when he was six months old. I pictured the background of the painting being a wash of yellow— sunny like Logan and Emily. I would ask his mother to wear blue to match Logan’s eyes. Relaxing my grip allowed for the realization that the sweater had to go too. Instead, I found the softest, plushest, bunny-eared bath blanket to wrap Logan’s chubbiness in. I began to “see” him with a carrot rattle in his hand. I googled “carrot rattles” and to my surprise, I easily found one. Finally getting the concept on paper was a full-circle moment for me. The image was a gift that had been given to me to pass on to my son and his family. As I type this, “Snuggle Bunny” is getting matted and framed. It will be wrapped and placed under our tree to be opened by Rob and Emily on Christmas morning. Shhhhhh.

The two photos I taped together to base my art on.

The two photos I taped together to base my portrait on.

“I am not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” – Ray Bradbury

I continue to be in awe of the creative process. Bringing forth art works best when I don’t try to force it, but get quiet and listen. The muse always makes its wishes known. Step by step, following its directions never disappoints. Creating a masterpiece from thin air is a simple process. It’s all in the allowing.

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

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.

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Trust Your Inner Compass

Come on Buddy (2)

Always a seeker, my journey has now taken me in the direction of unraveling my self talk. By that I mean the voice in my head that is hell bent on me being a “good girl.” It’s the voice that shames, cajoles and judges everything I do. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve heard it said that when we are born our consciousness is like an unsullied computer. As life goes on program after program is downloaded onto our hard drives. Where do the programs come from? Our parents, the Church and the media, to name a few. All of these externals indoctrinate us with who to be and what to do. Without healthy, supportive parents (which I was not privy to) it’s nearly impossible to trust your inner voice. I have lived much of my life going into my head to reason away what I know to be true deep inside.

“And always let your conscience be your guide.” -Jiminy Cricket

When I was in grade school, I loved the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio. In a song from it, “Give a Little Whistle,” Jiminy Cricket sang to Pinocchio to always let his conscience be his guide. The tune was catchy and gave grown ups the perfect opportunity to drum into us the importance of listening to our inner selves. The problem with that was our “conscience” had little to do with who we really were. It was located outside of ourselves in the rules and expectations of the adults who were trying to mold us.

Today, I am am learning to live by the dictionary’s definition of conscience, “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” Contrary to what I was taught my conscience isn’t located in church dogma, family rules or societal standards. My conscience resides in my heart.

When people of my generation were born, we were dangled upside down and slapped on our bottoms to force us to breathe. Today we know that’s unnecessary. Taking our first breath is built into us. We do it automatically. I think the rest of our lives work that way, too. As adults, we don’t need outside forces directing our path. By allowing ourselves to trust our intuition, step by step, we will be shown the way. For children, living like this is second nature. Of course, as they are raised they still need to be guided and protected while paying heed to their individuality.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” -Alan Alda

When I heard that Siena, the little girl in the above art, took her brother, Rhett, by the hand and said, “Come on buddy. Let’s go see the rest of the world” I thought, I want to be like her. Spontaneous. Free. I immediately set plans to illustrate the scene. As I worked on my watercolor, it dawned on me (as so often happens) that my need to paint the image was my way of working out more of my life lessons. As I put the finishing touches on the piece, I realized that I had successfully replaced some of the corrupted applications downloaded in my youth. And what would be the names of the new programs? Trust Yourself, Approach Life with Wonder, and It’s Safe to Explore. And so it is.

The real Siena with her mom Erika and her brother, Rhett (holding his favorite rock.)

The real Siena with her mom Erika and her brother, Rhett (holding his favorite rock.)

*Click here to buy a signed print of the art in this post.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Hope in the New Year

The pears in the drawing symbolize hope. The mocking bird is not only from Oprah’s favorite book, "To Kill a Mockingbird" but is the official State Bird of Mississippi.

The pears in the drawing symbolize hope. The mocking bird is not only from Oprah’s favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” but is the official State Bird of Mississippi.

“Hope makes the impossible possible.” – Lorna Byrne
In 2001, I drew the above portrait after a gloomy period of questioning my career as an artist. My slow progress made me wonder if what I had envisioned for myself was nothing more than a fantasy. My discouragement dissipated after turning on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I was reminded that any obstacle I faced was minuscule in comparison to what she had been born into. She is black, female and perhaps the worst sin of all, ample in size. Yet none of this has stood in her way of  becoming one of the most influential women in the world. Yes, Oprah’s life clearly shows anything is possible. There is much to hope for.
Born in rural Mississippi to an unwed mother, Oprah was left to be raised by her grandmother, Hattie Mae. Oprah remembers at age four, standing on the back porch churning butter. Her grandmother, called to her as she hung cloths on the line, “Oprah Gail, you better watch me now, ’cause one day you gon’ have to know how to do this for yourself.” But hope had already made a nest in Oprah’s soul. She refused to accept her grandmother’s vision for her future. She knew deep inside her life would be more than hanging clothes on a line.
Growing up, I think the same thing that perched in Oprah’s soul breathed in mine too. Looking back I remember cultivating hope as a kid by saving my drawings for biographers who would one day write about my life as an artist. Then, as a teenager, I wrote to Norman Rockwell for advice on how to become an illustrator. The encouragement in his response confirmed that my dreams where indeed possible. Hope is the tiny spark of light barely seen that pulls us forward. Without its flicker, I never would have taken the initiative to save my art or contact my hero.
2014 is going to be a good year. It’s the year for reaping what we’ve so patiently sown. It’s the year when our long-held dreams will be brought to fruition. No matter where we stand, we can see the glimmer of a better day. How do I know all this? Because 2014 is the year of hope. It’s time to fan that flame.
The painting for a Mother’s Day card I made when I was eight.

A painting for a Mother’s Day card I saved for my biographer when I was eight.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.