Creativity Retreat & My Nine Symbols

Last week I had my team over for a little creativity retreat. We had had a couple hours of craft time in the past but this was our first time making a day of it. We had a great time. We went to a Creative Mornings Denver talk (these happen monthly and are free to people in creative fields), then went out to brunch and then came to my house for a quick overview about what I learned in a recent leadership training and then craft time! Brittney tried embroidery for the first time ever and Mandy made a beautiful beaded bracelet.

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I decided to draw my 9 ‘personal symbols’ on little river stones (that I will eventually glue into a little shadow box). It was an idea that I got from listening to the Happier podcast – which is a new one I started listening to by the woman who wrote The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben. I am really enjoying the podcast. And loved this idea for your own personal symbols (inspired by the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism). Here are what I chose to represent myself:

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Dove in flight with olive branch
I love birds. I have images of them throughout my house. This choice of decor was not a conscious one, it just started happening over the years of decorating my house. To me birds represent freedom and flight. I also love the dove with an olive branch as a symbol of peace. In my youth and in my twenties I was idealistic and dreamt of peace on earth. Now, middle-aged, I understand that that is a far-fetched idea and I recognize that the best I can do is find peace in myself; foster peace in my family; and cherish it in my friendships.

World Map
Well, duh, anyone who knows me knows this is an obvious one. It has been the focus of my art for over a decade and for the decade before that I spent years traveling around the world… visiting or living in all the continents except Antarctica (still on my list). I had traveled to 30 countries before the age of 30 and lived in 7 of them. To me the image of a world map, represented without political boundaries, is a reminder that we are all connected, the world is one. They represent my love of travel as well as my calling to make art, but also humanity and this shared world that we all call home.

Elephant
Symbolizing my love and adoration of animals. I have always loved them since I was a child. My bedroom was a menagerie filled at various times with cats, birds, snakes, turtles, frogs, hamsters, Guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, lizards and fish. In elementary school I thought I wanted to be a vet, in middle school a marine biologist and by college I thought I’d become an animal behaviorist. I veared in a different direction once I decided to honor the artist and designer in me but then came back around, and was able to combine animals and design, when I got my job at Denver Zoo five years ago. I feel that animals have a lot to teach us, especially elephants and other species that have a certain untapped wisdom like wolves, killer whales, great apes and even ravens. Having animals in my life, especially during a not so idyllic childhood, offered me companionship that I didn’t otherwise have. Having pets, even as an adult, has taught me what it feels like to love and to experience unconditional love.

‘W’
I like the idea of using a letter that is an obvious serif typeface to represent graphic design, since that is my profession. But also ‘w’ stands for so many things – wander and wonder (I am happiest when I am following this motto for myself); www (world wide web and my profession as a web designer for the last 20 years); also ‘w’ stands for wife which is a big part of my identity.

Om symbol
This is the one symbol I chose to represent yoga, meditation, and my love of Eastern spiritual ideals. I am not a religious person but I am spiritual and I believe in the power one can find within oneself by finding calm, being centered and focused, using visualization and positive thinking. I believe in the idea of being in the present moment even if I find it to be a constant challenge. Having yoga and meditation in my life help with that. I believe in the connection between mind and body. I believe that we are all connected and that we have a higher purpose during our time on Earth.

Tree
This tree encompasses the idea of nature, growth and creation. Nature is where I feel most spiritually connected to something bigger. Nature is my religion. I grew up on an island and have now settled in the mountains. Through my travels I have experienced extraordinary spectacles of nature – deserts, waterfalls, rainforests, glaciers, rivers and grasslands. No matter what my environment I stand in awe of my surroundings – the vastness and power of the ocean or the strength and presence of mountains. I also love to stop and look down to inspect the minute miracles of nature – buds on trees, wild flowers, tiny insects, nests and broken egg shells. This tree, for me, also represents growth and regrowth. I want to always be growing as a person, to continuously learn and improve. In the same way that a tree cycles through the seasons so do we during the course of our lifetimes. We have ups and downs, valleys and peaks, and when those darker moments present themselves it is important to remember we will come into the light stronger and changed, hopefully more wise and truer to ourselves.

Compass/North Star
This is the one tattoo I have on the pinky toe of my right foot – which in and of itself represents my rebellious side (but not too rebellious). I got it when I was 17 in someone’s basement – in 1994 when tattoos weren’t so mainstream. I gave it a lot of thought before getting it. Even at that age, thanks to my European parents, I had a passion for travel. I came up with this symbol because it was meant to look like a compass – North, East, South, West and like a representation of the North Star both of which meant direction and guidance. As a young person about to enter the world, eager for independence, I felt that direction and guidance would come from trusting my intuition, being true to myself and facing the world ahead with courage. Those ideals have always stuck with me as has my little pinky toe tattoo.

Camera
When did I fall in love with photography? I learned how to develop photos in a darkroom when I was 16, my dad gave me my first SLR camera at 17 and I traveled to East Africa at 18. It was an early introduction to some of the most magnificent wildlife and landscape photography the world had to offer. I fell in love. In college, I took a broad array of art classes but mainly focused on photography – at times spending 10 or 12 hours in the darkroom without even taking a break to eat. Those days I used photography as a form of self-discovery. Years later, I traveled the world taking photos, obsessed with capturing moments and memories. When I eventually settled down in one place, I made a point to work somewhere where photography was part of my profession. At Denver Zoo, I am the Design & Interactive Manager, leading our design team, but I am also the staff photographer. I love the connection I feel with the animals when I am photographing them, following their every movement, waiting for that glint in their eye that tells me there’s a soul in there. By sharing these photos of our animals with our guests through our marketing efforts, my hope is that they too experience that connection and sense of awe. In the future, I’d like to travel and photograph animals around the world in their natural environments. Today, I get to do the next best thing. Which actually works better for our family – my kids would miss me too much if I were constantly up and going on photographic adventures.

Greek symbol for Motherhood
This one was an obvious one it was just hard to know what symbol to use. I found this Greek symbol of motherhood and liked it because when you are a mother, your children are intertwined with you. It is inevitable that they become part of your identity, even if that was hard to accept for me at first. Motherhood is the ultimate symbol of creation. How do you even begin to write about bringing life into this world. I can’t, so I won’t. I will say that my daughters have taught me how to love, how to nurture, how to surrender and have forced me to be a whole lot less selfish. I won’t lie, it was really hard for me to be so needed when they were really little; nurturing didn’t come naturally to me. I was filled with guilt, inadequacy and a small sense of failure. I am grateful that numerous sessions of therapy have helped me come out the other end and now I am proud of the mother that I have become. I am there for my children and I am doing my best, along with my husband, to raise kind, curious and happy daughters.

Bonus to this exercise is that I shared it with Sophie, my 8 year old, and she spent a couple hours the following day trying to define her own personal symbols which included: Energy (being active), Yin Yang, Family, Never Give Up (infinity symbol), Friendship, Chinese symbol for tiger (to symbolize animals), Japanese symbol for water, Japanese symbol for earth, symbol for Bravery. Some of them stood for who she is and things she loves – a few others, I think, she chose just because they seemed ‘cool.’ Here are her drawings:fullsizerender

 

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