Contemplating the start of 100 Maps & 100 Hikes in 100 Days

I feel a push and pull to clean up the house and be productive or to just relax, be alone, be introspective, meditate. Relish in some peace and quiet.

The girls still need me, want me. Sophie is okay enjoying being back in her room after two weeks away but Lucy’s room is a mess and she’s whining that I should help her clean it up. I have my own art studio that needs cleaning, a mess because I dropped boxes there packed with all the crap from my office at the Zoo. In a week, it will have been a month since I left the Zoo. Crazy. Time to clean up and move on. But I don’t have the motivation. I know Scott is in the basement enjoying time to himself and I know I need that too.

And then I’m also faced with the strangest feeling that I have all the time in the world… ahead of me… without a job to drive to on Monday or a trip to prepare and pack for. Just this open-ended schedule filled with freedom. I’m going to do my best to embrace this feeling but for now it’s just very, very strange. Scarey? Maybe. The only thing I fear is laziness. As long as I create structure for myself that won’t happen.

Also, I need to work hard if I’m going to be successful. And I think what I need to do is define what success is. I’m starting to day dream about this new artsy lifestyle allowing me to travel – either on my own here and there in search of inspiration, as a family which will be limited because of Scott’s vacation time, or just me and the girls. I’m not talking about our world trip plans in a couple years – I’m talking about here and now, and in the next few years leading up to the trip. I want my art to support those dreams… that’s success to me. Right now it can only be dreams because we can’t afford that vagabond lifestyle. I need to be conscientious of our household budget. But if I make maps and if they start selling, one way or another, that could allow travel back in my life. That’s the whole point of this new freedom. I feel thirsty for adventure.

This IS a whole new adventure. I also feel overwhelmed by possibilities and by the open-endedness of it all. I am afraid that it might paralyze me. What a strange feeling.

Right now I deserve the quiet. It took every ounce of patience to spend just 3 days as a family in New York City in the peak of the summer heat and humidity. I am drained. I need to reset and get reenergized.

I know I’m putting a lot on myself but I am also so, so eager to get healthy again. To eat well, get fit, get outdoors, exercise daily. Do it. I know everything will become so much more clear once I do that.

I also wonder about doing the Artist’s Way again for some guidance and structure.

Or starting my 100 days of making 100 maps. Combine that with 100 days of no drinking and 100 hundred days of hiking (or 100 days of 10,000 steps). Hmmm, I just looked up that if I started on July 25, 2017 and did it for 100 days straight that would take me to November 1, 2017 right before my 41st birthday. Talk about a kickstart to this new life as an artist!

Should I do it? I have 3 days to decide. I love the idea of being so disciplined, of using this is as accountability to not be lazy and having complete faith that this 100 days project will lead to something! Something big.

It could work because we don’t have any big plans to go away between now and then. Commitment.

Why I Quit My Dream Job to Become a Professional Artist

A friend told me recently that when she tells others about me she says “Charlotte quit her dream job for her dream job.”

It’s true. Sort of. I just quit my job as a designer, photographer and art director at Denver Zoo to pursue being a professional artist. Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out.

The story of how I came to work at the zoo is one of vision, perseverance and serendipity. It’s a long story, a good one, but one for another blog post. Suffice it to say, when I started there, it was the closest I could get to my ultimate dream job. For six years, I was continuously challenged and I grew exponentially as a designer, photographer and leader. I got to work with the most amazing, talented and dedicated people and at any point, I could walk outside my office and be in the awe-inspiring presence of lions, tigers, polar bears, gorillas and hundreds of other species. More importantly, I was working for an organization whose mission lie in engaging guests, inspiring their connections with animals, and motivating them to take conservation actions. We worked towards improving the lives of animals on grounds and throughout the world. Since I was a young girl I loved animals. I felt a deep connection to them and I dreamed of working with them. My job at the zoo felt like a dream come true.

So why did I quit?

First of all, I’m going to put this out there to set the record straight – my ultimate dream job is to travel the world as a wildlife photographer. It never truly was working at a zoo; it isn’t really to be an artist; and being a web/graphic designer for the past 15 years was just a smart career choice and I am good at it. The idea of being an animal photographer is what drove me to the zoo in the first place.

My number one priority in life right now is being in a happy, loving supportive marriage and raising my daughters to give them a good childhood with a secure, solid foundation – something I didn’t have as a child. If I were to pursue my ultimate dream, I imagine I would be getting up and going on faraway adventures for weeks on end, leaving the girls with an absent mom, feeling abandoned – not to mention it taking a toll on my marriage. But, I’m not one to let go of my dreams just because I chose to be a mother. Just the opposite, actually. I want to teach my girls to follow their dreams and the best way to do that is to live by example. Being a zoo photographer, to me, was the closest I could get to being a wildlife photographer while still being able to take my girls to soccer and dance, volunteer at their school every now and then, throw amazing birthday parties, and build a loving mother/daughter bond. I did my best to do those things while I was working at the zoo, but it was not easy. Actually, it was really hard and stressful and that whole mother/daughter bond thing, well, I wasn’t so confident that I was succeeding.

The fact was we were a family with two full-time working parents and at the end of each day, we were exhausted. The kids were exhausted from the school day and then nearly three hours of aftercare in the school cafeteria. My husband and I both had long commutes. He came home drained after 45 minutes in traffic and then having to get dinner ready. I experienced stress having to rush back in time to get the girls to soccer practice on time. There was a lot of tension and one too many bottles of empty white wine in the recycling bin.

That was our day-to-day reality. So yeah, I was setting an example for my daughters to follow your dreams… but at what cost? True, I wasn’t off traveling the world but I also wasn’t being the present, calming, consistent force that I felt a mother should be.

So that was part of it. A big part of it.

And then there was this calling to be an artist and all these signs telling me “it is time.” 

IMG_6609
This graphic illustrates the plethora of influences and inspiration that I experienced pointing me to my calling as an artist.

Some of the primary reasons I left my job to be an artist were:

  • I turned 40.
  • I read Big Magic.
  • The 2016 presidential elections were a wake-up call. I started to understand the deeper meaning behind my world maps and felt the need to share them with the world.
  • I went through 6 months of therapy recalling childhood trauma and came out of it free of anger and resentment.
  • I got Best of Show in the Arts Brookfield Show.
  • I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Athena Project, an arts organization empowering women.

And… finally… my husband and I spent a lot of time and energy exploring what was possible financially and what was best for our family. I have always been the one in our relationship with lofty, ambitious, career-focused dreams – the over-achiever. Scott is grounded, smart, hard-working and not without his own dreams. His though, have always been based on family and living a good life, here and now. It was hard for him to understand why I would want to leave a job that I loved. He even said, “I don’t know how you can be hash-tagging #ilovemyjob one month and then wanting to quit the next.” So I shared with him everything I have just shared with you here and then he shared with me that ever since he met me and learned that I was creatively driven that he dreamed of some day supporting me as an artist. So now we both get to work towards our dreams.

Here’s to the start of new adventures – to finding success as an artist, to being the best mom and wife I can be, and to sharing this journey with you!

 

Middle-aged Moms getting Tats

My tattoo is done. Jackie and I met up at Ritual Tattoo in Denver. We both had appointments with the same artist, Jake, who was covered in tattoos all the way up his neck and onto the temples and sides of his face. He had a buzzed haircut, a big beard, bright blue eyes, shriveled and droopy earlobes from the gauges that weren’t currently in place, a gold-rimmed tooth and a nose ring or two. He was kind, meticulous, a self proclaimed germaphobe and not a big fan of feet. I apologized and mentioned that I had just come from getting a pedicure.

Jackie went first. She got a variation of the Om symbol on her forearm, which she insisted read ‘breathe’ in Tibetan script. It was in memory of her mom who died of a pulmonary issue in 2015. I took photos while she got hers done. She was silent and focused with the occasional leg move, scrunched brow or request to pause, I could tell the pain was hard for her to handle. It made me more nervous than I already was. Hers was done pretty quickly – about 15 minutes and it looked great.

When my turn came I decided I would do a guided meditation while he was working on my feet. I sat up while he did the little traced imprint to make sure we got the positioning of the words right. We had to do it three times until we both agreed it was perfect. Then I lied down on the massage table with my knees bent and my feet flat, I put in my ear buds and started the 29 minute meditation titled ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ by Dakota Earth Cloud Walker. I felt the pain, I did, like someone was inserting a scalpel into my skin and making a shallow incision – but I kept returning my attention to the woman’s guiding words in the mediation, the drums beating, the rhythmic breathing in the background, the imaginary world in my head, her instructions to enter the underground world through a portal at the base of a tree, to go down and meet my spirit guide. My attention would then be pulled back to my feet where I became aware of the pain again, but I quickly directed thoughts back to her voice – where I was led to a circular fire burning large, where I walked in the directions of a compass – East, South, West, North, I thought of the existing tattoo on my pinky toe and back to the pain, and then back to the center of the fire. I was surrounded by my spirit guides, this time a pack of wolves, circling and howling, there to support me. Left foot done – wander.

He had me turn around so the LED lamp could shine on my right foot. I closed my eyes and returned to the fire. Her words instructed me to find something I wanted to let go of, something that I was holding on to that was not serving me in this life. Let it go, let it go, let it go, she had me chanting silently. The idea of body issues popped into my head. I chose to let go of my ties to this earthly body. I reminded myself that I am more than this body, this vessel that happens to be experiencing extreme pain right now. I am more than this body that society constantly makes me feel isn’t good enough. Let go of body issues, remember that I am more than that… this body will turn to ashes some day not too long from now. That’s why I feel okay with this tattoo and why I understand the desire for others to cover themselves in art as a form of expression. We are more than these bodies that we inhabit. That’s what I let go of in the fire. Then I transformed into a phoenix with wings expanded, a large bird prepared to take flight, free.

I opened my eyes and looked at Jake knowing he was getting close to being done with the second tattoo – wonder. “Are you cool with me finishing my meditation even if you’re done. It shouldn’t be too long.”

“Sure. We can just let it bleed for a while.”

I had six minutes left of the meditation so I lay back down, back into my underworld… the drumming slowed. I was led back up to the upper world, back into the studio, I heard the voices of men discussing which tattoo they wanted. The pain was gone. Completely. I felt elated.

Jake did an amazing job even getting the distressed negative space in the typeface. The tattoo was exactly how I pictured it for 9 months. I love it.

Tattoo, Travel and Photography – on my way to a lifelong art project

It has been about 9 months since I came up with this idea. I can’t remember how it came about but I do remember thinking it would be fun. I also remember thinking, getting a tattoo is kind of permanent and it might be a good idea to sit on it, think about, decide if this is something I really want to do. Someone decided having a life growing inside of you should take about nine months, so my guess is that’s a good amount of time to allow an art project to simmer. And now, it’s time to give birth! Yay, tattoo appointment is this Sunday!

Here’s the tattoo turned art project idea. Best described in photos – see below. I am going to get my wander + wonder logo tattooed on my feet. Then while I spend the next 40 or 50 years traveling around the world, I’m going to take my shoes off everywhere I go and take a picture. As a tourist, you’re going to take photos. It’s just part of your job, but sometimes while you’re doing that, you forget to sit, look deeply, observe with awe the wonder before you. I’m guilty of that. For sure. Not any more. Now, I will be forced to literally sit, get down on the earth, stop and take it all in. Hmm, just had a thought, it’s offensive in some countries to point the bottom of your feet at people – I hope that’s not the case with scenery and sculptures. Oh well, sometimes offending people for your art is inevitable.

Here are some practice photos I did in Photoshop – my feet in Mexico and in the mountains.

wander_wonder_feet_tattoo

Here are some sketches of future photo compositions. Thanks to the sketchers on the internet from whom I borrowed their work. None of the artwork below is mine.feet_great-wallfeet_pyramidsfeet_statue-of-libertyfeet_taj-mahal

As an aside. I do already have one tattoo that I got on my pinky toe when I was seventeen. It’s a compass/north star which was supposed to represent direction (and travel) as I fledged the nest and flew out into the world.

I love how now, it will act as sort of an asterisk for the words wander + wonder and how together they speak to the way I want to live my life. I want to constantly be wandering, traveling, exploring, and wondering with infinite curiosity about the world, but I also want do so with a sense of direction. Sometimes I find it in myself, other times I am looking for guidance from a higher source — usually that higher source is speaking through me, I just have to be listening. It’s funny how I write as if this all some kind of desire, because really it’s not how I wish to live my life, it actually IS how I live my life. That is something to be proud of. Maybe the permanence of a tattoo will remind me of that.

wonder__wander_comapss_tattoo

 

 

When you’re not prepared to give a speech and you cry while doing it.

I wasn’t crying because I was scared or nervous. I was crying because I was truly moved. Did I really deserve all this attention? All this validation? Less than 2 months ago I made the decision that it was time to share my art with the world beginning by submitting four pieces to the Brookfield Arts Tenant Show in the Republic Plaza building in downtown Denver. Imagine my shock when I saw all four maps hanging front and center as you enter the building from 16th Street Mall (see photos to understand why I was so excited). Just that was enough recognition to last me a lifetime – hundreds if not thousands of people walk through that lobby every day! Winning ‘Best of Show’ was just gravy.

010203

At the opening reception 15 of my friends and family came to see my art, to see all the other wonderful submissions and ultimately to support me. We rolled in from an earlier after-work-happy-hour just in time for the start of the awards ceremony. We stood through numerous categories and ribbon presentations, honestly, ready for it to be over soon after it started. I admit that I leaned over and told a friend “this is going to be really embarrassing if I don’t win anything” — it wasn’t the most thrilling awards ceremony and I felt guilty that all my friends were having to sit through it, especially since all the free wine and food had run out. Until, of course, I won! And had to give a speech – eek!

0405

Andra Archer, the curator, had these kind words to say before handing me the microphone, “Creating a series of art that features the same subject while still having each piece stand alone in its uniqueness is the work of a true artist.” She said so much more but it’s all a blur. That statement stood out to me because she had just put to rest my biggest insecurity about my art. “I just make world maps,” my inner critic would say, “what’s so creative about that?” I LOVE making world maps. All I want to do is make world maps. So F-U, inner critic! Andra says that’s the work of a true artist! Seriously, though it was that statement that made me cry. Unfortunately, an artist putting her work out there for the first time, needs that encouragement and validation. At least just a little to keep on going.

“We all want to know what gave you the idea to make these maps?” Andra asked.

[Note: You are about to read the speech I did NOT give. Because I wasn’t prepared to give a speech so instead I cried and rambled on. If I had been prepared, maybe it would have sounded a little bit like this]:

I came up with the idea 12 years ago after I moved to Denver from Australia, soon after having met my husband on a plane. I was a traveler in my 20s and a student. I spent a decade traveling around the world, being ‘irresponsible’ in the eyes of the people back home. When I arrived in Denver, I moved in with Scott, I got my first 9-5 job as a web designer and became very ‘responsible’. I also experienced boredom for the first time – both at work and after work. In the past, as a student I always had a project I was procrastinating on; as a traveler my days were filled with exploring new cities, meeting people, speaking foreign languages, tasting new foods. It felt like I had never before experienced a moment of boredom.

In this new life, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got home from work every evening. My only options seemed to be going to a restaurant where I would inevitably eat and drink too much or else just sit and watch tv. I could exercise but I was too tired at the end of the day. I was coming to terms with the fact that it was going to be a while before I would travel again. Scott had just returned from a trip around the world when I met him and we were doing a lot of serious talk about marriage and children. It was time to settle down. But what about this boredom I was faced with; what about feeling that I had to stay true to myself, the vagabond who was now homebound? I was worried and Scott probably was too. I had an ex-boyfriend in Italy that told me, while breaking up, that “even if you were chained to the ground, still you would find a way to fly.” It sounds more poetic in Italian. He knew me so well. Maybe I just couldn’t take this new stable life and I’d wake up one day, pack my bags, and walk out the door saying “Sayonara, Scott.” Or “Adios, au revoir, ciao! I’m off to see the world, again.”

That’s when the idea of making art came to me. World maps to be specific. Studying art in college had turned me off from it, but that was because I was making art for other people – as assignments to impress and appease my feminist/gotta-be-controversial art school professors. Then, I was making art for all the wrong reasons. Now, I was truly inspired. I felt this need to create, not just to fill time, but because it was a way for me to fly while simultaneously choosing to settle and stay grounded (or in my ex-boyfriend’s words “chained to the ground”).

I suddenly saw this time at the end of the day as a gift. I could use it to make art. Making world maps would keep me connected to the rest of the world in some weird way, remind me of past travels and allow me to dream of places yet to visit. It would give me strict parameters which as an artist I needed. The empty canvas was way too intimidating. The fear of endless possibilities was paralyzing to me. But, I knew I was making world maps and that had meaning to me. Where my creativity could let loose was with what I chose to fill those world maps – old favorites like collages and doodles, new materials I had never worked with like burlap and rose petals. Travel taught me to have courage, to be continuously curious, to explore and to be open minded. Creating art allowed me to continue down that path and it let me do it in one place – actually, it required that I do it in one place because these maps are huge! Suddenly, settling down didn’t feel so scary.

So, put simply I started making these maps twelves years ago to satisfy the adventurer in me and to feel 100% confident saying yes when Scott asked me to marry him (on a plane, by the way). This is my first time exhibiting my art in 12 years! I’ve given some maps away to friends, done a few commissioned pieces but mostly they’ve just sat flat, piled atop one another, under my bed. The fact is that putting your art out there, putting yourself out there, is super scary. Honestly, I’m not sure what takes more courage committing to one person for the rest of your life or showing your art! That’s why I’m standing here in tears. Not because I’m scared, but because I am moved by Andra’s kind words reassuring me as an artist; I am overwhelmed by the love I feel from all the people who are here to support me tonight, including my husband; and I am truly honored to be presented with this award. Thank you.

0607

Why Art Sucks and Why I Want to Write

On Day 1 of my week-long, pre-Etsy Store Grand Opening/photo adventure/immerse-myself-in-art staycation, I visited the Denver Art Museum just before they closed for the day. With only 45 minutes to wander, I decided to stick to one temporary exhibit on Renaissance Art of Venice, Italy. Ugh. Religious art. Catholic religious art. I went there looking for inspiration and all I got were a bunch of saints, Virgin Mary’s and Jesus’s suffering on the cross. I did appreciate that they were 500 years old – that’s kind of amazing. Imagine what was happening in Denver 500 years ago – no one was adorning grandiose cathedrals with humongous canvases covered in gold. Also, I liked the colors (lots of vibrant yet natural colors and all that gold) and some of the minute details like animals in the background and the way folds of cloth were represented, but it wasn’t the art that made me enjoy the experience. I enjoyed being taken back in time, walking around, feeling like I did when I was younger, wandering around the museums of Europe. The volunteer even made me wear my backpack in my front so I didn’t knock down any art with it on my back – I had to roll my eyes because really that was pretty unlikely – but in the end it helped bring me back to my backpacking days, when I walked around a foreign city with my big backpack on my back and my day pack on my front. It’s the little things that make you nostalgic for those traveling days – like boring religious art and wearing a frontpack.

I’ve always found art kind of confusing. When I was 18, during that 2-month solo trip around Europe, I visited a ton of art museums: the Louvre in Paris, the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, the Musée de Petit Palais – Museum of Modern Art in Geneva, the Joan Miro Museum and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Museo del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid! I actually forgot I had visited so many – I had to go back and look at an old scrap book to look up that list. What I do remember is walking away from that trip thinking – I don’t really ‘get’ art. Which is ironic since I eventually went on to study art in college. Maybe I was trying to ‘get it.’ I don’t think I ever really learned to get art in college, but what I did learn is that I am fascinated with the lives of artists! When I started reading about the lives of Toulouse Lautrec, Georgia O’keefe, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jackson Pollock, Vermeer, Van Gogh, suddenly I felt I ‘got’ their art better – I gained a new appreciation for it.

On a side note, art school left me sort of pissed off with the art world. I did love art history, I mean I LOVED art history. All those boring religious paintings made a lot more sense when you got to know about the times in which they were made. But when it came to classes where I actually had to make art, I was taught that everything had to have meaning, or make a statement or be completely original – like a urinal being presented as art. I was being challenged to think like a modern artist and I did not like it. Curse you Marcel DuChamp! So after college, I stopped making art. And it took The Artist’s Way, ten years later to help me combat the voices of those inner critics and annoying professors. That book helped me understand why we make art, why we MUST make art. That making art is a spiritual venture.

SHARING MY WRITING
That whole intro was written to say, there isn’t much to ‘get’ about my art. I make world maps and I love doing it. I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and I copy a lot of what I see. I don’t consider what I do ‘fine art’ and my grand vision is to see my maps hanging as posters in thousands of college dorm rooms. I have a lot more to say about my process of making maps, about the things that inspire me and the reason I’m obsessed with world maps – but I’ll save that for future blogs. Suffice it to say, this year I want to push myself to SHARE my writing (remember that’s my word for 2017) so that you all can get to know me better and hopefully gain a better appreciation for my art. It’s like if Bellini, Giorgione and Titian had had blogs in 15th century Italy, I probably would have enjoyed my visit to the art museum tenfold.

My Word for 2017 is SHARE

I love this idea of choosing a word at the beginning of the year that will motivate and guide you throughout the year. My word for 2017 is SHARE.

I will share my art, my writing, and myself. It is scary but it is time. I came up with the idea of making Wander + Wonder World Maps over 12 years ago. I had recently moved to Colorado from Australia and I was in a job that I didn’t find creatively inspiring. I also was pretty sure I had met the man of my dreams and figured it was time to settle down and stop being such a vagabond. This is a journal entry from November 2004 when the idea first came to me:
journal-entry_nov2004

Twelve years is a long time. Since then, I have given a few maps away to friends, I have been commissioned to make a couple and I have decorated my home with them but mostly they just sat flat underneath the bed in our guest room, for years.

SHARING MY ART
I was thinking of opening an Etsy store but I was scared. I went to my therapist, Melanie, with my fears of being egotistical and selfish for wanting to sell my art and having this desire to put myself out there.

“Charlotte, what if instead of feeling like you are being selfish by sharing your art, you consider the fact that you are being selfish if you don’t. What if the world needs your art right now… especially now.” This was a month after the elections and it was clear that she was alluding to the sense of dread that had recently washed over half of the American population. She helped me meditate on this idea that the world needs my art now. Melanie guides me through short meditations in our sessions and that is where the magic happens. I closed my eyes and felt lightness in my body, the evidence I needed to know she was right. It is time.

Of course that two minute meditation didn’t instantly rid me of fear and trepidation. That has taken about six weeks with the additional help of a very special book.

Around the same time I met with Melanie, I started reading The Artist’s Way. Have you heard of The Artist’s Way?! If you are a creative type (or not), if you have even a sliver of spirituality floating within you (or stand strong in your beliefs), if you love the idea of serendipity (what I call magic), or if you’ve ever wanted to figure out what your true calling is… read The Artist’s Way. But be prepared, it’s not just a book, it’s a 12-week program that has the potential to change your life. I read it ten years ago and it motivated me to push myself to make more art. I’m reading it again and this time it has allowed me to let go of all fear when it comes to selling my art.

I’m ready. I’m doing this. I’ve decided to open my Etsy store on 01.17.17. I don’t know if that’s an auspicious date but it looks like one so I’m going with it and that gives me exactly a week to get it together and do what I need to do to make this happen!

In order to do that, I am gifting myself a week off work to make art, to have adventures, to meet with other artists, to write, to wander and to wonder. And guess what?! I am SHARING it all with YOU. Because, after all, my word for this year is SHARE. I will be blogging daily until my store is open and posting to Instagram and Facebook.

Here is the first photo to start the week off on a happy note…

happy-tag

Stay tuned for more on Sharing My Writing and Sharing Myself.