Value of Silence- Summer Art Camp reflections.

Silence gives answers ~ Rumi Reflecting on my 5th annual summer art camp where I had the joy of spending a creative week with a group of young art students.  I am thankful for their young energy.   They are PRESENT, … Continue reading

Wow! She went brave!

“Trust that little voice in your head that says “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…” And then do it.” ~Duane Michals

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The idea of having an outdoor Art show in Calgary, AB, Canada seems crazy.  However, the seed was planted 2 years ago and the possibilities of having a show in this space did not go away.  It was the magic of the garden and the joy and kindness of Mary, the host and owner of a historical home that made it feel like my next best step.

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Almost exactly 1 year ago, I was brave enough to follow up on an offer of a lifetime.  Mary began to show up to a few of my art events and it was a sign to not hesitate and “Ask for what you want!”  To my amazement, Mary agreed and she also noted, “What took you so long?”…

Almost exactly a year ago we set a date for the art show, Jun 17/17.
I began to paint and pray to mother nature to please cooperate with the weather.
The weekend before it poured rain all day, the weekend after we had our usual Calgary June storm.  The day of the event the sun came out and answered my prayers, a perfect day for a garden party.

DSC_5365HOPE 6X6 Oil on Canvas

Once the date was set, I began to paint with focus and a goal.  To keep myself grounded I decided to paint a bird a day, as a meditative practice.  HOPE was my first bird.  She made me happy.  I continued on and eventually had a little cheering squad to accompany me in my studio.

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The accumulation of these new friends, gave me not only great joy but required me to ask for help to do the finishing if I was to meet my deadline.  Thank you to my wonderful student Cindy, we got them show ready.  Even Mr. Attitude was impressed!

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MR. ATTITUDE 6×6 Oil on Canvas

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Varnishing, finishing and wiring is a full time job in itself.  Many of the birds were named after artists, musicians and others that walk a creative path.

 

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With the help of a great team of creative friends and family….The birds found their perfect spot in the garden of this historical home.
In 1946, the Allied Arts Council leased this home from the City for use as a Cultural Centre.  It was a place that many artists came together to study, create and exhibit art.
Since 1978, the Coste House has been a private residence.

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Thanks to gracious hosts, Mary and Bob,  who opened there amazing home so community could gather to enjoy a day of music, art and friends.

Lemonade was served by my art students and with the assistance of my tribe of volunteers, some lucky art pieces found their forever home.

Every event is a stepping stone to the next interesting adventure.  Thank you to my book editor Elissa who shared my next dream with the guests.  Sales from this show will help to fund the upcoming book I have written and illustrated.

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Coming soon…“Adventures of Wilde- A Sense of Wonder.”  

The best part was after the show, when I met with another artist friend who told me her 9 year old niece was inspired to have her own art show.
That made all my dreams come true!
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Hoping to inspire you all to have a brave moment and follow that little voice …

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Energy Exchange

DSC_9336.jpgLet’s Stretch our limits 16×40 Oil

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”~Buddha

If you have been practicing yoga at Moksha Yoga Calgary North, you may have noticed the changing art on the walls. I am the Artist and also a fellow yogini. Since the studio opened I have been doing an energy exchange- art for yoga.  The perfect trade!

My love of art and yoga has always had a way of overlapping in my life. I knew from the first day of my 200 hour yoga teacher training that even though both activities are very different, they have many similar philosophies.

Coming from a fitness background… somewhere along the line I decided that teaching yoga would be more sustainable to teach while I continued to pursue my art career.  I thought I would not be so tired.  WOW- I was in for a rude awakening.   I had only a few downward dogs under my belt and barely knew what a sun salutation was…let alone teach it to someone else. My poor teacher, he had his work cut out for him and truth be known, so did I!

I remember very clearly that exact moment in time, sitting on my mat, writing in my journal…it was my big “AHA” moment.  I realized why I was in the training. It was not about the perfect downward dog.  It was not to save the world, heal others, share my dimming light…it was to save me, heal me and make my light shine brighter.

In my heart, I felt like I was home.…The practice has a perfect way of meeting us where we are at…

A year later, I finished my training and that day I began my practice. I practiced everyday for 40 days. It changed my world. I surrounded myself in community and was blessed to have many great teachers. There was never a day that I did not walk out of a yoga class feeling lighter and more whole. Over 10 years later, many trainings and a lifelong commitment, I still feel the same way.

I admit that many times I fall off the train. But just like falling out of a tree pose, or being too busy to paint, I remember why I made the commitment and that I can make the choice to step back on the train at any time.

I began my yoga practice with intention to help others.   I now realize that finding the practice of yoga was a gift to me.   The gift of community, with the bonus of keeping my body strong, my breath flowing and my mind clear.   The beauty is, with the clarity and strength I gained from the practice, I can help other by sharing what I have learned.

Whether I am doing a headstand or holding a brush at my easel, I am very aware that both are rare opportunities to really be awake.  Present moment awareness – was the common feeling for me.  The feeling I wish to share.

“Yoga is the art work of awareness on the canvas of body, mind, and soul.” ― Amit Ray

Present moment awareness-I know this feeling intimately. It happens when I paint well, listen intently and practice with grace.  To me… ‘Waking up’ means being present enough to feel, be authentic and to gain the capacity of responding rather than reacting.

It is what I love and why I have made both painting and yoga a consistent practice in my life. It is where I get to feel most alive.  My career as an artist is growing and these days I spend my days painting, teaching art and sharing my yoga practice in my art camps and retreats.

I am honored and grateful to share my art in such a sacred beautiful space where it can be seen and felt.  It is the perfect energy exchange.

Namaste,

Michelle

http://www.michelleausten.ca

 “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”~Walt Disney

 

 

Confetti Trees, Color and Creativity

“I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world-Present and in Awe.” ~Anne Lamott

Encaustic Confetti Tree

Encaustic Confetti Tree

Summer Camp 2015 Last week I had the honor of working with 8 brilliant Art Students ranging from 7-12 years old. I embrace the endless energy youth have and wish I could capture it in a pill bottle. One week later, as I wake from a nap, I wonder if they are tired this week? Not likely. They are probably drawing up a storm…on to the next task. Despite my praying for perfect weather we had a few storms during the week. (Luckily none in the studio, just a few outside). A little rain, hail, wind followed by sunshine again.

I had a schedule for the week, but learned long ago to not get too attached to the schedule. As weather changes, one must adapt. Similar to painting… have a basic plan and be prepared to let go of the plan. This is often were the magic happens and if all else fails you get an interesting experience followed by the pleasure of either throwing out or painting over your less desired experience…both refreshing outcomes. The rain was refreshing. It kept us cool and did not slow down the process of doing our work. In fact, as a result, we had more studio time. Question: “Bike riding or art?” Reply: “We’d rather PAINT” I am in the presence of true artists. They know what they want.IMG_2168IMG_2230

We started everyday with yoga. “Sit up tall, breathe in, breathe out, notice how you feel,” I instructed.  A chance to reconnect with ourselves first, then each other and ultimately everything else that surrounds us. Taking the time to let the snow globe of the mind settle…good for creativity. Learning to rest and stay still is a practice.

So we practice… Day 1-The stillness is always a little tough at first, but the benefits are felt and respected quickly. Day 2- Free our minds as we strengthen, stretch and rest our little bodies. Day 3- 5 min into the practice Savasana (Corpse pose) is the favorite requested pose.                 Day 4- 20 min of silence- painting mandala rocks by candlelight was no problem.                     Day 5 -30 min Yoga Nidra inside while it rained outside. Who doesn’t love to be covered in a blanket with lavender scented eye pillows and have a relaxing story read to them?

IMG_2156 IMG_2353 This group of girls painted for more hours this week, then I can paint in a week. Their attention span, focus and dedication surpassed my wildest expectations. When they took a break from art activities, Chinese skipping was the preferred game. Remember “MISSISSIPPI”?? Great Cardio fun, efficiently taking the edge off built up energy.

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Chinese Skipping

It is always amazing to see the students subjective color preference and how each piece of artwork, all in different mediums create a perfect collection, representing the artists unique style. Their favorite color and love of their family was very apparent in their chosen words of intention. Watching them throw the paint around, literally and not worrying too much where it landed. Seeing the joy on their faces when they learned a new technique that made their masterpieces come alive.

Encaustic Painting

Encaustic Painting

IMG_2336IMG_2343 Teamwork and community support was a stand out quality 5 STARS all around. Brilliant guest artists added variety and expertise. My most favorite reflection was that week ran by seamlessly. Moving from project to project, playing with wax, paint, pastels, watercolor, clay, ink was all done with a “Go For IT” attitude. We began with dream collages ending with dream catchers. By the time Friday arrived we had quite a collection of artwork to display.

Dream catchers

Dream catchers

IMG_2368IMG_2367 Friday morning was raining…Hard…But we agreed the show must go on. We finished the dream catchers. Made and ate our pizza, decorated the cupcakes for our guests. Then worked quickly to set up the show with a sense of pride. I was thankful that the girls thrived on being given a task. They quickly achieved their task and worked well together. Lots of small hands, makes light work.

Artists getting ready for show

Artists getting ready for show

Look what we did!

Look what we did!

Art Show

Art Show

12 year old Artist

12 year old Artist

9 year old Artist

9 year old Artist

The final show was a parade of proud artists sharing their accomplishments of the week with the ones they love. Reminding me that achieving a goal is always better when you share it with others. I am blessed… Michelle “Wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.” ~ Paulo Coelho IMG_2320 **Special Thanks to Brenda Walker http://www.brendawalker-art.com and Shauna Mireault for being our guests and sharing their love of art!

Beneath a Coat of Snow

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“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”   ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am officially calling a sick day. My head is full of cold and my feet feel like they are full of cement.

As I sit on my couch in my fuzzy red comfortable robe at 2pm, I am watching the snow fall gently onto the earth. I am not feeling at all guilty to be taking a sick day. There is a lightness in the air, objects are slightly blurry and the colors I see are mostly soft and covered in white snow. It is quiet and I am grateful to have a day of rest and reflection.

Almost a year ago, I planned a trip to Virginia to see my cousin and her family. The trip was perfectly planned around the famous Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.   I packed my sketchbook and paints and was set out to have an art adventure, to be inspired by new sites, especially of the beautiful spring cherry blossoms that I have heard so much about.   I LOVE to travel-it is eye-candy for the senses. There is also the unexpected. Many times things do not go as planned yet when you learn to embrace the present moment, they can still go perfectly as intended…   Don’t fight the process.

On my first day in Virginia, I awoke to a similar scene as I am looking at today. Snow was gently falling and there was a chill in the air.

My cousin, Alexis and I are 7 years apart and really had only met each other less than a dozen times in our life. Yet, I felt like I was home, we shared the same grandmother, pictures in her home and stories we shared were familiar to me. We also both loved going for coffee and eating similar things. It was easy and fun to be with her.

She was a gracious host and showed me all the sites.

Despite the cold, cool temperatures we bundled up and headed out to see the memorials in Washington, DC. It was apparent that I needed a history lesson (or to watch more TV) when I pointed to a large pencil like structure and asked “What is that?” With huge eyes and a sly smile she replied “The Washington Monument.”

And so began my tour…

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Disclaimer: Just to make me feel better – I did recognize the White House immediately. I am also happy to say I can name all the memorials now when I see them in the movies. The bonus of travel for a visual person is education.  Did I mention that I am Canadian?

National World War II Memorial

National World War II Memorial

Korean Monument

Korean Monument 

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

We made our way through the memorials one by one. Alexis was being an amazing tour guide. Explaining to me that the Korean memorial was her favorite. as it touched her and her family. They really are amazing to see in person. There was a shallow pool approximately 2 ft deep surrounded by granite with engraving that said how many soldiers were killed, captured, missing or wounded. I was looking all around taking pictures, feeling somber and reflective, when the energy changed.

I hear someone shouting- Lady in the pool!! I take a deep breath, turned around to see that my dear cousin had taken one wrong step backwards and over she went, catching her foot in granite that actually said “wounded.” Weird coincidence? Hmm, not sure. The world seemed to stop for a moment. As I pulled her out of the pool , others were most concerned about the fact that her brand new I-phone was laying peacefully face down on the bottom of the pool. “The phone!” strangers screamed. I looked at the pretty salmon colored case face down in the pool and thought, “I need a stick”. I look up and a woman is waving her cane. We make eye contact – A little miracle- an angel sent her- I am sure. I borrowed the cane and pulled the phone close enough for a kind boy with long arms to reach in and retrieve her phone, complete with instructions on what to do to recover the phone.   The concern for the phone was a little alarming actually…I was more concerned about my cousin.

I look over at her, she is dripping wet, shivering and totally in shock. We walk over to sit down and reassess the situation.   Breathe….

We broke out into laughter. I had learned in yoga, The vibration of laughing and crying is almost the same, the release of energy in the body is what is important. We chose laughter.

Did that just happen? Was that for real? Was that a bad dream? Gut rolling laughter was what emerged right before survival skills kicked in.  A cab ride, extra layers of clothes, a cold pack, motrin and a few bloody mary’s later. We had reflected, laughed and ended up with a free desert at the restaurant in honor of the Best story of the Day. She was my hero that day.

She's a Trooper- Arlington Cementary- We are Alive and Moving- crutches and all!

She’s a Trooper- Arlington Cementary- We are Alive and Moving- crutches and all!

The next day while icing her elevated ankle , we wondered, “What was the purpose of that? “

Maybe we needed some comic relief in our somber moment? Not sure. We both agreed the spirits got a good giggle. (about the present moment awareness, not about her injured ankle.)

Maybe we needed to feel the kindness of others?     Not sure.

Maybe we needed to be here right now!    

That is for sure!

With Lightness and Love and Gratitude for family and travel,

Michelle

The tile under my feet at the Lincoln Memorial. I HAVE A DREAM!

The tile under my feet at the Lincoln Memorial.
I HAVE A DREAM!

Ps/ And for those concerned about the phone- it worked perfectly- Magic!

Endless Vistas

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
~C.S. Lewis

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Dear Friends,

I just spent a week unplugging and soaking up lots of sunshine and Vitamin D by the pacific ocean in Huatulco, Mexico. I love to visit the ocean. It’s a great time for reflection.
Where the land meets the sky or the ocean meets the sky… it is the place where the sun rises and sets everyday. This place in the middle of the earth and sky I believe we can all relate to. I always feel a real sense of connection and inspiration here. A daily reminder to find peace, joy and love.

I began the painting above before I left on holidays. I am always asked the question “What inspires you?” I believe the answer is connection. In this case, I was inspired by a photo a friend posted on Facebook. I am often inspired by travel, community, pictures I take or from my imagination. I see or feel something and immediately say, “I must paint that!”
I finished this painting today on the last day of 2014.
It is called “Endless Vistas”. To me it represents taking time for reflection, feeling what you feel and connecting Body, Mind and Spirit. Vistas are endless and change everyday. Some are small and fleeting, some are big and last longer, all are important.  They create your life.

Wishing you all Vast Vistas of Peace, Joy and Love in 2015!

With Much Gratitude and love,
Michelle

Seeing through a different set of glasses

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It’s my Birthday!! So I reflect on my summer, year, and life thus far.

I just returned from holidays with my family and was inspired by many Canadian east coast vistas’. You would think I would be painting Peggy’s Cove or Marine scenes, but I was feeling inspired to have some fun. Perhaps the 3 generations spending time together had more of an effect than a well known overly photographed lighthouse.

I have learned in my wisdom to not fight the creative process.                                                   The painting:   “Looking through a different set of glasses” was created.

As I age I become more aware that things are not always black and white. I do not have all the answers. I am not always right. Even when I truly think I am.

With age, comes the wisdom to see through another’s eyes. To be more aware of what is happening around us and especially within us.

Time is precious, life can be short and all we have is the present moment.  Take the time to inspire someone.  Be grateful for every day, every year, every decade.

Swap glasses. Try the Ray-bans for a day.  Ever notice the style you wore in the 80’s is back again. Should have kept my white ones…they’d be vintage.

Better yet, ditch the dark glasses and try good old fashion eye contact.  Gaze into a loved ones eyes.  If you are really brave I challenge you to gaze into a strangers eyes.

Add a smile.                                                                                                                                                    One rule: NO TALKING. Resist the urge.                                                                                            If it gets too hard, SMILE more. Creates good wrinkles.                                                        WINKING is allowed and encouraged. Fake eyelashes help.

Likely you just made someone’s day!

Encouraging eye contact and creativity everyday.

Thanks for helping me spread the LOVE.                                                                                 Michelle

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”― Confucius

 

 

Creating Community Gardens

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When I reflect on Summer Camp 2014, the general theme that stands out for me is COMMUNITY.

Whether you are painting, doing yoga, working or going to the movies…the energy of group work raises the vibration and magic moments naturally occur.  My week spent with 8 young artists was full of Exploration, Inspiration and FUN!

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The end result was alot of amazing ART, but that is not what I remember even hours after the final Art Show.

What I remember was the process, the JOURNEY.  

Just like any creative project…IMAGINATION sparks an idea that STIRS the SOUL…

We seek out tools, canvas, paper, brushes and teachers to fill our tool box….CONFIDENCE is gathered to explore something new.

Set quickly into ACTION- otherwise known as PLAY MODE.  Avoid thinking and start doing.

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CONNECT, get involved, share with others, WONDER, get frustrated, cry, SMILE, Feel ELATED or deflated, scared or EXCITED. FEEL more.  Move through, move on and WONDER what the next journey will bring…

In the end after the canvas has been long forgotten we remember EACH OTHER.  The good times and the bad.  Maybe we remember sticky fingers from the fruit bouquet or how we felt when our final project turned out better than we imagined.  

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Regardless, I will treasure this week for all the SMILES and HUGS I received and I will PAY them forward.

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Bouquets of Gratitude,

Michelle

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”~Mother Teresa

Walking the High Line NYC

It has been 5 months since my surprise Birthday trip to NYC.  Not sure why I woke up thinking about this trip…perhaps it’s because flocks of people will be travelling there to celebrate Super Bowl 2014.

I love to walk.   If you go to New York City, be sure to bring good walking shoes.  Packed my Stilettos and my trusty Nike Air purple runners.  All set to explore.

Life is about experiencing extreme opposites and then finding a nice place to settle in between.   We often have to feel both ends of pendulum so we can decide where we like to fall in between.  Goldilocks syndrome- Not too hot, not too cold…just right…sigh.

NYC is awesome for that.  Buildings, people, high activity, cement everywhere.  You can be around millions of people-yet walk in your own world. Image

My favorite part of my trip was walking the High Line.  The Highline is a 1 mile NYC Park built on a historic freight railroad line.  Basically it is a public park elevated above the streets on Manhattans west side.  Perfectly situated above the art district.

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It is easy to see the skyline from here amongst the beautifully kept gardens.  This is a place where couples walk holding hands, artists sit and sketch, kids eat ice-cream, students relax on wooden lounge chairs. 

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When I walk I consciously spend a fair amount of time looking up. 

On the Highline you can look up, look down and also take a photo of where you are in the moment.   I loved the feeling of being in nature.   Here you are close to the sky, with a view of the Manhattan skyline.   See the concrete, metal, glass and feel the softness of the wood, plants and water fountains at the same time.

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The place to contemplate life while the activity of Manhattan continues on right beneath your feet. 

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When I returned home I painted 3 tiny canvases of my walk of the highline.  Perhaps a larger painting to represent my trip is brewing…

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Travel is always inspiring.  Seems there is just more time to notice, look, feel, smell.  Experience all the senses.

Be fully present to what is.   The memories are an added bonus and something to share.  For this I am always grateful.

Enjoy your trip and wear comfy shoes! 

In Creative Spirit,

Michelle