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I have been blogging here for over 10 years now and have decided to publish some material I still believe in from those days until the end of February in celebration.

 

As those who follow me very well know, I love to talk about focus, so here is one of my favourite posts about the importance of focus to be able to accomplish anything we set our mind to:

 

FOCUS IS EVERYTHING

December 18, 2007 by Enviroart

Today, as we approach Christmas, I have to push myself to get into the Christmas spirit. No more young enthusiastic children bouncing around me asking if they are going to get their wishes from Santa. No more of their laughter and smiles, their jumping around asking how many more days, opening their chocolate calendar everyday counting the nights between now and the Big Day.

 

We are literally buried in snow this year. Unlike previous years, we have had a large amount of snow in 2 storms within the last 10 days and it is beautiful outside: White everywhere, blue sky, the sun shining, at least it was yesterday. Everything looks pure and clean but… wait a minute isn’t it what people dream about? A white Christmas? What’s the problem then? Our focus is the problem.

 

It is sometimes difficult to look around us and appreciate what our eyes can capture. Beauty, nature, the pleasure, the privilege I should say of breathing fresh air. We are so lucky here to have clean water and relatively clean air. Why is it so difficult sometimes to see and appreciate it? All these worries we carry in our head, all these aches and pains we notice in our body? What about what doesn’t hurt? Why don’t we notice this?

 

I digress but it is important for me this morning to look at what is not wrong instead of what is wrong and needs to be fixed. How many of us spend our lives looking at what is wrong and wanting to fix it? Not that this is wrong since we need people to fix things, right? But we also need balance and you cannot spend your life focusing on what is wrong in your life, your relatives’ and friends’ lives, the world. And in order to make things better, we must find a balance and find a way to feel somewhat at peace and happy.

 

The best way to do this is to take a quick inventory of what is not wrong. Not even necessarily what is right. Focus is everything. There are a lot of things that are NOT wrong in your life. Just the fact that you can breathe without any help, that you can feel your breath enter your lungs and come out, feeding your body with oxygen, this tells you that you are alive and that everything is possible. There is pollution, there is unrest and wars, there are conflicts but there is also beauty, there is nature there is kindness all around us. Focus is everything.

 

In the end, you are responsible only to yourself and your children of course if they are still young and dependent. After all you did choose to bring them into the world and you do have a responsibility to give them the proper tools to become their own persons. But other than that, you are not responsible for anybody else really. This is hard to comprehend and harder still to apply. We have husbands, wives, friends, families that we all feel need us to be a certain way, to act like expected to be what they think we are. This is very draining at the end.

 

Torn between guilty feelings, expectations, obligations, we sometimes created ourselves. But in the end, would our acting any different really change anything in these people’s lives? They would certainly get over it if we did not act according to their expectations. But the biggest disappointment is when we disappoint ourselves because of our own need to be perfect or to fulfill someone’s image of ourselves that often does not correspond to reality.

 

Focus is everything and Mahatma Gandhi said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”. Look deep inside, reach in and find one thing to do today that is really in harmony with your true self. Make a list of what is not wrong with your life.

 

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Since January 19th and until the end of February, I am publishing essays that I first posted 10 years ago. The Pareto law can be observed in every aspect of our life. Reading these posts brings home the importance of taking some time for ourselves to reflect every now and then, our happiness depends on it!

 

 

The Pareto law or the 80/20 principle in everyday life

February 15, 2008 by Enviroart

 

I have been reading about the 80/20 principle lately. Over the years, it had never really caught my attention but here it is now. I find it intriguing because of the fact that it can be applied to everything in life, whether business, economics or relationships and material possessions. It first caught my attention while I was listening to a conference about the Tao Te Ching, the ancient wisdom brought to us by Lao-Tzu 2500 years ago. One of the verses talks about decreasing instead of accumulating. The 48th verse says that “Learning consists of daily accumulating, The practice of the Tao consists of daily diminishing” It also says: ”True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It cannot be gained by interfering”. How does this link with the 80/20 principle?

 

When we really see that we end up using only 20% of our possessions, we should be able to get rid of 80% of what clutters our closets and our homes. Think about it, are you really using 100% of what you possess? Probably not. So why not get rid of some of it and donate them to people that would use them? It is important for material possessions to be in circulation, to flow. They are at our service and we should not be slaves to them. If you own a home and are enjoying it, that is good. But if it becomes a burden of payments you have problems meeting, work and maintenance you do not enjoy doing, if it causes you stress and worries, then it is not worth it. The same is true of all our material possessions that must be dusted, washed, moved and so on. If something brings true enjoyment, it is all worth it but the minute it doesn’t anymore, get rid of it.

 

The 80/20 principle is also interesting when applied to business. If 20% of your products bring in 80% of the profits, if 20% of your employees produce 80% of the work, if 20% of your efforts bring about 80% of the results, it is clear that there needs to be a shift in working habits and a profound analysis of the employees strengths and weaknesses in order to render the whole thing more efficient. Because the opposite is also true: 80% of the products bring in only 20% of the profits, 80% of your employees don’t produce more than 20% of the work and 80% of the efforts bring only 20% results.

 

And what about relationships?  Are we spending 80% of our time on the 20% that doesn’t count instead of spending the bulk of our time with the 20% of our relationships that are important to us, to our well-being?  Does that make sense? There needs to be a shift to bring together our true values with our actions. The goal should always be to align these two realities, our spiritual authenticity and our material reality. The 80/20 principle brings this to light. I myself have realized that I was spending pretty much 80% of my time on things that didn’t really matter to me. I have been trying to re-align this.

 

You get caught up in life and outside demands and one day you realize that somebody else or something has taken over your life (80% of it at least) and that you are not doing what you want, with the people you want and are not where you want to be. When this happens, it is important to ask yourself what is important. What is the 20% you enjoy? What is the 20% you are good at? Take that 20% and increase its importance in your life by cutting out the things you don’t enjoy. Start with things you feel you are not good at (unless you think it is important to develop a particular skill).

 

If you don’t enjoy something and on top of it you are no good at it, why are you doing it? Replace these by things you feel you are good at. After a while it will become easier to identify and eliminate what should not be part of your life. After all, it is YOUR life. It should be YOUR choice.

 

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Because I have been blogging for 10 years, I decided to share some of my posts from that time as a celebration. After all, ten years is a decent time and I am very proud of it! Here is one about self-knowledge and acceptance, a difficult accomplishment!

Self-knowledge and self-acceptance

July 16, 2008 by Enviroart

Our Self-image is hard to control. Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are two important concepts that are sometimes difficult to grasp. Self-knowledge especially is an interesting concept that is not only difficult to grasp but also a dilemma. Do we really want to fully know ourselves? Do we want to see our flaws or do we want to perceive ourselves like others do when this is not positive. Do we really want to see in every corner of our soul and discover the nitty-gritty workings of our inner thoughts?

 

There are many obstacles to self-knowledge, particularly when you spend a lot of time with others. After all, our society often demands that we act in certain ways that are quite often contrary to our core self. Quite interestingly, we sometimes chose to be part of a group because we think we are going to enjoy it, or simply to find out if we are going to enjoy it. After all, our main motivation always remains to experience pleasure and happiness. When this doesn’t work out, we are surprised, disappointed, alienated from ourselves and wonder how come we didn’t know this in advance. This is self-discovery.

 

Everything we do, each decision, is to bring relief from unhappiness or to experience pleasure. We want to feel happy, loved, vindicated, right, acknowledged, useful and appreciated. This is the main motivation for most of what we do and decide. Some decisions, sometimes taken with this in mind, do not bring us to where we are trying to go but put us in a situation of stagnation.

 

It is important to remember that what drives our behaviours, indeed our lives is not business-like decision making or rational planning but the need to avoid pain and gain pleasure. This is an instinctive reaction driven by childhood experiences, what happened last month or yesterday, what your parents or peers told you over the years, what you learned through your various experiences and the conclusions you arrived to when you experienced these things. Even if we want to be rational, which often we think we are, we often end up doing things that only repeat a past pattern even if we know it won’t bring us to where we want to go.

 

It is very difficult to override the system and change a behaviour that has been embedded in ourselves for many years even if we know deep down it won’t bring us happiness. Short term pleasure and short term vision are often what rules our behaviour, indeed the world as we can acknowledge where we are environmental-wise.

 

Which is why often, self-knowledge goes out the window. Do we really want to know that deep down, our heart is not as good as we would like? That we are not perfect, that we don’t really do our best in certain circumstances, or rather, that we don’t really do our best in certain circumstances according to other people’s standards? Because, basically, we are all trying to do our best with what we are dealt in life. For example, even if some people are perceived as ”bad”, they are trying their very best to reach this pleasure/happy state. It is difficult to comprehend and accept that even a “bad” person, a criminal would be doing his best. It is difficult to accept that the murderer is only trying his best to reach a state of non-pain if not of pleasure and happiness. Maybe they just gave up because it seems less painful than trying again to “fit in”.  It is easier to accept life and its bad elements when you see that we are all part of a whole and that each and every one of us is trying his/her best to survive.

 

It is difficult to cope with a bad and obnoxious neighbour, a drunk driver, a criminal, and it should not be said that we should be accepting of behaviour that goes against other people’s right and well-being, that cause pain or even destroy life. Your freedom stops where the other person’s starts, as they say. But is also possible to look upon these bad elements with some compassion. For the person that is acting bad is unhappy. Somehow, what kind of education makes it OK to destroy other people’s property or other people’s peace of mind? If the education is not faulty, it could be a brain malfunction, a condition that forbids normal thinking and sends the person in a spiral of wrong decisions and behaviours. And to come back to self-knowledge and self-acceptance, how do these people come to accept that they are not able to function like everybody else and must choose a parallel lifestyle? The general consensus is that we don’t want these people in our lives and they must know it, I suppose. We know they are part of society but they must be controlled.

 

I think it is important to self-discover in order to improve ourselves and our lives but also, to examine what drives our decisions. The main goal to reach happiness needs to be defined and separated from the vision of avoiding short-term pain, of reaching short-term pleasure. We need to discover what will bring us happiness and in order to do so, we must experience different circumstances and situations until we get there. We must accept ourselves and learn from our reactions to the circumstances and situations we are thrown into. Because, we might think that something will bring us happiness when in fact it will leave us cold once we get it.

©Suzanne Bélair

 

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I am presently in Mexico and don’t have much time to paint or even write except for travel journaling.

 

This is a post that I first published in March 2008 and that still rings true to me. It is about creativity and moods, about the fact that we must keep on going no matter what. I still struggle with my low moods and have to push myself but I understand now this is my life and as long as I keep on going, I’ll get through the day and there is another day just around the corner with endless possibilities.

Marché conclu
©2009 Suzanne Bélair
Oil on canvas 8 X 10 in

About creativity and our everyday mood

March 24, 2008 by Enviroart

 

Today’s thought:

“WHEN UNHAPPY, ONE DOUBTS EVERYTHING,

WHEN HAPPY, ONE DOUBTS NOTHING” – Joseph Roux

 

I sometimes wake up feeling like I am not capable of anything and the day ahead will be difficult. I don’t feel like I can produce, either paint or write or even do something insignificant. The important thing when we feel that way is to keep going. Some people have it easier than others. Some people wake up in the morning and they just feel good, full of energy and ready to take on the day. Optimistic people… How I admire them and would like to be like this.

 

I just heard the term “slogging” recently and wondered what does this mean? Couldn’t find it in the dictionary but got all kinds of synonyms that give the idea: plod, trudge, struggle. Anyhow, it is sometimes how we feel in the morning and… so what? We are not supposed to like slogging, in fact we’re supposed to hate it. The only way to keep on going then is that we have to believe that our state of joyful production will return. It always does. We have to keep going in the meantime. In the interim, we have to show up at the easel, at the computer, wherever we create. And we have to listen, ask for guidance and listen and it will come. It always does. As artists, we must be able to see a reality that does not exist yet. We must be able to start with the end in mind. This is what creation is all about. But it is sometimes difficult and when it is, it is better to just start and fiddle with something without really knowing where this is going or what we are doing. We call this practice then and this is necessary. It is always better to “practice” than stay idle, waiting for “inspiration”.

 

Consistency is important. It is what brings about results. We have to be consistent with the way we spend our time if we want results. Once an idea for a painting or a book comes, and we start working on it, it gathers momentum; it fleshes out and becomes real, at least for ourselves. The more real the idea becomes, the easier it will be to transmit and all that practice will then come in handy, having perfected our skills. Once it is real for us, it can become real for others.

 

As for optimism, we have to work at it sometimes, we have to cultivate it, we have to choose to be optimists and we have to make it a habit. Each day that we manage to shift our mood in the right direction will make the next one easier and bring the confidence necessary to keep on going, to keep on creating.

 

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A little over ten years ago, in December 2007, I started this blog. My original intention is reflected in my tag line: This is a blog about art, the environment and the angst of life and creation. This has not changed since and I still hold the views I was presenting in 2007.

 

I am leaving on vacation for a few weeks and thought that instead of posting while away I will revisit some of my earlier posts.

 

I used to write a lot about the environment, climate change and air pollution. I also wrote a lot about painting, feelings and life.

Magnifique
©2009Suzanne Bélair
Oil on canvas 10 X 8 in

 

So here is the first post I would like to share with you. It was first published on June 5th 2008.

 

Reflection on painting

June 5, 2008 by Enviroart

 

Today, I am reflecting on the art, on the work of painting, on the world of painting. It is often difficult to get going and start a new painting. The famous blank canvas… Some say that if you put a coat of background color or rather an undercoat, you erase the stigma of the blank canvas. But this is not true. If it can be useful to judge the tone or unify the painting, it remains a blank canvas. The blank canvas might be yellow or brown or blue or white, it still represents a challenge. Will that first touch of paint, that very first brushstroke be right? Will the color show how my mind’s eye expects or sees it or will it be totally wrong and send me in a tailspin of wondering, of corrections and self-doubt, of inquiring and research?

 

True, there is technique and we can learn to mix colors. It is an art in itself to be able to do this properly and rapidly, but the best way to learn and reduce this anxiety of the first stroke is really to practice, practice, practice. Some days are better than others but all days spent painting, each minute, are a step on the path the painter wants to follow, meaning forward, learning, progressing.

 

Just like writers are told to write everyday no matter what comes out to exercise the writing muscle, painters, sculptors, artists must practice their craft everyday even if we can give it only half an hour. When you love painting, this anxiety is mixed with expectations and questions. Expectations, because you want this new painting to be better than the last one, to be truer, to expose you a little bit more. Are we just asking for people to understand us a little better? Difficult to say…  Questions, because you just don’t know how your painting will be received.

 

Unless you are a really experienced artist, that knows what his public wants, it is hard to judge how the painting will be received. This depends on so many different ideas and criteria, that vary according to the individual staring at the painting. When you offer a painting to an audience, you are trying to touch the onlooker. To go deep into his or her soul and somehow touch a part of them, light a switch, create a “Ah !”  moment before the analysis takes over. Before they wonder will this fit in my living room, in my dining room? Is this the right color?

 

I think we are looking for understanding, for people to peek into our heart and soul, to share something joyful we feel in our core, or sad in some cases. The only way to do this is to paint first and foremost for ourselves. I think this is the main difference between doing artwork and doing “decorative art” or “crafts”. Unless you create, you don’t normally see the difference. Actually a friend of mine said one day that decorative artists are only “good technicians” and I felt a bit insulted by this statement. But now I see the difference. It is true that decorative art is all about technique except for those that actually create patterns and designs. There is a bit of sharing when you pick the pattern you want to reproduce or paint. But is nowhere close to the opening of the soul that happens when you create from your core.

 

I am speaking for me but there is no emotion when I simply paint someone else’s design. There is the satisfaction of completing a project but none of the excitement, no skipping of the heartbeat, none of the quiet joy of just working at transferring your soul to the canvas.  In conclusion I would like to say that the main thing is to make ourselves happy with what we are painting. I don’t mean to be 100% satisfied with the finished product but to paint for ourselves, about things we like and appreciate. It is not about painting what is trendy now if we hate it (unless we are painting strictly to make money). There is so much talk about finding your style and being unique, but each of us is unique and it is by painting what you believe, what you are, what you like that your uniqueness comes out. We have to live with ourselves, we are the only constant in our life and painting first and foremost for this individual that inhabits our body is a good way to start. So paint what YOU like and do at least a little bit everyday.

 

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Last week, I decided to do my research for the Silent Skies project and find some pictures of the selected birds to give me ideas I will rework. In the afternoon, I went to the studio with the intention of playing with my brushes which must feel abandoned since Christmas …

Strange how this New Year’s theme is gradually emerging and moving towards birds with the mural project and the children’s book that I started that will be about a woodpecker family …

But entering the studio and after putting my music on, it is not my brushes that caught my attention but the room where I store my half – finished and new canvases, my working and packaging material, etc. I should have taken a picture before, it was a disaster. It is also the room where I varnish when it is too windy or cold or rainy outside. I need a good central space on the floor to do this especially if the artwork is large. Since the move of the studio, I had not yet managed to tidy up and make this space functional.

After an afternoon of work, everything is now organized and clean, a great way to start the year. Here are a few photos :

While doing this cleaning, I found a list of projects dating from 2012. It gave me the idea to remake one for 2018. I don’t know why I lost the habit of making my list of art projects at the beginning of the year since the move of the studio. I often complicate my life by entering my ideas in different notebooks when a simple list strategically placed is so much more effective.

There are many benefits to keeping a list of projects in the studio. I like to put it on a prominent wall where I can consult it regularly and everything on my list usually get done during the following months.

A list of projects is very stimulating and helps to keep focus on priorities in the studio where you can easily lose your attention. My problem is that I want to do everything at the same time, everything attracts me, colors, new techniques, my paintings that are started and need finishing, new ones to start, so a list of projects brings me where I am more productive.

A paper, a pen and a few minutes are enough to create a list of projects. It’s a wonderful tool to keep control of your day and your attention and it only takes 5 to 10 minutes.

No electronic tool for me when it comes to making a list of projects because I want to have it in front of me at all times especially when I start checking what is done. It definitely works for me, it gives me an overview and a impulse of optimism.

I also use it to set my priorities, including deadlines for exhibitions, symposiums, orders.

It also allows you to optimize your time, such as preparing several canvases with gesso at the same time depending on what is planned.

It helps to stay calm because you feel more in control and it eliminates the stress of thinking you have forgotten a project or a date.

You can easily guess what I’m doing as soon as I am finished writing this post!

I hope this short article will motivate you to make your list of projects for 2018!

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“Congratulations on being awarded Active Status with the Federation of Canadian Artists based on the evaluation of work recently submitted for jury. Congratulations!

You are now an Active member of the largest non-profit visual arts organization in British Columbia.”

I received this e-mail during the week before Christmas when activities were at a maximum, no time to read it before the Saturday after.

 

I am very excited to have made it as an active member of this prestigious association! This is opening new doors to be explored in 2018. The Federation of Canadian Artists has 2700 members across Canada.

 

A fun and worthy project I am getting involved in is the Silent Skies Collaborative Mural Project. This Artists For Conservation’s first international collaborative mural project will feature all 678 endangered species of birds of the world. The installation will be the artistic centerpiece of the 27th International Ornithological Congress that will take place in Vancouver from August 19th to 26th. The original artwork will then go on an international tour to select cultural/scientific venues.

 

I signed up to paint two species of birds: the Banasura laughingthrush (Trochalopteron jerdoni), endemic to Southern India and the Collared laughingthrush (Garrulax yersini), endemic to the Da Lat plateau in Vietnam. Both birds are endangered because of degradation and fragmentation of their habitat. All canvases will be sized 8 X 8 inches. For more details on this mural project, click   here

 

 

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