Living Your Life Artfully

In my 20s I wouldn’t have described myself as creative. Rather, I would have said that I was eccentric. (Eccentric is what you’re called when you work in a law firm and refuse to wear matching earrings.) It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, and finally accepting myself as an artist, that I realized my “eccentricity” was simply my creativity seeping out into my life. Creativity, after all, doesn’t just belong to our art; it’s a part of the fiber of our lives.

As creative beings, we all have our own special way of viewing the world. From the way you address a letter to the way you serve a meal, you put your own creative stamp on everything you do. With a bit of focus, you can bring art into many facets of your life that may have been ignored in the past and, perhaps, start to see the art that already exists in your everyday life.

Taking a Cue From the Holidays
To bring art into your life every day, first you have to become more aware of opportunities to use your creativity. I’ve found that holidays provide creative opportunities in abundance, since they’re the times when we’re likely to decorate a tree, bake cookies, make greeting cards, and more. Thus all you need to do is expand upon your usual holiday creative pursuits. For instance, last year my husband and I moved from Southern to Northern California, and I experienced the turning of leaves for the first time in my life. Captivated by the colors, I decided to celebrate the season and decorate for Thanksgiving by filling bowls with every color and shape of leaf I could find.

It was also the first time my husband and I celebrated Thanksgiving away from our families. Given that I’m a vegetarian (my husband is not), cooking a turkey wasn’t in the cards. On a run to the grocery store, I learned that the store provided precooked meals for the holiday. Though our Thanksgiving meal was picked up in cardboard to-go boxes, we served up our surprisingly delicious dinner using our best china and crystal. Surrounded by the bowls of leaves and lit candles, my husband and I had a unique and memorable holiday together, simply by taking the time to make it special.

After Thanksgiving, I couldn’t bear to throw away my colorful leaf decorations. So, taking inspiration from Jason Thompson’s wonderful book, Making Journals By Hand (Rockport Publishers), I used the leaves for leaf printing and made wrapping paper for the next holiday, Christmas. I simply coated the leaves with thin coats of gold, silver, green and red paints and stamped them onto sheets of brown postal paper. This easy-to-do wrapping paper turned out beautifully and received nearly as much comment as the gifts inside.

Finding the Art in Housework
As artists (or aspiring artists), it can sometimes feel as if we have to schedule our time for art like a list of chores (do laundry, go grocery shopping, be creative …), allowing us to forget that our lives are works of art in themselves. The leaf printing was easy, but even though it required very little, the extra touch of creativity was enough to make something special out of something ordinary. The trick is to be on the lookout for all those artistic opportunities in everything you do. Take housework, for instance.

Sarah Ban Breathnach writes in her book Simple Abundance (Warner Books) that we should think of housework as an extension of our love for those we live with. It’s another way of nurturing and creating a beautiful place for them to live. Perhaps it would be easier to do this if we concentrated on doing something special for a particular family member. While cleaning your daughter’s room, you could leave her a bowl of fresh flowers and a note about how special she is. Or, buy some inexpensive bed sheets and surprise your significant other the next time you change the linens by writing a love letter or poetry on the pillowcases using a fabric marker. In this same vein, you might even take some of your leftover leaf-printed wrapping paper to line the shelves in your linen closet. These extra touches will help you concentrate less on the chore of housework and more on the artistic payoff.

Breaking Out of the Office
If you work at an office, you probably spend a lot of time at your desk. Why not make it a unique statement about you? Decorate your office desk with items that make you feel comfortable and creative. Instead of one obligatory photo of your spouse or the kids, create a collage of your favorite photos in an 8×10 frame. Instead of putting your pens and pencils in a cracked coffee mug, go to an import store and pick up interesting tins or—if you have a paint-your-own pottery shop nearby—create some hand-painted ceramic containers like those at left. Cut up a cardboard box and make your own desk blotter using decoupaged pictures from travel magazines, old maps and postcards. Visit craft stores for inexpensive wood tissue box covers, boxes for paper clips and other odds and ends that you can decorate with your own personal touch.

Energizing On the Job
While we’re on the subject of work, your day in the office has many creative possibilities as well. Milk your lunch hour by bringing along a journal to write in. Or, look through magazines and clip out inspiring images. I’ve found that even trade magazines can be gold mines for pictures and quotations that you can work into a collage once you’re done gleaning the official information from them.

On a related note, many obsolete office supplies can be used in your art. I was given a stash of old legal and bank rubber stamps from a law office, which I’ve found are great tools to use in my collages and on greeting cards.

And, of course, keep in mind there’s no better antidote to a marathon meeting than filling up the margins of your legal pad with doodles.

Cooking Up Inspiration
While it’s certainly true that cooking itself can be an avenue for self-expression, you don’t have to be a master chef to make this daily task more fun. Set a stunning table simply with some of nature’s offerings from your own backyard or garden—place a few branches of pussy willow or lilacs in a vase or jar, or simply pile some fresh tomatoes or colorful peppers in a bowl. If you’re serving seafood for dinner, put a handful of sand and a few seashells on the table. Another simple but elegant table decoration is a bowl of water with floating flowers. If you’re serving coffee or tea to guests, turn a cup over on a saucer and place a piece of chocolate—or some other surprise—beneath it.

If you’ve got a collection of special recipes, put together a family recipe book. Last fall I asked my mother for some old family recipes. At Christmas, my mother instead gave each child in the family a book filled with recipes—of her own, as well as favorites from aunts, grandmothers and a great-grandmother. She decorated each section with photographs taken during family meals over the years. Thus, even a utilitarian recipe book can become an artful expression of your creativity

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