Tagged creativity

The Ergonomics of being Creative

It’s all about the brushes and scissors and glue. But the what they don’t tell you about in “creative school” is your hands and neck and back.

Conversation with myself:
ME: Yes, yes, yes…color swirling, this way, blend, right-angles, numeric calculations, cut here, scrunch there…

MYSELF: Ouch, no, dang it thumbs, ugh, no, bad neck ergonomics, dizzy, stop scrunching…

ME: Hair frizzled, glasses smudged, elevated bliss, color, texture, inspiration, just a while longer…

MYSELF: Ouch, pinching, stop now, blurred vision, stretch again, frozen shoulder, ears ringing, locked finger joints, stop, stop, stop…

What is the one thing that cellists, facialists, writers and artists all have in common? We all lean over and curl around our creations. And while we all know how we should counteract this bad posture, 8 hours a day at one’s craft retrains the body for the worst.

I have been dealing with this accumulation of wear and tear on my body parts for these last number of months—which is why I have been writing these blog posts so infrequently. And after bouts of crippling muscle entanglements and resulting fractured vision earlier this year, this is what I have learned about the ergonomics of being creative.

  1. Lap top key boards are bad for most people and especially for those with a wide shoulder span. It forces our hands too close together resulting in a collapse of the shoulders and a pinched neck.
  2. All standard key boards and mice force your hands flat which trains your arms to hang at your side backs-facing-forward, like a gorilla. This pulls your neck and shoulder muscles out of alignment which pinch nerves and make your hands go numb. An ergonomic key board and mouse will force your hands side-ways preventing the gorilla stance.
  3. We should view our work straight ahead rather than leaning over with a tilted neck. I have elevated my computer monitor, put my sewing machine cabinet up on blocks and will finally realize the potential of my mother’s tilted art easel that has been stored in the basement all these years. Next project up…
  4. Standing is better than sitting so we do not cut off circulation through the center of our body. I have not yet figured that out with my sewing machine but make myself walk to the ironing board and design wall so I can cut down on my sitting time.
    If we must sit (like many of us do all day) our body should be at a right angle. Back straight, thighs out straight at a right angle with lower part of leg straight down; arms also resting at a right angle straight out from the body. For some people this many mean an elevated foot rest. For me, since I am short-legged with a long torso, my seat is low and I wear clogs that lift my legs upward a bit.
  5. Lastly, stretch out those muscles that get over used to counteract the positioning. I use a hard rubber ball against the wall to create a release of tightness and a good chiropractor and a good Physical Therapist massage technician has also been so very, very helpful. Yoga, of course, is awesome but that requires daily discipline, something I struggle with.

Can’t stop creating though.  From my studio to yours; a new painted and pieced quilt in progress…enjoy!


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Reset; janebalshaw.com

Bored, disgusted, frustrated, worn out and annoyed—there comes a time when we need to re-set the way we live our life. Perhaps we tried this in January with good intentioned resolutions but statistics say that most of us have already failed and dropped out. The problem with a “resolution” is that it is an intention to resolve or accomplish some thing. And “things” are harder to accomplish then re-setting a direction. It is harder to “lose 20 pounds” than it is to cook from a different cookbook, harder to “add a workout time” to our life then it is to park further away from our job and walk, harder to “not work so hard” then it is to schedule fun first. If we can reset our direction and our priorities, then the “things” fall into place.

It is the American way to keep on going, stay in motion, charge ahead without a breath and if you are *from New England, you suck it up despite the circumstances. Stoic is the word used to describe this emotionless phenomenon of endless long days of lists and toil with no room for reflection. The only difference between the fevered silicone valley over-work Badge of Honor and a Yankee is that one brags about it and the other is quietly self-satisfied!

But there comes a time when, if we are self-aware enough, we need to re-set our course. When in the midst of the drive it is hard sometimes to see the scenery if we are only concentrating on the road. We need to pull over to the rest stop, have a look around and notice if the surroundings are what we had bargained for. I love the story of when Ben and Jerry first started their successful ice cream business and several months into it just closed up for several days to “figure out what they were doing”. Pausing to evaluate, stepping away to get perspective and taking time to observe is an important part of any life and any creative process.

michaelp.orgThis pause is an important part of my life. It began when I was a teenager taking January hikes amongst the fragrant eucalyptus and fir with my aunt Nell. As a life-long self-employed professional artist she also embraced this pause, so with the scent of ocean in the background we silently walked and when we reached a perfect vista, would sit down and write out our desires for the year. Unlike a business plan with predictable spreads of numbers and a black and white plan, our lists were composed of desires that were somewhat lofty. But there was something about this act of writing down our intentions that must have tailored our judgement throughout the year because the next year when we met again, both of our lists had been completely fulfilled. I wish I still had those notebooks to look back on.

It seems to me that the emotion of desire coupled with the interest in the creative process produces results. If we desire to accomplish something then looking for opportunities that support that and, as equally important, avoiding situations that don’t make living it easier.

There is a reason it has taken me over 3 months to write another blog post. I have been in a long pause period, no doubt aided by snow days and physical set-backs, but I have come out the other side with my course corrected and a sense of renewal. Art, designs and words are coming again, my love of gardening is rekindled and my kitchen is once again a creative place. Gone is the rushed anxiety and instead is the calm knowing that I am fulfilling what I was put on the earth to be. It is all because I took the time to be still enough to listen and re-set.

Let me share some of the ways I was able to do this:

  1. First, I had to recognize that I had to change the way my daily life functioned in order to support my daily centering activities that in turn support my inner desires.
  2. IMG_4240I then allowed myself time to noodle on how and why, and then to dream about it.  I literally made appointments with myself by lining out “dates” in my calendar. I did not have the eucalyptus grove but I had cozy spots with good tea and often a fire in the fireplace.
  3. I gave myself some slack.  When you are really off course it takes a long time to auto-correct and the inspirations are slow to come.  But they do come if you give them time!

Best wishes for your own re-set!

*A little humor note: Just to be clear I am not from New England because my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were not born here. I just live here. My husband was duly corrected while in a tractor store when we first moved here 14 years ago. When asked for his address by the sales clerk he said “I am from Canterbury”. A graveled, stern voice nearby rung out “YOU are not from Canterbury. I AM from Canterbury.” Ok, I am not really a Yankee.

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During my re-set period I had time to finally finish piecing this Christmas quilt.  Next summer I will actually quilt it and be ahead of schedule for the holiday!

The seasons of creative expression

DSC06459Yin and yang. In and out. Up and down.

There are equal opposites in every part of life that flavor and sweeten each other with the anticipation of the change. For what would the coming of autumn be without the memory of spring?

Thusly, there are seasons in the life of an artist. Creative expression needs fallow times to muddle on ideas, to dissect past works and imagine new possibilities…to lube up the internal engine with the combustive energy that the composting process creates to be in good working order for when the rush of out-put takes over.

Take in to be put out, retreat to advance, replenish for rebirth.


Window boxes; color study in copper


Copper leafed star fish; triple coated with clear matte urethane.

I have been in this internalized “fallow” place for sometime now aware that I have been absent from this blog.  I have been muddling on new series of artwork, new creative directions and in essence remolding my artistic life itself.  And how interesting this process is because an artist thinks with his hands!  Whether it be sketched-out studies, or word plays, or tending a garden, the simple act of staying in motion lets the thoughts flow…

Part of what I am thinking about is this blog.  When I started this to catalog my creative expressions and showcase my artwork, my buddy Lynn said that this was a big commitment (and I value her insights) and then those blogging Gods say you are failure unless you post regularly. These seem to be the facts. However, the creative process does not work like that and it’s a big assumption that you will even be in the least bit interested. I love the creative process of writing and photographing and composing posts but do you even care??

I need your feedback.  Please leave me a comment and would you take the time to answer this quick survey???



Snow-day baking; Peanut Butter Twist cookies


When was the last time you had a really good peanut butter cookie?  Really nutty, totally satisfying, not the bland-fake-beige-too sweet version?  It took some creativity but my daughter came up with this very unusual version of peanut butter cookies that have a healthy twist.  I am never going back.

Happy baking…day one of two more snow days.

Whitney’s funky peanut butter cookies

Combine in a medium-sized bowl mixing each ingredient in as you go (I did by hand but a mixer will make quick work of it):

  • 1/2 cup very soft butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter, salted
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg; best at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix together then stir into the above mixture:

  • 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached white flour (traditional wheat)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour (meal)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Once this is all blended then fold in (I used my hands) :

  • 3T millet
  • 3T chia seeds
  • 1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped (or slivered) almonds.  Peanuts could be used too.

Whitney says, “Omit the seeds and nuts if you want a traditional PB, but definitely keep the flour combo and almond extract – it makes it more peanutty. The millet also actually creates a rad texture and oddly great nuttiness, me thinks.”

Form into 1″ balls then smash down with a fork on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350° for 9 minutes for a soft cookie with nice crunch from the additions.  Bake 11 minutes for a more crunchy cookie.  YUM!



forgive the IPhone photos…slightly distorted.

Is being artistic genetic?


In my humble career as a visual artist and colorist, I continually hear the reluctant statement from others longing to pursue some form of art, “But I am not creative like you.” That statement begs the question, is being creative-artistic genetic, or is it a learned discipline just any other activity?

A lot has been said about creativity sighting the neuron pathways in the brain that make an artistic temperament, explaining logical vs. intuitive approaches, left brain, right brain and so on…. All of that seems to be true, it makes sense and would reinforce the genetic component. However, I personally observe that attitude and social influence seems to have more impact on the artistic process than any genetic proclivity.  So it seems to me that…

…self confidence and the willingness to loose control allows one to give over to the creative process.

I believe that being creative-artistic does not mean that the end result is a sale-able piece of work but instead is an inspired process that may or may not produce and end result.  Using my own family as an example, I come from a long line of artists that produced many end results. Some of us were trained to be professional artists, others just dove in like myself. Some of the resulting work was acclaimed, some of it so-so but some of it was invisible being simply the artistic-creative process played out in everyday life.

If “good” art is measured by it’s end result, then some of us would not have been considered talented but all of us would be considered creative as that process poured over into all aspects of life. As my predecessors did, I grew up observing that free-form thinking leads to intuitive decision-making which sparks original creativity. Society supported that for me growing up in the unrestricted 1960’s and 70’s while I watched my parents battle their own urges caught between their formative 1950‘s Beatnik years and their perceived need to be “in control & fit” in suburbia rendering them barely comfortable where they fit and creativity was often stifled. Some of their struggles imprinted me resulting in often times my own repressed creativity.

My maternal Victorian great-Grandmother Nellie. She painted small water-color still-life’s. They were good. Who knows if she would have done more but the Victorian society dictated that women confine their artistic talents to parlor entertainment. Nellie Randolph_0002

My paternal great-grandmother Zena. She was a model and daringly modeled men’s clothes! Sadly she died at a very early age so I never knew her.  I always wonder…Zena

My free-spirited maternal grandfather Albert (AJ) Randolph in the roaring 1920s. Navy man, adventurer and finally self-employed artist. He was a sign painter, sculptor and photographer. His parents were entrepreneurs so given his formative years of thinking outside the box and the “roaring” part of the 1920’s it makes sense that he would feel more freedom to pursue creative and artistic endeavours.Nellie Randolph

My maternal grandmother Bernice LeMoine Randolph also was a water-colorist. There is very little of her painted work left to show but she also expressed creativity through massive colorful gardens sculpted carefully with hard scape.Bernice Randolph

AJ and Bernice’s children were also artists.

My mother Flora Jane worked for the US navy doing illustrations and air-brush retouch work (pre-Photoshop). She liked to tell how she worked right next to the men that would become the first Walt Disney artists. When she left the navy she had a glamorous career retouching print ads for the San Francisco Union Square department stores like Sacks. She gave it up to become a mother and suburban housewife but later returned to it as well as pursuing chinese brush and oil painting.  During her absence from making finished art, she filled our home with loads of boot-strappy creative touches; decoratively painted furniture & artistic arrangements of found objects with out-of-the-box color schemes.Flora Jane 1945 Navy

FJ’s sister, my aunt Nell, had perhaps the most successful & prolific art career of anyone in our family. Internationally known and making art everyday of her life, she choose a bohemian unencumbered lifestyle which I believe helped her have the freedom to express herself completely. My sister Nina maintains a website of Nell’s work with some limited-addition prints still available for sale.Nells-web-pic-259x300BasketFlowers1

FJ’s husband Bob, my father, also worked in the arts. He was a professional photographer, a print maker and lithographer. When he was doing this work, it was all done by hand without the aid of a computer using one’s own eye for judging artistic balance. His father was rather repressing and stern so maybe this was some of his hesitation when I was growing up. But maybe something was observed from his seemingly creative mother Zena that allowed him to pursue some arts.Young Bob Gorman

And the next generation down – my sister, myself and my cousin John – all have expressed ourselves creatively. John (observing his mother Nell’s lifestyle) was a graphic artist, fine artist, musician, chef and oozed creativity. My sister is a photographer, cartoonist, gardener and fabulous cook and of course there is me. And my children are jewelers, painters, musicians, writers, poets and highly intuitive as I have tried to provide them with an upbringing that encouraged their urges.

Certainly being creative-artistic has to do with self-expression and the confidence to do so.

So, is being artistic genetic? Or is it environmental? What do you think?

If you are interested in exercising your creativity, you might find my upcoming workshop interesting as I will address the process of getting into your creativity.

Additional resources:

Beth Frede at Creative Revelations coaches people on how to express themselves.

A new book which I hope to read soon…“The Confidence Code” by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.

50th birthday comedy club

DSC05397My husband David turned 50 over the week-end.  To celebrate his transition he decided to let his normally shy self out of the proverbial ziplocked bag and showcase his hidden talent for stand-up comedy.  Our small barn became a club & hosted a hilarious evening with friends!  See his video debut below.

The marquee sign was made from foam core.  I painted the edges with artist’s acrylic paint, punched holes through for a strand of Christmas tree lights that I place clear bulbs through.  All was duct taped in the back to stay flat.  Words were printed on my large format ink jet printer onto tabloid size paper.

party invitationThe PDF invitation was made in the Pages program of my apple computer.

Our guests were asked to bring some finger food to share and a joke to tell.  The actual intent of the evening was a surprise.  Knock knock…who’s there…DSC05401



DSC05372The Whinery sign above the bar/counter was made by lightly painting a piece of wood with semi-gloss wall paint.  For ease I purchased a pre-cut piece of thin plywood at Michael’s Crafts.  I then laid out the lettering in my computer, used the “flip” function to reverse the words then printed it out again on my large-scale format printer.  I taped this onto the board print-side down and traced the outline of the words.  The ink on the paper leaves lines so I then had a pattern to color in.  I simply used a felt tip pen for speed and ease.

“The Whinery…get it off your chest.”

DSC05374One of the best gags of the evening was David’s “microphone”.  Fashioned from a round of plywood, some PVC pipe and a rubber-banded black sock, it provided a great prop for many, MANY jokes…”Hey, it this thing on?”  “Can you hear me in the back?”, “Let me get closer to the mike”, heads were banged on it (with faux feed-back sound from the audience) and we pretended to pull the mike off the stand.  It only stayed somewhat propped up because of the hole David drilled into the floor of his “stage”.
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See David perform his routine at his own just-for-fun blog site JacksonDavidComedy.com

staring in the face of 50

Creative expression

Green summer greenWe had an enjoyable dinner with some new friends last night and the bulk of our conversation centered around our individual struggles with creative expression.  All four of us are self-employed successfully working our cerebral professions – and feeling happy that we have them – yet we each have a form of art that we are longing to create.  We each are practicing the art, more or less, yet still there is this deep longing and a confusion of time & money management that hangs over our heads.  Ultimately D said it best, that creative expression is not fully realized until it is shared.

In that spirit, let me share a link on this topic.  It arrived in my in-box this AM and I think it is one of the most profound articles on the creative process that I have read, describing the artistic need to create and how to balance it against a culture that tells us we need to monetize everything.  From Garlingo.com “On money, fear, and the artist”for you D – enjoy!

Sharing my art work above: painted, printed, stitched and stretched cotton.  SOLD in private collection.  Jane Balshaw