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How making art can build your inner strengths

Over the last year, the pandemic has taught us a lot about how we were spending our time, about what we really missed when it was taken away, and what we didn’t. 

I’m no exception. Though actually my experience of lockdown felt like it started around 2 years before, when I had my first baby (the first of 2 within 2 years). 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore my children and am massively grateful to have them after a tricky journey to parenthood. But I found the reduction in time to myself in these early years, as well as the lack of sleep, and lack of time just with my husband Phil – and our friends – to be really hard. Juggling the needs of my two toddlers, and my first baby (my online school) has been exhausting. Then the pandemic arrived. 

Sanity-saving activities

Over the last few months of winter lockdown, with two toddlers at home to entertain and care for, and nowhere to go, Phil and I have had to prioritise certain non-negotiable self-care activities in order to stay sane. 

For him it’s cycling or running a few times a week and the occasional writing session (that’s his passion).  For me it’s been going for a walk, ideally daily, and creating art at least a few times a week.

But we’ve had to adapt

Phil’s learned how to run whilst pushing a buggy and, as I’ve not had the energy or time available for my usual detailed watercolour work (unless I’ve been in the video studio), I’ve been doing some iPad painting in the evenings, usually in bed or laying on the sofa!

Building inner strengths by making art
An iPad mixed media painting, using the Procreate app, of some beautiful cherry blossoms. Painting flowers always seems to boost my mood!

Savouring

One thing I noticed during this challenging time is that I have been savouring time on my own, and time doing my favourite activities a lot more. 

For example, a local bakery has managed to stay open throughout the lockdown and they make the most exquisite cakes. Several times a week I’ve managed a walk there and an open-air coffee and cake. Those few minutes have been a very enjoyable moment in the day.

With so many activities not permitted, lockdown has had the potential to lead to more mindful appreciation of the simple pleasures. 

Inner strengths from enjoying happy feelings
Inner strengths from savouring the moment
Some self care for building inner strengths
Building inner strengths through me time

I’ve been curious about how to take forward the positive aspects of lockdown life into normal life when the restrictions ease, so I skipped a few evening iPad painting sessions and did some reading (which I also love).

What I discovered feels like proof of what I’ve always known (though not always practiced): that, far from being simply nice-to-do, engaging in feel-good activities actually contributes significantly to well-being and a fulfilled life. 

Let me explain…

Your experiences shape your brain

Over the last 20 years or so there has been an explosion in neuroscience research which has proven that the brain’s evolved for learning, and is therefore constantly changing and growing in response to the experiences we have. 

As leading neuroscientist  Rick Hanson writes in his book ‘Hardwiring Happiness’:

“All mental activity- sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes – is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on its channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity – especially if it is conscious – will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like a surging current reshaping a riverbed. As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.”

~ Rick Hanson, ‘Hardwiring Happiness’ 2013

It’s known as ‘experience-dependent neuroplasticity’ and it’s proven that our experiences really matter. Far from being fleeting and inconsequential, our emotions can leave lasting imprints on our brains and change the way we experience our lives.

Experiencing, and taking-in,  positive emotions repeatedly has been shown to change the brain, and therefore our lives, in brilliant ways. 

Mindset shift required

The old view, within the culture of the West, is that we tend to think of positive emotions such as joy, love, serenity, inspiration, amusement, interest, wonder, gratitude and hope as mere fleeting experiences and, as such that they are trivial, inconsequential and therefore expendable.  There’s an emphasis instead on doing our duty, or working hard, which we think will bring happiness one-day in the form of appreciation or material successes. And there’s often guilt when we do things that we enjoy, just for ourselves. 

This attitude is thought to be a hangover from the Protestant work ethic – an attitude linked to Calvinist Christians of the Reformation in the middle ages who saw hard work and worldly success as a sign of your salvation, and that enjoyment and leisure were sinful.  Calvinists were known for their dour outlook on merriment, celebrations, and pleasure.

I have a direct link to these party animals! In Scotland the Calvinists went on to become the  Scottish Presbyterians, and my dear Gran was brought up in that tradition. She was so steeped in it that she refused to allow herself to play board games with us when she came to stay at Christmas, even though she secretly loved them and sometimes blurted out answers to Trivial Pursuit from the next room!  She lived ‘til she was 92, was always kind to me, and I loved her. But she didn’t seem especially happy, and her outlook was often quite narrow and constrained.

Maybe my Gran was an extreme example, but up until now I’ve definitely bought into a diluted version of this, working fiercely hard through school and uni (and beyond), and finding it very hard to prioritise leisure activities that were purely ‘for fun’. In fact, if I hadn’t made painting my ‘job’, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have got much of a look-in.

Experiencing positive emotions builds your inner strengths

In the past few decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have turned their attentions to studying the positive emotions.  Among the first,  Barbara Fredrickson’s work has shown that positive emotions are actually the building blocks of creating love, wellbeing and health: that they are the means, not the end.  

‘Whereas the old story leaves people feeling guilty when they ‘take time’ for something that makes them feel good, the new story can give people the courage to cultivate, protect and cherish moments that touch and open their hearts.’ 

~Barbara Fredrickson, ‘Positivity’, 2009

Fredrickson developed the ‘broaden and build’ theory of positive emotions. Her research showed that experiencing them broadens our ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a broader range of thoughts and options, making us more receptive and more creative.  In turn being more open allows us to discover and build new skills, new relationships, new knowledge and new ways of being: building our resources which then buffer us from our vulnerabilities and the challenges in life. 

Experiencing positive emotions has been found to be instrumental in the building of inner strengths. Rick Hanson describes inner strengths as ‘the supplies you have in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life.’

They include positive feelings such as calmness, confidence, contentment or compassion, as well as useful skills and perspectives that you can draw upon such as being kind to yourself, and even embodied qualities such as relaxation and vitality.  Unlike fleeting mental states, inner strengths are stable traits, an enduring source of wellbeing, wise and effective action, and contribution to others.  

If this seems a bit abstract, Hanson gives us an example:

‘The alarm goes off and you’d rather snooze – so you find the will to get up. Let’s say you have the kids and they’re squabbling and it’s frustrating – so instead of yelling, you get in touch with that place inside that’s firm but not angry. You’re embarrassed about making a mistake at work – so you call up a sense of worth from past accomplishments. You get stressed racing around – so you find some welcome calm in several long exhalations. You feel sad about not having a partner – so you find some comfort in thinking about the friends you do have. Throughout your day, other inner strengths are operating automatically in the back of your mind, such as a sense of perspective, faith, or self awareness.’

~ Rick Hanson ‘Hardwiring Happiness’

Inner strengths are what makes you able to meet the inevitable challenges of life.

The HEAL method: taking it in

Hanson has developed a method of self-directed neuroplasticity to develop inner strengths he calls the ‘HEAL’ method. It’s basically a form of mindfulness. It’s not merely positive thinking, it’s about really feeling the experience to your core. The following is a pared down version of it:

Step 1. Have a positive experience

Notice a positive experience that’s already present in the foreground or the background of your awareness, such as a physical pleasure, a sense of determination, or feeling close to someone. Or create a positive experience for yourself. For example, you could think about things for which your grateful, bring to mind a friend or recognise a task you’ve completed.

In the context of creating art, this could be being mindful whilst you create, observing the feeling of the flow-state if you get into it, or simply observing the pleasure you get from the way the paint feels on your brush, the colours in your palette. 

Or it could be taking-in the result of your creative session if you’re pleased with it.  For me I love to put a picture I’m pleased with as the homescreen on my phone for a few days, so I can repeatedly experience the deep satisfaction of seeing it. 

Step 2. Enrich it

Stay with the positive experience for five to ten seconds or longer. Open to the feelings in it and try to sense it in your body; let it fill your mind. Enjoy it. Gently encourage the experience to be more intense. Notice what it is about it that feels so good to you personally.

Step 3. Absorb it

Intend and sense that the experience is sinking into you as you sink into it. Let it really land in your mind. Perhaps visualize it sifting down into you like golden dust, or feel it easing you like a soothing balm. Or place it like a jewel in the treasure chest of your heart. Know that the experience is becoming part of you, a resource inside that you can take with you wherever you go.

Step 4. Link positive and negative material (optional)

While having a vivid and stable sense of a positive experience in the foreground of awareness, also be aware of something negative in the background. 

For example if you are feeling pleased with a painting you have completed, you could allow the experience to make contact with times from the past when you have felt frustrated with your artwork, or frustrated by your lack of creating art all.  

If the negative material hijacks your attention, drop it and focus only on the positive; when you feel recentered in the positive, you can let the negative also be present in awareness if you like. 

The idea is that by bringing to mind a related negative experience whilst you’re feeling deeply positive, then your brain begins to rewire to link the two experiences together. Then when you find yourself thinking about how long you didn’t paint for again, you’re more likely to recall with it the experience of the painting you were happy with, instead of lamenting wasted time (for example).

This process is what Hanson calls weaving inner strengths into the fabric of your brain, or ‘hardwiring happiness’.

Not about suppressing the negative

Crucially this focus on positive experiences is not about denying, repressing or suppressing ‘negative’ emotions. They are a part of being human and are as valuable and necessary as they are often uncomfortable . But by savouring positive experiences we can be better placed to meet the challenges in our lives.

So let’s prioritise creating art!

It’s all too easy to let creating art plummet right down your daily to-do list. Constantly dropped for ‘more important’ tasks you feel you ‘should’ do such as cleaning the house, a few hours more work, meeting a friend who actually drains you…

Since you’re reading this blog post, I’ll assume that making art is something that brings you enjoyment (or could if you were more confident in your artistic skills). 

If that’s the case, then the neuroscience is clear: prioritising it, along with other feel-good activities such as a form of exercise you enjoy, is actually going to grow your inner strengths over time. 

Far from being a frivolous or self indulgent hobby, it’s part of what’s key to experiencing a fulfilling life.

Why not experiment with this? Schedule an art session twice a week or more, use the HEAL method with it, and see how you feel 3 months from now. 

Or do you have an experience of making this discovery for yourself? 

What has a regular art practice done for you? I’d love to hear, so please leave a comment below.

p.s. for further reading on this subject, check out Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson, No Sweat by Michelle Segar and Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson.

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86 Comments

  1. Jan Grandmaire on March 30, 2021 at 4:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing personal notes and concerns for others to your art. We wish you happiness and success.

    • Jenny on March 30, 2021 at 5:42 pm

      I’ve been enjoying Grayson Perry’s art club. But have been too timid (or lazy) to submit anything.

      But something that stuck in my mind said by somebody participating in the programme was a remark along the lines of “have a go at making art, whatever you create will not have existed before”

      • Carol Staines on March 30, 2021 at 6:43 pm

        Grayson and Phillipa Perry should be available on prescription…….even my none artist husband is captivated

      • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:42 pm

        That’s a great line – and yes the Perry’s are fantastic.

  2. Gail Robb on March 30, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    You’ve changed my perspective – I will now incorporate a variety of senses and activities into my day. You’re right that it makes sense to create a fuller life. Thank you for opening my mind!

    • Victoria Turner on March 30, 2021 at 5:26 pm

      Anna a friend recently told me about you.

      Serendipitous. I too was brought up Presbyterian. A catholic priest told me years ago that it is the most unforgiving denomination. 70+ years into my life I have to agree.

      Your thoughts in this blog are bang on. Thank you.
      I was at my painting table from 10-11 last nite. Who could ask for a more perfect sleeping potion?

      • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:46 pm

        I’m so pleased you’re painting Victoria!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:25 pm

      So delighted the post was helpful to you Gail, thanks for your comment.

  3. Joy+Elizabeth+Reardon on March 30, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    Good afternoon Anna
    Thank you for your continuous emails of emotional and practical support, especially through Covid lockdowns. Your demonstrations are wonderful I so enjoy watching you paint. . You truly are very generous with your knowledge.

    I found today’s email very uplifting. I was very down yesterday for many reasons. Today the sun shone so I went for a long walk. I feel so much better today than yesterday. It helped me to be more able to cope with matters I cannot change. Gone have the dark afternoons evenings – I’m truly a person that needs the sunshine in my life.

    I really admire you ProCreate painting. I do have it on my iPad but I find it very difficult to master. Again Thank you Anna. Best wishes Joy

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:26 pm

      I’m with you there about sunshine Joy – painting with bright colours is what I try to do on duller days!

  4. Beth Hanson on March 30, 2021 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Anna,
    Thank you for such a well developed post which I found inspiring and so helpful. I love that our positive feelings can help us evolve into happier beings. The HEAL method is a great way to really savor positive experiences and make them part of us. Right now, I’m savoring the choice to be an artist and hang out with other artists. Bless you and your family as you navigate these challenging times.

  5. Rose+Vermeulen on March 30, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Anna

    That was certainly food for thought. I think our great grandparents and grand parents had a huge effect on our lives and our upbringing. We all need to work harder at allowing ourselves to enjoy some ‘free’ time. Thank you for your article and positive outlook on life.

    And of course, a huge thank you for your art.
    Take care
    Rose

  6. Yvonne Lilley on March 30, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Anna, I loved this post, I have since a teenager suffered from chronic depression and anxiety and felt tremendous guilt. This has really helped me not to feel guilty when enjoying myself with art or in the garden and not really giving my full attention to ny art because of this. I am 74 and I suppose it is time that I started enjoying myself just for the sake of it. I am often unsatisfied with the art I do but I suppose most of us want a perfection that does not exist, at least to ourselves anyway.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:46 pm

      Yvonne, thank you for your comment and I am sorry to hear of your struggles. I do hope this information can help you to release any guilt associated with doing fun things for yourself. I do take your point about the frustrations of art results not matching what you hoped for. That’s valid, and although some of it might be to do with needing to be less perfectionistic, it’s also about accepting that we are learning and that, if we practice in a structured way anyway, improvements will come. Sometimes the dissatisfaction is because you have the ‘eye’ for how you want things to look – which can actually be helpful to your learning.

  7. Maritza Miranda on March 30, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Anna!!Thank you for those valuable and beautiful words full of motivation, just what we need right now when countries like mine, have the highest number of contagions by Covid 19.
    It’s truth what you expouse about the relationship between art and neuroplasticity. The pleasure of making art, take us into a state of mind very special, like meditation, and thats a beginning of the body and spirit healing.
    Thank you
    Maritza

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:43 pm

      So true, stay safe Maritza!

  8. iona fisher on March 30, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    Thankyou Anna, that’s such an uplifting post and a positive message with concrete advice to put it into practice. I’ll be looking for those references. I’d also add to that list The Book of Joy with some powerful advice from the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. Your school has been a wonderful resource for me. I’ll definitely be taming that inner critic by linking her to the positivity I get from working through your tutorials and spending time “with you”, if only virtually.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:42 pm

      Ohh I will have to have a read of that book, thank you Iona. Glad to be spending virtual time with you too!

  9. Aleta Hoyle on March 30, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    Anna I have noticed that painting has awakened my creativity and helped me feel more positive. I now look forward to my personal time learning to enhance my skills through your teaching. Finding the time is sometimes difficult. Thank you for these comments of encouragement!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:41 pm

      Your welcome Aleta – thank you for your comment.

  10. Lisa Connors on March 30, 2021 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you for this post! I think everyone should read it, but creatives especially can be so hard on themselves. I have felt so much positive emotions because of doing the paintings in your school. I keep thinking, ‘wow, last year I could not do that’. Your class has been my giant silver lining to the pandemic because it allowed me the time to focus on painting and improving, something I have wanted to do for a long time. Thank you!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:41 pm

      I’m thrilled to read your comment Lisa – thank you for taking the time to write it.

  11. Wendy on March 30, 2021 at 6:08 pm

    Well, I too was brought up Presbyterian, and that thinking has seeped into my consciousness as well. For years I have felt guilty about making art. But the same Bible that the Calvinists have misinterpreted here and there also contain keys that speak to your subject. Jesus Himself said to “love others as you love yourself.” Many people forget or gloss over that last part.
    On a whim, I decided I was going to make time to paint every day for a year. I have never ever allowed myself to do such a thing–but I finished day 27 yesterday (I have an app) and I’m noticing small improvements, and I’m happier as I do it. I didn’t notice this until I had passed the 3 week mark, but it is happening. I highly recommend it!

    • Lmina on March 31, 2021 at 2:25 am

      Dear Wendy! It is religion that keeps people away from GOD. GOD IS LIGHT, in HIM there is no darkness, at all. Imposing feelings of guilt is sadness not of GOD! By HIS LIGHT we paint HIS CREATIONS! Always with love!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:40 pm

      I was so pleased to read your post Wendy. The love yourself part is indeed what is so often lacking and causes so many problems. As for your everyday for a year challenge – that’s fantastic. I do hope you keep at it – clearly it will do great things for you!

  12. Bonnie Frazier on March 30, 2021 at 6:24 pm

    When the pandemic began, I knew I was going to need something wonderful to get me through. Like many of us, boredom is my worst enemy. I had dabbled in oils and acrylics, but watercolor was on my bucket list. After a few utter laughable attempts, my friend recommended Anna Mason. I did your two free lessons and loved them, enrolled in your online school, saving my sanity. Every day, I painted, drew, or watched videos to plan my next project. As we near the end (hopefully) of this terrible viral plague, I look back on the months that could have been a dark abyss. Instead, I have a body of work and a new skill set to lighten the days, months, and years ahead.

    I did have to push through some days, so I focused on painting each day for one hour. Some days, one hour turned into several hours. What I didn’t let myself do was skip an art day. If I was struggling with painting, I researched subjects and watched videos. My house is not as pristine as I would like it, (lol), but I’m a happy watercolorist.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:39 pm

      I’m so pleased that painting has helped you through this tough year Bonnie. Thanks for your comment. And well done for de-prioritising the housework a little!

  13. Kathi on March 30, 2021 at 6:52 pm

    Anna, I’ve been in your online school for a month now. I absolutely love it! I appreciate all of your attention to detail, including bits about your life. This post about building inner strength is SO EXCELLENT! I’m 69 yo always creative, but now with my children grown (and the pandemic), I have glorious time to spend on myself. I always will share my experience in life with my 6 darling growing grandchildren and this post goes along with what I am sharing with them (including Transcendental Meditation) Thank you so much!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      Delighted that you’re getting so much from your membership Kathi and taking the time for yourself, that’s music to my ears. Now’s your time!

  14. Irene on March 30, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    How is IPad art done using a procreate app.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Irene ,that’s a bit too tricky to fully explain here. You need to have an Apple Pencil, and then you use the different ‘brushes’ and ‘pencils’ etc in the app to create your picture. You can also work in layers which is crucial and means you can build up colours a bit like when painting in watercolour. THere are YouTube tutorials you will be able to find that show you the basics.

  15. Janice on March 30, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    Thank you Anna for taking the time to write this blog. It is a reminder for me to continue to practice these habits and that I’m not alone in this endeavour even though it goes against the grain.

  16. Geraldine Owen on March 30, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you Anna for your inspiring advice and references to authors whom have inspired you. Wonderful comments and advice from your students too. This time last year I had not held a paintbrush since childhood so every time I participate in one of your online tutorials I am so grateful that I found your amazing classes ….Thank you Anna

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:35 pm

      So delighted that you got back to art Geraldine!

  17. Carol Myers on March 30, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    Anna, as a retired pastor I know the challenges and obstacles of writing a newsletter or blog. I thought this was extremely well-written. I appreciate your honesty and your wisdom. I had wondered how you managed to find time to create and teach with two young children. I put my artistic interests on hold during the years of raising a family and pursuing a career. (That Protestant work ethic!) I find myself wondering who I would have been had I made time for art during those decades.

    But here I am and you are playing an essential role in reclaiming my first love. I make time to watercolor daily. It is a source of joy and peace, a spiritual discipline that helps me live fully in the present moment. I always finish a session with great gratitude for you. You are an excellent teacher and a beautiful artist.

    If you haven’t already discovered this book. you might enjoy “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Another reason for daily and deliberate practice!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:34 pm

      Carol, thanks so much for a lovely message. I am honored to be playing a role in you reconnecting with your artistic self. And I’m very grateful to you for this message. I think I have heard of that book but will now make sure I look it up, thanks. 🙂

  18. Kiva Zen Elpers on March 30, 2021 at 8:02 pm

    Oh Anna!!
    How wonderful it is to see you know about Rick Hanson!
    I have been reading and studying with him for almost 10 years. I am fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is a teacher at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, CA.
    I have all his books, and your message came at the perfect time……no coincidence ❤☯️
    Thank you Anna for everything!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:32 pm

      Kiva, I am very envious of your location in the SF Bay area – and having access to a Meditation Centre and to such a great teacher. Perhaps when the pandemic is over and my children are a bit older I will be able to visit. If you’re able to share this post with Rick Hanson, I’d be really grateful.

  19. Maria José Agostinho on March 30, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Hello Anna, thanks for the magnificent post.
    The religious ties that have been transmitted to us by the family have the strength of tradition and are difficult, at times, to circumvent. I was born in a remote village and raised as a Catholic and anything that escaped the strict rules of religion was a sin. During my walk I discovered that I can appreciate the less formal, joyful, creative and brilliant side of life, without feeling guilty. Now that I am retired, painting brings me pure joy and happiness and I feel every day in a new learning process, and some achievements, that bring well-being to my mind and soul.
    Thank you for sharing with us the positive messages and how to put them into practice.
    I wish you all a happy Easter!
    Maria

    • Lumina on March 31, 2021 at 2:18 am

      Dear Maria, Bless you to have the way to celebrate GOD’S Creation with fulfilled times painting. Please do check online in any website dedicated to the ‘origin of names’ check out the origin of the name easter- it is the pagan goddess of fertility, since the 8th century this pagan naming of HIS HOLY RESURRECTION, uncovered by Venerable Bede, he wrote about it in 703AD and again in 725AD. Presently, I am taking up V.Bede’s complaint and publishing his findings world wide. I pray you do not take offence and Praise JESUS, with HAPPY HOLY RESURRECTION DAY! In which we all rejoice! May GOD Bless you!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:31 pm

      I’m so pleased you made it past the guilt Maria and have been able to enjoy your creativity – thank you for sharing.

  20. Joan Damron on March 30, 2021 at 8:24 pm

    Your comments are always refreshing to the soul. I find that private prayer is soothing to the spirit, calms the soul, and refreshes the mind. Jesus said to come unto Him, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28) Creativity is a gift from God, and we need to nurture it in order to renew ourselves and to serve God by serving others. (Sometimes a hand painted card sent to someone can lift their spirits, and it lifts your spirits as you create it.) That’s a win win situation if you ask me. I didn’t know that about Presbyterians, I thought it was Baptists that didn’t waste time playing board games. My mother didn’t play board games with us, and she would say, “You’ve wasted 4 hours of your time playing Monopoly, and what do you have to show for it? I’ve crocheted for 4 hours, and I have a nice doily to show for my time.” She was having her own brand of fun time and just didn’t know it. 🙂

    • Lumina on March 31, 2021 at 2:10 am

      Bless you, Joan to share your love for JESUS and Holy Scripture! Prayer and Praise for HIM, an uplifting way to start the day! Then Deuteronomy 7:9 and with this Psalm 34:3 and I quote : ” O magnify The LORD with me, let us exalt HIS NAME together.” Have a GOD Blessed week!

      • Joan Damron on April 1, 2021 at 4:43 am

        Thank you, Lumina, and may God bless you.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:30 pm

      Love that story about your mother Joan. And hand painted cards are a great idea.

      • Joan Damron on April 1, 2021 at 4:45 am

        Thanks, Anna, and I love your blog and your realistic flowers.

  21. Kathy Howard on March 30, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    What a great blog post! I am surrounded by people for whom work is everything! I know it is sometimes necessary, but we all need other things in our lives. I am the odd one out and crave artistic pursuits. I did no art when my children were young, there just didn’t seem to be time, though I did do flower gardening. I did some sewing, too, until me daughters were vocal about not wanting to wear what I sewed. My youngest got me into quilting (I had a grandmother who quilted) and there were no complaints about quilts to keep them warm. I asked and got watercolors for my birthday (went on sale after Christmas). I need to do more with those. I have been doing digital art for about 11 years that sometimes involves manipulating my photos, sometimes doing digital drawing and less often manipulating an image of physical art. I do all this attempting to make surface pattern designs for fabric and wallpaper (continuous repeats is the biggest difference in this type of art). Digital art lets me rescue and fix physical art that went wrong; I don’t worry so much about mistakes. My most recent piece had a big mistake, but I got it fixed digitally
    . I have even used some art pieces done before I was married.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:29 pm

      What a creative life you have lived Kathy – it’s great to hear.

  22. Anne Tarver on March 30, 2021 at 9:05 pm

    I had a precious grandmother in my early life that would stop and share her busy day with me. We walked over the pastures to the farm fields to sit in a silo-like structure full of picked cotton. It was hot and dusty, and I’m sure she sat thinking of all the cooking, etc, she needed to do, but there she sat. I grew up knowing she could put her life on hold for me. Now that I’m a grandmother, even a great-grandmother, I see the other side of the story. Anything I have to do can wait – if I’m needed for a game of catch or hide-and-seek! At my advanced age, I can honestly say I have found the secret of contentment. It sounds strange to say, but I have NO ambition. None! I love what I’m doing, and feel contentment at whatever it happens to be. I discovered water coloring at this advanced age, and I can lose myself in just concentrating on a tutorial. It’s frustrating at times, but I have to chuckle at myself for getting exasperated when it get’s to the “awkward stage” as Anna calls it. Each time I start a tutorial, I enjoy the clean slate, and anticipate this painting being the best one yet! Venturing out to paint my own photos is an excitement all it’s own! Seeing Spring blossom out in water colors and shades is a hoot! I look at color as such a blessing! I see Sap Green and Olive Green and Winsor Lemon and Winsor Green (Yellow) everywhere!!!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      You sound like you have life sussed Anne – and what a great example you had set to you by your own grandmother. I’m delighted you are enjoying painting and making it through the awkward stage.

  23. David Rivera Ospina on March 30, 2021 at 9:48 pm

    Maravilloso, que bella nota, casi un cuadernillo, me lo imagino complementando los párrafos con tus sorprendentes pinceladas. Me resuena en lo profundo.
    Gracias.

  24. Karen Todd on March 30, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    Unfortunately, any group whether it is a religious group or even an art group, can foster the same legalistic attitudes. We can be made to feel guilty if we aren’t sketching in our sketchbooks on a daily basis or if we are painting from photographs instead of from life. We are scolded if we use white paint with Watercolor or a restricted number of colors on our palette. Contrary to what others have experienced, I have found that my church friends have been the most encouraging apart from my family! No, I think it is actually, “I” that puts the pressure on myself to get my housework done before I sit down to paint. The opposite is also true, when I haven’t done the art, when I had the extra free time. In both cases, I’m not going to blame someone else for what I do or don’t do. I have the ability to think for myself and to make reasonable decisions. Let’s take responsibility for our own actions or inactions and not lay the blame on others.

    • Lumina on March 31, 2021 at 1:55 am

      So sad that you are feeling the pressure from your environment. But please know that we are a group of VERY RESPONSIBLE art-fun types that ENJOY sharing!

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      Good point Karen, we do all have responsibility for ourselves. And I have found certain art tuition that is very dogmatic to be very unhelpful too.

      • Karen Todd on April 1, 2021 at 3:37 pm

        Anna, I’m usually not so strong in my comments but it saddens me that so many of the comments and even your own are focused on the legalism found in the people of some churches. My comment was meant to challenge our thinking about that. We have seen so much “finger pointing”, so much blame placed on others instead of looking at our own lives, our own inconsistencies, our own lack of discipline. As a Christian, I would want the same respect and encouragement that any other person is given on the feed. We can say that we are inclusive but are we really? Do we want to tear others down that are in the community? That said, I do appreciate the many ways you keep everyone motivated to keep painting.

        • Anna Mason on April 1, 2021 at 4:44 pm

          That was not the focus of my comments Karen, I suspect you may have misunderstood the thrust of what I was saying where I referenced elements of our culture that may have their traces in the middle ages.

          • Karen Todd on April 2, 2021 at 12:37 am

            Anna, I went back and re-read what you wrote. Yes, I see your train of thought about how things are carried through from one generation to another. I totally get that, I guess what still bothers me is the negative light that the church is portrayed in. I’m not denying that some believers have taken their faith so seriously that they were not able to enjoy the blessings that they were given, including work. To be fair, many people that take things to that extreme haven’t really experienced the grace or the love of God. They strive to win his love when he has already shown it in his Son. Forgive me for jumping too quickly. Thank you for the exchange.



  25. Denise Pepe on March 31, 2021 at 12:18 am

    Hi Anna,
    it has been a very difficult time!
    As a medical doctor , everyday I deal with that hard reallity!!
    For me, paint and do Yoga are the most important Way to feel a little better !
    I always try to keep attention on the Present Time !

    Kisses and be safe!

    • Lumina on March 31, 2021 at 1:58 am

      It is so true EXERCISE, I do Pilates, and ART, also I have 2 zany Ferrets…..! A balanced VEGAN `diet helps to overcome the ways of confinement and all.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you for all your incredible hard work this year Denise, and I am so pleased you have those outlets to help yourself stay healthy and sane! x

  26. Rhonda Norton on March 31, 2021 at 12:25 am

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’d love to use procreate in the evening sitting on the couch. I haven’t been able to do anything on it that doesn’t look cartoonish. Do you know a good tutorial for learning to paint in procreate?

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:59 pm

      Hmm, no, I taught myself but the huge PDF guide they supply is great at showing how to use all the tools etc. I may make some tutorials on this in future!

    • Karen Todd on April 1, 2021 at 3:15 pm

      Rhonda, there are courses on Udemy for learning how to use procreate.

  27. LaVonne on March 31, 2021 at 1:34 am

    Greetings from Long Beach, California! These are wise thoughts you shared. I’m relatively new to watercolor but the feelings I have after painting are often like getting an interavenous shot of endophins. I get high and, when I’ve been successful, I get even higher. Gotta be good for the soul. I like the idea of linking these positive experiences with those less positive ones.

    Cheers! And thank you.

    • Anna Mason on March 31, 2021 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you for your comment LaVonne – you’re right, it’s even more wonderful when you’re pleased with the result!

  28. Susan schuba on March 31, 2021 at 1:42 am

    Thank you Anna.. Your words and references are very helpful! I have a difficult time justifying spending time doing art. I am going to try the twice a week practice and see if I can balance out my time. Blessings to you and your family.

  29. Sharlane Lumina on March 31, 2021 at 1:47 am

    Dear Anna,
    Bless you for stimulating us to be active and this way release the built up stress! I have been seeing the downslide of humanity too much. I have recently cut out news podcasts and only view the weather, volcanoes, tornadoes, thunder snow (is coming next…) I have started from scratch apple trees, blackberry seed. And pray to GOD ALMIGHTY for Peace, Joy and righteousness in The HOLY SPIRIT, this way am calmer and now back to Painting!!!!! Bless you to say it has been hard, YEAH! same here!

  30. marsha a close on March 31, 2021 at 3:33 am

    I loved this inspirational and learning though! I tell people your school is more than painting but it’s truly like a college class. I loved the time of lock down, it gave me the time to actually do what I loved and not feel guilty! I worked out, read, painted, cleaned out closets, took care of my Dad and found much Joy, amidst such sadness. Thank you for your constant encouragement.

  31. Esme on March 31, 2021 at 7:22 am

    Hi Anna, a great blog thank you. I’m enjoying being a member of the school and enjoy loosing myself in learning new things and producing pieces of art that in the main I’m happy with. I have also made friends, albeit at a distance , with people I would never have met through the buddying process – another fruit of the process of finding joy through art. However an even bigger plus for me is that I loose myself so much whilst I paint that I am able to experience relief from pain. I have a condition called anaesthesia Dolarosa – a complication following surgery for trigeminal neuralgia both extremely painful conditions. The rest painting gives me is two fold. I have many regrets experienced as a result of lockdown but finding painting with watercolour has been a big bonus. Thank you for helping in that process . Regards Esme

  32. Marilyn Hansen on March 31, 2021 at 7:34 am

    Thank you Anna so much for this enlightening read. I must admit, the pandemic has made me more productive, especially with my artwork in spite of the fact that the stresses I have which involve taking care of my 91 year old father and my husband with cancer. Working from home has its blessings and allows me to create and have some time to myself. I continue with my ballet workouts and playing my instruments (piano and harpsichord), along with so much painting(watercolor, pastel and acrylic). If it weren’t for these things in my life I don’t think I would have the sanity or strength to get through this pandemic. . And of course my faith. I believe that positivity is a result in the activities we do and enjoy. Thank you so much for your emails and all e best to you and your family!

  33. Diane Constantine on March 31, 2021 at 9:07 am

    Three years ago I didn’t know I could draw. At 70 years of age, I picked up a pencil. A friend and art teacher challenged me to learn graphite art. I got so much satisfaction from these early exercises. After a year, she helped me transition to colored pencil. I practiced nearly every day. I always felt better afterwards. I became so fascinated by color I started watercor. I came across your free classes. I was hooked. I am always encouraging others to start learning art. I have one I’m coaxing along. One day I hope she joins this school and community! Thank you for sharing your talent and your insights! Bless you, Anna Mason!

  34. Cindy on March 31, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you for this and all your blogs….it centers me and I’m sure others. The Pandemic has been a challenge, not only the virus itself but my daughter did IVF and has been pregnant this whole year and is due this weekend. I’ve had that worry on top of not seeing friends and other relatives and the awful weather here in the Southern US. Art has been my saving grace. I make sure I get up at 6-6:30 and go up to my studio and have at least 3 hours to myself. Sometimes inspiration has been hard but it’s my decompress time. I”ve only been painting about 5 years so each day I’m still learning…..BUT….sometimes I’m so distracted it’s not easy to focus and just paint.
    With Spring and some sun and the fact we’ve had both vaccinations, I’m looking for a rebirth to our family, relationships with friends and my inspiration. I’m ready to paint!!

  35. Pam Aylmer on March 31, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    This post is precious. I’ve decided to savor it like a piece of cake–one bite at a time. Besides the beautiful words, your Procreate skill shows. The gold-lined blossoms are beautiful. What a delicious treat!

  36. Valerie Chapman on March 31, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you Anna for your positive and uplifting comments and “look at life” especially over the last year.

    I have discovered art quite late in life and I found your “pear tutorial” very helpful and easy to follow. I hope I will be able to join you and your group sometime soon.

    Keep up the good work and thank you once again for all your encouragement. Enjoy your family life – and the cake. !

    Best Wishes. xx

  37. Melissa Francis-Brown on April 1, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    This is a very insightful and emotional blog post and I can relate to it completely. I often feel guilty when I do not find the time to paint but now the sun is coming out more and the days are becoming longer, I’m finding new inspiration to paint.
    Thank you Anna for sharing.

  38. Carroll Charlet on April 1, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    Thank you! I am a member of your School but new to your blog and this was a most enjoyable post!
    I teach Watercolor at the Nevada Museum of Art and your post intensely reminded me of an epiphany I had on that journey. After several years at the Museum I began to wallow in the negative feelings of spending so much time teaching (YOU know) and so little time painting my own work. I even allowed myself to use the word ‘fraud’ when thinking about it. boo!. But once when lamenting to my daughter she said, “So when did you forget that teaching is an Art?” That snapped me back, I relaxed and let my mind rest with the art of teaching, and low and behold new paintings started to flow!
    Thank you for your excellent Teaching!

  39. Patrice on April 1, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    Thanks for all you do, Anna – including this post of yours and all your lovely responses to the people who wrote in. Thanks for being so encouraging! I know it’s a little off-topic but sometimes in the evening I watch your You-Tubes one after another for an hour or so – even the ones I have seen before. That same encouraging spirit of yours really shines through! MUCH better than watching most TV, especially the local/national news! (I am super-new to watercolors so I am watching all 4 of the beginner Pear tutorials so I know the lay of the land, then I’m going to try a Pear myself. I really appreciate what a terrific teacher you are. I wanted to like oil painting but I don’t have a dedicated, well-ventilated space for it. I didn’t think watercolors could do what I hoped to do. Thanks to you and your Blueberry Cupcake, I see that they can! And can’t beat the no-smell convenience! Most appreciative and thanks again!)

  40. Pam Lund on April 3, 2021 at 1:43 am

    I enjoyed your blogpost, Anna. I’m so glad you’re addressing these issues of mindfulness, positivity and creativity now in your life, and sharing it with us. As a mother of two, I suspect you’ll find yourself treasuring these life lessons—since every child is an experiment with no directions to follow. Having a healthy respect for self-care is imperative even without a pandemic. I’m retired now and the pandemic has had relatively little affect on my activities, although at my age it certainly highlights my vulnerability. We miss the restaurants and wine tastings and concerts. Daily news broadcasts acknowledging our mortality is challenging to the psyche. Watercolor is my new creative sustenance. It has kept me physically, intellectually and emotionally engaged and/or distracted. My camera is with me at all times and my pockets are full of found objects. Everything is viewed through a new and different lens as I note the variations of light and shadows, the subtle color blends, reveling in the flaws as well as the perfection. I have learned to be patient when painting. This is good. I need to enjoy all the moments.

  41. Barbara Mingie on April 3, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    Anna, Thank you for this thoughtful blog post! You are so talented. Perhaps you might consider sharing some tutorials on using Procreate on the iPad, either here in this community, or on YouTube! I am sure you would develop a strong following.

  42. Theresa on April 4, 2021 at 2:05 am

    this is a wonderful blog, hit home for me. thanks so much for posting.

  43. Sharon M bell on April 7, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    Oh Anna,
    Thank you I really enjoy being part of your school. Being Positive is key when painting and going with the flow.
    Watercolor painting is an art form that is forgiving. I will cut out parts of my painting’s into card form
    I don’t always cut out the best bits, i try to make them into mini museum pieces.
    Yes the Pandemic has made me more aware of how to enjoy the moment, and enjoy the time to slow down.
    The I pad painting looks like a lot of fun, Anna are you going to have a class on this.

  44. Catherine on April 7, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    This blog reminded me that when I retired 4 years ago, I told myself ‘Fun and Fitness First’. Well, old habits of having to be productive, and having all your ‘work’ done before you indulge in activities like painting, slowly creep back in. Creativity is what truly makes me happy, and it’s curious that I think of it as something I can do with spare time. I think I need to adjust my priorities!

  45. Alan on April 8, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Anna. I am finding that joining your painting school and actually creating pictures I am happy with has created a lot of positivity for me in amongst what has been an unpleasant 12 months. I’ve also noticed that painting has made me much more aware and appreciative of my surroundings, and colour in particular. I hadn’t noticed how much activity there can be, by way of birds, plants and insects, without going far to find it., and how amazing colour in the natural world is. I look at colours now and wonder how I would mix them.
    It is very hard to have young children in the house and find the energy to be creative, so I think you do amazingly well.. It may not seem like it now but the children grow up really fast and you will get your time back!

  46. Geraldine on April 12, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Oh, I must have been a Presbyterian in a former life. As a child I was always drawing or painting but as I grew, I associated such pleasures with self-indulgence for which I had little time. Apart from intermittent stints when I joined a group, I mentally relegated painting to retirement – when time would be abundant! Little did I know! Now 70 but only 2 years retired. it took a pandemic to shake me into taking time to paint by joining your school. The mindful activity has been a joy and is now high priority, taking place most days. Thank you for the support.

  47. Janice Pula on April 12, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Hello Anna
    Wanted to let you know how lucky for me that I found one of your free tutorials – the pear. It was quite a while ago now- about 18 months – my how time flies! So over the past year or so I have ventured into watercolour painting. I have no art background and many of my pieces start out as tracings of a photo or an online picture of something that caught my eye – so I do not consider myself an artist, maybe a craft person? – anyway to make a long story shorter – I have created two portfolios – one of things a see around our lake property and one of animals I saw on our past travel vacations. I also made Christmas gift cards – personalized to the recipient. This activity has kept me happy and busy through several lockdowns, being an introvert helps too!
    So thank you for sharing your talent and your insights.

  48. […] been writing a blog post about how important it is to prioritise doing things you really enjoy. The focus was on […]

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