In Focus and How I Got Here

Steps to Focusing

Once I decided to focus on eco-staining, a sense of relief set in and a direction began to be planned. The steps to getting in focus were not straight-forward and structured for me. I struggled with the traditional techniques of planning. Scheduling, list making, and goal/objective planning were steps to focusing that often caused me to trip.

My steps to focusing had to be ones that fit into my natural way of being. Sustainable within my life as an artist, wife, and mother.

Deciding the Focus

Deciding on what to focus was one of the biggest challenges we faced. I say “we” because it does take the support of those closest to you to make this kind of commitment. My husband and I had many conversations about which door to walk through…pottery, mixed media and intuitive painting, or eco-staining. There were pros and cons to all, and of course, financial risk.

It eventually came down to very basic statements about each. Pottery is my personal release and it always felt like creating for volume was intrusive to that feeling. Plus, I broke a ton of pieces traveling back and forth to shows. Mixed media and intuitive painting were mediums that seemed like everybody was doing and, even though each artist created their own work, in my mind it was becoming a medium that was homogenized. I admire the artists and appreciate mixed media and intuitive painting, but they don’t ring true to my artistic spirit.

Door number three, eco-staining, was by far where my heart was, after pottery. Eco-staining is an age-old medium with minimal exposure in the art world. It was personal and ignited my artistic passion while connecting me, as well as my audience, to nature. I had cultivated this art for years when we lived on our farm and it was the perfect time for me to take it to the next level. I never thought we, my art and I, would grow into this amazing journey. It only did so, with focus.

Lessons are learned the hard way.

I remember sitting in my studio early on in this focusing journey and looked over at my glass kiln. It was calling and beckoning me. I had beautiful dichroic glass I added to a recent supplies order and it just was itching to be made into something pretty. I got it out, scored, cut, and designed a beach scene tile. Then I did a tree tile. Then I thought, “Oh this would be a great class!” So then I put together a class…pictures, class description, scheduling, promo ad, etc.
If I had thought before I did and asked myself if the time I would spend putting all that together for the glass class would be worth taking time away from eco-printing, I would have said no. Instead, I went forward like I used to; excited to teach the class and have others enjoy it, but with no purpose toward my goal or bigger picture. It was a lot of time distracted.

I sold my glass kiln after that class.

Then I got rid of a lot of other things. Some things were banished to the garage; out of sight, out of mind. Some things were sold and some things were given away. Boxes and boxes of fabric were given to a local teacher so I wouldn’t get distracted and teach a “Sew Your Own Backpack Class” again. Old fashioned washboards for wet felting were tucked way back in the closet behind winter coats, something us Floridians do not need often. If it wasn’t out in the open calling to me, I was better focused on my goal.

Scheduling

Scheduling and structure do not equate to focus in my world and that was an expensive lesson for me to learn. I continually bought hard copy planners, books, and activity journals that were specifically orientated to achieving creative dreams. Nothing helped and I found myself wasting more time trying to fit my life into those little boxes instead of living my life my way but with my style of focus.
I had to identify qualities of myself that were authentic and learn how to gear all the energy of those qualities to my goals. So I went back to my journal and reflected. It was okay to “rachellesque” the situation because I am the one accountable. It’s not school. I do not have to show my planner or lesson plans to anyone. The only one that has to be able to function successfully to attain the goals is me.

Through reflecting and writing in my journal, I found confidence in my traits, whether or not they were considered good by others. For example, I do not like time. There aren’t any clocks in our house. If you want to know the time, look at your phone. Because we are not allowed our phones “on stage” at Disney, I wear an iWatch when I show at there for the single reason that I get notifications if my kids call or text.

Me trying to fit into an hourly schedule, or breaking tasks into 2 hours slots, is ridiculous. It just doesn’t work. I work from my home studio. I do not punch a clock. I can work when I want, however long at a time I want, and I can break away to go get coffee or a cocktail with a friend, whenever I want.

Mind mapping

Mind mapping is another technique I put back into play. I taught mind mapping as an organizational tool to writing essays and doing projects when I taught middle school English. As a homeschooling mom, I used mind mapping to intertwine themes and topics across disciplines. We unschooled and didn’t use set curriculum, text books, or workbooks. We believe the world is our classroom, and engaged in authentic learning. Mind mapping helped me make sure that the kids were exposed to certain elements while they were naturally learning.
Once again, in my journal, I would start by writing a keyword somewhere and branching out my thoughts. I could add, cross out, rebranch a direction, etc. It is a working technique that allows me flexibility for the continual flood of ideas but plots them into play with my focus. If those ideas don’t fit, then they don’t go on the mind map. If after a while, some ideas don’t make sense, they get replaced. It works much better for me than a linear plan with concrete steps. I am a creative, after all.

Journaling

My Eco-Stained Journal is a useful tool in more ways then I have already mentioned. It is my sounding board, my brainstorming companion, and it is my voice from a different perspective. When I write, I change. I evolve. Never again will I be the same as I was when I wrote those words. By having those thoughts written down, I can look back and see what I was thinking and analyze the path I took between then and now.

Since I began this journey of focus, I have grown. My journal is my evidence of growth. I don’t write diaries. They are not word for word accounts of what I do. My journal writings are reflective and descriptive. I get inspired to write and when I return to read them, I get inspired in a different way. That inspiration keeps me focused on my goals.

Getting Off Track

Then there were times when I got off track, even more so than the glass class episode. After two years of showing my eco-stained art at Walt Disney World, one of the merchandising consultants found out that I was a potter. It was over a casual discussion about a display piece I wanted for my journals and I said I would just make it out of clay. “What?” he said.

Well, after I told my history of being a potter, the merchandise buyer then got wind, and asked me to do a production of pottery for the next EPCOT International Festival of the Arts with live demonstrations on the pottery wheel. And still present my eco-stained art.
I know better. I really do. But, I said, “Yes.” And I was excited about it. Really excited! Until a couple of months into creating all those one of a kind vessels while still finding time to switch creative gears and make my eco-stained papers. Without my undivided attention, creating in both mediums resulted in pieces I was not completely proud of and I felt like I sacrificed my artistic integrity.

From January to May, I showed seven days a week, with only a break of 9 days between festivals in February. I was playing constant catch-up trying to complete pottery pieces and eco-stained pieces to display. I was stressed, exhausted, and more than ever, felt defeated. Needless to say, they were not successful days.
That experience was, however, the kick I needed to reevaluate. It made me take the plunge and not only regain my focus for growing my eco-staining art, but investing money into building a business that wasn’t under anybody’s control but my own.

Consciously Redirecting

The launch of my new collections and the ribbon cutting of my new website a couple of weeks ago, brought my dreams to fruition. I am now selling my Eco-Stained Journals, Stationery, and Wall Decor completely online. I still continue to work 15 hour days, but they are from my studio, my purple chair, or the coffee shop down the street.
It is definitely a challenge. I have to constantly redirect my thinking and hold true to my focus. I have had to say no to opportunities and suggestions that may look like good opportunities to someone else, but my experience tell me are more distracting than beneficial.
Recently I have made two very definitive redirects after asking myself if the opportunities supported my goals. I did waste one entire day- 15 straight hours, on creating a “how-to” tutorial for an art project before it hit me that what I was doing was exactly opposite of my intention with my eco-stained journals. The other one came after a couple hours, a discussion with my husband, and the realization that going in that direction would put me right back into the chaos I was rising from.

Recap of How to Get In Focus

This is a rather long post. I guess somewhat symbolic of the long journey of focus I am traveling. If you would like to trying implementing some of my experience into your journey, I have listed the four main keys that exemplify getting in focus for me.

  1. Distraction Free Zone

    Get rid of everything around you that is “calling your name” to distract you. I do not mean kids or significant other. Although if they are, try to work out a way they know you need distraction free time.

    What I am talking about are projects and the like. I am getting ready to donate four huge tubs of baby clothes that I have been keeping to make quilts for each of my kids who now are ages 16-24. That isn’t going to happen.

    Ask yourself, “Does it support my goal?”

    Answer honestly. I recently read an article on social media and business posting. They said to ask yourself if the post you are considering putting online one for vanity or one that is relevant to your audience. I never thought of it as vanity before, but now I see that interpretation and it really helps in deciding if something supports my goal.
  2. Mind mapping

    Identify a keyword or keywords for your focus and branch off from there. Mind mapping is free thinking and free form; no numbers or lines. It is a visual way to organize those concepts that do support your goal.
  3. Journaling

    Reflect then write. Journaling will help you focus on where you’re headed and see how to get there. It is your mirror. When you see something in a mirror that you don’t like, you change it. When you like what you see, you go forward. Your journal is a place to reflect on changes you need to make as well as see the beauty in what you do.
  4. Enjoy

    The hardest part of my day is at the end of it. Stopping. There is always more to do and there is always more that I think I need to do…at that moment.
    Now that I have my art focus on track and beginning to bloom, I have to work on regaining some personal and family focus.
    I think that keyword is going to be “Beach!”

For a little more backstory, check out my post from August 9, 2019… Journey to Focus.

Flower Power… Fresh & Dried!

Dried flowers were never on my list for creating. I just kind of fell into it because of having the right supplies on hand and a surplus of flowers. And I had a dehydrator.

I am not a cook. If you read my blog Matzo Tofu, you already know that I prefer to use my stove to boil books rather than cook food. What possessed me to get a food dehydrator a few years ago, I cannot recall. I just remember I had big plans for it.
Twice. I used the dehydrator twice for food. I can’t even remember what I made, but it was most likely some kind of fruit.
The dehydrator sat on a shelf in the kitchen for several months. I asked my mom if she wanted it and thought about donating it, until one day…eureka…I can dehydrate flowers!

What I was going to do with the dehydrated flowers was yet unknown, but at least I could use my dehydrator. I often have a surplus of flowers that I can’t use for eco-staining from the haul I get on Friday Flower Days. Giving those flowers an opportunity for adventure just seemed like a wonderful thing to do.

Try it at home…

If you have a food dehydrator decorating your kitchen shelf and want to put it to use, here are some tips and tricks I have found that work well for me.

  1. Put the densest flowers on the bottom tray. They take longer to dehydrate than loose petals and leaves, so they need to dry the longest.
  2. Pile up the petal spread. The first time I dehydrated rose petals, I carefully laid each one on the try without overlap thinking they had to have full exposure to dry. They can actually be layered up a good bit. Some flowers and leaves dry so quickly that layering them doesn’t make a difference as the heat easily circulates through.
  3. Arrange the flowers in categories as you are planning on storing them. If you want to store them by color, separate before you lay the flowers on the tray. Section the tray or use a different tray per color. I find it is easier to separate the petals prior to them shrinking.
  4. Store in gallon size freezer bags. The airtight bags not only keep the petals and the plant crumblies (all the little dried bits) organized, but the scent is preserved. When you open a bag to use your dried flowers, the aroma is so lovely.

Dehydrating time varies. Depending on the moisture content or the density of the flower, dehydrating could take a few hours or several. For my particular dehydrator, flower petals take about three to four hours. Denser flowers or full flower heads like a full rose may take overnight. If I have quick drying petals on the top tray and ones that require overnight on the bottom, I simply take off the trays with the quick drying ones and let the other trays continue.

What to Do with Dried Flowers

So now that we have our pretties, all dehydrated and smelling lovely, what do we do with them?

I very rarely have used them in my art. However, I used them in one particular piece of eco-stained wall decor to create a mixed media nature journal effect and I absolutely loved it!

This is crazy, but I haven’t done another. I loved that piece so much that I am waiting for just the right inspiration to compose another one on that level.

Around my studio and house, I fill bowls with assortments of the dehydrated flowers. I sprinkle dried flowers around the bases of candles and fill mesh bags as sachets in my dresser drawers. I have even sewn filled pockets onto bookmarks, making them puffy and aromatic.

What I absolutely love to do with them on a regular basis is include them in the packages I ship out. They fill boxes that hold my pottery pieces and make a great looking mug even lovelier. Stationery and journals wrapped in white tissue are even more elegant on a bed of dried flowers.

Filling gift boxes with dehydrated flowers is a surprise treat for someone special and makes me smile even more when I am wrapping them.

My Eco-Stained Journals, Stationery, and Wall Decor are in my shop and feature a lot of the same flowers I dehydrate. It is so much fun to see those layers of lovely when you open one of the packages I ship.
Put them in a bowl near your comfy writing spot and enjoy them along with your journal!

Journey to Focus

Focus is not a strength that comes naturally to me, but it is one I am learning. My journey to focus began as a bumpy ride but transitioned into an intentional drive. The fact that I can overwrite the blue print of my past scattered living is still somewhat of an astonishment to me.
I am a passionate person and emerge myself into situations…to the extreme. We have moved 19 times in 30 years, mainly because of my short attention span. Once because of our dog, but that is a different story. [I am trying to focus here!?]

My complete emergence type of life has benefited my family in so many ways, but in combination with my short attention span, has also often prevented us from having a feeling of stability. My journey to focus has helped find that stability as well.

Artist…Artist…Artist…


Prior to this second time living in Lakeland, I had been an artist, store manager, artist, national marketing director, artist, executive learning lab facilitator, artist, elementary school teacher, artist, store owner, adjunct college professor, and, yes, artist. As a wife and mother of 4, even when I stayed home with my children, I was still working as an artist in some capacity. Obviously, being an artist is where my passion is. I may have not always been able to make a living at it, but I never doubted it was who I am.

In retrospect though, the artist I was lacked focus. One of my good friends and mentors, Peggy Karpick, once told me that I make my parachute on the way down. That, my friends, is completely me. As I got older, I felt like I was also mixing the paint to color the parachute I was making on the way down.

That way of living worked for us for a couple of decades, then we settled down a bit on a hobby farm in NC. Horses, chickens, guinea fowl, vegetable gardens, and forests of tree energy surrounded us. Life was grand, until a health event my husband endured threw us for a loop. Within ten days of each other, he had a major heart event and lost his job of 15 years. In a literal heartbeat, our lives changed. It was devastating, emotionally, and financially.

Chaos Led to Ruin

Things just got chaotic. The chaos effected everything; my business and my family included. I owned a retail art studio at the time and, overnight, it was thrust into the position of being the only income for our family. Up until then, it was a side income. Only two years old, it was still emerging as a teaching and entertainment venue, and still not showing a profit.

In a few weeks time, I was forced to find a way to make that business double its gross revenue. I abandoned my original business plan for organic growth and started grasping at whatever quick fixes came along. The constant pressure of trying to make something work without taking the time to get to completion took a toll on my emotional and mental health. I was spiraling down a hole and I was failing to support my family.

After two years of that, I…we, had to make a change and fast. Within two weeks, we closed the store, packed up everything in NC that would fit on one truck and returned to Lakeland, Florida; no jobs, no direction, just a promise of something new in a place we found joy before. That’s when I discovered the amazing power of focus.

If Not Now Then When

After three weeks of sleeping a lot, I emerged from our unpacked boxes and broken spirits to realize that if I was ever going to succeed as an independent artist, this was the time to go for it. We were already broke financially and emotionally, but our family was in tact and we were together. My husband has always been a huge support of my dreams and my mother has always been the physical being of the wind beneath my wings. With the trust and support from both of them, I started carving the path to being able to focus on one medium and take it toward unlimited heights.

Of course, it doesn’t happen over night. Even while focusing and developing my eco-staining, I have had to count on other revenue streams to carry me through, sometimes I still do. There’s a difference between doing what you have to do to get to where you want to go, and grasping at everything thing to just be doing something. That difference is an important life lesson that my children are learning a lot earlier than I did. I saw a glimpse of that with my son yesterday. It is always such a nice feeling when those little magical moments happen.

Learning How

There are no intro classes or study skills that I have found to teach me how to focus. My journey to focus has been more of a smorgasbord of research…blogs, readings, reflections, and, of course, journaling.

It has definitely been a journey in mindfulness. I have taught myself, or better yet, trained myself to practice being more aware of what I am doing and why I am doing those things. The old adage “think before you speak” came into play with “think before you do”…anything. If you have tried that before, you know how hard it is.
But I did it! In my blog post, “In Focus and How I Got Here” I share the challenges I faced while transforming into a focused artist. I also share tips on how you can use those same techniques to find focus in your life.

I am only human, though…

The funny thing is that when I set out to write a post about my journey to focus and how much I am working to achieve that, after the first paragraph I went into writing about my art journey…for two pages! Now I have another blog post started and waiting for completion.

I am trying, I really am!

Eco-Stained Pages in Progress

Eco-stained pages in progress are the most fascinating aspect of my creative journey. From the designing to boiling, peeling and drying, I am in awe at the fusion of science and art. I will be sharing about that fusion in the future, but today, I am just basking in the glory of the beauty.

There are few words to describe the intense roll of emotions that sweep through me while I am making my art. I feel fortunate to be able to create for my profession. The long hours and sometimes, overwhelming, responsibility of wearing most of the hats, take a toll on many aspects of my life, but I am grateful for the opportunity to make this my choice. The wonder of the creative process and the beautiful art I create in unity with nature enlivens my soul and refreshes my spirit. Most of all, I cherish the fact that my art inspires others to connect with nature and with themselves.

So please join me for a stroll through some recent eco-stained pages in progress for a glimpse into my world of art making. These pages were still wet when photographed and the plants were slimy! It is all just part of the process!

Eco-Stained Pages in Progress

Daisies, rose leaves, rose petals, and geraniums made the gorgeous stains on these pages. Surprise…pink daisies made the green stains!

The stains are extra vivid just after the flowers are peeled, so there is a shimmer to the design because of the wetness. They the pages dry with the matted hue we love to see!

Sometimes I peel the plant elements off the eco-stained pages without paying attention to what they are. If it is a magnificent combination stain, I dig back through my compost to see what combinations came together to make that particular design. Digging through is a bit of slimy research, but somebody has to do it!

Rose leaves and daisies are lovely together, but then so are ferns and daisies.

Ferns are amazing! They are one of the first plants I started using a good bit in my eco-stained pages. The type of soil they grow in and where they grow effects the stain results. Fern stains can be dark like the ones below, a light tan, or anywhere in between. Sometimes, when they are dark, they tend to influence darkness over the whole page. I love how the other colors appear in contrast to the darkness.

I lost track of where this particular set of pages ended up. They could be one of the Classic, Combo, or Oneside Journals in my shop.

Interested in a scavenger hunt? See if you can find which journal it is by going to my shop at www.rachelleeason.com.

Watch this unveiling of stained designs for pure joy!

Friday Flower Days Lead to Eco-Stained Journals

Friday Flower Days are the best in my week of creating my eco-stained journals and stationery! Friday is usually the day I get most of my flowers and leaves. They are sustainably sourced locally and getting them makes me giddy with excitement!
Of course, getting flowers is always a fabulous way to liven up your day! My cousin was a hairdresser for many years and she always made sure to have a vase of fresh flowers on her workstation counter. I remember her telling me that she would stop in on the way to work to get them and choose just the right ones for her in that moment. Those flowers would not only bring joy to her but also to everyone in the salon. Now mind you, this woman brings joy just by being her, but the flowers just made seeing her even extra special!

Just like in my cousin’s salon, think about places you go and how much more engaging it would be if they had fresh flowers. Fresh flowers around the office, at the dentist, the post office, and even the DMV would be more pleasant. I know that there are many people out there with allergies, but there are several types of fresh flowers that are highly unlikely to trigger those.

WebMD shares a list of better choices of flowers for allergy sufferers and many are types I get on my Friday Flower Days. You can find that list here https://www.webmd.com/allergies/best-worst-plants. My favorites on their list are begonia, iris, periwinkle, and Dusty Miller. They also state lily as being a better choice but those make me sneeze like crazy!

Laura Kenny recently published The Benefits of Adorning Your Home with Fresh Flowers and cited the Home Ecology of Flowers Study done at Harvard in September 2006. The Harvard findings put data behind what we feel. Flowers boost our energy and elevate our happiness. They feed our souls and help us be compassionate. Fresh flowers help balance our mood, chase away the blues, and calm anxieties.

Flowers are eye candy for the soul!

Friday Flower Days spark my creativity and inspire my reflections. Creating my eco-stained papers is quite a process. Between prepping the paper and plant elements, designing each page while keeping in mind to place the elements where they will coexist beautifully, boiling, and peeling off the botanicals for drying, at least 10 hours have been consumed. The fact that fresh flowers and leaves are my art materials is what holds my attention span.

The flowers I use for my eco-stained art are ones that have already served their beauty elsewhere. By the time I get them, they are near the end of their life span; brown tipped and wilted, less desirable than when they are at their prime. Isn’t that a metaphor for what our culture often reflects? However, I love them in this phase!
Wilted flowers offer themselves up for sharing. They are ready to give away their color and their secrets as I pick them apart to make designs. Their character and persona are even more alive for now they have stories to share. I get lost in their storytelling as I proceed to tell mine through eco-stained art.

Friday Flower Days not only refresh my spirit after a tough week, but they are an opportunity for me to prolong the beauty of the flowers I get. Many people have commented that my eco-stained papers are like fossils of flowers. I do believe that I have the good fortune of preserving the essence of flowers and leaves. Eco-staining gives these flowers one last hurrah to share their beauty before they head to compost. So essentially, Friday Flower Days are Friday Flower Parties and I adore being the host.

Journal Writing

Journal writing is also enriched by a vase of fresh flowers. Sitting down in my comfy writing spot with a bouquet of flowers close by gives me a focus point for reflecting. That picturesque still-life of fresh roses in a vase or hydrangeas in a pottery bowl invites my mind to wonder and reflect. I observe the details of the flowers, the texture of the leaves, and often rub a petal through my thumb and forefingers as I muse over my thoughts.
Even when those reflections are sad or worrisome, the flowers are soothing. I find that I write more from my heart when I focus on them rather than venting on the page. Don’t get me wrong, venting is fine if that is what you need. Over the years, however, I have found that I get clarity from writing. Reflecting versus venting helps me get to that clarity.

Pages of my eco-stained journals are the foundation for my reflections. They are hugs from the papers that encourage me to write and embrace my thoughts with grace. My handwriting becomes enchanting on the page, my words become alluring, my pictures breathtaking.

Flowers any day of the week are special!

Friday Flower Days are not the only day this magic happens. Sometimes I get my flower haul other days of the week and sometimes a nature hike or even running errands take me to unexpected beauty. Regardless of when fresh flowers enter my life each week, I count on them coming and it never gets old. It is now something that I know I need more than just depending on them for my business. I am always grateful for having them around me.

A dear friend of mine told me just yesterday that for most of her marriage, she has had fresh flowers in her kitchen every day. Her husband gets them and arranges them quite spectacularly. It is an additional happiness in a home that always brings me joy to visit.
Try it, today! Get yourself some flowers! If it is not something you usually do, pay close attention to how it effects you. Put them in a vase or in a bowl of water and enjoy them. Spend moments observing their details and feeling their energy. Engage in the color they share and the light they reflect. I bet you will catch yourself glimpsing over at them just to take in the vision. Spread the joy and give someone else some too!

If you do not have flowers to (legally!) pick around you, go to your local flower shop and just buy a few. They do not have to be expensive, in fact, there may be a loose stem or small bouquet you can buy for just a few dollars. The main thing is to do it. Embrace it. Grow from it. Then journal your reflections.

Plus, you’ll get a head start on one of my upcoming journal writing classes where we use fresh flowers as the lesson theme.

Next Friday, I’ll show you easy ways to further enjoy your flowers and how to get the most out of their beauty in yet another form.
Make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter! The next one goes out Monday and in there are 11 Reasons Why You Should Get Yourself Flowers plus a downloadable drawing of flower I drew just for my subscribers!

Oh and Happy Friday!

Check out this video of some flower arranging I did in my pottery vases!

Sources:
Best and Worst Flowers for People with Allergies, WebMD, April, 2017 https://www.webmd.com/allergies/best-worst-plants
The Benefits of Adorning Your Home with Fresh Flowers, Laura Kenny, February, 2018 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/benefits-adorning-your-home-fresh-flowers-laura-kenny/