Minimalism, Zero Waste, Jack Johnson and 96 sketches

Do you know how they connect?

96 Sketches

96 sketches is the project I started last September. I didn't have any rules for it, I only wanted to create one sketch a day for 96 days. I couldn't keep up with the planned pace, so I decided that I will just finish it when I'm able to. A lot of things happened since then, and I was drawing regularly, but this project has stopped for a while. Now I'm reviving it, but this time I created some structure, because it's much easier to follow some kind of a rule, than just let my mind wonder every day. I'm drawing stylized, simple portraits of famous people (dead or alive) who celebrate(d) their birthdays on the given day. I've also decided, that I'm not going to spend more than an hour on it daily, which means I have to compromise on "perfection" and focus on progress instead. Letting things go before they are perfect is my weakness and I'd like to work on it. I'd also like to get better in character design, and drawing these different characters might help with that.


Today's birthday person is Jack Johnson. I chose him for multiple reasons. The first was because I'm in love with his music for about 10-11 years by now. And I was also planning to write about minimalism and zero waste, two topics he fits in quite well. (96 sketches and blog post illustration in one sit, time is precious you know). So here we go.

In my previous post I wrote about being present, and I mentioned how the clutter in our minds can restrain us from being present. I also said, that by being proactive and taking actions at the earliest point we make room for possible spontaneous things in our lives, because we'll more likely say yes to them if we don't have thousands of things on our "list" already. This isn't only true for mind clutter. Physical clutter around us can slow us down (in the negative sense of the word) in many ways, even if there are times, when it helps creativity. I'm kind of an OCD cleaning freak, or at least I was, before my kids were born. The Monica type. (Perfectionist issues). Fortunately my kids cured the urge of being perfect all the time, but my need for a clean, organized and - well - spacious space is still here, and I don't think it's a bad thing. In the past few years I read a lot about two things, that's very close to my heart, and that supports my feelings about this subject.


The first is minimalism. I was a "micro-hoarder" in my teenage years. I'd collect all the small memories I could, bus tickets with certain (important) dates on them, threads, leaves, chestnuts, cards, photos. Mainly in my diaries, that's why I call it "micro-hoarding". But still, I put a lot of things in small boxes too for just in case I'd need them at some point in the future. When I met the concept of minimalism, I knew it was something I would welcome in my life. I knew the feeling that comes with freshly de-cluttered spaces and I always loved it. It's lightness and calmness. Clear thoughts and focus. Minimalism is to keep it that way. Minimalism for me is to keep the clutter away by not hoarding things, and lift my soul by surrounding myself with minimum amount of stuff I love to look at. I'm far from this, mainly because I have kids, but we're getting there slowly. I'd like them to see that stuff don't equal happiness. I'd like to give them the ability to think about experiences and relationships as the main things that need to be treasured.

Zero Waste

While learning more and more about other people's view on minimalism, I met the term zero waste. It does make a lot of sense to me as well. I always hated the fact that we're throwing away so many things and they go... somewhere. I always needed answers since I was a kid, and learning that we bury our trash under the ground was giving me troubling thoughts. I can see that my son, Aron has the same problem. He's always worried when he sees garbage on the streets or in nature. It's not just something he has learnt. It's coming from his personality. He was collecting trash on the playground at age two and throwing it to the bin.

So as much as for myself, for them as well - I'm trying to reduce our waste. I'm even further from perfect in this than in minimalism, so there's a long way to go. But at least I'm on the path and doing the best I can.

And Jack again

Picture from Jack Johnson's website – Jack Johnson among pieces of garbage found in the ocean

Picture from Jack Johnson's website – Jack Johnson among pieces of garbage found in the ocean

I always knew Jack Johnson (as an active surfer) was aware of environmental problems, but I only found out yesterday, that his tour this year will be a huge supporter of "more than 140 non-profits through his environmental campaign and social action network, All At Once. One of the primary aims of Johnson’s tour is to provide greener alternatives during his shows in order to lessen their impacts on the environment and the cities in which he’s performing." (Quote from here)

I love to hear these kind of things. I love when influencers raise their voice in order to protect nature and raise awareness about environmental issues. It also reminds me to work harder and pay more attention to it. One step at a time. I believe that if we all make small adjustments and pay more attention, it generates the flow around us, and makes others do the same. Not by talk about it, but by doing it. Now please, go and listen to some Jack Johnson while you're sorting your clothes and donating or selling the excess. You'll feel better, I promise. (In a later post I'll expound how, but I hope you'll know by then).

Goals – Word for this year: Now

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming    (May 15, 1857 – May 21, 1911)

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming (May 15, 1857 – May 21, 1911)

I wanted to write about this for a very long time, but the layers of this topic are so complex, it's difficult to pour them into simple, well-formed sentences. In addition to that it triggers so many thoughts, it's hard to decide where to begin.

As any good perfectionists, this kind of uncertainty usually blocks me, and I do nothing instead. But now I've decided to take the "one step at a time" approach, and break it into digestible parts and don't let my brain jump from one thing to another in the meantime. So note to my dear brain: I'll write about that other thousand pieces of this puzzle as well, just be still and concentrate on what I really want to say now. Thanks.

I heard about an interesting project in one of my favourite podcasts, Elise gets crafty. (My brain: write about Elise, please, you always wanted to write about her so much! Me: Shhh, I definitely will write about her. One step at a time, you know). So this project is the One Little Word by Ali Edwards, and it's about choosing one word in January that you will focus on that year (it's a very short description, but this summarises it in a nutshell. Here's the website of the project, and here's the podcast episode if you're curious). I never really liked new year's resolutions, but this concept is close to my heart. So this year I chose the word NOW.

After choosing it, it already started to shift shape, and never stopped ever since. And I think it's the power of flow. When you start exploring something, it suddenly comes to you from every direction, and you realise its power and you become more and more humble towards the topic, or concept. Because as I started to think about the word "now", many, MANY things have started to happen in and around me. My main reason for this choice was to be more present in every moment, especially whenever I'm with my kids (I still haven't succeeded, but hey, that's why this is my word). But as I was thinking and reading about it more, I realised that being present affects many other aspects of our lives. It's a snowball effect. That's why I was feeling so overwhelmed when I was trying to write about it in the first place. Meditating on one single, little word brings so many thoughts, so many feelings, so many acts, that you can't do anything but stop, and listen, without judging, without sticking to any of them. You start observing yourself as an outsider, a stranger who has nothing to do with you at all. And then comes the first stage of peace. Peace from your thoughts, peace from the urge to reflect on all of those thoughts right there. And for me, this was such a beautiful thing, because it resonated with everything I already knew about "now" after reading Eckhart Tolle's book (The Power of Now) for the first time a few years ago.

Trying to stay present I realised how many things are dragging me away from that moment. I slowly started to pay attention to those thoughts and urges, and I was observing them very closely. And I knew I had to do something to eliminate them. I needed a plan - I thought. But the idea of planning ahead seems strange when you're trying to focus on "now". So again, I did nothing because of the wriggling nature of mind-boggling thoughts. At least I thought I did nothing. Until I realised that this process I've started with that short word was planting a seed that becomes a beautiful and enormous plant, hopefully a blossoming one, too. You don't need to plan ahead that much when you're able to experience the flow inside and around you. Because if you're listening to it, you'll know what the necessary next step will be.

Of course I also wanted to make long-term plans, because it's in my nature. I can't really help it. I love spontaneous things, hell, I LOVE them, when I have at least a vague idea about the whole picture it's planted in. That's my security belt. And that's also my fuel to act - right now. I had two different discussions lately about this. One with my mom, and one with a friend. With my mom we've been talking about the goals we set for ourselves, and how it affects our attitude and life. We agreed, that goals are needed, but you have to enjoy the ride that brings you there, otherwise it's not worth it. On the other hand, that goal will probably keep you from falling whenever you feel like you're not strong enough to reach it. It works so beautifully. We also agreed that it's better to break your goals down, and go ahead slowly, one step at a time. And we both know the feeling that comes when you start meditating on your goal and you feel like everything around you supports that aim, but only, ONLY if you put in the work. Then I brought up the movie "The Princess and The Frog". It has touched me so much (when I saw it a few weeks ago - I know, I'm a tad late with movies, as always). It reminded me the other conversation I mentioned before. That you HAVE TO work on things. You have to put a lot of effort in, if you want something to work. Yes, we were talking about relationships. But I think it works with everything. Whenever you put work in something, it'll become yours more than anything given to you as a present. You'll learn to appreciate it more. You'll learn to love it. Be it a relationship or a project you're working on. That's why we almost always learn the hard way. But I'd rather call it the more beautiful way. Because that way things have depth and layers, they're not just shallow rewards for nothingness.

These thoughts led me to another thing I've discovered through the word "now" (and also bumped into it while listening to Elise in this episode. By the time I will write about her, you'll know more about her than me). And it's acting now. "Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today." - this sentence from Benjamin Franklin (thanks Google, I never knew this comes from him) was quoted for me million times as a child. I hated it. I thought this was invented by adults to insult kids. How little did I know about life. I find this advice beautiful by now. It's something that helps you cut procrastination, that's the arch enemy of being present. Acting now means being proactive, and it also means you get rid of that thing and you don't need plans. You make room for possible spontaneous things in your life, because you'll more likely say yes to them if you don't have thousands of things on your "list" already. It's another perspective of the word "now". And another layer of working towards your goal. You can make plans, you can write to do lists, but if you don't make actions, they'll never work. So I'll stop here for today, and wish you a fruitful and active week. 

Next time I'll continue with this exploration, and one day I'll write about Elise, I promise.

By the way! Let me tell you about my illustration a little bit. I chose Williamina, because I think that her words are exactly what I think about the relation of work and success: "Labor honestly, conscientiously, and steadfastly, and recognition and success must crown your efforts in the end." - She was born exactly 160 years ago today, and you can read more about her here. With this drawing I'm bringing #96sketches back to life. Woot! 

Holiday and the beauty of art

I was on holiday for a week. My mom had visited us for the first time here in Iceland (I haven't seen her since May). We were talking a lot in the evenings and also watching movies, the kind of movies you want to watch with your mom. Before she came, I only watched one (1!) movie in the last two and a half years, so I really needed this now. I didn't draw too much, but it's OK, because I was exhausted before, and I could use this rest.

Movies are great for allowing your mind to shift from your daily struggles, I have to do this more often. It's good for creativity too, to be put aside for a little while. It felt good to draw again after six days. I also had more ideas and realised that #96sketches is a perfect project for experimenting with different techniques and discovering new ways of creating art. When drawing this latest piece I noticed how comfortable it is to detract things from a bulk of material. This might be the root cause of why I love linocutting so much. And I guess this is what a sculptor feels when he or she is carving a stone. It also reminded me of one of my favourite books, "Terre des Hommes" ("Wind, Sand and Starts" in English) from Exupéry. In that he says: "It seems that perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away." – when he's talking about the design of a plane.  I love how things are connected, especially when you're involved in art. Movies, drawing, sculpting, writing, design, music – they all inspire each other, and I find it beautiful. This is the main reason why I decided to make art again. It opens up my eyes and heart at the same time, and makes me more sensitive to everything that's happening around and inside me. 


I wanted to give this post the fancy title "What I have learnt through the first month of a three-month challenge", but I realised it wasn't fancy at all, and also that I don't really like these kind of titles. So here it goes, my first supposed-to-be-normal blog post here, waiting for too long to be written, which happens to be the third one, when it's also marking the one-third of "96 sketches".

I've been working a lot lately, on various things. First of all I'm trying to figure out how I could be a better mom. Challenging in itself already. Then I'm working a full time job as a production designer. When these two are over, I'm trying to keep our apartment from falling apart, though this part is sometimes quite neglected to enable me to do something else I call my daily sanity keeper. Around 9 PM, or even later I sit down in front of my iPad, and try to create something. A little bit more than one month ago I decided to challenge myself once again, to see if it works this time. I've started "96 sketches" with an aim of creating something small every day. Sketching, drawing, lino-cutting, painting, whatever. I thought an hour can be easily carved out every evening. And it could be. But it turned out that after all these years of not creating constantly I still seriously love creating, and one hour is anything but enough. After an hour I usually feel warmed up enough to draw/create at least two more. Sleep deprivation, here I come again, we've just said goodbye.

Since I received my iPad not even two months ago, I'm quite obsessed with it and an app called Procreate. In the beginning I felt it was controversial, because I thought digital drawing and painting were not real drawing and painting. It felt like I was cheating. But after a few days I started to feel extremely good. Often times I lose track of time (thanks to Procreate, that doesn't show time during you draw in it), and an hour, two hours, three hours later I realise I had fun creating something. Incredible amount of fun.

So after just a short period of time I've learnt a lot of things. About myself, first of all. But also about creativity and discipline. Here's a little list.


Creativity fuels creativity

When I started to draw every day, after a few days I realised I don't want to stop. Not because of the challenge, but because I enjoyed it so much. Then, in a period of good vibes, came a moment when I noticed that my thoughts are building up from the energy that drawing induces. I started to observe things around me in a different – I dare to say deeper way. Everything builds up of colours, lights and shadows. Every shape is beautiful. I try to depict everything in my head as I walk around. I remember this feeling from the days when I was doing creative work every day, and I missed it so much without realising what I was missing.


Creative blocks are real, but it's possible to get over them

After the first energy burst I felt a little bit of a setback. I was tired, I had no inspiration and I also felt like what I'm doing is useless. This was the time when the challenge came in handy. Without it I might have just stopped there and gave up. But because of it I tried to push myself through this period. I think the key here was tiredness. When I don't sleep enough I tend to think darker and I also doubt things easier. Because I knew it, the first thing I tried was sleeping a little bit more. And combined with the challenge it worked, I regained my energy. But I had to admit, that this thing is not continuous, I have to force myself to go forward, even when I don't necessarily have the energy. It reminded me of two things. One was that when I was much younger, I didn't know this, and felt extremely depressed during these periods. I didn't believe that I could come over them, my first thought was always doubt and that's the main reason I stopped creating things. In these cases it's really nice to have someone (ideally more than one person) around us who reminds us of our strengths and the fact that nobody is perfect, and nobody has it all, even if it seems like that. The other one was something I heard many times from many sources throughout the years, but never really paid attention to: practice makes perfect, or in other words: quantity will bring quality over time. I tend to forget this, and think that if I'm not able to do something right away it's because I suck at it and it doesn't even worth a second try. But it definitely does.


Perfectionism doesn't work

Over many years I thought 120% is the minimum goal in everything. I overachieved, or I didn't do it at all. There was no in between. I still struggle with this sometimes, but having kids taught me in the first place that it's impossible to live along these lines. In terms of creative processes it was the iPad, the Apple pencil and the Procreate app that helped me break this habit of perfectionism. Before that I often sat down in front of a piece of paper only to feel intimidated by the empty space. I thought I had to draw perfect lines from the beginning, or I would fail. But with this "trinity" (I had a Wacom tablet before, but that's just not the same) I experienced the freedom of drawing whatever, without the need of restarting over and over again, and with almost the same feeling as it was a sketchbook under my hands. This feeling then helped me being less afraid of paper too, something that I wasn't expected at all.


It's OK to skip days

This is part of perfectionism, but it's a very important factor to me. Before "96 sketches" any time I started a challenge that involved the need of showing up every day I almost always failed, because after the first skipped day I declared it as a failure and didn't continue at all. With this one I somehow overcame this and pick it up again and again as I go. I wanted to complete the challenge by New Years Eve, but I realised that it doesn't really matter. The only important thing is to keep going until all the 96 sketches are done. Because I find so much joy in creating them, I'm sure by now that I won't quit even if I miss a day or two. These first few weeks left a strong mark in me, and made sure I stay motivated despite the down periods. I know I don't want to turn back, because drawing gives me so much that I can't ignore the itch anymore.


Ideas are flowing

I could have written about this in the first point, because ideas come from creative thinking, but this also is a significant thing. As drawing and creativity became the essential part of my every days, I have new ideas constantly. I have enough for the next few years I think. It's a deep pool I can draw from, and the more I do, the more flows back in its place. It's crazy inspiring!


Discipline is important too

One thing I still have to learn is sticking to my plans. Creating plans and evaluating a situation are two of my strengths. I see systems in their entirety, and I'm also very aware of the details that need to be focused on. I'm really good at mapping a process and see its pitfalls. But sticking to these plans is not my forte. I'm constantly improving processes and systems, so I'm not a good executor of my own, often brilliant ideas. I'm like a crazy butterfly with ADHD sometimes. Now I can see it even more, and I'm determined to improve. Strange how a small thing like a(n almost) three-month challenge can change the way you think. Strange, but amazing.

Time is dancing relative

(Sorry, I think I adore Ben Howard too much). So the last thing is that this challenge also changed my relationship with time in more than one way. I already mentioned that I don't feel time when I'm drawing. It feels like I'm outside of time then. But also it slowed that crazy paced time down a little bit. As I grow older, time goes by faster (I read a really good theory about this, here it is), but when I have a task to do, and it's challenging enough, my perception of time is a little bit different: it feels like it's slowing down. Just to give you an example of what I think here: when it's weekend and you (you lucky people without kids) can sleep as much as you want, or do whatever you want to do, two days are passing by in one blink of an eye. But when it's Monday, and you have two days of challenging work in front of you, on Tuesday morning you feel like time has stopped. So in my opinion if we find an activity what we enjoy, but what's also challenging enough, time won't fly by so rapidly. It can also be because we're focusing more on the moment instead of looking back or worrying about what's coming next. So time really is dancing, but it's also relative, and we can do a lot with it. I choose to use it as wisely as possible at the given moment.

So. Although I'm in the beginning of this journey, I encourage everyone to find the thing they are good at and love doing it enough to challenge themselves. It's pretty rewarding and fills up the soul. It makes me feel less lost and more focused. Let me know if you try it, and tell me about your experiences!

Work in Progress

I started to upload my sketches here finally, but I'm still not ready. As a good perfectionist, I have to remind myself over and over again, that I'm unable to do everything at the same time. And also that I shouldn't be paralysed by this fact and move forward with tiny little steps instead. I tend to be "all or nothing", and the #96sketches project is teaching me a lot about the advantages of ditching this habit.

I still haven't decided on every detail of the site, but I've started to add background stories to my sketches, and make them look pretty. Please check back from time to time, because I'll improve this place a lot in the upcoming weeks, now that I managed to fix my issues with squarespace (their customer service rocks by the way).