Some of you may already know about my love for honeybees and my new found past-time of beekeeping. That’s why for the month of April, I am partnering with the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) for a special fundraiser. 50% of proceeds from sales of prints of my honeybee series will go to ABF’s Friends of the Bee fund. Please click images of my series below to take you to the print details and shop page where you can make your donation!
Celebrate the beginning of Spring and the month of Earth day by making a donation to help the Earth’s most amazing pollinator, and receive a sweet gift of color in return!
In short, it’s been a year of growth as an artist. I recognized several months back that I developed my artistic skills to a place of comfort. I also recognized, that unfortunately, my art did not have a niche or fit into any particular market. At least not one that I could figure out on my own, as I only have so much time to dedicate to selling and marketing, while also supporting myself in a full-time job. And I realized it’s now or never for me to either get serious about being an artist as a career, or to let that dream go and just make art as a hobby instead.
And so the pursuit of illustration began. It started with the most intense online art course I have ever taken. This was the Illustrating Children’s Books course with art agent Lilla Rogers in her Make Art That Sells class series. Lilla taught this class with Zoé Tucker, a charming Art Director for the children’s book publishing industry in London. We were given wonderful inside tips on how to create character illustrations and how to pitch them to publishers. It was a fast-paced, fun, and all-consuming 5 week course. After that course, I was hooked.
Illustration is an amazing combination of behavioral study and artistic skills. It allows you to give personality to your art on a whole new level. It stretches your artistic skills in ways that I never could have imagined: Line, color, shape, figure, movement, expression, trends, emotions, light, lettering, shadow and so much more. I am totally a beginner student in the illustration world, which is both humbling and thrilling all at the same time.
I am currently taking another Make Art That Sells course called Bootcamp. In this 5 month course, we have monthly illustration assignments. So far we created a pattern design for a backpack and a “Mind Map” illustration in the style of a magazine editorial.
In addition to this course, I am also participating in #the100dayproject with artist, Elle Luna. This is just a challenge to practice something of your choice consistently for 100 days in order to develop your skills. I chose #100daysoflettercritters and you can follow along on my instagram account here.
So, although I have my Etsy site available and my original paintings, works on wood, and prints still available for purchase, I am so much in student mode that I am not marketing or selling too much. Taking a break from that is really allowing me some breathing room to grow as an artist. The plan is to continue to develop my illustration portfolio and take some direct action to get work as an illustrator once my website is updated appropriately. I am in no rush though as I love being a student and am still finding my illustration style.
Thank you for all of your support throughout this journey.
I’ve recently revisited this Mixed Media Illustration I made over a year ago. I originally named it “Into the Woods” without much time really spent with this strange creature that came to me. But I am about to embark on an intensive children’s book illustration class, and it was suggested that if I am an artist who has never illustrated a book, to go through my artwork and see if there are any strong characters that I can develop. Hence why I am revisiting her. In spending more time with her, I decided that she is my Winter. Here is what I wrote down about her:
Winter. There is something magical about this time of year. I start to yearn for traditions of my Irish heritage. It’s like I am digging deep, going back to the roots. I uncover my longing for ritual, rest, and renewal. Chopping, brewing, boiling…the condensation fills my home, my cave, with glorious earthy scents and lung-saving moisture. Knitting by the fire, the repetition soothes me. Laying under the extra blankets and the occasional purring cat, the extra weight stills me.
There is nowhere to go, no escape, I go within. I rest deeply.
Below is a condensed transcript of my interview with Brice Dorwart, Certified Arborist, with some reference pictures thrown into the mix. You can also listen to the full-length version above. This man is a wealth of tree knowledge and he’s giving it away for free! Use it, and go hug yourself a tree or an arborist.
Colleen: OK, I’m trying something new, this is Colleen Gaynor, and I am here with Brice Dorwart, who is my life partner and works as a Utility Arborist for Davey Resource Group, which works with PECO utilities in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and they take care of the trees along the utility lines. I’m going to be asking him a bit about his experience with trees and any knowledge he wants to share about trees. And we’re going to go in and talk a little bit about woodworking as well. So thanks for doing this with me.
Brice: You’re welcome.
Colleen: So I wanted to start with just asking you, where do you think you got your interest in working with trees as an arborist, and why do you feel trees are important to you?
Brice: Well, I grew up in a very green area of the suburbs of Philadelphia, and my street had lots of trees on it. There were lots of trees in my parent’s yard, and I spent a lot of time climbing trees. My father is a wood worker by hobby, and from a very early age I was made aware of the different strengths and weaknesses of different woods, and whenever we drove around he would point out neat trees, and especially if they were in flower he would say, “oh look at that beautiful dogwood tree.” So I sort of developed a sense for trees as individuals as I was growing up. I think in generations past, in the United States at least, it was just folk knowledge that everybody had. Everybody knew what a maple tree looked like, everybody knew what an oak tree looked like, everybody knew what an apple tree looked like. But these days, this seems to be sort of a dying resource. People don’t really think of trees as much as they used to. And if they do, they just see a tree with some green stuff and they don’t really know what a tree is, other than that it is a tree. So it’s pretty rare to find somebody that knows the difference between a pine and an oak, and if you know anything about trees, you could not get much more different than a pine tree and an oak tree.
Colleen: Really? I have a hard time believing that.
Brice: Yeah, especially in the city. In cities in the United States, people have lost their appreciation for trees. And so one of the things that I really like about the western suburbs of Philadelphia is there are a lot of college campuses that have arboreta. And one of the nice things about an arboretum, is you can walk around and the trees are labeled. So if you see that great big cool tree you can go up to it, and it basically introduces itself to you, it says “Hi, my name is Willow Oak.” And you can learn things about it depending on the arboretum. You can learn a Latin name, you can learn the family of the tree, you can learn where it’s native. You can learn all sorts of cool stuff. So I just sort of grew up with an appreciation for trees, and then when I was in high school I started really getting nerdy about it. I had a couple of tree guides, and I would go around and find leaves and then take them back home and look in my book and figure out what kind of tree it was. And I developed more of a passion for trees. And so when it came time to leave college and find a career, I immediately got hired as an intern at the Morris Arboretum, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and that place really affected me. Within a few weeks, I decided when I grew up I wanted to be an arborist, and I got to work with arborists. And soon after that I actually took the exam to get certified as an arborist. And now I’ve been a certified arborist for I think over 11 years. And it’s just, I love my work. I love my vocation. I love my area of expertise because trees are so cool.
Colleen: Right, and so speaking of… outside of your trade and your job as a utility arborist, you also do volunteer work, and particularly volunteer work in the city with trees.
Colleen: Tell us a little bit more about that.
Brice: Well, In Philadelphia, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), has an organization that they call Tree Tenders, and there are different chapters of Tree Tenders throughout the city. Different neighborhoods will have their own chapters, and it’s residential volunteer-driven. So a lot of neighborhoods in Philadelphia do not have Tree Tenders. A lot of neighborhoods in Philadelphia don’t really have trees, but where there are trees and where there are people who care about them, you can just go to PHS and let them know that you’ve got a certain critical mass of volunteers, and PHS funds it. You don’t have to supply any money, you just have to supply the people and the time. The main thing that Tree Tenders does is give trees to the neighborhoods to plant. People who are invested in their neighborhoods, if they’ve got mature trees that are being taken down because they’re dying or because they’re getting hazardous or whatever, they feel like it’s important to replace those trees. The city of Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily do that. And so you can get involved in your own neighborhood, and get the city or PHS or both to donate trees. And then as long as you are there to plant them and keep them from dying the first couple of years, you’ve got a tree in your neighborhood again. And so…I’ve volunteered with as many as three groups per year….I believe in donating my time and expertise. And I talk the entire time I’m working with the volunteers, and sometimes I actually plant trees. PHS has a fall planting session and a spring planting session, and I’ve participated in both of those. But my main concern is getting in there a few years after trees are planted, and helping to maintain the trees, because a lot of people wouldn’t realize this, but if you just plant a tree along a sidewalk in a city, there are a few steps that are required between planting and having a nice mature shade tree there. You have to sort of guide the tree along, in addition to keeping it from getting killed, and making sure that it’s watered, which is what the neighborhood volunteers do. I’ll come in and they have what is called a pruning club, and the pruning clubs meet for a couple of hours four times a summer, usually every month. And the neighborhood organizers keep track of all the trees that Tree Tenders has planted in their neighborhood, and they go around and figure out which ones need attention. And then I show up and we walk all over with a whole wagon full of tools, and usually three or four people who live in the neighborhood, and I help them prune their young trees. There are a few things that you have to do to make sure that the trees branches aren’t getting hit by vehicles on one side, and aren’t poking pedestrians’ faces on the other side. But there are also more subtle things that you need to do to guide the development of the tree. And that’s the kind of thing that I excel at. One of my favorite things is dealing with structural problems in young trees, to keep them from being structural calamities as the tree gets older. If you just ignore a tree and let it be, it could, 30 years down the road, split completely in half in a storm. And that’s almost always a problem that could have been addressed when the tree had been in the ground for three or four years when it was a young tree. One tiny pruning cut could be the difference between the tree having a fruitful productive life, and being a victim of storm damage.
Colleen: I know that you work with a lot of homeowners as a utility arborist and basically just to give the listeners the gist of your job…You basically look at the trees that grow along utility lines. If there are any homeowner’s properties where there are trees that need to be worked on, you go and you get permission from them, and you give the orders to the tree workers on what to do with certain trees and, is that is that the gist of your job?
Brice: Well, partially yes. A part of my duty for PECO …which stands for Philadelphia Electric Company, PECO has two contractors to deal with what is called “Vegetation Management”. One is Asplundh, and they go around in these black and orange trucks, and they are the actual tree contractors. They do the cutting, and prune trees every few years to keep them away from the power lines. And if there’s a tree that needs to be taken down, Asplundh will do that. Part of my job as one of the other contractors, Davey Resource Group is the other tree contractor for Vegetation Management, we enforce the standards. There’s a set of industry standards that Asplundh must adhere to. They can’t just go willy-nilly and cut the tree wherever they want, however they want. There’s a right way and a wrong way to trim a tree. And part of what I do, is go out as basically a professional tattletale. If Asplundh messes up, I tell PECO, and PECO has Asplundh go back and fix it. If they do a good job, they get a check, and I move on to the next location. If they mess it up, they get a great big “X” and I write up a report that says exactly how they messed up, and if it can be fixed. …So QA, quality assurance, is one half of my job, that’s enforcing the standards. The other half is going out and finding trees that are dangerous to the PECO wires, either because it’s a dead tree which means that it could just fall over and take out the wires, or it’s damaged or diseased and will eventually be dead and break, or sometimes there are structural problems with mature trees that need to be dealt with. All sorts of things can happen. And as an arborist, I have a very particular set of skills, and I go out and I just drive around and look at the trees by the PECO wires, and if I see a hazard tree or a dead tree, I stop and locate it exactly on the map, and write down all the information that Asplundh needs to come out and take this tree down… I’ll knock on someone’s door and say, “Hey, you’ve got a dead Sycamore around back of your property, I’d like to have Asplundh come and take that tree down free of charge.” And most people are more than happy to sign off, because it means they don’t have to pay for it. They don’t have to worry about it. Tree work is expensive, and that is the main complaint that people have about planting trees on their properties. They know how expensive it is to deal with trees, and if they move into a property and there’s a lot of trees there, that’s a liability to them. It could cost a few thousand dollars to take a large tree down, depending on who you hire and what kind of tree it is and where it is. So, If I show up and say, “hey, I don’t know if you knew this but you have a dead tree.” First of all, they usually don’t know. Second of all, they’re often pretty happy to find out, “Oh, I don’t have to pay anything, and Asplundh will just leave a pile of firewood for me! Hooray! Where do I sign?”
Colleen: And so just in your experience of working with homeowners and people who have trees on their property, what is one interesting fact that maybe people don’t really know about the trees that are on their property that you would you would hope more people know?
Brice: Well, one thing that I would want more people to understand about trees whether they’re property owners or just going out and wanting to plant a tree somewhere, is that you have to know what you’re doing when you plant a tree. Unfortunately, knowledge of trees is no longer in the public domain, because people don’t farm anymore. I think 200 years ago a majority of American citizens were farmers, and part of being a farmer was planting trees all the time. So people just knew how to do it, because that’s what they did. But nowadays, you go and buy a tree from a nursery, or from Home Depot garden shop or whatever, and you think you can just take it out of the pot, dig a hole, put it in the ground, then dust your hands off and go in and watch football. That’s not the case. And unfortunately, as I’m going around looking at trees, a lot of the time when there are trees that are planted on a landscape, I would say about 95 percent of the time they are planted wrong. And when you put a tree in the ground, and it’s in a little pot, and the tree is maybe a half inch diameter, it’s a stick with a few leaves on it. You stick it in the ground, you could plant it correctly and that tree could develop into a very large satisfying contributing member of the tree world and live for 80 to 100 years or more. But if you plant it wrong, the tree will be fine for a while, but then it’ll just suddenly die. And the most common problem is that people plant them too deep. And if you put a tree in the ground too deep, it basically will put roots up into the soil right up against its own stem, and the roots grow any which way, and eventually the roots will grow and encircle the tree in what’s called a stem-girdling root, and the tree will strangle itself very slowly. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, several years after you plant the tree, it’s still alive and you think, “hey, I must’ve done a good job!” But someone like me who knows what to look for, we’ll just take one look at a tree and know that it was planted too deep. And sometimes I can just dig with my hand and find these stem-girdling roots lurking under the surface. Sometimes they’re out in the open. Sometimes you can see a stem-girdling root on a tree, and everybody who walks by that tree will look down and see that, and they won’t realize, “oh that root could kill that tree in a few years,” and they just think that’s what trees look like. So it’s endlessly frustrating to me to see that somebody who considers himself or herself a professional, has planted this tree and they didn’t even realize that they did it wrong. So one thing I would want people to know is that you need to get an expert to do it, or you need to get a resource that will show you how to do it correctly. And there’s a lot of websites. You could probably Google the phrase, “how to correctly plant a tree” and you get a set of instructions with diagrams that make it very obvious how you’re supposed to do it. And that’s what I would hope more people would do. And so I’m always telling people, “plant it right! Plant it right!” And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Colleen: Well you told me an interesting thing the other week about how trees grow, and how when people are trying to plan maybe on putting a tree swing or something or a tire swing in their tree. Can you share little bit of advice around that?
Brice: Well, trees grow by adding a layer of wood every year, or by extending from the tips of the branches. Those are the only ways a tree can grow. So if you have a small tree that you’ve just planted and it has a horizontal branch that is three feet above the ground, that branch will always be at that height. The tree can grow eighty feet tall, but if that branch that’s three feet above the ground continues to be alive on a tree, it will always be three feet above the ground. It’ll get thicker and it’ll get longer, but that branch isn’t going anywhere. There is this weird popular notion of trees as sort of telescoping as they grow. And that’s not possible. Wood doesn’t stretch, a tree has to add at the tips or it adds a layer of wood. Essentially that’s what the growth rings are when you cut a tree and look at a cross-section. So there’s this popular notion of, “oh, I grew up on this property, and I used to hang on this branch, and I went back thirty years later and the branch is higher than I can reach now.” Wrong. That’s a different branch than the branch they used to swing on.
Colleen: So just as a slight change here, what would you say your favorite tree is and why?
Brice: Well, for an arborist who is as passionate about trees as me, it’s difficult to narrow it down to a favorite tree. I love to joke, “oh that’s my favorite oak, that’s my favorite maple”, or “that’s my favorite small flowering native tree.” But because I’ve got a whole list, I would say my overall favorite tree would have to be something called the Bur Oak. And that is an American native tree, and it can grow extremely large. I think it’s technically just barely in its native range in Philadelphia. It’s more common a little bit further to the west. But I do see Bur Oaks growing wild around here, whether they’re the descendants of trees that were planted by people who brought them from somewhere else, or it’s the wild population of Bur Oak, I do see them growing. There are, in the Philadelphia area, quite a number of what are called “Bicentennial Trees”. In 1976 there was a group of arborists and historians who went and found trees in the 13 original colonies that are mentioned on property records from the Revolutionary War era. So these trees not only were at least 200 years old, but they were recognizable as large trees even during the Revolution. So for a tree to receive one of these bicentennial plaques, it would probably now have to be about 350 years old. And there is one such tree in a really incongruous location. It’s a giant Bur Oak. It’s about five feet in diameter and it’s all by itself in the middle of a parking lot in Bala Cynwyd, one block from the city line, and about a half-mile from the Schuykill River. And this tree, it’s deceptively large, because if you just arrive in the parking lot and see a bunch of trees that are planted between lanes of parking spots and then there’s this larger tree. But as you get closer to it, it starts to look a little bit bigger and you go, “Well that’s an interesting tree.” And then you get close and you go, “That’s a big tree!” And if you get out of your car and walk right over to it you go, “Wow, this is huge, and it’s got this plaque that says that it was here during the Revolution!” And it has a shape that would suggest that it’s been by itself for its entire life, in other words, this was an open-grown tree. It’s very possible that it was planted in a clearing, or it’s sort of a local high area. The whole area was owned by a Welsh farmer named Roberts, and his land was given to him by William Penn, for whom Pennsylvania was named. So it’s reasonable to assume that this tree was planted by somebody who knew William Penn, or at least it was on property owned and maintained by somebody who knew William Penn. So it’s kind of a big deal. But the fact that it’s, you know, in a parking lot behind a large office building tells me that somebody cared about this tree enough not to have it chopped down when they built the parking lot. Whoever that was, also knew that it was significant in a historical context, because just a few years after the parking lot was built and the office building was built, the “Bicentennial Tree” status was awarded to the tree. And there are quite a few other really large Bur Oaks in the Philadelphia area, but that one in Bala Cynwyd is my very favorite.
Colleen: OK. That’s great. I remember when we first started dating, you sent me a picture of two Bur Oak trees that were next to each other in a parking lot near Exton.
Brice: Yes, it is in the Exton Square Mall, at the intersection of PA Route 100 and US Route 30, which is Lancaster Pike. And if you go to that intersection and walk a little bit to the east along Route 30, you will see two gargantuan oak trees, and they actually share a canopy because they are planted maybe 40 feet apart from each other. And I think it’s possible that they were originally part of a row of many more Bur Oak trees back in colonial times. People often planted rows of trees, double rows actually an “allee” spelled a-l-l-e-e which is a French term, I have to imagine it means “a double row of trees”. I don’t really know what exactly it translates into, but anyway, you can find formally planted rows of large trees all over the world and that’s called an allee, and often they are the same species.
Colleen: And they were used to signify?
Brice: Well they would have probably lined the path up to the farmhouse.
Colleen: OK. Like to signify a trail or road.
Brice: You see, sometimes in the south of the United States, you see these historical colonial plantations. And the plantation manor house, the mansion, has a long straight driveway leading up to it. And on either side of it, will be planted a row of, usually immense Live Oak trees if you’re looking in Plantation country. But these two Bur Oaks are roughly the same size and they have stood there together for probably 300 years. And again it’s a parking lot, in this case it’s a mall. And as far as you can see in all directions there’s nothing but concrete. And they left this island of about a quarter-acre of unpaved soil for these two trees to just sort of soldier on.
Colleen: And you mentioned in that text something about them probably being lovers for centuries?
Brice: Oaks are, in botanical terms, considered “bisexual”, meaning that they have male flowers and female flowers and they’re all on the same tree. So every oak tree has pollen-producing catkins and pollen-receiving flowers that will eventually develop into acorns. And these two trees being right next to each other, and since oaks are wind-pollinated, you can just imagine the wind swirling around them in the spring, and just cross-pollinating these two trees year after year after year, for hundreds of years, and there are tons of acorns that end up on the ground near them. And so if you want to think about it in a literal sense, this is a mated pair of trees. And so yeah, you could say, if you want to be poetic, they are two lovers that have been together for, you know, two or three hundred years. So it’s kind of poetic.
Colleen: Yeah, I remember thinking that was the nerdiest, most romantic text.
Brice: That’s what you get when you’re in love with an arborist.
Colleen: So I’m just a little bit more curious … you’ve been really helpful with helping me pick out interesting wood pieces for my Works on Wood series, and I wanted to know, is there a methodology for figuring out what sections of wood …would look particularly interesting with the wood grain and the features? I was curious if you could share a little bit more about how you’re able to figure that out?
Brice: Yes, sure. Most, if not all of your wood paintings, your paintings that you do on tree pieces, are cross-sections. So they are round, or roughly round. If the tree wasn’t perfectly cylindrical at the spot where the cross-section was made, then these pieces of wood that you’re using have lumps or ripples or ridges or whatever. But essentially if you’re talking about cross-sections, the most interesting piece of wood to look at is one where it’s a transition in the tree. So if you’re looking at a tree that has a straight trunk for 30 feet, and you just randomly select a spot partway up the ground and take a slice out of it, it’s going to be pretty boring. It’s going to be concentric circles and that’s about it. But if you find a branch where there is a crotch, which is a junction between two branches, or you’ve got an old wound from either a pruning cut or from some sort of damage to the tree, and the tree is partially healed over and partially decayed on the inside, if you make a cross section right there, there’s going to be all sorts of neat stuff. There’s going to be “figuring” in the wood. There’s going to be curling-over around the edges of the damage that you reveal in the cross-section. There’s going to be different coloration of the wood, because the decay organisms, mostly fungi that take advantage of exposed wood on trees, will change the characteristics of the wood. And as they digest and live in that wood, they usually, almost always, they change the color. And some of the best cross-sections that you’ve worked with have all of these characteristics. They’ll have holes where beetle larvae or ants have been digging through the decayed wood. They’ll have different colored sections where a decay fungus has partially digested the wood, they’ll have lines at the edge of this discoloration which is called zoning, and that’s literally where the fungus was living when the tree was cut. …And so a lot of the cross-sections that you like to paint on, there’s interesting stuff happening in the wood. If you make a cross-section where there’s a crotch, often you’ll have two centers to the wood. In just a regular branch or a regular tree trunk, the middle’s called the pith. But if there’s a crotch, if you cut a little bit above the original juncture of those two twigs that eventually turned into a large branches of the tree, you can see those two separate piths. And the growth rings will eventually join into one sort of oval-shaped growth ring outside of the crotch, and you can you can look at that piece of wood and see the history of the tree. And so a lot of your paintings that are done on, in a lot of cases it’s a Japanese maple that was growing in my backyard that was mostly dead and had a lot of decay, and a friend of mine came and cut it down. And then I made slices and polished them, and then you found some of these and you painted on them. And I believe a lot of your paintings are inspired by the actual shapes and lines and forms that you see in the wood. You have a really nice one of birds, and you’ve used a crack that formed in the wood as the edge of one of the wings. And there’s another one where there is a hollow area in the wood, and you use that as a boundary of a part of the bird. And I really enjoy looking at your interpretation of the wood, because, for me, I like to just cut cross-sections, polish them and oil them, and then leave them sitting around because they’re cool to look at. And then you took that and made it go one step further. You said, “it’s kind of cool, but look at this: I’m going to put my mark on it. And here is what I see. I saw a bird there.” There’s another one where you saw an owl. And so you painted an owl right in the shape that looks like an owl, and it is the coolest thing if you know what the genesis was. It’s nice enough that you have a painting of an owl. But the fact that you have it on an owl-shaped piece of wood is really cool, too.
Colleen: Well I think you know we’re all part of this process. I have you to thank, and I’ve been learning a lot from you and your knowledge about trees and woodworking. So, you know one of my missions with my art right now, in addition to just creating things with pieces of nature and different things I find outdoors, is to really share a little bit more about the environment and conservation. You know that’s my other background, and really both of our backgrounds….I wanted to ask if you could share a little bit about what are some of the benefits, not just environmental, but the benefits to the homeowners and the property that the trees are on? Because I think what you touched on before, that a lot of homeowners or people who have trees in their yards maybe have a little bit of fear surrounding having these overwhelmingly large trees looming near their houses, and you know in some cases people move into new properties and just clear cut all the trees in their yard.
Brice: Yeah. Well, I would go back again to the colonial sensibilities of people that lived in North America during the colonial era. I guess in the 1700’s people planted trees for specific reasons. Typically the farm house faced south, because that’s where the sunlight was from. So you had a house oriented on an east/west axis and all the big windows faced south and you would plant a broad-leafed deciduous tree in front of the house, so that in the heat of the summer it would shade the house and keep the house cool. Often they planted a row of oaks and maples or something. And so when the trees are in full leaf in the summertime, they shade the house, and then in the winter the leaves are gone and the light comes through and lights the house and partially heats the house. So there’s a function to planting the trees. And nobody ever planted trees right next to the house. They planted them a little distance away.
These days people have lost touch with the purpose and the methodology, so often you’ll see trees that were clearly planted as foundation shrubs right up against somebody’s house, and they didn’t realize when they planted it that it was going to get gigantic. I’ll see people with really tall conifers right up against their house. And it was pretty clear that they didn’t think it was going to get that big. They saw it at the nursery, they thought, “Oh how pretty, this will make a nice accent at the corner of my stone house.” And then 70 years later you’ve got this immense thing which is pressing against the corner, it’s pressing against the roof and damaging the gutter. It’s got branches that are rubbing against the windows, et cetera et cetera. Not to mention that if you have a really tall tree right next to your house and the tree gets struck by lightning, your house will probably get hit, because you have something called side-flash, especially if you have wiring or metal gutters. The tree gets struck by lightning and then the lightning jumps to your house, and then can either cause severe damage to your electrical system, or actually catch the house on fire. So I do think people should plant trees in their yard, but I also think that they should plant them intelligently. So I would say that the environmental benefits are shade. You also have wind tempering. Farmers often planted rows of trees between their fields to act as a windbreak. So that right after they plowed, if it wasn’t going to rain, the soil wouldn’t blow away in the next wind storm. And trees and water have a very intricate relationship. If you go down to South America in the Amazon where people are clear-cutting and slash-and-burning rain forests to make way for cattle pasture, inevitably what happens is, you might get some grass to grow there for a while, but eventually the cattle will compress the soil, not a whole lot will grow, and then you just have desert. So in places where you allow forest to grow, even if it’s managed forest, if you harvest it and then let it regrow, or harvest it and re-plant it, you have better soil, you have more water in the soil, and you have more rain. It’s actually been shown, apparently in the Amazon where they’ve had a lot of deforestation over the last hundred years, that there’s less rain now, and that’s because as trees grow they pull water out of the ground. They do whatever they do with it, photosynthesis. And then they actually release water from their leaves along with releasing oxygen, which, by the way, is what we have to breathe. Trees breathe carbon dioxide. So in a perfect world, if you want to think of balance and offsetting your carbon footprint, you’re going to also offset your carbon dioxide footprint. And what better way to do that, than put a tree in the ground. If you have a mature tree on your property, it can produce enough oxygen to provide the oxygen that you breathe in an entire year. So if you have a four-person family living on a property that’s big enough to have four mature trees, you’re balanced; the trees are taking the carbon dioxide that you exhale, and converting it into oxygen for you to breathe. So it’s very important to remember that trees are plants, and plants produce oxygen, but also there’s the water benefits. There’s numerous other, more subtle benefits to trees. I’ve seen studies that show that neighborhoods in inner-cities that have trees, have less crime. Now there’s been a study that showed hospitals, where people are convalescing, and they have a view of a tree out their window, heal faster than people who either have no window or who have a window that doesn’t look upon anything that’s growing. So trees help us psychologically, they help us emotionally. I think I also saw a study that was produced by the Wharton School of Business, that demonstrated that trees add property value. It studied property sales records, and they weighed properties that had trees versus properties that had no trees, and all other things being equal, a house that has a tree on the property is going to sell for like a thousand dollars more than a house with no trees. And that is pretty profound. So why would you not plant a tree? Yeah, yeah. I know there’s still a lot of fear surrounding having a large tree. Well here in the Philadelphia area, we occasionally have lousy weather. We have hurricanes, we have nor’easters, we have snowstorms, we have ice storms, we have thunderstorms in the summertime. Trees get damaged, trees break or they uproot and fall over. And sometimes they’ll hit a car, hit a house, and they’ll go across a road and they’ll take out power lines. And every time I’ve seen a major storm in this area, where there’s major storm damage, within a few months there are people who are having healthy trees taken down because they’re terrified, because their next-door neighbor had their house broken in half by a tree that got blown over. And they say, “Oh, I’ve got a tree that’s that size in my backyard. I don’t want it to blow over and crush my house!” So they hire somebody to come and take the tree down. Right. Or they have somebody come out and “top” the tree, which is horrible. It’s a barbaric practice which should be abolished. But you can interview me some other time about that. The important thing is education. If you live in an area where there is bad weather occasionally, and you have large trees on your property, you owe it to yourself to have an expert come out and evaluate.
Brice: … you have to remember that if the trees are near your house, near where you park your car, near a sidewalk in your street, you have to be a steward for the tree. If you have 600 acres and you have a wooded lot and you’ve got woods and there are trees out there that if they fell over, they wouldn’t hit anything but other trees, you don’t really have to worry about that. But if you’ve got a small property, and you’ve a few trees and it’s tight quarters, you should probably have a professional come out and take a look at those trees once in a while to make sure everything’s hunky-dory.
Colleen: “Hunky-dory”, that’s a great term.
Brice: Yeah. Thank you. I love it. That’s a technical term.
Colleen: OK. I think that covers everything that I wanted to talk with you about. Thank you. I really appreciate you and your knowledge and your sharing your knowledge, and taking the time out to do this interview with me. And yeah, we’ll post this and see if anyone listens.
Brice: Well it was my pleasure. I like nothing more than to talk about trees.
Colleen: Really, you don’t say? OK. Thank you sweetie.
As with all guides and advice, take in what resonates for you and try it on for size. I encourage you to sit with these questions (primary questions are in bold below), journal if that feels right, and most importantly, question any limiting beliefs you may hold.
Is creativity important to you? Not exactly a tip, but something to sit with. Did you used to paint, make pottery, write, dance (insert form of creative outlet here), on a regular basis and love it, but somewhere along the way, life got too hectic and the creative outlet was cut from your priorities? Do you have a nagging feeling like it is something you should still be making time for?
Once you have determined that creativity is in fact important to you and you are ready to commit to making creative time for yourself again, take an honest look at your day to day schedule. Where are the time and energy sucks? Can you make some changes? For example, in my circumstance I recognized my commute was sucking the time out of my schedule, so I moved closer to my office job and cut the commute time by over a half. I was fortunate enough at the time that my life circumstances allowed me to do so easily. I also lived without TV or internet for 3 years. This fast from TV and streaming shows really helped me to gain so much time in my schedule, and now that I’ve reintroduced them, it’s not a major part of my life anymore. Of course, these are extreme examples, but hopefully they paint the picture for how you can make some tweaks to your own schedule.
Do you hold any self-limiting beliefs or thoughts that keep you from participating in creative activities? Here are some examples: “I am too busy”, “I am not talented enough”, “I used to be an artist, but….” “It costs too much money.” Definitely take the time to examine your thoughts and beliefs. You can even journal about your thoughts and beliefs to see them more clearly. Tip: If the thought causes you stress or puts you down, question its validity. Remember that the truth will set you free and not limit you or cause you stress.
Are you too tired to even feel creatively inspired? This is a big one and trust me I get it!!! Hopefully, as proposed in number 2 of this list, examining your schedule will help with this. But also, try to pay attention to what energizes you. I am sure a lot of people reading this just had a vision of a giant cup of coffee. But beyond the obvious caffeine jolt, what recharges your batteries? Side Note: I have created some of my favorite paintings when I was super tired..something about a tired, slow brain helps me from overthinking.
Do you have a routine that needs a little shake up? Maybe you started a routine a while back to help you stay inspired in some way shape or form, but lately it’s kind of feeling stale and like you are just going through the motions? Can you change things up a little? For example, for over a year the first thing I did when I woke up was sit down and meditate for 20 minutes. I wanted to stay disciplined in this practice so I really kept at it, even when I did not feel like it. I certainly gained a lot from this practice, but about a year and a half in I realized how stagnant it all felt. Being still first thing in the morning felt counterintuitive to getting my energy flowing. So now I have more active practices in the morning: yoga, dancing, walking, or even painting. I tend to change it up on a daily basis. This change in my morning routine was just the right thing to give me a boost of inspiration and energy to carry me through my day.
Can you dedicate a physical space to where you practice your creative activity of choice? If not, what can you rid yourself of in order to make more space? On a side-note to this, dedicating an area of your home to your creative practice can be a really fun creative activity in and of itself.
Do you usually start off creative pursuits with gusto and then lose your motivation? How do you stay motivated? Do you need to take a class? Do you prefer to learn from books or online videos? Do you prefer to do said activity with other people, or do you prefer alone time with your creative pursuit? These are all things to consider. I personally love online art classes that I can take at my own pace and have a group space for sharing as a way to stay motivated.
What time of day is your peak creative time? This took me a while to figure out for myself, but my peak creative time of day is early morning before I go to work. The wee morning hours invites quiet time to get centered, a mind that is typically not scattered or affected by the busyness of the day yet, the soft light of the rising sun and a hot cuppa your drink of choice. Put on some soft music or light some incense, take a few deep breaths, and create for 10 minutes to an hour before the busyness of the day takes over and it becomes a magical morning.
I hope these guidelines and questions provide you with insight into your own creative path. Being a creative is definitely a journey with ebbs and flows, so of course, be gentle with yourself and honor where you are. But at the same time, please do not deny yourself the gift of creative expression if that is what feeds you!
And for those looking for a bit more of a nudge for some creative fun, I am now offering an online art class, Rise&Paint. Open to all people looking to insert some creative time into their daily lives, and especially created for people who lack time in their schedule. Come join the fun!
I absolutely recommend Rise & Paint and Colleen as an online art teacher! I enjoyed the creativity and structure of the class, and Colleen is delightful! She is very relaxed and helpful, she provided clear and easy to follow instructions. I had fun! Elizabeth P. -Newport News, VA
I really enjoyed Rise & Paint. Each segment was easy to fit into my day. It was a great way to get into making art at my house again. I am looking forward to doing more of Colleen’s online classes. Donna V. – Philadelphia, PA
Earth, and its many natural resources, is the ultimate gift to humanity. Some call it Mother as a form of deep respect, and many have lived through the ages in harmony with the natural world. But somewhere along the way a falsehood was rooted deep into human consciousness: the idea of ownership…the idea of “mine”.
It has been said in various philosophical books that there are two ways of being in this life: in creativityorin competition. Creativity adds to life, competition takes away. Creativity says, “there is plenty”, competition says, “there is not enough”.
In our society, we’ve lived in a competitive model for the past two centuries. We are just beginning to acknowledge this way of being’s devastating effect on our planet: the drilling, the spilling, the warming, the melting, the flooding, the eroding, and the disappearing. A fear-based way of abusing our natural resources. We reap what we sow.
But as the veil is being lifted, more are turning towards a creative model of existence. This model works in communion with the innate wisdom of nature. Solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative energies; creative solutions to transportation; thinking outside of the box in terms of our everyday lifestyle choices… these are all life-enhancing ways of being.
This is what Creating With Nature means to me. It’s more than just working with natural artifacts in my artwork. It is relearning a way of being in harmony with nature. My mission is to share what I know and learn about natural resources and living a greener lifestyle through both my artwork and other creative outlets. Please follow along if you care to learn with me.
If you read my last post ” A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind“, then you might be aware that I’ve been experiencing a little burnout from running my online art business. This in turn was hindering my creative inspiration and left me feeling detached from the current work I have been creating. Despite all of this, I managed to create something beautiful last week even when I felt totally disconnected the entire time I created it. I signed up for a short online class with Alena Hennessy to help me get inspired, and she demonstrated a technique for creating a unique series. I followed her instructions religiously and didn’t really allow for enough of my own interpretation or originality to come into the art. It was entirely influenced by her style and I owe her credit for its creation.
I have learned a tremendous amount from Alena in taking her online classes over the years, where she teaches beautifully instructed videos on how to create mixed media work from your intuition. But whether consciously or subconsciously, you always take on styles from your mentor. I recognized after this last series, that it was time for me to break out from her shadow and to start creating something entirely new and original and completely “me”.
So after processing all of this in a life-changing home yoga practice the day after I finished this series, I turned to my art table and felt creatively inspired in a way I have never experienced. I followed through on a vague idea I had with creating some new original work on tree rounds that we had around our house (thanks to my amazing partner who is an arborist and tree expert). Here is the result:
The response to this new work has been huge for me, which helps to affirm that I am sharing from a place of authenticity. It feels like I am coming home to myself in my artwork and my life.
As my artwork shifts, it’s time for my business to shift as well. I will be taking a couple months off to redo my website, finish up some existing projects, and create some new artwork. My tree round pieces will be available for purchase when I come back online. In essence, I will be working, but my website will be offline. I will continue to share from time to time on Facebook and Instagram, so keep tuned in there. I will have my contact information available to those of you who need to reach me and I thank you for your patience during this very exciting transitional time!
This morning I went for a run. I let the sunshine warm my face and the breeze cool the sweat from my skin. I asked nothing more from myself then to feel my feet hit the Earth, one in front of the other. My mind submitted to the task at hand and I let go of all extraneous thoughts about what I should be working on, how to pursue my dreams, or how to find more fulfillment. It was glorious.
I’ve been running the last two weeks, something I haven’t done in over a year due to an injury and other various reasons like lack of time. Beyond the obvious benefits of better cardiovascular health and strength that come with running, my mind and spirit have reaped the greatest reward… letting go.
You see, behind the scenes of my life and artwork, I’ve been working really hard. I’ve been prepping for art festivals and participating in them, editing videos for online learning classes I plan to launch, making social media posts and other communications, and working on commissions and other new creations. It’s mostly really fun work, but it’s still work, and a lot of it. In addition, I work full-time in another job that requires my time and energy for 40 hours a week. My full-time job is essential for very practical reasons, such as paying my bills. Needless to say, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. So is the life of most self-made entrepreneurs.
So after participating in an art festival a few weekends back, something that took 20 plus hours of prep time, and not making the money back that I spent in order to be a vendor, I’ve been reassessing a few things. Sure, I am still feeling out what shows make the most sense to participate in for my particular aesthetic. I am very new to the festival arena and it takes time to to feel out the different scenes. But I had to ask myself this question, “Am I really happy with being a business owner?” Sadly the answer is, “Not lately.”
I love making artwork, I love working with customers and doing commission work and I love teaching others the joy of creating. I would continue doing all of these things even if I wasn’t attempting to make a living or business out of them. So step one to finding more happiness again is letting go of this idea that I have to make this business thrive in order to really live out my dreams. That’s kind of a bunch of crap. I could paint and donate my work, or put up free tutorials, and do commission work as a hobby for friends and family, and have painting gatherings every once in a while. None of these activities require a business license.
Step two is recognizing what actually makes me happiest is when I have extra time in my schedule to spend with family, friends, and loved ones. And this time must be quality, which means I don’t want to be concerned with thoughts of everything I should be doing for my business while I am having a conversation. Being in the moment rather than planning out every moment of your day in order to optimize your production… what a novelty.
Step three is taking the pressure off of myself to create more purpose in my life through my career. I mean, come on now, no matter how you package it, work is work. And as a business owner, am I really going to find more purpose when all I am doing is working all of the time? Heck no. After taking a break last week, I realized I find purpose in the small details of everyday life. The holding of the door for a stranger, the giving of my full attention to a person I am communicating with, the recognizing the miracle of running water as I wash the dishes, the noticing of fine details of a person’s eyes, the appreciation for the Earthy smell of the woods on my morning run, and the gratitude for this life-giving breath. These things fill me up, and when I am so caught up pursuing an external goal of success as an artist in order to find more purpose, I am totally missing the point.
The final step to being happier is taking the pressure off of my creativity so that I can actually be, wait for it… CREATIVE! I’ve come to realize I am an extremely creative person. It took me a long while to really tap into that creative energy, and that was after years of learning how to relax and still myself enough through yoga and meditation so that stress, anxiety and all those other killers of the creative process, did not hold me back. By placing pressure on myself to have a successful art business, I’ve inadvertently induced a subtle stress response in my creative activities, and I’ve been struggling to produce artwork with abandon like I used to.
So after taking a week off, I feel ready to just completely release this whole construct I made to be able to work as a full-time artist. I am letting that one go and handing it over to that which is greater than myself. Don’t get me wrong, this is not me just giving up. I want to continue to share my art, launch a few online art classes, and teach people the joy of the creative process. This is all in the works. But I plan to do so with a much stronger grasp of balance for my health and wellbeing as well as for the health of my relationships.
All of this release and letting go has had an interesting effect. I am more creatively inspired than I have been in months. It turns out the old adage is very true, A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind.