The Artist's Way Chapter 2: Paying Attention

I wrote a little about my experience with chapter 2 the other day.  This seems like a big chapter for me, or at least a lot to think about, even if there were really only two main points that spoke to me.  The most important is probably the charge to pay attention.  This is something that I've been struggling with for a while.  I've written about it here and here.  Paying attention is something that I need to do as a creative person.  How can I write if I do not notice details?  I think every story I've ever written started with some small detail that I noticed and that then sparked my imagination.  What if I hadn't been paying attention?  Every time I go out with my camera I need to pay attention.  When I pick up my paintbrush to paint I need to pay attention.

A while ago I started this little wall hanging.  When it's finished it will read: "notice glimmers of beauty each day."

I have a lot more embroidery to go before it's finished, but I need to keep reminding myself to notice beauty around me.  Every single day.  Maybe I'll add those words to one of my paintings and keep it nearby until my wall hanging is finished.

For some reason as I thought about this, about paying attention and noticing things, a few words from one of the songs in the musical (extremely awesome) episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kept popping into my head.  It may sound silly to be thinking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer while thinking about this chapter, but after I thought about it, it wasn't really so silly.  Although the phrase itself isn't about the need to pay attention, the song is about how Buffy is sleepwalking through her life.

When I stop paying attention it's as if I am sleepwalking through my life, too.  And it happens more than I would like.  When I'm feeling down or discouraged, I close myself off.  In trying not to notice the bad, I'm missing out on the good. 

There have been a few times in my life when I've been hyper aware of details, when I've paid close attention to everything around me.  Those times also happened to be times when I was especially creative.  One leads to the other.

Back in January I took part in A River of Stones, a challenge to daily pay attention and to write down "polished moments of paying proper attention."  I didn't blog my small stones, I just wrote them in a notebook.  I did great during the month of January, but after that I slowly stopped.  One of the things I wanted to do as part of my work for this chapter was to pick up my notebook and start collecting stones again.  Um... I picked up my notebook, but I haven't written anything in it (my recent small stones have been composed in my head when if been out walking... guess I need to carry my notebook with me on those walks).  But I have been paying attention.  Before I left for vacation there was a very foggy morning that left everything covered with a heavy dew.  That heavy dew helped me to notice the hundreds of spiderwebs that were everywhere from the grass to the garden to the meadows.  After finishing my walk with Holden, I came back inside to get my camera.

Without the dew the spider webs' beauty would have remained hidden.  Sometimes we need help noticing the details.

On my drive to Chicago I noticed all sorts of details, but one sticks with me.  A butterfly got sucked in my window and landed on my pillow on the passenger seat.  I loved the idea of it getting a moment of rest and comfort on my pillow.  Another butterfly asked me to pay attention the other day.  It landed on the screen in my window.

It's funny that butterflies have been drawing my attention lately.  As I was looking back through my "Imaginary Lives" exercise I saw that I had written Butterfly Farmer on my list.  On my daily walks I've been seeing so many butterflies.  Yesterday, depressed and sad and worried about Holden (who has been sick) I saw a beautiful blue and black butterfly.  It looked so exotic with its many shades of blue and as I continued I noticed about ten other varieties.  All so beautiful fluttering around me.  I might not be a butterfly farmer, but...

Last week as I was mowing I noticed frogs and toads hopping and a little mole scurrying out of the way of the mower.  I noticed the smell of the creeping charlie and the pine needles in the sun.  I thought of the phrase "smells are color for your nose."  I have been paying attention even if I haven't written everything down.  But it's still a challenge.  The days go by and I want to say, wait, I didn't pay close enough attention.

As for the work of the chapter.  I've been doing it.  I wasn't very successful at doing my morning pages while I was on vacation.  I only managed it twice.  But since I've been back I've done them every day. My Artist Date was with a book.

Until I can find a watercolor class to take, I've been looking for books to help me improve.  Elizabeth Kincaid's watercolors are so detailed and realistic.  She paints by layering on different colors of paint again and again.  I'm not sure I want to paint like that, but I think there's a lot I can learn from the book.  It's interesting that the main thing that she stresses in the book is the need to really see.  She talks about how to look at something you're going to paint and break it down into shapes and negative/positive space and values.  I've never looked at the world like this before.  I want to spend some more time with this book and try out some of her techniques with my next watercolor.

I'm doing the chapters my way and the check-ins my way and I think that so far,  The Artist's Way has been beneficial.  I especially love that I'm doing this as part of a group and that I've "met" some great people because of it.  Thanks, again, to Paula for hosting!


  1. I know the "going through the motions" feeling well. The paying attention mode will be helpful.
    Hope Holden is better soon. *Gentle pat on the head for him* & {hug for you}

  2. You have posted a lot about chapter 2. Love that you are so open. Keep on keeping on. A cabbage butterfly showed up - last week while I was working on my chapter.

  3. Anne, this was a wonderful post. I love your pictures of the spider's web. They are really beautiful. I am finding that life is so much more satisfying when I slow down and pay attention. I spent many years rushing through each day but now that I am paying attention I see colors and smell smells and just enjoy what the world has to offer so much more. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this chapter.

  4. Anne this was a beautiful post - full of heart and feeling. The art of seeing is so important - you certainly saw a lot this past wek. Love the photos of the web and butterfly. I agree that we take what we need from each chapter and do the work we need to.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love the metaphor of the dew on a spider's web showing up the hidden beauty. It sounds like you're on all the right tracks, just ease in, in your own time and way :)

  6. What a thoughtful post! The Artist's Way has been a guidepost for me as well although I don't write the daily pages as much as I used to (my blog makes up for that). Paying attention can be as simple as tuning into your senses: what did you feel, smell, taste and touch that connected you with the season today?

  7. Good exercise. I know what you mean about one tiny little thing you notice or think growing and inspiring your art...that's usually what happens to me as well (normally a certain shade of color will produce a whole painting!).
    BTW> I really like the embroidery you're doing, especially the lettering...they're so fun and whimsical.

  8. Wow, Anne, so much you're saying resonates with me, but strongly! I'm sitting here reading through this and going, "Oh my God, YEAH! I know EXACTLY what you mean!" The "paying attention" thing really struck me, as well, and I have been having a sort of avalanche of realizations from there. I can't believe all this in just Chapter 2! It's really something. I used to be so hyper-aware, myself, noticing so many extraordinarily beautiful things in the most ordinary things. Somehow I've lost that and want it back, and I am finally remembering that it's all about paying attention. I am a huge believer in the things of everyday life speaking to us, or being the messengers for the Universe's messages to us. I totally get where you're coming from with finding confirmation through a TV show. But we have to be receptive. I always said, you can find the answers in a take out food menu if you're open to them. The thing is it's so easy to forget and I find I have to keep reminding myself, over and over, to be present and pay attention. The butterflies, they're definitely the Universe talking to you, letting you know she's listening. Oh, I can go on forever, but I'd better stop now. LOL! It's a real joy sharing this journey with you! And I hope Holden feels better very soon!

  9. Thank you all for your kind, kind comments. It's so wonderful to be able to connect with each of you like this and share our thoughts/feelings and our journeys.


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