All posts by Louise Gallagher

I believe in wonder. I believe we are all magnificent beings of divine beauty. I believe we can make a difference in this world, through every act, word, thought. I believe we create ripples with everything we do and say and want to inspire everyone to use their ripple to create a better world for everyone. I'm grateful you're here.

Lessons From The Creative Field

Watercolour and ink on eco-dyed cotton

If you look closely at the painting above you will see it is mostly painted on cloth.

I was having fun playing with the eco-dyed cotton I created last week.

The completed 2 page spread in handmade art journal from scrap papers

And here’s the deal. ‘Fun’ is the operative word. I was not trying to make art. I wasn’t trying to create something ‘perfect’. I was simply having fun exploring what happens if…

This is the backside of the first image and the following page.

That’s art journalling. Exploring the what if’s of what happens when you let go of needing a purpose or destination to whatever you’re doing and just let yourself fall into the pure joy of self-expression that has no agenda, no intended outcome, no purpose other than to explore your creative essence.

Front cover of handmade art journal from scrap papers and collaged leaves and flowers

Life is the art of living fearlessly in the beauty of this present moment.

‘Making art’ is just a means to access the creative core that resides in each of us through whatever medium we choose to employ.

For me, those mediums include paint, paper, (fabric too!) dried flowers and leaves (as in the cover of the handmade journal I created out of scrap papers.

Back page – includes dried flowers and leaves

My mediums also include the words I write, food I create, table settings, and a host of other everyday things I use to create beauty in my world. It’s all creative expression. My way.

Your creative expression will be different. It is a reflection of you. Your inner and outer world. Your experiences, preferences, likes and dislikes. But make no mistake, whatever you are doing, it is a creative expression of YOU! And because it is a reflection of you, it is, by its very nature, beautiful. You are beautiful just the way you are.

Make it Beautiful is both my motto and achilles heel. I struggle to keep in mind that sometimes my self-expressions aren’t so much ‘beautiful’ as much as one big beautiful mess.

Different sizes, shapes and quality of papers all stitched together.

Like this handcrafted journal I created at the beginning of August and continue to sporadically work on. It was an invitation from an online forum/art group I belong to, “Get Messy Art“.

Its pages are all bits and pieces of scrap paper. Different sizes, textures, colours, heaviness. The beauty of it is its ‘mess’.

And… confession… I struggle with the ‘mess’ of it all. I struggle to let go of my judgement of what is beautiful . I want to create pretty pictures. Not beautiful messes.

Which is why I’m sharing it here. To find the beauty in all of it… The places I judge as the good, the bad and the ugly.

It’s my invitation to ‘loosen up’. To give me the freedom of letting my not so ‘pretty’ parts show too. To quieten that voice within that likes to hiss in my ear, “What will ‘the neighbours’ think?” Or, one of the critter’s favourites, “They’ll laugh at you and not take you seriously.”

This is the two page spread after the image I shared yesterday

And that’s why art journalling is so powerful. It not only gives me a medium to express myself through words and art, it allows me to dive into those spaces within where I find myself hiding out from being ‘real’.

Being real to me is more than just ‘being authentic’. It means I allow myself to be vulnerable in my beauty and my beast nature. I allow all of me, warts and wounds and wisdom to be seen – because as this art journal so beautifully expresses for me, we are not just ‘the good’, we’re also the pieces of ourselves we want to hide. The scraps and broken places where we fear that if others saw them, they’d laugh at us, or mock us, or shun us.

A page in process — I wonder what will happen if….

We are all of who we are — not just the pretty parts we like to show off, but the dark spaces too.

Like the moon needs the sun’s glow to be seen in the dark, we need our darkness to let our true, inner beauty radiate.

That’s what art journalling has taught me. Again and again. To be grateful for the joy and the pain, the ease of passage and the turbulent seas. To be grateful and to express myself in every way my heart desires.

Oh. And to let my judgements go and simply Have Fun!

Namaste.

Watch Me Grow

I have spent much of my life trying to fit in. Trying to conform and belong, and to feel comfortable in my own skin. To find purpose. To discover my dreams and live them, fearlessly.

It’s been quite a journey!

Recently I was asked if I would consider sitting on the board of a not-for-profit. It’s in a sector I’m passionate about. It’s an issue I care about deeply.

I declined.

There are other ways for me to give back to community without immersing myself in the politics, grind and gristle of making change happen.

For many years, Kerry Parsons, my dear wise friend and amazing founder of The Academy of Emerging Women, would caution me about becoming too to ‘the pain body’. I didn’t really understand what she meant but would usually answer, “I’m not attached to it. I’m like a piece of Swiss cheese. I let the pain flow through me so I can nourish the whole.”

We don’t know what we don’t know until we step out of what we believe we know to see how much we don’t know, or don’t see, because we think we know it all. (Whew. That’s quite a convoluted sentence!)

Recently, while walking with another wise woman who was also once my boss and who is one of the most intelligent people I know, I was asked how long it took me after leaving the formal workplace to know what I wanted to do.

I laughed.

“I’m still working on that one,” I told her. I also told her that it took me a year just to get to a place where I didn’t feel like I wanted to be pulled back into the fray of the homeless-serving sector. Like my unique talents and gifts weren’t essential to ending homelessnss.

Fact is, others have stepped into the spaces I held and doing a mighty fine job of ‘the work’. Yes, their way might be different than mine. The truth is, every way makes a difference. Every way matters. And every way has value and benefits that my way could not achieve.

For me, after almost 20 years working in the homeless-serving sector and not-for-profit, I’m done.

Yup. Done.

Woo Hoo! It’s only taken me a year and a bit after leaving the workplace to be able to see that statement is my truth today.

I’ve come a long way baby.

I also told my friend that one of the things I realized about six months into my ‘rejuvenation journey’ was that I was addicted to the stress, chaos and turmoil of working in the sector. I was, as my dear friend Kerry suggested and I denied, “attached to the pain body.”

There is a belief that says you can’t get rid of a bad habit without replacing it with something more nourishing and healthy.

To replace my ‘pain body attachment’ habit, I am employing, deploying, engaging my joy muscles. I am all into attaching my body, mind, spirit, soul and vital essence to joy.

Like a wildflower in a field of plenty, I am growing wild and free. I am joyfully swaying with the winds of change sweeping through my entire being. Like a child dancing in front of her adoring parents’ eyes, I am flinging my arms above my head, leaping wildly in the air and screaming out loud in joyful abandon, “Watch me grow!”

Her Prayers Were Her way.

No matter the season, prayers dispel the darkness and open our hearts to Love. — Two page spread in altered book art journal, My Mother’s Prayers

I am an experiential learner. I love to try new things. To combine different processes. To learn and challenge what I think I know by expanding upon the things I learn along the way.

I don’t follow instructions well. I don’t walk trodden paths with comfort.

Creating the altered book journal, “My Mother’s Prayers” has been a gift and a learning experience.

When I began, I thought I’d just be using my mother’s prayer cards as emphemera on each page. I wanted to honour her and to somehow enshrine her cards in a way that would preserve them, and perhaps enlighten me as to her true nature.

I have been blessed.

The cards and the process has become so much more than just a ‘task’ or an art project.

It’s become enlightening, nourishing and healing.

I always balked when my mother said she’d pray for me. I thought her prayers were a judgement of me. I thought she was praying for me constantly because she thought I was a horrible human being, an awful daughter, sister, mother, person.

The ‘art corner’ at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

In working with her prayer cards, in allowing myself to be present to the images, their messages and to the process of creating each page with a loving heart, I am discovering a new perspective.

Her prayers weren’t a condemnation of me. They were the only way she knew how to express her love.

It’s one of the many things I love about the creative process. An idea sparks something and from that ‘something’, new awareness, insights, understanding blossom as I deepen into being present within and with whatever is unfolding.

In this case, I feel a deep, soulful shift within. No longer do I experience her prayers as a condemnation of my human condition, I am being gifted the experience of hearing them as her way of saying “I love you and want always the best for you.”

There was a deep gulf of misunderstanding between my mother and me. One of the things she often said to me was, “Why can’t you be more like the others? [my brother and sisters] Why do you have to do it your way?”

She struggled with my experiential learning essence. She feared for me constantly because I love to push limits. To test boundaries. To challenge what is in search of what is possible.

For me, it is just my way. To my mother, I was always in danger. And mothers are hardwired to keep their children safe. I realize now how often she must have felt helpless – she couldn’t keep me safe if I was constantly putting myself in danger.

My mother’s way was scary to me. I didn’t want to walk her path. And in being so vocal and I admit, obnoxious about not wanting ‘her way’, I wasn’t able to give her what she wanted most — peace to walk the path she was on, trying to keep her family safe by engaging God with every step. She wanted to live deeply embedded in her faith. I didn’t want any of that!

And I smile.

In retrospect, (though I thought I was being pretty random) I realize that it is no accident that the book I chose to use for this altered art book journal is called, “Contentment: A guide to finding the path to peace of heart..” The closing quote is from Henry David Thoreau, “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

Most of my life I kept fishing for my mother to tell me she loved me — My way.

In creating this journal with her prayer cards, by being present to their beauty and their gifts, I am discovering my mother always loved me the best way she knew how — Through her prayers.

What a beautiful gift.

Namaste.

Time. Unplugged. Unpressured. Unstructured.

There is something sublimely magical about time spent in the mountains.

Time. Unplugged. Unpressured. Unstructured.

So rare in these days of constant connection. So challenging to attain in these times of pandemic and environmental disasters and political discourse straying far from the peaceful way.

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge from the far side of the lake

I am back from my sojourn in the mountains. Back from time spent savouring unmapped moments along the shore of Bow Lake and Num-Ti-Jah lodge.

I am back but I carry with me those days of breathing clear mountain air and hearing nothing but nature calling me to slip into reverie beside her running streams.

I carry those moments with me and still I struggle to hold onto the untrammeled path, the silence and the space to simply be present to whatever is unfolding in this moment right now filling my heart and mind and body with its beauty and possibilities.

I struggle and in my struggle am reminded to let go.

To let go of ordering time and managing my thoughts into what I want to be present.

I let go and remember the glacier high above the lakeshore, spanning the gap between two mountains. It has lain there throughout time watching in majestic silence life unravelling and passing by. It has been witness to the travels of Indigenous peoples who called these mountains home long before the first settlers arrived. It has lain unphased through the wars and pestilence befalling humankind and held space beneath clear blue skies turning dark.

I spent an afternoon painting by a window of the lodge. This is what I saw. Watercolour on watercolour paper – 7 x 6″

The glacier is smaller now. Receding. Drawing back. Releasing its ice cold waters to the streams and rivers flowing steadily down the mountainside. And still, it lays in silent majesty, watching, bearing witness, baring its bones, revealing the land beneath its icy blanket.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply. My pulse quietens, my heart slows down, my mind and body meld together. I become the peace I seek. I become the quiet.

And I wonder. Does the glacier love the mountains holding it against the sky? Does the sky give thanks for the glacier’s icy ways? Does the waterfall give thanks for the water?

I think it is so.

And I give thanks. For this day. For the time by Bow Lake. For the quiet along the trails and the moments shared with friends around a dinner table. For the beauty of this moment right now and above all, I give thanks for the love that fills my life.

Here I am, I whisper to the sky and the trees outside my window and the river flowing by. Here I am. Thank you for this day. Thank you for these blessings that make my life so beautiful and rich and oh so full of love.

Namaste.

_________________

As a side note — it was easy to keep social distance as the lodge is closed for the season — it’s gracious and generous owner, a dear friend, chose not to open it under Covid’s risks. It gave him an opportunity to keep a small staff onsite to do maintenance work.

It also meant, he occassionally invited a few friends up to spend time with him in the beauty of his home away from home.

What a beautiful gift of time and space. Thank you TW!

Mystery. Magic. Musings.

Eco-dyed 100% cotton

I love to experiment, to explore, to experience the mystery of what is possible when I let the ‘what ifs’ of attempting new things be my guide.

What if I add this rusty old nail to a vat of plants in water? What if I include it in a piece of cloth I’m rolling up that has been decorated with leaves?

What if...

I have been exploring the amazing world of eco-dyeing.

According to one website I checked out, eco-dyeing is, “…a contemporary application of the traditions of natural dyeing. In eco printing or dyeing, plants are enclosed in textiles or paper, bundled by winding over rods or stacked in layers and then steamed or immersed in hot water to extract the pigments and produce a print made with plant dyes.” (Source)

For me, it’s a whole lot of possibility steamed up in a pot of mystery and magic giving rise to retrospective musings of what I’ve learned, experienced, witnessed, observed…

Did I also mention its messy? It’s that too. But so much fun the mess becomes inconsequential.

Jar of cloths ready for the sun

I started the process of dyeing these cloths earlier in the week. I laid out my plants and ephemera on the cotton, rolled and tied them up, placed them in a jar to soak in a mixture of iron water and then, put them into the sun.

Sun-dyed only.

The cloth to the left was sun-dyed only. The other two were sun dyed and steamed on the stove for a couple of hours. The only reason the first cloth wasn’t steamed is that I was curious (and impatient) to see how the process went and unrolled it when I brought the jar inside. That’s when I decided steaming was the next step.

Sun-dyed and steam-bathed

And that’s the beauty of any creative process. It puts a spotlight on the traits we possess that can sometimes trip us up.

Take my impatience for example. My beloved likes to tease me by calling my impatience ‘legendary’. I didn’t think of myself as impatient until I reflected on what ‘inspired’ me to unravel the whole role of the first cloth to check it out. If I’d tested it by unrolling just a smidgen of a corner, I’d have seen it needed steaming for a darker imprint.

That said, I like the juxtaposition of the heavily printed versus lightly printed piece of fabric.

Sun-dyed and steam bathed

Now, here’s the big question – what will I do with these pieces?

I don’t know is the honest answer. The answer to make me look a little less unstructured is, “I can use them as journal covers. I can collage them into a page. I’m sure there’s other things I can do too!”

And that is where the fun comes in.

I don’t know what I want to do with the fabrics. I do know I love the mystery and the science of eco-dyeing. I love the experience of learning something new and the way it challenges me to keep learning more.

So… I’ll keep experimenting with it just for the fun of the exploration.

And that is one of the lessons this foray into eco-dyeing has really put into the spotlight for me.

It isn’t about the ‘why’ or the outcome. It’s all about the journey. About how much joy, laughter, curiosity, inner-knowing and a wealth of other aspects of creative expression that naturally arise from the exploration of what I know, and what I don’t know about myself and the world around me.

And, as I am learning as I explore this new medium, what I don’t know is greater than what I think I know. What a wonderful mystery to explore!

Doing. Alchemy. Faith.

One of the gifts of art journalling (and there are many) is how it offers up ample opportunity to explore your creative nature without judgement interfering with your discovery.

Ok. Let me reframe that. It offers up ample opportunity to see where judgement interferes with your discovery. In the process, you get to choose to explore your discovery of its limitations, or not.

This two-page spread began differently. It was going to be a simple, uncluttered background of flowers. I was working it. I mean workin’ it hard. I had a vision. An outcome. A goal. I was going to make it so.

And then, it became a reflection of what I wanted it to become, not the flow of what it was becoming. That’s when judgement stepped in and decided I wasn’t working hard enough.

So I dug in. Worked it some more until eventually, all my ‘hard’ work became a really big messy, cluttered ‘ YUCK!’

I painted over the whole thing with a thin layer of white paint thinking I’d just ‘start again’.

And then, I went for a walk and found the yellow flowers that appear on the page growing wild amidst a grove of poplars by the river.

I picked a few and kept smelling and admiring them as I walked home with Beaumont, the Sheepadoodle.

Their smell was redolent of children playing in fields of wildflowers dancing in the sun. Their colour felt like I was bathing in liquid forest.

They were calling for me to preserve them so, I hauled out my flower press and la voilá! They became the focal point of my page.

They also became the path through which I found harmony and flow within my creative exploration.

See, it would have been easy to give into my internal critics yammering about how bad the page was and just give up by painting over it entirely.

The critter would have been happier. It likes ‘the win’.

But the still quiet voice of knowing and grace would have been saddened by my ‘giving up’. It would not have criticized me, the still quiet voice of knowing and grace doesn’t criticize. It only presents me with opportunities to grow through myself. To discover new and more gentle ways of being me.

The words for this page were always floating on the periphery. They were always about a garden of prayers, but it wasn’t until I took the photo and decided not to write them on the page and instead worked in Photoshop that they gained clarity.

The lesson being… Creative expression is one part the doing, one part alchemy and one part faith.

Doing. Alchemy. Faith.

Just like my mother’s prayers.

What Does The Map Of Your Life Look Like?

It happens every autumn.

Summer days swiftly turn into cooler nights, harbingers of autumn’s fast approach.

This morning, as I sit at my desk, the river flowing past in glacier green beauty, I see no rafters floating by. Just the branches of the trees bending in the cool morning wind gusting in from the north.

I hear the sound of the leaves whispering stories of the wind to the squirrels running up and down their trunks. They are gathering food for their long winter’s nap.

The sky hangs low, laden with pregnant grey clouds waiting to release their bounty on the earth below.

And I am warm and snug inside, wrapped in the bliss of watching leaves dance on trees and water flowing by.

Savouring these small graces of my morning view is my antidote to world events that stalk the edges of my peace of mind. They remind me that change is happening, even when I feel like the world is stuck in a bad movie.

In, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “The Skywoman story, shared by the original peoples throughout the Great Lakes, is a constant star in the constellation of teachings we call the Original Instructions. These are not “instructions” like commandments, though, or rules; rather, they are like a compass: they provide an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map for yourself. How to follow the Original Instructions will be different for each of us and different for every era.”

The work of living is creating that map for yourself.”

I am wondering on my map. Wondering what words, images, sounds, feels, thoughts I would use to describe the map I am creating with my life.

It is good to wonder. It is good to explore my wonderings. To visualize and actualize my map.

What about you? Do you wonder about the map you are creating with your life?

as Soft As A Petal Falling

Altered Book Art Journal page — “My Mother’s Prayers” – ‘Soft as Petals’ “As soft as an angel’s kiss, her prayers fell like petals from the heaven’s above blessing everyone on earth.”

For the past three days I’ve been working on a video of my creative process. I filmed myself working on another page from the altered book journal I’ve been creating of my mother’s prayer cards, and have been editing and editing and editing…

It is a good stretch for my brain and a good reminder of how the creative process is not just founded in ‘art-making’, it is everywhere! I have to keep reminding myself that creating a video is in and of itself a creative process. Rather than thinking it’s taking me away from time in the studio, I am focussing on the value of learning new things and how it is expanding my capacity to evolve into new forms of creative expression!

The other day, after commenting on my Mother’s Prayer Cards art journal, someone asked if I was okay. “You seem to be grieving so deeply,” they said. “Are you okay?”

I appreciated their question and concern. It felt very loving.

The fact is, I told them in response, I feel great. Creating this journal of mom’s prayer cards, immersing myself in an exploration of the power of prayer and memory has been a very healing, loving journey. It has expanded my compassion for my relationship with my mother and deepened my knowing of her love. It has also given me an opportunity to heal some of the broken places of our relationship.

In the eulogy I gave for mom at her celebration of life, I wrote, “Being the youngest, I wanted to be the rebel. In fact, for a large portion of my life, I wanted to be anything but like my mother. I am so grateful that through her prayers, I have become more like her than anyone else I ever thought I wanted to be. As I sat with her in the quiet of the night over the final week of her life and prayed with her and sang to her and read to her, I realized that the gift my mother gave me was and is the one I cherish most in my life today – an unwavering belief in the transformational power of Love. “

Kindness was my mother’s North Star. No matter how unkindly I responded to her when she told me she was praying for me, she never responded in kind, she only responded in kindness.

Life is a journey. It isn’t about how fast we go on the road of life nor how long we’re on the road. It’s about how much kindness we invest into each step along our way. It’s about how much we joy we instill in each day and how deeply we fall into Love with everyone and everything on our path.

My mother would have been 98 today. In her life and in her passing, I have found myself growing deeper and deeper into Love through her prayers that continue to be a constant on my path. Thanks mom! Happy Birthday!

___________________________

About this altered book art journal page:

I started this spread knowing what the words were. They had appeared while I was in meditation before starting the page and were my guide as I created. “As soft as an angel’s kiss, her prayers fell like petals from the heaven’s above blessing everyone on earth.”

Something To Prove

Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I are walking back from the river.

He is not great on-leash. Some might say he’s awful. (Sorry Beau. It’s true.)

He tugs and pulls, especially if we’re on our way to the park. On the way home is not as bad. Unless he sees a squirrel. Or another dog. Or a leaf blowing in the wind. Or a butterfly. Or… you get the picture.

Anyway. We’re walking home and he’s pulling and I want him to pay attention. To me.

I stop about 10 feet from the crosswalk at Bowness Road. The deal is, when I stop, he has to stop and sit and then make eye contact with me before we move on.

He does the stop and sit well. The eye contact. Well, let’s just say he can take his time getting there. Like lots of time.

This particular day I’m into what feels like minute gazillion of waiting and he’s still looking around refusing to make eye contact when a voice behind me says, “Excuse me ma’am?”

Startled, I turn my head and see a young boy, about 12 years old, on a bike. He’s stopped on the road beside me and is looking at me with concern.

My mind immediately jumps to, ‘I wonder if he’s lost’ when he says, “Do you need help crossing the street ma’am?”

I almost burst out laughing but manage to control myself and reply (sweetly, I promise), “Oh. Thank you so much. That’s so kind of you. But no, I’m just waiting for my dog to pay attention to me before we cross.”

The young boy nods his head (I’m not sure he believed that I didn’t need help) but with an “Oh. Okay,” he gets back on his bike and rides off.

I didn’t wait for Beau to make eye contact. I pressed the crosswalk light and we crossed.

I had something to prove.

_______________________________________

Footnote: This happened shortly after I read one of those memes on FB about how what’s wrong with the younger generation today is they respect no one because parents/teachers can no longer use corporal punishment.

My father used to give me the strap when I was young, the writer said, and I’m okay.

I disagree on two counts.

You’re not okay if you think having your butt or hands strapped as a child didn’t hurt you.

And the second count, as this young boy so beautifully showed, there’s nothing wrong with the younger generation (other than perhaps their eyesight).

Love’s Enduring Embrace

In the memory of her prayers, my heart rests in Love’s enduring embrace — 2 page spread. My Mother’s Prayers – altered book art journal

The quote for this two-page spread in the altered book art journal I’m creating called, “My Mother’s Prayers” came to me after I painted in the bird and flowers.

I started the spread not knowing what would appear. I was ‘going with the flow’ and letting it happen as the paint hit the page. As with all the pages in this art journal, one of my mother’s prayer cards is affixed to the page.

There is so much healing grace in creating a project such as this. It invites me to focus on the lessons to be learned from my mother’s passing and her prayer cards. And, it opens me up to exploring those places within where the ‘mother wound’ has not yet come to rest in peace.

Along with the quote that came out of my journalling, “In the memory of her prayers, my heart rests in Love’s enduring embrace“, the phrase, “Learn from the broken. Live from the whole” appeared. Its resonance continues to soothe and illuminate my path.

An aspect of this spread that make it challenging is the fact that I was filming myself as I went along.

It was quite a journey.

Not the creating the two page spread part of the journey, but the, “Oh! Here’s an idea. Let’s create a ‘follow-along’ video of the process with all the bits and bytes of video you took Louise” part.

I do like a challenge!

Though, to be fair, it wasn’t the challenge of putting all the footage into a video that was the hardest. It was when my system crashed at 10pm last night wiping out 2 hours of work. That’s when I decided enough was enough for one day and went to bed.

I got up at 6 this morning and three hours later, Take 2 of the video was finished. Beaumont the Sheepadoodle was particularly grateful. The quick ‘pee break’ at 6am just wasn’t cutting it for him anymore!

One of my commitments to myself this fall is to get my online art journalling workshops started. This video is the first of what I hope is series of ‘follow-along’ videos showing my process.

It’s not perfect — but I sure am learning a lot as I create the videos and, I am growing in confidence with each step along the way.

The video is below — I would really love feedback, ideas, comments to help me grow and all that jazz.

Thanks!