Make it EPIC

All you need is one simple idea

4D0A8D81-CBE2-4957-8267-BB3055DFBB3C.jpg

A common belief about artists and “creative people” (or as I like to call them, people) is that we do what we do because we love doing it.

This isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s backwards. I think you love it because you do it, not the other way around.  

Let me explain.

When I took my very first woodcut class, I was sooo excited to learn this technique. It looked so fun and the results – these tactile, delicious handmade prints – were so tantalizing.

Then I actually put the chisel to the woodblock and was like… oh this is really hard and super frustrating.

And the results were so bad. I’m not being self-effacing here. My first woodcut was genuinely awful. I’d show you but it’s long been destroyed – and thank goodness. Seriously.

I didn’t love this medium right away.

I wasn’t good at it right away.

In fact I kind of sucked at it. But I kept going anyway, because I had school assignments and because I’m determined as hell.

Plus I’m reallllly obsessed with vintage botanical prints and like, NEEDED to make it work.

Fast forward many years and I’m totally blown away that I now exhibit and sell my woodcuts to amazing people all over the world. Like, what even?

And what I learned along the way is that doing it a lot over and over again is what made me love it, not the other way around.

CAD87893-24E2-4620-9679-886FEF8F7192.JPG

This approach takes a certain amount of faith. You have to learn to fall in love with the process and not chase the result.

Which is great news, because I don’t know about you, but I fall into the trap of trying to “get somewhere” all the damn time.

Whenever you get caught in a horrible loop of confusion about your purpose, dissatisfaction about the place in which you currently find yourself, doubt about yourself and the future of your practice, your business, your health… the ONE THING that can reliably jolt you from that garbage energy is to simply sit down and do your work.

 

Thinking about a problem over and over again in circles has never solved anything in the history of everything forever. You already know this.

Do something. It doesn’t have to be big, grandiose, elaborate or complicated. Just sit down and start. Put pencil to paper. Type words onto a page. Sharpen your chisels. Fill out the form. Whatever.

Give us what you got. Start stacking those bricks one at a time. Before you know it you’ll have a whole damn building.


Now I’d love to hear from you. What are you building, brick by brick? What action do you take when you find yourself in a rumination rut? Tell me in the comments below.

As always, from the bottom of my scritch-scratchety chisel heart, thank you for being here.

maya_signed.png
 

PS(sst).. The photos in this post are from a brand new woodcut in the works, LUNA, launching November 13. Click here to get on the list and be notified when this print is officially released.

It's right under your nose

The surprisingly simple, scientifically proven practice that will increase your wellbeing

I recently had the excellent fortune to visit a good friend in France. We spent time in Paris and her hometown of Orléans. Walking on the bridge over the river Loire that connects le quartier to la ville in Orléans, she remarked to me that though she likely wouldn’t come back to live in her hometown anytime soon, she loves La Loire and fondly remembers walking over this bridge twice a day on her way to and from school, and noticing in particular how the light on the river is always changing - in fact it’s never the same twice.

La Loire, Orléans, France

La Loire, Orléans, France

The best part of this is that, though it’s evidently delightful, you don’t have to live in a charming provincial town (though it doesn’t hurt!) to experience this wonder on a daily basis.

Neurologist Richard Davidson — founder of the Center for Healthy Minds and all-around wise and inspiring human — speaks about well-being as a skill that can be cultivated like any other, such as playing the piano or learning Greek.

Davidson’s research shows that among others, the practice of savouring positive experiences has a direct effect on our brains, wiring them to seek out similar experiences and notice them more while they are happening.

This is great news. Not only is the magic right there in front of you, but you have the capacity, in each moment, to pay attention to it. And then later to reflect on what it was about that particular magic that resonated with you.

Maybe you liked the way the leaves of a tree danced with the wind in the late afternoon sunlight. Maybe you saw a family on the metro with 2 young children who were chirping funny little exclamations at each other and caught the parent’s eye for a moment and you both laughed. Maybe you came into a pizzeria on a chilly night and felt your body slowly warming up to the smell of fresh bread and basil.

Davidson’s research shows that the more we notice these moments, and the feelings we associate with them, the more we are priming our brain to scan our surroundings for more of them.

So as it turns out, looking around at beautiful things is not simply pleasant in a fleeting sense, it actually makes us scientifically happier and brings us increased well-being in our day to day lives.

The other good news is that even if you’re extremely busy, there’s always space for this kind of practice. While other forms of mindfulness practice may require you to set aside time that you may not always have, this kind of awareness can easily be enfolded into everyday life.

As psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein puts it: “You fold the towels in a sweet way. It doesn’t take extra time.”*

La Loire, Orléans, France

La Loire, Orléans, France

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite magic moments from your everyday life? Leave a comment below and let me know.

And as always, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

maya_signed.png
 

*Quote from Sylvia Boorstein taken from an interview in the On Being with Krista Tippett podcast that originally aired on May 5, 2011 — which I highly recommend you check out.

Feeling Stuck? Here's why energy management > time management

Let me ask you this: do you ever find yourself feeling bored, uninspired, or just plain TIRED when you look at your to-do list for the day or week ahead?

I know I do.

It’s weird: sometimes I look down the list of things I’ve planned and I can’t wait to get to them – I even have to stop myself from getting on my bike and riding over to the studio at 11pm when I know I have an early morning the next day and it can wait.

Other times even the things I normally enjoy seem too hard, too exhausting, impossible.

I can’t help but wonder — why?

There’s a lot of talk in Western culture about productivity, efficiency and time management.

This is all good – we need systems in place to accomplish the things we set out to, without getting overwhelmed or forgetting things. There’s simply too much to keep it all in our heads.

But what if we know what we need to do, but we don’t feel we have the energy or motivation to actually do it, and do it effectively?

Here’s the thing: as much as we might like to pretend we’ve got it all figured out, and we’re constantly validated by capitalist culture for being BUSY, the simple truth is that we are human, and human beings aren’t robots.

Human beings at the core are sensitive, emotional, whimsical, curious. Of course we can also be logical, efficient, systematic. But to ignore the intuitive side is to ignore at least half of who we are, and how we operate.

This is why time management is important but it’s only part of the puzzle. Another part – an equally or even more important one – is energy management.

In industry, energy management refers to “the proactive, organized and systematic coordination of procurement, conversion, distribution and use of energy to meet the requirements, taking into account environmental and economic objectives.”*

NAUTILUS. An impomptu studio session produces a new edition of handmade prints.

NAUTILUS. An impomptu studio session produces a new edition of handmade prints.

Let’s break that down.

What does this mean, and how can you apply it to your individual energy, and your capacity to be effective in your own life?

You can have all the time in the world but if your energy is compromised, you won’t be able to accomplish all that much.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but the truth is sometimes when you’re looking down a to-do list a mile long and feeling dread and anxiety and exhaustion at the prospect of tackling any of it, probably the most effective thing you can do is lie down and close your eyes for 20 minutes.

Or go take a walk and notice which flowers are in bloom right now.

Too often in our lives we set aside imagination in favour of cold rationality, whimsy in favour of logic, dreams in favour of plans.

Not only is this a huge drag, it’s actually inefficient.

Your capacity to be effective in your own life depends entirely on the quality of your energy.

So do yourself a favour and next time you’re feeling drained, bored, and uninspired – put aside your lists, put aside your schedules and ask yourself: do I need to do any of this right now? If the answer is no, just pause and do something nice and easy for yourself. Hit the reset button — whatever that means for you – bake a banana bread, read a trashy novel, repot your favourite houseplant, whatever.

See what happens to your outer gardens when you take a moment to tend to your inner gardens.

Now I’d love to hear from you: when you’re feeling drained, what do you do to shift your energy? Tell me in the comments below!

Yours truly in vibrant creative energy and beyond,

maya_signed.png
 

*Definition of energy management courtesy of Wikipedia

CAN'T YOU JUST PHOTOSHOP IT?

OF PRINTING PRESSES AND OTHER ARCHAIC BEAUTY

IMG_2533.jpg

Every once in a while, someone discovers what I do for a living and says, “wouldn’t it be easier to just print it digitally?”

You mean, instead of taking my intricately detailed drawings and carving them painstakingly into a woodblock, and then inking them by hand and printing them using a big roller and a 2-tonne iron printing press built in 1891, just scan it and go – boop – and the machine spits it out?

Okay, fair question.

We live in an age of unprecedented technological growth and innovation, and while I want to be clear I’m not knocking the usefulness of digital technology, I do believe traditional craftsmanship has something uniquely important to offer, and is worth preserving and passing down.


Here’s the thing: learning to make things with our hands keeps us smart, remembering how to think and not just what to think.

It’s also satisfying in a particularly special way. Handmade objects are imbued with an energy that comes through, for the creator and the audience alike.

I have a hunch that you already know this. 

Setting up the press at Atelier Circulaire. Photo by H Walkstrong.

Setting up the press at Atelier Circulaire. Photo by H Walkstrong.

Studying the markings of a butterfly’s wings or the specific way a vine twists around the stem of a plant will teach you a great deal about how the universe is put together.

FCEB3633-B04A-4B44-A1A6-4BFC91EAE25F.jpg

Recently I was at the print shop and the technician Carlos – an expert lithographer and endless well of fascinating history lessons – said to me, casually, 

“You know… to master this technique, one lifetime is not enough. It would take several, I think.”

And then he looked down at the new edition of prints I was signing and said, “Your woodcuts are magnificent. You must keep going.”

High praise, that. And a mighty call to action.

 It’s fun to think that you are continuing the work from a previous unknown lifetime, when you were a blacksmith or a baker or a termite.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how engaging with our creativity and self-expression has an incredible capacity to heal us, both individually and collectively. It connects us to each other and what it means to be human.

It’s a really beautiful thing.

And it feels special to have the opportunity and the honour to continue a tradition that keeps us connected to history, to each other and to the natural world – especially in an era when people are feeling increasingly disconnected and disillusioned.

If one lifetime’s not enough to master your craft, then your life’s work is just to set up your next incarnation as best you can, which is awesome because it frees you to simply focus on the journey, as you won’t be reaching the destination until much later when you’re a frog or a temple or a mushroom.

How cool is that?


Now I’d love to hear from you! What’s your favourite thing about traditional craftsmanship? What do you do to indulge your creative curiosity? What work from a previous lifetime are you continuing? Tell me in the comments below.

And for the love of handmade, thank you for being here.

maya_signed.png
 

PS. Don’t forget to subscribe to email updates - you’ll gain instant access to a FREE desktop calendar and special offers I don’t share anywhere else.

Howling at the Moon

“Somewhere to the eastward a wolf howled: lightly, questioningly. I knew that voice, for I had heard it many times before. It was George, sounding the wasteland for an echo from the missing members of his family. But for me it was a voice which spoke of the lost world which was once ours, before we chose the alien role; a world which I had glimpsed and almost entered… only to be excluded, at the end, by my own self.“

– Farley Mowat, Never Cry Wolf


HOWL .  Limited edition handmade print on Japanese paper. Matted size 11”x14”

HOWL. Limited edition handmade print on Japanese paper. Matted size 11”x14”

A few years ago I stumbled upon an old copy of Never Cry Wolf, the 1963 novel from influential author and environmentalist Farley Mowat. The story is partly based on Mowat’s experience being sent to the Canadian Barrens by the government to examine the northern wolf population and their relationship with the caribou.

I got pretty quickly hooked into this tale of wilderness and scientific expedition. Seeing wolves through the eyes of a biologist sent to live in one of the harshest, most isolated places in the country was so valuable, and I learned many surprising facts about the nature of wolves.




The complexity and sophistication of their social world struck me most.

Their playfulness, collaboration, and family bonding activities were amazing, and made me instantly fall in love with these creatures. Far from being ruthless killers, they actually keep the caribou population and general ecosystem healthy, subsisting mainly on rodents and other small mammals, and only hunting the weak and sick caribou, keeping parasites and disease down in the herd.

I was absolutely horrified to learn that the Canadian government implements a wolf cull program, killing on average 500 wolves per year in the province of British Columbia alone. This barbaric practice has been going on for decades and continues to this day, despite considerable scientific evidence that it does not help restore declining caribou populations – the pretext for the cull. 

I probably don’t have to tell you the real threat to the caribou population. (Hint: what has two legs and likes to shoot guns).

It can be difficult not to feel powerless in a situation like this, but it’s worth remembering that there are actually many ecological success stories when it comes to restoring balance to a compromised ecosystem. (If you haven’t seen Peggy Oki’s Ted talk about her lifelong efforts to protect the earth’s whale populations, I highly recommend.)

Together, let’s create a happy ending for this story.

We can learn to live in greater harmony with our earth. We have to try - it’s the only home we have. 

Even the smallest of acts can help make a difference. That’s why 10% of the profits from the woodcut print HOWL will be donated to Pacific Wild’s campaign to save BC wolves.

Click here to learn more.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here. Aouuuuuuuuuuuuu.

maya_signed.png
 

moth logo_.png
PW-Tag-Transparent-Dark-large.png
download.png
 

Here Comes the Sun do do do do

Colour Schemes for a Happy Spring

Yes, spring has finally sprung. Over here in Montreal we have been anxiously awaiting the start of spring. After many false starts, I think we can finally safely say winter is over and warmer times are finally here (but I’ll whisper it just in case they hear me and decide to dump more snow on us… again). 

One of my favourite parts of spring is seeing the very first green shoots of new plant life popping up. Something about the first vibrant shades of lively green and luscious yellow poking through the brown and grey background of old leaf litter feels so exciting and hopeful.

With this boost of springtime energy, I suddenly have the urge to plant seeds in the garden, Marie-Kondo the heck out of all my stuff, and repaint the entire apartment. I blame the changing seasons. Also Netflix.

Many thanks to the fine folks at the dépanneur on the corner for always having the loveliest flowers.

Many thanks to the fine folks at the dépanneur on the corner for always having the loveliest flowers.

You might know (or you might not) that before I studied art, I worked as a subcontractor in home renovations. I mostly did painting, drywall, finishing carpentry and general home repairs. One of the things I most enjoyed about that experience was watching the highly skilled professionals around me help people make the aesthetic decisions for their home that would ultimately bring them the most joy.

This is no easy task, as each person is totally unique and has their own individual style and taste. A canary-yellow kitchen might make one squeal with delight, and another with disgust.

So how do you pick colours for your home?

I have a bit of unconventional advice when it comes to designing colour schemes that you will LOVE.

Here’s the thing: the first thing that most people do when they bring home paint swatches from the hardware store is hold them up to the wall.

This is a mistake. Why? Because the old colour will be gone.

The way our physiology deals with colour is 100% contextual. You know this. When you look at a swatch next to another one, it looks wildly different than when you look at it by itself, or against any other object.

So rather than trying to imagine what the colour will look like compared to the old colour, I recommend trying to imagine how the new colour will interact with the parts of the room that will remain.

Hold the swatch against the window frames, the furniture, the floor. Hold it up against your favourite vase or potted plant. Instead of asking yourself “does this match?” – ask yourself instead: How does this make me feel? How do I feel when I look at these objects together?

I almost want you to forget about colour entirely and use this more as an exercise in noticing emotional responses to visual stimuli.

Oh f*ck, I’ve just turned home interior design into a mindfulness exercise haven’t I? (#sorrynotsorry)

I have lots more to say about colour theory and design, but I’ll save it for another day. In the meantime I’ll leave you with some colour palette inspiration, to get the creative juices flowing in case you are also experiencing a surge of springtime project energy.

Also huge thanks to the awesome pilot who recently took me on a tiny plane ride over Vancouver Island which was    exactly as amazing as it sounds.

Also huge thanks to the awesome pilot who recently took me on a tiny plane ride over Vancouver Island which was exactly as amazing as it sounds.

ocean_palette.jpg

Swoon. Swoon. Super swoon. Mother Nature hits us with the big inspo yet again. Thanks mama.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Add a comment below and tell me what spring projects and colour combos you are most excited about right now.

With all my love, thank you for being here.

 
maya_signed.png
 

Paper Sparkle Valentine

Let me tell you a little story…

maya_6_p n g.png

When I was in Grade 1, my father went to my school to speak with my teacher during parent-teacher interviews. When it was his turn, she brought him out into the hallway where there was a typical primary-school bulletin board displaying the latest art project the class had completed. 

The assignment had been to create a valentine card. We had been given construction paper and markers and had been guided to follow very specific instructions on how to fold the paper in half, draw a heart on the front, and write a nice message inside with our newly acquired alphabet skills.

The teacher gestured toward the bulletin board and solemnly explained to my father what the constraints of the assignment had been.

“Okay… so which one is Maya’s?” he asked, genuinely confused as to where she was going with this.

“It’s not on the board,” she said, her voice tense and serious.

Oh no, thought my father. What has she done now? Even at the green age of six, I had already managed to garner a reputation as a mischief-maker.

She brought him back into the classroom and over to her desk where she sat down, sighed heavily and slowly opened the top drawer, carefully pulling out my construction-paper valentine with both hands and placing it gently on the desk for my dad to take in.  

He used all the self-control he could muster to contain his extreme amusement as she described how I had: failed to listen to instructions, used more paper than was allotted per student, somehow gotten ahold of scissors, glue and glitter and had created an elaborate three-dimensional paper sculpture, complete with an explosion of accordion pop-up hearts, window cutouts containing secret messages, and little drawings of cats and dogs and people and all manner of things that were definitely not in the curriculum for that assignment.

When she was finished voicing her concerns, he breathed deeply, thanked her for filling him in on what had been going on, and reassured her that he would address this issue with me at home. She thanked him and handed him my abomination to take home, away from the bulletin board where it could no longer subvert the masses.

That paper valentine was taped to our fridge for a very long time.


So why am I telling you this, dear one?

Special thanks to my mom for this drawing from my journal, 1994.

Special thanks to my mom for this drawing from my journal, 1994.

Because I have a suspicion that like 6-year-old me, you too have an exploding sparkle paper-heart story – a time (or many times) in your life when you didn’t do what was expected of you. Not because you were trying to be “difficult” or “disobedient” but because you had something to say.

In fact I suspect there are lots of things you don’t do like anybody else. That’s why you are here. You are truly one-of-a-kind. There really never has been another you before you, and there never will be again.

Some people will never understand why you do things the way you do. F*ck em! I am here to tell you that there are people (like my dad) who get it. Who will support and encourage you in your unique ways of approaching life, who will admire your courage, your imagination and your grit – who see you as you truly are, and accept you fully and wholeheartedly.

Now, I would love to hear from you! If it floats your boat, leave a comment below and tell me about a time in your life where you did something your way and it made you feel alive.

With all my love, thank you for being here,

maya_signed.png
 

Hortense the Monarch

I recently had a wonderful experience that I would like to share with you. You see – I have this beautiful friend who works in a flower shop. Her arrangements would make your heart skip a beat, I’m telling you.
 
One fine day back in September, she called me up to say she had an unusual favour to ask of me. She proceeded to tell me about the unsuspecting little creature she had found inside a bouquet at her shop. It was none other than a chubby little monarch caterpillar.


IMG_6494.jpg

Of course I was thrilled to say YES when she asked me if I would care for it. She brought the caterpillar over in a little flower bowl with some sticks and leaves, and a big lush bouquet of milkweed to go along with it. I would later be amazed by how much leaf matter such a tiny creature could rapidly consume.
 
We named our new friend Hortense, it seemed to fit. Over the next few weeks, I learned a lot of new information about monarchs. Watching this creature do its thing, curiosities would naturally arise and pretty soon my whole household was googling monarch facts on a daily basis.


Here are some Important Monarch Facts we learned:

  • Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves, and a lot of them. One monarch can defoliate an entire plant during its larval (caterpillar) phase, which is up to about 200 leaves in 2 weeks. That’s a lot of leaves if you’re 2 inches long.

  • I also learned the word defoliate, which is a pretty good word.

  • Monarch caterpillars are very impressive poopers. Very. Must be all the defoliating.


The more I researched monarchs, the more I learned how many diseases, afflictions and predators they can encounter in their lifetime. I began to realize the odds were really stacked against this little creature, who had been transported as an accidental stowaway from much farther south, all the way up to Canada, presumably in a refrigerated truck. Thankfully at least food was not an issue, as there were plenty of plants in the truck to defoliate.
 
One day I came home and found that in the few hours I had been gone, Hortense had transformed into a chrysalis. I have no words to describe the wonderment I felt at coming home to find this completely transformed creature. It bared almost no resemblance to its prior form, having liquefied and reformed as a pupa in a matter of hours.

During the 2 weeks of the chrysalis phase that followed, I did more research and learned more about monarchs, especially caring for them in captivity. The more I learned, the more I realized the fragility of this creature’s life and all the potential challenges it could face. I began to temper my enthusiasm with a cautious optimism instead. I really wanted to see Hortense emerge victoriously as a butterfly, but I also realized there were so many ways the metamorphosis could be compromised, and I needed to prepare myself emotionally that she might not make it.

This was not an easy task as I had already become quite fond of this little bug. I managed to allow myself to detach from the outcome and focus on my amazement at what had already come into my life and happened. I have Hortense to thank for this lesson as well, which I couldn’t help but extrapolate to other areas of life. I think a lot of us, myself included, are in the habit of focusing on what we have yet to achieve, and we don't always take as much time to reflect on what we have already accomplished. We have so many dreams and goals and aspirations and we put a lot of effort and energy into taking care of things, so feeling like we're not yet where we want to be can lead to frustration.


METAMORPHOSIS

The chrysalis, dotted with gold flecks, slowly turned from a bright, soft green to a dark, translucent hue. One sunny afternoon, a wing moved and POP, the chrysalis opened. Then just like that, Hortense made her way down and out of the chrysalis. She hung below, gently flexing and pulsing. I was so transfixed watching her I almost forgot to capture the moment on camera. 

Once her wings had dried off and unfurled fully, we slid a chopstick into the bowl, giving her something to crawl out on and hang out. And hang out she did, for many days without moving too much. We were not sure she would actually fly. But we kept feeding her orange nectar every morning and she drank it up and that was encouraging. We all really liked her.
 
This whole thing got me thinking about how watching the processes of nature unfold around us in real time has the power to nudge us beautifully into the present moment. It’s very hard to stay focused on some minor irritation from your day or worry about the future when you come home to check in on your house butterfly. The magic creature just grabs your attention and fills you with wonderment by the simple fact of its existence.

IMG_6210.jpg

The amazing thing is these processes are unfolding around us all the time. They are as common as dirt (and they’re happening in the dirt, too). Even if you live in a city and don’t necessarily have access to old growth forests and wild animals on a daily basis, there are always cues to our connection with nature and environment that we can tap into if we so choose. The truth is, and I felt it so closely with Hortense, we are nature, and we are our environment. There is no place where nature ends and we begin. We are all part of the same ecosystem, growing out of it like fruit popping out of a tree, and then that fruit puts caterpillars on trucks that run on dinosaur bones and… wait, where was I?
 
Ah, yes. The infinite energy of nature and life itself. Pretty cool stuff.


Anyway, one warm and sunny October morning, I awoke to find Hortense fluttering around inside the little enclosure we had made for her. It was time for her to go. I took the mesh laundry hamper that was her home carefully out to the balcony and lifted the little flap of fabric I had clipped to the opening. She knew what to do. Just like that, she took off on the breeze, flapping her little wings. Seeing her fluttering through the trees in the neighbour’s yard before disappearing over the next block brings tears to my eyes now as it did then, this precious little creature surviving against all odds and flying away in the sunshine.
 
We were sad to see her go, but so glad to have known her, and we mused about her journey over the next few days. She was smart to leave before this terrible storm hit... I checked the weather in upstate NY, it’s looking clear and sunny – great flying weather.... She must be over the Carolinas by now... She’s probably sipping tequila in Mexico... Keep an eye on the mail, maybe she’ll send a postcard.


hortense_carving_bw.jpg

Over the weeks and months that followed, I crafted a piece of art that would become a love letter, a joyful ode to the lovely Hortense, who in our short time together taught me many things about life, death, resilience, temporality, and the infinite wonder of our beautiful world. Thank you, Hortense.

You can view The Mighty Monarch woodcut by clicking here.