One example of using the mandala template in this article.

New Watercolor Mandala Template

I know some of you enjoy using the templates I create for my Watercolor Prayer/Meditation Mandala Mini-Retreats. I created a new one that was very popular at the last mini-retreat, so I decided to share it with you here. This one has some larger open areas for you to add shapes, lettering or images of your own.

One example of using the mandala template in this article.

One example of using the mandala template in this article.

The first image below is the full design, intended for a 16×16″ sheet of watercolor paper or board. The template is for one quarter of the overall design. You can either print out 4 copies and tape them together before tracing the entire design, or you can trace one quarter of the design at a time, until you have traced all 4 corners.

The second image is just the center portion of the larger design, which works well on its own on a smaller sheet of paper (say 8×8″ to 12×12″). There is a download link under each image, to download the template as a PDF file. (If you’re reading this in an email, you will need to click on the article’s title to go to my website in order to be able to make the download links work.)

Enjoy! (Love to see images of your completed mandala—please share images in the comments section!)

4-fold spiral
Download template for the large 4-fold spiral mandala.

 

 

4-fold spiral mandala (center only). This version is best for 8" diameter and smaller.

4-fold spiral mandala (center only). This version is best for 8″ diameter and smaller.

Download template for the small 4-fold spiral mandala.
The tan color in the background of this painting was an accident, but the piece that resulted is one of my favorite paintings.

“No Mistakes” Art-Making

Do you ever make mistakes when you’re working in your journal? Or doodling?

Ever put down a wobbly line? Smear some ink? Drip watercolor where you didn’t mean to?

How does it make you feel? Perhaps a bit aggravated or disappointed? Do you ever want to tear a page out of your journal because it isn’t pleasing to look at?

Yeah. Me, too.

On the other hand, I have come to realize that many of my favorite artworks—and definitely many of the ones that were “breakthroughs”—arose from mistakes and the struggle to “salvage” them.

glowing orange spiral on deep red background, painting by Lynne Baur

One of my favorite pieces from the 30-paintings-in-30-days challenge resulted from a mistake. This painting emerged from a “failed” landscape.

 

What is a “mistake” in art?

In some areas of life, a mistake can have pretty serious consequences. An injury, a financial loss, a relationship strained, a cherished possession damaged.

But in art-making? Not so much. In art, a “mistake” is the name we give something unexpected and unintended that we’re not sure we like.

What happens if you make a mistake in a doodle or a drawing or a painting?

Nothing.

It doesn’t blow up in your face. No puppies suffer. The only thing that might implode is the plan you had for the piece.

But, maybe what you are calling a mistake is the voice of Spirit, of the universe, of chaos, of the Trickster, of your subconscious . . . telling you to lighten up, reconsider from another perspective, break out of a rut, let go, wake up . . .

Maybe it’s the challenge that will bring you a bit closer to clarity or understanding.  Maybe it’s a doorway to mystery and wonder.

Maybe all we need to do is embrace our art “mistakes”, let go of ego and fear, let go of whatever plan we were clutching so tightly and enter into a dialog with the materials to see what might emerge.

Maybe we just need to wrestle with our mistakes, for what the struggle teaches us.

Maybe they’re not mistakes at all. Maybe they’re genius in disguise, if only we can find the way to work with them.

The tan color in the background of this painting was an accident, but the piece that resulted is one of my favorite paintings.

The tan color in the background of this painting was an accident, but the piece that resulted is one of my favorite paintings.

 

Digital Doodles

I know many of you have iPads (or other tablets) or smartphones. Have you ever thought of using them to make art? There are many, many fun apps that allow you to draw, doodle, “paint” and modify your photos—and a lot of them are free, have free versions, or cost only a few dollars.

Even if you are already thinking you want nothing to do with drawing on your phone, you might want to scroll down to the end of the article for a photo app that can “paint” better than I can! (Seriously, these look like real watercolors!)

Digital apps lack the tactile appeal of real art materials, but there’s no mess, and if you’re like me, you may forget your sketchbook, but you usually have your phone.

Next time you’re waiting at the dentist or traveling without your sketching materials, try one of these.

I’m not going to try to give any sort of comprehensive overview. The folks at Creative Bloq have done that far better than I could. I just want to give you a bit of an idea to get you started.  I have an iPad and a Mac, so that’s what I’m able to address personally.

Creative Bloq has an extensive review of iPad apps here. If you have an Android tablet or phone, check out this article.  For iPhone apps, try this article. (The iPhone article covers more than just sketching, but the drawing apps are covered.)

Drawing and Painting Apps

Paper by 53
Horse drawn with Paper by 53.

The brown and orange lines are drawn with the pen that comes with the free version. The “watercolor” effects are part of the paid version, but it’s just a few dollars.

This one is my all-around favorites, all because of one simple feature: you can “rewind” to an earlier version of your doodle!  You simply place two fingers on the screen and move them in a counterclockwise circle—like winding back the clock!—and your drawing slowly “undraws” itself.

You can go back and forth until you find just the stage you like best and then continue drawing from there. Wow! Does that ever take the stress out of drawing!

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this app can do, but here’s a link to a great series of how-to articles.

For iPad only (sorry!). There is a free version with a very cool variable-width pen tool and some basic colors. Upgrades allow you to add more tools (brush, marker, pencil) and a color-picker so you can use any color you like and build your own palettes. 

You can also print a physical book from your digital sketchbook. (No, I haven’t tried it. I’m not THAT good with it!)

Eazel

This one is a “painting” app made by Adobe (the same people who make Photoshop).  Fun and easy to learn.  (No free version, alas, but it’s only $4.99, so not too expensive.)

Tap all five fingers on the screen to call up all the controls. Slide a finger up and down to change the size or opacity of a brush. Touch the color wheel to choose a color.  The “wet” paint can be blended with another color.

A fanciful landscape in Eazel. Great way to try out wild color ideas without using up any paint.

A fanciful landscape in Eazel. Great way to try out wild color ideas without using up any paint.

Sketchbook Express

A free, and pretty powerful, version of Sketchbook Pro. This one takes a little longer to learn, but is probably the most powerful of the three.

I often use this one to do planning sketches for paintings, because I can “erase” and cover up things so easily. It allows me to get a watercolor look, but with almost infinite ability to make changes. Makes planning fast and easy (so I actually do it!).

Nice for drawing and doodling, too—no stress!

Digital painting of boats at Fisherman's Wharf.

Digital painting using Sketchbook Express.

Fun Apps for Photos (that also help you learn design)

There are tons of photo filter apps out there. I really like the ones that take a photo and simplify the shapes in some way. This not only results in some fun photos, it helps me see the big, connected shapes that help make a drawing or painting hang together.

Popsicolor

This one doesn’t seem to do much, but what it does is usually pretty cool.

Choose a photo (or take one), and then choose a color scheme by selecting two colored “popsicles”. The app reduces your photo to a “line-and-wash” drawing using those colors.

A photo of irises processed by Popsicolor. Makes it really easy to see just the big shapes!

A photo of irises processed by Popsicolor. Makes it really easy to see just the big shapes!

Waterlogue

Choose (or take) a photo and let Waterlogue do its thing. There are a bunch of variations, but I think the default one is usually the nicest.

I’ll say no more, and let the results speak for themselves.

Photo of irises, processed with Waterlogue iPad app.

The same photo, processed with Waterlogue.

Amazing, isn’t it?

If you don’t try any of the others, this one is really worth a try. As any photo app, it works better with some photos than others, but I’ve seen some of people’s grandkids and pets that were really hard to tell from actual paintings!

And what a great tool for training the eye and helping to plan a painting!  (I’m using it in my beginning watercolor classes for exactly that.)

Happy (digital) painting!

abstract gold and grey painting

Get Out of the Moment

Huh?

Everything you read these days seems to extol the virtues of being “in the present moment”.

I’m not questioning the value of being attentive, appreciative and aware. In fact, a few weeks ago, I suggested some ways to use art-making to deepen your appreciation for the beauty and wonder in your everyday routine and environment.

And of course, returning to the present moment can be a good way to disengage from worrying obsessively over possible disasters that you can’t prevent, or regretting something you can no longer mend.

But it drives me up the wall when I see articles with titles like “15 Things You Should Do . . . ” or “9 Easy Ways to . . . ” tossing around phrases like “all we have is this moment” and “live in the present” as though it’s somehow wrong to think of past or future or anything that’s not right in front of you this moment. As though ignoring everything but the here-and-now is a magic pill for happiness.

I think the truth is a lot more nuanced than that. (So, by the way, does the Dalai Lama.)

But my principle objection to admonishments to always “be in the moment” is not philosophical, it’s practical. Some of the finest things in life deliberately take us out of the here-and-now. I think we should both celebrate that and use it to live more fully.

moon and breaking wave

“No ocean wave ever really looked like this, but it captures the memory of seeing moonlight glimmering through a breaking wave—a wonderful memory that makes my heart feel full of wonder every time I think of it.

Art, music, literature, film . . . these are quintessentially human activities. And they nearly always involve transcending the here-and-now.

We love stories of long ago and far away and what-could-be.  Imagination is the wellspring of much joy, excitement and wonder. Our ability to imagine what-might-be drives both scientific and technological developments, and cultural change.

On a more personal note, how much of the pleasure of gatherings of families and friends is reminiscing about the past—finding the humor in things that might not have been all that funny at the time, keeping the memory of loved ones now gone or far away, imagining the future of the brand-new granddaughter or the college-bound nephew?

sketch of tent on rainy cold day

The main reason I keep travel sketchbooks is that looking at my sketches takes me right back to the place I was visiting—weather, people, food—even the discomforts. It’s funny now. 🙂

While the performance may happen in the moment, the book may be what I am reading right now, and the people I’m laughing with are right here, all of these activities are inextricably linked to memory and imagination, past and future.

Our creativity itself is inextricably linked with not-here-and-now.

This was brought home powerfully during the doodle challenge when we worked on prompts such as “doodle a texture that fascinated you as a child” or “doodle something from a dream (or daydream)”.

sketch of young girl

A mysterious dream-girl. In the dream, she was both a real person and a painting in a museum. The person lived on in the painting, the painting breathed and moved. Fascinating.

Not only was the work powerful and moving, but we doodlers were more deeply engaged.  Stories and strong emotions emerged. Loved ones and special places were invoked.

Sometimes people feel called to “make art” or “be creative” but they’re not really sure what it is they should make. When the time comes to put pencil or brush to paper, they’re stuck.

The next time you’re stuck like that, try making art that connects to the past, the future and the what-might-be:

  • your earliest childhood memory
  • a favorite toy or possession from childhood or some other time in your past
  • someone whose voice you’d love to hear right now
  • a wonderful (or terrible!) moment on a trip or vacation
  • a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting
  • a place you would live if you could just wave a magic wand and be there
  • something you imagine (or know) your great-grandmother might have cherished
  • something you imagine your great-granddaughter might cherish (and perhaps the story she will have heard about it)
  • a potent dream image
  • an imagined person who, if you met them, would change your life completely
  • what a piece of music would look like if you could see it
  • what it might really feel like to be a tree, or an elephant, or an ant

You get the idea. Get out of the present moment. On purpose.

Where/when would you rather be?

abstract gold and grey painting

The sound of a gong breaking the silence.

 

glowing orange spiral on deep red background, painting by Lynne Baur

Spiral In, Spiral Out

The 30-Doodles-in-30-Days Challenge is drawing to a close, but one thing I have discovered is that everyone has enjoyed having a daily  doodling suggestion (a “prompt”) as a creative springboard. And seeing each other’s responses to the prompt sparks additional creative ideas and a sense of community.

Several doodlers have joined our ranks in just the past couple of days, even though the 30-day challenge is nearly over. There seems to be quite a bit of interest in continuing with the daily prompts and our Facebook group.

Before I can turn the daily prompt into an ongoing activity, I have a few technical problems to resolve, but we’ve had such a good time, and it’s been so helpful to everyone to have the sense of community and interaction, that I want to open up the daily doodling prompts and the Facebook community to others of you who might not have wanted to commit to creating every single day, but might still find the creative prompts and/or the closed Facebook group enjoyable.

Next week, as the 30-day challenge ends, I’ll be able to tell you more about how the doodling group is evolving, but for now, I thought I’d give you a prompt to play with in the meantime.

Since I’ve been on a spiral kick myself lately, I invite you to create a “doodle” (or doodles) based on a spiral or spirals.

(Remember, “doodle” means whatever your creative spirit needs! It could be an actual back-of-the-envelope-while-on-the-phone doodle. It could be an intuitive painting, or a drawing, a sculpture, a collage, or even a poem or song.)

Judging from what I see from fellow artists, and comments on my own work, a lot of us are fond of spirals.

At least part of this is probably because of the many spirals found in nature.

fiddlehead fern

Photo used without alteration under Creative Commons Attribution license. (Image linked to original source.)

fossil nautilus shell

Photo used without alteration under Creative Commons Attribution license. (Image linked to original source.)

The sense of movement a spiral conveys is also part of its appeal. Gazing at a spiral can give you a sense of being drawn downward, to a place of peace and contemplation, or inward to an interior space of memory or self-exploration. Or a spiral can give a sense of outflowing energy and expansiveness.

glowing orange spiral on deep red background, painting by Lynne Baur

One of my 30-paintings-in-30-days pieces. I’m working on several others featuring spirals.

Simply drawing a spiral is soothing. Our joints naturally move in arcs, so the circularity of a spiral feels natural and effortless, while the inward or outward movement gives the motion interest and variation. Spirals are easy to connect to arcs and to each other, to decorate a design or create a texture.

Ink doodle or crow decorated with spirals.

Ink doodle or crow decorated with spirals.

How does it make you feel to gaze at a spiral? Or draw one? Is it like a dance?  Are you going down the drain? Or being flung exuberantly out to the stars?

What images, thoughts or memories do spirals call up for you? Do they have special associations or meanings for you?

Does it make a difference which way the spiral turns? Whether you start in the center or on the outside, or spiral in, and then back out?

I invite you to join me in experimenting with spirals this week.

And stay tuned for new opportunities to connect with others in our creative community via Facebook as the Doodle Challenge evolves.

And please share your spiral creations here, if you like. (Click the “comment” link. You can upload images to the comments.)

 

 

 

 

The Sound (and Look) of Music

Last week, I talked about the power of “doodling” or art-making to focus your full attention on a sensation or experience.

This is one of the main reasons I make art. Not to hang something on the wall, but to enhance my experience of life. Sketches while traveling or walking the woods, watercolor washes capturing the colors of the morning sky or a delicious flavor.

One of my favorite ways to use art-making this way is to draw or paint to music.

Perhaps you recall these two “doodles” from last week’s post.

A doodle expressing the sound of a classical guitar piece.

Classical guitar music.

A doodle expressing the sounds I was hearing in a coffee shop.

Coffee shop sounds.

Both were done to music, but neither is intended as a “representation” of the music. It’s more like that “dancing when no one is watching” sort of drawing. Simply letting my pen and markers move to the music, for the pure enjoyment of immersing myself in the rhythm, the sounds of the instruments, the flow of the melody.

Pen and marker is convenient when I’m relaxing on the couch in the evening, but to really play with music and art, I want a brush in my hands!

Abstract art to music. Working on top of a previous creative seed to the music of Alan Hovhaness (Symphony for Metal Orchestra).

Working on top of a previous creative seed to the music of Alan Hovhaness (Symphony for Metal Orchestra).

A brush can flow, like music. A brush can also be staccato, flicking drops of paint, or make slashing, crashing movements or even drum on the paper.

Watercolor, acrylic and ink also flow, like music. And like different instruments or voice parts, the fluid colors mingle and blend.

This is not about making a finished piece of art, but it is a great way for me to get my analytical side out of the way and allow surprises and “happy accidents”.  I learn a lot about my materials this way.

Copper metallic paint with opaque turquoise swirls.

Detail of the left page. Here, I combined metallic washes with some opaque color, not something I’ve used much in my work. But I might start after seeing this!

There’s really no need for me to say more except: go try it!

Grab a brush and some watercolors or acrylics, put down some plastic so you can spatter and splash if the music moves you, put on a favorite piece of music (or album) and let the music guide you.

Don’t think, just let the brush dance!

 

Pink and yellow doodle expressing the feeling of celebration.

The “Mindfulness” Craze—What’s It Got to Do with Art?

I want to talk to you for a minute about mindfulness.

Wait! Before you hit “delete”, please hang in with me for just a little bit. I promise I will get back to art and creativity in a minute.

Mindfulness is trendy.  Everywhere you look there are articles on the health benefits of a meditation practice. The business world has embraced “mindfulness” as the latest productivity hack. (Aaaack!) A recent article in the Harvard Business Review called mindfulness a “must-have” for the busy executive who wants to get ahead.

These articles touting the benefits of meditation typically end by suggesting that you can become calmer, kinder and more productive by taking 5 minutes a day to “just sit and breathe”. Advice one writer appropriately dubbed “McMindfulness”.

Now, I’ve been meditating for a loooong time, so please don’t think I’m trying to discourage anyone from having a meditation practice. But, I’ve also talked to many, many people who’ve struggled to maintain a meditation practice.

One big reason is a lack of understanding about what mindfulness meditation is (or isn’t). In my martial arts classes, I frequently hear other students say, “I suck at meditating—I just can’t stop thinking!”

If you spend 5 minutes—or 20—sitting quietly beating yourself up because you can’t stop thinking, dammit! and worrying about all the time you’re wasting, you’re unlikely to find it terribly beneficial. That isn’t what meditation is all about, but even with better understanding, a lot of people still seem to have a tough time sticking to a meditation practice, especially if they are trying to do it on their own.

I think one possible reason is that it seems too simple, especially when you are just starting. It seems kind of boring and a waste of time. I mean, really, do you find your own breathing all that fascinating? And it doesn’t feel like anything is happening. At least when you do your exercise routine, you can tell that you’re sweating and breathing hard.

With a meditation practice, it’s hard to feel any immediate change.

So now we come to the “art” connection. Here’s a little “quick fix” to becoming more mindful, more present and more appreciative of what’s all around you: make art.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “And that’s supposed to be easier?”

Well . . . yes!

This is not capital-A Art I am talking about. Not art for some museum, or somebody’s walls. Not art to make a social or political statement. Not art to make your sister-in-law say “Oooooh! You’re so talented!”

As I write this, we are in day 9 of the 30-Doodles-in-30-Days challenge. Some people are doing the challenge to motivate themselves to practice technical skills, but for me, it’s about reminding myself to notice.

No one has remarked on it yet, but many of the daily doodling prompts involve senses other than sight. I’ve suggested doodling the scent of a lemon or the sound of the music you’re listening to, or the feeling of celebration.  The prompts that do have to do with vision are generally about things that would normally not be “subjects” for art (not by themselves, anyway): the weave of a fabric, shapes in your pet’s fur, the movement of a candle flame.

A yellow and green doodle expressing the scent of lemons.

The scent of lemons.

Now, people could (and some do) pick out the nouns in each prompt and illustrate them.  So, some draw lemons, sheet music, and party hats. Some draw their (entire) pets, or a whole piece of cloth. That’s the sort of thing that you do if you are trying to develop a sketching habit, and that’s what some of the doodler’s want from the challenge.

But the prompts are written to entirely bypass popular notions about what art-making (especially drawing) is all about. I have a hidden agenda—to help people really notice small parts of their everyday lives, i.e. to help people be more mindful and present.

A doodle expressing the sound of a classical guitar piece.

Classical guitar music.

If you start thinking about how you might “doodle” the scent of a lemon, you actually start to attend to the experience much differently than if you just sit down to “draw a lemon”.

If you develop a “sketching” habit that is about engaging all your senses and representing entire experiences visually, you have to really stretch yourself. You have to attend more fully.  You have to really experience that lemon’s tangy-sweet aroma.

Any sort of sketchbook will help you see and attend more fully, but trying to sketch non-visual aspects of experience is particularly powerful.

Try this experiment: sketch a lemon, then spend some time holding and smelling and experiencing the lemon, and then try to represent the experience of the lemon in some sort of doodle, drawing, or painting using color and line and shape without making it overtly look like a lemon.

I’m willing to bet that while you were preparing to represent the entire experience of a lemon—the scent, the heft, the pebbly skin, the mist of lemon oil and juice in your face as you peel it—you were deeply present to that lemon experience, deeply mindful in a way that you normally are not.

Okay, but that was one lemon. Who has time to cart around a sketchbook all day experiencing stuff?

Luckily, you don’t have to.

A curious thing happens once you start making this sort of multi-sensory-based art regularly.  You start noticing. You start seeing all sorts of things as “subjects” for art-making. You start stretching and deepening your experience of the things that are all around you, every day.

Do I take time to doodle all this stuff? Of course not!

But I do notice more and differently. Everything becomes a possible “subject” for art.

The advantages to trying to represent the non-visual aspects of the experience are twofold: first, you push yourself to engage all of your senses, and second, you shut down the inner critic that says, “A lemon isn’t shaped like that! You have no talent!”

A doodle expressing the sounds I was hearing in a coffee shop.

Coffee shop sounds.

It helps you see again with the eyes of a child. (Just be careful when your driving—there’s a reason we don’t let three-year-olds behind the wheel!)

So this week, whether you’re doing the doodle challenge or not, I challenge you to try “doodling” things that can’t be seen—the crunch of snow underfoot, the feel of a soft blanket, the little sounds your house makes warming up in the sun.

What will you discover that you’ve never noticed? What will you re-discover that you haven’t really seen since you were a child? How will your world, and your vision, expand?

Pink and yellow doodle expressing the feeling of celebration.

The feeling of celebration.

New Year’s Permissions

What would you do, if only . . .  ?

New Year’s resolutions . . . we love to hate them, but we make them. Even when we resolve not to make resolutions, there’s still that feeling that now that the holidays are over, we’ll get our lives in hand again, and this year do better. 

There’s a lot of advice out there about resolutions and how to do them better, but there’s one issue I don’t see discussed very often.

Look at the things most people make New Year’s resolutions about: eating more fresh foods, getting more exercise, learning to speak French, taking more time for creative pursuits.

These are all things that actually feel good! Why wouldn’t we keep them in our lives?

Have you ever done this to yourself: you make a resolution, but find yourself not getting around to whatever it is you resolved to do, because you’re too busy meeting obligations to your job, your family, your church, your volunteer organization? (And then, you tell yourself you lack discipline, motivation, or organization.)

What if instead of making resolutions, we gave ourselves New Year’s gifts of permission? Permission to invest a little energy, money or  time in taking care of ourselves in small ways, without feeling compelled to have something to show for it?

This year, I’m giving myself permission to sit with a cup of tea and my sketchbook after dinner (or before bed, if I’m out at dinnertime, or both!). I’m giving myself permission not to jump up right after eating and get back to work. I’m giving myself permission to not “quickly” check email one more time before bed.

And I do not have to “make art”. If I want to just daydream and make squiggles, that’s fine. In fact, that’s the point. I’m giving myself permission to have a short pause in my day that is not about “getting stuff done”.

I’m not “practicing my drawing skills”.  I’m not “coming up with creative ideas for paintings”.

I’m relaxing and enjoying the feel of working with the materials. I’m enjoying seeing bright cheery colors when the weather is grey.

I don’t know about you, but giving myself permission to take a few moments to take care of myself feels a LOT different than “making a resolution”.

I’ll be honest, I do still have to contend with feeling a bit guilty about “wasting time”. But “giving myself permission”—making it a gift to myself, rather than a chore—helps me remember that this is truly something that matters a lot to my well-being, and also that I’m not really asking for very much. 15 minutes. That’s not a lot to ask!

Knowing that I’ve given myself permission to take that 15 minutes, no matter what, makes the rest of my day feel  entirely different. It certainly feels a lot different than if I had to add a 15 minute chore to my day!

But, it’s not just having that pause to look forward to. All day, I’m noticing things I might want to doodle, draw or paint. Far more than I can actually put in my sketchbook in 15 minutes, but that’s not the point.

The noticing is the point. Reflecting in gratitude on all the beautiful and fascinating things that passed through my day, even if my hands are just making “aimless” doodles. The feeling of honoring my own value enough to take 15 minutes to just relax, without feeling guilty about it. That’s the point.

What about you? Is there a resolution that is really a wish for time to yourself that you could turn into a gift of permission?  How would it change your day—or your life— if you actually gave yourself permission . . . ?

 

Line and wash painting of a candle and mug of tea.

Celebrate Light!

Isn’t it a wonderful quirk of nature that just as the coldest months are about to begin, the days also begin to lengthen? The winter solstice is this Sunday night. After that, the days start lengthening toward spring.

Why not take a little time from the rush and stress of the winter holidays and simply celebrate light?

Light in all its beautiful forms. Sunlight, starlight, candlelight, firelight, Christmas tree lights . . . what are your favorites?

And light as a symbol. Of hope, happiness, mystery . . . what does light symbolize for you?

How often do we take time to reflect on how much light means to us, and how much we take for granted our many artificial light sources? Usually only when there’s a power outage, and then the main reaction is annoyance, when really, it should probably be gratitude.

Sunday’s 8 hours, 49 minutes and 36 seconds of sunlight (here in Hudson, Wisconsin, where I live) is the shortest day of the year, and Sunday night, the longest night, at 15 hours, 10 minutes and 52 seconds.  Oslo, Norway will have less than 5 hours and 53 minutes of sunlight on Sunday. Is it any wonder that winter solstice celebrations often include a bonfire?

This winter solstice falls at 5:02 pm here, a half hour after sunset on Sunday night.  Solstice night is also dark of the moon this year, so it will be a dark, dark night.  But a clear moonless winter night becomes a glorious celebration of light. Starlight glittering off a snowy landscape is the perfect setting for a magical ski outing.

As is more often the case around the winter solstice, the forecast here is for a cloudy night with sleet or snow. Not so great for stargazing, but perfect for curling up with your journal by the fire.  If you’re not lucky enough to have a fireplace, why not a cup of tea or a glass of wine by candlelight?

Line and wash painting of a candle and mug of tea.

Even a night of “wintry mix” can be welcome if you have a cup of tea by candlelight to look forward to.

Or, maybe simply sit in the dark for a bit. How often do you actually have that experience? Even when I turn off all the lights in my house, there is my neighbor’s porch light, passing car headlights, the glow from the interstate exit about 4 miles away, and the lights of Hudson and the Twin Cities metro off to the west.

And inside my house, there are all sorts of tiny lights—clocks on the stove and microwave, and little glowing LEDs on various electronics chargers and appliances.

Even if it’s cloudy, I like to blow out all the candles and turn off all the lights, even the tiny ones—maybe even take a little drive away from city lights—early on solstice morning. I like to watch the light slowly come into the sky and reflect on the beauty of each unique sunrise.

Sunrise is late, but twilight begins much earlier, so I make a thermos of hot tea and take a warm blanket to wrap up in and head out about 45 minute or an hour before sunrise.

Sometimes, all I get to see is gradually lightening grey.  It seems I’ve spent more solstice mornings than not huddled in my car or in a tent, listening to the soft spattering of sleet.  Sometimes, the only indication of sunrise is that I can make out a few more shapes in the gloom, and I still need my headlights to drive home.

But, if I’m lucky and the cloud cover doesn’t extend too far to the east, I may get to see spectacular intense reds, pinks or oranges. Maybe even a brief peek of the sun.

Watercolor sketch of winter cloudy sunrise with a few streaks of pink and red-orange.

A cloudy winter morning from some years ago. The brilliant reds and oranges only lasted about a minute before the whole sky was a steely grey again.

These effects often change rapidly, and last only a few moments.  At home, it’s easy to miss them entirely, especially in winter,  when I’m usually at work by the time sunrise rolls around. That makes it seem even more magical when I do get lucky enough to see a few moments of glowing color at sunrise. Especially when there’s been nothing but grey sky for days.

Grey, pink and orange wash capturing colors from the sunrise on a cloudy day.

You don’t have to be a landscape painter to capture the sky colors in your journal. I might come back to this page and write some of my reflections from the morning, or I may just leave it alone . . . I like it a lot just as it is!

And, what if the skies don’t cooperate? Well, that’s one of the reasons I LOVE my journal in winter. When everything outside seems to be some shade of brown or grey, I can still have an explosion of light and color in my journal anytime I want.

Bright pink, yellow and orange stylized sun.

Grey skies don’t have to get you down!

Just for fun (and because I imagine many of you may be spending time with kids over the next week or so), I made some new coloring designs for you.  Click the download links to download this “sunburst” design, plus two snowflake designs, print them out and and have fun coloring!

sunburst design for coloring

Sunburst Design

Download Sunburst Design
snowflake design for coloring

Snowflake Design 1

Download Snowflake Design 1
snowflake design for coloring

Snowflake Design 2

Download Snowflake Design 2

If you’d like to go out to watch the solstice sunset on Sunday night and the solstice sunrise on Monday morning, you can get a table of sunrise and sunset times, plus twilight times, for any location worldwide from the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Data Services page.