New Spirit Animal Paintings

Here are a few new paintings, fresh from the Workshop! 

All of these paintings Are available (except maybe the bear!). Please let me know if you are interested in any of these. I am also more than happy to take custom orders of Spirit Animals too!

These are all 8x10" Acrylic on canvas and I can create larger sizes as well.

Dragonfly

Symbolism: Dragonflies represent Change and Self Realization

Turtle

Symbolism: Turtles represent Wisdom, Peace, and Determination

Bear

Symbolism: Bears represent Strength, Solitude, and Leadership

Magpie

Symbolism: Magpies represent Opportunity and Luck

Thanks so much for taking a look at what's new from the Workshop!  I will be posting the painting of the winner from the "Spirit Animal Contest" next week! 

 

Stephanie McGregor

Growing Your Imagination

What is imagination? 

Everyone might have a different idea of what it is. I like to think that it is the most positive, fun, and creative part of myself. It allows me to dream up my own world and put it down on paper. Pretty cool, I think. I feel that everyone can be imaginative if they allow the time for it. Depending on how much you have allowed it to grow, or how you have (unintentionally) squished it, you might think of yourself as very creative or totally unimaginative.

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Your imagination was probably very much a part of you when you were five. I know mine was and the only difference between me and someone who thinks they are not creative is that I’ve let my imagination grow up with me. I’ve let it happily crawl, play, stumble, run, and jump right along side me my whole life.  When an idea comes to me, I might laugh out loud, write it down, or file it in my mind for future use. Either way, I acknowledge it.  Maybe you feel like you’ve ignored your imagination for so long that it no longer exists.

I bet I was pretty proud of this peacock drawing as a kid!

I bet I was pretty proud of this peacock drawing as a kid!

Fear not! Your creativity can be regrown. Follow these steps (or any others that work for you!) for growing your imagination and cultivating your creativity!  I think this applies to any creative pursuit, not only painting and drawing.

Be Attentive and Kind:

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When you have an idea, draw or write it down. Have a little sketchbook with you, always!  In acknowledging your ideas, you are telling yourself that your ideas are worth saving. If an idea comes to you and you ignore it, it is akin to ignoring a little tug on your sleeve of a little kid wanting to play. Don’t be that person!  You wouldn’t tell a little kid that their ideas are silly or dumb, so be kind enough to think that way about your ideas (or paintings, drawings, etc).

Also, spend more time observing. Look, really look at everything around you. Notice the way the sun is shining through the trees. What kind of pattern does it create? Can you see any images in those patterns? Imagination is all about imaging the possibilities of what could be.

Be Diligent:

Anything that you want to be good at requires time and dedication.  You need to work at it every single day. Even a few minutes may be enough, it just has to be something you can incorporate into your life. An example might be that you quickly jot down the dreams that you remember every morning. You might choose one of those to write in greater detail or do a sketch each week. 

For me, I am motivated by tracking the amount of time that I paint and how long it takes me to complete a painting. I channel my inner kid by using stickers to track how many paintings I do each month. I tally up the hours that I put in. Some days even when I am tired, I will push to get an extra hour in! 

Something I have found is that the more I use my imagination, the more ideas come to me!

Take Baby Steps:

Keep it simple. Do one small thing at a time and have your supplies on hand. I keep my paints in a "stay wet palette" and all of my supplies on a table in my kitchen/dining room. That way I can paint for 30 minutes while I’m waiting for something in the oven., with very little preparation. Also, I can’t paint in my art room anymore because all the animals start scritch scratching at the door for my attention. If they can see me at the kitchen table, they will at least let me paint in relative peace :).

Everything is close at hand

Everything is close at hand

Also, I was intimidated by doing larger paintings. So, I started with smaller papers (8x10"). Now I am working on lots of larger paintings (16x20").  Maybe start on a smaller scale to raise your confidence and see where that takes you.

Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate!

Just as you would hang a little kid’s painting on the fridge, you need to celebrate the things you have made, no matter how small. I hang up my paintings and it makes me happy to see them!  At the end of the day, being creative has to be something that you do, not because you want recognition from someone else, but because it is something that makes you smile and adds a whole new dimension to your life.

I don’t always know what my imagination will lead to, or what will come of it, but it delights me every day.  It's like an adventure. Although I am an adult, I feel comforted to know that I can dream up and create as freely as when I was a little girl, colouring with markers on computer paper at the kitchen table. If I want to create my own world, I can do so with my paint brush! I wish for others to feel this way too.

So my advice to you is nurture your creativity, give it the time and attention it deserves, and watch as you see what will grow from it!

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If anything in this post has rung true, I would love to hear about it. I would also love it if anyone reading this has any other advice on how to develop your creativity and imagination, because every person is different.

Also, here are some pictures to show how this painting went from beginning to end:

 

Thank you so much for reading!

Stephanie McGregor

  

 

Strength, Redefined

This post strays a little farther away from what I usually write about in this blog. It is something important to me and I find that it relates to many aspects of my life and is probably something you can relate to, even if you have never tried CrossFit before.

How do you define strength?  Is it how much you can lift at the gym? Is it is how far you can push yourself through difficult situations or overcome obstacles in your daily life?  Is it about getting past those unhelpful ways of thinking that hold you back? I think everyone has their own idea of what strength is defined by. I believe that it is a combination of those and many more. 

Part of feeling strong for me is how far I can push myself at the gym.  I'm drawn to gymnastics because not only does it require a lot of strength, it is also amazingly fun! Included in this are many different movements on the gymnastics rings, such as muscle-ups.

When I first started crossfit, muscle-ups seemed like the epitome of strength and control.  This is a movement where you start with the rings within arms reach above your head. You pull yourself up, to the point where the rings are at your chest and lean forward, arms bent. Then you push yourself up, straightening your arms.  Despite it being a fairly basic gymnastics movement, it is incredibly difficult when you are first learning it, especially if it is done strict, instead of kipping.

Getting my first muscle-up took me by surprise. I had been working on L-sits on the rings and paralettes every single day for months to get stronger, but I didn’t have the guts to actually try a real muscle-up. I dutifully did ring holds and ring dips, practiced my false grip, but never really thought I would get a muscle-up anytime soon. Muscle-ups were for “strong” people and I didn’t think I was there yet.

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I had been doing Crossfit for almost a year before I tried doing a muscle-up. When I finally tried it for fun, to my surprise, I was extremely close. The next day I tried again and I made it through the transitions and I slowly and shakily got myself up and above the rings. One arm almost gave out and it was the equivalent of Bambi learning to walk, but I had made it! Anyone who has gotten a muscle-up will know the feeling. It’s like reaching the top of a mountain.  I will never forget that feeling and I was walking on clouds for days after.

When I got that first muscle-up, I thought to myself “Yes, now I am getting strong”. It started to become easier and I thought, “ok, maybe I AM strong!”. Being able to do this one movement almost became a defining feature of myself.  It became a symbol of me doing something that I never imagined I would do.

 

I did many, many muscle-ups, even weighted muscle-ups. I hung a pair of rings out in a tree and did even more. I did summer, spring, fall, and middle-of-a-blizzard-muscle-ups.  Yes, even party dress muscle-ups.  If I had a list of my favourite things, muscle-ups would be pretty near the top! For about a year and a half, I had a lot of fun doing muscle-ups. 

One day, I was taken by surprise when I couldn’t do them.  I hadn’t been practicing them as much because I was focusing on other things, like Oly and Powerlifting.  They hurt my arms so much. It wasn’t as effortless to pull myself up. In fact, it was near impossible. I could get a few, but it just didn’t feel right anymore. I gave it a week and tried again. My arms were not cooperating and I was stuck.  I tried them on my rings at home, and same thing, it is just not easy anymore.  That elated feeling of effortlessly pushing myself up above the rings was replaced with the frustrating feeling of standing below those rings and thinking “What is happening?  This used to be simple for me.”

I felt defeated because I hadn’t struggled with them like this before.  In my life, when I go through something that seems really hard, I often visualize the feeling I had when I got my first muscle-up and that really helped me with whatever situation I was in. But now my muscle-ups were gone. The crazy thought ran through my head “Maybe I’m not strong anymore.” I just wanted to cry.

Despite feeling like I had lost something really valuable, I needed to take a step back. I can squat 200#, walk almost 20 feet on my hands, and do lots of other things that people might consider to be strong. I had improved in many other areas, but because of this one thing, I felt like I had lost a lot of my strength.  It actually scared me. If you know me, you may realize that I am incredibly tough with myself and beat myself up for not trying harder or accomplishing more. I may have a smile on my face most of the time, but I am not always nice to myself when I should be.   

I had always bought into the notion that as long as I was improving and that I am better than I was yesterday, that was success.

Well, I’ve changed my mind.

Sometimes you aren’t going to be better than you were yesterday, two months, or a year ago. You can’t possibly improve all the time with every single thing that you do. If you can, you are superman/woman and all the more power to you.  I’ve changed the way that I look at strength. I’ve decided that as long as I keep trying to the best of my abilities, I am strong.

I’ve decided it's time to be patient and go back to the basics. I’ll practice those L-sits, ring holds, and dips.  I will get my muscle-ups back, if I work at it.  But even if I don’t, I can still feel proud.  It is not my ability to do any one thing; it is my perseverance, dedication, and positive attitude that makes me strong.

There are many strong people in my life that I really look up to. I know that everyone defines what strength means to them, but I just want to say that I have a lot of admiration for anyone that keeps on going and never stop trying, whether it’s at the gym or in any other part of life.  

There are people who have illnesses, injuries, or other really difficult things to work through and yet, they keep doing what they can.  It is often these people are the first to encourage others to keep on going and try to the best of their abilities.

In whatever way you define strength, I hope that you are able to work towards it despite any setbacks you may face, however big or small.

Penny and Rusty

In my last blog post (Stephanie & Salukis), I asked for stories about how all of you found your dogs. Daria wrote about she gave a home to four dogs in need. I did an illustration of two of Daria's dogs, Penny and Rusty. Here is Daria's story:


Daria's Story

I've had 4 dogs now and they've all been rescue. Penny (a shepherd mix) was my first rescue. I was living in Cleveland and I had just bought a house....with the sole purpose of being able to finally have a dog.

Two weeks after I moved in, I went to the Cleveland ASPCA with a friend of mine. My friend was wandering all the rows of dogs and she kept saying come and see this one, or you should totally pick this one. I had walked into the dog area and my feet felt like they were in cement. I couldn't walk any further than the first kennel. I couldn't move, I couldn't walk by all the kennels and just pick one. My heart was breaking seeing all those dogs in need of a good home. Penny was in that very first kennel. She was sitting quietly at the back of the kennel just looking. She looked so sad. I burst into tears and stuttered out that I was taking this one as I pointed to Penny. By the time I left I had all of the staff in tears as I was sobbing into Penny's coat. Fast forward a year and Penny and I were at the annual Humane Society walk.

Penny found Rusty and it was love at first sight. He was a great big orange dog who turned out to be a rottweiler/golden mix; he had an adopt me sign on him. Penny and I didn't stand a chance, we left that walk with Rusty in tow. They were the best of friends. They both lived long lives, Rusty was 14 when he passed and Penny made it to the ripe old age of 16. Not a day goes by that I don't miss those two! Now I have 2 more rescues in my life; Roxy and Sam.

 

Thanks Daria, for sharing your story about your dogs!

Stephanie & Salukis

­­­­­­What is it with Stephanie and Salukis?  If you’ve known me for any length of time, you will see that I absolutely love salukis and dogs of all kinds.  They are a recurring subject matter within my artwork!   

 If you’ve read my blog post about Spotty, you will know that from as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved dogs.  When I had the chance to pick out a book as a kid, it was often a dog breed dictionary or a story with dogs as the main character. I remember when I was nine or ten, my favourite book was about an abused dog,  “Beautiful Joe” and was based on a real dog who had his ears and tail cropped. I’d read that book, crying and wonder how such cruelty could even exist.  I decided to always be a friend to dogs.

 

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In one of my dog dictionary books, I remember seeing a cream saluki puppy. I laughed at how long her neck and “grasshopper legs” were and how enormous her eyes were. I thought she was kind of strange, but cute at the same time. I had never met a saluki in person, but I read that they were slightly aloof, sensitive, and difficult to train, and could never be let off a leash because their prey drive was so strong.   I also learned that they were called "The Royal Hounds of Egypt" and are one of the most ancient dog breeds. I did not know if I would ever cross paths with one of these near mythical beings.

Fast track to when I was 20 and moved to Ontario for school. Unfortunately I had to leave my aging pup, Spotty behind, but I knew my parents would take good care of her. I had just moved to Oakville and was exploring the trails in the lakeshore area with my cousin who had come to visit me.  The sun was shining, the lake was sparkling, and there was a gentle breeze as we walked a winding path.  As if from a vision, two red, deerlike creatures, the sun highlighting the fur on their ears and tails were galloping straight towards me.  They were salukis!  I talked with their owner, who happens to show salukis and have the occasional puppy litter. She told me how wonderful they are, that they are affectionate in their own way, and can occasionally be let off leash. I felt like I was walking on clouds and knew that as soon as I was out of an apartment, I would find a saluki.

 

For four years, I visited dog shows, just so I could see salukis and learn more about them. Yes, I was the weird girl who asked the owners, can I pet your saluki? I went to lure coursing events and saw them run. Salukis running at full tilt and zig-zagging across a field is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

  After four years in Ontario, after I finished my illustration degree, I moved back to Winnipeg and into the house that I live in now. A few months before moving in, I started looking for litters of saluki puppies. At the time, there were not many rescue salukis available.


Finding a saluki is not a simple task!  In Canada there are a handful of breeders, but they tend to have very careful, highly planned litters only every couple of years. No puppies were available in Canada at the time.  I saw that there was an expected litter from a breeder in California, so I contacted this lady.  She sent me updates and pictures as soon as the puppies were born.  I fell in love with a small black and white boy in the day 3 photo and decided to name him Grubby.

The breeder continued to send me pictures of Grubby over the next two months and I loved him, despite having not met him yet! At 8 weeks, Grubby flew to Minneapolis and I drove to pick him up.

 

He was the sweetest little guy and he followed me everywhere. His little back legs were extraordinarily long, so that he had to kind of step them to the side as he chased after me. He didn’t like sleeping in his cage even though it was right beside my pillow on the bed. So, on his first night, I opened the door and he stumbled out and stretched out right across my neck and slept soundly.

Two nights later though, he did not sleep. He started coughing. After a few hours of restlessness, I became very worried. His gums started turning white from lack of oxygen, so I rushed him to the emergency vet.  From having an x-ray, it was seen that his heart was much larger than normal and I was told that he was having congenital heart failure.  I was heartbroken. I loved this little hound so much already. I had waited four years to get a puppy like him and now I was faced with the decision that it would be best to end his short life.  So I kissed his soft little forehead, held his white paw, felt his last puppy breath and said goodbye to sweet Grubby.   

 

The breeder was shocked and so very sorry about what happened. She said “I have one beautiful red girl left, would you like her?” So my wonderful Penny was flown to Winnipeg, several weeks later. 

Baby Penny

Baby Penny

Right away, I saw that she was a very regal, reserved, yet sweet hound.  She didn’t follow me everywhere, but she showed her affection by glancing my way and by nibbling my arm. She took away the sadness of losing Grubby, and I would not want to imagine life without her! 

She has taught me that salukis always find the best seat in the house, are discriminating eaters, they always like their paws kept clean, and that a tail wag from her should be seen as the highest honour. She is such a gentle, sensitive creature. At first I worried that Penny was also going to be unhealthy, but I just tried to appreciate every day that she had to spend with me. Five years later, she not been unwell even once!

She is the Queen of the House!

She is the Queen of the House!

About two years after I got Penny, I saw that a new rescue group had started up: Arabian Saluki Centre of Canada.  This rescue group works with shelters in the Middle East and brings salukis over to Canada to find new homes. The dogs are flown over with flight buddies, people who are already making the trip to Canada and they adopters or foster families meet at the airport to pick up their new hound.  To date, they have brought over 70 salukis to Canada. 

I look at these salukis often and hope that they find good homes.  It really hurts to see a dog that is neglected and in need of care.  I think it is amazing that organizations like this exist!

For a while, I’ve thought that Penny might like to have a friend. She absolutely loves to run and I thought she would like a running partner or someone to share the couch with.   One day, I saw a picture of a little guy named Taheem. 

I knew just three things about Taheem: he was found on a beach in Qatar, he was about one year old, and he may have been a racing dog. His ears had been cropped and this is a sign that he made have been a racer. It was his adorable face and big dark eyes that captured my heart. Once I found out that he is good with cats, I filled out an application for him.  Amazingly, he could be put on a flight that was coming in two weeks. This was very lucky because often there is a long wait (upwards of six months) to find a flight buddy. 

Kent and I drove to Calgary to pick up our new four legged family member. We grew very worried after almost three hours of waiting. They were not letting Taheem through customs. All I could think about was how scared he was, being locked in that kennel for so long and not knowing what was happening.  As I was waiting, Kent all of sudden said “Look Steph!” and a crate labeled “Second Chance Rescue” was being wheeled towards us.  When I looked inside, I was struck be how tiny this saluki was, all curled up in one back corner of the crate.  I carefully opened up the door and it took some coaxing to get him to step out onto the floor.

I placed new martingale collar around his neck and carefully adjusted it as small as I could make it. To think I had been worried that the collar would not be large enough! Instead of trying to get him to navigate through the noise and confusion on the leash, I scooped up my long legged pup and held him safely as we made our way through the parkade.  He seemed relieved and grateful when we placed him in the back seat on blankets and pillows and he immediately curled up.

On the long drive home, this poor jet lagged pup slept, but kept on opening one eye to peer at as. What was he thinking? Probably “who are these people and where am I going?”. But I like to think that he finally felt safe and that everything was going to be alright. 

He's great on the leash!

He's great on the leash!

We’ve had him for two weeks and it is incredible to see this little creature opening up and revealing his own personality. He's already put on a couple of pounds and is living a hound's dream. This pup loves life and soaks up all the affection and attention we have to offer. 

 

I’ve illustrated his whole story and will continue to add to it. I plan to make a page that shows the story in it’s entirety. I'm at around twenty pages so far

I am so grateful for these sweet creatures that add so much to our lives! 

 

Please feel free to share your experience of getting one of your dogs in the comments section.  I may be inspired to do an illustration of your dog for you!

 

 

 

 

 

Summertime

Earlier this summer, I asked for submissions of your favourite summer memories. Thank you to everyone who shared, I really enjoyed reading them. I randomly chose a name and the winner received an illustration based on the story they submitted.

Becca recounted her memories as a child and wrote about wanting to create new memories with her young family. Here is the illustration I created and her story:

"Summer time, and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high."

My Father sang this song to me as a lullaby when I was a little girl and now I sing it every night to my two little boys. For me the living has always been easiest in the summer. Born in July, I have forever been a lover of fireworks, picnics, swimming, hiking, canoeing, strawberries, watermelon sundresses, bare feet and everything else summer has to offer us. I spent most of my childhood summers in at Victoria beach, where my grandparents owned a cabin. I loved it there, I loved the beach and the rocks which I thought were unquestionably mine. I loved the small candy store where I could buy a treat for a penny (imagine that!). I loved the treats that they are still baking at the bakery there, what I wouldn't do for A dream cookie. I loved riding the "beach bikes" up and down the winding and hilly roads. I even have a few scars to remind me of some of those rides. I loved poking around the bush on the "kiddie trail" behind the cabin, always finding an interesting insect, fungus or leaf. I have countless fond memories of that place.
Unfortunately my grandparents could no longer care for the cabin and two years ago they sold it. I felt that along with the sale went much of my past and a piece of my heart.
Now I am working on building new memories with my children. We took our first tenting trip as a family two weeks ago. The boys explored sand dunes, ate smores, splashed in the lake, threw rocks in the water, made fires and stayed up way too late. I love being able to share some of my favourite things with them.
My favourite memory is hard to pin down. It is definitely either somewhere past the gates of Victoria beach, or lake side watching my boys and their Dad skipping stones.

 

Thanks again Becca for submitting your story!

I will likely have one more contest this summer, so watch for updates!