“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” – Auguste Rodin

Psychology professor Ellen J. Langer experienced a major personal renaissance later in life when she began painting on  a whim and never stopped. In her book On Becoming an Artist, she shares her process born of her revelation that, “each of us has the potential for a renaissance, an age defined by a creative, purposeful, and engaged life.”

The key is mindfulness, she writes, the science and art of being fully in the moment by sidestepping the constant stream of unproductive chatter (ultimately concerning either the past or the future) that plays like an endless tape loop in the back for our heads.


Ellen Langer evolved her style of making portraits as multiple takes on the same figure in a process not unlike “trial and error.” All paintings by Ellen J. Langer.

The first woman ever to be tenured in psychology at Harvard University, Langer studies mindfulness theory and decision-making, aging, and the illusion of control. When she unexpectedly found herself becoming an artist, she did not somehow “discover a hidden talent,” she’d say. Nor did she follow any rules (she didn’t know any). She simply didn’t allow judgment to get in her way at any stage in the process.

“All it takes to become an artist is to start making art,” she insists. “It doesn’t matter whether the creative work we choose is painting, dance, fiction, poetry, or music. What matters is pursuing it mindfully.”

The opposite of mindful creativity is fussing and worrying about “getting it right.” Listening to self-defeating mind-chatter and comparing ourself to others are among the biggest roadblocks to that “personal renaissance.”

“If I fear making mistakes,” writes Langer, “I won’t fully engage myself in the task. Instead, I mindlessly follow a script for how to avoid them. If I am following a script, then I am not centered in the present, which could easily result in my making more ‘mistakes.’ And so the cycle continues.”


Get to It

But what if after immersing yourself in the shear joy of creation you look back at the work and think, “this is awful”? Langer would say we have a choice, and the alternative to being unhappy with a result is to rinse and repeat – don’t give yourself more than a minute or two to judge. Rather, think how much you enjoy immersing yourself in creation and get to it.

The first time Langer felt a work she’d really enjoyed creating “didn’t quite make it,” she writes, “I didn’t feel dejected at my failed attempt; I was  too aware of the enlivening aspect of simply having created the piece,” and she allowed herself to get excited all over again about going in and seeing how she could change it.


Ellen J. Langer, Me and My Shadow

“Once examined through this new lens, many of our ‘problems’ fall by the roadside,” she writes. “We can, it turns out, pursue art for art’s sake and art for life’s sake, and it matters little what that art is. Any creative activity can have a powerful effect on our lives if we pursue it mindfully and recognize the ways in which old familiar fears and habits can be set aside to make room for the personal renaissance we seek.”
Langer has generously made the introduction and entire first chapter of On Becoming an Artist readable for free online. It’s been an important book to me personally, and I highly recommend it.


From Scotland to Santa Fe: Tony Allain Hops to Pond to Join PACE

Tony Allain, Deil’s Cauldron. pastel on sanded paper, 20 x 26

Scottish-based master pastellist Tony Allain will be teaching a plein air workshop at this year’s Plein Air Convention & Expo in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Allain is an award-winning painter, instructor and author and has been painting for over 50 years. a member of the Pastel Society London and a member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists among others.

His focus is colour, light and movement and a complete understanding of the artist’s surroundings. Allan was born and raised in the Channel Islands, where he studied life drawing and observational painting. He moved to paint and live in Cornwall to capture the unique clarity of light living on the peninsular of the West Country.

Allain has exhibited extensively over the years, and his work can be found in many leading galleries as well as private and corporate collections worldwide, including the Maritime Museum, Guernsey and Queen Mary 2, Cunard Liner.

He has exhibited with The Pastel Society of America in New York, the  Royal Society of Marine Artists, London, The International Pastel Exhibition, Suzhou, China and the Pastel Society, Mall Galleries, London. A move to New Zealand in 2006 proved to be a turning point in his career with the acceptance as a Master of the Pastel Artists of New Zealand, a Signature member of the Pastel Society of America, elected an Eminent Pastelist of the International Association of Pastel Societies.