Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Journey Begins with 10,000 Steps

The Challenge is in Getting Started

Stone Steps Leading Through Shoyoen Garden at Rinno-Ji TempleA few months back, I decided to start tracking my steps and calories and miles and heart rate and a whole host of other stuff in order to better understand my personal health status. Yeah, I like numbers.

Being a big fan of The Biggest Loser, I decided to get a Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band to manage all this tracking of information since it was what the contestants on the current season [Season 16] are using, and it is easy to use. My Vivofit keeps track of all this information, and easily syncs to my computer so I can see up-to-the-minute stats any time I want.
One way that you can set up a Vivofit is to make step goals for you based on your activity level the day before. For example, if you walked 6,000 steps today, it would set your goal slightly higher for tomorrow. If I didn’t reach my goal, it would set my goal slightly lower. I didn't find that to be all that effective in helping me. I just stayed in the same basic step level.

However, the Vivofit also lets you set up a goal on your own. After a few months, I decided that having it set up its own goals wasn't really moving me along, so I decided to set up my own goal at 10,000 steps per day.

Why 10,000 steps? 

There is a lot of information on the web that suggests that 10.000 steps is a decent level of activity to really improve general health. We're not talking weight loss, but just a simple, overall improvement in health.

Stairways, Fire Escapes, Black and White Photography, Street Times Square, Manhattan, New York, US
Stairways, Fire   Philippe 
Buy This at

For the average person, 10,000 steps is not going to occur in the normal course of events on a daily basis. Even for me, a fairly active person when I am not behind a computer, a daily average of 6,000 steps was normal, so this would be a step up, so to speak.

Of course, I didn't just jump up from the couch and start walking 10,000 steps a day, and neither should you. I work out several times a week, and am accustomed to getting on a treadmill or hitting a hiking trail, so moving to this level has not caused me a lot of pain, even if it is a step up. 

Getting in 10,000 steps, however, can be a bit of a challenge without a little planning to help you along. At some point each day, you will need to take a walk, jog, or run to reach your goal, but if you sneak in a few extra steps here and there, you will have to spend less time in the deliberate walking part of your day, and on some days, that will be a great blessing.

Strategies for Walking 10,000 Steps Per Day

I have several strategies that have become part of my daily routine to make my 10,000 daily steps goal. Here is what I do:

Spiral Staircase
Spiral Staircase   Andrea  Buy This at

I park farther away from the entrance to any place I am going, be it the office, grocery store, or gym. Most of these places are well lit, but if you will be returning to your car after dark, play it safe and park by a light.

I make an extra trip out to get the mail. Sure, driving up to the mailbox is easier, but making a separate trip out to the mailbox can add steps to your day.

Don’t use the closest bathroom. Whether at home or at work, if there is a choice of bathrooms to use, I try to pick the one that’s farthest from wherever I am. If you have a desk job, the relief from sitting and staring at a computer screen will benefit your eyes and your ability to concentrate as well as get you moving a bit.

I take the stairs instead of the elevator. Of course, depending on where you work or live, this can add a lot of steps. If you work on the 10th floor, you may not be able to manage 10 flights of stairs all at once. In that case, walk up as far as you can, then use an elevator for the rest. In time, you may be able to rise to that level, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t.

I will be posting my step counts just to keep myself accountable. We will see how I do.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Learning to Write With My Non-Dominant Hand

Saving my brain or losing my mind?

Drawing Hands
I have been doing a lot of reading into the subject of neuroplasticity recently, particularly as related to handwriting and its effect on memory. In looking at this, I have also looked through some articles about using your non-dominant hand. Some articles say it will help grow and strengthen your brain, a pleasant thought, while other articles seem to say it will confuse your brain and cause all sorts of issues.

My tendency has been to believe that writing with my non-dominant hand would be like doing crunches with my brain, but like most people with exercising, I hadn't really done much with it.

Then last week, at my already boring day job, I was assigned a task so mind-numbingly banal that I could actually hear my brain cells weeping and failing, much like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz when she gets doused with a bucket of water. It seemed like fate had thrown a challenge at me. Wonder if I can do this job with my non-dominant hand?

Drawing Hands M. C. Escher Buy This at

In the Beginning Was the Word

Too bad no one could read it

In this unimaginative project, I had to go through about 1500 profiles, double checking for the correctness and completeness of an array of uninspiring informational items, from the person’s name, to their addresses, other children, pets, etc.

I decided I would write my notes to myself with my non-dominant left hand, as well as use the mouse, which is NOT a left handed mouse I might add, in order to get the profiles in order and the information on these people encoded. It did not start out very well.

My handwriting was barely legible, and I had a very hard time with it. My body tensed up as I tried to write, pen held in a death grip by my left hand. It’s a good thing no one would ever read it but me.

Really Heavy Brains

First studies of neuroplasticity

Cat and Mouse
Cat and Mouse Buy This at

In the early 1960′s, Mark Rosenzweig, a professor of physiological psychology at the University of California at Berkeley discovered that rats that were raised in stimulating environments had brains that were heavier, had more neurotransmitters, and had a better blood supply than the brains of rats raised in non-stimulating environments.

His work showed that the brain could be modified, and that learning potential did not cease in childhood. That is great news for all of us at any age. Being a dedicated lifelong learner, maybe my brain would not deteriorate as I grew old.

One Week Later

Seven tiny little days

As you can see, I have come along nicely with my writing skills.

At first, I had a great deal of trouble figuring out the mouse. I would hold my body very stiff again as I tried to make the mouse go where I wanted it to go, and to make my lettering clear enough to be legible. It took a long time to get the mouse click sides right.

Now, just a week later, I am able to use the mouse almost equally well, although I am still somewhat faster using my dominant right hand.

Is my brain feeling any heavier yet? Hmmm… maybe.

Things to Do With Your Non-Dominant Hand

Give it a try

According to an article by Jeff Rose at , the brain needs constant mental stimulation in order to grow, with a sort of “use it or lose it” idea. He suggests trying an array of typical activities using your non-dominant hand such as:

Brushing your teeth – Hot tip: move your hand and not your head!
Using the TV remote
Pouring drinks
Eating – especially with chopsticks

Most of these things I am doing well with, except the chopsticks. It might be a good way to diet, as it may take forever for me to get the food to my mouth.

Confusing Your Brain While Unleashing Your Creativity

Will using your non-dominant hand make you more creative?

Brain Food, Conceptual Image
Brain Food, Conceptual Image  SMETEK   Buy This at

In an article by Kim Ranegar at, she points out that brain mapping shows creativity to be a right brain activity. If you are right handed, then using your left hand may cause you to tap into previously unexplored creativity. Be careful, though, as unleashing all that creative potential could be scary. You might find yourself mixing stripes with plaids, or ordering unfamiliar foods just for the fun of it.

Reorganizing the Brain As We Age

A lot of stuff is happening in there

There is evidence to suggest that the brain can restructure itself in response to weaknesses that develop as we age. Research by Roberto Cabeza at Duke University suggests that prefrontal activities that took place in just one hemisphere in our youth may take place in both as we become older.

Other research performed by Melanie Springer and Cheryl Grady of the University of Toronto also shows that as we age, we tend to perform cognitive activities in different lobes of the brain from when we were young. This pattern was also more pronounced in people who were more educated.

The shifting of brain activities from one lobe to another is indicative of plasticity, although we do not yet know for sure why it happens. Perhaps working with a non-dominant hand would be more successful or easier to accomplish as we age, because we would be using both sides of our brain naturally already.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Golden Age of Art

If you Google "golden age of art," you get a cascade of articles, primarily on the Dutch Golden Age, dominated by the beautiful works of painters such as Hals and Vermeer. Illustration Friday's word for the week is "Golden," so that started me thinking in this vein.

Sketch of a man over a watercolor base in shades of gold, on an Indian watercolor paper.
Also, I have been attending some classes on Sunday mornings, with the topic for the first part of summer being Emergence Christianity. So, in thinking about where Christianity is heading, I started thinking more indepth about where art is going, as it seems to me that we are in a great time of shifting. It's not really a golden age for art here in McLeansville, NC or likely anywhere else.

However, all the experimentation with art is pretty exciting if you think about it. Art is no longer confined to what you can put into a frame on your wall or sit on a pedestal in your garden. Art can incorporate all sorts of sound, light, movement, and technology that was never thought of in the past. I wonder what would Seurat be creating if he were alive today?

Which is not to say that flat art is dead by any means. I just don't think art has the same meaning in today's society that it once did.
Gold watercolor underpainting for the sketch of a man done for Illustration Friday: Golden.

I remember when I was young, my aunt and uncle bought a painting to go in their den. I'm sure it was not a wildly expensive piece, but the idea of purchasing a painting was as if it were an investment that you would have for the rest of your life, in much the same way as the photographs of long dead relatives remain on the wall. Everyone in the extended family came to view the painting and discuss its merits.

The times have changed. I remember working in a cooperative gallery about 15 years ago, when a woman came into the gallery with a cushion under her arm, wanting to know if we had anything that would match her sofa. We didn't. It became clear to me that, for her at least, art was about making the decor match and bringing order to her world through color continuity, and not about choosing a piece of art that spoke to her soul, that evoked a memory, or reminded her of a treasured vacation.

With prints being so cheap now, flat wall art can be easily purchased and disposed of anytime you decide to change your decor to the Pantone color pallet of the season. What's an artist to do, and how is an artist supposed to make a living?

It would seem to me that unless you are one of the rare people who gets picked up by a major gallery, you are sort of relegated to outdoor craft fairs or the world of online Print on Demand. Craft fairs can be pretty grueling, being at the whims of weather and insect populations, and POD leaves you cold and empty, because you are operating in something of a vacuum.

Of course, there are millions of ways now to get social with your customers and potential customers without ever leaving your studio. The problem with that is that you then have to constantly cultivate those relationships, which eats into your productivity for art... better to get a day job, I think. More on this to come. For now, I am curious to imagine what the next "golden age" for art will look like.

The quick sketch above uses a watercolor underpainting in shades of gold, with graphite over the top, on a highly textured Indian watercolor paper.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sketchy Saturday Spent Defacing Ex-Library Books

I am enjoying a day of solitude, something that's been pretty rare for me over the last 20 years, so I've taken advantage of that to do some art therapy by adding to my repeating Library People series.

Yesterday, I put my husband and kids on planes to the west coast for a family wedding while I stayed home to hold down the fort. Then I went on a whirlwind tour of the used bookstores in the area and got some awesome books on which to do some more drawings.

I love the stains on this one that were left by an ill considered application of cellophane tape a decade or two ago. I decided to play up the stain pattern with this very distinctive profile of a man.

When I put this piece up on my Facebook page, my friend Kelley said her parents met at a social at the College Park Baptist Church from which this book came. This is not her father.

I got 4 pieces done, which is actually a lot of drawing for one day. I was particularly happy with this one, which features Date Due stamps dating back to 1930. I haven't found an ex-library book this old before, so I was super excited to find this one yesterday. I decided to put the man above the date due stamps rather than on top of them because they are so cool.

These two, along with 2 more will be up for sale on eBay beginning tomorrow night.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Library People 131 - 133

Yes, the Library People are returning. I don't even remember how long it has been since I did these. Some people would say that I have lost momentum, and they would probably be right. Some people would say that you can't go back to a series after all this time, and they might be right as well, but here I am.

I started doing Library People drawings back in about 2006. This past week I did these three. It felt good to be back.

For those of you not familiar with the series, let me quote from my eBay listings:
The Library People series consists of drawings of people on the inside covers or pages of discarded books, many of them ex-library books. The covers that are the "canvas" for these drawings have ripped or cut edges, and may contain stamps, writing, stains, dirt, wear and tear, and other evidences of age. They also contain memories; memories of the people who have checked them out, carried them to school, read them on the bus, left them in the rain. The authenticity of the real book, not some reproduced item, is part of the experience. I hope you will enjoy being part of the series.

Why do I continue to return to these? Of course, it is the memories. That connection with others, the past, and the feelings that go with all that. Good feelings; melancholy feelings; uncomfortable feelings. Feelings of loss and hope.

What may have brought me around to this was a college reunion. It was a reunion for the graduates of the UNC-Greensboro Theatre Department from the 1970's through the 1990's. I wasn't sure how I would feel going in to it. I wasn't even sure anyone would remember me - or that I would remember anyone else for that matter. But I did remember most of them, and some of them did remember me. And we shared and laughed and ate, and it was good. Good to be there, alongside the memories.
No, we were no longer young. But how great it is to still be alive and part of the conversation.

So back to the drawings. These were done on the covers or pages of discarded books, just like the 130 people before them. and there will be more to come. Fragile pieces of memories. You can purchase one if you like; they are for sale on eBay. As always, I cherish your comments.

Library People 131  Library People 132   Library People 133