The creative warm up: 10 minutes

8:04 am

In my workshops In Mexico last week I gave automatic writing assignments as warmups before painting and collage.

I always think everyone will be familiar with this concept, and there was one girl who nodded her head and looked ready to jump in, the standup comedian from NYC.

Otherwise, though, not so much. A puzzled look, shaking heads looking around as though someone else could explain better.

But what do we write about?

But what if nothing comes?

What if I run out of things to say?

What if?

Let’s try it, I said.

Just keep your hand moving, repeat the prompt if you run into a wall, repeat it again if the block persist, stop when the timer stops .

And we began.

And we wrote.

And everyone’s pen or pencil flew across the page.

One woman read her piece after, hitting a wall in the first sentence and repeating one word – “an” dozens of times. And then the idea emerged and carried the day, and she finished reading smiling, shaking her head, amazed. Later at lunch she told me she came back every day for the writing.

At dinner the last night a water massage therapist sat with us and explained his process.

How if one way is blocked, he uses the water to coax movement and opening in that area. If someone resists moving the shoulder for example he will move them through the water so that the water is the agent of force —- and they relax and allow the shoulder to open.

He went on with examples for a while and they all mirrored how I teach art.

If this door is closed, I said, I try another door.

You don’t beat the door down? he asked.

No, I said. I don’t beat the door down. I climb in a window.

The automatic writing is often the window.

Into the creative subconscious space where the energy is trapped.

It’s not that my paintings will be of the subjects of my dreams.

I am not one to paint a visit from my old long dead friend Kevin, who showed up last week and kept saying, “10 minutes. 10 minutes.”

I will not paint the people I talked to, the ocean cove full of sharks I swam in, the young child I was tasked to protect, or the other scenes I saw.

It is the access to energy, emotion, connection that makes its way into the conscious mind in this method and into the wok.

It is the best way I know.

And it’s ten minutes.

Just ten minutes.

The last day of the workshop, after my dream of my beloved friend, I thought of what he’d said – “ten minutes.”

And so I offered up this prompt: “in my dreams.”

The rules are simple.

Set a timer.

Ten minutes.

Keep your hand moving.

Stop when the timer goes off. If your hand stops just repeat what you started with. As the great teacher Natalie Goldberg says, feel free to write the worst shit in America.

Just ten minutes.


The Art of Now at Esalen Institute

A painting and creativity workshop for non-artists

May 12-17 2019

What if you could connect with a sense of peace, power, and meaning just by taking ten minutes a day for creativity? What if this became a daily habit? There are profound benefits for every person in crafting work with your hands. It is not solely for professional artists to enjoy the deep pleasures of time spent in art-making practices. These practices bring us into the “now” and ground us in the present. They bring us into direct contact with color, play, and the natural world. They invite us to stop, focus, and respond in a personal, immediate, and joyful way.

In this workshop, we’ll use simple materials and techniques including sketch, watercolor, free writing, and torn paper design. We’ll pause, sit, and become grounded again and again in a space without fear, judgment, or anxiety. While learning key skills to record and interpret your environment, you’ll also learn to express what you see, what you think, and what you feel.

By week’s end you’ll have made artful pieces that bring you satisfaction and express your creative development, and you’ll feel the joy and serenity that come from making with your own hands. Your sketchbook will be full of paintings, writings, drawings, and notes that will inspire your return to daily life.

This creative immersion is designed for people of all skill levels and experience. Whether you are a working artist seeking to deepen your own practice, or a novice who has never picked up a paintbrush, in this workshop you’ll find a safe, creative space to experiment with new ideas.

Details at

Don’t Fall in Love!

It’s not for sale.

Why not?

Here’s why.

Sometimes you’re working on something and you make a discovery but you don’t know exactly what the discovery is. In other words, the outcome is pleasing but you don’t know how you got there, or what the elements of your successful execution were. Or why, exactly, this works when something very similar doesn’t.

This painting is one such example of this experience. I am holding on to it because I think it has something to teach me. I will hold onto it until I think I’ve gotten the message.

With still life paintings, I think a lot about the relationship of the rectangles – background, foreground, middle ground – and the values – the relationship of light and dark. And color – pure shots of gorgeous color, chroma vs. neutral, shades of gray.

But today the aspect I keep thinking of temperature. The painting shifted for me when I repainted the background in a warmer neutral than I’d had before. That change, moving from a cooler gray to this warmer “pancake” neutral, was a “bingo!” moment.

It caused me to reexamine all of the other paintings in this series.

It caused me to reflect on the concept of painting relationships between things vs. the things themselves.

Broken Gladiolus, Cobalt Blue Jar, Tangerines is one in a series of “teachers” I’ll be showing at my Holiday Open House Friday and Saturday November 23 and 24.

Sketches, paintings, photographs, books prints and cards will be for sale, but the “teachers” will be on display in my special cabinet where I keep them to look at from time to time and to reflect on their lessons.

Interested in what they might have to teach you? Come by! We can have a conversation!

Does this concept resonate with you? If you are a “maker” are there things you make that you consider your teachers as well? Please share and comment below!



The power of ritual, or stitch by stitch


Ten minutes and I really mean it, two hours of reading ahead for a 10 am meeting I’m dreading, and I really don’t even want to get out of bed.

It’s the daily commitment that makes me do it, no big pie in the sky magic.

It’s the routine, a schedule I follow even if it extends at a snail’s pace throughout the entire day.

That is my Abracadabra.



Make the bed.


Write the list.

Paint four hours.

Ask, what is it for?

Be present.

Part of my daily routine is walking through the house and resetting the stage.

I work at home, painting on the dining room table.

As I begin, I walk through the house, clearing spaces.

I ask Marie Kondo’s question: does this spark joy?

And if not, it goes into the free box or trash.

The daily house walk-about is as much about tidying as it is about returning to the task, which is to create beauty.

Beauty on the canvas, beauty in the space.

I am returning to work now after two months traveling and other kinds of work and it feels like returning to a house I had boarded up and am now moving back into.

Like a sourdough starter put on ice for a long while. The yeast is alive, but dormant.

Every aspect of my intention is meant to create a culture that keeps the yeast alive.

Tom reminds me that “the bread is rising” was the secret password of the French Resistance during WWII, which makes me laugh.

Which makes me think of Madame Defarge and her knitting, stitch by stitch, row by row.

I’ve taken up the knitting again, a lateral work of color and intention that builds very slowly as I am working on very small needles right now, a practice in patience.

They say patience is its own reward, which took me into my fifties to understand.

Ah! I see.

Patience IS its own reward.

Knitting as we are flying or on a train or most recently driving three hours home from San Francisco, I drop a stitch and ten miles go by as I carefully pick it up again.

It has fallen down six rows, and carefully carefully …

the phone rings, the timer goes off, the day begins.

Morning Practice – 10 Minutes Writing

Every morning I write for ten minutes before getting out of bed.

It’s a ritual.

It’s a routine.

It’s a creative habit.

It starts the creative juices flowing, it documents my mind’s daily wandering, and it allows me to move on to the day ahead feeling that I’ve accomplished something.

it is one of my seven strategies for a successful day.

Another one is working in a series.

Making not one but two, three, even a hundred, of the same idea.

Today I am painting still life’s, specifically Morning Glories.

But before I began to paint, I wrote my ten minutes.

I believe the one (the timed free write) informs the other.

I believe the writing without destination, following wherever the story takes me, allows me to paint better, to think better. And to write better.

Here’s my writing today.

10 minutes, timed, before getting out of bed.

6:53 am

Woke up in a motel in SF drank coffee got some rows knitting in before a phone call with our daughter, then six miles walking to the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

It always looks so much closer.

So big and red and looming, and yesterday the sky so clear you could practically see the individual wire strands of the suspension cables.

A young girl met us on the street corner with a big blue sign asking us to vote for her candidate.

A man lay in a doorway huddled in on himself, no blanket.

The joggers were out in force, maintaining their bodies beautiful, one tall thin woman with a high pony more prancing than running, like a prima ballerina set loose on the track.

The tide was low but water looked between us and the beach, reflecting the Golden Gate upside down.

We had brought nothing but a bottle of water with us so kept walking, but we were both thinking, “how would I paint that?”

Sailing boats are tied up at the yacht club here, their reflections dancing with them in the gentle wake.

As we walk and talk it seems the water and the boats and the islands are moving, not us. The bridge seems always at the same distance from us, close, so close, but yet we are still not there.

At one stop along the path there is a sign that tells us we still have half a mile to go, which seems incredible, because we can practically reach out and touch it. And yet.

White steam erupts from a large building across the road, and the smell of hops.

From the last pier a few men wrapped in many layers cast lines into the water.

The Warming Hut is closed, it’s still too early, even though it seems half the City is out walking their dogs.

That’s it!

If this process interests you, maybe you’d like to join my online Writing Group, Tell Me More!

Tell Me More! supports writers in writing daily.

We start off with a commitment to write ten minutes a day, for 30 days.

We share our work in a Secret Facebook group.

We don’t critique.

We don’t share each other’s stories outside of the group.

That’s it!

Make Art! Be Kind!

Send me a message on Facebook if you’d like to participate!

The Art of Now at Allied Arts in Cambria

“Why Paint? Why live?”

Gregory Kondos

Allied Arts Cambria presents The Art of Now, a painting demo, Slideshow & Talk, with award winning artists Erin Gafill and Tom Birmingham this coming Sunday November 4 m, 2pm-3:30 pm.

Erin will kick the event off with a 20 minute painting demo, followed by a slideshow of inspirational images, thoughts, and quotes from her favorite teachers. Tom will wrap things up with a few creativity exercises that will send everyone away smiling. Time for a Q&A at the end.

Click The Art of Now in Cambria for all the details!

Peninsula Sketch Crawl November 10 10-2 2018

Sketching is an immediate response to what you observe.

We sketch to learn.

We sketch to record.

We sketch to study and we sketch to play.

There are as many approaches as there are people.

There’s continuous line sketch.

And sketch with wash.

When I look back at my sketchbooks – London, Siena, Florence, Big Sur – I am struck with how much emotion and memory these little drawings and paintings contain.

And it’s a nice thing to do together.

For all these reasons and more, we’ve organized this first Peninsula Sketch Crawl.

It’s free!

And you don’t need much.

A journal or sketchbook. A pen. Watercolors if you want to get into color.

That’s it!

Pack a picnic lunch and your supplies and join us on the Monterey Rec Trail between Fishermen’s Wharf and Heritage Harbor, 10 am – 2pm, November 10 (2018)

We’re all beginners.

We’re all creative.

We all have something to contribute!


PS Are you coming to the Sketch Crawl? Here are the supplies I suggest. Let me know if you have any questions –

What to Bring

The whole idea of sketching is to travel light, and to be ready at a moment’s notice to capture an image or tableau that piques your interest. Sketch is to painting as snapshots are to photography. See it, capture it, move on. For this reason less truly is more.

For a sketch excursion you’ll need something to make a line. I prefer a pen to a pencil so that I am not tempted to erase. Something to suggest volume. Sometimes I use walnut ink or indigo ink in a water pen to create single tone wash. Sometimes I use watercolor to add a bit of color. Now you need a brush (or so). I use a #12 traveling brush I got from most of the time. I also carry a #6 traveling brush to add detail. Sometimes I like a flat brush to make easier oblongs for buildings and fences, but, it makes the process a bit to easy and mechanical looking….that’s up to you.

What colors to I bring. For watercolor sketching I just use three colors. A yellow, a blue, and a red. “Can you make every color out of those three paints?” you may ask. No, of course I can’t, but, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I could have every color Windsor Newton makes, and I still couldn’t make every color. I’m just not that skilled. So, I use three colors. I can make my reds cooler or warmer adding yellow or blue, my blue more green or purple by adding my yellow or red, etc. If I want a neutral grey, I mix all three until it turns almost pure black. This is all good practice I think.

Don’t forget paper. You really want two kinds of paper. For line drawing you’ll want a light-weight sketch paper book. Note whether your chosen pen bleeds through your chosen sketch paper. If o, I bring along a single sheet of wax paper, the size of my sketchbook to put behind the page I’m drawing on.For the water media, You’ll want good quality watercolor paper, I use 300 gram Fabriano cold press.

What’s left? A water bottle, a cup to dip your brush into the water, and a hand full of paper towels or tissue to dry your brush. Anything more than this is just because it is always easier to buy art supplies than it is to use them, and, maybe you just want to have a workout and carry more.

Some people like to carry a folding stool to perch. Not a bad idea, but, I just find a bench or sit on the ground. Some people like to carry a pochade box with a tripod. It’s OK with me, but, I like the “quick draw” aspect of my sketchbook in a shoulder bag.

Keep in mind, we are not making masterpieces to hang in a museum. We are practicing looking, seeing, and rendering. You may find that the limitations of your tools actually inspire innovation.

OK here it is in list form –

Pen – Fine Roller Ball or Felt Tip, your choice

Water Pen – Fill it with water or 50-50 water and walnut oil

Brushes – #12 Round and #6 Round

Paper – Sketchbook (5” x 9” approximatley) and a stack of 300 gram watercolor paper that fits in your note book

Watercolor Tube Paints – Rose Madder, Indian Yellow, and Ultramarine Blue is what I use.

Water bottle


Paper Towels

See you there – Tom Birmingham

Kelly Medford, an American painter in Rome

I love Kelly Medford!

I love her paintings. 

I love what she writes about painting them.
I love that every painting has a story, and every story usually has a painting too.
I first met Kelly through Facebook.  I saw her work, saw that she posted daily paintings and wrote about her process.
I admired her work ethic and her bravery, venturing into the vast ancient city of Rome every day on her bicycle and always coming home with a painting in her basket.
I envied her skill, her training, and her talent.
So I bought a painting. Then another.
Tom commissioned a painting from Kelly depicting my great great grandmother’s courtyard on Via Margutta, near the Spanish Steps, as a gift for my 50th birthday. I cried when I saw it.
And finally, that Christmas, Kelly came to California and we met each other for real.
I cried again. I felt like I was meeting a long lost sister.
Kelly inspired me to return to teaching on Italy.  She inspired me to take my own easel out on a walkabout of New York City a few years back, one of the greatest painting experiences I ever had.
And she continues to say “yes!” when Tom and me I ask her to teach with us during our annual Awaken The Artist Within painting and sketching tours.
It is my pleasure and honor to introduce you to Kelly and her beautiful paintings.
Invite a little Italian sunshine into your life!
PS Expats often stumble on some of the best a new city has to offer. Tom and I always pick up a picnic lunch here when we are heading to Villa Pamphilj to sketch, and a snack for the flight home. Le Levain. My favorite bakery in Rome has been discovered! Read on