Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: art and creativity

Elle Luna – On Launching Your Creative Journey

Elle Luna’s creative journey is a touchstone for many eager to find creative expression in their lives. A designer and artist, she’s become somewhat of a creativity guru with her recent book, The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion.

Elle Luna twitter page

Elle Luna from her twitter page

From The Great Discontent site:

I have so much respect for anybody who will step away from what they can do in order to find what they must do. That’s a hallmark characteristic of entrepreneurs and artists. And it’s scary and exciting as all hell.

I’ve read her book and highly recommend it. You’ll find it’s many things: a journal about her struggle to find and express her creative passion – painting, an exploration of roadblocks we erect on the path to creativity, and a guide to discovering and realizing your own creative impulse.

Crossroads book

It’s also surprisingly reasoned – unlike Timothy Leary’s famous call in the 60’s to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” she talks about how issues like time, money and space challenge your ability to transform your life from the world of “should” to the challenge of doing what you “must” to follow your creative passion.


from “The Crossroads of Should and Must”

How did she launch her creative journey and what can we learn from her experience?

Creativity is a process and often, each experience builds on the next. It’s also a jumble of confusion, inspiration, stillness and bursts of activity – all leading to a final outcome. The process can be disciplined or unfocused, spontaneous or meticulously planned in advance – the specifics vary with each person.

photo by Anna Alexia Basile

photo by Anna Alexia Basile

Elle Luna would say it’s a journey that is potentially open to everyone. Here’s her story in brief:

Elle Luna grew up in Texas and came from a long line of lawyers, on her father’s side. She took some art courses in college but saw law as her destiny. She applied to 9 law schools and was rejected by all. So she pursued her early interest in art and got an MFA in design and conceptual storytelling from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her ability as a storyteller led to a dream job with the design firm IDEO. From there, she helped redesign Uber’s iphone app, won an Innovation by Design award, designed a logo and app for the start-up Mailbox, and helped scale up the storyteller site, Medium. She was 31, at the top of her game but all she accomplished left her feeling unfulfilled.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 4.40.41 PM

From The Great Discontent:

I started having a recurring dream about a white room: it had really high ceilings, white walls, industrial windows, and concrete floors. I had the dream over and over again. Finally, a friend of mine said, “Have you ever thought about finding this white room in real life?” I remember feeling stunned by the question. What an obvious thing to ask. I didn’t know what I was looking for or what the role of this white room was. I felt ridiculous.

white room

Feeling restless and unfulfilled, she began looking for her dream space.

One day I was on Craigslist and saw a thumbnail of an apartment—it was the room from my dreams. When I walked into the space, it was crawling with people, but I felt like it was already mine. I walked up to the broker, wrote a check, and left; it was almost an out-of-body experience. A couple of hours later I got a call that I had gotten the apartment. 


I had no idea what I was doing, but I showed up in the new apartment with two suitcases and my dog.

her studio2

I sat, looked at the space and said aloud, “What in God’s name have I just done? Why I am I here?” As clear as day, the space spoke back to me and said, “It’s time to paint.”

ike edeani

photo by Ike Edeani

That next morning, I went to the art store and filled my cart with anything and everything that spoke to me. Then I went back to the space and started painting nonstop for the next seven months.

from her tumblr site6

from her tumblr site

Still, she was stuck between should and must – How would she live? How could she support herself? Would her work be any good at all?


photo by Ike Edeani

From an interview from

Shoulds are everywhere. You should read this book. You should go to that event. You should ask that question. They can be small; they can be big. Should provides lots of rewards.

Must is different. It’s about the essence of you: what you believe; what you stand for; what you want; who you must be; and how you must live. Must isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be brutal. But, choosing must is the greatest thing we can do with our time here in this life.

self portrait


She spent time in solitude to slow down, explore, meditate and seek inspiration. She showed her work to people she admired for feedback and criticism. And kept working, refining and following her muse. Her art gained attention – a solo show sold out.

Far From Shore Ian Ross Gallery

Elle Luna’s “Far From Shore” exhibit at the Ian Ross Gallery

From the Great Discontent:

Everything is a paradox. I feel like I’m on a path I’ve never seen before, yet I’m not on a path at all. There’s no prescription for where I’m going, yet many people have been down this road. 

her studio3

In 2014, she wrote on Medium about her struggles and insights into the conflicts between “should” and “must.” Her article went viral. That led to a book and inspirational talks like this one at DO Lectures.


She took a deep dive into painting, plus giving interviews and inspirational talks. This year she felt the need for solitude once again. She decided to take her “white room” on the road.

Elle van2


Here’s a video of that experience, from the Adobe Create site:

Adobe Creative Voices – Elle Luna from ALCHEMYcreative on Vimeo.

More than anything, I’m struck by her courage, curiosity and belief that if she takes time to stop and listen she’ll find a direction forward. It’s exciting and difficult, crazy and illuminating to find your own direction and follow it. When you give yourself to the “must,” you may not become a social media darling but you will be doing something that’s true to yourself. That’s a huge gift in its own right.

Medium.comFrom the Great Discontent:

I began to wonder, “What if we went through life assuming that everyone actually was an artist? That everyone had an offering to give? To share?” Let’s broaden that up a little and ask, “What if everyone has a gift inside of them, a unique gift to give the world?”

If your time is short – read Elle’s article on Medium (15 minutes) or watch her DO talk (30 minutes). If you have some time – buy her richly illustrated book. You’ll feel inspired and realize there are many small steps you can take to launch your own creative journey. She’ll show you how.


Art & Creativity Inspired by Nature: Janis Goodman

I’ve always been curious about the creative process and what inspires it – that’s one of the reasons I write The Vision Thing. So I thought I’d ask some of my artist friends about their take on inspiration, art and creativity.

Janis Goodman head shot

photo of Janis Goodman provided by artist

This will be the first of several posts, starting with artist and educator Janis Goodman. Janis is Professor of Fine Arts at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, DC. She’s a working artist and often experiments with new approaches to her art. Over the years I’ve seen her canvases change quite a bit. Janis also appears regularly on PBS affiliate WETA-TV to review arts and culture in the Washington, DC area.

She spends summers in Maine to hike, kayak and paint. She told me she finds lots to inspire her in that rural setting. As she meanders along the rocky coves near her cabin, her eye is often attracted to the ever-changing patterns in nature – and especially water.



Rather than record her encounters with nature in a realistic way, she tries to find the essence of those experiences and re-image them in her art. So the swirls and eddies on the water’s surface that she observes from her kayak become abstracted as lines, shapes and color in her paintings.

Janis explains:

I was working with paintings of water – the tides and currents – how they ripple and move, and are constantly changing. I’m trying to capture the instability of everything and the way we perceive and observe the world.

"Summer Landscape"

“Summer Landscape”



There’s a strong feeling of movement in her paintings and it’s that constant change – those moments of flux and uncertainty – that she’s trying to capture. Her work is unpredictable that way. If you spend time reflecting on one of her abstractions, inevitably something new is revealed or begins to take shape in a different way.

Painting represents change over time – that’s what’s exciting. It’s continually changing and you hope it adds up to something cohesive.


photos of Janis in her studio by Dan Bailes

I asked Janis what she saw as the core of her creativity.

I’m always questioning: why is something like this instead of like that? I think it starts with curiosity, then feeling a sense of permission to go forward, to reach out and embrace the motivation to do the work.

"Movement and Migration"

“Movement and Migration”

Her paintings evolve as she works on them, she starts with one idea and that leads to another and another.

You jump into the abyss and hope the painting will tell you where to go. I’m usually up in the air and never know where I’m going to land. It’s scary.

Curiosity is the catalyst that launches her creative process, combined with a keen sense of observation. As she spends time on the water or takes a walk through the woods, she becomes more open and connected to the natural world. It’s that quality of mindfulness, and her interpretation of what she experiences, that she tries to capture with her brush.


Janis has a remarkable sense of composition. While everything seems out of balance, somehow it works. I asked her why.

Composition is a lot about intuition. My work is always asymmetrical and I really like unequal balance. I’m conscious of the energy force (created by that unequal balance), or what adding something does to the energy force.



It’s like the energy around magnetic fields – you want all of the elements in a conversation. Balance helps your eye take everything in, but not necessarily in one go. As you spend a little time with the work, balance allows you to digest the whole picture.

What does the creative process mean for Janis? Is she driven by passion, a need to communicate something, ego or what? I wondered how she would respond.


This is not about enjoyment. This is hard work. It’s not easy to do – it’s problem solving – to me that’s really interesting. I love doing it, I couldn’t see doing anything else. Still, I’m very stoic about it – when I’m finished and looking at one of my pieces I might say to myself, “Yeah that came together” or “Where did that come from?”


Most of my artist friends would say it’s work – it’s problem solving. Painting is: you create the problem; you solve the problem. It consumes you – you go into unchartered waters in your head.

"Bee Hive"

“Bee Hive”

You keep digging, like you’re going to get to some truth – of course you never get there – but it’s like one of these days you will and it’s going to knock you on your ass.

"Dream of Odysseus"

“Dream of Odysseus”

Maybe it all just comes down to being curious, mindful and in sync with yourself.

I know if I haven’t been in my studio in a few days I go crazy. You spend so much time with yourself you need an honest dialog with your work – if the work isn’t talking back to you, you shouldn’t do it.


Janis begins with a blank canvas, something at once terrifying and exhilarating. Powered by curiosity and a confidence born from experience, she’s able to pick up a brush and begin. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.