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New Session of Meaningful Making Open!

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Registration is now open for my summer session of the Meaningful Making eCourse! This creative online course is for anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. During our month-long journey, beginning June 12th, we will be exploring the power storytelling has to heal. I will guide you through writing, photographing, and painting some of your most vulnerable stories… allowing for raw expression, gentle acknowledgement, and reenergizing to occur. If you feel alone in your grief, or would just like the chance to tell your story in new ways and have others be there to listen, come join us!

Sign up before May 15th to receive the Early Bird price of $65!
To learn more and get your spot, hop over to my main website: http://www.streanor.com/maketoheal/

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Since writing is a big part of this course, I am also gifting the first 5 to register one of my beautiful, custom-painted Moleskine journals! I love making these for people, and thought this was a wonderful tie-in the the class itself. There are still a few of these beauties left… Sign up now before they’re all gone!

REGISTER NOW!

New Adventures: Creating an Ecourse!

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For the past few months, I have been working hard in the background on a big new project: An online grief workshop, called Meaningful Making. I am beginning to slowly move things from this blog over to my main website – so I won’t be updating as much here anymore, but will try to from time to time. So here is a bit about what I’ve been up to with the course…

Creating this has been a long time coming. For years, I have imagined creating a space for people who are grieving, somewhere safe where they can be encourages to create from their pain… ways they can make meaning from the sadness and transform the difficult parts of their story into something beautiful. In just another month or so, using a mixture of photos, writing, and painting, we will be doing just that. Making meaning and telling our stories in order to live forward in a way that feels rich, deep, and healing. It’s time.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.36.10 PMIt’s been almost 4 years now since the day my world was turned upside down – when I got the call that my fiance had been in an accident he “didn’t make it”. I still remember writing about it here, on this blog, with you all. In the time since that day, I’ve seen therapists, gone to psychics, read countless books on grief and art therapy, and explored all number of art mediums including painting, photography, writing, ceramics, jewelry making, encaustic (wax painting), collage and mixed media, nature art and more. It has been quite a roller coaster.

And while my journey through grief is not complete, because no one’s ever is, I am now in a place of peace and power with my “chapter two”. I miss my old life, I miss my best friend, but I love and am figuring out my new life, and there is beginning to be a beautiful balance between the two. That’s the place I decided I needed to be in before trying to take on this project… and so, it has rested silently in my heart for years, until now.

Though I’ve never created an e-course before, and have really no experience in teaching, I feel in my bones that I’m being pulled in this direction. I am trying to trust that whatever I need in order to create this experience is already inside me, just waiting to be birthed. And so, with blind faith, I am stepping out into it.

It’s a funny thing, when you decide to show up for something… how all number of things start to move in your favor. A few weeks ago, my Indiegogo fundraiser for the workshop ended. I created it not only to raise funds for the materials, programs and some training I will need, but also as a formal way of telling the world – hey, I am doing this. Accountability works wonders. My goal was just $500, which I met in only FOUR days time. After the 2 months of the campaign, it closed out Tuesday with $1700… over three times my original goal. I already have nearly a dozen people who are signed up via their donation. I mean, this thing is happening! It’s exciting, scary and bittersweet all at the same time.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 11.10.58 AMIf you are at any stage of grief with a loss in your life, I hope you’ll join me on this new adventure. To read more about the course, visit the ecourse page here. Or if you’d like to receive updates on the course via email, you can simply leave me your email below.

Lastly, please share this with anyone you know that could use a safe space to make some meaning from their own story with grief. Thank you friends, for encouraging and supporting through these rough years. You have made such a difference, and continue to!

Project Update: Into the Unknown

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There are new things on the horizon, I can see it. New landscapes I’ve yet to explore – within my artistic career and myself. I’ve been feeling it for some time now… and as I sat down today to write week 37 of the series, I somehow ended up with THIS post inexplicably. So I’m deciding to pay attention… to listen to whatever stirrings have finally decided to come out….

Closing One Chapter:
Although I have not reached a full 52 weeks on the project, I have made it a full year of shooting the series. (A few weeks were missed for holidays and bad weather). And so I’ve decided that I will make the informal close of the first year be at week 35. The dates of my last 5 or 6 posts I think will reveal I’ve slowed down things a bit. It’s good, in a way… it is because so much life has been happening. Rushing in quickly since the beginning of the year. Still, Life is happening, indeed.

I never planned on Week 35 to be the closing image, but somehow looking at it now, it feels appropriate. It is about the point in which life truly begins again… the rushing in of life and the reaching out into it. It suddenly feels just right for this image to close one chapter and allow for the next chapter to begin.

I say the “close of the first year” because I’m intending to continue “Still, Life” indefinitely, but at a slower pace. Perhaps one image a month. Or perhaps just organically as life allows room for. I will be working that out out over the coming weeks and months. I’ve still many shots planned for this series and others still unknown that will come – so I’ve no doubt that this is now going to be a series I carry on for a very long time.

Into the Unknown:
As for what lies ahead… there are other things my ambitious heart is yearning to get itself into. It’s a bit terrifying, and I have no idea where it’s going yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve just submitted my first proposal for a public speaking engagement on death and creativity. I want to begin speaking to people about the healing power of creativity, about everything this project has taught me in the past year. About everything I’ve learned over the course of my life about creativity and healing, and the power of death to help us live life more fully. There is so much to share from behind the scenes of this series, and I’m feeling like it’s time to begin making room for that.

Along with public speaking, workshops, articles, and the like… the even bigger project that is calling my name is the “Still, Life” book. I have dreamt of this since I first begin the series. Have held it in my mind and heart all this time. With every image and every word written… with every painstaking hour and uncomfortable position I put myself in for a shot… always, the book was there in the background whispering to me. A physical manifestation of one woman’s voyage… navigating the depths of herself as she lives through death, loss, fear, anger, and despair… coming out the other end more powerful and more alive than ever before.

This is the first time I’ve been so open about sharing of the book. I’m hoping it lands in supportive hearts… I’m having faith that it will be heard by just the right people out there who can help me to make it happen too. I believe in those connections… in opening the door and the right person walking in. I’ve got faith and things to share and I know the right publisher will be found. And the right speaking and writing opportunities will too. If you’re out there read this, and have any advice, ideas, or connections for me, feel free to leave a comment below or message me on my Facebook page. My heart is open, I’m ready for what’s ahead, and I’m all ears.

I want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me thus far, whether you have been enduring your own journey with death or not. The growth and number of lives this project has touched could not have happened without every one of you. When it’s gotten hard to keep going, just knowing I had an obligation here – with you – kept me pushing ahead. And it will continue to do so as I take my first steps into the next phase of this journey… onward it goes. Thank you all!

“Sanctuary” Wins the Cover!

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The voting poll has closed and the results are in! My image Sanctuary will be the cover of an upcoming issue of Artist Portfolio Magazine. As a thank you to everyone who voted and helped make this happen, I would like to extend a special 20% discount on all prints (purchases over $50) this week! Just visit my ETSY SHOP and use the coupon code “THANKYOU1” at checkout to receive your discount! The promotion will run through the end of next Monday, so please take advantage soon!

Thank you again for all of your continued support of my work and my journey. You all have shown me that amazing things are possible when we work together, and I cannot wait to see what else we will achieve together down the road! Much love!

What an Age-old Process Exposes

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Artist & Instructor Timothy McCoy explaining tonal variations on a sample print.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to take part in a two-day workshop on albumen printing taught by the talented Timothy McCoy. What I discovered in this process was far more than I’d imagined to find. I’ve been doing digital work since I began shooting about give years ago – but have been itching to try some alternative developing techniques this year. So when I saw this class, I jumped at the chance. Albumen printing was invented in 1850 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, and was the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative. It uses the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and became the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the 20th century, with a peak in the 1860-90 period.

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Albumen coated papers drying

The developing process for albumen printing is quite slow and tedious. Many washes in various chemical solutions and baths… ten minutes in water, another twelve in gold toner, eight more minutes in two other baths and a final two minutes in a fixer before one last six minute wash. And that’s not including the 30 or so minutes of exposure, the time converting digital files to film negatives, coating all the papers with both albumen and silver nitrate and the dry time for each of those. It takes hours to produce just one or two prints. But it is all worth it for that moment you walk out of the darkroom to see that print. And for me, it was worth a lot more…

As I watched my first image slowly develop… there were many moments that tears nearly came to my eyes. As I rocked this precious piece of paper so gently and tenderly in each solution – I fell into an mesmerizing private world. For a time, it was just us… no one else’s eyes had yet seen this print. That moment was for me and me alone, and for my late-fiance – who set on fire my love affair with photography in the first place. I felt an overwhelming connection to my own story… a mix of pride and pain, child-like wonder and deep soulful love. It sounds overdramatic I know, but the metaphor of creating something quite literally out of the darkness was not lost on me. It is what I have been doing for the past two years – and now, literally doing. There was something incredibly moving about being so delicate and careful with a piece of myself. And a piece of him… of us. Of spending painstaking hours on a part of our story.

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My two final prints

And then the moment came to walk out of the darkness. I can say that nothing has compared to the experience of walking into the light with this piece of myself in my hands and seeing it for the first time. I was awe-inspired. Beautiful warm brown and purple tones and subtle textures unlike anything you could ever achieve via printing. And then laying it out in the open, exposed, for all to see. It is what self expression is all about – the private moments between you and your story – which gives you one gift – and the moment where you allow yourself and your story to be seen, which gives you another.

I long already to do more of this process… more importantly, I feel like I discovered another part of the journey that my Still, Life collection needs to go on. I will most certainly follow where it’s leading me.

The Power of Words

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I had my first session with a creative business coach yesterday, and wow is the word. I’m already feeling more focused, grounded, and ready to take on a few next steps that I’ve been avoiding for many months.

One of the biggest takeaways from this meeting was word choice. My coach share with me a quote by W. H. Auden: “A sentence uttered makes a world appear where all things happen as it says they do.” This is just as true in writing poetry and fictional worlds as it is in the creation of our own worlds. Now that’s not really new information, I know. But yesterday I was given some very clear examples of just how powerful this is.

So often, I put a lot of extra pressure on myself by the words I choose to use around my work. And I have no clue I am doing it most of the time. While talking with my coach, I began to go off on a tangent about the heaviness of this year-long project. After a moment, he stopped me and pointed out the language I was using… “I have to get this photo done by the end of the week”, “I can’t give up on this project because it’s all I’ve got“, “It feels like a responsibility now because so many people are watching it unfold”. He asked me how all of that made me feel, to which I replied, “Tired, and unmotivated, and like I don’t want to do any of it”. Naturally.

Then he asked me a great question. Why am I doing this? What do I get out of it, removing all other people from the equation? And then I went on for several minutes describing all the wondrous things about it… “I get so completely lost in my photography in the best of ways. It’s like creating my own universe that only I exist in and I can create it to be anything I want”. By the time I was done, I was bright-eyed and beaming. He asked me to notice how I felt now, and how completely different this feeling was from the original one. Amazing.

What I took away from this, is to be oh-so careful about the language I use around my work and life. To protect it fiercely from the wrong words. A simple change he requested I practice was to start replacing the words “have to” with the words “want to”. So simple, yet SO powerful! Just as soon as I started saying “I want to get this photo done today” or “I want to be doing this project” it was like a complete 180 in my motivation and excitement about it.

I know I’m not alone in this one, we all can stand to pay closer attention to the language we use about our work, our life, and ourselves. This isn’t exactly new information I know, but I figured we can all use a little refresher about the importance of choosing the best words. Something to think about and practice in the coming weeks!

The Dream & The Death

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Today is a very big day. In just a few hours, I will be loading up nine of my large framed photos and delivering them safely to the local hospital for my first solo art exhibition. It is a lifelong dream come true. And mostly, it has been incredible. I told my counselor the other day that it feels like a dream… that it feels like I got dropped into someone else’s life all of the sudden and that I got really lucky, because their life happens to be all the things that I always wanted my own life to be. Like, hey, I could get used to this!

But of course, it’s not ALL the things I wanted my life to be. We all know that. He is not here. I may 100% believe that he can see everything I’m doing and he is working overtime to help align things and forge this new path for me… but that doesn’t change the fact that he cannot stand next to me for this moment.

It is especially bittersweet because I was here to see him reach his greatest dreams. After years of hard work – after the two of us sitting on my couch night after night while he taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about helicopters – he finished flight school and got his flight instructor certification. I watched him transform from a someone who was very scared of actually accomplishing his dreams to someone who was totally committed to achieving them. I remember how incredible it was to stand by his side for that. To watch him so fully step into himself was one of the greatest honors of my young life.

In the past few weeks, I am realizing that the journey I have been on for the past two years – since he died – has actually been the same journey I watched him go through in our 3 years together. Not the grief part per say, but all the rest. Grappling with the fear of fully committing myself to my dreams of being a successful artist. Having all I needed in place and lined up before me and still being afraid to step through that open door. Afraid to fail. Afraid of what people would think. Afraid to lose more pieces of my old life and therefore him. Man, stepping through that door is freakin’ scary no matter HOW bright it looks. It feels selfish. And that voice pops up again and again saying “WHO do you think YOU are? Sit back down”. When you add his loss into that equation, it makes it even more complicated.

Because here’s the thing… this is all happening because he died. All of the choices I have made – quitting my job, moving away, starting over – all the imagery I have created, all the words I have written, all the opportunities that have come into my life. All of it – every single piece – is in my life because he is dead. His death has been the wellspring of everything beautiful in the past two years of my life. And that feels really weird. To be SO grateful for things that are happening because he is dead. It makes you feel like you are being grateful that this person is dead. Logically of course you are not – you are grateful for the gifts that came out of that death – but it feels weird. And I don’t quite know what to do with that. I would give anything to have him back here, but for the first time since he died – that wish also involves erasing a new part of myself and my life that means a lot to me and brings me much joy. It’s a lot to have rolling around in an already-analytical mind, I tell ya!

imageSo as I pack up all my photos and head out to set up my first show – I know, it’s going to be pretty emotional. I have been imagining it for days now… hanging the last photo up on the wall. Stepping down and walking back to take it all in for the first time. To look on the entire past two years of my life captured through these photos. My entire private world of grief literally up on the wall for all the world to see. It’s going to make me really sad. It’s also going to make me really happy and really proud and really satisfied. It’s going to be all those emotions – the painful and the positive, the dream and the death, all mixed together. But the best part is that I know I am stepping into the next big chapter of something that he began with me. He bought me my first real camera. And many of the lenses I still use today. He was there for the first juried show I had work in. And somehow, he is still very much here for this next leg of my journey…

He is here in that fact that his parents will be the ones helping me hang my show up today. They have been on this journey with me every step of the way – extending his love through their own hearts. He is here in every photo, in every emotion held within my images, in every story I tell. Really, very truly, he made every single one of those photographs with me. It’s been a collaboration beyond anything we could have made before he crossed over.

So there we three will stand today. And the tears they will come. We will cry because of what is in front of us. Because of this awesome accomplishment and this work we are all so proud of. And we will also cry for who is not beside us. For who should be beside us. And for who we are looking back at in those images before us. Damn it all, I’m crying already!

2014: A Year of Self Portraits

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Although I’ve taken hundreds of self portraits since Drew died, I hardly ever share any of them. The above photo is in fact one of the only portraits I’ve shared that is deeply related to my grief. I took it just 4 or 5 months after he died. This scarf made me feel both powerful and protected at the same time…. very important feelings when your whole world falls apart around you. It also made me feel close to him. As a pilot, his love of flight became infectious and deeply inspiring to me… and so anything flight related became a real symbol of hope for me after he died.

This photo represented for me the in-between – not in my old life and not yet able to be in any kind of new life. It is a part of the journey we all must go through when enduring any kind of loss. This photo for me represents my incubation from the world… the time in which I needed to be sheltered in order to become who the person who is able to step forward into a new life one day.

A few weeks ago, after another man’s story inspired me, I shared this post on Widow’s Voice, where I write weekly. In the post, I shared several very private portraits I had never showed anyone. It felt REALLY vulnerable to do, but the response was wonderful and seemed to help many. It got me thinking that there might just be some power to sharing more of this.

So…. My plan is to do a year of self portraits – one a week – to explore my individual journey through grief more deeply. In order to focus on the true emotion and not get hung up on the technical, I am choosing to the full series as photography – a media that I am very comfortable and experienced with already.

My goal is to use both the photo-taking process and journaling in combination to begin to dig deeper into my own grief and myself going through it, to see it from different angles, and to allow myself to be seen and heard doing so.

I’ll admit as I type this, there is something about announcing “I’m going to photograph myself for a year” that feels entirely self-centered and irksome. The old demons come up, saying “Who do you think you are? Who will care about a year of pictures of you?”. Well… for one, I will. I want to know what I will gain from this, learn from it, how I will heal more, and how it might help others to do the same for themselves. I figure that’s a pretty darn good start right there.

So, I’ll be sharing my first portrait a week from today, and every Monday for the year, along with some of the journaling that happens around each image *Shudders at the thought of this!* So vulnerable! But I’m trusting anyone out there reading to be kind to what I give – as I am most certain that most people will be. Until next week… wishing you well.

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