Do you have a dream about something you’d love to create in the world, but believe it isn’t possible? If that’s you, I hope you will read on. I’m sharing my story of G.R.A.C.E. with you in mind. I intend my story to inspire you to shift your thinking. To cause you to consider letting go of the reasons you’ve been thinking you can’t make your dream happen and to start focussing on the reasons you want to make it happen. And letting those reasons carry you forward into action.
I’ve now taken action that commits me 100% to moving forward with my own vision. The realization of my dream is exciting, terrifying and fulfilling.
I’m building The George Russell Academy of Creative Expansion on 8.4 acres in Prince Edward County. Construction is proceeding rapidly. G.R.A.C.E. includes a sundrenched meditation and yoga studio that is part of the circa 1866 farmhouse, and a brand new painting studio, art gallery and workshop/classroom space in a 1200 square foot building I designed.
Building G.R.A.C.E. is, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done. This project seemed impossible for a long time. I ran into so many obstacles, delays and crises of confidence along the way. Now the construction is moving ahead. G.R.A.C.E. will be open this summer.
I believe that the reason I’ve been able to manifest my dream is because of my compelling reason.
I’ve seen time and time again that a strong “why” is a critical ingredient when we’re trying to achieve an impossible goal. It is the fuel we need to keep going when we encounter the inevitable hurdles along the way.
Since the time 5 years ago when I reclaimed my creativity and left my legal career to become an artist, I’ve had a fervent wish to help other people rediscover their creativity.
My belief is that I’m an example for anyone who would like to rekindle their creativity. That’s because I know that if I could do it, anyone can. My goal is to inspire people whose creative dreams have been crushed or their creative spirit diminished.
I can’t think of anyone less likely than the me of 5 years ago to become an artist. My artistic spirit had been extinguished long ago, and I didn’t fancy myself as either artistic or creative. I spent decades working first as an economist and then as an international tax lawyer, professions that were miles away from the art world. When I decided to leave my job, I hadn’t done any art since I was a child.
How and why I transitioned from lawyer to artist is a long story and the material for another article. It was another case of achieving an impossible goal.
The reason I am passionate about helping other people reignite their creativity is because my own transformation to artist changed my life in so many profound and beautiful ways.
Art has liberated me to be the best version of myself and to connect with the deepest part of me. It has given me a means to express myself truthfully and fully and to connect at a new level with other people. Art has been an oasis of calm for me, helping me to transition from what I used to think of as a turbulent life to a calmer and more contented state of being.
The process of painting has helped me discover a spirituality that works for me. It has shown me how to be flexible and open to new ideas, yet ultimately make my own choices. It has introduced me to new people and friends. It has demonstrated how I can create with confidence and let go of my fear of being judged. And it has instilled in me a deep belief that I can create anything that I set my mind to.
Working with my clients has shown me that it is possible to help other people who have lost their creative spirit or allowed it to be diminished in some way. That includes people who, until now, have left no space in their lives for art or other creative pursuits, as well as artists who have adopted self-imposed rules and beliefs that limit their art so that it does not express the full measure of their artistic souls.
I am creating G.R.A.C.E. to offer people the possibility of rediscovering the pure, creative joy that they experienced when they were small. I want to prove to them that this same magic can still be part of their lives right now. I want to show them it is possible to regain that feeling of endless possibility, of no limits and wonder they used to feel when they were little kids. I want them to discover that nothing was been lost. Unlimited creativity is still inside and available to them.
I want to show people how to stop limiting themselves because of what they think other people want them to do, what they think the “sensible” thing is to do or what they’re “supposed” to do. I want to teach them how to feel free, feel the creative spirit in their hearts and experience the flow of life.
I think of beauty – the ability to see beauty – as the ability to see love, to feel love. Doing art is an expression of love. Art is a meditation. It links us to our souls. We discover we are worthy and we are whole.
I want the visitors to G.R.A.C.E. to experience these things.
I believe that when we’re doing art or when we’re connected with our creative capacity in some other way, we find a medium that allows our soul to speak. That’s what art is. That’s what creativity is. It’s the ability to hear the voice of our soul. It is this philosophy that has informed the building of G.R.A.C.E.
So many of us have denied ourselves our creativity – our ability to create art and, more importantly, our ability to create our lives. Too many of us have lost ourselves by saying yes to everybody else and denying our own truths. I believe that we show up best in the world when we treat ourselves as being intrinsically worthwhile and we acknowledge the validity of our dreams. I believe we need to unlearn all the rules that have prevented us from saying yes to ourselves, yes to our creative visions, yes to taking creative action and yes to the lives we want. This is what I most want to offer.
Art to me is about everything. It is a free form of expression that bypasses the head. I believe that when we unleash our creativity, it changes our lives. Art is a metaphor for life.
These beliefs have been my compelling reason for figuring out a way to be of service to the people I want to help. They have inspired me to keep going when I might otherwise have given up.
The origin of G.R.A.C.E. can be traced back to late 2015 when I purchased a small prototype of a sculpture from George E. Russell, an elderly artist and old family friend who served as my mentor during the last year of his life. Although George spent his first several decades in Saskatchewan, in the early 1970’s this prairie boy moved to Laval, a city across the river from Montreal, where he preferred to speak French as much as possible. George affectionally referred to the prototype as the “little maquette”.
The little maquette was an odd purchase for me. I bought it just one year after I left the legal profession to learn how to paint. Before I bought the little maquette, I’d had no plans to add sculpture to the mix, yet I couldn’t resist the pull I was feeling to purchase it.
Although the little maquette was made of a solid material and painted grey, black and white, I woke up one morning a couple months later with a vivid image in my mind. I saw the maquette taking life as a 15 to 22 feet high sculpture crafted out of some sort of translucent material in beautiful hues, more intensely coloured at the bottom, more transparent near the top. This vision came to me like a bolt of truth.
As if the universe wished to encourage me to take this all seriously, two days later I received an email from George, who described a similar vision of the sculpture that the little maquette seemed to want to become.
I was hooked. In my new world, I’d learned to pay close attention to coincidences and synchronistic events. When I received George’s email, I knew that somehow, somewhere, I would build that sculpture.
It was in early 2015 that I became reacquainted with George, whom I’d seen only once since his family left Saskatoon in the early 1970’s. One evening in April, I ran into his son in Toronto at a music event that featured George’s granddaughter. David told me about a gala event and auction the Canadian Arthritis was hosting in two days in Montreal to honour George for his generous donation of more than 400 paintings. In light of my recent career change and enthusiasm for all things art, David suggested that I might be interested in seeing George’s show and talking to George about his paintings. I was.
In a speech at the gala, the well-known Montreal gallery owner Alan Klinkhoff described George’s work as “the finest work I have never heard of in my market place.” I loved the vibrancy of George’s paintings, which contrasted sharply with my own meditative painting style.
George had been a high school art teacher by profession and he spent a substantial percentage of his spare time painting. He also made a few sculptures, which shared some key features of his paintings. In the classroom, George had focussed on instilling his love of art in his students, and he now was happy to share his sage advice with me. George was a masterful teacher who could not only see the creative potential in his students, but show them how to see it in themselves.
George had a passion for the work he was doing and participated in a number of significant art exhibits over his life, but he was largely uninterested in selling. As Alan Klinkhoff said, “George sacrificed a career of what might have been tremendous affluence”. George focussed instead on making the art, thinking deeply about the process, and providing the benefit of his wisdom to his students. As a consequence, George’s donated works were vast in scope and included beautiful paintings from as far back as 1970.
As a new painter, I felt incredibly fortunate to have this chance to witness the evolution of an artistic mind over more than four decades. As I learned more about George’s art work and philosophy, his paintings began to strike me as historically important. I bought several pieces.
During the next year, I trekked regularly from Toronto to Laval to visit George’s home studio, examine his work, and hear the insights, creative wisdom and philosophy he shared with me so enthusiastically. After several visits, George asked me if I’d be willing to take his two largest pieces, an 8’ x 8’ painting called “Split Infinity” and a 8’ x 10’ painting called “Infinity”. George was downsizing and wanted these two pieces, which he viewed as his most important, to go to someone who would commit to showing them. I was happy to oblige and to make that commitment.
I was saddened by George’s unexpected death in May 2016. George had not only shared so much knowledge and passion for creativity with me, he had also become a friend, an inspiration and a mentor.
When George died, I vowed to myself that I would find a way to honour his creative spirit, his love of teaching art to others and his place in Canadian art history.
In the summer following George’s death, I was on a vacation with my kids in Prince Edward County. While there, I had a sudden insight that this would be the place where I would erect the sculpture George and I had both dreamed of. And it would be the place where I would serve the people I wanted to help and show George’s large paintings and other artwork.
The name came to me a few months later. The George Russell Academy of Creative Expansion. A perfect name that honours George, the artist and teacher. A name that captures my why as well as the content of the coaching sessions, courses, workshops and retreats that will take place there. And a name with a beautiful acronym – G.R.A.C.E. – one of my favourite words, a poetic word that for me signifies love, flow, forgiveness, authenticity, truth, connection and possibility. All the things I experience when I paint.
As construction has progressed over the winter, I have come to love Prince Edward County. It is an easy drive from Toronto, where I live now, and also from Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston (the first, second, sixth and twenty-fifth largest population centres in Canada).
Prince Edward County has a country vibe – its largest town numbers only 4,700 people – but it is endowed with the creative energy of a large city. The County locals include entrepreneurs of every description, including winemakers who operate the more than 35 commercial wineries in the area, dozens of hotel and bed and breakfast owners, cheesemakers, food growers, restauranteurs and a vast number of artists, musicians and people involved in any number of other creative pursuits.
Each year, more than a million tourists from all over descend on the County, attracted by the beautiful countryside, relaxed pace, music and art, excellent local wines, cheeses and food, and the geographically unique Sand Banks Provincial Park with its endless sand dunes and ocean feel.
It is the perfect spot for a creative venture.
It has been a long road to get to where I am now – the owner of G.R.A.C.E., a vision in my mind quickly taking physical form. As so often happens when we implement a big dream, I’ve encountered a myriad of challenges along the way. There was a period that I almost gave up hope that it would ever happen. But my “why” has always kept me going.
So now I’m tackling my last hurdle – to find the team and technology that I need to build the sculpture that started it all. Although I have no idea how to do this, I’ve come to realize that not knowing how is never a reason to not create something new. After all, anything new to the world has never been done before.
I know the sculpture will be built. My wonderful contractor and I have positioned the main building so that the large window in the classroom/workshop space looks out over the countryside down to the lake. This is where the G.R.A.C.E. Meditation Sculpture will stand. Visitors, students and clients will sit at tables surrounded by George’s art. When they cast their eyes out the window, they will be reminded that their greatest creative potential can be found within themselves.
My why will keep compelling me forward. Although I don’t yet know how the sculpture will be built, I don’t need to know that yet. I know the “how” will unfold over time as I move forward and continue to trust in my dream.
I’m hoping that my story has you asking yourself two questions: “Do I have a dream, a thing I would create if there were no limits?” and “Do I have a compelling reason to create it?” If you answered yes to both questions, know that you have everything you need to make your dream happen. So long as you remember to focus on your reason.
Keep your reason top of mind by writing it in large coloured text and posting it in your office. Record inspirational messages to yourself on your phone. Listen to these messages when you’re standing in line. Set aside time each day to vividly picture what your life will be like when you have created your dream. How will you feel? Let yourself feel it now. What will you see? See it clearly now. How will you act? Start acting that way now. What will think, do and say? Start being that person now.
Spend time every day imagining being this future version of yourself. Let the vision in your head become so real that you can’t help but make it become real. Let your why propel you forward.
I’ll end my story with a request because sometimes we need to ask for help to bring our creative visions to life. It could be that someone who reads this article is the exact person who could help me figure out my next step. Please think about whether you, or someone you know, might have the engineering and other technical knowledge to give me advice about the logistics involved in building a 15 to 22 foot high exterior sculpture made of translucent material. If a name comes to you, or you have any other suggestions, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (647) 272-5453.
I remain confident that I will get the answers I need. Because my reasons will keep me going until the sculpture is built.