cultivating holistic creativity

art journal, intuitive

Life sometimes has a funny way of getting us to where we need to be.

I leave today for a trip to the black hills, to a women’s circle gathering thousands of miles away, that a dear friend invited me to attend with her. Gather the Women is a heart-centered organization devoted to the empowerment of women’s truth, strengthening our connection to one another and holding space through circle. So, when asked to go, and when I saw the location (I have always had a curiosity to feel the sacredness of the Black Hills for myself) – I said yes, trusting that funds and such would work out how they’re supposed to.

Having been part of a variety of types of circles over the years (including groups that didn’t identify as such necessarily, but were working with some of the same vision and intentions that circles often operate from) – I am looking forward to the unwinding and filling up that takes place in circle. It is something often hard to describe, but quite powerful, particularly for those of us who find ourselves in helping vocations where we wish to model and explore ways of communication that are safe, healing and honor truth. We have to get vulnerable to help others feel like they can, too.

Ends up, as life would have it in the last minute details, my friend can’t make it.

But, I have a feeling I’m still heading out right to where I’m supposed to be. And it ends up another friend will be there, too.

Life has a funny way of working with our connections to one another, doesn’t it?


altered book art journal,

“… in the creation of an atmosphere of comfort, well-being, and peace….”

in a contemplative art practice, it is about noticing what jumps out at you in the fine details – as a yesssss OR a trigger – and making time to be curious about and present with whatever that is. time to take it in and roll around with it a bit, to see what it stirs up in our bodies, thoughts and feelings. it might be a word or a phrase, an association or color, a texture or way of making marks.

the noticing becomes a unification with something felt, inherently – a push, a pull, a melting and becoming all at once. then, in reverence or humility, the practice shifts from a dance with personal story into a response of surrender, as we let the moment become the only thing we can keep for ourselves from the experience… trust in the tumultuous and tender rivers of Love, mysteriously working through us.

i continue to discover in my own experience, that a contemplative art practice is a pathway to the heart of my truth, to union with the unnameable (or that which has many names). making art with both an intuitive approach and an intentional practice of reflection and awareness honors my whole experience – spirit, body AND mind – and wakes up my sense divine wholeness… with a greater understanding of what it means to come to, discover, create, abandon, forget and find again “an atmosphere of comfort, well-being and peace.”

i don’t remember what else was written on that page above in my altered book art journal, but i’m sure it was about trees and living more in harmony with the natural world than how we currently behave toward it. but those few words jumped out at me like the hook of a song that day, whispering of motivations – and also as an ironic indicator of their own meaning.

we create something from what isn’t, or from another form, through fresh arrangement, idea and volition. we seek shifts into greater well-being from perspectives of unwell-being. we seek greater comfort from sensations of discomfort – and in fact discomfort is necessary to a certain degree for the appreciation and expansion of comfort itself – for the great journey of resiliency, awakening and transformation.

while duality may arguably be an illusion, contrast is a helpful tool for the human experience in realizing the vast beauty of wholeness and the miracle of growth – and it’s an aesthetically delightful tool in art as well, for creating focus, composition, emphasis or atmosphere….

and then there’s that word “atmosphere” on the page above. place. environment. shared space. it leaps at my heart and seems to drip with potent medicine somehow. place is a fundamental part of a holistic perspective that is often overlooked or taken for granted. mind, body and spirit seem to get all the credit… and yet, there is something about that which we occupy, as individuals and community, that is essential to our understanding of comfort, peace and well-being. our stimulated senses are seamless with atmosphere – we are like sponges or antennae constantly receiving the energy of dwellings and land – or, if we get energetically technical or metaphorical (choose your angle), we might go so far as to say – we ARE atmosphere.

in the healthcare field, i can’t say just how many times i witnessed a healing perspective take root from a simple alteration or attentiveness to space or literal place. shifting the energy within and without, treating self as an environment and environment as self, in alignment with our core truths and needs, we become co-creators of a more favorable atmosphere.

in the simple page above, i found myself swimming in a delightful, felt contemplation of why i find the content presented in RELATE to be so important to share – and, thus, why i’m offering it again this year as a contemplative creative circle.

you see, i feel we are co-creating the atmosphere of this world, based on our triggers and yessssses and how we show up to ourselves, each other, and the environment. relationship is at the heart of our human experience, and is driven by our beliefs, values, unique story, and how much attention and time we give to conscious self-awareness and personal truth – for the sake of our own realization AND how that affects our communities – both small and large.

RELATE presents tools and questions for contemplating the perspectives necessary to co-create harmonious relationships – gifts that were offered to me and that i continue to explore. it is a journey to discover your inner, dynamic truth through intentional creative practice. when we take the time for honest soulwork, all our relations and dwellings become impacted by the clarity, inspiration and empowerment that is available to us through communing with creative – or “creation” – energy.

sometimes this means we begin to make big changes we’ve been putting off; sometimes it means we speak a truth we’ve been holding under the surface for too long. other times, it might induce a reconciliation or a softening, or perhaps a time of closure long overdue. sometimes its gift is just in the slowing down and being how we are and who we are, right where we are at.

ultimately, a contemplative creative practice asks only that we practice presence within our creative process, daring to swim gently in deeper waters and follow the guidance within. and while it never promises any definable results immediately or even later, in my journey with it so far, it seems to inevitably be an integral part of learning (or remembering) to trust our own truth in all facets of how we relate.

below is a video previously released as part of the creative practice inspiration in RELATE last year:


RELATE begins October 3 – more info HERE.



sometimes i make things i don’t know what to do with. like these little diatom-inspired, mixed-media objects.

cells and cell-like structures, patterns and textures have always been frequent visitors to my art – in photography, ceramics, drawing, painting. and this isn’t the first time i’ve made objects that were somehow not quite 2D, and not quite sculptural either.

sometimes, i need to shake up the routine. when i made these a few weeks ago, i really wanted to just get out of my art journal and hold what i was working on – hold it and engage in a simple process with it from more than one perspective. the tangibility and intimacy becomes important – also a recurring theme for me, and often what draws me toward expression off the page or canvas.

i think somehow these fun little contemplative objects represent possibility, and life – or creativity becoming, changing, evolving – even when we don’t know how or what that will look like or even what the ‘purpose’ will be.

plus, they’re just fun and lighthearted to make.

now, i’m wondering what to do with this little collection. surprise bookmarks? unique one-of-a-kind cards to my friends? fodder for mixed-media painting? who knows where they’ll show up. what would you do with them?

do you have recurring themes in your creative inclinations?

(interesting visual note: that bottom picture – the only difference on the two sides of that diatom is the little purple line around the green dots. totally changes the brown background that the dots are on! i love it when that happens, so i left it half and half.)


studio check-in vlog on isolation and support for creatives

“Warriors of Vision and Spirit” are apparently on my mind for this week’s Studio Tuesday check-in! I keep saying that when speaking to the courage in us to stay true to our creative heart’s truth as artists and visionaries, even when the world doesn’t seem to ‘get’ us or we feel a little connection-hungry.

I want to add that a great way to break the isolation blues is to also take your art out of the usual places where you engage with it – go outside for a little plein air, take a sketchbook to a coffee house or restaurant or festival, step out of your comfort zone and try an artist’s meet-up – or start your own. Shake it up and risk being misunderstood for the chance of connection with another kindred soul! But mostly, remember that artists and visionaries everywhere feel this ache from time to time – this longing – know that it comes in waves, and is, perhaps, just part of the full gamut of the experience of being a visionary – and that you are not alone.


intuitive mandala art journling, Hali Karla Arts
intuitive mandala detail, Hali Karla Arts

I’ve been making mandalas in one way or another for a long time. For the last couple of years, it’s been when the mood strikes, and most often with paint, pen or pastels as part of my creative journaling – like the one above. It is one of the many ways my creative practice becomes a contemplative one, and a place of rest and healing.

There was a time before that, though, when making mandalas in a completely different way helped me through some overwhelming years – a time when it felt to me that life had steered me totally away from being an artist. I spent a lot of time those days exploring trails and gardens with my camera. I was a nurse by night, and a ravenous seeker of nature’s healing beauty by day. My Canon was always with me, and I would come home with hundreds of photographs to sort through.

I wanted to do something with the images, but I’ve never been much of a scrapper – and this was long before I started blogging. I would print out my photos and cut them up to play with them on the page a bit… until I found myself piecing together mandala-like objects from the photos, and I began thinking about kaleidoscopes. But, I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a lot of spare energy back then to ‘complete’ most creative ideas, and it still felt like too much to be so tedious with my hands and time (think: new marriage and state + highly stressful, time-consuming, new job + lots of confusion and not enough sleep).

At the time, there were some tutorials about piecing together images in photoshop for mandalas – but even that felt like too much screen time. With a little searching and creative curiosity, though, I stumbled upon an unlikely source of quick mandala magic, and for the next couple of years, I continued to ease my stifled creative energy through almost instantaneous mandalas, created from my beloved nature-walk photographs, like these ones:

mandalas created from original photos by Hali Karla

I created lots of these in those days, with very little effort. Everytime I clicked a button, a new mandala was revealed from my photograph like pure eye candy.

How did I do it?

A software program for quilters. It was intended to be used for pattern-making – and it just happened to create mandalas in excellent resolution – even though it wasn’t intended for photographic use at all. I even used the software without ever learning how to control the outcome – every click brought about a completely unplanned kaleidoscope of nature (the above images were created from magnolia seed pods, a wildflower garden, and the most gorgeous mossy tree).

There are so many ways to create mandalas – paint, pen, collaging, digitally, with sticks, twigs or sand, whatever you can imagine – but for me, what draws me back to the practice again and again is the sense of calm possibility that can happen in a circle, be it perfectly round or honestly imperfect. All it takes is a little repetition and the willingness to step outside the ordinary challenges of life and into the simply-simmering magic of intuition and surprise.

A big thank you to Andrea Schroeder for hosting this beautiful round-up of mandala-makers…

mandala blog hop

The Magic of Mandalas Blog Hop is a radically inspiring sharing circle, with artists from around the globe sharing the stories behind their process of creating mandalas. Our mission: To inspire you to see new possibilities for your own creative practice.

Click here to discover new artists, soak up new ideas and fill up on creative inspiration to fuel your creative practice.


art journal sketchbook page, Hali Karla

In college, I had a drawing teacher that made us sketch eggs for two weeks. That meant 12 hours of studio time, plus – to meet her homework assignments – about the same amount out of class. She was tough, and I hated those two weeks.

Give it a shot – about 24 hours of practice, sketching eggs with graphite, charcoal, pen. Once you move past any initial mind-judgment of boredom, and then the inevitable frustration at how tough it is to actually do the egg form justice, you will begin to feel the roundness of the shape, the smoothness of the surface, and the subtleties of how light and shadow envelope the form… all mixed in with intense frustration at trying to translate the poetry of that sensation through the gesture, pressure and grace of your hand and tools. You will notice how the paper does or doesn’t please you, the medium, the setting, the rendering. You will move through a full gamut of your own inner voices and sensations. And, over the hours, as you step back from time to time – you will begin to see that your ability to transmit what you see and feel to the page has indeed improved – if not in accuracy, then in your own voice and style of translation.

At least this was my experience with the egg exercise almost twenty years ago. She was a tough teacher, an excellent artist, and I have never forgotten the teeth-gritting truth behind the beauty of her lesson. If you’re an artist, do the work. Learn your tools. But above all else, put in the time to let seeing become feeling. With even the ordinary finds in life. In the cracks of a devoted practice, sometimes we build our skill, sometimes we find our voice… but always, we expand our capacity to feel and communicate story… that of the object and our tools, and also our own.

I’ve never been a notably strong illustrator, and I’ve never been particularly interested in highly realistic renderings either – even in photography (which was one of my majors in art school). Most of my art is about tapping into feeling or an essence of the ineffable. But there is nothing quite like sketching from life to practice being present with your life, grounded here and now, receiving, translating, integrating. To be able to reach out and make contact with the objects adds a layer of relationship that appeals to how I process.

This sketch page from my art journal is from a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to spend Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table sketching with my tea.

While I was doing that, Steve came in from outside with that egg – our very first duck egg.

I might just be sketching eggs again soon.



studio day: vlog + pictures, Hali Karla Arts

Weekly check-in time! Today’s studio day was a little different.

In this video, I just touch on something that is super juicy for practice awareness – truth vs. consistency. I think there will be more on that one in a blog post… because, of course, what shows up in creative practice, pertains to how we show up to life, too!

I mention RELATE at the end of this one. I thought I might share more today about the circle coming up in October, but I’m finding it curiously tender – because what I present in RELATE is so close to my own struggles, revelations and my personal contemplative creative practice. I haven’t shared as much publicly this year from my prayer painting practice, because I’ve been exploring it inwardly, but I am feeling ready to begin to sift the words again and offer some of what I’ve discovered to the women who join RELATE this year – that they might come a step closer to their own soul-truth in practice and relationship. There are still spots to join us if you feel called.


basic supplies for visual journaling, Hali Karla Arts

I recently had to put together a basic visual journaling supply list as a small part of a larger workshop I was invited to create for a beautiful program in 2015 (mum’s the word on the details for now).

So for the list, I added the bare-bone basics on what to start with, based on my must-have-with-me-at-all-times, plus some of my favorite additions for creative journaling. Nothing too fancy or odd here – but I thought some of you might like a copy, too. It contains links! (no affiliation, just love)

Visual, creative or art journaling is such a fun, powerful tool for insight, and staying connected to our truth, joy and processes – for anyone who’s curious to try – not just ‘artists.’

Whether you are just beginning or beginning again, here’s my take on a basic supply list to get your wheels turning, your heart pumping, and your hands antsy to express:



Also, today starts the Last Chance September super sale for Spectrum 2014, a holistic visual journaling workshop that now has over 300 global participants! It’s a super deal and a great way to enhance your journaling from home and still connect with others if you choose. This is the last month to join us this year.

You can learn more HERE.

september SALE - Spectrum 2014, over 30 workshops for creative journaling


altered book art journal, Hali Karla Arts

If this is the goal of life… doesn’t it all feel a little better?
A bit lighter? A little more do-able?
Like you already are what you need, and what you are meant to be.
The rhythm is in you, pulsing, guiding, becoming.
The rhythm is you.
Your nature is perfectly part of the whole damn miracle.
Dynamic, Unique and As Is.

We have a woodpecker that lives in the tree behind our house.
Every morning, he drums his song, and sometimes he sings.

He’s matching his beat, living his nature,
a little wonder with a great message,
whether he knows it or not.