Journey

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

I try to live my life the same way I paint.

By embracing the mystery, staying open to change, finding courage, honoring my intuition and trusting the journey, extraordinary things tend to happen in my life.

Things I could never predict in a million years.

I could likely write a spicy memoir about these extraordinary happenings, and perhaps someday I will. But for now, I’ll aim for raw and concise, while attempting to span the nitty-gritty all the way to the cosmic soul stuff.

In the end, I hope you feel like we just had coffee, and you walked away with a new friend, along with some real life inspiration to fuel your own creative dreams.

Let me start with seaweed jewelry, space to roam and unconditional love.

These seemingly unrelated topics set the stage for a lifetime fascination of creating something out of nothing and the freedom and belief system to do just that.

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin to two dynamic, free-thinking YMCA directors, I was raised in a world where health, community participation and body-mind-spirit connection laid the foundation for my everyday life.

As a little person, I was free-spirited, imaginative, active and loved.  I was also incredibly shy and found my greatest comfort and joy in the creative process and the natural world.

Thankfully, I was given space to roam, freedom to think outside the box, and encouragement to follow my heart.  I grew up knowing that (some) rules are meant to be broken and doing it “my” way was more important than fitting into any particular box.

Creativity and resourcefulness were also core values in my family, and as a result, I made art out of whatever I could get my hands on.  I grew up thinking my seaweed jewelry, watercolors and clay pots were all worthy enough to sell to whomever would pay the five cents I was asking — an entrepreneur from the start.

In high school, I precariously bridged the worlds of athlete and an art geek.

I’ll admit to being the art teacher’s pet, and spent as many hours as possible skipping other classes to hide out in the art room.

As college approached,  I followed the call to “move west” and found myself in an art program surrounded by the beautiful Colorado Rockies.  I discovered my tribe among artists, activists, musicians and healers.

As an 18 year old college freshman, making a living as an artist did not seem like a viable career path — I didn’t know any full time artists growing up, and I assumed that honor was reserved for a very small handful of people in the world. 

Surely, I was not one of these magical creatures, so I entered college with the intention of being an art teacher, designer or some other kind of creative entrepreneur. 

Little did I know, I would end up being all of the above.

Then I took a painting class, and everything changed.

When I started to paint, something clicked. My love of color, form and freedom merged on the canvas and my heart literally raced. It felt easy and invigorating, yet challenging in all the right ways.

I’ll never forget the day one of my favorite painting teachers pulled me aside, looked me in the eye and said, “You are a painter.” These words rippled through me like truth, and I took them to heart. I signed up for every painting class I could get into, and began experimenting with oils, acrylics, watercolors and gouche.

Living in the Colorado mountains at the time, I had a particular fascination with horses, barns, mountains and trees in my early work.

Each painting taught me something new and fanned the flames of my new found passion to paint. I had my first solo show in a coffee shop when I was twenty years old, and after selling a few of my creations, I got a bright idea.

Maybe I could be an artist after all? Specifically, maybe I could be a painter?

After attending three colleges with various breaks to indulge my love of snowboarding, travel and soul searching, I graduated with a BFA in Painting and Drawing. I had a handful of local solo shows under my belt, a dream to be a full time painter and a ton of adventure in my heart.

I was immediately rejected by all three of MFA art programs I applied to (a true blessing in disguise), and found myself scrambling to figure out my next bold move.

I set up my “studio” in corner of my bedroom and spent the next ten years migrating around the West Coast — painting, dancing, following my heart and discovering my bohemian tribe.

I lived simply — pinching pennies, squatting in warehouses, living out of my van and working as a professional house sitter. Eventually, I became a yoga teacher, massage therapist and all-star waitress — all the while painting in bedrooms, basements, backyard shacks and garages.

I was always up for the adventure of making it work, so I did whatever I needed to do to keep painting.

During one particularly romantic summer, I camped in a national forest and painted in my nearby storage unit.

The flexibility of this lifestyle and my ever-hungry passion to make art, expand my mind, and grow past my edges of comfort led me down some very unconventional roads. 

I traveled around the world and back many times over, always deepening my knowledge of self, both on the canvas and off.

I made seven consecutive journeys to Burning Man’s Nevada desert, spent six months living in a parking lot volunteering in post-Katrina New Orleans, joined a sustainable farming collective in Central America, tried my hand at remote off-the-grid living in the San Juan Islands, backpacked for hundreds of miles through remote wilderness areas, and found my own version of God deep in the temples of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

I learned how to track wolves and start fires with sticks, danced till the sun came up at all night raves, pushed through physical and mental barriers in a Lakota sweat lodge and Sun Dance ceremonies, experimented with a vegan raw food diet and sat in ten-day silent Vipassana meditations.

I lost and found myself in plant medicine circles in the Peruvian Amazon, sweated my way through samba and capoiera immersions in Brazil, dedicated myself to the path of yoga, realized I had the potential to heal myself, fell in love, fell out of love (repeat), read countless spiritual and self-help guide books, participated in the Landmark Forum curriculum, and yes…

I joined a circus.

At the heart of these life experiences was my desire to expand, explore and create — to rub up against what was known, to unveil my personal and spiritual truths, and to understand my deeper purpose in life.

These adventures shaped the very core of who I am and how I see the world, and they also changed the way I paint.

By this time, my paintings were selling regularly in galleries, cafes and art fairs.  My colorful, layered, intuitive style was distinctive and unlike anything I was seeing at the time.  The internet was also emerging and new opportunities were popping up left and right.

I was hustling hard and (barely) squeaking by as a full time artist.

Needless to say, this path was full of passion, grit and adventure, but it was not the easiest road to travel.  There was little predictability, no particular formula to follow, very little money and a serious lack of obvious outcomes. There were certainly no white picket fences or regular paychecks.

Instead, there were dreams fueled by passion, adventures sparked by curiosity, and a deep unrelenting desire to follow my heart and live life on my own terms.

Most important, there was no 9-to-5 job.

As my thirtieth birthday approached, I traveled to Costa Rica with some friends and jokingly decided to call myself Flora because “Shannon” was proving quite challenging for all the Spanish speakers.

After an unexpected turn of events (possibly a whole new book), I ended up officially changing my name from Shannon to Flora, and life was, again, never the same.

Beyond shocking my parents (and myself to some degree), my name change symbolized a massive and powerful personal transformation.

It marked a huge shedding of stories, patterns and beliefs I had held about myself for so many years.  I was ready to move past decades of insecurities and shyness that were holding me back and keeping me quiet.

It became blindingly clear that discovering my voice, speaking my mind and making a difference in the world were way more important than what anyone else thought of me.

Around this same time, I also had a serious realization:  My dream job of being a full-time artist — the thing I had worked so hard to achieve for so many years, the thing that was finally happening — was actually not my dream job after all.

In fact, I was feeling more and more isolated with each passing year of studio work.

I craved people, passion and purpose.

I knew there was something more, but I had no idea what that looked like.  I started to share my dilemma with close friends, hoping the more I talked about it, the clearer my path would become.

In 2010, my friend, Anahata Katkin, asked me if I ever thought about teaching painting workshops.  I had taught yoga for ten years, but had never even considered teaching art — painting was such a personal practice for me at that time.

When I look back, I see how much I was compartmentalizing my passions; My painting practice was separate from my healing work and spiritual path, and my love for movement, music and community were in a whole different category.

At the time, I couldn’t even see how much everything overlapped…until I taught my first workshop.

I showed up to Squam Art Workshops in New Hampshire in the Fall of 2010 with very little clue about how to teach a painting workshop.  I walked into my little cabin feeling totally unprepared.  I had a few ideas, but I was counting on my years of painting experience to carry me through.

During that pivotal weekend, I taught about 60 women, and quickly started to see all the lines begin to blur between my passions.  We started with yoga and a walking meditation because that’s how I often started my own painting practice.

I read poetry, played my favorite playlists and made sure we took dance breaks along the way.  We worked on big canvases, loosely layered colors and marks and allowed images and forms to emerge along the way.

My students were fired up about their large colorful paintings and their work looked amazing.

I vividly remember watching these first workshops unfold.

I was startled with the potent recognition that this was my soul’s calling — that THIS was the culmination of everything I had ever studied, every place I had ever traveled, every risk I had ever taken, and every painting I had ever created.

It seemed that every brave (often unreasonable) choice I had ever made was leading to this moment all along.

For me, teaching felt like an extension of myself.  I was sharing what I knew, and the world seemed ready to receive it.  When my first group of students started to post and blog about their workshop experience, people responded.

Seeing amazing paintings created by first-time painters who were also praising the workshop as  “life changing” experience, peeked a lot of interest.

As we all know, word can spread pretty fast these days, and that’s exactly what happened. Soon after my first workshop, I was asked by Quarry Books to write my first book, Brave Intuitive Painting, and I also started receiving invitations to teach all over the world.

I started saying “yes” — a lot.

The next few years where a bit of a whirlwind.  I started teaching workshops all around the U.S. and in places like Bali, Mexico, Europe and Australia.  I wrote my book in coffee shops along the way, and learned a mountain of new information every time I shared my process with a new group of “bloomers.”

The learning curve was steep, but I was happily riding this wave of momentum and love.

In the Fall of 2011, I handed in my final manuscript, and immediately started to create my five-week online painting course, Bloom True. Today, over 40,000 people have read my book, 4,000 people have taken my online course and hundreds have painted with me in person.

I continued to travel, teach, paint and share my process until a much needed sabbatical was in order.

Two years ago, I declared to myself and my students that it was time to root down for a bit.  I rented my dream studio in Portland, OR, and started to teach workshops with my dog and two wonderful assistants at my side.

I needed time to re-group, re-connect, re-define my intentions and take some much needed walks in the woods, long baths and deep breaths.

Time at home has allowed me to clarify what I am most passionate about, while providing fertile ground to birth my latest online offerings, Studio Diaries and The Painting Sessions, and second book, Creative Revolution.

I share this journey with you as a reminder to follow your own precious heart.

Notice what makes your heart flutter.  Remember what you loved when you were little.  Follow your own curiosity.  Don’t question your passions.  Dare to break the rules and create your own world.  Don’t do it for money.  Show up.  Take one step at a time.  Do the work.  Be yourself.  And remember…

Every time you listen to your own heart, you move one step closer to your soul’s true calling.