One afternoon exactly one year ago in London, I met a man who changed my life. He was on the Millennium Bridge clad in construction clothes tinkering at something on the floor. Like everyone else, I walked past without a second thought in a rush to visit the Tate Modern after a media briefing in the city several blocks away. I was on a mission to sit in awe with Rothko’s Seagram Murals hoping to feel their power and be moved by “pure emotion” like the documentaries proclaim.

The Millennium Bridge is, without a doubt, my favorite spot in all of London. It connects the City to Southwark and Saint Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern – a literal and proverbial bridge between old and new. Perched high above the river as if on wings, it’s one of the few places in the city where you can stand in stillness and feel the expanse of the sky and river around you.

Halfway across the bridge, I noticed a small boy taking a photograph of something on the floor. Curious, I took a closer look and chuckled with surprise. Tiny painted drawings littered the pathway barely noticeable to the hurried pedestrians just passing through. I made a beeline back to the construction worker to confirm my hunch that he’d had something to do with my glee.

His name is Ben Wilson, also known as The Chewing Gum Man.  His was a face glowing with joy – the kind of joy I notice on people with strong faith, with inspired passion or on people having just returned from a marvelous holiday. The look of contentment and peace in his eyes shook me with envy and enamored me to his cause. I wanted to know everything about him.

We sat together awhile as I peppered him with questions. Ben creates chewing gum art and he’d been painting miniature scenes on the Millennium Bridge almost daily for the past five months. More specifically, he painted scenes based on passersby’s stories of love, reunion, family and friendship.  Art, he said, is the great connector.  It enables us to feel connected to something other than ourselves and instantly destroys barriers.  And with chewing gum as a canvas, he feels his art is accessible to everyone.

He said that when people feel disconnected with the world, they hurt others. They don’t realize that they’re hurting people.  When you’re truly connected to something, you love it. You love it for all its imperfections and faults.  He talked about his studio, his humble home, and how he split his time between his art and family.  A man of little means, he seemed completely content with the process of making art just for art’s sake.  His passion, zest for life and openness to connect with me, a complete stranger, for what felt like the whole afternoon planted a seed inside me that has never gone away.

I’ve been thinking about Ben a lot lately.  Our encounter forced me to think hard about purpose, connectedness and the impact we can make on each other and our world. Anything done with love, authenticity and empathy has the power to break barriers and change lives.  I’m being very purposeful about what I spend my time on these days and how I do it. Intention and the desire to touch others has been a driving force in my motivations as of late.  It’s the kind of clarity and motivation that makes me hopeful about the year ahead.

Happy new year!  May 2015 be filled with love, art and bolts of wisdom like Ben Wilson and the Millennium Bridge.

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I read recently that “Danny Glover dedicates every performance to someone – it might be Nelson Mandela or the old man who guards the stage door – but he is always working for someone other than himself. This focus gives his acting purpose and makes his work rich.”

Struggling to get through my own daily art project, I decided to try this for myself. Instead of drawing something random each day, I’m finding inspiration by dedicating each piece to someone specific. I’m amazed at what a difference this act of giving has made in my energy levels and in the type of work I’ve produced. The drawings look and feel completely authentic to who I am and what I was trying to express in that moment. I’m less judgmental of myself and what is produced because there’s meaning behind the piece – something bigger and more important than mere composition or color or balance (I’m never technical about these things anyway but am constantly bombarded with feelings of inadequacy every step of the way). The act of dedicating something to someone outside myself quiets the ego and infuses joy into every minute of the process.

Today’s project is dedicated to my friend Andrea, whose big dreams, humor and constant friendship transcend the miles and oceans between us. :)

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Here’s a round-up  of some of my favorite articles from this week.

Denise Gamboawww.agirlintheworld.com Denise Gamboa, denisegamboa, agirlintheworld.com

On making hard choices
This talk could literally change your life. Which career should I pursue? Where should I live? Big decisions like these are agonizingly difficult. But perhaps they just might give us the power and clarity to define who we are and who we want to be. My favorite line “Drifters allow the world to dictate who they are”. May we all find the courage to be captains of our own lives.

Erotic Intelligence: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship
This talk by Esther Perel is both insightful and eloquent. How do we balance our need for security with our need for surprise? And how do we keep alive a healthy, playful dose of desire and sensuality in our relationships? The wisdom is liberating.

9 Qualities of Remarkably Confident People
Confidence, for me, comes in waves but I think it’s a state of mind and a state of mind that can be practiced. Listen. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to look silly. Perhaps counterintuitive but healthy, especially the part about not seeking approval from everyone.

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Big Ben The Elephant

December 5, 2014

I’m currently on sabbatical and indulging in a personal Renaissance.  I feel like a kid in a candy store with the luxury of time to read, write and paint like a mad-woman. It’s as if a decade’s worth of child’s play has been unleashed and the five-year old me is back with a vengeance. I haven’t had this much fun nor felt so myself in a very long time.

I’ve been working on several art projects and am particularly excited to share this piece called Big Ben.  I painted him back in August during a pretty dark time in my life when “making” was all I could do to keep it together.  I’ve had a long, dramatic love affair with London and it has been muse to many creative projects, both written and photographic. It’s the city where I first came into my own, outside the confines of expectations and old roles.  In London I met lifetime friends, fell in love, got my heart broken, battled loneliness and pretty much pushed my boundaries in all ways possible.

Big Ben is a celebration of the places and memories that made my life “away” so special.  Gordon’s Wine Bar, the falcon family that took roost at the Tate during the summer of 2010, my discovery of Rothko’s Seagram murals, a string quartet on the Jubilee Bridge, and the panoramic view from Primrose Hill on a blue sky summer’s day.  Big Ben is joy and nostalgia and therapy for the part of me that won’t ever be able to let go of one of the best cities on earth.


Ink and watercolor.

Want one?  Click here.

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The Wisdom of Cows

December 4, 2014

This  is a new favorite from Alain de Botton’s The School of Life series.  Cows are actually one of my favorite animals. I think they have the most beautiful eyes.  Here’s to some Thursday afternoon perspective.

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State of the studio

November 16, 2014

Happiness is having the time and space to exercise creativity on a daily basis. :)

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His art is fearless. Art for art’s sake. Authentic. Shameless. Bold.

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My Notting Hill

November 4, 2014

At LHR. Walked past a man whose cologne reminded me of early days with G. Cold morning walks from Fabian Road to Fulham Station. A peck on the cheek at Notting Hill Gate. Navy suit. Red tie. Black shoes. A smile. Butterflies. Warm hands. An evening on the couch in candlelit Shunt. Falling in love. – October 27, 2014 (notes from London)

During a two-day whirlwind business trip to London, I managed to escape for a few hours to visit my old neighborhood. I felt like my 26 year old self, a nervous energy pulsing through me as I walked past the familiar vintage record store at Notting Hill Gate Station. Sidewalks gum stained and grey, I rushed past the heat of fried chicken tenders wafting from the KFC I used to visit after very late nights out. The high street, grungier than I remember, was pretty in the way old books can be pretty after many years. A riff raff of shops old and new, soot stained window signs, the low hum of Sunday morning joggers.

There’s a reason why this little village inspired a movie. In my life it has inspired a whole universe of interweaving stories, many mine but also my friends’. The chance encounter. A foolish tryst. One life changing first date. Shelter for a broken heart. Girly brunches on lazy Sundays. Summer evening strolls along rainbow streets. Garden guitar melodies, wool sweater hugs, cigarette smoke swirling into the heavens. And dancing. Always there was dancing. In bars, in living rooms, on front steps – there was dancing.

Meandering down Pembridge Gardens enroute to Westbourne Grove, my breath caught in my throat. What beauty. I had walked this route to and from work everyday. Had it always been this gorgeous? The whitewashed estate buildings. The brightly painted doors. The way streets languidly curve at just the right angle to keep you guessing what lies around the corner. Had all of this really been mine? I berated myself for not having devoured it with more ferocity then. Hindsight, in this case, is 30/20.

My first flat was perpetually cold and smelled of old lady night cream. A cavernous junior one-bedroom, it witnessed my loneliness and pleasures, keeping secrets like a time capsule of dreams.  The imposing ten foot windows whistled in the winter wind and on Friday nights drunk commuters screamed at each other on the street below. Sometimes the shouting would jar me awake with fear. Twice I thought to call the police, sure that someone had been stabbed.  Often there were beggars. Always there were tourists. And just beneath the surface – wealth and glamour. Among the basement flats and council housing were lush gated gardens, posh montessori schools and glass encased penthouses barely perceptible from street view. It is a barrio of rockstars, executives, super models, students, expats, antiquarians and immigrants.  And its little streets are as diverse as its residents.

My second flat was on the third floor of a walk-up above Mulberry Street Pizza. Just down the street is Khan’s – by far the best Indian restaurant west of Asia. Around the corner, a little foreign foods market where I bought noodles, fishsauce and pan de sal whenever I was overcome with homesickness. South of there, at Aphrodite Taverna, I channeled my inner Greek and hosted large Friday dinners with friends, friends-of-friends, and their friends. And just a few blocks north, at The Oak, I had my first taste of truffle (on pizza) while claiming bragging rights to discovering the cozy lounge upstairs.  Further west, at The Lonsdale, C and I drank one miserable Monday away with shots of tequila and consequently spent the remainder of the evening teetering on sidewalk ledges willing ourselves to keep our dinners down. I threw my 27th birthday party there, less than a week before I packed it up for good to travel the world for a while.  On Portobello, thousands visit the famous antique market each week often bypassing the treasure that is The Notting Hill Bookshop. Place of wanderlust, poetry and maps.

There’s something very special about coming back to a place and seeing it with new eyes. A beauty that was overlooked, and flaws too. Notting Hill feels more like home five years later than it ever did in my twenties. I was too busy swallowing London up to make a nest of this little neighborhood. Back then, I was just passing through. Today, it feels like a part of me will always live somewhere between Westbourne and Pembridge Gardens. The me that was too naive and impatient to appreciate its beauty. The me who assumed that my time in London would be a blip – off the record, unabashed, reckless. Little did I know that the city’s ghost would become an ever-present companion in my more settled life.  Its apparitions transporting me with breathless nostalgia to the movie-like moments of my years as a Londoner.

Notting Hill will always be mine.

And me, hers.

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