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Chaos Layers, Birds, and Finding My “Tempo Giusto”

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist

Too often, the blank page makes us hesitate. Whether we are writing words or creating a drawing or painting, we feel the pressure to place something worthy on the page, something perfect.

Yet, if we dive in and trust in our abilities, we can turn that blank page into something that promotes creative freedom. Sometimes that freedom comes in surprising ways from “chaos layers”--a page already marked from perhaps a previous art session or one intentionally scribbled and painted. Just as chaos layers can serve as a springboard to something new, we need slow hours of intention, challenge, and learning.

Continually looking for ways to nurture my creative spirit, I signed up for online art classes through Amanda Evanston’s Insider’s Studio at the beginning of 2022. I was drawn to her creative energy and generous heart in making art fun and accessible.

It was Amanda who suggested the concept of chaos layers, which drew me in. When Amanda encouraged the use of a chaos layer, it gave me a sense of freedom to let the paintbrush play on the page to see what developed. If I liked it, great; if not, I could use it later as a chaos layer.

A Bird in the Hand

Over the course of the year, I not only enjoyed playing with paint and trying new mediums, but I also discovered the value of the process. It was a lesson in letting go of perfection, showing up to paint and slowing my pace, of being intentional, and setting challenges.

In October I participated in a Birdtober challenge and drew a different bird each day. As the birds were preselected by the host, the challenge came from painting a bird I might not have picked myself, thinking it was outside my skill set.

Had you asked me to paint 30 different style birds all at once, I likely would have felt overwhelmed and opted not to paint a single one. But one a day seemed manageable. Taking on the challenge made me intentional about practicing my watercolor skills. Picking up the paintbrush every day helped build confidence.

It also slowed my pace as I looked carefully at the bird on the prompt list for that day. Among the birds included stood a Macaroni Penguin, a Secretary Bird, a Kakapo, and an Egyptian Vulture. Some birds were more challenging than others. Overall, I am pleased with the results. I appreciate, too, the lesson in patience and the slower pace it provided to my day.

Slowing Down

Mindfully painting the intricacies of each bird invited me to slow down, something that hasn’t always been easy for me. Recently I learned about the work of Carl Honoré, a writer who advocates for “slow movement.” He speaks about “tempo giusto,” which translated from Italian, means getting the right speed. This is in line with the idea that every piece of music has a natural rhythm; we all need to find our own tempo. He adds that we need to know when to be fast and when to be slow.

Taking art classes helped me find my tempo in 2022. Not only did I discover a community of creative spirits, but these classes pushed me out of my comfort zone at times while also giving me pause points to restore my balance. Given my daily work schedule and household responsibilities, it is a challenge to slow my pace--and too often I push creative projects to the side. The weekly classes helped me schedule time to pause from all my other tasks and make room for my creative spirit. I hope to continue exploring this in 2023.

Finding Your Own Creative Outlet

While not everyone is inclined to pick up a paintbrush, you might consider what creative outlet speaks to you. Dorian Martin, the founder of I Start Wondering, has been exploring her creativity in the kitchen as she tries new cuisines from her collection of cookbooks. ISW Columnist Mara Soloway enjoys time knitting. What is your art interest?

Spending time creating comes with a bonus. Based on several studies, the arts keep our brains stimulated and help with our overall health. In a study of 300 seniors, Dr. Gene Cohen found that older subjects who are artistic have “fewer visits to the doctor, fall less often, use less medication, and are less likely to be depressed” than less artistic people, according to Dr. Mary Jo Thomas in an online story in

This study also suggests that engaging with limitations such as slowing down actually can be beneficial. “According to Cohen, creativity seems to thrive on limitations. Challenges of all kinds force the brain to create new connections,” Thomas wrote, adding that the sense of accomplishment promotes “a sense of mastery and contribution,” which “brings about a phenomenon known as neurogenesis, a regeneration of the brain’s nerve tissue.”

Before I decided to join the Insider’s Studio classes, I hesitated because of my non-stop schedule. However, I considered the monthly membership to be an investment in not only my creative spirit but my overall well-being. The membership helped me be intentional; after all, if I was going to make the investment, then I better make the effort to show up.

It’s too easy to say, “I don’t have time. I’m too busy.” Think again. We can take a cue from Ali Lake, an Insider’s Studio member from Australia who works full time but finds a window of opportunity to paint in the morning. To help other artists, she recently started a lab and Instagram account called The Organized Artist.

These early days of 2023 offer the perfect time to reconsider how we want to move forward in life. It seems like the perfect time to slow down, find your “tempo giusto,” and schedule time for a creative endeavor.

1 則留言

Dorian Martin
Dorian Martin

Thank you, Brenda, for inviting us to get past our creative blocks and embrace chaos (pages). I'm trying to do this more and more, whether through re-embracing projects that I started long ago and have pushed aside or new projects that I could ponder indefinitely without any movement. My most recent creative project was rearranging my bedroom. I sat with it for awhile imagining what a change would feel like, but eventually spent one Sunday moving furniture around. It's been an interesting experience seeing how this change in one of my home's main spaces affects not only my sleep but my creative energy. It's forced me to edit and revisualize what I have in the space and also how I…

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