Judging your Instagram by its cover
I am currently experimenting with making short tutorials on one of the things I love most in my craft: using various objects (particularly ones found in nature), in order to recreate specific textures. Watch how I achieved this pretty textured blush, by playing with water paints and tulle fabric. ☘️🍊
I hope you will find them enjoyable and creatively stimulating. Let me know if you would like to see anything in particular. 💡
Judging your Instagram by its cover
I have been receiving and incorporating mixed messages throughout my life, and particularly during my formative years, which, you know, as the word “formative” points at, are prone to shape beliefs and patterns of communicating oneself into the world. One of the contradictions I’ve had to find my own way out of refers to content versus packaging, or substance over form. I would often witness my father (a guy with a keen artistic eye and a passion for photography) put effort into how things are presented (be it a gift, a photo or a powerpoint). And I leaned into that. I’d be captivated by his meticulosity in”‘wrapping” and embellishing everything, hence I followed suit. Fast forward to my university years and the day of my dissertation. No surprise here, I guess, that some time and money were spent on the look and feel of this illustrious paper, i.e. its cover. The way in which one of the examining professors – let’s call him Mr Moustache – asked me, in a slightly mocking tone, before even opening my nicely (yet professionally) wrapped paper, if I had a cash pile, made an imprint in my memory. Now, to tell you the truth, it wasn't that the content of my paper wasn’t good enough but I just felt little to no connection to the subject (as to most part of my University years). So the hand-picked cover made the whole thing feel a little bit closer to who I was and how I liked to do things. Those few words, combined with a low self esteem and the anxiety and lack of sleep attached to that particular moment, produced a rupture in my feelings and beliefs, and led me to label myself as superficial. I would carry this label with me for a long time, hence I would allow it to define myself.
It took me a few good years to tame the negative power this word had on me. I’d start realising that the extra effort I always put on the form, and my need and desire to beautify everything, even my little obsession with structure, patterns and a clean “feed”, is a skill not a shortcoming, and that I can do this without compromising on the substance of my work. It’s just another reflection, or extension if you want of my personality.
I was recently contemplating on the storytelling of my Instagram feed and I surprised myself how good I felt about it, how connected. I believe that at this point it genuinely reflects not just who I am as an artist but also who I am as a human being, what I stand for and how diverse my inner world is. It significantly mirrors my soul and my creative persona, while it’s also breaking the ice on the business side of my craft, my strategic mind, and diversity of skills.
I went through several phases with what I’d make of my Instagram feed (clearly, one way or another, I have always paid attention to this aspect) even before its algorithms went astray. For a good while I would turn my feed into a people pleaser (no surprise there, I was one myself). I would show what I would think potential clients were looking for in a portfolio, hence I followed the general advice (I followed the crowds), which has actually never been my thing, but as most of us tend to do in this industry, I just played along – out of confusion, out of fear to unleash my voice and my nature, out of a necessity to earn a living and a human need to be seen (yet for the wrong reasons at that time). Then I went through a rebellious phase of going against the current, relying mostly on instinct, throwing with imagery like a child with a tantrum. While I was building my kit and my brand altogether in the direction of green beauty and mindful practices, which only came naturally for me, I attached to the idea that it was imperative to demonstrate my niche, with no distractions, which brought along good things, but also old patterns of inflexibility and perfectionism. And while the idea of building a very specific style or coming out as a niched artist appeals to me in many ways, I also realised that it doesn’t allow for the full spectrum and complexities that arise from being human, and it leaves me vulnerable (in a negative way). So I started doubting myself again and I got caught up in the swirl of things. I was stuck and in a caging burnout. After a period of sustained effort to slow down and put matters into perspective, things feel like finally falling into place. I made space for my creative energy. It’s liberating to be able to create without the urgency and the sustained pressure. What I share now is both deliberate and intuitive. My feed is one visual representation of the acknowledgement and the acceptance altogether, of who and where I am at the moment. It's strategically crafted and, above all, it’s a playground and an opportunity for the complexity of my being and diverse artistic skills to shine through.
I know Instagram it's just a tool (a very shaky and elusive one for that matter) and who knows what will come of it considering the mess, yet the mindset is the one that counts, no matter the medium. Ask yourself this: What is in my control beyond these algorithms? What do I want my online community to be like?
As much as I believe we shouldn't judge a book (just) by its cover, I also think we inevitably do so, and that’s ok. The ability to curate one’s feed (and this can be any form of online presence, I’m not praising Instagram here) and to infuse it with personality and storytelling, are not just genuine and enjoyable ways to sell one’s work and make it stand out, but also a good possibility to grow organically.
So rather than weighing the importance of content vs its packaging, what if we create balance and have them both representative of who we are and what we stand for?
Let’s turn the lens on you:
When you look at your feed, what does it transpire? Does it talk about you, about your inner world, or is it more a reflection of what you want other people to see? Or maybe it's both? Does it have a meaning, or maybe a goal? Does it feel good when you look at it? Would you be curious to change anything about the form?
I clearly love spending time and using my creative energy to craft my (online) presence in a playful and meaningful way, so if you struggle to build your own, reach out for a private mentorship session with me. I would be happy to guide you. You can find more details about my lessons here. 👩🏫 🎨
Rituals and habit stacking
How a quality morning sets the scene for the rest of your day
“Ziua bună se cunoaște de dimineață” is a Romanian saying that I can’t accurately translate into English, as it kind of loses its essence, but it basically holds the premises that the way you decide to create your morning will have a big impact on how the rest of your day will look like, or, at least, feel like (the way you will experience it).
For an atypical brain like mine, perfectly able to absorb a huge amount of information but also often incapable of dealing with sensory overloading and multitasking, being intentional about creating rituals, particularly in the morning, will bring me relief and help me tackle feelings of anxiety around the trillion ideas I would like to work on. By default, my motivation is not necessarily intrinsic. If you also struggle with this, rest assured it is not down to being lazy (merely a construct of a broken society) but to the body being in an automatic freeze response, conserving energy to survive a threat, whether that threat is real or perceived. If you’d like to read more about it, here's a great resource on the topic, and another one here This elusive motivation, on top of being a freelance creative living in tumultuous times who has many “free” days at hand and whose brain conjures up more things that one could possibly handle in a lifetime, is at risk of shutting me off. If I am not intentional about how I start my day, and about being mindful in general throughout the day, I would mostly be living in my head, not even knowing where to begin.
Although my restless being craves novelty, change, adventure, and getting multiple things done at the same time (hello machinery, bye bye human being!), it’s the comfort of familiar things, the rituals, the intention to connect with my body in any form available that keep me grounded and help my excitement turn into action rather than into a freeze response (which often happens if I go with the flow of my overstimulated brain, instead of resting when I need to, or finding ways to feeling safe in my body first). My mind would easily go from overly excited to sluggish and unmotivated if I don’t tend to it and bring some mindfulness (which can just mean taking a deep breath – a simple yet powerful tool anyone has at hand) to any activity I set out to do.
I have been reading (and practising, because what’s awareness without practice?) quite a lot lately about rituals and habit stacking. This is a great read on rituals vs routines, if you want to go deeper 🤓🐙, but to sum it up, “Rituals are routines elevated by creativity, driven by intention, and imbued with meaning. They can also overlap. When you bring mindfulness into your routines, they can become rituals.” On an adjacent note, forming new habits by connecting them to our current routines, is a relatable way to form new synapses between neurons. An easy and reliable way to build a new habit is to identify an existing routine and stack the new behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking, and it’s basically learning by association.
So, without further ado (easier said than done), here are some of my morning rituals that give me a sense of rhythm and help me slow my mind down in order to keep my body going:
🌱 A glass of water at room temperature, or a warm lemonade on an empty stomach is as simple as it sounds, but also an easy and highly effective way to flush toxins from the body, increase metabolism, energy and immunity.
🌱 A few minutes of mindfulness before jumping out of bed, which doesn’t have to be a textbook meditation, but anything that smoothes the transition between being asleep and fully waking up, like a few deep breaths, or some slow stretching (while taking a big loud yawn), or even giving yourself a big hug. I often wake up with a sense of restlessness or an itch in my body to solve all the problems in the world, which can bring about a feeling of overwhelm, so instead of feeding the vicious cycle, I try to be intentional about my every move or action, including getting up from bed (how often do we pay attention to that, how often do we take it for granted?). The more I pay attention to and slow down my breathing, the more I am capable of turning the volume down on my thoughts, the more I learn how to function in a sustainable manner rather than on an autopilot way.
🌱 15-30 min of reading or creative journaling. Speaking of habit stacking, I usually like to engage in this ritual after I brush my teeth and while I am savouring my matcha / turmeric / cacao latte. ANIMAMUNDI, my favourite herbalists, share the most delicious, unique and aesthetically pleasing latte recipes, if you are in need of some colourful and creative inspiration. I stray away from my usual heavy, existentialist readings in the morning and I choose something a bit more light and fun, like a foraging or an illustration book, a creative magazine (Frankie or Happiful come in handy) or even a Substack newsletter (wink wink). Sometimes I switch from reading to colouring or scribbling words. While free flow journaling doesn’t quite do it for me (probably because I need a bit of structure to it), I am collecting (and sometimes receive as gifts from people who know me too well) various creative journals or books that often keep me so engaged, playful and inspired that there is no more room for anxious thoughts. I try to refrain from reading anything on my mobile, as this might be just one step away from going down the scrolling spiral. A reminder, to self as well, that we really need to ditch the habit of grabbing the phone first thing in the morning. I know it’s hard, goddammit, but it’s an addiction that only brings misery and disconnection in the end.
🌱 Cold showers. I am not one to preach about something that has already become a trend or that everybody talks about (I am genuinely interested in things that have substance and make a difference) but I am slowly getting the hang of these cold showers in the morning and they do work wonders in reinvigorating my body and resetting my mind.
🌱 10 min of moving the body (stretching, dancing or yoga) and exposure to natural light. Nothing shakes off any stagnant energy, a restless mind or feelings of anxiety, than moving my body in an instinctive manner, i.e. paying attention to whatever shape, direction or intensity my body wants to take. Sometimes I prefer a short set of stretching exercises and light core work, but most of the time what makes my heart sing is dance (like no one’s watching). Sweat a little and be playful with your movement, and everything else will start flowing into place. Move your body while soaking in some natural light (ideally soon after you have woken up). Light therapy in the morning is a prerequisite to a balanced circadian rhythm. If this sounds too blah-blah or scientific, just think of how much we would benefit from our bodies following nature’s flow. We ARE one with nature, and I deeply believe that only when we (re)learn to position ourselves from this position, will we genuinely become happier humans.
Exposure to natural light is particularly important for people who don’t have a fixed schedule and the routine to get out of the house at a specific hour. So whether you walk your dog for 10 min, go for a run or a walk to your local coffee shop, or just stretch in front of an open window, irrespective of the sun showing its face or not, make sure to absorb some light.
🌱 Nutritious breakfasts. I know there are a few discussions out there on whether skipping breakfast is just a matter of preference or appetite, but in my opinion, not feeling hungry in the morning or replacing food with a cup of coffee is a clear indication that something is not quite right. It doesn’t happen very often, but whenever I have these kind of days (that is having no appetite, as I’m not a coffee drinker) I know that I am either under (any form of) stress or that I have eaten too much or too late the night before (which can often also trigger feelings of tiredness in the morning, because, guess what, the poor body didn’t have enough time to process everything).
As Perel so proficiently points out, “Rituals and routines are both about delineating between space and time and creating a grounding rhythm, a predictable structure with a reassuring, calming, and stabilising effect.”
By the number of plant based bullet points, you would say that’s a long list of things one could possibly do in the morning, and that it defeats the purpose (to do less). It’s not about the number, though, but more about making a conscious effort to hold space for our individual selves, for days with purpose that will sum up to lives with purpose. We are all good at playing by society’s rules (although we often feel they do not suit our needs), rushing into the day, into our lives. But what if we become skilled at living on our own terms, according to our individual needs and values, with a nurtured felt sense, and a genuine care for nature and all of its inhabitants. Imagine how that would come around. I am sure this might sound idealistic and sentimental to some, but I think it’s just so simple, in essence.
Most importantly, don’t fall prey to beating yourself up for not being able to follow the sun and your routines. THAT is what actually defeats the purpose. I frequently lose sight of my own intentions, for different human reasons so ingrained in our DNA, but I’m learning to have understanding and compassion towards those days, to come back to it when possible, and sometimes to even (gently) push myself, even if I don’t feel like it. Consistency is key, and that doesn’t mean religiously doing something on a daily basis, but rather practising being mindful and going back at it, without judgement, whenever you feel you’ve been distracted.
Sparks of interest
A movie: The Eight Mountains
An animation: Intensity vs Consistency
A podcast: How to Identify What You Enjoy
Aarticle by Lisa Olivera: Tending to the shame of stuckness
A (dancing) TED talk: The ecstasy of Eskista, an ancient Ethiopian dance