Transformational Creativity … an Introduction to Art and Life in the Round

As Dancing Moon Designs has grown over the past eight years, it’s always been the plan to add a blog to complement my regular newsletter, Under the Dancing Moon, which goes out about every six weeks.

CJ Shelton - Self Portrait
Self-Portrait – Graphite on Paper

This blog will feature shorter snippets about the artistic and spiritual journey, how my personal creative process unfolds from day to day, and how I live in tune with Nature’s cycles and rhythms. Whatever else I discover that might be interesting to share and can provide insights into living “art and life in the round” will likely be popping up too.

For those who aren’t familiar with my work or are exploring this website for the first time, let me start by introducing myself. My name is CJ and I am an artist, instructor/educator and shamanic practitioner.

And yes, I go by my initials “CJ”. That may seem a little odd but it’s how I’ve always signed my artwork, the roots of which hark back to when I sold my very first painting at only sixteen years of age. At that time, highly detailed and realistic architectural drawings were my passion. But in the 1970’s and 80’s this arena was heavily male-dominated. So, since my art didn’t look overly feminine, I began signing it with “CJ Shelton” rather than my full name to eliminate any preconceived notions about my gender. And it worked.

Thankfully, times have changed a great deal in that regard but the signature stuck. It not only stuck, it was to become my nickname some thirty years later. Funny how things come full circle …

As life unfolded, I enjoyed a long and varied career in technical illustration and commercial art. At mid-life though, I suddenly found myself at a crossroads. In truth, it was more of a crisis. In 2004, severe repetitive stress injuries to both hands from over-use in a grueling graphic design job was not only to result in multiple surgeries but send me reeling into a black hole of anger and resentment. I lost the only career I had ever known or wanted so boy, did I go deep into that hole.

Four years later and out the other side though, a whole new world was waiting for me. As the saying goes, the only way out is to go through.

Over those four years I took four concurrent and very different types training in order to prepare myself for a new way of being in the world. That’s right, four programs in four years. Those four new paths were Social Service Work, Spiritual Psychotherapy, Therapeutic Art Facilitation and Shamanic Practice.

What truly saved me though in that “circular” dilemma was my steadfast refusal to give up my art, despite being told repeatedly that I must by numerous authority figures. Instead, I went back to basics, turned full circle once again, and embarked on more expressive ways of painting and drawing … which, interestingly, is what I had actually been doing before I sold that very first architectural drawing. Hmmm …

During that time is also when I stumbled across mandala art or art based entirely on the shape of the circle. Being ever mindful of not overtaxing my injured hands, this less labor-intensive yet highly meditative and spiritually-based creativity was to return me to my essential self, a much more authentic person who had been hiding for far too long behind an “architectural” facade.

In hindsight, that stress injury was the best thing that could have possibly happened. Not only did it give me my art back, it returned me to one of my other passions – Nature – and during those four years of forced self-discovery I embraced the shamanic way of life, the world’s oldest spiritual path and a tradition where being in sync with Nature is the core teaching.

And so the stage was set and another turn around the circle completed.

“Art and life in the round” is a phrase I came up with at the end of that long cycle and when Dancing Moon Designs was born. Soon after that, I moved to the beautiful Headwaters Region and opened my studio at the historic Alton Mill Arts Centre. Held in the embrace of those storied walls, all my primary loves – art, nature and spirituality – could now express themselves in a fully, wholly and completely unified way. And so they have. The mystical, luminous artwork and spiritual-based nature themed workshops and other offerings you see on this website are the result.

So, it must be pretty obvious by now that there are a lot of layers of meaning in that little phrase “art and life in the round”. Not only does it refer to the mandala art form I use almost exclusively, but to the greater idea of living in harmony with Nature’s circles and cycles while embracing this endlessly spiraling and delightful thing we call life.

I hope you will join me as the journey of Dancing Moon Designs evolves to its next level. My goal with this blog is to demonstrate how the interface of art, Nature and spirituality plays out in everyday life, something that is not just an idealistic concept but a very vital and practical way of restoring one’s faith and health – on all levels.

I can honestly say I’ve been through the nitty-gritty of being dragged into a black hole, come out the other side and survived. My dearest wish now is that some of my “lived” experiences might be the saving grace for others who find themselves at a crossroads and asking the big questions, ones that will eventually lead them to the beauty, truth and wisdom of art and life in the round.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

~ T.S. Eliot

So that’s my story … and an introduction to “art and life in the round”. I would love to hear if you too have experienced a re-discovery of your creativity or other essential passion after one of life’s “wake-up” calls, so please feel free to leave a comment below.


About the Author:

CJ Shelton
CJ Shelton

CJ Shelton is an Artist, Educator and Shamanic Practitioner and the owner of Dancing Moon Designs. She inspires and guides fellow seekers on their creative and spiritual journeys by offering various “circles” of community for artistic and spiritual expression. CJ’s passion and purpose is to open other’s eyes to the meaning, magic and mystery of the Great Wheel of Life.

4 thoughts on “Transformational Creativity … an Introduction to Art and Life in the Round”

  1. Dianne Czerwinski

    I would be delighted to join you on this your latest journey. I see this as a precious gift. I will receive it with an open heart.

  2. I took my first class, a mandala workshop with CJ and my sisters, on February 22, 2014. I learned so much that day but what I remember most is that I was encouraged for the first time, in a long time, to reignite my creative side. My artwork from that day reminds me not to be afraid of the void.

    I was delighted to see your message in my inbox this morning. I look forward to journeying together.

    1. How wonderful Jane! I love hearing how the creative process has the power to “reignite”. I took look forward to walking more of this journey with you this year.

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