Thrive Talk by Marlene Lowden – My personal artist story

Meet my teachers and hear my very personal story on becoming an artist.

This is an audio recording (with slides) of my talk for Thrive on March 29th, 2017.

Public speaking is pretty scary and sharing your personal story adds another layer of vulnerability. I want to thank the Thrive network for the invitation to speak because I learned so much about myself in the process.  It was an incredibly supportive audience and I recommend that you take a peek at their blog to hear more stories from that night.

I hope that there are bits of what I share that help you reflect on your story and discover the beauty even in the dark and seemingly insignificant parts.




Thrive is a network for female and femme-identified artists based out of Vancouver but has members from around the globe.


To stay connected visit me on Instagram – marlenelowden and sign up for my monthly newsletter.



Little did I know that experiencing 1 metre swells in an open boat, wearing life jackets from the 1960’s, would end up being a sweet life lesson.

Travel has that way of hitting you in the face with what truly are your most precious priorities and your greatest lessons to learn.

My husband, Patrick and I just returned from a 3 week adventure in Nicaragua.

The country is gorgeous with lush tropical forests, turquoise water and sandy beaches on the Caribbean side, matched in beauty by impressive volcanoes and warm surf on the Pacific.

However, evidence of 30 years of revolution is prevalent, power outages, even in the larger cities are frequent, we never came across a hot water tap for showers or sinks and minimum wage in Nicaragua is approximately $1USD a day.*

The people are incredibly friendly and just getting used to the influx of tourism. Right now Nicaragua is a back packers paradise. New hostels are opening weekly, the country has an inexpensive bus system and cheap beer.

We highly recommend visiting if you like a little adventure while you travel.

Speaking of adventure, back to my story on the high seas. Our first stop, after we landed in the capital city of Managua was a short flight to the Corn Islands in the Caribbean. They are approximately 70 km off the east coast. We stayed on Big Corn for 3 nights soaking up the Creole and Reggae vibe. We felt like locals cruising around on decrepit bikes, dodging cows and crossing the airstrip to get to the shops.

Our 2nd stop was Little Corn, 13 kms away and accessed by boat only. Along with the Gillian Island style beaches, Little Corn has a few resort type accommodations, some hostels, about 5 cute waterfront cafes and much to my delight, a thriving yoga community.

We started our 1/2 hour crossing at about 10:30am (island time) in a panga. It is a 25 ft open boat that seats about 30 people with our bags in the hold below. Some people declined the life jackets but Patrick and I were prudent, being Coast people ourselves, we know that open water conditions can change in a heartbeat.

And it did.

IMG_2328Just a few minutes into our journey the cameras and cell phones got tucked away as a dark cloud started to form overhead. The initial chatter and enthusiasm of the crossing died down as the size of the swells increased. Within minutes the tropical rain started and I’m not sure if you have ever experienced it but the term ‘a sheet of rain’ is quite accurate.

Our rain cover was a piece of clear plastic that the crew encouraged us to unroll from one side the boat to cover our heads. We were in the back row so it was our job to hold the tarp in place. Patrick and another young man sitting in our row did the best they could to keep the tarp taunt so that the people underneath could stay dry and wouldn’t have the plastic fall onto their heads. Many who were desperately focused on the horizon line to avoid seasickness were at a loss and there were some pretty pale looking faces in the crowd. Myself and a young woman seated in the middle of our row, were the recipients of a mixture of rain and sea spray that collected on top of the tarp and dumped down on us in a neat funnel about every 5 minutes.

Our 30 minute journey took closer to 50 and you could feel the collective sigh of relief when Little Corn Island and the dock came into view. I was impressed with the skill of our captain but just like the others glad when my feet were on the dock.

Thank goodness the water was warm because I was so completely soaked that when we got to our rental home, I could wring out my underwear!

Little Corn is charming. There are no vehicles, just a few paved pathways leading from the dock and then a network of dirt trails that link the island together. You could walk the perimeter of the island in an afternoon. The power is turned off every day between 6:00am and 1:00pm (island time). There are about 800 residents, and probably just as many chickens and roosters, a few dogs, cats and geckos. The paths are lined with beautiful tropical flowers, coconut, lime and breadfruit trees. There are yoga classes, diving and snorkeling tours and that’s about it.

On the 2nd day of our stay we started hearing rumors of a storm that was approaching. Nothing dangerous, we were assured, but the pangas for obvious safety reasons would not operate for any where from 3 to 7 days once the storm arrived.

We had planned to leave the island the afternoon before the storm arrived to make a flight from Big Corn Island to Managua. We started to investigate our options and consulted other travelers and local business people because the only dock authority that showed up was the woman who sold tickets and she didn’t have any suggestions.

We were advised to take an earlier boat on the morning of our flight, as the island has a bigger boat that they use for rougher weather. This boat wouldn’t operate during the storm but it would go out before the weather changed too much. We were told to show up early and that the boat would leave sometime in the morning (island time).

At 5:30am we were at the dock with our backpacks and met up with a few other eager travelers, some who had flights off Big Corn that morning.

By 6:00am the dock area was filling up and there were no signs of the ticket lady or the boat.   Around 7:30am, a local, road past the dock on his bike yelling, “No boat, no boat today, no boat!”

Patrick decided it was time to investigate.

Considering our arrival, we knew that the pangas were out of the question but where was this bigger, bad weather boat and why wasn’t any one from the dock or the town coming to talk to the gathering crowd of tourists?

Over the course of the day, I watched my husband practice the true art of letting go of the outcome. It is a yoga philosophy that is often misunderstood and difficult to master but one that grants you incredible freedom. It is a practice that I take to my mat and to my canvas but one that I have a hard time pulling off in real life situations.

We had both already agreed that safety was our number one priority and that the worse case scenario would be getting stuck on a tropical island for a few extra days during a tropical storm. We had good books, a deck of cards, access to cold beer and we knew we would make the best of it. It would be the stuff of good stories for years to come.

However, while I was willing to wait at the dock with the other tourists, Patrick took action towards our goal, a 4:10pm flight. With the resolve of a true yogi, he proceeded with a good mannered but persistent attitude.

Patrick managed to visit the Mayor’s office, several times, make friends with a few boat captains and the ticket sales lady. He first learned that our bad weather boat, a large fishing boat was sitting off shore in front of us, but that the captain could not take it out as the owner was on Big Corn and couldn’t be reached (rumors of a late night binge were circulating).

Then there was also the long-standing feud between the Mayor and the boat captain, apologies needed to be made before anyone was taking any boat anywhere.

There was also a dispute about the fare. The pangas cost $5USD to cross and someone in Managua made it illegal to charge unsuspecting tourists more. However a larger boat costs more money to run so permission had to be granted from the Mayor, Managua and the military, I don’t know why, to charge us double for a crossing. The question about fares got settled but we still didn’t have a boat.

The approved increase in the fee caught the attention of an elderly boat owner and captain who realized that a crossing would help him pay for some minor boat repairs, so permission was granted for him to take us across in his fishing boat.

Patrick who was in the middle of all of these negotiations would come back from time to time to fill us in. He reported that he watched the elderly captain and his small crew from shore as they first had to change the oil in the small boat to reach the fishing boat moored off shore. Our soon to be captain was operating on island time but assured the Mayor and Patrick that we would be ready to go by 1pm.

While some of the travelers had missed their morning flight, they were just as elated to hear the good news as the rest of us who were calculating the timing to see if this larger but safer boat would reach Big Corn before our flight took off at 4:10pm.

By mid morning the news about the storm had spread, many of us went to the local cafes for breakfast and talked with other travelers in case they hadn’t heard.

At around 11:00am a Brit, one of the dive shop owners, came to the dock to once again announce that there would be no boat today. Some of us had already had a bit of premonition as the repair action on the fishing boat didn’t look that promising.

Deflated, some of the tourists started to get upset and angry.

Patrick held his ground and his determination to keep things moving and keep things positive. By this time, he had earned his nickname as “the leader.”

A local woman came forth and said that her friend would take us in a panga for $50USD each but that we would have to leave from the North side of the island, in secrecy. The day was deceiving, sunny and bright just like it had been all the other days during our visit, and looking out at Big Corn Island it didn’t seem like that great of distance. The weather and wind reports showed a different story and I was glad that even though tempted every one turned her down. The pangas were not an option, everyone was aware of the loss of lives last year from a rough weather crossing.

Patrick started talking to the dive shop owner because earlier that day we had heard rumors of a cargo ship that might be returning to Little Corn with one more delivery before the storm. Could we perhaps return with it?

The dive shop owner had the cargo ship captain’s number so Patrick returned to the Mayor’s office with a new strategy. No, he didn’t have plans to return to Little Corn that day but yes, he would come get us if we had 30 people at $15 USD each. Indeed we had more than 30 eager travelers by that point so with the Mayor’s permission he would be here around 1:00pm to pick us up. Those of us on the 4:10 flight were still hopeful, yes, it was a bigger and slower boat but maybe just maybe we would make that flight. In reality, we would be elated to just make it to Big Corn Island that day. Rumors started to circulate that they would have a boat ready for us the next day at 8:00am but you can probably tell from my story that no one believed that for a second!

One o’clock came and went with no site or word from our boat. And then Patrick gets called away, it seems that the cargo captain had trouble at the dock and the authorities over there were charging him a 2000 cordoba fee to leave, would we cover it? It worked out to be about $2USD each, yes, yes, we would cover it!

The mid day sun was beaming down on all of us, piled on top of our bags and peering out on the horizon looking for any signs of our ship to come in. By this point we had all started to make friends and we met people from France, Israel, the U.S., Germany and Paraguay.

At around 2:00pm it was spotted way out to the North, shimmering in the glazing sun.

63 people climbed aboard the weather worn and rusty cargo ship. We departed Little Corn Island at 2:30pm. The journey was pretty quiet as the swells reached over 2 metres high quickly after departure. Again we were thankful for the skill of the captain and his crew. He was pleased with our numbers and waived the fine he had received, 63 passengers was a good haul for him and well worth his travels.

Before we docked, many people thanked Patrick for his efforts. Taxis had been alerted and took the 12 of us straight to the airport. We made it at 4:02pm. High fives and hugs were shared as we were rushed through security and boarded our twin prop plane. They had waited as we made up about ¼ of the passengers!

Patrick knew that an extended stay on a tropical island was not the worst way to spend his holiday time but he had a goal. Determined action accompanied by humility and a sense of humour is how we all got off the island. I even think, despite some of the frustrating set backs, Patrick enjoyed his day.

My big take away watching him in action and witnessing the events unfold, is that letting of the outcome is not about (complacency) or disengagement. We must move forward all the while being open to opportunities that come our way. Going with the flow means that while we work towards our goals, we must take the time to pause and enjoy the view, make new friends, have a cold beer and then carry on with persistence and a sense of humour.

We celebrated on the flight with our new friends, exchanged contact information and watched the sunset over the gorgeous Nicaraguan countryside. We were high in the clouds, off to our next destination with a lightness of being that is indescribable.

*We discussed the economy in Nicaragua with a couple of locals in different areas and were told that the minimum wage was approx $1USD/day and to give you perspective it costs about $1USD for a beer at the market.

Why I’m now thankful for our Grizzly bear encounter.

We had a Grizzly Bear Encounter.

Yup. We met a Grizzly bear just above us on the trail about 100ft away.

We had just been passed by 5 mountain bikers so we were alert for sounds ahead in case we needed to jump out of the way to let more bikers pass.

Patrick, my husband, spotted it first.

“Bear,” he sort of gasped.

Everything from this moment on happened so very quickly but the replays in my mind are keenly aware of all the little details so it feels like slow motion in my head.

It was huge. Its head looked like a lion’s mane and I take it he or she was not too happy to see us and looked that way. Its hackles were up.

Pardon my language but I replied, “that’s a fucking grizzly!”

The realization of that and the close proximately to us was, well, terrifying!

And then it moved, well it charged at least that’s what I’m calling it. Later when I reported the incident to Parks Canada, the kind officer asked me if I thought the bear had charged us or bluff charged us. I apologize for not having an intimate knowledge of Grizzly bear behaviour so I’m going with – it charged.

My fight or flight instinct kicked into high gear and I started to run.

The sound of that animal crashing down towards us blanked out any rational or reasonable thoughts.

Thankfully, my inner voice and Patrick’s chimed in before I could get too far, “don’t run.”

Right, I remembered, don’t give it a reason to chase us.

I looked back for the last time, to see the bear still. Watching us.

We walked with purpose, our hearts pounding.

The crazy thing was that we were not on some high mountain trail. We had already been on several remote hikes on this road trip through BC and Alberta, where the likelihood of coming across a bear would have been much higher. We were about 1km from Jasper village. The Yellowhead Hwy and the train tracks were 1 km away. We were on the Red Squirrel trail, for crying out loud! It is a flat path that meanders around some tiny lakes and follows the Athabasca river for a bit. This trail system leads up to the Jasper Lodge, the golf course and several campgrounds. This was our evening stroll to stretch out our road trip tired legs. We were 1 km away from the souvenir shops with I ‘heart’ Jasper t-shirts, maple flavoured fudge and soap stone bear carvings.

I could hear the highway and was trying to gage the distance to possible safety, “should we cut through and book it for the road?” I whispered to Patrick. He disagreed, “let’s stay on the trail.”

Patrick had walked backwards at first with his arms spread out wide and watched the bear move down on to the trail.

He said that it stood on the trail and watched us. He wasn’t sure what it was going to do. As we gained some distance, he kept glancing back to be sure that we weren’t being followed.

We reached the road and the railway tracks at the top of the trail and the first people we saw were a family of four. They were biking into Jasper from their campground for some ice cream. We warned them and the Dad asked, and I hope he was just making light of the situation, “if I got any photos?”   I wasn’t sure if he was joking and the possibility of his naivety hastened my steps towards a phone call to report the sighting to Parks Canada.

I think I was in a bit of shock when we reached our hotel room. The ‘what ifs” started to creep in and the questions like, “if we are not safe on the Red Squirrel trail, where are we safe?”

Feeling fear start to take a hold of me, I reached out to a wise friend. I wanted to hear her thoughts on Grizzly bear totems. I needed to gain my power back and not let fear turn me into a little puddle of adrenaline-induced sweat.

Her reply gave us good things to contemplate over bear ale at the Jasper Brewing Company. The Grizzly bear symbolizes an awakening of the unconscious, making choices from a power that is deep within and the bear has a strong link to the moon goddess. We discussed her thoughts and we talked about fear and its role in our lives. How fear is so necessary when you come across a bear on the trail. How fear kept me alert, reminded me to walk not run, and it kept me from collapsing on the trail.

You see, I am terrified of bears. If I’m having a nightmare, chances are there is a bear chasing me in my dreams. The bear has had a grip on me for quite sometime. Why? I’m not sure. The only other ‘bear in the trails’ experience I’ve ever had was just this Spring about 2kms from our house in our neighbourhood trails. We live on the West Coast of BC, so black bears walk through our yards at night and we do our best to share the space with them. In April, we spotted a young bear about 200ft away on the trail. We watched it and started to slowly back away and it took the first opportunity to shy away from us. I’m familiar enough with how to deal with a black bear, give them lots of space and they tend to move away first (except for the Mamas, you’ve got to be on high alert if there are cubs around). But a Grizzly is a whole other scenario. They can be over 800 lbs, their claws can get up to 4” long and they are unpredictable and ever so powerful. Patrick described “our” bear as a bit of a snarly character.

After a shot of tequila at the brewery to commemorate our experience, Patrick slept soundly. I, on the other did not. We had planned to hike again the next day in the Jasper area and in the high country. I was spooked and feeling reluctant but I didn’t want fear to take away what promised to be an amazing experience.

In the morning, I gave myself permission to feel the fear and not fight it. We changed our plans and headed for our next destination, Wells Grey Park in B.C.

We stopped outside of the park and picked up some bear spray and that afternoon we chose a lovely 3 hour hike to see the famous Helmcken falls (4th tallest in Canada). Our journey ended with a rainbow over the falls and we were visited by a friendly frog when we stopped by the river for a rest. Was I scared walking through the forest? Yes, I got unnerved a few times but I’m proud of myself for getting back out on the trail.

And now, 72 hours later, I’m grateful for our Grizzly Bear Encounter (GBE). I’ve been scared before for sure, scared for my children’s safety and health but I’ve never experienced this kind of heart pounding, life or death adrenaline rush.

All the fear I have about putting myself out there, showing art in a show, not being liked, having no one show up, not making the sale, the cut, or being humiliated, vulnerable, open, exposed… all of those fears can now be put into a little box with a lid and maybe even a cute bow. I know that they’ll sneak out from time to time but that charging or bluff charging Grizzly bear has just set a new bar. I needed fear then but I don’t need it now.

No story would be complete without further mention of its hero.

Patrick always has my back. When I have some new idea or dream up some new adventure or project, he’s there. He’s my Macgyver, my BFF and my brave man who literally walked backwards between me and that bear. I’ll go any where with you, my love.

Thank you for letting me share this story.

I think when we bring fear out into the light, it starts to loose its power.

And if you see me sporting an I ‘Heart” Grizzly Bears t-shirt at my next art show, give me a nod and a smile, because you’ll know that I’m just reminding myself of my inner strength and the sweetness of life post the GBE.





Some of our roadtrip photos including a black bear that crossed the Yellowhead Hwy, reaching the top of Mtn Tod, a rainbow as Helmcken Falls, wildflowers at Sunpeaks and a friendly frog!

About Marlene

Marlene paints primarily in oils and enjoys the challenge of abstract expressionism. She is honour to have her artwork in private collections across Canada and in the United States.  Marlene offers workshops and retreats creating an art and yoga experience for participants. She is the creator of two adult colouring books called Outside Your Lines. Marlene lives on the Sunshine Coast of B.C.

Funny, when I paint . . .

I often think I have to have it all figured out first.

However, when I allow myself to just start, what I am creating begins to show itself and I gain clarity in the process.

Jumping in forces me to break habits which is kind of exciting.

Questions will come up like –

Why do I do what I do?  What propels me?  Where am I blocked?  What or who am I influenced by?

“Write (paint) what you know,” in this case gets challenged by write (paint or fill in the blank) what you want to know.

I’ve stopped worrying. Yippee!

Do I get frustrated and blocked?  Oh ya… 
I’ve learned to expect set backs and sometimes I even have to start all over again.

I now recognize this as a natural process and absolutely necessary to making something that I’m proud of.

I welcome the discoveries, the accidents, and the “wrong turns” because they are never a waste of time just an opportunity to stir up something new and juicy.

When we are willing to take risks and just start, we all benefit. (I’m sure I read that somewhere as a well articulated quote – I’m game, how about you?)


p.s. If you are scared to start – get your hands on this great little book –“Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon, it will make you smile while giving you a kick in the ass or come paint with me!