Beauty is one of the things we all cling to in a world that is at times so very ugly. It can unite us when so much is at odds around us. We need to keep looking for the beauty around us and not be afraid to get attached. Keep drawing, keep seeing the beauty even when it seems dark.Continue Reading...
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I have no idea how old I was when dad and I made this funny looking wooden bear — I must have been in primary school I think. Eleven… twelve? I have no idea if I helped cut it out, but I do remember using a file to help dad round the edges and encourage the creature to emerge from the block in my childish, clumsy way. I am sure he corrected my over-zealous attempts after I went to bed. When it looked basically bear-like we switched to sandpaper of varying grades to bring the timber to a satiny smooth finish, and burnished with some kind of oil. The timber isn’t anything fancy, just a couple of pine boards glued together and shaped, but it provided such a fabulous tactile experience that I still take it off the top of my roll-top art desk to touch the timber. It soothes me.
Dad had always made elaborate wooden trucks and cars with my brother, but his odd little bear was a straight-up father and daughter project. Mr Bear is certainly not very pretty or flashy and he’s not from a foreign country. He’s worn and the timber has darkened, and the grain muted with age. He’s dinged from rough handling — I think I probably belted my brother with it more than once — but as simple and naive as Mr Bear is, he is a special remnant from my childhood and has been a constant feature in my creative space over the years regardless of what stage of life I’ve been in. The feel of the timber soothes me and reminds me of time spent with dad and a far less complicated time of life. Simple pleasures. Thanks dad for sharing your creative spark with me, I love you!
It’s dad’s birthday this week. Wish him happy birthday with me!
The past couple of months have been way too busy; I have lost my way with my normal routines and have ended up feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t felt like creating much at all, and my sketchbook entries have felt forced and not at all organic or joyous. My creative practice even took a detour into knitting for a change of scenery, which did not please me. It felt like I was copping out. Who ever said that doing an alternate creative activity was a failure of any kind? I was putting artificial constraints on my artistic expression. Not clever.
Everything was just too much. I felt as though I was getting more information flowing into my head than I could deal with. I realised that quite aside from the overload from work with a complex project in full swing, I had been numbing the stress so that I didn’t have to think about it. I decided to try to art it out, and let it take me where it willed.
The page below developed over a long weekend where I shut things down completely, isolated myself, and started throwing random blobs of paint down on a blank page with a vague idea that I would draw something over the top. As it evolved I felt I needed to keep adding layers. The first one was quite a cheerful watercolour wash that I really wasn’t feeling, so I added a patchy layer of white acrylic, still intending to draw over it with flowers or something similarly happy. That also felt too bright. I was feeling dark and moody, so the next layer was a covering of purples and blues followed by a crankier application of black acrylic. Then came a layer of song lyrics that were speaking to me, followed by a layer of brain dump with all manner of pain, anxiety and frustration verbalised. All of it illegible. It felt almost resolved at that point but not quite. I decided to sift through my collection of random words and phrases cut from magazine pages to see what resonated. I ended up with a positive reminder to breathe and reset rather than continue to be cranky with myself. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but the soul speaks when I take the time to listen. Reboot and breathe.
The experience was very much like an archeological dig in reverse. Working up through the layers of the overwhelm I was feeling. As I kept asking myself why I felt things, and getting the feelings out onto the page, I started to feel lighter. I was exploring and processing the layers as I came to them.
Then I had another prompt to dig through more layers as I listened to Austin Kleon’s latest keynote talk a couple of weeks after the first expedition into my psyche. One word jumped out at me as I listened. Subtraction. He spoke about the need to cut some things out in order to focus — to place limitations on oneself in order to stoke creativity.
I started this page while I was sitting in the car waiting to go into an off-site meeting for work. I poured out my thoughts on the things I was allowing to distract and numb me and eat away my time — news outlets, social media, other people’s art, other people’s carefully curated public lives, the echo chambers reinforcing heinous attitudes. Writing always clarifies and crystallises the maelstrom of disjointed thoughts and ideas wizzing around in my head, and shows me the way forward.
I added the circles as the morning’s meeting progressed, pulling focus so that I could no longer see the distractions, just the word subtraction. I used the layers of circles to bring myself back on point. Ironically, I always listen better in meetings if I can doodle or sketchnote. Focus. I tune out all else, and my mind doesn’t wonder to what I should cook for dinner, or the people running past the window behind the speaker, or the person in my peripheral vision who is tapping pen on book like a madman. Subtraction.
I’ve got some work to do to reestablish my routines and creative practice, and to decide what is important and what is not. To set boundaries, so that someone else’s urgent and important does not become my own. To shed that which is superfluous. What I choose to take in, and on, must add to my experience of this life.
People matter. Meaning matters. A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it’s a lens through which you see and create your world – Jonathan Fields
It is remarkable how easily the unimportant creeps in and takes over if I am not paying attention. It is an ongoing task to be kind to oneself and to ensure that I am looking through the correct lens to properly appreciate my good life. Negative will swallow positive in a heartbeat if I am not vigilant. It is part of my melancholy nature I suppose.
Up until these two pages I had not used my sketchbook for this type of personal exploration at all. To have two in rapid succession tells me that I will likely use it again to correct or clean the lens I am looking through to see my life.
I added a couple of new designs to my RedBubble shop this week! My mantra for the year (first mixed media – iPad and watercolour effort) and a whimsical purple snail (with and without the quote beneath) are available on a variety of clothing and household items in store.
I got my mantra printed up as a metal print and hung it in my bathroom where I will see it every morning and be reminded of the way I want to travel through 2018. If you have purchased any of my pieces I’d love to see photos of you enjoying them 😀
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” – Unknown
That is the mantra that I will use to set my intention for the year ahead, and I have chosen KINDNESS to be my guiding word.
Why did I choose kindness? It’s one of those serendipity things really. I started thinking about my hopes for this year in early December, collected a list of words that I felt fit the bill, and let it all percolate for a bit. I started seeing articles and art works relating to a couple of them consistently, and by far the one that waved its arms the most was ‘kindness’. Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at its best! Just like when you buy a new car, all of a sudden you see that make and model everywhere, I saw references to kindness all over the place! Even as I edit this post and procrastinate on Facebook, a friend posted a profile frame that said, “I believe in the power of kindness”. Thank you universe!
It may sound a bit Pollyanna-ish I suppose, having “kindness” as my word for the year … being kind to myself…being kind to others as a first reaction. Sounds naive doesn’t it? A bit like I’ve fallen headlong into the positivity movement’s blackhole? Like I am setting myself up to be lazy about the things I need to do in my life and a doormat for everyone else? Perhaps inviting people to take advantage of me? No. That’s not it at all. Whilst it is true that I need to cut myself some slack (I have a tendency to run myself into the ground), I think I can be kind and yet maintain boundaries both for myself and for when it comes to interacting with other people. Consistent kindness doesn’t imply that I will tolerate appalling behaviour from others. Nor is it a cure-all for dealing with the political rubbish that threatens to drown us. Kind does not necessarily equate with “nice”, and I have no intention of returning to doormat status, nor do I intend to put myself in danger. Telling people no can be done with kindness. Makes me think of Churchill’s quote: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” Could easily substitute my word in there instead of tact!
Seth Godin said, when he spoke of kindness: “It scales better than competitiveness, frustration, pettiness, regret, revenge, merit (whatever that means) or apathy. Kindness ratchets up. It leads to more kindness. It can create trust and openness and truth and enthusiasm and patience and possibility. Kindness, in one word, is a business model, an approach to strangers and a platform for growth.It might take more effort than you were hoping it would, but it’s worth it.”
In fact, I think perhaps that kindness might just be fabulously subversive – a theory I intend to explore this year. What can being kind achieve? What does it mean to be kind? What does it look like when I am being kind? Can I be consistently kind and not be annoying as hell? Can I be kind when I feel like death warmed up or hard done by?
The big question is…in the context of creativity… how might it affect the way I develop ideas and execute them in my artwork? What does it mean for my little business? I have no idea! We shall see as the year progresses.
Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.
— J.M. BARRIE
Do you select a word or guiding intention for the year? Share it in the comments below, and link to your blog if you have one, I’d love to read about your thoughts for the year ahead!
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I am so glad 2017 is over.
I finished work a couple of days before Christmas and put myself into a fortnight of self-induced hermitry, which is exactly what I need to recover from what has turned out to be a somewhat prickly year.
Nourish was my word for 2017 and at the beginning of the year I wrote out a great long list of intentions for how I wanted to nourish myself and my creativity during the year. The crazy took over mid-way through the year and I found it difficult to stay focussed on the word itself in a conscious fashion, but still, I developed some new habits and made caring choices for myself when I was feeling most overwhelmed.
Possibly the best thing I did for myself this year was to make a conscious effort to curate my inputs. I rarely watch the news on TV these days, and only skim reputable newspapers each day to keep up with the basics of what is happening in the world. I have also learned the fine art of scrolling past material that irritates me – for the most part. When I wrote about being careful about what I read and watch in January, I was reeling from the election of Trump even though I live on the opposite side of the planet. The hyperbole and levels of stupid in the news and on social media had me so stressed out that it threatened to consume me. I am so glad that I chose to eliminate that from my brain food menu! As the stoics of old said … focus on what you can control, and leave the rest.
It has turned out to be an extremely challenging year from a health perspective, which in turn has curtailed my ability to get out and about as much as I would have liked. I cannot walk in the forest like I yearn to do. Heck, I cannot even walk around the block at this point. It is frustrating, but more troubling is that I think it has impacted my creativity. It is almost as though the ideas pool has stagnated because I am not moving. That’s not to say that I had a bad year from an art perspective; I have drawn more this year than last and created some watercolour pieces that I am very proud of, but it has felt like I’ve had to push harder than normal to develop interesting ideas – they are not flowing like I would like them to. Sitting on my bum in front of a computer and scrolling for inspiration is one thing – the ideas are going in – but they are filed away and not swirling around, mixing, and making something new. What I have lacked is the freeing up of the mind to make connections that comes when you are walking and letting the mind wander. This article made me think more deeply about how my whole body is involved in the creative process, rather than just my brain and my hands, and something I will explore more next year. If I can move.
Here is a collage of my nine most popular sketches and paintings as voted by my Instagram followers:
It is always fun to see which of my sketches resonate with other people, and it is so encouraging and surprising to me that people are interested in what I put out there. It gives me a boost and the impetus to keep creating when I am feeling sluggish.
Here is a slide show of all of my sketchbook bits and pieces this year. (If the slide show doesn’t load click here to watch it on the Flickr site) It’s fun to look back at the year from a slightly different perspective. To see where my emotions were and how I progressed through the year.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that no-one has it all figured out. I thought, when I was a child, that by the time I got to the very old age of 40 that I would have everything under control, and know which way was up. Well … I don’t. I turned 47 a couple of weeks ago and am still none the wiser, but it seems I am not the only one. Earlier this year Anne Lamott gave a fabulous TED talk called “12 truths I learned from life and writing” many of her points resonated. This most of all: We are all much the same and everyone is screwed up in one way or another whether we want to admit it or not. 🙂 No-one has it all together or even sort of figured out. Good to know! So I will relax and continue to nourish myself with the habits that stuck, and look forward to a new year and a new set of habits to develop. (I’ll post next week about my word for 2018.)
Thank you for being part of my creative energy this year. I hope your 2018 will be fabulous and far better than 2017.
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I was musing to a friend this week that December always feels overwhelming to me. Much to do and much pressure to be sociable. I always feel tired, I almost always catch whatever summer cold is going around, and my patience is stretched about as tight as Madonna’s face. Which is odd right now, because I know that I am not nearly as busy as I used to be. I look back at old me and wonder how on earth I got everything done. But yet, right now in this moment, it still feels as though I have the weight of the year upon me. Perhaps my load is less visible than in previous years; I don’t know. And I know I am not the only one.
When I remember, I tell myself to stop fighting against it all. Relax and float. I get rid of any debris that doesn’t have to be around me. Most stuff can wait until the new year. Some things you cannot avoid completely, but like the ball in this painting, I can push it away from me for a while at least.
If I am at work and feeling particularly overwhelmed, I treat myself to lunch at the local Japanese restaurant. They have a tea called “blooming tea” that I order and stare at and breathe in the floral scents. This one was rose, camellia and lemon flavoured. Click HERE to watch this beautiful, hypnotic little dance…the bundle unfurls in the hot water and pops out to release the flowers. They serve it to you in these lovely delicate glass teapots so that you can see the flowers and bubbles as they come to life. So good. There is something special about tea and its rituals that creates space and quiets the mind.
It was Hemingway that said of writing:
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
I think it is the same with art. Some of the work I do in my sketchbook feels forced, I am drawing to occupy time, or to learn something or to keep up with a challenge or class. The pieces lack depth. But then there are times when I hit a vein and my heart and soul bleeds out onto the page. The page below is a painting of my stretch marks the flowed out earlier this week. Some consider them ugly, unsightly, a taboo of some sort. They are of course entitled to their opinions. I know that these stripes were earned growing my children and thus intrinsically valuable. My belly provided a safe place for them to grow. My stripes are beautiful and I will no longer apologise to those who seek the belly of a prepubescent child on their woman. I am proud of my stripes, which is why I have painted them in glorious rainbow colours.
I hope that over time I bleed more frequently onto my pages, both with art and with words, for it is in these moments that I feel the weight lifted – even in December.
Do you feel overwhelmed in December too? How do you cope?
Yeesh! Where does the time go? It’s half way through November and the last time I wrote was mid-September. It seems I have done more apologising for not writing than writing anything substantial this year.
The fact of the matter is that I have needed to manage my overall energy levels far more closely this year than I had anticipated when I made my plans to post an article every week. Work has been busy and intense and earning a living takes far too much of my energy to allow for much else. So…writing content for my blog has drifted to the bottom of the to do list for a little while. Though I hasten to add that I know this is a first world problem, being able to pursue one’s passions in any small way is a privilege. I have a fortunate life.
The good news is that even though I have not been writing for publication, I have still been drawing and painting, but that too has seen ebbs and flows in the type of art I have wanted to create. I have found that I have less patience for sketchbook tomfoolery, but more of an appetite for having a more involved “proper” painting on my worktable. I can do small concentrated bursts of work a polished piece over the course of a couple of weeks and not feel overwhelmed or upset that I am not producing a finished piece every time I sit down. Which seems strange to me now that I think about it, but I will not question the muse lest she run away and leave me with no inspiration whatsoever! Here’s what I have been working on; I finally completed the Love Bug painting that had been sitting on the drawing board, untouched, for months (the original is for sale HERE and prints/cards etc available HERE).
I was also fortunate enough to be asked to do a super fun commission of a pinup cycle girl birthday card for a local customer. I was buzzing through the entire process of developing the concept and sketching up my ideas before committing to the final piece. I am pleased to say that my customer was very happy with her, as was his lovely wife who received the gift (printed products available in my Redbubble store).
Somewhat unexpectedly, I have been having a little fun with some comic relief lately too … she pops out onto the page from time to time to comment on my sometimes amusing life. Here are a couple of my favourites … my hair tends to feature quite a lot 🙂 (you can see all of the webcomics so far HERE)
I could promise to write more regularly, but I am pretty sure that the last month and a half of the year will be much the same as the last couple have been. Perhaps the new year will be kinder to my aspirations.
Be sure to subscribe via the link on the right there so you don’t miss out on my (irregular) posts! And please bear with me while I figure out how to make the emails look interesting and worth reading! 🙂
Long post incoming! Grab a cuppa and settle in. I haven’t written a thing since I returned from my trip to London and now I have a whole lot of words ready to fall out of my head as I look back over the first half of the year. I have interspersed some of my favourite sketches and paintings from the past couple of months throughout the post.
At the beginning of the year I selected the word NOURISH to be the theme that flavours my year. If you missed it you can read my first post about it HERE. I said I wanted to be intentional about how my year progresses, but I hasn’t felt that way. I guess it is good that some of it has been sort of autopilot-ish, I hope that means that certain things have become habits. Overall I have found it difficult to make sure I have the notion of nourishing myself in the forefront of my mind all the time, but on the other hand I have been more confident in myself and more inclined to just be myself without worrying what everyone else wants me to be. That has, in many ways, flowed through into being more aware of my energy flows and managing it on the go rather than waiting until I fall in a heap and get sick before I redress the imbalance.
It has felt a good year thus far. The first couple of points below probably won’t look like it, but taken in perspective, they are minor.
Here, in the same order as I presented them in my first post of the year, are some little updates on what I have been doing and feeling so far this year.
Movement – I have managed to be consistent in my weights routine and I am getting stronger week by week, but I still need to be moving more. My general movement has been hindered by some posture-related back issues. Walking is painful and whilst I am rehabbing it slowly, it does restrict my ability to get out and walk any great distance.
Nutrition – I have had no choice but to focus on my nutrition in the last couple of months. I appear to have developed an intollerance to some or other food chemical, so careful planning and examination is required to figure it all out. Food is boring as hell, but hey…I get to eat, there are many that do not have that luxury.
Brain food – Improving the quality of “stuff” that goes into my head has been easier than I imagined it might be, and I have seen an improvement in my overall anxiety levels as a result. I have weeded out my social media feeds, removed a bunch of pages and people that were no good for me, and muted a bunch of others that I would prefer to see less of. I am still working on checking the feeds less often, it seems a slow and steady approach to reining it all in is better for me than a sudden cold turkey approach – I don’t want to cut contact with other people off completely. My feeds now have significantly more beautiful things to show me, and that’s a happy thing. I also have more time to do the things that I love to do now that I am not grazing mindlessly on junk. I have read 17 books so far this year, so I am making my way through my reading stack reasonably steadily. I find myself torn between wanting to sketch and read when I have spare moments, but oddly I seem to be operating on a swings-and-roundabouts system where I’ll sketch solidly for a couple of weeks and then read for a couple of weeks. Seems to be working and I am feeding my intellect and curiosity regularly.
Sleep – I am sleeping better on the whole…mostly due to the changes in my approach to nutrition.
Self-care – On track! With a little help from a book club started by my friend Nat …looking at THIS book. It looks a little woo woo and very American from the title and cover, but for the most part it is practical and easy to digest. It’s reinforcing much of what I already do, and it is great to have others to discuss the concepts with.
Play time – My inner child has been a little neglected … though she really did enjoy the trip to London! Being able to explore and experience new things and wonder at the scads of historical buildings and places and variety of humans all around was brilliant. I need to make more opportunities to play and not get bogged down in the day to day grind of life.
Balancing downtime and social – I still have a tendency to be a hermit, especially since work has become increasingly busy and energy-sapping, but I have made a point of getting out of the house and interacting with humans in person.
Relationships – Grabbing all opportunities with both hands! Oh that sounds bad…what I mean is…I spend as much time as I possibly can with those who mean the most to me!
Art and Writing – I have lacked the mental energy to write much of late. I started off blogging well and posting regularly, but kind of fell in a hole after my trip. Partly because I was a jetlagged zombie for a couple of weeks and didn’t get back into my routine. Or it could be that work has been taking all of my energy and all I can manage is some sketching at the end of the day. Not sure really, but I plan to be more consistent int he second half of the year. On the upside I have had a couple of very fun house commissions to paint since I got back, and I am finally getting stuck into working on the ladybird painting that has been gathering dust on my desk since the end of last year!
Soul food – My trip to London lit something inside of me. I felt so vibrant and buzzy. Everything around me was in high definition technicolour. The new experiences filled me with excitement and I felt very much alive. Travelling definitely feeds my soul! I cannot have that kind of stimulation and soul food everyday obviously, but remembering to seek that out regularly is a must. On the flip side of the coin, I have added yoga and meditation to the mix to help me slow down and unwind and allow me to take notice of the things that are happening in life without me paying attention, as tends to happen when things get busy and I am intent on getting from week to week in one piece. I am hoping this allows me to see some wonder in my current city which has become dull and mundane to me after living here for nearly 35 years.
Overall I am content in my life at present, if a little busy at times, and I am coming to realise that all of these aspects of life flow out of what is happening in my head. Even though sometimes I feel like I do too much navel gazing, I know that I must do some if I am to remain on an even keel when life throws it’s curveballs at me
A dear friend who loves Sherlock Holmes and who is a kindred spirit in terms of introspection and self-examination sent me this quote when we were chatting about brain overload (it’s from Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet):
I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.
Now, that I have cleared out my brain-attic a little, I will do some painting to round out my relaxing Sunday! Thank you so much for reading if you have made it this far!
How is your year progressing? Have you learned what you wanted to learn? Done what you wanted to do? Are you looking after yourself? I hope you are enjoying your life…it is too short not to.
This love bug painting has been sitting on my desk, unfinished, since the beginning of September last year. This week I didn’t pick up a pen all week except for some scratchy meeting doodles. There seems to be some manner of slump happening, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.
I have been going well with drawing regularly this year, up until now. I have been energised and soothed by the drawing process. I have enjoyed learning new things. I felt that I had been nourishing my creative development well. But then it stopped. I didn’t feel like drawing at all. I considered it once or twice, but couldn’t figure out what to draw. My imagination had turned off. It was as though I had exceeded mental bandwidth.
As for the unfinished love bug painting, I think that’s time and energy issue. Bang for buck, if you will. I have been getting far more satisfaction out of my sketchbook efforts than in the protracted effort of a large piece that needs drying time and far more concentration and precision. Sketchbook work gives me short, sharp sessions of 20-30 minutes (oftentimes less) to produce a finished page that is colourful and fun, as opposed to a ‘proper’ art piece that takes days or weeks of incremental efforts here and there. It bothers me that I don’t have the staying power at the moment for this type of work…I love the result of the concerted effort. But I have yet to ‘make’ myself do it. Welcome to the ramblings of my addled mind 🙂
I don’t suppose it helps that this painting is at its ugly stage. Time to push through perhaps? The thought crossed my mind that I could abandon it, but I think I would learn more if I finished it, even if it doesn’t turnout well.
I’m not sure, I seem to be lacking in patience/bandwidth across the board lately. Time to re-evaluate my routines maybe? I don’t want my creative habits to wane because I let myself become too busy. Or perhaps I just need to relax and allow my creative output to ebb and flow in time with the other things in my life. Manage the overall energy balance and accept that sometimes I will not have the time or focus to do the intricate pieces that I want to. I need to enjoy being able to put pen or brush to paper in whatever form it takes. Next month or next year it may well be different again. Fact remains that I will be drawing and painting, but I don’t want to lump guilt on myself for not meeting an arbitrary, and at this point imagined, standard.
What do you think? Is it the swings and roundabouts of the creative life? Has it happened to you? What did you do?