Rebooting creativity in 2021

It’s time for a change. I haven’t been nurturing my creative practice nearly as much as I should have been over the past 12 months, and I have a theory as to why.

I had the words sensory deprivation come to me when I was on the rowing machine one day when I was thinking about what 2020 was like. I have struggled to be creative at all in an arty sense. I don’t leave the house if I can help it, so I am not seeing new things, I am not hearing snippets of peoples’ conversations, I am not seeing, hearing, feeling or smelling new things. The inputs that usually spark a thought or inspire creation are missing. I have seen many people in the same situation that have been super creative and sketching and documenting what is happening within their homes etc. I haven’t done that. I have been working from home, so haven’t really had a lot of time for sitting and sketching. I wasn’t furloughed, for which I am grateful, but that also meant that I didn’t have the extra free time that these super creative people did that I was comparing myself to. I was drawn to knitting when the weather was cool…but that is more a meditation than an art at times I think. Note to self: Stop comparing yourself to others!

As you can see from the top two images, I have started forcing the issue, taking a leaf out of Austin Kleon’s book and fiddling with collage when I have nothing to say/draw/paint. It takes the pressure off needing to create something in a particular way. Create for the sake of the process of creating rather than wanting to make something beautiful or polished.

I have also started to take Koosje Koone’s lead and draw the little bits and pieces around the house as a project.

I need to get my mojo back. I need to be proactive in my creative practice so that when I am free to leave the house for any length of time again, I don’t have to start from scratch! Being creative brings me joy, which is something we can all do with a little more of, and something we can share with each other even if we cannot do it in person yet.

Here’s to a more colourful, creative and joy-filled year ahead!

If you’d like to check out last year’s sketches, you can see them HERE.

Art therapy in the time of COVID-19

Get to know all about it
life etc
don’t disconnect,
Explore what lies beneath
curiouser and curiouser
Find love

The world is an odd place at this moment in history.

I don’t like going to the shops for groceries at the best of times, but yesterday I found myself feeling incredibly anxious about leaving the house and possibly exposing myself to the virus. By the time I got home I was feeling exhausted and wanting to hide. I was annoyed because the feelings were not logical, I know the science and how to protect myself as much as possible, but they were there. And feelings are for feeling. All of them.

So I scrawled it all out onto a page in my sketchbook to get them out of my head. To see them, identify them and to acknowledge them. Reams of messy, scrawly writing tumbled out. Fears, insecurities, anger, frustration.

Now that all that was out of my head (for the moment) I could focus on adapting, responding and overcoming. One step at a time.

I like to do collage style pages when I feel unsettled, as a way to reframe the stories I tell myself. To remind me to be gentle with myself. I cover the chaotic feelings with smears of paint and scribbles and new words and images and focus on that instead. It is a technique that lends itself to layers upon layers as I swim towards the surface. I tell myself a new story about the things that are happening around me. This time the words that formed themselves into verse as I sifted through my stash of magazine clippings steered me towards connection and love. A good reminder at a time like this.

Art can be a great way to process life at times like this. It is one of the many things in my coping toolbox. How are you dealing with our new normal?

Hong Kong trip sketching

Mr Collier and I just returned from an 8-night trip to Hong Kong, and whilst it wasn’t a trip for sight-seeing and sketching per se, I did manage to fit in a few sketches to capture some of the interesting things from our trip. As always, click the image for a larger view.

20200213 - HK titleI always start with a cover page of sorts…this time I drew a map of Hong Kong and showed the location of our hotel on the northern coast of Hong Kong Island facing onto Victoria Harbour.

20200213 - HK trip map
I like to capture flight details as well … though looking at the scan now I can see that I didn’t complete the final leg … I was a bit stressed out by that point since I booked for the wrong day and had to rebook a new flight when I got to Sydney, so I’m not surprised I forgot to write it up! Also, the actual flight path was direct and passed over the Australian landmass rather than taking a loop out to the east first. Just as well this is not a text book!

20200216 - HK apartments

We saw this short building on our way to the supermarket. It amused me how it was dwarfed by the skyscrapers surrounding it.

20200219 - HK boats
Our hotel room had a balcony overlooking Victoria Harbour and many hours were spent chatting and watching the boats and ships as they came and went. The slow progress of the vessels bobbing along was hypnotic and we had a lot of fun trying to figure out what they might be doing. This page captures a very small selection of the hundreds of boats that came and went below us.

20200219 - HK room plan
Our visit coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in China, and at the time there were a couple of dozen cases in Hong Kong, but 99% of people were wearing masks and we had heard reports of people panic-buying toilet paper and rice. Our first supermarket visit (one of our favourite things to do in a foreign city) coincided with a recent delivery of loo roll and we saw many people with shopping trolley-loads of of it! The clipping above was in the local paper the next day. It’s probably not funny, but it amused us, and in chatting to the driver that took us to the airport at the end of our trip, he thought it was pretty funny too, so I didn’t feel so bad. He was cracking jokes about a friend who bought a Porsche to stay in to avoid being infected rather than masks because it was cheaper! hehe

20200219 - HK skyline at breakfast
The main restaurant still open in our hotel (some were closed due to COVID-19 risk mitigation activities) was located on the 41st floor and had a stunning view of the city on several sides. I sketched this section of the skyline after breakfast one morning, and is the one and only on-location urban sketch of the trip. While I sketched, Mr Collier lamented the demise of the Kai Tak Airport, apparently we could have been watching hairy jumbo landings in the harbour below as we enjoyed our meal. Check out this video to see what I mean! Yikes!

20200226 - HK garage
And the final sketch for the trip, I actually finished when I got back to capture a little garage that we passed each time we ventured out of the hotel. The city was grey and busy, but the lighting in the garage was very warm and yellow and it made for a nice contrast.

We had a great time in this vibrant and energetic city. We’ll be going back!

Looking back on 2019

2019 has been an odd but wonderful year. Much happened, but not a lot of it was art related! In fact my energy for art and blogging seemed to dwindle as the year progressed, but my yen to knit and read ramped up exponentially. It seems my brain needed a different kind of stimulation. That is not to say that I didn’t draw or paint, I did, but it was not my obsession as it was in previous years.

I was able to complete a couple of very detailed watercolour paintings, and a raft of comic portrait commissions throughout the year, and again added sketches to my sketchbook and played with zentangle-style doodles to soothe when required.

I am not sure what the new year will hold, but I do know paint and pens will be involved!

Here are some of my favourites from this year. Do you have a favourite? Tell me in the comments below.

sunflower raw scan

Oh I love sunflowers! They are so bright and cheerful. I had such fun painting this one.

us wedding

Wedding comic
I drew this one to use on our marriage announcement in the middle of the year. We did not have photos taken, so I immortalised our outfits in one of my comic portraits.

Booty Fruity

Booty Fruity reporting for duty
I have come to really enjoy painting pinups. I did this Royal Marine tribute for Remembrance Day – though I stuffed it the first time and had to repaint her, which was more than a little annoying. She is kitted out with a Heckler and Koch VP9 and Faibairn Sykes ready for duty, but I’m not sure she’d get far in those boots.

PCOS pinup edited transparent background

PCOS pinup
This one was a commission for a dear friend.

20190219 - Green CApe lighthouse

This sketch brings back such memories! I took a trip to the NSW south coast in February … it was a very blustery day and the clouds made me think of the weather in years gone by that would have caused shipwrecks up and down the coast. That’s the best thing about location sketching isn’t it? It locks in the memories.

20190429 - be softer

Be soft with yourself
Soothing bubbles that ended up looking like bubble wrap, and a reminder to treat myself well.

20190116 - messages from minime

Never forget how to play
I have enjoyed using prints of old baby photos to add a fun collage element to these mixed media pages in my sketchbook.

All of my sketchbook sketches from this year can be found here (I can no longer embed a slideshow as in previous years due to Adobe Flash landing on the scrap heap.)

And if you want to see more frequent updates than I manage here on the blog, you can follow me on Instagram.

I also write here, though updates have been sparse there this year too!

Looking for beauty among the ashes

This morning I woke to the news that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning. I cried for the loss of something so beautiful and iconic and then more when I saw Parisians crying and singing quietly in the streets, mourning as they watched their grand old lady burn. Footage of fire fighters, the spire falling and the gutted remains of the cathedral were everywhere.

As the day wore on I began to see photos of destruction interspersed with sketches and paintings and holiday snaps. Artists were sharing hundreds of memories and flooding my feeds. People were reminiscing and grieving, and searching for the remembered beauty. It meant so much to so many and for a million different reasons.

Sketching or painting something captures memories of more than just the building. A sketch is imbued with your emotions, impressions and interpretation of your experience of the place at a moment in time. I think this is part of what artists everywhere were looking for.

I visited Paris in 2011 but I wasn’t a confident sketcher then and the details of the Notre Dame architecture scared the life out of me, so I didn’t even try. I thought I had, but was sad to discover I had not sketched it at the time. What I do remember was the feeling of awe as I took in her size and tried to wrap my head around the centuries’ worth of pilgrims that had made their way there seeking shelter or solace.

Today I flipped through my photos and searched for beauty as I tried to process the devastation on a page in my sketchbook. I found one where the sun was flaring across the front facade and did my best to capture her on that glorious Autumn day.

I saw a comment on Twitter where someone commented: “posting all your holiday snaps of Notre Dame is not helping”, and I imagine there are similar sentiments circulating about the artwork that is being posted. Perhaps they think it is an attention seeking thing? I know everyone processes these tragedies in their own way, but I would beg to differ and believe that sharing beauty can help. It is the same reason we have pictures of our loved ones at the funeral when they die. We are remembering the beauty of their lives. Even now, artists all over the world are digging out photos and drawing and painting to find the jewel among the ashes that we have been presented with today.

I felt silly being so upset about it, but was reminded by the Viking that I am attached to beautiful things, and that is not a bad thing. I am not the only one a long way from Paris shedding tears…I am reading of people all over the world reacting the same way. Never be afraid to attach yourself to beauty and to mourn it’s loss when it goes. We don’t buy a bunch of roses without knowing that it will be withered and in the bin a week or two later. Nothing around us is guaranteed to be there tomorrow — be it flowers, a pet, a loved one or an 860 year old cathedral. We cannot deprive ourselves of these things because we know it will hurt at some point.

The heartbreak of seeing Notre Dame burn is still present, but the beauty and the memories remain, albeit in different form. It will not be experienced in the same way again, even when she is rebuilt. We will mourn her loss and then celebrate again when she is reborn.

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.

If you draw the world becomes more beautiful, far more beautiful.

EO Plauten

Urban sketching at the AIS plus a new setup trial

I love getting out to draw on location at this time of year. The weather is warm but not too hot, and whilst it can be blowy, it wasn’t overly so this past weekend. I joined the Canberra Urban Sketchers for the monthly sketchwalk at the Australian Institute of Sport where there were a multitude of sculptures and odd shaped buildings to focus on for sketching. I chose the facade of the visitor centre because it presented a challenge due to the slope of the entry apron compared to the ground line and the way the building fit in with it all. I knew I would give my observation skills a good workout.

20190310 - AIS
Click to see a larger version of the sketch

I started by holding up a ruler at arm’s length to gauge where the natural ground line was, and transferred that to my page. I then compared each of the angles of the building to that horizontal line. You can see that line in the middle of my sketch where the seven white pillars are under the visitor’s sign. The rest of the sketch flowed from there. The colours of the scene were a little underwhelming, so I punched them up a little and made sure I got the shadows in to show the sunny day, and included a couple of my fellow sketchers to show scale. Looking at it on the screen, I can see that I could have gone darker on the shadow where the entry doors are! Next time!

It was a Sunday morning, so there were lots of families coming and going to swimming lessons at the pool that was to the left of the visitor centre. I was sitting close to a walkway, so I had lots of little people coming to take a look at what I was doing, asking questions and telling me how much they like to draw and paint. The oooohs and aaaaaaahs made me smile.

I tried out a new set up this week, using a photographic tripod and a piece of corflute attached to the head. Because I came up with the idea in the late hours of the previous evening, I had to bodgy up the arrangement and found some picture hanging velcro-type strips in my toolbox to attach the corflute to the tripod head. Two strips on the board and two strips on the tripod, then press together. Easy!

It worked…sort of…but there were a couple of moments where I leaned too heavily on the board, detached the lot, and sent my sketchbook sliding down to my feet. The hangers are brilliant for attaching things to walls, but not fabulous for something that has non-shearing forces applied. The concept is sound, but I need to find a more secure way of attaching the board to the tripod. The whole setup was light and fit in, or on, my backpack for easy transportation, so I’d like to explore a more durable solution. I could of course just buy an easel attachment, but where’s the fun in that? 🙂

2018 wrap up

20181222 - now

What a busy year it has been! Most of my creative time and energy was poured into the development of my calendar (there are a few left!). My evenings for the first three quarters of the year were consumed with painting the originals, and so my sketchbooks have been slow to fill. In the last couple of years I have been measuring my “productivity” as an artist by how many sketchbook pages I fill, aiming for a daily practice. The drop in sketchbook pages filled this year bothers me a little, I will admit. I have issues these days with measuring productivity as a creative person, the two concepts seem at odds given that I am not trying to make living out of it, but that’s a subject for a whole separate post!

I explored more drawing styles this year, mostly as a result of participating in various online art classes, but have been particularly pleased with the comic portraits that developed and the whimsical girls that have appeared of late.

20181105 - improve the silence

Here’s a flip through of my last completed sketchbook. (Click here if viewing in email or RSS reader)

I have also started to use the process of creating messy journal pages that have layers and layers of paint, and words and collaged elements, to work through whatever it is that I am feeling at the time. Invariably these pages are melancholy or anxious. It is a way for me to lean into and explore the shadows that we all inhabit from time to time, and to make sure I don’t let the negativity drive on this immense road trip that is life. Using art as therapy like this is something I want to explore more of. I have signed up for an e-course that starts early in the new year to learn more about this style of creating.

20181028 - not healthy

In much the same way, my mood and feelings seep into my regular drawings. This is happening more and more as I discover who I am, and allow complete honesty with how I am feeling. I grew up in a subculture that devalued and suppressed feelings and emotions, so being honest with myself and embracing that is a new and freeing thing. It is interesting to me that this is flowing out into my creative expressions without conscious intent. Those closest to me can read my emotional state by looking at my art even if I have not consciously sought to communicate it, and sometimes when I do not recognise it myself. I drew the elf below thinking that she would be a sweet little christmassy addition to my sketchbook. I like the way she turned out, but when I photographed her to add to IG I saw sad eyes staring back at me, she looks truly melancholy. I was so surprised! I hadn’t felt particularly sad when I was drawing her, but I was a bit down and had various anxieties simmering in the background. I guess they needed to come out.

20181206 - melancholy elf

This is an obvious happy piece that I enjoyed creating:

20180912 - out of hte box

I am beginning to think that I will never have a set, recognisable style for my drawings, I like exploring too much; trying new things. I really am still so fresh on this creative adventure, and so I take real joy in trying new media and approaches to how I fill my pages. As I mentioned before, I have signed up for a messy journalling course, I have also signed up for a more whimsical one too. They will run side by side for a little while, so I may end up with some curious results 🙂

Here’s a slide show of all of my sketchbook pages for the year. The progression in styles and content is fascinating to look back on. (Click here if viewing in email or RSS reader, if you want to see it full size on Flickr)

What do I want for my creative practice in the year to come? I don’t think I will take on a large project like the calendar again in the coming year, it took more brain power and connected effort than I am likely to have available. I would like to try to develop rapid figure sketching skills and work more on urban sketching — likely in combination — so that I can bring an active human element to my on-location work. I would like to capture more of my life in my sketchbooks alongside the whimsical and nonsensical stuff too — what do I care about and what do I feel about the things I see and the places I go?

20181106 - iby the dordogne

Thank you all for visiting my blog and tagging along this year as I continued to play and splash paint around. I hope you will join me next year!

If you have not found it yet, I have started writing again and have launched a blog for non-art related scribblings, including my word of the year posts. Pop over and visit.

20181222 - christmas elf 1

Old Mr Bear and an ode to woodwork

20181113 - pine bear

Click to see larger image

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 Canberra Churches 2019 Calendar is here!

The calendars have arrived from the printer and I am SO pleased with the way they turned out! It feels wonderful to finally be able to hold them in my hands. I hope you like them too.

I had a run of 50 printed and they are now available on my Etsy store – click HERE to get yours.  (if they sell well I’ll get some more printed, drop me a line if you miss out so I know you want one). I ship all over the world, and local pick up can be arranged for Canberra people.

The calendar features 12 of Canberra’s beautiful churches painted in watercolour.

All Australian holidays are marked and the calendar squares are nice and roomy so that you can write in your own batch of birthdays and special events.

The original artworks are also for sale here.

Get your calendar now! They will make fabulous Christmas presents!

7 things I learned working on the church calendar project

My Canberra Churches Calendar project is in the home stretch! The file has been sent off to the printers and I am as nervous as an expectant mother fiddling about with things as I wait for my ‘baby’ to arrive. I am super pleased with how the paintings came out and cannot wait to see them all printed up and official!

While I wait I thought I’d share seven things I learned throughout the project:

1. The drawing/painting part is the easy bit — The creative part of the process really is the most fun part, so that makes it relatively easy. The administration and faffing around with computers to compile everything and the self promotion parts are not so much fun. It is the same for any small business, so it comes as no surprise really.

2. The project consumed lots of energy and impacted general sketchbook play and creative development — I only have limited time and energy available to me out side of my day job, so some things had to drop off while I painted churches. I missed working in my sketchbook and trying new things, but at the same time I refined my ability to draw buildings and managed to keep them within a particular, coherent style.

3. I recognised a phase of ugliness in each painting — There was always a part of each piece where I really wasn’t sure that it was going to work. I feared having to start again because I hadn’t quite got the colours right or something just felt off. But I saw the pattern and stuck to my process, and each time something lovely emerged at the other end. They are not all perfect of course, I am neither a camera nor a photocopier after all, so I embraced the wonkiness and celebrated each one.

4. A set palette of paint colours simplified decisions and sped things up — Limiting myself to a particular group of pigments gave a unified feel across all works even though the buildings are so different in their styles and facades. It also meant that I didn’t need to stop and make decisions about which colours to use at the beginning of each piece. I wrote about my palette in this post.

5. Having a project gave me purpose and focus — A public deadline made me keep going and not give up part way through, even though I desperately wanted to at times. I have a habit of starting things and not finishing them. I kept wondering what the next project was and I already have drawers full of UFOs (un-finished objects), so to have made it to the end with a completed product to offer is an achievement I am proud of.

6. There was a part of the project where it really felt like a burden — Creating art is not some romantic notion where things just fall out of one’s head, it takes effort and sometimes that feels like hard work. I got thoroughly sick of drawing church buildings and wanted to switch to drawing flowers or people or anything but bricks and mortar. But I kept going. On the flip side it has made me think about the purpose that art plays in my life too. Am I killing my creativity by wanting to make something to sell? Something to explore at a later date.

7. Things will always go wrong — From the very conception of the project back in February I had planned to use RedBubble to produce the calendars as a print on demand offering so that I wouldn’t have any substantial financial outlay. I sized the original artwork and planned everything around their requirements. Last week I logged in to double check the specifications before I started on the layout and preparation of files to upload, only to discover that RedBubble had decided to stop producing calendars as of August 2018. Ugh. Several hours of frantic searching later and I hadn’t found another print-on-demand option that fit my requirements, so I located a printer that could deliver what I needed as a regular print run. Suffice it to say that I had to bite the bullet and put my money where my mouth is, and the box of calendars will land on my doorstep sometime in the next week and a half! Squee! There were some other technical glitches too and I suspect there will be more challenges before I put this thing to bed, but as always adaptability and flexibility will get me though!

Stay tuned for an announcement of when the calendars are available in my Etsy store. The original paintings will also be for sale. If you would like to be ahead of the game and get an early bird discount to boot, please subscribe to my newsletter by clicking HERE. I promise not to spam you or give your details to any one else ever.