Painting blind

painting brushesOnce in a while, I see something that I just can’t keep to myself. Somewhere (and I cannot even remember the thread) on the Internet today, I stumbled across a video of an artist who, for 25 years, has been registered blind. In the words of Sargy Mann, “My desire has always been to make paintings; to make visual metaphors for my version of reality.”

As a visual person, I find it almost impossible to imagine how it must feel to lose your sight, let alone what it must mean to continue life as an artist after losing your sight. Sargy Mann‘s story is moving; his art is astonishing and his determination to keep going against all the odds is inspiring.

I hope you can stop for just five minutes today and watch this… painting after blindness. And if that moved you and you have a little longer, watch a full video of Sargy Mann’s art by his son Peter here.

Today, I am grateful for my eyesight; for the ability to view art and to make pictures and take photographs without any of the challenges that blindness brings. I am grateful for finding this story of sheer determination and art today.

Please leave a comment below if these videos move you… I would love to know what thoughts and emotions they stir up in you.

Late night Friday gratitude list

painted skyReflecting on the past 7 days, I have so much to be grateful for this week…

Sunshine and flowers as evidence of the fast-approaching Spring.

The package waiting on the doorstep on Wednesday containing paintings from the Visual Medicine workshop I attended the previous week. Also, for the overwhelming urge to paint early on Sunday morning that led to me covering the kitchen worktops in cling film (to keep them paint-free), mixing up paint in old jam jars and going for it! See above for results.

An afternoon visit to the theatre with my Mum to see this. It was brilliantly acted, provoked much laughter and holding of breath in all the right places. Our seats on the fourth row were just perfect.

Dinner with Mum last night at the pub I used to work in as a teen.

The joy of listening to my eldest doing his steel pan practice. That sound is so beautiful! Instant transportation from North London to the Caribbean… (in my mind at least).

An incredible shiatsu massage at my son’s school’s pamper evening. Thank you Sophie… you relieved all of the tension that had been building up in my shoulders and causing me to creak.

An evening with one of my very dearest friends.

The opportunity to go see my amazing and colourful friend Sue Kreitzman’s window at Selfridges, Oxford Street as part of their celebration Bright Old Things. See below for evidence.

Sue Kreitzman Selfridges WindowWhat were you grateful for this week?

Letting go is all part of the process

Julia Elmore South Bank beach

Making art on London’s South Bank beach. Photo: Julia Barnickle www.juliabarnickle.com

I love it when something I share touches people and provokes a response. My blog post this week had been a long time coming, but I was glad to discover that it hit a nerve.

I had become a little too wrapped in things other than creating… you know, the life stuff… and had taken a step away from my art. Was it any wonder then, that I was feeling disconnected? Disconnected from myself; disconnected from my business; all because I had become temporarily disconnected from my art. How easy it is though, (as my artist/illustrator/cartoonist friend Richard commented on the last blog post) to get so wrapped up in the things we think we should be doing, but feel too much like work, that we forget to play. So play we must… and in doing so we reconnect. Not only with the heart of our business, but with others as well as we share our stories.

As well as sharing my stories, I love to share my art… on the blog and on the streets. Making art out in public is part of my process and many of my pieces have a connection to the place in which they are made. They are there for a reason, though not always obvious. Photographing the work, then letting it go are the following stages.

My talented friend Cecile (whose eccentric, eclectic videos help people learn fruity French) asked a question on the blog. “I love your mythical creature.” she said. “How could you bear to leave it behind?”

This making art and leaving it behind was a subject that had come up on the day of making as I had a friend (another Julia) along with me, creating a little film as I worked on my art. We had talked about making art and allowing it to have a life of its own after the making is done. I commented that in decluttering my home, I had found it hard to reconcile the making of more and more art that I did not intend to sell with the clearing of my home. That was until I decided to let go of much of it.

Art, for me, is a form of mindfulness. It is about being present and immersed in the moment. It can be as much about the process as the finished product, if not more so. It fills a need; a desire to be engaged in something I love with no fixed outcome. It allows me the freedom to let things – ideas / emotions / experiments – rise up, be worked on and worked through. It is liberating. But what is even more liberating is the letting go.

Allowing the work I make out in public to have a life after I leave it behind is vital.

As a little girl, I used to draw pictures of horses; every day, for a very long while. Occasionally, I would put a special drawing on top of my wardrobe in the secret belief, that one day, if I wished hard enough, the horse I had drawn would come to life and I would wake to find him in my garden. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that this never happened, but there was something about leaving my Thames Serpent behind on the South Bank beach that rekindled this dream and as I replied to Cecile, “I was secretly hoping that he would be brought to life when the tide came in.”

I never know what will happen to my work when I walk away from it. The best I can hope is that it makes someone’s day… or at least makes someone stop and think. Much of my chalking in my local environment is done with that intention… words to prompt thoughts; perhaps actions; certainly observations.

I let my environment lead me. I rarely know what I will create until I come to a place and start making. It depends what comes up for me and that could be anything – from the shadows the sun has created or the detritus washed up on the beach. I create; I photograph (in order to record it and share it), then I let go quite happily. This may mean that things remain for a month or so (in the case of Summer chalkings on wooden fence panels at my local station) or are washed away in a matter of minutes.

Whatever happens next is all part of the process.

Julia Elmore South Bank beach art

Photographing the finished piece before letting go. Photo: Julia Barnickle www.juliabarnickle.com

If you would like some support getting started with your art or taking a project to the next level, get in touch and let’s talk about it. I will soon be offering mentoring sessions both in person and on Skype and workshops will start again soon.
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Do what you need to do

One Wheeled Thames SerpentNew Year started well. I felt productive; inspired; I was raring to go. A lot was achieved in a short space of time and then, a few days go, I felt my foot on the brake. I cannot say why, just that I wasn’t feeling it on Monday morning when I went to check in with my weekly mentoring group. My list of achievements for half term didn’t amount to much and I just couldn’t come up with a list of what I would like achieve in the week ahead. So, I was honest. I checked in saying that I did not feel like working on my business this week and all I wanted to do was retreat into art. I wanted to get lost in doing what I love. Permission was given.

Today, I allowed myself to get lost in creating the mythical beast of a One Wheeled Thames Serpent from found objects on one of London’s South Bank beaches. I wandered the shoreline, gathered some bits, wondered what I would make from them, then just one piece spoke to me… a smooth piece of wood with the face and I was off… I knew what my piece would become.

It felt so good to be immersed in the thing I love doing most… making art.

In working on a business and ploughing onward with the things we think we are meant to be doing, it can be so easy to slip away from doing what we love… and that is often the very thing that led us to create our business in the first place… the fire at the heart of what we do. It is vital to reconnect with that once in a while, if not on a daily or weekly basis. So today, I am writing this to give you permission… Do what you love.

Sometimes you just need to do what you need to do. Today, for me it was art. And in doing what you love, something is freed up. You are led back to you… the you at the heart of your business… the you you have strayed from in trying to think your way out of things or working too hard.

Leo Babauta’s article today spoke to me too… he talks about mindful immersion, have a read if you like: http://zenhabits.net/lost/

Then go; go now… go lose yourself in doing something you love.
And if you feel like it when you’re done, check back in here later and let me know what you found.

Three unexpected gifts

detour planThis week, I had a plan. There were things I had to do, things I wanted to do and things I might do if I had the time and the inclination. I had an idea of what would fit in when, but that didn’t quite happen.

Having worked over the weekend, I decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery on Monday between school runs for their Portrait of the Day talk. I had been keen to attend one of these lunchtime talks for a while and this one was advertised on the website as starting at midday (I checked before leaving), but when I arrived, it had been cancelled. What? I had gone all that way for nothing? Hmm… time for a re-frame.
The gift…? An afternoon in the city to do as I wished. I took myself for a nice hearty soup (I would likely have skipped lunch otherwise) and then returned to the NPG to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition before hopping back home on the train.

On Wednesday, I was due to work at the art magazine I mentioned in my post last week, but on arrival, found friend and colleague Tasha standing on the doorstep looking puzzled. Key in hand, she was unable to get in. The door had been bolted from the inside and our Editor was away at an art fair in New York. We made a few phone calls, asked the neighbours if they had a key for the other door, but no luck!
The gift…? An unexpected morning off work. I went home and finished off a BIG piece of art before heading off up to school to run Art Club.

On Thursday, big boy woke with a headache. Another person in the house was not what I had expected. This meant I was unable to go out (without poorly boy in tow) and did not want to be face to screen all day as he would likely want to do the same.
The gift…? One to one time with my son. Small boy and I regularly walk hand in hand between big boy’s school and his… it happens almost daily, but solo time with big son is rare. I did fit in a little bit of work whilst big boy sat with me, which was a gift in itself as when he asked me what I do all day (don’t you just love that question Mums) I was able to explain to him and show him some of what I do and how I do it. We ate a lovely hot lunch together at the table and chatted about lots of things, then retired to the sofa for a while before it was time to go get the little one. A gift of a slow day together.

What unexpected events have thrown you off course this week and caused you to re-think your plans, but could be seen as a gift instead of an inconvenience?

Gratitude Daily begins again on March 2. Join me as I guide you through a 21 day course to create a sustainable gratitude practice that fits into your busy life and helps you focus on the good stuff every day.
The gift…? The next three people to sign up for the course will receive a surprise gratitude gift in the mail.

Friday gratitude list

grateful forFollowing my post early this week on success, shame and allowing support, I have been thinking a lot about my definition of success. Sharing the truth of our vulnerable, imperfect selves, is a sure way to connect and I was moved by some of the responses I received to this post, both in the comments and when I shared it on Facebook.

If I am to go with this idea that a successful day is one in which I have things to be grateful for, then this has been a wonderful week. I regularly share my gratitude lists on my Facebook pages, but rarely on my blog. So, I decided it was about time I shared with you some of the things I am grateful for and I would love it if you felt like leaving your own gratitude list in the comments below. Hearing other people’s good news always brings a smile to my face.

Today, I am grateful for…

A day at my son’s school.
As regulars here will know, I run the after school art club at my big boy’s school and last week the children made some gorgeous, colourful hands for a display. Today, I volunteered to hang the hands on the wall along with all of the photographs of school staff. I had no idea how long it would take (about 4 hours – it’s a BIG school), but I was in my element. Working away on my little ladder in the hallway, I was right at the heart of the comings and goings of the school day. Our children go to school in the morning, come back in the evening and if yours are anything like mine, you are told little of what goes on in between. It felt good to be in their environment for a short while and get a little inside peek.

My longstanding relationship with Raw Vision magazine.
Fresh out of Uni, I went to work at the magazine on a voluntary basis, having stumbled upon the publication in the library. Flicking through the pages for the very first time, some 20+ years ago, my view of art radically changed. Here, I was faced with art by people who hadn’t been to art school, yet the work they were creating was some of the most amazing art I had ever seen. My career grew with the publication and led me to speak at international conferences and curate exhibitions. I took a break for a while and now I am back in the fold for just a few hours each week, but the feeling’s good. If you haven’t yet discovered the magical world of Outsider Art, it’s time to start exploring.

The funny things my children say.
Yesterday evening, at the dining table, having discussed roast beef dinners and vegetarian sandwiches, big boy asked small boy if he would like to be a veggie. “Yes,” replied small one. “I would like to be a carrot.” I am also grateful to Tara for having illustrated another of small boy’s sayings on her blog where she uses her creative skills to illustrate some of the peculiar things people say.

Time to make art.
Having completed a proposal form for Pallant House Gallery, finished off an article for the Screw Work Academy newsletter and sent in my tax return, I gave myself permission to spend all day yesterday painting, cutting and pasting, all whilst listening to podcasts. The image at the top is part of the result.

Sweet potatoes.
This week, I have baked them, roasted them and put them in soups and casseroles. Simple, healthy food. Yum!

A glimpse of the past.
Costa coffee will soon be moving into a building at the bottom of my road. As workers took off the old Post Office sign, a shop sign from last century (possibly some 80+ years old) was revealed. The following day it had been covered over again, hopefully to be revealed once more at some later date.

Friends you can be 100% real with.
I don’t mean 99%, I mean 100%; no hiding, no pretending, no nonsense. This is me, take me or leave, me, but I know I can show you all of me, even the bits I don’t like about myself friends. One of mine came over on Monday evening. We sipped herbal tea and talked about how we can count such people on one hand. Truly grateful for such deep friendships.

The weekend…
It’s almost here again and I’m grateful for whatever fun it holds in store for me.
Enjoy! x

Gratitude Daily begins again on March 2. Join me as I guide you through a 21 day course to create a sustainable gratitude practice that fits into your busy life and helps you focus on the good stuff every day.

 

On success, shame and allowing support

successA friend posed a question the other day, “What does success mean to you?”
The answer that came up surprised me and led to some soul-searching. My response was, “To be earning enough money to feel independent and not have to rely on anyone.”

The question had been posted in a Facebook group for entrepreneurs and so the answer related to my business, but it revealed a whole lot more about the layers and the limits I have been creating for myself.

A conversation in the group ensued and as it unfolded, I became aware of how my answer was showing me how I have been holding back and not allowing myself to be supported in certain areas of my life, both financially and in other ways as well. Financial support has been a real block that I have been pushing against constantly, yet unconsciously. This discussion brought it to my awareness.

As a single Mum, I am entitled to certain benefits. I am employed and self-employed. I work for myself and for others, so I claim Working Tax Credit and Child Benefit from the Government. As a recently divorced mother, I am entitled to child maintenance from my ex-husband to help care for our boys. He gives it willingly. Why then, do I feel so much shame when it comes to accepting what I am entitled to?
Do I not feel worthy of financial support?

I believe the answer may be tied to my work ethic and the way I grew up. I was given an allowance from my teenage years, by my parents. A small sum of money either weekly or monthly, to cover my expenses and help me get a handle on budgeting. This meant that I had to allocate and save money for clothing, shoes and toiletries, though I did not have to worry about food and other basics. I chose to supplement this with part time work and earned money (which I saved more often than spending) in a bid to gain financial freedom. Working through my student years, in evenings, weekends and holidays, I was the only one of my friends (as far as I am aware) who made it through Uni free from debt.

For emerging debt-free, I am truly grateful. But what did this work, work, work, be independent mindset (that I created for myself) teach me? I learned always to be looking for an opportunity to make money. It taught me to keep busy and to be self-sufficient. As a 40-something mother I am not sure this belief still serves me. Big boy has been noting of late, how I seem to be working long hours. An all work and not enough sleep ethic is not something I want to pass down. Sure, we have fun, but my children also observe how my working hours often begin again after they go to bed and spill over into very late nights. So what is it about wanting to feel independent? Some misplaced guilt about wanting to do it all myself? I don’t have to. Nobody should.

A few days after the question on success, something came up that really struck a chord. It was a quote in Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver (my current Kindle crush) and it read,
“When you refuse help, you sometimes refuse people the pleasure of helping.”
– Anonymous

It reminded me that all the help and support I need is already on offer (not only financially, but otherwise as well if I can only bring myself to ask) and being given freely and willingly. I was also reminded of the joke about the man in the flood who was sent a helicopter. The help is already there, I just have to learn to accept it gracefully.

I also need to redefine my idea of success in relation to my life and my business…

Success is a day in which I can find things to be grateful for. That is every day, is it not? If I look beyond the shame to the reality of my daily life – doing work I love to my own schedule that allows me quality time with my children – I am already living my version of success. That’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement, but what I have is enough. Anything else is a bonus.

What does success mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Gratitude Daily
begins again on March 2. Join me as I guide another group of people through a 21 day course to create a sustainable gratitude practice that fits into and enhances their lives.

 

Awareness of the passing of time

timeMy small son, who is five, asked for a cuckoo clock for Christmas. At first, I was reluctant. I have never felt comfortable with the loud tick-tock of a clock and I was also uncertain about the sound of a small bird chirping four times every hour. Having researched various cuckoo clocks, finding that some sounded better than others and certain ones even had the facility to turn off the noise between certain hours, I decided it might not be a bad idea. It was not, after all, another piece of plastic tat made in China to be discarded on the bedroom floor or broken before Christmas Day ended. When the little box arrived, I opened it to find a beautiful carved wooden clock… the stuff memories are made of.

Now hanging up, on the living room wall, I find the gentle ticking soothing as the pendulum swings to and fro. The gentle cheep every quarter, night and day, is so sweet and subtle that even hearing it as I drift off to sleep brings a smile. It is also a reminder of the passing of time.

Several things have brought to my awareness how fast the days pass in the week just gone. On Sunday, I was invited to celebrate the 70th Birthday of John Maizels, Editor of Raw Vision, a magazine I have worked for on and off for 20 years now. John… 70? How could it be? I am now nearing the age John was when he first employed me. From the station, I picked up a friend, Wilfrid, who used to work beside me when the office was in what is now John’s living room. I have fond memories of a lively night dancing at a Bollywood club in North London with Wilfrid. How we laughed. He is working full time as a sculptor, with a studio of his own and an exhibition of his art in London and as we stood in the room that was our office, lifting a glass to John, we talked of the passing of time.

The shocking shootings in Paris were a reminder as well… none of us knows how long we have on this earth. I can still vividly recall walking in the graveyard after my father’s funeral, some 18 years back, sun streaming through trees, thinking make each day count.

The 30 Day Challenge, a course I have taken part in and worked on in recent years, brings together 200+ people from all round the world who are working on something that is meaningful to them. One of the keys to success that we recommend when working on such a project is micro blocking – breaking down tasks into small chunks of 15-20 minutes. I have found that the cuckoo clock reminds me, each time it sings, that another 15 minutes has just flown by and each time makes me think: what did I do that was meaningful or made me or someone else feel happy in that last 15 minutes?

Gratitude is a way of acknowledging the good in every day. It is my way of reflecting back on what made me smile or made me feel blessed. It is a simple way of turning sorrow into joy and fear into faith. It does not mean that I dismiss all that is bad, far from it. It means that each day (often just before I sleep), I choose to take notice of all that is good.

I feel that now, perhaps more than ever, we need to look to the good and acknowledge life’s simple pleasures. We must celebrate the love and joy that exists and the opportunities before us to be grateful and to connect. How we experience each day is often down to our approach to it and sometimes the most rewarding option is not the easiest.

This morning I decided that I would set a date to run my Gratitude Daily course again. There are plenty of opportunities to explore your creativity. It will start again in 8 weeks and anyone who signs up this weekend will save £10. Something to look forward to. I would like to create a really positive vibe that leaks out onto the streets, over the internet and beyond. I often chalk my gratitude onto pavements and walls and post my gratitude list on Facebook page (and we also have a secret Facebook community for the duration of the course), so if we are not already Facebook friends, please seek me out and share your gratitude list.

I wish you a safe and happy weekend. I hope you are staying cosy and spending time with those you love. x

The power of the pencil

Pick up a pencilArt is my voice when I cannot find words to express myself…

It was on returning from a day working at the art magazine Raw Vision yesterday that I heard the shocking news of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. We had been talking in the office, only minutes before I left to collect my children from school about how sad it is that with so many terrible things going on in the world, the good news, good deeds and other uplifting things are not given the same attention that the tragedies are and how powerful it would be if we heard more good news when we turned on the TV news, listened to the radio or picked up a newspaper. None of us could have expected the terrible news we were to hear later on in the day.

There is nothing good to report as far as the shootings yesterday are concerned. It is too painful to imagine what cartoonist Corinne Rey and other witnesses experienced – the shooting of colleagues in front of her very eyes whilst hiding under a desk with her young daughter – and the impact that will have on the rest of their lives. These thoughts played on my mind as I walked home from the school run this morning, but what also overwhelmed me were thoughts about the positive impact of art and how powerful the simple pencil can be. I have witnessed the healing power of art in many lives and back home it did not take long to find moving responses from all over the world by artists who were quick in using their talents to respond to the killings in cartoon form. You will find some of the moving tributes here.

Art is my voice when I cannot find the words to express myself…

If you are hurting, make art.
If you are happy, make art.
If you can’t find the words, make art.
If you are too scared to make art, just pick up a pencil and see what happens…

Sending love to you and all those you care about today.

Five tips to celebrate the spaces in between

tower-bridgeI do hope you enjoyed your festive break and that the New Year is off to a great start for you already. Unusually, I had some time to myself in that space between Christmas and New Year, but being without the boys, I caught myself slipping into the pattern of filling the gaps and keeping busy. So, I reminded myself that it’s OK just to sit back and stare out of the window occasionally… in fact it is necessary. To enjoy doing nothing can be a real challenge, but it is a skill worth cultivating.

Taking time out for yourself is a vital part of conscious living.

It is back to the old routine for many of us today… back to the busy busy, the full diary, the many commitments and before too long, we’ll be several weeks in and wondering where the first month of the year went already.

STOP! It’s time to make space.

In reflecting on 2014, one of the things that came up for me was the importance of the spaces in between. I worked on many different projects in the year just gone, but allowing myself the luxury of afternoon naps when the boys were at school and a long and luxurious bath in the morning (yes, after the school run!!!) and, most importantly, doing so without feeling guilty, contributed to the feeling of space that was the key to my contentment last year.

Negative space is a key element of artistic composition.
It is the area of an image not occupied by shapes or forms.

I am someone who, in both art and life, has habitually filled all spaces. My home has, for many years, been what could only be described as cluttered and my art, in the past, has often covered every corner of the canvas or the paper. I am not someone who sits still easily. Yet, in 2014 something changed and I consciously embraced space in a way I had never done previously. I allowed myself the time to sit and read and just be and my biggest breakthroughs came in moments of quiet reflection that would previously have been filled with work or activity. Yes, it took some effort not to fill those spaces and instead appreciate them for what they are and how they benefit me.

You cannot serve from an empty vessel. Making time for myself and investing in support where I need it has a huge impact on the way I am able to care for those I love and who rely on me.

Enlisting the services of a decluttering professional helped me make an enormous breakthrough in my living space and something at home subtly shifted. The shift I noticed was that creating space calmed me considerably. I had not only physical space but mental space and a clarity that had been missing. Being at home took on a new meaning as I found myself being more comfortable in my environment and more connected with it than I had ever been. The restless desire to always be out and about or the need to be constantly tidying grew weaker as I found myself in a space with space. My little house felt bigger. 

I do not have big goals or any major plan for the coming year. From the spaces we allow, great things spring forth and opportunities are created. I have set intentions that will encourage my growth through simple, playful steps… I am taking action, reaching out and trusting in abundance. I am making space for things to evolve naturally.


Here are my tips for celebrating the spaces in between…

1. Examine your diary or calendar for the week ahead. Where are the natural spaces? Instead of filling them with extra chores, how can you use that time to nourish yourself or your creativity? What will feed your soul or make your heart sing? Mark that space in your calendar: Time for me. Use it as an appointment with your self and be sure you stick to it. If you think you need permission, here it is: It is OK to do something for yourself… you deserve it. Take your time and enjoy this. You will feel happier and those you love will benefit.

2. Practice the art of looking. You can do it any time, anywhere. The simple act of examining an object intently for just two minutes is a wonderful practice that can feel like meditation. Do it every day. It will also help your drawing.

3. Seek out places that have a feeling of open space. My favourite route home from the school run is not the quickest, but the one that takes me the back way, through the park and down the hill where big skies and wide space open up in front of me. I slow down and breathe deeply. It helps clear my mind and my lungs and sets me up for the day.

4. At home, look at where clutter congregates. Take time to clear one of those spaces and place a vase of flowers or a potted plant in that area. It may be your dining table. Doing so will not only make your home look brighter, but will discourage you from putting back more piles.

5. Make reflection a part of your process of creation. It can be easy to go all out when working on a project, get it done and go straight into another. After a period of intense creative activity, be sure to take a break, step back and make the space to evaluate what you have achieved and celebrate your successes.