The writers’ blog-hop

artLast Monday, I posted an artists’ blog-hop post on this site, having been invited to answer four questions about my creative process. This week, writing is the theme of the blog-hop. I thought twice about doing both as I did not want to be repeating myself, but as my art and my writing go hand in hand, I felt that it was worth participating and sharing with you a little more about my writing.

This particular blog hop baton is being picked up somewhat belatedly as it was way back on the far side of the Summer holidays that Lynsey Whitehouse of ThinkDrawLive.com invited me to join in this post. Since then, Lynsey has launched the Brainy Girls Guide to Business which is now her focus. I will introduce my own nominations at the end of the article, but for now… it’s question time!

What am I working on?
I have just offered my first eBook up for sale on a Pay What You Want basis and I am now working on a couple of other books, both directly related to art. I am slowly finding new ways of sharing my writing and my art and have recently been invited to share my story on a number of blogs, so it is interesting to be writing for an audience outside of the safe haven of my own list and blog, unsure of who the audience is. On a personal note, I always write for myself. Getting the thoughts out of my head and onto paper is an ongoing process.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?
I struggle to answer this question. In pondering my answer, I posted a question on Facebook and it was pointed out to me by a friend that we are put in genres because of our similarities. Each of us brings to our writing, or our art, our own very personal interpretation of the world based on the unique way in which we experience it.
Some artists resist sharing their methods and their inspiration as there is a desire to retain a sense of mystery and for people to interpret their works freely. I have no problem writing about my processes and learnings. I also embrace imperfection and feel it is more important to share something than to wait until you have something perfect to share.

Why do I write what I do?
Writing, like art, comes naturally to me. I have always used words as an outlet. Writing helps me process my thoughts and in sharing my experiences I find that new learnings, realisations and insights come through. Sharing my creative journey on my blog, both in words and images has enabled me to connect with a large circle of creative women worldwide. Like many mothers, I feel I lost myself for a while in the process of bringing children and focusing on their needs. Writing about my experiences and sharing my journey has been a powerful piece in the puzzle of finding myself again. Finding my voice as a writer and artist has allowed me to publicly engage in the process of reconnection, both to my creative soul and to others on a similar path. I hope that in writing what I do and sharing it, I will inspire others.

How does my writing process work?
There are two ways in which my writing process works. The first takes the form of a headspill. I usually write everything I am thinking and feeling out in one long monologue, often as a draft email, as though I was writing a letter to someone. If I am on the hop, I let spill into my notebook or phone. I find this process enormously cathartic and it allows me to release a great deal of mental clutter. Occasionally, a small amount of a headspill will make its way into a blog post, but usually this part of my writing process is used purely for cleansing purposes.

The second way in which my writing process works is as a long, slow period of writing, reflecting and adapting. The Gratitude Daily eBook is the culmination of 18 months work from the initial idea to the creation of a course, the running of that course, then adapting it in the light of feedback from participants and my own experience and finally transforming it into book format. I like to write and edit and then take a step back. I find that in stepping away from a writing project for a while, be it for a few hours (for a blog post) or a few days (a full article or bigger project) and looking at it through fresh eyes, I gain the distance and perspective necessary to create something of substance.

Having answered these questions myself, I am now passing the blog baton on to two good friends of mine…

SheelahFirst up is Sheelah Turner. Sheelah is an adventurer, explorer and story-teller. After departing the UK in late 2012, she and her husband spent 15 months camping their way across Africa, sharing their adventure on their blog www.kapp2cape-blog.net as they went. After the trip finished, their love of exploring new cultures and experiencing new countries has led them to Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates. Sheelah is now launching a new blog Our Life … Lived! to continue sharing her musings and observations of the world around her.

eveEve Menezes Cunningham is a freelance psychology, health and wellbeing journalist. She writes articles and advice columns supporting people in helping themselves. Eve also runs the Feel Better Every Day Consultancy, offering holistic therapies for your mind, body, heart and soul.
You can find her blog at feelbettereveryday.wordpress.com


Over to you ladies…

The artists’ blog-hop

I was recently approached by a creative friend to take part in an artists’ blog-hop. The idea with a blog-hop is that you introduce the person who nominated you, write a post answering a few set questions, then hand over the blog baton to other artists. I will introduce my own nominations at the end of the post, but first, I would like to introduce Sam Dounis who nominated me for the blog-hop. Sam’s artistic talents take the form of cartoons of a mischievous sheep called Seamus, allowing her to combine her interest in drawing with her passion for story telling. Do take the time to check out Sam’s blog where you can smile at the adventures of Seamus, as well as reading about her lifestyle experiments.

Now, on to the questions…

How does my creative process work?
My creative process is a form of free-flowing self-expression. It is usually spontaneous and rarely involves any planning. I respond to my feelings; the weather; my environment and whatever else inspires me to put black marker to brown paper or to pick up my camera or to let loose with colours on canvas. My art covers a variety of media and I often work with whatever materials I have at hand. Whilst out and about, walking in the woods with my children, I often feel inspired to make art, so I gather sticks and stones and lay them out on the ground to form whatever image or shape I feel drawn to create and if I have my camera with me, I will use it to document this temporary art.

She

Lady of the wood, made in Cuffley Great Woods whilst walking with my children.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I often use words in my art. I like to chalk out messages in my local park or on the street or at the railway station. I do this to draw people’s attention to things they may not otherwise notice; to encourage them to be mindful and not to miss the magical details in everyday life… there are so many of them. There can be a lot of mystery in the processes of some people’s art, which is wonderful… I love to look at a work of art and mull over how on earth the artist could have done it, but with my own art, I want people to think, “I could have made that.” I strongly believe that engaging in creative activities enhances people’s lives, so I want to encourage everyone to give art a try. Art is visual self-expression. It can be incredibly therapeutic, but many people struggle to express what goes on in their inner-world; art is a way of liberating those things you cannot put into words.

lady

Body art made in a hotel room in Glasgow and photographed against the window.

What am I working on now?
I am busy spreading the word about my upcoming Inspiration Days, so this means sharing the art I am currently making and whatever turns me on creatively. The Inspiration Days are an opportunity for people to meet up, make friends and create art. My art changes day by day. It is always experimental and I allow myself total freedom. Last week, I started a new series of drawings mapping the clouds, drawing cloud formations out whilst gazing at the sky, not looking at the paper. This makes me feel both mindful and free. I examine the clouds carefully, but I do not try to create a likeness, I just use them as my starting point. Recent experiments have involved oil pastels on paper, smudged with kitchen oil. Previous experiments have been in animation.

Why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because it’s too hard not to. Art is a part of who I am. It is something I have always (to a greater or lesser degree) done. Expressing myself creatively is vital to living a full and happy life. I share my art because I have witnessed, first hand, the transformative power of art and I would like to inspire people to give it a try. I teach art to children because I love their energy and they teach me so much. I make art with grown ups because I love to connect with others over art and to liberate people from the fears that have held them back and watch them blossom as they have the courage to experiment and become free to make art. In expressing yourself through art, you can discover your own voice and gain the confidence to speak up in other areas of your life.

Joy, acrylic on canvas, work in progress.

Joy, acrylic on canvas, work in progress.

So, having answered the questions myself, I am passing the blog baton on… to three artists friends who inspire me through their own creativity. They will post answers to the questions above on their own blogs next Monday, but please feel free to check out their creative output right now!

First up is Alice Sheridan. Alice appears as comfortable working in print or on canvas as in sketchbooks. Her mixed media landscapes, whilst varied in subject matter are always atmospheric. She shares her creative process and musings at www.creativetortoise.com

Morwhenna Woolcock likes to be known as The Creative Adventurer and what better title for one whose life is one creative experiment after another? Morwhenna is a glowing ball of creative energy. Her doodling experiment begins today and you can join her at www.morwhenna.com

Bernard Webb is a photographer with a rare talent. He is able, in a single photograph, to capture a whole range of emotions. His images convey nostalgia and melancholy; joy and possibility. Though largely inspired by landscape and architecture, his knack for portraiture and street photography cannot be denied. See his work at www.bjwphotography.net

Next week, I will be taking part in a writers’ blog-hop, so watch this space.

Living life as an adventure

It is 18 months since I started this blog and when I look back, I realise that so much has developed in that time. This particular adventure began on May 1, 2012 with a 30 Day Challenge when I committed to my creativity for one month and started documenting it here. Little did I know that this would lead me to teaching art to children, running workshops for adults, painting on the pavement outside my favourite Indian restaurant to celebrate Diwali and to this month sitting on the other side of the 30 Day Challenge fence as a Screw Work Let’s Play team member and 30DC Genie. I love shining my own light and carrying the torch for others and their talents, so this feels like the perfect role for me.

Following my own creative path and being open to whatever may unfold has really allowed me to enjoy life as an adventure this past year. At the start of the Summer, I exchanged my Tesco clubcard vouchers for a flight to Glasgow where I enjoyed an art-filled weekend in a city I had not visited for 20 years. Last week, I hopped on the Eurostar to attend an Outsider Art Fair at a Paris hotel and to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the magazine Raw Vision at the Halle Saint Pierre where I co-curated an exhibition of British Outsider Art in 2008.

Giving myself permission to live life on my terms, embracing my creativity and allowing daily life to become an adventure is what it’s all about right now. It was this spirit of adventure that led me to having my hair cut in the street outside the Centre Pompidou by the Hair Cowboy last week… the same spirit of adventure which led me to write a love letter to Dishoom and to my collaborations with them… the same spirit of adventure that seeks out the people who inspire me and the places I love and leads me to connect these dots whenever I can. This past week alone, I have hopped on the back of a horse for the first time in 20+ years, created a giant self-portrait in the sand and strolled the streets of Paris in search of art.

Right now, it may not be bringing me riches, but I am living a much more fulfilled life. The next step of the mission is to encourage others to live a fulfilled and adventurous life created on their own terms too… Kickstart Your Creativity begins here at home tomorrow… let’s see what unfolds.

What one thing can you do today to make your life feel a little more adventure and less mundane?

With love,
Julia x

Share joy through art

Share joy through artAfter a break from posting of exactly one month, I am back with a clear intention for the year ahead… to SHARE JOY THROUGH ART!

The mind map above was the result of a brain storming session this afternoon, with a focus on what I want to achieve this year. I am sure I will return to the map… add words, thoughts, feelings and more… but for now, just looking at it makes me excited. I am raring to go and I can almost feel how doing all of this wonderful stuff will energise and inspire me (and hopefully others too) over the months ahead.

So, with the idea of sharing joy through art, I would like to invite you to sign up for my monthly newsletter, the first edition of which will be with subscribers by the end of January and will include new creations, inspirations and news of upcoming workshops.

And whilst we are on the subject of sharing… please let me know what your own intention is for this New Year. I would love to hear of your creative projects and if you have created your own map or vision board, please let me know… I would love to share it here!

Here’s to a colourful, creative, inspiring 2013 for everyone!
Happy New Year!
With love,
Julia x

Bank Holiday Art Days

I have taken a few days off posting here, as a little break from the old computer screen was required following the last big push for the end of the 30DC. I needed to unplug, unwind, recharge. This does not mean that art has taken a back seat… oh no! When I feel the need to unwind and recharge, it is often a gallery that best enables me to do this.

On Saturday, I revisited Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern. Only recently have I been taking the time to visit exhibitions again on a regular basis. I cannot remember the last time I had the luxury of re-visiting a show, but doing so with Kusama was worthwhile indeed. A month or two after my first visit, having now spent four weeks focusing on my own art, I was viewing with fresh eyes. Artist’s eyes. By the second room, I wanted to go home immediately and start making drawing, painting, layering. I was looking differently, seeing new things. Ideas and techniques popped out at me and I also noticed on second viewing how some of the pieces I have created over the last few weeks may have been (subconsciously) influenced by my first viewing of the show, or at least I was able to see connections… the manipulated self-portraits, collaged and layered works. I felt slightly odd about this, but the exhibition I saw on Monday removed any such feelings of embarrassment at having been inadvertently influenced by another artist.

Bank Holiday Monday began slowly at Dishoom near Leicester Square. Here, I started the day with the most delicious breakfast of granola and chai and drew (without looking at the paper) the table settings in front of me, pencil in hand, finished with pen.

I had half an hour to spare before meeting a friend to view the Turner exhibition at National Gallery and the friendly staff, speedy service and wonderful environment was the perfect start the morning with a sketch and a smile.

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude set the paintings of Turner (1775 – 1851) alongside those of Claude Lorrain (1604/5? – 1682), by whom he was greatly influenced (some say obsessed). Turner borrowed, or perhaps we should say copied (both the sketchbook and painted evidence forms the basis of the show) elements of composition as well as his treatment of light as subject from Claude. The Turners on show were not the works that immediately spring to mind when one thinks of the artist, but for a viewer, like myself, not at all familiar with Claude (and I was not the only one… indeed one lady on booking a ticket asked if the Claude referred to Monet!), this was an opportunity to experience the work of an artist previously unknown to me and discover how he had inspired one of Britain’s best-loved English Romantic painters.

At home, in response, I manipulated a self-portrait taken the previous night. The flash in the mirror suggested the sun of Turner’s paintings, so with a little adjustment in iPhoto, I attempted to highlight something of the glow reflected. Perhaps I will work further on this at a later date and add paint to the picture with Turner in mind.

Whilst I enjoyed the Turner exhibition, perhaps more engaging for me as the subject is one very close to my heart, was Jo Rhymer’s lunchtime talk Transforming the Thames. With the Jubilee River Pageant in mind, she took Canaletto’s painted celebration of The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day as a starting point, Rhymer went on to explore how artists such as Turner, Monet, Sisley and Whistler took inspiration from river to create paintings that portrayed life beyond ordinary observations of the Thames. I was captivated by stories of Frost Fairs on the Thames which were illustrated by Luke Clenell’s images; moved by Rhymer’s reading from Whistler’s Ten o’clock lecture and delighted to be reminded of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s atmospheric photographs of London from c.1900-1909.

At home, I looked back on some of my own photographs of the river of which I am so fond and resolved to return soon at dawn or dusk and try to further capture something of whatever it is that draws me back again and again.

Tea, cake and collage

Four of my fabulous friends just headed home after the first ever Be Creative Daily workshop with Life Collages to be proud of.

I can think of few better ways to spend an evening than drinking tea, eating cake and making art with friends. With little more than a piece of card, a pile of magazines, a pair of scissors and some glue, wonderful, inspiring and possibly life-changing art was created here at BCD HQ tonight!

The process is simple, the result powerful. Life Collage is way of exploring your likes, loves, dreams and desires, in an intuitive, feeling way… discovering images that resonate, words that inspire and putting them together to create a visual expression of the good things you would like in your life. This evening’s Life Collagers all left with a smile, having met new friends, shared lively conversation and interesting ideas whilst making very personal works of art.

I have spoken with lots of people about the creation of Life Collages. For many, they have acted as a powerful tool for change, bringing into focus what is important in their lives. I look forward to hearing what positive changes come about following the creation of these veritable dream boards here tonight.

A conclusion, but not an end… let’s play

The 30 Day Challenge concludes today.
The journey of those 30 days is documented here.
When I look at what I have created over this period of 30 days, I see me. I see an artist. I see colour, life and joy. And that is only half of it. What I see here does not include the hearts in the woods that will, by now, have shifted shape, maybe vanished entirely, but hopefully brought a smile to the faces of passers-by. It does not include the photographs of flowers and trees, my word pictures, my first video interview, my unfinished experiments or the painting I left out in the rain to see what happened. I notice, from what I do have here, that I spent roughly half my time making tangible works of art… and the rest was play, but in a different way.

As those of you who have been following or making this journey along with me will know, this past month has been one of transformation. I have broken down some of the barriers I had put up for myself over many years… fears of making bad art, fears of not living up to my own (often unreasonable) expectations, the pressure (put on by none other than me) to produce something good, something original, something worthwhile. I have been reminded of the great joy and sense of inner peace I used to experience from simply putting pen to paper, from letting words and images flow, from looking at the little details in life and in sharing.

I feel liberated and refreshed, invigorated and inspired.

And I feel lucky.
Lucky to have had this amazing experience… to have grasped an opportunity that was offered to me and to have been part of a safe and incredibly supportive community of people, each taking small steps to make big changes in their lives, spurring each other on, offering encouragement on difficult days and celebrating successes together.

And I am grateful.
Grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read these words, look at these pictures, share their thoughts here. I am grateful to all those who have offered advice and ideas. To Selina and John for creating the space to make such change to happen. Thank you. You have all made this experience such a pleasure.

This evening, I will earn my first playcheque, for inviting people into my home to make art with me. How amazing is that? To get paid to do what I love and share that joy with others. My desire is to inspire and I hope that those who attend the workshop this evening will take pleasure in expressing themselves visually and sharing that experience with others.

Creativity has, once again, become an intuitive and joyful expression of who I am.

Creative play is, after all, only natural. It is the one of the first activities we engage in as children and at that stage, it comes without thinking, it is all in the moment, all about exploring, learning, enjoying life. Surely this is something we all need to re-capture and re-live. Today, without thinking, I found myself singing, improvising with my small son… he led, I followed. I made little films of his innocent and amusing games, photographed his funny little experiments with food on his face, then handed him the camera to document the day in his own way.

What if each one of us took every available opportunity to play…?
What if, whenever we were sad or stuck, we tried to play our way out of the situation…? What if, when faced with a difficult decision or awkward situation, we played it out… thought to ourselves, “what would be the most fun way of dealing with this?” and tried that option out…?
My guess is that it may not work in every situation, but I do believe that in many, it would.

So, as the 30 Day Challenge draws to a close, rather than being an end, this was just the beginning… a little introduction, a prelude to what’s to come… the start of a new, playful chapter in what I hope will become a long and adventurous story in which I hope you will also play a part.

 

The joy of the unexpected

Early hours and I after a while of distracting and avoiding I finally embarked on some creative activity, believing I had little time, not sure where to start, I rushed and produced something I am not particularly pleased with, but feel content in the knowledge that I spent creative time, enjoyed the dipping of the brush, the watery paint running down brown paper taped to the wall, finding its path around the line of the oil pastel earlier applied, the time to myself, music setting the tone, birdsong rising, sky lightening, silhouettes coming into focus. This is the best time of the day… the time I usually miss… the stillness and the quiet arrival of morning.

I have been reflecting on my journey over the past four weeks. Of how this little blog has developed and grown. Of how from nothing, I have created something, taught myself things I had been frightened of, and how in such a brief period, that seemed so long, I have gone from a sense of urgent activity to a calmer, more natural productivity, which is what I was originally aiming for, but lost for a while along the way. I realise too, that art was my aim, that I wanted to draw, paint, make, create, but that in becoming an artist I am finding my voice again and what has surprised me is that I often prefer to paint my pictures with words, rather than a brush. This is something I did as a teenager, freely, regularly, always carrying a notebook, doing the odd sketch here, a little drawing there, but writing, always writing. I had forgotten the importance words held for me, but am reminded now, as I find myself returning to my old ways… my patterns of napping early then waking and working into the early hours… patterns that worked well for me as a student, but may need some adjustment now, as a parent. But what is different is sharing… the words are out there, though rarely read at present, they are not tucked away in a little book in a pocket, a bag or a drawer, they are there for the world, if it wishes. There are some strange, vain and slightly uncomfortable feelings attached to this… to this sharing… and I am still not entirely comfortable with it, not yet at ease with opening my heart, making myself vulnerable, but there seems to be some need to do so… some desire to be understood. I know I am not the the only one who often feels alone, wishes to connect, to be heard, appreciated, validated.

I think also there is a desire to create as a way to understand myself, to problem solve from within, to open up a new conversation and find a fresh way forward. It is something I was resistant to at first. An open-ended beginning did not seem to be a clever way of achieving things, surely we need goals, aims, deadlines to do this. But to be open to play, to do things purely for pleasure, to give yourself permission to take off in whichever direction you choose, to explore, experiment, step off the path and down a dusty dirt track to who knows where is deeply liberating. And surprisingly, it has also been the way to finding a clearer path. Not judging, just going with the flow, playing every day, was key to this 30 Day Challenge, a programme devised by John Williams and Selina Barker to inspire creative individuals to put their passions at the forefront of their lives for one month and see where it leads. And the outcome is often not what one expects. Many of the 200 people embarking on this challenge found that around half way through the month, they wanted answers, wanted progress, a clear way forward, but then discovered that it is only when you let go of these expectations and just let things flow that the answers present themselves and something slowly becomes clear. In giving myself the freedom to express thoughts and ideas in this playful way, taking the pressure off and injecting the fun back in, I found my own way forward. My breakthrough came whilst enjoying a play day at home. Immersed in art, music on, I realised that I was so happy, doing what felt natural to me, painting, printing, making art, and that only one thing was missing… having someone there to share it with. So I decided to offer art workshops here at home. Within a three days of posting details of my first workshop on the web, it was full. That workshop will be held here tomorrow evening. I am both excited and nervous in equal measure. This, I believe is the perfect combination… the excitement being surely what one would wish to feel about any fun thing that they have chosen to do… and the nerves reminding me that this is something very important to me, something I care about, something I want it to go well.

As this 30 Day Challenge draws to a close and I near the end of this particular journey, another is beginning. I find it hard to explain the joy of watching people make things happen, change their lives, live their dreams, see them come alive, shine. It may sound pie in the sky, but for many of those who took this challenge, change is the reality, however big or small, it is always significant.

I had the pleasure of meeting some of the other challengers last Wednesday when we gathered together at the Royal Festival Hall to exchange stories face to face. One man had ridden the underground for the first time since the London bombings to be there. This stuff is changing lives. One challenger is sharing his music with the world… a small step for some, but a big leap for one who has previously thrown everything he has created away. Some are telling their stories in blogs or books and others are finding new ways of keeping old traditions alive or distributing the knowledge of their elders. New websites, businesses, destinies and passions are emerging.

I do not know my next destination… and this time, I do not wish to know. I want to enjoy the journey one step at a time, take in all the details, meet new friends along the way… revel in the joy of the unexpected.

30 Day Challenge Meet-up at the Royal Festival Hall, May 23, 2012. Photograph: Barry Pitman

The shining of things

I am not quite sure how to begin this post.
It is all about a feeling.

Often, I find it the easiest, most natural and enjoyable thing to express myself in words… they flow, little phrases come to me as I am walking along, invade my head, have to be saved, noted, sometimes passed on. But occasionally, like now, I am stuck… with this big feeling in my chest that I want to get across somehow, but don’t know where to begin. So, I will just start. I will try to explain and see where it takes me…

Hands up… I have not done any drawing, painting, collage, printing or put anything on paper this weekend. But I have not stopped… from early morning until late night, the days have been full and they have been fun. They have been the days that memories are made of. Days that seem to contain a whole week… where you do, see, feel, experience much more that on any ordinary days of the week and where you come home exhausted, but wholly satisfied and collapse into bed, not wanting the day to end, but knowing that it will never really leave you, so you can safely to slip into sleep knowing that the memories will still be there when you wake.

On Saturday morning, I packed up a picnic and took the train into town, buggy loaded with small boy, picnic and metal detector. Big boy chose for us to walk from Covent Garden to the South Bank, so we took a winding path down some of the quieter streets before hitting The Strand and on through Charing Cross Station, Hungerford Bridge, Queen’s Walk to Gabriel’s Wharf where we hit the beach with spades and metal detector.
No true treasure was found, but a couple of hours were spent, from low tide on, digging, playing, making friends, exploring… toes in the sand, London’s architecture laid out in front of us, boats and barges passing by on the river Thames and that fabulous feeling of Summer in the city with a background noise of happy chatter and the drifting smell of food that eventually lured us back up onto the embankment for ice cream.

We strolled back towards the Royal Festival Hall, stopping to dance a while to a big brass band playing to a large crowd outside the National Theatre and then for a few moments rest on the giant sofas covered in astroturf that have become a regular stopping place on our South Bank escapades these past few Summers.
We strode on, through the hoards of tourists, past the London Eye and up onto Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, along to St James’s Park where we spotted pelicans, squirrels, swans and cygnets, then on along The Mall to Buckingham Palace, where the boys were kitted out with fluorescent vests and hard hats and we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the preparations for the Queen’s Jubilee (courtesy of B). Just before home time, we bumped into friends and wandered back together through Green Park before heading back, early evening, via the recently transformed Kings Cross Station.

Today (Sunday as I am writing this), we woke early (as small boy often does). I did not feel the urge to return to bed, but to make the most of the day. Up at six, I spent a little time in the garden with glorious birdsong, tending my newly-grown grass that is beginning to fill the previously patchy lawn, watering, admiring the newest flowers, paying attention to the little details. Small boy helped me make batter mix and me, he and big boy walked into the village to purchase lemons for our breakfast pancakes and morning milk. Two each. Big. Cooked in French crepe frying pan. Will double recipe next time. Small boy then helped bake banana and chocolate cake, to which we added an (off-recipe) apple, baked longer than listed and each enjoyed a still warm, moist slice before packing another picnic up and off again to meet friends in a local park for lunch and a walk in the cool woods.
After several hours of treasure-hunting, den-building, wood walking fun, we headed home and awaited Amma (Granny)’s arrival. She joined us for dinner, bronzed and refreshed from her Spanish holiday. Kisses, cuddles and catch-up made for a perfect close to the weekend and there seemed to be some resistance to sleep tonight on the boys’ part and on mine too as I now reflect on the last two days, consider what made them so special and think about how best to inject a little magic into otherwise ordinary days.

I think the weather has much to do with that good feeling… and after weeks of rain, it is a little like being well again after a particularly unpleasant illness, when you don’t just feel good, you feel fantastic… happy to be fit, well, back to normal and determined to make the most of every day… until feeling good just becomes normal again and you forget to appreciate it.

Lately… very recently… I have felt this wonderful sense of peace… an open-hearted kind of calm, that leads me to smile at strangers, talk to anyone, everyone… it happens quite often, I am happy to say, but this this weekend it was amplified. I walked, for many miles with two small boys, through some of the most popular tourist spots in London, crossed busy bridges and travelled on crowded trains, but I never felt pushed, instead taking my time to take it all in. How lucky we are to have all this on our doorstep and how important it is to make the most of what we have. The sun has a lot to do with this feeling, yes… that Summer glow, that hot, but not too hot heat that slightly stings your skin if you stay too long, but you can still breathe, walk, enjoy without feeling you may pass out if you don’t find shade immediately. But not only the sun… I think it also has to do with soaking it up… with being present, looking around, noticing the tiniest of details and not passing by the bigger stuff… opening your eyes wide… really wide and drinking it all in and doing and seeing lots, but not rushing, taking time and seeing the shining of things. That was what we noticed this weekend. The phrase kept coming back to me as big boy pointed out the fact that “Big Ben looks like it’s made of gold”, that “Stephen Wiltshire could probably draw those sparkles on the water exactly as they are”, as I looked up through the canopy of trees to the light beyond and relished the joy on my children’s faces as they themselves found endless things to devour and delight. The shining of things… that vivid vibrancy that radiates… that glorious beauty that is right in front of us, but is often overlooked… that moment of magic when your heart is touched in a way that you find hard to put into words.

Nothing is finished


1:24am and I have been drawing, painting, exploring on and off for a few hours. Nothing is finished, but I have enjoyed dipping into a variety of subjects and playing with materials. I began to re-do the portrait from the first day of the 30DC, but with colour and new words, but insufficiently inspired, I stopped. I will return to that piece at a later date. I played with another self-portrait (not my own), dancing a line across paper from the subject’s hair. Something reminded me of a murmuration of starlings, spotted some six months ago during a walk on the South Downs, so I put pen to paper, attempting to capture my memory of their movement… difficult to do, but mesmerising in its own way… a kind of meditative way of drawing, like the cloud pictures I first did from a train, London to Liverpool on May 1, 2008, and have occasionally attempted since, always enjoyable, and tried again this evening, but this time not from life.

Tired and ready for bed, I stood up from my desk to head upstairs, but spotted the roll of brown paper I had purchased yesterday to draw on, pulled the charcoal from the drawer, the mirror from the cupboard, taped the top of the paper roll to the wall, unravelled it and embarked upon what turned out to be a lopsided self-portrait, which captures to a degree, my dishevelled appearance this evening.

Satisfied and about to share, I will now stop. I have promised two young chaps a picnic and some treasure hunting on the South Bank beach in the morning with big boy’s new metal detector. Low tide at 11:51am. It is time to sleep.