Welcome Autumn

welcome autumnThe weather might still be warm, but the crunch of crisp leaves underfoot stamps out any doubt that Autumn is on its way. How does this time of year make you feel?
It makes me feel like nesting and snuggling up in a ball, but I also want to get out and experience it all.

?I love to witness the changes of season… what starts as a subtle shift in colour… the odd dash of orange around the edges, soon transforms into carpets of gold. Then it rains and the crackle turns to squelch and I start making soups and gathering sticks for marshmallows. I take pleasure in noticing the details.

leafOn Monday, I took time… just a few minutes, but time enough to admire the simple joys of the shifting seasons and to highlight them for passers-by who may have forgotten to stop and look. A simple leaf was my inspiration… fallen in the midst of transformation… part orange, part gold, part green. The shadows too, inspired me.

shadow1 shadow2I found myself noticing shapes I had not previously seen. I drew around them and watched in wonder as what I had co-created with the shadows become something different with the assistance of the slow-moving sun.

How does this time of year inspire you?
What will you co-create with nature?

Draw when you need to de-stress

Tuesday was challenging: a new project; a large group of fresh faces; a tube strike. I made it through. I left home at the crack of dawn to run the first in a series of ten 4 hour workshops for a gallery in Chichester. By the end of the day, I could barely walk, let alone think straight and was having visions of stopping at the first service station for an extended nap in order to safely drive the rest of the way home. Instead, I chose to go directly to the nearest café for a hot chocolate and lemon cake refuel. My intention was also to log on to Facebook to see what people were sharing in the group on the second day of my online creativity course. seeing the posts there prompted me to pick up a pen and add drawing to my refuel stop. Doing something so different from the focus of my day, in a fresh environment, was just what I needed to shift the energy and prepare to hit the road. Art has a habit of doing that for me… art is my de-stresser; my changer of energy. I sailed home, to uplifting music, with a head full of ideas, under dramatic skies. Today, I used art as a meditation… a way of clearing my mind of the clutter of the day. Again, it shifted the energy. In doodling away, my mind flashed back, for the first time in years, to the times when, as a teen, drawing had been my quiet friend, leading me out of one feeling and into another, more comfortable place. The reminder today? To draw when I feel uneasy; to doodle when I need to de-stress; to make art more often as it has so many benefits.

The breakthrough

Three days ago I wrote about The Slump… that dark moment, part-way in, when I question everything. Familiar with this heavy territory, I also acknowledged that “This is often the moment before the breakthroughs happen… when you ride the storm and come out the other side; brighter, stronger.” Last night I felt brighter and stronger than I have felt in a long time. The breakthrough came sooner than I thought.

On Thursday night, having raised my voice too loud, I was suffering from an anger hangover. The term references what Brené Brown calls “the vulnerability hangover”, a term that she coined when she needed a concept that captured that feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I share that? What was I thinking?” My term “anger hangover” captures my feeling of, “Oh my God! Why did I just shout like that? What was I thinking?” It was one of those evenings when I was over-tired and going over old ground, asking nicely for things to be done to no response and being faced with yet another challenging episode of big boy picking on small boy, when the fuse blew. When all was finally quiet and boys were both in bed, I was still feeling the aftershock of being pushed to my limits and becoming a person I think (wish, hope against hope) I am not. I feel it in every inch of my body… the tension, the regret, the shrinking into myself, the desire to undo, the reality of what I become when I forget, for an instant, to discipline calmly or to walk away. It was eating me up and I had to get it out, so I turned to my art. I did not know where I was going, so I followed my instinct, went to the pen drawer and picked up the thickest, blackest pen I could find. It was how I was feeling. I rolled out a length of brown wrapping paper and taped it to the table. There is something about the shade and the texture of that paper that makes me feel happy and safe. It is comforting in a way that I cannot describe. I picked up a pencil, lay my head on the paper I traced my profile. It came naturally to me. I still had no idea what I was doing, just feeling my way. I traced another profile… my other side, making two faces staring blankly at each other. With the thick black marker I traced each profile. One appeared a little softer… the me I would like to be. The other I attacked with my pen, drawing in jagged lines, up and down, angry with sharp edges. I scribbled areas of black at the back of my neck where the tension lay and in my chest where I felt the embarrassing pain of the me I had been in that moment and the spikes and lines that came out from my throat were expressions of what I had done. It felt good, letting it all out. And when it was done, it was done. I had released the tension, expressed the feelings and the fear. 

I then turned my attention to the other face. I felt calmer; my edges softer and that came out in the pen, the fluid lines, the flowing, curling waves of the me I wanted to be. It was that simple. I was redressing the balance. I drew out the me I wanted to be and in doing so I became calmer in the moment.

Redressing the balance: how it was and how it should have been

Late Friday afternoon, I listened to an audio recording by Laura Hollick in which she explained how she had discovered a technique which had enabled her to heal her skin and grow in confidence; a technique which she herself had created, just by feeling her way and going deeply into her art. Hearing her describe the technique and listening as she shared this way of working, I realised that I had to share what I had done the previous night for myself. So, last night, when two friends arrived for my evening workshop, we first went through a few tried and tested techniques… playful ways to step out of your comfort zone and let go of the idea of making perfect art; ways to immerse yourself in the creative process and enjoy the pure pleasure of simply making art. And then, I took the leap of sharing what I had tried the night before. We traced our profiles onto paper and I asked each of my friends to think of something that was a challenge for them right now… to go deeply into that feeling and let it out on the paper. I did the same.

In creating my negative head, I could feel myself scratching away with pastel on paper, rubbing and smudging, blurring and spilling every ounce of negative feeling into the dark-edged drawing that was my fearful self. There were glimmers in there too… fighting the dark, but overall this image represented the fear of a beige existence, tied to a job I do not love, a reality that is far from my own right now, but a possibility that seems to be raising its head from time to time. I resist and resist and even thinking about it I feel the darkness descend, starting right in my eyes and moving up over my head and down my neck, into my back, shoulders and beyond. It comes from the fact that I do not have a steady, stable income. I am not in reliable employment, I am feeling my way, just getting by, and how does that equate with a life in which I have a mortgage and two children depending on me? But I trust in the process. I believe wholeheartedly (and some might say naively, but they may never experience) that this exciting and terrifying ride will lead to freedom. And when I say “freedom”, I mean freedom from the cage of other people’s expectations. I mean freedom from being chained to a life that is not your own. I mean the freedom to be me… the me I am yearning to be.

And so, in the other head, I created my colourful life. I filled it with layers of greens and blues and let the brightness of all that I wish for and all I am working towards shine, and it felt good and it flowed freely and easily and I rose above my shadow and felt liberated and ready to take on the world. All of the negativity had slipped away and I was left with a feeling that this was the way forward and I only wished that we had more time.

We shared our stories… the challenges and the desired outcomes and described how we had represented these feelings and how it felt to be creating and sharing amongst friends.

It was a powerful releasing and allowing…a shedding… a letting go… a way of tapping into our emotions and creating a new reality… a brighter future being mapped out right there and then on paper with our own hands. And in sharing we were connecting.

My immediate thought was that a whole day of doing this kind of thing could be so worthwhile… encouraging and allowing people to make imperfect art for the sheer joy of creating and using art as a way of tapping into our emotions and letting go and sharing the story with new friends.

So this is my path. For now, I will continue to map out my own emotions. I will empty the negative into my art and create the positive new. This is my breakthrough. This is my path out of The Slump and not only this one, but any more that await me just over the horizon too.

Letting go: the fear and the brighter path

I would love to know what big breakthroughs you have experienced following a slump. Have you used your art as a path out of the darkness and into the light?
Please feel free to share your experiences here…

With love,
Julia x

 

Everybody needs Creative Space

Leading my Creative Space art workshop

Leading my Creative Space art workshop, photo: Karen Mercer

On Monday evening, I ran my first Creative Space art workshop at My Coffee Stop, a cosy, jam-packed spot on the station platform at Enfield Chase. The plan was to offer busy women the opportunity to explore art-making in a friendly, supportive environment, with guided activities as well as freestyle creation. It was thanks to the generosity of spirit and community consciousness of Karen Mercer (our wonderful, welcoming hostess… maker of great coffee, baker of delicious cakes) that the workshop came about. I had spent several months with the idea of such a creative art workshop floating in my head, but a suitable venue which enabled me to work with a small group of women at an affordable price had not proved easy to find. So, when someone recommended I go see Karen, and she offered me the use of the space, I jumped at the chance.

Walls decked with art, shelves stacked with Fair Trade goodies, music pumping, this was a space in which I felt comfortably at home. And so, with Karen, two friends and two strangers (who have since become friends) being brave enough to step into the unknown and embark upon an evening of playful creativity with me, the adventure began.

When embarking on something new, I often feel a sense of apprehension, as most of us probably do. Stepping into the unkown, no matter how well-prepared we are, can feel scary at best, but this just felt exciting! There were no butterflies, no last minute nerves, no what if’s… this felt different: natural, right. I had a real sense of adventure. I knew, from the moment these ladies arrived, that this was going to be fun. Their warmth, energy and willingness to open their hearts and explore their creativity put me at ease and I felt that I was doing what comes naturally… I was in flow.

I led the group through a number of playful drawing activities, designed to free the creative spirit through trying new ideas with unexpected outcomes. We explored new ways of working/looking/seeing. We laughed, smiled, sighed. One of my goals with this, and indeed with all of my classes, is to lead people away from any ideas of perfection and towards a free-flowing form of self-expression with engagement and enjoyment in the process of making art, rather than getting hung up on the end result. When the fear and the expectation is removed, the natural outcome, more often that not, is that great art is made, and this was no exception.

I loved that when the ladies were left to their own devices – with canvas, paint, glue, glitter, sequins, etc. on offer to be used in any way they wished – so many different things came out. Each person worked in their own individual style. The pieces that were created were very personal in that each one portrayed something of significance to them and it was a pleasure to hear the stories behind the art… it is this kind of sharing that bonds a group, helps them understand each other a little better, leads to deeper friendships. And there was a real sense of community I felt. A bonding over a shared creative practice… something so rare these days which brings such joy when experienced.

Everybody needs creative space in their lives… we should all take the time to explore our own personal form of self-expression, whatever that may be. This should not be a luxury, it should be a necessity. Perhaps if more people tried it, the benefits would be felt.

I felt deeply energised by the experience that night and woke in the morning feeling optimistic about what’s to come.

I have no idea what is coming next (so many ideas, it can be hard to choose), but I have a feeling it’s going to be great!

If you would like to take part in the next workshop or if you are interested in hosting a workshop in your own home, please do get in touch… I would love to hear from you!

Warmest wishes from a very chilly North London,
Julia x

Getting creative on the daily commute

My long train journeys from North London to Chichester have become more regular this month as we move closer to the opening of the Outside In Step Up exhibition in the studio at Pallant House Gallery and the launch of the Outside In Step Up trail, both of which conclude the research project I have been running at the gallery for the past three years.

Since starting work on this challenging, yet deeply rewarding project, I have had the pleasure of working with a wonderful group of artists who have delved deep into the collections at Pallant House to discover artists whose works and stories resonate with their own lives and experiences. Through a process of research and development of their own work, a variety of personal responses are almost ready to be shared in the form of workshop packs, written work, poetry, audio descriptions and photography. It has been a big learning curve for me to run a project so very different to anything I have done before, but that offered me the opportunity to use my existing skills and develop new ones whilst supporting others to explore and grow.

I have not yet found the opportunity to do such fulfilling work close to home, so my work at Pallant House Gallery involves a 3 hour commute each way. The journey is less than weekly, but even so, it is a big chunk of the day and I have long been seeking the best way to pass the time. I have tried a number of things: preparation, relaxation, reading, writing, sleeping, talking to strangers, but few felt as satisfying as my journey home yesterday.

Whilst setting up the studio show, I went through lots of photographs of people taking part in workshops and number of original artworks as well. Seeing all of these pictures of people engaged in creative activity and holding the results of these art workshops in my hands, I was desperate to make something on my journey home. I borrowed some lino cutting tools; acquired a piece of soap and spent my journey from Chichester to London Victoria carving a bar of soap into a little sculpture. I am not yet sure if it is finished, but I am certain that this is an activity I will take up again. The pleasure of doing something creative at the end of my working day; the joy of using that often-wasted time to make a work of art made me feel happy and relaxed.

It also made me think of how I used to spend my long commutes from Arnos Grove to Hammersmith some 15 years ago. Some days I would draw; others I would embroider. The journey was an hour, from my home to my place of work and I regularly found a way to inject some creativity into the beginning and end of each working day. Whilst at Uni, I used to draw… big black marker portraits of underground passengers, attempting to create some sort of cartoon-likeness without them noticing that I had one eye on their face, another on my paper. And notice they did from time to time, but nobody minded and I took great pleasure in making art on the move; being creative in what would otherwise have been dead-time. I filled my workspace with them… my fellow passengers. They inspired some of my ceramics and paintings.

So I resolve, once again, to use those windows of time to get creative. I will draw, make, sew, carve, create.

It only takes a moment to give your creativity a BIG boost.

Have you ever used your commute to create? What did you make?

What are the moments in your day that could be spent creating? How will you spend them?

Keep a little sketchbook and pen in your handbag and create a small sketch whilst waiting for friends to arrive at the café.
Half an hour spent embroidering each way on your commute each day = 5 hours in a week alone.

What will you do?

Carved Soap Sculpture

Carved Soap Sculpture

Mixing it up

A beautiful day today.
An Autumn’s on its way day.
That magical mix of sun low in the brightest blue sky and a chill on my bare arms that makes me stand still just a little bit longer to enjoy the feeling. I watch the leaves; their movements somewhere between a slow-dance and a shimmy. Thoughts turn to warming soups, marsh mallows on sticks held over the fire and the comfort that big jumpers and snuggles on the sofa bring as the nights draw in and I feel a sense of excitement. A feeling of something in the air. A sense of wonder.

I have been drawing again lately. Pen and ink on paper, but no ordinary paper; instead that pages of old books. Their particular shade of not-quite-white appeals much more than the plain page. Much easier to start on something that has already been started… the words become the beginning of the work and the image flows from there. It is a 3-way process: the selection of the page; the choosing of the words to retain; the creation of the image around them.

I love drawing.
I also love taking photographs.
There is something about capturing a moment – the feeling of it – the essence of a memory that may otherwise slip away, but can so easily be sparked by just glancing at an image. Or taking the time to study it. It is something I do often – capture a moment and go back to it again and again, reliving the joy of something so special – and usually so simple – that I felt a desire to hold on to. It is therapeutic; uplifting.

And so, on Sunday, I felt the need to mix it up; to experiment; to see how I might be able to take the thing that I was trying to convey in my drawing and add another element to it. I started with the book page drawing; what it said; how it looked and tried to find a photograph that might suitably combine. After a number of unsuccessful experiments, I finally hit on one that (for me, at least) worked. It gave me that heart feeling of a moment like this morning’s in the sun. It captured something for me. It was not “perfect”, but I am glad to say I let go of the idea of perfect some time ago and to have something that I felt in my heart felt good enough.

It is my hope that little images like these might give heart moments to others. It does not happen in every exhibition I visit, nor do I feel it with every work I create, but once in a while, a work of art or piece of music stops me in my tracks as it captures something I cannot put into words. That is what I seek to create and share. That is what I strive for.

Thank you for taking the time to join me here.
If you like what you see, please share it on.

With love,
Julia x

 

Steal like an artist

This evening, feeling creative, but a little unsure which direction to take, I watched Austin Kleon’s TEDx talk, Steal Like An Artist. Take ten minutes to do the same. It’s worth it!

So I took an old idea of my own, borrowed from his, stole a page from an old book and gathered a few other inspirations together in my head to create this…

May I suggest you go watch… and then go create…? You’ll be glad you did!

Natural creativity

A week of natural creativity has almost passed. Fired up after last Wednesday’s art club, I have found little windows here and there which allowed time for drawing, painting, creating. Little hearts of nature seem to be appearing everywhere, so I have started to photograph them as I find them.

 
On Saturday, out in the sunshine, I was transfixed by the long grass of B’s garden… I sat watching for a long while as the many different varieties of grass nodded their heads elegantly in the breeze.
I quickly did a little sketch of some of the grasses, a few of the flowers and the leaf formation of the aquilegia whilst B cut the lawn.

I was reminded, whilst watching the moving grass, of the beautiful simplicity of David Hockney’s sketchbooks in his recent show at the Royal Academy. I remembered being particularly struck by the simple pencil drawings of grasses in one book and the stunning effect of charcoal and ink in another. I wanted to capture something straight forward in pencil that I could later consider transferring to a different medium, perhaps mono-print or a combination of methods in one work.

This week, the little bits of work I have done out of doors over the past few months, have really begun to show. My first poppy flowered for the first time in my garden.

The paper-thin delicacy of the pale petals contrast beautifully with the rich green of the hairy leaves and stem. I am thrilled with this little beauty. A second flower appears to be on the way also.

The weekend was dedicated to gardening. At B’s, we tamed the wilderness at the back of his house, pulling weeds and tidying the lawn that had grown up in his absence to a more manageable height.


Working out of doors, seeing the little changes we made over the minutes and hours become a big transformation by the end of the weekend felt good indeed. I made sure to sit quietly from time to time, to be mindful, observing the contrasts: the wild and the tame; sitting on the bench feeling the sun warm on one arm, the breeze cool on the other; keeping an eye on the clouds wondering what they had in store and watching their shapes move swiftly across the sky.
Little moments of joyful tranquility.

Coming home after a weekend at B’s, I returned today to an old favourite subject of mine: The Thames. I walk as often as I can along London’s South Bank. There is fuel for the imagination there. I have photographed that river time after time and never tire of watching the shifting currents and the scenes that unfold alongside. Often, there are many shades of grey and little else along the way. At Festival time and on sunny Summer’s days, the city comes alive, colours are everywhere and it is this side of things that I tried to express in my re-worked photograph today.

There is more I would like to do to this piece, but I was happy to have made a start.

The urge to create has been strong this week and I have surprised myself with how much I have seemingly effortlessly achieved. A brain bulging with inspiration; train journeys; time in the garden; sharing paints with my small son and keeping art materials and my camera close at hand… all these things meant that keeping creative was easier than it has been for a long while.

In addition to the little pieces I had worked on in the week, I felt the need for something a little more structured in my days, so I embarked on Dirty Footprints Studio’s free Total Alignment online workshop. I became rather too self-conscious and a little stuck towards the middle of my work on this piece, but I enjoyed the process, going with the flow, seeing where the colours and brushes took me, painting, paper taped to the wall.

There is something very liberating about painting free from your own expectations. As a child I was regularly disappointed with what I produced when I put pen or paint to paper. With hindsight, I realise of course, that much of what I created was not bad… it was just that what I had created in my mind was, in my opinion, much better. Free from those expectations and open to whatever flows, the creative process once again becomes fun. The pressure is off, the process is front and centre and more interesting things emerge. It is more natural. For me, this is also a much more fulfilling way of working. If I have enjoyed the process, surely I am much more likely to feel pleased with the result.

Resolving the restless


The urge to create has been strong this past week.
I have a feeling that recent activities at art club may have something to do with it.

Last Wednesday’s after-school art club was another break-through lesson. A few weeks ago, after a particularly frustrating class of restless children unable or unwilling to sit still, I was feeling rather flat and in need of a big change to keep my enthusiasm for the club alive. The following week, I arrived at the hut, ready to set up the materials, but was faced with a room with no tables. Slow rain had just started to fall, so my ideas for getting the children up and out of the classroom looked less than promising. However, I decided to go ahead with the plan to get the children making wax rubbings from the textures around the class. What fun! As they were moving around, seeking their own inspiration and enjoying this new process without the constraints of sitting at a table, there was a distinct shift in behaviour… for the better. Why did it take the absence of tables and my choice not to put out chairs for me to realise that children do not want to sit down at the end of a long school day?

This week, with large-scale painting and restless children in mind, I chose to work in a different way again. I stretched lengths of plastic along the floor, put tables behind them, brushes, water, mixing palettes, paint. On entering the class, each child was asked to lay down on the floor whilst another child, my assistant or myself drew a rough outline of the child’s shape with pencil on lining paper. With the paper taped to the wall, the children were able to stand face to face with their outline and create a self-portrait of their own desire… either realistic or imaginary.

The children seemed to enjoy working on the wall and those who did not or could not, were happy spread out on the floor, some working collaboratively, others alone. The results were impressive and most were only half-finished by the end of class, so some of the children requested the chance to work again on the same piece the following week.

Not once, in that lesson, did I have to ask for calm and quiet… everyone, myself included was excited and productive in their own way. Thrilled to have stumbled upon this new way of running the class, I don’t think we will be going back to sitting at tables after school before the end of term.

Having seemingly resolved the restless, we can now get on with creating great art.

 

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.