Find your community of like-spirited people

Finding and being part of a community of like-spirited people can feel like coming home. A couple of years ago, my creative community was made up of my dear friend Laura and a couple of other local mums who had enjoyed creative careers prior to having children. Like me, they had let their own art and craft projects slip in recent years, but hankered for some creative time of their own. During one play date, Laura and I realised just how much we were missing our own creative time as we sat making models with Play-Doh long after the kids had wandered to another activity. We got together one evening just to sit, draw and chat together and then every few weeks to work together on our own little projects and inspire each other. It was fun, but we wanted more!

If you are regular here, you will already know that I committed to my creativity on May 2012, went on to teach art to children, run workshops and courses for adults and build my business around art, making and sharing my own creations as part of the process. It was around the same time that Laura gave up childminding to focus on her art. She had already started her inspiring blog and was taking commissions for portraits, but found this rather limiting and has recently been following her heart. She has now sold a number of her beautiful mixed-media canvas works on ArtFinder. There is value in doing what we love.

Since starting my blog and running my creativity courses over the past couple of years, my circle of like-spirited people has grown. Some of the strongest and most inspiring bonds have resulted from the online courses I have taken and having connected over creativity, we have kept in touch and continued sharing progress and inspiration long after the courses ended. Being part of a group of people with similar passions on a mission like your own has a bonding effect. Laura has found her tribe through sharing on Instagram, showing her images and connecting with artists worldwide.

It may be that like-spirited people are gathering at an evening class near you. Are they musicians or dancers or frustrated creatives keen to make art, but not sure where to start? Maybe it’s time to gather your own tribe.

Having a group of supportive, passionate people to connect with can be the difference between following your passions or not. The right group of friends will inspire you when you are feeling uninspired, cheer you on when you need a boost and share their own challenges so that you know you are not alone.

Have you found your community of like-spirited people yet?
If so, where did you find them?
If not, who would they be if you could find them?
Let’s talk this over and help you find your tribe.

Shifting sheds and recycling doors to create a gorgeous communal space in the garden

Ready for action!

Ready for action!

Yesterday, I wrote about what I have achieved here at home recently. What I did not mention was that the work indoors was preceded by some serious changes out of doors. The text below was written last night as part of the previous blogpost, but I decided to save it for today to enable me to also share some images with you. 

This was where all of the de-cluttering and space changing really began…

Our first task was to knock down a shed. Contents were removed and B (with some help from big boy) took the shed apart. Piece by piece we took it out front, loaded the car, dumped the lot. The contents were next. A big job to sort through, but liberating. Easier to do outside than inside for some reason. Everything that was still required had to find a space in shed #2 and this meant emptying and sorting shed #2. A major task, we got stuck in, took more stuff to the dump and B built shelves to organise only the things I still wanted. The rest was gone. This, I learned, was an important part of the clearing out process… if it doesn’t have a home, it has to go. So, we made homes for the things I wanted and lost a whole lot of stuff that had been hanging around too long.

We already had a plan for the space where the shed had been, but this morphed as we set to work. It had always been our intention to create a small seating area where shed #1 had been. During one of our lunch breaks, we created a makeshift table by placing the old shed door on old Singer sewing machine legs which had been doing nothing outside the back door for too long. Sitting at our makeshift table, we were struck with how lovely it was to be sat there, up on the little raised area at the end of the garden, sharing a meal in the sun. Talking our ideas through with big boy, he revealed that he was quite happy with his little wooden house where it was and so our plans to move his house up to the back of the new seating area were set aside. This meant that we had more room for the seating area. With this in mind, we went on a little skip-trawling mission. A few minutes into our adventure and we discovered a big wooden door looking unwanted in a front garden. B knocked on the door and asked if we could take it away. Happy for us to do so, the friendly chap even helped carry it to the car. We strapped it to the roof with a couple of bunjies and after some deliberation over dimensions, B cut it down to a more manageable size. It was then sanded and primed, painted and re-painted and fixed firmly to the Singer base. I know have a fabulous table in my garden around which I can comfortably seat eight people; ten at a squeeze.

And the best part? B used his woodworking skills to built me a beautiful pergola. I created a little bird template and he cut this gorgeous detail into the ends of each beam. Wisteria is already beginning to wind its way over it, and most meals have been eaten at the table under it on sunny days since it was completed. Big boy and I even enjoyed a game of Monopoly out there one morning. It has meant that I am now much happier using my outdoor space and can’t wait to invite friends to share a meal there and light some candles as the evening closes in.

Come on over…

Clearing the clutter to make way for clarity and productivity

I have been painting a lot the last couple of weeks. Not my usual kind of painting: my art, but the domestic kind: woodwork and walls.

B and I had planned to go to France… to relax, walk in the countryside, breath slowly and enjoy some time out. However, a couple of weeks before we were due to go, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I almost did. I talked myself out of it; he talked me round.

His offer was to stay home with me instead of going away. To spend the time we were due to be relaxing on holiday working hard. There was method in his apparent madness of course. Having spent a fair amount of time with me of late, he had observed the rather chaotic way in which I switch between work and play; the piles of papers that travel between desk and dining table; the general clutter and the way this level of discord affects me on a daily basis. He wanted to help.

With small boy starting nursery next month, I will be working from home on a regular basis and need a fresh start. I need a good timetable, a clear, well-organised workspace and a new mindset. Slowly, but surely the changes are happening. B’s offer of help was the first step. A step in the right direction.

I would be the first to admit that I have too much clutter. Always have had. I don’t know any different. But I do know that I don’t want to live like this forever. I have many creative friends who are also collectors, and like me, they struggle with “stuff overwhelm” and lack of focus. I had fleetingly thought that perhaps the mess was one of the reasons big son is often distracted, but I brushed the thought aside. The idea that I might be more settled if home was less chaotic had also crossed my mind, but then I got distracted. Having someone I care about refer to me as “hoarder” however, shocked me. Maybe that was what it was meant to do… to frighten me into action… it did!

After I wiped away the tears, let go of the anger, accepted the truth, I felt a strange mix of energy and calm. The calm, I think, was acceptance. Acceptance that if things were going to change, I had to change things. The energy, I believe, was the desire to change things. And so I did… or have certainly started to… and the results have surprised and inspired me.

With boys staying elsewhere for a week, I set about sorting through the contents of their room. In the past, each time I have sorted bags of toys for the charity shop, the boys have inevitably got to the bags before the bags have got to the charity shop and removed the contents before I had chance to remove the bags from the house. Lesson learned: remove the bags before the boys appear.

Having B on hand, working hard close by, painting walls as I glossed skirting or sanding doors as I sorted stuff meant that I was not doing it alone and helped keep my spirits up. Stopped me giving up. It would be fair to say that it was very hard going at times.

Clearing took a while, removing everything, dumping a few things right away, then taking little breaks from sanding and painting to sort through more. This worked for me as when I was bored with one task, rather than slowing to a halt, it was easy to move quickly onto another task – sort more books and toys – then go back to painting with fresh energy. In this way, I cleared boys’ bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. After painting their bedroom, I was determined not to fill this beautiful fresh space with clutter. I put things back on the shelves, most important / most used / favourite toys and books first. I was careful not to put back anything I thought they would not use and made sure to get rid of anything that did not fit. Drawers were filled so that both boys could reach their own clothes, giving them more responsibility to select their clothing in the morning and find their pyjamas at night.

On their return home, the boys were surprised and delighted. I am not holding my breath, but it has been two weeks now and big boy still seems determined to keep the room tidy, putting his clothes away when they used to be flung into a pile (if I was lucky) in the middle of the floor and reminding small boy to tidy up his toys before bedtime.

One of the major changes I have observed has been big boy’s ability to choose his own games and engage in independent activities when he would previously have told me, “I’m bored” or that he had nothing to do. Now, it is much easier to find things he wants to play. With fewer toys in the room, he is able to find more things to do. It was very quiet up there the other day and I found him on the top bunk, deep in concentration, playing a game of chess with his cuddly dog.

Same goes for small boy. There are now a number of puzzles he can get down and start on his own. He is able to reach all of his books, select a story at bedtime and the things he used to pull from shelves and leave in a mess on the floor are now out of reach, hidden in boxes or out the door.

Revitalising the sitting room, for me, was a biggie. I had not sat in their for a long time. I had walked in, sighed and walked out many times, but not sat on the sofa, relaxed. I am not entirely sure why, as the difference in the decor is far from radical. But it is now clean, fresh, mine. Before, it had hand prints and finger marks and a drawing or two on the wall done in felt tip by big boy when he was small boy’s age. All that is gone. My walls are milky white. I still have almost as many books on my shelves, but the little bits and bobs on the shelves in front of them are gone. I am free to remove a book without moving something else first and the cds and dvds that were regularly left out of boxes or hidden under sofas are now tucked away out of reach.

And boy, does it feel good!

There is still a long way to go… dining room (also serving as office) is on the cards for September and this will be a major challenge. It is here that the piles reside. It is here that my filing goes awry. It is here that I spend most of my time… feeling lost.

I am confident now that I can do it. In clearing the boys’ room, the living room and the shed (more on that in a later post) we took four car loads to the dump, made three charity shop trips, filled the recycling to overflow, the bin to the top (2 weeks running) and left numerous articles on the pavement outside with a sign saying “help yourself” and they were gone.

I feel happy to get rid of things now. If it does not have a space, it does not have a place and I can let it go. I am sure I will face some difficult decisions as I sort through the next room, but I can see already that space is much more comforting than clutter. I have let go of my belief that a creative home is a cluttered home, and I can see that I will have the space to be more creative if I have space to think, room to breathe. I am aware also, that if this change in environment has had such a positive effect on the boys, it will also (and already has had) a positive effect on me. I will be more focussed. More productive.

The parts I have finished feel like a new home.

In making these changes to my living space, I am also making changes to my outlook. I feel worthy of this shiny new home. I feel ready for the challenges of working on my own business. I have started making lists of things I need to do and when and how I will do them, not just endless “to do someday when I get round to it” lists. I have a timetable; a plan.

For those of you who know me, this may sound a little unlikely, but I am determined. And part of my new mindset is being comfortable asking for help, so look out, I may be calling on you soon!

In the mean time, feel free to check in on me. Ask me how I’m doing… cheer me up or cheer me on. I promise to do the same in return.

And let me know what changes you are making too… what are you doing to create a more inspiring environment; a happier home?

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.