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.

Everything is a miracle

Everything is a miracleAs we stumble through life, there are so many things we overlook. 

On certain days, my eyes are wide to life’s miracles; I notice all of nature’s divine details and on other days, I just drift through in a fog.

As I have mentioned here before, my current weekday routine is to detour through the park as I head home after the morning school run… taking the long way instead of the short cut. This sets me up for the day and gives me the clarity I need to see beyond the blur of Must Do list.

Today, I took a barefoot, mindful stroll in my love’s garden and took the time to enjoy the little miracles that have unfolded since I was here last. Some roses have faded as others have burst into bloom; the grass has become long and the apples have grown. Simple things.

Through my camera, I also see things with fresh eyes. I see shapes and colours in different ways and this slow time absorbing and recording boosts my creativity.

“There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Albert Einstein

I am choosing the latter. Everything is a miracle.

I would like to share with you this Vietnamese Proverb:
“When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree”
and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments here.

With my love,
Julia x

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

 

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.

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.

The art of the everyday

It has been a couple of days since I posted here, following my piece on fragility. It has also been a couple of days since I finished a piece of art. I have been giving myself space to breathe and it feels good.

When I awoke with the word “fragile” on my mind the other day, I knew I had to learn from it. Why, when I was doing something I loved, something that should be fun, was I feeling so exhausted? What was supposed to be a pleasure had become a chore and the joy, which was the intended outcome of daily creativity, had been replaced by anxiety. Whilst I was still enjoying the actual act of creating, I was feeling pressure to deliver. Pressure to make something good. Pressure to have something to share, something valid to say. This pressure, of course, came from me, nobody else.

I felt at first, that the important thing was to create something every day, regardless of all else. I made it my mission to push on against resistance, to put on a brave face and create no matter how I was feeling. Whilst it felt good to achieve my goal, the sense of satisfaction was dampened by the emotional and physical exhaustion. This was an unsustainable, reckless form of creation. Surely a better approach would be to do what feels right when it feels right and to acknowledge, examine and seek to understand those struggles and feelings of resistance and learn from them. So, for the past two days, I have taken time out to reflect and return to my original aim for this project.

In sitting back and examining my project so far, I see that in trying to focus on my art, I had lost sight of my original intention. I remembered that my original idea to inspire and celebrate creativity in everyday life sprung from a desire to bring more creativity into my own life and to encourage others to acknowledge and enjoy creativity in all its forms. It was not to stay up too late making art like there’s no tomorrow, worrying about whether or not I would manage to create something original and post my next blog entry before midnight. So on Thursday, a rare day at home with no kids, I did what felt right. I tackled the chores I had been putting off for the past week; I cooked; cleaned; rearranged; listened to music; to discussions on the radio; I went out for dinner on the spur of the moment. I felt great. And importantly, I took the time to notice the creativity in many of my daily actions. On Friday, I did the same. I did what felt right, spent time on activities that bring me joy and I did them with awareness. I had coffee with friends and engaged in lively banter and exchanges of ideas; I worked on the garden – cutting the grass, planting new life; I started a couple of little sketches, but let myself not finish them; I cooked up little apple and blueberry pies, topped with stars; I fell asleep early with my boys and awoke at midnight to spend a little bit of time writing, unpressured. The natural, spontaneous creativity returned.

So today, I am celebrating the creativity in the ordinary and the everyday. I am honouring the inventiveness in the things we do without really thinking… fiddling with a recipe; dressing colourfully; taking a little detour on the way to work; distracting the kids with a new game in the car; arranging a little still life on the bedside table or flowers in a vase… the list goes on.

We create our own lives, every hour, every day, and there is delicious creativity that slips by unnoticed in the smallest of actions.

My challenge to you is to take notice of the many wonderful, creative things you do as you go through your day. Be mindful. Acknowledge this creativity in your daily life, do things with awareness, take pleasure and pride in these little achievements.
Please share your experiences here.