You don’t need expensive materials to make great art

Nature Collage

Nature Collage

Do you love shops that sell art supplies? I do!
I feel like a kid in a sweet shop as I step into any establishment offering an array of paper and pencils, paint and canvas. I remember a feeling of sheer delight on receiving my very first tin of 40 watersoluble Caran d’Ache coloured pencils (yes, I still have the tin, though just 36 much shorter pencils remain) and I have a similar feeling each time I step out of an art shop loaded with new supplies. However, my visits to such shops are rare at present. I have a plentiful supply of art materials and, in recent years, have come to realise that the purchase of supplies, when I already have some, can be a form of procrastination, holding me back from creating…
Why waste time in the art shop when I could be making art?

What matters to me now, much more than obtaining new materials – and the feelings of excitement and possibility that go with them – is the actual making of art on a daily basis. The work I make now, rarely requires any materials or purchases, other than those I find for free just before I start creating.

As I wander out on my daily walks, I am regularly struck by the abundance of materials that are there at our finger tips, just waiting to be used, but are often overlooked. Always a scavenger when walking on the beach, I gather stones and shells, driftwood and seaweed. In years gone by, the gathering may have provided sufficient satisfaction, my treasures returning home with me, to become clutter in my bedroom. I did once cover a chair in shells I had collected, but that aside, the things I gathered were merely part of a collection. These days, I am drawn to creating temporary art, making something simple from the leaves, sticks, stones, feathers and other raw materials that nature offers up, asking nothing in return. My usual theme is simple faces, made in moments. I photograph them as a record, but it is highly likely, especially on windy days, that they will be gone in little more than the time it took me to create them. It is the act of creating – and how it feels – that is most important to me these days.

A couple of years ago, my friend Julia Barnickle captured me in action, making a One Wheeled Thames Serpent on the banks of the river. As you will see, from the video below, I am at ease and in flow when collecting and creating.

London Cameos – Gabriel’s Wharf, South Bank – Julia Elmore from Julia Barnickle on Vimeo.

This past week, a couple more videos have appeared on my radar, showing other people who create art from discarded items. The first showcases six artists, all creating using discarded materials. The variety of work, both in choice of materials and in scale was jaw-dropping. I hope you will enjoy the video and feel inspired, as I was, to experiment with new materials and find fresh ways of working.

The second video showed how the Aboriginal residents of a Cape York community are gathering debris from the beach and transforming such items as washed up old fishing nets and turning them into sculptures of beauty, depicting the sea creatures that may otherwise have been caught up in these “ghost nets”. The accompanying article explains how, in doing so, the sculptors are not only helping clear up their beaches and preserve the wildlife that may otherwise have perished, but also creating work that connects to their country, their ancestors and in the case of Short Joe, their art becomes a passport to visiting other countries.

Do you make art from materials you find? Please let me know in the comments below.

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Playing games with nature

Conker naughts and crosses

Nature’s game of noughts and crosses

I sent out a little survey recently asking people who had taken my 21 Days of Creative Freedom course what else they would like me to share. One thing that came up and which is very close to my heart was a request for creative activities to do with children.

It can be hard, I know (as a Mum of two boys who love their gadgets), to get some children engaged in creative activities. Others will happily draw for hours, but I find that my boys really come alive and express their gorgeous, creative selves out of doors, surrounded by nature. It is where they feel freest and happiest. Me too!

The natural world provides so many things that we take for granted or appreciate for their beauty alone, but a walk in the park or along the beach offers a whole wealth of creative opportunities.

On holiday this Summer, small boy and I were sitting in full blazing sun on a pebbly beach. The big boys had ventured off exploring caves and after some time swimming and splashing about in the water, small boy and I were feeling the need for some shade. The only shady spot in view was an old bench under a tree. How would I keep him occupied there, I wondered. So, from the beach, I gathered four sticks and some stones: five shiny smooth and five rough and bumpy. On a beach towel on the bench beneath the tree, I lay the sticks across each other to make a grid and asked small boy to choose which pile of stones he wanted.

Our next half hour was spent playing noughts and crosses over and over again. I was smooth stones, he was bumpy. When the big boys arrived, we jumped into the tender with them and took the pieces of our improvised game back to the yacht where we continued playing.

Seeing the fallen conkers these past few weeks I have, on several occasions, set up an impromptu game in the park, using conkers instead of noughts and crosses, one player putting the conkers white side up, the other white side down (as above). Simple fun. Isn’t that so often the best?
They say the best things in life are free.
Conkers have been substitute balls, allowing us a spur of the moment game of piggy in the middle which raises much laughter due to the trickiness of catching a small flying conker. They have been used for throwing competitions, as have big sticks (big boy loves athletics, so this really make him grin). Small boy has sent conkers racing down slides as his friends scramble to catch them. Endless amusement.
What other games have you played with conkers and sticks? I am sure there are many other options.

Being out and about, living in the moment and aware of my surroundings leads me to point out the simple things to my children. They, in return, show me nature’s magic through their eyes. We like to notice how nature makes its own art. At the beach, it was snail trails through rock pools; on the street, slug or snail trails caught our eyes and looked like nature’s works of abstract art decorating the pavement.

Nature's abstract art

Nature’s abstract art

I have written here on several occasions of the images I have made out of doors from sticks and stones in the woods and what the water has washed up on the beach, so I won’t repeat myself, but if you’re stuck for something to do this weekend, my advice would be this…
Go out… explore.
Lead the way sometimes and let your children lead you.
Point out the details you notice and encourage them to show you the simple everyday magic that they see the world.
Draw with sticks in the mud and come home messy.
I will never forget a little girl in my art club telling me, “my mum doesn’t mind if I get dirty as she knows it means I’ve been having fun”!
Life isn’t supposed to be neat and tidy all the time… especially creativity.

Do share what you get up to this weekend in the comments below… I would love to hear about your creative adventures in nature.

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?

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

Following my creative heart

In the month that has passed since I last posted here, I have been exploring a variety of areas in relation to my art and the art of others. I have been following my creative heart, which has led to a month of investigation, experimentation, revelation and celebration.

Vivienne (left) and I in the gallery

On May 1, Vivienne Roberts and I opened our first exhibition of what we hope will become an ongoing creative collaboration of sharing the work of artists often known as Outsiders. The label is a contentious one and for us, the aim is simply to get the art we love and appreciate out into the world and hope that others share the sense of wonder that we feel on encountering these works. I do feel that exploring the works in an exhibition of art that really speaks to you is more of an encounter than a simple viewing. In Face to Face with the Outsiders, our intention was to bring together a combination of Outsider Art and related creations on a theme of portraits and faces. The reaction was good. It was apparent to us, even before we started hanging the show, that certain works were speaking to each other, opening up a dialogue before they had even reached the walls, works of art, face to face for the first time, finding common ground. It was a powerful experience and one we intend to recreate in many forms over coming months and years.

Lady in the woods

In my personal creative work, several things have happened… firstly, I have discovered that I gain enormous pleasure from making temporary works of art out in nature. I delight in walking in the woods, in the finding of the raw materials with which to start, discovering a spot in which to lay them out, making it mine and letting ideas evolve directly from the materials, their shapes and textures, creating freely, playing and exploring as sticks suggest shapes and stones take on new meanings. I also love the fact that someone may stumble across the things I make in any state from just-finished to almost eradicated as nature does her thing, dissolving all that once was.

My studio in the garden

I had been eager to paint on canvas again after a long break, so a sunny weekend afforded me the luxury of setting up a temporary studio in the garden and painting over and old, half-finished work in what, for me at least, was a very new way of working. I squeezed paint directly onto canvas, dragged it with scraps of cardboard, experimenting and exploring with fingers, free from any fixed idea of outcome. How liberating that was!

Canvas copy

A few days later, I tried painting on canvas again. I felt stuck, blocked, came to a stand-still. The difference this time, was that I was using an existing artwork as the starting point, trying to translate the feel of a collaged piece I particularly liked onto canvas. This was the sticking point. I had a fixed idea and could not get into the free-flowing play-state necessary for uninhibited creation.

Making Your Creative Mark

What a relief the following day, when I embarked upon reading Eric Maisel‘s new book Making Your Creative Mark and found words that spoke directly to me about my current challenge. As I turned the pages, I was repeatedly faced with ideas and exercises that shifted my perspective and propelled me forward in my thinking in relation to my creative practice. Dr. Eric Maisel is a creativity coach and author of over 40 books, but whilst I have been aware of his work for some while, this was the first of his books I have read on the subject of creativity. What impressed me most was the variety of practical tools to overcome a wide range of blocks, not only those I am already faced with, but others I have yet to encounter, or have encountered, but not really admitted to being obstacles to my full creative expression. In the book, Maisel presents nine keys that show artists how to unlock their challenges and work through their blocks. From helping creative people “mind their minds” to the importance of a morning creativity practice, Maisels offers practical advice and solutions. His real life examples illustrate both the dilemmas and the solutions from a personal point of view in a way that is easy to relate to. Making Your Creative Mark has already become my handbook on days when I feel stuck and need a little helping hand and I know it is a book I will be recommending to all of my artist friends.

So, after a month away from the blog, I return with a renewed sense of excitement and adventure, knowing that I must move forward from a place of creative freedom, taking risks and not trying to emulate something that has gone before. I feel stronger, armed with the tools to work through my challenges, knowing I am not alone. And on a different level, I feel honoured to have been able to share the incredible talents of artists I admire with an enthusiastic and receptive audience and look forward to doing more such sharing soon.

I would love to hear your stories of how you overcome your personal creative challenges and what led you to follow your creative heart. Please share your experiences in the comments below.

With love,
Julia x

If you go down to the woods today…

Today, I was grateful for the blue sky and sunshine, calling me outside, encouraging me to do all of those things I have been wanting to do these chilly weeks gone by.

This morning I planted bulbs… a little late, admittedly, but I have faith that they will soon push through the soil and bring colour to my Spring garden, if a little behind schedule.

Oh, nature! How I love you…

I love the things that you do and the things that you leave behind and I love the noises you make and the big full up feeling I get in my heart when I spend time with you.

This afternoon, I needed to let the boys run, climb, explore.

Too much of the Easter break had been spent indoors and we were all itching to roam, so the afternoon passed happily, out in the park, exploring the woods, playing and making art.

There is a particular spot in Trent Park that we all like to return to. For the boys, it is about building bridges, making dams. For me, it is about gathering sticks and stones and bark and making art. And so, we each did our own thing, immersed in our chosen activities, our paths crossing from time to time, the boys giving me bits of bark as they hacked away at fallen trees with branches as weapons and me giving a helping hand from when a wellington boot needed emptying of water or needed to be forced back on to a soggy foot.

And safely home, boys bathed and in bed, clothes washing, me early into pyjamas, I embarked on the task of turning photos into video. So here, for your eyes only (Password: Art), is what I did today when I chose to play in my own way.

 

Nature Art from Be Creative Daily on Vimeo.

Breaking through creative blocks to finish what I started

Birds in flight

Birds in flight

Last week I started playing… painting with my hands, expressing myself freely, seeing what came out. I loved it… the freedom of movement, the new ways in which I was applying paint, with paper, cardboard, sticks, fingers, even the side of my hand. I liked what I created… the textures, the layers of colour, the freedom of allowing myself to create freely without a goal or even an image in mind was liberating and fun.

However, when it came to moving on to the next stage… attempting to assemble it into some kind of finished work, something changed. I no longer liked it. I felt frustrated, incompetent, restrained.

So I stopped.

Then I looked around… and in doing so, I noticed several abandoned projects. I saw the empty frames asking to be filled. I saw the half-finished paintings, waiting for me to go back to them. I saw the little sculptures that I intended to paint. One day.

And something happened. I realised that this is the point at which I always abandon. This is the moment, when the fear and the feeling of not being good enough take over and I stop. I identified my pattern… my stumbling block.

So I made a conscious decision to continue. I decided to keep working and push through the creative block to see what would happen if I just kept on creating. I tore up my textures and began layering them again. I cut out shapes and pieced them together and added more layers and within the space of just ten minutes, I was happy again. I had created something I loved and wanted to stay up all night just to get it finished.

Common sense (and fatigue) got the better of me and I went to sleep work unfinished, but today I went back to the piece again.

I layered more. I painted more. I cut new images, pasted them on… and frustration set in again. Doubts crept in… I felt like walking away. So I did for a while, but instead of walking away from my art, I painted through the frustration, I cut more shapes, tried new techniques and went back to the original piece.

It took a while to arrive at the finished piece, but I made it. With persistence and determination I managed to create something I rather like. I needed patience to reach this place, but it sits in a big square box frame now, grass flapping forward as if bowing in the breeze, birds wings curling as though in flight and I have positioned it, pride of place, in the living room, just to remind me that if I just keep on going I will get there… even if I don’t know exactly where I am headed when I start.

Flock of birds painting framed

Flock of birds painting framed

Three free and easy ways to connect with nature creatively

In our busy lives, it is easy to let the natural beauty that surrounds us pass us by. It is everywhere… in the cracks and in the air, always there, regardless of whether or not we choose to take notice of it. Same goes for creativity… it is just a case of seizing every opportunity and making creativity part of your daily life.

Here’s how it happened for me…

Like many of my friends, I stopped creating right after finishing Uni. The pressure of creating something that ticked all of the required boxes when all I wanted to do was express myself had taken its toll and meant that whilst I still appreciated art in a big way, I no longer felt compelled to make it.

For the years that followed, I always felt creative, but I was not really creating… not drawing, painting, stitching, making… and I felt frustrated at not doing so. But I did not know where to start… the idea of creating freely had been sucked out of me and I had not found my way back to the pre-Uni place where I was creating freely, naturally, on a daily basis.

I tried various things to get back into art again: I signed up for classes; I got together with creative friends for dedicated making sessions; I bought new materials, sketchbooks, paint. Whilst each of these things led to a short flurry of activity, none of them made the desired impact on my confidence in art. The one thing that changed everything for me was this: a simple decision… to give myself permission to create. I told myself this:
It does not matter what you make, just make something. Do it every day for a month and see what happens.

It changed everything.

I gave myself the freedom to make art without worrying about what I was making or why, without being swayed by what anyone else would think, just to make art because I wanted to invite art back into my life. It was not always easy. Some days I did not know where to start, but I still started. Some days I had lots of ideas and sat up until the early hours letting them flow, and others I snatched a few brief moments to do a little sketch whilst travelling on the tube or waiting for my cuppa in a café.

I abandoned all excuses in favour of making art.

But the one thing that really changed for me was seeing (once again… I seemed to do it naturally as a child and teenager, but needed to re-learn) that opportunities to be creative are everywhere… and that every day we are making creative decisions, acting and thinking creatively without even noticing. It is really just about being aware and making the most of those opportunities. Art is everywhere!

There are three things I would like to share with you today. They are three things you may already do, but with extra awareness and attention, they are the keys to appreciation of the simplest of things… to experiencing the magic and wonder of what is all around us every day. Each of these things I practised whilst on holiday in Cornwall last week and will continue to enjoy on a regular basis now back at home.

1. Watch the clouds
Sit back, look up… what do you see…? This is not only a great game to play with kids, but also a wonderful way to stretch your adult imagination on lazy days or for pure escapism during your lunch break. It connects you to nature, the wider world and brings back some of that childlike sense of wonder we could all benefit from experiencing again. We spotted all manner of mythical creatures in the skies over Crantock last week.
Shapes in the clouds

2. Take photographs
Taking photographs, particularly out in nature, encourages us to look at things more closely, or to see them in a different way. I glanced at this wall before taking a photograph, but only saw the face through the camera lens!

3. Make stuff with nature, in nature
Art does not need to be expensive or time-consuming. It can be as simple as a little gathering of what’s around you and assembling it into what is in your head. Here is a windswept me on the beach in Newquay.

Try them today…

Please be sure to let me know how you get on…

I would love to hear of any other simple ways you connect creatively with what is around you.

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, please share it on. x

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…

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.