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

 

Working through emotions

Dissolving emotions from Be Creative Daily on Vimeo.

After making the last film which expressed all that I was going through over the weekend, I felt cleansed, I felt stronger.

It was a very vulnerable experience sharing such raw emotions, but the responses I received confirmed that I was doing the right thing in sharing… opening doors for others to express how they feel.

This morning I felt compelled to experiment further with the film, cut it, reverse it, speed it up, to express the fact that sharing the emotions had been a healing experience and had enabled me to confront them, make friends with them, conquer them and move on. (This new film can be seen above.)

It is a long and winding path we travel, but if we acknowledge our feelings and allow ourselves to feel them deeply, we can learn from them also and in doing this, we enable ourselves to feel JOY more deeply too.

This morning, I created a piece of art (see below) which, I hope, illustrates the transformation we make when we embrace our darker, more difficult emotions, work through them and come out the other side shining.

I would love to hear of your own experiences if you feel like sharing.
With love,
Julia x

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

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.

 

Nothing is finished


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

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

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

Paper, scissors, paint

There has not been a great deal of time to write these past few days. Sickness in the house has allowed little time to think with the clarity required to finish a paragraph. Big boy was quietly ill, spending most of his sick-time reclining under a blanket on the sofa before bouncing back the next day, full of beans, raring to go… just as small boy became lethargic and ill. Small feverish boy has been (and continues to be) rather vocal, poor chap, so my bursts of creativity have been punctuated by cries for cuddles (which of course I don’t refuse), and doses of medicine. I have managed to be surprisingly productive with with the art though. Perhaps these little interruptions mean that by the time I get back to the job in hand, I too am raring to go, keen to get on and create, having been dragged away and then returning by choice, rather than succumbing to the usual distractions that prevent me from focusing for long.

Whatever it is that is happening with my art, I am enjoying it. I have been trying to create whilst the boys are around, get them involved if possible, rather than waiting until they are tucked up in bed before I pick up my tools and begin. Yesterday, with big boy back at school, small boy and I did some “scissoring”, as he likes to call it. I had painted some large sheets of paper whilst he was sleeping, then cut petals from these and magazine pages of a similar colour, before forming them into paper flowers which reminded me of things my grandmother used to make as Christmas decorations. Memories of borrowing her pinking shears, a.k.a. “angry scissors”, to snip jagged lines into cloth and paper, came flooding back as I saw small boy’s pleasure at snipping alongside me. After a little while, he gave in to the fever and requested I cut a little cat from an advertisement in one of the magazines, to sit alongside him whilst he rested. He and the cat sat happily for a while, watching and chatting as I worked, the cut-out-cat on a small cushion, before disappearing temporarily, down a gap in the sofa, only to be noticed missing and retrieved some while later, slightly crumpled, but still intact. It was at this point that he went to live on the window ledge.

The flowers formed the beginning of another collage piece which is still in progress, but can be seen here in its current state.
This afternoon, I took some paints into the garden for both small boy and myself, hoping that he would paint alongside me. He found the movement of his paper in the breeze rather too frustrating, so we returned indoors and sat at the table to work on our individual projects. I had given him a selection of paints on a plate, and a handful of cotton buds to try instead of brushes. He loved dipping and dabbing, and produced a rather lovely dotty work in blue, green, yellow and pink. As he was using both ends of the cotton buds, his fingers had also become painted, so he added some finger dots, then hand-prints to the piece you can see here, below.
Meanwhile, I completed a new little self-portrait in watercolour which I had begun last night, but had put on hold to answer a call from small boy upstairs which became a cuddle and a  sleep and when I woke up, work unfinished at 5am, I was still wearing the red dress I had been painting.
I feel I am on a roll today. I would like to continue painting long into the night, but common sense is telling me not to, that sleep is more important and that little and often is good. This time, I am listening.

But first, I must seek out the gorgeous little black and gold buttons, purchased in a vide grenier in rural France several years ago, which I squirreled away somewhere, until I could find a good use for them. This afternoon, I purchased the perfect cardigan for these little gems. Now, all I have to do is locate that safe place I put them in…

Me, me, me

Last week, somebody told me that a friend had been talking about my art in the pub. They had seen it online and loved it. They had been following what I was working on and said that it was the kind of art they would buy, but… they found it a little odd that it was all about me. So, I stopped. I put the portraits on hold, I took a step back, I looked for other ways to express myself. I took the “me” out of my art and whilst I had fun creating in different ways, I did not connect in any deeper way with what I had produced. I was creating art that was neutral, impersonal, safe. I played, I experimented, I explored new methods and media, but whilst I enjoyed the process, after a few days, began to feel that I was not following my heart.

What I should have done, of course, was listen to the praise. I should have taken to heart the fact that this person I respect would spend their hard earned cash on art like mine, that they were interested enough to follow what I was doing, wanted to see more. I should not have let my own interpretation of a comment influence my art. But I did. 

When emotions are high, I often feel the need to get them out. I write, I draw, I photograph, I explore what is going on in words and images. It is when I feel things strongly that I channel my emotions, pour out and make visual or verbal that which is crowding my head.

As an artist, this is my way of exploring and expressing my thoughts, feelings, emotions, my light and dark days. I find that one of the most powerful forms of expression for me is self-portraiture. So I am back… being true to myself and working on a new set of self-portraits which reveal the pensive gaze, the dreams of colour and light, the fire and the fear.

Yes, they are odd, they may look awkward or uncomfortable, but that is how I feel sometimes and examining those sensitivities through art helps me make sense of them. So I will continue. “I like what you are doing”, another friend told me, “it must be a bit like therapy”. It is. And for as long as I find it enjoyable or beneficial, I will go on.

 

Another interpretation

I have been feeling tired today. I have been quietly questioning my commitment to creating and posting here daily. The more I create, the less I sleep and this is something I need to address as other things are slowly slipping. I need to resolve how to fit the creativity into my days rather than tagging it on at the end when I should be sleeping. I wonder how different my creations would be at the other end of the day… if I was to make something the moment I awake?

A link sent via Twitter inspired today’s creation, which was made whilst watching a link sent to me on e-mail.

It is another interpretation of yesterday’s photograph.

Dressing up

A full day today… friends to play, cakes baked, lunch with family, hunting for treasure with new metal-detector, tennis, homework, etc… all good fun, but I was exhausted by the time I walked in the door this evening. I had to find something fun to keep me motivated.

What would be the most fun thing I could do? I took a glance over my bookshelves for inspiration and my eyes rested on I Will Never Forget You… Frida Kahlo to Nickolas Muray: Unpublished Photographs and Letters. Yes! Dressing up!

I have wanted a little more colour in my life for a while now, so who better to dress up as than Frida Kahlo, the Mexican Queen of Colour. I pulled out an old net skirt, long and layered in an interesting blue hue; raided my jewellery box, pulled out a few old rings, a necklace I rarely wear as last time I did it shed shiny red beads all over the street and in spite of having gathered them and fixed it, I no longer trust it to hold together in public; a spotty top; a sequin-covered cardigan; shocking pink tights; a rainbow scarf… not all of it Frida Style, but in the spirit of. I then put scissors to an old bag made of bright felt balls and turned it into a necklace… something I have been thinking of doing for some time, but held back until now.

Time for a self-portrait. I took a number of pics using my webcam and then selected a few to fiddle with in iPhoto. The results you will see here. The final piece – a black and white photo which I printed onto watercolour paper, then painted using Inktense blocks and watercolour pencils is more Madame Yevonde than Frida Kahlo, but I had fun playing.

And today, after 7 days of making art and writing about it daily, something wonderful struck me… I feel like an artist!