It’s in the detail

As I shared in my last blog post, I enjoyed time painting and drawing whilst on holiday recently. I showed you paintings of the sea and drawings of the islands, but what I did not share were the little details that caught my eye and captivated me enough to capture them.

Kioni plantlife growing through the wall

Kioni plantlife growing through the wall

On the island of Ithaca, we moored up in Kioni, a beautiful spot with red-roofed houses built into the hillsides and a feeling of creativity in the air… a pottery and jewellery shops seemed right at home here. It was one of those places where you find yourself dreaming of discovering a little gem of a house to renovate and return to each Summer. In high season, we would have been lucky to find a berth, but in October, we managed to get space on the quay, squeezed in between two other yachts. Here, we wandered the back streets of the picturesque village (or town, I was not sure). Few houses here survived the earthquakes of 1953, but a few interesting ones remained and I took photos of the details of some.

The image above was a snap on my phone. I was drawn to the muted, limited colour palette and the variety of textures. A plant I did not recognise had made its home between the cracks of a wall. Back at the boat, I zoomed in on the photo and worked on a little watercolour inspired by the details.

Watercolour inspired by Kioni plantlife

Watercolour inspired by Kioni plantlife

Little leaves shaped like hearts caught my eye on the path, the little spots on their skin echoing the small stones. It’s the little details like this that draw me in.

Heart-shaped leaf

Heart-shaped leaf

An abandoned house, just a few metres from the beach, beckoned me to its door to take a portrait. I loved the reflection of the trees in the glass that remained and the drape of the curtain through the gaps. The colour palette again, pale and sun-faded, with a hint of its vibrant past.

Abandoned house, Kioni

Abandoned house, Kioni

I just know such places have stories to tell… if only we could hear them! Write one for me about this place… go on.

It’s not just on holiday that such things move me. My phone acts as a visual notebook for capturing such moments and memories, in the woods and on the streets.

What catches your eye and inspires you in the everyday that others may just pass by?

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?

Inspiration exists

trio“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Pablo Picasso

Tomorrow is the back to school; the return to routine, and I have to say, I am quite looking forward to it. I find freedom in constraint.

Our Summer has been an amazingly varied one. I started by gaining my Competent Crew certificate on the solent, then heading off to sail the Ionian Sea with my love and the boys. The stunning views of distant islands from the yacht would have been the perfect exercise in limited colour palette (but those images will have to wait for another post as the photos are still stuck on the phone). But I made very little art this holiday. Knowing that quiet time alone would be in short supply, I chose not to frustrate myself with the intention to create at home, though on picnics in places where I knew the boys could run free, I took pastels and paper just in case and was rewarded on a couple of occasions. Enough solo space, bum on rug as kids ran and played, allowed me to do a few drawings. A last minute trip to Cornwall for a couple of days meant an unexpected visit to Tate St. Ives and to the even more delightful Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. The five hour journey there and back would have been worth if for that place alone. Meantime, the ideas were brewing.

This weekend, kids with Dad, I allowed myself to get going. On Friday night, I covered the table with newspaper, donned my dirty jeans and painting shirt and the canvas and acrylics came out. Having had countless ideas and images in my head over the six weeks of school holidays, I didn’t think I would find it difficult to make something I was happy with. How wrong I was. Before long, the frustration was mounting. I painted; painted over; tried something new; gave up. Paint was not working. In giving up on my painting, I did not give up on art, but rummaged through my art drawer for some charcoal. I found my big A2 drawing pad and started, this time with nothing in mind than to draw whatever flowed. The three charcoal drawings above were what came in the space of an hour or so. The outside light was on for some reason, so glimpsing the leaves lit through the window must have inspired me (but it was not until the following day that I realised the works must also have been influenced by my visit, earlier in the week to The Inner Self: Drawings from the Subconscious and represented, in some way, the unspoken words that had been forming in my head recently). I spent a little while in the garden too… shadows fell on the paper as I rested it on the ground and the inspiration grew stronger. I could have worked all night. Strangely (and unlike me when in flow) I chose not to. Instead, I chose bed and rose ready to begin again in the morning, working in pastels this time. I did one piece I was happy with then rested and turned to writing.

All Summer long I had intended to go visit the Matisse Cut Outs exhibition at Tate Modern, but for some reason (or many) had not managed it. Due to the popularity of the show, the Tate stayed open all night Saturday and into Sunday, so this morning, I caught the early train to London Bridge. My mission was to top up the inspiration tanks at the show. I had playbook and pens at the ready and was not disappointed. The elegant simplicity of the works astounded me. One of the pieces that moved me most was Oceania, The Sky as, with my fondness for brown packaging paper, I was able to envisage ways of creating a piece directly inspired, but quite different. Each room gave me new ideas for projects.

Next, I followed Ben Wilson’s chewing gum trail across the Millennium Bridge and chose to walk all the way to my next destination on the North (instead of my usual fave) South Bank. Again, inspiration was leaping out at me everywhere. I took photos, made notes and absorbed everything. Nothing like a stroll in the city to get the creative juices flowing. Time sat alone in busy places with notebook and pen allows me to consolidate things and if accompanied by good food in an atmospheric café all the better. I got lucky, filling several pages over porridge and chai at Dishoom. Once again, inspiration found me working.

The trick now is to turn that inspiration into something more concrete and this is often the point at which I resist. Fear kicks in and I kid myself that inspiration itself is enough. It is not. That is why I halted this blog post right there at the last full stop to go make something. You can see the result (white paper on brown manilla envelope with room for address on the left hand side) at the bottom of this post.
Today’s outing was a deliberate inspiration-seeking adventure. I went armed with supplies to work on my art and my ideas. The run-up to the day was filled with art-making and not, as I have explained, of the straight forward kind. I could have given up when the painting was not flowing, but chose to push through in a different medium. Inspiration found me working and it will find you too, if you work at it.matisseIf you need a little kick-start on your own inspiration-seeking adventure, why not join me…? The first of my Inspiration Days are coming soon.
Book now to be ahead of the game!
I challenge you to come out and play… experience the city through the eyes of an artist…
I guarantee inspiration will find you.

Draw when you need to de-stress

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

Everybody needs Creative Space

Leading my Creative Space art workshop

Leading my Creative Space art workshop, photo: Karen Mercer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmest wishes from a very chilly North London,
Julia x

Getting creative on the daily commute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you do?

Carved Soap Sculpture

Carved Soap Sculpture

Mixing it up

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,
Julia x

 

Steal like an artist

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

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

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

Bank Holiday Art Days

I have taken a few days off posting here, as a little break from the old computer screen was required following the last big push for the end of the 30DC. I needed to unplug, unwind, recharge. This does not mean that art has taken a back seat… oh no! When I feel the need to unwind and recharge, it is often a gallery that best enables me to do this.

On Saturday, I revisited Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern. Only recently have I been taking the time to visit exhibitions again on a regular basis. I cannot remember the last time I had the luxury of re-visiting a show, but doing so with Kusama was worthwhile indeed. A month or two after my first visit, having now spent four weeks focusing on my own art, I was viewing with fresh eyes. Artist’s eyes. By the second room, I wanted to go home immediately and start making drawing, painting, layering. I was looking differently, seeing new things. Ideas and techniques popped out at me and I also noticed on second viewing how some of the pieces I have created over the last few weeks may have been (subconsciously) influenced by my first viewing of the show, or at least I was able to see connections… the manipulated self-portraits, collaged and layered works. I felt slightly odd about this, but the exhibition I saw on Monday removed any such feelings of embarrassment at having been inadvertently influenced by another artist.

Bank Holiday Monday began slowly at Dishoom near Leicester Square. Here, I started the day with the most delicious breakfast of granola and chai and drew (without looking at the paper) the table settings in front of me, pencil in hand, finished with pen.

I had half an hour to spare before meeting a friend to view the Turner exhibition at National Gallery and the friendly staff, speedy service and wonderful environment was the perfect start the morning with a sketch and a smile.

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude set the paintings of Turner (1775 – 1851) alongside those of Claude Lorrain (1604/5? – 1682), by whom he was greatly influenced (some say obsessed). Turner borrowed, or perhaps we should say copied (both the sketchbook and painted evidence forms the basis of the show) elements of composition as well as his treatment of light as subject from Claude. The Turners on show were not the works that immediately spring to mind when one thinks of the artist, but for a viewer, like myself, not at all familiar with Claude (and I was not the only one… indeed one lady on booking a ticket asked if the Claude referred to Monet!), this was an opportunity to experience the work of an artist previously unknown to me and discover how he had inspired one of Britain’s best-loved English Romantic painters.

At home, in response, I manipulated a self-portrait taken the previous night. The flash in the mirror suggested the sun of Turner’s paintings, so with a little adjustment in iPhoto, I attempted to highlight something of the glow reflected. Perhaps I will work further on this at a later date and add paint to the picture with Turner in mind.

Whilst I enjoyed the Turner exhibition, perhaps more engaging for me as the subject is one very close to my heart, was Jo Rhymer’s lunchtime talk Transforming the Thames. With the Jubilee River Pageant in mind, she took Canaletto’s painted celebration of The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day as a starting point, Rhymer went on to explore how artists such as Turner, Monet, Sisley and Whistler took inspiration from river to create paintings that portrayed life beyond ordinary observations of the Thames. I was captivated by stories of Frost Fairs on the Thames which were illustrated by Luke Clenell’s images; moved by Rhymer’s reading from Whistler’s Ten o’clock lecture and delighted to be reminded of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s atmospheric photographs of London from c.1900-1909.

At home, I looked back on some of my own photographs of the river of which I am so fond and resolved to return soon at dawn or dusk and try to further capture something of whatever it is that draws me back again and again.

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.