Painting blind

painting brushesOnce in a while, I see something that I just can’t keep to myself. Somewhere (and I cannot even remember the thread) on the Internet today, I stumbled across a video of an artist who, for 25 years, has been registered blind. In the words of Sargy Mann, “My desire has always been to make paintings; to make visual metaphors for my version of reality.”

As a visual person, I find it almost impossible to imagine how it must feel to lose your sight, let alone what it must mean to continue life as an artist after losing your sight. Sargy Mann‘s story is moving; his art is astonishing and his determination to keep going against all the odds is inspiring.

I hope you can stop for just five minutes today and watch this… painting after blindness. And if that moved you and you have a little longer, watch a full video of Sargy Mann’s art by his son Peter here.

Today, I am grateful for my eyesight; for the ability to view art and to make pictures and take photographs without any of the challenges that blindness brings. I am grateful for finding this story of sheer determination and art today.

Please leave a comment below if these videos move you… I would love to know what thoughts and emotions they stir up in you.

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.

Little British Things

littleThink of Little British Things and fish and chips and ice cream in cones and other simple delights spring to mind. On May 13, a wonderful, adventurous friend of mine, Diane Leigh, took off on a tour of Britain, by road, boat and rail in search of these things that make Britain so… well, so British. Along the way, she heard stories and told tales and sampled local delights as part of her 80 day Little British Things tour, during which she raised funds for the RNLI.

On July 14, we met up on the beach with a mission… a little meeting that had been planned (though very loosely, as in, “we must meet on the beach and make art”) for some time.

When you think of Britain’s beaches, it is unlikely that you will think of London (unless you are a regular visitor to the South Bank at low tide)… but when the water is out, the Thames has plenty of sand and all manner of scavengers’ delights… if only you know where to go. So, at 10.30am, we met up at the Royal Festival Hall and headed for the beach at the foot of the OXO Tower. Here, without a specific design in mind, we began gathering the raw materials to make our beach art. Driftwood and stones, shells and shoe soles, old brushes, bits of clay pipe, sea glass, a little plastic fish and some objects unknown were placed in piles ready to make a start.

collection“Let’s make a map”, Diane suggested, so we started setting out the pieces in the shape of Britain. The tide soon turned inwards and as the piece began to take shape, we sorted by colour and design and a plastic watering can came to represent a tea pot and fragments of weathered glass and worn plastic were placed in groups to mark sea and countryside.

cornwallIn the space of a couple of hours, our piece was almost complete and to finish it off, Diane scored the centre of the map with a fork we had found, leaving little lines along the land she had recently travelled, the shoe soles crossing the map as she had crossed the country. A couple came over, curious to find out what we were making and seemed keen to share their experiences of their own journeys as people who like to travel so often are. Then we walked up the stairs and we watched as a little boy strolled across our map from west coast to east coast and back again and we went for a sandwich, leaving the inbound waters to wash away our temporary art.

boyInspiration is everywhere… keep your eyes open wide.
Adventures can be yours… make up your mind.
Create something form nothing… be willing to try.

Diane set a target of raising £1000 for the RNLI by the end of her current adventure. Yesterday, donations exceeded that amount. Tomorrow is the final day of her tour, so if you would like to donate to the cause, click here to make a difference.

thank youLet me know what Little British Things means to you.
Share the adventures you dream of.
What would you make if we went to the beach together?

What inspired you today?

Today, I was out and about between school runs, shooting a video in Regents Park for the 30 Day Challenge and taking in the everyday inspirations that we too often take for granted. I do love my freelance life.

On Highbury & Islington station, between underground train arriving and overground train leaving, I had just ten minutes to kill. Again, I was overwhelmed by the wealth of pattern and texture, image and inspiration and shot more than 20 usable images. The dirt splattered walls made me want to get busy with charcoal and the broken ceiling lights looked stunning through a lens. Off at my home stop again, I was taken with the simple beauty of staple-studded wooden poles and a scratched and splintered fence. I have plans for these images… you will see some here in future weeks. I hope they will encourage others to look twice.

What inspired you today?

In praise of wandering aimlessly…

Returning from a couple of fraught hours in the city this week, I felt the urge to share a few things. Unable to type this up immediately, I scrawled notes in my playbook and took photos on my phone. I have an urgent instinct to capture magic in the moment as I see it or feel it, simple as it may be. I am not sure why.

This week, I was drawn to the image above on the tiles at Highbury & Islington station. And once this image had woken my from my trance of busyness, I spotted so many more things that inspired me… a little wooden cupboard in the tiles on the opposite platform, so simply and beautifully made and seemingly out of place. I noticed patterns and repetitions and textures that made me want to grab paper and wax crayon and take rubbings. I have a desire to hold onto the special things I experience so that I may return to the good feelings at at whim. And in writing this now, questions come up…
What was it about this image above that I found so appealing (it was unexpected)?
Do I find the magic when I am on another mission or only when I am wandering?
And answers arise too…
The magic seems to happen when I have/allow time for the magic to happen… when I afford myself the luxury of wandering aimlessly, stopping and looking and a little bit of dreaming.
Inspiration is everywhere when you are open and allow yourself to really see what is around you and in front of you.

Magic really is there all of the time, but we don’t always have the time or the open mind to meet it and greet it as it needs to be greeted and met. Take yesterday, for example… I had my weekly 3 hour commute to Chichester ahead of me and I had a choice… head down working or reading or be open to dream time. I chose the latter. I took photographs such as this one… a little reminder of what I love about the journey.
It was only in looking back at the image that I noticed the double decker buses, the limited colour palette and the repetition. I wrote a little, but mostly, I just opened up to possibility and ideas. And as so often happens when I do this, I was rewarded. This time, I was rewarded with the company of Frank, a delightful gentleman whose gorgeous 90-year old spirit and approach to life attracted me before we had even spoken. We talked of music and poetry, of horse riding and languages. We even conducted some of our conversation in French and later he quoted Dante, perfectly, with real emotion. It was one of those brief and magical encounters that life gifts you sometimes and for which you feel richer.

Everyday magic is everywhere, but we don’t always see it. So often our eyes are down, our minds elsewhere. How would it feel to spend a day just exploring, just wandering aimlessly, allowing space and time for magic and inspiration? This is my intention. In coming weeks, I will experiment and report back to you. Today, I took a ten minute detour from my usual weekly path in Hornsey and discovered a tower… and its grounds are a real haven. I will return just to sit quietly.

Who knows what is ahead, what is round the next corner or where it will lead. I am open to all of it. Will you join me in this little experiment and let me know what comes up for you next time you wander and dream?

Inspiration and time

Last night's drawings on brown paper

Last night, whilst enjoying a 3-hour burst of creativity, something struck me… and I felt instantly grateful for inspiration and the time to create.

For years I battled with the fact that one always came without the other, but last night, fingers stained with oil pastels, pen in hand, it struck me that for some time now, they have arrived in unison and that my creativity has been flowing freely without me even noticing.

Is this luck, or something else? I feel lucky, yes, but I believe this current combination of the two essential ingredients to my creativity comes down to one thing: commitment to my art. I acknowledge that art is one of the most important aspects of my life and my art deserves as prominent a place in my day as it has in my heart.

Is there something you have been putting off doing because you feel you cannot justify it?
Is there something you would love to be doing if you only had the inspiration or the time?
If so, just for one week, try this: commit to it and make time (even if it’s only 10 mins).

Acknowledge your commitment to your art (or dancing or photography or writing, be it music or another passion) in the comments right here, then check back in a week and let me know how you feel.

Making time for art can be justified purely by the pleasure it gives me. In making my art and engaging in my passion, I am happier person, doing what I love and sharing the joy I feel through following my heart.

May you be blessed with the same and long may it last.

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!

Practice, patience and perseverance

There was a good feeling in the air today. I do not know if it was the promise of sunshine rather than rain, or the fact that the kids got dressed and out the door on time without too many asks, or maybe it was just heading off into town to meet people I love spending time with, knowing I would return home inspired made me smile.

My morning was spent with Sue Kreitzman at Spitalfields Market in East London. Sue is one of the most colourful, creative characters I know. She is a prolific artist and is in fact a walking work of art, always dressed up like a glorious painting, you can see heads turn to take her in. She is also one of the most supportive and generous of friends and I find her one of the most uplifting people to hang out with. When we meet, our animated conversation always revolves around art, whether it is a project we are collaborating on, an exhibition we have seen or some other thing.

Sue lives, breathes, wakes and sleeps art. Her home is crowded with a rich combination of her own paintings and sculptures mixed in with those she has collected over a long period. An obsessive collector and compulsive creator, Sue has a style which is joyfully, playfully kitsch.

I have wanted to interview artists for a long time, but for some reason, have never quite got round to making it happen, so I took the opportunity today to speak to Sue about her art. It was fascinating to hear her talking about her transformation from cookery writer to artist and how, being so abundantly creative, she finds at times that it is difficult to turn off the inspiration and just be.

There is something very powerful about being in the presence of such a strong creative force and whilst some of us are struggling to find time in the day and space in the house to draw/paint/sculpt, it is encouraging to see what really is possible given time and space and with materials close at hand.

This afternoon, I met with Lynne at the Royal Festival Hall. Lynne and I have been working on the Step Up 3 research project at Pallant House Gallery for almost a year now. We usually meet at the gallery, working in the library or studio there, but chose a change of location for our meeting today. There is something very refreshing about working in a public place, getting away from your normal workspace and immersing yourself in the life of the city whilst you work. Lynne is putting together a workshop pack on Jean Dubuffet and we discussed in detail, some of his methods as well as those of the Art Brut artists whose work he collected. We excitedly explored the possibilities of a number of ideas for practical workshops, talking about how different artists have created great works of art without using any traditional art materials and how it really is possible to create all manner of wonderful art from found objects and untraditional materials. Sue herself, makes her memory jugs from found and collected items and gives new life to old objects and Lynne was bursting with ideas to try on her upcoming visit to the Lake District, where she intends to travel without her art kit and make fresh work from the things she finds there.

So, as I pursue this mission to be creative daily, posting my first ever video interview on YouTube as my achievement today, I realise that if creativity is important to us, we can/will/must make room for it in our lives. There are no excuses for not doing something as opportunities to create and engage with our environment are all around us and no matter how small an amount of time we dedicate to our art at the moment, there will come a time, with practice, patience and perseverance, that we will do more.