A little frog is sitting silently on the edge of the grass. Waiting. Watching.
Time for a long bath…
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,
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.
Wednesday is Art Club day at school.
As 3.30pm approaches and I am preparing the room, moving tables and chairs, choosing music and building up to two hours of teaching, I am never quite sure what to expect and feel that delicious combination of nerves and excitement, reminding me that what I am about to do is both a challenge and something I love that means an awful lot for a number of reasons.
Some days, all goes well: I don’t lose my voice; great art is produced; everyone leaves with a smile.
Other days, I am faced with challenges: paint-splattered uniforms; lively mischief; tired, hungry kids.
And sometimes, I leave on a high: inspired by my students; proud of what has been achieved; thrilled by the possibilities.
Today was one of those days… an exhilarating day to remember.
Today, I walked out of school with a smile on my face, thinking HOW LUCKY I AM!
And as I walked, it struck me that some of the things that challenge me are also the things that excite me. I thought about the lively class; their voices raised in playful banter. I thought about the mess they made; the fun they had making it. I remembered the hug from the liveliest class member before he went home; his way of thanking me for the lesson he had so clearly enjoyed. I smiled as I thought about the conversation about art which I had shared with one of the students as he worked a little late, keen to finish what he had begun.
In class, as I tried to keep the volume down, my perspective shifted, in a moment, from frustration to elation… those were excited voices, the laughter and sounds I hear coming from my own children’s mouths as they anticipate some fun activity or outing.
As I tried to tame the mess, something changed in me and I chose to let it flow, to deal with it later, to let the experiments get a little out of hand… what else is art about if not pushing things further; taking things to the next level; playing freely with paint and paper and whatever else is at hand?
Watching the artworks unfold, I became more animated as I acknowledged that all that was happening was all that I wished for… the children were experimenting freely, playing, exploring, creating original works of art and feeling good about themselves, gaining confidence in their abilities and letting go of ideas of perfection.
How lucky I am…
To be working with a group of children who are lively, playful and open to new ideas.
How lucky I am…
To be learning from the children I am teaching; sharing my love of art and watching theirs grow.
Last week, on the boarded up wall of the classroom, we installed a hanging system – a simple hook and eye contraption on which I can display the work and cover the wall. Our art class is now becoming a gallery too… living with art is as important as creating it. I want these kids to share their art with pride.
I love to witness their first experiments with new techniques and see their joy as they realise they did well.
I love to see that pride as they spot one of their artworks on the gallery wall and show their parents what they have created.
I love to watch their eyes light up as I tell them how brilliant they are, how original, how creative.
I love art and it is a privilege to share it.
How lucky I am.
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…
I have been painting a lot the last couple of weeks. Not my usual kind of painting: my art, but the domestic kind: woodwork and walls.
B and I had planned to go to France… to relax, walk in the countryside, breath slowly and enjoy some time out. However, a couple of weeks before we were due to go, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I almost did. I talked myself out of it; he talked me round.
His offer was to stay home with me instead of going away. To spend the time we were due to be relaxing on holiday working hard. There was method in his apparent madness of course. Having spent a fair amount of time with me of late, he had observed the rather chaotic way in which I switch between work and play; the piles of papers that travel between desk and dining table; the general clutter and the way this level of discord affects me on a daily basis. He wanted to help.
With small boy starting nursery next month, I will be working from home on a regular basis and need a fresh start. I need a good timetable, a clear, well-organised workspace and a new mindset. Slowly, but surely the changes are happening. B’s offer of help was the first step. A step in the right direction.
I would be the first to admit that I have too much clutter. Always have had. I don’t know any different. But I do know that I don’t want to live like this forever. I have many creative friends who are also collectors, and like me, they struggle with “stuff overwhelm” and lack of focus. I had fleetingly thought that perhaps the mess was one of the reasons big son is often distracted, but I brushed the thought aside. The idea that I might be more settled if home was less chaotic had also crossed my mind, but then I got distracted. Having someone I care about refer to me as “hoarder” however, shocked me. Maybe that was what it was meant to do… to frighten me into action… it did!
After I wiped away the tears, let go of the anger, accepted the truth, I felt a strange mix of energy and calm. The calm, I think, was acceptance. Acceptance that if things were going to change, I had to change things. The energy, I believe, was the desire to change things. And so I did… or have certainly started to… and the results have surprised and inspired me.
With boys staying elsewhere for a week, I set about sorting through the contents of their room. In the past, each time I have sorted bags of toys for the charity shop, the boys have inevitably got to the bags before the bags have got to the charity shop and removed the contents before I had chance to remove the bags from the house. Lesson learned: remove the bags before the boys appear.
Having B on hand, working hard close by, painting walls as I glossed skirting or sanding doors as I sorted stuff meant that I was not doing it alone and helped keep my spirits up. Stopped me giving up. It would be fair to say that it was very hard going at times.
Clearing took a while, removing everything, dumping a few things right away, then taking little breaks from sanding and painting to sort through more. This worked for me as when I was bored with one task, rather than slowing to a halt, it was easy to move quickly onto another task – sort more books and toys – then go back to painting with fresh energy. In this way, I cleared boys’ bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. After painting their bedroom, I was determined not to fill this beautiful fresh space with clutter. I put things back on the shelves, most important / most used / favourite toys and books first. I was careful not to put back anything I thought they would not use and made sure to get rid of anything that did not fit. Drawers were filled so that both boys could reach their own clothes, giving them more responsibility to select their clothing in the morning and find their pyjamas at night.
On their return home, the boys were surprised and delighted. I am not holding my breath, but it has been two weeks now and big boy still seems determined to keep the room tidy, putting his clothes away when they used to be flung into a pile (if I was lucky) in the middle of the floor and reminding small boy to tidy up his toys before bedtime.
One of the major changes I have observed has been big boy’s ability to choose his own games and engage in independent activities when he would previously have told me, “I’m bored” or that he had nothing to do. Now, it is much easier to find things he wants to play. With fewer toys in the room, he is able to find more things to do. It was very quiet up there the other day and I found him on the top bunk, deep in concentration, playing a game of chess with his cuddly dog.
Same goes for small boy. There are now a number of puzzles he can get down and start on his own. He is able to reach all of his books, select a story at bedtime and the things he used to pull from shelves and leave in a mess on the floor are now out of reach, hidden in boxes or out the door.
Revitalising the sitting room, for me, was a biggie. I had not sat in their for a long time. I had walked in, sighed and walked out many times, but not sat on the sofa, relaxed. I am not entirely sure why, as the difference in the decor is far from radical. But it is now clean, fresh, mine. Before, it had hand prints and finger marks and a drawing or two on the wall done in felt tip by big boy when he was small boy’s age. All that is gone. My walls are milky white. I still have almost as many books on my shelves, but the little bits and bobs on the shelves in front of them are gone. I am free to remove a book without moving something else first and the cds and dvds that were regularly left out of boxes or hidden under sofas are now tucked away out of reach.
And boy, does it feel good!
There is still a long way to go… dining room (also serving as office) is on the cards for September and this will be a major challenge. It is here that the piles reside. It is here that my filing goes awry. It is here that I spend most of my time… feeling lost.
I am confident now that I can do it. In clearing the boys’ room, the living room and the shed (more on that in a later post) we took four car loads to the dump, made three charity shop trips, filled the recycling to overflow, the bin to the top (2 weeks running) and left numerous articles on the pavement outside with a sign saying “help yourself” and they were gone.
I feel happy to get rid of things now. If it does not have a space, it does not have a place and I can let it go. I am sure I will face some difficult decisions as I sort through the next room, but I can see already that space is much more comforting than clutter. I have let go of my belief that a creative home is a cluttered home, and I can see that I will have the space to be more creative if I have space to think, room to breathe. I am aware also, that if this change in environment has had such a positive effect on the boys, it will also (and already has had) a positive effect on me. I will be more focussed. More productive.
The parts I have finished feel like a new home.
In making these changes to my living space, I am also making changes to my outlook. I feel worthy of this shiny new home. I feel ready for the challenges of working on my own business. I have started making lists of things I need to do and when and how I will do them, not just endless “to do someday when I get round to it” lists. I have a timetable; a plan.
For those of you who know me, this may sound a little unlikely, but I am determined. And part of my new mindset is being comfortable asking for help, so look out, I may be calling on you soon!
In the mean time, feel free to check in on me. Ask me how I’m doing… cheer me up or cheer me on. I promise to do the same in return.
And let me know what changes you are making too… what are you doing to create a more inspiring environment; a happier home?
As the 30 Day Challenge drew to a close at the end of May, the need to create and post here on a daily basis became less urgent. The word “challenge” became less relevant. Finding little pockets of time to create became more natural. Art was becoming a habit again.
With the target of making and posting every day, there was a certain pressure to create. There was a pressure to think of something, pressure to do something, pressure to share it. Whilst that pressure meant that I was fulfilling my target, it also meant late nights, little sleep and what was produced was sometimes forced, not always natural, created from a “must do” rather than “want to”. But the great thing about that pressure was that it made me consider art on a daily basis. It forced me to make time to create. If pushed me into making space for art in my life. And that pressure worked. Now, free from the constraints of daily posting, I find that I want to create. I want to make time. I want to draw, paint, cut and collage. And so I do. The little opportunities to create are now more obvious to me. I seize these little moments to do what I can when I can. If I am out, I carry small paper and pen. If I am home, all that I need is close at hand. Waiting for my coffee to arrive at the café, I have a few moments to sketch a little scene. In that quiet hour after boys’ bedtime and before mine, I turn away from the computer, tape my new big paper to my wooden board and I paint. Art has become a habit. A good habit.
The thing that is missing now is my own voice. I am aware, looking back at the work created over the past couple of month, that there is no clear style to my work. I admire those artists who have a clear voice… a definite stamp of originality… a certain something that marks them out. I like to be able to look at a piece and say, “ah yes, that’s by…” and I am struggling to find my own voice.
No… struggling is not true. It does not feel like a struggle. At the moment, it feels like a journey. I am on a journey to find my own voice. Step by step. Some days, I have a clear idea of what to create… but these days are rare. Very rare. I have realised that this is a good thing. Letting go of expectations has freed me from disappointment at my inability to create on paper what I see clearly in my mind. When I come to a fresh piece of paper and just paint, there are no expectations, no pressure, just the pleasure of painting. And this is something I am loving more and more. I trust that I will one day find my painter’s voice. All in good time.
Feeling the need for a focus and the feeling (after 30 days being part of a 200-strong group of challengers), that I do not want to do this alone, I decided to embark on Connie Hozvicka’s online workshop Total Alignment. With Connie’s virtual hand-holding, video by video guiding you through the process of FEARLESS® painting, paiting without expectations, it’s like hearing my own voice. I am back to the teen-me, the fearless me, the one who just painted… the one who carried a notebook everywhere, who drew, wrote, created on a daily basis and yes, the one who got angry and frustrated, frightened and almost gave up… but then picked up that pen again, went back to the drawing board and drew… drew on the tube, in the street or the café, at home in the early hours… the one for whom art was a part of daily life.
The art I have created this past week or so is not what I would ever have had in mind. In years gone by, I may have hidden it away, thrown it even, but now I feel happy to share. I have posted it here because it is part of the process… another milestone along the path… another step in the right direction.
In painting without expectation, I am free to immerse myself in the process. In painting free from expecation, I am free to explore whatever I wish in any way I wish. In painting free from expectation, it does not matter what comes out. What matters for me now is the process… the feeling… that fabulous freedom of paper, paint, hand, brush… anything is possible.
And this is what I want to share.
This is what I LOVE:
I love taping a new piece of paper to my big piece of wood.
I love the sound of water gushing out of the tap and into the glass jar as I turn the tap on too fast.
I love holding the brush in my hand.
I love the look of those freshly squeezed colours on my palette.
I love the first brushstrokes, putting something, anything on the page.
I love going with the flow.
I love seeing what emerges.
I love the dance of my hand and my brush.
I love walking away.
I love coming back.
I love the fact that I am painting.
I love that I am loving painting.
I want you to feel this too… the joy of painting.
So try it.
Just try… and let me know how it goes.
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.
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…
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.