How lucky I am…

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.


The joy of painting


Brushes, paint, big paper, a pot of water, masking tape, a large piece of wood… these have been my necessary items this past week or so as I have been painting again. Painting big, painting happily, painting often, painting indoors, outdoors, in the morning, evening, late at night.

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.

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…