In praise of play

What does play mean to you?
And fun…? When was the last time you really had some fun?

It can be so easy to slip silently and unconsciously into serious mode and spend days in a row working or just getting by, doing the necessaries, but little more. Engaging in activities that make our heart sing is so vital to our well being, as is spending quality time with people we love. So grab a friend if you can, step away from the screen and go have some fun!

Time playing is far from time wasted. When you are feeling stuck and unproductive, go play. Just think how much more energy you will have! Ideas and inspiration are natural by-products when you are in flow, so do things that make you feel good. Play regularly. Don’t hold back.

Last week, after too many days in the previous month spent face to screen, I played full on. Activities included:
Snooker with the kids
Bouncing on a trampoline
Bat and ball on the beach with my partner
Horse riding with my 5 year old son
Hide and seek
Drawing
Making beach art
Water balloon fights with my partner and our boys

Oh, we laughed and smiled so much. It was like someone had hit the reset button. I regained my perspective and got in touch with my playful spirit. This week, I am filled with energy and enthusiasm for my work and my mission. I am more creative and productive than I have been in rather too long and it’s all down to time out and fun. So here’s to more play and more fun because grown ups need to play too.
What will you do?

Breaking through creative blocks to finish what I started

Birds in flight

Birds in flight

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.

Flock of birds painting framed

Flock of birds painting framed

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.


A conclusion, but not an end… let’s play

The 30 Day Challenge concludes today.
The journey of those 30 days is documented here.
When I look at what I have created over this period of 30 days, I see me. I see an artist. I see colour, life and joy. And that is only half of it. What I see here does not include the hearts in the woods that will, by now, have shifted shape, maybe vanished entirely, but hopefully brought a smile to the faces of passers-by. It does not include the photographs of flowers and trees, my word pictures, my first video interview, my unfinished experiments or the painting I left out in the rain to see what happened. I notice, from what I do have here, that I spent roughly half my time making tangible works of art… and the rest was play, but in a different way.

As those of you who have been following or making this journey along with me will know, this past month has been one of transformation. I have broken down some of the barriers I had put up for myself over many years… fears of making bad art, fears of not living up to my own (often unreasonable) expectations, the pressure (put on by none other than me) to produce something good, something original, something worthwhile. I have been reminded of the great joy and sense of inner peace I used to experience from simply putting pen to paper, from letting words and images flow, from looking at the little details in life and in sharing.

I feel liberated and refreshed, invigorated and inspired.

And I feel lucky.
Lucky to have had this amazing experience… to have grasped an opportunity that was offered to me and to have been part of a safe and incredibly supportive community of people, each taking small steps to make big changes in their lives, spurring each other on, offering encouragement on difficult days and celebrating successes together.

And I am grateful.
Grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read these words, look at these pictures, share their thoughts here. I am grateful to all those who have offered advice and ideas. To Selina and John for creating the space to make such change to happen. Thank you. You have all made this experience such a pleasure.

This evening, I will earn my first playcheque, for inviting people into my home to make art with me. How amazing is that? To get paid to do what I love and share that joy with others. My desire is to inspire and I hope that those who attend the workshop this evening will take pleasure in expressing themselves visually and sharing that experience with others.

Creativity has, once again, become an intuitive and joyful expression of who I am.

Creative play is, after all, only natural. It is the one of the first activities we engage in as children and at that stage, it comes without thinking, it is all in the moment, all about exploring, learning, enjoying life. Surely this is something we all need to re-capture and re-live. Today, without thinking, I found myself singing, improvising with my small son… he led, I followed. I made little films of his innocent and amusing games, photographed his funny little experiments with food on his face, then handed him the camera to document the day in his own way.

What if each one of us took every available opportunity to play…?
What if, whenever we were sad or stuck, we tried to play our way out of the situation…? What if, when faced with a difficult decision or awkward situation, we played it out… thought to ourselves, “what would be the most fun way of dealing with this?” and tried that option out…?
My guess is that it may not work in every situation, but I do believe that in many, it would.

So, as the 30 Day Challenge draws to a close, rather than being an end, this was just the beginning… a little introduction, a prelude to what’s to come… the start of a new, playful chapter in what I hope will become a long and adventurous story in which I hope you will also play a part.