Friday, 31 March 2017

What to Do When Creativity Won't Flow




I was talking to an artist friend of mine yesterday, and she was telling me she felt a bit down.  She was struggling to process the ideas she had in her mind successfully onto paper.  It's not something that she normally finds difficult, she's a very accomplished and successful illustrator.  She wondered whether her time was up, she'd had her turn at being a painter and that this was it, game over.  

I've been there.

I know those feelings all too well - I have an idea and yet when I try to execute it onto paper, it doesn't happen.  The paper is crumpled and thrown in the waste basket, I try again...to no avail.  Now comes the sighing, the furrowing of the brow...a feeling of consternation and frustration.
The feelings of fear and despair settle quite quickly...what's going on? I can do this, why can't I do this?

I do believe creative people are highly sensitive souls, and we tend to panic if our creative ability is challenged - even when the challenge is created from within.  We question whether that's it for us, our allocation of ideas has dried up, our capacity to translate the idea into a real piece of art is no longer doable.  And it brings up so much stuff for us, our self worth, our esteem, and our confidence, it takes a knock - our failures are suddenly laid bare and that's hard to acknowledge.  Inner critics laughingly mock our utter lack of competance, and we foolishly listen to their cackling little voices, which makes us feel worse of course.

I've come to understand over the years that there are several possible reasons why this happens.

We're simply tired/stressed/anxious:  All of these emotions deplete the ability to connect properly with our inner flow, we cant concentrate properly and it's much harder to create when our minds and bodies are fuzzy with fatigue or overwrought by anxious thoughts.

Solution:  Take a nap, get a few early nights, drink more water.  Write in your journal, create a list of gratitudes, get out into nature, take a break.  Whatever it takes to help you feel calmer, nourished, back on track.  Be kind to yourself.

It's just one of those days:  They happen, to all of us, no matter what our profession.  We all have duff days where computers crash, cakes get burnt, paintings won't happen.

Solution:  Leave it be.  If you can, take some time away from what it is you're doing to go do something else.  Read a novel, take a walk, see a friend.  Do something that will disconnect you from what was going wrong, and come back to it with a fresh mindset later on.

It's a bit more than just a day...it's been happening for a while now...:  I've experienced this and the first time it happened I really thought I'd lost the ability to create anything, ever again.  I thought my livelihood as an artist was over.  I felt depressed, I had anxiety over it.  It was really, really hard to deal with.

Solution: Acceptance of this situation is the best step forward.  I've had a couple of big blips during my working life as an artist where the ideas just wouldn't work out or simply, without warning, dried up.  I could create nothing and had no interest in doing so either.  And yes, it can feel scary to acknowledge that there might not be an end date to this, that you just have to ride it out, take care of yourself and be patient.

I spent much of the last time it happened writing in my journal and getting jobs done around the house.  I addressed the fact I had previously worked really hard on getting a heap of paintings ready for an exhibition and was probably a little burnt out.  I also came to understand that creativity can fluctuate like a season, we have prolific Spring times where we are in full flow, producing wonderful art and then we have our Winter times which are fallow and quiet, it's a time that has become essential to my creative practice - I need the quiet Winter in order to have the bountiful Spring.  I find magazines and Pinterest are really good resources for firing up an empty soul during these times.  

Mindfulness works well at times when we feel panicked or afraid, it brings us back into the present moment and takes us out of the bad movie we have on a constant loop running in our heads.  Bring yourself back to the present over and over, it reminds you that what happened is in the past, and now is really all there is.  It is a very grounding tool, and can help you move forward, rather than stagnating or dwelling on the negative.

Also - and this is important - don't expect too much of yourself.  It's no good trying to force the art out - it doesn't work like that.  Art has an energy, and how you feel resonates in what you do - people will be able to sense, like an invisible secret, whether you were on the ball, or not.

Oftentimes, it's just a couple of days you need to recallibrate, maybe sometimes a few weeks, and then you'll feel that unmistakable pull to create once again...

...then it's time to hit the ground running.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

This Wild Land

(Snow storm over the Holme Valley)


Yesterday saw the arrival of my birthday and some very wintery weather, which was a shock after last week where we enjoyed real warm sun for the first time in months and honestly thought Spring was, at last, here (we ought to have known better, we live up north and Spring never truly shows it's face properly until the end of April).  

We had planned to go on a walk in the Holme Valley, which is about 25 minutes away from my home and despite the plummeting temperatures and random squalls of hail and snow, we decided to give it a go.  

We wrapped up and donned our walking boots, a stark contrast to the t-shirt I was wearing up the moors last week!


It was only a short walk, about four miles thereabouts, but it took longer than we anticipated because most of the pathways had turned into streams following heavy rain.


Those huge Yorkshire skies, vast valleys and bleak hills were a balm to the soul.



And when we weren't leaping through water logged fields, we were in woodland discovering hidden waterfalls...



...and then, we were back out into the open...



When I walk, it gives me a space to empty my mind and really relax.  I love being high up, away from the noise of the traffic with only the sky and the hills and the birds for company.  This walk was particularly spectacular in that we could see the ever changing weather fronts barging in over the Peninnes at us. It was breathtaking!

I also find myself getting ideas for new work when I'm out in the elements so as well as keeping me fitter (which was one of my goals for this year) it is also proving to be the source of new inspiration.

Back in the studio...I'm busy working on a special commission for a private customer and this will take up the rest of March as it's quite a big one!  I have plenty of new ideas on the back burner which I am going to look forward to getting busy with once it's finished, and I'm also looking forward to completing the Godrevy Lighthouse piece you might remember me sharing with you last time.

(a glimpse of the sea on the new Godrevy painting)

The effect of the acrylic paint on this gesso board is really lovely, I am very happy with the different, smoother texture that I'm getting, and the way the white of the gesso seems to shine through the paint.
  I have also practised working in a looser style with the sea, and am pleased with how it's coming along, enjoying the difference of these fluid strokes in comparison to the more detailed flower pieces I've been doing.
Anyway, time for a quick cuppa and then back to it.

Enjoy your day, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Joy of Spring


Hello Spring.

Yesterday felt like a gift.  I have waited weeks for a day like that, one blessed with gentle sunshine and a warmth that kissed the skin, full of blue skies and sunlight, birdsong and a sense of new life blooming.
Buds were suddenly blossom where a few days before they had been tightly closed, birds flew overhead with twigs in their beaks with which to furnish their nests.  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that when my jobs were done, I had to get out into that beautiful day and so after lunch, I pulled on my walking boots and headed up the hill.

I am very fortunate that I live right by the edge of the moors which are on the edge of the wild, windswept Pennines.  It is easy for me to be in the countryside, and away from the sound of traffic in about five minutes flat.  

I had a luxurious two hours before I had to do the school run, and it felt blissfully naughty to disappear on my own for a bit.


The sweeping views took my breath away...


Down in the valley, the water shimmered like a thousand diamonds in the sun.


Looking back down the lane as I headed up to the moorland...see those houses there on the left in the distance, my home is down in the valley just behind them.


At the top, by the Trig Point...the view is amazing, the feeling of space is wonderful.  All I could hear was the sound of curlews and skylarks.

I stayed a while, marvelling at the scenery, then set off again down through the woods.


This is a lovely copse of trees, generously spaced with spongy grass underfoot.  It feels a little magical there...


And then I was back onto the lane, looking down into our beautiful valley.

I was reluctant to go home, the feeling of the sun, warm on my arms (and warm enough to take off my jumper) was a revelation after months of being bundled up in thick coats and scarves.  It seeped into my very soul and made me feel happy and connected to this wonderful planet.  I had a sense of optimism, yes, Spring was well and truly coming.

Later that day I managed to spend a little time in the studio, I have been busy working on some birthday card designs for Milkwood Publishing, and as they are now finished I decided to start a lovely, sunny coastal painting.


I've decided to paint Godrevy Lighthouse in Cornwall, with lots of summery pink thrift in the foreground.  This is the very bare bones of the painting, and I will spend some time working it up in layers.
I am using a gesso board for this, which is basically a piece of ply that has been professionally coated with white gesso.  The colours look really bright when painted onto this surface and I'm pleased with how it's coming on.  
This particular beach reminds me of a holiday we once spent on Hayle Towans in a beautiful 1950s style chalet, and one evening we had a small barbecue on the rocks, taking a picnic of fizzy wine and other goodies to munch on the beach as the sun went down. 

How lovely to imagine that days like those aren't too far away again! 

Til next time xxx

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Pause


I'm not going to miss February, I am very happy that March has arrived, I found February a hard month to navigate, like walking through thick, dark treacle.  It was a month of surprising lows and not many highs.  I say surprising, because I had surfed most of the darker months unscathed, and usually I'm a person who suffers with SAD from mid December thereabouts.  I thought I had escaped it, January was an ebullient and joyous month, crammed with opportunity and optimism and yet February sucked, at least, for most of it.  I succumbed to feeling teary and lost, I had zero enthusiasm and cried at TV adverts (is this just me?).  I slept a lot due to a heavy fatigue and ate too much junk (which hinders rather than helps) and felt generally pretty hopeless.

However, there were glimmers of light, hope and gratitude amidst the dark days.  The first being when awaking teary once again my other half decided we should wag off work and go to Leeds for the day.  I dropped my daughter at school, cheered on by a weak winter sun and felt a small bubble of - wait, was it...happiness? Yes, yes I think it might have been.  The idea of leaving home for a few hours, going to a different city, to enjoy a wander, a hot coffee and a warming lunch - it was suddenly all rather exciting.

I was still somewhat fragile though, and found myself in one of my favourite shops, Neal's Yard Remedies, telling the lovely woman who works in there all about my ailments.  I came away with a stash of St Johns Wort tincture, some healing Lemon Balm Tea, and a cocoa superfood blend for my smoothies.  I made a concerted effort to eat better food, I religiously enjoyed a morning smoothie blessed by the magical qualities of the superfood powder, and slowly I started to feel better.



We went down south for the school holidays to stay with friends.  It was a welcome break for us all and we enjoyed trips to London where we visited Madame Tussauds and down along the coast to Portsmouth.  Storm Doris whipped the UK during our trip, and we went down to the local beach to see the fury of it, enjoying the energy and noise of the wild waves roaring up the pebble beach.  The wind had us keeling almost sidewards, it was exhilerating, I loved it.  


I arrived home after a full to bursting week feeling tired but good.  I had a sudden rush of new ideas for paintings, and with the arrival of a brand new month I felt I had crossed the final frontier of winter and was heading, at last, in the right direction.  To warmth, to the light. 

Since my last post, I've been busy working on new paintings.  I finished a Bluebell scene which is hopefully going to be turned into a print by Whistlefish Galleries, and another more illustrative one with my happy, colourful flowers called 'All Roads Lead Home' which reminds me of warm evenings in May (my favourite month) when all the colours are so glorious, and there are so many flowers to see.



These paintings were my saviour in February.  Escaping to my studio, sticking on an old CD and whiling away the hours with paint and music is possibly the best therapy I can afford myself.  I lose myself in those hours, thinking only of colour and form, allowing the images to emerge from my mind, through the brush and onto the paper or canvas. 

They will both be available to purchase soon. 

I'm now working on some beautiful, smaller, mounted paintings which will be perfect for Mother's Day gifts (including the image below).  I am launching this little collection to my email subscribers first this Friday, so if you are interested in finding out more you are very welcome to sign up here.


So here's to March, a new month, a new season emerging.  I am hopeful that it is going to be a good one.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Do Something Nice for Yourself



January can be a difficult month, the cold weather and darkness can really permeate our souls and lay us low.  Outside, things still look hard and predominantly brown, often damp.  There are glimpses of Spring, tiny green shoots hiding amongst the rotting leaves and dark soil...but we often miss these gifts as our minds tell us that there are weeks of this cold and dark to endure, it's still only January and we have yet to struggle through February...

I've been this person, I've struggled with winter, suffered with the winter blues and not been able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

So I decided to write myself a sort of permission slip - permission to be happy, permission to be grateful, and glad, and optimistic.

It starts with asking yourself - what can I do to make myself feel like that?  It's so easy.

Do something nice for yourself.  Something that will make you feel good.

It can be the luxury of an early night, getting cosy in fresh sheets with a good book and an hot water bottle, it could be a meal out with a loved one, or coffee with friends, a long country walk followed by a hearty pub lunch, watching a feel good film....it's endless, once we begin to think about the things we can do.


Choose Happy - a recent artwork in gouache and metallic watercolour

On Sunday, I woke up with a very obvious sensation of gloom in my belly.  I went downstairs and made a coffee, the long day loomed ahead of me with no real incentive to do much.  The bare trees looked listless and dull against a turbulent rain laden sky...come on, I said to myself, this won't do - what could you do that would make you feel better today?  What would make you happy? Lift your spirits?

As I wandered into the lounge with my mug, I noticed a new flower catalogue on the table that had arrived in the post and took it with me to the sofa to have a look at.  The sight of those bright flowers, swathes of colour on every page, cascades of tomatoes, and tall canes dripping with bright green beans had the effect of lifting me out of my low mood and planning a trip to our local garden centre to buy seeds!

It felt really good to browse that catalogue, and get ideas for what we could plant and grow this year.
I ended up with a lovely pack of sweet pea seeds and some special long planters to grow them in.  I watched a clever video by Sarah Raven on how to do it and feel pretty confident that our garden will look and smell amazing come summer.
All of this created a huge well of optimism, it enabled me to lift out of the heavy gloom and focus on something positive that felt good.  

Feeling good is what it's all about - once we have committed to that, we will find ways to make it happen.

The rest of the day passed by in a heavenly lounging manner, culminating with a nice roast dinner.  I also planned a lazy soak in the bath with some favourite oils, and dug out a new book to read.

As always, last thing at night before my head hits the pillow, I write down my gratitudes for the day.
I was really grateful for how the day had turned out, and how a bunch of simple things had made a grey day in January really pretty special.

The secret is to keep doing this, to ask yourself everyday - what can I do to make myself feel good today?  Even if it's just one thing, that's OK.  Tiny steps taken daily will help to build a more positive mindset which in turn leads to an happier, more positive life.

What one nice thing will you do for yourself today?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A Work in Progress



I was sat with a steaming cup of blackcurrant tea, looking out of my window at the sun rolling westwards and a flock of gulls winging their way across a powder blue sky - for a minute I wasn't in Yorkshire but at the coast.  I watched their silhouettes, their slow and steady wing beat and I was savouring the flavour of the tea, it's fruity tang taking me back to when I was small and off school with a cold. Mum would make me hot Ribena to drink, to take away the sting of a sore throat.
My mind is wandering...I bring it back, back to the moment, to the gulls I am watching who are now silently winging their way over the woods and high up over the crags.

Being in the moment is something I have been practising since last year - it involves being present in the moment and not drifting into the past or planning ahead into the future. This one simple action helps to bring me back home to myself, when I find myself caught up in the highs or lows of everyday life - it helps me to regain my balance and my perspective.

That said, I'm still a work in progress.  I sometimes forget.

When I forget to tend to myself, I lose myself.  I become swamped by life, I dwell on things and ruminate until I realise my teeth are clamped hard together, my jaw hurts, I'm frowning, and I'm crabby.

And yet when I remind myself to just Be, the world seems to tilt on its axis to a quiet point, all is well...calm settles in my belly, I breathe...

There is so much peace and reassurance in any one moment.  

It's so simple, I wonder why don't they teach this stuff to our kids in school?
Along with my meditation and yoga practice, my journals where I pour out my heart and write down my daily gratitude lists, I practise my mindfulness, moment by moment, day by day.  I forget, I remind myself, I do it again.  A work in progress this messy, beautiful life of ours.

And it is changing my life, as does being grateful, looking for gratitude in all things, being still in the moment, it changes who we are - it heals the dark corners and wakes us up to what an amazing thing this life of ours is.

It sounds blissful, and yes it's easier to do it when I feel good, not so much when life is harder.  But that is the best time to practice, when life hurts or feels tough, to come back into that one precious moment and remind yourself in the thick of the chaos, you're home.

How do you find peace in the midst of the struggle?  You stop, you breathe and you remember that this one moment is all there ever is, the past has gone and the future is still yet to be.  And in that one moment, you are whole and complete, and there is the peace.

Sometimes life unexpectedly makes us stop and practice mindfulness without us even realising - with something fleeting like seeing a stunning sunset or hearing a beautiful birdsong, and when we start to stock pile those moments in our hearts, our lives are enriched.

I practice mindfulness when I am working, if I find myself struggling with a piece I pause...I breathe...and I allow myself to soak up the colour of the paint, the texture of the paint as I sweep my brush through it, it's so soft and buttery...the feeling of the brush as it meets with the paper...and in those small moments, so I come home to myself again, over and over.

And then I can see what needs to be done, there is ease where there was struggle.

There is space for mindfulness in all areas of our lives, no matter who we are and what we do.  We are all, perfectly imperfect works in progress.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

January


A new year I think, brings it's own special sort of magic, it is a space for miracles and secrets and as the short days give way to the darkness that winter slumbers in, I sense anticipation, inspiration and new ideas being born.

A new moon and a new beginning, the children are now back at school and my home is back to normal - we took the decorations down and spruced things up, it felt fresher and better, more space to breathe as we shook off Christmas, the feasting, the traditions.

I'm very excited about this year, I have some wonderful plans in mind for my business and feel very happy about where I'm going.  I will share more with you as things unfold, but for now I am planning a new range of artwork and a brand new sketch book group which I am going to host online, and which will be free and open to all abilities.  I love what happens when we put pen or brush to paper without fear, when we let the buds of our own unique creativity unfurl and blossom...I hope that you will join me - I'll be posting more about this in coming weeks, but for now, the seeds are planted and plans are unfurling.

These last few weeks have seen me retreating as the dark nights grew ever longer and ever closer.  I find myself soaking up the last rays of sun, drinking in the colour through my eyes, watching through my window as the sky turns from pink to lavender and finally to a deep navy studded with sparkling stars.  I study the shapes of the bare trees, their branches stark black silhouettes against an army of marching clouds.  I soak all this up and fill my soul with as much light as possible, and then reluctantly draw the curtains, light candles and retreat.

And in all of this, there is gratitude - for those few hours of light, for the time to retreat and incubate new ideas.  To rest and nap more, to be quiet and gentle.  For the first year in many, I have had a fairly decent run through these darker months, not yet succumbing to the winter blues and I am grateful and glad.  I keep a journal each day - I write my blessings down and this in turn creates a wider, happier space within for more goodness to unfold.  I begin to see more beauty in those brown, grey days...and there is much colour if I look carefully.  I am finding myself constantly watching nature - seeing the first buds of spring push up through that hard black soil already, feeding the birds and watching as they dive into the garden to seek out supplies, listening out for and hearing the owls who each morning before light, remind us of their wise presence in the trees by the water.

And all of this, this quiet watching, this gentle retreat, is as necessary as air and water.  It fills up my creative well and gives me a chance to dream up new ideas.  

I'm hoping to spend more time writing this year, here on my blog.  I have missed writing, and I'm eager to create this online journal of my thoughts and experiences here again.

I hope you will join me.

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