Monday 17 October 2016

The Magic of Using a Sketch Book

(Sketch book magic unfolding)

I must confess, I am not a person who uses a sketch book on a daily basis.  I am not one of those artists who creates amazing visual keepsakes within the hard bound pages although I very much wish I was.  I am a random sketch book user and yet I am going to try and remedy that to become a more frequent user, because I have discovered that something akin to magic can happen when I use one.

Earlier this year, I spent a few happy weeks creating daily sketches in a lovely A4 Stillman and Birn sketch book, these beautiful books allow the user to dabble with all manner of mixed media, the pages are wonderfully thick and absorbant so you can pretty much throw anything at them and it does not seep through to the other side (Ive used ink, gouache, watercolour etc).  From those pages came an idea, which happened when a few flower doodles inspired a painting.  And it changed the direction of my art completely.

(Magical Garden ~ the change in direction for my painting)

I had been rather stuck for a time, feeling that I was stagnating and becoming increasingly bored with what I was doing.  Some friends and I agreed to do a drawing a day in order to inspire ourselves and one another.  We shared our doings on Instagram, and yet for one reason or another, this daily drawing phase waned, tapered off and finally stopped.

One reason for me was that I was insanely busy creating these amazing new illustrative pieces, the ideas flowed thick and fast which was fabulous after feeling so stuck and lost.  Lately I have been working on some commission pieces, the most recent one I completed was Padstow South Quay, a complete change of scene from those wandering, enchanting floral gardens I'd been creating.  Padstow rather took it out of me, as I wrote about in my last post, and so it was I found myself pottering about in the studio the other day, digging out the sketch book and sitting down with my supplies.

I found a grey fine liner and drew randomly, a jar appeared....some seed heads....feeling inspired now I added some colour, dug out my fabric stash, added some colour swatches and I knew that I was going to turn this sketch into a piece of textile art.  Which I did - Autumn Seed Heads emerged over the next couple of days, and it was a tonic to do something very tactile and free flowing after concentrating so hard on buildings and lots of windows.

(Autumn Seed Heads - Textile Art)

It was after I finished the hand embroidery that I began to realise how important a sketchbook is to me.  As a person who likes to generate art from the energy of an idea and get it onto canvas, this is no small revelation - although I realise that to some of you who already regularly use one, it's obvious.  So here I am.  A sketch book convert of the most excited sort.  I have seen the light, and I am most certainly going to be making a point of working in mine more often.  I am also still going to jump straight into canvases and panels with nothing more than the bright spark of an idea, and the exctied rush of enthusiasm of knowing I'm onto a winning streak - those paintings and artworks are like gold dust and I think it shows in the finished piece.

I think it will be nice to have a visual diary of my ideas, of colours I liked and worked with.  Of something to look over when the well of inspiration has dried up.  I want to have sketch books that are keepsakes, not just rough pencil drawings hurriedly executed, pages torn out and then left to gather dust.  I want to create sketch books that are beautiful to look at, that tell stories of my journey as an artist, to look back over and to see how far I have travelled.

I'm not certain if I will become one of those women who stop and draw in the middle of a town centre - at the moment I am very much a studio based sketcher, but I think I could be portable if needs must...and I think, perhpas I would enjoy it.  I have memories of sketching in a cafe in Prague on a college trip many moons ago, and at the Opera - those drawings evoke more memories than a photograph ever could.

I am also thinking about starting some kind of sketch book club, perhaps online in the new is the mere seed of an idea at the moment, but I was thinking along the lines of a private Facebook group where we can chat and share our sketch book work as we go.  I have much more thinking to do about this but perhaps it might be something you would be interested in joining in with?  Let me know your thoughts!

Monday 10 October 2016

Labour of Love

(Padstow - new painting)

Great news!  After several weeks of a full on love hate relationship with this painting, I'm happy to say that it is finally finished.
I did this piece as a commission for Milkwood Publishing, and it will be making it's way down to them in the coming few days.  

Some paintings seem to flow and happen as if by magic.  Others, do not.  This one became a journey in that it tested all my limits.  There were moments when I adored it, I was focused and my hand was steady.  I had the patience to add all the little people, and all those windows and then there were days I went down the studio and I sat and looked at it, painted bits in, washed bits out and in all honesty could have happily chucked it over the wall and into the river below.  I may have had a slightly childish tantrum about it all, bashed things about a bit and said dubious and obnoxious things to it.  I may have also ignored it for several days which is actually no bad thing really, it gives you space to think and breathe while you decide what to do next.

I do like a painting that does this though, it challenges me and pushes me to explore both the medium and myself.  How am I resisting or restricting myself?  Why am I creating blocks here?  Why was yeseterday so much fun and today is frustrating and soul destroying?

As an artist it's important to allow growth, to tackle difficult things and learn how to overcome them.  I found the buildings a challenge after spending so many months painting flowers from my imagination.  Suddenly I had moved from a very illustrative, and meditative way of painting to a much more structured and architectural piece - something I havent done in a long time.

But I'm so pleased with the result, I hope you like it too.
(Goodness me, I've got a You Tube channel!)

 Another thing I'm pretty chuffed with is that I made my first ever video - I'm an utter novice at stuff like this, so it was a really big step to take the plunge and plop myself in front of the camera.  It's been fun figuring out how to make small films though, and although I'm certain it's not super polished or slick, I do hope you enjoy it.

I shared this video with my newsletter subscribers a few weeks ago, and plan to share others with them in the coming months which will include tutorials, sketch book journeys and other things that they have asked to see.
This first little clip shows a little glimpse into my studio.

If you would like to be on my mailing list, you can find out more and sign up here.  I send out newsletters once a fortnight, usually on a friday and occasionally will drop an extra email to you with a nice little gift code, or special offer inside it as well!

Right, I must get back to it, I have another Padstow painting to begin - this is a nice one with views over the river to the town in the distance.  I think, after all those windows and roof tiles I'm going to really enjoy it!

Monday 3 October 2016

When Solitude Turns to Isolation and What I Do When it Happens

So today, I wanted to write about my experience of what it's like to work on your own, for yourself.  I used to have this rose tinted vision that working for yourself would be this 100% amazing dream job, and don't get me wrong, in many ways it absolutely is but I want to tackle the element of loneliness, when your happy bubble of solitude turns into an isolation that I had never anticipated happening as I swanned about being an artist and it all being fabulous.

And it happens.

We are social creatures, we need to be around other people (well, most of us do, I suppose there are always some folks who don't) and I personally find it nourishing, enriching and supportive to have other people around me at times.  However, for the vast majority of the day, when my daughter is away at school and my partner is out at work I am usually very much on my own, left to my own devices.  And this is often good, and I mostly enjoy it - I get tonnes of work done, and pass the time listening to great tunes on my Ipod or Classic FM, depending on which mood I'm in.  I wind up those days feeling euphoric at what I've completed, a feeling of fullness and satisfaction that I've had a good day and I've produced good work.

And sometimes, I don't feel that way.  Sometimes, the loneliness kicks in and it can feel like my body has turned to lead, it seems that I have forgotten how to create stuff and I don't know what to do with myself.

It usually starts with a small knot of feelings in my gut, a little like anxiety - I feel a need to be with people, coupled with an acute sensation of it just being me by myself that day and that that is not going to be ok.  If I don't act on that subtle sensation that is telling me that I need company, I find myself feeling heavier and more unhappy as the day draws on.

So, my fail safe way of coping with these kinds of days is to get out.  I now forcibly remove myself from the house, I take a sketch book or notepad and a fat pencil case full of writing and drawing supplies, and I get myself over to our local cafe where I treat myself to a large mocha or cappucino, and maybe a delicious treat and I squirrel myself away into a cosy corner with my goodies and I settle in for a good hour.
See, most of my friends work in the day, they don't have the flexibility that I have (working for myself) to do this kind of thing or meet up spontaneously.  So, to get my fix of people I put myself in a busy environment where I am around other bodies and you know what, this really helps.  I feel connected, I can hear conversations and maybe music, there is this very soothing buzz of life happening and it tends to always have the desired effect upon me, bringing me back to a place that feels happy and more grounded.

While I'm there, I will fill my notebook with ideas as they come, maybe journal a little of how I'm feeling and perhaps even work on some new sketches.  I will often have a book and spend a little time reading, it all fills up the well and by the time I get home I'm usually ready to roll again and don't mind being by myself so much.

Another option that I take is to go for a walk.  Or I get out on my bike for half an hour.  Sometimes I just need a change of scenery and to raise the endorphins by taking a bit of spontaneous exercise.  I'm lucky in that I'm close to the Trans Peninne Trail which is a great place for bike riding, and also some gorgeous countryside that offers great local walks to really clear the head.

I have also found that by planning out my week every Sunday evening brings me much more focus.  I know what I'm doing and when I need to do it by, and I've discovered that being disciplined as a self employed artist is pretty much essential!  I find the times that I do feel isolated is usually when I haven't remembered to plan my week ahead, or I have blanks in my planner that don't have any structure.  I didn't used to be this organised, but as I've got older it just feels easier and more manageable to plan things a few days in advance.
As well as work stuff, I also make plans to meet up with friends, and make sure weekends are family orientated.  I take a yoga class once a week and when I can, I try and go swimming at our local pool.  So my planner is my magnetic north, it keeps me on track and headed in a good direction.
Being mindful is also a good way to bring myself back into the present moment, when I'm overrun with feelings of being flat, lonely and unmotivated.  I take a few moments to be really conscious about what I'm doing, be it making a cuppa or simply walking.  I also write a list of gratitudes in my journal every night and find that this practice really brings home how much I have to be thankful for, even when I think I've had the crappiest day of the century.

Working for myself is the best job I could imagine, but I know I wouldn't last two minutes without these self support structures in place.  Why not share ways that you overcome feelings of isolation, just add them to the comments below, it would be great to hear from you.
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