The tiresomeness of goal setting

At the time of writing this we are about to see in the new year. I love the reflectiveness that seems to arise so naturally at this time. I’m less keen on the exuberant advice on goal setting that abounds. 

You know what I mean… Big Hairy Audacious Goals, (that are SMART - obvs) and shooting for the moon. 



No, this is not for me.

It's not that I don't have ambitions, I believe we all have those.

It's just that this year I am choosing to focus on how I want each day to be, rather than the big things I want to achieve. 

Those big achievements are great of course, but in a rather fleeting way.  It is the way we approach each ordinary day that ultimately determines the way we feel about our lives. So it is the process rather than the outcome that I am interested in. 


I have been filling my sketchbook with mandalas, as is my wont at this time of year. Each mandala is built by the persistent repetition of a small mark or shape all the way around the circle.

The next ring of the mandala then appears the same way. Stroke by stroke. Gentle meditative strokes gradually accumulate to create a lovely whole. 


The word that always comes to mind when I am creating these mandalas is repetition. I see the whole process as a series of micro steps.

Initial marks made in pencil, 
then repeated in pen. 
Choosing colour palettes, 
colouring each tiny space. 
Then returning to each space with a waterbrush to make my watercolour pencils of choice - Inktense - leap to vibrant life. 


Each mandala turns out quite different from its predecessors and yet they are all born of the same process. It is such a good  metaphor for any project, I think. There are multiple phases - pencil, pen, colour and water in the case of the mandala. 


Each phase comprises its own tiny steps. Having a protocol eliminates, or at the very least drastically reduces, big project stress. (Nice to practice this approach to big projects on stress free mandalas, don’t you think?). 

Once you have a protocol, all that is required of you is to show up and execute those little steps. Over and over again.


For me, making art is always about the process, not the final product. Usually though, the more enjoyable the drawing or painting process, the nicer the final piece turns out.

The joy of the process seems to express itself tangibly in the painting in a rather magical way.


Mandalas are one of the best ways to discover this for yourself. Any sort of meditative drawing (have you tried zentangle?) or even colouring offers this experience. 

That’s what I want both in and out of the studio this year. Days happily filled with small simple processes.


Of course, if one is persistent in following these carefully chosen processes, achieving the bigger goals becomes rather inevitable. 

What a pleasing irony.

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Keep the heart of childhood

Did you ever read that piece about learning all everything you needed to know about life in kindergarten? I don't remember who wrote it, but there was a lot of wisdom in that.


I think that we begin our little lives as the purest and best versions of ourselves. Then we have to negotiate the challenge of holding onto that as we grow into the adult versions that we think the world expects us to be.


Children are a subject matter that calls to me so often for this very reason. There seems to be something so fitting about capturing a little of the spirit of childhood in paint.


It's not just that painting is a childhood pleasure. That's part of it, but it's more because of that joy you see in children who are absorbed in play or lost in their own little world. That joy is not so easily described in words but it is so utterly enticing. 


I think that because of this reverence in which I hold the very idea of childhood, and the fact that drawing children means drawing people, it is a subject that can be as terrifying as it is attractive.  


I set out with the intention of approaching this series of watercolour kids with the wisdom of a five year old.

Just do it.


Five year olds don't paint in the hopes of praise or to demonstrate accomplishment. They don't worry about why they are painting in the first place or even wonder if they are any good at it.

They paint because it's fun. They choose their subject because they love it. Simple.

Wouldn't our lives be easier if we could approach more of what we do with the fearless zeal of childhood?


I have always thought parenting is something of a do-over. You get a second chance to see the world through the eyes of a child.

Once more the door to a place of endless fascination is opened to you.


Laughter comes easily and often. You remember that things can be simple if you let them.


Moments lost in play are not  considered wasted time.

Memories are made and friendships formed rather effortlessly. 


Perhaps this is a part of ageing gracefully - to gather the wisdom of experience while retaining the heart of a child.

Always keep the simple and loving heart of your childhood
— Lewis Carroll

How to use your strengths (and each other's)

I used both ink and watercolour this month - they play so beautifully together. Of course, each is perfectly adequate on their own. But when they work together there is less to be expected of each one - the load is shared. There is a message in that for all of us, to be sure.


Actually it fits so well with a sketchbook practice. In my opinion anyway, a sketchbook is a license to free yourself from undue expectation and be more open to play than perfection. An ink drawing is a great way to capture a scene. So is a watercolour painting. But if you put them together they can compensate for one another. 


Watercolour is so good for a splash of loose but vibrant hues. It offers life and energy. People often think that watercolour is hard to control - it does seem to have a mind of its own. But if you let the pen join in, then inky lines can firm up any details that you feel are lost to the wilful nature of the paint. 


Ink on its own can sometimes feel a little stiff. A pen is a far more precise instrument. It is easy for it to lure you into tight little details. If you know that watercolour will come in and play its part then it is easier to loosen up with the pen. Easier to stop before it feels too finished and before the lines strangle the life from quick energetic sketch you began with.


Each medium has its strength. Ink gives bold strong lines, and fine, precise details. Watercolour is relaxed, loose and suggestive. Allowing each to offer its respective strength to the page means you have a good chance of capturing a lively but recognisable scene in rather short order.


One medium need not do everything. Nor are there rules about which one goes first. Start with ink, or with paint, do what the sketch wants. Bring back the pen after the paint is dry to reinforce some details. Flexibility and teamwork - that’s what its all about. 


There is no need to try and be a jack of all trades - this applies as much to art supplies as it does to people. Ask for help when you need it. Trying to do something that you do not enjoy or find a struggle makes no sense if there is someone around who can do it better, and faster than you and actually enjoy it.


Spend your time and energy on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Unless there is something new you really want to learn to do, you are probably wiser to step back - outsource or find someone to collaborate with.


If we don't ask for help, we are denying someone the opportunity of sharing their gift. Likewise trying to be all things to all people may come at the cost of time spent doing that special thing that only you can do.

Let’s work with our strengths, and each other’s.


Is it time to shake things up?

This month I took a slightly different approach. Usually I decide on not only a subject and a medium but also a particular approach or style to follow for each painting in the series. However this month I felt feeling a little wilful. I wanted to explore a few different ways of painting tulips.


This got me thinking about routines and habits. I enjoyed giving myself a little more freedom. How often do we contain ourselves a little too much?


Routine is all well and good but sometimes it is good to change things up. We are always being encouraged to establish good habits, begin each day with a 'power hour' morning routine.


We have a seemingly infinite supply of  books and blogs and podcasts that advise on how to do this and things you must do for that. With so much research at our fingertips it seems like we ought to find out exactly what to do before we begin. In moderation of course this is all well and good, but what about the joy of exploration and discovery? 


And do too many instructive resources leave you feeling a bit paralysed?

Scared to begin in case you do it ‘wrong’? 

There comes a point when you have to stop researching and just do.


Of course we can learn from each other but we should not undervalue our own creative possibilities.

Just because someone else does something a particular way doesn't mean that you have to or that your way won't work.

Because someone else did a b and c before d doesn't mean you cant get to d earlier in the piece.

Or later.

Your own path is valid too.


Build your resilience with self care

Do you remember that wonderful line in Wind in the Willows, when Ratty talks about how worthwhile it is to  spend some time simply messing about in boats?


How right he is. It is becoming increasingly clear to me just how important it is to make some time away from the busyness of all those things we have to do in our beautiful but full, modern lives. 


We have to make the time to do those things that replenish us in order to maintain the capacity to keep doing all those things that fill our schedules. And the fuller those schedules get, the harder it is to find the time to do the things that are important but not urgent.


It is that lack of urgency that Ratty alludes to when he is explaining his view to Mole. (Do you remember it? you can read it here if you like!) He talks about how it doesn't really matter if you get somewhere or you don't, he seems to thinks 'messing about with boats' always gives you something to do without requiring much of you.


And how rare that is. Think of all the tasks on your to do list. So many demands are made of us, consequences of not performing them well abound. We owe it to ourselves to find the things that we like to do, that can engage us gently enough to transport us from the everyday but without overburdening us. It is these self care practices that build our resilience.


For each of us this is something different. 

A long walk.

Perhaps a quiet cup of coffee in a cosy cafe where you can watch the world go by.

Gardening, baking or sketching (yes art making... definitely try that!)

A glass of wine in an indulgent bubble bath or spending time with a loved one.

What replenishes you?


The more of these boats that I painted, the more I came to see them as symbolising our personal space and resilience. As we move through the physical space of our world we should not ignore the mental and emotional space that we occupy. We can't control what happens in our environment but we have utter dominion over our mental and emotional space.


Investing the time into replenishing ourselves is as wise as the captain keeping his boat in good repair. We have to tend to the vessel that holds and carries us through the water of our lives.  We don't know what is ahead of us. It may be choppy waters, it may be still as glass. For sure, it will be full of colour and texture, fun and excitement, but also challenging and testing at times. From the comfort of your well maintained little boat you can take it all.


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Cultivate your butterflies

Brightly coloured flowers are irresistible ... not just to painters.

Did you know that the blooms are particular colours in order to attract what they need? Most flowers need the help of pollinators to reproduce. Bees are attracted to blue and violet flowers, while butterflies prefer bright pinks and reds, or yellows and orange shades.


Just as it is with us, the way the flower presents itself to the world attracts its tribe. The energy we put out influences what we receive.


Painting blooms and their bugs got me thinking about relationships. Blooms and their pollinating bugs need each other. These are the best kind of symbiotic relationships. Biologists call this mutualism - each party benefits from the relationship - just like the best friendships.


Every gardener delights at the sight of a ladybird in the garden.  The little ladybird in her quiet unassuming way does a great deal for the plants. She can munch her way through many an aphid and her bright orange and black markings are actually a natural deterrent to some birds that may harm the flowers.


There are other relationships in nature known as commensualism where only one party gains from the relationship. A tree orchid for example, gains support and partial shade from the tree without causing it any harm. It made me wonder if it is possible to have a human relationship like that.


Can we have an exchange with another person that does not affect us in any way... or is it true that there is no such thing as a truly unselfish act?


One  thing I do know is that not all our relationships will be beneficial. Just like in the garden - not all the bugs will be ladybirds. The odd pest is inevitable.


Most of us can identify the relationships we have that deplete us. At best we can remove ourselves from them completely. Unfortunately this is not always possible. But every garden can cope with a pest or two - so can you.

As long as we have enough of the positive, supportive relationships around us we have greater resilience to cope with the challengers. Like a butterfly in the garden, a good friend will brighten your day. Her warmth can lighten your heart and nurture your soul.


Sure, your best friend might not chomp the head off your foe - ladybird style, but she will buoy you up to handle what comes your way. Her support and understanding is enough to give you courage and strength when you need it.


So have a look around your garden today.

Identify the relationships that do not serve you well so that you can eliminate or minimise them.

And always cultivate your butterflies....


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Seeking tranquility? Surrender control

I was rather uncharacteristically brave this month and leapt out of my comfort zone.  Doing something a little different - even a little scary, is a way to shake things up and breath new life into old habits. 

We stretch and grow at the edges of our comfort zones.


This is the first series I have ever done that does not begin with a pencil sketch. I began with paint and water and let the first washes dictate the way the painting would be.  As it turned out this month, I had things both on and off the easel over which I have little or no control - don’t we all?

As always, art seems to mimic life. Or perhaps it is the other way around...


I have been feeling rather proud of myself for undertaking a whole month of direct painting. It is a great exercise. It forces you to see a subject in a painterly way - as a collection of coloured shapes. To pay attention to how those shapes relate to one another to judge their relative proportion and position, to build one on top of another until an image appears.


The first brush stroke is the hardest. But like starting anything new, it is best to just begin. Be bold. Let it unfold. With a pencil sketch you have the opportunity to erase and a line and make it right. With direct painting, for the most part, once the mark is made it is made.


That's not just the case in painting. Most of what we do in the world we can't undo. We have to continue to move forward because there is no going back. This is not a bad thing. Second guessing past decisions and wanting to undo them is pointless. No need to waste energy on the past, use it where it counts - in the present moment.

Each day is a new day. It begins with a clean slate. We cannot change what already is but we can build upon what is already there.


This month has also been a lesson in patience. Once the first washes are down you have to wait. You can't paint over the top of watercolour until it is dry. I really enjoyed coming to the studio in the morning to see what had happened to yesterday's washes and to see if today's eyes saw anything different in the painting compared to yesterday’s eyes. Since there is no going back or undoing much in this style of painting, it is better to take your time thinking about what mark will best bring out the subject you are starting to see on the paper.


It certainly requires a great degree of surrender and faith in the paint, the water and your ability to make something of what is there. It's rather like finding things in the clouds. There is a great freedom to splashing on those first few washes. So exciting to watch the paint and water work its magic. And a terrific lesson - the more you interfere the more you spoil the magic effects. It is better to trust the medium to do what it does best and blend and merge and flow in the best way possible. Now that's a life lesson too, I'm sure.


Much like life, you might start out with a plan - you take some sort of action. In the studio, it is choosing the paint colour, the brush stroke, or dropping on the water. In life, we make choices like stepping outside the front door, starting a new job, striking up a conversation with a stranger. But once we have taken that first action we have little or no control. It is time to see what happens next, to trust in ourselves that we will respond appropriately, handle what comes next and make the best of whatever may be.


Whether it is painting or life there is a balance to be sought between effort and surrender. Effort is required to begin anything.  Thereafter we can find far greater ease and tranquility in our lives by accepting what we cannot control. Allow what will be to be - trust that the universe is unfolding as it should.

Let go.

Let it flow.

Try something different. Surrender.
— Rumi

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Dance in the Rain

This month I have been playing with an entirely new medium - Brusho. New art supplies are an inspiring treat and always offer something new to learn. I always feel as if the medium and the subject work together to bring me a message. As is so often the case these days, this one seemed to be about control.


Brusho is about as wilful as I am. It is powdered pigment which you sprinkle across your page. Add some water and it springs to life. I have little to no control of either the pigment or the water I spray over the page. Much like life. Stuff happens. May as well just go with the flow.


Even better, make it a mission to seek out the joy in whatever is going on. Just like children do when it rains. While the grown ups wait with tight lips and furrowed brows for the storm to pass the children race to fetch their bright umbrellas. It's a chance to dress up in shiny macs with big wellies for safe, snuggly toes. 


The uncontrollable and unexpected can be delightful if you let it. Puddles are for jumping in, splashing is fun.


Raindrops pattering onto your umbrella sound lovely. In fact under your umbrella is your own little world. A private space for you and your thoughts. 


Cleansing rain washes down the streets and houses and feeds the plants. Let it soothe your soul too. It is a message from the universe - a reset. A reminder to really notice the world around you. To take a moment and be here, now. In the real world with clouds and showers - not the one with notifications and smartphones. 


Run through the rain and feel alive. Or sit peacefully for a while and watch the world go by.  


A little bit of rain is inevitable. How dull would our lives be without the contrast of storms and sunshine?


Each has their place. But we needn’t wait for the storms to pass. Every moment is precious, even the more challenging ones. Don’t wait for time to pass, holding off for something better, or wishing for things to be different. 

Delight in what is. 

Dance in the rain.


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Happy little trees age gracefully - just like you

I've always had a soft spot for the strong, silent type. Small wonder that I am so drawn to trees. I adore the way the soft leaves catch the sunlight and dapple the grass below.


A sunlit tree is a happy little tree. That's what Bob Ross used to call them, isn't it? I feel a little deprived not having watched Bob 'let happy little trees out of his paintbrush' as a child. So I am making up for it now and painting some of my own.


Each one is unique. They are shaped by their past, just like us. There is a tree we drive by every day. It is next to a historic old school building. This tree has coexisted harmoniously with the lovely old building for so many years. As a patient companion it has offered the contrast of gentle foliage and protective shade. Being nestled close to the building it has grown stronger on its other side. So now it has strong low boughs that seem to stretch out towards us. To me it is as though it has one arm around the little schoolhouse and holds one out to the rest of us.


One of my lovely Instagram friends described trees as matriarchs. So apt, given their magnificent feminine qualities. Calm, patient and beautiful.


They offer their protective arms in rain or shine. They will keep your confidences. 


And every so often they like to adorn themselves with jewels.


Trees embrace the changing of the seasons. I think my favourite trees are autumnal ones. Those rich reds and golds They accept the changing colours and wear them with elegance.


Like all natural things they are constantly growing. Even the mature tree makes fresh green leaves. This is the part of its youth it has retained. For the best part of youth is its way of being, not its appearance. To keep learning, to laugh often and to retain a child-like sense of wonder - this is youth, the best it has to offer and the part that we never need to lose. Aging only adds to these qualities. The wisdom of experience that brings a sense of calm. Strength and courage born of past trials. 


The tender young sapling is all very well. It is fresh and supple. It has the charms of  hope and possibility but it is fragile. With patience and endurance it grows to a mature tree with a beauty of its own. It embraces each phase of its life with grace, not yearning to be as it was yesterday. It is resigned to who it is. No, resignation seems to imply reluctance. It surrenders willingly - this is acceptance.

Every storm that it weathers encourages it to grow deeper roots. Each ring of bark is another layer of strength. The grooves in the bark grow deeper and more beautiful. We seldom compare it to the smooth flesh of its younger self for we see them as different things. Comparison serves no purpose.

Why do we feel so differently about our own complexions? 


Are you ready for an instant vacation?

It came as something of a surprise to me that I chose to paint bicycles this month. I am not a cyclist myself - not by any stretch of the imagination. Even so the idea of doing a whole bicycle series  has bubbling around in the back of my mind for ages. I thought it was because the bicycle presents a good challenge from a sketching point of view. All those spokes and angles and lovely round wheels.


But of course there is always more to it. As  I drew and painted bikes I kept finding myself describing it as a ‘romantic notion’. And it is. The bicycle represents freedom. An independent way to propel yourself to a location of your choosing and not miss a thing along the way.


Fresh air and bright skies. Grassy fields or beachside tracks. The world can be your oyster. 


To be totally honest, the idea of this alone is enough for me. I am happy to pedal through  the world vicariously, by paintbrush. Freedom and escape are a state of mind. If you can’t or won't venture out you can still take a little mental vacation.


On the subject of romantic notions, I can't go passed the blossoms that are just as important to me this month as the bicycles. Flowers have always been one of my favourite painting subjects.


Actually, they are just one of my favourite things. To me they are a symbol of joy. A radiant, fragrant expression of delight. Their energy and colour testify to the simple beauty of everyday things.


Natural,  extraordinary but fleeting things to be appreciated before they fade. So if I were to ride around on a bicycle, one of the best things I could think of doing would be to gather blossoms wherever I saw them. In the words of Robert Herrick,

“Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may”.

I love the idea of riding around with a bunch of blossoms embellishing the bottom of my view, framing whatever appears before me.


The basket on the front of the bicycle feels like a childhood delight. I picture streamers on the handlebars and the basket filled with childhood treasures. Teddy bears, bits of string and interesting seedpods, perhaps?


While my adult mind has retained the basket I choose to mentally fill it with blooms. An abundance of blossoms that remind me to gather the small joys in each moment before they fly by. 

May you pedal through life with your heart a full basket of joy.


Learning to be present takes less than a minute

The first animal I wanted to paint this month was a happy little squirrel. I love their busy energy. I love the way the scamper so playfully about their business. Like all little animals they live so completely in the present.


They are fully focussed on what they are doing right now. They scamper up their trees, they bravely fetch a tasty morsel left on a park bench.

And all that they do is done in the spirit of play. 


They don’t waste time or energy worrying whether their tree is as large and fancy as their neighbours. They don’t compare today’s weather with yesterday's. They don’t procrastinate, they just do. 

There is a good reason why we are drawn to tiny little critters. We ‘aww’ when we see them in the park, we choose to keep them as pets.Part of it is the cute factor - everyone knows anything small is cute. But it is more than that. Watching a tiny little creature is a lesson in being present. 


Look at this bunny. I can just imagine him on a dewy morning, enjoying the gentle breeze on his soft still fur. Sunlight glints off the tip of his nose and every blade of grass around him. The scent of a sweet daisy was irresistible and now he chews on the juicy stem savouring its taste and texture. His life is joyfully simple. So is ours, if we let it be so. 


There is such wisdom in that. For if you surrender completely to the present moment you are liberated from guilt, shame and regret. These things are born of the past. Of course, reflecting on the past is not always a bad thing. Reviewing things that happened in the past and reflecting on how we responded to them is an opportunity to learn and grow. But it needs to be a temporary visit to the past. Whatever happened, happened. It is gone. What you have right now is really all there is.


If you are anxious, worried or afraid, you are focused on the future. What you feel is a message from your inner wise self. It is a reminder to consider if there is something you can do to prepare, some way that you can maximise an opportunity or event that is ahead of you. Consider it, acknowledge your inner wisdom for bringing it to your attention and then return to the present moment.

Trust yourself to deal with what will come when it comes. Take the action that you can right now and no more. Everything has its time.


Each day we have the chance to be just as busy, happy, playful and present as these little critters. All it takes is a little awareness. Try this.

Take a breath and use each of your senses in turn. 
What do you see? 
What do you smell? 
What do you hear? 
What do you feel? 
What can you taste? 

Perhaps you are at work. What about the flowers that are on your desk - have you really looked at those velvety petals today? Can you detect their subtle fragrance mingling with the aroma of the tasty coffee you are sipping? Can you hear the clatter of your colleagues keyboards, the background hum of the air conditioner. Notice how soft your  favourite cardigan feels against your skin.

All of this is takes just a moment but is worth so much to your well being.


Get in the habit of running through these five senses as often as you can. Set an alarm on your phone at random times during the day. Or whenever you feel yourself starting to worry or complain use that as a trigger to stop and be here, now.

Surrender to the current moment and you might just find that your shoulders lower, your breath slows and you have a peaceful smile. At the end of the day you will know that you have really lived the day. Just as it is.


Are you in the car with the kids?

What about that gorgeous tree on the corner that you drive past every day - did you see how lovely it looks today?

Feel the grooves in the moulding of the steering wheel under your fingers and the way the seat presses against your back. Inhale and catch a whiff of that salty, buttery popcorn that the kids are eating in the back of the car. Listen to their sweet, young voices laughing and singing together.

Ok. They are probably fighting. But before you yell at them to stop arguing and dropping popcorn on the floor calmly resolve their issues, take a moment to pause and savour the now.

Yes, even this. Noisy, healthy, argumentative children. It’s all part of today’s experience. Tomorrow it will be gone. So experience it to the full.


We live in a world of overstimulation. We have notifications beeping at us, technology puts just about everything we could wish for at our fingertips all at once.

Remembering what it is like to do only the task at hand with your full attention will bring a sense of relief.

Experiencing every aspect of the present moment will offer you the chance to gather the small joys of every single day before they disappear into yesterday. That is where real happiness lies.


Embrace imperfection - like a rambling rose

Roses can be one of the most challenging flowers to paint - intimidating!

But they are so beautiful, how could I not give it a try?  

If you can approach it with a glad heart and a brave brush, painting offers an opportunity to embrace imperfection.  And I am learning that the subject often chooses the artist, as it usually carries a message - a lesson not only in painting, but also in life.


I would be lying if I said I didn't worry that my loose watercolour style would not do all those immaculate layers of petals justice. A careful and accurate botanical drawing was my first instinct. However … careful and accurate… not exactly my way!

But one of my beliefs is that even a loose approach to painting should be able to capture  the essence of a thing.

In fact, to me, that is rather the point.


So if it is true in painting that you don’t need to be perfectly precise to achieve an outcome, is this true in life?

Embrace imperfection Kerrie Woodhouse

I very much hope so. It means that if you fumble over your words when you are trying to console a friend, the chances are she understands what you mean anyway. You gave her some comfort even if you didn’t find the perfect words, or get them in exactly the right order.

Some of our parenting moments are prouder than others... it's not just me... is it? 

A child does not need absolute perfection in their parents to grow up happy and healthy and know that they are loved. 


Sometimes I think we fool ourselves into believing that you have to do something brilliantly in order to do it at all. That level of perfectionism stops us from trying anything new and limits our avenues for joy.

Where would we be if if we didn’t allow ourselves to write a bad poem or bake a cake that sinks in the middle. The joy is in the activity, the process not the final product. It is still fun to play with words and ideas, and I bet that cake was still tasty, sinkhole notwithstanding.

In the process we capture the essence of the experience - that is what we are really after anyway. Like the haphazard tangle of rambling roses, they are joyful expression, and truly beautiful.


Do you delight in the wildness of the rambling rose?

I do.  Its long-stemmed cousin might be the florist's choice, and it has an elegant beauty too, of course. But there is such joy and abandon in the informal branches, leaves and blooms.

It might be an imperfect jumble and even have a thorn or two but it is always growing. Always striving. Ever reaching for the light. A chaotic thorny tangle does not preclude an exquisite bloom or two. In fact, it probably makes them seem even more lovely.

True for roses, true in life. Even when our lives get to be especially busy, messy or difficult there will still be at least one tiny bloom of joy somewhere. 


The persistent rambling rose will continue to reach up any structure it can. Such a symbol of hope and perseverance.


I love to see a wild rose climbing a man made structure. The contrast of cold, strong steel and gentle blooms and petals seems to carry a message.

Find your strong support.

Let it hold you.

Be flexible enough to embrace imperfection in order to grow.

Follow the light and never stop reaching.


What have you achieved so far?

If you are feeling in need of a little calming, reflective time then drawing mandalas is just the thing. One of my new rituals is to spend a month with mandalas at the close of every year.  There is so much about the mandala that feels apt at this time of the year.


The circle is the perfect symbol for a time of reflection. Its gentle  even curve will hold whatever you choose to put inside - a safe container. 

It brings me no end of delight to be able to start with a little seed of a shape in the centre of the circle and then watch it grow into something bigger and more complex.


I love that just by surrendering to consistent repetition of a simple shape something significant appears. Just like all those tiny, seemingly meaningless repetitive tasks that we do everyday. Considered on their own they seem so banal, perhaps even tedious. Beds need to be made repeatedly. Counters wiped down. Again. Mothers repeat their endless refrains: 

Pick up your towel.

I love you to the moon and back.

Feet off the sofa. 

But each of these tiny things plays its role in making up the complex pattern of our lives. There is reliability in the repetition. They form the structure within which our children (as well as ourselves) find a sense of security. Certain things in an uncertain world. These things provide some stability - a backbone to support the fluid organic expansion of their little lives, the framework on which to pin all the colour and interest that life has to offer.


Once a soothing trip all the way around the circle with one shape has been completed there is a sense of closure. To close up one round of shapes brings fulfilment. There is a feeling of achievement in reaching the end. However one of the joys of a circle is that every end is also a beginning. The end of one day is the beginning of another.


My process for drawing mandalas is circular in so many ways. Aside from the obvious shape of their overall design and the repetition of the shapes within, there is a cyclical nature to the process itself. I begin in pencil and complete each concentric circle of shapes, usually beginning in the centre. Having repeated that process to fill the whole mandala I begin again going over the pencil lines in pen.


And then a final return to each concentric circle to add the colour. As is so often the case, the process of creating art mirrors life. The first time we try something new we may be a little shaky, uncertain - the pencil version. As we repeat this action we are more confident, we probably refine our previous work - the pen stage. And now that we are more confident with this new thing that we have learned we find even more joy and execute the task with flair - the colour stage. 



At each stage, we have the chance to improve or amend our previous decisions. The more we persist, the more our new project begins to collaborate with us in its creation. We can choose to take feedback from what we have done so far, to work with what is working and let go of what is not.


In mandalas, as in life there is comfort in the repetition, and the opportunity for growth. If we persist to completion there is the chance to experience each new thing in all its glory. Every so often we need to pause, stand back and see how our small repeated daily actions contribute to the glorious mandala of our lives. 


Take a moment to observe what you have achieved so far. Acknowledge your efforts and contributions. Be proud of how much you have learned and grown.

And then begin another round.










An easy lesson in mindfulness

easy lesson in mindfulness

Have you ever spent some time watching little birds go about their business?

This could just be about the easiest lesson in mindfulness.

Everything the little bird does it does with all of its being. They are so earnest in everything that they do. All of their energy and attention is focused on the task at hand, and only that. That single point of focus makes them efficient and effective. It comes so effortlessly in the natural kingdom.


Creatures like birds know no other way to be. Any yet, we humans, apparently more evolved have lost this ease in life for the most part.

This I believe is the mindfulness lesson we can learn from out feathered friends.

It is not that they are not busy. Just like us they have multiple tasks, demands and needs. Watch a few little birds hopping about over the cafe pavement collecting crumbs. They so remind me of busy mums, bustling about the shopping mall. 


They need a good chat. Domestic budgies require 'socialising' to remain in good health. Like their wild relatives nattering in the trees they need to talk to someone - just like us.


They need alone time too. Is there a more peaceful sight than a little bird sitting alone, surveying the world? There is such calm in their stillness. We can find that too, if we are prepared to just sit still for a moment.

easy lesson in mindfulness

When a bird goes to work, it shows us how it can be if you know your purpose and fulfil it with conviction. Take the kingfisher, for example. A bird like the kingfisher is a remarkably talented huntsman. Swift, yet quiet. Ruthless, yet graceful.  He knows who he is and every fibre of his being carries out that purpose. 


And of course, everyone needs a bit of love. We all need a hug at some point.


So just like us, our feathered friends lead busy lives with many roles. It is not that you need to be less busy to find peace and calm. It is not being busy that is the problem. It is not even having multiple roles that is an issue.

Stress does not come from having too many things to do in our lives. It comes from trying to do them all at once.

We can be friends, parents, partners, homemakers, high achieving career people, and zen-like loners.

We can be all these things we want to be.

We can complete the multiple tasks we assign to ourselves.

Just not at the same time.

Feeling inspired to organise your multiple roles and chores? 

A calendar might help... you can order one starting at any month you choose.


Explore more bird and animal art here.


Kitchen comforts

Have you noticed how little time it takes before everyone in the house gravitates towards the kitchen? The kitchen is the hub. The heart of the home.

kitchen wall art prints


It is where the momma is, and that’s what makes it home. It is the place of comfort and sustenance. It is where the best conversations happen.  On a kitchen stool over a cup of coffee with a chocolate chip cookie.


I think it is because there is no pomp and ceremony in the kitchen.  It does not suffer  the formality of a dining room where we might be more guarded and reserved.  It is warm and is filled with our favourite things that we use every day.

kitchen wall art prints red tea pot

It is the place where wholesome ingredients are prepared by generous hearts. 

kitchen wall art prints eggs kw

No matter what kind of house you have it doesn’t take long before hungry mouths appear at counters and fridge doors start opening.  And a tower of pancakes makes you feel safe and welcome, no matter who you are.

kitchen wall art prints pancakes kw

Spending a lot of time in the kitchen is part of the job description for every mom. But honestly that relentless food production that a family demands can certainly dampen one's culinary enthusiasm. Simplicity is the key I think.

kitchen wall art prints red tomatoes kw

If you start with something fresh and vibrant it doesn't need too much from you. 

kitchen wall art prints avocado kw

Its vitality is apparent from the its juicy colour and gleaming flesh. 

kitchen wall art prints purple aubergine kw

Makes you feel better just looking at it.

kitchen wall art prints beets kw

Food doesn’t need to be complicated to bring comfort. In fact the less complicated the better. Is there anything more soothing than a piece of toast with chunky strawberry jam?

kitchen wall art prints toast and jam kw

The kitchen stores the memories of the generations. Aren’t your favourite recipes the ones passed down from grandmothers? How delightful are those handwritten recipes in books with pages now yellowed by time and splattered by batter. 

kitchen wall art print eggs and whisk kw

As efficient as it is to have the internet deliver infinite versions of recipes from all over the world, there is nothing quite like the ones in a familiar hand on well loved pages. Even better if there are notes scribbled in the margins.

kitchen wall art prints muffins and recipe book kw

May your kitchen continue to provide comfort and nourishment for both your body and your soul.

Explore more kitchen art prints and originals 

Painting farm animals with spirit (and watercolour)

Painting farm animals with spirit (and watercolour)

I know we understand each other. It means I can talk freely about my online class addiction. Phew. So this month, I took another class with Miriam from the Inspiration Place.  It was called 'Farm Animal Spirits'. I'm not sure I really got what Miriam meant by this initially.  I was more than happy to just start painting cute little farm animal babies... like these adorable little balls of fluff

The essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

Shock! Horror! The manufacturer of my favourite pickles changed the shape of the jar! I know... first world problems.

But you see these pickle jars are an essential part of my painting process. They hold the water for my watercolour painting and I usually have a selection littered across my desk. I need two really, one for clean water and one that I can use for rinsing off my brush. But they seem to multiply.  It is funny how such a small thing seems to be important in my painting process. Its a matter of ritual I suppose.

It got me thinking about all the other essentials that I wouldn't be without in my art studio - the ones that you won't find in a art store.  I love that! It makes me feel all resourceful and thrifty.

essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

Here's the list:

Pickle Jars

Ok. I won't go on about these any more. (But I don't think I could paint the same without them.)

Old hair spray bottle

I think that when I first had need of a bottle to spritz water about it wasn't so easy to find them such a thing in the stores. I found a bottle of hair spray in the back of my cupboard. It was surprising because I don't ever use hairspray and also because it was not the aerosol kind but the one with a removable top attached to a long straw that goes into the inside of the bottle.

Clearly it had been sitting there waiting to be emptied, well rinsed and repurposed as a water spritzer in the art studio. Essential for waking up the watercolour palette in the morning or spritzing over the acrylic palette once in a while to try and extend the drying time of that beautiful buttery paint that is squeezed out onto the palette.

And if you spray it directly into a watercolour wash you can get some lovely effects.

Molly the Dolly

Now, I know that you can get a proper mannequin for the purposes of figure drawing but they are not terribly approachable creatures, I find. It's an intimate business this figure drawing lark, you know.

Much easier to have a sweet face smiling up at you regardless of the awkward pose you are requesting.  Molly the Dolly sits with me on my desk with her fully articulated joints and a very patient disposition. She even has the prettiest little fingers for me to draw as opposed to the mittens that artist mannequins usually come with.

Old Credit cards

So these I seem to have plenty of! Old store cards are also good.  I love them as scrapers for spreading gesso or acrylic paint over my art journal pages.

They are part of my watercolour kit too. You can cut them up into nice sharp shapes for the purposes of scratching into wet watercolour paint for some lovely effects. In fact you can sometimes get them sharp enough to scratch out white marks on paintings that are completely dry to make details like highlights in eyes. Of course you can use a craft knife for this, but doesn't a shard of credit card sound a lot more fun?


If it is a bit later in the evening and you have it to hand, you might see your way to sparing a drop of vodka into your watercolour wash.  You can get plain alcohol from a pharmacy, I believe.

However.... painting in collaboration with a spot of vodka.... how can you not?

A drop of alcohol spreads in a perfect circle. Sometimes they turn out like dandelion heads. Delightful.


On the subject of getting texture into watercolour paints, we cant ignore what the kitchen has to offer. Salt.

Drop salt into a nice juicy wash of watercolour and leave it to dry completely. The salt soaks up the water pulling the pigment with it. This leaves little star bursts in the colour when you brush the salt off.  For a slightly different effect you can tip the paper at an angle when you drop the salt on letting it slide down the page a little before you let it dry.

essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

(Now it occurs to me that if you had tequila you could substitute that for the vodka and since you have the salt out you may as well make yourself a Margarita. For the good of the painting.)


You are going to need an actual candle stick or some such (I use a floating candle because that is what I had to hand). Before you start painting with watercolour you can rub the candle across parts of your paper.  The was will resist the watercolour and preserve the white of the paper. You can do this rather purposefully to put a bit of texture into something like brickwork or as highlights on water, for instance.

essential art supplies you won't find in the art store

Chux Eraser

These are those little white abrasive cleaning blocks intended for removing marks from walls and that sort of thing. Where I am, the available brand is Chux but I bet you will find something like it in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket wherever you are.

If you rub these little blocks (slightly dampened)  over your very dry watercolour painting you can actually remove a bit of the paint revealing the highlight. Go carefully. It is scratching off the top layer of paint and paper -  don't be too aggressive or you could end up with  a hole in your painting.


Speaking of watercolour texture, how about getting an old toothbrush (ok to be honest that seemed a bit yucky so I used a fresh toothbrush for this) and dipping it in watercolour paint, watered down acrylic paint or  ink and flicking it across the page. Lovely!

It's best to hold the toothbrush with your thumb over the bristles and then pull your thumb nail back over the bristles releasing the colour in delightful random splatter over the page. With  a bit of practice you can learn to control this at least a little bit and then use it in particular areas to indicate things like stars in the night sky or a field of flowers in the distance. But filling journal pages with  nothing but abstract toothbrush splatter is a charming way to spend a lazy afternoon too.

Cotton buds

Now these are just fun things to have around. I wouldn't dream of sticking one in my ear somehow but I use them as mark making tools  - cute little dots they can make.

They are also handing for dispensing things like mineral spirits/ blending solvent/ Gamsol when you have your colouring pencils out.

What is this blending solvent you ask? Well, before you rush off the to art store you might want to see if you have any .... vaseline.


Yes, vaseline. This can be used to transform your colouring into something more like a smooth painting. The vaseline reacts with the coloured pencil and smooths it out giving some lovely blending effects. Similar to what you might achieve with something like Gamsol which is made specifically for this purpose.

Don't believe me?




Ok maybe this isn't essential for you but it is for me.

I am seldom without a cup of tea and painting is no exception. A word to the wise though... it is best to move the teacup a safe distance from the water jar.... that could end tragically...

Why do artists work in series? (and why it matters to you)

Conventional wisdom for artists is that they should work in a series. In part, this is to do with the more commercial aspect of an artist's work - developing  a body of work for which they are known. But really I think this undershadows some of the more important benefits that arise when you work in a series. Wherever you are in your creative journey there is merit to taking on board some of the ethos of working in a series.

In fact even if your creative project is your big beautiful life as opposed to a particular creative hobby there is merit to giving yourself some sort of 'series' to work on in order to reap these benefits.


The Learning Curve

When we first start doing something it is hard. New skills can be acquired and while I believe we can learn pretty much anything we set our minds too it would be naive to think that this can be done without a lot of hard work and probably a touch of frustration. From psychology to economics the idea that  the more we do something the better we get at it has been graphically depicted as a learning curve.

work in a series

Different labels are applied to the axes but essentially they all depict time or experience along the horizontal axis and some measure of learning, progress or production on the vertical axis. When you start out you have to acquire all the necessary skills to achieve competency. This is shown by the steep and painful looking incline at the beginning of the curve, before it flattens out. But fear not! Perhaps it is not all that bad...

Josh Kaufman is of the opinion that you can learn anything new in about 20 hours. The basic skills you  need to do pretty much anything can be tucked under your belt in 20 hours if you give it a bit of thought and set about it deliberately.

Doesn't that seem nice and manageable? Josh is very convincing about it. You can check out his TED talk on the matter over here.

So of course, the first time you draw a face will probably feel really difficult. It will be much harder than the 5th time you draw a face. If you abandon face drawing after that first attempt you will never get to experience that. Perhaps you jump to drawing animals instead. Guess what? The first time you draw an animal, it's really hard!  The way I look at it, if you don't work in a series of some sort then you are being rather cruel to yourself. You are effectively condemning yourself to a sort of purgatory at that steep end of the learning curve. Don't be mean to yourself.  Work in a series.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is all very well but certainly not a permanent state I am striving for. I think we deserve to give ourselves some breathing space at the level of competency before striding out beyond the comfort barrier once more.


One of the obstacles every creative person deals with is Resistance. And yes I do think it deserves a capital letter (I think Stephen Pressfield would agree.)  Resistance is essentially a defence mechanism. It is the voice that pipes up with all manner of suggestions to avoid committing to the creative act. It is our response to fears of failure, judgement and criticism. It is a sneaky beast that manifests in many ways. For me, it appeared with the question, but what would you draw? What indeed.  Predetermining the answer to this question by selecting a series theme in advance has helped me immeasurably here.

Resistance pipes up again. You are not very good at drawing those. One of the very good reasons for working in the series is to overcome this precise problem.  Sometimes the only way to silence the voice of Resistance is to go ahead and create.

work in a series

What do you really think?

It is my belief that the call to create is born of a need in the individual to discover something about themselves, their experiences and their environments. I don't think that this is immediately apparent to us all. Of course there are some that are driven to create art about their most passionate personal or political causes. But the rest of us are not all blessed with such clarity. Sometimes you don't really know what you think about something until to start to examine it. In fact, sometimes we do not even realise something is troubling us until we begin some kind of creative process like writing, painting or knitting and then, inevitably, out it will come.

work in a series
work in a series

Carl Jung used mandalas for this intentional process of self discovery.  Even unintentionally, I believe that making space for some sort of creative activity allows your inner wise self the space to purge whatever it sees fit. But it is not a quick fix. I think the magic happens when you offer your inner wise self this opportunity on a consistent basis. To me something like a regular sketchbook practice or journalling is in fact a series of its own.

I have been giving myself the challenge of a new series each month for more than a year already.

Want to see what I have been up to?

Head over here to have a look.