Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical words and watercolour

Mandala no 11

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It's hard to believe Christmas has come and gone already. Hope yours was a festive one!

I'm still drawing mandalas and giving a lot of thought to what next month's series should be. Too many choices make for  difficult decisions....

The flower of life

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flower of life arttally

I love this pattern - Julie Gibbons showed me this. Circles are so clever. I now have sacred geometry on my list of Things I Would Like to Know More About. Yes. It's a long list.

The pattern in the centre of the mandala is known as the flower of life. It is found in ancient artworks and is present in nature. It is the continuation of  what is known as the seed of life or the Genesis pattern, which is the centre of this mandala from yesterday. If you keep making interlocking circles you end up with this, the flower of life.

I left out the black ink lines today. Went for a more muted effect using a bit of graphite here and there instead of ink. Not sure which is best. Black ink or no black ink? What do you think?

By the way, if you are now curious about sacred geometry and the flower of life check out this short video introduction to the topic. It is fascinating stuff.  If you prefer an even shorter, and word free version, try this.

Try Twinkling H2Os for some festive bling in your artwork

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Mandalas with twinkling h2os

I have had a small set of Twinkling H2Os watercolour paints in my stash for a while.  If you have never come across them before you might want to check them out. They are cute little tiny pots of paint that 'twinkle'. They really do - a sort of metallic finish if you like.

Initially, I resisted buying them since you can add iridescent medium (which I obviously already have in my stash of course - this one) to any watercolour paints and you have 'twinkling' paint. I tried to tell myself that it was therefore unnecessary to have a separate set of sparkly paints.

I know. Madness. Conventional sensibility does not apply to art supplies. They are all necessary. Of course I need a separate set of twinkling paint.

There is one little trick you need to know to avoid disappointment with Twinkling H2Os. You need to open up all the little pots that you might use and give them a jolly good spritz of water and then let them sit for a minute or two before you begin.  If you don't you will have a hard time getting enough paint on your brush and you will be misled into thinking the paint is weak and the colours insipid. They really aren't. They are glorious. But you do need enough water and time for the paint to absorb it in order to enjoy them.

Of course, iridescent medium works too, and you can control  the amount of bling you are after by altering the quantity of medium that you add to the paint.  The downside of the medium is that it can be a little smelly and you have the extra step of mixing it into the paint as you go.

For a bit of fun festive bling you can't go wrong with the instant gratification of the Twinkling H2Os. I'm loving them. I wish I had a few more colours. I hope Santa knows how good I have been...

Don't overthink it

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Mandala-no-8 arttally don't overthink it

I tend to gravitate towards cooler, calming colour schemes. This time I decided to warm things up a bit with happy oranges and yellows.  I also wanted to play with some of the more masculine, angular shapes in contrast to all the feminine curves.

So all in all, far too much thinking.  It always turns out that the mandalas I draw with little or no thought, in a far more random, doodley fashion are the ones I end up liking the best.

I think the lesson for me in today's mandala is don't overthink it. Just do it.

There is always something to be said for having a plan and intentionally trying to incorporate something different. Inevitably you will learn something. But to act from a place of instinct and embrace ease is a considerably more uplifting, soul enriching experience.

If you are a planner, or prone to overthinking, give yourself a day off once in awhile. Let it unfold. It doesn't always have to be so hard.

Mandalas and self discovery

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There are those who believe that the mandala carries messages from your inner most self.  The idea is that drawing mandalas is a way to get in touch with your intuition, a path to self discovery.

Carl Jung believed that a mandala is "the the psychological expression of the totality of the self".  For a period, he himself drew a daily mandala investigating it as a tool for self discovery.  The artwork he created in this process has since been published as The Red Book.  There is also a 'reader's edition', which is considerably less expensive but does not contain all the original artwork.

I find that I usually just draw without thinking too much about it. Sometimes the finished result is just an image to me, sometimes it seems to have more meaning. This one, mandala no 7 is an example of that.  When I had finished the mandala it seemed to make a lot of sense. It says to me that we construct a few external layers to present to the  outside world. Those layers have dark and light, ups and downs. This exterior might be patchy and uneven but it forms a cohesive, recognisable and whole shape nonetheless.  Inside, however... well, that's more complicated. Colourful, but complicated.

Mandalas and symbols

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mandalas no 6 arttally

Drawing mandalas can easily lead to thinking about symbols. The circle itself is a rather fascinating timeless symbol of wholeness and unity. The hand is a symbol of protection. There are many intricate artworks featuring the hand or its more stylised symbol the hamsa - check these out if you are interested.

I chose to draw around my own hand today. That feels good partly because it is the sort of thing you do as a very small child and partly because it makes your mandala very personal, almost like your fingerprint.

Water soluble oil pastels that smell of childhood

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water soluble oil pastels arttally

I seem to gravitate towards the cooler colours so this time I opted for a change.  I used my Portfolio water soluble oil pastels by Crayola to add the colour here. There is something delightfully reminiscent of childhood about using a chubby stick of waxy crayon. The fact that it then turns to smooth paint with the addition of a bit of water and a paintbrush is just one of the wonders of modern art supplies. Aren't we lucky to have them.

If you fancy trying them they are not too expensive, good for kids of all ages. The colours are quite glorious and you can use them with or without the addition of water.  Bear in mind though, if you are of the mixed media persuasion that if you try and add some pen lines on top of them you might run in to a spot of trouble.  They are oil based crayons so it is best to do any pen work first otherwise you may not be able to make marks over the top of the pastels.

So much fun. They even smell of childhood.

Meditative mandala making

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mandalas no 2 arttally

The second mandala that I drew in Julie Gibbons wonderful free class taught me just what a meditative experience mandala making can be.

This mandala started out as a series of concentric circles made with a compass. The circles were divided into equal portions to make a rough guide. Just enough planning and preparing to keep the logical analytical part of the brain happy.

Then begins the more creative intuitive part - what could the circles and grid support? A lotus flower finds its form with the addition of soft curves, slightly imperfect - the only way my hand drawn curves ever turn out.

Methodically rotating the page and repeating the shapes is a very calming experience. Round and round, adding colour.

Ah.... bliss...

Magical mystical mandalas

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mandala no 1 arttally

It is hard to believe that it is the final series for the year. I had originally planned to repeat my favourite series theme from the year so far but I have just taken a wonderful free mandala class with Julie Gibbons.  This is the first mandala I drew in the class and now I can't stop so December is going to be all about mandalas.

I have had a big square sketchbook set aside and waiting for mandalas. To be honest I have all sorts of books about mandalas too.  Apparently all I needed was Julie's terrific class to get me to actually do something with them all.

Now it seems all rather perfect for the end of the year.  As the silly season begins in frantic earnest, setting aside some time for some soothing meditative drawing brings a calming balance.  You don't even need to be able to draw.

Why not give it a try?

Where do you get your ideas?

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where do you get your ideas One of the questions people often ask authors is, 'where do you get your ideas?'

This was something that used to trouble me. A lot. I worried that I didn't have any ideas.  Then before I knew it my problem was not a lack of ideas, but in fact, too many ideas. So many ideas that it is hard to know which idea to focus on and hard to discern a good idea from a bad one.  In many ways it feels very much like the same problem.

I think it is because ideas come from the wild and free part of us that the rational, critical self fears so much. As children we spend much more time in that wild free place where ideas abound, all ideas are good and nearly everything seems like fun.  We have to learn to tap in to that child like part of ourselves again to find those ideas. When we do they multiply like John Steinbeck promises.

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." John Steinbeck

Armed with too many ideas, the only way forward is to remain in that same child like state of creative abundance.  Free of judgement, open to exploration, and holding off that rational, critical self for long enough to let the best ideas develop enough to reveal themselves.

The importance of books for children

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On Writing No 12 I have always had a deep seated reverence for children's literature.  The books that have made the biggest impact on me have always been books for children.  I think writing for children is harder than writing for adults. Perhaps that is the way it should be. Really good children's stories convey complex ideas and themes.  You know you have fully understood a big important idea when you can explain it simply to a child. If you can do that with humour, with a sense of playfulness and joy, then you are a children's writer.

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if that book will be too difficult for grown ups, then you write it for children." Madeleine L'Engle

Intuitive painting, intuitive writing - lessons in surrendering

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intuitive painting, intuitive writing There is something utterly delightful about the idea that you don't have to know exactly where you are going when you start a creative project. The important thing is just to start and trust in the creative process to get you where you need to be. I suppose it is a lesson in surrendering.

I'm not sure I realised that you could simply begin a story and let it lead where it may. I did learn that you can paint this way - any one who has had a go at intuitive painting will know exactly what I am talking about.

If you haven't you might want to check out two of my favourite teachers of intuitive painting, Alena Hennessy and Flora Bowley. Even if you don't fancy painting yourself it is a fascinating thing to watch Flora Bowley's paintings emerge - you can see her in action here.  And she explains her whole process in her book Brave Intuitive Painting. Love it.

When the going gets tough

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When the going gets tough We are into the second half of the  NaNoWriMo Challenge already. Hard to believe there are less days remaining than we have already done. Especially when your word count has not yet made it to the half way mark! Uh oh... hope I can do it.

In the meantime I  console myself with this thought...

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." Thomas Mann

If you think you might be a writer heed this warning

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a warning for writers  

If you suspect that you might be a writer, then there is one thing you must do.


Grab a notepad, a laptop or the back of that shopping list stuffed down the bottom of your handbag.  Unless she is given a voice that frustrated writer trapped inside you will drive you (and everyone around you) crazy.

Figure out what is stopping you and find a way past it.

Heed this warning from Frank Kafka:

"A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity."

The best way to learn to write is to write

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The best way to learn to write is to write I have come to the conclusion that writing, like a lot of things, is something you really  have to learn by doing.  In the beginning it is frustrating. Progress is slow. Probably occasionally mortifying. Okay... often mortifying.

Lots of books have been written about writing and I suspect most new writers have read many of them. But when you start writing it doesn't feel like any of that preparation helped much. But if you persist a marvelous thing happens. All those abstract concepts you read about, like point of view, story arc, and the rule of 'show don't tell', suddenly make a whole lot more sense.  I'm not sure you can really get to grips with any of it until you are actually trying to apply it. The best way to learn to write is to write.

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that you don't have time to get stuck. I know very well that if I had been writing this without the clock ticking down and that graph of my word count progress constantly accusing me I would have got myself stuck trying to solve one of these technical problems. But during  NaNoWriMo you just have to make the best of it, perhaps make a note to come back to it later and move on.  In doing that you put in the practice hours that are the only way to get better at writing. Sure you will have to come back to all those sticking points at a later date, but it is better to press on in the meantime than to simply draw to a grinding halt.

I am surprised by how often things end up resolving themselves.  Perhaps it is those hamsters on that wheel inside my head that manage to nut it all out while I am drawing, sleeping or doing those endless loads of washing a family is capable of conjuring up daily.  Either way, it seems if you leave those mole hills alone for a time, they get to remain mole hills instead of turning into the mountains that might completely block your path. Who knew?

Even one of the things that worried me the most - that I didn't have the imagination to come up with an entire story for a novel seems to be getting easier. Now that for me is an enormous relief.  I am happy to report that I (so far) concur with Philip Jose Farmer who says,

"Imagination is a muscle. I found out that the more I used it, the bigger it got."

A series of illustrated quotes on writing

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on writing no 7 Did I mention my series for the month? I expect that in all my excitement to get writing a novel (!) I might have neglected that.  I know you may have probably already figured it out, but this month I am doing a series of illustrated quotes on writing.  Its a good series for me because I love quotations  and it is giving me a chance to use Photoshop a bit more.

Have you tried Photoshop? I find it as frustrating as it is amazing. It does so many awesome things but I often find trying to do the simplest task can be infuriatingly difficult. My first in this series I did with Canva in the end. If Photoshop is frustrating you, or you don't have access to it, I highly recommend giving Canva a go.  Quite simple and lots of fun.

After the first in this series On Writing, I have been trying to be strict with myself about using Photoshop. Like everything, it is easier every day. Here is the link to the whole series on one page.

How to write a novel

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how to write a novel It is amazing how many resources you can find on how to write a novel. Writers are a generous community. Unfortunately, no two writers are alike. As Diana Gabaldon pointed out in her pep talk, we all work a little differently. This means that only you can figure out what works for you. On the plus side - if the goal is to do it your way, you can't possibly get it wrong.

How comforting to know that blundering along however you can is just what you are supposed to be doing.

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." W Somerset Maugham.

Are you hunting down some inspiration?

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Hunting down some inspiration I would love to be showering you with a whole lot of motivating words, but right now I am off hunting down some inspiration for the next 1667 words of my novel. Never fear though....if you are also in search of writing inspiration I do have some useful tips to share.

However, if you are joining in the NaNoWriMo challenge then you don't have time for all that! My advice is to follow the butt-in-seat-hands-on-keyboard approach. Only 21 days to go!