Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical words and watercolour

fauna

It's okay to stay in your comfort zone

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

I saw a meme the other day that said:

“Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone”

Hmmm everything?… 

I have to disagree.  I have to reject the idea that I am in a state of wanting and that I will have to be uncomfortable, seemingly interminably.

The quickest way to happiness is to want what you already have.

Sure, there will always be more to aim for but I believe this is best achieved from a place of grateful contentment.

 
Giraffes no 1 - Solo (Watercolour on paper, 8"x11")

Giraffes no 1 - Solo (Watercolour on paper, 8"x11")

 

I know that the sentiment that was intended by the statement that everything you want is just outside your comfort zone, was one of motivation and encouragement to be bold, brave and adventurous. Take risks and try new things. With that I agree wholeheartedly. But let’s use those words or something like them that feels good to you.

 
Giraffes no 7 - Come here often? (Watercolour on paper 6 x 8 inches)

Giraffes no 7 - Come here often? (Watercolour on paper 6 x 8 inches)

 

Recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about the words we use in our own heads and out loud. Words evoke feelings - that is their power. And our feelings drive our actions. Important then, to put a bit of thought into what we say and how we say it.

Rather than saying everything you want is outside your comfort zone let's say something like:


I am bold, brave and adventurous
Everything I want comes to me

Doesn’t that feel better? 

 
Giraffes no 9 - Heads in the Clouds (Watercolour on paper 6.5 x 10 inches)

Giraffes no 9 - Heads in the Clouds (Watercolour on paper 6.5 x 10 inches)

 

Trying something new, or going through something challenging is going to feel a bit uncomfortable, awkward perhaps. Coming from a positive mindset of grace and gratitude rather than of want and struggle gives us a far greater chance of success.

The giraffe is my new mascot for this idea. Spending a month painting them gave me a fond appreciation for the way they seem to blend awkwardness and grace so masterfully.

A giraffe is a glorious feat of anatomical engineering. The thing that makes the giraffe unique, different and amazing also makes it rather awkward in many situations. 

 
Giraffe 6  I Do It My Way (Watercolour on paper, 6.5"x11")

Giraffe 6  I Do It My Way (Watercolour on paper, 6.5"x11")

 

To dip your head into the watering hole is a simple thing for most of its other bush companions but the giraffe has had to inventively learn to straddle their legs to do this. It’s a mental picture that has stayed with me this month as I painted them.

If you can’t do something the way others seem to do it, maybe that’s okay - you’ll find your own way. That’ll work too.

Those long legs seem so delicate to be carrying around that towering structure, I always think. It looks so ungainly. And then you see the giraffe break into a gentle canter and all awkwardness is gone, there is such grace in the motion. Much like the undulating serpentine sweep of the neck as the giraffe moves its head around.

 
Giraffe no 4 Leaning In (Watercolour on Paper, 6.5"x11")

Giraffe no 4 Leaning In (Watercolour on Paper, 6.5"x11")

 

Perhaps the blend of awkwardness and grace is something that all creatures contend with. Things within the comfort zone and things just beyond it. But I cannot subscribe to the idea everything has to be ‘uncomfortable’.

 
Giraffes no 5 - Seated (Watercolour on paper 8.5 x 11 inches)

Giraffes no 5 - Seated (Watercolour on paper 8.5 x 11 inches)

 

We do our best when we feel good. In that state we do better at creative thinking and problem solving. We are a bit more resilient and resourceful. When we try to force ourselves to do something terribly uncomfortable by sheer strength of will we are not at our best.

Taking on a bit of a challenge is great, but we do have to be able to feel good about it in some way if we are to have any hope of being successful at it. A mindset of force and struggle and hustle does not predispose us to success.

 
Giraffes no 8 What a Pair (Watercolour on Paper, 6.5"x 11")

Giraffes no 8 What a Pair (Watercolour on Paper, 6.5"x 11")

 

This whole comfort zone idea really explains a lot about why I choose to work in these monthly series, come to think of it.

You see I realised some time ago that in staying with a subject and a medium for a while (ie working in a series) is really important for giving yourself a chance to practice learn and get better at something. But, if I stuck with one subject I know I would be bored and stagnant before too long.

So for me these monthly series are my way of stepping out of my comfort zone at the start of each month, and then giving myself the rest of the month to become increasingly comfortable.

 
Giraffes no 3 Mother and Baby (Watercolour on Paper, 8"x11")

Giraffes no 3 Mother and Baby (Watercolour on Paper, 8"x11")

 

I want to feel at ease, and competent at what I’m doing. In fact I need it, don't we all?

It is during these times that you build trust in yourself that there are things that you are good at, that you are capable and proficient. This trust is the basis of the self belief you need when you do step outside your comfort zone. It gives you some foundation for backing yourself in a new endeavour.

Such memories are important when you clamber awkwardly into something new.

 
Giraffe no 2 Looking at You (Watercolour on Paper, 8.5"x 8.5")

Giraffe no 2 Looking at You (Watercolour on Paper, 8.5"x 8.5")

 

Stepping outside your comfort zone is all very well - every so often.

But moments of comfortable competence are to be savoured too. 

 
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Stand out to fit in

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

A little while ago I painted a series of tiny little birds and they got me thinking about the sort of big showy birds that usually get a lot of attention.

I thought they would be fun to paint with big splashes of bold colour - I was right - so much fun!

 
Dramatic Birds no 2 - Peacock (Watercolour on paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 2 - Peacock (Watercolour on paper, 9"x12")

 

Spend some time observing these dramatic birds and before long you realise you are watching self confidence in action. 

 
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These birds seem to be like poster kids for self belief. 

"Be your bold, dramatic self," they seem to say. "Stand out and show your plumage."

 
Dramatic Birds no 9 Helio Swan (Watercolour on paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 9 Helio Swan (Watercolour on paper, 9"x12")

 

We do spend a lot of time doing our best to fit in, to conform, at various times in our life. It can seem easier to try to just be the same as everyone else. Hide your differences to be left in peace to go about your business, rather than the pressure of  standing out and being seen. 

 
Dramatic Birds no 6 Peacock Tail (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 6 Peacock Tail (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

 

But these glorious birds are a colourful reminder that there is value in being bold, standing in your power, letting your freak flag fly!

Just like the peacock with his magnificent tail, or the flamingo with its crazy colour.

 
Dramatic Birds no 8 On My Way! (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 8 On My Way! (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

 

And then I started painting these birds together. A pair of flamingos... then a whole flock of them.

 
Dramatic Birds no 7 Flamingo Love (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 7 Flamingo Love (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

 

That's when I realised that as much as we might think we are unique special snowflakes and perhaps try to hide that to fit in, it is inevitable that with so many people in the world there will be others just like you - no matter how different you feel. 

 
Dramatic Birds no 5 Swan (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 5 Swan (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

 

It is only when you are brave enough to show the parts of you that seem outrageous to you that you will find them.

Far better to be you and find your own flock than hide your true self to fit in to the one you happen to find yourself in.

 
Dramatic Birds no 10 Flamingo Party (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

Dramatic Birds no 10 Flamingo Party (Watercolour on Paper, 9"x12")

 
Find out who you are and do it on purpose.
— Dolly Parton
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How is your perky attitude?

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

I have been painting little pigs this month. I just love their energy and enthusiasm. 

 
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They approach everything they do in the spirit of play.

 
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They jump into things with gusto - no half measures!

 
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They are friendly and companionable.

 
 

They are joiners - no wallflowers here! If you want to be a part of it, you have to get stuck in.

 
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They seem to have so much personality, and most of all, that perky attitude.

As it does, life recently presented me with an opportunity to try out that perky attitude for myself.

 
 

I had tickets to an open air concert in the most beautiful winery. How wonderful…. Except for those ominous thunder clouds that appeared just as the stage had been set.

Now it was the middle of the Australian summer, admittedly in Melbourne, but still a little unusual even for us. The small country town nearest the winery had been cleaned out of rain ponchos by the pessimists people with greater foresight than I.

And since umbrellas are on the forbidden items list at outdoor concerts, I found myself presented with a rather literal opportunity to practice what I preach ( do you remember what I was saying the other day about dancing in the rain? Ha!)

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Life is unpredictable. All we can really choose is our attitude. Or so I told myself from beneath my shroud of fetching pale blue plastic tablecloth (yes, luckily the country store still had some of those left!).  

Once I had abandoned the thought of skulking off home to rail against the injustice of the weather I realised that the absurdity of all of us huddled in the rain, eating a gourmet meal totally without shelter (yes, the lemon butter salmon was very moist) did make for an unforgettable experience.

Choosing to stay outside and sing in the rain has a quite the bonding effect, apparently.

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By the time Bryan Adams came on the rain had cleared and boy am I glad I didn’t miss that.

I’ll admit that having a costly and nonrefundable ticket in your hand does make it easier to summon up the positive attitude needed to make the most of things. But it was a useful reminder to me that when you choose your attitude you choose your experience.

It’s not what we do, its the way that we do it. The way the best version of ourselves would do things - that’s excellence.

 
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That’s what these piglets seem to be showing me.

Let’s sally forth in the spirit of excellence , just like these little piggies.

All in, ready for anything.

Bring it on.

Your attitude, not your aptitude will determine your altitude.
— Zig Ziglar

Seeking tranquility? Surrender control

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

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.

 
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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

Explore more of this series in the shop - come and see if your favourite still available.

Learning to be present takes less than a minute

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

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.

 
 

An easy lesson in mindfulness

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse
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.

 
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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.

 

Painting farm animals with spirit (and watercolour)

My art journey, Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

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