This month I have been painting Hot Air Balloons - one of my absolute favourite things to paint.
See the whole series and find out more here…
This month I have been painting Hot Air Balloons - one of my absolute favourite things to paint.
See the whole series and find out more here…
I end every year with a Mandala series - this one is the latest.
Apparently I am not the only one who loves circles, it is actually something hard wired into our brains. Who knew?….
I have been painting from photos that I took on a visit to the Rhododendron Gardens near me.
This photo habit seems to be something we all share these days. Part of the joy of always having a rather impressive camera with you wherever you go.
But what do we do with all those photos?
Sometimes I wonder if we miss soaking in the beautiful sights directly because we are so busy viewing them through the camera lens.
On the other hand, I am delighted by the thought that in wanting to take a photo we are celebrating the tiny delights of our everyday lives.
The desire to record and collect them has to be a very good thing.
As good as our cameras are though, there is always that little something that the camera just can’t quite capture.
The warm breeze on our skin, the burst of sunlight through the branches that makes you squint, and the faint smell of damp earth. These are the things I remember when I paint. The camera may not be able to capture these things, but perhaps the painter can.
Actually, I’m not sure it matters if the painter succeeds or not in that regard. Time spent revisiting the happy places and memories is never wasted. The whole point I think, is the painting experience.
Connecting wth your subject through observation and memory using all your senses if you can is just plain good for you.
Perhaps you will turn out a masterpiece, perhaps you won’t, but either way I bet you’ll feel just that little bit happier.
To paint a thing, you have to really look at it it. The mass of giant blooms of the rhododendron bush is a joy. Take a closer look and you see that each flower is actually a clusters of blooms - a composite flower.
Every blossom a collection of many individually wonderful flowers, each a marvel on their own.
To me, each one is like a little party.
And what’s better than a party? Lots of parties on a huge single shrub.
What is better than a party shrub? A whole garden of party shrubs.
Yes indeed a celebratory place to be.
Choosing the images from my photos let me think about all the best aspects of the garden and of the day. Stunning blue skies peeping over the top of sunlit blossoms.
So many textures in the different foliage.
Ridiculously frilly edges to some petals, variegations on some leaves and for me, possibly best of all the abstract shadow shapes.
I do love a shadow. I love the light -that is the thing that inspires me to paint most of all. Often, the best way to show the light is to paint the shadows.
When you paint something, it is important to connect with what it is about that subject that you like enough to want to paint it. That thing that intrigues, fascinates or delights you. What painting is doing then, is helping us to savour the best moments.
Psychology researchers have shown that having an opportunity to savour the past helps us to be nostalgic and positive about that experience as well as helping us to be more optimistic about the future.
Learning to savour the good moments is a very useful tool in our happiness arsenal.
I have to say that certainly matches my experience painting this Rhododendron Garden series. Sure, I haven’t forgotten the part where the kids were bickering their way up the hill. But as I paint, I can smile more about that and let it fade gently while I remember the sunshine and the laughing more.
Painting the parts of the day that brought the joy then, brings the joy now, perhaps more.
If you can have compound interest, perhaps you can have compound joy?
Are you thinking of starting your own creative journey?
This free class will teach you all you need to know about watercolour supplies to get you on your way.
Did you know that elephants purr? Yes, a bit like a cat!
I learned so much investigating my painting subject for this month’s series. They are such magnificent creatures you can’t really help being curious, can you?
Aside from the iconic trumpet blast that we know, elephants not only purr but are thought to communicate with one another over long distances using a subsonic rumble. These messages travel faster over the ground than sound through air and are detected through their feet and trunks.
Elephants are the only mammal that cannot jump. And even when they run (which they can do at up to 25miles (40km) per hour) they always keep one foot on the ground at all times.
So maybe that’s how you get to be a symbol of groundedness and wisdom….
Elephant tusks are continually growing, so the older the elephant the longer the tusk. Just like most of us, elephants are not ambidextrous. A ‘righty’ will wear down the right hand tusk quicker than the left as they favour it for picking things up, stripping leaves from trees or fighting.
I can’t say I ever thought much about elephant toes until now, but did you know that elephants actually walk on their toes? Yes, big as they are research shows that they put the most pressure on the outer toes of their front feet and the least amount of pressure on their heels as they walk.
Asian elephants might have smaller tusks, but they actually have an extra toenail on each foot compared to African elephants. All elephants have one more toenail on the front feet than they do on the back feet.
We all have our weaknesses, but did you know that the mighty elephant’s weakness is the humble bee?
Apparently elephants are instinctively afraid of bees. (I just decided I love them even more.) Conservationists use this to their advantage by placing bee hives around land that they need to keep elephants clear of.
A fear of bees feels like a very human thing to me, and it is not the only human-like trait that elephants exhibit. They are very social creatures that form tight knit family groups lead by the oldest, often largest female. Go girls.
They are remarkably caring creatures. When a baby elephant cries all of the herd will go and tend to it, not just the mother. They also greet other herd members with touch, even wrapping their trunks around each other.
Elephants grieve. When one of the herd dies they show signs of sadness and grief and they mourn the loss of the loved one for many years after passing. Using their feet and trunks they gently touch the skulls and tusks in homage when they come across the bones of their dead.
When an elephants passes through a place where a loved one once died, it will stop. Its silent pause of remembrance can last for several minutes.
Elephants certainly are one of the world’s treasures. There is something so special about them which I don’t think I can do justice with words, but Peter Matheisson did.
I have spent a thoroughly lovely month learning about them and painting them.
Want to paint elephants with me?
I chose very simple supplies making these elephants an easy painting project even if you are new to watercolour or a reluctant sketcher.
Fresh flowers are a joy to paint. Their sweet little faces are such a thing of hope. At the time of writing this it is spring so there is an abundance of new blooms about.
But the reality is that new blooms appear year round. Seemingly eternal geraniums, marigolds in summer and plumbago in autumn. Even snow will not deter the little snowdrop.
It is this relentless optimism that I adore. The stuff of fresh starts. An endless string of new beginnings if necessary.
There is such relief in that idea, isn’t there?
These little blooms remind me of the persistence of hope. They seem to prove that there is always the chance to begin again.
Doesn’t it always seem like there is a new habit you are trying to form?
From a consistent sketchbook practice, to a daily step goal or learning to meditate there is always something to be working towards.
A good thing, of course, to be constantly improving. Conventional wisdom is to make sure you don’t ‘break the chain’ as Jerry Seinfeld famously counselled.
That’s sound advice, of course. Doesn’t make you feel marvellous when that chain does break though. With the best will in the world, life happens. So we also need a helpful way to approach this rather likely eventuality.
I think it is this - the important thing is not that the chain has broken but how quickly a new one begins.
Let’s take a cue from nature and remember that a fresh start is always there for the taking.
The chance to begin again.
No guilt at having faltered, just hopeful persistence.
The first home I painted this month was so nestled in its environment. As though the trees and gardens held the home in a safe embrace, much like the walls of the home hug the familiy within.
That’s what home is to me.
Layers of comfort and security.
Safety and belonging. A place where all is familiar and you have what you need.
Cozy places to curl up with a book. The smell of a chicken roasting in the oven. The chatter and laughter of children over the soft purr of the ever churning washing machine.
Home is where you find your way easily even in the dark, you know every part of it like the back of your hand.
Your hand drops the keys in the bowl by the door, of its own accord, never missing despite your lack of attention to the task, so well do you know the space and your place in it.
Skipping the stair that squeaks is such second nature you don't even realise you are doing it.
Because of this comfortable familiarity with the physical building and its contents, it's easy to start thinking that it is the house itself that is the home.
But I have moved around so much I have learned that it is not the physical space that makes the home.
Surprising, really how quickly we can start applying the label home to an unfamiliar space.
The sanctuary of home is an idea - a feeling that is made in our hearts and minds. It is when we bring that feeling to the bricks and mortar that accommodate us and let it breathe life into the space that the shell can become the embodiment of our home.
I saw a meme the other day that said:
“Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is all very well - every so often.
But moments of comfortable competence are to be savoured too.
A beach holiday is definitely my favourite kind of holiday.
A chance to step out of your life for a bit and watch the world go by for a bit instead of hurrying to try and keep up with it.
Days filled with time at the beach and the pool and no more complicated decision to make in each day than what to have for dinner. Bliss. This always gives me a bit of perspective on my life.
I like to walk on the beach at sunrise and sunset. I love the way the the rising tide smooths all those footprints and holes and leftover sandcastles. It clears the deck ready for the new day.
I always think that all the fretful, worried or anxious thoughts I have had that day are just like those mounds and indentations on the beach.
They are not permanent, they are just thoughts. They can be swept away and I can choose new ones, if I try…
I love to watch my children, totally absorbed in this moment, this wave, this sandcastle - right now.
That’s more like it.
Anxiety and depression are symptoms of being worried about the future and stuck in the past, respectively. Personally I have known them both, perhaps you do to. ( I read the other day that one in three Australian women and one in five Australian men experience anxiety, so it's not just us). This is why learning to be present is so important - a way to avoid these both.
It's funny how starting out with such well meaning intentions, like trying to be prepared can end up in a panic state if you don’t notice what is happening. Because that is where my anxiety comes from - always trying to be ultra prepared.
To me this means running all the possible worst case scenarios I can think of so as to come up with a possible solution. I am naturally risk averse, which I then compounded by becoming an auditor which is really just intense training for figuring out what could go wrong.
By now, I am pretty brilliant at it.
90% of the thoughts you have today are the same ones you had yesterday, apparently. So if most of those were worst case scenario sort of situations and these are the thoughts that are constantly repeated, a sense of impending doom is bound to be colouring your entire view of the world.
So I picture the sea, or even better I paint it, and remember that I can let those thoughts be washed away. For every worst case scenario that crosses my mind I am now trying to train myself to come up with a best case version. For every ebb, there is sure to be a flow.
One of the most helpful things I found is a hypnosis track that came with a book called Control Stress by Paul McKenna - I have had it for years. The best line for me in the whole thing is the part where he says he would like to thank that part of my mind that worries for all the good it is trying to do. Funny that such a simple acknowledgement from a voice on recording should bring such relief but it did.
Does it make you feel better?
I hope so.
Because given my realisation that it is my worrying about the future (aka things that haven’t happened) that creates the anxiety I find it is easy to start feeling a bit foolish about what would then seem a self inflicted problem. Acknowledging that it came from such a good place helps me feel less ridiculous.
In this hypnosis track, Paul McKenna not only thanks that part of the mind that is worrying but also thanks the mind for coming up with new ways of doing this good work that don't involve worrying. He even says you don't need to know what those ways are. Seems a bit odd, but somehow it really helps.
If you are curious, this is the link to Paul's book on Amazon (affiliate link). The book comes with the hypnosis track that I have been talking about.
And if you are looking for more anxiety management strategies to try you might want to explore these suggestions from Beyond Blue. All good suggestions of course, but my favourite anxiety buster (beach trips aside) is painting.
Best therapy ever.... please give it a try!
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!
Spend some time observing these dramatic birds and before long you realise you are watching self confidence in action.
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."
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.
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.
And then I started painting these birds together. A pair of flamingos... then a whole flock of them.
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.
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.
Do you love an intriguing pathway?
I love a garden path with little delights hidden round each bend. That's what I have been painting recently.
We are all naturally curious, aren't we?
Sometimes it's a light on the horizon that draws us in.
Or the invitation of an open gate.
Actually, even a closed gate has a certain allure. Surely, whatever is locked behind a gate must be worthy of further investigation.
I have been painting these garden paths all month and I cant help thinking about the paths that lie before all of us.
We have so many choices, so many paths to take. Best to let our curiosity be our guide. Listen to the whispers of our hearts and choose to bravely take the paths that beckon.
For beckon they do.
The wishes and dreams that we don't pursue don’t leave us. We may stop talking about them and we get on with the business of adult things. While fears and doubts may also do their bit to dampen the call, the little voice is always there, tempting you down the path.
Stop awhile on your current path and make sure that what you see before you still fills you with joy.
Or is there something you put on your 'Someday' list that just might be better?
What are your secret dreams of things you still want to do, be, learn or explore?
Start today. It's the things we don’t do that we regret.
Follow your curiosity down the path that beckons.
For to carry around your secret unlived life is a heavy burden indeed.
Berries and seeds are tiny symbols of hope and possibility - don't you think? I love that something so small can be so mighty. From a tiny little seed a whole new plant can come to be - nature’s everyday magic.
From the tiniest acorn grows a mighty oak.
Only it doesn’t have to.
Not every acorn will become a tree. We do not judge those acorns that don't end up transforming themselves.
We see their fascinating shapes and textures and delight in their current stage. They are valuable just as they are, right now.
We don't see their worth as conditional on what they might become.
Those little seeds and berries remind me of all the ideas we have and the projects we begin. A new idea is exciting - as plump and juicy and wonderful as a berry. So is every book we add to our reading lists and every online course we begin.
But just like those seeds, not every idea will manifest its largest form. We enjoy an abundance of new books and courses, ideas and projects - more of these are available than we have the resources for. That’s okay. Nature shows us that this is simply the natural way of things.
There is value in beginnings: the burst of enthusiasm, the creative zeal that sparks us into action. The joy of possibility is enough.
Some of our ideas and projects will see completion. It’s okay that we probably don't know which ones they are at the outset.
Many seeds fall from the tree. Only the passing of time and allowing events to unfold can determine which ones will will flourish. And since we don't know which ones will flourish we need them all.
Unfinished projects, or forgotten ideas are not wasted, they are a part of the process. They all have a role - it just might not be the one you expected. Some are stepping stones, some are just practice. Some are for exploration and help you find your way by a process of elimination.
Revel in the abundance of all your beginnings. Please don't berate yourself for the ones that didn't appear to go anywhere.
Let them go in the knowledge that they are enough just as they are.
There is something so enticing about a quiet bench in a beautiful spot. It is an invitation to stop even just for a moment, to take a breath and slow down.
No charging port or wifi necessary. Bet we all need to do a bit more of that. If we have become so busy that we feel we do not have the time to sit still for a moment, is that really progress?
Do we see time spent sitting in quiet contemplation or even staring into space, thinking about nothing in particular as a waste these days?
That would be a sad thing. Our 24 7 world of instant gratification and permanent connectedness is a world of constant activity. Perhaps it is encouraging us to forget our respect for the natural ebb and flow of daily life.
Like day and night, like the rise and fall of the tide, we need the still parts of our day just as much as we need all that motion. One feeds the other, they are equally important.
Take that nap.
Or sit in the garden with a cup of tea.
Stop at that bench on your walk and just be for a bit. You deserve that. In fact, you need that. Finding resting spaces in your day is just as important as finding time for your work.
And while you are there in your favourite resting place, soak in every part of it with all of your senses. Build it into your memory. Then the next time you are stuck in that queue at the checkout you can close your eyes and return for a restful minute to your favourite resting place.
I have been painting little pigs this month. I just love their energy and enthusiasm.
They approach everything they do in the spirit of play.
They jump into things with gusto - no half measures!
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Explore accessories, homewares and stationery featuring mandalas here (affiliate link)
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.
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.
Your own path is valid too.
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.
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....
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 it flow.
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.