A Wave of Optimism

I was watching BBC News this morning and they had a feature on the reopening of shops and bars serving outdoors.  The reporter was presenting from Newcastle city centre and it was great to see people enjoying being out and about again.  We may not be back to anything near normal, but things are certainly looking up!

In the Studio this Weekend

This is how I felt about painting last week and this weekend.  Since I started CVP I’ve struggled to just relax into painting.  I wasn’t particularly worried about it as I’ve been learning so much but last week it felt like I turned a corner.  We are starting a series of painting and the homework was to start boards with play.  With my last playboards I was really stiff; probably the thought of having to share work when it’s at that really ugly stage.  But this weekend I found the whole thing quite addictive.  I started with the intention of working on four boards. Four felt manageable, especially as we have been challenged to keep them at the same stage.  This means if I only have a couple of hours to paint I get half an hour a board, give or take.

First Pass Playboards

Having completed my four on Saturday I woke up Sunday with an urge to paint a few more.  So now I have a whole host of boards to choose from.  So many in fact I had to buy some plate racks to store them!

First Pass Series

The boards are all at a very early stage.  Some I don’t like ….

but others are starting to show promise.  Or at least have some interesting sections that may turn into something.

I’ve taken photos of each of them so whilst I’m working (day job) I can flick through and have a think about where to take them.  Not sure how much of these first few layers will show through in the end paintings but I’m looking forward to catching up on the teaching videos and a few more days in the studio.

Brrrr – It’s April!

Well, despite the freezing cold weather there does seem to be a lot more optimism around at the moment.  Who would have thought that we’d be so excited about meeting people outdoors in April! 

I just hope the news coverage of the AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t put people off having the jab.  I had mine a couple of weeks ago and my husband had his first at the weekend.  We both had the AZ vaccine and other than a few groggy days no major side effects.  It finally feels like life may get back to normal soon!

Memories of Cuba

I’m sure like me you’re desperate for an overseas holiday.  We moved house in 2019 so didn’t take a holiday, assuming we’d get away to a tropic climate in 2020 but alas not.  A few weeks ago I was flicking through photos on my phone and found a load I’d taken in Cuba.  It was a strange holiday! 

I’d always wanted to visit Havana: with such a rich and interesting history, it definitely didn’t disappoint.  Visually it was everything I wanted and much more.  Beautiful, decaying architecture on an amazing scale.  I took so many shots of peeling concrete and stunning ironwork so thoughts I’d try to recapture the feel of the place in a couple of paintings. 

The city must have been amazing in its heyday and it is quite sad seeing just how run down it is.  Some of the buildings looked like they should have been condemned and then you spotted washing hanging and realised that people were still living there. 

If you haven’t been its definitely one to put on the bucket list but I’d recommend Havana and then an island hop for a beach break.  The beach hotel was very nice but the service doesn’t really compare with other destinations.

Creative Visionary Programme

We’re now in week 6 of CVP and things are getting interesting and tougher.  Week 5’s exercise was working with a limited palette and pushing on with loud and quiet conversations.  My boards were ok but a real struggle. 

On the first I did manage to create some interesting textures but the value contrasts were somewhat muddled.

The second was better.

Already there are so many useful learnings that I know will stay with me after the course – working in multiples; having a throwaway board and loud and quiet conversations, to name just a few. 

Creative Visionary Programme

I’m now four weeks into a 3-month online course called Creative Visionary Programme (CVP). And I have to say its unlike any online art programme I’ve been involved in.  Not only is it a huge community, but geographically participants are from all over the globe.

My goal was to get some inspiration and learn some new techniques. But more than anything it was to find ways to make the whole process of painting easier.  I’m sure when many people look at abstract art they think “well I could do that”. But I actually find painting much easier when creating more representative work.  Generally you are drawing from real life, so you’re copying. Abstract is tough. When things work out I often find that its down to happy accidents rather than a comprehensive understanding of why some compositions work better than others.

First Few Weeks

The course started slowly. Although there is a wealth of materials to go through. From videos, zoom calls, bonus content, etc, and that’s before you start the exercises.  But if you’re considering doing it next year don’t let that put you off. I work full time and have still managed to keep up. I does mean that I watch some of the live group calls at the weekend as videos on Facebook but that’s fine.

It’s only week 4 but already I can see that it’s going to be a very different type of training.  To start with it doesn’t throw you into painting straight away.  The first few weeks were focused on spending time reflecting on what inspires you and looking at limiting beliefs. Those little voices that stop you producing the art you want to create.  Mindset is very much at the heart of the programme. 

Creating an inspiration board was such a lovely experience. Not only was it an opportunity to release your inner child – cutting up pictures and collaging with prit stick. But it also gets you to think about things that you love.  I’m planning to revisit this exercise at the end of the course. I’m sure I’ll have a different take on it by then. I’ve noticed that even in these first few weeks I can stare at this board and get ideas for colour combinations, shapes, etc.

Inspiration Board

Play, Play, Play

Last week we started painting but very much focusing on play.  Applying paint and pushing it around the board without any real plan. 

I was surprised how difficult I found it. It’s tough to switch off that little voice in your head that says “well that looks crap” or “what are you doing?  What’s the plan?”  But it is also really liberating to just spend time experimenting with different colour combinations, trying stuff just to see what happens and generally making marks.

Play Board

Design and Values

In week 4 the course really stepped up. The Art2Life teaching embraces an approach that flutters between play and conscious choices. This week we started to get a real sense of the conscious choices. The exercise was to get under the skin of design and values and was really tough. I actually completed this over 3 days, involving a lot of repainting of the panels.

Playing with Values

I am finding it difficult accepting that I will create panels I simply don’t like. Nick and the other coaches have been extremely reassuring telling us to view these as exercises rather than paintings. But switching off that little voice in your head is easier said than done!

Loud and Quiet Conversations

What I have found really odd is that I can’t switch off.  I find myself thinking about art all the time now.  I’m even starting to think about trying to merge some of my more representational work with abstract. Not something I’ve considered before.  It may just be a passing fancy but I’ll let you know if anything comes of that one.

In the Studio This Week

Aside from CVP I have also continued with my 100 days of creative play challenge, part of #the100dayproject. We are now officially over halfway and I’ve created a couple more lino prints but not much else.

The Perfect Medicine

I’m now almost half way through my 100 day challenge – #100daysofcreativeplay (#the100dayproject). So far, I have to say, it has been a mainly positive experience. 

I’ve dabbled with lino cut:

I’ve pushed myself to create some more intuitive pieces:

I have had a couple of days where I’ve been tired. Where the prospect of painting hasn’t appealed as much as a hot bath or vegging on the sofa. But aside from that all things have been pretty positive.  It is amazing how my energy lifts walking up to my studio. Even after a day sat in front of a computer screen on calls.

I’ve also been reading a lot about art and listening to various podcasts. So I’ve scribbled a ton of notes about the benefits you get exercising your creativity.

Some of these may resonate with you. If they don’t and you aren’t indulging in some creative endeavors its not too late. Pick up a pencil, splodge some paint, turn your creativity talents into some gourmet food or even starting knitting!

I had a long period in my life where I didn’t draw or paint.  I sketched a bit throughout university but starting my career I never found the time. It was well over a decade before I returned to a regular drawing habit.  But its true what everyone say, art or creativity can really change your life.

Managing Stress

I don’t know about you but my stress levels seem to peak when I feel I’ve lost control. When there are too many demands flying at me. When I don’t have much time, or things are changing and I feel I’m not keeping up. 

For me, thankfully, this state is usually pretty short lived.  More often than not it’s a few days: where I’ve too much on at work and the pressure gets to me. But I know for lots of people stress really has a negative impact on their lives.  I certainly felt the effects in my working life, as we have been navigating through the pandemic. First, we had to firstly furlough a load of staff. Then, sadly, we had to restructure our business – resulting in major job losses.  So stress is a natural part of our lives but generally an unwelcome part.

Often when I’m feeling like this it is too easy to neglect my art and opt instead for a Netflix box set and a comfy sofa. But when I do take the time to draw or paint I always feel so much better.  It’s a release – I control what I do. I start with a blank page or canvas and I get to make whatever I want. 

Making and Breaking Rules

I don’t have any rules to stick to and there is no wrong or right.  There is also a meditative quality to art.  No matter how many things I have flying through my mind when I draw or paint the noise quietens down.  My mind focuses only on the task at hand and I lose all sense of time. 

I also need to keep reminding myself that there is no risk of failure.  If I do something that messes things up its always possible to bring it back, to turn a screw up into something new and different.  Sometimes this is even when I end up with something I really like.  It frees you up, takes away the fear so you experiment and play more.

A perfect example of this was my 12 days of Christmas challenge. I went down a rabbit hole with the painting getting uglier and uglier. But in the final few days with some drastic action I managed to create a piece I actually like.

Keeping Yourself Positive

I’m not saying everyone with a creative lifestyle or hobby sails through life in a dizzying state of happiness. But since I started art again, I find I focus more on the here and now rather than tomorrow or next week.  I definitely notice more: from the beautiful colour of the sky at sunrise to the shapes and textures of the rocks or sea.  I’m sure some of this is also down to lockdown.  For all the negatives it has had on our social lives and lives in general, slowing down has been a big positive.  But since starting a regular drawing and painting habit I’ve certainly noticed my observation skills have improved.

And taking the time to make art or express yourself however you choose gives you the opportunity to let go.  Let go of the stress, negative thoughts or worries about the future and just be in the moment.  There is also something about giving ourselves permission to just play.  We are all naturally creative, we’ve been equipped with amazing abilities to imagine and dream so we need to embrace this and make the most of it.

So I’d encourage everyone to find a creative outlet.  Something that lets you express what’s unique about you. It’s great to see how many improvements have been made in the last few years in managing mental health. But there needs to be much more done and I’m not alone in thinking that art or crafts can play a big role.

In the Studio This Week…

This week I have been working on two paintings with a much more muted colour palette. The pieces have a strong personal connection for me as they contain fragments of my parents first ever TV licence. I was sorting through some collage papers for works and found that my dad had kept all of his TV licences, perfect for adding a bit of intrigue to an image.

Concertina Books and Muted Tones

So this week another first for me.  After trying lino cut I wanted to find something else I hadn’t tried before.  I spotted a few posts on Instagram of concertina sketchbooks and thought I’d see what I could do working in a different format. 

I didn’t have a concertina format sketchbook to hand so thought a ‘make do’ was needed. Long strips of watercolour paper which could be folded seemed to fit the bill. 

Concertina Sketchbooks

It’s a different format but I liked the idea of playing with structure to create a sense of a journey. They would make fantastic little treasure maps or maybe vertically, represent buildings or towers stretch up into the sky.

I was drawn to this format because I recently completed my inspiration board for CVP (Creative Visionary Programme). It seems to have sparked a load of memories.

One that came flooding back was of my brother and I doing little treasure hunts around the house. My parents would write a hide little clues and we’d rush round trying to find them. The concertina format seemed very fitting.

The Process

To create a feeling of continuous movement, like a walk along a pathway, I started out with ink and a splashy brush made from driftwood and embroidery thread that allowed me to drag ink across the page.  It’s liberating in that you have little control of the ink. But it does create some really interesting marks.  I built up different layers of ink over a few days. This means you get different levels of intensity of colour from pale greys to pitch black.  I also played around with stains created with cold tea.  I love the subtle colour you get from tea when it dries, as it has a very natural feel.

I did consider adding bursts of blue to the piece but I wanted to stick with a limited colour palette.  The black ink against the white paper offers high value contrast. The marks were quite busy – I thought sticking to a limited palette would help avoid the piece becoming too loud.

Once completely dry, I folded the paper. This was not an easy task given its thickness. I finished off with more mark making (charcoal, pencil, granite) and some small pieces of collage. 

As a first time effort they are ok.  I think I could have been bolder with the collage and colours but I do find the format intriguing.  As a viewer it offers you choice. Stand back and you get a sense of a whole piece. Zoom in and you can frame very distinct compositions. 

Limited Colour Palette

I found the experiment so enjoyable I thought I’d try them on more conventional formats.

I do love the unpredictability of ink and the energetic movement it gives. I wish I could achieve this with paint – definitely something to work on.

Learning Something New

Still working on my #the100dayproject, #100daysofcreativeplay and as I headed into days 21 – 30 I decided to change direction.  The first 20 days of the challenge I focused on creating small quick pieces without thinking too much about the decisions I needed to make.  At first using recycled cardboard and then moving into my sketchbook.  My goal was to stop myself worrying too much about how the finished piece would look and focus instead on enjoying the process.  But for the next 10 days my creative play will be using materials and techniques I’ve never used before – lino cut.

Lino Printing

I bought myself a starter kit from Cass Art about 2 years ago, if not longer.  I was living in Leamington Spa at the time and walking to the station in Birmingham city centre to catch a train home.  The slightly longer walk to Moor Street had the advantage not only of a bit more exercise, but also it meant I could have a quick browse in Cass.  I think the kit caught my eye as I’d watched an artist on TV using lino. It was in one of the Sky Landscape or Portrait Artists of the Year programmes so thought what the hell!

It has however, sat in a drawer in the studio since then so longer overdue.

Starting Slowly

Day 1 I kept it really simple, spending most of the time trying out the different blades. But eventually I dived in and created a simple circular pattern. I thought it would work for decorating wrapping paper or creating collage paper and it worked out pretty well.

Day 3, 4 and 5 were a bit of step backwards. I tried out the harder substrate which definitely isn’t as easy to work with as the soft cut material.  I did however managed two designs. A logo I created from my name and a simple floral image. Neither of which really excited me.

Since then I’ve created a few others. A linear pattern which I really like. I also tried the cut out with acrylic paint. I thought it would make for some interesting textured patterns in some of the early stages of a painting. Not a huge success as the paint doesn’t give a smooth covering like the ink but I’ll definitely try it again on some paintings.

I also started some simple picture images. Cutlery, the angel of the north and then a stone like image. 

Overall I loved the last 10 days!  I thought it would take a lot longer to get used to working with lino, but I found it surprisingly easy. It does however take quite a bit of time so haven’t quite managed an image a day.  I’m not sure now whether to keep going with the linocuts or take a bit of break and return to some quick paintings – a decision for later this afternoon.

100 days of Creative Play 11-20

So the act of completing the first 10 days inspired me for the next 10.  Trying not to think – to just go with your instincts and make instant decisions was a lot tougher than I expected. But it is exactly what children do when they play.  So for the last 10 days I took that process and transferred it to my sketchbook. Not thinking too much. Not worrying about what the finished piece will look like.

I went for small studies and a colour palette that I don’t usually choose – ice cream inspired. 

One definition that struck home was: ‘play is the act of letting go of the need to produce something finished’.  Instead it is about just allowing things to unfold in the moment. Responding to what is in front of you and really being in the present. 

So Why Do I Find it so Hard Just to Play?

It got me thinking about why I struggle with play.  At first I thought it was because of a fear that what I created would look ugly. But I think there is a lot more to it. 

As a grown up, free time is such a luxury. The idea of play can feel like a frivolous waste of time.  We’re expected to be either busy or doing something useful.  I feel that pressure when I have a day free to work in my studio and just don’t feel inspired. I beat myself up when I get to the end and haven’t managed to create something I’m happy with.  But everything I read is so positive about the act of play.  It is how artists discover their creative voices. It’s how they acquire new skills, explore and develop. It’s also, and I’m envious of this one, how they achieve a state of fearlessness. This fearlessness allows them to push themselves.  Above all else, according to all the books I’ve read, Play is a State of Mind.

I decided to write down all of my limiting beliefs about play along with a list of positive affirmations. Perhaps this will help me stick to my challenge.

Limiting Beliefs

  1. I simply don’t have time . The time I get to paint or draw is so precious I can’t waste it playing
  2. Play is distracting. I like shiny new things and the act of playing lets me indulge this so I start lots of things without finishing anything. Parents or teachers say “You’ll never be good at anything if you don’t stick to it.” But surely they were wrong?  Through play I learn new things, it sparks ideas and teaches me new techniques.
  3. It is self-indulgent. There are a load of more useful things I could be doing with my time.  Maybe this is partly true. There are a load of things I probably should get round to doing – but why are housework tasks more important?  No one is coming to see us at the moment and play lets me experiment and have fun.

Positives of Play

Play helps me to….

  1. Discover new things. The texture created when washing away a luscious thick layer of paint with a water spray, revealing pops of colour from the layers beneath
  2. Decide what I like and don’t like. It’s a mini adventure that helps me to understand my own tastes.
  3. Connect. You become absorbed in what you’re doing, losing track of time.
  4. Acquire new skills. When you try something for the first time there is no pressure. So you play with materials or techniques to see what happens.
  5. Develop a habit of creative practice. Its fun so you want to do it each day
  6. Unwind. It is calming, almost meditative.
  7. Quieten down my inner critic. Let’s face it we all have one, some even sound like people we know!  Every book I have read reaffirms that nothing stops you moving forward creatively more than the fear of making mistakes.
  8. Build my confidence – through experimenting and playing I gain a greater understanding of paint, brushes and other tools. 

100 Days of Creative Play

In last week’s post I said I was passing on the 100 day project. But having seen so many really inspiring posts I’ve had a change of mind!  I thought, originally, it would be too much commitment. On top of everything else CVP was starting in February. But, having listened to the Art Juice podcast, and spoken (via Instagram) to other artists, I decided to take part.

Selection of my first 10 days

The 100 Day Project

I wasn’t aware of the background to this challenge. I assumed, like many others, it had started on Instagram as that is where you find millions of posts.  But apparently the project was the brain child of Michael Bierut, a graphic designer who started it back in 2007.  The challenge was originally a very personal one.  He bought a copy of the New York Times each day, picked an image and drew a picture of it. He did this for a full year – that’s a hell of a commitment! It started to gain some traction when he incorporated the challenge into his teachings at Yale. From there it was picked up by others and  moved onto Instagram. 

The idea behind it is really simple. You pick a project, you create each day, and you share the output with the hashtag #the100dayproject. 

The challenge normally takes place in April but due to lockdown, this year they kicked off 31st January.  Following the hashtag it is amazing to see the breadth of themes people have selected, everything from collage fodder; to colour studies to self portraits.  And it is a truly global art project with a sense of community as everyone is doing it together.

100 day challenge – mini sketches

Getting Started

I’m not new to the concept of art challenges. A couple of years ago I completed a 100 day challenge which, believe me, is a long time.  Anyone who followed my old sketching blog may remember I did mini portrait sketches. I’m really pleased I completed it, but this time I wanted something I that pushed me a bit more.

Selecting a theme is part of the challenge.  You need to balance having a theme that gives you structure, with the freedom and scope to push it.  So my theme for this year is 100 days of creative play.  A conversation on a podcast inspired me. 100 days is a pretty long period of time to work on a single theme. Given this, you should expect to get bored and frustrated. BUT, out of this,something magical can happen as the boredom forces creativity. 

My theme may be too vague but I’m hoping to break it down into chunks. How? Maybe have 10 days experimenting with collage. 20 days creating textures. Trying new mark making tools, etc.  Anything where I’m trying something I either haven’t tried before or haven’t much experience of.  On the podcast they talked about three motivations: to play, to practice and to produce. I’m definitely in the first two camps.  The important thing is it gives me an anchor and a commitment to create each day.

Importance of Sharing

I’m not sure I want to share images each day, especially as a lot won’t be particularly pretty.  In fact, if I do this well and really push myself to experiment, there should be some absolute failures. But I will share a selection of the outputs, ugly or not each week! 

Knowing I need to photograph and share will make sure I document my progress. It will also help me keep track of what I’ve learned.  But knowing I need to share also gives me a structure , so that I commit.  Apparently, those taking part created some form of end product. A book, a show, a portfolio – a way of showcasing your endeavors and achievements. I’m not sure I’ll end up with that but I do want to keep a record of progress.

Progress So Far

Because I wasn’t intending to take part I started a little bit late. I haven’t spent much time thinking about how to fit this practice into my day. I needed to start out with a very quick playful exercise I know I have time for each day. Although I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the first few days the need for speed has been positive.

For the first 10 days I decided to create mini pieces created from recycled materials. I had to create each piece without really thinking. Going with my gut with a few tears, gluing and slapping on paint. This was different for me. Much faster compared to my normal style of building my work up over time with lots of layers,

It turned out to be harder than I expected but I think it has helped free me up. It has inspired my next 10 days where I’ll move the idea of quick and unthinking into some sketchbook pieces.

Out of Boredom Comes Creativity

So pleased to see Grayson’s Art Club back on TV.  I was chatting with my parents at the weekend about a recent auction of Tony Hart’s work. It made me think broadcasters have missed an opportunity for some great TV – bring back a Tony Hart type programme!  We had Art Attack but it just didn’t really match the quality of the late, great Tony Hart.  I, like many others, tried and failed several times to get a picture into the gallery.  I even have one of his books which I picked up in a second hand book shop recently.

Art on TV

We probably have more art on TV for adults than ever before. Popular series like Landscape Artist of the Year, Portrait Artist of the Year, Grayson’s Art Club. Great one offs from the BBC covering exhibitions like the RAs summer exhibition with Kirsty Wark, Tracey Emin, etc. Some superb shows from James Fox.  I’d always welcome more, but it feels there are two gaps. Where are the art for children programmes? What about something with more of a teaching approach?   The fact Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting” is being re-run is surely evidence that we need more.  It feels some time since The BBC painting contest programme managed to integrate this well with tutors assigned to contestants,

I loved the quote from Philippa Perry – “Out of boredom comes creativity”. The number of posts in my Instagram feed from participants in #the100dayproject suggests everyone is feeling the need not only to create but also to be part of something bigger.  A sense of belonging and shared experience is definitely something I crave.  I’m going to concentrate on CVP in February this year. But definitely one for the plan in 2022.

The Great Big Art Exhibition

I spotted an article last week on Antony Gormley encouraging everyone to take part in the UK’s biggest art exhibition. (Well – one of my cousins sent it to me). If you’re interested you can download an activity pack from FirstSiteThe Great Big Art Exhibition, which was launched by Gormley, is intended to unify and celebrate the UK’s creativity. Famous names in British art will choose a theme every two weeks. Then, participants (i.e. us) will showcases their creations in their windows or gardens.  The suggested theme of animals doesn’t appeal to me – but that’s just for the first two weeks. I’m going to keep an eye on this one and will, at some point, take part. The idea is to create a magical patchwork of creativity right across the UK.

Work in Progress

I’ve been struggling recently with a painting that I started a few weeks ago.  It is at a very ugly stage so no photos just yet.  Inspired by a picture I took of the harbour wall, I made the mistake of sketching out the composition. For some reason, starting with the end in mind never seems to work for me.  I need a ‘just let rip and build up layers’ stage at the beginning before bringing it back.  More successfully, I finished a smaller piece that had been lying, discarded for a few weeks, on the studio floor.

I wanted to create a painting where the predominant colours were red and pink. I tend to shy away from these colours – I think its because its pure colour. And also a little paint sketch of the Angel of the North.

So, all in all, a pretty good week!

Mixing Things Up

Firstly I’d like to thank everyone who messaged me about the #oneofmanypostcard initiative.  I have now packaged up and posted out all 9.  It was a very fair selection – names on scrunched up paper were picked randomly out of a bowl and I’ve had a few lovely messages on Instagram from people who have received their cards.  I just wish I had created a few more, I wasn’t sure how much interest I’d get so was quite overwhelmed by the response.

Making a Change

Last week I decided to try something different with my painting and was struggling a bit with where to start.  I thought I’d try starting in a different place rather than trying to visualise the finished painting. Instead of applying white gesso to the paper I started out with a coating of black acrylic paint. Not the most radical of changes, but it is amazing how odd it is to break with your usual routine.  It throws you off guard and definitely makes you think a lot more.

A Different Starting Point

Staying Positive

Talking to people this week it seems the January Blues have really kicked in.  The news reports showing overworked NHS staff are heart breaking, especially when you still have nutters claiming COVID is a hoax. The flooding that seems to have hit big chunks of the country at a time when people are really struggling, just makes things so much worse. 

But there are also some big positives we need to remind ourselves about. A new administration in the US and finally a woman in office. Infection rates here in the UK dropping – even if the death toll isn’t. And, finally, a very personal one, life has slowed down giving us the opportunity to really appreciate what we have.  So as a sign off from me some snaps of the stunning sunrises I’ve taken recently.