Monday, 17 October 2016

The Magic of Using a Sketch Book

(Sketch book magic unfolding)

I must confess, I am not a person who uses a sketch book on a daily basis.  I am not one of those artists who creates amazing visual keepsakes within the hard bound pages although I very much wish I was.  I am a random sketch book user and yet I am going to try and remedy that to become a more frequent user, because I have discovered that something akin to magic can happen when I use one.

Earlier this year, I spent a few happy weeks creating daily sketches in a lovely A4 Stillman and Birn sketch book, these beautiful books allow the user to dabble with all manner of mixed media, the pages are wonderfully thick and absorbant so you can pretty much throw anything at them and it does not seep through to the other side (Ive used ink, gouache, watercolour etc).  From those pages came an idea, which happened when a few flower doodles inspired a painting.  And it changed the direction of my art completely.

(Magical Garden ~ the change in direction for my painting)

I had been rather stuck for a time, feeling that I was stagnating and becoming increasingly bored with what I was doing.  Some friends and I agreed to do a drawing a day in order to inspire ourselves and one another.  We shared our doings on Instagram, and yet for one reason or another, this daily drawing phase waned, tapered off and finally stopped.

One reason for me was that I was insanely busy creating these amazing new illustrative pieces, the ideas flowed thick and fast which was fabulous after feeling so stuck and lost.  Lately I have been working on some commission pieces, the most recent one I completed was Padstow South Quay, a complete change of scene from those wandering, enchanting floral gardens I'd been creating.  Padstow rather took it out of me, as I wrote about in my last post, and so it was I found myself pottering about in the studio the other day, digging out the sketch book and sitting down with my supplies.

I found a grey fine liner and drew randomly, a jar appeared....some seed heads....feeling inspired now I added some colour, dug out my fabric stash, added some colour swatches and I knew that I was going to turn this sketch into a piece of textile art.  Which I did - Autumn Seed Heads emerged over the next couple of days, and it was a tonic to do something very tactile and free flowing after concentrating so hard on buildings and lots of windows.

(Autumn Seed Heads - Textile Art)

It was after I finished the hand embroidery that I began to realise how important a sketchbook is to me.  As a person who likes to generate art from the energy of an idea and get it onto canvas, this is no small revelation - although I realise that to some of you who already regularly use one, it's obvious.  So here I am.  A sketch book convert of the most excited sort.  I have seen the light, and I am most certainly going to be making a point of working in mine more often.  I am also still going to jump straight into canvases and panels with nothing more than the bright spark of an idea, and the exctied rush of enthusiasm of knowing I'm onto a winning streak - those paintings and artworks are like gold dust and I think it shows in the finished piece.

I think it will be nice to have a visual diary of my ideas, of colours I liked and worked with.  Of something to look over when the well of inspiration has dried up.  I want to have sketch books that are keepsakes, not just rough pencil drawings hurriedly executed, pages torn out and then left to gather dust.  I want to create sketch books that are beautiful to look at, that tell stories of my journey as an artist, to look back over and to see how far I have travelled.

I'm not certain if I will become one of those women who stop and draw in the middle of a town centre - at the moment I am very much a studio based sketcher, but I think I could be portable if needs must...and I think, perhpas I would enjoy it.  I have memories of sketching in a cafe in Prague on a college trip many moons ago, and at the Opera - those drawings evoke more memories than a photograph ever could.

I am also thinking about starting some kind of sketch book club, perhaps online in the new is the mere seed of an idea at the moment, but I was thinking along the lines of a private Facebook group where we can chat and share our sketch book work as we go.  I have much more thinking to do about this but perhaps it might be something you would be interested in joining in with?  Let me know your thoughts!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Labour of Love

(Padstow - new painting)

Great news!  After several weeks of a full on love hate relationship with this painting, I'm happy to say that it is finally finished.
I did this piece as a commission for Milkwood Publishing, and it will be making it's way down to them in the coming few days.  

Some paintings seem to flow and happen as if by magic.  Others, do not.  This one became a journey in that it tested all my limits.  There were moments when I adored it, I was focused and my hand was steady.  I had the patience to add all the little people, and all those windows and then there were days I went down the studio and I sat and looked at it, painted bits in, washed bits out and in all honesty could have happily chucked it over the wall and into the river below.  I may have had a slightly childish tantrum about it all, bashed things about a bit and said dubious and obnoxious things to it.  I may have also ignored it for several days which is actually no bad thing really, it gives you space to think and breathe while you decide what to do next.

I do like a painting that does this though, it challenges me and pushes me to explore both the medium and myself.  How am I resisting or restricting myself?  Why am I creating blocks here?  Why was yeseterday so much fun and today is frustrating and soul destroying?

As an artist it's important to allow growth, to tackle difficult things and learn how to overcome them.  I found the buildings a challenge after spending so many months painting flowers from my imagination.  Suddenly I had moved from a very illustrative, and meditative way of painting to a much more structured and architectural piece - something I havent done in a long time.

But I'm so pleased with the result, I hope you like it too.
(Goodness me, I've got a You Tube channel!)

 Another thing I'm pretty chuffed with is that I made my first ever video - I'm an utter novice at stuff like this, so it was a really big step to take the plunge and plop myself in front of the camera.  It's been fun figuring out how to make small films though, and although I'm certain it's not super polished or slick, I do hope you enjoy it.

I shared this video with my newsletter subscribers a few weeks ago, and plan to share others with them in the coming months which will include tutorials, sketch book journeys and other things that they have asked to see.
This first little clip shows a little glimpse into my studio.

If you would like to be on my mailing list, you can find out more and sign up here.  I send out newsletters once a fortnight, usually on a friday and occasionally will drop an extra email to you with a nice little gift code, or special offer inside it as well!

Right, I must get back to it, I have another Padstow painting to begin - this is a nice one with views over the river to the town in the distance.  I think, after all those windows and roof tiles I'm going to really enjoy it!

Monday, 3 October 2016

When Solitude Turns to Isolation and What I Do When it Happens

So today, I wanted to write about my experience of what it's like to work on your own, for yourself.  I used to have this rose tinted vision that working for yourself would be this 100% amazing dream job, and don't get me wrong, in many ways it absolutely is but I want to tackle the element of loneliness, when your happy bubble of solitude turns into an isolation that I had never anticipated happening as I swanned about being an artist and it all being fabulous.

And it happens.

We are social creatures, we need to be around other people (well, most of us do, I suppose there are always some folks who don't) and I personally find it nourishing, enriching and supportive to have other people around me at times.  However, for the vast majority of the day, when my daughter is away at school and my partner is out at work I am usually very much on my own, left to my own devices.  And this is often good, and I mostly enjoy it - I get tonnes of work done, and pass the time listening to great tunes on my Ipod or Classic FM, depending on which mood I'm in.  I wind up those days feeling euphoric at what I've completed, a feeling of fullness and satisfaction that I've had a good day and I've produced good work.

And sometimes, I don't feel that way.  Sometimes, the loneliness kicks in and it can feel like my body has turned to lead, it seems that I have forgotten how to create stuff and I don't know what to do with myself.

It usually starts with a small knot of feelings in my gut, a little like anxiety - I feel a need to be with people, coupled with an acute sensation of it just being me by myself that day and that that is not going to be ok.  If I don't act on that subtle sensation that is telling me that I need company, I find myself feeling heavier and more unhappy as the day draws on.

So, my fail safe way of coping with these kinds of days is to get out.  I now forcibly remove myself from the house, I take a sketch book or notepad and a fat pencil case full of writing and drawing supplies, and I get myself over to our local cafe where I treat myself to a large mocha or cappucino, and maybe a delicious treat and I squirrel myself away into a cosy corner with my goodies and I settle in for a good hour.
See, most of my friends work in the day, they don't have the flexibility that I have (working for myself) to do this kind of thing or meet up spontaneously.  So, to get my fix of people I put myself in a busy environment where I am around other bodies and you know what, this really helps.  I feel connected, I can hear conversations and maybe music, there is this very soothing buzz of life happening and it tends to always have the desired effect upon me, bringing me back to a place that feels happy and more grounded.

While I'm there, I will fill my notebook with ideas as they come, maybe journal a little of how I'm feeling and perhaps even work on some new sketches.  I will often have a book and spend a little time reading, it all fills up the well and by the time I get home I'm usually ready to roll again and don't mind being by myself so much.

Another option that I take is to go for a walk.  Or I get out on my bike for half an hour.  Sometimes I just need a change of scenery and to raise the endorphins by taking a bit of spontaneous exercise.  I'm lucky in that I'm close to the Trans Peninne Trail which is a great place for bike riding, and also some gorgeous countryside that offers great local walks to really clear the head.

I have also found that by planning out my week every Sunday evening brings me much more focus.  I know what I'm doing and when I need to do it by, and I've discovered that being disciplined as a self employed artist is pretty much essential!  I find the times that I do feel isolated is usually when I haven't remembered to plan my week ahead, or I have blanks in my planner that don't have any structure.  I didn't used to be this organised, but as I've got older it just feels easier and more manageable to plan things a few days in advance.
As well as work stuff, I also make plans to meet up with friends, and make sure weekends are family orientated.  I take a yoga class once a week and when I can, I try and go swimming at our local pool.  So my planner is my magnetic north, it keeps me on track and headed in a good direction.
Being mindful is also a good way to bring myself back into the present moment, when I'm overrun with feelings of being flat, lonely and unmotivated.  I take a few moments to be really conscious about what I'm doing, be it making a cuppa or simply walking.  I also write a list of gratitudes in my journal every night and find that this practice really brings home how much I have to be thankful for, even when I think I've had the crappiest day of the century.

Working for myself is the best job I could imagine, but I know I wouldn't last two minutes without these self support structures in place.  Why not share ways that you overcome feelings of isolation, just add them to the comments below, it would be great to hear from you.

Monday, 26 September 2016

How Autumn Inspires Me

So it's the end of September, already.  I'm feeling Autumn in my bones, and inhaling the scent of it as I walk my daughter to school.  The morning air is damp and cool and there are small yellow and orange leaves in the gutter, like leftover confetti from a carnival.  Our light evenings are dwindling into darkness earlier, and I notice that my flip flops are still in the hallway and need to go back in the cupboard.  I need to dig out warmer things, like cosy boots and warm scarves.  

I let go of summer reluctantly, I didn't want the warmth to leave, the long heady days where the sun shone and it was hot and we went to the beach and life felt free and brilliant.  I didn't want to let go of that and I resisted Autumn, I felt a sort of grief as I tried to reconcile myself to the fact that the season was changing and that was that.  Never more so do I feel a change in the seasons as when Summer departs, yet having to let go of the warmer weather reminds me again to be mindful, to accept change and allow life to flow as it always will.

Acceptance instantly makes things feel easier.

The arrival of Autumn has led to some new colours on my palette.  I walk alot and notice flowers, seedheads and stems, I see structure and colour and although bright it is not 'fresh bright' like you see in May.  These colours are mature, they are deep and warm as they hold the heat of the sun and stories of long days.
I drank in these beautiful colours and used them in my latest painting 'September' which I just recently finished.  I wanted to capture those colours and the feelings of late summer, such a mixture of happy and wistful.  I wanted to paint the sadness of summer leaving us, so a flock of lonely birds migrating  in the sky above those vivid blooms is my nod to saying goodbye.  I painted a robin into the picture too, as I hear his song tinged with melancholy as I work in the studio.  He sits on the wall by the door and I see him through the window and I wonder if he too, feels the change as we do.  I think he does.

My paintings are becoming more emotive and I find myself thoroughly immersed in these floral pieces - have no idea how they are going to unfold.  I begin them with a wisp of an idea, a shape or a colour that I know I must capture and put on canvas.  The rest just happens.
I have an idea bubbling away for a winter piece soon, I can already feel and see the colours that I will use - a brand new palette again to capture the fleeting colour and sensations of our seasons.  I am finding it very medatitive creating these art works, and I really hope that they resonate with you in some way too.
Like many people, this time of year feels like a new beginning for me, almost like New Year where we feel compelled to set new intentions, create new habits, buy new materials and note books, start journalling and dreaming up new ideas.  I like that after the lazy days of summer I am able to find a focus again, I feel industrious and brimming with possibility.
I take care to plan my days now, it is important for me to have a routine and structure or else I am easily led astray and end up meandering, reading books and baking cakes.  I invested in this Happy Planner a few months back, and each Sunday evening I spend a pleasant time filling in the coming week with my plans.  I can't imagine how I lived without one for so long - the addition of washi tape and planner stickers from various sellers on Etsy have made my schedule (especially the chores) look far prettier and easier on the eye.  I'd heartily recommend getting one if you haven't already.  I feel happier knowing that I have some semblence of order in my world, just having things penciled in and knowing what's going on is mighty comforting.
Autumn is a beautiful time of year and I am happily looking forward to crisp walks through colourful leaves, a trip to the coast, amazing sunsets, bonfires, mulled cider and of course cosy nights curled up in front of the fire with family.

Let Autumn inspire you - tell me your favourite ways of enjoying this beautiful season.

J xxx

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A long overdue Hello...

(The Magical Garden)

Is it really May?  Has it really been this long since I wrote a blog post?  It seems so.  This year is meandering and winding along in its own sweet way, it seems a time of growing and learning and slowing down to appreciate and accept things.

I don't know if I mentioned it but I had a tricky few months where I didn't want to paint.  I'd go as far as to say that I didn't know what to do with myself at all, I had ground to something of a full stop and my mind was full of questions and panic.

If I don't do this, then what?

I had become tired of my style, tired of painting the same thing.  I was fed up of feeling flat and lifeless, and truth be told I was also scared.  I realised that I had let my work define me, I had given myself a label and didn't know what to do without it.  
So, I let myself wander a bit.  I walked around with those lost feelings and wondered how to heal them, and how to find my way again.  In the end, I just gave in and let go.  What will be, will be.

One day, I went down to my studio, I unlocked the door and wandered over to my desk.  I didn't have a clue what I was going to do.  I was an empty vessel of possibility, and surprisingly this felt ok.  I squeezed out some paint, filled up my jam jar with fresh water and took out a wooden panel.  And then I sat there for a while, just thinking.

(The beginnings of the Magical Garden)

I decided not to inspire myself online.  I decided not to do what I had always done (which was lose hours of my life on Pinterest, blogs and websites being inspired), but just sit there and let it flow.  And like some celestial miracle from above, that is what happened.  I kid you not, I just let the brush do the talking and watched in something akin to astonishment as I began to fill that panel with colour, and then began to fill it with blooms and flowers working right to left (which in itself is strange, as I always work left to right across a canvas).  I felt the stirrings of something exciting happening.  I utterly lost myself in that painting and the hours melted away.  It was fortuitous that I happened to look at the clock on the studio wall to discover it was slightly past three in the afternoon, and I needed to be collecting my daughter from school, or I fear I may well have sat there painting until bedtime.

I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened in my studio.  I went in the next day and sat for a while, looking at what I had done before picking up the brush and with no effort at all filling the spaces with colour and life.  I didn't have to think, it appeared as if someone else were doing the work and I were merely a bystander.

And so, the Magical Garden was created.  It embodied the quiet mystery of those days in my studio where magic had actually happened.  People seemed to like it very much, and yet I couldn't explain where it had come from, this image, this change of style from seawashed beaches to enchanted gardens twinkling with fairy lights.

But I liked it.

And since then, I have worked on a few more like it.  And just like the first one, they seem to happen all by themselves, my brushes take on a life of their own and breathe their magic into the artwork.  I sit there, and let it come.  I know this may seem slightly woo-woo to some of you reading this, but it's the best way I can explain it to you.

(A corner of Twilight Magic)


Some of these works are now living in happy new homes, and limited editions are being enjoyed in various homes around the globe.  Newer pieces are with a publishing company and are being considered as art prints and cards.  I feel astonished and amazed.  And in the middle of this amazement, I am conscious that this is what happens when we let it be, when we just surrender into the moment and let the magic come.  We can't force it, we can't be anyone else and if we just stop and pause, be mindful and let the panic and the fear ebb comes.

(a work in progress)

This art journey of mine ties in with other things I've been experiencing of late.  As I move forward into my early forties I notice subtle changes.  I seem to have gained some extra weight which has crept on insidiously without me noticing, and have been prone to some roller coaster mood swings and low times.  These have been hard to bear at times, and I have felt at a loss, even a sense of grief as I realised I needed to let go of certain things in order to move forward.  I struggled to accept my expanding waistline and would look on in horror as yet another outfit refused to fit.  It seems, as some of you will wisely know, to be just a part of getting a bit older.  I have done my homework though, and I understand this phase much better now, I'm no longer 25 and cannot eat pudding and cake as often as I might like.  It seems one needs to adhere to the idea of smaller portions but also to be mindful that nothing is prohibited.  I have found that this way works for me far better than any quick fix diet, and have been gradually losing a few of those unwanted pounds while at the same time accepting the new curvier version of myself and investing in a few bits of clothing that actually fit which feels great!

  I have also found a wonderful herbalist who I see every few weeks and I feel much more relaxed and happy.  I am devouring many healing books (Susun Weed and Marilyn Glenville) and working with mindfulness CDs (try Sandy C Newbigging, his recordings and books are amazing) as well as practising it in day to day life.  I have started to go on bike rides along the trans Pennine trail, a beautiful car free route through countryside and woodland which is close to my home, and I continue with my yoga and trying to eat healthier (well, most of the time!)  I like to think that I am supporting my mind, body and soul as well as I can by doing these new things, and it all feels postitive. 
There are still some days which are tough, but as I accumulate a new tool kit to help me navigate this part of my life, I feel stronger and better able to understand what I really need, to be healthy and well.

(Enchanted Cove)

I look forward to sharing more new art work with you all soon.  I am also pleased to tell you that Twilight Magic will soon be available in the gallery shop as a limited edition print (in a run of 25).  Why not sign up to my mailing list to find out when they are here? 

Thanks so much for reading.

Have a beautiful day.
Julia x


Monday, 18 January 2016

Paint, Draw, Create

I am a soul who is very much affected by the weather, today is a day that makes me feel my surroundings are unbearable - a dreary fog, leftover patches of ice and snow and sad looking trees, dripping water from their bare brown branches.  I am trying hard to see beyond the brown and grey tones of the day and notice the birds who are visiting, and the new buds that are appearing, not to mention an early abundance of spring bulbs peeking out in my pots, delicious and succulent strong green shoots full of promise and hope.

So, my daily challenge is proving to be a huge tonic as it takes my mind away from the awful weather outside, and I can lose myself in my imagination where colour and magic lurks.  It is a fabulous distraction, this daily half an hour is both medicinal and productive in ways I hadn't imagined.  It is allowing me a space to play, away from the more serious business of producing art for licensing companies and to sell on my website, and for galleries and so forth.  It is a pocket of time where I get to explore ideas that would normally be forgotten, to put them onto paper, to see what happens when I play with gouache or ink.  Some of the pieces have surprised me - I've been rather excited by what I've produced.  Other days, when its not so easy to get inspired and I sit looking at a white piece of paper in my book it is harder yet still I draw....something.

I am using everyday objects as a starting point - a bottle of Henderson's relish was one, a blackbird in the garden was another.

I am discovering a like of typographical art, and I am absolutely in love with gouache paint - why haven't I tried this before?  I am now a convert, loving the buttery paint that dries to a chalky opaque finish which I can draw over in ink or felt pen.  It is opening up new horizons for my work.  I can see how my #paintdrawcreate366 daily art pieces are moving me in new directions, teaching me to try new things, and it feels good. Exciting.

These aren't polished, finished pieces and some of them I felt a little awkward about sharing on Instagram.  Having being used to tidying everything up in photoshop after working hard to perfect a piece, this is a new one on me in a way, laying bare the bones of a piece of work as it is, paint sloppily going over the edges, the writing not quite fitting in the space, sloping upwards, colours bleeding....all the little flaws that are suddenly just part of the piece.  And me and the girls decided to brave it, to share the crappy pieces along with the ones we really liked.  It's like running down the street in your underwear, you feel a little exposed and embarressed that people are seeing it.

If you want to join us, you can share your pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #paintdrawcreate66.  You will find me trying my best to post daily alongside Caroline Rose Art, Marna Lunt and Kate Brazier, Artist.

Explore. Create. Join in.

Julia x

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

New year, new habits


I have had a strong feeling for a while that I need to try a new way of living my life.  It has felt kind of dull, static, and in need of a change.  I am not really one for new year resolution's as such, as they are doomed to failure as the expectations are often too high, but I can manage a few new habits that I can work on each day, gentle changes that I can incorporate into my life to make it feel happier and fuller.

I spent much of 2015 procrastinating and feeling wistful for something, I know not what exactly...just a feeling that there had to be more to it all, and in the midst of feeling like this I stopped looking after myself, choosing to stuff these unpleasant feelings down with food and so I ended the year much heavier than I have ever been, feeling sluggish, with poor skin and stomach aches and feeling worn out from the struggle with fluctuating hormones, migraines and all the other stuff being a 40 odd year old woman can bring.

Reading up on these things has given me greater clarity and I felt relieved to know I wasn't going mad, it was all perfectly normal for me to feel like making changes and it's not just me that feels like this.  Phew.
I have started taking some vitamins to support my body, as well as flaxseed oil to help keep my omega 3s levels happy.  A vitamin D spray was also purchased in an attempt to stave off the winter blues which has been something that happens every winter in memory to me.  I am not a person who enjoys the dark, cold climate, especially this bloody awful misty, wet and soggy weather we have been experiencing here in Yorkshire.

So January dawned, a bright, sparkly new year full of possibility.  It felt like a good time to take stock, to decide what to do next, and have some kind of direction rather than wandering through life like a car with a broken sat-nav.

My first quest was to become healthier again, to start eating better and exercising every day.  Yes, that's right. Every day.  I am very much an all or nothing person so it made sense to me to embrace this and create daily goals for myself.  So I set out to do yoga at home (check out Yoga with Adriane on You Tube), or take a walk at lunch time, maybe some resistance work with my kettle bells or a good workout with a new Davina McCall DVD.  Just half an hour to an hour every day. Totally do-able if I commit to it and allow for it to be a part of my day rather than an added extra that I try to squeeze in somewhere. 

The second thing was to paint every day.

I have been following August Wren over on Facebook and through her Instagram and blog for a while now, and she is a most inspiring soul.  A recent post she wrote could have been written by me, it was remarkable how similar we are both feeling about things! 
So, I am joining her with a painting a day, and some friends and I have also started our own hashtag #paintdrawcreate366 for this year as a way to be accountable for getting this done.  It seems much easier to blag off if there is only you to answer to, but if you have friends who are doing it too then you don't want to let them down, you get on with it to prove to yourself and to them that you won't give up here.
If you like, you can join us.  It doesn't matter what you do - paint, draw, sew, knit, if its creative - do it - and share pics of your makes with us on Instagram using the hashtag #paintdrawcreate366.  Already there are a few people adding their art to the stream, and it's good to have a group of people to follow as it's also very inspiring watching them progress.

The third thing is, to write.

Two years ago this February, I was away in north Norfolk for a few days, and I had this absolute gem of an idea for a story.
I never wrote it.
Two years later, and that story is still in my head, except, it isn't because I forgot most of the plot and moved on to different stories that I still haven't written.
I have a deep desire to write a book, a good story book.  This year, I am making daily writing time - if it's just ten minutes, or an hour it doesn't matter.  I am writing in my journal, on my blog, short creative writing pieces on my laptop.  It's all good practice and with each day I hope I will get a bit better at it, and all the ramblings might actually lead somewhere.

It feels good to feel positive again, to have a focus each day.  Almost like a school timetable I am structuring my days to accomodate these pleasing pursuits, discarding things that no longer fit in or work for me, and including ones that do.  I am still painting, I am still working and illlustrating but I am also doing other stuff that I had forgotten I enjoyed so much.

Your life, your choices.

Happy 2016.
Julia x

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