Tag Archives: art

The Friday Review No. 4: Remembering Stillness and Forgetting Perfectionism

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Painting by Martin Battye FRSA, and my own inept reflection!

This week has been about catching my tail.

You know those moments where you come out of a period of frantic activity and realise that the house is a tip, and so is your head?  Suddenly you find yourself coming in to land in what you think is home, but which turns out to feel like a strangely alien place.

So I’ve been sitting still.  Listening to the birds outside the window.  Doing self-care things, like going to therapy appointments, meditating, remembering how to do the down dog asana (though in my, case, very badly), journaling, and indulging my muse.

I took myself off on an artist date.  Not to a gallery or the movies.  I went for an hour-long wallow at the library.  I love our library.  Its huge.  I always feel like I’m in a sweetie shop with an unlimited budget.  Sometimes I go in there, and I can’t see anything I want to bring home.  Other times, such as this one, there are so many books I want to take home and cuddle that I just can’t decide.  Well, you can only read so many words in the three week loan period, and I figure the ones I like will pop up again soon enough.  I came home with six, including two art books which I hope will help me to get drawing again.

The choice of art books was partly prompted by a dear friend, Martin Battye, painter and raconteur, Fellow of the Royal Academy and my husband’s cricket club.  He lent me a few of his old sketch books a while ago, as I wanted to write a blog post about his creative process, thinking his images might inspire you, dear reader, as much as they do me.  Then Life happened, and the sketchbooks stayed patiently waiting on my desk in a plastic carrier bag for the time when Life would get out of the way, and I would remember I had a blog!  This week, Martin needed his sketch books back, and I felt awful, of course, for neglecting my promise to him, and his kindness in lending me his treasure trove.  I looked through the pages and was once more dazzled by the obvious fact his work illustrates:

It’s a sketch book.  That means it is a work place.  A place to try things out.  You don’t have to get it perfect every time.  Or, as artist and illustrator Cliff Wright puts it so brilliantly:

‘Drawing is a great medium for experimentation because nothing is set in stone – you can always do another drawing if you don’t like the first one.’

Cliff Wright, The Magic of Drawing: Bring your Vision to Life on the Page, David & Charles Ltd 2008

This has been a revelation to me, a victim of perfectionism all my life.  Even as a kid, I struggled with the idea that I could make a mess and get it wrong and practice till I was happy with the end result.  Somewhere along the line, the idea of playing, and of practicing something to get the hang of it, got lost.  It had to be perfect first time.  Which is, I suppose, why I eventually stopped making art altogether.

Martin’s sketchbooks, the sketchbooks of a man I think of as a ‘proper’ artist, show that making rough sketches, making a mess, scrabbling about to find the right line, are what sketchbooks are all about.  Which makes it alright for me to do the same, somehow.

I’m grateful to Martin for his support and generosity in sharing his work with me, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the precious images from his sketchbooks with you soon.  In the meantime I’m taking this crucial revelation about perfectionism into the coming days, hoping it will sink in permanently this time, and allow me to try stuff out, experiment, get it wrong.  Because that is how you learn.

Happy Creating,

EF

Sometimes I forget

paintbox

You may think things are quiet here at Evenlode’s Friend.

Well, I suppose they are, on the website at least.  Not inside my head, however.  Not inside my life.

I haven’t been writing much here lately because, well, I’m going through another growing phase.  By which I mean, the shit really hit the fan again.

Sometimes you need to take time off for your life.  Sometimes you need to remember to take care of yourself.  And thats what I’m doing at the moment.  Intensively taking care of myself, and Husband, who was recently diagnosed with coeliac disease, almost a year since he was told he had diabetes.  This, along with coping with dementia caring, and my own health issues, has rather forced my hand.

Sometimes you need to take the time to devote everything you have to healing.

And the really odd thing is that this morning, I was reading an article about creative blocks (which sadly now, I just can’t find) and I thought:

I’ve forgotten how to do this.

I’ve been so focussed on healing my life that I’ve forgotten my creativity.  I’ve been so immersed in studying nutrition and recipe books, delving into spirituality and psychology, chanting mantras and ploughing through academic papers on brain degeneration in Alzheimers patients, that somewhere along the line, I’ve forgotten how to write.

Forgotten how to create.

Something new.  Something unique.  Something mine.

A creation that is truly of my soul.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten.  I still tell myself stories at night as I fall asleep.  The stories of love and redemption that comfort me in the midst of the storm, enough to enable me to believe that there is something good at the other end of all this.  Because I’m an old romantic at heart.  Because I believe that there has to be hope.  Because I believe that a hug makes everything better.  Even if its only a hug in a story.

But holding a pen?  A crayon?  Conjuring the contents of a new character’s pocket or handbag? Wondering why a character might take a tennis racket on a train trip to Switzerland in 1947?

Where did that go?

Cue that slightly dazed feeling that something is missing, like a limb, but you can’t quite work out where is has gone, or how, or even when.

I know that what I am doing right now is deeply necessary to my future wellbeing, and that of Husband.  I know I need to step up to the challenges that face me.  I need to delve deeply into my Unravelling.

But I don’t want to do what I did this morning, and sit there, staring at a photo of coloured pencils on a blog post, and feel a yearning that took my breath away.  Somewhere in all this, there has to be space to create.

Sometimes, I forget.

But from now on, I intend to remember.

Happy creating,

EF

Be Open. Don’t Try So Hard.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay, which I am yearning for dreadfully at the moment.

Lately, I keep coming back to the same thought:

Be present.  Turn Up.  Be still and open.  Don’t try so hard.

I was watching Jamie Ridler’s morning vlog, in which she talked about how people strive so hard to find their Life Purpose.  We make such a BIG DEAL out of it.

What if we just let it happen?

I’m not saying you can just expect your art to pop up out of nowhere.  You have to be present, make yourself ready.

You do your core practises.  Your morning pages.  Your writing exercises. Your artist dates.  Your scales or your practise sketches.  Your barre exercises.  You make sure that you are ready when the inspiration comes.

When I used to read about writers who sat down at their desks in the morning and stayed there for an alotted number of hours, regardless of whether the work came or not, I used to think they were mad.  It seems like working too hard. It seems like self-punishment.

Maybe you don’t just have to sit at your desk.

Maybe you can cultivate a mindset of being open.  Where ever you are, and whatever you are doing.

Maybe we are all trying too hard.

Forcing it just doesn’t work.  Every writer who has ever been blocked knows that.  But if you keep up the practises, the ideas come.  They come because your mind is constantly in a place where it is curious and open, and like a lamp in the darkness, it attracts the fluttering moths of inspiration.

So keep her steady as she goes.  Turn up for your daily creative habits.  Relax into them, and don’t panic.

The work will come.

Happy Creating,

EF

Losing myself amongst the ‘Woolves’

Virginia Woolf as a young woman.  I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

Virginia Woolf as a young woman. I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

So I spent Monday in London, escorted by my wonderful fangrrrl niece Amelia, at the ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  And it was wonderful.

We saw innumerable portraits and photographs, but I think the personal papers were the most moving.  There were pages from her diary describing the bombing of Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Tavistock Square home in October 1940, the original manuscript of ‘A Room of One’s Own’, love letters from Leonard written before their marriage,  and most moving of all, the little note she left for him when she set out to drown herself in the River Ouse in 1941.

One of the things that particularly struck me was that Woolf bound all her own notebooks and manuscripts, having taken bookbinding lessons in her teenage years as some kind of therapy for her mental illness.  The result was that she could make the perfect notebook for her own needs – which is, for a stationery addict like me, absolute nirvana.  Her books are big, too, slightly larger than A4, leaving plenty of space for her to explore her ideas.

Another interesting detail for me was that the page from her diary about the bombing had no crossings out on it at all.  My diary is a veritable Somme of scribblings-out, but she wrote a stream of consciousness with a self-assurance that seems absolute.  She had no doubts about what she was trying to convey.

The original copies of her books, published by the Hogarth Press, which she ran with her husband, still with their book jackets designed by her sister Vanessa Bell, look crisp and radical even now.  Amelia (a bookseller) and I both commented on the fact that the many editions of the novels for sale in the gallery shop had an assortment of different covers, none of which were so attractive, expressive, and frankly Modern-looking, as the originals.

Woolf is my writing hero for so many reasons.  She battled mental and physical illness, misogyny, and childhood sexual abuse to become one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, reinventing the novel form in a way that would be emulated and built upon in succeeding decades.  She was self-educated, too, and could read Greek and Latin, despite the fact that her parents refused to send her to school as they did her brothers, a fact she railed against.

She is often criticised for being classist and racist, but I would argue that she was a product of her time, and it is to her credit that she did so much to counteract the snobbery and distrust of the working classes, which she inherited from her social millieu, through her political work.

Virginia Woolf was a great writer and feminist, a patron of the visual and applied arts, and a creative giant,  as well as a truly great human being who overcame enormous adversity to achieve what she did.  If you cannot get on with her novels, I wouldn’t judge you, but I urge you to dip into her enlightening and often witty diaries for inspiration on how to live a creative life despite so many difficulties.

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Gardens and Gardening

Ickworth Garden Temple - take a moment to reflect

Ickworth Garden Temple

(WARNING: photo-heavy post!)

You think gardening is for oldies, don’t you?

Not so.

Go and visit a big garden in your area, a park, a stately home if you have one nearby.  As you wander round, take the time to look at the flowers, plants and trees.  Take the time to appreciate the long vistas the designers have laid out for you to enjoy.  Think about why each plant has been positioned exactly there in the scheme.

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

Who has walked this path before you?  What is their story?  Read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ if you can’t think of something better, or watch ‘Downton Abbey’ to clue you in to what might have happened in a garden like this, the secret assignations between the lady of the house and the gamekeeper, the Lord and the scullery maid, or the married gentry who came to visit for shooting weekends in winter, eager to continue their private affairs without their spouses knowing, stealing away into the shady nooks of the different garden ‘rooms’.

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk - who might have hidden here?

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk – who might have hidden here?

As for public parks, well, imagine all the spies who have met their KGB handlers by the duck pond, the mothers who have pushed their prams through the rose beds and contemplated running away from loveless marriages, the children who have imagined faeries and elves in the trees.

If writing is not your thing, you only have to look at what Monet did with his garden at Giverny to see that gardens can be an endless source of inspiration for visual artists of all kinds.  Maybe your garden flowers could inspire a colourful quilt or embroidery.  There is so much beauty in your back garden and local park – all you need to do is use your eyes.

arbour and urn cropWhat about getting your fingers in the soil yourself?  Gardening is a true art form.  It allows you to create a complete world within the four hedges of your back yard.  You might prefer growing vegetables to flowers, in which case, google ‘potager kitchen gardens’ to see how amazing kitchen gardens can be.

Roses in my own garden.

Roses in my own garden.

There is nothing like actually getting down to business with the mulch and seeds.  Yes, it is often hard work, and it takes time and patience, but it is so incredibly rewarding, creative and satisfying.  Even if you just have a tiny balcony or window ledge, you can fill it with pots of colourful bedding plants and grow-your-own lettuce varieties.  Go to any Mediterranean village, and you’ll see what marvels of gardening can be achieved with a few old olive oil cans, some white and blue paint, and some bright geraniums!

And once the hard work is done, you can get out your deck chair, and muse.  And then maybe paint a picture or write a story about your green empire.

Happy creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Every Moment

cropped rosesEvery moment is a new opportunity.

Don’t think about all the books you haven’t written yet.  All canvases you haven’t filled, the dances you haven’t danced, yet.

With every new breath, you have an opportunity to DO DIFFERENT.

Didn’t write your diary yesterday?  Do it now.

Didn’t do your writing exercise or sketch.  Do it now.

There will always be an excuse.  Why listen to it?

Every moment is an opportunity to change what you do.  Its a choice.  Every waking moment.  You can choose to keep on keeping on, doing the same old same old, thinking the same old thoughts, being a victim, blaming other people because you never made the time to learn the piano or whatever.

Or you can choose to live the life you want to live RIGHT NOW.

If the life you want to live involves living in a villa on a Greek island painting huge abstract canvases, (confession: this is my dream retirement) and maybe you can’t run away to the sun just now, well, just get some paper out of the photocopier and some coloured pencils or pens and make some colours on the page.  Be the change you want to see.

You can be the person you always wanted to be RIGHT NOW.

You have a choice RIGHT NOW.

Be your own hero.

Choose now. 

Make your choice and be it.

Happy Creating,

EF

Its Never Too Late…

Whenever I see an article in the paper about some young person who has won an important first novel award, or got a massive advance on their first book, I have a mini meltdown.  Its not that I would take their achievement away from them.  Its just that I am now 46, and still struggling to finish a book that I am happy enough with to publish.

But how old is too old?

I could probably quote a dozen examples of authors who didn’t publish their first book until they were in their 60s or 70s.  There are always the exceptions.  I keep telling myself that its never too late to fulfil the dream of that first novel I wrote at the age of 16.  But you have to really understand the fact in your heart, as well as in  head.

Let me tell you a little story about fulfilling your dreams at any age.

The other day I went to my first Masked Ball.  I’m not a dancer by any stretch of the imagination, but we had been invited to go by friends who are.  It was an event run by the dancing school our friends attend, and as part of the entertainment, several of the school’s students danced exhibition dances.  To uproarious applause, there were paso dobles and waltzes and tangos.  (And there were lots of sparkles too, and I just love sparkles!)

Marvellous.

And then a tiny little old lady in a lacy top and a bow in her hair got up, and danced the foxtrot with her lady teacher.  And it was lovely.  She got the biggest round of applause of the night.

Then the evening’s compere told us about her.  How she had fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition recently by dancing in the British Ballroom Championships at the legendary Tower Ballroom in Blackpool.

Turns out, this lady, who reminded me a great deal of Mrs Pepperpot (if you remember her), was 86.

Eighty-six years old and still ballroom dancing.  Competitively.  Eighty-six years old and still pursuing her creativity.  Eight-six years old and still fulfilling her dreams.

How old is too old?

Ask me when I get to 87.

Happy Creating,

EF