Thursday, 22 December 2016

After the Longest Day

I wanted to write something uplifting to mark the solstice yesterday, this highest point of the year in the southern hemisphere, but I haven’t been able. 

2016 has been a very challenging year for various reasons, and though I am proud of myself for continuing to post here, and I have achieved much, I have also come to realise that there are so many other things that I need to work on too—not least my health, which has been sliding downhill for several months.  

Thus, I will be taking a short break from blogging to enjoy what I can of the remainder of the year, to rest, to work on some creative goals I have fallen behind with, and to read as much as I can through the hot and lazy days of summer (including my one concession to the festive season, Jeanette Winterson’s latest book, Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 days). 

A page from Christmas Days
In the meantime, here are some of my offerings that I am most proud of:

My Beginning

An exploration of one powerful, and strangely beautiful, bird, and how fire and water are kindred: Fire in the Belly of Vulture.

The many beauties of autumn: Autumn's Gifts.

A poem of green union: Tree Woman.

A post for today’s opposite, the winter solstice: Wintersong.

A piece about creativity and illness that surprised me with its popularity: A Relationship with Illness.

A reminder that anything, even not being able to write, can be the subject of writing: Being the Mountain.

A meditation on darkness, which I got such a kick out of writing: Endarkenment.

And a call for new stories, so that the Earth can be saved: Telling the New Stories.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read, and to all my commenters. I wish you an enjoyable festive season, whichever way you do or don’t celebrate it.

I will be back some time in the new year.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Map of Myself

I kept a diary at the time. It was the only way to keep track of all the changes inside me. Emotions were squirming like worms, weaving themselves into new forms in the fibres of my being. Heartstrings were tangling and untangling, growing out from my body and grasping hold of things out in the world. New feelings were surging through me. Writing things down was the only way to make sense of things, to avoid confusion. 

Each evening I would document the events of the day, and then bring everything into focus. If I had not done this I am sure I would have drowned, drowned under the weight of the new sensations and ideas. 

It was as if I had to create a map of myself, and each day different sections of it would be drawn into clearer focus. Here is a mountainous region, forested, with snow-capped peaks and hidden, overgrown temples. There is a desert region, pocked with oases. There are the whale roads of the ocean, and HERE BE DRAGONS!

It was, I suppose you could say, a diary of discovery. I was the explorer of myself, and what greater expedition could be undertaken than an inner one, into the uncharted realms within.

The diary was a map which helped me to find my way, to avoid becoming lost within myself. Each day I added to my knowledge and found new paths to traverse. Each day there was a new landscape to behold, a new vista was lit up with dawn or faded into obscurity with dusk. Each day was an adventure.

(A piece developed from a Writers’ Group prompt from a year ago, using a first line taken at random from a book.)

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Warriors Are Gathering

From my differing awareness, I sense something that you may not yet. Especially amongst artists … resistance is growing. Consciousness is on the move. Something is at work in the world: a general recognition of a crisis of the spirit, of the banal and the shoddy, in human affairs. It is universal, and it must be met. Recently, an Australian Aboriginal shaman warned me: “The Great Serpent has woken. Jarapiri stirs. The earth shakes. And the warriors are gathering.” (The Voice That Thunders: Essays and Lectures, The Harvill Press: London, 1997, pp. 37–38)

Alan Garner said this in his lecture, ‘Aback of Beyond’, twenty years ago, but it seems utterly pertinent now.

The earth is shaking, changing far too fast, dying, and we must stand firm and resist the destroyers if we are to survive. We must outlast the destruction with our creativity.

My last post was about the importance of art, how if we tell new stories, the right stories, we can change, perhaps even save, the world.

This is what I want to do with my writing, and art too. Yet right now I am not well enough to do much at all, let alone that momentous work. I want to be one of the gathering warriors, ready to fight for the Earth, yet I do not have the energy, and without the energy, I do not even have the will. 

Many of the things I have written this year have been ‘aspirational’, in the sense that they are reminders to myself of what I need to be doing, what my life/creative/spiritual goals should be. Though I may not be able to work on those things as well as I would like at the moment, they are what I am always striving to move towards. 

I have many ideas, yet simply cannot manifest them, and it is frustrating to feel so powerless, so fatigued of body and befuddled of mind; though I do not blame myself. The illness I live with is my constant companion, and it can be oh-so-fickle.

What has become clear is that I need to bring my focus back to my health, to make some changes to how I live, for I cannot function or feel right within myself unless I have at least a rudimentary level of wellness. Once I have that, then, then, I will be able to work on becoming the warrior woman I want to be, the writer, the artist.

In the meantime, I stand with all the other wild and creative warriors who are telling the new stories, making art for the Earth, gathering together as one to protect all life.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Telling the New Stories

I wrote most of what follows several weeks ago, originally as part of my post about Jeanette Winterson and the importance of reading, This Strange Agency of the Soul. Yet I decided that post was becoming too long and unwieldy. There were things in it that were of great importance, but that I wasn’t yet ready to say. Now, after some further thought, I think I am ready. Though all this can ever be is incomplete.

Jeanette Winterson has written: ‘I do not believe that art (all art) and beauty are ever separate, nor do I believe that either art or beauty are optional in a sane society’ (1). I fancy this says a lot about the collective psychological state of our culture, which seems to be getting uglier and more insane by the day (though beauty still shines out, if you know where to look). She goes on to say:

If the arts did not exist, at every moment, someone would begin to create them, in song, out of dust and mud, and although the artefacts might be destroyed, the energy that creates them is not destroyed. If, in the comfortable West, we have chosen to treat such energies with scepticism and contempt, then so much the worse for us. Art is not a little bit of evolution that late-twentieth-century city dwellers can safely do without. Strictly, art does not belong to our evolutionary pattern at all. It has no biological necessity. Time taken up with it was time lost to hunting, gathering, mating, exploring, building, surviving, thriving. Odd then, that when routine physical threats to ourselves and our kind are no longer a reality, we say we have no time for art.

Paleolithic cave paintings, Sierra Madrona, Ciudad, Spain (Wikimedia Commons)
If we say that art, all art is not longer relevant to our lives, then we might at least risk the question ‘What has happened to our lives?’ The usual question, ‘What has happened to art?’ is too easy an escape route. (2)

What has happened to our lives?

Humans tell stories. It is one of the things that we cannot help but do, in order to make sense of the world; and those stories, whether we are aware of it or not, actually create the world, influencing the ways in which we live, and even how we think, perceive and relate to the world. Yet, something has gone terribly wrong, for we are teetering on the edge of global destruction—climate change, mass species loss, never-ending violence, political and corporate corruption and greed, and so on and so on. Therefore, it seems fair to say that at some point in the past, something went awry with our stories.

The founders of The Dark Mountain Project, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, have written that we have been ‘led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves—above all, by the story of civilisation’ (3)—namely, by the myths of progress, of our separation from nature, and of human centrality and supremacy. We are destroying the Earth, yet many people seem to think it is our destiny, as humans, to do so, because they believe in these ‘myths’.

The word ‘myth’, in this context, means a widely held but false belief or idea. It is not used in the sense that Alan Garner means when he describes myth as ‘a complex of story that, for various reasons, human beings see as demonstrations of the inner cause of the universe and of human life’ (4). Those myths are quite a different thing, necessary and valuable. Indeed, those myths provide us with a fertile soil from which our new stories can be grown. 

Thus, we need to start telling new stories. Stories that (re)connect us with the wild world once more, make us part of nature, humbly enmeshed with all other beings. After all, the words human, humble, and humus are etymologically related. We are literally creatures of the earth, and must show deference to Nature.

Kingsnorth and Hine say, 

writers, artists, poets and storytellers of all kinds have a critical role to play. Creativity remains the most uncontrollable of human forces: without it, the project of civilisation is inconceivable, yet no part of life remains so untamed and undomesticated. Words and images can change minds, hearts, even the course of history. (5)

So, if we change the stories we are telling, we can change the world. Art can truly be that powerful.

This is one of the reasons why I write as I do, about the subjects I do. I want to write myself back into relationship with the natural world. For if I begin with the imagination, writing of rabbit-girls and bird-women, green-thumbed gardeners and wise old women, then perhaps all that weedy wildness will begin to spill over into my everyday life. At the very least, I want to change my world. 

It is why I read as I do too. Mainstream books, for the most part, do not interest me. I want wildness, myth, magic, beauty; writing that challenges, that inspires. I don’t just want entertainment; I want to step outside of time, be shown alternative ways to live and be (including nonhuman ways), and to nourish my soul in the process. As Ursula Le Guin puts it, ‘I want to recognise something I never saw before’ (6), for transfiguring visions to leap off the page and into my heart.

And maybe art doesn’t just nourish our souls. Maybe it nourishes Earth’s soul too (after all, we are all small parts of that larger, encompassing soul). All the more reason to read (widely and wildly), to make art, and to daydream, because these untamed, timeless activities are a rebellion against the forces of civilisation that sneer at stories, at art, at dreams, soul and Spirit, and that have brought us to the brink of extinction. ‘The soul, after all, is our inner wildness’ (7), the complement to the outer wildness of nature, and we need both to survive. Therefore we must be mindful to feed our souls well.

So let’s read and write, paint and sculpt, sing and dance. Let’s uncivilise our souls, and tell the new stories that will create the new world we so sorely need. We might just save everything in the process.

The two photos above (with a little creative editing from me) are pages from the most recent Dark Mountain book, Issue 10: Uncivilised Poetics, showing billboard art by Robert Montgomery. You can see more of his work here:

1. Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage: London, 1995, p. 5
2. ibid, pp. 20–21
3. Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, 2009, p. 10—you can read the whole thing here:
4. Alan Garner, The Voice That Thunders: Essays and Lectures, The Harvill Press: London, 1997, p. 27
5. Kingsnorth & Hine, pp. 10–11
6. Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, Shambhala: Boston, 2004, p. 268
7. Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and the Psyche, New World Library: Novato, California, 2003, p. 15

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Unfamiliar Subjects

One of the prompts we tried out at my writers’ group earlier this year was to write about an unfamiliar subject, to consider something outside of our comfort zones. I found this very difficult. If I’d had more time to think about it I may have done things differently; but the objective with prompts is to work with whatever ideas come up in the moment. Therefore, my way of exploring the unfamiliar was to write about a point of view that I passionately disagree with—the idea that we, as humans, are meant (even destined) to control nature. This is, lamentably, the dominant worldview, and the cause of many of our problems, both ecological and social. 

I am not overly happy with what I wrote—it is roughly formed, and probably wildly inaccurate, not to mention too simplistic—but it has just been published on Writers in the Mist. Please head over and have a read (it is very short).

And speaking of control:

What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects, and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? 

This quote is from A Language Older Than Words (2000, p. 150), a brilliant book about interspecies communication by environmental activist, philosopher, and one of my heroes, Derrick Jensen. The quotes in the photos are from another of his books, Dreams (2011, pp. 329 and 251 respectively).

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Finding the Hag Energy: When Madness is Good Sense

In the wake of recent events I wanted to share a few of the pieces I have read, written by wise women, that have helped to ameliorate my feelings of fear and dejection about what is now happening in our world. Things were bad enough already, but now the way forward is going to be even harder for women, for refugees, for indigenous peoples and other minorities, and for those of us who truly care about the Earth.

Yet, horrible as this state of affairs is, it may well be just what we need to stimulate real change and transformation. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era, and we—the artists, dreamers and wild ones, the humble folk in humble houses—are the people who will make it come about.

For women in particular, we need to face our fears and tap into the energy that comes from our anger (an emotion that is usually, often wrongly, characterised as negative, and that we therefore tend to suppress), and let out the hag, the witch, the madwoman. For it is from the deep, dark and potent place of our anger—the place that knows this is wrong, and says enough is enough!—that the alchemical fires of transformation will originate.

As Emily Dickinson wrote: 

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –

We must learn to see with a discerning eye. That the ‘Sense’ that we are often presented with—that production is more important than people, that economic growth is more important than a living Earth—from businessmen, politicians and the like, is utter madness; while what they see as our ‘Madness’—our love of what is wild and natural and filled with life’s poetry, our kindness for people and living beings—is in fact good sense, and utterly right.

We must find the hags within us, wake the witches, let our goodly anger rise so that we can make things right. We must grow in confidence, ready our voices, write our stories, make our art, shout our protests. Because enough is enough. 

Here is much inspiration:

and so in the darkness we fight on by Sarah Elwell 

The Wild Woman in Irish Myth and Re-membering Women’s Stories by Sharon Blackie

This Fear is Old by Lucy H. Pearce

Alice Walker Tells Readers: Don’t Despair

Meeting the Times by Deena Metzger

And lastly, this stunning tale of drought and immigration in California, and a mythic renewing of the world: 

The Last Harvest of the World by Sylvia Linsteadt

Thursday, 10 November 2016

This Strange Agency of the Soul

Back in August 2014 I was lucky enough to attend An Evening with Jeanette Winterson at the Sydney Opera House, and a couple of months ago I reminded myself of that night by watching the video of the event. 

In her insightful and very entertaining speech Winterson spoke of the great importance of books and stories—indeed, all art—in opening up ‘emotional resonances’ within us, feeding our souls, and showing us new possibilities and ways of living; and therefore, that reading should never be considered a ‘guilty pleasure’. It is, in fact, a vital necessity. 

She also emphasised a very interesting idea: that there is no such thing as linear time in storytelling (which, as a writer, I find a very exciting concept); and the same applies to the reading of stories. When you are reading, dwelling within the space of a story,

then you are actually stretching time. There’s more happening than can possibly happen when you are watching the clock, when you’re racing around … Stories seem to me to be a great challenge to the way that we live our lives. And in there, not only do we find different ideas, different experiences, different emotions, different possibilities, we find a direct challenge to this hustle and hassle culture of the 24/7 economy. (1)

Indeed, in the modern world, time itself has become a commodity, and anything that is not deemed to make productive use of it (such as reading or daydreaming), is thus considered a waste of time. This is where reading, as an escape from clock-time, and as a soul-nourishing activity, rather than an outwardly productive one, is a challenge to the modern world, a subversive, rebellious act. 

The modern world is Time’s fool. Art is master of itself. (2)

For me, reading is also a haven, a retreat in difficult times. When my health is at a low ebb, sometimes reading is almost all I can do, so many books have been keeping me company over the past couple of months. I know, of course, that there is much more to life than books (this is one of the lessons that I tried to explore in my story The Pear Tree). Yet books feed me with life, for when I cannot go out into the physical world as much as I would like, I can go into the world of a book instead. The world of the imagination has its own reality. And in exploring the world imaginatively, I can imagine myself back into relationship with the physical world too. At least, this is what I hope and strive for, in my writing as well as my reading.

I had intended to read less this year in order to make more time for writing, yet I have slowly come to realise that reading is not something I can just put aside. It is an integral part of my gathering of ideas and inspiration, my own nourishment. I never know when something I read will spark a thought, an image, a story. Put simply: I need to read in order to be able to write. The two activities are intertwined and inseparable.

In the end, as Winterson says, ‘by making the time for the book we are actually making time for something much larger, which is this strange agency of the soul’. (3) And this strange agency of the soul is, I believe, intertwined with and inseparable from the creative life, so it cannot, must not, be ignored. And thus I read—books, blogs, articles—and I digest, store away, ponder, take notes; I nourish my imagination, and it grows inside me, fed on stories of flying girls in rural Wales, of Frida Kahlo’s complex and colourful Mexico, and tales of magic and love in old Erin. And from this inner space interacting with the outer world emerges life.

Art does not imitate life. Art anticipates life. (4)

Perhaps today, of all days, when such fear and uncertainty has been unleashed on the world, we need art more than ever. 

So, dear readers, what books have been nourishing your souls recently?

2. Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage: London, 1995, p. 90
4. Art Objects, p. 40

Friday, 4 November 2016

Spring is a Happiness So Beautiful

All is not well with the world, nor with me, but there is still beauty to be found; and because of it, I can almost say that I am happy.

Native irises

Crimson rosellas

Sulphur-crested cockatoos
Sleeping wood ducks

Spring is a happiness so beautiful, so unique, so unexpected, that I don’t know what to do with my heart. I dare not take it, I dare not leave it—what do you advise?

~ Emily Dickinson (from a letter to her cousins, 1874)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Slowing Down After Sprinting Through October

October passed by in something of a blur. When I signed up to get the Creative Sprint prompts I did so out of curiosity, wondering what they would be like, whether they would inspire me. I had not intended to actually take part, only changing my mind at the last minute. And then suddenly I was in the thick of it, required to make something and share it online each day.

While I have learned that it is possible to make something (almost) everyday, and some of the prompts did lead me to create things I was pleased with, what I disliked about the whole process was the incredibly fast-paced nature of it. On most days I felt rushed, and often resorted to easy options rather than making any great effort. As I said in a previous post, what is necessary to life, and necessary to the making of art, is peace, quiet and a lack of haste. Creative Sprint seemed like the antithesis to that slower way of living and creating.

So, would I take part again? No. 

It was certainly a good challenge, and I might stay on the email list. Some of the prompts were stimulating. But I will not ‘sprint’ again. It has left me frazzled, a tad overwrought.

My path is one I must walk slowly, ensuring that I am not distracted from what is most important. Creative Sprint was fun, but it was distracting, forcing me to spend more time online than I would have liked, and making me fall behind with other important things. It did give me a break from writing my usual posts here—which I did sorely need—but in the end I believe it was too much for me. My (very limited) energy is better directed towards the creative work that I consider to be essential and meaningful, rather than just creating things for the sake of it.

I do not want to be disparaging of the project. It is a good one. Many people produced great art, and it was fascinating seeing how differently people’s minds worked, interpreting the prompts in many ingenious ways. Also, it reminded me of the truth that you do not know what you are capable of creating until you try—something I often forget; and to stick with ideas and follow them through, rather than giving up at the first hurdle—my usual habit. But, ultimately, Creative Sprint is not for me.

So, as I have concluded my 30 days of art, my usual posts should now resume. However, since I am going through a difficult phase with my health at the moment—perhaps I have taken on too much this year—I may post less frequently from now on, so bear with me. Two or three times per month might be my limit—though it all depends on the Muse, and I can’t make predictions about Her. She comes when She chooses to. Perhaps I will create more short posts—a photo here, a quote there—and less long essays. All I know is that I must sink back into Nature’s Time and obey my own internal rhythms once more. If I do that, all will be well, in its way.

Happy Beltane to my southern readers, and happy Samhain to those in the north. As Beltane and Samhain are fire festivals, I think this blazing waratah is a fitting flower to symbolise both.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Creative Sprint IV

These are the creations from my final week of Creative Sprint. It is over. Hurrah!

Day 23: Interpret your favourite song lyrics.

I have many favourite songs, so there were many, many options for this prompt. Yet my thoughts went straight to Nick Drake, because of the poetic, sometimes visionary nature of his lyrics. ‘Three Hours’ was my first choice, but I wanted something that wasn’t going to be too difficult to draw. I considered ‘Fruit Tree’ and ‘Pink Moon’, but it was the simplicity of ‘Road’ that caught me in the end. (I would have darkened the colours if I’d had time, but other than that I am quite pleased with this piece.)

You can say the sun is shining if you really want to
I can see the moon and it seems so clear
You can take the road that takes you to the stars now
I can take the road that’ll see me through
I can take the road that’ll see me through

Road, watercolours pencils and felt tip pen on watercolour paper

Day 24: Make something that incorporates or is inspired by a smell.
As it is spring, all I could think of was flowers (though I did consider attempting to photograph the smoke of burning incense dancing in the air). After flipping through A Victorian Posy: Penhaligon’s Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose, a pretty little book I picked up in an antique shop several years ago—which is actually scented with perfume!—but not being particularly inspired, I turned to one of my all-time favourite books: Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee (1978). The book itself has a most delicious fragrance of almost forty-year-old paper, and that smell takes me back to when I was a teenager, when I explored its pages often. Towards the back of the book is a section on ‘Faery Flora’, where I came across this page about Wild Thyme. The thyme in our garden is in flower at the moment, and as it is so very pretty, I thought it was a sign. Hence, with thyme- and nostalgia-scented fingers, I took this photo.

Wild Thyme

Day 25: Break something and make something new with the parts.

I could not break something deliberately, unless it was a stick or a leaf—something organic—so this is the best I could come up with.

My Green Heart is Broken

Day 26: Create something you can wear on your body. Bonus: get a picture of yourself wearing it in public.

I really struggled with this prompt. If I’d had more time, or different materials, I’m sure I could have done much better. But I wasn’t feeling well, and I couldn’t think straight, and I didn’t want to do anything difficult (or go out in public). So I put a rather spectacular flower on a necklace, and wore my cardigan of weeds. That is all.

Orchid Rockrose Necklace

Day 27: Make something inspired by another Creative Sprinter.

Another Sprinter, Unicia R. Buster, had posted a photo of herself with peacock-inspired face paint on (for Day 26), and I could not resist transforming her into the goddess Juno, whose sacred bird was the peacock.

Many thanks to Unicia for being my inspiration, and kindly allowing me to post her image here. You can see some of her fabulous line drawings on her website: Afros 365.

Photo by Unicia R. Buster
Juno, watercolour pencils, coloured pencil, white and gold gouache on card

Day 28: Make a monster for #Monstober!

I was busy volunteering at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum, as I do every now and then, so I didn’t have time to ‘make’ a monster. Luckily, I met this adorable little monster, one of the resident water dragons, who kindly agreed to pose for this photo.

Water Dragon

Day 29: Ask someone you respect to look through your past month's work and select their favourite one. Revise or refine the work they selected for today's task.

My mum liked the fragrant mandala I made for Day 20, so I repeated the process, making the design tighter, and adding a couple of new ingredients to the mix. It’s definitely an improvement on the first one.

Fragrant Mandala II

Day 30: Create a trophy or other award for yourself!

I prefer the idea of a souvenir (which means ‘remember’ in French) to that of a trophy or award, so I created this image, collaging most of my work from the past month to remind me, not just of what I have achieved, but also to keep being creative.


Monday, 24 October 2016

Creative Sprint III

These are the creations from my third week of Creative Sprint.

Day 16: Invent a new word and illustrate or demonstrate its meaning.

I invented a new word by combining three Old English words: 


Essentially ‘sleep–mind–writing’; from Old English slēp – sleep, gemynd – mind (in the sense of memory, thought), and wrītan – writing (in the sense of scoring/forming letters by carving/writing).

I created this word because it came to my attention recently that some of my best creative thinking is done in the middle of the night, when I am woken by an idea, and can’t help but begin to ‘write’ in my head. In a state of half-sleep I begin to compose a story, coming up with situations, lines of dialogue, characters and events, generally emerging out of brainstorming I had been working on during the day; and though I would usually prefer to be asleep, I know that this kind of sleep–mind–writing is really fruitful. Often the next day I will write down my ideas, and suddenly I will have a finished story. 

I am aware that it is a very awkward word (and I don’t even know how to pronounce it!), but it gave me the opportunity to produce an interesting artwork, and that is the part that matters.

Slēpgemyndwrītan, acrylic paint, watercolours and pen on card 

Day 17: Green is the colour of so many different things. Use it as your inspiration today.

I cheated a little and shared my painting The Pear Tree, which I completed a couple of months ago, because it so clearly fulfils the aim of this prompt, and it is a work I am very proud of. You can purchase cards, prints and so forth of this image from my RedBubble shop.

The Pear Tree, watercolours and gold and copper gouache on watercolour paper (June–August 2016)
Day 18: Take a walk outdoors and create something using exclusively the materials you find along the way.

I didn’t go for a walk, but just used a few things I found in the garden to make this fellow. In May Gibbs’ stories, such as Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, an Australian children’s classic, the banksia men are quite scary and mean, but I think my little man looks quite dapper on his perch in the banksia tree.

Banksia Man

Day 19: Invent a game for two or more people to play. Bonus: Get someone to play it with you!

It seemed that the only way for me to respond to this prompt was to do so intuitively, based more on what I wanted to draw than on the ‘playability’ of the game. So I invented a metaphysical game: Snakes & Labyrinths. It starts much like Snakes & Ladders, only there are no ladders, just snakes. When you land on a snake you are swallowed and slide down into the snake’s belly, entering an underground labyrinth. The aim is to find your way to the centre of the labyrinth, and attain ‘enlightenment’ (or ‘endarkenment’, as the case may be). Only then will you be able to return up one of the initially absent ladders. I doubt that anyone would want to play it with me, unless they were prepared to spend an awful long time lost in the underworld. 

Snakes & Labyrinths, felt tip pen on paper

Day 20: Create using only materials you can find in a kitchen.

I sat in the kitchen with a cup of maté tea and thought about this one for a while. I knew I had to make something. This was the best I could come up with.

Fragrant Mandala

Day 21: Take something boring and make it really fancy.

Why use a boring old pencil when you can use a PenQuill!


Day 22: Do something backwards, upside down or inside out.

An upside down tree, where the moon above is below and the sun below is above.

Moon Above, Sun Below, water-soluble oils on oil colour paper

Monday, 17 October 2016

Creative Sprint II

These are the creations from my second week of Creative Sprint.

Day 8: Come up with a new use for something you would normally discard.

As a knitter I always end up with lots of yarn off-cuts and bits and pieces, which are normally quite useless, accumulating in multi-colored tangles. So I decided this was a good opportunity to put them to use, creating this small doll.

Doll, yarn off-cuts and knitted pieces, glue, felt tip pen on card (for the lips)

Day 9: Share a secret or make something inspired by a secret.

Today’s prompt initially left me stumped. Did I want to reveal a secret? Did I even have any secrets? So I decided to approach it in a more intuitive way, based on something I had written once—There are secrets down there—and revisiting an oil pastel technique that I used as a child: Completely cover the paper with bright colour (preferably a whole rainbow), then go over the top of it all with black pastel. Then use a pointed object (e.g. the end of a paintbrush, a toothpick, a pencil—I used an old etching tool for a very fine line) to draw into, and thus scrape away, the black, revealing the colours underneath. In this way I have created a double meaning for this work. Firstly, there are secrets down there, beneath our feet (buried treasure, archaeology, the wisdom of the Underworld); and secondly, the technique I used meant that I was revealing the secret colours underneath the layer of black. I think this may be the piece I am most pleased with so far, perhaps because I have reverted to a favourite subject: trees.

There Are Secrets Down There, oil pastel on card

Day 10: Start something and have someone else finish it for you. Bonus: work with another sprinter to accomplish this.

I was wondering how I would tackle this prompt when I was contacted by Michelle Genders of Atman Art Studio (previously Emma Kay Inks), who is the reason I am taking part in Creative Sprint in the first place. We decided to send each other an image, and to create something in response to that. The image she sent was of her (usually very tidy) workspace, scattered with her tools of the trade, and other bits and pieces, expressing how ‘messy’ things can get when you are busy, or working on lots of different ideas at once. And it got me thinking, though my own workspace is fairly tidy, usually with just my laptop on it, there are still plenty of other things (art materials, books, CDs, knick-knacks) either on my desk, or in easy reach; and there are definitely times when my desk becomes the centre of many different strands of inspiration and creative work. So I decided to do my own version of a ‘messy desk’, making a kind of collage of pieces—some of my own tools of the trade (pens, pencils, pastels, brushes, paint, notebooks), as well as some of the things that inspire me (books, art, music and the natural world). I think you can probably tell a lot about a person by looking at what they have on and around their desk. 

Many thanks to Michelle for this prompt. Click here to check out her blog, and here for links to more of her work.

Photo by Michelle Genders
Creative Workspace

Day 11: Make something intentionally messy.

I had fun with this prompt, allowing myself to work with imperfections and mistakes as they came. I stained my paper with tea, then drew my portrait using a water-soluble type of pencil, with my left (i.e. non-favoured) hand, without making any corrections—a technique I have used before that gets a messy and wobbly, though interesting, effect. I then worked into the pencil with water and watercolours, and added the writing (all left-handed) when that was dry. I think this is proof that a messy, haphazard technique can sometimes yield results.

I Am A Mess, She Said, Aqua Sketch pencil, watercolours, tea stains and felt tip pen on card

Day 12: Make something inside of a box.

I wanted to give myself a break and do something relatively easy with this one. I have a small jewellery box that has a mirror at the bottom, so I decided to put ‘myself’ in the box, by photographing the previous day’s messy self-portrait reflected in it. 

Self-Portrait in a Box

Day 13: Recreate a famous work of art in your own way.

I thought of painting something for this prompt, but knew that was going to take far too long, so I ended up keeping it simple. I’ve been reading Hayden Herrera’s biography of Frida Kahlo, so Frida is on my mind. I decided to use one of her self-portraits and transform it into a Warholesque piece.

Frida Kahlo à la Andy Warhol

Day 14: Combine two things that you don't normally find together.

You don’t often find Renaissance masterpieces hanging on a Hills Hoist.

Washing Line Botticelli

Day 15: Make something inspired by an important teacher in your life.
I had an English teacher who would sometimes wear a Mr. Grumpy t-shirt to school—when he wasn’t wearing his Shakespeare one, of course. 

Mr. Grumpy, pen and coloured pencil on paper
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