Season of art 101

What a wonderful season it has been at Get Messy! We’ve been focusing on art materials and how to use them. I’ve found this especially helpful and enjoyable because I have little to no experience of many of these materials. While there are some I used as a child – felt tips, crayons – I’ve been discovering all sorts of new ways to play around with them.

Each week there have been prompts and tutorials from the fantastic creative team which have helped to expand my awareness of what’s even possible when you start playing around with this stuff on a page. There’s something relaxing about trying out a single technique or material, and exploring the different effects it can have. Before long, my basket has become filled with an array of different things I can use when I get to work on something.

Week 1 – Watercolours

This was a wonderful medium to start with, especially as I had begun playing with watercolour over the winter holidays.

This last piece came from a wonderful gouache tutorial with Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd. I didn’t have any gouache so I used acrylics instead.

Week 2 – Texture

During this week, I enjoyed working without having a subject in mind or anything in particular I wanted to express. It felt incredibly freeing to simply play with colour and texture, sticking everything I could imagine down on the page – bubble wrap, beads, thread, postage stamps! After I had finished, this last page seemed to me to be the perfect expression of living in a house that’s in the middle of being renovated: theoretically at home and yet nothing is quite settled.

Week 3 – Acrylics

I had not worked with acrylics since I was at school and these are fast becoming my favourite medium. I love it that they can leave a certain amount of texture on the page and also that they dry so quickly.The above page was inspired by a wonderful layers tutorial with Pam Garrison. I talk more about the process here.

Week 4 – Felt tips

When I began art journaling, I was concerned that comics would be left behind! This week saw comics return in FULL COLOUR! The spread above was created during a Get Messy digi-hangout. It was wonderful to throw colours and shapes down on the page whilst chatting and hanging out, not really thinking about what I was doing. Again, this was very liberating. The resulting spread ended up being a piece about the meetup itself! More on the process here.Here I revisit the topic of house renovation. I have a feeling I may be revisiting this theme for quite a while!

Week 5 – Drawing

This week was one of my favourites. We had an amazing tutorial with Elizabeth of On tap for today filled with all sorts of ways in to drawing. Below are two of my favourites: drawing a series of the the same object and using torn collage as a starting point for your own drawing.

Week 6 – Collage

I didn’t manage to do as much collage as I would have liked during this final week of the season. But I absolutely loved working on this spread – another one which began during a digi-hangout! I was thrilled that the toadstools from the week before found their way into this piece!

If you have made it to the end of this post, thank you for staying with me. Next time, I will be sure to document the process week by week rather than leaving it all to the end!

This has been an incredible season at Get Messy. The only thing that can console me that it’s over is that there will be a new season starting very soon!

Art and colour open up my world

One of the things I love so much about being part of the Get Messy art community is the feeling of connection with artists all around the world. The forums are alive with conversation – about art tools and resources, what we’re working on, and what we’ve got planned in our creative lives. There is a lovely atmosphere of camaraderie and support – so important when much of the creative work goes on in our own company.

Recently, the feeling of connection has moved to a whole new level. We’ve been meeting up on Google Hangouts for a session of real time art making, otherwise known as the ‘Digi Make-a-thon’. All around the world, we are sitting at our desks and kitchen tables, playing with pens, paint and collage, whilst hanging out with friends we seem to have known forever, even though we’ve never met in “real life”.

This is one of the wonderful things about technology. The sense of being in the same room together was so strong that at one point, when someone couldn’t find their scissors, I nearly passed them my own!

I also really enjoyed not being able to think too much about what I was doing because I was busy talking and interacting. I painted some bright colours on the page, and then started sticking down some toadstools I had drawn a few days earlier. Before I knew it, things got pretty psychedelic which, it turns out, sums up how I feel about the explosion of art and colour that has happened in my life recently!

This was the second Digi Make-a-thon. The spread I made during the first meet-up emerged from the same atmosphere of not thinking too much, all the while talking and enjoying the company of some new and lovely friends.

Working with friends I’ve just met

not really thinking…

I’m so very glad to have stumbled across the Get Messy art journaling community! And I can’t wait for the next time we meet up together!

Inside you is a house

What is home to you?

I recently started an online art journaling course with Juliana Coles of the Institute For Extreme Journalism. The course is called Inititation and it feels like the perfect vehicle for diving deeper with my art journaling exploration. This question comes from one of our first assignments.

One of the things I love about art journaling is that you don’t need to know what it is you want to express when you start working on a page. Or you might have an idea what you want to say but not how to say it. You can begin anywhere and let the process itself bring images to the surface from somewhere deep inside.

For this piece, I began by covering the page with white gesso and adding in a little colour here and there with some water-soluble wax pastels. Then I wrote down thoughts and associations about home using india ink and a quill pen. I used connected lettering to make one long, ongoing sentence until I had covered the whole page. As I was writing, an image came to me of a person with a house inside them and I continued from there.

I drew on much of what I have been learning this season at Get Messy: connected lettering, drawing techniques, creating texture, and working in layers. I also felt the influence of the Totems class I recently took with Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd: the techniques we used to create the floating women when working with the ancestors and the power of using a personal symbol in a spread.

Inside you is a house
and in the house is a girl
and in the girl is a world…

I have entered The Witch’s Garden


When I was a girl, I spent the summers with my grandparents in Dublin, Ireland. My brothers stayed at my dad’s parents while me and my sister stayed at my mum’s parents. I loved it there and it’s a place that has already featured in several of my comics. At the back of the main garden, with its beautiful lawn and carefully tended flower beds, there was a tall hedge. Behind this hedge was a smaller, wilder garden, complete with crooked apple tree, falling down shed, and rusty wheelbarrow. I named it ‘The Witch’s Garden’ and spent many happy hours there, playing and dreaming.


I was so sad when my grandparents’ house was eventually sold, more so than for any other house I’ve known. My first response was to grab some felt tip pens and draw a picture of the garden as a way to keep it forever. While I was making this spread, I connected back in time to that magical garden and also to that place within myself – wild and witchy – where the garden still lives.

It felt powerful to include the three ages of woman here – maiden, mother, and crone. I was drawing on my sense of being a child all those years ago in Dublin, but also bringing the magical quality of that place forward in time into womanhood and also into the future, where I hope to be as cool as this Finnish woman with twigs on her head!


This spread was made as part of the wonderful Totems class with Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd, bringing together all the elements we have been working with during the course: spirit animals, archetypes, elemental magic, and claiming the female. The text is from a poem I wrote some years ago, inspired by entering The Witch’s Garden as an adult.


I look into the mirror.
The muscles round my mouth
are tired from smiling.
The wind whispers in my ear
three secrets held in cobweb, leaf, and twig.
Cheek gives way to bone.
Eyes transform from pools of water into fire.
Curls become snakes,
darting in all directions.
Brambles tangle round the apple tree.
A few snails remain,
clinging to the gravel on the walls.
Across cracked stone,
the ants carry parcels of moonlight.
I listen for her footsteps but the air is still.
Even the wheelbarrow has stopped rusting.
I have entered The Witch’s Garden.


How will I know?


One of the things I’m loving about art journaling is that you don’t need to know where you’re going when you start a page. In fact, it’s often better not to know!

This week I took a wonderful tutorial with Pam Garrison, guest artist of Season of Art 101 at Get Messy. We worked in layers, each seemingly unrelated to the other. At many points I could have stopped, happy with what had been created so far. Pam encouraged us to keep going, just to experience what might happen if we did. Even at the end, after the artwork felt complete, I could have stopped and left the page free of words. Nevertheless, I followed Pam’s advice and continued on. And I’m so glad I did.


I really enjoyed diving into each stage of the process. Each new layer involved leaving something behind – the page as it had been – and moving forward to what it was becoming.

One of the things I’ve been learning in my exploration of art journaling is that there are different ways to start working on a page. You can come to it with an idea of what it is you’d like to express. This idea then informs the choices and decisions that you make as you start to work. Alternately, you can start with the art materials themselves. Put down some colours and shapes and let them suggest where you might go next. The piece we worked on with Pam was a perfect example of this.


I’ve also been enjoying the fact that on an art journaling page not everything is shown. Where you start may be completely invisible by the time you reach the end. Words and images may be covered or partially obscured by collage or layers of paint. I was amazed at how much of my earlier layers ended up being hidden in this piece. But the act of obscuring is also one that reveals; this lady only emerged from the page by obscuring large areas of what had come before.


This puts a new slant on the work being process-oriented.

It has taken me a long time to understand the power of the act of turning a thing (- like a comp book -) into a place for an experience…

Lynda Barry, The Best American Comics 2016

Many of the things I wrote, drew, and expressed are hidden beneath the surface – part of the piece and yet submerged. But the fact they’re there makes a difference, a visual reminder of the experience that has happened while making this page.

What about all the other moments?


I went a little wild today layering paints on top of each other. The result is a bit chaotic! I really enjoyed playing around with comics on the page and exploring the relationship between the panels and the surrounding space.

When I started art journaling a few short weeks ago, I felt a little anxious that starting something new would mean leaving comics behind. I’m so excited to discover that the opposite is true: the realm of comics is expanding!

Strange colour palette


No canvas absorbs colour like memory
– Robert Aris Willmott

It’s Season of Art 101 over at Get Messy and this week we’re playing around with acrylics. I had so much fun creating my own strange palette. It’s amazing the associations that colours hold. This palette could be a poem, a story, a biography. Alternately each colour’s name could be a springboard for its own story or poem.

We are always dreaming of you 

I’m always seeing faces in things. I think it may be something our minds are always looking to piece together. So it was great to go into it more fully with this piece. The faces and creatures were already there I just had to spot them and help them to emerge.

This spread came out of Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd’s ‘Dream Creatures’ tutorial from Get Messy’s Season of Dreams. Even though it’s currently Season of Art 101 over at Get Messy, I was so intrigued by the dreamy beauty of this tutorial, I had to give it a go!

Will you journey with us to the far far?

— The Dream Creatures

All the pages I wrote led to you

While I was working on this piece, I had a strong sense that the page was an actual place I could step into. In this place, I could connect with my female ancestors and honour them. I could feel the flow of love that has come down through time to me and also that travels back through time towards them. 

I didn’t have any photos of my grandmothers that I wanted to use, so I spent quite some time searching for photos online. It was an uncanny experience — I found photos of women who were not my ancestors but who could have been; their expressions and poses evoked something so familiar. As I continued to work on the piece, I began to connect to these women as if they actually were my ancestors.

The floating woman in the background reminded me very much of some of the paintings by Chagall, especially as I come from a line of orthodox Jewish women. I found myself introducing quite a bit of colour, inspired by his paintings, and I felt encouraged to include some of the Jewish symbols I grew up with – the Sabbath candles, the challah bread, the wine. 

The theme of connecting with my ancestors comes up again and again in both my writing and my comics. Working on this piece had the feeling of homecoming. 

This spread was created for the ‘Claiming the Female’ class in the Totems online art course. I have been enjoying the course so much! Even though there’s only one class left, I know I will be revisiting and diving deeper into these themes over the coming months. 

You can see more pages from my art journals here


Is your world borrowed
From the man in your life?
The force inside
And joy
Comes out of the blue.

* * *

This page began with a wonderful gouache tutorial from Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd as part of the Season of Art 101 over at Get Messy. I didn’t have any gouache on hand so I used acrylics instead. I discovered how immensely enjoyable it is to paint an entire page with black gesso. I also enjoyed writing with a white pencil on a black background – the effect is like chalk on a blackboard.

I had imagined that these women’s faces would look cheerful and upbeat. Instead, when I had finished, I found that they looked serious, like they had something important to say. As they looked directly out at me from the page, they reminded me of a chorus of women in a Greek Tragedy. I looked through several plays but couldn’t find anything that touched on what I wanted to say.

Then I had the idea to use a cut-up poem technique. It’s a very simple technique, often with surprising and powerful results. I found all sorts of interesting words in an old Vogue magazine. I didn’t have a fixed idea of what I was looking for, I just cut out whichever words appealed to me. When I was done, I laid all the words and phrases out on the table and began to group them together until a theme emerged.

It seemed natural to me that the women of the chorus should speak in cartoon dialogue bubbles. I love to bring together the different things that I do and it felt really satisfying to bring both poetry and comics into this art journaling page!

Up here in my tree

When I was a girl, I would sit up in my favourite tree in the garden, my handbags hanging from different branches. These days I’m feeling a bit urban and cut off from nature. I could do with some elemental magic in my life!

I worked on this piece for the third class in the Totems online course. Despite the excellent guidance from our teacher, Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd, I seemed to be feeling my way along in the dark not knowing what was going to come next. At one point it felt very complicated, like I was trying to incorporate too many things into one spread. Then some gold ink arrived in the post yesterday – a surprise element. I painted the tree gold and everything became simple once again!

Amongst other things, art journaling seems to me to be a beautiful way to reconnect with parts of yourself that may seem distant. The time I spent on this piece felt like time spent in my childhood garden, up in my tree, connected to nature and all things. 

Take me with you

It’s one of those moments: I’m really enjoying the Totems class over at Get Messy and I’m loving this taste of the wild and wonderful world of art journaling. 

Yet whenever I start exploring something new, I can end up feeling like a creative harlot. I get anxious that I’m abandoning the things I’ve been caring about and working on — in this case, comics! 

What better way to explore this than in an art journal spread that is also a comic!

You can check out some of the things I’ve been getting up to in the Totems class here and here

The beautiful one and the ugly one

The beautiful one and the ugly one. — a split I can very much relate to, some days more than others. It’s not just about how you think you might look to others. It’s about how you see yourself and, more importantly, how you feel. 

In the second Totems class we have been looking at archetypes and what a great exploration it has been! Through working on this piece I came to realise that both these archetypes have their beauties and both have their limitations. Now I love them both!

Coming from a cartooning background, I wanted to add a speech bubble for some of the words. As things progressed, however, I realised how powerful it was to have something undefinable inside the bubble.

The Keeper of Dreams

Bear is no longer ordinary bear. He has become Spirit Bear, Keeper of Dreams!

After expanding into the world of colour over New Year, I felt I wanted to continue exploring new possibilities in the world of making art. A good friend told me about Get Messy — a wonderful online art journaling community, offering classes, prompts and inspiration all year round. After working with a fairly limited array of tools, I was attracted to the multi-medium approach of art journaling. The post-New Year winter months can often seem rather cold and bleak — a perfect time to indulge in a richness of colour and imagery.

I was particularly attracted to the Totems class because it is all about discovering your personal symbols and inviting them into your art and your life. Subjects include spirit animals, archetypes, the elements and the feminine. What great subjects! Each class includes a wealth of inspiration to help you on your way. Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd is a wonderful guide, sharing her own process and offering plenty of suggestions for ways in which to work with your own symbols.

Initially my Bear looked quite grounded and earthy

It has been a wonderful journey working with Bear. Along with way I experimented for the first time with gesso and acrylics. (Who knew how perfect the dryness of the acrylics would be for painting animal fur?) Pinterest came into its own as a place to gather some fantastic Bear illustrations, including my all-time favourite by Kay Nielsen for East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Initially my Bear looked quite grounded and earthy. I could feel his qualities of strength, protection, and wisdom. By the time the spread was complete, he had become Spirit Bear, connected with the stars and the magical realm of dreams.

Ways in to colour


After spending almost all of 2016 working in black and white, I decided it was time to play around with some colour. So I set off on my winter holiday with my little Koi Sakura sketch box of 12 watercolours, determined to give it a go. But the task was not so simple. I realised that while I associated the world of black and white with clarity and simplicity, the world of colour seemed to present an almost dizzying array of choices. Where to start?


In Picture This, Lynda Barry gave me the perfect way in:

Can you color a picture if you have only one color? It’s a good thing to find out. The only color we have for this picture is brown. we start with a pale layer, let it dry and then add darker layers one by one.


This technique was a wonderful way to experiment with colour without getting overwhelmed by choices. I could focus on areas of light and dark, greater and lesser intensity. It was like working with black and white except more… colourful! And it was a great way to really dive into the qualities of each colour: the bright sunlight in yellow, the cool moonlight in blue, the heat in orangey-red, the lush of the trees in green.


I love holiday photos and usually take way too many. But these paintings capture the feeling on the inside in a way that my photos don’t seem to be able to do.


When I began using this technique, I had the idea that the addition of colour to a piece would bring chaos and lack of focus. Instead, I found that it can bring a new kind of focus. By the time I came home, I found I could experiment with several colours at a time without things becoming too chaotic. Now I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, leaving the black and white of Kansas for a whole new world of technicolour!

If you are at all daunted by the thought of using colour in your work, this is a great way in. One colour at a time, one layer at a time. Give it a go!

You can see more images from my holiday sketchbook here.

How wonderful it is to be out of shoes

How wonderful it is
to be out of shoes.
The tops of my feet –
the wind as it blows
along the beach.
The soles of my feet –
compact sand,
soft sand
and all the other sands
in between.
The wash of the waves
along the shore –
gentle currents
in the shallows
pull me
back into the sea…

It’s time to live!

Today’s comic is one of my favourites from early 2016. Nearly a year later, ‘How To Be An Insurance Salesman’ still cracks me up. And it reminds me that calculating risks is no match for an adventurous spirit and an open heart. This is a great thing to keep in mind as we begin the new year: It’s time to live!

Thank you so much for joining me this year on all sorts of creative explorations. I really appreciate all your visits to Follow The Brush and all your lovely and supportive comments. 

Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year. May 2017 be filled with creativity and joy!