Dreaming of distant galaxies

During the Season of Fairy Tales at Get Messy, I had the pleasure of taking part in the Painting Galaxies class with Katie Smith. It was the perfect accompaniment to the season, with a magical atmosphere and a sense of entering another world.

One of the things I love about the techniques that Katie shares is that they are quite simple to do and yet create such a dazzling effect. It is also possible to use many different mediums. The galaxy above was created with acrylic paints, while the one below was made using watercolours.

I love the soft haziness of the watercolours. It reminds me of the clouds and nebulas of the galaxy. The word Breathe came to me as I was looking at the finished galaxy. I felt so calm looking at something so vast and peaceful, and had a sense of the whole universe breathing. Pretty cosmic stuff!

I spend my Sunday mornings out and about at a lovely cafe in West London. I have called it The Doodle Cafe because I always spend my time there writing and drawing. A minimal art kit is essential on these mornings, and so I was delighted when Katie shared a technique on Instagram using Tombow watersoluble markers. It was a great accompaniment to the class. I love the cloudy quality that comes in unexpected ways when you add water to the markers.

I loved this technique so much, it soon became one of my favourites! In this next galaxy I splashed even more water onto the markers and was delighted with the clouds that were created.

I stuck with a limited colour palette so that the clouds could be the main focus.

Back to acrylics, and this time, instead of using the white gel pen to outline the clouds of the galaxy, I used it to add a drawing of myself as an intergalactic princess!

The stars are drawing close to me now

with their whispers of magic and other worlds.

We will talk to each other

like we did when I was a girl,

singing songs

in strange and wonderful tunes.

The above galaxy was made during yet another Sunday at The Doodle Cafe. I used Tombow markers once again, this time really going for it with the vibrancy of the colours.

‘Dressed for the universal weather’ – This is a watercolour galaxy with added blobs of high flow acrylics for bursts of saturated colour. Wow! This added a wonderful vibrancy to the galaxy. I had been enjoying the galaxies in their own right up to this point, but decided to see what it was like using a galaxy as a background. It didn’t take much to complete the page, with a single figure and some writing along the top.

This time I added the high flow acrylic paints to a Tombow marker galaxy. I sprayed the high flow paints with water which again activated the markers underneath. This created a wonderful effect – both vibrant and hazy. I added a quote by Rabindranath Tagore, perfect for the beginning of autumn and the nights drawing in.

Shooting-star-like, blazing briefly,

fire the autumn dark within me.

– Rabindranath Tagore

I often find the time I spend in my art journal to be quite meditative. I found this effect was heightened while I was painting these galaxies. There is something about gazing into the vastness of space that helps to put everything into perspective. As if by magic, towards the end of the class, I noticed the tag on my teabag had a message for me that felt very fitting for the art of painting galaxies:

Open up to infinity

and become infinity.

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These are my woods now

I always had the feeling
this was not my place
but someone else’s
as if I needed permission
to walk these paths.
I will take my place
among the trees
that sing to me,
and call me my true name.

Chronicle of a yoga retreat

Day 1

I have just got back from an intense and rewarding week on a wonderful yoga retreat with Alaric Newcombe at Le Tardoun in France. Inspired by Julia Cusworth, I took with me a passport-sized Muji notebook, a teensy watercolour set, and a single black pen. Each afternoon I created a watercolour background and each night I added a drawing of my experience of the day. The end result is a record of what turned out to be a rollercoaster ride, both emotionally and physically!

Day 2

As someone who is used to going to a weekly class or two, 7 hours a day of pranayama and asana very quickly took me well out of my comfort zone! I drew this self-portrait with eyes closed, which helped me express that feeling of being outside my familiar ways of doing things.

Day 3

Due to an ongoing nerve condition in my left foot which makes it difficult to stand for any length of time, it can be challenging to find ways to strongly move my whole body. One of the reasons I love Iyengar yoga is that I am able to explore the strength and energy of my body whilst working safely around my foot. On this day, we were working with backbends and I came out of the class feeling more energised and alive than I had done for a long time.

Day 4

This was a really tough day! It was so hot, I thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of my head.

Day 5

‘All this moving and breathing can make you feel so much more alive, but it can also make you feel vulnerable.’ This self portrait was drawn with eyes closed which helped to express the feeling of being a little dismantled, a little unfamiliar to myself.

Day 6

The calm after the storm. Coming back to a feeling of wholeness. This page was inspired by our early morning pranayama session: the cool air of the pine forest, the chirpings of the birds, the first rays of sunlight entering into the studio.

Day 7

It is strange to feel super energised and super tired both at the same time!

I wouldn’t normally have chosen browns for this page but I was feeling so grounded and in my body, I was drawn to these earthy tones.

Epilogue

I’m so grateful for this incredible experience. For my inspiring teacher Alaric Newcombe, for my beloved Keerti, for the wonderful group of friends who were so lovely and kind, for the mountainside beauty of Le Tardoun, and for the continual wonder that is Iyengar Yoga.

My voice, the fire

The woman is tending my voice.
Night after night,
I see her,
strong and deeply connected
to the earth,
the open air.

I am unfamiliar with this language
but I can see
the golden heart she speaks of.

A moment billows,
comes towards me,
even now,
while the woman is shining
in the clear blue sky.

We sit and eat the fire.
We drink the heat.
We wake the morning.
The sun speaks on the inside.

I can only be here.
I can, at last, be here.

The Season of Colour

Last week saw the end of the amazing Season of Colour over at Get Messy Art Journal. Each week, there were wonderful prompts and tutorials exploring colour from all sorts of different angles. Here is my collection of colourful pages from the last six weeks.

I love working with colour, especially bright colour. So I was curious to see what a whole season devoted to this subject would unleash! I found myself going even further, giving myself permission to saturate the page.

After a short while, I felt I was floating in a universe of colour, much like the faces and figures in these pages:

It’s interesting how the figures in the last two pages are in exactly the same position. I had no idea of this until some time after the pages were complete.

After totally going for it with bright colour, I found I wanted to hang out in the cool and calm of a more muted spectrum.

This last page was especially cooling to make during the hot spell we were having!

I spent another few days at EarthHeart in the Forest of Dean, where I am participating in Initiation: Into the Sacred Feminine. The pieces I created when I returned from my time in the forest were filled with goddesses with amazing hair and women sprouting out of the ground like magical flowers.

Collage has always seemed a bit of a mysterious medium to me. This season I found I could get into it a little more, helped also by the Metamorph online art school classes I have been taking with Erin Faith Allen. Going over the top with colour somehow helped me to go over the top with collage, layering many pieces on top of each other, sanding then down, painting and scribbling over them.

This has been a season of many influences, and one of my favourite sources of inspiration has been the We Are All Artists – Creative Mindfulness Cards by Eleanor McComb. This is a wonderful deck of cards, each with a prompt for writing and art in the realms of mindfulness and creativity. The following pages were inspired by Card #6: Touch.

I have enjoyed this season tremendously and feel so lucky to have stumbled across the Get Messy art journaling community. It is truly wonderful to be a part of such a warm and welcoming community of fellow artists. The only consolation for the ending of this season is that there will be another one starting again next week! I wonder what it will be…?

A flip-thru of my art journal so far

So far, the pages of my art journal have appeared in this blog and elsewhere on the internet as single images. They look like standalone pieces when, in fact, they are all pages of a book. Each one follows on from the one before, forming a relationship, part of the same journey.

This is my first ever art journal and I’m excited to show it to you, even though it is not yet finished. I hope you will get a sense of the book-ness of it, how the art journal is simultaneously a question being asked, an answer being given, a journey, and a destination.

Books, historically, have been sacred. So it is by working in an intimate manner with a book that we develop a preciousness of self. There is a ritualistic aspect to opening  and closing a book: opening a book says I am here, I am ready to receive, and takes us into the world of unknowns where all sense of time disappears. Closing the book says I am ready to return to the known world.

Juliana Coles, Institute for Extreme Journalism

If you would like to have a longer look at any of the pages, feel free to pause the video or to browse through the images in a more leisurely fashion in the art journal section of the blog. Enjoy!

* * *

Music credits:
Deliberate Thought by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/?keywords=deliberate+thought
Artist: http://incompetech.com/

Metaphorical me

This piece is inspired by a prompt from the Initiation: Intro to Visual Journaling course with Juliana Coles. I’m definitely getting in the mood for the Season of Colour which has just begun at Get Messy Art Journal!

Anatomy of an art journaling page

Many of the art journaling spreads I have done so far have been inspired by prompts and tutorials from the various classes I have taken and from the wonderful creative team over at Get Messy. One of the suggestions in the Initiation art journaling class I am taking with Juliana Coles is to choose a piece by another artist and use it as inspiration to springboard into your own work.

I chose a wonderful piece by Ines Seidel which I found in A World of Artist Journal Pages by Dawn Devries Sokol. I am including a glimpse of it below to show some of the things that inspired me but also to show just how far my piece had travelled by the time it reached the end of the process.

An art journaling piece by Ines Seidel from A World of Art Journaling Pages by Dawn Devries Sokol.

I loved so many things about this page: the simplicity of the colour scheme, the white empty spaces, the way ordinary objects – such as the houses in the landscape – became surreal when placed on top of the woman’s head. I loved the way the scribbled writing was used as part of the landscape and also surrounding the woman, perhaps like a cloud of thoughts. And I loved the way the text was included sideways, like smoke coming out of the chimneys of the houses.

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to change the process to create my own page. I decided to choose one of the elements to start with and let that lead me onwards with my own sense of what should come next. I set about finding some phrases from Particles, Jottings, Sparks, my book of Rabindranath Tagore poetry, which I bought specially for use in this course. Once I had a bunch of phrases I liked, I rearranged a few of them to create a new poem:

This was the key that gave me a feel for creating my own spread. I decided I would echo Seidel’s use of the landscape but make the sky part much more prominent. It had to be BLUE! I made a simple pencil sketch of a figure walking (the unknown friend) over some rolling hills. Before I painted it blue, I felt drawn to add strips of all the blue washi tape that I have:

I painted the sky, blending together a few different shades of blue, and went over my pencil lines with a black Uniball pen:

I loved Seidel’s use of the scribbled writing and thought this would be the perfect cloud of “dust”, preventing the figure from seeing the blueness of the sky:

Even though I was drawn to Seidel’s use of white empty space, I found myself unable to leave all that white space in my own piece. The landscape felt too bare for me. So I stuck down bits of masking tape to create some texture and painted the area white. But it was STILL too bare for me. So I smudged in some grey paint as well. That felt much better!

Then the white bit in the middle (the rolling hills) started bugging me. So I wrote in pencil some of the words from the poem, adjusting the letters to fill each of the spaces. I smudged the pencil with my finger:

I had had the text ready and waiting to insert into the piece, but each time I wanted to put it in there, it seemed there was something else I needed to do first! (all the steps I just described). At last it was time to put the text into the piece. I placed some in the sky and some on the land. Ah… the piece felt complete!

This was SUCH a wonderful exercise. It showed me how each piece of art that I see can become a source of inspiration, something I can learn from. It also showed me that even if you include all sorts of things from another person’s page (and I included several!), if you follow your own impulses and sense of what you want to create in your own page, you aren’t going to end up with a copy of someone else’s work.

I’ve often looked through all sorts of amazing art in books and online and thought “Darn: how do they do that?” I feel excited that there is a way to be inspired, to try out different things, and to keep learning from all the wonderful artists there are in the world. Thank you for inspiring me, Ines Seidel! And thank you for your beautiful words, Rabindranath Tagore!

Taking in its hands
The flute of the Known,
The Unknown plays
Its manifold sounds.

– Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Sparks’

 

The ancient ones

I’ve never been into browns, either in my wardrobe or in my art. But having recently returned from a wonderful few days at The EarthHeart Centre in The Forest of Dean, I became curious about all the earthy tones at the bottom of my paint box.

I decided to make a palette and discover what these colours actually look like. Having always lumped them together under the heading brown, I was amazed to find these shades so much more beautiful, rich, and varied than I had imagined.

A palette of earthy tones

I started to get inspired, imagining ancient artworks and prehistoric cave paintings, and decided to start as I often do: simply laying some paint down on the page. Where I would normally find myself moving in some sort of narrative direction, this time I felt inclined to play with textures, scraping one layer away to reveal another beneath the surface. The piece below reminds me of a cave wall, rich in mineral deposits, layer upon layer built up over millennia.

When I posted something of my new fascination on Instagram, I discovered yet another wonderful aspect of being part of the Get Messy art journaling community: my fellow artist – the talented and inspiring Misty Granade – also became intrigued by these earthy tones. She had the wonderful idea to turn this exploration into a theme. Pretty soon, we were enjoying a week of adventuring in prehistoric territory together. Check out the hashtags #neutralsweek and #homemadecavepainting to see what we got up to! 

Dancing to the moon

I continued with layered backgrounds, now adding pictures and making marks in the spirit of prehistoric cave paintings. I drew on an ancient treasure trove of images to express something both archetypal and deeply personal, something from aeons ago that is also part of my recent 21st century experience. Dancing to the moon shows a group of women dancing together – a scene that took place, both thousands of years ago and also a week ago when I was at the second workshop of the year-long training, Initiation – Into the sacred feminine.

Grandmother touches the stars

It felt right not to include words in these pieces. The visual images remain free to shift from ancient times to the present and back again. This was also a relaxing change after the recent poetry-writing challenge of NaPoWriMo.

I’m so thankful to Misty for taking a moment of adventure into new territory and turning it into a themed exploration. It encouraged me to delve a little deeper than I might have done if I was just playing around with ideas on my own. And I loved all our exchanges about what we were discovering as the week progressed.

I’m now venturing back into the full range of colours. But I’m bringing a few things with me from my sojourn in prehistoric art: a new appreciation for earthy tones, a sense of the timeless quality of visual language, and an awareness that my own experience can connect me to a collective experience, thousands of years old. I look forward to seeing how all this translates into the forthcoming pages of my art journal!

Lying on the earth

This spring, I began Initiation – Into the Sacred Feminine, a year long women’s training at The EarthHeart Centre in The Forest of Dean. I have just returned from the second workshop of the year and already feel that this is one of the most beautiful and powerful journeys I have taken in my life so far.

I first visited EarthHeart for a women’s workshop last Spring and immediately felt that this work of reconnecting to the feminine is perhaps the most important thing I have to do in my life right now. I wrote this poem just before I set off for the forest:

Though the Borough of Camden has no forest,
when the moon goes dark I hear the call
and my heart feels sad for lack of women.

I unwind myself towards the women.
Like a thread, they pull me to the heart of the forest.
From the elder and hawthorn and birch trees they call.

I shake off the world as they send out their call
and clothe myself in the fire of the women.
Together we dance in the deep of the forest.

From the forest they call, the women, the women.

Among the many wonderful things I have experienced on this journey so far, simply lying on the earth in the forest has felt incredibly powerful. For a city dweller such as myself, something so simple feels unusual and rare, as if entering into nature is like stepping foot on another planet. And yet isn’t this the place I played in as a child? Hours spent with my fingers in the earth, making friends with the snails and the frogs, sitting up in my favourite tree, gazing out at the sky.

Each time I go back to EarthHeart, I feel this connection deepening. To nature, to the feminine, and to myself.

Lying on the earth,
I am longing for you.

I am longing for you too…

Make the sounds

Today’s poem is a form of found poetry. It was created from doodles made while on the phone to a good friend and fragments of our conversation. I love how weird it is!

* * *

an ordinary guy in a suit
this is a weird practice
shape your mouth in a
particular way and make the sounds.

All the best warriors I know are on TV

O! To rest
On a great wooden chair,
Covered with sheepskin,
And drink a cup of ale
Between battles!

* * *

Something troubling you? Why not follow Lynda Barry’s sage advice and draw a monster? That’s what I did today and found it so much more satisfying to see my fears visualised and externalised on the page. He is fearsome indeed, this monster, but at least he’s somewhere I can see him! (Okay, he’s a little bit cute, too, no?)

I was also touched to see that the cartoon version of myself was showing a good dose of courage and resilience along with the usual overwhelmed feeling. I found myself thinking of the warriors I’ve been watching on TV, in particular Uhtred son of Uhtred from The Last Kingdom. I think he’s the most courageous warrior I know. (Plus he looks rather dashing in blue eyeliner.) Definitely a role model when facing fearsome monsters!

Travel News

This is the story
of a different kind of cave
hidden in the foothills
of the moon.

* * *

During the course of this NaPoWriMo, without intending to, I’ve developed a method of sorts for creating art journaling poems out of words from the newspaper. It goes something like this:

  1. I create a background or choose one I already have in my journal that I’m drawn to. Usually these backgrounds are inspired by the wealth of tutorials available at the Get Messy community or by the Messy Pages class that I’m currently taking with Tanyalee Kahler (also via Get Messy).
  2. I then reach for a newspaper and cut out any words that catch my attention. This sounds random, but I’m choosing words based on the associations I have already made with the background in question. It may not be a conscious association, but something is working away in my subconscious.
  3. I lay all the words out on the table and start to move them around like jigsaw pieces, making groupings and phrases. I continue to do this until a poem starts to form.

The artwork for this poem emerged from a wonderful acrylic blending tutorial with Tanyalee. It had the feel of outer space or a lunar landscape. I reached for the travel section of the paper and found so many wonderful words, more than I could use today. There may be more travel news in the days to come!

Floating

Okay, I’m really pushing the boat out in terms of what constitutes a poem here. As you may have noticed, this one has no words. It has a title though, so maybe that counts? Floating – it could be a one word poem, right?

This piece was created using an intuitive painting method from a wonderful tutorial by Riet as part of the Season of Contrast at Get Messy. We added layer upon layer of mark making and colour, eventually seeing if we could decipher an image coming out of the page. I was surprised to find that out of something that seemed unruly and chaotic, something serene and blissful could emerge.

I felt so relaxed looking at this page once it was done, I couldn’t bring myself to add any words. But who knows, perhaps a poem, or the beginnings of a poem, will come to me later. This spread happened through an intuitive method, so I have to trust that a if a poem is going to come about, it will happen that way too. If it does, I’ll update this post. Otherwise, see you tomorrow!

Talking to my body

The visual aspect of today’s poem is inspired by a Get Messy live web chat with Amy Maricle of Mindful Art Studio. Her relaxed and playful approach was the perfect way to get back to art journaling after a few days away at a wonderful yoga retreat in Herefordshire.

One of the things she said that has stayed with me is how patterns are stronger through repetition. No matter how random a mark may be, if you repeat it, it gains in strength and substance (my words for what I remember from the web chat.) Having just returned from a yoga intensive, I can’t help but see this principle in action in other areas of my life: one yoga posture, repeated regularly, becomes strengthened in the body, with a depth of understanding and a subtlety of refinement. Over time, a few minutes playing with paint and pens can become a meaningful art practice. A few lines jotted down in a notebook can become a collection of poems.

This poem is from a series of book spine poems that I wrote during last year’s NaPoWriMo. It felt especially relevant after spending this time “talking to my body” through breathing and movement.

She

She is up there on the hill,
clearing a path through the wild summer grass,
making a nest for the little bird.

She would like to meet herself
one morning.
She has sent an invitation.

In winter, she removes her own skin,
makes broth from her bones,
dances naked by the fire.

She will be the death
and the birth
of me.

* * *

Today’s poem was inspired by a wonderful prompt from Sasha Zeen as part of the Season of Contrast over at Get Messy. I used a background I had already prepared for NaPoWriMo from the inspirational Messy Pages class with Tanyalee Kahler.

Take a holiday



Take a holiday from the world of data.
You will immediately cause less hysteria
and unleash more pleasure.
You may not come back.

Action Man and Space Woman Build a House!

This piece* is influenced by the Season of Contrast that’s taking place at Get Messy right now. What happens when two seemingly opposite characters get together to work on something? Can each see and value the other’s qualities?

*Is this a visual poem? A comic or a comics poem? An art journaling spread? A movie poster? No one can say for sure!!!

My heart is a black tie affair

My heart is a black tie affair.
Fine crystal tinkles
as I waltz across the floor.

I will find the long dress
that came to me
when my mother broke.

It’s hard to look good
when you’re shaking.
What shoes do you wear?

* * *

Today’s prompt on the NaPoWriMo website was all about things lost and found. When I sat down to write, I couldn’t remember having lost that many things. But the list of things I’ve given away over the years (and now wish I still had) is a long one. It was out of this space that today’s poem emerged.

The visuals of this piece were very much influenced by the Season of Contrast that is going on at Get Messy at the moment. I really enjoyed sticking with the starkness of black and white. I think this may be my most minimal art journaling spread yet!