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!

The Season of Contrast

The Season of Contrast at Get Messy Art Journal is drawing to a close. And what a wonderful season it has been!

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have had all sorts of things going on my life plus I was very much involved with the NaPoWriMo poetry writing challenge. As a result, the season’s theme seemed to be more of a background influence – so much so, that I wondered if I should go ahead and do a round-up post. But here it is! and I’m so glad I decided to review the season, because it has helped me see just how present the theme of contrast has been in my work these past few weeks.

One of the main ways in which contrast appeared in my art was through the portrayal of oppositional forces, such as the young woman facing a traditional man’s world:

‘Can you see my world?’

Continuing the oppositional theme, I also explored contrasts in size, inspired by a wonderful tutorial by Misty Granade:

‘The best warriors I know are on TV’

I had a lot of fun exploring what happens when very different characters come together to work on something:

‘Action Man and Space Woman build a house’

The following piece, exploring two different sides of ourselves, came out of an inspiring prompt by Sasha Zinevych:

‘She’

I loved exploring the stark contrast of black and white. White lettering on a black background was a wonderful way to include text on the page:

‘My heart is a black-tie affair’

Vanessa Oliver Lloyd‘s tutorial on negative space, inspired my approach to creating a piece about inner experience. The invisible reality of the inner experience is rendered more visible as the gold shines out around the outline of my hand. Talking about it now, it sounds like I consciously intended this to happen! But these are not necessarily conscious choices. That’s one of the things I love so much about art journaling: I am presenting deeper, almost dream-like parts of myself to my conscious waking self:

‘Experience’

In ‘Storm’, I’m still with the oppositional forces and the contrast in size. The storm is so big and the figure seems so small. And yet the contrasting materials give the simple black and white figure a clarity as she moves against the complex chaos of the storm, with its clouds of scribbled words and ink drips:

‘Storm’

I loved the contrast of black and white so much, I returned to it later in the season, adding some colour into the mix. I felt the influence of Isabel Greenberg, one of my favourite cartoonists, in ‘Birth story’. Greenberg’s The One Hundred Nights of Hero and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth are both incredible works of visual storytelling and are well worth checking out!

‘Birth story’

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed the black and white images, is because it was easier for me to bring in my love of comics and cartoons:

‘Make the sounds’

One of the wonderful things about following artist friends on Instagram is that there are so many other takes on the theme of contrast. Witnessing all these different journeys alongside my own has made the whole experience so much richer.

Towards the end of the season, Misty Granade and I took a ride into the earthy tones of our paint palettes, and travelled back in time to the prehistoric world of cave paintings. I remember wondering at the time if this was somehow connected to the theme of contrast. I can see now that it most certainly is: the exploration of a whole range of colours that were outside, in contrast to the bright colours that were within my repertoire.

‘Dancing to the moon’

I have also discovered that the exploration of contrasting or oppositional forces can actually serve to bring things closer together. I went back to prehistoric times so that I can be here today with an understanding that is rooted in something deep and ancient. I used the earthy tones in my palette so that I can return to the bright colours with a new depth.

‘The ancient ones’

It’s interesting that the images from the end of the season were all ones of integration, a bringing together, as if all the different parts of myself were invited to the party. Time to celebrate!

It has been a truly wonderful season at Get Messy. I am amazed at how much exploration can happen in the space of a few weeks. There is a short break now between seasons, a welcome time for reflecting on all the ground we have covered in recent weeks, and also a chance to catch up on any of the tutorials and prompts we didn’t get to the first time round.

Soon a new season will be beginning. I wonder what the theme will be next time? I can’t wait to find out. Perhaps some of you will join me there?

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.

Folding the twilight

Hands circling,
gathering the ancient air,
my mother folds the twilight
into night.

* * *

I created the background for this piece during a wonderful online art session this afternoon with some of my friends from Get Messy. Both the colours and the use of Jewish imagery were very much influenced by the paintings of Marc Chagall, whose work I have been reading about in a wonderful little book, Chagall: The Art of Dreams.

When it was time to write the words, I realised that the perfect poem for the piece was, in fact, one I wrote shortly after NaPoWriMo 3 years ago. Despite the fact that the words were not newly composed today, I feel that the combination of text and image has created something completely new!

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!

All this time

This spread began a couple of weeks ago as part of an assignment for Initiation, an introduction to art journaling with Juliana Coles at the Institute for Extreme Journalism. We worked layer by layer, each time “messing up” any idea of having reached a destination. Even now, it’s hard to say with confidence that this piece is done! Nevertheless, it feels complete enough for the moment.

To give you an idea of how the piece began – and how far it has travelled – here is the first layer: a fast frenzied attempt to write my name with as many materials and in as many ways as I could imagine.

One of the things that was so much fun about almost completely covering up this layer was the texture of the glued down paper which stood out once paint was applied over it – a textural element that was not so discernible when there was so much visual activity going on.

As with today’s other poem, Talking to my body, the inspiration for the final layers came from the wonderful yoga retreat I have just attended in Herefordshire.

All this time –
the strong steady beat
of my own heart.

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.

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!

Laundry Day


This piece began life as a longer poem (see below) and ended up as something more closely resembling a surreal 1950s advert. What can I say? The creative process is mysterious…
* * *

Laundry day

I carry the dirty rags down
with planks and bags
bought long ago
when we sunbathed naked.

Our wash contains no grass,
no plants, no eucalyptus trees.
There’s nothing worse
than bark peeling off in the machine.

There’s a lot of water in the end.
This isn’t efficient
but the clothes emerge
soft and beautiful as a willow.

When the buzzer goes
it can be very disturbing –
paws raised, saws ready,
I am big enough to hold it.

I carry the neighbours
back up the stairs in baskets
and hang them
on the rail in my bedroom.

The garden men,
chipped away by night,
keep watch over foxes
and cats in the coat cupboard.

Storm

Storm.
Treading water in the too much world,
an ember of my heart is optimistic.
She tells me,
despite the relentless weather,
it matters.

* * *

Today’s poem is inspired by the Season of Contrast which just began today over at Get Messy. The inky drips background and scribbled handwriting were inspired by @tanyaleekahler ‘s awesome Messy Pages class. This was my first time using high flow acrylics and I can now safely say that I’m hooked on these wonderful paints!

Jewel

Jewel

Your deeper brain
has the intelligence
of a mythological creature –
neon curves in full bloom,
explosion of lines at sunrise.
Disappear within its mysterious dance.

Today’s poem was made using words cut out from a newspaper and one of the Neocolor backgrounds I made in Tanyalee Khaler’s Messy Pages class. Here’s a glimpse of the original background:


I’m posting this poem after midnight. But it’s still April 2nd somewhere!

Step right up!

Step Right Up

(A Sad Circus Tale)

Sold by her mother
to an acrobatic clown,
the scarred town,
stray dog
solitude
of her fluid fingers
evoke the night cries
of the high-wire.
It is a brilliant circus skill
to overcome
one’s memories
until tomorrow.

* * *

Step right up! Step right up! NaPoWriMo has officially begun! Behold all manner of poetic marvels!

I had so much fun with today’s poem: I took the piece of newspaper I had been using as scrap beneath my paints yesterday and chose the first article I saw as material for a blackout poem. Fortunately for me, the article in question was about a circus show, complete with fabulous photograph of an accordion-playing fool on a unicycle.

I chose one of the backgrounds I had prepared during Tanyalee Khaler’s wonderful Messy Pages class, stuck down my bits of newspaper and went on from there: gesso, circus fonts, bicycle stamps and silver stars. I knew things were getting pretty out of hand when I started adding glitter. Today is officially the first day I have ever added glitter to a poem.

Just to give you an idea of how far an art journaling page can travel from start to finish, here’s a glimpse of the original background:

If today’s experience is anything to go by, the combination of poetry and art journaling opens up a whole new array of possibilities. I’m so excited to see what the rest of this month will bring!

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
talking
listening

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

i-have-entered-the-witchs-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.

witchs-garden-detail-4

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!

witchs-garden-detail-2

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.

witchs-garden-detail-1

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.

witchs-garden-detail-3

How will I know?

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.

how-will-i-know_layer-1

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.

how-will-i-know_layer-2

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.

how-will-i-know_without-words

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.