3 barns (watercolour sticks)

3 barns (watercolour sticks)

From the wood I turned south and began walking out along the sea wall. Swallows scudded overhead in twos and threes, moving with fast wing flicks…Inland were vast fields, on which three or four black barns sailed like barges. To the seaward of the wall were the marshes, tinged purple.
-Robert MacFarlane, ‘The Wild Places’.

It has been awhile since I was this moved by a non-fiction writer. Moved in the way the best art moves us: to quote Lewis Hyde, from ‘The Gift’: A work of art that enters us to feed the soul lets us experience a gifted state, and depending on our own abilities, we respond by creating new work (it doesn’t have to be art,  but inspired by the artist we may find we can suddenly make sense of our own experience). The greatest art offers us fresh images that light up our imaginations and open up alternatives for our own lives.

The last time this happened I was in the middle of my career as an artist and calligrapher, and for years, I calligraphed one quote of Barry Lopez’s continually.  Here is a straightforward handling of this particular quote-

Inner landscape  (pen and ink and mono print)

Interior landscape (pen and ink and mono print)

But I also used the text as a starting point for work dominated more by imagery than by letters.

Arctic sunlight

Arctic sunlight (collage, and mixed media on paper) sold

And I also did a series of collages, I think from the same book by Lopez, ‘Crossing open ground’.

Black throated sparrow (collage, pen and ink)

Black throated sparrow (collage, pen and ink)

So anyway, what I’m getting at, is that for the first time in years, I feel inspired by MacFarlane’s writing and sensibility to start to combine letters with my imagery again.

Anyone who loves walking, nature, history of place, or good great writing should read this author. He sets out on these walks which take him and the reader to surprising places, both literally and internally. He’s exploring the theme of how landscape acts on us and we on it, and how outer landscape is formative for one’s inner psychic landscape. His experience resonates in a deep place with me, though I’m not drawn to emulating some of his other adventures – sleeping out on mountains and moors, by the sea and in dunes- sometimes in the winter!

I’ll leave you with some more of his words- here he is speaking about how being connected through technology has replaced and so robbed us of direct physical contact with the natural world:

We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world- its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits- as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination.

The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird’s sharp foot on one’s outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.

There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds , or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one’s upturned palm.


collage 1

collage 1

We did a collage session in my drawing class this week and I worked along with my students. I use collage a lot in my work generally, and I was pleased with this result, it opened up some new ground.

I used photos of paintings only (no landscape photos), from a cultural events page in a magazine. I started with the large painting of the nude and cut various shapes out of it to suggest a landscape. The ‘sky ‘is also made up of paintings of nudes.

The ‘discoveries’ for me were the houses and churches silhouetted in the background- they were simply fantasized and cut out of the dark foreground of another painting. Also, the two houses and the paths in the foreground are from other paintings.

Following on from the previous post, ‘Limited space and no time..’, here are 5 things you can do anywhere anytime which will help to get you  creating again. I find that if I’m antsy and want to get materials in my hands but don’t know what to do, or am not feeling inspired, these little gestures can trick me into getting more involved than I intended to when I sat down. And if they stop with just the first part of the assignment (which only take a few minutes), fine, give yourself credit for accomplishing one creative act that day.  (This last idea is from Eric Maisel’s. ‘The van Gogh Blues’  Highly recommended to support your creative self at all times).

Assignment (Step) 1

Cut out a 1 x 1 inch (2.5 x 2.5 cm) square from a magazine, any magazine, part of a photo or part of the text.  Paste it down on a page of your sketchbook or another sheet of paper. Be selective where you paste it- in the middle is good, but so is on top, bottom or side. That’s all. Done.

If you are moved to continue, add more squares letting the first one inspire you either by color, theme, or design.

Assignment 2

Draw a small shape on a piece of white paper and color it in with anything you like- watercolors, felt tips etc. Done.

To continue building on this,  draw a 3 x 3 grid of these little shapes and color each one in as you like. They can all be dotted, striped, in one color, different colors. You can fill them in with bits of cut paper (old postage stamps are good), use pastels, whatever.

Now do one more 3 x 3 grid.

Collage and oil pastel

Assignment 3

Ok, take one of the grids from Assignment 2 and cut it up and rearrange it on another background. Done.

Assignment 4

With scissors or a knife cut a small shape out of some not too thin white paper. Color that shape in with pastel or soft colored pencil or graphite.

Shape cut from some scrap paper

Place the shape on a white background sheet of paper, and rub the pastel you applied to the shape out to the side so that it creates a shaded outline of your shape. Lovely.

Inspired?  keep applying pastel, oil pastel or some other soft medium to the shape and keep placing it on the background and rubbing the pigment onto the background with your fingers.

multiple shapes

Assignment 5

Take soluble watercolor crayons or any other media and just make stripes of different colors across the top of a white page. One row is fine. Done.

Want to do more? fill the page with little soldierly rows of stripes using any colors that strike your fancy. If the rows start to change or the strokes start to change shape follow that development and see where you end up!

(Optional follow-up assignment)

Combine any of these techniques and make a new mixed media piece on any of the given themes:

a city, fantasy animals, strange beings, cosmic landscape, secret garden, castles, towers, abstract forms, mystery alphabet, underground cave, deep sea scape, …..

Keri Smith’s ‘How to be an explorer of the world’ is a great resource for finding creative moments almost anywhere, anytime.

Housing stories

September 6, 2012

Tiny paper houses

little collages with a house and vessel

Sometimes when other work has stranded, I make little collages out of discarded oil pastel drawings.

Yesterday I woke up with an irresistible urge to make tiny paper houses. I wanted them specifically to place on a miniature spice shelf ( a new addition to my studio, purchased for 60 cents at a second hand store).

I hadn’t intended to decorate them, but now I see that they are my oil pastels in 3D.

The image ontop of this page is inspired directly by Camillan Engman’s tabletop collections, and is also cut from discarded oil pastel drawings.

I love the shapes of houses and vessels, jars, bowls. It occured to me that houses are vessels, too. They contain our lives and loves and everyday rituals. They contain each of our stories.

We got this rice paper lamp for the shop from Ikea. It was open on the bottom and the light bulb glared through. I solved the problem by searching for an interesting piece of similar paper to seal the bottom with.

The decision was easy when I remembered Annet’s wonderful letter to me when I finished work on my book. It was written on her special ‘Applause’ paper (the description is in Dutch, but the image gives the idea).
The cleverness of this product plays on a Dutch pun-  clapping is ‘Klap’ in Dutch. Coincidentally, the poppy flower is called a ‘klaproos’, ‘roos’ means ‘rose’.
How are these related?
In her ingenious concept, Annet printed the word ‘klap’ repeatedly on the paper along with images of clapping hands. The paper is specifically meant for sending someone a letter of applause for something they have accomplished, or simply a letter of appreciation.  The punchline? (and why it doesn’t translate into English), is that if you then PLANT the letter and give it water, it sprouts in ‘klaprozen’or poppies. If you look closely at the first photo, you can see that the paper is full of tiny poppy seeds.

I felt bad about cutting up the beautiful letter, but since it was meant to be planted anyway, it was ok. I should have copied it, I suppose, but the words are planted in my heart, so I don’t think I have to add more papers to my ever growing pile of memorabilia.

Also, using words and handwriting from friends in collage projects like these gives them an extra charge of love and connectedness. Every time I go in the shop, every time someone admires the lamp with its tiny books hanging down, Annet willl get a little shot of ‘applause’ right back again!!

The cover design I was talking about in, ‘Does Creativity have to hurt?’   eventually broke through.  I thought it might be interesting to explore here how artists/designers know when something is ‘Right’.  And do you always know?

First of all a few words about how the breakthrough happened. I’d  hit a wall with the designs I was working on, and very luckily there was a 3 day holiday here, so I put the cover aside for those days, regardless of the 31 May deadline. A bit difficult, since I work at home, and could go to the computer anytime,but I felt it was essential to detach from what I’d already done.

I thought about the cover a bit during those days, but I didn’t obsess about it, so the element of fear was absent.  I deliberately concentrated on how well it was going to work out, and how many previous successes I’ve had with this process.   I relaxedly surfed through a few cover design sites filling myself up with inspiration from others as well as learning what I did and didn’t want in my own cover. I have known the ‘feel’ I wanted for weeks, but have just not been able to get there by approaching it head on.

The night before I was to start work again, I took out my pens and played with making some calligraphic titles until I hit on one which felt right. And that was my starting point for the cover the next day. I also knew I wanted a casual, ‘in process’  looking sort of cover with a crafty feel, not a slick designy one. So I scanned in some brown wrapping paper as a background. With those two elements I built the cover out of collage and type exactly as I would an artwork in my studio. And I started getting excited about it, it started to feel like this was It.

And when I had it about 80% done, I knew it was the cover I wanted for my book. How did I know?

  • It felt great to work on it, solid and constructive rather than searching and a bit frantic
  • It made me smile
  • It gave me energy
  • It surprised me
  • And when I was done, it filled me with happiness and satisfaction every time I looked at it.

There is something few non-artists know about the creative process, and that is how much of it is spent correcting mistakes and wrong directions. It is one big journey of wrong turns and trying to find your way back to the path.

Does this mean there is only one ‘path’ or right solution? No, but I think it would be safe to say, that there is one solution or type of solution for this moment in time, my particular level of development, the kind of book it is, and the requirements of the publisher and future customers.

Once I relaxed, and started working naturally, my own visual vocabulary kicked in and all the elements of play and the touch of quirkiness I wanted in the cover emerged. But they came in sideways as a result of attending to the practical aspects first.

So how do I really know this is the one, and not just one more version that isn’t It?  Because there is nothing more that bothers me. It feels complete and in balance and so do I.

Another clue is that I no longer feel the need to ask anyone’s advice about it. Because I have satisfied my own standards first, nothing anyone can say would make a difference now.

It is not that I don’t find critique helpful, but having worked through this whole process, at this point it is important to honor my own vision and stick to it.




Serious procrastination

March 10, 2009

There are 20 other things I should be doing this morning, but I realized that for my well-being, I needed to get out my materials before doing anything else.

I recently bought some sumptuous colours to add to my collection of Caran d’ache neocolour, water soluble  paint sticks. The above collage, a bit smaller than an A4, was done by first cutting up a ‘nearly made it’ previous oil pastel of mine. Then I added colour using watercolour sticks around the shapes, then went in with water on a fairly stiff brush to blend some of the colours. I’d started out with a piece of  bright orange  Cansons Ingres pastel paper 160 g. and I love how the orange shines through in places. 

I just needed to feel colours sing this morning before obediently planting myself in front of the computer to make myself write a brilliant article on creativity and dementia care, or finally wrap up the folder design for my summer calligraphy courses or get some more of my book printed out for my reader friend, or write some more on my book, or do the administration, or work on the volunteer design job for the local municipal commission, or renovate the house or get my webshop up and running or update my website or or or……….

Yesterday I counselled a dear friend who is going through a rough patch with her health to stop worrying about what society and so-called ‘friends’ thought, to not let her self be pressured to conform to outer demands, to be happy and do what she does best, which is be an artist and make beautiful true things.  

Sometimes I need to take that advice myself.


February 7, 2009

I’ve been enjoying following this new trend in my work. Teapots, lemons, Persian carpets.  I’m looking forward to seeing them framed for the show, but don’t know if I can bear to part with them yet.

Wage peace curtain

January 29, 2009

The news of the day and some recent deaths in the neighborhood got me down.  I couldn’t concentrate on the work at hand, so I took a  break and threw myself into a creative project that needed doing. Every so often I make a rice paper curtain for our kitchen window. They stay nice and fresh for a year or two, then bleach out from the sun and get all stained from the condensation. So when one gets ratty looking, it is time to make a new one.

The latest uses a combination of spontaneously placed, torn cut and glued (with normal office stick glue) rice papers. I’ve stamped on them and sewn on some dried leaves and stuck some feathers in between the layers. There are also two ‘windows’ cut out, in one detail you can see the house next door through one. These are overlaid with a very transparent fiber paper. The yellowish leaves in a row are actually strung on a thread and hang in front of the curtain.

After I finished the project, I noticed I felt somewhat lighter and realized I’d followed the advice of Judyth Hill’s classic poem written in the aftermath of 9/11 – ‘Wage Peace’.


Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,

Breathe out whole buildings

and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children

and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen

and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:

hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember  your tools:

flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,

imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty

or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.
Never has the world seemd so fresh and precious.

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived

Don’t wait another minute.

          Judyth Hill


Calligraphy box breakout

December 6, 2008


This is the companion piece to ‘Enchanted Vessels I’  which appears in a previous post.

Both pieces are based on the following quote from ‘The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life’  by Thomas Moore:

    ‘Enchantment arises whenever we move so deeply into anything we’re doing that its interiority stirs the heart and the imagination’.

They were done in the context of an oil pastel series, so inadvertently solved a problem I’d been having with calligraphy:

As  result of working in the field of calligraphy for most of my adult life, I had become enclosed in a box I couldn’t see my way out of.  That box was ,’ Calligraphy is making beautiful legible letters to express a quote you like’.  When starting a calligraphy piece I would simply reach for my calligraphy materials, and somehow also my calligraphy mindset.

Though I’d done a lot of abstract calligraphy where the emphasis lay on the markmaking and expression, I’d not yet been able to find a satisfying way to respond to the many literary quotes that continually inspired me.  I’d end up ‘doing a piece of calligraphy’, and it was more of the same old same old.

So this piece, saturated with the magic of Moore’s quote, resolved my dilemma. Snatches of the quote are legible, but most importantly the essence of what touched me is expressed in this piece, and only in part by the calligraphy. The colours, the  monoprint, the handwriting and more formal letters, the  collage and drawing and stamps all work together to form a whole.