Back in the studio again


The perfect is the enemy of the good.

A wise friend told me this at work years ago. She and I both had a tendency to spend too much time on projects, trying to get them just the way we wanted them, instead of focusing on what was actually needed. Some things are worth giving your all, burning the midnight oil and pushing yourself harder. Other things, most things, really, just need to be done well enough, fit for purpose and, most importantly, done. 

I often find myself waiting for the perfect block of time to do something. I can put off starting until I have every little detail worked out. I find it tough to do a little bit here and there, when I can. Am I alone in this? I think not.

Monday was a big date on my calendar. Two classes were starting, Misty Mawn's Full Circle and Carla Sonheim's Year of the Fairy Tale.  I wanted to be ready, and hit the ground running. This is all part of taking my artwork more seriously (but not too seriously, I promise). So, the studio...

I love small space living. Even my dream houses qualify as small spaces, but our London apartment is a definite fit. It takes some work though, and I am a long way from mastering it. And so we have the studio/bedroom/junkroom. My feelings about it are complicated, and I won't go into that today. Monday's success was that I cleaned up enough to be able to work in there, without waiting for the magical day when it is perfect, what ever that means.

And I was able to start my mandala for Misty's class, that you see above. It needs more work, but I was able to draw and paint until the natural light went, and it felt so damn good.

A walk around the block


For years, I walked in the mornings. In Dublin, I walked nearly 3-5km each morning to the nursery where I did teaching practice, first in Dun Laoghaire and later in Blackrock. When I first moved to London, I walked to work for over fifteen years. My first nursery was a 45 minute walk, so later when I started teaching in a primary school, the 25 minute walk seemed a breeze in comparison.

I still have clear memories of that first walk. I used the time to wake up and to have a good think. I clearly remember walking alongside a high wall on one road, thinking about my boyfriend! I've never been a morning person, but having to start the day by walking certainly helped.

My husband and I believe strongly in supporting public transport, so most outings are by bus, tube or train; even for trips within the country we tend to travel by train. On of my greatest pleasures of travel is stomping around a new city or even exploring London; it reminds me how lucky I am to get to travel and live abroad. It makes the map in the guide book truly real to me.

This was all cut down dramatically in the past few years by two factors. Firstly, a close friend gave me her dear old banger, my trusty silver Fiat Panda. Combine that with free parking at work and that daily walk was sacrificed to having half an hour more in bed. Secondly, I injured my feet, repeatedly and in different ways (okay, yes, the dropped magnum of champagne was the most entertaining, I'll give you that).

Now that I no longer work full-time, I've been missing that walk. I have a tendency to over think things, so I spent a lot of the autumn battling, over-planning and beating myself up. This month, I have been calmer about it, and on several mornings now, just got up and went out. It fits in nicely with my preferred morning of waking slowly, with tea and the radio. It's easier when K is working from home (he lets me back in and makes me a cup of tea). 

A morning walk is a pleasure. It grounds me in my body. It grounds me in nature, in the weather and seasons. It grounds me in the world of people, which is no small thing when you are an introvert who works from home. It gives me time to think and, with or without my camera, a chance to look around, catching little details and the colour of the sky. And when I get back, somehow I'm always raring to go and I get more done that day than I would have otherwise.

I'd love to hear about your favourite walk, whether it is one you will always remember or one that you take every day.

Knitting up a storm

This is a project for people who love yarn, like really, really, love yarn. It has 3 varieties from a mother and daughter working in Nova Scotia (Fleece Artist and Handmaiden), custom dyed for this pattern from Churchmouse Yarns on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. The variegated colourway comes in Slubby Blue (100% Leicester Blue Face wool, thick and thin and loosely spun), Curlylocks (Kid & wool & some nylon, very fine with little loops on it) and Maidenhair (Silk & kid & some nylon, very fine with a wiggle to it). It is part of a new tradition of souvenir skeins, commemorating our trip to Seattle this spring. It's a thing. No, it is!

I made this to replace a wrap that I loved and lost, so I wanted something bigger than a scarf. I'm still figuring out how best to wrap and wear this, but it is nice and drapey. It's 15 inches wide and over 6 feet without even thinking about the fringe. 

These I've been working on for longer, since early summer 2012. They were a kit from Nest in London and I see they no longer do the pattern, but they still stock the yarn. It was my first time doing cables and actually, if you haven't tried them, they're fairly easy - at this level of complexity anyway. 

This was all part of a big push on finishing. Over the years, I have started a lot of things and finished a lot of things, but I have not finished everything I've started. It's easy to get hung up on that and begin to feel like you never finish anything. That's the lizard talking and we don't listen to the lizard do we? To shut him up I forced myself to finish these off before starting anything new. I have socks and a fox lined up next but haven't decided on one yet.

Letting go of that which doesn't serve

At school we learned to start with a question. Even in kindergarten, we worked with "what did you do on the weekend?" In science, we started with the hypothesis and its underlying question "what do I think will happen if...?" Our first steps in essay writing were answering the dreaded essay questions on exams, and later, identifying our own questions as the starting point for essay writing. Every day in every subject, we answered questions: "did you like the book?" "how did the characters show how they felt when...?" "what is the square root of 144?"

My mind is still full of questions and I am learning that the questions we ask ourselves are possibly even more important than the answers. Has anything good ever come from these questions?

Can I get away with this?

Does my bum look big in this?

Can I even be bothered?

My recent retreat was full of questions, as conversations between new friends often are. Our hosts asked us questions to help unravel our stories, and we asked and answered them of ourselves in our journals. We asked each other, and gently held the space for each other to unwind the truth. The beautiful and wise Elizabeth Duvivier was talking about this at Red Fox - how when you ask someone "How are you?" it is too easy for them to brush it off with a quick "fine". She asks a better, more beautiful, more connecting question, "How is your heart?" (as she does in the comments here.) Several of us were touched and inspired by this. I've found that if you ask someone this and they've heard it before, they understand that you want the truth, the story. And if they haven't heard it before, it takes them aback enough to hear your question and answer from the heart. And lovely (and wise too - I am blessed to have so many wise people around me) Sas Petherick reminded us to ask "What feels easiest and kind in this moment?" That one was revolutionary to many of us and continues to work its magic through our circle.

Finding the right question shows up in my life most strongly when I try to declutter. Do I need to keep this? Wow. This one always means I keep all the stuff that might ever come in useful. Do I love this or find it beautiful? As much as I agree with William Morris's guideline to "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," I get all bogged down in degrees of fondness (and utility for that matter!). 

In life more generally, I have suffered at the blunt end of questions such as What should I do? and What can I manage? You get whammed with other people's expectations and unrealistic ideals modelled in the media. What do I want? is just a boggy marsh of contradictions and layers of identity.

At the moment, my magic question is Does this serve me? For me, it cuts through the layers of the other question, and brings its own lens of truth in How does this serve me? It does good work in decluttering, and for me, adds a gently mocking tone if I try and get away with anything silly. Sometimes I need to qualify this: Does this serve me now? or Does this serve my best self? Today, I am applying it to an art class that has been making me feel smaller, not in an inspiring I have so much to learn and this will help way, just smaller and resentful that it is taking me away from artwork I love. Given that I am inspired at the drop of a hat, or a leaf, or a piece of rusty metal; given that I want to learn from every artist that inspires me; given that I am no stranger to pushing myself out of a place of comfort into a place of learning... no, this class does not serve me. If I grant authority to the voices of doubt (you paid for it, you shouldn't let them down, if you were a real artist you'd like it) then I would have given up hours of time, precious evenings and a sense of purpose and inspiration in my own work. 

Try applying it to friendships that always leave you feeling drained or activities that seem pointless. If it doesn't serve you, let it go. You'll breathe deeper.

I'd like to hear from you: Do you have a magic question? What can you let go of that is doing you no service? 

Embossing powders, seriously?

Apparently, they're back. No way!?

Some of the jars of embossing powder on my shelf must be 15 years old, because a) I'm thrifty and b) how can magical melty stuff not be worth keeping, right?

What I remember liking about them back then is that they melt (!), they make a stamped image easier to colour in, and they can give a sharp and finished look.

What I'm liking about embossing powder these days is how I can play around to get faux finishes. These are tags I produced in the Tim Holtz Creative Chemistry classes. They make me think of leather, old metal, and pottery. I'm having fun, and I hate to tell you, but I've even bought some new embossing powder - shhh!

The Call of the Classroom

We are so fortunate to live in these times with so much access to fantastic teachers. It can be so tempting to take every gorgeous online class. I know I'm not alone in overdoing it sometimes and finding myself out of touch with all of them.

I also fear that, in my case, the urge to take classes seems to escalate when I am either too busy or not feeling inspired. I suspect that I hope to absorb all the inspiration through my skin and it will pour out of me, all without any conscious effort or time commitment on my part!

I have been focusing on technique classes lately, to flex my creative muscles, get my hands dirty and play with some of my less familiar supplies. I caught up with Claudine Hellmuth's Technique Toolbox and I'm now elbow deep in Tim Holtz's Creative Chemistry 101 and 102. My goal isn't to make art that looks like theirs, but to extend what I am able to do with what I have.

In fact, it is always my fear that my work will end up with a certain look. Back in the day, I didn't want my choice of fabric in quilting to lead people to say "Oh, don't you just love Debbie Mumm?" or scrapbook pages that scream Basic Grey. I want to take those materials and use them as elements in a unique work. I think Tim Holtz products worry me that way, but happily I have been getting some very Kelly results so far, and I am finding the Distress Range far more versatile than I expected.

Are you looking at any classes this season?

I have my eye on:

Silhouette (cutting machine) Classes from Kerri Bradford

Blogging from the Heart with Susannah Conway

The always tempting (but I've never succumbed yet) Lifebook with Tamara Laporte

Diane Culhane's Table Top at Carla Sonheim's site

and Carla's own Gelli Plate printing class.

I hate the feeling that I might be missing out, but I clearly can't do all of them! And I still have 3 months left in a couple of year long projects, that I would like to finish off properly. I think online classes have their uses, but I think that it is easy to get sidetracked. I think I may just need to show up at the blank page for a while and get some of my own work out.

Retreat Re-entry

re·treat  (r-trt)

A place affording peace, quiet, privacy, or security.
A period of seclusion, retirement, or solitude.
A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study: a religious retreat.
- selected definitions from The Free Dictionary

The instinct to withdraw, for a time, from everyday life to rest and reflect is an old one and a particularly common one amongst seekers of all kinds. Many churches seem to honour this, by providing space and opportunity for retreat during the year. Outside of such structure though, there seems to be a growing recognition for this human need.

I have just returned from the magical Red Fox Retreats' first magical offering... Unravel Your Story. Brace yourself for the cliches. It was wonderful. I am not the same person I was when I arrived there. I will never be the same. I carry everyone there in my heart. Cliches maybe, but so so true. The amazing women hosting us, Sas, Susannah and Meghan, held the word "nourish" at the heart of all their planning and created a magical, safe and healing space. 

Today is a day of reflecting on that experience and gentle re-entry into the world. I hope that I will have more to say about it all, here and in my journals. I will certainly have photos going up later today.

I would love to hear about your retreat experiences, whether spiritual, creative, personal, individually or in a group.