Mixing media

Landscape watercolour painting - Mist Clearing
Mist clearing (watercolour 40cm x 28cm)

So often, it strikes me that there is a parallel between my current painting and something else I’m working on at the time.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the various online profiles we have and been aware that it’s all too easy for social media to give a skewed perception of who we are and what we do.  LinkedIn provides a reasonably comprehensive view of my working life, while Facebook and this website focus mainly on my painting. If you read any one of the three, you’ll get a very specific picture of who I am and what I do – but it’s only a think slice of the whole.

Last week I set up an About.Me page to pull all aspects into one single page. It took a few attempts to get the balance right between all aspects, and a good number of runs at getting the text right. I’ve written before about how difficult I find it to write about myself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a challenge. I got some extremely helpful feedback from friends along the way which helped enormously to refine my thinking about balance and tone for the content.  In time I’ll probably add some information about my work life to this website so the balance follows through here, but my blogging on this site will still be about sharing my painting.

On which subject – I’ve been thinking about doing some work in mixed media, something I’ve only touched upon once or twice in the past. I find the variety of marks created by different media can give a painting a different type of depth and interest so today, I had a go using watercolour, gouache and gesso in a painting.  If I were to start over from scratch I would probably tweak the composition in one or two ways, but overall, I quite like the atmosphere of this painting and I’ll keep on using multimedia in future. Maybe not for every painting, but certainly for a fair few.

Watercolour Reflections: Translucence and Flow

Bushveld watercolour reflections
Bushveld Reflections

Bushveld: watercolour reflections in three colours is one of my recent paintings.

When I first tried my hand at painting, my tutor, Mark said he thought my forté would be big bright abstracts in oils. I’ve not tried oils yet – that’s on my list for some time in the future.  I spent a lot of time trying to paint precise representations of what I saw in front of me. I didn’t really have a particular style – still don’t really.

But something is beginning to emerge and its proving Mark’s point to some degree – they are bright and they are verging on the abstract – the difference is that they’re just modest in size and they’re watercolours. I’m finding that the more I do these, the more I like them. I love the atmosphere they create for me – this first one makes me think of Africa.

Then there’s a touch of Scotland in the next one:

Morning Stillness

And I see a summer sunset in France in the last one:

Molten Gold

Extreme landscapes are clearly my thing at the moment.

Update on Watercolour Reflections (May 2014)

I’m revisiting my old blog posts to update them. It’s interesting to see how my work has changed over the years.  All of these paintings are now in new homes. Bushveld reflections and Morning Stillness were sold as you see them in this blog. Molten Gold was cropped and became two paintings which went together as a pair to their new owners.

Watercolour is a wonderful medium for painting landscapes – and particularly for ones that feature water.  As they do in two of the paintings in this post, watercolour reflections benefit from the translucence and flow of the medium.

One thing has remained constant in the past few years:  my love of big, bright landscapes.


The Power of Vulnerability

No wonder Brené Brown’s TEDx talk about vulnerability is so popular. It’s a fantastically powerful talk, about an important and misunderstood subject.

Organising a TEDx event can become all-consuming. I’ve been immersed in the process for our first TEDxGranta event due to take place in December. Some days it feels a little overwhelming and I have found myself wondering why I jumped in the deep end on this project. But the up-side is that I’ve watched a lot more TED talks in the process.

And just when I was having one of those ‘why did I think this was a good idea?’ moments, I found Brené Brown’s entertaining talk about vulnerability.  She talks about the benefits of taking emotional risks, and the down-sides of constantly avoiding them.

Vulnerability is OK

Over the past few years I’ve had times when I’ve heard bad news about friends who are having health scares. In some instances, everything pans out and life goes back to normal. But in some very sad cases, there is a real long term, sometimes terminal, illness. It’s at that point that the people involved invariably start to focus on time with the people they love, and time doing things they love, or things they want to do in the limited time they have left.

None of us knows when we might be on the receiving end of this sort of bad news – or how close to home the impact will be.  We spend so much time chasing our tails just keeping up with our fast paced life, and in the process, being ‘strong’, that we lose sight of the important things in life in the process.

This talk is a great highlighter of the price of trying to be invulnerable. A useful reminder that when we live a risk-free life, it’s likely to be a less joyful existence as well. Invulnerability is really an illusion. And a bit of vulnerability is OK at times.

Challenging yourself

Challenging yourself – or at least your pre-conceived ideas about yourself is an interesting exercise. I’m sure that in the main, it is self-fulfilling. In the words of Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right”.  But once in a while, you’re surprised and delighted to find that you were wrong.

Last October I took a leap and challenged the idea I’d harboured all my life: the one that said I have no artistic ability.  I immersed myself in drawing and painting for 4 days at Chenevaux and that was it – I was hooked. Mark’s teaching style was perfect – he knew exactly how much structure and theory to give me, and how much freedom to explore. The result was a mini portfolio of 4 paintings and a sketch book which I was determined to get into my miniscule Ryan Air luggage allowance, even if I had to leave my shoes behind.

My first finished picture. It wasn't framed when it went into my Ryan Air allowance

My first reaction was to want to be able to do it all Right Now! I am impatient and demanding of myself by nature and I expected every blank piece of paper to become a finished painting. When I reached a point where I felt I needed an outside perspective, Jo Tunmer persuaded me to start putting photos of my paintings on Facebook. What a scary moment that was! But also, as it turned out, a fantastic piece of advice and a wonderful motivation to paint more. I love the fact that people seem enjoy looking at my work.

Lori Bentley in FranceMy fabulously talented sister who was always ‘the artistic one’ in the family, has been a really valuable sounding board. (I was ‘the numbers one’).

Challenging yourself – the next steps:

It felt hugely presumptuous to think that I could paint something worth putting on exhibition. And yet that seemed a good milestone to aim for. So, aim for it I did. And early in October I had a series of my painting in a local exhibition for the first time.  My first year of painting has been a massive eye-opener in so many ways. Finding out that painting can be learned (even by someone who has always been ‘the numbers one’), watching and waiting for a style to emerge (still waiting..), and in many cases looking at a finished work and finding it difficult to believe that I did that (even though I was there at the time 🙂 ).

So the question now is: what will you to to start challenging yourself?

A break for your brain

I came across this un-blog a while ago and bookmarked it because its such a cool idea.

We spend our lives rushing around trying to achieve more and more, in a chaotic environment which seems to get busier and louder every day.  Watching the one minute video clips in this blog seems to just slow everything down for a little while – great for a quick battery recharge.  I found if I just switch off and focus on the video, I can almost smell the cool, crisp early morning air, or, depending which video is on for the day, the sea spray.

Like having a holiday in a minute.

Have a look at today’s video:

Your 5-a-Day

Mindapples is a project looking for support – and its one that you might find fantastically useful.

Andy Gibson, whose brainchild this is, decided that if 5-a-day could help keep us physically healthy, then its logical to assume a different 5-a-day would help with mental health.  Its like going to the gym but for your mind. (Actually, going to the gym is good for your mind. Exercise is definitely one of those things that’s a ‘must’ on the list).

Andy is trying to get 1000 responses to the short survey and he’s almost there. Worth adding your 5-a-day to the list.


Picture credit: Berkley Breathed

Blowing your own trumpet

Last Thursday I was invited to speak at the launch of the 2008 East of England Businesswoman Awards in Norwich.  The organisers of the Award wanted me to speak about my experience over the past year and to encourage other women to take part in the process. Part of that message was about overcoming the feeling of reticence about blowing our own trumpets.

I’m not sure whether this is a particularly female characteristic, I think its probably something most people feel to a greater or lesser degree. I do know that I have had moments when I have been reluctant to step into the spotlight.  Our culture teaches us from an early age that its wrong to be boastful, that vanity is a bad thing, and that ‘nobody likes a show-off’.  And yet, we forget some of the equally sensible messages about being the best that we can, and not hiding it. The quote by Marianne Williamson (now widely acknowledged as having been incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela), kinda says it quite well – “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

I have come to realise that it’s context that makes all the difference. Of course, nobody likes a show-off. But when is a parent talking glowingly about their child seen as boastful, and when is it seen as simple loving pride?  When is it acceptable to speak proudly about the achievements of your organisation, and when is that considered ‘pushy’ business talk?  The result of this confusion I think, is that we err further towards keeping quiet about the special things we’ve done.
We want our people to feel pride in being part of the business. Why would we not want them to talk about that fact; to talk about colleagues they admire and about cool things their team have done? And, if you’re part of a team (and we all are at some level), consider this… Are you doing the team a disservice by being overly-modest yourself?

So I say – blow your own trumpet! Tell people what you’re proud of. And encourage others to do the same. It takes a bit of thinking to overcome our conditioned reticence, but it will get easier with practice.

Reality TV’s Lovemark?

An interesting extension to my last post came in the form of the item written by Saatchi & Saatchi CEO and author of Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts, on his blog – about Growing Love.

He writes about a concept being developed by Dr Robert Epstein, former Psychology Today editor, who wants to build a reality TV show showing people making an effort to treat each other with respect in order to build love in their relationship. He’s based the idea on arranged marriages where despite the lack of love at the start, quite often the initial ceremonial bond grows into one of real love and respect.

In my book, the key to good relations in the workplace as well as at home is in that word, “respect”. And that’s exactly the element that’s absent in Dragon’s Den, and even more so in The Apprentice.

The Story of Stuff

Tim Sanders wrote about The Story of Stuff this week. Its a story about sustainability. Its told with clarity, simplicity and a touch of humour. But its not a simple story. It outlines the complexity of living in a consumer economy and the impact it is having on the Third World – and will inevitably have on all of us.

Watch the movie online and if it strikes a chord – pass it on.

The Paradox of Time

It seems counter-intuitive to slow down in order to speed up – but that may well be worth a try. Getting organised and making time to sort through the piles of work does take time. But its also creates far greater clarity – and then time to reflect on the really important stuff.

I’ve found that first of all, getting all my ‘stuff’ together in one list was completely terrifying. I’m still working to get it all listed – and there’s a pretty big box of it yet to sort. But as I go through the process, being able to discard some of it is fantastic. Its completely liberating. Now that I’m almost at the point of having it all listed, I can also start to prioritise and group activities so I use my time better.

Suspend disbelief and resist the urge to just keep your head down and plough through the backlog. It can really be a lot better to pause for reflection and re-organisation.