Looking back

As we came to the end of the 100 Wash Challenge I thought it might be interesting to revisit a subject I painted before I started my 100 washes.

Just for fun, I devised a little exercise – I repainted a scene I’d first worked on a few months after first picking up a brush. The differences in style are quite marked.
watercolour painting - beach walking

Beach Walking 2 – October 2011





Composition aside, I see:
More confident washes = greater subtlety in the sky and beach sand.
Masking fluid mastery = better defined breaking waves
Better brush skills = figures with more character.

Watercolour painting - beach walking 1


Looking back and reviewing progress can be fascinating, and worthwhile. Looking at these changes has made me think about what other aspects of my painting I should focus on developing next.

Beach Walking – March 2010


Thoughts on Creativity

Where does creativity spring from? Roughly once a year I have the privilege of going on a retreat with a group of business people who, over the years, have become good friends. We spend a full day exploring a new concept or learning something new that has the potential to enhance our business abilities. Quite often there’s an element of creativity in the mix somewhere. Last week six of us had an immersion in face reading with Glenna Trout of FacingFacts. An ex-police officer, Glenna has had over 20 years of experience in assessing people, some of whom are not always in the most co-operative state of mind. We examined a few quite chilling examples of serial killers’ expressions, and some revealing aspects of celebrity character traits showing up that they probably wouldn’t want their public to see.

creativity: watercolour painting - sketch of shadows on a faceAt the end of the day, Glenna gave a candid run down of what she saw in each of us. She talked, amongst other things, about our tendency towards creativity. There was lightbulb moment in what she saw in me. That I am creative, is no real surprise. Her insight was that there is a build up of frustration because that creativity is not expressed often enough, or for long enough. I don’t get angry very often but I must confess that when I do, it is a bit volcanic. I had always glibly put it down to my ‘red head temper’. But, perhaps not.

I don’t think of creativity as being purely an artistic or aesthetic attribute. Many entrepreneurs are fundamentally creative, and there is certainly a strong element of creativity in the thinking behind scientific discovery. However, its more visible manifestations tend to be in the arts.

Intrigued by Glenna’s insight, I asked a couple of very creative people (both artists), for their thoughts on creativity. Here’s what they said:

Maggie Latham talked about her early years, what led her to a deeper understanding of her own creativity, and what it takes to pursue them. She says:
“My mother died when I was a young girl, so I spent many solitary years, growing up before my time. One of the ways I dealt with grief was to daydream of travel and an artist’s life. …and to sketch and walk.

Many years later, my husband passed away unexpectedly and that too made me remember that life is too short not to be doing what is in your heart and soul, however much it may seem like a difficult path to take at the time.

 It was then I decided to stop fooling around with creativity and to dedicate my self, my time, my life, and my energy to the creation of art. Like many, I used to paint when I felt in the mood, but the decision to make the creation of art   my life, means I paint most everyday, and on days when the muse just isn’t there, I write about art, prepare my class work for my watercolour class, or just mange the business side of art.

Like any thing in life, it’s not just about the physical act of doing (painting), but a great deal also about the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm you bring to your chosen media. Even through lean economic times, I never doubt I am on the right track.  I would purchase a new paintbrush over a haircut or new pair of jeans any day!

If you want something to happen bad enough, you have the power within yourself to make that happen, but it does take dedication, tenacity and a positive outlook…. along with a pinch of creative talent.”

Mita Higton said:

“Ah..the creative process! I didn’t know I could paint until I picked up a paintbrush at the ripe old age of 40. Since then, it’s been hard to put it down. I’ve been painting more or less consistently since then. Now it’s got to the point where it completely dominates my life…there’s hardly a day goes by when I don’t paint something. Even when I’m despondent at the lack of sales etc and decide to give it all up and put my stuff away, within a day or so it’s all out again and I’m stuck into something new.

What drives me to keep doing it? I can’t explain, except that the creative urge is something that I’ve always had and governs how I look at the world around me..whether it’s the landscape outside the door, the shape and colour of the clouds, the way a tree bends in the wind, the cottage that fits so neatly into the curve of the hill, or the way the furniture should be arranged in my living room or the curtains I could make with the spare fabric in my cupboard, or how to alter that dress that doesn’t fit properly.

Everything I look at is defined by the creative impulse within me. I want to recreate it in my way, either by putting paint and water on paper or moving a chair into a different position or arranging a vase of flowers and placing it on a table near a window where it will show the best. Is it something I was born with? I don’t know, but it does seem to be prevalent in the family. The urge is always there and no matter how much frustration there may be in recreating something in the way I want, the urge never leaves me.”

As for me:  I decided to try my hand at painting when I realised just how much of my working life was spent in analytical thinking. I felt that I needed some balance and had the idea that by developing a different, more flexible, way of seeing the world, my overall thought process would be enhanced. Logically, if we can maintain our current neural pathways while at the same time developing additional ones by trying something fresh and new, our overall mental agility should improve – and with it,greater creativity.

With regard to Glenna’s insight; I can confirm that one of my frustrations in life is not having enough time to do all the things I want to do. I need a lot more hours in each day to get through all the books I want to read, the websites I want to explore, the paintings I want to paint…

Perhaps with a bit more awareness, and just a few more hours of painting each month, I’ll be able to reduce the number of Vesuvius moments my long-suffering family endure.

Art Auctions for Japan

I’ve seen two websites today which feature art auctions to raise funds for Japan. The artists taking part have been enormously generous; some have donated more than one piece of work to this incredibly worthwhile cause.

In case you’re interested in supporting the people of Japan whose stoicism and hard work in the face of utter devastation have been a real example to the world, here is a list of sites hosting auctions:



And if you don’t fancy buying a piece of art, a donation to the Red Cross appeal for Japan would always be welcome.

I’ll happily add more to this page if you let me know about other find raisers for Japan at this challenging time.

Back to the roots

The Christmas snow was beautiful and also created a challenge for many people. Yesterday I went for a post-thaw walk down to the river and noticed the bark had been stripped from these roots all along the edge of the fields.  What first struck me was how dramatically the vine roots stand out against the tree trunks.  The outer layer of the roots has been gnawed off, probably by frequent visitors to our gardens, Muntjac deer.

The snow was harsh on our wildlife.

A Christmas card I’ll treasure

This is the time of year for blog posts that look back on what’s been achieved over the past 12 months.  2010 has had a few ‘firsts’ for me and the prospect of early 2011 is exciting – there are some interesting work projects for the first couple of months.

But my roundup of 2010 is really about developing creativity and doing things a little more informally. Its been an exercise in learning to loosen up and relax with being a novice. My watercolour attempts quite quickly turned into some fun ideas with hand-painted business cards and gift tags, as well as being a bit more serious and putting my first paintings on exhibition.

Yesterday was a real highlight when I got a Christmas card that I absolutely love. Here’s the front of Anna’s gorgeous card:

And here’s the message:

I think that puts the cherry on top of my year.  I hope Anna spends many, many happy hours being creative and sharing that with people, and if I’ve helped to make that happen in any way – that really makes my year!

(Thanks for letting me know, Anna)

Tiny paintings with a purpose

I’m off to an interesting event on Tuesday. Its an event that warrants hand-made business cards.

Doug Shaw, (the man who eats Harvey Nichols sparkly cupcakes with a knife and fork) is one of the most creative people I know. Over the past year, Doug has facilitated some lively conversations on his LinkedIn group.

Doug has now set up an opportunity for the group members to get together. Part of what will make this event special will be the fact that Doug has asked people to bring non-standard business cards. Its always fascinating to see the different ways people approach this sort of thing. I’ve had a sneak preview of Doug’s very tactile 3D cards on Facebook. Here are some of mine (click on an image to open the gallery):

Business cards
[miniflickr photoset_id=”72157625385157376″ ]

They took a while, but I had a lot of fun making them. The pencil sharpener provides a sense of scale for each.

Doug has been experimenting this week by offering people the choice of one of his standard printed business cards, or one of his handmade ones. In every case, they’ve picked the handmade version. I may consider keeping a stock of these.

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.

Can you hold a world in the palm of your hand?

The FreeMe Wildlife rehabilitation centre rescues wild animals that have wandered (or been brought) into the urban sprawl of Johannesburg. Increasingly, the burgeoning housing developments in cities all over the world is creating a problem – reducing habitat for wildlife. FreeMe does a great job of housing, feeding and healing animals that otherwise might not survive in the alien environment of the concrete and fences.

The organisation is staffed in part by volunteers.  This week, my sister and her children, who are FreeMe supporters, gave sanctuary to ‘Meatball’, the Leopard Tortoise. Once found, his presence at home was a little fraught because they also have a number of large dogs who might consider him a tasty morsel.

Here’s why:


Its hard to imagine a tortoise could be that small


But definitely not one of your 5-a-day! – despite his size.


In “Terry Pratchett’s eyes, could this be considered ‘having the world in the palm of your hand’?


(OK – very small world, but still.)

So it was FreeMe to the rescue – and Meatball is no longer at risk of becoming a canine appetiser.

Oh, and I guess FreeMe might quite need some cash to feed all these animals – so if you fancy making a donation I’m sure they would be pleased.

Photo Credits: Lori

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: