Wednesday, March 29, 2017
There are a few pages in one of my notebooks where I jot down things I feel I 'ought to' do daily (and another section for 'weekly', and one for 'monthly') in order to have a good day insofar far as my own actions and choices can influence it. It has grown to quite a substantial list, and if I were to run through this list every day, it would leave me exhausted and frantic, but I like to write things down when they occur to me or when I come across advice that I think might be useful to incorporate, and it serves as a choose-from menu rather than a to-do list.
The 'daily' things range from kitchen tasks such as 'clear all the dishes, make kefir and soak almonds before going to bed' to work-related activities, for example doing a daily sketch and using paints in some form.
We all know what we can do to be happier, healthier and better people, but so often we choose not to do those things, at times to the point of sabotage.
Some items on my list have become habits by now, such as doing yoga (almost) daily and going for a walk or working in the garden. Others I dip into and then might forget for weeks or months until I return to them. What I am likely to forget or ignore I try to tie to another activity, until it becomes a habit to do B while doing A. For example, I stand on one leg while brushing my teeth or filling the water filter (balancing on one leg is one of the easier exercises I should be doing two or three times a week for my patellofemoral pain syndrome) and having all the windows in the house open for the four minutes the coffee is brewing.
Recent additions include washing my eyes every morning (an ayurvedic practice I didn't know about) and drinking matcha tea every afternoon instead of every now and again. I cannot say whether my eyes are actually more refreshed, but I love the strange feeling of splashing cold water into them, and just thinking of all the green in matcha tea gives me a boost when drinking it.
My daily painting these days can be for hours on days I work from home or quick sketches with acrylics when time is short. I finally, finally am going through all the photographs I took of the view from the chalet, where I lived for almost seven years, and from our new house (with a very similar view, as it is just seven minutes further west and on a similar height) and making them into small paintings.
Monday, March 20, 2017
We were in London for the weekend, and we couldn't leave the marvel that is Foyles without buying books. While I get overwhelmed by big cities and crowds, this trip was a tonic in various ways, and the books we got are extending that effect.
On the way over, my reading material for the flight was the tiny, almost weightless Penguin book of Katherine Mansfield stories that resides on the top of a pile of books in the guest room (I always appreciate it when rooms or cafés have books, so this was important to me). I thought I had perfected the art of travelling light, but on the way back our carry-on luggage was stuffed full with the aforementioned books and quite a lot of baby things for the newest family member, as John couldn't stop himself amidst the gorgeous prints and embroidery.
Reading Mansfield on the plane reminded me of how much I adore her work, so one of the books I sought out was a selection of her stories along with essays and correspondence. The other one I happened upon when browsing the A to Z of artists: a new edition of this biography of Vanessa Bell. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the exhibition in the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Through my work in the University (there is a Roger Fry painting in the art collection and research being undertaken around this) the Bloomsbury group has been on my mind, so I am very excited. This is one of those books I think I should take my time with in order to make it last longer, but I have a feeling I won't be able to stop reading.
I love the epigraph, and while I don't necessarily agree with Murdoch, not being particularly good at happiness myself (reading this after viewing paintings by artists who ended up committing suicide didn't help), I get what she means and I do "live with" my craft and consider myself lucky.
Being immersed in the beauty of the writing by one of the masters of the short story and in Vanessa Bell's circle (not to forget the gallery visits and tiny anchors on yellow fabric!) has made me eager to get back to the easel and most certainly is a source of happiness right now.
Monday, March 13, 2017
It feels good to return to my normal routine after weeks of working for a festival. I spent yesterday morning in a cleaning frenzy - I had missed domestic chores when my only time at home over the last few weeks was occupied by sleep. Some people thrive on working for events and being surrounded by people and getting home late, but I am not one of them, although I do enjoy all the design work.
This year I also ended up doing the festival artwork again. I didn't even know what a Victorian bathing machine was five months ago.
I created two versions - one in coloured pencils, placed on a flat background, which I used for the invites and for the web, and one in acrylics for the posters and the programmes.
Now that all the stress (a word I swore I would not use anymore but that left my lips at least once per day) has fallen away, I look forward to following my Victorian lady's lead and immersing myself in the water of the local hotel swimming pool, courtesy of John, who got me a voucher, and soon the beckoning sea.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
A friend gave us an entire china tea set that she herself had been given as a wedding gift about three decades ago, and we have been using it regularly. The plates are the ideal size for cake and cake-like food.
My sister made these no-bake brownies a few weeks ago, and since then I have made a batch (half the recipe, because I never seem to have enough of one of the ingredients) every Sunday to have on hand for the week. They are packed with dates and ground walnuts and almonds and technically quick to make, but since I don't have a kitchen machine, I use a large knife to chop the dates into smaller and smaller pieces until they resemble a paste. I have an immersion blender with a separate part that has larger blades, but my sister ruined the blades on her blender with sticky dates, so I refrain from trying it. There is a bit of icing sugar in the ganache (I put in less than suggested, and the consistency is fine), but no added sugar in the brownie itself.
An almost sugar-free dessert I make a lot and keep in the freezer is this raspberry ripe, which takes minutes to make. It tastes best when it is semi-frozen.
With both of these you can only eat a small amount, as they are very filling, and you don't get cravings for sugar or stodge. They are delicious, and eating them from beautiful delicate plates (with your fingers, though - my photo lies) adds to the pleasure.
Friday, February 3, 2017
This is not our house, though we had viewed a couple of old cottages and were tempted (I was living in a small house myself at the time). We realised quickly that we wouldn't be able to cohabit in one without killing each other, so instead we have a house that lacks charm on the outside, but has a studio and space for not just us, but family and friends, and we have had so many visitors, it was the right choice.
This is a sketch of a house we pass on one of our walks. Postcard-pretty scenes abound around here.
Speaking of walks, John asked his wider family to submit three songs each for a compilation of 'chill-out music' for the unstable times we are living in, and it has been a great way of discovering new music. I love the simplicity of this song (John's aunt's choice) about a summer walk, and it captures the whole spirit of this project, putting aside one's worries for a while. It was written for the songwriter's children, and I have listened to it countless times already and play it in my art classes.
Other recent discoveries include watching Hitchcock's Vertigo for the first time, courtesy of my brother-in-law, and being blown away by the sumptuous use of colour, the sheer abundance of mesmerising scenes and the many possible ways of interpreting it. And I have made an oft-repeated pledge to peruse our own library before buying more books and am reading The Shipping News. I am also re-reading Art & Fear, an invaluable book a friend gave me years ago, a compassionate and passionate plea for artists to make their own work without worrying about the audience and use their own material, their own time and place. Like a summer walk with your kids.
Friday, January 27, 2017
While daily walks have become a non-negotiable for me, I would love to be the person who goes for a walk or a run first thing in the morning. Especially when working from home, as a pretend commute. And on days off.
At least once a week over the past three months I have got a sense of what it feels like to be that person. I was offered some part-time work in a neighbouring village for a few weeks on the days I would normally work from home (saving up for that external wall insulation!) that mainly requires me to just be there, so in the 90% of quiet time I can do my own (portable) work.
Since we share a car and the village isn't within walking distance, John drops me off on his way to work, meaning I arrive almost an hour early, and in that hour I walk to the next beach. It is wonderful - I get all the benefits of a walk and the sound and smell of the sea and the sublime colours of winter sunrises. The days I do this I feel less lethargic while sitting at the desk. And yet I haven't done it once on all the other days when I didn't have an extra hour 'imposed' on me in this way.
Habits take months to form (the 21 days is a myth, sadly), and this job will come to an end before that magic turning point might arrive, so I will need to rely on my willpower and overcome my 'inner pigdog', as the German language calls the lack of the former, to make it happen. I am a morning person, after all.
Monday, January 23, 2017
The sun has been splitting the stones, an incentive to do the very few January jobs there are in the garden (this gardening column advised to simply take this month to read gardening books - sadly I am still very far from calling myself a gardener, but nearly all the books she recommends are on my to-read list). John's father gave us a new clothes line, which we baptised with four of my hand-wash only clothes, a dance of glittery silky dresses sparkling in the winter sun.
He also gave us a bird house, and John painted it with non-toxic paint, but so far there are no occupants. We may well have to find a new location for it among some yellow, as this colour, though muted, could attract predators where it is now.
I am sketching in my one-sketch-a-day and my regular sketchbook, but the only painting I have been doing lately is on skirting boards and walls. It feels overwhelming when I think of the entire house, but breaking it down into rooms and single-task thinking helps. Last week I became obsessed with caulking - who would have thought that fixing loose architraves and skirting could have such a grounding effect. I guess living in a house exposed to the West of Ireland winds tunes you in to the impermanence of anything man-built, and gaps and cracks and looseness heighten that sense.
A year ago the builders were at work, and progress since then (us left to our own devices) has been slow. The next six weeks will be the busiest of the year in my day job, coupled with a new illustration project with a very real deadline, which explains why I suddenly have this urge to get everything else done.