Friday, June 29, 2012


I am functioning on very little sleep at the moment; it takes me forever to get to sleep and then I wake again before 5am. Since I usually tend to sleep too much, it certainly makes for a change I need to get used to. The first morning I swam 1.6km on two hours' sleep and felt incredibly light and energetic, but by day 2 I could hardly walk up the stairs in the library.

Today I had to stand on a step ladder to hang my work (not high at all, of course, but I always feel a bit queasy on ladders at the best of times, and fiddling with the backs of paintings, cords and hooks makes you lose your balance more easily) and was exhausted afterwards. These paintings are part of a group exhibition in this festival. I will add photos of the individual paintings to my website soon, and maybe post them here as well.

It may look like a random selection, but they are sort of linked and might even tell a story. They are part of my female archetypes series, which seems to remain the main theme in my paintings for now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's the journey...

Last week I was back in the swing of things with the illustrations. I immersed myself in the world of animals and enjoyed it immensely - the patterns, the postures, the behaviour, how they relate to each other and their environment in terms of height, etc.

 Sending an update with the latest illustrations off to the writer

As Martha Beck said in her article "Enjoyment is in the Waiting", instead of longing for the day things are "signed, sealed, and delivered" and thinking only then will we be "free to enjoy ourselves", we should enjoy the process, the creating, and "relax around the concept of disappointment. Tension and anxiety won't make you less disappointed if you don't get what you want". I waste so much time and energy with anxiety and worry, so I really need to keep reminding myself of this, both in the context of creative pursuits and in other areas of my life.

Occasionally I feel overwhelmed by deadlines and work in progress that at times doesn't seem to be progressing at all, but I wouldn't be happy if I didn't have any ongoing projects or challenges. The idea of taking the summer off completely is tempting sometimes, but really I love having things to work on.

This is a painting I didn't get framed in the end - for now this is where it lives. I like having paintings leaning against the wall; you have to crouch to look at them properly, and it makes the encounter more intimate in a way.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


When I read, I take notes, I underline sentences and paragraphs, and often, if I don't want to interrupt the reading flow, I just jot down the page number when there is something I know I will want to come back to. I have a notebook by my bedside just for that purpose.

There are excerpts that are moving or thought-provoking, or it may be the beauty of a certain arrangement of words. I keep them all in various books and folders and I love revisiting them; they take me back to the book in question, to a particular time in my life, and they trigger feelings, ideas and new ways of thinking. Some seem so familiar, others surprise me on re-reading.

And then there are those that I know by heart and they keep returning and I cannot get them out of my head for weeks.

Recently these two passages have been haunting me:

"It's not that. Honestly. It's just that I don't know who you are."
There was a silence. "Don't talk riddles," he whispered. 
"I'm not. I really don't know who you are."
If he couldn't see her face, at least he could touch it. He did so with a blind man's delicacy, drawing his fingertips from her temple down into the hollow of her cheek.
"And even if I did," she said, "I'm afraid it wouldn't help, because you see I don't know who I am, either."

(p. 262, Yates, Richard: Revolutionary Road, Vintage, London 2009) *

"I once started to work from a model and I was painting her breasts one day when I had the extremely strange feeling that there was nothing there. Two days later, she committed suicide."

(pp. 115f., Gayford, Martin: Man With a Blue Scarf. On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, Thames and Hudson, London 2010)

[* Yates on his central theme: "If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy."]

Monday, June 18, 2012


Five paintings are now in the hands of a very capable framer, and suddenly my studio looks very empty. This brought on the usual cleaning frenzy I get into once something is completed. I probably get way too bothered about disintegrating food in the fridge and a pile of old newspapers, but I am not going to fight it - I need order and calm around me, and while all the tidying and organising may be procrastination, I have come to see it as an important, therapeutic part of my routine. I also baked spelt bread. Between the cleaning and the baking, I feel on top of things.

I slept twelve hours, uninterrupted, last night and the night before, and this worries me a bit, but I am not going to fight that, either. Maybe I just need to slow down. It has been a hectic, turbulent and emotional few weeks, and if I only react by sleeping a lot instead of getting sick, which used to be my response to all sorts of stress, then that's ok.

As much as I like teaching, it's nice to have a break from it, and since it is the only strictly time-structured work I do, I can mostly decide my schedule myself for the weeks ahead. I still wonder whether I actually would benefit from more structure in my life, but I love the freedom I have. It almost feels like my summer has started already.

I don't want to over-plan it, but I have been thinking about how I would like to spend this summer, and there are some plans that need to be made, such as travel arrangements. It will be a mixture of work and play, and thankfully the two often overlap and merge. Most importantly, I want to spend the summer in a way that means it won't just pass me by. That sounds vague and is still quite vague to me. It involves living with the season, doing summer things, eating summer foods, and hopefully spending a lot of time outside. Sleeping less might be necessary! (And it would help if temperatures went above 16 degrees again...)

Friday, June 15, 2012

These days

detail - work in progress

Painting: I am painting -and drawing- and feeling happy. Reading about Lucian Freud has been both liberating (he was painting when it was extremely unfashionable and didn't care; he always did his own thing) and intimidating (he could be quite critical and damning of other artists' work). I can only paint freely when I don't think about who will see the result and how it will be judged. I need to do it for myself. 

Then, of course, occasionally I exhibit my work (and I show it online all the time), and that makes it and me vulnerable and exposed. But I am just so content that I am creating again and on a regular basis that this feeling of joy is above everything else.

Learning: I was working on this programme, and this year there were barely any hiccups. Since my only training in graphic design so far has been a one-day course for Adobe Illustrator (a programme I don't have yet), it can be challenging (for me and for the printers, who have to deal with what I give them), but I am learning a lot (though my favourite parts remain the handmade ones - I enjoyed creating the artwork).

Wearing: Reason number 764 why my sister should open an etsy shop.(This is so beautiful, Anke!) I don't have a photo of the back, but you tie the choker with a ribbon, and it has tiny beads where the ribbon is attached to the lace. I will wear this a lot.

The view from my bed in the evening

Reading: After working on the computer a lot recently, which resulted in an aching body and dry eyes, I am now keeping my evenings computer-free. Since I only have a small not-very-soft couch, I set up a reading/tea-drinking/notebook-and-sketchbook island on my bed and sit there with the last bits of daylight, and it is lovely. I am reading Marion Milner and am getting so much out of her books (am working on a post about her).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cotton crochet cuff

This year I don't want to have a summer break from knitting and crocheting. I want my beach bag to include needles, hooks and yarn. The combination of wool and heat doesn't seem appealing, though, so cotton, silk and bamboo will be my summer yarns.

I have made a few cotton cuffs/bracelets - they are a quick project, easily made in one go, and once you have figured out the size, you can play around with variations. Patterns including treble stitches (or anything with big enough gaps) mean you don't have to make buttonholes and can adjust the width - the example below can be made tighter for the wrist and wider for wearing further down (or up, depending which way you look at it - closer to the fingers).


I have used up all the small spare buttons I had, such as the ones that come with a garment, so I'll have to stock up - I love choosing buttons.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Subconscious connections

Today this scene in my bedroom...


...may have led to this sketch:

detail, work-in-progress

Oils are drying quite fast in this warmer weather. Overnight a thin layer dries enough to allow dry-brushing on top of it the following day.

The dog isn't mine, but a frequent visitor. We went for a walk that started out as a run, before it became clear that running with a tiny dog is not feasible. I am glad - even though I'd wanted to get sweaty and clear my head, this worked just as well; it forced me to slow down and -literally- stop and smell the roses (as well as other flowers). We also spent some time with the horses and donkeys.

And then this evening a dog appeared on my canvas. There are so many subconscious connections and associations involved in the process of creating. I didn't think of the link between the two dogs until I went through the photos I had taken.

I also realised that my breakfast of choice for the last few days seems to have informed the colours I am using: 

detail, work-in-progress

Granted, I use berry colours a lot, anyway, and naples yellow has been a favourite for months now. But this particular combination, including the pumpkin seed colour, is probably new.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The poetry of botanical illustrations

It might have started with The Paper Garden - lately I have been obsessed with prints and drawings of flowers and other plants. I like Maria Sibylla Merian's work and Edwin Dalton Smith's beautiful detailed illustrations for the botanist Robert Sweet. He did hundreds or possibly thousands of them, and I think an ongoing project such as his must be extremely satisfying and the repetitive nature of a series gives it a meditative quality. (Having a theme can be quite liberating, even if that sounds paradoxical: it takes away some of the terror of the blank sheet when you sit down to paint or draw.)

I love the delicacy of etchings and etching-like drawings, and there is something mesmerising about the detail in this type of illustration, describing every vein in a leaf or petal . And I say that as someone who generally prefers a more raw "unfinished" style. But there are certain types of drawings and paintings where an eye for detail does not amount to overworking or overload. And I am moved by the labour of love evident in something that obviously took time to complete and where nothing goes unnoticed and everything is of equal value, whether it is a perfect petal or a bruised leaf or a spider. (side note: I also keep thinking about the tiny brushstrokes Lucian Freud used for a bathrobe in one of his earlier paintings)

I got this book on scents as a gift (my family knows me well!) and it is currently on the top of my coffee table book pile - apart from being very informative it has gorgeous botanical illustrations: