Friday, July 31, 2015

Making time for books

Fiction: The Girl Missing From the Window  |  short stories by Paul O'Reilly

Non-fiction:  Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind by Patrick McKeown

My to-do list has never been longer, but reading counts as an essential element of my day, just like food:

Fiction  |   There is something about short stories (oh, and how I love epigraphs!). These came into my hands courtesy of John. The book was featured on a culture programme on the radio, and we were both driving (separately) and listening to it, and John was hooked as soon as he heard the writer's Wexford accent (John is a proud Wexford man) and bought the book the following day. My reading prescription to myself is to include more short stories. I say this every time I finish a good collection, and then I leave too long a gap again.

Non-fiction  |  I have had this for a good few months, but only read through it the first time around, without doing the exercises. It can be so hard to commit to doing the work required, and it is yet another thing to add to my Daily List for Health and Wellbeing (after yoga, meditation, Transformational Grounding, ...) - this can get overwhelming, the opposite of what I am trying to achieve... But I was intrigued by the Buteyko Breathing Method. In a nutshell, chronic overbreathing causes increased brain cell excitability and thus anxiety and its accompanying physical symptoms, so the aim is to learn to breathe less. I always knew I needed to work on my breathing, but this book doesn't suggest the usual deep breathing techniques. I shall report back.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This place

I am getting ready to move out, donating clothes and books, throwing out volumes of paper filed away in the belief I would need those documents, cuttings and notes (it has turned out I really don't). Most of my 'stuff' is in my studio (as much as minimalism appeals to me, for the artist part of me it is impossible) and on my bookshelves.

The objects in this house all tell a story and are a link to the people who gave them to me. When I taught a summer camp recently, I brought half my household for the still life lesson, and afterwards I noticed my beautiful wooden heart was missing. I mentioned it to the kids the following day, saying it might have got lost in the chaos of leaving the room, and it turned out one of the girls had 'given' it to one of the boys. There was sniggering, and he blushed, and I decided not to ask for it back. This was a sweet story, and I like to think of this cheeky but innocent 10-year old taking home the little wooden heart. It made me realise how much these objects mean to me, but it is the meaning, the story, that is most important.

When I moved in here, I had no idea how long I would stay, and while I made a good few changes (painting some of the furniture white, with my landlady's permission and approval), there were other things I never got around to, possibly because of that tenant mentality of only passing through. My 'gardening' efforts here never extended beyond potted plants. Years ago I shared a house with friends, and one of them designed and maintained an elaborate vegetable patch in the garden. I marvelled at her dedication. She made the most of the short time she lived in that house. I only changed one curtain here, and while I own some pieces of furniture, certain parts of the house - the shoe shelf!- remained in a 'this-will-do-for-now' state for the seven years. And seven years is a long time.

And yet I put a lot of love into this little house. This has been my sanctuary. It has felt like an all-year-round holiday house (it has also felt cold in the last two years, when the cavity insulation had sunk... I am already looking back through rose-tinted glasses). It gave me the luxury of having a dedicated studio space. I documented the changing light and colours across the bay (a long-term project that I want to make into a series of paintings) from my doorstep, and cultivated a wonderful friendship with my 81-year-old neighbour. After the various types of shared accommodation in my student years this was the first place I was able to call home apart from my childhood homes.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Children and art

Little painters

Big painter (photo shoot for upcoming exhibition)

A week of teaching a summer camp and my little neighbours calling to my house to paint and play the guitar (and offer a running commentary on everything from the size of the house - "it's too babyish" - to the "funny smell" of neroli from the oil burner*) showed me once again how much we can learn from children. They do not hesitate; they get stuck right in and intuitively mix the most beautiful colour combinations. They are amazing abstract artists with a good feeling for composition, and they approach figurative painting and drawing with a quirkiness and immediacy older artists can only marvel at.

Working with children always leaves me humbled and in awe of their creativity. We lose so much in the process of growing up, when concepts start to interfere with our innate aesthetic sense. It is so important to nurture our inner child. The next time I stand in front of my easel and catch myself fretting and overthinking, I will remember the sponaneity and enthusiasm of my younger self. And I will think of how my landlady's grandchildren would drop their bicylces and tricyles to come knocking on my door, rattling the letterbox, demanding to paint.

*And, bless their little cotton socks - I may have had an exhausting week, but I was more than happy to give them my full attention, and this is how I evidently came across (with John doing the dishes in the background, to complete the picture): As they declared to their mother when she told them not to bother me, "Marina is never busy!"

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Friends' gardens and all the 'new'

Pink wall and a suited guest

Flower arrangement and willow wolfhound, both by James

Gardens have become a big theme, the backdrop to my summer, both as existing gardens and in daydreams for a future one. Large chunks of the last two weekends were spent in friends' gardens, and what marvellous gardens they are, full of surprises and quirks. Not pictured is garden number 3, where we were all treated to a one-person-at-a-time tour of all the plants (and the tadpoles) by Rab's two sons. And once again I am reminded why I want to add botanical illustrations to my subject matter, together with the interiors and houses that have crept into my work recently.

Summer used to be the time when everything calmed down and there was a sleepy quality to my days, but this year has got to be my busiest summer yet. The freelance side of my work is growing, and I am still figuring out how to live life as a part-time employee and part-time self-employed. The weekdays/weekend divide ceased to exist for me a long time ago, and now it is the same with the 'work seasons'. It is very freeing and has taught me to value every day equally, and of course it helps that I love all my work.

Having said that, I will have a break from teaching, and I am looking forward to that, as much as I enjoy it. Today was the last Wednesday lunchtime class until October, and I will miss that group, and all the others.  But teaching requires a lot of energy, and it will be good to conserve and pour that energy into everything that is coming up in the next few weeks and months, a whole lot of 'new' - an exhibition, two books, a move (more on that later), new online ventures, a new nephew...