Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Silence and Quiet (and kale)



Some snapshots from the last few months:

1  |  The perfect book pair. I had been meaning to read Susan Cain's Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking ever since its publication spawned myriad articles, talks and interviews. This summer I finally bought it in a small independent bookshop in West Cork (sometimes it is nice to wait for serendipity - I will always remember where I got this book). It has helped me focus on the positive sides of my (often extreme) introversion instead of beating myself up for the downsides, of which there are many: to name just one example, in my thirties I still have a phone phobia that means I have to settle and prepare myself in a quiet room to ring places such as the dental surgery, and I will shake when making those calls.
My sister-in-law gave me explorer Erling Kagge's book Silence in the Age of Noise, and I read his philosophical vignettes parallel to Quiet

2  |   Light-and-shadow patterns in the living room

3  |  Kale is officially this year's polytunnel star - it has been thriving. I add it to nearly every meal I make and we have been giving a lot away, yet I still cannot keep up.
Cut off in the corner of this photo is my paperback of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, another book that had been on my list for a while and that also 'came to me' when I was browsing that new-to-me bookshop on holiday. I had given my mum a hardcover copy a year earlier. Patchett is one of my favourite writers, and this may well be my favourite novel of hers - it also fit perfectly with my ongoing preoccupation with the symbolism of houses (I still have strange dreams about my childhood home). I love the story behind the painting on the cover: Patchett commissioned an artist friend, Noah Saterstrom, to paint one of the main characters for the book jacket, and the mesmerising portrait has taken on a life of its own.
Speaking of paintings, I only realised after I had taken the photo of the kale bouquet that John is in it twice - on the couch in the background and in the painting on the wall, both in profile and in the same shirt!

4  |  More light at play. An (indoor) plant that hasn't been thriving is the money plant a friend and former housemate gave me over ten years ago when she moved out. It is down to a stump, with some struggling tiny green leaves that I won't give up on. I am fairly certain that where we put it is not the correct location according to Feng Shui, but refuse to worry about what this might signify. But the citrus trees are doing well, thanks to John's green fingers and my nephew's diligent watering (it is one of the first things he will check whenever he visits - he loves refilling the drip-watering glass bird planters). 
We have the late Tim Robinson's Burren map in the living room (from where we can look out across the bay at the Burren) and his Aran Islands map in the guest room.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

In the studio



Just a few glimpses of my studio/office (a spare room in our house), where I am spending even more time now that I am also teaching remotely:

 1  |  I have four of these bamboo picture ledges in two rows on one wall, with finished canvases and paintings that are drying. On the wall opposite I put this one up behind my desk to keep pencils, pens, small brushes and other supplies I use frequently within reach, but where they don't clutter up my desk. This is currently the backdrop for the majority of my video calls and classes.

2  |  One of these skinny drawers (which are great for storing work on paper) holds an antique letterpress tray I got John as a gift, with the type pieces he had bought. We use these to make cards and similar and are going to create the text for our next picture book with them. The plan is to get a glass lid made for the tray and put it on a frame with legs, so it can be used as a side table, but for now it is stored away in this drawer.

3  |  I have a couple of desk easels for smaller canvases and one standing easel. I try to paint standing at the large easel as much as possible, and the desk easels are great for displaying work-in-progress, as I tend to have several paintings on the go at any one time and like being able to have them all in view.

4  |  For oil paintings I mainly use water-mixable oils, for environmental reasons and so I don't have to breathe in turpentine fumes and other toxic solvents. Cleaning up is much easier with these, too. I bought a Dyson purifying fan heater (with a cooling function and a detailed analysis of potential pollutants) a few months ago, as I was worried about the air quality in the room, but it tells me everything is in the green range, so that is reassuring. We also had the house tested for radon after I was diagnosed with lung cancer as a young non-smoker. I try not to worry too much about all the external factors that may contribute to cancer, and some, such as electromagnetic radiation, are beyond my control to a large extent, but it gives me peace of mind to have these tests done. 

5  |  Marion Milner's books have their own shelf (most of my art books are kept in this room). I have started using my ink pen (not pictured) and bottled ink more again. The beautiful glass pen was a present from my aunt - I had kept it at my mum's house for years and finally took it with me after my last visit. 

6. We have plants in every room of the house and I am trying to keep these two happy. The vegetation in the self-portrait is a field with thistles close to my childhood home in Germany.


The window is to the right of my desk and I can see a large part of the garden, including our three new hens and one of our bird feeders. There is a white horse in the field across the road, which offers some consolation in the wake of the departure of 'our' beloved donkeys that used to come to the wall in our back garden. They must have been moved to a different field, as that land was sold recently. We miss them a lot.

I have rituals around working from home that I have been using for years to mark some sort of division between work and home life (though the lines are blurred), but now they have taken on extra significance. At the moment I am recording videos for some of my classes, and I plan my outfits, jewellery and nail polish for those, whereas on days nobody will see me I put on my large painting jumper or apron (I am looking into sustainable boiler suits and dungarees for more coverage, even though I am not that messy a painter, but I still manage to get stains on unlikely areas of my clothes).

In any case I attempt to generate a 'going to work' feeling by getting ready as if I were leaving the house. This also involves a few morning routine clich├ęs such as meditation, a yoga sequence, making celery juice and writing my morning pages. I air the room for a few minutes and clap to clear stagnant energy, and I mix essential oils for the diffuser that are stimulating and help with concentration or create an uplifting atmosphere, so a lot of peppermint, rosemary, clary sage, geranium, lemon, orange and lemongrass. There are endless mugs of (mostly herbal) tea and some of them get spoiled by accidentally dipping my brush in them, but I try not to eat in this room (as I want to eat mindfully - nothing to do with weight control; I am trying to put on weight!), though snacks will find their way in here.

I have my laughing Buddha on a bookshelf to the left of my desk and a stuffed elephant my younger sister made for me on my desk for a similar reason (or up on a shelf when I am recording videos for children and the elephant represents my audience - this was a tip we were given) - it keeps me in touch with my inner child and the playful side of life and is a reminder not to take anything too seriously.