Thursday, 2 May 2013

Confessions of a straight lace

This is my 2013 vision board.
Owing to various circumstances I didn't finish it until last week.
I've had the images stashed away for ages, the words rolling around my head. I know how I want this year to feel.
The thing is this: I'm worried about that word Wild. I don't think I am capable of being Wild. Not really.
That woman up there, on that board, she is so intimidating to me right now.
I was teaching my watercolour class yesterday. We were painting images of rambling gardens. Lovely English cottage gardens. Lupins, poppies, alliums. Little stone benches. Willow trees bowing in a light June breeze and little gateways hidden behind over grown foliage. I had one of those rare moments where you actually recognise your own contentment at the time you are feeling it. I had found a little patch of sunlight to sit in. There was the sound of paintbrushes in water and I think I might have heard a cookoo in the distance.
On Monday I will pop over to Hornton, the village my mum comes from. A lot of my family still live there and there will be proper Mayday celebrations. There will be a Maypole. Homemade cake and cider in the pub garden.
I don't know how to be that woman; wild, unapologetic, natural and brave, in these quaint settings. That little word. It just popped into my head without me giving it a huge amount of thought as to what it meant to me. And, of course, in my woefully naive way, I have become worried that it might mean going out when I don't want to, drinking when I don't want to, talking to people when I don't want to, talking to men when I don't want to. I'm worried it might mean accidentally becoming something I'm not. Which I have accidentally done before.


Ok. It's three hours later. I very often write blog posts that I don't publish, mainly because they are a bit open ended.
I have decided to define what this word means to me.
It means being slightly more audacious.
It means apologising less.
It means tending to my own needs before everyone else's.
It means listening to my body more.
It means calling people out on their bullshit. Quietly and politely. And then probably running away and hiding.
It means, actually, just doing what I bloody well want to do. Without reference to any of the dozens of people I nod at and say hello to as I walk from one end of this small town to the other.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Is the sun shining yet?

Today I am blogging from my sick bed. I seem to have spent a large part of this year feeling distinctly under the weather until last week when I well and truly hit the wall and under the weather became 'flu. Like proper grown up 'flu. If I wasn't feeling so ill I would be quite impressed at my body's ability to completely floor me in this unexpected way. I started January in such high spirits but the last few months have seen me forced to slow down a bit. Like everyone else, I am blaming the weather. Has there been a winter quite like this in recent memory?
I am feeling a bit better today and just wanted to post some images of the work students did on my Handmade Art Journals workshop a few weekends ago. The weather was freezing but everyone made it in and we had such a fun weekend playing with paints, inks, fabric scraps and found imagery.
One of the very best things about teaching these workshops is how inspiring I find them. For me teaching isn't about me imparting information and students copying what I do; it's more like an exchange of ideas. They take the techniques I show them in whole new directions, they filter them through their own unique skill set and come up with things I would never have thought of. I always leave these workshops completely amazed at the beauty of the work that's produced as well as buzzing with new ideas of my own. It highlights one of the things I have always believed: that creativity doesn't exist in a vacuum, it needs feeding and watering regularly and teaching does that for me.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Small, brave things

I started writing a post the other day only to realise I was beginning to write about a recent dentist appointment. I paused and thought to myself what's going on here? What am I not talking about?
I have a habit of disappearing from this space when life gets a bit crazy and I don't know how to process it. I don't like to come here and complain.

The thing is half of the people I work with are being made redundant. This is the direct result of a massive funding cut and the process behind it has been rumbling on for about two years now. To say it has begun to take its toll is an understatement. The people leaving have been my mentors and friends for the last seven years of my life. The resulting atmosphere in my place of employment is shocking. It's bad. There are arguments. Tears. We are all tired. The staff that are left are facing a massive restructure.

And all this means that i'm circling my life, questioning things, wondering what i'm doing. It is not comfortable. It is hard. Things have been the same for a long time. In July I will have been in my flat for three years. The flowers I planted in my garden are spreading, the delphiniums and poppies growing taller with each passing year. In happy moments I would say that it's been three years of healing and creating and unearthing myself from beneath layers and layers of crap. In these happy moments I would say I've been building a life. A real life. One where I don't need to make myself small. One where I can be myself. In bleaker moments I would say I have built a fortress. With armoured guards and a high city wall. I would say I have been hiding. Hiding from people. Hiding from the world. Hiding from my potential. I know this voice in my head is not to be trusted, it's the small, scared part of me trying to keep me safe.

These thoughts have been rolling around my head since before Christmas and my first response was a typically dramatic one: I need to quit my job! I need to move somewhere new! I need to get out of this small town!

But of course the problem isn't where I live or what I do. It's how I approach my life. I'm sick of being someone that things happen to. I want to feel like i'm creating the life I want. I want to be awake.

So, being someone naturally inclined to making plans and taking practical measures to fix things, I have drawn up a list. It is called Rachel's Awesome List Of Small, Brave Things To Do In 2013 None Of Which Involve Massive Lifestyle Changes Or The Dramatic Quitting Of Ones Job. I wrote it down three weeks ago and here it is, unedited, exactly as my brain spewed it out.

1) Get the tattoo. Seriously woman, stop procrastinating and just do it.
2) Go to a retreat, specifically this one in October.
3) Travel somewhere by myself, even if it's just to Birmingham shopping.
4) Take an e-course. One for me. So, not Manual Handling, Safe Use of Display Screen Equipment or Health and Safety in the Office. I have taken all of those e-courses this year and they don't count.
5) Blog more often. Once a week. Don't censor yourself.
6) Find the most amazing vintage leather jacket.
7) Read more. Which ironically means I have to give up the book club.
8) Eat fruit and veg that's in season.
9) Flirt Goddammit.
10) Paint the living room white.
11) During the summer, when it's hot, take blankets outside in the evening. Eat outside. Light candles.
12) Invite people over for dinner more often.
13) Stop freaking out about friending people on Facebook. It's no biggie.
14) Start plotting out the novel. Do it my own way. This can include images, maps, poems. The linear way clearly isn't working.
15) Dream and write it down.
16) Buy some really cool jewellery from Etsy.

So there we have. My manifesto for this year. I've started researching number one. Number two is booked. I will do number three on Thursday. I have a week off work and plans to buy a tin of paint and I am beginning to lower the drawbridge.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Lessons in abundance courtesy of Wilkins Micawber

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result: happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result: misery"

Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I've had this quote rolling around my head for a couple of weeks. I have been thinking a lot about abundance. It's a word that's thrown around sections of the blogging community with what seems like wild abandon. And I'm not really sure I know what it means. Or at least what it means to me. I'm pretty sure that when I'm vision boarding or asking the universe for stuff that I'm supposed to be requesting abundance. Along with the perfect pair of skinny jeans. And the perfect vintage leather jacket. And a never ending supply of Cadbury's mini eggs.

When my relationship imploded four years ago I had to move back home to my parents, finding my own place to live was an impossibility since I was at my over draft limit and my credit card was... well. Let's just say it wasn't good. It feels quite hard to admit that. I think a dysfunctional relationship with money is quite a modern problem and the shame surrounding it is something we don't discuss very often.

Anyway, I lived with mum and dad for a year and saved my arse off. I eventually found myself a fantastic flat as well as financially solvent and sensible. But it is reaaaaally hard at the moment. I have a full time job and I also teach five hours a week. The classes take about ten to fifteen hours of my own time to plan. I am also trying to justify calling myself an artist. If it gets to the end of the month and I have £20 left in my account it feels like an Olympic games sized victory. If I'm £20 overdrawn I feel irresponsible, frivolous and lacking in all areas. The shoulds start to crowd in.

I Should have a better paid job by now
I Should have a fabulous boyfriend to help me out with all this stuff
Should I even still be renting at my age?
I should be able to manage my finances so that my mum isn't gifting me care packages of Persil and Cilit Bang at the end of the month

Oh, it's really fun in my head right now.

The thing is, the difference between victory and failure is roughly £40. A mere forty quid. That's quite a small margin. And it's the same with the my perception of time and how much I have for my own work. I've been thinking over the last couple of weeks that if I could just claw back my Thursday evenings for painting that would make a massive difference. That's three hours. Just three hours. When I have to get up for work my alarm is set for 7.30am. It's a Herculean effort to schlep my way across cold Victorian tiles to the shower. I'm grumpy most of the morning and tend to take it out on the Tesco's self service machine ("Please take your items" "Yes! I know! Give me a fucking chance!"). On a day off I naturally sleep until about 8am and it feels like the biggest luxury in the world. So the difference between swearing in supermarkets and approaching the day with a zen-like attitude of calm and acceptance comes down to thirty minutes. Thirty minutes people.

I'm not sure if it makes me feel frustrated or hopeful that I'm dealing with such small margins. Apparently abundance isn't about a luxury cruises, although it can be I suppose. I just need to find thirty minutes extra sleep a day, £40 a month and three hours a week. And that's it. It's about having enough. And a little bit left over. And it's about being hopeful too. As Micawber himself says something will turn up.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Scenes from a Sunday

This weekend saw me forced to slow down because of the weather. I cancelled and rescheduled a workshop. I painted feathers and ivy covered trees. I stared out of the window. I made stew and risotto (I love making risotto, the act of stirring something for 30 minutes makes me feel very zen). I lolled on the sofa and watched copious amounts of Sherlock and Jonathan Creek (please don't judge me, I love Jonathan Creek). I stared out of the window some more. I ran out of chocolate and had to shuffle 200 yards 'round the corner to Tescos. It was an effort. I planned my first tattoo. I shopped for bracelets on Etsy. I started reading a book that I can tell, even only 50 pages in, I am going to love. I blogged. I paid attention. It was all good. What did you do? Did anyone build a snowman?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The free-range artist

Christmas is over and I'm finally working on a few paintings. Today I finished one that has been languishing for well over six months. I also started another. That felt good. I did all this fuelled by double chocolate and raspberry brownies. I decided a couple of days ago that January would be the month I cut down on sugar. That lasted then.

I don't think I ever really liked the idea of having a pristine white studio space, shared with other hipsterish artists, seriously working away whilst we talked about gallery representation and listened to Autechre. I think I do much better working out of my living room, on my own, glass of cava just out of shot, Boromir getting shot by orcs on the TV in the background (and then dying beautifully) for what seems like the fifth time this Christmas. (Note to self, must find new box sets to watch whilst painting).

Across these two tables (one on loan from my brother, one from Ikea £14) are the collection of random and useful objects helping me work at the moment.

Candles, always.
Pile of Moleskine notebooks for journalling, notes, poetry etc
Pile of handmade paper.
Yellow A5 Finsbury Filofax (Xmas prezzie from mum and dad)
Nourishing reading matter.
Crime novel (January is all about crime fiction)
Brushes, paints etc
Bright pink poster paint
Karma bubble bath bar from Lush (it smells amazing and every now and then I catch a whiff of it and just think mmmmm)
Knitted owl gloves made by mum. Slightly too small. They limit my hand movements somewhat but i am determined to break them in.
A little stuffed and stitched handmade mouse. Gifted to me by one of the tutors at work late last year when I was in the middle of a stress related meltdown.
Sharpie markers
Washi tape (a growing addiction)
Dirty paint water
Course file for my classes
Pile of magazines inc County Living (even though I live in the middle of a large town) and The Simple Things. Both are essential for decent vision boarding and daydreaming about cosy fires, woodland walks, suppers that include all manner of rare and lovely foodstuffs and rugged yet sensitive blokes in fairisle jumpers.
Broken glass lampshade (cracked side facing the wall)

There. You can keep your sparsely furnished converted warehouses. This is all I need.