Once upon a time, there was a bricklayer who was an artist. His bricklaying was beautiful, but he wanted to paint pictures too. I met this bricklayer when I tried to get someone to give me quotes for a plan I’d drawn up for laying pavers and bricks around our house. He was the only person polite enough (or brave enough) to return my call and to come and look at the work I needed done.
When we bought our rammed earth house over 20 years ago, the house itself was never quite finished and the grounds around it were in a sad state, having never been landscaped. There were at least four different levels that needed to be joined so that one day, in our dotage, if one of us is in a wheel chair, we can be pushed around the outside without having to negotiate stairs.
Scott, the ‘brickie’, it turned out, was also a painter. Of pictures. I was a member of the Art Society and so we struck up many good conversations during his weeks creating our outdoor space. I made him and his offsider coffees and occasionally a bacon and egg sandwich, and he deftly turned the area into the outdoor space I’d imagined. Sometimes we talked about art, sometimes about plants and other common interests. Over the coming years I became quite a fan of his work and asked him to paint something for me, whatever he wanted as long as it was a landscape, which was his speciality.
Asking an artist to ‘paint me something’, I now know, is a ‘never, never job’. The artist never knows what you would like and so they never contact you. He seemed to sell everything as soon as it was finished and so years later I still had none of his work—except the beautiful patio, of course.
In August this year, the Art Society held its annual Advocate Art Award. Local artists of all levels and disciplines enter their work for sale. It is well supported by both artists and viewing audiences. The week before we headed to Adelaide to see the surgeon for Don’s cataracts and to visit our daughter, I needed to have a painting for her framed (see lemons still life). Scott now has a framing business called Desert Edge, which gives his back and knees a rest from the paving and bricklaying. I went to see him about the framing and while there he showed me the preliminary painting he’d done for this year’s entry to the AAA. It was lovely. While there he told me how busy he’d been with the framing work and really he would have liked another week to finish his entry. This is a frequent artist’s lament.
The following week he rang to say he’d finished framing our daughter’s painting and I could pick it up. On my way there I had to drive by the gallery hosting the Art Award and knew I wouldn’t have another chance to see it before we headed to Adelaide. So I stopped. The very first painting into the exhibition was a beauty, a large one of a tree in our central Australia landscape. Wait…as I reflected on the smaller study he had shown me, I realised this had to be Scott’s. After confirming this with the exhibition catalogue, I couldn’t believe my luck, it had not yet sold! Taking no chances, I turned straight around and went to the desk and told them I wanted to buy it. After the business was sorted the sales person asked if I wanted to place the ‘red dot’ on the painting number, indicating it was sold. I readily accepted–it made the purchase even more memorable. I went back to the gallery, admired my purchase and placed the red dot on number 9, Black Cockatoo Highway. And then I viewed the rest of the show.
When I got to Scott’s shop I casually mentioned, ‘Oh, I stopped to see the Art Award and your painting has sold.’ He looked stunned and thought for a moment and then looked at me and said ‘Did you buy it?” I very quietly said ‘mmmaybe….’ And then he excitedly asked again ‘Did you buy it?’
‘Yes, I bought it.’
He seemed pleased. Phew. I wasn’t sure there for a moment, thinking there might be some horrible satanic secret I was unaware of…if you buy a painting of a tree you will lose a limb or some such nonsense.
I said to him, I had a couple of requests, however…could he collect it because we would be in Adelaide when the show closed, and then could he take however much time he needed and finish it? It looked perfectly finished to me, but this was for him. I would also need him to hang it for me because of its size, to which, he happily agreed, as I hoped he would.
Later that night I awoke in a panic. Where would I hang Black Cockatoo Highway?? Our house doesn’t have many spare walls, being mostly rammed earth and windows. I had one space in a spare room that was sort of large enough but wouldn’t show it to best advantage. All that day I ran around with the tape measure in between packing my bags for Adelaide. Finally a stroke of genius came to me, I would move the hat rack in our entry way and hang it there so it could be viewed the way it deserved.
Once we returned from Adelaide our very handy next door neighbour agreed to move the hat rack for me. I resurrected my interior painting skills and patched, sanded and painted the wall, ready for Scott’s creation. A few days later he brought the finished painting and hung it for me.
Life is such an interesting journey, and the story of how Black Cockatoo Highway came to me warms my heart.
When Don retired we both needed to do some rearranging of investment/retirement funds. Mine had been paid for by me with my freelance work over the years so Don felt it was fair that I get to choose what to do with it. It didn’t look like we would need it to live on so I chose to invest it in our home, and myself. I had a dream, goal, wish, whatever you want to call it, that one day I could do whatever art I wanted to do, not for pay, but because it fulfilled me. So I chose to invest the money by enlarging our carport shed so that most of it would be my studio…one day. As you may remember it became the ‘shedio’, part shed, part studio.
For years I dabbled with this or that and it seemed I would just never fully ‘own’ the space. Since discovering pastels earlier this year and moving my practise space there, it is seeming more and more like I belong. I love that the floor is raw concrete, which I don’t have to be precious with. And the wall over the storage area has a pin board material installed so I can display inspirational pieces. One day, I really looked at the area, and realised it was kind of a mess, and decided to contemplate how I might reorganise it.
On a cold, rainy morning a few days later, I converted what was a disheveled space wanting some purpose and definition, to a space I could love spending hours in. If you picture me as a long suffering artist with few creature comforts, I’m not that person. I cranked up the classical music, and the heater, and began the transformation. I wondered how it happened that the space had slowly transformed from hopeful to haggard. I think it lacked love. It was created with love and my vision at the time, 11 years ago. But slowly, one pencil, one tube of paint, one discarded canvas at a time it was invaded and the vision was buried, just like my own creative practise had been.
Suddenly, all of that was in the Past and it became easy to sort through the books, materials and distractions, deciding which could stay and which had to be removed. I think one of those sped up videos of the process would have been funny to watch. I went in and out, to the bin to the office and back again. I rummaged the kitchen for just the right dish for drawing pins for the display board and returned things no longer required to their various homes. I just removed everything that wasn’t pastel painting…nearly. I have retained my acrylics for painting because I hope to live a long time yet, and plenty of pastel artists paint with a brush too.
When I was thinking through the plan, a day or so before, I envisioned all the practical rearrangements. As the time drew nearer for me to execute the changes, it suddenly popped into my head to remove all the other artists’ work I had pinned on the cork board for inspiration. Why? I could now replace it with my own work! I was inspiring myself. It is now as if I’ve opened a little gallery with an exhibition of not just works, but a little dream I’ve carried for a long time.
It was quietly thrilling.
In my office I have a little phrase cut out from a magazine that I have had for so many years I don’t even remember how I originally planned to use it . It simply says: ‘your dreams miss you’.
Many times over the years Don and I have philosophised about golf being a metaphor for life. It is often uncannily so. Lately, I have been thinking of my journey with painting in much the same way.
Some weeks ago I painted a small experimental piece, based on a YouTube lesson I’d watched. As I was finishing it I tossed the pastel in my hand over into the little pile I’d been using and murmured to myself ‘No, no, no, I’m just not getting it’. I turned out the light and that was it for the day. The next morning I came in and looked at it with fresh eyes, expecting to loathe what I’d done, and instead realised I loved it. I had learned a very good lesson. My discouragement had been that my piece didn’t look like the artist’s in the lesson. Silly me, that’s not what I want at all! I want it to look like my style, not hers—and it does! It is not great, the composition is was not wonderful at all, but the ‘look’ of it is a step closer to what I have been dreaming of, and there it was right in front of me. I didn’t recognise it because I was so preoccupied looking for the other artist’s style.
There are many things to learn when one is creating. It is equal parts thrill and frustration. Frank Gehry, the well known architect, described it well:
For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.–Frank Gehry
For me it’s boring to repeat the same journey over and over. I too ‘get the sweats’ every time I start a new painting–as if my life depends on its success, which it certainly does not. Such is the standard to which I hold myself, the self flagellating behaviour I have learned, and am trying to unlearn. But once engrossed in the process everything else falls away when I get those colours in my fingers and see where both my conscious mind and intuition wants them to go. Being swept along in that flow is the payoff.
We need to explore our inner depths, solve new problems and gain new insights. Part of that for me has been the very basic task of sourcing supplies. The challenge of living in a remote area with few resources for art supplies has meant that some weeks I spend almost as much time sourcing materials as I do painting. A lack of good paper has been my biggest problem. I can order it and it will be here in two weeks, if I know what to order. Which I don’t. Until very recently, when I had completed enough painting on different surfaces to finally have a preference, I was stumbling around with this one. I watch videos and learn techniques for applying marks to a variety of surfaces. And then I practice. At this point in my learning trajectory it is hard to know if the problem is with my technique, or the surfaces…probably both! I’ve even learned how to apply a rough surface to smooth boards and papers making homemade pastel paper. Now, if the ordered supplies do not show up as scheduled, I won’t go completely without. It’s all part of the process and no doubt will change time and again over the coming years.
I’ve had a couple of worrying breaks in the process while we had more urgent things to attend to in our life. Always I reminded myself I only needed to return to the task for one minute. One break was planned–the pastel dust was a problem. I was trying to paint in the office with carpet on the floor–light carpet at that! So I made the decision to move out to the little space that is our ‘shedio’. Two thirds of the space is my studio and one third is Don’s tool shed–so christened ‘shedio’. It is not a glamorous space, but it is very practical and not unpleasant, having been renovated about ten years ago. It is surprising how far that journey is, however–those ten steps between the front door and the shedio door. And because of break-ins in the town I have to always lock the front door behind me when I’m in the shedio, and likewise the shedio door if I come into the house for a break. That transition happened a few weeks ago now and along with the new car, I’m starting to feel comfort with both situations. Always in the back of my mind, though, is the thought that if I feel pressured or lost, I only have to be there for one minute…no matter the result.
We don’t know what we don’t know. With every painting I am finding new problems to solve. Somehow the information I need to keep moving ahead comes into my life and I move forward one baby step at a time.
Sweaty hands, learning, solving problems, making preparations, small victories, crappy results, baby steps…how is art anything but a metaphor on Life?
Minutes ago I was up to my forearms in purple gloves, digging in cow manure for an earthworm. If that sounds oddly reminiscent to you, like the story of the optimist and the pessimist twins who were both given a roomful of shit for their birthday, you may be on to me. The pessimist child was sad and thought all she deserved was a roomful of shit. But the optimist sibling enthusiastically dived into the shit-filled room and declared ‘With all this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere!’
Last summer was a total disaster for my herb garden, and a new low point for my gardening skills in general. Admittedly, I’ve not embraced a lot of the maintenance and prep-work as I should have. Ours is a harsh climate and we were traveling more. And sometimes I’m just ridiculously hopeful. Given the chance this year to pursue my hermit tendencies has meant time to think…time to prepare, time to get my ass in gear and build a garden, albeit a small one to start with. And I have a secret weapon now that I have not always had…a gardening guru.
Here are her credentials:
It all started back in April when we contracted our favourite paving genius, Scott, to pull up the old pavers in the courtyard and re-lay them, removing tree roots and other impediments to a level paving surface once again. I really didn’t need to break a hip by falling on the way to the clothesline. As we were clearing away the various piles of old pavers and bricks, left over from at least four other jobs, as well as various stacked pots, the garden beds were clearly revealed. They were in an unimpressive state of compressed soil, so poor it was hard to believe I’d been growing herbs in them for some 20 years!
Scott and his helpers came and performed their levelling magic. But something inside me was niggling…level pavers was just not enough. Those garden beds were a wasted opportunity. My large kitchen window looks out over the courtyard, which, in summer when the spa is uncovered is pleasant enough, but the other 8 months of the year it is pretty ordinary. I’d managed to grow enough herbs over the years to sustain my culinary activities, but even that had dwindled to a paltry half dead mint plant and a lonely dwarfed parsley that wanted to survive, but needed intervention.
I’m always in awe of the creativity the human brain can conjure when allowed to ramble freely. Mine began to conceive of a built up herb garden, with completely fresh growing medium and something that added beauty to the area. My good friend who I call my ‘Gardening Guru’ (GG) told me of a growing medium she had stumbled upon a couple of years ago. Manure. Surprisingly, she said that she used PURE, dried out and decomposed cow manure. Knowing she grows the most amazing vegetables every year (see above photo), my ears pricked up. Could this be my transitioning agent, from lacklustre gardener to Miss Confident Gardner 2020? God knows 2020 needs to have been a good year for something!
Like a storm in my brain, the creative waves began to gather. I measured the space of my old herb garden and calculated if I dug down about 150mm, and built a retaining wall around the area, adding about 200mm height from ground level I would have a deep enough bed to put in gravel for drainage, and 3/4 cubic metre of cow poo as my growing medium. It would be deep enough to accommodate the root systems of herbs and some small veggies, like lettuce and rocket (arugula), should I feel more adventurous. Then, came the really creative part. Could I take five different sizes and colours of bricks, blocks and pavers, in varying quantities, left over from four different jobs and build one good looking garden surround?
First things first…transplant to a pot the poor little parsley plant that had survived the summer remaining almost the same size as when I planted it, six months previously. That done, in May I began digging out the 150mm of hard, packed old garden bed. It was just awful soil, full of rocks and very poor, compacted soil. What was I thinking? Knowing my 67 year old back is not used to hard labour, and that I also did not want to agitate fibromyalgia symptoms, I went about the project very slowly and carefully, digging with a pick and shovel a bucket of dirt at a time. I would carry the bucket of dirt to areas of the garden that just needed fill, but in which we didn’t want to grow anything. Engage abdominals, fill bucket, lift with my legs and lug the bucket of crappy soil from the courtyard to the receiving area. I could only do about six or eight buckets in one session. It was hard going.
After ten days or so the base soil was removed. Next I bought gravel to put in the bottom, for drainage. Then it was time to play with my blocks. I lost count of how many different patterns I considered but eventually I reasoned that the back of the bed could use the least attractive and even broken pieces because it would nearly all be covered by soil eventually. I began placing the best blocks and bricks into symmetrical patterns at the front, and things began to fall into place. After I laid the firm base using leftover driveway pavers, I could start at the front of the area, using the best bricks to make sure it looked attractive. Of course levels had to be maintained evenly so that once it was filled with the manure, it would look even and be easy to work around. Again, this phase had to be done in a number of sessions because… bricks. are. heavy. And they had to come from three different areas around the garden, where we had neatly stacked them. Fortunately, our little red hand-truck, gifted to my husband many years ago, was my valuable friend. (Thank you Chappie)
Purple gloves have been my gardening friends for years. They are sturdy and impervious and I know where my fingers are at all times. After months of serious hand washing and sanitising, the hands didn’t need any more wear and tear. Gradually the edge took shape. When I had finished, I had only ONE piece of a paver left. Every single other spare brick and paver had been used. No one was more amazed than me. In fact, I’m sure NO one will be amazed at all! When you look at the bed, it just looks like ‘oh, yeah, that looks normal.’ End of story. I hasten to add, I was not using cement to hold it all together, that would have been one skill too far for me, I think. But Scott had said he didn’t think I would need it, and so far it appears he was right.
Next I needed the cow manure to fill the remainder of the bed. Problem. The manure that was delivered had large chunks of very hard, decomposed material. GG told me it would be fine, just water down once it was in place and then use the spade or garden fork to break it up. Sounds much easier than it is, believe me. She said hers had been well broken down when she got it, but mine was still quite lumpy. She guessed that it was probably a local source and given our very dry couple of years, there had probably not been enough moisture to foster dung beetles who would have aided in breaking it down. The earth’s ecosystem at work, or not, in my case. Once again, my trusty bucket and I began shovelling shit and carrying it. This time it was actual shit. I carried from the pile on the edge of the yard, back to the courtyard and into the hole. Engage abdominals, shovel carefully, lift with your legs and carry to destination. Eight buckets a session. Every few days I would water it down and let the moisture soak the clumps then break it up with the gardening fork or the spade. And every couple of days I gave my body a rest day.
Somewhere during this stage of things I realised my fitness was improving. I began to look around toward continuing the activity once the herb garden was established. I finished up with some extra manure, so I decided to dig up the other small areas and incorporate the remaining manure into them. I could feel my courtyard beginning to love me back. After previous success with water rooted basil cuttings, I began to make cuttings of some succulents I had bought last summer but not known how to care for properly. What was left were some wilted branches, which I snapped off and put into water. Presto, I now have 10 perky cuttings all with roots, six of which are planted into pots for future transplanting. Then I took my mostly dead, wholly root-bound mint and divided it into three clumps (mint will survive almost anything, even me) and planted those into pots of fresh potting mix. They have bounced back like curls in a hair commercial. Totally giddy with success, I gratefully accepted my next door neighbour’s offer of seeds from her very interesting looking basil that has purple tips on green leaves. I scattered them into pots of fresh mix and I have lots of tiny green leaves poking their heads up.
We are still a couple of weeks away from planting seedlings, due to frost risk, but I am hopeful. The nursery of seedlings grows, the growing medium becomes more lush by the day, and my soul has been gently lifted by the effort and achievement. GG and I realise, we are at our best when maintaining our positivity (see others who find solace in nature here and here )
So, what does digging around my garden wearing purple gloves, looking for a particular earthworm have to do with this story?
As I was preparing the last little space of garden bed to receive its share of the cow poo makeover, I moved the rescued, and completely transformed, pot of parsley from the bed, up out of the way of the digging. As I did so, there was a lovely fat earthworm enjoying the moisture. Not wanting to cut him in half with my spade, I carefully picked him up and placed him in the new bed. After consulting GG as to whether I’d done the right thing, she suggested he might like a more moist area. So I donned the purple gloves and raced back outside to retrieve him and place him elsewhere that is consistently moist. But I was too late. He had already made himself at home and disappeared into the moist manure, hopefully to enjoy many years of happy digging. In fact, maybe that will make two of us. Nature shows us in myriad small ways how to dig around and be grateful and move forward. I’m always looking for my pony.
This morning I was reading an article about how to blur the background of photos on my iPhone:
You won’t always want to take photos with a blurry background. In landscape photography, you’ll want everything in focus from near to distant objects.
But there are many situations where a shallow depth of field will improve your image.
If the background of your scene is messy or distracting, it takes attention away from the main subject. Blurring the background eliminates distractions and makes the subject stand out.
And so it is with life.
focussed on the weather…
Looking at the ‘big picture’ where everything is of equal clarity, you can see what is going on, in a general sense. But if you stay in that mode all the time you find that your attention is very scattered, first looking at the sky, then the buildings, then the trees, cars, birds and so on.
Sometimes we need to bring our focus sharply onto a single subject, in the present, so we can see what is important. Clear away the distractions. What is important might be a person, an emotion or a moment of realisation. When we are unable to shift focus back and forth, and then edit the image, our picture of things can get all out of whack—too fragmented, narcissistic—take your pick of a variety of counterproductive behaviours.
We need both ways of seeing.
This winter various aspects of life have gone in and out of focus for me. I look at the big picture for a while, and then zoom in on practical or emotional needs. However, I can never stray far from creative endeavours of some kind, and every now and then poetry pops into my head. If you ascribe to the theory that Elizabeth Gilbert (and others) talks about in Big Magic, you might believe me when I tell you, there are ideas in the form of energies that exist on a different level from our normal experience. We can tap into it the way we hear sound as it moves through the atmosphere, or see light via different vibrations. These energies move through a person, and can be brought into our plane of existence. If it is not responded to, it will move on, allowing someone else to bring it to this plane. This seems as plausible to me as any other explanation for creative inspiration–elusive and mysterious to most of us.
If I respond quickly, the idea often comes pouring out, almost completed, with little editing required. It is usually brought to me in a moment of intense experience. I sometimes think my memory is quite strange…remembering the moment that inspired a poem for many years; or a particular little café in Bratislava, Slovakia, 8 years ago because I had the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had. But if you ask me about a particular movie or book I’ve seen/read, my memory is likely to be very vague. I suppose it is the intensity and relevance an experience has for some of us that is the determining factor.
Regardless, these energies seem very real to me, and are a source of joy and satisfaction. Thank you for reading.
After I kissed you goodbye in your ear,
You looked at me and said ‘I love you.’
I replied ‘I love you too’ and your lips quivered ever so slightly—
the way sorrow settles into a person when they need
Why do we need someone to remind us that our view of the world is unique? Why is it so difficult to understand that each and every life on this planet has had a different trajectory? Siblings can grow up in the same household and have extraordinarily different lives. We can stand side by side seeing the same view and appreciate very different aspects.
Maybe it is scary to think that others are different to us, even though we know that for the most part we are the same. We have the same motivations, though they modify with the individual. We have the same emotions, again, greater or lesser, from person to person. But it’s that teeny tiny little fraction of difference that we either focus on, and fear, or forget to celebrate…or find it necessary to express creatively.
Over a year ago I started listening to podcasts. I imagine most of you have been doing that for a while and I’m a lagger in this pursuit, but timing is everything in life. We discover when it is our time to discover. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, as the wisdom goes. In podcasts I have found a great resource for inspiration at a time when I wanted to make some changes in my creative practices. One of the best quotes, among many excellent ones I’ve heard is…
breathe in experience, breathe out poetry –Muriel Rukeyser
A friend of mine says to me that the art I make is as a result of ‘having a life’. The first time she said it I knew it was true, the way you recognise truth by feeling it in your heart, rather than thinking it in your head. But this recent quotation was a beautiful reminder. And so if we breathe in our experiences, and we wish to be creative with them, we can breathe out whatever art we want to make. And it will be unique. No one else can replicate it. We can strive to be the very best version of ourselves because no one else can do that.
As a result of my creative quest and podcast listening, I began a new drawing practice. I can only say to you that the previous way I had of drawing seemed to impede my self expression. Perhaps I had not practiced enough, but I was bored with trying it that way. And so I thought I would begin again, as much as that is possible.
I want to draw more childlike, I have decided–from my imagination, playful, and relaxed.
It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but the rest of my life to paint like a child.
Having actually seen a painting by a teenage Picasso, I can vouch for the fact that he was a classical painter at a very young age. Most people don’t think of his work in that way at all.
So for the year 2018, I wish you the ability to breathe in life and its experiences, and breathe out whatever creative expression you choose. It may not be easy, but it will be your unique legacy. I leave you with wisdom from poet ee cummings, who fought all his life to be recognised as himself…
A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.
This may sound easy. It isn’t.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
I’m not a water person. I’ve tried wading into the sea many times— just in case I’d changed my mind since the last time. I’m a mountain person. Mountains wait for you to come to them, but you can enjoy them from afar too. If you wade into the sea, sooner or later you will find a wave that is larger than you think it is going to be. It may swamp you—knock you off your feet, even, and take you where you don’t want to go. This is not always a bad thing, I know. But this post isn’t about swimming in the sea, it’s about how I avoid being swamped by the deluge of modern media, and use it to inspire.
A few days ago I happened across an article written by James Clear. I’d never heard of him before. Had I not signed up for a curated series of articles through a site called Medium, I would still not have heard of him. The article was titled ‘Forget about setting goals; Focus on this instead’. He talked about goals being the things we want to achieve, but the systems we put in place being the manner by which we achieve them. I liked the clear (pardon pun) way he set out the article and at the end he offered a subscription to a free newsletter he writes; which led me to a free article he had written called ‘Mastering Creativity: A Brief Guide on How to Overcome Creative Blocks’(you have to sign up for his newsletter to get access to this article or I would give you the link). I have been trying to start a new creative practice of drawing for some months now. I’m getting nowhere. Ok it’s probably because I’m just not drawing much. Ahem. Other areas of creative endeavour are flowing along, some better and some less so, but not the drawing. I thought perhaps reading someone else’s view on the pursuit of creativity might be called for. I liked his simple and direct way of making practical suggestions, most of which were things I have read before, but it never hurts to be reminded again.
James’s article and subsequent information is an example of how I am often led through a logical progression to break up the cobwebs and introduce new thought patterns. You probably have your own ways to use things like Instagram, Twitter and blogs as inspiration. In some cases I deliberately follow accounts I know nothing about. I don’t necessarily want to learn how to do whatever the subject of the feed, but it helps expand my thinking toward what is possible. I follow an Instagram account about sourdough bread baking by a fellow who is an artisan baker in Italy (Insta: ca_mia_breadlab); also an account about extreme knitting by a young woman who uses custom made knitting needles the size of drain pipes (I know!); an Instagram account about a young woman who executes incredible street art; also an artist who draws unusual little characters that are tremendously empathic beings (I’m so infatuated with her work). I also follow a few photographers(this link is for Australian based photographer Leanne Cole, whose work I love and who remains very accessible) that publish images I can relate to and learn from, as well as people who live in other parts of Australia and other countries. It’s a big world out there. What is the point surrounding myself with that which I’m already familiar?
inspired by Instagram tag #lovelydeadcrap_bw
Inspired by Leanne Cole’s macro work
inspired by Instagram: ca_mia_breadlab
inspired by Instagram account: thisismytree
recipe and inspiration for ‘brined vegetables’ all gleaned from internet
• Twitter – I often see articles of writing that interest me, most recently a book titled ‘We’re All Going to Die’ by Leah Kaminsky—not a grim reaper sort of book, but a book about culture and our experiences and conversations around death.
• Blogs – seem to evolve as friendship as well as inspiration because often the authors write from a very personal viewpoint about things in their lives. I’m more partial to blogs that are well written than I am likely to follow just because they are different. Blog writing is an art of its own. (here is a recent, and very short article with very useful writing tips)
I realised a couple of years ago I needed to curate my social media encounters the way a museum curates works of art, and the way I choose my friends—carefully, meaningfully. If it becomes too much, before long, nothing is special. But that is just me. I am easily stimulated, and equally, easily over-stimulated. I need to follow authors and artists that don’t overwhelm me. Sometimes that means I ‘unfollow’. You may be able to ignore what you don’t want to read, but I have to look at it and digest it before I can accept or reject it and move on. All that functioning and sensory input overwhelms my brain easily.
this serene image wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t learned to shoot and edit iPhone photos from iPhone Photography School, all online
It seems to me in today’s world, there are two ways to go (probably more). You can purposefully seek media encounters that inspire you, or you can allow the flooding deluge of it all to carry you hither and yon. I may visit hither and yon one day, but when I do it will be a purposeful journey, taken because the inspiration has led me there and not because I was knocked off my feet and washed upon its shores unexpectedly.
How do you use modern media to inspire you?
(note: the link to the Artisan Baker in Italy is for his airbnb residence where he teaches bread baking; Instagram is where I found, and follow him, if you are so inclined)
I regularly see or hear things that give me shivers. It was about 20 years ago now that I first became aware of this quirk in myself. Perhaps you have experienced it too. I’ve heard people explain a feeling akin to which I refer, as something that makes your ‘hairs stand on end’; though mine is a shiver down the spine. Many years ago, I asked a trusted friend who was a massage and colour therapist what she thought of this phenomena and she said ‘it is your way of recognising something to pay attention to.’ I had surmised as much but confirmation is often helpful as we blunder through life, having left our roadmap at home.
Dried native lilies in milk jug. Waterlogue
Dried wild flowers. Waterlogue
Recently, I read a blog post and within minutes found myself purchasing the book to which it referred with great anticipation and still experiencing shivers. It’s unlikely it would be the same experience for most of you, because we all respond viscerally to different things. If you have been sharing much of my creative journey, you know without even reading to the end of this post, it will change my perspective. Everything visceral does this, whether or not we recognise it.
The blog to which I refer, and have included links a number of times previously, is Brainpickings by Maria Popova. The book with which I connected on this occasion is ‘Daybook – The Diary of an Artist’ by Anne Truitt. Brainpickings’ posts are based on books, sharing the views and comparative analysis of other books, essays and life observations. I hope Maria gets a commission from Amazon or Dymocks because she has often moved me to purchase books about which she has written. Maria’s blog post, and the now deceased, Anne Truitt’s thoughtful journal, reinforce the power of the written word to change ideas–even lives.
Last year I wrote about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Big Magic’. I relished this book so much I did not want it to end. It wrestled with the age old question of ‘what is the difference between being an artist and leading a creative life?’ Truitt, herself an artist, with background education and experience as a psychologist, left that profession to follow the creative life. Her psychoanalytical mind and her artistic soul, have given her a unique voice. She takes this question a step farther, asking whether or not one who practices art can, or should, call themselves an artist.
Devouring this book in near record time, has taken me a step closer to understanding who is an artist?
In the grand scheme of things this is an unnecessary question to answer. Of course. That we exist is all we really need to acknowledge. But my human ego wrestles with it. Truthfully, no one except us probably cares what we call ourselves, though others often want to put us into one crab basket or the other by asking ‘what do you do?’, thus labelling us according to their understanding of whatever you answer. Truitt points out there is baggage that goes with calling oneself an artist, indeed, with any label, but, specifically, there is often (not always) an arrogance and competitiveness in the echelon of calling oneself an artist, with which she and I don’t care at all to be associated.
Grevillea and Rosella Pears
Perhaps the most compelling reason in the affirmative to label oneself, is so that we are not allowing others to define us. Early in the book, Truitt writes “I refused, and still refuse, the inflated definition of artists as special people with special prerogatives and special excuses. If artists embrace this view of themselves, they necessarily have to attend to its perpetuation. They have to live it out.” And isn’t that the dilemma of any label we put on ourself or others? The need to live out the expectation can be heavy baggage. I know personally, I stick to one suitcase with rollers when I travel and attempt the same when accumulating baggage in life!
I see now that one must separate the expectations of the artist, and the process of being an artist; leading the creative life, as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it. To set oneself aside as something special, either because one calls oneself an artist, or chooses not to, is an egotistical rationale that may or may not correlate respective skill, message or intent.
Later, after a period of residence in a community of artists, Truitt is reflective of her former attitude and admits:
So to think myself an artist was self-idolatry. In a clear wind of the company of artists this summer, I am gently disarmed. We are artists because we are ourselves.
This was the nugget of truth that lay in my shivers. My deeper self had recognised this immediately, and felt much more at peace. The process of being oneself doesn’t require a label, it just requires unfolding.
The new year has brought a few things to my life that I’ve needed to grapple with, medical as well as new directions for my creative energy. The medical issue with my foot seems improved and I’m taking active steps (pardon pun) to see that it stays that way. The other medical issue was with my Mum. We have gotten through the acute phase of that and she is now recovering but we are planning a trip to see her in March, as well as the one already in place for July, and a couple of other smaller trips in between. Busy year.
Native lilies and vintage Chinese basket
As for the creative energies, did you wonder where I would go after completing the photo challenge? Me too. Would I be tired of photographing and if not, where would it take me? Within days I got an invitation to try a new program by ‘my man’, Emil. It was as if he knew what I needed. During the last months of the photo challenge, I realised I was seriously attracted to taking still life photos, mostly of natural objects. Emil was offering a set of tutorials on still life photography with the iPhone as part of a year long program filled with many other courses. Done deal.
At about the same time I was inspired by the still life course, my need for cake made itself known. I had done no Christmas baking at all this year, and we all know our cake gene just can’t be ignored forever. So when my friend, Francesca of Almost Italian, published this blog post about making a Cherry Frangipane Tart, I found myself making it the same day I read the post! And what better way to practice still life photography than with nice food– you get to eat the props!
Cherry and Almond Frangipane
Meanwhile, the ideas for still life were pulling me hither and yon, grabbing things from drawers and cupboards and cuttings from the garden. Another thing I learned last year while looking for photography subjects, was that I love photographing dried grasses, flowers, seed pods, twigs and on and on. So, I not only photographed my flowers while they were lovely and fresh but also I let them dry so that I could apply a different interpretation. I’m hooked.
Sometimes after the Christmas/New Year break, supplies can be slow to return to our shelves here in Alice. My favourite quark cheese has been notably absent. At about the same time I was seriously missing it, a recipe appeared on the internet for making ricotta cheese at home. I made it many years ago a few times, but this recipe sounded better than the one I used previously, while still remaining very simple. It is delicious. And, it provided me with more edible photographic subject matter! Win. Win. (Recipe to be published in a few days on a separate post.)
homemade ricotta with raspberries and honey on gluten free pumpkin bread
Cherry and Almond Frangipane
At about the same time I was cooking and photographing, I needed five photographs for my assignment in the still life course, and two photos showing macro photos for a small competition I wanted to enter. Yesterday, I submitted both. Life is good.
In the words of my favourite architect, Frank Gehry—
I realise now the name of my 365 Photo Challenge really should have been 365 days of Mindfulness. That has probably been the biggest single thing, other than improving my photography, I have taken away from shooting a new photo every day for a year.
The mindfulness came in varying forms.
First there was the obvious, being mindful to take a photo every single day. At first that was pretty easy because I was highly motivated and the project was new. And we had a major rain event in January, which helped with great subject matter. Oddly enough, as I write today the weather is exactly the same! I even helped a burrowing frog out of the spa this morning!
A view up the normally dry riverbed of the Todd River.
Spencer’s Burrowing Frog posing for a portrait
moisture covered stem
Down came the rain, obliterating the mountains
Then I realised the time spent in the task of taking the photo was a kind of meditative experience for me. I relaxed into the process and time passed without my knowing it. It felt very odd on the few days that I did not have the opportunity to take my time with the process, as when we were traveling. You would think that seeing new things and different environments might make the photography easier, but the opposite was true. The light and environments were very different and it takes time to adjust; time which I often did not have. I realised how important that process was, allowing my mind to flow along its own path, to see and to associate freely.
early bird and sliver of moon
early morning light in courtyard
Also I noticed that ‘seeing’ became more of a habit for me throughout the days. This was truly something I had not anticipated. It became more and more of a habit for me to find the light in a situation and if not take a photo, to take note of the moment. A Light Chaser was born.
I began to see that the tiniest moments that I would have previously walked passed were numerous and each one a true gift in my day. The largest percentage of photos was taken within a kilometre of my home. And I was never without a tiny miracle when I needed it most. There were days when I felt very flat, or sick, or pushed for time, but something always caught my eye. It caught my eye because I was looking.
less colour, more appreciation of the lovely shape and light falling on this little jug
photo #56 dragon fly in my courtyard
Finally, a humbling and humorous moment came when on about day 280 I discovered I had misnumbered, not by just one number, but by THREE numbers AT DAY 56!!! Those of you who know how little mathematic ability I have will see the humour in this situation, that I did not see at the time. For quite a few days I contemplated what to do. Finally, at day 330 I decided to correct all the numbers in sequence, from day 56. Each change required at least 8 ‘taps’ to make! It took hours. Adding salt to my wounded ego, I discovered along the way I had made two additional errors in numbering, returning the number of days out, to only ONE. But one, is one, so I continued making the changes. And therein shows that my mindfulness was less on the mechanics of the project and more on the creative aspects. I can live with that.
Don pointed out the pink ribbon epaulettes on the Pilot’s Uniform, supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In very rapid response I opened the iPhone and captured this photo, seconds before deplaning.
To say that I was ‘supported’ through this endeavour is an understatement. My friends and family encouraged me, and my dear husband was so supportive in the last few, sometimes difficult, months that he began pointing things out to me, or bringing me ‘lovely dead things’ (no animals) to photograph. I hope you all have someone in your life who is that supportive.
Wonderful as my husband is, there is another man without whom I would not have done this year long journey. His name is Emil Pakarklis and I have never even met him. About 20 months ago I enrolled in his iPhone Photography School to learn how to take better photos with my iPhone. His course expanded to include an editing course, which I also took, and now it has expanded to iPhone Photomasters subscription courses. Emil’s courses provided me with all the technical knowledge I needed, and much inspiration. It was on a post at his website that I got the idea to attempt the 365 challenge to improve my photography. Goodness, who knows where this will end? Here is an example of a photo I would not have been able to create without Emil’s courses. I used four different apps to achieve this ‘simple’ photo. (Cortex cam, Touch Retouch, Snapseed, iColourama)
Simple image–four apps!
Thank you so much to my inspiring Instagram and blog friends, who have ‘liked’ and commented about many of the photos along the way. The entire collection of photos is available to view on Instagram @amosthemagicdog. I doubt you have seen the last of this year’s photos. There were many extras that were not part of the 365 challenge for various reasons, not because they lacked merit. Some days choosing only one left me torn. Other days it was a struggle to find one. That is photography, and pursuit of the creative life.
Evening at Honeymoon Gap, Christmas Day (not a photo of the day)
Secret Weapon, Cockatiel feather
Possibly the most important photo of all is the penultimate photo. This was my ‘secret weapon’. Last summer, before I started the challenge, I found this Cockatiel feather. We seldom see Cockatiels at our place and I loved the pattern of this feather. When I started the challenge I decided I would need a fall back photo to take, in case things got very bad one day. The feather was the fall back subject. Things did get bad a couple of times, but somehow this feather was never needed. It was my insurance, and put my mind at ease. But I wanted to share it anyway, because it was part of the story, and also, you know I love feathers.
Matrix of photos of the day done from components of the natural treasures collection
Lastly, here is a photo matrix of some of the individual daily photos made using the natural collection accumulated from my daily walks throughout the year. This treasure trove began in a small drawer and then found a home on our kitchen work space these last few months, for the simple reason, that is where the light falls. In the morning the light flows in through the kitchen window, and in the evening the light streams through the dining room windows. A Light Chaser’s dream come true! This is the first time I have revealed the collection in its entirety. After today, most of the items will be returned to nature. Small little miracles, each and every one. As it turned out this collection saved me. Four days before the challenge ended, I developed a problem with my left foot and could hardly walk. So, no daily walks to show you the early light or sunrise. And the final day of the challenge there was hardly a scrap of light due to all the rain, so these last two photos were done in less than desirable conditions. Still, isn’t it just amazing how everything works out in the end if you persevere? xx Ardys
Selfie with treasures 🙂
Photo #365 my sparkling collection of natural treasures