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After another long dry spell of feeling completely uninspired but nonetheless itching to create, I decided to try out Zentangling. A friend had recommended it to me as a nice meditative practice that didn’t require much thought or planning. So I got out my nice new apple green sketchbook that I bought myself a while back but had yet to use, and some pens, Googled what this ‘Zentangle’ process really entailed, and launched right in. And indeed it was meditative and nice, but I felt a bit frustrated as well if I’m honest. My abstract ‘doodles’ seemed childish and boring to me. But as I drew little intricate circles, I started to think about how this looked a bit like grains of sand, or the bigger circles like sea urchins, and the swirl ‘string’ I’d started out with reminded me of waves on a stormy sea, and a nautical theme kind of started to come to mind. I’ve been working on a story for a while now that is based on a seafaring village and a storm at sea, and the two kind of merged and I started to think maybe I could turn this zentangle into an artwork kind of based on those sorts of themes. So a big thumbs up to the Zentangling for helping with brainstorming when you don’t have any ideas, but I’m not sure I have the patience for pure Zentangling, which is meant to be purely abstract pattern and only black and white ink. I like colour too much and although I like the abstract motifs as a kind of decorative touch, I like my work to have some semblance of a story to it as well. So what started as a Zentangle ended up really not a Zentangle. In the end, I came up with this:

Sea Shanty

Sea Shanty

This was an interesting and new experience for me in many ways. It feels very different compared to my usual ‘style’ – whatever that may be. I’m not a pen & ink sort of artist usually. I have friends who are professionals in this medium, and compared to them, I feel like a rank amateur, like a little girl playing dress up with her mother’s clothes. I also tend to plan ahead before I start on a work, but this time I wasn’t planning to do anything except put down some random geometric patterns on paper. But nonetheless I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out for a first attempt, as well as the process. I enjoyed getting to feel absorbed in creating again, something I haven’t really been able to do much lately. This reminded me I must make it more of a priority in life, and make more of an effort to try, even when I’m not feeling the Muse’s presence particularly. This seems like a good method I think for getting me into that mindset when I don’t really feel like I can, which is really useful.

If you’d like to try Zentangle, I can highly recommend it for quieting the mind and relaxing. Adult coloring books, move over! This is much better, because you are really creating something, rather than just decorating a pre-existing pattern with some colour. There is a tonne and a half of stuff out there on YouTube etc, showing you what Zentangle is, how to get started, and some examples of patterns you can use. I found watching people drawing these patterns is itself pretty hypnotic and zen. The basics of Zentangle are really kind of simple – just doodling really, with starting structure, and within bounds. Give it a go sometime!

And here’s a ditty to act as the soundtrack for this piece… 😉

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I am finally (! only took 6 months or so…) starting to come out of the hazy crazy dazy days that were the entire end of last year, when I was finishing up my PhD (I’m a Dr. now!!!!!!), and I realised it had been quite some time since I updated this blog! Which is a pity, because I have actually been pretty active artistically lately. The post-PhD psychology job hunt has been difficult and unfruitful thus far, unfortunately. But to balance that disappointment, I have actually been having a bit of a boom in my art career. Who knew the so-called starving arts could be so much more lucrative than having a science PhD…? Anyway, I have had two recent commissions for paintings, and I could not have asked for nicer clients, either! One was for a painting of a pretty pink and purple bouquet of flowers (a lovely memento of the first bouquet the client ever gave his girlfriend):

The First Bouquet

The other (handed over to the client just today) was a landscape of a local Aberdeenshire landmark, the hill they call Bennachie. Both were a pleasure to paint, and I am so grateful to my clients for the opportunity :).

Bennachie Sunshine, May 2015 Commissioned Painting

I have also given my portfolio website an overhaul – I thought it was time to bring it a bit more up to date. I intend to soon set up my own e-commerce portal on it, so that I can sell more original paintings and prints without the intermediary commission charged by Etsy etc, which should make things more affordable to potential buyers. I still have my Etsy shop, and sales there have recently started to increase again after a bit of a lull. So it’s happy times, artistically speaking 🙂

These commissioned paintings have also been a nice reminder of how much I’ve missed painting, and I fully intend to get back to doing more creative and artistic work now that the PhD is behind me. So watch this space!

Here’s a lovely song that I’ve been listening to lately… I find it comforting, plus it’s pretty. Hope you enjoy it too 🙂

First of all, I’d just like to announce that the winner of the 100th blog post giveaway has been chosen, and it is Nancy Robinson Mullins 🙂 Congratulations, Nancy!

For this 101st post, I thought I’d share some non-painting bits of creativity that I’ve been up to, which I am quite chuffed with. The most recent was inspired by some posts I’d seen floating around Pinterest, of making lanterns out of empty food jars with some gold “leading” and glass paints. We have a new garden (more on that later in this post), which we have been decorating slowly with solar lights so that we can sit outside on nice summer evenings. But I wanted to do some candle holders or lanterns that we could string up outside as well, you know, like a little garden party for two. So I saw the idea for these faux Moroccan-style lanterns and gave it a go. I’m quite pleased with the results, although somehow I thought the patterns would be more visible when they were lit. Still nice though.

Lanterns (Unlit)

Lanterns (Unlit)

Lanterns (Lit)

Lanterns (Lit)

I’ve also been trying out some crochet crafts. One was a sweet little flower wreath that I put together, inspired by this one from the brilliant Attic 24, to decorate a particularly blank bit of wall in our bedroom.

Flower Wreath

Flower Wreath

The other was this pony, using this gorgeous Fatty Lumpkin the Brave African Flower Pony pattern, that I gave to a friend of mine as a Christmas present. Time-consuming, but I think the result is quite nice. My friend named him Roman and apparently the ladies at a craft group she goes to tried to nick him!

Roman the Pony

Roman the Pony

Lastly, that garden I mentioned… We live in a block of flats with a communal space out in the back. It’s a concrete space that had been neglected for over a decade and had become a communal dumping ground. There was even a derelict TV set out there for ages! Starting last summer, hubby and I started work on transforming it into something akin to a garden. It was difficult work as there was no soil, it was all totally concreted over. So hubby built a bunch of raised bed boxes, and we started putting together a container garden. It’s still looking a bit rough, especially with all that hideous concrete, but it is sooo much better, and we are really enjoying watching things grow. For the longest time I was convinced I had the blackest thumb on earth, but even I have managed to grow things! There is hope for us all! 😉

I should have taken pictures before we even started clearing up and building the first boxes, but unfortunately it was so embarrassingly hideous that I didn’t bother until after hubby had already done most of the hard work of clearing up most of the garbage and built the first raised beds. So trust me when I say it was much worse than this even when we started:

Garden (Before)

Garden (Before)

And now, things are going strong! We have a climbing clematis in an obelisk, a rose bush, raspberry canes, a cherry tree (attacked by aphids sadly, but getting better – but we ordered some ladybirds so those should be a happy addition soon, and will hopefully help control that problem!), strawberries, spinach, daffodils, tulips, heather, pine trees, cabbage, radishes, wild garlic, and so many more plants growing out there! We are very proud 🙂

daffies

Daffies!

Garden (After 1)

Garden (After 1)

Garden (After 2)

Garden (After 2)

Solar Fairy Lights in Garden

Solar Fairy Lights

tulips

Tulips

Working garden

Working garden

I’m finding gardening takes a lot of creativity and planning and patience, and I think it’s teaching me new skills and new lessons about creating, so it makes a nice change to painting, as does the crafting. I like the practical nature of it too, that I produce something that doesn’t just hang on a wall somewhere, but results in food, or a lantern that is both pretty and produces light. I can recommend it 🙂

In light of my PhD project on creativity and some of the stuff that’s come out of the interviews I’ve been doing with local artists, etc., it occurred to me with some horror just how much I usually plan my paintings ahead, and how that might mean they come out a bit… stilted. Everything I read and hear and see seems to say pretty much the same thing – that creativity is all about the subconscious, tapping into unusual associations and spontaneity. I don’t often try to tap into that because, frankly, I’ve wondered for a while now if I actually may be the Subconscious-less Wonder. Seriously, I have the most boring dreams ever. They’re all so literal and… eh. Even when they’re wacky they’re such thinly veiled metaphors that they might as well be the boring literal truth. It was part of the reason why I couldn’t stick it out in art therapy – my own experience is that I don’t hide much from myself, and I just couldn’t identify with the idea that we’re all just a tip of an iceberg. I’m not all that deep, I guess. A cigar is almost always just a cigar for me.

Lately I’ve been seeing some pretty amazing abstract art around. I’ve never really done any abstract art before, and the paintings I’ve been seeing kind of inspired me to give it a go. So today I got out a packet of postcard sized canvas boards and tried my hand at it. Stick on some music, just let the paint be my guide, and see what happens…

Well. I was rather disappointed. I suppose if I had to choose, the Ragnarok one is my favourite though (inspired by the fact that apparently some people thought today was going to be the Norse apocalypse…). Further evidence to suggest that I am indeed the Subconscious-less Wonder. I guess I’ll just stick to my paint-by-numbers routine of planning ahead, painting figurative stuff, and being rather uncreative. Sigh… Anyway, here you go, my first and last attempt at painting abstracts.

Ragnarok, G. Cseh

Ragnarok

5 Ghosts, G. Cseh

5 Ghosts

Atlantis, G. Cseh

Atlantis

Iris, G. Cseh

Iris

And just to leave you on a nicer note, here’s a pretty song for you (thanks to awesome fellow artist Esther Green for introducing Patrick Duff’s music to me :))

The last few months have been mental and stressful and busy and exhausting and although I have a stack of papers to grade, I arrived at the threshold of Spring Break unable to carry on. Something had to give, and I needed a change of pace and something different, and to get the hell away from psychology for a little while. I decided it had been way WAY too long since I did any painting, and figured paper grading can wait. So I got out my art supplies and had at it. It was SO what I needed. I feel heaps better. Now that I have 2.5 weeks of no teaching and probably no running of studies (since all my potential participants have also likely absconded elsewhere), I am taking a bit of an actual holiday from psychology. See you later, suckers! 😉

Polaris

Polaris

I’ve done two paintings, in two quite different styles. The first was kind of based on a painting idea I’d had bubbling in the back of my mind for a while now. It actually turned out about halfway as I’d pictured it in my mind. I must say, I couldn’t get away from psychology entirely (given my PhD topic is about artistic creativity…), and was kind of intrigued to watch my own process unfold. I started out with an idea, and I was faithful to it to some degree (the mountains and aurora in the top half were planned that way), but then the bottom half was sort of supposed to be based on a picture I’d seen of neurons, except it didn’t quite work and the neuronal connections I’d painted started looking kind of like the masts of a ship instead, so it turned kind of into a painting of an olde timey ship in the arctic seas during a storm, which wasn’t my intention at all, but I quite like the way a mistake sort of evolved into something unexpected all on its own.

The second is an entry for Virtual Paintout, which I haven’t done in quite some time. This month the location is Vilnius in Lithuania. I’m a sucker for Eastern European locations (my dad’s from Hungary) so had a look and it’s quite a lovely city architecturally (and sunny!). I found a quiet, chestnut-tree shaded cobblestone street to paint and gave it a whirl with watercolors. I was happy with it, until I got to the shadows on the houses on the left. I think I’ve botched those a bit, but I got to a point where I was fiddling and trying too hard to fix it and it was just making it worse, so I took Alwyn Crawshaw’s advice to stop fiddling, and called it a day. It’s okay, but it could have been better.

Quiet Cobblestone Street, Vilnius, Lithuania

Quiet Cobblestone Street, Vilnius, Lithuania

Anyway, the moral of the story, kids, is that sometimes you need to get away from work and play a little, do something creative and fun. Creativity: It does a body (and soul) good! 🙂

I came across a simple little song the other day by Malcolm Middleton, one half of the now defunct Scottish band Arab Strap, called ‘Devil and the Angel’. (For those with sensitive ears, I should warn you there’s a little bit of swearing in this, but it’s super duper Scottish swearing, and therefore quite amusing ;))

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s about something that all artists except the super conceited can, I think, relate to. I certainly can. And that is the ever ongoing battle with self-confidence.

As I think anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve got quite a few new things on the go just now, and honestly, I’m quite nervous about all of it. There are my first two art exhibitions coming up this summer, I’m attempting to finish a novel, and I start grad school in October after 9 years out of school. Self-confidence has never been my strong suit, but lately I’m struggling even more than usual.

For every artist (and indeed most people, but art is an introspective sort of field, so is particularly plagued I think) there are always two voices competing inside the mind – Middleton calls them the devil and the angel, which is apt, but I prefer to call them the Optimism and Pessimism Fairies. Now, there is a (rather interesting and entertaining) case to be made for pessimism, but in my case, it tends to be a paralytic, which is not ideal for getting anything done.

As the song above nicely demonstrates, the Pessimism Fairy whispers evil, nasty, cruel things into your ear about how you are the world’s most useless human being, in fact, that you only excel at being truly terrible at everything you put your hand to, and you might as well just give up, become a wino or jump off a cliff, and spare yourself further humiliation. The other, the Optimism Fairy, tries to buck you up and feebly pipes up in the background going, ‘Don’t listen! Lalalalaa, we can’t hear you, Pessimism Fairy! You have some talent, you have brains, you have something to offer the world, however small.’ (She’s good buds with my Muse.)

And which do you believe? When there is a world just full to bursting with talented people – some infinitely more talented than you – who are struggling to get anyone at all to notice them? And what is this talent that I supposedly posses worth? I paint pretty pictures that hang on a wall and at the very most make someone smile, but at the worst, just clutter up space. I can write some words, but it will never be a classic or say anything terribly profound. I can do some psych studies on mental imagery and flow that are interesting but ultimately useless, practically speaking. I don’t save lives. Oscar Wilde said it best, ‘All art is useless.’ What kind of a pointless gift is this art talent, IF that’s even what it is?

And then I swing the other way. Art = civilisation; when art dies, a civilisation crumbles. For all the people calling it arty-farty frivolous nonsense, that I should buckle down and get a REAL job as a lawyer or an engineer or a ‘real’ scientist, they would miss it if all art was suddenly taken away, if all the slightly softer edges were taken off the world and all that was left was the stark, hard stuff. As Gandhi said, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.”

I think I need a third fairy, the Realism Fairy.

So, several people have been good enough to me lately on Folksy to feature some of my paintings in their ‘Folksy Friday’ blog entries, so I figured it was time to give back. And what a fun idea, to do a collection of Folksy gems based on a theme. It appeals to my obsessive mix-tape making self!

So this Friday, my first Folksy Friday, my theme is ‘Haunted’ in honour of the changing season and the upcoming October holiday. Have I mentioned that I would kill for some pumpkin ale right about now?!

I hope you enjoy these items as much as I did! Some stunning stuff out there!

‘Foggy’ painting by georgiepaintFoggy by georgiepaint

‘Papercut Gothic Flowers card’ by Papercuts by Suzy Taylor
Papercut Gothic Tree Card by Papercuts by Suzy Taylor

‘Ghost necklace’ by lej jewellery
Ghost necklace by lej jewellery

‘Haunted Moon’ earrings by owl on the sill
Haunted Moon earrings by owl on the sill

Shabby Chic Primitive Ouija Spirit Board WICCA by Tigerlilly Primitives
Shabby Chic Primitive Ouija Board by Tigerlilly Primitives

‘Spirit within me’ by Johanna Garnham Batiks
Spirit Within Me by Johanna Garnham Batiks

‘American Gothic’ yarn by KnitCave
American Gothic yarn by KnitCave

Edgar Allan Poe // The Raven // Original Framed Artwork on vintage book page by wall envy art
Poe art on book page by wall envy art

Eye stitched illustration by Sam Gibson Stitched Illustration
Eye Embroidery Wall Plaque by Sam Gibson

‘Ghost’ by Amy’s Clay Critters
Ghost by Amy's Clay Critters

Gorgeous Black Rose cabochons Necklace by SweetestThings
Black Rose necklace by SweetestThings

Yesterday was my last day at the art therapy gig where I’ve been volunteering for over a year. Partly this was because of work commitments changing, but honestly, I had, after a lot of soul-searching and struggling, finally come to the conclusion that art therapy was not the right career path for me (as much as I wanted it to be), and it had run its course for me. Saying goodbye to some of the people there that I’d gotten to know over the year was sad and I will miss them, but it was most definitely time to move on.

I took with me my folder of work that I’d done in the course of the year (the volunteers did art too). In looking over them today I discovered that I must have left some of them behind somewhere in the room, which does make me a bit sad, but one of the things that art therapy taught me as an artist is not to get too attached to your work. Yes, the point of art therapy is partly that your artwork is an extension of your thoughts and feelings and therefore deeply personal, but at the same time, the art therapy environment is one that fosters experimentation, anything-goes openness, so a lot of the work I did was just to try out media and shapes and ideas, and were not meant as masterpieces or serious ‘works of art’ and therefore less precious in the long run. I do wish I had some pictures of some of them though.

So here’s a collage I put together of the ones I do have, so I could see all the works side by side. I notice some common themes – peacocks, volcanoes, swirls and circles. I’m sure there are some deep Freudian things to be said about those – but I am definitely not a Freudian, hence my inability to be an art therapist, apparently… The heavy emphasis on psychoanalysis was a stumbling block for me that I just couldn’t get over – I take a much more person-centred and maybe an occupational therapist’s sort of view of AT. For me, the symbolism and insights have to come from the artist, not from the therapist. And for me, the process of doing is just as, if not even more important, than what the artwork says about someone’s inner psyche. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, after all. So yes, not meant for art therapy, apparently. But it was a good experience and I learned some things about myself and other people and art itself.

Feel free to psychoanalyse my work, btw, I’d be interested to hear what people think these say about me, even if I may have different ideas… 😉

A year of art therapy

A year of art therapy

I recently blundered rather serendipitously into (probably) doing an MSc in psychology starting next September. I found a researcher at the University of Edinburgh doing research on a topic similar to a positive psychology concept I have always found incredibly fascinating, ever since my undergraduate psych days at Berkeley: flow. I wrote to her and she said she’d be happy to supervise an MSc student on a project relating her topic and flow, so, suddenly I have the fantastic opportunity to study this topic I’ve always wanted to study! I’m still not so sure about all the public speaking involved in academia, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there 😉 .

It surprises me, from my everyday conversations with friends and family, how few people have heard of ‘flow’ before, though I think it is an incredibly important and fascinating topic that is vital to our human understanding of how to achieve happiness – especially now, when everyone is so jaded and disillusioned and despite more and more wealth and more and more progress in technology and gadgetry, people are no more happy than they were in the past, without all this wealth and convenience. It’s true that you can’t buy happiness, and you don’t get it from staring at a screen mindlessly, either. Take that, iPad and Reality TV! 😉 When I’ve explained flow to people – that it’s that sense of profound happiness and pleasure you get from doing something you’re good at, and you lose track of time and feel like you’re outside your own body – everyone suddenly knows what it is, because it’s something we’ve all experienced, at some point(s) in our lives.

The term was coined by the pioneering Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi decades ago. The ‘flow’ state happens when your skill level and the challenge level of the activity you are doing are both high. If your skill does not match the challenge level, either boredom or anxiety/frustration occur. Flow is the perfect harmony between the two. So, you see, to achieve that ‘optimal experience’ level, you have to actually be actively doing something challenging. That is the crux: joy does not come of passively sitting doing nothing, always going for the easy option, it comes of effort. It’s possibly not what people want to hear, but it’s the truth, and if you sit and think about all the times in your life when you’ve been most happy, it’s likely you’ll find it was when you were doing something slightly difficult.

For me, that happens when I’m creating: painting, writing, crocheting, cooking. I love the feeling that I am putting something into the world that wasn’t there before, that it is something that could not have happened if I had not made it happen, given my personal experiences, my hard-learned skills, my unique way of ordering paint, words, spices, whatever. For others, it happens when they are doing sports, working on a difficult problem, playing an instrument, and so on and so on. It can happen during leisure and it can happen during work hours, and it’s wonderful when it happens.

I should also add that my undergrad honors thesis was on attention in hobby activities. In the course of doing a lit search for that study, I came across a study where they taught basic meditation to a group of people in an old folks’ home. There was also a control group that did not meditate. What was fascinating about that study was that the group that learned to meditate and did so for about 15 minutes a day for a certain length of time (can’t remember now, but wasn’t all that long) actually lived significantly longer than the control group. A very powerful example of how changing consciousness can have incredible effects on health and longevity! I think stress levels play a bigger role in health than people give it credit for, and I think flow is an important state of consciousness that reduces stress powerfully, just as meditation does. So it’s definitely worth studying further, and worth trying to foster it in daily life.

So do something you love today and keep on challenging yourselves!

I have been meaning to share some videos and articles with all of you that I’ve seen recently and found inspiring and helpful, if for no other reason than to let me know I’m not alone in the struggle to grasp hold of the elusive muse.

First is a good article my husband sent me on getting started with any new pursuit. Apparently the key is… just to start. A revelation, right? I think he was trying to inspire me to read up on PHP/MySQL and teach myself programming languages (so that I can become a web developer like him, which is his solution to all my career-related existential angst), but it works for any overwhelming-seeming creative endeavor, be it writing, painting, teaching yourself boring programming languages… You can’t get anywhere until you start.

This is definitely true. Nothing begets action like action. I discovered that at the beginning of this year when I set myself the challenge of painting daily. Yeah, so it didn’t quite pan out daily, but just the act of forcing myself to paint more frequently, whether I felt like it or not, has made me infinitely more productive and prolific than I have been in years. Not everything has been a gem, and there is something to be said for divine inspiration and ‘feeling it’ – I invariably paint and write better on those days when I feel compelled to do it. But I also know that if I don’t do it those times when I’m not so keen on starting, I will likely not have the energy or confidence when the muse does turn up; forcing yourself to be active keeps you active. So the advice just to start is good advice indeed.

I found the comparison of van Gogh’s drawings two years apart quite interesting to see too. But then, van Gogh is the ultimate example for us artists of rewards out of humble beginnings, perseverence, and dire depression. It is a shame that he only found fame and fortune after he died. And that his life was so miserable. It sucks to be creative, sometimes…

Second on my list is a video on TED by the author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, talking about nurturing creativity and ‘genius’. It’s an entertaining little video. She talks about the fear and struggle involved with being an artist because of the fickle quality of inspiration and ‘the muse’ and doing work that has to come out of thin air. I think this talk is especially apropos to my blog, as she believes in The Muse and knows she’s a pain to summon sometimes!

Lastly, John Cleese gave a talk to a group of Belgians about nurturing creativity as well that is quite practical. In it, he gives some tips for things that help to foster a creative mindset. What could be better? Monty Python on creativity?! 😉

I hope these articles and videos can be of some use to someone else out there who might be struggling a bit with their own creativity.

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