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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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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 🙂

I know we’re well into the new year now, but happy new year anyway!  I have been so swamped since Christmas with PhD work.  I’m still completely overwhelmed with all the stuff I have to do, but I am about to go completely crazy bonkers mental doing tedious transformational complexity ratings (don’t ask…), so I’ve decided I need a break.  I thought I should prove that although I have been remiss in my duties as a blogger, I have nonetheless been quite creative, at least in the run-up to Christmas. 

You see, I’m a broke PhD student now, so my gifts had to be relatively cheap, so I decided to make most of them this year.  Yeah, just like that…as if it didn’t cost a lot in time, if not money.  What a numpty I am.  But I think it was a success all round.  My thumb got so chafed from all the crocheting that it hasn’t really been the same since, but I was quite pleased with how far I’ve come with the crochet-work.  I’ve expanded into the amigurumi stuffed animal arena, which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, and did my first lacework shawl, which was quite a task, but came out better than I’d anticipated.  

However, my loving husband gave me a t-shirt for Christmas that reads: ‘Just because you can crochet something doesn’t mean you should‘.  I’m still not entirely sure how to take that – he swears he wasn’t saying my crochet was the problem and was instead referring to hideous projects like this, but I think it’s a sign that maybe I ought to cool it a bit with all the octopi etc… especially when my sister-in-law said, voice full of horror, that she’d seen someone mention crocheted jellyfish and how pointless that seemed to her, and I remembered I had a crochet jellyfish pattern or two saved on my Pinterest crafts board… oops!  I’ll just leave it at octopi, whales and little Cthulhus then… that’s normal, right?  Right…?! 

Anyway, in addition to the crocheting of hats, shawls, blankets, slippers, mittens, wall decorations, and stuffed animals, I also decorated an oil lamp, painted a portrait of my sister’s dog for her birthday, and baked up a storm.  Whew!  Just as well there’s another year before the next Christmas…

(Click to enlarge)

(Christmas 2012 in a nutshell)

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I’ve three new things for you today:

1) I have done a painting which I intend to enter into a competition (the first after the Aberdeen Artists’ debacle of 2010) down in Edinburgh. It’s the Pentland Hills art inspiration competition, which I saw advertised there on our recent trip to Edinburgh. I’m not sure how I’ll get it down there and back, but am hoping they’ll ship it back to me if I ask them very nicely.

Pentland Hills

Pentland Hills

2) I have crocheted my first pair of socks. The second foot came out better than the first, and they’re both a bit big, but it’s a learning process and I’m quite chuffed to have gotten this far!

Socks the first

Socks the first (please ignore the carpet in need of hoovering!)


Sock side view

Sock side view (again, ignore the pigsty behind the foot)

3) I have discovered a new band I love: New Young Pony Club. Their The Optimist album is, from first track to last, fantastic, and I cannot stop listening. I think my two favorites are: Dolls and Lost A Girl.

One of my all-time favorite poems is Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy. I’ll admit, it’s a seriously depressing poem, one discovered back in my teen goth days, but I still love it to this day. There’s something about the rolling cadence, the word choices, and the bitter tone that just send shivers down my spine. It’s one of those poems that creates such a vivid atmosphere and mood that you feel you’re actually there and can feel the chill of the wind and see the grey of the sky.

Today is one of those dreary days here in lovely Scotland, and the feeling reminds me of the way this poem makes me feel. Only throw in some gale force winds and pouring rain. There you have it! Glorious autumn.

While apparently my parents in California are having an Indian summer with 100F temperatures, we in Aberdeen are having fog and temps in the 50s. It is firmly and most definitely Fall here. And in honor of the change in seasons, I have been working on some autumnal creative projects.

First off, I’ve done a watercolor drawing of some pumpkins.

Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch

It was also my turn to bake for a weekly cake day we have at work, so I went for something seasonal and did gingerbread cupcakes with chocolate frosting & chocolate chips. They taste like Lebkuchen, the German gingerbread cookies smothered in chocolate that you get at Christmas time. Yum! Plus, they were healthy – I used apple sauce in place of the butter… See? TOTALLY healthy ;)! In case anyone’s interested, I used this recipe for the cake (replacing the cocoa in the batter with extra flour, the butter with applesauce, and baked 15-20 min. as cupcakes, filling cups about 3/4 full) and this recipe for the chocolate ganache frosting.

Lebkuchen (Gingerbread & Chocolate) Cupcake

Lebkuchen (Gingerbread & Chocolate) Cupcake

There were a lot…

Lebkuchen Cupcakes Galore!

Lebkuchen Cupcakes Galore!

I have also started crocheting again – am attempting to make my first pair of socks. I’m just a wee bit rusty and these are going to be some wonky socks if I ever finish them!

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!

We were supposed to go to Fyvie Castle today, but the husband wasn’t feeling well, and the weather turned, well, Scottish. So instead, we stayed in and were lazy. My kind of Sunday.

Well, I wasn’t entirely lazy. Physically I was a sloth, yes, but I did quite a bit of writing, for me. Another 1,700 words under the old belt, and having looked up the average length for your typical novel, and found it to be anywhere from about 80,000 to 150,000 words, 35,000 is looking like I might actually be able to finish this thing one day in the not too impossibly distant future. Imagine that! Finishing a novel! The mind boggles.

I’ve also heard it said that authors often find themselves happily writing along, tralala, when a character will hijack their writing and do something the author totally wasn’t expecting them to do. I thought, yes, what a quaint little anecdote, and dismissed it as one of those smug things successful writers say to put the blame for anything wacky onto some mystical ‘other’. But, it happened to me today! I was writing about my Norse character’s journey across the North Atlantic and suddenly… they became cannibals. Okay, not like berserk mmmm-tastes-like-chicken cannibals… Donner-party type cannibals. Respectable cannibals. The kind of cannibalism that comes of necessity and the desire not to starve. My story is turning into such a soap opera…

To be fair, I can see the subconscious influence behind it. The hubs and I watched ‘The 13th Warrior’ yesterday, the Michael Crichton film about the Muslim scribe who joins a band of Vikings to defeat a mythical Beowulf-type tribe of neanderthal-type predators. The original Crichton title is ‘Eaters of the Dead.’ Hence… cannibals!

Another thing that explains the cannibals suddenly turning up in my story is possible heavy metal poisoning. In art therapy on Friday we did some work with Fimo clay. I’ve had a couple of blocks of the stuff at home for quite some time now, but never really got around to trying it out. I’m more a 2D kind of person I think than 3D, but it was fun to see the sorts of things you could do with it, so I figured I’d give it a go. Who knows, maybe I could produce some pretty cool beads or something and maybe start selling some jewelry as well as artwork!

Uh, no. Unlikely. I am not a Fimo natural, apparently. Either that, or my clay was old because it was quite crumbly. I added some metallic powders to it too, which only exacerbated the crumbliness. Plus, whilst rolling these metallic-powder-encrusted beads around in my hands I realised I probably shouldn’t be rolling these about with my bare hands, as these powders can be absorbed through skin… Oops. My palms started to itch (alas, I doubt it’s because I’m about to come into money; more like I’m about to keel over dead of heavy metal poisoning), so I went and washed them as best I could, but they still itch… 😦 But I did produce a few beads and baked them and now I’ve got some beads. I’m not sure I’ll ever use them, but it was an interesting experiment.

Fimo beads

Fimo beads

Also, on a totally unrelated topic, can I just say that Israeli couscous is possibly the world’s most delicious food? I finally bought some online (because Aberdeen is hopeless for anything that isn’t chips and pies, apparently) and made some up with some chickpeas, feta, red pepper, mint, and chilli, and oh my goodness it was divine. And that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight too. And possibly every night thereafter for the rest of our lives… 😉

I haven’t been painting recently, so there’s nothing visual to share, alas. I am, however, on page 58 of my novel, that’s about 32,630 words. Which, if you figure a book is about 200 pages, is about a quarter of the way there! Shame I’ve already written all the scenes I can think of to write… Hmmmm…

Etsy Banner

What I have been doing is attempting to set up shop over at Etsy. I’m hitting some practical snags. First of all, do most artists on Etsy have their prints done professionally? Or do they print them out themselves at home? I have a pretty decent deskjet printer with fairly good 6-ink cartridges and on glossy paper they come out looking fab, and it’s all on archival paper and according to HP, these inks on good quality HP paper should last up to 200 years. But I have these A6 cards that I bought so I could make greeting cards of my paintings and after lots of struggling with my printer (which was being grumpy because it had a case of the Mondays I guess), I finally got a set of ‘sky’ paintings printed out. They look…hmm… a little washed out. I kind of liked it after a while of considering them, they look sort of ‘vintage’y, although I don’t think that’s usually what people are going for when they want prints of paintings… I think it needs a glossy paper, but not sure how to do that, I think most card stock is matte. Or maybe I should give up on the homemade printing press idea and just bite the bullet and pay someone to do the printing for me.

So then I checked out Zazzle, which I’ve seen people referring to. They’re an online printing press kind of like my good old VistaPrint from days of yore. I figured I needed some business cards anyway, so I went and made myself some of those, and then I kind of got curious and uploaded some of my paintings. So… I’ll see what their quality is like when my shipment arrives in a few days, but I don’t like the huge ‘zazzle’ printed on the back… do all printers do that? Or just the online ones?

I will go check out real brick-and-mortar print shops too, because I want to get some proper giclee prints made of some of my paintings anyway, but for greeting cards, I’d just like to go with something a little easier and cheaper, if I can find something that’s decent quality. But is zazzle really decent quality? Anyone know?

I’m also unusually freaked out both by the ins and outs of PayPal and shipping. So I think I need to do some more studying up on those before I can feel confident enough to actually post items, just in case someone actually stumbles upon my stuff and feels inclined to buy… We’ll get there some day!

Recently I joined the lovely folks over at Wet Canvas, one of the major online forums out there for artists. I was trying to get more serious about my art and wanted to meet some fellow artists and form a network I could draw on in my attempt to get going with things.

One of the artists I’ve made the acquaintance of through this is Yevgenia Watts, who’s a wonderful watercolorist. I’m addicted to her stuff and recently bought one of her ACEO paintings. I’d expressed interest in the surface material (I know there’s a better word for this but it’s escaping me just now…) she uses frequently for her watercolors, Yupo, because it creates an interesting flowy, marbly look I hadn’t seen before in watercolors, and I had somehow managed to never hear about it before. It turns out it’s a plastic-coated synthetic paper, which means when you try to paint on it with watercolors, the paints slide all over the place as they please. So it’s a little harder to control than with normal watercolor papers.

When Yevgenia sent me the painting I bought, she kindly included a little piece of blank Yupo for me to try out. I have been a bit too afraid to try it, until today, when I thought, hey, you learn something new every day, why not give it a go?

And it was unpredictable in a slightly maddening way, but at the same time, I really enjoyed painting on it. I’m not sure you can tell what this is even supposed to be a picture of, but I kind of like that about it, it’s a lot freer and less exact than a lot of my paintings. So, yes, I had a blast trying it out today, and thanks, Yevgenia, for sending me that sample. I think I’ll definitely do more of this in the future. Only trouble now is finding a source for Yupo over here in Aberdeen.

Bowl Full of Cherries

Bowl Full of Cherries

I also wrote today. A lot. I just woke up this morning and started writing a scene in the middle of my book that I felt like writing about and it just started pouring out. I wrote about four or five pages, I think, which, given that I usually manage about a paragraph at a time in any given day, is quite the red letter day.

So all in all, it’s been a really productive, good day. Except for the bit where I downed tools and watched ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ Boy, was that ever depressing. Good story, but wow… I feel in need of some comedy now.

Although this blog was started primarily as an outlet for my paintings, I feel it’s time I come out of the closet and tell you that although my heart belongs to painting, it also kind of belongs to writing, probably about equally as much.  But I don’t advertise that fact because I feel a lot more private about my writing.  Perhaps I don’t feel quite as confident in my abilities as a writer, perhaps I feel like there’s more of me in my writing than in my paintings, or that I can’t hide the autobiographical aspects as well in the written medium as I can with paint.

Whatever it is, I always considered writing a pleasant hobby, but my painting something that I should be getting ‘serious’ about. I always did well in school whenever we had writing projects, I was part of a two-woman writing club (Crypt Milkshakes – don’t ask), and I almost always have something or other on the go, but somehow the visual art was what I got most of the praise for, so that’s what my identity sort of solidified around.  But the painting just isn’t enough for me.  Paintings let me create a thing of beauty, a litte snapshot to hang on a wall, a solid item.  But writing lets me create a world I can escape to when this real world gets a little bit dreary or depressing, which, let’s face it, is a lot of the time.  It’s either that or anti-depressants, so it’s vital to me.

But I’ve suffered from writer’s block the same way I’ve suffered from painter’s block in the last few years.  As I said in my introduction, I’ve read so many books for getting your creative mojo back and tricks of the trade both for painters and writers, but so far nothing’s stuck.

Until today, I think.  And it came from the unlikeliest of sources.  I spent the weekend at my mother-in-law’s house in the country.  She lives in a gorgeous Victorian house with a nice big garden that’s been lovingly tended and landscaped and a study and a conservatory that always make me think of the game Clue, even though they are admittedly much less grand.  My sister-in-law is a writer too – she actually makes her living at it – so there are quite a few books on writing on the bookshelves in the study, and I raided those shelves this weekend and found a couple books that looked interesting and borrowed them.

Since last night I’ve been reading a book called ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande.  It’s not your typical book on how to write plots and develop characters, it’s more a psychology book for writers who are struggling to get started despite a keen desire to write.  I was shocked, because it really hit home, all of it, and seemed to touch on so many of the things I was secretly worrying about or the bad habits I had developed that are keeping me stuck where I am with, actually, both my writing and painting.  And even more surprising, it was written in 1934!  But, aside from some references to typewriters and ‘contemporary’ writers like Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, it really seems like it could have been written by someone today, and it all applies today as much as it did back then.  So I’ve decided to do the first and most important exercise she prescribes – writing for a half hour every morning first thing when still half-asleep, and writing for 15 minutes at a specific and exact time in the evenings (9pm for me).

I guess my purpose of telling you all here is both to recommend this book to anyone trying to write, who hasn’t yet read it, and also to announce my intention to follow this schedule, so that I’m more inclined to stick with it, and so that people don’t try to call me up/talk to me from 9:00-9:15PM! 😉

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