A New Approach

I go to a life drawing class every Tuesday. It’s two years since I started attending and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. No matter how worried, stressed or down I feel when I arrive, the simple act of looking and concentrating always lifts my mood. You simply can’t fret about something when you’re trying to work out what’s wrong with the hand you just drew.

Some people liken drawing to meditation and it definitely is similar for me. For two hours, the incessant voice in my head goes quiet. I am totally present, totally in the moment, totally content.

But that only works when I am challenging myself and lately I have been in a bit of a rut.  Each painting looks similar to the last. Each is fairly successful, fairly accurate, and fairly boring (at least to me).

I mentioned this to the class leader Helen, and she suggested that I try something completely different – drawing and painting with my pencil and brushes taped to a long stick. This sounded completely mad to me but it turned out to be just what I needed.

The length of the stick meant it was hard to control the pencil and impossible to make my usual marks. Art is like life in that, once you have found a way of being, you tend to stick to it. Your drawing style remains the same no matter what the subject. You hold the pencil the same way, you make the same marks over and over again. And sometimes you bore yourself silly.

The drawing I created in the first half of the class was more interesting and lively and personality-filled than any I have done over the last two years. And in the second hour, when I taped a big brush to my stick and began to paint, all kinds of surprising things happened.

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I just love this painting. It’s imperfect but I love the imperfections. And as I write this, I am aware that life drawing class made me happy tonight. Actually happy. Which makes me wonder …. exactly why is that?

Because if I can figure out the different elements that go into that experience, maybe I can find that kind of contentment more often …

via Daily Prompt: Control

Walking Back to Happiness

In 2015, I set myself the task of painting my own face. every day, for a whole year. It was torment. Not only was it a tough time in my life, but it also meant looking at myself every day – something I usually avoid at all costs.

When that year ended, I felt things were unfinished. I still wasn’t happy, I still hadn’t found peace. I initially committed to finding something to be grateful for every day. But it was hard. Maybe it was too much of a leap from misery to daily gratitude. Or maybe it’s just that gratitude is so far from my default position that I couldn’t get into the swing of it. I floundered. I tried but I couldn’t always see past the sadness, or I was too busy and I forgot. Or anything I had to say sounded twee and annoying even to myself.

So now I’m ready to take a new tack.

There is one thing that always calms me down, always distracts my mind from its endless negative rumination. One thing I can count on to always be a friend …. Art. Specifically making art. Making good art, making bad art, drawing or painting, pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolour, ink – it doesn’t even matter. As long as I am communicating in that way, I am calm.

I have been stuck for a long time, trying to find happiness in people and situations where it can never reside. Happiness, I truly believe, can only come from within and it is time for me to find mine. The first step in that quest is to draw or paint or collage as much as possible. I am not committing to one drawing a day – I may need weeks to finish a piece or I may do a quick sketch. I don’t know yet how that will evolve.

I’m reviving this blog as a way to track my journey and share what I create – the good, the bad and the ugly. I don’t know if anyone else will be interested and it’s fine either way. This is my journey.

It’s time.

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Sketch of Cononley church. Ink, watercolour and pastel. April 30th 2017.

The End and the Beginning

I am done! Selfie #365 is in the bag!

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It’s taken me a few hours to sort the blog out. It turns out there were 4 posts that I had written as drafts but never posted. I have posted them now, on the appropriate dates. I have also tidied up my Flickr album because some pictures had not been posted at all, and some had been posted twice. There are now exactly 365 selfies, as there are on this blog.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to complete this challenge. There were times when I wanted to give up but that’s exactly why I started this blog. I knew that if even one person was watching, I would feel obliged to meet my commitment.

As I wrote yesterday, the biggest thing I have learned from this project is that I am the cause of my own unhappiness – and that means only I can make the changes that are needed. And I no longer believe that these are necessarily physical changes (although they may be). Instead, I think the necessary change is a psychological one – possibly a spiritual one.

Above all, I need to focus on making myself happy – or at least, making my life feel meaningful – and to stop hoping other people will do it for me. This first means accepting reality without embellishing on it with unhelpful stories.

(For example, “My art is not currently in any galleries” is a reality. “My art is not currently in any galleries and that is because it sucks and I will never have my art in any galleries” is a story. The first allows for possibilities and suggests possible actions – “Maybe I should visit some local galleries and see which ones might like my work?” – the second shuts everything down, precludes any possibility, and makes me unhappy.)

Taking responsibility for my own state of mind also means that I need to take action rather than waiting for stuff to happen. And so I have decided to replace this project with two new ones, each designed to help me build on this last year and keep moving forward.

The first is a public project, the second is just for me.

Project One – My Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve learned this year that I focus way too much on the negative – as I suspect many of us do. To balance that, I intend to spend some time every day taking a photo of something that made me happy. By year’s end, I will have a visual record of all I have to be thankful for.

I have a long dormant blog that I kept up as I moved back from the US to the UK, and I will use that blog to document my 365 ways to be happy. If you’re interested in following me, you can find it here. I will also post my photos to Instagram, so feel free to follow me there.

Project Two – Advancing my Art Career

I have a more-than-full-time job as well as a house and garden to keep up, a dog, a husband, a cat, friends and family, so I struggle to make time for art. This year my art has fallen by the wayside because the selfie project has taken up any spare time. But now I have 30-90 minutes free every day when, instead of drawing myself and then writing a post, I can work on my art career. This may mean something as simple as a sketch or an update to my website, sometimes it will mean posting to social media, and often it will mean working on new pieces. Whatever it is, I will spend time every day on moving my art career forward. I am not committing to daily posts about this, but I will update my blog and Facebook page more often.

Miscellaneous

  • I will be kinder to myself (I have already started this and it naturally makes me kinder to other people).
  • I will not believe my thoughts.
  • I will accept sadness when it comes, rather than fighting it.

This has been a good year. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for paying attention, commenting, encouraging and genuinely being amazing. I couldn’t have finished without you!

Happy new year – let’s make it a good one!

Hall of Mirrors

I much prefer the few days’ holiday around new year to the few days around Christmas. Instead of frenzied preparations, there is peace, calm, a sense that things are returning to normal. And in this peace, there is time to reflect.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned over the past year. I want to define the ways in which this project has changed me. I was to pinpoint the things I will be taking with me into the new year.

I think the biggest change is the way I view my own mind – and the way this influences the way I view the world. Time and again during this most difficult of years, I have been reminded that my thoughts are not reality. Time and again, having stressed or cried or rejoiced about something I perceived, I have been faced with the reality and forced to see that I have everything skewed.

It happened again today, when a casual comment laid bare the reality of a situation that I had seen in a completely different way. My perception had made me miserable. The view I saw through someone else’s eyes was both surprising and instantly familiar. Familiar because it matched other evidence that was in front of my eyes, but that I had stared past blindly, wrapped up entirely in my own warped view.

I have come to see that my mind is like the hall of mirrors at a funfair. But instead of laughing at the distortions, I have been letting them dictate my state of mind.

Through therapy, I understand where the distortions come from. This next year, I hope to learn how to move past them and on to the life I know I am capable of living.

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 Busted

my trusty MacBook Pro seems to have died tonight, which leaves me frantically loading WordPress on to my iPad and which, unfortunately means that I can’t edit the photos of my selfies anymore – so apologies if this isn’t cropped correctly. Oh well, only a few days left!