On Capacity and Connectedness

This post is about some discoveries about capacity and connectedness that emerged from a recent period of struggling to paint.

I’ve been having a tough few weeks. My art; often a refuge, delight and source of energy has not been going well. I have been feeling frustrated, irritable, comparing my work to others and feeling self critical. As a therapist and coach I recognise this as being in a defensive pattern because I am feeling vulnerable.  I am feeling vulnerable because there is a lot going on in my life at the moment, both good and not so great.  Across all areas of my work I have been very busy.  We have had really successful start to the year in my psychotherapy training business (TA Training Organisation).  In my art a new gallery,  Number Four Gallery in St Abbs, have taken eight pieces of work for their Christmas Show. I have been accepted to join Peak District Artisans. I exhibited at the local Artist and Designer Fair in Buxton.

However, in the midst of these positive events, there have also been some difficult things happening that are affecting me emotionally and psychologically. So I have retreated from myself and others in a protective way that is an old unhelpful pattern. Which brings me to the point of this post and the learning I’ve gained from this experience.

So, what is the learning I’m wanting to share?

Firstly about connection. If we are making authentic art this is an expression of part of self. Then it seems to follow if we are not fully connected to ourselves we will be disconnected from our art.  As I think back over the last couple of months this is what I have been experiencing.  In my art making, in the studio in front of the painting, I was going outwards to what others were doing and looking to repeat what I had already done, rather than looking inwards at what I felt inspired to do. My choice of colour, mark making and ways of painting were not what I truly felt in the moment because being disconnected from myself meant I was disconnected from what I felt.  How important it is then to our art making to stay connected to ourselves and the personal choices we want to make.

Secondly scaling up and scaling down.

During this period the only thing that felt “like me” were some colour studies I was working on.  Using an exercise from Louise Fletcher fellow artist, (see Louise in This Painting Life on Facebook) I had about 15 different small colour studies I was playing with. What I was noticing was that the bigger works (a couple of 20×20 inch paintings)  were not resolving themselves.  Again, on reflection, I can see that it was almost as though I didn’t have the capacity to do anything bigger.  That not only does making bigger work require us to scale up in terms of the tools,  materials and composition, it also requires us up to scale up in terms of our process as well.  Being able to hold and contain the experience of something bigger takes capacity.  For larger work to be successful it needs to feel integrated as a whole rather than something that is almost a collection of smaller works on a bigger canvas.  So in the process of making larger works the artist needs to have creative energetic capacity to conceptualise the whole.  Which is not about planning the outcome but more about having mental space and energy for the art-making process.

Are there any useful “how to’s” from this experience? Well for me a recognition that I have a busy life and so there will be times when I don’t have capacity for major works. When that happens it’s ok, and that art making can still happen, just on smaller scale. The “how to” from this is acceptance of personal limitations.

Does this tally with your experience of moving between larger and smaller works?  I’d love to hear how you maintain your connectedness?

All colour studies will be available to buy at my next exhibition in Buxton at the Pavilion Gardens on Friday 23rd, Saturday 24th adn Sunday 25th of November.

My Artist Journey

I enjoyed art at school. There, my main interest was ceramics. I would spend a lot of my breaks and lunchtime working in the pottery room as for me, it was a haven, as I didn’t particularly enjoy school. I came back to art about 9 years ago. I had completed my training to work as a psychotherapist and wanted something to help me relax and to be creative in a different way. I began with a basic course run as part of the local authority’s adult education programme. I had made a start towards something new. The course was pretty basic; however it got me touch with art materials again.

Landscape Oil Painting

An early oil painting.

The next significant moment was an oil painting workshop with Imogen Bone while I was holiday on the Isles of Scilly. Imogen is a good teacher and a modern impressionistic landscape painter. This was a transformative experience as I realised I could paint. I came back home all fired up and eager to continue exploring landscape painting in oils.

An early acrylic painting.

At the same time as painting I was visiting art galleries when I could, researching different artists I wanted to work with along with experimenting and trying new materials. The next two or three years saw considerable exploration. One of the best teachers I met was Carol Baker who runs a whole series of workshops on loosening up and working with acrylics. At this stage in my journey I was definitely still learning about the materials and how to paint in a loose representational style. I was pleased with my work and began to show it in a small way in open studios and a couple of small galleries/ cafes that took a few paintings. My relatives all got paintings for Christmas and I sold a few pieces.

Mixed Media and Abstract Painting

The exploration continued. I learnt about using watercolour. I found the work of Jean Haines and Ann Blockley. Their lovely books inspired me and I began to experiment with mixing media; at this stage mostly ink, watercolour, gouache. I had a tentative play with collage.

Exploring abstraction.

The next big thing was finding the work of Jane Davies, an American abstract artist on YouTube. Jane was my introduction to abstract work. She has a ton of free videos on her website and also offers a series of online courses. I signed up for a few of these and found them really helpful on learning yet more about mixing media with acrylics and abstract composition, a completely new direction. As I began to paint abstractly, I really began to feel and see that my work was derivative; my version of someone else’s style. This was something I struggled with for some time. Looking back I can see that up to this point my explorations had been mostly learning about materials and techniques. The area that I had not explored, probably because I was not yet ready to do so, was artistic process. How I go about making my art. Partly the things that inspire me, that I draw on in making my art. But also the process of making my art. What do I mean by this? I’m referring to how I begin, the steps from beginning through the making of the work. The decisions and choices I make during the process. How I complete and finish a piece.

Intuitive Painting

This brings me to Art2Life, Nicholas Wilton and Creative Visionary Path. This is a 12 week online development programme for artists. It was the big break though I needed. The course is a mixture of technical principles about how to make authentic work, and guidance and coaching on ways of understanding one’s own process in that making.

So I now know that my work is intuitive. I have no idea what is going to emerge when I begin to paint, it’s a process of play, exploration and response in the moment to what I am seeing and experiencing. Sometimes the work is about a memory, of landscape, a form or shape in nature or something created by people. Sometimes it is about the process of making. It’s an adventure and a journey that is continually exciting. What next? The exploration continues. I feel like I am at the beginning of a new phase. That while I’m confident I’ve found my form of artistic expression, I am now engaged in an ongoing process of change and development.

What were the big breakthroughs in your artistic journey? How did you find your voice?

I’d love to hear your stories.

Colour, Collage and Texture Workshop

Icefloe
Icefloe. mixed media. 12×12″. Board,. Framed.

This post is to introduce my new Colour, Collage and Texture Workshop which i am excited to be running next year.  This workshop is all about painting abstractly and using colour, collage and texture in the work to create impact.

It is a follow on session to my introductory session into Abstract Painting.  For people who have attended that day this new workshop builds on the material learnt in that session. If you are already painting abstractly then this session can help you bring further refinement to your work and develop the impact of what you are painting.

Colour Theory

The focus of the day is two fold. To demonstrate and teach a range of techniques using texture and collage that can be incorporated into abstract work. To look at some of the main ideas in colour theory and then to think about how to use those ideas to create more impact in your work.

Specifically, we will take a look at how to use colour through value as well as ideas about colour harmony and working with complementary colour.  I will go over the principles of the colour wheel and some basics in colour theory.  We will spend some time on colour mixing exercises to help you understand the various properties of colour and how to use it effectively in your work.  We will also look at a range of techniques to build texture into your work along with how to make your own collage papers.

The day is at the Old House Studio outside Glossop in a beautiful location overlooking the Pennine Way.  There is a well equipped purpose-built studio with space for up to eight people.

Teaching Experience

I have been teaching adults for over 20 years in various capacities.

My teaching style is relaxed and informal and I teach from a place of facilitating you to find your own style of working.  I will demonstrate the techniques and work on my own painting during the session so that you can observe my application of the ideas taught. There is also lots of time for one to one input and coaching during the day.  If this sounds like something that might be of interest then book your place by using the form below.

 

100 Days of Learning

Some of you might remember that earlier this year I signed up for the 100 Day Project. I was intending to write about the experience and interestingly it’s taken me a while to get around to it. Some of the delay is due to being busy over the summer, but I also think that it has taken me a while to consolidate on my learning because there was so much to take from the experience.

I signed up in a fit of enthusiasm. Well, during the course of the 100 days or so that enthusiasm waxed and waned. What I can say for sure is how much I have learnt from the process.

Initially I was using some of the principles learnt from the online workshop I have been involved in, run by Nicholas Wilton from Art2life, that took place at the beginning of this year. My focus was mainly on what Nick calls design, or composition, and value. He highlights how important differences are in composition. Differences in size of mark, shape and value.

Abstract Collage

The project I decided on was to do a small abstract collage in my sketchbook. I was hoping to develop my art practice in two ways from deciding to make this my project. Firstly to use all my learning from the course and secondly to learn about using collage.

Day 1

Part of the process I found particularly helpful was to go back through my sketchbook and make notes as I was going along. Some were very just short, just a line of two, others much longer as I found my reflections led me deeper into thinking about my work.

Looking back over the sketchbook there was a clear development in the collages. I began with small pieces on individual sheets. This was the first day, a very simple collage. My notes were about needing more differences in the size of shape and value.

Bolder shapes

Some of my main learning was about how to use larger shapes, to be bolder in my compositions and through the daily practice I developed a range of shapes that were more random and unusual.

I also discovered how much l like to layer collage onto collage. I particularly like little bits peeking through giving a sense of surprise or mystery as to what lies beneath. In the image to the right you can see the use of layering along the bolder shapes. In this piece I was also making use of handmade collage papers along with bought in materials. I enjoyed the contrast.

Going over the edges.

Another technique I became interested in was to go outside the edges. To use a separate sheet for one part of the collage, to then mount that on a plain piece of paper and then to continue to develop the piece. Here’s an example. Looking closely, the lines are drawn over a central piece and extend to the page it is mounted on. The red shape also extends over the edge.

New Materials.

I was able to experiment with using new materials – large graphite sticks and fabric for example. I also made use of found objects. Some more successful than others. A paper post it note from the floor – not so successful. The ticket stub from a dinner and dance I attended – more successful.

What became obvious during the process has been the importance of continuing experimentation and play. I noticed that there is a part of me that had a secret fear that my creativity might dry up. That there is a finite well of ideas. However I can confidently say that just the opposite has proven to be the case. For example the collages where have collaged over the edges feels like it might be a new sort of format. I’m now thinking of how to translate this into a multiple layered larger piece. I’m not sure when this will happen in my larger work, but I think it will find a place.

During the 100 days I also did some slightly larger pieces of collaging as small complete pictures. These are now for sale in my Etsy Shop.

Meanwhile what next? Something of a rest I think. Will I do it again? As an intense period of learning that boosted my art it was invaluable so, yes, I probably will.

Did you take part? What was your experience? What was the biggest learning?

Interested in bringing some collage into your work? Then book onto my Colour, Collage and Texture in Abstract Painting Workshop.

Please leave a comment below.

Are we over?

I sometimes find myself standing in front of a painting thinking,  “Are we over?”

Artistic Process

A little like a relationship that is no longer working, with our art do we need to ask this question?   Are there times we have to decide that a painting is not working and move on from it.  Or can we persevere in the hope that it will come right in the end.  This is another post about artistic process and some thoughts on tenacity vs moving on.

Making Large Moves

I’d like to share a recent experience.  I had been working on a painting for about 12 weeks and frankly it was driving me nuts.  I have recently begun working in a series so it was not the only piece of work I was concentrating on.  I had another 6 pieces also in process which were going well.  However, with this piece I really felt like I was getting nowhere.    The painting had several versions, none of them particularly feeling satisfying to me.  During the course of painting  I had made several large moves, but none of them got me out of the frustrating,  getting nowhere process I was in. I don’t have photos from all of the various iterations, but here are a few with some of the moves I made.

Early stage

At this stage the piece had an emerging abstract landscape feel.  I was aware of needing to do a lot of work to the design as there were quite number of areas I felt required development and resolution.  The similar shapes along the top, the large dark that was drawing eye into the centre, too much saturated colour.  However there was some good texture building and I felt optimistic of where it was heading at this point.

Next stage

It felt like something interesting was beginning to emerge with more landscape forms although I was not convinced by the inclusion of a horizon line at this early stage as I felt it was constraining me and pushing me in a specific direction quite early on.  I next felt the need to move the piece forward more significantly so I did this.

Big move

Increasing Differences

I had at this point decided to take a risk and make a big dramatic change by  putting in a large orange shape.  It felt different, fresh and something new.  I liked the impact of the large shape and felt like I could resolve the design with the similarity of some the smaller blue and darker shapes along the bottom.  But, some time later it wasn’t happening.   I spent quite some time making alterations to the design wanting to increase the range of difference and contrast in the medium shapes but each move felt like it took me further away from a resolution.  .

 

Big moves

Sanding!

Next I included a large blue shape along the bottom but the darks still felt too similar and disconnected.  By this point I was losing patience.  I got out the sander and sanded the whole painting back which resulting in some interesting fresh marks and a very smooth board!  I rotated the painting and had something new to respond to.

These last two images are my final versions of this piece.  As you can see there was a lot more development but nothing that felt like a successful one.  By this point I think I was getting completely lost in frustration and feeling increasingly like I was not going to resolve this painting,  but would continue going around in circles.

It seemed like a good point to be asking the question am I done with this?

Moving on

I’m all for sticking with things and seeing them through to completion, however I also know there comes a point  where the energy invested is just not worth the outcome.  I’d reached that point with this board.  Time to move on.  So, I completely “wrecked” what was there and this is now sitting in a corner of my studio until I have gotten over the break up.  I’m not going back to it until I have completely different relationship with it  otherwise I think the previously process might reemerge. So, we are officially on a break!  I feel like I need to give it some time and space to move on in my process so that it doesn’t feel like returning to something I was struggling with.  I think by giving myself enough distance it will feel fresher.

Sharing the learning

Here are some of the things that helped me while I was stuck with this painting.

Definitely not being over invested in any aspect of the work. Several times I made big and risky moves, even thought they didn’t lead to a resolution it helps to feel free to play spontaneously.  See my previous post on Falling in Love too early  for more on this.

Recognising this is only a painting. Getting into a struggle and a fight with the work is probably getting into a fight with myself as I’m the one doing the painting.

The painting isn’t winning nor am I losing.  Holding on to the idea that the experience is one of learning can be self supporting. So I didn’t make a finished piece. I learnt a lot on the journey to where I am now.

Knowing when to take a break and that doing so is not about failure but a recognition of what the most helpful approach right now.

For now I shall continue to use it as a play board  – wiping paint on it periodically just make interesting marks and maybe this will be one of those relationships were we do get back together and make it work…….

Playboard
Play board

Any thoughts – is something that you have experienced as well?  What do you do when you get stuck in your art making?

If you’d like to chat to me about art making come and visit me at Art in the Pen in Skipton 10th to 12th of August.

Please do browse the site.  You’ll find prints and cards at my  Etsy Shop.  along with small originals and collages.

Who is your Inner Critic Anyway?

Who is your inner critical voice? The voice we hear in our heads that often speaks to us in a way that we wouldn’t dream of using to another person. The part of us that criticises and drives us, sets unrealistic expectations and is then down on us when we don’t meet those expectations. The part of us that can demoralise, demotivate and derail us sometimes. Having an understanding of this part of ourselves and then some alternatives to listening to this voice can help defuse the power of this part of us. This is where I go to theory to explain something that is very common for people and which I suspect most people will experience in their lives.

As well as being a creativity coach I am a transactional analyst. Transactional analysis (TA) is a set of theories developed by Eric Berne in the 1950’s and 60’s that today are widely used in coaching, psychotherapy, education and organisations around the world.   I am going to look at some straightforward theory from TA to understand the inner critic.

Structure of Personality.

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Eric Berne

Berne wrote about personality structure as having three parts or ego states.  An ego state is described as “a consistent pattern of feeling and experience directly related to a corresponding consistent pattern of behaviour”.  Another way to think about this is that our experience is organised into three parts.  Each of these parts has a recognisable pattern of thinking and feeling with corresponding behaviour.  The three ego states are named Parent, Adult and Child.

I began this post by talking about the inner critic, that inner voice which so often has unrealistic expectations and criticism. I identify this part of us with the Parent ego state. Before I go on to look at this in more depth I will summarise Adult and Child.

Child Ego State

The Child ego state, can be described as thoughts, feelings and behaviours replayed from childhood.  Experiences organised from when we were children.  Here’s a simple example.

You are at school maybe 4 or 5 years old. The teacher asks a question, you think you know the answer so you put up your hand. The teacher asks for your response, which, when you give your answer, is wrong. As you get it wrong someone at the back of the class sniggers, and you feel really embarrassed at not knowing the correct answer. You think and maybe decide “it’s not a good idea to answer questions in case you get it wrong.”

Thirty years later you are attending a one day training course as part of your job. The trainer asks a question, you answer and get it wrong and in that moment you revisit the experience you had when you were 4 and answered incorrectly in class, you feel the same embarrassment and again think, “it’s not good idea to answer questions. ”

Adult Ego State

When we are in our Adult ego state we are using thinking, feeling and behaviour in response to the “here and now”. Being in my Adult ego state means that I am in the present, fully aware and contact with myself so able to respond to a situations using my capacity as an adult for solving problems, reality testing situations, being honest, direct and open about what I am thinking and feeling and being spontaneous, creative and vulnerable.

Problem Solving

I am going to use the example I gave to illustrate Child ego state as a way of demonstrating what I mean by a here and now response in Adult ego state.  In the example of getting an answer wrong in a training course, the Adult response might be to feel ok about not knowing an answer and then to reflect on what you have not understood and what additional information might needed to give the correct answer. So I am engaging my problem-solving skills as an adult to solve the “problem” of not knowing an answer.

Parent Ego State

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PAC Model

The Parent ego state is a collection of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are “taken in” or copied from significant adults during childhood and with the perception of a child. Significant adults can mean our parents, or primary caregivers. It can also mean aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers and even society at large. It is an external experience where we have observed someone else’s responses to a situation – their thinking, feeling and behaviour and we have “taken that experience in” so it then becomes part of how we respond in a similar situation.

Here’s an example of how this might work. You are five years old going away on a family holiday. As you are driving down the motorway someone cuts in front of your Dad, who is driving. He swears and shouts, gesturing fiercely at the driver responsible. Thirty years later you are driving on the motorway and someone cuts in front of you. You swear, shout and gesture fiercely.  Over time as we grow we internalise a whole host of experiences, some positive and some negative and together these form the Parent ego state.  So, the our critical inner voice is the expression internally of the negative parts of the Parent ego state.

Here are some of the reasons why is this part of ourselves so critical and harsh.

Firstly experiences are taken in when we are young and with the perception of a young child. For example, as a child we don’t fully understand the nuances of adult communication.

We also simplify and generalise from individual experiences.  Here’s an example.  A  parent or caregiver is having an important conversation on the telephone.  You are 6 years old and jumping down the stairs singing a nursery rhyme.  The parent or caregiver turns to you,  saying crossly “don’t shout and jump while I’m on the phone”    But you hear this as “Shouting is bad.”

The Parent ego state is actually a mixture of many experiences with parental figures and messages from the environment.

Finally a large part of Parent is about protecting us when we feel vulnerable in some way or another. For example the critical inner voice that sets high expectations may be protecting against the possibility of criticism or rejection from others.

So, how does this help us with our inner critic?

Well what this says to me is that when I am in my Parent ego state I am likely to be responding to a situation or stimulus using thoughts, feelings and behaviours from the past and that I have taken in from someone else as I perceived them at that time.  Therefore this response may not be relevant or appropriate to the present. I may want to revisit some of the messages and experiences I have taken in and up date them with how I think, feel and want to behave.  One way you might like to do this is to make a list of some of the sayings and slogans that were common in your family and that you find yourself saying to yourself.  An example might be when something bad happens “you’ve just got to get on with haven’t you.” Write them all out and then see if you think they are true for you today. If not update them with something more relevant and supportive.  So in the example given above I would update that to ” when bad things happen in life it’s good to seek support.” Take what is useful and helpful ignore the rest.

If I am in my Parent ego state I’m not using all of my Adult to problem solve and reality test. I may not be seeing the situation as it really is. Recognising this is the first step to moving into a more Adult place and regaining all of our Adult resources to problem solve and support ourselves.

Another way to deal with the inner critic is to thank that part of self for it’s positive intention  – even though impact is different from intention. Then turn the volume down on the voice, you might even want to visualise a large volume dial and imagine it being turned to reduce the sound.

These are few suggestions how to deal with you inner critic – have you any more?  I’d love to hear from you.
 

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First Steps – What to expect

First Steps in Art is a workshop specially designed for people who are completely new to drawing or painting.  So, what can you expect from your first art workshop?2015-10-27 07.57.47

Firstly a warm and friendly welcome, a cuppa and a chat when you arrive.  There will be time to introduce yourself to the other members of the group and as the teacher for the day I will be taking time to help people settle in.

Then, an overall introduction to the day and what we will be up to. Clear instructions on each lesson and how to use the materials

Each lesson will be introduced in turn with plenty of guidance on what to do.  I’ve some interesting and exciting things planned for us which are geared to help build your confidence quickly. As an example, we will use watercolours to paint stripes on a piece of paper and then cut it up to make a simple collage picture by sticking it on coloured card.

We take an hour for lunch allowing time for a break.

Group size is limited to 8 people so there is plenty of opportunity for one to one discussion and support from me.

Finally, you take home the results of your painting for the day.