Creativity and the New Year Blues

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Above is a photo of the famous and picturesque Brighton Beach in Melbourne on a lovely summer’s day. This is how we want our holiday season to always be, but it has been a very difficult New Year in Australia and the celebrations have felt rather hollow. It is very hard to be cheerful when so many people are suffering with the devastating bushfires affecting our state of Victoria and the whole country. Climate change is very real in our part of the world, which is quite depressing, especially with our Federal government’s hopeless response to this threat. The current situation appears to have no end in sight and it must be terrible for those caught up in the crisis. While it is important to remain informed and engaged with what is happening, it is also vital to do things to get your mind off a terrible situation, otherwise it can effect your well being which is no help to anyone. This is where a person’s creativity can be their best friend.

Last Monday a deadly wind fanned fires in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and brought down many trees on what was a day of nearly 43 degrees Celsius. A strong wind gust caused a tree limb from our neighbour’s African Coral tree to crash onto our dividing fence and damage some of our citrus trees, a minor inconvenience compared with the extreme fires happening all over the place. Everything seems turbulent and out of balance. How do you stay calm and focused when your country is in a state of emergency?

As well as donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery for those affected by the bushfires, it also helps to take action with things that you can immediately change. Ellie and I decided to deal with the fallen tree branch because our citrus trees needed quick attention so that they will recover. Our neighbours are away for the holiday period and the large branch is too big for us to remove on our own, so Ellie and I cut away the overhanging branches from the fallen limb and removed any broken ones from our trees. Now there is just one big branch stuck on our side of the fence. The rest can be taken care of when our neighbours return. 

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It was great to get outside in the garden on a cool day to make the most of the fresh air and sunshine before the smoke returned to Melbourne. A bit of physical activity can make you feel a lot more relaxed.

Good old New Year’s resolutions in this time of stress can help to regain your focus provided you implement them quickly. This type of planning can be done at any time of the year. For example there is nothing like learning a language to stimulate the brain. I studied Japanese for two and a half years at university (up to third year level) but had let it slip. This year I decided to refresh my language skills and have found a phone app to get me started. I still have my Japanese text books, but using the app allows me to listen, speak and read at the same time. I have begun with very basic Japanese to get me back into the flow and am surprised to see how much I remember. It is fun to learn without the stress of exams and I would recommend using an app first before taking formal lessons as it is like playing a game.

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Doing any sort of creative project can be a welcome distraction. Another resolution of mine is to continue with water colour painting, learn all kinds of techniques and try out different materials. After watching some inspiring You Tube videos, I have decided to have a go at making some shimmering water colour paints from old powdered make up to use in craft projects. For pan containers I found 10 plastic make up pots to hold each colour and these will fit into a plastic lidded box which means they will be easy to store. I bought some gum arabic to mix with the shimmer powder as a binder. You will need to leave the container open until the paints dry and once dry the paints can be reactivated with water like normal water colour.

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Here is the video that inspired my project.

I did some research online to find out the lightfastness of the pigments that were used in the make-up powder. For those interested in this type of thing here is what I learnt as they are common pigments used in make-up along with the shimmering mica which is the main ingredient:

Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (Prussian blue) cannot be mixed with titanium white or zinc white as it becomes fugitive (non-lightfast).

Carmine Pigment is fugitive in water colours.

Chromium Hydroxide Green – do not heat over 200 degrees Celsius or the colour might change.

With these results I would suggest that any paint made from these pigments only be used for greeting cards, other types of ephemera or inside sketchbooks where the contents are not exposed to the light. There are artist quality pearlescent watercolours available for archival work. I can’t wait to experiment with these shimmer paints and plan to buy some professional ones in the future. 

In trying times you need to look forward to some good things and to never lose that feeling of hope. 

On a very smoky Friday in Melbourne wishing everyone a Happy 2020. Let’s hope that there are better things to come.

Kat

SUPPORT YOUR ARTIST FRIENDS: IT MATTERS

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Having supportive friends can make a big difference to your life. Getting support for your creative endeavours from people you know can give you confidence and inspire your work.  There is nothing more uplifting than seeing friends in an audience at one of your performances, at an exhibition or other similar events where you have work displayed. It is also important to support creative friends and to celebrate their accomplishments. 

Recently the ukulele group that Ellie and I help run performed at a local community festival. We had a lot of fun entertaining the crowd and it was great to see the smiling faces of family and friends who came out to support us in the audience. It boosted our performance. After the event I realised the several of the friends that we had invited had not turned up, even though they had said they would attend and had not sent any apologies.

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I was disappointed because in the past these friends have been quite insistent that we inform them when our ukulele group has scheduled a performance so they could come. For many years we have been playing our instruments at their parties, but when our uke group actually performs, not many show up. It was a free concert and in the same area where some of them lived so it would not have taken a big effort to be there, but I guess you can’t make people attend.

Who would want to be the sort of person that can’t be bothered to be a supportive friend? It is important to help out your friends even when you are busy. Don’t just nod and say something is great. Follow through and go to their events and exhibitions.

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If you really like a friend’s artwork and have the funds, buy one and display it in your home. If you can’t afford an original artwork buy a print or a card of their work.  An author would really appreciate you buying a copy of their book to read. Or if music is their medium, buy a CD or a download. The least you can do is spread the word that their work is available for purchase.

Take some photos or video the event and give your friend copies. When an artist is performing or talking to people at an exhibition opening, often it is family and friends who can record the occasion. After all the hours of preparation for something that is over in a short time, it is priceless to have a record. 

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If you cannot attend send an apology and congratulate them for their achievement. It is also thoughtful to send them a bottle of wine to celebrate or a card of congratulations. Show you care.

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And if you never get the support for your art from some people, don’t invite these repeat offenders to your creative events. They do not define you or your work. Positive energy generates more so save your efforts for those who do give you support and don’t take them for granted. Make sure you thank your family and friends for coming and that they know any help they may have given has been greatly appreciated.  

Anything that you can do to support your creative friends is valuable and is the most basic thing you can do for both the arts and friendship. Be the type of friend you want to have. It matters.

Kat

(all images from pixabay.com, unsplash.com or pxhere.com)

One of the ultimate songs about friendship is The Beatles With a Little help from My Friends. Here is a version from 2009 with Paul and Ringo performing the song live.

In Praise of Pigs

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The pig is an animal that has been used as a symbol by many cultures, as well as inspiring writers and artists. (See entries on Wikipedia for a good survey of the cultural and religious associations and the pig in popular culture). Sometimes it is used to depict human failings; at others it represents wisdom and good fortune. Pigs also can be just plain entertaining. Now we have entered the Chinese Year of the Pig I thought I would share my small collection and some random thoughts on the subject.

Undomesticated pigs can be fierce and dangerous beasts. Since ancient times representations of wild boar have displayed this ferocity with great imagination. Take for example this illustration from our dilapidated copy Oliver Goldsmith’s A History of the Earth and Animated Nature, Vol. I 1868. The various species of wild pigs from different regions of the world are put together to create a scene that could only exist on paper or in your nightmares.

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I’m sure that the British illustrator Paul Hogarth was channeling this wildness in his cover illustration for the 1960s edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That is one threatening pig.

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In contrast illustrations of domestic pigs seem much more benign although they can still display a lot of character. In our 1883 copy of the Universal Self Instructoris an entry on how to keep hogs with an accompanying picture. The artist gives you the impression that these two hogs would have been stubborn personalities with minds of their own. They look immovable.

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The pig form may be bulky bit it can lend itself to delicate and small artifacts. For example I have a tiny glass pig that I bought in a shop in the US, as well as a tiny pig pin, something that will be fun to wear this year.

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Pigs can be wonderfully amusing creatures and have inspired cartoonists like Walt Disney in his 1933 animation of The Three Little Pigsand the Loony Tunes character of Porky Pig. Here are a couple of comical pigs. The pink one is a vintage bath salts holder and the other was found at an op shop.

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There are many charming images of pigs in children’s books. In our 1901 edition of Country Favourites there are some delightful illustrations of pigs for the story Pat and the pigs by Winifred Fenn. The story is about a very naughty boy who steals cherries and releases the pigs in his charge to eat the flowers in an old ladies garden. Of course, like all moralizing tales of this era he eventually sees the error his ways and apologizes. The likeable and good-natured looking pigs seem oblivious to the fact they are involved in dirty deeds.

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A piggy bank is the quintessential money box with so many creative variations. Countless generations have saved their change in one. When my sister and I were children our grandmother would give us the contents of her vintage hand painted, ceramic piggy bank. Unfortunately this lovely bank was accidentally given to charity.

I was always horrified by the thought of smashing a beautiful piggy bank to get at the contents when there was no bottom opening. I would rather use a knife to loosen the change while holding it upside down. I still have a reproduction of a depression era glass piggy bank and it is easy to shake out the contents. Many financial companies give away piggy banks as promotional gifts and that is the origin of the jovial plastic purple one below.

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Because the pig is one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac it is popular in Asian countries as a symbol of luck, wisdom and good fortune. A Japanese friend gave me a wooden lucky charm from her local temple, painted with the image of Ebisu (one of the seven gods of happiness) riding a white pig, which I treasure. The gorgeous Korean brass pig was found at a local op shop.

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Pigs are great animals to doodle and I did this drawing a long time ago just for the fun of it.

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Pig objects make an interesting collection and have all kinds of different meanings around the world.  Although sometimes symbolising wild nature, pigs are also revered as intelligent and benevolent animals and can inspire us in our creative endeavours.

Happy Year of the Pig!

Kat

Because it is just so delightful and amusing, here is Walt Disney’s animation of The Three Little Pigs.

Truly Inspired by A Guy Called Bloke

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The Three Graces (detail)

My blog had the privilege of being featured on fellow blogger A Guy Called Bloke‘s Truly Inspired series.

Here is the link: Truly Inspired: The Artist’s Child

Check out his wonderful poems and writings while you are there.

The Tipping Point

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When you are doing something creative have you noticed sometimes there is a point where everything can suddenly go wrong if you don’t immediately adjust to the situation? I guess this is also echoed in our way of life. In many areas we have reached the tipping point for our planet. This is a good reason for artists to use recycled materials.

I read on a local news site yesterday that China is no longer accepting waste materials from Australia for recycling (link to article). This means all the plastic and paper that was to be sold to China will go into landfill if it cannot be recycled here. Councils are now asking ratepayers to cut down on the amount of waste for their recycling bins. This is the result of sending our problems overseas and not finding a creative solution for recycling large quantities of paper and plastic in our own country. If we are to prevent turning our environment into a tip and being swallowed by mountains of rubbish, it will take a change of mindset for our society, which won’t be easy. At the very least, as artists, we can recycle materials in our work.

Many local artists and designers have already been using recycled items to create works of art and are trying to make a difference no matter how small. It is also good for the soul to turn rubbish and junk into something beautiful, as well as unique. Here is a link to an exhibition Turning Trash to Treasure held at the South Melbourne Market in September 2017.

Reusing old materials is a source of inspiration and often requires a lot of rethinking when you run into difficulties. Ellie and I have been learning to make paper from old cotton rags and clothing for use in artwork. We have been having problems with making a very fine pulp, as mentioned in recent posts. This requires breaking down the cut-up rags in the washing machine and repeated processing in the blender.

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It is quite time-consuming so we decided to mix this with a pulp made from shredded computer documents and other paper of a reasonable quality. We found out that if you add calcium carbonate powder, also known as whiting or chalk, this will make an acid free pulp (here are the instructions: How to make Acid Free Paper). We bought some from our local art supply shop as it is used in printmaking. We have also decided to size the paper with a clear artist’s gesso after drying rather than adding starch to the pulp.

 

Papermaking is a really good way to use up old paper rather than putting this in the recycling bin. Last weekend we started making paper with paper pulp on its own to get a feel for the process. This was totally different from the cotton pulp. The first day that we tried this the pulp was a bit lumpy and so some of the sheets were a little thick. When dried this it looked like the recycled molded cardboard used to separate wine bottles in the carton, which was not what we were going for.

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We had also obtained a smaller A5 mold and deckle to make cards, which was easy to use and required less pulp. As the lumps disappeared from the pulp mix the paper became thinner and smoother.

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When we began doing this outside under some sun umbrellas it was quite warm. Just as we were starting to get the hang of the process the sky darkened and there was the sound of distant thunder. With the storm getting closer it was quite hard to concentrate. Not wanting to be stuck outside with lightning imminent we hurriedly packed up and put the paper in the press under the car port then dried it flat inside. After drying the paper was pressed under a pile of heavy books because it had curled a bit.

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The next day it was even hotter and we decided to continue the process under the car port just in case the weather changed. The pulp had softened even more and was a better texture. Because it was thinner we had to be careful when getting it off the deckle. The cleaning cloths that we use for separating the paper sheets need to be really wet or the paper won’t come off the deckle. The hot weather didn’t help and we had a lot of disasters before getting this right. If you sponge the back of this once it is upside down on the cloth the paper comes off more easily.

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We noticed that there was a variation in thickness of the paper but it was better than the day before. If the pulp mixture became too thin the paper was more likely to fall apart when transferring it to the cloth so it was necessary to add more pulp when this was starting to happen. You had to watch out for this tipping point to avoid failure.

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When we had finished we pressed the sheets between our plywood boards with bricks on top and dried them by pegging the backing cloths on a drying rack. This worked better than trying to dry them flat on a surface. Some sheets are better than others but we can experiment with the sizing on some or use them for collage so nothing is wasted and we can always re-pulp sheets that are too horrible.

 

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Next we are going to try some shredded magazines together with recycled computer paper to see if we can make some interesting decorative paper. After we have reprocessed some of the colored fabric we can include a small quantity of this fibre in the mix.

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Individually we might only be using a relatively small amount of recycled material but it’s better than doing nothing. It’s a pity that more local manufacturers are not doing their own recycling of plastics and paper for their products. So much has been done overseas and now that this is no longer sustainable we will all have to be aware of the amount we consume and how to cut this down. This will not be easy so the more people who can come up with creative ways to reuse recyclables, as in artwork, hopefully we can avoid the tipping point.

Kat

There are quite a lot of songs with “Paper” in the title. I love this one from the sixties, Paper Tiger, performed by Sue Thompson. It’s a live version but she is miming and obviously enjoying herself.

A Hand-Made Halloween

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Over the past ten years in Melbourne the festival of Halloween has become more widely celebrated and seems to be getting more commercial with large public events in many shopping centres. The St Kilda Town Hall even has a hugely popular Haunted House experience. We are increasingly getting Halloween themed catalogues in our letterbox advertising elaborate and expensive decorations and costumes, as well as the usual treats. Before all this commercialization most local Halloween celebrations were limited to home parties where decorations and costumes were usually homemade and trick or treating was rare.

Magazines used to be the main source of ideas for making party decorations and costumes. We have that really old party magazine from the 1890s, mentioned in a previous post, which has a wonderful section on Halloween, as well as the more recent Australian Women’s Weekly Home Library publication, Perfect Parties. No one was expected to spend a fortune and it was so much more fun and creative to make things.

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As children Ellie and I had a Halloween Party. As there was little available in the way of decorations, except for plastic spiders and orange and black balloons, we invited some friends for a sleepover before the party and had a great time making decorations for the family room and garden. Out of black card we cut black cats, owls, bats, broomsticks and the like and hung these from sticks of bamboo to create mobiles.

In one corner of the garden we built a witch’s house against the side fence with a sheet of corrugated iron for the roof and bamboo poles (cut from the garden) tied together with twine to form the walls and a window. We painted a sign that said “Witches Hollow”. In front of this structure dad made a tripod from wooden poles and hung a cast iron camp oven for a cauldron over some unlit wood. These days you can have a fire in a metal fire pit. Probably one with a wire safety grill is best to protect from dangerous sparks.

A decorated table is a wonderful centrepiece for a Halloween party. You don’t need to buy special tableware. Our grandmother gave us a vintage tablecloth with embroidered black cats, but you could make a tablecloth from orange fabric or just use orange crepe paper decorated with cutout black cats, bats, owls etc. She also made us a beautiful cake decorated with black cats. It is easy to make cupcakes and decorate these with black cat sweets, jelly babies and snakes, together with orange or chocolate sprinkles on plain white icing. There are so many creative ideas around for making Halloween food these days, especially online. Fresh fruits and vegetables, like pumpkins, turnips and tomatoes make great table decorations and are a reminder of the autumnal origins of Halloween, even if it is spring here. And you can use them to make a soup or put them on the barbeque after the party.

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Black Cat Cupcakes

Only recently in Australia has it been possible to get large orange pumpkins to carve at Halloween. Supermarkets now have these to buy for the occasion. We had to make do with the green kind. Our grandfather carved a jack-o-lantern out of a pumpkin and fitted it with an electric light bulb to put on the front veranda. He also had a very old papier-mache mask of a skull and put a bulb in this as well. They looked wonderfully spooky to welcome the guests. Now front porch decorations seem to be becoming more elaborate and more common here, but you don’t need to buy frightening manikins that cost a heap. A homemade scarecrow could look just as creepy especially if you give it a scary clown face.

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Most people who came to our party had homemade costumes. I created one from a long white satin bridesmaid dress that I had worn the previous year. Over this I wore a filmy pale blue robe of my mothers and made a cone-shaped hat from white cardboard, stuck on some gold stars, attached a filmy white scarf from the peak and stapled some hat elastic to keep it on. With a wand made from a piece of silver painted dowel I was a Sorceress. Mum made Ellie a skeleton costume by sticking white electrical tape to a black polo neck top and tights.

Guest’s costumes ranged from the usual witches or ghosts, to someone dressed as a pea pod with green balloons for the peas. There were some very creative costumes, such as a hand painted skull and crossbones outfit and a witch doctor, who had lots of small handmade mojo bags attached to a belt. I remember we all had a great time dancing to pop music and playing Murder in the Dark, which still seems to be a popular party game. Of course there were prizes for the best costumes and little bags of treats for everyone to take home.

With a bit of creativity you can avoid a lot of the cost and over commercialization of Halloween and still have a great party. And if it is for just for adults, substitute more appropriate food, drink and entertainment. Be as crazy as you like. Why should kids have all the fun?

Kat

Probably one of the best songs ever written about a ghost is Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. The famous “red dress” video of this song has had many millions of hits on You Tube so here is the “white dress” version.

Keeping Your Childhood Wonder

When you are a child it is so easy to find the world a wondrous place. So many things seem magical, especially the natural world. Everything is new and an adventure. I think that it is important not too lose this sense of wonder in life. If you become too cynical and apathetic it can have a negative impact on your creativity.

Our creative vision is most often stimulated by the wonder of things. When I was quite young I would do paintings and drawings with little difficulty. Often these contained images of plants and flowers, animals, mythical creatures, family holiday destinations, or characters from stories, films or history. There was a never-ending supply of subject matter. Here is a pastel drawing I did as a child of some Sea Lions, followed by a recent drone video of the colony at Seal Rocks near Phillip Island and The Nobbies. To me they are still amazing creatures to watch.

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My childhood drawing of Seal Rocks

Such things still make me excited like a kid and would not want to lose this feeling. One summer night not so long ago I went outside around midnight. It was still moist after a summer storm and suddenly a large Grey-headed flying-fox, Australia’s largest fruit bat (wingspan up to 1 metre or about 3 ft), swooped right over my head. I could have touched it. I had never been that close to one before and I was exhilarated. After this encounter I would look out for them and was lucky enough to see a classic scene of  bats silhouetted against the sky during a lightning storm. These creatures are wonderful and we are privileged to have them in and around our city. It is good to notice your local wildlife and remember that humans are not the centre of everything. My experience motivated this poem.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox, the beat of swooping wings

Above my head

A wild bat wonder

Flying Fox, across the lightning sky

I watch at dusk

No gothic horror

© Copyright theartistschild.com 2017

Here is a video of the colony of Grey-headed flying foxes at Yarra Bend Park in Kew, Melbourne, followed by another of the bats flying across the Melbourne skyline at dusk.

Reconnecting with your childhood imagination is an effective way to get ideas as an adult. Some people have entire careers reliving their early fantasies. Things that grabbed you as a child can still be inspirational. Collecting seashells at the beach was one of my favorite childhood pass times. Their shapes and colours were so beautiful and it was like finding treasure. The only time I ever bought a shell was a Cowrie shell as a souvenir from a trip to Sydney. These shells are uncommon in Victoria. I still have it and its strong colour has lasted because I keep it in a dark box. It is a lovely subject to draw with the spotted markings.

The excitement of being given or finding something unusual can still bring on a sense of childlike delight. My grandfather gave me a rock containing some fossilized shells when I was a child because he knew that I was interested in such things. I still love fossils and have collected a few mainly as holiday souvenirs. I still get a buzz when I see interesting fossils in museums or books. Prehistoric Ammonites with their spiral shell shape remind me of the shells of some freshwater snails. I carved one out of a small piece of talc stone with this type of shell so it is also permanently frozen in stone like a fossil.

The ingenuity of inventions might be what tickled your early imagination. My father had inherited an old Remington portable typewriter (1929 model) that fascinated me as a child. I would try to type things with two fingers but this was a slow exercise. When I got the chance I learnt to touch type and it has made the writing process so much easier, as well as using computers. Keep that childhood thirst for knowledge. Learning any form of technology gives you so many more creative options and it helps if you are keen to embrace new methods.

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Sometimes you find that when you get really excited about something there are always people who think you are strange. They can’t understand your enthusiasm. But if you lose your joyousness just because of what people think it would be very sad. Being indifferent means that it is difficult to get involved in the creative process.

I hope I will always be able to maintain the childlike passion of a David Attenborough when he describes fabulous wildlife and never become bored and jaded. There is so much in this world that is wondrous.

Kat

Here’s The Pointer Sisters who know how to get excited!