Erratic Creativity and Shaking off the Winter Slump

It is the middle of winter in Melbourne and July is the coldest month of the year with lower levels of sunlight. This is the time when many people have difficulty with their creative flow. Unlike during the warmer months when my energy is high, now it is very erratic and this inhibits my ability to focus on one thing for long. I find it much less stressful to switch between different creative activities, depending on my mood and energy level. When this is low, if something else sparks my interest, I embrace such experiences to restore my sense of joy in dull and grey weather. These strategies can help anyone who is in a creative slump, especially during the winter.

When I am feeling overwhelmed my spirits have been lifted by watching live Youtube streams from places where it is now summer. There is nothing like the power of the Icelandic volcanic eruption and the antics of Danish and German Wildlife to realise that the world is still a wonderful place. Here are some links to these livestreams for your enjoyment.

It is good to know that beautiful places and amazing events are still out there even though we cannot visit at the moment. Watching the live sporting broadcasts of the Tour de France has brought back the heat. It is entertaining to view the cycling action and spectacular scenery of the French countryside. This really puts a smile on your face when it is cold and it has been very inspiring to see the achievements of these talented riders. It is good motivation to get on the exercise bike.

Being in nature is beneficial for your health and sanity even during the colder months, so it is wonderful to have a garden. Our local parks can be crowded with joggers, dog walkers etc whenever there is fine weather and it is lovely to have such a peaceful place to enjoy by just walking out the back door. During  Melbourne’s repeated lockdowns there were millions of people wishing to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine in public parks at the same time. With all the development and destruction of established gardens in our area, I hope that people finally realise how important it is to preserve these personal outdoor spaces.

If you have any outside space, whether a balcony or small courtyard, make the most of it and try to create some shelter from winter winds with screening plants and appropriate seating. Use your imagination and be creative. In the summer Ellie and I fixed up our run down terrace, by adding more paving and painted the old garden furniture so that it is more pleasant to sit outside in fine weather. Plants were added to make the adjacent fernery appear lush and tropical with leafy, evergreen plants that can survive Melbourne’s cold, windy winters.  Here are some before and after photos.

Here we saved money by planting several shade loving Clivias that Ellie propagated from one pot plant. We found some Canna and Arum Lillys and Bleeding Heart trees, that had spontaneously grown in the empty bed next to the new fence. These have been potted for future deployment in the front garden. Also tomato and pumpkin plants popped up from the compost which was spread in our herb garden, along with lots of nasturtiums which grew from last year’s seeding. Our single wormwood shrub has also provided new plants from cuttings that will be added to the herb garden. Green and variegated spider plants, birds nest ferns and aralia plants easily reproduce in our garden and we have a plentiful supply in pots. It is wonderful when a garden self regenerates. 

When your creativity levels take a dive it makes a real difference to see growth and life in the garden. We are lucky in Melbourne because our winters do not produce snow and there is always an abundance of greenery and citrus fruits during the coldest months. If you are in a snowy region you can also benefit from the watching the continual growth of indoor plants. It is harder to feel down in the dumps when these are bursting with green energy which is restorative.

Plant life can provide creative impetus. Our garden is a constant source of inspiration and has given me ideas for artworks. There is always something new to see during winter. Even when not in the mood for drawing and painting, I have photographed any seasonal changes in our garden for use in future work. These have already inspired me to practice new techniques and try various art materials. 

During periods of low creative energy don’t worry if you are not producing masterpieces. Some artworks are just for learning purposes and not to create great works of art. I have a watercolour sketchbook and a fun collage journal where I do things that make me happy. Some things work, others don’t. I’m not always happy with the results, but I don’t need to show anyone because they are for my benefit alone. It’s Ok to keep some artworks to yourself. These a just a step in your journey to making art that you want to display in public.

However sometimes it pays to ignore your own advice and to go with your instincts. Yesterday I did show one of my practice art journals to someone I trust and they commissioned me to do a small painting as a gift for a relative. So just playing around in a sketchbook for fun when you are trying to lift your mood is never a waste of time. It might just lead you down a more creative path.

Winter might not be the most creative season for everyone but there are many ways to give yourself a boost. This is also the time when there is never more than three months until the arrival of spring and all the renewed energy that comes with sunnier days.

Kat

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.

Health Scares and Creativity

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I haven’t posted in quite a while. Earlier in the year I was really busy rehearsing for a ukulele festival and put other creative activities on the back burner. I stupidly let myself get run down at the beginning  of the flu season, became seriously ill with a respiratory infection and ended up in hospital. Luckily, thanks to the wonderful care and attention of the medical and nursing staff, some powerful medication and a long period of rest, I made a full recovery. This whole episode was a bit of a wake-up call. You never know what is around the corner, so it is important to make the most of life and your creativity while you can. Do not to neglect your artwork, whatever that may be.

Because my energy had been depleted I needed to refresh my creativity and felt that I should try something new. Rather than getting bogged down trying to get a big idea or tackling a large work on canvas, I decided to work on a smaller scale and do works on paper. It would give me the opportunity to revisit coloured pencils, pen, ink and gouache, as well as to learn watercolour properly, something that was never taught when I went to art school. I bought some new paints and materials to supplement those I already had and have been experimenting with mixed media together with watercolour. Change is good for the soul.

Youtube has been a wonderful resource for watercolour lessons and information on paints and other materials. There are so many generous artists who share their knowledge and are entertaining in the process. Wish these had been available when I was at art school.

One thing that really shocked me was the price of water colour paints and materials in Australia, especially water colour paper which needs to be 100% cotton and makes a big difference when learning techniques. I tried to limit the costs by getting one set of paints on Amazon and found some good deals on water colour paper on Fishpond, as well as sourcing some water colour pads made from Italian paper by the local Australian company, Art Spectrum. I only needed to buy a few new brushes as I already had many for gouache. Those few I bought were also made by an Australian company.  Local is always cheaper than imported, especially if you buy from one of your country’s online retailers.

I saved money by using plastic well palettes that I already had for washes and improvised with a porcelain soap dish and some white ceramic tiles left over from our renovations, which are great for mixing smaller quantities of paint or coloured inks and are easy to clean. The larger tile can be used for working on a small sheet of wet watercolour paper. Always keep ceramic tiles or other useful containers for mixing paints.

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I also had some ancient Windsor and Newton pan and tube watercolours from a relative. The tubes had dried up and I cut these open and put the paint in an old theatrical makeup palette so I could use them with the old pans, which I blue tacked into the same container. These are still workable, although not as nice as the new paints. Never discard old watercolours as they can be reconstituted.

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Another thing that I found helpful in revitalising my creativity was reorganising the studio. (For a comparison you can see how it looked in early 2017 by clicking here). It is a good idea to find out what you have so that you don’t waste money on things you don’t really need. I moved the things that I use more often to accessible locations in cupboards and shelves. Those that are not used much were placed on higher shelves or in stacked, vintage suitcases. In one accessible suitcase, under a table, I put all my A3 art paper and pads. a much cheaper alternative to buying a large drawer unit.

The old dollhouse now holds pan paints and inks, coloured pencils and markers, as well as some craft items. Biscuit tins are great storage containers for drawing materials.

I moved my acrylic, oil paint and other brushes from the table onto the white wicker trolley. Making more space on my table surfaces means I have plenty of room for my materials when I am working on something. The tall Ikea trestle table can be used for cutting paper or fabric and is a place for Ellie to work on her projects.

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I still have room for some fun inspirational objects. It is great to be a bit silly and playful in your work space.

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As I’m still finding my feet with watercolours, I don’t want to show any of my early attempts. It is more important to have some fun and enjoy the process without any pressure.

A health scare makes you take stock of your life, especially when you have been lucky and dodged a bullet. Enjoy life and revel in your creativity.

Kat.

In the spirit of the coming Halloween celebration here’s a fun video from one of my favourite 80s Aussie bands, Mental as Anything.

Happy 2019

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It’s a lovely sunny New Year’s Eve in Melbourne. It’s around 25 degrees Celsius and it is a perfect day when much of Australia is experiencing a heatwave. I don’t want to linger on the computer too long and miss it.

I just want to wish everyone out there a very Happy and Creative New Year and best wishes for 2019.

Kat

Here is one of the best celebratory songs to get you in the mood for a party or just to make you feel good.

Peppers, Paper and a Peculiar Sunset

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Why is it when you are all fired up to do something creative a situation arises that gets in the way? Yesterday I had planned to do some writing for this blog when our washing machine decided to overflow from the top as well as developing a leak underneath, probably from one of the hoses. Much of the day was wasted with moving the steel bench and it’s contents out of the laundry so that we could get behind the machine to see if it was fixable then trying to find a repair person.

We could not get anyone to come before next Thursday. A plumber had told us to hang onto this older machine for as long as possible because it was very sturdy and he said that with many new models, you were lucky if they lasted 5 years so we want to have it repaired if possible.

As the dirty clothes will pile up, what could we do until then? Luckily Ellie found that we could do our washing if the machine was partially filled and set to the final rinse and spin cycles. This took ages because the leaking water had to be mopped up all the time. After all the things that had been drenched by the overflowing machine had dried out, it all had to be put back into the laundry. Luckily it was a day of 35°C which was great for drying things but not wonderful for staying cool in a crisis. Sometimes life gives you hot Chile peppers like the lethal ones in our garden.

Modern technology can be trying at times but it would be much more time-consuming to do the washing by hand. There was nothing we could do to prevent this annoyance, so I had to accept the fact that it was necessary to focus on the task in hand rather than to do what of had planned. On top of this I could feel the onset of a sore throat (probably from the heat) so decided to have a relaxing evening and not to stress.

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On a more productive subject, the papermaking has been going well. We have found that mixing colourful bits of cotton fabric, which has been put through the washing machine and the blender, then mixed with the paper pulp, creates lovely decorative sheets. Below are some examples of Ellie’s work.

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If you put some pieces of thread on the surface of the paper after it has been couched onto the wet cloth, press and dry it, then iron the sheet under a damp cloth, when you peel off the thread it will leave an embossed effect.

Putting loosely shredded cotton onto the paper while it is still in the mould will create surface decoration that is pressed in when the paper is couched onto the wet cloth. Here are some of Ellie’s.

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In Australia it is now autumn and we have been having some beautiful sunsets. I photographed one of these from the studio last week and once I downloaded the photo onto the computer I noticed something that was not there when I looked out the window. There seemed to be a large UFO hovering in the sky with another one in the distance. How could this be?

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Then I realized that the lights have been on in the studio when I took the photo and were reflected in the window. It was just a trick of the light.

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Seeing is not always believing.

Kat

Here is a fun song, UFO, from Australian band Sneaky Sound System from ten years ago. It still sounds great.

Photogenic Places: The Grampians, Victoria

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Every country has its photogenic places. Often the traveler is drawn to see overseas sites before visiting those of their home country, which is a shame. In Victoria there are many scenic areas and while I have not visited all of them, what I can say is that those that I have seen are often quite beautiful and sometimes spectacular. If you love taking photographs for inspiration or pleasure there is nothing better than finding such places in your home state or country.

In the spectacular scenery category is The Grampians, a mountain range in Western Victoria. One very hot summer Ellie and I did a weeklong tapestry workshop at Halls Gap, a town beneath the towering Pinnacles that we could look up at from the place where we were staying. As we had never been to this region before, one day we took off to explore the ranges above. Everywhere we looked there was something of our ancient land to photograph. It was quite a hot day (37 degrees Celsius) so we did not walk as far as we would have liked. But we managed to journey through the “Grand Canyon” and along the “Wonderland” walk. Near the car park were incredible rock features and pools. There was hardly anyone around so we had much of the landscape to ourselves.

Ellie took the following series of photos with her trusty, classic Nikon SLR and Fuji film.

The Grand Canyon

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Wonderland

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Rock features near the Car Park

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The Big Head

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Due to the heat we did not get to the scenic lookouts at the top of the pinnacles. Here is a drone video that shows the majestic and breathtaking view from the air. You can see the long narrow canyon and the huge rock walls of the mountain ridges and the gap between the mountains where the town nestles. It’s a special place.

So if you know that there are amazing places in your country or state don’t hesitate. As the natural world or cities are constantly changing, at the first opportunity get out and see the sights while you can and take lots of photographs.

Kat

Distance: Our weakness and Our strength

I love drone videos. They make it possible to view vast areas of our country from the air. While Victoria is a small state it is nearly as big as the whole of the United Kingdom, Australia being the sixth largest country in the world. We are the only single country Continent and it is like an immense island. Here you get used to driving long distances in a day. In the past Australia was isolated from the rest of the world by the “the tyranny of distance”. It is still often a lengthy journey for travellers to come to our land but worth the trouble.

The natural beauty of our countryside is dramatic from the air. It is wonderful that there are now so many creative drone enthusiasts to bring such views to a wider audience. I found the following drone video that shows the contrast between the coastal City of Melbourne with inland farmland and forest areas of our national parks. This a quick way to take a short tour of our state.

Kat

Australian Peacock Spiders Rock

If you need some cheering up this quirky video will make your day. It’s by Australia’s famous “peacock spiderman,” Dr Jurgen Otto, the discoverer of this unique type of spider. These small creatures are not scary at all. Like peacocks the males have the colourful markings to attract females and are great disco dancers. Nature is constantly amazing.

Kat

Scenic Apostles Video

I have to share this beautiful drone video by Franky Tartner I found today on YouTube. It is of Victoria’s spectacular Shipwreck Coast where the famous natural formations known as the Twelve Apostles occur. Now there only seven of them left but more will be formed by the process of sea erosion. We just have to wait. This video shows a part of the coast around the Loch Ard Gorge with a few of the Apostles. Relax and watch the ocean waves swirling around our stunning southern coastline.

Kat