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!

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Wisteria and Witches

It’s October again and in Melbourne we are now in the middle of spring. As I mentioned last October when I started this blog, we have the strange combination of the Spring Racing Carnival and Halloween celebrations. There is nothing more typical of Melbourne than scenes of costumed witches, wizards or zombies mingling with the more traditionally dressed amongst the stunning roses at Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup day.

Over the last two weeks I have been busy doing some badly needed gardening. At this time of year the air is sweet with the smell of blossom. Our garden is full of the fragrance of wisteria blooms, which cascade from the branches like waterfalls of white flowers. They are fragile and could be easily destroyed by a spring storm so I have taken photos to remember their beauty.

With all of nature’s exuberance it seems strange to embrace the autumnal mood that surrounds the festival of Halloween. One of the disadvantages of living in the Southern Hemisphere is the topsy-turvy nature of traditional festivals. But at least daylight saving gives us longer hours of light in which to party during these celebrations.

Fun costumes make both race days and Halloween parties more enjoyable. I am a big fan of DIY costumes for both the creativity and uniqueness. As I have mentioned before, you don’t need to sew or spend a lot of money to wear a great costume. A good eye for a bargain and for reworking existing items is invaluable. In the past I have created my own Halloween costumes from clothing found at op shops (thrift or charity stores), weekend markets and by using fabric offcuts, cardboard and paper scraps to make accessories.

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Illustration by George Cruikshank for The Witches Frolic by Thomas Ingoldsby

Items that can be reused with different accessories are worth collecting so that you will never be stuck for a costume idea. Witches or wizards costumes are a favorite for Halloween and easy to create with black clothes. Using the same long black dress and a charcoal grey cape found at a weekend market, I can transform into the medieval witch Morgan Le Fey or Samantha Stevens from Bewitched wearing her flying costume. All this requires is a change of headgear.

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For the Morgan Le Fey costume I made a type of hat known as a Hennin (seen in gothic paintings) from cardboard covered with black silk fabric and gold paper. It was decorated with gold braid, glass jewels and gold glitter glue from a craft store. I pinned an old black silk scarf as a veil from the top of the hat. To turn the outfit into Samantha, a blonde wig (try to find a better one than mine as it itches) and a witches hat from a party shop are all that is needed to change the look. Black boots complete both costumes.

A simple way to make a witch’s broomstick is with a length of thick dowel and a pile of flexible twigs or thin bamboo (whatever is easiest to find). Just divide the twigs into four equal bundles and tie each securely with some twine. Place the bundles around the dowel and wrap them all tightly together to form the broom. You can wrap ribbon, fabric or raffia over the twine to hide it. Then you’re ready to fly.

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Whether it is spring or autumn, these are great seasons for festivals and celebrations before the weather gets too hot or cold.  And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere or a tropical location, enjoy the contrast of the light with the “Darkness” of Halloween. You will have the best of both worlds.

Kat

Ukulele virtuoso, Taimane Gardner from Hawaii, taps into the Halloween mood with her haunting instrumental, Rings of Saturn, although she lives in the tropics.

It’s something to do with the Light

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African Coral Tree, Melbourne spring 2017

Every place has a certain quality of light and this has long inspired visual artists and writers. Just think of Monet and Turner. Their work was all about light. Descriptions of light levels can set the mood of a story or poem. Just the words “sunny” or “overcast” put a picture in your mind. Where ever you live or travel the light has a big influence on how you feel and view the world.

It’s beneficial to have an awareness of how the light effects your environment so keep a visual or written record. If you keep a journal it is helpful to record the weather each day and your emotional response.  The light in southern Australia is softer than in the northern regions. A Japanese friend once told me that she could not get over the sky in Australia. She said that it seemed closer which I found quite enlightening. I’m now always conscious of the sky here and wonder if this is true for others elsewhere.

In Melbourne we are lucky to experience definite seasons and the sky can vary from a deep azure blue to pale violet and everything in between. The light can change by the moment and this is especially obvious at the beach or a park. Here are a series of photos taken by Ellie, some on the same day, that show the different qualities of light in our area, from the intensity of summer days to the hazy light of autumn and the brooding cloudy sky of winter.

Summer Scenes

Autumn Beach Scenes

Winter Scenes

It is now spring and everything looks fresh and new. I love this time of year despite the hay-fever attacks. It’s easy to be creative in the spring and is a pleasure to take photos in Melbourne’s soft light. I went out and took some photos in our garden because the light was so beautiful and I loved the way it played on the flowers and plants. The last camellias are out in our front garden. I wish I had a better camera to do them justice as they have a beautiful soft texture and subtle variations in colour.

In the back garden the Aralia fruit has turned black. I took a photo with the sunlight streaming through a dense cluster, which created a halation effect and makes the photo sparkle. The action of bright light on a camera lens can really enhance an image and with a digital camera it’s much safer on the eyes than looking at the sun through an old film SLR.

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Taking close-ups in this spring light shows up the details. Wisteria flower buds, Japanese Yeddo Hawthorn buds against dark green leaves and a small ground creeper with tiny flowers all seem infused with the radiance of the sun. In summer with the harsher light that creates stronger contrasts it will become more difficult to photograph the small things with my basic camera. Then I will go for the big picture.

Where ever you may be in the world and whatever your art form, try to notice the quality of light. How it varies from once location to another and how it makes you feel at different times of the year. After all sunlight is creative energy.

Kat

(I’m going to take a couple of weeks off blogging to take care of other things that need doing. Thank you to everyone for the likes, following and for visiting my blog. It’s much appreciated. See you soon).

My favourite beach related instrumental is the classic Gunnamatta by Melbourne singer/songwriter, Paul Kelly. Gunnamatta Beach, a popular beach for surfers, is south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula and the following film shows several enjoying the sparkling waves on a sunny day back in the 80s set to Paul Kelly’s music

Vision: Seeing Things or Not

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Photo by Ellie

The human brain is strange. Sometimes it allows you to see things and sometimes it doesn’t. You can look at an image for ages and not really observe it clearly and at other times you can see things that aren’t even there. This can be both annoying and great for your creativity.

In my last post I put up several photos of Ellie’s and was so focused on the images that I did not notice there were some hand blurs at the edges of some of the pictures. It was not until I saw the photos on a larger screen that I saw the problem, which I have now corrected. I was so busy looking at the main scene that I could not see this detail. Sort the opposite of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” It was a definite case of selective vision that can happen to all of us at times.

This got me thinking about the way we see things. If you want to go into the art history and cultural side of this John Berger’s seminal book Ways of Seeing (1972), based on a BBC TV series, is a good place to start. What I’m talking about is more from the personal creative side. One person can look at the same thing and see something totally different and our individual vision is what gives us original ideas.

I was looking at some of Ellie’s old photos and found the one at the top of this post. It was accidentally snapped when she was holding her phone and she had completely discounted the shot. But I saw this as a wonderfully evocative image with her hair floating out from the dark silhouette of her hat against the bright cloud filled sky. She saw it as a mistake but I saw a quite beautiful scene. Always take another look at what you have done. You might be surprised.

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Ammonite Fossil

Seeing things in another way can provide inspiration. We have an unusual polished ammonite fossil that was bought on a holiday as a memento. It was not chosen because it was the perfect specimen, but when you view it from a particular angle it looks like there is the head and torso of a Shakespearian Gentleman wearing a puff sleeve jacket and a neck ruff. Can you also see him?
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This ability to see things that are not really there can lead to interesting artwork. I have a small piece of driftwood, that when you stand it vertically, is like a tree that resembles a figure. This inspired the following ink drawing in my sketchbook.

 

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Dryad, Pen and Ink Drawing by Kat

The brain often sees figures and faces in trees and foliage because we are wired to recognize the human form from birth. Using this concept I did a pen and ink drawing of the imaginary faces that I could “see” in the trunk of a vine-covered tree. It is called Spirits of the Forest, and depicts some of the scary and strange beings that may be encountered out in wildness of the Australian bush.

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Spirits of the Forest, Pen and In Drawing by Kat

The human mind is sometimes selective and we can miss seeing the obvious but it can conjure up all kinds of images if we see with both our eyes and inner vision. Just keep looking.

Kat

A great feel good song is I Can See Clearly Now. Jimmy Cliff did a terrific version in the 90s but I also love the 70s original by Johnny Nash.

Inspiration is Closer Than You Think

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Sometimes you imagine that you need to find inspiration in exciting far away places. You know, that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” It is wonderful to travel but it is not always possible and inspiration can be closer than you think. Your local area can be full of inspirational locations if you take the time to look. Often when you visit the same location over and over it can be a great source of creativity.

We don’t live far from Port Phillip Bay and one beach in particular has been a source of inspiration. At various times over several years Ellie recorded this beach on a simple phone camera. This series of images show the changes of season, light and mood, often from the same angle. Such a location never stays the same and can keep giving you new ideas. There are pictures of the scene with a sandbar, still water, and the exposed rocky shore and at different times of day. Sort of reminds me of Monet’s obsession with Rouen Cathedral that he repeatedly painted under various light conditions.

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In each of these photos you can see the City of Melbourne’s skyline, which is ever-changing. A couple of the images are from 10 years ago and there are now more tall buildings that can be seen from the beach. The beach itself has undergone development with new board walks and is less peaceful than it once was so it is great to have it frozen in time in these photos.

It is also inspiring if you can collect interesting items for your creations at a favorite place without damaging the environment. The same beach has provided me with interesting material for some of my found objects that I have in the studio. Over several years Ellie and I would pick up sea glass of various colours from this beach. A vintage milk bottle was filled with white glass to give it a milky appearance and I arranged a lot of the coloured glass in layers in a large old spaghetti storage jar to form an interesting sculpture. It sits on my work table and the light from the windows makes the glass glow.

Other bits of archeology are washed up on the shore. Fragments of old patterned china and earthenware look wonderful in interesting old glass jars. Did these shards wash into the bay from storm water drains or were they tossed from ships? It seems that eventually all rubbish will end up on a beach somewhere and some of it not good. At least these items do not affect the eco-system and can once again become something to enjoy. You never know what you will find.

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Whether you live near the sea or a lake, a park or nature reserve, hills or mountains or a desert, there is sure to be some special place that will keep attracting you. Don’t ignore your local environment. Familiarity does not have to mean contempt. It’s all about paying attention to details and changes, which are in themselves inspiring.

Kat

I have included my favourite 80s beach song (I love that era for music). It is one of the few girl beach songs, as most of them are by boys. Echo beach by Martha and the Muffins is full of nostalgia and is about enjoying the beach on your own as a place to escape the rat race.

The Joys of Silliness

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Silliness is undervalued. By this I don’t mean stupidity but having uninhibited fun. It is the opposite of pompous and stiff behavior or calculated coolness. Adults are able to get away with being silly playing with children and pets but in other situations it is usually discouraged. Well silliness in its true sense makes us happy and has inspired all kinds of creative artworks. It is an antidote to gloom and unpleasant situations. We should never repress our innate silliness.

From school age we are told to “stop being silly.” But probably the best moments of school life were the ones where someone was being silly and these were often anxiety relievers. Those crazy conversations had with one’s peers, the jokes, the funny sayings you will never forget and the mad games you made up together. And there was always a classroom clown who could crack everyone up with some really silly comment. It may have annoyed the teacher but it was usually a breath of fresh air, especially in a boring class.

Once grown up many people become afraid to behave in a silly manner in public. It is frowned upon and subject to authoritarian disapproval in numerous walks of life. The entertainment and arts industries are usually the only acceptable areas where it is actually encouraged. Comedians, cartoonists and writers of humor spread their joy into the world and make us laugh at silly scenarios and the foibles of human nature. They have a license to be silly.

We should celebrate the local eccentrics in our communities. They put us in a happy mood with some of their silly antics. Often they are performing the function of a medieval court jester and poking fun at the government like Lord Buckethead did in the last UK elections. Or they are creative people who love to live a flamboyant lifestyle like Melbourne’s famous milliner, Richard Nylon, who delivers his hats on a Penny Farthing bicycle. We need people like this in the world. They turn silliness into an art form.

Everyone should be allowed some silliness in their lives. When you are engaged with crazy, whimsical thoughts or actions this can inspire some very creative ideas as well as making you feel better. Don’t leave it to someone else to give you this feeling. Get out and do something silly. Ellie and I play the ukulele with others and sometimes sing very silly songs. There is an amateur drumming group who get together in a local park and have fun on weekends and a group of people who go to the beach some mornings just to laugh for the sake of it. One of our friends does tap dancing and has performed in stage shows and in parades and has had a great time.

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Vintage Snakes and Ladders Game

Being silly can be as simple as playing some board games with friends. Just don’t be too competitive or it will spoil the fun. Or you could make a kite and fly it in a park. Ellie and I did this as teenagers. We got it airborne but it eventually crashed and broke. It was fun while it lasted.

You could also make really silly sandwiches, with multiple layers just for the hell of it and serve these to guests. Wear a crazy scarf, patterned socks, colourful shoes or something slightly silly to work just to brighten up your day. But remember there is a fine line between silliness and annoying. You know, like the awful office comedian (think Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office). Don’t force the silliness. Keep it natural.

If you like to dress up in costumes there are Cosplay events in most cities. You can become a fanciful fictional character. Some of these are quite silly in a good way. One summer’s day Ellie and I attended a costume picnic with about a hundred people in a city park. On the way to the event we may have had some strange looks from passers-by, but lots of people did smile, as it is not something you see everyday. It was great to be with so many happy, creative people laughing and enjoying the moment. There were people with bubble makers producing giant bubbles, lively drummers and some knights having a sword fight. This was not an official event but organized by some local costume enthusiasts online. We need more of these types of things these days with groups of people making their own entertainment. There is nothing like getting together with like-minded people for some harmless silliness.

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Whatever you do there are many others who also long for some silliness in their lives and are more likely to smile than frown and will want to join in on the fun. You will feel less stressed and come up with all kinds of ideas.

Kat

I love bands that aren’t afraid to be silly. The Australian group Mental As Anything did some great songs in the 80s with some silly videos, like the whimsical If You Leave Me can I come Too.

 

Creative Life: Be Inventive

 

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We all need some kind of tools to be creative. For those who work with their hands these can be simple or complex depending on what you do. Often due to lack of money or availability art and crafts people have needed to make their own tools and equipment, which has led to some imaginative solutions. I have made some simple examples myself because of the expense or if I could not find something suitable. It is good to be inventive.

Looking at homemade inventions from the past can be inspiring. I have a very old metal yarn winder (a swift) that was inherited from my grandmother. I don’t know where it came from but it was obviously homemade by someone who knew how to use a soldering iron. It is made up of an old curtain rod finial, a metal nut with screw holes on a brass and wooden base, screw-in horizontal brass rods that have vertical brass rod attachments to hold the yarn. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make this winder, probably at a time when they were difficult or expensive to buy. It is quite an ingenious solution to an old problem and might have been created by someone who was sick of holding the yarn as it was wound into a ball.

Everyone who works with yarn needs some kind of winder. I had a look on Google image search and many craftspeople still come up with interesting DIY yarn winders using a variety of materials, from old coat hangers to collapsible wine racks. It is good to see in this consumer-oriented day and age that the inventive spirit is alive and well.

This sort of inventiveness has led to home cottage industries. While I have made my own basic wooden frame looms, I needed a larger adjustable loom for tapestry weaving and found one made be a local man who made these from basic plumbing supplies for a reasonable price. He started out making one for his wife who was a tapestry weaver and others liked his design so he made them for students. DSCN5344

When creating your own equipment try not to get too bogged down in detail. The great illustrator W Heath Robinson was famous for his hilarious drawings of ridiculous inventions and contraptions. These made even the most basic of processes complicated. There is no need to go down this route and it is best to simplify as much as possible.

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Mackintosh’s Toffee Advert, Illustrations by W Heath Robinson, Public Domain Image, freevintageillustrations.com

With very basic carpentry skills you can make all kinds of things with a drill. I made a basic tapestry frame loom shown in a previous post. If you get the wood cut to size at the hardware store, all you need to do is screw it together. I inserted a couple of dowel pegs on each side of the frame to hold a narrow wooden crossbar so that I could suspend my design behind the warp. This made it easier to transfer my designs onto the threads and was an improvement on a simple frame.

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Ellie also made a pegboard for holding cones of yarn so that it was easy to wind it onto bobbins for tapestry weaving. She just used an off-cut of Oregon pine left over from our arbor and drilled holes for a couple of pieces of dowel. Then she sanded the whole thing and coated it in varnish. Didn’t cost a thing because we already had the materials.

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Sometimes you want to try out a craft but do not want buy expensive equipment, especially if you don’t know whether you will like it or not. This is a good time to create you own. As a part of learning about the weaving process I tried out spinning with a drop spindle (How to video). Luckily a relative who had done this in the past gave me her spindle. It is of very basic manufacture and if you had access to the right cutting equipment you could easily make your own. It only requires a short section of dowel and some thick plywood. Here is a link (How to video) that shows you how to make a similar spindle from scratch or with pre-cut discs.
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But there are always even simpler ways to make tools when you look on-line. It is possible to make a workable spindle using a couple of CDs, a piece of dowel, small hook, some glue and small rubber rings (here are the instructions for those interested).

Finding cheaper alternatives to expensive items is a clever way to learn a new technique. With spinning, the wool needs to be combed (carded) and formed into rolls (rolags) before it is spun. Some ingenious craftspeople worked out that it was possible to use slicker dog brushes instead of costly hand carders for this process. These are a fraction of the price. They might not be quite as good as the proper equipment but are ok for the beginner. I was glad that I had learned something about the spinning process without spending a fortune as I prefer to concentrate on the weaving with ready-made yarn.

Sometimes you don’t want a big piece of equipment cluttering up your workspace especially if you will not use it often. That’s when you need to think creatively. I needed to be able to draw up large designs for tapestry but did not want a large, expensive drawing board table. So I went to the hardware store and had a large sheet of melamine fibre board cut to size. I can put this on my easel to draw and then put it away against a corner wall of the studio for storage. It did not cost much and saves space.

When you can’t find just the right tool it is time to make your own. I wanted a mahl stick. This is a piece of dowel with a padded end that is used for resting your painting hand against when working on fine details. It is essential that padding does not touch any wet areas of paint or cause dints in the canvas surface so it is best that this rests on the edge of the painting. At the time I could only find ones with a short shaft and wanted one for larger sized works so I made my own. All I needed was a long piece of dowel, a champagne cork, some felt, twine and glue. It works really well and I enjoyed some sparkling wine in the process.

A tool can be made from anything if you use your imagination. For textural work with ink or paint I have used all kinds of things to create my own tools. Corks, sponges, a jagged cut toothbrush, pieces of carpet, homemade bamboo pens, disposable chopsticks and skewers can be used. An emery board is great for sharpening charcoal pencils to a fine point. They are so many things that can be employed as a tool.

Whatever your art or craft, it is great to make your own tools and equipment. Being inventive is part of the creative process and what you make can be as basic or as complex as you like.

Kat

It is wonderful to use your imagination. Here’s an oldie but a goodie by Gladys Knight and the Pips.