Illustrated poem

I recently attended a book making workshop by wonderful local illustrator Sally Heinrich. Since then I’ve been working on illustrating one of my poems.

This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do for years with my illustrated presentations, to convert them from PowerPoint slides and spoken words to beautifully books. I’ve been learning a lot about illustrations for print over the past 6 months and loving it. The synthesis between word and image just clicks for me. I’m very glad that art has been liberated from the requirement of narrative traditions, but I’m also glad to be finding my own passion for story.

The workshop and project has helped clear a mental block that’s come along with a great deal of sickness this year for me. I love good creative training and workshops, the best are safe creative spaces to fill in knowledge gaps that bringing some unattainable desire within reach. I adore being able to learn art for the love of learning without having to fit my work to a schedule of assessments or the limiting ideas of ‘real art’ of a supervisor. After some inspiration at Writer’s Week too, I’m extremely happy to be writing and painting between work and study. Public health has started up again and if anything I’m enjoying it even more than last trimester. It is such an excellent fit with my values and passion. I’m working towards an exhibition for my birthday this year again. I’ll keep you posted.

Painting: Silver birch tree spirit

Poppy and I spent the day together at one of our favourite parks recently. It’s a chance for me to not multitask and to be focused and present in a way I don’t often find myself doing. It was hot and dry and I found it took several hours before I adjusted to that and felt comfortable. The same for not working or cleaning or doing something on my phone, there’s always a restless period where it’s not comfortable or easy, until something adjusts and stills. Poppy and I bounce off each other and have fun in between little person big feelings. There’s often a time when we start to click together like fish swimming along side each other in a school. An attunement occurs that’s wordless and smoother. We don’t get in each other’s way so much, it’s more fluid and trusting. I love it.

We played on the playground and swings and explored the creek. Then Poppy made some art.

She was slept afterwards so we walked around until she fell asleep in the pram. Then I made some art in the shade of a huge gum tree, while she slept peacefully in the cool breeze beside me.

I wasn’t expecting to paint anything significant. I’ve just set up my travel kit with new watercolours and worked out a formula for teal, my favourite colour of ink. I was entirely focused on connecting with Poppy, not looking to fit anything else into the day.

Yet somehow, this beautiful heartbroken women emerged. It’s about the fifth time I’ve tried to paint her. She emerged without planning, starting from her open, distraught mouth and spreading into snow and trees. Painting intuitively like this is a sacred part of my arts practice.

Her hair began to resemble the tree branches and tangle around the babies and her arms. At the end I suddenly realised she was a tree spirit, which has never been part of any painting I’ve made of her. But it fits perfectly.

Colour matching watercolours with my inks

It’s been a glorious studio day after a week of illness. Endo/adeno misery turned into gastro and UTI horror, along with the rest of my family. Darling Rose was so unwell she wound up in hospital again, which was very helpful and mercifully brief. Poppy was hit the first and lightest with a bad sleepless night of vomiting and then bouncing back. I’m starting to feel better but it’s been a tough month. Vertigo and gout have also stolen a lot of time from me and I’ve found myself falling into deep depression at times and feeling isolated.

Today I was well enough to go into my studio and play. Among other things, I’ve now set up my travel watercolour kit with my favourite colours (mainly Sennelier with a Qor and a couple of Winsor and Newton).

Done a lot of colour mixing. This is completely different for watercolour than with oil paint and I’m having to learn all new combinations and techniques.

I adore my blue black ink, but it’s an unusual ink and one of its qualities is that it doesn’t keep when diluted. So for my ink paintings with gradients I must try to mix small amounts and accept the waste if I don’t use them all. I hate this so I have been practicing a two brush Chinese ink painting technique that blends ink on the brush in one hand with water on the brush in the other directly onto the paper. It works very well for some techniques but I find it difficult for others.

So I have been hoping to blend a similar colour with my watercolor paints, that keep forever between uses. Today I achieved that with a mix of Quinacridone Red and Phthalocyanine Turquoise. I tested it by making two tiny artworks. This one is in inks, with outlines using a dip pen with black ink:

This is in watercolour using only a brush:

They are extremely close in colour! I’m very pleased with this result. There’s a quality to the ink I still prefer, a clarity and depth I don’t find in watercolour but that may well be simply that I’m less experienced with them, and possibly because my current mix has several pigments in it.

Either way, I’m very pleased and the black dog feels eased and soothed. We’ve celebrated everyone starting to recover with a fresh change of bedding and a delicious light meal. I’m going to borrow some new books from the library and take it gently this week while I’m recovering.

Kano ink painting: Blackbirds

I recently attended a workshop about Kano, a Japanese art form involving painting over gold or metal leaf. Inspired by the work of Kawanabe Kyōsai, I painted this scene in ink.

The image is of a knotty tree with small leaves and black birds, and high mountains in the background. They are painted in black and teal ink over gold leaf.

One of the difficult but beautiful things about Kano is how impossible it is to replicate through prints. Photos give you only a sense of the glow of the real work. I can embellish prints where I’ve gilded on top of my painting, but not where it’s used as the substrate and worked onto.

Which brings me to one of my big plans this year: making originals available for sale. In some cases my original artworks were created using substandard products as I was very poor at the time. These I intend to remake so I can offer them confident in their longevity and archival quality. Currently I’m learning more about creating and illustrating books, and working through a collection of orders for embellished prints. I have an eye to create several exhibitions this year and things are off to an excellent start.

My art infiltrates the world

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Art sales from my Etsy Shop or in person continue to tick along, and happy customers leaving positive reviews is always a delight. I especially love it when I’m sent a photo or description of the art in its new home, that’s something special.

I was sad to have to withdraw from my FEAST exhibition this year when Rose got sick, but I think it will be all the better for it next year. I’m excited to be presenting a popup exhibition for Vanguard in Melbourne tomorrow called Smooth Seas never made Skilled Sailors, reflections on mental health, adversity, and resilience. Some works were first exhibited in She Dreams 6 years ago, which was a sampling of art documenting key experiences in the previous 10 years of my life, such as homelessness, mental health struggles and identity. About a third of the works have never been exhibited before, and I’m so pleased they have a home now.

Capture

Selling art is like I’m leaving little traces of my soul in other people’s lives, all around the world. My buyers and collectors are an unusual cohort of oddballs and doctors and patrons and poets. Sometimes they seem to have nothing in common except for resonating with my art. My work is in hopeful government offices and artfully decorated living rooms and bedrooms steeped in deeply private pain. And the art itself is like sea glass, tiny coloured windows into the world. People look not just into it but through it, at something they care about. It snags in the net of their story, brings something to light that’s meaningful and difficult to put into words, whether joyful or painful or so often a little of both.

It’s like sending messages in bottles out on the tide. The world is precious and beautiful and full of darkness. We are each of us alone, and yet not so alone or different as we fear. There are many worlds and wholeness cannot be found by walking only in any one of them.

I curate exhibitions carefully and their location with equal care. It’s simply not okay to exhibit works on such personal topics carelessly. My collections are chosen like a work of music, with a range of light and dark. They have variation in tone and voice. I understand entirely that some of the most painful are both the most resonant and those that sell the least often. That’s okay with me, when I first paint these, I often can’t look at them myself for many months. I understand why there’s some art you love, but couldn’t put on your wall. But when they are grouped in collections, they all link up to each other in a kind of web or net. The lightest and the darkest become linked, like lights and shadows. They fit together to create wholeness in a way no single image – or single story – could ever hope to do. Complexity and contradictions are rich in meaning. So even if most people take home the most hopeful and uplifting (which isn’t always the case), I am quite content because I know that linked in memory are the other works in the collection. The lights and shadows fit together even if only one is visible at a time. The dark and the light of the moon.

Last week I stepped up to a podium in Sydney, looked at the timer and realised my talk needed to be shortened by 1/3rd on the fly, and I didn’t rush. After 8 years of speaking I’ve finally come to understand that more important than what I say is how people in the room feel. If they feel safe and connected, my message speaks louder in the subtext than all the abstract explaining in the world about dignity and compassion. I illustrated that talk and there was such a buzz about the art afterwards and online I was inspired to learn more about the world of illustration and art that engages and communicates alongside text. It’s been a joy and I’ve found much that I am inspired by. I’m looking forward to learning more.

It’s been a long, strange, wonderful and tiring week. We have arrived in the hotel now and it’s calm and peaceful. Tonight we walked the streets in the rain and watched the lights in the river. My family are bundled into clean soft sheets in a comfortable bed and I’m typing on an old oak desk, thinking about tomorrow. Life is very beautiful. I’m hoping to create a sense of safety and meaning tomorrow, to give buzzwords like resilience back their grounding in sorrow and adversity and love. Art will be part of that, hopefully speaking when words are not enough, a silent presence when there’s too much noise to hear.

Adventures with Poppy

One day a week, I remind myself that I can be tuned into my anxiety about the future, or I can be tuned into Poppy, but not both at the same time. It sometimes takes several hours of deliberately not being focused elsewhere for me to actually feel myself settle and connect. She changes from being one responsibility among many I am juggling, to a relationship I’m sensitive to, we speak in a shared language, track each other, are sensitive to minor changes in mood and state. She is a joy to be with.

Today we went into town and listened to a busker play beautiful music. Then we spent some time in the museum, looking at the butterflies and examining shells under a microscope.

Once Poppy had run off her morning energy, we wandered more sedately through the One Mountain, One River, One Sage: Treasures from the Shandong Library exhibition. The beautiful old handmade books were delightful. ❤ We wandered through the Royal South Australian Society of Arts exhibition on the way home, and Poppy carefully re-stacked the pram so the bags were in her seat and she could ride home tucked into the basket beneath. There’s so much joy here.

Why we need to value failure

I sometimes sit on panels or committees with very aspriational and ambitious intentions to help make some aspect of the world a better place. In spaces like that there can be a culture of success worship. We have all usually been chosen because of our perceived capacity to bring something of value to the table. People often showcase their ‘shiniest’ selves and hide mistakes, failures, struggles, and losses. This can have a number of difficult outcomes.

Firstly it often makes those in that space feel slightly disconnected and lonely. Aware of our own struggles and imperfections, or wrestling with the costs we are paying (however willingly) to engage, it is easy to be taken in by the masks of success, sanity, competence, and imperviousness around us.

Non-violent psychopaths – people who are often charming, glib, manipulative, and very harmful to anyone they have power over, thrive in environments such as these. They excel at looking amazing often because they are unrestrained by anxiety, morality, concern for others. There is no inner conflict, so like apex predators they are eminently comfortable and able to tailor the environment to suit their appetites at whatever cost to others. Stealing credit, undermining others, and presenting a brilliant facade to those in power over them are all skills well suited to success cultures.

Another challenge is that when we seek to improve circumstances for other people in some way, there’s a disconnect between the kinds of people chosen for the group who will come up with the solutions, and the kinds of people stuck in the problem. They are rarely the same people, even if they share some similar characteristics.

For example, I was at a conference a little while ago discussing disability. A couple of speakers with lived experience were sharing their stories and they were amazing experiences, heart felt, exceptional, incredible. Intended to eradicate the brutal impact of low expectations for people with disability, and I think they did an amazing job of this. In their company I was not even slightly ‘shiny’. My goals were smaller, my gaps wider, my struggles longer and more humiliating and complex.

I felt both uncomfortably raw and fiercely glad to be there, because these amazing success stories are so far from what many people live with. I held a space for failure, for struggle and loss. That is by no means my whole story! But it was an important one to share in that space. This is part of the reality we need to face and explore and understand. Success cultures make us afraid to invite it in or acknowledge it, when the truth is there are many failures on the path to wisdom. The capacity to struggle is directly linked to the capacity to learn.

Not all cultures admire success, some are quite the reverse. Any blogger can tell you that in some spaces agony and exposure gathers the adoring crowd, who drift once the blood clots and the wounds heal. In these spaces, sharing success is a stressful declaration of courage. Earning money from our skills risks censor and shaming, moving from the gift economy to a market economy may cost friendships and reputations. Our own frustration, ambivalence, and inexperience can mean we navigate such transitions with bitter fury rather than grace.

There’s nothing wrong with success, nor with the recognition of skill, experience, and capacity on which we base our understandings of rank. When I want to learn something I seek out those who are skilled. I look for and deeply value quality in every area of my life. When I am fortunate to have a skilled and passionate dentist I know I am so lucky. I put up with a level of unpleasant disdain to learn excellence in the preservation of oil paintings.

But expertise is always build upon learning, and learning means mistakes and reflection. My favourite quote about it is

An expert is (someone) who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field. -Niels Bohr

So, here’s to having the courage to include the dissident voice, share the hidden story, and hold a space for the uncomfortable. Failure can be utterly terrifying, but also incredibly valuable.

My vulnerability and wellbeing talk

I’m halfway through illustrating my vulnerability and wellbeing presentation for a Sydney conference for online activists.

I decided to go with black ink and watercolor for this series. It’s starting to look beautiful.

I’ll be sharing about the challenges and opportunities that come from being vulnerable in public, and about understanding and navigating online abuse.

It’s been a little while since I’ve given a ‘peer work’ based talk and I’m excited to be in that space again. When I was starting out, it was hard to find resources about exposure stress or dealing with abuse that spilled over from online into your personal life. There was a lot of general advice that often didn’t fit me or my circumstances very well. It’s been great to gather a broader and more nuanced collection of strategies for people to explore.

It’s also been really interesting to spend time reflecting on my work and experiences, on writing this blog and the impact it’s had on my life. I’ve challenged myself to take a fresh look at why I share what I share and if anything has changed the picture. Poppy is part of that. I hope I’m leaving a legacy by which she could understand me better and understand how deeply she is loved and how much she is wanted. I sit on the intersections of many stereotypes and minorities who’s stories are often not told, or told for us from outsider perspectives. This has been a place for my voice, an opportunity to meet me as I really am. Not a recovery guru or an infallible expert, but someone who has learnt to be mindful, reflective, and deft about vulnerability and community. Both more different and strange to others, and much more similar and human than the stories about people like me would suggest. Just like the rest of the world.

I don’t believe in normal, I’ve never yet met anyone normal. Everyone in some way doesn’t fit the average. It might be about things that are very small and almost never come up in our lives or it might be the constant daily cause of threat to our existence.

I also understand the usefulness and limitations of labels, the way ‘validated diversity’ becomes a game of box ticking and pigeon holing, creating new hierarchies of recognition and invisibility, of the mainstream and the marginalised.

It’s given me space to explore – and forced me to find words for the way I don’t believe in one size fits all ‘good life,’ or success, and I don’t believe in standardised recovery. Off the shelf ‘treatment’ for emotional suffering needs to recognise that relationship is the context in which the wounds are both inflicted and healed.

This seems such a contradiction for someone who is currently loving studying population based health and disease in epidemiology. The mantra of individuality and diversity can liberate but they can also paralyse – if you can’t take an off the shelf treatment, how do you figure out what works? How do we tailor our own hope and healing?

Exploring self regulation in a world that starts by assuming people in pain are broken and should be fixed by submitting themselves to an external expert is a challenge indeed. And the alternative extreme – placing the burden on individuals to navigate the traumas and challenges of entire social power structures, the brutal inequity and rankisms of our world as if they are personal failings. There is no one path and no right answer for us all. But there is between us, the creation of relationship and connection in which we all are held. There is between us the opportunity to explore what freedom looks like in connection with responsibility, to listen for the things that resonate and reflect on the tiny experiments we all make of each day. What hurt? What helped? Where are we more alone and suffering, and what brings us closer together?

We are complex creatures with minds designed to do exactly this – to predict, to adjust, to explore, to listen and learn as we seek the best pathways. There are times and places others know better than us or can see past a block we can’t get through. But there’s no world in which our lives are better for surrendering them to someone else entirely and forever. We trade off the needs of the one and the many, we blunt this or hide that to be part of the group. But our attunement to ourselves remains the closest listening and best hope for what we seek, and our relationships with others are still the best medicine for the wounds of life.

Handmade Book: Little House of Colours Bestiary

I am thrilled to share this special project. It’s a tiny handmade accordion book, bound in silk with cotton and bead embroidery. The pages are a folded long giclee art print of my watercolour original. They are hand gilded with 24k gold leaf.

I’ve been working on it as time permits for months; the text, illustrations, and physical book are all my own. It’s the first handmade book I’ve completed since Mourning the Unborn. I’m still experimenting with different ways of working with cloth book covers, I love to bind them in silk or velvet but it is much trickier to accomplish. I’m very pleased with how well this has come together.

The Breakthrough

Endo has been kicking my butt this week and kept me home when I’d planned fun outings with family. However it’s not all bad because the major breakthrough I had about my work has been stable for a week now and isn’t fading. This time last week I sobbed myself to sleep with regret for all the choices I’d made about my career. The next day I read a chapter in a book (I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher) about people wounded in childhood and stuck. They freeze whenever they approach mastery of a skill. Their work life falls far short of their capacity and is fuelled by very old stories about worth. Early injuries leave deep wounds in confidence and self esteem. They become paralyzed by a need for validation, for someone else to see them as worthy and rescue them. So they are miserable at the prospect of succeeding based on their own skills and hard work. They crave caretaking that didn’t happen and are trapped trying to right an old wrong. There’s other aspects that don’t fit me at all – these people are often narcissistic and lack empathy for others, exploiting those around them, for example. That’s very far from me. My weakness is pathological self hate rather than pathological self love. But the hard work not paying off, the freezing up at points in projects where mastery approaches, and the undefinable but overwhelming misery of trying to ‘make it’ when actually I so want to be ‘discovered’ in some way that would make me feel worthy and cared about… That resonated so powerfully and has unbound me.

Recognising the source of these blocks and starting to unpack those feelings has undone their power. So I’m journaling about how trapped, unloved, and exploited I felt in school, and watching my capabilities come back online. I’m crying for how alone, how freakish and despairing and suicidal I felt then. And feeling the present day traps creak open. Letting go of the vague but powerful dream of being ‘saved’ from intolerable circumstances, and finding my strength returning to do my own work and care-take my own life. Not as a sad second prize because no one else thinks I’m worthy, but because it’s my joy and responsibility and no one else could do it better.

Since then I have been into my studio 4 times! That’s more often than I made it in, in the last whole month. I have picked back up old projects I’d been stuck on and finished them. The blocks are gone. I am full of creative energy and every day I find myself itching to do something with my hands, working out how to fit my day around the primal need to create.

Not only is the creative block gone, but the blocks keeping me stuck in my business are also easing with this new insight. My inbox is organised. I’m keeping up with my studies. I’m writing and preparing my upcoming talks for Sydney and Melbourne. I’m taking time off for days with Poppy. I feel so liberated. Every morning I wake expecting it to have gone away, expecting to find myself full of the familiar exhausting neurotic blocks. It’s like living with a tooth abscess for years and waking up to find the tooth gone and the gum healing. There’s so much joy.

Instead of narcissism overlaying insecurity, I went the opposite direction. Raw vulnerability and destructive, compulsive self sacrifice. So where Barbara’s ‘ragers against the ordinary’ recover through altruism, it’s Rose who realised I will recover through connection to self. The past 6 months have powerfully brought home to me that when love is only ever sacrifice and loss, it erodes something essential. The relationships lose dignity. It corrupts instead of heals. There is something harmful about normalising relationships where one person has no needs, where their needs are never a priority.

This is self denial as habit. It is for me, partly the wounds of spiritual abuse, the child taught in graphic detail she had personally tortured and slain her god. It is the bullied and alienated child in unsafe places. It is feeling unloved and abandoned when I care for myself and wanting others to do it for me – a difficult ask when even I don’t know what I need. How can anyone be attuned to someone so disconnected from themselves?

So, in small ways, we tip things on their head. Rose makes me choose what I want for dinner. I mourn the dream of being loved and cared for by others without having to be connected to myself, but also find deep pleasure in reconnecting. I can finally name the story that’s been killing me, the trap I’ve had my hand stuck in for years. Not just me but those around me who also felt the unfairness of my story and hoped that one day I would ‘make it’ in some kind of karma or restitution. So much power comes with naming it, the dream I cannot ever have where someone saves the child. I know what I’ve been dying for. Now I can let it go and live.

In love with my studio

I think I’ve had a major breakthrough. There’s been so much soul searching, reading, reflection, and self discovery this year for me. Things are making sense. I went to my studio again today and it was glorious. Where there has been a sense of profound inner conflict and vulnerability, a kind of hysteria beneath everything like the high pitched keening of a structure under unbearable stress, there is now a lightness. I sang in the car all the way there, volume up high and tears in my eyes. Every time I drive over that bridge I remember 3 years ago when I woke up and the sky was so beautiful, so beyond breathtakingly stunning that I was driving and sobbing with wonder at the same time. I often cast an eye up, to see how it looks. My jaded, faded, greyed out eyes see only sky, no magic, no myth. Sometimes more sparkling and opal like, a hint of that true reality. Sometimes so flat and grey I know I’m broken inside.

Today I sang at the top of my lungs and tears ran down my face with relief. In my studio I embroidered and wove beads on my loom. I felt alive. Not a puppet with strings cut or a train on broken tracks or behind a glass wall but here and so content.

There was good food for dinner and enough money for a couple of luxuries (Nutella, maple syrup for pancakes) and wonderful company for board games. I’m showered and the kitchen is clean and Poppy is asleep next to me, warm and safe.

Life is so good.

I adore my studies. Epidemiology is wonderful. I’m finding it a little difficult to keep up with enough work as well to keep my studio rent paid, but I’m hoping to fix that with a few face painting gigs. I’m just happy. I adore my family and spending time with friends. I was giving serious thought to bringing my studio home and setting it up in my little shed, and I’m so glad I didn’t lose it before things came clear. It’s a good space, it’s perfectly dry and safe and sheltered, unlike my shed. I’ll figure it out. In fact, now that I’m friends with it I’m going to have that opening I wanted and invite everyone around to visit! It’s very special and lovely. I’ll share the details as soon as I’ve set a date. And for now, sleep.

Oil Paint Nymph

Last night I had a meltdown and sobbed myself to sleep in the grip of terrible self loathing and failure. Today I felt fragile and raw but there was a breath of space between me and the pain. I read, reflected, and wrote and found a little peace. I am finally recognising that a deep attachment wound cannot be healed through work or any sort of career success. More than that, it makes those things much more difficult to engage at all. It feels like deep failure about my work life, but the pain has been mislabeled. There is no work that could ease it. It is not through work that I will find a sense of belonging, value, or my place in the world. This is a strangely liberating realisation.

Then I did admin, reorganised the study, and worked on tax. Afterwards I gave myself the afternoon off and went to the studio.

It was beautiful, the sun was bright but the breeze was cool. I set up a 5 colour limited palette and a photocopy of this lovely Waterhouse painting and created this simple study in a couple of hours. I’m gaining more confidence in colour mixing. Then I wrapped myself up in a blanket and sat in the sun on the balcony, writing in my journal and feeling the wind on my face.

I came home to a webinar on supporting patients with somatic disorders, which felt to me like a well rounded day. Curiously the reflecting I’m doing about attachment pain is making the studio a more pleasant place to inhabit and easier to get to. Less blocks and baricades and frozen hysteria. I can see and somewhat predict the traps and monsters of exile and loneliness. I’m happy to have spent time there today and made something beautiful, pushed to develop my skills further. Oil paint is a delightful medium to work in, I look forward to mastering it more.

Passion and Balance

One day each week, Poppy and I have an adventure. Last week we went to the museum and looked at dinosaurs and opals. I thought I might be mildly hallucinating at one point but it turns out one of the taxidermy animals is animatronic and occasionally flicks it’s tail. A little sign about that would be nice!

Then one of us chased pigeons, played in a very small but nonetheless very wet mud puddle, and fell asleep. The other one of us packed up lunch and went to look at all the interesting things in the art gallery in relative peace.

It’s been a very recent development that I enjoy the art gallery. I’m absolutely wild about artists studios but have often found gallery spaces alienating. It’s been weird and a little embarrassing. It’s assumed they are my home territory when actually I used to have a lot of meltdowns after visiting galleries and didn’t usually go there if I had the choice.

But I’ve been doing lots of work unpicking mental blocks and old injuries, and Rose has taken me to some exhibitions where I’ve felt less overwhelmed by my stuff and more about to enjoy them at times. They are not home territory by any stretch (even my own studio isn’t that yet) but they are also no longer hostile territory. I wish sometimes it was a bit easier to be me.

Nonetheless, adventure time each week with Poppy is an absolute joy and doing us both a world of good.

This is one of the last little things I made in my flame work glass workshop, a tiny bee. Unfortunately because he wasn’t annealed in a kiln, his little wings broke as he cooled down. I’m currently immersed in research about kilns and torch types and where to buy oxygen tanks from. I postponed a planned exhibition of small sculptures when Rose became really sick, but I’d love to be able to put it together for next year.

This bead worked perfectly: I was practicing a technique that traps air bubbles under the glass. My teacher said I was the most gifted student with glass she’d had in 20 years of workshops. It just clicked. I adored it and I’m so keen to set up a flame work space in my studio.

I’m also hugely enjoying my studies. Epidemiology suits me and I’m loving falling down rabbit holes of information and getting a handle on the big topics. Today I was digging into health prevention, surveillance, and theories of health promotion. It’s fascinating to see how frameworks that fit one scenario so well (such as smallpox) have been such unwieldy tools in other contexts (such as diabetes), and how poor evaluation can make health promotion interventions look successful (eg education leading to increased health literacy) when they actually backfire and fail on the important scales (eg increased stigma, greater reluctance to engage in prevention or treatment). I’m just enjoying it so much.

My other project at the moment is a couple of talks interstate. I’ll be traveling to Sydney and Melbourne next month to give presentations at big events. This always involves a fair bit of preparation, both for the talk, planning the event with the folks coordinating it, and planning the trip. I’ll be doing a road trip and bringing the family with me to Melbourne, which is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to meeting the people behind the emails too.

I’m still practicing Kaizen and being mindful of Barbara Sher’s types of scanner, hoping that I’ll learn what schedule suits me best and how to set up my projects so they and I both thrive. I’ve several more wonderful projects waiting impatiently in the wings, but right now I’m finding downtime is important and immersion time helps, trying to change hats all day long is exhausting. Hopefully in time I’ll learn more how to balance everything I love so much.

It was a wonderful week and I’m excited about the week ahead too. We continue to muddle through; work, study, friends, home, family. Learning, helping, creating. Good things are emerging. ❤️

My torchworked glass

I’ve spent a fantastic couple of days learning how to make torchworked glass beads with Karen, who owns Adelaide Beads. I have been waiting for so many years to learn hot glass techniques and I booked this class months ago. It was glorious! I adored it and I took to it so fast. Apparently I impressed as a natural. This was the very clever set up Karen used:

And these are some of my first ever beads. I learned so much and I am so excited to set up my own studio space and explore more. My passion is more sculpture than beads (although beads are perfect for building some of the skills needed) and I am keen to try larger creations. The cost of a glass kiln is prohibitive, however!

It was intense and tremendous fun, requiring focus and a steady hand. At one point today I accidentally failed to warm a piece of glass correctly and it shattered, flicking a tiny bit of melted glass into my shoe, where it burned a hole through my sock. Oops.

Molten glass is magic. Making the mixed colour beads or dragging a tool through layers of colour to make a marbled effect was so beautiful. The calm state of focused effort is such a balm to my busy mind. I can see the little sculptures I want to make, clearly in my mind’s eye and I’m itching to learn more. There’s not a lot available locally by way of teaching for what I want to know, so I’m back to trawling YouTube and forums on glasswork. But this was the most amazing start, and I’m on my way now. I’m hoping to create more tiny dioramas and scenes like my Broken City sculpture. Watch this space. 🙂

Ink Painting: We fall into the stars

A3 size. Ink on Arches paper.

A little while ago, Rose took Poppy and I camping, back to Rapid Bay. The place we used to go when dating. The place I went alone to mourn Tamlorn the Mother’s Day after the miscarriage. The place I fell off the planet into the void when running from the ‘real world’, but sent alone under the stars, in exile.

Together we watched the stars, a million million of them, brighter than I’ve ever seen. Satellite and stars falling and the milky way a mist across the sky. In the bay, dolphins swam with their young. Poppy asleep on my lap, my eyes wet with tears. I didn’t know if there would more nights like this for us. Somehow here we are, holding hands under the stars.

It is the work of our lives to find some way to stay alive, to still feel alive.

In Rose’s arms there, I felt so alive, it was like breathing stars that fluttered in my chest. We sat up in chairs opposite each other, held hands and looked up. It felt like the world tilted and we were looking down, into an ocean of lights. We held onto our chairs and each other and kept looking, hearts cracked open in wonder. All that starlight poured in. Love grows stronger under moonlight, feeds on poems.

We sit at the edge of the world and hold hands. Our child sleeps. The wind is warm and soft. We look up. We fall into stars. Love binds us to the world and each other. We do not fall.

Glitter tattoos are awesome

There’s nothing better in the world than spending a busy afternoon giving face painting and glitter tattoos to a happy crowd of young and the young-at-heart, followed by going home to a hot bath, chocolate, and a book. ❤️ Endometriosis be damned. I’ve becomepretty good at freehand glitter tattoos, at this event everyone wanted their names sparkly, including my namesake here. 😊 The weather is warming up and parties are in fine swing. It’s such an excellent side business for a visual artist with brush skills who loves kids. I’ve got rent for my studio, time with my family, and all is right with the world.

Ink Painting: The Aching Tides

I made a little time this week for some of my own art, to ease a painful day. Star is having a tough week, and Rose and I went to a friend’s funeral too. There’s been a lot of big, sad conversations happening.

This was made with a single colour ink, brushes, and a flex nib dip pen on Arches hot press 300gsm paper.

It’s been very peaceful to be in the studio so much now my handmade book for prisoners is at that stage. Today Rose took both girls to the botanic garden with gumboots and umbrellas and I did some more sewing and painting at the studio. The physical pages are almost complete, next I will be back in my office for the digital work. My next projects are restlessly waiting for me, which is a good place to be.

I am in love with a glass cube

This delightful cube is my latest find. I have booked in to a visual art exhibition during the Feast Festival later this year. Feast is our SA Queer cultural festival and I’m very pleased to be involved. The cube is relevant because I’ll be exhibiting small sculptures as well as paintings this year. And everything I create will fit inside a cube like this beautiful, shiny example.

Here it is in my studio for context:

And this is what the whole display will look like in situ:

A lovely horseshoe of glorious cubes! Clear glass, mirrors, lights, reflections… It is speaking to me and I’m delighted. Without that voice, the is no art worth making. It reminds me of my Broken City sculpture. I’m dreaming of wings and lights and shadows.

I saw a GP today about my asthma and meds to make sure I was still on the right regime. He told me none of the antibiotics I’d been given were effective for a chest infection, which is why I’ve been so unwell these past two weeks. So that was a bit of a shock! Lots more rest proscribed.

Meanwhile I’m deeply into my current project, hand painting a book. I spent today at my office scanning and editing the pages in Photoshop.

Some alchemy has occurred and my stress is radically reducing. I feel calmer and more centered than I have in months. Time in my studio? Starting to recover? Working on a single project at a time? The meditative effect of painting for hours? Quitting most of my work over the past couple of months? Extra sleep and rest this week? I’m not sure. But I am clearer and less overwhelmed and that’s very welcome. I feel I’ve found my rhythm and I’m no longer feeling under terrible pressure or panic about project wrinkles that need ironing out as they occur. Whatever it is, it’s delightful. Another week or so of painting and editing and hopefully we’ll be sending a draft off for approval to all the organisations involved.

Back into the Studio!

I was well enough for a trip to the studio today! I’m still dealing with infection and asthma and on a stack of meds. I’ve never had an asthma episode this bad or this long before, it’s a bit scary. Going to the studio by myself – and driving again too, both felt strange and a bit worrying. I moved slowly, took precautions, and stayed in touch with Rose.

But in the end it was wonderful. I bought more watercolour paper on the way, then spent the first couple of hours pottering. Sorting, tidying, cleaning. I went through the hundred or so pages of notes, tests, backup work, and proofs for my handmade magazine project Inside Voice, re read everything and sorted it into groups and two folders, one to put away, and the one containing everything I currently need. My mind is so much less cluttered now!

Pottering is a delightful thing, it’s fun, it takes the pressure off, and as I do all those little jobs that get forgotten about when you’re busy and focused and under the pump, the space clears out, the lost tools get found again, the physical and mental clutter is calmed. All the papers are put together in a box, and labelled. I found several pairs of scissors and gave them a home, emptied two boxes of random things and cleared them off my floor, found all my notes and sketches for a handmade book that stalled and put them together in a folder, taped test strips into my journal and updated the index, started a new list of helpful things to bring to the studio, such as a small extension cord so I can sit at my desk and plug in my electric lap blanket on these cold nights. It’s slow, I rest often, I listen to music, and do whatever I feel like working on next.

After a couple of hours of this, I feel settled. My anxiety has lowered, I feel at home and a sense of ownership and belonging has come over me. My breathing is raspy but not distressed.

Then, I begin to paint and sew. The handmade book takes shape. Here is a sneak preview, neither the artwork not the poem are mine, they are both from prisoners (readers). I believe I have done them justice, so I’ve come home very happy. Hopefully I’ll keep getting better and get lots of studio time this week. ❤

Zines and handmade books

I think my new asthma meds are starting to work, it doesn’t hurt as much to breathe today. 🙂 Thought I would share a project with you I finished a little while ago, the zine (handmade magazine) made in my workshop by the members of a local queer youth Drop In.

We had a really good time connecting over art supplies and exploring different things they wanted to say and different ways to express it. I first zine making workshops during the statewide consultation process I helped design and facilitate for the government last year, and of all the amazing submissions, it remains one of my favourites. Some of the entries brought people reading them to tears.

Sometimes amazing art is about tremendous skill with the medium and materials. Sometimes it’s an obsession with capturing the light, with pigments or clay, with developing your craft age pushing your skills to the masterful.

But sometimes it’s about the content. It make take 20 minutes with a biro and a folded piece of copy paper and still have the power to bring someone to tears. Zines can be great art in that way. Created in a few hours like this workshop, there’s simply no time for fretting about getting your prose perfect or how awful your drawing skills are, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s raw, imperfect, authentic. It captures something often lost in more considered, polished works of art. It’s a kind of consultation process in itself – what matters to you? What’s in your mind? It’s an ink blot analysis. When I give you this marker, what wants to come out of you? The speed at which these are made forces us past the anxieties that great art brings, instead of waiting for perfect words and images we speak, uncertainly, now. And we cross out, paint over, play with, interact with, what we’ve spoken. Zines are special that way.

Handmade books are, for me, taking the zine into another space. Where the zine is cheaply reproduced, rough, raw, punk, DIY, uninhibited, the hand made book is more considered. It’s the zine, polished. My handmade books are text and image, the place where my passion for both combines. They are days spent painting or embroidering a single page.

They are rough drafts laid out and arranged and rearranged to find balance.

This is the layout of my current one, all artwork, poems, and articles contributed by prisoners and organisations who care about their health and welfare. It’s the prototype so so much has been learned along the way. I’ve been kept busy figuring out copyright, front matter, submission guidelines, editing long articles to fit the space, choosing commercial fonts that are highly readable for those with low literacy levels or vision impairment. It’s a labour of love, showing off every submission to its best.

I always ask to keep a zine from every workshop, my collection is now wonderful and I bring some of it along to new workshops to inspire. I am very much looking forward to sharing the next zines and artbooks with you.

Painting in bed

All last week I was awake half the night with Poppy who was very unhappy with a throat infection. Pratchett, who died 3 years ago, has been keeping me company through an ebook on my phone. There’s an astonishing kind of magic there, that he can have been dead for years and still be present in a way that’s warm, human, and real to me. I fall in love with books all over again.

Poppy is recovered now, full of life and somehow extra words and communication now she’s feeling better. She sleeps with her hand touching my back or her feet resting on my leg. I am often surprised at my own wordlessness with her. My world revolves around her like a hatchling in a nest, and we venture through day and night together, yet there’s few poems since Tam. Still stoppered.

It feels like I haven’t met her yet. I don’t know who she will be or what worlds she will walk. Sometimes I live so much in her future I forget she is here now. I remind myself to wake up and look and she delights me with a grin and a kiss. She will never be this age again, never again be who she is right now. She’s astonishing.

Rose has been sleeping upright in an armchair to help manage pain from her ear infections. I find myself awake in the small hours, trawling Facebook, unsatisfied, lost. I’ve read all the books I can afford to buy and I can’t stop looking for something, and can’t name what it is. At last I realise simply that I’m lonely. I message Rose, she’s awake too. She comes to bed for a little while and I snuggle into her warmth. For the first time in a long time I unpeel my spikey armor and bring my soft vulnerability to her instead of sharp, prickly fear. We rest in the dark, wordless, holding hands. Thinking not of the past or the future but simply present in the night, velvet soft and beautiful with the child sleeping next to us.

I’m on day 8 of being sick myself, virus gone bacterial and dropped into my chest. I woke earlier this week to discover that a friend of mine, Amber, had died suddenly. She who survived so much suddenly taken from us. I spent the day crying in bed. I’ve spent the week in bed. I hope I’ll be well enough to attend her funeral.

So much illness brings its own fears. Am I annoying my friends? Have I missed some underlying cause? I find myself picking at the threads of my life, trying to work it out. Why am I hurting? Where have I gone wrong? I’m so depleted – how do I recover? What do I need? The picking brings no answers, it unravels certainty, brings doubt to every choice I’ve made. The only thing worse than being sick is also being afraid everyone else is bored and out of compassion, and that maybe you’ve accidentally brought it on yourself. After a while, with an effort, I stop picking and remember that in the middle of the illness is the worst time to ask such questions. I’ve no brain for it. Rest, fluids, kindness. I go back to bed and buy myself another book to read. Help Rose manage the new and unpleasant ear medicine in the hope of keeping her out of hospital.

Today the infection is worse but paradoxically I feel better. Good news is bouying me. I have new support and new projects on the horizon. I’m planning an art exhibition for later this year, I have a mentor lined up for my guide to multiplicity, and I’ve been selling art this week. I’ve borrowed a laptop while I need to be at home which has helped so much. Today I’m starting the painting for my handmade book for prisoners project, in bed.

Chronic illness and caring complicate my work and career goals, but I’m finally adapting and finding paths through. Letting go of the things I can’t have right now, like the time to create a solid primary income. Instead figuring out what works around my needs and my family, how to have the resources to be on call for them and trickle in enough paid work to keep up with my studio rent and my shrink fees. (Thinking of Frida, painting from bed in her body brace) There’s a kind of power in being able to do this, to still engage, to contribute, to feel connected and chase my dreams even from bed. I’m about to close down some aspects of my business and open new ones up that better fit my situation and my skills. Figuring out a model that works for me has been a major focus for the past year, and it’s finally emerging, as is the support I need to make it happen. I’m excited to launch it soon.

So here’s to life, my loves! It’s complicated at times. Full of grief, loss, sickness, plans gone astray. But also incredibly beautiful. I’m still a part of the world, part of the community mourning Amber, part of a team who cares about prisoners, part of a tribe who turn up with lunch and cry about heartbreaking things and laugh over a board game. I am here, in the heart of it, anchored by love.

My interview about DID in the ABC

Last year myself and two other systems got to know journalist Tracey Shelton. She’s a fascinating journalist with an inspiring career and she was taken by the stigma and lack of good information out there about multiplicity. It’s been wonderful working with her to put real and human faces to the experiences. Her first article about it has been published today.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: what it is like to live with multiple personalities

The interview process itself was immersive and in depth, exhausting and inspiring. It was a huge behind the scenes project last year that is just starting to bear fruit. It was such an honour to hear in depth from other multiples – not since the days of the support group Bridges I used to run have I had such experiences. Can you imagine that? Consider for a moment that you are gay and almost never meet or speak with another openly gay person. Or Christian, or adopted, or a wheelchair user… All people are different and diverse in some way and having a connection to peers is invaluable.

The connection and support I experienced during this project rekindled my own efforts to humanise multiples. I have spoken just this week with a delightful editor who offers mentoring to get projects – such as my introductory guide to multiplicity – to the finish line. There’s many peers, advocates, and activists out there and in the Dissociative Initiative, all saying the same things: multiples are human. We deserve support and we shouldn’t have to live in fear. I’m so proud to be part of that message. ❤

To read more, follow the link above to the DI website, or check out my articles about multiplicity.

Art book in a prison

There’s a lot going on at the moment I haven’t found the right words to share about yet, my darling Star has been in crisis. I will, but I wanted to share some things that were wonderful today.

Firstly, Poppy is recovering beautifully. ❤

She is a changed kid since the surgery to remove her 4 rotten teeth. We are thrilled. Within a couple of hours of the surgery she was eating again! The ear and throat infections are gone, the very pale face is getting colour again, and she laughs again! We missed that sound so much. It’s been a delight to watch her recover.

The other wonderful thing was today I was allowed to visit some women in a local prison and consult with them about a great project called Inside Voice, which I’m working on. I love consultation so much, it’s a real joy to listen to people’s experiences and reflect on their ideas. I took in my art book Mourning the Unborn, watercolours and a range of ideas and example styles to show them. They were a treasure trove of information which not only validated the approach we’d been planning (always a nice bonus!) but extended it with new ideas and observations that will add a great deal of value to the project in the future. They’ve chosen the style, theme, editorial approach, and illustrations that will guide the project.

I’ve nearly got everything I need now to start the next phase of Inside Voice, laying out and hand making all the content into a beautifully illustrated art book. I am just waiting on a last batch of images and then painting and sewing can begin. I’ve had my sewing machine serviced, I have new threads and extra large needles, I’ve chosen the papers, everything is ready. I am very excited about it.

Surgery and Watercolours

Poppy is scheduled for surgery on Thursday to remove her 4 front teeth. We’ve been so lucky to have folks rally around us with all kinds of care. We’ve been able to pay the deposits to book the surgery and our fridge is stocked with grapes and soup and pudding.

I am so grateful, so depleted. Wrestling medicine into Poppy on the couch last night, both of us in tears. I am beyond over making my kids do things they find stressful and horrible. I think to myself ‘this is so horribly traumatic!’. Then I think ‘I’m the parent. Make it less traumatic’. So I stop crying, I tell her it’s not so bad, she can do it, it’s only medicine and will be over soon. I hold her when she cries, let her push me away and find refuge elsewhere, wait to cuddle her later. We play and tickle and hide and roar. Humour takes away the sting.

Rose and I went to the studio today, not for work but because I’ve been drowning in caring and need to look after myself too. I sort and tidy and arrange and play and swatch colours. Rose took Poppy to a nearby park with Nana, then came back when she fell asleep in the pram. Rose fell asleep on a couch and I walked Poppy around the studio to keep her settled between labelling drawers and grouping supplies by category into boxes. It was incredibly soothing.

I’ve been testing different brands of watercolour lately and attending information nights for them which are wonderful. I want a good set for my travel kit, and one for doing zine making workshops. I also use Marie’s Chinese Paints, which look similar to western watercolours but handle differently for blending with black ink. You can see them in the two rows on the right on that lovely palette. (My favourite palette! It was recommended by the lovely calligraphic artist Gemma Black during her gilding and watercolour workshop at the Calligraphy Society of SA. It’s Martin Mijello Airtight Watercolour 33 Well Palette)

Swatched below, the Chinese Paints are bottom left on the page. The sakura mat watercolours are the left page long swatches. They’re very old student grade paint but quite lovely.

The right hand page swatches are two travel kits I brought recently for my zine making workshops. The top set I don’t love, too opaque, dusty, difficult to wet, and generally just feel like poster paint. The bottom set I really, really love. They are Micador Brilliant watercolours for Artists, 24 set. For my zine kit they are perfect. Each tray of 6 can be passed around a table and shared, the colours wet quickly and are vibrant. The iridescent blends well with the other colours.

I recently sent off another zine, this one created with the local queer youth drop in group. I’m always so impressed by what gets created in these. It’s also a delightful experience.

Below on the right is my absolute favourite brand of professional grade watercolour, Sennelier. I was recently given a sample by the lovely folks at Port Art Supplies and I’m hooked! This colour is PY153, Sennelier Yellow Light, on its own on the right, mixed with Winsor and Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light, which is also a stunning colour.

The Sennelier is a French brand and made using honey. I love the way it handles, it’s sumptuous.

So, we’ve all come home again in the dark. There’s dinner and dishes and hanging washing, talking through homework, managing medications, cuddles and chats about a big sleep and the dentist taking away the teeth that hurt. We’re nervous, grateful, second guessing ourselves, and laying as much ground work as possible to handle a rough few days.

Thank you so much for your support, donations, well wishes, prayers, and kindness. It’s made a huge difference to us, we wouldn’t be in this place without you.

Embroidery museum

Today was a treat, Rose and I went out for a lunch date. I took her to the SA Embroidery Guild Museum, which was gorgeous. Their display is small but beautifully set out, with audio and video as well, teaching particular techniques on display. I was surprised to discover their impressive library, amazing catalogue of embroidery samples that some kind souls were hard at work archiving, and a lovely gift shop.

We topped it all off with soup and salad at the central markets, and explored my needlework project collection from the days I was very sick and turning my creative passions to tiny and delicate artwork in the form of beading and embroidery that could be done from bed or couch.

I’d been hoping the extra space of my studio would open the door to large installation artwork again, but today I felt very inspired by the small scale too, beautiful fabrics and threads used to make delicate heirloom pieces. It’s a lovely medium to speak with, and I’m thinking it could work very well in artist’s books or their covers.