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.

Oil painting: black cat

Had a wonderful time in the studio yesterday, painting this cat. Not my design, it’s a painting exercise in a book. I’ve been wanting to explore alla prima (painting while everything is still wet, usually in a single sitting) and a more relaxed ‘painterly’ brush technique. I enjoyed this immensely!

I’m also consolidating my new colour mixing skills. The artwork was painted using colours I mixed from my restricted palette of 5 (burnt umber, ultramarine blue, cad red, cad yellow light, titanium white), and I had very little trouble creating them, which is exciting! I’ve finally found a colour theory method that speaks to me, which opens all kinds of doors. After a very long week, this was regenerating and nurturing.

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Sunday mornings done right

Looks like this:

Pancakes for breakfast

Face painting to amuse bubs while teen sleeps in

I’m reading again now I’ve figured out ebook aps on my phone. And I’m doing morning pages, and I’ve started a Daybook. Yesterday’s class was about more than art, it was about intuition and connection and community. It fed my soul.

I was afraid when I stopped going to art college that I would lose out on learning, which I love so much. But I’m finding that workshops and informal learning is deeply precious to me, patchworking an education tailored to me and my community. I won’t ever stop learning. And now I’ve grasped it again, I feel so much more alive. 🙂

Creating my own Art Materials

Today was wonderful. I was exhausted after an incredibly long week supporting Star following her knee surgery on Tuesday. Poppy has also been having trouble with a persistent cough that makes her vomit, so I’ve been pretty stretched and short on sleep. Today I got up, did a bit of cleaning, helped Star settle into her day after a tough start, gathered a list of supplies from my garden, and dashed off to a sustainable artist workshop by Alana Gregory. I had a ball!

We made our own inks, charcoal, and fixative, and got to play with them all. It was a wealth of information on foraging, different ways to process plant based materials and their pros and cons, various mordants, binders, and preservatives. We only scratched the surface of a very complex and involved topic, but I feel that it was such a thorough introduction I’ve come home feeling confident to experiment further and grow my skills and knowledge. I’d read a little about some of these techniques before but never had the confidence to just start playing with the materials. Now that I’ve had a whole day of play with a delightful tutor the ice is well and truly broken and I’ll never look at geraniums quite the same way!

Crushing flower petals to release dye

We made inks today with geranium and hibiscus blooms, ironbark bark, pomegranate skins, mistletoe, and red cabbage leaves.

Ironwood ink stewing

We mixed the inks with a variety of products and recorded the results. This was our tutors repurposed book, isn’t it gorgeous? She’s attached samples of dyed cloth all through an old book no longer wanted, with notes in the margins. Just lovely.

We hand made our own brushes, using weird and wonderful materials we’d foraged, bound with thin strips of fresh flax. I made one with a bunch of sea daisies, sprigs of fennel, a feather, one of my dreadlocks, leaves from my peppercorn tree Gandalf, and some mad plant that’s self sown in the front garden.

The feather and the sea daises were especially wonderful. Here’s a large artwork where I was playing with it all:

A lovely end to the week. I’ve come home refreshed and looking forward to spending time with my girls. I’ve written this post whole supervising bath time, and I’m going to make pancakes for dessert tonight. Life is just so full and rich lately. I’m in love with it.

Glorious art

Inks and watercolours

Sewing and oil paints

I spent all day in my studio today, and it was wonderful. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a couple of art demonstrations recently and I have been greatly looking forward to a chance to play with new techniques and supplies.

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way recently and I’m in love with Morning Pages. 3 handwritten pages every morning when I can, it’s a perfect type of focusing for me and I’m making great progress with all kinds of blocks and struggles.

My realisation today is that I tend to preference risk taking in my art – big projects, new skills, new supplies, large artwork. This would be fine except as soon as I encounter a roadblock or glitch, my inner critic goes to town and I get frozen up. Then my critic goes to town because I’m frozen and it all spirals into a painful mess. So today I insisted to myself that I would start low risk and explore and play – cheapest new paints first, small papers, simplest techniques or skills I already have, and go from there. And suddenly I’ve unlocked the most joyous and productive day I’ve ever had in a studio. Piece by tiny piece, I am learning what makes me tick and how to care for my artist and create a business that fits well. Today was a good day.

Watercolour forest

Sumi ink and Chinese watercolours, Magnolias

Orchids and dragonflies, watercolour

Poppies and butterflies, watercolour

Sumi ink and Chinese watercolours, peonies

Watercolor florals

My new studio

Today, I am happy, because I feel I am finally beginning to make friends with my new studio.

I have a new studio, in Port Adelaide. She is pretty, and old, and grand, with wonderful light.

I did not want to leave my old studio. He was grungy, forgiving, underground. I felt safe there, outside the ‘real world’. I didn’t have to measure up or earn my place. It was sitting by the campfire on the outskirts of town, running from Bradbury’s war. Simply turning up was enough. I adored the art on the walls and the holes in the floor and the green things growing in the light sink. It was full of romance. My favourite place became the communal art table, close to my spot. If I was lonely or stuck, I could sidle over to it in a pretend nonchalant way and test to see if the other artists seemed welcoming. They always were. Then I could sit and chat and let my mind forget what my hands were doing and stop getting in the way and somehow stumble into the art that was trying to come but all blocked and tangled. I hardly knew most of their names, no one came to my opening, but it was a start of community, belonging, acceptance, home.

I lost that, unexpectedly, at this start of this year with an email explaining the artist’s collective was closing. A storm drenched me inside, and I tumbled end over end in panic, feeling homeless, disembodied, hysterical. I reopened every option and explored them – shed in my backyard, move house and claim a spare room, converted cubby house, caravan, shipping container, mini van, room at a friend’s, back to back residencies, give up on art, shrink to a travel kit and storage facility… Trying to find somewhere else that felt like home, somewhere else my heart would open and let out art and nothing fit.

Even among the artists, I am odd, emotional, strange. The few I spoke to looked at me with kind bewilderment, trying to understand but not understanding while I hunched over too much embarrassing feeling, tears betraying my unwanted vulnerability. The other artists were disrupted, they made arrangements. No one threw themselves from rooftops or into the sea. I flew about the place at midnight like an angry ghost, stung with rejection and gathering my things.

I chose the space in Pt Adelaide, near the water and far from the city. It is full of beautiful studios but few artists present, and no shared table. I am on the second floor, up sweeping staircases and facing a wall of western windows and a balcony that houses my old comfy thinking chair. It is without a doubt beautiful. There is no art scrawled on the walls or graffiti to read in the toilets. It feels like work and real world in a way that terrifies me. It feels like the office of a Professional, perhaps an illustrator, pursuing their craft, one who arrives on time and leaves on time and never paints naked or gripped by psychosis. Wildness and madness retreat further to the edges and dim memories of my life. My heart beats in fear.

The first day after moving I try to come here and I find myself busy with sudden errands and needs for coffee down the street and realise after several hours I’m afraid.

I persist, each week, even if only for an hour, trying to draw the memory of the artists confusion at my distress out of my mind where it is slowly poisoning me, trickling under my thoughts and turning into sticky self loathing. So what if I am overly emotional, intense, strange, freakish? So what if I am the only one who feels this way, reacts like this, needs what I need? I am still okay.

I come to the studio and fuss over arranging things better and feel a little anguish lift.

I come another day and work on artworks I’d already started and some of the block eases.

I come at night and paint alone in the dark and feel a little magic stir and a little rage wash out. I see myself in the black window glass and I think of the terror of homelessness and the strange loneliness that has been gripping me at nights where I find myself scrolling endlessly through Facebook looking for a sense of connection in the crowd, scrolling on without finding it.

I bring extra things with me each time, repair my sewing machine, stash chocolate and sanitary pads in a drawer. Photos of my family, a kettle for tea. Inch by inch it feels more my space. My soul sniffs at the rafters, approves of the empty tower room, the cupboard in the stairs, the cool cellar.

Sometimes I dream of arches of tree branches dripping black fabric for walls and my face paints and music and with the stage set and the props vibrating with otherness, I can feel how I would come here like a supplicant and surrender the outside world. But I am afraid to draw so much attention to myself, to invest so much, to invite inquiry. So the stage stays in my mind and I come here and try to make friends with it, be less intimidated by it, to not need the trappings of poverty to release me from the fear of failing.

Drains used to have a pull on me, any shelter someone homeless might envy would catch my eye and call my name and I would yearn, the way I would yearn for knives, once, or food after a long day. It took years for the yearning to untangle itself in my journals, that I had come to crave a kind of failure that would free me from the possibility of success forever. I felt that at times, living in my caravan. A kind of retirement of hope and pressure. Sometimes I could simply feel alive, and that was sufficient.

I see a psychologist who tells me I’m choosing to be stressed and with practice and the right tools can learn to be calm in any situation. I can’t find the right words to tell her how heartsick that makes me feel, that calm and unmoved by the world are not why I have come to see her. I don’t return.

It’s taken me a long time to tell this story. I was not willing to be public during – I who was public during miscarriage. I’m still smarting with the sting of it, after so many years at art college and not finding my home, my people, a sense of safety or belonging except those rare mornings allowed down in the sculpture studio, I thought I was making progress.

It is entirely possible to be an artist with a minimum of self investment, creativity, or risk. It is possible to paint with no more open heart than a plumber choosing where the pipes are to be laid. There’s nothing magic about paint or charcoal that gives life meaning or bestows gifts upon us. It’s in the personal and symbolic that the magic happens. Deep underground in the soul. You can have that and be a plumber, or paint without a touch of it.

I still feel lost. I don’t have a Call drawing me on, a sense of my heart. I don’t want to create for the sake of it, without heart. I’ve been in the daylight too long and forgotten the sound of my wings unfurling. So I’m turning my face to the side, closing one eye, tuning in. Looking for things that make me feel alive, that move me enough to preserve as memories, saved from the wash of the day to day, the grey rain of the mundane world.

Last weekend we had a campfire, drank gin and ate baked bananas with friends. The weekend before we visited galleries and libraries and I didn’t compare my work to theirs and feel bruised. We stood in the feathers at WOMAD together and I thought “we will never see a sight like this again in our lives” and it etched itself in memory, swirling blue and purple like warm snow or tiny flying birds. Rose and I dreamed of our wedding some day, still went on date days, started to really, really look at each other again, touch fingers softly. Poppy’s hair smells of woodsmoke, of fire from the plum tree we cut down the year before she was born. I am asked in a counseling session what I am willing to do for my girls who are struggling, where the boundaries are, how far I will go. In another I am asked what I will do if they die. I turn the questions over and over in my mind like a river stone or a strange fish, and I don’t know exactly except that I’m not willing to die with anyone, to walk into death alongside anyone. I value my life. I value my art, but more than that the thing the art cloaks that can be under paint or under dishes – creativity, imagination, being present, connecting.

I take days off, to smell Poppy’s hair and sweep the floors and study the history of pigments in paint. I come to my studio with plans and drop them all at the door and do something else instead. I sit in it and blog on my phone, listening to the traffic and learning the smell of the building, of the water nearby and the road and the rain in the clouds. I look for friends to visit and finding none free, stand in the garden tearing out weeds as the roses tear my arms and run tiny smears of blood down my skin.

I am alive. I don’t know what’s next, what I need, where I’m going. But I’m here, and my life is beautiful, and I’m drinking it in. I’m reading books and borrowing ideas from other artists, Growing Gills was wonderful, I’ve just started The Artist’s Way and found the descriptions of god as an artist, and art as a spiritual act, move something in me that has been frozen for a long time, hiding deep in my heart while death and loss ravage the world. Tears are a good sign. I find myself longing for a life lived more creatively. Which isn’t just about my studio but my home days, my family, my 3ams too.

The book talks of affirmations, which I loathe, gently enough that I realise the mantra I’ve been repeating that’s made the new learning possible (“I can make it with any career or skill I choose to pursue”) is an affirmation, one that’s been easing my overwhelming fear and inferiority and allowing me to learn quickly and with joy, to follow what delights me without my inner critic setting fires. I think about the book I want to publish and I remember the books my Mother once wanted to publish and I realise that her stillborn children impact me too, her broken dreams are part of my world. There’s still few people who’s opinions I care about more, where my heart is so unguarded and yet our dreams are each so tangled by grief and fear.

I know some things, some small guides. I know I cannot live for anyone else, cannot save them, or recover for them, or make them want to live. I know that the heart of caring for another is keeping one eye fixed on my own soul so it doesn’t starve, that starving carers become the cage of the wounded who are neither free to die, nor to heal and be free themselves. I know that loving hurting people takes sacrifice, but that sacrifice in itself does nothing, and sacrificing the wrong things simply kills the children, salts the earth. That remaining alive yourself is the gift you grant those who love you, refusing to grant them or the things eating them the power to destroy you, and yourself walking the hard road of life you are wishing for them. If we suffer endlessly for each other, we force hedonism on those who would find hope, or equal bondage and despair to all. Only in being alive can we inspire life.

I have lost my way, but I have hope. I have been lost many times before. I will make new homes, I will listen and learn and something will emerge. I will feed my soul.

Hand made books

The most fun I’ve had in long while has been visiting a local book maker and repairer. I adore seeing people’s studios, learning so much about the skills and inspiration behind their work is a treat.

I was particularly taken with the design of several beautiful old books such as this gorgeous concertina-fold book of prints:

The ‘pages’ are actually a long strip of paper folded, with a print on the same colour paper pasted to each fold. I fell in love with this stunning book of watercolours:

Which also opens and reads as a regular book:

Because each of the beautiful double spread paints are actually a single page, folded down the centre and glued along both edges to each fellow page. There’s no spine or centre gutter or binding at all, so it opens flat perfectly. I adore it.

An ancient Chinese ledger made from rice paper also stole my heart, but I was too busy admiring it to take pictures for you!

My current book making project has been progressing. I was asked to explore hand made vs digital layout of the content – same format just different tools to get the job done.

I’ve been really impressed with how user friendly and accessible Canva and Desygner are. InDesign isn’t bad either, but for intuitive design and speed the apps are amazing. I’ve used the desktop version of Canva quite a bit too, it syncs with the app on my phone and is really easy to use.

In the end it was decided to go with the hand made approach, which makes me extremely happy because it means more time spent with my brushes in my studio instead of with my computer in my office, and a more handmade feel rather than polished magazine feel to the whole project. I’m really looking forward to the content being signed off on so I can get into making the final. 🙂

Glitter Clitoris

An artist residency at a sexual health organisation can take your artwork to wonderful and unexpected places.

This is a 3D printed, anatomically correct clitoris, which I was provided with by a SHINE SA employee to embellish with rainbow paint and glitter. I adore it and am tempted to create a collection for exhibition. Or offer some for sale in my Etsy shop

It has been christened Dolores the glittoris.

Oil paint swatches

My freelancing group have reminded me that if I’m stuck with the downsides of freelancing, it’s best if I really exploit the upsides such as flexible working hours. So I slept in until midday today, worked from home for a few hours, then went into the studio for a bit. It was delightful. I cleaned and organised, and planned to do some gilding I’ve been needing to find time for. But I really wanted to play with my new restricted palette and I decided I’d done enough stressful things today and could reward myself. So I took this lovely print of a Waterhouse painting, and I mixed all these colour swatches as if I was going to paint it. This colour mixing process works brilliantly for me, I’m so pleased. I’ve decided to start talking back to my limiting anxiety and tell myself I can reach the heights of any skill or profession I apply myself to. It’s helping undo a lot of blocks in my head, I can learn better and think a little more clearly. Every moment of that is a blessing I treasure.

I’m also starting new classes this week, courtesy of Rose. Meditative wood carving lessons, which she thought might help my anxiety. Looking forward to it.

Holding ghosts

This is always a hard week for Rose, with anniversaries of miscarriages and other losses. In the past she’s grieved alone, with no grave to mourn by and no recognition of her loss. So today I took her to a cemetery.

I had permission from a friend – the mother of a lovely girl who died far too young, to sit under her memorial tree and remember Rose’s little ones and our Tamlorn. We sat in the shade her beautiful tree with Tam’s ashes, shared a birthday cake for the 7 children not with us, and cried.

It hurt. It was hard to do, many kinds of pain are shrouded in shame and a trick of the heart that says don’t look, don’t go, don’t feel it, it’s too big and dark and will destroy you.

It hurt but it was not unbearable darkness.

It eased the loneliness of loss but it was not epiphany or resolution.

It did not cure, but it had meaning.

We left roses beneath the tree. I made an ink painting to remember the day. Then we left to pick up Poppy from daycare, and held her tight, all the rest of the night.

Playing with colour

Kitchen table playing while Poppy can’t sleep. Didn’t intend to paint so much, so didn’t bother with getting the perspective right. Exploring how the limited palette works with watercolours – soon I’ll be back in the studio with inks and paint…

It’s helping a lot, colour mixing has always seemed mysterious and bewildering. Complex obscure formulas. I love it when you find something that clicks with how you think. So many hues from just 6 pans of paint. Now I understand the tiny travel kits of watercolour. Pigments are so interesting, and the way the paint itself is formulated. I’m looking forward to learning more about inks.