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PONDERINGS on Time

Happy Herring, graphite and ink
Happy Herring

Slippery as a fish, time is the most fleeting and the most valuable thing we have in mortality, yet we often berate ourselves for ‘wasting’ it.  But what wastes time?  I’ve learned from study and experience that ‘wasted time’ falls into different categories. We may feel the time we spent talking to that person at the bus stop was wasted because we intended to be doing something else. But for the person we spoke to, it might have been just the gift of time they needed. Then there’s the time we spent reading after lunch when we ‘ought’ to have been washing the dishes, but how much more ready we feel for the afternoon because we took a rest.  So, how do I know if I’m wasting time? I’ve discovered a few truths about time.

Truth number one: unless we know how we intended to use our time or with whom we intended to spend it, and why, we cannot know whether we have wasted it! I know that seems obvious, but think about it for a bit. So, you’ve got through your day and you don’t seem to have accomplished much. The painting you planned is still an all-too-blank canvas. The appointment you needed to make is still on the to-do list. The floor looks a mess and dinner isn’t ready.  What did you spend your time on?  Your friend called in distress and needed to talk.  The dishwasher spewed water all over the floor. You wanted to cook something special for family dinner and found you needed to go and buy a vital ingredient. Was your time wasted? Or did you just choose to use it differently?

Which leads to truth number two: there will always be someone, or something, that turns out to be more important than all the other someones, or somethings on our calendar.  Put another way, however organised we are, life has its own agenda.

But having said that, and returning to truth number one, I’ve found if you have an underlying plan, you give yourself the freedom to choose what to prioritise at any moment in your day.  One woman says,
“God has given us a great gift: our time. We must do with it what matters most.”
She prays about the list she makes each day and listens to the promptings she gets as to what is a priority.  Her pattern is: Pray; Plan; Pray; Listen; Revise; Act.
Her list has tasks, prioritised numerically, and goals – the things she expects to achieve that day.

We all have a few categories that need to be incorporated into our plan for the day.

  1. There are ‘NO CHOICE’ items, things you have to do, like take a child to the dentist, keep an appointment. They have to happen.  How long they take may be negotiable but it’s usually longer than expected and they have to be in the plan.
  2. ‘HAVE TO DO IF…’
    These are things that have to be done if something else is to happen.  For instance, you need to get the laundry done if you’re to have clean clothes to wear; you need to pray to have the Lord’s help; you need to read the scriptures to keep your spiritual levels up. Other things might include ordering materials or paying an invoice or getting everyone out of the house on time. Determine their importance based on the ‘if’.   Will anyone die or will I suffer or be unable to accomplish something else if I don’t do this today? Do I have to do this to fulfil a commitment?
    3. ‘NEED TO’s’. My ‘need to’s’ list usually consists of specific tasks, things that really need to be done, sooner or later. They may not get done today and no one will die, or even notice, if they don’t.
    And then there’s the rest of life!
    4. WORK – if you are employed, this is obviously non-negotiable. If you’re self-employed, see below. If your only work is housework, you’re ‘self-employed’. Treat yourself as you would an employee and take care of #5:-
    5. SLEEP, REST and RELAXATION. Oh, and don’t forget to EAT and DRINK!
    Most of us need 8 hours of sleep, perhaps 2 hours to eat three meals a day and stop occasionally for a glass of water. We also need family time, so allocate another 4 hours or so on a weekday, depending when the children go to bed. Then add a couple of hours with your spouse.
    That leaves us about 8 hours for everything else.

Let’s talk about work.  As a wife and mother, this can mean several different things, school runs, meal preparation, housework, gardening and a job.
As an employee, your work hours and time off are contracted.  If you need to have extra time off, you have to arrange it with your employer. This is not negotiable.
However, suppose you are the boss and you are your only employee?  If you are to avoid burn-out and that guilty feeling of not having done enough, your plan needs TIMING.  I’ve learned that it’s important to decide how many hours you are planning to work each week and on which days.  Then stick to the plan!
It might seem counter-intuitive when you are building a business, but you need to practice saying, ‘I’m not available at that time/on that day’, or ‘I’m afraid I only work x,y, and z,’and offering an alternative. Recognise that every time you agree to go beyond your allocated hours you are stealing time from your family and yourself.
Have you noticed how housework expands to fill available time!  Try timing a chore.  I was surprised how much I was able to fit into the available space in my plan.  My home might not be perfect all the time but it is habitable and homely, that’s all I need. After all, I’m not a professional housewife, i.e. no one is going to sack me if they can’t see their face in my kitchen floor.  But relationships are likely to suffer if the tidiness of your home is more important than a snuggle on the sofa.

Lists are key to using time effectively.  Ten minutes spent planning is really worthwhile. One technique I learned from a wise Bishop was to number my lists, not according to the order of execution but by importance. So you might have three or four items numbered ‘1’, because they have to be accomplished. ‘2’ are the ‘have to if’s and ‘3’s are things it would be nice to get round to, if there’s time.  Putting a time allocation by each thing, where it’s possible, also helps curtail its length to end up with a manageable list.

Don’t over-schedule your day.  That is my most frequent mistake. Allow time for the unexpected and for a little me-time, even if it’s only a few minutes!  During the time that I was experiencing ME/CFS, I could only do 10 minutes of anything and then needed an hour or more to recover, sometimes the rest of the day.  I learned to expect less of myself – not an easy lesson for a perfectionist!
You might feel you ought to clean all the bedrooms today.  Actually, today could be clear the floor day. Tomorrow is dusting day and the day after is vacuum the floor day. Beware of what my doctor called, ‘hardening of the oughteries’.  Its symptoms are feelings of guilt, shortness of temper, low energy, high levels of stress and a feeling of failure – i.e. a recipe for depression!

Fill your life with things you ‘want’ to do, not things you ‘ought’ to do.  Sometimes the latter can accumulate because our expectations of our day were not realistic.  Sometimes they’re the result of someone else needing our time more than we did. Pat yourself on the back for getting your priorities right.

Take time to enjoy the moment and watch your business, your family and your relationships develop.   Many of these things I am still learning to implement myself.  I just wanted to share some principles I have learned over the years and through the discussions in our Self Reliance class, a group of self-employed individuals struggling to organise their lives appropriately.    Hope it helps and you can be a ‘happy herring’ in the swim!

Happy Herring, graphite and ink
Happy Herring

 

 

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Pondering on life

I’ve been making prints. Mono-type prints.

One day I spent 4 hours and made 8 or 9 prints. But only 3 were worth keeping, let alone offering for sale. Another day I spent the same amount of time but only one of about 6 was worthwhile. The 3rd day there were 2 and a possible 3rd.

Being an artist is not like any other creative business, for two reasons. One, it is the product stream, rather than the employment stream, that is so unpredictable. But the second is the most challenging. A friend who has run an eatery said the most frustrating thing was spending hours preparing beautiful food and have someone say, ‘I don’t like it!’ Selling art is just like that because art appreciation is so subjective. And it’s all based on emotion. My feelings as I create it. Your feelings as you look at it. Your favourite colours, or subjects, or styles.  
That 3rd day I showed my husband all the prints I had made and he immediately picked out one as his favourite, one that I had potentially discarded.
A painting might come together in an hour or take a year.  Making a print adds another dimension to that because, when ink on paper is subjected to pressure, strange things happen.
For a start, the ink thickens. This changes its tone. Different pigments react in different ways, some become darker or lighter, others more fugitive and some become greyer. With experience and a good memory you can almost predict these things. I say almost because there are other variables, too. How wet is the ink? How much extender did you use? How damp is the paper?
It is an exciting process, which is why I love it! But it can be frustrating too, because you can have a print that is almost ‘there’ and you add the final touch – and it ruins it.  
I’m so glad to know that life is not like that.  Yes, it can be unpredictable. There are times when we think we have everything worked out and then one little thing we hadn’t expected spoils things. But, when I make a print, I can’t ask the paper if it thinks this one will work, or enquire of the ink if it’s ready to play ball, or ask the roller to help me do it right.  Life is different.  Let me tell you how and why.
First of all, earth is not the first environment you have lived in.  You were in a world where everyone had spirit bodies, everyone except our Father.  He had been through much more than we could understand and He had a body of flesh and bone which could do things we couldn’t.  There were things we could do though.  
We could think and be creative.  We could study and learn, gain wisdom and knowledge, nurture talents innate within us. We could help one another and form friendships and be linked in families.
One by one our family members took their turn to go and live on earth. I’m sure we watched.  That’s why we sometimes have those déjà vu  feelings or experience an emotional response to places our ancestors lived.
One thing we knew when we were there was that Heavenly Father wants to help us. Everything He does is aimed at bringing us to the same state He has attained.  We also knew He would never make our decisions for us.  Freedom to choose is an inalienable right for all of His children, even though they make choices that are horribly wrong.
The second inalienable right is to change, your mind and your habits.  It’s called repentance and it works because one of our brothers was so perfect that He never made wrong choices and He loved us so much that He pledged himself to suffer for the things we do wrong.
His and our Father’s only objective is to bring about our immortality and eternal life. Because they love us so much, we can always turn to them in prayer and ask for advice. Unlike the paper and the ink, they are living breathing beings who have a better view of our future, and our present, than we do. So we never need to be alone.  We can guarantee that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are there whenever we need them.  
That doesn’t mean we get everything we ask for, any more than you would give your child whatever they pleaded for, especially if you felt it would be dangerous or not good for them. Prayers are always answered but sometimes the answer is no.
Have you ever been asked how to do something and taken time to explain it to the person, only to realise they haven’t heard a word you said?  Heavenly Father experiences that all the time!  An important part of prayer is listening.
Jesus taught us how to pray.  He said we should start by addressing Heavenly Father.  Then we should take a moment to thank Him for all the good things we have.  After that, we should explain to Him the things we need and why we need them.  
He also taught that, if we close our prayer in His name, He will plead our cause with Heavenly Father and whatever we ask in His name, that is right for us, we will receive.  
So life is different from making prints.  Things won’t always go the way we want them to pan out, but in retrospect we’ll recognise the hand of God, putting us where we need to be when we need to be there.  Last week an older gentleman with dementia went for a walk.  He walked for 10 hours and police and many of his friends were out looking for him.  As they prayed to know where to look, many testified that they got no direction but felt a calm peace.  The reason became clear when a family, who were simply on a day out, felt prompted to change their plans and get lunch in a different place.  On their way home later, they found the missing wanderer 10 miles or more from his home, on the other side of Bury St Edmunds.  Heavenly Father knew where he was and whom He could take there to find him.  He knows where we are, too, physically and metaphorically, and He knows how to help us.  All that is needed is that we ask and are willing to be helped.
 
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PONDERINGS on how life affects work!

‘Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.’ So said pop artist, Ed Ruscha. I agree, but there are various reasons for being perplexed by art! I find myself ‘scratching my head’ in front of a hyper-realist painting, thinking, ‘why would you do that when a camera could have done the job for you?’ A much preferable reaction to any piece of art is, ‘What is the artist trying to say? What did they see here that I haven’t noticed yet?’  To provoke that reaction there needs to be some ambiguity in the image, or in the artist’s handling of the subject, something that makes you stop and look again.
I’ve been told that there is a hint of surrealism in some of my work.
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The Surrealists tried to depict the world intuitively, letting their minds ‘automatically’ dictate their imagery. Some seems weird, some amusing and some has had people scratching their heads for a century!  I don’t work in that way as a rule, though I have once or twice, and yet, when I think about it, every painting ends up that way.  The decisions that bring it to final fruition are more intuitive than planned.  As Paul Klee said, you know it’s finished when you stop looking at it and it starts looking back at you, in other words, when you can look at what you’ve done and not see every brush-stroke but rather, an homogeneous whole.
But another aspect of Surrealism is the symbolic nature of its content.  That is what occasionally creeps onto my canvas.  I want you to look at what I’ve painted and ‘scratch your head’, wondering what I’m getting at and then having one of those delightful moments when you suddenly see a thing or an aspect of life as you have never seen it before.
Here’s another quote that’s been on my desktop for awhile:
    “Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of materials.” Anni Albers said this and, once again, I agree, with some caveats.  Certainly, when I am making prints, the whole process is driven by the materials I have to hand and the end result is rarely what I had in mind at the beginning.  Painting is a different process, though. For me, it tends to originate from something or somewhere that has had an influence on me.  A particular view, a walk by the sea, the rustle of a walk in the woods, an object I have collected, a feeling about something, any of these can cause one of those experiences alluded to above, ‘when you suddenly see a thing as you have never seen it before’, or become so entranced by it that you want the whole world to see it as you have seen it.  That’s why I make art – to share with you how I feel about life, living, this magical wonderful world we live in and the incredible Intelligence who designed and created it.
Simply reproducing nature doesn’t do that for me.  No reproduction can ever be as good as the real thing. What I can do is try to infuse what I paint with the feelings I have about it. The result might be recognisable, a familiar memory, like ‘Picnic in the Park’.
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But it might also be an abstract agglomeration of colour and line that just feels good!
I became aware of how much my work is affected by the feelings I have at the time of its creation some years ago when I was battling ME/CFS and struggling to do anything at all.  I managed to create one piece of work using a print I had made years earlier and the torn shreds of other less successful ones.  Coming back to it months later I saw that what I had depicted was my exact frame of mind at that time.  It was something I had never articulated in any other way or even recognised at the time.  This is the image I made:

Freedom

  When I was tearing the pieces, it was totally random yet there is a hand reaching out as if longing to be outside that window. The feeling of entrapment so often accompanies chronic illness.  Your mind is still willing, but the body won’t respond. I had days when just getting up and dressed was so exhausting I needed to lie down again. Keeping going, making yourself do the things that are harder than usual is a real test of character.  It also builds testimony.  Many days I could not do even what needed to be done without help.  Not physical help.  I am fortunate to have a husband that is totally devoted to providing that.  There is another kind of assistance that is available from nowhere else but God.  He can understand feelings you don’t understand yourself, bless you with answers to prayers you didn’t know you had prayed, because He loves you and knows you as an individual one of His children.  He has known you for eternity so He knows you better than you know yourself. In the extremity of illness, I learned how powerful prayer is and how much my Father in Heaven wants to help me.
When I began to recover my prints took on a different aspect.
stripes up 2     diagonal     stripes
I still could not operate heavy printing presses so I would hand-burnish prints, setting the plate in a jig to hold it still and taping the paper in place over it so that, when the energy ran out, I could leave it for ten minutes’ rest and go back to it.  The colours I chose were bright yellows and reds. The square images were simple and often linear.  When I put them in a group show with some friends someone said, ‘Ah, there’s Wendy’s happy corner!’ Oh, the joy of being able to think creatively and work again!
Now I’m wondering whether your mood affects the way you buy art, too.  Are there some paintings that you gel with more when you are feeling low? or feeling happy? Some you like to contemplate when you need to chill?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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PONDERING ON WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Looking through some old notebooks in April, I found the following:

January 2014

‘Who do I want to be? I want to be fearless in expressing my testimony through my art. I want to produce work that is excellent as well as expressive. I want my work to speak to people.

How will I do it?

I need to spend more time looking at excellent art.

I need to make more consistently. The more I make, the more likely I am to produce something really good.

Biggest obstacle? Isolation. This is because I don’t belong to any art groups, so I don’t get feedback or more opportunities to exhibit.

Why do I hesitate to share my work?

Feeling that it isn’t good enough. A habit of feeling inadequate in the company of other artists.

Why?

I feel less educated, less experienced

I feel that my work is poorer quality than others.’

Now my journal: 30 Apr 2018

In the last month I have worked more consistently and feel better for it. I have made prints I am pleased with and worked intuitively on a canvas. I have started a blog. It’s getting good feedback and lots of follows and my painting group like it and someone, whose opinion I value, finds it inspiring!

Suddenly I’m feeling more confident re my ability and work

21 June 2018

I’ve been struggling to find a way to sell my work. This has been set in motion by a class at Church on starting your business. When I started making bookart, one of my objectives was to put artworks in the hands of ordinary people. Artists such as Ed Rucha were my inspiration. Extending that to my visual art, I thought I might be able to have it printed on household objects. However, looking at the figures, they just don’t add up. I would spend so much time shipping out the product, I would have no time to make art!  So, how can I market my art?

Our class challenge this week is to make a sale. So, I am offering an original mini-print for the giveaway price of £10, with the option to buy a larger print or painting at discount price. To access this offer, go to my website at www.allenbookart.co.uk.

Selling art you have spent hours creating is a complicated emotional process. First, you worry it’s not good enough – comparing yourself to others. Then, you’ve grown so fond of it, you’re not sure you want to say goodbye! Then there’s the principle of humility versus money. Am I asking too much and, if so, am I being prideful or just proud of what I do?

And so to today. It’s been weeks since I blogged.  My mind has been bogged down with too many things but these rediscovered thoughts are niggling my brain.  I need to write to clarify what I think and how I feel.

What are my goals? Why do I do what I do? What am I trying to achieve?

The short answer is I love to create. I find it exciting to realise that I have produced something that I, as well as other people, find interesting or beautiful or expressive. But there is more to it than that. I don’t find it easy to express orally the way I feel. My books enable me to share things verbally, enhanced by images that I hope make readers ponder a little longer.

Poetry is still a fairly direct means of communication. Painting, on the other hand, is much less so. Even 18th century genre paintings were not necessarily all they seemed. Thomas Gainsborough is said to have used the form to express his dislike of land enclosures by the wealthy. However, the more abstract an image becomes, the more indirect its communication and the more it is concerned with emotion. So abstraction becomes a way to convey such personal things as faith, testimony, hope, without standing on a metaphorical soap-box.  It allows me to say what I believe to be true in a way that allows you, the observer, to think it through for yourself or even to agree, with, unless you want it, no obligation or commitment to anything.­­

That’s what I’m trying to achieve!

I hope my work – figurative, abstract, poetic, whichever genre you prefer – helps you to ponder the deeper things of the Spirit and feel the gratitude I feel to a loving Heavenly Father who designed the world for us and allows us to learn from its vicissitudes, while never leaving us to face it all alone.  We need but ask His help, opening our arms to receive the blessings He is ready to give us.

 

 

 

 

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PONDERINGS on Confidence

This week I discovered that I am a strange combination of shy and so opinionated I can’t keep my thoughts to myself!  As a small child, I was very frightened of talking to people.  I didn’t make friends easily and, because of the places we lived, I had little opportunity to learn how to interact with others. I enjoyed my own company, so I never felt this was a problem. My mother didn’t allow me to take the 6-penny bus ride into town on my own until I was thirteen, by which time I was convinced it was a dangerous place and was terrified I might get lost and have to speak to someone!

I hadn’t gained much more confidence by the time I left home at 17 but I had begun to put a few strategies in place to deal with that knot in the stomach every time a conversation loomed. I remember, some years later, when my daughter was 3 years old.  My husband’s work had taken us to a new town.  I didn’t know anybody and hadn’t even met my neighbours to speak to – strategy no. 1 – stay out of the way so no one speaks to you!

The playgroup met in the Old Independent Church up the road. I needed to enrol my 3 year-old.  How many times I walked up to that enormous oak door and raised my hand to knock, then walked away again. It took weeks before I could bring myself to knock and introduce myself. Once there, still without saying too much to anyone, I would stay and help put the tables away and before long I was asked if I would go on the committee.

A couple of years later we moved again.  Soon, the village playgroup needed a supervisor and guess who stepped up to do it! Strategy no.2 – volunteer to be at the front! and only engage in ‘factual’ conversations.  That is, only talk to people on things you know about, avoid anything ‘deep’ and never discuss feelings or needs, only opinions.

Over the years I have hidden the shyness inside me even from myself.  I think I am a pretty good listener in any one-to-one situation but starting a conversation with people I don’t know very well is still hard and phone calls are a re-run of knocking on that Church door. Lots of uncomfortable silences. I still have plenty of opinions and I like to share them, whether or not you want to hear them! I love to share things I’ve learned and I have taught many different age-groups over the years, in voluntary capacities.

So what happened this week to remind me how unconfident I am? Well, I joined a course on starting and growing a business.  It was my responsibility to set up the course and no one else wanted to facilitate the meetings, so I’m doing it. Growing stress suggested even this was less than comfortable.  Then, in the first class, we were given the Paper Clip Challenge.  You may have come across it. You take a paper clip and trade it with someone, then trade what you received for something else, and so on.  Oh my, Church door all over again! The boundary rail of my ‘comfort zone’ is so far away, I feel as though I might drown.

I have lovely neighbours and we get on well but the thought of knocking on their door to invite them to trade me something was keeping me awake at nights.  It took 3 days and some very sincere prayers to pluck up courage.  One answer to a prayer was a plan.  When my husband agreed to trade me a pepper plant I figured I could trade it next door for some eggs from their hens.

Gingerly I made my way round and managed to explain what help I needed.  The result was lots of interest and advice, a very supportive and useful conversation, oh, and 6 hen’s eggs!  How enjoyable that was. I should talk to my neighbours more often! Since then I’ve turned 4 eggs into a cake and traded it with the neighbour the other side of me, traded the other 2 eggs for some rhubarb from next-door-but-one and started the process with a third neighbour across the road. Every time there was that knot in the stomach.  I even woke at 4.30 a.m. thinking about what I needed to do. But I’ve done it!

Yesterday my daughter shared some things a 10 year-old had said in an address at Church about humility.  One thought-provoking thing was that you need self-confidence to be humble. I’ve never connected the two before but I think she’s right. When you lack confidence, you hide behind things you know you’re knowledgeable about, especially things you know more about than the people you’re talking to.  It doesn’t speak of humility when you’re trying to prove that you are someone worth conversing with, instead of simply showing an interest in those you are with.  So I would add to self-confidence, self-esteem.  I think they are are more closely connected than we realise.

I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbours and the good advice they’ve shared with me.  I’m also thankful to the gentleman who purchased one of my framed prints at the Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop exhibition last week.  When I heard that he had looked all round and chosen mine as his favourite, both my self-esteem and my confidence grew.  I hope the experiences I’m having on this course will help me develop both and I hope that will make me a nicer person to know.  At least, perhaps I’ll like myself better! and who knows, maybe I’ll find better ways of getting my art ‘out there’ and influencing more people’s lives for good.

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The print I sold last week. One of my favourites, too!
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PONDERINGS on light

Light is an interesting subject. Without it, there is no colour and no way of seeing.  Sunlight, or an approximation of it, is essential to plant germination and growth and thus to human life.  Light is the visible evidence of energy. Its associated heat causes evaporation that becomes rain to keep plants growing and enables us to hydrate.  Without light, we could not identify things, people or even ourselves.

The 19th century saw both scientists and artists developing a fascination with the theory behind colour and light. In their attempts to portray what the eye really registers, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists employed ever more scientific methods to juxtapose colour and cause the eye to see things differently. Michel Eugene Chevreul’s book,  The Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast (1839), influenced artists such as Delacroix who employed complementary colours to enliven his images. Monet, painting the same object at many different times of day to observe the changes effected by light, yet employed the theory of complementary hues to give intensity of colour.  Cezanne’s many depictions of his favourite mountain exemplify these pseudo-scientific applications and Seurat’s and the Divisionists’ placing of dots of pure colour to coalesce in the viewer’s eye is directly attributable to a simplified understanding of Chevreul’s theory.

One colour, viewed beside another, is changed in intensity, hue or tone. I use a slider of green threaded through three swatches of colour to illustrate just how different the same green can look when juxtaposed with complementary or analogous hues. When we first had our conservatory, I tried taking photographs in there, forgetting that we had tinted glass! After several attempts to get an image true to its colours, I realised that the tint, although not noticeable to my eye, affected the photographic reproduction. Similarly, only a day-light simulating bulb will illuminate a painting in its true colours.

In much the same way as light affects colour, colour affects mood.  We experience this phenomenon every time the sun comes out and colours warm up.  It makes us feel better.  There is more energy in the air when the sun shines!  A room painted blue feels cooler than the same room with yellow walls. Yet the temperature is actually the same. Which brings me back to truth.

‘Let’s shed some light on it’ is a familiar expression meaning to explain the truth about something. Yet the light one individual casts on a subject might be at odds with that of another.  Just as the appearance of Monet’s haystacks changed as the angle of the light changed, so ‘light’ being cast from my angle may produce a different ‘take’ from that emanating from your viewpoint. Which is true?

In all probability, they both are, each reflecting a different aspect of the truth about that topic or object. Unfortunately, we seldom take this into account when assessing the opinions of others and contention ensues. I have been so guilty of this for most of my life. it has taken me seven decades to understand that there are other views than my own that are, or at least, may be, equally valid!

When designing an image we consider forms, tones, hues, attempting to arrange them into an harmonious composition. We try to balance the dark areas against the light, knowing the one will make the other stronger. A balanced view, like a balanced painting, is a harmonising view. Allowing others’ ideas to have some validity as well as, or in spite of, our own is the way to a life filled with light. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

A friend had an appointment to have a minor operation the other day but when she got in to see the Registrar she was told she had been sent to the wrong doctor and needed to see a Consultant before the operation could be performed. She received the news with equanimity in spite of her disappointment. The Registrar asked if she was alright, wasn’t she angry? This dear woman told her that there was no point in being angry and anyway, it wasn’t her fault. The Doctor said that she had expected a ‘shouting and slanging match’ to ensue because that is what had happened to her before.  How sad that we should react in such negative ways to people are only trying their best to help us and what a wonderful example of the light of Christ my friend was that day.

One of the great things about light is that it makes things visible and more comprehensible.  In the light we can see things for what they really are and the ogres of the night turn out to be shadows of our imagination. To bring more light to the world, we, too, need to be who we really are, not some figment of social media imagination or our own dreamscape.  Socrates wrote:

‘The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be.’

 

 

 

 

PONDERINGS on making mistakes

Congratulations to those who spotted the error in my last posting! No, it wasn’t Scientology. It was Theosophy. Oh dear. Fancy making such a public mistake confused face.


It set me pondering though, this time on the value of making mistakes.

I recall learning to ride my bike. How ever hard I tried, I could never keep it upright long enough to turn the pedal.  Then we moved house and the boy next door invited me to try riding his father’s racer across the field. Every time I wobbled he somehow held the bike, and me, upright.  He pointed out what I was doing wrong each time and, being a ten year old boy, he simply did not believe I couldn’t do it. I think it was because he believed in me that I did too. I couldn’t reach the ground so I was in danger of falling off many times but, by the end of the day, I could ride a bike! 

Maths lessons were rather similar. I’m not sure I made the same use of my errors there, though there were many of them, since I still have trouble keeping track of numbers. Nevertheless, it is mistakes that help us learn. Mixing the wrong two varieties of red and blue and finding instead of purple, you have brownish grey is a quicker way of learning than memorising colour charts and, as often as Mum says to two year old, ‘Don’t touch, it’s hot’, trying it and feeling the hurt is what really helps him remember.

According to the Bible, we’re supposed to become perfect.  So why, you might ask, are we sent here in such a fallible condition?  Why can’t we be born knowing everything, understanding everything?  It would be so much easier.  Wouldn’t it?

Have you ever sat through a lecture on a subject you are already very familiar with and found your eyes glazing over, your mind going into day-dream mode and, before you know it, the session is over and you leave feeling the whole thing was a waste of time?  I think life without the opportunity to make mistakes would be a bit like that.

On the other hand, if during that lecture, something wakes you up.  You might hear the familiar topic being described in ways you hadn’t thought of before.  Life’s failures can be the wake up we need, the means of seeing things with a new perspective.  Through them we may learn empathy and gain a sympathetic understanding that enables us to bless the lives of others. Perhaps its not so much the error as its consequence that is the teaching moment.  

Each misstep or stumble provides the opportunity to reassess how we place our feet, to determine new directions, find a way of performing better and getting further than we have before. Few mistakes are terminal. Mostly they just show us where we need to learn a bit more or take a bit more care. So next time I cite an historic fact, I’ll check my sources before I publish winking face .  Enjoy your mistakes, miscalculations, blunders, wobbles and other aberrations this week and may you learn some truly life-changing things!

Ponderings on understanding art

A friend told me the other day she had looked at the image of my print from all directions but couldn’t understand it.  It made me think.

First of all, do I understand it?

Sometimes the art I make is so intuitive, especially when I’m printmaking, that I may not be really clear why I like it or even what it’s about!
All I do know is, where it began. So, first of all, here’s the print again. All things counter -matted

 

And here’s where it began.

sketchbook page
The tulip was drawn twice on the left, at different angles and then the main lines picked out and refined.

Basically, it’s a stylised tulip flower with splayed leaves, simplified for the purpose of printing with stencils. My original plan was a composite print made up of quadrants and I made a couple of those, but when you’ve used a stencil on top of wet ink, it picks up the ink on its reverse.  It is just too tempting to use that by printing the piece on another, or even the same sheet of paper, with the inky side down. This reverses its position and starts a whole new creative process!  Before this stem was yellow, (see below), it was used as a stencil to block out purple.  Printed in reverse in became a purple stem.  Instead of printing it on a clean sheet, I printed it over a print that hadn’t worked very well and, with the addition of some other inky stencils, some using drier ink or less pressure, the image began to take shape. I liked the balance of colour and shape, so it was a ‘keeper’.  Obviously someone else liked it, too!

 

dav
one quadrant of the composite print showing the stem part.

So, knowing where it came from might help, but it could be that knowing too much can spoil it since it might not say ‘tulip’ or ‘spring flowers’ to you!

Appreciating art, whether it is abstract or not, has to do with feeling as much as seeing.  I asked my neighbours what prompted them to buy works of art and the universal response was, ‘because I like it!’

 

One of my neighbours described for me a painting she had bought many years ago, ‘because she liked it’. Words such as ‘it reminded me’, ‘it looked like…’, ‘the colours were nice’, didn’t really describe the image.  They were her feelings about it, the memories or associations it evoked.  You see, liking a piece of art really has little to do with what it depicts.

I have a shelf full of ‘art books’, literally hundreds of reproductions of famous art-works. My journey into art began with books borrowed from the library.  Reading the background helped me see that there was more to abstract art than meets the eye.  Yes, that is what I meant to say!

At college, I was introduced to the work of Abstract Expressionist artists such as Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning in reproduction.  We looked at images of their work and learned a bit about the purposes and origins of the movement.  Rothko I could live with and liked some of his colour combos, colour being ‘my thing’. The others I wasn’t so sure about and Pollock I wrote off altogether. Years later, I went to  the Abstract Expressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I walked into the rotunda and was stunned.  It was wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling (because that’s how big they are) Rothko’s. I stood in awe, dazed by the intensity of colour but also the intensity of feeling.  It was as though the paint came off the canvas and enveloped me. I didn’t want to leave.  But there were other things to see.  Wending my way round the exhibition, I found the de Koonings underwhelming compared to their reproductions I had seen.  Then I came to a wall of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.  I was going to walk quickly past, giving them a cursory glance.  After all, these weren’t real art were they? But I kept getting drawn to one here, another there.  There was more depth in them than I expected. They are quite measured in the application of those seemingly random drops.  They seemed to be saying something.  I still wouldn’t necessarily want to live with one, but now it is because of the disturbing feelings they provoke rather than because I don’t like them or understand them.  Rothko and Pollock were both influenced by Scientology which suggests that everything is spiritual and so, like Wassily Kandinsky they were concerned with the spiritual in art. The image was nothing if it did not embody and invoke feeling.

This is true of all forms of artistic expression.  I remember being overwhelmed when I first saw one of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ in the flesh. I realised that he wasn’t just depicting flowers in his garden.  He was trying to convey to us how they made him feel.  Music, too, has the power to transcend the notes on the page.  A youthful member of our congregation brought tears as she played her cello for us in Church on Sunday.  I felt the Spirit because she did, too, and so had the composer.  Art is a powerful thing.  That is why it has been used, or misused, as propaganda throughout the last century and before.

So I think I have two messages here.  One is obviously, don’t write off an unfamiliar form of art without letting it ‘speak’ to you in person.  The other is, don’t write off your own artistic endeavours, be they drawing or playing the piano, because they are not perfect reproductions of your subject or score. The more important question is, ‘Do they say something about you? Do they share the way you feel about the thing you are depicting or performing?’  Doesn’t look like a dog?  Don’t worry. Sometimes even a dog doesn’t look like a dog, especially when it’s really excited by something!