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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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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.

 

 

 

 

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!

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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.

all-things-counter-matted.jpg
The print I sold last week. One of my favourites, too!

PONDERINGS ON being bird-brained!

digWe have bird-feeders suspended from brackets on the fence outside our window. They are frequently used by starlings, robins, dunnocks, sparrows, blue-tits and long-tailed tits. Last summer though, we were amazed to see a large rook from the rookery along the lane, trying to use the seed feeder. Finding he couldn’t cling to it like the little birds do, he perched on the fence above it. After a few seconds, he put one claw out gingerly to touch the feeder.  Soon he had worked out how to balance with one foot on the fence, one on the feeder, so he could get his beak into the seed opening! Are birds really ‘bird-brained’ or do they have the capacity for rational thought?  The answer is, of course they do.  How else would a robin recognise your gardening as a chance of a meal, or a seagull know that ploughing is a good time to find dinner inland? or a swallow know when it’s time to migrate?  Wikipedia tells us: ‘Intelligence is most widely studied in humans but has also been observed in both non-human animals and in plants’.  Every living thing has a little portion of intelligence, just as every human being does.  What we do with that is down to us but each time we exercise it to solve a problem or learn something new, it grows. That’s how your adorable toddler became an equally adorable 😉 teenager!

Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.  All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. (Doctrine & Covenants 93: 29-30)

What a wonderful principle! Each of us has the opportunity to increase our capacity for rational and creative thought and the possibility of deciding for ourselves how we use it. The ability to think is the essence of our existence.

As women, we take pride in being able to multi-task and, to be frank, through most of our lives it’s a skill we could not survive without! It has its down-sides though. When you’re stirring a saucepan with the phone on your shoulder and an eye on the clock because you need to get to work, there isn’t much time for thought, rational or otherwise.  Then on TV that evening, you watch someone cooking a fabulous meal and telling you how simple it is and you think – but it isn’t rational, or creative thought –  you think, ‘Why can’t I do that? I’m rubbish.’

Gary L. Stevenson, speaking in an international Conference last October , showed a photo shared on social media.  It was a picture of a plate of cakes, or at least, half a plate was visible, apparently on a spotless table, by implication in a pristine kitchen.  Then he showed the uncropped version of the image, in which a screaming baby sat in a high chair just behind the table and there were utensils and flour everywhere!  Elder Stevenson said,

‘Comparing our own seemingly average existence with others’ well-edited, perfectly crafted lives as represented on social media may leave us with feelings of discouragement, envy, and even failure.’

How true that is. I’m sure it isn’t restricted to female experience.  Every one of us is constantly encouraged to compare ourselves to others.  Not others like us, of course, but others who seem so much more adept at everything.  Yet, you are unique.  There is no one else on earth exactly like you.  So it follows that no one else could be as good at being you as you are!  Dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, said:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any medium and be lost. The world will not have it.”

As I pondered these things, I realised what a privilege it is to have had the opportunities life has provided me. There were those chance encounters that enabled me to develop the talents I was born with but didn’t initially recognise; the opportunity to be a parent, to have been entrusted with the development of God’s precious children and watch their innate mental agility grow and mature; the many small but significant experiences that have shown me that life is more than mere mortality and I have a loving Father in Heaven who listens to and answers my prayers.

More mundanely, how very lucky we are to be able to spend even a few minutes, at an easel, thinking of nothing but painting.  I’m grateful for the space making art gives me to grow a portion of that eternal intelligence that will be a part of me forever; to ponder; to learn; to remember and create new memories; to develop a deeper appreciation for the magnificent world we inhabit during this earthly life.

So, bird-brained I might be, and I am certainly no genius, but intelligent? You bet!  May any feelings of discouragement or failure disappear this week as you realise your own unique contribution to the collective beauty of the world and immerse yourself in creative thought and creative activity! (oh, and don’t forget to feed the birds!)