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.

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


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 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!)


Ponderings on Persistence and Pliability

The one I didn't like

This is the one I didn’t like! Based on photos of a journey, I had an idea in my mind but I hadn’t resolved it properly in my head before I attempted to put it on canvas.

Sounds like the story of my life!  How often I launch into something without really knowing where I intend to end up. Like filling the sink to wash the dishes, realising the hob needs serious cleaning, then finding the floor could do with mopping and, hey presto! the morning has gone and I haven’t even opened the studio door!

This picture no longer exists in this form. I tried refining it, staying true to the original idea of a journey. I added collaged texture and modelling paste and modified the colour.  Remembering that the bridge went over a river, I brought the river in front of it, obliterating some of that ghastly purple brown that dominated everything. First there was too much green; then, too much blue; then colours and shapes didn’t balance.   The traffic boards became subsumed into layers of over-painting and everything became very dark.

Returning to the similarities to life, have you ever struggled to make something of a course of action that really wasn’t going anywhere?  You work harder, you work smarter, you stumble, apologise, go back to doing the same things better but they still don’t work.  Like my painting, nothing improves it.  If anything, it gets worse. 

I had bought some acrylic inks.  They come in bottles with a dropper in the lid.  One day, in exasperation, I used the droppers to drip ink onto the painting and let it run. What fun!  I could turn the canvas and make the ink run where I wanted it to go!

Another day, another experiment – this time acrylic spray paint, lightening some of the areas that had become too dark with a film of buff titanium dots. It stood on the easel, upside down, for a few weeks while I got on with other jobs.  Every time I looked at it, I liked it less.  Okay, I thought, I’ve got a minute, I’ll cover it with something bright.  I grabbed my current favourite colour and a large brush and sploshed yellow circles straight from the tube then left it for another day. It was no longer an image of a journey.  It had become something else altogether.

Sometimes a change of direction is necessary. A completely new way of looking at the situation can lead to a solution we hadn’t noticed was there.

Meanwhile, I went back to printmaking, inspired by the opportunity to exhibit with Gainsborough’s House Printmakers in May. I had been told it was possible to use a hobby die-cut machine as a mini etching press so I decided to have a go.  After some experiments to find the right pressure , adding and subtracting layers of blanket, a few of the results are interesting.  My machine is small, less than A5, so I cut poly-carbonate blocks as squares and rectangles that would fit. Some of the square prints work individually, while two sets of four form a composite, mounted together.  Two of the rectangular ones will be framed, too.  ­­­These two below , ‘All Things Counter’ and ‘Point and Counterpoint’ are destined for the exhibition.  The latter is already in its frame. (Photographed at a bit of an angle and through glass, sorry about that, but you get the idea).



All Things Counter
All Things Counter
Point and counterpoint-cropped
Point and Counterpoint



Feeling satisfied with my efforts, I turned to that painting again and, surprisingly, it didn’t look so bad.

I  kept looking at it for several days.  Since I quite liked it now, I did some more work on it.  It still has a way to go but I think it has a future! Even if it has nothing to do with travelling anymore, it has certainly been on a journey.

The one I didn’t like, Stage 3!

Sometimes life throws things like this our way. Plans we had go wrong.  Things that were supposed to be perfect turn out to need a bit more work than we realised. If I have learned anything from the last few weeks it is:

Keep going. Don’t give up because something looks irretrievable.
On the other hand, don’t get stuck going down the wrong road!
When you feel inspired to change track and do things differently, go for it,
you never know what might result!
That hopeless situation might just turn out to be the start of something great.



    The wizened dry flakes of seeming nothingness fall into my palm.  There is little to suggest life, yet I bury them in the compost, gently covering them with soil, and give them water. What an act of faith!
It may be days or even weeks before anything happens in that tray, but I will keep them warm and damp, in hope of fruit to come.
    My ability to draw was like those seeds.  ‘You will never be an artist’, rang in my ears from the day the art teacher uttered them to a 14 year old me.  I wonder if she ever sowed seeds …  Each of us comes with innate characteristics, but some of them take a while to shape up and become recognisable to us.  Just like my quietly germinating plants, bulking up in the dark earth, talents and abilities feed on our surroundings, relationships and opportunities, growing slowly.
    It takes patience to work out what we are capable of becoming, patience and nurturing, just like my seeds.  I remember one year, we found some very old seed beans in an envelope, put in a safe place and forgotten.  They had been there for years but we decided to give them growing space.  With warmth and water almost every one germinated and provided us with delicious green beans in the summer.  It is never too late to develop your own personal talents.
    This is a season of new growth. My primroses have come into flower again.  The rosemary bush has tiny blossoms.  Daffodils are following the crocuses. It is also a time of dying as the snowdrops and aconites have played their part and retired. It’s not a final goodbye, of course, they will come again next year, to raise my spirits in the gloom of winter and bring new hope.
    Spring brings fluffy chicks and ducklings, hatched from another thing that looks dead and yet harbours life. An egg looks like a stone but when the time is right, a tap, tap, tap heralds new life.  This weekend is also the season of Easter eggs.  As a young friend explained to me, ‘the shell is like a tomb and when the chick comes out, it’s like the resurrection.’  Another friend, just 8 years old, told me why he didn’t want to come to the Easter Egg Hunt. ‘It’s okay,’ he said, ‘but it’s not what Easter is all about.’
    No, indeed.  Easter is not just about chocolate.  It’s about remembering with sadness and looking forward with joy.  It is the story of a man with divinity in His genes, who ‘went about doing good’ and then gave His life so that we could have the opportunity to live forever. It is my belief that, because of Jesus, we have the chance repentance brings, to be forgiven by God for our mistakes, weaknesses and wrongdoing.  The sadness is for the agony it cost Jesus to take the punishment that should have been ours.  But joy came on the third day, the first Easter Sunday, when He who had been buried rose to life again, the first of us all to be resurrected.
    So, when you bury seeds in the earth this spring, remember there is One who loves you so much He died for you.  Then, as your seedlings grow, remember that because of Him, you and all those you love will live again one day.  And start to nurture those hidden talents, too.  Who knows what they might grow into!

PONDERINGS on faith and art

pexels-photo-753619.jpegWhat a fascinating, and sometimes frightening, planet we live on!  Natural phenomena become ever more horrific in their effects.  Long-accepted ‘verities’ are more frequently challenged as scientists ‘disprove’ the things we thought we knew or yet another ‘political correctness’ is invented.  The digital age has dawned and is flourishing. The expansion in communications capabilities has changed our experience of the world, as well as producing a new and different milieu for artistic expression.
The News is available 24/7 and tells us constantly of ‘what is’, and it is almost always depressing. Everyone’s economy is unstable and no one knows whom to blame next.
It seems that everything around us is in constant flux and personal as well as corporate stress is the condition in which we live.
So what is the future for art?
What is left for art to do? Is it even relevant to make art in today’s environment of disposable everything?
I believe that art has never been more relevant.  Perhaps the growing popularity of paint as a medium, when critics told us, ‘Painting is dead’, is evidence that artists need to express themselves in images, however abstract.  When every spoken word has to be filtered through ‘will it offend?’, we need artists who can share their ideals in other ways.
40,000 years ago a person took a piece of soft stone and drew an animal on the wall of a cave. Those who know theorise that the drawing had mystical or religious significance, invoking the help of the gods in satisfying the hunger of the community. So, perhaps,  began the association of art with the expression of personal and community faith. Is this not something we still need to do?
Reading the descriptions, the ‘architect’s plans’, for the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus, one is struck by the intricate artistic detail required and the symbolism involved.   From knobs and candlesticks with carved plant forms to rich embroidery on the curtains and fabrics died in glorious colours, it was a place suited to the worship of the Divine Creator and a reminder of the covenants the worshippers had made.
At some historical periods, the expression of faith in images was essential.  From the overwhelming beauty of the Sistine Chapel to the simple murals in parish churches, artists and their commissioners, shared their understanding with those who would see.  When the general populace could not read, and the Bible was not written in their language anyway, the only way they could learn the gospel was through paintings on the walls of churches.  Those that survive in the parish churches of Britain show how medieval painters attempted to relate the Bible stories to the everyday experience of the congregation, helping people see that it applied to them, too.
It could be said that, whatever an artist’s ‘faith’ might be, it is expressed in the art produced.  Whether it be a Surrealists’ belief in the importance of dreams, a Rothko- or Kandinsky- like obsession with colour, or the expression of a particular religious belief, traces are visible in the work an artist makes.  Where there is no spiritual faith, scientific exploration of form or colour takes its place. Science is still a belief system.
Whether you worship in a mosque, a cathedral or a chapel, the architecture is designed to lift your eyes to heaven.  In this age of despair, depression, violence and sadness, surely art needs to do that more than ever.  The time for showing people how awful the world is, has passed.  It is now made obvious through perpetual imagery on the media.
Now we need artists who can create work that shows us how things can be and helps us want to, and know how to, do something about it.
We need to be reminded of the sheer beauty of things.  The delicacy, yet strength of daffodils in the snow, the elegance of a bird in flight, or simply the beauty of colours and the way they make us feel, these are things the artist can show us how to see.  They will lift our hearts as we understand that some things don’t change and there are still actions we can take to make sure they continue to uplift us.
verge -detail -2You don’t have to be a dreamer or a romantic to believe there is a fundamental beauty to life. Even in our darkest hours, the sight of new Spring flowers or a new-born baby reminds us that the things that really matter are unchanging and worth celebrating.  Don’t think you have to be a Michelangelo either.  There is also art in the kind word, the friendly smile, taking time to help. We can all make the world a little bit more beautiful, wherever we are. As artists, let us not be afraid to express the beliefs that are fundamental to our individual being, just because someone says it is ‘out-moded’, ‘archaic’ or ‘irrelevant’.  Whether you place your faith in God, in Science or in Self, shout it out in images of uplifting beauty and colour.  Let us move forward determined to raise each person’s eyes to what CAN be!

PONDERINGS on talents

What talents do you have? The word ‘talent’ is an interesting one.  Originally the name for a piece of money, our transference of the meaning stems from efforts to apply the teachings of Jesus to the lives of ordinary people.  He spoke of three men, each given a number of talents to administer while their employer was absent. When he came back, he asked for an accounting.  Two had used the money wisely and made profit on it.  The third, afraid that he might lose it, had buried his talent and was only able to give back the same amount.
Again the question – what talents do you have? I have heard so many say, ‘I don’t have any talents’. the fact is, each of us has a talent of some kind.  We may never become a great painter, singer or actor.  We may never write an award winning novel or discover a life-changing scientific truth. But there are other talents than those that win public accolades. Some have a talent for caring.  Others have the knack of putting people at ease. I have a friend who, in spite of severe pain, can always raise a smile.  That’s a talent, too.
For some of us, the talent we have lies dormant within us because we have never had, or taken,  the opportunity to develop it.  It isn’t always easy to recognise what we are capable of doing.  Sometimes it remains hidden from the world because we are afraid to fail.
Developing a talent takes courage, determination, vision, hard work and imagination. It often involves doing something we know we can do but doing it differently.  The story is told of a group of people who determined that they could make some money by buying sacks of rice from the farmer, dividing them into kilo packs and selling them at the market.  Each sack held 10 kilos so they divided the amount they paid for it by 10 and that was what they charged. At the end of the day, they went to buy more rice and found, of course, they had made no profit.  One said to the others, ‘I think we need to buy more sacks!’
A silly story, yet failing to work with the talents we have is a bit like not adding a profit to our product.  The increment we need to add is effort. I have had students come to me saying, ‘I can’t draw, but I’ve always wished I could.’  My response is always, ‘ If you wish you could, you can’. I am usually proved right. Once they start working, instead of just wishing, miracles happen!
Each of us learns quite early how to wield a pen to sign our name.  Our signature evolves over time until it may become something almost unintelligible but still representing us.  The only difference between a flourishing signature and a masterful drawing is the extension of ‘hand-eye co-ordination’ to include training the eye to really look.
A failure to develop a latent talent is often down to a lack of tools.  I struggled with maths at school and never did really get the hang of it. Until, that is, I started to work in the classroom of a middle school maths teacher. I heard her talk about ‘number bonds’, not something taught when I was at school.  Gradually, as I applied this new tool, mental arithmetic became easier and the relationships between numbers began to make sense.  I will never be as fast at adding up as my Dad, who could beat the calculator every time, but I can do something now that I couldn’t do before, because I have the right tools.
Each of us has within us the ability to be more than  we are.  We are the progeny of a Creator whose talents are evident in the world around us.  He is an artist of superlative talent who designed butterflies, dragonflies, birds and infinite varieties of flowers and animals.  He appreciates beautiful music.  Just listen to the songs of the birds on a Spring morning or the babbling of water trickling over pebbles or the thunderous crescendo of storm-blown waves. He is the supreme scientist, who knew how to bring materials together to coalesce in the explosive union that  produced a planet with the right conditions for life. Look at mountains and the effects of erosion on rocks, the movement of tectonic plates that threw up the mountains. You begin to sense His astounding engineering skill. With all this in our DNA, how can we not have creative abilities within us?  Give yourself time.  Make the opportunities. Develop the germ of godhood in your soul and find the joy that comes from your kind of creativity.