The girl in the sea

Back in February I did a course about poetry and paintings. One if the exercises was to imagine yourself in a painting. I couldn’t immediately think of any paintings so I was writing myself into an imaginary one, but here it is:

The girl in the sea

She is knee deep in riptides
angry greys and blues and browns
swirl round her feet.
Dark cliffs loom behind her

merging with heavy storm-
filled clouds.

I am hot, sticky and oppressed
by the humidity of a city summer.
My blue cotton dress reflects
off the protective glass
and I threaten to overwhelm her.

I step closer
squeeze beneath the gilt frame,
between glass and oils
and sink into her world.
Breathing with relief for a second
as the cool air embraces me.
Then icy spray
spits at my bare arms
leaving goosebumps.

I should have chosen that picnic scene
in the last room;
the one with glasses of wine
and the glow of autumnal gold.

The girl still stares towards the horizon
knee deep water becomes waist deep
and I become afraid.
The sea is untamed and will think
nothing of taking her as prey.

I don’t think I can save her.

Poetry about paintings

On Saturday I attended a course about writing poetry based on paintings. It’s not something I’ve ever tried before but my poetry group was going and it looked interesting.

Most of my writing wasn’t great but then I was writing about very different subjects to normal. Throughout the day we wrote about being part of a painting, about moving into or out of a painting, about meeting the artist and being the person who was posing. It produced some fun experiments and got me outside of my normal thinking which is always beneficial.

For a couple of my exercises, I chose to think about a cave painting of a bison.

If I could paint like the cave woman…

…you would see animals dancing across the rock
…you would feel the beat of your heart
crash with each thrash of hoof

I would show you the creativity of nature
so you want to reach into the stone
and pull out your own magic
– personal, powerful, empowering

and then you, you
could create your own universe
with your own mystical imaginings

I want to be like the cave woman

I want to be like the cave woman
feeling the rock and knowing
that’s where the spirit of horse
or bear or bison lay
& knowing how to release them
from their prison of stone.

I want to be like the cave woman
who knows earth, and air,
and stone as kin
& the plants that crowd the forest floor
as well as she knows her child.

But I reach out in the dark
of my bedroom, not cave,
to the untamed sculpture
that is my bed
with its heap of books
and phone chargers
searching for the lamp switch.

I could never be without my sacred
night space, it’s coccoon of safety
edged with fleece and teddy bears
and the convienece of electricity
that the cave woman could never have dreamt of

I want to be like the cave woman.
I want to know my home and land
with the intimacy that comes from survival,
but with the comforts that turn survival
into certainty and in doing so,
render the relationship
between the land and me
nul and void.

Art with chronic pain

Sometimes it surprises people how much art I do given how much pain my hands are in everyday.  One of the reasons I can do art is because I dip in and out throughout the day rather than sitting down and doing an hour of it.  Having a dedicated space in my flat really helps with this as I can leave things in mid-progress.  There are other things I’ve discovered over the last few years that I thought might be helpful to share.  They may or may not help other people but I’d love to hear other tips as well.

  • Choose your medium carefully.  Watercolour involves too many stages for me so I use ink to get a similar effect for less work.
  • I use acrylics a lot but I mix them with a bit of water to make them smoother to apply.
  • Think about how you’re going to open paints and get ones which will be easier.  I got some lovely acrylics but the lids are a nightmare so I can only use them if someone is around to help.
  • Good quality paintbrushes make things much easier.  I have a few that are for children but are reasonable quality and I also use chunky handled brushes as they are easier to hold.
  • If you struggle with holding pencils, try different kinds.  I got a set of art pencils and promptly got rid of them as they weren’t for me. Instead I use learn to write pencils with push up lead as they are easier to hold and are always sharp.  For both pencils and paintbrushes, you might want to try the foam hand grip stuff to make them chunkier.
  • Think about how you’re holding pens and pencils and paintbrushes and how hard you’re gripping them.

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  • As well as sharp pencils, good quality paper makes a difference if you’re sketching or drawing.  My favourite is daler rowney mixed media pads.
  • Watercolour pens are a really nice option as they get bold colour on the page with the stroke of a pen and you can then come in with a wet paintbrush and soften or change the effect.
  • Not to be confused with a water pen which is also nice and as well as putting water in to use with watercolour pens, you can put ink in and sometimes this gives a bit more precision.
  • If you can, mix it up and use your non dominant hand as well!
  • Forget implements all together and get your fingers stuck into the paint!
  • Take lots of breaks.  I work in layers a lot so I have to let them dry anyway.
  • Think about the set up of your work space.  Most of us know how we should set up our computer workspace (even if we don’t actually follow through) and the same sorts of things should be taken into account when doing art.
  • Craft knives may be better or worse than scissors, try one and see.  And if you prefer scissors, look around.  I use a pair that doesn’t need too much effort because their natural position is open.
  • Think about size – are you doing a lot of stretching to reach the top of the canvas?
  • Think about digital art – there are lots of apps for phones and tablets and these might provide a different style of art and relieve your hands at the same time.

rowntree park

At the end of the day, if you’re looking to draw or paint or whatever, you’re probably at least a little bit creative and so if you start to think outside the box you’ll find ways that work for you.

I know I have many more things I want to add to this post so I’ll probably keep it as a bit of a work in progress and just keep adding things as I remember…!

What’s your creative process?

Knowing your creative process is really about knowing yourself. Taking the time to engage in self-reflection is a powerful way to cultivate your creativity—and to live a fulfilling, meaningful life.

From Make A Mess: Everyday Creativity

The article includes a list of questions to help you explore your creative process:

  • What is your ideal working environment? Home, library, cafe?
    Because of my pain, I have to write on my laptop which limits me to home.  That said, I did get a keyboard with my new tablet and whilst I don’t think I’ll be able to type for long it might open up public spaces.  I used to write everywhere and anywhere, back when I could write by hand.  When it comes to art and craft, because of the materials involved, at home is generally best although I have started doing a little bit of art in public.  This week for example, I did some work in my art journal using watercolour pens and a water pen whilst I was having coffee.

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  • What do you see, smell and feel in this ideal environment? Firstly, my sense of smell is awful so it’s not a sense I really notice much… There would be little details of beauty, flowers or the way the light shines on the trees.  I like the outside but I am always cold so somewhere inside with a good view would be best.  I would feel safe, safe enough to actually create and write.  There would need to be a very precise number of people – too many and I’m overwhelmed, too few and I feel like I’m under a microscope.
  • Do you need to be surrounded by inspiration? Or do you prefer super simple, even stark spaces to create? Probably somewhere in between.  Too messy and I find I get stressed and anxious, unless it’s a work in progress kind of mess where I know where everything is.  Too stark and I feel stiffled.  I have a table which has my art stuff and my laptop on.  There’s lots of materials and bits of paper and it looks a mess most of the time but I tend to know where everything is and because I live alone (and my cleaner and carers have strict instructions not to touch my table) it works.

  • Do you prefer to work in silence? Do you need a playlist or white noise? I need some noise.  Nothing too specific otherwise I get distracted by lyrics or the mood of the music.  The sound of a cafe would be good I think.  Although not a noisy cafe.  Loud noise makes me anxious and on edge.
  • Do you prefer to have deadlines? Do they motivate or paralyse you? I don’t know.  To be honest because I am an amateur artist and writer I’ve never really had deadlines.  The only deadlines I’ve really had is when I’m working on something I want to gift to someone and I tend to allow plenty of time for that.

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  • Do you need weeks of lead time? I do find that I will have an idea and it will mull around in the back of my mind for a while until it becomes more concrete.  That said, I also have days where an idea comes more formed and I jump right in.
  • Do you prefer to work slowly or quickly? Maybe it depends. If it does, what does it depend onI have to work slowly because I have chronic hand pain.  A lot of my art is made up of layers.  I can do a bit, then rest, then a bit more. This is a technique I have developed to overcome my desire to keep working and then ending up not able to do anything for days…
  • What tends to distract you, to take you away from your work? Pain, low energy levels and depression are the main reasons I stop creating.  Lack of inspiration is another.  I also find I am more likely to procrastinate with writing than with art.
  • What’s your favourite part of the creative process? Getting ideas and feeling in flow.  I also love using recycled materials, rubbish, in my art.  I find delight in making books from amazon packaging or using empty sellotape rolls to print with.

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  • What challenges do you run into? Time, pain, energy, lacking inspiration…
  • What are some solutions for these challenges? For inspiration I find its creating regularly.  Creating creates creativity.  So good habits are important.  When it comes to my art journal, I tend to do a page most days but I’m careful not to insist on everyday otherwise if I miss a day I feel bad and the more days I miss the harder it is to go back.  I’m still working on solutions when it comes to writing but I schedule time into my diary and try not to procrastinate my way out of it.  I also only write for 10-20 minutes at a time.  Partly because of pain but also because otherwise I find I write a lot and then stop when I get stuck.  This means when I come back to write more, I am still stuck and it’s so much harder to then get started.  I’ve also had a few projects on the go and from the start decided they would be long term.  This means I always have something to dip into.
  • What are your least favourite ways to work? Hmm… I don’t know!  Maybe under strict instructions?  I don’t like being told what to do.  I’ve been doing an online course this year and some of the videos are giving inspiration and techniques but others have been very prescriptive, down to which supplies you use and colours.  I don’t want to make something that’s already been made…
  • When are you most energised and inspired? I don’t really know.. I guess when my pain levels are managed and my fatigue isn’t too bad…

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  • When are you in the zone? What does being in the zone feel like? What kinds of conditions help you enter your zone? Again, I don’t really know.  I think a lot depends on pain and energy levels but being surrounded by inspiring and interesting objects as well as doing things like the online wanderlust course help.  As I’ve said before, creating creates creativity.  The more you do, the more you get inspired.
  • Why do you create? I create to process things and express myself.  I create because it’s therapeutic.  I create because seeing something woven by your hands is a powerful feeling.  I create for the satisfaction of making.

Trees: a year long project

So this year I have had a tree project running along in the background.  Dipping into it now and then, pondering it when I awake in the night, looking out for ideas in my day to day life.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  Having a longer term project on the go.  And I like the seasonality of it.

So far we’ve had:

Spring – a large canvas collage and mini tree book as well as research and idea storming

Summer – a deck of tree oracle cards made from photos, some taken this year, others taken previously

Autumn – this is stil in progress but the hope is it will turn into something along the lines of:

using leaves that I’ve preserved using glycerin

Winter – currently unclear but quite possibly involving sticks…

And next year I’m thinking butterflies, breaking it down into eggs, caterpillers, metamorphosis and butterflies.  Have you ever looked at butterfly eggs?  They’re suprisingly beautiful and intriguing.  I’m trying not to jump ahead and start now although I do have a pinterest board where I am collecting images.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the heady fun of new ideas and abandon existing projects…!

Personal strategies for living a good life

One of the last sections of my Future Learn course is around personal strategies for living a good life with an impairment.

“Because disability studies collects a huge range of impairments, each of which are experienced differently in everyday life and have different impairment effects, there is no end to the personal strategies people with impairments use to support a good life.”

That being said, it does suggest some examples; community, the spoon theory as a means of helping people understand and mindfulness.

I started to respond with my own personal strategies but ran out of space so I thought I’d carry on over here and invite your ideas and strategies as well.

Community

Online community is a huge way I cope with things. I blog and use twitter to “meet” other people with my condition which helps me feel understood as well as having people to offer helpful tips such as what bottle opener works best. These friends also understand the impact of society and it can be so helpful to know you aren’t alone in dealing with things such as access issues or abuse. Indeed, it helps me to realise that I am not the problem, if it’s happening to other people then it’s not about me personally. I could rationally reach that conclusion but the individualistic nature of western society can really make things feel personal.

Pacing

Pacing is one of my really important strategies. If you have chronic pain or fatigue, do look it up. It’s the idea of doing something for slightly less time then breaking then going back to it rather than doing a lot of something all at once and then paying for it.

Humour

Humour is essential. Admittedly, my humour tends to be dry, sarcastic and biting but there you go.  The first day I had care we got into a bit of a mess getting changed. It, like a lot of my life, is undignified and humour can make it easier to cope. It can still get me down of course, it just means I’m not always down about it.

Without a degree of humour, it’s hard to let someone else wash you intimately.  It can become tense and awkward if you let it.

Action for change

This is something mentioned by one of my fellow students.  Instead of coming up with personal strategies to navigate a world which isn’t designed for us, we should challenge that society.  And I think this is really important and there are lots of ways of doing it, from raising awareness by sharing your experiences to hanging off a bridge in your wheelchair.

A moan

It’s not a very fashionable thing but having a bit of a moan from time to time can help.  Don’t get stuck there but getting frustrations off your chest can be cathartic.  And can help with awareness raising!

Support groups

This should probably be included with community but there’s something more specific about a group of people who are experiencing the same things as you.  With that shared knowledge, you can problem solve, you can suggest ideas which have helped you, you become more aware of shared issues and can come up with ways to address them.

Netflix days

Sometimes, we need a down day.  And if that’s watching netflix in bed, do it.  I remember a conversation with a friend who has mental health issues where she was describing how helpful it can be to give yourself a day to indulge in things.  So long as you have a day or time in mind to force yourself back out of it.  My fear of giving in and not getting out of bed has long been that I’d just never get out again.  So this ensures that won’t happen (sort of) whilst giving you the crash time you might need.

Acceptance

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference

– Reinhold Niebuhr

I’m not religious or in AA but the sentiment expressed in the serenity prayer is one that I think is important when it comes to coping with long term illness and disability.  There are lots of frustrating things I can’t change – I can’t make myself better for example – and getting stuck in a place where I’m angry about it isn’t helpful (there’s a grieving process around coming to terms with acquired disability which is fine, but it’s not a place that’s nice to get stuck in).  It’s taken a long time but I feel I’ve mostly accepted my illness and that’s so much better for my mental health and wellbeing.  And then there are things I can (attempt to) change such as my old workplace being inaccessible.  And this is a much healthier way to use my frustrations and anger.

Creativity

Whether it’s a page in my art journal or a bit of work on a canvas, creating things helps me in many ways.  It’s a distraction from my pain, it gives me a sense of achievement, it’s a way of expressing myself and probably helps in other ways that I’m not really aware of.

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What strategies do you have?

Interview!

Check me out over on Ever The Crafter! The lovely Jessica has interviewed a number of crafters who have chronic illness. She talks to them about their pain, their craft, adaptations etc. She’s also looking for more people to interview if you’re interested.

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