When I was sketching in Venice in 2017, a small crowd gathered around me, watching. As the crowd grew in size, there was even a person directing people. At first, I felt very conscious of the people staring at me and then as I suffer from fear of crowds, I started feeling fearful. In an age when people use their smartphones to take selfies and photos, it must seem very archaic and time wasting to sketch. But recently I discovered that it also helps others to watch people sketching. There is a South Korean artist, Kim Jung Gi, who draws fantasy art and many people pay to spend hours watching him. It is said to be therapeutic, and induces a feeling of stillness and calm in the viewers.
There is another way that ‘mindless’ drawing can help- this is with increasing creativity. Just like sleeping on problems and dreams can help with solving problems, using drawing (especially organic shapes) can help with problem solving and increasing creativity. The Nobel Laureate, polymath, poet, musician, painter and author corrected his texts by doodling over mistakes. His wooden seal with his initials is also of an organic shape.
Even when feeling tired, I have found that doodling and drawing can be done when reading is too difficult. These drawings are no practical use but to me, they are part of my creative self. I’ve given myself two different rewards each day- when the weather is bad, I draw, and when the weather is good, I go out and take photos. Sometimes I draw without my glasses and sometimes I use both hands (I’m right handed). It’s always good for me to see what I create and how well I feel after that.
I recently visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK. Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede during 1958 to 1973 . Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London 1920-30s. Collecting and curating art and nature in his home, became his cure for undiagnosed PTSD brought on by the Great War. He became a patron, collector and buyer of works by then unknown (and some famous) artists- paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
Jim did not distinguish between high art, naive art, and nature. There are no labels, so the visitor enjoys the work as it is. Surprisingly for a curator’s home, there no curatorial statements either. Alongside carefully positioned valued artworks, we find broken and old furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The aim was to create creating a harmonic whole, not perfection. He was influenced by his visit to India after the war and his work reflects his interests in Eastern religions and folk art. He invited students for talks at the end of each term and in the end, left the house to Cambridge University. He meant this humble home to be neither ‘an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.’
Looking and reflecting on the interiors, as an architect and home maker, I came to realise that to create a home you have to know yourself and your own needs deeply. And to create such an harmonious home, you don’t need expensive things- just things that reflect who you are. So Jim and Helen Ede’s home could be viewed by some as eccentric and unsophisticated but the abiding impression is that of a couple who consciously chose to eschew the materially rich for that which is soulfully rich. A lesson indeed for these chaotic times and materialistic culture. Such expression where someone’s inner life has been thrown open public gaze requires inner confidence, critical thinking and unwavering certainty. This is the home of someone who has absolute happiness, not relative one. In the end, the lesson for me wasn’t from the art but from the collection and the home as one.
Lessons on design and interiors from Kettle’s Yard
Make the design work for you, don’t follow others blindly.
Choose things that enhance the spaces- these might be cheap things like plants, rocks, books and sea shells. They could be things that you love to touch and see.
Follow the design through as you walk from space to space. It might be simpler and cheaper to have a flow, rather than each space having its own ‘theme’.
Remove and hide things seasonally. This gives a sense of the home through the seasons.
Eclectic collections have a charm of their own. Many design magazines feature empty monastic looking spaces but as this home shows, you can have many things if displayed well.
I read recently about people who write ‘morning journals’ to capture their streams of consciousness after waking up. I didn’t realise what a powerful tool it is to capture your ideas, inspirations and aspirations. I used to think that if I checked the morning news, it might give me some idea on what to concentrate on for the rest of the day. But that is reactive thinking. Morning journals and thoughts which help me to prioritise not only my day but also a way of future planning, are a much best way. As I am not a morning person, here is a poem that I read each morning to inspire myself. It is not written by a new age guru or the latest ‘Tim Ferriss’, this was written in 5th Century AD-
Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!
‘If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present’, Lao Tzu
This is my friend’s five year old. While I was talking to his dad about future projects, our worries and the state of the world, this young man decided to enjoy his surroundings. While the grown-ups’ talk was getting darker and depressive, this child found my Venetian mask and said he would put on a ‘funny face’. As soon as we saw him, we all started to laugh. The present moment was alive again. I realised we were having a dinner party and we weren’t actually enjoying it. We were drawn back to the present, thanks to the intuitive wisdom of a five year old!
I have read that the best way to pursue your creative ideals to divide your sources of income- i.e., to have a day job and also a creative evening job. The intention is that if your creative job isn’t paying the bills, the day job will pay until one day you hit jackpot with your creative venture; and eventually that will become your only source of income. So your day job would get you ‘passive income’ while you pursue your true vocation. So you see the bank clerk who plays the piano in the evening at a bar, or the painter who pays his bills through his teaching job. You can see this from many historical examples- Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin, the Russian: Georgian Romantic composer whose day jobs were as a doctor and chemist, Phillip Larkin, a librarian who was a poet and many others.
Plan A types
On the other hand, artist Paul Klein says that you should have only Plan A and you should put all your energy into pursuing it. By having too many eggs (and perhaps even too many baskets), you are exhausted with nothing left for creativity. In this video on Youtube, he says only have Plan A- having Plan Bs are distractions. By having only Plan A, you focus almost desperately because there is no other way- you have to make it succeed. Paul Gaugin comes under this category but he never made any money from painting while he was alive- only after death did his paintings sell well. Do you agree with this approach? Personally, I am very risk averse and currently do a few jobs while I pursue my creative ideas. What about you? Let me know. Here is a lovely video on finding your passion from Ken Robinson, who says it is not enough to be good at something, you need to be passionate too.
Every lesson you have learnt about time management, decluttering, managing your work, dealing with people, healthy living and finding happiness boils down to one thing- the choices you make. Whether you decide to spend some time reading, keep a piece of paper, do a particular type of work, the friends you have, your weight and the fun you are having is down to the choices you have made in the past. Buddhism says that if you want to know the future, look at the choices you are making today. And that if you want to change your future, you need to change the choices you are making today- it is as simple as that. However, despite being simple, this can be a daunting and not everyone is ready to throw something away- whether a piece of paper or a friend. But as I have grown older, I think it is getting easier to let go. But if you can do, you have the most powerful tool for living your life as you want- your choices.
This powerful talk by Caroline Myss is worth listening to if you have any doubts or are feeling you need some support in this area. It really helped me.
I saw this at a not very posh furniture shop and thought about it- a lot. It is trying hard to be something it is definitely not. It is new furniture trying to look as if it is old- with mismatched bits like some cheap chic but ends up looking like an embarrassed DIY effort or worse.
I wondered if we also do this same thing with how we present ourselves- trying too hard to be something we are not. When we imitate others, or present an image of us that is not authentic, not true to ourselves. It is worth keeping this photo in mind when we look at others, celebrities and other famous people, trying to be them. You can only be you, warts and all- that is what this photo teaches me.