Travel drawings

Before the advent of digital cameras and the art of selfies, were the simple tools of sketching and notes.  Recently  I was looking at my quick sketches and paintings made in five different continents in the 1990s.  Most were made in no more than 15 minutes, and yet looking at them more than 20 years later, I can remember how I made the drawing, how hot/sunny or cold it was, how I was feeling and what the place felt like.  This can done even today.  It is sometimes good to get your head out of the camera and observe what is going on. Find a bit of time to sketch and paint. I used all sorts of things- one painting was done using cherry juice.  Travel is also time for creative rejuvenation!

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creativity from rubbish

Creativity comes from all sorts of places and things that inspire or make connections.  David, my friend, who has a problem in his hips, was visiting a friend when he spotted a back frame of a ‘Thonet‘ chair, waiting to be put into the rubbish dump.  A trainee furniture designer had been making it for practice and had left it behind.  David asked his friend if he could take it and she said yes.  On the way back home, as the crowded train swayed back and forth it , he realised that he could put his weight on that frame and it supported him.  He also realised that when a bus braked, it was good to put it at the side so that it steadied him.  So he put some plastic feet on the two ends and there it was, a sexy curved support instead of the awful grey walking frames used.  If he didn’t need it, then he could put it on his shoulders, so it is easily portable.  Here is David showing the different ways he uses the chair back.

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For me, the main lesson here is that you can have a problem but you need to put it in the back burner of your mind.  Then slowly and unexpectedly, you will find a solution in your own ‘Eureka’ moment.   Archimedes shouted”Eureka! Eureka!”and ran out naked in excitement after he noticed that the water level in his bath rose and he made the connection that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged.  Friedrich Kekulé’s theory on the structure of benzene, which proved to be correct, was apparently influenced by the image of a snake eating its own tail.  Einstein also arrived at his theory of relativity when he was watching a train move as he sat in another.  There are many more examples of such moments- from artists, scientists to inventors and engineers- who have made connections to arrive at solutions.  Where 2+2=5 or more!

The other thing I noticed was that it is the creative mind that notices and makes the connections. When David walked in, I was the first person to notice his innovative walking frame.  No one else commented or looked at it.  David said that on the street, it takes a certain kind of person, to come up to him and ask him about it.  So I guess, if you have noticed something creative in another person, then it is most likely you have the same creativity yourself.

Creative traditions

Every country has age old traditions that manifest themselves creatively in days of celebration.  But these traditions have become commercialised.  So in an age of mass produced goods and of artificial perfection where the sign of hands and any ‘errors’ have been carefully removed, it is good to make things by hand and make them not too perfect.  Easter offers one of those occasions where the hideous and unhealthy tradition of factory made ever larger chocolate eggs have captured children and parents’ hearts and stomachs.  On the other hand, many traditional Easter foods have been home made, free from additives and perhaps more healthy, if not entirely so.

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Having an Armenian link in my family, I decided this year to make traditional Armenian Easter eggs alongside a traditional meal.  Making these Easter eggs involves using onion skins, turmeric and other natural dyes to colour eggs.  Here are some of my efforts.  I collected red onion skins- shopkeepers were happy to get rid of them.  I also put in some chilli flakes that I was not using (these also make the water red).  I boiled these for about twenty minutes and left it to cool overnight.  In the morning, I pasted some leaves I found in the garden on the raw eggs using water.  I used organic hens and duck eggs.  Then I put the eggs inside cut up old stockings and boiled them further for about 20 minutes. After removing them from the stocking, I left them to cool.  When they were cold to touch, I polished them with some olive oil to make them shine.  Even though the duck eggs were less successful, the over all effect of mottled colour with silhouettes of leaves, was charming on both types of eggs.  We ate those eggs with some goats cheese, yoghurt, traditional bread, olives and tomato and onion salad.  My children had been given some of the shop bought chocolate eggs but after eating lunch, they did not feel like eating those!  What did I do with the waste?  The skins were put in the compost and the leftover liquid was used to dye an old silk blouse.  No waste- a perfect end to Easter holidays!

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making portraits

Last week I finished my first portrait commission.  A good camera and a skilled photographer can take good photos of a person but when a portrait is commissioned, it needs to be much more than just a likeness.  Something extra is needed.  While trying to do this portrait, I found out that you need the eyes and mind of a child to look for details- the up or down turn of the mouth, the way the ears stick out, the hair line, the shape of the eye brows, shape of eyes, etc.  This can be much more important than getting hair and eye colours exactly right.  This was my first attempt and clearly did not look like the person I was drawing.

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After many attempts, this is what I got-

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Immediately you can tell the first one was not right at all!  The finished portrait was made with natural colours such as turmeric, coffee, onion skins and indigo along with pencils to reflect the personality of the man who likes spicy food and travel.  Hope the person likes it!

Inspirational words from a terminally ill architect

After watching this, as an architect who has suffered from stroke, it reinforced my desire never to miss a single opportunity to express gratitude, help others and be happy in every way that I can.  Also, very importantly it has taught me to follow my heart.

acceptance and art

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I was very fortunate yesterday to hear Annie Fennymore speaking about her process of creating art.  Annie gradually went blind as a young woman until she lost her sight completely in her forties.  At the age of 49, she lost her grand daughter which turned to be the last straw but also proved to be the start of her career as an artist.  Her husband gave her some quick drying DIY putty and using the long ‘ropes’ made with putty, she created her first painting which she is holding in the above photograph.  This painting of a cottage is very simple, almost childlike-but for her this was a huge step forward.  In the years following, she developed her style to a mature style of abstract colourful paintings that she says reveal her passion and love for life.  She has exhibited all over the UK and has won awards including a commendation for Helen Keeler International awards.  A selection of her works are exhibited at the moment at the Moorfields eye hospital in London where I am am outpatient too, with my eye problems. Do go and visit if you can.

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Initially Annie depended on her memory for colours and shapes. Today she uses a number of electronic aids (colour identifiers) for the blind all of which have the software that converts all text into speech. These gadgets enable her to label her tubes of paint using a system which tells her the colour of the paint or the surface. She uses her finger tips to ‘paint’ on her colours after realising the painting in her head. Using ‘glue tack’ she outlines her painting just as someone would use a pencil and then she colours it in.  Annie jokes that her adorable guide dog, Amber, often emerges out of her studios covered in paint!  The drawing on the right is of Amber.  Annie uses putty, PVA, paper and even toilet paper to create textures on her paintings.  The painting on the left was made on driftwood.

I have written about ‘blind art’ before but Annie made me realise something very deep about being an artist.  She said that she accepted her situation, she did not fight it.  Instead she funnelled that energy into creativity.  Now, I have spent a lot of my life fighting for things, fighting on behalf of other people.  As I grow older and with increasing ill health, I see that sadly that energy could have been spent creatively instead.  However, it is never too late to learn.  Today, with great humbleness, I accept many of the situations I find myself and have decided to move on, concentrating instead on revealing my creativity and following my heart.  Thank you, Annie!

http://www.blindalleyart.co.uk/index.html

Three easy ways of Brain training

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Summer is here and we feel quite lazy, looking forward to holidays and quality time.  But summer can be the ideal time to do brain training, along with physical training.  Here are three easy ways-

1. Use the hand that you don’t write with- so if you are right handed, use your left one to do tasks that you might do with your right, even writing.  This helps the brain to make new connections and think differently.

2. Learn another language- if you are travelling somewhere, try to learn and speak at least some of the words and phrases that you may hear.  Try to speak it too. Again, it has been shown that learning languages helps you become smarter.

3. Sleep more- Sleeping rejuvenates our brains and body.  It has not been found out exactly why we dream but some say that it helps to process our thoughts, questions and emotional issues.  You may find that you can work better with a short siesta of 20 minutes in the afternoon- many eminent scientists have used this technique.

We are stars

The universe started with a bang.  Out of that explosion, came gases, cosmic dust and energy that formed our galaxy and our solar system.  In that solar system, is our planet earth, also the product of those gases and dust.  And out of that dust on one of the planets circling the sun, came life and after many millions of years, came the amazing thing that is the human being.

A mass of cells, fluids and bones and millions of tiny electrical sparks that keep our heads and hearts functioning from the day we were conceived to the day we pass on.  Truly, when we die, we return to our origins.  As the book of common prayer says, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.  This is so profound.  Even just thinking of all this puts a shiver up my back when I think that the book of common prayer was written in 1662- long before the theory of big bang was known.  Other religions also talk about going back to dust when we die.

Like us, the stars also go through life and death and turning to dust and light.  They expand and contract, have their systems and life spans.  The whole universe seems like a gigantic system of life.  When I meditate, I picture the light and energy from the universe permeating my life and re-uniting with the bits of the cosmic dust that must be part of my body and were part of the lives of the stars before we separated and became different things.  I imagine the light echoes or the light reflected from the gases around an exploding star coming to me through the vastness of space.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how close the photos of galaxies taken by the Hubble telescope are to the images of inside our body taken by a micro cameras.  We are the universe in miniature.  I tell myself I am part of this giant cosmic drama, I am this dust, I am this light, I am the energy and I am the star!

 

 

 

three secrets of a successful micro-business

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As a self employed creative, I have been reading business books on creativity and business for many years.  Through these years I became aware that I did not wish to create a business empire but do what I do efficiently and productively; that I did not mean to mass produce but only produce something that was well designed and beautifully made; and not be a mad bad crazy person that creatives are thought to be but live a balanced, joyful and creative life.  I am sure that many of you also wish to live like that- we are not all Warren Buffet, Richard Branson or Bill Gates or even Steve Jobs (notice all are men which I am not!)

Most of the advice I read or listened to was not about small or micro- businesses- but about how to mass produce, how to make huge profits and how to influence widely.  There was not much advice if you just want to live a simple, creative, healthy and joyful life- following your heart- and making enough money to achieve all this.  I wanted to distill all the stuff I had read and listened to, in to some essential aspects which could apply equally to any scale of business.  What could I distill out of all that I had read and give back to you?  I found that essentially it boils down to three lives we lead- the contributive life,  the balanced life and the joyful life.

1. The contributive life:  This term was coined by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator and philosopher.  He said that our life should be about contributing to the whole of which we are en essential and creative part.  So if you are doing work that contributes to society, that work will be naturally meaningful and productive.  As part of cause and effect, you will find that your needs are satisfied in the most amazing ways- I have had people helping me out on things without asking for money because I helped them before.

The contributive life is an anti-dote to the monetary life.

2. The balanced life:  Contrary to what many people think, Yoga is not a series of stretching exercises or a type of mediation.  Yoga is about the balanced life- where you r health matters as much as anybody else’s, where you eat and sleep in moderation and where your work and personal lives balance.  This is the middle way- not extremes and our task is to find a middle way every day.  Sometimes, it may mean we do more work, sometimes it means we take more rest- everyday is a day of finding a balance for our physical needs and creativity.

The balanced life is our everyday practice of living.

3. The joyful life: Finally, if your work or business does not give joy to you, is not contributive or balanced, then let go of it.  Find something that tugs at your heart strings, pulls you towards it and asks you play the music of life.  If you are not smiling and forgetting the time, than it is not a work that you love.  For seven years, I was doing teaching that I thought was a contributive work but it was not a balanced life I was leading nor was it making me happy.  I finally left it and now I find myself doing similar work but on my own terms.  I have set up a charity for this and use my lectures, teaching and work to improve the lives of others.  The joy I feel out of this, is immeasurable and priceless.

Find your joy, follow your heart!

Living lightly- part III

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Now I come to the second book I bought from the library sale (please read the last two posts if you are new to this).  This was the ‘Healing power of the mind’ by Tulku Thondup (a Tibetan Buddhist monk).  I would like to share from this book, the most powerful visualisation and relaxation exercise I have done.

This is about nothingness and imagining that you are slowly dissolving into air and your surroundings- expanding to become part of it.  Most mindfulness exercises ask you to become mindful of your body, thoughts and actions.- you are asked to ‘look’ at your body, feelings or actions and consider them lightly, letting them go.  With this ‘nothingness’ exercise you let go of everything.  It is very difficult to achieve at first but becomes easier and easier, achieving this state easily.  Perhaps this is what drugs to you I thought but without the harmful effects.  The first time I did it, it was not easy.  However, with time, melting into my surroundings has become easier for me.  I felt relaxed with the heaviness of life gone- I felt like air and light.

Thondup also talks about not ‘grasping’ state of mind.  A lot of worry and stress come from grasping- people, power, position, fame etc.  By doing this exercise of dissolving, it is the opposite of grasping.  I have this photo of snow drops and other spring flowers which disappear after the spring, only to arrive beautiful and rejuvenated with life next spring.  We also do a similar thing during sleep, perhaps even during death.  So doing this while alive can also have a rejuvenating effect.

Try it and let me know if it works for you!