Tag Archives: art

art and the broken heart

sunset-skyI just watched Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech. It’s fantastic. The way she exposed the awfulness of the US president-elect’s behaviour without even mentioning his name…

But what struck a chord most was her final sentence where she quoted something the late Carrie Fisher said to her:

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

I love that. It totally sums up where I am at the moment. So much bad stuff happened last year – horrible stuff, sad stuff, stuff that we know is going to cause problems for years to come.  It broke my heart. It broke many people’s hearts.

But it’s made me resolve to throw my passion and my energy more into the people I love and into art – in all its forms. I want to write and draw and illustrate. I want to learn and explore new creative skills. I want to experience art created by other people, to read and watch and see and feel and listen and devour art in all its glorious forms.

“Take your broken heart. Make it into art.”

That. Just, that.

art and healing

sheep-at-sunriseSo, phew, how are we all doing then? What’s that you say? Am I still enraged, horrified and saddened? I know, I know, my recent posts have been fairly emotionally-outpoury and heavy haven’t they?

Well…

In answer to your question – yes and no. Yes, because that’s my honest and human reaction to what’s going on in the world at the moment… and no, because if I stayed permanently in that state I’d lose the plot. I’ve actually had some lovely times recently: mornings and afternoons and lunches and dinners and drinks with friends that have fed my soul and given me a huge boost in the happiness stakes. If there’s one big positive to come out of this awful year it’s been those friendships that have grown and strengthened in the face of everything or simply remained resolutely fantastic. They’re better than the cosiest, warmest, fluffiest blanket in front of the crackliest, brightest, toastiest fire with the biggest, crumbliest most delicious plate of mince pies, my friends are. And all the chocolate in the world – they’re better than that too.

So yes, as I write this, I’m feeling calmer than I’ve felt in weeks.

But I have been thinking about those feelings of outrage and horror and the proper place for them. Because I don’t think such feelings can be dismissed – not when they are legitimate and not when people’s rights, freedoms and even lives are at risk (or worse). However, they’re also not something that should be used to further negativity or hate or violence – I think they need to be used to combat those things. Channelled in the right way, I think horror and outrage can be powerful and positive.

I’ve read loads of articles recently about positive actions that can be taken by people feeling shocked or sad or powerless. There are many different options, whether its volunteering or donating or speaking out or up for others or peacefully protesting or being a friend – the list goes on. And I think we each need to pick the course of action that works for us – the action that will heal us and hopefully help others.

For me, I’ve decided that the way forward is art. I read a blog post earlier this year by Chuck Wendig called ‘It is art that will help us survive‘ (read it as long as you don’t mind sweariness). In it he talks about how art – in its many forms – can soothe and heal but also excite and agitate, how it can help us understand ourselves and each other. How art can lift us up and, by sharing it, lift others up too. And how it can bond people across all sorts of personal and political and cultural divides. So, while it might seem a bit, I dunno, ‘fluffy’ in these troubled times, it just isn’t.

An artist friend and I had a big chat about this the other night and we’ve come up with a plan. It’s about creating art and sharing art and hopefully creating opportunities for others to do so too. It’s about being able to respond to events that upset us in ways that create empathy and promote feelings of togetherness and hope. And it’s also (if all goes to plan) about helping causes close to our hearts: making sense of the world while having a genuine positive impact.

It’s only a little idea – it’s not flashy or bold. But I think – we both think – it can make a difference. That it can channel outrage into healing.

And that’s just what we need right now.

Writing Bubble

why labels are important

starlight-illustration-sketches

Some of my sketches for a song illustration.

Do you ever find it difficult to call yourself a writer, or an artist or whatever the appropriate label for your creative niche is? I know I do, and conversations with fellow creative types has told me I’m not alone.

These days I do call myself a ‘writer’, although – as ridiculous as it sounds – it originally took considerable effort to do so. I remember the day I put ‘writer’ on my personal Facebook page – I felt really nervous and a bit of a fraud but figured I had to do it because if I couldn’t think of myself as a writer then how could I expect anyone else to? I was starting to submit manuscripts to agents so that felt kind of important. Even now the self doubt demon creeps in and tries to tell me I’m not one – not a ‘real’ writer – but obviously I kick it up the bum and wave my blog and manuscripts and pieces of published writing at it till it goes away.

But recently I’ve faced a new self-labelling question. I’ve been studying illustration since the start of this year – I’ve submitted assignments, drawn most days and, in the process, illustrated both my own writing and other people’s. I’ve studied art in the past too – dare I say it, created art in the past (some of it was once even in an exhibition) – so can I, or should I, call myself an artist? No. Surely not. That’s… just… I don’t know, it seems a step too far. And as for calling myself an ‘illustrator’ Hahahaha. No, that’s just ridiculous.

Isn’t it?

But then I had an experience last week that made me look at things a bit differently. I was on the phone to a work colleague (he works for a different company but we’ve worked alongside each other on various projects for years) and he asked if he could run an idea by me. ‘Of course’ I said. He then went on to say that his company (a human relations one) was looking at a new way of presenting some of their ‘models for ways of working’ (kind of patterns of human behaviour and interaction broken down into stages). They’re in a sort of chart form at the moment which he was thinking was a bit dry and that perhaps an illustrative approach might bring them to life more:

“… and I was thinking ‘what illustrators do I know?'” he said, “And then I thought ‘hey, I know Maddy!'”

He knows I’ve been studying illustration and said he’d seen one of my illustrations (the tea limerick one) and loved it. He then went on to outline the project to me… at least I assume that’s what he did but all I really caught was his “So what do you think?” at the end, at which point I had to admit “I’m sorry but you called me an illustrator and I got so excited that anyone would call me an illustrator that I couldn’t really hear anything much you said after that!”

Not exactly cucumber cool of me, but anyway, I did listen the second time round and the project sounds rather interesting. He’s very open about what might work and how things might pan out so I said yes I’d love to do it! I mean, obviously I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m hanging on to the idea that I know more than I think I know and have skills I don’t know I possess, and can achieve more than I can imagine I could.

I got off the phone with a smile, warm with the knowledge that someone out there in the world, someone who’s not my husband or my best mate or my mum (lovely though they all are) thinks I’m an illustrator.

An actual illustrator.

It’s made me realise we should all seize those illusive creative labels and own them. We should say ‘Yes, I’m a writer/illustrator/photographer/modern cheese artist/whatever’ and then just get on with doing the actual creative work and living up to those titles. Because although it’s about self-belief, it’s also about accountability: after all, if you call yourself a writer, you’d better keep writing.

Speaking of which, this illustrator needs to go illustrate. :)

Writing Bubble

What to do on 3rd May Kids Strike – #THISislearning

I decided to join in with the 3rd May Kids Strike a month ago, set up our #THISislearning campaign two weeks ago and handed in the letter to school informing them of the above, last week. So we’re good to go, all set, know exactly what we’re doing on th… oh wait!

I still don’t know precisely what we’re doing on the day (tomorrow!!!). Not because I have no idea what to do, but because there are SO MANY possibilities and they’re all swimming frantically round my head not really able to find their way to the surface. So, in case any of you are similarly-minded, I thought I’d put together a post with some options. Hopefully by the time I’ve worked my way through it, I’ll have a clearer plan and it will help you too!

Learning ideas for #KidsStrike3rdMay

Arts and crafts:

paints and pencils

  • My boys and I all love creative activities and when I started an illustration course earlier this year I found inspiration on Twitter in the form of #ShapeChallenge. Author and Illustrator Sarah McIntyre posts a shape every day and you can interpret it in what ever way you want. People of all ages and abilities join in. It’s so much easier than staring at a blank sheet of paper and you can tweet the results to a lovely little community. You can read more about our experience of it in this post and also find out more on the Jabberworks Virtual Studio website.
  • We also like Kid Can Doodle who describe themselves as “a club that celebrates creativity through drawing. We believe everyone can draw, and we hope to inspire you to find your own voice.” What’s not to love? It has all sorts of ideas and challenges and masses of inspiration for young doodlers!
  • Red Ted Art is an awesome blog, packed full of creative ideas. Having been a fan of Andy Goldsworthy since seeing an exhibition of his as a child, I particularly love this post about using items from nature to create art.
  • This lovely activity from My Green and Rosie Life involves making rainbow pictures out of leaves, flowers and petals. It also has a story which you read to kids first which adds a little magic, I think!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)

      • We love science experiments in this house. I wrote a post the other day about some we’d done using water, oil, baking powder and Alkaseltzer to pretty (and pretty-dramatic) effect.volcano experiment
      • This Rosie Revere activity looks like a great little task where kids make their own very simple helicopter (only paper and paperclips necessary) and then experiment to see what changes they can make to the blades so that it flies more slowly. Simple and fun!
      • This one from Red Ted Art about making chromatography flowers looks so awesome I want to try it now (and the kids are in bed!). Where science meets art!
      • I love this post from Handimania about building a child-sized fort out of rolled up newspapers. All you do is roll the paper and tape it into large triangles and you can make lots of different structures depending on how you attach the triangles together. Fling a blanket over the top and it’s a fort (or you could also decorate pieces of paper and attach them instead of a blanket – more time-consuming but, for arty-types, even more fun!)
      • There are some great ideas for construction activities on My Nearest and Dearest. I particularly like the look of building with dyed ice and grapes with cocktail sticks, and the glow in the dark loo roll challenge looks awesome!

Outdoor activities:

      • This post by Sophie is… shows how much fun and learning can be had with mud – painting, landscaping, and creating in so many different ways. And little Arthur is clearly having such a whale of a time I want to join in myself!
      • Luisa at Teaching Tiny Minds is full of good ideas for fun learning activities. I loved this post about having fun with water and puddles – it never would have occurred to me to add washing up liquid or food colouring to them!

        puddle fun #THISislearning

        Luisa’s post inspired me to draw this cartoon.

      • Coombe Mill has loads of great ideas for activities for kids. I really like this idea for ‘fairy cakes and wizards potion‘ which involves making wands, fairy cakes and potions using all manner of natural items. The idea for making sailing boats out of milk bottles also looks fab! Fiona also runs a linky where you can find further inspiration.
      • I read this article (written by a teacher) in The Guardian about geocaching and it sounds great! It’s basically a treasure hunt in the countryside. You can go to various geocache websites and find coordinates for geocaches near you and then go off in search of them. I think my boys would love it!

History/literature:

      • There are wonderful museums and galleries all over the UK, many of which have free entry. Visit Britain details loads of them and Tyne and Wear Museums is great for those living in the North East. If you live anywhere Newcastle Upon Tyne I’d urge you to visit Seven Stories – the National Centre for Children’s Books. We went there a few weeks ago to see their Harry Potter Exhibit – it was fab!touching hedwig's wing
      • The National Trust and English Heritage have wonderful gardens and historic buildings across the country that are well worth visiting. I loved this post by Nikki from A Free-from Life about visiting a Nostell Priory – it really highlighted all the different types of learning that can take place on a day out.
      • A couple of months ago, a friend and I did a murder mystery treasure trail around our village. The trail and clues were all in a booklet on this website which has trails for towns and villages all over the country. Our treasure trail took us round the village we thought we knew well, spotting all sorts of old signs, decorations and carvings, none of which we would have normally noticed. We learned loads about where we lived and the kids all loved it!
      • Read to/with your kids. It’s always so lovely to share stories!

Games:

      • Playtivities has loads of great games which are good to do together as a family or in a group. things like threading dry spaghetti through penne without using your hands, balancing chocolate on your face (‘oh dear, mine seems to have slipped into my mouth!’) bouncing balloons and building towers with fruit. Simple but with lots of opportunities for learning.
      • There are 101 great ideas in this post by Paging Fun Mums. Whether it’s spotting shapes in clouds, blowing bubbles, decorating shells, baking or building a marble run, there’s bound to be something that inspires you!
      • Cricket, football, tennis, volleyball… whatever sport your kids are into, tomorrow is a chance to play it with them. We had great fun setting up our own crazy-golf course last year!

Social activities:

      • Check out the Let our Kids be Kids interactive map which shows you where there are meet-ups all over the country. If you want to share the day of the Kids Strike with others it’s a great place to start. The meet ups I looked at seemed to involve crafty and sporting activities amongst others.

There are also some wonderful activity ideas on our #THISislearning linky. Please feel free to add posts with activities you have there too!

Whatever you do on the day (whether you’re striking or not, and if you homeschool or have pre-schoolers too) I’d love you to share on social media using the #THISislearning hashtag. Together we can all show our government what real learning looks like!

I’m going to publish this post now although I may well add more ideas later on!

With thanks to my fabulous friend Sus for helping me compile this list.

Writing Bubble

when Twitter is awesome

I’ve mentioned #ShapeChallenge in a few recent posts – it’s a creative challenge on Twitter that my boys and I have all been taking part in. Author Sarah McIntyre posts a shape (a black outline with a red dot in it) every week day and lots of people (adults, kids, professional artists, people ‘just giving it a whirl’… ) draw something based on it and then tweet their work. Sarah doesn’t post a shape at the weekends though, instead she asks someone else to draw and post a shape for everyone to use. Very excitingly, this weekend my older two boys (8 and 6) were invited to do it!

alexander's shape

Shape designed by my 6yo

JB shape

Shape designed by my 8yo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was fantastic! I let them both have (supervised) access to my Twitter account and when people began to post pictures based on their shapes my boys replied to them. It was so lovely to see them engaging with a creative community in this way, and people were so responsive and kind. Some even drew pictures with the boys in mind, like Dark Derek who turned my eight-year-old’s shape into a Star Wars B1 battle droid!

The boys did tweet some responses that made me giggle a bit, like ‘you have pro skills!’ from my eight-year-old to a professional illustrator, or ‘keep up the good work!’ from my six-year-old to an artist six times his age, but everyone took them in the way they were intended. People were so warm and thanked my sons for the shapes and complimented them on their own drawings.

bowtie mandoodlesaurgoblin man

It’s been such a positive experience for them – my eight-year-old in particular has been bouncing off the walls most of the weekend saying “It’s amazing what people are doing with our shapes!” He says he feels really proud of himself and that he thought he wasn’t any good at art but now he thinks he must be because ‘proper artists’ have said nice things about his work. It’s given him a real confidence boost. My six-year-old’s class at school is also going to be using his shape in their next art class too! I’m so thrilled that both boys have been able to have an experience like this – I feel like it’s benefitted them in all sorts of ways.

Hooray for creativity – may it weave its magic through your lives too. :)

racing cars

By my eight-year-old. The original shape was that of the green car.

Writing Bubble

Little Hearts, Big Love

creativity and inspiration

You know that feeling when you start a new relationship and everything is exciting and fizzes and crackles and you can’t wait to spend time with that other person and you think about them all the time and keep smiling to yourself and feeling a little giddy? That’s how I’ve felt this past week. Only it’s not a new man (phew!) it’s a new creative avenue. I’m mad for drawing.

It all began with Twitter. Well, Twitter, and a chat with a really good friend.  You see, I was nervous about this illustration course I’d signed up to do and I thought I might procrastinate my way out of beginning it even before the course materials had arrived so, with the encouragement of this kick-ass friend of mine, I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and join in with an artistic project on Twitter.

A bit like how I felt about doing an illustration course!

A bit like how I felt about doing an illustration course!

It’s called #ShapeChallenge and is run by author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre (I love her books!). Every week day she tweets a shape and encourages anyone – people of all ages and abilities – to draw/paint/create something based on it. Everyone then tweets their creations and ‘likes’ and comments on each others pictures. It’s FAB.

I’ve joined in every day for the past week and, even better, my sons have joined in too! My older two love doing it and even their little brother sits beside them and earnestly scribbles on a piece of paper. I’ve loved watching how their brains interpret the shape and the different things they’ve come up with. It’s felt like such a positive thing to do together.

owl

Owl – by my six-year-old. The original shape was one of the wings.

submarine

‘The diver’ by my eight-year-old. The original shape made me think of a hat but this is much better!

The other people who’ve been taking part in Shape Challenge have all been so lovely and welcoming too. There are lots of ‘proper’ illustrators who do it but also plenty of children and people who just enjoy drawing. After I post our pictures for the day I always go through the feed and look at what everyone else has created – it’s hugely inspiring! Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit high on it all!

I’ve also found the idea of drawing something and tweeting it immediately, really liberating. I think I could spend ages on a drawing and decide it’s no good but somehow, the process of this challenge – having the shape to work with and then the community to tweet it to – has allowed me to overcome the fear and doubt and just go for it. It’s also inspired me – just looking at a blank piece of paper can be intimidating, but put a little white shape (with a red dot in it) there instead and it’s amazing what your brain comes up with. I’m pretty sure that even in the space of a week, my ability has improved. I mean, ok, I’m not producing great works of art but I’ve surprised myself with how not-totally-shit it is.

howard the monster

The original shape is in the bottom corner. It took my boys a while to spot the shape in the drawing!

Even better, it’s filling me with more ideas for writing too, and making me think about ways of overcoming procrastination and blocks there. I set myself a writing challenge last week where I hoped to harness this same idea of doing something quickly and throwing it out there. Just like with drawing, it took away the stress and was really fun. I’m going to do more.

I know this is a very image-heavy post but I just want to add one final picture – in celebration of unusual plumage everywhere and because all stories need to be told. :)

Maud's unsual plumage

Be like Maud.

Writing Bubble

smashing the doubt by getting it out

As part of my plan to build my artistic/illustrative skills this year, I have begun drawing every day and sharing pictures on Twitter. It’s a way of combating my self-doubt by just throwing myself into it and then putting the work out there. There’s no time to worry it’s not good enough and psyche myself out – I just draw and tweet. I’ve been loving it and the more I draw, the more I want to draw.

paints and pencils

I don’t want to leave my writing gathering dust though while I focus on my exciting new project and I wondered if a similar ‘produce something quickly and fling it out there’ approach might work with writing too. So this morning I set myself a ‘ten to one’ story challenge. I first attempted one last February and found it fun. The idea is you write a story ten sentences long. The first sentence is ten words long, the next nine, then eight… all the way down to one.

Here’s this morning’s attempt:

Katherine was hunched over her easel, struggling with a landscape.
Once, her artwork had adorned the galleries of Europe.
These days her tremors made painting almost impossible.
Frustrated tears rained down on the canvas.
Greens and ochres swirled and splashed.
Then – a presence beside her.
The young girl gasped.
“Grandma – the colours!
They’re dancing!
Beautiful!”

It’s not a perfectly-honed piece but I do like the way this challenge makes you think about the words you use. I also find writing with constraints like this oddly liberating – maybe it’s because I can’t spend hours trying to make it perfect (I mean, that last sentence clearly needed to be two words long but it couldn’t be) so I feel free to have a crack at it. Just like with drawing.

Why not have a go yourself? Be sure to tweet me if you do – I’d love to read it!
Prose for Thought