110. Finding my way
And finding myself in my art.
Towards the end of 2019 I made two creative decisions for which I am very grateful. I started – and have since maintained – a daily practice of reading for pleasure, and I signed up for a year-long online course in mixed media art journalling.
My 2D-art experience until that point had been fairly limited; even restrictive. Art had been pitched against physics in my school year’s GCSE options, and after my experience so far in the subject with Mr B, a deeply unpleasant man who took pleasure in throwing rubber bungs, pieces of chalk and, on more than one occasion, a blackboard eraser, at anyone he felt wasn’t paying attention, there was absolutely no way I would be signing up for two years of double physics with him twice a week.
I discovered on my first day of the autumn term that out of my class of fifteen girls only two had picked physics. ‘Bad luck!’ I sympathised.
‘It’s fine!’ came J’s breezy response. ‘We’ve got Mrs D, and she’s lovely.’
Two weeks into term, and the daunting prospect of creating time-consuming art project after time-consuming art project already causing me no end of stress, I begged to switch to physics.
It was too late.
Like many, as a child I had loved to make art: the brighter and messier, the better. Yet self-expression was discouraged in the art department at my school, and although lessons were very prescriptive they were starkly lacking in any kind of useful instruction.
Reader, I withered. I wanted to be able to draw: to have the confidence to whip a sketchbook and pencil out of my back pocket to capture on paper the world around me and to express the whirlwind of tangled, colourful thoughts that would constantly charge through my head, but instead I was hampered and dictated to, and permitted to use only very limited materials in the art room. ‘Paint’ was only ever watercolour. Just one lesson in two years had involved clay, and oil paint was banned outright because ‘you know, solvents’.
Mum’s friend M, a passionate artist with a gift for watercolour painting, came to the rescue. My five A2 GCSE projects were spread out on the kitchen table, and together we talked about how they might be improved. M took me out sketching, and we collected flowers, twigs and leaves to paint later. When exam time loomed we spent hours discussing the project I’d chosen, exploring the theme of ‘Movement’ together in different media in lengthy and involved preparation for the two four-hour sessions in which I’d be painting my assessed piece back at school.
My art career took a sideways move when I fell in love with working with hot glass, and for nearly fifteen years the 3D-art I was creating in my lampwork glass beadmaking workshop was little, round and highly decorative. I would obsess over pattern and design, and sometimes wished I could just loosen up to become freer with my work.
I received an e-mail one day from an art-related mailing list which encouraged me to sign up to Wanderlust 2020, a year-long online art course in mixed-media art journalling, with lessons delivered by e-mail every Friday. The slideshow of examples was extraordinary: I needed that kind of art in my life.
I seized the opportunity.
Signed up to Wanderlust 2020
Friday January 3, 2020
Wanderlust 2020 started
Friday February 21, 2020
‘Field Notes’ lesson by Kelly Hoernig delivered
Each month had its own topic, and a February lesson on the theme of ‘Nature’ is one I particularly enjoyed. I noted in my journal:
I really loved doing this project, and I learned so much! Am going to tackle it again tomorrow.
Friday March 13, 2020
Joy: ‘Unlock the Joy’ lesson by Kasia Avery delivered
The lesson for week eleven landed in my e-mail inbox on Friday the thirteenth. ‘Unlock the joy!’ announced the subject line, and I looked forward with excitement to making a start over the weekend.
Teacher Kasia Avery asked me to consider the processes I had enjoyed most in the course so far, thinking specifically about my favourite elements, marks, tools and colours.
Reader, I went crazy with the background for my spread as I channelled the joy which would always inspire me whenever I worked at my torch flame. I ran out of time that weekend, and made this note on the Sunday:
Still, I’ve got a super flaming background, and it’s ready for me to do the next stages tomorrow, once it’s dry.
Tomorrow didn’t arrive. Well it did, but life got in the way. It was on the following Monday that I finally found myself engaging with the project again, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Sunday March 22, 2020
First nationwide Covid lockdown announced in United Kingdom
Monday March 23, 2020
Finished my ‘Unlock the Joy’ spread
(Joy is notably absent from the world)
I finished my spread while deeply preoccupied by the previous day’s sudden announcement by the Prime Minister that we were now subject to a stringent lockdown. Next day I walked past my art journal lying open on my desk.
Oh dear. Reader, it looked like the virus. 🦠
Months passed. In April I left the house once, and didn’t venture out at all in May. I missed my walks so much, and chose instead to exercise at home using YouTube HIIT videos on a loop. My body became fitter than it had ever been, but my head suffered sorely. In June, July and August I set foot outside seven, nine and eight times respectively, and I wondered if life as I’d known it would ever return.
Spent fewer days entirely indoors than out of the house this month.
Friday September 18, 2020
Emotions: ‘Celebrating Flowers’ lesson by Renee Mueller delivered
In mid-September Jim and I headed up to Firle Beacon, one of our favourite local spots on the South Downs. The view was incredible, and we were pleased to see cows out in the fields we passed through.
September’s Wanderlust theme was ‘Emotions’, and teacher Renee Mueller’s video for her project was a delight. Inspired by our walk, instead of the morning glory blooms which Renee had used to adorn her own spread I decided to portray the gnarly downland hawthorns used by the cows as scratching posts, and to include a cow in the foreground.
At the time I had a sense of enduring disorientation, with exposure to the wide horizons of the South Downs feeling like a new experience after so many months keeping within my own four walls. Perhaps that’s why I’d positioned the cow to be outside of the scene rather than within it? 🤔
Friday November 13, 2020
My Body: ‘Dear Body’ lesson by Ivy Newport delivered
My birthday month, November, brought the theme ‘My body’, and in her lesson Ivy Newport asked me to celebrate, nurture and acknowledge its gifts:
With a message of self love and self acceptance we will explore a writing exercise and then create a mixed media collage that focuses on loving our bodies.
I set to work.
Yes, ‘That feels massive!’ is how I’d felt at the time, but looking back now at my art journal almost exactly three years later there are other things that I can see in the image I’d created.
I see remnants of my isolation; a sense of being apart from others and the world. I see contemplation, reflection and a reluctance to step into the scene. Yet where there is light, there is also life, and looking at the sun and the pool of water in the picture there is at least a sense of hope.
I hadn’t been able to resist signing up for Wanderlust 2021, and a little over a year since the start of the Covid pandemic teacher Nicole Warrington published her lesson ‘Spirit Tree’.
Friday April 2, 2021
Silhouette: ‘Spirit Tree’ lesson by Nicole Warrington delivered
A stage common to many of Wanderlust’s mixed-media projects is a journalling process, often as a first step directly onto the blank page. I love that written words provided the starting point to so many of my spreads.
My spirit tree project, though, also has words which haven’t been covered by layers of paint. To create my ‘found poem’ I harvested some words from an old book that I’d set aside for art projects, and looking back now I can see a strong relationship between the poem and my creative journey through to the other side of lockdown.
these were jottings
of love and pleasure
I can remember
I had written
for my future self;
For the two things go hand in hand
From later in 2021 to right now and beyond
Dear Reader, sometimes art is just fun. It’s messy, unpredictable and full of colour and life. These two images are from a project a little later in the course, for which I’d created vibrant backgrounds using acrylic paint on my Gelli Plate, and used rubber stamps from my childhood to make flowers and butterflies which I embellished with coloured pencils and white gel pen.
This is the kind of try-it-and-see exuberance that I’d first been seeking for my creative life at the end of 2019. And Reader, I’m still loving it.
If you’ve enjoyed the art in this post, why not have a look at my Art & Treasures 🖼️ series? I publish a new Art & Treasures post on the last Saturday of the month, so keep your eyes peeled next weekend! 😊
The providers of Wanderlust, Everything Art, have just released their FREE 15-day course ‘Care December 2023’. This is not an affiliate link, and I have no connection with Everything Art – apart from as an enthusiastic participant in two Wanderlusts as well as several of their free courses – but if you’re interested in exploring mixed-media art for yourself for free I urge you to click the linked image below:
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