Drawing August

When Concretemoomin mentioned #DrawingAugust a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a good opportunity to a) restart my drawing practise, b) thoroughly test my new occupational varifocals and c) have another go at that “little and often” thing I’m so bad at.

drawing august 2015 1To keep it simple, I counted out 31 of the old business cards that Alison very kindly gave me a couple of years ago, put them in a box and resolved to draw something on one of them each day throughout August. Having done the day’s drawing I put the card at the bottom of the pile and didn’t look at any of them again until I’d finished the last one. On the 30th, I realised I’d have to add another card to keep day 1 hidden until after I’d done day 31!

Given that the calm holiday-ish August I had planned turned out to be a bit of a one-thing-after-another stress-fest, I’m very pleased that I did do a drawing of some sort every single day throughout the month. None of them took very long – I always drew in the evening, so was often very tired by the time I started. Trying to observe rather than judge what I was doing, some days I found myself relaxed and engaged in the exercise, other times I was more like a reluctant schoolchild half-heartedly going through the motions of doing homework.

As the end of the month approached I started to feel a thrill of anticipation at the prospect of reviewing what I’d done and pleasure at having persisted despite all the stresses thrown in my path. I resisted the temptation to sneak-peek, which added to my small feeling of triumph yesterday when I slipped drawing 31 onto the bottom of the pile.

drawing august 2015 2

I pretty much hated all the drawings at the time of execution, whether or not I’d enjoyed making them. Looking at them again now, I still think they are crap, but, y’know, I was utterly whacked most of the time and hadn’t done any drawing for months. Many days it was just an exercise in sheer bloody-mindedness to pick up a pen and scribble. But it was fun doing the reveal yesterday, surprising myself with the subjects I’d forgotten, smiling wryly at how hard I’d tried to nail that blasted toy car and how spectacularly I’d failed at it.

Doing my mini version of #DrawingAugust has successfully renewed my enthusiasm for drawing, though I’ll be continuing on a “what I can, when I can” basis as I really don’t like the pressure of long-term daily commitments. I’m thinking of doing this portrait-drawing course next, because I’d like to be able to draw a face that looks like a face. As for my occupational varifocals, I’m still not particularly happy with them, but I can’t face the thought of another visit to the optician at the moment…

Perhaps the the best outcome of the challenge was the unexpected effect of deciding not to look at what I’d done until the end of the month. Each day I just did that day’s drawing, starting fresh without any feeling that I had to improve on the previous day or fear that I would do worse. And that was surprisingly liberating.

Note: The image shows the drawings in random order, because I didn’t stick to one orientation so laying them out in date order looked messy.

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Sustainably Creative-style adventures

As the Sustainably Creative forum is not currently open to new members, here’s an edited version of what I wrote there about tiny adventures for anyone striving to be adventurous within the limitations of illness:

(You can listen to the podcast by Michael Nobbs that started the ball rolling here).

Like Michael, I sometimes have a minimal picnic of a snack and a mug of tea made from a flask of boiling water in the car. For more adventurous outdoor eating you could buy a bucket barbecue and cook a snack on it, either out in the countryside, on the beach or just in your back garden. Thanks to Colour it Green for that idea.

Or perhaps a Kelly Kettle with cooking accessories would be more useful and easier to carry. A portable gas stove is heavier, but quicker and perhaps safer for garden-cooking or car-based adventures. If possible, practise outdoor cooking/tea-making in your garden before trying it out in the “wild”.

Keep things very simple. E.g. for breakfast outdoors just make a bacon or fried egg roll to eat with some fresh tomatoes. You could probably gently heat up sausage rolls in a frying pan – minimal preparation required, but fun to eat in the open air.

When we were teens my brother and I used to go to a place where the local river ran through a small wood and make a small fire on the gravelly bank. We’d toast cheap bread rolls from the village shop and ate them smeared with Dairylea cheese triangles. Utterly delicious – at least in memory. Obviously finding places to make campfires is more difficult nowadays, but if there’s somewhere suitable there’s really nothing to beat building a little fire to toast a bun.

Have the things you need to go adventuring ready to go when you feel like it. Fill a backpack with items such as a clean flannel for drying feet after an impromptu paddle, cutlery, a bottle of water, energy bars, cooking kit, matches, tea bags and mug, wipes to clean your hands and plastic bags for waste and foraged food. Something waterproof (and padded) for sitting on is also useful.

Keep a rug and a pillow in the car in case you need to bed down in it for a rest after adventuring. Always travel with plenty of water, emergency food and essential medications (don’t keep them in the car though, as they may be damaged by heat). I also keep wellies in the car and spare clothing.

If funds allow and your garden is suitable, you could buy a bivvy bag and camping mat so you can sleep out in your garden on really hot nights. If you have a guest-room, sleep there occasionally. Even sleeping with your head at the foot of your own bed makes sleeping and waking a slightly different experience.

Walk barefoot on the lawn in your garden or at the park at different times of day, in sunshine and shade, wet weather and dry. Sit on the grass and write down the names of all the flowers and plants that you can see in a square foot or square yard or whatever.

If there’s a downpour on a warm day go out in your garden and enjoy the sensation of getting deliberately and exultantly drenched to the skin (barefoot with light clothing is best for this). Then have a quick shower or bath and a brisk rub down to warm up before getting into bed. Drink a cup of hot tea and have a good nap.

Similarly, on a warm windy day, go outside and focus completely on the sensations of the wind on your skin, in your hair, ears. Listen to the noise it creates around you, think of where the particles of air and dust that you are breathing have come from. Watch the plants bending and swaying their wind-dances.

If you have a regular circular walk that you always walk clockwise, try walking it anti-clockwise or vice versa. In dry, warm weather find a place to lie down for a few minutes mid-walk. Look up at the sky or down at whatever is growing or crawling beneath you. If the conditions are safe, take off your shoes and feel the ground beneath your feet. Paddle whenever you can in streams or the sea.

When walking a footpath, step off it a little way to visit a rock, tree or flower that catches your eye. Collect pine cones to burn on the fire in winter. Just sitting watching a big resinous pine cone crackle and flame is an adventure and a reminder of the collecting time.

When you are out walking do you things that you might done when you were a child such as climbing on a wall, a fallen tree trunk or up a tree to get a different view of your surroundings. If the way ahead is clear and safe walk backwards for a few steps, or close your eyes and see how long you can continue walking. I can walk with eyes shut fairly confidently for about ten steps, then I start to slow down and after twenty or so increasingly tentative steps I have to open my eyes.

Go outside in the dark before bed to smell the night air and look at the sky, the moon, the stars. Observe how the moon lights up certain types of clouds. Watch how the tiny winking lights of an aircraft seem to move between the stars.

I can have an adventure just walking down to the compost bin and looking carefully to see what’s new. One morning last year I was so entranced by the sight of a yellow leaf caught in a spider’s web twirling gently in the breeze that I went and got my camera to video it. That leaf, trapped and twirled by unseen forces seemed to represent the way my life felt at that time. Like the leaf, I had to wait patiently until the wind and web let me go on my way.

If you like to stop and draw when you are out and about, try making a sound sketch instead (or as an addition to your drawing). Sit quietly and listen to your surroundings. Write down everything that you hear in your sketchbook. On grim days you can do this lying on your bed at home – it will connect you with the outside world.

Any deviation from your normal routines can feel like an adventure. Even such things as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand can be surprisingly interesting. If you always use the same car-park in town, try a different one. If there’s a different route from A to B, try taking it or simply cross the road and walk along the other side.

Routines can be extremely comforting, especially in times of stress, but they can also become restricting. A rut is a rut, even if it has a velvet lining. But you don’t have to leap straight from your rut to a white water raft to have an adventure – just peer over the side and have a look around. Then set off to explore whatever catches your eye. One thing will lead to another.

You can listen to Michael’s pre-recorded podcasts about his first tiny adventures starting here (click on the Daily Podcasts link to find the rest of the series). Keep listening next week to hear about what Michael has been doing whilst on holiday and his future plans.

My latest adventure was having my niece and her boyfriend stay overnight as part of their rather bigger adventure of cycling a personalised version of the South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne. I enjoyed their company very much, but was happy to get back into my bed after waving them off on the next stage of their journey.


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A tiny adventure

In one of last week’s podcasts Michael Nobbs started exploring ideas for tiny adventures. Through the years of illness I’ve learnt to spin a lot out of very little, so I added some of my ideas to the discussion thread and received nice feedback. At some point I might work up what I wrote into a blog post, but for now here’s a brief description of a tiny adventure:

I’m having a low energy, high pain sort of day, but this afternoon I ventured out into the wild wind (strong breeze), braving the dangerous creatures (ants that bite) to lie on my lawn and observe my surroundings.

apple tree

I looked up at the tips of apple tree branches swaying in the breeze. I saw scruffy leaves, shiny young apples, lichened twigs, a clump of white fluffy woolly aphids, the bright blue sky and a sparrow flitting towards the feeder.

A movement high up to my left alerted me to the graceful flight of a seagull spiraling slowly downwards. Attention on the sky I saw that there were little fluffy clouds interrupting the blueness and, glinting in the sun, a jet heading towards the coast, contrail trailing. The steady roar of engines contrasted with the irregular sounds of birdsong and rustling leaves.

Two pigeons swooped from somewhere behind my head towards the roof of my house and a pair of sparrows shot off in the other direction. Spooked by the pigeons? I pondered the difference between bird-flight and human-flight. Until a fast-flying bumble bee caught my attention… Why the hurry? Other bees were ambling about in the usual relaxed manner of bees foraging in sunshine.

I felt the coolness of shaded grass beneath me and the delicious rush of air over my body. I tuned into the different rustles the wind made in the bamboo and the apple leaves. Noticed the pauses in sound and movement, tried to detect a pattern to the gusts.

Turning my head I got a daisy’s-eye view of my surroundings. To the right, to the left. Daisies, buttercups, grass, the raised beds, shrubs, chairs, fences all odd angles, looming, reminding me of how adult-sized objects appear to a child.

Turning to the right again I noticed a pair of sparrows clinging to the brickwork of the house under the eaves. I shifted up onto my elbows to get a better look. Were they prospecting for a home? No, they were pecking at something I couldn’t see. I decided they must be stealing insects from invisible spider’s webs.

It’s not like exploring the Amazon, but when you have limited energy you have to make the most of what you’ve got. There’s a lot going on in a garden and many living things to keep you company when you are too weary for human interaction. My tiny adventure refreshed and inspired me sufficiently to write this and it took even less effort than a micro walk. All you have to do is look and listen.

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Good links #3

Just one today, because I’m low on energy:

To me the word schedule shrieks Constraint! Pressure! Restriction! Captivity! Limitation!
The thought of a timetabled day fills me with claustrophobia and rebelliousness.
But “a net for catching days”? That doesn’t sound too bad at all.

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Good links #2

Earlier this week Trish Nicholson posted a link on Twitter which got me so excited by the idea of a granny-graffiti project that didn’t involve knitting that I spent half the morning link-hopping and reading…

I found more images on the Telegraph website (which includes links to the Lata 65 Facebook page).

From Facebook I hopped over to the WOOL website to read more about Lata 65 and
the urban art festival which takes place in Covilhã, Portugal. There I found out that:

The name of the Festival is a pun between the word WOOL and its near-homophone WALL.

I enjoyed the loop back to my earlier thoughts about yarn-bombing!

I spent more time than I should have done reading through the WOOLfest blog, following links to view the work of various artists and trying to decipher media reports about Lata 65 in other languages. It probably wasn’t the best use of my time, but it was a very great pleasure.

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Good Links #1

To ease myself back into blogging I decided to create a series of posts with links to some of the things that I particularly enjoy as I ramble about the internet. I don’t like regular commitments, so posts will be as and when I’ve got both the energy and the inclination.

Here is today’s very random selection of Good Links:

BBC Radio 4 Food Programme’s two-part tribute to Jane Grigson marking the 25th anniversary of her death. “Good Things” by Jane Grigson is one of the books I pick up for a bit of comfort reading when I’m feeling glum. It’s available new and used from good and bad booksellers.

An article by Oliver Sacks in the New York Times about mishearings. I wholly admire his spirit in turning the misfortune of increasing deafness into an opportunity for scientific contemplation.

A blog post about Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” which is a special favourite of mine. The song is a beautifully rendered reminder that imperfection is our natural state. Here’s the original version:

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Minor triumphs

Every year I say I’ll get Christmas preparations finished by a certain date and every year I fail for one reason or another. But this year I did it! Everything essential was done by the end of last week and, assuming my groceries are delivered as expected tomorrow, I’m free to do as I please until the New Year.

This feels like a good end to a year that started well, but went extremely pear-shaped in the middle. I don’t what to dwell too much on what went wrong or the fact that I didn’t handle it very well at the time. But mainly I think I got my hopes of recovery too high and when they were well and truly dashed by my inability to cope with the prolonged hot weather, I was plunged into anger, grief and depression.

Thankfully with the cooler weather my health and spirits have improved again and, with lessons learnt, I’m on a much more even keel. As it’s the solstice today I thought it would be a good time to review other things that I’ve achieved lately. They include:

    Recruiting a new cleaner who has turned out to be an absolute gem. Her reliability provides bit of structure to plan my life around and it’s lovely having her cheerful, energetic help with the chores I find difficult, draining and tedious.

    Knitting regularly again. Just a little most days will hopefully add up to a new pair of socks by Christmas Day.

    Drastically reducing my intake of medication. More about this in a future post.

    Buying a new easy-to-defrost freezer. A vast improvement on the old one which annoyed me for the whole six years I put up with it!

    Reducing my weight just a little. I’d like to lose a bit more, but the main thing is that I’ve stopped the gradual increase that was making me feel bloated and uncomfortable in my clothes.

    Getting out of the house more. I’ve been to the beach several times and into town to go shopping. Last week I paid my first visit to a new cafe in town which is totally gluten-free and serves absolutely delicious food.

    Writing the occasional blog post and getting (more or less) up to date with my email correspondence and other personal admin.

I’ve got lots of plans and ideas for the future, but for the next fortnight I’m on holiday. I’m going to enjoy seeing friends, eating seasonal treats and pottering about with my arts and crafts.

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