That box that people put you in – the pigeon hole which satisfies their need to classify and order their experiences – you don’t quite fit, do you?
There’s that sharp edge that grabs and catches. You try to smooth it off, sand it away, for your comfort – and for theirs.
Stop. That sharp edge is your power. File it away and your unique shape is lost.
It’s tempting to force yourself into that box shape. To fit. To fit in. But, that sharp edge digs into your side and deep down you know this isn’t the shape of you. It would not be this uncomfortable if it were.
Your place is not inside any box. No pigeon hole can contain your complexity, your contradictions, and the fullness of who you are. That sharp edge? It’s your reminder that you don’t belong in any box, and it’s your sword to cut yourself free.
During art journal classes, the one thing that everyone seems to have great fun with is stencils. Spraying ink over stencils, and rubbing back paint through stencils is one of the first lessons I teach in art journal class. It’s quick, easy, effective and seems to unleash our inner child faster than anything.
There are endless suppliers of ready-made stencils – just Google ‘stencils’ and you could disappear for a week checking them all out, and still not have exhausted the possibilities. But, for artwork that is uniquely yours, with the fun level only stencils can provide, cutting your own is the way to go.
I’ve tried all sorts of material to cut stencils from, some more successful than others. Template plastic (a refugee from my patchwork days) worked well, but was murder on the fingers to cut, and so hard to get a knife through, crisp detail was hard to achieve. Manila folders work OK for one or two uses. Much easier to cut, but once they’re wet with ink or paint, the light cardboard buckles and tends to fall apart pretty quickly.
Enter laminated copy paper! I guess I must have been doing a bunch of laminating for something, and I wondered if maybe this might work well? Turns out it does. I’m not sure how long these will last, I suspect that ultimately the laminate may let go, but they’ve survived one round of art journal classes in tact, so I’m feeling hopeful.
How It’s Done
Grab a sheet of ordinary copy paper
Draw your design – make it simple, and remember that you need to leave some ‘veins’ or connecting pieces, or you’ll just end up with one big hole. A series of simple shapes – squares, triangles, circles – repeated many times are some of the most effective stencils you can use.
Whack the sheet with your hand drawn design through the laminator. I’m lucky to have one here in my office. If you are seriously deprived and don’t own one, try an office supply store or perhaps your local school or printing works. They’ll probably have a small charge, but it will be pittance compared to buying ready-made stencils.
Grab a Stanley knife, self-healing mat and a cuppa (probably not a wine – though I have done that, and the stencil and I lived to tell the tale) and settle in to cut out all the little pieces of your design. Remember – you need to leave little ‘bridges’ in more intricate designs.
Give your fingers a bit of a massage. While the laminated sheet is much easier to cut through than some stencil material, by the time you carefully cut out all the bits, you’ll still be a little tender in the digits
Pull out the spray inks and paints and get cracking on experimenting with your new hand cut stencil, by laying the stencil down over your page which has a bit of background colour on it, and spraying some ink over the stencil onto the page. Carefully lift off the stencil, and Viola! (Have a spare sheet or journal handy to mop up the ink from the stencil after you remove it)
A Mask is a Stencil in Reverse
Silhouettes make great stencils, too. As well as eliminating the anxiety about leaving little bridges and connecting bits, if you are careful as you cut, you will end up not only with a stencil, but also the piece you cut out ever so carefully, which can be used a mask. For this one of Payton and Pa, I printed a photo onto copy paper, laminated it and cut out around the outline, yielding a positive and negative image. A stencil and a mask. Lay the mask (the cutout piece) over a page with a background already laid down, spritz spray ink over the mask, carefully lift the mask off, and there you have it – Payton’s first horse ride with her Pa frozen in time, and spray ink!
There’s a bunch of ways you can incorporate stencils into your creations… this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. You can give yourself a little detective challenge and see if you can spot where I’ve used stencils on the works in the Art Journal Pages Gallery. Or, have some fun in an Art Journaling Workshop with me!
People often ask “What is art journaling?” Good question! I do my best to explain, but sometimes it’s easier to show you.
First you need a journal
Let’s start with the journal. You can use anything! This pile represents a fraction of the sketchbooks and journals I have accumulated – collecting journals and art supplies is my guilty pleasure! An assortment of paper types, sizes, page counts and constructions, there’s something I love about each of them. My favourites though will lie flat on the bench when opened to work in, and have a weighty paper that can withstand wet media (like watercolour, spray inks and paint). Other features that rate high for appeal are pockets in the covers – you never know what bits of flotsam and jetsam you might find to keep for addition to your journal ‘later’ – page marker ribbons, and elastic bands to keep the book from flying open as it expands from the inevitable addition of collage and tape and ephemera.
What goes in the journal?
The real fun begins when you start to do stuff in the journals! What goes into them? Anything at all! I tend to describe art journaling as the intersection of keeping a written diary with keeping a sketchbook. There are journals like this one with a bit of writing and reflection for each day, and some colour and sketching or scribbling – playing, really. This particular spread is in a cheap visual art diary. The paper is pretty flimsy, so there’s a coat of gesso on the paper to give it a bit more substance, followed by collaged papers, washi tape hand carved stamps, water soluble pencil and watercolour paint.
Then there are the more ‘traditional’ artist sketchbooks where reference sketches are made, and ideas are given a trial run before the detail is worked into a final piece. These snazzy arrows to mark North were explorations before committing the compass direction to a map created in a collaborative artists book.
My favourite art journal is one where I experiment with ideas and media. Sometimes these pages end up a muddy mess, and that’s OK, because the purpose of it is to explore, to see what works and what doesn’t, and it’s this absence of pressure to produce something ‘worthy’ that is the best part of all. My brain knows I’m just mucking around, so it’s low stakes and no expectation.
The spread above is a great example. I’d been mucking around with spray inks and stencils, and the page was pretty ‘blah’. I had been reading about using indian ink in an aqua brush, and this ugly page was a very safe place to try that out – it couldn’t get any worse! The face happened with the inky brush, a bit of extra colour popped into the eyes, mouth and hair with coloured pencil and a white Sharpie marker, and although she has a somewhat alien complexion, there’s something kinda cool about it.
That sense of freedom to play and explore because there is no pressure for a dazzling outcome is what makes me believe that art journaling is a wonderful way for anyone to begin to dabble in something creative, to learn a few techniques, to follow your imagination and let the hidden parts of yourself surface and come up for air in safety. Don’t ask me what hidden part of myself came up for air with a green eyed, green faced martian lady… reminds me a little of Salvador Dali’s Mum who said after looking at his paintings “I don’t know what what in his head, but I’m glad he got it out”!
Right now, I’m exploring and experimenting in a different format again – the Disc A Day journal. Which is my own promise to myself that I’ll do something small every day (well, ok… I can’t honestly say that I’ve added to it every day, but I have added to it most days, and right now, I’m happy with that). This little journal is made from a large sheet of hot pressed watercolour paper, cut into three sheets and folded and stitched together, which is great for the wet media I mentioned earlier. What I love most about this little disc, is what the washi tape beside it says: “Make Time”. We’ve talked before about how important it is to make time for creativity, rather than wait till you find time.
That awesome tape, by the way, is designed by Kal Barteski and came from You Are Awesome Co, who are sadly wrapping up trading at the end of September, but they have some great bargains going on there for the next couple days.
So, there you have it. Art Journaling 101. Art journaling is my favourite thing to teach – if you’d like to know a little more about classes, check out my Art Journaling Workshop page.
Once upon a time, there was a brave, kind and handsome policeman named Russ. His job with the force brought him and his family of princesses to a small country town, where they met other little families and before very long, the loyalest and most wonderful of friendships were forged. Grown ups, kids, (so many little princes and princesses) – even family animals – all became cherished, each by the others. One day, the time came for the policeman and his now bigger family of little princesses to move to another town. The friends by now had become friends for life, so even though they moved far away, there were still many celebrations and holidays and special times when all the princes, princesses and grown ups spent happy hours in one another’s company.
In time, the princesses and princes became grown ups as well, as is the way of princes and princesses. They found new princes and princesses to draw into the circle, and of course, began to bring new tiny princes and princesses into the world, who all became cherished – each by the others.
The job of a policeman can be a hard one, and while the brave and handsome policeman was keeping us safe, he was seeing things that troubled his kind heart. Maybe he thought he always had to be brave and strong. Maybe he was afraid what the grown ups and princes and princesses would think about him if he told them how he was really feeling. What he was really thinking.
Then one day, the brave, kind and handsome policeman named Russ left the gown ups and the princesses and the princes forever, and all of them who had become cherished, each by the other, had broken hearts and lots of questions that had no answer.
Then, Blue HOPE appeared on the horizon, and the grown ups and the princesses and the princes wished so hard that they had known about Blue HOPE before the brave, kind and handsome policeman named Russ had taken his own life, because maybe, the brave and kind policemen at Blue HOPE may have been able to help Russ to stay.
You see, Blue HOPE need some money to spread the word about the help they have available to brave, kind policemen. So, the grown ups and the princes and the princesses and all of them who became cherished, each by the other, decided to have a special day, in honour of their brave, kind and handsome policeman named Russ, and to raise money to give Blue HOPE so that other grown ups and princesses and princes who cherish kind, brave policeman may never have to know the sorrow of saying goodbye far too soon.
As fairy tales go – this one is crap. Sadly, there is no happy ending ending to Russ’s story, but as the grown ups and the princesses and the princes who cherished him, we are choosing to honour his memory with a family fun day – A Fuss About Russ – to raise money for Blue HOPE, as they aim to raise awareness & share information about Police Suicide globally, introduce an anonymous, external referral system and 24hr helpline.
I’ve donated this piece “Turquoise Tranquility” as an item for the charity auction. It will go under the auctioneers hammer along with an astonishing assortment of goodies: from pearl jewelry to a tonne of mung bean seed! I’ll also be packing up my artwork and books to set up a market stall alongside my clever Mum and her handmade glass beads and jewelry. There’ll be plenty of market stalls, live music, games, helicopter joy rides, BBQ, yabbie races, clowns, and of course the auction action, plus lots more besides.
Here are the details if you live close enough to come join us:
When: 17th September 10am to 4pm
Where: “Harcourt”, Baralaba – Moura Road, Baralaba, Qld. (We’d love you to you pre-purchase your tickets!)
5 ways to make time for a creative life
Images are everywhere these days, and it’s easy to click, save and share without giving too much thought to the whole process. I know many artists – photographers in particular – who have discovered their original work has been ‘borrowed’. Usually innocently, and without any malice or harmful intent, also without any credit being given, but I’ll get back to that in a second.
I was delighted to receive an email from Kirsten from Bodyworks in Blackall, explaining that she had found my photograph of a piece of public art that had been posted on my blog. They were wanting to use the image for the header for their Facebook page, as they feel this striking sculpture is synonymous with the town. What delighted me was that she took the time to contact me and ask permission to use my image – as I mentioned earlier – many people don’t. A couple of emails back and forth, and we helped one another out. Bodyworks popped an image credit and link to my website on their Facebook page. I shared their business page, and my appreciation of their great ethics on both my business and personal pages, and among it all, Kirsten ordered her Mum a copy of my book.
All this giving credit urged me to once again try to find information on the sculpture. The guy who created the Spinifex ball is an artist with his own right to acknowledgement too! When I posted the image some years ago, all I could find was his name – Richard Moffatt – and nothing to link to him. Unfortunately, I still can’t find too much, I did discover he recently won first prize for Sculpture On The Edge, and he’s on Instagram as @ironise2266. A Google image search of his name brings up an array of wonderful metal sculptures that I enjoyed poring over for a while.
Think before you click and share
The internet is vast, and with the ability to share and save images and data, it has forever altered the way humans gather and share information. For artists, the internet is simultaneously the best and worst thing to happen to us. Never in history has connecting to an audience for our art been easier or quicker. It’s possible to sell our creations without leaving our studios (which isn’t necessarily a good thing – artists work in isolation a great deal… we all need to get out and be among other humans). Websites, blogs and social media have dramatically changed the face of art marketing and exposure. On the flip side, that same technology has also made it easy for our original creations to be borrowed – sometimes stolen – and used by others for a quick result. Often, this borrowing is innocent and comes about because someone responds to an image and wants to share or copy it. Sometimes, unscrupulous souls take an artists intellectual property and mass produce it for their own gain.
The point I’m taking way to long to make here is this: art takes time. The finished images you see on your computer or device screen are the cumulative result of years of practice, learning, experimenting, and developing skill and knowledge. Artists share their work to give it an audience, to move and inspire others, and to earn an income. We are delighted when people want to share our work with others, all we ask is that you take a leaf from Kirsten’s book, and tune in, say hi, and ask how we want to be acknowledged. And Richard Moffat… if you’re out there, I’d love to be able to add a proper credit line to my image of your stunning sculpture!
When our first grand baby – Payton – was born, I knocked out a pencil sketch portrait of her one day while in the waiting room for the torture chamber known as a mammogram. Sketching her was a delightful distraction from the anticipation of the squeezing and squashing and discomfort waiting through that door. Not having great faith or belief that I could even render any kind of likeness at the time, I was simply puddling around and enjoying getting absorbed in the curve of her perfect little mouth. The result was a surprisingly good likeness – so good that we framed it as her gift for her first birthday. (You can click through to that post and sketch here, if you’d like to have a look at it) At the time, it occurred to me that it would be special to do the same for each of our grand kids as they came along. No one could know how quickly the next three would show up. In the space of fifteen months, the number grew to four! That idea to draw a pencil portrait of each of them for their first birthday has seen me with a pencil in my hand more in the past six months than in many years.
As well as being sources of endless delight and joy, these tiny humans have led me back to something long forgotten – just how much I enjoy to draw. These drawings have also held some lessons about creative fear. The discomfort of that mammogram was almost insignificant compared to the realization that I was avoiding beginning the second portrait. Avoiding it, because in some deep, unconscious place, I doubted I could do it again. But do it again I did, three times in rapid succession! Yet every time, the beginning was put off for a while. There was a cupboard that needed clearing out; a pile of ironing, untouched for six months that simply HAD to be attended to first. Anyone who knows me well will knows this is the surest indication of avoidance of a task. I loathe ironing with a passion! So many things that weren’t terribly important took on monumental urgency in the face of beginning each of these portraits.
Research and conversations with other artists has led to the understanding that I’m not alone in this. In fact, it’s not just artists. School Principals, entrepreneurs, and professionals of all kinds have said “Me too!” But here’s the thing: when you take a deep breath, dive in, and start whatever it is that you’re nervous to begin, you’ve already succeeded. It doesn’t matter if you hit it out of the park, or you make something barely fit for the bottom of the birdcage, you moved, you took action. Sometimes, you’ll make it work first go. Other times, you might have experiences like I did with Hunter’s portrait, and create something that looks like a little alien baby. Even if we had a cockatoo – it would not have wanted that drawing lining it’s cage. But you know what? The awful drawing was a wonderful limbering up exercise, and even though it ended up stuffed in the back of the sketchbook as a reminder that each work is a journey that sometimes takes a very circuitous route, without it, the final portrait would not have been as successful.
Looking into the eyes of these precious tiny souls, I am thankful for all they have taught me already, grateful to them for inspiring me to pick up a pencil and draw again, and filled with anticipation for all the wonder and awe we will share them as they grow. There will be all kinds of lessons along the way – for the little ones, as well as for the bigger ones whose task it is to guide them through this this wild and crazy life. And, just between you and me, I’m excited for the day we can all paint and draw together – without them being more interested in eating it!
Experimenting in my art journal sometimes looks like a dogs breakfast, or, as my dearly beloved would say, like preschool play time! Other times – the magical, wondrous times – the results are pleasing enough to want to share them. With that in mind, I was delighted to discover the irrepressible Jane Davenport had created her Print And Scan Class – which, by the way, I cannot recommend highly enough. Jane delivers a wealth of ‘techie’ know-how in artist speak, thus unravelling the mysteries of metadata, pixels, file size and photo editing, and opening up a wealth of options for artists to share their creations easily and affordably.
It’s taken some time (as all things worth waiting for do, I’m told), but I have finally gotten a dozen of my favourite art journal pages turned into digital images and printed onto notecards. I love to use these for thank you notes, for letters, and to pop in with gifts as a greeting card. They’re blank inside, so you can put them to whatever use your imagination can come up with! As the boxed set, they also make a great little gift.
These are available in my shop, as boxed sets with envelopes, but it seems to me that Set One and Set Two are possibly the most unimaginative names to distinguish these two offerings! But I’m coming up empty trying to think of anything better. So… I’ve decided to enlist your help. Leave me a comment here (or on my Facebook page) with your name suggestion (or suggestions) for these sets. Then, this Friday (1st July 2016), I’ll choose the cleverest and most descriptive name for each set. If your suggestion is the one I choose for a set, I’ll send you that set – having renamed it in your honour – to say thank you. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Heres the inserts, showing the six different images for each box:
After I hit ‘publish’ on my book “When Your Superpower Becomes Your Kryptonite”, there was a couple of weeks of quiet contentment in having accomplished something so huge. Very shortly after that, we experienced a loss so profound that I found myself needing to listen hard to my own advice. We lost a cherished friend to suicide; and while my own grief feels insignificant alongside the grief of his wife – my precious friend – and his family, it has led me along a path I wasn’t expecting. My plan for this year had been to do all I could to share my book with the world – set up a shop on my website, write blog posts, submit to publishers – anything and everything I could think of. But instead of sharing the book, I found myself having to live it.
Living what I wrote, led me to practice nightly gratitudes in my journal, yoga and meditation, wandering walks, setting myself a small (and perfectly pointless) creative goal of taking photos of regular things from unusual perspectives, and keeping a journal. But, the thing that felt most healing and helpful was this: Choosing beauty over busy. Stopping, sitting with the heavy sorrow, and letting my body feel it. I know that sounds far from beautiful, but there is a beauty in feeling that kind of sorrow that breaks your heart open, and after the sorrow has poured out, what’s left is love – which is why we feel such sorrow in the first place – and that’s pretty beautiful.
Many months on, It’s time to get back to the original plan, which is to share When Your Superpower Becomes Your Kryptonite far and wide; and revisiting it for my own well being in the past few months, I’m more committed than ever to see the book find it’s way into the hands of readers.
The idea of choosing beauty over busy comes from Chapter 11 – Quit Being So Damned Busy;
For heavens sake, stop choosing relentless busyness. We all have lots to do. That’s life. It’s a given. Let’s just get on with it, and while we’re at it, take five minutes here, half an hour there, to share something beautiful and real with our partners, our kids, our friends, even the sour girl at the supermarket. Share a meal with people you love, phones turned off, giving one another the beautiful gift of our wrapt attention. Take a walk and stop to watch that soaring eagle, or wee little insect building it’s intricate nest. Get outside and lay in the grass, finding elephants and ice creams in the clouds drifting by. Choose beauty over busy for a moment or two every day. You’ll be astonished what a difference it can make.
There’s so much more to the story of the loss of our wonderful friend; but it’s not just my story. It belongs to him, to his wife, daughters and their families and our circle of friends. It belongs to his work colleagues, his community and every soul touched by him in his life. I share my very small part with you here in the hope that it might encourage you to take a moment or two to care for yourself. To spend some beautiful time with the people you care most about. To talk with one another about the things that are sometimes hard to talk about. Our mental health is a precious blessing. Admitting to feeling not quite right can be a terrifying thing. Let’s all choose beauty over busy; be present for each other and take a little time to feel – the joyful stuff, the sorrowful stuff, the exciting stuff, the painful stuff – all of the feelings.
How are you going to choose beauty over busy today?