Category Archives: Painting

Big emotions for little – and me

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My daughter had a lot of emotions tonight. She took two hours to settle and then finally fell asleep exhausted in her cot, after her little body had thrown itself about in my arms unsure of what to do. I felt so helpless, all the time telling her she was safe and loved, talking to her about how she felt, but all the time feeling so drained, so beaten up, so annoyed, so angry with myself. Is this what other parents feel? Are these emotions ever easier to handle?  

I had planned to write out my workshop planning this evening. It’s massively overdue – I am hoping to run some art workshops next month. I needed to get the course outline written up  and the marketing sorted. Instead I’ve been holding, patting, singing to and crying with a thrashing toddler. And my anxiety is on the rise, again. 

I haven’t really spoken about my anxiety in public, but it is something I’d like to share more about because I do believe that the more mental health is discussed openly, the better chance we have of understanding it and working towards its improvement. 

My anxiety started in my early twenties, when I was away at University in London. Thats a another story for another day, but it really changed me and my life – and it’s something I’m still trying to work through. Shortly before and during my pregnancy it was pretty non-existent, and I was lulled into the falsely secure feeling that I might at last be recovered. Then I had my daughter and it hit with full force. I suffered post-natal anxiety, and no one knew. Maybe I’ll share that too one day, but for now I’m just coming to terms with the reality that anxiety is still very real for me. Working as a painter and being a Mum I have found some new ways to help myself through this. Painting, in fact, can really lift me out of any deep worry. So can playing with my daughter, or just being with her! Knowing that I am strong enough to be there for her even when I feel at my weakest, gives me great peace.

Tonight, though, as she struggled with her own big emotions, I felt despairing and sad inside. The familiar feeling of a rising anxiety attack made me question my abilities as a Mum. I was not brave, not calm, not confident. I felt powerless, selfish and lost.  Looking back now I can see that I was there for my little J. She knew I was there and she fell asleep calmly with me by her side. But all the while I was battling my own panic, my own sense of fear, and anxiety left me feeling unsure how to process what has happened. 

I don’t know how other Mums feel when their little ones struggle like this. Maybe they would say the same, maybe not. But lately – and its probably no coincidence that this has coincided with a lack of sleep – I have noticed my anxiety creeping up and I can tell you it’s a real pain! Anxiety can manifest in so many different ways, for me mostly it’s heart palpitations, nausea, rapid heart rate, breathlessness, claustrophobia, pins and needles, numbness in my arms and a jittery feeling. It’s incredibly physical whilst at the same time terrifyingly mental. I also suffer with something called SVT which is basically an extremely rapid heart rate. This can happen randomly at any time, though in the past its always been very infrequent. This year though I’ve already had two episodes (previously I had one or two a year) and they both happened when my daughter woke crying loudly at night. My guess is they were triggered by anxiety. 

I don’t want to ramble on too much about this right now. I just want to say  – this Mum thing? It’s hard! I am finding it hard sometimes. If you are too, you’re not alone. 

Anxiety is like a wave, you have to ride it out. It teaches you to hold on because some time soon it will pass over and you will still be standing there. It teaches you that feelings are like waves. That emotions, however overwhelming, big and powerful, don’t last forever.  I clung onto my little girl  and she clung onto me and we were both still standing at the end, holding each other. I hope that I can teach her how to navigate these storms and know that she is never alone. 

As for the art workshops, well, they will just have to be ever so slightly later. Hopefully they’ll be even better for it. 

Tree-House dreams

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Sam was walking through the woods one day when the long, blue legs that stretched out across the ground in front of her, moving with every step, suddenly grew even longer. She allowed her eyes to follow them…and watched as the legs stretched into poles that reached up into the sky. At the top of the long, leg-poles perched a wooden house. Squinting through the sun she edged towards it, breathing thinly through cold, stretched lips….

House in the woods, Trees, Forest, House, Woods, Sunlight, Adventure, Story, Imagine, Landscape, Centre Parcs

I  really want to paint a wooden house in the trees! Saw this on our holiday at Centre Parcs and it fired up my imagination. Today, while my daughter napped, I quickly sketched some trees/leaves and played with watercolour on canvas – which created a weird, pool-like surface allowing a dreamy feeling to emerge. Lots to be done on this but a fun start – no house yet but that’s next!  Just wanted to share it with you! 

Trees - watercolour on canvas, Painting, watercolour, canvas, abstract, imagine, landscape, woods, forest, dreams

Have you ever stayed in a house in the woods? 

HOW TO LIVE LIFE DOING WHAT YOU LOVE

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2019 is officially here and so many of us are trying to set new goals so that we can be the best version of ourselves – the one that all the other years didn’t quite make happen.

Well, I don’t believe in new years resolutions because, to be honest, it just feels like I’m setting myself up to fail. But I DO believe in recovery, goals and change. And I believe these three things can REALLY make a DIFFERENCE to YOUR LIFE. These are the three things that I am going to be implementing in order to do what I want to do for a living (making art, selling art and sharing my insight with YOU) and, essentially, make my dreams come true. Exciting, right?

So I’m going to tell you what you can do to make your dreams come true.

This is how I have started to make a living doing what I LOVE.

Grab a cuppa and read on – you’re going to want to take a few minutes to soak this up.

RECOVERY

Ok so the first thing you need to do in order to do what you truly love, whether that’s selling knitted tights and bobble hats or fishing for trout in southern France, is recover. Now I know what you’re thinking – I don’t need to recover, Helen. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m absolutely champion, thank you very much. To which I say:

No. You’re not. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but EVERYONE needs to go through a process of recovery before they start changing the way they live. And that’s what we’re talking about here: changing your life so you can do what you love and cut all the other junk out.

So what is recovery? It’s a process of healing, transformation, repair – whatever you call it it’s something that takes time but without which you will simply be dragging all your unwanted thoughts, negative vibes and unfocused energy along with you into your new venture. AND YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO DO THAT. Trust me.

Recovery looks different for everyone. For me, it’s been a process of acceptance – accepting where I was in my life, that I was struggling, that I couldn’t be there for my family because I was run down, emotionally empty, suffering from post traumatic stress/post natal anxiety (more on this later) and generally unwell. I needed a plan – a recovery plan. And you do too, but yours will look different to mine. Yours might be a plan to recover from burnout, from anxiety, from simply not believing in yourself or your goals, from not believing you have the ability to do what you love. Maybe it’s simply recovery from the day to day slog of life. However big or small it seems, taking time out to recover is critical for prepping your body and mind and getting into a sort of ‘neutral’ gear that allows you to be open to the change that’s about to come your way.

Some great recovery methods are: journaling, talking therapy, yoga/activity/meditation, a course like the Artist’s Way or finding a personal life coach to help you realise your dreams.

GOALS

You probably have heard this a million times but it’s a really big deal. If you want to do what you love, you need a goal. I’ll definitely write another blog post on this to break it down, but essentially you want to have short, mid and long term goals.

Short term goals

So if you want to make a living as a freelance artist selling prints of night time city scapes (Amazing idea. Thank you. You’re welcome) in the spare time you have between doing the school runs and entertaining the toddler (Go for it, you can do this – you SO CAN) you want to have a short term goal that reflects what you want to achieve in the next month – no more time than this. And it doesn’t need to be big. In fact is needs to not be big, it needs to be SMALL.

So maybe creating three or four prints that really represent who you are. Make this goal really achievable, that way when you have accomplished it you can really feel empowered and ready to step it up. Plus if you’re a Mum like me, you need to set realistic targets that allow you to balance your goals with looking after your little ones.

Mid term goals

Mid term goals are great for setting marketing strategies and targets. Things like updating your pretty defunct website which still has that picture of you in a boiler suit riding a ferris wheel you thought was so cool back in uni. Figuring out how many people you want to get to like your Facebook page, how many subscribers you want on your mailing list and how many products you can realistically make over the next six months.

Long term goals

Long term goals can be anywhere from 1-5 years depending on how fast your business changes and moves. Maybe you have a goal of how much income you want to be making in 1 year. Maybe you have a goal of how many paintings you want to have for sale. Maybe you can see what your business will look like in 5 years time. Make it ambitious but not outrageous. Visualise yourself achieving this goal and write it in your journal and on your calendar as if it’s happening – the same way your birthday is happening (however many people you don’t tell and however many numbers you knock off your age, it’s still your birthday on THAT day).

CHANGE

Now you’ve set your goals you need to make some changes. I could write a whole blog post on this (maybe I will!) but I’ll break it down a little for you.

If you’ve been through the recovery process and identified what areas you want to change then great! This step is basically a follow on from that. You’re pretty much going through recovery to set your goals and identify what you want to change in order to achieve them – and this is the bit where you do the change. Woop!

For example, maybe you’ve identified that you need a place to work, more hours to work, a bigger network and a better website. So now you can start making that happen. Write your changes on a board and pin them above your desk. These things might not happen right away. Maybe you need funding, or a larger house – something that seems impossible right now. But I promise you CAN make this happen – it just requires a change of the biggest kind – a change in YOU.

Example – is there someone who can offer you some tech support in return for a few hours gardening (time sharing/skill swapping is a great option that could get you that new website). Do you need to spend some serious time visualising your bigger office space? Maybe you need to set your target sales higher, look at your prices, get an extra day to work – and stop thinking you don’t deserve to be happy?

Happy New Year! Blogs, vlogs and extra togs.

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Hello creative soul, welcome back to my blog. I’m launching my new year – and a happy new year to you – with plans to take my blog to the next level. I was thinking over Christmas how much I’ve missed writing, and how much writing helps me through good and bad times. So I’m going to be brave and share more with you.

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Illustration from The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook © Shirley Hughes, 1992

I was reading a Shirley Hughes book to my daughter at bedtime the other night (I LOVE SHIRLEY), and I felt so alive just reliving the childhood experiences she captures so well. Playing in the mud, watching people in the streets, colourful foods and plants and boots and hats, chasing around outdoors and hiding indoors – her work really spoke to me of my own childhood. As I sat with J on my knee reading to her I felt this amazing sense of being given a second chance. I get to relive these moments with my own little girl now. And I also felt super inspired to do my own watercolours of childhood moments. So I’m going to take J out and we’re going to record a few little moments of childhood joy and use them to make some artwork/play/explore. Which leads me to the next thought…

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This will be me. 

VLOGS. I’m going to be extra brave and start a vlog. I am really super excited about being able to talk directly to you, share some film and capture some of my processes so that you can use them too – little tips and tricks and ways to paint, draw and doodle. I’d love to share what I love about creativity, and I truly believe everyone is creative and that YOU CAN PAINT. I’ve even ordered a couple of nice lights and microphone so you can actually see and hear me. LUCKY YOU.

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My new bed shall look JUST LIKE THIS. Yes. 

Thirdly, TOGS. Isn’t it cold?! I just feel so cold all the time. Don’t you? So I’ve made the most of the boxing day sales and – for the first time ever – done an online sale shop on boxing day for a new duvet. I’m super excited about this – THAT’S RIGHT – I’M TALKING ABOUT A DUVET – because it’s a feather down one and I’ve got some linen coming too. SO basically my new years resolution is to make my bed look and feel like a hotel bed. So that despite constantly being dragged out of it by a toddler, I can truly feel I am gaining some sort of luxurious comfort time at night. TOG IT UP. Cosy cosy cosy winter time is here – time to snuggle up under your duvet and do some doodling and watch some vlogs – join me!

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Tinfoil toys

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IMG_6058My daughter loves unwrapping presents, so for a fun independent activity I wrapped her toys in tinfoil! I chose toys that were easy to wrap and small enough to fit in her little box. She loves taking the lid off the box and discovering what’s in there.

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I found that she even turned the familiar toys over in her hands, exploring them anew. This was a great activity for when I needed a few minutes to clear the kitchen after breakfast! She did get a bit obsessed with the tinfoil and we ended up scrunching it into balls to play catch with too!

P..P..P..P..Play Dough + recipe!

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IMG_6117Confession. I LOVE PLAY DOUGH!  So on a recent haul round local craft shops I made sure to pick some up. Actually, I made some last week – recipe at the bottom – but I have to admit, it wasn’t as luminous as the stuff I bought today and that won out for me. I like things bright and shiny. Like a magpie. But the home made stuff is really fine too! And cheaper 🙂

Ok so this stuff wasn’t for me it was for my 14 month old daughter, but I think I had the most fun with it! In the end though, she got into the swing of pressing down cookie cutters and rolling the squidgy substance around her palm. (Mostly she wanted to pick bits off and flick them onto the rug…)

It’s definitely an activity I’ll be returning to and which we’ll both be getting more out of as she grows. Try it out – great on a rainy day and really helps little ones to focus, use fine motor skills and experiment with touch. Just watch out for their experimentation with taste – not an activity they can do unsupervised!

img_6026.jpgHome Made Play Dough

Little ones can help you make this soft, fun play dough. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • a few drops of food colouring

Here’s what you do:

  1. Mix the flour and salt
  2. Slowly pour in the water, stirring as you do. Knead until the mixture is combined and the dough is soft but not sticky (add more flour if it is).
  3. Make a well in the centre of the dough with your thumb, add a few drops of food colouring and knead until thoroughly combined and the colour is even.
  4. Add more colouring if required!

As you can see my play dough was a bit pale – I ran out of time to add more colour, but adding more blue would really brighten it up!

Opening the mail

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This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but just haven’t got around to. Lately it struck me that, although I spend as much time as possible on my painting business, I am for the most part (for the moment), an at-home Mum. And as such I spend a lot of time coming up with activities for my daughter to engage with. I thought it would be good to share them with you from now on! So, I’ll try to blog about them as much as I can and share with you any tips or ideas I have for entertaining toddlers!

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My daughter is 14months and she loves to open things. Cans, boxes, packets, bottles… envelopes. So, taking advantage of this, and to help her fine motor skills along, I created an Opening the Mail activity with her toys.

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I took a dozen small envelopes and put a toy or activity card in each one, folded them over and placed them in a small box with a lid. In the morning after breakfast, when she is happiest to concentrate on such things, I sat her in the lounge and let her explore.

She had a lot of fun ripping open the mail! She even examined the toys again as though they were new, and we talked about what they were called and looked like etc. She didn’t do these all at once but it was an activity she came back to throughout the day. As an extension to the activity I tried to encourage her to put the toys back in the envelopes/box afterwards. She wasn’t so keen on this part – maybe one for a future date!

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START UP

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P1020312September is here. And I am not ready! J, my little girl, has not been sleeping at all lately. Her back and top teeth are cutting through her tiny, tender gums and she has had her one year immunisations. She feels pretty rubbish. So she has needed me even more, and even more in the middle of and all through the nights. I have tried to drag myself up to my attic studio space to work when she has finally gone to sleep but I admit, I have not always tried very hard. I have crawled under a duvet and stolen a few precious hours sleep instead. This is the challenge of being a stay-at-home-work-at-home Mum. Two, three, four hours sleep to see me through the days and nights and my brain just cannot find the space to reach for colours, for shapes.

I painted two portraits this week and both went very badly. It’s hard to put your finger on what makes a painting work but I believe some of it has to do with a feeling of balance and a sense of space when approaching the page. Neither of which have been very available to me lately. So I sit here again, in front of a blank page, breathing deeply and trying to tell myself that things will happen. Trying to train myself to work in the gaps that present themselves to me – a half hour here, an hour there. Ignoring the low, heavy feeling of sleep beckoning me from my bedroom below.

WHEN MATERNITY LEAVE IS OVER BUT YOU WORK FROM HOME…

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IMG_4842About nine months into maternity leave with my daughter I quit my ‘office job’ to return to freelance work as a painter. Essentially I am starting a business. From scratch. On less than five hours sleep most nights. From home.

But it’s amazing. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating.

And a bit mad.

Having a baby and then keeping her alive, healthy and happy is more than a full time job. So finding time to work, and working from home, can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Today I ventured out to the local coffee shop and it has been a real treat. My new office is really wherever I am so finding a little spot by a window where I can drink tea uninterrupted without the Everest-like heights of my washing casting a shadow over me, is bliss. Oh and I get to order ‘Hipster toast’, which makes me feel a tiny bit (self-consciously) cool again for the first time in months.

Everything moves so fast with a baby. The days blur into one. Trying to slow time down to capture that one moment worth keeping in mind forever is a constant challenge. Looking through the images of babies and children that I am using to begin my portraits, I wonder what is happening in that exact moment; that exact moment the baby is caught on screen, in her rapidly changing world? There are too many moments to capture it feels impossible to pick one. So I am particularly excited about my portraiture business, because creating an artwork from these snapshots provides me – and more importantly you – with a unique interpretation of a little life in the here and now. It makes that moment a little more easy to stick – a little more memorable. And I don’t know about you, but my memory could use a little help these days!