The inner critic

Imposter Syndrome, inner critic, Captain Failure, whatever you call it – I feel as if I finally understand it, and this understanding has truly changed my life. It’s one of the many amazing things I’m learning from the incredible Stacie Bloomfield and her Leverage Your Art online course.

Having been beaten down countless times (for decades) by the inner critic’s ‘you’re not good enough’ mantra, I now understand it for what it is. It’s just a part of my brain that doesn’t like change and is frightened by risk-taking. It comes up with what it thinks are valid reasons to prevent my doing something that doesn’t feel safe.

In a real life-or-death situation that’s immensely useful, and the inner critic is actually your greatest protector if it tells you that you really shouldn’t jump out of a tenth floor window. The problem is that the inner critic can’t always tell the difference between a genuine life-threatening change and a personal challenge, so it tells you the same limiting things over and over again until you can no longer tell the difference either. It seems to me that you and the inner critic grow together and you just get used to not questioning its advice.

I’ve nearly finished the right-brain business plan, and am including the inner critic just so I don’t forget that sometimes it tells me things that may not be true.

The inner critic: actually my greatest protector who doesn’t like to admit that they are sometimes wrong

Underneath all of those life-limiting nonsense messages is the truth – that somewhere in there, a part of your brain is afraid that you will die if you change. You can’t grow if you don’t take occasional considered risks. It’s not natural to stand still or stay the same. Everything changes eventually.

So finally I’m recognising that messages like ‘you don’t deserve this’ and ‘this will never work’ are just really, really silly.

Heart of Soil sketchbook

Settle down with a cup of tea or something because there are lots of pictures today.

You might recall I enrolled on the Heart of Soil online workshop last month – you can see my earlier post about it here. I collected all the lessons into a little sketchbook, and it’s been a lot of fun to revisit some techniques I haven’t used for a while. I particularly liked the limited colour palette – just blues and yellows – and the pages in the resulting book are nicely coordinated.

Front cover with strip of hand dyed silk wrapped around
Front and back covers
String of Hearts class taught by Tiffany Sharpe
Bluebird of Peace class taught by Megan Quinlan (mine is a blue tit, since I think that’s the closest thing we have to a bluebird in the UK)
Buds class taught by Michelle Schratz

I went a bit off-piste with some of these and added some lines from a vintage poetry anthology to some of the pages, and I added a teabag pocket to this one too. I made a stencil from Tyvek for the background leaf and flower images.

The lines of poetry on the page below are from a Rupert Brooke poem, mixed up to create a found poem.

Pebbles and Peace classes taught by Leaca Young
Paper doll class (I adapted this one a fair bit just to get it on the page) taught by Kim Smith (@slaphappystudios on Instagram) and painted watercolour tubes class taught by Kelly Hoernig (@kellyhoernig.artist on Instagram)
Watercolour wildflower garden class taught by Tracey Wozniak
Watercolour/mixed media backgrounds and mark making class taught by DeeDee Catron
The one-page journal technique, shared by Kiala Givehand (@kialagives on Instagram) and a sunflower for Ukraine taught by Lorraine Bell (@lorraine_bell on Instagram)

Of course the sketchbook itself is based on the one-page sketchbook technique (you fold a single sheet of paper, cut it strategically and fold it into an eight-page booklet) but I thought it would be fun to make a tiny sketchbook to tuck inside the bigger one. The smaller version is made from a sheet of A4 paper; just me enjoying myself, really.

Collaged pages in mini-sketchbook with various marks and papers
Pages from mini-sketchbook, collaged and painted, with lines from a vintage poetry anthology

I thought it might be fun to include a little video run-through but then I noticed the colour of my hands and thought I ought to explain. I did some dyeing this morning and – I do it every time – forgot to put the gloves back on when rinsing. My hands are not normally purple, just in case anyone is worried.

A very happy collection of classes and I enjoyed them immensely. Next up, I’m doing the Traveller Blanket course with the lovely Dijanne Cevaal and am looking forward to that. Next year I hope to be teaching online classes myself, and I’ve figured that the best way to see what works is to sign up for a few myself. And of course there is always something new to learn.

Blue buds

Still having lots of creative fun with paint and paper in the Heart of Soil class – it’s a lovely course and for an excellent cause – there is still time to sign up, which you can do here.

Accidental discovery of the day is that you can very easily make your own stencils from Tyvek. Apparently Tyvek is used for making envelopes in the US but you’re more likely to find it in a DIY shop in the UK – I think it’s used in building/construction and in PPE, but it’s also been used in mixed media art for several years now for its propensity to shrink and bubble when heated. It’s about as thick as copy paper but is much more durable, and very easy to cut with a craft knife.

Simple stencil made from Tyvek, coloured with watercolour paints
Heart shape cut from Tyvek used as a stencil with dry-brushed watercolour paint

This page is based on a technique taught by Michelle Schratz (if you’re an Instagram person you can find her here.)

A6 sketchbook page based on Michelle’s Heart of Soil class

I found a couple of lines of poetry (Rupert Brooke, from a vintage anthology) and used an old teabag as the pocket for the cut-out flowers.

Teabag pocket with flowers cut from sketchily-painted vintage papers

The yellow ribbon, saved from something many years ago, is exactly the right colour, which is proof that you should Keep All Your Collage Supplies For Ever. One of these days I will need a bigger house.

Yellow and blue flowers

I am really enjoying the limited palette and am already thinking way ahead with ideas to try this in various other colours and media. Also it’s immensely enjoyable to make something just for the fun of it, without any pressure for it to turn out ‘right’, whatever that is. Wishing everyone a happy week.

He(art) of Soil

I have given myself too many things to do: no surprises there. I have signed up for three online courses, all running at the same time, while continuing to work three days a week at the desk job. I did know what I was doing, and all of it seemed like a really good idea at the time, and I’m already slightly behind. But then I get lifetime access to all three courses, and you can do them all at your own pace, so there is no rush really.

One of the classes I signed up for is a delightful mixed media watercolour course called He(art) of Soil, organised by Leaca Young (you can find her on Instagram here). It’s very accessible, with ten mixed media artists each contributing a simple project, and there’s still time to sign up if you’re interested – go to Leaca’s website in the link above for more information. All the proceeds go to World Central Kitchen, in aid of the conflict in Ukraine. The projects in this course are based on a very limited palette: just three shades of blue, and three shades of yellow, for the Ukrainian flag. The paints are made from soil and pigment and look really beautiful. You can see more about how they’re made here. I didn’t purchase the paints – it would have been very expensive to have them shipped from the USA to the UK, and I don’t need more watercolour paints, so I’m adapting what I’ve already got. You can see my substitute palette below.

A6 folded sketchbook for The Art of Soil online class

I don’t need much of an excuse to splash some paint around, so I had a very happy hour or so this afternoon painting some collage papers in these colours.

delicious pile of vintage and modern papers painted with acrylics and watercolours

I’m collecting and completing all the lessons in a little folded A6 sketchbook made with three sheets of A3 paper, folded and cut to make a little zine-type booklet. If you’re not familiar with the technique, you can find instructions for making a one-page booklet here. One of the tutorials in this class includes instructions for making this kind of booklet, which will be perfect for keeping everything together.

The projects are very simple and suitable for all abilities, and I guess you could make them as quick or as complicated as you like.

Page based on Tiffany’s Hearts project – find her on Instagram here

It’s really interesting to work with such a limited palette, and surprising to see just how many shades of blue, green, and yellow you can actually make. A lot of the artists remark on the texture of the watercolours that they’re using, describing them as quite gritty. My paints are all very smooth, so I might try using some watercolour texture medium for some of the classes, just to see how it turns out.

Loosely worked page based on Megan’s Bird of Peace tutorial. You can see her work here

Regardless of how long you might have been making art, in whatever medium, I love the fact that there is always something more to learn, something more to practice, and plenty more ways to grow. I really like the fact that this online class supports a great cause, and that the artists have given their time and skills so freely. I’m looking forward to completing more of the classes in this course.

A good plan

Focusing on the Big Plan is taking most of my time and energy at the moment, but it’s utterly absorbing and much more immersive than I had expected. At the moment it feels like a good use of my time. I’m seeing things more clearly as a result of taking the time to work on these visual representations of where I go next on the journey, and it’s so much more effective than writing words in a box with a biro. It turns out I had completely underestimated the power of creative journalling.

I do like a nice lighthouse. On this page it’s a metaphor for my strengths.

The concertina sketchbook turns out to be perfect for this (it’s the Seawhite Octopus sketchbook, with eight 4-page foldouts). I’ve never used one extensively before, and I’m really liking the format. Ideas can spread across the page, ideas and pages unfolding together. I think the subconscious mind enjoys these metaphors.

A little digression here: it’s also a really fun way to explore some mixed media techniques. I made my own acrylic ink spray.

Home made acrylic ink spray on cartridge paper painted with a little gesso for texture

You can buy ink sprays, of course, but most of them are not colourfast when dry. I wanted something that would allow for using watercolour over the top without it rediluting. There is nothing complicated about this – it’s just a fine mist spray bottle with one part acrylic ink and three parts water. You could probably dilute it more or less according to your needs. Of course I’m now making a mental note to try this on fabric as well – I’m fairly confident (or maybe just hopeful) that it will work.

The Right Brain Business Plan has a section called ‘painting your business landscape’. I grew up by the seaside on the east coast of the UK and this page has ended up looking a bit like the cliff top walks I used to enjoy as a teenager. I remember the feeling of freedom, the wildness of the wind blowing in from the sea, and the sense of space and perspective you get from a high vantage point. Interesting how your mind shows you these meaningful images once you turn your attention away from the left brain and all its fretting.

Business landscape, showing strengths, competitor analysis, barriers and opportunities

I’ve been asking myself this question most of my life:

Finding my place

I guess it’s about identifying the values that you want to live by. Life is short, and living my best life is becoming more important the older I get.

Values. I like quiet and calm, living at my own pace, taking time to think

This is definitely giving me time for reflection, and the format makes it really easy to connect ideas and see the bigger picture. Sometimes on paper is the most useful place to be.

Planning, the right way

I’ve been trying to write a business plan, because I know I will need one if I ever get to give up the day job, but haven’t made much progress.

I don’t know what operations and logistics even means

It’s all boxes and straight lines and charts and columns. I have no idea what to write. I don’t even understand some of the questions. Key findings from desk research, marketing strategy, financial forecasts… how are you supposed to know all that when you haven’t started yet?

And then I found this:

Right Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee

I’ve had it in my hands for about three hours and already it has changed my life. It comes with a handy checklist:

Yes, yes, and yes

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself, but there we are. It’s much easier to think ‘what’s wrong with me?’ rather than ‘what is it about this format that isn’t working for me?’ My left-brained husband wouldn’t dream of hanging a picture without a spirit level. I would bang a nail in and eyeball it. It wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t even straight.

Almost every sentence in the first chapter has me jumping up and down in my chair. This particularly:

“The challenge is when left-brain thinking comes too early in the visioning and planning process and kills the party with its questioning, judgement, and need for every single piece of the puzzle to make absolute sense before taking that first step. This limits your thinking: good ideas are quashed before they’ve even had a chance to form.”

So now I know a business plan can be pictures and colours and shapes, there is nothing stopping me and I find I know exactly what I want and where I’m wanting to go.

Business plan

The Business Plan book says ‘let it unfold’. I’ve had this accordion-style sketch book since Christmas and have been waiting for it to tell me what it wants. Of course, all this time it’s just been waiting for me.

A call to action, from an old poetry anthology

I’ve gone from constantly putting it off because it’s dull to actually wanting to get started on it.

Business plan in progress

Thinking sideways, not knowing

I’ve been revisiting my Lines on the Land sketchbook this week. It’s a collection of sketches and designs based on ancient landscape features like standing stones and rock art, just to explore some of the patterns.

Lines on the Land, front cover

I made this sketchbook myself, using signatures of cartridge paper, and then collaged and painted the pages before assembly. I prefer to make my own sketchbooks because I have more control over the size, shape, and proportions. I don’t always like the proportions of standard A4.

I usually cut off part of the page when making a sketchbook if I know I’m going to include fabric or stitched samples, as with this one below which is waiting for me to do something with it:

Deliciously blank sketchbook waiting for an adventure

When I get round to doing something in it, I will be able to attach a stitched sample to the short tab which will form a new page that will be separate from the paper pages.

I didn’t do that with the current sketchbook; there are some pull-out pages, but no partial pages. While trying to figure out a way of sticking stitched samples in it without covering a finished page, I accidentally discovered that you can add pages sideways:

Extra page glued over the top edge of existing pages

You can lift up the stitched sample to reveal the completed page underneath. I like it. Necessity, invention, etc.

Mixed media sketch of Callanish beneath the stitched sample

Of course I made a cover for it. I do like a well-dressed sketchbook.

Front cover, patchwork earthwork
Back cover, patched ragged spiral

I’ve found spaces for some stitched samples I made a while ago:

Mixed media sketchbook page, mini monolith
Mixed media sketchbook page, circles
Textile sample, layered scraps and sheers on painted handmade paper

I don’t always think of a sketchbook as preparatory work for something bigger or better, though it often is that. This may or may not lead to some larger textile work. Part of the adventure is the not knowing, the voyage in the dark, and true of any creative venture I think. Having a go, never knowing whether what you’re making is any good or not. And then realising that it doesn’t really matter, if you’ve enjoyed doing it.

Little collages with drawings added

In the zone

I experienced a proper state of what psychologists call flow this morning – utterly absorbed and focused on making these little samples, I somehow lost two hours. I quite like it when that happens. You literally lose yourself in something while time rolls on without you. You come back to reality slightly dazed, feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle.

I really like this Klee painting, ‘Oceanic Landscape’ (1929) and have been drawing tree shapes with watercolour. I love the simplicity of these shapes – just a few very easy lines that nevertheless unmistakably say ‘tree’

Oceanic Landscape, Paul Klee, 1929 – sketchbook page

Of course I wanted to see how these would work in fabric and thread. The first sample is layered sheers and silk net on a scrap of very soft brushed cotton.

Little fir trees, stitched area about 3” x 4”

The second is a scrap of vintage linen/cotton sheet, painted with watercolours and then stitched. You can see the imprint of the embroidery frame which kept the fabric taut just while the paint was drying. I will soak and stretch the creases out at some point.

A row of little trees, painted area about 3.5” square
Birdie is looking a little scruffy this season

This sketchbook (so far) is just for me, and just for fun. I’m not sure it’s leading anywhere, although really everything is good practice for something.

Two stitched samples inspired by Klee’s Oceanic Landscape

I’m having a few days away from the day job next week and am looking forward to a break. I have a strong need to paint – who knows where these directives come from? I think it’s probably important to listen, in any case – so will be on paper for a while. Just to see what happens.

Klee sketchbook

Sketchbook cover, Klee’s 1922 painting of a little fir tree. Layered sheers and hand-dyed fabrics with simple hand stitch and applique

The sketchbook cover is finished – despite all the careful measuring and re-measuring along the way, I am always really surprised when it fits.

12” square sketchbook with cover

I have sketchbooks in various sizes, mostly made from papers that I collate and bind myself. This one is a bought spiral bound 12” square one, which is a good size for exploring mark-making and for holding samples of stitched work.

First page: A Klee medley, or Klee’s best bits
Sketchbook page exploring blocks of colour

‘Coming to bloom’ is a pastel drawing made by Klee in 1934, on black paper. I made a quick sketch with pastels, also on black paper – the fixative has dulled the colours a little, so I made a duplicate sketch in watercolour on a white background.

Then the fun really started. I made a little stitched sample on a scrap of black cotton fabric, only about 4” square or so, exploring ways of creating stitched blocks.

4” square sample. From the left: needle weaving with hand-dyed threads; rough satin stitch with 2 strands of DMC floss; sketchy long and short stitch with one strand of DMC floss

I really like the woven blocks. The satin stitch blocks have floats that are too long to be practical, but I also quite like the irregular sketchy effect of the straight stitch sample on the right. I worked the samples from right to left, so the weaving was the last thing I did.

Stitched sample on sketchbook page

Not quite sure where all this is going, but then some journeys are about exploration and discovery rather than arrival.

A play day with Klee

Firstly, thank you so much to everyone who has purchased fabric and thread – it’s now all on its way to you. I hope it arrives soon and that you can do something lovely with it.

I’m back in the day job from tomorrow so I’m having a little me time today, working (playing) in the second of two sketchbooks I have on the go at the moment. The first sketchbook is about ancient marks, standing stones, and lines on the land. The second is a study of work by Paul Klee, one of my favourite artists. I have often registered the affinity that Klee’s work seems to have with textiles. One of the first textile wall hangings I ever made was an interpretation of Klee’s ‘Fire at Evening’. Many of his paintings are basically patchwork, and many of his drawn lines look very like stitched marks.

Sketchbook page in progress

This painting looks exactly like a stitch sampler to me, and reminds me of my own stitch journal.

Paul Klee, ‘Rhythms of a Plantation’, 1925
Drawing based on Rhythms of a Plantation, 1925, 10” square

The marks on Klee’s painting ‘Clarification’ also look exactly like running stitch or kantha stitching.

Sketchbook page, watercolour and pencil, exploring lines and marks

What particularly interests me about Klee is his work linking painting with music. He thought of music as having similar principles to painting, particularly in terms of composition – and of course we use the same word to describe an arrangement of musical notes and an arrangement of painted or drawn shapes on a page. I like the layering in his polyphonic works, which are usually a series of regular painted marks over a patchwork-like background. To me this is very like a quilt – the patchwork ground tells one story, and the quilted lines on the surface tell another story, like two voices singing in harmony.

‘Ad Parnassum‘, Paul Klee 1932

The stitched sample is an exploration of how tiny bits of fabric would look if applied to a textile surface. I’ve used felt in this first foray, simply because it’s easy to cut up into small pieces and it doesn’t fray. I’ve experimented with different ways of attaching the little tiles (for scale, the bits of felt are about a quarter of an inch square).

Tiny pieces of felt applied to vintage linen

Probably my favourite is the invisible method (top right), but I’m not confident that it would be stable enough. I took the needle and thread horizontally through the centre of the felt, like threading a bead, and then down into the base fabric. I suspect over time it might split the layers, in which case the top layer could peel off.

Whether any of it works or not is immaterial today, really. It’s just nice to have some time to think about the possibilities.

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