Sunday, 18 March 2018

A Peek Into My Life

When we go out for walks or to spend time at the beach, we take cameras and binoculars and a thermos of coffee and it has reached that time of year when I slather my face in sunblock.  Most of my photos are meant as painting references, ideas for shape, colour and texture more than an actual scene to replicate.  Jim's photos are generally of me, birds and airplanes.  We either walk at the local air park or at a beach that is near the airbase so planes of all sizes abound.

We also sit on benches together and look as cute as we can.

Someone had arranged some shells and rocks on the bench before we got there.

I added my own bench ornaments-the jackets we didn't need and my camera bag.

Here is my beloved travel mug.  I've had it for at least twenty years.

And another beloved thing on the Scotsman.

After some coffee I go about taking my texture inspiration photos, although Jim and I are rather textured ourselves, I tend to focus more on the rocks and driftwood.

It's not a pretty beach.  It's raw and real and a great place to watch sea birds or seals.

And clouds, which I really cannot get enough of.  The silhouette of the islands, the clouds, the changing lines of colour on the water, those are the things I watch.  

We get out the binoculars and argue about what we think we are seeing but eventually we find agreement.  

Process: The Journey is More Important than the Destination

Although I'm trying not to think about the process in the moment of doing, I am also experimenting with it so some thought is unavoidable.  It seems clear to me that the looseness I desire is impeded by thought and by too much trying to make a 'thing'.  Part of the problem, I suspect, is that I am still experimenting with just how abstract ( or not ) I want my images to be.

These two pieces look similar but were created slightly differently.  The first received the colour blocks first and had lines added later, while the second had the lines drawn first with colour added to the different sections and then blended.  Does the difference even matter?  Different viewers will have different opinions.  I'm just trying to find the method that most appeals to me and give me what I want to achieve.

The blue and yellow-green piece above began as something inspired by the view out my window, but as soon as I felt that I was trying to re-create  it I lost my momentum.  I began to pause and fret over whether or not I was getting it right.  So I deliberately drew lines all over it to obscure any resemblance it had to a seascape.  It went through a stage where I hated it and thought it was quite ugly.  And then, I peeled off the tape, held it up and looked again and I liked it.

Life is sometimes like this.  We make messes, make things ugly and then look again, realise there is something there we didn't see the first time.

As I play with process, I am exploring how I like to combine line and colour.  Do I want to make the lines first and then colour them, do I want to put down colour and later add line?  Do I want to do it differently each time?

In the case of this picture I ended up obscuring the lines.  I drew them first, and began filling in the spaces and shapes with colour but as I worked I didn't like it.  It was too precise and planned.  I smudged and blurred and added more and more colour in layers, wondering if I was over-working and making mud.  I kept going.  Eventually I obscured the lines made first with black pastel and charcoal, and ended up with this.  Jim says it reminds him of aurora borealis which is what I thought myself when I was part way through it.  My camera isn't capturing the colours accurately-there is more green in it overall.

Exploring the pastel is fun but quite messy and there is a great deal of dust to clean up.  The pastels in pans are meant to be less dusty and I think they are though I haven't got many colour options yet so I am also using my sticks which do create a lot of dust.  

What have I learned about my own preferences so far?  Mostly that black pastel makes a better line on top of coloured pastel than charcoal does.  Everything else is still about playing and I've not made any decisions.  Maybe I won't. Maybe variety is important.  Maybe it's all about what suits my mood or what gets me to the place I wish to go.

Some say art imitates life but it's not about the image representing life, it's about the process of art being just like the process of life.  Getting messy and just trying things is where the fun is and where the learning is.  Sometimes it turns out better than I thought, sometimes it's a bit disappointing, but if I step back there is always something to learn.  Sometimes it's good to plan a little, sometimes it's not.  The process that works in one situation doesn't work in another.  There are options.  There is personal preference involved.  There is always something worthwhile to be found in the ugliness.

I can't tell you that I only learn by doing.  That's not true.  I read, I look around me, I observe others, I observe the world, I think, I ponder, I dive in and try and then I step back and consider what I have learned and what to try next.  Perhaps we all approach art in the same way we approach life.  My way is not the way of every artist.  Copying me may be just right for you or it may not.  I offer it up for whatever it is worth to you.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Pastel and Charcoal: Just Get Messy, I Promise it's Fun!

It may be obvious by now that I'm a big fan of scribbles.  Fast and loose is my preference, at least for art.  Perhaps I love it because it's otherwise quite against my nature.  When painting, I am able to keep my method loose if it's an abstract but as soon as I have the intention to paint a thing I tighten up and try too hard.  It always seems to me that art is a metaphor for life and I'm sure there is one lurking within what I am attempting to articulate here.  Relax and let it happen...something like that.

I sometimes pin little pieces of my work on paper to this old louvered closet door I have propped up in the corner.   The piece on the bottom right is the first charcoal and pastel piece I made today.

Exploration is a good thing in art and in life and although my personal style is always evolving, I continue to explore and sometimes as I fall asleep at night I get an idea of something else that I want to try.  Last night I remembered my long neglected chalk pastels.  I remembered how I love their colours, the soft-focus effect I get from blending them with my fingers and how delightful it is to smear and smudge and get my hands all covered in dusty pigment.  I use pastels in the same way I use charcoal so why not combine them?

And I really do love mark-making.  I love lines and curves and playing with shapes that seem organic  and botanical and others which remind me of the human made lines we see in cities, power poles and lines, tall buildings, roof lines, the outlines of windows and doorways, the receding lines of roads and sidewalks.   

My set of pastels consists of some inexpensive sticks and some more recently purchased pans.  The pans are more expensive and so I haven't got a wide range of colours.  I use my fingers and then brush excess off the page with a soft paintbrush.  After applying the colour I made lines with charcoal, working quickly and trying not to think too much.  Two of the pieces are on a more heavily textured water colour paper, which impacts the glide of the pastel and results in some texture showing through.  The two larger pieces are on a very heavy but smooth mixed media paper.  I am not certain if I like one better than the other.  The results are just different.  My favourite pieces are the first and last one I did, though the first one is slightly damaged from the masking tape sticking too much when I peeled it off.

I sprayed them outside but it's a quick drying fixative so I can bring them in again immediately.  The smell does bother me and tends to cause a bit of a headache which is problematic though I am so happy making art I am inclined to put up with the headache.  Is that suffering for my art?  Does it make me a tortured artist?  

Don't you just love the colours of the pastels?  There is something about the primaries that hits me hard in the gut.  In a good way though.  I particularly love a combination of the blues and yellows with touches of green that results from the blending, but I've also noticed that whenever I sit down with paint or pastels I almost always reach immediately for red.  I have difficulty keeping red out of my work and use it so instinctively.  Red catches the eye and is ideal as a focal point in an image, so I tend to paint red flowers and to put red clothing on  people I paint.  

It seems to me that paying attention to my clothing pulls me away from making art and that having made the decision to express myself in art not so much in outfits, has brought me back to where I am happiest.  I don't think that's necessarily the way it would work for everyone; it's just how it works for me.  Perhaps it's because I have limited energy so I must prioritise my focus.  Or, perhaps it's just an aspect of my personality to prefer a more subtle outfit and more lively art.  

I'm exhausted, barely articulate, but I had to make some art today and I had to share my thoughts.  Now it's time to crawl back into my cave.   Friday is my busy day and Saturday is my relax and recover day.  I'm off to recover now and I hope your weekend is everything you want it to be.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Making Marks to Music

Do you ever want to be creative but feel lost for an idea?  Has it been awhile and you need a way back into the creative process?  I've written before about how giving yourself permission to scribble can really help.  Making a mess, making marks with no expectations doing it quickly and just letting whatever happens happen is a good strategy and it's fun too!

I like using charcoal sticks and smudging them all over the paper.  I like the dark black lines I can make with a good soft bit of charcoal and combining it with the hard, silvery lines of a conté stick or a graphite pencil.  I use my fingers to rub, smudge and smear, and experiment making lines quickly, trying not to think too much.  Music helps with this.

Sometimes I do slow down or pause, take a moment to think where I want to make a mark next, but I try to keep that minimal.  I put a stack of paper beside me, a roll of masking tape and I keep going until I've used up all of the paper, making a fairly quick decision about when each piece is finished.  I won't love them all.  Some I won't even like.  For every ten there will be a couple I really like, though grouped together they all look better than they do individual. It looks intentional.  Taping the edges gives it a nice finished look as well as making it look like art instead of scribbles.

I've got a little dish of charcoal sticks on hand as well as various smudgers, though for this I mainly used fingers to smudge.

This is a piece of corrugated plastic that you can either tape or pin paper to for painting and charcoal work.  Regular masking tape works fine on heavy water colour paper, and as it peels off readily I re-used it a few times to tape down new pieces of paper.

I think this one above is one of my favourites.  It can take a bit of time to loosen up and hit your stride so it's often the pieces made last that are most appealing, but surprises can happen.

I spray mine with a fixative after, as charcoal smudges so easily.  It stinks horribly so it's a job that needs to be done outside on a dry day.  Stacking the pages with tissue or waxed paper between can help to prevent smudging as well.

One of my goals with my painting is to get looser and stay loose.  This is a good exercise in looseness so I'm hoping to do it more often.  I've also noticed that music helps me loosen up in painting so I think a specific playlist might be a good idea and sounds like a project to ask Jim to take on for me.  He is the music man in this household.  I am the scribbler.

My music today, provided by Jim, was Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Dvorak's Carnival Overture, The New World Symphony, Khachaturian's Spartacus and Gayane Ballet Suite

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Paintings, Thoughts on Being a Painter and being Vulnerable

                                   The Loner, acrylic on canvas

Although I am essentially a loner, I also sometimes feel good about belonging to a tribe.  Artists are encouraged to associate with other artists, to share, discuss, encourage, promote, and I tend to find this idea at least a little bit repugnant.  I’ve always preferred to work alone, not been keen on sharing, not enjoyed hobnobbing and yet I do recognise that I sometimes enjoy the feeling of belonging as well as the pleasure of being able to discuss things with like-minded individuals.  It’s possible that one reason I don’t feel inclined to join groups is that I have a limited amount of energy and I would rather put it towards my actual creative work, though it’s also possible that is just an excuse I make to myself.

Still, for the benefit of others living with chronic illness I do want to make it clear that while I tend to write about what I am ‘doing’ I spend more time resting and sleeping than anything else.  While resting in bed I can read and write but I certainly don’t paint there.  I am too fond of my white duvet to introduce it to acrylic paints.  I am not attempting to make myself appear busy and dislike the culture of busyness in general.  It is my misfortune to be unable to work for a living but my fortune to have enough of an income and enough energy that I can dabble in my hobbies.  I work in spurts.  Often I am longing to paint but cannot manage it.  It is rare that I can paint for a full day and my maximum is probably about six hours, which I cannot do more than once in awhile. 

Here is a phrase I say and write often, 'recently I read...'  and it’s always true that recently I did read something about which I intend to bend your ear (or your eyeballs in this case)

During some resting time when I was particularly obsessed with painting but could not paint, I discovered a painter’s blog and began to binge read all that she had to say about painting.  Aside from serious blog envy, and the general feeling that if I were any good as a blogger I’d actually have a theme and stick to it, reading her blog posts and the comments left by other painters was quite enlightening and vindicating.  I may be a loner and a self-taught painter but much of what I do is similar to what other painters do.  No self-taught artist is entirely without  outside influence.  We all absorb ideas we are only partly aware of, and live in roughly the same world and are thus subject to roughly similar inspiration.  There are techniques I’ve learned, processes I have established for myself, ways of thinking about my art, which are also being used by other artists out there.  Sometimes it’s a bit disappointing to imagine you have invented something only to discover tons of others doing it too and some of them even earning money doing it.  It’s frustrating to think that my style may look similar to someone else who I had not heard of before and that it might look as though I copied it. 

Copying others has good value as practice and in some ways our own style will still come through.   Still, I would rather be unique and no doubt everyone would.  The more I look, the more I find artists who make me think ‘Damn I wish I’d painted that’ or ‘Gee Whiz I wish that were my natural style.’  (Okay, I confess I never actually say gee whiz.)  We are all influenced by the art of others as well as the things we observe in our world, and with the internet taking us to places we cannot physically go, showing us paintings and photos and offering websites that teach or describe techniques, nobody, even a self-taught artist like myself, is entirely unique and self-created. 

I have learned that I am certainly not alone in the feeling of being pleased with some of my work and the cringing certainty that my art is total crap.  I can swing back and forth between these thoughts from day to day, not to mention within one single day.  Self doubt is known to have plagued certain long dead and now famous artists who sold little or nothing in their lifetimes and who pioneered new techniques and styles in art.  I imagine supreme confidence only in those who create very realistic, photographic-like work and yet, perhaps I am wrong.  Many artists report at least periodically feeling like a fraud.

One of the reasons I share my unfinished and rough work and pieces I don’t love is because although I don’t enjoy it, I believe there is value in being vulnerable.  I’m not a big physical risk taker.  I won’t be bungee jumping anytime soon or ever.  But taking a risk, being vulnerable is what helps us to grow and helps others too.  If I share imperfect work maybe someone can learn something from it.  Maybe I can learn that I will not die ( by spontaneous combustion I suppose ) if I embarrass myself by putting something that’s not very good out in public.

And I am not always the best judge of what is or isn’t any good when it comes to my own work.  As with most things in life, it will please some and not others.  Someone will like it and someone else will not.  I don’t love every piece created by the artists I admire and I don’t love everything I create myself.  It’s difficult to get outside of my own work and see it objectively and this is difficult for all artists.  I used to think  it was some sort of defect in my ability when I left nearly finished pieces to be viewed for awhile before putting in the final touches.  I thought that it meant I was unskilled.  I’ve since learned that most artists do this.  If I leave my paintings where I can regularly see them it often comes to me suddenly that a shadow is missing, a highlight or that it would look better if some part were  different colour.  Maybe a shape needs adjusting.  Just as I discovered that I can better see how clothing looks on my body when I view a photo rather than my reflection, I find photos of my art are helpful too.  There must be some sort of sciency reason for it but I don’t know what it is.

So, after all of that rambling, yes I have some photos of the latest stuff and yes I am critical of it.  I know what I like about it and what I don't but I'll leave it for others to decide if it speaks to them.

                       Spring Garden, acrylic on canvas

                        Poppies, Acrylic on canvas board

Art Journal : exploration of techniques and styles.

                           Acrylic and Charcoal on paper

                     Autumnal Flowers,  acrylic on paper

                       Summer Flowers, acrylic on paper

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Thoughts on Good Writing, Good Novels, and My Book of the Month: Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures


Recently I went to my shelf of not-yet read fiction to look for something to read.  I have a collection of novels in waiting, some purchased after reading reviews, others impulse purchases.  I'm careful to keep my impulse purchases limited to second hand shops because the failure rate is high. It is my own fault for purchasing on impulse and not taking the time to read a few pages before putting a book in my basket.  The first book I tried was almost abominable.  I wanted to like it.  It promised a very good escapist plot but after three chapters I gave up.  I went to Goodreads to see what others had to say and saw that reviews were divided into the 'it was awful' group and the "I loved it" group.  This happens to some degree with every book.  Not every book is for all readers,  but the difference was clear: people who expected quality writing, well developed characters and a plausible plot were unhappy with the book.

 I set that book aside and reached for something more promising, something that was praised by literary critics, had won some sort of prize and described a plot that sounded intriguing (although so had the first one I tried).  I read two chapters and tossed it aside.  This time I couldn't say there was anything very bad about it, perhaps this time it was simply not my taste, didn't hold my attention.  The style was a simple prose style which I often like but I've seen it done better.  Perhaps that was the problem, or maybe it was just not my taste.   

 But I don't have to choose books this way so ending up with  books that are disappointments is sloppy work on my part. 

This is the part where I sound like a snob.  Not everybody knows bad writing when they see it and this is why plenty of mediocre or quite bad books get published and even sell well.  This is the same for television shows, movies, food and art and some would argue this for coffee, wine and chocolate.  I will confess to some opinions in some of those departments also. 

After I attempt to convince you to read this book pictured at the top of the page I will explain my thoughts and opinions on writing and literature in general and continue to sound pedantic and pretentious because it's my specialty.

The third time I was lucky.  I picked up Vincent Lam's Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures.

This book was also an impulse buy.  It was not on my list but I know why I picked it up.  In addition to the description on the back cover, it was a Canadian writer and had won a prize.  Of course the second book I tried and gave up on had the same credentials.  I was beginning to wonder if I was just in a picky mood, perhaps a bit tired of fiction.  But I read three sentences and was hooked.

I won't promise that you will be hooked in three sentences.  I had just tried to read two inferior books so this one may have looked disproportionately better.  Like all books it has good and bad reviews and I have since read a negative critique of the author's more recent novel.  Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is not a new novel, having been published in 2005.  It is a collection of connected short stories but I found it read as a novel, telling stories that progress forward in time about the experiences of a group of slightly connected medical doctors.  It begins as two of them are applying to enter medical school, tells stories of their experiences as student doctors and as young, beginning doctors and the author is himself a doctor.

Each story shows us both what it is like to be a medical student or beginning doctor, but also gives us character sketches, showing us that doctors are human beings, flawed, sometimes likable and sometimes not, making both mistakes and admirable choices in life.   We seem them in brief glimpses over about ten years, allowing for growth but also leaving us to assume what they might become.

The writing is smooth, suited to the characters, the events, sometimes first person and other times third person, often times invisible so as to let the story unfold without impediment.  This is what good writing should do.  It neither intrudes on the plot nor outshines the characters, but allows both to fully engross the reader and never rudely intrudes by way of being clumsy or awkward.  My only complaint about the book is that it ends rather abruptly.  Given how much I enjoyed it overall this does not amount to a very large complaint.  The final story/chapter is a bit confusing but I think that might be deliberate.  The story ends with an emergency room doctor working night shift and then returning home exhausted,  needing to sleep but coping with this not being the way the rest of the world is functioning, he is out of step, out of time, perhaps a bit disoriented.    His shift comes to an end and he is thrust back into the regular world and as the book comes to an end the reader is thrust back into the world too.

 A More Personal Note

My Quick and Dirty Book Selection Method

1. Has it won an award? Good
2. Is it published by Penguin? Good
3.  Is it endorsed by Oprah?  I will need extra convincing to read it but if I do I will search endlessly for a copy that doesn't have her name on it.
4. Was a movie made?  If so I must buy a copy that does not have the movie cover.

These days I read mostly non-fiction, which is perhaps a little strange for someone with an English Lit degree but I really only discovered that there is great non-fiction out there about ten years ago.  Prior to that I only understood non-fiction as text books or autobiographies.  Perhaps the genre has improved significantly and that accounts for the shift in my reading habits but I am quite willing to blame it all on my former ignorance.

I am also a bit of a lit snob, which is not to say that I do not enjoy a book purely for the story and the ride it takes me on, but I seem to be much picker than average about the quality of the writing and there is no way to say this without sounding like I am bragging.  So often someone tells me of a book they enjoyed, suggests perhaps that I should read it too, and so often it is the sort of book I would most likely turn my nose up at.  On the other hand, I find some novels a bit pretentious and I have rejected plenty of award winning novels after initially giving them a try.

Somewhere a measurable standard of good writing probably exists but in many ways personal taste is involved.  I reject many books based on my opinion that the writing is not good ( and in case you are wondering if the writing seems much like my own it probably goes down in my esteem ) but sometimes the writing style just doesn't appeal to me or the plot development doesn't.

There isn't an exact definition of what makes something literary fiction as opposed to the other kind.  Genre fiction can put lit-snobs off but that's too bad because some genre writers are very good.  I don't think writing quality is really what drives book sales though and surely Fifty Shades of Gray attests to that. 

In points 1-3 I've outlined what I think makes a good piece of fiction.  Point four is what makes something literary fiction.

1.  The writing either stands out as poetic or in some way impressive and beautiful or it is so smooth it disappears and supports the plot and characters invisibly.

This means I might enjoy spare prose or complex prose, sentences that have a musical quality in some way, a rhythm in a sense.

The language should be appropriate, so that if it is first person it sounds believable as a person would be expected to think and speak.  Third person narration allows for more complex phrases and colourful vocabulary because we don't have to believe the character would think and speak like this.   We accept this is the voice of the omniscient narrator.

Good dialogue is difficult to write.

2.  The characters must be believable, and redeemable in some way though they do not necessarily have to be likeable.  Unlikable characters are tricky, as the reader must be convinced that there are valid reasons or something redeeming underneath it all.  No real person is all good or all bad so we must see this reflected in characters, even if they are unlikable overall.  One acceptable reason for tolerating an unlikable character as a main character in a story is that the lessons we learn as readers are valuable or we see the characters growth in some way.

   Characters must be well rounded in relation to the length of the story.  In short stories there are different goals, often we are seeing only a glimpse, often called a 'snapshot' of someone's life or character.  The short story character is often meant to illustrate some aspect of human nature.  In a novel, there is room and time for a character to change and grow.  A character who doesn't ever learn anything, who doesn't show us admirable qualities as well as flawed ones is going to disappoint.

3.  The plot must not ask for too much suspending of disbelief.  The willingness to suspend disbelief varies between individual readers and perhaps even at different times between one reader.  When I can't buy into a premise or believe in the world that is described by the writer, when the characters make choices that seem unlikely, I become separated from the story rather than immersed in it. My bullshit radar starts beeping and it gets difficult to ignore. If a story is clearly fantasy it makes more suspension of disbelief allowable and as a reader I know I am accepting that when I begin the book. 

Thrillers and action stories often give us improbably or impossible situations.  Sometimes in the name of entertainment we accept these and go along for the ride.  I don't think any James Bond fan believes a real person could accomplish the feats Bond does, and in most action movies the protagonist takes more blows to the head than a real person could live through and just walks away.  Captain Kirk regularly fought with fierce aliens and only came away with a torn shirt and a small cut or two.  My argument is not that these stories cannot be well written and enjoyable but that they are not literature. 

4.  Literary fiction tells us something about the larger picture of human nature,  either examining a particular type of character, a particular life choice, a social structure or morality.  It doesn't have to be obvious, but generally literary fiction has a theme or a few themes.  Good genre fiction or popular fiction might satisfy the first three criteria I have listed but the themes are perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of literary fiction and they seem to show up even if the writer wasn't giving them primary importance. 

The cynical definition of literature is that it is written in such a way that pretentious people could sit around talking about it's larger meaning and what the author probably intended.   Sometimes I am one of those pretentious people, but even when I just want to enjoy a good story and go along for the ride, I require it to be well written and I've set the bar high. 


In Case You Want to Know

Novel number one was Interred with Their Bones, by Jennifer Lee Carrol.  It was not well written despite it's author having a PhD in literature. It's going in the donation bag.

Novel number two was The Reconstruction, by Claudia Casper and it qualifies as literature but just didn't grab me.  I have read plenty of literature I didn't want to read, given that I have a degree in the subject.  Not all literature appeals to me and this book just seemed awkward and dull but it has mostly good reviews on Goodreads.  I might give it a second try though at the moment I seem to have misplaced it.

If you made it to the end of this post I would like to give you a cookie.  I'm sorry that I cannot.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

A Personal Style Mathematical Formula

 Personal Style = Everything - ( Dislike + Not comfortable + Not flattering )

It would be a simple matter of subtraction, I thought. Once I subtract what I dislike and what I am uncomfortable in, what I am left with will be my personal style.   The dislike/not comfortable list is long. 

I dislike:

chunky accessories, accessories that move, statement necklaces, dangling and flapping pieces of fabric, constrictive and binding styles, high collars, high heels, polyester, animal print, bright colours, candy colours, sparkle, baseball caps, jeans with heels, ripped jeans, wearing earrings and a necklace, brands/logos/slogans, hardware as decoration, cute/twee/fun looks, stiff and voluminous shapes, vintage fifties dresses, skater dresses on adults.....

But, it’s not actually that simple because this was mental mathematics.  I applied the formula in my head, not in my closet, and thus the equation I began with isn’t my reality.

By that, I mean not everything I would want to wear is available to me.  I don’t have my ideal wardrobe, I have what is currently my most realistic wardrobe and it boils down to basic clothing with nothing from my dislike list.

Here are some more things I don’t have:

-more than $40/month to spend on clothing
-access to quality second hand clothing
-a body that is average size and thus likely to fit much second hand clothing
-a high chance of finding my best colours
-access to variety ( also fit and good colours ) in quality clothing which I can afford
-a formal or busy lifestyle
-a career or even much need to leave home
-an interest in spending much time on shopping
-an interest in or aptitude for sewing and pattern adjustment

Here is what I do have:

-a wardrobe that spans the seasons and contains about 30-35 pieces of clothing.
-colours I feel good in and which flatter me
-fits that flatter although perhaps not perfectly
-comfort and simplicity
-style through signature accessories and completer pieces
-enough variety for my very simple needs and lifestyle
-outfits to wear while painting, writing, walking outdoors and sitting in cafés

Fantasy clothing, or what I would own and wear if I could just wave a magic wand would be different from my reality.  There would be a bit of menswear influence such as waistcoats and tweed jackets, man-tailored trousers and hats.  There would be more dresses because they would actually be the styles I like and would be made to fit my proportions.  There would be skirts worn with leggings if I could find brown leggings.  I would wear just about anything and everything Sarah Pacini.

But the reality is still that my lifestyle doesn’t require much.   I do things that require comfort and ease of movement and I spend approximately 10 percent of my time in public, doing casual things.  Owning clothing that would be worn only a couple of times a year doesn’t make much sense to me though owning one or two pieces that are more formal is generally useful.

This makes me a clothing minimalist by default though I don’t maintain a certain number, make rules about one in and one out, create capsules or wear black and white.

Subtraction might be the formula but addition is certainly more fun.  I recently bought a skirt at the charity shop so now I'm on the hunt for brown leggings. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Things that Make me Happy: A Collection of Photos

There is not much that is better than a walk in the sunshine and a nice place to stop. I know that spring is coming because I've stopped wearing my woolly hat when we go for a walk.

I know I'm being repetitive, but painting makes me happy and an accumulation of work in progress or nearly finished is very satisfying.

Also, really in love with these three paint colours right now.

Plants on my windowsill make me happy.  I root cuttings somewhat compulsively despite having little room left for more potted plants.

Jim arranged my childhood teddy bears (and a beanie baby gift from a student) on the windowsill above his computer desk.

Spring flowers, primulas a bit battered.  Crocuses from a walk in the neighbourhood.

 I didn't enjoy this wine but I love the bottle with it's bent neck.

These tulips are nearly expired but in the sunbeam they still look lovely. 

A blanket that shawl I knitted for wrapping around my shoulders in bed.  Very cosy when reading or writing.

 I hope you enjoyed this little tour of my life in photos.  I've had a wonderful weekend and I hope you did too.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Learning to say No

At this moment there is a social event I have chosen not to attend.  I've known about it for a month and two weeks ago I realised that I didn't actually want to go.  I'm not a fan of parties, even when they are low key, although having said that I sometimes do enjoy them.  In this case it's a group of people to whom I have little attachment, some are people I like, others I am indifferent about and a few I dislike.  Also, there are a few whose children I dislike and the common ingredient here is our children despite the fact that all of them are now adults.  I worried for a week just how I would get out of this event .  I said to Jim, with great anxiety in my voice, "I don't want to go to this thing."  And his reply was simply, "Well then don't."

Being an over-thinker one of the best qualities I can find in a partner is someone who can knock me off that track and Jim is great at this.  I realised he was right, and that I didn't have to go.  I had no obligation to and no desire to so why do it?  One person I am close to is attending and I didn't really want to admit to her that I didn't want to go.  I didn't want to say to her, 'I don't really care much about these people.'   But why did I think I had to say these things to her anyhow?  I complicate things by tending to believe I must explain everything I do.  It's not always a warped sense of obligation although sometimes it is.  Sometimes it's just me being too thorough.  Not everything needs an explanation despite the fact that I tend to like explanations for everything. 

Two things I know:

I don't owe an explanation
Most people don't care and don't want to hear one

It is just fine to say no, although it's probably better most of the time to use a small set of slightly more friendly sounding words.  If I am too blunt and perhaps rude sounding I might be closing doors of opportunity.  There is also no need to be rude enough to cause offense or hurt any feelings.  It's not necessary to say "I am not attending because I don't really like you."  Most children are taught that if they are refusing something offered they can say a polite "No, thanks" without having to add "I really don't like your cookies."  Somewhere in the learning of this lesson I seem to have developed the idea that I needed to invent some sort of lie, such as "No, thanks, I am too full to eat cookies."   I would be likely to add even more, explaining how I'd just eaten a meal or was on a diet, because my simply not wanting to do something never seemed good enough.  

What that means is I believe my own wants and needs are not valid!  They are so invalid they must be explained, cushioned with little lies to avoid causing offense because some other person's need to be told their cookies are delicious trumps my need to not eat any.

Being someone who has to think these things through I have realised there are some simple statements that I should remember and use.  I don't have to say an abrupt NO but I can significantly shorten my response. 

I won't be able to make it.
I won't be able to do that this time.
No thanks, not right now.
Thank you, but I can't at the moment. 

I am quite capable of saying No to salespeople or telemarketers, but socially it's more difficult.  I messaged my friend this morning and told her I didn't think I would make it to the event tonight.  She responded saying it was too bad so I felt obligated to say more.  However, I managed to keep it brief and cheerful, said I have been exhausted all week, which is true, and that I had some things I needed to do today which would tire me out more and that was also true.  Sitting at home now, knowing the party is under way, I know I made the right choice.  It's 7:40pm and I'm going to bed soon.  Faking my way through small talk with people I have little attachment to just isn't something I have the energy to do and even if I didn't live with an energy-sapping chronic illness why would I want to give up time I could spend reading in bed?

I  had a date with a good friend today and she told me how she has come to realise that she is a better person if she has balance in her life.  For her this means time to pursue her favourite physical activities, socialise with the people most important to her,  take a class, attend her book club, and that she needs to mostly work part time in order to do this.  If we can afford it we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be at our best and any one of us could die tomorrow.  It's a luxury to even think about this work-life balance issue and it's a luxury to be able to say NO to some things in life.  My friend told me that she has just figured out that she is damn well going to take advantage of this luxury and I am fully supporting her decision.   I could spend all day feeling guilty about the privileges and luxuries I have in my life, but I'm setting that habit aside too.  

For now, I'm practicing my No and getting better at it all the time.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Ramblings of a Woman in Pyjamas

I’m having a higher number of crash days lately and while that shouldn’t really surprise me, I tend to imagine I have superpowers.  Along with the fatigue and a body that feels like lead trying to move in air as thick as molasses, come physical symptoms that are somewhat like a virus.  Swollen glands, aching body, headaches of varying types constantly, inability to maintain a comfortable body temperature though no actual fever.   I probably make the headaches worse because I insist on reading and writing while in bed, but if I don’t I will surely go crazy with boredom.  So I lie in or on my bed telling myself that tomorrow I will be back to 'normal'.

From where I am lying I can see into my closet since I never close the door.  It’s a walk-through closet so more of an open clothes hanging space within a small passageway and it’s not overstuffed.  Currently there are a couple of surplus baskets of clothing awaiting trips to the consignment shop in the appropriate season.  Glancing at my clothing one gets the predominant sense of cream, denim and camel colours.  There is nothing fancy or elaborate, fabrics are simple cotton and wool.  I wonder what my clothing says about me and what it does not say and I think that it doesn’t matter much what I want it to say because how other people read it will be beyond my control.  Just as with art, whatever the artist intended is only part of the picture. 

While it’s tempting to imagine that an outfit can be a direct representation of a person, I don’t think it usually works like that.   What I might be communicating to others is probably a mixture of what I would want to communicate and what I would not, what is accurate about me and what is not.  We don’t know how viewers will interpret it and I think that most of the time we shouldn’t care.  We should all wear what we like, feel comfortable in physically and emotionally.

From my perspective it seems that men more frequently live and work in a uniform as they typically have fewer clothing options than women do, but also fewer expectations of pleasing onlookers with their outfits.  Men are not very likely to be thought boring or uncreative if they dress in a uniform or in uninspired outfits but where they are likely to encounter prejudice is if they do wish to express themselves through dressing.  The stereotypes we live with are that women should care and men should not and while surely most of us know this is nonsense, the man who expresses himself through clothing might be viewed as a bit of a dandy and the woman who doesn’t as a bit less feminine.  Fortunately we can sometimes choose not to care about such views.   

I let my imagination wander, creating a list of what people might see when they encounter my simple outfit formula, depending on their own tastes and biases.

unconcerned with fashion
busy with things other than clothing

Do any or all of these approach the truth?  The truth is that I mostly don’t care.  Sure my feathers might be slightly ruffled if I were aware that someone had judged me as boring and simple but it hardly matters.   Most impressions can be given a positive or negative spin and the general purpose of those spins is to either push people away or to feel closer to people.   Our initial impression is based on our own ways of thinking and not necessarily the truth about the intentions or character of the person we perceive.

How I dress doesn't tell a viewer everything about me and I don't want it to.  What I see in the personal style of others doesn't tell me everything about them either.  It may not tell me anything about them at all and I cannot even assume that they like or chose the clothing I see them wearing.

I know what my own biases are and because I know I have biases I know that other people do too.  Because dressing elabourately feels like a costume to me, people who choose to do so appear to me to be in costume.  By dressing simply I think that I am presenting my raw, true self to the world but that may not be what others see.  They will see me through their own biased lens and it takes practice and effort to overcome our biases.

My practice looks something like this.... 

If I see a woman dressed in something I would not wear, my thoughts range from admiration to puzzlement.  If the outfit is unusual, bold, vividly colourful, highly ornamented, or pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in that environment, my first thought is that the woman wants to be noticed.  My next thought is that I can’t relate to that.  My upbringing then kicks in and I have to fight it.  I was raised to view attention seeking as regrettable if not pitiful and putting oneself on display as a sign of poor self esteem and great neediness.

 So, time to check my bias....
 I could also view it as confidence, exuberance for life, a desire to live at least for a moment at some sort of higher vibration.  It is exactly what I am doing when I paint in vivid colours in an expressionist style. Many people react emotionally to colour and for some people dressing brightly gives them an emotional lift.  It's wrong to assume they are just attention seekers and it's wrong to always view attention seeking as a negative.  

Sometimes I feel irritation at the biases I was taught but then I realise that is yet another thing to let go of.  Learn and move forward.

It is normal to make judgements and quick assessments because we don't have all day to analyse everything.  We need to act, move on, avoid analysis paralysis.  Making a quick judgement sometimes keeps us safe. A quick judgement can lead us to avoid a perceived danger that in actuality would be perfectly safe but the cautious person lives to make judgements tomorrow.  So, this judgemental instinct isn't all bad.  But...

I know many people who seem to believe that their feelings are some sort of truth and their opinions are facts.  It's good to be aware of our biases, of the very human tendency to judge and make quick assessments, and of the fact that in some cases what is right for one person is not right for another.  I want to live in a world where people wear whatever they choose to and sometimes that might even make me uncomfortable.  It's good to be uncomfortable.  It's good to be forced to think about our perceptions and biases and see them for what they are.  I don't have any control over what people think about my clothes and what conclusions they make about who I am because of them.  If they make the mistake of thinking that I am boring, that's their loss.  I'm more interested in people who are smart enough to know better, to know that what someone is wearing is only the beginning of the story.  I won't approach the woman wearing the pink faux fur pants but then I won't approach the one wearing  yoga pants and a tee shirt either.  I'm not an extrovert so I just won't.  But I am smart enough to know that they both could have interesting stories to tell about who they are and I am friendly enough that if they approach me I will readily reciprocate the friendliness.  Does my outfit say these things about me?  I don't know.  I doubt it.  I'm not sure it says much of anything true about me so if you want to know you will have to ask.

A Peek Into My Life

When we go out for walks or to spend time at the beach, we take cameras and binoculars and a thermos of coffee and it has reached that time...