Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Prescription for Happiness (when life gets tough)

Evening Light

I'm sitting in the coffee shop, and through the window I can see a blue sky streaked with long, grey clouds, it feels calm and yet although I committed to write a blog post each week I am sitting here struggling with what to write.

Sometimes it flows, other times it stalls.  Like today.  Maybe the best thing for me to do is to write about this, about what happens when our commitment to something wavers, or feels blocked.  What do we do?  How do we move forward from this almost crippling feeling of not being able to create something?  Why does it happen?

A couple of weeks ago I was firing on all cylinders.  I felt insanely happy, I had a positive mindset, everything was going well and I had ideas for new paintings that were literally coming out my ears.  I love it when I'm flowing in the momentum like this.  Crazy good stuff kept on happening, all the traffic lights were on green for me, I got great parking spots at the mall, life just seemed to feel easy and good the whole time.  I've cracked it, I thought - this is it!  

And yet, it wasn't.  Because a few days later I felt myself sinking, I felt a familiar panic rise in my chest, invisible fingers grasping to keep hold of that happiness which seemed to be dissolving...wait, I thought....don't go - I like feeling this way...but the feeling slipped away, and I was left in a soup of fatigue, feeling deflated and without motivation again.  In that moment I didn't know how to hold onto that positive vibe.  I didn't want to feel rubbish, I wanted to feel good the whole damn time!

So what caused it?  

I sat and gave it some thought.  A couple of situations within our family got a little tough over the last week.  We are coping with a recent bereavement (my partner's Dad passed away) and since the funeral, quite naturally so, my partner is really struggling to come to terms with what has happened.  My daughter also suffers with anxiety which leads to late nights where she cannot sleep...these things are going to take time to heal, but sometimes it feels harder to deal with them than at others.  All you can do is go on-wards and through, you cannot circumnavigate grief or an anxious child.

I have also noticed that my mood levels naturally wax and wane each month, and at certain times I am more alive and focused, when at others I succumb to nasty headaches, crave naps and feel sluggish.  I finished the painting that you can see at the top of this post, and despite having lots of ideas for the next, I found myself empty and staring at the blank canvas with no idea of what to put on it.

I found myself talking with my partner about that, about the feeling of panic that my positivity and motivation had gone for good.  He wisely reminded me that it was just a few days each month where I needed to be kinder to myself, to retreat and do what I needed to replenish and feel good again.  To listen to my body, to allow myself to nap, go a bit more slowly and so on. 

The ideas do come back, the positive feelings come back.  But we have to listen to our bodies and take time out now and then.  It's OK to do this - in our fast paced world where the focus is on achievement and perfection, give yourself permission to check out, take the nap, eat soup, go for a walk in the forest.  We seem to naturally give this advice to those we love, who need a bit of extra care, so why do we hesitate to prescribe ourselves the same healing medicine? 

Living a life committed to making your dreams real, creative or otherwise, takes stamina and patience.  It's not going to happen overnight.  You will hit peaks and you will descend into the troughs.  It's all part of the journey.  Accepting this and allowing yourself time to navigate the hurdles that life throws at you will make it so much more easier.  As I write all this I'm smiling to myself, because I knew this all along but I'd forgotten, in the midst of my low mood and panic, I'd simply forgotten.

So today, I'm finishing this post then I'm going present shopping for a birthday gift.  This afternoon I will cosy up with some good reading and a sketch book and see what happens.  I'll do some yoga before bed, and a meditation with Ravi Shankar to help me sleep better.  I can feel the fog is slowly lifting and I'm coming through - such a good feeling.  And I know that in a day or so I will be back in the studio, painting my soul out onto canvas, writing with perhaps more vigour than today.

Remember the light is always there, even in the darkest bits when it feels impossible, it's still there, shining and waiting.

Friday, 13 October 2017

A Peek at What I've Been Doing

'Snow Robin'

The weeks seem to be running away with me, I can't believe we are already in the middle of October and yet I am loving the feeling of Autumn, of the wild winds and rainbow of colours as the leaves change and fall.  I find it a pretty invigorating season and it seems to spur me on as the run up to Christmas becomes busier.

I thought I'd write a post to tell you what I've been up to of late, a little insight into my working days here in my Yorkshire.

For those of you who don't know, I work from a little wooden studio which sits at the bottom of my garden by a river.  We are lucky to have visits from all kinds of wildlife, and it's a pleasure to sit with the door open, listening to the birds and the bubble of the water over the stones.

My Studio

So what have I been up to of late?

I've done a lot of work this year for private clients and a publishing company, and it's been a pleasure to create many varied commission pieces and a lovely body of coastal themed work for the publishers.  You can find a collection of prints and cards available through Whistlefish Galleries, including this new collection of Christmas cards which I did earlier in the year.

Whistlefish Christmas Cards

I've also recently launched a limited release Christmas card 'Snow Robin' (shown at the beginning of this post) which you can find in my own online shop (link in side bar).  They come in packs of five and cost £10 GBP. 

Work has started on a couple of new paintings which will be heading to a new gallery!  I'm really excited to have been offered the opportunity to work with The Robin's Nest Gallery, and as well as two brand new originals, they will also be stocking a collection of my cards, prints and mugs.

Riverside - work in progress for The Robin's Nest Gallery

Behind the scenes I am also busily working on preparing for my first workshop which I'm hosting in Hoylandswaine in Yorkshire, on November 25th.  Already almost sold out and only two places left available, I am so looking forward to spending an afternoon with a lovely group of people as we create Christmas Heart decorations together.  Would you like to join us?  You would be so welcome!  There is a lot more information about the afternoon over on the Eventbrite website where you can book your place - just enter the code: get my ticket to find out more. most of this year has been spent working on commissions and publishing art, I've not managed to get many originals finished for myself.  However, I recently finished and had framed this colourful and summery piece - Hidden Shores which was inspired by drives down to the beach along high banked country lanes, full of grasses and wild flowers and every now and then that tantalising glimpse of sparkling sea in the distance.

Hidden Shores

This painting will be available in my online shop early next week, however you are very welcome to reserve it if you are interested, just get in touch and I'll send you more details.

So, the rest of the day sees me heading back down the garden to hopefully finish up the Riverside painting and start some sketches for the next piece.  I'm also hoping to start a collection of Christmas Hearts next week, so plenty to keep me busy and out of trouble!

If you've enjoyed this post and would like to keep up with what I'm doing in the studio then you're welcome to sign up to be on my Mailing List - you'll receive a lovely 10% off gift code to use on your first order in my shop, as well as getting studio news, you will also receive previews of all new art and exclusive sales.  There is a sign up link in the side bar here, as well as on my website.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Making Time for your Creative Dream

It's easy to let our creative dreams become something that we put on the back burner as something that we will do in the future. We file our ideas away, intending to get around to them and yet we somehow never do.  Life gets in the way, we may have family commitments, our jobs to go to, household chores to get on with.

The thing is, we will always put off doing what we love if we continue to fill our time with other things.  We say things like, 'I don't have time for that right now'.  We don't realise as we sail through our days that we have just become hard wired to our routines.  We fill up our 24 hours with everything else and feel pressed for time, we feel stressed or depressed, and our dreams seem further away than ever.

I want to tell you a short story about me, and how I found myself in this exact situation.  I found myself feeling depressed that life wasn't the way I wanted it to be, and at the time I didn't understand that things were that way because of the way I thought, and how I lived my life.  I put my creative dreams on the shelf, thought to myself 'I'll get around to it someday' but that day never came, and the years ebbed on by.

I never challenged my mindset which was wired up to believe that there weren't enough hours in the day, there wasn't enough money, I was living in the wrong place, it wasn't fair.

I drove myself deeper into depression with these beliefs, not realising or knowing at the time that I had the power to change them, and turn my life around.  I simply thought that some of my creative dreams were just not meant to be, I had become a drifter living each day in the same way, doing the same things and then wondering why nothing changed.

And then I learnt how to change my mindset.  

It started off with me finding gratitude in the everyday instead of finding fault, and then writing down what it was I really wanted to do with my life.  I discovered as I wrote, that I wanted to teach and create art courses, I wanted to write a book, and to live by the sea.  It felt exciting to get things onto paper, in black and white, and that feeling of excitement was the catalyst for me to take tiny steps each day to move closer to my dreams.  

Writing down your creative dreams can help you discover your purpose, and when you discover this you will feel your spirit ignited with something that to me feels like Christmas Day as a child, that wonderful warm excitement in the very soul of your belly.

Some of my big dreams are already in progress, I am hosting my first art workshop in November, where I will get to teach people how to paint and create something really special!  Some of my other dreams will take a little longer, like moving to the coast, but the fact is, these days I make time to focus and work on these dreams and by doing that I am guaranteeing that they will be a definite feature in my future rather than just an idea in my mind. 

So, how do I make time to work on my creative dreams, and what do I do?

  • I schedule time into my planner for working on my Vision Book (full of pictures I've taken from magazines that represent what my future life looks like).  Creating a visual map that I can refer to is a great way to envision my life - see where you can free up twenty minutes in your day to do this.
  • I make time to meditate and visualise my creative dreams, and to imagine what it feels like to be doing and having all the things I want in my life.
  • I write in my journal, and I count my blessings for everything I already have in life. 
  • I make plans to achieve things by taking tiny steps each week, and committing to doing them. 
We can all make time in our lives to work towards our creative dreams if we really try.  For me, I noticed that I was wasting a fair bit of time on Social Media, or just watching TV in the evening so now I use that time more effectively by committing to taking an hour out to read books, listen to podcasts by motivational speakers, to write in my journal and so on. 

By doing this I know I am moving forward, I'm building confidence and knowledge.  These tiny steps will eventually add up and create the cumulative effect of a dream realised, and although it is taking time I'm OK with that - knowing that I'm making space to work on building my dreams gives me a great boost of endorphins and happiness, and I know that in a year or two I will look around and my life will look very different.  I will have achieved things I didn't think were possible, and so, don't be put off by how long it might take you - better that you start off doing something small and building your creative dream into your life now rather than doing nothing at all and still being stuck where you were a year or so down the line.  Schedule in the time, make yourself accountable, commit and do it - it's the only way to build traction and move forward - we have to take action in order for things to change.

What can you do today to take the first steps towards making time for your creative dream?  Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

What Stops Us Creating (and what to do about that)

Having a creative business working as an artist isn't exactly like a 9 to 5 job.  Creative work is laced with emotion and feeling, there can be difficult moments of lack, despair and comparison to overcome, vast pits of empty nothing when it feels as if all the ideas that I once had have evaporated overnight, that awkward phase of 'not being able to paint anymore' when it all feels forced and ridiculous and physically putting paint onto a palette is akin to walking through black treacle.
Creating art to share with the world exposes our vulnerability, we are laying the bare bones of our soul out for all to see and this can be tremendously difficult when you first start out.

Stepping up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and to be seen is one of the bravest things we can do.

But this work also bubbles with deep joy, as I share my innermost thoughts and ideas on paper or canvas with you.  When the ideas seem to flow out through the brush without any conscious effort on my part and the colours and the images blend beautifully and come together in a way that is more than I could have ever engineered by myself.  The euphoria and endorphins generated by moments such as these are worth every second where it felt hard, or didn't work out.

I know from experience that this work can be difficult if it's forced or pushed.  An idea that was once laden with enthusiasm and excitement can be snuffed out like a candle, and I am left standing in the quiet emptiness.  Where did it go?  How can something that felt so amazing suddenly dissipate and feel so empty?  It is important to seize the moment when you can, follow the flow when the idea ignites your soul, and if you can't then realise that you might have to let that one go.  We worry that we will never have another idea like it, that was it - our moment of genius - gone!  But know this: there will be others, there will always be others.

I accept that there will be days when it doesn't flow - it's the natural order of a creative mind to ebb and flow like the tides, there will be rich, flourishing times and there will be barren ones too.  On these days I take to other work, like writing or going for a walk - or both.  Walking proves to be a wonderful tonic for times when I feel stuck, it is very rare that I return from a walk in the woods or over the hills without a new spark of an idea on how to move forward again and that's when I grab my journal and write things down, make a note, do a sketch.  It's there in black and white then, a solid reminder of a new beginning.

It's really important to notice when the natural ebb and flow is turning into procrastination though. This is when we decide that we need to be online shopping, cleaning up or doing something else rather than our creative work.  It is a sly, and devious companion to a creative soul, wandering in the wake of our despair and seductively teasing us away from what calls us, delaying us, stealing our joy.

I am now more aware of these times, and guide myself back to what I truly need, rather than vacuous pursuits like spending money on Stuff or idling away the hours on Facebook.  When I relent and give in to procrastination, I know that I am coming from a place of fear.  Fear is what stops us, it's what makes us ignore the call to create - it's most likely deeply ingrained within our subconscious, and we don't realise that while we waste hours on our devices or wandering around the shops, we are simply covering up the fear of failing, of not being good enough.

I know now, that I can only create if I surrender and accept.

I have to accept the roller coaster of emotions, the quiet spells when I have no ideas, the times when procrastination calls, the times when I wonder if it's good enough.

The secret is to keep challenging it all though, to keep moving forward.  If you don't accept and surrender, and keep moving forward you will never begin.  You will never learn what it feels like to be in that almost celestial space of creating from your soul, to be completely in the moment where time doesn't exist.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to make a start.  Allow yourself to begin, despite the fear and the difficulties.  Imagine where you will be this time next year if you start now - imagine where you will be if you don't.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

How Our Expectations Stop Us Being Happy

I sometimes come across people who say things to me like "Oh I could never do what you do", or "I wish I had time to paint or create but I'm SO busy..." and it got me to thinking about how the way we think creates our reality.

Things like this happen mostly on a subconscious level, it begins with a simple thought that flashes through our mind about something, like for example, making art.  Perhaps you haven't picked up a pencil or a paintbrush since you were at school?  You might be feeling a bit nervous, or out of the loop and so you tell yourself 'Oh come on, I couldn't possibly do that' because you fear the outcome, you fear looking silly in front of other people, of failing.

And that one single thought seems to lodge somewhere in your mind, and that thing you really want to do, well you think about it a lot because deep down it calls to you and you would LOVE to give it a go, but your critical inner voice is telling you no, no you can't do that - what would your husband say? You don't have time! What if it looks bloody awful? For crying out loud YOU ARE TOO OLD TO START SOMETHING NEW!!!

And that one single thought becomes a belief, and that belief becomes an expectation.  We teach ourselves not to expect to have time to follow our creative dreams, we teach ourselves not to expect a positive reaction from a loved one to our new idea, that age is a barrier to experiencing joy and a fulfilled life.

And when we teach ourselves to believe these thoughts, they become deeply ingrained in our subconscious, our lives follow the pattern of our thoughts you see.

We are the creators of our thoughts - it took me quite a few years to understand that what we focus on becomes our reality, and in turn, our chance to be happy.  Or not.  We limit ourselves with our self imposed belief systems, we tell ourselves we aren't capable or good enough, rich enough or thin enough.  We tell ourselves these stories that shape our lives without us even realising it.  We make ourselves small and in turn, our lives shrink and we become miserable.  We might even stop one day and think - I didn't want it to be like this!  This isn't what I wanted life to look like.  I've had these very thoughts myself, I've stood rooted to the spot and looked around at my life and wondered why I'm stuck, why I haven't achieved what I wanted to achieve?  And it all breaks down to this:

We fear failure, we tell ourselves we can't, we stop expecting good things, that this is as good as it gets.

So, how to change?

It starts with gratitude.  It starts with being in the moment and allowing yourself to be grateful for all that you currently have in your life.  When you start to practice gratitude for the things you already have, you will start to notice life opening up in new ways for you.  You will discover opportunities appearing, and you will feel happier inside.  Gratitude also helps to dissolve fear, it helps us to see how amazing our lives are, and encourages us to say yes to experiences that will enrich our lives further - therefore increasing our level of expectation for more good stuff to happen.

So you have the power to turn it around.  It takes practice, and it takes time.  Your belief systems may have been ingrained for many years and so it's going to take a little time to change your thought patterns.  But it's doable.
Expect daily miracles, expect good stuff to happen, expect to feel good and to feel happiness!

Watch each day how things begin to change when you focus your attention on consciously creating your life by choosing to appreciate what you have and expecting more good stuff to come your way.

You might have a blip - that's ok, and natural - the positive thing about a blip is when you notice it and change your thoughts to get yourself back on track.  Each time you do this you're re-wiring the hardware in your brain to create new neural pathways, which in time will become new belief systems, which in turn, become your life.

Before I go...

My Christmas Hearts Workshop is now filling up - tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite, priced £37.00.
Click here to find out more about this event, and to book your place.

Enter code: get my ticket

Hope you can make it!