Travelling through England with a paintbrush guiding my senses...

We recently went to England from 11th - 28th of June 2019 to meet up with my sister in celebration of her 50th birthday. She lives in Scotland and her request was to head down to the south/west of England. The essence of the trip is still permeating my senses as I sort through the treasures I collected along the way; the rocks, flora, fauna (in the way of feathers), shells, conkers, + fossils, not to mention the memories of time spent with my sister who I don’t get to see very often. I’ve started organising these treasures along with the plein air watercolour sketches I was able to produce. It was my plan to paint as we moved from one place to another as we travelled through Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, and then back up to London. The weather was uncooperative, but I still managed to paint along the way!

A previous post from Instagram of the 1st sketch painted at Royal Crescent, Bath, Somerset on the day it was painted.

A previous post from Instagram of the 1st sketch painted at Royal Crescent, Bath, Somerset on the day it was painted.

I must say, for not having worked in watercolours ever, and also working outdoors (something I’ve not done in years), I enjoyed it immensely. It helped embracing it with a beginner’s mind - I didn’t restrict myself in any way. I allowed accidents to happen. I focused entirely on painting intuitively, rolling with the schedule of inconsistent weather patterns, and simply enjoying the process and happy accidents along the way. These were not meant to be masterpieces, but rather diary sketches of moments of certain locations that inspired me. These moments of creativity allowed me to practice mindfulness (and the unfamiliar, unpredictable elements of watercolour), saturating myself in the moment. They are now serving as miniature snapshots in my memory. Purposefully, I listened to all of the sounds around me, ran my hands through the grass, and grappled the sand, rocks, and leaves, I inhaled the the thick, lush air that seemed ever present in every place I sat down to paint, and noticed the wildlife around me. There were always so many birds, and indeed, I brought home so many feathers left by Magpies, Ravens, Ducks, Swans, and yes, some Parakeet feathers from our encounter in Hyde Park that I posted on social media a several weeks ago when we were still in England.

The entire collection of treasure from the trip.

The entire collection of treasure from the trip.

During this session, as I was painting ‘The Arch’ (by sculptor Henry Moore) in Hyde Park, a small dog came by to say hello, startling me as I turned and there he was 3 inches from my face! He gave my cheek a lick before he rocketed off. That was a sweet moment. And my approach to minding my senses, was filled with these moments that were magical, surprising delights.

During this session, as I was painting ‘The Arch’ (by sculptor Henry Moore) in Hyde Park, a small dog came by to say hello, startling me as I turned and there he was 3 inches from my face! He gave my cheek a lick before he rocketed off. That was a sweet moment. And my approach to minding my senses, was filled with these moments that were magical, surprising delights.

While writing this blog post, I came across a timely article that reminded me of my own childhood. The author quotes from one of my favourite novels by Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights, 1847: ‘I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free.’ (Please do yourself a favour and read her magical article HERE to transport yourself back to feral ponderings and mythical imaginings).

On this trip, I wanted to connect with the land I was in, in a meaningful way. I felt like I succeeded in doing that by slowing down and paying attention; listening, and allowing surprises to happen. We humans want to control so much - we long for order to rid ourselves of chaos. It’s a wired response to fear (the unknown). So even though we had a trip itinerary, while I was on hikes, for example, I would stop to respond to what was around me, allowing for possibility of surprise that wouldn’t have happened if I rushed through the experience to get onto the next activity. In that moment of stopping and responding to what was around me, I’m happy to report I discovered the activity of so many types of bees this way (as in the photo below). Some bushes had the most bees I have ever seen altogether outside of a hive. I’m honing my senses and allowing them space to guide me to override my fear response. I can only do this if I work on dismantling the armour within that stifles my senses out of fear and the discomfort of perceived chaos (honestly, neuroscience tells us we can rewire our responses with a little diligent and conscious effort on our part). But those bees had it right; they didn’t know exactly what flowers they would be visiting that morning, they followed their senses and got to work responding. I thoroughly enjoyed observing them.

You’ll have to zoom in to see them, but they’re there! Photo taken in Exmouth.

You’ll have to zoom in to see them, but they’re there! Photo taken in Exmouth.


Here is one example: 3 bees on one tiny thistle taken at Glastonbury Tor.

Here is one example: 3 bees on one tiny thistle taken at Glastonbury Tor.

I wasn’t able to do as many sketches as I would have liked because much of our trip the weather was unpredictably moody. I managed to do a bit of painting in the rain, but it became challenging working with watercolours. Luckily, I also took close to 3000 photos and plan on sifting through to produce some more watercolours as well as some oil paintings inspired by the trip. I hope you’ll follow along as I produce some select still lifes of my found objects, as well as some landscapes, skyscapes, and oceanic paintings that I hope will inspire you, too. Some of these will be simple + delicate, while others will be more intricate. I’ll be using both watercolour and oil. There will be varying sizes and finishes (some on paper, some on canvas) and I plan to make many of these available as I produce them.

As I write these blog posts, I’m going to be posting the books that are currently resonating with me and informing my journey and shaping my work. When I was away, I picked up ‘Do Listen: Understand what’s really being said. Find a new way forward’ by Bobette Buster. In my suitcase, I brought along The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday by Sharon Blackie (I also highly recommend her book ‘If Women Rose Rooted’) - with thanks to my dear friend, Lynn Hardaker for the introduction to her writings. Finally, a book that I would say is one of the most important books I’ve read so far this year is ‘How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’ by Jenny Odell. In her book, Odell speaks of creating a watercolour painting using the rain from the country of her origins. This spoke to me so deeply as I try to make sense of my own roots and create a connection to the land my own ancestors are from. Of course I used water from England in all the paintings created while there. There are so many parts of her book that are resonating with me, but most importantly the value and meaning we’re losing by being disconnected from the land and all of its non-human inhabitants. It’s killing us. We need to slow down, and start paying attention. This is exactly what I intend to do with this new exploration.

If you’re interested in seeing the new watercolour diary sketches, head on over to the SHOP PAGE.



WELCOME TO THE FORAGING BLOG...

Welcome to the ‘The Foraging’ Blog where I will give voice to my ideas, ponderings, and inspirations that inform my creations. I will start the first post with a palpable source that nearly always inspires my paintbrush: the metaphor of humans as tangled gardens.

I often think of a tangled garden as the mesmerising metaphor for the inner life of humans. When we explore a lush, tangled garden we find satisfaction and joy in its imperfections, not despite them. We don’t go in wondering why the ferns aren’t cultivated into a perfect line formation, why the path isn’t smooth and pointing in one direction, or why the rocks aren’t formed symmetrically like a manicured garden; we welcome these mysteries! Instead, we accept that everything is working in harmony to create that beauty. The rotted branch now becomes a bridge across a stream. The fallen leaves are left to be picked up by the birds for nesting. Meanwhile, deep within the dirt and working behind the scenes, insects crawl and fly, working steadfastly in symbiosis and in service of the thriving greenery and blooms. The creepy crawlers which we have come to despise are necessary for the beauty of the garden to thrive. If we don’t welcome and respect their presence and role in the process, we can expect the beauty they help create to die with them.

When we apply this metaphor to the complexity of the way we navigate our lives, I note that we have disregarded intuition and emotion as sinister, just like the creepy crawlers. This is a disservice for even though we need our reason and intellect, intuition (our inner compass) can guide us to our most natural, wild state where we can thrive best in both decision making and creativity. A devaluation such as this is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Albert Einstein once said something along the lines of “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Women have long held the crown for being emotional and intuitive, though the stigma wears more like a dunce cap for those that find it admirable to suppress feminine qualities such as dreaming, creativity, openness, and nurturing (Blackie, 2016). This disconnect is paralleled with our dysfunctional relationship with ecosystems in nature that we humans are destroying despite our dependence on them for sustenance. It’s quite counterintuitive when instead we ought to be valuing and nurturing nature, inside and out. I hope you'll join me on this journey as I investigate and navigate the wild paths of our human tangled garden.