Saturday, 1 August 2015


I'm finding this exercise really helpful in terms of capturing ideas for stories. Putting a few sentences into an eight page book focuses your imagination and makes you build a little world where before there was just a jumble of lines in a notebook. In the lesson, Carla suggests that we have our story in mind before painting the background, which is great advice. Except, weirdly, the opposite is working for me. I am painting all these mixed media backgrounds and then I sit back and wait to see what the colours, textures and patterns evoke in me. The green and yellow in this one made me think of backyards in summer. Then, flicking through my old sketchbooks, I came across a random scribble I did when I bought my first box of water colour crayons (about two years ago). Waiting evolved from there. For me, entire novels have emerged out of such random beginnings and no doubt it's the same for most writers and storytellers. This is another reason I encourage all aspiring and emerging authors to play, play, play!

Some days are all about waiting.

Even the nicest moments feel empty.

Until the waiting is over.

(This needs an edit. I would delete 'back' if I did the spread again.)

Grabbing crayons like a kid in a lolly shop!

Pin It!

Friday, 31 July 2015

The Weather Report

Using a variety of mixed media (and paper folding) techniques I've been learning in Year of the Spark, I have been making little eight page picture books.

It is so much fun, dear reader! If you are an aspiring children's author this exercise is doubly, triply, countlessly good for your soul and for your creative development. You learn all sorts of secret things in the process of doing this. It forces you to think about design and layout, perspective and technique. Loads of elements other than story. I am so grateful to Carla Sonheim. Not only is she hugely talented, she is also an incredibly generous and inspiring teacher. I need to get a colour photocopy of the original and then I can fold it and show you the end result. But in the meantime, grab a coffee, put up your feet and lose yourself in the rollicking saga that is, The Weather Report. Jen xx

It is cold and wet today.

But I have woolly socks.

And I have a brolly.

Pin It!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

freewheeling and loving it

We have to take a protractor to art class this Thursday, dear reader. The word 'protractor' has negative connotations  for me. Right off the bat I am reminded of the silly boys in primary school who enjoyed saying 'protractor'. 'Hand me that protractor'. 'I wish I had a protractor'. 'You've got a nice protractor'. Always this was said with the emphasis on pro. Apparently, lo and behold, pro was short for prostitute and this made protractor a fabulously deviant word. Honestly, those boys needed to get a life. 
Protractor is also linked in my noggin to mathematics. And rather tricky mathematics into the bargain. The kind that involves angles and whatnot and makes me want to curl up in a ball (with a very tight circumference).  
Lastly, in this week's context, protractor means COLOUR WHEEL. Now, can I just say right here that I hate the feckin colour wheel. I have studied it more than thrice already. Sure, the lesson always enters my brain on gentle, helpful sound waves but on impact it explodes into a cacophony of white noise. WHITE noise, dear reader. No sense, no joy, no colour. Now, my art teacher is such a darling that if I were to go to her cap-in-hand and plead, I know she would let me sit in the corner and doodle while the other students endure the colour/torture wheel. But I am not a deserter, dear reader, and while I might feel mutinous, I will endure.
Playing with colour sans a wheel. To freewheel (pardon the pun) makes me feel incredibly happy.

The thing about the colour wheel is that it is logical. And I have a huge aversion to logic when I am drawing, painting or indeed, writing. My aversion to the colour wheel is akin to my aversion to books on writing that prattle on about plotting and blue prints and scene breakdowns and character bios etc. I'm not saying there is no place for these or that I never use them. But my advice to aspiring authors is Approach With Caution. Many years ago when I was making my first serious scribbles, I almost gave up creative writing altogether because I could not write by the book. Being new and dewy eyed, and with a teetering stack of freshly churned out utter blah beside me, I assumed the reason I could not write in accordance with the instruction manual was because I was useless and lacked talent and was clearly devoid of anything remotely worth saying. I gave up writing for an entire year! It was only when a dear friend gave me a copy of The Artist's Way that I tentatively and then with increasing gusto began writing again.

But wait, there's more I want to tell you. Last week in art class we had all these scraps of torn up colourful artwork and we were asked to make a collage with them. I agonised over my collage and the final result was, quite frankly, revolting. I could not make it work and by the time I got home I felt demoralised and had a head like a smashed pumpkin I was so stressed. The next day I looked at my disastrous collage again and had a revelation. The reason I could not make it work was because I HATE PURPLE. I do, dear reader. I cannot abide it. Sure, other people make it work and I have often swooned over women (and indeed men) wearing purple to great effect. But I hate it so much it makes me feel sick. There is no purple in my house. Once, in the late 70s, I had a purple dress. But I was living in a sharehouse at the time and some fly-by-nighter stole my purple frock. Do you know what I said? Good riddance. I had never worn the hideous thing and I knew I never would have, no matter how long it dangled salaciously in my wardrobe. So that, you see, is why I could not make my collage work. There was simply too much purple in the scraps I had been allocated. It made my heart whimper and my enthusiasm for colour turn to nausea. 
Over the weekend I tore up my collage and began anew. This time I paid scant attention to the purple while considering more closely the yellows, reds and blacks. This freed up my intuition and allowed me to get back into the flow. The end result is no masterpiece but nor does it make me want to weep. Surely that is a good thing?
And so endeth today's lesson. I do hope I have not been too bombastic, but you see, I feel very passionate about these things.
Until tomorrow
I remain
Yours beneath a purple free, intuition-worshipping rainbow.
Jen xx 
Pin It!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

a little arty link

I'm a bit nuts about Mindy Lacefield's work, dear reader. Have you come across her? Here's a gorgeous video of Mindy whipping up a mixed media collage. Moon Deer Coyote. Beautiful. Look what she does with colour! Gosh! Honestly, this video has me reaching for a canvas every time I look at it. And that's often... Mindy blogs here. xx

Pin It!

Monday, 6 July 2015

shades and tints and everything in between

Sorry to bombard you with splotches, dear reader, but we are learning about mixing colour in Year of the Spark and I am jumping out of my skin. I tried to be systematic about it. But that went out the window about three splotches in. I had no idea how delicious this whole process would be. After all, I've read The Colour Kittens. I thought I was across colour theory... xx

Oops. I know Lynn said not to dirty up the white but...

Pin It!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

any other day

Hello dear reader, some Rainy Day Rabbits that I drew for you. How is your weekend going, I wonder? It is rather brisk here in Melbourne. I bought a new cardi at the Gorman sale in the city yesterday and wore it IMMEDIATELY today. Even though it really was too cold for a thin cardi and I had to hide it under a coat for the better part of the day. Do you do that, dear reader? Do you wear new stuff the minute you get it home or are you more circumspect, more patient, than me? 
Excuse the poor lighting. It's dark green, dear reader. And pale, sort of Iced VoVo, pink.
I have been reading oodles of good stuff this past week or so. This includes two startling books by Manjir Samanta-Laughton. The first one, Punk Science: Inside the Mind of God, is a slow read for one as right-brained as yours truly and yet I am enjoying it immensely.  The second one, The Genius Groove: The New Science of Creativity, I read in 48 hours and am now re-reading (and scribbling all over). I adore it. I must say it is in desperate need of a good edit, but no matter. The content remains remarkable (possibly confronting for many) and Samanta-Laughton is certainly one of most engaging writers/ speakers I've come across in a long while. If you're into 'woo-woo' and quantum physics and the links between science and spirituality, do check out her work. There are plenty of interviews with her on Youtube, too. Google away...

Speaking of work (or indeed, woo-woo), my new book, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack, goes to the printer tomorrow! Yes! Monday, Monday/ So good to me... Sorry. Some Mamas and Papas there. But golly, the word 'Printer' makes my heart flutter and my brain... gambol. The cover is almost, nearly, practically finished. It is awaiting some final design swishes including a splash of spot-gloss and some other sparkly embellishments and then I will have a lovely hi-res image to share with you. I do hope you will love it as much as I do. In the meantime, I am putting the final touches to a course I will soon be teaching on creative writing. It's for adults, dear reader, not kids. So, if you live in Melbourne and are at all interested in joining me for some writing tips and creativity high-jinx drop me a line and I'll pop you on my mailing list. 

In the meantime, I just ate a hot coffee scroll (with lashings of butter) and now I'm wondering what's for dinner. It's the cold weather, dear reader. The cold, dark weather...
Until next time
I remain
Yours in perpetual long johns
Jen xx 
Pin It!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

colour, creativity and consciousness

Nothing says 'winter' like a jar of jonquils.
In the 1980s when I was a clerk in the public service I eagerly signed up for a staff development course. An entire day fully paid with no work? I would have signed up for karate, dear reader. However, as it turned out this was Creative Visualisation. I had no idea what it was all about or how it related to my job but it sounded...alluring. I still remember the teacher. I was besotted the moment she wafted into the room. She was effortlessly glamorous, with glossy red hair, massive shoulder pads and dewy skin. She was earning $500 per day running these courses and it made us gasp with envy. She was also planning a trip to Egypt to see the pyramids. Apparently she had a poster of camel drivers stuck to her bathroom door, a daily reminder of where she was headed — a type of vision board I guess we would call it today but it was a new idea to me and I liked the sound of it. When I look back on that day it occurs to me how arbitrary it was. This wasn't a course in speed filing, or how to fill in an 'N' form, or how to master DisplayWrite4, the newfangled word processing programme we were grappling with at the time. It turned out that Creative Visualisation was a technique for harnessing the power of your imagination in order to make your dreams come true. Well, I can tell you right now, dear reader, everyone that day was creatively visualising themselves out of the public service, myself included. Although, I must admit I can't recall precisely what dreams I  chose to work on. I was ill-prepared for such a delicious opportunity and, besides, I had long ago put most of my dreams in a sealed jar at the back of the wardrobe. I had 'settled down'. I had a mortgage and a wedding ring and a good job with flexitime. I do however remember one rather flimsy fantasy I managed to conjure up that day. We had to do the 'pink bubble' technique. This is where you close your eyes and imagine yourself doing or being or having something that your heart desires. You imagine it as vividly as you can, then place the image in a pink bubble (pink being the colour associated with the heart) and release it into the universe where it can float about, happily gathering energy for its manifestation. A pink bubble? Hmmm. Given my current circumstances all I could hope for was that someday, somewhere along the line, I would be doing something that required me to carry a briefcase. I know, dear reader! How feeble does that sound? I bet others were seeing harbour mansions, first class flights to Paris and brilliant stage careers. But you must understand, briefcases were extremely fashionable in the 1980s and I thought if it was ever necessary for me to carry one then it stood to reason that I would be doing something Rather Interesting, possibly even something swish — anything, dear reader, other than filling in 'N' forms and glaring at an insubordinate word processing machine. (Incidentally, I don't remember what an 'N' form actually was, only that I filled in hundreds).

Time went by, as it is wont to do, and I forgot about that day until about five years later. It had been a tumultuous five years during which I'd had a child, got divorced, moved interstate and bought my own house. I had also enrolled in an arts degree at university (a dream I had nursed since my teens). It was the middle of winter, I was struggling across a gritty quadrangle, buffeted from all sides by gale force winds.  I fought to keep my scarf around my neck, my coat across my body and MY BRIEFCASE of text books against my leg. From out of nowhere I remembered the pink bubble technique. My flimsy, ill-defined vision had become a reality. I was carrying a briefcase AND I was as happy as a lark. It was a startling thought, dear reader, and it stopped me in my tracks. Truly, the universe is astonishing. If it could manifest such a vague desire, give shape to such a wistful chimera, imagine what it could do if I got focused.

Just this week, while digging through some old journals, trying to make sense of my current trajectory, I found my copy of Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain. It was purchased in 1991 some years after I attended that initial course (I always write the date of purchase inside my books). This edition no longer has a cover. It is battered and annotated and it's spine is broken. In fact, it is crying out for gaffer tape. But this mangled classic still made my senses tingle and my heart leap. When I glanced through it I was transported back to my younger self. Back to the hopes, dreams and sparkling energy of those years. Since rediscovering this dear little book I  have thrown myself back into its teachings. I have also embarked on a spiritual quest that has re-energised me and led me to many startling discoveries. 

It feels good to be back on track, to have reconnected with 'Good Orderly Direction', as Julia Cameron calls it in The Artists Way. And while my intentions feel slightly more earnest this time around, I have nonetheless been busy releasing a veritable effervescence of pink bubbles. Without doubt I feel that 'these dreams or something better are now coming to me, easily and effortlessly, in total harmony and for the highest good of all concerned. So be it, so it is...'
Until next time
I remain, 
Yours in Perpetual Awe
Jen xx

Pin It!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

the return of the little king

The Little King is suffering from the most dreadful ennui, dear reader. No doubt he will muddle through. In the meantime I will keep a close eye on him.

Snow Rabbit. I suspect he lives somewhere near the Little King.

This girl lives in another story altogether. Post WW2, I think.
We are moving house soon, dear reader, and the sands are shifting beneath our feet. I will keep in touch, of course, but forgive me if my letters are slow and sporadic. Rest assured Baxter Street will remain the same. Baxter Street is a state of mind, dear reader, it goes wherever you and I go.
Until next time, I remain
Yours in perpetual motion
Jen xx

Pin It!

Monday, 25 May 2015

between books. gulp.

Between books. It's a weird, fraught space, dear reader. For me it's a time of confusion and obsessive self-reflection. I'm happiest when I'm working — when I'm up to my eyeballs in a story. When I'm in a storyworld I can ignore everything from mounting bills to mouldy shower-screens and ailing houseplants, and pursue my book with a single-mindedness that has my friends muttering, 'You never come out to play. What is WRONG with you?' 

But when I finish a book, oh dear, that's when I find myself floundering. Of course there's the inevitable slump. I feel empty, drained, vaguely depressed. Do I miss my characters as some authors do? Perhaps. I know I miss their worlds. And my world, well, it always feels a little lacklustre by comparison. 

But it's not just that. This is also, without exception, the time when I start to wonder if it's all worth it. The isolation, the scarce, erratic income, the constant battle just to stay afloat and keep smiling despite the struggle. It's a time when I feel the injustices and slights (imagined and real) more acutely and my wounds start to prickle and demand attention. Between books is the time when I ask myself, would I do better, find more meaning, be happier, healthier, more effective, in another career? Would my family be better off if I focused my energies elsewhere? And if so WHERE? Honestly, I tear myself apart during this phase. And I'm sure I drive Himself to distraction with my incessant soul-searching and midnight ponderings.
Cafes these days always have the prettiest arrangements. Have you noticed?
Worse still, I never find answers. Solace only comes when I start the next book — when I enter the next fantasy. Then I'm happy. Then I'm back on the Life of a Writer Roller-coaster and my ragtag existence feels legitimate again. 

But this time, I'm taking it slowly. I'm resisting the urge to finish one book, spin around, and lose myself in another. I've resolved to spend more time with my demons. Really get to know them. Perhaps we will even hold hands... Perhaps they will finally tell me what I need to hear. Whatever that might be.
I cleaned the laundry and picked an apple. The experience was immensely satisfying.
I have almost finished the little cardi for the ASRC craft market. I will knit another straight away. One seems too meagre an offering.
On a brighter note, while forcing myself to take this break I have been immersing myself in local delights, taking the time to explore my neighbourhood more thoroughly, to check out what's been happening while I've had my head in the clouds. I hope my photos, above and below, gladden your heart. It's always nice to look, to take notice, to be part of the real world again. However fleetingly.
I have fallen head over heels in love with this shop. It's called Mim Found Ena. I bought a handmade ceramic brooch.  I will show you soon. When I can display it to its best advantage.
Until we talk again
I remain 
Yours in 
Perpetual Transition
Jen xx

Pin It!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

when arts collide

Copying someone else's cupcakes can lead to all sorts of adventures.
I wrote my first picture book in 1989 or thereabouts. As I remember, it was about a teddy bear. Mr Bear spent many hours dangling from a clothesline but I can't recall much else about his adventures (such as they were). No matter. I popped my story in an envelope and sent it to a publisher. Many months later when the inevitable rejection slip arrived was I downhearted? No, no, no.  I taped that rejection slip to the wall above my typewriter. (Yes, it was a typewriter, electric, top of the range). That rejection slip was proof, dear reader. Proof that my story had been on an editor's desk. That my story had been looked at, nay, handled by a professional. My story was worth a stamp and a form letter! My first rejection slip was proof that I was on my way to becoming a professional writer. An Author.

Fast forward twenty-five years or so. I was having coffee in a local cafe and doing some aimless moodling; no newspaper, no smart phone, no notepad or pen and certainly no typewriter. I was just sipping coffee and people-watching. At the next table a grandmother was reading a picture book to a little boy. The boy was DESPERATELY trying to engage with the book. I could see the effort on his face and in his body language. But I could also see that the book was, well, it was a dud. It was one of those awful picture books you often see in cafes. If you are interested in children's literature you will know exactly the kind of book I'm talking about. I thought, if I had to read a book like that to a child what would I do? Instantly I knew the answer. I'd make up my own story. I would make that child laugh if it was the last thing I did.

I wandered home thinking about this and pondering the things that make toddlers laugh.

Now, for some time I had been taking art classes. I was at the stage where I was learning to draw...circles. But my circles had recently evolved. I had been painting cupcakes for weeks. (Actually, I had been copying them from a tea-towel but it was a good exercise and taught me a little about shading and using watercolour pencils etc). I was drawing eggs, too. Eggs in egg cups. Spongecakes too. Big chocolate spongecakes with gaudy pink icing and strawberry jam oozing from their centres.  I had also been drawing chickens.

I had no idea why I was doing this so obsessively but over the years I have learned to go with creative impulses even when, or especially when, they don't make sense. When I arrived home from the cafe I sat down and wrote a story about a cheery old fellow who lived on a farm and one day took a trip into town. I wrote it fast. I didn't censor myself or question it, I just wrote. I soon noticed that lo and behold I had the outline for picture book.

That night I sat up in bed with my sketchbook on my knee. Again, I was just doodling, not trying to dream up anything amazing or create anything in particular. I thought, What does this fellow from my new story look like?  His name is Clarrie and he's bald, came the answer. Gosh! I drew him quickly. He spoke to me, 'I am very fond of chickens,' he said. 'They make good friends and their eggs make delicious cakes.' He kept chatting, he was awfully sweet and his quirky way of speaking and gentle outlook on life made me smile. I drew a pile of quick, wonky sketches. Then I hopped out of bed and did a little 'mixed media'. Clarrie and I were by now firm friends.

I didn't know how to draw a car so I copied one from a Clarice Bean book!

The next day I rewrote the text in Clarrie's voice — character and voice, dear reader, character and voice, for me the most important starting point in any creative writing project. Then I emailed my publisher at HarperCollins. 'I have someone I'd like you to meet,' I said.

I did not have to wait long before the story was accepted for publication, after all Clarrie really does have a certain je ne sais quoi. And yet it was hard to believe it had happened so quickly. But of course, it hadn't had it? I've been plugging away at this writing game, studying the art of storytelling, for thirty years. 

Of course, I will keep you updated as the book becomes a reality (one of my absolutely favourite illustrators has been commissioned and publication is set for 2016). But in the meantime what's the lesson here? Yes, there's something about hanging onto your dreams. But it's more than that. This experience has confirmed my suspicions that we must follow our creative urges. And we must trust them. No matter how silly or irrational they seem (circles, eggs, cupcakes) they are always part of a bigger 'story', they are always teaching us something or leading us towards something richer. It may not be a book or anything quite so tangible but I bet my Faber-Castells that everything you make, everything you create, feeds your inner artist and nurtures your imagination in ways that are essential to your development. 

Trust your creative urges, dear reader, do not dismiss them because you're inexperienced or 'unqualified' or embarrassed. Give yourself permission to play, to be a beginner, to experiment, to be obsessive. That's how we make art. That's how we create. But at the same time don't concern yourself with joining the dots. Don't try to be purposeful or rational about it. All our impulses and interests are interconnected, I am certain of it. If you want to draw, draw. If you want to write, write. If you want to play the tambourine, crochet, sing, collage, make camels out of cotton wool, get to it! Don't question it. Just let it flow. That's how creativity works. Carelessly. Joyfully. In a state of trust and grace.

Until next time
I remain
Yours in Perpetual Wonder.
Jen xx

Pin It!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...