Monday, 30 August 2010

Art at School - Guest Post by Ulla Hennig

Ulla Hennig lives in Berlin, Germany, where she works at the University of the Arts; she is responsible for its website, as well as supporting and training others in computer use. She was initially trained as a teacher and her interest in computers, as far back as the '80s and '90s, led her to help older people with searching the internet and email. Ulla describes herself as a 'hobby photographer' and it was initially through my blog and her wonderful photographs in her online Zazzle store that Ulla and I became friends. Her knowledge of Photoshop, and how to get the best from it, is prodigious and now that she has started to draw again, she makes full use of it to enhance some of her drawings and 'create products' for her Zazzle Store

Ulla has kindly agreed to write about a subject that is dear to my heart - the shedding of her inhibitions that had prevented her from reaching her potential as an artist!

Art at School - Ulla Hennig

My three weeks vacation is over now. It was filled with creative activities. I now know that I love to draw, paint (yes, I actually began to color my drawings with watercolor pencils!) and to write. I have joined art communities like and

I have discovered my inner artist, and I am having regular appointments with her.

I loved to draw when I was a child: animals, cartoons. My family encouraged me, but then...there were those art lessons at school! You had to follow a strict syllabus, and drawing was - as far as I remember - only a tiny part of it. You had to do this color circle and you had to fill it out without going over the edges. You had to paint the story of “Odysseus at the Giant’s cave”, and you had to do it using a certain set of colors (all kinds of dark colors and purple).

Art at school was no fun. There was no place for my creativity, and of course it was no place for encouragement. I remember once having created a painting which the teacher accepted. He did it with the words, “A blind hen sometimes finds a grain of corn” - no comment on that.

When I left school I had the impression that I had no creative abilities. During my studies at the university I had no time (or thought that investing time in drawing and painting would not be worth the time). Only now, in my 50s, I rediscovered those activities, due to the encouragement of some friends, some of them living in my hometown, Berlin, and one friend living in Wales.

I am glad to be on my way, but what about all those whose belief in their creativity has been killed in school by the way art is being taught there? And why does it have to be taught that way? What are your experiences?

You may be interested in visiting Ulla's blog and her Zazzle store. You can also find Ulla Hennig on facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Smile on Sunday -

What do you do when you are painting and the phone rings? Do you break off from your watercolour wash to answer it and risk ruining your painting or do you let it ring?

I find the ‘cold calls’, especially the automated ones beginning, ‘Congratulations, you have won...’ a real nuisance and they somehow persist even though I’ve registered with ‘Telephone Preferences’. Unfortunately many of them show up as ‘Out of Area’ so I can never be certain that it’s not my daughter calling me from Sweden.

There’s not much to be done about the automated ones except to put the phone down. But then there are the less obviously ‘spam’ calls, where the caller asks not only if you are Mrs Such-and-such but then goes on to ask ‘how are you today?’ – to which I’m afraid I’ve been known to reply that I’d be much better if their call hadn’t interrupted my work (and wanting to add that it’s none of their business.) But more often I interrupt them just as they are beginning to get into full flow to ask where they got my number and politely explain that they seem to be one that has slipped through the Telephone Preferences net. Usually they apologise and say they’ll remove me from their list. But if I’m painting when the call comes, the damage is already done and it can be infuriating.

As ever, I find the best way is to try to see a funny side and the video clip at the bottom of this page, even though it doesn’t solve the problem of the interruption, made me laugh – though I haven’t tried it out yet! 

(If you have time to spare, there are a lot more 'solutions' on Youtube!)

Friday, 27 August 2010

Greeting Cards and Gifts for Grandparents' Day by GCU and Zazzle Artists

Here's a great selection of greeting cards and gifts for Grandparents' Day from Greeting Card Universe and Zazzle artists who paint their designs by hand. Something here to appeal to all tastes!

Click on the images for further details or click on the names below the images to go to the artists' store.

Pen and Wash

Pencil drawing

Happy Grandparent's Day card
Happy Grandparent's Day by AbundanceLoveTrip
Shop for a card at


Red Roses card
Red Roses by RemusCB
Make your own note cards online at zazzle

Drawn by hand with digitally added flowers



Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Why Greeting Cards?

According to the figures on the Greeting Card Universe Homepage, there are currently 3,813 artists who have created 381,568 greeting cards for this online store alone! I don’t know how many greeting cards designers sell their work through Zazzle or other online stores or how many designs are sold through traditional publishers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers. But it must be quite a lot! So why do so many artists choose to direct their talents towards this very competitive market?

A few days ago, I asked watercolour artist, Rod Hillen why he decided to create greeting cards and his mentioned the positive impact that greeting cards make on people’s lives. He also pointed out that the numerous occasions for sending cards ensures variety in his work. I would agree with Rod on both of those points. I love to receive nice greeting cards and I don’t throw away my favourites but use them as bookmarks or just leave them standing around on mantelpieces. And designing for so many occasions and holidays certainly exercises my imagination and keeps me busy! But I would go a little further with Rod’s first point.

For a while, a few years ago, I concentrated on my 'fine art' pastel paintings and thoroughly enjoyed creating and selling some of them in exhibitions. But it wasn’t long before I was making greeting cards and prints from scans of my paintings to sell locally in coffee shops and craft centres.  And now my main focus is on the greeting cards rather than the paintings because I found that the world of Fine Art was leading me into an often rarefied atmosphere that I didn't much enjoy, a world inhabited by those who can afford to buy original paintings, gallery owners and those who set themselves up as art critics – sometimes, I must say, talking a lot of gobbledegook and reminiscent of the French and Saunders clips!

My belief is that good art and design should be available to all, not just the wealthy. Public art galleries are one way of making art widely available but incorporating good art and design into our everyday lives and surroundings is even more important. I am fairly passionate about Interior Design – and not just the latest fads and fashions in decor but creating living and working spaces that enhance our well-being.  In theory at least, it is just as easy to produce a glorious curtain fabric or wallpaper as to produce a ghastly, badly designed one, a practical, well-planned kitchen rather than an awkward one! I suspect that being surrounded by pretty china or elegantly designed coffee mugs can have a subtly uplifting effect on us, just as what we wear to some extent affects our mood.

And so with greeting cards. They can be designed to remind us of the beauty of the natural world, to make us laugh or to comfort us in times of sadness. A well designed, carefully chosen greeting card is the synthesis of the sender’s expression of caring towards the recipient and something of the artist’s gift to the world at large – two for the price of one, and that price is often less than a cup of coffee! So, for me there is enormous satisfaction when someone chooses to buy one of my cards.

In spite of the fact that many men say they don’t like greeting cards because they find it difficult to choose them, if they didn’t exist, I think something of value would be lost.

Another reason I like creating greeting cards is that I get to keep the originals. But that, as one of my US friends would say, is a ‘whole ‘nother story’ !


I took this photo as I crossed the park to go to the shops yesterday! Autumn is on its way!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Guest Artist - Rod Hillen

From time to time I like to introduce artists and designers who use 'traditional methods' for their paintings and designs to readers of my blog. I sense that there is a lot of almost hidden talent amongst the members of Greeting Card Universe and Zazzle. On the whole we are a little less prolific than those who create their designs digitally and it's easy for us to get overlooked because of the sheer numbers!

Rod Hillen joined GCU a few months ago and has built up an online store, Blue Dragon Greeting Cards, full of beautiful watercolour designs, many of them with an 'ethereal' look that is very well suited to his 'fairy' cards that any small child - and some older ones! - would love!

 I emailed Rod a few questions about his work as 'prompts' and here are his replies -

How long have you been painting/drawing? I started drawing before I was old enough to go to school. I remember my mom liking something I drew. Then I whipped out something else for more approval and she told me she liked that I had spent time on the first one. that was a good lesson. Later I remember seeing Snoopy and thinking 'I could draw that' and I could! I was on my way.

Do you come from a family of artists or other creative types? My aunt Christie had some great drawings I admired. My grandpa was a cartographer. Both on my mother's side.

Have you had formal art instruction? I have taken classes and lessons all my life. I have a bachelor's degree from Art Center in Pasadena in Illustration.

What is the most useful thing you've been taught by an Art teacher? In college, there were several creative majors. This guy in transportation design told me he thought people in illustration couldn't draw. I brought this up with the assistant chair of the department during my review, and he said; "The people in transportation design all draw the same. That's a form of communication that engineers have to be able to look at and translate it into an actual car. In transportation design they are taught to draw a certain way. In Illustration, we want you to develop your own voice. In Illustration we teach you how to see.
I know I'm not the best draughtsman, so I try to have my own voice, and see things in a unique and interesting way.

What is your favourite subject matter? I love spiritual themes. They are not my exclusive purview, but they are my favourite. When I was a child, my brother and I were allowed to open a present on Christmas Eve to tide us over until morning. My folks would pick it out so we wouldn't get stuck with socks or something. Once my folks gave me a Children's Bible and I hated it! I was so ashamed. I cried and cried. "Why would you think I wanted that?" I asked. "You're always looking at the big Bible," they said. "You couldn't possibly understand it. So we got you this one." I said, "I was looking at the paintings!" We had this awesome Bible that had Rembrandts, and Tiepelos and all these great master paintings of Biblical scenes. That children's Bible had cartoonish watercolors that just didn't do it for me. I guess that's not very spiritual after all. Ha ha!.


What medium do you prefer to use? I prefer watercolours. I like using nice brushes that won't get ruined. No matter how careful I am with oils or acrylics, I end up ruining the brushes. Also, with watercolours the cleanup is quick and easy. I like to take my paints to the park or Starbucks. I use others mediums from time to time. I try to be versatile.

Is there any one person, artist or otherwise, who has had a big influence on you? Rembrandt was way ahead of his time. His paintings contain elements like impasto and abstraction. They are often revealing psychological studies; hundreds of years before psychology existed!

Personally, there have been people in my life, particularly an art history teacher; I can't remember her name, that have encouraged me to think for myself and ask myself what do I want to accomplish? Do I want to make a lot of money? Do I want to have an effect on people's lives? Art is powerful: it changes lives, the way people think. It can change society. I think that's more important than making money. If making money is what you want to do there are easier ways to go about it.

Do you ever suffer from Artists' Block? I go through periods where I just don't feel like painting. That's one thing I love about making greeting cards: I have to force myself to do something: Christmas is coming! I can't put it off until tomorrow; it will be too late!

What made you decide to create greeting cards? I love the opportunity to have a positive impact on people's lives. Greeting cards are generally positive. Also, I get to be challenged by a variety of subjects; birthdays, holidays, condolences... it's almost limitless.

Do you enjoy the business side of selling your Art or is it a chore? No! I'm terrible at it! I have no idea what I'm doing! I try to split my time between painting & designing cards and promoting them. Ugh! I've got to find someone who knows what they're doing and pay them! Actually, it's a learning experience. I can't always do what I want or what's easy.

What are your plans and aspirations for the future? I would love to be able to create art full time. I don't have to be rich and famous. Just pay my bills and support my family. I've worked at "normal" jobs my whole life. They come and go. In this economy I've learned that "regular" jobs aren't anymore secure than "art" jobs. I'd like to illustrate children's books & write them too.
I'd like to thank Rod for taking the time and trouble to share his thoughts with us . (There is much there that 'chimes' with me!). I'm sure he'll be glad to answer any further questions you may have and that he would love you to visit his blog, where you can see more of his work.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

How do you doodle?

Earlier this week, Chris Fothergill posted about his 'back-of-the-envelope' doodling and I promised that I would post my 'doodle' as soon as I found time. Well, the week went from bad to worse with the printer problems and other work stacking up, so I've taken a break from trying to stick to my self-imposed schedule in favour of doing something a bit less serious.

So here it is, the doodle I did on the front of an envelope while watching the 10 pm BBC News -

I'm sure that doodling is good for us and, unlike a lot of things, it's practically free, it's quick, it's legal and it's fun! So why not give it a go?

If you have a back-of-(or front of!)-an-envelope doodle, contact me through my profile, or through facebook, and I'll post it here on this blog. I'd love to see what you come up with!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Back to School!

  I was talking on the phone with my daughter yesterday evening when I noticed that one of the trees that I can see from my kitchen window was beginning to turn an autumnal shade of yellow. When I mentioned this, my daughter was a bit depressed by it, ‘I’m still waiting for summer’ she said. But, although it had taken me by surprise, seeing this first sign of Autumn when we are still in August, was welcome and, well, almost exciting.

Maybe I’m peculiar, but this time of year, when the last days of Summer melt into Autumn, is my favourite. I can rationalise it by claiming that it’s because it’s easier to work when I’m not wishing I could be outside in the sunshine – or away on holiday. But in fact it goes back a long way and is rooted in my classroom teaching days.

Here in the UK, the Autumn term begins some time in the first week of September and for me, as an erstwhile teacher, that’s a time filled with hope and excitement about what the new school year will bring. The tiredness and often frustration of the end of the previous school year that ended in July, are forgotten. Those dreadful, exhausting Parents’ Evenings at the end of the Summer term, when the reports that I’d laboured over all weekend were handed out. And the embarrassment of being utterly unable to recall the face of the child whose fond parents are waiting nervously to hear my verdict on their offspring’s progress! The Sports’ Days, the Prize-givings, the School plays, the discos and the disaffected pupils who can’t wait for the term to end. Now all well and truly forgotten.

Forgotten for now and replaced by the optimism of a fresh start with, for once, a well-polished classroom, filled with eager, shiny-faced, neatly coiffed pupils, proudly clutching new pencil-cases – with bobbles, all of them as filled with hope and expectation as I am, the feelings that we usually associate with the coming of Spring or maybe at the start of a new year! For once the Nature Table looks inviting, with its display of acorns and conkers, berries and colourful leaves and pictures of squirrels and birds gathering on the telephone wires for their pre-migration briefing...

It doesn’t last long, of course, the class villain soon begins to make his presence felt (and yes, the first one is invariably a ‘he’), the leaves on the Nature table dry up, the fresh white backing paper becomes torn and grubby as it becomes a repository for pencil sharpenings, chewing gum and all the other odds and ends that nobody can be bothered to put away.

And so the magic fades, to be replaced by the humdrum life of the classroom, punctuated by the occasional uproar when the above-mentioned villain decides to trash the stock cupboard in break-time. Or the even less frequent, almost tear-jerking, moment of exhilaration when a struggling pupil makes an unexpected breakthrough in their learning and makes the whole thing more than worthwhile!

But each year without fail, as the days grow noticeably shorter, and the ‘New Series for Autumn’ begin to be announced on the television, that excitement returns, that 'beginning-of-the-new-school-year feeling', that triumph of optimism over experience, and for me, there's nothing quite like it!

'Love'-themed Postage Stamps

...on my other blog today!

Sweet Peas Love Postage Stamp stamp
Sweet Peas Love Postage Stamp by helikettle
Design custom stamps online at zazzle

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

In Praise of Twitter

I'll bet you never thought you'd hear me say that, did you?

When I first signed up with Twitter, I felt totally overwhelmed by the volume and speed of the 'tweets'. But here I am, just a few weeks later, beginning to enjoy Twitter to the extent that I would actually miss it if it were unavailable!

So what has changed my mind? It boils down to a couple of decisions I made during the few days that I was away from my computer, dealing with my printer problems.

Firstly, I decided to be a lot more selective about following people. It was the sheer volume of incoming tweets that had been overwhelming me so I decided to begin very small, following and being followed by more or less only people I knew outside of the Twitter setting.

Then I gradually, very gradually, began to follow some of the people who were following me, but only after having a good look through their tweets and deciding that they were of genuine interest to me.

I also took the bold step of 'unfollowing' a few people - and the sky hasn't fallen in! There were a few people I was following because we appeared to have common interests but I later realised that they were using Twitter simply to keep in touch with one another, with no wish to have others join the conversation, a kind of free text-messaging service - the only difference being that their conversation was made public to the whole tweeting world! It left me feeling like an eavesdropper!

And then there were a few who constantly sent out slight variations of the same message of advice - a message that I strongly disagreed with. So off they were sent into Twitter-Outer-Darkness!

This done, I began to feel that I, rather than Twitter, was in the driving seat, and I started to become aware of its benefits:
  • Twitter is a good way to 'touch base' with people when there's no time for a full-length email.
  • Through Twitter, I was able to find instant advice and help with the practical problems I was having with my printer.
  • Twitter has introduced me to some fascinating people and their blogs that I would probably have never come across in any other way!
  • Twitter, I have discovered, can provide a rich source of information if you make sure you follow people who are likely to be experts in your field of interest.

Whether Twitter is actually helping me to promote my online stores remains to be seen - they say it takes time. But I don't suppose it can really do any harm to tweet links to my products and blogs as well as participating in conversations. As one 'tweeter' commented the other day; most people on Twitter are promoting something. I try to spread out my promotional tweets across the whole day and evening, for the sake of my followers as I find that one of the most irritating things about Twitter are the large batches of tweets from the same person that arrive 'en masse'. It takes time and attention to weed my way through them, sifting out the ones I wouldn't want to miss from amongst those that don't seem at all relevant or interesting.  And time and attention are in rather short supply for me, as I would imagine they are for many of us!

But maybe these 'mass tweeters' have a very limited time-frame in which to 'tweet', unlike those of us who are on and off our computers for most of waking hours! Maybe they are the people who could make use of automated tweeting that is scheduled to distribute one's tweets at intervals rather than all at once. The argument against scheduling tweets in this way is that they lose their 'personal touch'. But often there doesn't seem to be any hint of a 'personal touch' in any case!

So what are the downsides to Twitter?

The most obvious one is that it can gobble up enormous amounts of time as it leads you ever further down the highways and byways of the internet, in search of a definitive answer to a pressing question. But that is true of all aspects of the World Wide Web and the only solution that I know of is be extremely self-disciplined and to keep an eye on the clock!

Another hazard is that having so much and such varied information thrust in front of one's eyes in such a short space of time can cause confusion! Recently another artist posted a link to a webpage with a recommendation that every artist should take note. When I opened the webpage, I couldn't see its relevance so I sent a message to the person who had recommended it, asking what its relevance was. Some time later, I received a message saying that he didn't understand my question. By which time I had completely forgotten what the webpage was all about! (And that is the condensed version of the story, which actually meandered on over several days!)

All in all, I would highly recommend Twitter as a promotional tool and for personal use - it makes facebook seem sluggish and, frankly, hard work! But start small - it's the quality of your followers, rather than the quantity, that matters. Be picky about who you choose to follow and don't let it take up more time than you can genuinely spare!

What has been your experience of Twitter? And do you have any tips for those considering opening a Twitter account?

Here is some further reading on the subject of Twitter, all gleaned from the tweets of people I've been following:

And this one is just for fun!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Guest Post by Chris Fothergill - On the Back of an Envelope

I'm sure many of our readers will be able to identify with today's guest post by Chris Fothergill - I certainly can and frequently bemoan the fact that my finished designs seem to have lost something of their liveliness when my scrap paper scribblings are transferred to the watercolour paper! Chris has been a professional artist for more than 20 years and he has recently opened stores at Greeting Card Universe and Zazzle, helped by his wife, Gill.

On the Back of an Envelope - by Chris Fothergill

I love discarded envelopes. You know the ones – window envelopes from mindless officialdom that look too boring to even open. And yet they have lovely big blank areas all over that beg to be written, doodled or drawn on.

 My drawing board can be a scary place. I look around the corner at it from the doorway in the morning, and then go and put the kettle on and sit at the kitchen table, putting off the moment of commitment. The drawing board seems to demand professionalism, competency and success. The back of an envelope on the kitchen table makes no demands whatever, but invites me to pick up a pencil or biro, and muck about. Its going to be thrown away whatever, so it doesn’t matter.

In the picture shown here, I received some post from Venice (it was only an invoice!) but the post label seemed to invite some elaboration which gave me a fun coffee break and the envelope has been stuck on my studio wall since.

It reminds me how to have fun with paper and a pen.


You can read more of Chris's writings and enjoy his paintings and illustrations on his blog, Travels with my Art


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Smile on Sunday - Painting Dog

Whatever next!

This story made it to the BBC News yesterday and if you missed it you can read this newspaper report about how Sam's paintings have been sold for a tidy sum. Maybe he could teach us a thing or two about marketing!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Some thoughts on Grandparents' Day

Do you send or receive 'Grandparents' Day' greeting cards?
I'd never heard of 'Grandparents' Day' until I joined Greeting Card Universe, even though I've been a grandmother for more than thirteen years! But that's not really surprising because a dip into Wikipedia has informed me that it's a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, introduced as recently as 2008, and as my trips into town are mostly confined to a quick dash to Tesco and perhaps the bank, I've never really noticed what new excuse for card sales the plethora of local card shops is currently promoting, except in the run-up to Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, - and, of course, Red Nose Day - when practically every shop window is emblazoned with seasonal reminders! But I shall certainly try to remember to check out how seriously we take this newly invented 'holiday' when it comes round in October, purely out of interest.

Yes, I did mean October. Maybe one reason why it's easy to be oblivious to Grandparents' Day is that the impact may be diluted by this designated day for showing appreciation to our 'seniors' falling on different days in different countries. In the US, where it appears to have a stronger foothold, it is a month earlier than in the UK, on September 12th this year.

I find myself having very mixed feeling about this new 'Day'. Of course, being a grandmother of six grandsons and one granddaughter, I'm all in favour of being 'appreciated'! And maybe it is right and proper that the older generation should be a little more respected than the great swing towards everything youthful has allowed in recent times. But do we really need a 'Grandparents' Day' for that to happen? Isn't it just another commercialisation of something that really merits being part and parcel of the fabric of everyday life? One of the things that struck me most forcibly when I joined Greeting Card Universe was that there seems to be a 'special' day for something at least once a week throughout the year. Doesn't this seem just a little bit contrived? And what about the people who don't yet have a designated day - aren't they going to feel just a tiny bit left out? Isn't this really and truly just about generating more card, gift and flower sales, more special 'products'?

As a greeting card designer, maybe I should be welcoming this, but as a human being, I'm not so sure!

Grandparents Day Greeting Card card
Grandparents Day Greeting Card by helikettle
Shop for a card with

The other thing that makes me feel a little uneasy about 'Grandparents' Day' is demonstrated by the card designs I've seen. Many of them depict elderly people in rocking chairs, tea in china cups on lacy tablecloths and so on, stereotypical images of a bygone age! Most of the grandmothers I know are leading almost as busy lives as their offspring, often working, at least part-time, and in their 'spare' time, instead of knitting and tending their rose gardens, they are picking up their grandchildren from school and ferrying them to their various and numerous extra-curricular activities! (And possibly knitting and tending their rose gardens as well!) When I was tutoring it was invariably the grandparents who brought the children to me for their lessons, dashing back home to get the meal on the go before setting off again to collect their grandchildren and looking every bit as stressed as the children's parents on the rare occasions that I did meet them!

When my first grandchild was born, I travelled the 140 or so miles to my daughter's house to 'help out' for a few days. But I remember wondering, as I bombed back up the motorway on my way home, whether I'd be in time to get changed out of my jeans and into something more 'suitable' before my first pupil arrived, how very different things were in my grandmother's day!

My grandmother came to live with us when her husband died and my memory of her is of a frail, shadowy figure in a dark crepe-de-chine dress with tiny flowers on it and a lace collar - yes, really! - with a cameo brooch at the neck, lisle stockings and slippers. She sat in a chair and dozed a lot and rarely, if ever, went out of the house and was very much 'waited upon'. In fact I have a photo of myself, a few days old - to be honest, it's more of a photo of my cot! - with my grandmother presiding over it, wearing pretty much what I've described and she couldn't have been much older then than I was when my first grandson was born! My own mother was a far more active grandmother, but still a far cry from today's grandparents.

So thinking about creating greeting cards for Grandparents' Day hasn't been entirely straightforward for me. However, as I appear to be producing more 'old folks' than any other kind of design recently, I've plucked the liveliest couple from my sketchbook, presented them as 'Grandparents' Day' cards and hope they will fit the bill for somebody!

How do you feel about Grandparents' Day?

More Grandparents' Day greeting cards in my Zazzle store, including some of the more traditional floral ones and one for just a grandfather.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Everything's Coming Up Roses

And I'm not referring to the large cheque from the Cathedral Gift Shop that came in the post today!

A whole bunch of rose greeting cards and gifts on my other blog today to remind us of the glorious display of roses in my garden in June -

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Max Shapey, LCSW, on Blocks to Creativity

A few days ago, Artsy Shark - a Site for Emerging Artists - posted an excellent interview with Max Shapey, LCSW, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, who grew up in a creative family. This clearly and concisely written  article, 'Helping Artists Find Balance', points to some of the underlying reasons why artists get into difficulties and suggests strategies for overcoming them. Do take a moment to read it!

On a lighter note, these 'Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress' were doing the rounds by email a few years ago -
  1. Thou shalt not be perfect nor even try to be.
  2. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people.
  3. Thou shalt leave undone those things which ought to be done.
  4. Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin.
  5. Thou shalt learn to say 'NO!'.
  6. Thou shalt schedule time for thyself and thy supportive network.
  7. Thou shalt switch off and do nothing, regularly.
  8. Thou shalt be boring, inelegant, untidy and unattractive at times.
  9. Thou shalt not feel guilty, ever.
And finally -


My favourite is No 8 - what's yours?

The photos are of the River Usk at Crickhowell, the next little town up the road from Abergavenny, taken last week, after what turned out to be a wild goose chase in search of someone to print my cards. It still may turn out to have been worth the trip though!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Right-brain, left-brain...

I was delving in my big Art Cupboard yesterday, in the hope of finding some paper that would be suitable for use with my Inktense Pencils when a screenprint from years ago fell out from amongst a pile of clean paper! (That's how organised I am!). It's the design that emerged from the 'Ts' and 'Ls' exercise that I described in my April post, 'Do you know what you're doing?' - which turned out to be all about right-brain, left-brain stuff.

I also came across an old non-digital photo of another of the paintings from way back that I mentioned in that post - the chair with the 'wrong' perspective:

The screenprint certainly isn't 'pretty' - I wasn't in the mood for 'pretty' at the time! Maybe, if I cleaned it up, it would do well on a 'product' on Zazzle!

Get your Cupcakes here...

Chocolate, strawberry, vanilla...

Monday, 9 August 2010

What's Wrong with 'Perfect'?

A friend gave me a fridge magnet with the words, 'Dull Women have Immaculate Houses' a few years ago. I don't know whether she was suggesting that I was a 'dull woman' but whether she was or not, those five liberating words have encouraged and affirmed me so often that it has become the most precious of the assortment of magnets that adorns my fridge. It's a wonderfully effective antidote to the 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness' mantra that some of us may have imbibed at an early age!

If you are a person who is routinely beset by ideas and enthusiasms, as most creative people are, pursuing these ideas and following up the enthusiasms can be very time- and energy-consuming. And trying to fit in all the other aspects of our lives, the relationships, the chores and all the 'Necessary Evils' of life, such as paying bills on time, can easily lead to overload, manifested as anything from a vague feeling of never quite being on top of things, to outright collapse! This is when it's a good idea to take a step back to evaluate how we are spending our time and to 'stack our priorities'. This is not at all easy if we are perfectionists. It's hard to let go of the idea that we can do it all, that we are Superwomen or Supermen and that if we show ourselves to be anything less, for instance if we don't keep the cobwebs under control, and our laundry isn't whiter than white, someone, somewhere is going to disapprove of us. Of course that someone may well be our own selves.   

I have heard perfectionism defended as, ' I have high standards' or 'if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well,' and there are times when this is perfectly valid. I was glad that the man who fitted my kitchen was a perfectionist, even though he took forever to finish it, because the end result was so good. But there are many things in life that do not need to be done to a particularly high standard, where 'good enough' is 'perfectly' fine. Dr Donald Winnicott, paediatrician and psychoanalyst, championed the idea of the 'good enough' mother as far back as the 1960s, in his groundbreaking book, 'The Child, the Family and the Outside World'.And 'good enough' is often quite sufficient - unless you are a perfectionist!
So what's wrong with perfectionism?

Well, for a start it can be bad for your physical health. In the realm of mindbody medicine, it has been found that most of the people who suffer from what Dr John Sarno calls TMS are perfectionists. 

And then it can often give rise to procrastination and even the paralysis that we call 'creative block'. I have taught a couple of perfectionist children not too long ago and it was acutely painful for me to witness. Both were bright, engaging children but they would refuse pointblank to do something if they did not feel confident that they could get it 100% correct. What a monumental barrier to learning! Quite by chance we found a way around it when one of them noticed and pointed out a typo in a little story I had written for my pupils' reading program. The 10 yr old was astonished when I failed to throw a wobbly because she had caught me out in an error but instead offered her a 'sticker' for every mistake she could find in the rest of the book. Gosh! Even a teacher can make a mistake - and it's OK!

Perfectionism can also lead to having unrealistically high expectations of others; children of perfectionist parents can have a very hard time!

It's important to distinguish between perfectionists and 'high achievers' though. High achievers can be mistaken for perfectionists because of their diligence, often seeming driven to work very long hours. But it's the motivation that is different. A high achiever is motivated by a strong, positive, wish to fulfil their potential wheras a perfectionist is driven by fear of not living up to some standard, of not being 'acceptable' unless they achieve perfection. Perhaps the weavers of Persian rugs and carpets were on to something, as they wove a deliberate mistake into their designs, because 'only Allah is perfect!'

As I was painting these designs for fridge magnets (and other things!) I was listening to BBC Radio 3. In between playing pieces of wonderful flute music, Jed Wentz, the flute-player, was chatting to the presenter. I was only half-listening but suddenly I heard him say, 'Perfection is fine but it's not sexy...' That's as much as I managed to jot down but later I found his website where you can read the whole of what he said in context, down towards the end of the page.

If there are any perfectionists getting depressed by reading this, I would suggest three ways to cope well with perfectionism:

  • One is to prioritise, to decide what is really important, what it is that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and make that your priority. Returning to the subject of 'immaculate houses', I love to see my brass door handles winking at me, to smell the beeswax on my old pine furniture and to be able to look out through my windows at the garden through sparkling glass panes, from a kitchen with a floor 'you could eat your dinner off'.. But I know that if I am to have time to paint, write, garden, go walking and chat with friends and family on a regular basis and keep up with the 'necessary evils' such as bill-paying, dental check-ups and car servicing, something has to give.So the house has to make do with a 'once-over' now and then - and the bonus is that it has become such a treat when all those extra, non-essential jobs are done, and the house is all bright and shining, for instance, in time for the family's arrival for Christmas!
  • The second is to firmly and vigorously boot out any traces of that nagging inner critic's voice that chants, 'Be ye perfect' - it's a mistranslation in any case!
  • The third, and perhaps the most important, is to maintain your sense of humour. 
So saying, I'll now go off and vacuum the build-up of cobwebs out of my fridge...and ponder while I'm doing it, what the equivalent 'motto' would be for 'dull men'.

Any suggestions?

Magnet with Quote magnet
Magnet with Quote by helikettle
Get your own refrigerator magnets on

Also available as greeting cards and on ladies' T-shirts in my Zazzle store.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Smile on Sunday - The Computer Says 'No'

This has been one of those weeks when my computer and its appendages - or should I say 'peripherals'? - have preoccupied me at least as much as my art. There have been mornings when Outlook Express seemed to be telling me that it is 'not-a-morning-person', taking four minutes to open, there has been blogger introducing a new 'editor' who obviously suffers from ADHD, just at the moment that Zazzle 'improved' their procedure for creating products - throwing me into confusion. And of course there was the major panic when my elderly but trusty printer decided to say 'Enough is enough!'.

Computers are, of course, wonderful but there are times when they make you want to take a long walk off a short pier. But as there are no piers, long or short, around here, an alternative is to see the funny side of it all -

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Jerry the Cat

I've had a bit of a 'printer crisis' this week which has involved a lot of time chasing around trying to find a solution so today's post will be somewhat shorter than usual. But I don't think a lot of words are necessary when it comes to my daughter's photographs of her 16 year old cat, Jerry. She's a much better photographer than I am and her pictures just seem to convey that you don't need to be young to be beautiful!

The photo above was taken in April - trust a cat to find the best spot to sunbathe, even that early in the year!

And here he is again in all his 'cuddliness', relaxing but managing to keep an eye on what's going on at the same time!

Cat Greeting Card card
Cat Greeting Card by helikettle
Shop for a different greeting card online at

Also on a mug -

...and a tote bag:

And of course, on a mousepad!

Cat Mousepad mousepad
Cat Mousepad by helikettle
See other mousepads at zazzle

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

3 Exercises for Overcoming Artists' Block

Here are a few of the design 'exercises' I remember, from a class many years ago, that helped me to become less 'self-conscious' about my art and freed me up to enjoy it! It's essentially a 'playful' approach and if ever you are feeling 'stuck', a little bit of time doing some of these apparently pointless exercises could well lead you out of your 'stuckness'. I would even venture to say that, if you don't think of yourself as an 'artist' they have the potential to convince you otherwise!

1. Taking a line for a walk - literally just letting your pencil, or whatever you choose to draw with, wander about on the paper. Don't try to deliberately make 'interesting shapes' - in fact, don't try to do anything, just let whatever happens happen! I turned on the radio while I was doing this one and found my pencil moving to the rhythms of Beethoven's Violin Concerto!
If you find that you like some of the shapes you've made, you might like to add some colour and who knows? - you might even discover that you've made an abstract pattern that you can find a use for!

2. 'Ts' and 'Ls'  Start with a good-sized piece of cheap paper - layout paper or even newsprint - and roughly mark out a grid on it in thick charcoal. (I think it's best to do these exercises standing at an easel but that's really up to you). Work as fast as you can - don't allow yourself more than about 15-20 minutes. And you may find that music, or television even, will help you to work more instinctively and less 'thoughtfully'.

Without giving it too much thought, mark out interlocking 'T' and 'L' shapes on your grid. It doesn't matter if there are some squares left over, but use as many of them as you can.

 Colour in some of the 'T's' and 'Ls', working quickly so that you don't stop to think! (Important!)

Still working as fast and as furiously as you can, rub out some of the lines (with a tissue or, in my case, my fingers!). Curve some of the lines, add dots and squiggles wherever you like!

You will probably know when you've finished - but you may want to come back and change something later. That's the beauty of working in charcoal!

3. Squares, Circles and Triangles

As before, begin with a large sheet of paper and quickly mark out a pattern of overlapping circles, squares and triangles -
Again, rub out some lines if you wish to make more interesting shapes, but don't give it too much thought; you'll probably want to make more changes as you go along. You'll be getting the idea now that it's just about colouring in with full-bodied black, shades of grey and patterns - it's all up to you!

I was planning to add one further exercise using just overlapping circles, following the same guidelines as above, but introducing some colour.

(It was a similar exercise to this one that evolved into the fabric design below - it looked wonderful on sheer muslin!)

But unfortunately Blogger seems to have gone completely mad today and it's taken me more than an hour to get everything, so far, in roughly the right place and with the right size font! In any case, I think I've posted enough for you to get the general idea so I'll leave it to you to invent some more similar exercises!

It's worth saying again that it's all about 'playing' with lines and shapes and if it feels as if you've gone back to Infant School, the exercise has succeeded! It really is that child-like spontaneity and lack of self-consciousness that we need to re-capture and build on if we are to unlock the artist that is inside each one of us!