Thursday, 27 October 2011

How Many Friends Do You Have?

 - what do I mean by that?

There are so many different ways of defining a ‘friend’! Maybe you immediately think of your facebook friends – they can run into thousands!

Or, at this time of year, with Christmas approaching, perhaps you’d take your answer from the number of people on your Christmas card list? Twenty, fifty, one hundred . . . ?

If you narrow it down to people you see regularly and know by name, at work, in your neighbourhood, at church, on the internet even . . . that could amount to a fair number!

But are they real ‘friends’? Certainly not necessarily when it comes to the facebook ‘friends’ – sometimes they can seem to be more like some sort of status-enhancing currency. ‘You ‘friend’ me and I’ll ‘friend’ you.’ I think Google+ has cottoned on to this by allowing us to distinguish between 'friends' and other categories of people we want to stay in touch with.

And the Christmas cards? Who hasn’t vowed to stop sending them to people we’ve had no contact with for years, only to relent when a card arrives from them?

And then there are those, who although they are not ‘unfriendly’ , would be better described as ‘acquaintances’.

So what if we only have a few real friends? Does it matter? Is it something to be ashamed of? 

A neighbour – and friend! – told me that seven is generally found to be the magic number for a group and you’ll find this in many walks of life. Research has also shown that most of us have an average of half a dozen true friends. Which makes a nonsense of a lot of the social networking sites. I know that I begin to feel overwhelmed when too many people join an online group that I’m part of. There’s a natural limit to how many people can play a meaningful part in our lives.

Looking back, there have been many times in my life when I was part of a group of six of seven – at University, in certain neighbourhoods and organisations and even online – and this number has worked very well for me.

So how would you define a real ‘friend’?

I suspect there would be a difference between the male and the female answer to this question and maybe the meaning of the word has evolved over time.

It amuses me that Poirot often introduces his friend, Captain Hastings, as his ‘associate’! Likewise Sherlock Holmes and his ‘companion’, Dr Watson; though his profound shock when he believes Watson to have been fatally wounded suggests a much deeper relationship and he does go so far to refer to him as his ‘friend and companion’ and even his ‘faithful friend’.

There are a great many wonderful quotations defining ‘a friend’ and in challenging times, I often think of the Beatles line, ‘I’ll get by – with a little help from my friends’.

But this is my favourite –

Sorry this is so pale - it's just a sketch for a possible future card.

How many of our facebook ‘friends’ can do that?

(By the way, just thought I'd mention that you can find some lovely 'Friendship' Greeting Cards in Cheri Overcracker's CardGnome shop!)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

. . . or so they say.

But I’m certainly no puppy and I’ve had to learn a lot of ‘new tricks’ since I started selling my designs nearly two years ago.

I’ve learnt a lot about greeting card design without really noticing that I was learning. Learning about setting things up online and about marketing on the web has been much more of a challenge and it’s not easy to know whether the latter has been useful as one reads so much contradictory advice and it’s nearly impossible to know what really works and what doesn’t.

Just recently, I’ve had to accelerate my learning about photo-editing skills, which as a painter, rather than a photographer, were sadly lacking. The reason? Greeting Card Universe began offering Photo Greeting Cards which the customer can personalise online; and I wanted to be in on this innovation reasonably near the beginning.

“Learn as much as you can while you are young, since life becomes too busy later” - Dana Stewart Scott

How true! So many other things had to be put on hold while I fathomed the mysteries of Photo Card-making!


On the other hand, it seems it’s worthwhile to make time to learn something new, however old we are –

The man who is too old to learn was probably always too old to learn” Henry S Haskins

In fact, contrary to the widely held ‘old dog/new tricks’ adage, it appears that older people learn just as well as younger ones. I read about some research into this that found that while students in their late teens and twenties learn faster, over-fifties learn in more breadth and depth and that’s why they appear to learn more slowly.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80”Henry Ford.

Of course there are different kinds of learning. There’s the deliberate setting out to learn a skill, either by reading, attending a course, or by trial and error – my favourite! And then there’s the learning of facts, in my opinion the least useful sort of learning, unless you spend a lot of time playing Trivial Pursuits or aspire to winning a fortune on a Game Show.

The third type of learning is learning Life Lessons from our experiences and there’s really no reason why that shouldn’t continue throughout our lives.

“You learn something every day if you pay attention”  - Ray Leblanc.


Though for many years now, the concept of ‘Lifelong Learning’ of the ‘new tricks’ variety has been promoted by international and global bodies such as the World Bank, Unesco, the OECD and the European Commission, who define it as:

"All learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal civic social and/ or employment-related perspective"

It may seem strange that such institutions take an interest in Lifelong Learning – surely that’s a matter for the Education Department or even a Health concern, as it is known that people who continue to learn new things when they retire, generally stay healthier and live longer. While this is true, the need to regard learning as a lifelong habit is now essential from an economic point of view, when more jobs are knowledge- or skills-based, job security is becoming a rare luxury and the need to retrain at an older age is commonplace.

That can seem tough on us Oldies who thought we’d put all that learning behind us when we left school or college! And sometimes it can seem just too much to be expected to ‘Carry on Learning!’ when the things we need to learn, in order to survive financially, come too thick and fast. Not so long ago I broke down in tears when my family expected me to learn how to operate my new Sky Box with my ‘little grey cells’ already overloaded with other Things-to-Learn!

So it’s important to avoid overload, especially as we get older. But as long as we can pace ourselves, there can be huge rewards for opening our minds to learning new skills.

“Ah, mastery . . .what a profoundly satisfying feeling when one finally gets on top of a new set of skills and then sees the light . . . under the new door these skills can open.” - Gail Sheehy

I learn best by trying out new things for myself and if I get stuck, I ask someone who is ahead of me in that particular area, So I clicked on buttons in my photo-editing program that I'd never thought of exploring and it really was like new doors opening. If I couldn't work out by trial and error how to use these new features, there were plenty of videos on the internet to help me. It was an exciting experience, if also frustrating at times when I couldn't work out what to do next. 

But eventually, I'd learnt all I needed to know in order to make photo cards and it left me with that 'profoundly satisfying feeling' - until the next challenge comes up!


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Guest Artist, Mary Anne Cary, from Maine

This month's e-interview is with Mary Anne Cary,  a pastel and oil painter living in Cape Elizabeth Maine.  A former graphic artist, she now devotes her time to painting.  Inspired by the Maine coast and landscape, she strives to capture everyday scenes with a fresh vision and energy.

" I find that, living in Maine, I am supplied with endless possibilities for paintings. I see intriguing studies every time I take a drive, whether down the street or up the coast. I love having my camera ready to record the many compositions and ideas I see around me."

She has attended workshops with local and nationally recognized artists and enters regional juried art shows. Her blog displays her current paintings at maryannecary.blogspot .com

Mary Anne, starting at the beginning, when did you begin to be interested in Art?

I was interested in art as a child and in high school, which prompted me to go to art school. I feel that when I was in college, it was just an introduction to art in some ways. I was young and not sure what direction to go in. Graphic art is very different than fine arts where I took more photography and calligraphy type courses. A lot of my fine art is self taught. Now, as an adult I would love to be in art school again full time! I would appreciate every minute, I was not serious enough when I was "younger!"

Do you have a favourite artist?
I don't think I could choose a particular, favorite artist. I am definitely more interested in contemporary art,
and I am strongly attracted to artists who paint with strong colors and bold, looser styles. I love paintings
where you can see paint strokes.  I tend to study their work and try to learn from these working artists, the internet has become a great teacher.

The internet is full of 'daily painters' - do you manage to paint regularly?
I don't know why I am so busy, I am not painting nearly as regularly as I would like. Recently, I have been
painting intensely for a couple of days, I stock up for some postings and then I return to my busy life. That is not a healthy way to progress and grow, but sometimes we grab what we can. I would like to get back to a point where I am painting almost daily.

I am a 'fast and furious' painter, where my pastel paintings are concerned, and looking at your paintings, I suspect you work in a similar way?
Yes, I paint fast and furiously! I make a mess. I really need a large studio and I know I could fill it in a couple of days. I am never that meticulous, I do need to consciously slow down. I work well with messiness and then I start the cleanup process and do it all over again. (I probably would not make a good studio mate!)

It was your pastel paintings that first made me sit up and take notice, but do you have a favourite medium?
I go back and forth between pastels and oils. I really like pastels, but I feel I get more response from my oils, even though I personally feel my pastels are fresher.

Is there any particular subject matter that draws you to paint it?
I am moved by the coast here in Maine, it has endless possibilities and diversities along with such different light throughout the year. I am painting mostly from photos, with a little memory and plein air added in. 

Some artists are reluctant to part with their originals - how do you feel about it?
I will sell almost any pieces of my work, I feel I can always paint another. There are one or two I will not part with.

Finally, do you have any particular future projects or plans in mind? Where do you see your artistic journey taking you?
I always have painting plans going on in my head. Right now I would like to start painting larger and begin to put together a more cohesive body of work. I feel so inspired by other successful artists, but I still feel I don't have a true direction. I believe that takes a commitment of time and serious planning, something I am
still struggling to work out. It is a commitment I look forward to making.

Thank you, Mary Anne, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us, as well as some of your wonderful paintings! There has been many a time that, seeing your work, you've tempted  me to put aside my greeting cards and get out my soft pastels again. Seeing how you use them, what you 'get out of them', is truly inspiring!

You can see more of Mary Anne's pastel and oil paintings and contact her about purchasing details, over at her blog, maryannecary.blogspot .com  

Alternatively, go straight to her Etsy shop or, to feast your eyes on even more of Mary Anne's fabulous work, visit her website.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Pet Peeve Week

I've come across some bizarre 'holidays' since I got involved in the Greeting Card business. But here's one I rather like - Pet Peeve Week!

It's the second week of October according to one source and another says it's around October 5th. Either way, I discovered it too late to make any cards to celebrate it - maybe next year? - but here are some of my 'Pet Peeves' that I've jotted down, in no particular order.

And I hope you'll share yours too!

  1. Unsolicited telephone callers in general but in particular the ones who start off brightly asking me how my day is going. It's obviously not enough to interrupt me when I'm trying to do something difficult and 'technical' (like fathoming blogger!) but they want to keep me hanging around making small talk too!!!! My answer, I'm afraid, is usually that I'd be enjoying my day much better if they'd go away and leave me in peace.
  2. Dog owners who, when their huge, wolf-like furry friend bounds up to me, call out, 'he won't hurt you!' As if that makes everything all right! They really need to realise that, as well as the many people who are terrified of dogs, there are a lot of people who simply don't like them. I grew up with a dog that I liked very much and there are a lot of dogs that I have no objection to - from a distance. I've even found myself smiling at dogs when they are well under their owner's control. But I really hate the smell of some of them; it turns my stomach over. And the thought of being pawed by them, not to mention slavered over, in their excitement, fills me with revulsion. But that apart, a huge hound, however well trained, bearing down on a small child playing in the park, is always a worrying sight . . .
  3. Politicians who repeatedly talk about 'working families', 'families across the land' and so on when they surely know that a large percentage of the population doesn't live in a 'family' situation. You can read about it here. What about the rest of us, Prime Minister?
  4. 'Thank you for not smoking' notices,'Thank you for not walking on the grass' notices etc. I'm not sure why this irritates me so much - it has a kind of faintly passive aggressive feel about it. What's wrong with 'NO SMOKING'  and 'KEEP OFF THE GRASS' - I'm old enough to remember 'Spitting Prohibited' notices on the buses! Tell that to the Premier League footballers!
  5. People, usually families of the bereaved, who talk about getting 'justice for their loved ones'. Quite apart from the fact that their loved ones probably aren't in a position to care any more, I often sense that it's really revenge or retribution that they are looking for. And it's not for their loved ones, it for themselves. Nothing wrong with that, if that's what you believe is right, but why not say so?
  6. Shop assistants who chat amongst themselves while they are supposedly 'serving' me!
  7. Having to make expensive (0845, 0870 . . .etc)  phonecalls to Customer Services to inform a company of an error they've made! Sometimes I can find an normal number for them on a website devoted to helping us to avoid these expensive non-geographical numbers, but I don't always have time and it's not always possible.
  8. Junk Mail. I think most of us would prefer to do without it but setting my preferences to avoid it doesn't seem to work. Apparently it depends on the postman looking at a list. Junkmail costs a bomb in waste disposal charges but I heard that the Royal Mail wouldn't survive without it.
  9. Chilled food that has the cooking instructions on the underside of the packaging, causing me to have to choose between spilling the food as I turn the package over or risk putting my back out, trying to read the instructions from underneath!
  10. Food waste recycling. Enough said - here!
  11. When giving my details or filling in a form, being asked whether I'm 'Miss' or 'Mrs'. Why is this relevant? Men manage perfectly well without being asked about their marital status.
  12. People who make a virtue of getting up early and look down on us 'Night Owls'. Yes, I know they say that an hour's sleep before midnight is worth a lot more than several hours later but if you're in the habit of staying up late because you can think straighter late at night than you can first thing in the morning, I'm not sure that this holds true!

    Now it's your turn - keep me company and get your Pet Peeves off your chest!


    Wednesday, 5 October 2011

    How do you draw?

    The urge to draw seems to be something we are born with.

    Along with prehistoric man, young children seem to be driven to mark-making and they do it without inhibition. They don’t question whether their scribbling is ‘good enough’ or whether they are going about it the right way – until much later!

    I must admit, I’ve worried about my drawing. I often don’t seem to be able to get the line that I wanted the first time round. I often seem to ‘feel my way’ to the line I was looking for, with the result that my drawings can be messy in the extreme.

    But I actually think there are as many ways of drawing as there are personalities. And even within my own drawing there are two distinct types, depending on whether I’m standing at an upright easel, or doodling on my lap, half-watching tv! When I stand to draw, my lines are much more definite and confident. I draw from the shoulder and sometimes it feels as if I’m drawing with my whole body. A far cry from when I sit down with a pad of paper on my knee!

    (That laptop certainly has a very strangely shaped lid!!!)

    So I was really heartened when Ann Buckner, a watercolour artist whose work I admire, described on her blog how she achieves that most tricky of drawing challenges, the perfect ellipse! She describes the process here.

    I think it would be wonderful beyond words to always be able to hit the right spot first time round. Some artists can – I suspect Durer did  - although we don’t know for sure whether he actually did. Maybe he just had a very good eraser!

    Annigoni, on the other hand, lets his initial exploratory marks remain – giving people like me hope that our art can still be worthwhile, even though we draw in a way that may seem to suggest less confidence.

    So – how do you draw?

    Do you work slowly and meticulously, revelling in getting tiny details correct first time?

    Or do you prefer the increased energy of a quickly carried out sketch?

    Does it really matter?

    What do you think?