Friday, April 21, 2017

Reading | Art as Therapy










De Botton, Alain and Armstrong, John: Art as Therapy, Phaidon, London 2013


This book was published a few years ago, but I only bought it last month and am enjoying it immensely. You've got to love a book on the purpose of art that has The Tiger Who Came to Tea as one of its examples.

De Botton and Armstrong highlight the ability of art to rebalance and to restore our frail, incomplete selves, and this book is a call for a radical rethink about how museums and galleries present art to the public, focusing on the psychological, therapeutic function of art. When de Botton applied this thinking to an actual museum, he was ridiculed for it, but I have a soft spot for his work and his empathy and don't agree with the majority of the criticism levelled against him. I admit to being a bit wary after all the hype, both positive and negative, but I was positively surprised.

The part of me that worries at times about being so obsessed with tidying was reassured to find Ben Nicholson's abstract piece used as an example of a work of art that embodies the 'pleasure of organising things' (p.54), showing a kinship with 'quiet domestic tasks' and similar acts of 'happy concentration', which should be taken more seriously. Likewise, a beautiful Chardin honours and celebrates the ordinary and 'recognises the worth of a modest moment' (p.56), thus encouraging us to be kinder towards ourselves and enabling us to make the best of what we have. 

There are so many instances of recognition when reading this book, and the works discussed include several of my favourite pieces (Las Meninas!). It even takes in interior decoration, suggesting that rather than showing off, our concern with what we place in our homes involves 'a far more interesting and human process', using objects 'to communicate our identities to the world', as in, '[this] crockery [...] is like my deepest self' (p.43). The writers are aware of how exaggerated this might seem, but there is so much truth and humanity in these observations, and they are able to articulate and distill feelings we all have and voice our non-verbal, often visceral responses to visual art.

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Brain Pickings has an excellent article about the book.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Three









1. A recent commission for a concert hall that has been renamed after this lady (they kindly gave me a photo-op backdrop banner with my drawing on it). Apparently no photos of her as an adult exist bar one small photograph in a newspaper article, hence the request for a portrait based on that image.

2. Evening light in the studio and the beginning of the 'layout wall' for a new book, a collaboration with John. The studio is one of the colder rooms in the house, and many times during the winter I would move my work to the kitchen table, but in the last few weeks it has become the space I spend most of my time. I have been working in and on the studio (the walls still need painting, but it is much more homely now) - more on this soon.

3. My cousin made the envelope for a wedding card out of this, and I put it in a frame, as I love the sentiment the title evokes and it is a beautiful piece of music. In my head it is a synonym for 'Kinderspiel', the figurative meaning of which is 'piece of cake'. Along with my tiny Laughing Buddha and other pieces it serves as a reminder to lighten up and not take life so seriously - a good word to look at when heading out the door.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Natural skincare | Hydration, soaps








On the one hand I am becoming more and more minimalist when it comes to beauty products (and pretty much everything else), on the other hand I have added eye serum to my routine...

The hotel we stayed in in London had one single bottle of organic mint body/hair wash in the shower, and I loved the simplicity of it - nothing else cluttering up the shower. I used to take a bottle of Dr Bronner's castile soap with me when travelling, which is for everything from brushing your teeth to washing the dog and apparently even for removing your eye make-up. My sister has started using it as shampoo, and I got a large bottle (the lavender scent) to have by the kitchen sink for washing dishes (as that lovely lemon balm one we had seems to have been discontinued at our supermarket) and will decant a bit into a bottle for the bathroom.

I have combination skin and still get minor breakouts at age 33 (nearly 34), but my skin can also get dry. When I ran out of my Weleda rose moisturiser I thought I would try something else.

I have been giving Green Angel products as gifts, as they are a great Irish company and stocked in the shop at the bottom of our road, so I can shop local. I am halfway through the moisturiser, which contains two of my favourite essential oils, neroli and jasmine. Since using this I haven't had any problems with dry skin, and my skin is clearer as well.

As for the eye serum, this is from another Irish company. I am a bit sceptical when it comes to eye products, as products for the face often do the job just as well (and when using olive oil for removing eye make-up, you are simultaneously caring for the area around the eyes), but I thought I'd give this a go, as I like the ritual and this has a cooling roller. I have only used it for about two weeks, but already can see and feel some improvement, with plumper skin that doesn't feel tight. It can leave a bit of a residue that looks like dried tears (or maybe I used too much), but as long as you blend your moisturiser or concealer into the edge, it becomes invisible.

I love that both these products come in glass instead of plastic, though would advise not to store them at a height it in a bathroom with a tiled floor - the cap of the serum shattered into a million pieces when it fell out of the cabinet.

I didn't own any lip balm for the last two years, at least. At home, when I thought of it, I would apply coconut oil or honey and dry-brush with a toothbrush to exfoliate my lips, and then during the day I would leave them alone or apply lipstick or gloss. But recently I must have neglected them, and I thought it would be handy to have some lip balm in my bag, so I bought the Trilogy one. It works really well, and I love mint in lip products - some energising aromatherapy right under my nose.

And finally, soaps. I know having the Dr Bronner's liquid soap ought to cover that area (another minimalism fail), but I don't have that many bottles I can decant into, and I like using old-fashioned solid pieces of soap. These are as local as it gets, and they don't dry out your skin; I can even use them on my face (one thing I no longer buy is facial wash). They also remain solid, unlike a lot of natural soaps that turn into mush, and they scent the bathroom nicely.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Four o'clock is teatime and other rituals








There are a few pages in one of my notebooks where I jot down things I feel I 'ought to' do daily (and another section for 'weekly', and one for 'monthly') in order to have a good day insofar far as my own actions and choices can influence it. It has grown to quite a substantial list, and if I were to run through this list every day, it would leave me exhausted and frantic, but I like to write things down when they occur to me or when I come across advice that I think might be useful to incorporate, and it serves as a choose-from menu rather than a to-do list.

The 'daily' things range from kitchen tasks such as 'clear all the dishes, make kefir and soak almonds before going to bed' to work-related activities, for example doing a daily sketch and using paints in some form.

We all know what we can do to be happier, healthier and better people, but so often we choose not to do those things, at times to the point of sabotage. 

Some items on my list have become habits by now, such as doing yoga (almost) daily and going for a walk or working in the garden. Others I dip into and then might forget for weeks or months until I return to them. What I am likely to forget or ignore I try to tie to another activity, until it becomes a habit to do B while doing A. For example, I stand on one leg while brushing my teeth or filling the water filter (balancing on one leg is one of the easier exercises I should be doing  two or three times a week for my patellofemoral pain syndrome) and having all the windows in the house open for the four minutes the coffee is brewing.

Recent additions include washing my eyes every morning (an ayurvedic practice I didn't know about) and drinking matcha tea every afternoon instead of every now and again. I cannot say whether my eyes are actually more refreshed, but I love the strange feeling of splashing cold water into them, and just thinking of all the green in matcha tea gives me a boost when drinking it.

My daily painting these days can be for hours on days I work from home or quick sketches with acrylics when time is short. I finally, finally am going through all the photographs I took of the view from the chalet, where I lived for almost seven years, and from our new house (with a very similar view, as it is just seven minutes further west and on a similar height) and making them into small paintings.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Art, books, art books and baby prints







We were in London for the weekend, and we couldn't leave the marvel that is Foyles without buying books. While I get overwhelmed by big cities and crowds, this trip was a tonic in various ways, and the books we got are extending that effect.

On the way over, my reading material for the flight was the tiny, almost weightless Penguin book of Katherine Mansfield stories that resides on the top of a pile of books in the guest room (I always appreciate it when rooms or cafés have books, so this was important to me). I thought I had perfected the art of travelling light, but on the way back our carry-on luggage was stuffed full with the aforementioned books and quite a lot of baby things for the newest family member, as John couldn't stop himself amidst the gorgeous prints and embroidery.

Reading Mansfield on the plane reminded me of how much I adore her work, so one of the books I sought out was a selection of her stories along with essays and correspondence. The other one I happened upon when browsing the A to Z of artists: a new edition of this biography of Vanessa Bell. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the exhibition in the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Through my work in the University (there is a Roger Fry painting in the art collection and research being undertaken around this) the Bloomsbury group has been on my mind, so I am very excited. This is one of those books I think I should take my time with in order to make it last longer, but I have a feeling I won't be able to stop reading.

I love the epigraph, and while I don't necessarily agree with Murdoch, not being particularly good at happiness myself (reading this after viewing paintings by artists who ended up committing suicide didn't help), I get what she means and I do "live with" my craft and consider myself lucky. 

Being immersed in the beauty of the writing by one of the masters of the short story and in Vanessa Bell's circle (not to forget the gallery visits and tiny anchors on yellow fabric!) has made me eager to get back to the easel and most certainly is a source of happiness right now.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Festival artwork | Victorian bathing machine






 
It feels good to return to my normal routine after weeks of working for a festival. I spent yesterday morning in a cleaning frenzy - I had missed domestic chores when my only time at home over the last few weeks was occupied by sleep. Some people thrive on working for events and being surrounded by people and getting home late, but I am not one of them, although I do enjoy all the design work.
This year I also ended up doing the festival artwork again. I didn't even know what a Victorian bathing machine was five months ago.

I created two versions - one in coloured pencils, placed on a flat background, which I used for the invites and for the web, and one in acrylics for the posters and the programmes.

Now that all the stress (a word I swore I would not use anymore but that left my lips at least once per day) has fallen away, I look forward to following my Victorian lady's lead and immersing myself in the water of the local hotel swimming pool, courtesy of John, who got me a voucher, and soon the beckoning sea. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Use the good china





A friend gave us an entire china tea set that she herself had been given as a wedding gift about three decades ago, and we have been using it regularly. The plates are the ideal size for cake and cake-like food.

My sister made these no-bake brownies a few weeks ago, and since then I have made a batch (half the recipe, because I never seem to have enough of one of the ingredients) every Sunday to have on hand for the week. They are packed with dates and ground walnuts and almonds and technically quick to make, but since I don't have a kitchen machine, I use a large knife to chop the dates into smaller and smaller pieces until they resemble a paste. I have an immersion blender with a separate part that has larger blades, but my sister ruined the blades on her blender with sticky dates, so I refrain from trying it. There is a bit of icing sugar in the ganache (I put in less than suggested, and the consistency is fine), but no added sugar in the brownie itself.

An almost sugar-free dessert I make a lot and keep in the freezer is this raspberry ripe, which takes minutes to make. It tastes best when it is semi-frozen.

With both of these you can only eat a small amount, as they are very filling, and you don't get cravings for sugar or stodge. They are delicious, and eating them from beautiful delicate plates (with your fingers, though - my photo lies) adds to the pleasure.