Disco-jerboa embroidery

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Helena came over from Cologne, as usual we caught up up over many cups of tea. She also brought her embroidery equipment, so she could introduce me to the the process. You may remember her from the interview we did together in September where she spoke of her activist embroideries. I’ve been very curious to try it since then.

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Our first step was to bake a delicious vegan banana bread, so we were sure not to get hungry in the middle of our creative flow;)  Then as the delicious cake smells wafted through the air, we thought up some fun designs, and played around with drawing the main outline on scrap paper.

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I decided to draw a long-eared jerboa (an animal I recommend googling if you want to be overcome with cuteness!). I don’t draw much so finding the right perspective was no easy feat. In the end, I went for a jerboa wrapped in a blanket holding a warm beverage and having a cosy introvert moment.

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In my sister’s stash of threads, I found a beautiful disco thread with mixed metalic colours that I wanted to use.  I took an old t-shirt and drew the contours of my disco-jerboa with a thin pen. Then got a needle and started to make small stitches along the lines and get acquainted with how much or how little to pull the thread. I struggled most with trying to make end of the tail look bushy.

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As we worked away with our needles, I was in flow and I enjoyed seeing the piece come together step by step. It was really fun and I’ll definitely try to come up with some more ideas as a nice way to practice and customise some clothes with some unique details:)

One year of writing Morning Pages

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A year ago, on a cold January weekend, I attended an Artist’s Way workshop with Julia Cameron. I can’t believe one year has flown by already.  At the time I was so low on energy that I hesitated to go at all. But I’m so glad I did. Those 2 days were a whirlwind of interactive exercises and small group discussions. Julia was intense, inspiring and very funny. I connected with amazing people from all walks of life. I laughed a lot, cried a little, and was reminded over and over again how we humans are all so alike and struggle with the same things.  Since then I’ve been writing morning pages practically daily (which adds up to over 1000 pages of long-hand writing in lots of lovely journals!).

It took a while but I have now incorporated this practice into my routine, and I miss it if I don’t have time.  I write my Morning Pages, mostly on the sofa before leaving the house or on my way to work in the tram, but I also scribble them while sitting in trains, cafés or waiting rooms, a couple of times I’ve written them in the silent room at the office, and sometimes I do them in the evening if I didn’t get around to them in the day.

I’m intentionally making time to do Morning Pages because I see that they are key to my mental health and have been crucial to recovering from burn-out. It really helps me to dump my thoughts on the page. I can better observe what is bothering me and find alternative solutions faster.  Taking time to reflect also helps me process what’s going on around me and capture my learnings.  Also, I find inspiration for creative projects bubbling up, and when I write about plans I have, they seem to happen quicker.

I’d love to hear if any readers are doing Morning Pages or forms of journaling, and what effect these practices have had on you.

Perfect Creatures

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #3

One wintry afternoon in November I had the pleasure of taking pictures of my dear friend Eva as she worked on a couple of artworks in her studio in Den Haag.  Then at the start of the year, we sat down to have an in-depth conversation about how she learnt this particular technique, what inspires her and more…  I really enjoyed our chat and the photo-shoot, as I could admire the process and how the illustrations evolved. I am very excited to share this interview with you.

How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I got back to doing creative work through an amazing online surface pattern design course I took three years ago. We had been creating motifs for patterns, so I tried experimenting with many techniques and ideas and came up with different patterns. My plan was to focus on pattern design, but as I started drawing more and more, I realised I also enjoy illustration a lot.

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Through the illustrations of little creatures,  I allowed myself to look for my own style. What’s particular about these illustrations is that the inspiration just came from my imagination, I didn’t need to look up any images for reference. I always liked to observe animals and when working on the Perfect Creatures project (find more info below) I realised that I already have a lot of images stored in my head and now they were coming out in a creative flow…

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How did you learn this skill?

I learnt this particular technique during a short workshop given by Tom Haugomat at ELCAF festival in London last year. What I really like about it is the combination of paper-cut which I used a lot when I was doing stop-motion animation many years ago and beautiful textures. I have always enjoyed working with paper, cutting things out and moving them around, because it gives me more flexibility than just drawing…

What I appreciate in illustration or any art form really, is when you can ‘feel’ the technique – its tactility. You can sense it’s handmade through certain textures that appear. I really like this texture in particular, achieved with the ‘stencil-ink-sponge’ technique because it’s very soft – almost dream-like – and it creates nice layers. Also, your palette is very restricted. This is great because you get more creative with the colour tones and you create new colours by layering them

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Where do you find your inspiration?

Most of the time I find my inspiration either in nature, looking at its many patterns and creations. I also love old engravings of animals that show them in the way people imagined them. I like when there is a little bit of story-telling in the illustration as well, and I’ll be working more on that this year.  Lately my inspiration comes from my favourite Czech and Slovak children books and when I start drawing more regularly, I get a lot of ideas when falling asleep. Or sometimes I dream in detail about a pattern, its colours and if I still remember it in the morning, I draw it!

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What effects have your pieces had?

What is really nice is that people enjoy these illustrations. They cheer them up because they show these playful little creatures dancing together and having fun. For me, when I was creating them, I was in a flow and it was almost a kind of meditation for me. Especially the first part, when I worked with paper and ink. It was calming me down. I also experienced flow when I was editing them on the computer. But that’s a different way of working – focusing on every little detail and composition. I must say I prefer not to work in front of a screen though.

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

It’s kind of all mixed together because the new techniques I learn and discover, I can then also use for my freelance projects, and vice versa. For example, certain elements, like the triangle texture appearing on some of the creatures comes back in my other projects. (BTW Triangles ARE my favourite shapes! Haha!) And when I work at the freelance projects on my computer, I constantly learn new skills that I can apply to my illustrations.

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Also, my pottery classes give me new ideas. Pottery is very relaxing to me because it is not connected to work and I am doing it purely for myself. I just play and I come up with ideas that I can use for illustrations….

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

What I would like to try to do is work on how to illustrate stories because that’s what I enjoy a lot. I have bought an online course from one of my favorite illustrators – Adolfo Serra – and I would like to learn how to do children’s books illustrations because that seems like a good way to start storytelling through  illustration. I’d also like to make a zine, work on my portfolio, create some new book cover illustrations/designs and hopefully create end-papers for a book!

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Any closing words? Where can we find you?

As mentioned before used this technique for creating Perfect Creatures, my first licensed illustration for a Slovak company called Remini that makes high quality hardcover notebooks using paper from sustainable sources. They are very special because they are 70% handmade and the company promotes Slovak illustrators. You can purchase the notebooks in 5 different formats here.

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For all up-to-date information follow Eva on Instagram: @evapolakovic (further links: linktree)

Photos above taken by Fanny and edited by Eva Polakovicova

Photo with Perfect Creatures taken by Euan Monaghan and edited by Eva Polakovicova

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The other interviews of the series WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? can be found here and here.

Colourful drawings

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WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? #2

Over the holiday, I spent a lovely creative morning with my sister Johanna, who loves to draw detailed colourful pieces. Together we came up with creative ideas to photograph her drawings both in the garden and around the house. Then we had a nice chat about her process and what inspires her. It was a pleasure to spend this quality time together  experimenting and talking about creativity. I’m happy to share this moment with you!

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How did you start? How did you come up with the idea?

I started drawing when I was 18, back when I was in art school. The teachers taught me how to draw figuratively, but no one taught me how to draw abstractly. The first time I drew in this style was during a lesson when I was bored, and I played around with drawing abstract blue and gold lines and I felt very proud and happy about the result. I developed my own style of drawing from there. I use essentially felt-tips and sometimes Chinese ink, as well as HB pencils and water colour paint, on sketching paper.

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How did you learn this skill?

It was something very natural to me. I followed my creativity and learnt by myself. I use shapes and colours.  From time to time, I draw with a draft, but that’s very rare. Normally I just the put the felt-tip on the paper and let my imagination take over. I realise that when I draw with a draft, the result is more precise and I enjoy that process. It also happens that I develop a theme over two pieces and they are my favourite drawings.

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Where do you find your inspiration?

I would say my inspiration is my life, as well as a stronger force which gives me inspiration. I also have favourite artists like Laura Hornart, Kandinsky and the impressionists like Monet. The shapes and theme of nature, as well as the colours inspire me. I draw my feelings and my way of seeing the world that surrounds me.

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What effects have your pieces had?

Drawing has a positive effect on me.  It makes me happy to see my new drawing at the end. It helps me forget my problems and it is something that I can always grasp. A friend of mine says I inspire him with my drawings and then he draws too. Sometimes we draw together. During a difficult time in 2010, I overcame my sadness by filling notebooks with little flowers.

When I sold some drawings in front of a book store, people said my work looks like the theme of the sea and that it was very pretty, and they wished me good luck with my drawing.

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How does this work impact / interact with other activities you do?

I think it goes well with my dancing classes and piano lessons, because they are all artistic activities and they complement each other. Listening to music while I draw makes me feel relaxed. The type of music influences the type of drawing, if I’m listening to soft music I’m going to draw something more poetic and with round lines.

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Any ideas for what you plan to work on next?

Since a few weeks I have planned to draw a dandelion, the fluffy part that blows away with the wind representing little hearts. It is a risky drawing, because I feel it is quite complicated so I haven’t started yet. It’s a challenge for 2020.

I would also like to sell my works in person to unknown people and see their reactions.

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Some closing words? Where can we find your work?

Thank you Fanny for this interview which enabled me to reflect on the process and my art. You can find my work on Instagram.

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To read the first interview of the series WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? featuring my other sister Helena, click here🙂

Spending more time together

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #159

Despite the festivities and family get-togethers, this has felt like a calm week, dedicated to slowing down.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that we were not online or watching television too much.  Instead, we have been playing board games, a simple way to spend time together, laugh a lot and connect. We also made our yearly dream-board collages and inspired each other with colourful images, activitst ideas, creative projects…  I’m happy to collect these good memories and inspiration for the next months when we will all go back to our day-to-day lives in different places.

New interview series starting next week

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Do you ever have that feeling when you are talking with strangers or people you know, and you are mildly bored?  You go through the merry-go-round of basic questions, make small talk and are left feeling kind of bland. I realised lately that the conversations I enjoy most are the ones about people’s stories and dreams, their ‘crazy’ ideas or the creative projects they mention in passing with a sheepish grin, things that may seem random or unimportant on the surface.

I love seeing how people’s faces light up when asked a follow-up question about it, and feeling how my curiosity is piqued, like I’ve landed on a precious nugget of information, a vein of gold leading me to a more interesting aspect of the person.  One of the reasons I enjoy these chats so much is that they open up the door of possibility for everyone listening. They are a powerful reminder of the importance of doing things just to feed our soul, sometimes with no specific reason other than to feel ourselves come alive, out of pure curiosity to see what it would be like and where it might lead…

So I want to explore the inner workings of these types of endeavours with people around me, who, when an idea tugs at their sleeve, decide to show up and simply give it a go, despite the unknown and the fear that may lurk.  This new series will be called WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP? and I’m excited to share my first interview next week!

Working through different drafts

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Last Friday, another of my texts from a writing exercise was featured on the Facebook page of the International Writer’s Collective.  You can read it on this link if you are curious and let me know what you think:)  I’m really grateful that it was featured and to see people’s reactions, as had a lot of fun writing this piece. After reading a quite rambling first draft out loud to Paolo, he gave me pointed feedback to improve it which I incorporated to a certain extent (yes, I know, I could have put more dialogue!).

Hearing the feedback from my class mates about the second version was really great because they understood what I was going for and put it very beautifully in words, as well as pointing out more improvement suggestions. It’s a beautiful reminder of how I don’t write alone, even if I am by myself at the keyboard. People’s reactions and comments really help to see if I’m on the right track and get new ideas, as well as be encouraged to continue.  Several people have also asked what happens next or made suggestions on what they think will happen… so I need to take some time to move it forward some time soon;)

Poems in the workplace

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At work, in the past few weeks I’ve read a couple of poems I wrote, out loud, in front of colleagues. If someone had told me a year ago that future me would do that, I would never have believed it. Until February 2019 I had never really written a poem (except maybe in school, but I can’t remember it).  But while taking my creative writing course, a poem suddenly became a format that was less daunting, a possible option in my repertoire like an email or a powerpoint presentation.

As I am moving to my new position at work, I’m changing teams and with new beginnings come goodbyes. I felt a calling to write poems, a voice whispering that it would be good to celebrate the precious collaboration with my colleagues before moving on to a new project. I’m not one to make a speech, but reading aloud some silly rhymes, strangely enough didn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Those poems were not deep, but writing them was a way for me to process the experience and express my gratitude for my awesome colleagues.  In the midst of burnout, I repeatedly felt that the working environment lacks creativity and surprise, everything so grey and serious with meetings, deadlines and KPIs, so I’ve decided I don’t care what people think, I’ll be the change I want to see in the world.

Because if someone else read out a poem during our team meeting I would appreciate their vulnerability and it would make my heart sing.  And I remind myself that in a few months time no one will remember the imperfect rhymes, but I hope that anchored in the moment as I read out those lines, routine was gently shaken and a sliver of creative possibility opened up for everyone listening.

When the well goes dry

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Sometimes ideas about what to write here come seemingly out of nowhere, and I list them sacredly in my Little Prince moleskine notebook to return to when I’m out of inspiration. Some days, the photos lead me to the content of the text. On others, I’m processing events from day to day life and writing helps to bring clarity on how I feel.

But today I’ve got nothing! Or to be more exact, I’ve been channeling what I have to my weekly assignment for the creative writing course I’m taking.  It seems that while toiling on those two double-spaced A4 pages of fiction that need to be ready by tomorrow, I must have emptied the well, pulling up more buckets of ideas and energy than my brain had time to refill.

So today I leave you simply with this picture, taken after a rain-shower during one of my walks in the neighbourhood last Autumn. I hope that many drops of water, gleaned from everyday observations and rest (and a still-to-be-planned Artist Date), will fill my inspiration well again soon:)

Inspiration is everywhere

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #115

January has come and gone, with its short days and a bit of snow sprinkled here and there.  It turned out to be a month for getting more grounded, with indoor activities like making mood boards, journaling, reading and writing.  It feels like ‘maintenance’ on myself to recharge and set a good basis for the months to come.

A recurring theme has been creativity.  I am grateful for Paolo and my friends’ encouragement as I take steps outside my comfort zone.  I’m glad to be stretching myself and trying new things which I believe will help me to grow in unexpected ways.

Lately I’ve noticed how when I give creativity some more attention, it starts to infuse everything. Taking the tram to the office becomes a chance to observe people and become aware of how the city is changing, rather than just a boring commute. Sitting in meetings at work is like watching improv theater, unscripted human interaction in an ecosystem complete with its unwritten rules and often incongruous behaviours. Cleaning the bathroom becomes a quiet time to search for memories hidden deep in my brain as inspiration for my next writing assignment. I can’t wait to see where these creative paths will lead me…