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.

Reading review for 2019

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A couple of years ago, I realised that tracking and reviewing what I read helps me to be more intentional of my choices and it has made my reading experience more stimulating and rewarding. Here is a summary with some key data, as well as my plans for 2020.

In 2019 I had a surprisingly good year in terms of reading. I read more than I expected reaching 54 books, with on average one book a week, for a total of about 14400 pages.  24% of those books were written by men (13), so I feel like this year I did a great job at exploring more women’s voices. The authors of were from all around the world: UK, USA, India, Italy, Ireland, Hong-Kong, Comoros Islands, Palestine and France.

This year I read a very diverse batch of novels, self-help and non-fiction books, both light and deeper topics. I really enjoyed expanding my horizons on topics such as slavery, the environment and genres like dystopia.

Over the year, I treated myself to a few books to support my local bookstore, but most of the others were from the public library, the little free libraries, gifted to me or borrowed from friends and colleagues.  Eight of these books we read with our book club and had lively discussions about over good coffee. Next to the book club, I have lately been enjoying chats about books with my colleagues as we make our way through the lunch queue at work.

What I haven’t included in my overview are short stories, which I read a lot of this year, in the context of my writing course to get inspiration for my own writing.  Being transported in a few pages to totally different worlds and styles is wonderful and has led me to encounter authors I’d never heard of.

Looking at this summary, I realise that in 2020 I’d like to read more books by authors from a wider range of countries, to support translated works and discover voices that are new to me. I will try to be more conscious of this when I list books on Goodreads. I will also continue to read books on topics such as feminism and social injustice to broaden my understanding of complex issues.

I welcome your reading suggestions, please feel free to write them in the comments! Thanks and happy reading in 2020:)

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You can find my overviews of 2018 and 2017, and further book lists.

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🙂

Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.

 

Wall of art

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #148

Last Thursday, at work, we had our annual talent show.  The acts were fantastic, often poking fun at the absurdities of our organisation and we laughed a lot. I love seeing colleagues showing up in a new light and being vulnerable. It’s heartwarming and a lovely way to get to know colleagues just a little bit more.

I contributed some photos to the wall of art and I really enjoyed this mini-exhibition alongside the pieces of my talented photographer, painter, illustrator and sculptor colleagues. For me, it was particularly interesting to see my pictures printed, as opposed to only on screen, to note how the details and colours work in the physical photograph.

I’m grateful that we have this opportunity to celebrate people’s artistic qualities and discover what they like to do in their free time. If it was up to me we would do many more creative activities in the workplace;)

Being tourists in our own city

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As I write today, a black and white postcard of a photo by Brassaï showing a misty scene of Montmartre in the 30s, sits on my desk, a souvenir from the exhibition we visited Sunday at the FOAM museum. I hope it will inspire me to practice getting more of those atmospheric black and white shots, a challenge to play more with light.

As for colourful inspiration, we also had the chance to dive deeper into amazing art by Van Gogh, Millet and many others, exploring that quiet part of the museum at our own pace, without jostling crowds of tourists to soak up the bright colour palettes.

I am grateful for a great weekend spent being tourists in our own city with my Mum and Walter, filling our well of inspiration and of course we enjoyed many good meals, a wonderful classical concert and fun chats together.

Reading short stories

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I’ve been appreciating reading short stories lately.  Some I found in a pile of decade-old New Yorkers that I came across at the little free library, some in the anthology of short stories that is our syllabus for my next writing class, some online in literary magazines I’m thinking off submitting to or other links unearthed in some internet rabbit-hole…  I usually read novels or non-fiction books, but I’m having a great time picking up the huge doorstop of an anthology, and browsing for a familiar name or a story with an intriguing title and dive into a new world for a few pages.

It’s fascinating to see that some stories don’t resonate with me at all, while others I am drawn into after just a few words and held breathless to the end. Also, it’s reassuring because it reminds me how subjective taste is, and how much is personal, projected onto the story by the reader. It’s a nice format in these days where attention spans are ever-shortening, and it’s encouraging to see how short pieces can pack a punch and feel how they stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them.

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!

The sound of waking up in Australia

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For my birthday, I received a book of poetry from my Mum, called Two green parrots by Australian poet Anne M Carson. It’s a lovely gift, which my Mum took the time to dedicate to me, that short handwritten note in biro at the front making it so much more personal.

I really enjoy picking it this small volume and reading one or two poems here and there, little stories that draw me back Down Under for a few minutes as I visualise the scene from my memories with sight, smells and sounds.

I especially like her poems about birds. For me the sound of waking up in Australia is amazing, the birds are so much louder than here in Europe and their cries are completely different.  Just hearing them in a movie will bring me right back to where I grew up as a child.  Here is a little extract to give you a sense of how beautifully the poet expresses it:

“Wattle birds wake up raucous.
They don’t murmur their way into day
or carol the growing light.
They ram their voices into the first chink
that opens between dark and dawn, staking claims.
Voice as a lever, they wrench morning open for themselves.”

Extract from: Wattle Birds, Kew
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This inspires me deeply to practise writing about daily scenes around me, playing with words to capture life going on all around me. Merci Maman for this wonderful gift:)