Start Where You Are

A journal for self-exploration

Start Where You Are is a “self-help” journal put together by an American artist, Meera Lee Patel.It is a book that causes you to think and contemplate about your day, behaviour, life and dreams.

91i5z-42velMeera Lee has used her self-taught artistic talents to produce beautiful, hand-rendered typographic compositions for every page of the book. She has selected appropriate quotations that relate to a task she has set the reader on the facing page.

Most of the tasks throughout the book require the reader to think carefully and write down their answers. Each instruction is to help people sort through their true feelings and put their thoughts into some kind of order. For example: “What is something you wish you could leave behind?”

Although Start Where You Are has not (yet) be medically approved by mental health professionals, it contains a lot of deep, meaningful, assignments that can help you to learn more about your own insecurities, anxieties and depression. Meera Lee admits in her introduction that it took her a long time to be comfortable with her own life and spent a lot of time waiting for the future to arrive, but not really knowing how to get there. She discovered that in order to move forward she needed to find out who she really was, what was important to her, and what she wanted out of life. Meera Lee confesses that this is no easy task and warns that some questions within the book will be harder than others – but ultimately Start Where You Are will reveal your true personality, hopes and dreams, and convince you that life is not all doom and gloom.

There is no right or wrong way to complete this book. It is not a course or a linear activity, therefore there is no need to complete the pages in order. Some pages may feel too difficult, which is not a problem – the book’s purpose is not to cause stress – you can skip that task and come back to it when you are ready.

I have found Start Where You Are very interesting so far. I particularly enjoy reading the quotes included in the fantastic artwork. They are all positive and inspiring, showing the brighter side of life. As an artist, I have decided to also use this book as a way of practising my art skills. Recently art journal photographs that have appeared on Pinterest have been inspiring me to make my own. Instead of starting with a blank book I am using Meera Lee’s publication instead. On each page I complete the task given, but instead of merely writing my answers down, I display them in some sort of typographic or illustrative composition. So not only is Start Where You Are benefitting my mental health and thought processes, it is helping to improve my art skills too.

I highly recommend Start Where You Are for everyone feeling a little lost and unsure about the future. Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder or are going through a low period of your life, this book is perfect for you to help pick yourself up again. But please remember this is not a form of therapy and is not going to “fix” you. It will either be a bit of fun or something insightful depending on how you approach it.

Coloured Pencils That Actually Work

There is nothing worse (okay there is, but…) than sitting down to do some serious colouring-in with a brand new set of pencils and finding that they don’t, well, work. It seems silly putting it that way; how can a pencil not “work”? But, sadly, I have had this experience. I have had pencils that barely produce any colour no matter how hard I press, it is as if they are made of plastic. They also have a habit of tearing or creasing the paper as you determinedly try to continue using them. Frustrating!

Thankfully I have found a few sets of coloured pencils that do “work”, one of which is produced by Ryman Stationery. This particular set contains 12 Coloured Pencils and have been used to complete dozens of pages in my Art Therapy colouring book. This selection of pencils come in the basic colours you need when colouring or drawing: red, orange, yellow, light green, dark green, light blue, dark blue, purple, pink, brown, black and white; and are  in the classic hexagonal style so that you do not need to worry about them rolling off the table.

Each pencil is made of a high quality soft grained wood, which, Ryman claim make them easy to sharpen and less prone to breakages. However the best thing about them is the brightness and intensity of the colour – and you do not even need to press that hard! This makes colouring an easy task without the risk of straining your wrist or damaging the paper. For examples of the quality of the colours see the photographs above or in previous posts.

I have, mostly, been really happy with these pencils, nevertheless I have had a few issues. Despite declaring the lack of breakages, mine have often broken several times whilst sharpening. This may not be the fault of the manufacture however, but of my less than perfect pencil sharpener. Or perhaps they have been dropped on the floor a few too many times! This has resulted in me attempting to colour in with tiny stubs as a result of so much sharpening. (Maybe I ought to buy a new pack…)

Another downside to this set is there are only 12 colours, which can actually be quite limiting especially when colouring in an intricate pattern, or attempting to do some shading. Have no fear! These pencils are also sold as a pack of 24, which naturally contain a larger variety of shades.

Overall, these pencils are great. 5 stars. If you are looking for the right kind of pencils and do not want to risk buying a set only to discover they do not “work”, I guarantee you will not be disappointed with these. They’re fairly cheap too.

Happy colouring!

6

THINK. Then Draw. Create.

Following instructions is something everyone needs to be able to do in numerous areas of life: school, work, relationships, cooking etc. Despite people assuming artists can do what they like – which in some cases they can to an extent – following instructions is an extremely important part of an Art & Design career.

Sometimes instructions can be straightforward and easy to complete, e.g. “Draw a tree.” However, there are times when the way to tackle a direction or design brief is less clear: “Produce something that represents happiness.” In these cases the artist needs to take time to mind map ideas before settling on a final outcome. This is something that school and college tutors are constantly stressing the importance of to their students.

When I was working on my BA in Graphic Design I initially found it difficult to map out my ideas before starting to put together the final design. I remember one of the first assignments was to create four typographic posters to represent a chosen London location. We were instructed to draw at least thirty “thumbnail sketches” before we even touched a computer or began experimenting with materials. I overheard a few of the students around me complaining that it was a waste of time, or too difficult to think up such a large amount of ideas. I agreed with them. However as time went on I began to understand the reason we should begin all projects like this. The obvious answer to instructions is not always the right one.

I confess that since finishing college I have not always sat down and mapped out a multiple of ideas before starting a brief. Often this is because of a time limit, but sometimes it is impatience – a need to get things over with and finished as quickly as possible. Occasionally brilliant ideas pop into our heads whilst sitting on a bus or lying in bed, however most of the time, unless we stop and really think about the task in hand, we are only going to produce average art work.

This is something I have noticed happens when I am completing (for fun) pages from the book Think. Draw. Create. I have written about this before but to recap it is a book with a prompt on each page that requires the artist to think carefully before they start drawing. I set myself the challenge to complete a page every weekend, and this pressure has slightly prevented me from properly planning what I am going to draw. Some of my outcomes (ones I am too embarrassed to show you) are very mundane and poorly executed. I am disappointed with myself for my lack of effort on these occasions. This is why it is so important to THINK before you start anything.

From now on I promise to really try to plan before I start on any design work. I urge you to do the same regardless of the size or importance of the project. You may think it a waste of time, but would you rather take a little longer and produce something amazing, or rush and end up with something merely passable?

Recycling “Boring” Greeting Cards

For years my Mum and I have been making our own greeting cards by cutting up and reusing shop bought cards. I also know a lot of other people who do this too. After Christmas and birthdays we sit down and cut out the parts that might come in useful: the “happy birthdays”and “merry Christmases,” stars, hearts and other shapes. But quite often we get “boring” cards – a painting or photograph that cannot be cut up into reusable parts. HOWEVER, if you have a creative mind, nothing is completely useless.

Here is one idea that will turn a generic image into an effective hand made greeting card. All you need is: 1 “boring” card, 1 blank card, a simple template (Google has many), a craft knife or scalpel, Blu-Tak, a glue stick, and a cutting board.

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In this instance I am using a greeting card version of Lowry’s The Old House, Grove Street, Salford 1948.

 

 

Step one: Cut the back of your “boring” card off, you will not need that part. Blu-Tak your chosen template onto the front of the card. This will prevent it from slipping when you begin to cut it out.

13059643_10207611221070037_138096388_nStep two: Using the knife, carefully begin to cut out the inner sections of the template, pressing really hard to make sure you go through both the paper and the card. Take your time, rushing leads to mistakes. If you have not used a craft knife before it would be a good idea to practice cutting out shapes, or following lines before starting on the real thing.

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Step three: Only once all the inner sections have been cut out should you begin to cut the outer shape. Depending of the complexity of your template you could either do this with scissors or the craft knife.

 

Step four: Once everything has been cut out, glue your cut out card onto the plain card and, voilà, your unique greeting card.

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Once you are confident with using a craft knife, the possibilities are endless! Have fun creating cards for all occasions and impress your family and friends.

(Sorry the examples are not that great. I’m out of practice!)

 

 

 

Learning to Draw

Many people ask me how I learnt to draw, and the most honest answer is “I don’t know.” I never had drawing lessons, art classes at school consisted of copying rather than learning how to, and, to be perfectly honest, I passed my Art GCSE with a grade C and appalling artistic ability. My two years of Graphic Design A Level were purely computerised and it was not until my second year of my BA that I realised that I COULD draw – or as the tutors saw it, EVERYONE can draw.

In some ways it feels like I suddenly developed the ability to draw, but in hindsight I think the skill was always there but I needed someone to explain the method of drawing and what to look for – something I will always be grateful to my degree tutors for.

As I look back over the artwork I have produced I can see a marked improvement over time, even in the past few months. It is not possible to create your masterpiece on your first try with no experience behind you. Everyone needs a starting place, and mine, I believe, was when I received some Draw 50 books for Christmas 2008 (or 2007? I forget).

Draw 50 is a series of six books by the late-American artist Lee. J. Ames. Each book contains fifty step-by-step methods of drawing realistic images. Of the six I had four: AnimalsHorses, Endangered Animals and Flowers; and by using these instructions I produced the first ever drawings I was proud of.

My favourite book was Flowers, which I found much easier to draw. It helps that if you go a little bit wrong, the drawing still looks like a flower, whereas if you draw an animal incorrectly it looks horribly misshapen. I also found that, although all the books were by the same artist, the Endangered Animals contained so much more detail that it was almost impossible to produce a perfect replica.

It is that idea of a “perfect replica” where the flaws of these types of book emerge. Draw 50 did not teach me to draw. They taught me to copy. My friends complimented me on a drawing of a horse, but did that mean I could draw horses? No, it meant I could copy that particular horse in the book. There are no written instructions as to what to look for when drawing the animals or flowers in real life.

Yet, these books gave me a starting point on my artistic journey. They gave me the opportunity to practise holding a pencil, creating line marks, shading etc. Also, learning to copy is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether you are drawing something from a step-by-step guide, from a photograph or from life, you are essentially copying what is in front of you. I often rely on photographs or even line drawings as a starting point for the art I am producing today… so am I any better than I was when I was sixteen and using the Draw 50 books?

I do recommend the Draw 50 series (or any step-by-step books) for the wannabe artists, the people who wish they could draw. It is a great way of boosting your confidence about drawing. However if you are serious about becoming an artist you need to be able to move on from these guides and learn about different drawing techniques so that you can draw (or copy) the things you see around you. And, do you want to know a secret? I am still learning with every piece of art I produce!

Below are three examples of drawings I made using these books (2009, aged 17)

Coloured in… Now what?

So many colouring sheets… Too many to keep…

Everyone seems to be enjoying colouring these days. The amount of different books you can buy is phenomenal, and it is so easy to purchase individual sheets online. But the question is, what do you do once you are finished (other than the obvious: beginning another page)? It seems such a shame to eventually throw these works of art away.

Here is a solution: turn them into something new.

A couple of months ago I was told about a group of women at a care home who had found a love for colouring. They decided to use their new passion as a way of raising money for charity. After finishing each sheet they turn them into placemats!

Making placemats is quick and easy to do. All you need is a colouring sheet, coloured pens/pencils, a laminator and laminator pouches. Once you have completed your amazing artwork, you simply put it through the laminator and you have a waterproof place mat to brighten up the table. These are perfect handmade gifts to give to friends and family, or as the women mentioned above have done, a means of raising a small amount of money for a charity of your choice.

Have fun!

Looking for free colouring sheets? Here is one of many websites to take a look at.

Jigsaw Puzzle: Why won’t you love me?

Over the past year I have completed at least six jigsaw puzzles. They are fun to do and a great distraction from the trials of everyday life. But doing jigsaws is not for everyone. Many people roll their eyes and sigh “boooooooring” at the thought of attempting one. Others do not have the patience to sit for several hours, or days, tackling the harder-than-it-looks puzzle.

As a result of all the negativity, the completed jigsaw puzzle goes under appreciated. But have you ever stopped to consider the art work? I admit that some are of famous paintings that one could easily see in a gallery or online, however there are some that are actually amazing to look at and study carefully.

This blog post is actually inspired by the most recent jigsaw puzzle I completed. The Bizarre Bookshop produced by Ravensburger is an amazing work of art.

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This was designed by the artist Colin Thompson: “It is often said that you can escape into a good book, but enter the The Bizarre Bookshop and discover a treasure trove of wacky book titles. Each one has been inspired by a famous novel but has been given a curious twist. Take a closer look and you can even glimpse whole new worlds hidden on the crowded shelves.”

Now, I admit that I am one of the world’s biggest book lovers, and so this jigsaw puzzle was bound to appeal to me. What I want to share with you, however, is the incredible detail that Thompson has gone into to create this master piece. His use of colour is fantastic and his imagination is out of this world. I cannot begin to guess how long this took to draw – I am willing to assume it was longer than it took me to fit the pieces together.

Every time I look at the completed puzzle, and also as I was fitting it together, I keep noticing something new. It is an image you cannot get tired of. Even if it were hanging on your bedroom wall for a year, I guarantee you would still be noticing details that had escaped you before.

I had not come across the artist Colin Thompson before receiving this puzzle for my birthday in December. All his illustration work is crammed full of intriguing objects and humorous images. He began writing and illustrating children’s books back in 1991 and has now had published over 50 titles. One of his picture books The Floods is being turned into an animated television series. As well as The Bizarre Bookshop, Colin is producing many more jigsaw puzzles for Ravensburger; keep your eyes peeled!

So next time you complete a jigsaw puzzle, whether for fun or because an elderly relative forced you to join in, take a closer look at the art work. It may be, like with Colin Thompson’s work, that the illustration, painting, photograph etc was created purely to be turned into puzzle pieces. I feel like these works are dismissed so often due to the format they are shown in. They need to be celebrated just as much as those hanging in galleries!

Below are close up photographs of various sections of the puzzle.

Greeting Cards

Art with purpose

Greeting cards bought on the high street are ridiculously expensive nowadays and often do not express exactly what you are trying to say. It always seems to be the way that the nicely designed cards contain messages that do not relate to the recipient at all, whereas the cards that do, look really naff.

The solution? Make your own! That is what I have done a few times this year already. I have been making cards for over a year now, however I got stuck producing the same style and got rather bored with it. Although these cards were popular amongst church members where they were being sold, I could not face designing any more. So, I adopted a new style.

Since I have been practising and developing my illustration skills over the past few months, it seemed logical to continue to do this through card making. Rather than mass producing them as I did previously, I have only made the for specific occasions. This gives me the chance to take more care and put more effort into each design.

Making your own cards gives you more control over the contents of the design. For example my Dad loves football so I drew a football. I did not need to worry about finding a card where the players were wearing the correct colour shirt, or one that would not imply that my Dad was a football player. Likewise, my friend loves cats, so I drew one – no silly comments, inappropriate wording, annoying glitter that goes everywhere…

A friend of mine requested a card for a mother of a new born baby boy. I was left to my own devices as to the actual design (although she admitted she was hoping I would do an illustration). At the time I had been drawing a lot of hands as practise, therefore I used hands as part of the design. The colours (blues) represent the sex of the baby.

Although I said I was only going to make cards for specific occasions, I have, in the past week, made a couple of cards using paper craft inspired by images seen on Pinterest. In our house there is a complete mess of gathered materials, papers, stickers etc that have been accumulated over the years and it is about time they got used. Hopefully over the next few weeks or months I will be able to create many more handcrafted cards, without the pressure of needing to mass produce. These can either be used as and when needed or donated to charity.

Overall, unless you find the perfect card in a shop (and are willing to pay for it), hand made cards are much more personal and show that you have thought about the recipient, rather than it being a last minute purchase.

Continuing to Think. Draw. Create.

Every weekend I have completed a task in my Think. Draw. Create. book that I blogged about back in January. Above are a few examples of the art I have produced since then. I have found a few of the tasks challenging and have been unhappy with the outcomes, which is why I have only included five images.

My favourite is the Shadow Puppet. People have commented saying that the hands and shadows look like they belong on the included background papers. For this I used my usual black fine liner to draw the hand, but decided to use black pencil to shade in the shadow as I thought using ink would make it too dark.

I enjoyed drawing the cartoon sheep (see top two images). The task was to add bodies to the arms on the pages, and for a while I did not know what to do. When it comes to drawing people I need an image (preferably an illustration) to copy. It would be impossible to find what I need to fit with those arm positions. Instead I decided to create something cartoon-y. Sheep, especially in caricature form, are fairly easy to draw. For each set of arms I drew a similar sheep, but experimented with the facial expressions. I think some of them look quite good – slightly amusing.

One of the problems with forcing myself to complete a page a week is if I am not in a creative mood the outcome is not that great or imaginative. It does not help that some of the tasks are rather peculiar. Take “draw this grasshopper’s chirp” for example. Being someone who occasionally struggles to think outside the box (my box is very comfortable, thank you very much!) this assignment was particularly difficult. I resorted to writing the word “chirp” over and over again. I wish I was able to think of something more exciting.

I am going to continue doodling in this book regardless of how creative I’m feeling, as it should help develop my drawing skills in the long run.

Art Group. February 2016

This month I tried a few different drawing subjects at Art Group: people, animals and still life. As I am only using these sessions to practice my drawing skills, I am still copying from other images I have found online. Having said that, these are not exact replicas – my own developing style comes into play and I omit or add certain details.

The animals – an elephant and a bear – were only quick sketches and I am not sure that I have got the proportions correct. Someone at the art group offered to photocopy the elephant so that I could experiment with colouring it in. I rejected this at the time, but this is an idea I could take up in the future. Maybe with a drawing I am happier with.

The drawing I am most pleased with is the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter franchise. I copied this from an image I found on Pinterest. Whilst I was drawing I could tell that my version was not accurate in comparison to the original. The eyes and mouth are a lot higher on the picture I was copying from. I thought I had ruined the whole drawing, but once I looked at it separately from the printout, I saw that it still looked like hat from the films. I got a lot of comments from some of the other group attendees, including one I was probably not meant to hear: “she’s so good isn’t she?”

After looking at examples of my art work, someone told me my drawings deserve to be in a museum. She then proceeded to show me examples of Rembrandt’s paintings saying that I should attempt something like that. A bit too ambitious, maybe!