Sunday, June 29, 2008


I love the work of Robert Slingsby. From his detailed paintings inspired by San petroglyphs and his sculptures created from found the amazing log cabin he built for his family at the edge of the Bokkemanskloof forest in South Africa.

He built it from scratch, one log at a time, with very little 'know how'. It sits between woodland and megalithic rocks ......some of these rocks being incorporated into the house.

I mentioned breeder ideas in an earlier post. One can see that one of Slingsby's breeder ideas revolves around suitcases, luggage passing through scanners, customs at airports and the current state of heightened security. Last year he held an exhibition entitled 'Clearing Customs'.

"I was at Heathrow, feeling weighed down, fatigued … jet lagged, and it struck me how utterly vulnerable and violated we are under this constant surveillance and how normal it has become to be constantly invaded at these places of flux" recalls Slingsby. "I also had the feeling of excess, of a surfeit of stuff that we carry with us, not only in terms of physical luggage, but of psychological baggage."

To see more of Slingsby's work go to His latest paintings include modern iconography pertaining to city life but they are also reminiscent of the San petroglyphs that inspired his earlier work.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


A book I thoroughly enjoyed reading is Fools Gold by Susan G Woolridge. In fact I read it on the beach in between pottering. It is quite the most surprising book (in an AHA! sense) that I have read in a long time.

Woolridge shares her "journey from loss and grief to a return of wholeness and joy".  As part of her healing process she began making a small collage box each day with the "treasure" she found on her walks. As a fellow forager myself this idea really appeals to me. Its something most people can't help doing when they're out in nature. In our family we call it pottering. "Where's mum?" "Oh she's off pottering."

Susan Woolridge is a poet and a great believer in the healing powers of journaling.  She writes "There's something I need to discover here and I don't know where it will take me. Bringing my journal alive in small boxes feels like uncharted territory, a new world of possibility for me." and thus she made the decision to create a box collage of her daily finds every day for a year.

Instead of making a collage a day I have been photographing my finds  (see photo above). I've brought home bags and bags of rocks from all over South Africa. They languish in my garden and whenever I look at them I remember those long walks and endless hours pottering in rock pools.

Some time back I wrote Nina Bagley's poem, "Gathering" into my quote book because it describes so perfectly what it is to be a gatherer. I asked her if I could post it here and she graciously  emailed the photograph and poem as it appeared on her blog.

"What matters,
Is the gathering,
the pockets filled with remnants
of a day evaporated, the traces of
certain memory, a lingering smell,
a smile that came with the shell."

Aah, bliss! If there is anyone who doesn't know Nina's blog, do yourself a favour and visit . Her writing hits the spot and her jewellery is amazing. Many people enjoy the way she thinks and expresses herself. I wish she would write a book!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


All artwork by Anahata Katkin.

I have two hobby horses that I expound on whenever the opportunity arises. The one is the healing powers of art and the other is creative blocks and how one works through them. Whenever anyone mentions that they are experiencing a block I suggest that they read Anahata Katkin's Five Stages of Creative Expansion.

I suffered a five year block and those years were the most frustrating, stagnant years of my life. When I finally made a breakthrough it was because of many factors. One of them being Anahata's Five Stages. The moment I put them into practice I could feel a shift in my attitude towards art making. Anahata has happily agreed to my posting her Five Stages here.

The Five Stages of Creative Expansion by Anahata Katkin

Stage One: BLOOM
I generally have a BlOOM stage where I can easily get engaged and enjoy the process immensely. I feel impulsive and guided to an extent and at this point my mind gets excited and interested in the project. It’s a time of gathering, contemplating, enjoyment, eagerness and play. Materials come easily and there is a general wellbeing about the artwork.

Then suddenly I hit a place where I have maximized that stage and I hit that RESISTANCE. Resistance will occur naturally in the first third of the project. And I believe it lives the strongest for about 30 minutes at a time. Learn to expect it. Do not be surprised when you suddenly hit the edge of your process. It is Real for everyone. The voice of reason is loud, convincing and intense. It can show up in the form of boredom, disinterest, frustration, tiredness comparing & exaggerated mental chatter about your artwork. Now I have recognized it’s value and realize that I have to work in spite of that voice. It is crucial during the resistance phase that you keep on working! The more you pause and stop working the more power and habit you provide to the resistance. Most people stop right here and don’t usually push further. To me this is the definition of an artist. Artist will work through this stage. The desire to create wills us into a new part of our brains. Away from that chatter. At this point try your best to observe the critic without reacting to it. Your critic will have some good ideas if you ask yourself questions like: How can I solve this visual question? What is it I don’t like and what flashes into my mind as solutions? That should be the extent of the power you offer your resistance. The resistance only signals that you have hit the edge of your creative breath. And when this happens it simply shows you that it is time for a new strategy or another creative inhalation.

Stage Three PING PONG:
And that’s when I like to PING PONG between materials. Being that I am focusing on mixed media artwork and that is primarily how I like to create we have an added advantage.When I reach my resistance phase or in a sense a place of critical mass, I bounce to a new material and a new perspective. Drop your current medium and pick up a new one. The trick seems to be to move even more quickly and impulsively at this point. Remember your critic will be trying to gain power but by using your impulsive instincts you learn to tame the critic faster. With Ping Ponging you can gain a real momentum in the artwork and trick your brain into a new place. Change your focus from the main image perhaps to the border. Lay down some charcoal in border areas, switch to fine pointed pen details or doodling for a little bit. Anything that will hone your intuitive creative eye and switch your perspective up. It's a game of hide and seek with that deep genetic voice that has generations of creative hurdles to overcome. Practice step two and step three EVERY TIME you create anything. It is a lifelong skill that will serve your creativity every time.

My high school art teacher told me once that the moments when you return to a piece of artwork after a period of struggle is the most supreme moment in the creative process. I have never forgotten that and it has been a great discovery every day. During the resistance part of your process I believe it creates a kind of artistic vacuum. A puddle of skill and life force builds up behind all of that resistance. Because while you are resisting you are also asking from within yourself to be able to fully express yourself. And once the resistance is released all of that good stuff comes shooting in with a rocket of ability and artistic expression. And this place generally feels good and easy. Music sounds sweeter, the project seems to be coming together, you've found your groove. Your body is able to move along with the brush. It’s the cream of the process and it’s what we all look for as artists. This is the juicy stuff that makes people connect with our work in the future. It is that silent expansion that will always be locked into a piece of art and available for all people to connect with.

I often find that I might experience the first couple of stages again before I am ready for completion. Depending on the scope of the project this can happen many times. But at some point there will be a refining, a detail time. I find at this point I have an open dialogue between myself and the artwork. I understand the piece more and the direction of it. I work on the details of colour and patterns. Pen designs and finishing touches. I generally know I am there by the slowing down quality. The desire to fuss over it like a christmas tree and fresh tinsel. I jeep wanting to see the piece through fresh eyes. That's when I know it's finished.

Journal pages by Anahata Katkin.

To see Anahata's blog and more of her amazing art go to

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I have a dear friend who organizes 30 day challenges (Hi, DJ!) to help one to bust through creative blocks. The main purpose of the challenge is to create a habit of creativity by making time to be creative every day for 30 days. Whether it's 10 minutes of writing, 1 hour of singing, dancing, sewing, collaging or painting or even a minute of doodling, it doesn't matter as long as you persevere. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece and you don't have to show anyone what you have done. This is for you. If you shirk you are cheating yourself. Though it's something you can do completely on your own I found that I was more committed to the challenge when doing it with other likeminded people. We cheer each other on and DJ gently encourages.

During the 30 day challenge I didn't always feel like carving (especially on weekends) so I created a 10 minute free collage which is just a matter of moving cuttings (or tearings) about on a large piece of paper and instead of glueing them into place I took a photograph. The cuttings then went back into a box to be used on another day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


"I sit and sit in the silence, looking hard into the blankness and wait and wait quietly for my hand to bring me a form, for my heart to speak to me and for spirit to surface. In making art we use our bodies and our minds, our hearts and our spirit. Spirit, once it comes, sits on our shoulders and gives us vision and presence, brings form and speaks to the spiritual practice of art making." - Nancy Azara, Spirit Taking Form.

The rain has put paid to my wood cutting plans for today but it's great weather for developing ideas. One of my art making rituals is to surround myself with art books and sketching materials while I mull over the possibilities. This seems to signal to my subconscious that it's time to produce something. Even writing this blog is a signal of sorts. It was one of the reasons I started a blog. If I write about the art process, it encourages me and puts me in the right frame of mind.
I have also adopted one of Twyla Tharp's methods which she writes about in her book, The Creative Habit. Being one of America's greatest choreographers she is often dreaming up new steps and dances. She starts off by first labelling a box with the name of the project and as the ideas begin to take shape she sketches and makes copious notes which she then puts in the box. Clippings, CDs, videotapes, books, photographs or anything pertaining to this project goes into the box as well. It is an excellent way of organizing thoughts especially when you are uncertain.
"....the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn't write it down and put it in a safe place. I don't worry about that because I know where to find it. It's all in the box." - Twyla Tharp.
So far my box contains sketches, notes, magazine cuttings and photos of old doors, a few metal objects that I might use, a bottle of copper nails, seed beads, a coil of wire and a block of wood I've been experimenting on. It's a good start!
"When inspiration doesn't come, I go halfway to meet it." - Sigmund Freud

Monday, June 16, 2008


Having put the finishing touches to the door I was carving, I got the feeling that it would be a long time before I would be able to whip up enough enthusiasm to begin something new. It sometimes happens that way. Feeling stale, drained and perhaps a little disgruntled that the usual satisfaction one experiences when making art, is missing.

That was last week. I think I just needed a break from work because after a few days of doing mundane tasks around the house, like cleaning the fire place, tidying up mounds of fishing tackle and scrubbing the tiles in the shower, ideas are beginning to take form on their own without much prompting. Eight or ten sketches later I am looking forward to tomorrow when the long weekend is out of the way, the family is back at work and I have a big slice of silence (please?) to pull my thoughts into some order, decide on a form that I can cut out of the wood and carve whilst reaching a zone of contentment that restores balance to my life.

Carving is my meditation. It lulls me and makes me feel grounded and together. When I don't do it for a while I become restless so its good to get back into it again. It's all about balance. Some work, some play. Too much of one thing tips the scales and thats generally when I feel dissatisfied.

We were going to the coast today, chasing sardines with the rest of the tribe but at the last minute we decided that the crowds and traffic jams were not conducive to our idea of a restful long weekend.

Instead we headed out into the country to treat hubby to a belated father's day lunch at a little German Restaurant we often go to. He had been smacking his lips at the thought of Eisbein with very crispy crackling (crunch crunch) so we indulged him and it was well worth the drive.

It has been a busy weekend with a 63rd wedding anniversary luncheon, lots of visitors and visiting, too much cooking and eating. It will be a pleasure to get back into the work week tomorrow Restoring the balance!

This photograph was taken in the Nottingham Road area where we had Fathers Day lunch. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the family picnicing in spite of the No Picnic sign.

Friday, June 13, 2008


Most of us have had teachers or mentors who have influenced us and the direction our lives have taken. Sometimes we know them personally or we follow their teachings in books etc.

Cecil Skotnes has been my mentor since my early teens. In fact he is the reason my wood carving hobby turned into a passion. When I first saw his work in a magazine I was entranced, and scoured libraries and newspaper archives for more examples of his carved wood panels. (No such thing as the internet or Google here in South Africa, way back then).

Skotnes started out doing woodcuts but suddenly had the bright idea of turning the used block into a picture once he had finished taking prints off it. He began adding colour and was so absorbed by this new artform that the prints were no longer important.

I met Cecil Skotnes at his Retrospective exhibition many years ago and what a gracious gentleman he is. I was completely in awe of him and all the questions I had ready to ask him went flying out the window. Instead I just stood there gawping but he took it in his stride and pretended I was the most eloquent young lady he had ever met.
To see more go here and scroll down to Skotnes. There are quite a few interesting snippets about South African art including a few pieces by William Kentridge.

Other mentors I have found in books which is where I find at least half of my inspiration. "The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women" by Gail McMeekin is a portable mentor featuring interviews with many well known writers and artists (including Shakti Gawain, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sarah Ban Breathnach and Michelle Cassou). I have read it 4 times and still dip into it fairly regularly. If you havn't read it you are in for a treat.

And then there is SARK! Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. That name says it all. I love her because she is humorous and persuades you to take yourself lightly especially when you are battling to break out of a creative funk. You get the feeling she knows exactly where you're at. She gives you hope and encouragement without being pushy.......and if you feel like napping yet again instead of doing some serious art making, then thats absolutely fine too!

Update: On 7 April 2009, after being hospitalised for a fall, Cecil Skotnes died of pneumonia in Cape Town.

South African artist, Cecil Skotnes "pioneered a way of producing art that used earth pigments and indigenous wood to construct visual stories about the African past. " - Mathew Krouse.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


For years we were plagued by moles. Not only did they damage the roots of my roses but they also taunted my Foxy Bella who spent most of her days digging from one end of the garden to the other. My Lawn was a mess!

Now I don't dislike moles. Having grown up listening to tales of Mole in The Wind in the Willows I could never harm one but I had just about had enough! We had tried all the humane remedies to chase them out of our garden but nothing worked..... so I decided to think like a mole. What would frighten the hell out of me if I were a mole? What would send me scurrying off to take residence in the neighbouring forests ?

Brain wave! Whilst scooping dog poop off the lawn one day I decided to shove it all down the mole holes. If I were a mole I would think a big animal had taken residence in my burrow and to add insult to injury it had pooped in my territory....thus making it his territory.

The plan worked! For a year I never saw a mole hill in my garden. One morning I heard my neighbour bemoaning the fact that his lawn was riddled with mole hills so I popped my head over the fence and told him my remedy. He didn't take me seriously and besides he didn't have
dogs. I persuaded him to share my dog poop and to humour me he shoved it down the holes for a few days. Guess what? All the moles fled from his garden and came back to mine.

Once again I doctored the holes and continued to pass a packet of poop over the fence to the neighbour until we were both sure they had all left the neighbourhood. And they did! Another year has passed with neither of us being bothered by moles. Try it! It really works.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


After a spell of wonderfully balmy weather we now have rain and a wind blowing straight off the snow capped peaks of the Drakensberg.  Brrrr..... it's books, jigsaws and hot butternut soup weather. My daughter is the jigsaw fanatic but I prefer to curl up on the couch with a good book. Poor old Ben is not too enamoured with the state of affairs but he ventures out to inspect the rain soaked garden once in a while and then he's back under his blanket with just his nose sticking out.

I feel guilty reading when I've so much work to do but since I do most of my work outside the rain gives me a good excuse to read. 

"The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else's life.... But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn't been able to see before." - Katherine Paterson

Friday, June 6, 2008


Dancing Class by Edgar Degas

I sometimes amuse myself by paging through art books to spot each artist's breeder ideas. Degas and his dancers. David Hockney and his swimming pools. Hundertwasser and his spirals. Paul Klee and his strata paintings, Joan Miro and his Constellations series. Louise Nevelson and her compartmental sculptures. Apparently an artist has about 4-5 breeder ideas in his lifetime, when one good idea leads to a whole sequence or series.
Painting by Joan Miro.
Years ago I read a book called Notes for a Young Painter by Hiram Williams. It must have struck a chord because I wrote out big chunks of it into my quote book.

"The possessor of an idea, possessed by the idea, lives a compulsive obsessed existence. He becomes derelict to all other responsibilities, he is devilish to live with, he is caught up in a kind of rapture others seldom understand and usually find difficult to tolerate. Yet the possessed artist is by and large happy - all suffering and all consumed and all-creative, perceptive, alive and selfishly entombed away from ordinary less fortunate men. But it all ends when the idea ceases to lead and has run its course. Dense black gloom shrouds the once possessed and life indeed seems little worth living. The once possessed finds he is now again an ordinary man. These periods of lost faith in art are due to loss of confidence in oneself. Several people have really given up art entirely during this gloomy period. We are difficult to live with when possessed. Unpossessed we are impossible. But the good idea, the "breeder" idea continues to breed."

Royal Tide I by Louise Nevelson.

For the past year my carvings have revolved around the idea of Secrets (Tribal Secrets in particular) so I guess this must be one of my breeder ideas. While I'm enjoying creating the series the ideas continue to flow but I do wonder what I will do when the idea has run it's course. It seems to be a typical concern amongst creative people especially those earning a living from their work, that their ideas may dry up. I've learned from experience that the muse strikes sooner or later but of course we would all rather it were sooner than later.

Highway and Byways by Paul Klee

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Glorious, glorious morning!
Hot frothy Ethiopian coffee. Early sunshine warming the step where I sit contemplating the day ahead.
Sounds of water rushing down stream. Though out of sight it is my constant lullaby. Loeries fly between the trees calling for their mates. Monkeys watch silently from deep within the wild fig tree, waiting and hoping a door will be left unattended.

For me it's a day for developing ideas! Having completed my last carving on the weekend, I'm paging through books and sketching ideas with a bubbly feeling of anticipation, knowing that the whole day lies open to play. Creativity is brewing!
..........Oh and Hubby is home from his fishing trip. Fresh Shad for supper!