Category Archives: Personal Philosophy

About Life, Love, Art and Healing, and other quirky snippets.

Pointing the Way

Signs. The subject for this weeks WordPress photo challenge.  All these photos were taken over the course of my week-long reconnoitre trip up to the Holy island of Lindisfarne during Michaelmas last week.  (see also Pilgrim on Horseback for the back story).  Click on any of the photos if you wish to read the messages more clearly!


Normally, I would jump at the chance to use a title like this to go down the esoteric route and interpret it as ‘signs as symbols’.  Something I am always seeking to find in the landscape as personal messages for me.  These, however, are signs that are literally pointing the way.

this is one I hope to become very familiar with

this is one I hope to become very familiar with

Some are warning signs, some have been defaced: a sheep turned into some of rhinoceros. Information boards, a scratched dedication to a loved one on a bench, and a way marker looking like a crucifix.

Then, on a wild and desolate moor in the North Yorkshire Dales, I come across the Red Flag which stopped me in my tracks.

On the Holy island of Lindisfarne, the signage becomes grand and imposing to shepherd the thousands of visitors around the island as well as marking the way for pilgrims wanting to follow in the Saintly footsteps of Cuthbert.  A couple of the signs, however, are cracked and old-fashioned and seem oddly out-of-place against the ‘corporate’ signage of a place that has become a major tourist attraction.  (Naively, something I was not expecting and found rather disturbing).  For me, these signs seem more home-spun and real and speak of the people behind them.  (Like the dedication on the bench, above)

And looking at them all again, collectively, there is an element of deep symbology for me in them, each one unique in its own way telling their own story.  On my epic journey, I shall be looking for these signs to guide me along the right path, both physically and spiritually.  Not least as a little bit of entertainment to also delight and amuse.


To see how other people have interpreted signs, here.



Filed under my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, Personal Philosophy, Pilgrimage Walks, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks, Wordpress Photo Challenge

Allowing Silence to Speak

Inspired by this:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver
Today, I came up with these words:
Brollies, Balloons, Bunting and Bicycles.
In my ‘patchwork’ of words, I enjoy the repeating sound of the ‘b’s, like a babbling brook.   The seemingly random connection of their meanings.  They hint of party-time and celebration.  They are, in fact, the things that I have been working with in the training ‘room’ (which is the round pen) with my horse and I have used them as the title for a new post in my blog, Pilgrim on Horseback.  They represent the things that occupy that ‘silence’ in my days at the moment.
The words on their own conjure up colourful imagery: rounded, twirling shapes, triangular shapes, flowing ribbons and farting balloons: an expectation of fun and giggles.  I am very grateful for these words.  This is my ‘other’ voice speaking, quietly with joy.
And because these words are so full of imagined colour and fun, I have decided not to illustrate this post with any imagery at all, preferring to let the words do the picturing for you.  This last has been difficult but a first for me!  Read them again.  What do they represent for you, I wonder?

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Personal Philosophy, Professional Development

Umbral Onions

Yesterday a neighbour gave me a bag of home-grown onions and garlic that were surplus to his requirements.   Gratefully received.   When I put them in a bowl their dried tendrils draped over the edge in a wonderfully informal fashion.  The overhead light created some distinctively graphic shadows not only on the onions in the bowl but also on my kitchen work surface.

I was given a bag of home-grown onions recently and loved the shadows their tentrils threw from my bowl.


[uhm -br uh ]

noun plural um·bras, um·brae 

1. shade; shadow.  A region of complete shadow resulting from total obstruction of light.


‘umber’ earth pigments. If I was painting this, raw umber and burnt umber would be in the mix.

2. the invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing.


The French Impressionist artists used ‘reflected’ blues and purples in their shadows.

3. a phantom or shadowy apparition, as of someone or something not physically present; ghost; spectral image.


It is a little more difficult to make an image that describes the etherial body of an object / person, although I have seen this clearly in ‘transfigurations’.

In Astronomy.  see the Wiki link here for an illustration of the 3 distinct parts of a shadow:

1. Umbra:

a. the complete or perfect shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the direct light from the source of illumination is completely cut off.

b. the dark central portion of a sunspot.

2. Penumbra – a shadowy, indefinite, or marginal area. (from the Latin paene “almost”, “nearly” and umbra “shadow”).

3.  Antumbra – is the region from which the occluding body appears entirely contained within the disc of the light source. (from the Latin ante, “before”).

can you see the shadows within the shadow?

can you see the shadows within the shadow?

Anyone for French Onion Soup?

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Personal Philosophy

A South West Coaster

As I was going to St Ives

I met a man with seven wives

Every wife had seven sacks

Every sack had seven cats

Every cat had seven kits

Kits, cats, sacks, wives

How many were going to St Ives?

On Sunday, I passed a man walking along the path on the dunes above Porth Kidney beach.  The one that runs alongside the little dodger train track that links St Erth to St Ives.  Actually, he was going to St Ives and judging from his backpack (packed with clothes I discovered and not kits, cats, wives and sacks), he was no ordinary walker.  He told me he was about a third of his way around the South West Coastal footpath, a distance of some 630 miles having begun his journey from Minehead 18 days ago.

IMG_8254The traveler kindly let me take this photograph of him.  I would like to have talked to him longer but he was already 3 hours behind his schedule.  What should have taken seconds to hop across the spit of beach that connects Godrevy to Porth Kidney at the mouth of the river, he had decided to circumnavigate the estuary via Hayle after being informed by beach-goers he could be drawn down by quicksand on either bank, so decided not to chance it.   I felt I could not delay him further but I would like to have asked him what had prompted him to undertake such a journey.

As we stood there briefly chatting, I became vaguely aware that this meeting was significant for some reason.  (that brain blink moment just before the light bulb goes on, see previous post).  A few moments later, it dawned on me!  And what a moment.  This was the prompt that I was looking for.  I now had a subject for my research project.  Why had I not thought of it before since it made such perfect sense?  Suddenly that vital missing piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place.  The modern pilgrim – as spiritual quester – will be my metaphor for taking a stream of consciousness on a journey through the landscape.

You know those moments in life which are pivot points on which the rest of your future lies?  This whole chance(?) encounter could not have taken more than a couple of minutes, at most, yet I had the feeling my life for the past few years had been leading up to this precise moment.  I went home and rewrote my proposal from scratch without hesitation, as much for my own clarification as anything else.  Job done.  This feels so right and my new project starts from here.  So a big thank you to my guiding angels, and to the coastal path walker, for gifting me with this insight!  Unless he happens to see this, which is highly unlikely, he will be blissfully unaware of the impact he has had on me!

I am wondering now if the number 7 has any significance as it’s the theme of this little ditty about going to St Ives?  Any ideas?


Filed under my sketchbook pages, Nature / Nurture Project, Paths of Enlightenment, Personal Philosophy, Walks

‘Space for my Mind to Move Into’

Fractures v, mixed media, 22cm x 19cm

Fractures v, mixed media, 22cm x 19cm

Someone has switched on the rain in car-wash mode.  I’m stuck waiting for the lashing at my windows to abate so that I can take the dogs out, and where I can indulge in my daily ritual of walking as a ‘space for my mind to move into‘ (Virginia Wolf).  So whilst I’m house-bound, I’m going to jot down some notes about the nature of creativity and the new visual philosophy outlined by the Horizon programme last Thursday, while it’s still fresh in my memory and for anyone who might have missed it.  It explains so much about how the creative brain might innovate……

Horizon BBC 2, 14.03.13, The Creative Brain outlines a new theory of creativity:  Left brain is the analytical one, right brain is the creative one – we knew that – but its been proven with some very pretty digital imaging of internal brain wiring.  Divergent thinking, so named after it was clear war-time pilots were using something other than mere intelligence to outwit their opponents in the sky, has become the area in the brain where scientists have discovered insight takes place.  This is the area where flashes of inspiration occurs.  Where seemingly random thoughts are brought to the surface and hover just before being ‘grabbed’ by the conscious mind.  It involves a temporary ‘mind-blink’ where – just before you come up with that light bulb moment – your ‘visible’ brain is momentarily cut off.  You don’t need to close your eyes for this but it’s like when you look away from someone when they have asked you a question and you are considering the answer.   It happens in the back portion of your brain, and occurs just before all the connections go mad in your right cortex.  It is this functioning of the brain that scientists think is what makes us intrinsically human.

OK, now try the brick test.  Think of all the crazy things you could do with a brick.  The more things you come up with the more creative you are.

Whilst I leave you working out how creative you are, the next bit is about improvisation.  Jazz improvisation, for instance, is considered the ultimate creative activity.  Here the frontal lobes (also known as the gate-keepers) are put into lock-down mode and where you are able to lose your inhibitions.  (Is this what happens when you take mind-bending substances, I wonder?).  It’s like releasing mental hand-cuffs, allowing ideas to flow and opening your mind to creativity.  It may even be transformative and life-changing.

Of course, we are all capable of creative thinking.  After all, our great innovators cannot innovate without it.  From my perspective, I recognise all these modes when I am in the act of painting or creating, ‘in the flow’.  I think all these brain functions – the divergent thinking, the improvisation, including the left-brain reasoning mind – all come into play at different moments in the process.  I’ve always described it as like being in a very aware state of meditation.  It allows you to take risks – like children do in play mode – to discover new things you might not have thought of.

IMG_6224So how can we be more creative?  Kick-start our creativity and break old cognitive habits?  The answer seems to lie in changing our routines to overcome functional ‘fixedness’.  Look at your daily activity.  Most of it is unscripted, improvised anyway.  Apparently the key lies in looking for unexpected opportunities to experience new things and indulge in some ‘mind-wandering’ activities like walking or any action that is repetitive and doesn’t require too much mental effort.  No surprise that Beethoven apparently enjoyed walking.

It’s still pelting down………and the dogs are crossing their legs….have to just go and get soggy whilst I’m thinking about all the things I can get up to with a brick……a suitable case to boggle the mind!

P.S.  One of my ‘followers’ kindly recommended a book written by one of the contributors to the Horizon programme, The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist.  I have started reading it and it is fascinating.


Filed under Art Works, my sketchbook pages, Nature / Nurture Project, Personal Philosophy

Marking Time.

Landslip, c.1995. acrylic on board

Landslip 1, c.1995. (the beach at Le Couperon, Jersey), acrylic on board

Landslip, 2013, pencil, ink, gouache, digital print.

Landslip 2, 2013, (Praa Sands, Cornwall), pencil, ink, gouache, digital print.

Landslip 1 & 2

The subject is the same for both images but there are seventeen years that separate them.  There is nothing new about whole chunks of cliff face falling onto the beach and we have witnessed more cliff falls than usual this winter.  But as a subject that I have returned to it is interesting for me to compare these two images from different time zones in my artistic practice.

The actions are the sameLandslip: a geological phenomenon which involves a wide range of ground movement.  In this instance, natural erosion by the action of over-saturated ground causing the slide of a large mass of earth and rock down a cliff face to be deposited on the beach below.  These cliff-falls are nothing new and we are sure to see many more in the future.

Technique.  The difference between these two images is that they represent differences in technique and reflect the changes that have taken place in digital technology over this time span.

Landslip 1 was painted in the still relatively modern medium of plastics made by mixing polymers and pigment to produce acrylics. Once the paint is dry, (theoretically) it is not possible to undo any of the previous stages of the process.  (In practice it is possible to erase some of the layers but there will be traces of paint left behind which frankly creates  a very interesting surface texture).  The standard way to proceed is to add another layer of paint (or drawing or whatever) on top of what is already there.

Landslip 2 is a product of two key stages using different media.  An initial drawing – using age-old, low-tech materials – carbon pencil, ink, gouache and gum arabic washes, laid onto a piece of paper primed with gesso.  A digital photograph of the image was taken and then developed further within the digital arena.  (In this case, the software on my iphone).  At this stage, I have options.  I might decide to print the image onto a piece of watercolour paper and rework back into it using my original organic materials: pencil, pen, washes of colour, oil resist etc.  The real difference is that I can digitally record certain stages along the way which means it becomes a much more flexible process.  I am able to go back to any of these steps that I have saved and rework them.

Copyright.  By the same token, although I no longer own the original Landslip 1 (painted in 1995), I could take the photographic record I have of it (or any other come to that) and ‘re-work’ it digitally into another artwork because as the creator, I still own the copyright.

detail of post-it note sketches

detail of post-it note sketches

However, ever since I started the digital experiment I have pondered where exactly does it fit into my practice?  If I have produced a piece of artwork using digital software somewhere in the process, is it still art?  At first, I found it hard to accept that it was art.  But of course, the answer is undoubtedly yes!  I have creative control over all the processes.  The idea is conceived by me, the facilitator, I make the decisions and it is all my own work.  Phew!  David Hockney did it so it must be OK.


sketch for landslip 2, (alternate view)

Landslip 1 & 2.

The sentiments are the same: I, me, the artist, am a silent witness.  A witness to the natural destruction of localised, unstable land-forms.  A witness to order turned into chaos: the reshaping of the landmass in the natural process of erosion.   A witness to the danger of its unpredictable nature which can cause death to human life.  I can see the layers of history once safely locked in the subsoil strata now a darkly-spewed stain on the beach.  Branches and roots, ripped from their beds, now lie exposed like bare, bleached bones, the process of buffering and polishing already begun by the pounding of the sea and the sand.  I watch as it becomes part of the ebb and flow rhythm of the beach until finally, consumed by the mighty ocean, there is nothing left to see.

The landslip thus becomes a mere snapshot of time in motion and I am here to witness it.  I was there seventeen years ago, another place another time, and I am here now.  It is just part of a normal cycle of nature.  Nothing has changed except my means of expressing it.



Filed under Digital, my sketchbook pages, Nature / Nurture Project, Personal Philosophy, Studio Practice

Winter Blues

Winter Vine

Winter Vine Covered Terrace

Winter is a time when I willingly retreat into hibernation.  As the bare earth becomes cooled and still, I enter into a place of deep reflection.  It is a dark place but not a forbidding one.  On the contrary, the darkness is positively charged with potential fecundity.  It is a private and sacred space, and within the stillness seeds can germinate and show their first colourful shoots.   These fragile beginnings need to be nurtured, lovingly coaxed from the shadows.  This is no time for rushing about but a time to quietly embrace my peaceful solitude and honour my creativity.
However, as the frosty wind eddies around me threatening to freeze my ability to move, it is inevitable that doubts will creep in through the cracks to try and sabotage my resolve.  If I can work through these challenging moments then whatever progress I can salvage is even more rewarding.  I repeat the mantra ‘just do it’ and take heart from these wise words by Sol LeWitt in a letter to Eve Hesse which I have shamelessly taken from a great blog post by artist, Liz Davidson.
“Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!…
Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety…
You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!…
Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be…
I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself.”


Filed under Art Works, my sketchbook pages, Personal Philosophy