Mantras for this moment

Painting is meditation for me. 

I breathe slowly. I can almost feel the paper through my paintbrush. Time slows down. All that matters are the colours, the water, and the rhythmic strokes of my brush. 

Each brush stroke is a mantra. 

A mantra is something, usually a word or phrase, that is repeated and that expresses one's basic beliefs. 

I believe a brush-stroke can be a mantra, too, as it expresses silence, and colour, and light, and our connection to the force of continuous creation. 

My mantras change every day. Sometimes the brush-strokes are enough. Sometimes tap-tapping on the keyboard in a silent room is enough. 

But sometimes I need something more concrete to cling to when I'm being buffeted by the winds of the world. 

Here are two mantras that are getting me through the day right now. 


This has been a steady mantra for me for years. It repeats itself quietly in my subconscious without me noticing, and then not so quietly in my conscious when I need the support. 

Tough day with a toddler? All shall be well. Mountains of unfolded laundry? All shall be well. Another polite rejection letter? All shall be well. Feeling lost in life? All manner of things shall be well.  

All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, faithfully, and repeat the phrase: all shall be well.

And it will be.  


I repeat this over and over when I'm feeling out of synch with where I am in life. It could be my home. It could be my work. It could be my body (sometimes I don't feel at home in that, either). I repeat "belonging" quietly under my breath and visualize everything in my life being at home, or wherever it belongs. 

Let my illustrations find a home. Let my stories find a home. Help me to feel at home wherever I am. 



This is as much an exhortation to inhale and exhale as it is a mantra. I find that when days get difficult or complicated I hold my breath; or I gasp; or I sigh; or I exhale sharply in annoyance. 

Sometimes I pause in the middle of "the hard thing" and remind myself to breathe. When I inhale, deeply, I can feel the muscles in my upper back and shoulders expanding, and when I exhale they loosen and relax. 

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I tell myself. 

With breath comes inspiration. After all the word "inspire" means "to breathe in."  

Whether my mantra is a brush-stroke or a phrase or a breath, it always makes me feel refreshed and ready to face anything. 

Do you have a mantra that speaks to you? 

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. 
St. Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)


My week in drawings and verbs

 I love verbs. 

When I hear a verb I feel that I am right in the action, swinging along with the story. 

So here is my day in verbs.... 

Reading // I just got a rather large amazon delivery, which made a random day in May feel like Christmas. So, I'm anticipating breaking the covers of: Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, and A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Gooden.  Now I just need to find some quiet moments to start my journey though the pages. Also, Swatch by Julia Denos, which is a poem of a picture book. Just perfect in every way. 

Listening to // Right this minute I'm listening to Little One trying to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the baby monitor. We're still preserving the morning nap, even though most days it ends up being "quiet time" rather than "sleep time." She sits in her cot, babbling and singing to her three darling stuffies. 

Sipping // My second cup of decaf coffee. Only decaf or else this... 

Painting // I'm working on my fourth illustration for this week. If I want to finish my current two picture books by my deadline I have to paint four illustrations per week, minimum.  This is to allow me time for a holiday (yay! Canada!), and time at the end of the project to repaint or fix any illustrations that don't meet my exacting standards. I have three baby-free mornings, and five afternoon naps in which I can work. Every minute counts. 

Seeing // The gorgeous, skim-milk-thin, post-rainy-day morning light. The grey clouds are low and gossamer. I expect they will burn off by the afternoon. 

Running // Errands... not marathons. Little One and I have lots of tasks to complete today, but once we're done, hopefully the afternoon will be perfect for duck-feeding by the river. Once we've gone for our doctor's checkup... bought some new shoes... stopped by the pharmacy... and run around the Bentall's shopping centre examining all the knee-high window displays (why do stores display everything so low!?).... 

What are your verbs for today? 

Running to the river... always at top speed. She's the fastest 18 month old I know. 

A notebook to hold all the lists... 


My notebook collection

This weekend I spent some time organizing my studio, and I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of my notebook collection and show you how I use them.

My Journal

I have been keeping journals continuously since I was 12 or 13 years old. I started in sweet looking cloth-bount diaries, then moved on to Mead 5-star spiral bound scribblers, then decided that I needed to be stylish and chic, and graduated to moleskines.

I write an entry almost every day. Normally I describe what happened that day (or the day before, if I'm writing first thing in the morning), and outline my thoughts about my projects or things that might be happening in my life.

However, I don't always write journal entries in my moleskine journal. I keep a concurrent journal in a Scrivener file and sometimes I brain-dump my thoughts into that. It's nice to be able to type at the speed of my thoughts, instead of waiting for my hand and pen to catch up.

I'm not precious about my paper journals. They're messy. They're full of scribbles. They're peppered with mis-spelled words and incomplete sentences. Sometimes I only have the time to write quick lists about the day -- things I saw, things I thought about -- in a rapid logging style. My journal is for un-selfconscious experimentation and expression. It's where I push my voice to its limits and figure out what my heart really wants to say. It is utterly private, but at the same time, there isn't much in there that is deeply secret or unsharable.

My Sketchbook

I recently moved from a moleskine pocket sketchbook to a normal sized one. At first I liked the smaller size of the pocket book because I could wedge it between diapers, wipes and bottles in my hold-everything bag. Now that Little One is older, and we don't need to bring the kitchen sink on every outing, I've opted for a slightly larger notebook. It gives me more freedom to decide how large I want my sketches to be. 

This sketchbook is all about daily experimentation and play. I'm not enamoured with the moleskine sketchbook paper. It only does an adequate job of dealing with watercolours and some pens bleed on the paper. That being said, I quite like that I can't be precious about what I'm doing. I feel free to make mistakes because these drawings are only for myself. 

I have many other sketchbooks which are the workhorses for my various jobs and projects. For those I normally use A3 or A4 Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks. They're big, bulky, fantastic, and rarely leave my studio. 

My Personal Dictionary

This is where I have to admit to you that I'm a nerd; I'm completely, hopelessly nerdy. When I'm reading and I come across a word I don't know, want to use more often, or think is particularly lovely, I write it and its definition down in this little notebook. 

I don't know where I got this book from and it started off as something different. It's first iteration was as a book of lists: things I wanted to bake, things I loved, etc.  But, it turns out that a book of lists didn't inspire me. 

But a book of words? 


Here are a few of the words therein....

caparison: ornamental covering for a horse

fulsome: complimentary or flattering to a excessive degree

dilatory: slow to act; intended to cause delay

furze: gorse (a type of plant). Thorny, evergreen, small yellow flowers, grows in the moors. 

pellucid: translucently clear

plaints: another way to say "complaints" 

numinous: having a strong religious or spiritual quality. 

Will I ever use any of these words in every-day writing or speaking? Probably not, but I love knowing that I have enriched my vocabulary with them. 

My Inspiration Notebook 

Whenever I read inspiring passages or facts I copy them into my inspiration notebook.

In essence, this is like an old "commonplace book," which is defined as a notebook into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use. 

I'm on my third commonplace book. At first I copied clich├ęd quotes and song lyrics (I was in my teens). In my second book I copied beautiful paragraphs from novels, and useful paragraphs from non-fiction. 

In my third book, in addition to recording beautiful and useful things, I'm also trying to incorporate more poetry. 

I need more poetry in my life.

My Gratitude Journal

My Easter resolution this year was to keep a gratitude journal. I've flirted with the idea for years; scribbling little notes in the margins of my journals or day planner, but I've never stuck with it for longer than a few weeks, because I've never had a concrete plan.

I realized that if I listed three things I was grateful for every day, that would be 1095 happy things to remember over the course of a year.

I wanted a special notebook to motivate my in my quest for gratitude, so I ordered the gorgeous "Line A Day" diary from Chronicle Books, which is a perpetual diary that runs for 5 years.

Think about this: five years of daily gratitude would record 5475 happy moments.

My Day Planner

My day planner is a black moleskine notebook with squared pages. I have quested high and low, though stationery stores across three continents, and never found my perfect planner. My main requirements are: a weekly view where the daily portions are vertical instead of horizontal, so I can write lists; and lots of space in the margins for weekly lists that are not day-specific. 

For much of last year I used a planner that I had made in inDesign and had printed at our local Notting Hill printing shop. However, after six months the ring binding was in shreds and pages flew hither and thither whenever I opened it. 

Since moleskine notebooks have the strongest binding of any notebook I know, I bought a book with squared pages and ruled the spreads myself. 

I LOVE this little planner of mine. It is my brain. It is my time-keeper. It keeps me sane and helps when I feel overwhelmed. Everything gets written down, so nothing is forgotten (at least nothing important). 

And, there are plenty of pages in the back for me to keep notes on projects I'm working on, books I'm reading or want to read, random lists, and weekly recipes so that I always have the ingredients lists on hand. 

It's a mess, but I love it.

What do you think? 

Do you have any notebooks you can't live without? 

And, would you like a more detailed tour of any of the above notebooks? Please leave a comment to let me know. 

And, as always, show your love by pinning on pinterest, sharing on facebook or twitter, or hearting in bloglovin! 


My week in drawings

This week I.....

.... found the perfect shade of blue-green to paint the forest landscape the dominates the next two picture books I'm working on. The brightly coloured African animals will really pop against this colour. This colour is sometimes called eau de Nil (water of the Nile).

.... was inspired by this quote. It made my heart spin: a full revolution. I've decided that my criteria for accepting any project needs to be whether or not it causes a revolution in my heart. 

.... want to tell more stories. If the world isn't made of atoms, but tiny stories, that means you have millions of stories in your heart; billions in your body. Can you hear them? Your stories are enriching your life and singing songs of encouragement. 

What's your story today? 

Did you like any of these drawings? Feel free to share them on Pinterest! 


How to make work easy PLUS a few daily drawings

{Soaring through the week, and crossing things off my list one by one}

It is a sunny, sweet day: perfect for sitting in the breeze and dreaming. 

Next door, workmen are clanking, whirring and banging. It gives me a false sense of industry. I'm not doing much, but someone nearby is working very hard. It feels like that work transfers to me by proximity. Like when I'm drinking tea and the washing machine is spinning loudly. I'm not doing anything, but it is working very hard, and so I feel satisfied and accomplished. 

I have been thinking a lot lately about what work means. 

My Dad always said that we should "work smart, not hard." 

And I've spent my entire life trying to figure out what that means. 

It means being efficient. It means figuring out what is absolutely necessary, doing that necessary thing, and then resting. It is when we rest that we get our best ideas. 

The trick is figuring out what the necessary things are. 

The other day I made a list of my "necessary" things. It is small but mighty: daily drawings, daily journalling, writing stories, working on my illustration projects, reading novels and poetry, keeping detailed to-do lists. (Playing with little-one and hanging out with my husband are necessary things, but they don't fall under the "work" category; they are unadulterated fun.)

That is all. 

Six necessary things.

Of course, my day-to-day life contains a million and one things I need to do: hanging laundry, cleaning the toilet, making my toddler's dinner, making our dinner..... These all huddle under the umbrella of "keeping detailed to-do lists." 

My to-do list umbrella protects me from the storm of tasks that constantly hurls itself at my door like a monsoon. I simply write down the things I think are most important. And then I stick to it. 

Then powering through the drudgery becomes automatic. For example, I don't question whether or not I clean the bathroom on a Wednesday, I just do it. And, while I'm cleaning, I go through the motions by rote so that I can let my mind glide off and spin in circles, thinking about my wonderful, confounding ideas. 

But, that is tangental.

Meanwhile, I'm focusing on daily drawings, journalling, and doing good work in my studio. 

What are your necessary things? 

How do you work "smart, and not hard? 

Is anyone interested in reading a more detailed post about how I structure my to-do lists so that I can minimize my effort on a weekly basis?

{Don't forget, you can download all sorts of to-do list and planner printables if you join my "Studio Friends" mailing list. I'll add more printables every month.}

{The work in progress}

{Hippity-hop hippity-hop}

{Drawing faces on paint blobs}

{I can't get enough of cherry blossoms: I captured these on our morning walk to little-one's nursery school}

{A weekend trip to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park, a short bicycle ride from our house}


Free Printables and a new website

How is it going in your corner of the world? Busy? Wonderful? Challenging? Fun? How would you describe your life right now?

I recently decided to eradicate the word "busy" from my vocabulary. It's not that I'm not busy, it's just that it's not a constructive way for me describe my life right now. The word "busy" makes me feel frantic and hassled. Whereas, if I say that my life is "full" or "rich," I feel like each moment is ripe with possibility.

One of the ways I cope with the "fullness" of my life is to keep detailed to-do lists. Being a working mom with a busy, curious toddler takes a lot of organization!

Do you also want to organize all the "richness" in your life?

I've created a special, printable PDF to-do list notepaper for all my Studio Friends.

Want one?

All you have to do is head over to the home page on my website and sign up for my mailing list.

As a Studio Friend, you'll receive no more than 6 emails per year. I don't like a crowded inbox, and I'm sure you don't either!

If you want to download the special "to-do" list and much more you can find it in the resource library in the "Studio Friends" section of my website. There are loads of free printables, from party invites to custom day-planner pages, all free for you to print and use! The "Studio Friends" page is password protected. Want in?  Head over here and sign up for the mailing list.

So, what can you expect from my emails?

I will share insights into my studio: photos and stories and sneak-peaks at works in progress. These are things you won't see anywhere else on the web. I will also share some of the things that inspire me most. Hopefully you'll be inspired too!

My Studio Friends are so special to me!


Why I'm inspired by the clutter on my desk

As I sit at my desk, I can see five coffee mugs or jam jars filled with various pens, pencils, paintbrushes, and crayons; three notebooks half-filled with project ideas and dreams; two sticky-note pads; a scattering of pencil shavings; a baby monitor (she’s still sleeping!); half a dozen tubes of watercolour paint; my computer (on which I’m typing); and a pair of glasses I never wear (I’m convinced my eyes have improved).

I don’t need all these things. In fact, I rarely use half of them. But the fact that they are there, right at my finger-tips, gives me the sense that I could use them, if I were inspired.

If I were inspired...

You see, that’s the operative hope. I desperately need all the clutter on my desk because if it isn’t there, it makes work too difficult. I would have to find the exact pen in the zen-style storage container on my shelf. I would have to search for the perfect shade of blue pencil in the pencil case. I might waste five minutes rummaging through an immaculate storage container to find my favourite "hake" brush for watercolour washes. And in that five minutes, the fleeting, diaphanous idea that had been floating through my mind might have disappeared forever.

But, if my desk is cluttered, or even messy, then everything is ready... just in case.

My desktop clutter is a kind of superstition. If it’s not there, I’m not sure I can make anything.

So, I work with projects layered upon projects. They are piled on my desk, like some sort of sedimentary settlement of creativity. They are a river delta of thoughts; grains of sand upon grains of sand forming an unsteady marsh for me to wade through.

Even the floor is part of my geography of inspiration. Scattered at my feet are: my scanner, my wacom drawing tablet (still plugged into my computer, with the cord snaking off the desk to the floor, just in case), three more notebooks, a binder full of archived lists and ideas, a ream of printer paper, a half-finished book, my garbage can (newly acquired, now at least there isn't any trash on the floor), and several large pads of Fabriano watercolour paper.

In this mess I have my best ideas.

In this mess I feel comfortable.

I think I'm pretty good at keeping our house clean and clutter free. I've read the decluttering manifesto by Marie Kondo. I regularly donate items to the local charity shop. I keep to a rigorous weekly cleaning schedule. I make sure little-one's toys are organized and stowed away at the end of each day...

So, even though I sometimes dream of having the perfect zen-like studio space, full of organized storage, white walls, and calming house plants lining the window sill.

In reality I have happy mess; a happy creative mess.


Daily Drawings plus a few photos from the week

{A midsummer night's dream. Celebrating Shakespeare's 400th anniversary}

{Happy Birthday to the Queen! I sketched her surrounded
by coins from all the Commonwealth countries I hold dear: 
Canada, Great Britain, South Africa and Namibia.}

{A portrait of Mrs. Pontipine from the children's
TV show "In the Night Garden.}

{Baby's desk...}

{My desk}


Daily Drawings

{Bright colours for a gloomy day}

The wonderful thing about my "daily drawings" is that I don't berate myself if I can't actually draw every day. 

In fact, I do draw every day, but not always fun, experimental or "sharable" things. 

My theory is that if I have a goal of "daily fun drawings" and I draw 4 or 5 days out of seven, then I'm succeeding wildly. 

It's just like my "daily" yoga practice. My ultimate goal is to do yoga first thing every morning.  But I normally manage it three or four mornings per week.  That's still a victory, right? It's more than nothing! 

I'm trying to celebrate small moments of progress. 

What is one small thing you've done this week to move towards your dreams?

{Drawing on the train}

{Drawing on the train}