Sunday, 9 November 2014

Welcoming Baby

Just over a week ago we welcomed our precious little daughter into the world.

She has a head of thick dark, almost reddish hair, curious eyes, and the longest fingers I've ever seen on a newborn.  (In that, she takes after her mom).  After a very long, difficult pregnancy, I'm so relieved to finally be holding her in my arms and resting at home.

Right now I'm sitting on the couch and catching a few minutes of peace before I have to wake her for her next feeding.  She's swaddled warmly in her bouncy chair in the corner of the room.  It's so quiet that I almost forget she's there until I hear one of her squeaky stretches or whiffling snores.

Now that a week has passed, I'm trying to figure out how to get back into some sort of creative routine.  If I'm not drawing, painting or writing, I feel like a shadow of myself.  Once I've recovered from the birth, I want to start a sketchbook for pleasure; I want to fill it with drawings of my little daughter, and all the other joyful things I see daily.

I'm in the process of writing a list of (small and achievable) goals for the next few months. Blogging is definitely a priority, as is writing and drawing for pleasure (not for a deadline), playing piano (which I neglected sorely when I was pregnant), and going for walks in our nearby parks.

But right now, the most important thing is that in 20 minutes I'll wake my little darling and gaze into her eyes as she breastfeeds.  Every facet of these quiet moments shines with perfection; I want to save them like jewels, and wear them forever near my heart so that I will always remember her as this quiet, sweet, cuddly little babe.

For those of you who have had babies, what were your best coping mechanisms for the first few months? 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Turning over a new leaf

This weekend is the autumnal equinox here in the northern hemisphere. Even though it's still unseasonably warm and humid, I can already feel a breath of winter in the air.  The leaves are starting to turn, and the local flower shop is selling vibrant chrysanthemums by the fist-full. 

Change in the natural world is relentless and inescapable.  We may not notice the hours and days whizzing by, or feel the earth turning under our feet, but one day we look up from our to-do lists and notice that the trees are turning colour.  

This is the time to turn over a new leaf, so to speak.  

Ever since school, I've taken time to make a few personal resolutions in the autumn.  These resolutions always seem more spiritually motivated and positive than the resolutions made in the thinness of January (when I'm feeling worn out and slightly desperate).  Autumnal resolutions hold the lushness of harvest festivals in their heart.  

If January resolutions are about conquering our wills; September resolutions are about nurturing our authentic needs.  

This autumn will be particularly life changing for us in so many ways, so I'm trying to indulge in soul-care at every opportunity.  

It's difficult to write a list of goals and intentions when I have no idea how all these changes will actually impact our lives.  Instead, I'm trying to remind myself to open my heart to whatever opportunities and experiences come our way in the next few months.

Are you making any resolutions for the changing of the seasons?  What are they?

And how do you hope to keep them in the forefront of your mind so you don't slip back into the old grooves of thinking and being?

AND.... Don't forget to enter the giveaway to win a pretty princess from my shop!  You have until the end of this month.  Enter HERE.

{And old autumnal sketch, as I can't show you my other top secret paintings at the moment}

Friday, 12 September 2014

Today is.... a blur

This has been one of those weeks that has passed by in a blur.  I was excavating my studio table this morning and found my to-do list for Tuesday.  "Hmm," I thought, "I haven't accomplished many of these items.  What day is it today?  What? Friday?"

I suppose the week got caught up in a whirlwind of illustrations that wouldn't dry (it's been humid), midwife appointments, antenatal classes and other general (mostly happy) chaos. 

Right now I'm sipping a cup of decaf, listening to the washing machine gently sudsing our household towels (glamorous, I know), and contemplating all the things I need to write on my weekend to-do list.  I don't think I'll have a non-working weekend until baby comes, as I have so much to accomplish in the few weeks that are left.  

I loved your responses to my last post! I've been tallying up all your comments for what you want to read here into an ideas book for future posts. I can't wait to share more glimpses into my studio and life in London! (And please don't forget to enter the print giveaway, you have until the end of the month!)

What I'm currently up to...

Reading // "Poetry Please," which is an anthology of poetry that has been read on BBC radio 4.  I've been feeling poetry starved lately.  Sometimes I want to sink deep into the rhythms and nuances of the words in order to slow my busy brain down.

Anticipating // The arrival of baby! We're feeling a combination of excitement and fear.  This morning the diaper bag we ordered online arrived, and I can't wait to pack it for the hospital.  Anyone have any good tips for what should go into a hospital bag?

Working on // The last remaining illustrations for the second book in the Mattie's Magic Dreamworld series for Random House Struik.  If I can keep on schedule, I'll be able to finish it all well in time. If only my paint would dry more quickly!

Grateful for // Afternoon naps.  I came up with the theory the other day that something that might take me three hours to do when I'm tired, would take me one hour if I were rested. That's reason enough to take a nap, don't you think?

Listening to // BBC radio 3 (classical) or Jazzfm while I work.  Sometimes I need the soothing strains of Haydn, and other times I need the be-bop beats of Coltrane to give me energy and inspiration.  What are your favourite online radio stations?  

Feeling // Baby pirouetting under my ribs, especially if I've eaten anything spicy or sweet. The other evening we made chili con carne and had chocolate for dessert, which made little one do the Mexican hat dance all night long. Baby had fun, but mum wasn't so impressed.  

What are you up to this weekend?  

Monday, 1 September 2014

Thank-you for 600 followers! {Plus a celebratory Giveaway!}

The other day I checked my blog stats and was blown away to see that I have over 600 followers on Bloglovin alone!  I'm not sure how to count everyone else who reads via other platforms, so I assume there must be considerably more of you out there. 

I'm flabbergasted and overwhelmed, and I want to send a little love to you via the cyberwaves.  

In celebration, I thought I would give away this princess print, especially embellished with 24 carat gold leaf (which is something I only do for very special occasions). All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of this post and enter.

I'm still figuring out this whole blogging and social media milieu.  So, I thought I'd ask you for your opinions.

Do you have any questions or topics you'd love to see me cover on this blog? I'd love for you to send me a few ideas. Do you want to read more about the creative process, how to find inspiration, working in children's publishing, living in London, glimpses into my studio... anything else? What are you curious about? (Leave your ideas or questions in the comments)

If you want to follow along in more places here are some links:

Facebook for friendly inspiration
Twitter for short conversations
Instagram for glimpses into my studio and my life

And please say hello so I can follow you back!

{All that glitters is gold...}

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Life in a London Flat #3

Small green things make my heart soar.

The thing about living in London is that you spend most of your life surrounded by bricks and concrete. The city might be famous for its languid parks that operate like green lungs pumping oxygen into the air, but there is still a lot of pavement to contend with on a daily basis.

The solution is to bring a little green into your home to add life and colour to forgotten corners. Houseplants can become your best friends.

At the moment I have a basil, a miniature rose, a convalescent lavender, and a few sprigs of ivy calling the top of the fridge home.

The rose completely surprised me. I bought her thinking she would be a demanding mistress, like the rose in the Little Prince, but she's turned out to be a wonderful flatmate.  She never asks for more than she receives, and quite literally, seems content to bloom where she's planted.

The basil is also a very easy houseguest.  I forgot to water him the other day, and he never complained. Though he did sulk for a few hours before forgiving me.

I'm starting to root the ivy shoots, as I remembered that I used to love all the ivy plants in our house when I was growing up.  Don't tell anyone, but I stole the shoots from a mass of ivy growing in a neighbour's front garden.

And the lavender? I'm not sure exactly what his issue is.  He was doing fine for weeks (weeks!), and then he suddenly started losing needles and drooping. I'm doing my best to reconcile whatever differences we might have, but worry that I might lose the battle.

The most important thing is that I love the way the air feels cleaner and more alive with them around. They make our little London flat so cheery.

Do you have any favourite houseplants?  Where do they live in your home? 

More tips for London living HERE.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Let's paint the town...

The other day I was walking home from the grocery store and I saw a blank billboard above one of our local cafes.  

I wondered, "What if artists could take over the billboards of London for one day? What would the city look like?" 

Sometimes I get tired of being forced to stare at advertising for phones, cars, musicians, movies and car insurance packages. I'd much rather wander down the street and stare at beautiful, inspired work by local artists. 

So, I came home and placed one of my own paintings on the billboard in photoshop.  

It's fun to dream, isn't it? 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A few snapshots of my studio

These past few weeks I feel like I've been participating in a triathlon, but instead of three sporting events I'm working on three creative endeavours.  The first is book one of Mattie's Magic Dreamworld for Random House Struik, the second is book two in the same series, and the third is baby!  (You can see a few watercolours from book one above)

Let me tell you, creating a person is a lot harder than I expected it to be.  It is both physically and emotionally draining.  Much of my creative energy is being siphoned off into the task of building a this little human, which is such an amazing and inspiring process!

In the meantime, I'm enjoying home-made lattes and the post-storm rainbows I've been seeing above the rooftops of London. 

What's been happening in your life lately? I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Adventures in... the Netherlands

{The North Sea near Bloemendaal}

I was going through my hard drive the other day to back up my files, and I found the photos from my Easter Break trip to the Netherlands. It seems ages ago; almost like it happened in a dream. Even though it was so long ago, I thought I'd share a few of my favourite pictures, or else they'll keep gathering dust inside my MacBook. 

At the time I was newly pregnant, and suffering severe nausea.  I tried my best to make the most of the holiday and enjoy being a tourist, but to be honest, most nights I ended up curled up in bed wishing I were home.  

Having said that, the Netherlands is one of my favourite countries in Europe.  I love how small it is, and that you can cover its terrain from one side to the other easily in a day; practically any town is accessible as a day trip.

My mom and I stayed with a good friend who lives in Bloemendaal, a small town just outside Haarlem, and a short train journey from Amsterdam.  It is a gorgeous community nestled beside the blustery North Sea. In the evenings we took long drives along the coastal roads to admire the sunsets, the swaying beach grasses, and the brave kite surfers. 

A few of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam...

Amsterdam is not my favourite place in the world.  Every time I visit the Netherlands I resolve to find something to love about the city, but aside from the museums, I always find it hard to warm to the place. As far as I'm concerned it's full of noisy tourists, hippies and teenagers that reek of weed, street trams and bicycles racing in every direction (so you never know when you might be run over), drifts of litter, and annoyed dutch people (I'd be annoyed too, if I had to deal with all the aforementioned).  

If you want quaint canals, gorgeous dutch architecture and tulips, there are much more beautiful places to visit than Amsterdam.  

However, if you're in Amsterdam...

1. The Rijksmuseum. It has a stellar collection of Vermeers and Rembrandts, and much more. Plus a great cafe if you want to rest your eyes, feet and sample some nouveau dutch cuisine. 

2. The Van Gogh museum.  Van Gogh's paintings are so full of life and emotion; seeing them always leaves my heart both full of joy and a little raw.  

3. The Amsterdam Flower Market.  This is the only floating flower market in the world.  It blooms with fragrance and colour in any season. 

A few of my favourite day trips... 

These are the small towns and cities that epitomize everything I love about the Netherlands: glittering canals, gracious city squares lined with cafes and restaurants, amazing museums, and friendly people.  

1. Haarlem: Visit the Frans Hals museum and wander the narrow streets tracing webs around the wide canals. 

2. Delft: Visit the Vermeer museum and buy some stunning blue and white Delft ware china.  The central square is long and narrow, and has a tall tower to climb so that you can see the whole town laid below you, as well as the all horizons of this small, flat, little country. 

3. Leiden: A bustling university town filled with trendy students and great restaurants and cafes.  It was the birthplace of Rembrandt. 

4. Den Haag: The centre of Dutch government. Every street is lined with chic boutiques, gracious palaces and government buildings. 

5. Keukenhof gardens.  In the spring, this is the ultimate place to see more tulips than you could ever imagine.  We happened to go on the day of the flower parade, which made the gardens and nearby town very festive. Go early in the day to avoid the crowds. 

6. Utrecht.  A gorgeous university town with lovely cafes, boutiques and a church tower near the main square that plays a full carillon (a song played on the bells) at midday.  It's the perfect place to sit for lunch while listening to the pealing bells and water lapping in the canals. 

What to eat... 

1. Make sure you try a stroopwafel with your coffee.  This is a small biscuit or cookie made with two thin layers of waffle filled with caramel.  To soften the caramel you lay the waffle on the rim of your cup so that the steam warms the sugars.  There's no need to dunk. 

2. Vla.  This is a dutch version of pudding or custard, but so much better.  

3. Go to a Pannekoeken Huis.  The dutch serve their pancakes almost like pizzas, with numerous sweet and savoury toppings.  The best pancake houses are in the smaller towns and rural areas. 

4. Cheese.  There are cheese at every corner with windows stacked with delicious looking blocks and wheels of cheese.  Make sure you pop in and sample some of the local delicacies.  

Have you been to Amsterdam or the Netherlands? What's your favourite thing to see or do?

Or, Do you have a favourite holiday destination that you keep going back to time and time again? 

You can find other Adventures in... posts HERE

{Blooming trees in Bloemendaal}

{Delft cheeses}

{the clear, slanting light of the Dutch masters was everywhere}

{Delft from the tower}


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Life in a London Flat #2

Two days later, Maureen woke to a bright sky full of promise and a light breeze that played at the leaves.  The perfect washing day. She fetched the step-ladder and took down the net curtains. Light, colour and texture over the room as if they had been trapped in the space behind the nets all along. The curtains were white and dry within the day.  Maureen folded them into bags and took them to the charity shop.  -- Rachel Joyce "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry"

London is a city filled with 8 to 15 million curious people (depending on how you count it).  They're all busy living their lives, and avidly watching everyone else as they do it.  With so many people-watchers around, it's vital to carve out a private space just for yourself.

Windows are wonderful, don't you think?  They let the light in.  You can sit by them and daydream while watching the sky.  But also, since people can see in, they can become like mini-theatres where passers-by watch the dramas of our lives unfold.

So, how to let the light in, but not the prying eyes?  Net curtains, of course.  

I find it interesting that in Rachel Joyce's book, net curtains were a symbol of the repressed life that the character Maureen wanted to leave behind.  She thought she was hiding behind them and not letting anyone or anything new into her life.

To me, they are a symbol of safety and freedom, and they are an absolute necessity for London living. With gauzy curtains in one's windows, one can live freely and uninhibitedly without worrying that other people are watching.

There is a lovely family who live in the flat across the road.  (You can see their window boxes in the photo above).  They don't have net curtains (or any curtains at all, as far as I can tell), and in the evenings, I actually have to make a concentrated effort not to look at them as they sit and watch TV or eat their dinner.

Perhaps in the small village where Rachel Joyce's characters lived there were fewer prying eyes, making net curtains unnecessary.

I don't know. But I certainly love the privacy; I love way the sun catches them at certain angles transforming them from ordinary netting into gossamer lace; or, the way the wind makes them billow and dance like summery ante-bellum skirts.

What do you think? How do you keep passers-by or neighbours from peeping into your world?

Curious about London flat living? More here.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Windows of London - Queens Park

Last night, in the face of the imminent deadlines (books! baby!), I decided I needed a little creative break.  I love what I do, but sometimes working on the same project for too long can cause creative burnout.  I needed to draw anything else but what I was supposed to draw. 

And what would that be?  

I few weeks ago I stumbled upon the website called Windows of New York, which is a digital sketchbook by a graphic designer who draws New York windows in his free time.  Each drawing is a beautiful little poem of love for his city.  

So, rather than drawing children, or elephants, or giraffes, I thought I'd draw a window.  This is one of the windows I see on my daily walk to the high street.  It's so cheery with its bright box of geraniums and blowing curtains.

Part of this creative break also involves using different art supplies to exercise my artistic muscles.  I love coloured pencils, and I don't use them nearly enough.  I think I might fill my recreational sketchbook with more coloured pencil work in the near future.  I love the scumbly, soft texture of the pencils on textured paper. 

And while we're talking art supplies, will you indulge me while I geek out a bit and share what I used?

Sketchbook: A5 softcover from Seawhite of Brighton
Pencil: Faber Castell Polychromos in Burnt Umber
Watercolour: Winsor and Newton in Alizarin Crimson

What do you do when you feel stuck on a project and need some inspiration?