Thursday, 11 December 2014

Life in A London Flat #4 - Christmas Decorations

December in London is bleak. We wake up in the dark, and come home from work in the dark (or at least M does).  Bookended in the middle of that darkness are gloriously sunny moments, but they are few and far between; otherwise, rain prevails.

Adding a little bit of light and sparkle to the flat is an obvious choice.  But how much?  We don't have much room, especially now that Little M's paraphernalia covers 90% of every surface.

Having just moved back home, I ventured into our mysterious, dusty attic to search for our Christmas ornaments.  I was sure we'd stashed some before we left on our African adventures. After a lengthy search amongst old, zipperless suitcases, broken picture frames, and bags of clothes destined for the charity shop, I found our tiny crystal tree, a string of twinkle lights and a few baubles.  Not much, but exactly enough to inject some light and cheer into our tiny flat.

It seems to me that the key to minimalist Christmas decorating is to put up those things which you love, which are beautiful, or which have special stories to tell.  For example, the "Noel Santa" on the right hand side of the mantle-piece was given to me by a mosaicist named Mohammed who used to work with us on our archaeological digs in Tunisia. Whenever I look at the tiny pattern of pebbles making up the design I remember the hot, dusty summers spent sifting through Roman remains, the early morning calls to prayer from the mosques, and hot cups of mint tea shared with Mohammed and his family at the end of the day.  The memories have nothing to do with Christmas, but that little ornament brings all that light and heat back into these cold, wet, December nights.

Perhaps as Christmas draws nearer I'll stop by the local florist on my way back from the coffee shop to buy some holly and mistletoe.  I'll pop them into a vase and place them on our coffee table to add a little cheery green into the wintry atmosphere.

How do you decorate for Christmas? Elaborately? Simply? Why not share links to photos of your Christmassy home in the comments below? 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Making my list...

... and checking it twice.

Some days I feel like little M and I are the best team in the world, and the two of us can accomplish whatever we set our minds to. Other days it feels like everything is unravelling and I'll never pick up a pencil again, or turn another page of a book, or fold another sock (not that I want to fold socks, but it has to be done, doesn't it?)

Today was a good day. I made a delivery of Magic at the Museum to the Courtauld Gallery here in London for their Christmas displays while my mom watched little M. On my way home I popped by the post office to mail a few etsy orders. It felt liberating to walk briskly through the snappy December air treading on the yellow leaves scattered on the sidewalk like golden coins.

Other days I can barely get out of bed or have a shower, as every waking moment is spent consoling my little inconsolable daughter.  This is a big adjustment for everyone, including her.  I imagine that from her perspective, life seems very overwhelming (it is for all of us, isn't it?).  That's the thing about life; we don't choose life, it chooses us.  We have to tense our legs and make the jump into the unknown whether we want to or not.  We can't think about how far the drop might be, or where we'll land.  We can only make the leap with the faith that everything will be ok. I'm telling that to little M every day... life is hard and overwhelming, but we're there for her every step of the way. She's survived the most difficult part, she made it here, now comes the fun of creating a wonderful, colourful, exuberant life.  I can't wait to see how she shapes the world around her.

So that brings me to the last point on my list: enjoy Christmas.  No matter what happens, or how difficult the day is with my little one, I'm determined to enjoy Christmas with every vibration in my soul.  This is her first Christmas, and though she won't remember it, it is the beginning of a long chain of memories that we'll share together.  

So with that in mind, I'm off to cuddle her and then sharpen a pencil and draw a few lines in my sketchbook.

What are your plans for the weekend?

And, speaking of Etsy orders.  All you readers can get 10% off in my shop with discount code MAGIC10 .

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A little bit of gratitude

I usually try to make a list of all the things I'm thankful for on the second Monday in October, as that is when we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada. However, life caught me by surprise (I'm not so fond of surprises, generally), and now I'm making my gratitude list in November, on American Thanksgiving.  It's all the same really, when it comes out in the wash.

I'm sitting on my couch in the gloaming. I'm surrounded by wash-racks filled to overflowing with clean laundry languishing in the damp weather.  Will the towels, flannels and baby-grows ever dry? Little M is curled up in her bouncy chair, chewing hard on a soother and fighting sleep.

Things are slowly starting to return to a new equilibrium. I cherish these stolen moments when I can spend a few minutes reading, writing, drawing or working on a project.

Here are a few things I'm grateful for right now:

1. A minute; a second; a moment in which I can take a deep breath and feel like myself again.  Sharpen a pencil; turn the page of a book; open my mind to thoughts that are wider than these four walls and those 10 fingers.

2.  Those 10 fingers. Darling little hands that are now learning to hang on tight to our fingers, or her favourite blanket.

3.  Starbucks.  I'm not generally a fan of big, chain coffee-shops, but our local Starbucks has become my new best friend.  Not because of their coffee (which is still mediocre), but because they have loads of space inside to park our chariot of a stroller so baby and I can sit comfortably and not feel like we're in anyone's way.

4. Three people whose names start with M. You know who you are. You are the anchor around which I'm floating at the moment.

5.  Watching the leaves turn colour and gently float to the pavement. Autumn is my favourite season.  Everything about it feels so rich and layered.  I especially love taking a turn around the Quiet Garden in Queens Park, where the caretakers are busily cleaning up the summer flower beds and planting their winters blooms (cyclamen, being a favourite).

6. A new sketchbook.  And lots of blank pages waiting to be filled with new ideas.

7. Online grocery deliveries.  I don't know what I'd do without it.  We get our shopping delivered every Tuesday afternoon. I'm so relieved that I don't have to trek to the grocery store, push a shopping cart around the crowded aisles, and then haul the heavy bags home on the bus.  Yesterday I told our delivery man that he needed to be quiet because my baby daughter was napping.  He winked and obligingly whispered and tiptoed as he unloaded all the groceries. Amazing.

8. Coffee table art books and exhibition catalogues. I'm spending stolen moments pouring over the glossy pages of gorgeous illustrations and artwork.  So much to inspire and nourish the soul.

9. Naps. All the parenting books say: when she sleeps, you sleep.  Amen.

10. The fact that I can be grateful.  Sometimes life can seem pretty fuzzy, and it's hard to focus and see all the small blessings abounding. But they're there, if you only look for them!

What are you grateful for today? This moment?

Long Fingers...

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!