31/07/2015

Cheers! A little celebration and Inspiration

{Photo taken at Beluga in Cape Town}

I have decided that my maternity leave is officially over. It's difficult to make "official" proclamations when you work for yourself (who's keeping track of whether or not you clock in at your desk?), but I have to tell someone, so I'm telling you, dear readers. 

I've had a long hiatus full of soul-searching, self-doubt, moments of happy inspiration, and lots of cuddles with Little M.  

She is now 9 months old.... which also means that I have been a mother for 9 months. I think it's time to transform from a nesting, stay-at-home mom into a working mom (who also happens to work from home). 

I have no idea how I'm going to make this work. Motherhood and my passion for making books sometimes feel like two diametrically opposing forces pushing me in different directions.  One tells me to savour each moment and not work too hard, and the other tells me to sharpen my pencils and get creating because the seconds are rushing by faster than we can count them. 

But, this week I signed a contract to illustrate two children's picture books.  

Now I have no choice but to stick my head into my sketchbooks. I can't wait to get back to drawing, because a part of me will never feel whole unless I'm creating a book and telling a story, in some way. 

So, cheers! Let's celebrate! Raise a glass ... to new books! ... to 9 month birthdays.  And to venturing bravely into uncharted territories. 

Here's a little inspiration from the books I've been reading this week: 


On babies: 
"A baby is a wishing well.  We walk by every day and throw our pennies in. Most are bright and shiny, full of smiles and possibility. Some are tarnished with bad memories, unlucky genes. Others have been hiding under the couch cushions all these years, just waiting for someone to dig them out. A baby is a wishing well. Everyone puts their hopes, their fears, their pasts, their two cents in." Elizabeth Bard from Picnic in Provence.

On divine intervention: 
"I learned that to simply ask a blessing on one's circumstances, whatever they are, is somehow to improve them, and to tap some mysterious source of energy and joy. I came upon one of the most ancient and universal truths -- that to affirm and claim God's help even before it is given, is to receive it." Marjorie Holmes. 

28/07/2015

Window Boxes: Life in a London Flat



There’s something about lavender that lifts the mood. It’s not just its clean, fresh, fragrance (reminiscent of sea spray, loamy earth and clean sheets), but also the way the purple flowers bob and sway, conducting silent symphonies in the breeze.

In Cape Town we had a lavender garden in our front courtyard. There was a thick, high stone garden wall facing the road (as you must, in South Africa), with a heavy wooden door set in its centre. From the street it didn’t look like much, but once you entered, you were beguiled by a tiny courtyard garden planted mounds of lavender.

I miss that garden. I miss sitting on the stoop and watching the bees dance from flower to flower as the unseen traffic raced down the hill on the other side of the wall.

So, as a birthday surprise for my husband, I planted window boxes on the sills of our London flat. I ordered one box for each front window and filled them with lavender, petunias and ivy.  Now, when I sit on the couch and gaze out the window, I not only see the rows of Victorian terraced houses and plane trees, but also the bobbing lavender, the delicate ruffles of the petunia petals, and the occasional bee who has lucked out and found our tiny oasis.

The window boxes give a new dimension to the flat: there is now an inside and an outside. When the evening sun pours through the windows the lavender throws dancing shadows on the white walls. When we open the windows we can smell the sweet petunias in the warm summer air.

All that in a space 18 cm wide.

It's a miracle.

13/04/2015

Be inspired



Favourite Quotes 

Judith of Pretty Words Please. The more you kiss or hug babies or young children, the happier they will be when they grow up. {That sounds like a wonderful plan to me!}

Virginia Woolf. I decided to go to London, for the sake of hearing the Strand roar, which I think one does want, after a day or two of Richmond.  {This is particularly appropriate after recent conversations of where we would move to if we left central London.}

Kate di Camillo.  Poetry. He liked the word -- its smallness, its density, the way it rose up at the end as if it had wings. Poetry.

D. H. Lawrence. We ought to dance with rapture that we might be alive ... and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.


What has inspired you this month? 




03/04/2015

Hatching New Beginnings

{The crystal egg cup}

Happiest of Easter Weekends to all my wonderful readers! 

I hope you find your golden egg under the rosebush, and contemplate lots of new beginnings. 

We will be relaxing in our lovely London flat, taking long walks in the park to admire the daffodils, and spending evenings watching movies or hosting dinner for friends. 

See you next week! 

31/03/2015

On Being and Embracing



How are you doing with your efforts to be inspired by your word (or resolutions) for 2015?  It's the end of March, and I'm checking in to assess my efforts to embrace this year.


MARCH


It's funny.

I'm sitting on the couch while Little M watches her classical music mobile in her cot, and, try as I might, I can hardly remember anything that's happened in the past 30 days.

Did we return from Austria in February, or was it March? I know I had a birthday at some point. I got an illustrating job, thus ending my maternity leave... but aside from those big events, the month is a blur of naps, bottles, and walks, all littered with pencil and eraser shavings.

The only way I can remember anything is if I write it down, which is why I'm designing a new day planner, as well as trying to keep a daily journal. (more to come on both)

As long as I'm getting enough rest (naps are essential), and eating well (meal plans and online grocery delivery are my saving graces right now), I feel like I can handle just about anything.

I'm also trying to embrace the help of random strangers. People in London are amazingly compassionate and helpful when they see moms stranded with strollers at the top or bottom of long staircases in train or tube stations. Thank-you London!


Embracing "Being"

One idea that has really struck home these past few months is that we are all unique, special and valuable just because we are, and not because of what we do. Too often I judge myself by what I have accomplished (or not), and I forget that my personal worth shouldn't be so closely tied to my successes and failures.

Little M is a miracle just because she is.  It's her being, her is-ness, that makes her amazing.  She plays; she smiles; she drinks; she poos; she sleeps (sometimes); and each day her personality becomes clearer, like a form materializing in a thick mist.  By the world's standards, none of those activities are particularly valuable, and yet, she is a miracle.

You and I were once miraculous babies. We have let the sparkle of that miracle wear off and become a distant memory, but it isn't gone.

You might be sitting there in your bathrobe, sipping a coffee, steeling yourself for your day, and all around you the latent glow of your inexplicable is-ness is shining for anyone who might take the time to notice. You are you and nobody else! That's amazing.

I am. He is. She is. We are. We can conjugate a verb and define one of the biggest mysteries of life.

So, I'm trying to embrace a new understanding of my self-worth, as well as everyone else's worth. We are all here, zooming through the vast galaxy on a tiny planet populated with miracles. Think about it for a minute. It will change your day.

{Nerd alert: this is a very simplified discussion of ontology, the study of the nature of being, becoming and existence. Ontology is one of my favourite words, both for how it sounds and what it means.}

APRIL


Just this weekend we booked tickets to spend some time with M's family in Cape Town. We're both excited and a little nervous about the new adventure, as it will mean taking our first long-haul flight with Little M.

So, in the coming month you can expect some posts about planning and calendars, about journaling, and about our trip to Cape Town!

How was your month? Are you thinking about your word or your resolutions regularly? Have you experienced any milestones that you think helped you grow as a person? Please share in the comments! 

Did you like this post? Then be sure to share it with your friends to keep the conversation going! Pin, share or tweet! Yay! 



25/03/2015

A week of skiing in Zell am See, Austria



There are few places in the world where I can feel my heartbeat slow the moment I arrive. Zell am See was one of those place for me.  

It is a tiny, quaint town on the edge of a cold, glassy lake. It is nestled between forested and snowy mountains on all sides. Clouds gathered and dispersed between the peaks like ancient Chinese calligraphy paintings, bringing intermittent snow or sun depending on their moods. Church bells echoed between the steep gables of the medieval chalets, and people clomped up and down the cobbled streets in their ski boots with looks of anticipation and excitement on their faces. 

As I walked through the narrow medieval alleys, I took deep breaths of sweet mountain air that made my toes tingle.  

Zell am See is about 1 hour from Salzburg and the perfect destination for both skiers and non-skiers.  {which is why we chose it, because I was going to spend the week looking after Little M and relaxing}

I had intended for this to be an encyclopedic post all about all the things to see and do in the Zell am See area. However, I've been completely defeated by a lethal combination of illustration workload and Little M's teething. So, I'll rather make some observations in list form...


Thoughts on our stay in Zell am See (or skip these and just look at the pictures...)


1. We stayed at the Grand Hotel, as they had all inclusive meals. We didn't want the extra stress of having to go to restaurants with our little four month old baby. Their food and service were excellent. Included in the price were breakfast, an après ski snack in the bar/lounge, and dinner.  They accommodated us with our baby in every way they could. 

2. For non-skiers, there is a lovely walking path that circles the lake. Should one want to make the full circuit, one could walk for 10km.  I did almost daily walks to the small village of Schüttdorf and back. I watched the ducks and swans paddle in the open water between ice sheets, and trace clumsy footsteps across the snow. 

3. For skiers. You can walk to the main lift station in Zell am See, which is 5 minutes from the town centre, or take regular buses to various other lift points.  If you want a bit of an outing, there is the nearby Kitzsteinhorn glacier, with offers amazing skiing at high altitudes. 

4. Food. The food at our hotel was classic and tasty, but not excellent. There were three set menus to choose from, always including a vegetarian option.  After a few days we realized that we could mix and match choices from the various set menus, which gave us a huge selection of dishes to choose from. Austrians seem obsessed with putting knödel in everything. Dumplings here, dumplings there, dumpling dumplings everywhere. I was incredulous when the evening menu at our hotel listed tiramisu with dumplings (how was that even possible?). 

5. It was surprisingly difficult to find a good cup of coffee. In the most popular tourist cafe in town, right on the town square, I ordered a decaf cappuccino and was served a very weak instant coffee topped with fake whipped cream.  My husband's hot chocolate was similarly dire. At last, we found Café Seegasse, that served amazing coffees and cakes (though receiving friendly service was a bit hit and miss). 

Travels to other German Speaking destinations:



Zell am See
{The mountains peek between the rooftops}

St Hippolyte's church zell am see
{St Hippolyte's Church, which houses some gorgeous medieval frescoes}

The Grand Hotel Zell am See
{The Grand Hotel}

{Beautiful ornaments in the festive Friday market}

Zell am See
{View from our hotel room at night}

Zell am See
{The lake in a blizzard, and duck footprints on the bottom right}


Zell am See
{Medieval windows}


Zell am See
{The city square}


Zell am See
{Swans in love}


Zell am See
{Mountain top experiences}



20/03/2015

Pick a card... any card {Business Cards for Illustrators}

{The Queen of Puppies}

My current business cards are designed to look like a playing card (see below).  One of my dreams for the past few years has been to design a second set of business cards so that I can fan them out in my hand with a flourish and say, "Pick a card, any card."

I never got around to it because I was always too "busy." Too many deadlines and other urgent tasks got in the way. It took having a baby, taking a self-imposed maternity leave, and then feeling bored during her nap times to get them designed and painted.

I normally print my business cards with moo.com.  It would be cheaper to go to a local printing shop to get them printed, but then I would have to print 500 (which is the usual minimum), and I would be buried under stacks of my cards for years to come.  With Moo prints I can print small runs, which allows me the flexibility to change my designs quite frequently.

Plus, their paper quality is amazing, and they give lots of nifty options, such as the sleek rounded corners which I love so much.

These past few weeks I've been busy trying to re-imagine my life and career with a little one in tow. I sit on the couch with Little M, answer emails, fiddle with photoshop, and ask her, "what do you think about this?" or "what should mommy do with that?" She stares at me with wide eyes and a knowing smile, and I'm sure she would have sage advice to share, if she could only talk. Perhaps she'll become my most valued business advisor in time.

Sometimes it feels like things have reached a state of stasis; the impulse to create pulls me one way, and the impulse to slow down and savour motherhood pulls me the other. I decided that the one way to conquer the inertia was to design a new business card. Doing a little makeover gives my portfolio new energy. Suddenly I'm excited to contact people and send images into the void.


{The current Queen of Kittens, soon to be joined by the above design!}




16/03/2015

Be inspired


 {Bloom through the gloom}

Favourite Quotes 


Sylvia Plath. I wonder why I don't go to bed and go to sleep. But then it would be tomorrow, so I decide that no matter how tired, no matter how incoherent I am, I can skip one hour more of sleep and live. If I did not have this time to be myself, to write here, to be alone, I would somehow, inexplicably, lose a part of my integrity. {The Unabridged Journals, page 83}

Tony Robbins. Energy comes from having a mission, not eating or sleeping. It comes from something you're being pulled by, not something you're pushing on.... If you're pulled, if there's something you want to serve that's greater than yourself, something that excites you, something you're made for, then there's a level of energy that most people would never dream of. We all have that, but most of us don't connect to it.

Erin Boyle. When it comes to sleep and babies, we're all just fumbling along. We care for our fabulous, feisty little humans the best way we know how. In one bedroom, or two bedrooms, or no bedrooms at all, sleep after a baby is different than sleep before a baby. But then, so is breathing. So is the way your heart beats in your chest.

Melissa Jeffcott. So if you are on the other side of forty and think blogging is just for twenty something long legged green smoothie toting yoga goddesses, or wine guzzling toddler taming sleep deprived mamas in their thirties, think again.

{Can you guess the theme? Leave your guess in the comments and some way for me to direct message you (either email or twitter name), and I'll send you an exclusive 15% off code for my etsy shop! I can't reduce the price much more, as the quality of my prints is so high! Here's a clue: the theme is 5 letters, starting with S.}



For Little M


I'm spending a lot of time singing the chorus of "And I will always love you" to keep her happy.  I'm chanelling the gentleness of the original Dolly Parton, rather than the flamboyance of Whitney Houston. 

When I'm out of entertainment ideas, we watch these black and white videos for infants with achingly beautiful designs. They are part art installation and part pacifier, and would be just at home in Tate Modern as in my living room.   


On the Blog

For those of you who are regular visitors, you might have noticed that I've done a little housekeeping. I redesigned my blog with the help of the lovely Suzana of This Girl Design. I struggle with writing html and css code, so buying a template to work with was the perfect answer. Suzana installed it within days and was so lovely to work with. Once the template was installed, it was easy enough for me to modify aspects of the design to suit my style.

I've organized all my past posts into the categories which you see on the top of the right-hand column. Have some time? Go exploring!

And, I've decided to open up the whole right-hand column to blog banner swaps and advertising. If you want your blog, shop or brand to be featured on my blog, just jump over HERE and book a slot. The first 5 people booking a spot can use code WELCOME! to get 50% off. It's a bargain!

What has inspired you this month? 


13/03/2015

Drawing at a snail's pace


{Sketching in Notting Hill}

{Thumbnails for a new story}


{The tragic hero of the story from above}








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10/03/2015

Life in a London Flat #5 - Bookshelves





I love books; I can't live without them. We have been successful at simplifying many of our possessions, but books are impossible to part with.

Sometimes I think we're going sink under the weight of all the books in our London flat. I worry that, as we buy more books and pile them into the bookshelf, we'll have to build a buttress outside to hold both the floor and the wall up. Otherwise we might collapse into our neighbour's flat below.

When I look at our bookshelf, each book tells a story. Not just the story within its pages, but also the story of who I was and what I was thinking the moment I read it. A bookshelf is like an autobiography.  When I visit someone's house, I love taking a peek at their bookshelves, as I can tell so much about their interests and habits by looking at the titles on the spines. Cookbooks. Travel books. Novels. Poetry. Art books. They all reveal aspects of our characters.

Books allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else's life.  And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people.  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.

So, tip #5 for Life in a London flat is: proudly display your books, they are part of who you are (and related... tip #5.1 is hide your TV... ours is behind the hinged panel below the shelves).

I don't ascribe to the trends stating that we should recover our books in neutral dust-jackets, or arrange them by size or colour so the bookshelves look like rainbows. Having been a librarian's assistant in a past life (nerd alert!), I try to arrange my books alphabetically and in genres, such as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.  Our books are bright and colourful, and add an injection of personality into our small, serene little flat. 

Our built-in bookshelf was built by the amazing Anne van Mansfeld, who worked as a boat builder in Holland before moving to London and starting his cabinetry business. He works with navy-style attention to detail and precision. 

So many thoughts. So many ideas. So many memories. So many ways our minds have been challenged and broadened.

So here's a question: do your bookshelves tell your story?


"A little library, growing every year, 
is an honourable part of a man's history.  
It is a man's {and woman's} duty to have books."
Henry Ward Beecher

"When you reread a classic, 
you do not see more in the book than you did before;  
you see more in yourself than there was before."
Clifton Fadiman

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