Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life after Life - A Book Review!

And so we bring you another book review!

The year I read more books than my dad was also the year I discovered Kate Atkinson. I instantly fell in love with her style of writing, her incredibly wonderful characters, and the twists and turns her books take. I read every one of her books excluding her collection of short stories that very year so I've been waiting for a new novel from her ever since.

This is her latest book and it is one of her best in my opinion. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it pulls rank in the top ten books I've ever read.

As with most of her books, the initial chapters are a muddle as the story unfolds. There is tension and mystery but just enough to comprehend and want to learn more. I found this particular book a bit like watching 'Inception'. It's almost confusing but so intriguing that nothing would stop me from reading.

It's also one of those books that so good it's nearly impossible to put down but also so good I wanted it to last forever. As it was I finished reading it in four days. I simply couldn't help myself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A lovely frog!

And finally...

I drew this at the request of a friend. I quite like how the water turned out. 

I've got a few more planned but the entire month of May has been about exploring as my parents are visiting me in London at the moment. As it is, the visit has involved a trip to Dublin, which has left me rather inspired by all the celtic artwork. 

The ideas are stacking up and I intend to do a lot of creating this summer. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nerding it up - Book review!

It's been a while since I've written a book review! Time to remedy that with a review of: 

I started reading this over a year ago. I found it absorbing although I had to pace myself by only reading about half a chapter at a time. This gave me the chance to mull it over and do research in between. I was picking it up every two or three days though and thought I'd finish it within a month.

But I made a terrible mistake. I read to the middle of one of the chapters and got busy. So busy I didn't read it for several weeks.

This is not the sort of book where you can leave off in the middle and just pop back in. When I picked it up again I was utterly confused. I'd lost the thread and so abandoned it until recently. To remedy the situation I went back to the start of the chapter I'd been half way through and kept myself on a strict regime of a full chapter at a time.

I love this book. I love it because it asks us to be curious - to explore the universe and look at what is, rather than what we expect or hope. Hawking himself admits being wrong on different accounts because he'd rather learn something new than be 'right'.

My favourite chapter was about the third law of thermodynamics - that everything is falling into chaos. As a Buddhist I love when I'm reading about scientific discoveries and I can find a parallel in the teachings I study and the discoveries of the world we live in. The third law of thermodynamics is akin to the teaching that change is inevitable and constant. Our cells are being born, dying and growing meaning nothing is without constant flux.

For me this knowledge is exhilarating and reading this book has fuelled me to read more, to increase my curiosity and to seek more questions than answers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A lovely swallow

Another of my art nouveau animal designs! 

Sourcing an effective way of providing these as prints is difficult. Whilst I am full-time employed in a creative job my job is in a specific charity, so most of what I post on here is posted as a 'starving artist'.

In the future I can see my art sustaining me entirely, between the freelance design work and this sort of stuff, but at the moment the demand is sporadic so I can't just go around ordering a bunch of cards and prints easily. No storage, no guarantee of sales and my time is stretched so shipping orders would be added pressure on my already very full schedule.

That being said, I have been posting a bunch of my designs to my Zazzle shop for some months now and finally sold something a few weeks ago. Whilst the downside is that the minimal or rather, non-existent sales, mean I'm not exactly turning a profit, Zazzle DOES do all the printing, packing and delivery for me. People can order many different products with the same design. I only see 10% but then, they're doing all the 'grunt' work and I got the joy of designing something just because I could.

I'm not certain if I will take my non-digital works and post them to Zazzle as well. I know it's probably the most straight forward solution but I don't mind doing the work and the research to find out what else I might be able to use.

Keep watching my blog and my website and Facebook page. I'll keep you posted on when these and other bits I've been drawing will be available for purchase either as the originals or as prints.

And if anyone has any ideas or tips for other ways to get prints done up I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week started on Monday. This year's theme is anxiety so it seems suitable for me to write a blog entry on the subject since I'm an expert by experience.

I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder and depression at the age of 17. Both stemmed from my beliefs that there was something 'wrong' with me if I couldn't make the people around me happy and a need to 'get things right'. By the time I was 22 the Panic Disorder became so intense that I was hospitalised and, for the first time in my life, given medication for a mental illness.

From that day on I realised I needed to go about things very differently than I had been. I began seeing a psychologist and working to develop skills and mechanisms to improve my over-all well-being so I didn't have to take medication.

My experience has taught me so much and shown me how odd our societal approach to mental illness is. We seem to think body and mind are separate things to be treated independent of one another. 

If you get a cold you take steps to care for yourself. You eat chicken soup, go to bed early, and refrain from exerting yourself. Some people don't and their cold can last for ages or they never quite recover before getting another bug. Some people have a weakened immunes system for one reason or another and must take extra steps to keep from getting ill. 

If you're suffering from an anxiety disorder, or repeated bouts of depression, getting enough rest, excercising regularly, eating well, talking to someone you trust - will all help you to recover. And recovery IS possible. If we have a family history of mental illness or a chemical imbalance then, just like someone with a compromised immune system, we must be more vigilant with our mental and physical care. 

But unfortunately, and all too often, mental illness is given a pill as if that is solution enough. You could take loads of cold medicine when you are physically ill but all the medication in the world won't make your cold go away - it often just masks the symptoms without addressing the underlying problem.

It's been four years since my psychologist told me I no longer had an anxiety disorder. I'm still neurotic and high strung but I take steps to ensure my mind remains healthy. 

I have strict sleep hygiene, I exercise regularly, I eat well and I don't drink coffee (Despite how much I love coffee). I love myself first and best and know that all these things are crucial to my continued 'good' mental health. I have a support network of people I  trust and can rely on to be there for me or give me a good swift 'kick in the pants' if I'm not doing what's needed to take care of myself. I meditate daily and talk to my psychologist whether life is challenging or not. 

A friend of mine recently described her experience of depression as being in a deep, black hole. It goes down really far and she could be stuck at the bottom but she's built up handholds that let her climb out. She has filled it with as many hand holds as possible so she knows she can always climb out. 

For me, in the case of anxiety, medication is one of many handholds and one nearest the very bottom of the pit. I have to plunge very low before I need it and more often than not these days I'm not even close to the edge. 

Everyone is, of course, entirely unique and you have to figure out your own handholds - but I can ensure you that there are always options. The advice I give people when they ask is to write down all the ways they take care of themselves. Even seemingly little thing (I make myself a nice cup of tea) is something worth recognising and can act as the smallest hand hold. 

May you have ease of mind. 

'Wise at Any Age' was published nearly a year ago and is the result of what I learned during my recovery from Panic Disorder and depression. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How have I missed out Lenka?! - Kait's Mixtape

'Bring me Down'
- Lenka
I'm kind of surprised these are the first lyrics from a song by Lenka to be illustrated and shared. I'm sure I've shared her lyrics in the past in other, older mixtape posts, but still. This feel like a rather significant oversight considering how many of her songs have graced my OCD playlist.

The first Lenka song I heard was played on the satellite station at IKEA. 'The Show' came on like clockwork at the same time during my shift and eventually I used a phone app to identify and download the song as the lyrics struck me as particularly Buddhist in nature. In fact, this and 'Live Like You're Dying' were the first songs to inspire a new playlist of 'Buddhist tracks' for my iPod.

Not that the lyrics are specifically Buddhist - they are, as I emphasise repeatedly - a sort of universal wisdom I encounter often. The fact that she's only 36 this year speaks to my belief that wisdom is not exclusively a result of years lived.

Her lyrics often have incredibly insightful messages and choosing one to illustrate, as with Ingrid Michaelson, Katie Herzig and Amanda Palmer, was quite difficult.

I chose this one because I have only recently come to understand what unconditional love really means. I know it may sound simple - love no matter what - but I don't believe many of us appreciate the subtle expectations we have of others. Or how we let others expectations of us affect our own behaviour.

I believe parenthood is one of the few times unconditional love can happen spontaneously and even then, from basic observations, it's simple to see this is not a default. The basis of this kind of love is accepting the complexity of another human being by recognising our own complexity.

It's knowing that someone can only do the best they can with the resources they have and unless someone is fully enlightened they will make a mess of things at times. But unconditional love doesn't mean putting oneself in the way of harm.

Unconditionally love must extend to oneself as well.

Unconditional love is accepting that another person is who they are and will only change by their own momentum. If they are unwilling or unable to change and their actions are harmful then it is beneficial to both you and them to not be in their life - but the unconditional love is good for your heart because in their absence it could become easy to disconnect them from being human, vilifying them and cultivating hatred.

Accept that they don't know any better, but remove yourself from harm's way. Wish they may one day find the resources to change - knowing this will stop them from causing further harm.

To me these lyrics capture the brilliance of the idea that we can be grateful to everyone. Holding onto something like hate will destroy us far more quickly than it will the person or people who have hurt us. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A lovely badger!

I'm really chuffed with this piece. I had an incredibly productive bunch of weekends back in April - completing several of these animals along with the lyrics artwork I've been publishing periodically. 
This was the second animal I completed - after the fox done in early April. 

More to come over the next few weeks! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

And then Kimbra said... - Kait's Mixtape

'Somebody That I Used to Know'
- Gotye feat. Kimbra
It's sort of hard for me to believe this song is already three years old. I know it was played to death for a while and I definitely grew sick of it and needed a break.

But from the first time I heard it this song definitely struck a chord with me.

Whilst all the lyrics are incredible, my favourite bit is the interjection sung by the talented Kimbra. Her voice is so fantastic and following the release of this song I sought out her album to add to my music collection.

The interjection is the bit I like best because it changes the entire feel of the song and speaks to the many sides of a story. At first it asks the listener to identify with the first singer - the one who didn't want to be in a relationship but was hurt that the other party wasn't even interested in being friends. Cast aside despite the time they were together, as if none of that mattered.

But the interjection sheds some light on things. It presents the other party's experience of the relationship. One that was manipulative, and based on what the other person has to say, emotionally abusive.

I love the poetry of this song and the clever balance of the lyrics - at first asking you to sympathise with the person cast aside but then presenting a strong justification for that person being cut out.

While I took a long break from this song due to how overplayed it became, it will always be a favourite of mine for its clever honesty.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dharma art - Manjusri

Dharma Art
24X36" Acrylic on canvas

A bodhisattva is a person who wishes to benefit others through their own enlightenment. They post-pone their enlightenment so they can be there for other beings and in traditional Buddhist teachings many of them embody specific characteristics attributed to an enlightened mind.

The bodhisattva I identify with most strongly is Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. Depicted in various ways, depending on the specific Buddhist tradition, Manjusri is most commonly shown holding a flaming sword in one hand and a book in the other. The book represents knowledge and the sword represents doubt. The sword is used to cut through the book, destroying it and the sense of 'knowing' we may think we have when we decide there is a 'right' answer.

The message is to seek questions, rather than answers. To be open and aware of the paradoxical nature of life and to doubt what we perceive to 'know' on the basis that the universe is constantly changing.

The words I used on this piece are as follows:
The universe does not lend itself to being conclusively known. 
This becomes clear when we are awake to the present moment. 
We can see nothing is ever just one way. 

I have great respect for doubt and questions. In my experience answers cause a lot of trouble because an answer assumes there is something 'right' and therefore something or someone can be 'wrong'. But dualistic concepts are subjective.

After reading 'A Brief History of Time' I have spent time reflecting on the second law of thermodynamics. In it's most basic description the idea is that there are statistically more versions of chaos than order. As Stephen Hawking so brilliantly illustrates - one can shake a box of puzzle pieces and there is a chance they will all fall into place as a fully formed image but there is a much greater chance of the pieces landing chaotically.

In short - the universe is not a 'fixable' place. It is not and cannot be static and yet most of us live as if there is a 'pause' button whereby if we get everything 'right' then we can expect smooth sailing.
The teachings of Manjusri (who may or may not have existed) and many others ask us to doubt our ability to 'know' and relax into accepting the universe as dynamic. 

I have been working on shifting my thinking to grasp this concept with greater and greater clarity and painting this piece has acted as creating a reminder.

I am working on having it imaged so prints will soon be available.