Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Even MORE masks in the making!

Sketch of a mask idea.
I used the template from my dragon mask for this. 

All cut out! 

Impression for my wolf mask! 

Impression for a fox mask... with ears this time! 

All cut out and ready for stamping and moulding. 
I'm really loving the entire process of mask making. I've got several templates I feel really confident in and I've been taking suggestions on my Facebook wall for new ideas. I'm definitely keen to try a panda, puma and snake. At this rate I'll need a new sheet of leather to work with. 

I've discovered I prefer the thick stuff over the thinner stuff because even though the thinner stuff is easier to cut and mould I love how solid the thicker stuff feels when it sets at the very end. 

I'm now in the process of building up some stock and will be sorting out pricing soon so keep watching my blog, website and Facebook and Twitter. I'll soon have these available!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting a bit Zen - A Book Review!

Not done a book review for a while. Mostly because I've not managed to read anything I felt like recommending super highly. But this past weekend I finished a few books and one in particular has been really brilliant: 

This was recommended to me during a meditation retreat. I was familiar with Ezra Bayda and his primary teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, from many of the podcasts I listen to. Seriously - if you want to find great philosophical or contemplative writing, listen to a few podcasts and you'll soon have an insurmountable reading list.

But I digress....

I enjoyed this book immensely. Whilst Ezra is a student of Zen, much of what he writes about is incredibly similar to the mahayana and vipassana teachings I'm most familiar with - but also, like so many Buddhist texts, a lot of it is general common sense. More of that 'stuff that just really makes sense regardless of the package it comes in'.

In such books the teachings can become quite repetitive, which is fine because I feel it solidifies my understanding to hear the same thing taught in a different way. In the case of this book the old teaching that came across in a very new way is the practice of asking 'What is this?'

One of the great misunderstandings of meditation practice is that it's something that's meant to help us 'transcend' or 'transform' ourselves. This is not true at all and something that took me quite a while to figure out.

Meditation isn't about fixing or answering or changing anything. Meditation is a formal practice of being present. It's a practice of accepting, being and embracing. And it's a practice of curiosity.

Regardless of the school of Buddhism a person follows, the four noble truths are at the heart of the teachings and the first truth, 'Life is suffering' is what we learn to open up to through meditation. Asking the question 'What is this?' is a great way to do this and something I began trying out as soon as I'd read Ezra's explanation of it in this book.

The idea is not a nihilistic one. It's one that invites us to see the world as it actually is, rather than how we want it to be or expect it to be or imagine it to be based on a storyline we've developed. I find this difficult to put into words and appreciate how challenging it is to teach such a thing, which is why I loved this book so much. I feel that Ezra, especially in the final chapter, really gives clarity to what it means to accept and embrace the nature of the world.

It's not a passive experience - it's an experience that gives us great clarity and allows us to act skillfully because we're not restricted by what we think we know.

I don't know that I've explained any of this well so to summarise - this book was really great and super helpful for my practice. I think, regardless of whether Buddhism is your thing or not, that most people would benefit from reading it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Another notch in my Designer's belt

For those of you who don't follow my Facebook page or Twitter account - I've got a new addition to my design portfolio.

Along with leaflets, business cards, brochures, reports, info graphics, posters, invitations and logos I also can also do you a wrap for a vehicle!

Currently the design I did is touring around the UK on a bus.

Inside panel

More inside panels
Inside panel & display screen with a slideshow I produced as well.


The design I came up with uses actual quotes from people
the Charity has helped. This includes everything from paying
for essential modifications to make their home more accessible
to funding counselling sessions to providing debt management solutions. 

I wanted to convey what the Charity does and because of the breadth of services
and the vast number of people we are there to support, this approach seemed the
best way to capture everything the Charity offers. 

This is the side with the door. The blank white rectangle is a panel
covering an external TV screen that plays the slideshow I produced. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014


When I purchased my leather tools I also ordered a new chunk of leather as the first piece I ordered was nearly used up. I went with the recommendation of the supplier this time around and got a slightly thinner piece. 

This was my first mask using the thinner leather, which is more pliable to begin with. I'm a bit dubious about it though as the thicker stuff, whilst more challenging to cut and a bit more difficult to mould, feels really solid once it's dry. 

I'll continue experimenting but I feel like the thinner leather is probably better suited to smaller, simple just over the eye masks whilst the thicker stuff will hold up better with more elaborate pieces. 

Regardless, I'm quite looking forward to finishing this particular mask. 

Drawn out my pattern on paper. 

Traced the pattern onto the leather

Cut out and carved 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More mask making!

My last mask making tool arrived on Thursday last week! I spent the evening carving, shaping and moulding masks. I managed to get five cut out while I was waiting for my final supplies. My intention had been to power through and get them all done by the end of the weekend. That didn't quite pan out but I have finished two of them, which also means my dad's birthday gift is done! 

The Green Man mask I've been posting about on Facebook is the big secret I alluded to in the post I wrote for his birthday. 

I'm so chuffed with the final result of both masks. 

Dried and ready for painting!  
Convenient that both masks required the same green.
The one on the right is a Peacock mask. 

Finished the Green Man first. Really, really happy with it.
I'll definitely use this template again. 

Carried on with the detail of the feather on the Peacock mask. 

And then painted the whole thing blue - of course. 

Ta da!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Avalokiteshvara - Dharma Series

24X36in Acrylic on Canvas
Bodhisattvas are beings that forego their own enlightenment in order to help other obtain their's first. They are the embodiment of an idea, not a deity or mythical being, but a personification of a pure intention. 

Avalokiteshvara (pro. Ava-loke-it-esh-var-a) is the bodhisattva of compassion and one of the most commonly talked about and embraced. I've personally been drawn to Manjusri, which is why the first bodhisattva inspired piece I did for the Dharma series was on wisdom, but recently I've been listening to a lot of podcasts that talk about Avalokiteshvara and I wanted to capture the essence of what genuine compassion entails. 

In Buddhist teachings compassion is a thread that runs throughout. It may seem a simple enough concept - be kind, be genuine, be loving - but practicing true compassion is a bit like walking on a tight rope. There are near enemies masquerading as compassion which catch us up. 

Idiot compassion is when we show care and support to others to our own detriment. We put ourselves in harm's way, possibly with the best intentions, and are blind to the damage being caused by the person we're trying to show compassion for. In situations like this the most genuine approach is often to walk away - to prevent them from continuing to cause harm and to show care for oneself by removing oneself from harm's way. 

Overwhelm is when we feel like there is too much 'wrong' in the world and we have to fix it and don't know how. It is this sense of overwhelm that the words I chose for this piece are addressing. 

A closed heart is not stingy but afraid.
Open your heart.
When we let life touch us we see that we are
big enough to hold it all.
When we begin to show compassion we can also feel like we're opening ourselves up to a lot of pain. By relating to the experiences of others through knowing and understanding our own minds the amount of suffering in the world can feel dominant over joy or wonder. 

The teachings of Avalokiteshvara are showing us another way to be open to the pain in and around us by teaching us how to sit with the unfixable nature of the world. The world is not static - everything is changing and therefore illness, old age and death are inevitable. By embracing the inevitability we learn that these things are not 'bad' or 'wrong'. They are the very nature of the universe. 

Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It merely shifts to something different and the passing of time is constant. Rather than resist this, fight and struggle against it and try to 'solve' what is inherently unsolvable, we can learn to be present for it. 

This presence extends to the joyous and beautiful things in life as well. When we feel agitated because we can't take a picture that will do the setting sun justice or our words are inadequate to describe the smell of a flower, this is another sign that we are trying to 'fix' the world in a particular way. We're trying to hold onto something that is in a state of constant change, rather than relaxing into the constant change and accepting that we are as much a part of it as we are able to observe it. 

When we practice this sense of opening up we will experience a shift in the way we view the world. I feel like this is exactly what is being pointed at in the video asking Neil deGrasse Tyson to share the most astounding fact he's found about the Universe. 

We may be very small but we are interdependent on everything around us. We are and can be as big as the universe, which means we can be present and open to all causes and conditions that may arise. I have felt this sensation of my heart being big enough to hold it all. It was fleeting but profound. It was knowing I didn't have to 'fix' anything because nothing was broken. It was not a passive experience but an empowering one because there is great clarity in seeing what we can control and what we can't. 

The experience is ineffable but I believe it's one that many wise and wonderful teachers do their absolute best to point at. 

"When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive." 

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

There's an installation on the grounds of the Tower of London right now of thousands of ceramic poppies - each representing a British soldier killed during WWI. 2014 marks 100 years since the start of what is known as the Great War, which changed how the very act of war was viewed. This was not a glorious thing but something extremely brutal and unforgiving. 

I've been watching a series on BBC called 'Our World War' where stories from soldier's letters, diaries and memoirs are taken and turned into an incredibly polished modern-style 'drama'. But it's not a drama. These are actual accounts of the men who were there and the things they saw and did and survived - or didn't survive in far too many cases. 

I am incredibly grateful to live in and come from countries where war is relegated to the history books and the closest it comes to 'touching' me is in the form of headlines and breaking news. But I appreciate that stepping on a land mine, being bombed in your sleep or watching a family member get shot is a reality for far too many people in the world.

The impact of this particular installation is the sheer volume of red - a stark reminder of the blood spilled in the war that changed our attitude towards it. These poppies are available to purchase and I've done so.

Whilst the money goes to charity my reason for buying one was deeper than that. My grandmother was a war bride in the second World War and my grandfather a soldier. One day the history books will probably look at both wars as one with a gap of a few years in between. I know the timeline and influence of history shrunk as I began to learn more about what led to each and how the end of WWII created the Cold War and how every act of violence seems to be somehow connected to the one before it.

I bought a poppy to support a fellow artist who shared a vision so powerfully that it will touch thousands and remind us of how fortunate we are but also, how much we still have to learn. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Dad

Today is my dad's birthday.

When people ask about my parents I say the slightly inappropriate and outrageous side of me is from my mum whilst the contemplative nerdy side of me is my dad.

He is one of the greatest influences of my artwork. He's one of those people who can do a very simple sketch in a matter of moments and no one would have a doubt about what he'd just drawn. He's also an incredibly talented photographer, model airplane enthusiast and the best baker according to everyone who has ever had anything he's baked. This is because he's a scientist and baking is a hugely scientific endeavour. One of the most important things he taught me about cooking is: The fewer the ingredients, the more important they are.

Both my parents encouraged me to be the curious, inquisitive person I am today. Before Google, and even with Google, my dad is the person I'm most likely to go to with any questions I might have. He taught me how to play guitar, how to ride a bike and how to drive. He and I can happily sit and discuss things like the Theory of Relativity or the nature of doubt and not once need to refer to something online. He will pull from his seemingly unlimited bank of knowledge little tidbits and footnotes to fuel the conversation, which seems inexhaustible because of our enthusiasm for the subject matter.

I could go on and on about the general wonderfulness of my dad, but this blog does have another point. I decided on what to give my dad for his birthday some weeks ago and began work on it almost right away. But the work came to a stand still when I realised I could make it even better with the correct supplies - supplies I ordered on Friday when I got paid.

So without the supplies to hand the gift remains incomplete and this blog, which was meant to be a reveal of what I'd made for him, is instead a sort of muddled tribute and cliff-hanger of things to come.

The single hint I'll give is that the gift is one which reflects my dad's wisdom and knowledge. I know he'll love it as he's loved every thing I've ever given him. If I were making him a macaroni art piece he'd love it.

That's why I love my dad so much.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book benches of London! - London journal

I don't think he needs an introduction - personally.
The Terry Pratchett bench was the one I was most excited to photograph. 

Unfortunately the back didn't work very well because of how the bench is positioned and the white light bouncing off the clouds, but it's a really cool map design of Discworld. 

Of course my second choice was very high on the nerd list - A Brief History of Time! 

I only just finished reading this book early this year. It confused me and hurt my brain sometimes but also absolutely amazed and astounded me. It thrilled and entertained and made me deeply curious to learn more. 

Oh, a childhood favourite! 

So delightful - really.

There are many, many other books in the Books About Town but these three were the ones I was most keen to capture.