I recently have taken part in a project for people with ME/CFS. For details look at www.creativeforasecond.com. This site has information on the original project and also if you click on the link to the blog the details of the new project are there, called: Creative for a second… or TWO! If you want to join in i think there is still time.

The project is a journal-based project, and there are 5 journals circling the globe! Each has a list of participants and each person has two weeks to do something in their journal, then they send it on to the next person. Simple!

Here is what i did:

I was so happy to be part of the project and it gave me a huge sense of satisfaction that i was able to do this art work. The week the journal arrived i was not feeling too bad and i managed to work on it for a couple of days, maybe an hour or two each day, then i was not able to do more for a couple more days, then i finished it later in the week. The week after i felt really much more unwell and i was so grateful that the timing was right and i created two pages i was happy with. It really made my hands and arms ache from tracing the tree (i had to practice how i was going to paint in as i did it directly into the journal, so i had to do a few copies) and just sitting at the desk had a negative affect on my back pain, but i could not take the smile from my face while i was planning it and working on it. It is the first work-like thing i have done for years (not really like work, but something with a deadline and being part of a project is kind of like work – certainly work i would like to do!) and it felt like a big achievement. The pages will be exhibited at the end of the project for ME Awareness Day in 2011 in Australia, so i wanted to do my best!

The other way that is was good timing it that i was able to work on the journal in my “Creative Room”. There is a small room in our house where i have kept all my creative/office stuff and it had never been properly decorated since we moved in many years ago. There was nasty woodchip wallpaper that was literally hanging off the walls. When the paper was removed we realised it needed replastering and the whole process has taken a long time and a lot of effort, but it was finished just before the journal arrived. The room is transformed and i have managed to organise the storage much better so it feels bigger despite having a lot of stuff in there with me. I love it so much and hope that this is just the start of many more hours in there where i am able to be creative. It means to much to me and gives me such pleasure but it is hard to find the time/energy and last year was particularly unproductive. I think the Creative for a Second project has shown me that i can make space for art/creativity if i organise myself, prioritize it more and seize the opportunities when i am feeling well enough. I hope i can make things happen in this lovely room.

I am so lucky to have this space, away from other distractions where i can shut myself off and concentrate. I hope to find ways in my life/routines to use it more. I am so lucky that i am constantly having ideas and being inspired by things but i rarely actually DO anything or develop those ideas. I need to work on that. Apparently (according to Virginia Woolf) all a girl needs is “A Room of One’s Own”, so no excuse now is there?!


the crow-full wind blows

the white light ambrosia*

clouds into sunset


* i know “ambrosia” means “food of the gods” but i am using it to describe the colour of rice pudding in the sky!

It has been an inspiring time for me lately, though i have been very busy and have not actually done much creative work. I have been getting out and about quite a bit more than usual as i have been feeling stronger and have had visitors, so have been making little trips out to shops and an art gallery.

The first thing that happened was a few weeks ago, when my good friend RachelCreative sent me a book: Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow. Here is an article describing the book. I think she saw the connection to my bird project and my love of nature as well as the fact that he was from Newcastle, where i currently live. I am only half way through the book so far, it is a very well written and absorbing read. I have learnt a lot about Newcastle’s history and the second half of the Eighteenth Century seems to have been a time of great change with some of Newcastle’s most important buildings and streets having been built. I feel more connected to the city now, as i have been feeling as if i am not really a resident of Newcastle: I rarely get to go to town and even when i do i cannot wander the streets, only get out of the taxi then back in again on the same street a bit later… each time i go in so much has changed and feels unfamiliar. I feel that in learning more about it’s history, I saw it differently when i went into town recently, which was so nice to experience. I was also feeling well and managed to go to four different places/buildings in town, which added to my feeling of being in the town properly!

So a couple of weeks ago i went to an art and craft shop as i have a few birthdays etc coming up and i wanted to get some special things. I do most of my shopping online, but it is so nice to be able to go into a shop, especially when looking for something handmade and unique, and to actually see it and touch it before choosing.

I did not get something for all the occasions i needed to buy for, but i did find a beautiful card of a wood engraving by Caroline Coode. Unfortunately she does not have a website for me to link to, and i think it does breach copyright to post a picture of the card here, but take it from me it is exquisite – i noticed it as it has a feel of Bewick’s woodcuts – small and detailed. It is called “Lindisfarne Castle – early morning” and shows the castle and it’s reflection in the sea, with vegetation in the foreground and a tiny person walking their dog, as well as a sprinkling of birds above. As we went to Lindisfarne in February it reminded me of the special holiday we had and i fell in love with it! I found a few references to her online and she turned 70 last year (see here for flyer (half way down page) for her retrospective) and is a Quaker. There are a few of her images here on Flickr. It is so interesting to discover a local artist carrying on making woodcuts in Newcastle after learning about Bewick…

It made me think and look at my photos from that holiday and wonder how i would go about reducing those images down to simple lines and silhouettes…

During that recent trip into town I went to the Laing Art Gallery to see the Bewick exhibition they are currently showing and it was absolutely fascinating. Photo809

Amazing  to see the actual boxwood blocks that he had engraved and how tiny and detailed they were. Also showing was part of the Northern Print Biennale which was showing contemporary work and also very interesting to see how simple some of the most effective images were. I went to the gift shop and found some more inspiration there – printmaking and simple sillhoutte designs are everywhere when you start to look! From wrapping paper to cards, to the teapot i now own as my partner bought it as my anniversary present (ECP design):


(note the bird-theme!)

And also this leather brooch, which i love, and bought for myself. Photo819

See next post for a card i have made, inspired by Caroline Coode and all this lovely stuff – hoping i have the energy to do lots more soon!

Well, I have completed page two, or image two or whatever!

I am not completely happy with it, but that is the risk i took by painting it directly into the book rather than sticking in a painting done on other paper. I am wary that i will be sticking in paper for other pages and don’t want it to get so chunky it won’t close, so that was why i took the risk this time. I also used watercolours… which i have not done since i was a teenager and they are a bit tricky sometimes!

So i was inspired by a programme on BBC4 on Katsushika Hokusai that i saw the other night, about his picture The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I have a calendar with this image in it, as i love it and bought it particularly for this image. Here is a photo of it to jog your memory:


A bad photo, but i have no scanner!

And here is my picture i just finished, i have called it Hokusai Gulls:


I thought his picture could do with some bird life!! So i swapped the fishermen for gulls…

The card of the book is not really meant for painting on and evidently has some residue of glue or something in places, which affected the ability of the paint to stick: it works in places, but maybe not in others! But in spite of all this, i feel a sense of acheivement today, it is not bad for a first bold attempt straight into the book. If i am going to fill the book any time soon, i cannot be a perfectionist about it!


I have completed the first “page” of my birdy book.

It is a “murmeration” (the proper name for a group of them) of starlings flying above another who is looking up at them.


The starling is a cut out of a drawing i did, painted with watercolour and stuck on. The mumeration is a home made “rubber stamp” which after much experimentation with chopping at a wine cork, cutting card etc was made by cutting up a wide rubber band and sticking the little birds to the cardboard sleeve of my new putty rubber (with rubber still inside for stability)!


I really enjoyed the process and trying to work out how to do it. It is so good to be absorbed in a task and I found it surprisingly relaxing and not too draining.

The starling looking up reminds me of the people in the concentration camp being “envious of birds” (see previous post) and looking up at them, and also of myself looking up. The connection between those on the ground and those “in flight”, and perhaps a sense of longing to join in.

I was watching a program about Anne Frank and the Holocaust a while ago and it was really interesting (particularly about how people coped on a mental level and survived by thinking in certain ways) but I had to miss a bit to go to the toilet and as I came back into the room I heard someone saying how people/someone in a concentration camp said they became “envious of birds”… presumably as they were free and flew about at will, although this was not said. This struck a chord with me as I have noticed my interest and relationship with birds has changed over the last few years, since my illness has been more severe. I would not say I was “envious” of them, but certainly they have become more significant.

Since becoming ill with CFS/ME my relationship with nature and landscape has changed: I feel more like a tourist. I can watch programmes about the natural world on the TV, I can see the landscape, trees and sometimes wildlife from the car window or occasionally from the train, but I cannot get out there and be in-nature as much as I would have done if i was healthy.  There have been times during my illness where i have been able to go for occasional decent walks and it remains one of the things that gives me real joy and a sense of wellbeing. Over the last few years it has become more and more difficult for me to walk any distance, and even standing still has been hard, due to POTS.

As someone who grew up in a very rural area (North Wales) I felt immersed in the natural world on a daily basis and part of the landscape, like a belonging. I realise I am unlikely to experience that sense of “home” again, but being ill has not changed what I enjoy, where I find beauty and in a way, meaning. Feeling connected to nature is as close to a religious experience as I can get.

I have found, however, that it is hard to experience this connection to nature and immersion in it when you have a chronic illness. Often I am not well enough to get dressed and leave the house at all. I cannot walk far when I do, sometimes only for a couple of minutes and slowly. I need regular rests on benches (if there are any). Some places are wheelchair accessible, but it is usually boneshakingly bumpy and frustrating to stick to the path. I can be driven to look at a nice view, but I can only look at it and not feel part of it. I can rarely be alone there. In short, rural areas are largely inaccessible.

But birds come to you. Wherever I am I can be surprised by a bird and it’s presence can make my day more interesting and give a sense of spontaneity; that something unexpected and unpredictable happened. It is a pleasant distraction, which takes me out of myself.

There are jackdaws on the chimneys of my house (I can see them from a side window if I look up!), I sometimes see a wren in the front garden as well as blackbirds and sparrows who regularly take baths in the dish I put out for them. There are a pair of doves that often sit on the telegraph wires outside an upstairs window. There are seagulls which fly overhead and crows that are often flying around the trees on the far horizon at the front of the house. Sometimes there are starlings flying in swarms in the late afternoon in winter. There is a conifer tree behind the house a few doors down where they roost and it is the noisiest tree I have ever encountered, it is full of them chattering away and seems to rock with their presence, but you can’t see even one.

A few months ago I read a great book: Crow Country by Mark Cocker – it is a non-fiction book about the authors relationship/fascination with crows. It is, essentially, about bird spotting! It is not the sort of book I would usually pick up but the reviews I read of it praised his poetic writing style and the more I read about it the more I thought it sounded good. I actually bought it for my Mum, as something a bit different, and i think she enjoyed it for the most part, but not as much as I did. Yes, there are quite long and detailed descriptions of different corvids and corvid behaviours which are a specialist interest (and I may have skimmed a little), but among that were beautiful descriptions of early morning/evening walks, encountering unexpected wildlife, and the author talking about his life and passion for it. It brought back memories of experiences I have had and which are some of most treasured memories – such as when a barn owl swooped down on me and I held my breath as I felt it brush past my shoulder from behind and heard it’s feathers as it flew away in front of me; when I went for an early morning walk before school and watched  hares boxing in a field. I have had some great experiences more recently, such as hearing the ringing that pieces of ice make when you push/throw them over the frozen surface of a lake,

(a picture I took that day)

(a picture I took that day)

and also a dawn walk on the beach at Alnmouth when we went away for my birthday a couple of years ago and as dawn broke thousands of birds left the water’s edge and flew away towards the land creating a noisy ceiling above us, created by them calling and also their wings flapping; it was too dark to see much which made it all the more striking as it was just an intense sound and a kind of rushing overhead.

Thinking about these things and also being aware that I wanted to use my limited energies on something creative, as I was getting very bogged down in medical appointments and benefits applications (still am! see my other blog for all about my life with ME) and finding it was taking all my energies (which I was coming to greatly resent), the idea of doing something creative about birds came about.

I have put off posting this and telling people about it as I was unsure if I would ever get around to it, but I have been working on ideas and although I am just starting it (and it may continue for years at this rate) I feel it is a solid project in my mind at least and that it is time to share! I am aware my creative blog is not very exciting yet so this talking about it at least makes it look like something is happening!

In the spirit of research I did go to a local art gallery in January, as part of my birthday “outing” to see Tracey Emin’s exhibition of Seagulls. I discussed it here. Her seagulls had words printed on them and I am very interested in word and image combinations in art and with the bird theme I felt it may speak to me or give me ideas. I was a little disappointed…

So, on with my own ideas… I have a Moleskine fold out book which I have not know what to do with, or dared to touch (ruin) up until now. I am planning on filling it with my bird-related art… watch this space!