Painting Flowers

Painting Flowers

Cycles and Memories

Complicate
Being the artist I always dreamed of being has been a big challenge. Business sense does not come naturally to me.  I have spent most of my life feeling the pressure of being a failure. Self inflicted of course! Someone who just can’t live up to this image that everyone (mostly young me) had, or has, of who I was and who I would become.
I have found the past decade to be the most difficult. How can I be an artist if I can’t even show anyone my work? After spending my whole life preparing for this ‘role’, I just couldn’t do it.
And how could I be me if it is so painful to work, because of my relentless criticism of myself?
And yet, I just can’t stop doing it. My mind is obsessed by it. I see everything around me as a potential work of art. I breathe painting and sculpting, yet it has caused me so much pain.  It was too heavy, too emotional.
Simplify
About two years ago I made the conscious decision to do it as a hobby and not hang my whole identity on it. I started producing in a meditative, relaxed way. I tried subject matters that were not too intense but still meaningful to me. I started painting our local indigenous flowers. This has brought me the most happiness. But I couldn’t help but wonder why something so basic could calm me so. Then, as I was working on my newest paintings, I realised:
My very first memory is of painting my first still life at art school when I was 3 years old. I have vivid pictures of my teacher taking me to my seat and where I sat in the room. Mostly, I remember the bright yellow sunflowers. They were so beautiful. The memory is so much more than the result. The memory is so detailed. And I think it is because of the space my mind was occupying. My mind was focussed on the present. I was there, observing, understanding shape and trying to show this by painting it. The act of observing and then portraying what I saw became a lifelong obsession.
my first clear memory
my first clear memory
And here I am. Still painting flowers. Still painting what i see: quite literally. Our brains observe and process and then somehow reflect what we experience, no matter how basic. And by using painting is my method of communicating it. This is what I have always wanted to do. This is who I am. For now.
Protea
Protea

Pink protea

Grayton flowers
Grayton flowers

Some more of my work: State of the Art Gallery and my website

Navigating Your Personality

Navigating Your Personality
Are personality tests limiting or freeing?

Finding out your ’type’

One of the most valuable and life altering things I ever did was my first personality test. It was done by a psychologist about 10 years ago. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I tested as an INFP. It was such a relief to see that I was not crazy. I was behaving exactly like my ‘type’ would. It explained why I couldn’t handle certain things the same way others did.
Is this really me?
I took another Meyers Briggs test (via a psychologist friend) about 5 years later and, at that point it was to ‘my horror’, I received the same result: INFP. This meant, to my naïve mind, that I had been working SO hard at ’bettering’ my(weak)self for 5 years with no result! How could this be? Then I did another and another and another online – always a different one – and got. Yes. The same result. I felt so boxed in. Is this me?
The relief I had initially felt, after the first test result, had now evaporated. Originally this result was something I thought I could change. I knew who I was and what the problems were and I would fix them.
Luckily my husband has an amazing way of clearing things up for me (INTP) and he explained and reminded me that it was not ‘me’, these results reflected my ‘preferences’.
Although the MBTI is probably not the most scientific of tests in many ways: it does give you a view into your or someone else’s preferences. It provided incredible insight for me at a time when I really needed it. It shows (granted it is broad) how and why you might react in certain situations in certain ways. So it can be an amazing relief to understand this.
Still. Would I always end up in the same spiral?
It was also around that time that I became familiar with Positive Psychology and Martin Seligman‘s work. I read his book Authentic Happiness. This changed my life. I joined the website and did the tests. Specifically the VIA Survey of Character Strengths
test. I learned that it is much more productive to focus on your strengths and that everybody has them. This way you don’t end up dwelling and getting too caught up in your perceived weaknesses and trying to ‘fix’ them. Personality is not fixable. But you can evolve it and develop it and in this way it can change.
Mindset
More recently I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. The book focusses on her discovery of and research into two mindsets that people have and how this can influences their lives. According to her, there are people with ‘fixed mindsets’ and people with ’growth mindsets’.
Research shows that those with growth mindsets don’t give up as easily, they work until the problem is solved and they believe in change and growth. The science backs them up. The brain can change and grow at any age. You can change. Maybe not fundamentally alter your personality but you can learn new skills and develop your strengths.
This topic will come up again in future posts.
Here is the short and sweet test on the Mindset site.
Why Mindfulness?
Mindfulness would be beneficial for any person or personality type. Although some may find it more challenging than others to practice. The people who find it most challenging would possibly benefit the most.
Practicing mindfulness meditation every day, for a bit more than a year now, has been the single biggest help for me.
  • mindfulness teaches you to be in the moment – it helps ease anxiety about the future and the past.
  • it teaches you to let things be the way they are – acceptance. You are fine the way you are. You deserve love and acceptance and everything is as it is.
  • it teaches focus. One thing at a time. Cluttered minds become more settled. You do not force it yet your mind becomes clearer.
Why Minimalism?
This week I slipped into a bit of a fixed mindset. Am I a minimalist? Could an INFP possibly live without clutter (inside or out)? Is this whole experiment crazy?
Some wonderfully supportive comments on my previous post and the mindfulness practice helped me realise that this was just the way I react. This is how it is and that is ok. Then the reasons why minimalism is so important to me became clear again. I could see why someone like me would thrive as a minimalist and why I took this on in the first place.
Why minimalism is so important:
  •   Minimalism is a wonderful extension of mindfulness. I need my environment to support my inner world. Decluttering is a big part of minimalism. Shedding the excess. Yet it is not what it is truly or entirely about. It is as symbolic an exercise as it is a physical one. It brings you face to face with your own excess, your past, the things you don’t pay attention to. It has definitely meant some self confrontation (INFPs hate confrontation :p )… And I am expecting more as this journey unfolds. I just have to be careful of the over-thinking trap and getting lost in my head (INFP trap) So this is a great exercise in acceptance.
  • I feel happier in cleaner, uncluttered spaces. There is more space for my wild mind. And it also helps to calm my mind and helps me focus. Aesthetics are important to me. It is important to be in a space that is harmonious and does not disturb or disrupt your sense of well-being. Especially when it is your home.
  • Support creativity. It is also important that your workspace support maximum focus and creativity. My mind is already so busy that my environment needs to be a space I feel comfortable in, one in which I can be creative and doesn’t limit me by breaking my concentration.
  • I need to live an honest life. Live life in a ‘real’ way. No more debt. No more living above our means.
  • Freedom is so important. Freedom from the pressure of having to be like everybody else. Free from debt. Physically free. Free from guilt and the past. You can be more authentic if you strip the excess from your life.
The Big Five personality test:
For a more scientifically based test, try a Big Five Personality Dimensions test. There are many free ones online. It is a great personality test and gives amazing insight. Because you land on a grayscale it also reflects more flexibility in different people’s personalities even though there are only 5 factors.
Why I still like MBTI: 
Although it does limit people into sixteen types or ‘boxes’ it is also for this very reason that the test allows some generalizations which actually help you understand broad preferences. Within every type there is also a gray-scale. Not every factor counts for every person or every situation and some will be borderline.
And although I seem to score as an INFP every time, other people seem more flexible and score differently every time they do the test.
I like that this is possible, even though this very factor could be seen as the weakness of these tests – or any personality tests for that matter.
So it is good to keep in mind that nothing is set in stone and that we all grow, change and are unique. Yet they can be tools that give some limited insight and understanding into how we all can, and do, differ from one another.
So: keep a growth mindset about it and use these tests as a looking-glass that could help you reflect but should never hinder or limit you. 😉
| This has been a very difficult post since it is very personal in some ways.  The reason I wrote it is because I have benefited so much from other bloggers on this same minimalist journey as well as bloggers with my INFP personality type. It is important not to feel alone as much as it is to recognize our uniqueness. So here I am: Pleased to meet you 🙂 |
figuring it out
figuring it out

Minimalism vs. Art and Crafting

The creative clutter has taken over
The creative clutter has taken over

This has been a slight conundrum: How can one marry the philosophy of Minimalism with the chaos (and heaps of junk) that have always, for me, defined what a creative space is and what an artist needs? Isn’t this creative freedom?

Recently, however, being influenced by my mindfulness practice and even my daughter’s Montessori education, this dilemma seems like less of a problem. Things are not as they seem.  In fact, we may have been tricked or confused by society into thinking that artists are certain types of bohemian, care-free, muddled, cluttered people.  Yet, this may not be true. Or at least not the whole story. (How could you be care-free when you are weighed down?)

The Montessori method of education teaches children to work on one thing at a time. It teaches them to focus and to finish problems and then move on. There is structure. A lot of structure, yet, this structure is precisely what gives them freedom. They choose freely what they want to work on, yet they are encouraged to stay focussed without interruption. They work within a prepared environment. Everything has its place. You work on a project and put it away before starting the next one. It is a fascinating way of viewing education and life. Our little three year old is thriving.

In other words: it encourages Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s concept of FlowThis is definitely something I experience when creating artworks or dolls or any kind of handwork. Everybody experiences this state of being completely focussed, alert, motivated and losing one’s sense of self and time in a task or experience. This could be anything from a sport to reading or solving mathematical equations.

What Mindfulness and the Montessori method have taught me (unlike all the years of ‘traditional schooling’) is how to focus and create a mindset and space which encourages flow. When you have a clear, structured space and mindset that sense of freedom and creativity are easier to achieve. A fascinating read is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work written by Mason Currey. This book was such an eye opener to me. Most creative people do have structure in their daily lives. They thrive on it.

What Minimalism is starting to create for me is a space to be more creative in. A space that is clearer. Not one with the blank canvas/ blank page effect but one in which I have exactly what I need to do the task at hand. No clutter. Just enough. I have found that when I limit my palette I am much more engaged. Suddenly you have to be much more creative because you need to use what you have in new and interesting ways. So: All the ‘just incase’ or ‘this could become a…’ objects need to be removed from my space.

I have to be honest here: I have not started working on my studio yet. It has taken me some time to come to this realisation. I have been afraid of it. But I have started sorting through my crafting things. The upcycling and repurposing movement is very inspirational. I plan to only use what I have to create my dolls. Until I run out of essentials. Anything I do not use needs to move on and everything else needs to be used up. Sometimes you need a box before you can think out of it.

Another aspect to this is that I feel guilty because some potential projects are never touched and I keep moving with boxes of junk that could become works of art. This is also a way of purging that heavy guilt. Work on one thing at a time, no guilt involved.

So this coming week will mean starting a very big mission of minimising and simplifying my creative spaces, preparing my environment and hopefully freeing myself.  Let’s see how it goes 😉

|My art is here: StateoftheART Gallery  and here: Jodi Hugo. Fine Art – for those interested|

Aesthetics and Minimalism

Aesthetics and Minimalism

natural

At first glance the word Minimalism might conjure up an image of vacant, sterile environments – those living spaces where you feel so uncomfortable because everything around you is so perfect and sitting on the clean white couch might wrinkle the impeccably placed scatter cushion. This was the association I used to have with the term. Minimalism meant straight lines, cold, clean, untouched, futuristic and white. Although this may be what some people love and what speaks to them, it put me off. And then I started looking a little closer.

This is not what it needs to mean. For every person their minimalist life will probably be completely unique form anybody else’s. It breaks down life to the essentials. This means that you need to really resonate with the objects around you to incorporate them into your life. The space around you can thus say more about you because the objects in it have been chosen for specific reasons.

Wabi-sabi | another view of Minimalism

Wabi-sabi is the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of finding beauty in imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. Nothing is finished, nothing is perfect and nothing is permanent. This is a very different view from the Western perspective of idealistic beauty.

Wabi-sabi is a perspective that is completely compatible with a minimalist view of the world. It is about being mindful about the beauty around you and finding the value in that which is temporary and unique. Even finding the beauty in yourself and your ’flaws’. This is how I wish to view everything around me in future.

This includes no more junk and no more dissonance. Life and the objects in it are temporary and if an item does not serve you, it may serve someone else. Surround yourself with that which brings you closer to yourself, your community and your environment.

Things don’t have to be stark and sterile. Your space can be warm, organic and natural. The key is simplicity and not stripping your life of meaning. Simplify and you open yourself up to noticing and valuing that which is truly meaningful to you and allowing that in as long as it serves you. If it does not do that anymore, let it go. It could add value to someone else’s life.

It is the difference between tending a garden and controlling it. Minimalism can bring you closer to the earth, it can make you tread lighter.

I love this thought. This is what we are striving for.

Could we become Minimalists? | a short update |

This has been a tougher week than expected. It is a slower process and a more emotional one than I thought it would be.

 

This may have to do with living in an age where one expects some kind of immediate gratification. My house seems more jumbled and chaotic than before because we have all our things out in the open waiting to find new homes. The clean slate will come (I am anticipating the freedom!) but it will be a slow process. We have come face to face with everything we weren’t paying attention to. And it is quite overwhelming.

Still, we managed to get quite a lot done toward our new Minimalist lifestyle. We have donated some clothes and other household items. We also managed to sell a few things. I also had the privilege of giving some wonderful baby things to my sister who is expecting her first child. And, yes! I am the proudest aunt already 😉

Selling items seems to be a real challenge. In a sense we have very few things that are valuable. So the debt is still a big obstacle.

Becoming a Minimalist seems to mean dealing with many ghosts and false senses of stability and permanence. It means dealing with yourself and where you are in your life. A tough but valuable lesson.

This week we will continue our simplifying mission with updates as we progress. There will also be a post about my new doll crafting project this week. So: keep an eye out!

Four Questions That Might Derail Your Minimising Efforts

If you are an artist or crafter or a creator of physical things in any form, you may find yourself in some predicaments when trying to incorporate a Minimalist lifestyle. If you have any sentimental urges then this post is for you.

These four nagging ‘what if’ questions arose for me during this week of serious minimising:

* What if I need it at some point?

How many things do you keep for just incase? How many times have you needed these things?
Somehow we manage to fill our spaces with so many extra things that are hardly, if ever, used. Or even worse, we fill it up with duplicates that seem to start collections of their own… Just incase. The creative potential of every item is so obvious that we feel we just might need it if the opportunity ever arrises. Unfortunately the rate of problem solving opportunities seem to lag way behind the accumulation of more things.
This conundrum brought on other questions for me:

* What if the other one breaks?

We seem to feel obliged to have back-ups. Back-up buckets, jars, toothpastes, blue eyeliner (incase I need it for a dress-up party!) t-shirts and towels (so many towels!). Unless you live somewhere in the wilderness, far from amenities and people, you probably do not need a back-up for every item in your home.
Honestly, though, I have been thankful for my stack of towels when the washing machine overflowed all over my kitchen floor. But I realise that the towels we actually use would have sufficed for the job. And the mop could handle the rest… And it meant fixing the machine and washing the whole stack of just-in-case-towels anyway. So. Maybe the extra towels were still not entirely vital or necessary.
All those extra socks just mean waiting longer for washday and having a bigger job to do when it arrives.

* What if I miss this item when it’s gone?

Many minimalist bloggers mention how they have never missed or regretted donating or selling an item. This is a problem for me because I have regretted giving items away or selling things in the past. Not entirely sure why, though? But I suspect it could have something to do with a person’s mindset at the time. I haven’t regretted anything thus far in my minimising experiment and this may be because my mindset has changed in relation to my possessions.

We tend to assume that our possessions are a part of our identity. They may reflect some things about us. They might make us feel connected and they may even tell stories about our lives. This is not a problem. The problem is when we cling onto things because we think that they are part of us or our history. We confuse sentiment with true expression and value. We are not our stuff and the balance is easily tipped. We let our things start to take the reigns and lead us instead of the other way around. They dictate to us who we are and who we should be. You might decorated your whole house around some sentimental furniture, that you don’t even like anymore, just because they belonged to someone, remind you of something or tell a story of who you once were. The truth is that they are probably holding you back and limiting the “you” that you have become.
This is a wonderful way of looking at it: You do not need to get rid of things that still serve you only those that do not. Those that smother you by controlling or limiting you or your choices. Things should be an extension that aid not hinder. You should be surrounded by what is authentic. This is a topic that I will get back to very soon in a future post.

* What if I forget?

I have kept so many momentos over the years. Things to remind me of events or people or places. Some of these things do trigger memories. Yet, those memories are obviously still inside me and not in the items. Some of the things were mysteries. No memories were recalled. Many of the momentos turned out to be quite negative. Things that brought on stress, sadness, shame and regret. This is not constructive.
When we hold onto items because they remind us of things from our past, we need to be selective. I realised that even the seemingly ’positive’ things only made me judge present me for letting down past me. So all these things had to go.
The only things I am keeping are some photographs of good memories and these will be put into digital format. We will also keep things that are actually used and add value to our lives. Blogging or journaling are also methods of documenting without cluttering.

Do you have any additional thoughts or advice on letting go and dealing with the nagging doubt? Please leave a comment 🙂

Tea time!

Could We Become Minimalists? – An Update.

Could We Become Minimalists? – An Update.

Happy Spring Day to all in the Southern Hemisphere! And a wonderful Autumn to those in the North!
We had the perfect spring weather for our decluttering mission this weekend.


The start of a journey (and a detour down memory lane):

What a weekend of emotional turmoil. Starting one’s route to minimalism by beginning with the biggest collection of memories and junk combined might be a little extreme.  We spent our whole weekend sorting through the garage. This was VERY difficult. And a LOT of work.

So beware, if you plan to try this, this may not be the best place to start. A person should probably start with a junk drawer and work your way up.
Nevertheless: it means that we know exactly what is going on down in the dark, dusty bowels of our hoard. And we have sorted through every detail of it. The worst part has been dealt with. There were boxes that had never been opened in the 12 years that we have been living and moving together.
It was a big job but what a great relief to know that it is done.

This is a bit after the 'before'. Still pretty bad.
This is a bit after the ‘before’. Still pretty bad.
..and... tada! not quite after
..and… tada! the ‘not quite after’ shot
With some fairy help, of course...
With some fairy help, of course…

How it affected us:

After selling a few items, we still have a big heap that will be donated and some things for specific people. This is frustrating because there are many things still in the space and I was hoping for a clear clean result. But at least they are in transit. So no clean slate yet.
The toughest part was sorting through my daughter’s baby clothes and giving most of it away and selling the rest. Many, many tears were shed.

Yet, after the initial fear of losing my memories of her as a baby, I realised that those memories are always with me and that I have digital pictures (no clutter!) of her in everything anyway. A wonderful calm and joy came over me thinking that other precious children will be dressed in these beautiful clothes. New memories will be made in them.  How wonderful that these items will have a new life and not just be stuck in boxes for who knows how long.

Sorting through boxes of baby things. sigh.
Sorting through boxes of baby things. sigh.

I also went through my whole schooling and studying history and got rid of, well, basically everything. This was tough. But I feel incredibly light after saying goodbye to ’the proof’ of how great or cool or talented I used to be.
We tend to hold on to ideas of who we once were as though we aren’t in the midst of constant change. We are not who we were at  six or at fifteen years of age. In fact that person will always be in us and is definitely not in the tons of paper records accumulated through the years. So: into the recycling bin it all goes and something useful might even be made from it!
I know my husband had a similar experience.

Really?! Goodbye 'Cool Mix 1997'? ok.
Really?! Goodbye ‘Cool Mix 1997’? ok.
Goodbye 'Cool Mix 1997'
Goodbye ‘Cool Mix 1997’

One of the things that affected me most was the collection of letters from my childhood pen friend. She is from Kenya and I have no idea what happened to her. Where is she now? What is her life like? Reading these letters was incredible.  Maybe there are some clues in them to help me find her. I haven’t heard from her in 19 years. So I have kept these letters. For now.

IMG_6105
Reading old letters
Working like a dog.
Working like a dog.

We also found some wonderfully useful items which we never use and these will be donated. This is an amazing thing to be able to do and comes with a wonderful feeling.

Chipping away:

Our debt is slowly being chipped away. We sold our PS3 and all our games. And we are selling some antiques and furniture. Unfortunately these things aren’t worth as much as one would expect. So, our road will be a long one. Every little bit helps, though. So hold thumbs!

The week ahead:

This week we will be focussing on our house. Mostly our wardrobes and linen closet. It is a tough, tough job and more minimising will be needed after we have gone through everything once. I am struggling to let go of some things. This is ok. We have decided to work on the junk and non-sentimental things this week. Just a break from the turmoil. 😉

Next update: Friday. Whew.

What would be the toughest thing/s for you to give up? Are there objects you are living with just to keep others happy? 

Could we become Minimalists?

This is such a huge topic. There are so many aspects to it that it would be too overwhelming to cover everything in one blog post. The concept of Minimalism is so simple and yet it seems like an enormous task to take on. So here we go… Let’s make a dent.
Could we drastically change the way we live?

Mindfulness and laying the groundwork

A little more than a year ago I started practicing daily mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness had been something that I had been aware of for quite some time and knew a bit about the research and all the benefits it promised. But it took a long time before I started my own meditation practice.
After desperately seeking some kind of calm, purpose and a way to deal with anxiety and the distracted chaos within my mind: I finally started by just doing 3 to 5 minutes of guided meditation a day. These are the free mindfulness meditations from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center that I started with – and still rely on sometimes.

Mindfulness brought me an incredible calmness. Things seem clearer now. My mind has been uncluttered (mostly). When it starts to get frantic or anxious I can mindfully take note and know that it is temporary like everything else. Of course it is once again a simple concept but definitely not easy. It takes time and practice. It has shifted my view on everything. But mindfulness is not what this post is about. Definitely a future one, though!

My mind is calmer but my immediate surroundings seem to be entirely chaotic. Our house is cluttered, we have huge debt, we live paycheck to paycheck. The usual old story that everyone shares and complains about when visiting with friends. I deal with it thanks to my mindset. But maybe I don’t have to deal with it at all? Is there a way out of the trap?

A week ago:

In anticipation of Sam Harris’ new book Waking Up, I read an interview with him on theminimalists.com. He discusses the benefits of mindfulness and I would highly recommend a read.

In my naivety the thought in my mind was: The Minimalists, mm… what is a ’minimalist’ anyway? Why would people identify themselves as a style choice?
This led me down a new and very intriguing road of research into the topic. Frantic reading and a few Pinterest searches revealed something that was right in front of me all this time. It is not a style choice, it is a lifestyle choice. Aha! And it clicked. It is a philosophy. And it just fits so well into the mindfulness mindset.

Check out the tedx talk by The Minimalists.

Now:
As a crafter and artist, I am a collector by nature. Okay, okay, maybe ’hoarder’ is more apt a description. My husband is too. We always seem to see the creative potential in every rusty and broken object. Yet, these ‘projects’ are never finished or even taken on. So they end up somewhere in a box or a cupboard or a drawer or stacked somewhere – mostly in the garage. So, the car we can’t afford doesn’t even fit in it!
To top this all off: I tend to be a sentimentalist and do not easily part with items and struggle with saying “no” when offered something from somebody else who is obviously purging their clutter!
We also love new gadgets and we love beautiful things.

When you combine all of these factors, becoming minimalists will be one of the toughest things we have taken on as a family.
Yet we are stuck in debt, weighed down by pointless possessions and we need to drastically change the way we live. We need to free ourselves.

Minimalism promises to give us:
freedom from pointless consumerism,
better clarity in terms of our financial situation and some or all freedom from it,
more clarity and time in terms of the important things like spending time with our family and friends,
more clarity about and time to do what we truly find important

Mindfulness has set a good foundation. Now we need to free ourselves from the physical things that are holding us down.

This is an invitation to join us on our big lifestyle change. You don’t have to become a minimalist too. You are welcome to watch the process we go through and read about all the ups and downs. Hopefully you might learn something or feel inspired or at the very least find some entertainment in it all!

The (rough) plan:

*Declutter. Declutter the house, garage and my studio of obvious junk.

*Assess. Assess what remains and decide what we truly need. A wonderful quote by William Morris sums it up: “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”

*Sell. Sell things to pay off debt. Try to sell as many things as possible and use the money towards paying off our debt.

*Donate. Donate things to charities.

*Reassess. Reassess what is left. Which of these things do we really need? Which things are essential? How can we minimise some more?

*Make Time. Spend more time together doing stuff not acquiring stuff. Do fun and free things and make time to do these things. Like my doll making and new pursuits.

We will be starting in our garage (shudder!) this weekend. And then we will tackle the house.
Updates on our progress will happen every Monday and Friday. Can my husband, my daughter and I become minimalists? Let’s see how it unfolds.