Authenticity in artistic expression

Authenticity in Art

This is something that often tugs at my sleeve. How do I know that I am true to myself in my art practice? There are so many voices out there broadcasting their various opinions on what I should be thinking and celebrating. And they also influence my artistic thoughts and dreams.

One such voice speaks of REWARD– the powerful roar of sales and money. This voice suggests that you should paint what will sell. Very sensible when you think about providing daily bread for the table. Added to this is the thrill of selling your artwork. It is so rewarding when someone else voluntarily opens their purse to purchase your creative endeavours

Linked closely to REWARD is RECOGNITION. The voice of RECOGNITION is a tough task master. We alone know the long hours we spent creating the work, the doubts, the ecstasy accompanying us in those lonely moments. Positive affirmation nourishes and encourages us to keep creating. But those voices are fickle. Instagram and Facebook have added a whole new superficial system of “likes” and love heart emoticons that can become addictive and misleading. I would like to have a question pop up any time someone hits the “like” button: “WHY? What do you love about this piece? Be specific. Have a good look and give me a detailed reason for your love and like.” I suspect there will be a lot less likes and loves. I may be suffering from hash-tag fatigue!

And what happens when you want to venture into new and unknown waters? Will you lose your faithful supporters? Maybe a few aliases to explore new styles and self-expression could be a way around that. But then - which one is the real you? Can there be more than one?

Then there are the voices of PRESTIGE. This is the competitive arena where judges, art competitions, intellectual artist statements, influential contacts and politics collide and jostle to “rate” artistic expression. We want our art to be taken seriously, therefore theses voices tend to matter deeply even though we know they are often subjective and thwarted.

What about the voices of our fellow creative peers? I thoroughly believe in an environment of collaboration where we can celebrate each other’s successes without any jealousy or bitterness. We need to create circles of respect and trust where we can encourage each other, give honest positive feedback when asked, and share the journey together. In these circles, there must be wide open spaces for individual expression and thought. We can’t replicate someone else’s authentic voice. We can be influenced, of course. We can be inspired and challenged. But we can’t be them.

Ultimately, fame and fortune can’t provide you with the answer to your authenticity. Your own heart and thoughts hold the keys. This can be very difficult, as it would imply taking time out of this noisy world to slow down and listen patiently to what your soul is trying to articulate. To turn off the phone and computer and music and wait for that small voice of YOU. Recently I have been working through the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is a creativity course that embraces two tools: daily pages and a weekly artist date. Writing the daily pages, entails putting down your train of thought on paper in long hand every day. I can already hear you say: “But who has the time for that?” My original thought exactly, but my goodness, it really revealed to me how little I knew my own thoughts. And this is where authenticity comes into play. When you spend time with your own thoughts, writing them down in long hand, they can be quite surprising! The other powerful tool is the weekly artist date. On this date, you spend time with yourself, no friends, family members or device is invited along. You do whatever makes your heart sing, whether it is going to the beach, watching a movie, dancing while no one is watching… It surprised me how difficult I found this. I had to give myself permission to do NOTHING that society would deem PRODUCTIVE! O the guilt!

(On a side note, Carrie Battan from the NewYorker wrote a thought provoking article on Julia’s book, specifically how the books sits within our current culture of self-promotion: Another conversation worth having!)

But the most beneficial part for me so far (I am only halfway through the course), is redefining my audience. To be authentic I can only paint/draw those images or ideas that are stirring my own heart. And as such I am essentially only a vessel for those ideas and images. Piet Mondrian articulated it beautifully when he said: “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.”

Once the work is out there, I have no control on how it will be received. I must trust that Creation will take care of the rest. My responsibility is to be as authentic as I could possibly manage in the process, listening to the voice inside, trusting it along the way. Authenticity requires faith.



Drawing: The Treasure Chest

Just over a year ago I read the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards . It felt to me as though a veil was lifted, a door opened to reveal a chest of endless and beautiful treasures. I have since become a frequent visitor to that room and can't see how I will ever tire from its magic.

Drawing is a COURAGEOUS act because it challenges us – as artists but also in our every day lives.

It exposes our preconceived ideas about people and things. What we think is true, often is not. An example of this would be where we think the eyes sit in a human face. When drawing a face, we tend to put the eyes about one third from the top, but very often that is not true. Have a look in the mirror: Measure the distance from the inside of the eye to the bottom of the chin, keep that measurement and then check the distance from the inside of the eye to the very top of your head (Hair included). Very often the eyes are in the middle of the head...Kimon Nicolaides wrote in his book “The Natural Way to draw” : “Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see and that means a lot more than merely looking with the eye”. He felt that drawing well had nothing to do with technique, aesthetics or anything else. It depended only on one thing: right observation of the world. Jen Miller wrote a great blog on some handy tips that may help you steer your way in this process. Look her up at

In Drawing, the focus is on the PROCESS, the outcome is not the meaty bit. How different is that to our every day lives where everything has to be measured in the RESULT. The process gently forces you to SLOW DOWN and really look at the object in a detached, objective way, as though you are seeing it for the first time in your life without any prior knowledge of it. Along the way you discover beauty and magic in ordinary, everyday objects. Even a humble cheese grater shines with interesting grooves, corners, angles and curves. In a way the process of drawing makes me more CONTENT, more THANKFUL because it reveals beauty where I least expected it.

Drawing is a way of MEDITATION. It takes you to a zone where WORDS and TIME fade away. It is as though you enter into a white space where you can simply “be”. All the chattering monkeys in your head, reminding you of the endless to-do items on the endless lists, disappear. You lose yourself in the details of curves, angles, exquisite spaces, shadowy shapes and light formations.

Why do we lack the confidence to draw? I think we are our own worst enemies – those voices in our heads saying: “It looks nothing like it!” We criticise, we doubt and eventually lose hope and then the desire to draw. I love what Samuel Goldwyn has to say about this : “ Don't pay attention to critics. Don't even ignore them” . We have to be ruthless in protecting that small, unique drawing voice inside of us. It will grow and become bigger and bolder as long as we patiently and diligently nourish it .

Last Christmas my husband gave me the book “Keeping Hope Alive” - a memoir of Dr Hawa Abdi.

She is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who provides gynecological services in a Somali refugee camp she founded herself. I was overwhelmed by this woman's courage, boldness and strength and responded by making a drawing of her, using WORDS that described her and the work of hope she does. In the process of that drawing, I experienced such joy. In a way I felt connected to her – odd because we have never met and most probably never will. But I thought I knew her better after those hours of drawing her – the expression in her eyes, the determination caught in her smile.

Thank you Betty Edwards for showing me the magical room!


Comfort Zones, Flow Zones & Improvement Zones


This week was a challenging one for me in the studio. To the extent that I decided to read up on COMFORT zones and the role that they play in the creative process.
I discovered a fantastic mind map that put it all into perspective for me   In his mind map /blog Paul Foreman talks about comfort zones as a bit of a myth. “Are comfort zones stepping stones?Are you reaching from one comfort zone through fear to another comfort zone” He makes the point that he himself does not enjoy being motivated by fear. Neither do I. He then continues to introduce the concept of  “Improvement zones”. According to him that term sounds less painful, more motivating. No longer focussing on the fear (will I be able to cope? Will I get this right? Where is all this ink running to????), but rather on something to move towards - a new experience.
For artists, this is a continuous journey. On the one hand you have your own style, that can lead to a “comfort zone” that has been built up over years. But along the way you might have experienced moments of immense discomfort (Panic zone)  and thankfully glorious moments of “flow”, where everything just came together effortlessly.
Coming back to how all of this relates to my experience in the studio: It all started when about two weeks ago we turned out focus towards landscape painting, starting with the traditional “back to basic” stuff.
I was in my element - landscape painting was my introduction to the world of painting, and I had therefore over the years acquired quite a bit of experience with it.  And do not forget our trusty wise friend Google, who was very helpful in oiling any rusty parts. (Helpful links I discovered along the way if you want a back-to-basics refresher are:

(   and

Putting the workshops together, I planned to take a very practical , step by step approach. In my view, it is all about perspective in a traditional landscape. I therefore spent a lot of time contemplating the powerful use of COLOUR. We covered  "The whole shebang " of atmospheric perspective: mixing of colours, muted versus bright colours, complimentary washes and the magic wand it waves to create interest and life in a landscape painting.

So far so good. I felt good, in control and as confident as one can be facing a blank canvas armed with paints and brushes and an idea…

However, the following week we decided to have a play with a more abstract or loose approach to landscapes. At this point I need to clarify that my style of painting is realistic, even though “painterly”, still  - a tree is a tree. Looking at my landscape paintings, I have done the thinking for you - that tree you see over there? Yes, that one - it is a tree indeed! ( .  

So comes the next week and I am armed with 300gsm paper; modelling paste; a white candle (Not burning ;-) ; acrylic inks; jars of water ; a few charcoal sticks and pastels and I find myself in  PANIC ZONE!!

There is not a lot of control to be found on a piece of paper where strong willed inks are running havoc. Wherever they hit the modelling paste they become slightly more opaque, they absolutely flatly refuse to go near the candle marks and chase any water like parched camels. Even the wise Mr Google fails to deliver and I realise I have to let go! The best way to deal with situations like this is to turn your “Shall we dance  - soundtrack” music on loudly and waltz, samba and foxtrot with that paper until you have exhausted those wild ink stallions.

The result is totally unpredictable, but beautiful in its spontaneity :  tiny little rivulets of inks , textured nooks and crannies, colours never mixed before where inks overlapped and created luminous glazes. Is that a tree over there? Who knows? Maybe it is not that important in this scenario? The textures and colour seem to hold it all together.

I experienced the IMPROVEMENT ZONE and it was joyous, scary, exhausting... Will I go there again? Of course yes! 



The Joys of Curating an Exhibition

Our annual Blue Door art exhibition has just been, and what a joyous and satisfying experience it was! There were moments of sweat and sore muscles, but they turned sweet very quickly. How can one not enjoy having your house turned into an art gallery for two and a half days?

One of my favourite parts of the exhibition, is the curating. Initially you have nail biting thoughts on whether there will be enough pieces to put a strong exhibition together. But then, with the arrival of one hundred and forty odd paintings at you doorstep (not counting the sixty art works done by the primary cherubs), you experience mild to severe panic trying to visualise where they all will hang!

The sweat, tears and sore muscles come into play at this point. First you have to move all your furniture and nicknacks into the garage or bedrooms. Then you have to collect and put up the trestle tables, easels and black tablecloths. Hmmm... at least the quiet corners of the house gets its yearly quick mop ;-)

Usually, there is one or more bold, arresting piece out of the entire selection that just grabs you by the collar. This ensemble becomes the scaffolding of the exhibition as a whole. Once they have been placed, the rest has to fit around them. Colour would be the main determinant as to where what fits. As a whole, the exhibition has to exude a harmonious, unified feel. I love this challenge!

Our exhibition has a wonderful reputation for being versatile  - we have paintings that range from realistic to abstract, soft muted creations to bold colourful designs, oils, acrylics, inks, pencil, charcoal, and the list goes on....

Why exhibit every year? 

It gives a full stop, or rather - an exclamation mark (!) - to a year's work. It provides opportunity to reflect upon and rejoice in the artistic journey. It showcases the fruits of our endeavours enabling in the sharing of the joy with friends and loved ones.

So, till next year.... Happy Painting!