"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home" (Twyla Tharp)

Art Studio ...

This morning as I sat down to a relaxing cup of tea I was blindsided by light coming from the corner of my eye.  I had been contemplating a large list of tasks and preparing for the day when my attention was drawn to the newly renovated art studio which sits in a far corner of the house. The sunlight was streaming in, it has that affect on me - like a calling, because somehow when I walk into it I enter a whole new world.  It has only just been completed as a purpose made creative centre - still pretty bare and lots of neutral shades to allow for the outside world to come in.

The light coming from my studio 

For the past few years I have used anything from the dining room table to the lounge room as my dedicated art space.  It just doesn't seem to work well when you are sharing your creative space with an area destined for another purpose.   You're exposed to all the crazy sounds and movement of those around you and while I love my art, I also adore my family and want to put them first.  I needed a place of quiet to allow me to process a train of thought and carry it through.

A few months ago I severely injured my knee, ended up on crutches, went through all the medical palava, ended up in hospital having surgery and was immobile for a length of time.  If you are suffering a setback with your health it can leave you feeling deflated but I did use this time wisely and creatively.  I convinced my husband to completely clear a spare room used for that all too consuming clutter storage - threw out a lot out, gave heaps away and then proceeded to strip it back to bare bones to rebuild as an art studio.

It was a great project and very motivating - choosing paint colours, pulling up carpet, etc - which I have to admit I could only direct from a chair so full kudos goes to my beloved for indulging me.  Our house was built in the 1880's so the boards under the old carpet were wonderful and I decided to leave them bare, rough and less than perfect.  This bodes well for using water and paint and giving a more rustic feel.  The room was painted in whites and neutrals to allow for the sunlight to stream in and reflect natural hues.    

Before - hideous shade of green
After - beautiful and practical

 One of the things I have always done in my home is to restore furniture - anything that has great bones and serves a good purpose has been painted to suit the environment.  I am not keen on dark furniture so pretty much everything in my home is painted the same alabaster shade of off white.  It allows the decor accents and plants to be the centrepieces rather than heavy furniture setting the tone.  Most of my furniture was also secondhand - especially the plan drawers, architects table, drafting chair, drawers etc - these days modern furniture rarely provides the utility space you need especially for a creative role.  Gumtree is an excellent resource to search for those ever elusive plan drawers to store our precious paper!

The architects drawers above on the left cost $100 but were a dark laminate so I painted it off white - it's such a great piece of furniture and allows me to stand at the desk as well as providing great storage for larger papers. 

Before - dark and uninviting
After - light and bright

I love to have lots of little drawers, I picked up this little unit above for next to nothing and painted it to suit.  It's a great piece and houses all my pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, all the fiddly little bits that I always end up losing. 

To create this space it came down to stripping the room, repainting the walls and painting secondhand future.  It cost next to nothing except for a lot of time and effort planning and carrying out the work.  I can't thank my husband enough for being supportive of this renovation, it was a much needed boost during my recovery.

Here is a portion of the room above - quite difficult to photograph for perspective.  It also shows the tall drafting chair I also picked up secondhand - because it's not good to always stand or always sit and this gives me the flexibility to have both.  I think if all the furniture items were left their original dark colour it would look very cluttered.

The light is really beautiful in here - I have positioned the easel so that it illuminates my drawing and painting area well enough to rarely have to use the additional light from my daylight lamp.  

This is not a large room but it is very functional, light and inviting.  I love being in here because let's face it, artists have an awful lot of 'stuff' and it's difficult to keep it all organised and looking presentable.    I may be an artist but I am very organised and I love everything to have a place, so this makes me very happy!  Everything is within arm's reach and there is plenty of storage.  It did take time and planning and sourcing the right pieces but it certainly wasn't expensive.
I enjoyed sharing my latest project because while it wasn't an artwork on paper, I think everything we do which allows us to focus on what we love creating is a step in the right direction ... 

Heartfelt ...

© Vicki Lee Johnston

Anybody who knows me understands that I am a mad collector of nature treasures and in particular seashells.  I absolutely adore them, I don't think anything man made could be as beautiful.  Over the years I have collected various bits and pieces and even though I am trying to downsize and declutter all the 'stuff' that accumulates over the years I can't bear to part with these beautiful jewels of nature.  Especially considering so many were found with my beloved husband and children after hours spent wandering beaches.

I always wanted to paint them and in particular one of my favourites, a beautiful heart cockle which I have had from the early days of collecting.  

It just really speaks to me, probably because I am an old romantic and  it has the most beautiful shades of soft neutrals and pinks.  So I decided that for Valentine's Day I would paint it for my husband instead of giving a card.  I am so lucky to have such a wonderful partner in life - he has been my rock, my best friend and such a great supporter of any path I choose, he has such faith in me and the feeling is mutual.  

I managed to draw up this tricky shell with all its bumps and crevices and light and shade.  Due to a week long heatwave I only had two days to paint it so I didn't expect to finish it in time.  I think though when you love a subject and feel an affinity the process is a lot more organic and intuitive so fortunately I did manage to get further along.

© Vicki Lee Johnston
The very early stages trying to capture the road map of detail.

© Vicki Lee Johnston
Although it was only intended as a card I am now regretting using the old SBA course work paper - as you can see the buckling is apparent!

© Vicki Lee Johnston

Getting a bit further into the detail, bringing in warmer hues and subtle shadows.
Voila!  Almost done ... a few tweaks here and there, then my usual method of stretching the paper to remove the buckles and it should do.

© Vicki Lee Johnston
 The quality of the photo is poor but I will get around to cleaning up the background so that it doesn't look so grey.

As usual he almost trumped me with his card which I love - it will be framed also because we love to make plans and adventures together and it also speaks to me.

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone - even though it is a romantically inclined tradition I always see it as an opportunity to celebrate love in any form, whether it be family, friends, pets, nature, the universe ... we could all use more love x
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
is just to love and be loved in return"

'Nature Boy' - Eden Ahbez 

© Vicki Lee Johnston

Authenticity ...

© Vicki Lee Johnston

This is a reflective and thoughtful post which might strike a chord with those feeling a little overwhelmed with the challenges of staying creative while keeping up with technology.  Lately I have seen so many examples of bloggers, artists, designers and creatives yearning for a more authentic approach to their passion - somehow many lost their spark as they were swept into the whirlwind of internet self promotion and marketing - this goes against the grain for many artists because by nature often they are introverted and self questioning, to put themselves in front of an audience is often the least comfortable many of them feel.

© Vicki Lee Johnston

The internet is a fabulous resource, creating pages and accounts are free - you can edit as you go - and it is highly visual and responsive.  Facebook is a great option for creative people to upload their work and feel connected to the public by having a Facebook page.  Post away, it's nice to get some feedback and it's always appreciated.  I am a great admirer of art in any genre and always make an effort to acknowledge work that I love.  It doesn't take long and then you can walk away into the world you feel more comfortable to create in.

© Vicki Lee Johnston

I have also joined Instagram and have spent weeks uploading older images from way back when through to current times, it's nice to see a library of art to show how much work you have done and allows you to see it online from a distance where you can observe more objectively what you like about a piece, how you might change it and what direction you are drawn in. This probably would not happen with your works sitting in a drawer and out of sight.  

However for many who would rather be writing or painting, social media can also take you back to old insecurities about your work being good enough and popularity and social cliques may still tend to develop, even if online. 

 © Vicki Lee Johnston

 This new year has already brought a great sense of introspection and self awareness  - it's so important for me to continue on a path that calls to me.  Social media is important for artists to be seen - I have had communications and requests for work which has  come via my blog, Facebook page and Instagram account.   I also love looking at all the incredibly creative designers, photographers, artists and writers that you come across on the internet. Very rewarding to see the time spent online has been worthwhile, along with making many lovely friends and seeing the artistic talent this world has to offer in many forms.  For every positive there is a negative and vice versa, therefore balance is key so you don't get caught up in feeling you 'have' to be online.

© Vicki Lee Johnston

I am lucky enough to live surrounded by a beautiful garden setting in a lovely old homestead and we have spent most of our time here working very hard on creating a sanctuary.  At the time we moved I had no idea I would be able to study art and design so it's almost a case of "if you build it they will come".   My focus is on  being amongst nature as an absolute priority in my spare time so that I can be constantly reminded of why I first started drawing and painting and keep a sense of joy about the process.   Sometimes the simplest things are often the best and ultimately lead to finding your comfort zone, which is the source of most creative endeavours.

© Vicki Lee Johnston

                                                 “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
                                                                                             C Jung

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All images © Vicki Lee Johnston

Colour as Therapy ....

For almost eighteen months I didn't post here on my blog at all ... I had a bit of an art and personal crisis going on and I was struggling to keep my head above water.  Blogging is a funny thing, sometimes you have the urge to broadcast and other times you feel like deleting the blog and yourself from the online world altogether.  I had been making a lot of art but not feeling comfortable with the process.  I think I have a balance now - if I want to put words and pictures on a page that are meaningful to me, hopefully they may be of interest and if not - it still makes a nice visual diary to reflect on.   

The quote above resonated with me so much that earlier this year I decided to get away and spend some time with a lovely friend, amazing artist and teacher Susan Harrison-Tustain.   I had recently been working on a significant art commission which took months to research, plan and complete and I felt the need to explore the properties of colour a little further.   It's a fascination I have as many artists do, especially with watercolour - the interplay between colours, the subtle gradations and in particular how colour temperature affects a painting.  Susan is a master of this work so I spent the week in her studio exploring a whole new world.

 We talked a lot about colours, hues, textures, light, how the background affects the subject, colour harmony  ... the list goes on - way too much to cover here and I have a book full of notes which I was taking as Susan talked about colour relationship, her knowledge was extraordinary.  For those who are interested in her technique and process - there are a few great DVD's to choose from on Susan's website.

I was thrilled to see she uses the same paint palette as me - the good old milk glass egg dish - and it was interesting to work with her preferred brand Schminke watercolour paints, the colours were beautiful.
Susan works with many layers of colour and I love the way she uses yellow as a priming colour to 'set the tone' so that the finished product comes alive.

 As I wanted to spend all our valuable time painting and learning more about colour I brought along  a photo which was used for reference and allowed more time to focus on watercolour and learn about building up the layers.

My home town is a long way from anywhere, so travelling from Western Australia to the North Island of New Zealand required flying through the night for eight hours  - then driving for three hours to Susan's home town.   I was pretty exhausted at the end of it but when you are doing something you love with the company of like minded the time really flies.
Thank goodness I took plenty of notes and photos, being tired doesn't bode well for all that close work and information.  Susan and her lovely husband Richard were wonderful hosts, we have so much in common - our mutual appreciation of so many beautiful things and I will never forget how kind they were, not to mention stunning cooks!

It was a very memorable time and enabled me to put a few things in perspective.  We were then able to switch off and enjoy the beautiful sights that NZ has to offer.  One of my favourite pastimes is kayaking so I took every opportunity to get out on the water and just glide in the peaceful quietness - simply magnificent.  Just what the doctor ordered, peace and tranquility out amongst the beauty of nature.

A big thank you to a good friend and wonderful mentor, for  restoring a more playful and adventurous approach to the beauty that is watercolour.

"Nature always wears the colours of the spirit"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Otehei Bay, New Zealand