Monday, January 14, 2019

#64MillionArtists challenges - a new year's perspective

Last year I began with a post about challenges in the year ahead - and it turned out there were many.  I knew of some in advance but others jumped out at me and a few are still ongoing.  These include a very close friend (who doesn't live locally) being diagnosed with myeloma (a treatable but incurable cancer),  my parents suddenly unable to live completely independently and my developing plantar fasciitis.

I also began two literal challenges - the Photo A Day challenge and the 64MillionArtists challenge, which to begin with was daily challenges in January but then became weekly challenges.  In spite of my expectations I completed every challenge and have begun a new year with the daily challenges too.

What I have been struck by is how many challengers posted at the beginning of January that last year had been very difficult for them, for reasons which included bereavement and other family traumas not dissimilar to those I had and how taking part in the challenges had helped them enormously.

My first thought was that one mostly hears bad news, because good news is more commonplace and doesn't need commenting on.  My second thought was, my goodness people are really going to town on some of these challenges.  And my third thought was, why am I happily reminding myself that they are only supposed to take five to ten minutes each.

I think one of the values of the January Challenge and then the Weekly Challenge is that it really does help in kickstarting creativity, in prompting people to have a go whose lives have undergone a major disruption.  You may be waiting for the confidence to start or waiting for something to connect to or, in my case last year, glad of something that was my own to do every day.  Once you've got over posting a rubbish drawing and nobody minding, you gain confidence.  Once you've really enjoyed a challenge you have the bit between your teeth.  Once you've got three quarters of the way through the year without missing a single challenge it's a matter of pride to complete the set.  Or so it was for me.

This year I begin in a different place but because I got so much out of last year's challenges, I'm taking on 64MillionArtists challenges again.  I don't need things which are just for me as much as I have more time for me than in January last year and the problems are not so urgent and consuming.  I have re-engaged with my creative work and set goals which I met before Christmas.  I've begun new textiles work which I'm keen to get on with so I do find myself thinking perhaps I'll miss this one, but I'm going to try not to.

Last year I learned a few things -
  • in spite of being essentially a 3D artist, challenges which involve writing are often the easiest and most enjoyable
  • challenges which involve photography are often the easiest to tick off
  • I'm pretty bad at drawing but occasionally surprise myself
  • I didn't want to engage much in 'making' challenges, with a few exceptions
  • I really loved connecting with other challengers
- and I see that these are excellent reasons for continuing with the challenges.

Here are a few of my favourite things that came out of last year's challenges.

This one encouraged me to research and I found it fascinating that Stroud is such a hotbed of protest.  I found a connection with history which has often been absent in my life.

This was a photography challenge, Finding the Light.  I was pleased to have made a photograph where shape and shadow were so difficult to separate.

This challenge was lovely because it made me condense what I thought about relationships to a formula I'm still happy with today and because it stretched my Photoshop skills successfully.

This was a joint effort with another challenger.  It was called The Bridge.  We bridged the gap between us, never having met and not really knowing much about each other.  She supplied the photograph of the stone pillars which she'd built and I photoshopped in the oak beam and tweaked the background.

My favourite challenge, Walk with Nature.  I went out for an hour, it made my bad foot hurt a lot, but I then felt inspired to work for several hours to produce the finished piece.

and finally ...  a quick drawing I felt pleased with.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A significant step forward

Dear People,

You have no idea how great it was to delete you from my address book. 

I will be 65 in a couple of months’ time and this feels really significant for me.  For one thing, I didn’t get to celebrate my 60th birthday properly because of bereavements so I intend to celebrate better in some way this year.  For another, I’ll get my state pension in September and already feel the freedom this bestows on me with regard to the work I make.  Now I can really choose what I want to make, regardless of whether it will sell or not.  And finally ….  well, I realise that I’ve been moving into a different life space and that this move will somehow become complete when I’m 65.  I will be of an age where people retire or semi-retire or don’t but from now on nothing matters in the way it always did.  There is a sense of liberation which I wasn’t expecting. 

Throughout my life I have always kept all addresses, just in case, deleting only those of people who’ve died or moved without trace.  This has been really important to me.  I know I can make contact with people I’ve not heard from for 10 years if I wish.  I’ve carefully updated my Addresses document regularly, and keep a small paper version of my most used contacts (mostly phone numbers) in my Filofax.  (Yes, I’m that dinosaur.)  The Filofax version is often reprinted in January.  I do a lot of ‘housekeeping’ tasks in January and they always make me feel good.

Today our #64MillionArtists challenge was to write a letter saying something we’ve been meaning to say to someone, so I opened my Addresses file to find a lucky recipient.  What I found instead was a whole host of lucky recipients, you whom I am never, ever going to need to contact again.  I deleted you aIl!  It’s done and I can’t ever get you back. 

In some cases you are people or organisations that I can easily find contact numbers for on the internet.  This, it has to be acknowledged, is an important factor but it really applies only to organisations or suppliers. 

In some cases you’re home tutors.  I don’t feel any affinity for you and when I see you in Waitrose you don’t seem to recognise me any more.  Some of you are counsellors who were friends when I was counselling; I can’t even bring to mind some of your faces any more and again, those who I do remember, seem to ignore me in Waitrose. Occasionally one of us says hello and may even have a brief chat but I’ll never need to contact you.  Some of you are artists but again I haven’t seen anything of you for so many years, or you belong to organisations that I might have applied to join but didn’t and at this stage won’t and even if I do, I’ll be applying on my own merits regardless of who I once knew.

And finally, a few of you were friends. Surprisingly, this was easier than I expected.  I never thought I’d be able to delete a friend from my list of addresses but I have.  I thought about what you offered as friends and then I thought about why we drifted apart.  The reasons for drifting apart were nearly all because I don’t want friends with your views and values any more.  I feel some shame for continuing contact in the days when I did because of what your friendship offered me.  But not much.

So, farewell.  Or not.  I probably don’t care any more.  I feel great.  Liberated, forward-looking, positive and hopeful.


Friday, November 16, 2018

Owning the bad times

I've been having an increasingly difficult year and November is a difficult time for me.  A couple of people really understand how crap it's been because I've told them everything that's going on AND they understand me but I think most people don't really know. 

This is partly because I don't always say, for a variety of reasons that include:
  • life isn't crap all the time
  • things are ongoing and nothing new to say
  • things are not just my business so I don't feel I should share
and chiefly
  • other people are having a crap time too
but today I've had a bit of an insight.  I've always believed that suppressing things, avoiding talking about them, avoiding acknowledging them and making light of them lead to ill health.  For me, I'd say about 90% of what is wrong with me physically has an emotional root.  It's not lost on me that my plantar fasciitis started up around the time my parents began having problems which caused worry and stress.  Of course, having got a physical problem you're often stuck with it and it may need treating by conventional means.  Bodies and minds are complicated.  My parents' lives are settling down but I've got plantar fasciitis, which notoriously can take months to go.

I digress, slightly.  The insight is this:

Having a crap time will do you harm, whether or not other people are having a crap time.  Own it.  Acknowledge it.  Behave appropriately in response.

You can share this with someone else providing they're going to let you.  You don't need anyone looking on the bright side or saying 'at least ...' or similar.  The point is to feel what you need to feel.  Shout or cry if that's you. 

I'm very fortunate to have a few friends that totally get this.  Possibly they've been wondering when I'll wake up to it myself.

This really is not a call for sympathy though it may seem like it because I haven't been sharing it recently, for all the above reasons. 

I've been having a crap life recently.

If you have too, then own it.  Don't wallow, but don't pretend either.  You'll feel better for it in the end.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Being me - and going with the flow.

Updating my website is no longer an open job. I've been working on it most of the year when I'm not at home and it's been quite time-consuming.  It probably doesn't look much different but it is considerably slimmed down, made more phone-friendly and the galleries and some of the other images have been updated.  Six years is quite long enough for artwork to become out of date.

I'm not good with 'open jobs'.  There's a point at which there are too many of them and I feel stressed and unable to tackle any of them well, so it feels really good that this one is off the list. 

In the mean time I've had plantar fasciitis for several months, which in my case anyway is exacerbated by stress, and means that I am limited in what I can do.  It took me a while to work out, therefore, that once the website was updated, what I really needed to do was be Jane Vernon, Artist.  I've been busy filling time till I was better or till I was at home for longer and all the while a little bit of me has been becoming weaker without my realising; the Tinkerbell effect if you like.  I was being useful, completing several other open jobs; I was going with the flow, riding the uncertainty and all sorts of other very good things, but suddenly I realised I wasn't being me.

It's difficult and subtle.  Balancing being me, the essential me, with helping others close to me, being patient with my foot and keeping on top of domestic chores.  What brought me to my senses was arguing my case with a health practitioner who is working on the plantar fasciitis with me.  She wanted me to do less rather than more and I knew that was all wrong.  Even if the foot gets worse, I have to do the things I do.  I was reining myself in and hadn't realised the damage this was doing.    

So now I am embarked on a new course - being me, but going with the flow as well.  If I'm too tired to do anything I'll go to bed and listen to the radio.  If I want to sit and write something I'll write it.  If I want to cook something I'll cook it but if I want a takeaway I'll have one.  Mostly, though, I'm going to do the work I want to do.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

In the middle

I began writing this post when July had just begun, planning to write about how my various challenges were going.  Then Life took over and now it's almost the middle of August.  Still, a halfway report of sorts.

This was the first 64MillionArtists January Challenge ...

"January 1st: Self-awards. Create the certificate or trophy you'd like to be presented with at the end of 2018."
I can deal with almost anything apart from uncertainty. At the beginning of a very uncertain year, this is the award I'd like to receive

... and that was my post.

Halfway through the year I have to say that I think I'm doing really well,   It's certainly proving to be a year full of uncertainties but so far I seem to be surviving.  It's been stressful, taxing, difficult, life-changing even, but I haven't lost the plot.  I haven't got majorly ill.  I haven't behaved irrationally or unreasonably and I haven't piled more stress on myself.  These are really quite major achievements for me.

At the beginning of the year I knew I'd be working less but never imagined that I would be letting go of the need to work.  As a result, the work I've done so far has been what I wanted to do.  Some of it you've seen (if you've been looking) but some is for later, hopefully next year's Another Beastly Art Exhibition, and some is still in development.

I decided not to grow vegetables.  This is only the second time in forty years that I haven't grown any, so is a really big deal.  The first time was when we moved in, in May 30 years ago, and was because we were preparing the veg garden with a load of manure and dividing up into separate beds.  I decided that it could do with a bit of rejuvenating again and that I wouldn't stress about being late with getting things started and so it's been.  Not much rejuvenating done yet, but there are plans.

There has been more uncertainty, and also some of a different sort, than I was expecting but that's the thing about uncertainty - you never know what's coming next.  I'm well aware that more could be on its way that I've no idea about and that the year isn't over until the fat lady sings, but what I'm reporting on is my ability to ride the uncertainty.  Which is going pretty well so far.  I'll report back at the end of the year .... unless I don't.

On the subect of challenges, I really enjoyed the whole of the January Challenge and have continued with 64MillionArtists The Weekly Challenge and I'm delighted to say that so far I have completed every single challenge. I've also taken on the Photo A Day challenge.  I did quite well with this too until Life really took over and 26th July was my last photo.  I hope to get back to it but am not setting myself any deadlines and I also won't be attempting to catch up with the missed photos.

I don't know what's next.  What I do know is that I'm adapting better than I thought I could.


Sunday, April 8, 2018


Is it just me?  

This week’s 64MillionArtists WeeklyChallenge was this:

Post a photo, drawing or some text which encapsulates POSITIVITY. You might want to capture something specific which has a positive impact on your life - a friend with a million-dollar smile, perhaps, or a joyful pet. Maybe there's a particular place that brings out the best in you or some inspiring words that lift your spirits. 

This made me feel quite angry when it arrived.  At the point when it dropped into my mailbox I was not feeling happy and for good reasons and I was resentful of the idea that I should try to be positive.  It seemed to me that positivity was something we were being told to strive for.  If you’re down, do something which makes you feel positive.  Why?  I have good reasons for feeling down.  They are real.  My ‘negative’ feelings are real and appropriate. 

I have nothing against feeling positive and nothing against things which promote that feeling.  It was the word ‘positivity’, a concept that we should be striving for, to which I took exception.  I had a piece drafted about these feelings.

Then I spoke to a friend of mine and found that she didn’t really agree with what I was saying.  There are people who do need to try to be positive because otherwise they’d just go under.  Some people have a lot to be negative about and no real choices so every little bit of positivity helps them carry on.  Conversely, I thought of other people I know who perhaps aren’t the most positive people but who don’t seem to have all that much to feel complain about. 

So maybe it’s partly a personality thing.  I suppose I am generally a fairly positive person but when I look at my life I have many things to be positive about.  I seem to have been lucky if you look at it that way, which I suppose I do.  If you look at the negative things, I’ve certainly had my fair share of those too, so maybe something happens in me which stresses the good things in life.

However, when I do feel down it’s important to me that those feelings are validated.  I have a right to feel miserable, or depressed, or even hopeless.  I don’t want someone coming along and saying “Cheer up! Think of …”.  And that’s probably why the word Positivity got right up my nose.  So, for those of you who are not feeling positive right now - if you’ve got a good reason, then I’m sorry.  There’s probably nothing I could say or do which would make you feel better apart from recognition and validation. 

If you want to know what things have a positive effect on my life then I can easily list some of them, in alphabetic order: 


and there are probably a dozen more I could suggest.   However, if you want me to talk about Positivity, then I’m afraid you’ll get a grumpy answer.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018 Challenges

Tomorrow a new year begins.  Like everyone else, my life has ups and downs and uncertainties and from my current perspective 2018 looks more than usually uncertain and complicated, with several personal challenges on the horizon.  However, I’m going to start two new creative challenges this January.  

I’m giving Photo A Day another go.  Last year I managed until some time in April.  I was happy to find I’d given up and felt I benefited from the space I gained.  However, as the year wore on I found I was taking fewer and fewer photos and that my life was feeling the poorer for it.  I understand why/how this happened; much was to do with getting the balance of the year wrong and needing to work full time to restore my pottery stocks to something approaching normal and I was pleased to achieve this eventually.  But where are the photos? 

The other challenge is the 64million artists January challenge.  This will apparently provide a short task every day during January, designed to kick-start one’s creativity.  I’m not promising to do the task every day if it’s impractical but it struck me that 10 minutes or so each day should be achievable.  This year started quite well with textiles work but my pottery work has been a matter of keeping stock levels and with nothing new.  I also had lots of vague ideas about mixed media work but no time to explore them, though I am hoarding materials that come my way.  This challenge is about creativity generally: drawing, writing, music, I don’t know what because I haven’t done it before, but it starts tomorrow.

Results of both challenges will be posted on Facebook and Twitter.