Thursday, 17 April 2014

A message on self-care

I'm playing with different magazine layouts in InDesign. I think simple is still the best. Please click on the image to see the full spread.

I've just finished work on a book. Not my own, sadly, but I'm proud of it. I did the editing and layout, and produced the PDF, EPUB and Kindle versions. The whole process has inspired me to produce my own books. There are plans for making children's books (with a little help from my extremely talented friends), plus a personal project that involves a lot of work. I won't say anything else about it until the production has started.

I'm wrapping up work now and getting ready for the Easter holiday. The kids and I will be blowing and painting eggs and probably baking lots of cakes to make use of the eggs!

Blessed be.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Sad girl

Do you know why she's sad?

1. Because a lot of people would rather believe that a seven-year-old girl was lying when she accused her father of sexually abusing her. The very same father who had groomed a teenager who was adopted by his partner, the seven-year-old's mother. That these people would excuse a grown man's openly predatory behaviour as 'falling in love' and write off his daughter's accusations as the result of her mother's brainwashing is just disgusting and explains why many victims of child abuse find it hard to open up about their experiences at the hands of their abusers.

2. Because a man who used to edit a sleazy, sensationalist British tabloid and now hosts a television programme with a global audience threw a tantrum online because a trans woman he interviewed complained that he focused too much on her past rather than the issues that she advocates now. The whole time he was interviewing her, the words 'Was a boy until age 18' were plastered on the screen. He got angry that he got called out for something that could have been easily avoided had he bothered to do some basic research on transgender people's issues or even just read this. Heck, even I have read the guide, and I'm not even a journalist.

3. Because here in Britain, the Education Secretary continues to wreak havoc on primary and secondary schools, proving once again that it's dangerous to leave education in the hands of someone who knows nothing about it.

And that was just a fraction of what happened this week, folks. Doesn't living in this world feel so exhausting sometimes, especially for people who are directly affected by misogyny, racism and the complete disregard for the marginalised that people in government have?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Wednesday is for worthwhile work

I've decided to make Wednesday my creative work day. This is when I spend a few hours, maybe even most of the day, just writing or painting, without feeling guilty about neglecting my 'normal' work.

Well, that's the idea anyway. I still do find myself squeezing in some housework or editing articles for work for a couple of hours. These days, it's even harder to concentrate as I have the kids with me all the time. (Yes, I'm one of those parents who can't wait for the summer holidays to be over!)

So yes, it's a struggle. To make things a little bit easier for myself, I normally do my paintings on small canvasses for now, usually 5" x 7" canvas boards. They take a maximum of four hours to finish, as long as I have a clear idea of how they're going to look to begin with.

Oh, and I have a new painting material—oil paint sticks. These babies are quite pricey but they do last for ages and they give a lovely smooth creamy finish when you're painting skin.

I have no idea yet where to take my work. I feel the urge to move forward with my art, but the how isn't clear yet. There are thoughts on expanding my teaching, designing a product line or two, and selling prints off my portfolio. I'm not sure yet. My mind's a bit muddled these days, but I think it will be a lot clearer once this summer haze has cleared up.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

On Instagram and analogue photography

I love analogue photos with all their lovely imperfections. I opened an Instagram account a couple of years ago just so I could play with the photo effects. Back then Instagram was a fairly quiet space so I uploaded photos mostly just to please myself. However, using an old iPhone with a crappy camera didn't really give me the effects I wanted in my photos—the Instagram filters disguised some of the crappiness of the photos, but that was it. I lost interest and moved on to other things.

A few weeks ago, I decided to revive my account mainly because I wanted to see the photos my nieces have been posting on their accounts. It was then I discovered the wonder of Instagram hashtags. I can now tag my pictures so they show up when people do a search for specific tags. I uploaded a few photos of paintings I'm working on and tagged them. Sure enough, I've had complete strangers looking at and liking my photos. Instant gratification, yay!

I know that sounds rather shallow, but when you're an artist who's still trying to make your own way towards a certain level of recognition and appreciation, it's really lovely to have people you don't personally know take the time to show that they like your work. The fact that most of them are fellow artists makes the 'likes' even sweeter.

All the Instagramming I've been doing has made me even more keen on analogue photography. Then somehow, I found myself on eBay one evening buying an old Polaroid camera for a song. Whoa, how did that happen? Anyway, because I found myself the owner of a Polaroid, I thought I'd do some proper research on instant photography, which then led me to this wonderful book:

This book contains everything you need to know about vintage Polaroid cameras, from what film you can use to which settings are best in which situation and more importantly, how to take great photos. It also led me to do some research on the Fuji Instax which uses cheaper integral film than Polaroid does (mostly because Polaroid integral film is no more, and the film you get these days from The Impossible Project is very expensive).

Another trip to eBay and some birthday money thrown in later, I now have a 14-year-old Fuji Instax 100. Look at the huge beast sitting right next to my digital Canon Powershot s100. It is the bulkiest camera I have ever had. It's pretty much a point-and-shoot camera, with only a couple of adjustable settings.

I'm still getting the hang of using it. It's not great for indoor photos because it's terribly hard to get the exposure right, but it's quite good for outdoor shots. Oh, and I can't post about the Instax camera without mentioning the huge parallax error. Because the viewfinder is located to the side of the lens, it's a real challenge to frame your shot. I managed to get cheap expired film off eBay to practise with and I'm hoping to build up the courage to take it with me to a park and just shoot away. Compare the colours below:

Sofia on a swing

Tomasina with her instant portrait
(Hmmm, my scanner needs a good clean.)

So yes, I do have a long way to go when it comes to mastering analogue photography. Yesterday, I was so tempted to get myself a Diana F+ deluxe kit along with the instant back attachment for it but I had to say no because what I should really do for now is focus (unintended pun, haha) on improving my composition skills. When I'm ready (and provided I can afford it), I'll treat myself to the kit.

These days, when the kids and I go for our daily walk, I find myself looking around me with intention. I scan the skyline, the ground, my surroundings for interesting features and mentally frame them. Occasionally, I get my digital camera or iPhone out and take a few pictures. The kids consider this a fun game, pointing out to me what they think I should include in the photo, bits that I might have missed.

When we get home, I check my photos, do some cropping if necessary and make adjustments with Snapseed so I can get my vintage effects. I only do these with nature photos though. My people and painting shots are normally just filtered with Instagram effects and uploaded straight into my account.

Here are some photos I cropped and adjusted with Snapseed:

I'd love to be able to take actual Polaroids of these. Right now, I'm just really pleased to have looked intently enough to enable me to capture these little beautiful moments.

How about you? Do you prefer analogue to digital photography? Any tricks that you can share when taking analogue pictures?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

On turning 40

I turned 40 a few weeks ago. I hadn't actually been dreading this milestone until I was confronted with the question of 'What have you done with your life, exactly?' to which I couldn't articulate a thoughtful answer.

But then I thought about how I was when I turned 30 and immediately felt relieved. When I turned 30, I had just been living here in the UK for less than eight months. I had a seven-month-old baby and a husband whom I was still getting used to living with. I felt disorientated and completely lost. On the outside, I was calm and serene, the picture of a contented new mother. Inside me, however, was a storm of bewilderment and loneliness.

Don't get me wrong—I loved my baby boy, soft little gorgeous bundle of warmth and comfort that he was. But between looking after him and adjusting to my new life in a place that's so different from where I grew up, I just had no way to tend to my inner life or even listen to my real self hidden beneath the facade of the new immigrant/mother that I had put on. I pretty much let other people dictate to me what I should do—from how to dress (I arrived here from my tropical country in late autumn) to how to make new friends. My manners, my speech (I spoke with am American accent), my way of thinking—all these underwent scrutiny and somehow did not measure up. I thought that the only way for me to be happy in this new life was to have a complete overhaul of my personality and aspirations.

A new mum in a new place at 30

It took me a long while to make the journey back to the person I was before I got married and had a child. I found work that was similar to what I did in the Philippines and helped me build a life outside that of being a wife and mother. By the time I got pregnant again, I was ready to explore myself even further, to connect to the little girl I used to be—the one who loved to write and draw and would fill the pages of her school notebooks with stories and sketches. This was when I realised that all my life, all I wanted to be was an artist.

By the time my daughter turned two, I had left my job and gone freelance. I had a whole load of sketches and pictures that I felt too shy to show other people. One day, I posted a photo on Facebook of my sketchbook (along with a few other things) opened at a page where I drew a portrait of my daughter. The positive feedback I got for that little picture was overwhelming. I started posting more artwork online to see if people would like it too. The encouraging comments kept coming and finally I knew I no longer had to hide my true desire—to draw and paint.

The picture that outed me as an aspiring artist

I'm 40 now, and the journey continues. One day I hope to make a full living from my art. I'm getting there. I have branched into teaching art to kids, and my aim is to expand my classes and workshops to adults as well. I am constantly putting my work out into the world in the hope that someone somewhere will find it and connect to it. Because that's what life is all about, isn't it? Finding our real selves and making meaningful connections.

I wish I had known this truth when I was younger or I wouldn't have spent so much energy and time covering up the real me—the me that grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood where I witnessed so many sad and wonderful things about humanity, the me that was temperamental and moody and artistic, the me that loved to sing and dance, the me that made up and acted out stories on my own using my mother's ironing board as my acting partner, the me that felt lost after my father died and stayed that way for a long time.

But I'm okay now with the fact that I had chosen to take a much more circuitous route to get to my authentic self. I  learned how to let go of relationships and possessions that were draining me. I met some wonderful people with whom I have made a lifelong connection. It's all good, and I just need to keep this in mind whenever I encounter new obstacles and bumps on the road—they're not there to stop me, they're just new lessons waiting to be learned.

40 and loving myself a little more each day

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Back again

I'm sorry it has been quiet here for weeks. I had been feeling a little run-down for a long time, and then I just got to a point where I just couldn't see where I was going or where I intended to go. In other words, I had crawled into a rut.

I felt stressed and responded to the stress by eating unhealthily. I couldn't muster the will to exercise even for just a few minutes. I couldn't write, not even in my journal. Painting was out of the question. I really thought I had completely lost the will to create.

I'm slowly finding my way out. A few weeks ago, I decided to go for a run using the 'Get Running' app on my phone. I've been running regularly since. I've also rediscovered yoga and now meditate and stretch daily. I've also gone back to being a vegetarian and, having cut dairy and eggs out of my diet, will be a full-fledged vegan soon.

On my (ink-stained) desk: a bottle of coconut water to rehydrate after my run, and Isa Moskowitz's low-fat vegan recipe book, highly recommended by my friend E.

Last night, before I went to bed, I sat down with a pencil and my journal and just waited for a creative idea to come. Before I knew it, I was sketching away and planning new things to make—paintings, toys, clothes, stories. For the first time in many weeks, life is filled with possibilities again.

A sketch for a new project
Today, I'll make sure to do a bit of drawing and painting. And yes, there will be new posts coming to this blog soon too. See you around!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

I've been meaning to write. . .

The inclination and the desire have been there all this time, but not the time until eventually, not the words either.

The real world—not just mine, but the one that envelopes us as well—has been quite harsh lately. Deaths and deadlines have been hanging over my head lately and I've been feeling drained. But! There have been wonderful moments as well—time spent with a dear friend and her beautiful family, workshops with some really cool kids, my kids with all their madness, noise and glee, unperturbed by the darkness.

I'm hoping to come back next week with a few new posts. I'll be writing about my workshops and my visit to the Peak District. Plus, there's a new Interview with an Artist and a tutorial in the works too.


UPDATE: I wrote the above last week as a reminder to myself that my little blog needs a little love and attention from me. Last week was horrific, what with the bombings in Boston that killed three people and maimed dozens more, the fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, Texas, and the grueling chase that led to one Boston bombing suspect dead and another seriously injured.

Did you stay up to monitor the news? Did you heart sink when you found out that the two suspects came to America when they were very young, that their roots were in that much-beleaguered place in the Caucasus—Chechnya? Did you feel sad when you heard friends describing the younger man as a 'lovely kid' who came across as your typical all-American boy? Did you feel sorry for their parents who until now are convinced that their sons were innocent? Did your heart fly out to their poor Uncle Ruslan as he shouted his anger and disappointment and apologies to the group of reporters asking him inane questions?

Did you feel guilty because no matter how terrible the act that they committed, you still felt sorry for them and you wanted so badly to find out what went wrong, how they could have possibly been failed by society, how they could feel so alienated as to cause wanton destruction and grief in the country that adopted them?

And how did you feel when some people expressed disbelief at how you could get so upset over something that killed 'just three people' when in that same week, hundreds of people died in Syria and Iraq? Did you feel assaulted by guilt again because somehow your grief (and consequently, your whole being) isn't big enough for every single person who suffers a violent death in this world?

I don't think we need to tell each other how to feel about things that happen around us. I do agree that there must be a way to make a stronger connection with people and events on the other side of the world. They may be far away from us and their suffering might not have an immediate impact on our everyday life, but this doesn't mean that their lives have a lower value. Every violent death is a great loss and a cause for sorrow, whether it's that of an eight-year-old boy in Boston or an eighty-year-old woman in Baghdad or a thirty-year-old man in Arakan.

It's our responsibility as members of this great big human community to try and know more about each other, whether we're in Chechnya or in India, to make the connection that helps us empathise with each other's lives and experiences. Let's read more, take a good look at the world around us and see what's happening, look inside ourselves and most importantly, reach out, especially to those who might be feeling isolated. It's a tall order, I know, but I think it's one important step on the road towards peace.