Unicorns have had a long history in mythology; with what started out as attempting to catalogue creatures from far off distant lands, later turning to something with a more magical quality. Notoriously difficult to catch, they could once only be lured in by virgins; now they’re everywhere and everyone’s friend. It’s a great thing to know that unicorns have finally decided to share their magical qualities with the rest of us, even becoming vengeful when called upon.
So yes, unicorns have been around a long ol’ while. And as with any story, like Chinese Whispers, the details get warped from time to time. I like to question and play with what is understood about this creature: why is it still white if its qualities are not so pure anymore? What would happen if rainbows came out of its mouth instead of its butt?
As I form ideas about what I want my unicorn to look like, I start practising drawing horses. Horses are notoriously difficult and after the first few wonky horses, I’d wonder why this was a good idea… Despite this, my way of tackling challenging shapes is to draw them over and over and over again, so that each time, my hand to eye co-ordination comes to understand the shape and weight of a horse; the power, the gesture, the lines I need to communicate ‘horse’ to any viewer.
Once I eventually find the shape I like, I’ll trace it onto my watercolour paper, ink it up and head on in with paint. Before I even touch the main image with paint, I’ll always have a test sheet nearby or use the corner to make sure I’m mixing my colours correctly. You can see some of my tests with the rainbow effect for a rainbow breathing unicorn.
Once I’m ready to go, I usually try to paint it in one sitting. Watercolours can be quite unforgiving and personally, I find it works best if I work quickly, to make sure I’m happy with laying my paint down with different tones and blends before everything gets a chance to dry out. I know other painters have a slower approach but this is the one that I find suits me.
There’s a lot of grey in the final unicorn, as you’ll see below. One of the things I love about paint is that it allows me to only work with three paint colours: red, yellow and blue (in warm or cool palettes). The grey, believe it or not, is made by just the right blend of red, yellow and blue. No black, no grey, no white. Amazing huh?
Maybe in a future blog post, I’ll talk about the magic of grey…
But for now, here is a bad-ass rainbow breathing unicorn:
Valentine’s is a tricky road of cliches and panic. And love. Yes, there’s some of that too.
If you’re looking for a slightly more creative way of showing some adoration, here’s a tip that I like to work with:
Do you have a favourite hobby/food/place/activity? It’s a little unconventional for sure, but telling someone that you love/like/fancy them more than a particularly prized object or activity gives a tangible comparison.
For example, I LOVE granola. So much so that I took to eating it for breakfast every morning. Then I started lovingly baking my own. Sometimes I’ll even eat it for not-breakfast. Now and then, for a treat I’ll keep a shot glass of granola to hand so I can nibble on it whilst I’m working…
Anyway, if I’m to tell my partner that I love him more than I love granola, then BOOM: that’s a mighty comparison right there.
I also like this technique from other perspectives too. This was the line of thought behind these pictures:
Everyone loves a good monster – especially as we enter autumn with the nights drawing ever closer in. Soon we’ll be spending the last day of October trying to scare the pants off each other as monsters (and other creepy beasties).
One thing I love about monsters nowadays is that they’re so varied. There are monsters of every size and description, from Frankenstein to the cast of Monsters Inc. They’re big and scary or small and friendly and every iteration between. Thanks to this quality, monsters are fantastically easy to draw. Whatever you come up with, that’s a monster. In my mind, there’s no such monster drawing as: ‘but that doesn’t look like a monster’.
Monsters are just so much fun too – which is why I’m running a Monster Party workshop as part of The Art Troupe. As adults, we don’t get to spend much time playing and doodling for our own enjoyment. I’m aiming to inject fun and spontaneity into monster drawing with a series of collaborative and solo drawing activities, where at the end of it all, you get your own monster book. The activities are like ‘artistic sprints’ so as to get around any niggling thoughts of ‘Ok, this monster needs to be good, what shall I draw? Do I give it three legs or four? Should I start at the tail or the teeth?’ and you enter into it with more of a ‘Yaaaay! Monsters!’ instead.
Scribbling in my ‘Stories’ book, crayon clutched in fist, wonderful worlds appear where the sky doesn’t touch the horizon, dresses are simply triangles and snowflakes are the size of footballs. Welcome to 7-year-old me.
Having been through art school, my current drawings don’t quite have the same care-free naivety where objects endearingly levitate. This is why I was excited to discover the Now and Then project, where for one artwork only, I could re-live the suspension of all artistic and scientific rules. No more perspective, or pesky gravity! The project asked artists to find an artwork drawn by themselves aged 8 or younger and then re-create it in their current artistic style.
Fortunately for me, my Mum was sentimental enough to hang on to a couple of masterpieces from my youth. I picked a ‘story’ from the 15th January 1992 about my favourite weather… Unfortunately I’d not illustrated my poem about dinosaurs (my favourite line being ‘dinosaurs are naughty’).
Doing an updated version of this artwork was a real pleasure, I like to think that I was pretty faithful to the original.
After the last post, using brush and ink for the handwritten quote, I decided that I quite liked using a brush to write. Most often I use pen, or even sometimes twigs to draw and write. This time though, I just wrote all the lovely words that came to mind and fit them together for a happy Monday post.
After I posted about my fox with the fire tail, a few of you were interested in the process that I took to get there. I have done a few workshops with the brilliant Alison Powell who is great at sharing techniques to discover and express your creativity. One of the things I love about Alison is how strongly she believes that creativity is for everyone and not just for ‘artists’ and ‘writers’ and so on. I wanted to share the meditation exercise I used with you, but instead of writing about my experience of it, I thought it would be great to have Alison write a guest post to talk you through it! The images I’ve added are things that her workshops have inspired me to create. Read on for Alison’s meditative and creative genius:
Opening the door
If you ask me, creativity is our birthright. We are all being creative all the time! Whether it’s the way we dress, style our hair, the way we arrange spices on our shelves, the way we walk, paint, draw, dance. Everything that we do is an act of creation. If, like me, you understand creativity to be the act of making something that is unique to you, you realise that you are yourself a constantly changing act of creativity!
When people tell me that they aren’t creative I ask them to talk about their dreams, or the games they loved to play as children. Or I give them some plasticine and encourage them to remember what it’s like to roll sausages of colour around each other and squish them into swirls. We can get caught up with thinking that creativity is this big mysterious thing that is only accessible to the gifted, talented, special ones. This is not true!
Acknowledging our own creative process and place in the world sometimes requires a little letting go. Letting go of the need to be ‘good enough’ or ‘right’. Letting go of comparisons with others. Letting go of the desire to check with someone else whether our creative output is OK.
And this, I believe, is where meditation can be beautifully helpful.
Now when I say meditation, I don’t necessarily mean sitting still for hours on end, legs crossed in lotus position, focusing on your third eye (though if you are able to do that, go for your life!) Many of us need something a little easier to begin with. Something more structured.
I have spent years learning about and practising different forms of meditation. I’ve spent time in ashrams in India, learned to do headstands, chanted the names of Hindu gods till my brain poured out of my ears. I’ve danced like a dervish into a spiral of bliss. I’ve sat and held eye contact with another human being until we couldn’t tell where either of us began. I’ve sung prayers at sunrise, taken gong baths, danced for hours on end. I’ve learned to run marathon distances, sat in silence for 10 whole days, used breathwork, candles, mala beads, visualisation…the lot! All of them, ultimately, offer the same experience: sinking, floating, tapping into what I think of as the Matrix or the Zone.
It’s this space that fascinates me. It’s what I’ve inadvertently dedicated my life to exploring. When we completely let go we find ourselves in a place of not thinking. It’s a place without reason or judgement. It’s a place where all our stories really do flow.
Most of us have had an experience during our lifetime, whether through meditation or something else of being in this Zone. Perhaps during exercise, when playing music, painting or making love. It’s when you aren’t questioning anything. When you’re simply existing, doing, being you.
I’m interested in how we can enter that Zone whenever we want. Instead of waiting for inspiration to arrive, what happens if we invite it into our lives? Rather than sitting around chewing pens, what if we enter a state of flow and then just write or paint whatever arises?
Laura Elliott’s Fox with the Fire Tail is a beautiful example of the sort of surprise that might just emerge!
When Laura came on my writing workshop in March, I taught her a number of meditative practices. One technique that she seemed drawn to is very simple. It’s a way of quieting the chattering mind. You give the busy mind something else to do so that your creative thoughts get a chance to peek through.
The Meditation Process
I’m going to describe the process as if I was talking you through. If you can find a friend to work with you, perhaps, at least for the first time, they could read the following to you and you can experience the sinking into flow for yourself. Then you can practise alone. As with everything that you want to get better at in life, you should practise, practise, practise!
- Sit comfortably. You are aiming to stay conscious and relaxed. Have pencil and paper by your side.
- Soften your focus. Pick a point opposite you and let your gaze go. Look without really looking!
- Notice and say aloud three things you can see. It doesn’t matter what they are: chair, book, white … whatever.
- Notice and say out loud three things you can hear.
- Now notice and say out loud three things you can feel. It doesn’t matter whether they are internal or external feelings. Textures, temperatures, emotions … all are fine, all are right.
- Next notice two things you can see. Name them out loud.
- Now notice and name two things you can hear.
- Then two things you feel. Name them.
Notice the pattern here: 3, 2, 1.
- Notice and name one thing you can see.
- Still with your eyes open, notice one thing you can hear. Name it.
- And one thing you can feel.
- Your breathing may be steady now and soft. Allow your eyes to close and staying there, sitting upright, eyelids gently resting, notice and name in your mind – silently, inside – one thing you see. This might be imagined. Maybe it’s a colour, a flash of light. Whatever. It’s all right. Just notice what you see.
- Notice one thing you hear and name it in your mind.
- And notice one thing you feel, again naming it to yourself. It could be external or internal. Everything is right.
- Now name two things you can see
- Then two things you can hear.
- And two things you can feel now.
- Then moving 1, 2, 3. Notice three things you can see, either imagined or real. Lights, colours, shapes, faces,landscapes.
- Notice and name in your mind three things you can hear.
- And three things you can feel.
Then let your mind go. You might like to imagine a door in front of you. Notice what the door looks like, what it feels like as you reach out to it, how it sounds as you pull it open. Open the door and step through allowing yourself to experience whatever is there for you. Perhaps it’s a full dreamscape. Maybe it’s silence. Perhaps there’s a voice – whose? There’s no right or wrong. Just be there. Listen. Experience. Enjoy.
When you’ve spent quality time in that place of calm and stillness and imagination and you feel ready to return, pick up your pencil and begin to write or draw freely, whatever wants to come from the pencil. Forget about spelling and punctuation if you’re writing. Forget about form if you’re drawing. Just fill that page. Keep going, letting the words and images spill out nonstop, keeping the pencil to the page for at least 5 minutes. Go for longer if you can!
Play with this process. Practise it every day for a few weeks. See where it takes you!
If you enjoy this and want to learn more, please get in touch. I’m in California at the moment where I’m practising a meditation of my own devising called Miracles and Surprises. It’s awesome! I’m also learning new practices in movement and meditation from some fantastic teachers over here. I’d love to share my stories and practices with you and will be running workshops and guided coaching sessions when I’m back in the UK this November.
I look forward to magical meditations and awesome creativity with you soon!
Love and laughter, Alison
Alison Powell www.alisonpowell.co.uk