Hand Lettering

My handwriting is variable at best. Kids are quick to tell me that their teacher would not approve of my scribbles. I think it stems from impatience; writing by hand feels so much slower than typing. Add to that the fact that much of the time I’m not really paying attention to the process itself, with only half an eye on the paper as I write, and it’s often illegible.

But I console myself with the fact that I can do better, when I slow down and really ‘try’. So, I set about to do exactly that.

Handwriting practice needn’t be the preserve of the primary school. A fresh piece of paper is pleasing at any age and there’s something a little magical about creating a ‘real thing’, rather than mere pixels on a screen.

If you’re setting intentions for the year ahead, what better time to commit those thoughts to paper?

Modern calligraphy is looser in its form, with fewer rules and requirements, making it a little less intimidating to have a go yourself.

Easy practise sheets are available to download from various places on the internet and you don’t even need a ‘special pen’. We chose brush pens, simply for the excuse to play with something new.

A few suggestions to get you started:
* Try to keep your hand still and instead move your arm. This helps you maintain one angle of pen to paper and creates more flow in your writing.
* Slow down!
* Draw yourself some guidelines. Horizontal lines are useful, of course, but slanting lines can also help you space and tilt your letters to look uniform.
* Gather a stack of scrap paper, so you can practice lots and make plenty of mistakes along the way.

We chose some favourite (brief!) quotes. You might like to try a favourite word or a promise you’re making to yourself for the year ahead. Pinned on a board or tucked away in your wallet, it serves as an everyday reminder of what’s important to you.

Stitching harvest

Recalling the annual harvest school assemblies of our youth, it’s easy to take for granted the bounties of our soil. But with recent warning of depleted soils worldwide and UN estimates of only 60 harvests left, it feels very timely to pause and appreciate all that grows at this time of year.

We took this as an opportunity to do a little harvest stitchery. A simple heat transfer design and basic back stitch makes this is a quick and easy craft that lends itself to sitting down with a friend and having a good chat. There’s no pattern to follow or stitches to count. The design is right there on the fabric, so there’s just the usual challenge of threading the floss through the eye of the needle.

Cross Stitch hoop

All you need for this craft is:

  • some lightweight cotton fabric
  • an embroidery hoop
  • embroidery thread
  • tapestry needle
  • We also used some heat transfer designs from Sublime Stitching. Alternatively, you could draw on your own design with a soft pencil or trace a design by laying your fabric over an image on a tablet.

Our usual weekly delivery of fresh veg from Living Larder arrived on our doorstep just in time to catch a few photos. Considering the fragility of our soil and the incredible efforts of local growers to sustain and nurture this valuable resource, choosing local organic produce feels like a good way celebrate the harvest.

Transient Art

Shells on branch

We often cry “Process, not product!” Both Tom and I work with children (he’s a teacher, I’m a therapist) and we often chat about how the process of doing something (and the conversations that crop up while we do it) is where the magic happens.

‘Process over product’ is a catchy phrase, but it’s not always easy to put into practice. After all, we like a pretty end result. We all have an idea of how something ‘should’ look (thanks Pinterest).

When I was a kid I’d often give up on art projects because they didn’t look like how I imagined them in my head. Perhaps if I’d focused a little more on enjoying the process I would have got further. I might have enjoyed selecting the paint colours, figuring out the shapes, telling someone else about my idea.

Shells in hand

I’m no artist, but I enjoy making things. Part of that enjoyment has come from abandoning hope of a perfect product. Focusing on what I enjoy about the process.

Transient art is a perfect project for adopting this mindset. By its very nature transient art is impermanent. So, you needn’t worry about how it looks. Just focus on enjoying the creative flow. Gather together and arrange a bunch of natural objects that are appealing to you. Enjoy the fact that this isn’t your lasting legacy.

We wandered down to one of the Island’s many hidden little beach to play and create. We had in mind a few ideas and talked about them on the long grassy path down to the beach.

Reaching the shoreline, we spent time sifting through the shells and pebbles, absent-mindedly filling hands with the things we liked. The searching and sorting is half the fun of a transient art project. It’s like gathering a giant box of craft materials, gifted by nature.

In fact, it’s only loaned by nature. We aren’t taking anything away. Only rearranging it until the high tide comes to reclaim and rearrange.

We had a go at several different projects, each in our quiet corner, with the dog running between and reminding us that chasing sticks is his favourite art form.

Shells on bush branches

Tom decorated a driftwood tree with shells, playing with gravity, balancing shells on the tips of each twig. We made zentangles in the sand, clearing the space like a bird of paradise, moving each twig and leaf out of the way to create a clean blank canvas. This appealed greatly to the dog, who thought we’d simply cleared a nice patch of smooth wet sand for his belly. Thankfully, paw prints have their own kind of beauty. And we’re not aiming for perfection.

We also stacked stones and laid out shells. I had a go at my first mandala. This geometric design intended to symbolise the universe and our connection to it seems a good choice for a natural art project. I must tell you I really enjoyed the process. I am focusing on that because I wasn’t too sure about the final product. But the process was fun enough that I’ll definitely have another go in the future. And perhaps I’ll even get better at it.

However you choose to gather and arrange the things around you, I hope you enjoy the process and embrace the beauty of impermanence.

Up Mountains with a Rescue Dog

Most people I’ve met with a rescue dog will happily tell of their pup’s many particular quirks. Rolo used to be scared of everything, from big bearded men to plastic bags floating in the wind. Nowadays he can contain his crazy about most things, but he’s still got a couple points for improvement.

He gets very overexcited by other dogs, as well as farm animals of all shapes and sizes; both things that the Great Outdoors doesn’t lack. So, it was with slight trepidation that we set off for a Lake District mountain trip with the good doggo.

Our first hike followed an overnight drive. After watching the early sun strike the tops of the peaks, we climbed up the valley below Yewbarrow in the shade. At this early stage we realised that dog on lead was essential. The Herdwicks on the fell sides seemed so much more confident than the fluffy cloud sheep Rolo is used to seeing on the Island. They stared at him and stirred desire in his collie blood.

From Dore Head we climbed steeply up Red Pike. The notorious British mountain weather was true to form, from bright sunshine to heavy cloud cover in a matter of minutes. The dog seemed unsure of the murk as we rested below the summit, taking his chance to curl up in one of the few patches of snow-free earth. He was happier down at Great Stoat Fell, where the snow had drifted behind a snaking dry stone wall. Our position allowed for good views in all directions, and with no sheep in sight, he was released from the lead to chase some snowballs.

Our second big hike took us from the shore of Buttermere up to another Red Pike, this time above Castle Crags. Near the top, a bit of Grade 1 scrambling was necessary. It was satisfying to see how well the dog attended to our commands. He could probably sense the urgency in our voices as we checked hand holds to avoid slipping off. We followed the natural line along to High Stile and High Crag before descending the steep slopes of Gamlin End to Scarth Gap, the dog again listening well to ensure nobody got dragged down in an enthusiastic tumble.

Coming from the relatively flat environment we have on the Isle of Wight, a trip to the mountains are pretty much a necessity. It was great to see how well Rolo adapted to the demands of proper hill walking. We were surprised how few good doggos we saw up high, but Instagram assures us that others take their furry friends into the high places. Best of all though, we managed a hotel stay without any drama. There’s no doubt this was aided by wearing him out every day up on those high peaks.

Silver Linings and Quiet Minds

January was hectic, right? Totally crazy, way too long and, if we’re honest, pretty darn gloomy. I can totally embrace a bad mood and I believe a good sob is beautifully cathartic. But I do also have an annoying habit of finding the silver lining. I appreciate this is not always appropriate to the moment. Some shit just doesn’t have a silver lining and it’s annoying when people try to paint one over your sadness, instead of simply sit there with you in its shadow.

But, in this case, my January downer did have a silver lining: the realisation that meditation is a total act of self-kindness. Not a virtuous act, but something that simply feels good. I have a busy brain, always planning the next thing and struggling to sit still in the moment. And writing lists can only get you so far. I’m not good at calming my mind or letting my thoughts quietly drift by. I have a tendency to latch on to them and worry at them like branches in the wind. But, with the help of Headspace, I’ve learnt just enough to accept where I’m at and start enjoying the process.

A few weeks in and I find myself looking forward to that part in the day where I sit quietly and distance myself from the usual chatter whirling in my head. I don’t plan to stop this habit anytime soon.

If meditation is a step too far right now, you might start with a zentangle: a simple abstract drawing based around two or three meandering lines. In contrast to a doodle, zentangles encourage ‘relaxed focus’, thinking only about the activity in hand. Draw whatever patterns or shapes spring to mind and simply enjoy the process.

Happy February guys. Here’s to a calmer month ahead.