Thursday, December 5, 2019

Wishlist vs. Bugdet: The Eternal Struggle

Paper! Pens! Paints! The lust for more art supplies is positively indecent! How to cope when the budget and the wishlist aren't at all compatible?

*  *  *
     If you're arty or crafty then you're as guilty as I am of wanton shopping for what  we all refer to as "essential" supplies. Mmm-hmmm. Doesn't matter whether you're a beginner, a part-time for-fun arty-farty, or full time professional, the lure of shiny new products sparkling in hobby store aisles, snuggling seductively on art store shelves, or winking cheekily at us from websites designed to feed the desire for creative crack to our feeble inner paint and paper addict.


     All too familiar. Youtube is arguably the greatest social media platform ever created and is an invaluable source of education and inspiration, but holy Tim Holtz, Batman! It's the very devil on the shoulder of anyone with a square inch of shelf calling out to be over-filled. All those videos....all those tutorials....all those LISTS and LISTS and LISTS of supplies. There. Right there. This kicks off the inevitable 12-step process...

     It goes like this: Step 1: Watch Youtube tutorial/process video
                                Step 2: List AAAAAALLL the supplies.....
                                Step 3: Open a new stores... (JUST TO LOOK!)
                                Step 4: Temporarily lose all awareness of self and have a convenient gap in time
                                Step 5: Act surprised when the postman delivers an undeniably unreasonable                                                                                   number of packages
                                Step 6: Open them in a flurry of excitement; hug/lick/drool on every item
                                Step 7: Find/make a space to display/store/hide every item
                                Step 8: Stare at art desk/journal/canvas/out of window for half an hour
                                Step 9: Make a cup of tea/coffee/gin
                                Step 10: Eat cake. It's always cake.
                                Step 11: Walk past the art space without looking at it
                                Step 12: Open up the computer.....repeat steps 1-12 know it's true. My own studio breaks down to 10%: stuff I use all the time, and 90% stuff that gathers dust. Phrases like, "it was a bargain", "they were on sale", "it was cheaper to buy three and get the offer", "this is DEFINITELY the last one...", have been all too common over the years. 

     The stash builds up, along with a guilt complex and the intimidation factor that accompanies the stacks of tubs and packages, tubes and pads and those little boxes of compartments and tiny drawers that were supposed to help when everything was fiddled and faffed  with into colour groups, themes and sizes. Inspiration all but disappears, buried under teetering towers, hidden behind precarious piles, nervous of expectation, experiencing a disconnect from the eternally flaky artistic muse.

      ....The cycle has to be broken. Finances - and space - aren't endless and common sense just has to win out. Clear the clutter. Make a wish list, not a shopping list. Don't buy more 'til you've used some of what's already there. We all forget that these wonderful supplies are designed to be an extension of our imaginations - it's their purpose, their raison d'etre. We deny them their full potential by leaving them, ignored, pristine in their packaging, uniform in their production....waiting.

     Don't get me wrong - my wish list on the Jackson's Art site is a gajillion miles long and would easily bankrupt a good sized continent, but it's just that: a WISH list. I'm off my twelve steps, have broken the cycle and I spend now only to replace what I've used. I buy what I need. I use what I have. I still WANT...I just redirect. How I achieved this is a longer topic for a different post, but the discovery of how much fun it is to make art from very little has been a saving grace - and I'll prove it.

     I had a conversation with a friend I met recently on 'Art Journal Junkie', a facebook group filled with inspiration and talent, about making something from nothing and we challenged each other to make art solely from scraps. Only rule was it had to be about our pets! Awesome! In order to begin, I looked at ONLY what was on my work table - nothing else - and this is what I selected:

Bargain sample paint pots from a local supermarket chain (Wilko's here in the UK). They are cheap as chips and as good, if not better than any crafter's acrylic on the market (less chalky, more vibrant and generally very good for lightfast qualities, given that they're meant for decorating walls)

Three Golden acrylic colours...will ya look at the state of them.....

My trusty indian ink and nib pen, with lovely splooshy flexible nib which is still uber fine when I need it to be....

One colour of Treasure Gold gilding wax and four colours of mica powder...

Papers selected from these scraps, left over from a previous project...

Two brushes - a #2 filbert and a #1 liner,  a uni ball 1.0 black gel impact pen, a Uni Ball Signo 1.0 white gel pen, a Wilko black gel fine liner pen, a Derwent Inktense pencil - Bark colour, a Faber Castell Pitt pen (permanent carmine #126) and two Stabilo fine liner pens in brown tones...

Lastly, Aleen's Matte Decoupage medium - as good as any swish, high priced, rootin' tootin' gel medium. You can see how well-used everything is... Not shiny, just loved.

     None of these things are awesome. None of them are going to have their own Facebook page, but they all do a fine job, and to me, art's about the creativity and imagination that comes from using what you have to hand, not so much having the latest and greatest, cost-a-kidney trend-setter collection which can often make things a bit too robotic, too smooth....less challenging.....not so individual. That's just me - I know it's not the same for everyone, but this post is about using what you have to create something - anything, not languishing in a haze of wishlist based 'what ifs'.

     For a background I used an old piece of backing board which I'd been using as a test scribble mat as I figured any marks that showed through would just make things more interesting. Now - I hadn't intended to blog this so I don't have masses of process pics, so bear with me and I'll do my best. 

     I used the Wilko's cheap acrylics to layer a splooshy painty background with my fingers and used the handle of the paintbrush to  make lines and texture swirls:

     A little mica powder sprinkled on the wet medium added more texture and sparkle, then a touch of gilding wax picked out some raised lumps and bumps so that it caught the light. The shape of the cat and its eyes were made by using the decoupage medium to glue torn coloured paper pieces into the desired shape. I like layers and a bit of textural  'oompf' so I was pretty chuffed to have the playful mosaic effect of the paper coming through.

     Black Indian ink picked out facial features and outline and I had fun smudging it with kitchen roll to add black marks to the background. The teal and yellow Golden paints added highlights and brightened up the cat's immediate background to help her stand out, and the titan buff Golden paint gave her a nice white mouth and chest, just adding to the colour of the background papers. Just adding a teeny touch of teal or yellow here and there did well to pull the picture together, with all its patchy colours.

     I wanted to leave the original paper colours to come through, so I only added the inky Pitt pen carmine shade smudged here and there to make the oranges a little richer, then making happy marks with the Stabilo pens and gel pens to create 'fur' effect and whiskery whiskers.

     A few strategic dots and lines for highlights... I wanted her face to have character! A little carmine pen ink and white gel ink smooshed together with the liner brush make the perfect pink for nose and ears... And she was done! And I had immense fun as well!

     So....what think you? Worth rummaging through your 'bits' box, grabbing a few bits and bobs and having a go at creativity over collecting? Make use of your awesome hoard, your staggering stash, and make art - and make space for the shiny, sparkly new releases that your favourite companies are guaranteed to tempt you with in the coming months? Even then, maybe you could be more picky, a little choosy about what you buy. Put a little aside for a fabulous day out with family or friends... A little treat to brighten your heart and  inspire your muse!

     I'd love to hear from you so feel free to say hello and leave a comment either here or on facebook, introduce yourself and let me know how you cope with your stash building vs muse freeing experiences. See you soon, de-stashed and covered in paint and glitter - with cake! - Shroo xxx

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Harvey's Farewell

      It's in my nature to record life events....usually art is my expressive medium of choice.

*  *  *
     I worked on this piece on Harvey's last day, while Daddy had to go to his outside job and my little fluffball lay beside me, snuggled in a warm blanket, in between worlds.

     He sits perched on a velvet stool, surrounded by cushions while his brothers and sisters shower him with love. Martini in paw and taffeta bow tie catching the twilight rays of sun, he is a dapper old chap, sounding a little bit Noel Coward, dear boy as he bids farewell to his earthly domain to travel through rainbow clouds where those that went before await his magnificence with open arms. That big sparkly sequin-scattered heart represents my theatrical mother who I know will be his eternal slave, feeding him turkish delight and fine truffles until Pimm's o'clock, when the party always begins.

     This process is cathartic and soothes my spirit. It's a way to move on, not leaving things behind, just finding storage for memories in a safe place accessible any time as I continue on my journey.

     I don't know why, but even the hardest things and the most raw and painful shards of broken emotion draw bright colours from me and I am compelled to reach for sparkles, mica glitter shades of wonder and glistening golds. This illustration was laid down in black Indian ink, Winsor and Newton watercolours, enhanced with Derwent Inktense pencil, cosmic shimmer water soluble mica paints, Golden acrylics, Winsor and Newton gold ink and white gel pen. I'm VERY happy with it. Husband has decreed that it will be framed and go up on our wall of pet tributes and every time I pass I will see all my babies, past and present surrounded by bright happy rainbow light. And it will make me smile.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Harvey - a cat of many identities, but all of them with a strangely similar theme: The Velvet One. El Jefe. His Reverence. The Colonel.

*  *  *
     A small black velvet cat whose delight for the finer things in life added a certain gravitas...a particular weight to his presence. A climber, an adventurer, a tyrant and a hero - a demanding boy whose will must ever be obeyed by his minions...his humans...

     His apparent arrogance always belied a gentler nature. Face rubs and cuddles always the order of the day from kittenhood, he liked nothing more that snuggling in a heap of wubby blankies on the best chair in the house. He learned at a very young age that car travel was nothing but an adventure and, uncomplaining, he would accompany me to the vet without a carrier and sit patiently waiting for his appointment, confident that his handsome looks and "come hither" gaze would garner nought but the most devoted attention from all present. It never failed.

     He climbed the highest trees, a true daredevil in his younger years, regularly seen at full gallop hurtling along the topmost branches, leaping from oak to pine to ash like the most skilled 'Cirque Du Soleil' acrobat.

     His temperamental sister, Sabrina (the teenage witch and named character counterpart) and his adopted brother, Victor Scorpius Galactus Von Doom, off to Aslan's Country, Harvey became an only child, never leaving my side...eternally there, calm, kind, patient, soft and loving. He stayed faithful through every life event, wriggling from tickles as I laughed with him, purring softly when I buried my face in his gossamer fur and cried. He stood guardian and confidant to my mum during her cancer treatment and shone his light to guide me through the darkness that followed.

     He didn't once complain when he lost his huge garden....his trees....his peace, to move to a small space far from the countryside he loved. His eye for decor was perfection so he brought his sunshine with him. He was calm when I had chaos in my soul. He was gentle when I had a storm in my heart. He was constant when my mind was all at sea. He was my beacon, my anchor and my joy.

     His adventurous heart led him to his new baby brother, Leonard, hidden in the bramble bushes and his courage taught the timid boy to trust and be brave.

     He faced illnesses and hardship with stoicism and fortitude. He had nine glorious lives and he made the most of all of them.

     Harvey walked into the light across the rainbow bridge and on to Aslan's Country last night. Leonard had held him close and touched nose to his nose before we took him on his final journey, He took his last kiss of air with a sigh that tore my soul. His grace and loyalty stole me back from the precipice so many times, and kept me sure footed on a path that led us all to our new home, to his Daddy, who he loved with every fibre of his honest being. He had a garden again...trees... brothers and sisters....a real home. Here he will forever live in our hearts and memories. I am sure that we will hear the demand for a fine, robust cognac and delicate cream fancies whispered on the wind and an urge to rub fluffy ears will lead us to pass on his love to all the fur babies who remain. He will be immortal, eternal, and the forever embodiment of my hope and happiness.

     Goodbye my little Love xxx

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Desolation of Wickham

At the weekend, Husband donned pith helmet and bull-whip and braved the wilds of the forested jungle that is our abundantly overgrown garden.

It's not that we're wilfully neglecting the poor place, we simply have no time to head out there with clippers and hose and tend to the greenery on a regular basis. Now we have a malicious gang of wandering triffids fighting for dominance with the latest incarnation of Audrey II - "FEED ME, SEYMOUR!"

Although we hang heads in shame at the shambles, the cats are in seventh heaven - not least of all the Shrewsbane, Leonard, and the ever psychotic mini kitty, Sapphira, who's bonkers at the best of times but seems to have gone into full-on Bear Grylls mode.... Gizmo is like Attenborough, lurking in bushes ogling the wood pigeons and any passing insect with diagnostic fascination, probably weighing up the likelihood of them offering up a fine dining experience.

Mischief has been up in the back field again, partying like a maniac, in a mojito-fuelled haze, returning to sit and stare, hypnotised at the pond......big fish, little fish, big fish, little fish....before the call of the cardboard box becomes overwhelming.

Harvey remains nestled in his blankies, in his smoking jacket, lounging luxuriously in velvet folds, demanding pate de foie gras and a divinely robust cognac.

Enough was enough, and Sunday took Husband to the edge with trailing vines and man-eating begonias. Out he went with determined visage and the proper big gloves. An hour-and-a-half later, in he comes in mud-monster fancy dress, behind him a wasteland of stems and churned soil. The cats are bereft and the overreaction has been extreme. You'd think they'd been deposited into the middle of a vast, featureless desert! It's a whole new level of drama from Leonard of Arabia and his motley companions and I suspect Oscar nominations will be abundant for all. Harvey is the least disturbed, as he has his own comfy spot, jealously guarded, and he ain't movin' for anyone. Only nummy yummy treats will bring solace now to the traumatised feline victims of this devastation - we're waiting for the emergency air-drop of catnip had better reach us soon....

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Rubbish Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

What a LOAD OF RUBBISH! Something we hear from others and say ourselves all the time. It's a common enough phrase, but in the world of art it can be a serious de-motivator.

*  *  *

     In an ideal world, we'd never judge anyone else's work or play favourites, but the nature of art is that it is emotive and subjective. It's ok to have an opinion and it's ok to have preferences. Ideally, unless critique is solicited, it's best to be encouraging at best and noncommittal at worst. As artists, we're all pretty darned fragile with brittle egos, and very little is required to have us plunging mentally and emotionally into a swirling abyss of self-loathing, self-doubt and despair. So why on earth do we - with gusto and spiteful relish - hurl judgement rocks at ourselves throughout our creative process? Huh?

     I'm no innocent in this. Ye gads! I have spent years and ever losing all confidence, dashing my hopes and aspirations against the rugged rocks of oblivion and plunging headlong into the storm of angsty gloom and doom with no torch or map to guide me... Seriously - the amount of art I've schlepped into the garden and burned whilst in floods of tears...Doesn't bear thinking about. Why? 

     Ok, so here are my thoughts: Artists... we're a funny bunch. I don't think that any other calling - whether it be hobbyist or professional - requires the practitioner to present heart and soul, thought and emotion, love and pain and lay it bare for dissection. To view our art is to see our innermost fragile self, the part of us that, like a child, yearns for approval. With our art we speak, we dance, we sing, we build, we create, we beautify the world. We hope and need to connect with each other to feed our creative muse, and also with the part of ourselves that helps us to navigate our way through the complex landscape of life. We hope to see recognition - a flicker of kinship - from those who share our passion. Approval of our art is also, by necessity if not by intention, approval of our essential selves.

     That's a LOT of pressure to put on others and on our own mercurial emotions, eh?

     Oftentimes, we feel perfectly fine about our work...UNTIL we see someone else's....someone who we [subjectively] deem "better" than us. We say things like, " I wish I could paint like that", or, "I could never be that good", or "I can't compete with that" - and the following thought is, " why should I bother?" It's that 'imposter syndrome' raising its ugly, nagging little head.

     Now is the PERFECT time to utter the phrase: "WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH!"

     Nonsense indeed! There are MANY artists I admire, whose works and styles have influenced my path as an artist. I have wasted a crazy amount of time comparing my work to theirs, weighing up skill levels and grading myself poorly. Why? Really - WHY? A huge influence for me was a spectacular artist called Bernie Wrightson (go Google the man - he's worth it, or you can read an article I wrote back on my old blog HERE). I first encountered his work as a young teen and from that second on I have been captivated by ink and line work.'s an example of his work, from his series of illustrations for 'Frankenstein':

....mmm-hmmm. Yep. It blew my mind when I read that after over seven years of crippling work on these illustrations all he could see were the "flaws". HE.....thought HE wasn't good enough! Mind officially hanging in tatters....

     It's really not about being "as good as" or "better than" someone else, it's about the process: seeing, learning, practising, enjoying. Be proud of every line, every scratch, every blob, smear, smudge and spill. When something doesn't go to plan, shrug and make it something else. It's only paper. It's only paint. Start again. Use the old piece to inspire a new one. If we were all perfect we'd lose our creativity. We are as much a product of our mistakes as our successes. We're not robots on a production line - we are heart, we are fury, we are sadness, we are joy....we are laughter, pain, love, loss, sorrow, delight, fragility and strength. We are imperfect creatures - rejoice in the reflection of your imperfection.

     Lastly, and this is a personal one, so it won't apply across the board, but here goes. I recently had a series of significant strokes. The effects were ranging in severity, but amongst them was a partial loss of sight, depth perception and basic motor control in my hands and arms. I couldn't grip a pen, see the paper in front of me or raise my arm long enough to scratch my nose, let alone draw a picture. The depression that followed the strokes was crippling and motivation was lacking to say the least.

     Thankfully, I am a completely, objectionably, irritatingly stubborn pain-in-the-arse! One day I picked up a pencil and started making what marks I could on sheet after sheet of paper. It hurt my hand, my arm, my shoulder and I ended up with a headache that would floor a rhino....and I cried. And cried...and cried...and swore a lot, had a good few very over-the-top tantrums, but I kept picking up that pencil. When I started I couldn't hit the paper with a barn door..then I could. I couldn't draw a circle or a square.....then I could. I couldn't control the pencil.....then I could. And so on....

     The word "can't" is no longer part of my chosen vocabulary. The work I do now I could never have dreamed of doing two years ago. I have some way to go and I have so much to improve, and I know I'll make mistakes.... But long may I be able to make them. 

     To sum up - stop feeding cream cakes and chocolate to your inner critic.... it just gains more weight! It can feed from the big bag of "shush!" you know it deserves. Let your muse out to play. She's a flighty one - a bit of a flake - but if you allow her to waltz to the music of your heart she will lead you through the brightest, most beautiful dance of your life.

     And that's really not a load of rubbish.

*  *  *

Friday, November 15, 2019

Leonidas Of Wickham!

Leonard is enormous. He weighs as much as a goodly sized truck and has the brains of a lump of cheese...but he's the sweetest, most loyal and most loving boy! 


     He was a "gentleman of the road" before finding us, abandoned as a young cat by fools who couldn't see his worth. He had to learn some manners, and get used to being touched and held, but he's a simple soul who just wants to be loved. He's a delight.

     Moving half a country with Leonard and his older brother, Harvey was another upheaval but the INSTANT he met his new dad for the first time he was immediately and joyously at home, and happy as a bat at a moth festival!

     We live in the English countryside now, and Leonard has discovered his mission - his true calling: to be the best rodent-targeted serial killer ever to patrol the grasslands! Nary a day passed without at least one thorough corpse hunt, inevitably turning up one terminally startled rat, or a couple of brave-but-foolhardy shrews. Bit by bit he's ridding England of nibbly vermin, presenting them with love (but often without faces) to his Mum and Dad, thrilled with his combative exploits and giddy from the brief interludes of squeaky violence.

     His Dad and I are astounded by Leonard's prowess and success...The best we've had otherwise is the occasional shabby rat dragged in by Mischief ...inevitable punishment for not buying her a sambucca at the well-hidden kitty bar she seems to frequent (the only likely explanation for her regular absences...and the "party princess" sequined cat suits she secretly has shipped via Feline Express). Husband suspects impressive espionage and stealth tactics. I, however, reckon that Leonard had a simpler technique....disguise and infiltration. You decide which of us has hit the proverbial nail on the head!

     I thought I'd share a couple of articles I posted on 'Art Journal Junkie' (epic Facebook group) in October - just so that you can read of Leonard's adventures...hope you enjoy them! See you soon - Shroo xxx

*  *  *

 (First posted 24th October 2019)

     It's closing in on Hallowe'en pretty darned fast and Leonard has decided to enter into the spirit of the season by dramatically increasing the corpse count in the garden.

      The Shrewsbane has fed his fix for feline fun in his field of rodent nests by going 'full Rambo' on the rural rat population. Unsatisfied with the mediocre squeaky conquest he's now off on a quest for ever more exotic, more challenging prey and every saunter up the garden has us edgy and twitching like an unearthed pigeon on a short-circuiting dalek in a thunderstorm. We think "Leonidas" has hit his Sparta recreation mode at full speed and is waging whiskery war on any and all invaders....

      Then he trots down the garden path, as pleased as punch, dragging his latest victim by an unyielding ankle defying his own serial killer persona by purring like a tractor, doing a little Snoopy happy dance, spitting the fatality out like yesterday's bedpost gum then sitting by his bowl awaiting his good-boy-treats. Adorable psychopath...

*  *  *

 (First published 27th October 2019)

"No retreat, no surrender! That is Kitty law. And by Kitty law, we will stand and be extremely fluffy... and poke you in the legs with pointy claws of DOOM. A new age has begun: an age of easy-open tins of tuna! And all will know that 300 kitties gave their last chicken nibbly treats to defend it!"

....It took Leonidas of Wickham a whole three minutes to bring down his first mouse assassin this morning...You'll never see a more surprised look of frozen horror on anything as on that mouse's toothy face ...

Then Leonidas of Wickham bounced around in a circle of happiness, licked his bottom intently, ate his nippity-treaty-treats with gusto then trotted off to check the back field for wildebeest/aliens/zombie hordes.

Once more unto the breach......

*  *  *

A Little Hello...

Welcome To Shroo's Place!

Hello lovely visitor! Welcome to this, my new blog aaaaall about art and creative things, and about me - Shroo - my journey and my arty li...

More Ramblings...