Thursday, May 31, 2018

How to Restart Your Writing Practice: A Few Ground Rules

Are you looking for a reset after a long year of teaching? Are you struggling to get back into your writing for the summer?

Many academics are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted at the end of the academic year. So, the first step is to intentionally take some days off. At a minimum, take the weekend off. And, make sure you have some summer vacation planned, as you will need a real break. I plan a two-week vacation with absolutely no work every year. This year, after my writing retreat, I will spend that vacation in Peru! I hope you are also planning a vacation for yourself this summer.


Once you are ready to get back to work, one strategy that might work for you is to set some ground rules for yourself to get back into your writing practice. I set ground rules for myself and adjust them according to the season. I find they are helpful to keep me on track with my writing.

Here are some examples of ground rules for getting your writing done:


  1. No social media before noon on writing days.
  2. Don�t check email until writing is complete.
  3. Complete two hours of writing before doing any other work or household tasks.
  4. Take the weekend completely off.
  5. Get some exercise 3 days a week.
  6. Spend at least one afternoon a week enjoying nature.
  7. Read fiction at least 30 minutes a day.

You may notice that only one of these sample ground rules is actually about writing. The first two are about what not to do before you write and the last four are about self-care. That is because, in order to ensure you write every day, you also need to take steps to avoid distraction as well as take time to refresh. And, summer is a great time to get back into fiction reading. (I am currently reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - what's on your list?)

What do you think would be good ground rules for you? What do you need to do to keep up your writing practice this summer?

If you want to be a super-nerd about this, you can do what I do, which is to create an Excel spreadsheet with your ground rules and give yourself a gold star for each week that you meet all of them.

Also, keep in mind that it is perfectly fine - even recommended - to change your pace of work during the summer. I talk a bit more about "summer hours" in this post.

I wish you a productive and relaxing summer � at least for those of you in parts of the world where it is summertime!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Painting FROM the bin : Those scraps of coloured paper!

"Cherry Blossom"
Created on painted paper found in my bin. 

Do you throw away paintings that you don't like, or crop paintings you do like and end up with small pieces of paper that are covered in colour. Pieces that look deliciously tempting to paint on and seem far too good to throw away but are not good enough to frame?

I love those pieces. I learn so much from them because there is never any pressure to achieve anything because they were thrown away anyway. They are worthless in their own right so you have nothing to lose by experimenting or overworking on top of them by adding further layers or details.

I found a gorgeous square piece of paper with colour on in my bin. It was so dark that I had no option but to paint on top with white gouache to achieve some light areas.  I applied colour by following the line that was already there to apply a few blossoms. The pink background  gave my new freshly added white flowers the illusion of being pink not white. With my rigger brush I added a few centres and branches and the result are seen above.

Now here I must confess this piece will go straight back in the bin as I don't feel it is frame able. But I will now start a new composition keeping some sections of paper white using my original colours as the background option. This little "play break" led me to some great ideas for new work.

This was so much fun. All by delving into my studio bin and seeing what was there as coloured paper to play on.

So before you throw your trash out, check if you can play on top of any of the scraps of paper in your own bin.

You may just surprise yourself!

Have fun painting !


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A Simple Breeze : Hospitals and Grey Hairs!

" A Summers Breeze"
Work inspired by my new book "Atmospheric Flowers in Watercolour"

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"Where are you?"

"Are you okay? "

I have received so many wonderful emails asking why my blog is quiet and asking if I am okay. I could lie, tell a fib and pretend everything has been fine but truthfully it hasn't been. But thankfully I am much better now and with specialists help we seem to be getting to what has been causing the extreme pain I have been in recently. In fact I am now pain free and I have more energy than ever before which is frightening. In fact so frightening that I ended up in hospital this week and I haven't told anyone other than close family.

What happened?

Well I have been gardening as relaxing therapy in between painting. But I must have been over enthusiastic on Tuesday. Maybe I should describe my idea of gardening. It isn't just pottering around weeding. Its' digging. Moving plants if necessary. Moving large pots if necessary. And we have a huge garden. In it is a pond and the borders around it had become overgrown so I decided to empty them. On my own. Digging up well embedded roots  and moving stones. During my over zealous activity I started to feel "odd"and mentioned it to John who luckily was at home at the time. I checked my pulse and my heart beat was racing, 180 bpm.  John checked and took my blood pressure which was really low and insisted I rang the doctor immediately who given the figures insisted I went straight to hospital. Confession, I wasn't feeling realy great at this point. Two ECGs later and I will be wearing a heart monitor for a while to find out whats' going on. I have been told to call an ambulance should it ever happen again. Serious advise. When asked by the hospital team how long I had been gardening for I had to admit seven hours non stop apart from drinking water.  Thats' quite a lot when it was all continual strenuous work.  And my heart obviously wasn't happy!
I will behave now. 
She says with fingers uncrossed as its' hard to type with your fingers crossed. But I am smiling! You see , when I am painting or teaching I stay out of trouble health wise. But when I have time to myself I tend to go nuts and over do things. 
So the moral of the story is I probably should teach more and avoid strenous digging etc!
( Joking aside, it wasn't funny and I know  the outcome could have been far more serious ) 


I feel fantastic today. And perhaps realise for heavy jobs in the garden I could get someone else in. Maybe that's a thought!

But back to painting. Oh boy I'm having so much fun. I wish I could share all that is going on in my studio. I'm so excited about the colours and techniques I'm working with. They are fabulous!

I'll add to my blog more often now and try to give a few tips on how to have fun and keep that element of experimenting high which often leads to gorgeously refreshing results.

By the way, the painting above was created from the woodland and meadow area of my cottage garden. This was filmed as a work in progress and there is a description on how to use gold pigment in your work in the chapter its' held in. 

Thank you so much for all your well wishes, they really did cheer me and make me realise how very lucky I am to have friends like you.

Did you miss me?

I am back!!!



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