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Seeing the world through an artist’s eyes

March 11, 2019

the book conscious creativity on a table with a cup of tea, biscuits and other bits and pieces

… about how Conscious Creativity by Philippa Stanton, and sources of inspiration, helped to change my view of everyday life.

I’m surprised at how small the book is as I rip open the padded envelope with excitement. This compact size is just right to fit in my hands, a joy to run my fingers over its soft cover and raise it to my face to breathe in the earthy, new paper and ink smell. I’ve been impatient for it to arrive as I’ve followed Philippa for some time (as 5ftinf on Instagram). Her generosity of spirit, the candid way she shares her creative process, and her perspective on viewing the ordinary has inspired me, and a whole community.

It takes me back to when an aspect of my creative self was first ignited by a very special person.  I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was stuck on a compound, unable to drive myself, reliant on others to do anything, hemmed in by restrictions of the county I lived in and the Mum of two toddlers.  My life was limited and claustrophobic. Looking back I was probably a bit depressed. When the prospect of an art class was mooted, I jumped at the chance. Before we ever picked up a pencil or paintbrush, Susan Elliot, an artist and art history teacher from the US, urged us to change our view of the world and to see it “through an artist’s eyes”. Over the next couple of years, these classes (and then an ‘artists’ support group) were a beacon in my life.  I realised that I’d always been observant, but she helped find a way to express shapes, texture, space and sound to the page, paper or canvas. To be alert to possibilities in every light and shadow. Her voice and words of wisdom often sounds in my head when I’m picking up a paintbrush even though I haven’t seen her for over two decades.

a cup of tea, biscuits and other bits and pieces

Had to add the cuppa as #adoremycupoftea

Philippa’s book reminded me of how powerful that mindset is for creativity and to shift my view once more. Conscious Creativity is about how to experience your surroundings. In the introduction she says she has written the book as a sort of guide or springboard towards developing your own creativity in a very conscious way, a way of utilising all your senses and everything around you.

The chapters take you on a journey of self-knowledge, to discover new ways of working that are a conduit to your own expression of creativity.  This is not prescriptive. It contains no right way or wrong way or instructions how to paint, draw or photograph. It does, however, cover boredom, time and the effects of comparison. There are chapters on colour, texture, atmosphere, light and shadow – each contains practical exercises to heighten your way of noticing, interacting and absorbing all these things. For instance, it might be counting how many things you see of the same colour while waiting for bus, or giving your brain a break from ‘doing’ by washing up in a certain way in order for ideas and experiences to be mentally digested and connected. If this all sounds a bit ‘woo’ (as my daughter said when it was on my Christmas wishlist), this book is very practical.

Throughout the pages, Philippa’s own works provide examples of how she is affected by and expresses daily practices (e.g. abstract, matching, symmetry and pattern spotting).  Her photographs are vivid and joyful, but with a calmness and ‘rightness’, transforming the everyday into something enriching. I’m reminded of David Hockney’s drawing of an ashtray, complete with squashed cigarette ends and smoking detritus – it’s an illustration I’m always drawn to (as a staunch anti-smoker). Philippa takes you by the hand down a winding path with may end in a series of iPhone pictures stored in a folder for your eyes only, or a vast canvas in a gallery. She opens the door through the analysis of the way she looked at things as a child and as she grew up, her own creative processes (encompassing many forms of expression from theatre to painting), over several decades.

For results you need intention, “Like any other discipline across the board, creativity is something that needs to be practiced and exercised: the more you engage with the practice, the more you will get from it, and you will learn to trust your own way of doing things and your own way of seeing the world.” is Philippa’s advice.

Putting it into practice

How has this affected my own way of looking, connecting and creating? I’ve been documenting things I notice on my daily dog walk for several years in a more haphazard way, and more recently I’ve become more intentional, partly influenced by the things Philippa has shared on Instagram about the way she does things.

This book has helped me to dig a lot deeper and to question why I’m drawn to certain things.  I’ve discovered that there are ways of connecting with the world that I didn’t think were possible, or definitely not possible for me.

Every morning through the week, I emerge out onto the street, dog lead and iPhone in hand. I don’t consciously think about what I’m going to look at or record. Some days I think that I’m not in the mood, but then something will change. I’ll notice the texture of peeling paint on a wall, the shade of blue of the sky, the rust on a metal pipe, the shadows cast by a palm tree, and then I know the tone and direction that I feel like exploring.

I have a podcast in my ears but my headphones are not noise cancelling so sounds of birds, the wind in the trees, the spray of a sprinkler, all provide a backdrop. Switching my brain into something else seems to free up my eyes to just see without judgement or reason. It’s pure observation that I get lost in.

Getting home and sorting these images into collages and order starts my day with a creative purpose before I have to deal with emails and the like. I try to stay away from social and other distractions from when I wake up until I’ve finished this whole process. Often this book is the first thing I reach for, when I’m drinking my cup of tea in bed; it sets me on an alternative path of creating and expression rather than responding or being influenced by others in a certain niche. Sometimes it will be other books (such as the Hockney one shown here), or just making a conscious effort to look out of the window and follow the birds hopping around the balcony, the palm leaves nodding in the breeze, or the hazy glow of dawn.

a book of David Hockney art surrounded by leaves and other bits and pieces

Synaesthesia

The biggest revelation for me is about synaesthesia. I thought that you were either born with it or not and that it meant that saw colours for each word when you were reading, which I greatly envied as it sounds magical. It turns out to be much more; synaesthesia is something that results in a joining or merging of senses that aren’t normally connected. The stimulation of one sense causes an involuntary reaction in one or more of the other senses. “I am convinced we all have a share of synaesthesia, but that some people have an ability to access it more readily than others” writes Philippa.

Scent and touch play a big part in how I interact with the world. A few years ago, due to a sudden deluge of rain, my sister, the girls and I ended up in a tent with a palm reader. She said that I was drawn to texture. As we left the tent my sister said “how did she know that the first thing you do when you enter a room is to run your fingers over something?” I was unaware that I did this. Could I be unaware of other things? Being more attune and open to this merging of senses has untapped new discoveries.

While lying on my yoga mat at the end of a class in savasana and trying to relax every part of my body , I began to visualise myself from the toes upwards. One day, as I did this, a colour associated itself with each part I was thinking of. So my toes were blue for instance, my ankles fushcia pink, my calves lime green etc. It came very naturally and I was in no doubt about each colour. Now, as it helps me to switch off from my other thoughts, I repeat this visualisation at the end of every practice. Some colours are consistent but others change. After a period of stillness, it’s as though a creative switch flicks on in my brain and I have the best ideas for photography, a concept or the outline of some writing at the end of my class. I’ve noticed that breathing in a scent evokes different reactions too including thinking of a texture.

During an interview with artist and musician Goldie, he was asked what it was like to live in New York. He described it in terms of sound and smell rather than sight and called this a synesthesic way.  I’ve caught a glimpse into how thrilling and life-enhancing it can be, especially in the new dimensions it brings to connecting with the world.

a book open to a quote by confucias, shells, a star fish, a mont blanc pen

Everyday creativity

The images in this post are made using things I picked up from the street on a single morning’s dog walk (apart from the piece of wood from an old dhow (traditional boat) which I dragged home a while ago, and the tangerine from my fruit bowl). The collages were made on the same day too.  I find it interesting that, even though I wasn’t thinking about it, brown and faded orange are the dominant colours.

I’ve used found items in these images today to tie into the book cover, but this process is not about copying – the cup of tea and digestive biscuits are a nod to my own obsessions –  it’s a springboard to my own discoveries. So now, like Susan’s voice, Philippa’s words are often in my head when I’m going about my everyday life. They are way-markers on a continuous creative journey and, like coming across a sign-post when a little bit lost on a hike, bring me confidence, energy and excitement for the way forward.

A quote on the first page:

‘Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.’

Confucius

the book conscious creativity on a table with and other bits and pieces

More info:

A bit more about the book and how to order it here.

Read Philippa’s blog

Connect with 5ftinf on Instagram

On a separate topic, story highlights about reducing plastic waste (which I also wrote about here).

I bought this book myself and receive no incentives to review it or share details.

So tell me, does any of this strike a chord? I’d love to hear about your creative journey.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. crasterkipper permalink
    March 11, 2019 3:23 pm

    Sounds liberating, & lots of fun 🙂

  2. kstienemeier permalink
    March 11, 2019 5:44 pm

    Thanks for posting and reviewing this book. It looks like a great way to jump start my creative process again. Love the photos/collages you’v created Sally.

  3. March 13, 2019 7:41 am

    Love this quote: “Like any other discipline across the board, creativity is something that needs to be practiced and exercised…” Thank you! 😊

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