I am delighted to feature in the February 2021 issue of The Artist magazine (published December 2020).The article focuses on a recent pet portrait commission of a stunning dog I was asked to draw. In the piece I talk about how I manage the commission process and include a demonstration of drawing the dog’s eye — always a key feature with any pet portrait in bringing the subject to life.I really enjoyed writing this article and drawing the commission itself was a real treat. I hope you enjoy reading about it.
Bird Watching magazine has published a recent interview with yours truly in their March 2020 issue.
I recently read an article about the subject of English in schools and how it is currently being taught. It seems that in recent years there has been a revival of a blinkered focus on grammar and technical ‘jargon’ to the detriment of creativity, which is leading in turn to fewer people writing.
I am one of a generation whose schooling experienced a light-touch approach on what was termed then as English Language. We were taught the broad basics of grammar and its terminology, but the focus on this was fairly low-key – something that for me was a blessing as even this brief brush against a formulaic tethering of words and sentences, made me shy away. It felt too much like maths: rules and labels that seemed so abstract and complicated in their composition, as to suck all of the life and vibrancy out of a piece of text. Writing for me has always meant freedom and wide open spaces.
In the absence of a detailed understanding of English Language, how was I then able to pursue a successful career in writing and proof-editing?
… The answer lies in reading.
From the very first moments of my childhood I was read to by my parents. As well as reading stories from books, my mother used to invent stories from her own imagination. Reading was a major part of my life from day one; consequently, I learned to be a competent reader from a young age and read prolifically.
All of this reading led on naturally to writing and as a child, I began to compose poems and stories – developing a deep passion for reading and writing that has never left me. Reading also ingrained in me an instinctive sense of how to structure my writing and identify when things didn’t sound quite right. Rather than my education of English being condensed into a set of rules and ‘rights and wrongs’, reading and writing for me was an organic process, one that ultimately meant escapism and beauty. Using words to express landscapes, feelings and thoughts – to my mind – is just magical.
A light-touch approach to technical jargon is something that has been reinforced during my proofreading training – the focus is on the ability to make writing legible, read as intended, and make sense without stifling or altering the voice and style of the author. There is a distinct absence of focus on terminology and ‘rules’ with regards to grammar, and a recognition that to a certain extent, the rules of grammar are fluid – in the same way as language – altering over the years in accordance with the cultures and fashions of the time.
Going back to the subject of English in schools, whilst it is necessary for children to learn the basics of communicating successfully through writing, to my mind, an obsessive focus on grammar and the technicalities of writing in order to make test papers measurable, goes against the very essence of what writing should be about: imagination and expressiveness. To engender a love of words and writing, a greater emphasis on reading and creativity, for me, would make much more sense.
Time: human-made. Measured in hours and minutes.
Rather a strange construct in many ways when you think about it. So many of us live our lives ‘clock watching’. Defining our days and activities in accordance with the hours-and-minutes version of time. In my experience, this kind of human-made time often equals stress and pressure. A sense that we are always chasing after it, trying to stop it from running out, berating ourselves when we don’t achieve something in a given timeframe, or are late for an appointment. It feels rigid and demanding.
At this time of year in particular, ‘natural time’ is vividly apparent. The shifting seasons are heralded in autumn by a raucous display of colour and the scent of earthy recycling; the daylight, shorter in length – made painfully apparent when trying to wake in the mornings … forms wrenched from sleep, against the ancient wisdom of their natural ‘programming’, to face a still-slumbering sun and resultant darkness.
The commitment to our hours-and-minutes way of life has, in many ways, led to a disconnect with nature – that is: our own natural way of being, along with the gentle flows and meanderings of the natural world around us. ‘Natural time’ feels much softer somehow, much more harmonious than the jarring character of hours-and-minutes.
Our modern ignorance of ‘natural time’ has led to a blinkering of sight. We no longer see the subtle changes around us, the beauty of natural change, and conversely, the red-flags that have been waving for decades – highlighting systems and processes becoming progressively under strain, skewed and damaged. Our obsession with hours-and-minutes has resulted in tragic and alarming knock-on-effects to ‘natural time’.
Reconnecting with ‘natural time’, by letting the natural world dictate the rhythm of your days whenever possible, is a powerful way of reconnecting with natural systems; balanced living with humans’ natural cycles – that are inextricably intertwined with the rest of the natural world – helps to engender a sense of rootedness and place, nurturing an increased awareness, respect and connection with all of nature … and of course, the things that people feel connected to and bonded with, are the things that they are more willing to protect and conserve.
I was twelve years old when my sister presented me with a diary for my birthday. I can still remember the excitement and wonder that I felt, looking down at the object in my hand. It had a drawing of a cartoon rabbit (frolicking in a rainbow’d world) splashed across the cover, but the words, “Secret Diary”, emblazoned in red across the top, really caught my attention, along with the shiny silver padlock that held the diary tightly closed.
Four secret diaries and six years later, I headed off to university and my writing transitioned into other forms. The diaries, however, had taught me how to tap into my innermost feelings and experiment with ways to articulate them – a valuable practice for any writer.
It seems fitting that twenty years later, it would be my sister who reintroduced me to the pleasure of keeping a daily diary, by presenting me with a rather more grown-up version for a Christmas present. Holding the book in my hands at the start of the year, brought back to me the excitement I had felt as a child receiving my first diary. Opening it each day and putting pen to paper, somehow feels like a nostalgic indulgence in this technology-led world, where everything is written through the fingertips.
As the year draws to a close, I haven’t missed a single day of diarising and have enjoyed every moment of it. I find that a six-line entry focuses me on the positives, allows my mind to briefly reflect on the day and my brain to switch off as the book closes and the pen is laid down.
… I have already purchased a new diary for next year and can’t wait to do it all over again.