Onwards and Upwards

My last post was all about reflecting on 2019. This one is about looking forward to 2020. It’s easy to write a long list of New Year’s resolutions but a little trickier to stick to them. So, this year I want to develop habits that I already have, starting with my art.

Last year saw a surge in my artistic activity. I can’t remember quite how it happened, but I know that starting a nature journal certainly helped. As well as nature I use my journal for tickets, feathers, pretty page borders and scribblings. One of my new evening past times is sketching whilst curled up on the sofa in my favourite spot. It’s a one-stop shop for all my creative energy and seeing the book get fatter only encourages me more. The journal is particularly useful for making notes on walks, although I still need to kick the bad habit of wanting every page to look Pinterest-worthy. I make title pages each month and have bought a dinky old-fashioned library stamp to date each entry. It’s by no means perfect, but so far it has proven to be a useful tool for getting me drawing and painting again.

Linked to this is a new art challenge: Inktober 52. The original version was a drawing prompt for every day in October, but that sadly didn’t quite happen. Luckily for me there’s a weekly version starting in 2020 – 52 new drawings that I can add to my portfolio. The first prompt was FLIGHT so I drew a dragon with my new Faber-Castell pens I got for Christmas. I really want to stick to Inktober 52 and I can’t wait to get next week’s prompt!

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Alas, where there’s play there has to be work. I’m feeling really optimistic about my writing moving forwards. The MA has already provided a structure for developing my work and, perhaps most importantly, trying to get paid for it. The self-led trip in April will be an important test of my ability to pitch to publications. Today I spent many hours poring over Scottish magazines and I was pleased to see that a lot of my ideas hadn’t been featured. There’s still a lot to organise, but I’m so excited to see what happens over the next few months.

Another thing I would like to do this year is establish a better work structure. I have quite a few different types of work including MA assignments, freelance pieces and personal writing, and my long to-do list was getting a little daunting. This year I’d like to try assigning a certain type of work to a specific day, so on that day I only have a few tasks to concern myself with. Blocking out time will hopefully mean I get jobs done more efficiently and make time for the things that get neglected, such as my fiction projects.

Something I certainly need to make more time for in 2020 is exercise. After a fairly consistent feast of mince pies, Yorkshire puddings and apple sauce over Christmas and the uninspiring rainy weather, my fitness has undoubtedly suffered. What’s more insulting is that my monthly gym membership still zips out of my account even when I don’t actually go… Although the idea of jogging makes me want to crawl into a ball and play possum, I want to embrace power walking and forest walking more this year.

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Buzzard gliding over Anagach Woods, Grantown-on-Spey

Lots to be getting on with! I’ve seen a few people choosing one word to summarise the coming year so I’ve decided that mine will be “improve”. It may sound simple but it’s what I want to do every year, whether that’s learn something new, develop a skill I’ve already been working on or change something for the better. Basically any small victory that brings me closer to my goals. I hope 2020 will bring lots of improvements!

 

Nature Journal

I can’t believe I’m already two assignments into my master’s degree. Both have been based around the theme of “Writing in the Field” – writing outside as opposed to a typical office environment. This was really useful for me, as up until now I’ve mostly written brief notes outside and then typed them up later at my desk. While this worked for jogging memories, it occurred to me that I was losing out on a lot of detail this way. Photos reminded me of things I saw, but I was glossing over other sensations such as smells, sounds and textures. By paying attention to these senses I found I could create a fuller, more immersive piece of writing that really put the reader in the field with me.

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Inspiration for a fantasy fiction piece

For my first assignment I decided to start a nature journal that I planned to take with me whenever I was out in nature. This would be the basis for my essay in the first assignment. During my research I discovered that many writers use journals to enhance their writing experience. Charles Darwin kept perhaps the most well known example during his voyages on H.M.S Beagle but there are numerous others. Author and artist John Muir Laws said that “journaling will slow you down and make you stop and look.” American author and scientist Aldo Leopold’s nature journals were so significant that the resulting essays became valuable contributions to the field of phenology – the study of seasonal natural phenomena. I also found several studies indicating that being outside is beneficial to creativity, so it made sense to do more writing outdoors!

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An illustration for a piece of scientific writing about roe deer

I found that my nature journal not only benefitted my writing but also enabled me to concentrate more on my art. I was keen to make the pages pretty and yearned to have a journal that would be cool enough for Pinterest. I’ve always loved drawing and painting but it’s often taken a back seat. My usual excuse is that I have no time, but over the past few weeks I’ve started to create quite a large body of work just by snatching a few minutes here and there to make a sketch. I bought a travel watercolour palette with a brush containing its own water which has been a lifesaver. Now I can pop my paints in my bag and take them anywhere, and I’ve really got on well with it so far. I deliberately bought a journal with a ring binder, so I can remove and insert the hole punched pages wherever I want them. A lot of my conventional notebooks have failed so I think having the freedom to go back and add pages in later has helped to keep the creative flow going.

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Burghead Harbour, the scene of a reflective piece about night walks

Writing and illustration go well together, so I decided to create a small drawing or painting for each piece in my second assignment – a portfolio of nature and travel writing from the field. I’ve loved setting art projects for myself again, which I haven’t done since school. Not only does it bring some variety to my writing, but it’s enhanced my observational skills by forcing me to note the fine details of my environment. I’m really looking forward to seeing how my nature journal progresses and I hope I can maintain it until the end of my course and beyond!

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A worm’s eye view to illustrate a sci-fi fiction piece

Stop and Look

In our bittersweet digital age, it’s so easy to be lazy. As a photographer who has tried using film but undoubtedly prefers shooting digital, I have the ability to take thousands of photos of the same thing if I want to. Once I have a camera and hard drive, there are no other essential expenses or materials required. While I personally didn’t enjoy the process of developing film, I commend those who gather all that equipment and spend hours in the darkroom bringing their images to life. I’ll admit it is dedication beyond what a lot of digital photographers put in.

It got me thinking how I can see more when I explore my surroundings. I often leave my camera at home and just watch for a change, no longer distracted by adjusting settings and looking at yet another screen. But I still want a permanent memory of what I discover. An answer to this that I am trying to introduce into my routine is drawing.

I’ve always enjoyed art but never possessed any genuine talent for it, which is perhaps why it never became more than an occasional hobby. Whenever I see someone drawing or painting I feel an overwhelming urge to join in. I could do this at any time and yet never do. What starts as an “inspiring new project” eventually fades into a half-full notebook.

I was in Tampa this weekend visiting the Florida Aquarium, and I packed my (so far untouched) sketchbook and pens on a whim. On the first evening, I wandered along the riverside just as the sun was setting. Across the water I noticed an incredible building with bulb-like turrets and crescent moon decorations. It looked like an Indian temple; I had no idea what it really was but I retrieved my sketchbook and began to draw it.

Twenty minutes later I had drawn my impression of the scene: the turrets, a large gathering of palm trees and the restaurant in the foreground. During this time three different people approached and asked me about what I was doing. Copying as closely as I could provided an opportunity to observe a level of detail that is far harder to notice when taking photos. I finished with something I was quite proud of, not to mention a talking point with passers-by and a souvenir of my evening.

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I later discovered that the exotic building was the Henry B. Plant Museum. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that it wasn’t a museum full of plants as I had originally thought.