What are you building?

I don’t know about you, but January is generally a very unproductive month for me. Good intentions remain as such as I struggle to return to work after the Christmas break.  

Oh, the dark mornings! Oh, the dark afternoons!  Don’t get me started on S.A.D! (Seasonal Affective Disorder)  Everything slows down as I long for spring to be the light at the end of winter's tunnel.

This year, however, I decided to attack the problem head on and load my January with fun stuff!  

As I launch a creative business it’s very easy to become bogged down with admin and paperwork and forget to keep the creative juices flowing.  

So, my plan was two-fold: 1.To enrol on a 'virtual' art course to keep me inspired and keep abreast with the latest products and trends (I chose a mixed-media art journalling course called ‘Wanderlust’ led by Everything Art);  2.To undertake another doodle-a-day challenge.  

When I did my first doodle challenge back in June 2015, I discovered so many wonderful things, including a new style of work that people responded to. I also uncovered a set of 'signature marks' that felt my own.

It's an important process for artists of any discipline to discover their 'voice'. In doing so, we begin to understand why we create and what we're yearning to express to the outside world.

Many artists are inspired by nature, but I found myself drawn (literally) to man-made creations: architecture, vehicles, machines, furniture, shapes and structures.  Inspired by Austrian artist Hundertwasser who often uses a continuous line to represent the flow of energy through people and nature, I doodle without lifting my pen from the page, showing that same creative energy flowing into and through what we create. 

I decided to make architecture of the world my focused theme for my latest challenge.  I’ve been taken by how expressive architecture can be and what a significant part our immediate environment plays in our lives. It affects our mood and our connection to others. We all have a dream location we’d like to retire to or holiday in; a place we believe we’ll feel most at rest and happy. 

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Early on in the challenge, I doodled Neushwanstein Castle nestled in the stunning Bavarian hills.  It was built for King Ludwig II who desperately wanted to live a solitary life. Ironically, soon after his death, it was opened to the public and is now one of the most visited castles in Europe.


The first assignment for my mixed-media art course was to create a piece expressing the word that best describes me today. 

I chose the word: building.

It struck me that my obsession with man-made creations may have a deeper significance. 

In November 2014 I hit rock bottom, forcing me to quit a career in screenwriting that I'd worked towards for several years.  It was deeply distressing not knowing what I was working towards. I've always been goal orientated, striving for something ambitious. Suddenly, my engine stopped and my headlights died. Now what?

After fumbling around panic stricken in the dark for a while, I realised that a need to create lay at the core of my being. To attempt anything outside of that would be fool-hardy and unsatisfying, creativity was part of my identity.  I'm never happier than when I'm making something out of nothing. I take huge satisfaction in holding something that wouldn't have existed before.  If my creation stirs people or makes a difference to them in some way, all the better!  This is an important appendage; to create is one thing, but to possess the need to hand the creation on to others is the foundation for a business, not simply a hobby.

My husband and I recently watched Asif Kapadia's heartbreaking documentary "Amy" about British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. We watched in silence (unusual for us) as the life of this creative young woman hurtled to its tragic end.

I hadn't realised before how personal her songwriting was. I mean really personal. She poured her life into her lyrics. Music was her life-blood; how she made sense of the world. It struck me, however, as we watched her refuse to sing in front of thousands on tour, her comment to her best friend after receiving a Grammy Award "This is so boring without drugs" that Amy shouldn't have become a professional performer.

I've heard other songwriter/musicians talk about the creation process as being utterly personal, but once a song is performed before an audience, the song belongs to them; it becomes their anthem. It's clear that Amy Winehouse was creating for herself, not for others. Her art belonged to her; it represented a part of her at one moment in time. She resented her art being at the beck and call of audiences. Amy was like King Ludwig II: she wanted her beautiful palace to herself. 

It made me wonder what kind of artist am I?  What am I building?

In the final week of my doodle challenge as I pondered this question, I came across Ferdinand Cheval's 'Ideal Palace'.  On first glance I thought it was an ancient Mayan temple. It appeared to be sculpted out of clay. It has a reverence to it.  I was astounded to learn that it was built by a postman in nineteenth century rural France.  In 1827, Cheval reported:

"I was walking very fast when my foot caught on something that sent me stumbling a few meters away, I wanted to know the cause. In a dream I had built a palace, a castle or caves, I cannot express it well... I told no one about it for fear of being ridiculed and I felt ridiculous myself. Then fifteen years later, when I had almost forgotten my dream, when I wasn't thinking of it at all, my foot reminded me of it. My foot tripped on a stone that almost made me fall. I wanted to know what it was... It was a stone of such a strange shape that I put it in my pocket to admire it at my ease. The next day, I went back to the same place. I found more stones, even more beautiful, I gathered them together on the spot and was overcome with delight... It's a sandstone shaped by water and hardened by the power of time. It becomes as hard as pebbles. It represents a sculpture so strange that it is impossible for man to imitate, it represents any kind of animal, any kind of caricature. I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture"

He spent the next thirty-three years creating his Palace.

Ferdinand Cheval's Ideal Palace

If you look upon his palace through the eyes of a professional architect or builder, you'd consider his creation undisciplined and frankly, an unruly mess, yet through the eyes of passion and creativity, then it's masterful! 

He is completely dedicated to his imagination without restraints.  Who knows if he had a plan! He simply went where his heart took him.

It's also a modest building in terms of size.  I mean, it's no Neuschwanstein, but then Cheval was no king. He knew his limitations and didn't let them stop him from building something wonderful.

I want to be like Ferdinand Cheval.