Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art


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I did it!!

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Well, that’s me, in a local cafe, with my artwork…eleven paintings up for the month of October. At eight o clock yesterday morning I was splashing Payne’s grey and cadmium orange hue around with abandon, in my dressing gown, trying to ignore babies, need for packed lunches and bus money, and clarity around the location of the car keys.

At nine thirty I was carrying my new babies into a cafe in town, ready to exhibit them for the very first time. Old familiar feelings of not good enough, hell, the guy taking his paintings down from last month has an art degree, shit what do I even think I’m playing at trying to show my work. It isn’t even work, I really should cancel and go home.

The guy taking his work down expressed a desire to see mine and I felt shy and ashamed…embarassed, had to force myself not to apologise. The woman exhibiting in the other room at the cafe…an artist for forty years came in..I cringed and started to stutter about it being my first time.

The paintings  went up, I made some wee price labels, I stood back, Hugh took some photographs and we went for coffee and cake to celebrate.

The paintings looked ok. They actually looked quite good on those blue walls.

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Can I call myself an artist now? It still seems a bit presumptuous….

Artist. That elusive desirable unattainable state. I’m 15 at school, gazing longingly through the glass doors of the Art room, the soft chalkiness of pastels scattered over the desks. The mysterious depths of the inner realm of the place, the printing table, the easels, the paints. The A level art students whisking self importantly (to my envious eyes) in and out with cups of coffee, paint spattered aprons and grimy fingernails, Stone Roses on at an acceptable volume in break times. How I wanted to be there, how I let my wings be clipped, and how I followed meekly my teacher’s advice to concentrate on academic subjects and not waste my brains. ‘Keep a little sketch book if you like,’ they said, ‘only thick kids do art.’ Really. My physics teacher, giving me GCSE options advice. So I took Physics and chemistry instead of art…I hated both, had no interest in either. Meekly following did not serve me.

But I forgive Meekly following, and I try to accept her as a necessary part of who I was, thank her for serving me in the past and explain that I now no longer need her around.

I spent years collecting articles about artists, magazine pages filed away in a cardboard folder, I spent years being magnetically drawn to art supply shops, allowing myself to occasionally buy a box of pastels or pencils, to  handcraft birthday cards, because that was ‘useful’.  I didn’t give myself the gift of time to explore and grow with my art because I somehow felt as if I wasn’t allowed. Voices in my head…’you don’t make money from art,’  ‘its a nice little hobby,’  ‘you have to be really good to make it’ were ingrained in my thought processes.

I was perpetuating the good child in me, doing as it was told, trying to please parents and teachers, not make a fuss.

But then it occurred to me that as an adult, no one was actually stopping me anymore.

Well there was one person.

Me.

Only me.

Oh yes I’m an adult now, but the chains were my own. I felt obligated to be useful and dutiful, as if being happy and fulfilled myself somehow had to come only in odd minutes when everyone else’s needs had been catered for. Which when you’ve had five kids is basically never!

So I had to do it, which felt pretty big and scarey and almost too much.

And the truth is, that Lily’s death, followed two years later by the house fire, have been huge reasons for me to not take the easy road of trundling along ignoring myself.

Life is too big and glorious and necessary to be ignoring myself.

I started to take some online courses;

The lovely Julia Freund at  Lineanongrata, a Berlin based illustrator who offers wonderful personable illustration tuition, with  regular personal feedback and help and lovely written and video illustrated assignments. I really enjoyed it when I did it.

Misty Mawn was great…so much detail and inspiration in her 12 week Full Circle ecourse, truly amazing how much material was covered from oil painting to modelling, portraiture, charcoal..I’m still working through it as we have a year access to the course.

Next up was Flora Bowley...wonderful woman, inspiring intuitive painter who I full credit with me letting go of shoulds in my artwork. Yes, even when I finally sat down with my paintbrush I used to start to fret and plan and think I should be doing things a certain way..well I took Flora’s course and realised it didn’t have to be this way. I let go of my mind and followed my heart and my paintbrush.

Finally I took Draw and Paint what you love with Pauline Agnew, very different from the above, with a warm friendly tutor and lots of art history inspiration and practical knowledge, a lovely course and individual support and feedback.

I’m deeply grateful to all four women who led such journeys for me to follow and ultimately start to carve my own path.

So, today I am at the beginning of a journey, where I take myself seriously, continue to paint, and believe that I can do it.

I have!!

Each step feels huge, fighting through fear and resistance but its the only way…

Have you overcome a childhood fear or block…I’d love to hear how you have got where you are today…or perhaps you are just about to begin to thank it kindly and walk on without it.

Blessings, love

Henrietta xx


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The Birthday

Tomorrow it is my youngest son’s birthday, and his daddy’s too. Four years ago, at seven thirty in the morning, drowsily propped up in my bed, I nursed my new little son and ate the birthday brownies which arrived in the post for Hugh, thanks to lovely Aunty Alice. Two weeks early, Leo took us all by surprise, but I finally had four children! My older three, then aged two, six and eight munched and cooed and cuddled as we all wallowed in that delicious, sublime morning.

Later Hugh’s mum called to wish him Happy Birthday, blissfully unaware of her new grandson. Hugh asked her to guess what his favourite birthday present was.
‘Was it the screwdriver I sent you dear?’ she asked innocently.

How could anything compare to the mysterious wonder of the new little soul arrived in our midst? Hugh will love his favourite birthday present forever!

But will the gifts Leo and Hugh receive tomorrow still hold any interest or value in even four months time? Possibly, but possibly not..they are just things. Sometimes presents just seem like so much stuff to me. I cannot deny that there is a magic in witnessing a child’s excitement and joy on opening a special birthday gift and taking their time to explore and love it and make it their own. Where is the magic however, in watching a child rip through a mountain of presents, discarding them as soon as they are open?

The giving of gifts becomes a meaningless gesture. It provides a momentary rush of excitement for the child, only to be replaced by the odd uncomfortable feeling of being overwhelmed, overexcited and slightly ‘full.’ Unable to interpret the discomfort, the only remedy seems to be for the child to ask for more and feel anguish when there is not.

I love celebrating birthdays and I do always buy a present for my kids, but just one, a special one. Reducing presents coming in from outside is an ongoing process but increasingly being met with understanding.

What makes a birthday meaningful?
Ceremony and ritual sound a little formal, and we’re certainly not solemn around birthdays, but doing certain things together seems to nourish the birthday girl (or  boy) more than a heap of presents. At breakfast I make sure that the table is set with cloths, flowers and candles and make a throne for the  special person to sit on. A nice breakfast is important.. tomorrow it’s croissant..shh!

A tradition I’m planning to start is for everyone else to think of one thing they love or appreciate about the birthday celebrant.  Depending on the age this can cause a bit of squirming but a birthday is a chance to focus with love and gratitude on one person and make that person feel special. Cuddles and stories are good too! And then there’s the party!
I’m sure other people have beautiful rituals they follow for their kid’s birthdays.. have you? I’d love to hear ideas (sensitive and loving) on avoiding the swamp effect of gifts from lovely well meaning relatives too.