The benefit of challenging yourself – Am I on the right path?

And breathe…

I’ve spent the last month completing a 30 day blogging challenge which I finished on Wednesday. Now I’ve had a little break it’s time to blog something.
Whilst i enjoy the blogging challenge I’m not going to keep up that rate as time spent blogging, while valuable, is time away from painting.

Although I valued it, it was time consuming and having decided on a theme and a plan, I realised that what I had chosen to do did not fit in with the challenge plan. It was good because it made me think on my feet, but if I’d have know what I do now after seeing all the emails then I’d have done things differently.

Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.

Sometimes you have to start walking and take each turning as you come to it. It’s nearly 7 years since I started on my artistic journey. I knew what I wanted to do involved creating art but I had absolutely no idea which direction I was heading.

I started off with caricatures and portraits

I’d been good at them at school ,so they were an obvious starting place. I had no discipline, I was a casual drawer and rarely did a complete a painting. My first attempts were crude. Like John Travolta here…

They had some charm but I wasn’t satisfied with them. (I’ve now realised I’ll never be satisfied with them, no artist ever is.)

So I started a daily blogging challenge.

Not in response to an internet link like this last one. More a self imposed discipline, with no guidance. Looking back I cringe at the drawings and the content. No links, no tags, just raw, unedited, uncurated content.

7 years down the line and what’s happened?

Well, masses really, and it’s only when you look back you can see the progress. Taking stock is an important stage in any creative endeavor. Find out what works and what doesn’t. My work now is wildly different to what I started creating but if I’d have worried that I didn’t know where I was going when I started I wouldn’t have begun the journey. I never, in a million years, would have predicted I’d be painting architecture.

And yet what am I doing now?

©2012-Cathy-Read-Hot-Tin-View-Mixed-Media-40x50cm - £450 framed
©2012-Cathy-Read-Hot-Tin-View-Mixed-Media-40x50cm – £450 framed

Did something go wrong? Well, obviously not but if I hadn’t started that blogging challenge I might not be here now, would I?

So what is the benefit of challenging yourself?

For me it’s that the more I did, the more I felt able to do. That’s not to say I don’t still have doubts and hesitate still but now I tend to say “Bring it on!” Oh, and I quite like the idea of a Wordless Wednesdays!

What would challenge yourself to do?

Poppies at the Tower of London

The Poppies at the Tower captured public imagination.

Some artworks have that power. In case you’ve been living on another planet or in a bubble somewhere I’ll share the story again.

To mark 100 years since the start of World War 1 several events were put on in 2014 to commemorate the event.

One of these was to create ceramic poppies and install them in the moat of the Tower of London.

Poppies have long been used to remember those fallen in conflict. Partly because they are blood red but also because they tend to grow in areas where the ground has recently been disturbed, like a battlefield.

©2015 - Cathy Read - Tower Poppies - Watercolour and Acrylic - 102 x 81cm
©2015 – Cathy Read – Tower Poppies – Watercolour and Acrylic on canvas – 102 x 81cm

When they grow after a battle it is a reminder of those whose blood was shed. Thanks to John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Field they are synonymous with Rememberance Sunday and Armistice Day. And now, Thanks to Paul Cummins and Tom Piper,  The Tower as well.
Like many artists the symbolism is not lost on me and the timing seemed perfect to create a painting based on a view that included Tower Bridge.

There’s an irony too.

The Tower of London was once witness to many acts of war and acts of brutality that had nothing to do with was and everything to do with the sovereign’s desire to control the people.

We may think we live in more enlightened times and use civilised ways to resolve disputes but one does not have to look far to see ample evidence of peoples who are still living in brutal and barbaric times.

Conflict is not resolved by arming ourselves and retaliating. That just escalates the situation, however justified the fight may be. The only solution is by dialogue to find truth and reconcilliation between parties. Then by establishing fair and equal forms of government to ensure the needs of all and being met.

Which is why Memorials like the Poppies at the Tower of London are taken to heart. It’s important to remember how easily things can escalate and find ways to create lasting peace.

How do I own this painting?

London Eye, a Millennium Dream

Dreams are how things happen!

Every construction starts with a vision. Be it big or small, an initial idea is needed to direct what becomes reality. To celebrate the year 2000 many monuments were planned and erected.

The London Eye or Millennium Wheel is my favourite. I’m drawn to circles. Simple but strong, they are the heart of all engineering projects. They allow movement. The Millennium wheel’s construction is a seemingly impossible structure more air than substance. Identical components in a repetitive pattern, without ending or beginning, relentless like the passage of time. Laws of physics make it possible but the complexity required to create such a structure amazes me.

The wheel itself has been around for millenia…

so what better way to mark the turning of one than by constructing a wheel? A symbol of turning as the passage of time is marked on the clock.

This piece needed to be an abstract element with a hint of the full circle. Looking up, seems the right direction for dreams. A segment of time looking clockwise to an unknown future. An arc that will continue beyond the page but only exists in the imagination.

©2011- Cathy Read-Millenium Vision-38x28cm- Mixed Media
©2011- Cathy Read-Millenium Vision- 40x50cm- Mixed Media

In other words a Millennium Dream

So what are you dreaming?


Stairway to heaven – can’t get you outta my head!

Stairway to heaven

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

Or so the Led Zeppelin song goes and kept on going in my head when I saw this staircase in the Victoria and Albert Museum last year.

©2014 - Cathy Read - Stairway to Heaven reference image - digital photograph
©2014 – Cathy Read – Stairway to Heaven reference image – digital photograph

I said to my friend…

“This is going to be a painting one day”,

I was drawn to the contrast of the contemporary glazing with the ancient wooden carving the setting of two opposites together and took this rather dark picture on my phone with no flash.

But more than that, the staircase as a metaphor is something that intrigues me. And this one more than most.

This staircase once went somewhere.

It was part of a building. The building is gone now but here it is, incomplete, going nowhere. There are many analogies I could draw:

  • The futility of carving an elabourate path but not paying attention to where it goes.
  • Of living in the shoes of another, following a beautiful pathway created by someone else that ultimately gets you where you don’t want to be.
  • The finality of life, this once went somewhere but now it doesn’t. It ended!
  • Of looking at purpose out of context. This once went somewhere and made sense but now it’s been taken away from its environment and is like a fish out of water.

And now it is this painting.


©2014 - Cathy Read - Stairway to Heaven - Watercolour and Acrylic - 38x28 cm
©2014 – Cathy Read – Stairway to Heaven – Watercolour and Acrylic – 38×28 cm

Have I missed any other metaphors, let me know in the comments?


Exploring the Life in London churches?

And so I begin…

A 30 day blog challenge! And knowing I would need 30 ideas, I decided to make them count. I want to write my next book about my London paintings, so I’ve decided to start with…

A Painting tour of London in 30 days!

By sharing a Statement a day or the story behind each painting, and most of them have stories/statements to be told

As an artist you get used to creating art but you also need Artist Statements. Otherwise they are just pretty pictures. So I thought I’d use the dicipline of the blog challenge to create a series of Statements to create a London guide over 30 days. I’m restricting myself to images of London, to reflect my more recent work.

Starting on a Sunday with Church

The subject of my first post is my Painting

The Life of London Churches.

©2012 - Cathy Read - The Life of London Churches- Mixed Media- 56x76cm
©2012 – Cathy Read – The Life of London Churches- Mixed Media- 56x76cm

This was the first painting of this size I painted using this technique. It was quite a traditional subject matter and I was going to use my usual approach with blown ink accross the entire painting.

Two things stopped me.

The first was the Occupy London protest where people were camping outside St Paul’s to protest at social injustice. St Paul’s locked their doors to stop people going inside which goes against everything the Christian Church is supposed to stand for. As a Christian, I was not impressed. I’ve always been uncomfortable with decadent church buildings. Either the building is a church, in which case it should open its doors to all or it is a national monument. The conflict of interest trying to be both does not serve either well.
The second point was the recollection that to the right is the headquarters of the Salvation Army known for their active outreach programmes.

I’ve always maintained that the blown ink technique I use reflects the life force emitting from buildings. In this instance it was lacking. So I painted the white of St Paul’s ostentatious and devoid of life. Whilst the almost invisible Salvation Army building is where vitality reaches out for all to see.

Now where shall we go for Day 2?


Painting in Progress – overcoming frustration!

Some paintings fight every step of the way?

Painting frustration results in slow progress! No matter how hard you try, it just does not seem to work right. This work in progress of Keble has been like that. It is a building with an excessive amount of details. Apparently, it was meant to represent geological strata. I can see how, but the constant changing of levels and angles is a challenge to the most patient of souls.

To counteract such frustrations I turn to inspirational quotes.

One of the best artist’s quotes I’ve read is

“Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and do the work!”

Or something like that. It’s a good mantra and one I take to heart when things just don’t seem to be working.

I also take breaks, move around a bit and then return.

I find architecture can be subtly out and if I keep working I miss obvious errors. Whereas, if I take a break, I can spot the glaringly obvious ones as soon as I return. It’s amazing how the brain can be fooled by the familiar.

Turning the image and source material upside down highlights perspective errors.

I may work in an abstract style but the perspective has to be right.

Finally, I play lots of music!

Music helps me focus and energises me!

So, after much struggle, I’m finally at the painting phase and it’s working out well…Now.

On paintings like this, I often want to leave the masking fluid in situ as the colour works perfectly for the yellow bricks. But that isn’t going to happen this time! I need to do more on the tree to capture the sense of being under a big tree, but I’m nearly there with the painting.

©2013 - Cathy Read - Keble College Work in Progress- Watercolour and Acrylic- 55 x 75 cm
©2013 – Cathy Read – Keble College Work in Progress- Watercolour and Acrylic- 55 x 75 cm

It’s a spot where, I imagine, many students take a break from similar frustrations or to quietly read/study in the fresh air!

What would you do in such a spot? How do you overcome frustration?

What can the Olympics teach artists?

Olympians and Artists have more in common than you might think.

I’m not a sports fan but with the Olympics fever gripping the UK. I’m forced to notice sport.

Buoyed along by the fervour and sense of National pride, I’ve even watched parts. The opening ceremony and parts of events.

©2010 Cathy Read - The heart of a nation- Dimensions 28x38 cm - mixed media on paper

The enthusiasm is infectious.

But more than that you are witnessing people at the pinnacle of their careers.

But you don’t just wake up one morning as a Gold medalist!

You might wake up with the vision or dream but it’s only the first step of many. Long hours and punishing training regimes are necessary to become an elite athlete.

Working to achievable goals.

Steps along the path that bring them closer to their ultimate goal. There will be many, many failures along the way. But each goal achieved is a step in the right direction.

And the same is true of an artist.

You may wake up with a dream of what you want to be. But it takes time and training to get there. you need to make steady steps in the right direction. Learning techniques, developing your style. Gaining experience exhibiting and talking about your work. Developing practices. Researching the right opportunities for you. And the list goes on…

Above all you need to develop a positive mental attitude.

To visualise success and focus on your ultimate goal! Fighting past the failures. And there will be many otherwise you’re not taking any risks and risks are necessary for any artist to grow.

So are you inspired by the Olympics?

What will be your “GOLD”?

4 Arty Blogs I love – and I think you will too!

For any blogger, inspiring blogs are essential reading.

These 4 are a source I visit regularly.

For advice on the creative process and motivation

1- The 99 Percent

Motivation for the creative Entrepreneur or team member.

For ways to improve my writing

2- Copyblogger

Always worth a read. I’m learning so much new stuff.

For Art Business Advice


For practical advice in an easy to digest format.

Finally for a creative burst and a chance to be Wowed…

4- This is Colossal

Full of wonderful things like this!

Laser Etching by Jason Thielke

By far and away my favourite. I could lose myself for hours here. So many talented people and projects all in one space.

I know there are others, so do you have any suggestions?




Seeking Inspiration for a Work in Progress?

The freedom from exhibition pressures this week is refreshing.

I’ve had the chance to take my camera for a wander about Milton Keynes. Finding more inspiration for work. The new Network Rail buildings are amazing- although the trees do keep getting in the way.

But, you’ll have to wait to see those.

My work in progress is part of the Theatre District. I’ve neglected to note the building although there are lots of Cafés around it at street level.

Maybe I should have a Guess the building competition? Any suggestions?

But this is where I am so far…

©2012 - Cathy Read - Theatre District -Pencil sketch masked - 40 x 50 cm
©2012 - Cathy Read - Theatre District -Pencil sketch masked - 40 x 50 cm

The yellow is masking fluid. Yes, I’m THAT far along.

I should get the painting done tonight.

And ready well in time for Saturday’s reveal!

Is it possibe to have too many ideas?

Do you have times when inspiration is NOT the problem?

©2011 - Cathy Read - Focus on the Priorities life - Mixed Media
©2011 - Cathy Read - Focus on the Priorities life - Mixed Media

You have masses of great ideas but you’re still not getting things done. Why?

You lack focus.

The trouble is you want to do them all!


It’s a specific form of Procrastination which can result in the Blank Canvas Syndrome. I.e. staring at the canvas not wanting to start.

So, what do you do?

First of all, write them all down immediately! Never waste precious ideas for you may never have them again. Trust me you’ll thank me for that one. Avoid the agony of hours trying to recall an idea you had last night – only to find it’s gone forever.

Once you have them safely recorded you have several options.

Start at the top of the list and work down.

You can do that, can’t you?


Look down the list and see if one sings out to you.

Do that one!

Still not working?

Are there any that you can’t start now?

If not why not? Put them to the side for now. Concentrate on pieces for which you have what you need to start now. If there’s only one, do it! Need to write a list of what you need to complete others? Do that LATER!

If that fails you could…

Copy your list and cut up into individual pieces, fold them up and put them in a bowl.

Do the first one you draw out. No cheating!

Or throw them up in the air and do the one you catch!

Still struggling?

Get a friend to choose one of your top 3.

Do that!

There are plenty on other ways you can choose once you start to think about it- be creative and have some fun choosing.

But you must decide to start the one you choose, no matter what.

And don’t get distracted with ideas to help you choose. Remember, that’s what got you into this mess in the first place!

So, have you any more suggestions!?!