Happy 2017, and a personal review of 2016

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See the end of the post for the line art version if you’d like to download, print and copy for yourself!

I know, it’s a little early, but I thought I’d post this today, as well as a bit of a personal review of the past year.

2016 has been an interesting year for me, one of some major changes in my life.

It started with me being a science teacher, off again on long-term sickness due to a recurrent bout of intense anxiety and depression.  I was so distressed about having to return to work as a teacher, about what else I could do.  I couldn’t think straight.  My capacity to read and understand what I was reading or remember it was severely impaired.  I had trouble going out of my home.  Anything to do with my job caused me an intensifying of these symptoms and the most distressing nightmares I’ve ever had.

Teaching has changed so much in the 28 years I was a science teacher.  The pressures have increased, both in terms of workload and behaviour/attitudes of the students that is a reflection of how society has changed too. All of this resulted in triggers for my depression/anxiety/low self-esteem/low confidence.being overwhelmed by even little things.  No matter how well people told me I was doing as a teacher (senior teachers, colleagues, inspectors (I never had less than outstanding in the last two inspections I was seen teaching in), I never believed them and thought it was just a fluke.

Because of this, I kind of knew that I’d have to leave teaching, but didn’t know if I could do so financially.  I’m single, responsible for all my bills and so on, so whatever I did I had to make sure I had some kind of financial security.

Eventually, I made the decision to leave teaching and to become a self-employed artist/illustrator based on the success of the adult colouring books I’ve done (of which there are now many – listed on my amazon author page), and that happened in the early part of the summer, officially.

This was, arguably, the best decision I’ve made for a long time.  The difference it is making to my mood/mental health, as well as progress in counselling is quite remarkable.  My only worry at the moment is my first tax return and tax bill in the early part of next year!

I know I have a lot to do to create a portfolio and to come up with projects that will keep contracts coming my way, but I do have some breathing space at the moment, with just one book to be completed asap.

On the back of this decision, my home had a major clear out, again in the early summer.  Though it’s not entirely finished, enough progress has been made for now. I now need to have a major de-stash of art materials to make space for either new, or just easier organisation of the materials i use most often.

I also discovered I have quite strong views politically about how our society should be a lot more caring of those who need help, for whatever reason, and how important the British NHS is and how much more it should be valued by those in power in the country, and not just seen as a cash cow for their buddies and supporters.  It took me a long time, but I finally worked out that my beliefs/views politically mostly aligned themselves with the traditional Labour Party (not ‘new Labour’, which seems to me just a lighter shade of blue than the Conservative Party).  So, I joined the Labour Party.  Yet to make it to my first meeting, but no doubt I will do.

I also have become involved with Time to Change Wales as a Champion.  This is an organisation whose campaign is to end the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness.  I’ve yet to tell my story at an event, but that’s on the cards for sometime in the early part of 2017.  Again, this is something I have strong feelings about, especially the self-stigma that prevented me from recognising and accepting I had a mental illness (complex post traumatic stress disorder(cptsd)) and seeking help.

I am really grateful that I did recognise the cptsd, and have made the major change of going self-employed as a way of looking after myself and being happy in how I earn a living, and it doesn’t even seem like work most of the time!

I’m grateful for those who have stuck with me through thick and thin, offering me the support and encouragement that they are able to.

I’m grateful to those who have created difficult circumstances for me, and those circumstances have either shown me how far I’ve come along in healing, or where I need to focus some attention on as my counselling continues.

So, thank you 2016 for moving me forward in my life with the challenging events, for showing me how far I’ve come along in my healing journey, and for the fun and laughter that have helped me keep going.

Thank you to all those who have believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, who have given me amazing opportunities to create and share art with others via the medium of adult colouring books, and I look forward to all the opportunites that come along in 2017 for me to continue to create and share with others.


Here, as promised, is the line art for the image above.  If you’d like to download/print and colour, please do so.  All I ask is you respect my copyright, you use it just for personal use, not for commercial gain, and if you share your coloured image, please link back to my blog.Enjoy, and thank you!

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Fussing around the changes

cropped-angela-porter-_-artwyrd-_-24-dec-2014.jpg“Changes are good.  Changes are good.  Believe this, Angela.”  Some of the self-talk I’m directing my mind to doing.  Trying to give it a positive job to do instead of the “What have you done now, I knew it was going to be awful” type of negative thinking.

I am generally very positive about all that is happening, I really am.  However, very sneaky grey clouds seem to find their way past the horizon to circle around my head.

Neighbours sparked not just one grey cloud but a whole storm of black ones a week or so ago.  I won’t go into the details, they’re not that important.  However, a grim couple of days ensued.  Days that concerned me as they reminded me of the weeks, months, years I spent in that kind of state and scared me in case I ended up back there.  I didn’t.  A day or two of self-care, distraction with art, and finally one and a half Star Wars films and some Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra really helped to shift the darkening mood, thank the powers that be.  Must remember to add “Watch Star Wars, eat Karamel Sutra” to my self-care tool box!

Good things have come from this episode.

Firstly, a reminder of how I was and how far along I have come in my journey to heal from my past traumas, and how much more resilient I am.  Yes, I had a couple of very grim days, but it was just a couple, not an every decreasing spiral into the pit of darkness and despair.  That’s progress!

Secondly, it highlighted, with the help of my trusted counsellor, the fact that the one place I really should feel safe and secure in – my home – I didn’t feel that way after this episode.  That surprised me as I hadn’t realised that.  And that was part of the reason I took my work-space upstairs to my bedroom.

After a week or so of being up there working, yesterday morning I woke thinking that was a bit of a daft decision.  With my front room now cleared out of clutter, my meditation table and space set up, time spent watching Star Wars with the company of Ben and Jerry in the light of plenty of candles, that the room really needs to be used for relaxing in all kinds of ways, including creating art, even art that is earning me a living.  That may be ‘work’, but it’s always a pleasure, sometimes a little bit of a frustrating pleasure, but still a pleasure.

So, by 8am yesterday morning, the table, chair, art materials and so on had been moved down to a rearranged front room!  I was drinking a big mug of hot tea and getting myself into the mental state to go do some work in the front room, making it my own space.

The table is one that has panels that fold down so it takes up a tiny bit of space when that way – maybe 7″ wide by 32″ long, which can be cwtched away to make more space as required, or to turn the room into a purely relaxing or room for receiving guests.

Sometimes it really does take me a long time to figure out how best to use a space, to make the changes.  However, the best thing is that when it’s your own home, you decide how to use the space, and those decisions can, and do, change.

The only problem I have, is that the table is in front of the window which a particular nosy neigbour has been caught staring through; he does it to everyone, not just me.  So, I feel a bit exposed.  I really don’t want to go down the road of net curtains, but it may be something I have to do so I feel secure. I’ll see about that though, I’ll give it a bit longer or see if I can come up with a different, more creative solution to the nosy neighbour.

Changes are good!

I’ve finally done it!

I’ve left teaching to set sail on a new career as a freelance illustrator/artist and whatever else happens along my way.  It’s both exciting and scary.

A lot of things came together at once to get me to start a new path.  Another bout of long-term illness being one, a good look at the amount of work available to me from existing editors/publishers being another.

I think the financial aspect of the change is the biggest scary thing I have to face.  For 28 years I’ve been a teacher with a permanent contract that has a regular monthly salary attached to it.

Now, there’s no regularity in income, which is a tad scary when I stop and think about it in connection to my past.  However, I am doing my best not to do that, to think positively about my future, a future that is so good for me in so many ways.

One excellent thing about it is being able to choose as and when I work.  After 28 years of dancing to a regimented timetable and day the freedom is bliss!  I can make use of when I’m inspired and full of energy and motivation.  The deadlines I have to work to help with the focus, but I know that I do have a lot of flexibility in how I work to meet those deadlines. I also love the ability to have energizing afternoon naps when I need to!

Working from home is another plus.  It’s been my refuge and place of safety and security for so long that it’s nice to be here. My cat really appreciates me being home too; at 14 years of age and a clingy pusscat with some health problems I’m happy to be with him.  He’s good company and makes sure I go to bed at a sensible time; simply because he wants to cwtch up to me for his big nights sleeps.

Of course, the biggest wonderful thing about changing career is that I am doing something that I’m passionate about, that brings me joy and pleasure.

Not that teaching didn’t.  It did, for a long time, but it’s time for me to change.  I’m sure I’ll use my teaching skills in other ways as time goes on, but not in a school environment.  However, for the foreseeable future I’m going to be focusing on my arty pursuits, as well as learning about a lot of things such as accounts and accountants (I have one, I just have to collect together all that she needs from me …) and get into a routine of keeping receipts and a log of journeys made in connection with my business.

My home as had a HUGE clear-out to make space for me to work in comfortably as well as to store all my arty crafty supplies and completed artwork and various forms of paperwork and so on.  Eighteen years of accumulated stuff had to go as well as stuff I no longer need, value or find pleasure in.  My niece helped, rather, did most of the work, and between us we were ruthless! There are still bits and bobs to sort out and do, but deadlines take precedence for the next couple of weeks or so!  The clear out has me behind, eek!  Luckily I have so good and understanding editors who always build wiggle room into contracts for me without telling me what that wiggle room is.

The process is mostly finished, but a deep clean is on the cards for soon, and some repairs need doing so I need to find reliable tradesmen who charge fair price and do a good job, something else I need to learn about!

It is all exciting.

Add to that there’s more colouring books and stamps coming out that I’ve done the designs for.

I’m currently working on a Tropical Rainforest themed colouring book for Skyhorse Publishing and the sixth in the series of the Color Me books along with Lacy Mucklow.  The sixth book is appropriately named ‘Color Me Grateful’, and grateful is something I really am of my new career, my cleared out home, my family and friends who have helped in so many ways, and the many experiences from my past life as a teacher that have helped to get me to this point in my life, both good, indifferent and bad.

Friday last, I met up with a small number of colleagues from the school I taught at for 27 years for high tea in a local country house hotel.  There was lots of laughter as we remembered the good times over those many years, not a lot of mention was made of the not so good times.  All the characters we’ve worked with and known, both staff and students!  It was good to do.  I couldn’t go into the school for the official farewell gathering as my emotional/mental health isn’t strong enough for that yet.  But a quieter gathering away from the school was perfect!

One other thing I do hope to do is to make more frequent blog posts once I find my ‘voice’ for my blog. I’m thinking of adding some tutorials to do with the arty stuff I do, maybe.  Feedback or ideas are always welcome, whether for blog posts or ideas for future books, artwork themes and so on.

Starting an art journal

For a long, long while I’ve wanted to keep an art journal. However, I’ve been puzzled and confused and not sure what to do with it.

Yesterday, I decided the only way to find out how to do it or what to do with it was to just do it, and to use it as a way to experiment with media/techniques I don’t usually use (certainly when I’m doing the black and white line art for the various publishers I’ve done/doing work for).

It’s actually quite fun. I’ve found a way to make use of the sheets of Gelli printed patterns which aren’t much use for anything else as I’m playing with the Gelli plate(s). I’m using Tim Holtz’s Distress inks with sponges and home-made stamps/texture plates too.

It’s also a way for me to combine words and art, something I’ve never really been happy with.

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Yet another mandala…number 6 of the month!

August Mandala 6 © Angela Porter 2013

This is approx. 17.5 x 17.5cm and was created by me using UniPin pens, Zig Art and Graphic Twin pens with water as a wash, coloured fineliner pens and coloured pencils on acid-free bristol board.

Art is my solace, even though at times I’m doing the work through tears.  Today was one of those days.  I’m really struggling with the inner critics who are beating me up so badly at the moment, and despite me trying my best to quell them, to soothe them, they are currently stronger than I am and are winning.  Art has soothed them a tad…just a tad.

Some days it’s hard to find anything to be proud of about myself, to feel I am as important and matter as much as every other person on this planet, that I’m a good person, a kind person, a caring person and so on.

On days like these, days like today, creating something pretty through my art reminds me that there is something in me, about me, that appreciates pretty things and can create pretty things and so there must be something pretty or even beautiful within me.

This one is ‘pretty’.

Astrologically pinks and greens belong to Venus, the planet of love, beauty and harmony, romance, relationships the urge to empathise and unite with others, pleasure, joy and sensuality.

The lilacs and sea-greens belong to Neptune, the planet of dreams and fantasies and helps to dissolve boundaries and change existing rules.  Neptune can also result in confusion, and confusion is often experienced during profound and/or subtle changes in thinking, rules, beliefs.  Change is never easy.

Interestingly, both planets are related to artistic pursuits and aesthetics and our own personal tastes.

Now, I’m a scientist as well as an artist and all round oddbod, so why the astrological meanings of the colours?  I find it helps me to understand the art that I create intuitively, especially the colours.  Perhaps the colours are telling me to allow the old rules of the inner critics to go and to change them, to let the boundaries they have created dissolve and in so doing let love into myself, first for myself …

Maybe … or maybe it’s just pretty!

Tea and musings around liminality

Yesterday I sat at a table lit by the golden light of the late spring sun, enjoying the feel of a soft breeze contradicting the warmth of sunlight on my skin while the glorious sound of birdsong gently caressing my ears in the café at the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre. On the table was a lovely pot of tea and a home-made fairy cake (small ‘cupcake’) topped with vanilla buttercream icing and my journal-sketchbook into which I would be recording my thoughts and observations. This was a treat after picking up a batch of mugs that I’ve had printed with a piece of my artwork and a short greeting for my lovely year 11 class who are leaving on Thursday. That will be a day filled with tears and joy, a liminal moment for the pupils as they stand on the threshold of the next phase of their life. The leavers’ assembly being an opportunity to mark this transition point, a liminal point, with celebration, with laughter and with the memories of experiences.

The view from the window was of the neglected graveyard attached to St Peter’s Church which falls away towards the valley bottom as the café abuts the eastern edge of the graveyard and I realised that I was sat at a liminal place, but not one of one phase of life to another. This liminal place marks the boundary between the living and those who have passed out of this earthly existence.

As I realised this, a pair of magpies flitted from tree to tree, their tails twitching as they settled on branches, and sunlight on their plumage revealing the iridescent purples, blues and greens that are so often missed. A solitary cabbage white butterfly careened from plant to plant, it’s pale colour standing out against the brown tangles of brambles and the bright greens of spring growth, signs of life surrounding the memorials of those long dead.

Magpies are associated with bad omens, and one such superstition is that if you see a single magpie on the way to church then death is close (myth-making at blogspot). Considering that many churches have a graveyard around them or close to them, then that is quite true! I love magpies and the other members of the corvidae family of fine feathery friends, despite their gloomy reputations.

As one thought bounced to another, I realised that I too, was at a liminal point in my life as I continue to work on unravelling the tangles of the past through journaling, meditation, self-hypnosis, gratitude and pennies-dropped-epiphanies as I’m becoming more aware of the inner critics and their continual sussuration of negative messages about me. I’m learning how to dis-empower them, little by little, and I may be approaching a turning point for myself in how I view myself and what my beliefs are.

The grave markers were splotched with lichen and algae, patterns reminding me of growths of penicillin on laboratory agar plates or stale and mouldy bread. Tumbled tangled brambles wrapping round them, seemingly pulling them down, down, down into the ground, the Earth reclaiming what had been taken from it, and with it the memories of those long passed. Despite the pull of time and neglect, the taller columns and headstones bravely rose above the tangles, holding their heads up high in the sunshine, proud of their leprous appearance, suggesting age and longevity, that they remember even if the living no longer do.

Others, however, seemed to be surrendering to the gradual depredations of time. Their sharp leaning stance, the first phase in laying down, showing an acceptance of their fate. No one alive who remembers them, who cares for them enough to tend to the memorial of a life once lived. The connections between the present generation and the past generations fading and weakening with time as symbolised by the tumble-down state of the gravestones. This was reflected in the laughter and chatter of the living enjoying beverages and vittles in the bright, warm, life-giving sunshine. The proximity to the necropolis and it’s visible symbols of death, funerary rites, and grief having no effect upon the high spirits of the living.

Perhaps that is because a wall, a visible boundary separates the activities of the living from the area of the dead. If we were to dine and party on their graves, perhaps we may feel differently, irreverent perhaps; an attitude maybe not unique to our own culture or time. I saw this video about dining with the dead in Georgia on the BBC news website earlier this week, and an example of how different cultures approach death and the places of the dead and how rigid and solid the boundary between us, the living, and our deceased friends and family are.

Death is, essentially, a great leveller; the great and the good lie alongside the poor and meek. Only the memorials tell us who is who,and only a skilled osteologist would be able to tell which was which were their skeletons disinterred and separated from any clothing, jewellery or other funerary offerings that they were interred with. To most of humanity they would be the remains of people, equal in death as they were not in life. Given enough time, all return to the Earth, return to what we were created from, very few leaving traces that will last for centuries, millennia or the aeons of time.

Traces remain in the bones that remain of their lives; hardship, luxury, adversity, ease all leave their marks in the bones. As the flesh decays, as memories fade, so do the individual stories of each person’s life, the stories that make each of us unique. The funeral monuments may tell us about them, there may be hints of their life in written records, but so much about them, such as whether they were kind or cruel, loving or neglectful, are lost.

Gloomy thoughts? Not at all! I like what the we can learn of our ancestors from their funerary rites, from records, from stories still held in the memories of the living, maybe experienced first hand or tales handed down through the generations. It matters not whether they are iron-topped tombs of the magnates of Blaenavon or the ring-barrows of a person from the Bronze Age, or the fossilised remains of our distant relatives. For many, we can only make educated guesses about their life and times, sometimes more educated than others when written records exist.

Of course, the choice of a place for cemeteries is a story in itself. In ancient times where a lot of effort was expended to bury a few in monuments such as cairns, ring barrows, cists, long barrows, then they weren’t just plonked in the nearest available place. The choice of place had meaning, just as the choice of place has meaning to us whether it’s where we go on holiday, where we choose to live and experience life. We choose places that give us meaningful experiences, be they linked to happy or sad times. The same is true when we choose places for funerary rites, whether we choose them ourselves before we die or whether we choose them for our loved ones who have passed away. My father’s cremains were buried beneath a sapling plum tree in a country lane where he used to collect all kinds of fruits and plants to make wine from. A friend’s father’s ashes were sprinkled from a bridge to return to the sea which he loved and sailed while serving in the Navy. Another friend’s father’s ashes are to be buried with his brother, if permission can be gained from her aunt.

If we take time and care to choose an appropriate resting place for the physical remains of our loved ones, I’m sure our ancestors did so too, even though it may not have seemed so to us as in many cases we have no ideas of their beliefs and the practices that stemmed from them. Nor do we know for sure why certain people were accorded such seemingly prestigious and important funerals, whether they were the great and the good or whether their deaths had a different meaning and the funeral a different purpose than commemoration and a reminder of our connections to the people of the past, to our ancestors, to those who have shaped the society we life in at any particular point in history.

I couldn’t help but wonder what stories the land could tell us if we could access it’s memory. I’d love to know what events the stones beneath my feet have witnessed in their long aeons of existence. What lovers’ trysts and promises. What betrayals, joys, toils, griefs. Whose feet have passed over them and what is the story of the lives. I don’t just want to know about the great and the good, people whose lives are most probably fairly well documented. I want to know about the ‘ordinary’ people as well. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s life experience is unique to them due to their unique perceptions, beliefs, actions, reactions and personality, and what thoughts and beliefs they had about themselves and others.

Perhaps the land, the position of the cemeteries, their relationship to the use of the land in the past and the present, the stories told about the land, it’s people all serve to keep alive the memory of the ancestors, aiding in remembering their stories and the stories previous generations and in so doing keeping the ancestors alive, in memory, and our connection to them stronger. The scape surrounding the cemetery becomes woven into the stories of the recent ancestors and the myths of the more ancient ancestors, acting as aide-memoires to the tales. Each feature in the land around the cemetery is not devoid of emotion, of meaning, and for each feature these would change as the time of day, the season of the year and the weather changes. We interact with these scapes through the feelings and meanings and the way that we make use of them and that induces a feeling of belonging to them. Ideas such as these are propounded by archaeologists such as George Nash.

I realised then, how much I’d enjoyed writing my thoughts, how going to a different place other than home allowed me the inspiration I needed. It’s also brought up links between things that are occurring in my life at present, and that will help to unravel any tangles knotted by the inner critics in the past.