Have you ever really watched a Seahorse move?

Have you ever really watched how a seahorse moves?

One of the most beautiful things about being an artist is that at some point you realise that you have this incredible knack for REALLY looking at things. I study everything – and most of the time I don’t even realise I’m doing it until afterwards when I realise I’ve been inspired. Earlier in the week I went over to Ireland to visit with my dad and my family. While we were there we took my nephews to an aquarium. As we stood near one of the giant tanks I felt my mood drop dramatically and I turned to my dad and told him how sad it was making me feel to see how clearly depressed many of the animals were. The giant turtle was repeatedly head-butting the wall and the sharkes all had this vacant look in their eyes as they slowly glided around in circles. Yet, in other tanks the colours and shapes of the various creatures were vibrant and interestering, puffer fish were truly beautiful and the way the seahorses moved was mesmerising.

I was constantly mentally kicking myself for not bringing my sketchbook. I was dying to capture their majesty except my camera was not doing it justice.

I noticed then (being the unabashedly deep thinker that I am) that the aquarium could be a total metaphor for human life and my dad completely agreed with me. For all of these radiant creatures when out in the wild are JUST like humans who are completely connected to their spirits. Following their intuition, soaring free, experiencing LIFE as it happens. Yet the animals trapped inside the tanks – well – they are just like the humans who are not connected, the ones who continue daily to struggle against the current, the ones who complain and moan about how the world is doing them no favours (and I’m not for a moment saying that the world is not harsh – TRUST ME – I know full well that it is and it can be – but when we are not connected we are just like the animals who live in captivity. We may be safe – but we are NOT truly experiencing life. We are still beautiful majestic creatures – but we are not truly free.

And although I loathed and detested seeing animals stuck in captivity – a terrible irony struck me – I’d probably have never have been able to see how them seahorses moved so magically without them having been in a tank. I heard myself justifying something I felt was unjustifiable – in some bizarre turn of events and probably because I always try to find some good in every situation I decided that  perhaps those animals in captivity do serve a purpose – they teach us about the world that is out there. They remind us of the duality ever present in our world. They teach us about what humanity is doing with pollution and captivity and all of the other abject horrors we inflict on the earth yet also show us the poignant beauty that is ever present all around us – if we only take the time to really look.

My day in the aquarium reminded me that life is about living in balance. Learning to be content within this crazy thing we call a human life. Embrace the crap even if its hard to swallow and pretty ugly – it is what it is – yet if you can – do what you can to make the world a better place but NEVER forget to find and really enjoy the beauty.

Art education

Paul Klee, Ninjas and nuances of life :)

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Moments like this – are what truly make life magical. 

Days like this make me thankful I had the courage to follow my passion to become an artist and to work in education. The journey to this moment was not necessarily an easy one – times have been hard on occasion JUST like everyone else – however – all of the struggle, all of the debt, all of the failures and the hardships and the mistakes are lost in the blink of an eye when a moment like this occurs.

On Wednesday I stood back and smiled. So proud of the event that was happening in front of my eyes. It was a privilege to behold.

I was working with my year 2’s at school on ‘The Portrait’. After watching them practice their noses and eyes and mouths, they all went on to create unique and beautiful, quirky portraits of their own. Most of those portraits didn’t make use of the skills they had just learned (and enjoyed learning, and were proud of themselves for learning) – because when they came to make their own portraits I told them that to be an artist is to use your imagination AND at the end of the day – it is to do whatever it is (within the constraints) that you actually want to do – as an artist you always make your own choice. So they did and they created MASTER PIECES – Each and every one of them!

And – as I usually do at the end of my sessions – I offered the children who finished early the chance to doodle or colour in a colouring sheet. My colouring sheets this week were versions of famous portraits.

One boy grabbed one and shouted ‘YES, I’M COLOURING IN THIS NINJA!’

I stood back and watched him colour his ninja, taking real pride in staying within the lines (he also took it downstairs and continued colouring it during wet break time – and this is a boy that is usually running around with LOTS of energy – wanting – constantly – to play ninjas.) – so I enjoyed knowing ‘Art’ – even if only ‘colouring’ had grabbed his attention for a while.

After about 5 minutes of him colouring I asked –  ‘Would you like to see the original Ninja? The real piece of art that your colouring sheet came from?’ – he wasn’t remotely interested. UNTIL I put Paul Klee’s Senecio in front of his eyes.


THAT MOMENT WAS GOLD! And EVERY TIME that happens it is GOLD! Seeing a child REALLY enthralled by a piece of art, studying it closely, gasping ‘oooooh and aaaah’ – when they make the connection that the thing they are drawing or interested in has something to do with a REAL piece of art work – well – you can’t put a price on that moment and so today – I am giving thanks to the universe for allowing me to be blessed with this FABULOUS thing I call a career!


Personal Practice

el santuario del arte

Soon I will be getting my new house – my new house with my own giant studio and today while showering and visualising all of the colours that will go on the walls and all the locations where my treasured possessions shall reside I decided something.

El Santuario Del Arte will be not only my sanctuary – it will also be offered out to people – family, friends (both close – distant – old – new – work – childhood) as a place to come to get away from it all and make some memories. You can either visit with me there and create something together OR you can take it for a weekend or a couple of days when I am away being an artist or visiting with friends and YOU can also create!

My studio, my materials, my space, my sanctuary – will also be yours – for each and every one of you has brought something to my life and now – I shall give something back.

EVERYONE should have access to the arts – and I shall enable that to happen in my own little part of Bradford.

Namaste/ Namascray dudes!!!



Musings, Personal Practice

Semi colons, situations and surviving Samsara

Semi colons, situations and surviving Samsara

When I was 18 years old I was suffering from a rather horrible bout of situational depression – although I didn’t actually realise it at the time (because I didn’t actually know what ‘depression’ was or how it was caused or even why) so I hardly talked to anyone about it because it just seemed so wierd, so unexplainable and so confusing…

This situational depression however brought on an existential crisis. It was – in hindsight a blessing disguised as a curse – as I tend now to view all of life’s lessons that turn up at my door – there is meaning and growth to be found in every situation if you allow yourself to look for it.

Anyway – for anyone who has never experienced one of these and if one does arrive for you in the future – my advice to you is this –

  • Make your own meaning
  • Find your own purpose
  • And I guarantee – in time – the veil of fog will lift and the world before you will be brighter and more beautiful then you can ever imagine possible – Once you get to the other side that is! You will see it as my dad calls it – a “break through” even though at the time it may feel like a “break down”.

Anyway I digress… Yes, so – I was down in the dumps and my life lacked meaning…

What’s the point?

Why do I exist?

Why can’t I just fade away into the darkness and sleep forever more?

Everything seemed so gray, so tasteless and so horribly HORRIBLY dull!
Thankfully however – synchronicity turned up and brought me something truly beautiful at EXACTLY the time it was needed.

I went to Art College and I met an Artist Teacher (who I’m glad to say is now – some 16 years later one of my truest and closest friends and who is referred to as ‘The Cabbage Shirted Teacher in much of my writings).

This teacher inspired me.

This teacher had also struggled and grappled with feelings similar to my own.

This teacher sat me down one day when I had confessed my feelings of self loathing and told me that when he was about my age he had felt the same way and he asked me if I thought that he should have allowed his life to slip away from him.

“NO!!!” I cried.

“Definitely not!!!” I exclaimed.

“You are too important to me, to the world, to your students!!!!! YOU definitely needed to live!!!!”
“Well now” he said in a calm and quiet tone. “Wouldn’t you like to be able to sit in this chair one day?” He then asked me tenderly.

“Wouldn’t you like to be able to give this gift that I get to have right now – to yourself and to someone else one day?”
“What do you mean?” I asked with tear stained cheeks feeling utterly bewildered and baffled.
“when you get to my age – you will feel completely different. I guarantee it, though I know it doesn’t feel that way right now.”
“You will find your purpose and you will find your peace.”
“Life will still have ups and downs – I’m not saying it won’t – but one day if you work at it your good days will far out number the bad, life will have meaning and it will make sense and then you’ll be able to give this gift to one of your own students for you will know exactly what they are going through because you will have been there in the past yourself – and trust me – it’s a fabulous gift to be able to give”
That gift is the gift of hope.

And hope does not live in the land of despair.
That conversation was the seed to wellness. It gave me courage, determination and a will to survive and hopefully, quietly and secretly I allowed myself to dare to dream that one day I would thrive. That conversation sparked a fire deep within my joyless soul. That gift helped me see that someone else had felt like I felt and that they had definitely gotten through it and I knew this because that person was someone who I loved and admired and respected deeply.

That person was the person I knew that I wanted to be someday.
I remember everything viscerally about that moment in time. the dark room we were sat in, the smell of the art materials – the burning wood, the sawdust, the paint fumes, that distinct smell that graphite emits… I remember the feel of the mottled blue plastic chairs we were sat upon, the sounds of power tools, the lulling of the radio in the background,  shouting voices all around…

The look of his big black notebook stuffed full of bits of paper, my brown sketchbook, my inner life hidden within its pages…

WELL – Just before I left for India – I got to have that exact same conversation with one of my own students. He was of a similar age to what I was when I had my own crisis of meaning and as he sat in front of me and told me how he wanted to end it all, how he’d had enough of life, as he sat shaking, eyes filled with anger and rage and confusion I realised that that great moment was now upon me and this ripple of serenity washed over my body.

I took a deep breath as I saw myself for a brief moment sitting across from myself in that room once again, sat, so unsure of myself on that blue mottled chair.
It was then that I told him about my own conversation with that inspiring teacher all those years ago and then I asked him if he thought I should have allowed my own life to slip away when I was his age

“NO!!” he cried.

“Don’t be silly!” he exclaimed.

“You’re too special, we need you! The world needs you, you’re so positive, so happy, you make us laugh and smile!!!”
“Well” I said empathically,

“One day, how wonderful do you think it’s going to feel when you get the chance to sit in this chair?”

He looked at me confused, I saw disbelief and disillusionment in his eyes and then I swore to him I had done the exact same thing when I was 18.  After this we went quiet,  turned pensive just as I had done all those years ago with my own tear stained cheeks.

And then I lifted my hair and explained the tattoo on the back of my neck.
A semi colon is used sometimes instead of a full stop. When an author COULD choose to end a sentence but instead decides to simply have a brief pause and then continue. YOU are the author and that sentence is your life ;


One of my friends pointed out that this painting (acrylics and inks) looks like a minion! hahaha

Art education

New academic year, new website, new business!

Huzzah! I have revamped my website and am open for business!

This week has involved meetings about upcoming projects with the Stanley and Audrey Burton gallery at the University of Leeds, the Autumn Art Club at the Hepworth Gallery Wakefield and the planning of an ACE year of workshops on Wednesdays at Burnley Brow Community School in Oldham!

And today is my mums birthday – so I’m off to Liverpool to eat cake! Have a great day folks!!!! xx JA