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Listen to your heart

February 14, 2015

O.K., it’s time I confessed. I have a slight obsession going on. Well, two, actually: deer, and drawing or papery creativity in general. Both interests were kick-started last midsummer, when I took a wonderful online paper art course with artist Rachel Hazell. At around the same time, I began to have some memorable encounters with deer.

Mother and young roe deer

Mother and young roe deer

We see roe deer almost every day here, as they share the same woods as us. Last  year, however, I had several meetings which struck me as unusual. The first was coming face to face with a mother doe suckling her fawn on the driveway..and then realising that there was another tiny spotted fawn curled motionless in the long grass right beside me. (I saw the family several times over the next few months.) In the woods, I kept coming across deer which, instead of running away, walked towards me; wary but interested and unafraid. One day a doe – presumably with a fawn hidden in the undergrowth – chased my dog and started kicking and butting her. I raced to the rescue, and had the extraordinary experience of standing within touching distance of the wild deer, giving her a stern lecture about the natural pecking order while my spaniel quivered in my arms and the deer stared at me from her dark, liquid eyes as if she could see into my soul, and I yearned to communicate properly with her, to touch her with my heart rather than merely my outstretched fingertips…

The same doe (I think) and one of her young in October 2014.

The same doe (I think) and one of her young in October 2014.

That got me thinking. All such encounters can be explained in prosaic terms as normal animal behaviour; but I felt there was something more going on. It felt as if the universe, or however you like to put it, was trying to tell me something, and the hints were getting increasingly blunt, moving from the attack on my dog to culminating, in September, with my getting bitten by a stag. (He was a semi-tame red deer in a farm park, and did it by mistake as I was feeding him, but still…) So I began to pay attention, and to research what various cultures and traditions have to say about deer and their spiritual significance. The synergies between, for example, what Native American Shamanic tradition has to say about deer and what was going on in my life were extraordinary. All this time I continued to be followed by deer in the woods, until I learned to recognise particular families and felt almost that they were old friends.

Oh, hello again: roe doe and young buck, November '14.

Oh, hello again: roe doe and young buck, November ’14.

We ended my ‘year of the deer’, as I came to think of it, with a visit to the herd of red deer at Highland Safaris in north Perthshire. With a kilted ranger supervising, we hand-fed the stags and hinds. It was the perfect culmination of my close encounters with deer: a royal stag* dipping his soft muzzle into my palm, his eyes on mine, while his huge antlers seemed to curve protectively around my head.

Feeding the red deer stag

Feeding the red deer stag

(*A Scottish stag is termed ‘royal’ when he has twelve or more tines on his antlers.)

Given that I have also been experimenting with book art and paper craft ever since my art course in June, it was inevitable that deer and stags should start to appear in my art work. Having written about them, pondered their meaning and felt their presence, my first attempt to actually paint a stag turned into a sort of collage, as I felt that I needed to add feathers and ferns and other natural elements from the woods to my watercolour.

'Moon Stag'

‘Moon Stag’

I then turned my hand to a ‘proper’ collage, i.e. composed almost entirely of printed papers rather than my own painting.

Beginning: a sheet of vintage architectural drawings, suggesting order and civilisation

Beginning: a sheet of vintage architectural drawings, suggesting order and civilisation

This one kept me happily away from household chores last week! I was inspired by the realisation – reached partly thanks to the deer and partly through further, wider readings, including the seminal Women Who Run With The Wolves by Camilla Pinkola Estés – that intuition and creativity are essential to life.

Over that went layers of washi tape, stampings, cut paper etc. to suggest other aspects of life (flora, the written word, music, fauna)

Over that went layers of washi tape, stampings, cut paper etc. to suggest other aspects of life (flora, the written word, music, fauna)

As a recovering perfectionist (!) I’ve always felt apologetic about my need to create. My artwork is amateur and is just for me; I don’t make a living out of it, so how can I justify this puny little hobby?

The central image, the stag, is torn from a paper napkin and stuck down with difficulty (!) and PVA glue.

The central image, the stag, is torn from a paper napkin and stuck down with difficulty (!) and PVA glue.

At long last I am coming to realise that I don’t need to justify my creativity. It is what it is. It may not make my family’s fortune, but it is an essential part of me, and I have been desiccated by the attempt to shove it under the carpet.

I stamped and cut out some words, aged them with inks and watercolour and stuck them over the stag - or, as he would have been called in past times, the 'hart'.

I stamped and cut out some words, aged them with inks and watercolour and stuck them over the stag – or, as he would have been called in past times, the ‘hart’.

And so this is where I have got to so far, with my recent twin obsessions of deer and the need to create. My message to myself – and to you this Valentine’s Day – is ‘Listen to your heart’. And whatever paths through the woods it takes you on, may it lead you to happiness.

Already hanging by my desk, so that I don't forget.

Already hanging by my desk, so that I don’t forget.

You might enjoy The calligraphy of hares and ‘they say that life’s the thing…but I prefer books’.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. aduke2015 permalink
    February 14, 2015 2:13 am

    Absolutely beautiful – your words, photos and mixed media ! I am so happy to read that you have embraced the concept that creativity is essential part of you.
    Once I realized that , I found to easier to explain to other people (“no, drawing in not a hobby”) and also embrace it myself. A huge mental change in attitude!

    • February 14, 2015 6:27 pm

      Thank you so much. It’s lovely to hear that you have realised it too.
      You’re absolutely right, the mental about-turn required has been absolutely huge…in fact I am still in the process of turning, I think. But I’ve decided that there is no going back to old attitudes! 🙂

  2. February 14, 2015 2:40 am

    It doesn’t matter how frequently it happens, a close encounter with a deer always feels magical to me. I see plenty of deer here in Pennsylvania (bizarrely a herd live opposite our local Toys R Us) but I’ve not been in arms reach of a deer since leaving Argyll. There’s definitely something about their eyes that engages on an emotional level.

    I think you sell yourself short as an artist as that is a wonderful collage. It really appeals to me. I’ve been creating art for as long as I remember but I first started getting serious about my art and started selling about a decade ago. For some reason, I’ve rather lost my confidence as an artist since emigrating so I’m trying to build myself back up with a view to getting back to selling regularly again (I’m still doing the odd commission) probably online. As part of that process of growth as an artist, I’ve been exploring mixed media for the past year. I’m primarily an ink artist so I’m learning about new materials as well as techniques. I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy collage as I didn’t expect that to be very “me”. I’m not accomplished at it but I really enjoy it. And that’s an important element of art for me. Taking time to do something creative is an act of self-care.

    When we were in the process of packing up our life in Scotland, then emigrating, then settling into life here in America, there was no opportunity for art. I truly felt less like myself because of its absence from my life. I can, therefore, totally identify with what you describe about your need to create.

    I look forward to seeing more of your artistic output.

    • February 14, 2015 6:38 pm

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful response to my post. I didn’t know you were an artist! Perhaps it’s inevitable that big life changes (having children, moving continents for example) push creativity aside for a while. You’re so right, though, in saying that ‘taking time to do something creative is an act of self-care.’ It benefits not only you but all those around you too. If you start selling online, please let me know where! It’s great to hear that you are exploring your talent again.

      Collage had never really registered with me as interesting. It was the art course that revealed to me how much I enjoyed it – funny that neither of us thought it was for us at first. When it comes to selling artwork made from printed material, do you know anything about copyright laws? I was wondering if it’s legal to sell something which makes use of images by others.

      I’m tickled by the thought of a herd of deer living next to Toys R Us. All those plastic princesses and bambis…with the real magic living outside. It sounds like maybe you have a bit of ‘deer medicine’ too, judging by your sensitive response to them.

      • February 14, 2015 8:30 pm

        I believe – from online mixed media groups I belong to – that one can usually find a license agreement that spells out the terms of use of printed materials and also things like stamp designs and stencil designs on the websites of the relevant companies. Failing that, it’s probably a case of emailing the companies. I’ve never sold collaged that use printed materials (though I use such things in my own art) as I make my own collage papers (check out Gelli plate monoprinting if you want a new art addiction). I’ve, therefore, not had to navigate that issue personally. I think it likely that most companies are quite generous with what they permit users to do with their materials.

        PS I post about my art learning and experiments in mixed media on my Pict in PA blog but I also have a second blog, Pict Ink, dedicated to my art. Feel free to check either or both out if you ever have an idle moment. 🙂

  3. hmunro permalink
    February 14, 2015 2:18 pm

    There are so very many things I love about this post (“I was bitten by a stag …” 🙂 But what *really* made my heart soar was your declaration that you are coming to realize you don’t need to justify your creativity. You simply ARE creative — as true a creative as any of the professional illustrators and graphic designers with whom I work every day. So I’m thrilled that you truly are listening to your heart and making some truly beautiful art, just for the joy of it. I can’t imagine a better calling. xx

    • February 14, 2015 6:42 pm

      I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to create just for the joy of it. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind making a professional living from it as well, hah hah! Thank you for your generous encouragement and kind words. 🙂
      It is pretty damn cool to be able to toss off a sentence like ‘I was bitten by a stag’. If that’s not the universe using deer to get my attention, I don’t know what is!

      • hmunro permalink
        February 15, 2015 12:54 am

        Some people are accosted by burning bushes … others are nibbled on by ungulates. But regardless of how the universe is trying to get *your* attention, I’m glad you’re listening! You bring so much joy to so many people, but the greatest gift in yielding to your creative whims will be the joy you give yourself. (And you do so richly deserve to be joyful!) OK. Enough gushing. Go paint something! 🙂

  4. Caroline Waterlow permalink
    February 14, 2015 7:20 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with hmunro above. I am supposed to be a professional artist, but have been flagging at the seams. I know I am happiest when really involved in making something, in the studio, or out ‘in the field’ drawing. As I am making effort to refocus my energies to this, your post was a wonderful Valentine gift to recieve, today. Thank you for sharing this journey of creativity – I love the way these kind of processes – the way they unfold, and then become something visual and joyous. May you continue in this as it is much more important than fame or fortune.

    • February 16, 2015 10:57 pm

      Thank you very much, Caroline, and I’m really pleased that this post should have been an encouragement to your own artistic energies. 🙂

  5. christinelaennec permalink
    February 14, 2015 7:51 pm

    How fascinating! (I can’t resist pointing out that your slogan might also have been “Listen to your hart” – sorry.) Strangely, I saw four deer today! From the car, so no close encounters, but still. I agree with Laura that you undervalue your beautiful art. You have a great creativity! As for the significance of deer, when I was at my sister’s house this past November, I saw that she has a small porcelain statue of a deer from the 1930s that my grandparents used to have. She told me that she puts it by her front door because deer are supposed to have protective powers. I’ve meant to chase this up – did you find this in your research? Lastly, I completely agree that the universe speaks to us in such ways, if we care to listen. One animal-encounter example from my own life is this: One day years ago, my husband and I moved into a flat. There was a praying mantis creeping along the fence by the front door, which we found extraordinary. We never saw another one again, until the day, two years later, when we moved out and a friend pointed out that there was a praying mantis on my sweater! I took those appearances as benevolent “bookends” to what was a very happy period of our lives.

    • February 16, 2015 11:01 pm

      You have certainly been chosen by an unusual animal/ insect! What a striking story.
      As regards the hart – yes, the word play was quite deliberate, and makes me happy! I don’t know about deer being protective, as such; although the gentleness of deer, combined with their antlers and their fearlessness in protecting their young, does show that one can be gentle without being weak. A good reminder for self-protection, I think.

  6. February 16, 2015 8:57 am

    Hi – I followed you here from Heather’s blog.

    I really like your stag collage and it got me thinking about how people take on the mantle of artist/creative and how other people think it’s not ‘allowed’ them. It’s like a bizarre form of artistic priesthood and ‘we are not worthy’-ness from the congregation.

    There must be complex messages that we pick up, through childhood and through school, about who is ‘good’ at art and who isn’t. I’ve read that around age 11 children start to feel disappointed in their own art. Up until that point they’ve drawn/painted from their own imagination. There’s a direct connection between the impulse to create and what ends up on the paper in front of them. When you’re drawing from imagination, you add lines until there are enough.

    But there comes a day when children want to draw or paint a picture of what they see around them – the dog, their mum, their street, whatever. And at that point perspective and technique come into play. And their eyes move between the thing they’re drawing and the lines on the paper and notice that they’re not the same. That’s the point that the direct line between the impulse and the product gets twisted or cut. Lots of kids give up drawing or painting for their own pleasure at that point. Which is a great shame, when a few artistic pointers and a bit of practice could bridge the gap.

    It’s sad isn’t it? It’s as if a gate of embarrassment gets locked shut between creativity and the young teenager. And rusts further shut as they get older.

    So I’m really glad that you’ve poured some metaphorical WD40 on the rusty gate lock.

    All best wishes

    • February 16, 2015 11:08 pm

      Hi Elaine, thanks for coming over from Heatherblog. (I loved your comments on Le Petit Prince!)
      Your metaphor of the gate and the WD40 is a lovely one. Yes, self-consciousness is what cripples the spontaneity of childhood art. I think also, as an adult, one is browbeaten by the assumption that something doesn’t ‘count’ unless you are making money from it. A shallow interpretation of worth, but one into which we as a culture slip all too easily. I’m fighting against that in myself. Bring on the oil to ease the way!

      • February 16, 2015 11:21 pm

        I had a long argument with a good friend in Spain about this: he’s a puppet maker and an all-round artisan, but he’s from the south of Spain, where hand-made puppets aren’t valued very highly. He has no doubts about his own ability as a maker. It’s as easy as breathing to him.

        But, as local people don’t want to buy his puppets, he’s decided that making puppets isn’t ‘work’. Or, as you put it, that it doesn’t count.

        So, there are degrees of despair in the world of creating. Where did we all learn to be so hard on ourselves?

  7. February 16, 2015 4:21 pm

    “Recovering perfectionist” – yes, well, I’ve been recovering for a few decades now… it has been a slow process for me.

    I am happy you have had a personal revelation about your own creativity. Mine happened in the early 1980s. I decided that I was an artist. It did not matter that my art, in its many forms, would never be experienced by the world, it is who and what I am in my deepest soul. Whether it is drawing or painting, digital art, photography, music, writing – whatever. It needs to be expressed.

    I love the insights of singbetterenglish, above, regarding how young people become frustrated with their ability to create. I think that very often, the creative is his/her own worst enemy. Frequently our expectations are far higher than our ability and that may prevent us from simply creating. The more we create, the easier it becomes to reach the expectations we place on ourselves. To create simply for the sake of creating is who many of us are, and then if we can bring that aspect of our natural being into our occupation, all the better!

    I also love that you are merging your spiritual/natural world experience with your creative expression. I think that the two are tightly linked and when we are in alignment spiritually, it has a definite effect on our ability to create.

    Continued blessings to you and yours!

    • February 16, 2015 11:18 pm

      Welcome to my haven for recovering perfectionists! Happy to have your company here. 🙂

      How splendid that you have claimed ownership of your own artistic impulses, despite the fetters of creative perfectionism which you describe so well. I am reminded of a favourite line in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’, when the fiercely driven sprinter, Harold Abrahams, exclaims after a defeat, ‘If I can’t win, then I won’t run.’ To which his more practical girlfriend retorts briskly, ‘If you don’t run then you can’t win!’

      I agree absolutely with your observation on spirituality and the ability to create. Some of my most fulfilled times come when all is in alignment. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments – many thanks and blessing to you too.

      • February 17, 2015 7:23 pm

        By the way, I should mention that even though I was distracted by the perfectionist struggle of the creative, I enjoy your art. I like that you shared some of the process so we could experience its evolution. The final product is very nice, and I suspect it is a beautiful accent in that little castle of yours. :^)

  8. February 19, 2015 2:15 am

    You are quite the artist. The woods and creatures speak to you and you do them justice. SImply beautiful.

  9. Erika W. permalink
    February 19, 2015 9:14 am

    I looked in on your blog, as I do once or twice a month now. What a wonderful surprise greeted me. Living in semi-rural Delaware with woods nearby, we are also surrounded by deer and yes, they have a magical air about them. We do have our fingers crossed when they appear too close to our post-and-rail back fences but they hsve never yet jumped them. When they do our very long rose hedge, at right angles, will become a memory and my reaction to the deer presence will change overnight.

    Your collage work is so completely original that it sings right off my Ipad. I hope that you will continue to post it when it happens,

    • February 24, 2015 6:36 pm

      It’s always a pleasure to read your comments, Erika. For your sake, I hope those deer never jump the fence! Much as I love them and wonder at them, I know full well how destructive they can be in a garden. Oh – but if ever they should get in, make sure you have your camera to hand – imagine a buck with a rose in his teeth! 😀
      We are lucky in that our flower garden has high walls around it; outside that, however, any young tree or juicy flower is at risk, including my lovely cherry sapling which was a birthday present from my boys. 😦 It’s not dead, though, just heavily ‘pruned’ by the roe deer, so should recover if they allow it to.
      Thank you for the encouragement of my work. Watch this space for a little more…

  10. February 27, 2015 11:31 pm

    Ha! The club of recovering perfectionists. Can I please join? It is wonderful to take in these beautiful, inspiring encounters and express them in a work of art. I love your collages.

    I am learning to escape the perfectionist trap as well, finding the drawings of my children most inspiring. My youngest at 10 works her way through drawing techiques with a wonderful private teacher but at the same time still freely captures the essence of orchids at the botanical garden, of an eagle, or a dementor (I’m a bit taken aback on that. She just discovered the first three HP books, and definitely hasn’t seen the films). Still, she doesn’t get a particularly good grade in art at school…Different approaches I guess…

    ps: I’m enjoying your deer pinboard on pinterest!

  11. March 30, 2015 9:06 pm

    Such magical experiences and beautiful work.


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