The Artist's Way: Reading Deprivation

If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation (Cameron, 87).

Of all the tasks and exercises I mentally prepared myself for when I began The Artist's Way, reading deprivation was not one of them. I had accepted the likelihood that I would have to do tasks I didn't want to do (Cameron recommends completing at least half the tasks at the end of each chapter, choosing those you find most appealing and those you feel the strongest resistance to), but this–this I did not expect. My initial response was one of dread.

A week without reading.

A. Whole. Week.

Seven days. I can hear Samara whispering it now.

It's basically my own personal idea of hell. Even when I was stuck in my now broken reading slump (more on that in a few weeks) I was still reading articles and books … I just wasn't finishing any of the books. When I broke the news to my twin sister (my fellow Artist's Way student) her reaction was slightly more pronounced than mine, her expression turning to one of horror as she responded with a resounding, emphatic 'I'm not doing that'. According to Cameron, our negative responses to this exercise are normal. She explains,

Reading deprivation is a very powerful tool–and a very frightening one. Even thinking about it can bring up enormous rage. For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own (87).

As a serial procrastinator. I especially recognised myself in that last sentence, and with this knowledge and a strong desire to complete Week 4 (after two weeks of putting it off) and move onto Week 5, I finally embarked on my own week of reading deprivation.

So far I've had both positive and negative experiences. On the positive side, I've had some new ideas, including some new topics I want to write about in future blog posts, and I can still listen to music. On the flip side, I want to read all the things! And listen to podcasts (you're not supposed to fill up your reading-free time with the radio. I'm assuming podcasts fall into that category).

To give myself some encouragement I made a list of some of the things I could do instead of reading, including some of the suggestions made in The Artist's Way.

  • Listen to music
  • Go cycling (I keep intending to do this one and then never get around to it. Maybe this week I can change that)
  • Explore my local suburb
  • Meditate
  • Practice yoga
  • Pay bills (done and done!)
  • Sort my closet (time to KonMari the rest of my wardrobe)
  • Cook meals that take longer than fifteen minutes to prepare (a challenge on my patience)
  • Catch-up with friends and family
  • Practice calligraphy
  • Write
  • Plan content for this blog

Some of these things are banal, some are nourishing or productive, and some of them I already do. But, most important, they don't involve reading (except for the things I write) and they are all achievable. And maybe they'll lead to an epiphany or two. Finger crossed.

Until next time,
Miss Fif









Maybe I Can: Dutch Braids And A New Mantra

Moments of clarity can strike you in the most unexpected or unremarkable moments. For me, that moment involved a pair of double Dutch braids.

All through high school and primary school I didn't know how to braid. In primary school I didn't care about this fact and in high school I came to the conclusion I just didn't have the skills for it. I decided it was too difficult, something beyond my own capability. But the truth is I never tried to learn properly, I only attempted to figure it out on my own and when that failed I accepted it wasn't meant to be.

Fast forward a couple of years and I finally asked one of the hair stylists at my local salon to teach me how. And I proved my teenage self wrong. Sure, I was all thumbs at first and my braids weren't perfect, beautiful creations, but I learned regardless. I was successful. I followed up this success by placing new limitations on my abilities. Yes, I told myself. You can style a simple braid, but that's it. And so I concluded that anything more complicated was simply beyond my capability.

Jump forward to the Easter weekend, 2017. My sisters and I were on a mini road trip to our childhood home when my big sis asks me if I can do boxer braids. At first I didn't know what she was talking about. What are boxer braids? It turns out she was referencing Million Dollar Baby (I've never seen it. Neither has my twin–but she still got the reference straight away. I swear those two have their own separate wavelength for all things concerning spirituality and home decorating). Once I understood what she meant I told her I couldn't.

But, using my big sister as my model, I ended up giving it a try anyway. I'm not sure why. Maybe my subconsciousness had decided it was time. Or maybe it was just one of my whims (I get those sometimes e.g. deciding to run a marathon. I still haven't checked that one off the bucket list). My first attempt didn't get beyond dividing her hair into two sections. I had no idea how to proceed. Cue the YouTube search. I flicked through the Carli Bybel tutorial (a good one if want to learn how to do double Dutch braids) and then tried again. And it worked out. It wasn't great, but it was a start. My next try was much better.

Since then I've tried out a few different Dutch braid styles on my twin (sisters come in very useful when you're learning to braid–and you don't have to put in any effort to convince them. At all). Each new braid looks better than the last.

I'd like to think I'm a pretty positive person, but I know I have a habit of seeing particular skills and situations as something I can or I can't do, ignoring the middle ground. But I had an epiphany after my little Easter accomplishment (and maybe influenced a little bit by The Artist's Way) and I've decided to adopted a new mantra, maybe I can. I just have to try.

Until next time,
Miss Fif

The Artist's Way: Week 1

When I was child I made several attempts to maintain a diary, each one short-lived, with my commitment lasting no longer than a few weeks. Suffice it to say, my history as a diarist is fickle.

Warning: the following paragraphs may contain phrases like 'spiritual task', 'shadow artist' and 'creative affirmations'.

If these words makes you cringe, if they send up red flags, or conjure up images of placards declaring 'Back Away! Back Away!' I promise I understand. I felt the same way. Sometimes I still do. But I can promise you this is not an article about Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and its ilk (although, if you want to listen to a hilarious discussion about this book check out episode 10 of the Banging Book Club podcast). If you can get past the self-help lingo–even better, erase the dreaded word from your vocabulary–I promise you that there's wisdom (not mine) to be found below.

Last week I started a 12-week course designed to recover and discover your Creative Self (cue the eye-rolling). Basically, it's supposed to help you sort your shit out. The course was created by Julia Cameron, a writer, director, and teacher, and is laid out in her book The Artist's Way, a self-help guide to freeing your creativity. I first learned of The Artist's Way through my twin sister who in turn read about it in the memoir Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod.

The Artist's Way is for 'anyone interested in living more creatively through practicing an art'. Although Cameron uses words like the 'Great Creator' and 'God' a belief in God is not necessary nor compulsory. Camerson writes, '… you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is a creative energy'. Personally, I like MacLeod's verson–a Mr Miyagi-clone she envisioned giving advice and projecting a sense of calm onto herself.

Before the weekly chapters, Cameron introduces the two basic tools of the course–the morning pages and the artist's date.

The morning pages are simply three pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts, a 'brain dump' of anything that crosses your mind. Morning pages are a form of therapy, intended to eventually help you realise your (suppressed) hopes, dreams, and dissatisfactions with life. So far I'm enjoying this part of the course. I've managed to write three pages everyday, although I have failed to complete each entry in the morning. Still, I'm considering it a win. I'm able to write about the good things and acknowledge, and often move forward from, the bad. Of course, stationery geek that I am, the start of the morning pages was proceeded by a trip to Dymocks to buy the perfect notebook for the task because–priorities. In the end I went with a sunny yellow Zap notebook.

The artist date is intended to nurture 'your creative consciousness'. Ideally you go for a solo excursion for a couple of hours. I admit I'm cheating a little this week. I'm going to practice calligraphy at home, maybe go for a long walk or retreat to the park to read afterwards. After all, it will all still nurture my creative self or, as Cameron puts it, 'opening yourself to insight, inspiration, and guidance'. Next I'll week do it properly (I will!).

On top of these two tools, each chapter contains an essay, a list of exercises and tasks, and a weekly check-in. Week 1 challenges your core negative beliefs, exploring the notions you have developed over time that are holding you back. The chapter introduces the concept of shadow artists versus real artists and the use of affirmations to help with your self-improvment. I have to admit, I can't help but think of the self-help seminar in the Sex and the City episode (5x02). Not a great example of affirmations. Fortunately, Cameron writes in a relatable way, providing real life examples of participants in her workshops. For me, it's all about getting past the self-help language to the simple truths. In six weeks time I'll be checking-in again with a post about my experiences and opinions at hitting the half-way mark. Hopefully it will all have been worth it. 

Until next time,
Miss Fif

Modern Calligraphy and Me

I know that colouring books for adults are supposed to be therapeutic, a mindful way to relax and de-stress, but for me they just seem like the opposite. I don't want to get caught up over-thinking (and then getting annoyed by) my colour choices (which I would) but I would like to reap the benefits that come along with the practice.

I think I've found my alternative, modern calligraphy.

I'm drawn to attractive typography and to the beautiful cursive writing of my parents and my aunties. I loved comparing their handwriting on last year's batch of Christmas cards. Modern calligraphy feels like the natural progression of this interest. I get to learn a new skill, improve my currently hideous cursive handwriting, and get the therapeutic benefits that come along with it. Sold.

I decided to begin learning modern calligraphy by using the book Nib + Ink* by Chiaro Perano, a professional calligrapher, illustrator, designer, and founder of the studio Lamplighter London. Perano first came to my attention when she was featured in a vlog by Lily Pebbles (skip to the 1:55 mark for the relevant section). From this video and a scroll through Perano's Instagram I knew I liked her style of modern calligraphy and, after a little research, I believed Nib + Ink would be a good practical guide to the craft. It's essentially a workbook (remember your primary school copy books?), providing a short introduction to modern calligraphy–

'a term that has come to describe the new, more immediate and fun handwritten styles which have evolved from traditional types of calligraphy (12)'

–and the tools and paper to get started (FYI, you'll know if calligraphy is for you if you find the information about the tines interesting!). It contains a variety of tips, tricks, and instructions and a section of lined pages to practice on.

Of course, once I'd purchased the book I needed to buy the tools to get started. After a fruitless search for a retailer in my area I ended up choosing an online supplier, Calligraphy Supplies Australia. I mainly chose CSA because they ship from within Australia, which shortened the delivery time, but their prices are reasonable too. Of course there are cheaper options available (Amazon etc.) if you don't mind waiting longer. I bought a straight pen holder, three nibs–the Brause 361, the Nikko G, and the Gillot 303–and a jar of black Higgins Eternal ink and set to work. Before I'd started I had been hoping I would have a natural aptitude for calligraphy. I don't. I'm not terrible, but sadly I'm no modern calligraphy prodigy.

The first exercise in Nib + Ink is mark making. The idea is that you perfect your mark making techniques before moving on to letters and then, eventually, joined letters and words. Like a real grown-up. Naturally, I skipped straight to writing letters. I mean–how could I resist?

Since then I've been going back and forth between practicing mark making and practicing letters because–spoiler alert!–mark making is boring. Very boring. On the other hand, letters are great. I can happily go two hours just practicing letters. I'm currently using an A4 cartridge pad to practice in, it's not the best option as the ink bleeds a little but it's good enough for now.

I've also been practicing Perano's alphabet in pencil in an effort to build up some kind of muscle memory. For this activity, and for practicing with the ink, you can buy lined calligraphy layout books or you can download and print a lined calligraphy guide sheet from Perano's website. I chose the latter option. Alternatively, you can rule up your own pages (I tried it once, but it takes forever and despite careful effort my lines still didn't end up straight). I'm using an Art Studio A4 Bank Layout Pad from Riot Art & Craft for this activity, the paper is just the right thickness to allow me to see the lines of the guide sheet underneath. For now I'm just working on the letters 'A' to 'J', my goal is to master them before continuing on to the rest (although, Mother's Day is coming up in May so I need to start including 'M' and 'u' in my practice routine soon).


In the beginning I hated writing the letter 'A' but I've since worked out the the example I was using just wasn't the right one for me. In Nib + Ink Perano gives three examples. The first was the one I struggled with. I like the second example but I've found the third example is the one that suits me. If you find yourself struggling with a similar problem I highly recommend you try a range of different styles until you find one that works for you. It's basically a Goldilocks situation. Now that I've figured this out, 'A' is one of my favourite letters to write. 'H' is the the other.

At the moment I'm finding the hardest letters to replicate are the curviest ones: 'B' (the first letter of my surname and half of my family's first names –oh joy), 'C', 'D' etc. It's like they exist to to test my commitment to the task (or maybe just to torture me). Despite the frustration I can feel trying to get these letters (and the calligraphy marks) right I find the whole activity very calming and enjoyable. After all, you're supposed to use the book to develop your own style, not to replicate Perano's letters exactly.

You can read a sample of Nib + Ink on google books and view Perano's calligraphy work on her Lamplighter London Instagram. If you are looking for an alternative to colouring books or other mindfulness methods, or you just want to improve your handwriting, modern calligraphy could be the right hobby for you (also I need people to geek out about calligraphy supplies with!).

Until next time,
Miss Fif


*This post is not sponsored.