Having studied the overview in week 1 and the introduction chapter in week 2 today we’ll begin an exploratory walk through the wonderful double page ‘topic’ sections which run through the remainder of the book.
I describe our continuing study as exploratory because this is what I have found with each turn of the page, each topic that Jane Brocket shines a light into…they make me explore my own way of living in the domestic world. Out first three mini-topics begin with…
A Habit of Seeing
The 'seeing' Jane has referred to here is the inspiration gained when stopping to truly examine the everyday things around us and those which we come across in other ways. She mentions her prior belief that inspiration belonged to artists, poets, architects, designers and the like, but then she had an epiphany about what triggers inspiration in everyone…
“We can walk through life without seeing, without taking in the details, the words, the colours, the pictures, and miss the whole point of inspiration. Or we can adopt an approach that allows us to stop for a while and look and listen and reflect and enjoy.” (page 16)
This really resonated with me because I am an observer of small things, and taking forty or fifty photos each day is fairly normal. I love to zoom in and watch the birds dancing under the water sprinkler or interact with each other in the bird feeder. During my early morning swim I watch butterflies and carpenter bees flit back and forth over my head and when in the pool at sunset under an ever darkening sky I watch the stars come out, awe-inspired at the beauty and splendour they display. My husband always waits for me to cry out, “There’s the saucepan and Orion’s belt!” He’s not sure why they bring me joy, but they do. In fact the more I observe nature the more my creative mind is stirred to design.
Jane continues –
“For the one thing that sets creative people apart is that they have acquired the habit of being receptive to inspiration, actively seeking it or even simply recognising it. “ (page 16)
When Jane started her Yarnstorm blog over ten years ago she would focus each day on something positive in order to have a subject for her posts and over time discovered her sources of inspiration, rather than diminishing, kept increasing.
“Some days are more passive …I may feel inspired by something as simple as a new flower…or reading a short story…but on other days I am inspired to think up a whole quilt design, take up crochet or imagine a pineapple tea cosy.”
I often pull out my scrap basket for colour inspiration, laying various prints side by side until a spark of creativity is lit. In the kitchen inspiration more often comes from having to use up what's left in the fridge before the next grocery day and to be honest, some of those meals have been the most delicious.
The second mini-topic this week is...
When we were homeschooling the children from 2000-2010 a regular Wednesday afternoon treat was the study of artists and works of art. I’d brew a pot of tea, lay out a spread of cake or scones, fruit, nuts and cheese, and for a couple of hours the children and I would focus on one artist, ten of their paintings, and then discuss what we liked or disliked about them. The kids would often paint or draw their own version of a painting they liked the most and we’d stick it to the fridge for a few days or pop it in their art folders. I found this one of the most creative subjects over those homeschool years because I personally learned the arts of observation, appreciation and inspiration.
Jane Brocket has always been drawn to paintings which feature domestic scenes, something I'd not considered until reading her book for the first time in 2008.
Just as the children and I did in our afternoon art appreciation lessons, Jane closely examines each painting to 'see into' the artist's view depicted on the canvas and often comes away with an enriched evaluation of their life and her own.
In this second mini-topic “Framing Domesticity” (a 4 page spread) she shares a few of her favourite paintings and the reasons why they bring her joy.
A Life Well Spent (James West Cope 1878)
“…this mother was doing something incredibly valuable and enjoyable…the pivotal maternal figure, a relaxed but attentive son, a daughter who is already multitasking, and just a little touch of happy disorder with books and yarn left on the carpet. And I reckon any mother who knits red and white stripy socks while listening to her son’s catechism must have hidden depths.” (page 18)
Summer in Cumberland (James Durden 1925)
Set just after WW1 Jane was charmed by the gentility of this painting, glimpsing a moment of Englishness through a domestic scene with order restored after a world war yet still aware danger could once again loom close. This inspired her to “value the apparently casual domestic moments because you never know what’s coming next.” (page 20)
A Knitting Party (Evelyn Dunbar 1940)
Evelyn Dunbar was an official war artist in 1940 and focused her paintings on the women at home and their domestic war efforts. Jane’s favourite is this one with its unspoken sense of camaraderie and feminine solidarity. She also observes that the women hold their knitting needles differently, have eyes lowered as though keeping their thoughts private.
As I studied this painting myself I could imagine the women silently praying for husbands, sons and brothers who were off at war as they did their part from home to provide socks, scarves and vests for many soldiers they would probably never meet. It sparked in me the importance of doing what we can with what we have to do our part when a need arises.
Jane was a lone knitter for years until joining a knitting group, which is one of the reasons she delights in paintings with knitters as the subject.
“This is why I feel an immediate connection with any realistic painting of knitters; these people negate my isolation and make me part of a much greater and wider domestic art.” (page 20)
Our final mini-topic this week is...
Vicarious Kitchen Pleasures
“Some days my creative output is zero; life is more a matter of holding everything together until relief arrives in the form of Simon/a glass of wine/a child taken out of the equation/bedtime. On days like these, I have to live out my need to create through my children. Instead of swimming against a very strong current, I find it easier to go with the flow and let them do the making.” (page 22)
This is another 4 page topic and one which helped me on a few occasions when the overwhelm of teaching our children and numerous ‘needs to do’ threatened the mental peace my DNA was made to crave.
On days like this when her children were young Jane would gather them together to create in the kitchen, specifically to create by decorating cooked wares…and they did this in hilarious ways. An example - one of her daughters decorated cup cakes with blue icing and shark lollies and other sweets to create a ‘shark attack’ scene inspired by a nautical themed Donna Hay magazine (the annual kid’s issue).
The point she’s making here is that we can be inspired when others create. If there’s no energy to create with the children simply give the children ‘tools’ to create for themselves and sit back to enjoy the fun.
I admit that I was never the mummy who encouraged ‘play’ in the kitchen but I was very much into saving cardboard, toilet roll inserts, ribbons, buttons, felt, string, glue, tape, wool and other odd bits and pieces for them to create with on weary afternoons, rainy days, or if they had that “I’m bored” look on their faces. We had a large half-cupboard which over time became full of all those wonderful ‘scraps’ that a child can turn into a boat, fort, dolls house, secret treasure chest, greeting cards, posters, paper dolls or a variety of monster type creatures which could be hidden in odd places for unsuspecting family members to find.
Jane concludes this section with some chat about gingerbread architecture and her realisation that making a gingerbread house is simply not for the faint-hearted or one who is light on free time.
“My goodness, they take some making…I spent an entire day…this was quite enough gingerbread architecture for a whole year, or maybe even a lifetime.” (page 24)
But her children thoroughly enjoyed the process.
This week lets each be inspired to "see" what is around us and how it can inspire our own creativity.
I also have a few questions which I hope you'll answer in the comments below as this book study has so far offered way more than I imagined through the shared input of how you and others live a gentle domestic life with inspiration, creativity and joy.
What do you regularly observe in life that triggers your creativity?
Has this week's study encouraged you to 'see' art differently?
What did you like about the three paintings Jane chose to focus on?
What creative afternoon ideas can you suggest for children (of varying ages)?
Next week we'll be studying pages 26-33.
Every week in the Tuesday book study post I'm encouraging readers and lovers of the gentle domestic life who have a current blog and have blogged about Living the Gentle Domestic Life this year to link their relevant post for others to come by, visit their blogs and be inspired.
NOTE: If your link is advertising or not a true reflection of the heart for living a gentle domestic life it will be deleted.
I hope you'll join in!