A walk in the woods for me always brings back memories of days spent with my dad exploring the local woodland and heath. Being an actor, a creative, imaginative soul and of a Peter Pan nature, he would crouch wide-eyed, cocking his head to the side and pretending to hear the stomp of Christopher Robin’s Heffalumps in the distance. Thrilled, and in that wonderfully childish state of overwhelming excitement, I would follow his racing trail through the trees, squealing with delight as we crunched over the bracken underfoot in high anticipation. In those moments and in those memories we entered another world. Removed from the everyday industrialism for a brief period, we chased into a shadowy world of tone; of light and dark, pared back sounds, silence and crackles, birdsong and sun on bark. Coming across a steep dip in the ground he would inform me conspiratorially and in hushed tones that this was the Heffalump nest and it must be nearby. We were lost in a world of myth and story, letting reality as we knew it fade away to reveal the spine-tingling hidden parts of perception.
A recent trip to Lesnes Abbey Woods resulted in the photographs in this blog, and encapsulate this sense of mystical storytelling which I now pass on to my 3 year old; pointing out to him faerie doors in the trees and drinking in his delighted astonishment like the elixir of life connecting me to the most cherished experiences of my own childhood.
I used Photoshop liberally with these images, to create and enhance the sense of uncovering the hidden reality below that which is first seen. For myself at least I have managed to capture the sense of magic and story which speaks to the deepest parts of me.
All photos copyright Kate Withstandley Photography. Taken on Nikon D5100 with 18 – 140mm lens.
Where is my mind? The Pixies asked the ultimate question in that famous song. Where IS my mind? And what is in it when I delve a bit further than the initial surface of daily routine? I’ve recently been getting interesting results from using pen and watercolour sketching and a semi-meditative state to discover the answer to this question.
My first step on the path to even exploring this was starting a mindfulness course a few years ago. I have subsequently taken the same course 4 times and am now beginning to explore further the many varieties of meditative techniques. Even just a few months of daily basic mindfulness meditation has given me a taste of how it feels to explore my own consciousness. I’m already far less skeptical than when I started, and the idea of meditating in my room is actually more of an attractive prospect than going out on the town! The concept is so ridiculously simple and obvious, I’m almost ashamed I haven’t just always done it. It’s unbelievable that modern life is so overwhelming that we have to re-teach ourselves just to stop; to actually listen to our own bodies and minds. Ironically for such a self-obsessed society, we don’t actually take much notice of our true internal voice.
Through this regular meditation I’ve had a number of interesting experiences, often dream-focused. I find that when I meditate I almost immediately return to a recent dream, I can’t change anything, so its not what they call ‘lucid dreaming’, but I’m in it, I can walk around it and explore it, and I get the same feelings and emotions I had when i was having it. My dreams now are different, they feel more like experiences than dreams and give me a strange sense of having been somewhere.
Quite by chance, I recently started doodling when I was focused on other things, as a stress release. I found that letting my instinct guide me resulted in some interesting imagery. As soon as I started regulating myself – ‘don’t put that line there’ etc. the pictures were far more dull and without the sense of freedom they had encompassed before. I tried to go back to the other technique and found that I could utilise the relaxation part of the mindfulness practice, but without switching off completely. Let the pen guide itself and do exactly what it wants. Don’t limit it, don’t think about what might look good or bad; basically don’t allow your conscious mind to impose the very limiting boundaries which are born of external influence.
The result is these images. I see these as an early experimentation phase, what might grow from further practice at this technique is yet to be discovered. It’s the first time I have not had to labour at a piece of art, the first time I haven’t had to ‘try’, haven’t had to worry about the end result. Releasing myself of that anxiety allows me to truly enjoy the process and I think that probably comes through in the imagery.
All works are pen and watercolour on paper and are for sale.
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Prague is a bit like Amsterdam in the sense that it is an exceedingly beautiful city, but the kind of place you’re usually too wasted to really appreciate. Until recently I had not been to Prague, and with three hours to spare at the airport I quizzed my new temporary drinking companion, a lovely old Irishman named Mick, about his experience of the city. Sadly he only remembered a glimpse of it from the boot of a car – having been there on the ubiquitous stag do – but assured me that the momentary glimpse was a very pretty one. Stag do’s and tourist groups appear to make up the majority of the population of Prague in the city centre, the former marching around in full get-up; roaring, singing and swigging unidentifiable coloured spirits. The tourists loved it, and the kitschness of the spectacle actually tallied quite nicely with the mountains of tourist tat we had to orienteer through as we crossed the bridge into the Old Town. These various social interactions take place against a Disney backdrop of Bavarian-esque pink turrets and gold spires. Looking down a street at dusk I could’ve been marching headlong into the Magic Kingdom.
But I’m being deliberately disparaging of course. For those of you snorting with derision at my plebeian misunderstanding of this cultural centre I assure you, I did love it. Warts and all – because none of the above is a lie.
It is merely a wonderfully delicious contrast to the whole of the city outside of that square mile; enhancing the stupendous, visceral impact of an architecturally patchwork landscape reflecting centuries of shifting political and economic change in a remarkably extravagant manner. That is to say, the buildings are bloody lovely.
The following photos were taken on a Nikon D5100 with 18-140mm lens and edited using Adobe Photoshop.
It’s so easy to lose track of yourself. To find yourself morphing into a different type of person with whom you have little in common. Someone who doesn’t look – who doesn’t see the beautiful shapes in a ripped piece of wallpaper, or notice the startling effect of light and shadow cast on a busy pavement. You can very quickly become part of the melee who walk over them, heavy footsteps smashing the composition blindly. But that’s part of what I love about myself. Part of what makes me proud to be me. I notice these things. I find them more beautiful and interesting than most artworks in a gallery. The beauty of man-made nature. The stuff which is so natural to us it may as well be placed in the same category as trees and plants; concrete, tarmac, trains, windows, pavements and doors, shopfront reflections, burnt edges, peeling paint. They’re everywhere. The fact that others don’t notice them gives me a little rush, it makes me feel as if I’ve been treated to a personal glimpse of something. Like the children in the Narnia stories who see the portal to the other world, while others around them see nothing but a wall. My experience isn’t that dramatic of course but it has that same special feeling. It brings me joy. Sometimes I can stand at the edge of the tube platform and see so much beauty and art in form and shape that it makes my heart full. The other side of this coin is when I don’t see it. When my heart is sad and my eyes are down. When I look at the wall and see only degradation and the need for a paint job. I’ve been feeling like that recently and stopped seeing the beauty. But today I saw it again and it’s as stunning as ever.