Friday, June 6th, 2014

Don’t let the passionless people rule – take courage and follow your heart

Sometimes our nearest and dearest don’t know a thing about what is best for us.

Following ones passion or purpose in life often takes great courage and conviction. A classic example is Michelangelo, known one of the world greatest sculptors and painters. The beauty of his works has echoed down the ages.

What is less known is that his family was not entirely supportive of  what he yearned to do. In fact, his father and his uncles thought art was disgraceful and they bet him hard and often.

Some view Michelangelo as a titan, a superhuman prodigy, but,  by his own standard, he was a passionate seeker of beauty and truth. Fuelled by his passion and the conviction that heaven was calling him to draw and to work with other painters, he could not be opposed, and millions of people have been touched by the emotional intensity that pours from his work, whether it be stone or marble

Many people do not follow their heart’s desire because of the lack of encouragement from others. They may not have to endure beatings, but instead verbal ridicule, blame or repeated warnings that that they have no talent and may fail. Yet, as the philosopher GW Hegel once said: “Nothing great in this world has been achieved without passion.”

Pursuing your passion is not always easy but it is the key to a happier and more fulfilled life, even if that fulfilment comes from just being true to your own nature. Passion is about doing something you love and deeply believe in. It is also about being willing to change and to step out of the comfort rut and mediocre landscapes that others are prepared to settle for. Passionate people are prepared to take risks and cope with failure.

Many people I have career-counselled know in their hearts and minds what they would love to be doing but without someone to believe in them they distrust their ability to be successful. It s a Catch 22 situation, for without the wisdom that comes from experience it is difficult to have certainty.

Many successful people say that there was a point at which they just took a leap of faith. A good career coach can help people to do this in an informed way which helps them to minimise their risks and gather objective data to guide their decision-making. But it is equally importantly to believe in their ability, to pay attention to the emotional stirrings which, left unheeded, may prevent them from making positive changes in their life.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you too can become great.” Looking to friends and family to support your career decisions is not always the best strategy. They often mean well but are blinded by their own agendas, insecurities and subjective views about what is best for you.

Like Michelangelo, who was encouraged by a mentor, sometimes encouragement and the confidence to pursue your calling comes from those who know you least.


Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

How to be happy: refresh your mental palette and think in bright new colours

Taking a break from routine is a great way to get happy at work – refreshing your mental palette and boosting your ability to think in bright new colours. Time out can replenish your mental reservoir. Rather than set you back in time taking a break can fastrack your life and career – new  innovative  plans may  form in your mind  while you are away. There may be a breath of wind from further afield or exchanges with a mentor, those with specialist knowledge or just someone with a refreshing slant on things. So many things are possible once you make a decision to go for it.

I’ve done just that, leaving behind responsibilities that beckon, pushing back deadlines, and ring-fencing ‘me’ time. Six days into my five week break I can immediately feel the difference. I feel more energised, more motivated, more contemplative and more philosophical and optimistic about the future I wish to create.

Feeding my creative soul has been a big part of this transformation.

Fresco class Accademia del Giglio in Florence


This is the first day of my fresco class in Florence at Accademia del Giglio – LOVE IT…so messy yet meditative 🙂 Don’t I look happy!

Here I am mixing two parts sand with one part lime into a lovely plaster paste which I am then going to trowel onto a terracotta tile support.

Fresco, in Italian, literally means “fresh,” but in the world of art it specifically refers to “fresh or wet plaster.” It is simply the name for a medium, or binding material, used in painting, just as oil, water(colour), or tempera, are the names for mediums that identify a type of painting.

I love this quote from Sister Lucia Wiley – an accomplished fresco artist: “I believe fresco is the most universal, simplest, the most direct, the most natural expression of the artist. Yet of all forms of painting, it demands the most of the artist. It calls from the painter the fullest giving of herself. It draws on every inch of her physical and mental and spiritual being, as she contemplates the same idea, the same motif, day after day, month after month, and then creates the fresco out of every ounce of herself.” ~ Sister. Lucia Wiley.

In addition to this, throughout the day the capacity of the plaster to assimilate colour varies–it is a living changing thing. The painter must be sensitive to this constantly changing appetite and feed it accordingly. In my own studio practice, I like to call this ability–or gift–the “mothering principle.” Painting a fresco uses this gift like no other artistic process.”   – Sister Lucia Wiley.


It seems so appropriate that I am giving fresco a go for the first time as I seek to re-fresh my life and career.

In fresco the binding material is calcium carbonate, or lime which is quarried in the form of limestone, burned, and then slaked, meaning that water is added to turn the lime into lime plaster. This lime-water mixture becomes calcium hydroxide plaster which during its drying process has colour-binding properties.

The process which occurs is two-fold. The calcium hydroxide gives off water into the air, while at the same time absorbing carbon dioxide from it. This double action forms a thin film of calcium carbonate (the same chemical creating the limestone with which we started) upon the surface of the plaster. The colour or pigment, if applied before this change occurs, is locked underneath this lime-skin just as if it were sealed in glass. Through a microscope, a piece of fresco looks as if it were made up of millions of tiny pieces of mosaic, each particle of colour is separately lodged in place.

This simple process — putting pure colour onto wet lime so that a crystalline lime-skin forms over the colour as it dries — has been known for over 10,000 years. All over the world early civilizations, without contact with one another, have painted in fresco



My first coat of lime and plaster bedded upon a moistened clay roof  tile awaiting second fine coat tomorrow before applying pigment…exciting. All wrapped up in plastic to stop it drying out – can’t do fresco dry!

As Sister Wiley below writes creating a fresco takes the patience of a mother carrying the seeds of her child – the process cannot be rushed. Tonight I must wait for my fresco plaster to dry before layer a finer coat of lime and sand on top and only then, while the mixture is still wet, can I begin to paint.

As Sister Wiley below writes creating a fresco takes the patience of a mother carrying the seeds of her child – the process cannot be rushed. Tonight I must wait for my fresco plaster to dry before layer a finer coat of lime and sand on top and only then, while the mixture is still wet, can I begin to paint. So, you see, learning the art of fresco is very good for cultivating mindfulness and the virtue of patience 🙂

Men’s work?

Throughout history, fresco—as with the majority of the fine arts—has been a male dominated medium. It has been viewed as a masculine process particularly because of the extreme demands it places upon the artist. But I would like to make it known that the opposite is true: The process of creating a fresco is actually very feminine—feminine in the highest sense of the word. Woman by nature is a nurturer and fresco painting requires nurturing.

The first reason I believe this is that the length of time it takes to prepare for the painting requires a highly dedicated and care-giving nature. Whether you prepare all of the material yourself or oversee their preparation, the time is long before you actually begin the final and wonderful stage of painting into the wet plaster. The determination to carry a project through months and years of preparation (which controls the quality and longevity of the fresco’s existence) is a quality that has been highly developed in women through thousands of years of caring for children.

The second reason comes from personal experience. During the painting hours the intonaco is like a living being, it has changing needs and capabilities. Of course those needs are not stated verbally but must be sensed and immediately responded to by the painter. It requires a sensitive, intuitive and nurturing ability to develop that living surface into a work of art. With care the life of the living plaster can be extended up to 17 hours. In my own work, I call this aspect of the process the “mothering principle,” for whether we are mothers or not, intuition and nurturing are feminine gifts that echo the role of a mother.” ~ The Feminine and Fresco Creation, by Sr. Lucia Wiley

My trowel and plaster…happily this is a very physical art, I love the kinaesthetic, mental and spiritual process involved and the very visceral connection with the earth – sand and lime beneath ones hands feels grounded yet divine.

Creating a fresco is arduous work, writes Sister Wiley. And as she says above, “Throughout history, fresco—as with the majority of the fine arts—has been a male dominated medium. It has been viewed as a masculine process particularly because of the extreme demands it places upon the artist. “Fresco painting is not romantic work, it is dirty, hard, physical labour, under the most trying of conditions…

There are many, many critical components that require long term dedication to the mural before you actually begin to paint. So not only must the artist possess a vision and love for long term projects, she must have a strong intellect, a good measure of patience, masterful painting skills, and a good dose of physical strength.”







This is stage two – preparing the cartone (cartoon)  for the fresco. The cartone a full-size drawing made on sturdy paper as a study or modello for the fresco.

Using the small pointed tool you see here I sat outside on a small balcony surrounded by plants and pinpricked along the outlines of the design I have chosen – a small portion of Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ – also known as Allegory of Spring (a tempera panel painting created ca. 1482).  Appropriately and ‘coincidentally’ it is spring here in Florence. A lovely scent of lemons added to the peaceful atmosphere as I quietly and contemplatively pierced the parchment. It will be truly a case of connecting the dots tomorrow when using a bag of soot I’ll be patting or “pouncing” over the cartoon, held against a wall to leave black marks on the wet plaster (“pouncing”), helping me to recreate the image into the wet plaster.


So now I sit back and wait for tomorrow – refreshing my mental palette  once again and already thinking in bright new colours.

Some of my clients have been doing the same: Mary, a burnt out, disillusioned accountant is taking up photography; John, a successful but unfulfilled scientist is writing a book; Jenny – stuck in a rut in banking –  is sculpting; and Angelina, a policy analyst by day, is studying fine arts by night. What could you do to be happier?