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Five things you need to know to increase gratitude.

Unlock the door to the joy of deep observation.

While I was staying with a friend last year, I was trying with very little success to photograph her beautiful cat. She would sit in the sweetest poses, but as soon as I picked up the camera, she would dart off into the garden and hide. While waiting patiently for her to reappear, I spotted a couple of lovely little succulents on the outdoor table. They didn’t run off, so I photographed them.

Using the macro lens is a form of meditation for me. It gives me time to slow down and really dig deeply into a subject. You too can glean wisdom from nature by looking intently. Anyone can see and appreciate the general beauty of a succulent, but there is a hidden loveliness to be found if you are willing to take a little time. 

It only takes a little inspiration to end up down a creative rabbit hole. Here’s one I went down:

For a recent exhibition at Eramboo Artist Environment in Sydney, I created a series of artist books examining the details of the colours in natural objects. I used a photograph as a starting point and then simply enjoyed the process of seeing the colours in each treasure from nature.

With regard to “artist book”, the term “book” is used loosely. It doesn’t mean the pages are bound in a traditional form. Artist books can be made of any material and displayed in any format. 

For the front page of this book, I stitched the photograph at the top and then made a watercolour wash of all the different colours in the plant. Then each subsequent page went into more detail on each of those colours.

I created small collages with papers of various textures which I stitched to the top of each page and filled the rest of the paper with watercolour washes.

The book was not bound, instead, the stack of leaves was tied together with gorgeous silk ribbons from my collection of hand-dyed ribbons and threads.

You can delve into the wonder of creation as a daily practice. Here are my five simple tips.

SLOW DOWN

Allow yourself time to observe one thing for a considerable amount of time. It is amazing what you can see if you meditate on something for just five or ten minutes.

FOCUS

Create a bubble for yourself and whatever it is that you’re appreciating. It could be the detail a gingko leaf in the middle of a bustling city, or perhaps a tiny washed up shell on the tideline. Whatever the subject, wherever you find yourself, switch off your phone and close out the noise and distractions around you. Simply let yourself be in a quiet, personal space. Then and only then, will your eyes really be opened to wonder.

ADMIRE

Now is the time to look at the colours, the texture, the lines and form of whatever you are observing. Make friends with your subject. If a quick glance at something is a handshake, then take your friend out for a long walk and listen to their story. This isn’t a time for scientific analysis, it’s a time to see and feel the wisdom of unspoken words. Appreciate, feel gratitude and give thanks. You may be surprised at how full your heart feels.

RECORD

One of the easiest ways to spend more time with something is to create from it. Draw it, photograph, paint, sculpt it or write about it. Whatever comes most naturally to you. I love to keep lots of journals and sketchbooks. They are just for me, I don’t feel any pressure for the drawings, paintings or words to be good. It is all about finding joy in describing my observations. The camera can be a wonderful tool to help you slow down and look with more intent. It allows you to frame and re-frame your subject, to see it from different angles and to focus on some parts and blur others out.

EXPAND

Consider the story of whatever you are observing. Can you draw, paint or write about your experience? About how it makes you feel? Sometimes it is as simple as making a colour swatch to enjoy. It might lead to noticing more similar things and beginning a visual collection of them.

So go and pursue beauty, seek it out, you will be amazed at how much is on your doorstep.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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