Monday, 25 July 2016

Paint Yourself Calm - Book Feature and #giveaway

'Anyone can paint. Not only anyone, but everyone

For those who know me personally or through my blog will know the high value I place on creativity and its link with health and well being as well as with teaching and learning; I believe so much can be channeled positively through artistic involvement, engagement or participation in 'the arts'

'Art isn't an exclusive club for those who are gifted or know what they are doing'

While perusing this feel good book by artist, Jean Haines called Paint Yourself Calm I was reminded of my final project idea, in my community artist role, back in 2012

'Painting is something that you can do at any stage in your life' 
My idea at the time was to start up and operate a community art box loan scheme for the elderly. Participants would receive an art box on loan for an agreed time period and I was exploring too the possible involvement of young people who could have acted as art demonstrators on occasion 

'There is far more to be gained from painting than the end result of colour on paper'

Elderly participants would have had the chance to rediscover their artistic skills and enhance their lives by using new art materials and engaging in creative experiences that will be more widely beneficial to them as individuals. Whereas the young people could have benefitted too, by learning valuable skills in communication, organising and leadership

'Time taken to put ourselves in a better and healthier state of mind is a blessing, and well worth it'

Unfortunately I was unable to break through the glass ceiling that was forming to secure the funding to get the project off the ground, but I still obsess over these kinds of principles today. However, books, like the one I feature here can be somewhat motivational and therapeutic in helping one realize that a feeling of self-worth can be regained and inner calm can be achieved at those mindful times when thoughts and imagination is allowed to flow through the body and out through not only the brush, but through the pen, the pencil, the saw, the knife, the vocal chords, the sculpture's hands, the dancer's feet, the pianist's fingers - whatever the art, in fact! Whatever the craft!  

Quotes in the colour fonts above from the book Paint Yourself Calm by Jean Haines 

Buy on Amazon:

Try to Win in latest Book Giveaway:

Competition Question: tell of your own art related experience or participation that has brought about a feeling of positiveness/happiness/calmness

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Is it right that we introduce children to toys and books by gender category?

Have you heard about the organisation Let Toys Be Toys ? It is a grass roots campaign that is run by volunteers and is aimed at marketers, retailers and book publishers asking that they organise toys/books by theme rather than gender. The main focus is to persuade toy shops and toy departments to take away aisles and shelves that are for ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ and to take down the pink and blue signs in stores and on packaging, and instead let toys be toys

To all intents and purposes Let Toys Be Toys is a pressure group designed to persuade retailers and toy manufacturers to stop categorizing toys by gender and for publishers to stop labeling books for boys or for girls. Interested to know more visit Let Toys be Toys a researching group, a non-profit organization, with a focus on children and play here

To help children understand gender identity themselves (as it is not quite as simple as pink and blue), there's a new picture book from Bloomsbury called Introducing Teddy. The hook line says it is 'a story about being yourself' and it goes like this: 

'Little boy, Errol has a boy teddy bear friend called, Thomas and they play together everyday doing all sorts of fun things. Secretly, however, Thomas would rather be known as a girl bear called Tilly. This would make life much happier for a uptight little bear who is worried to tell Errol in case he doesn't want to be a friend anymore. But when he is told Errol understands and reassures teddy by saying  'I don't care if you're a boy teddy or a girl teddy! What matters is that you are my friend!'
So Thomas becomes Tilly by simply switching his bow tie for a hair bow! 

The real moral of the tale and how it fits with this blog theme today, is that after the bear has revealed inner fears and feelings, the two friends continue to play and do the same things as before, nothing changes. Tilly and Errol still enjoy adventure games and playing in the park with Ava too, and indoor tea parties when it's raining, their choice of fun and games do not change in any way, so a sweet take on a difficult theme by author, Jessica Walton and the story defining illustrations by Dougal MacPherson are quite lovely.

Meet Jessica Walton and her transgender bear over on Facebook

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Keeping an art journal plus Book Giveaway Part II

Returning to the 'keeping an art journal theme' of a recent blog post and this time I'm sharing the ideas of Norwegian knitwear designers and authors, Arne & Carlos of how to create an Art Journal, Book Bound keepsake/diary, Idea Book - Call it what you will!

Crafting circles will know of Arne and Carlos because of their established social media presence and their published craft titles of course. The pair arrived on my radar when they opened the Knitting and Stitching show of Oct 2015 in London

So I'll let the guys tell you in their own unscripted video style about how to make an Art Journal/Idea Book 

And published in May this year, a book, featuring the art journal  ideas of Arne and Carlos called  'Make your own IdeaBook with Arne & Carlos' (see above)

Short review - also published on Amazon

Okay, these kinds of books can really only perform as a guide rather than be comprehensive in the detailing, but it does contain step-by-step information of how to make your own handmade book, how to sew in pages; how to bind the book and how to create a cover. 
The art editing work of the book is exceptional. It is the presentation and beautiful colour photography, (of which there are over 50 images and many full page), that does the job of illustrating the techniques adopted by Arne and Carlos in their handmade book making process. A large, folded sheet of useful templates is inserted in the back. Take a look at the pages inside

Shop Now:

** competition is now closed**

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Craft of Encaustic Painting (Painting with Wax)

I have a few kit basics to hand, and have merely dabbled with this ancient artform; barely 'scratching the surface' so to speak, but I don't think there is any easier way to paint amazing fantasy scenes or create impressive landscape formations in the form of colourful and vibrant pictures than using molten wax, an iron and a just a few basic tools on card or special papers

When working as a freelance artist I ran a community project called 'DIY Girls' and introduced the group to Encaustic Art, passing on the simple techniques I had got to grips with quite quickly. Sure enough the students were soon smoothing and dabbing wax on to their painting cards like experts

It was quite coincidental that a craft book called Encaustic Art PAINTING WITH WAX was in my book box of new craft book releases, and, curiously, I fetched out a project book that I already had in my possession called Encaustic Art Project Book and saw it was another Search Press publication and by the same author, Michael Blossom. Obvious it is then, that if you have any mind picking questions to do with the art, then encaustic artist and demonstrator Michael Blossom is your man! In his sessions and in his books Blossom explains the tools needed to do basic technique and beyond, from creating simple abstracts to more delicate works of art using further techniques

Note: the following three images are by Michael Blossom. Look his gallery up here 

Both the books I mention are selling on Amazon. The Amazon reviews for both are worth a read. Click on a pic below to take you over

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Pledge for an Unbound Edition of a fable story by Jonathan Coe

This fable story for all ages is the result of a special kind of artistic collaboration between author, Jonathan Coe and artist Chiara Coccorese

The Broken Mirror is available either as an ebook or a limited edition hardback or paperback but only when Coe achieves the 100% of pledge monies. What does this mean? Well, the first step is to visit the publisher, Unbound online and to pledge an amount at a level of your choosing.  Unbound is an alternative way forward for authors to fund the publishing of their books. Details of Unbound, set up to bring about a better deal for authors and readers alike, is here

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mediocre is the state of play with academy chains

Out of the 900 or so academy chains in England there are only half a dozen which deserve to be called 'good'  Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw declares

Ironic, is it not, that before any inspection happens schools rally to present the best version of themselves. Yet no amount of ducking and diving can change the reality of the situation

UK scores for 15 year olds in Maths, Reading and Science is mediocre again when 
compared to other developed countries, and, when it comes to other unmeasured disciplines, we are probably fairing even worse

In a recent TES speech Sir Michael says we need more maverick teachers and school leaders:

“When we looked at these seven failing [academy chains], they had what I called a Walmart philosophy,”
Sir Michael said. “You know, pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap. It was empire building rather than having the capacity to improve these schools.”

Too right that we need some kind of maverick philosophy applied to education. The NHS would benefit from it too. Mismanagement with somewhat two-dimensional thinking is fast becoming the downfall for many of our institutions 

Remember too, we have all received a version of that same kind of mediocre education of which Sir Michael talks about, so the mavericks out there need to find a way of scooting around the rigidness and prejudices of recruitment policies, and, if they indeed manage to and get in positions where they are able to do some radical reforming, then their first job is to throw out anyone who is in it for themselves. That'd be a start

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Advice on how to handle mosquito bites from the British Skin Foundation

Dr Anjali Mahto
Nobody likes being bitten by mosquitos whether it’s at home or abroad. Consultant Dermatologist & British Skin Foundation spokesperson, Dr Anjali Mahto (pictured above) explains how to deter the summer pests, what to do when bitten and why they are attracted to us in the first place.

Did you know?
An estimated 10-20% of people are highly attractive to mosquitoes and consistently get bitten more often than their counterparts. Whilst genetics are thought to count for up to 85% of our susceptibility to insect bites, scientists have a number of ideas as to why some of us are more prone to being ravaged by mosquitoes than others.

Blood type
Research suggests that certain blood types are more attractive to mosquitoes than others. A large number of the population secrete saccharides or sugars through the skin dependant on their blood type that mosquitoes are able to sense. Studies as early as 1972, suggest that mosquitoes seem to prefer those with Type O blood. Mosquitoes land on skin with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. People with Type B blood fall somewhere in between this range.

Carbon dioxide

Mosquitoes are attracted to exhaled carbon dioxide via receptors in an organ known as the maxillary pulp and can detect their prey from up to 50 metres away. Consequently, those that exhale more gas i.e. often larger people with increased body habitus, are more likely to get bitten.


Aside from carbon dioxide, mosquitoes also rely on other substances, often at close range, to home in on their targets. These include chemical and compounds secreted in skin and sweat, including lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia, steroids, and cholesterol to name a few. Strenuous exercise can result in a build-up of lactic acid which may make individuals more susceptible. Genetic factors are likely be involved in the composition of these substances that are naturally secreted by our bodies.

Large numbers of bacterial species naturally inhabit human skin. Researchers have shown that certain bacterial subtypes present in large numbers e.g. Staphylococcus epidermidis, make individuals more attractive to mosquitoes whilst others e.g. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, appear to have the opposite effect. It also seems that having a wide diversity of bacterial types living on the skin make it less attractive.

Pregnant women are more susceptible to bites than their non-pregnant counterparts. This is, however, likely to be due to the fact that they exhale relatively more carbon dioxide and have a higher resting body temperature.

Clothing colour
Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours such as black and navy blue, as they use vision along with scent to locate their targets. It is best to dress in light colours such as white or pastels to reduce the risk of this.

So what can you do? Insect Repellent!
This is probably the most effective way of reducing the risk of mosquito bites or insect bites in general.

Chemical Based
Diethyltouamide (DEET) is probably the most effective chemical repellent available and has a good safety record. Research has shown that a repellent containing approximately 20% DEET will protect the wearer for about 5 hours. It has a good safety record and weaker formulations of 10% or less are safe to use on infants from the age of 2 months.

Other chemical agents available include icaridin and IR3535. They differ slightly in their effectiveness and characteristics but all work in the same way, producing an odour that is unpleasant to mosquitoes.

There are a number of plant based chemicals that can offer some protection against mosquito bites. They are not as effective as DEET and are not recommended as the only protection in areas that are endemic to malaria. These include citronella, lemon eucalyptus, and neem to name a few.

Minimising discomfort from insect bites

Insect bites can commonly cause lumps (papules), itching (pruritus), and whealing (urticarial) of the skin. Occasionally, small blisters (bullae) may develop. There are a number of things that can be done to minimise discomfort.

· Antihistamines – taking oral antihistamines will relieve the itch and swelling e.g. cetirizine 10mg once or twice a day.

· Mild steroid cream – hydrocortisone 0.5-2.5% applied twice daily for a few days can reduce inflammation and itching

· Calamine lotion to affected areas

· Cooling the skin e.g. with a cold compress

The bites should usually settle within a few hours to a few days. It is important to avoid scratching the skin as this increases vulnerability to developing infection at the site of the bite. One of the many functions of skin is to act as a barrier to the outside world. If the skin becomes broken e.g. as a result of scratching, infection is much more likely to develop.

If you notice pus or discharge in or around the bite, increased pain, redness or swelling, or swollen glands, then suspect infection. This may require treatment with oral antibiotics (usually flucloxacillin unless there is an allergy to penicillin) so attend your local doctor.

Mosquito image credit:

Also sharing a video by a contributor making a homemade mosquito repellent. Cannot confirm that it works, but is definitely worth a try