Painters block & an important lesson!

Earlier this year I was trying (far too hard!) to paint a new picture for an exhibition that was coming up in January and not getting very good results.  I was disappointed and frustrated.

My painting was ‘off’ – whilst I could visulise what I wanted to do, I seemed unable to get the watercolours to play ball.   After a week of painting and a lot of chuck outs, I admitted defeat and (rather melodramatically) decided to give up painting.

I tore up all the paintings (and a good deal more from earlier in the year) and tidied up my studio and decided I was no longer a painter – I had lost my mo-jo.

Giving up painting lasted about two hours!  Soon I had the idea to contact a previous tutor who had recently moved to Dorset and I knew ran 1:1 workshops.   Alan Brain is an unusual painter, trained mostly in the US, he has a unique style of painting that is very expressive and emotive and one that suits the way I also want to paint.

I had been on a workshop with Alan nearly 10 years ago and my painting style had changed from tiny neat watercolours (that I hated!) to big brash abstracts within a week and for the next two years I painted avidly.   Alan helps people find their painting heart.

Unfortunately life got in the way, and I didn’t paint for a few years and unbeknown to me, in the intervening time, I had forgotten almost everything that Alan had taught me!  No wonder I had been so frustrated, somewhere in my mind I knew I should have been able to paint better, but I’d lost the knack.

So last week I went back to have a 1:1 workshop with Alan to recap everything and it was so rewarding to come back to the methods I love.   I can’t wait to get started!  I plan to spend the next year just painting, and see what develops.

The paintings below were all exercises Alan had me working on – I loved doing these!  All watercolour.


The most important lesson I learnt is how disciplined the painting process is and how much thinking and planning there should be before putting brush to paper.   I have held this romantic view that if I was an artist I should be able to just paint and I would intuitively do it right.   Not so!   Once I have an idea for a painting, there is a lot to think about how I will realise that idea – I think I have been stubbornly avoiding putting the work in up front.    That’s going to change!

So I’ve ordered a more superior brush (the skipper brush from Cheap Joe’s) and ordered some more paints from Jackson Art Supplies (I like the Lukas watercolours) and had a big clear-out in my studio.    I’m ready to get going! 🙂

Alan Brain Art

To find out more about Alan, his work and workshops in Dorset see his website

Watercolours - Alan uses a Skipper brush and American Journey watercolors from the US

Alan uses a Skipper brush and American Journey watercolors from the US

I got to spend three days at Alan and Barbara’s wonderful new art studios in Highcliffe, receiving tailored tutoring and also having lots of space to experiment on my own.    I stayed locally (it’s a beautiful area) and spent all day painting at the studio with Alan.    The facilities and hospitality are second to none and I would highly recommend taking a course or having 1:1 tutoring with Alan if you feel that you are not doing artwork that fulfils you.   His style is unique and may surprise you but it’s worth mastering as the results are rewarding.


Not my body, not my mind

Imagine waking up one day and everything you thought you knew about yourself had changed. Going through the menopause recently was a frightening experience, nothing worked like it used to, my tastes changed, my mind changed, my body changed, everything was alien and to make things worse, I now also felt invisible to the wider world.

I decided to channel this experience into my art work and ‘Not my body, not my mind’ is an ongoing series that explores of the terror of waking up changed and the opportunities this brought.


Red, 2015

“Menopause is not a medical condition, it is an earthquake, shaking us to our deepest foundations, wiping out the edifices we’ve so carefully constructed on what we once imagined to be the solid ground of our life. Menopause hacks us open; it is the cleaving to end all cleaving.” Sharon Blackie. If Women Rose Rooted, 2016.

I remember clearly one day sitting on the kitchen floor just wondering who I was, there was nothing left I recognised.

Midnight Blue.
Today I don’t know what
I don’t know why
I don’t know who
Not knowing feels heavy
Midnight blue.
Ailsa Brims 2015

I thought, truly believed, that I would sail through menopause unscathed, I was totally unprepared.

I have now learnt that only 10-20% of women have the severe symptoms I experienced and perhaps there is nothing I could have done about that, but it came as a massive shock.

I was a stranger to myself” Tori Amos

Out of such massive catastrophic change comes opportunities. I could start again – be who I want to be, let go of the past. I have read a lot, experienced a lot of pain (some of which is expressed in my art) and grown immensely.

Yesterdays News2

Yellow 2017

Consequently, as I approach 55, I am stronger, more confident and calmer than I have ever been. I am sure of my talents and skills, confident that I am who I am. I have slowed down, become more mindful and become aware of what it is I want out of life. I am content.

My practice is focused on realising the somatic feelings and experiences of being a professional woman over 50. Due to the diverse nature of these feelings, I work intuitively with different media or genre depending on what I need to convey.

In the past I have explored the voids and liminal spaces in our minds that may feel uncomfortable. Liminal spaces, such as the menopause, are those that are neither one thing nor another, they are marginal, on the edge, and can be insecure and unstable. It can be uncomfortable and a dangerous place we are scared to cross, but crossing is transformative, we leave something behind and have a new start.


Blue, 2018

I feel strongly that as a society we do not talk about menopause or understand the effect it has on the women going through it. This affects half the population and everyone can benefit from a clearer understanding of this time in a women’s life. During the preparation for this show I realised that I had never even discussed menopause with my own daughters! Our society seems to expect women to ‘suffer in silence’ and ‘be strong and carry on’ – and this thought perpetuates.

My work for this show came from real life events that I experienced recently:

  • ‘Heat Shield – 458 ’ 2018 – An armour-plated tunic made from the wrappers of HRT patches over the last two years, which took several weeks to sew. This represents every single patch I have used. HRT was a life saver for me, the hot flushes I experienced were intolerable.  See pictures here >>
  • ‘Yellow’ 2017 – Mixed media. I worked on this piece for many weeks before settling on this presentation. I started it the day I found out I had not even been given an interview for a job I was well qualified and able to do. The rejection was extremely painful (and came after other similar rejections) and so I felt completely invisible to the world of work once I turned 50.
  • ‘Red’ 2016 – Mixed media – making this work was therapeutic when I was experiencing some extreme symptoms of the menopause.
  • ‘Blue’ 2018 – Watercolour – I wrote this poem on a day in 2015 when I felt I had finally lost my mind.

The exhibition is on at Jack House Gallery, Old Portsmouth from 10th – 14th April 2018.


You can find out more about my work at

Ageing beautifully

Two weeks ago I was given a lovely bunch of tulips and I have loved watching them age, and I realised today what a metaphor they are for growing older and seeing beauty where many might only see decay.


At first the flowers were upright and prim and proper and within a couple of days they had relaxed, swooped and let it all hang out.    Just like when we gain the self awareness of what’s important and not to worry about what other people think so much!

And now the tulips are two weeks old and definitely at the end of life.  But I find them more beautiful than ever before.  They have dropped petals to reveal the secrets within, their colours have deepened and become so varied and rich and their stalks, although bent and curved, are far more fascinating than before.

My work this year is about turning 50, feeling invisible in the world of work and the shock of the menopause which women are not prepared for – we all know it’s coming but who really understands what it actually means and what it could be like?    At Jack House Gallery in Old Portsmouth in April, I will be showcasing three new artworks which shed light on this time in my life.

In the meantime, enjoy these wonderful tulips which have given me so much pleasure  watching them age.

Click on the images for larger versions.


PS I have just been reminded of the beautiful pictures by John Blakemore – do check out his work here – there are several series on tulips – incredible work!

My favorite shots of 2017

A fellow photographer just posted his favorite shots of 2017 (Lee Aspland – check out his site!), and I thought it was a great idea, so here goes!   It was a good year for me, I had a succesful solo exhibition of mindful photography  at Portsmouth Cathedral.   During the prep for the show I upgraded my camera and had fun experimenting with my Fuji.    Although towards the end of the year I have had other priorities and don’t go out with my camera as often, I always have my phone with me 🙂


Yellow triangle










Bubbles 2


















Choir practice


No signal…

Wishing you all a very creative new year – for 2018, I am going to be working on mindful drawing… watch this space!


Finding Peace – an exhibition of contemplative images

We live in a hectic world and sometimes it feels impossible to find any peace.   A photography exhibition at Portsmouth Cathedral aims to show how we can all find some peace in our minds. The work displayed at the Cathedral in October will encompass abstract and contemplative photography, plus an interactive electronic installation which shows the participant what it feels like to be still and calm.

The exhibition, by artist Ailsa Brims, will take place in the foyer and Ambulatory of the Cathedral from Monday 16th October to Sunday 29th October during normal opening hours. The Cathedral is both modern and historic.  It is a religious building but also a vibrant public space where a wide range of activities take place.

There will also be two free half day workshops to explore and practice contemplative photography, a style that is not about technique or equipment but about learning to slow down and take pictures that really resonate with how you are feeling.  More about what contemplative photography is here >>.

Ailsa has spent the year visiting Portsmouth Cathedral regularly in an attempt to capture the feel of the building.

“I quickly realised that my normal street style was not appropriate here and I have been developing other, more ethereal styles which better capture the wonderful space and light in the Cathedral.”  Ailsa said.

“Everyone at the Cathedral have been very supportive and encouraging with this exhibition and are really excited to see the results of my work.   Plus I have Arts Council funding the free workshops so people can learn more about my contemplative style of photography”.

“We live in such a hectic world, I hope I can show how it feels to be really present and find some peace with my exhibition.”

The workshops are on Saturday 21st October 9.00 am – 12.00 noon or Saturday 28th October 9.00 am – 12.00 noon at the Cathedral. Refreshments provided. Places are limited and booking is essential via Eventbrite – links and more information on the website – or find Ailsa on Twitter /AilsaBrims   Facebook /AilsaBrimsArt or Instragram /AilsaBrims

Creativity sometimes requires pain and sacrifice….

It’s interesting how ideas form. I had a very clear idea of a large artwork for the Cathedral Exhibition and have spent several months working towards it. In my mind it was superb, in the mock up it was superb but in reality it just wasn’t working. I tried several things and spent quite a lot on test prints but last Sunday I had to admit that it wasn’t good enough and I would have to pull it from the art pieces I would be showing.
It took my total acceptance that this piece was dead for an astonishing thing to happen. On Wednesday evening, a fully formed new idea came to me – just popped into my head and I spent that evening researching if it was even possible.
By Thursday I had found a company that could do what I envisaged and sent an order – it was pretty costly so it was a huge leap of faith.
This morning, less than 48hrs since I put in the order, my new piece was delivered and I LOVE it! 🙂 Not sure what it’s called yet but it is the perfect piece for the cathedral and to say how I feel about the space there.
If I hadn’t gone through the anguish of giving up on the piece I intended to show, I never would have had this idea.
I now have to work out how to hang it!
I am really excited to show it alongside my other photographs and installations – do come along and see!
Plus some places still available on the FREE workshops 🙂 for more information and

What is contemplative photography?

I’m currently working on the material for the contemplative photography workshops I am doing in October (details here: and I’ve been encapsulating what it actually is.

Contemplative, or mindful photography is about paying attention.   Paying attention to what you really want to take pictures of, and paying attention to the sometimes unlikely beauty in the world around us.   To do this we have to settle our frantic minds.

So many of us buy a fancy camera, slave over learning the ‘rules’ of photography, what all the settings mean, about colour theory and what makes a ‘good’ picture.   Then we go out and try to take a good picture and come home and feel disappointed with the results.   Although we may have taken a lovely landscape shot, something about it isn’t quite what you wanted to take.

In 2015 I bought a new camera and before I could learn how to use it and how to take ‘good’ shots, I very fortuitously found Lee Aspland’s Mindful Photography course, so this was the first introduction to being a photographer I’d had.

After one assignment, about three weeks in, I came home and cried when I saw the pictures I had taken.   Finally I was taking pictures that came from my heart, that said what I wanted to say, rather than the classic landscapes that always disappointed me.

11 aloneonthebench

Lonely Bench, 2015

If you’d like to know more, and see more of my work, I am exhibiting a series of images at Portsmouth Cathedral on 16th – 29th October, including two free half day workshops to introduce and explore the contemplative / mindful photography technique.   The workshops are held at the Cathedral and are supported by Arts Council funding.

See for more information.

Have you ever wondered what artists do all day?

Since I have considered myself an “artist”, over the last couple of years, it has been a steep learning curve learning about how the art world ticks.    Much of how it works has been a complete surprise to me and has sometimes led me to wonder why anyone would want to be an artist.

We’ve all been in art exhibitions and said  “I could have done that!” and of course that is sometimes true, and the quip is “but you didn’t”.   Art often looks deceptively easy.  Anyone could churn out a quick painting or photograph right?

It might be a surprise to learn that actually “doing art”, putting paint to paper, getting out with your camera etc is a very very small part of being an artist.  I find it very frustrating how little art I get to do.   I seldom sit in my studio producing, or even playing.

Most of my time is spent:

  • Marketing – maintaining my websites, designing business cards, postcards and flyers
  • Social media (keeping track of Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogging is overwhelming sometimes!)
  • Researching the subjects I am interested in – this can take a great deal of time
  • Researching genres, materials and exhibition ideas
  • Visiting exhibitions and gallery openings
  • Arts Council and other applications  – writing proper proposals etc can take days
  • project managing exhibitions
  • Networking generally

The above probably takes 90% of my time.   (And of course I am juggling this with a demanding job that actually pays the bills!).

Previously I could not have envisaged the work that goes into the piece that might be seen at an exhibition.   One piece of art might be the result of ten test pieces and months of research.    One photograph might be one of 500 which were taken.   The artist may have become a mini-expert in an area that inspired them and will have done a lot of work placing the work in the lexicon of art history.

Producing art is intensely personal, discussing this with an artist recently she said that exhibiting art is like “running down the High St naked!”legs-lq

Running down the High Street naked!

It can be incredibly hard to put yourself ‘out there’, baring your soul and then watch people pick over it, hardly notice something that took hours, or sniff at your favorite piece.

Being an artist is wracked with uncertainty, indecision, confidence issues and takes a great deal of courage.

And money.   I have spent thousands on materials, frames, printing, presentation, marketing……  Entering competitions costs money and artists are seldom paid for being in exhibitions.  I had no idea how frequently artists are working for free – what other profession does that?   This was exemplfied by the recent Sainsburys faux pax where they asked a professional artist to volunteer to redecorate their cafe.   The backlash was huge and immedate from the artistic community.

I am driven to produce art that expresses what I need to express – but sometimes I do wonder why I want to attempt to forge a path in such an incredibly uncertain and difficult area.

Knowing what I now know – how little art an artist does, why would anyone want to be an artist?!