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


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

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?!

It’s all about attention to detail…

I have been quiet on my blog recently, mainly because I am working hard towards a large exhibition in October but also because I also have a day job to pay the bills!

Each art project I do teaches me so much and I learn and grow a great deal.  This growth is hard, frustrating and painful but it is so important to be open to change and learning new things.   I emerge from each experience a different artist to the one who started.

One of my hardest lessons has been having an attention to detail – in being very very strict about what artwork is good enough.  This is also required for the organisation of an exhibition and workshops – but since that is my day job, I find that easier! Interestingly, my work is about attention to detail and contemplative photography as well.

I am organising an exhibition which is largely photographs.   However I am keen to add my own slant to an often photographed subject (Portsmouth Cathedral) and I have had to work hard to produce the type of work that I feel is saying what I want to say about the wonderful building and space within.   I have taken 100’s of shots (and will be there again tomorrow, taking more).


The choir practice on a stormy sunday evening

This has not been easy,  I have had to be very critical of my work and reject 99/100 of the pictures I have taken.     This week I realised that my camera equipment was holding me back, I had an entry level camera which has served me well, but recently I realised that some of my frustration was in fact limitations of my camera, I’d outgrown it.   So now I am the proud owner of a Fujifilm XPro1 – not a new camera by any means but a huge step up and it has given me the ability to take pictures that are a new level in quality and ones I am very excited to show in October.

But then there is the other side of an exhibition – I find that producing a body of artwork to show is mostly about organisation and very little about art!  This is also frustrating as really I would just like to be painting and producing all day, but there is marketing do do, websites to design, presentations to write and a lot of things to buy in order for my exhibition to kick off successfully on October 16th.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress!


More beautiful detail from Portsmouth Cathedral

Finding Peace will open at Portsmouth Cathedral on October 16th 2017 and include two free workshops to practice contemplative photography.   More details soon!

Fine Art has left the building……

The exhibition is over.  The room is empty.  The project that has consumed the last six months every waking thought is packed away in bubblewrap and I am left a little bereft and wondering what to do.   So how did it go?

Over the 15 days the exhibition was open, we had 1028 (adult) visitors which is an incredible achievement.   It was always interesting watching people viewing the work – a mixture of art lovers who had come specifically and parents of children at Action Stations who wandered into an alternative universe from the noisy child centred activity around us.

Of the ‘walk ins’ it was clear that some were not used to seeing an art exhibition but in the spirit of wandering around the Dockyard perhaps, they gave it a go and had a good look round.   It was very rewarding to feel that we may have challenged some beliefs about what fine art is all about.

We had some favorite moments, like when a child asked his Dad what my 3D installation ‘Opportunity’ was.   “That’s art Henry, that’s art” he replied 🙂


And when we had a bone fide (and rather handsome) celebrity visit who was presumably just visiting the dockyard with their kids for the holidays, but it was lovely of him to drop in.

A couple of kids were unruly and we had some damage to a couple of things (luckily repairable) – but we always knew that was a risk but the benefits of having so many kids (not counted in the numbers above) see the show out-weighed that completely.


For my own stats, we were keeping record of the number of times that Being Present was triggered and how many people saw it through to the end.  I always knew that a 2 minute art performance would stretch many people as the average time someone will stand infront of a piece of art is usually measured in seconds!    I’m still working on the data but will post figures soon.

The raffle was extremely successful – 6 original pieces of art from the artists – there was something for everyone as entrants could prioritise their favorites.  In the event, when the raffle was called, everyone got their first or second choice.   Jenny Walden, Associate Dean, at the University of Portsmouth was there to receive her winning piece from me which was lovely!


Jenny Walden receiving her raffle prize 

So what made our exhibition so successful?  I put it down to two factors.  Firstly, location location location!  We had a wonderful space in one of Britain’s top tourist attractions – that was a great move!  Secondly the effort and expense we went to for marketing – it was the lion’s share of our spending but worth every penny.  I was always gratified by people coming in with one of our fliers, or who said they heard about us on Twitter or who had read about us in the local paper.  And of course we were on the Big Screen too!

MMP_1642 (1)

Exodus on the Big Screen, Portsmouth Guildhall Square.

You can see a virtual Exodus exhibition here>>



Opening Night – happy people and lots of art!

I’ve been a bit delayed doing this post as I have been manning the show but I finally got a few mins free.   The opening night went brilliantly, the art looked amazing and even better, hundreds of people showed up and said nice things.  It was also lovely to bump into so many people I know electronically and put faces to Twitter IDs!

The only glitch was at 5.45, just before we were expecting our VIPs, the power went out!   As with all the minor issues this week, we were not expecting that one!  Quickly fixed by Will running up the stairs and flipping the switch back 🙂

Here are some pictures, you can see more on our Facebook page here too.

The show is open daily until 2nd September – do pop in and say hi, it’s free to enter the Dockyard.   We’d love to see you!

Day 4 – Expect the unexpected…..

This morning I could hardly eat my breakfast I was so nervous about installing my last piece “Liminal Man” – in the comfort of my own home, exhibiting a 10ft digital photograph seemed simple, but the logistics of getting it hanging in the room were far from that.

In the end, although it took a while, with the help of the wonderful Will, there he was, splendid in his new home.     The rest of the day was taken up alternatively waiting around or frantically working as people came to help.

By the end of the day, it was pretty much there.  It looks incredible, I know I keep saying that but to see your work, hanging in such a professional space is quite amazing.  I only hope our visitors think so too!

And the unexpected part?   The staff at Action Stations, especially Will, are the most cheerful and helpful people I have ever had the pleasure to work with.    Even when I wanted to move a piece that Will had painstakingly hung earlier in the day, he just smiled and said “of course”.   Such a breath of fresh air to find people who clearly love where they work.  Thank you all.

Tomorrow we open!!

Day 3 – ups and downs :)

Day 3 – hanging day – I was awake at 5.30 I was so excited!   Everything went really well, there were a few hiccups, but there always are.   I changed my hanging order when I saw the work in-situ, Victoria suddenly started moving entire walls around (to great effect!) and the health and safety woman from Uni had a few changes we had to make but otherwise it’s good to go and it all looks amazing!

I had my good camera with me today so the quality of the images has improved too!


Day Two – polyfilla-gate :)

So I thought yesterday threw up something unexpected.  This morning we settled down to paint, opened one of the two huge vats given to us by the Art College only to find it was compound filler not paint!   I saw our tightly balanced schedule going right out of the window.   But a phone call to the college (who were aghast at their mistake) sent a techie down in his car to swap the buckets of polyfilla for some more acceptable white emulsion and within half an hour we were back on schedule – not bad considering how far the college is.

Another busy day but we got two coats onto everything, without making a mess – so tomorrow we hang!!!

It’s looking fabulous.

See a snippet of our day below:

Day 1 – everything arrives!

So the day we’ve been planning for six months arrived – beautifully sunny and hot!   I was early at the dockyard and after checking in with Kim, waited to be let in.   At the other end, the lorry was being loaded at the Art College and all our stuff was on it’s way!

We got a lot done today – there were a couple of unexpected things that were not on my risk log, but we worked around that and made good progress.   Very grateful for all the help we received from everyone at Action Stations!

Tomorrow we paint!