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.


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.