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I walked through the woods and captured my experience on paper

I’ve been thinking a lot about movement and expressive art lately and decided to try an experiment: a walk in in the woods, followed by drawing whatever I feel like.

Stanmer Park in Brighton is home to some beautiful trees and it’s one of my favourite places to walk. This image was taken in May 2019 on a sunny day, not like the rainy day of my experiment.

The walk felt hurried – I walked fast, stopping to put my coat on because the rain was heavy at one point. I felt sturdy on my feet and was enjoying the surety of moving my feet until the rain came and made the ground slippy in places. I noticed I tensed up, moved slower and felt less certain of the consequences of my foot placements, particularly downhill; uphill I felt confident. At points I got lost in the sounds of my movements – my breath, my feet, my trousers rubbing – and the trees blurred into browns and greens as I made quick decisions about which trails to follow. Soon I was at the car park again and was surprised at the timelessness of my walk through the woods; I had no idea how long it had taken.

I unlocked the van and sat half in with my legs out, grabbed my sketchbook and began making hurried, careless marks with a watercolour pencil. The rain blurred them and I laughed at this pleasant, unplanned interaction with the weather. Who needs water brushes when you’ve got rain? I closed my sketchbook and drove home. When I opened the sketchbook I saw new marks on the opposite page, and I felt delighted at the pattern of rain that had been inadvertently captured.

The marks I made with a “Dark Chocolate” watercolour pencil on the left; the rain pattern marks on the right.

A day or so later I felt an urge to add dark green marks to the brown. For each brown line I saw I added green either side of it in repetitive marks. The rule gave me something to focus on. I noticed I was gripping the pencil quite hard as I made these marks. I felt very serious.

I added “Leaf Green” marks to the brown lines.

Later, I added light green into any white space I could see; I felt the need to work quickly, to get it done. It felt comforting to work on after an intense volunteering session with survivors of sexual violence. I needed to see the transformation that occurred when I dabbed the water brush onto the pencil marks. I finished the image during a phone call with a friend, and I noticed my dabbing action became much calmer as my friend and I exchanged stories of recent experiences.

I added “Apple Green” into the white spaces and blended the greens and browns with a water brush.

I notice the finished drawing has aspects of what it was like to walk through the woods – the blurriness of the greens and browns and the pathways.

What’s your experience of movement and expressive art?

Overcoming irrational fear in climbing

In January 2018 I was experiencing deep frustration at the fear that was paralysing me when I went to climb. Climbing was one of my passions and had been for about a year, yet when I went near the wall I felt crippling fear. I wondered whether my fear was related to the effects of trauma that pop up in my life, so I decided to research trauma and recovery, and set myself experiments to overcome fear. I recorded my journey in a series of blog posts, in case anyone else was going through the same thing as me. I thought I’d share links to those posts here because the sports psychology I used in my experiments might be useful to you. Here they are:

  • Part 1 – noticing habits and delaying acting on negative self-talk
  • Part 2 – how trauma affects the brain and how embodied mindfulness can aid recovery (if you can feel your feet!)
  • Part 3 – going slowly and gently is kinder than rushing full steam ahead
  • Part 4 – teaching beginners to boulder, dissociation (and how it’s not helpful in climbing), and how training plans can relieve anxiety
  • Part 5 – breathing to overcome fear, personal learning styles, and practising falling
  • Part 6 – Putting a learning style into practice and is a comfort zone actually comforting?
  • Part 7 – Questioning beliefs and does regular climbing normalise the activity and remove the fear?

Four months after completing that series I began a new journey as a Climbing Instructor at an indoor wall.