Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Why I create art about mental illness and abuse

I hate Mothers Day. It’s based on this flowery mirage of perfection that doesn’t exist. Even if it did a mother who does everything for her children rather than teaching them to do it for themselves creates unhealthy adults.

2005 was the year my world went mad. I started dating my now partner in January, had a fall and glandular fever (mono) from March, started dating my ex-gf in May, moved out of home in June and finally got proper treatment for the fall in November. Also in March my parents locked me in the house because mum didn’t want me leaving the house with my now partner (an older man, shock, horror) when we had had a fight beforehand.  I only wanted to get away from the fight. In the end she let me ring him provided I didn’t ask to leave. He heard my tone of voice and offered to pick me up instead. I kept fighting with mum through the glandular fever until I moved out.

I have conceptualised this as the confrontation between Alice and the Queen of hearts in my sketchbook. Mum has her own mental illnesses but hasn’t had treatment for a long time which makes her the Queen of Hearts. Dad’s likes to express his love by following her lead so mum is very much in charge. That makes him the King of Hearts. My now partner is the white rabbit because the white rabbit is a psycho-pomp character and he helped me understand there were ways to live beyond the narrow confines of mum’s arbitrary rules. I’m Alice because we all like to think we’re the protagonist in our own story and because mum tried to keep me child like.

Trapped (c) Anita Morris 2013 $300

Trapped (c) Anita Morris 2013 $300

Trapped is about how mum’s controlling behaviour and abuse made me feel particularly after March 2005. Although I was 12 when I first realised there was something wrong with the family.

I was 15 when I started suffering depression. At least that’s when I’m first sure of it because that was when I started feeling suicidal. I didn’t get help until I was 19 and the confrontation with mum happened. I didn’t even think to ask for help between 15 – 19.  I’ve probably had anxiety my whole life.

There are some with mental illness who know it and refuse to get help. There also abused spouses who refuse to leave. Abused children will generally leave home eventually. I hope my artwork touches those may not have realised something was wrong but when they do they want to get help or get out.

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Questions and brainstorming for artists

Why brainstorming? To create good art you have to create art regularly. Waiting for a flash of inspiration is a waste of time, although the more often you create art the more often you will experience inspiration. Brain storming can help you get through the fallow times. It can generate a series of questions for later exploration. It can also help you plan series. I’ve recently reorganised my artwork page along thematic lines because I have so many different topics my art touches on. I have plans for new thematic groups as I finish the art.

Picasso said “the less Art there is in painting, the more painting there is.” I understand Art here to be the standards of the day and your preconceptions about art. I had to fight the idea that “real” Art was realism because of the type of art I was exposed to growing up. I’m not suited to realism. The next question is what should be in a painting or anything other artwork. I would argue that what should be in a painting is yourself.

The next question is what is in your head. What are your obsessions? If you ever have kept a dream diary what do have dreams and nightmares about? My dreams tend to focus on being a Lady Knight/Princess and the responsibilities of saving the day. I also have a lot dreams featuring high school and my immediate family. What have you studied (This doesn’t have to be formal studies)? For me it was History and Japanese Language which links to my interest in folklore. One of the sources of ideas I have left off my example is song. I get a lot of ideas from song. The painting below was inspired by a song called “And the band played Waltzing Matilda” which is a folk song about the World War I Galipoli campaign. One of the pieces on my to do list is inspired by “Gough” by the Whitlams.

The rising sun in the background, soldiers march pass a billabong

And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong (c) Anita Morris 2013 $300

The more questions you can ask yourself there broader selection of ideas created for your brainstorm.

I used the free version of Xfind to do a mock up of the beginning a mind map. A mind map starts at a central idea, then the first ring of associated ideas then successive ideas related to one or more of those. It is useful for free associating. It also records the links between different ideas. It is ideal for recording brainstorming.

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Why being a tortured artist won’t make your art better


Every culture or subculture has its clichés. The tortured artist is one of those clichés.

I have the tortured background of the artist clichés. I was emotionally abused by my mum growing up. I was diagnosed with learning disabilities at eight. I probably had my generalised anxiety disorder from childhood. By fifteen I had depression. I have a binge eating disorder (not bulimia). At nineteen I had a bad fall and glandular fever. That was was the beginning of my physical chronic illness. By twenty-four I had rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.

I can make art about all these subjects but it is doesn’t make it better art. Only practice makes art better.

Suffering from chronic mental and physical illnesses stops me being a more productive artist. A productive artist is one who is going to improve the quality of their art. Admittedly at this stage of my career if I wasn’t physically chronically ill I’d have a day job taking up time. But jobs usually take set hours. Illness is utterly unpredictable.

The art at the beginning of this post is called “Anxiety”. It’s inspired by my generalised anxiety disorder. I have previously made a piece on depression. Everyone experiences stress. It stops the human race from descending into complete apathy. In most people it is part of a healthy mental landscape. Generalised anxiety disorder means you never stop worrying, even if it is in the back of your mind. It cracks across your logic and common sense. When it is brought to the forefront of your mind it can be paralysing. I sometimes have panic attacks at this point but that is panic disorder which is a different anxiety disorder.

If any of the symptoms described sound familiar please seek help. Or contact me for a chat. Treatment will make you a better person and a better artist. Treatment doesn’t have to include medications.


Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria
Anxiety Treatment Australia
National Alliance of Mental Illness
Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Depression
Anxiety and Depression Association of America – generalised anxiety disorder
American Psychological Association
Psychology Today

NHS Stress, Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety UK
Anxiety Care Uk

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Why artists should read about other artists

Mixed media WIP inspired by “Stitch Stories”

I’m not only writing about reading art history here but contemporary artists too. I recently got my eager hands on “Stitch Stories” by Cas Holmes. I’m enjoying it. It helped inspire this post. While most of these benefits are often ascribed to going to art classes, reading gets overlooked. But I don’t have energy or the money to go to art classes.

Keeps the ideas flowing

Reading helps you look at your materials from new angle. It can also help you rework an UFO (unfinished object). I already have two new projects from reading “Stitch stories”.

Encourages cross pollination of ideas

Read about any artist or artistic idea you are interested. If nothing else you’ll get a good read. Even if the ideas aren’t useful now, they maybe useful in the future. When I read Cas Holmes first book “The found object in textile art”, I was doing hand embroidery on evenweave ground. Cas’s talk of layering fabric was foreign, even if I enjoyed the book. I moved on and developed as artists do. One of the few times I did take a class it was on reverse appliqué which relies on fabric layers. I reread “The found object in textile” this year because I was having trouble getting my hands on “Stitch stories” and found I could now use some of the processes.

Next week I’ll post a list of possible reading material.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

How Grandma’s Ikebana introduced me to art appreciation

Ikebana was the first art I appreciated. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. That’s the standard definition, the subtleties are more complicated.

Growing up, trips to the National Gallery of the Victoria (only one location at the time) involved viewing paintings of the Heidelberg School, my younger brother whining all the way through and a good look at the stain glass ceiling. For those of you not familiar the Heidelberg school involved painters in the bush painting men with beards doing manly things. The most famous picture of that school would be “Shearing the rams” by Tom Roberts.

My paternal grandma is Glenys Beissel and she is a Master of the Sogetsu school. An arrangement of the Sogetsu school doesn’t have to have flowers. Ikebana is practised in the home and exhibited. It is still considered in Japan to be an art to make a woman a more appealing wife. But many of the high-ranking masters are male. Sound familiar?

Three pomegranates and three branches in a white vase

Glenys’s arrangements at home are more traditional. The above picture is an arrangement at home from the last twelve months. The pomegranates take the place of flowers because they are seasonal. Seasonality is one of the principles of ikebana.

Free standing arrangement, Upright metal with bars, bark woven through, big springs and two plastic circles

I consider the above exhibition piece to be typical of Glenys’s style.

Glenys’s exhibited work was definitely modern. As I grew up I watched her planning exhibits at home, I went in with her when she was installing work, I went to some of her exhibits.

paper spiral

I saw Glenys working on the paper spirals for this one. I never saw it in situ.

It didn’t occur to me that I was watching her make art. It was just part of her identity. Something that was part of her as Glenys’s. Her health is forcing her to slow down. She no longer exhibits. My biggest regret is that I didn’t take more photos when she was exhibiting.

Blue plastic strip arranged on log

This is one of two photos I did take. Thank you, grandma, for letting me publish your photos.

Glenys’s is my inspiration for using found objects. My cousin who is currently an art student says the same thing. Glenys’s arrangements find meaning in form and line and that parallels the type of abstract art I like and create as an adult.

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

A productive artist

sketchbook project page 6

A productive artist produces lots of work to create gems from the rubbish. The trick is to build on those strong works. I consider my strongest works to be “Depression“, “Renewal“, “Making War Unthinkable“, and “Soldier salutes Death“. I also feel that my textile art is strong. None of them feature the faceless crowd motif I’ve been doing so much of. My continuing with the motif is artistically lazy. Expect changes and watch this space.

The art at the top of the post is page 6 of my sketchbook project book. I’ve labelled it “Reflection” because it’s a reflection through the centre line. It’s featured in this post because it doesn’t have the crowd motif and because none of the works built on this realisation from the past few days have been started yet.

Further reading
Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland write more about the productive artist.

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

My reaction to the Australian Budget

I was told growing up: conform it will keep you safe and warm. Conform you will do better socially (I didn’t know then that not being able to facial and body language was part of my learning disability). Conform you’ll keep the peace with mum. Ha! None of this worked and none of it prepared me for being physically disabled.  I’m happier as a non-conformist.

The main reason the Liberals got in this time was the internal disarray Labor showed while in power.  (My basic Australian political explanation).  Australians have compulsory voting and hold elections on Saturdays. You can make a person vote but you can’t make them think. Aussies next time there is an election don’t conform. Look at the policies of each party including the Greens and the micro parties, vote below the line in the Senate. Don’t vote for who your mother. best friend, or spouse tells you to.

The piece above is called “People are more important than money”.  It’s a social principle I believe in. It’s a principal the Liberals don’t believe in. I knew a Liberal budget would be bad. The one our current Prime Minister and Treasurer have delivered is a disaster. Instead of a day job I’m on the disability support pension and I’m under 35. The proposals include reviewing the recipients of the DSP who are under 35 and transferring them to a gutted dole. I’m scared. I don’t want to risk homelessness, I don’t want to choose between food and buying all of my nine prescriptions.

Other cuts include large cuts to education and health leading to more expensive education and longer waiting lists for hospitals.


Price: $300. Contact Anita Morris to buy.

Or buy a card, print, or poster

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Why samples are important.

character sample

Samples are the next step after a basic design. Colour palette samples working in paper, fabric or thread can be created from an inspirational photo. The samplers of embroidery can be practice and test pieces for individual stitches. The bigger the intended piece the more important it is to create samples. Samples test ideas and techniques before committing to the full piece. The above sample was testing several things. One that both the acrylic paint and the textile fixative were still good after years in storage. Two it showed that the brush I used created a wider line than I expected.


characters side by side

The brush creating wider lines than I expected left the character looking a little top heavy compared to the one in my sketchbook. A longer piece of fabric will fix that.

The Japanese character or kanji above is read yume (with a hard e as in met) and means dream. I am intending to create a fabric scroll on that theme.


dream scroll sketch

This is the original sketch for the scroll. The Japanese character is going to be in the middle of the central circle.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Learning technique from other artists versus copying a style


Every artist is shaped by their time, place and circumstances. Circumstances can include age, money, and disability. Most of Henri Matisse’s last works were gouache découpage because after surgery in 1941 he was confined to a wheelchair. I live in a share house. All my larger works are able roll up for storage because I’m short on space.

If you must copy the style of an artist, choose one where you will learn from their technique because you will never replicate their style exactly and that form of perfectionism will frustrate you. One of my pet peeves is abstract artists who copy Mark Rothko. His squares of colour were an artistic dead end when he created them and even more so when the style is copied. Now Pollack was a contemporary of Rothko, using his dripping methods will at least teach you about the nature of acrylic paint and the nature of the surface you are working with. I believe following your own path artistically will teach you the most. This will include periods of experimentation and changes in direction.

The design at the beginning of the post is uses the ‘S curve’ design element discussed in a Sandra Meech book*. However my theme for the piece is “the complexity of adulthood” therefore there is difference from Meech’s preference for abstract landscapes.

*Meech, Sandra “Connecting design to stitch” Batsford, London; 2012.


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