river :: the process of a painting

Ever since SeeFeelPaint I’m still very interested in landscape as a subject, and specifically in taking a landscape as a reference and ‘abstractifying’ it by simplifying shapes and using ‘non local’ colours.

This painting as you can see from the image below was already partly done, and then taken further with the help of an image {a photograph, as opposed to another painting} I found on Pinterest.

The initial layers were done entirely with a palette knife which, although a really fun way to paint, was not giving me the look I wanted, and because I didn’t have a reference, had rather lost its way. But you can see it already had a similar composition to the image.


I had the usual trepidation about losing sections of this initial painting that I really loved, but also knew that I’d need to sacrifice them for the whole, and I’ve done it enough times at this point to know that it’s always worth it. Sometimes you just have to be bold.


My first moves were to reestablish the composition so it was stronger {to me}, and to begin to map out some shapes and bring in the colours I wanted to use. The green you see was a mistake, in that I used it and then wished I hadn’t. But it’s fine when working on a painting like this because every layer adds depth and none of it needs to show.


My palette these days tends towards a somewhat predictable {or perhaps just more consistent!} range of blues and turquoises, plus Naples Yellow, sometimes some purple, and often some fluorescent pink.


I found the reference image useful for mapping out lights and darks, and then went off on tangents since it wasn’t meant to be a direct copy and because my canvas is square and the original image is a rectangle. I do love a high horizon line; it makes for a really strong composition and somehow makes the canvas feel more spacious.


It sometimes happens that things start to feel a bit flat and samey in terms of colour and tone, which is what happened here, so I dived into my oil pastels and used them to add a different energy with lines.


That made all the difference for me – some pops of colour to liven it up and help the eye travel around the canvas. I’m also loving how the horizon looks kind of stormy on the right hand side.

And yet although we can look at this and see a river coming towards us from a mountain range in the distance, we can also enjoy the colours and shapes in a much more abstract way. This is what’s interesting to me – taking something we know and making it new.

River by Tara Leaver :: mixed media on canvas :: 40 x 40cm

River by Tara Leaver :: mixed media on canvas :: 40 x 40cm

This painting is in the shop now.

making art you love doesn’t have to be hard


There is a common misconception if you’re just starting out with art, or wanting to, or coming back to it after a long hiatus, that it’s going to be difficult. The main belief shoring that one up is that that’s because it takes many years to become skilled at making art, and even then only some people get to be really good at it. {And if you’re not going to be really good, why bother.}

Well, yes and no.

There are people for whom it does come more easily, for whom art making is their highest path in life, for whom the filter for their gifts in this lifetime is a particular talent for creating beautiful or thought provoking art, and for sharing that with a wider, buying audience.

Then there are others, and I include myself in this group, for whom making art is actually mostly about pleasure and fulfilment, exploration and self expression, without the added extras of fame and fortune. And that’s the focus of what I do here on this website.

Where you are now

So let’s say you haven’t picked up a brush since you were five and some unaware teacher made a seemingly innocuous but actually crushing comment that caused you to back away from the art table and lay your brush down for good.

Or maybe you used to make art just for fun, but life circumstances got in the way and now you feel overwhelmed by the apparent size of what restarting would feel like for you.

Or you actually don’t remember ever making art and it feels like a secret realm to which you don’t have right of entry, and even if you did, you have absolutely no idea where to begin. {Plus you are certain you’d be crap at it, because you don’t know how to draw.}

It’s entirely natural that the thought of returning to something that has lain dormant all this time, but that has been calling to you with ever increasing volume, brings up fear and anxiety.

There are two things that are important to note about that:

1. If it is calling to you, even in the quietest most tentative whisper, no amount of fear and anxiety will stop  it nagging at you because the very fact that you’re hearing that call means it’s in you; there is an artist in you of some shape or form, and he or she wants to come out!

Listening to that voice will bring you peace, even if at this point it just feels scary, because it will meaning honouring a truth inside yourself.

2. If you do ignore that voice because of the fears that come up alongside it, you are not only going to have to deal with the constant inner battle of whisper/fear/whisper/fear and thus have no peace with it;  you are also denying yourself a whole world of fun, play, joy, connection, and all those other lovely feelings and experiences we all want so much and spend so much time chasing.

In part, this feels to me like my work in the world this time around, because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to love making art and to lose that love, through life circumstances, through illness, through criticism. I also know not only how to get it back, but that it’s much easier than many of us tend to think.

It would be my honour {and I rarely use that word} and pleasure to guide you to do just that. I have created a pathway and can light the way as you take your first steps back into making art, in a way and at a pace that suits you. And perhaps most importantly, I can show you how easy and joyful it can be.

The benefits you can and will enjoy as you reacquaint yourself with colour, shape and paint ~ fun, delight, play, fulfilment, flow, discovery, surprises, pleasure, excitement, peace ~ far outweigh any fears you might be holding onto. I’m not saying it’ll never be scary again, or that you’ll never struggle, but I can make it easier for you to start on the path, and I can offer you a place to keep walking once you’ve started, with companionship and support beyond as you continue.

If this sounds like something you need or want {or both!}, I invite you to join me for six weeks starting September 15th 2014 on a journey of rediscovering your secret inner artist. Even if you don’t believe you have one.

Because if your curiosity is piqued or you hear a faint call to play in the world of creativity and art making, you absolutely do.


Creative Spark Ecourse ButtonEarlybird registration is now open for the Creative Spark ecourse and you are so welcome to come on board. You can find all the information by clicking the image on the left, and if you have any questions whatsoever – nothing is too small or too silly – I am here to answer them. {I am not here to persuade you, and asking questions does not obligate you to sign up.}


“Before beginning the course I felt nervous and insecure about my creativity. Now I feel excited! 
I love the videos where we get to see you working. It is so inspiring to see another artist work and to see the beginning steps of a drawing or painting and watch it develop from a rough idea into something beautiful and complete.
I would definitely recommend this course because it helps with becoming open to your own creativity and not afraid to just go for it and explore on the page.”
Donna, Creative Spark


The Creative Spark ecourse is now open for earlybird registration!

creative spark ecourse

Yay! Earlybird registration is now open for the Creative spark ecourse, which means if you sign up within the next week you will receive £30 off the full price.

I have been beavering away over the past month, tweaking, revamping and bringing new energy to the course. The format remains the same – six weeks of gentle step by step lessons to make it easy to build your artistic confidence and begin to discover your own unique artistic voice – as does my level of involvement throughout the course. {This is one of the most popular things about it!}


Student work

Here are some words from past Creative Spark students about what the course did for them:

“What I love about the ecourse is that everything we got from you kind of starts finding a place inside my thinking and feeling, and especially Monday’s exercise stuck with me and resonates with me, as well as the two very helpful questions of today. I keep perceiving more shapes and generally beauty in everyday things, and since going to the classroom this morning I keep asking myself (in a good way) why I notice this and that and why I love it and such.” Nicole Meisters 

“Great videos today by the way! So easy to watch and you have really got the balance right, so wonderful to see you work as well and explain what you are doing as you are going along in such a gentle and calm way.” Debbi Jackson

before and after<- “So here’s the difference 12 days with you makes Tara! You are magic. (Top image is the first thing I drew on this course in Day 1, and below is what I drew yesterday.)” Akiyo Kano 

You can find all the information about the course here, and if you have any questions or would like to talk it through, please don’t hesitate to get in touch {tara@taraleaver.com}.

free sample lesson from the creative spark ecourse


It occurred to me that if you’re interested in taking the Creative Spark ecourse {running again in September} ~ and actually even if you’re not and would just like a little peek at how I teach – you might like to see a sample lesson from the course itself.

This video is from Week Four of the course, and is a good example of the kind of thing you can expect. In this video you will learn:

  • how you can make a painting based on, and expressing, an emotion
  • a variety of approaches and techniques for expressing yourself with paint
  • why I advocate a connection practice as part of your creative life
  • why bold steps can sometimes be worth the risk
  • how a painting can teach you things about yourself
  • my philosophy and approach to making art
  • different things you can do with a painting like this

The passwords is: happiness


As you can see, this painting is not a masterpiece; it’s not something I’d frame or necessarily share with anyone. It’s the kind of painting you can make as an experiment, to satisfy your curiosity about paint and what it does, or how you might paint your feelings, or as an opportunity to allow yourself to make drastic changes half way through! Think of it as the equivalent of a tester pot, or a dress rehearsal.


Creative Spark Ecourse If you enjoyed this and are wishing you could get {back} into painting in a non overwhelming way, the Creative Spark ecourse might be just what you need. The approach of the course is simple, step by step and designed to encourage experimentation and exploration at a gentle pace. I’d love to have you along for the journey in September. You can find out more by clicking the image on the left.

Please do share this post with anyone you think might be interested! Much appreciated. :)

in my sketchbook lately

While things are quiet in the studio and most of my creative energy is going into revamping the Creative Spark ecourse this month, I do like to play in my sketchbook, especially with oil pastels and Neocolors.

Here’s a little selection of what’s been going on in ye olde sketchbooke the past couple of weeks. Some are just play in and of themselves, and some are done with a mind to working them up as paintings later.


fish in oil pastels {from a photo I took at a garden centre recently – you never know where inspiration is lurking!}


An abstract inspired by an image found on Pinterest. Learned a couple of new things about adding marks over layers and using unexpected colours. {Salmon pink I’m talking about you.}


The outdoor studio, with studio buddy sidling about, probably hoping the oil pastels were edible.


Another Pinterest image inspired oil pastel drawing. Really loving the big expanse of orange.


And yes, another image inspired by Pinterest! {The holy grail of inspiration for me lately.} This one, in Neocolors and pen, was for Susannah Conway’s August Break prompt, Reflection.


A work in progress, in oil pastel. Love this idea of a scene made abstract by rain.


36 ways to draw a tree :: a perspective on finding your own answers

36 ways to draw a tree

Lately I’m noticing two things happening. On the one hand, I see a lot of people offering formulas and blueprints as ways to do things, and on the other, I’m seeing a kind of gentle pushing back that recognises that no one else’s formula or blueprint is going to be our ultimate solution. This includes formulas for business, for self care, and for approaches to life, spirituality and creativity.

In my own life this gentle push back is looking like less and less self help/spiritual books {other than for pure interest or reminders}, less devouring of blog posts or biz websites or downloads that I secretly hope are going to solve my issue or reveal the magic way I haven’t thought of yet, and more interest and faith in finding my own answers.

It’s an interesting shift, especially since ‘my way’ often seems to be counterintuitive and not really what ‘everyone else’ is doing.

I am not suggesting that formulas and blueprints are without use or value to more than one person; of course not. I sometimes offer suggestions for ways to do things myself; we all need an in, and I for one love to research and discover new perspectives. But I do believe they will only take us so far, and to pin our hopes on them being ‘it’ is to set ourselves up for disappointment, and that can lead to giving up on ourselves and our dreams. Risky!

A while back I sat down and challenged myself to come up with as many ways to draw a tree as would fill my sketchbook page, just for fun. I drew a grid and the resulting spaces allowed for 36 trees. I worked fairly fast and didn’t look for inspiration beyond my own imagination. I actually thought it would be quite hard; 36 seemed like a lot! So I was surprised to come to the final box and feel I could have done more.

I love this exercise for several reasons:

1. On a practical level it’s simple, portable and needs very little materials {although you can of course go all out if you wish}

2. It’s a challenge that you can easily ‘win’ at, thus bolstering confidence and satisfaction

3. It’s flexible – any subject or medium will do

4. It’s meditative, encouraging focus and quieting of the mind

5. It could easily prompt further ideas

6. {The big cahuna!} It shows that not only do we have more inside us than we might assume, but that that ‘more’ is actually endless

So I’m not suggesting you sit down and do as I did, although you can of course if it sounds interesting! {And I’d love to see!} I seek only to demonstrate and remind that there is more inside each of us than any of us have even the tiniest inkling about, and yet so many of us – myself included – regularly discount, disbelieve or are afraid to turn inward and see for ourselves.

What if you take a sketchbook or piece of paper and draw something 36/78/100 times in different ways? What if instead of procrastinating with social media or food or whatever your distraction of choice, you ask yourself what YOU would do about a given situation, if all fear was brushed aside for a minute? I’m willing to bet that even a few minutes of focus will surprise you. You contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman might remind you.

What do you think? Will you take up the challenge and make it your own? How might you feel with proof that there is more inside you thank you think?


Creative Spark Ecourse The Creative Spark ecourse is back! Yay! Beginning mid September, this is the perfect opportunity to discover what creative depths lie inside you, alongside other kindred curious creative souls and accompanied by me as your guide and encourager. :)
Click the image to read about the course in detail and to sign up – or simply sign up below – to be kept in the know as soon as Earlybird registration opens. {You will also receive this weekly post in your inbox as a way to begin the ball rolling, just until the course begins.} I would love to have you along for the ride.


from spark to inferno :: the story of a creative spark

Jo blog image

This post is by Jo Collyer, a participant in both the Creative Spark ecourse and Artist Inspired, and a generous {and trusting!} volunteer practice client aiding me in my creativity coaching studies. I am overjoyed to share her story today, in her own words, not only because she helps to make it possible for me to do what I love, but more importantly because she demonstrates so beautifully how embracing your inner creative, or your inner artist self, can change and benefit your life in so many ways. 

I invite you to read and enjoy eloquently told story {she is also a writer} and her gorgeous art, and allow it to open up doors of possibility within you too.


Blind contour drawing of Ganesh by Jo Collyer

Blind contour drawing of Ganesh by Jo Collyer

Fresh from finishing a period of creative consultation with Tara Leaver I am left slightly grieving my loss. From  the moment of the first blind contour drawing I did in her Creative Spark course, I was hooked on the style and  teaching of Tara. She is giving and generous in her instruction and feedback. More than that, her sheer enthusiasm  and authenticity are apparent and contagious. When I look back at my first blind contour drawings, created in the Creative Spark course, they still raise a smile.

Creative Spark was my first online art course, and it was certainly a good fit. I had barely raised a paintbrush in the past thirty years (unless it was to paint a wall;-)), let alone allow myself the decadent pleasure of such a regular creative practice.

The Creative Spark course allows you to tap into your inherent creativity. That font that lies within us, pulsating and ready to be released if only given permission and a few little tricks to assist. That’s what Tara’s course offers. Lots of ideas, techniques and inspirations to get all the creative sparks going.

It was a bonus that the online group that accompanied the course was also delightful, friendly and supportive. Actually, probably not so much a bonus as an indication of the safe space Tara creates. After the course finishes you get to join an ongoing Facebook group, where the support and encouragement continues.

I will be dramatic now, and admit, the Creative Spark course kinda altered the direction of my life. I am not one to expose myself. Posting my various scribbles and paintings, daily, was therefore a somewhat liberating experience.  I even posted some stuff on my personal Facebook page, I was that intoxicated and bolstered.

Klimt-inspired mermaid by Jo Collyer

Klimt-inspired mermaid by Jo Collyer

It shifted things. My career, gone somewhat stale after motherhood, got a new perspective. Making art in a supported and creative inspiration feast opened my eyes to the things I wanted and didn’t want in life. Although changes are small for me, (and  I have come to accept I do change slow), they are no less significant.

My creative journey continued, when Tara offered her inaugural Creative Spark participants to trial her Artist Inspired course.  I was beyond thrilled. I knew it would be awesome. It was. Each lesson delves into the story and style of historically significant artists. Old habits die hard, and despite myself, I was sceptical, based on my lingering doubt of my own creative talents, that I could possibly produce anything ‘in the style of’ a renowned  artist. But you know, I did. What’s more I loved the results. That would have been enough for me (although I do love  the positive feedback from the online group), but I have received positive feedback from family and friends too, completely unsolicited, making it all the more delicious.  I still look at those videos for inspiration. They delight me, as does the play time that generally follows. Yes. I still play art. Regularly. It is an integral part of my week. Without it my mood is typically affected, in the negative. Much like my yoga and writing practice they are key elements to my equanimity.

I am a firm believer that in life, we need outlets that make our soul sing, or at the very least, offer us solace. I like more than one outlet, because, hey, a fall back position is a good thing to have. Also, I have attentional issues. :-)

I have been doing yoga for many years and it has supported me through some pretty funky times in my life (funky bad, not funky grooves). It is an added delight that Tara supports the idea of a connected practice. Connect to self, connect to others, connect to your surroundings. Connection to your creativity is yet another delight to be tasted and enhanced by first connecting to yourself and environment.  If it’s something you feel the itch but don’t know how … embrace the Creative Spark course. Live it, breathe it. Throw caution to the wind and allow Tara to take you on the most amazing discovery of your own latent talent, just like she did for me.


While I blush in the corner, you may like to take Jo’s words to heart and find out more about the Creative Spark ecourse, which I am running again in September, most likely for the last time in its current live format. To find out more, click here, and to sign up for updates simply fill in the form below.

13 ways to start a project

13 ways to start a project

You’ve had an idea for a project, a really awesome one. You’re totally excited about it and the potential it has. You have perhaps made some notes, or gathered some preliminary images or supplies.

And then, crickets.

The notes and materials sit there, waiting. The idea pokes at you, but you find yourself prioritising other things, like washing up, tidying the table ‘so you can work’, or ‘just checking’ email or social media.

I know you’ve been there. ;)

So often we procrastinate and fiddle about, when we know that we want to be making something, and it feels like a kind of mystery why the thing we love to do – the thing we really want to do – is the last thing we’re actually doing.

It’s not really a mystery how that happens – the clue is in the ‘really want’, which is often followed by a ‘but’. As human beings we are master story tellers, and not always at stories that serve us. However, rather than going into the why today, I want to be solution minded, and see what might be done – with ease.

I am of course no stranger to this experience, so I sat down to think of as many ways as I could that might or do allow me to jump that invisible but incredibly high self-placed hurdle that stops me just going to the studio and STARTING. {Or finishing projects I started with gusto and then somehow let tumbleweeds roll all over them.}

I’ve expanded the idea beyond just painting as clearly it applies to pretty much anything. I’ve included steps that will set the scene as well as some which are more specifically action oriented in terms of starting to work on your project. Clearly it’s not exhaustive, but it’s a start, and that’s all we need.

My plan is to pick ONE {let’s not turn this into more procrastination fuel!} and flipping well get started. I invite you to do the same. :)

write it on the calendar ~ we are more likely to do things if they are written down; write it in as though it were a date with a loved one {because it is!}

announce itaccountability can be scary but my goodness it’s effective :)

have an inside chatis this a priority for you?  Are you actually longing to do it or do you feel you should for some reason? Be clear within yourself of its importance and align your actions with that.

make a {simple!} signa phrase or quote or word that will help to bring you back when doubts start creeping in {because let’s not pretend that they won’t}.

cancel something ~ is there something you’ve got in the diary that is either not essential or can be swapped or rearranged? Don’t relegate your project to the bottom of the list, because it’ll always fall off.

turn off the tv for one hour ~ so simple, and you can do so much in an hour. crikey, even half an hour works.

get up earlier ~ not for everyone! But if time is at a premium for you and you know this project is important to you, you can do it! There’s something rather indulgent and delicious about that quiet time before everyone else gets up and the bustle of the day begins.

go to a cafe with notebook and penif you need some buzz but no internet to distract you

go to the library ~ if you need quiet, no washing up and no internet to distract you

mind map ~ a great way to start bringing an idea out of its hidey hole

brainstorm ~ with someone else for extra motivation, momentum and inspiration

hunter gathering ~ many projects need a certain amount of gathering before diving in. Still I recommend keeping it to a bare minimum as it can quickly descend into a procrastinatory activity without end.

take one step ~ also known as JFDI by a friend of mine. :) As Amelia Earhart said, ‘the most effective way to do it, is to do it’.

Aaaaaaaaaand….. ACTION!


Creative Spark Ecourse ButtonIt’s one thing for me to cheerlead from the sidelines and throw out ideas that you might like but, let’s face it, might well also forget instantly or put on the list for ‘later’. It’s another thing to do them and keep doing them.

If you’ve been yearning to get into {or back into} making art and unleashing the dormant creative being inside you, but need the accountability, support and momentum a class can give you, I’m running the Creative Spark ecourse again in September and would love you to join!

Click the link or the image on the left to find out all the details, and sign up below to learn when Earlybird registration opens. This is likely the last time I’ll run the course in its current form, so this is your chance! Any questions, let me know. :)