anna brones

writer + artist

Coffee Outside, on a Walk

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a yearlong, monthly collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. This is the final installment. We hope that you will continue to partake in coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

As we inch into the new year, this marks our 12th installment of Coffee Adventures Outside. A full year of prompts and encouragement to use our coffee habits as an excuse to get outside. It is perhaps fitting that we conclude this year of microadventures with one of the things that we love the most: a simple walk.

Coffee has a long history as a companion on long walks or journeys. Wilfred Thesiger, perhaps the last of the old-guard of English explorers, crossed the Empty Quarter desert in Arabia with meagre, ascetic supplies but plenty of coffee. At dawn, after prayers, they would bake bread for breakfast and then drink coffee, “which was black, bitter and very strong. The coffee-drinking was a formal business, not to be hurried.”

Whether you are interested in crossing a desert, or strolling somewhere a little less ambitious, we agree with old Wilfred that a cup of coffee improves the experience of going for a walk.

One of the reasons we love to walk is that it helps us to think. Such a notion dates at least as far back as to Augustine of Hippo who declared, 1600 years ago, “Solvitur ambulando: it is solved by walking.” Combine a walk, then, with the brain-fizzing boost of a black brew and you may feel ready to put the world to rights again.

Walking into the woods (or wherever you choose to find your nature), is a stimulating experience. The gentle rhythm of our footsteps encourages our brains to meander, as does the smorgasbord of new sights and sounds at every turn. A cup of coffee on a walk is a gentle, continuous stimulation. It is, we feel, a very different experience to the pleasures of running or zooming along at speed on a bicycle. There is time today for our thoughts to roll around and grow. Whilst your walk may get the blood flowing and raise your heartbeat a little, it is still a meditative, reflective experience. 

As Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.” Nature allows us to think, walking allows us to experience the world around us at a different pace than our usual one. 

The poet Walt Whitman asked, “But are not exercise and the open air in reach of us all?” No, not everyone, unfortunately. Those of us who are free and able to exercise in nature would do well to remember and appreciate our good fortune. But the point made by Whitman was that it does not take much or cost much to savour some time in fresh air. It applies to the idea of the ‘Nature Pyramid,’ and the recommended doses of nature at different time scales. We need nature in big chunks and smaller ones, and the pyramid urges us to pay attention to the different quantities of nature we include in our lives on an hourly, weekly, monthly and yearly scale. 

Every walk is different, of course. You may set out with an objective in mind, a goal to march towards. You could choose to follow your nose and see where you end up or toss a coin at every junction. If your walk is a circular route then everything you see will be different, all of the time. How does that change the creative thoughts you have along the way compared to an out-and-back walk where you see familiar things but from a different perspective and with different eyes? Or try sipping your coffee on a well-worn trail and compare how that makes you feel to walking a route you have never done before. 

Our days are so often driven by efficiency and busyness and a pressure to get things done. Walking with a cup of coffee (or taking a thermos and stopping for a break) is a gentle but important push back at that cultural expectation: you are deliberately choosing to do something slow and ‘unproductive’. Immersing yourself fully and completely in a single activity for a chunk of time is a rare experience these days, but it is a vital one for anyone interested in tapping into their creative side. It is surprising, too, how productive such dawdling often proves to be. 

So today we urge you to go on a walk with no goal or schedule—pass the time simply by putting one foot in front of the other. Take your thermos with you, and stroll for the sake of strolling. Find a spot to sit and pour a cup. Take note of where you are. Here your body and mind can wander. 

We have entered a new year. There are hopes and dreams ahead, but there is also the present moment of today. Let your coffee remind you to exist here for a while.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside. Various prints, cards, and even a calendar featuring the artwork from Coffee Adventures Outside can be found here.

Written by Anna Brones

January 7, 2022 at 09:14

2022 Words for Creating and Being: January

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New year, new prompts!

Last year I put together monthly lists of creativity prompts. They were mostly intended as drawing prompts but they worked as writing prompts too.

I wanted to continue this year but felt that drawing prompts could often be a little prescriptive. Creative plays a role in my daily life, but I am personally not someone who does well with strict daily routines. I wanted some kind of prompt that felt a little more open to interpretation.

Enter the 2022 Words for Creating and Being.

Creativity isn’t passive—creativity requires action. Most of all, creativity requires curiosity and contemplation.

Modern society doesn’t always provide a lot of space for that, and if we are seeking to be more creative this is an excellent place to start. To kick off the year, I read Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness and this stood out:

“It’s easy to feel as if we’re standing two inches away from a huge canvas that’s noisy and crowded and changing with every microsecond. It’s only by stepping farther back and standing still that we begin to see what that canvas (which is our life) really means, and to take in the larger picture.”

So these monthly lists of words will be a space for doing that. Use them as a springboard for writing, for drawing, or just for thinking. Take the word to paper with a pencil. Take the word with you on a walk and ponder. Share the word and see what conversation it sparks. These words are intended to create space for contemplation, they are an ask for you to invest time in the creative process in all of its forms.

I didn’t launch this list on January 1st. There’s so much pressure on the first day of the year to start something new. I think we need a pause before we begin, a little extra breathing room. So that’s what … is for.

//

1. …

2. presence

3. exist

4. quiet

5. solitude

6. exchange

7. rejuvenate

8. dull

9. absorb

10. wind

11. howl

12. extend

13. breathe

14. befriend

15. capture

16. collaborate

17. dark

18. cultivate

19. hope

20. plan

21. consider

22. reflection

23. unearth

24. deepen

25. marinate

26. beam

27. ignite

28. expression

29. renew

30. arrive

31. create

We spend our lives surrounded (and sometimes inundated) by words. We read books, we have conversations, we write emails, we scan headlines. But how often do we really spend time contemplating them? Time holding a word, turning it on its head, considering it means and what we want it to mean? 

I can’t wait to see what spending stillness with some words will lead to. 

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

As always, these monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon.

Written by Anna Brones

January 2, 2022 at 11:59

Coffee Adventures Outside 2022 Postcard Calendar

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Over the past year, Alastair Humphreys and I have been collaborating on our monthly Coffee Adventures Outside series.

I’ve turned the series into a calendar for next year. Every month features artwork from the series and a shortened version of our longer prompt.

The calendar is also designed so that you can cut the artwork off at the end of the month and turn it into a postcard. Consider it a calendar and postcard pack all in one.

You can order here. And there are also a variety of prints and cards from the series available as well.

Written by Anna Brones

December 8, 2021 at 14:06

Coffee Outside, with a Friend

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

Our coffee adventures outside over the past year have helped us bring a sliver of solitude to our busy routines, some treasured physical space, and an espresso sip of mental space in which to allow difficulties some time to filter, sift and sort themselves, as well as the uplifting space to allow our creative ideas to unfurl and reveal themselves. These have all been good things. 

But there is another way to right wrongs, to think differently, hatch plans, and recharge our mojo, another way to pay attention to the natural world on our doorsteps and enjoy a delicious, well-brewed cup of coffee. And that is to do all of these things with a friend. Florence Williams sums up how we feel in The Nature Fix with her succinct summary to, “go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.” 

Carving out inviolable chunks of time to share with our friends is one of the most important things we can do in our life. (Spending time in nature and pursuing creativity are also high on that list.) So put the kettle on, call a friend, and head outside together to enjoy your brew. Will you choose to ask a friend who already enjoys spending time in the woods, or an urbanised friend who might find the idea surprising but intriguing? That is up to you. 

As end-of-year festivities draw near, we’re easing into the wintry season and darker days. This month we welcome the winter solstice, a celebration of midwinter and a promise that the light will return soon. It’s a time when we often want to draw inwards, physically and emotionally. While we certainly need this hibernation time, we also benefit from the full experience of nature in all her seasons, and the deep connection that can come from a chat with a good friend. 

Thoreau wrote of winter walks, “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.” So be sure to wrap up well in your warmest winter woolies, for we are at the end of the dark end of the world now, the cold austere days when the world is at its most minimal and stripped back. He continued, “in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveller cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of his cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy man, indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in his heart.” In his or her heart, indeed. For this cold season is as important to our year as all the others. Katherine May’s Wintering rings true in this moment, “wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.” 

Winter we must, but our hibernation, while encouraging solitude, can also be a welcome time for the companionship of a friend because the world is quiet now, and this allows space for chatter and laughter between friends. “In winter we lead a more inward life,” wrote Thoreau. “Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.”

Go outside, together. Celebrate this year that has almost passed, and settle into the winter days. Wrap your hands around the coffee cup, breathe in the warm steam, and savour it, with your friend. What could be better? 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside. Various prints, cards, and even a calendar featuring the artwork from Coffee Adventures Outside can be found here.

Written by Anna Brones

December 4, 2021 at 06:00

Daily Creativity Prompts: December 2021

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New month, new prompts!

The last month of the year, the entry point to the darker season. The welcome of solstice, the celebration of festivities. It’s can also be a bit of a hectic/frantic season if you do any kind of elf business, so I am taking some time every morning like I did last year to look at my Advent calendar, drink a cup of coffee, and do a drawing.

This also marks an entire year of me making monthly lists of daily #creativefuelprompts. I haven’t done them all (except for the monthly mugs!), but making them has been a reminder to constantly invest in creativity, no matter what the investment is. Thank you to all of you who have done some of them, many of them, or all of them if you’re my friend Margret (seriously she did an entire year’s worth).

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

Want some more ways to slow down and enjoy this season? I’ve got my annual digital Advent calendar running this month as well which you can still sign up for. As always, these monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon.

Coffee Outside, in the Rain

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

“Between every two pine trees,” said environmentalist John Muir, “there is a door leading to a new way of life.” And beneath every pine tree, sheltering from the rain, we hope to find an adventurous creative soul sipping coffee and cherishing the downpour. For that is our challenge to you today: to embrace and celebrate wet winter weather and actively go out and enjoy it.

At this time of year there are many rainy days where we live. Rather than moan about it, we have decided to embrace the season, to make the most of this weather, see the good parts of the rain, and choose joy. 

The rain speaks to us, slowly, joyfully, as Mary Oliver captures so well in her poem Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me

“…the tree

which was filled with stars

and the soft rain –

imagine! imagine!

the long and wondrous journeys

still to be ours.”

It is time to brew your coffee, wrap up well, don your waterproofs and boots and step out to take your coffee in the rain. There is no such thing as bad weather, they say, only bad clothing… 

As you sip the hot drink and feel it warm you inside, notice the fizz of raindrops, the way each one bursts into a crown of water when it lands before a little column of water rears up and an even tinier droplet peels off and falls once more. All this perfection a thousand times a second, landing unnoticed in every rain shower on earth in the vanishing circles of rain on puddles. Have you ever observed that the ring patterns from the rain are different in shallow puddles and deep? Pay attention to the rain ring patterns from beneath your sheltered tree trunk which wears its own lovely rings inside itself.

“I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain,” Robin Wall Kimmerer so poetically writes in Braiding Sweetgrass. Out here in the cold and wet, we too can listen. What voices do you hear? Listen to the soft rattling of rain which sounds so relaxing if you yourself are warm and dry, appreciating your dry patch of shelter beneath the trees, or your own oasis of shelter under your umbrella in the rainy madness of the world. 

Today everyone else is hiding from the rain, or enduring it with reluctance and grumbling. Only you are choosing to see its different beauty, opting to be childlike and enjoy the squelch of mud as you jump through the puddles, leaning into the rain and appreciating that there are so many good aspects to it. Take a moment to think of all the creative possibilities that await you when you return to the dry warmth of your home. Mary Oliver again:

“The rain is slow. 

The little birds are alive in it. 

Even the beetles. 

The green leaves lap it up. 

What shall I do, what shall I do?”

We need rainy days if we are to have the rivers and green woodlands we love so much. It is a necessary part of the deal. So too with our art: we need sometimes to push through the seemingly grey, undesirable days of labour, doubt and slow progress before we make our breakthroughs. It serves us well to savour these difficult days for what they are, a necessary part of the process, rather than to hide from them.

Choose, instead, to find pleasure in the tiny beauty of the bouncing raindrops, to appreciate, if nothing else, the merit of something that feels tempting to skip, but which feels great afterwards. 

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside. Have you enjoyed the Coffee Adventures Outside series? It’s now available as a 2022 calendar.

Written by Anna Brones

November 5, 2021 at 09:00

24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being Digital Advent Calendar: Sign Up for the 2021 Edition

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I am doing my annual digital Advent calendar 24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being again this year, and now is the time to sign up.

This marks my fifth year of creating this calendar, which certainly feels worth celebrating. The format will be the same as usual: a daily email with a written post and artwork, as well as a few prompts, projects, and recipes scattered throughout.

I originally started this whole endeavor with the inspiration of the Advent calendar that I had growing up: a beautiful handwoven one made by by mother, each day made to hold a small slip of paper. My parents would write a new prompt on a slip every day, so that I would read it when I woke up in the morning. It was the source of a lot of magic for me in my younger years (and even now—it gets hung up every year to this day).

The goal with this Advent calendar is always to create a little magic every day during the month of December, so that’s it’s not just a countdown but an everyday celebration. It’s a focus on slowing down, finding balance and contentedness.

It originally began as an antidote to the consumer frenzy that tends to define this season, as a way to challenge people to make space for small moments of magic throughout the month. Writing the calendar last year in the midst of a dark winter defined by a global pandemic, I was reminded of how it was also an antidote for uncertainty, anxiety, loneliness, and weariness. It feels like we need a little bit of all of the above this year too.

I aim for this calendar to be a source of light, a source of joy, a source of thought. It’s a way to settle into the darker days, to get cozy, to slow down.

We need daily reminders to keep us present, to keep us breathing, to keep us existing, to keep us hoping. We need to remember the things for which we are grateful. We can all benefit from creating a little extra magic, both in our brighter moments and our darker ones. 

$5 will get you access to the entire digital Advent calendar. If you are a Patreon supporter of mine, you will get a subscription to the digital edition of the calendar for free. There is also a print edition of the calendar. I do this in a small print run, so if you want one be sure to snag one before they are sold out (buying one includes a subscription to the digital edition).

The daily email will include artwork, prompts, recipes, etc. all with the intention of inspiring presence, creativity, and gratitude, and you will be able to access the archives during the month too (because I know keeping up with a daily email can be difficult). 

Can you gift the calendar to someone else? Of course! Just be sure to include their email address when you order so that I know who to send it to.

I hope that you consider signing up.

Daily Creativity Prompts: November 2021

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New month, new prompts!

The first time I made a list of monthly prompts was last November. So this marks a year of making them. Not necessarily a year of doing them every day, but I definitely have a lovely collection of all the monthly mugs in my sketchbook.

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

These monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon. Maybe you want to consider joining?

Written by Anna Brones

November 1, 2021 at 13:48

Coffee Outside, at Sunrise

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

“The sadness will dissipate as the sun rises. It is like a mist.”

– For Whom the Bell Tolls

Up here in the northern hemisphere we have passed the equinox and slipped into autumn. The days are becoming cooler and more windy, the leaves are turning golden and beginning to fall. Our nights are now longer than our days. The good news of all this is that it becomes easier every day to wake up a little before dawn, brew some coffee, and head outside to watch the sun rise. That is our latest little challenge for our year of #coffeeadventuresoutside.

Wrap up warm, take your coffee out into the cool grey pre-dawn, and settle down somewhere with a clear view of the sky facing the direction of the sunrise. [If you like to be precise, you can check this site out.] Wrap your hands around the warm mug, inhale the steam, and be still.

We recently enjoyed reading Nightwalk, by Chris Yates, which tells the story of a night spent walking slowly through the countryside. Despite Yates being a devoted drinker of tea, there is still much overlap with his walk and our coffee. He explains how he likes “…to creep like a mouse in the wood and sit still for maybe an hour, focusing with my ears, using the sounds of paw-patter and antler-click to colour in the invisible shapes until I could identify them or they came into shadowy view.”

 

His words are as much about an appreciation of slowing down and noticing as they are about nature or walking. Yates explains that one of the joys for him, “is the way in which everything in my head gradually clears of mundane domestic concerns and personal anxieties … because I know that apart from the animals I will always, unless I meet a deer poacher, be in perfect solitude. I am therefore able to bring all my attention to bear on the present moment… a place of endless immediacy, a place known to every wild animal, a timelessness.”

This solitude is why we have always preferred witnessing a sunrise to a sunset. Sunsets are easy, commonplace, strewn across social media. But sunrises are different. For most of us they are rarer to see than sunsets because they require a little more effort, and therefore you are more likely to have the whole spectacular show for yourself. 

“Be patient where you sit in the dark,” encouraged the poet Rumi: “the dawn is coming.”

As you wait with your coffee for daylight to seep slowly into the world, try to pay attention to how you deal with sitting still and doing ‘nothing’. Are you enjoying it, or does it feel like a waste of time? Are you content waiting, or are you anxious to get on with the day. In his book Four Thousand Weeks about time and how to use it, Oliver Burkeman refers to the “image of time as a conveyor belt that’s constantly passing us by. Each hour or week or year is like a container being carried on the belt, which we must fill as it passes, if we’re to feel that we’re making good use of our time. When there are too many activities to fit comfortably into the containers, we feel unpleasantly busy; when there are too few, we feel bored. If we keep pace with the passing containers, we congratulate ourselves for ‘staying on top of things’ and feel like we’re justifying our existence; if we let too many pass by unfilled, we feel we’ve wasted them.” 

He compares our modern anxious obsession with productivity and efficiency to medieval farmers who had no such notion. “There was no anxious pressure to ‘get everything done’, either, because a farmer’s work is infinite: there will always be another milking and another harvest, forever, so there’s no sense in racing towards some hypothetical moment of completion.”

For the remainder of our life’s allotted 4000 weeks the sun will rise every day. But no matter how beautiful they are, we cannot cram in any extra dawns. Rushing will not help. Savouring the ones we do have, on the other hand, may well help a great deal. 

In Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning, Gary Eberle defines sacred time as, “what we experience when we step outside the quick flow of life and luxuriate, as it were, in a realm where there is enough of everything, where we are not trying to fill a void in ourselves or the world, where we exist for a moment at both the deepest and the loftiest levels of our existence and participate in the eternal life of all that is. In simpler, or perhaps just slower, times, people seemed to enter this realm more regularly, or perhaps even to live with one foot inside it. Prayer, meditation, religious rituals, and holy days provided gateways into eternity that allowed us to return to the world of daily time refreshed and renewed, with an understanding that beneath the busyness of daily life there was an underpinning of calm, peace, and sufficiency.”

All those things, yes, and coffee too. This is our sacred time. 

The sun will rise, always. It is worth the wait, always. And as the world floods with sunlight, take the memory of the calm, the rising sun, and the steaming cup of coffee into your busy day that awaits.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

October 11, 2021 at 06:00

Daily Creativity Prompts: October 2021

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New month, new prompts!

October is Inktober, so there are a lot of people doing daily drawings this month. Maybe it’s time for you to join in too?

And yes, #2 is definitely a McSweeney’s reference.

You can find previous monthly lists of prompts here.

These monthly prompts and a lot of my other work are made possible thanks to supporters on Patreon. Maybe you want to consider joining?

Written by Anna Brones

October 1, 2021 at 09:07