Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Conversations with the Material

"I don't want to be here." My own thought surprised me. I sat in art class like had dozens of times before and instead of feeling nervous excitement or curiosity I just felt tired. I stared at the random objects I had brought in with the idea of drawing them: a toy car, some shells, a pine cone, a small lighter in the shape of a gun and the seemed awkward and uninteresting. Everyone else appeared sure and industrious as they set up easels or pulled out the pieces they'd been working on.

The paper I had brought in turned out to be for printing which meant that my ink would bleed and blot. Yet I like the paper's thickness and presence. What to do? After a brief chat about my materials with my teacher I decided to just go ahead with no plan. I have so little command or knowledge of art materials that I figured, at the very minimum, if the work was terrible, I would at least learn more about my paints, my paper, my pen and ink.

It became a conversation with my materials.
'What happens if I do this?'
'Well I react like this...'
Back and forth the wordless discourse continued, I navigated the grain of the surface and studied the lines and the blots. I experimented with my watercolors.

The result was a bizarre and fictional landscape.  A cliff crammed with line and pattern spreading to a dark sea. No plan, it just happened. I realized that the scheming and thinking involved in an idea can render it sterile because the execution rarely lives up to the fantasy, but if I act with only the vaguest of plans the results can be much more satisfying. It is something I need to explore more with my writing.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Return to the Mud Continued

This is perhaps the first class I got through without having anything tangible to show. Since we are focusing on painting a series, I spent the time rummaging through my neglected materials and trying to decide what on earth I should do. Conflicted as I was between the controlled and meticulous drawing I love and the spontaneous process driven work I also enjoy, I could not find a direction. In a sense working within limitations can be easier and so after some ruminating and discussion with my teacher I think I have come up with a plan that will give me freedom to play with a constraint that may give my work cohesiveness. That class time really did see me wade in the mud and I have to remind myself that is how process has to be sometimes.

In twelve months little has really changed in the building where I do my evening classes. The room itself looked pretty much the same, even down to the random objects used as subjects for painting and drawing that punctuated the space. The whole experience felt like time travel, even other students who I know I never met before passed me in the hallway and I expected them to acknowledge me. It wasn't easy to come; in the morning I had kissed my daughter goodbye as I always do and had to stop myself from saying 'see you tonight' since I knew she would be fast asleep once I got home. As we stood as a group in class and discussed our ideas for our series I put my hand in my jeans pocket and found the hospital bracelet that was given to my daughter when she was born. I must have been wearing the same jeans when I left the hospital with her and not worn them since. It seemed very large, remembering how tiny she was when she was born. It is still a little odd to see her full name written out. I took it as a blessing and I think I may take it with me again as a talisman.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Return to the Mud

Exactly two years after I first started taking art classes and one year since I took my last, I am tonight starting a new one. This will be painting a series.

My daughter has given us the rare gift of good sleep and being extremely even-keeled. That with the additional gift of a good-hearted and supportive husband means that I am able to do this class. so this morning I ransacked my little closet of supplies for paints, pens and papers to take.

Two years ago I was apprehensive and felt ill-prepared when I began the collage class. What a difference two years makes. I rummaged and packed with purpose and excitement though that's not to say that I don't have some reservations about what I will be able to achieve. I am out of practice to say the least and as someone who considers herself to have no natural talent, the practice is what matters.

It is the experience that I look forward to, and I care not one bit for what I make. I just want to be buried in process again and wading through the mud makes me giddy with excitement.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


This blog is something of a two edged sword. It's invaluable in helping me reflect on my learning and progress as well as keeping me disciplined, but if I'm not careful I use it to avoid actually making any art. 

A significant hurdle for me has been to get away from language and articulation to actually just doing something. Given that I am still such a rookie, exercises like the one above are important for several reasons:
  1. They are done using media I haven't used before (charcoal and wax medium) which means I'm learning new ways to work
  2. They force my brain to work in a different way that is not dependent on writing or language
  3. Working this way helps me overcome that initial fear of failure
  4. Working this way helps me focus on process over result

 I continue to call this series of spontaneous work 'Cartographies' because I find metaphors referring to journeys apt for my studies and because it feels as if I am plotting out something that can only be done through the visual. What made my hand make these particular marks? Was it my subconscious? Was it based on a feeling? Maybe asking questions is pointless, the work does not have much to do with analysis and everything to do with action and reaction. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Motherhood and Creativity 3

Untitled: First attempt at automatic drawing with charcoal and wax medium on paper
Barbara Hepworth's pictorial biography has been a constant companion recently. Easy to dip into while feeding or cuddling with my daughter, I find endless wisdom and inspiration there. Hepworth worked as a sculptor while having four children to care for, three of them triplets. Her attitude towards home life and creativity was holistic in that they mesh together to form everyday life.

Tracy Emin has stated that to be a successful (whatever that means) artist is impossible if one has a family.  Considering the somewhat narcissistic bent of Emin's work her views are not surprising and it's perhaps as well that she never had children. Aside from everything else, her statement seems to completely disregard countless women who have produced works of art while still managing to be caring mothers.Or indeed used motherhood as their subject matter.

True it is tougher for women, like most things seem to be, unless we learn to assert ourselves and maintain that our individuality is as important as being seen as a mother.

To think motherhood will result in the death of the creative self however, shows a lack of imagination.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Adventures in Independent Scholarship

'I'm basically going to be in debt for the rest of my life.' I hear this frequently from people who decide to pursue graduate studies, even undergraduate programs. Education has become a commodity and degrees are currency. It seems that true learning is taking a back seat to promises of well-paid jobs and the opportunity to put an alumni bumper sticker on your car.
One of my recent pastimes at work has been to look up MFA and MA programs in art and art history. Every time I do so I hope that I will find one that won't put me in the poorhouse and every time I fail. For a while it seemed that I had missed the boat and had my chance at education. A post grad program in education that it took me years to pay off and which, if I am honest, was a mistake. My desire to study art (theory and practical) was a pipe dream.

Until I realized I could go it alone and develop my own track of study. I don't need the framed degree I just want to enter a world I have envied for a long time. There's no secret, just the will to embark. That is what I have chosen to do. With so many free resources available, the opportunities for learning are infinite whilst spending little to no money. And so I choose independent scholarship, learning for the love of it.

I have decided that to study successfully there some things required:
1. Goals
2. Access to good quality resources on the subject matter of art
4. Opportunities to practice what I am learning
3. Opportunities for discussion and feedback from mentors and peers

This blog is part of the learning process, where I can write and reflect and also, hopefully provide insight and inspiration to others who have the desire to study something and yet feel formal education is not for them.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Journey Into Parenthood

In February I gave birth to my daughter, so the last few months have been spent, everyday, developing some way of living together as a new family. At the beginning she was a stranger - though I couldn't see it at the time.

In retrospect I realize that much of the anxiety of early parenthood results from pulling apart (gently) the fabric of life to let a new human being snuggle in.'Be prepared to fall in love' was accurate advice, but it was said blissfully, without any acknowledgement that being in love can be about anxiety as much as euphoria. The two emotions are high and jagged bedfellows.

She is three months old now and seems to change everyday. Her personality is taking shape.  My daughter was born as small piece of unformed marble: baby features rounded and vaguely defined. Each day she chips away at her own self, looking more of a unique person and displaying to us the things that make her, her. Preferences and sounds that express those preferences - recognition, delight, despair...

We are learning how to live with her, forging through an unknown landscape that becomes a little more familiar each day.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Motherhood and Creativity 1

My due date is about a month away and I cannot wait to meet the little human we've been cooking up for the past eight months. This will be the last time I will ever want time to go fast, I have watched enough nieces and nephews grow exponentially, heartbreakingly, to know that much.

At the weekend we had a baby shower, inviting all our friends and really just making it a big party. I was happy when my former art teacher, Ursula, came and I was able share one downside to having a baby. The fact that I won't have time or interest in creating once the baby is here. Already I have stored away my art materials and haven't drawn or painted in months. Instead I have been racing against the clock to make things for the nursery such as crib quilts, soft toys, booties etc. (you can see the results on my other blog Sew Fetish).

The past months have resulted many ruminations about who I want to be for my daughter-to-be. There's a lot of predicting and projecting that goes on when you are pregnant - mostly from other people - about who she'll become. I don't generally contribute to these conversations as I find them futile and a little oppressive. She will be whoever she wants to be, so what example do I want to set for her? I came from a creative, bookish household, a big family full of opinions and tastes. All the things I regard as most important I learned from my family not at all from school. By important things I mean kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion, a sense of humor, an awareness of the bigger world, a sense of justice (and injustice), a lack of fear of difference, a lack of interest in material possessions, a love of learning ... I could go on and on.

When I hear the utter nonsense people come out with these days I thank my lucky stars for the upbringing I had and hope I can recreate that for our child. How I do this, remains to be seen.