Being an artist has certain pressures associated with it, not everyone understands these pressures, of course. It is only those working within creative fields that seem to ‘get’ it. Finding enough drive to lead your own self-initiated activities on a daily basis can be a struggle to say the least. It takes willpower, determination, ambition and the knowledge that you may never live the life of a millionaire to become a creative.
Those not involved with the arts seem to think our career choice is a walk in the park. The common misconception is that we get up at whatever time we choose, work from home perhaps; think we have total and utter freedom…
… We do have freedom, to an extent. But in order to be successful, you can’t just sit around all day at home after a nice lie-in. If we lounged around all day we would never progress, never make any money and certainly never win any supporters. We need to be seen to be doing things, getting ourselves know by; blogging, making, going into our working studios, being public about our activities and engaging with the public. Sometimes though it is not possible to maintain such drive.
After a major exhibition, commission or project I often find it hard to get going again. I don’t think this behaviour is unusual. I hope, or presume, this hardship isn’t just felt by me? When we have poured blood, sweat and tears into a project, it can be exhausting. There is no wonder that it is difficult to pick up where we left off.
Last year I made a solo exhibition of large light-works in a vast industrial unit in Manchester City Centre. I prepared for the show for approximately six months; I secured funding, worked through new ideas, made lots of work, prepared promotional materials, marketed the exhibition, had lots of people come to look and critique the new work, then… then it was all over. I had an overwhelming feeling of pride, yet also felt incredibly hollow. That emptiness came from not knowing exactly what was going to come next, I was secretly terrified. Where was my next pay cheque going to come from? When was the next time I would have the opportunity to show my work publicly again? Where were my new ideas going to come from?
With all this in mind I decided to set a daily project. I was initially given the idea for this project by an art college tutor, she instils drive into students on a daily basis and therefore is well versed is helping people when they feel stuck. That tutor also happened to be my mother meaning she wanted to help me for more than just professional reasons.
She told me I had to make, document and take apart a new idea everyday I went into my studio. This sounded simple and easily achievable. Not too scary.
I took these instructions as a starting point and then twisted them to fit my own agenda. I gave myself a set of rules for how to make the work; I had to use make-shift methods for construction instead of perfect craftsmanship; I had to use materials that were already available to me within my studio space, therefore I could not buy anything new to use; I had to clean my studio completely so it was clean and fresh ready for the following day; I would try and sustain the project for as long as I found it helpful and necessary (this turned out to be 25 days); I would write about each day on my blog, this helped contextualise the new idea.
On the very first day of my project, I felt extremely nervous as I travelled into my studio on the bus. I had no idea what I was going to create, no idea of the materials I would choose and no clue about how people were going to respond (including my dear mum). When I told people what I was doing, they thought it was exciting and liberating, by the end of the project I found this to be true.
I arrived at my studio, procrastinated for a while (this involved; making a brew, listening to the radio, re-arranging and tidying my belongings, writing a to-do list and chatting to fellow studio holders). The time came when I knew I just had to get on with it. Grabbing the nearest thing to me, which happened to be lengths of CLS timber left over from a past installation, I decided to wind some tape around top to make a tripod structure. It seemed easy so far, what was I so nervous about? I got into it. By the end of the day I had created a swinging light structure using red, green and blue fluorescent bulbs that hung from my impromptu tripod and created multiple shadows of rainbow hues.
This initial nervousness (sometimes fear) turning into delight (and relief) happened everyday for the next 25 working days. I had produced lots of new ideas and multiple configurations for new works. I nicknamed this output my ‘Construction Project’, as I did exactly that; construct.
The deliberate selection versus the final placement and position of my materials made me think in a different way. I now feel liberated and able to think freely.
I have just finished a series of thoughtful and time-consuming commissions; an outdoor light work for Kendal Calling music festival, a series of workshops and artworks for Blackpool Illuminations and the design and fabrication of a crazy golf hole for a curated project in Croydon. In the past I would have felt unsure about the future, instead I am excited and raring to get back in my studio, knowing I have the constructs and knowledge of how to sustain my practice as an artist.
For further infomation about Liz West’s work please visit http://www.liz-west.com