Quite by chance, I discovered something amazing, while on holiday last month, that has changed the way I think about my creative process. As you know, recent posts have been mostly, taken up with obsessing over my dual identity as artist and writer. Going on holiday, now entails taking writing materials as well as painting and drawing equipment and with no room for a computer I am forced to write, manually in longhand.
This was our second visit to the gorgeous Samos, one of the Greek islands and having already visited the obvious places, this time we drove up into the steep mountains, seeking out tucked-away villages, stuck in time in tiny, vertiginous pockets. One such village was Vourliottes, more vertical than horizontal with a lovely tree-fringed square filled with quaint open-air, cafes and restaurants. One of these appeared to be mainly for local people, specifically, old mountain-men who gathered to drink, play games and hotly debate politics and religion.
They fascinated me and with stealth and patience I managed to find an interpreter to ask for their permission to make drawings. I did not want to intrude and so sat away from them and gradually they forgot that I was there. I liked it most when they got cross with each other and banged the table and rolled their eyes. The two drawings were made under the influence of the local red wine, which is probably why I felt so happy and began to think about writing in cafes. Apart from the time last year when I wrote a drawing, on the beach, I had mostly written at home, at my desk. I decided to have a go at writing in a café, for which there has long been a precedent, set by writers like; Trotsky, Stein and Hemingway as well as, more recently, J.K. Rowling.
It wasn’t hard to find an idyllic outdoor café, with a sea view. As a painter/maker, I had often gravitated from the studio to the kitchen table and happily made work in the middle of chaotic family life. With writing I seemed to need to be away from people, but even in an empty house, my primary identity distracted me with it’s guilt-making pull, towards the trivial and the needy jobs that ought to be done. But in the random, wifi-less café where I knew no one, the anonymity allowed me to step away from the crippling self-consciousness and burdensome “real” self, that in a writing context, so often impedes creativity. It wasn’t people I needed to get away from, but myself. Home might be where the heart is but for me, not the place for a first draft.
Well the words just flowed, in peppered, note form, page after page of; the good, the bad and the downright ugly, into an A4 drawing book with no lines but drawings of mountain men in the back. This felt safe, I could always cross over again. Nothing was edited. And another perk was knowing that no one would approach me from behind, look over my shoulder and say, “No, the nose is definitely too big.”
Coming home, I left my precious, unopened, drawing book to simmer gently, knowing instinctively, that if I looked too soon, my inner critic would probably savage it, but that if left, I might be more inclined to tweak, extend and nurture.
The book that I have been working on for two years has parts that have already been paintings, paintings I was never satisfied with and now it occurs to me that perhaps my whole painting life has been one big, long, first draft.
Thanks to: the mountain men of Vourliottes and The Old Curiosity Shop in Broadstairs.