If envy were a fever all the world would be ill. Danish proverb
A while ago I noticed a change in my drawings. The mark-making was becoming more noticeable, strident even, and I began to feel slightly out of control, so when I saw a day life class advertised, tutored by long-time friend, and artist, Roy Eastland, whose drawing I have always admired, I signed on. I Imagined I was going to gain technical prowess and help with tone etc.
Of course, now I can see I was kidding myself the truth is that although I have qualifications, teaching experience and a life time of drawing, and this is painful to admit, I have always been a bit jealous of Roy’s technical ability. Technical ability and its’ acquisition had always been my holy grail. An inner belief system riddled with old adages like, practice makes perfect, kept fuelling the idea that if I worked hard enough, I could be an artistic genius…if only it were that simple.
Jealousy is simply and clearly the fear that you do not have value. Jealousy scans for evidence to prove the point – that others will be preferred and rewarded more than you. There is only one alternative – self-value. Jennifer James
I have knocked myself out in the pursuit of excellence with only fleeting moments of acceptance and contentment, and yes in some small ways I have had “success”, but these small blips of happiness were never enough and only ever temporarily salved a hunger to be better. However, since writing has become my dominant medium, my drawing is less pressured and I have begun to enjoy it, hence the more relaxed mark-making.
To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is – dissatisfaction with self. Joan Didion
As I expected the life class was wonderful, I have not been near a life studio for a long time and have missed it, and the building is where I started life-drawing at seventeen, coming back again years later to teach, so it was especially poignant. By lunch time my stilted rustiness was easing up and I had started to enjoy the absolute peace that comes with a conducive learning environment and shared, focused intent. But the real thrill of the day was yet to come. Roy set up his easel to demonstrate. I have never witnessed anything quite like what followed.
He stood poised, alert, with one foot on the raised base of the easel, charcoal hand extended, that kept him back from the work. He began to make tentative, at first incoherent marks, strange masses and sharp dissecting lines and then later, flourishes, arcs, the sweep of an arm and matador-like gestures. It was bird-on-a-wire tense, a feeling that he was grappling with something bigger than himself. It is almost impossible to talk and draw at the same time, but Roy’s inner thoughts were leaking out in a constant accompanying refrain sometimes, urging himself on, sometimes half pre-empting failure. It was intense.
By now his whole body was involved and his left hand particularly, had taken on a life of its own weaving a pattern of almost musical expression and alternative language. Then an image sprang out of the chaos with shocking Gestalt effect.
It was like a performance except that Roy was not performing – he was being as close to his essential self as it is possible to get, and at the moment of peak Roy-ness the image pinged into life.
Comparison is a very foolish attitude because each person is unique and incomparable once this settles in you, jealousy disappears. Osho
And that’s the thing about jealousy/envy (I can never differentiate between the two) to exist it needs the fertile ground of self-doubt which causes us to look outwards, driven on by an idea of lack that can only be filled by grasping at something, when all we need to do is look inside and connect to our unique, essential natures. Roy’s amazing demonstration seemed to trigger an understanding of all this that will I think lead to a personal resolution. The really amazing thing I will take from the day is not a desire to copy Roy’s undoubted and formidable talent, but to emulate his self-mastery, that demands he fight to win the battle of self-doubt every time he picks up his charcoal.
Now instead of measuring myself against others I can accept the difference, not better or worse, just different, and as Roy says, “There is no wrong way.” I will concentrate on my me-ness instead of Ruth-lessly clutching at other people’s techniques. It’s such a relief I can’t tell you…
Thanks to Roy Eastland, artist and tutor.
See Roy’s demonstration drawing here https://www.instagram.com/p/BxVLqWTFhJo/
verb car.ry ‘ka-re
carry to have or bear especially as a mark, attribute, or property carry a scar
My work with old bags, undertaken for The Museum of Object Research, is in it’s final stages and will culminate in a group exhibition entitled Neither Use Nor Ornament, #NUNOproject, to be held at the Ovada gallery in Oxford, opening on March 30th 2019. I have been busy rounding up and reflecting on the process. So in case you havent read Open Carry part 1, to recap, I used the verb To carry, as a focus and to corall some of my more wild ideas. Initially charmed with the physical wear and tear on the bags, that told of their history, I embarked on a series of bag portraits, painted live, while talking to the bag’s owner.
I learned so much about bag behaviour during this phase and how this often reflects the value of the bag to it’s owner. Amy, for example wasnt over happy with leaving her bag with me so that I could finish the picture, until I gave her one of mine. Her deep attachment to her owl bag is clearly evident in her text. There were similarities of theme throughout, death came up quite a bit, specifically, the difficulty of disposing of a bag in terminal decline and whether or not it goes to “bag heaven.” I am perhaps the worst offender, as my bags go through many stages of use and are frequently brought back from the brink and reprieved, before being made into an art work.
– After 115 sittings for a portrait of Ambroise Vollard…
I am not altogether displeased with the shirt-front. Paul Cezanne
Making portraits in this way was not without problems, having to turn away from the subject (bag) to face and talk to the owner was often distracting and I began to keep the bags back to continue working on them when the owners had left. The choosing of medium seemed important, a different one best suited for each bag. I began to work longer and longer hours and the work got tighter and tighter untill to borrow from Marie Kondo, it no longer “sparked joy.” Fortunately, my eldest daughter Rebecca, all round excellent person and professional art critic came to visit. She listened to me, looked dispassionately at the work. and said,
“Mum, you sound like a social scientist, that’s not your job – just get back to enjoying the materials.”
I knew what she meant and she was absolutely right. I had got too involved, too invested in the result and having completed nine bags and made copious notes, decided to move the project on.
When you slow down enough to sculpt, you discover all kinds of things you never noticed before. Karen Jobe
Now I can see that this work was information gathering, a chance to quiz my friends for anecdotes. At about this time I had begun learning how to carve in stone at a nearby workshop and decided to use this fresh, untried medium, to work away from the model and see where it led. The first, and if I’m honest, most frustrating thing about stonecarving in the beginning, is the speed, or the complete lack of it. I set too with a heavy chisel and rather too much enthusisam and ended up making little difference to the inert lump in front of me, even though I was utterly spent. The stone had taught me it’s first lesson, you can only get somehere on its terms.
Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop. Michael Angelo
At this point I began to work with a new verb, To keep, as I had begun to realise that most of the bag behaviour was simply referencing, pointing to a much deeper phsychic connection. I decided to literally, go deeper. Donna, the incredible workshop tutor, taught me to coax rather than try to dominate the stone and leave behind all my overwrought theories. Instead I began to trust the stone, let it lead me, so that it felt as if I were mining for something already there.
Abstraction demands more from me than realism. Instead of reproducing something outside of me, now I go inward and use everything I’ve learned thus far in my life. Susan Avishai
The idea of a handbag as a cypher that represents a kind of psychic carry all, took hold and became evident in the work. Stitches grew out of nowhere and then a disembodied buckle. Donna, is a hard taskmaster, but she can always see further. Although the work was slow physically taxing, I kept going and the resulting four pieces; To Keep, I to IV, have I believe, evolved from me having immmersed myself in the study of bag behaviour and in the discipline of acurate representation. The later freedom of abstraction allowed a distillation of the work which in the end encouraged me to go further, deeper.
Where the material ends, art begins. Etienne Hajdu
On the last day, I brought home my dusty tools and setting them down realised that the bag they had been carried in was the original bag, that appears in the charcoal drawing in part 1, at the very beginning of the project, complete with it’s R.I.P. boast, but here it was still in use! I had a sudden flash of intuition and right there, sat down and painstakingly unpicked the entire bag. I flattened it and put it in a frame with a suitable verb, To Skin. It seems as if some bags really are for life.
Drawing is the artist’s most direct and spontaneous expression, a species of writing: it reveals, better than does painting, his true personality. Edgar Degas
“I love your sketches,” said my friend with warmth, the other day, having no idea that she had innocently wandered into a kind of graphic no man’s land, with treacherous shifting sands. She couldn’t possibly have known that I have a lifetime aversion to the sketch word. Being fond of this friend, I wished at the time, that I could have explained, but I was aware that launching into a diatribe about the differences between sketching and drawing might be inappropriate and possibly border on obsessive. But this niggle just wouldn’t go away, it got louder, a proper ear worm and I began to recognise it for what it was – a chip. And I am at an age when chips are fascinating enough for me to want to face them down and root out their etymology.
I love the quality of pencil. It helps me to get to the core of a thing. Andrew Wyeth
So, I began with the feeling that the word triggered, an annoying twinge, a bit like jealousy and that it had something to do with the difference between: the way people perceive what I do and what I think I’m doing. Over the years, people have sometimes come up behind me while I am working and said things like,
“Are you going to finish those sketches off when you get home, or make them into paintings and sell them?”
There seemed to be a collective idea that this type of drawing must be the prelude to something else, not a thing with its own identity. Then when I gently tried to tell them that I do it for pure enjoyment of the process, they would look baffled and rather disappointed.
It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover, to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character. Camille Pissarro
It is no exaggeration to say that I have made hundreds if not thousands of drawings and paintings of people from life, but I have never knowingly made a sketch. But anyone that knows me would say, Of course you have! Aren’t I always the one skulking in the corners of pubs with a 2B pencil, rather than join in with the social melee? So yes, I do draw in pubs it’s true, but I never sketch and here’s why.
It all comes down to wilful intent, which I shall explore first before getting to the real reason…
The dictionary definition of the word sketch, includes,
As a noun, “a rough or unfinished drawing or painting, often made to assist in making a more finished picture.”
As a verb, “make a rough drawing of.” Also, in this form, sketchy, (just no)Sketchy, “insubstantial, imperfect, flimsy.”
So, to round up, a sketch is a bit nothing, it is a lightweight, fluffy, rubbish word and there is nowhere to go with it except, etch a sketch, ‘nuff said.
I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing. Vincent van Gogh
But now we come to the word draw, a different kettle of fish entirely, an expansive, gorgeous, acrobat of a word because, just look,
Draw, as a verb, the method by which marks are made on a drawing.
I can draw; a picture, a crowd, a gun, a bath or a breath. I can refuse to be drawn ordraw myself up to my full height. I can draw on experience, intuition or a pipe and now I am going to draw a conclusion…see what I mean? You can take it anywhere.
I draw like other people bite their nails. Pablo Picasso
It is confusing though as both words tend to crossover. A sketch always contains drawing, i.e. the marks that make it, whereas a drawing doesn’t have to be a sketch, it can take other forms. This is where it gets tricky for me, because in my head when I start drawing, I mean for it to be a thing that stands complete, independent of all else. Once started, it is never my intention to develop it further or for to use it to underpin anything else.
Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad. Salvador Dali
With the image above, called Bigfoot 2013, a drawing of my husband with an injury caused by extreme fishing, there were two complete drawings before this one. They were not good enough and ended in the bin. However even though I may well have learned from their process, neither of these two failures was intended to be any kind of sketch or working out. Each one in my head was going to be the best drawing I had ever done, they were not practise or even a dry run.
It is the same with all my drawings, it is my intention to pick up some indefinable trace from the subject. They are not portrait’s either, not intentionally anyway, just that chosen musician, them in their space and me in mine, both doing the thing we love best.
This is however, only part of the explanation. The fantastic thing about a blog is that you can work it out as you go. So now to the real nitty-gritty. The baggage we attach to words and their meanings is naturally subjective and it is often in the mis-communication of words, that art happens. I am trying to be as honest as I can here, I think the real reason I have an aversion to this word is because for me it has become synonymous with amateur art, with Sunday painters, Watercolour Challenge and hobbyists. It reminds me of the days when people told me how lucky I was to have such a relaxing hobby… It took many years and a couple of degrees to slough off that label. So, forgive my touchiness, what is really going on here is a desire, to be taken seriously and the word drawing just has more heft, more gravitas.
Am I being pedantic? Probably, but more likely it’s a kind of snobbery. I know now that it doesn’t really matter how anyone describes my work because for me a quick draw will always be infinitely preferable to a slow sketch.
Creative drought, Dry Spells and Risk Taking.
Every artist experiences the chasm between his own inner vision and its ultimate expression. E.M. Forster
Every time I moisten a paint brush or pick up my pen the same familiar fear sits down next to me, ready with its pre-emptive toxic potential that overshadows every mark or word I make. This unwelcome, if familiar, demon is the lingering effect of having suffered in the past two severe and prolonged periods of creative drought. If as an artist or writer you have ever been blocked for any length of time, then you will understand what I’m talking about. So disruptive were these times, that I continue to live in perpetual, if low-grade, fear of something similar happening again. Does all this all sound a bit dramatic, a tad over the top? Well I thought so too and as the triggering event/call to action in my novel, a work in progress called The Denim Sky, is based on an artist’s response to being stuck in a holding pattern of grief that renders her unable to make meaningful art, I decided to call it and do some serious research in the hope that it would either dispel doubt or suggest a rewrite.
When patterns are broken new worlds emerge. Tuli Kuperberg
It turns out that many artists have channelled their inner diva in response to any stalling of their creative juices. After his divorce and the loss of custody of his daughter, Picasso found he could not bear to look at his pictures because they made him angry. Unable to paint, he changed medium for a while and wrote poetry. Likewise, after the death of his wife, Manet destroyed a large quantity of his work and stopped painting for two years. When he started again, his subject matter had changed. Georgia O’Keefe moved countries in search of inspiration when life events interrupted her practice. And when the right words didn’t flow for John Fowles, he resorted to writing school girl lesbian fiction.
Violence is the desire to escape one’s self. Iris Murdoch
As I write this, a Tarot card image of The Tower, is forming the idea of tearing down all that has gone before to make way for new creative innovation. I wonder, am I conflating depression with the state of being blocked? Perhaps, but I suspect it’s a chicken and egg situation. It is difficult to separate these things as the mind and body are so deeply enmeshed, born out in discernible traces in a person’s handwriting, such as the state of their mental and physical health. Which brings me to some sad, almost elegiac responses to the drying well of inspiration. Iris Murdoch only ever suffered from writer’s block once, she referred to it as “being in a very, very bad quiet place,” while writing her final novel, Bruno’s Dream, which was later found to show evidence of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease that she would eventually die from. The great abstract expressionist Mark Rothko could not resolve the final selection of paintings to complete his commission for the restaurant in the Seagram building in New York. This caused him to pull out and he gave the works to the Tate instead, before committing suicide.
I can always get distracted by love but eventually, I get horny for my creativity. Gilda Radner
Of course, when the great drought hits and our muse legs it, I don’t think we are very good at recognising it. When it happened to me I just felt miserable and empty and because I can always paint, as I have through childbirth, disease and the hairdressers, I just kept on going, repeating myself and making horrible vacuous, images that were meaningless to me but I still I couldn’t stop, until unable to stand it any longer I ran away. Not literally, but in hindsight that’s what it was. Six weeks in India unconsciously putting myself in harms way until eventually my muse caught up with me and we came home together, chastened, but renewed, refreshed and utterly changed.
Those who do not think outside the box are easily contained. Nicholas Manetta
The internet is awash with helpful strategies that come down to: pressing on, (me) avoidance, distraction or both and in mild cases (is there such a thing?) they or may not help but after all my research, I have come to the conclusion that artists, writers in fact all creative people live much more in their imagination that sacred bubble. Along comes reality in its essential, pure form i.e. bereavement, penury, lifechanging illness, divorce etc. It ruptures the skin of the bubble and reality leaks in, the fragile imagination can’t stand too much of the stuff which can result in a kind of abandoning of self to fate, in the hope of breaking back into that precious bubble…
So no – I no longer have any doubts about the premise of my book being outlandish, lite, or frivolous in any way. It’s serious stuff. I just need to get on and convince my readers now…
Life isn’t supposed to be a support system for art. It’s the other way around. Stephen King
Essential comfort texts for those dark nights of the soul…
Writing a Novel Richard Skinner
Drawing on the right side of the brain
On Writing Stephen King
Becoming a Writer Dorothea Brande
Light the Dark Joe Fassler
How to Draw horses John Skeaping