Just what is it makes Makers HeadRoom so appealing?
Makers HeadRoom is a free online group for makers in any medium and any genre.
It isn’t quite enough simply to explain that it’s a weekly makers group held online on Zoom. Nor that the idea is to share our presence and our time in a (virtual) place where, for the hour of the session we make rather than talk. That’s right, we spend time together quietly doing our own making without comment, instruction, or entertainment.
The Zoom group
We do talk a bit at the beginning and end to say hello and goodbye and deal with general housekeeping matters. The core thing we do is to be in each other’s company working on our own projects. We keep our microphones on so we can sense the presence and concentration of the whole group. This is not a silent group but the priority is on working as a body rather than on talking to each other.
Who is it for
Makers HeadRoom is for anyone who makes anything but it is conceived primarily as something for people who work with their hands. The only constraint to taking part is how much noise you need to make (see Soundchecks & muting below). I want to develop a diverse and evolving community of makers of every description, anyone who can work with what is described here will be very welcome.
How it happened
I have taken this idea from what Mark Richards developed during the first Covid lockdown with Sculptors Drawing Space. He descibes it like this: “People from around the world gather … we keep our microphones on and moderate the ambient noise … Importantly no one sees what anyone else does. the effect is one of shared space without scrutiny or evaluation. we gather together, to work in private.”
What I am doing with Makers HeadRoom is switching drawing for making – which is a bit of an added complication, but not excessively.
The long view
My understanding of this group is that makers have common ways of thinking and working. These ways bond us and enable us to assemble and work in parallel without intervention or instructions from a leader or conductor. Makers HeadRoom is a place where we can enjoy each other’s concentration, attention and sense of purpose while we absorb what occurs between us when we work together without words.
I suspect that a makers mind (Or perhaps any mind in a making mode) has special qualities, abilities and needs. Manipulating complex spacial, colour, structural and compositional relationships requires a lot of energy and focus. Gathering together to do this seems to somehow enhance it. It’s as if the background sounds of others also engaged in making soothes and sustains our own activity.
Working with Sculptors Drawing Space led me to thinking about what was distinctive and special about a group of people spending time together and largely forgoing the use of words. When you experience it, it has an atmosphere that is hard to define or express. I find this intriguing and want to know more about it, but more than anything I want to replicate it so more people can experience it themselves.
Grok the congregation?
The best description of the experience that I have seen is in a poem by Anthony Landale which is written about Sculptors Drawing Space where he uses the word congregation to catch what it feels like to take part in this phenomenon
I am reminded of the wonderful invented word grok (To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy) coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land
There is also something about the fact that so few people know about this as yet, that this is still esoteric knowledge, developed during a worldwide emergency situation (Lockdown) that you might get because you have tried it or perhaps you have come across it before (where? please let me know) If you would like to see what you think it’s free, all you need to do is sign up to the mailing list.
There are benefits to attending a regular group in terms of productivity, it anchors you to a time when you know you can make something. It puts faces to names you might have come across on social media. It might have networking and collaboration possibilities in the long term either on an individual level or in terms of group activities. Any suggestions about this will be gratefully received. At the moment I am concentrating on building up the numbers of the group.
The meeting structure is straight forward.
The meeting currently lasts two hours but you can stay for one
It’s at 9am on Tuesday mornings.
Materials and keyboards
One slightly tricky aspect of working in Makers HeadRoom is the question of operating a computer or phone while working with materials that might stick to your hands, that wet your hands or that you need to wear protective gloves with.
My hope is that the group will pool its collective wisdom on this and share ideas that will make it easier for participants to surmount issues like this.
Sound checks & muting
If you are beating metal with a hammer or drilling wood with an electric drill you might want to mute your microphone for the duration of that activity. If it’s practical you might be able to reduce the volume by moving away from the device you are videoing with. I am not aware of any volume controls within Zoom that enable you to moderate the sound going into your device’s microphone
You might consider organising your work so that the quieter bits might occur during this session.
We integrate sound checks into the start of each meeting where people can check on their chosen tools and materials if they wish and we can hear if any activity needs to be muted or not.
What might change in future:
- The time or day of the meetings.
- The duration of the meetings.
- The schedule might be weekly every single week or I might work to school term times.
- The core activity is unlikely to change but other peripheral activities could be developed if ideas emerge and demand is there.
- Any feedback about any of these issues will be gratefully received
I plan to research other aspects of collaborative and cooperative group work as Makers HeadRoom progresses. My current feeling is that the structure is very clear and strong so other strands of group work might lead to some offshoot meetings in due course rather than a change to the format.
I have history with drawing
What exactly is going on when I decide to make a drawing I wonder, what is so complex about this apparently simple decision to make my mark? Drawing has waxed and waned as a significant part of my artistic life and I have often wondered why that is. This article is a personal tracing of my tracks. I want to look at how drawing has been present at different times in my life and absent at others and what it has meant to me. I suspect there’s an arc in my history from drawing for other people’s approval towards drawing for my own satisfaction – or dare I say – delight.
I have been drawing as long as I can remember, I got praised for it as a child so it often had positive associations for me. It was one of the very few things I could do better than my older brother, it was my winning skill, a precious super-power in my young brain. It was something I could do for hours, it rewarded my interest and attention, I could get involved in it and the stories I created with it and then I could show my family what I had made. I had precious evidence of my effort and ideas, of my interests and progress.
Then at about age seven or eight a new boy turned up in our class at school. He was better at drawing than me, it was really difficult, like suddenly getting a sibling where you had things all to yourself before. I am not sure how I recovered from this (or even if I am really still working on it) – I was always the ‘artistic one’ in our family – so when a rival for the title turned up at school I felt seriously insecure. I was surprised and disheartened – that is clear now. I felt I lost more than just the status of being the best in the class at drawing. I think echoes of that young trauma are still present in the background to this day when I draw.
So drawing in a group often has an edge of competition for me, I am always wondering how far up or down the ladder of skill I stand compared to others, its quite a distraction from the challenge of making the drawing which is hard enough in itself.
I started drawing again at the start of 2021, not just jotting down little working-out-scribbles, proper observational and composition drawing. I completed the 30works30days project this April and I finished the100daysproject ten days later. For both projects I decided to make a drawing every day so I had an intensive blast of charcoal, pencil or watercolour on paper to help me get back into the habit.
I use drawing a lot anyway, in an everyday way to work out how to make things, to design the shape of my ceramic artworks and sometimes just because I want to work something out in my sketchbook. When I was last in the habit of drawing I just wanted to feel the power of creating something by tracing a path with a pencil across the paper with my hand, guided by impulses, ideas, occasional grand intentions. It seems you have to have an idea to get started. It seems you have to have a plan or an intention, even if that plan is “I am going to make some random marks now”
Sculptors drawing space
This is one of the reasons why it has been such a pleasure to discover @SculptorsDrawingSpace run online through Zoom by sculptor Mark Richards. In this group – that varies in numbers but usually about 30-40 people – drawing for a solid one hour session every Monday evening you see peoples faces or backs and hear their pencils on the paper together with a few noises off, the occasional dog, cat or songbird joining in on the audio stream. At no point do you see each others drawings, there is no Show and Tell so you can’t make those comparisons and rankings that we automatically do in non lockdown drawing class situations. This is such a relief for me.
The other striking thing is how powerfully benevolent the near-silence is. It feels like you can hear the concentration, the collective effort to maintain this space for drawing only, not chatting, not watching, not getting distracted. The group has an energy that really supports the participants by working on something in each others presence but not physically with each other, it’s an extraordinary congregational quality that has to be experienced to be believed. I recommend it to anyone who wants to make space and time for drawing in their lives. For me it has been a really positive discovery born from the strictures of lockdown culture.
Drawing is free
Recently I have done some online portrait sessions with @drawingisfree organised by Chloe Briggs. This involves a group of people taking it in turns to pose for the rest of the group who draw quick portraits of them lasting about 4 minutes (the duration of a song on Spotify). The session lasts for an hour and is very intense. Getting a likeness is a real challenge especially in such a short amount of time, there is only one chance to get it right or wrong so the hour has an urgent and immediate feel to it.
What I am noticing about this is how intimate drawing someone else’s face is. Learning to look at how anothers face is put together involves an intense and busy gaze, an examination that would be quite invasive and unsettling in any other context. After the sessions I was looking at peoples posts and comments on Instagram and feeling like I knew them quite well – despite never having spoken a word to them. This is another experience that is a new synthesis from the necessities of lockdown which would probably not have occurred in any other circumstances.
A new perspective on drawing
The Sculptors Drawing Space and Drawing is Free groups have given me a new understanding of drawing as an activity. While I will always strive to make each drawing the best I can, this meditative quality of shared energy makes me think more of the process, that the act of making time to draw is significant and that the time spent with my concentrating self (and others) is beneficial and the quality of any drawing I do is a bonus rather than the sole aim of the exercise.
I am quite amazed at the qualities of these Zoom experiences, I really did not expect relationships mediated by technology to have such subtlety and atmosphere and especially the energy of a collective presence or a sense of intimacy. I think this points to the generosity inherent in these exchanges and I note too that neither of these events involve an exchange of money which I think really allows the notion of goodwill and shared endeavour to develop.
Practice makes perfect
Sometimes in my life I have drawn a lot and improved my technique and confidence. The start of 2021 is one such interlude. But it has happened before, when I did my GCSE’s (then known as O Levels ) as a teenager for instance. It also happened when I attended weekly classes with June Collier in my thirties and again when I ‘rediscovered’ drawing for it’s own sake about 15 years ago and made quite a long series of A1 size drawings over about four years. But the main pattern is that drawing comes into my life and then later disappears. I hope I am now disrupting that tendency.
Like most tacit skills (skills that rely on a combination of muscle memory and learning) drawing improves with practice, the more you do the better you get, as with playing a musical instrument. What I am now questioning is why I have allowed drawing to be neglected for long periods in my life when it is clearly something I can do and also something productive that I can enjoy if I don’t get too hung up on the results.
Even when I was a professional freelance illustrator, I chose to make my name as a photomontage artist rather than drawing – although I did also build up a secondary brush drawing style. This might be a result of being taught on my foundation course that photography was the new drawing and thus drawing was more part of the past than the future. Photography has a lot to recommend it of course but I do feel drawing is being rediscovered partly in reaction to the ubiquity of digitally manipulated photographic images, which are becoming increasingly hard to believe are true accounts of anyones actual experience. Drawing can now be seen as something handmade, something less contrived and more likely to be free of interference or artifice.
Drawing is difficult
I do think drawing is technically difficult, you have to really concentrate to make it work at all – it’s not something you can do half heartedly. So many of us give up on drawing entirely around the age of ten when the balance of reward versus effort becomes too negative and our drawings start to look too naive and child-like to bear as we start to negotiate the transition out of childhood.
I am beginning to think that drawing also has certain elements for me that are charged with things I have felt a need to avoid. Here’s what I can identify :
– I fear that I might not be the best and the emotional burden of that could discourage me.
- My own Judgements
– I fear that my drawing skills are inadequate, that my work will look amateurish or insufficiently photographic or up to the expectations of others.
– I worry I may have insufficient talent – that I may not have sufficient aptitude to make drawings that are good enough, so it might be best to let my internal judge shut me down before I embarrass myself in front of others.
– Drawing takes time and practice, you have to do it regularly and frequently to build up and maintain your skills, it takes patience to let them grow.
– Drawing takes concentration, energy and time. If you are short of any of these it gets harder to do. In observational drawing just placing the shapes and size of the elements of any image in the right place, at the right angle and scale is very hard and can be shown as inaccurate at any moment as you review the components of your artwork.
Drawing is risky
I feel I should put the other side of the story here. I originally wrote that ‘drawing is fun’ but that just doesn’t adequately describe the complexity of the whole sequence of events and feelings. The process of making marks on a page to form either a recognisable version of the scene in front of you or an original composition from your imagination is exciting, mysterious, challenging and can be rewarding or frustrating. There is definitely something that keeps me trying, something that makes me continue but fun is not quite it. Something is driving me back to drawing repeatedly just as some of the difficulties I have identified tend to drive me away again. I don’t think I understand what that drive is yet. I do want to draw, in order to draw I have to risk drawing badly sometimes, it seems to be worth the risk most of the time.
A drawing complex?
What is going on each time I decide to make a drawing is a series of complex thoughts and related feelings based on my personal history with the medium. I imagine most people have an equally complex set of experiences to deal with. Continuing drawing after childhood is seriously challenging and the vast majority of people decide to let it go. Those of us that continue must have somehow managed to extract more pleasure than pain from the drawing process or we would not persevere with it. There seems to be a lot to learn about why so many people decide to persevere with drawing in the face of the technical and emotional complexity of the medium.
Drawing also has the potential to transcend these issues and emotions, if you can find the balance between release and control, being relaxed while concentrating, which you could describe as ‘being at one’ with the drawing. Drawing uses different parts of the brain than most of the things we do, it is particularly different from operating a computer and offers a change from those kinds of logic based tasks to the extent that people use it as a way to relax and lose themselves in a different way of thinking and being. Is this special atmosphere what keeps me and everyone else who persists with drawing coming back for more perhaps?
I don’t know yet – I will keep looking and keep drawing. What do you think and feel when you draw? What motivates you to draw if you still manage to?
Reference and inspiration:
June Collier “I try to get the charcoal or paint to become the thing it is describing…”
Art & Fear by Ted Orland and David Bayles https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/_/yGf6CAAAQBAJ?hl=en
Drawing on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards: https://www.drawright.com/
@sculptorsdrawingspace on Instagram
@drawingisfree on Instagram
This piece of writing is my own theory about how creative ideas come in a cyclical flow. I am going to write about my understanding of the creative cycle, how I define it and how I think it works. This is based on my own experience as an artist. The reason I think this idea is important is that understanding the undulating and repeating nature of this cycle could help artists (and anyone else who recognises it) sustain themselves as a creative person for this most demanding of work patterns.
What is the creative cycle?
I think creative work happens in an undulating cycle – as shown in the diagram above. Sometimes ideas just seem to flow, at other times things slow down, stop or even seem to go into reverse. I think this is natural and quite possibly universal. I believe it happens in all creative endeavours. I think it’s innate to being human. I am talking here about your energy, the supply of ideas and the drive you need to do your creative work. It’s what happens when you work on your own ideas probably because your own work is bound up with your sense of your self and the cycles of your state of mind. Most artists conceive their work to some degree as an expression of themselves, something unique to them at the same time as it may express universal or collective concerns for society as a whole.
You might have noticed various aspects of these cycles in your work. I know I do a lot of cleaning up in my precious studio time that on the face of it seems like time-wasting or messing about. I think I do this putting-off-till-later activity when I could or should be producing things probably in order to reflect and get back into sync with my own creative cycle. This is not really a conscious process, it is something I repeatedly find myself doing almost without actually deciding to. I have now begun to recognise the pattern so I am more at home with it and less likely to fight against it.
Here is a diagram showing the structure of the creative cycle as I envisage it.
As I hope you can see it is a sequence that revolves in a tumble and can repeat ad infinitum. Note that the main axis is not time in this case but progress and that for part of the cycle it appears to go into reverse.
In my view there are four phases in the creative cycle, I identify them as follows:
Aka: Inspiration, Excitement, Ideas, Flow, In the Zone, Progression, Germination, Invention.
The high is also probably everyone’s favourite part of the cycle, it’s fun, it’s exciting, it makes you feel vital and full of energy, ideas flow fast and effortlessly. This stage is marked by optimism and urgency. This is likely to be where ideas spark and possibly the start of a production phase of creative work. Here your idea is likely to seem strong, in need of rapid realisation and all the resources you can muster.
Aka: Loss, Fall, Decline, Slowing, Barriers, Roadblocks, Second thoughts, Problems, Diversions.
All good things come to an end, this is also the case with a creative high. In my view this is a natural waning of energy not unlike being out of breath after a run. This state can also be induced by a problem or a diversion of some kind that interrupts the flow of energy and requires a review, a re-think or a pause to take stock. This stage feels like someone rained on your parade, just when things were really motoring, along come these doubts and problems that are only going to get in the way. At this stage your enterprise is going to seem unsound to some degree which is likely to feel disappointing.
Aka: Confusion, Disintegration, Depression, Sadness, Disappointment, Stuck, Becalmed, Standstill, Struggle, Review, Re-assessment, Rest.
This state is the most difficult to process and maintain your momentum. At this juncture any problems will tend to be in the foreground so they are likely to come to your attention and seem overbearing. You may feel confused, indecisive or dissatisfied, so it’s important to be patient and not beat yourself up for being here. Waiting or resting may be the most important things to do now. Behind the scenes your mind has to process all the problems and questions and your feelings about them. It’s easy to feel things are falling apart in this phase and that the endeavour at hand is fatally flawed. This could, of course, be true, it does happen, we all have projects or parts of projects that fail, but the states of mind associated with this point in the story mean this may not be the best moment to make that decision. At this moment your plan is likely to seem ill-conceived or wide of the mark – so hang in there.
Patience and self-belief are the qualities you need to profit from this part of the cycle. The difficulties of the Low mask it’s purpose and usefulness. Your feelings about your project will probably have changed a lot and this may help you get a new perspective on it. You are also likely to loosen your attachment to and ego identification with your original concept and this may help free up your approach to it. This could get things moving. This section is difficult but it’s also rich in ideas, this is the shadow aspect of the creative cycle, going through this unmapped territory means you have a story to tell, could you use it in the work? This part of the process is most likely to make you wiser, and of course, everyone goes through something like this. In my opinion this is the hardest part of the process and it is important and integral to the whole sequence. The recognition that you are in the low part of the phase, is almost like a trigger for the next phase. You need to organise yourself now to leave this stage. Quite how you do that is completely up to you, there are no maps – well – except this one maybe.
Aka: Recovery, Gathering, Gain, Growth, Organisation, Building, Thinking, Relaxation, Problem Solving, Re-charge, Re-design, Restart.
This is where your ideas are consolidated or revised, where you gather the intentions, materials and resources that will allow you to move on. This is also when you solidify your ideas to the point they are ready to produce. From here your scheme is likely to look redeemable, with problems that can be solved.
This is a cycle so at this point it all goes round again …
Why is the creative cycle important?
The reason I think this is important is so you can remind yourself at any point in the cycle that each phase will come round, there is nothing unexpected about these four stages, however much you might like to linger in the high, knowing it will recur can be helpful in not only surviving the other parts of the cycle but getting value from them rather than thinking of them as a waste of time.
The improvised nature of a lot of creative work means it can be exciting but it can also use a lot of energy trying things that don’t work out, those failures are going to generate frustration, understanding the creative cycle could help you see that there is a pattern to this work, that there is progression even if it’s not obvious at every stage.
I would be interested to hear if my theory rings true for other artists and creatives in all media, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
Art & Fear
Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles, Ted Orland
The 4 stages of creativity (skip to the video)
Getting lost in the woods, creative work is non-linear.
This idea is an integral part of Artists insight individual sessions and workshops. This article © copyright Simon Fell 2016-2021 all rights reserved thanks
I have developed a one-to-one session and a workshop for artists, it’s called Artists Insight. The first sessions took place in June 2016 in Brighton. I want to write about how this evolved. The workshop and sessions are about taking the time to reflect on your practice and discuss the issues that concern you – with a fellow artist or group of artists. This idea came to me as a synthesis of different threads of ideas that have run through my career as a visual artist and designer.
The first of those threads is my concern with the social and political relevance of practicing art. When I was at art school (1974-6 Fine Art at Leeds) it was very hard to see how what we were doing fitted into the time and place where we lived, it appeared to exist in a vacuum and be separate or even divorced from most peoples reality. This was the hey day of conceptualism and while I found myself caught up in those ideas I also felt myself not quite believing in it, not feeling it was something I could do wholeheartedly.
When I was at Leeds I used to struggle with a profound lack of confidence in the value of making art. In order to make anything at all I had to wait until I had a strong idea and make it quickly before I was overcome with doubt again. I identified myself as an artist from my earliest memories so my time there was pretty difficult and envisaging a career as a sculptor or artist was fraught with contradictions.
It was this complex of feelings and ideas that led me into becoming a community artist. After volunteering briefly at the Deptford Albany I got a job at Paddington Printshop in West London working with campaign groups designing silk screen posters and leaflets. This was my dream job at the time, combining as it did creative work with political and social awareness and working as part of a team.
The other thread came into my life around this time (mid 1980’s) when I joined my first men’s groups. The men’s groups were a response to the fact that so many women were joining feminist women’s groups and gaining support, knowledge and strength from the practice. The men’s groups also put me in contact with psycho-therapy as many of the participants were trying it out as a response to the underlying problems that were coming to light in the men’s groups which clearly did not have simple solutions.
I have supported myself with art/ illustration/ design related jobs for the whole of my career now and a few years ago decided to become more focused on the art aspect of this. It’s worth mentioning here that through my own psycho-therapy sessions my understanding of myself as an artist has changed over time. I am now much more at ease with myself as a creative person and value the opportunities I have to exercise that creativity through my craft skills and ability to think. Organising myself to make more of my living through this skill combination is another matter and an ongoing challenge as I am sure it is for most of us. One of the pieces of advice I got more than once was to curate or get involved in organising shows and artists in some way. This never seemed very practical for me so I have not taken that advice literally as yet.
I have done several years of personal psycho-therapy and psycho-analysis and this has had a profound influence on my thinking both about my life in general and my practice as an artist. Psycho-analysts of all kinds (there are many varieties) work by listening to their clients in a holistic way, that is they listen to what you are consciously talking about and for signs and messages from the unconscious mind too through sub-texts and dreams. This means that they see people as much deeper and complex entities than most of us present to each other in our daily interactions. The unconscious mind includes shadowy and primitive aspects of ourselves that we have learned to screen out most of the time but which influence us frequently but in ways that are hard to see.
It is this perspective which led me to think that I would really like to use my own rich and varied experience of maintaining a career in the visual arts in a constructive way that involves other artists. So I have devised a workshop programme that will give artists the space to review their own paths and compare and contrast their experience with others in the same area of work. The workshop will consist of exercises that open up discussion and ideas about the true diversity of artists practices – we will not be doing psycho-therapy although I do hope that the events will have a therapeutic effect on the participants.
Find out more details about – Artists Insight
So here I am sitting in a gallery full of art invigilating so the public can have access to it whenever they want to.
I am finding that the context of this big white space (No Format gallery in Woolwich, London SE18) is a great way to look at the work and allows discussions to start. The gallery environment is a reflective one, with plenty of space and a timeless quality that makes it a refuge from other concerns, it’s almost like a retreat, it has elements of a place of worship in a secular mode. The staging of the show is not precious though, it’s pleasantly informal and physically accessible.
I am finding that I tend to develop a fantasy of how the show will go, how a steady stream of enthusiastic visitors will flock to the show, how people will be curious and enquiring and tell all their friends. Needless to say these ideas keep bumping up against the reality of an exhibition in a quiet London suburb in part of a regenerating industrial area that is transitioning from old uses and industries to new populations and start-ups. It’s a dynamic area with all kinds of interesting businesses, organisations and individuals all ferreting away to establish their niche in the economy of the capital.
One issue the show has thrown up is that of selling things. It is obviously desirable that we would make some sales of the artworks in the show and it remains to be seen if this will occur at the time of writing. There are other possibilities though and this is part of my thinking about revenue streams for artists, that the more diverse and sustainable revenue streams we artists can establish the more chance we stand of making our work sustain us so we can spend more time involved in it. To this end I have organised postcard sales at the show. This is hardly revolutionary, nor will it pay the rent in itself but as an idea it points the way to allowing income to flow in our direction not only from those rich enough to have sufficient disposable income to buy original artworks but from a much wider market that wants a reminder of the show, some token they can take away, something more than a memory, something tangible to hold on to that reflective secular space that our work represents and inhabits. In this case I think these sales may be more important symbolically than they are financially but it is an issue I will be addressing early on in the next show I am involved in.
Some other thoughts about exhibitions:
1 Wear a badge at the PV
Put your name on it and your twitter handle, this makes it easier for people to start conversations with you and to connect in a real way with people who you have only encountered online up until now. These things are not cool I am sure but they could really help those of us less gifted in the social department.
The English weather is such a major factor in determining how many people are out and about and likely to turn up at an event or not. I think you have to learn to suspend your expectations until after the event. This is an emotional impossibility of course, expectations build up as matter of course and adjustment of some kind inevitably follows, it’s another of those recursive patterns that keep turning up everywhere I look now.