The increasingly intense exploration of drawing…

and the threads between words, music and a bundle of old clothes…


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We are all driven by our circumstances…

We might use blue paint because we have run out of red.

We might use cereal boxes because we have run out of paper.

We cut up old clothes that don’t fit us any more because we can’t afford new fabric.

We might use an old tree trunk because we can’t afford marble…

And so on…

I often wonder if I was really rich, what would my work look like?

Or even if I would be an artist at all? Because frankly it’s hard work.

I am constantly questioning my choices.

This week is another weird one. I’m within 7 days of finding out if another grant application has succeeded or failed. The Trousers of Time… I have entered at the waistband and approach the divide… and I steal analogies from Terry Pratchett.

In the meantime, the money has run out and I can’t afford any more of the expensive paper, so I’m scratting about. In my head I had (three days ago) an idea for another large scale drawing… but somehow the idea has dissolved. Instead, I am cutting up rejected drawings into much smaller, postcard sized pieces and I’m making collages with scraps of fabric (lace motifs mostly), words torn from really crappy paperback novels, and more drawing and the odd bit of extra paint.

From my side of the table these feel stupid. The occupiers of hands and time. Not noteworthy. But people have said they like them. I have used one or two actually as song prompts. Lyrics developed from other people’s words, selected because they ‘go’ together somehow. A scenario is presented by a poorly constructed phrase, the scene is set, and a verse written.

But they don’t feel worthy because they don’t feel as if they come from a real place.

And I’m struggling with that.

I’m enjoying making them, in a haptic reward kind of way, in that there’s no pressure to produce a thing of meaning. They purposely don’t mean anything because the words have been stripped from their context and launched into something else.

(But words are sneaky aren’t they?)

Visually, I am finding they are creating a bridge between older textile works and my current drawings. They ‘fit’ in that way. There’s a palette, a visual vocabulary that seems familiar, and the songwriting is drawn in too.

But I’m not sure that I like them because they seem… Lazy. Easy. Simple.

Are they just holding a place for the making?

Are they a way of using readily available materials?

Do they look like the result of an Instagram ‘craft’ video?

Am I being an artist snob?

Oh yes.

Undoubtedly.

I feel I have earned the right to be an artist snob. I’ve worked hard at it and I think hard thoughts and I make work that is hard to make.

These small pieces are falling between the cracks and I don’t know what they are. Maybe something useful will emerge from them, but at the moment I’m not seeing it. I like my work to have a bit of bite. I shy away from doing ‘nice’ work. And I think this falls into that category.


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When I have had a weird day, the studio calls.

Headspace is required to filter out, digest, absorb… then reject what is of no use to me, or to cast off those things that cause stress or discomfort. Then to accept what is left and move on.

My choice of music this afternoon was unusual. Not the sort of thing I usually go for but it’s been interesting nonetheless, and has had an effect, which of course, is what it is all about.

So…

Portishead, ‘Dummy’;

David Lynch, ‘The Big Dream’;

Slowdive, ‘Slowdive’;

and at the insistence of a friend

My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’.

All in my collection, but I can’t remember ever playing them all in one sitting before. I now feel sort of spaced… floaty… bit trippy maybe?

Consequently I’ve done weird things with the drawing too.

Following the vague path trodden over wet grass by my poet partner Leah Atherton… I attempt to leave less of a trace… a softer pencil…rubbed… I’m not very brave yet… do I rub it all out? Or just leave enough so you know it was there?

When I leave, do I take everything with me, so you quickly forget me… wonder if I ever existed, ever said what you think I said?

Or do I leave a trail of crumbs so you can find me if you need me?


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It is always a bit of a dilemma to decide what to reveal of the personal life of the artist in this blog.

A recent conversation has made me examine this a bit more.

Those who read regularly might know that I have osteoarthritis, and that it is getting worse. Because of this my world is shrinking. I can no longer zoom around the country (let alone the world) without considerable research and planning.

It takes courage and energy to say to people “I can’t do that” and face the “oh why not? It’s right by the tube station!” Well no. “Right by…” is subjective. Off the train, up the platform, across the concourse, down two escalators and through three tunnels is not “right by”. And I feel resentful that some people demand medical details in order to believe me when I say what is too far for me. (Admittedly it’s not made easier by the fact that some days I can do it and some days I can’t)

So, anyway…inevitably this situation makes its way into my work. To me it is obvious which drawings were done on good days or bad days. One day maybe I will explore this, maybe part of my brain already is. I think the few people that know my drawings very well can see it too. I thank them for this. It helps to have people understand without asking or commenting.

The thing is… this is my information to reveal. I don’t want people saying loudly “Elena has a BAD KNEE!! Clear the way to the lift!” I’d rather be slow and dignified and do it at my own pace, only revealing when I choose, or as needed.

I reveal it in the drawings, or rather, it is revealed. It is expressed in all its glory: my rage and fury and pain and frustration. The paper takes the punishment, absorbs it, feeds back to me a gentleness.

I fall into that deep chasm that contains millions of people. I am not DISABLED and at the moment I don’t want to be labelled as such. But sometimes, somedays, I am disabled.

I don’t need a stick, crutches, a wheelchair. I just need to be believed.

I don’t want me or my work to become prefaced by “Disabled Artist” any more than I want it to be labelled “Female” or have any reference to my age or marital status or how many children I’ve had, or where I live. It’s just Artist. Any qualifier makes it lesser: “Not bad for a girl”

But the other thing is, I wouldn’t be working like this if my body wasn’t like this. The work comes directly from my brain, down my arms, into my fingers. I sit in the chair, leaning across the table as I cannot stand to make these drawings. Whatever is encountered on the way from my brain to the paper drags at the pencil and makes its mark.

But it’s still mine. You can look at the drawings, love them or hate them, be indifferent to them, buy them even! But how and why they are like they are? That belongs to me.


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Maybe I was always going to be a songwriter, but it took me 50 years to actually get round to it?

And maybe I was always going to be a lyricist? I love words, the way they feel in my mouth as well as how they sound. The words Lemon Meringue Pie or Chocolate Chip Cheesecake to me taste as delicious as the dessert. Those close lipped sounds together, and alliteration… yummy!

(I also have a talent for “tasting” a menu… almost synaesthetic (oh what a word!))

I can remember being read to as a small child, especially Winnie the Pooh… and the poems from Now We are Six. My mum must have loved them too because she read with a delightful rhythm and lilt that sang the words to me. Impeccable timing. I remember singing Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud, and I also remember her teaching it to my eldest son on the arm of her chair when he was aged about three.

“Hold that note!”

“Muuuuuuuuuuuuud!”

This week I find myself obsessed with finding pairs of words with particular rhythms… that don’t at the moment make much sense, but could eventually end up in a song or two…

Unnecessarily blue

Coincidentally choose

Predictability groove

Totalitarian fool

And this is sometimes how it starts… not always… but the words that feel nice, and the themes I think about… there’s a soup in my head that gets stirred up together and eventually out pops something that says what I want to say, in a way that feels good.


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And there it is…

Big Red Shiny Button pressed.

Except it is none of those things.

I’m thinking of suggesting to Arts Council England that they make it so.

It always feels momentous.

The immediate feeling is one of relief after weeks of work to get it done and off. I can ‘forget’ about it for a while – six weeks.

I’ve done a few of these now and it’s never got any better.

I’ve been moderately successful… but the ‘No’ still smarts.

At this point, although I think I’ve done my best and I’ve had people read it with me, and for me, and had people edit bits for me here and there too, I never know. This is in fact a re-write of one I submitted at the end of last year. Simplified and clearer. I’m good at spotting over-complication in other people’s applications, but not so good with my own it seems! Of course, when it was rejected, and I read the letter, it was obvious.

But at this very moment, this one is Schrödinger’s Application. Both dead and alive.

Crossing fingers etc.

… … …

Meanwhile…

Back in the rest of my head are these drawings. Here I have been thinking it’s a new thing, then while searching through my photos I came across a digital image I had made in 2013. Oh. Not new then? No. The image showed lines/veins/branches… in very similar formation to the rivulets of watercolour that my drawings are built upon and through. 

I suppose I should take comfort in the fact that at least I am plagiarising my own work, not someone else’s. But it is rather irritating that I didn’t even recognise what I was doing. 


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