The increasingly intense exploration of drawing, and the threads between words, sounds, music, lines…


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Last night I had a couple of hours drawing with my friend, mentor and erstwhile studio-mate Sarah Goudie. We have done lots of drawing with each other over the last few years, usually in workshops and with other students. Last night she took me in hand though, and I relinquished control. I am up to my ears in the project, exhibitions, and the admin that sits alongside, and the songwriting, and the recording… and the… and the… and the……

I had no choice of paper, or what I was going to make marks with, they were given, along with a few guiding words, and the time-keeping was all Sarah’s. It felt great to just draw whatever, with whatever, for however long – usually five or ten minutes then turn the paper around, have a different colour, make a different sort of mark.

Two hours just disappeared and at the end of it I felt simultaneously exhausted and refreshed. 

The photo I post here is the only record. The paper is scrunched up in the recycling. It’s not about the product, but the joy of process. There is no “result” other than the change in my headspace and mood. A much needed retreat from the hurly-burly… thank you so much Sarah! 

 

At the moment, and at least until the second week in August, this is the busiest I have been probably for two or maybe even three years. I feel I am approaching a point of balance. I’m inching forward… my toes are reaching for the edge… 

The work I am doing for Drawing Songs is for the moment set, I have tasks on a list to finish. Things to record, and things to finish writing, and also drawings in my head – some of which have been started – some not yet. These are tasks already decided. So I just have to plough on and do them. There are a couple of deadlines looming, but that’s ok. By the time I get to August I will have a different sort of freedom and will be able to play again, start new ideas, test new combinations of materials and so on. 

In August I have booked a week in the gallery to explore. My original thoughts were that I would just draw big, on the wall (well, paper on the wall) and see where it took me. Then I thought I would probably don my bluetooth headphones and listen to the songs. And then, after listening to a musician improvising at a live (online) gig, I had the idea that that would be the next logical step, for the live drawing and live, improvised music to happen at the same time. For the one to be influenced and inspired by the other, a two way observing, and connecting, and looping back in… in real time. 

So that will happen… I am currently approaching a few musicians to have a go at this with me. We shall see if it works…

In the meantime… let’s get the deadlines met, and the admin done!


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I’m doing a lot of forward planning at the moment and it is great! I’m pretty much occupied with Drawing Songs at least until the end of January 2022 officially, but of course just because the funding period of the project is at an end it doesn’t mean the thinking and working is… there will be more!

Among all the planning and looking forward sit the memories of another life. What seems like another life.

Facebook has the habit of showing you what you were doing in Junes gone by. My Junes were always really busy in my former life when I was employed. June is the month of Arts Weeks. I would plan, timetable and book other artists in in the preceding months, then the week itself would be incredibly busy and absolutely wonderful… For me, and most of the children and some of the staff I worked with. (Some years I would plan -but not deliver- Arts weeks for other educational settings. Nightmare!)

I would make activity kits for other staff, deliver at least one activity myself to each year group throughout the week, coordinate volunteers, and make sure everyone had enough coffee and cake to keep them going. I coordinated the budget and ordering for all the visiting artists (usually six to ten of them) It was bloody hard work, but I loved it. I loved watching the children bloom and grow in the space of that week. For some (mostly adults) it was not a good time and they made sure I knew it, however hard I tried to support them. Such is life. 

June and July for many years were always the months of the Shed. I would dismantle the floral fabric covered shed in my garden, transport it to an arts venue, where the sun (hopefully) would shine on it and its musical occupants. Another time of stress and logistical headaches. But again I loved it and it in many respects got me where I am now. 

Facebook then, shows me this love, but it also shows me the frustrations I used to feel working with others who were not so enthusiastic, or not so completely engaged in it all… or even those downright hostile to the whole event! I think those Junes are a big part of what did for me really. I am no longer employable. In many respects I do not play nicely any more. I want to be in control, and I want things done my way. I no longer want to do things for the community. I want to do things for myself. I have paid my dues and now believe that I owe time to myself. I used to feel guilty about this, but now I don’t. Fuck that!


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As I listen to the developing songs, sometimes as I draw, and sometimes as I write, they seep into my mind and body. Then they seep back out again.

The songs are mostly about people and their circumstances, their relationships and their places. They have been inspired and influenced by real people and places, and observations. They go through my filter of experiences, then come back out as new people. I know them really well. They have personalities and backstories now.

When I draw I have one-sided conversations with them… well… I say one-sided… the seeping back and forth happens. My lines and marks are blown about by melody and rhythm.

Occasionally a real person is overheard, a phrase sticks in my head: “Who on earth would want to move from here?” and it contains its own rhythm. I ask “Where is this place? Who is this person?” “Does she want to move or does she want to stay?”

As I write this I realise it hadn’t occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a woman. 

Last year I made a small drawing/collage and I extracted the following words from a collection of old book pages, torn out for the purpose. The words were “Eighty seven steps to the top floor”.

As I draw, this word soup swims about and things find connections. The woman who didn’t want to move lived on the top floor. Of course. Obvious now. “Oh the view!”

A year later it is a fully formed song. One of my favourites, because having written the lyrics, with the rhythm of the words clear, I hand it over to MC, who writes the perfect melody for it. It sort of halts and limps along as a waltz time stumble… pizzicato… scratchy noises, walking stick on wooden steps noises… but with a smooth top line floating over it, with odd peaks and troughs. Distant clangs that might be church bells… or not… the personality and the place are all there…

As I write this I realise that many of my songs start out in a bad place, but hope lands… this one tells of a wonderful life… with a sad ending. I love it.

Eighty Seven

She counted every one every day
Eighty seven steps to the top floor
Every day she climbed them
Every day she wondered “Is it worth it?”

The smallest room in the world
Every corner cramped and
Every book a treasure kept
But the view, “oh the view!”

She could see so far
She could see where
One day met the next

A tangible sense of time here
As a living moving thing
Who on earth would want
To move from here?

Eighty seven stairs to the ground
But no one bothered to count them
On the day that one day
Didn’t meet the next

Lyrics by Elena Thomas 2020


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You might have noticed I draw on large pieces of paper.

Recently I spent a considerable amount of time looking at a selection of “rejected” drawings. Having decided that in some way they didn’t work, I was looking closely to see if any sections could be redeemed. Could they be saved by an edit. A couple did. A slice was taken off an edge and suddenly the composition worked. Other drawings, deemed too busy, were unceremoniously chopped into six inch (15cm) tiles. Again, suddenly they work. The slice takes away the bad, concentrates on the good (and actually, a slice of the bad can work too, taken away from the rest that it is adversely affecting). The slice, the sharp cut, implies it is part of an imagined whole: the imagined whole being much more satisfactory. So I now have a pile of tiles, that look great individually or in groups.

The internal discussion then is: Why am I wrestling with enormous pieces of paper when the small square is so satisfactory?

There’s something about working on a detail on a large piece of paper. It feels like a secret between me and the materials. The viewer will only be rewarded with this little gem if they come up close and get personal. The tiles are the microscope slides. You are up close right from the start, and there’s nothing more to see. The detail in a large drawing is like seeing the whole landscape, then noticing a rare plant under a dry stone wall… right under your nose! How come you didn’t notice it before?

In terms of the metaphor, this is buried treasure. It’s only when you really get to know someone you notice the small and beautiful things about their bodies and their minds…

The curve of a spine, the curl of their hair, how their fingers move as they play an instrument or paint, or tend the garden, slice an apple, or stroke the cat.

It’s only when you are up close that you notice that what you thought was a brash vanity is the bravado that erupts from huge insecurities. That what you thought was rude, is actually shy and unconfident. What you thought was generosity is attention seeking behaviour…

I’ve recently been posting on instagram short videos of myself drawing, while the songs are playing in the studio. The feedback I am getting from these is interesting. They are “relaxing”, “compelling”, “I listen to the words more carefully when I watch you draw” “You seem so sure about where the pen will go, I find it reassuring, comforting”

The last three are from the same drawing, different quiet corners of a piece of paper 4” x 6” / 120 x 180 cm (approx) wide. I’ve been working on it on and off for a couple of weeks now. I keep finding more to do, I turn the paper around and draw a bit more. When I turn the paper and find no more, then it’s done. Possibly another couple of weeks? I spend a lot of time with a drawing and I know its surface well. I know its bold brashness, and I know its insecurities… 

I am prone to anthropomorphise…

 


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I have no use for a straight line

It doesn’t do anything interesting. Parallel lines are useless. They have no adventure. They’re unaffected by the world. Give me a line that meanders, takes in its surroundings. Give me a line drawn with an old pen, held in many hands. Scraped and glided along many surfaces. Buffeted by life…. give me a line that tells it’s story, that sings its song.

The line of a life that reaches a deep and profound sadness is beautiful. Some sadness is unresolvable. It must be endured. And lived with. It travels alongside you. Sometimes it’s in the front of your mind, and you can feel it in your chest, heavy. Sometimes, it drifts along, above and behind, a cloud on a string attached to your shoulder. Some days you can shut the sadness in a cupboard. But it inevitably seeps out through the keyhole and under the door. Or it comes in through the back door when you let out the cat. The line is yours. You can’t break it. Even when you die it ties itself to someone else, or is left as a trace on the earth.

Sometimes I write and then don’t know what to do with what I’ve written.

So I will let it sit here for a while… so I can revisit it and think about it.

 

 


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