The increasingly intense exploration of drawing, and the threads between words, sounds, music, lines…
My friend Stuart Mayes is an artist born in the UK, living in Sweden. He is another that I have only met once in the real world, but I still find that really hard to believe. We occasionally “meet” through the wonders of Skype. These get togethers are wonderful. He sits in his studio and I sit in mine, often both of us sewing, or doing some sort of repetitive task that requires no concentration. And we chat, as we would if we were in the same studio, not necessarily looking at each other much, popping out to go to the loo or put the kettle on (again). It can be hours… I think our record was four!
Over a period of years, we have come to know each other really well I think. We read each others blog posts and comment/respond with thoughts and work. We have a few things in common in the way we work, and think about the work, and about the Being of being an artist. So much so, that gradually, as we get to know each others work, we have started talking about doing a joint show at some point. There are places where our work overlaps in terms of materials, and processes so I think it would be interesting to curate a show where this overlap is a point of interest.
So… this real life thing is starting to coalesce into something probable out of the fog of potentiality!
I mentioned in a previous post that I am going to release a small pension in order to give myself a slightly increased regular monthly income, but also a lump sum which I have labelled my travel fund. When this actually lands I can start planning properly for my trip to Sweden. I think at some point we might try to get some funding for this joint venture, but at this point it is exploratory. But something that points to my level of commitment to this idea is the fact that I have downloaded a teach yourself Swedish app on my phone. A week in, I can tell you that my sister is tall and very funny (min syster är lång och väldigt rolig). Useful. Especially as I don’t have a sister. (Stuart, I didn’t check my spelling and the accents, so hoping I got it right).
What the process of these correspondences creates is a mind set. The act of getting in touch and having relaxed conversations creates a connection. It is fun, comforting, interesting, being in another artist’s studio to work with them, even if only in the virtual world. It is the “being” bit that we have talked about a lot. The compulsion to make, coupled with the necessity to earn a living: the efforts and sacrifices that are made in order for each side to balance.
The nature of the work we both do points to the being. I make work directly from my experiences as mother, daughter, teacher, carer… about those relationships. Stuart makes work that similarly reflects his life. Although our lives are very different, that directness is the connection between us. The things we stitch, domestic textile items and clothing, and things we find around us, magazines, books, twigs, are materials common to both of us. I think there is also a nod towards simple detail, repetition, care and precision that we both enjoy in each others work too.
I’m getting excited and looking forward to 2024.
I find myself observing again.
I draw the three hag stones in a variety of media, from all angles, in a variety of scales:
Small: with a Pentel p209 propelling pencil. This gives a smooth and consistent line. Smooth and bendable, but it is HB, so it is not smudgy. I draw on fairly ordinary sketch book quality cartridge paper. After drawing the stones from observation a few times, I find myself inventing them. Drawing stones that do not exist… although I suppose it is possible that I have drawn something that does exist, but the chances are so remote it might as well be impossible… and if this one stone does exist, what are the chances of someone finding it? I always enjoy these idle mental wranglings…
Larger: I’ve just left the studio this afternoon, with a large drawing spilling over the edges of the table (if I tidied up the books it would fit). I have drawn very large stones, about a foot or more across perhaps. These are observed drawings, with standard pencils ranging from B to 7B. I am arranging them on this paper in a way that subverts the observed perhaps. What is the point of observing them, to arrange them in an “unrealistic” pattern on the paper?
There are many ways to feed the abstraction. The earlier drawings have ended up not looking anything like the sticks I observed, but they held certain qualities of line and marks. These stones are truer to the observed, but as I add more, they become less stone-like, and gain more of the qualities seen in earlier drawings, they are natural, they hint at landscape, at constellations, at cells, at bone and body, they bubble like water…
I like taking the observed to feed into the abstractions. I like those fuzzy areas where the viewer is not sure of where the reality is. Hence the imagined stones. I play mind games with myself.
I want to fill this one sheet of large paper with real, observed stones. With little space between them. To this end I have bought a few off eBay. But if anyone wants to donate any holey hag stones to this cause let me know!
I have moved along the list of nursery rhymes in my head, to the saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”
This of course allows me to push the metaphors. At the moment I am unsure of how the stones sit in this. Other than I know they do. The words required to express this might come along later. But I trust the process. I am compelled to draw them, so there will be a reason. I just haven’t figured out the words yet.
So I continue… I have eight more sheets of the large paper to explore this. There is nothing better than this feeling. This knowing what I’m going to do when I get to the studio. I can dive deep and emerge satisfied.
It has been nearly three weeks since my last blog post… I have tried two or three times to write but nothing has quite hit the spot. The bits I started felt like place holders. Just words with nothing much to say.
This week though, I have been busy with family things. The new baby and his parents came to stay for a few days. Such a glorious distraction from absolutely everything else!
My father was Serbian, and on 14th November every year there is the Slava tradition to uphold. A celebration and thanksgiving for all things family, spreading out across the world to all our cousins, aunts and uncles. That is why my own family were gathered in, and travelled to my older brother who hosts the day, and we take our contributions in a selection of tins and boxes full of baked goods and bottles. As the baby’s first Slava, it felt particularly poignant.
I said these things were a distraction, but of course, now we have scattered again, I see that the occasion was also another opportunity for me to soak up these relationships, feel the love, share the experience of a close and loving family, appreciate it, and consider.
Yesterday as I drove into Birmingham with Helen Garbett to the RBSA’s Members and Associates PV, I talked about all these aspects of my multi-disciplinary practice and how it would be nice to have a short paragraph, a sentence or two that tied everything together. This morning, I realise that I can consider these aspects the family of my practice. I can pull them together for special occasions, they are related, but they also have their own lives to lead. This is a useful analogy, because it stops me worrying about the tying together so much. They don’t need to live in each others pockets. I don’t always have to be drawing songs. I can really push this analogy too… there are aspects I love, but don’t get on with as well as others; there are those I love deeply but definitely don’t see enough of; those I see only through my screen; those I get to hold close; those I know really well; and those I wish I knew better; those I understand; those I don’t.
So today, once my new stock of giant paper arrives, (hurry up FedEx) I shall head into the studio and continue the drawing of the stones I swapped at Kate Murdoch’s 10×10 installation.
I am enjoying the close observational drawing of these natural objects. Following on from the twigs, this seems a natural progression. The childhood nursery rhymes move along from five, six, pick up sticks, to sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. This new focus gives me the opportunity to re-introduce the words back into the family.
This will keep me happy for a while. Practice as Family. I will no doubt talk about it now I’ve hit on it… quite a lot… to get a handle on it. So let that be a warning to those people who usually find themselves on the receiving end of my ramblings… and also a preemptive thank you for joining in the conversation that helps me pull the idea together.
I go through cycles of thinking about My Art Career… and not giving a stuff about any sort of any career. I’m 62. Sort of retirement age, trying desperately to release some pension to boost my income a bit, to take the pressure off. (Computer systems updates and portal refreshing seems to be holding me back, but I am trying!)
Art is the only thing I’ve ever really cared about in terms of progression, vocation, work ethic. I taught for 35 years or so in a variety of settings with students ranging from 3 to 83 years, but it wasn’t a career, it was funding. When I have taught and mentored other artists it has often been rewarding in terms of my own development. Teaching children and young adults and older adults can be really good fun, and rewarding in a different way, but I always had one eye on when I could stop. But what I have now I don’t see myself ever stopping. This is it now till the end, for as long as I can manage it.
I know other (possibly younger) artists who are always looking at the next big thing, where they should be looking to show their work, who they should meet, where they should go to do these things. I wish them well, and admire their drive, but frankly I can’t be arsed.
Most, if not all, of the things I found myself doing have happened by accident. Somebody asks me, and I say yes. I rarely put myself forward for anything. My upbringing tells me this isn’t right. It doesn’t feel right. It feels egotistical, boasty, trumpet blowery, and a bit rude. So what I do is manufacture my own things and hope for the best. Then people I have met ask me to join in with them, and sometimes I ask them to join in with me. It might seem a bit incestuous, closed circle cliquey, but gradually the circle widens.
This week my circle has widened: to Athens, via Liverpool (thanks again Wendy Williams). Whoever knew that could be a thing? If my damn pension thing gets sorted, I am planning a travel fund, so that maybe, this time next year when someone says “Fancy going to the Art Fair in Athens?” Instead of just posting my work, I can go myself.
I expect that is the sort of thing Career people do. But when I do it I will be going with friends, looking at art and talking about all sorts of stuff. It won’t be Networking. Networking makes me feel a bit queasy.
I unexpectedly find myself in deep-dive.
I have that itchy feeling in my fingers and my brain is running wild and I’m finding it hard to switch off.
Real life interferes with my train of thought and it would be easy to resent that. I’m obsessed with my latest drawing. The mutation I wrote about in the previous post is continuing. Another injection of a new material, in this case charcoal, and I’m riveted and finding it hard to leave the studio. Now charcoal isn’t a thing I usually go for. It’s not clean enough… but I wanted a particular depth of black, and I wanted to be able to work into it and over it. So I put it down where I needed it to be, immobilised it with layers of fixative, washed my hands and carried on working. What I get from that dull, dense, deep blackness is the ability to polish over some of it with the sheen of the graphite. I’m also able to press into the blackness and pick up the texture with the silveriness… delicious.
But because it’s a new way of going about things, I’m unsure of composition, and transitions from one way of working to another… how do I work across from that to the embossed areas of the paper?
This is where the excitement lies, because it’s on a knife edge. I do these things instinctively but I have to concentrate or it could all go tits up at any moment!
All of these ways of being cycle around… this period of mystery, after a period of repetition and practice, turns into a magical period of mastery, where I feel on top of the world and in control… and then undoubtedly after I while I will become bored and feel I’m no longer getting anything accomplished. Then the whole thing starts again, and for ages it will seem like every drawing I do is rubbish. These are the days when it’s easy to leave the studio to get on with the rest of my life. So some sort of balance is there if I wait long enough, but it’s not the sort of balance that’s easy to plan around!