The increasingly intense exploration of drawing, and the threads between words, sounds, music, lines…
The increasingly intense exploration of drawing, and the threads between words, sounds, music, lines…
So here are some of my twigs… results of the playing so far:
Six boxes/seed trays. They are crudely made, rough sawn and I really like them. They are functional and any beauty is in the basic material, not the manufacture.
I gather what I have collected and made, into groups. Each type of fabric speaks a different language. There’s ivory silk, medical swab loosely woven cotton, scrim, cotton lawn, linen, calico, cotton muslin… some very cheap, some expensive, but nothing new (unless you count the medical swab squares which are old but obviously not used! Ha!) The cloth has been collected from: a wedding dress, children’s clothes, men’s work shirts, women’s dresses, table and bed linen, and the donated old swabs of course… I’ve had the pack in my collection for years, just waiting for the right way to use it.
Some fabric initially I found more satisfactory to work with than others. The swabs for instance are so loosely woven I need to use a lot to cover the twigs and the finished appearance is quire hairy. The silk is quite the opposite. But, when there are lots together in a box, they take on a different character, and now, I have a fondness for the roughness, the hairyness…
The silk is expensive, the wrapping with that is smooth and easy, but underneath, they are all from the same box of twigs. The bones of them are the same.
I didn’t originally like the printed cotton lawn, but actually, they are quite cheerful and jolly. The contrast between the box of colour, and the black-painted box with the silk twigs in is pleasing.
As I wrap, I also draw. I have almost completed the A3 sketchbook, currently standing at 155 twig drawings, grouped at about five to a page.
Every drawing different, every twig different, every child different. I still don’t know where this will end up, but I feel it has some mileage in it yet. I will continue to collect, draw, wrap, assemble in different ways… and look for ways to display and show to others.
I enjoy thinking about processes. I like to see how other people work and I quite like to analyse my own processes. This comes in part from a desire to not panic about periods of what seems like not-working… or periods of mindless repetitive activity that seem devoid of thought and consideration.
I have been really busy in other parts of my life lately, and now that has finished, I found I just wanted to be in the studio making. The making I had lined up was the work concerning twigs. I wanted to just get here, draw half a day, then wrap up the twigs I had drawn. I have about 150 wrapped twigs and the target is to get about 800. So this is the period of mindless repetition. It’s actually quite joyful and restful as I don’t need to think about it. My decisions about materials and method have been made, I just need to get on and do it.
I started to think, while I was wrapping, about where this idea had come from and the process the thinking followed, and I realised this is common for me.
I’ve drawn a cyclical diagram, but the point I am going to jump into that cycle to explain what is going on, is the bit where I am hanging finished work, because every end holds a beginning right?
So while I was curating and hanging Drawing Songs, as I assessed what had been made/drawn/recorded etc over the two week exhibition period, I started to think what would be the next thing to work on. What had I learned, what had this project done for me? I felt somewhat drained by it. There is a level of exhaustion and relief that comes at the end of a project (yes, I do seem to work on projects, one at a time?). So I started to think about what would be needed to refresh me. The abstractions were organic forms, and as I looked at them I found myself thinking that in order to feed the abstraction, what I needed to do was spend a while with reality. Go back to the observational, to the primary source, the raw material. This was to be my next period of development. Once the work was packed away, labelled and stored, I cleared the trappings of the exhibition process and period from my table and started to think about drawing from observation again, and of course, I would be thinking about natural forms… leaves… trees… flowers… feathers… seashells… water… clouds… but what actually happened was during a walk in the park after a very windy weekend, I started to pick up twigs blown down to the paths. They were covered in lichens and moss. On some the bark was peeling… so I filled my shopping bag and brought them to the studio, along with a new A3 sketchbook. On the first page I drew the first few twigs out of the bag, arranged separately like specimens. Drawn with fine ink line, no shadow, all tone built with line. I read about the lichens – did you know some lichens only grow 1mm per year – did I really have in front of me 50 years of growth on this gnarled twig? I started to think about the building up of time. Some of the twigs had buds. Some were very brittle and dry. All sorts, and very interesting to draw! I decided very early on, within the first half dozen pages that this book would only be for twig drawings. Not only that, but they would all be done in the same way with the same pens. A catalogue of sorts. When I had drawn the twigs they were put into a basket under the desk, so I didn’t accidentally draw them more than once.
Then of course, give any artist a load of objects and they will start to play with them and think about the possibilities. I had said I would just put them onto the compost heap once I had drawn them, but this did seem to be a bit of a waste. So yes, I started to play with them. I painted a few, a broke a few up, and then started to wrap one or two of them with some fabric scraps I had on the shelf behind me. I often return to the textile when I play. It is a language I am familiar with, so I can concentrate on what I think about the objects I am wrapping. I started experimenting with different types of fabric and different methods of wrapping, stitching, or not stitching? An idea started to form about these twigs being individuals. At the same time I was reading an article about child poverty. The high numbers of children in the UK living in poverty (31% across the country, obviously higher in some areas, in some demographics). So I started to talk about it to people. And then I made a decision to make an installation that represented all the children in one particular area in the town where I live, who live in poverty. (See post from April 1st – 760 children).
So now having had thoughts, done a bit of reading, talked to people and experimented, I am now in the process of drawing and wrapping all these twigs. A mindless and repetitive making. It is comforting and reassuring to know what I am doing. It won’t last long, but while it does last, it makes me happy.
I am looking at spaces where I might exhibit them, and at how I might display them, as each method of display highlights some different characteristic of the work.
This cycle of work development isn’t a regular, one speed process, and sometimes I might pick up a “miss a go” card, and sometimes take two steps back, or leap forward at any time, but it is a process that follows this path, for pretty much every project I have done.
Following on from the last post about being a quiet and slow professional, I am also rediscovering the playful.
Without the stresses inherent in the publicly funded project, I can be more random and playful. Even as part of the publicly funded project run by someone else! I think I spoke before about how great it feels to participate but not have the responsibility for it!
So the other day, after we at Radio Public had the idea to make more radios, I spent the afternoon making a fabric radio. I gathered a few scraps together, a bootlace, milliners’ wire, some old garment labels, a little box, some packaging materials and (a last minute stroke of genius if I might say so myself) a handful of little bells – because every radio has a jingle!
I had hours of fun making this:
Having thought I’d have some quiet time, my diary yet again seems to have filled up all by itself!
I had wanted some studio days of just drawing, and twig wrapping, either in silence, or listening to gentle music. I might even come home early for an afternoon nap to make up for the early waking and an inability to get back to sleep.
But June, having just turned the page on the calendar, is packed!
In a fit of organised professional confidence, I entered work for the RBSA Members and Associates Show in June, when they reopen the gallery after a really comprehensive refurbishment programme. I have been rather brave and speculative and have entered two connected pieces: A wooden seed tray of silk-wrapped twigs, and an ink drawing of twigs, using another seed tray as a frame. This is a bit of a departure of style… a turn back to the textile and stitch, but on a much smaller scale than previous installation pieces such as Nine Women, Drawing Songs or Are You Listening? The pieces themselves are smaller, and currently just fill the seed tray. But my intention is to keep going until I have hundreds of wrapped twigs. I am trying out different ways to present these fragile pieces, to see how many different ways they can be read. I am approaching other galleries to spread myself, and this tale, out a little further. But the admin of this takes time and focus away from the making.
I’ve also entered the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize again. Each time I do it I say I won’t do it again. But I had the work in front of me, my camera set up and my credit card out, so why not eh? So in the one afternoon, I submitted to both. I can forget about it now. Except if I get long-listed I will have to rush them to the framers to get them done ready for delivery.
The Sitting Room have started to get bookings again, and therefore have started rehearsing in earnest. This is somewhat easier now we are currently a trio again and are all available during the day. What is wonderful about this is we have so many new songs written by email over the last couple of years, we can now get together and work them up into performable pieces. We have the time to work out some gentle three-part harmonies properly. This is what feels good when performing: well rehearsed singing and playing, and feeling part of something special. The songs are good. We do tire of playing the same things over and over, but, when there is little rehearsal time, gigs that are close together tend to be similar sets. The idea is to get together more, so that a wider range of these new songs (and old) are at our fingertips, to ring the changes.
I’ve composed a short piece for the Radio Public event on July 9th. I shall possible do another, longer piece if I get the time. But I’m quite pleased with it as it sits so far. Feedback has mentioned “hypnotic” and “like a slow work-song”… I’ll take that!
I also find myself being rather more active politically, albeit in a small way. I can’t traipse the streets to campaign, but I can make protest placards, and help others do the same… I can show youngsters how to make zines, to get a message across quickly, cheaply and in a more interesting, personal way. So a couple of days I am doing that. The gathering of materials and equipment will take a while too. But what this does is make ME feel better. I was feeling helpless and frustrated. This might not be much, but it is something, and I can do it easily.
Maybe I’ll have a nap in July?
Or some reading time?
I’m still picking up and dipping into Tim Ingold’s Correspondences. These essays inspire me… my thoughts about my own work, but also for lyric writing… the sounds of snow; the nature of flight; the attitudes of the mountaineer towards the mountain… all have inspired small sections of responsive writing that will at some point coalesce into lyrics. For now I am mulling them over… they lie down to mulch a while.
I’ve also been listening to Andy Mort’s podcast about gentle rebellion,
introversion and sensitivity… and Kathryn Williams’ podcast about sleep, with her gentle soft and low voice, sends me to sleep too soon and I have to listen again in the morning.
I need to remind myself to be a whole person…it’s not all about applications and submissions, but spending time thinking while making. Relaxing into it, allowing myself time… not just a snatched hour here and there, but good solid hours of making and thinking in order to dive deep. And then of course, to keep gently moving so I don’t seize up. I have almost completely healed from the falling over at the end of April – I can’t believe it has taken so long – and so now I am starting to get back to walking more every day, and increasing the distance in the hope of getting back to where I was a six weeks ago!
There is a thought in my head that to be a professional artist I need to run myself ragged to prove something… and yet I know that this is not the case. I can be a gentle, slow professional.
I’ve had a few days to rest and reflect on the exhibition preview and the launch gig.
The preview was the biggest I’ve ever been to. And monumentally bigger than any art event I’ve ever been part of. I was glad to be there and it was important I was there and felt part of it. Surrounded by it.
It was crowded though, and hot. Two of my least favourite conditions. It was at times claustrophobic – even in the huge gallery space. I swallowed down a couple of impulses to bolt. It was challenging. It was lovely though to see my friends there, my peers, and to feel part of this, and feel that I belonged… for fleeting moments at least. I do feel the work is right on the wall. But I still feel a little uncomfortable in this environment… a little shy… I talk to the people a know and I sip my apple juice and check out routes to the exits. This isn’t the place where I am socially comfortable… I feel a bit inept.
I had said I would stay to hear speeches and then leave for my next engagement, only to discover I had missed them completely because there was no calling together, no amplification. I was not in the right place at the right time at all. I had been excluded by circumstance. So, slightly disappointed but basically feeling that I’d been put in my place and that such speeches were not for the likes of me anyway… I left under a cloud of imposter syndrome and made my way outside into fresh air and headed over to the other side of Birmingham.
Still hobbling a bit, with the aid of a stick I have sworn to myself is temporary, I was concerned about parking close by. As we drove down the high street, I spotted the venue on the right, just as a car pulled out of a parking space on the left. My heart beat settled a little, and we arrived just in time to see the end of the first half, and to get a drink. In a much smaller group I felt comforted and loved. I had time to catch my breath, get comfortable and chat during the interval. I was physically and metaphorically hugged.
We did the best set I think we’ve done for ages. It was well received, I was relaxed, in control, and in the words of Elliot Smith
“In the place where I make no mistakes*
in the place where I have what it takes,”
* apart from forgetting the words occasionally, but I’m getting better at it, and nobody seems to mind that much