Dear Readers,

Quick question…

I’ve been communicating with a couple of galleries, nice places, very approachable, no problem there… but they are booking exhibitions three years in advance. They would be delighted to receive a proposal from me, so they say, but….

Do I write a proposal to exhibit this work I’m doing now, even though in three years time it will be a bit tired… and so will I… and will have moved on (one would hope)

or I do I stretch myself into the world of clairvoyance and write something speculative and vague?

I would like to show this work in a twelve month time-frame ideally… but am I being ridiculously naive here?

Please remember if/when you answer, that despite my advanced years, I am still very new to all this business!

Thank you





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I’ve been thinking about the educational contexts I find myself in… have found myself in… and how my work is influenced by my life in education…


My own early education wasn’t that unusual I suppose… I can remember the things I learnt from my mother, and from adventuring in the rural world I lived in, far more clearly than my formal education in a catholic primary school in Worcestershire. I remember occasional unfair punishments… several hard slaps on the backs of my thighs because I wouldn’t eat pickled beetroot (which I still loathe). And having to cross the playground to the church to find the priest in order to confess I had slapped Desmond. (can’t remember why I had slapped Desmond, but you can bet he asked for it, horrible boy!) I remember the peripheral things… warm milk in real bottles with straws …pretend to drink until Terry had drunk his, then swap his empty bottle so he could drink mine too (still loathe milk).

To a couple of teachers, I know I was a nuisance. I know they hated having me in their classroom. I was occasionally disruptive, but, I think, incredibly insightful, funny and clever (what did I know? I was seven!) Some teachers, I know, loved me for it. Those are the ones I loved right back. Mrs McEnnis, Mrs Marsh, I salute you!


I took, and passed the eleven plus, which confused not only me, but the people who then had to educate me. A clever creative – dear God no! The grammar school I attended I suffered fairer punishments in, for rather typical teenage infringements: for outlawed heavy black mascara, black tights, obscene poems in my geography notebook, and forged letters to get out of PE… apparently writing my lines with a calligraphy pen and purple ink was seen as a subversive act. My teachers were either guitar-playing hippies, or ancient, injured war heroes with a propensity for occasional and unheralded violence.


The careers advice was non existent, they clearly didn’t want me to stay to do A levels, and I didn’t want to stay either… so I was packed off to Art College over the hills in Herefordshire… oh the joy! But I didn’t want to do what they told me either, really…. and scraping my way through that for two years, ended up at Birmingham Polytechnic, doing a course that someone else had done, that they had enjoyed, but not really looking at what I might enjoy myself, so I lasted a year, and stormed out before they threw me out.


After a while as a card carrying member of the UB40 club, I got a job teaching a variety of crafts to patients in the Occupational Therapy dept of a psychiatric hospital, until I had my first son about five years later, then as he grew, I found myself painting and making play dough with a bunch of toddlers in a college nursery. The college needed a tutor for some special needs adults and someone found out about me, and I sort of landed a job, where I sort of taught art and crafts, until my son went to school. And then I sort of had to do a teaching course, or lose my job, so I did. After swearing I would never go back into education, there I was… Higher Education, whether I wanted it or not… and the irony of it being a teaching course was not lost on me.


But I found I liked it. I’m still not really sure why. I taught at the same time as I learned, for several years. Then it all got a bit too much, being not only told what to do, but how to do it, and with what resources. The creativity fell out of the whole process and I snapped…


After what appears to be a fifteen year interview at my sons’ school… another catholic primary school… I landed a sort of teaching job there, as an artist teacher, doing quite a lot of what I wanted, painting walls, making stuff, getting over-excited with a bunch of children…especially the ones that found it hard to sit still and conform. For ten years I did that, also learning at the same time… I did an Open University degree, did the Artists teacher scheme (twice), and then, good grief… MA in Art Practice and Education…

Until someone new came in and started thinking she could tell me what to do…

I snapped again, and eventually, a term later, walked out of the school and into my studio full time.

The educational environments I find myself in now are those that suit me. I go in, make stuff with children, talk to them, laugh with them, and walk away. I don’t have to do as I’m told for too long at a time. I don’t have to tell them what to do either… and actually, within that structure, I can affect small changes and make things how I want to… interact with them how I want to.

Or, I talk to adult students, mostly about my own work, experiences, and thoughts. I think, because of my age and experiences with education and its limitations and the way it hasn’t always suited me, either as teacher or learner, I am ideally placed to encourage.

My favourite ways to interact with people in these educational environments are very low key, chatting to children while they manipulate clay, either about the clay or the not-clay. Not really looking at them, just side by side, playing and talking. These are the best bits. This is when you hear the good stuff.

With adults, actually, particularly women, I like the fact that I can show them that whatever they think is ok. They don’t need my approval or anyone else’s. I like the authority that age appears to have conferred. I have done a lot, often the wrong way round, often at odds with the establishment. It is possible to do that. I like seeing the art that women produce that stems from their lives and their thoughts. I like it when they stop apologising for it.

My work has developed from my life, and these children and these women. I steal their stories sometimes, and mix them in with mine. I sing the songs about them and for them. I like that now, my teaching and my learning, and my practice is all the same thing. It’s taken me a long time to get here, but the beetroot, the mascara, the play dough, the songs and the bras…. they’re all part of it.



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Thinking about Sonia Buoé’s response to my last post on nine women… Precision.
Where does precision come from?
My stitching is precise. Now, it is how my hands speak for me, and possibly other romantic clap-trap. I’ve been doing the stitching a long time. Precision there is now effortless, thoughtless. There’s a haptic joy to be had from having over 40 yrs experience at doing something physical to the point where it becomes as mindless as breathing. Precision comes from those years. My eyes and hands know- actually my hands probably could do it by themselves.
Music, I was thinking, needed a different sort of precision. But I think, perhaps, I’m wrong. I think, in terms of music, I am looking at four years rather than forty, that’s all.
I watch Dan noodling about on his guitar and see that same mastery. And more so perhaps, after listening to a piece of music, after one listen, he truly hears it, precision…. He has heard the minutiae I only get when it is pointed out, or after the twentieth listen…

You know when you watch a child trying to master something? Furrowed brow, tongue out, clumsy fingers? That’s me.
And then you know when you watch a child who has mastered something? The small smile, the gleam in their eye, the dexterity, the chest-out pride in them?
And then the complete acceptance of that mastery- an unawareness of how special it is? They’ve moved on to a new challenge…
I have over the years been very privileged to see this happen over and over again.
That is the joy of teaching, particularly in primary. It is also the reason I stopped. There is such a requirement to measure and count now. Such an emphasis on the measurable, that the unmeasurable things are being cast aside. To me, the unmeasurables are the most important. I could see the time approaching when I would no longer have the time to nurture this and watch it happen, hell no… It wasn’t approaching, it had been hammering on the door for a couple of years. I’d just managed to ignore it, and due to a brilliant head teacher, even been protected from it.

I fear for the generation being taught in this way. It seems to be more about grading a school and degrading a teacher rather than nurturing a child and give them a love of learning and an appreciation of mastery. There is no time in amongst the crammed, weighted curriculum for them to discover their own skills, merely to discover what they are not-good-enough at.

I have two sons who are teachers. I fear for them too. Because they know how it should be, how it has been, how it could be, and are working with the almost entirely measurable. I hope they are able during their careers to see the pendulum swing back…

Maybe this is why my venture into the musical feels so wonderful?
It is fresh, challenging, difficult, hard work. My mastery of some part of it a long way off yet. I don’t know which bit I can master, or even if I am capable of that. But the effort makes me feel young. I forget the fact my knees are shot to shit, I take less painkillers when I am absorbed in this. I cannot feel bone scraping against bone when I write a really good line, or a bit of melody that fits it.

I strive for precision here. I have through some fluke of circumstance managed to surround myself with people who are nurturing me and feeding my still new obsession.
I hope I live long enough to appreciate the moment when I can do it without my tongue stuck out of the corner of my mouth…..


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This might seem ridiculous, but I am currently experiencing a small amount of panic. I know that it may be induced or exacerbated by insomnia. If I look back at previous times I can reassure myself it is temporary, part of the cycle. I bite it back to keep it small. I make a conscious effort to not let it win.
I have a year’s work ahead of me. A year of making, recording, playing, performing, exhibiting. For the first time ever, it is going to be paid. I sink myself into the luxury of this. I appreciate it more than words can say.
Nonetheless I feel that panic.

What next?

I told you it was ridiculous.
“Next” doesn’t need to turn up for months yet! I’ve never experienced “next” not turning up! This work grew from the last, that work grew from the work before. So why on earth do I feel this panic?

Because THIS work feels really good. This work feels like the best I’ve done. This feels real, coherent, integrated, totally me… This feels like work I breathe. It’s fitting… I struggle with some of the output, it challenges me, but it feels more right than anything up to this point.

So what if this is it?
The last thing I do that feels this way?

Hence the panic.

I post this here on Threads as it doesn’t really have anything specifically to do with the “nine women” project. It is a general observation of my working cycle… Part of the pattern of my practice. It’s more useful to have it here. So that when it happens next time… And the rational part of my brain tells me it will… I can refer to this and reassure myself out of the next bout of panic.

Get some sleep, Elena.