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I read Stuart Mayes’ blog with interest as he also searches for studio space…

This week I stepped my own search up a bit, in that I became rather more proactive, and instead of whinging online and looking at websites, I actually made a phone call and made an actual appointment to meet an actual person from Birmingham Council Property Services to actually look at actual spaces!
I felt like the spectres of Kirstie and Phil were exasperatingly berating me and spouting “You can’t expect to find a property just by looking online!”

The focus of my search this week was Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. From where I live, about seven miles out, this is my side of the city. I don’t have to weave my way through too much traffic to get there. On a good day it takes twenty minutes (Dudley on a bad day took more than that, so that’s how I justify the extra time)

It was a good day to look at these places, the sun was shining, the sky was blue!

The search has very specific criteria, some of which are more flexible than others, but include the following:

24 hour access
A decent toilet
Good natural light
Not damp
Around 200 sq ft for less than £200 per month. (This is possible around here, you southerners may gasp in envy if you like!)
Quiet enough to record, but no neighbours likely to be too disturbed if I make noise

It is because of the final item on the list I have crossed off some of the places with artist communities in Digbeth. The JQ seems more conducive to this sort of creative activity. I already know of other musicians working in this area. Also the buildings are very much older than some I have looked at in Digbeth. All of the buildings I saw were Victorian, and with strong solid walls….ish… (See below)

So…
Property number 1:

Ground floor. Much less than the required 200sq ft, but I was told there may be access to a basement space in addition, so I said I’d give it some consideration. It was a square room, about 165 sq ft, with a sink in the corner (extra £25 per annum). Slippery brick stairs to cellar, which was more wet than damp, so totally unusable. The window was into a courtyard, so light restricted for most of the day. Toilet access across the courtyard. Crossed this one off the list.

Property number 2:

Ground floor again. Long thin space, interesting, carpeted, heated, kitchen area, but stinks of damp. I am assured it has been treated and with use the smell would dissipate. I cannot risk it. Fabric and paper do not do well in damp conditions. Another no.

Property number 3:

First floor. Smaller again than required, but the light was good, little separate kitchen area, and a good toilet along the corridor. Needed a coat of paint, all utilities in good working order. Would be perfect for just me, but not for sharing. I can’t afford to go it alone. Not totally dismissed, but a maybe.

Property number 4:

Now here’s where it gets tricky… You know that thing estate agents do, when they show you something you can’t afford, but they know it would be perfect for you? That.
First floor of lovely Victorian corner building, so windows on two sides, the light from these high windows, even though very dirty, was fantastic! It was three adjoining rooms, but 375 sq ft… So too expensive, even with a discount…. The discount was because the electrics and plumbing were well dodgy. There was even a one month rent free incentive to enable the work to be done before moving in. Under the sink that had obvious issues, the flooring had been pulled back to reveal rotting floorboards, the extent of this damage as yet unknown… It was presumed an isolated problem due to the water damage. At this point it didn’t seem necessary to investigate further.
The three rooms had tatty work surface around much of the walls, some is useful, some would need to be removed. A lot of white paint would be needed!
Anyway… It was, despite the damage, pretty much perfect. If I had a couple of thousand to attend to the damage, and a slightly larger income, I’d move in now. I think Dan and I could make this a really amazing place. That’s the danger isn’t it? I could ACTUALLY see us working in it!

*Sigh*

But Kirstie and Phil know their stuff. I have learned more in a couple of hours than in a couple of months fannying about on the Internet.
I have discovered that square footage is not as important as I thought, that I would consider a smaller space if all the other criteria were in place. State of the walls is not important, and I am willing to consider work if there is a rent discount involved. I have discovered that I prefer the vibe of the JQ over Digbeth. And the bacon butties are cheaper.

Discussion is required. I need to get out the calculator again. A little bit more well paid work could clinch it. A handyman on tap perhaps….

And if Kirstie and Phil want to bring their mighty property search muscles and negotiating skills into this hunt they’d be very welcome!


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A couple of years ago I nearly killed myself having allergic reaction to the wool fibres of the ww2 army greatcoat I was cleaning up ready to work on for “Colonize”. I dived in, brushing up the dust and loose fibres, inhaling….. Then wondered why within fifteen minutes I was coughing, couldn’t see through swollen eyelids and my face itched so badly I wanted to peel it off…

I am an artist who works with textiles, how can I possibly forget that I have a wool allergy? Bloody stupid!

So… Wind on a couple of years….
In my previous post I described and photographed the little hand knitted doll’s vest. I have decided to work out the pattern and make some more.  I headed off to the haberdashers of the Black Country in search of a matching ball of wool. Yes. You heard me. Wool.
In the evening, I knitted one and a half vests, I adjusted the pattern as I went along. Then I had to stop, because I stopped being able to focus because my eyes were watering… Ffs! How stupid can I be? I am an artist who works with textiles. How difficult can it be to remember that one single fact? I stood in the shop telling the assistant that it had to be wool or a wool blend, and definitely not acrylic! Thing is if I just take the simple precaution of tying a cotton scarf around my face like a cowboy, and take an antihistamine BEFORE I start, I’m fine!

But I was right, it did have to be wool.

Now, the morning after as I finish this post with still puffy eyes I’m wondering why it couldn’t be acrylic? There was one ball there that was a good colour match… And no one would know unless I let them touch them (and they knew about these things)…

There it is… That’s the thing: touch.
Wool feels like wool as I knit it. Some of you out there will know what a hand knitted wool vest feels like next to your skin. To me as a child it was a torture… The itching that occurred especially if I got hot. As I got older it got worse and my mother realised that it wasn’t just me moaning, you can’t fake the rash! So of course it has to be wool. It is about the touch and the relationship. So today as I begin to knit with my scarf round my face and after setting the alarm on my phone, those will be where my thoughts stray.

Oh yes… The alarm… I didn’t tell you about that did I?

I love knitting and go at it like a mad woman in an attic as if there was  some sort of bearded fellow turning it to gold or something….. Anyway…. After the episode when I stitched myself into needing medical intervention and six weeks off work for tenosinivitis, I have to limit my time at knitting….

(I’ve decided I need a lot of these little vests… Let me know if you’re up for a bit of voluntary participation and I’ll send you the wool and a pattern!)

I just hope it’s worth it. Because at the moment I don’t really know why I’m doing it.


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The project in my head that concerns chairs is on the back burner. I don’t have the space at the moment to explore it. It will get done, but not here at home, and not now. It can wait.

Until then though I am a little rudderless. I’m not sure what to make, if to make, what to write and if I should write. Writing takes up less space, true. But curiously, I have found that if I am not making, the writing doesn’t come so easily… there’s a vacuum in which it struggles to survive.

I have been worrying about it, to be honest. But, as time has gone on I have decided, and managed, to let it go. I’ll have the space, the work will be made, the brain will kick into gear and away we will go. It is all part of the cycle of my creativity. At some point, it will settle again.

Meanwhile, back in the world that other people call Real, I take a break from the domestic and trot off to Bridgnorth with my friend *brief tourist announcement: It’s lovely, go!*

We drink tea, eat cake, walk around the hill and look at the views across the river, its a cold crisp day… little bit rainy… but still a good day out. (The company helps, thank you H!) Hats are bought, loud laughs are had, and we wander about vintage and junk shops.

Now, If I’m honest, other people’s work in galleries doesn’t really inspire me. It is usually resolved according to someone else thoughts… so while I find it interesting, it doesn’t often make me want to rush home and work.

Junk shops however, especially those with a lean towards the domestic and the textile, hold untold stories, and really get me going. I wandered about, fingering things, picking up, putting down, putting together, not really with any great thought as to why. Its like my fingers know what they are looking for. Handling is important. That is why most of the time (apart from bacon-sandwich-eating-chocolate-smeared-mechanics) I am happy – I encourage – the handling of my work. Most of my pleasure has come from the handling of the items and materials. To deny the audience is denying them a huge chance of connection in the way that I connect.

I reach the front of the shop and chat to the owner almost unaware of the collected items in my hand, and almost unconsciously pay for them, and push them into my bag.

 

Inventory:

1 fragment of christening gown, cotton, including panels of drawn thread work, broderie Anglaise and lace, pin tucks and hand embroidery. Machine construction, age unknown – guess early 20th C.

2 fragments white fabric trim with bobbly bits, about 12 inches long

1 fragment white ric-rac also 12 inches long, stained slightly.

1 skein unbleached linen thread

6 single keys

1 bunch of 3 keys.

1 doll’s jumper, hand knitted, cream, with ribbon tie

 

This morning’s work has been to use the linen to stitch a key onto the jumper. God knows why! But I like it…

As I stitch I think of secrets and lies and overheard and eavesdropped conversations… things that children hear but don’t understand… perhaps…


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BEWARE… ranting, sweeping statements and controversial opinions lurk in the text below:

My involvement in arts education as a (sometimes loosely defined) teacher has taken a sort of scatter gun approach, but has taken in every stage from pre-school to post graduate, and in all sorts of settings, formal and informal, universities, schools, sheds, galleries and the occasional village hall and church.

My focus as an educator these days falls mostly into the post-grad. I find I get less snot on my jumper that way.

I’m currently in the processes of organising an event for artist educators, through the Artist Teacher Scheme at Birmingham City University.

(I’m not writing this as an advert, but if you are interested, the information and ticket booking can be found here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/practice-imperfect-tickets-21203642666?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=cp&utm-term=listing )

Prompted by this, a conversation has started about all sorts of things around the education of artists including how to actually exist and earn a living. The Arts Council England’s new application portal has come in for criticism too. Sonia Boué’s “Barcelona in a Bag” blog continues that conversation and includes a very handy video about applying for funding. But the common thread that crops up over and over is “Why aren’t we taught this stuff?” I suspect, in part, because the people doing the educating don’t know either, because they are in Education. So many of the artists I know don’t apply for funding because it is such a foggy issue… what exactly ARE the secret words/ knocks/ handshakes? The ACE form when I filled it in for Nine Women was very very time consuming and difficult and although I got lots of help and advice it took me six weeks to collect all the information I needed, sign up all those crucial names and numbers, and then write the right words. Six weeks is a long time. Good job I had nothing better to do like, ermmm, earn a living!

So… transparency… I had a successful ACE application, just the one. It was difficult, but ultimately brilliant. Well worth the time I spent doing it. But that has now run out and I find myself still without a studio and without much of an income. But if anyone wants to talk about the process, I’m happy to help.

Don’t get me started on the whole “do more teaching” thing, because if I did more work for someone else, I wouldn’t make the art. Everyone decides where there own line on time/money has to be… and it moves throughout your life.

Applying for funding is a horrible thing to spend time doing. If I weirdly find myself in the mood, I apply for everything I come across all at the same time. This of course then results in all the rejections arriving at the same time too, but hey ho!

Young artists (well, some) graduate thinking it is possible to earn a living just making the art. I can’t think of an artist that I know who isn’t getting the money from somewhere else to support their art habit. I am teaching in universities and galleries and the occasional school (see snot reason above). Most of the people close to me are earning a living doing arts-related jobs at least, but many find this rather soul destroying and a couple have said they would rather do something in Sainsbury’s then at least they would be able to think about their own art while they stacked the shelves, rather than their students’ or someone else’s.

We have to start teaching students the Business of Art. We have to live, in the real world, bills have to be paid. It shouldn’t be the case that a woman in her middle age has to scurry about asking important people stupid questions… but that is what I did.

This education has to continue. The letters CPD trip off the lips of teachers on a regular basis, so much so they lose their meaning. But I WANT CPD! I want CPD that helps me to continue along this path I have chosen, and will provide me with the means to generate some cash. I promise to spread it about to other artists – I already did. I want to learn more, and develop in a continuous, professional manner. I don’t want to do a PhD, but that is what is expected post-MA. It isn’t right for all of us.

All of the current issues about art in the curriculum and so on are inextricably linked to this. How can we expect others to value us if we don’t value ourselves? How artists earn a living is currently not transparent. It needs to be. No wonder parents don’t want their children to “Do Art”. If we swan about, not earning money and not being professional, it will only get worse. If we have this wishy-washy attitude to exactly HOW an artist can earn money, and have little cliques of people who have a little pot of money that they won’t tell anyone about for fear of it getting stolen, no one learns or earns anything. When actually, if you have a bit of funding, spread the news, tell everyone how to do it, and spread the cash too. A little bit of arts funding goes a long way, and has more of an effect than the economical. We need a micro-economy here… lend/give someone a fiver. Charge no interest. Support a kickstarter campaign for a couple of quid. I guarantee you will get it back when it is your turn.

It doesn’t have to be a big project, it might be manageable in whatever the rest of your life is doing. They key is getting on with it, but treat it professionally and conduct yourself as such.

Be Transparent.

Be Evangelical.

Be a Professional Artist…

…even if for 40 hours a week you are stacking shelves in Asda. Get used to telling people what you are doing, and who you are.

 

 

So… it was important to me personally, when talking about what sort of event we planned for Artist Educators next month, that we talked about arts practice that didn’t just sit in The Studio. This event is about artists that do it in their school lunch times at their desks amongst the marking, on their laps in front of the tv with their children, on their laptops, on the train to work, and while they run… and into their dictaphones in the car, and on the back of the gas bill… and on their phone…

…and in their heads.

 


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Work is being done, but  of the loose ends variety… I’m not tying up loose ends, I’m making them. Working among boxes in my dining room is not conducive to joined up thinking. Not that joined up thinking is always my forte, but I can at least feel as if I’m closer to joining things up if my studio is arranged around me as a sort of physical sphere of influence, a bubble of physically expressed thought. Even when not inside it, the thought of it being somewhere helps keeps track of my thoughts. So I work on these loose ends that will hopefully one day soon be drawn together: some lyrics, some sounds, some stitches, some drawings…

I have a group of artist teacher students that I am supposed to be guiding through the beginnings of their engagement/re-engagement with their art practice. This week I barely feel I’m ahead of them in this process. But maybe I’m not… Maybe I’m just less scared now?

We looked at the work of Laura Lancaster in The New Art Gallery Walsall yesterday. I am always reassured by artists who have more than one approach to the work, more than one type of outcome. It makes me feel better about my multi-discipline approach (I can’t really call it multi-media because that now implies something different don’t you think?) Laura’s work was arranged in two camps: paintings, large gestural brush strokes, expressive, somewhat sinister in places, but assured and knowing. Loved them. Then a series of drawings on paper and card taken from old books: inside covers and endpapers (with £2.99 written on etc). Small, detailed and multi-media(see?) from charcoal to biro to watercolour. Beautiful. Each a snapshot from an anonymous found photo album. A frozen moment (the large paintings too). Each image a potential song. Each photo a representation of our own albums. Each group recognisable in composition and format if not familiar in face. Family likenesses are seen… But they’re not ours. But they hold the place for us to substitute our own important moments. We talked of the relationships between paint and photo that have changed over time…
An interesting time spent in the gallery.
The space next to Laura’s work was inhabited by that of Jan Vanriet. I’m not going to go into too much detail about his work, but I recommend the show, and I will be returning without the students to see both.
The close examination of one photo of his parents fascinated me: they met and survived the holocaust, vowing to meet and marry if they did. The pose is awkward, together but faces turned away, close bodies, shoulders together, but hips apart, her hand on his chest, maintaining a barrier, him treading on her toe…. Jan’s reworking over and over; close ups of these details; a change in colour or composition; one photo sucked dry; over examined; deconstructed in an attempt to understand two lives just from one frozen frame. This over examining in an attempt to unearth something not seen or to find evidence of emotion or intent reminded me of Marion Michell’s work with photos of her father. The period of the photo similar, World War Two…
These two artists at Walsall are both working with photos, but the motivations are very different, and so is the process and the product. The link on examination is tenuous, superficial, but the differences highlights each other somehow.

From this day in the gallery I take reassurance: I too work at the same “problem” from various angles, and I too bang on about the same things. I too mull things over again and again. Rework the same thought over and over…

I think perhaps where I am in relation to my students is that I have found the thing. You know, “The Thing”… I know what obsesses me. I am at it all the time:

How do these relationships we have endure? How do they change? How do they exist beyond death? How does the memory of that relationship work? I bang on about it. I poke at it with a stick. My mother, my marriage, my children, my siblings…. I try to make sense of it all by looking at others’. But basically it is egocentric. I’m trying to work myself out.

Even these loose ends…. They will meet up once I can get back into the bubble…. They will find their place.


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