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I like there to be some sort of relationship between the WAY that I work and my SUBJECT.

Sometimes I have found this takes a long time to develop. I keep saying “Trust the process!” But I can get to the point of desperation and question the truth of that statement as time goes on.

This new work, these drawings, has been tricky. Textiles and garments are easy peasy. It is fairly simplistic, representational. Stitches are also easy to connect to the themes – see?

But that is exactly my point. That simplicity, while inherently beautiful, is also the sticking point.

I have outlined here in previous posts, how the circumstances of work, home, family, and studio conspired to change everything. I don’t know if everything would have changed if it had all stayed stable? But it didn’t. So what the world offered me, along with all that crap, was an opportunity to think differently for a while. Ditch the objects and the stitching (maybe temporarily, who knows?) and get on with something else. The something else was a diversion, I told myself, occupational therapy… all that… but… niggling at my hindbrain was the fact that I had been stuck and I needed to get UNstuck. The drawings have evolved over the last six months or so to a point where the start is now not visible. I know where it is, and if you’ve been following, you might be able to too.

Just this week, I have, at last, noticed where it sits.

As my pencil searches for anomalies in the texture of the paper and the surface marks of the watercolour, I realise that while I had been stitching, that’s what I had been looking for… a relationship to pick up on.. an unseen “thing” to latch onto, to draw attention to. I have been looking for mutations and anomalies and family resemblance, inherited traits and cycles. In the drawings I have been setting up the culture for these anomalies: Using watercolour, making my own indentations in the softer papers. I then look for one place, one part of the drawing to relate to another, just as I had searched for one person’s affect on another in the garments. I wasn’t pushing or stretching those relationships when I was working with stitches so much. What I can do now is manipulate and provide a culture that allows me to interfere more I think. The drawings are more experimental than the textiles. They are more exploratory. I am able to do more than just point at things and say “look at this”.

With the drawing I am reaching and reacting. I am doing more than observing and illustrating. I am making something happen.

Sometimes you need to get out of the place where you are too comfortable, where things are too easy. Sometimes uncomfortable is the place where things happen.


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Is it egotistic of me to see the world bending itself into metaphors for my life?

Or, being kinder to myself, do I see my life reflected in the circumstances that surround me?

March – it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

I was born in March and my mum used to say I was both lion and lamb. Sometimes simultaneously. Am I like this because she said that, or did she say that because that’s how I am? Would she have said it if I had been born in August?

The studio we were on the brink of securing has fallen through completely, at what seemed like the final hurdle. I don’t know that I will ever know why. It just did.

So I’m here again, the boxes are still piled around with me, but with no new studio imminent. The house is also lion/lamb and is doing neither very well. The lamb might well get eaten if I don’t cage the lion, or tame it. What’s the point in that though? If you have a lion, it’s got to be a fierce wild one, right?

I think I have to forget about the studio option. It’s driving me bonkers. I have to drill down and find the things a studio gives me, without the space itself being a reality. Hopefully if I can do this, the resulting choreography will result in me being in the right frame of mind and in the right place to find something else that does the trick… I will be able to see other opportunities. If I deal with the lion, the lamb will look after itself? But the lamb is under siege, I need to deal with my home. I need to look after it. This I can do, I can control. We have stopped seeing the boxes and excess furniture and absorbed them. We sidle around the bed, we hang our coats on the boxes in the hall, dump our bags on the extra chair that’s wrapped in bubble wrap. We peer at each other over the extra microwave on the dining table, and plonk the post on top of it. I think if I deal with these things, life will be better: I will no longer be in-waiting, and will be able to get on with things. There are things I could and should be doing. Inactivity and indecision have rendered me unproductive. (Having a pile of hundreds of drawings that sit there doing nothing doesn’t count for anything.)

The Lion and Lamb are in limbo. We have deep snow here again. Normal patterns are disrupted and halted. We had those glorious warmer sunny days when we took off our coats occasionally. We could see the spring and the hope: Daffodils, primulas, grape hyacinths flowering, crocuses in the lawn… We had a dark hellebore hiding against the dark soil that is now stunning, purple-black against the snow. The snow, like the end of the studio dream, has halted me again, but the hellebore shows me that all is not lost. Outside the french window while I draw I see the red maple budding, and the sprouting twigs poke through clouds of the drifting snow, reminding me of my own drawings.

Inspired again, my lion lies down with my lamb and all is calm for a while.


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I had great responses from all sorts of people on International Women’s Day when I posted a Sedimentary-Pea-Pod-Vagina image on Twitter and Instagram. (The feature image at the top of this blog) These shapes, forms and lines are a little intoxicating. One person said they were somewhat disturbing… another sensuous…another that they held sexual tension… and another saying they felt they needed a shower… I’ll leave that thought with you a while…

Now these responses, whilst amusing and interesting, have also stopped me in my tracks a bit. These drawings are sort-of-automatic. I’ve said before that I don’t really look at the rest of the page when I’m drawing in one corner. Composition, while obviously to a degree a matter of habit and experience, does happen accidentally. Sometimes I like the wonky ones better. They are a little bit stream-of-consciousness…. so such responses have me asking what the hell is going on in my head? God knows.

My intention was/is to find a tension between the animal/vegetable/mineral so that the drawings are all or none of these things. I like confusion and ambiguity. But this? Questions will be asked!

My PROCESS is informed by my experience of drawing. Over 50 years of drawing, almost every day of my life, has led me to this. The CONTENT is informed by the last ten years or so of rather deeper thought than the previous 40… but the influence is there of course, by necessity. I haven’t had a brain transplant. Many of these years have been spent stitching so I have surprised myself by returning to drawing… until I think about it more carefully… then perhaps not such a surprise. There is something in my make up that draws me to drawing. Something in me that sees the importance of drawing. There are always connections when you look.

I spent about ten years teaching child development, behaviour, play and creativity to child care students, as well as working in a variety of pre-school environments as my own children grew up. I see drawing as a developmental tool and an indicator for all sorts of things. I spent all those years with all those students telling them that whatever else they provide for the children, they must ALWAYS provide pencils and paper, EVERY day, ALL the time. I have no idea if this has had an effect on anyone. I just know that it is important on a deeply human level. Hand-Eye-Brain coordination if you like. Expression. Fluency and “fitness”. Draw from observation, from imagination or whatever you like. Just draw.
I spent another ten years (with a bit of overlap) in a primary school trying to get people – parents – children – teachers – to understand there’s no such thing as “I can’t draw”. If we spent as much time on drawing as we do on literacy the evidence would be there. Everyone can draw. We teach children to read and write, but they’re not all going to be Nobel prize winners. We can teach* children to draw without expecting them all to become artists. There is a visual language that we need too. Some children possibly more than others need this way to communicate and we are not serving them well by denying them the time and attention needed.
Within this context, this Elena-ness, there is a purity about drawing for me. An essence of humanity. This is on a physical level, but also psychological and philosophical. I think there are reasons I became “stuck” working with the textiles. I needed something more… or maybe that should be something less… or something nearer? I needed to dig deeper. For this I needed a super conductor, so that less was lost between brain ~ hand ~ paper.
I am a little bemused by the comments I have received but also gratified. My work is always about some sort of touch and connection. So if the drawing as superconductor approach has led to the ultimate human connection that should come as no surprise should it?

As a result though, I now have questions that I should try to work through:

What are these animal~vegetable~mineral connections?
Is it on a cellular level or an intellectual level?
Is the “deeper” physical or conceptual or both?
Can I be more explicit about touch?
Can I be less chaotic about the cyclic nature of my subjects and themes?
Or is the chaotic what throws up the interesting things?
Is this really about sex?

Sex is really close to death… I wrote a song…
(Caution recommended – heavy breathing alert!)

Distracted

 

*The word “teach” here encompasses many things from pre-school painting experiences through observational drawing, to expressing ideas to the learning of techniques…


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An artist can be seduced by new materials. It can be so intoxicating that you forget what you are trying to do. I mentioned in a previous post about being a Methodology Artist… In textile works I have over the last couple of years only allowed myself to use the fabric that is contained by a wooden tray on my desk. Curiously, however much of this fabric I use, the quantity doesn’t seem to get less… Anyway… the reason for the self-imposed restriction was an extension of my self-imposed restriction on buying new fabric. This was an ethical decision, we waste too much fabric and most of it ends up in landfill. It was also a restriction of palette that stopped me getting distracted by the shiny and new. Old fabric sits better with my ideas and themes.

restriction… rules… method…

I love using colour, and I think I use it well. But restricting myself to one particular pencil and one particular sort of paper has allowed exploration of the genre. I talked also of learning a new language. As with new language one aims for fluency. With this paper and this pencil (Daler-Rowney Mixed Media paper and a Faber Castell Jumbo 8B pencil if you’re interested) I felt increasingly in control. I knew how they worked together. I used the texture of the paper to enhance the form and textures of what I drew. A synergy of idea and the material that is really quite pleasing.

But you can’t find something pleasing and just stay there can you? You have to push it a bit. Now I am quite lazy really, and will happily go on in my comfort zone until pushed. Luckily I have those around me who will question and push. A simple question can lead you on…

So… back to the seduction. Instead of relying on the texture of the paper, It was asked “What if you affected the texture of the paper yourself…?”
hmmm… so now, in addition to the 8B, I have a 6H. This carves into the paper almost. I have spent a couple of days working things out, getting to know it. I could possibly draw 6H patterns forever, then draw over with the 8B… oh its a happy thing to do and behold! But drawing pretty patterns isn’t getting me anywhere. So now I have to work out whether it can add to anything. I have an aversion to art that is just about cleverness with materials, Style Over Substance if you like… the terrible end point of being seduced by material beauty. (Opinions stated here are those of the artist). Meaning is sucked out.

I return then to my sketch book and read back over my blog posts about what I was getting from the drawing that I wasn’t getting from the textile. I remind myself of my quest for the language to express those relationships. I go over my self-imposed rules of engagement and decide – or try to – which are no longer serving me.

The textiles are interesting still. They hold the relationships, they have a history. I can show links and connections. But I think they got stuck at that… the drawings could push at those boundaries if I went beyond stitch, beyond human and beyond the figurative… somewhere between that and the pretty patterns lies a fluency to strive for.

I have in my head this glorious Eureka moment in which I will understand colour, form, meaning and one momentous piece of work will emerge, people will gasp in admiration and I can die happy.

Never going to happen.


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There’s something different about saying things out loud don’t you think?

There’s certainly something different about playing a song to the songwriting circle instead of in your head/bedroom/car.

And theres a difference between looking at a drawing on the sitting room floor rather than on a public wall.

I’ve been playing over in my head a conversation I had over a pot of tea with my erstwhile studio buddy Sarah Goudie. At the time it seemed like I knew what I was talking about. But as I replay my words I have doubts… I realise I felt defensive.

“It’s the same!” I insisted
“Nothing’s changed!”
“It’s all about the same themes, the songs too!”
“I’m just looking from a different angle!”

(move along… nothing to see here…)

…and then, in the cold, quiet house at about 1:30am a still, small voice said…

 

 

“really?”

 

 

Well done Elena.

I sit here now, my Comfort Blanket lies in shreds around me. A hundred miles away I can hear Bo Jones laughing at me. Have I been kidding myself?

Over the last nine months things HAVE changed. The ground has shifted perceptibly beneath my feet. Faced with the mortality of my husband, I face my own. (Edited for clarity, nobody died, he was just very ill and now he’s ok!)I’m 57 this month (happy birthday to me… etc. etc.) and resentfully peri-menopausal. Resentful that I’m so old, and resentful that I’m so old and it’s still not over. The words I write are darkly feminine. They are not pink. They are not flowery. They are not sugar and spice and all things nice. They are belladonna and arsenic and very nasty. They will not be presented to the band. They will burn a hole in my notebook until I find a use for them… or the writing of them is their use… already done.

Back to the drawings then… I get down to the nitty gritty and actually look at them properly. Well… more properly than I’ve looked at them so far. I don’t even look at the left of the paper when I’m drawing on the right, I realise. One of the self-imposed rules? Then I put them away. Then start another.

They are scary. They are the things in my head that I’m refusing to face. Manifest on the page. Shouting at me…

Meanwhile, I’m in the soundproof booth with my headphones on singing lalalalala! (delightfully in tune of course)

Have you seen Stranger Things?
These drawings are my Upside Down.

 

What the fuck am I supposed to do now?


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