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My own words come back to bite me…

Lately I’ve been banging on to a friend about “Authenticity”.

I’ve clearly been ignoring my own actions in this.

There’s a back story to why this is happening. It is to do with me thinking about The Artist I Ought To Be. It is a constant battle I find, being true to myself. I strive to be a better version of myself, of course. Sometimes. When I’m not being lazy and oblivious. But… I don’t need to strive to be a worse version of other artists out of a lack of self-esteem do I?

What I have discovered is that in weak moments I try to be a Serious Artist. As opposed to a serious artist. There’s a difference. I DO take my work seriously. I am trying to say something with it… but…I do try to not take myself too seriously. I try. When I try to do that “ought to be” thing everything fails miserably.

Thing is it’s not much fun being Serious.

Those who know me well will know that yes of course I’m not a miserable git all the time, nor am I a clown. But I do have a playful and mischievous nature perhaps… (do I still?) and although my work is sometimes macabre, sinister… it is also a bit naïve and child like.

Child like.

There is the thing you see.

Here is a tale of my son:

Cricket practice on a primary school playing field. Head Teacher is coach and he says:
“Now, I want you to just tap the ball to the ground, just there, ok?”
“Yes Sir”
Son lamps the ball across the field. 29 other children run to get it.
“Now, you’re not going to hit it hard again are you?”
“No Sir”
Son lamps the ball across the field. 29 other children run to get it.
(repeat until Head Teacher is shouting, son is crying and the 29 other children want a turn with the bat.)

What can I say? He is a Sixer…

It is in his nature to whack the ball as hard as he can. If you don’t want him to do that, don’t give him the bat.

Back to my drawings.

Every damn time I say to myself when I lay down the pre-drawing watercolour:

“Now, I just want one area of paint there, and one there, ok?”
“Yes”
“Now you’re not going to splash it everywhere are you?”
“No, not this time, I promise… this is a Serious Drawing”
“Ok, just there. Don’t blast it with the hairdryer like a five year old with a straw will you?”
“No”
(Blasts puddle of Alizarin Crimson across paper with hairdryer like five year old with a straw)

Here we are then.
My son will ALWAYS lamp the ball across the field.
I will ALWAYS blow hell out of the paint across the paper.

Authenticity.

I’d better learn to work with who I am.


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There’s a cycle.

I do wonder if being a woman, I’m more tuned in to these things? If you are a man and you feel that you are tuned in, do tell. It is of interest…

I decided to have a “day off”. Sundays aren’t usually days off, they are usually studio days. This is largely, but not totally, due to the watching of loads of football in my house, and I can’t be doing with it all!

But today, apparently not. I’ve not asked why, because this sort of question often generates a one sided conversation that I’m not interested in, and always wish I hadn’t asked, but feel that I need to smile and be polite, having initiated the exchange.

So… a Sunday, seemingly not engaged with Art with a big A, in Studio with a big S.

There are studio days when I’m all fired up to draw. Others when sewing is the thing. Others when procrastination by tidying is the key to joy.

Rare, but also featured, is the Admin Day. These activities can be allotted time percentages as follows:

Drawing 75%

Sewing (recently less than previously) 5%

Procrastination 15%

Admin 5%

Admin should probably be more, procrastination less, but in reality it facilitates the rest, so I let it be.

Yesterday was an Admin Day. I am completely unable to focus on these tasks unless the mood strikes, so when it does, I yell “hallelujah!” don my business cardi and dive in!

I filed a few receipts, to warm up, straightened a few piles of paper and logged in to the Arts Council funding portal. Not for the faint hearted.

Towards the end of 2018 I submitted a bid which was unsuccessful. I sulked and chucked stuff about for a bit, decided not to rewrite the bits criticised and resubmit… but sit on it for a while and rethink.

In January I applied for an A-N bursary and that was unsuccessful too. I did a bit more chucking and sulking. The effects of rejection on the artist is a big thing. Puts you back doesn’t it? Shakes the confidence?

But, because the A-N bid was smaller and quicker, at least I didn’t feel like I’d wasted weeks of unpaid time putting it together. If they say yes, the time is worthwhile. If they say no, you feel like you should be able to demand 10% for effort!

So what I had decided to do was a merge the two things together. I needed to simplify the ACE project I had submitted. So using the A-N writing as a guide, I decided I could maybe make a hybrid bid that would pare it down, but still allow me to do what I wanted…

I sat thinking about it for a couple of weeks but had made the decision to do this. It takes me ages to filter and mull… but yesterday was writing day!

Anyway, I’ve started… it could take a while, but the bee has taken up residence in the bonnet, and it will be done!

So this is the thing about cycles… one phase not only leads into another, but actually allows, creates the space for it to happen. I’ve had a few weeks of steady drawing. Immersed. And while immersed, mulling things over. Loads of things… lyrics, gigs, rehearsals, blogs, workshops, drawing sessions for Drawing Your Space with Sarah, making stuff… selling stuff… (YESSS! WOOHOOOO! Three drawings over the last few weeks!) And of course, the writing for the Arts Council.

Having spent about three hours on it yesterday, I then had another couple of hours drawing before I came home.

So I’m tired. Hence the “day off”………… but it isn’t really is it? It’s just another phase of the cycle. We are just us two living under this roof now, so we do what we want when we want to. Our mealtimes often don’t have names, because they fall in gaps. Weekends often have a little bit of something to eat after a lie-in… about 11:00… could be brunch, but can be all manner of items, that wouldn’t be considered normal for brunch. Then we might have something about 4…. Then a crumpet or something with a late film?… maybe… the thing we should have had for the breakfast that we didn’t have.

Meanwhile, in amongst all this revolutionary, anarchic tomfoolery, my brain wanders about on its own…making shit up…and smashing it down.

I have ironed some clothes, folded, put them away in colour order. I have hung a selection of tops and dresses in the wardrobe, in a colour coordinated floral arrangement. I have placed plants still in pots around the garden, deciding where they should go.

I curate my home.

And while I do so, I filter and mull… preparing for the next round…

 


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This morning I am delaying the start of the drawing, in order to write about the drawing.

People have asked me why I have not been stitching, and why I am drawing after a lifetime of stitching. This blog post, the moment I hope to capture with this, is an attempt to address that question.

I love stitching. It’s my native tongue. It comes easy to me. I know the nuances of stitch and fabric. I have done it for years, decades, and it has served me well in both functionality and art form. I’m not boasting by saying I have skills. I have. True story.

I had a good four hours intense drawing yesterday.  And I left the studio exhausted without a backward glance. Satisfied.

This morning I came in, dumped my bags, hung up my coat, put the kettle on, kicked my boots off, put the heater on (snow, hail, sleet, driving wind!)

Then I sat at the table, thinking I would take a couple of photos for instagram maybe. So I got out my phone….

Only then did I look at the drawing.

I gasped.

I dropped into my chair.

I swear my breathing got faster and I could feel my heart beating.

The drawing speaks to me.

It matches the weather.

It certainly matches my mood.

Stitching NEVER did this.

If I take as an example the Nine Women project, yeah, the one with the bras. The textile and stitched elements of that were planned. There would be nine, I would choose the bra, respond, imagine the woman, and then know instinctively how to stitch to convey the thoughts I was having. I am very proud of that project. It stands I think as a good body of work. But in terms of its processes, it doesn’t come close to this.

I can track and trace the path to the drawing, in my life, my head and my sketchbook. I know how it happened. I am still unsure why, and when circumstances returned to some sort of normality, why I didn’t return to textiles. I think, much like Forrest Gump, I just stopped. It wasn’t serving the same purpose any more.

This drawing then…

It is the immediate connection between brain~hand~pencil~paper.

I’m thinking but not thinking.

Deep thinking.

Not thinking.

But the resulting drawings are some sort of emotional purge.

They are indeed academic.

There is knowledge, and skill, and experience there.

But there is also a sensuality here.

A light touch… and a depth… like a carving…

There is violence almost… implied if not actual.

And a soft kindness, sympathies and empathies.

There is most definitely love and all its physical manifestations.

What enables this to happen on the paper is the paper itself. It just takes what I give it.

And this is it too…

The paper responds to me more than I was finding with textiles. They did as they were told and I was master of them. The paper is doing its thing. The paper is a living thing it seems to me. We have a conversation. I tell it my secrets and overnight it becomes something else while I am not looking. And in the morning it shows me an answer.

This morning I get to think about the next question to ask of it.


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Waiting.

I’ve always been that irritating combination of lazy and impatient.
Not good qualities really.
But they are perhaps contextual… I have the patience to make a million tiny stitches, for weeks on end, and the tenacity to see it through. I have the patience to read with a child… to slowly discover the words and the story…
But those types of patience are active.

Waiting is passive…
…and yet again I am reminded by my materials that not everything can happen at once. Now.
Some things need waiting time.

So I’m writing this while I wait for the paint/paper to dry. Actually more paper than paint. I’ve washed most of the paint off. I’m trying for a quieter piece… not so many paint runs, not so much paint. This requires me to leave the dryer on the shelf and the paint and paper and water to do their own thing.

I am a little scared of this “new” body of work that sits away from the textiles I have used for decades. I’ve drawn all my life. But my drawing has always until recently been from life, observation and also a sort of record keeping, ideas communicating sort of drawing either for myself or to show others. It has been “a discipline”. The skills used over those (well over fifty) years are being drawn upon now. And the scary part is that I am drawing from myself… I am drawing from experience. I do feel, actually, that some of the things I am feeling while I draw are being dragged from deep within me, sometimes kicking and screaming. I am facing things down. I am pinning them down. My mind scours itself for these things. It is no wonder that at the end of the day I feel tired and drawn.

But this is why I have put down my needle. It got me to this base camp, but now I need Sherpas.
Textiles gently assured me that all would be well… held me to my comfortable past and let me explore… they took me to a darker place, but they kept me warm. Some surround me in my studio. My helicopter parent textiles.
And they watch while I draw.
I find myself drawing upon the woods near my childhood home. But the gnarled branches that appear are false. They are not real branches. They snag at my clothes and bar my way. I draw upon the ditch of stagnant water, flushed out with each downpour, if it goes on long enough to rise above the level of the lane. Deep in the water are rotting, pungent, sour-smelling things, they suck at my feet and pull at my boots.

I feel that I am now waiting for my mind to catch up with my pencil. There were times in my childhood when I would wander deep into the woods, be engrossed in my thoughts and then miss a landmark tree. Suddenly I would come to, to find I had lost my bearings. A slight rise of bile would panic me… but I knew to stay calm and if I walked in a straight line I would find something familiar, and find my place again.

So this piece of paper is waiting… waiting to dry, while I wait to catch up a little on what I want to draw. I won’t know what that will be until it is dry. The paper leads and I follow, drawing the map as I go. I tie the piece of string to my garden gate, and unwind it as I explore.

I remember reading a Stephen King book… “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”… a girl wandering in the woods among the waiting psychological horror. I don’t have any really nasty horror in my own life, thankfully, but others do… and I am prone to wandering in the dark places. While the textiles kept things real, I draw now …. And I have a sense of impending doom, that the drawing might take me somewhere I didn’t want to go… Or I might trip on one of those hidden tangled brambles, and fall…

Maybe I’ll wait a bit longer…


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Collaboration can be a thorny issue.

I’ve met many artists who say “Never again!” and I can understand why. It can be a nightmare, and it can be brilliant!

Luckily I had a few brilliant ones under my belt before I hit the real disaster. But there have been a few ordinary “oh well, that didn’t work!” ones too!

Anyway… to support my studios’ ever growing events programme, I signed up to PoArtry. It’s an event invented and managed by poet Rick Sanders and also for this incarnation Simon Meddings, the leader of our General Office pack.

It is a simple concept really: artists who sign up get their names put in one hat, and the poets in another. We are a real motley crew… I was daunted, but thought to myself “They are only words, I can use a single word or title as a starting point if I need to, if I cannot relate to the poems”… So with trepidation and more tension that the FA cup draw (so I’m told) 22 artists were paired with 22 poets. In May there will be an exhibition, of 22 new poems and 22 new art works.

I drew as my partner Leah Atherton

She sent me some poems and I sent her some photos… then we both went WOW! … and arranged to meet in my studio so that she could see the real drawings etc.

We talked simultaneously, and drank tea, exclaiming “YES!” and “ABSOLUTELY!” as we went. We talked about how people have an effect on each other, the glancing blows and the disregarded whispers… we talked of so many things that linked us.

Of all the poems sent, this is the one that made my heart leap instantly into my drawings… into the depths of those touches and strokes… the ambiguous nature of leaving traces, and NOT leaving traces… oh my goodness…

MAYBE A DAY LATER

You follow the rules of Leave No Trace
better than anyone I know.

Determined to prevent damage
there is nothing to show that you were here

But an indentation where you stood;
so many soft footprints on my mind.

(Copyright Leah Atherton)

After about an hour and a half we became almost silent, staring at blank walls… “Time to go… time to think”… said Leah

So this morning I draw, and I write words to remind on my tablecloth…

And so it begins, Leah, I can’t thank you enough for tilting my view just enough to see things differently.


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