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A moment of pause…
You take a deep breath before diving in…
Check you’re in gear before letting out the clutch…
A brief perch on the edge of the sofa…
A weekend…
The rainy Tuesday when plans go awry…
Sit on the edge of the bed wrapped in a towel, before getting dressed…
Standing by the kettle waiting, staring into the garden…

These moments are either accidental, or built in, so why do we feel guilty when it happens on a slightly larger scale?

I’ve not posted here for a couple of weeks, because I’ve been in a moment of pause…

Waiting doesn’t seem to be a productive, busy thing to do, but it seems (to me) to take up a lot of brain space. I try not to worry or over think, but it tends to happen anyway… those staring out of the kitchen window moments particularly… imagining my way through all potential scenarios… the grateful Oscar acceptance speech, or the grace-in-defeat smile and nod…

To protect oneself it can be wise to think of the alternative route to your goal.

Or a different goal.

Anyway… the point of this is that the moments of pause are nutritional. They build resilience, and further, they build a sense of the anti-fragile.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifragile)

I have had a certain amount of success with funding. And I’ve had my fair share of failure and rejection too. I have a bit of a bee in the bonnet about artists who pretend they live off their work, and pretend not to have a midnight shelf-stacking job at Asda (or similar). This does nobody any good. Very few of us live off our art. Almost all of us actually gain income from elsewhere. For me, for years it was in education of all sorts, arts and otherwise. Now I’m not teaching (much), I am fortunate to be older, financially stable if strapped for cash quite often. I am a woman of modest requirements, but with an unfortunate expensive paper habit.

My income has come from workshops, sporadic sales and commissions, and the biggest sums have come from The Arts Council (the darlings!), for which I am grateful. But you have to be bloody minded to keep at it.

The next project on my horizon is all about The Tenth Woman. I applied for funding for it last year, thought I had it sussed. ACE thought it over complicated, and once I had stopped swearing and crying and looked at it rationally, so did I. And this is where the Antifragile comes in I suppose. But it takes a strength to do it. I edited, rewrote, and resubmitted it. This actually took months to steel myself to do. I was fragile, but determined. ACE want to give the money out, they HAVE to… so if I want it, if you want it, you have to do it the way they need it done. I know there are blips and glitches with the process, ffs, THEY know it too! But it has to be done. They will help if you ask. Asking can be difficult, accessing the access help can actually be a thing, but that’s a different post that others have done elsewhere…

But I was refused again.

I can be a delicate little flower, but I can also be tough, thick-skinned and I like to think I have insight, and that I conduct myself professionally. A certain detachment is required: they didn’t reject me or the artwork, they rejected the way that I had written the application, in light of all the others on the table at the same time. And they told me why.

So this week I have resubmitted with that information in mind. I know this is a good project, and they actually told me they liked its “innovative artistic outcomes” but one part of the form was weaker. So I dusted myself off, rewrote that bit, and resubmitted. And now I wait with baited breath again. 

I’m writing it here because I think acknowledging failure is a good thing. That’s where the learning happens. If they say yes this time, it will be because I’ve worked bloody hard to get it. For weeks. And if some bloody idiot tells me “oh you’re really lucky!” I might actually beat them.

So now I have a six-week moment of pause…

But it’s ok, because I sold some work that enabled me to order another roll of big posh paper!

If it fails again, I will cry again.

Put the kettle on, and stare out of the window.


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We are all driven by our circumstances…

We might use blue paint because we have run out of red.

We might use cereal boxes because we have run out of paper.

We cut up old clothes that don’t fit us any more because we can’t afford new fabric.

We might use an old tree trunk because we can’t afford marble…

And so on…

I often wonder if I was really rich, what would my work look like?

Or even if I would be an artist at all? Because frankly it’s hard work.

I am constantly questioning my choices.

This week is another weird one. I’m within 7 days of finding out if another grant application has succeeded or failed. The Trousers of Time… I have entered at the waistband and approach the divide… and I steal analogies from Terry Pratchett.

In the meantime, the money has run out and I can’t afford any more of the expensive paper, so I’m scratting about. In my head I had (three days ago) an idea for another large scale drawing… but somehow the idea has dissolved. Instead, I am cutting up rejected drawings into much smaller, postcard sized pieces and I’m making collages with scraps of fabric (lace motifs mostly), words torn from really crappy paperback novels, and more drawing and the odd bit of extra paint.

From my side of the table these feel stupid. The occupiers of hands and time. Not noteworthy. But people have said they like them. I have used one or two actually as song prompts. Lyrics developed from other people’s words, selected because they ‘go’ together somehow. A scenario is presented by a poorly constructed phrase, the scene is set, and a verse written.

But they don’t feel worthy because they don’t feel as if they come from a real place.

And I’m struggling with that.

I’m enjoying making them, in a haptic reward kind of way, in that there’s no pressure to produce a thing of meaning. They purposely don’t mean anything because the words have been stripped from their context and launched into something else.

(But words are sneaky aren’t they?)

Visually, I am finding they are creating a bridge between older textile works and my current drawings. They ‘fit’ in that way. There’s a palette, a visual vocabulary that seems familiar, and the songwriting is drawn in too.

But I’m not sure that I like them because they seem… Lazy. Easy. Simple.

Are they just holding a place for the making?

Are they a way of using readily available materials?

Do they look like the result of an Instagram ‘craft’ video?

Am I being an artist snob?

Oh yes.

Undoubtedly.

I feel I have earned the right to be an artist snob. I’ve worked hard at it and I think hard thoughts and I make work that is hard to make.

These small pieces are falling between the cracks and I don’t know what they are. Maybe something useful will emerge from them, but at the moment I’m not seeing it. I like my work to have a bit of bite. I shy away from doing ‘nice’ work. And I think this falls into that category.


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When I have had a weird day, the studio calls.

Headspace is required to filter out, digest, absorb… then reject what is of no use to me, or to cast off those things that cause stress or discomfort. Then to accept what is left and move on.

My choice of music this afternoon was unusual. Not the sort of thing I usually go for but it’s been interesting nonetheless, and has had an effect, which of course, is what it is all about.

So…

Portishead, ‘Dummy’;

David Lynch, ‘The Big Dream’;

Slowdive, ‘Slowdive’;

and at the insistence of a friend

My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’.

All in my collection, but I can’t remember ever playing them all in one sitting before. I now feel sort of spaced… floaty… bit trippy maybe?

Consequently I’ve done weird things with the drawing too.

Following the vague path trodden over wet grass by my poet partner Leah Atherton… I attempt to leave less of a trace… a softer pencil…rubbed… I’m not very brave yet… do I rub it all out? Or just leave enough so you know it was there?

When I leave, do I take everything with me, so you quickly forget me… wonder if I ever existed, ever said what you think I said?

Or do I leave a trail of crumbs so you can find me if you need me?


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It is always a bit of a dilemma to decide what to reveal of the personal life of the artist in this blog.

A recent conversation has made me examine this a bit more.

Those who read regularly might know that I have osteoarthritis, and that it is getting worse. Because of this my world is shrinking. I can no longer zoom around the country (let alone the world) without considerable research and planning.

It takes courage and energy to say to people “I can’t do that” and face the “oh why not? It’s right by the tube station!” Well no. “Right by…” is subjective. Off the train, up the platform, across the concourse, down two escalators and through three tunnels is not “right by”. And I feel resentful that some people demand medical details in order to believe me when I say what is too far for me. (Admittedly it’s not made easier by the fact that some days I can do it and some days I can’t)

So, anyway…inevitably this situation makes its way into my work. To me it is obvious which drawings were done on good days or bad days. One day maybe I will explore this, maybe part of my brain already is. I think the few people that know my drawings very well can see it too. I thank them for this. It helps to have people understand without asking or commenting.

The thing is… this is my information to reveal. I don’t want people saying loudly “Elena has a BAD KNEE!! Clear the way to the lift!” I’d rather be slow and dignified and do it at my own pace, only revealing when I choose, or as needed.

I reveal it in the drawings, or rather, it is revealed. It is expressed in all its glory: my rage and fury and pain and frustration. The paper takes the punishment, absorbs it, feeds back to me a gentleness.

I fall into that deep chasm that contains millions of people. I am not DISABLED and at the moment I don’t want to be labelled as such. But sometimes, somedays, I am disabled.

I don’t need a stick, crutches, a wheelchair. I just need to be believed.

I don’t want me or my work to become prefaced by “Disabled Artist” any more than I want it to be labelled “Female” or have any reference to my age or marital status or how many children I’ve had, or where I live. It’s just Artist. Any qualifier makes it lesser: “Not bad for a girl”

But the other thing is, I wouldn’t be working like this if my body wasn’t like this. The work comes directly from my brain, down my arms, into my fingers. I sit in the chair, leaning across the table as I cannot stand to make these drawings. Whatever is encountered on the way from my brain to the paper drags at the pencil and makes its mark.

But it’s still mine. You can look at the drawings, love them or hate them, be indifferent to them, buy them even! But how and why they are like they are? That belongs to me.


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