To celebrate their combined 33 years of contributing to a-n Blogs, Elena Thomas, Kate Murdoch and Stuart Mayes reflect upon how long-form blogging has become an essential part of their practices. Elena celebrated 10 years of her a-n Blog Threads in June this year, while Kate made her first post on Keeping It Going in July 2012. Stuart started his blog Project Me in January 2007, just a few months after the new a-n platform ‘Projects unedited’, as it was then known, launched. In this self-initiated 3-way Q&A, they explore why long-form blogging is as relevant today as it was back in 2007, and express their hope to keep this art form not only alive but vital and vibrant.
Describe your blog in three words
Elena Thomas eclectic honest rambling.
Kate Murdoch useful, challenging and rewarding.
Stuart Mayes Reflective, positive, process.
Why did you start blogging?
ET I was doing my MA and my personal tutor suggested it as a way of reflecting on my changing practice. I only expected it to last as long as the course.
KM Blogging first appealed to me after I attended a series of a-n workshops in which artist bloggers talked about their own experiences of writing and maintaining a blog. This was over 10 years ago now, at a point when blogging was becoming increasingly popular.
The idea of communicating with other artists attracted me, especially given that without any formal art school training, I didn’t have a ready-made peer group for support. I was also fascinated by the varied approaches artists took to maintaining their blogs, making them their own, with their own unique styles. It wasn’t long before I decided to take the plunge and start one of my own. It felt very much like a leap into the unknown but I was encouraged very early on by comments left by other artists and I soon started to feel a part of the a-n Blogs community.
SM When the world around me was a tough place I needed somewhere to focus on the positive things that I was able to do – or planned to do. It was really important for me to have a place that was at once somewhere just for me and at the same time in an appropriate context. In 2007 I needed something that kept me thinking about a positive future. Calling the blog ‘Project me’ referred to idea of projecting myself forward, as well as focusing on my practice as I would on another project.
How do you decide what to write?
ET All sorts of ways… I might read something that prompts a train of thought; I could come across something interesting in the materials as I work; A new song, or piece of music strikes; there might have been a professional development that I want to talk about; I see another artist’s work and find an affinity; I might have a question I want to ask, even if I don’t get an answer.
Sometimes I might have an idea in my head, then another one crashes into it later that I think might make it a more interesting read.
Occasionally it’s a place to rail against the political…
KM The content for my blog posts comes from my experiences of day-to-day life and decisions about what to write about are influenced by things that grab my attention and make me stop and think. It might be a big news story or it could be a simple comment made by a fellow artist – or perhaps, I might want just want to share my thoughts behind the inspiration for a latest piece of work. Once I’m confident that an idea has legs, I’ll run with it. I’m aware that there are some people who follow my blog posts quite consistently. Being conscious of this means that the subjects I most choose to write about tend to be those that I think will appeal and gain interest across the board and hopefully, open up conversations with others. I try my best to avoid a navel-gazing approach.
SM Sometimes something just demands to be written about. Sometimes thoughts and monologues collect and need an outlet. I prefer to maintain a discipline of jotting things down during the week before writing at the end of the week. I write things that need attention being paid to them, and things that need working out – writing out is the working out. The final edit of the post can be very different from the jottings, notes, and drafts. My aim is always to write something that I need to write whilst hoping that it resonates with a reader.
Describe your blogging process
ET I ponder over a cup of tea for a while, but generally I just start typing. Sometimes I hand write in my sketchbook first. Sometimes if it’s the middle of the night (insomnia) I type into Notes on my phone. While the process of hand writing is good… I always write song lyrics by hand… the tedious task of transcribing the blog so others can read prevents me from doing this too often. I like the immediacy that typing straight up gives it. I like the way not editing too much gives that conversational feel. But the down side is I can tend to rant and ramble on a bit.
KM I ring fence time, finding myself a comfortable, quiet spot in the house. I like to be away from the studio and from any distractions and always take proper care and consideration with my writing and the thinking behind it. Sometimes I might jot down a few notes beforehand to remind me of certain things I want to say but otherwise, I sit down to write a blog post with the aim of writing it, completing it and publishing it – all in one sitting if possible, be it 11am or the small hours of the morning. The process always takes time; I’m not comfortable with rushing my words and put a lot of thought and consideration into both the ideas behind and the actual content of the blog posts. My interest in politics and current affairs often filters through but I try not to be controversial for the sake of it.
I generally find myself writing my blog posts at points when I’m feeling more upbeat and positive – moments when I most feel like opening up and being ‘chatty’ I suppose, as well as when a piece of work is finished or very close to it. Blogging for me is a reflective process and I’m generally looking back at work that’s already made rather than taking the reader through the making process.
SM I have a week-to-view diary (A5) with a blank page facing each week. Starting in the bottom right hand corner of the bank page (and working upwards) I jot down anything that might make it into the week’s blog. On Friday or over the weekend I sit down at the computer and read through the list (top down). I start writing about what is relevant, live, unresolved, interesting, necessary. I am not a fast writer and I make many false starts. The writing and re-writing provides time and space for working things through. Knowing (hoping) that someone else will read the post makes me do my best to be clear, which in itself often leads me to better understand what it is that I am tackling.
I write, save, walk away, do something else, come back, read, re-write, save, copy and paste into a post. The write, read, re-write, and save cycle can take a few repetitions.
Where do you blog?
ET Wherever I happen to be when the inspiration strikes. But mostly in my studio so I can rely on not being interrupted by the hurly burly of modern life. If I lose the thread I’m doomed to never find it again (threads… ha ha).
KM I always blog from a quiet place in my home. Though I consider blogging to be an integral part of my creative practice, I keep it quite separate from the actual making – away from the studio, where I can take a more detached view of the work. As blogging has encouraged so much reflective thinking, I like to be in a tranquil, relatively uncluttered environment to write – it gives me head space and enables me to focus more clearly.
SM This has changed over the (14) years. Since moving to Enköping in Sweden I have written most posts at home with my lap-top on the kitchen table or in the sitting room – the studios that I have had have not had internet connections. When I moved to Sweden I had a desk-top computer and internet at a studio so I wrote there. Now that I have an internet connection at the new studio I will try writing and posting from there.
Are your intentions the same as when you started?
ET My first blog entry says:
‘I suppose as my first blog entry, this ought to be some sort of statement of intent… but as I have never done a blog before, i’m not sure how it will evolve, and what it will become.
At the moment I’m thinking I’ll share what I’m seeing, making and thinking… and what I’m listening to while I do all that. I’ll post some photos of my work, links to other artists and so on. Then we’ll see what happens.’
I think I still do that, yes… apart from linking to other artists. That was useful during my MA but it didn’t come naturally… didn’t flow…
In some ways I think it is more inward looking…contemplative?
KM I had no idea when I started what to expect and certainly had no idea that maintaining my blog would stretch to eight years and more. It really was a step into the unknown and I’m not sure that I had any real intentions as such at the outset, other than to try something new. That said, however, I was undoubtedly encouraged by the artist bloggers I met via a-n and attracted by the possibility of forming working relationships with other artists through blog writing, just as they had done.
My commitment to blog writing is still strong and though I don’t blog as much as I used to, I’m always conscious of my blog as an alternative space to think about the work I make.
SM Yes! My intention remains to project my practice. I set myself a ‘rule’ that the blog should be positive, and that too remains.
Has it been how you thought it would be?
ET What has happened is that at some point it became part of my practice, rather than just a reporting, or documentation of my practice. It helps me think. It helps me to look back at what I thought a month ago etc…
I am interested in how I view the audience. I am swept sideways when someone says they’ve read my blog. For about a fortnight after I am very conscious of the reader, and then I forget again. I become a bit unsettled when my husband says he has read it. I’m not sure why!
I have made connections through the conversations I’ve had through a-n blogs that have brought opportunities I would never have otherwise had. I have exhibited across the UK, in the USA and in Sweden (where I was then able to meet Stuart in the real world) These connections and conversations continue to this day. I think it is interesting to note that I have only met Stuart and Kate in the real world once, Yet I write, and zoom with both of them on a regular basis now. I could never have anticipated these deep, but distant, friendships.
KM As time has passed, the benefits of blogging have surpassed my expectations. As well as providing me with a very thorough account of just about every piece of work I’ve ever made, blogging has also enabled me to reach a wider audience. I’ve formed longstanding working relationships with other artists and curators, both locally and nationally and have also exhibited work with people I’ve met through my blog. The many conversations and interactions that have arisen as a result of blogging were an unexpected bonus in the beginning and have inspired me to keep going. When asked about my creative work, I feel there’s no better place to direct people to than to my blog. In my opinion, there’s no better record of my artistic journey than in ‘Keeping It Going’.
SM I did not have any idea of how it would be – I have enjoyed being surprised! Setting aside time on a regular basis for reflecting on my practice in the broadest sense has been very rewarding. It enables me to better judge where I am, and where I want to go.
Has it changed how you work?
ET Not as such, but it has changed the way I reflect… so yes… probably. But I couldn’t really say how.
It has helped me be kinder to myself I think.
KM I think it has over time, yes. Certainly, blogging over a long period of time has increasingly slowed down my approach to my work. I used to be quite frenetic in the way I created work, leaving no gaps between creating one piece to the next and would make it without thinking about it too deeply. Some might argue that the spontaneity of this method makes it more immediate and exciting and while there’s undoubtedly some truth in this, for me personally, making space for thinking about the work more deeply has been so much more satisfying. Conversations with other artists on a-n Blogs have influenced the way I think about my work and consequently, the way in which I create it. Nobody can make work in a vacuum and the conversations I’ve had with other artist bloggers have been hugely beneficial. I’ve taken a slower approach to creating my work as a result and have developed positive working relationships with other artists through the opening up of these conversations. Taking time to sit back and reflect on the work I’ve made has been useful – given me space to breathe and allowed the work to develop organically at a slower pace. This has given more substance and strength to the work, I feel, especially through sharing conversations with other artists around similar themes of love, loss and remembrance.
SM It has certainly influenced my practice. The time and space of writing gives me a better understanding of what I am doing, what I want to do and what I do not want to do. I suspect that there have been a good number of indirect changes in how I work as the result of my blogging. Sharing processes and ideas in the blog requires me to make them communicable which I am sure in turn makes me more able to speak clearly about my practice. This might well have lead to more opportunities, though obviously it would be very hard to make a direct correlation.
Last week a friend and colleague visited the studio and we spoke about a work in progress that is hanging on the wall. Although I find the piece visually attractive and I enjoyed making it I was uncertain about it – it seemed to be a step too far from my more usual ways of working with second-hand clothing. My friend was very enthusiastic and re-assuring about the work. I think that the work hints at a new direction for me. The piece is made entirely from material that Elena sent to me! Elena and I met because of our a-n blogs. This is perhaps the most immediate and concrete example of how my blog has impacted on my practice!
How do you see the future for your blog?
ET I plan to still keep blogging in the immediate future, but to be honest my life and work is unrecognisable compared to ten years ago, so I’m making no promises about the next ten!
KM There was a point when I was quite systematic in my approach to blogging and weekly posts were the norm. That’s changed over the years however, and though I’m not writing as regularly or consistently as I once did, I find it hard to envisage not having a blog. Even when I’m not actively writing it, my blog is held very much in mind; I regularly check in to see where I left off – to recap on work from the past, pick up on undeveloped loose ends and so on. It might not be a physical space but it’s one which contains a huge amount of art-related information and is a great resource.
I would like to carry on blogging and continue to give as accurate an account as possible of what it’s like to be a practising contemporary artist in today’s climate. The Covid-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have an extraordinary impact on opportunities in the arts. Though I write primarily for myself and focus largely on my own practice, there is no escaping the bigger picture and what’s going on for the creative sector at large is as important to me as what Im making in the studio. Lack of funding will inevitably affect future opportunities and it feels important to me to remember that there is strength in numbers and a great deal to be gained from working collectively.
My hope for the future of my blog is to continue to maintain an honest account of the highs and lows of being an artist for me personally and to continue conversations with other artists about their own unique experiences – to pull together as a community and to support each other through some of the most challenging circumstances ever to be experienced in our life times.
SM I cannot imagine not blogging. I miss it during the periods when I do not regularly post. It is an integral part of my practice. The challenge and discipline of writing regular posts is something that I both enjoy and find rewarding. Blogging enriches my practice. I hope that my blog continues to be a happy blend of organic development and structured progress.
1. Kate Murdoch, Stuart Mayes and Elena Thomas. Stuart is photographed installing ‘Under the Same Rainbow’, an LGBTQ project and show that Stuart was invited to curate for Uppsala Council (Public Art department) at Uppsala Art Museum, Sweden, 2020. Photo: Katarina De Verdier; Elena Photo credit: Laura Rhodes of curiousrosephotography.com
2. Elena Thomas, A wild weathered voice climbed from my mouth, drawing.
3. Kate Murdoch, Bad Head Day, 2014.
4. Stuart Mayes, work in progress, summer 2021. The work includes secondhand shirt cuffs sent to Stuart by Elena.
5. Elena Thomas, drawing.
6. Kate Murdoch, Eye Of The Beholder.
7. Stuart Mayes’ studio at The Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden. Posted on Stuart’s ‘Project Me’ blog, 21 June 2021.
8. Elena Thomas, Rocking chair with safety strapping. The first image posted by Elena on her Threads blog, 9 June 2011.
9. Kate Murdoch, 10×10. Posted by Kate on her previous blog Keeping It Together, 20 November 2011.
10. Stuart Mayes, work in progress. The first image posted on Stuart’s Project Me blog, 11 May 2007.