Month: November 2008

Make up your mind

With conviction it’s easy to make up your mind. To have the courage of your convictions you need confidence to do or say what you think is right even when other people disagree with pretty much your whole premise and anything that you mutter – on principle, especially if you give any indication whatsoever of hovering over your viewpoint. It has been easy to catch me out this way lately. I forgot to remember that whilst asking other people’s opinion or even involving them intimately in a whole decision making process might make then feel all warm inside and important– it can also lead to all sorts of confusion as they jump to the conclusion that you can’t make up your own mind, you really need their input right now and that actually come to think of it… your convictions are a bit lame, and your courage has taken a leave of absence. If this is the case – then you might be in big trouble.

It has only just occurred to me that if I stop asking for everyone’s opinion and I consult only myself – my decision-making will become fast, efficient and bold. I remember now a Goethe quote that I came across pinned to a friend’s kitchen wall in East London and it said something like…until you decide to commit to a creative endeavor (or anything for that matter), you will be hesitant and ineffective and your lack of commitment will kill your ideas and splendid plans. As soon as you make the decision to commit all sorts of positive unforeseen things happen to support you…“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now”.

This had a powerful impact on me at the time and I jolly well wish I hadn’t forgotten those words so darn quickly. I could do with having them tattooed onto the palm of my hand. Well an abbreviated version obviously as all of that wouldn’t fit on one hand.

So, forced to seek out and rely on other people’s suggestions, ideas and judgments – due to my own lack of perspective, focus and energy etc. etc. – has evaporated my conviction and left me somewhat confused and flakey. What does this all mean? I am looking for something – not finding it – trying to start – and not starting. I am sitting here writing this stuff instead of painting or drawing and not actually telling anyone incase they read it (which they won’t)…while at the same time excitedly checking every morning in the hope that someone might have read it and left me some comments.

I have only one follower currently – my brother – and I am pretty sure he doesn’t actually read this either.

Prepare canvases and lean in an orderly fashion

Yesterday I phoned up about a possible studio space just around the corner. Talk about wishful thinking. But nothing ventured – nothing gained. Maybe…I thought to myself… it’s time to up the anti. The thing is – it’s a safe thing to do – phoning up – and asking about the space, because firstly it is unlikely to be available, and even if it is, I am unlikely to be able to afford to pay for it and anyway it will be cold, damp and no less than a death trap for small children under the age of one. What’s more, if it were available and there was any chance in hell that I could take it – I would need to find at least 3 others who would want to and would be able to fork out the squids each week on the rent and rates and pursue any creative leanings they might have in a space specifically dedicated to that purpose – with babies in tow. Then there is the issue of what I myself would do once in this space. I could of course transport all my paints and stuff to the studio cos it’s so near and line it all up – really neatly. I could prepare canvases and lean them in an orderly fashion against the wall starting with largest closest to the (damp) wall and smallest nearest the (drafty) interior. I could also try to enlist the help of able bodied males or females to help with replacing the tarpaulins on the roof that are no longer effective at catching rain drops.

There would be so much to do. How exciting.

What constitutes making a start?

…The intensity of life events right now does not lend itself to careful, methodical working and reflection but forces me to grab time and squeeze every drop out of it. One moment I am writing furiously in a small black notebook and ripping out pages to paste into my sketchbook, the next I am making delicate structures out of wire. In another, pummeling clay in the garden to make a bed to cast from, then working away with paint in a demolished space that was a kitchen and will one day be a bedroom for a baby. One weekend in Suffolk, I decided to work on an old canvas from my brother’s art foundation over fourteen years ago which has lived most of its life in a barn in my mum’s garden. I liked the surface of the canvas – it was cracked from age and covered in cobwebs. These I had to rub off before I could then paint the canvas white – wetting the back in the hope that the two large dents right at its centre might sort themselves out. This felt exciting and also scary. With only a week to go before submission day – I was about to try something very different.

When I arrived with my monster canvas for the hanging – struggling to get up the stairs with a pram, a 2 month old baby and several bags of sketchbooks and equipment – I felt nervous and expectant – this turned so quickly to sickness and mortification on catching the tutors expression (it wasn’t intended for me, I guess, since I had my back to them) – a grimace, a look of disgust. This was a shock. It was shocking – it was like being slapped round the face. It floored me…

That was then. There has been a deep sense of change and anticipation surrounding becoming a mum for the first time and trying to carry on with the art work over the last six months with a constant competition for time and energy. In many subtle ways my art projects have helped me manage my transition into motherhood. They have been a constant over time and I have appreciated the value this has had in keeping me grounded, as well as driving me up the wall. I haven’t managed to do very much to develop my work over the last – well nearly 3 months. I had some paid work which took up most of any spare time I could find over the summer and since August I have been trying to take things easy. But enough is enough. All the thinking about it and talking about it – all the looking back over old work trying to judge whether or not there’s actually any point in pursuing it, all the potential shown in some of the paintings and drawings – these activities do not constitute making a start. They could be described as preparations – but I know as well as you – there will come a point sometime fairly soon (surely to goodness!) where I really am just going to have to get going and start doing two things at once again.

S’not bad. S’all right.

With Louise Bourgeois as a starting point, I am trying to find out more about her fabric figures and how to make one myself out of old baby grows. I started to look at how parts of the body can be broken up to make a pattern. After a visit to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood I have been searching for doll patterns to see how others had solved this problem. I have used wire (galvanised and silver plaited) to make small figures and want to see how various materials lend themselves to exploring ideas in relation to pregnancy, birthing and motherhood. My dad kindly invested in a large amount of clay and built a clay bed to try out casting figures in plaster. I have great plans for creating an interesting maybe life size sculpture – but that’s probably just too ambitious. Especially since I can’t even do a few drawings in a sketchbook and would rather sit here writing about it than get on and do it.

The process I fall back on which was established during the last couple of projects I did at college is; taking lots of photos, drawing from photos to work out composition and then painting from the photo usually on A1 size grey card. Painting gives way to charcoal and chalk as I try to find the line, and pick out the important shapes. S’not bad. S’all right.

Doing two things at once?

I really struggled to plan and manage the final major project for my Art Foundation due to having a baby. I was probably being overly ambitious even thinking I could do both at the same time. Lack of time, energy and focus were a major factor and ‘planning’ when you don’t know what’s happening from one moment to the next isn’t really practical. Even down to squeezing paint out of a tube. Acrylic paint dries quickly. I got through a lot of it and not because I was painting! I worked out how to use every moment on offer to do or think about something useful. That in itself was pretty excruciating. I am instinctively someone who will put off starting most things forever if I can – which of course is seldom possible.

I had to question my motivation. I had been searching for something more than to fulfill the course criteria; for a direction and a focus that would take me beyond the course into the future as a new mum with artistic aspirations. While deadlines were helpful, in some ways they interrupted and confused my development. I struggled with my own process and purpose. Generating ideas wasn’t a problem. However, settling on one and following it through was not at all easy. The challenges I faced making any decisions on direction are reflected in my journal. My lack of development shows.

Feedback from my mum and dad has been similar – interesting for me given that they separated many years ago and are not in contact with each other. They both went to art school and my dad is a painter. As well as being supportive and encouraging they are also the most honest and critical (!) about my work. They both independently challenged me to develop my technique in drawing and painting and not to rely on quick wins or clever gizmos to get me through. My strength lies in drawing and sculpture. My painting technique and understanding of paint and colour etc. is limited and yet this is what I tried to grapple with.

In retrospect to go for painting (not my strong point) and to work on portraits (which I have never done before) seems a bit crazy. I could have given myself an easier time and stuck to my own brief and worked on a sculpture. The portraits taught me a great deal but the result does not reflect the dynamism of my ideas and some of the other work I have done. It’s a shame. My last minute departure into abstract painting in the last week before the deadline was an attempt to give myself some space to express, to play and to be free. I had a good time doing it – but the tutors’ faces when I turned up with that monster and set it up against the wall! Baby under one arm, canvas under the other. My little world almost imploded.

I have generated enough ideas and dabbled with enough technique to keep me going for some time. The artists I looked at were an inspiration and gave me the confidence to make my pregnancy and the birth the subject of my work. This also meant putting aside a whole load of my own negativity about women artists and women’s art and wanting to distance myself from this.

The ongoing challenge remains; how am I going to keep going with this painting and drawing with a small baby on the go the whole time. I got a good sized table set up in the window. Paints all lined up in a nice wooden box I rescued from the street. Sketchbooks and reference piled up neatly. Deep breath, turn over a page and make a mark.

A great night out

I had a great night out last weekend, my first overnight without the baby. My partner suggested that I stay up in London at my dad’s instead of trying to get home to Brighton from Muswell Hill on a Saturday night after a friend’s party. I set off in the rain and when I got to Victoria it was icy cold and still tipping down. I jumped on a bus and got talking to a middle aged man from Bexhill who was sitting behind me. We talked about the credit crunch and as he worked for an architect’s firm as a builder he new about a huge contract that had just been lost in Russia which to him was a sign of things to come. When the conversation started to get a bit jumbled and he invited me to sit beside him to save craning my neck – I decided it was time to jump off the bus. I was at Trafalgar square. Perfect.

I was sort of curious to see what I would do with my hours in London before the party. Even though it was raining hard, the crowds were still heavy. I found myself on automatic pilot as I headed towards Covent Garden. It was quite strange – a mix of excitement and mild anxiety. Well, more accurately I felt nervous and a bit naïve. Similar feelings to those I remember at 14 years old, the first few times I got the train down from Ipswich to Liverpool Street. I swept through Covent Garden eyeing shops that 20 odd years ago I would have explored religiously in search of bargains. Eventually I tripped back over Blackfriars to the Southbank and walked under the blue lights on my way to the Tate. My jeans clung soaking into my legs and I smiled to myself as I thought how little the rain mattered today and how ordinarily it would have left me feeling very miserable indeed if I had to spend all day out in it.

I passed the Oxo tower and the MA Graduation Show from Kingston University’s Art Faculty was on so I ducked in hoping to see some drawing and to dry out. I hunted around for ‘Drawing as Process’ supposedly in Room 8 but stumbled instead across illustration and animation and was blown away. Some really fabulous and sensitive drawing as it turns out. On to the Tate and I made a bee line for the café and perched on a window ledge with a chamomile tea watching people and just existing in a single state with no baby. It was, quite remarkable. So very familiar and yet unusually alien. Not sure what more to say about that. I literally raced through the Rothko exhibition, it was heaving with people and only the thought that I didn’t know when I might get back up to London made me go in and have a quick look instead of kidding myself there’s going to be anytime soon when there will be less people and time to take a leisurely look. And anyway, it was the Bacon that I really wanted to see and I could have sworn that it was at Tate modern.

I caught the bus on London Bridge north towards Friern Barnet jumping off at Angel – stupidly; I don’t know what I thought I was going to do in the rainy dark at gone 6. It’s because I used to work round there a lot and I just wanted to reconnect with it for a moment to see how it felt. I jumped back on the number 43 – good thinking getting a day bus pass – headed up to Muswell Hill and a welcome Planet Organic at my destination bus stop. I had a coffee and wrote my friend’s card (I had been thinking about her all day on and off – running between home and the British Legion making preparations for her birthday party and presumably getting soaked each time). The party was lovely, I chatted happily to a couple in their late 60’s – he taught at the Royal College and she (Italian) wrote (I think). My friend whose party it was gave a moving speech and her dad got up to say a few words not least of which was about how unbelievable it was to for him to be saying a few words on his own daughters 50th birthday. Wow I could only begin to imagine how profound that must feel to him and to her. It was a precious moment.

I caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen for over a year and we did 10 minutes dancing before my dad texted to say he was outside. He came to pick me up. How about that?! I was secretly very grateful that he was happy to trog up from Bethnal Green on a Saturday night to get me. Although I had sussed out that the 43 went back via Old Street Roundabout and I could probably find my way back to his from there, I was not completely enamored about hanging out for buses in the rain once again. So, I climbed in the back of the van and lay down. My friend was going to get a lift to Stoke Newington. As she had on high heels and nice black tights I figured she should sit up in the front. And as my dad said – I am the camping type and climbing in the back of a van is no big deal for someone like me. Well, that’s true.

We got back to Bethnal Green and stayed up chatting till 2 and there was plenty more talking that could have been done. There’s never enough time. Next day on my way back to Brighton I swung by Columbia Road market. Love it and don’t love it at all – can’t make my mind up. Caught up with my brother who was borrowing a studio off Bethnal Green Road to do some hours on art work for a Santa’s grotto. I found myself thinking and then saying to my brother that watching what was happening in his life made me feel for the first time ever- I wish I was 10 years younger!. I felt envious – not a familiar feeling I have to say – thankfully! On my way back to Victoria I walked up Brick Lane and ogled at the uber cool. My goodness it was rocking. I texted my partners 15 year old daughter to say we must come up with her and a friend one Sunday sometime soon and that she’d love it. I was perhaps thinking more about myself at 15 and how if I had happened upon Brick Lane that Sunday I would think I had died and gone to heaven. In those days I hung out in Camden. I don’t know what Camden is like right now but certainly the scene in Brick Lane was as close to happening as you can get and more.

I have spent a lot of time in all of these places over the years. Mostly on my bike dashing between jobs, my dad’s, a gallery or a meeting with my partner after work. I was moving through these spaces as I have done so many times before, but what can I say – it all felt very different indeed!

Time to get started (again!)

Earlier this year I finished a two year part time Art Foundation. I submitted a sketchbook, reflections diary and several nearly finished paintings. It was all OK- but not great and I got a pass. The thing is, I had a baby (first time) in March and it was a real challenge to adapt to all that goes with becoming a mum and to somehow retain enough energy and focus to see the final major project of my Art Foundation through. There is a lot to say about this but there is something specific to start with. Both at the time and on reflection – I felt very sure that having this major project to finish in such a short space of time as well as having a new baby kept me sane. It suited my temperament and ensured that I had neither the time nor the spare energy to become preoccupied with worrying thoughts in relation to my new daughter. I took becoming a new mum in my stride (in many ways!) and adapted quickly to whatever came my way as well as keeping my focus on the art and motivation high enough to use all spare minutes to draw and paint.