Review of My Year (not THE year, there’s enough of that going on)

Review of the Year… a long read… sorry… get some tea and biscuits first maybe?

2020… yes… it’s been a bit crap really hasn’t it, generally? But I don’t want to write a review about a virus, my fury at the government and what hasn’t been done… what I haven’t done… I wanted to look at the sweep of the year for me… what has happened, what I’ve done, and how I have felt about it. And then maybe a tentative look forward?

The innocent(ish) days of January, I was feeling a bit low. I do usually in January anyway, like many people. I had spent most of 2019 trying to apply for ACE funding. Four attempts in 2019. The final of that year being rejected in the week before Christmas. Suffice to say I was feeling weary from it all. I decided to forget about it until Mid January to give myself some recovery time, to re-engage with my practice, which naturally had suffered a little while all that form filling was going on. I found space in a description of the creative process from J K Rowling of all people. The well crafted project draws from a lake of inspiration, then spends time being worked at in the shed. Some projects are in need of more shed, some need another dip in the lake. 

Despite feeling the analogy fitted me quite well, by February I was feeling a real lack of inspiration and motivation. I decided to give ACE one more go, before a complete rewrite was necessary. So I pulled together whatever personal resources I had left in me and submitted another form. Three days before the decision was due, I received a letter saying that all project funding had been halted in order to respond to the needs of the arts community in the fast developing Covid-19 crisis. I descended even further. I was feeling my age (and more) and was feeling a need for connection and mutuality that was about to be pulled from underneath me.

(Be Careful What You Wish For)

In March the goalposts moved and we realised life was going to have to change rapidly, and probably for a long time. I brought home lots of equipment and materials, took over the dining room in an attempt to kid myself I could carry on as usual. I couldn’t, of course. 

In an attempt to retrieve that sense of connection, I went round 12 of the houses closest to me, dropped a card through the door to invite people to join a neighbourhood WhatsApp group, in case we needed each other in the coming weeks. Most people joined, and we found a sense of community we hadn’t had before. I offered my services as an art teacher to anyone who had children, and offered a goody bag of materials if needed. As a throw away note in brackets I said I could supply to interested adults too. Every household in the group had a pack of stuff… they all used some of it, some used all of it. Some of the brave ones posted photos of what they had done. It was lovely. Buoyed by success, I then started up a Facebook group for artists who draw. That’s been great too… a real fellowship… company… reassurance.

But by the end of April I was feeling conflicted with the work… my thoughts being about touch, in an environment where touch had become a taboo. There was a real and a figurative disconnect. I reverted to my sketchbook, found writing hard, and felt an all-pervading sadness that sat on my chest. I cried frequently, without obvious provocation.

By May I was really missing the band, and the singing. 

I dismantled the oldest garden shed that had been the start of the merging of art and music in my life. A sad farewell. The work coming off the dining table was morphing slightly. I had a financial boost from the Arts Council Emergency response fund, which really gave me a psychological boost and I decided that whenever they reopened the funding, I’d be ready to slam in a new, rewritten application. So that’s what I worked on, alongside other bits of drawing. 

In June, when restrictions eased a little I felt confident to head back into the studio, and gradually returned all the materials I had brought home, returning the dining room to the domestic. I had started to write again, and had a set of lockdown lyrics to send out to the guys. Over all this time, I have actually written quite a few things… but after a period of blank sheets… it took a while to get going and then, once I got going, to write lyrics that said a little bit more than “I’m shut in the house and I hate it”. 

Once back in the studio, I began to question my processes again, readdress my rules of engagement. I changed tack, changed materials and set up a few diversionary tactics.

In July, my new funding application was taking shape. Having a smaller sum from ACE had enabled me to undergo a certain amount of research, and a bit of soul-searching too. I felt the new project, although in some ways leading on from the old, felt fresh and exciting. I talked about leaving space to grow. Leaving space for the collaborator, the co-writer, the viewer and the listener. I zoomed with artists and musicians and began at last to feel I could get somewhere, that I could still work.

In amongst all this, we started to get ready to put our house on the market. Madness eh? I sorted out materials, and gave them away to other artists, (even sent some to Sweden!) schools, art groups. I sold some old work, and took loads to the charity shops. July made space, and I finished my application form.

After spending what seemed like years trying to convince myself that the song is a drawing and a drawing is a song, at last, the Arts Council agreed with me, and said that Drawing Songs could be funded. I cried about that too. Relief, joy, sadness, worry, a little fear and a little bit more hope… This was an endorsement for my efforts, a validation and a real boost emotionally, professionally and oh my god yes, FINANCIALLY! Wonderful wonderful ACE!

September saw me dig in. I organised, zoomed some more, emailed and phoned.

October saw the re-emergence of my work ethic. I had a wonderful, socially distanced session in the gallery with Sarah Goudie, and lots of drawings and bits of music in progress. I wanted to mark a starting point for the project. I also invited in Laura Rhodes for a photo/video shoot, just to assess where I was and where I wanted to be, and how I envisaged getting there. I thought carefully about the importance of the right collaborator. I’ve been very lucky, especially musically. And this time round with Michael Clarke as producer/engineer and co-writer seems to be right on point. I am still missing the band terribly. But this project will see me at last find and acknowledge my own musical voice, acknowledge the sadness of it too.

November was brilliant. Music files pinged across the internet back and forth as we started work on this pile of sounds and words. I am thrilled with Michael’s input. He has understood my ideas and put things together beautifully. It isn’t the same as working in the same room. But it will do for now, it has its advantages, and when we eventually get into the studio together – his and mine – we will have a packed agenda. I start to realise what my job description is here, as prompted by Laura’s question… it’s a huge curation… how do I put these elements together to make something more than the sum of its parts (I often nod at Aristotle in this way)

In December, Michael and I take a break for children, Christmas, and to be honest a bit of recovery from the whole damn year, with a brief to reconvene in January. I wallow in the domestic. I bake and clean. I let myself draw bees, take risks, record the sounds of rain on the car roof, of leaves and snow underfoot… I pack up some books, and get ready to move house in January (crosses fingers and touches wood)

In my head, January’s plan is to spend time concentrating on sound, rhythm and melody. I have the words.

My hopes are that with a vaccine, we will tentatively be able to get into the gallery and the studio and will carefully start to build on all these ideas hothoused in times of lockdown. There are some bloody good songs waiting, and some bloody big, amazing drawings!

Happy New Year all!


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