The Importance of Titles

I registered my new project with the Arts Council and began to write the words in the letter boxes.

(Handy Hint no 1: DON’T type them in the letter boxes on the form, type them somewhere else, check the character count, then paste them in, then click save IMMEDIATELY)

About half way down the page concerning the quality of the project, where I describe in more detail what it is I want the funding for, I realise that Ive registered it under the wrong title. The stupidity cuffed me round the earhole. For over a year I’ve had two titles rolling around in my head, and for some reason I decided one was to be the project title. I was wrong! Big Time wrong! So I have changed it. I’m not going to say what the wrong one was, as I might use it for something else down the line. But the right title is:

“The Tenth Woman”.

Now those of you who have been following this might recognise the title. Now I’ve changed it, everything makes so much more sense, is balanced and focussed .

*forehead-slap*

(if you feel inclined to look back, the dates of the posts are 03/05/17 and 12/05/17)

So this is the “new” project, with myself and my multifaceted, interdisciplinary practice I embody The Tenth Woman. Under her auspices I can gather these elements and work. I can allow myself to just BE The Tenth Woman.

Suddenly it all makes sense.

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Funding and Terror

Trying to write an artist statement while at a crossroads in your thinking is difficult, as you want to sound confident don’t you? My friend Debra Eck  is currently in this place too. I feel empathetic as I sit here trying to write a funding application from a similar position of uncertainty. Changed work… Shift of focus… But this is precisely why I need a period of funding, to get me through that period of precarious perching to a place where I can commit to a body of work and plough through again to (hopefully) find a higher plane.

So I’m teetering on the brink again. Applying for funding is very much about speculating to accumulate. If they say yes, then it’s all worthwhile. If they say no then it’s weeks of work down the pan. Work that will never be paid for or offset against the joy of being given the money!

I’ve spent months pondering the amorphous blob of ideas, willing it to coalesce into something firm and focussed and useful.

Last week, thank god, I could actually see it. So it’s time to start filling in the form.

I’ve spent time helping and supporting other artists fill in their forms so I am now quite familiar with the format and the idiosyncrasies of the Grantium platform. I’m even now in a position to offer professional help if anyone wants me to, and if you have any specific needs in terms of accessing the forms (for example if you have a visual impairment) then ACE will pay for that support for you. They are wonderful people and it is an amazing organisation, but the application process can be a nightmare.

But however familiar I am with the process, writing my own bid is a different beast. the emotional attachment to the work creates obstacles. My own terror can too. I have decided that one of my targets for this project should be to gain the confidence and technical skills required for a solo performance. These words have been inserted, deleted, and inserted agin every time I open the application.

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The glorious thing about being in a band, or even with one other person accompanying is the camaraderie. Dan is a wonderful man to have next to me on a stage. I swear that man can read my mind, and can certainly pick up on anything untoward, and steer it off! The band is great too. I have Ian, Andy, Lloyd and John all beside me, or hiding behind me. their support for me up front singing is palpable to me. I feel it properly. It is easy to “perform” the relationships between us all, and in doing so, immediately the audience know we are good people, they see it in those relationships. It is relatable.

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But how do you convey that without the onstage interaction?

And this is exactly the point at which my thoughts about the project coalesced.

Those drawings about relationships and interaction rely upon there being several elements on the page/stage.

But what happens when there’s only ONE?

How and Why?

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I like there to be some sort of relationship between the WAY that I work and my SUBJECT.

Sometimes I have found this takes a long time to develop. I keep saying “Trust the process!” But I can get to the point of desperation and question the truth of that statement as time goes on.

This new work, these drawings, has been tricky. Textiles and garments are easy peasy. It is fairly simplistic, representational. Stitches are also easy to connect to the themes – see?

But that is exactly my point. That simplicity, while inherently beautiful, is also the sticking point.

I have outlined here in previous posts, how the circumstances of work, home, family, and studio conspired to change everything. I don’t know if everything would have changed if it had all stayed stable? But it didn’t. So what the world offered me, along with all that crap, was an opportunity to think differently for a while. Ditch the objects and the stitching (maybe temporarily, who knows?) and get on with something else. The something else was a diversion, I told myself, occupational therapy… all that… but… niggling at my hindbrain was the fact that I had been stuck and I needed to get UNstuck. The drawings have evolved over the last six months or so to a point where the start is now not visible. I know where it is, and if you’ve been following, you might be able to too.

Just this week, I have, at last, noticed where it sits.

As my pencil searches for anomalies in the texture of the paper and the surface marks of the watercolour, I realise that while I had been stitching, that’s what I had been looking for… a relationship to pick up on.. an unseen “thing” to latch onto, to draw attention to. I have been looking for mutations and anomalies and family resemblance, inherited traits and cycles. In the drawings I have been setting up the culture for these anomalies: Using watercolour, making my own indentations in the softer papers. I then look for one place, one part of the drawing to relate to another, just as I had searched for one person’s affect on another in the garments. I wasn’t pushing or stretching those relationships when I was working with stitches so much. What I can do now is manipulate and provide a culture that allows me to interfere more I think. The drawings are more experimental than the textiles. They are more exploratory. I am able to do more than just point at things and say “look at this”.

With the drawing I am reaching and reacting. I am doing more than observing and illustrating. I am making something happen.

Sometimes you need to get out of the place where you are too comfortable, where things are too easy. Sometimes uncomfortable is the place where things happen.

The Lion and The Lamb

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Is it egotistic of me to see the world bending itself into metaphors for my life?

Or, being kinder to myself, do I see my life reflected in the circumstances that surround me?

March – it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

I was born in March and my mum used to say I was both lion and lamb. Sometimes simultaneously. Am I like this because she said that, or did she say that because that’s how I am? Would she have said it if I had been born in August?

The studio we were on the brink of securing has fallen through completely, at what seemed like the final hurdle. I don’t know that I will ever know why. It just did.

So I’m here again, the boxes are still piled around with me, but with no new studio imminent. The house is also lion/lamb and is doing neither very well. The lamb might well get eaten if I don’t cage the lion, or tame it. What’s the point in that though? If you have a lion, it’s got to be a fierce wild one, right?

I think I have to forget about the studio option. It’s driving me bonkers. I have to drill down and find the things a studio gives me, without the space itself being a reality. Hopefully if I can do this, the resulting choreography will result in me being in the right frame of mind and in the right place to find something else that does the trick… I will be able to see other opportunities. If I deal with the lion, the lamb will look after itself? But the lamb is under siege, I need to deal with my home. I need to look after it. This I can do, I can control. We have stopped seeing the boxes and excess furniture and absorbed them. We sidle around the bed, we hang our coats on the boxes in the hall, dump our bags on the extra chair that’s wrapped in bubble wrap. We peer at each other over the extra microwave on the dining table, and plonk the post on top of it. I think if I deal with these things, life will be better: I will no longer be in-waiting, and will be able to get on with things. There are things I could and should be doing. Inactivity and indecision have rendered me unproductive. (Having a pile of hundreds of drawings that sit there doing nothing doesn’t count for anything.)

The Lion and Lamb are in limbo. We have deep snow here again. Normal patterns are disrupted and halted. We had those glorious warmer sunny days when we took off our coats occasionally. We could see the spring and the hope: Daffodils, primulas, grape hyacinths flowering, crocuses in the lawn… We had a dark hellebore hiding against the dark soil that is now stunning, purple-black against the snow. The snow, like the end of the studio dream, has halted me again, but the hellebore shows me that all is not lost. Outside the french window while I draw I see the red maple budding, and the sprouting twigs poke through clouds of the drifting snow, reminding me of my own drawings.

Inspired again, my lion lies down with my lamb and all is calm for a while.

Superconductor

I had great response from all sorts of people on International Women’s Day when I posted a Sedimentary-Pea-Pod-Vagina image on Twitter and Instagram. These shapes, forms and lines are a little intoxicating. One person said they were somewhat disturbing… another sensuous…another that they held sexual tension… and another saying they felt they needed a shower… I’ll leave that thought with you a while…

Now these responses, whilst amusing and interesting, have also stopped me in my tracks a bit. These drawings are sort-of-automatic. I’ve said before that I don’t really look at the rest of the page when I’m drawing in one corner. Composition, while obviously to a degree a matter of habit and experience, does happen accidentally. Sometimes I like the wonky ones better. They are a little bit stream-of-consciousness…. so such responses have me asking what the hell is going on in my head? God knows.

My intention was/is to find a tension between the animal/vegetable/mineral so that the drawings are all or none of these things. I like confusion and ambiguity. But this? Questions will be asked!

My PROCESS is informed by my experience of drawing. Over 50 years of drawing, almost every day of my life, has led me to this. The CONTENT is informed by the last ten years or so of rather deeper thought than the previous 40… but the influence is there of course, by necessity. I haven’t had a brain transplant. Many of these years have been spent stitching so I have surprised myself by returning to drawing… until I think about it more carefully… then perhaps not such a surprise. There is something in my make up that draws me to drawing. Something in me that sees the importance of drawing. There are always connections when you look.

I spent about ten years teaching child development, behaviour, play and creativity to child care students, as well as working in a variety of pre-school environments as my own children grew up. I see drawing as a developmental tool and an indicator for all sorts of things. I spent all those years with all those students telling them that whatever else they provide for the children, they must ALWAYS provide pencils and paper, EVERY day, ALL the time. I have no idea if this has had an effect on anyone. I just know that it is important on a deeply human level. Hand-Eye-Brain coordination if you like. Expression. Fluency and “fitness”. Draw from observation, from imagination or whatever you like. Just draw.

I spent another ten years (with a bit of overlap) in a primary school trying to get people – parents – children – teachers – to understand there’s no such thing as “I can’t draw”. If we spent as much time on drawing as we do on literacy the evidence would be there. Everyone can draw. We teach children to read and write, but they’re not all going to be Nobel prize winners. We can teach* children to draw without expecting them all to become artists. There is a visual language that we need too. Some children possibly more than others need this way to communicate and we are not serving them well by denying them the time and attention needed.

Within this context, this Elena-ness, there is a purity about drawing for me. An essence of humanity. This is on a physical level, but also psychological and philosophical. I think there are reasons I became “stuck” working with the textiles. I needed something more… or maybe that should be something less… or something nearer? I needed to dig deeper. For this I needed a super conductor, so that less was lost between brain ~ hand ~ paper.

I am a little bemused by the comments I have received but also gratified. My work is always about some sort of touch and connection. So if the drawing as superconductor approach has led to the ultimate human connection that should come as no surprise should it?

As a result though, I now have questions that I should try to work through:

What are these animal~vegetable~mineral connections?

Is it on a cellular level or an intellectual level?

Is the “deeper” physical or conceptual or both?

Can I be more explicit about touch?

Can I be less chaotic about the cyclic nature of my subjects and themes?

Or is the chaotic what throws up the interesting things?

Is this really about sex?

Sex is really close to death… I wrote a song…

(Caution recommended – heavy breathing alert!)

https://soundcloud.com/elena-thomas/distracted-10-05-15/s-6ZTAE

*The word “teach” here encompasses many things from pre-school painting experiences through observational drawing, to expressing ideas to the learning of techniques…

Seducing the Artist…

An artist can be seduced by new materials. It can be so intoxicating that you forget what you are trying to do. I mentioned in a previous post about being a Methodology Artist… In textile works I have over the last couple of years only allowed myself to use the fabric that is contained by a wooden tray on my desk. Curiously, however much of this fabric I use, the quantity doesn’t seem to get less… Anyway… the reason for the self-imposed restriction was an extension of my self-imposed restriction on buying new fabric. This was an ethical decision, we waste too much fabric and most of it ends up in landfill. It was also a restriction of palette that stopped me getting distracted by the shiny and new. Old fabric sits better with my ideas and themes.

restriction… rules… method…

I love using colour, and I think I use it well. But restricting myself to one particular pencil and one particular sort of paper has allowed exploration of the genre. I talked also of learning a new language. As with new language one aims for fluency. With this paper and this pencil (Daler-Rowney Mixed Media paper and a Faber Castell Jumbo 8B pencil if you’re interested) I felt increasingly in control. I knew how they worked together. I used the texture of the paper to enhance the form and textures of what I drew. A synergy of idea and the material that is really quite pleasing.

But you can’t find something pleasing and just stay there can you? You have to push it a bit. Now I am quite lazy really, and will happily go on in my comfort zone until pushed. Luckily I have those around me who will question and push. A simple question can lead you on…

So… back to the seduction. Instead of relying on the texture of the paper, It was asked “What if you affected the texture of the paper yourself…?”
hmmm… so now, in addition to the 8B, I have a 6H. This carves into the paper almost. I have spent a couple of days working things out, getting to know it. I could possibly draw 6H patterns forever, then draw over with the 8B… oh its a happy thing to do and behold! But drawing pretty patterns isn’t getting me anywhere. So now I have to work out whether it can add to anything. I have an aversion to art that is just about cleverness with materials, Style Over Substance if you like… the terrible end point of being seduced by material beauty. (Opinions stated here are those of the artist). Meaning is sucked out.

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I return then to my sketch book and read back over my blog posts about what I was getting from the drawing that I wasn’t getting from the textile. I remind myself of my quest for the language to express those relationships. I go over my self-imposed rules of engagement and decide – or try to – which are no longer serving me.

The textiles are interesting still. They hold the relationships, they have a history. I can show links and connections. But I think they got stuck at that… the drawings could push at those boundaries if I went beyond stitch, beyond human and beyond the figurative… somewhere between that and the pretty patterns lies a fluency to strive for.

I have in my head this glorious Eureka moment in which I will understand colour, form, meaning and one momentous piece of work will emerge, people will gasp in admiration and I can die happy.

Never going to happen.

…really?

There’s something different about saying things out loud don’t you think?

There’s certainly something different about playing a song to the songwriting circle instead of in your head/bedroom/car.

And theres a difference between looking at a drawing on the sitting room floor rather than on a public wall.

I’ve been playing over in my head a conversation I had over a pot of tea with my erstwhile studio buddy Sarah Goudie. At the time it seemed like I knew what I was talking about. But as I replay my words I have doubts… I realise I felt defensive.

“It’s the same!” I insisted
“Nothing’s changed!”
“It’s all about the same themes, the songs too!”
“I’m just looking from a different angle!”

(move along… nothing to see here…)

…and then, in the cold, quiet house at about 1:30am a still, small voice said…

 

“really?”

 

Well done Elena.

I sit here now, my Comfort Blanket lies in shreds around me. A hundred miles away I can hear Bo Jones laughing at me. Have I been kidding myself?

Over the last nine months things HAVE changed. The ground has shifted perceptibly beneath my feet. Faced with the mortality of my husband, I face my own. (Edited for clarity, nobody died, he was just very ill and now he’s ok!) I’m 57 this month (happy birthday to me… etc. etc.) and resentfully peri-menopausal. Resentful that I’m so old, and resentful that I’m so old and its still not over. The words I write are darkly feminine. They are not pink. They are not flowery. They are not sugar and spice and all things nice. They are belladonna and arsenic and very nasty. They will not be presented to the band. They will burn a hole in my notebook until I find a use for them… or the writing of them is their use… already done.

Back to the drawings then… I get down to the nitty gritty and actually look at them properly. Well… more properly than I’ve looked at them so far. I don’t even look at the left of the paper when I’m drawing on the right, I realise. One of the self-imposed rules? Then I put them away. Then start another.

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They are scary. They are the things in my head that I’m refusing to face. Manifest on the page. Shouting at me…

Meanwhile, I’m in the soundproof booth with my headphones on singing lalalalala! (delightfully in tune of course)

Have you seen Stranger Things?

These drawings are my Upside Down.

What the fuck am I supposed to do now?

Language and Method: Finding out the swear words and where the loo is…

In my last post about the audio sketchbook I talked about establishing a methodology…

I have found over the last ten years or so that I’m a methodology sort of artist. I make rules for myself, decide what is important about what I’m trying to say, then try to fix a way of saying that, and explore the new language that arises. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m working with textiles and garments and stitching; recording, songwriting and performing; or most recently these drawings. The exploration and play force new associations.

The frustration over the lack of a studio led to me not looking back at what I’d drawn before. I’d do a few drawings, then put them into a folder, then do a few more. This resulted in definite development of certain favourite motifs. I would repeat that ogee-leaf shape and try to make it not look like a leaf so I ended up with a selection of sedimentary-rock-pea-pod-vaginas… nice.

My latest few drawings are not in ink, and they have no colour. I am somewhat irritated by the inherent messiness of the 8B pencil. But when I do manage to keep it crisp I am satisfied with the results. The ink/colour drawings were becoming occasionally stylised and cartoon like, my lines lazy. So the fact I am having to work harder to get at what I want is a good thing.

But yet again I have my rules. It has to be 8B. I’ve tried various others, but they just don’t quite do the job I want. 7B isn’t dense or soft enough. 9B is just unmanageable and very bad language ensues! I have a pen shaped rubber which I am only allowed to use to clean the paper, not to erase the drawing.

I am establishing a vocabulary.

This morning I have got out all the drawings. Right from the beginning, including the ones that appeared in my sketchbook as original textile project ideas. I soon discovered they held something that could not be expressed in stitch. So I pressed on…

It appears the drawings fall into seven categories that have evolved organically… appropriately.

each series teaches me more. It’s like the child acquiring language: the most important words come first. Subtleties, nuance, syntax and good grammar follow. A sense of humour and a little weirdness grow out of fluency. I am not fluent in whatever language this is, and I certainly don’t know what it is I’m trying to say yet. But I’m aiming at weird and funny maybe?

But I think I’m at the point where I can order a good meal, a beer, find out where the loo is….

The Audio Sketchbook

It can take an artist a long time to figure out how their sketchbook works best for them, and once the habits are established, the sketchbook is as individual as a fingerprint. Mine is no exception. I have documented mine a few times in these posts so I won’t go into that now, but I have recently though been pondering the nature of the audio sketchbook. I’m sure other songwriters have things that work for them, but it’s not really been my area as a developing artist over the decades so I’m sort of working things out as I go along.

I have my songwriting notebook: a notebook of lyrics as they come to me. Handwritten, scribbled, adjusted and edited. The pages themselves might be, or become, messy with the working. But the pages are titled, dated, catalogued very precisely. This is the lesson I first learned from Dan Whitehouse and it has stood me in good stead as I am easily able to find things at a later date. On these pages I will also note who has participated and contributed, and where any audio files can be found. It’s habit. Thats all. “Housekeeping” which is far more diligent than my housekeeping.

The audio files are also dated, and in folders, and backed up…so the development of each song can be tracked back. If that Sheeran bloke steals something of mine, I will have historical documentation to prove I got there first!

My problem is my brain hasn’t been trained to recollect the audio without going in to each file and listening for two minutes before going “oh yeah, that!” So it is time consuming for me. My visual brain is faster.

Having said all of the above, I am having to adapt and put in place a system to help me organise my slow ears/brain. I am embarking on a plan to develop and record some solo songs/sound pieces. I am in the stage where I collect, review, experiment… try to find ways of going about things that are unique to me. My partner in this solo endeavour (oxymoron I know) is the aforementioned Dan Whitehouse, who has been my songwriting mentor all along. His brilliance lies in his understanding of what I am trying to achieve, showing me what is possible, but without interrupting my slow processes… unless he has a eureka moment…

We have had three studio sessions where play is the order of the day really. I sing chords (clever huh?) and say things like “Can the washing machine sound a bit more violinny? Like it’s breathing?” (the answers are “yes” and “yes”).

Over those three sessions we have established a basic methodology that incorporates my looper, a selection of sound scraps, and some overlaid layers of vocal, and a wide variety of production styles and methods. Now I’m not saying what we have is the finished article, because it isn’t. But it is a page from my sketch book. It is a moment of departure marked. Stick a pin in here, a post-it note, and move along. This track is the reference for the next stage.

It’s going to take a while.

Uselessness and the 8B pencil

As a means of self-preservation, I keep my head below the parapet.

I don’t watch the news, or read the paper on a regular basis. I like my news sanitised and palatable. I know. I am accused often of being naive and idealistic. I like it that way, because my alternative is a very dark place that I fear.

This week however, I have found myself accidentally faced with television news. People are taking lives. I know they always have. I’m not stupid. Angry young men shoot people. Angry older men take knives to their own children. People jump in front of trains and off tall buildings… All within a ten mile radius of my house. The human condition is bleak. Children are getting shot in places where they should feel safe and protected. More and more ordinary people have nowhere to live. My local town centre now has more people living in doorways than I can count on both hands. It used to be maybe one, or two.… I cannot do anything about any of it. My circle is closed up around me but I can’t keep anyone safe. One son is a couple of hundred miles away, another is living under this roof but is dealing with child protection issues on an hourly basis. They are both adults I have no means of protecting.

Meanwhile I’m drawing stupid little drawings. I’m doing colouring in. I’m regressing to the child because the adult has no fucking idea what to do about anything.

I’ll do some sewing. I’ve bought some baby vests and I thought I might do some lovely embroidery and appliqué to spread some palatable and aesthetically agreeable disease on them.

This morning, my anger at the anger has forced me to get out an 8B pencil. Wow. There’s anger for you.

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