It’s like learning a new language really… and there are levels of fluency to be achieved, from basic “one beer please” or “where is the toilet?”, to being able to express complex emotions, or write poetry.
I think any blogger would agree that it is hard to remain permanently positive…
I always said I would be an honest blogger, but sometimes that means actually not posting anything, because no one wants to hear me moan all the time do they?
Quick moan, and then perhaps an explanation…
I’m in pain with my knee. Sometimes this is low-level, ever present but manageable and mostly ignorable in terms of what I can get done. Sometimes it is the sort of pain that is shouting in my ear, and rattling my brain, making it really difficult to listen, process and respond… I’ve had a few of the latter lately, and it grinds you down doesn’t it? I know there are a few who read this who put up with similar, and worse. It’s not a competition and I’m not really looking for sympathy here. I state it in order to put things into perspective. Some days I go to the studio to be distracted from it. Some days I feel I shouldn’t drive. Some days if I got there, I’d have trouble getting up the stairs. This has an effect on my thinking about how I work, and indeed what I work on. Content, context…
I am also fortunate in that there may soon be a solution to my problem, through surgery, medication or both. So I hang on by my fingernails, trying to stay positive. But it isn’t real life that, is it?
I have been having many conversations lately about the mental health of artists, how to sustain and how to build a life, and how it may or may not be possible to earn a living. Not many artists I know, for instance make enough money (from just their art) to pay tax. That is nowhere near a living wage if you have a home and children. There is always something else that has to be done in order to pay the bills. Whether this is shelf-stacking, bar work, teaching or caring, it takes a toll on the creative self. It is easy for the creative self to be subsumed, consumed… exhausted… forgotten?
And yet, I know to my cost that this has its perils, so I now choose to not do those extra things – or rather – not too many of them. (Because I am older, this is possible now, without going into personal details.)
I have built a tool kit of ways to maintain myself, and build myself. I also now try to surround myself with people who understand what it is to maintain this part of the creative self, and we help each other along. I find it helps to explore my own nature… to go with the flow and not worry too much about when things get done. Sod the dusting, washing… even the cooking… most things can wait… including the blog writing…
This bunch are keeping me afloat at the moment… they bring me so much joy!
(photo credit Simon Meddings)
Since my last post I have taken delivery of a large roll of good quality paper… this was a gift from a very generous friend, who thought I should be drawing instead of moaning about how I couldn’t afford to order it yet. Bless her heart!
So I began to draw on it straight away, using those things I had learned from using the crappy paper. I don’t know how practical this will be, but my intention is to not cut the paper. It is five feet wide, and eleven metres long… I know the mixed measurements are unsatisfactory… sorry… but that’s what it said on the bit of paper! basically you just need to know it’s huge.
The rolled up end is propped at one end of the table, and I am unrolling it a table-width at a time. I don’t know how I’m going to manage the worked end just yet… I have already had to add a third table to my working space to take the width of it. I surround the table with chairs and I move from one to another while I work. This is how I wanted it. The motifs have increased in scale a bit, naturally, but the drawing is still happening within the sort of area encased by my arms when I adopt the “don’t copy my answers” pose. Each section of drawing takes about a day, and the choices are made according to mood, outlook and levels of belligerence. I think I’m getting somewhere. There is a tightness… I like that… but there’s lots of it… which lends a sort of relentlessness to it. It is a bit like a diary… a bit… each section a statement of the day. Each section a measurement of sorts, concerning sleep~pain~love~sex~death~joy so some days are dark and tight.
Other days are ethereal and wispy and loose. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Meanwhile… perhaps this is also included in the feel of the drawings… is the state of limbo. I wait.
This afternoon I met a printer, and we talked about this distant mythical publication that may or may not happen. I had this glorious conversation about bindings and mixed paper stock and stitching and hand-painted/drawn end-papers, and short run feasibility. And then I sighed, I said “I’ll let you know”, we shook hands and parted company. It was one of those pivotal meetings, but there is also a sense I might never see him again!
I could have carried on for a while, but my stamina was flagging as I think I’ve found out what I wanted to know.
A large drawing is a problem for me… I have to know WHY I’m going bigger. Bigger isn’t a good enough reason on its own I don’t think. It has to achieve something.
Anyway… I found a reason… or two. I wanted the shapes and motifs to relate to each other over a space, but didn’t want to draw them smaller, or to hang them together, I wanted them on the same surface. I also wanted to create a sort of narrative. I had noted how the drawings changed, and their content and mood changed depending on what was happening in the other parts of my life, so I wanted to see if the story worked as a story.
What I discovered from this 14 day (ish) experiment is that the narrative element works, and the overlapping relationships work. What I didn’t like, and the thing which has led me to this morning’s halt is that the quality of the outcome isn’t working for me.
I suppose as a textiles person, the feel is important… how I touch the paper and how the paper touches me is a vital part of the work. How the materials interact with each other is crucial, because in these drawings it is the interactions which give the pencil the starting point. Those interactions are what I stare into, to see the drawing that it will become. All a bit wanky perhaps, but there it is. That’s my truth. I could have said self-indulgent, but that’s my truth too. It isn’t. But I say it to ward off those who might. I beat myself so they don’t need to beat me. This is a thing I am hoping to stop. This is why I am pointing it out. If I notice it, I can stop it BEFORE I say it or write it.
I digress…although it isn’t a digression, it might actually be the nub of the matter…
Things I like about this piece, now I’ve hung it on the studio wall, with my feet on the desk cup of tea in hand: The narrative element does work. I like the colours. I like some, but not all of the pencil marks. I like the way the shapes are starting to relate.
Things I don’t like about it: The paper is cheap and crappy. It has no character, so it doesn’t work hard enough, doesn’t pull its weight. The paint hasn’t settled into it, so leaves busy marks. This means I can’t see the points in the texture of the paper, highlighted by the paint, where I should start making marks. So for the most part, they are coming from my head, rather than being suggested by the materials. I’m possibly the only one that would know this. But it is this sort of integrity that I want. I don’t want it to just LOOK this way, I want it to BE this way. The pencil lines, because of the lack of surface interest, have made holes. The thin paper doesn’t like a 6H pencil. So therefore also, it won’t then take the depth of tone I want to give it with the 8B pencil…
As a piece, it is a sketchbook piece, an experiment. It’s just full of self-importance because it is large. (I call it the Trump Effect).
So what I need to do next is get bigger, better paper, and do it properly.
Troublesome and Torturous
I have used both these words this morning to describe my drawing.
I’ve moved the drawing from the single sheets of thick-textured cartridge or watercolour paper to a roll of cheap stuff. The cheap stuff does not take watercolour paint well. I am wrestling with it.
But the wrestling is very informative in terms of my ability to control and manipulate my materials and learn what is (im)possible. It doesn’t take kindly to a 6H pencil either. It has puncture wounds.
What I find though is that I am forgiving of it. First of all, unrolling a large piece of paper allows the drawing to be rather more narrative, things relate and influence and have an effect. These are not individual events or individual people, these are sociable, messed up crowds of people… some of whom really don’t get on. The analogy of drawing to life is abundant here. So I AM forgiving the rubbish nature of these materials, because at the moment, rubbish materials that don’t work properly and throw up the unexpected are perfectly analogous to my life.
I am also forgiving myself. I have the tendency to want to produce the perfect, regardless of the context. I want to do a perfect drawing or stitch a perfect line, on good materials, to create something impressive. Sometimes this can be at the cost of the concept and the context. So this is good for me. Life is not perfect. Do I want my drawing to LOOK torturous or do I want it to BE torturous?
I am treating this nasty cheap roll of paper with care and forgiveness. It suffers.
Analogy ahoy… I’ve just been told that my troublesome and torturous knee will undoubtedly need a third lot of surgery, and if I’m lucky I will get injections while I wait. It is troublesome. I never know from one day to the next or even sometimes one hour to the next, if it will work without causing excruciating pain. I plan life accordingly. I park outside the door, even if I feel ok, because later on, when I come to exit, a 500 yard walk back to the car might prove impossible. I am EXTREMELY GRUMPY about the whole thing. I wanted the doctor to give me a golden pill to take, that would make it all instantly better. Not unreasonable huh?
So then… these drawings are just the thing. This troublesome and torturous blob of blue is turning into a nightmare. But I’ve blobbed a bit more Prussian blue (the colour of sleep?) over it and left it to wrinkle up under the weight of the water and dry out in time, not with a hairdryer… I’ve let it rest. I won’t rip it out as I first thought, no, I will allow it to calm itself before I take pencil to it again on Thursday.
On the way home from the studio we called in at Sainsbury’s. In the car park we were cut up by a sour-face looking woman in a tatty old Ford Fiesta. Yellow (the colour of pain?).
“She looks happy!” Sarked my husband.
“I expect she’s got a bad knee” said I, with unaccustomed good grace and forgiveness.
The good thing about pressing the submit button is that at last you can forget about it for a while. (Apart from the occasional cold-sweat moment when you are SURE you have left out something crucial.)
There. Done. The rest is up to someone else now. I’ve worked on it, researched, spoken to lots of people, got other people to read bits of it. It has actually been months in the making. I’ve done my best. In six weeks time I either to get to re-do bits of it and resubmit, or I get the money and can get started.
I remember this little hiatus from last time. It’s Schrodinger’s Arts Council Funding Application. During these weeks I can exist in a state of funded/not-funded. All things are possible. I could talk about probability and such. But the only thing definite is that if you don’t press the button, you don’t get the money. So I make myself do it. I have nothing to lose and much to gain. But we artists know about rejection and failure better than we know success (most of us anyway). So there is a real pull to NOT do all that work, for no pay, on the off chance… because that feeling is more familiar, it is the devil we know.
There’s also the feeling that I shouldn’t tell people I have applied, because then I will have to tell them if I fail. But the thing is, most people who know me personally, or those who know me closely enough on a professional basis will know too, because it’s pretty likely that I’ve asked them to read the form!
Also… if you have read much of this blog you will know that I am not that person. I am not that artist that pretends I only know the cool people, do the cool stuff, get in the cool shows and earn the cool money, without having to do things like stack shelves, wash cars, work in education or health, walk dogs, child mind, wait on tables. I know artists who do all these things. I have done most of them. But some keep that hidden, for fear of not being regarded highly by the Real Art World. Bollocks to that. I hope that this blog is a bit more down to earth. Yes, I like to bask in a bit of glory occasionally, but I like to think that I’ve earned the right, by also letting you see me make an idiot of myself, fall flat on my face and haul myself back up to give it another go when I’ve had a period of mourning and moaning. Oh boy can I moan!
So yes, I tell you. I have been writing, budgeting, negotiating, discussing, researching, refining, rewriting and editing over a period of months in order to get this form in a condition that I am happy to submit it. Ten minutes after pressing submit, I HAVE remembered something I should have included. Too late now. I tell you because this is the reality isn’t it? We are (most of us) not cool. I am certainly not cool. But I do plug away at stuff. I do work. I do try.
I have come to realise that representation is important. We need to see ourselves in the positions we would like to inhabit. Whether you are black, white, disabled, gay, young, old, male, female, single, married, a parent, a child, fat, thin, bald or hairy, ugly or beautiful, and all the glorious and infinite combinations of all the above and more, we want to see someone that makes us think something is achievable, and that we have the right to be there.
So all you 57 year old, fat, grey-haired weary women of Serbian-Irish descent, with hedge-hair, dodgy knees and slightly strange dress sense… I am here, representing you by applying to the Arts Council for a grant. I might get it, I might not. But I’m having a go, and if I can, you can.
Be The Tenth Woman.
Break out of the mould.
Be terrified, and do it anyway.
If not you, who?
If not now, when?
There are times when embodying The Tenth Woman is a Herculean Task (female equivalent suggestions please?)
Small things irritate me to the point of being able to incite violence. Things that would normally make me laugh make me want to slap someone.
It’s hot. I can’t tell you how much I hate hot weather. Give me frost/boots/jumper any day. Hot makes me irritable and I feel out of control. Miserable. And I am expected to like it. I don’t.
People who continuously grin at me saying “Isn’t it LOVELY!?” frankly should be grateful I don’t possess a firearm.
It’s World Cup Year. I have a houseful of sport-loving men. Two of which are season ticket holders to arguably the worst team in the midlands. They are used to losing. The heady heights of England in the semi-finals is too much for them. I play avoidance games… probably resentfully. I shut myself in another room, but because it is hot, the doors are open. I get the full HURRAYs from all the neighbours too. Headphones? Too hot. Studio then? Better. But due to other factors I timed my departure yesterday all wrong. At a major set of traffic lights, the pubs spewed out about two hundred half naked men who proceed to stop me and all other cars moving when the lights turn green. They press their sweaty torsos against my windows and bang that “DA DA DADADA DADADADA ENGLAND!!” rhythm on the roof of my car. They steal the sun hat off the man in front of me in his open top BMW and ruffle the hair of his horrified, immaculately coiffed passenger. One man pisses up a lamppost. I feel threatened, assaulted and I start to cry. I know.
Mitigating circumstances which cause me to be in this place at this time are that I have left my studio in pain. I had intended to stay longer. My left knee as always is the culprit. I was unable to do the task I had set myself, and I was cross. I wanted to cover my tables with greyboard, to smooth out the lumps and bumps a little in order to roll out some larger paper to draw on. I couldn’t stand long enough, or manoeuvre well enough to get it taped across the width of the table, and the edges cut to size… so I abandoned it. So I was angry and frustrated before I even set off. By the time I got home I was a complete physical and mental wreck and probably shouldn’t have been driving if I’m honest. I slammed about like a tantrumming child. I took the painkillers half an hour before I should have done. I shouted “I FUCKING HATE FOOTBALL AND FUCKING DRUNKS AND ALL THE FUCKING IDIOTS WHO WATCH IT!”
Then I went to bed.
This morning the pain has eased a little. I am told there is no sport on today. My mood, although still fragile, is no longer murderous.
And so then, I find myself counting the days in my diary….26…27…28…29…30…31… ah… ok… three days late. The hormones are stacked up behind the barricades and are making themselves known. I will feel better soon. Well… I’ll feel better if it starts! Two months ago I missed a period for the first time. Weird. And last month the horror continued for 15 days.
I’m sorry if you think this blog post has little to do with art. Actually no, I’m not sorry. I don’t give a shit. It does. This is the point of it all at the moment for me. The Tenth Woman has crap to deal with every day. We are supposed to be nice about it all, when we feel anything BUT nice. We are expected to not say that we feel rubbish about our bodies falling apart and losing our minds every month. The causes, and the effects are expected to remain hidden from society. Especially from our colleagues, and friends and especially men we have any dealings with. These feelings should not be expressed in polite society.
Well fuck that.
I know that on the whole I have a good life. A privileged life… I have friends who are currently dealing with much worse things… but awareness of this matters not a jot, because there are a few days every month when the whole lot of it can FUCK RIGHT OFF.
After my last post about getting on with my application, and stop fannying about, I’ve been looking around for examples of manifestos. At this point I’m not really bothered what sort, just gathering, you know?
…also gathering ideas on how to write one. “Short and snappy” being my only bit of self-guidance so far.
I found this, ironically, here: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-and-why-to-write-your-own-personal-manifesto/
“…a statement of principles and a bold or rebellious call to action by causing people to evaluate the gap between principles and their current reality. The manifesto challenges assumptions, fosters commitment and provokes change.”
So there it is. That’s what I want to write!
It will be for myself, in a bid to embody The Tenth Woman, but I will publish it, in some format yet to be decided (Tea towel? T-shirt? Poster? Scroll? Nice little handbag sized booklet?)
I have been talking to prospective collaborators and partners in this adventure, about what it means. For me, this is a crucial part of any piece of work undertaken. I know that some artists like to play things close to their chests, but for me, it is only in the conversations and discussions that I discover exactly what it is I mean! Each person I talk to edges me closer to the little nugget of loveliness the idea will become. This can be an almost imperceptible drip drip drip, or it can be a smack round the earhole with a wet kipper that shoots the pervading idiocy right out of the opposite ear.
Such idiocy is illustrated by my own conflicting thoughts. How amazing the brain is to hold such things in the same space? I have written before I am sure about the artist’s capacity for cognitive dissonance…
I draw your attention to the bit about “the gap between principles and their current reality”: I have these principles, that are becoming firmer all the time, and I am almost by the day, more able to articulate them, and yet it seems my current reality is nowhere even close! Ha ha! I am that duplicitous being that says one thing and does another. I am the two-faced, I am not practicing what I preach, and I am not walking the walk!
And this my patient reader is precisely why I need a manifesto!
I sat brazenly talking to Dan yesterday afternoon about the principles involved. All very smug and admirable, when with a raised, surprised eyebrow he asks “Why are you saying you only want to do three songs at the performance? Why only one gig?”
Because I’m scared.
Because I’m still fannying about.
Because I let myself off the hook far too easily.
Because I always want to leave the back door open so I can run away at the first sign of trouble, in my sensible shoes.
THIS VERY THING is the thrust of The Tenth Woman.
There I am, exposed for what I am.
There is much work to be done.
I’ve said before that I am essentially lazy, and risk averse too.
There is something satisfying in being paid to help other people access the Arts Council funding application website, which I can do to the best of my ability, and get paid even if they are unsuccessful. Actually, so far, every artist I have helped has been successful, which is great, but the axe must fall sometime, right?
So the time has come round again for me to face the fear and introduce some jeopardy. I will apply for funding for my own project, with no one to blame but myself. I started this a few months ago, registered it, changed the title, worked on it, then it was temporarily abandoned while I worked on a client’s. I am due to start work on another with someone else, in the first week in July, so I have a small window of opportunity to polish my own up and give it my best shot. (I can’t do two of these applications at a time… oh! the confusion! the headaches!) I have to face the fear, because actually, that is what it’s all about. The Tenth Woman. The Tenth Woman recognises the fear, and does it anyway. The Tenth Woman doesn’t hide, she stands up straight and goes for it, red lipstick on, whilst quaking in her boots.
So as I embark upon the manifesto of The Tenth Woman, I am completely aware that there cannot be any excuses. None of this “it’s too hard”… none of the “they’ll never give it to me so it’s not worth the effort” because no, they will NEVER give it to me if I don’t put the work in. My plan is to put lots of work in: to get people to read it, get people to check, get someone vaguely numerate to check my budget, phone up ACE and talk about it to whichever poor soul answers the phone, send querying emails, talk about it to everyone who will listen in order to get it straight in my head before writing it down. Then EDIT EDIT EDIT… it’s the key, really it is.
So… there it is… head down, elbows sharpened, I’m going up The Portal for a while. I could be some time………….