Troublesome and Torturous

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?

The Sweariest and Least Apologetic Post Ever…

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.

The Current Reality

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:

“…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?”

Why indeed.

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.

Recognising the Fear and Doing it Anyway…

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………….

A New Mutation


The thoughts remain in a little side shoot of my brain. Not at the forefront, stopping me from remembering to buy the eggs, but neither at the back. A sort of bubbling under. Since the crit session I suppose. That thought that tells me what I’m drawing, and how it is tied to my mood, and my sense of self, and also… actually more than I thought… physically. What I’m drawing and how I’m drawing is deeply connected to how my body feels. This hasn’t come as a big shock as I knew it was in the mix somewhere, but yesterday I was ill. Really ill. The dodgy prawn sandwich sort of ill. And today although no longer “sick”, I am weak, wobbly, my muscles ache, my head aches, and I’m exhausted by walking from one end of our mansion (3-bed semi) to the other… especially if I have to bend down.

I have managed to do some drawings just in my sketch book while at home and curled up. They’re not great drawings, but they do have a tortured entanglement that is interesting. My pain has led me to break one of my own rules. This is when the mutation happens, and I might set some new rules.

There has been a general “no overlapping” rule to the compositions, led in part by the influence of botanical and scientific drawing, things pinned down and laid out in a single layer for clarity. Not two-dimensional as such, but definitely not entangled. A dissected rat or plant specimen…

So these new drawings in the sketch book don’t obey that rule. This is the first mutation for a few weeks, so I will explore and see if I like it!

Seeing Value, and the Joy of Skip-Diving

Yesterday I became extremely excited by the skip outside a neighbour’s house. They were having a new kitchen fitted and I watched as the day went by, large, clean wonderful pieces of flattish cardboard boxes being cast into it.

My mind raced to my former life and the things that I could make with groups of children out of this immensely valuable material resource! Thwarted by the fact I no longer have an outlet for this I put out a call to anyone else who might be interested so that I could rescue it. I talked to the neighbour who then promised to intercept the card between fitter and skip, and store in his garage to keep it clean and dry until I could get it into my car to get it to the studio.

“I’ll take ALL of it please”

“All of it?”


“But there’s tons of it!”

“Yes I know, that’s the point!”

“ALL of it??”

“Yes please.”

“What will you do with it?”

“I don’t know yet, I can’t use it but I know loads of people that would love it!”

“ALL OF IT???”


“But you don’t know who will have it?”

“I know that someone will, and will be as thrilled as I would have been!”

“But it’s just brown cardboard?”

“Yes, but there’s LOADS of it… which means the potential is enormous!”


Then this morning, as I had loaded my car, and they were reversing off the drive, they wound down the window and said:

“There will be some more card today, do you really want that too?”

“Ooh yes please!”


“Definitely, yes, all of it.”

“We can’t imagine what anyone would do with it all!!”

“Just pile it up, I’ll take it away, and when someone makes something with ALL OF IT, I’ll get them to take photos and I’ll show you!”

So, Bo Jones, When I cram this lot into your car boot, you’d better make sure you take some photos of what gets done with it!


The Door


I now have a door to my studio space.

So I am now able to consider the door and not-door as two distinct states of working. Already. It only went up this morning!

When there was no door, because not many of the other artists were there as often as I was, It seemed ok. I wasn’t interrupted, I wasn’t disturbed. I could play my music without fear of disturbing anyone else.

But now, I have one. Already the increased traffic of passers-by now have something to knock. They don’t feel obliged to call a greeting across the open threshold… or politely tip-toe past. Already I have given vent to my full vocabulary (dropped roll of paper on my foot) without someone calling “are you ok?”

These are all nice things, I know… but the real threshold behaves differently to the implied threshold. Before I had carpet, then tiles. The edge of one marking the end of one space and the beginning of another. Now I have a door. There’s no glass. It is completely solid and heavy and lockable. I have now taken my looper out of the box. Those who have followed this blog know already that the position of the looper and its operational state are a true indicator of my state of mind.

I have a door that locks, can’t be seen through, is actually quite soundproof, and the looper is out. It isn’t yet plugged in (tomorrow!) but it is out. The mic is in the stand, and the interface is lodged next to where the laptop sits.

My next wave of work will be to explore more closely the integration of the audio with the visual. This door is the thing I’ve been waiting for to allow that to begin. I’ve been working, but I’ve not been REALLY going for it in an uninhibited, un-self-conscious manner…

Another thing that poked at this a little today was a brief conversation with the builder’s mate about my work. He was curious… About the drawings, the fabric, the chairs and most of all, the looper and the microphone… so we spoke of all these things: Stranger Things, Alien, The Goonies, ET, bacteria, illness, David Lynch, bed bugs and fleas and sprouting potatoes. (It was too short an acquaintance to overtly refer to the penises and vaginas.) The builder looked somewhat bewildered, but this young man was OPEN. I realised that this was one of the things I miss about teaching… that thing when you come across someone who is completely open to the ideas that run together and shoot off in different directions. It was a brief conversation, akin to one I had in a lift with a ten year old in New Art Gallery Walsall, in which between the ground floor and the fourth floor we talked of Converse Allstars, The Poundshop, biros and Laura Oldfield-Ford.


So tomorrow, I shut my new door, and connect up the looper.

Got that.

In 7 years of blog writing:
Got MA
Got son no2 in and out of university and into a job
Got son no1 married and with a mortgage
Got husband retired, and in and out of hospital
Got me out of a job
Got me inventing a mini arts festival
Got no cartilage left in my knee
Got me into my third studio
Got me writing songs
Got me one and a half ACE grants and one a-n bursary
Got to help two visually impaired artists get ACE funding too
Got me recording a cd and producing a lyric book
Got me a band
Got a band EP recorded
Got me singing in public, sometimes for money
Got to sing live on the radio three times
Got work shown in US, Sweden and various points across UK
Got back into drawing
Got rid of a couple of old friends who didn’t get it
Got more than a couple of new friends who definitely do.
Got to know myself a bit better
Got to like myself a lot better
Got to forgive myself for all sorts of crap
Got to take responsibility for some crap too

Got myself half way through another ACE application for the next adventure…….


Accountants and Plumbers (and a sense of mortality)

I’m sat in yet another hospital waiting room. This time rather less acutely stressful than the last. I find myself pondering the way that I consider my work…. Again… Am I boring you? Sorry.

It is the way I make sense of what is happening around me. “But what about the accountants?” I ask myself… “What does the plumber do to make sense of it all?”
Well they count and they plumb of course. We all find the sense in what we understand best. Plumbing and accountancy are as good a means of sense-making as art. Some would say better. How the money flows and how the water flows probably both give you a sense of how much of the world you feel you can control – or not. Both are useful.
All of these ways of thinking are precisely that. The depth is what is important (to me). Analogy and metaphor are aids to thinking. The application of analogy is a very human trait.

My drawings (in my head, I don’t know how they are received in viewers’ heads) are representative of the emotional turmoil (or not) and so on. What I draw and how I draw are, to me at least, directly related to what I feel… Tightness and release… Stress and relief… A gritting of teeth and a sigh… An in and an out.
I’m not blind to how sensual and/or sexual some of the elements of the drawings can appear. One of the most recent drawings gained its unofficial title “Decidedly Knobby” only after it was finished and pinned to the wall. It would seem I am becoming slightly fixated on the vaginal too. Menopausal woman and all that it encompasses… All about me isn’t it? Well… Yes and no…


“Decidedly Knobby”

It’s a filtration system. I’m absorbing and then processing and the drawings are the by-product that gets spat out at the end. A by-product, but also the MOST important thing. The elephant in the room that’s only seen in a certain light, in the negative spaces, when you screw up your eyes and squint in the corner of the mirror. THERE it is. The Thing. I feel I’m sneaking up on it. Then one day I shall look The Thing in the eye, we will know each other and nod.

That, I romantically hypothesise, will be death. How glorious it would be to meet death as a final satisfaction, rather than a cutting short?!