The Lion and The Lamb


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.



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!)

*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.


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.


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…




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.


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.


“In the place where I have what it takes” (Elliot Smith)

So this is the waiting room.


The studio, condensed down to the immediate and the current. Future work cannot be considered here. Past work is in a different dimension.

It is a nest, undeniably. For which I am teased. This afternoon is a weird one. I sit in the chair isolated from everything outside the circle by the use of laptop, headphones and sketchbook. I am turned away from the room (husband, ironing pile, unopened mail). An artificial isolation perhaps, looking out into the brown garden, but necessary.

The song in my headphones and head is an appropriate choice: the lyrics stick:

It’s ok, it’s all right, nothing’s wrong

Tell Mr Man with impossible plans

Just to leave me alone

In the place where I make no mistakes

In the place where I have what it takes

A verse taken out of the context of Elliot Smith’s “Waltz #2”, but a sentiment that cuts to the bone today.

I have had three amazingly brilliant music studio days, doing my own work and supporting other people’s. I have learned things… mostly about myself. I’ve been told I’m good at something. I have good pitch apparently. In that little booth with the headphones on, I have what it takes. No one told me I was good at this before, not really. I’ve been complimented on my voice – it’s lovely to be told nice things about your performance – but this practical application of a skill I didn’t have a clue I had, or was even a thing… it’s had an effect on me. I’m accurate, therefore quick, therefore expensive studio time is saved. I’m useful. This might to others seem to be a small thing, but today I retreat to think about it all.

I am at the very beginning stages of trying to construct a body of musical work that is just me. That is very difficult. I’m having trouble focussing. It’s like knitting smoke. I’m distracted by the skills/talent/experience of others and forget myself… so it is taking a while to figure out what it is that I want. I value others’ musical experience and knowledge over my own, definitely. I have to remind myself that I am of value, and that my opinions, ideas and different skill set have worth. I have something unique to offer other people’s ears. My ear to brain transport system is slow, synapses are on slow-burn, not quick-fire. What takes someone with musical training five minutes can take me five weeks.

I suppose yesterday’s revelation of a gift/skill came as a shock. yet again I review myself. I retreat to my armchair studio, with my back to the world while I try to make sense of it… “in the place where I make no mistakes, in the place where I have what it takes…”

…troubling… art is all about making mistakes and being open to what is revealed. Discovering you might have what it takes in a new arena is terrifying, so I retreat to the safe place.

Maybe that is what “studio” is as an etherial hard-to-pin-down concept? The place to retreat to and venture out from? Whether that is the space in your head, protected by headphones and sketchbook, or the physical space with walls and a door and window that I’m waiting for at the moment is perhaps not as relevant as I think?

I know that if I am to create this piece/collection/body of music that is completely an expression of me, then I’m going to make lots of mistakes, and make lots of false starts. How I view my internal/external “studio” could be crucial to my mental health.

When I started writing this as scribbling in my sketch book I didn’t know if it was going to stay in the pages or get published on the blog (some posts are transcribed from my sketchbook, some are directly typed here).

It is a truth – my truth – that I waver between the capable and incapable; the novice and the accomplished; the bucket of self-doubt and the egotist; the ugly, fat woman and the beautiful, desirable woman. In my lucid moments I know that this probably applies to most people, most women, most artists.

Some days I can strut out and do my stuff.

Some days I curl up, unable to cope with the external.

Tomorrow is a different world.

Everything is Different. Everything is The Same.

On the outside it looks like I’ve changed tack. Someone asked me how I frame the art and music within my practice the other day.
These days I’m more comfortable talking about this because I do actually have it “framed” in a way.

After weeks and weeks and weeks of painstaking drawing and colouring I’m now in a music studio. I’m reviewing a selection of songs, consisting of a bundle of lyrics, a few basic recordings and half-baked ideas. A sketch book if you will. Dan is helping me look at them objectively. This is a crit. Which elements “fit” the philosophy, which are worth pursuing, which are ripe and which need to stay on the tree for further thought and development.
My art background has helped me here. Decades of self, peer and group crits become professional habit. My beloved songs can take it on the chin. If the chorus isn’t good enough then it gets picked at until it is.

As I listened to yesterday’s recordings at the table, I catch sight of those labels. It is equally valid that I can attach them to the songs. It works. It’s interesting.

The songs I’m working on are for me. They’re not attached to the drawn and stitched this time… Or not at the moment at least. These ideas are not band songs. Either lyrically, musically or conceptually they are too heavy on the Elena to pitch to the band. This is another first. At the moment I don’t know what will become of them. Dan asked if they would be an album, or at least an EP… They might. I’m unsure of the shape of them yet. This weekend we examine them, shore them up where/if they need it. After yesterday they’re more real already. I have divided them into piles now, and know which three or four we are ready to push towards a basic recording. Those we will look at again today. The discarded three will go back in the pot for another day, and there are three or four more that need a little extra something that I shall work on before the next session.

So I use a different media. So what? My themes are the same, my philosophy remains the same… Occasionally poked at by Dan to check. My working methods actually are remarkably similar in the way I collect and manipulate material… Gather, compare…. Then select…. Then work into some more. I could just as easily be stitching or drawing.

This part of the work was (comparatively) easy to find a parity. And now I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with how a recording fits with the rest of my output. What is not so easy for me to articulate still is performance. But that is getting closer. And I care less that I’m unable to accurately state why performance is important. It just is, and I love it… So it obviously should be there in the mix.

To be honest I’m the only one that’s bothered. And that I think is just part of the artist I am. I’m far more methodical than I like to admit. I’m not messy in the making and I don’t like to be messy in the thinking. I like my thoughts to be clear. Especially as I like the work (in whatever format) to be ambiguous. I still enjoy that point of balance… The point at which people have been drawn in by the outward pleasantness, the comfort of beautiful embroidery, or a well crafted song, with interesting chords and decent harmonies… The point at which its too late…. They suddenly see the ugliness when it’s too late. They suddenly hear the lyric and understand that the song is about rage and jealousy, couched in metaphor and gold thread. That’s where the good stuff is.

And I think that point is where the performance lies… I’m capitalising on what I am… How I look, at last, is useful. I am a grey haired, overweight woman in a marks and spencer cardigan…. I’m singing about anger and death and infidelity with a sweet mellow voice to the rhythm of a bossanova or a delicately plucked waltz.

It’s all the same stuff really.

Laboratory Conditions

After the previous post, playing with labels, the labels have remained in the little basket on the table. Considering the amount of time it took me to make them just for that small amount of shuffling, I wondered if it was worth it. But even as I write I know that it was.

There are times when actually doing it “works” better than abstract thought. Writing the list, stamping them out (however untidily) and getting my old-fashioned school guillotine out slowed and speeded the process. Slowed because the act of making prevented me from drawing the conclusion too soon before a thorough thought process. Speeded because once I had them in my hands and on the drawings, my conclusions were much clearer. I could feel a certain rightness about it. Then, having done so, I no longer need them.

And I do feel that something has changed about the drawings. I’m not completely sure that’s visible to others. When the light is better I’ll take a few photos and have a think.
I think my lines are not so smooth. The shapes not so rounded and ripe. The decay is more visible too. New elements have crept in… And a shifting of the colour palette…?
I do feel though that these are microscope slides … Snapshots…. it is not possible to see the enormity of the process yet. I hold back… Still… Physical space is still my issue… I want to grow it in the laboratory conditions of my new studio. I’m itching to get at it…