2017 Review

In some respects it’s been a difficult year…
If you are that interested you can read back over it, as I just have. I seem to have apologised for not blogging several times…

There’s a metaphor I shall borrow, again, and pin to this page in order to remind me. I shall probably still forget… But making the effort. I think it came originally from Bruce Springsteen (I know! I lurch easily from Merleau Ponty to Springsteen, Deleuze to Homer Simpson, Bachelard to Terry Pratchett…. Seamless!!)
Anyway…. I’m in this car… Maybe a bus…. Every person I have ever been is in this car with me, telling me what to do. That’s great. But I must always make sure that the person I am now is the one that’s driving.
A useful metaphor that I have often used with students. Mature students get it. Younger ones don’t…usually.
This year I have been affected and influenced by others. I have learned much in the process. But now, as I review, I remember that I am driving the bus.
I must remember how to say no.
And gracefully accept when people say no to me… Even when it’s through gritted teeth…

The year has been a real patchwork of personal and professional overlappings. Someone else once said that it’ll all be ok in the end, and so, if it isn’t ok, it isn’t the end.
There have been several moments of not-ok throughout the year. And now I see them in perfect focus in retrospect. And now I can also see I’m heading for ok.
We have studios for the new year I’m reliably informed… My husband appears to be steadily recovering from illness, my sons are settling into new jobs and new homes… The band has some exciting prospects in the new year… And my work continues. It continues to be affected by others, including the rabble of Elenas in the back of the bus. Occasionally one of them gets too rowdy, but that’s ok too.

I have discovered that I’m rubbish at some things, and pretty good at others. I stand by myself. I am the Tenth Woman, and the other nine.
I have discovered what means the most. I have a small but beautifully formed band of friends who I love so very dearly… They know who they are because they love me dearly too, I know this because they show me and tell me frequently. My husband and I hold each other’s hands round Sainsbury’s. It’s not just for physical support either. It’s to remind each other we are still there. We are still affecting each other. I have discovered that some things take up lots of space, make lots of noise, but are actually, in the scheme of things, largely irrelevant. They have a purpose, they might be the B that gets you from A to C, but once you’re at P, you see that more clearly.

So thanks 2017 for the shit that will fertilise growth. And thanks for all the beauty too….
…. Moving on….

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Tiredness and Decision Making

I discovered something interesting last night… I can’t make satisfactory drawings when I’m tired.

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When I’m doing these drawings in the middle of the day, they flow unbidden it seems, like automatics, flowing from the end of my pen without a moment’s thought!

Apparently not!

Because when my brain is tired, they don’t. Obviously there is some sort of intellectual process going on between hand and eye at the same speed as the flow of ink (or faster)… It is just at a different level to the watching of Luke Cage or conversations about Internet shopping and Christmas decorations and the clearing of snow from the path…

If I knew about brain activity I’d be able to explain it better!

Three drawings were abandoned last night because the composition wasn’t right, or the lines weren’t right or the combinations of shapes weren’t right!

I have obviously made decisions about what IS right, but I haven’t told myself what the rules are yet.

I have an inkling that as soon as I understand what the rules are I will get bored, or they won’t be as satisfactory… It’s the not knowing that’s fun!

I sort of think it’s about the evolution and growth of the shapes… There has to be a logic about their connections… Even if I can’t quite find the words. But then, if I could find the words, the work would be verbal, not visual.

Confident Insouciance!

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I’ve often wondered when it is mentioned in articles, job descriptions and so on, what the difference is between an emerging artist and an established artist. Number of years served seems an inadequate descriptor somehow, as we all start, develop and work at different times and rates. Qualifications also are unfit measures as some people achieve the heady heights of PhD before the age of 30: while some of us see ourselves as unlikely to achieve (or want to achieve) such a thing.

But I have reached, I think, a personal epiphany here. Established means feeling able to say “Fuck knows!” with an air of confident insouciance when asked “What does this work actually mean though?”

I have reached that point, sporadically, and I welcome it. It isn’t a constant, but it does exist.

Take these recent drawings for example. Up until this week I had no real idea what they were for. But I trusted my brain to do the thinking while my hands did the drawing, and that something, some sort of excuse, would make itself known to me. This is happening… in glimpses… in fits n starts… but it is.

That is gratifying.

THAT is what established feels like… I think… trusting the process and not feeling worried about it, or saying it.

So this is it then… I’ve developed over the last few weeks and possibly months now… a collection of ingredients, motifs, ideas. These ideas are related to each other, they ripen from each other, they spread spores, they communicate, pass information, memories and qualities to each other, that communication works both ways, makes connections, and evolves into something else.

I think my textile work had sort of stuck because it could not find a way to evolve past the figurative, whereas the drawings are pushing past the knots and making themselves into something else. It may be that once past the obstacle, I will find a way again to the textile, but in a different way, and with a new language. But for the moment, I shall carry on drawing until something makes itself clear. There is something I haven’t yet pinned down about the quality of drawing that allows this to happen, that the stitching did not…

In the meantime, I shall feel free to answer “Fuck knows!” to anyone who asks, but will listen attentively to anything they have to say… just in case!

Halfway Up The Stairs

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The domestic situation seems to have settled, the health of my loved one improving daily, and I’ve started to lower myself gradually from DEFCON 5 hyper-vigilance, gently down to something currently wavering between 2 and 3, but much calmer, I’m sure we’ll be back to normal in a week or so.

My thoughts then, have time to wander now, and I look back at this ever-increasing pile of drawings that are filling up the dining room table and spilling onto the floor in the sitting room.

Their starting point, a few months ago possibly… is now not really visible, or perhaps only to me.

They started as often happens with me, with an object, a garment, and a scribbled design in my sketch book. An object was made, and sits now on the coffee table with the needle and thread still in it, waiting for completion… maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.

The way that I’ve been doing these drawings has taken me right back to being a child, and I believe the circumstances have led to this escapism. In my head I am in that place half way up the stairs, a small, square landing on the turn, sort of out of sight from above and below. Liminal…?

I’ve sat in my armchair, surrounded with a nest of paper, crayons, pencils, sharpeners, rubbish bin full of sharpenings that seems to get kicked over every time I move! It is booby trapped, this fortress, and there’s no room for anyone else but me. It’s not the sofa. I am completely engrossed. When circumstances allow me to spread beyond the A3, I’ll go bigger/smaller, but for now, there will be more. I don’t feel I have exhausted the methodology yet, because occasionally, mutations appear, and a new “set” emerges, related to that. On the landing, aged 8, I used to draw people. thousands of them, all different, clothing, hair, and colour and type, but all in the same stance, the same cartoonish style (also in pencil crayon?) I wish I’d kept some of them. The memory comes back to me now and I wonder if I could draw them again? Endlessly varied, but with enough similarity to hold them together. I’m sure I could get all metaphorical about all of this, but that would spoil the moment, because at the moment, “The Moment” is the important thing.

While M was in hospital I would sit here in the evenings, into the early hours drawing drawing drawing. And I’m still doing it. It is, like the other work, obsessive, continuous, relational. The objects/motifs I draw are related to each other, they communicate, they hold on, they reach out.

They are simultaneously, and by turns, botanical, viral, cellular, spore-like, diseased, pretty, strange, weird, floral, synaptic, nerve-like, pus and blood, animal, fungal, growing, infecting, nasty, macabre, delicate, angry and scared… and I think, rather beautiful.

 

Bigger & Better?

Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
I’ve frequently gone off on one at students who think that development of a piece of work means doing it bigger. The same, just bigger. Why? What does this achieve? What does bigger say that smaller can’t? I challenge the urge to go big just for the sake of it.

But it is tempting isn’t it?

Yes, I agree that mark making feels different if instead of making small wrist movements you start taking wide side-steps and large arm sweeps… It can become choreography…
And going very small can make the process seem very personal and internal, I get that… But once explored, I would always ask why is scale important? What do you want to feel when you’re making it?
(Let’s forget about the viewer for the moment)

About 50 drawings in, I feel the urge to go big. There. I said it.

But I don’t want to make the shapes and marks bigger, I just want to do more of them. I want to get up close to the paper with my pen and ink out these shapes so that they fill my field of vision. I want connections, small explosions, mutations…in all directions…. I might even make them smaller so I can fit more in… So I’m going simultaneously bigger and smaller…

Maybe.

Tangents and Rugs

 

 

Sometimes it is impossible to blog.

Right from the start I said that whatever I wrote would be honest and true. But that doesn’t mean you have to write EVERYTHING does it?

Sometimes the things I would write about aren’t my tales to tell. Sometimes the truth I want to write is not the truth for someone else. I’ve had a summer of stress, distress, and ultimately disappointment both personally and professionally. The personal will stay unwritten. The professional? Suffice it to say that the things I was really excited about were pulled out from underneath me. I had put things on hold because of those things and it is taking me a long time to get back to where I was, because where I was isn’t there any more… Some of that went out along with the rug pulling. So I find myself somewhere else. Google maps isn’t going to help me reorientate myself…. So I just keep drawing until my mind catches up with me. The resolution I was hoping for isn’t going to happen, so I’m finding another. With some things, NOT writing is the best resolution.
Family circumstances and illness have derailed progress along one path, but have hacked a way through to another… I am without a studio still (although good news soon I am hoping) so progress is contained to my armchair in front of Netflix mindlessness, and the dining table. But actually, if I’d had a studio I wouldn’t have been able to use it over the last few weeks anyway, so I’ve saved some rent!
I sit here writing this in a hospital canteen, aware that I’m at a crossroads of a sort, where the personal and the professional are tangled, and realise that in my work, that is always the case.
I have gone off on what initially seemed like a tangent… But who knows, it could turn out that the frustration about the work that got derailed was the tangent, and the hacking through the creative undergrowth was actually a short cut to where I was supposed to be all along. I’m scratched and bruised, a little embarrassed and slightly humiliated, and feel a bit of an idiot….. but I’ll cope.

My writing this has hopefully enabled me to explain an absence, acknowledge feelings, draw a line and carry on…

 

Hanging on, Letting Go, and knowing when to do it!

Lately I’m wondering about why I blog…

I started writing in June 2011 (I think) on a-n.co.uk as a way of recording and talking through my practice while I did my MA. I didn’t stop, and here we are almost six years later. For a while I posted on a-n and on my wordpress website, but due to frustration with posting images, and the inaccessibility for the non-members, I seem to have stopped posting on a-n. This is sad, as I owe them a lot, my loyalty was stretched. I think now I have fondness: I’m still a member, and will continue to be, but I no longer want to spend an extra hour of my time swearing at the way the site works and being annoyed that my images are upside down, sideways or stretched beyond recognition, depending on which device I’m looking at… then suddenly I could only post on my phone! Anyway, that’s sort of beside the point… I will probably post this one on a-n, so that readers that used to visit me there know why I stopped posting and where to find me now if they want to carry on reading.

(Thank you everyone at a-n, for everything… and if I suddenly find everything works, I’ll carry on!)

Back to my opening sentence… why do I blog then?

By writing my thoughts, I can assess them at a bit more distance. I also find that if I’m having trouble expressing what I mean, that perhaps the ideas are not quite ripe. Sometimes when this happens I stop writing, but sometimes I carry on and the comment or interaction with people within the blogging platform, or more commonly these days on Facebook, I can grapple with my thoughts and pin them down long enough to see if they are worth my effort!

When I first blogged, mid-MA, there was a thought that I might have intellectual discussions about my readings and so on. That didn’t really happen, as I discovered that that approach isn’t really me. I had at the time started looking at whether music could be part of my practice. I look back with amazement now that I ever thought it wouldn’t or couldn’t or shouldn’t be!

I also had a regular habit of telling what I was listening to. That it sort of fell by the wayside, but I think I’m going to resurrect it for a while….

At the end of last term’s Songwriting Circle, Dan Whitehouse suggested that over the summer we think about how we might build an album. Think about a theme, songs, a concept, a title, a sound, a genre, album art… all or some of those things. It was a timely suggestion.

I have swimming around in my head and in my sketch book and songwriting notebooks a few songs that aren’t right for singing with The Sitting Room; I have a title which is borne out of the concept; I think it possible defies genres (unless someone wants to help me there); I have collection of sounds, words, lyrics, poems, images, made items, drawings… these things were swimming around as if homeless. Over the summer I started to gather these waifs and strays together. They fit my working title, and there is a commonality… a thread… a theme… So now, I have to see them as a whole. How do I work these things together to make something tangibly, interestingly “me”?

So now I’m listening to how other musicians have done it. And this is what I’m listening to this afternoon. If by any chance you look at this list and think, “Oh! Elena might like this band/artist!” Then please let me know.

It’s not that I want what I’m doing to sound like these people… to me it’s like going to a gallery to see the art, but while you’re there you look at how the work is hung, what it is next to, how it is lit, what is emphasised. Look at the context, not just the content… That’s what I’m doing, in the hope that some good stuff will seep in and have an effect!

Portishead – Dummy

Bon Iver – 22 a Million

Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

Tunng – Comments of the Inner Chorus

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Husky Rescue – The Long Lost Friend

Process and Promises

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So much for my daily blog promise…

Anyway… following the last blog, which I forgot to publish until I come to write this next post, nothing much has happened on the studio front. So as often happens I find myself fiddling with bits of material and drawing and writing in my sketch book in the effort to keep my brain ticking over, and the ideas flowing. Sometimes by the time I revisit these ideas, they’ve moved on, and I no longer want to work on them as they stand. However they mark a point at which I can return to in order to recap and remind…

In amongst all this writing and drawing I had a bit of an idea of how to alter the way that I am stitching my fabric pieces to my chairs and garments. This change was inspired by a visit to the Kidderminster Museum of Carpet’s Lucienne Day Exhibition, now finished, but I believe it is moving around the country, so I recommend a visit if it arrives anywhere near you!

I started drawing out a few things. I love drawing with fine ink pens, on smooth paper… love that glide, and the whispery noise it makes…

Soon I found that I was drawing similar things, over and over, and what had started out as a draughting of a design concept, a mapping of something physical, turned into something else.

I now have a selection of ink drawings, some just black line, some with colour, some with pattern. I have a method of starting, and a method of what happens in what order. the routine of these drawings has become obsessive. I don’t know what they are, and I don’t know where they will end up. I’m not quite where I want to be just yet, but the obsessive nature of my activity says to me that I am onto something. They are quite decorative. They are a bit odd perhaps. There exists relationships on the page, abstracted, and yet highlighted by shape and pattern and direction and composition. I think what will happen is I shall end up with hundreds of them. Then I shall select the ones I like the most. From that point I shall establish exactly what the essence is…

This essence may or may not inspire stitched pieces – although the connections to textile and stitch are unmistakeable. By the time I get to “essence” the work may already be done.

I think the greatest learning that has happened over the last five years or so is that I know and trust my process. It’s cleverer than I am.

 

 

Just the right amount of excitement…

Just the right amount of excitement, but no more…

We inch very slowly towards the point where we can move into a new set of studios…

Our Chief Negotiator has put in hours of work – emails, meetings, jedi mind tricks, all towards that light at the end of the tunnel which we can now see.

I’ve metaphorically planted my flag in one of the spaces with I can just about afford, as long as someone doesn’t come up with another add-on Mystery Service Charge. At the moment the space doesn’t have a door, I will have to get one put in. But it does have a whole wall of floor to ceiling shelving. Enough shelving to cause an artist to salivate.

Trouble is, in order to commit financially and professionally to this venture, you need to be excited enough to see the possibilities of it. Especially as there is also a large gallery/exhibition/project/performance space that will be shared in some way yet to be decided. I am excited… definitely.

But… in the back of my mind is the possibility that it could still all go tits up after all this work, because until there’s a signature on the dotted line, it’s not mine. So don’t get too excited!

So what is the right amount of excitement? I cannot make small corrections to this, so vary between abject desolate “I’ll never have a studio ever again EVER” ….to staring at my boxes, wondering what’s in them and desperate to fill those shelves and get working properly again.

Introverts and Routines

Some people have been known to laugh when I say I’m an introvert. They say things like:
“But you’re such a laugh!”
“But you get up and sing in public!”
“But you’re not quiet AT ALL!”

So??
Laughing is universal… No one told me introverts weren’t allowed to have a sense of humour!
Singing in public is a grand way to keep the general public at bay, it’s not a conversation!
No, I am noisy, true. I have a loud voice and a loud laugh, a loud yawn…
So??

I feel most comfortable in groups of less than 4… Three is actually ideal because you can spend some of the time just listening or gazing out of the window even… With three you can get some sort of rhythm going… Riff off each other… Interject and interrupt…. Subvert… Drop a line that makes tea spurt out of noses if you time it right.

But often I am happiest silent and alone, or silent with someone else also silent. I think the people that see me at my social best, and noisiest find this thing hard to believe.

Some days I don’t want to interact. Unmanned supermarket self checkouts are built for these days. Unexpected mardy cow in the bagging area!

I hate small talk, I like big talk. I like deep and meaningful, peppered with good jokes.

On days like these I like tea. Lady Grey tea to be specific. These days my cake is gluten free. Autumnal lunches are frequently a baked potato with corned beef and cheese smooshed in.
I shall eat it slowly while reading crap on the Internet.

I hope you have enjoyed my post- trying to do one every day for a while… Routine is good for my brain at the moment…

I’m off to Songwriters’ Circle in a bit. That always helps.