Rebooting from empty

Today I’ve been reading a long interview with Johnna Flannagan from The Pale Rook, who makes beautiful, wistful dolls from antique fabric.

I particularly liked what she had to say about creative blocks:

“I used to get crippling creative block, which, in my experience is usually the result of two things – focusing too much on what other people are doing and achieving, or worrying too much about other peoples expectations of you. I find that creative block has little to do with a lack of ideas and more to do with too much noise and clutter in your head.” Johanna Flannagan

 

I haven’t been able to work much since we moved and naturally I’ve been beating myself up about it and trying to force it. But every time I tried to work, I would quickly find myself physically exhausted, ill at ease and mentally depleted.

But while reading Johanna’s quote, I realised: I haven’t been blocked, I’ve been empty. And there’s a big difference.

The jar project scoured me out. There were no ideas and no energy left, so there was nothing to unblock. The stream wasn’t choked by mental detritus, it had temporarily dried up.
 

Dry stream bed
Dry Stream Bed by Martin LaBar, used under a Creative Commons license
 

On one level I already knew this, I wrote a post last year about burnout and how you sometimes need to refill the well. But it was very hard to accept that I was so empty and so I’ve been playing The Blame Game instead.

The Blame Game says things like:

“Why aren’t I working? God, I’m so lazy.”
“I’ll never get anywhere if I keep stopping.”
“What the hell is wrong with me?”
“Every one else is doing great epic things, why do I just want to knit?”
“Oh come on, you can’t still be burnt out, that’s ridiculous!”

I am not someone who likes to ‘do nothing’. There can be immense fear in stopping. The dominant fear for me is ‘maybe the art will never come back.’ And our society looks askance at those who stop. We reward busyness and bustle and achievement. There is very little tolerance for just being.

It has been challenging. You can see the reasons for something and even know how to fix it, yet still not be able to fully accept it.

 

Stop sign 01
Stop Sign: Kirsty Hall, Jan 2011
 

But in truth, it takes a lot of mental, physical and emotional energy to uproot yourself from a relationship and a house where you’ve been for 15 years. To move to a brand new place and completely start over – especially when you’re in your 40’s and believed that you were nicely settled – is no small thing. I’m a gardener; I know that some plants romp away when replanted while others sit there for a while before they get going. And I am a real homebody, so I’m definitely the second sort of plant!

Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely happy in Hebden Bridge. I feel far more at home here than I ever did in Bristol. There’s an inescapable rightness to being here. Yet more than 2 and half years after moving, I am still having unsettling dreams about houses. It’s not nearly as raw as it was but I’m still processing everything that happened.

“I said nothing for a time, just ran my fingertips along the edge of the human-shaped emptiness that had been left inside me.”
― Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

 

Looking at it logically I can see that I’ve done loads of things since moving. My husband and I have made our new house into a home. I’ve slowly been making new friends and putting down tentative roots. I’ve created a brand new garden from our empty concrete parking space. I’ve lost more than 2 stone at Slimming World in the last year. I’ve started learning French. Last July I curated an exhibition in twenty Hebden Bridge shop windows and this May I became president of the Hebden Bridge WI, which is great fun but a lot of work. And all while suffering from ME/CFS.

But none of those things are art. And if I’m not making art, it’s hard for me to feel real. It’s hard to feel that I am doing anything important. It’s hard to be grounded and to feel that I matter. Yes, a therapist would have a field day with that little lot!

But thankfully, the water has recently begun trickling back into my art stream again.

I’ve started noodling around in the studio with matchboxes and I’m planning a big summer project around those. I’ve been making more art jars, because apparently I’m not quite done with those yet. I bought a new bedside notebook and I’m jotting down ideas on an almost daily basis. Projects have started drifting out of the studio into the rest of the house. And I can read about art without wanting to cry.

I am coming back to my core self and the relief is immense.

Le Tour De Hebden (part three)

Eh bien, le Tour de France a été et disparu.

We’ve waved and cheered the riders as they sped past and now it’s time to bid farewell to the colourful windows as Hebden gradually returns to what passes for normal around here. So here is the final part of my Tour De France essay.


 

There’s been such a surfeit of yellow in the town that it comes as a bit of a relief to see shops using different colours.
I liked the stark graphic nature of this wallpaper on display in decorating shop, Colour Yorkshire.

Colour Yorkshire Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014 by Kirsty Hall

By and large, the biking and outdoors shops (of which we have several in Hebden) didn’t manage very interesting displays but this dotty ‘king of the mountains’ bike in Mountain Wild was a fun exception.

Mountain Wild Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Nearby boutique, Amelia featured some yellow clothing but they also explored the red and white theme with these small decals.

Amelia Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

A glittery, glamorous bike decorated with sequins and pompoms in popular bar-cafe, Mooch.

Mooch Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

And ‘lovely things’ shop Spirals had lots of these charming, tiny bikes handmade from recycled tin.

This blue one was my favourite.

Spirals Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Children’s store, The Old Treehouse always have gorgeous windows and I really liked these loosely painted, white bikes. They remind me of illustrations from children’s books and evoke the freedom of summery days spent bombing about on your bike.

This was the one window that made me miss cycling; something I can no longer do because of my ME/CFS.

The Old Treehouse Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

The Old Treehouse Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

The Yorkshire Soap Company are another shop who always have creative displays.

This is one of my favourite shops in Hebden; a visit there is a delight to the senses and the chaps who own it are just lovely. For the tour, they had a pink bike surrounded by wheels filled with white flowers, bunting in French colours & a selection of their tour-inspired soaps and bath bombs.

The Yorkshire Soap Company Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Pink bike and white flowers, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

And pink soap to match! Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall 

And back to yellow. One of my favourite tour-inspired projects was by the reception children from Central Street Nursery and Infant School. This was on display in the Copa House cafe. The children yarn-bombed this bike and drew a delightful picture of themselves cycling down a big Hebden Bridge hill.

Copa House Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Check out the details in the background with the tall terraced houses so typical of this area and all the yellow bunting. Like many artists, I love kids drawings and wish I could make art as freely and confidently as they do.

Copa House Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

 


 

I don’t have any pictures but I can’t finish without mentioning the amazing Cragg Vale Bunting, who decided to celebrate the tour coming to Yorkshire by trying to break the Guinness World Record for the longest bunting in the world. They made nearly 7 miles of bunting to hang up the Cragg Vale hill, which is the longest continuous gradient in England and heard just before the tour started that they were successful in their attempt to break the record. They had a lot of help from community groups and individuals all over the region (one lady made more than a mile of flags!).

I know several of the organisers and they’ve really worked their socks off over the last two years to make this happen. Well done everyone, what a superb achievement!

 


 

Adieu Tour de France. I hope you enjoyed Yorkshire as much as Yorkshire enjoyed playing host to you.

Le Tour De France, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Le Tour De Hebden (part two)

Only one day to go before the Tour comes whizzing through Hebden Bridge and excitement is rising. According to Twitter, the Co-Op has run out of food already. There is bunting everywhere, including on our street, and Le Grand D’Party! is taking place in the town centre this afternoon.

So in surprisingly timely fashion, here is the second part of my documentary photo essay on the local decorations…


Many of the shopkeepers have made windows that are in keeping with the ethos of their shop.

Cabbages and Cushions, a decorating shop, have found some charming bicycle wallpaper and added an abstract yellow splatter in what can only be a Jackson Pollack homage (or an unfortunate reminder of what happens if you drop your tin of expensive Farrow And Ball paint!)


Cabbages and Cushions Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

This flowery bike in the florist’s, Fleur De Lys was unfortunately rather tricky to photograph well but they’ve used red, white and blue flowers for the French flag and of course, lots of yellow.


Fleur De Lys Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

An appropriately fresh image is in the wholefood shop, Valley Organics.

Valley Organics Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

This beauty is in Not A Full Shilling, a shop that sells jewellery made from coins. The race would be a lot slower if the cyclists had to use Penny Farthings!


Not A Full Shilling Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

While Nelson’s Wine Bar have cunningly matched their logo by giving their bike rainbow wheels.

Nelson’s Wine Bar Bike, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall


But sometimes there’s not any obvious connection.

This is in the opticians, Mark Hurst.


Mark Hurst Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall
Because every bike race (and opticians) needs a blow-up monkey in a yellow shirt!

I love the detailing on this tiny cardboard bike in Christine Edwards, which as you can see from the bra in the background is a lingerie and swimwear shop.

Christine Edwards Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

You might not think a lingerie shop would be interested in the Tour De France but they’ve dressed their mannequins all in yellow and have a row of these lovely little bikes along their windows. There are surprisingly few shops that haven’t taken part, so when you see one, you think, ‘hey, where’s your Tour stuff?’

And of course, someone had to use these Queen lyrics. These are in the window of Oxfam.


OxfamTour Window, Hebden Bridge, July 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

You’re singing it in your head now, aren’t you!

I will happily take any excuse to post a Queen video…


And since I’m posting videos, here is my friend Rebecca’s son, Harry in a sweet little film anticipating the race. He’s very keen on cycling and will apparently be in full cycling gear when he watches it tomorrow. Awwwww.

Le Grand Depart from Whitenosugar Productions on Vimeo.

I’m glad the Tour is bringing pleasure to so many people. Even I, with my avowed lack of interest in sports, have been enjoying all the buzz.

I have one final section of this essay still to come, which I will probably post tomorrow if I can hear myself think with all the crowds cheering. The Tour passes one street away from our house, it is going to be LOUD.


Le Tour De Hebden (part one)

OK yes, I do know that the Tour De France is going to other places apart from Hebden Bridge but we shall not speak of it.

You see, I have no interest in the actual cycling part but I have been hugely enjoying all the creative responses to the Tour in the shop windows of Hebden. The town is buzzing with bicycles and the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival at the moment and I have been documenting both as a way of gently easing myself back into blogging after far too long an absence.

So I hope you enjoy this photo essay from my funny little town.


Simplicity can be hugely effective.

Paper yellow jerseys on the library door…


Hebden Bridge Library, Kirsty Hall, June 2014

…and paper letters in one of the hairdressers, A Circle Of Friends.


A Circle Of Friends Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

But some shops have gone all out with the crafting!

Paper and paint in The Barn, a home accessories shop.

Tribal Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Bike bunting made from fabric, fake grass & plastic flowers outside the fantastic Heart Gallery.


The Heart Gallery bunting, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

A small crocheted bike in the window of my hairdresser, Zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist’s Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

And one of my favourite bikes high up on the wall of The Willow Garden, the wonderful florists who made my wedding bouquet.

The Willow Garden bike, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

The word ‘le’ is popular right now.

‘Le Sale’ in Harold Crabtrees boutique, whose large windows are each painted with a single huge yellow wheel; another simple but visually arresting idea.


Crabtrees Tour Window, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

And extra points to The Workshop who’ve even changed the wording on their signs for the duration!


The Workshop sign, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall


The Jewellery Workshop poster, Hebden Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Kirsty Hall

Well, that’s part one, part two will be along in a few days once I’ve been down into town and taken more photos.


Scars And Oysters

I have a scar on my left knee. It has been there for more than 30 years.

I was about 7 when I fell hard onto a Yorkshire pavement and grit worked its way deep into the graze. I raised such merry hell about having it cleaned, that my mother missed some of the dirt. There is nothing left on the surface now, just a faint black line drawn deep into my flesh but I carry a piece of Yorkshire within me. Perhaps that’s why I chose to return here, like a fish heading home.

The need to make art is like this. A scar that heals but remains visible. The grit in the oyster.

Artists talk of ideas that irk and niggle away at them. ‘The work just wanted to be made,’ they say, ‘I was haunted’.

Haunted, niggled, irked, irritated. A pearl making oysters from dirt.


Oyster with Pearl
Oyster with pearl by Max Garçia via a Creative Commons license


I recently reread some of my old sketchbooks from college and was deeply amused to read page after page where I was stuck, frustrated or worried about my work. It made me laugh because they were exactly the same things I’d been thinking about my current work.

Seeing those same emotions surfacing a decade apart, it suddenly forcibly struck me that my process is rooted in struggle. Sooner or later, I will always doubt, I will always resist, I will always feel anxious because this is how I make my art.

While I don’t enjoy it, I’ve come to recognise that it’s not a problem. Sure, it would be nice if work flowed easily from me like water from a unblocked fountain but I am not that person. I am a worrier and a maker of lists. I am often mired in procrastination, doubt and fear. Fear that the work isn’t good enough, fear that it isn’t interesting or valid or conveying what I want it to say. Fear that I don’t have anything to say anyway and what the hell am I playing at with my silly sequins, jars and pins?

And it is easy to fear those fears and then to shy away from those hard places. But I’ve found I need to sit with those fears or I can’t make my work. The work comes from that grit. Maybe you’re the same?

On that note, if you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to watch this Louis C.K. rant about the importance of sitting with pain.


Pelt in progress

During the summer my occasional art assistant, The Wonderful Z, helped me get my studio up and running.

I’d already carved out a studio area in my bedroom but because it hadn’t been organised properly, it had devolved into a dumping ground. So we decluttered, moved furniture around and made sure that I had everything I needed within easy reach. Although I’m still very unwell, it’s made a huge difference and my productivity has markedly increased.

Before:

Studio before
Studio before: Kirsty Hall, July 2013

After:

Studio after
Studio after: Kirsty Hall, July 2013

The Wonderful Z also installed a pole and hung Pelt, a pin piece that I started work on way back in 2007. It’s been in storage for two years due to the house sale and move, so it was lovely to see it again.

Here’s how it looked when we unwrapped it…

Pelt in progress 01
Pelt in progress: Kirsty Hall, July 2013

And here it is now…

Pelt in progress 04
Pelt in progress: Kirsty Hall, August 2013

Despite my poor health, I’ve been working on it slowly but steadily, mostly whilst listening to the excellent Talking Walking podcast. It may not look like much progress, but I’m happy with how it’s coming along.

I’m going to cover ALL the fabric with pins. I did consider leaving some areas blank because I’m enjoying its present map-like quality but I started the piece with the intention of entirely covering it and I’ve decided to stick with that idea. Besides, I can always make another one if I decide I want a map related piece.

Pelt in progress 02
Pelt close up: Kirsty Hall, August 2013

Ideally I’d like to get it finished this year but that’s probably unrealistic because I can only do between 20 minutes and an hour before I get too tired and sore to continue. An hour’s work is a couple of square inches so there’s a lot of hours to go. The trick with a time-intensive piece like this is to concentrate on what you’ve done and not worry about all the work still to come. I just take it one pin at a time.

Pelt in progress 03
Pelt close up: Kirsty Hall, August 2013

Right, that’s enough blethering from me, I’m off to do some more pinning!


Art submissions please!

You know that thing where you’re so deeply involved in something that you completely miss the obvious? Well, I’ve been helping to organise an art exhibition in the shop windows of Hebden Bridge with the Hebden Bridge WI Rag Market. And I was just wondering how I could get more submissions for it when I realised that I hadn’t mentioned it here. Well duh!

So here are the details:

Applications are requested for an exhibition taking place as part of the Hebden Bridge WI Sensational Summer Rag Market.

Shortlisted entries will be exhibited in shop windows in Hebden Bridge in July 2013.

Hebden Bridge WI Rag Market

The theme of the exhibition is ‘Haberdashery’ and this can be interpreted through any form of creative art. Most creative art forms will be considered including craft, textile art, sculptures, paintings, photography, print, drawings, jewellery and fashion. Unfortunately we cannot include video or performance art.

The space available in local shop windows to display your finished piece will be no larger than 50cm square so please bear this in mind when choosing your medium and creating your design; small really can be beautiful too!

This Competition is open to anyone over the age of 18 and Alison Bartram, owner of Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge, is delighted to have been asked to come along and choose an overall winner. This winner will have the opportunity of working with Alison in the future to create either a ‘one-off’ commission piece for Heart Gallery or a collection of work to showcase. Heart Gallery prides itself on supporting, nurturing and promoting independent artists and craftspeople; particularly local makers.

There are no entry fees for this exhibition but artists are responsible for delivering their own work. The deadline for proposals is 1st June 2013 and finished work must arrive no later than Monday 24th June. For more information, or to send images of your work & details of your proposal, please email kirstymhall@gmail.com.

If you’re interested, email me with your submission proposal or comment on here. I am easy to talk to and happy to help if you have any questions. And if you know any artists whose work might suit, please pass it on.

The Rag Market itself takes place on the weekend of 13th and 14th July in the Hebden Bridge town Hall and I will be performing my Pin Ritual piece at various times during the weekend.

So if you’re local, please do come along. It’s always very popular and the money we raise goes to fund an education bursary for WI members. For more information, visit our facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Blooming burnout

Burnout.

I have it.

Burned-out car
Burned Out Car by Niklas. Used under a Creative Commons license

And at some point in your creative life, you’ve probably had it too. Creative people tend to go like the clappers and then fall down in a heap.

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay


Candle
Candle by R!E Used under a Creative Commons license


The last two years have been immensely difficult for me. 365 Jars was an epic but gruelling art project. And then halfway through the jar project, our 14 year relationship with our ex-wife disintegrated in a very painful way. A divorce and house move followed in 2012. Oh, and our teenage son flew the nest. It was a time of harsh transitions and deep loss.

I kept myself going with willpower, sugar, caffeine and neurotic list making. I knew I was well over my limits but because of circumstances, I had to keep going until my partner and I moved house and got settled. I knew that I would fall apart when once we moved and fall apart I have.

I used to see burnout as a horrible trial, something to be grudgingly endured. And while it’s true that it isn’t fun to experience, it does have its place in the creative cycle. Like trees sluggish with winter sap, plants hiding underground from the frost and animals hibernating in their nests, sometimes we need to retreat, to turn in on ourselves and conserve our energy. Without a baseline level of energy, making art is impossible. You cannot create from nothing.

My word for January was ‘rebooting’ and that’s what I’ve been doing. Switching myself off and seeing if I can reset myself to a healthier level. Letting myself be. Resting. Knitting. Reading. Watching documentaries. It does not come easily to me. I chafe at the restrictions my brain and body provide, I constantly butt up against my limits, I convince myself that I am rubbish and that I will never make art again. I am forced to recognise just how much of my self-image is rooted in me being an artist and how lost I am when that deserts me.

February’s word has been ‘completion’ and I have been gently finishing off a few projects and even more gently getting involved in a new one – helping with the Hebden Bridge Rag Market. It’s subtle but I can feel the burn-out gradually starting to lift.

So now my challenge for March is not to immediately throw myself into a dozen creative projects before the burnout has fully run its course.


RESOURCES

If you’re also suffering from burnout, here are some resources:


Preventing burnout

How to recognise, prevent and deal with burnout in a creative job

5 ways to bring yourself back from burnout

My beloved Catherine Caine writing about overwhelm and a pragmatic approach to self care.


Take care of yourselves, my honeys, the world needs your creative visions but you have to protect and nurture yourself to bring those visions to fruition.


Hello again

A blog. Oh my god, I have a blog? Actually I have two and they’re both languishing in sad and dusty state. Poor blogs.

Hey Kirsty, what the hell happened to you?

Oh you know, nothing much? My world fell apart & then I fell apart.

After a very difficult 18 months, my husband and I have now moved to lovely Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire where we are slowly putting our lives back together. I am currently in the midst of a big ME/CFS crash but I’m slowly pulling myself out of it with lots of rest and knitting. And I’m very slowly inching my way back to making art. It will NOT involve jars.

I’m not sure what this blog is going to look like over the next few months, let’s just play it by ear.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns

I’ve seen a lot of ‘rah, rah, just try harder’ cheerleading type posts on the internet lately.

Erin The Cheerleader From Barrhead!
Creative Commons License photo credit: † Jimmy MacDonald †

Sometimes ‘just try harder’ is rocking advice: it’s just what you need to hear on the days when a boot up the arse is helpful.

Now, I’m all for working hard and doing your thing and being stubborn and persistent, even when things are tough.

But sometimes ‘work harder and keep going’ is actively harmful.

This is because of The Law Of Diminishing Returns.

You already know what The Law Of Diminishing Returns is. You’ve been there, you’ve done that and the t-shirt is mouldering unwashed at the bottom of your laundry basket.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when the energy you’re expanding far outweighs any benefits you will receive.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you’re too tired, hungry or burnt-out to work but you keep going anyway. You do bad work that will need to be redone later but hey, at least you were in the office showing your face so no one can accuse you of ‘slacking’.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you hit your email button on your phone just one more time before bed. The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you endlessly rehearse a conversation that you know you’ll never have because the other person refuses to hear you. The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you read that same page five times but don’t take in a single word.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns is this conversation from When Harry Met Sally:

Marie: The point is, he just spent $120 on a new nightgown for his wife. I don’t think he’s ever gonna leave her.
Sally: No one thinks he’s ever gonna leave her.
Marie: You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.

The Law Of Diminishing Returns happens in offices & workplaces all over the world every single day. It happens to me after about 3 hours of working, when I hit my internal limit. Now what I should do at this point is take a break and go do something else or rest.

If I don’t switch gears, I invariably start going round and round in endless internet circles like a dog chasing its tail. Mine goes email; Twitter: Pinterest; RSS feed; Twitter; Ravelry; Facebook – rinse & repeat until I get cross with myself or my eyes fall out, whichever happens first. You’ll have your own version.

Sometimes what you should be doing is not ‘trying harder’ or ‘being more magnificent’ but resting. Or thinking. Or playing with your kids. Or sleeping. Or reading. Or watching TV with your sweetie. Or even – whisper it if you dare – quitting completely because you’re trying hard at the wrong thing.

By all means, be magnificent if magnificent is where you are right now. If you are magnificent, I will applaud you and tell my friends.

But no one can be magnificent constantly. It’s just not possible. So if your well is empty, you need to bloody stop. There is no more water there. So you need to either find another water source or sit down and wait for some rain.