A traditional Devon cream tea…
…on a traditional British summer’s day!
A traditional Devon cream tea…
…on a traditional British summer’s day!
I’ve been seeing references to Messy Tuesdays for a couple of months now. I thought, ‘hmm, sounds right up my street’ but didn’t follow it up. And then, whilst following a link from the excellent needled blog yesterday, I found the fascinating Felix and discovered that, along with Lara, she was one of the originators of the Messy Tuesdays idea.
Messy Tuesdays Manifesto:
You are not your flawless surfaces. You are not your orderly laundry-pile. You are not the seamlessness of your Finished Objects. You are not your risen cakes. You are not your sewn-in ends.
Messy Tuesdays seems to have struck a cord with many bloggers. Felix’s post, Mess Is Beautiful has inspired me to order some Toni Morrison from the library. The F-Word addresses the feminist aspects of domestic mess but Penny points out that someone has to clear up. I loved the story behind this box of tangled threads on Practical Polly’s blog. The needled blog celebrates mess while mootthings experience with breeding plant pots will doubtless be familiar to every gardener.
Here’s my contribution to the conversation:
Mess is a vital part of art. Without mess there can be no art. That doesn’t mean that all artists are inherently messy – although many are – just that the creative process itself is not a tidy one. There are wrong turns, false starts, abandoned pieces, 3am ideas scrawled frantically in sketchbooks, creative messes left lying on desks and in corners. Even if you are a tidy artist who puts things away when you’re done, in the midst of creating it’s likely that paint is smeared all over your palette, your pencils are in disarray, fabric pieces are scattered randomly around your sewing machine or you have clay, paint or plaster lodged under your fingernails.
And more than the purely physical mess of creating, there is that singular moment in many art pieces when chaos descends and you can no longer see what it is you are doing. The original purpose gets lost and suddenly there is only messy paint on canvas, confused lines on paper or a hideous lump of clay beneath your hands. This is the point where many people give up, not realising that this moment of sheer chaos is the fertile ground where new art grows. Not all your creative seeds will grow into something wonderful and worthwhile – some just stay messes – but without the courage to step into the messy, uncomfortable, annoying part of the creative process, nothing new will arrive.
I can’t write about Messy Tuesday without spotlighting a mess of my own. Here’s the current state of my bed.
Yes, my bed; the place that all the magazine articles and decluttering books tell you should be a romantic, restful haven. Notice how mine is covered with work instead! Here we have piles of books and magazines that I’m in the midst of reading, a journal, pens, a roll of pencils, several pads of cartridge paper, a pile of finished drawings, a pile of unfinished drawings, drawing board (what, you don’t have a drawing board on your bed?) and lots of lists.
Why don’t I put it all on the floor next to the bed? Er, well, there isn’t room…
I will be tidying this soon as it’s getting to the ‘too much on the bed’ stage. That doesn’t mean the bed will be empty when I’m done, just that I’d like to change the sheets before starting a new, fresher pile of work!
On Saturday I was in the mood to take photos so I wandered along a couple of Clifton roads that I haven’t been down in years because although they’re just around the corner, they’re not particularly on the way to anything. Noticing new things in familiar places is one of my favourite things to do.
Ellen Sharples was a miniature and portrait painter working in pastels. Born in Cheshire, she later emigrated to the United States with her artist husband, James Sharples, where she became one of America’s first professional female artists before returning to live in Bristol after her husband’s death.
I’d never heard of the Sharples before but they were apparently quite influential in early American portraiture with James Sharples drawing a famous portrait of Washington in the last year of his presidency. This portrait and others of notable Americans really paid the bills, with both James, Ellen and their children making copies. Although her career involved making copies of her husband’s work on commission, Ellen was obviously quite financially successful because she left £2,000 in her will to help set up the Royal West of England Academy and also donated her private art collection to the new gallery. You can see some of her art here.
Encouraged by her mother, who had advanced views on education for women, Rolinda painted in oils in a variety of genres, including portraiture, Bristol cityscapes and images of contemporary Regency life. She was one of the first British female artists to tackle large crowd scenes, most notably in her paintings of the races on Durdham Downs and the Clifton Assembly Rooms.
So there you go, a little bit of feminist art history right around the corner from me but unnoticed for years.
Because of health issues and poor weather, I haven’t done as much gardening in the last couple of weeks as I’d planned. However, I did manage to finish the bed I was working on.
Isn’t it great how weeks of hard work can be made to look miraculously simple through the wonders of technology!
In fact, it was so magical that I want to do it again…
Big improvement, huh.
As I’ve said before, gardens are a constant work in progress so it’s not exactly ‘finished’. I’m watching it to see what does well this year before moving stuff and tweaking the planting; I’ve already decided I need some taller plants in the middle of the bed and some stuff needs to be closer together. There are also a few annuals that I won’t bother with next year because the slugs liked them too much.
The six plants didn’t produce much because they were only planted this year but the dozen berries we got were so delicious that we shared them out gleefully like tiny red treasures.
I pinched out the buds on the other pots because I want them to be making roots and leaves not flowers but these had already opened and I didn’t have the heart to remove them. I always say that I practise ‘Darwinist Gardening’ because it’s the survival of the fittest around here. I can’t be bothered with plants that need endless fussing and coddling but I do have a sentimental side, especially if something is clearly trying hard.
This would have been posted yesterday but I stupidly spilt tea on my keyboard last night and promptly killed it. Oops. One trip to PC World later and I now have a gorgeous flat aluminium keyboard that’s quieter and easier on my hands and most importantly, not full of tea!
I’ve started drawing again. Since the start of the year it’s been an on/off kind of thing but I’ve drawn so much in the last three days that I ran out of my preferred heavy duty cartridge paper and had to switch to a lighter weight pad. I went to the art shop but they’d run out too, so I had to order it online. I didn’t come away empty-handed though; I was delighted to discover that Derwent has expanded its range of my beloved Inktense pencils so I bought five new ones to try out and two pads of other paper because being low on paper makes me feel antsy. Of course, I have a drawer full of paper but that was all the wrong size or type. Ha, never underestimate the ability of artists to justify spending money on materials…
I’m still in a bad place with my health so I haven’t managed to work in my studio but I have been lying in bed drawing and sitting at the computer listening to podcasts while I work on the embroidery piece. Like many artists, I have an almost mystical attachment to the idea of ‘the studio’ and I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn’t matter where I make art as long as I get it done.
This is why I don’t have a studio outside my home. I feel bad that I don’t spend enough time in my studio when it’s just up the stairs, imagine how guilty I’d feel if I was paying for the privilege of never getting to the studio. Some artists need the routine of getting out of the house and going to a special place to make art. I understand and respect that but for me, art needs to be rooted in my domestic surroundings or it’s just never going to happen.
Hey, if making art in bed was good enough for Frida Kahlo, it’s good enough for me!
And on days when I can’t make art at all, I can still take photos.
I’ve always noticed cast iron. Even as a kid I was fascinated by the different shapes of gates and railings. Maybe it’s because there’s a history of blacksmithing on my mum’s side: if I’d been born a boy in an earlier generation, I might have spent my days banging bits of metal into ornate curves. So it’s no surprise that I like to take pictures of railings, especially when they’re deliciously rusty.
This railing is really unusual. I’ve not seen another one like it and I can’t work out what era it’s from.
These railing are just round the corner from me and the design is clearly based on oak leaves.
I like it when you can tell what the original design is meant to be; sometimes they’re so over-painted that it’s just a vague organic blob. This decorative cast iron rose is still recognisable but it’s becoming softer and less distinct with every layer of paint.
Two of our ceilings have been painted so often that none of us can decipher the original pattern of the plaster mouldings. One day I decided it was ‘baby feet and broccoli’ and that has stuck.
The white baby feet in the kitchen aren’t quite as obscured but I’ve still no idea what it’s meant to be.
Maybe one day I’ll get up a very tall ladder and strip all the layers of paint off, but somehow I doubt it: I think we’re stuck with baby feet and broccoli.
Tina Mammoser over at The Cycling Artist has been doing a fascinating series of podcasts about her artistic process. Last night, I listened to the latest one and I was very struck by something she said about how artists are either good finishers or good starters.
I’m definitely much better at starting things than finishing. Truth be told, I often dither over starting things too – I like to get everything sorted out in my head first and then I’ll suddenly dive in and get going. So when I say that I’m better at starting than finishing, it’s all relative: it’s just that I truly suck at finishing.
I’m currently at the stage with the red embroidery (yes, the one I said I was going to finish weeks ago) where it’s very hard to work on it because it’s getting towards an end point. I know it isn’t finished yet but I’m having a lot of trouble deciding where the next lines go. It’s stopped being filled with infinite beautiful potential every time I drop the thread onto the canvas and the narrowing options are making me increasingly uncomfortable.
My instinct is to rush off and start a new one. A better one. One that will somehow miraculously instantly work without all this tedious humming and hawing.
But I’m plugging away trying to finish this one because I know how I am: new work tends to push old work aside and then the old work doesn’t get finished. You wouldn’t believe how much unfinished work I have in my studio. One of the things I loved about The Diary Project was that I had a daily deadline so I had to finish; there just wasn’t the option to sit around being indecisive for weeks on end.
I wonder how I can incorporate that lesson, that discipline, into my regular practice? I’ve noticed that I often do better when the rules or limits of a project are clearly laid out at the beginning. Do I need to make all my work that way though? Surely there needs to be a place in my practice for freeform creativity too?
Sigh, you see how I am – these are the sort of knots I endlessly tie myself in. How odd that sometimes the work flows out of me almost effortlessly and at other times, it’s this tortured, labyrinthine process. My mother says that I always have to make things difficult for myself; sometimes I think she has a point!
If you feel that you need a creative boost this summer, the lovely Camilla is running an online summer school. I’m still swithering about whether to sign up or not; it looks like fun but I don’t know how much energy and time I’m going to have. But I’m certainly going to be dropping in regularly to see how they’re getting on.
I am in a place of struggle with my art right now (as indeed, I often am).
I am second-guessing myself all the time. Is this embroidery good? Is there any point to it? Does it mean anything? Is it derivative and boring?
Bah, and indeed, humbug.
The chief enemy of creativity is “good” sense.
I often have to trick my analytical side into letting me make art because my art is essentially nonsensical. It’s a daft thing to do. Putting thousands of pins in a piece of fabric or tying thousands of knots in bits of string is loopy, I’ve always understood that, whilst at the same time (mostly) believing that it still has value. Yet holding those two opposing beliefs (this is daft/ this is worthwhile) in balance is not always an easy thing to do.
It’s hard to make art when your mind is tied up in knots like this. Often it seems that we artists spend most of our time clearing out the junk in our heads that stops us making, instead of actually making. Hmmm, perhaps it’s time to read one of my favourite books, Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, which is all about how not to quit. I reread it at least once a year, it helps get me through times of doubt like this.
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
I want to get back to uncomplicated creating, making without thinking, joyful making. I miss it. Perhaps I will drag out my pens this afternoon, lie in bed and just draw and draw and draw. I know when I feel like this – dissatisfied, antsy and annoyed with myself and my art – that work is the only cure. I might not make anything good but even lousy art usually moves things along.
One final note: I’m not looking for sympathy here. I am not in crisis, despair or needing reassurance that my art is good: I’ve been through this many, many times before and I know that I will pull out of it and start making again, usually with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. I am well aware that this is a natural part of the artistic process that most artists periodically go through. I’m putting this out there in the hope that other people will learn that this is just part of making art and so that they don’t despair when it happens to them.
And now I’m going to go and take a walk with my camera to get some fresh air, buy something yummy for dinner and hopefully clear my head.
Unfortunately I’ve been unwell for the last few days but I hope to get some proper writing done in the next day or two. In the meantime, in celebration of having my broadband back, here are some new photos from my garden. When I’m ill, my life often focuses down to very small things; a reflection in a bucket, the wind in the grass, pollen laden stamens, bats hunting across a twilight sky, the cat on my lap.
A friend of mine is raising money for the cancer charity Maggies Centres by climbing all the Monroes in Scotland ( a Monroe is a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet and there are 284 of them!) He’d originally planned to do this in a year but didn’t manage it due to various issues, however, he kept going and he’s now nearing the end of his project. I’d love to surprise him with a last minute boost from people he doesn’t even know, so if you feel inclined, please stop by his site and make a donation.