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.
If you're also suffering from burnout, here are some resources:
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.
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.
I'm off to Brighton tomorrow because the lovely people at Fabrica Gallery kindly invited me to talk at this this event. The theme is artists who are using the internet as something other than documentation. I will, of course, be talking about 365 Jars.
There are four artists taking part, we'll each have about ten minutes to talk about our projects and then there will be a panel discussion. I'm looking forward to hearing what the other three artists have been up to.
You don’t have to show people your rubbish. But you do have to make it.
So yes, you do bloody have to show up and make your work every day - or as often as you can possibly manage.
Do you think that athletes show up for the Olympics hoping to be inspired? No, they train and train and train and then hope to do their best on the day. And when they don’t, they spend time asking themselves what went wrong and how they can do it better next time.
Hell yes! I’ve felt it. I know it exists. And like most artists I live for that particular drug, angel-sweet in my mind.
But I also know for a sure and solid fact that inspiration tends to show up more often when you’re already doing the work. Like a garden, inspiration grows best when the ground is tended and fertile. And that means lots of digging and a hell of a lot of manure.
As regular readers know, I'm currently hugely busy over on 365 Jars and it's basically eating my life. The project takes at least 2 or 3 hours most days and it's often far more. When I started, I honestly thought I could work it around the other things that I had planned for this year but three months in, it's obvious that I was monumentally wrong about that.
I knew it would be a lot of work but I honestly had no idea quite how all-encompassing it was going to be. That's partly because it took off instantly, so I never got the gentle 'I'll just get up to speed while no one is looking' period that I was expecting. But I also drastically underestimated how much admin it would require. When I was planning it, I sensibly accounted for the making and the walking but stupidly didn't think about the time needed to answer comments and emails, promote it, manage the required databases and all the photo editing and blogging. Let this be a lesson to you, my dears, the hidden work is still work!
365 Jars is an epic project that deserves my full attention and rather than attempting to do lots of other things in a half-assed fashion, I've decided to make a few changes to free up time and energy so that I can concentrate on it.
The art shop
Firstly, I am closing down my Big Cartel shop completely. It's costing me money to run and I'm just not selling enough to justify that expense. More importantly, I don't have the time to make and add new stock and do the constant promotion that an online shop requires.
Rather than having it mouldering away unloved, I'm shutting the shop on Thursday 31st March at 9pm GMT and I'm discounting the existing stock, so you've got two days to get an art bargain.
Smaller drawings like this one are now only £30:
Kirsty Hall: pencil & gesso drawing
While the larger drawings are reduced from £75 to £50:
Kirsty Hall: pencil & ink drawing
These are all original, one-off drawings and the price includes postage. It's possible that I may try selling my artwork online again at some point but it definitely won't be with these particular drawings, so you've only got two days to snap them up and then they're gone for good.
If you're desperate for one but can't afford it right now, let me know and we'll work something out.
The business stuff
I have taken down the Artist's Eyeballs. It was an interesting experiment but they proved to be far too much work for the amount of money that I felt I could charge for them. I also didn't enjoy doing them enough - they felt like a struggle. It's possible that they may return in a different form in the future but for now, they are no more. If you've bought one and not yet received it, please don't worry, I've not forgotten about you - I'll be emailing you all personally this week to discuss timescales and options.
It's extremely unlikely that I will be offering any new products or services until next year and I may not continue working in this area in the long-term. But for now you can still hire me to help you work out your internet strategy because I'm continuing to offer Internet Hand-holding consulting. I've also taken this opportunity to slightly lower the price of consulting from £70 to £60. I know people say that you should never lower your prices but it was obvious to me that £70 was too high for my particular client base. Yes, I could go looking for a wealthier client base but other artists are the people that I'm still passionate about helping.
I am also still available for paid talks in the UK, so if you represent a college or an artists' group who need a talk on blogging, social media or the internet, please get in touch.
I will still be blogging on this site but it is going to be infrequent. However, I definitely don't want this blog to die for a year while I blog like a crazed weasel over on 365 Jars, so I'm considering options like Audioboo, more round-up posts and short videos.
Artist Arse Kicking
I haven't completely decided what's happening with Artist Arse Kicking but I definitely won't be opening it as a monthly subscription art club until early next year. It's obvious that I can't offer people my full attention right now and it would be unfair to charge for something that I can't deliver well. I am still very excited about it though and it will definitely happen once the jars are done.
I would like to do something with the site this year but I don't quite know what. I may ask for guest posters or just post inspiring stuff that I find around the web. I'd like to get some energy and community going over there. Suggestions gratefully received.
OK, that's it for now. Don't forget that you've got until Thursday at 9pm to buy my drawings before the shop closes.
Yes, sorry about the dusty ghost town feel around here of late. There is a very simple reason. 365 Jars has been kicking my ass. Hard.
In my enthusiasm for starting a new project - 'yay, new art project, yay' - I forgot that new projects are always intense and all-consuming. 365 Jars is especially full on because it is a ton of work: I seriously underestimated how much time it was going to take every day. Plus starting a new daily walking habit has been a shock to the system. Don't fret, I'm OK but between all that and recovering from The Hideous Flu, I've been distinctly overwhelmed and I'm still behind with everything.
I don't know about you but I live with the pretty fiction that I can somehow Get On Top Of Things.
Let us pause for a moment for the hysterical laugher to subside.
Despite 43 years of solid evidence to the contrary, I persist in believing in a mythical point at which I will be Up To Date.
I secretly believe that it's possible that my inbox will be empty, the laundry will be washed and put away and I won't have any urgent outstanding work. Furthermore, I believe that it's possible for all this to happen on the same day!
There is no indication that this is humanly possible but like a fervent believer in the Loch Ness Monster, absence of hard scientific evidence does nothing to dissuade me. The truth is out there, Scully, the truth is out there.
Surely it's theoretically possible that one day I will complete all my unfinished knitting projects? And all my paperwork will be correctly filed with no missing bank statements and my accounting shall be done to a level that would make the Inland Revenue smile and pat me on the head. And the floors will be clean and I will have cooked in recent memory. And angels shall sing and fairies shall dance in my spotless kitchen and all will be well with the world. And all this shall happen before civilisation crumbles into oblivion, the sun explodes or we are invaded by aliens who eat our brains.
In short, I believe that it is possible that I will be On Top Of Things Like A Real Person.
Now, I do not know who these Real People are but apparently they are capable of a mystical level of organisation that I can barely aspire to.
In truth, like many people, I exist in a state of barely controlled chaos.
Recently I had a staggering insight. There will never be a point at which everything is working. Never. There will always be something undone, something lost, something falling off the bottom of the list, something a mere moment away from a crisis. Always.
So what to do with this insight?
I could forgive myself.
Hard for a perfectionist but OK, I'll give it a go. But then I just wind up crying into my cornflakes about how I'm not forgiving myself perfectly enough. Oh wait, I see a slight problem with this approach.
I could seriously cut back on what I'm doing.
Ah, this feels better. Is everything on my list really necessary? Is it all equally important? Will the world end if the laundry is not put away? Ah wait, perhaps this is that mythical 'prioritising' of which I've heard? Why, goodness me, I do believe it is.
But truthfully, right now, even the thought of prioritising makes me want to cry. It seems to demand more competence and energy than I currently possess.
Oh dear, we're back to forgiveness again.
So I'm falling back on that old standby: 'tiny steps'. It's not big and dramatic but it works. I'm not taking on new responsibilities and I'm patiently nibbling away at existing ones like a harvest mouse.
So I finally got round to updating my sadly neglected news page. I hadn't updated it since July. Oh the shame of it, Internets, the shame.
So, in an effort to be a little bit more on top of things, here's the news for January.
PS. You have to imagine me reading this aloud to you in a newscastery sort of voice.
First international exhibition
One of my pin sculptures, Quiver, will be at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during January.
Kirsty Hall: Quiver, Jan 2009
This is my first international exhibition, so I was thrilled to be accepted. And Quiver made it over there without being blown up in customs as a suspect package, for which I'm very grateful.
Disruptive Stillness is on at the Jean Paul Slusser Gallery at The University of Michigan between 7th - 28th January and there will be a closing reception on January 28th from 6 - 9 pm. Gallery opening times, address and further details are here.
If you're in the area, do pop along to stroke the pins.
I'm doing a talk
I'm pleased to announce that I will be one of the speakers at the Textile Forum South West conference Mapping The Future - Where are you now? on 26th March 2011 in Taunton. More information here.
If you're in the UK and you have an interest in textiles and/or mapping, I would encourage you to come along. The folks at Textile Forum South West are some of my favourite art peeps to hang out with and I think this conference will be great fun.
My talk will be about mapping and the internet, so I'll probably be discussing things like my 365 Jars project.
Speaking of which...
365 Jars is off to a resounding start with people all over the world avidly reading the daily jar updates.
To date, seven of the sixteen jars have been found but one of those was re-released into the wild by its enthusiastic finder. So if you're in Bristol, there should still be ten jars out there for you to find and take home - keep your eyes open!
There will also be arse kicking
Oh yes, indeed there will.
Artist Arse Kicking is an online monthly art club for grown-ups that I'll be launching some time in the spring.
Check out the FAQ for more details of what's involved and if it sounds exciting, please sign up for the AAK mailing list. Signing up doesn't commit you to joining, it just means that I'll let you know when things of an arse kicking nature are occurring.
The House Numbers set in particular, is evolving into something very special and I'm proud of it. My jar walks are providing lots of fruitful opportunities to photograph house numbers, so it's growing weekly. I've also added a Graveyard set, a Signs set, an Urban set, a Natural World set and a general set with all the random stuff that didn't fit anywhere else.
Finally, in response to the dreadful flooding in Australia and South America: if you buy anything from me during January, I will donate 20% to charity.
For the last few years, I've been taking photographs of house numbers and I've just released these photos under a Creative Commons license. So if you have a need for some images of beautiful numbers, please check them out.
Kirsty Hall, No. 7, Jan 2011
Giesela Birgit over on my Facebook group asked me how Creative Commons works. I realised that other people might be confused about it, so here's a quick explanation.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a way of licensing your creative work in a more adaptable way than traditional copyright. It replaces 'all rights reserved' with a more flexible 'some rights reserved' model that recognises that the basis of a free, open internet is sharing.
Creative Commons offers six different licenses, which allow you to control the way your work is used. All Creative Commons licenses require that you, the creator, are credited so people can't take your work and pass it off as their own.
If I use it on one thing, will all my work be Creative Commons?
Kirsty Hall, No. 20, Jan 2011
No, licenses are specific to that particular work, not your entire body of work.
I don't use Creative Commons for all my work. I retain full traditional copyright on all images of my art, any photographs I might want to sell in the future and all my writing. If you scroll down this blog you'll notice that I have a copyright notice that explains how people can use my work and when they need to ask for permission. As far as I'm aware, most people respect it. I also further protect my work by only releasing my images at 72dpi, which is not high enough for good print quality.
Is Creative Commons legal?
Yes. All Creative Commons licenses are an extension of traditional copyright and they have a 'Legal Code layer' written in lawyer language. Of course, that doesn't mean that it won't be challenged in court and there have been a couple of court cases about Creative Commons but there are even more court cases based on traditional copyright.
Won't people steal my stuff?
They might but that's a risk you take whenever you release any kind of creative work in public. Personally I only release stuff under Creative Commons that I'm not particularly bothered about and I don't worry about what happens to it.
If it bothers you, traditional copyright might be a better choice but be aware that dishonest people aren't bothered about any kind of copyright and all you're doing is stopping the honest people from disseminating and sharing your work.
Can I take public domain work and make it Creative Commons?
No, definitely not. You should only license works that you have created. The Creative Commons website states:
Creative Commons licenses should not be applied to works in the public domain. Our licenses are intended for works protected by copyright only.
Why I use Creative Commons
I currently have 410 images available for other people to use.
I take a lot of documentary-style photographs and I'm not very emotionally attached to them. Last year I decided to make these photographs available under a Creative Commons license because I'm a big fan of internet sharing, the concept of 'free' and enabling other people's creativity. I've benefited from using other people's images on my blog and I wanted to return the favour. It's a gift. It's also a strategic way to get more people to visit my Flickr account, which could lead to more people seeing my art.
Kirsty Hall, No. 85, Jan 2011
I use the least restrictive license for my Creative Commons collection:
"This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation."
So someone could take one of my images and use it as the basis of an artwork or add it to a video, a blog post or a Powerpoint lecture. They could change the colour, flip it around, add it to a collage, even use it as the basis of a commercial work (although all my images are only 72dpi, so it wouldn't be great for printing). The only thing they have to do is credit me.
I chose the least restrictive license because I wanted my images to appear in awesome WordPress plugins like Photo Dropper.
If resolutions work for you, that’s cool. But it is my deeply held belief that January is long and depressing enough without making yourself feel like a failure halfway through because you thought you 'ought' to do something about your weight/finances/fitness/work-life balance or whatever damn thing you're feeling guilty about.
Goals are good when they're clear, measurable and achievable. Resolutions, on the other hand, smack of wishful thinking. A resolution is a cop-out. Oh, you ‘resolve’ to do something. Not actually a decision though, is it. Resolution is a kinda-sorta-wanna word. And most people choose resolutions that are destined to fail because they are murky and unclear and the person hasn't fully committed to them. Or doesn't even want to do them. Resolutions are invariably 'shoulds' writ large.
What I do instead are commitments, goals and a Word Of The Year.
So, for example, 365 Jars is a commitment, not a resolution. There’s no resolution involved. I’ve decided that I’m doing it and I know that I will get to the end of 2011 with that art project completed unless I break a leg or something (and I have a contingency plan for that). No excuses. No giving up in February because I'm bored. I'm committed, so I will see it through. That's how I am with art projects. Which is why I think long and hard before I start them.
If resolutions give you an icky, ‘don’t wanna’ feeling, please come and join me in the ‘no resolutions’ corner – we have whisky, cough sweets, leftover chocolates and we don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not even doing any 2011 goals right now because a) I'm knackered from the flu and b) I already have some important goals in play.
However, if you do want to set yourself some goals, here are some helpful tips:
Shoulds are deadly
‘Shoulds’ are killer words: they will eat you alive whilst making nom-nom noises. If the word ‘should’ appears when you’re thinking about goals, you need to chase it out of your brain with much screaming and a chainsaw.
If you don’t give a shit about that last 10lbs, don’t pretend you do. You’re not fooling anyone. Wishful thinking and half-heartedness won’t get you anywhere. If you think that you ‘should’ lose that 10lbs because some magazine says you need to or because all your workmates are dieting, you’ll fail. Because you don’t care enough to do it.
There is a very simple reason that I don’t have an MA – I can’t be arsed to go and get one. Until I have a burning, overwhelming desire to go back to college, I'll be sticking with my BA. Sure, I'd quite like to HAVE an MA but not enough to do the actual 'getting one' part. The moment I realised that an MA was in my 'should' category, I gleefully struck it off my list and felt much lighter.
For the love of all that is holy, chose something fun or find a way to make it fun. You’ll do much better. Reward yourself with stickers, find a creative way to achieve that aim or do something you love. If you hate going to the gym but love playing with kids, borrow some kids a couple of times a week (ask first!) and take them to the park for a run around. You'll get exercise and their parents will be pathetically grateful. Or volunteer to coach football at your local school. Or lead a Brownie or Scout troupe.
Most people fail at resolutions and goals because they punish themselves with them. Why? Do you want to change a habit or do you just want to wear a hairshirt? Choose.
Be clear on your WHY
Goals that start with a ‘why’ are always stronger than wishy-washy, direction-less goals.
OK, so you want more time in the studio. Why? What does it get you? What happens if you do lose that ten pounds? How is your life better? What difference does it make?
I started 365 Jars because I wanted to take a daily walk every day during 2011. That was it. That was my ‘why’. I also wanted to get back to a daily art practice and I like doing year-long projects because they have a defined start and end. So that was two good strong 'whys' that I realised could be yoked together to make a fun project.
The art is a cheat code. I knew I wouldn’t walk daily if I made a resolution to do so but I sure as hell would if walking was part of an art project. So I came up with the art idea that would accommodate the walking. At this point, my wife looked at me funny and said, ‘you really will do anything if it’s for art, won’t you’. To which the answer was 'yes, but only when I set the rules.'
Tackle one area at once
When I’ve been trying to change big things, I've always been more successful when I’ve stuck to one area at a time. Trying to lose weight, sort out your finances, get fit, learn French and start a daily art practice all in a single month might be doable but hitting yourself with a stick would probably be more fun. Changing habits can be hard. And if you're trying to change habits in big, scary emotional areas like body image or finances, you can trigger all sorts of defensive mechanisms. Start small and achievable. Or trick yourself like I did with 365 Jars.
Make it measurable
‘I want to get fit’ is a completely pointless goal because you can’t measure it, so you will never achieve it. ‘I will do five minutes of stretching every morning during 2011’ is a far better goal because you’ll know exactly when you’re doing it and when you’re not.
If you do those daily stretches for 300 days out of 365, you’ve won. It’s not a zero-sum game, you haven’t ‘failed’ until you quit completely. 300 days of stretching will still make a big difference to your life. Sure, it's a bit annoying about the other 65 days but hey, you’re still way ahead of the people who did it religiously for 2 weeks and then gave up. Shit happens: give yourself credit for the things you did, not what you didn’t. If you don't manage to do your thing one day, pick it up the next day or the day after. If the way you're doing it stops working, find a new way to do it. But don't use 'I missed a day' as an excuse to quit.
Beware of romanticism
In my head, I can belly-dance. In my head I am also a willowy redhead who plays the harp and floats around in long wispy dresses. One day I may get round to learning belly dancing but frankly, I am shit out of luck with the willowy thing because I am small, dark and very curvy. Sure, I could grow my hair long, dye it red and lose weight but with the best will in the world, I can’t gain five inches in height unless I wear very unsuitable shoes.
And although I would like to be that pre-Raphaelite heroine, in truth, I am not that person. I look kind of drippy with long hair; I would have paint and mud on my long, billowing sleeves in five minutes and I would constantly trip over the wispy hemlines and then swear in a most unromantic fashion. Besides I have very little musical aptitude and no time or patience to learn. It is a pretty fantasy that bears no relation to who I truly am and I wouldn't enjoy the reality. Now, if my fantasy was to be a bumbling, slightly grubby, female hobbit, I’d be totally sorted.
I once had an amusing conversation with a knitting friend where we admitted to each other that we sometimes knit things we knew wouldn’t suit our body shape just because we fell in love with the model and the way the project had been photographed. That’s romantic thinking. So is 'I will feel happy in a bikini if I can just lose that 10lbs'.
Accept your reality.
There is nothing mystical about January
Set goals whenever it’s right to set them. I use monthly aims to keep myself on track and make sure important deadlines don’t get forgotten. If I get to March and I decide that 2011 needs its own special goals, I’ll set some then. The goal police won't come round and arrest me because I didn't decide on my goals on January 1st.
If you can’t commit to it fully, don’t even bother: you’re just setting yourself up to fail. Think this stuff through before you decide to do it. Be utterly clear what’s involved and why you want to do it. Make sure it's achievable. And then decide. And then do it. Yoda was right...
Things to remember
If setting goals right now is a genuinely helpful thing for you, then do it and enjoy. I hope you make positive goals that help you grow and the tips should help you set strong, achievable ones.
But you also have my full permission to take a big deep breath, resolve not to set any resolutions or goals whatsoever, say 'oh thank god' and feel instantly better. Here, have a chocolate...