It’s that time of year again… I’m working for the last time in the book I have shared over the year with Ben, before I post it back after Christmas. I’m feeling a sense of achievement as I look back over the pages we have shared, and the visual conversation we have had. I have been lucky enough again to share with two talented practitioners who have made me think, and have challenged my own practice.
My experiences on the Artist Teacher scheme have inevitably found their way into my sketchbooks this year, and vice versa, reminding me how different aspects of my practice all inform each other and are influenced by each other. Having the sketchbooks on the go alongside the ATS enables me to put ideas on the backburner and work on something else, or try things out in a different way, allowing me to explore and experiment in different contexts.
I have sent my sketchbook back to Louise for the final time, and I’m excited to see how she responds to my final additions. I have signed up for another year of the Circle, hopefully one sketchbook partnership and one digital partnership; I am already excited about where the experience will take me next.
Liminal: adj, technical, i) of, or relating to a transitional or initial stage; ii) at a boundary or threshold (Oxford Concise English Dictionary).
This is a word I have come across fairly frequently of late; it appears quite a lot in artists’ statements in degree shows and galleries, and I’d read it a few times before I happened across it in this post by Andrea Liu. I looked it up, forgot about it, forgot what it meant, and then it cropped up again a couple of days ago on the WordPress inspiration site, The Daily Post. So I looked it up again. This time the word resonated; I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my artist statement any time soon, as my style is a bit more down-to-earth that that, but I’m definitely at a transitional phase in my personal and professional journey as an artist.
It’s also another transitional phase in the Sketchbook Circle cycle; I have made my last contributions to the book I have shared this year with Louise, and will be sending it back for her to put in her own final additions; and Ben’s book will soon be on it’s way back to me for the final time. I’ve signed up for another year’s collaboration, and am hoping this time to push myself out of my comfort zone and enter into a digital collaboration as well as a sketchbook partnership. Sketchbook Circle has and continues to be a pivotal experience in my artistic and professional life; the group is vibrant, creative and supportive, and I have connected with some amazingly talented individuals. It has inspired me to take my work in new directions, and combined with this year’s experience on the Artist Teacher Scheme, I have been motivated to take my practice out of a sketchbook and work in new, and sometimes surprising ways. This excites me and scares me in equal measure, but I continue to put myself in situations which challenge me. I have been inspired to leave my regular job in order to pursue a freelance career, and I am making connections and discussing projects with new people. I look back on my first hesitant pages in my first shared sketchbook two years ago and reflect on how far I have come.
This weekend I have been cleaning. Every so often I get a bee in my bonnet and go through the flat like a dose of salts; I have filled the communal bins outside with bags full of rubbish, broken toys, bits of sets which have become separated from the rest – and my beloved woollen rug, which met its demise at the hands (teeth?) of a suspected carpet moth. Or several carpet moths. Yesterday’s daily writing prompt on WordPress was hyperbole, or obvious or intentional exaggeration. This weekend I have cleaned our flat ‘from top to bottom’.
So I am now totally fed up of cleaning. In order to relax after my weekend spent up to my elbows in bleachy water, I sat for an hour on my sitting room floor with a box I am covering with decoupage. It’s an idea I’ve got in the back of my mind for next year’s Sketchbook Circle, so I’ll see how it turns out and then develop it from there. I felt like a child again, getting my hands covered in glue and enjoying the feeling of the paper yielding as it became damp. I’ve used old newspapers and pages from old books with images and designs which appeal to me. I love to work with recycled materials – cardboard, old books, newspapers – things with a history and a narrative, things which have been passed over, overlooked, discarded. Traces of the past. And what goes inside it will tell its own story, give a window into the minds of the artists who create it.
It has occurred to me that that was what I liked most about the Eva Rothschild exhibition at New Art Gallery Walsall; all of the elements in the exhibition pieces were once part of different pieces and combinations. I have been repurposing much of my art work recently; my paper tubes were made from torn up drawings (you can see them here and here) and I like the idea that a piece of art is an organic thing which changes and is reused and repurposed – almost infinite variations on a single idea.
Like myself; all the countless versions of my past self and my possible future selves, constantly changing, and yet paradoxically still the same. Identity, like art, is an ongoing process.
This week has been another busy one; I finished my regular job so I can concentrate more fully on our Social Enterprise organization. I’m signed on with an education agency so I can get flexible work as I need it for cash flow, but essentially I am now a freelancer. I have a nervous knot in my stomach, wondering if I am going to be able to survive and pay the rent; at the same time I know I have to at least give it a shot.
I seem to have been exploring lots of different media recently; last weekend I made clay houses with the 4MAT UK artist teacher group on the Birmingham canal; and this week I had the opportunity to participate in workshops and an interview for a CPD opportunity with a regional arts and health organization. Sadly I wasn’t selected to take part, but it gave me the opportunity to meet and work with some really interesting people working in lots of different media; drawing, ceramics, photography, performance; sculpture, weaving, collage. I used to do a lot of collage work, and have books filled with it (my own work) on my shelves in my studio corner; however, my practice at the moment seems to revolve around drawing and mark-making. I love to draw; I have spent hours drawing things – portraits, objects, and more recently I have begun to draw in a much more abstract way, inspired by such artists as Cy Twombly, and by books such as Steven Aimone’s excellent Expressive Drawing. I love water-soluble media, particularly graphite, which responds in such intense yet delicate ways to different ways of applying water.
Today I have worked on some old packing card, combining gesso, water and soluble graphite. I like the freedom that keeping the work wet gives me; I can move the paint and graphite around until it pleases me, block out parts I don’t like so much and do something else. Assertion and obliteration. I also like the idea that a piece of work is an organic, living thing, and that it’s OK for it to change. I never have a fixed idea of what I’m trying to achieve in mind; I find that if I do, I feel tense and I am rarely pleased with the outcome. I prefer to work in a more process-oriented way, and leave the outcome to be what it is.
I have also been adding bits and pieces to Ben’s sketchbook ready to return to him this week; my contributions have largely arisen from a continuation of his circle theme, which happily fit in with my own work as I was cutting circles out of my drawings prior to making them into tubes. I’ve also added in some interesting bits of masking tape, rescued from the edges of some larger pieces I am working on at the moment to further explore 3D drawing, and spotted by my eagle-eyed daughter.
My emergency blanket piece, made for and through the Sketchbook Circle, was featured in this month’s newsletter, which you can view here. I made a post about it too, which you can visit here. I await Louise’s responses to my sketchbook with anticipation; in the meantime, I will continue to write, and draw, and think, and find new ways to share my inner thoughts and ideas about what it means to be me.
Yesterday I went out on an art teacher’s CPD event organised through the Birmingham Artist Educator network, 4MAT UK. We took a trip on the Ikon Gallery’s barge to make clay houses, part of the Black Country Voyages art programme. The lead artist on this project this year is Mahtab Hussain and his project is called The Auspicious Journey. He has used the barge as a vehicle for exploring ideas about the displacement of people from his homeland in Kashmir in the 1960’s resulting from the construction of the Mangla Dam. Many of the affected people did not move on to the nearest settlement in Kashmir, but came to the UK to find work around the Black Country canals. You can find more information about the project here.
The day was a great opportunity to relax and spend some time making – it’s a long time since I last used clay; it was very therapeutic, especially throwing it at the start to get rid of the air bubbles. It was also a great chance to chat and network in relaxing surroundings with other artist educators from the region; Emma, a fellow sketchbook circler; Lisa and Karen from last year’s Artist Teacher Scheme; Emma from the Ikon Gallery; Philip, part-time skipper and art therapist.
The workshop started me thinking about my own work in new ways too; where to go with my tubes made out of drawings and written extracts; new ways of making my mark on paper and on the world; new materials to try. I am pondering ideas about making my tubes out of clay, and the interactive, inclusive element of asking members of the public to make pieces for a project.
Next week I finish my job and take a step out into the unknown; I will be a freelance artist educator. I am scared and excited but am looking forward to the challenges and the changes, and seeing how these manifest themselves in my art practice. I will certainly have lots to write about in my notebook, lots of thoughts to illuminate, lots of ideas to make into tangible objects.
As part of my contribution to Sketchbook Circle 2016, I was asked by the organisers to make a piece of art out of the contents of a mystery envelope.
This piece of work has come about as a result of some ideas which I have been exploring and attempting to express whilst locating my artistic practice on the Artist Teacher Scheme at Birmingham School of Art. I have become very interested in making large scale drawings which express movement and energy, and which also seem to me to embody somehow the internal thought processes my mind goes through as I make them – process made visible. Elena, the course tutor, remarked that I am a ‘taker-awayer’, meaning that I put things into a piece and then move them around, or remove them, until I am satisfied. Addition and subtraction, ebb and flow, assertion and obliteration. I am now conscious of this as a valid part of my creative process, and actively embrace it in my work. This finished piece has gone through several versions and modifications as I thought my ideas through and came up with what seems to me to be a satisfactory way to express them.
The emergency blanket I received through the post from the admin team at Sketchbook Circle was smooth, shiny and reflective when I opened it and it reflected fairly clear images; however, as I worked with it, it became crumpled, torn and fragmented. These opposing qualities took on many meanings for me; fragmented memories, stories, narratives; self-reliance and self-reflection; my own image and my own environment mirrored back at me, alongside my own inner landscape. A reminder that what I need is right here, and all I have to do is look for it.
I felt the need to cut and shred the blanket, which seemed to be about the many shards and fragments of existence and experience which make me who I am; as I did so, the sunlight and the warm red of the curtains was reflected back at me.
I didn’t really know at any point where I was headed with this idea, and it’s only a stage on the internal journey. I’ve continued to pull bits off it (addition and subtraction), and I’ve photographed it and manipulated it with the (many) photo editing apps on my phone; will it ever be finished? When is a piece of work finished? I’ve put it aside for a while now, but I’m sure I will revisit it and change it again, as this seems to be an enduring part of my artistic practice.