Thoughts

Balance

autumn woods

It’s a crisp and bright autumn morning. I have a steaming cup of ginger and lemon in my hand, and an ever-more-contented little dog curled up at my feet. I am wondering what to write.

I actually have a collection of half-written blog posts I could choose from: about the medieval dress I made, about what’s on my drawing table, or in my knitting bag, or in my brain. But like these creative projects, blog posts also sit unfinished a lot longer than they used to in these days of learning about balance.

blackberries

As always, the right blog to post is the honest one. Those are always more juicy to write and, I suspect, more satisfying to read. I am challenged at the moment to accept the limitations of a 24 hour day, during which I also want to eat, sleep, rest and look after my family. This is new. I have never, ever prioritised these things, anything, above work. I have always treated myself, my creativity, as a machine, cracking the whip to get things done without regard for sanity or health.

Now I am choosing to do things differently, but it’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t quite flow yet. The going does not feel smooth because this is territory I don’t know. I am used to finishing things. I am used to cycles of euphoric exertion followed by a crash and burn. I have spent the last eight years in an aggrandised version of that, from which I’m still emerging. Emerging with the question: can I do things differently?

What would it be like to have a working pattern that is sustainable? Is it possible? How do I explore and honour creativity as a gift, not an obligation? Can I use it in a way that nurtures rather than exploits my body, my mind and my family?

When people ask what I’m working on, these questions are my answer.

Drawing, Knitting, Thoughts, Work In Progress, Zines

Things Happening Slowly Around Here

Green Bean Progress 1

One of the things I’ve found odd about my work as an illustrator over the last few years is a need to be secret. If I’m working on a book, a comic for a magazine, or some other commission, it’s not always OK to share work in progress.

When I first started blogging, back in 2008 (alas, you won’t find evidence of it – I botched the transition from Blogger to WordPress and lost everything), one of the things that kept me doing it regularly was sharing every stage of every thing I was working on. I was also…how shall we put it? A little on the compulsive side. I blogged a lot. I didn’t sleep much.

Since then, I’ve slowed down for my health and sanity, but for the pleasure in my work as well. I’ve learned that over long periods of time, my creativity actually doesn’t respond well to me cracking the whip. I burn out. I stop having fun. It becomes a treadmill and a chore, and for a career path that’s also financially challenging, that makes no sense. It needs to bring me joy. So these days I’m trying to remember that and embrace a slower process, though it’s not always comfortable.

Green Bean Progress

The pages above are from a Green Bean issue that has been on and off my drawing board since February, weathering losses of confidence and direction and needing to be laid aside often for commissioned work. Sometimes I miss the days when I could confidently churn out a Green Bean every two months (heck, I did it every month in the first year. Madness!), but those days are gone.

Now, I regularly take breaks to sit with my knitting. Working a few rows has become a kind of daily practice that reminds me of the rewards of patience, and that the best part of any creative work is the process itself, not the end result.

Jumper In Progress

It was knitting, in fact, that helped me navigate my way back into drawing after my burn out. It began with drawing comics for Pom Pom Quarterly, the first of which was published in winter 2014. The latest, due in the winter 2015 issue, is what’s been absorbing most of my time for the last two months. I remain obsessed with scratch board, again a significant factor in my exploration of working more slowly. Scratch board is about the most labour intensive medium there is. When I worked on Lighter Than My Shadow, I routinely drew 12 pages a week, at times up to 18. For this latest comic I scratched one. One gloriously absorbing, meditative, financially unsustainable but who-cares-because-I’m-hanging-out-with-the-dog-and-enjoying-making-art-again page a week.

Sadly I can’t show you much as it’s a secret until publication, but I’m chuffed with it. I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever drawn. Here’s a little peek…

Scratchboard for Pom Pom

Now that the Pom Pom comic is finished, that Green Bean, the one that’s been on and off the drawing board, will get some attention. I won’t finish it this week, perhaps not even this month. Who knows. What I do know is that it will be one of the most thoughtful and beautiful of all the Green Beans. And so will the one that follows it. All in good time.

By the way, that “I am doing a new thing” card, pictured at the top, was a design created especially for Green Bean subscribers, to explain what on earth has been going on and why they haven’t received a zine for so long. It was inspired by this embroidery, by talented lady and dear friend, Mollie Johanson.

Jack, Thoughts

Enforced Simplicity

Ten weeks ago today, we drove home from the RSPCA with a new addition to the household. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll be getting to know Jack rather well :)

Jack in the Garden

Jack has struggled a bit to settle in here. His background is not the worst for a shelter dog, not by a long way, but nonetheless he’s had a traumatic time, and the transition to a new home is a big deal for any dog (or person, for that matter). Ten weeks in, and things are starting to find a routine, a new normality. We are starting to trust each other, and find some surprising benefits to our new life together.

One of Jack’s biggest issues is with separation. He gets absolutely beside himself with fear when left alone, and as such we’re on a very painstaking training program to build up his tolerance. We started at zero, as in he couldn’t even cope if I left the room. Eight weeks later we’re celebrating the remarkable victory of me standing outside the closed front door for five whole minutes. You have no idea how much work this small-sounding achievement has taken! Jack has his own Skype account so I can watch him on the webcam from outside and check he’s doing alright. Sound nuts? It’s pretty nuts. But it’s helping him, and surprisingly, it’s helping me too.

Because while we commit to this training program, for as long as it takes, he doesn’t get left alone. So I am at home with him five days a week, and my life has assumed a kind of enforced simplicity. My time has taken shape around the routine of walking, feeding, playing, training, and inbetween those times I am creating. I am drawing, sewing, knitting, making, more than I have for many many months. And loving it.

I feel, at last, that I’m stepping out on the other side of Lighter Than My Shadow, and instead of feeling pressure and expectation, I feel curious, and excited to explore what might come next.

Jack and Me

Thanks Jack!

Painting, Thoughts, Typography

Recovery is…?

Last week it was Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I was thinking about recovery and what a misunderstood process it can be. My own recovery began almost 14 years ago, at which point I thought it was only about weight restoration (ha!). At various points in the years since, I’ve considered my time in recovery to be over, and while in some ways that’s true, in other ways it really, really isn’t. So I got to thinking about how I’d define recovery now, 14 years into the process, and put some of my thoughts down on paper. It’s worth saying that this is a very personal piece of work which you may or may not find fits with your experience – and I’d be interested to hear thoughts on that. Heck, in another 14 years I’ll probably have a totally new perspective again and laugh at this. But for now, in this moment at least, this is what recovery means to me…

Recovery Is

 

Drawing, Thoughts

Painstaking

People often remark on the level detail in my artwork, and say I must have lots of patience. It’s no secret I have a love of tiny details, also mammoth projects that take years, preferably both at once (see Lighter Than My Shadow). But the truth is this kind of work isn’t a test of patience for me. This is what I love. new house progress Having recently completed this Alasdair Roberts poster using scratch board, perhaps the epitome of a painstaking medium, I’m finding myself drawn back to using it again. It’s the same thing, I think, that means I enjoy knitting so much – another activity that brings remarks on how much patience I have. But it only has to do with patience if you focus on the end result. Yes it might take me a year to knit a sweater, or five years to draw a whole book. But when I finished drawing the book that took me five years, it was like the bottom fell out of my world. I have felt lost, listless and it’s taken me two years to recover any sense of what to do when I get up in the morning. Two years to realise that the finished product was not the important thing at all. I’m not saying I don’t want to knit sweaters or make books: that’s what I want to to all day every day! It’s just that I’m realising I’m not in this for the finishing. In the end, any books or sweaters are kind of incidental. What matters more is the act of making. I’m wary of this starting to sound a little wacky so I’ll tread carefully. I love creating the most when I’m utterly engaged in the process. Time drifts and my purpose becomes irrelevant: I am absorbed in each tiny mark or stitch. I’ve found that generally the more longwinded and painstaking a process is, the more effective it is at inducing this kind of meditative state where I am at my happiest. Finding this sweet spot amid deadlines, the (real or perceived) pressure to finish something new and the very real need to sell things, well that’s a different kind of challenge…but lately I’m enjoying meticulous processes that remind me they are the best bit. New House The above is my charming new house! I’ve spent the last couple of weeks packing, shifting and unpacking boxes. I’m still living with a significant degree of chaos but hope to show you around my new studio soon.