Drawing, Thoughts, Work In Progress

Slowly Does It

penguins 2Some days I think my growing fondness for scratch board, officially the slowest drawing medium in the world, is a curse, impractical and quite frankly idiotic.

Other days I think it is teaching me an important lesson.

Since Lighter Than My Shadow was published, I’ve been trying really hard not to approach everything in life like an eating disorder. If anyone is wondering how that comparison makes sense, consider that my former approach to making art involved a lot of lists, target sheets, unreasonable goals and considerable self-flagellation for not achieving them. It became clear in the aftermath of my book that this approach was not only destructive, but unsustainable and honestly not a lot of fun: it was removing all joy from drawing, purportedly the thing I love most in the world. And so I decided to learn to do things differently.

penguins1

Here’s where the world’s slowest drawing medium comes in. I have no choice but to let it go slowly. An A4 page takes me the better part of a week. My penguin poster has taken two months so far and is still not done. Yet I’ve just decided to also use scratch board for some (not all!) of the next Green Bean.

green-bean1

I am making marks every day, and by my old standards I do not have a lot to show for it. My blog is quiet because I am not churning out work at an unsustainable rate. When I do post, I feel like I’m writing the same thing over and over, justifying to myself that this slower pace is  OK. In truth, living with it is extraordinarily uncomfortable. The old pattern would have me down tools in despair, lamenting that there’s no point trying if I can’t conquer the world by tomorrow lunchtime.

I am not doing that. I am going back to the drawing board and making the marks I can make today; learning to let that be enough.

Crafting, Drawing, Knitting, Thoughts, Work In Progress

My Maker’s Year

Penguin in Progress

Knitting

In thinking about what to prioritise creatively for the year ahead, I’ve been particularly inspired by Kate of A Playful Day . Her project for 2016, The Maker’s Year, first caught my attention on instagram. Her goals include time to reflect on all aspects of daily making, and what I connected with especially was her phrase, “in a way the nourishes, not weighs down.”

This really strikes a chord with what I’ve really been grappling with personally for the last year or so. I chose my particular direction in life because I delight in making things, and yet so often I feel pressures and burdens that make it anything but fun. Most often, those pressures and burdens are self-induced.

One example of this is the idea I’ve held that I need to ‘be professional’, since my book Lighter Than My Shadow was published. You have no idea how much this nonsense has held me back. Another aspect of Kate’s Maker’s Year, which you can read about on her blog, is that it’s “not about driving further divisions between the words making, crafting or art but instead allowing a simple act of creativity the room to grow without hangup or uncertainty.” For me, that means not about sidelining certain aspects of my creativity because I’m worried they don’t fit. I’m seeking a sustainable way forward that feels more whole and honest, for my work’s sake and especially for my mental health.

Recovery is...

What does this mean in practical terms? Well let’s take knitting. I have knitted since I was about seven years old, but I really took to it about two years ago. In the aftermath of Lighter Than My Shadow’s publication, I relocated from Bristol, left my therapist of eight years and was not in a good place mental health wise. Knitting became a powerful resource in those months, and has remained so, but something else has also happened: I have become obsessed. I knit every day, I think about it almost constantly. When I visit a new city, it’s to the yarn shop I gravitate first, before the comic shop. I can no longer deny what an important part of my creative life this craft is becoming. Until now, I’ve held back on blogging about it because I’ve worried that it doesn’t ‘fit’ with my identity as an illustrator. But is that creative identity even appropriate any more?

Things I made in 2015

The more I think about the Maker’s Year, the more I relish the opportunity to acknowledge and respect these other aspects of creativity. Last year I learned to sew garments, a craft I’m really excited to explore more. I made toys, something that I featured often in early issues of The Green Bean but have not revisited since. I also learned how to tat lace, and how to weave. And what about the daily, small acts of creativity that are so easily taken for granted? The food I prepare, the decoration and care of our home? Why shouldn’t my blog also honour these things?

So thanks, Kate, for the wonderful idea and inspiration. I’m excited to explore what 2016 #themakersyear brings, and to learn from what it brings for others too.

 

 

Thoughts, Zines

Clearing The Decks

Clearing The Decks

clearng-the-decks

Alternative title: The day I deleted my portfolio, and decided it didn’t matter.

I’m not much of a one for resolutions. I’ve lived with my mind long enough to know that change happens in almost imperceptible increments, with continued effort, not by waking up one day and deciding to be different. Nonetheless, I get caught up with a feeling of shiny newness this time of year, and find unexpected energy to, well, attend to things.

When this happens, one of the very first things I want to attend to is my website, which seems to be perpetually two years behind what I’ve actually been doing. Does anyone else have this problem?! Who knows how it happens, but I certainly need to attend to it. And so I began, making subtle tweaks and changes to the look, and barely moments later I managed to delete my entire portfolio. Excellent start to the year!

I spent a few minutes days lamenting my idiocy, and then a wonderful feeling of clarity came over me. I don’t need to sort through those old images, figure out what stays and what goes. I don’t need to get my head around how exactly I tweaked the code two years ago or whenever it was to get it all aligning nicely. I have a blank slate, a fresh start, and it’s no bad thing.

So currently I’m an illustrator with a portfolio-less website. Hopefully I won’t let it sit that way for too long, but no promises. The accidental loss has opened up a lovely blank space in which to think about which piece of work I most like, have most enjoyed, and what I want to do more of. I am prepared to be surprised by what I pick.

Having this unexpected space and freedom to begin again got me thinking about other things that might benefit from a fresh start. In 2015 I so especially wanted to get my zine, The Green Bean, back up and running and I did not. I laboured over several pages because I felt I really ought to: over the course of the year I managed to gather together about three quarters of a new issue, but I could never bring myself to finish anything. There always seemed something more appealing to do.

And then this idiotic thing happened with my portfolio, and I got to thinking: I began The Green Bean almost six (SIX!) years ago in a burst of enthusiasm, and it was filled with energy and joy. Over the years it came to feel more of a obligation and a burden, and I had this sudden realisation that I’ve been trying to keep it the same. In six years I have grown, evolved, changed and so has my artistic practice: no wonder I don’t feel excited by trying to create work that belongs with who I was six years ago. It all seems so obvious.

So as well as deleting my portfolio (accidentally), I have ditched over twenty pages of drawings for a new Green Bean (intentionally). Just plonked them in the recycling. Just like that. I have cleared the decks and I feel relieved, liberated, and best of all excited to afford my dear little publication space to grow and evolve into something new.

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, 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.