Category Archives: sketching

The Friday Review No. 4: Remembering Stillness and Forgetting Perfectionism

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Painting by Martin Battye FRSA, and my own inept reflection!

This week has been about catching my tail.

You know those moments where you come out of a period of frantic activity and realise that the house is a tip, and so is your head?  Suddenly you find yourself coming in to land in what you think is home, but which turns out to feel like a strangely alien place.

So I’ve been sitting still.  Listening to the birds outside the window.  Doing self-care things, like going to therapy appointments, meditating, remembering how to do the down dog asana (though in my, case, very badly), journaling, and indulging my muse.

I took myself off on an artist date.  Not to a gallery or the movies.  I went for an hour-long wallow at the library.  I love our library.  Its huge.  I always feel like I’m in a sweetie shop with an unlimited budget.  Sometimes I go in there, and I can’t see anything I want to bring home.  Other times, such as this one, there are so many books I want to take home and cuddle that I just can’t decide.  Well, you can only read so many words in the three week loan period, and I figure the ones I like will pop up again soon enough.  I came home with six, including two art books which I hope will help me to get drawing again.

The choice of art books was partly prompted by a dear friend, Martin Battye, painter and raconteur, Fellow of the Royal Academy and my husband’s cricket club.  He lent me a few of his old sketch books a while ago, as I wanted to write a blog post about his creative process, thinking his images might inspire you, dear reader, as much as they do me.  Then Life happened, and the sketchbooks stayed patiently waiting on my desk in a plastic carrier bag for the time when Life would get out of the way, and I would remember I had a blog!  This week, Martin needed his sketch books back, and I felt awful, of course, for neglecting my promise to him, and his kindness in lending me his treasure trove.  I looked through the pages and was once more dazzled by the obvious fact his work illustrates:

It’s a sketch book.  That means it is a work place.  A place to try things out.  You don’t have to get it perfect every time.  Or, as artist and illustrator Cliff Wright puts it so brilliantly:

‘Drawing is a great medium for experimentation because nothing is set in stone – you can always do another drawing if you don’t like the first one.’

Cliff Wright, The Magic of Drawing: Bring your Vision to Life on the Page, David & Charles Ltd 2008

This has been a revelation to me, a victim of perfectionism all my life.  Even as a kid, I struggled with the idea that I could make a mess and get it wrong and practice till I was happy with the end result.  Somewhere along the line, the idea of playing, and of practicing something to get the hang of it, got lost.  It had to be perfect first time.  Which is, I suppose, why I eventually stopped making art altogether.

Martin’s sketchbooks, the sketchbooks of a man I think of as a ‘proper’ artist, show that making rough sketches, making a mess, scrabbling about to find the right line, are what sketchbooks are all about.  Which makes it alright for me to do the same, somehow.

I’m grateful to Martin for his support and generosity in sharing his work with me, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the precious images from his sketchbooks with you soon.  In the meantime I’m taking this crucial revelation about perfectionism into the coming days, hoping it will sink in permanently this time, and allow me to try stuff out, experiment, get it wrong.  Because that is how you learn.

Happy Creating,

EF

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Journal Friday: Smorgesbord

Diary Pile 2I’m feeling a bit rough at the moment, so I’ve been spending a lot of time surfing the internet.  Its a good thing to do when my brain is mushy like this.  I have trouble parsing long  blocks of text, so little blog posts and internet sites are just the thing to keep my mind occupied and spark new ideas.

So I thought I’d share some of my journalling current faves with you:

I just bought this book.  Its written for teenagers, but its a brilliant introduction, and I am really enjoying dipping into it.

Loving this artjournal site.  So much eyecandy!

I love Bronwen’s Artful Life blog, and I really fancy trying her method of creating an art journal from a vintage book.

Have you come across creativebug.com yet?

I recently came across the idea of the Bullet journal, which was new to me.   Its a kind of cross between a to do list, a project planner and a journal.  Might be a great solution if you are pushed for time and looking for a way of combining recording your life with planning it!

On a similar theme, you might be interested in the whole idea of sketchnoting.  Check out the website of the Sketchnote Army, a pretty breath-taking archive of how to record information graphically.  You could combine Sketchnotes and Bullet journals, and you don’t have to be able to draw…

Lorraine Bell’s planner is delicious!

My Pinterest pinboard on organisers is continually growing.

If you love Moleskines, their myMoleskine site will bend your mind!

I love Plannerisms!

Well, that should keep you going for a while!  Hope you have a happy and creative weekend,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Monday: Commuting

I’ve written already about the wisdom of walking for the creative life.

No reason why I shouldn’t repeat myself, of course.  Especially now we are in a new year, with new Intentions and new opportunities.  I have promised myself I will walk more this year.  Sometimes, this is not an easy promise to fulfil.  There are appointments to be met, after all; there is the filthy English weather (and believe me, filthy is what it is at present), and then there are my physical limitations.

Yet, in spite of the mud and the commitments and my low energy levels, I am trying to get out most days.

And there are so many things to see.  Some of the best walks I’ve ever had have been the repetitive ones to and from work, or school, the continual plodding on the pavements that sets up a meditative rhythm.  This time of year, walking home in twilight is especially evocative.  Not only can you see into other people’s houses as you pass, because many people don’t draw their curtains too early, but the landscape changes when industrial lights are switched on.

As a teenager, my walk home from our nearest bus stop was a route that skirted fields and woods.  Behind those woods, though, lay a huge industrial area, lit by massive floodlights in the dark hours.  The entire night sky glowed with this statement of manmade power over the environment.  To me, it looked uncannily like one of those landing pads on strange planets from the Star Wars films, and it fuelled my imagination continually.

Walking is not the only way to travel home from work, of course.  Sitting on a bus is great for inspiration too.  You can see so much more from the height of a bus seat, and not just into people’s windows, and thus into little vignettes of their lives.  Tableaux of office workers frozen in time as you pass their workplaces will catch your eye: someone handing over a file as the recipient reaches out to take it over a low  desk partition;  a group of besuited workers sitting around a conference table working out details of a deal; a pile of files teetering in an in-tray.  What are they talking about, these people who are so busy?  Whose lives will be changed by the outcome of that meeting, for better or worse?  What details, sinister or otherwise, are contained in those files – the potential for a fraud conviction, or the much-cherished hope of an adopted baby?

On a train, disparate people gather together and ignore one another.  They listen to hissing music on iPods and phones, tap at laptops or iPads, read books and newspapers, stare out of the window or fall asleep.  Each one has a story.  Can you be Sherlock Holmes and deduce their tale?

Viriginia Woolf, my heroine of writers, snatched up just such an opportunity in her short story, ‘An Unwritten Novel’, in which the narrator sits on a train and tries to guess the tale of a woman sitting in her compartment.  If you have never read it, I enthusiastically recommend it, not only as an example of how you can take a moment from your everyday life and make a work of art from it, but also for its fine stream-of-consciousness style and its sheer wit.  People’s occupations on trains may have changed since it was written, but the way we react to them, I should hazard, probably has not.

Creative Exercise:

How do you travel to your daily occupation?  Do you take the bus, train or Tube?  Do you cycle or walk?  Whichever you do, you may view it as a necessary evil, a time to catch up on your email, or some extra sleep.

What about reframing that view?

What if your daily commute to work, college or school became a special time set aside for creativity?

You could take a sketchbook and a biro and draw portraits of your fellow commuters.  This might develop into a whole series of painted portraits that depict your daily travels and those who accompany you on your journey.

You could compose a story about them in your head, and use it as the basis of a short story or novel, as Woolf did.

You could even go all ‘Brief Encounter’ and come up with a passionate love story between two of your fellow travellers!

(Probably best not to do this so much if you drive.  A vehicle is a life-threatening weapon, so you need to be alert and aware when you are in charge of it.  But maybe at traffic lights, you could look into other people’s cars and see what they are up to – applying mascara, fiddling with the radio, texting or picking their noses!)

What do you see as you travel?  What landscapes or buildings do you pass?  What could be going on inside that floodlit brick bunker that looks like a government establishment?  What story is being lived out on each floor of that block of flats you stomp past every morning? (I recommend Alaa Al Aswany’s superb novel, The Yakoubian Building’, for an example of this.)

Take your writers notebook and make notes of the ideas that come to you.  Make this time a time for your imagination to be unleashed.  Make a chore, a daily misery, into the highlight of your working life.

Happy creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks

jarman diariesIt’s been a very busy week, and I’ve been diving into all kinds of exciting new and inspirational activities, including the UEA Literary Festival.  I’ve also been submerged in the magical world of Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks, edited by Stephen Farthing and Ed Webb-Ingall, and I want to share the inspiration I’ve found in them with you.

derek_jarmanIn case you have never heard of Derek Jarman, he was a fabulously talented artist, film-maker, designer, writer, gardener and Gay Rights activist whose career was tragically cut short by AIDS in 1994, aged 52.  He directed music videos for the Pet Shop Boys and designed the sets for Ken Russell’s landmark 1971 film, ‘The Devils’.  At his home in Dungeness, he created one of the most haunting modern gardens in Britain, one that I am deeply in love with.

I first became aware of Jarman when I saw his film, Caravaggio (1986), starring Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, and Tilda Swinton in her first film role.  Later, in 1991, I wept my way through his heart-breaking ‘Edward II’, an adaptation of Marlowe’s play that spoke of Jarman’s outrage at homophobia in Thatcherite Britain.  These are not easy and accessible films.  They are, however, fabulous to look at, and very moving.

When I came across this edition of the sketchbooks in the library the other day, quite by chance, I had no idea that Jarman was a committed visual diarist.  The sketchbooks themselves are large – family photo album sized – and each cover is decorated in black and gold, making a slightly varied but pleasing continuity.  Inside them, Jarman uses ephemera, calligraphy, drawing and painting, poetry, pages of film scripts, actors’ head shots from casting sessions, clippings from newspapers, reviews, photographs of friends and colleagues, bits of feathers and pressed flowers to document his life and each of his projects.  The sketchbooks contain his thoughts on everything from his garden (there is a carefully drawn planting plan), to his illness, to sex, history and death.

Jarman made a series of paintings, the ‘GBH’ series, of black on gold abstracts, inspired by Goya’s Black paintings, and a film called ‘Imagining October’, which arose from finding Sergei Eisenstein’s own copy of ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, the famous book on the Russian Revolition, and on which Eisenstein had based his ground-breaking film, ‘Battleship Potemkin’.  Jarman had been shocked to discover how much of the book had been redacted with blacked-out text by the Communist authorities.  Both of these concepts are reflected in the sketchbooks, where you can see Jarman working on the idea of black bars with gold writing, seen on the cover of the volume.  Jarman’s anger at the political situation for Gays in the UK shines through these blackened pages.

One of the things that particularly strikes me is the simplicity of the layouts he uses.  Even when he is writing pages of text, making notes or journalling, there is a sense of space.  Nothing is cramped.  He spreads out, not denying himself room to work, enjoying the clarity of white space around his words and images.  This is something I will definitely take away. My diaries always feel cramped.  I always feel that every inch of space must be used, because materials are scarce.  This denial of room to grow is cramping my creativity, something I need to break out of.

I want to draw inspiration from the sheer range of activities Jarman undertook, too.  For him, there is no line in his sketchbooks between diary, writer’s notebook, sketchbook, planner or scrapbook, anymore than there were boundaries between the creative areas he worked in.  Although he was primarily a film-maker, he was so many other things as well.  Jarman teaches me that I don’t just have to stick to writing.  I can follow where ever my Muse leads me.

There are no limits to what we can create, only the ones we impose on ourselves.

Things to try:

  • See if you can get hold of a copy of Jarman’s sketchbooks.  It isn’t cheap – £28 – so maybe you can order it from your library.  You may not like his style of modernist art, but you can appreciate how he puts every aspect of his life into these visual journals to make a record of his thinking.
  • Use your own sketchbook or diary as a kind of studio to record everything you do and think about a particular project.
  • Collect clips, postcards, photos, anything relevant to stick in – Jarman even stuck a ten pound note into his!
  • Luxuriate in space.  Allow each of your drawings, paragraphs, or collaged pieces to bask in a frame of white space, so that they can shine out, and be seen for what they are.  Don’t fall into my scarcity trap – there will always be more paper.
  • Decorate the covers of your sketchbooks or journals in a similar way, as Jarman did, each one slightly different, but using the same colours or materials.  Maybe you could do ‘series’ of notebooks, with matching covers, for different projects.  Don’t be precious about them, however.  Jarman once stuck a heavy bronze seal on the front of one of his books, but it was too heavy to carry and got in the way, so he ended up prizing it off.  The scarred gold cover is even more interesting as a result.

Happy journalling,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Telling Details

sussex church

The Zen of Details

At the moment, I am fascinated by ‘telling details’.

At our writers’ group last week, my friend read out the first pages of her novel, a description of a little girl watching her mother as she used a sewing machine to make a new dress for her little girl.  It took me right back to my childhood, watching my own mother labour over the sewing machine.

It was the little details that transported me.  The jar of spare buttons which the little girl was allowed to play with.  The thunk of the presser foot being let down onto the fabric.  The smell of sewing machine oil and new cloth, unwashed, still fusty from the haberdashery.

I have re-ignited my enthusiasm for my writer’s notebook with these details.  Using the little components of life.  Scribbling them down when I notice them.

The way the local cockerel sounds like he has a sore throat when he crows.

My husband saying ‘Marriage is about sharing’ when he farts.

The dust that builds up in the corners of the treads on the stairs, and how gritty it is.

Puffs of pollen falling off the sunflowers I have rescued from the storm-lashed garden, falling like yellow flour on the tabletop under the vase, powdering a biro that had been abandoned there.

These are the little glimpses of our everyday life that we mostly ignore, but when someone draws our attention to them in prose or art, they enrich our perception, throng our minds with memories, ground us in the present in a way nothing else can.

At the moment I am working on a series of short fanfics that are grounded in these details.  I am trying to use a single detail to spark each story.  Each story then contributes to a wider portrait of a relationship.  This means collecting details. So here I am with my notebook, going back to the very beginning of my writing career, ‘back to basics’ if you like, collecting scraps for here and there and jotting them down.  I feel like a mosaicist building up a mural made of broken pots.

And it is delicious.

 Creative Exercise:  Lists

Unearth your notebook, if you haven’t been using it much recently.  If you are an artist, grab your sketchbook.  Now open your mind.  Start noticing things.  It takes practise to be sufficiently present in life to recognise the tiny details that contribute to the big picture of shared experience, but once you start, you will find them coming thick and fast.

  • Walk around the house and look at the piles of stuff that have built up.  Write down where they are.  Make a list of what is in them.
  • When you visit the bathroom at a friend’s house, look at their lotions and potions.  Make a list to jot down later.  What do the bottles and jars tell you about their life and health?  If you draw, make a sketch of them, or if it’s easier, draw the contents of your own medicine cabinet.
  • Standing in the queue for the checkout, look in other people’s baskets.  What are they buying?  Another list.  What does this say about them?  Can you make a still life that communicates what they are eating, who they are eating it with, and why?

Open your eyes wide.  Your mind is constantly sifting sensory input, picking out things that may or may not be important.  Usually, you toss most of your perceptions aside.  Instead, write down as many as you can.  Use them later in your work.

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Wardrobe Planning

More dashBecause I’m ill, I am not able to work, and that means everything I do has to be on a budget – energy-wise and money-wise.  As a result, planning is my friend.  If I have thought about something beforehand, it makes everything so much quicker, easier, and less worrying.  That includes clothes.

I was looking at this fantastic dressing room today, and was shocked that anyone could have that many clothes.  If I did, I’d never get dressed at all because I wouldn’t have the energy to decide what to wear.  I have a small wardrobe, partly on purpose, because cutting down options means less to worry about, but also because of money.  I just can’t afford to spend lots.

Mostly I buy my clothes from my catalogue, on a monthly payment basis, and annually, with my birthday money.  Relatives are kind enough to donate to my clothing fund every year, and I plan very carefully what I am going to spend it on.  I make sure all my big purchases colour co-ordinate, and concentrate on one core colour and two accent colours.

Currently navy is my core, and bright red and bright (lime) green are my accents.  At the moment, though, I am feeling a pull towards charcoal grey, and since I bought a dark grey sweater in the sales a few years ago, I’ve been thinking I might go in that direction a little.  Plus it seems to bring out the colour of my eyes.  (It’s really hard to work out what colours I can wear these days, as I am growing out my coloured hair and letting the grey come through.  I didn’t think this measure, taken because I just can’t be fussed with home dyeing anymore, would make such a big difference to my complexion, but it does.)

grey croppedAnyway, the way my brain is, I can’t keep all this information in my head anymore, so I have started using my journal to plan my outfits.

I have an ulterior motive here too.  I haven’t been able to get past the creative block I have with my art, and I find that if I just do a scribble in my journal, it doesn’t have to perfect.  It is just a gesture drawing with a few colours to note down information in a graphic form, and it cons Nigel into thinking what I am doing is actually not painting at all!  Clever, eh?

black hat litUsing my journal in this way is a helpful planning tool.  It helps me to work out what extras I need in addition to what I already have, and to budget for them.  It also allows me to think through how I really want to look for a particular occasion, such as a wedding.  I am also finding it is changing the way I feel about my clothes.  I’m finally at the age when I can get away with wearing very classic styles, and you can see from my sketches that there is a distinctly ‘50s vibe going on.  I’ve always been in love with Dior’s 1947 New Look, and it looks like that is where I am going.  I’m intend to grow old elegantly as well as disgracefully!

How could you use your journal to plan your life or your look?

Happy journaling,

EF