Tag Archives: art

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

Smorgesbord

sleep sketchI usually try to post on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but this week’s Wednesday post got missed because I was ill.  I’m still ill, but my brain is slightly clearer today and I am giving myself to thinking time.

Thinking about future posts for this blog.  Thinking about writing and notebooking.  Thinking about art.  Thinking about clearing space in my life for more creativity.  Its a luxury I have to lie in bed and consider which direction I am going in creatively, and I recognise that.  Few people get that option.  I may be feeling terrible, but I’m enormously grateful I can use this time to be present with my work.

I thought I’d share a few things I have been mulling over with you.

Here are the thoughts of Elmore Leonard on writing, an enormous inspiration.

Here is Stephen King, saying illuminating things about both ‘The Shining’ and about the attitude of critics, something I really needed to hear this week.

Talking about critics, Jack Vettriano has been savaged by the art establishment over the years, but now he’s having a retrospective at the Kelvingrove.  Oh, the irony!  (And lets just remind ourselves that this man is self-taught, which may be why critics hate him so much.)

If you are interested in art, check out this site.  I love its brightness and enthusiasm.

I want to do this course next.

And to end, a little light reading.  I’m pursuing a new project of short stories and vignettes which explore life inside an established relationship through fanfiction.  The series is called ‘Geography of a Shared Life’.  You can read my latest piece here at A03, and here at FF.net.

Happy creating,

EF

Planning the Perfect Home Office – Progress Report

So, as I mentioned before, Husband, in his wisdom, decided that the best idea he had ever had would be for us to swap studies.  He gets the box room at the back of the house, north facing, looking over the boiler house roof and into the woods beyond.  And I get the room at the front of the house, south-facing and a little more than twice the size, with accompanying futon and a big space to lay out my yoga mat, should I be so inclined.  Yes, I will have to share this space when friends come to stay, but frankly that doesn’t happen very often because we live so bloody far from everyone else we know on the planet!  On the other hand, my new desk overlooks the front garden, with a view down the lane and across the fields to the poplar plantation, about half a mile away.  Not only is it a great view, but I can see people coming!

So far so good.

What I was not bargaining for is the sheer accretion of junk that has built up over five years of occupancy.  There are mountains of magazines to sort through, clippings to find a home for, bills to file, and then there are the hundreds of other bits I never knew had.  A bellpull made of six gaudily decorated velour camels, given by a distant-travelling cousin.  A mug from an old work project with a cartoon on it of my own design.  Sufficient packs of playing cards to run a sizeable poker tournament – we never play cards.  Tiny audio tapes from an old Dictaphone machine, now long lost.  A bag of marbles – blamed on Husband.  A slightly used Barbie doll with complete wedding trousseau.  Empty A4 clip files and notebooks galore.  And how many packets of staples does one person really need?

(I’m not even going to mention the host of dead biros, fluff and ancient receipts for distantly deceased electronic equipment.)

It turns out that Number One on the list of activities when planning your home office is:

CONDUCT THE MOTHER OF ALL DECLUTTERINGS!

Having spent long hours toiling over heaps of useless junk, diligently throwing out anything I hadn’t looked at in six months, I then went through the following process.

Start by being proactive:  Being me, I went out and got a book from the Library on how to plan your home study.  It has lots of pretty pictures.  What it does not have is a list of things you will need.  It says you must work it out yourself.

Thanks.

Question 1 in the book:  How much storage will you require?

Answer:  How the fuck do I know?  I’m a writer!  By definition, I generate vast quantities of paper! And I draw too, so double that!

Cunning Strategy:  Make sure the Husband takes on responsibility for household filing so at least I don’t have to think about that.  I hate it anyway.  He can have it in his office so I never have to think about it again.  Plus, its one less filing cabinet to fit in.

Concern:  I have all these writing notebooks that I may need to refer to as a part of my work, so they will need to be handy.  But what do I do with all the Morning Pages notebooks and diaries?  I need to keep them because they record my life, but I doubt I shall need to drag them off the shelf on a regular basis.

Hesitant solution:  Bung them in big plastic crates with mouse-proof lids and store them in the boilerhouse?  Discard on the basis that its too risky because mice are fiendishly devious little bastards.

Sneaking suspicion:  I would rather go out and spend a fortune on funky stationery than plan any of this stuff.

Probable outcome:  I will be cheap and impulsive, go out to The Range and buy a bunch of ugly stuff I don’t like instead of working out how much I need and saving for the really nice stuff I do like, and none of it will do what I want/need it to, and then I shall not want to use my new office as a result, i.e. back to square one.

Sudden flash of determination:  I am not going to ‘cheap out’ again.  I’m going to do it right this time.  Because I deserve a nice place to create.

(Sneaking suspicion and Probable outcome persist in the back of my mind.)

Intermediate action:  Go on fact-finding mission.  In other words, hang out in posh shops looking at all the kit I can’t afford but would dearly love.  Come home feeling resentful, poor and even less determined to plan sensibly than I was before.

Current state of affairs: sulking.

Yes, I would love to be able to say I went out and bought a label maker and some washi tape and now my life is complete, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I have a desk and a chair, and three bookshelves double stacked with books, and a slightly denuded pile of Sherlock clippings, but my magnificent new working space has yet to materialise.

I’ll keep you posted.

(And if you have any tips, let me know.  Please?)

EF

Journal Friday: Reflecting on Creative Blocks

paintbox

So, if you read my last post, you will know that I am increasingly drawn towards drawing and painting at the moment.  This is my current creative season and I want to honour it.  So today, no doubt, you will be expecting me to deluge you with jpegs of the beautiful pictures I have been creating.

Yeah, Right.

Nigel has been hard at work again.  I have produced the sum total of zero drawings in the last two days.  Yesterday I couldn’t even bring myself to go into the study to get out my sketchbook and paints.  The blank page suddenly seems terrifying.  I can’t even doodle.  How the hell have I lost the ability to doodle, for Gods’ sakes?

Bit not good.

This, my friends, is where the journal really comes into play.  I sat down with my trusty moleskine and pen, and thought about my childhood memories of drawing.

I used to draw all the time.  It was what I was known for, amongst family and friends.  I was never without a piece of paper and a pencil.  I made little books and illustrated them.  I wrote stories and illustrated them.  I wrote stories about my favourite TV programmes, like ‘Blakes 7’ (remember that one?  I had a terrible crush on Paul Darrow) and drew the characters all the time.  (If only I had known about fanfiction and fanart then!)  I was obsessed at one point with the Tudor monarchs, and copied their opulent portraits and clothes with fibre tipped colouring pens.  Then I got into the Ancient Egyptians, and copied their sideways style of representation.  I even copied the drawings of E.H Shepherd in the beautiful edition of Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, which my father gave me – it was his favourite book.  And I painstakingly illustrated all my school work (except the Maths, of course, because that was too serious, which was probably why I was never any good at it.)  In other words, I spent hours absorbed in transferring images from my head onto the page.

What happened?  Senior school art classes.  Hours of drawing still lives of pots and pans. Teachers who made us draw boring subjects, and never gave us any information about technique.  I’ve learn everything I have ever learnt about art and how to use paint from copying, which my art teachers said was the worst possible sin.

(But I am getting ahead of myself, I’m supposed to be thinking about my childhood drawing.)

As a kid, art was my obsession, but it requires materials, and they were in short supply.  For paper, my dad bought home gash computer paper from work, the perforated kind that comes in a concertina, with holes along the edges, and with about the same handling quality as IZAL toilet paper.  I was occasionally bought coloured felt-tipped pens but in the 1970s they were rubbish, and the black ones were invariably dried out before they were even used.  At least 25% of the pens in the pack didn’t work within about two days of having them, and you had to conserve those that did with fiendish vigilance.  There were occasional gifts of watercolour pan boxes, but they were very low pigment, and anyway, painting in your bedroom is frowned upon by most mothers because it is messy.  And there wasn’t anywhere else to paint.  What I am trying to say is that I grew up yearning for those huge bottles of poster colour paint that stood on the trolley in school.  The thought of being able to just splash paint about willy-nilly was ridiculous.  My parents wanted to encourage my artistic side, but they didn’t have the disposable income or the mindset to invest in good raw materials for it.

The result is that the scarcity of my childhood has bloomed into a scarcity paranoia in adulthood.  As soon as I was earning, I went out and bought decent art materials, but then I couldn’t make myself use them.  I have drawers and boxes full of sketchbooks, pastels, inks and paint tubes that have never been opened because I still have the mindset that they have to be conserved.  I can’t waste a thing.  To the point where I can’t use a thing.

None of this would I know and understand, were it not for exploring it in my journal.  And in my journal have come the little glimmers of a solution, a plan to tackle my stuckness with baby steps so minute that I can fool Nigel into thinking I’m not even putting pen to paper at all!  Slowly and gently, I will con myself into the belief that making a tiny drawing is safe.  And then I will con myself into making a bigger one.  Until one day I will fulfil my dream of illustrating my own novels, and making huge abstract expressionist canvases like Rothko and Pollock.  But not yet.  To begin with, I will throw out everything I learnt in art class, scrunch up my eyes and begin again, as a child.  It will be hard, but I can do it.  I did it with the writing, after all…

Journal Exercise:

Are you also struggling with a creative block?  Is there something you used to do, and would like to do again, but are afraid to?  Perhaps you are just stuck and you can’t get out of your own way.  You probably don’t even know why.

Get out your journal and take a few deep breaths.  Close your eyes and let yourself fall backwards through time. Feel yourself become a child, doing that thing you loved do and don’t do anymore, whatever it is.  Immerse yourself in that memory.  How did it feel?  What was so satisfying, enticing, transcendently joyful or just effortless about it?  How did splashing paint on paper, sewing a doll’s dress or dancing to the radio help you express yourself?  Connect with the fun, the pleasure, the satisfaction.

Now write about it.  Take time to write out all you can remember about doing that creative activity, and take the memory from as early an age as possible.

Now take another deep breath and continue to write, this time about when you stopped pursuing that activity.  What happened?  What age where you?  Was there criticism from parents or responsible adults?  Or was it competition with other children who you regarded as being better at the skill than you?  Perhaps you reached puberty and decided that form of creativity was childish and no longer for you?  Or you felt you couldn’t go any further with it because you couldn’t make a living at it?  Whatever the reason, explore your memories of it.  Be as thorough as you can.

Give yourself some time to sit with these memories, to contemplate them.  Decide what aspects are still stopping you.  Are you, like me, fearful that your work won’t be ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ (thanks, Nigel), or still carrying that fear that there isn’t paper to waste?  Will doing this activity make you vulnerable in some way?  (If so, you don’t have to show it to anybody, just keep it for yourself.)

(If some major trauma is involved, it is wise to seek professional help.  A therapist is invaluable, and those who specialise in expressive arts or Gestalt might be just what you need.  Don’t suffer flashbacks alone as a result of this exercise.  Self care should always be the first rule of creative expression.)

Think about ways to ease yourself through these issues.  Maybe taking a beginners or taster course, where everyone will be fumbling about at the same starter level, could encourage you that what you make doesn’t have to be perfect.  Perhaps an online course that you can follow in private, and at your own pace (Alisa Burke has some brilliant art and sewing courses.)  Or you could buy some kids art materials and use them with your own kids (or borrow someone else’s for an afternoon).  Watch how kids are completely free of judgement when they make art.  They are just having fun.  You can, too.  (Actually, I think I may have to borrow some children and do this myself!)

Trust that what comes up in writing your journal is from deep within, an inner wisdom that will guide you back to your creative centre.  Above all, be gentle with yourself as your formulate your action plan, and give yourself as much time as you need.  You don’t have to become Picasso or Nijinsky overnight.

Happy Creating,

EF

How to Take Criticism

The idea for this post came to me last week when I got a pretty starchy comment on one of my stories.  It happens sometimes.  Actually, I have to say I can think of only two previous occasions when comments have upset me in three years of online publishing, so I suppose I am doing pretty well.  My pals were very supportive, as was my husband.  No sweat, right?

Hmmm.

It got me thinking about how as artists we approach taking criticism.  Art of whatever form is a subjective thing.  Whether we like it or not is a personal matter.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time, as they say.  It is just a fact of artistic life, and we can learn a great deal from it.

The problem with art in general, and writing in particular, is that it is the product of our soul.  That makes it very close to us, an expression of our feelings, of everything we believe in.  And that, in turn, makes it hard not to take criticism personally.  Which is why a negative review can feel like being emotionally disembowelled.  It can be crippling.  It can block us completely, so that we never creatively express ourselves again.  That is why it is so important to know how to deal with it.

It strikes me that there are two types of criticism.

  1. Constructive Criticism.  This is the kind that comes from readers who support your work, who appreciate what an emotional risk it is to put your work out there, and who want to help you to improve.  They give honest, caring feedback.
  2. Rants.  You know this kind of comment.  It is usually about content, not plot, pace, language or technique.  It is usually angry, often vindictive, and actually has nothing to do with your work, and everything to do with the commenter’s personal ‘stuff’.

Constructive criticism comes from a place of empathy and support.  Its aim is to help you along the road to expressing yourself better.  It may seem niggly (you missed a comma out, for instance, or left a typo in) but it is there with positive intent.

Rants are to do with issues that the critic has in their own life.  The first nasty experience I had with this was with my story, ‘Property Of:’.  A reviewer wrote a vicious snarl about how I had depicted the armed forces as being shagging frantically in trenches at every opportunity, and that it was disgusting that I should suggest this, or that Dr Watson could have been involved with a married person.  My (possibly misguided) response was to email the person in question and ask her to expand on her comments.  What I got back was a three page diatribe on the fact that Watson should be whiter-than-white and how dare I criticise the army.

Clearly she had issues surrounding infidelity and the armed forces.

I don’t write for Disney.  I deal with the real shit. Real life.   Real people.  And real people make mistakes and get scared and do weird, unexpected things under pressure.  She had her own reasons for not liking my story.  Fine.  I triggered them.  Okay.  But I am not going to change the whole tenor of what I write to please one person, however hurt they have been.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love criticsm.  When it is constructive.

In the course of publishing daily episodes of ‘The Case of the Cuddle’, for example, I realised from comments being made that I had left out a whole area of the story between Lestrade and Mycroft.  Without it, their responses to later events made no sense.  If it had not been for those reviewers who were unafraid to ask awkward questions in a supportive way, I would not have noticed the gaping hole in my narrative.  I hacked together an extra two chapters to insert into the story, and fixed the problem.  Bravo critics.  I learnt something.  Thank you.

That is the point of contructive critisicm.  You learn something.  The way to approach any kind of criticism is to ask this question:

What can I learn from this?

So, how do you deal with criticism, nasty or kind?  Here are a few tips:

  • Take a deep breath.  Walk away.  Give yourself some space.  DO NOT immediately fire back a stroppy reply that will only provoke further attack.
  • Work out which kind of criticism is being offered.  Calmly.
  • If this person has been triggered by some issue in your work, accept their right to their emotions, however wrong they are in venting them on you.  Something horrible has clearly happened to them to provoke such an outburst.
  • You don’t necessarily have to email them, or reply at all.  If you are really upset, do not engage.
  • If you write about difficult stuff, things that are likely to trigger strong reactions in your readers, them you should expect rants a bit more often than if you only write fluff.  Be prepared, but DO NOT back off from writing about the tough stuff.  It is only if we talk about these things that we can address them in society and heal the suffering they cause.  You are doing good work.  Keep doing it.
  • If you find yourself reacting strongly to a challenging, or ranting comment, it is worth thinking about why.  Perhaps this review has triggered something for you?  My commenter from last week challenged me about a prejudice I had been kidding myself I didn’t have.  On reflection, I realised not that she had a point, because I stand by the artistic decision I made, but that there was an element of truth in her accusation.  From now on, I will think more carefully about my responses to certain situations and where they come from.  I have learnt from her, and not just in terms of my writing.
  • You do not have to rewrite your work just because someone negatively criticises it, nor should anyone expect you to do so.
  • Think about the reasons why you made the artistic or aesthetic choice you did.  If your choice is rationally defensible, ie there is a better argument than ‘because thats the way I want to do it!’ (accompanied with a stamping of the foot), then let it stand.  If, on reflection, you decide that it could have been done better had you made a different choice, then you can take the criticism on board, and maybe do it different next time.  Make the decision to learn from it.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  I find myself getting very gnarly when someone is kind enough to point out where I left a typo in.  Gggggrrrrrrr!  But actually, they are doing me a favour.  Not only are they acting as a free proof reader, they are also helping tackle my Perfectionism, and giving Nigel a good kick in the teeth at the same time!
  • Allow yourself to absorb the helpful comments at your own pace.  Sometimes it can be very challenging to be told your sentence structure is a bit dense, or that your character’s motivation is shaky.  Are you ready, at this point in your development as a writer, to accept this criticism?  If you are, take it on board.  If not, put it aside, and keep doing your best.
  • Don’t trust your first defensive denial.  If the comment is offered sympathetically, with the earnest desire to help, then examine it.
  • As with all criticism, take what feels truthful to you, and leave the rest.  Just let it go.
  • NO ONE has the right to browbeat you, attack you, abuse you, or verbally savage you to the point where you give up writing.  Constructive comments on the work are helpful, personal attacks are not.  Report vicious repeat flamers where necessary.  Bullying is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
  • The internet gives you the opportunity to get free comments on your work in a way that never would have been possible twenty years ago.  It is a huge resource.  People take a great deal of time and effort to read your work.  Thank them for the time they take to respond to it, and choose to learn from what they say, as far as you can.
  • Relax.  No, really.  This is not personal.  Rejoice in the feedback you get.  Why?  because it means you are OUT THERE, being seen, and that, my friend is a HUGE blessing.

No doubt there is a great deal more that I could add.  Taking criticism constructively is something you learn by doing.  It really helps to join a writers group, where you can trust your fellows to offer you helpful feedback on a regular basis, so that you get used to it, and build up your ‘resistance’. (More on writers groups in a future post) In the meantime, I return to the following, which is the best advice I can offer:

Take what feels truthful to you, and leave the rest.

Next Wednesday, I will be writing another article about how to give constructive criticism, so stay tuned!

Happy writing,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Art

I’ve talked a bit about using images for inspiration before, here.  Today, I want to say a little about the inspiration specific pieces of art can offer.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

I hope you have seen the film ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ with Colin Firth and Scarlett Johannson.  But have you read the incredible book on which it is based, by Tracy Chevalier?  Chevalier’s work is spare and beautiful, as atmospheric as the eerily beautiful painting which inspired it.

The Nightwatch by Rembrandt van Rijn

The Nightwatch by Rembrandt van Rijn

A film I sincerely doubt you have seen unless you are a particularly rabid Martin Freeman fan, or a Peter Greenaway fanatic, is ‘Nightwatching’, which deals with the events behind the making of Rembrandt van Rijn’s most famous work, The Night Watch, above.  While it is a stagey and self-aware production, typical of Greenaway’s work, Freeman’s performance as Rembrandt is devastating, for if ever there was a part he was born to play, it is this one.  Greenaway takes the making of the painting, and interweaves it with conspiracy, murder and an ironic portrait of seventeenth century Dutch life and commerce.  Add to this the tragic downfall of the artist with which the picture is associated, and you can see how a single painting can be the starting point for a many-faceted new artistic endeavour.

Coal Face Drawers by Oliver Kilbourn

Coal Face Drawers by Oliver Kilbourn

‘The Pitmen Painters’ by Lee Hall, is not specifically inspired by an individual work, but by the collective experience of a group of miners  from Ashington, near Newcastle upon Tyne, who set up a long-lived and much praised art group.  It is as inspiring a piece of theatre as I have seen, and  brings proper credit to the work of the pioneering men who took up painting against society’s expectations in the 1930s.  The fascinating painting above is Coal Face Drawers, by Oliver Kilbourn, a scene from a miner’s own life.

Rothko Seagram Murals

When I was seventeen, I visited the Tate Gallery for the first time.  The Tate Modern had not yet been created, and the fabulous Seagram Murals by Mark Rothko were at the old Tate Gallery, what is now Tate Britain.  The Murals now have an area designed to Rothko’s original specifications in the Tate Modern, but then, they were in a much smaller, but still impressive room.  I sat there amidst these vast panels of claret and black for nearly two hours, completely mesmerised.  Rothko’s huge blocks of colour have been much derided by those who dislike abstract art, but his work is about the effects of colour on the emotions, and I can definitely tell you that those paintings had an intense effect on my teenage brain that day that I will never forget.  I have never felt so calm, so peaceful, so at one with myself and the world, and I have spent my life since chasing after that feeling, hoping somehow to replicate it.

As a result I became interested not only in Rothko’s work, but in other abstract artists and their theories.  I read Kandinsky’s ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’, and was intrigued by the idea of the painter imbuing a work with some kind of spiritual presence.  Eventually I used this idea for a novel, in which a much-coveted and rare painting is imbued with occult properties that devastate the lives of its owners.

It is important to state that I am not encouraging you to steal other people’s art.

Proper credit MUST be given.  We must always acknowledge where we come from, and the ideas that have influenced us along the way.  That is part of being an artist, in whatever medium.

What I am suggesting here is that the great works of those who have gone before us can inspire original and unique responses of our own.  It would not be so far from the truth to say that this is what fanfiction is – and if you are sceptical about fanfiction, I refer you to the literary responses to great art that are much lauded:  Jean Rhys’s novel, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, which is a retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or perhaps ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, PD James’s sequel to Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’.  Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is inspired by the Bible, so don’t be sniffy about your inspiration!

Creative Exercises:

Visit an art gallery.  You would be amazed what fabulous works of art are available to view in your local county town or art sellers.  Treat yourself to a big trip, and visit a major city where you can enjoy a large museum.  Take time to wander about and figure out what you like and why.  Buy postcards of your favourite pieces.  Do a bit of research about the artist and their ideas.  Salt this inspiration away for future reference in your writing notebook and your image box, or let it fizz away in your brain like a vortex, spitting out new ideas as debris as it spins.

Alternatively, you could check out the suggestions above, watch the DVD of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ or ‘Nightwatching’, or read Chevalier’s wonderful novel, and see where they take you.

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Art in your Journal, or Why I had to lock Nigel in the Garden Shed this Morning.

Diary Page mental energy groundedThe title for this post, “Using images in your journal”, has been in my editorial diary for weeks, swimming around, getting crossed out and rescheduled.  I knew I had to write about it, because Art Journaling is a huge movement, and one everyone can enjoy.

So why couldn’t I bring  myself to write about them?

In a word, Nigel.

Nigel, if you haven’t already come across him on this blog, is the name I have given to my inner critic.  At least its the one only one thats printable!  He is the psycho-demon-fuckwit-critic-from-Hell that sits inside my head, barking orders at me, making sure I keep being a Good Girl so that people will love me.

Yeah.  Right.

In the case of my art, I can identify exactly when my drawing became unacceptable.  Nigel began with the voice of my ‘A’ level art teacher, Bob Taylor.  I had always been a passionate artist, and while I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I felt that earning a living might enable me to use my art skills.  So I took Graphics at ‘A’ level, intending to apply to Art College.  When I told Bob Taylor this, he said the following:

You’re a good draughtsman but you don’t have originality.

Yeah, right.

Looking back on it as a much wiser adult, I can see what he was saying.  My art at that time was very constrained.  I was too busy producing what I thought other people wanted, and not following what I wanted to do, or breaking out and breaking rules.  My art was, frankly, pretty boring.  But being a Good Girl makes for boring.  Regardless of that, its a pretty cruel thing to say to a 17-year-old who has always dreamt of a sunny studio in St ives.  I suppose he was trying to save me many years of misery and disappointment. I just was not ready for Art School.  Or perhaps he had picked up on the vicious Nigel voice inside my head that kept me in check.  Whatever the reason, I quickly lost my passion, and ultimately abandoned my art.

Now I am pretty blocked.  Nigel says I shouldn’t draw unless I can make something perfect and professional, something of the kind I admire in other artists.  Only the best is good enough for me and you, he says.  And if you can’t make it perfect, why do it at all?

This morning, I locked Nigel in the garden shed with a ball gag in his mouth, and got out my diaries.  Because, you see I do draw.  Sometimes.  Where no one can see.  Where no one can judge.  And because a picture, as I learnt so long in Graphics class, can say so much more than words in describing a feeling.  I draw how I am feeling.  Sometimes.  If I am feeling daring, or desperate enough.  In my diary, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  It just has to be got out on paper.

Here are a few of my drawings.  Nigel is very unhappy about my publishing them here, and he wishes me to point out that they are not up to my usual artistic standard.  I would like to point out that you don’t have to be able to draw, let alone draw like Rembrandt, if no one but you will ever see the images!

sleep sketchThis one is about my illness and the days I spend unable to get out of bed, which are frequent.

grumpy bear 1 grumpy bear 2

This is a feeling I had one day that I wanted to personify, in the hope of recording how to get rid of it.

hound sketchThis was the product of a night of insomnia.  Once I had drawn this rabid dog, something I felt compelled to do in a literally physical way, the feelings I was struggling with literally dissolved, and I went back to bed and slept for seven hours straight.

The point I want to make is not whether I can draw or not, but that you can use images to express your feelings in your journal without fear of judgement from others.  If you can’t draw, or can’t bring yourself to draw, paste in images cut from magazines, or postcards.  Collage is a great art form you can try without fear of criticism.  There are lots of ways to express what is pent up inside that are nothing to do with words.

Don’t let Nigel limit you.

Journal Exercise:

I am going to talk more about this, as I feel like I have opened up a rich seam, now that I have got over my block about it.  But in the meantime, you get to do some more shopping!  Go and buy yourself some nice coloured pens or pencils.  Sharpie ones are good and bright, but I like Staedtler Triplus fineliners and Berol Colour Brushes.

Reread my previous post about colour, and play with your pens or pencils inside your journal. Makes some marks.  Doodle.  If you fancy drawing, do, but don’t be critical of what you produce.  This is not about getting a grade A.  Just have a play.

What colours and shapes express particular feelings for you?  How do you feel when you use a particular colour?  What do certain shapes mean?

During the week, keep your eyes peeled when browsing newspapers and magazines, or even junk mail.  Pick out images that speak to you.  Pull them or snip them out and stash them in a box for future use, or stick them into the pages of your journal and write about how they speak to you.

Happy Journalling,

EF

On Process: A Room of One’s Own

In this new series of posts, On Process, we will talk a little about discovering your own creativity cycles, and how best to optimise them.  We’ll start with the most basic requirement: space.

Virginia Woolf coined the term ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in her book of the same name, in which she explored creativity and feminism.  Her thesis is that in order to be a serious artist, you have to have dedicated private space in which to work.  While I don’t think this is entirely true – many great books have been written at kitchen tables, for instance – I think it is an important consideration, and it really does help.

These days I am lucky enough to have a room of my own.

My study 1As you can see, its a mess.  Currently, it has a very nasty case of piles. (Piles of paper and junk, that is.)  The fact that it has become such a dumping ground, to the extent that I am now doing most of my writing sitting downstairs on the sofa, and I’m not doing any painting at all, is an important barometer for how much value I am attaching to my own art and writing practise.  In other words, not much.

One of my goals is to revamp my study.  This is because I need a Room of My Own.  Psychologically, I need to recognise my right to my own creative independence, and that is what my study signifies to me.  I need to make a gift to my creative self of a loving and beautiful space in which to make my dreams happen.  Its hard to claim that right, but I’m working on it.

You may not have the luxury of your own space, in which case, I sympathise because I spent many years in the same position, sharing a desk in the corner of our dining room with my husband.  (Even though he had his own office at work – not that I’m bitter, you understand!)  Still, there are ways to mark out some territory that you can call your own, a space where you feel totally free to create as you want.  That may be a corner of a shared room, the luxury of an actual studio, garden shed or study, or if you are not so territorial as I am, maybe a favourite table at a local cafe where you go to write, think or journal.

Where ever you choose, consider this space as not only a private area, safe from others, but also as sacred to your art – whatever form that takes.  When you go there, it should signal to your Artist Brain  that it is time to create.

Light candles, perhaps, and if you are so inclined, make a little altar to attract creative energy.  Surround yourself with pretty, evocative things.  Get some nice stationary and writing instruments.  A few pebbles can be delicious to handle and look at.  Make some inspiring signs to stick up, to remind yourself that you are entitled to this, that your voice is unique and deserves to be heard.  A painting that you like, objects that have emotional value for you, some nice furniture if you can afford it (I would love a comfy armchair to read in for my study), a noticeboard with inspiring images on it, wll all help to make even a small corner your own.

My Study 2In this picture of my study, you can see some of the things I cherish as part of my creative process.  (Sorry for the small lettering, I haven’t quite got the hang of Paint yet!)

I got the lovely chair for my birthday last year.  I’d never had a special, proper chair for my home office before. It still feels like an outrageous luxury!  There are fairy lights in the shape of roses around the window, which are nice when I am writing at night, as I usually prefer to.  There is my collection of books about writing, and books for reference, my Image Box for inspiration, and of course, my much cherished Benedict Cumberbatch calendar, which my adored niece made by hand for me last year.  On my desk, I keep a framed photograph of Virginia Woolf herself, because she is such an inspiration to me, both as a writer and as a person.

Try to carve out some personal space within your home environment to dedicate to your creativity.  Even if you are only able to keep your journals in a favourite tote bag down the side of the sofa to use when you can, it still counts.  It will help to enhance your creative process, and enable you to battle those critical voices that tell you your work isn’t good enough.

I’ll keep you updated on my efforts to reclaim my study from the mess and make it a place to snuggle down in to create.