Tag Archives: Drawing

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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Scottish Sunshine

If you are wondering why things have been quiet here at Evenlodesfriend lately, its because I am soaking up the sun in Scotland while attending the Islay Whisky Festival.  Now, I don’t drink, but Husband’s ‘on the side’ business is in whisky, so its a bit of a work ‘jolly’.

Nevertheless, here I am on this beautiful island with a bunch of friends and a toddler, staying in a little house on the beach.  The weather is distinctly Un-Scottish.  In other words, 22 degrees most days, and lots of sun (and resulting sunburn).  The midges love it, but so do I.

Drawing in progess - the ruins of the summer castle of the Lords of the Isles, Lagavulin Bay.

Drawing in progess – the ruins of the summer castle of the Lords of the Isles, Lagavulin Bay.

One of the things that strikes me about being on holiday is the tendency to carry on the drive to stay busy that we bring with us.  I’ve been feeling a bit ‘If its Tuesday, it must be Caol Ila’, if you know what I mean.  We have been filling up the time with rushing around, doing the sights, and whilst this is to expected with a different distillery putting on events every day, there comes a point when you have to say:

I am on holiday and I want to stay still.

Even if its just for one day.

With a two-year-old in tow, its hard to make time to be still, but nap times help.  While she’s asleep, we can journal, draw, write, read, stare into space, go for a quick walk along the strand, or just doze.  Even so its easy to get sucked into the OUGHTS and SHOULDS when you only have a week to get around and see all the wonderful sights this island has to offer.

I have been rediscovering drawing and photography.  There is lots to take pictures of here, from the rock formations on the beach to the bleak mountains.

But today, I am staying still.  I am sitting on the bed with my laptop, staring out over the bay through the window.  From here I can see across Loch Indaal to Bowmore, where the distillery makes a solid white edge to the water, its name painted in huge black letters on the whitewashed sea wall of the bonded warehouse.  The sky is bright, the cloud high, and cows are ambling along the water’s edge.  I find it hard to write when I am away from home, but of all the places I could be, this seems pretty good right now.  And after all, I am on holiday…

If you are interested in knowing more about our whisky adventures, you can read about it all here.

(I’d upload dozens of fabulous photos of Islay here, but the broadband is iffy so I shall save that for another post.)

Happy Creating,

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

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