Tag Archives: libraries

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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Inspiration Monday: Support your local library

the forum-norwichI am tempted to break into my own, rather wobbly version of Petula Clarke’s ‘Downtown’ here, but slight amendments the eponymous destination.

“When you’re alone

And life is making you lonely

You can always go:

To the Library!”

Okay, it doesn’t work, but you get the idea.  The Library is your friend.  It’s your soulmate.  It’s a world of excitement and adventure cocooned within four walls.  And it’s currently free (at least at the moment it is in the UK– but David Cameron, I’m watching you!)

I have always felt a strange sense of peace amongst books.  Not for me the sudden flash of panic as the realisation dawns that there are never going to be enough hours in one’s life to read everything one wants to.  Books en masse produce in me a kind of nirvana, a bliss, a calm.  It doesn’t matter how bad things are, a library is one of the two places I can go to know peace.  (The other is the beach, in case you were wondering, but that’s another story.)  This is no coincidence.

Jeanette Winterson, in her emotionally complex autobiography, credits working her way (alphabetically – how pragmatic) through her local library with saving her life from a traumatic and abusive childhood.  Books give us the power to escape, to transcend, to find knowledge and wisdom, happiness and peace.

And more than that – Terry Pratchett notes the strange distortion that occurs when books are gathered together.  He calls it L-space, a phenomenon in which the power of knowledge bends the time space continuum so that all places and times are accessible from the magnificent Library of the Unseen University (although travelling in L-space can be dangerous!). This is really just a charming metaphor for what Winterson reports.  Libraries open up unexplored and unimagined realms for us without our ever having to leave their environs.  Although, if you have ever visited Kim’s Bookshop in Arundel, Sussex, you might agree with Pratchett that L-space does indeed exist!

Libraries have changed greatly since the days when my Dad used to take me down to our village library every Friday night with my fist full of little cardboard pockets to exchange with the kindly librarian for books that enchanted and fascinated me all week long.  Now I frequent the UK’s most popular library, the Millennium Library at the Forum, Norwich, which is housed in a breath-taking vision of modern architecture, and has the highest borrowing numbers in the country.  No wonder.  Its great.

My favourite treat is to go to the library without a time limit, and just browse, as if I were in a sweet shop.  I can wander about, dipping into sections, picking out jewels here and there like a magpie.  I can have whatever I want to try, and I don’t have to worry about how much its going to cost me.  Often I find books I have been hanging my nose over on Amazon or favourite blogs, wondering whether I should buy them – with the library I can try them out, and see if they are worth the investment.

I always make sure I browse the ‘Just Returned’ trolleys too.  This is a great way to come across books that you would never have tried otherwise, because they are shelved in sections you would not normally think to visit.  These eclectic shelves are a great way to expand your reading by picking up whatever appeals to you.

Appeal is crucial.  Sometimes I go in with the challenge to choose books on the basis of their covers alone!  This is a fun thing to do with fiction particularly, because you end up not only with a bunch of stuff you would never have found otherwise, but also you get to sample the publishers’ strategies on book design, which is a useful thing to know about if you are a writer or illustrator.

If I find a book that proves especially useful for research purposes, I always make sure I record its Class Number as well as the author and title details in my writers notebook, so that I can find them easily again.

One of my most profound library revelations of recent years is the idea that if I choose a book that it turns out I don’t like, I don’t have to keep it the full three weeks.  Yes, I can take it back the very next day, if I like.  Nobody will judge me.  Its like test driving a car.  If it doesn’t prove useful, its not the end of the world.  I used to have such an investment in choosing the right books to borrow.  But there are so many books to delight in.  Why worry?  Just try a few on for size.  Its not as if you have to pay for them.

Libraries are an enormous resource.  As are librarians.  Many of them are highly trained, and they really love it when a borrower asks them a question which is something more interesting than ‘why won’t my card work in the machine?’  They love to ferret out unusual and rare tomes, and rifle through the vagaries of the inter-library loan system.  They are usually only too happy to help you with your research questions.  There is so much knowledge and expertise on offer, and most of time we don’t even know it is there.

This week, give yourself the best treat ever.  Go and gorge yourself at the library!

Happy browsing,

EF