The Underpants Gnomes’ master plan…

I seem to be having endless new starts or new directions in my sporadic blogs. I hope my next one will be different.

But here I am again!

This blog is going to be a stream of consciousness as I’ve been in turmoil all week and need to write down all my thoughts to try and make some sense of what I want to do. By writing, the words have to make sense to a reader, therefore formulated logically in my mind beforehand. I need to formulate my thoughts and get them down, in the hope that tomorrow I will enter my studio with more clarity and focus.

Before we moved house I’d got in touch with our (wonderful) local Arts Officer who was recommended by a new artist friend. After a couple of postponed meetings (moving house), we finally met to discuss what I’m doing, where I’m going, where I want to be and how she can help.

That’s a lot to discuss!

These questions have been swirling around my poor foggy brain for about 2 years, hence the many new directions and false starts. I’ve been feeling lost since I joined the Crafts Council and tried to move forward with Socktacular by having pieces in galleries and trying to get to the next level, but I felt it all came crashing round me and this failure knocked my confidence and feeling of worth. Despite how it may look, I want and need to succeed in something I’m good at, but I’ve not known how to achieve this. I’m like the Underpants Gnomes from South Park.

What went wrong with Socktacular? In order to have work in galleries, I had to raise the prices to cover the commission a gallery take from every sale (up to 50%), but by doing that I went from selling every piece, often before I’d even finished it, to not selling any…not a single one. I can’t tell you how crushing that was. I realised there was an upper limit to what people would pay for an art doll made of socks, perhaps because of the association they have with the toys. And as is the case with a lot of textile work, the prices I’d been charging in no way reflected the hours that went into each and every doll. That was the start of a Socktacular decline for me. I love those little sock art dolls and they’ve given me so much pleasure to make, most of the time, but it seemed like I got as far as I could with them and there was no future to work towards. Maybe I gave up too easily; I didn’t stop making them, but the spark had dimmed. I’m not one for churning out the same thing like a machine; I need different challenges and to make an actual real living from my work and I realised Socktacular couldn’t offer me either of those things. Books and animation had been suggested along the way and are on the back burner to maybe revisit. I have pondered setting up workshops in how to make a Socktacular doll and my arts officer has suggested a way this could be achieved…so that door hasn’t closed.

So, once I’d recovered from my self pity and licked my wounds, I started to think what else I could do, maybe alongside Socktacular (or not) and printmaking bounced up shouting ‘pick me, pick me!‘. It’s been an interesting and challenging journey of experimentation, relearning techniques, getting back into drawing and really working hard at deciding what kind of images I want to create, with a very strong desire to make it work. Although I discovered that there are a huge amount of exceptional printmakers out there so the chance of getting noticed or being ‘discovered’ were very slim, and my confidence wavered a little (hello again), I was/am happy with the point I’d reached before we moved house and was starting to sell pieces. I had lots of ideas for new work and developing a range of lampshades.

Photographic evidence of my procrastination this week.

So back to my meeting.

I was nervous about meeting the arts officer, though she came highly recommended as very professional, enormously helpful but also a lovely person too. I hoped I was good enough to deserve her help and that I won’t be a disappointment in the future. I’ve reached a point where I need help, to stop me going round in circles. Going right back to my art college days, I’ve never been exactly sure of what I wanted to do. I enjoyed sculpture and focused on that area as I had to choose, but I loved printmaking too. Since graduating the sculpting has been difficult to achieve due to various reasons (the kind of sculpture I love doing is very messy) so in order to satiate my need to do art, I’ve ended up dipping my toes in lots of things. And 23 years later I have realised that I have become Jack of All Trades, Master of None! I need to hone in on one aspect that I love, whether that is a subject matter or technique.

This week has been so very hard and my inner gremlin, my biggest critic, has been working over time. My arts officer gave me some homework to do before our next meeting. I’ve been instructed to play! Which sounds like the best homework ever! But my goodness it’s sent me into a spiral of self doubt and the realisation that I have no idea what I want to do in order to achieve stage 3 of the Underpants Gnomes’ master plan. But my arts officer can’t do anything for me if I have no clear path to follow and no solid consistent work to show anyone. Every decision I’ve made these last 5 years has been powered by the need to try and sell what I make. It’s become an all consuming driving force that has taken over every aspect of my creativity, and now I’ve been instructed to abandon that decision maker, leaving me empty and with questions I can’t yet answer. Do I want to make sculptures, do printmaking, drawing or a bit of everything? Do I want to go back to Fine Art? If I choose Fine Art, do I now have what it takes to succeed where I haven’t in the past? Do I want to follow an Applied Arts path, which I’ve often thought would have suited me better than Fine Art, if those courses had been available when I was studying? Do I have what it takes? Can I overcome my (recently identified) imposter syndrome?  Do I want to find one thing that works and stick to that without deviating…I’m starting to understand and appreciate why many artists, once they’ve found a ‘product’ that is successful, don’t deviate from it because starting again is exhausting and risky? How does one play with no clear structure or objective?

I have managed to answer a few questions though. I have identified that I am not a landscape or cityscape artist, nor figurative…so that leaves me with the natural world of animals and other creatures, which I like doing. Tick. I’m not a painter. Tick. I’m not keen on doing or having to think about backgrounds. Tick. Question, does that dictate I should re~explore sculpture?  What else…? Another question, if I’m an ‘Animal Artist’, do I want to be making social/environmental statements, just celebrate animals and creatures for their beauty, form, colour etc, explore myths and folklore (all these things have been mentioned in previous blogs), or produce a range of ‘products’ along the lines of lampshades: I do like designing, printing and making up lampshades but can I sustain that indefinitely? Another thing I’ve identified that is important to me is I enjoy the physical process of making art far more than thinking of the initial ideas…though the lack of ideas of which I’ve always suffered, is due I now realise, because I’ve never answered any of the above questions, ever!

So how does one play, with all these things swirling about? I’m approaching 45…not a carefree 20 year old!

My attempts at playing this week:

 

If anyone has been in this situation and cares of offer any advice or insight, I’d be enormously grateful!

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Horizons

Since my last blog post about exciting new ideas and new work emerging, everything went on hold as we moved house!

The need to move house became of paramount importance because our thoroughly unpleasant (now former) landlord treated us appallingly for no reason. I’m tempted to slip into rant mode about the injustice of it all, but I’ve done so much ranting these last few weeks to any poor soul who’ll listen so I need to put that whole experience behind me!

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Stormy horizon

We’d been on the look out for somewhere else to rent for a good year after a particularly upsetting incident 18 months ago, then amazingly, just when a new issue reared his ugly head, a house came up in the next valley. It’s been a long and exhausting move with lots of decorating in the new house and trying to make it homely, but we’re getting there and it’s a beautiful house. The bonus is it has a spare downstairs room which I can have as a studio! I never imagined we’d find a place with room for me to work.

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Studio coming along nicely…

A studio! A place for me to work in at long last. No more working in the living room and taking over the dining table for days (weeks) at a time, somewhere to store my work and equipment and I don’t have to share this room with anyone! It’s mine….all mine! I’m pondering revisiting my glass work too. I can’t wait (jumping up and down)!! I’m hoping very much, with all this upheavel, that once my studio is ready I don’t get ‘the fear’ which involves (for me) processing self doubt, pressure to make Good Art, selling my work, lack of confidence and now the added pressure of justifying having a whole room to myself! Until I get in a rhythm, this seems to be a pattern of emotions I have to negotiate…and just when I’m free of this settling in period and starting to produce work I’m happy with, I’ll have to stop because the school summer holidays will start! I would be interested to know how other artists juggle working from home and being the principal carer of their children during school holidays.

It’s taking a while to get it set up. I need to ensure the house is finished and functioning as a lovely family home before I can even contemplate starting my art work again; as once I’m in, any decorating and unpacking left to do will be abandoned and forgotten, just like the blasted housework!

So watch this space. I’ll be back soon and my brain has allowed one or two ideas to filter through into my consciousness in anticipation! Though I have to say, it’s a great shame I don’t do landscapes. We now live in a beautiful landscape with ever changing light and weather…but sadly any attempts to do ‘landscape art’ in the past left me cold and uninspired, but photographing it is giving me immense joy so all is not lost.

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A grand view

Workers

My recent new, experimental piece is finished…at least I think it finished! Sometimes there’s a clear conclusion to a piece and other times one is left wondering if it is in fact finished, or if missing something, whatever that ‘something’ might be, aesthetically. I’m living with it a while before I print any more. It will be a limited edition of 20.

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I decided to call it ‘Workers’ for several reasons:

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The idea for this image of an ant carrying an unborn baby came about after reading a book to my youngest daughter called ‘There’s a Hair in my Dirt!’. One page talks about ‘slavemaker ants‘, which I’d not heard of before. They steal eggs from other species of ants and once hatched the youngsters are forced into labour for the colony. This idea fascinated me, and coincided with a recent conversation with a friend about education and the idea that our education system is being deliberately ‘dumbed down’ to produce good workers for society. The rights and wrongs of this theory are not being discussed here, and I expect there are plenty of blogs out there exploring this notion. My personal opinion on this matter is not of importance, and in all honesty I’ve not drawn any conclusion for or against…but I wanted to explore the concept metaphorically as it intrigued me. The other coincidence prior to this piece materialising in my mind, and unrelated to the above conversation, is I’d been watching Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ with my eldest daughter.

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Although I have explained the thought process behind this piece, I love hearing how other people interpret what they see. Different eyes and life experiences see things that would have never occured to me:

“Funny how there are systems in nature and in mankind. I like the parallel you’ve drawn (literally!)”

“Body Snatchers” political sci fi thriller — about mind-abduction and conformity.”

and other people see nuture and protection…and others are just freaked out!

What do you see?

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Interestingly, after I’d printed this, I had a play with some rat linocuts I made before Christmas. It has sparked an idea for a whole series which (in my opinion) would make a fantastic exhibition. I’m so excited! I can’t wait!  I’ll save that for another blog….!

 

Baring my soul

It’s a daunting prospect to try out a new direction of work and the art of procrastination can become, in itself, very creative. Since my ‘Drawn to the Light’ moth piece, my mind has awoken to the idea of exploring concepts, political/social issues; incorporating a  narrative into my work. It’s something I’ve deliberately avoided my whole creative career under the pretence that I didn’t know how to express my thoughts, and actively fought against it whilst at art college in the early 1990s. Art theory and group critiques…I once exaggerated my deafness due to a blocked ear (turned out I had the back of an earing lodged inside my ear) to avoid engaging in the group discussions, especially when it came to my work.

But maybe I’ve just never had anything to say until now.

Since having children, my eyes have been opening for nearly 10 years and I’ve become so much more aware of the world around me…and now maybe I’m ready to use my creative voice. I have always been drawn to artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Mark Chagall, Odilion Redon and, more recently discovered, Leonora Carrington; descriptive symbolism and dreamlike or nightmarish imagery. Their work is intriguing and make you wonder what is going on; there are so many narratives and interpretations that can be read into it.  New and strange worlds exist in their art, what was going on in their minds?

I have lots of ideas for future work…I hope people are kind to me as this really is a scary move. There will be failures, frustrations and hopefully a few successes…and my need to produce ‘saleable’ work to earn a living will be a constant struggle. Please, wish me luck!

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work in progress

 

Printmaking Moths and Lightbulbs

I’m back! Can’t believe it’s been way over a year since I wrote a blog. I’m so phenomenally rubbish at this blogging malarky…and Pinterest. People keep telling me that I must blog as it generates interest and a buzz, but when one isn’t is a great place creatively it’s hard to find inspiration to write upbeat things without just drowning in a pool of self pity. And time; time is a big issue.

But here I am, with new work and a confidence boost! Accidentally.moths A3 2d

I began printmaking about a year ago, tentatively re~learning (excuse the wiggle instead of a dash, but my dash button doesn’t work and the wiggle is close enough) techniques I loved 20 years ago. Being a natural 3d artist who used to love drawing, it’s been a rocky road with lots of ups and downs. I naively thought it’d be easy…boy was I wrong, and rightly so! Printmaking is really difficult to succeed in; technically, aesthetically, finding your place in a very popular medium and getting noticed. It’s really really hard, especially with some incredibly talented printmakers out there who blow your mind with their amazing skills and stunning pieces of work. It’s been a steep learning curve and very daunting. I’ve been close to giving up so many times. I stumbled across a wonderful Facebook page called Linocut Friends...it’s given me insight into techniques, different approaches to printmaking with lino, how people tackle different subject matter and, most importantly, a place to share work, ideas and techniques with some really lovely like~minded and encouraging people. A valuable source of inspiration and motivation, especially when one works from home and can feel quite isolated at times.

This January I had another go, having spent last Autumn making another series of Socktacular Max boys, thus putting printmaking aside. I’d fully intended to make some Skylark Urns stock and whilst waiting for a cotton rope delivery, decided to get the ink, lino and sketch book out. The rope arrived but the urns are still waiting.

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I started with moths…thinking moths and poppy seed heads and grasses…people like seed heads and plant based things. Until my fella mentioned lightbulbs and PING! I carved out an old fashioned lightbulb because, you know, their shape is instantly recognisable and pleasin…and nostalgic. I laid them all out, put them through the press and realised I really liked the image. Until this point I’ve been hugely critical of everything I’ve produced in printmaking…finding fault in everything. But I am proud of this new work, for the first time since I began. Obviously nothing is perfect and I can find faults in it, but generally speaking I like it! Oooph, steady on girl!

So much so I’ve made the design into lampshades too!

Through this idea and design, I’ve also realised I’d like to try and create work that voice my thoughts about environmental and social concerns; produce interesting work that sparks debate or a talking point. There’s so much that moths around a lightbulb can say about human nature, as my Etsy listing suggests:

‘The sad folly of moths drawn to light. Transverse Orientation. Does it reflect how our society follows the crowd without question and reason? Confusion. Glimmer of hope. Or a dance of light that goes back since time immemorial…’

And, the huge confidence boost is that I’ve sold some pieces, both on paper and lampshades. To sell some work, when one has struggled immensely with confidence, is a huge deal. It might be insignificant to some, but not to me. It means other people have liked what I’ve made…me, bumbling along with two part time jobs to try and keep my creative ventures alive and having one crisis of confidence after another.

It means I carry on persevering, which is a big thing for me.

But what to do next in printmaking! Oh, the pressure… !!

I might tackle Pinterest tomorrow evening.

 

Thank you for reading.

new work

I have always been interested in the relationships between humans and animals since my first college days aged 17 when I was given free-rein to make anything I liked  (BTec Nat Dip in General Art and Design, if that course exists any more?). First I made a life-size twig pony from some bush prunings my tutor brought in…they were freshly cut so I put all four legs into buckets of water and it blossomed. I also made a metal springing lamb, plaster foal scratching its head with a hind hoof, a humanised wooden curlew and lastly I cut hundreds of random shapes from sheet metal, painstakingly pop-riveted them together to make a fish man…head of a fish, legs of a man. All these sculptures were at least life size, some bigger. (photos to follow if I can find them)

My two years on that course were amazing because out of everyone in my year group, I was the only one who decided to focus on sculpture, so I didn’t have to share facilities and I only had a vague tutor for a bit of guidance, but mostly they left me to my own devices as I was very focused. When I moved on to my degree course it was a very different experience and although I had a fantastic time, I fought against having to intellectualise my work. I just wanted to make sculptures, without the need to fabricate some tosh about why I’d made it. Some people love all the theory side to art but it wasn’t, and still isn’t for me. I REALLY enjoyed listening to Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures in 2013, as he voiced all my thoughts about art that I’d never dared mention whilst at college. In retrospect I feel a fine art course was probably not the right direction for me to go in because I started to really struggle with ideas of what to make, like my wings had been clipped. I was made to feel that my desire to ‘only’ make animals or mythical beasts wasn’t good enough and that lack of confidence in my ideas has stayed with me.

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Odilon Redon

Mythology, folk tales and fairy tales have always excited me. When I was a child the shelves were full of lovely thick musty volumes of folk and fairy tales with the most exquisite illustrations by Bauer or Rackham to name a couple. One of my favourites was Swedish Folk Tales full of stories of grumpy (and some surprisingly kind) trolls living in dark forest caves or fighting over ownership of mountains, stealing children and goats. Having artist parents also meant that there were many art and reference books to delve into; to admire, inspire or dismiss. Artists and illustrators that have stayed with me since my childhood and teens are John Bauer, Franz Marc, Chagall, Giacometti, Botticceli, Maurice Sendak and Odilon Redon. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of metamorphosis, changelings and anthropomorphism, and recently I’ve been following two pages on Facebook that share weird and wonderful medieval religious drawings of the most extraordinary fantastical beasts! The transformations and connections between humans and animals are endless and have been studied by humans from all parts of the world and throughout history. The references go back to the earliest forms of art…art being the first language. It seems to be an inexhaustable theme that speaks to individuals on a personal, spiritual or religious level.

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Which brings me round to my own work again, as I’ve recently begun re-exploring my early love of all these things (happily, without a tutor breathing down my neck!). I experimented with a moth woman a few months ago, and now come back to the idea of making a range of fantastical beasts…starting with spider women. I have found my figurative sock art doll characters have stopped selling….for reasons unknown to me other than perhaps they have reached a natural end. Rather than continuing to make them and feel increasingly disheartened that they are no longer selling, I’m taking it as a sign that it’s time to move on to different work. At the moment I’m still using socks as moving on needs to be done in stages for me, otherwise I’ll get overwhelmed by fear (harking back to those latter college days). I’m still enjoying using socks and feel I’ve got a lot of exciting socky things to explore. Socktacular seems to be on a very organic journey of its own with its beginnings in traditional sock toys, moving onto my own unique sock art dolls and further still into weird and fantastical beasts referencing folk tales, medieval drawings and symbolism in art.

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I hope very much you’ll enjoy this new phase and continue to be a part of my Socktacular journey.

Thank you for reading.

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