Underpants Gnomes ~ part 2

Moving on 6 or 7 weeks from my panic at the idea of playing to discover who I am as an artist, and what makes me dance a little happy dance.

After my turmoil of angst laid out in my last blog, I decided to go right back to the beginning. Drawing. It might not be everybody’s beginning, but for me drawing is where it all began. I’ve been nervous about go back to that place in case I couldn’t draw any more; draw in the loose confident carefree way of my youth. Turns out it is still there after all these years and numerous life challenges that have been sent my way. So often I feel worn out and look back at the 20something me like she was a totally different person, barely recognisable, which I’m sure is very common.

Back to drawing. Once I’d decided that was how to begin my playing period, things kind of snowballed. The monoprinting that I’d tentatively started in my last blog was to continue, to tease that confident line out of me. No rubbers, no faffing, just get the lines down and don’t worry. I rushed out with my ready rolled ink and some paper and drew our two friendly hens…very obliging models whom were very curious about what on earth I was doing. Drawing from life; drawing creatures that keep moving is quite tricky but so much fun. You have to look with eyes that see only the important lines to describe form, and with that comes a certain kind of energy. I did a few fast monoprints of our hens (Babs and Bibi) and did a little happy dance; I could see those same lines from my youth staring back at me from the paper. After the weekend I rushed out with my rucksack full of ink, roller, pencils, pens and paper and found pigs and cows to draw too. All animals; I’ve found my theme.

I knew this work had to lead to something more so I spent some time in my little studio pondering what I could do with these drawings. Not being able to let go of my love of printmaking, I wondered if it was possible to transfer the lively energetic line of my quick life drawings to lino. I adore lino but I’ve noticed a huge difference between my intial drawings and the final piece, using careful and overworked lines and shapes. It seemed like a good challenge to explore but how? Babs and Bibi sauntered past my window. I took my piece of lino outside and drew directly onto it using a japanese brush pen (not sure why I picked that up, but glad I did!). Those quick flitting lines made to describe Babs grooming herself were then laboriously cut out (irony…nice contrast), inked up and put through my press and another little happy dance followed.

In and amongst these drawing episodes my love of sculpture was also ringing a little bell in my mind. I found some very affordable clay (with a view to revisiting casting but got a horrible shock at the cost of ‘ciment fondu’, my favoured casting material) but I’ve barely touched the clay as line, rather than form, has been most prominant in my play. I also found, after 20+ years of not knowing, that black sculpting wire is indeed available. I’ve always used horrible cheap galvanised stuff, twanging and smelling though self~supporting, when I could have used black annealed wire. Much nicer and aesthetically pleasing.

I made two wall pieces (out of the galvanised stuff) then, after making a lino print of half a pig, finished off the lines with wire. This sparked my lightbulb moment of how to combine my love of drawing, printmaking and sculpture. Do please watch this space. I’m so excited I can’t begin to describe how brilliant it feels to be at the start of a whole new way of working, more reminiscent of my fine art days. I think drawing will now feature heavily in my work however, and will always be a safe place to retreat to when I’m struggling with ideas, confidence or knowing how to get started.

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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!

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