Category Archives: Mar ’16

Making Day 02-04

I began this making day with Angela, Alison and Ines, later to be joined by Maire. I described that I wanted to work with some collaborations during the day and that I was starting my own response to the work given to me by two artist friends. This first piece was presented to me to work on by Noeleen Comiskey.

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My response was to work in oil paint, despite the original work being on unstretched paper. I used a square head brush which is one of my current favourites. I like the purposeful mark this makes. I also tore up a photograph of my son as I decided that the mouth needed an eye and I was drawn to the innocence of this oversize element. Despite sending this image to my friend and gaining her positive response, I feel that this is only a stage in the progress of this work and feel that it has another stage of drawing to complete it. My response was, as Angela pointed out at the meeting at the end of the day, somewhat emotional: getting negative emotions ‘out of the way’ so that the work could begin. It took me a little while to see this, but when I did it made perfect sense. I am waiting for the oil paint to dry so that I can draw over the surface again (probably in white).

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This second piece is a large ink drawing on paper (A1 size) and this was given to me to work on by Tyga Helme. It is typical of many of her ink drawings and the subject matter is also something which she frequently turns to. The suggestions of trees and plants was something which I was transfixed by and, as you can see in the stages of development, I kept tweaking in different ways before becoming comfortable with ownership of the work. It is a very interesting thing to collaborate with another artist and to feel the push and pull of what you wish to reveal and conceal, probably both in literal terms and in psychological terms. It was interesting that changing the music I was listening to made a real difference. The more powerful music somehow gave me a sense of control, and once this was mine I thoroughly enjoyed working into the drawing. Tyga is also very pleased with this and I believe she is going to draw into it again so the conversation will continue. Angela Rogers gave me some extremely good links, including photographs of the work of Jon Barraclough, with his lazy susan drawing tables at Tate Liverpool . She also gave me links to writing on Drawing Conversations.

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The day started at 10am but I had assumed that it would start at 9am and was ready at this time. Whilst there was an hour to play with I continued to add ink to the pencil lines I had created the previous day watching Bird Gang dancers in a workshop led by filmmaker and choreographer Simeon Qsyea. This was probably the most fun I have had with a pencil in my hand in a long time. The dancers were incredible and my drawings were such a wonderful release. Literally ‘opening up’ and exploring movement whilst trying to block any sense of judgement from others (everyone else there was filming or photographing the dancers, I was the only participant drawing). I realise that I needed to remind myself to ‘stay in the moment’ whenever my thoughts wandered. The moment was very demanding to focus on as it kept changing quickly. There was no time to be distracted by negative thoughts. Putting ink over the pencil lines was almost as rewarding as the initial activity as I felt I was being taken on an incredible journey of discovering my own work again. At the end of our Making Day, in response to a question I asked Angela about words she used to describe needing to feel ‘uncomfortable enough’ in her drawings, she explained: “Every time we look at our work, we are faced with ourselves”. That sense of needing to be able to make honest marks and be less contrived and allow a sense of play and discovery  was something we all understood. What a joy to be able to share these words, and each others’ work.

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Collaborations and Public Drawings 2

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Drawing in public is always something which raises the stakes slightly. As a teacher I am used to drawing in front of my class. I can assume that they will be receptive, and that it is easy to create an atmosphere where we all draw together. Drawing in public demands a different type of readiness: preparing for reactions from people who may feel that they need to critique the work, or critique by disapproving looks. I had a GREAT deal of fun drawing into a work below which began as a portrait of me by my 3 year old niece. The nature of this as a starting point meant that anyone who looked at my work might make assumptions about my drawing ability or ideas, whereas it is only the humour that they might gauge accurately as I found the process extremely funny. The train was very full at the time and, as ever, most people were watching their phones. I was easily able to draw a woman sitting opposite me and to my right as she did not look up from her newspaper at all. I observed one or two glances in my direction but there were no comments and everyone was very ‘busy’ most of the time studying their emails or social media. It is interesting how this has removed us from interacting with the world around us and it has made me aware of trying to be more ‘present’ in the moment. Whilst it provides a great platform for communication, virtual reality is also a barrier to the world: taking us away from the crowd we are within, avoiding eye contact, allowing for actual ‘blocking’ of others by engaging only in palm held interactions. Something which would have been unthinkable thirty or forty years ago. But this enabled me to feel untroubled by my various public displays of drawing, ‘approved of’ by collective disinterest.

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(Above) A long ‘visual conversation’ with Tyga Helme. I absolutely loved this piece as it moved back and forth between us on a number of occasions. It has now become the banner on my new artist headed paper.

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I bought some porcelain paper clay and have started to make palm-held faces from this. This is something I can build up over the summer term and fire towards the end of term. I am hoping to also make/design a clay stamp which will mark this work as my own, though it will need to be a little more like a hallmark on a piece of silver because otherwise it will be too dominant.

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(Above). This piece began as a series of drawings developed by a class of students. At least six students were involved in drawing on top of each other’s work, looking at two images by artists to inspire ideas. We also gave them additional challenges such as observing connecting lines or negative spaces and depicting only this. I subsequently drew in turquoise ink over the study and then used some black ink. I really like the way it has the appearance of an ordinance survey map or a nervous system. I have numerous other pieces with a similar background to work on top of. I also photocopied all of the original drawings onto acetate so that the students can enjoy layering them on a light box and then working onto a photograph of their own collaborative composite.

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(Above). Another piece worked on in the same way. My drawing only in dark ink over the top. Again, I am very happy with all the traces of other hands at work in this.

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This drawing was started by  my three year old niece with a black and purple felt tip and some pencil. I asked whether she would mind if I drew on top of it and she seemed hesitant about this but eventually said that this was fine. My design reflected a sense of the playfulness of being around her, of having my hair ‘styled’ and of the toys all over the floor. I realised that this piece also reminded me hugely of my father and drawing with him as a child. He used to play ‘Guess what it is?’ and we would spend hours watching him draw objects, or trying to draw them ourselves, taking it in turns and ending up with pages covered in lovely studies, doodles and ‘wrong’ drawings.

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(Above) Portrait of me – by Coco (age 3) and me (age 39). Completed in very tongue in cheek way on train journey.

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Sketching passengers on the train.

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The works above were tandem drawing with a superb artist and ex student Rory Alexander. We met and drank tea and sat in the window of a high street pub, swapping drawings frequently. This is currently still a work in progress.

I have realised that whilst collaborative drawing is a truly enjoyable experience and activity, where work is given to others to complete in their own time, this can interfere with the chronology of ‘conversations’. I am not sure that this really matters. I have also been thinking a great deal about making more of these connections and really working hard at making connections with a range of other artists to collaborate with. I was hoping to raise funds for Crisis and to contact their fundraising coordinator to allow the project to focus on how it is daily human connections that make humanitarian difference: that it is acts of kindness, one person and one connection at a time that change the world. It may be a bit of a ‘project’ for me, and one which I am going to spend some time resourcing, enabling and documenting over the summer, with a plan to exhibit these conversations and auction them.

In the meantime, the ‘conversations’ continue.

Collaborations and Public Drawing

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These drawings were completed with artist Tyga Helme. We sat and drew from two Van Gogh works, in different coloured inks. Half way through we swapped drawings and completed the works. We did this in front of others and then discussed the experience of tandem and collaborative drawing. It was delightfully liberating.

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Drawing with Tyga Helme. We found a table and sat, drawing into each other’s work. We both had different ideas but identical sketch books and we were both using ink and a bamboo dip pen. There is something remarkably liberating about giving work away for another artist to make their own. I was aware that Tyga’s marks were stronger than mine, both in terms of her use of darker ink and the thickness of the mark. I liked this. It seemed appropriate that my drawings were a little lighter, and that her marks were dominant. During our drawing I said “I love drawing on top of your work!” and she replied with exactly the same words. It was a funny realisation that there is something deeply personal about sharing your drawings: a relationship of sorts.

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Another tandem drawing by Tyga Helme and myself. I rotated this drawing 90 degrees before staring to work on it. This made sense to me. I felt like there was something softly resembling a heathland and some kind of ruins in the distance as I drew into the work. We were both particularly keen on this drawing and felt it had rhythms and a voice which we both approved of and enjoyed.

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I particularly like the top half of this drawing. I also like that different people ‘see’ objects within it, only some of which actually exist. I like the flow of the drawing styles in collaboration and feel they suit each other well.

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Tandem ink drawing by Tyga Helme and me.

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One more work by Tyga and myself.

The works below were a collaboration with artist Theo Young. He is currently completing a degree in Art and leans towards illustrative drawing and digital imaging. This collaboration was completed via posting work to each other and completing it in our own studio spaces. It was extremely exciting to see the development of works as, despite recognising perhaps the individual style of the artist, the connections made and order of who drew first is intriguing. Also, the layering of meaning and perhaps even the change of meaning between the initial drawing and the response. This ‘conversation’ as such is what fascinates me. It is the opening up to another of something personal and often misunderstood, allowing it to be reinterpreted and reworked, perhaps leaving it with an entirely different narrative, focal point, or subject. The unveiling of the new works was a very exciting moment, for both of us. There is something extremely special in that type of ‘connection’.

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Theo Young and Emma.

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Theo Young and Emma.

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Theo Young and Emma.

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Theo Young and Emma.

This  process is such a very direct way of working with other artists, and it is so dynamic and testing, opening up exciting opportunities and possibilities as well as presenting with interesting issues of clashing styles. It is truly exciting and I have lots of ideas for the continuation of this series of works. (see next post)

Professional Practice

work from MA1 (left) and MA2 (right)

This week’s seminar was about professional practice and how to determine what that is; how we want to shape it to continue to be making and distributing work after the MA finishes. In discussion we contributed collaboratively to build a document which gave collective feedback about what we felt identified Professional Practice. Each person explored different points, both in general and more specific terms. Certainly this may change our Professional Practice Plan, but is also a poignant moment on the journey of the MA to reflect on where we are and where we want to be: perhaps how this has changed. One of the great advantages of studying the MA over a three year period, is the ability to grow and change during that time, and for our thoughts and experiences over this period to impact on our artistic output. During a three year period much can change: our location, working environment, ability to set aside specific studio time, gaining or losing studio space, family could be increasing or changing format, we may go through periods of being well or unwell. All of these factors impact on our productivity, ability to connect with our own practice, perhaps even our confidence in putting work out into public spaces, or sharing it in any way. I often encounter extremely talented artists who have somehow lost their motivation for exhibiting. Work is stacked and collected in their studio, or the studio grinds to a halt. I was aware as we chatted during this seminar that whilst we might be enthusiastic creatives, that does not necessarily make us good business men and women. Some will be, but not all. I have often produced a piece and felt excited about it and rarely considered contacting people to exhibit it. My ‘audience’ is mostly online: friends and family, as well as those who follow me because they have bought work in the past. But the skills of negotiating a fair price, of exploring places to exhibit and of making the right kind of connections with industry insiders is relatively unfamiliar to me. It is something I know that I must keep working on. But there is a risk to take with this: and it is the ultimate risk – that of rejection. I have often said that when I complete a painting or a sculpture it is ‘my baby’ and that I have brought it to existence and am passionate about it. It must be loved and appreciated: by me, if not by anyone else. The possibility of it being judged substandard by another human being would be equivalent to the kind of rejection one can never recover from. Like being an actress, you need to go to 50 auditions to perhaps be given one part. 49 people will say your face doesn’t fit, and you have to be hardened to this. But I know I am not hardened to that kind of criticism. It is an issue. So, whilst I tentatively dip my toe in the water of exhibiting outside the comfort of environments where I know I will be well received, I have to protect myself. I have to remember that we all have different tastes and values and that someone who does not like my work is not criticising me per se. They are not declaring me unfit to paint or a poor excuse for an artist, or human being; they perhaps prefer a different style of work, or a different palette, or something which I would not like.

It is this area which is most problematic for me. I see no reason to imagine that I will not continue to make art. My job will be changing in the autumn and I will be moving house, but one of the stipulations I made was that I would continue to have a studio space to work in. This will be a more dedicated space than the current studio I have. I will have space to exhibit work and develop collaborative work with my students. I will have made some connections with galleries both in London and Kent. Whilst I have set aside about twelve hours a week to work on the MA, this time can be split between making work and making connections. Continuing the process. I have made changes this year. I have created a new website, a new Instagram and twitter account, a new business card and flyers, headed paper. I have made contact with organisations, volunteered as an Art Leader, agreed to volunteer at a Hospice, written three articles for magazines, and I have been productive in my practice. But this is JUST THE STRART. It has reminded me why I love what I do, and why it is necessary to move work on, to allow it to infiltrate the world, and to remove it from becoming the carpets and wallpaper of my existence. I am loving the MA. It is allowing me to find myself as an Artist, to explore the resistances and boundaries I felt were etched into my skin. These were only ever (mostly) imaginary: about pleasing people, making a difference, being socially responsible. They had nothing to do with painting from the heart, or capturing because it is essential: because it is breath and emotion and healing.

Oil paintings MA2

So this journey is life changing: the connections it is initiating could become life-long. This journey has signposts which may keep changing but they must always point towards developing more work, showing it in whatever way is most logical, collaborating with others to exhibit, looking for funding or exploring putting work into group exhibitions (which allows one to make further contacts). This existence is so very privileged – to be able to do what I love and to have the facilities to enable this to be done relatively easily. I may not have much in the way of time, but I can forgo sleep and I can declare myself a hermit if necessary. THIS is important. I am passionate about this and I am, in turn, teaching my son to commit fully to the things he is passionate about. It is a life lesson that I feel lucky to be able to share. And now I must continue the journey of sharing work, giving it away, exploring this act and documenting it.