Ooooh, I’ve been tagged. Yep, Lady Duck, you got me. Actually I got myself, yesterday, bending down to put something in the washing machine and completely forgetting I’d left a piece of hardboard on top of it, in the “waiting-to-go-into-the-office/studio” freight area, so consequently I have a bruised cheek bone (to go with the stabbed-to-the-bone little finger that is the result of caving in to my darling daughter’s demands to core her apple for her). Usually I’m very efficient/safe with my movements, but every now and again – usually when I’ve forgotten to take my HRT tablets for several days! – I get a bit wobbly and do stupid things. Goodness knows what I’ll be like when they finally take the tablets away and I have to go through menopause… luckily that’s another nine years of (relative) sanity left to me.
I’m digressing, I know, but I’ve remembered a hideous embarrassment from years ago. I was eighteen and had accompanied a drop-dead gorgeous friend from school to the local gym because she wanted to exercise prior to going on a skiing trip and was too chicken to brave the local blokes by herself. What happened was that she ran out after day one, I was hooked, and from then onwards I braved the local blokes by myself and got quite fit. Anyway, after a while my glasses would slip down my nose and I’d take them off… and on this one occasion I bent down and, yes, you’ve guessed it, clobbered myself on the cheekbone with the metal handle of a piece of weight-training equipment. Cue an enormous black eye the next day, and all the lads at work threatening to bash up my Dad for beating me until I confessed I’d done it to myself! Same eye, same cheek, but thankfully rather less bruising thanks to a swiftly-applied ice pack.
Where was I? Oh yes, back to the meme… so here you go, “Seven things about my Working Processes”:
1 I am as tidy as I can be, but only because I can’t bear the sense of panic that overtakes me when I realise I can’t find something I need (car keys, daughter, you know the sort of thing). The inside of my head resonates with my mother’s voice saying, “If you put things back where you found them you’ll know where they are next time you need them”, and the bother of it is that she was RIGHT. When I was learning something about making prints in Bristol a few years ago, my friend Emma Stibbon, who is a fantastic printmaker, commented that I was the tidiest printmaker she knew and it made me laugh because she always wore a boiler suit to ink up her (admittedly huge) woodcuts, but in a way I’m not sure if it’s a compliment. I don’t know if being tidy is a marker for anything other than the fact that I need to have control over my working environment; I just know that not being tidy hurts my head and depresses me…
2 I, too, believe in the power of the hand in making things. I’ve never really been interested in things that come between me and the thing I’m making and I’ve always chosen to be painfully hand-made. I find myself tempted to take it to extremes sometimes, but as there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things I’d like to do I have to compromise sometimes, which means that I buy the paper I use rather than make it. So what is the attraction of making things myself? I suppose its lots of things all rolled together. For me the act of ‘making’ is a kind of meditation; it is important for me to concentrate intently on what I do, and to maintain that concentration. I find that total immersion in what I’m doing produces a slow, rhythmic way of working that frees me. That sense of mindfulness is important to me and getting into that state of slightly detached mindfulness is the core of what I do. My mind goes off and chatters to itself, and I can sense currents of movements in my subconscious that develop into ideas and connections and understanding and which are the source of my creativity. I can’t focus on them with my mind’s eye; they are submerged, like deep currents of cold water in the ocean, and I only find out about them once they’ve risen towards the surface and become visible to my conscious mind.
I’m not a good practitioner of meditation, though: I’m not disciplined, and too often I slip into a dissociative state in which I am a separate observer in my life, rather than being truly ‘present’ in it.
3 Sometimes the materials come first and the idea comes second. I hoard lovely paper and bits of things, and if I’m lost for inspiration I do two things: look through my boxes of paper and bits, and look at my art books. I’ve never understood how anyone could be bored if they’ve got access to books! I spent a large part of my childhood leafing through my mother’s books about different art collections – the Prado in Madrid, the National Gallery in London and collections in St Petersburg, and it was like walking into another world. Art books – reproductions, surveys, art history or ‘how to…’ books – are a bit magical for me.
4 I work in layers: layers of ink, layers of paper, layers of meaning. I think this mirrors how I see the world, full of layers. People and events are never wholly one thing; we ascribe different meanings to everything and everyone and how I see something will not be the same as how you see it. Things that are essentially bad can also have good aspects to them, or at least this is the conclusion I’ve drawn from my life.
5 Following on from this, I’m interested in the distance between the work and the viewer and I’m very happy to allow it to exist, like silence in a conversation. I don’t want to be overt about the meaning in my work. I might do something for reasons of my own, but I might not want to share those reasons with you, and I don’t believe that any ensuing ‘lack of understanding’ about the piece is necessarily negative. Your conclusions about it and whatever meaning you might ascribe to it are as valid as my own; after all, once it’s made I hand it over to you in order for it to be viewed… from that point onwards the ‘meaning’ in it is out of my control!
6 Aaargh, still two more aspects of my working processes to reveal to you! I guess one of them is to let you into a secret, which is that I’m a dreadful procrastinator in my work. I spend AGES thinking about something before I can bring myself to start, and I think a lot of it is to do with an unwillingness to let go… I exercise a lot of control over myself and my environment, but in making things I have to release myself from some of that control and see what happens, and it’s hard. I am afraid of it, afraid of myself, afraid of the outcome, afraid of failure… But I have come to accept that this is itself an essential part of the creative process for me.
7 To compensate for the above insecurities I have a certain optimism, in that I believe I’ll be able to work out the techniques/problems/mess in the end. It’s very rare that I’ve found myself to be completely stumped as to what to do next (although I recall with a little shudder the sudden wave of fear that came over me while making a friend’s wedding dress a few years ago: the pattern – a pencil sketch – was fiendish and the material was unforgiving, and I got to a point at which I honestly thought I was going to fail… luckily, 24 hours later, I’d wiped away the tears of frustration and worked it out). It’s not smugness or arrogance, honestly, but more like blind pig-headedness. I charge ahead, assuming that if I read the necessary pages in some of my books I’ll get there in the end. This is very relevant right now as I’m attempting to do my first ever case-bound book in time for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party on Saturday! Perhaps it says something about my belief in the power of books.