Wednesday, 19 December 2012

the counsel of friends

How precious are the wise words of friends. A good friend suggests that one possible cause of the impasse which prevents me from drawing is my habit of choosing to draw on expensive watercolour or printmaking paper which can be spoilt so easily, whereas I am, on occasion, able to scribble quite freely onto scraps of expendable tissue paper, before transcribing the image thus drawn onto the surface of perfect cotton paper. This pertinent insight takes me by surprise, I am grateful and somewhat relieved, astonished that I had not thought of it myself.

Another points out that at present I am directing my creative energies elsewhere, and that perhaps it is not possible to write and draw at the same time; certainly the problems that I am currently attempting to solve are literary and not concerned with visual art, my newly reawakened interest in the possibility of making text drawings not withstanding.

I accept the counsel of both with good grace, aware that the words of both spring from their own experience, and are spoken with love and concern.

Monday, 3 December 2012

the transformative power of making art

After making the tiny drawing of the word 'hopeless', following the intense struggle which took place in attempting to realise it, I feel curiously uplifted, as though a burden has been taken from me. I am conscious of a new lightness in my demeanour, a pleasant sense of having achieved something, however slight it may seem to be, a willingness to experiment further. These gladdening feelings take the stead of the crushing sense of defeat and mediocrity which had come to be my familiar companions. The transformation is subtle, nevertheless, I see no change in the face that stares back at me from the mirror. It is internally that the difference has been wrought, and as yet, it does not show in my eyes, which retain their anxious mien. But a glow has been kindled, albeit inconsistent, susceptible as it is to sudden draughts of despair and lack of faith, and by its fragile light I may find myself once more treading the path that leads from the darkness.


It has been on my mind for some time to attempt to use text visually, that is to make text drawings, thereby effecting a return to the floor text pieces made whilst a student at Glasgow School of Art. The fragment above does not represent a fully realised drawing, rather it functions  as a sketch, and as such is purely experimental. It is tiny, around four inches square, made in wax crayon and graphite pencil on tissue paper, torn from a larger sheet upon which I was scrawling in something of the nature of desperation. The word thus inscribed is 'hopeless', written over and over until it is rendered illegible.

I have chosen to publish the piece because it emerged after a battle, during which I shed tears, cried out and hit myself about the head, and therefore marks a minor breakthrough in terms of my practice, which has been suspended for the past three years.

 For the present  I cannot trust myself to draw, or write, directly on the surface of the drawing paper. Instead, were I to repeat the experiment, and make a perhaps larger, more complex work, I would write in wax crayon upon tissue paper, before turning it over and placing it face down on the drawing paper, then transferring the image by drawing heavily on the reverse with graphite pencil. The image would thus be inversely transcribed, the text appearing as it may in the surface of a mirror. I hesitated before transcribing the above image onto drawing paper; it seems to possess an integrity which I would have destroyed had I done so.

I remember the process of writing upon the floor boards of my studio in the High School for Girls in Glasgow as one of liberation; after an initial trepidation, or shyness, the words began to flow forth. I felt a sense of ease and purpose, I was free to write whatever I wished, to obliterate, writing word upon word, or erase sections of the text. The texts thus came to speak of transmutation and loss, of ecstasy and pain.
I hope that it will be possible for me to proceed with the text drawings, that I may find a path through the mire of self doubt and destruction in which I have become as lost.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

celestial body

This drawing is informal, that is to say that it is not framed, and was made on a scrap of paper, without the intention of publishing. In a rare moment of experimentation, I used a luminous yellow marker pen, together with wax crayon and felt tip, after which I drew into the surface with graphite pencil. The image is not intended to be a detailed drawing of the moon, or any other celestial body. Such work is regrettably beyond my capabilities. Rather it was my intent to return to the mode of representation that I may have used when a child to suggest something of the mystery attached to an as yet unknown, uncharted heavenly body which gleams with the radiance of reflected light, as does the moon.

Friday, 23 November 2012


I cannot witness the rising of the moon without thinking of my father, who loved the moon, and used to watch with delight as the first thin slip of the new moon gradually waxed to become a full brilliant disc, upon the surface of which it was possible to see the shadowed outlines of meres and mountains with the naked eye.

For some years my father had suffered cataracts in both eyes which had grievously distorted his vision, presenting the world as fractured and indistinct, ghostly duplications taking the stead of wholeness, print dissolving and blurring before his gaze. He was in his seventies when the cataracts were removed, and his vision restored once more to shining completeness. For him, it was though a miracle had taken place, he spoke of it as such, and to look upon him, witnessing the air of lightness about him, the new assuredness of his step, but above all, the clean, clear youthfulness of his eyes, we could believe it to be so.

We bought him a pair of binoculars so that he could look more closely on the moon, and a moon map, so that he could understand what he saw, gifts he had long postponed because he would not have been able to see the moon without a gleaming twin appearing alongside, the features of both muddled and inseperable.

In the back garden he tilted the binoculars upwards, exclaiming with child like enthusiasm at what he was now able to see, moving us to tears at his pleasure, hopeful that the transformation to his sight would be long lived.

During the last days in hospital, just before his death, his eyes had seemed very blue, opened wide in anxiety, the eyes of a frightened child. It was difficult to recall that night in the garden, when hopefulness had embraced us as the light of the rising moon had enveloped the garden, holding us rapt, bound together, for those precious moments invulnerable to the fact of our mortality, our inevitable separation from each other. It is the frantic intensity of his worried eyes that I remember, and which I would have given my life to assauge.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

ideas and animals

" Ideas are often as stubborn as shy animals. They retreat when you reach for them, won't come when you call and refuse to be lured at all. But at some point, without your having done anything, they are abruptly there, calm and quiet, yet suddenly clear and strong"

This from the introduction to an exhibtion of the work of the American artist Kiki Smith, at the Barbara Gross Galerie in Munich.

I understand only too well  the elusive nature of ideas, and the futility of blundering pursuit. At present I am waiting, standing silently amongst the grasses at the edge of the forest, hoping that a shy wild beast might come to me, that an idea may appear in my mind, and that I have the resources to articulate it in terms of a drawing. I have not been thus visited for a period of three years,  and am pining for the shape of an idea to assert itself, to emerge from hiding as it were, just as, years ago, whilst living at the lodge and walking in the woods, a female dear appeared before me on the track, slipping gracefully from cover to pause in quiet appraisal, before disappearing once more.

It is intriguing to note that the image of the hind appears regularly in Smith's work, drawn with a sensitive awareness of the creature's consummate wildness, it's nervous liquidity, as though it may slip from view at any moment.

The gallery introduction goes on to state that Kiki Smith uses the visual metaphor of the light bulb to suggest the incandescent frailty of inspiration, the force which illuminates but which can dissipate without warning, the light bulb lying in fragments at one's feet. Her drawings are beautiful, possessed of a delicate naivete and fragility of line, an economy of gesture, expressing the force of an idea, yet also it's vulnerability. They pose the notion that inspiration is  achieved not in isolation, but  instead is the fruit of collaboration with others, requiring the openess and readiness of mind to engage in dialogue.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


"Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle."

From  A Room of One's Own; that seminal work by Virginia Woolf. First published  1928

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Nimbostratus II

There are three drawings of the cloud formation 'nimbostratus', made in 2006, whilst living in rural Hampshire. Until recently, I had consigned two of them to the bottom of one of the flat boxes where I store unframed drawings, and had not considered publishing them, but on inspection, decided to reinstate them into the series of nimbostratus drawings.
Nimbostratus clouds are rainbearing and can lean on one's spirits like a wall, yet often contain the most delicate gradations of tone which make them beautiful to look upon.
The lodge in Hampshire was a good place from which to observe the skies, built atop a hill, in the middle of two fields which fell  both  North and South to tributaries of the River Whitewater. At the back of the cottage was a large, glazed lobby, affording a wonderful view of electrical storms. I used to take a cushion and sit on the floor of the lobby to watch summer storms, feeling as though I were at the epicentre of the disturbance, exhilerated by the drama unfolding around me.
I never made drawings directly from observation. Rather I drew from memory and imagination, allowing chance a hand in the development of each drawing. I destroyed a good many drawings, and have just five remaining from that period. It is my wish to return to making drawings of clouds, again from remembered observation, and to that end have purchased several sheets of soft white printmaking paper; a cotton paper made by Arches of France. As yet, I have been unable to make a beginning, hampered as I am by what I can only describe as a profound terror. Of what am I so deeply afraid? Contemplating the making of a drawing is like peering into an abyss. I am terrified of failing, of making a mistake, of ruining a piece of lovely paper, of the episodes of self harm which attend failure. I am reluctant to run the risk of such pain. Yet, according to the words of Samuel Beckett, to make art is to fail, to fail in a way in which no other dares. He was more gifted than I, authoratitive, incisive, passionate. If the depth of my fear was matched by a corresponding measure of ability, then surely I must produce drawings of noteworthy strength and beauty. As it is, I struggle with modest endowments, try to be grateful for what I have, attempt to find the means to overcome my inadequacies.
The words of Mary Potter, "draw all the time..." resonate in my mind, for practise, if it does not make perfect, at least effects an improvement, affords the possibility of approaching the drawing that one sees in one's mind's eye.
On the floor of the back bedroom lie the nimbostratus drawings. From my chair by the window I can look at them, and gaze out at the everchanging cloud scapes beyond the glass. I may sit for hours thus, trying to summon the necessary spirit in which to attempt once more to touch pencil to paper in the making of drawings of clouds.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

a gift from another

"Whatever keeps you from your work becomes your work"

Carolyn Forche, American poet.

This quotation was sent to me in an email from another American poet, Sheila Packa, whose work I had admired, and commented upon.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Samuel Beckett

"To be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail....failure is his world..."

from Three Dialogues by Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit,  p 21 Samuel Beckett A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Martin Esslin. Published by Prentice Hall, 1965.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Only if I disavow myself entirely of the notion that I am an artist, will I be able to approach the challenge of making art again.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

anything could happen

anything could happen was the title of a drawing that I destroyed, and which I very much regret having done so. It dated from 2006, and I kept it until 2010, destroying it one afternoon, along with others, in an unremitting surge of self disapprobation.
It was small and slight in appearance; the silhouette of a shadowy dog with open mouth, made in pencil over the impression of a piece of broken slate that I had laid into damp paper. I made several such drawings at the time, using a rudimentary embossing process. Something about the profile of the broken slate seemed to be amusing, tongue in cheek, and I could not help but discern the open mouthed dog, poised as if waiting for something to happen. After some thought, I added a small circle of crimson felt to the drawing, placing it on a curved trajectory a short distance from what appeared to be the opened mouth of the dog. The drawing thus came together with an ease which astonished me, as did the title, seeming to describe the unexpectedness of the arrival of the drawing itself, the transformation and completion of the piece made possible by the addition of the red circle of felt.
I have no memory of the other drawings I destroyed that afternoon, except for the drawing of the accidental dog and the red ball. It's loss causes me pain; I should like to have it still, to remind me that a drawing can arise unexpectedly from the chance association of ideas, can be as light as air, can mean nothing at all, yet still possess the capacity to evoke a response in the viewer, if only a fleeting smile.

Friday, 20 April 2012

will there come a day?

 Will there come a day when I am filled with lightness?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

anniversary dream

On the eve of the first anniversary of my father's death, I dreamed that he had returned to be with us, appearing suddenly during the afternoon amidst the apple trees in the back garden of my parent's house, where my mother, my sisters, and myself were building a bonfire on which to burn this year's prunings.
He was trim, upright, relaxed; upon his face was nothing of the fear and worry that had been written across it so painfully during the last days in hospital before his death, but instead, pleasure in seeing us, delight at being once again in his beloved garden.
We each ran to him, crying his name, eager to touch him, to hold him, to persuade ourselves that life ran once more through his veins; that death indeed held no dominion.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

cloud formation drawing II

Like the previous image, this drawing would probably have been begun sometime in 2005, or 2006; I remember that I began working on it after my withdrawal from Winchester School of Art. However, it remained unresolved until January of this year; some six years later.
From time to time I take all of the unframed drawings from the boxes in which they are stored, and scrutinise them closely. I decide whether or not to keep them. This process is distinct from the episodes of blind destruction which I visit upon my work in less considered moments.
The drawing above had been on my mind for some months; I couldn't quite bring myself to destroy it, neither could I bring it to a close. Each time I looked at it, I was uneasy, possessed of the desire to resolve it, yet lacking the confidence to do so, unsure of its merits, and perhaps remembering the somewhat noncommittal reactions that had been evident on showing it to some others when I had only just begun working on it. ( How sensitized one becomes to the responses of others, how eager to please, and how much one suffers when approval is not forthcoming! )
In January, having taken the drawing from one of the boxes, I laid it on the floor in the back bedroom, where the boxes of drawings are kept, so that I could look upon it every day on entering the room. One day, I took courage, and removed the drawing downstairs, placing it on the end of the table at which I work when I am able ( alas, not the same carved and inlaid table that was the focus of creative life at the lodge, and at which my partner researched and wrote one of his books, but a modest foursquare construction with draw- leaf plastic top, patterned to look like wood grain) in order to attempt to revise it.
I found that I was quaking with nervousness; the pencil trembled between my fingers; I was conscious of mild palpitations and an uncomfortably dry mouth. The first marks that I made were more or less invisible; it was difficult to direct the pencil with any degree of certainty. I would touch the graphite tip to the surface of the paper hesitantly, unsure of how to proceed, anxious to take the drawing beyond its tentative beginnings, yet worried that I might unwittingly sabotage it.
After a while, I was able to relax, finding comfort in making short, light strokes on the paper, beginning to enjoy the sensation of drawing, the bite of the graphite against the soft, yielding cotton paper, the repetitive, unhurried movements of my hand and fingers. I worked for maybe an hour (it seemed far longer) before being able to decide that the drawing was 'finished', and at least a month elapsed before I felt confident enough to photograph it, and embrace it into the suite of cloud formation drawings, begun so many years ago, in such different circumstances.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

cloud formation drawing I

Another survivor from the suite of cloud formation drawings, most of which I destroyed not long after their making. This drawing would have been made in 2005, or 2006. I remember that I begun it whilst studying for an MPhil/PhD at Winchester School of Art, shortly before I was obliged to withdraw from my course, as I hadn't been able to secure the necessary funding to continue. With hindsight, I feel that I would have needed to have vastly extended and developed my practice in order to have gained my degree. At the time, I felt confused, bewildered and desperately unsure of how to proceed, yet was possessed of a curious belief in the cloud drawings, and there is no doubt in my mind that I gained therapeutically from making them. Why then destroy them? Subject to a devastating loss of self esteem, and the most profound self doubt, I became convinced that they were worthless. Excessively in need of approbation from another person to assuage these excrutiating feelings, I could not supply the reassurance required to persuade myself that the drawings had some merit, neither could I distinguish the successful drawings among the many that I produced. It is only with the greatest difficulty that I manage to refrain from destroying all of the work that I make.
I have eleven framed drawings, and perhaps five more that I should like to frame, thereby allowing them to pass safely from the danger zone wherein destruction takes place, and perhaps that tiny number of drawings is all that I shall leave behind me. Yet I continue to research possible drawing papers in the hope that I may be able to begin to work again, (my favourite being a wonderfully receptive printmaking paper made by St Cuthberts Mill of Somerset), and I continue to purchase it, laying the sheets carefully in the large, shallow, lidded boxes where I store unframed drawings.
The boxes are kept in the back bedroom of the house; a chaste, pale, white curtained room in which are also stored boxes of vintage jigsaw puzzles, boxes of possessions as yet unpacked from the time of removal to Somerset, a typewriter, a slide projector and two chests of drawers one of which contains scrap paper and small unframed drawings, the other, my collection of silk blouses, scarves and other precious items of clothing. ( I keep wrapped bars of scented soap amongst the clothes; thus the room itself is fragranced, as well as the clothes, which release a wonderful aroma of rose, honeysuckle and sandlewood when they are shaken out). The only other furniture in the room is a needle- work box of a fine, dark, reddish wood, perhaps mahogany, or rosewood, made by an amateur hand during the years of the second world war ( there is a date inscribed on the underside of the box), and a gold painted Lloyd Loom chair, the gold somewhat dulled and worn, upon which rest two pink floral cushions, and, draped over the back, a black crotchet work shawl. The chair is drawn up by the window, and positioned close to the boxes of drawings, which occupy a corner of the room. It is my habit to sit for long periods of time in this chair, staring out of the window at the countryside beyond the outer reaches of the town, watching the little birds in the back garden, and gazing at the sky. Often, I open the lids of the boxes where the drawings and new paper are kept, and sit with them, as it were, having retrieved a particular drawing from beneath the others to look at, in order to attempt to evaluate it, to place it both within the context of my own practice, and within the broader context of contemporary practice.
The drawings that I have had framed are also kept in this room, stacked against the wall, adjacent to the boxes. They are still swathed in sheets of plastic bubble wrap, and for the most part are placed so that each image faces inwards towards its partner. At present, however, one faces outwards, a drawing entitled calm mountain drawing, or mons quies; I can see it quite well through the bubble wrap. Fot the present, at least, I am able to find some degree of the reassurance I so sorely needed during the making of the cloud drawings when I look upon it. Of all the drawings that I have made, and destroyed over the last few years, it is perhaps the one I like the most, the one in whose presence I can relax, a little.
These periods of contemplation are vital to my well being, although on a bad day, I am as likely to cram the lid back on the box of drawings in dismay, despising myself for my lack of creativity, and mediocrity. I frequently feel that I shall never make work again; certainly I have not an idea for a work in my mind. I always want to draw like someone else, someone else's work is always of greater value than my own; I have lost sight of my own practice in the confusion of feelings that overwhelms me when I experience the work of others. Perhaps a period of self imposed isolation is called for; perhaps I should withold myself from research for a while, forget about art, allow myself a breathing space during which perhaps I will be able to recover something of the spirit in which I made the cloud formation drawing shown above.