A friend asked me the other day what I'd been up to recently. I answered very unsatisfactorily, I suspect. "Oh, this and that," I said. I managed to gather my thoughts sufficiently to mention a couple of reasonably concrete things - a new outlet for my work, plans for the open studios event later in the year. I feel as if I have been pretty busy recently, but it's all fairly disparate, with not a lot of tangible results for my efforts. Perhaps it is time to take stock, see where I am with various projects, and start prioritising what to do next. North East Open Studios seems a long way off (it's not really, it's in 4 months' time!).
This is the problem I find with working creatively, on my own. The lack of a sounding board, someone to say "that's not one of your best ideas, what about that other one you mentioned the other day?" - the less brutal version of "that idea is rubbish.... next!" I find I am often full of ideas, but whether it is worth pursuing them can be a difficult decision. Recently, I have done a bit more drawing, as well as some sketching out and about (sitting on the harbour at Portsoy was so lovely, especially in the sunshine). It made me recall how much I enjoy this; absorption is total, concentration absolute, focus intense. Time just disappears. I had hoped to do a pile of sketches, and managed three or four. I tried doing a few in the city centre the other day, but found that I needed to find a quiet spot, somewhere I could sit, as I felt too conspicuous otherwise. The practicalities of balancing sketchbook, water pot and tiny box of watercolours also have to be taken into account. Of course I took photographs as well, many of Portsoy harbour. I very much admire the work of John Glynn, who I believe is now based in Moray. When I got back to my shed/studio I had a go at doing a simplified drawing of Findochty harbour, inspired by his style. It was an interesting exercise, which made me focus even more clearly on the shapes I was seeing, and avoid making "sketchy" marks. Plans are afoot to do some drawings like this, using some of the reference photos I've taken recently of northeast harbours. There we go, a plan has been crystallised before my very eyes! Thank you for listening/reading :)
It's that time of year again, when my thoughts turn to putting together a calendar for next year. This year seems to have flown by. My age is creeping up on me, I suppose, and while it feels like it must only be about March-time, it's nearly the end of October and the clocks change tonight.
I had a sift through the photographs I've taken over the past year (and a few from the tail end of last year) and have been pleasantly surprised by what I have found. I tend to take a lot of photographs if I'm out and about somewhere - at the beach (any beach), out in the woods for a walk, down at Stonehaven for an afternoon, over on the west coast for a long weekend. It's easier to take pictures when you're on your own, I find. It takes more concentration than I used to imagine, to capture images that are worth looking at again later. And one tends to walk very slowly, looking at things along the way. Up through the trees, down at the shells in the sand at your feet, over at the rock formations of the cliffs or the rocky shore. The bit of the whole process I love most is the looking through the images afterwards. It's like opening presents - free ones, ones from myself to me. Gifts of memories, instants in time. The slope of a roof, the brilliant colour of flowers or leaves against an azure sky, the patterns made by lichens on old wood. With the help of friends and followers on Facebook, I've whittled the images down to twelve, for inclusion in next year's calendar. It was tempting to put two together, one of abstract images and one of purely flora, but I managed to resist. Time to get on and finalise the order - I'll let you know when they arrive! There is already a watercolour paintings calendar available for 2015, on the Store page.
Last September, I very quickly put together a collection of ten short and very short stories and self-published them via Blurb.com. I had previously used this method for putting books of photos together, but had never tried my hand at a book containing only text. I should know by now that doing something too hastily is not a great idea. But there is a balance between being a perfectionist and getting things done. Sometimes it is necessary just to get on and make things even if they are imperfect. Often we learn more by making mistakes than by doing something exactly right. And to be honest, how often does the latter happen? Not very often, in my experience.
What I am trying to say, in rather a roundabout way, is that there were mistakes in the first edition of my short story book. As someone who has edited scientific journals and biological text books with razor-sharp precision (or so I like to think) in the past, I should be ashamed of myself. But funnily enough, I am not. For once, I just got on and put the book together. Yes, there were a few places where words got chopped in half at the ends of lines. Yes, horror of horrors, the font size changed from one story to the next, at one point (but not within a story, now that would be unforgivable). Yes, there was a slight inconsistency in the use of "'cause" and "'cos". But no-one complained. At least not to me. I don't think the tiny wandering apostrophes spoiled anyone's reading enjoyment - I do hope not.
Since there is still a perfectionist lying dormant, mostly, within me, I have recently edited the book, taking on board the very useful notes and comments from a very helpful friend at my art class. Thank you, May. So, the second edition is now available, either via Blurb, or directly here, from my website, or, coming soon, from Amazon (for Kindle).
And if you spot any errors - please do let me know and I'll keep notes for the third edition.
I have been collecting autumn leaves. Quite a few different kinds. Lime, sycamore, chestnut, beech, oak and gean (wild cherry). The colours at the moment are beautiful - gold, bronze, red, yellow, orange and mixtures of all these together, often all in one leaf. I was supposed to be at a printing workshop last weekend - it was postponed, but I still wanted to experiment with some printing ideas of my own. So I tried some different ways of printing, using the leaves I had collected. Watercolour paint proved to be a bit thin (at least the pan type, which I normally use for painting). Instead I tried gouache, which I have used very little for painting. The consistency proved to be much better for making impressions. I experimented with paper textures - smooth paper worked better than rough. The upper side of the leaves seemed to work better than the underside. Fresh leaves worked better than dried ones. It is all subjective, I suppose. It depends what kind of end result you are aiming for. It was fascinating to see the range of effects that could be achieved using such a simple method. Multiple layers of colours gave particularly interesting results. To be continued.
I have been experimenting with collage this week. I saw quite a few examples of this technique, using all sorts of different materials, during my tour of North East Open Studios last month. Perhaps some of the pieces I saw could be classed as mixed media; I'm sure there are specific definitions somewhere. I stuck (pardon the pun) to paper and glue for my playtime. A pile of old magazines, some newspapers, my pot of PVA glue (which temporarily went missing), a pair of scissors and some pieces of cardboard for bases, and I was off! It is a surprisingly absorbing occupation, I found. I did not consciously look for patterns or themes. I also did not aim for an overall picture or image (such as a landscape) as the end result. In fact I am not even sure that these are end results! I am tempted to add some paint (acrylic, or gouache perhaps) to some of them. I will be revisiting collage very soon, I think. The Orange and Blue effort above, based on the sheet music of the tune with that name, inspired a painting I did today. It's fascinating how different types of creativity feed each other. Fascinating, and fun!
I have been hearing about "Small Stones" recently - small pieces of observational writing. This reminded me of an exercise I learnt while doing an online writing course a few years ago. It was called the "Egg timer exercise". The task was to set a timer for one minute and to write down exactly what you saw. And then what you heard, smelt, felt and tasted. For a minute each; no more, no less. The aim was to switch one's brain from the conscious to the sensory - to switch off from email and Facebook, from the dirty washing in the laundry basket, the dinner waiting to be be made and the bills to be paid. And on to what was around you. Real and immediate. And then you would be ready to write.
I tried it. It works. I am reminded that I should do it more often. Here is an example of my "egg timer exercise" completed on 30th June 2010.
I see the blue sky, the dazzling white of the window frames of the house, the plum tree with its burgundy leaves and embryonic plums shining red in the sun. I see the washing moving gently in the breeze, the dog scooping up guinea pig poo from the grass.
I hear the dog next door barking in an empty house, a car passing, a car door slamming, a crow chattering, an aeroplane passing overhead. Distant traffic.
I smell the wood of the inside of the shed, musty dustiness, grass, flowers in the garden, fabric softener from the washing. My skin.
I feel the warmth of the laptop on my lap, the cool of the wooden arms of the chair against my bare arms, the bendy support of the flexible chair at my back.
I can’t remember what the fifth sense is! Ah yes, taste.
I taste the remains of coffee from breakfast time, blood from the inside of my mouth where I have chewed the skin a little too vigorously, a tiny taste of toothpaste from a while ago.
Every so often, it is necessary to refill one's well of inspiration. That's one of the many things I love about North East Open Studios - I can go out and fill my well with all sorts of lovely things.
These are not necessarily finished pieces, or paintings, or creations. They may be fabrics, or an assortment of tools on a workbench, or raw materials waiting to be made into something new.
Or they may indeed be finished items. Paintings, ceramics, textiles. All with their own colours and textures and depths. Here are a few images of things I have seen during my days out visiting NEOS participants.
I am sure you will understand what I mean.
North East Open Studios (NEOS) is on this week, in my area. I finally managed to get the cabin ready for visitors, tidying away my art materials into the garage and making space for folk to see my paintings and daughter's photographs.
We've been open for two days so far; Saturday and Sunday. It's been fun again, meeting new folk and welcoming in old friends who I realise I don't see often enough throughout the year. Some of them I am guilty of not having seen since this time last year! It's been great to catch up over a cup of tea and a muffin - baking before breakfast is part of the routine this week.
It's always fascinating to find out the reasons for folk visiting NEOS venues. Because there always is a reason. Nosiness, interest in art, or photography, or creativity in general. Many, many folk are looking to be more creative themselves, and are keen to hear about classes in the area, how to start, how to keep going and all those dark arts that creative people apparently possess.
For those keen to paint and draw, I encourage them to carry a sketch book. And to use it! That's one of the key things I have learnt from the classes I have been going to for the past few years at Udny Green. Draw, draw, draw. And for the photographers, look at things differently, if you can. Zoom in on a puddle and see the reflections, or an ancient rock to see the patterns made by the lichens, or examine the patterns left by a receding tide on a sandy beach. It's all there. Just look.
Thanks to Mike for the photo of me "at work".
They say if you want something done, ask a busy person. I say, if I've got lots of things to do, why don't I just go off and do something completely different? That always reminds me of the Monty Python line "And now for something completely different!", but that's a topic for another day.
I am supposed to be getting organised for North East Open Studios - my little cabin opens in 10 days or so, with an exhibition of my watercolour paintings and my daughter's photographs. I have to clear out all my boxes of gubbins, sorry, art materials, give the place a good brush/hoover/clean, and hang said exhibition to its best advantage. Plenty time yet, I think to myself. I have thought this to myself many times in the past, and always end up in a last minute rush. I'm not quite sure why I am sharing this, or what the point was meant to be. Ah yes, procrastinating. But it's not really procrastinating if you do something creative, or worthwhile, or constructive, is it? Does that still count as procrastinating? Maybe.
In my wisdom/procrastinating mode, I decided now was exactly the right time to put together a little collection of short stories. I've been meaning to do this for quite a while - well, since I've had enough stories written that I am happy to share with the world. So I just did it. Yesterday and the day before. Decided which stories I'd include, chose two images (my own photos) for front and back covers, edited the stories, arranged them in what I thought was a good order, made a list of contents and pressed the publish button. Done. Boy does that feel good.
I have been putting together my first ever solo exhibition. "Local Letterboxes". This sounds exciting and it is, but I have this constant nagging voice at the back of my head saying things like :
1. "What if nobody comes to see it?"
2. "What if they do come and they don't like your paintings?"
3. "What if they do like them, make positive noises about them, but nobody buys anything?".
The rational, sensible, scientific part of my brain can sometimes respond - but not usually at 4am - with something along the lines of :
1. "You have put up lots of posters, there's a piece about it in the local paper and you've been posting on Facebook and Twitter for weeks now - what more can you do?".
2. "If they don't like them, they will probably whizz round and then leave. They are not terribly likely to come up to you and say they think it's rubbish. They have not paid to view the exhibition. They will not be demanding their money back. Not everyone will like your paintings. Fact."
3. "Make the most of the feedback. Don't stress about selling - if you do, it will be obvious and probably put people off. It's more important that you're getting out there and showing the world (well, a small part of the world) what you do."
All artists have to find a way of living with the fear of rejection. I have read about this on many artists' blogs; the above is simply a distillation of my thoughts on the subject. It is very simplified; there are plenty other things to worry about. But I intend to try and keep things in perspective and stick to these three. It's remembering the rational replies that's the tricky bit!
My "Local Letterboxes" exhibition of watercolour paintings is on from 6th-11th August at the GALE centre in Gairloch, Wester Ross.