When something screams ‘Write me!’

This might seem like an obvious thing to say but this MA by Research I seem to be trying to do is hard. I know that that is how it should be; it should challenge me, stretch me, make me think, make me write and make me question. But every time I open the Word document named ‘New MA Thesis November 2018 Draft’ I turn into a deer in headlights.

I feel paralysed with fear and stare at the first sentence in horror: ‘Things are omnipresent in time and space.’ This makes me feel slightly nauseated. My thought process goes as follows: Am I just stating the obvious? Of course things are everywhere, in time, and in space. Really? We all know that. Why do I need to say that? Is it a good way to start a thesis? I have no idea. It just doesn’t seem quite right. I don’t know what isn’t quite right, but it isn’t quite there.

The Beast

So then what do I do when I have this thought every time I open the document? Open up this blog and write something here instead, this time about the fact that I blog here to avoid the Thesis. Is this a meta-blog? I quite like that idea. I am procrastinating on the writing as a serious MA student by writing less academic thoughts here. I find I can flow here so if I have to flow somewhere, better be here than nowhere.

The deadline is drawing a little nearer and I am supposed to be ‘writing’ this semester. It turns out I am, just not where I am supposed to be writing. This is the third or fourth time I have stopped and entered this blog this week alone.

Perhaps I should just let my fear go and it will flow. At least, I should stop wittering away here about not writing and go back into ‘New MA Thesis November 2018 Draft’ and write there instead. Darn it, I’ve run out of time. I have somewhere to go.

I will try again later this afternoon. Don’t be surprised if I think of something else to write about here by then. I won’t be.

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Another copy of a copy

My next experiment has been to try to create some 3D pen drawings based on the oil paintings of the VR drawings based on my memory of the photographs of the ‘can’t live without’ objects. This may not lead anywhere, but is all part of the journey nonetheless.

I have never ‘drawn’ with plastic before and after my first try I conclude that it is hard. I thought drawing in virtual reality was tough and fresh but this was even tougher. There is no ‘undo’ function. There is no time to pause. It is fiddly.

My new tool.

I’d describe the experience as a bizarre blend of drawing in virtual reality (there were many similarities: drawing in three-dimensions, an inability to easily change tone, drawing in a continuous line) and icing a cake (the flow just keeps flowing and if you hesitate a big panicky blob is the result). It isn’t like drawing with a pen. It isn’t like painting. It isn’t like sculpting. It isn’t like much else I have ever done before. Again, I am rendered infantile by trying to do something I thought I was skilled at as a new activity. I felt cack-handed for want of a better term.

Is it a pair of glasses or someone doing a forward roll?

The reaction that came to my head while doing this is: I feel like a spider. I don’t think I have ever felt like a spider before.

Fancy a cuppa? Not in this.

The two web-like constructions I created are interesting, bizarre, chaotic and delicate. I quite like them. I like the feel of them. They are spidery. They don’t remotely resemble the original objects. Does that matter too much? They don’t resemble the oil paintings (I haven’t yet mastered how to use more than one colour filament). They resemble the VR drawings more than they do the paintings or the originals. They are odd, miniature, malleable, permanent creations of something that has morphed quite a lot since the original idea. They stand alone. They wobble in the wind.

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I don’t paint when I paint, I draw

I used to believe that I was an artist who mostly liked to draw and paint, with photography and video following in the shadows of my pen and brush. In fact, for a few years before I took up studying art again I actively chose painting over drawing. Since studying art, however, I have been drawing more and more and painting less and less.

A pre-degree painting of the sea

I have just come to this realisation about my painting style: I don’t paint with paint, I draw with paint. 

I believe it is possible to draw with paint. Of course it is, in that you can make marks with paint, write with paint, and sketch with paint. That is true. But drawing with paint is slightly different I think. Drawing is a more measured, deliberate activity than sketching or mark making.

My drawing tools

When I paint, the one area of painting I am not very good at is background. I seem to resist painting in the background, whatever it may be. I always have. I also resist canvas painting. I’d much rather paint on walls or hard wood. And when I paint on such surfaces, the background tends to be of a plain colour, with no detail. The things I paint seem to desire to float on the flat surface. So this leads me to conclude that I don’t paint, I draw.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t blend colours. I definitely do blend colours and I like to blend colours. That is one the great joys of oil paint – the smooth, ease with which colours can be altered and shaded. The quick, easy form that can be created with paint is fascinating. I love that. It is much harder and more laborious to create a sense of form and dimension with pencil or pen. There is a richness to drawing with paint that you cannot get with pens or pencils.

Currently I am ‘drawing’ a series of paintings based on the Virtual Reality drawings of ‘can’t live without’ objects I gathered via social media. Those will feature in the next blog post. For now, I’m just thinking about the art of drawing with paint. 

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But I can’t see my hands! What sort of reality is this?

When I went back to do some more Virtual Reality drawing at the Fab Lab, a new thought came to me that hadn’t come to me before, oddly. And that thought is how strange it felt not being able to see my body. It surprises me that this hadn’t occurred to me before. I couldn’t see my body in the VR world, of course not, but, more importantly for the act of drawing, I couldn’t see my hands.

This leads to the question: is being able to see the body (and especially the hands) important for the act of drawing? If you can’t see your hands, are you somehow rendered infantile again in your mark making? I certainly felt like that. It had bothered me how difficult VR drawing seemed to be, at least, in comparison to real drawing. I love drawing. It is my first passion. Yet, drawing in VR is hard. It is much harder than drawing on paper with a fine liner pen, which is what I do.

In the VR world, the tools for drawing appear to hover in mid-air, as do the drawings themselves. I have no hands. They are moving because I am moving them but I can’t see my hands moving  them. I can’t see my arms, my legs, my feet, or the floor. This realisation that my body was absent made me feel suddenly slightly more clumsy. I could not see me at all, I didn’t exist. I couldn’t see the ground or the objects that I remembered were around me. I was invisible. Invisibility is a strange sensation indeed (one that we cannot replicate in the real world). It is interesting how before I had this realisation, I had not felt any sense of vertigo. But remembering suddenly that I was in a room with chairs and other things close by, four walls, people and a floor, and also that I had a body and hands, gave me a vertiginous feeling and made my drawing even worse. 

Me in the VR world, you see me, I don’t see me

Later in the week, by coincidence, I also came across a term that is new to me: Mixed Reality. I needed to know how this related to Virtual Reality and whether it was related the to the sensation that I had no body in VR. This term came to me via a link to an art piece to be shown at the Serpentine Galleries by performance artist Marina Abramovic called ‘The Life‘. In this piece, she will be ‘present’ to interact with people, without actually being present at all. The piece lasts 19 minutes in which Abramovic interacts albeit in the past, with real people, in a Mixed Reality setting. To experience the performance, audience members wear Magic Leap One lightweight spatial computing devices, before entering the gallery space. Unlike VR, Mixed Reality allows the gallery and the visitors to be completely visible throughout the experience, which is why it differs to my odd sensations while drawing in VR. I would love to experience this. If I can wing myself a trip to London I might try.

If I could draw my objects in VR yet whilst being present in the physical world and being able to see all that is around me, now that would be something.


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Visual Reality leads to surreal abstraction in the real world

After another session in the Fab Lab drawing people’s ‘can’t live without’ ordinary things, I’ve been thinking about what I can do with these drawings. I want to be able to show them. I would love for people to be able to enter them, walk inside them, feel them without ‘feeling’ them. However, that isn’t going to happen in the near future. So, in the meantime, I need to use them to create something that I can easily show in the real world.

This is as close as I can get to showing the VR world – someone’s ‘can’t live without’ cat

On returning home with no virtual means of creating or referencing to hand, I decided to re-create the drawings using a traditional medium: oil. To do this, I had to rely on my memory of the drawings. I didn’t have the images (or a means to enter the images) any more. Everything is on a datastick but I can’t see them.

A selection of objects including a turtle, a keyboard and a hoover

This act of recreating the virtual reality drawings of ordinary objects in oil allowed me to abstract them even further from the original objects -a copy of a copy of a copy etc. I didn’t use any extra creativity in this act. I just painted as I remembered. Interestingly, I cannot show here the images in my memory or the virtual reality drawings as I mention above. That is an impossibility.

The objects have now travelled along a trajectory as follows:

Object – Subject (person making the choice) – Photograph – Digital Image on Social Media – Print of Digital Image – Memory of Subject (me) – VR Drawing – Memory of Subject (me) – Oil Painting.

A shoe in oils

The excise had a further level of difficulty for me. I was ‘drawing’ with oil paints in two-dimensions an object that I had previously ‘drawn’ in three-dimensions using a digital ‘pen’. I had struggled to render the objects in three-dimensions and now I was having to draw them again as flat objects. This new negativity felt very peculiar. It was a challenge to fight this.

A mug of tea

I have so far created four oil paintings: a pair of glasses, a shoe, an inhaler and a mug of tea. I can easily show these here. The VR drawings of these objects remain in my memory. I cannot share them. This renders the VR environment a mysticism that nobody else can access right now. It runs parallel to my imagination. It is real though but I can’t prove it.

Dave’s specs

And to point out the obvious, despite weeks of obsessing over monochrome, I painted the objects in vivid colour. They are in vivid colour in the VR realm, so to take the colour away would be to remove them too far from their VR incarnations.

Can you live without an inhaler?

Now, in oils, the objects are real again. They are real created from digital. They seem to be a bizarre hybrid of the real and the digital and the imagined. There is a strange irony there. They are abstractions from the digital to the real of the digital in the real. Is still-life art still fresh? You decide.

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Bringing real art to the book shelves at the university library

QuARTet’s follow on projects, entitled Eye D and Litterature to the Tow Path Eye came to me by a old connection.

Serendipity: ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way’. This is how I describe how I came to be drawing as part of QuARTet and painting as myself the walls in the university library just before Christmas. Just three weeks previously, the university library for me was the building of guilt, the place where I should be spending more time. It loomed as the daily reminder, shining in its lime green glory as I walked past on the way to get coffee, that I should be writing my thesis. Now, it feels like my second home.

In late November, I received a message out of the blue from an old school friend who told me in his message that in his capacity as user experience consultant in the academic library environment that he was going to be in Wolverhampton for a few days. ‘Let’s meet for coffee!’ he said. I was rather pleased with the chance to reconnect. Little did I know at that point that this was to be more than a chance to remember embarrassing teenage experiences.

Over two Americanos on the campus Starbucks we reminisced about our sixth-form days, mused over how much we’d both changed and discussed all things library-related. During our conversation my friend said to me: ‘Hey, I might have a creative project for you!’ Ask a busy person and you will get things done. That seems to be the mantra we both have in common. I am a very busy person and he knew this but he also knew I’d say yes. I love creative projects. So of course I said yes. I positively effervesced with enthusiasm. The project? To use my artistic skills to decorate two meeting rooms in the library and a room that was to become the ‘Reading Garden’. The catch? It was to be done quite soon, in two weeks’ time.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to do this entirely alone and motivated by a desire to share the project, during the ensuing two weeks I gathered together a group of artists and art students from the university, including my fellow QuARTet member, Mac McCoig. We came up with a project for the two meeting rooms: Project Paint The Library it was vaguely called then. We had been given a generous brief (artists love a nice loose brief). One room had to reflect diversity and integration. The other room was to bring the outside in.

The basic premise of our idea was that we would take photographs, project them on to each wall, and trace the images. Out of that, two murals would develop. Also, we wanted to include the library users as much as possible. The idea was accepted.

For the Diversity Room, which we renamed Eye D, we asked library users, mostly students, to allow us to take their photograph. We then projected their images onto the wall and traced the images in black pen (or asked the students to, if they wanted to). All the students had to wear a mask to semi-conceal their true identity. The wall gradually became a crowd – a crowd of the very people who use the library serves. It became a true wall of diversity.

The Eye D Room in construction

For the Outside Inside Room, which we renamed Litterature, we photographed discarded litter found around campus, projected the images on the wall and out of those images, which we also traced, this time in a white pen, we created a wall of the near environment. Here, we want the library users to reflect on the effect littering has on their campus and the larger environment around Wolverhampton. There is a lot of pride in the city, despite its image to outsiders, and we wanted people to reflect on this and care more for their immediate environment.

Litterature in the making

This collaborative project took place largely over three days and was a huge success. The students responded very positively to being involved in decorating their library space. The staff also were very positive, some of which are now immortalised on the diversity wall along with their students. It has been such an enjoyable experience. I am hungry for me now.

The final room I was tasked with decorating is the new ‘Reading Garden’. Its previous incarnation was the room for holding reserved books. It has been given a new life as a space for relaxed reading, much needed in an academic environment. The brief, again, was loose: ‘create a tranquil garden scene’. So that is what I did. I painted this room myself. As well as a freelance editor, writer and part-time student I paint on walls. I love mural painting. Painting is in me. I created a garden from my imagination. The feedback I received from staff and library users as I painted was energising. They loved it.

The relaxing reading garden

I feel privileged to have been able to take part in this project. I must add that a lot of other subtle and not-so-subtle changes have been taking place in the library, involving the students on a much deeper level than previously, thanks to the work of my old school friend and the library staff at the university. I heard nothing but positive comments from students about the general changes as they came to view my artwork. As a student myself, I can’t wait to spend more time in the library now as I get closer to my deadline for handing in my thesis. I feel that I will be making more use of the space now, and not just because I need to crack on and write the beast, but because I will choose to. I no longer fear the lime green, I embrace it.


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The formation of QuARTet and Tow Path Eye

This is a bit of a retrospective entry, about an art event that happened in the summer. The art collective, called QuARTet that began with that event though, is ongoing, and will continue to grow. Although my role in QuARTet isn’t directly relevant to my MA research, it runs alongside it and in fact, it could be argued, spurs me with my personal research.

Last last spring, one Tuesday morning, I found a small note on my studio table that read: ‘Come and see me at some point today, I have a project you might be interested in. Mac’. Mac was (at the time) one of the MA students, studying a year ahead of me. He still exists, by the way. He’s now a graduate MA student and artist-in-residence. We have a shared interest in common, Mac and I, and that is drawing. Drawing plays a large part in his art practice and it has always been a massive part of mine. I was intrigued by the note.

Going back further, to February last year, the MA students (myself included) were visited by staff from the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. They gave a presentation on the history of the Ikon and various projects the gallery was involved in at the time and looking to in the future. During their talk, they mentioned the Ikon canal boat, or the ‘Slow Boat’ as they call it, upon which they allow artists to run small projects. At the end of the talk they told us that they were open to proposals for a creative use of the boat. The offer was casual. 

The Ikon Slow Boat

Mac had, at that time, as he sat with the rest of us listening to the talk, had a light bulb moment. He went away and thought about it for a couple of months. And then he approached me about his idea (via the note) to see if I would be interested in taking part. His idea was thus: him, myself and two other MA students would come together as a new collective. We would write a proposal to use the Ikon Slow Boat over a two-day period. We would invite people (passers by on the canalside in Birmingham) to participate in a community art project. We would lend the passers by a camera and ask them to take a photograph of anything that sparked their interest. The image taken would then be projected, on board the boat, onto a white piece of paper, via an overhead projector. The participant would then be invited to draw the projected image onto the paper and ‘create’ their ‘own’ piece of art. We would then exhibit all of these pieces of art inside and on the outside around the boat. The boat would act as an art studio and gallery. It would bring art and the community together. It would bridge the gap between the art world and people of the world. That was the idea. 

Mac’s investigation in the project involved looking into the relationship between the traced image and the ‘subject’ (i.e. the artist, i.e. him). This had formed a significant part of his research to date. He argues that the traced image, drawn in this fashion, although drawn by another person, has his index on it, or, his stamp. My interest in the project was about the process of creating images of ordinary ‘things’ and the choices made by the people taking part: whether it be a canal scene, buildings, each other or their shoes.

We wrote the proposal, met a few times, came up with a name ‘Tow Path Eye’, revised it, agreed upon it, sent it off and waited. We didn’t have to wait for too long.

Very quickly we received an answer from the Ikon: yes, let’s do it, why not? I confess to being very surprised to get that reply. I didn’t think they would say yes.

The next step was to meet with the Ikon staff one very hot summer’s day at the Ikon Gallery. We brainstormed ideas, discussed funding (there would be very little from the Ikon) and the practicalities of the project. We set a date: 11-12 August. A few of the original details of our proposal changed: the boat wouldn’t be moving now (we had wanted the boat to glide down the canal but this is too expensive), we would provide snacks, we might try to invite community groups (we were unable to do this due to time constraints), and we would have to find funding (we wrote to the Dean of the university and he came good).

The poster

Then we had some t-shirts made. We were to wear them during the two days.

The two days of the project went very smoothly. We hired the equipment from the university for the two days and took it all down to the centre of Birmingham (between the four of us, we just about managed). At 11am on Day One, just as we finished setting up inside the boat, we started recruiting passers by. We didn’t have too much trouble persuading people to take part. If anything, the opposite was the reality, very few declined our offer (except those on the way to the Sealife Centre). We managed to gather drawings from locals, tourists, children, parents, groups of friends, random single passers by, grandparents and lone wanderers. By the end of the two days, we had a lot of interesting drawings, all, arguably, with the stamp of the idea generator: Mac McCoig. I’m not sure how much of my stamp was in the drawings. But my interest and future research was definitely energised by the choices of images: my favourite being a pair of shoes of course.

The boatman drawing on the boat

This project, was to lead to another, this time I was approached by an act of serendipity, which I will write about next.

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Shadows and virtual reality

Walking out of school today with my youngest child, as the low winter sun began to set behind the school walls, we had a discussion about shadows. We marvelled at the size of them and the depth of the darkness within them. We do things like that sometimes. He has an artist for a mother, he expects it.

My youngest enjoying a milk shake

This got me thinking: what do shadows and my virtual reality drawings have in common? It’s quite simple. They are both real, we see them, yet we cannot touch them or ever capture them. They both have wonder, yet we cannot hold that wonder in our hands, or pass it to someone else. Isn’t that in itself magical? I think so.

Shadows and my virtual reality drawings have another element in common, and that comes in the form of a question, a rather ancient one. It is a question that we have been asking about shadows for centuries (indeed a question we ask about the digital world today): Why do we regard such visual non-tangible reality as inferior to solid reality?

You cannot touch them, yet they are real

I asked my son: is a shadow real? He replied in the affirmative, of course it is real. He backed that up with the evidence: he could see it. We both can see it. I countered that with: but we can’t touch it. He thought about this but concluded that despite that, it was still real. I asked him why. He replied: well, we can still see it so we can’t say it doesn’t exist. My next, Plato-inspired question was, is the shadow you see as interesting or important than the person or object making the shadow? He thought some more. It is as interesting, and as important, he decided, as the real thing. Of course it is, it is just different, he mused. That doesn’t make it less important or interesting. He seemed quite baffled by that notion.

Where the shadows were today

I almost whooped for joy. Yes! That is the answer I was hoping for. That is the conundrum I’ve spent the last two years thinking about and churning in my head, thanks to the influence of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (introduced to me by my final year tutor as I completed the BA). There is beauty in repetition. My son sees that. As do I. The original isn’t the purest form. Why do we continue to think this? The copy is valid. The beauty comes from the difference in the repetition from the original to the copy to the copy of the copy and the copy of the copy of the copy. There is no dilution in quality. There is dilution in form. That’s not the same. Quality and form are not the same. The shadows on the walls of Plato’s caves are as important and interesting as the makers of the shadows despite what Plato told us. We still believe him (or at least I don’t).

Gilles Deleuze and his cat

There has always been a ‘shadow’-like unreal world that coexists reality, and we continue to believe that it is a ‘prison’ and a danger. We thought this about art, about photography, about video and now about virtual reality and the digital world. When will be realise that there is an equality of ontology of all things? We are all equal. We are all individuals.

My son and I disagree with Plato. We find beauty in the shadows. We find beauty in the digital. We find beauty in the things we can touch too. There is no single source.

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Virtual still-lifes – a collection of ‘can’t live without’ things

Last week I spent a couple of hours at the amazing Fab Lab in West Bromwich with free reign of their virtual reality equipment and software. It had taken me a few weeks to organise myself to visit the Fab Lab. I had been putting it off for months, partly because I have been suffering from creative block, the most severe creative  block I have had for many years, and partly for logistical reasons (West Bromwich isn’t terribly convenient for me). Coming out of the fog of artistic constipation recently, albeit slowly and with trepidation, I forced myself to contact them so I had no choice but to go. I’m so glad I did. The chance to draw (in a virtual environment) for two hours, unfettered by distraction, has unblocked me even further and I feel I have some catching up to do now. 

In total, I was ‘under’ the spell for two hours. These were two hours of a hard-to-describe sublime experience which resulted, as before when I first came across virtual reality drawing, in utter exhaustion. It is better than drugs. I is better than rhubarb gin. I love it.

The means to enter the portal of virtual drawing

A couple of weeks ago, I posed a question on social media: post a photograph of an object that you cannot live without. The response was overwhelming, much better than I expected. It seems I hit an area that people feel strongly about and want to share. I received a plethora of images of weird, wonderful, ordinary, valuable, invaluable and valueless objects. I decided last week at the Fab Lab that I wanted to recreate these objects in virtual reality.

This exercise raised some conceptually interesting questions:

  • How accurate are the drawings? I had to draw the objects from memory. I was unable to refer to the photographic image of each object while ‘under’ the spell of virtual reality.
  • How connected are my drawings to the subject (the person who chose the object)? The act of drawing in virtual reality creates a hybrid object that is indexed to the image of the object in my mind, which is indexed to the photograph of the object, which is indexed to the object itself, which is indexed to the subject (person). How many times removed can we go? Can we go further (see next blog entry!).
  • How abstract are the drawings? The objects I drew were semi-abstract and semi-real / semi-recognisable. I was unable to draw the objects in a photo-realist sense, it is simply impossible with the current software (and my infantile skill in virtual reality drawing). The style of the software mirrors felt-tip pens (big, chunky ones).
  • What ‘dimension’ are the objects in? I had to ‘draw’ the objects in three-dimensions in the virtual dimension. Having only once before drawn in three-dimensions, this I knew was going to be tough. It is quite similar to drawing with the non-dominant hand.
  • How easy is it to draw in virtual reality? Drawing in virtual reality is immensely quick. There is little room for error (although there is an ‘undo’ function). As someone who is a slow, delicate draftswoman who likes to draw accurately, this was a massive challenge.
  • What do the drawings look like? The drawings are ‘solid’ yet non-haptic. The notion of creating solid objects from a flat dimension (my memory of those photographs) in a quasi-solid form (virtual reality) is a little bit hard to get the head around.
  • What are the drawings? The drawings I created were a bizarre crossover of my memory, a recognisable object, my imagination, and luminous solid lines. That’s the best way I can describe them.

What I created in those two hours was a strange, otherwordly, collection of floating three-dimensional non-solid, luminous ghostly objects. They had an alien quality. Yet, I felt fondness for them. They were mine. Yet I couldn’t touch them. They just float in space. They are solid yet I cannot touch them. While ‘under’,  I could walk around them, walk through them, move amongst them, teleport myself to various points in the area, look at them from above, below, within, without and to the side. They seem ‘alive’ in some way. They are deafeningly silent as they float in space. I want to share they here yet I cannot!

I wish I could find the exact words to describe exactly what it is like in that ‘place’. That place exists on my memory stick and in my memory as I sit here typing now. I cannot explain adequately what it looks like, and a screen shot would not do the experience justice. Flat isn’t right. To feel it, you need to enter it.

That is what I hope to do for the final MA show – provide a means to enter my bizarre still-life world of ‘things’. Thing’s have power whether they are real, tangible, recreated, photographed, drawn, painted, made, moulded or, as in this case, intangible.

The power of things is not yet fully understood. 


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What creativity block has done for me

It’s taken me a long time to write this so please be kind.

Creatively, I am usually very manic. At least, normally I experience short waves of activity followed by short waves of inactivity. It’s the way my brain functions. I can be high on life and art one week, feverish in activity, and then lost in a fog and slumped under a metaphorical duvet, pinned down, unable to move the next. It has been my natural order of things for a long time. I’ve accepted this. I’ve embraced the down days for what they are, recovery days, and enjoyed the high days for what they give, intellectual stimulation and colour.

Late last spring last year I fell into the usual slump time. However, this time it didn’t last a week. It wasn’t the expected short-term trough of the familiar wave. This slump lasted six months. It was the opposite of a tsunami. This longevity of slump took me by surprise and indeed it frustrated me. The cloud of creative inactivity refused to lift first after the usual week, then after a month, int continued to refuse to budge after two months. The suffocation seemed to have no end. I tried very hard to shift the cloud. Nothing worked. So I gave up, shrugged and buried myself in work instead. As it turns out my heart wasn’t completely there either despite my efforts. I found myself to be ineffective creatively and otherwise. Work acted was my distraction and my excuse for the lack of creativity. But the tactic wasn’t working. I found I was making mistakes all over the place. By Christmas, I had become confused and upset. Nothing was working as it should. By the end of the year, I was very lost. I didn’t see that though at the time. Don’t you just love hindsight?

Thankfully, the blockage has just lifted. And as a consequence, I now feel able to write about it and reflect on it. The lift has come just in time. I was starting to feel incredibly anxious and concerned for the future of my MA. I was a few months from the end yet I felt that I had stalled completely. I was avoiding contact with anyone of authority for fear they’d ask me about my work. I didn’t know whether this stasis was temporary or permanent. I was quite scared. That fear caused my great anxiety. The spiral downwards continued. So I saw the New Year in buried deep in a terror that this was it. I was no longer an artist. I felt a fraud. I didn’t have the usual optimism for a fresh start that is normally prevalent after Christmas. I was still swimming in glue.

I now can look back and see clearly what the problem was. I don’t want to go into details but suffice it is to say, I have had a hard few months in my personal life, with a lot of changes taking place, and although these changes are right for me and for the circumstances I found myself in, change is always hard. It doesn’t matter whether the change is positive or negative, it is challenges the psyche. Yet as I was living this period of upheaval, I did not want this to be a reason for the dulling in my creativity. That seemed too cliched. The last thing I wanted was to feel sorry for myself or to generate sympathy from others. I spent the six months in denial, battling the reality. I refused to accept that I couldn’t cope with life’s challenges and be an artist. That’s rubbish! I thought. No, it really isn’t.

Now I’m coming out of that fog I realise that that denial was actually, ironically, keeping me in that state. I see clearly that the things that happen in our lives affect our thinking and ability to generate ideas, of course they do. I have always been good at telling this to other people going through crisis. It is the human condition. So why did I ignore this truth when it came to myself? Pride? Stubbornness? I’m not a quitter. I was terrified of failure and that terror was making failure more likely. This is not uncommon. Many people do this and it is self-destructive. Yes this is easy to say, not so easy to recognise in oneself. It was only when I let go of that fear, realising that failure is not ‘failure’, it’s part of the journey, that I turned a corner and my old friend my creative side returned. Oh how I have missed you.

I can’t end this self-indulgent poring out of thoughts without sharing the advice that saved me. This applies to anyone struggling in life, creatively or otherwise. It  came to me at the right time, from one of my creative heroes, Michael Caine. It is simple, in the form of three words packed with power. Read them and reflect.

The wise Mr Caine

Use The Difficulty.

I am back. UTD always.






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