This is a fairly long post – but I hope you’ll read it…x
I thought that today I’d talk a little about something that’s sparked a creative leap for me.
And it’s really so simple, I can’t think how I forgot about it (because I suspect I did already know it, and you do too, I’m pretty sure).
So what’s the revelation? Just this, don’t worry about the end product, concentrate on the process.
I’ve just learnt this lesson the hard-ish way. So I thought I’d write about it here in case it helps anyone who’s in the same predicament, and also so that if/when I forget it again, I can pop back and give myself a poke in the proverbial.
So, a little background.
My art journey really took off when the needlepoint artwork I’d been creating just for the fun of it, came to the attention of some extremely lovely people who encouraged me to make it available for sale.
I was delighted to find that there were indeed people out there who liked it enough to want to own it themselves. This was a massive boost to my self-confidence and I started to think of myself as an artist, rather than just a woman who stitched quite a lot.
This lovely cycle went on and on for a few years. It felt great. I wrote about stitching, I met other artists, I sold some work.
Ah, but you know there’s going to be a but don’t you…
Yep, you’re right.
Creativity, as with so many other things in life, comes in cycles. And just as I’d enjoyed the ride for some time, eventually the enjoyment dwindled. Hand on heart, at some stage, just before the pandemic as it happens, I realised that making stitched art had stopped being really enjoyable. It had become a source of discontent. I still liked the feel of stitching – the process of stabbing cloth with a needle and painting in threads – I just stopped creating anything that I thought was good to look at. Which is not really where you want to be if you see yourself as an artist who sells their work.
I decided to embrace the lockdown and have a break.
Although in fact, I did still stitch because the process kept me calm, I just stopped caring what it looked like.
Instead of giving so much time to threads, I picked up my paints for their first outing in many years. It was fun, but I had a mindset that told me as an artist I should be creating good work, and even to my eyes, it was pretty obviously not all that good at all.
So I went back to pastels. I’d loved them when I was a teenager. And yes, I still loved them, and no, I couldn’t exactly promise you I made anything even vaguely decent.
So I tried a whole raft of other media – and then I mixed a whole load of media together. Result? More mud and dissatisfaction. Although, perversely, also a lot of fun and happiness…go figure.
In mild desperation, I decided that I should go back to basics and draw. I drew. Turns out I can draw, not all that bad at drawing. But the results? Just not inspiring – not for me and I very much doubt for anyone else either. Dead end.
Slightly deeper frustration set in. What was the problem? Why couldn’t I bring anything to the point where I felt it was good art, good enough to share with random strangers?
More thought and more googling. Of course, the answer was that proper artists are inspired by a topic, a place, a thing, landscapes, still-life, abstract, florals, realism, a message they want to share with the world. In short, they know what they want to paint, they know what they want to communicate. They did the work and developed their style – something unique, some eloquent, recognisable means of artistic communication.
Excellent. Now all I had to do was work out what I wanted to paint, communicate, focus upon.
How? Ummm, maybe by painting the things that inspire me, give me joy, fascinate me, intrigue me. Hooray. I should paint castles, ruined abbeys, hill forts, mountain scenery, stained glass windows, stone circles, standing stones, ancient monuments, Norman church architecture, medieval manuscripts…..argh!
Slight problem here. Over the years, I’ve tried to make work inspired by all these things – the things that actually really do excite and intrigue me – and nothing has ever come off that felt even remotely like good art. Oh yes, I can draw a castle, a standing stone, a hillside. No problem there, it’s just not going to leap out and shout at me, let alone anyone else ‘look at me, I’ve got something to say!’ To be honest, it’s just boring.
A much deeper despondency set in. Face it, I’m not an artist. Stop pretending to be. Give up.
And then, fairly randomly, I was given a Gelli printing plate for Christmas.
I’d never used one before – had no idea what to do with it. But once the Christmas festivities were over, I sloped off to my hidey-hole and started to play.
For the first time in years, since the time when I needlepointed purely for the hell of it, I played with materials with absolutely no expectations, no ideas at all of where I wanted to go. I gave myself over to the process of printing unpredictable and unrepeatable sheets of colour.
And inevitably, there comes a time when you see this rapidly growing pile of coloured papers threatening to topple over and spill into the next room and you think, I really should come up with a way to use these.
What I actually decided to do, was to stick them over a piece of mylar I’d previously painted on. I discovered the welcoming arms of collage.
Suddenly, all the other media I’d spent time experimenting with seemed to find a place within this ‘new to me’ process. The mylar I’d fallen in love with for its ability to stay flat whatever you poured over it, makes an excellent base for the collage. The preparatory scribbles to free your hand and mind suddenly provided an interesting textured background, the acrylics dabbed and scored also made a great background. Pastels it turns out are a great way of planning composition.
In short, all the aspects of using the various media I’d been playing with that I most enjoyed but couldn’t master singly, seemed to offer themselves as parts of a process that felt exactly right for me. It turns out that I was a collage/mixed media person and I never knew until I let myself go.
Now, here’s the thing.
I was so excited by the process, I didn’t give a thought to the end result. I just cut up little pieces of paper and stuck them down over the painted background. I put things wherever they seemed to want to go. If I didn’t like it, I stuck something else over the top. I carried on. No expectations, no focus, just process.
The first couple of pieces took on quite an organic flavour. I’ve never really had much time for pictures of flowers, but somehow that’s what appeared. And do you know? They felt right to me – they express me. I could never have told you that I was inspired by organic shapes and flower colours, but that’s what I seem to produce.
And that’s where I am as we speak. I gave up totally on trying to paint any particular thing and instead embraced a process, with no expectations, just enjoying the feeling of relaxation as I cut and stuck as the muse decided. I have no idea if any of it is good enough art, the daughters are complimentary, but hardly an unbiased audience. It doesn’t matter. This is the first work I’ve made for ages that pleases me, and that it turns out makes all the difference.
I’m not suggesting that this is a process you should try – you’ll have your own. But what I do think is helpful, is to stop thinking about end results and instead get into the flow of your preferred process.
I have no idea where I’m going with this, and that’s alright. For now, I’ll just keep playing and seeing what happens. Do I still think of myself as an artist? Actually yes. I make art. That’s all there is to it.
Phew, this has been a long post. Thanks for reading.
One more thing before I go.
Just to say that part of my ‘letting go’ was to stop posting on Dreaminginstitches. I just felt that I’d done all I could there. However, after a couple of months, I missed having somewhere to post my occasional photos other than here and I wondered about beginning a new account, which would have no strict focus – exactly as this blog is intended – just random stuff. And so I created a_mingled-yarn over on Instagram. If you use the platform and would like to find me there, that would be lovely, but please, only if you really want to.
There, this is definitely the end of the post.