It’s that time of year when all sorts of things that have been lying dormant in the garden suddenly start to reappear.
Of course, the main things that reappear in my garden are the bindweed, ground elder, creeping buttercup and green alkanet, but hay-ho, some things are sent to try us.
On the plus side, although I am a very average and intermittently enthusiastic gardener, we do have some extremely talented squirrel gardeners who over the years have managed to plant – in lovely and appropriate locations – an ornamental cherry tree, several horse chestnut trees, a hazel, a most attractive hellebore and a handful of hyacinths.
I like to imagine that it’s their way of thanking me for providing them with so much free food via the birdfeeders – or perhaps they just enjoy the challenge.
Last year, we did manage to make quite a good show with a selection of plants chosen with much care entirely on the basis of having strong slug repellent properties (did I mention that we have slugs here – hoards of them?).
I’ve been poking about in the border, but I’m not sure how many have survived the winter – to be honest, I actually can’t remember where and what I planted. So, it will be exciting to see what comes up.
We have had a couple of early trips to the garden centre to indulge in our fantasies of herbaceous borders and cottage gardens. It’s wonderfully inspiring, but I’m conscious that there’s quite a gulf between my expectations and the reality in our small north-facing plot.
I suspect that my gardening aspirations are deeply coloured by the numerous visits over the years to proper gardens, especially the ones attached to stately homes. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I imagine myself another Miss Jekyll, commanding drifts of white flowers to magically appear and last all through the summer. Ah well.
Since discovering the joys of collage, I’ve been trying out a variety of ideas for pictures. Am I alone in finding that the art techniques and indeed subjects covered, that are most appealing to me as a viewer are rarely those that I seem able to actually create?
For instance, I love to see work in subtle, earthy tones. Moody, ethereal landscapes are often what I enjoy by other artists. But when I try to do something similar, it just doesn’t work. Or perhaps I should say it hasn’t worked yet, who knows what might happen at some time or other.
But for now, when I make art in whatever medium, it seems that I have to use colour. Almost all my stitched art features strong colour, bold yellows, purples, reds and greens. It seems so far at least to be the same with collage – bright colour rules.
I wonder to myself about this. Somewhere inside, I seem to feel that neutral shades, earth tones and textures are – how can I express – more sophisticated?
If pressed, I’d say this is a throw-back to school days when we were told that serious artists use neutral palettes, bright colour is what children play with.
Well, just lately, I’ve realised albeit with a slow dawning, that there’s nothing wrong with bright colours, in fact using colour is a really good way to bring joy into art. I know it’s not for everyone, that’s the way of art, nothing will appeal to everyone and nor should it. But there is a place for bright, colourful artwork in the world and if it so happens that it’s the kind of art I seem to produce, then that’s fine.
And then I thought, well, maybe, as I enjoy looking at gardens probably more than actually making my own, why not try to paint/collage some pictures of gardens. I spent a happy hour or so trawling through old photos that I’ve taken at various stately homes and gardens. Here are just a small selection. They’re my starting point. I’ll see where they take me.
I’d like to thank all the people who work in the gardens at these places. I hope they know that the gardens are just as important as the historic houses for many visitors.
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.
I always hesitate to ask how people’s Christmas was, and this year – or should that be last year’s – was probably even weirder than the one before for a lot of us, so shall we move swiftly on?
It’s a gradual slide into January and the routine around here. Fortunately we’ve had very little of the weather we normally associate with this time of year, but we have had rain – quite significant amounts – you can see that the water meadows next to the canal have been doing their thing…
I have a childish delight in seeing the ducks and geese floating in the fields when the meadows flood.
I don’t seem to have been out much. More because I enjoy a time of winter hibernation even under normal conditions and I didn’t see any reason why it should be different this year. I find a few weeks of snuggling up on the sofa with a duvet and a good old movie on TV – Death on The Nile, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, any Jane Austen – with fairy lights twinkling in the sitting room and the kitchen and probably with a glass of whisky to keep out the cold, does a lot to help keep my spirits up.
We did venture out on one afternoon to Stowe gardens for some fresh air and exercise.
A rather bleak kind of day, but there’s always something impressive about the place – perhaps it’s how much interest has been shoe-horned into the space. What were those eighteenth century landscape gardeners on! Imagine anyone creating it today.
News from the Hidey-Hole…
Just to be clear, the Hidey-Hole is my nickname for the tiny room in the corner of the house which I can’t bring myself to call a studio. You’d understand if you saw it. It is still partly the downstairs shower room and I have to vacate when the daughters want to use it, but nevertheless I am extremely pleased to have my own dedicated creative space inside the house – warm and cosy, even if it’s a little on the cramped side.
Well, the news is that Father Christmas brought me a gell printing plate.
And I feel a bit like Mr Toad in The Wind In The Willows.
Suffice to say, I am having a lot of fun.
I’ve been creating a stash of printed papers, creating textures and mixing colours, which I’ve just begun to use as collage over a couple of the paintings I’d made that weren’t really going anywhere.
I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the whole process. It feels like being back in primary school – although it was called Infant School in my day – and playing with all the art supplies. Being covered in glue and paint and goodness knows what.
I can’t remember ever doing anything like it since, so I’ve watched a zillion YouTube videos to pick up some techniques and ideas, which is just wonderful!
Anyway, who knows, maybe next time I’ll take some photos and you can see what I’ve been up to.