Hi everyone. It’s Jane here.
You may have read in Friday’s post about the publication of an exciting new book – Wheesht: creative making in uncertain times. I would really like to share with you a little about my own experience of reading Kate’s latest title and how the book has impacted on my creativity.
First, some background.
I started to really consider the development of my art practice eighteen months ago in the spring of 2018. At that point I had a been a full time artist for more than five years, produced three solo exhibitions, several group shows and worked with a number of private and corporate clients on some really exciting projects and commissions. I feel very privileged to have had the successes I did, especially so early in my art career. However, after five years of working solely with textiles as my medium and often to a client brief, I was getting increasingly drawn to exploring new materials and also think more about what I really want to say with my work. So I began to wind down my commission schedule and make a plan to give myself some development time.
This began with taking the pressure off myself to ‘make art to sell’. There’s nothing more sure to kill my creativity than the knowledge that I must make something that will sell in order to pay the mortgage. So I took on a part time job. It just so happened that was the part time job of my dreams – in an inspiring, creative business with people I hugely respect and admire.
Now I have more structure to my days. Looking back, I realise that I almost had too much time to make art. I admit it didn’t feel like it at the time – not at all. I was always rushing around to meet deadlines, but I think having more limits on my time has actually been beneficial. When I go to the studio now I’ve had ideas building up and taking shape, they’ve had time to percolate, I’m excited to get in there and use the time I have much more productively.
In January 2019 Kate sent me the first chapter from Wheesht. I settled down with my coffee that Sunday morning to read ‘Don’t Ask’, and it hit me like a tonne of bricks. It felt like an essay written just for me, at this very specific moment. Until this point I had been feeling pretty positive but also daunted by the thought of changing my practice. I had developed a passionate desire to paint but, having no professional qualification in this area, I was having a hard time shaking the overwhelming feeling that I was under-qualified. I wanted to ask for permission. I’m not sure who from, possibly myself. It is safe to say that this first insightful piece of writing was just the very thing to kick my brain into action.
Over the next two weeks I read Kate’s next chapters ‘Repeat Yourself’ and ‘Within Limits’. I now had a Sunday morning routine of coffee and a new chapter to read, followed by a couple of hours sat on the sofa furiously typing notes into my phone. I compiled a list of what I perceived as restrictions. It includes everything from space, time and physical restrictions to money, materials and, the big one for me – the consideration of what people expect from my work. I wanted to go through and plot out which of these restrictions I could remove, if possible, and more importantly how I could use the others to my advantage. I purposely added a couple of things which I could immediately check off. Time and space – I had made and begun to action my plan to give myself a period of ‘no pressure play and development’ in my new, larger studio. Money and the need to make work to sell for financial security – I took on a part time job. My physical restrictions are more tricky, I am unable to make my body pain-free and strong but by changing my medium, I now spend less time cutting and wrestling around huge pieces of heavy fabric. I am still working through the rest of the list, I get the feeling I always will be, and maybe that’s the point. The most important point though is that by beginning to address these things, I started. A fire had been lit in my belly and I was ready to see what new work might come from it.
With the chapters; ‘Stay Put’, ‘Get Lost’ and ‘Feel Uninspired’, I built upon my newly invigorated creative sense of purpose. Aside from the shift in medium, from textiles to paint, I felt the focus of my work shift too. I have made a lot of maps, many works looking at landscape in a scientific way, researching how the bedrock itself was formed and why the world looks the ways it does. What I found in the more recent pieces I was making was that my focus was shifting from this analytical view, to something more personal, more human, more about experience and feeling. By reading these two particular chapters, I was encouraged to examine this shift in focus, to spend time letting my mind wander over it and seek out the meaning.
In the Summer we went on a family holiday to the Craignish peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. I took a small set of art supplies with me, a sketchbook and some paints, which I carried down to the shore. The first few pages are what I would call traditional landscape sketches – in that you could recognise the view I was painting. However a few days into our trip I began to play with some ideas that I had been mulling over for a while. Really abstract images but shape, pattern and texture I saw and experienced in the landscape. It was so freeing to really play in my sketchbook without worrying about what people would think about it. I didn’t need to show anyone. This was just for me.
Something else that happened on that holiday. I started to walk alone. This might sound unremarkable, but it’s something I never do. Walking has always been a joint adventure that Sam and I do together. More remarkable, for me though, was paddling a canoe in the Sound of Jura. I have long had a fear of deep water, the unknown, a whole world that exists below the surface, but I got in a canoe and I wasn’t consumed by fear. I can’t explain why, it seems that simply by breaking through the barrier of the thought of it and getting in the boat I realised it just wasn’t as frightening as I imagined.
When we came home I knew I had to find a way to hold onto this new found confidence in myself. I started regularly walking a route around our suburban neighbourhood, alone, listening to audiobooks and finding the glimpses of beauty and inspiration where I was. The focus this gave me for the work I wanted to make has been sharp. I still have a deep interest in landscape from a geological and cartographic perspective however, more than that, I am interested in my own place in that landscape. Why do I walk the routes I do, where do my fears and anxieties dictate or change my path, what sort of feature or circumstance makes me feel more comfortable when I’m outdoors. This train of thought and exploration has provided me with an abundant source of inspiration for the artwork I’m currently making.
It’s easy to get weighed down with doubt and negativity, to be overwhelmed by the vastness of possibility and when coupled with the increasingly uncertain world we find ourselves in, render yourself almost stalled to the point of inactivity. When you feel like this, as I have discovered, it is near impossible to create. What reading Wheesht has opened up for me is the idea that rather than needing to solve all the problems that weigh me down before I can create, there are in fact ways to use these perceived obstacles as the very catalyst for creating.
Kate talks in the book of “the desire to make something – better”. That’s what I hope for in my work, to make art that feels absolutely like me, that expresses my fears, anxieties, obsessions and desires. To embrace the process, not be concerned that the finished piece be perfect and marketable, but to imagine that perhaps just one person will see something in a piece which sparks those feelings in them too.
I approached the reading of the essays in this book with no expectation of the effect it would have on me and my creative practice. What I knew beforehand was that Kate is a truly wonderful writer, who has a deep understanding of the creative mind, therefore I was sure they would be enjoyable and interesting to read. I read one essay per week, absorbed it, rolled the words around in my head and noted any meaning that came to me in relation to my personal situation. Some essays spoke more directly to me than others, which is where the real value of the book lies. I feel that there is something in the book for everyone, not just professional creatives but everyone, because we all benefit from creative thinking in one way or another. The chapters that spoke most deeply and directly to me on my first reading may not be the same for you, they may not even be the same for me the next time I thumb the pages. This is a book that I will keep with me and revisit often, as my life and creative practice develops, I know there are essays in there that will hit me like a tonne of bricks all over again in the years to come.
Find out more about the book on it’s own dedicated website: www.wheeshtbook.com
Order a copy of Wheesht: creative making in uncertain times from the KDD Shop.