Art or Motherhood? Motherhood and Art

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Remember Venn diagrams? Those interlinked circles you used to have to draw in maths lessons at school? I can’t say I have ever consciously used one of those to illustrate anything since I put my O-Level days behind me, but I couldn’t help being reminded of them today, as I reflected on the relationships between what I now see as the two great interlinked circles of my life: Art and Motherhood. What is the overlap between these circles, these activities, these two essential parts of me? How much of one of them must inextricably be part of the other?

Knitting a tension square which becomes a hat when a small voice asks, “Is that for me, Mummy?” Is that about art (or is it “only” craft? … another discussion entirely, and not one that concerns me too much here) or is it more about being a mother to M? Or is it both in equal measure?

Cutting, tearing, gluing, sticking, drawing … My daughter and I, collaborating on an art project (or more usually, a vague serving suggestion of mine which she’ll end up completely overturning), bossing one another around until a picture happens, occasionally something joyous but more often a bit of a mess. Is that always, mostly or a little bit “art”? It isn’t the art that goes into my sketchbook or gets commissioned, but it is art, nonetheless. How much of that art is about me just trying to be me rather than me trying to be a mother? And does it even matter, if we’ve both had fun? (The white scribble is, she tells me, “a big planet”.)
 
M blowing streams of bubbles that pop and splat all around us as I rapidly take photos, almost 50 of them, which I then sift through once she’s in bed, keeping only the handful that please me, and using them to create a Flickr mosaic. That’s an artistic endeavour, right? Only she’s the one who inspired it: the one who started the game, made the bubbles, insisted I watch her and went about being as photogenic as a person can be.

The overlap, the intersection, the shared space between Art and Motherhood: it’s a hard thing to calculate, and can often seem frustratingly non-existent. Once you start to notice and celebrate this kind of symbiotic creativity, though, it becomes a joy of huge proportions.

Wordless Wednesday #4

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Sketch: Asakusa teacup

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If you are at all interested in the medium of oil pastel, or in the discipline of sketching from direct observation, then I warmly recommend a visit to the blog of Yusuke Katsurada. His daily oil pastels of single objects, sketched from life, continue to delight and inspire me for their quiet meditative quality and for the amount of lovingly precise detail achieved in what are largely one-hour sketches.

This teacup, a souvenir of Japan brought home by my husband some years ago, is my small homage to Yusuke, who has kindly clarified for me that the characters read “Asakusa”, the district of Tokyo where the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple is located.

Oil pastels (mostly Sennelier with some Caran d’Ache) on Daler Ingres paper, 24.10.09.

362 Days Later

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Sharing more pages from my sketchjournal – the linen-bound Canson watercolour book I’ve been working in for almost a year and a half, but which (since October came, and with it a determination to seize more of the everyday) I’m newly confident of using up by the time 2009 is out. When I do, I shall replace it with another just like it. Though I also sketch on pastel paper and in a pocket Moleskine, I cannot imagine that there exists a more versatile everyday sketchbook than the Canson.

These were all done from life, the first of them in an attempt to resist the temptation I invariably feel, when sketching in graphite and watercolour, to strengthen the outlines in pen.

The next three pages were filled yesterday, during a wonderful, caffeinated afternoon of sketchwandering and chat here in Ely with Anita Davies. After lunch at The Maltings, we found ourselves a bench overlooking the River Ouse, and set out to sketch the Bantam tugboat moored opposite. I have never sketched boats before, which explains my tentative and unusual choice of graphite for this one; after a while, however, as Anita and I drew and talked and drew (and talked, and talked), I found myself relaxing into it.

Lunchtime’s chilly grey skies had given way to pleasant late-afternoon sunshine by the time we returned from a stroll around Ely to sketch the birdlife at Riverside. I was reminded that I’d long intended to try the first exercise in Sarah Simblet’s The Drawing Book, involving geese and some rapid gesture drawing. Each of these sketches was therefore done in about 10 seconds, but I wasn’t content with their layout on the page, so the real challenge became all about how to make the double-page spread work compositionally. The advantage of this lovely Canson is that it joyfully accepts most media; I solved the problem using gouache and white gel pen.

Anita and I were stunned to realise that it was three days shy of a year since our last meetup. We’ve pencilled in a trip to Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum for the next one, which I’m determined to make happen much, much sooner …

Wordless Wednesday #3

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Them apples

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Ely Apple Day has been and gone, but it left me with a couple of Braeburns to sketch, so I plopped them on top of my trusty Canson sketchbook and went to it with my Sennelier oil pastels.

 
I realised, doing this, just how much I have missed the daily discipline of these small one-hour studies from life. They are so easy to fit into the evening of an otherwise busy day, and they’re great for keeping my observational skills sharp and my fingers familiar with the pastels. So why have I have neglected them?

Wordless Wednesday #2

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Recent sketchjournal stuff

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It’s image dump time, now that the scanner’s in action again, and I’m pleased to be able to upload a few sketchjournal pages – the first I have posted in a while. However mediocre I tend to think these are when I’ve done them (inhibited as they are by pressure of time, the presence of other people and/or the subjects I have to hand), in the chronological context of my sketchjournal, they end up meaning something more to me than the sum of their modest parts.

This last sketch was done late this afternoon.

Wordless Wednesday #1

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Ely in the Mist

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Ely in the Mist, 1st of October 2004 (2009)
15″ x 12″ soft pastel on Winsor & Newton Tints paper

This picture languished unfinished for five years. I had struggled to capture the dog on the end of the woman’s lead, and was caught in a frustrating cycle of drawing and brushing off, drawing and brushing off … I had always hoped and intended to finish it, more than anything as a tribute to the wonderful Sooz (known over on the Soft Pastel forum at wetcanvas.com as Khadres), whose gentle virtual kicks up my backside encouraged me to do so much creating that I would never otherwise have done, including this pastel. Sooz died in 2006.

Five days ago, I pulled the painting out and prepared to put the finishing touches to it. After several days of struggling just as I had done before, and a mood darker than any I have felt in a long time, inspiration struck. Turning my problem dog into a small boy has enabled me to release myself from the pain of an unfinished thing, and to finish Sooz’s picture.

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I received a comment on this painting from Deborah Secor which means a lot to me, because she has totally understood why this finish made sense to me. She wrote: “I love the addition of a child running toward us instead of the dog, E-J. Excellent, and sort of a fitting statement, all in all. There’s always another generation running out of the mist, in some way, after all!”

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