This is part two of my process. Part one is here.
Everyone is different and this is what works for me. I’ve always found personally that during difficult times, especially when I’m exhausted and struggling to make sense of my emotions, making art has always helped me.
Connecting with your personal creativity is nurturing and kind, a safe place for your emotions to be felt. As I said before, I like to hand over control; be the channel, body and mind. Absorbed by the process and not worry about the outcome.
I find it helpful to write down my feelings. Those words may also prove useful later if I want to share my work, but more importantly they give me a starting point. And that starting point leads me on to a very un-rock-n-roll idea. A spider diagram. Quicker, easier, less hullaballoo than a mind-map.
Nearly every project for me starts this way. But as per usual, I’ve a story to tell you first:
In 2002 I had a bad fall that left me wheelchair bound for a while. I had just started my second year studying for an art degree, and was having The Best Time Ever making welded metal sculptures. After my accident I had to rebuild my leg muscles but more crucially, recover my motor skills in my dominant left hand. Using metalwork tools was out of the question. On top of that, the work I’d been making before seemed trite and pointless. I’d been through a major trauma that I was having physical and emotional, well, difficulties with. Bit of an understatement but hey. My tutors were sympathetic and suggested taking a gap year. Three kids to feed and an extra year of student loan? No way.
So I called up a tutor from my old adult learning college. She had been one of those tough-love types, most of the students had been terrified of her but I’d liked her no bullshit ‘tude. I told her my problem and she said come on over. She pulled out an A1 sheet and in the middle she wrote BROKEN BONES. We spent the next 30 mins scrawling a spider diagram, brainstorming anything and everything that came up.
With her help everything turned around for me. I switched to working with plaster and bandage for my sculptures – light, easy to work and oh so relevant! Digging deep into my experience and emotions, I made deformed and twisted beasts. As my motor skills improved I made plaster casts of vulnerable baby birds, fossilised strange creatures, an artist’s book about injury. Until, eventually I created a giant Minotaur skeleton from plaster.
And to this day, this is the same method I use to start a project. A journal, a spider diagram and a brainstorm. No editing, I just get it all down. Feelings or an experience I’m going through. I pay close attention to what I’m doing in the physical world too. A book I’m reading, the music I’m listening to, a place I love to go. What is calling to me? What wants to be noticed or keeps nudging at me?
And that pretty much gives me a starting point for any project. I might keep my gaze wide and absorb everything, but eventually I generally find an anchor, a motif I can use as a container for my ideas. It can become a recurring element, a metaphor to give life and expression to my emotions. But at the same time I may keep exploring what discipline, medium or material to work with.
But, if nothing seems obvious I just start with a low barrier – a pencil and sketchbook or a camera. Eventually, if I keep drawing or taking photographs something will swim to the surface as I work through the ideas. Sometimes it becomes clear quickly, sometimes it takes a little coaxing. And I always grant myself permission to change or course correct. Be patient with myself, be flexible, be open to what comes up, maybe percolate for a while or a long time, and pay careful attention to it all. Maybe it will come to nothing, or it may become a body of work. But it will always result in artistic growth, learning more about myself and most often, both.
It’s not really my zone of genius, advising others how to work or to give art-making tips. But if anything in this post or in part one was helpful or useful in some small way, please do let me know.