Release Your Inner Artist

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We are each of us born brimming with potential, creators in the making. But then something happens – at least for most of us it does. Somewhere between the childhood dreaming, and the adolescent wake-up call we make a decision. For each of us this will be the result of particular, often very painful circumstances, but the outcome will be the same. From that point on we will tell ourselves we are not good enough, and what we do is not good enough and that even if we toil until the crack of doom, it never will be good enough. We give up. Surrender, often before we have given ourselves half a chance. Somehow – through repeated expressions of contempt, denigration, ridicule, bemusement from peers and elders – we learn that it is dangerous to be too extraordinary, and that if we persist in following our dream we will end up alone, and worse still, hated.

At the same time, reinforcing our sense of uselessness, the dominant culture peddles the notion that geniuses are born, and that true talent is ‘natural’. In other words Beethoven’s symphonies, Shakespeare’s plays and Picasso’s Blue Period simply manifested themselves via the gifted hands and minds of said geniuses.

This model of spontaneous creation, artist as divine conduit, somewhat like spontaneous combustion, does not take into account the actual years of preparation that preceded the creation of these works.

To compound this whole misunderstanding of the creative process, there is then the popular belief that ‘inspiration’ is the be all and end all, when in fact it is only the starting point for any work. Added to this are the ideas that you must ‘wait for it’ and thus be someone ‘special’ to receive it at all. Yet in reality ideas do not happen in a vacuum. They  need triggers, and you need to actively invite those triggers otherwise it is indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy; do not engage and sure enough, nothing will come.

I have no idea whether or not geniuses are born rather than nurtured, but my own feeling is that the nurturing has an awful lot to do with it. We all have capacity to create something. We are all artists. What we go on to create, should we be determined enough to follow our inclinations, will be influenced by our experiences, past, present, conscious and subconscious, and by the encouragement, assistance and wisdom we may receive from considerate others.

Sometimes we are lucky to have long-lasting mentors who are generous enough to stand by, ready to open our eyes to new ways of looking and making; sometimes we have to do much of this work for ourselves.  In this sense, then, it is a quest, an honourable labour. The learning process can take a huge amount of time and dedication. It might take a lifetime. There are craft skills to learn and hone, stimuli to absorb and decipher. Most of all, there are failed attempts and mistakes to learn from.  But nothing in this process is ever wasted: every part informs another part, even if you are the only person who knows it is there.

The final onslaught that the dominant culture visits on the creative process is the commoditisation of art, judging it by its selling power. I include in this the idea of competition, and the presumption that it is in some way useful to judge one piece of well-crafted work against another piece of well-crafted work.  Of course it creates publicity, and boosts sales, but this is a distraction from what really matters – the work itself, and how it ‘speaks’ to people.

Creating art is a mediumistic pursuit not a commercial production. Our gut reactions, whether as creators or observers tell us the difference. It is about integrity, craftsmanship and telling the truth at some level. It is about doing the best we can. And we can all choose to take this path, and make of the journey what we will. The things we create are worth creating. So I say again, we are all artists. And if you don’t believe me, imagine yourself at life’s end when you still have hidden, and unrealised in your heart that story you longed to tell, the picture you did not finish, the film script lying in a box in the attic. How does this make you feel – not to have seen them through?

So what are you waiting for then? Set free the captive. Who knows what wonderful things will happen next.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This post was inspired by Bill at Pinklightsabre and his poem Moon Song for Marz

Thank you, Bill Star

 

Related:

How I Write: telling the truth in fiction

“Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…

 

…and I still have my hands at the wheel.”

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My mind seems to be drawn to the sea just now, hence the posting of this video. But what a line this is – “Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…” As a writer and teller of tales, I have a huge admiration for the storytelling talents of songwriter, Billy Joel. He is a troubadour of our times (well of mine anyway); a poet, musician and social commentator. So I hope you enjoy this multi-stranded creation, musical flash-fiction if you like, and so well constructed. Please do look at the full lyrics too, at the link below.

The Downeaster Alexa by Billy Joel

Full lyrics HERE

The Man from Much Wenlock: Meet Ken Milner

It is a privilege to know Ken Milner, a gentle creative man with deep rooted sensibilities for the past in and around Much Wenlock. He is a treasure house of information on country lore, on the families who have lived for generations below Wenlock Edge, and on the novels of Shropshire writer Mary Webb which, incidentally, he only learned to read at the age of thirty five. He built the house you can see in the video, and he created this beautiful garden which brings joy to all who see it. Graham passes it twice a day, driving to and from work. It is a floral threshold between the town and Wenlock Edge.

Ken also paints, makes sculptures, and is a poet and storyteller. Here, though, is his living creation – his garden. The video content was created by Ken and Wenlock poet, Paul Francis, and the whole filmed by  Silva Productions, a Midlands production company. You are in for a treat.

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23lgFSQzvTw

 

#WenlockEdge

Flickr Comments: M words

Taking the slow road ~ tarrying not typing(#mywritingprocess)

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On the road at #mywritingprocess with thanks to Tiny at tinylessonsblog.com

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As others on this writerly blog tour have said, some writers are the bees’ knees at doing anything but write. I would be one of them. When the time comes to sit down at the desk there is the sudden compulsion to go somewhere else – anywhere else. This morning I left the computer to scrub the grout between the bathroom tiles. (So absorbing). Later I mooned over pots of recently sown runner beans, and what? Waited for them to grow? Of course. No writing skills needed in Beanstalk Land, only nifty footwork to elude man-eating giants. (Hm. And I could pick up a golden harp while I was there; learn to play, might inspire me to…) You get the picture.

So what is this doing something else all about? OCDD – obsessive compulsive displacement disorder? Why do we put ourselves through this? It was the first question I asked myself when Helen Kuusela aka Tiny at www.tinylessonsblog.com invited me to join this blog tour. I was so busy asking it, I forgot to thank her. So thank you again, Tiny, and hello to everyone on this fascinating writing safari. I forgive you, one and serially, for putting me on the spot.

As to the OCDD, I have a theory, one based on extensive personal observation. When procrastination sets in, and especially after an early full-of-promise burst, your inner truth-teller is trying to make contact with your writing brain. Something is not quite adding up. This is the moment for some pointed self-examination: are you writing yourself into a dead end? Have you started in the right place? Do the voice/situation/setting ring true? Is your plot/concept/premise sound, and does it truly have sufficient substance and energy to become the story/novel/poem you envisaged? Are you writing from within, or only from the surface?

These can be very painful questions and, rather than rolling them around your mind, I find asking them outright and OUT LOUD has better results. The inner truth-teller seems to respond better to vocalized interrogation. Also, the process of outlining the work to an audience, and by that I mean a willing listener who does not interrupt, can reveal both the intrinsic problems and the possible solutions. As you talk, the remedies to stuckness will likely pop out of your mouth. Listen out for them. A passive listening post is thus an essential aid. Your dog, cat or canary would be a good choice. Successful children’s writer, Michael Morpurgo, says he first outlines his stories to his sheep. And as I write this, I’m thinking that a Dictaphone could be a good idea too. If anyone has other notions on this, please tell me.

And now for THE questions:

1) What am I working on right now? In my head, filing cabinets and paper piles I have many works in various stages of creation: picture book scripts, teen novels, a grandiose scheme (possibly two novels for adults) set in colonial East Africa. This last project I’ve been working on for several years – stalled at various points by doubt; then by the annoying tick that says I need to do more research. (This can be another OCDD trap, so it’s wise to keep checking). I am heartened, though, when I hear writers such as Barbara Kingsolver say that it took her nearly thirty years to acquire the wisdom to write the magnificent Poisonwood Bible, or that Tolkein found himself stuck in the Mines of Moria for a whole year, wondering how to write his way out. Such admissions remind me (once I have checked back with myself AGAIN) that the time it takes to finish a piece of work, is the time it takes to finish it. Not everyone can write a book a year. And now I think of it, I’m sure I read  that the marvellous short story writer, Alice Munro, takes eighteen months to write a single story. And when you read her, you know why. She distils whole novels into her short form.

For now, I’m recycling my ‘back catalogue’ of published short stories, creating new editions as Kindle e-books. I have just kindled Losing Kui, a novella originally published by Cicada Magazine in the U.S. a few years ago. On one level it is a tragi-comedic view of everyday life in a fictitious East African country during the late ‘90s. On another, you might call it an allegory, but I leave it to readers to decide what I mean by that.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? I am truly not a fan of categories, although I know marketing persons insist on them. What matters to me as a reader and writer is a well-crafted story, whether it is a 300-word picture book, Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning Wolf Hall or a Lee Child thriller. Most of my published work comprises short stories/novellas that are accessible to both adults and teens, and so I suppose you could call them crossover literature. Books for young people are anyway not so hide-bound, and may combine several so-called genres: real-life and historical narrative inter-threading with fantasy/magic realism. I find myself increasingly attracted to this combination.

3) Why do I write what I do? I had always meant to be a writer, but it was only when I went to live in Africa during the 1990s that I found a REASON to become one. In Kenya I was confronted with big landscapes and big human issues in which my own country had long played a questionable part. Suddenly I had a viewpoint and a focus and a territory. I was incensed too, by the wholesale imposition of western ‘values’ that left young Africans thinking it uncivilised that their forebears lived in mud and thatch homes. That’s one of the things that spurred me to write contemporary fiction for African young people. See (Latest books).

Some 14 years after returning to the UK, I’m still teasing out stories begun in Africa. I keep meaning to head for other lands, and one of my Ransom quick-reads for teens, Stone Robbers, is set in Guatemala. I suppose I am driven by the desire to tell stories about people who do not have a voice in the wider world, or who live in ways that are fast disappearing. In the margins between tradition and consumer modernity there are the kinds of drama and conflict that every story needs to make it work.

4) How does my writing process work? My people always arrive first. Even if I can’t clearly visualise them, I have a strong sense of them and their particular dilemma. After nearly 20 years of writing I have amassed quite a crowd, all waiting for their stories to happen/move on/finish. To discover what their stories may be, I always do a lot of research – too much probably. But without fail, the ‘what happens’ always emerges from this reading. In that sense, I do not make things up. How the works come together thereafter depends on finding some sort of imperative. This could be a writing competition deadline, or a publisher’s call for a certain kind of work. As Tiny says in her post, you do need deadlines. And perhaps, to come full circle, a lot of writer’s OCDD is also down to not knowing who will want to read/publish the work once it is done. While it remains unfinished, both failure and success are forever postponed. Keeping to your chosen path is hard to do, and I’ve written more on this HERE. But now please meet Celestine Nudana from Ghana, West Africa. clip_image002 She will be heading out on the next leg of  the #mywritingprocess tour (26 May).  She has been blogging at Reading Pleasure since 2012: http://readinpleasure.wordpress.com/  and believe me it is always a pleasure to visit her there. 

Celestine is Senior Assistant Registrar at the University of Professional Studies, Accra, Ghana. She is married and has three boys. She attended the University of Ghana, Legon, where she read English and Theatre Arts, majoring in play writing. She also has a Masters in International Affairs. As well as being a passionate reader and book reviewer, she has also developed a special talent for writing haiku, although she says she is still at the learning stage. Even so, her work has been included in two recent anthologies: Western Haiku: A Collection, and Ballads, bothproduced by Dagda Publishing UK, an  independent publisher who aims to show-case the freshest poetry and literature by new writers from around the world. The works are available as e-books. She has also had her flash fiction published in1 Photo 50 Authors 100 Words edited by Madison Woods.

She says of herself, “I am a romantic at heart, and love a good romance story, though I shy away from erotica. Almost all my poems focus on love, or aspects of it.” Celestine has written romantic fiction for serialization in several Ghanaian newspapers, and deployed her play writing skills to produce radio serial dramas that deal with topics including child health and female sexual reproductive health. So here is a woman who writes on many fronts. I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say about her writing life.

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Now here is my second writer introduction. She was a bit held up, so this is a last minute addition. I’ll let her speak for herself:

 

Hello! My name is Vashti Quiroz-Vega. I’m a writer of Suspense, Fantasy and Horror. I also enjoy mixing in some Humour and Romance into my stories. From the time I was a young kid, writing has been my passion. I’ve always been a writer; I just didn’t know it until  much later. For me, it is easier to express my thoughts on paper than with the spoken word. I enjoy making people feel an array of emotions with my writing. I like my audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that. My love of animals and nature are often incorporated in my stories. You’ll read intriguing things about various animals, nature and natural disasters commingled with my character-driven novels. I love to read almost as much as I love to write. Some of my favourite authors are Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J. R. R. Tolkein, J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown.

Vashti's Web Photo (361x640)

http://vashtiqvega.wordpress.com

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RELATED POSTS:

This fiction writer’s path: five things learned along the way

Writing tips: Knowing your place

Errant muse? There’s still life at the allotment

TO SEE OTHER WRITERS’ POSTS IN THIS TOUR, GO TO THE READER AND USE THE SEARCH TAG: #mywritingprocess

Life in a Wheelchair

This is such a heartfelt post about what it means to lose mobility. Something we could all do well to consider. Maverick09’s Blog is anyway worth a visit, not least because you can also find out how to make wonderful banjos there.

Maverick09's Blog

I’ve been using a wheelchair for three or four years now, on and off, mostly off. I don’t really enjoy the experience and I’ve pondered for some time as to the reason. Following an ‘outing’ today I think I’ve worked out why. During my able bodied years I would not have dreamt for one minute of thinking let alone penning the following because, along with millions of others, I hadn’t got a clue about personal mobility or, to be precise, lack of it.

Having difficulty walking, for myself anyway, apart from the physical pain associated with giving it a go, has many what you might call side issues created by the very people would you believe who are trying to assist.

Loss of or restricted mobility is in effect a loss of freedom. Freedom to go this way or that way, to turn round, to go back, to stop. You…

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This fiction writer’s path: five things learned along the way

 

 

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1) Swimming not drowning: there will be (many) false starts

I associate intending to be a writer with learning to swim. I was ten, in my last year of primary school, when I told Mr. Williams, my very Welsh head teacher, that I meant to be a writer. I said it with great certainty, and he listened in all seriousness. He was someone I trusted implicitly. He was also the person who taught me to swim, and to me, decades later, the way he did it still seems a little miracle.

There were several non-swimmers in the senior class and one day Mr. Williams decided to remedy this life-threatening deficiency. Once a week for several weeks he drove us to the swimming pool in the school minibus. He made no concession to the occasion and still wore his smart grey headmasterly suit. Looking back, he probably did this on purpose. It showed he meant business and we were not there to play. The suit’s material had a soft metallic sheen and probably went by the name of Tricel. It somehow had a part to play.

After a couple of trips to the pool I had fully grasped the mechanics of swimming, but was unwilling to give up my rubber ring. Mr. Williams, however, was determined. He told me to walk twenty paces into the pool’s shallow end. He told me to take off the rubber ring. Then standing at the pool’s edge, he squatted down so low that his trousers strained across his knees and shone like silver. His eyes levelled with mine as I stood there – in the water – shivering – without my protecting ring. He told me to swim but I kept standing and staring at his knees, feeling silly and helpless. Then suddenly out flew his arms in a welcoming embrace. ‘Come on,’ he cried. ‘Swim to me. YOU.CAN.DO.IT.’ And such was his look of unconditional expectation that I took to the water and swam.

And the point of this story? Becoming a writer/maker/artist means learning to  grow and nurture your inner Mr. Williams. Along the creative path there may be few external expressions of encouragement. But without the deep-down core of self-belief you will not have the resilience to stay the course, bear the disappointments, handle the rejection slips, or to toil and toil alone for the days, months and years it will take to learn your craft. All of which is not to discourage, but to say that you really have to want to do this.

2) Having formed your intention, do NOT wait for inspiration to strike: you can wait till the crack of doom

Of course learning to swim is not the same as being a good swimmer who can swim fifty lengths with ease and feel quite at home in the water. To become a skilled artisan of any kind, there is the long haul of apprenticeship, probably one that will never end. I, though, and like many would-be writers, went for years, carrying in my head the apparently foregone conclusion that one day inspiration would strike and I would begin to write my own stories instead of reading other people’s.

It rarely, if ever happens this way. Besides which, inspiration is only the starting point, the ‘ah-ha’ moment when your attention fixes on an overheard conversation, or collides with a character on a bus, or gets hooked on some bizarre news event that starts you asking the kind of questions that kick off the story-making process. Mostly, though, you need to seek it out. Because the fact is, even if you are not actually writing, you must be doing the internal work, mentally exploring the stories that you might one day tell, gathering material, keeping watch, feeding that tiny flame of an inkling that says ‘I do have a story to tell’. ‘I do have something important to say.’

Inspiration, then, does not arrive ‘out of blue’ or occur in a vacuum; it needs one, two or several things to rub together. You could say it’s a bit like the slow-going process of rubbing dry sticks together, and trialling likely bits of kindling to get a fire started. In that initial whoosh of a blaze taking hold all is very exciting, but it is only the start. Now the hard work really begins – keeping the fire going, finding suitable material that will burn well – fast or slowly or long enough to cook your dinner. In other words, flash-in-the-pan, quick-fire notions (inspiration) are the easy part. Thereafter comes the sourcing of materials, planning, construction and general project management. You can only truly learn how to do this by doing it. So how to begin?

3) Do not fall into the trap of thinking that reading other writers will drown out your own small voice before you even start: read, read, read…

As an adult, my writing work was largely academic: dissertations, reports, preparing educational materials in various museums. Somewhere along the line I stopped reading fiction; I feared that to do so would distract me from finding my own inspiration, my own voice, my own stories. I have met other beginner writers who said they did the same thing, and especially when it came to books that they thought might ‘compete’ with their own ideas. Yet not to read widely is another form of writer’s self-sabotage. Writers need to read anything and everything they can, and across all genres, and they need to read with attention and discernment. For instance, you can learn a huge amount about story construction by studying an infant’s picture book that contains only around 30 words (Pat Hutchins Rosie’s Walk).

In fact some of the best-crafted storytelling on the planet is for young people – and here I’m thinking of writers such as Richard Peck, Sharon Creech, Robert Cormier, Kate di Camillo, Geraldine McCaughrean, Philip Pullman, Jennifer Donnelly, David Almond. Reading good books with all senses attuned is akin to having mental conversations with other writers; far from swamping your own style/voice/subject matter, listening carefully to what they say and how they say it can help release your very own form of creative expression. This is not about copying ; it is about finding your own truthful response to other writers’ work. Writing a book or a story or a poem is not a contest with anyone else. It is your book, story, poem. Only you can write it. And if in doubt, think ‘Mr. Williams’. At some point you have to get in there and swim.

But of course, having joined the fray, then comes the endurance testing and training, the honing of skills, and goal setting.

4) Being a good writer is not the same as being a good storyteller

Some people are natural storytellers, and especially so when they come from families or cultures where oral storytelling is still practised. Even so, and no matter how you treat them later, it helps to learn the storytelling basics: the beginnings, middles and ends of a story, their possibilities, the ways to build tension and interest, how to manage revelation, crisis and resolution, what it takes to create believable worlds (real-life or science fiction), to breathe life into characters who will then ‘speak’ to readers, to make effective and affective use of language.

All these skills can be learned to some extent by much well-directed reading, including studying a few how-to-write books on the way. But taking out a subscription to a good creative writing magazine or attending a class are the more interactive and less lonely options. The disciplines of entering magazine contests or doing class exercises – reading others’ work with interest rather than envy, writing to deadlines, word counts and prescribed themes are all worth cultivating. They all build the kind of writing muscles you need to best deliver ‘the what’ of the creative process – the  story.

5) Writing fiction does not mean ‘making things up’; it is all about building convincing worlds.

This is something that is easily misunderstood, and it took me some time to grasp explicitly. Fiction reveals imagined worlds and their inhabitants in ways that are truthful in. Integrity and authenticity are key objectives. The setting may be a medieval Russian monastery, a London secondary school, or a planet with two suns, but it must ring true for the reader. Its special characteristics will add depth and texture to the narrative, but above all, they will be dynamic – informing, shaping, adding drama to the characters’ behaviour/situation/dilemmas. This requires considerable research and construction work by the writer, but with the caveat that, at the end of the process, only the writer ever needs to know all this stuff. The reader wants only the most telling details, the ones that, like literary hyperlinks, will take them straight into that special place and engage them wholeheartedly with the characters’ lives. (A fine example of this is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall where she uses historical, social and political contexts to reveal the life and times of Thomas Cromwell.)

To achieve this level of ‘reality’ requires the writer to have strong reasons for telling a particular story. As I’ve said, creating a story from start to finish requires drive and stamina. Passion, pain, compassion and anger are great spurs, but their energy needs to be channelled judiciously. (No ranting or heavy-handed moralizing required and the writer’s self should keep well out of the way). The research part of the project may also demand a whole new reading schedule (encyclopaedias, atlases, internet content, telephone directories, newspapers etc) and, where possible, physically immersing yourself in the places where the story is set.

This is all about knowing your territory as an expert guide would know it. Only then can the alchemy begin. Or perhaps shape-shifting is a better analogy. Because this is one of the most important of all the things I have come to learn from the practise of being a writer: the writing must come from the inside out; writers must inhabit their character’s minds, shoes and underpants; whatever it takes to get inside their skin. For me, this usually means starting with the feet rather than the knickers department. When I wrote about a street girl called Jessicah, she was conjured by a ‘feeling’ in the balls of my feet as she tramped in thin-soled shoes through the African highlands. Years later I can still summon that particular sensation and know it is Jessicah, and start seeing the world again through her eyes. All of which is very strange when you think about it, and probably the reasons why most writers keep writing. For the final truth is that even well-published writers struggle to make a living from book sales alone. Writing then, first and foremost and anyway, has to be done for the love of the thing.

© 2014 Tish Farrell

 

Tish Farrell writes short fiction to entice unkeen teen readers to read in the Shades series at Ransom Publishing. She also writes for Heinemann Junior African Writers, Zimbabwe Publishing House and Phoenix Publishers East Africa. Her short story Flight came third in last year’s International Bath Short Story Award.

 

Writerly Reflections

Looking inside ‘The House of Belonging’: remembering artist Sheilagh Jevons

House of Belonging detail i

The following is the account of a conversation I had with Sheilagh in 2014, a year before her death. She is sadly missed.

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I thought it was time I welcomed good friend and artist, Sheilagh Jevons, to this blog. She lives a few miles from me along Wenlock Edge, in the little village of Easthope. There, and in her studio not far away, she creates arresting work that explores the sense of belonging that people have with landscape. From time to time she and I have involving conversations about the creative process – the stumbling blocks, the sources of inspiration, the way we work (or in my case, don’t work).

A few weeks ago she came round for coffee. I wanted to ask her about a painting I had seen in her studio. I had thought it striking and mysterious, and wanted to know what she meant by it. Besides which, it is hard to resist the opportunity to grill an artist when you have one captured inside your house.

The header image is a small detail from a work called The House of Belonging. This figure has appeared in Sheilagh’s other works and represents women artists. Some of their names are written on the smock, artists perhaps not well known to the general public. Here she pays homage to their work, but also alludes to the fact that, overall, very little work by women artists is to be found in museums. The writing of names and of repeated key-words and equations is characteristic of many of Sheilagh’s pieces. It was one of the things I was going to ask her about. But first, the painting.

House of Belonging ii

It is a large canvas, some 4 feet (120cm) square. The next photo gives a better sense of scale. Here it is hanging in Sheilagh’s studio:

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I asked Sheilagh how the work began. She told me that some years ago the idea of belonging had become very important to her. As she says on her website:

Our ‘sense of belonging’ ripples out from our homes to our village, street, town, county, region and country and help to shape our identity…

Key, then, to her work is a sense of connection to land and how that relationship defines us. This in turn has physical expression in community repositories, the places where we keep artefacts, our history, the knowledge of ancestors – all the familiar things we recognise and which tell us something of who we are. In other words, the museum, or as Sheilagh describes it: the house of belonging. The script running down the left-hand margin of the painting in fact repeats over and over the words ‘the museum’, the house of belonging’. The repetition reflects the strong political stance of Sheilagh’s work.

To me this is ‘the writing on the wall’, a statement of collective ownership; The House of Belonging staking a claim. Its contents are manifestations of how humans have interacted with their landscape and the place they call home. Sheilagh also says that adding text creates a certain texture; that the sense of a hand moving across the work creates a connection with her, its maker. The wheeled blue structure, then, is the House of Belonging. The words written inside say ‘everybody’s knowledge’. This is written twice so there can be no mistake. It feels like something to stand up for, a rallying call.

It is also important, Sheilagh says, that the House can move across the landscape to where the people are, rather than the other way round; this makes it more egalitarian. Inside the House are images and artefacts, symbols of creativity. Some of them are stereotypical of ‘heritage’ and therefore instantly recognisable. For instance, the chess pieces (centre left in the painting) are derived from the Scottish Isle of Lewis Chess Set in the British Museum. The set dates from AD 1150-1200 and suggests Norse influence or origins.

House of Belonging Detail ii

Sheilagh copied and simplified the images from a sales catalogue that specialises in heritage reproductions. The placing of the queen in the central position is also significant. She says she feels bound to redress an imbalance: the fact that in most of our media women only occupy centre stage when they are being commodified in some way. And then there is the mathematical equation painted in red beneath the red tree, centre right of the painting. 100_5291 The presence of equations in Sheilagh’s works adds a further layer meaning for her, and although she doesn’t think it necessary to explain them, she is always very pleased when people recognise them. This particular one refers to mathematical research by American academics in the 1920s called The Geometry of Paths. The appearance of equations in Sheilagh’s paintings also has more personal origins. She tells me she started to include them some years ago – after she had been helping her daughter revise for her Maths and Physics A’ level exams. It is another connection. There are many more signifiers in the work: motifs that have links and resonance with Sheilagh’s other works. The red tree above the equation is a symbol of timelessness, indicating ‘forever’ in human terms.  House of Belonging ii - Copy The red arrow in the top right creates a sense of energy and direction; a ‘look what’s here’ sign. There is the sense of a force field, drawing people to the House of Belonging. 100_5294

Finally, we talked about the overall composition. Sheilagh says that she began the work some years ago after she noticed that a small building denoting ‘museum’ often appeared in her landscapes. This time she wanted it to have it as the main subject, and to make it both an enticing and a mysterious place. At this point she also created the friezes at the top and bottom of the picture, these in order to suggest other layers of reality behind the surface painting. The top frieze is the wider, timeless landscape of which the museum is also symbol. The bottom frieze is deliberately ambiguous and suggestive; it invites the viewer to consider what might lie behind.

House of Belonging ii And having created the work’s essential structure, the painting was then abandoned. It was only some fifteen months later, when Sheilagh, looking for a large canvas to start another work, returned to it. She was fully intending to paint over it, but when she looked at it again she suddenly knew how to proceed and completed the work very swiftly. She says it probably is not quite finished, and suspects that something may still need to be added. In the meantime she has been occupied with a large body of work relating to Scotland.

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Notes and reference materials from Sheilagh Jevon’s studio

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Errant Muse? But there’s still life at the allotment

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I’ve posted this photo of my last summer’s allotment produce to prove something. I thought it might be a good antidote to my dreary state of writing stuckness. (And may be yours too). For one thing it shows conclusively that if I can’t get to grips with the several novels now backed up in brain and filing cabinets, then I can at least produce beautiful vegetation. (In season of course). Most of it is edible too, although I would not recommend the zinnias. Marigolds are fine however – in salads and as herbal tea. Excellent for the immune system, or so a herbalist friend tells me.

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I sometimes think my allotment life is a metaphor for my writer’s life. Sometimes I think  it’s the other way around. This reminds me of the great Welsh poet, R S Thomas. In my post about him the film link shows him, in his elder years, out bird watching on the Welsh coast. Speaking to camera, and with a wry smile, the Nobel nominee says he is supposed to be a poet, but that when the poem is going badly, then he is a birdwatcher. Likewise for me, when the writing stalls, then I am a gardener. I am mostly a gardener.

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The common ground between growing and creating is obvious: seasons of  productivity followed by dead times when the creative flow seems to be, well, DEAD. This is the natural order of things. I know it. And so I am forgiving when it comes to the garden. I do not expect it to grow things in December and February (or at least not much). But when it comes to writing, I fret, fume and grow ever more despondent with myself because the ideas in my head cannot be rendered, as I would like them, to word, to screen, to finished work.  And I do not forgive this. I consider it a grave fault.

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Yet I know, too, that good growing and writing, require a fertile medium, one that is well turned and appropriately nourished. You need plans and timetables, while remaining open to alternative courses of action. You also need the right medium for the job in hand. All this takes time: years of learning, of preparation, and the application of improving strategies. You have to understand your ground from the inside out. And that brings me to another essential condition – good drainage. And  in my home town poor drainage is a problem; both brain and allotment, then, are equally afflicted. They are not free-draining. But at least I know how to improve the soil. Grit is good.

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In the absence of creative flow, ungoverned gathering of new material can start filling the gap. This in hopes of finding a  spark, some fresh inspiration to jump start the writing. The activity can of course have its good points. You may indeed find the very thing you need. Besides which, well rotted down and aerated compost improves content and structure for any future cultivation. On the other hand, ever growing stagnant piles of poorly decomposing matter simply overwhelm and add to the stalled flow problem. In other words, there comes a time when you simply have to give your brain a rest, leave the compost heap to rot down, and allow the period of dormancy to run its course. The hard thing is to keep faith during this process of seeming inactivity; to believe that you WILL recover and complete the works you began.

That wonderful woman, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés has some very heartening things to say about this. In her autobiographical exploration of the nature of story, The Faithful Gardener, she says that new seed is faithful, and that it roots most deeply where the ground is the most empty. In The Creative Fire she also says that everyone is an artist even if they have not lifted a brush to the canvass or opened a new Word file (I paraphrase). Finally she tells us that the only thing you need to create is to get out of the way.

And so in a bid to get out of the way, I leave you with some summer marigolds. Before your eyes they are passing through their natural cycle from bud, to falling flower to newly forming seed head. Perhaps if we stare at them long enough, absorbing all that very creative orangeness, we stalled creators will ‘hear’ what they are telling us.

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© 2014 Tish Farrell

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Frizz’s Tagged E  Go here for more ‘E’ stories

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Related:

Bright Fields on Llyn: windows in time, mind and space and other stories from Cymru

Onwards and upwards…the big New Year ‘do-over’

Onwards and upwards…the big New Year ‘do-over’

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“Encompassed by a world of tangible, visible things – animals, plants, and stars –  mankind has from time immemorial perceived that deep within these beings and things dwells something powerful, yet indescribable, that gives them life.”

Cosmic view of the Fulani people of West Africa

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I took this photo last spring, in March when we were plunged into a sudden and unexpected winter. In seemed  that the tulips were burning their way through the snow – biological imperative incarnate: come hell or high water, these tulips will BECOME.

In some ways, though, I find the image  disturbing, especially the bud just breaking through the snow, and the dark little shadow at the centre top where another seems to be welling just beneath the surface like a bruise. Is the earth bleeding?

Of course, in no time my mind flies to that wintery scene with the good queen, Snow White’s mother. There she sits with her embroidery at the castle window. There she pricks her finger as she sews, the blood drops falling on the snowy whiteness. And there she makes the pledge that calls into being a beautiful child, but in the process brings about her own end.

The queen pricks her finger. Snow White illustrated by Charles Santore 1997

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And so by degrees I start thinking of the creative process, that is to say, my creative process or seeming lack of same. And while I am sure that many creative people (which is all of us) will be facing the New Year with renewed vigour and hopefulness at the journey ahead, there are others of us who remain intent on endlessly hunting round the same old  circles that take us nowhere. We are of course woozle hunting and A.A. Milne sums up the entire predicament perfectly.

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  ‘One fine winter’s day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something else, and when Piglet called to him, he just went on walking.


      “Hallo!” said Piglet, “what are you doing?”
“Hunting,” said Pooh.
“Hunting what?”
“Tracking something,” said Winnie-the-Pooh very mysteriously.
“Tracking what?” said Piglet, coming closer
“That’s just what I ask myself. I ask myself, What?”
“What do you think you’ll answer?”
“I shall have to wait until I catch up with it,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.”

 Winnie-the-Pooh 1926, A A Milne, illustrated by E H Shepard

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Next then comes the question of how, creatively speaking, does one get off the treadmill of woozle hunting (which can of course become perversely absorbing despite the fruitlessness of the quest) and lift off into the stratosphere with the high-octane thrust of tulips breaking bounds?

Perhaps to begin to answer this, it is first important to know that human creativity has its cycles in much the same way as the natural world, or indeed tulips. In her audio compilation The Creative Fire, poet, storyteller and Jungian psycho-analyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés puts it this way:

“Creativity goes through many different cycles: of birth, rising energy, reaching a zenith, declining, further entropy, death, incubation, quickening, rebirth…”

She then elaborates on this process by retelling two versions of the Persephone story , the Greek myth that, among other things, explains the origins of winter and spring.

In other words, a period of dying down, gathering in resources, dormancy, are all essential before strong new growth can occur. The tulips, after all, had some nine months of dying down and re-growing their bulbs.

CPE  has other words of wisdom too:

“The main struggle that people have with creativity is that they stop themselves from doing what comes naturally.”

And:

“We all cover miles and miles of territory looking for the starting line when it’s inside of our minds the entire time.”

She also deals with the deep-rooted fear that most of us have: that our creative impulse/spirit/inspiration has died or deserted us. She likens it to la chispa, the hearth ember that seems quite dead until you breathe upon it, fanning the flames so that once more it bursts into a blazing fire. If we feel stifled and blocked she suggests that the causes are probably fear, the lies  that people have told us about our creativity, and the fact that we have paid way too much attention to our internal critic.

“The creative function,” she concludes, “ is the centre of the soul and the psyche; it can never be destroyed.”

So there we have it. Less woozle hunting, and more blowing on dead wood. Also listen to your internal wisdom, then make like a tulip. Who knows what it will lead it.

Or as the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said:

 “Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”

There are no rules and regulations on the number of times that we must re-do a piece of work before we have made it to our liking. The only rule is to give yourself a break, then go to it.

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Wishing you all a happy and floriferous 2014

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Weekly photo challenge: beginning: go here for more Daily Post beginnings

© 2014 Tish Farrell