“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” ― Rumi, Essential Rumi
Finding balance, a skill all its own, is the reward for living. We need the Yin/Yang nature of life; it is what gives us the mirror for each experience. Only an fool tries to have stasis and thinks that it is balance.
We try to balance each of the threads that bind us everyday: the pulls from others; the pulls from within; the way we are knocked off balance by events, requirements, illness and compulsion. Sometimes we resent the knocks to our balance, however they can be the impetus we need to move again. Creation is reliant on weaving the threads we balance on together. Rather than thinking of this as a single, strung tightrope, I imagine them as a horizontal spiders web. Walking along these threads involves random paths converging or a need to veer in a new direction. Sometimes they are sticky and tacky, attempting to snarl us up, at others smooth and silky.
Without the pulls to our attention there is no material for the creative urge to mould. Often it is the very fears and trials of our lives that take a shape in the art we make. From the humming in the dark to keep the demons of life at bay to the joyous expressions triggered by our children, our loved ones, our friends.
But finding the balance and the time for each pull is the key.
We are knocked off balance by the demands and deadlines of every day life. From something as simple as cleaning the house, which must be done sometime, to the needs of a job. The call "Mum!", I defy any parent to deny that it occasions exasperation or dread as often as it occasions joy. Sometimes the needs of our children seem trivial and irritating; can an argument about whose turn it is really take that much time to sort out? And yet we are teaching them there own balancing acts. Resentment at these pulling threads is irrational; we chose our children, our job and our paths and we need to accept the sidetracks, trips and knocks.
This is the first time, for a long time, I have painted in thick impasto style and not in watercolour. The paintings are on cheap daler boards with cheap acrylics. I didn't want to go out and invest in a range of paints if the act of painting was not worth it. That said, I think I am about to make a dent in my meagre savings (buying artist quality) as I have not had so much fun for a long time.
Acrylic suits me, it is water soluble and easy to use with children around. Although I love oils I don't like the smell, the solvents and the glazes; the smell of linseed makes me queasy and the children and cat are an accident waiting to happen with white spirit. I love the way that this style of paint can have depth and translucence in one. Thin washes can be overlaid onto thicker bases. I still love the delicacy and intricacy of watercolours but am falling for the charms of this brasher and more exuberant medium.
What I have needed to do is look at the impasto styling of other artists to help me make the marks I want. Catherine Hyde White's style has been a huge help. There is very definitely a learning from the master here. She is a wonderful artist with an ability to create a depth of colour and texture in her paintings. These pale imitations are an attempt to develop that velvety finish and colour. I have also been delving back into the past, looking at Klimt, Schiele and Picasso. Again wanting depth and brush stroke textures to help me.
The images themselves are from two textile bears and a needle felted fox that I made some time ago. The bears started from the inspiration of a Kalevala pattern ( I wear the earrings, necklace and ring with this design on the rare occasions I use jewellery). I consider them my totems, as far as this is possible for them to be mine. I suspect that I will be making more images of these bears. I am feeling a compulsion to paint and draw them rather a lot. They seem to want to have stories told and I am waking with them snuffling in my ear in the wee small hours.
Whenever I walk in a London street, I'm ever so careful to watch my feet; And I keep in the squares, And the masses of bears, Who wait at the corners all ready to eat The sillies who tread on the lines of the street Go back to their lairs, And I say to them, "Bears, Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!"
And the little bears growl to each other, "He's mine, As soon as he's silly and steps on a line." And some of the bigger bears try to pretend That they came round the corner to look for a friend; And they try to pretend that nobody cares Whether you walk on the lines or squares. But only the sillies believe their talk; It's ever so portant how you walk. And it's ever so jolly to call out, "Bears, Just watch me walking in all the squares!"
Some plants are essential for the health of the soul. For me, trees are a necessity; I cannot bear the thought of a place without them. When life gets too much my feet make their way to walks in favourite woodlands. When I can't get to natural woodland I head to local park, where we are blessed with a copse of beeches, birches and ash.
All my life has been spent on the outskirts of a large urban conurbation, right now that is a part of north Nottingham that -ironically- takes the name: Sherwood. However we are blessed with a number of trees that hide the more intrusive elements of buildings and the claustrophobia of people.
Each of the local houses has trees on the ridge behind as well as in the gardens in front. Our own garden is very tree oriented. It does mean we have less places for flowers, unless they can cope with shade, but I can live with that.
This year has not been kind to the fruit trees, the apples have suffered with hot March sun, followed by cold April and May rain that scorched the set of the fruit. But the oak is thriving, although this must be kept trimmed as it is close to several houses. We also have a holly that is home to many birds and insects, providing shelter, leaf mulch and safety within its root and branch.
Sometimes, if you let the suspension of your disbelief, you can almost believe there is no-one else around us.
The hint of urban furniture just shows through. I have trained my eyes not to see the lamp-posts or the edges of a roof. Without this view I am not sure I would be able to live here but with it we are home.
There have been some amazing things going on on the internet: Terri Windling, The Froud's and a Mermaid in the Attic. Each musing on the creative urge and the making of art. These are massively important conversations; whether you are arty or not. The urge to creativity is nascent in us all, we should nurture and develop it, care for and feed it. The more we do so the better we will become as a species.
Yet, there are disturbing winds in the aether, idealogues who devalue the use of hand rather than mind. Further to the discussions had by The group above I have been following Michael Rosen and his fight against the trends we see in education. In it's own way his agenda parallels that of Terri et al; for his fight against standardisation is the fight for the individual and the human need to create.
If you have not yet joined the discussion, or read your way onto the fringes climb through the holes, then follow the path below to the dialogues happening. Before you do that, click on TED and listen. It is slightly scary to think this was 2006 and nothing has yet changed.
I do worry that I am not good at original work. The magpie response is strong and it is tempting to make your own versions of things, the hard thing is not to plagiarise. Sometimes this can hamstring the urge to try something out.
or the art of finding time.
I have been following the discussions on Terri Windling's excellent journal; she has the ability to trigger your thoughts into thought pathways not often trod. I find it a bit like mental gardening; it gives me the tools to clear away the unwanted detritus of everyday life so that other ideas might bloom and flourish.
The weeds I am trying to clear away at the moment are the choking vines of "must do", "imperative" and "I needed that yesterday, why isn't it done yet?". We seem to have modern lives that are bounded by deadlines and arbitrary bureaucracy that takes no heed of our inner needs. I am not so naive that I cannot see that some deadlines are necessary. I have a job that has an urgent rhythm to it; the beat of it's drum is urgent and insistent, demanding that my feet march in time with it's step. Yet the balance between that and my spiritual needs are often out of balance and under the perpetual tyranny of no time.
From Lawrence Wright: The Clockwork Man.
It is also possible to suffer from the tyranny of one's own urges, creative or otherwise. The times we are driven to wake with the insistent knock of image and word in our skull, needing outlet without regard for rest.
The wanting to make many different things all at the same time. This latter is my perpetual problem; from daybreak on I find I want to paint, talk to my children, play cricket with Matthew, cook frivolous food before moving on to using fabric and fiber; finally settling down to read a good book. My use of my time requires discipline and marshalling; even though some of these things cannot bear to be parcelled out in to allotted times.
Each day is step forwards, balancing the wants in one pannier and the requirements in the other.