Creativity is a funny thing. I spent my teenage years utterly convinced I was no good at art, due to a comment from my art teacher, which I now wonder was actually poorly worded or my misinterpretation of what was actually said (Although this was the 1980s, and certainly full of comments and actions from teachers that would have horrified anyone on my PGCE course ten years later). The ridiculous thing is that even as I internalised my “I can’t draw, I can’t do art” attitude, I was regularly copying Garfield and Pub Dog cartoons to a pretty high standard. I just couldn’t seem to draw the crushed Coke cans and trainers that were the basis of my art lessons. No matter, though – I unleashed my creativity in other ways: paper quilling, embroidery, those cartoons.
As I moved into my 20s, I always had a cross-stitch on the go, often one I’d designed myself. Moving into teaching, I mastered the art of a decent spider plant, a pretty mean apple and widened my understanding of art so that I could do everything in my power to ensure none of the children in my class ever felt they “couldn’t do art” – not from me anyway. My creativity moved into knitting in my thirties, then dyeing, spinning and weaving into my forties, which then brought me face to face with my “I can’t draw” attitude again when I started my HNC. I battered it down – mainly it’s due to my inability to render a 3D object into a 2D representation (shiny apples aside), so I found work arounds – quickly pick up on shapes in an artwork and move into the abstract; use a scanner to zoom into a really small area to explore colour and texture there. My sketchbooks were a journey, but I felt often jumped around too much. There was no flow.
And since I’ve left college? Well, I am using sketchbooks, but it’s very scattered – random jottings, no cohesion… without the initial prompts for college projects, I was losing my way. Two weeks ago I designed a doubleweave draft without completing any visual research (primary artwork, secondary research looking at artists’ styles) AT ALL. Just a piece of squared paper and some pencils. And it felt… incomplete. Like I’d missed a step on my way down a floor and everything jarred.
Lucky for me then, that this weekend I had used my Christmas present money from my hubby’s family to book a place on a Creative Sketchbooks course run by Brian at Creative Art Courses in Manchester. Two other members of Common Threads has been last year and raved and do you know what? I’m so glad I did!
Turns out part of the disjointed feeling over my college sketchbooks might have been due to their construction. Stapled together, the pages can’t be rearranged easily, whereas pages from spiral bound books can be carefully removed and reinserted anywhere to make a much more cohesive narrative. Brian also showed us techniques for preparing pages in the sketchbooks that will add depth and interest to any work. Who knew what you could achieve with newspaper and white emulsion? He reminded me that it is not just a good thing to annotate a sketchbook like I did in college but that I can prepare the page with that in mind to highlight the annotation or use any white space on the page so that the annotation becomes part of the work.
He also allowed us the chance to explore the way we can allow our work to develop through the materials or the technique we use as well as the more obvious way of developing from an object we are drawing. I also got to layer some parts of pages which I loved! For someone who, in the past, has been hidebound by the need to lay everything out pristinely on the page, this is a breakthrough, let me tell you.
I even ended up with some tentative ideas for weaves, although that wasn’t something I expected to happen this weekend.
It really has opened up my mind to a range of possibilities, so instead of weaving, I’ve returned to my Common Threads swap sketchbook with renewed vigour. As soon as I’ve posted this, I’m off out to buy a can of white emulsion!