Time to Strap on a Pair

I usually work on two or three dolls at one time. They go into the same dye bath, share a place on the wall or shelf and generally share the same point of inspiration. Two or three is a manageable amount to work on at any one time and they still feel like a series rather than separate pieces. There’s a kind of flow through the different stages of the process and they all develop together.  I can focus completely on them, and when they are finished they look like sisters. 

Right now I am grabbing hold of too many ideas all at once and I have….ahem….twelve different pieces on the go at the same time. This is why it’s taking so long to get them ready to release on Etsy. Half of them were supposed to be ready at the start of this month, then before they were finished I started a whole load more. They’re almost all still in progress because I keep getting new ideas. I’ve had to hide some of them so that I can focus on one at a time and actually finish them.

One seeds the idea for another, then another and at the moment my studio is full of cloth and clay body parts and little mole hills of fabric offcuts that are too lovely to throw away. I also didn’t help matters by finding some very old books about traditional doll making, which have given me more ideas. I’ve been playing around with different techniques and each one leads my hands to another and round and round we go.

I really need to rein this shit in because I have a lot to get done this summer.

Those of you who are on my mailing list will know that I spent the first day of March travelling through the most stunning scenery on my way to a village in Argyll called Tighnabruaich. It’s pronounced Tee-nah-bru-ay-ch, with the ‘ch’ sounding a bit like a soft growl from the back of your throat.

I was first approached by Robbie Baird, one of the directors of the gallery at the end of 2015. It was a bit of a shock because shortly before hearing from him I’d been digging around the internet trying to work out how I could make connections in that particular part of the world because eventually I would like to move there. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to live. In fact, I can’t remember ever wanting to settle anywhere else. I wanted to live in other places, but I never saw myself living in any of them for the long term. Argyll was and has always been my long term plan.

The view from the beach at Tighnabruiach

At that time I was making plans, or rather trying to take the reins and work out where I wanted to go and be for the foreseeable future, and part of the plan was to start sending down roots in Argyll in the hope that I could take steps to follow through on my dream of moving there. I also wanted to aim for more gallery shows, but I wanted to be selective about which specific galleries I would approach. I had been following the Tighnabruiach gallery for a while and was hoping to connect with them when Robbie sent me an email out of the blue asking if I’d be interested in showing work at the gallery. His email was very professional, meanwhile I was bouncing around, all freaked out and excited that he had contacted me a few days after I’d decided to contact him.

We spoke on the phone, talked about the fable of the Red Shoes, and dance, and lots of other things we both loved, and he offered me a solo show.

It was that fast. It made sense.

The show was planned, we talked about it all coming together then it didn’t actually happen because (and here’s something I didn’t mention at all last year), I injured my shoulder and couldn’t sew.

So the whole thing was postponed ’til this year and on the 1st of March I went back to have another chat with Robbie and his new business partner Roslyn about it.

I took the train to the coast and then a ferry over to the Cowal peninsula where the village is. Just before the ferry set off I saw a massive, speckled Scottish seal who’d popped his head up right next to the boat. He was about ten feet away, and he sat there looking straight at us. When you see seals up close you appreciate just how much they’re like dogs and just how much character and cheekiness they have. He sat watching us for a while before eventually diving back in and disappearing under the surface of the Clyde. When the ticket collector came along, the woman behind me asked if he’d seen the seal, and then she added that it probably wasn’t that big a deal for him because he probably saw them all the time. “Not that close we don’t” he replied. “That one was a good sign”.

The gallery is really beautiful, and I’ll be exhibiting in the main gallery, as well as having a sort of exhibition/residency/studio bit in a smaller gallery just off of the main space. I’ll be running workshops throughout the month that the show is running, and staying in the area for some of that time.

I’ll be working with the local community of artists and local children, running public workshops, as well as producing new work while I’m there. In fact, I might even be basing a workshop on my last blog post about dealing with creative block. It’s all way bigger and better than I thought it would or could be and this is where I get freaked out.

I tend to plan for things to happen gradually. I imagined approaching the gallery, showing some work as part of a group show, or in their shop, then building a relationship and eventually teaching classes and having a solo show. I’d imagined this all happening over the course of one or maybe two years.  In reality it all went from a chat to a solo show over the course of a phone conversation.

I’m torn right now between what I should be writing as a capable and confident professional who knows what they are doing, and the rest of me which feels like it’s completely out of it’s comfort zone.

I felt really uptight and freaked out on the ferry home. Really shaken up. Not anxious, or sad, or happy or afraid. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I tend to think of my work as therapy, as something that’s healing for me and maybe other people and that’s perpetually not quite there yet. Always on it’s way to something else. Always working towards being something better at some point down the line. As if anyone who thinks it’s good should get a load of what it will be one day when I actually become who I’m going to be.  I imagine that I am setting things in motion so that when I finally get to a point where I can deal with it,  it will all be in place.  As if future me is just waiting for her time to appear and be all-knowing and capable and fabulous in a way that present me can’t quite fathom.

Is that feeling always going to be there? If I’m looking for reassurance from the outside then what the hell will it take for me to feel like I have actually arrived at the fantasy version of myself that I am forever thinking I’ll be in two to five years time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is self indulgent bollocks and that I need to start seeing myself as a fully formed person who is actually capable of doing this.  I’m out of my comfort zone, but I need to get the hell on with this.

I really want this. I have this. It’s happening. Now. I think my brain is so excited and a bit afraid of it that it’s hurling ideas at me at a rate that I can’t quite keep up with.

I don’t want to talk about the title of the show or the work I’m making for it just yet, but it will all be drip feeding out on Facebook and Instagram and in my newsletter over the next six months. For those of you who want to see the show but won’t be able to come all the way out to the wilds of Western Scotland, (which is probably most of you), I’m also hoping to exhibit the same show in Glasgow and I’ll be videoing the whole thing so you can see it online. We may even manage a live stream.

Today though, I will be getting back to finishing what I’ve started and completing at least some of the twelve pieces I have waiting for my attention.  Quite a few of the pieces I’m working on use some of the themes and techniques that will be in the larger exhibition pieces, so you’ll be getting a little bit of an introduction to where it’s all going.

Right, time to strap on a pair!