It has been way to long since I wrote a post, it really has, and it’s going to be a little bit longer still. This is just a quick message to let you know I haven’t forgotten about you, and that I have made some flying fish skeletons. I’ll be back soon.
So the long planned Etsy shop is finally going to open on this coming Sunday the 21st of September and I cannot get my muse to shut the hell up and let me get on with finishing things! It’s funny how this time last year I had ideas clambering to get out of my mind but struggling to actually get past all of my anxieties then finally squeezing their way out into just a few pieces that sort of worked, and now I have an almost constant stream of “Ooooo why don’t you make one of them, try doing that that way, dip that in there, put antlers on that, make some wings out of twigs, make mice out of silk scraps, maybe it’s time to make that octopus, oo0OOO0oooo what about a mermaid, now do a lobster make it blue, no white, no blue…houses on legs make houses on legs…acorn eyeballs! ”
You get the idea. I have a stack of unfinished ideas that only get half made before they seed another one! I can’t seem to switch it all off right now so I am back to making lists and trying to stick to them, although I keep managing to divert myself with tea and dog walking, and (ahem) writing this post.
When it all gets too much I go make another fish skeleton.
I’ve also had the privilege of meeting (online but it still counts!) so many other artists and of course that feeds more ideas of what’s possible and what I’d like to do. I used to staunchly avoid making anything that I’d ever seen done before, ever, and if I made something that I thought was original, then found to be similar to someone else’s I’d immediately feel like a failure. I guess I wrongly assumed that something was only truly creative if it was entirely original. Yes, I was that daft.
I don’t believe that any of us ever work in isolation. Whether we consciously know it or not, we’re all pulled by the same tides that affect everyone else and our muses will be excited by the same things as others on the other side of the world without ever having met, and we think we’re working on something all by ourselves until we put it online and realise that we’re not alone.
I don’t beat myself up so much now if I see work that’s coming from the same place as mine, or ended up in the same place. I used to worry that others would think I was copying them. When I was at art school there was nothing lower than someone who’d blatantly ripped off someone else, we were there to innovate damn it! Only at art school could I have been so naive to presume that I could create something entirely unique that had never been done before.
Of course, the one thing that DOES make our work unique, whether we want it to or not, the one thing that we can only avoid with massive effort, is the very thing that we take completely for granted; our own hands, eyes, skills and minds. If we try to consciously imitate someone else, we can only end up being a poorer version, but if we look at someone else’s work as a starting point and think “I’m going to go try making one of those”, then allow ourselves to take the lead from there, it will inevitably end up being as much our own as an idea that we thought we’d come up with by ourselves.
This of course, only goes for things we add creative input into ourselves. I have an intense dislike for companies and businesses who intentionally rip off other’s designs and ideas, but that’s a whole other blog post!
So into the mix of ideas and possibilities is a whole other world of ideas that I would have avoided just a few years ago because I wouldn’t have been able to prove to myself that I was the only person in the whole world who was doing it. I’ve been wanting to make a mermaid for a while and I had actually thought I should avoid it because other people make mermaids. Seriously. So now that I’ve got over that, expect a mermaid in the not too distant future.
My hands can’t work quickly enough to stitch all of the creatures and worlds that are cascading into and out of my mind and I’m clutching my list, focusing hard on staying the course, at least until the shop is open on Sunday night and I can relax a little bit and work on some new ideas.
I had no idea where this post was going to go when I started it, and I’m still not sure it’s ended up going in any particular direction so for now I will end with a rather fabulous quote that says all of the above and more, far more succinctly than I have.
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C.S Lewis
Now, let’s go get those green velvet shoes finished…
Ethel is an homage to my college years of pink hair and pencil thin eyebrows. I have no idea where this pink fleece came from, it made it’s way into my scrap bag a few years ago and it’s been calling to me for the last few weeks. The flat black doll shoes and wrinkled stockings are reminiscent of those days too 😉
Ethel will be for sale in my Etsy shop in the next two weeks. I’ve been really busy making new work as I’d love the shop to be full of dolls, creatures and bits and bobs before it’s officially opened.
I had a little trial run of a few pieces last week and was bowled over when they all sold out within the first hour and a bit! There were lots of disappointed customers getting in touch who hadn’t managed to get the doll they’d wanted, so I’d like to have lots listed the next time.
It felt very odd packing the dolls up and sending them off all over the world to their new homes but it’s been great to see the photos and messages from the people who’ve bought them.
I’m going to try to keep the dolls (and other creatures and beasts) under wraps until then so Ethel may be the last doll I post on here for the next wee while, at least until the shop is opened.
I have posted about these three before but I suspect I may have written something quite boring and short as the blog was still a bit of a blank canvas at that stage and as anyone who has ever tried to create anything on a black canvas will tell you, blank canvases can either be inspiring or they can freeze your brain until it can only squeeze out banal mutterings. At that particular time it I am pretty sure I was only able to manage banal mutterings, and short banal mutterings at that.
Also, at that stage, I had no idea whatsoever of what anyone would think of my dolls and creatures because almost no one had seen them. I’d been keeping them a secret from everyone except my closest friends and some people who’d wandered into a group show in a gallery in Oslo.
You see, making dolls and creatures and puppets and figures has always been a part of my life, always, since as early as I can remember, but until last year, I had never taken them seriously.
I made figures and creatures all the time, out of whatever was lying around. I always had done. In every design or teaching project I worked on there would be a little figure or animal somewhere in a sketchbook or corner of my desk that I’d made from left over fabric or blu-tac or paper or whatever and I would almost never show them to anyone. Ever. Because as far as I was concerned making wee characters was just something I did, not something that I could actually do as a real job.
I’d trained as a fashion and textile designer. I’d worked all over the place being a serious, grown up designer, who made serious, grown up work and these wee dudes on my desk made out of paper clips, bits of lace and copper wire were not serious or grown up. But the serious, grown up work just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I was tired, I was bored and I was at a dead end. I also had a lot of time on my hands and a dark Norwegian winter ahead of me. I’d asked myself over and over for almost a year “What do I want to do with my life?” .
By the time I’d got to my thirties I’d lost focus on the career I’d strived for in my twenties and realised that I’d invested my time and creativity into something I no longer had faith or much interest in. But what else?
I continued to teach and more often than not, my students’ passion for their subject was more confirmation that what I was doing was not what I should be doing because as much as I loved the subject, I just didn’t have their same love of actually doing it. But damn it, I was in my thirties now, I should know what the hell I want to do with my life, what should I do?
I made lists, wrote in my diary, made mind maps, tried to work through all the clues and possibilities, all the while aware that I was being incredibly self indulgent in a way that I really should have got over in my teens. I had a little studio room and all I did in it was make lists about what I should or could do. The lists were piling up and still my work was confused and half finished because I couldn’t find anything that was worth my full attention, something serious and important and valuable.
So I stopped trying. I spent more time in the forest, learned how to make soap from nettles, play the ukulele, identify edible wild mushrooms and a whole lot of other things I’d wanted to do that I’d never got round to because I was filling every spare minute with panic and lists. Then one morning I woke up and I knew what I wanted to do but it wasn’t a new idea, it was an idea that had been there all along waiting for me to be still and quiet enough to hear it.
I would take all the characters and creatures in my head and let them out. I’d make dolls, puppets, miniature worlds and mythical beasts and I would give them my full attention. Instead of sketching them in blu-tac and masking tape and leaving them on a desk, I would give them my time and my skill and my patience. I would not think about a market for them or a specific outcome. I would let my creative instincts take the lead.
This seems easier than it actually was because I am a self confessed control freak when it comes to my work, or at least I had been. Years of penny counting and hard work meant that I couldn’t just let go and do something for the sheer hell of it. So I sat down and started drawing, then I started making. Then I decided that it was all crap and that it was all going in the trash.
Then I tried again.
Something in the back of my mind was getting stronger and kept telling me to keep going. I kept showing up and I kept on messing up, until one night I took a metre of calico and a pencil and started cutting and drawing, and along came Evie.
Then Brennesle. All three took shape at the same time. All three were dipped in dyes made from plants I’d found on my forest walks. All three taunted me with their complete uselessness and lack of commercial marketability and I still kept on making them.
I was and always have been aware of just how much pressure I put on myself, but I had only been marginally aware of how much pressure I let myself feel from what I thought the “world” wanted from me. I didn’t see value in work that was so personal. I’d let my ego lead me into a career that I had a lot of excitement about in the early years, a lot of interest in certainly, but it never had my heart and soul. I did it because I thought it was what was expected of me. It would make my parents proud of me, bring me a prestige that was easy for other people to understand and give me a respectability that I could rely on. (Just in case you were wondering, it didn’t.)
What I’d never put time into or faith in were the ideas that didn’t yet make sense in the context of the rest of the world. I couldn’t see the value in my imagination from the view point of those around me, so I ignored all the ideas that were only mine. Then I wondered why my work didn’t give me the same joy and satisfaction I saw in others.
The last person to see my new work was my Mum, ironically the first person to see the things I made when I was a little girl. I was so worried she’d think I’d gone nuts, that I was having an early mid-life crisis and finally given in to my hippy fantasist leanings.
Just writing that last sentence, I realised that that is not too far from what I have done but that is no bad thing.
There comes a point where you need to at least ask yourself what you would do with your time and your talent and your skill if you only had to take your own needs into account. I know that life is not that easy or straight forward. It’s easy to keep that little voice small when it seems to be talking shit and you’ve got a million other important things to do. Maybe try listening to it though, because none of what you see on this site existed outside of my head this time last year.
When I finally started listening to that tiny little voice and giving it my time, all of the skills I’d learned in my career, at college, from random Youtube videos, from Pinterest, all the seemingly unrelated crafts and techniques that I’d used for whatever, finally came together, en masse to help me out. Instead of being a time wasting, self indulgent departure from everything I had worked for and built up, this “new”work had become a culmination of it.
And if no one paid any attention to my work, would I keep on making it?
Without a doubt, because as wonderful as it is to have support and appreciation and clients who want to own and commission my work, my work has only become that way because I created it with just my own needs in mind. And I’ve realised that one of my, and probably your fundamental needs is to create something beautiful or wonderful or terrifying or ugly, and quite possibly useless for no other reason than because it is in your mind and deserves your attention.
So whatever is in your imagination, go make it. If you can’t sew, knit or draw then learn. If you can’t sing, dance, write, do it anyway and keep doing it until it feels good. What ever it is you need to learn or do to get what is in your mind out into the open, do it. Do it over and over again. No matter how silly and pointless it seems, no matter how frustrated you get, keep going. You have no idea what it may turn into.
So just over a week ago I was steadily working my way through some ideas for my new Etsy shop, I had a few different things in mind, but was quite happily toddling along taking things at a steady pace. I went for a walk in the woods, gathered some branches to carve into bits and pieces, went home, watched some Breaking Bad, checked my Facebook and BOOM!
The mighty Mister Finch, the hugely talented, influential and generous textile artist had posted some photos of my work to his 160,000 followers, with a link to my Facebook page and 1,200 people had shown their appreciation by hitting the “like” button in just a few hours. This had led to lots of other lovely bloggers, writers and artists sharing my work and an snowball of attention and commissions.
Now I am not and have never been the sort to covet Facebook “likes”. When I set up my page I shared it with my friends and asked them to share it if they felt so inclined. I always wanted appreciation for my work to be genuine and voluntary rather than out of obligation or harassment. Don’t get me wrong, I know that for some businesses, a high “like” rating on Facebook is very important, but I just can’t understand people who cajole others to “like” their pages and who see “like milestones” as an end result in themselves. “Likes” are ultimately abstract and should be seen as a gesture of appreciation and interest, rather than a measure of success.
I was over the stonking moon!
The beautiful messages of support, interest, fascination and sheer loveliness were staggering. Some made me cry, especially the people who told me that seeing my work had inspired them to make their own. That was particularly nice.
I spent most of the weekend feeling all fluffy, then went back to the studio on Monday petrified that the next thing I made would be awful and that I’d let down all the lovely people who’d taken the time to write to me.
I was reminded of almost every other creative success in my adult life and how every single one had been followed by crippling self doubt and the crushing weight of my own expectations.
So, I decided to go back to what I know best and spend a day in the studio making random things for no other reason than to see what happens. My good friend Louise McVey, a beautiful and very talented ceramic artist makes time for this sort of creative work regularly ( this is the woman who came up with ceramic monobrows on sticks and noses that sneeze giant flowers, for no other reason than just because) and I always find that it’s a good way to get a grip of your (my) own spiralling freak outs.
So I made these fish skeletons.
I had no idea if they’d work out, if they’d look good, if they’d be anything I’d want to share with anyone, but to hell with it! I wanted so see what a fish skeleton would look like if it was made from silk and cotton.
I think for any of us who work in creative fields, it’s easy to latch on to the work and processes that are commercially successful as most of us live with unstable, if not chaotic incomes, and it can be difficult to find the time to invest in something as simple and seemingly ephemeral as creative play for it’s own sake with no specific outcome.
To suddenly have overwhelming support for work that had been largely unnoticed for the last while had thrown me into a panic. I suddenly felt the pressure to do meaningful work that would also keep everyone’s attention, when what I really needed to do was go back to basics and work as if no one was watching. As much as I value my work, I think it’s important to keep just a little bit of perspective on just how important it is in the grand scheme of things, and I firmly believe that taking time to simply play around with creative ideas can keep you from taking your work and yourself too seriously.
I want to thank every single person who has taken the time to write to me, to share my work and your thoughts about it. I am so completely grateful for your time, your lovely words and your generosity.
When I posted Dinah on my Facebook page, quite a few people commented that they thought she looked sad. I have to agree that she definitely has a slight melancholy that I hadn’t planned. I’d always imagined her as having quite a sultry, cat like expression and she ended up with a much more fragile look.
All of my dolls and creatures have hand drawn faces, so I never know what sort of expression they are going to have until it is drawn on. Sometime, no matter how I try to plan it or draw it, a face will just take on an expression of it’s own and no matter how much I try to tweak it or change it, it will be the way it wants to be.
One commenter described Dinah as having a “Monalisa” smile, which I thought suited her very well. She actually reminds me a lot of a beautiful Welsh friend who I haven’t seen in too long. Maybe it’s time head south to go visit her.
Dinah is made made mainly from calico, but her stockings are made from scraps of a baby blue Chinese silk blouse. Her hair was originally part of an Edwardian christening gown that I found in a charity shop in Glasgow and bought for a whopping £3! The fabric was decaying and falling apart but small parts of the delicate cotton lawn were still holding together. I dyed them with onion skins to make the beautiful soft peachy colour. Her hair is decorated with chocolate alpaca fleece needle felted into little balls and embroidered with blue silk thread.
Dinah has a slightly more voluptuous shape than a lot of my dolls, I drew her pattern free hand and loved seeing her curves come to life as she was shaped, tucked and sewn. Her curves did make her slightly more difficult to pose though, so I think I may have to make her a chaise longue, probably from red silk velvet.
Violetta took shape from the feet up. I made her at the same time as Constance and Fifi and decided to give her similar long pointed feet. Instead of stitching her toes, I embroidered red shoes, another one of my fixations, then let her character build up from there.
I love the story of The Red Shoes and all it’s variations (Violetta’s shoes were originally much brighter but dip dying them in red wine dulled them down to a deep blood red).
The original version of the story is a cautionary tale of the dangers of pride and vanity but I prefer the later (or possibly earlier) interpretations of it where the shoes are a metaphor for the passions, drives and longings that will tear us apart if we don’t find a way to live with them in a balanced way.
I spent almost an entire week stitching and embroidering the red silk shoes in my Stitch gallery, and it became a full on compulsion until they were finally finished.
These dolls started as a combination of fabrics rather than a clear idea of what they would end up looking like. I always wanted them to be a pair, one dyed with indigo, the other with onion and both using the pale grey Liberty print fabric and the dark grey antique kimono scraps.
I’ve got a massive hoard of Liberty scraps, I just can’t throw any of it away. The prints are so beautiful that I think it’s such a shame to not use even the tiniest wee bits of it. The same goes for kimono scraps. I’ve collected old kimonos since I was a teenager and once they inevitably fall apart after years of wear and tear, I salvage what bits I can and save them up for quilting or doll making.
I wanted these dolls to have long, skinny, floppy arms and legs and a sort of laziness about them. The fabrics are so soft and fine that the dolls flopped over naturally but I added elongated feet and ears just to exaggerate it a bit. I love the way the feet have turned out on both of them.
I’ll be adding Constace and Fifi to my new Etsy store in the next few weeks, along with other creatures and dolls. If you’d like to keep up to date you can find me on Facebook
I first moved to Oslo, Norway in October 2012. It was six weeks before I was due to exhibit as part of a collaboration with Scottish Artist Louise McVey and at that point I had no idea what I was going to make for the show. I’d brought suitcases full of scraps of fabrics and threads with me and decided to collage them into little towers, just like the ones outside the window of my little studio.
Glasgow, my home town, is known for it’s rows and rows of almost identical sandstone tenements, and the pastel coloured buildings of Oslo were so different. Each one seemed to have it’s own particular windows, gates and doors and it’s own colour scheme. Instead of the huge curved bay windows of Glasgow’s tenements, they had rows of tiny little squares and rectangles.
These towers ended up being the first art works I made in Norway. They were made from fabrics I’d collected, salvaged and hoarded since my college years in London, and it seemed to make sense to use them up to make my first art work of my first impressions of my new life in Norway. I don’t usually use a sewing machine to make my sculptures but I like how scruffy and scratchy the stitching looks on these, it’s a good reflection of my state of mind at the time. I was surrounded by boxes, threads, fabrics and yarns in a tiny wee room looking out at all the blue and yellow and white buildings with their tiny windows, trying to take it all in and and get my head straight, desperately missing home but hoping that my new life was going to be as lovely as I hoped it would be.
I try to keep my posts on here for new work as and when it happens, but I’m working on some new little houses and these came to mind. If you’d like to keep up with the work as it’s in progress you can find me on Facebook here.