Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Wanted: A creative manager and/or shadowy svengali

 A few months ago I came to the realisation that I need a helping hand to get done what I want to get done. After much umming and erring and some pleasant detours I'm ready to ask for that help ... If this is you then please get in touch:
a) you love the art I create and want to use your cheerleading/creative management skills to encourage me to make more and fly higher/deeper.
b)  you follow what I say on twitter with interest, curiousity, amusement and a large dose of forgiving patience.
c) you are reasonably confident that you'll be able to tell the difference between when you need to prod / coax / trick me into taking the next step and when you need to simply hold back and wait for the tempestuous breezes of my creative enthusiasms and/or despairs to roll on by.

If any of that applies to you then please do raise your hand  or whisper in my ear and we can have a chat over coffee and cake, or wine and chocolate, or both of the above. My hope is that we'll find a way to work and play together 'in a spirit of mutual ambition' and that you'll get tangible benefits from working with me but that the promise of future ££ will not be the reason you want to embark on this unknown adventure. In the first instance I might be paying you in art / ideas / poetry / stories but that would hopefully be a short-term measure while we find our feet and wait for the music to start happening.

I'm particularly interested in hearing from anyone who wants to disruptively explore pay-what-you-wish, copyleft and self-publishing as methods of creative expression. If you have any questions then plonk them in the comments box below or give me a holler on twitter and I'll try to give a sensible answer :)

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Pay It Forward Art Fandango

The lovely Corinna Spencer recently gifted me a small, but perfectly formed, piece of artwork as part of a pay it forward art fandango that she was participating in. Here is the piece she sent me ... it was hard to take a photo of it without capturing anything too revealing < blushes >

Pay it Forward art

So now it's my turn to pay it forward. If you'd like me to send you a piece of artwork then leave a comment below or give me a shout on that there twitter. The first five people to holler will get a small something sent to them, completely gratis. The only catch is that you then have to send five people a piece of art/doodle/scrawl/whatever.

If you like the idea of getting art from me for free but feel lightheaded at the thought of having to send out some art yourself then there is another way ... ... ... < wait for it > .... ... ... yes, that's right, you can Give Blood, Get Art instead. Let the art rush commence!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Hand-drawing a Library of Creative Inspiration

A while back I set up an Amazon affiliate shop widget thingy that (in theory) makes me a few pennies when someone clicks through to buy any of the books I've included in it. I say 'in theory' because so far I haven't made a single penny. Even so the whole 'making money from simply curating a collection of books that have inspired me' things leaves me feeling a bit icky and uneasy.

So I dreamt up a personal art project that disperses my own sense of ickiness about making unearned money ... I'm planning to hand-draw the front cover of each of the treasured books I own and share the reasons why I cherish it.

First up is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg which I bought in 1999 from a bookstall at the Womad Festival when I was slightly under the influence of hot spiced cider. It was the first Natalie Goldberg book I bought and it's now dog-eared and travel-worn. Every now and then I misplace it at the bottom of a bag or a box and it seems to always resurface just at the moment when I've given up on ever finding it again. It was also the first book published by Shambhala that I bought. Over the years I've come to treat the Shambhala logo on a book as a sign that I should go ahead and buy the book I'm leafing through in a bookshop - they've become the gold standard of zen books for me :)

The opening paragraph will probably be enough for you to recognise whether Natalie's words speaks to your life story. It certainly was for me:
"I was a goody-two-shoes all through school. I wanted my teachers to like me. I learned commas, colons, semicolons. I wrote compositions with clear sentences that were dull and boring. Nowhere was there an original thought or genuine feeling. I was eager to give the teachers what I thought they wanted."
The overall message of Writing Down the Bones is *Sit down to write. Keep your hand moving.* If you sometimes find yourself frozen to the spot by perfectionism and procrastination then you'll find Natalie's words as comforting and inspiring as I did. What Natalie writes about is a lifelong journey of making "a choice for beauty, kind consideration [mostly for ourself], and clear truth." Mindful choices made with our feet on the ground and in the knowledge that "we are not running after beauty with fear at our backs."

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Carrying a campfire within me

Even though it's been nearly a month since I headed to deepest Hampshire for Uncivilisation: the Dark Mountain Festival, I still don't quite have the words to tell you what I experienced there. So for now ....

.... Wrap this woollen shawl around your shoulders. I finished knitting it as I sat listening to the bands perform and the speakers speak. The yarn was soaked through with the words I heard and I knitted them into the very fabric of it ....

.... Hold this rough ball of stone tightly in your hand. I found this small spherical rock just by the entrance to the Woodland Stage as I quietly slipped into a session where an animist priestess held a space for us for to unravel and reveal our true motives and share deeply intimate stories ....

.... Listen to the fearless feral choir and wonder what the world would be like if we all had opportunities to test the full range of our voices along with a congregration of strangers, who would quickly become friends, in a spirit of trusting solidarity and communal courage ....
The Inaugural Performance of the Uncivilisation Feral Choir

.... Words are on their way in the form of stories and poems but for now here are the words I've been catching as they swirl around my head:

It's great to know that a date has already been set for next year's Uncivilisation I'm already looking forward to the long journey to hope and then back home.

Monday, 25 July 2011

If I ruled the world ...

... it would be called the United States of Sanctuary.

This would be the flag we'd fly:

Be Human

And this would be the national anthem we gather to sing from our souls:

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues by subpop

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Postcards From the Edge of Poetry

I went onto Chat Roulette for the first and, most probably, the last time. I completely blame Ben Folds for my curiousity. I had my webcam and mic switched off. Something in the bored eyes of the strangers I saw looking back at me inspired the poetic part of my brain. I've constructed a poem-ish thing from the fleeting fragments of, sometimes one sided, conversations. It was easier than I expected (and less harrowing) but the hard part is that most people spin the wheel as soon as they see you haven't got your webcam on - I managed to get a few people to talk to me though ... Below is the result of our anonymous interactions, edited and slightly reconstructed but using only the words that appeared in the chat box. Because of the way the chat box works much of the text appears in reverse to the order it was typed in ... somehow it still seems to work.

{*warning: Chat Roulette is a *bad* place - please do not journey there yourself*}

[...] wait. [...]

from the ether
a fragment
of poetry.


for a small sign
of life
for a small sign
of light
in the darkness


in the darkness



Hello friend

I don't have friends
but I will
yes you can


deep woman
a boy
or a girl?





Hello darkness





this is
my first
have you
been here

like grave?

une artiste?


you femme?
a butterfly?
a spider?

has something caught your eye?
what are you looking at?

did your mind fall
and drift
into the ether?

are you still breathing?
are you asleep?

au revoir




next time
the wheel stops
we will find
each other

it will be like
we're listening to John Cage
or dreaming in the dark
if we stay quiet for 4mins 33secs


it will be like
a momentary soulmate
when i find
black square

i like the silence



Friday, 25 February 2011

We are all artists ... no, really, we *are*

I'm prepared to admit that we are not all Vincent Van Gogh or Jackson Pollock or Georgia O'Keefe. But we can all make a mark on the page and leave our mark on the world. Start by scrawling, keep going, maybe progress to doodling or adding flourishes to what you write, or throw a whole tin of paint at a wall then stand back and watch the paint draw its own masterpiece. [n.b. this author will not be held liable for any damage caused to either your property or your propriety.] If that all still sounds too scary then start of with tracing paper and a pencil and draw anything you like from a magazine or a book or your computer screen - Ignore anyone who tells you tracing is cheating - invite them to join in or jog on [or stronger words if you're feeling feisty].

Online sketch tools like the wonderfully delicate and dreamy Odopod reveal drawing for what it really is ... one line, followed by another, continue until you're finished, or until you run out of ink, or until you lose the feeling in your hand.


Another online mark making tool that will show you up for the artist that you are is the hypnotically compelling http://mrdoob.com/projects/harmony/

Here's another one - I drew it while I was on a conference call, it's called 'Dog Bubble Doodle' ... maybe naming your creations might feel too fancy at first, in which case call them 'scrawl 1', 'scrawl 2', 'scrawl 3' etc until they start naming themselves.

Off you go ... be the artist you are ... come back and show me the marks you make ... or at least a photo of the drawer you're hiding them in.

Sermon over.

Update: I'm going to keep adding things here until every last one of you (i.e. all 9 of my readers ;-)) show me something they've drawn ...

Dionne Swift's 'Speed Drawing' blogpost is aimed at textile artists but it would be great fun for anyone. [hat tip to Sally Fort for tweeting about it]

Monday, 21 February 2011

My declaration of decapitalised creative expression

When the tickets for The Story 2011 went on sale I didn't think twice about buying one. Last years event was one of the highlights of the year for me and I still have vivid memories of many of the stories that were shared [some were fiction, some were non-fiction, some were somewhere inbetween]

The blurb for this years event read much the same as last years: "The Story is not about theories of stories, or making money from stories, but about the sheer visceral pleasure of telling a story." So on Friday I sat in the wonderful Conway Hall eagerly anticipating another day of captivating yarns and hoping that I would be able to control my tears more ably than I did last year. I sat all day listening to a masterfully assembled cast of wonderful speakers talking brilliantly about storytelling and I had, you know, a *good* day, but I left feeling somewhat troubled. Partly because, for me, there had been only momentary glimmers of heart-stopping storytelling (and for most of those moments I felt like I'd had to work hard to extract the marrow of the story myself) and occasionally it had felt like I'd stumbled into a project evaluation meeting or that I was picking up a timewarped broadcast of the This is Playful event from 5 months earlier. But, much more than that, I just couldn't stop wondering why so many of the speakers had started their talks by claiming that they weren't storytellers. My heart had sunk a little deeper throughout the day whenever someone announced "I'm not a storyteller..."

In his talk, Karl James asked the question "how do stories limit who someone can be?" ... in Karl's case the story he told us was that he was a 'story listener, not a story teller'. Perhaps the day was lacking in oral storytelling in the sense that there were no magical re-tellings of events, or spellbinding narration of fairytales, or poems, or any other fiction really, but the day was certainly rich in the tangle-weaved words of stories about the speakers and the stories they choose to listen to, or tell, or show, in the work they do and the anecdotes they recounted. The wise folk of Wikipedia say: "Storytelling is the art of portraying real or fictitious events in words, images, and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. ... Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view." I would argue that all of the speakers told us a story and, by extension, are storytellers whether they cared to admit it or not.

It struck me that maybe the crux of this 'I'm not a storyteller' conundrum is that the speakers were thinking of storyteller with a capital letter, i.e. 'I'm not a Storyteller' in the 'my job title isn't Storyteller' sense rather than as a denial of their instrinsic storytelling nature. I then started pondering whether this is the same problem when people say 'I'm not creative' or 'I can't draw' etc, etc.

My meandering thoughts became quite disgruntled as I pondered how anyone could claim that they're not a storyteller when we tell fragments of our own epic story every time we speak, or claim we're not a dancer when we move with our own unique rhythm as we walk and can stumble with unintended grace. As soon as I started removing the capital letter from various creative roles I could see fragments of those roles glimmering in our everyday lives: squeezing toothpaste from the tube becomes an act of sculpture, entertaining a small child in the post office queue becomes performance art.

And so I've written a manifesto of sorts as a reminder to myself and others that, whether we care to admit it or not, we are all practitioners of everyday artistry. even if what we create can sometimes lack a certain aesthetic refinement or craftmanship.

*update: speaker name snafu corrected [nothing to see here, move along]

Sunday, 30 January 2011

you and me and an ampersand

I was lucky enough to be gifted 12 tiny wooden ampersands and I'd like to turn them into 12 pieces of artwork.

I am an ampersand

If you'd be interested in commissioning one of the pieces then get in touch - the price of each piece will depend on how large the finished artwork is, but as a rough guide it will be the cost of the frame multiplied by four :)

Each piece will include one of the wooden ampersands which are about the size of a 20p coin ... which leaves plenty of space to incorporate any ideas you might have :)

tiny wooden ampersand

Head over to Rhona Mowat's blog to find out how these beautifully crafted wooden ampersands came to be.

Number of commissions since I posted this blog ... zero.
Number of ampersands left ... eleven. (because I sat on one and broke it)
... < le sigh >

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Serendipitous Searching

I have come to the conclusion that performing a Google Image search is a fail-safe and fast-track route into the realms of serendipity. Yesterday I was looking for images of ampersands ... more specifically, I was looking for 'how to draw an ampersand' as source material for a new doodle that had popped into my noggin.

My search lead me to this image on the Snore & Guzzle blog


Something in the blogpost piqued my curiosity so I had a bit of a dig around and read through some more of their posts. By the time I got to a thought piece called 'Stacks', written by Michael Neault, I knew I'd found some kindred spirits. I love the clarity of his statements about the unique benefits of libraries:
"You can touch anything in the library. No one tries to sell you anything. Everything is free."

The focus of the blogpost is on how wandering aimlessly through the stacks can lead to discovering hidden treasures and a sense of purpose.

Pavillions of the Heart

I agree wholeheartedly that there is something deeply therapeutic about wandering through libraries and stumbling across something you didn't know you were looking for - with the current threats to the future of UK public libraries I'm left wondering whether the serendipitous image searches I get a kick out of online could ever provide anywhere near the same level of therapeutic sustenance once all the library shelves are empty.

beauty of an empty bookshelf

If I worked in a public library I would turn Michael's resonant prose into a poster and stick it to the front door:
"You can touch anything in the library. No one tries to sell you anything. Everything is free."

Links worth looking at (imho):
The #savelibraries hashtag on Twitter
Philip Pullman's speech in defense of public libraries
Snore & Guzzle's 'About Us' page which only served to deepen my intellectual crush on them ... "Story-telling is not a luxury, it is an absolutely core need." {Robert Rosen} ... Amen to that.