So today I was standing staring into the open mouth of Fiona from Mojo’s, yellow, Oxford-bound van, at a collection of boxes and packages, the culmination of my work for the Neither Use Nor Ornament project, having a small celebratory moment, a wow, look at all that work, I made that, kind of moment, before realising that I was still clutching the last package, a plastic bag containing my sketchbooks. Without knowing why, I felt suddenly bereft and began to fuss unnecessarily about them getting lost, which was just cover for not really not wanting to let them go…Out of nowhere grew the thought that (god forbid) if something bad were to happen to the work in the van and I never saw it again, I would cope, even though it’s taken months, if not years of sometimes gruelling work to get it finished, but that I would find it next to impossible to lose the sketchbooks. And of course, anyone who has ever read one of my blogs will know, it’s that about now I will need to start back-peddling to work out why.
I started the most recent sketchbook at what turned out to be the midway stage of the #Nuno project, having previously thought that the work was nearing completion. Having finished nine mixed-media paintings, bag portraits, while gleaning information about their owner’s personal bag behaviour, it dawned on me that the portraits were simply that, a gleaning exercise, a warm-up to the main event. It wasn’t, isn’t the actual work and for a time I felt rather useless and a bit depressed. Fortunately, I had recently taken up stone carving and decided to use the impetus of this fresh, barely- tried medium to push the work forward.
And that’s where the most recent book starts, with the vaguest of brain drawings that had grown out of the mental limbo-fog of depression. And today, I am so glad of its’ mad content: a mish-mash of things stuffed haphazardly in along the way, random thoughts and seemingly irrelevant images, without worrying about order, neatness or consistency.
And that’s the genius thing about sketchbooks, they don’t operate in linear human time or let themselves be constrained by any kind of normal rules. For me the thing that matters above all else when downloading ideas into a sketchbook, (and the same goes for diaries and journals) is to try and use it without any self-regard or concern as to how it might be perceived by an audience, without this premise, it can very quickly become a cold, dead thing. However, once the pact with yourself to not give; a rat’s arse, even the tiniest toss or even a larger, flying f**k (my inner-critic is having a conniption, but you see what I mean?) about what anyone else thinks, is made. Only then will your sketchbook begin to offer up golden diadems in the form of head-opening insights, and aha! moments, all be it in its’ own time, when it’s ready and probably when you least expect it.
But oh, the joy of witnessing the trickle of small idea-streams coalesce of their own accord into a river of intimate knowledge about you and your practice, that leads to new creative potentialities, believe me it’s the holy grail and should really have its’ own saint…oh hang on there is one already, well the patron saint of drawing and against temptation (?) Saint Catherine of Bologna. Coincidentally, her feast day is in March, she’ll do.
So, although of course I would be sad to lose all that hard-won work, I could conceivably make it all over again and the same with the research, it’s all replaceable, but my precious sketchbooks aren’t, so I will keep hold of the book that bears witness to this glorious, unpredictable, unbelievably frustrating but ultimately addictive process, for future reference and that way I know I’ll be fine.
Many thanks to Sonia Boue for instigating and heading up the NUNO project, to her team and to my fellow exhibiting artists.
For further information about the exhibition, Neither Use Nor Ornament at the Ovada Gallery, Oxford. The private view is on Saturday 30th March 2019 doors open at 12 noon. For further information go to: