For the Love of Verbs – Crossing the Line Between Words and Pictures.

1. Brain drawing/spoken word.

2. Crossover written instructions/painting
Article for Artist’s and Illustrators Magazine
3. To darn
To Darn 2015 Leaves, silk thread.
4. To Cover
To Cover 2014 Ruth Geldard Found log, glove leather, silk thread.

All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.
Kahlil Gibran

I am not a natural learner. Well, not in the traditional, educational model of; linear, sequential, bite-sized chunks type learning, which as a child, I found hard to swallow. The nearest technical term for my learning style, is probably, non-linear, but I would describe it as an; holistic, phenomenal, sporadic, and insightful event, which can come without warning and on a good day, is an overwhelming, 3D, synapse-sparking experience. These insights are often generated at and between, media boundaries especially at the point of crossing over. Recently, I have had a whomping-great, word/picture, head-opening insight. I was practically talking-in-tongues… but I’m getting carried away and to make sense of these insights and to satisfy the need to share, I must backtrack to come forwards.

Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you are pierced. Aldous Huxley

As readers of previous blogs will know, I am an artist, though these days, the link is a bit tenuous as I spend a lot of my time writing. I come from a large family of five children and although not poor, money was tight, which may have been why people felt compelled to give us vast quantities of books, sometimes a whole lifetime’s worth. The books piled up in the attic and we children, roamed and read at will. From age ten, I devoured an eclectic and heady mix. Here is a small sample, in no particular order; Little Women, The Last Days and Death of Hitler, The Carpet Baggers, Lorna Doone and Biggles, interspersed with everything by Agatha Christie and Ray Bradbury. This resulted in un-holy, non-hierarchical couplings. So, it’s not surprising my first attempt at oil painting, was copied from a book, an illustration from Gulliver’s Travels.       Crossover: reading/painting.

Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth. Ursula K. Le Guin

In my twenties, I taught English as a foreign language and forced to draw on my strengths, made extensive use of the whiteboard and marker pen, to invent, lightening quick, on-the-spot, brain drawings, to explain and reinforce, things like prepositions (1.) Flash cards followed and soon words and pictures melded and elicited language. Crossover: drawing/spoken words

Later on, in Adult Education, as a teacher of drawing and painting, to expand student’s technique, I made lists of step-by-step instructions to fit images of de-constructed paintings. At this time, I was also exhibiting my own work commercially, detailed still-lives of objects with printed text on the packaging, Sherbet Dabs come to mind, and a book by my then favourite author, Iris Murdoch. Later still, were magazine and book contributions, road-testing, paint reviews and demonstrations, all discussed painting techniques and this type of writing became a habitual way of reflectively, documenting process – I still seem to be doing it… (2.)                                                 Crossover: painting/written instructions

The word is a verb and the verb is God. Victor Hugo

But it wasn’t until I ventured back to university that I consciously used words as a medium in my art practice. To accommodate the difficult transition between figurative and conceptual art, I moved into sculpture and while revelling in all the new learning, discovered Richard Serra’s famous Verb List (1967-68). He used verbs like; to chop, to spill, to cut, as a vehicle to create work, incorporating industrial materials like steel. He used verbs in an overtly masculine way, which prompted me to hijack and subvert some of the more ambiguous ones like; to cover, to flow and to fold, and feminise them within my own work. Eventually I used new ones like, to nurture and to augment. The use of verbs as a constraint, kept the work pared down to its essentials. (3. & 4.) Crossover: conceptual art-speak/sculpture.

After university, I wrote a blog about my art practice which precipitated a profound change. In retrospect, I think the drip effect of regular writing allowed words to insinuate themselves as my primary medium. Three years on, I have a novel, Indian Yellow, which at the moment is languishing in Intensive Care, undergoing various treatments, each time I have another insight. My lust for knowledge is undiminished but now creative cross-currents flow between art and writing which enables me to utilise the famous, Sentences about Conceptual Art, by Sol Lewitt, which were my mantra at university. All apply equally well to writing and these two are especially pertinent. (3.) Crossover: art practice/journaling

No. 6. If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.

No. 22. The artist cannot imagine his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.

Now drawing flows into and informs my writing, for example, I have learned (through tedious repetition), it is better at the start of a portrait, not to commit to any singular feature too soon, rather, keep the drawing loose until an accurate foundation is established. In writing terms, this would equate to a speedy, loose first draft and to let the theme emerge naturally to avoid over-committing too early.                                           Crossover: preliminary sketch/first draft.

You never try to push a noun against a verb without trying to blow up something. H.L. Menken

And lately, reducing my overall adverb limit, in an attempt to improve my writing, less is more, has forced to my verbs pull their weight, stand on their own feet, so to speak. And that’s when it happened…reading late into the night, I became aware of other writer’s verbs behaving oddly/badly/brilliantly (adverb count blown), sometimes in unexpected ways and at others, completely out of their original context. I could see that these intentional shifts, augmented the verbs with added feeling and extra reaching power, as here:

“Mammy exploded the cutlery on the kitchen table.” From Electric Souk, by Rose McGinty.

This tells you so much about Mammy. And below, two fairly ordinary verbs used to extraordinary effect.

“The driveway unfolded in a lazy ache and I looked up to the house, its wide face rubbed to orange by the late sun.” from Light, by C. M. Taylor.

The use of unfolded, gives a heightened sense of ennui and, rubbed, makes physical, an invisible weathering process.

And finally, in The Good Son, by Paul McVeigh, the rambunctious spirit of the book, is for me, encapsulated within the dialogue and I couldn’t help noticing what was going on with the verbs.

“Ma I’m away on.”

I shout to the yard.

“Did you get washed?”

Ma shouts back.

The verb-treatment here, lends vernacular authenticity, especially Ma’s passively voiced, get washed, which helps me see, Ma and gives new meaning to term, phrasal verb. Crossover: words/visual image.

So that’s about where I am now, reading with my new, verb-watching antennae on and enjoying art and literature, showing-off and swashing around together, as well as intermittent attempts to defibrillate my novel…whilst surreptitiously starting a new one, called Bleu, God help me.

Happy days.

I thought art was a verb, rather than a noun. Yoko Ono

Sol LeWitt’s Sentnces for Conceptual Art

Richard Serr’s Verb List

Rose McGinty  

C. M. Taylor

Paul McVeigh

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Written on the Body – We are What We Do.



My body is slowly recovering from the seven day marathon, of exploring and listening to, the broad church of music that is, Broadstairs Folk Week. But with all the eating, drinking, dancing and walking, also essential elements, full participation requires physical (if not mental) stamina. And as I have explained on previous blogs, an absolute necessity for my personal enjoyment of the festival, is to be able to draw the musicians as they perform and over the years I have become addicted to this live, in-motion, participatory type of drawing. However, it is not without its physical discomforts, risks and even bodily injury.
This year has seemed more physical than most, right from the start, on the opening night. As I stood at the front of a packed bar, standing being the only option, into the throng, wove two delightfully drunk teenage girls who preceded to; lurch, lean and sing, in front of the legitimate performers. Twice I had to prevent them from falling backwards on to me, which culminated in a small, handbag-related injury. The good-natured crowd eventually got fed up, especially with the leaning, and the girls got properly told-off, but were so charmingly remorseful, it was easy to forgive them, especially when one of them, put her arm around my shoulders and said breathily into my hair, “I love you, I love your drawing, it’s well-good – I love you…” etc.
The next morning, I found out that two hours of standing-drawing, even with alcohol, was probably too much. Years of drawing in the melee of the crowd, has taken its toll on my right, sketchbook-holding arm, which tends to go rigid when I concentrate and then my spine joins in, from now on, I will have to find things to lean on. But later that day, numb with Paracetamol and Shandy, as I was drawing two violinists, I noticed the way that even their young bodies had already begun to mould themselves around their instruments, their faces flattening into chin rests and elbows bending into waists, all echoing and exaggerating the lines and curves of their instruments. We are what we do.
The day of my second injury, a small cut on my toe, the result of running from a downpour, had the happy consequence of causing us to take shelter in a low-ceilinged, dark bar where two men were dancing and tapping on boards, in what seemed like an early, infectious, form of beat-box. They managed to dance, sing and play instruments, simultaneously, accompanied by a wild Nordic-looking man, with blonde dreadlocks, who swung his double-bass like a cricket bat. It sounds crazy and they are, in the refreshingly eccentric and original treatment of an eclectic array of old songs. I tracked, stalked and drew them three times, almost defeated by the constant motion of their bodies that tested my patience, as it meant waiting for a particular gesture to repeat. At their final gig, grey with sheer end-of-festival knackerdness, they gave their all, in a storming performance that transmuted the grimy, sweat-stained pub, where your feet stick to the floor, into what felt like the O2.
So many moments, so many tiny decisions about what to include and what to leave out, each one, rich with the potential of a thousand possibilities and their consequences, including failure. This yearly drawing marathon has its own peculiar mental space which allows a pause to reflect on my drawing. This year I came across a performer that I last drew, anonymously, twenty-five years ago. In the interim we have both aged in parallel, perhaps this is what made me so aware of the ravages that time and music have reaped on him. But when he played…all that fell away and the pure, clean sound caused a memory-loop back to the first time, and in that spiritual space, we, musician and artist, were united. We have still not met and don’t need to, the most important thing is that we both keep doing what we do, for love, for all of us, we are what we do.