I am currently in the process of building a new series of artworks. It is a time of much reflection. The way I make work forces me to listen to the drawings as they unfold in order to know where we go next together. The drawing and I are in conversation with one another. I take a small step forward, slowly let a shape take form on the page, step back to see what is unfolding and then decide what comes next. During this stage of my creative process I am trying to consciously let the shapes in the drawings develop without needing to know yet what they are, or what they will become. It is challenging, and I begin each piece fearing that this drawing/conversation will not eventuate into anything recognisable or meaningful. I have to let go, trust in my own process and allow myself to be taken on the journey.
This way of working is not something I was ever taught. I have developed this method over time and it works for me. It probably says as much about the work as the final image itself. I thought I would try to share the steps I take to make a piece of artwork with you here.
When I begin a drawing I try to begin without an end in sight. So my very first step is to open my journal with a clear and empty mind and begin drawing a line without any intention or pre-conceived notion of where it is heading. This is more difficult than it sounds. Once I have the first shape I try to suspend reality for as long as I can, allowing the shapes and their relationships to one another unfold without the intervention of my conscious mind. I am avoiding the ‘oh, that looks like the cross section of a tree trunk…or is it an eye?’ conversation with myself too early into the piece.
I try to remain patient and open with the image, making room for the unexpected to appear, rather than jumping in too early with a more obvious reading of the shapes, and prematurely driving the work in a particular direction. I work very slowly, staying very present with every mark. I do not want to miss anything or overlook any possibilities that may be arising.
My whole purpose for making art is to see what wants to be expressed. As much as possible I try to get out of the way and then, when I start to see a little part of my own story unfolding, I take charge, actively step in and drive the image to its conclusion. It is at this point that I can be bold, knowing that the message is truly mine.
As I work to resolve the piece I reflect on my recent thoughts and experiences. I work on adding (or subtracting) details in order to fully express the meaning held in the work. These details help to capture and convey layers of meaning.
The images in my work will often be a reference to current life events or thoughts, but the work also speaks to broader issues. There is usually a focus on themes of home, family and a sense of belonging.
The piece you see pictured above (‘The Butterfly Effect’) turns out to be a poignant image for me at the moment. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I recently lost my grandfather and, as a way of feeling connected and reassured, my children and I ask the universe for signs that he is present, looking over us, and guiding us. My children are quite creative in their requests and so we are often on the lookout for all manner of ‘signs’. Many things have crossed our path in the most interesting and unexpected of ways – a black dog blocking a doorway, a single white rose on an otherwise bare bush, a lone bee in the heart of the city, etc. My own requests are less exotic. I am happy when a single butterfly or a white feather catches my eye. So the butterfly that has presented itself here in my artwork provides great comfort and is a symbol that all is well in the world (despite my sense of loss).
On a broader level this piece is also a reference to The Butterfly Effect, the idea that one small movement can have a large effect, i.e the notion that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings may set off currents in the atmosphere that will trigger a large storm. In the context of family life we are naturally reliant on one another, and this in turn means that the mood or disposition of one family member affects the others. Under the current circumstances I am very conscious of the ripples of my own grief and the affect that it has on my children, and in turn the effect their outbursts of sadness have on me.
Once I have completed a cycle of the creative process in this way and the piece is complete, especially when the work speaks to the heart of a matter, there is a deep sense of satisfaction. It can really stay with me for a while in much the same way a good movie or significant book can. I take my time to reflect on the images that arise before I can move on to make another work.
And so the process continues.