And suddenly nothing is the same, and we all wish for a time when it was. I can't say my life has changed enormously, in that I didn't congregate in crowds, we didn't meet up with people a lot, we're both pretty much home bugs, but there's a cloud of fear over the country - the world - already and it's only going to increase. It seems wrong to say anything unfeelingly cheerful. It seems wrong to say anything unnecessarily miserable. Everything seems wrong.
I've made a list of things that Now would be a good time to get done - the mountain range of ironing, the chaotic tangle of the garden, a billion plates ready for when I can get to a press and print again - but knowing I should, I could, isn't the same as having any kind of drive to do them. I did start cutting back the dogwood (which, I can't help noticing, has turned into quite a sturdy tree since the last time I looked at it), and on the arty front I've done a little gentle collage from old prints towards a concertina book (on the theme of lockdown - what else?) but mostly I'm rereading favourite books. A comfortable slippers approach to life. Maybe it's not such a bad idea, for now.
Printmaking is great (well, it is when it's not driving me to distraction in one of quite a number of ways - never mind), and selling prints (specifically to people I don't know) is great too - it's proof that people out there think my work is worth acquiring for whatever reason. It's also great when people I know want my prints, of course, but a different great.
But it's good too if what I already like to do can, in some small way, help out. Donating art for charity is nothing new - there are auctions, secret postcard sales, fairs where a percentage of any sale goes to charity and so on. The charity is often the organiser of such events, but the Instagram project #oneofmanypostcard dreamt up by John Pedder comes from the artist end of things.
His plan is straightforward - an artist (let's say a printmaker - I think it started with printmakers) produces an edition or series of postcard-sized prints, and offers them up on Instagram (John sets a date for sending them out, giving the project more presence and excitement, and therefore ultimately more effectiveness). For free. Anyone who would like one says Ooo, yes please (until they're all spoken for), and in return is expected to make a donation for what they consider the print is worth, to a charity of their choice - or volunteer or whatever, something that aids a charity. And really that's it. On or around the chosen date. artists post, people receive, and make a donation - a small good thing happens, in this difficult world of ours, and that's a plus. And it's growing all the time, with a lot of excitement generated around the date, feeding into momentum for the next date, and the next. How big will it become?
I acquired a couple of postcards from previous release dates and was determined this last time (February 14th) to join in myself. A bit nervous - what if nobody wants them? - but the two dozen I committed to did go, plus a couple more to make me feel wanted (good grief). I sent them out to the USA and Canada, Germany and the Czech Republic, and all around GB, and already I'm hearing back from people. So many charities getting funds - however much, however little - they might not otherwise have received. Cancer charities, mental health ones, Crisis, funds connected to the Australian bush fires, saving cockatoos, helping the homeless, and doubtless many more. There's no need to say what charities recipients donate to, but I was touched by how many people chose to tell me. When I first decided to join in, I suggested that what the printmakers got out of it was inky fingers and a warm fuzzy feeling. I was right.
No, seriously though. 2016, not so much just around the corner as reaching out to shake hands, and I don't feel I've really managed to get to know this last year. Or the one before or the one before that, if I'm honest. Maybe that's the thing with years - they're more passing acquaintances than close friends. Perhaps it's better that way.
I've given up on the whole Resolutions thing - they're mostly gone before the end of the first day, and telling people or not doesn't make the slightest odds as to whether or not I keep to them. I don't. Instead I'll spend the first little while figuring out exactly what printmaking and book arts I think I want to achieve in the next twelve months, in quite some detail, and then I'll go for it. It'll change, of course it will, it always does, but if I can at least stick with the 'go for it' bit, something might come out of it. I feel like I've had a fallow making stretch since forever - now seems an awfully good time to break it. Perhaps, a year from now, I'll be saying something other than 'So what did I do with that one?' That would, actually, be an achievement in itself.
In spite of a compulsion to check in an unhealthy number of times, I'm not really a great fan of facebook. It seems generous to call much of it filler, even if I follow up on quite a lot of it. Though I hate myself for it, so that's ok.
But from time to time, one way or another, it chucks up something good, and this article on creativity was one. I'm not going to repeat great chunks of it here, but very briefly it dealt with composer Aaron Copeland being interviewed for "The Creative Experience" by Abt and Rosner. I found myself nodding away at nearly all the things being said. One was that sometimes you find yourself wanting to be creative but with nothing ready to create - been there, often. It can make me feel I have no imagination and should give up Now and Forever. Another was that if a piece of work doesn't please you, it doesn't matter whether it pleases anyone else or not, it just won't do. I think it can be a result of the previous problem - trying to push ahead with an idea that isn't right. Though it didn't mention the 'yeah, but put it away for six months and then have another look before you chuck it for good - you might find you feel quite differently' theory. Works surprisingly often, though not by any means always. It didn't address, either, that sometimes you might not like something initially because it turned out wrong for what you wanted, and you're too close to see yet if it's any good regardless of that.
The article also talked about an incubation period for ideas - figured that one out - and Copeland said about having to get things down while the fires of creation were burning, because afterwards it would all be gone. That too had a ring of familiarity - it's all so clear when you just can't sleep because it's searing grooves into your mind, but when you settle down a couple of days later, now that you think you have the time, it's nowhere to be found or is just a misty memory waving a cheery farewell. Ah me.
Sometimes your brain does strange things to you. Yesterday I spotted a squat predator crouching on top of its slaughtered prey, protecting its catch from others. Sorry, yesterday I saw a digger atop a heap of rubble.
It's not even the first time it's happened. When Bolton College was being flattened, I distinctly saw a pack of similar predators delicately pulling the entrails out of the carcass of some much larger beast. I wish it didn't happen because it can make me feel faintly nauseous. I don't think I've been reading the wrong books and I know I actively avoid the wrong films, so what's it all about? If this is what imagination is all about, couldn't I have one that comes up with something more, I don't know, more pleasant?
I've just reread an earlier blog and realised that yes, in the end I missed the Norman Ackroyd exhibition at Atelier Rose and Gray. I did actually try to organise a trip more than a week ago, but to be honest I couldn't work out where the hell the gallery actually was. The website didn't help one iota. And if you already don't have a lot of space in that particular day, the idea of spending hours searching the streets doesn't appeal. I was going to ask people who'd already been, but time did that thing where suddenly you realise it's gone. I blew it, didn't I?
Still time for the other show I was intending to visit, just. I know exactly where it is, which is always a good start, but I can tell already that I'm going to be lucky to make it before that one, too, closes. Time! Sometimes it isn't as stretchy as it should be.
As for talking about the Manchester Contemporary, too late, too late. I'm not doing so very well just at the moment.
A gripe. I don't indulge them all, but once in a while I treat myself. This one is about roadworks.
I don't know if this is a national development, but locally something has changed. In the past, when there were horrendous roadworks, liable to make your life a misery, or somewhere closed due to, I don't know, building a supermarket in the middle of a village crossroads, there used to be signs, signs that might apologise for any inconvenience caused or signs that might divert you around the problem. Ok, so diversions can be a mixed blessing - by the time you get to a distant junction, you might well be faced by a handful of through-the-window shapes and have forgotten which one you should be following - but at least you felt that Powers somewhere were making an effort.
Now? Far too late to be of any use whatsoever you are informed that there will be 'long delays' and that you should 'find an alternative route'.
Print for good is an initiative run by The Lab, producing quality printed items for sale with profits going to chosen causes. One of its current chosen causes is Hot Bed Press, and the image above is a screenprint by Sean Rorke under the Print for Good banner, available either through their website or at Hot Bed Press.
As for my own prints, it turns out that I've sold the other unframed 'Chalk and Memory' through the Bath open. Which is a surprise, because I definitely only saw one dot under the framed one on the wall when I went to pick it up from Bath at the weekend. A nice surprise, though. So now there's only the framed print left - it really was a very small edition.
While I was there on saturday, I met Amanda Ralfe. I had popped in to have a last look, mostly at her paintings - but they were in the process of coming down, a scant half hour before the end of the exhibition, so that she and her husband could move them on to the next exhibition. I introduced myself (mostly so she didn't think I was some mad woman, stretching my neck round corners trying to look at her work while she tried to walk off with it) and we discovered we'd both grown up locally in Bradford-on-Avon, back when it had a thriving Avon rubber factory at the heart of it. She reminded me of the factory siren - I had completely forgotten about it till then, and it was so evocative of childhood. Far more so than, say, remembering shops that were there then - the dairy, the Co-op near Christchurch. I do remember them, but looking back from now. The siren though, that transported me straight back to then. For a while I used to wonder if it had some tenuous connection with air raid sirens - both my parents grew up in south coast towns with a large military presence so I used to hear plenty of wartime stories. Now the factory siren is further back in my life than the air raid sirens were then for my parents. Getting older, eh - doesn't it just happen to you.
You know that you're a cussed old bag when...
Everyone is having a lovely time at the food fair, meandering slowly in groups of several plus at least one pushchair, through the absolutely chocabloc crowded town centre, pausing here for a while to see what this stall is selling, pausing there for a while longer to savour the delicious aroma, pausing again to WILL YOU JUST MOVE, DAMMIT, BEFORE I BARGE MY WAY THROUGH THE LOT OF YOU, ALL I WANT TO DO IS MOVE.
Maybe the delights of crowds - and food festivals - are wasted on me.
As to further examples of rag dolls, the two I saw today, with their tutu style skirts and their cocky hats and their stocking tops, almost certainly were dressed up for something. Weren't they? They were definitely the most cheerful thing on the street (though given the street in question, that wasn't hard). But even better, I thought, was the small boy singlemindedly licking the inside (natch) of a bus window. Such things do give a day character. Something distinctive. It can be a perfect cloud or a stark, storm-lit landscape; nuthatches on the bird feeder or a little girl crouched down and talking very seriously to Peppa Pig on a packet of cake mix, completely wrapped up in the moment. When I was in London last summer for the day, I got back on the train and made a quick list of things that had caught my eye in the previous few hours. Sort of coathooks for memories:
heron in the park
a NatWest boat going under a bridge and looking like a spaceship
free runners practising
Trojans and Greeks
fiddlers on Millennium Bridge.
Though some of the coathooks don't have anything hanging on them - what roses? I like the list just the same - it works for me in the same way as sketches. If I hadn't been driving, maybe I could have sketched the rag dolls in stockings today.
You know the years are passing you by when...
You look at roaming groups of girls in town and find yourself repeatedly thinking of rag week. Mind you, one girl elsewhere looked sort of medieval but fantastic in a pair of black and white vertically striped leggings (and what sort of legs do you have to have to look fantastic in those? Good legs, that's what sort) and the most gorgeously jewel-bright pair of (diesel) trainers I have ever seen. Why medieval? The shoes looked from behind as if, when you peered round the corner, they would have extravagantly curling toes. Utterly brilliant though.
PS Are late summer bobble hats trending?
I make prints and book arts, though nowhere near as often as I'd like - no good reason, just an inability to get on with things. I occasionally go on about landscape (with which I am mildly obsessed) and various of its elements, and I like to pass comment on exhibitions I visit.