I recently facilitated a creative practice session for the GameShift community, titled The Art of Poetry : For Better or Verse. Most of my creative practice is visual and I thought it might be fun to gently challenge myself and the community to play with something I know little about. We had about 90 minutes together, and I had nothing more than the vaguest idea of how the session might take shape. My vague idea was shaped and refined through discussion with my colleagues, and we talked, drew, and composed – building poems by first making lists and doodles. I may write up the whole experience as it offered lots of learning and laughter and more. For now though, here’s my poem, written with my colleagues, and tweaked in the studio after we finished the session.
Walking to Work
A farthing’s charm Recently rubbed bright and gleaming Over days, months, weeks, years Time patinates everything
The well-worn tracks Telegraph the sound of seasons The chiffchaff and dunnock Chatter as they fly
Over farmland, parkland, woodland Approaching the studio door Behind the flaky paint To the work beyond To the work beyond
Doug Shaw 2021
A charm is the collective noun for a group of goldfinches. I nearly always see a charm on my walk to work, and I often hear the wren calling too.
One of the tracks I walk along to get to work is named Telegraph Track.
Don’t panic – I’m not about to join the burgeoning ranks of scribblers currently pontificating on hybrid working, remote working, flexible working, and all that jazz. For now, I’m focussing on something much more out of vogue, the art of actually going to work to do your work.
As of June 1st 2021, I became the latest tenant at Oaks Park Studios, Carshalton. After carrying out most of my creative practice over the past decade on the kitchen table, on my desk, and with my eight legged coworkers in the spider filled garden shed, this is big news for me, and I expected it to be tiny news for anyone else. I was wrong about that.
After sharing a photo of my new working space on Instagram and Twitter last week, I’ve had loads of encouragement from people. There’s something lovely about knowing people are interested in your work. As a freelancer I feel that particularly keenly, and I’m grateful to everyone who has been in touch.
So why – when we are still in the grip of a global pandemic, would I choose to invest in a workplace, (particularly one with such basic facilities – I’m assured winter time with no heating is fun) when seemingly all around me, people appear to be abandoning theirs? Four things heavily influenced my decision.
I’ll be working among a community of artists. This will be a new experience for me, and as someone who holds community at the heart of his practice, I am excited to see how these new exposures affect me and my work.
The studio can be reached on foot. Crossing farm tracks and parklands, it is approximately one and a half miles away from our home. A lot of my work is influenced by wandering and wondering through local nature, and being able to travel to and from work on foot will doubtless play into how my work develops.
For the first time in my artistic adventures, I have space to play. That canvas you can see on the easel in the above photo, measures 1m x 70cm. It felt huge at home, too big to work on in my little office, and it took up too much room in the kitchen. Now, as you can see, it looks tiny. Very simply, this bigger space gives me opportunities to take on bigger experiments. As an added bonus – I am creating space at home as I move my stuff into the new working space.
One of the challenges in doing this kind of work from home, is the constant need to be tidying things away. I can’t leave work ‘in place’ as that place is nearly always needed for us to cook, eat, and live in. I’m really curious to learn how my work evolves when I can work on it day in day out, leaving it in place for as long as is needed.
What now? In the words of David Hockney, it’s time to Shut Up And Paint. More to follow…
Currently I am experiencing a sense of relief. On Monday 24th May, with several hours left to go before the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition submission deadline, I pressed send. Spellbound is finished, and the die is cast. Wind back seven days and things were very different. Seven long days ago I was deep into the production of Spellbound, making progress, and simultaneously running out of time. I felt I was almost having too many ideas, and I didn’t know where (if anywhere) to include them in my never ending unfolding work. How many different ways are there to experiment with the same illusion? As many as you need.
I made myself ill at one point. I had a lunchtime Chalk And Talk session booked in last Wednesday and right from the start of the day I wasn’t feeling right. I tried to pretend it was nothing and the harder I pretended, the less like nothing it became, until about an hour before the session was due to start, my head was pounding and my stomach churning. I cancelled at what felt like embarrassingly short notice, and headed to bed. I woke later to some very kind, understanding notes, and eased myself back into work the next day.
Thursday morning I took a long look at my work. Realising I was closer to completion (is anything ever really finished?) than I had been allowing myself to think, I turned away from Spellbound for a while. Instead I occupied my time with other tasks – farm work, arts admin, walking. This continued for a couple of days until I returned to the drawing pen, feeling refreshed.
As I played with my concertina sketch book on Saturday morning – I enjoyed seeing how various pieces of the puzzle can be hidden and revealed. I added two more devices to the book, thinking of them as little keys, or maybe pathways from one spell to another. Intentionally simple, and a joy to draw.
On Sunday I turned all the way back to the front of the book, and carefully slid a rectangular zen doodle behind the Spellbound title, before wandering to the far end, and signing on the inside back cover, where the memento mori [Latin: Remember that you have to die] resides. That signature ended the making.
I showed the work to Carole. She admired it while I cried a few tears. As you know, I submitted it the following day. It took me over three weeks to make this. I’ve drawn on aspects of my creative practice learned over lockdown and way before – to produce something completely different. I pushed it. I pushed myself, the work, the ideas, the story, everything. It’s been a challenging experiment and whatever happens next I’ve made something adventurous, something I am proud of.
Footnote: We now have to wait until Early July before finding out whether or not this work gets shortlisted. More to follow.