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Push It : The Joy and Pain of Doing The Work

Knowing when to press on, knowing when to stop.

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.

How Many Different Ways?

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.

Crucible, Forest Bathing, and River Incantations

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.

A Springtime farming spell flanked by two keys

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.

Beginning to end

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.

The Joy of Wandering, in Imagination and Reality

Field trips for the body and mind

Place and space have long mattered to me, even more so during the last 12 months of restricted movement. Community and social spaces have been largely off limits, and the notion of the workplace has significantly changed for many of us too. For me – a large chunk of work time is currently spent in front of a screen or a sketch book. I count myself very fortunate to be able to squeeze in occasional studio visits when possible, and my work for Sutton Community Farm is an important connection with a group of lovely people and customers.

Beyond the farm work – which takes me fleetingly across Surrey and South London – travelling has almost completely disappeared. I’ve not been into London since we managed to briefly escape the UK for a holiday last summer, a holiday during which I continued some reflective illustrative journalling, sparked by some deep work on mindfulness with my GameShift colleagues.

An extract from a concertina sketch book travelogue, started in July with GameShift, continued in France, then slowly concluded over several months back in the UK.

Since returning home – our physical horizons have shortened. For example, although I walked over 500km during March and April this year, I don’t think I’ve been more than 10km from our front door on foot. It’s been strangely lovely – a sort of long distance micro exploration. During this time I’ve satisfied any desire for distance by wandering in imagination – visiting far off places while barely moving a muscle.

Wandering In Imagination. One in a series of imagined suburban landscapes, spontaneously sparked during a session of Chalk And Talk.

The regular local walks bring me closer to the little things. I’ve watched spring arrive in a totally new, close up way this year. As a kid I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club, and my interested in bird watching has been rekindled. Nuthatch, woodpecker, wren, robin, goldfinch, and as recently as last Friday – a beautiful rare encounter with a goldcrest, which sat on a tree branch just inches from my face and sang to me.

Colours too. I’ve seen leafy shades of green I never knew existed, and the sparkle on the River Wandle feels very alive. I’m bringing some of these memories back into the studio and thrashing them out onto sheets of A3 card, using my old RSA membership card as a blade with which to move the paint.

The freedom of movement in these hastily scored panels is a lovely counterbalance to my sketch book work, which is often much slower, more deliberate.

Leaf shots. Photographs from a local field trip walk in preparation for a recent Chalk And Talk workshop.

I’m distilling much of my recent explorations into a submission for the 2021 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The work is taking the form of a spell book – a series of visual incantations centred around my recent on foot local adventures. I notice I am much more aware of the process behind this submission than in previous years, and I can’t help but wonder, maybe after more than a decade of creative practice I am finally learning to go with the flow, to walk like an artist?

Spellbound : An extract from a larger work. From left to right we can see a meditation spell, one half of a woodland walk spell, and a crucible incantation.

Foot note: Chalk And Talk is a crucial part of my creative practice. It currently takes the form of a drop in drawing session once a fortnight on Wednesdays at 1pm UK time. If you’re curious about how creative practice can help you think and do things differently – please join in.

Spellbound – The Summer Exhibition Adventure Continues

Taking a new approach to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2021

Time and tide wait for no man – and so it comes to pass that once again, The Royal Academy have relieved me of £35 by way of my entry fee for this year’s Summer Exhibition. Those of you who follow my artistic adventures closely will no I am no stranger to not getting selected for this show, and this will be my fifth attempt.

Previously I’ve submitted works on canvas and board, made using acrylic paints, spray paints, and varnish. This year – after a brief conversation with local art shop owner Jackie Khan, who suggested I might choose to see this as an opportunity to experiment…I settled on something different.

This year – I’ve chosen to submit a book of magic, titled Spellbound. I’ll be using some of the zen doodling techniques I’ve learned to create illusory drawing patterns – and I plan to add various other icons as I create the work. Instead of canvas I am using a concertina sketchbook made up of 20 panels each approximately 17cm tall by 9cm wide, plus a similarly sized hard cover at the beginning and end.

Spellbound : Early Stages

Progress is slow, these designs take time to build up, and the deadline of May 24th already feels like it is looming large. At this moment I can’t tell if this is one of the best or daftest ideas I’ve had – maybe it’s a combination of both! Importantly – I’m enjoying seeing the work come into being, and I’m pleased that I’m on a very different, exciting path for this year’s entry – wouldn’t it be great if the judges feel similarly to me this time too?

Spellbound : Artist at work