Moving

A story about trying something new, getting stuck, and moving on again.

“Nothing happens until something moves” Albert Einstein.

In April 2018 I made my first tentative steps into stencil cutting and spray painting. I used Record Store Day as the spark to cut and spray some simple lettering designs onto old LP records. The response to these initial pieces was positive, so I kept making, and the vinyl junkie project was born.

Record Store Day 2018. The Happy Talk art is sprayed on to a copy of South Pacific.

I began to develop my own lettering styles and experiment with different paint effects, and then I received my first vinyl junkie commission. I was learning lots about how painful on the fingers stencil cutting is, and how fiddly spray paint can sometimes be. I was enjoying the project, things were going well.

Developing the project
My first vinyl junkie commission

A couple of months later, while showing my work at the 2018 Carshalton Artists Open Studios, I received some unsolicited feedback on the vinyl junkie project. ‘It’s a bit A-level, a bit student. These aren’t very good, I think you should stop doing them’.

One of the things I experienced when I was at my lowest with stress and burnout, was a tendency to focus on the negative, and I took this feedback to heart. The open studios event was a success, but in the aftermath, I put the vinyl to one side, and stopped making. Every day I walked past a small stack of vinyl leaning in the studio doorway, and every day I did nothing about it. The vinyl shifted from something I really enjoyed using, to becoming an obstacle around which I skirted every time I passed through the doorway.

This went on for a while, until one day I accidentally kicked the pile, and some of the vinyl scattered on the floor. I restacked the pieces and carried on. Two days later, during my weekly counselling, I talked about this story, and concluded it was time to either restart the vinyl junkie project, or put it away and move on.

“Nothing happens until something moves” Albert Einstein

I decided to go again, and almost immediately after making the decision, a commission enquiry arrived, and that enquiry turned into this.

I was asked by some good friends to make something with a nod to the city of Cleveland where they live. I experimented with a few stencil cuts before settling on the one you see here, laid onto a starry night sky background. The piece on the right was a surprise thank you for my friends, incorporating letters of their names into a heart shape. Shortly after making these, I was approached by someone wanting a black cat vinyl. This black cat commission marked my first move into multi layered stencil cutting, and I am continuing to develop my practice with more layers, and different paint effects.

I’ve learned a few things from this experience:

  • Whilst I can’t stop unsolicited feedback – I don’t have to pay it any attention.
  • When giving feedback, I should ask if it is wanted first.
  • Getting stuck isn’t great, but it happens. When it does, remember that nothing happens until something moves.
  • Show your work.
  • Keep experimenting.

What’s next for the vinyl junkie project? I don’t know, and I am open to commission enquiries so if you have any ideas, drop me a line and let’s talk.

Writing

I used to write, a lot. Back in 2012/2013 I was blogging 3 or 4 times a week on here, and writing frequent guest posts in various other places too. My written output has steadily declined since then. I’ve only written 10 posts in the last six months, and several of those have been written primarily to show new and emerging art.

I feel rusty, yet for some time there’s been a loop playing in the back of my mind, telling me to return to writing. I feel a need to stretch this form of creativity again, but a decline in my mental health over the past couple of years in particular, has helped make it all too easy to ignore. I might write on the theme of doubt, depression and burnout once I get into my stride, but for now…

Thanks to the support of family and friends, and regular counselling, I feel ready to go again. I put this note on Twitter a few days ago:

I am going to write a series of ‘active’ pieces about work. Each piece will have an ‘ing’ title, for example: Giving. Asking. Making. Facilitating. Connecting. This will be a way for me to restart the writing process, and get back into a habit of sharing stuff. I am currently struggling to commit – I think I need to embody the Consulting Artist tag more wholeheartedly, and this feels like a good way to get better at that.

So here it is, the introduction to a new body of work, this series of active posts. In itself it’s not much, and yet it feels important to me, the right way to (re)start. More to follow…soon.

Paradigms of Mental Health

This week started with a visit to Liverpool to take part in an Open Space session titled Paradigms of Mental Health. The event was organised by NHS Research and Development North West, and co sponsored by Chester University and The RSA. I’m a big fan of Open Space technology, and when you combine that with the curiosity which fuels the NHS R&D North West team, the chances of an interesting event are high.

On arrival it quickly became clear I knew hardly anybody in the room, and while that might be briefly unsettling, it’s a good indicator of what’s to come. Open Space works really well in a group where people are largely unfamiliar with each other.

As we began the session, we were invited to make use of a device I’d not played with before, the Zine. Monica Biagioli, Senior Lecturer at UAL : London college of communication, offered us each a folded and cut piece of paper, onto which we were invited to record notes, doodles, anything which helped us to make sense of the conversations we took part in. I made notes as I listened, walked, and talked. Here are the two sides of my finished Zine.

Something which interested me about this device is that it can be folded into many shapes, and in doing so, some of the notes get transposed, ending up alongside new neighbours.

Folded Zine

The event was fascinating – a rich variety of subjects were offered up for discussion. A report will be published from the event and I look forward to reading that. For now – I just want to share a few snippets which caught my attention:

  • Having a sense of permission for self care
  • Arts based methods heighten our sense of embodiment
  • Reframe – focus less on what is wrong, more in what is right
  • Feeling powerful in playfulness
  • Arts as ways to normalise experience and share with others

The afternoon passed far too quickly, a sure sign people were thoroughly engaged in the process. As I headed back to London I folded and refolded my Zine several times on the train. I’m really enjoying the device as an aid to reflection and as a way of stirring thoughts up a little. Thank you to the team at NHS R&D North West for making this event happen, and for extending the invitation.

Footnote:

I arrived early for the event, and had just enough time for a quick walk to Tate Liverpool to see the Lichtenstein room. Too often when we travel for our work – we arrive, do our thing, and leave. I like to make time to experience something else beyond the immediate work when I travel, and on this occasion, I managed it. It was lovely to spend a few minutes in the presence of works by an artist I admire, some more familiar, some less so.