Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Wednesday lunchtime...

I was at a flamenco company last night at the Queen Elizabth Hall; terrific. Fabulous guitar-playing, singing and brilliant dancers, and because they all get carried away and did lots of encores they over-ran by about 40 minutes so I was fairly late home and am now knackered. The atmosphere was marvellous; the slightly wow-y amplification, the audience cheering and whooping, the couple in front of me necking, the amount of drink being brought into the auditorium (I've never seen this before at the QEH!) - it was all powerfully reminiscent of being in a dodgy spanish nightclub, and brought back my six months in Granada with intense vividness. The women's ridiculous dresses were wonderful, too, making them look like respectively a costume doll, a very animated sea-slug, and Morticia Addams.
I'd love to go back to Granada some time; ideally for Las Cruces, when the whole city turns itself out of doors and makes a fiesta in every square for three days. >sigh< Happy memories...
Coming home on the tube, I was seized by a sudden desire to start a magazine. It would have to be a quarterly initially, to give me time to put an issue together, but I found myself thinking of all sorts of things I could put in it and people I could get to contribute, and getting raher excited. Watch this space. Goddess only knows if I can do this, but it feels like a living idea...

Monday, 22 September 2008

V quickly, Monday evening...

Got to be quick as I need to do all sorts of stuff and have already worked till six. Job has taken a startling turn for the worse after I inherited Julie's workload as well as my own. Not only heaps extra, but heaps of shit. Sorry to be so blunt about it. Ugh. I have been dumped on by so many negative people in the course of today I feel like screaming.
I'd had a lovely weekend, too. Very lazy on saturday, then sunday I went down into Richmond with a sketchbook and had a great time painting and drawing. Richmond Green v odd - full of (forgive me, but they were) braying yuppies shouting "Horatio!" and "Pandora!" and so forth after their children as said children gambolled happily in other families' picnics, took off with other families' footballs, chased other families' dogs, etc. I did some pastel sketches of light under trees and kept a low profile.
Then I moved to the riverbank and suddenly was in heaven. Sunlight pouring down, creating wonderful colours and reflections, shadows and depths in the water. Happy, relaxed people wandering along, having a beer or a meal, sitting in the sun. Ducks and swans getting fed with bread crusts. Dads rowing their kids and lads rowing their loves (and one love nobly rowing her lad) about in skiffs on the river. A guy and a little boy in a motor launch heading upriver with loads of supermarket shopping bags (I guess with the state of the roads round here maybe the river is a better traffic route if you live in Teddington or Twickenham or on Eel Pie Island...). The atmosphere was peaceful, chilled, warm (excuse contradiction in terms!) and happy. And it was HOT. It was glorious. I painted a rather splashy watercolour of the view upriver and did some studies of waterfowl. There was even a great crested grebe, briefly surfacing, surveying us all regally before vanishing with an elegant dive and reappearing in the blaze of reflected light to westward. I managed to catch the tiniest painted dabble of a sketch of him before he dived again and was gone.
I've been listening to Kerry (flatmate, origami-butterfly girl, remember?) talking about lots of exciting things going on in her life at the moment, and it is pretty inspiring. Then factor in the sense of wellbeing that comes from a happy and successful sketching and painting session like that; add on the bliss of having sat in the sun for several hours; and altogether one feels fantastically happy and ready for anything.
So now it is raining and I have a week's backlog of complaint letters to deal with (Julie's legacy, rats). But I call to mind the sunlight and the shifting deep colours and dazzles of the water, the swans with their cygnets, the willow boughs shifting and drifting across on the far bank, and the blessed heat on my skin, and I know I am not really being overwhelmed by the stupidity of these letters and emails. I am simply doing this for a living. I am doing this to live, because real life is out there - not in here. Out there in the daylight, be it sun or shadow, in the fascination of laminations of tone and subtle nuances of colour and light, and the heart-opening of doing my true, real work for a day.

Friday, 19 September 2008


Work seems to be decaying into a rather random bout of chatting and cake-eating as we bid Julie farewell. Very nice cake; definately in favour of more cake at work. The gluten-free ginger cake from The Village Bakery was particularly good.
I'm going to do something constructive, and answer a complaint letter - a v silly complaint (like most of them). Why do people complain about unutterably stupid things that can't be remedied, while suffering in silence through some of the appalling customer non-service that happens every day? People are odd.
It occurs to me that one of the other reasons I will miss Julie is that she is far more computer-savvy than me and I have been picking her brains to solve my computer difficulties for absolutley ages... "Julie, how do I ~?" "Julie, where would I find a ~?" "Julie, I'm having problems with Excel..." etc etc. I'm just going to have to cope without.
Think positive, Imogen. The woman behind me at the Opera House last night was reading "The Power of Positive Thinking" in the interval; an odd conjunction with Don Giovanni. I wonder what a really trendy director would make of trying to relate the two...

Friday the 19th, already...

My goodness, how time whips by.
I'm rather embarrassed by my last entry - what a dismal soul I am sometimes, all scratchy and ranting. Proper grumpy little miss, in fact.
Very tired today, with back ache and period pain, and not much sleep after getting home after midnight from "Don Giovanni" to find the house full of people who wanted to talk... to me... Lovely, except I'd prefer to be popular at 10.30 than 12.30 pm! Then tonight is the leaving "do" of my colleague and dear friend Julie, who is going off to do a Phd, half in Durham and half in The Gambia. I'm going to miss her dreadfully, though I know she is going to have a much happier time using her brain to research control measures for the flies that transmit trachoma than she has done answering 'phones at Kew. Our loss is, hopefully, medical science's gain. Well, medical science in the eventual long-term, anyway. Initially just scientific knowledge about flies and their habits. I'm being very decorous here - her field trips are going to involve collecting large amounts of human excrement, so I probably ought to be making all the crap jokes I can. Anyway, I'm going to miss her and want to give her a good send-off. But then I have a free weekend, whoopee...
Which means some R&R, a nice long walk in the park, and some painting.
I started some more greetings cards, with stars and what were meant to be angels. The angels came out rather hefty and, frankly, menacing looking. Since I do not accept that idea that angels are the Almighty's vigilante force, I will have to work back into them again, thoroughly, probably using a lot of glitter, coloured ink washes and maybe snippets of collage. The stars, and some swirling patterns like spiral galaxies, are rather effective, though. I am running out of blank cards, which is a problem, but I'm sure I can track more down somewhere.
I think I will have to add it onto my list of tips for stimulating one's creativity; buy a box of blank greetings cards. The fact that one sees some progress, and so quickly, with card after card suddenly having colours and images on it, is exciting and inspiring.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Tuesday lunchtime

Okay, I promised to write something about sad excuses we all make not to get on with creative stuff. I'm not sure that this doesn't constitute a little wallow in negativity, but here goes anyway:

Horrow Stories I Have Heard
& Bad Reasons To Make No Art

1) "I'm an artist because I think like one, I don't need to be making art to be an artist."
Er, huh? Sorry, but I think that is just plain wrong. If you think like an artist but don't make anything that could remotely be called art (and, let's face it, "anyhting that could remotely be called art " gives you a pretty large field of play, to begin with!), then you are a creative person who is stymied, blocked, suffering from depression, or downright lazy. PLEASE! - if you are stymied, blocked or clinically depressed, get help, grieve, struggle, but do something about it! If you are lazy - well, what can I say? Get off your btm and find a creative outlet of some kind, and stop making really daffy excuses for yourself.

2) "I'm not going to show with those amateurs/in that pathetic little space/unless it's in Hoxton or the West End; I'm worth more than that."
Don't be a snob. Yes, of course you are worth tons and tons, you are unique and only you can make your art, have your thoughts, etc. BUT - to the art-viewing public you are just one of tens of thousands of other artists they haven't heard of. Get yourself heard-of. Get your stuff seen. "Those amateurs" have got their work in a show - have you? That "pathetic little space", however small and cramped, is on public view, which your bedroom wall, your loft, or your parents' garage, are not.

3) "I'm a creative person! I can't be expected to organise setting up shows and running mailing lists and so forth; someone else must do all the organising for me so I can concentrate on creating."
And the person who said this to me is going to have a tough time of it in adult life in general, not just in their putative career as an artist. No-one gets to do just the things they enjoy, and hand all the boring, complicated and messy stuff to someone else, except the filthy, filthy rich. That's life. Do you want to wind up co-dependent on a control freak? Then get your act together!

4) "I've been treated so badly, I can't get over it; my college didn't appreciate me, my tutors didn't give me the grade I deserved! I'll never get over it, never!"
My tutors also didn't give me the grades I deserved. Nor did heaps of other folks' tutors. School sucks (excuse me, sudden americanism there). Lots of other peole won't appreciate you, or your work. Or me and my work. Again, that's life. And, yes, it still hurts, and yes, it was miserable. Those big rejections, when all your hopes were pinned on something, are utterly flattening at the time. But the only person who suffers from you brooding on it endlessly is you. Those mean old tutors of ten years ago don't give a toss; they've probably forgotten your name, at least nine and a half years ago.

I'm going to have to stop this, I'm just getting nasty, remembering rows I have had with people I was at college with who came out with stuff like this. I saw so many people with real talent come out of art school and trail off into doing dismal underpaid jobs and whinging in the pub about all the "reasons" why they were absolutley helpless in the grip of a nightmare situation where they couldn't do anything at all creative. I would try to buck them up, be positive, then try a little gentle nagging, then make suggestions and point out opportunities and bright ideas I had come across that would suit their ouevre brilliantly, and generally make a thorough pollyanna-ish nuisance of myself. One lass in particular I remember would just get more and more downcast, the more I pointed out to her all the avenues open to her, and finally would start telling me I just didn't understand and I was simply trying to put her down and make myself look as if I had all the answers. I gave up in the end and decided that actually I was wasting both her and my time, and being both masochistic and a self-righteous bitch, preaching at her like this, trying to help someone with no real desire to stand on her own feet.
I am preachy, and self-righteous, and I do think I have all the answers! - it's my nature! I was brought up that way! So it's my parents' fault! Wah, wah, wah... Sorry, meltdown complete. Tomorrow I promise to post something positive and not whingey at all. Good for you if you ploughed through all this. Please come back another day and see how cheerful I can be!...

Monday, 8 September 2008

Monday evening...

...feeling rather embarrassed after spending a whole weekend doing nothing at all creative. I went to a couple of great concerts at the Southbank Centre, walked my landlady's dog five times, did some shopping, and started reading a spanish translation of one of the Sherlock Holmes books (to brush up my spanish, not out of sheer masochism!). I bought a second-hand cotton summer dress to convert into a top (beautiful fabric is worth a few quid even if the garment needs a complete reconstruction). I made some rather solid chocolate flapjack, and that's about it. But I did do some thinking on the Tube back from the concerts. Along the carriage from me a woman with a moany voice was explaining at great length to a friend how she never does any knitting any more because she is so terribly terribly busy and overstretched, although she had really enjoyed it and was apparently (according to her!) very good at it. It got me to thinking about all the excuses we make to justify our inactivity and our procrastination. Some, goddess knows, are valid, but others are really very thin indeed. Expect a post or two over the next few days on the many droll and feeble lines we feed ourselves!
But perhaps it would be more use (not to mention far more upbeat) to work on a list of tips and tricks to beat those procrastinatory excuses...

Friday, 5 September 2008

Feelings of mixed melancholy and hilarity as I find this lovely pic of myself slightly (or maybe more than slightly) drunk at my Graduation Ball... I particularly like the classic end-of-term student poster on the pillar behind me...

Second picture is me on a night train to Barcelona, taken by 'Nat Shillor when we both bunked off from revising for Finals and went to Spain for a long weekend of sunshine, culture and a certain amount of sangria. And churros. And a scruffy hotel room with a balcony overlooking the beautiful gothic church of San Josep Oriol.

Happy memories.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Thursday lunchtime

I had a wonderful dream last night - a little crazy, of course, being a dream, but cheering nonetheless...
In this dream I was standing in the Orangery at work, in Edwardian costume, surrounded by other people in similar clothes. I had a very strong impression that this was because it was 1908 or thereabouts, not because we were wearing fancy dress. There was a carol service about to start and I was clutching a service sheet. Music began, and just as I drew breath to sing I realised I was alone right at the front and so my loud and very distinctive voice would be very noticeable and possibly even drown other voices out. I felt a rush of fear and embarrassment. Suddenly someone was beside me who took my hand. I looked round to find a red-haired man standing there, who grinned at me and began to sing; I took heart and sang too, no longer caring at all the other people staring at us. We sang a hymn beginning "Alleluia, the streets of London/ Echo with resounding joy", which certainly has a confident, days-of-Empire ring to it! The tune, a four-square chorale type of thing, has been going round in my head ever since.
I know this is silly, but this really boosted my spirits this morning, despite the rain. The red-haired man looked like the actor William Houston, who would be perfect casting for Simon Cenarth, the protagonist of "Gabriel Yeats", if it were ever to be filmed. It left me feeling vaguely encouraged and once again contemplating the idea of trying to find a publisher for "G.Y.", although the idea scares me dreadfully.
Writing was always my other great joy besides painting and drawing, right from early childhood. Telling stories, and always, mysteriously, having more stories to tell coming up where the last one had come from. Yet the thought of trying to get my work published is even more intimidating than the prospect of trying to get my art work seen and sold.
I must learn to act without fear.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

An idea? Wednesday lunchtime... again...
I am thinking of setting up a postal project - obviously for Kew people we could use the internal mail, which while erratic is at least free - anyone else would need to use the old-fashioned postal post.
Basically, the idea this: A sheet of A2 paper, marked up to become sixteen sheets in an A5 book, circulates among sixteen people, and each one paints/draws/collages/knits/sews/prints/rubs in dirt/sticks on a photo/sticks on dried plant specimens/or whatever else you feel inspired to do; doing this onto one of the sixteen marked "pages". When it returns to me I fold, cut and stitch it along the marked divisions to make the first eight leaves of a little book, then start a new sheet doing the rounds. If more than sixteen people are interested then more sheets can be in circulation... or more could circulate anyway, who knows? Would anyone be interested in participating? You could do anything from a quick sketch or daub or gumming-in a picture to doing something elaborate. You could write if you prefer. Whatever you like. If you're busy, rush it through - if you're out of work, take advantage of the leisure time - if you're on holiday or on a field trip, do something inspired by your surroundings... you name it, stick it in. If you can't do anything at all, just pass it on and ask if you can have it back later (if you want it back at all, that is). Just don't hang onto it for months - it will work best, I'm guessing, with either a quick turn around or a quick pass-on.
Put a comment on "comments" if you are interested (and give me an email if don't have one for you) and I'll get in touch.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Tuesday 2nd September; lunch hour.

Went down to my Mother's over the weekend - it was her birthday, so my elder brother Stephen came too, and we all went for a couple of excellent coastal walks, picked masses of blackberries at Western Heights, talked our heads off, and ate too much. Very enjoyable and relaxing, and we even had decent weather, especially on Saturday. We went to St Margaret's Bay and walked up onto the cliffs and along towards Dover, and ate a picnic sitting on the grass above the white cliffs, with harebells and scabious around us, and other walkers going by with dogs and kids, and seagulls flying past below us, startlingly white against the deep blue-green of the sea. It was hot and sunny, the sky perfect blue, and a light breeze blowing. Perfection.
Stephen remarked that he wished there were some chance for people like him (he's a freelance graphic designer) to do something creative occasionally without having to risk losing work in order to have the time. His idea was that companies employing people in so-called "creative industries" should run a kind of staff personal development scheme whereby their creative employees could take a day a month, say, to do something that was not work related but that would stimulate them and thus improve their productivity, enhance the originality of their thinking, etc, by letting them spread their thoughts a little beyond the usual end-oriented get-the-job-done way of working. I think that's a lovely idea! - if wildly idealistic... He'd been inspired by the discovery that during World War Two, when the war office hired artists to design camouflage schemes for naval and army use, they encouraged them to also continue their personal art practice in the belief that keeping their creativity flowing as freely as possible would enhance their ability to produce good designs for the forces.
A creative personal development scheme at work... Hmmm. How about trying to get Kew to set that up?!
I urged him to start carrying a sketchbook. That's been one of my solutions to the problem of finding the time to make art of some kind. I never read on trains, for instance, but I often draw. If I'm riding more than a few stops on the Tube I draw the people sitting opposite me (slyly!). I used to pick up a leaf and draw it at work, on quiet days in my old job at the gates (days like today with its interminable rain), or during those foot-chewingly boring hours of reception duty at the Herbarium (enlivened only by occasional moments of intelligent conversation with Herbarium staff passing through reception- I'm sure, looking back, that I must have sounded a little desperate as I tried to get those friendly souls to stop a few seconds longer!). The new job is more humane in hours and in work conditions, but doesn't provide me with those enforced quiet patches.
But still, one can sketch, or knit, or sew, or crochet, or make notes, or write a novel, on the bus or the Tube or the train to work...
Another thing that came up this weekend was a comment from a friend of Mum's, relayed to me by her in some irritation, & equally as irritating to me. It came from an elderly lady called Bennie who used to come to all my private views when I was living in Kent. She always had a glass or three of wine and always thanked me for the invitation and said how lovely my stuff was; last week she stopped Mum in the High Street to ask how I was. Hearing I was now working full-time, she exclaimed how sad it was as I would not now have time to exhibit as much. Very true; I don't have time to exhibit as much, or to seek out exhibition opportunities, or to meet up with other artists, or indeed to make new work in the first place. I plug away with it, but time is short compared to when I only worked three days a week and crawled along on financially what I could earn by that (& a bl**dy struggle it was, too). I am acutely conscious of how little painting I generate compared to four years ago. Apparently Bennie then went on to tell my mother that I had made the wrong decision and that she was disappointed in me when she had supported me for so long, and that I should be disappointed in myself, too.
Well, all I can say is that in the five years I was struggling on on about £4500 per annum, living in Mum's spare room, and painting and exhibiting every chance I had, this person never once bought so much as a £10 sketch from me. Her "support" of me amounted to turning up, saying "Oh well done", and drinking my wine. And she is not badly-off, and I know she buys original art works from other - successful - artists. I don't think I've sold out in wanting to make sales, but, hell, one must have an income from SOMEWHERE. If she supported me so much, she could have demonstrated it.
I am not disappointed in myself; I think I've done well. I'm still here, albeit right out on the furthest margins of creativity. So, sorry, Bennie, but it wasn't a helpful comment.
Thought for the day: If you know a struggling artist, BUY SOMETHING FROM THEM!!