In looking back over the course I can see that I have made progress though it hasn’t always felt like that. My main aim was to get into a regular routine of creative practice and now, many months down the line, I feel that I am starting to achieve that.
So far, my main challenges on the course have been motivation, time management and, in terms of a particular module, ‘Portrait and Figure’.
Motivation and time management
To begin with I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work involved – working on exercises, thinking about assignments, updating the blog – and, at times, just thinking about all that brought me to a standstill. For I while, when we were juggling a lot of situations in ‘real ‘life’, I fantasised that once everything settled I’d have more time for the course.
It has been a slow dawning but, gradually, I’m beginning to see that this is real life, or as much a part of it as anything else, so, if it means anything to me, it just has to be fitted in. One day, when I was completely bereft of motivation or interest I read a quote in Anne Dickson’s ‘A Book of Your Own’  which struck a chord.
If it really didn’t matter,
You wouldn’t be spending
So much time thinking about it.
I was also finding it hard to come up with ideas for exercises and assignments and felt as if I was doing work to meet deadlines without any real connection with it. At some point I started to think, go back to what interests you. What ‘stuff’ do I like? What grabs my attention? What artists do I like?
Below is a small selection from my original list, by no means definitive and in no particular order:
- Scraps (the kind you collect and swap)
- Medieval statues
- Textures (peeling walls, rust, stone walls)
- Mr Potato Head
- Suilven (mountain in north of Scotland)
- Grasses in sand dunes
- Brough of Birsay, Orkney
- Bermondsey Street, London (the older buildings, evidence of older industries)
- Top Cat
And in terms of artists:
- Sylvia Wishart
- Gwen John
- Anne Redpath
- Wilhelmina Barns-Graham
- Joan Eardley
- Van Gogh
- Vilhelm Hammershøi
- Mark Rothko
Doing this may seem blindingly obvious but, having lost my way a bit, I felt I needed to retrace my steps and try to connect again with things that I had forgotten appealed to me.
Creating the list helped. For the module ‘Looking Out’ I used Suilven for one of the exercises and for the assignment. I’ve started to think about some of the other items on the list and how I could use what I have learned on the course to think about them in new ways. Top Cat as an icon or medieval statue? Perhaps…perhaps not.
Portrait and Figure
As well as time management and motivation I found the module ‘Portrait and Figure’ challenging. One aspect of the course where I feel I am weaker is with my drawing skills. Having done little figure drawing I found many aspects of this module challenging – how to pose the model, taking too long with drawings. To help with this I’ve signed up for a figure drawing class and, as with every aspect of the course, the main thing is practice.
Just do it…
Overall I’m trying to adopt the Strictly Come Dancing philosophy – this is not about perfection but about making progress. On that note here are some edited highlights of things that I do now that I didn’t do at the beginning of the course:
- I’m getting into a regular creative routine – whether I ‘feel’ like it or not. On days when I can’t motivate myself to paint I do anything – sharpen pencils, sort paint, research artists and art movements, write blog posts, prep images, read articles – any task that maintains some focus. By the end of a session of puttering something has usually caught my attention or given me an idea that keeps me going.
- I’m seeing things differently – taking more notice of what is around me. With more knowledge and practical techniques at my disposal I find myself thinking about how I will interpret a particular subject rather than just falling back on materials I’m comfortable with.
- I’m trying out different mediums – oil pastels, gouache and watercolour – and new techniques – using textured grounds, working on a larger scale.
- I keep a minimal kit of a small sketchbook, pencil case and small camera in my bag to grab ideas as I go.
- I’m signing up for workshops and classes to supplement areas that I’m weaker in.
- I’m more willing to try out new things because now I know I can produce results – not always good ones or what I expected but something that, somehow, will help me learn.
- Maintaining a blog was a steep learning curve at first but now I enjoy it. The sense that somebody somewhere reads it (thank you!) helps keep a momentum. The trick is not to feel too pressurised by your ‘public’ but, again, it is down to aiming for a regular routine of updating.
- On a more business-like note learning to maintain a blog will prove helpful for that heady time when I’m brave enough to market my work.
- Having read more about other artists and their different approaches I’m working on a larger scale and in a looser style. At the beginning of the course A2 seemed large but now it is starting to look quite small.
If I had to sum up everything in this post in one word it is ‘routine’. It’s not something people will always associate with the artistic life but, ironically, given my own stated aim was to establish a ‘regular routine of creative practice’, it was the one ingredient I overlooked.
Working on a regular basis, regardless, helps me to focus. I get more out of each session because I’m not panicking about work that hasn’t been done, and the more I can do regularly, however little, means that creativity is becoming part of ‘real life’ and not an add-on when I have time.
 Dickson, A. (1994) A Book of Your Own. London: Quartet Books Ltd