Tag Archives: art

The Enemy of Art?

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” – Cyril Connolly.

“Ash is sitting on the potty doing a pencil drawing while reciting loudly and accurately from Fortunately the Milk. I have to go away and hide and write for two weeks. I am going to miss this little wood-elf more than I can say.” Neil Gaiman, twitter, this week.

As a writer who had a baby (I’m female-ish, non-binary) I had to figure out how the writing was going to fit around the child. As a relatively poor person I had to take care of the child, the needs of the child. I could not have ever afforded to take a couple of weeks off for writing while someone else took care of my small child. I regret nothing. I would not have done differently if I’d had the money.

What I hate, passionately, is this idea that to be a good creator you have to be cut off from life in this way. I hate it just as much as I hate it when Tory politicians speak with pride about having never changed a nappy. I hate the way we devalue parenthood, and I really hate the way we devalue fatherhood.

I hate the way in which Neil Gaiman has presented this like the only way he can possibly write is by going away for two weeks. It perpetuates the idea that serious work has to happen outside the domestic sphere and that for people (usually men) who are important, going away to do the important things is just what you have to do. This is bullshit.

It isn’t easy being a parent and anything else at the same time. Most of us who have children do that, though. We have jobs, and other responsibilities, and we figure it out as best we can and do what we can, and take pride in the work and the parenting. It isn’t easy finding the focus and energy to work on creative projects when raising a small child. Many of us manage, all the same. Many of us do not experience that managing as some kind of heroic sacrifice.

I have every sympathy with anyone whose economic situation impacts on their scope for parenting – that’s a very different thing. I have every sympathy for parents whose work involves travel, and for the challenges and juggling involved. I’m frankly tired of the affluent men who think that raising their small children is someone else’s job.


Tree Love

I took a tree theme for this year’s inktober, although I didn’t manage an ink drawing every day. For the first time, I did the ink drawings without sketching in pencil first.

 

If you’d like to join me in supporting The Woodland Trust, visit https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ 


What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.


Things I am up to

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the artist-killing industry model is not for us and that we’d like to spend the rest of our lives with functioning spines.

The first graphic novel I coloured was mediaeval set and a take on King Arthur. Bold mediaeval colours were called for, and anyone used to Tom’s work will know that he’s not really that into bold colours. So, I offered to do it. I worked in oil pastel because it’s my medium of preference. Good for the strong colours. An arse for scanning and impossible to pencil over.

Here’s an admittedly less colourful piece from that project…

For Hopeless Maine, we don’t want serious colour intensity, and we do have a lot of delicacy, so I moved over to pencils. Easier to scan, easy to pencil over, but not, I confess, quite as much fun. I had to figure out a whole new set of approaches for seas and landscapes – previously dealt with by smooshing the oils around. Unable to smoosh, I have to spend a lot more time physically getting the colour onto the pages (A3 for a standard comics page, if you were wondering!) It’s taken a toll on my hands, so music and crafting and been much less of an option for me over the last six months. I’m looking forward to a rebalance.

I’ve enjoyed being more involved in the process – by the time previous comics have come out, my involvement as the writer has felt distant. It’s been more fun being in on the whole thing. We’re evolving ways of working together and I like that process. What we do together is a long way from what we would do separately, and that’s rather cool.

Here’s a chapter cover from the next Hopeless Maine volume…

My crowning achievement for this book has been to learn how to do glows. Candle glows and eye glows, are very much part of Tom’s look, and were something he did when the scanned, hand drawn pages went into photoshop. I have found ways of getting something plausible onto the page, and this cheers me greatly. It was something I didn’t even attempt in the previous comic.

There’s finishing up to do, but the next volume of Hopeless Maine will be entirely uploaded to the publisher over the next few weeks. Copies are already on pre-order and we’re expecting it to be released in the summer. And before then, on to the next one, with an eye to a gentler pace, and me being able to do comics alongside crafting and playing music, without hurting my hands too much.


Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit

 

Sacred Art, a Hollow Bone for Spirit is a new book from Imelda Almqvist. As the title suggests, this is a book about sacred art. However, it’s published by Moon Books (this is where I first ran into Imelda) and Moon Books is not set up to do lavish, image-heavy publications. As a consequence, this is a book about sacred art that doesn’t have any images in it. This limitation has, I think, paid off rather well and led to a book that invites its readers to think and imagine rather than showing them what sacred art is.

The art in this book exists primarily in your head. By this means, you might start to see the forms sacred art could take for you, rather than being focused on what other people have done. There is nothing to be intimidated by, or directed by about how the art *should* look. How you imagine the art as you read the book may well take you towards your own process of sacred art-making in a way that being shown other people’s work might not.

In many ways, this is a philosophical book. There is a steady stream of small activities to explore, but the bulk of the book is an investigation of the nature of sacred art. As someone who trained as a fine artist and has worked with art in various capacities for many years, Imelda knows a great deal about art. She’s also been working with shamanism for a long time, and is well qualified to speak about the role of art in a spiritual and shamanic context.

While shamanism is the focus of the book, you don’t need to be on that path to benefit from reading it. I think this is an ideal text for people exploring the bard path as well. There’s so much to chew on about how and why and what we create, that anyone interested in exploring any form of creativity linked to any Pagan path will likely find something they can use.

In the absence of art, and being light on the how-to instructions, what this book leaves you with is the clarity that sacred art is something you do. It’s not something other people tell you how to do. It’s not something other people can give you marks out of ten for. You do not pass or fail on human terms here. If you can take onboard the philosophy and open yourself to working in this way, what follows is your personal journey, for which no maps are available.

For anyone serious about this journey, the book is rich with suggested reading and other resources to check out. You could take this on as a workbook and treat it as the core content of a spiritual art course, read all the extra materials, do all the exercises, and see where it takes you. Equally, you can read it from a place of curiosity and see what sticks. Imelda is clear that everyone needs creativity and everyone has the scope to be creative. For some, that will mean a devotion to sacred art, but the rest of us will benefit from whatever we are able to do.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=225883 


A Stranger Dream – review

I don’t dabble that much in colouring books, in part because I frequently end up colouring for work purposes. However, I was asked if I’d review this, and I said yes, for the simple reason that creator Sarah Snell-Pym is a very lovely person. She’s also got what I can only describe as a unique mind, and as a consequence what she’s made is a truly unusual colouring book.

The front cover describes it as ‘a non-linear visual poem about identity… in an adult colouring book.’ The poem is embedded in the images and you have to find the words, some of them are more obvious than other. That calls for a deep engagement with each page, and it gives a strange coherence to the book as a whole.

The art is only on one side of any given sheet of paper. This means that by colouring in one image, you don’t mess up another one – especially an issue if you want to use pens or inks.

There’s a lot of variance in terms of how much of the page you are offered for colouring. Some pages have a lot of open space, encouraging you to do your own thing. Some pages have a lot of black on them, so you don’t need to do much to get the whole image. I like this. It creates room to decide what you’re equal to.

Sarah’s art style is playful, and easy to get into. One of the things that stuck out for me is a reoccurring image of two unhappy blobby beings who merge in the middle. A personification of dysfunctional co-dependency, I thought. Two beings with no proper boundaries, or one identity being subsumed by the other. They connect with the relationship and identity angles in the poem. if you look closely, you can see them co-blobbing at the bottom of the book cover.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-Dream-Love-Sarah-Snell-Pym/dp/1530078490


Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074


Building a better world – art and activism

Last week someone responded to my blog about what’s happening in modern Druidry by saying that we don’t need more books, we need more activism. My knee jerk reaction (as someone who writes books and gets involved with activism) is that of course we need both.

I’ve seen comments from people who are far more involved with activism than I will ever be, saying how much they appreciate good books to escape into, and other nourishing forms of art. I’ve done enough campaigning to know that it is gruelling, it wears you down emotionally, you get exhausted. If all you do is fight, you can lose track of the good things that you were fighting for, becoming totally focused on what you’re fighting against. That makes it really hard to stay motivated and keep going. Sometimes it means becoming the thing you were trying to replace.

One of the big questions when dealing with any cause, is how to get more people involved. How do you make them care enough to take action? How do you get them to change day to day life choices if you are an environmental campaigner? How do you persuade them that your cause is the one they should give their money to? Hard hitting, emotionally affecting campaigns can have the effect of shutting people down and driving them away. Who can face looking at another lost and starving child, another brutalised animal, another grim and traumatic outcome of human behaviour? How many of those can you bear to see before you start tuning out?

To make change, you have to believe that change is possible. You need hope, optimism and a sense of the possible good outcomes that can be achieved through your actions. It is better to inspire and uplift people into action than to frighten or depress them. People who believe in their own power can and will act. People who feel powerless in the face of all that is wrong, give up. Stories, songs, art – expressions of hope and possibility – help people to change things.

We need stories. We need stories about things that worked out ok, or better. We need stories about how much better things could be. We need things that feed our souls so that we are fighting for something, not merely grinding ourselves down against the vastness of all that is wrong. For some people, the comfort of a spiritual book is a real boon in this context as well. Guidance on how to uphold the spiritual side of your life, and the inspiration to do so, can be a real blessing. Something to hang on to when the world is breaking your heart, something to bring your grief to, and somewhere to seek sustenance.

For some people, spiritual practice is what makes it all bearable and possible. For some people, it’s escapist fantasy fiction. For some of us, it’s music, dancing, or walking, or bird watching or any number of other things. It is important to stay human, and to do the things that fill us with joy and hope.

If you want to do your art and activism at the same time, watch out for Share the Love in February – raising awareness of climate change.


Inspiration and grind

Creativity depends more on effort than it does on inspiration. There’s the work you need to put in to develop your craft and study the forms you want to work in. There’s the effort it takes to go from original, brilliant idea to finished piece – planning, researching sketching, drafting, editing, revising, learning, practicing – depending on what you do. Without graft, that first spark of inspiration isn’t worth much at all.

But at the same time, without the spark of inspiration what does the grafting do? To my mind, when its just graft, what I’m doing is developing my skills, not creating something new. Sometimes that’s a very good thing – as with practicing a song, or looking at other people’s work in order to learn.

It is of course possible to set about something in a deliberate, workish way, and then have the inspiration turn up because you’ve made a space for it. Some people may find this an effective method, for others it won’t work as well. I find it works well for me to play with ideas in my head when the spark of inspiration turns up, and get it to the paper when I have time. I don’t have to be all fire in my head for the writing down part of the process, just for the ideas stage.

Some things don’t need full on fire in the head creativity. This blog doesn’t. Not every day. Today I’m working with what I have – habit and craft – rather than a flash of wild creative thinking to get things moving. There are quite a few things I can do from this sort of headspace. I can edit and work as a colourist, and I can write articles if someone chucks a topic at me.

I have in the past tried to write creatively when I’ve felt no real inspiration but just wanted to feel like I was still a writer, or had a deadline to meet. That approach doesn’t work for me. It leaves me feeling hollow and weary. The creative writing I produce when I’m just knocking it out is not work I tend to like at all. I do not get to access my best thinking, and there may be some very solid technical reasons for this.

If I use my conscious mind to knock out a piece – well, that’s fine for nonfiction, where putting together facts and ideas in an organised way is the main point. What I think inspiration means, when looked at mechanically, is that the less conscious bits of my brain have absorbed an array of things and put them together out of sight of my conscious, and it is now all ready to roll. If I’m working consciously, I will tend to do things that are obvious, less original, there won’t be that underlying flow of ideas moving me onwards. It all feels a bit constipated.

Very conscious, deliberate, planned writing allows a person to stick to traditional story shapes, and I assume traditional methods in any other art form. Creating unconsciously from inspiration rather than a plan can allow all kinds of previously unthought and unthinkable things into the mix. Often a balance of the two is called for, bringing skill, knowledge and discipline in to balance up the delirious outpourings.


Staring at birds

One of the things I like about art, is how it makes you look at things. This is why my other half – artist Tom Brown – runs art sessions in a meditative context sometimes. Most of the time our looking can be fairly superficial, with much of what’s around us reduced to little more than backdrop and scenery. It’s god to change that.

Taking up colouring in the last year, I’ve had to pay much more attention to what things look like. How colour, and light and shape interact. What things look like, and what I can do with a pencil that might represent and suggest what things look like.

As I mentioned last weekend, I’m having a go at Inktober over on twitter. Every day I stick up an ink drawing. I’ve chosen birds as my theme. It’s already being a serious learning experience.

I sit down with a nature book, a pencil and a pad and I try to draw a bird from its photo. Something specific, and something striking enough to be recognisable – heron, avocet, kingfisher, curlew was where I started. They have shapes and colours that help them stand out from other birds. Of course every type of bird is unique, and there will be things that make it especially itself, but some of those are easier to represent than others. Some birds – like the kingfisher – can be expressed by their colours.

However, I’ve been pushing into the ink work more, and all my ink is black. Could I make a Canada goose look like itself without putting some brown pencil in the mix? Maybe.

Fractions of a millimetre in the length or curve of a line can turn one bird into another. I found it recently where working on a bear image that the differences between bear, dog and badger weren’t that big. A slight mistake on the face and the wrong animal would look back at me. And yet, we can look at these images and say dog, badger, bear where only a tiny fraction of difference exists.

For me it raises all kinds of questions about how we perceive and remember, how we sort shapes and use abstracts. How many lines do I need on the page to clarify which one is a duck, and which one a crane? Not many.