“I have a friend, Gus X, who, in college, would start up conversations with chicks at parties about the tattoo they would get if they got a tattoo. He got lots of stories about things sentimental to them that they would want to adorn them for life. “A heart with my dog Barney’s name in it on my ankle,” “The scales of justice on my wrist to remind me to always take a balanced approached to everything I do. . . ” etc. When they were done telling of their ideal tattoo, they would inevitably ask what tattoo he would get. He would look them in the eye and say, “I would get a bald eagle across my chest, carrying a dead pig in its left talon.” He would hold eye contact for another couple of seconds, then would turn and walk off ending the conversation.
To the extent it helps with the vibe of the thing, Gus had curly blonde hair cut in a mullet. He got his degree in Turf Management at Kansas State University after 11 years in college (not kidding) and now runs the greens of a fancy golf course in Arizona. He has no tattoos and no eagles.
I would like a drawing of the tattoo that Gus X never got.” Shari
When I say I’m scared of drawing, people either think I’m joking or fishing for compliments, but the truth is I haven’t really felt comfortable drawing ever since my first formal lesson at the age of ten. Until then, it had always been something I’d practiced instinctively, without too much thought. In fact, it was a way for me to get a thought out of my head and into the open, where I could see it. Sort of like thinking out loud, only with a crayon or stick. Mark making was just another form of communication to me, using all kinds of tools and symbols
My teacher (a very stern elderly nun) would make us sit for hours copying etchings from dusty old art books. This kind of “Drawing” felt neither instinctive nor natural. Suddenly, Drawing (with a capital D) meant staring at the tortured or rapturous faces of deities, disciples, gladiators and martyrs. I came to think of it as a very serious and important business, for very serious and important people; people with very important-sounding names like Rembrandt, Michael Angelo, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci. In my ten-year-old mind there wasn’t much hope for a Sally.I became very disheartened. “Drawing” wasn’t at all what I’d thought it to be, and I decided that it was probably best left to professionals.
Fast forward several lifetimes later and I am STILL struggling to overcome this ridiculous blockage! In an attempt to loosen up and rewire my brain, I’ve started taking random requests. I give myself between 2 to 5 minutes and sketch on the spot, without time to over-think it. I find it helps to draw on lined or scrap paper as white “drawing paper” gives me stage fright! The first marks are always a bit hesitant, but then I tell myself that I’m not creating Art, just making marks to convey a message. writing with pictures
The very first request was: “a family of cows around a table, eating a human“!! We were sitting in a bistro at the time. Our meals arrived before I could draw more than one cow, so I compromised by hanging a family portrait in the background. It was meant to be funny but it’s actually a pretty gruesome image. No more disturbing, I suppose, than a human slicing into a dead cow, but still …. it definitely made me think a bit. Later, I used photoshop to remove the background and create a more “finished” image.
…. and so on.
I now have a waiting list of requests that I’m terrified of tackling, but every time I push through the fear I find the process incredibly liberating and, most importantly, FUN!
I made Harry (the cat) a jumper out of an old bed sock two weeks ago and it was such a huge success that making comfort garments for small anxious animals has become my latest calling. I bought a pair of massive needles from an op shop and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or how I’m getting some of these very interesting textures! 🙈😂 so far I’ve only managed to make something vaguely resembling a cape. Haven’t figured out how to knit arm holes yet. And anyone who suggests watching a YouTube tutorial obviously doesn’t know me well at all, but I’d be happy to put the kettle on if they’re willing to come teach me themselves.
Then again, I should probably stop trying to knit and start writing the research essay due Monday ….
TRANSFORMATION NUMBER 4 (see previous post for 1-3)
As always, with a next day deadline and no creative project started, inspiration struck around 9pm last night and i was up until 4am seeing it through.
The recurring, underlying theme of all my uni “transformation” pieces so far, starting with the giant cardboard scissors and news paper chain inspired by my necklace, which then turned into a crossword puzzle rubix cube that became a giant hand drawn crossword puzzle with only three repeating words, has been a very defiant “JUST WATCH ME”. I think it’s more a mantra to convince myself rather than anyone else, as it’s my own internal voice that shouts the loudest “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”
So I made this video of myself to be played on a roughly made cardboard telly with a magnifying reading sheet for a screen. To watch it you’d have to bend down and peer in, at just he right angle. The magnifying screen will distort the image unless you focus on the very centre, where I am. It encourages you to try seeing me from a particular point of view. Be curious enough to make the effort. Or something like that 🙂
The interesting thing that I’ve come to know during all of this playing and experimenting with ideas, is that while I will of course always appreciate and be extremely grateful for positive feedback, I no longer NEED it. I’m learning to follow my inner compass and trust my own judgement. Self acceptance is much more profoundly satisfying (and a million times harder to achieve) than approval from others.
This time last year, I had to pull out of uni as I had so many pressures competing for attention. My daughter was very ill and I was ill too (needing surgery), totally broke and, with exams looming, had to make the decision to quit before March 31st (the census date). It was a very difficult time but we all muddled through. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to (or even whether I should) do it again, but here I am, completing week five of Round Two!
What a difference a year makes!! I had my first written exam on Monday and was so nervous and sleep deprived in the lead-up that I didn’t have much time or energy left for the practical side of things. But I did it.
I had absolutely nothing ready for today’s presentation (we do one a week), and was starting to think I’d have to forfeit the marks… And then this happened!
Once again, I did it. (“take the first step and the path shall appear”)
It was all totally spontaneous. I was still wearing jeans and doc martins under that dress which I pulled on at the last minute, and the garish, heavy makeup was slapped on just as quickly!
I know, it’s ridiculous, and probably not all that original either, but, you know … it’s Ahhhrrt, daahrrlings! 😉
A student using my scissors to cut the chain the chain they’re attached to
HOW THE GIANT SCISSORS CAME TO BE:
First, I spent time with an object that meant something to me, observing, sketching, thinking, exploring, making notes, taking photos, using free association to unlock ideas. The object I chose was the necklace that I’ve worn around my neck for the last 10 years. On the chain is a little gold pair of scissors. The idea was to study this necklace and transform it, create a work of art inspired by it, using any medium. Once I’d finished the transformation, I repeated the process several times, letting each stage inform the next. To read more about the process, you can click through the gallery below.
TRANSFORMATION NUMBER ONE: SCISSORS
TRANSFORMATION NUMBER 2
The newspaper chains of the previous sculpture reminded me of how much we are shaped, informed and manipulated by the world, media and people around us. The headlines I cut from the paper were transformed several times, first when I read and projected my own interpretation onto them, then when I removed them from their original context, and again when I placed them alongside other cuttings to form a loose narrative. Once I’d turned them into links, they were curved and the words partially hidden so that only certain parts of the sentences could be seen, and what was seen varied depending on the position of the viewer. What was visible was transformed yet again by the personal interpretation of each of those viewers …. The only way the headlines or sentences could be seen and read in full was after the links had been broken away from each other and laid out flat on the table or wall.
This made me realise that no matter what face we think we are showing to the world, or what we believe we are communicating, no one can ever truly know or relate to the full story. What others see is profoundly influenced by their previous experiences, personality, beliefs, abilities, cultural background, education and so on.
Sometimes, the only way to make sense of things is to separate each individual thought, idea, memory, sensation, from the rest of the background noise and lay it out in isolation. While it is true that we are the sum of all our parts, each of those parts takes on an entirely different meaning when viewed in relation to any or all of the others. Exploring one at a time has been an extremely enlightening experience for me.
From this reflection I formed the idea of using blank crossword puzzles to cover the Rubix cube, a challenge I had never been able to complete as a child, but I’d always found crosswords relatively easy and fun.
While playing with the cube I noticed that no matter how many times I shuffled the segments, the central squares always stayed in the middle. I placed a printed image of the cardboard scissors (which had come to represent my self) in the middle on all six sides, to show that no matter how much background noise or chaos surrounds us in life, we can weather all the twists and turns if we are able to stay true and stable at the core.
I was inspired to make this piece while contemplating the little gold charm bracelet that I’ve worn almost every day for over 20 years. It struck me how little it would be worth to anyone but me, as the true value is in the meaning attached to each individual charm, all the memories preserved and provoked when I look at them.
Each charm has a complete, standalone story of its own, and when linked together on a single chain they become part of an even more intricate and meaningful whole. A metaphor for life, really, as who we are is the sum of our myriad parts, all invaluable.
I have always had a “things” drawer in my kitchen, a Purgatory for random objects that don’t fit or belong anywhere else. Some are waiting to be useful again, some waiting to be repaired, some waiting for their pair to show up, and some have been in there so long that the outside world has forgotten they exist.
This things drawer has been moved from rental house to rental house over the years, and i thought it was time to explore it. Spending so long with each random piece, cleaning it, preparing its surface and gilding it, then linking them all together was quite an amazing experience. Every single seemingly insignificant castaway had a story to remind me of. Every single thing had once had purpose, played a part in my life. Remembering the tiny ways in which each object had served me over the years prompted all the surrounding memories to surface. I was able to see patterns and links and make sense of the chaos. It was just the start of a very important and ongoing process.
For as long as I can remember, creating art of any kind has been been more about the process than the product. Even as a child, I didn’t draw to replicate what I was seeing, but to explore things emotionally. I was acutely aware of how what I saw affected me, and how what I was feeling affected the way I saw. For example, a donut would look very different to me depending on how hungry I was. When not hungry, I’d be more relaxed and inclined to notice and wonder about all the various ingredients, colours, shapes, textures, smells and tastes. I might even notice how the light reflects off the individual specs of sugar; the contoured edges of the glossy frosting; the spongy, rounded surface of the golden pastry…
When starving, I’d simply see a doughnut.
When I produce a visual representation of my internal chatter, I can see things more clearly. My muddled thoughts start sorting themselves into orderly queues instead of simultaneously clamouring for attention.
To put it another way: imagine hundreds of oddly shaped, different coloured Lego bricks scattered across the floor around you. Sharp little boobytraps everywhere you look! Each individual piece unidentifiable as anything other than part of the one big, insurmountable MESS. You can’t step in any direction without hurting your feet.
It is easy to become so focused on getting rid of or around “The Mess” that you fail to see The Bigger Picture. You might even find yourself paralysed (Procrastinators Unite!) stuck to the spot, awaiting rescue.
But what if you were to stop for a minute, crouch down, give each and every little brick your full attention; start sorting through them, finding connections and piecing them together…? You might see how each seemingly insignificant piece, while not of much interest or use on its own, transforms into something entirely different when it’s linked to others. Each little piece plays a vital role in constructing The Whole. By the end of the process, you’ll still have the same number of oddly shaped, different coloured bricks as you had before, but now there is cohesion and clarity, and more space in which to manoeuvre (For the techies: think defragmenting the hard drive on your computer)
To all those people thinking “But I don’t have time to sit around all day playing with my problems! Hand me a broom!”, think of all the time that you’ve already wasted trying to avoid doing emotional housekeeping.
So that’s how I’d describe the art-making process; forcing myself, despite the discomfort, to slow down and confront the chaos, start picking through the minefield in my head, treading carefully to avoid detonation! Examining and fitting together seemingly random thoughts and feelings until I find a common thread or an image starts to form. Because everything is related. No thought, however trivial, meaningless. Everything matters. The answers to most of my questions are hidden somewhere amid the jumble, so I just keep sifting and sorting my way through it, without any real sense of direction, until I have what I call an “AHA! moment”.
And then, there’s ….
Have you ever tried catching a feather or leaf that’s fluttering about on the breeze? The more you wave your arms or move your hand, the further away it will get. That’s what it feels like for me when inspiration is just out of reach. The AHA! moment comes when I have managed to grasp an idea. Then, the the hard part is over.
When in that creative zone, known as “the flow”, my mind becomes very still. I’m no longer chasing or running or flailing about desperately trying to make sense of things. I am completely tranquil, opening myself up, letting those fluttering objects drift down and settle upon me. I loose all sense of time and space, and switch into cruise control. Emerging from this flow state feels like waking from a dream, only I’ve brought something tangible back with me. A souvenir from my subconscious.
Externalising my thoughts and emotions in this way helps me gain better understanding of them and how they affect me, but it also makes my internal world accessible to others. Exposure to scrutiny and criticism absolutely TERRIFIES me, and makes me extremely vulnerable. So why do I do it??
Because my deep seated longing to make authentic connections only very slightly outweighs my paralysing fear of rejection.
It’s something I find difficult to write about without feeling a tad wanky, but there you have it.