You know how sometimes we can miss the bleeding’ obvious even when it’s right in front of our nose? And also, how we can be totally blasé about something we do well because we think it’s just normal and everyone can do it?
I’ve been feeling envious of people who paint and make big, abstract work. Wishing that I could do that (and sometimes I have done, and loved the freedom and expressiveness of it), and sometimes I do unroll a huge roll of paper and splash a splurge of colour with my widest brush, and it feels great – but then I go back to my desk and make a small picture. Because, in the end, that’s what I do best.
It is beginning to dawn on me that maybe I can do some things that not everyone can do, even if it slightly pains me to admit it. Let’s face it, it is much easier to think everyone else has it nailed.
I spent a rainy afternoon this week thinking about life and work and art and how to find a common thread between them. For a while now, I’ve been wondering how to reconcile art and writing – I love doing them both, but they seem to come from different places.
And glancing around my room at all my stuff, I suddenly realised that nearly everything I do is some sort of book. Sketchbooks. Scrapbooks. Journals. It’s all about books! I’ve kept scrapbooks of cuttings for most of my adult life, and always a diary, and usually a sketchbook too: my life is pretty much documented in books, often handmade or in pretty covers, and bits of paper. My life is in books. From now on, I’m going to think of myself as a book artist, except that sounds pretentious and doesn’t quite hit the mark. If you can think of a better title, please let me know.
There are actual books here, too. Lots of books. (Minimalists, look away now – though I guess most minimalists will have done that long since anyway.)
“Blimey! I wouldn’t want to move you!” said a man with a van once, gazing around at the bookcases stretching up the walls. I didn’t actually think we had that many.
I was pretty defiant about this over lockdown, during all those zoom chats where our most private spaces suddenly became public; some people bought ring lights and carefully adjusted their decor for neutral backgrounds. I couldn’t be bothered with any of that but was aware that wherever I sat, my zoom background was crammed with books.
There are books in the kitchen, books in the bedroom, a box of scrapbooks under the bed and two teetering columns of old diaries. More diaries and current scrapbooks and sketchbooks live in my studio cum library. The diaries just sit there for posterity perhaps, or something sensational to read on the train, and if I had any sense I’d probably get rid. But the scrapbooks and sketchbooks are different; in creatively fallow times they are inspiration and reference, they soothe the eye and the jaded soul. They remind me that I can make interesting work and have ideas, and to keep going. And then I can make more images in more scrap or sketchbooks and fill more shelves…
But the thing is, sketchbooks and writing and making smallish work on paper is what I do, and it’s what I do best. It’s not the most sensational medium perhaps but it’s mine. Finally, after many moons of soul searching and wishing I could be more like someone else, I’m happy with that.