Friday, 3 September 2010

Artist's Block or Clouds and Silver Linings

Did I write about this subject before. If I did, well forgive me, as I am going to write about it again. Why? Because it is an affliction that affects all artists form time to time – some more than others – and it is so frustrating and debilitating. When it happens you procrastinate and procrastinate and then finally sit facing an empty canvas or sheet of paper and realize that it is now or never and so nothing else gets done in the house, as actually everything has been done during the first period of procrastination. No more books may be read either, because that is procrastinating too, although it can be classed as inspiration at times, in which case it may then be allowed, but you have to read something worthy not some easy-read-bodice-ripping-yarn. And then it is Ohmygod! I have to produce something or never again!

I wish I had a job in the library. Then I could pretend that I was not an artist and never was.

When I was little I thought it was great to be an artist. Not because I thought it was a cool profession, in those days things like that never entered my head as I was too busy looking at clouds or umbrellas, but because if you make things – like I did – then you were never lonely or never bored.

How wrong was I!

I get terribly lonely sometimes and when I am facing that empty sheet of paper I can be so bored, because nothing presents itself – then it is little steps. I might draw a leaf. But then that leads to nothing. I try to draw a landscape. Difficult at the best of times. Nothing. A building – I could never draw straight lines anyway. I go through old notebooks and try to haul out ideas from them. I have some good ideas there, but then trying to draw them when I am like this can be impossible. I draw another leaf. Terrible, it doesn’t even look like a leaf. I can’t draw and will never be able to draw again! I get up and pace the floor backwards and forwards, thinking, thinking, what will I draw? What do I want to draw? I go upstairs into the bedroom and look out the window at my pigeons for inspiration. They are not even there – gone out shopping I suppose – I look at an empty drainpipe, well empty except for those dirty plastic bottles which I must remove when I get a long stick. Not much inspiration here.

I go to my artbooks and look through them. Fantastic! All these artists making all this fabulous work and I can’t even draw a blessed leaf! That doesn’t help it only makes me more frustrated and jealous. I wail and gnash my teeth – not that this helps either, but it is involuntary.

I go downstairs again and sit in front of my paper. It is blank.

I go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea – I wander round polishing a bit while the kettle boils. Teabag, stir, squeeze – half a spoon of sugar, stir – good dollop of milk – it is all about ritual. Anything to waste another bit of time without having to stare at that darned piece of paper. The blank piece.

I sit down in front of my blank piece of paper and drink my cup of tea. I finish the tea, the paper is still blank. I go to the kitchen and wash the cup and put it to drain on the draining board.

I sit down in front of my blank piece of paper and pick up my pencil desperately looking around me for inspiration – even my hair is standing up on end with frustration! There is no inspiration at the kitchen table under the stairs.

I get up and go back upstairs, I have had an idea. I get my old source books out – which I made in college and miraculously kept – well it wasn’t really a miracle it was because I remember our tutors saying that when you were blocked – and everyone gets blocked from time to time – get out your old sketchbooks and sourcebooks and look at them. What wise tutors we had in college and how wise I was to listen to them.

I go through the source books and find a picture I like which could work with the theme I wish to explore so I go downstairs again and slowly, very slowly start to copy the picture – just copy it – that is ok, it is still my drawing of the photo in front of me and as such it starts to take on a small life of its own and bit by bit I become absorbed in the process of making lines and drawing wrinkles, I do not want to put in any shading at this point as this is going to be a line drawing for a print – the shading will come with the cutting of the plate. I do not notice the time going until I look up and find it is getting dark in the room where I sit and there are mosquitoes nipping at my ankles, so I get up to close the door.

My body is stiff from being in the same position for a long time and my eyes smart from squinting at the paper and from the tears of frustration that were flowing freely from them earlier that day and for the past few days.

I look at the drawing again and am happy with it. That is a result, although I am not out of the woods yet. Still it is late and my body is tired so I pour a drink and allow myself to sit at the table with a book in my hand and read a bit to take my mind off the terrible day I have put down.

From early morning until late in the evening I have finally produced a tiny little speck of a drawing and I know it is not one of my best, but it is better than the leaves or the other various attempts I made over the past few days.

The house is spotless. All the bedlinen has been washed and the floors have been swept, vacuumed and washed down twice. Window frames have been cleaned and all the little corners of the kitchen have been attended to. I hung a picture and the clock in the kitchen, filed all my documents and receipts – which means I will not be able to find anything. I picked up all the clothes draped on the floor the two bedroom chairs and the end of the bed and folded and put them all away. The ones that needed washing have been washed and folded and put away also. I sorted though my chest of drawers as well for old clothes and these have been washed, folded and bagged for the charity shop. The toilets have been scrubbed, delimescaled and bleached to within and inch of their lives and all the chrome fittings are sparkling.

Letters have been written, blogs have been written, Spanish verbs have been copied and filed for later use (in other words – lost). All the old newspapers have been tossed and I even swept my under-construction-terrace although there is no real need as it really is a work in progress and no matter how many hanging baskets you put on it a cement mixer will always be a cement mixer.

Artist’s block does have its upside I will grant you. But those tears of frustration and the fear of never being able to draw again, not to mention the strain that all the drinking puts on your liver while you have nothing else to do – those are not so good.

People think that being an artist is a jolly life. You get to sit in bars all day and observe people, you are allowed to drink too much and people almost expect you to be wild and behave badly. Some artists do that is true, but most of us just live quietly and try to scrape a living from our work and live from one block to the next with the thought of the next one never far away even when we are working like a maniac.

I remember someone once referring to my art as a ‘hobby’ (I was working as well at that time) that too is not a true perception of what it is to be an artist. It is a compulsion, at least it is for me and part of who I am as a person, my identity, which is why that block is such a threat to me. If I cannot draw or make or whatever, then what am I. At this point in my life I think it unlikely that I will be able to reinvent myself as something else – an engineer for instance – I have been an artist now for 50 year after all and it is somewhat engrained. I was born with this affliction and am certain now that I will die with it. But it is not such an easy ride as people think – I only hope that in time I will also become better at dealing with the block when it comes. But then the house would never get a Spring clean!

No comments: