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Thursday, 28 February 2019

20'000 Thoughts

A friend once told me that we have an estimated 20'000 thoughts a day. A search online and you will discover there is much debate around the exact number, it ranges from 12'000 to 80'000. What amazes me about this is not the scale of the number itself, but the idea that thoughts can be captured, measured and neatly summed up like this, in a series of numbers.

In my own way I too am attempting to capture events in our minds, my method though is drawing. I see the mind as an almost palpable landscape that is complex, shifting with its own forms, rhythms, texture, lines. I have previously used music and hypnosis to evoke and draw different mental states, or simply tuning in to and noticing the shape of my mind as it changes in response to the ebb and flow of life. I'm trying to make visible sensations, patterns of thought and feeling, from the darkest times to the euphoric.

The concept of 20'000 thoughts keeps returning to me as I continue to work on two new large scale drawings made up of thousands of tiny, time consuming, delicate ink lines, I ponder the amount of thoughts woven into them as I have drawn, the memories, ideas, worries, day dreams...

The largest of the two drawings in progress is black ink on tissue paper, the smaller drawing is paint, pastel and gold ink on found packaging paper. Both surfaces are crumpled, creased and fragile. The ink lines I make trace and reveal these very points of fragility, the parts that disrupt the smooth skin of paper, they could break or the surface could become swallowed by these marks. While making these drawings  I have felt at times like I am healing the creases, taking care of the parts on the verge of breaking with a steady hand, tiny brush and delicate ink, like a mother applying cream to a cut knee. But in doing so my intention is not to erase but to highlight them, telling their story and making them permanent.

The surface of paper captivates me, it's like a living thing, breathing in the breeze, absorbing,  changing, sculptural, there are familiar patterns to the crumples and folds, like arteries, winter branches, veins in rock. There is an undeniable visual connectedness to things bodily and the natural world we inhabit, from a microscopic cell to an image of land from space, they mirror one another. Surely our minds, not the 'stuff' of neurones and brain matter, but the thoughts and feelings, sadness, joy, clusters of tension, moments of release, bursts of determination, and of falling, if given a shape would reflect these outer, natural forms too? Or perhaps this imagery is a form we recognise and can read, full of metaphor and poetry and that is why I am drawn to it as a way of articulating the inner?

There is another way in which these drawings connect to the outer for me. If we were to give our times, our collective consciousness, a form, it would be a fragile one, an unsteady surface with periodic surges of darkness. And yet there would be millions of lines forged across this plane, that continue, as we continue. Our instinct to survive is obvious, even if our actions contradict this. Another prevailing instinct (or perhaps it is the same one?) from cave to five year old with crayons at the kitchen table, is to make a mark, to say I am here, perhaps now more loudly than ever?

Work in progress, gold ink, acrylic paint and pastel on found paper.

I have been experimenting with the drawing above, candle light and film, watch the film clip here

Work in progress, black ink on approximately 3 metres of acid free tissue paper

More images of these drawings can be seen here

Friday, 28 September 2018

My drawings in the After Birth Installation at The Royal Exchange Theatre as part of Co:Lab Festival 2018

After Birth was a multi media installation and performance shown in July at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, that aimed to put the hidden issue of maternal mental health in public. People were encouraged to come 'with a babe in arms, alone or with a group to a safe space where the unspoken is expressed visually, musically and through performed monologues. Engage with the installation on your own terms or attend a performance' Health visitors where present after each performance should anyone have needed support.

The After Birth Team: Nicola Schofield - Writer, Jennifer Hardy - Musician, Naomi Kendrick - Artwork, David Haworth - Set Design, Sara Abanur - Actress, Amy Hailwood - Director, Grace Ng - Ralph - Producer

Nicola, Jennifer and I collaborated by producing new work (in our respective disciplines of writing, sound and drawing) drawing on our own experiences and working in response to each others work on maternal mental health. I then collaborated with David Haworth who built a set to house my drawings, Jenny's sound and the performance.

film clip of the installation available here courtesy of Andrew Brooks

Visitor feedback:
'Very moving, Brought back some memories. Brilliant'
'The use of different art mediums worked well, very moving and resonated with me despite not being a mother myself. Excellent well written and much needed.'
'An honest and powerful reality. This is surely a conversation that needs to happen and the right support to be given'
'An amazing performance - Heart felt thoughts'
'WOW - what a performance! A very honest portrayal of motherhood, thank you!
'Really poignant and thought provoking installation, has stimulated a lot of discussion'
'It touched me and made me feel empathy for all mums, Great exhibition'
'Brilliant. So much great work and fantastic collaborations. This kind of thing is really Worth investing in.'
'Gorgeous Installation. So Gentle. Id like to see more work like this! well done all involved'
'Incredible performance! As a supporter of new mums, I really felt I was watching real thoughts by one of our mums. Well done to everyone involved. Very candid and truthful'

More images here photography and film by Andrew Brooks.
Jennifer's soundscapes can be heard here

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Nicola and I

Work in Progress - In response to writing by Nicola Schofield

Last Summer I wrote a post as an alternative evaluation of my my two year Arts Council England Funded Research and Development project 'Drawing as Experience'. In it I talked about the realities of being a practicing artist and a parent, and how this had impacted on my mental health. The post  resonated with other working parents, most of them mothers, one of them was the writer Nicola Schofieldwho got in touch and we agreed to meet.

What struck us both, particularly in an age in which so much is shared, is the continued secretiveness around maternal mental health, we both had close friends who had never revealed they were struggling until we hinted that we were, and then as if given permission, they would tell all in a flood. Hushed confessions while the children play at our feet. Why is this happening? Fear? Shame? Societal Pressures? Nicola and I both felt strongly that we wanted to make work that honestly reflected our own experiences and to use this as a catalyst, working with other mothers to try and normalise these conversations and show people that they are not alone.

We have been talking to many people about our project, and our contact with health professionals has confirmed the scale of the problem, poor maternal mental health is a massive issue today, for many different women in society, and it is growing.

Nicola and I are busy making work at the moment, I draw directly in response to Nicola's words, or carefully curate existing drawings to work together with Nicola's writing. Nicola also writes in response to my drawings.

Here is an example of our work in which we brought together a piece Nicola has written called 'Fear' with a selection of my drawings...


The terror

Are the endless tasks to keep the dark thoughts at bay?

The terror of what might happen to you.

The physicality of your presence.

At bath time you are at your most vulnerable, my mind thinks of children more vulnerable than you. 

I think of cruelty, neglect as I bathe you, wash your hair

This precious bath time sees my mind swim in muck – in the darkness

I smile at your father, your grandparents when the ritual is shared

What would they think if they knew?

They see your light so why can I only see the darkness that surrounds you, us?

All that may befall you and I am your security blanket against all of this, I am the one to shield you

The one who’s head is getting lost to darkness, and so I smile at your dad, your grandparents because how can I give them this weight that I carry?

Every day I see stories of cruelty, parents in mug shots, I have brought you into a world of ugliness and I am to protect you from it

What must you think of me?  What will you think of me?

When you find me out.   When you see who I am. 

I fear your rejection.  Your rejection of my weakness, I want to be strong for you.  I want for you there to be only light and joy. 

When you were born I felt such awe.  Such strength. 

I had climbed the mountain and I had conquered it.  And there you were – my euphoria. 

I thought I could never feel fear again such was the hope of that moment.  The sheer joy.

Yet now I am afraid.  Afraid I will fail at being your mother.  That I will not be good enough.

Yet sad for all the children who are not as loved and wanted as you.

The contradiction in that.

I thought how one day you will be old.  Will you be alone and I won’t be there to protect you?  I wept.

And others laughed at me for crying at the advert for a bank.  The familiar used montage. 


Is it?

I watch the news in terror and on alert.  Imagine black boots walking past our house.  Bombs which blind us with their light.  Water rising through our house. 

All this as I feed you.  Clean you. 

I think new babies are so busy as a way to try and block these terrors out but mine are creeping in. 

Because what if something happens to you? 

What if I can’t save you?  Help you?

Protect you?

What kind of mother am I if I can’t do that? 

How do you love without fear?

Monday, 15 January 2018

'Brink' and Other Stories.

When I am drawing words come. A conversation with the drawing, as it happens, during which I find words to describe, guide and define it. Some of these words spill out into my sketch book, as notes, half poems or possible titles.

I have been thinking about the power of titles recently, particularly the line between titles working with the drawing to communicate to the viewer and titles being too leading, snuffing out the ability of the drawing to speak for itself. It is a difficult line to tread, however words often feel so involved in my drawings, tied up in each mark, that I want them to contribute, and to figure out how best they can work with the drawing.

Paint, pastel and pencil on tracing paper

Some people call it 'The black dog', for me it is certainly dark but also heavy, dense and  invading. It attempts to conquer and there is always a battle between it and the other (the parts untouched by depression and anxiety). What happens at the point where these two equal forces meet, who will swallow who?

'Almost Edible' 
Pastel on tracing paper

The surface of my sons skin. A landscape I could happily lose myself in and that I can not help but touch, particularly those cheeks, I ache to kiss them. The Joy of this.

Pastel on paper

More images of my work are here

Monday, 11 December 2017

Album Artwork for 'Mass' by dbh

I was very honored when the incredibly talented Manchester musician Dan Bridgwood Hill aka dbh, asked me if he could use details from my drawing 'Sara's Forest' as the artwork for his latest album 'Mass'. I love Dan's music, and have really enjoyed drawing in response to his improvisations during our performances over the years. And so Dan responding to one of my drawings in this way, felt like a very natural exchange.

'I first saw 'Sara's Forest' on the wall of Naomi's studio not long after she drew it and I was immediately attracted to it. Overtime I've derived a lot of meaning from it, including things Naomi can not possibly have intended. I realised very early on that it would make a great album cover and as such it became inseparable from the music I was making, so when the record was finished there was no option but to ask for permission to use it'  - Dan

'Mass' is out now on Thread Recordings

Find out more about the original drawing 'Sara's Forest' here

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Drawing as Experience - All the Dirty Words


Two years ago I was extremely lucky to receive funding from the Arts Council England for a research and development project to develop my practice. It was a fantastic opportunity, and now as the project ends I have been reflecting on what happened. You can see a gallery of highlights from the project and read all about it in my Drawing as Experience posts

When talking about what happened in a project some things can get omitted. There was something else going on throughout this two year project, a parallel journey I think it's important to share....

The Mothers We Are

How do you justify going to your studio to draw and develop your practice, when you have to pay £40 a day in childcare every time you are there? There are rarely any known immediate results at the time of making, will it be exhibited, or sold, will someone select us to perform? On a practical level as a parent it makes little sense, as a self employed person running their own business it is at best risky.

I do it, in part, because I do not know how not too, I realised as soon as I returned to my studio when my son Jackson started nursery that this is my 'comfort zone', it is what I know. And with my new job of being a mother being made up of a series of shifting unknowns, that was a lovely thing to return to. My work is also a vital part of my identity, prior to being a parent it felt like it was all of me, and took most of my time. being an artist is something I have been working at for as long as I can remember, it is who I am, how I see and interact with the world around me.

Becoming a mother has an enormous impact on your identity and is a big adjustment; how do you see yourself now? how do others from your family to wider society see you? and most of all how does the little person that depends on you for all see you, what impact are you having on him? And where is what you know as 'you' in this mix?


How do you continue to develop your practice when members of your family die, but you still have to find the wheatabix, do the jigsaw and stay steady for your child, who is far to little to understand? And what happens when a few months later you suddenly find you can't sleep anymore, no matter how hard you try? You see that your mental health is waning, but to stop working in the way you always have feels like losing an important part of who you are. And you are giving your all to your new job too, of trying to be the mother from fairy tales, because you are used to trying to do things the best you can.

Nobody can give their all twice.

At this point I stopped, and thought many, many times that I would not start again, It was like a crisis of faith. I took a break from the project, from my studio, from trying so bloody hard.


Eventually I started talking. And in doing so I discovered that almost all of the mothers I knew had (silently) crashed at some point too, I listened to artists past and present who talked about the conflict between their identity as a mother and as an artist, I talked to a fantastic counselor and GP. Finally I started to talk through my work too, through each drawing...


Medicine Day 5

Medicine Week Two

For a long time I had hesitated. Though I saw each drawing as a psychological space inhabited, where emotions, sensations and memories emerge and make their way out in the drawing, I was showing them behind a layer of frosted glass. With drawing music in particular it was more a form of escapism, than direct communication. I found increasingly that I wanted to say more.

Recognising there was no space in my life to grieve for those in my family I had lost, I went to my studio and I did it in the drawings. I went there too to talk about motherhood, both the joys and the difficulty and to try and articulate my internal landscape when my mental health is fractured. In the drawings I have the space to think, feel and gradually, proudly, begin to say 'all the dirty words' that are; motherhood, grief, feminism and mental health, are this.

Stroke (1)

Stroke (2)

I'm looking forward to making more work, to putting it out in the world, not as some cathartic process or therapy, but as a new way of drawing. And I want people to find something in that work that hits them, that makes them talk back.

I am enormously grateful for this funding for the crucial help with finances and therefore time, but most of all for the belief in me that it symbolised at a time when I needed it the most. It made me keep going, grow, and pulled my work to exactly where it should be.

I would like to thank everyone involved in the project for their support; Andrew Brooks, Mark Devereux, Devin Terhune, Alison Kershaw, Rae Story, Louise Thompson, David Birchall, Dan Bridgwood Hill, Gemma Lacey, Simon Woolham, Epiphany, the Vonnegut Collective, the participants from TLC St Lukes and the Manchester Art Gallery's wellbeing program as well as everyone who came to our performances.