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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.


  1. I concur it is no mean feet and you have found your passion through it all which is commendable. Beautiful. x

  2. (from social media) its really good to read honest writing about how all these things interact

  3. (from social media) Thank you... important to read in the week I return to work after maternity leave.

  4. (from social media)
    Thank you so much for sharing this - it's very generous of you and very lovely.

  5. (from social media) Honest, true.

  6. (from social media) Naomi, this is really great, honest writing, and together with the work has such integrity. Keep on keeping on

  7. (from social media)Naomi this is beautiful work. Well done for all of this. Living, mothering, working, grieving, falling down and getting up again. Thank you for sharing.

  8. (from social media) Loved reading that
    Fantastic piece and fantastic work, I imagine it will resonate with a lot of people.'Nobody can give their all twice' spot on

  9. (from social media) Pertinent. Thank you for recounting the thoughts many of us have as artist mothers. It's important to record this. Great stuff.