Keeping an artistic practice going through tough times

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For me these last two years have been a game changer in many ways. I was stretched, I grew and changed and it hurt. And as a result of it, I feel like a different person, I think I am a different person.

I had my first small solo show. I took part in a residency that consolidated how I worked. I felt the bliss of making and getting into that elusive flow state.

I bought a house with my partner, decorated that house, attended three weddings and moved to a new town. All in two months.

I got a new job working with an amazing bunch of people which is in equal measures rewarding, exciting and exhausting and it’s changing the way I think about the work I do.

And I have gotten more ill than I have ever been.

As well as having some revelations about myself, how I function and the effect that certain things have on my life (which I won’t go into now). My body told me in no uncertain terms to slow down, and niggling health problems that I’ve had over the years turned into a chronic condition that has changed the way I live. Fatigue and pain have meant that I have had to make some serious choices about what I can and can’t do. I’ve started to learn what it might be like for disabled people living in a society that praises the able bodied. Though of course I can only talk from my own experience which is hugely limited compared to others. I’ve struggled with low mood and lack of motivation and learned the importance of Vitamin D and light! And as the summer starts to fade away, I’m slowly coming back to my self.

This year so far has been one of awakening. Learning about injustices I have had the privilege to have never even thought about. Navigating how to share this new found information with the people I care about. Diversifying the media I consume and reading first hand about peoples experiences. Learning about myself, my limits and what my body can and can’t do. Setting boundaries and saying no. Settling into a new home and town, making new friendships and mourning the disintegration of others. Finding courage to speak my mind and share my thoughts. Trying to have humility when I’m (often) wrong. Becoming more respectful of other people’s choices.  Learning how to really listen, and realising that my need to be right is stopping me from growing and understanding. Finding my rhythm, trying to flow with the seasons.

Feeling like I’m simultaneously doing too much and not enough. Like I am not enough.

And amongst all of this I’ve been questioning my practice. What do I do? What use is it? What is the point of making art?! What about the paid work that I do, where can I take that? How can I do more?

All I know is that I need to create. And I need to feel like I am making a difference. And I want to think, and write and create beauty. And I want people to feel loved and understood and valued.

There’s so much that I need to say and explore about myself. How can I work to fix the world when I feel broken?

And how can I continue my practice throughout all of this? How can I use it to move my thinking forward?

Is there a way?

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Funny how some things never change (a reminder)

I was reminded recently of a post I wrote in 2012, 5 years ago. It seems an age ago but I found it funny that I’m still grappling with the same self doubt about my art practice! Albeit with more work, exhibitions and understanding under my belt.

Anyway, I found the list useful and it turns out that I was right about those things I thought I needed, which I found in many places. Islington Mill Art Academy, working on the Art for Wellbeing team at Cartwheel Arts, coaching with Beth Creedon, Mentoring from Mark Devereux Projects, Free for Arts fest and Doremifasolatido residency!

So for my benefit, and perhaps yours, here’s a reminder of why we pursue an artistic practice, and some ideas of how to sustain it…

‘why pursue an artistic practice?’

  • to fulfil the desire to make/create or to not suppress the desire
  • to explore visual elements of the world that I find beautiful/interesting
  • to show people what I see – to point things out
  • to make sense of the world/my thoughts
  • to remind myself to look at the world
  • to explore what I think about things
  • to get lost in making
  • to connect with people through art
  • to use it to navigate life
  • to share experiences
  • to make beautiful/interesting things
  • to leave a legacy
  • to encourage people to think differently
  • to encourage people to reconsider their point of view 

‘what do I need to sustain an artistic practice?’

  • routine
  • experimentation
  • regular external inspirationd
  • deadlines
  • support/ collaboration
  • feedback

So there it is. I might actually print it out this time.

Who knows where the time goes

Well, this year, what can I say…

It’s been a year of collective tragedies and personal highlights. Change, transformation, chaos and reorganising. At the Art Academy we’re doing a project on Liminality. And I couldn’t think of a better word to describe where I am at now. Between places, eras, ideas. And where we are at as a planet, a chaos before the reforming.

I’m feeling the call to hibernate at the moment. To process all that I have created, to let ideas simmer and to build energy for what’s to come next year.

Collectively we have a lot of work to do and need to nurture ourselves in order to do it. Personally I have so much I want to try and experiment with. I have new exciting projects to participate in, people to meet, a new town to explore. But also challenges, a chronic health condition to navigate and a relearning of my limits.

Everything has turned out differently this year, plans have changed and I am entering a new period of my life. It’s exciting and terrifying.

For those of you who came on my courses last year, and have signed up to my email list, I’m still processing this and figuring out a way forward, but stay with me!

More than ever I believe in creativity as a way forward, for individuals and for society. I think we need to be creating, sharing, encouraging and protecting each other and my plan is to figure out how I can best be part of doing this.

That’s all I can say for now. I’ll be sharing some projects I’ve been working on over the next few months, and continuing to process, rest and build up strength.

STEPZ II: Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard

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I was really excited to find out that a piece of writing of mine was to be included in a Psychogeograpy Zine to be included in the LRM’s Loitering with Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking in Manchester and Beyond – at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.

The exhibition is on until October 16th and is a must see if you’re interested in the themes of Psychogeography, Situationism and how we interact with the cities we inhabit. It’s also one of my favourite museums, with historical objects representing the struggles and lives of the people.

The piece of writing was a collection of thoughts around a residency I completed during the summer/ Autumn of 2015. I have been thinking a lot about the city that I’ve made my home over the last 12 years, and that I spend my childhood visiting. Noticing the frequent changes over the past few years and the feelings of loss and nostalgia that is promoting in me.

Some of the places I talked about in the piece have already been demolished, in just 6 months since I wrote it. Here it is, with an accompanying image from the work that was produced during the residency.

A Different Kind of Map: Imprint of a trading estate

Processed with VSCODuring the summer of 2015 I found myself becoming obsessed with an area of Salford – the ‘other’ city – where unmanicured space still exists, a place on the brink of change. This place with the best view of the Manchester skyline and green space that helped me to breathe. Open space, a rare commodity in cities.

I’d find myself crossing the Irwell and sitting in the stillness of the Princes Bridge. A bridge for pedestrians and cyclists. Entering the no-man’s-land between the two cities. One shiny and one exposed and raw.

They say the city is for consumption, ‘People factories’, traditional industry now transitioned to the business of high-rise office blocks and dystopian gleaming private spaces. Contained and restricted. But this place tells a different story.

Clover, nettles, buddleia, thistle, the roar of traffic and the sound of water. Cranes and buildings creeping up, gated and fenced off. The clatter and screech of trains and the banging of construction. A place for passing through. And then, down the steps and into this edge land of both cities.

This area in the process of being discussed, bought and branded. Remnants of activity common to edge lands. In transition, with developments springing up and ‘unused’ land being cleared. An area that was once used by industry now seems unused and unloved, but in reality, used in ways which seem unfathomable to those in the business of development.

I began documenting and capturing fragments of this environment. Wandering and observing, taking in the space in a way that I hadn’t before. Making use of things that existed in the environment that shouldn’t have; paint, board, scraps of metal, plant-life. Taking away and gathering. An archaeology of sorts. Found objects were displayed, altered, added to, encased, re-purposed, weeds pressed, berries collected and jam produced. Equivalents were made, maps, rubbings, drawings, photographs.

In responding to and exploring this environment in an unstructured way, I unconsciously created a visual map of its un-mappable parts. On a map just a series of blank squares; but actually an area rich in stories, traces of objects and alternative uses. I aimed to give the traces a sort of new life, a permanence. Examining the things we make, their transformation back to nature and the elements they came from – what we leave behind and what sticks around. Spaces captured before they cease to exist.

And, bubbling under the surface are always the big questions. Questions around the value of land, ownership and consumption. Questions about our society’s obsession with productivity and concern for those spaces and buildings that are in between monetary usefulness.

Walking and collecting as document of space and time.

I wandered and gathered. And from that, a new kind of map was formed…

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You can pick up a physical copy of the zine here – it’s a beautiful object with some really fascinating work included.

Little Bits of Good

Heidi Barr

January.  A time to take stock of what’s working and what’s not.   Resolving to do better this year.   Worrying that nothing will change. Again. Losing those 30 pounds… for real this time.   Giving up all foods that contain white sugar and flour.  Going gluten free.  Joining the gym.  Taking up yoga. Quitting smoking.  Quitting drinking.  Quitting gambling.  Quitting failing.  January in the western world is full of anticipation and anxiety as we look for a fresh start – as we look for something that will keep us moving into the life that we want.

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How might we take the start of another calendar year to surrender into a version of life that is simply… enough?  What it would be like to be satisfied – really satisfied – with exactly where we are, regardless of what our external life situation might look like? How can we use our everyday actions to…

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Why I think creative hibernation is important

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It’s been a busy old year. So many exciting things have happened, my artistic practice has come on in leaps and bounds and I have been making, making, making!

I’ve also been facilitating lots of groups, witnessed people’s creativity expanding, met lots of different kinds of people through my community work and been inspired by the way they approach art making.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about creative hibernation, or down time. As artists we tend to think we should be making all of the time. When I’ve had periods where ideas don’t seem to come to me or I feel stuck, I have tried to push through it, and motivating myself can be really tough, leading to me feeling bad about myself.

This year though I am embracing this period as a chance to process what I’ve been doing. Consciously and unconsciously. And I’m starting to see my creativity and art practice as something that moves in cycles, just as nature does.

Here’s some things I’ll be doing over winter to honor this period of the cycle;

  • Having a lot of rest.
  • Connecting with friends and family.
  • Organising my supplies, tidying up ready for the new period of creating to begin.
  • Reading a lot around the themes I’ve been interested in over the year.
  • Reviewing my year and choosing my word of the year – so I’m able to consciously choose what my 2016 might feel like.
  • Making connections and looking at the work I’ve been producing.
  • Writing and discussing ideas.

How do you feel about your practice at this time of year? I’d love you to share any things that you do (or don’t do) when you’re in a period of creative rest! See you on the other side!

Looking back over the year

I always do this workbook by Susannah Conway at the end of every year. It’s so good to reflect on what’s happened and plot out my hopes and dreams for the new year! I love her writing style and all of the tools she provides. Also I love choosing a word for the year. This year mine was Brilliance (more about that in a future post) Best of all it’s totally free!

I love this process as it feels much more genuine than setting resolutions for things I want. This helps me focus on how I want to feel, which is so much more important.

I wanted to share this with you all – and encourage you to check out Susannah’s website. Beautiful photography and words and really inspiring!

Creative play for adults. What is it and why is it important?

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I’ve been making things all of my life, but something that has really affected me is perfectionism and trying to get things ‘right’.

“Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.” Stoeber, Joachim; Childs, Julian H. (2010).

It stems from childhood; sometimes from being told you are good at something, which can lead to a fear of not getting it right next time and lots of internal messages about how it’s got to be perfect.  This can then either lead to avoidance ‘there’s no point doing it if it’s not going to be perfect’ or setting unreasonably high standards ‘if I just do a bit more I will get it right’. Either way, it can lead to anxiety and low mood and effect self esteem.

Art making and perfectionism

When it comes to making art and creative work, this can lead to complete creative block and feeling stuck. It led to me having lots of ideas and not trying any of them out. And it also led to depression and anxiety. I knew the creative part of me was desperate to be let out but I just didn’t know how.

Over the last 7 years I’ve done a lot of work around my perfectionism, particularly around art making. And one of the things that has been so valuable has been creative play.

“Play, first and foremost, is what one wants to do, as opposed to what one feels obliged to do. And is intrinsically motivated – the process is more important than the outcome. Attention is attuned to the activity itself, and there is reduced consciousness of self and time.” Dr. Peter Gray, Boston College

Creative play can help you in many ways, and is just as important for adults as it is for children.

  • It can relieve stress by triggering the release of endorphins.
  • It can help you to focus and get into a flow state
  • It can help you to learn things about yourself and your innate creativity
  • It can help you to connect with others and yourself
  • It can be a way in to your creative power
  • It can help you to find techniques to develop into artwork

“Playing, making mistakes, testing ideas and experimenting are ways we make sense of the world.” Suzi Tibbets

So give it a go. Give yourself permission to just play with some art materials and see where it takes you.

I’m running a creative play session on Saturday 21st November in Manchester for anyone who wants to learn some techniques for creative play. It’s going to be lots of fun! Find out more and book your place here. 

 

The magic of the art journal

Well, it’s been two weeks now since the first of the Freedom to Create courses – Art Journaling. I’ve been processing, sorting things out for the Mixed Media session and doing a bit of hibernating too!

It really was a magical session. The upstairs workshop space at The Wonder Inn was perfect. Lots of light streaming in, spacious and fairy lights strung across the old beams.

The group was fantastic too, a really creative and lovely bunch. I found the afternoon really inspiring and relaxing, I had lots of lovely chats with everyone (and the food at The Wonder Inn was delicious!)

Really looking forward to the next session – Inspirational Mixed Media, find out more and sign up here if you want to give it a go. It’s a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon!