Must… Focus…

I recently had a critique with Chris (tutor) and a few of my classmates about BA8 and its current state. Needless to say, my work was looking… sparse. 

The last two or three weeks have been especially stressful for a myriad of reasons outside the umbrella of university and because of this, my university work has suffered the most. I had every intention and drive to make this the best project I’d ever done, and thus far I’ve not really followed through with this. I’m definitely feeling the pressure now, with this project, several current commissions, my Kung-Fu training, my job and part time face painting jobs taking up a hell of a lot of my time, not including any travel or timetabled university days. It’s time for a rethink of how I’m balancing this time…

My issue with the time I do put aside from this BA8 project, is that once I get settled into the time, get at my desk with a cup of tea and my sketchbook, I really struggle to focus and actually physically put work down onto paper. The reasons for this range from simple distractions and lack of concentration to having no drive or inspiration for the work at that moment in time. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been reading up a lot about other freelancer’s experiences in the industry, included in these statements were sometimes what the creatives in question did to relieve the burden of art-block or driveless, difficult days. Some take a few minutes to relax or do something they enjoy to get it off their mind, other’s will search through books and magazines to see if anything triggers an idea or visual motive. An article by Clara Lieu on Huffington Post has given me these ideas:

1) Reach out to your artist friends and mentors.

This is one of the most effective strategies for staying sane if you’re having a rough time. Talk to your friends who are artists, explain to them what’s happening with your work. If you have a mentor, call them up and whine your heart out. Your artist friends and mentors will provide the support and encouragement that is so critical to have when things aren’t going well. Try not to have a pity party for yourself and wallow in despair on your own. None of that is productive and will only allow you to sink deeper into destructive emotions.

2) Suspend your inner critic. We are our own toughest critics. We are significantly more demanding of ourselves than anyone else. Throw out your ambition and expectations temporarily, knowing that when you’re ready, you will reinstate them.

3) Change your environment.  Taking a short trip can sometimes break up the monotony of your regular environment, and can often times stimulate some sorely needed inspiration. A weekend in New York City almost always works for me. Even spending a whole day in a local museum can be incredibly refreshing and allow you to reset your brain.

4) Change media.  Switching to a different material can provide a different perspective on the same subject. It can keep your hands busy and get you thinking about your work in different ways. For example, if you’re working with two-dimensional media, change to three-dimensional media and see how that transforms your outlook.

5) Take a break.  Hit the gym, read a good book, pig out at a good restaurant, whatever works for you. This will provide both the physical and emotional distance and time away from your work that you need. Many of us will hit a creative plateau with our work: we know that we need to change something, but we don’t know what because we’ve been staring at the work for too long. Getting away from the piece will allow you to see the work with fresh eyes when you return.

6) Don’t give up.  One of my friends said this to me when I was in complete despair, and it was exactly the kind of straightforward, no-nonsense advice that I needed to hear at the time. Know that as much as it hurts when you’re in the thick of it, that this too, shall pass. Ride it out as best as you can and have faith that in the end, you will persevere. Being an artist is a dramatic roller coaster ride where you can experience everything from moments of complete exaltation to periods of painful failure. Difficult periods are inevitable when you’re an artist. If you don’t have tough times, it means that you’re not pushing yourself creatively. After a few excruciating weeks of just thinking and talking to my artist friends, I very slowly started to dig myself out. I blogged about the process the whole way through, which helped me to articulate exactly what was going on. Eventually, I realized that I had been approaching the sculpture from the wrong point of view. Instead, I took the idea of the physical sculpture as the final format and threw that out the window. Taking inspiration from my mentor Anthony Janello’s work, I decided to shoot digital photographs of the sculpture. With this approach, I could manipulate elements like lighting, cropping, and point of view in each piece. Once I liberated myself from the confines of the physical sculpture format, a whole new world of options opened up to me. I was back on track.

These are incredibly useful and need to be printed off in massive rainbow Wordart on my wall opposite my desk so I have no choice but to look at them all the time.. but I do sort of feel like I’ve been stuck in the ‘take a break’ section for a long time now. When my brain starts to go into slight meltdown, I shut the laptop, put my sketchbook down and, affectively, run away. I’ll go to Kung-Fu early or I’ll read a bit of my book or sketch something irrelevant, nothing which helps this project at all.

I have the strangest feeling, however, that it could be the project itself which is holding me back.

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 As one of my recent tweets reflects, my mind seems to run and hide from university project work which is really… very… hugely annoying.

The times I’ve found university projects successful is when I’ll link it closely to something outside of university, I’ll trick my brain into thinking I’m actually doing the project for a client, or myself, then I’ll actually be able to focus. I think for this project, I need a similar drive.

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I’ve always loved the Book Hive in Norwich.

The selection of books and illustrations inside the shop never fail to be amazing, and I couldn’t help but notice that, every now and then, a local author, publication or illustrator manages to get a small batch of their book(s) featured in the shop, either in the window or hidden somewhere inside. This, no matter how realistic or unrealistic (I’ve yet to actually ask inside the Book Hive about this) this is, is now a sort of drive or fresh context for my work to take on. I like to imagine, when I’m struggling with the project, how well a final well produced Bestiary with an original meaning and message, would fit in with the books inside the shop.

On reflection, maybe it would have been a good idea to look at more competition briefs for BA8 and consider them instead. This way the work produced would be going towards something outside of university and would feel like less of a chore and more of a self improvement exercise for my practice. But, I didn’t… so it’s about time I made the best out of my original proposal.

I’ve slowly but surely started to find places and things which can help bring back my inspiration and excitement for this project as a whole. 

One of them I realised the other day and started yesterday. Since moving to Norwich just under three years ago and thus moving away from my big 42″ TV and TV license, I’d entirely forgotten about my unhealthy love for documentaries (cue distant cries of “nerrrrdd”).

After a friend of a friend put on an episode of BBC’s ‘Secrets of Bones’, I started watching more of them at home. Three episodes later, I found my work start to go a bit skeletal…

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I really enjoyed this drawing. It brought me back to the inherent interest and love I had for scientific illustration while research for and writing my dissertation (of which my feedback for was very positive!) which had lead me to believe that maybe taking the visuals of this project down a scientific route could be a good path to investigate. After my critique today, I now know that, despite the imagery being successful as a standalone, it needs that last push to give it something extra and really resonate with the audience/viewer of the work. My feedback sheet was as follows:

“Could the idea was pushed even further? If so, how? – Type as drawing – Concept of colour – Habitat

What can you use to do this? – Feathers – Skeleton – Type/text”

To expand on this, it was discussed amongst the group that my work was successful as a visual presentation of my drawing skills but lacked the clarification of meaning and intention that my proposal so badly needed. The idea behind my work seems to be strong; I am happy to research it, it interests me, it’s something I feel strongly about, so it’s not the concept which is lacking but the communication of it. To do this I really need to start to consider the following;

  • Colour – how can this be used to communicate the idea that the animals are pretty much equal in biology and physicality despite the aesthetic differences? Can I swap the colours of the animals but maintain their shapes? Can the visually pleasing species have the dull greys while the ‘ugly’ species sports the palette of a ‘pretty’ animal? How will this affect the audience’s viewing of the work?
  • Habitat and surroundings – How does the environment in which the species live in affect the value placed on the animal itself? Would a bird that lived in a tropical rainforest get a more positive response than one who lived in a city? Why is this and what can I do to the visuals to communicate this?
  • Biology and physicality – The insides and biology of the species that I am comparing are near enough the same, how can I communicate this while making it clear to the audience why I am choosing to communicate this. This follows on to:
  • Text and type – Not only how and where the type can be used but what text will I choose to write in order to provide the audience with suitable context while still leaving it up to them to come to an educated conclusion about the subject.

There’s definitely a lot to do in terms of thinking and experimenting with ideas, and with so little time left to do this the pressure is really on. I just hope I can keep my brain together with enough time to produce a successful project I’m happy with. Wish me luck.

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