The Art of Gathering

Updated: Oct 4, 2021


Each month I blog my thoughts and what is happening in my studio life. You can find out more and receive free art downloads and videos from my studio when you sign up for my monthly newsletter at www.helenhallows.com/contact


 

The opening pages of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ talk of grabbing an idea with both hands before, like a willow-the-wisp it floats past and someone else grabs on to it.





I have been pondering this as I try to make sense of where my creative work is going and how we evolve as creatives. I am constantly striving for the perfect balance between my wellbeing, family life, and creating online courses that reflect my processes and align with my artworks. For me that means landscape inspired work - but I don't want to get stuck in using the same processes all the time. During the summer I have played with the creative ideas that the creative fairies have brought my way - weaving, sewing, needlepoint, paper mache and drawing. It's been great to just play but now I am back in the studio I am realigning with my landscape love and expressing that. My processes are erring towards more abstraction and my courses are reflecting that journey. But far from feeling comfortable, creating is pushing me out of my comfort zone. I’m doing the things that we all do as creatives, whatever stage we’re at, however accomplished, however ‘professional’. I am asking if it is good enough, if it’s authentic, if it’s aligned with who I want to be. Basically, I am getting in my own way of letting an idea blossom and grow. I am tying myself up in knots rather than gathering, exploring, processing and producing.





This last month has seen me put aside time to ‘re-fuel’. I am reminding myself that’s not all about rest and more sleep – it’s about finding inspiration, going to new places and following my nose. We had a week in Edinburgh and a few days away in nature. Both were fuel for my soul – art, culture and great food in Edinburgh – peace and beauty in the woods. In between though I wondered how I could possibly have thought time at home with my husband and two teenagers would be relaxing! We’ve caught up on jobs and decorated, sorted cupboards. I keep reminding myself that is so that I can settle again in the Autumn to getting new courses filmed and developing new work ideas. There’s an energy of summer that fuels me with fire – eventually I crave the turn of the seasons and a quietening back to routines.





September is all about the ‘Back-to-School’ mindset but this year is different. My eldest moves on to college and my youngest will be home-educated from this term. There is a sense of change, of learning to do things differently. I am adjusting my work patterns and whilst I question my abilities as a home educator, have decided to plan 6 weeks at a time – guiding my youngest and hopefully refuelling him in the process.


I am trying to embrace living in the moment – closing down the interior voices of doubt and fear. I am focussing on what works, what is wholesome and fulfilling and if it isn’t – turning towards what is.


The arrival of Covid-19 taught me that nothing is certain and that if we can embrace some uncertainty, if we stop holding on so tightly to what has always been as if it will always continue, then we open ourselves for self-evolution. And that’s just as true for our creativity. Nurturing artists through my online courses, seeing their development, it is so fulfilling to watch their revival and energy return as new ways of working develop.



“You do not just wake up and become the butterfly – growth is a process”

Rupi Kaur





Part of my refuel month was seeing new places and gathering inspiration. I have missed galleries, museums, book shops, happened-upon independent shops and Edinburgh rewarded me with all of the above. I have been reflecting on the different ways I seek and gather inspiration.





Drawing – being out with a sketchbook – making raw marks that edit where I am into line and shape. Always the best way of capturing a place and beginning to have the conversation about what matters to me, and why I am drawn to it (pun intended!)





Photos – I loved my old SLR camera and then my DSLR but having a camera in your pocket at all times is so helpful for gathering information. It can be making images that are endpoints in their own right – or taking snapshots as memos for later. My holiday photos also have photos of work in galleries, signage as reminders of artists to explore later, colours that I wanted to collect. I have recently become adept at getting photos printed – just a set of 10 from a trip or project and you have something tangible in your hands.





Ephemera – I returned from Edinburgh with a stash of art paper, postcards and cards, cotton tapes (there’s an idea brewing). I love returning to the studio with these treasures and new inspirations to pin up around me.





Digital collecting – I LOVE Pinterest and hoard images here. But it can get overwhelming when there are 2000 images on your ‘Abstract Art’ board. They need whittling down – so I might revisit and then save 30 images on to a ‘New Work’ board so I can ask myself what is really important for me about the images that I am gathering right now.





Notebooks and ideas books – Having a space for writing, note-making, ideas-lists, is really useful. Having a real space hones my ideas much better than writing on my computer and I am more likely to implement the ideas once listed. In here I also tuck leaflets from galleries and postcards that might arrive in the post (a dying art).





Voice notes and phone memos – I have a friend who writes who introduced me to the voice memo function on my phone and it’s great for capturing a thought whilst out and about – as is the Notepad function. Something doesn’t stick though and I forget to go back and get the idea – months later though I can mine my phone for lost ideas!





If you took away all the digital elements of the gathering process, I think I would perhaps have a simpler system. The elements that are most important to me are my studio pinboard and my sketchbook but ultimately it’s my notebook, the space of ideas, doodles, art ephemera that has served me well through the years. It’s a less pretty space than it used to be – as an art student my process and ideas books were full of visual notes and doodles as well as the more mundane. Now there’s also business lists and too much ‘adulting’ but my notebook is the glue of my creative process.


We can get bogged down in gathering and recording without ever creating. We scour Instagram and Pinterest, read art blogs (I see you!), make notes and try to keep our sketchbook super pretty and presentable. At some point we have to say ‘enough’ and spill out onto a page, a piece of fabric – to start the real work of expressing ourselves. And that can be a gritty process, fraught with all the ‘what-ifs’ that I started this post with – and that cannot be escaped. In order to create something raw, original and authentic, we have to garner our energy and ROAR!




Join me on Saturday September 18th (10.30-12.00 BST) for a Webinar presentation on how I take work from concept to creation. I'll talk about how I gather ideas, collate them and design a piece. You'll see footage of me preparing my work space and paper to work onto and a speeded up video of all the stages that the artwork goes through. We will discuss when a piece is completed and how to allow work to grow in its own way. Followed by a Q&A session. The Zoom webinar will be recorded if you can't attend live. Book a place here.



 


Watching - Rita on Netflix - 5 series of a Danish school drama - now I want to go to Denmark! Looking forward to the new Wes Anderson film.

Reading - The Unquiet Landscape by Christoper Neve

Eating - a lot of courgettes! Pepped up with Rose Harissa

Listening - to each other, 4 people in our house all going through changes and trying to keep the family glue strong.

Smelling - I fell in love with this fennel scented perfume by Skin Elixir and it's become the scent of my summer.



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