Into the Wild

try I’m currently working on a series of designs for apparel, stationery and other home goods. These are now available courtesy of RedBubble.com and more new designs will be added frequently!

Click here to be taken to my shop on the Redbubble site or browse new designs in the collection.

The designs are inspired by folk art from the east and feature simple bright floral designs.

Out With The Old, Out With The New

IMG_5737Sometimes it is essential to shake up the status quo, to question formality and tradition. If we don’t do this then progress is never made. One of the difficulties we find in education is a reluctance on open minds to other ways of thinking. In contemporary arts education, traditional materials and processes are looked upon as inferior or outdated, in more traditional fields contemporary use of traditional materials or minimal aesthetic is thought suspicious. Neither extreme is better than the other and a middle ground needs be embraced.

Traditional practices allow us to make works of good quality and longevity while the teachings of contemporary culture inform us to the most relevant images people want to see today. To deny progress is not a sensible move, since as human beings we are capable of so much more today than ever before in the history of the human race. And so for those insistent on being stuck in the past or those fixated on the future there is in fact a much more interesting, insightful and meaningful way to pursue the arts. By acknowledging and appreciating the traditions of the past and not being afraid of the unknown before us, we can progress forward with sound knowledge and an open heart to the new possibilities ahead.

 

Why you’re not making a living as an artist.

I’m not a natural writer. In fact I find it hard putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys). Writing anything seems like hard work. It is hard work. When I create a blog post it feels like I really did go to work today. And I have something to feel proud of.

So why don’t I feel the same way after a day of trying very hard to paint, design, draw something? It still feels like hard work, but sometimes it feels like at the end of the day,because I haven’t actually finished what it is I wanted to make it, it feels like I haven’t really made anything at all. I have a few sketches, moved away from ideas, changed my mind. But that’s all.

When I was younger I found making things a very pleasant escape from the drudgery of college work. I began my art education at A level. I took other subjects as well like Biology, Chemistry, English and I was really good at them in fact I was top of my classes. But soon it all began to slip away. Perhaps it was the stress outside of college impacting me or perhaps it was me losing interest. I didn’t know. I was 17, I took up yoga and began to focus on making things.

When I work now, trying to make an idea come into being or to refine my ideas, compared to when I was in college, its incredibly difficult. I would say almost impossible. Procrastination is not my problem. I’m always working, always drawing, always reading, researching. I’m always busy. I absorb myself in the subject I’m interested in. But actually, I think this may be what is hindering me.

All of this research and knowledge is good. It is encouraged when pursuing an academic course at art school especially MA level. But you can have too much of a good thing. A diet rich in high fatty foods and delicious sweets is not going to be so good for your health long term, all that caffeine and you’ll come crashing down later. So I think my creative diet is all wrong. I’m eating a high fat diet of research, I’m stuffing my face with the sweetness of designs and binging on museum trips and exhibitions like chocolate.

And boy do I feel bloated.

I see a difference in the expectations of studying a diploma in art and design and studying at MA level in the fine arts, of course skill wise you’re meant to be refined and well-versed. Naturally this comes with practice. But the thing I see most differently between studying at diploma level and masters has two faces. One, the level of confidence changes and two, the level of enjoyment changes. And I’m sure these things work against or with each other respectively.

When I studied for my foundation diploma, there are few differences in the work ethic I had then and now. I worked equally hard. But my enjoyment was through the roof back then. Why? And why don’t I enjoy the practice of making things as much now. What has changed?

Potentially I think this is circumstantial. I was younger, and with that came more freedom and more inhibition. But as we get older we take on more responsibility. We have to balance our work and life more creatively. We have to pay for more things. We need more things. We need more money and we need to find ways to make money fast just so we can make it to the end of the month. Money as we get older, takes centre stage. Not necessarily because we care about it more than other things, but because money allows us to live. Its the only way we can live. When we get older and more independent the artist looks to his or her art as a means to make money, to survive.

Making money and being an artist is a tender subject. We have only two extremes as examples. One, the starving artist. The one that dies early without selling a thing. And two, the Damien Hirst type. The one who makes unimaginable amounts of money for things that the average Joe just doesn’t like. It’s not fair. But the average creative person usually supplements their art making with a regular job, part or full time. And their creative pursuit gets set aside, taken out when the bills are paid by our regular jobs.

The problem with this is that many artists assume they can’t make money from their work so they look at alternatives. Once the feeling of “I’ll never make money from this” sets in, its hard to look back. So they go on and find an alternative career, an office job, a teacher, whatever. A little seed of resentment sets in, that once hopeful dream of living a free and creative life dies an ugly death. They no longer look to their art to make them happy because their art, which was meant to be sustaining and nurturing can’t do the one thing they really need it to do. It can’t make money!

So with that in mind, I propose that we take back this niggling idea that art will ever completely sustain us, because we see it can’t. Art is too fragile. But art also is too precious.

At the time I took up yoga I also dropped out of Chemistry and Biology. I realised that I couldn’t carry on with these subjects because they caused too much unhappiness, with the pressure on maths in Chemistry and the exams, I just couldn’t manage. What I could manage was stress free feeling I got when I was in Art class. I pursued what was making me happy, not what I thought would make me money further down the road. So I completed A level with the highest marks in Art. Then I did a year long diploma, and excelled once again and was awarded a lovely little trophy for being “Best Overall Student in Art and Design”. That was the best year of my life. Then I went on to university, to one of the most prestigious schools in contemporary art. And then it all kind of went a bit weird.

The relationship I’d had with art was one of love and support and nurturing. But all of a sudden, I was in a situation where I now had to rely on art to make me money once I graduate, It had to sustain me. Art had no choice but to be my caregiver, my parent, my income, my friend, my back up, my future, and my job.

If art were a person and I expected all of those things from that one person, they would crack.

And art did crack, actually she fractured into a million tiny pieces and blew away in the wind.

I graduated with no intention of ever making art again. I got an office job. I paid my bills.

I remembered art like a lost lover. The one that loved me the most but the one that I treated the worst. I didn’t want art to return. I’d treated her too badly. I was a monster.

I’d been working for some years in an office job that was dull and monotonous. Art popped round every now and then just to see how I was doing. We made silly sculptures and pictures with office supplies and the fax machine. We made posters and e-cards. She even helped me once to organise my emails. Gradually we became better friends. She visited more often, and sometimes we’d hang out together for days on end. Then one day she didn’t leave. Together we made a portfolio of great drawings and paintings and she encouraged me to submit it to an art school. I got in.

I relocated and Art came with me to school everyday, encouraging, uplifting. She was the driving force to get me to school on time. I never missed a lesson. But then one day, without realising, she left. I didn’t even notice her go. She left me a note “I don’t think I’m needed here any more”.

Wait what? Where the hell is she going? What makes her think that??

Fine. I got on with things as though she were never around. I could paint and draw and make more things than I ever thought possible. I continued to make. I guess she was right, I didn’t need her any more anyway.

Months passed. I didn’t hear back from Art. She had a tendency to slip away when I least expected it. Why should I care.

Making things wasn’t the same as when she was around. I could still make stuff but Art always made it funny, enjoyable, playful. Making things now was just a means to an end. When Art left I made my focus money. I would make things and I would sell them. And I would make money. I still missed the friendship. But I could carry on.

But then, what’s the point? If I’m not enjoying the things I’m doing, and I’m not having any fun, how is this any different to my office job?

In actual fact, it’s no different at all. I realise now that Art left me because I let her. I’d allowed myself to stop enjoying the things I was doing because my focus was all wrong. Art, like before had had enough.

I tried calling her, but she’s not answering. I imagine she’s off somewhere enjoying the sun set or making little characters from scraps of paper.

Its only been a couple of months but I’m starting to miss the company. I hope she returns, like she did before. Then we can go back to how it was before, with all that fun. Making the things I make now but with her company is much nicer. Being an artist can be kinda lonely.

What I’m saying is that we can’t rely on the art we make to be the bearer of all of our problems. To expect it to be the solution to everything is naive and unproductive. What we can do is enjoy the fact that we are capable of making things. We certainly can make a living from art but  if that is our primary expectation from art we can’t ask her to be our therapist aswell. Sometimes though if we are lucky, art can pay our bills and offer the kind of emotional support a good friend can. But you need to let her know that if the money goes you won’t walk away. We’re in this together, right? For better or for worse.

In the time its taken to write this blog, Art has shuffled into the room with me. Sitting in the corner quietly with a smirk, she knows I know it was her that made this writing possible. She knows I need her. “Hard work?” She mutters. “You should try going to work for you all day, now that really is hard work.”

Note

 

Hand Made And Underpaid: The real price of cheap clothing

The video below was something I came across on YouTube. Posted by Journeyman Pictures its a stark reminder of the real cost of cheap clothing.

What worries me most is that we seem to be trapped in the expectation that we are entitled to buy goods at very low prices.

Its very hard at least for me, to remember a time when clothing was a ‘normal price’ my early memories of the highstreet are those of the cheap stores we are still familiar with today. In the beginning those stores were seen as rather down market and clothing was not good quality. Now they are top brands and rated in fashion magazines and online. What happened?

Without naming names, high street stores have been gearing our spending habits towards the very little for quite some time. We have struggled in this country with a serious downturn in the economy, a recession. That was and is a pretty rubbish time for all those involved. It made people have less expendable income, that meant people couldn’t buy as much stuff. That meant that these stores weren’t earning as much so they were letting off their staff because they couln’t afford them. That meant people had even less money, even less to spend, the stores earned even less. The world was spiralling.

To recover, many stores adopted and adapted their economy brands. That way people could afford to go and buy the things they wanted and the stores were happy because folks were spending their money again, things picked up.

But HOW did the stores manage to bring the prices of their goods down?

If you’ve watched the video you’ll see that these big powerful companies were demanding unreasonable and unfair prices for the garments they wanted made. The retail industry was suffocating its suppliers. The factories rely on those large orders to maintain their business, they did what they could to meet the price demands.

This however results in a major problem in terms of how to make those garments at the price of the retailers demands. So the workers are forced to work for little, forced to work in conditions that are unsafe and have NO ALTERNATIVE. The people that make our clothes are either earning what little they can from these factories or are starving to death with no work at all.

This video talks alot about transparency, that there is no transparency at the factories but what about at the end of the consumer line, with us, the customer? Now we have little labels stitched into our clothes saying “made in Bangladesh” but does this really give us knowledge that this is an ethical product? All it does is give us an option to not buy it. But to boycott the industry in its entirity I imagine would be even more detrimental to those poor workers at the other end.

I don’t know what the solution is. But I find it increasingly difficult to excuse my want for cheap disposable clothing, and am hoping to find some sort of remedy for this painful and disgusting conduct we find in the products we buy.

As a person who makes things I have come to understand the value of something that is made by hand. Cheap products we assume are being made by machines but clothes are stitched, and details sewn and fastened by the hands of a real person. It is our duty as fellow human beings that the treatment of the person who made the things we buy is fair and that they are able to live a life with the basics at least to survive. Ideally, with more than that.

It seems unimaginable that I would come to make say, a plate and only earn a few pence for me to have spent the time to make it. Regardless of me sourcing the materials, the sheer effort of making the thing is worth more.

I hope that there is a way we can find a solution of being able to afford these people the wages they deserve. I hope our greed and insatiable appetite for cheap products diminishes and I hope that the large companies forcing these conditions onto their suppliers start to reconsider what value actually is.

IMG_4502

All Wrapped Up: A simple hand made giftwrap

There are a couple of reasons why I like to make my own gift wrap, the first is that it looks nice and the second is that is very easy to do and costs less than buying it in the shops.

Below is a method of making simple wrapping paper that you can modify for any occasion!

IMG_4565

The first things you’ll need are;

Black handwriting pen

Old eraser with a flat edge

Brown kraft paper

A4 white paper

Printer/ copier

Method:

1) Take an old clean eraser and on an edge which is flat draw a simple

motif that you would like to make as the print on your gift wrap.IMG_4567

2) On a white sheet of A4 paper, stamp the design down
before the ink dries.IMG_4570

 

3) Re-trace the design on the eraser and stamp down again. IMG_4574

4) Repeat until you have covered the whole surface of the A4 sheet.

 

5) Next take the roll of kraft brown paper and cut into A4 sized sheets. Use a white sheet to help guide you.

6) Insert the craft roll into the printer and the stamped sheet into the scan tray.

7) Press the black and white copy button on the printer and watch your design print out on kraft paper!IMG_4583

8) Use your paper to wrap small gifts.

 

Other Ideas:

I also printed quite a few sheets of white paper with the design on, they look just as good if you don’t have the brown paper or you could try other coloured paper. Just make sure its not thicker than the usual paper you use for the printer as it could cause a jam.

I made a little ‘To’ stamp to go with my gift wrap and stamped on both little white labels and onto plain brown paper.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a printer you can repeat the stamping all over the sheets of paper that you need. This does take a little more time but looks just as good and you can make much larger sheets this way.

 

I hope you enjoyed this little making project, if you have any suggestions of what to make next or any improvements please leave them in the comments!

 

 

Value of Nothing

IMG_3665 (2)It seems so odd to me that the price of everything in shops these days is very cheap.

I mean generally, on the whole if you go to the high street, or shop online, we as consumers usually make our decisions on purchases based solely on price. But this approach to consuming is a bit of a black hole. The people at the top are making their money by “commissioning” (for want of a better word) rather shoddily made things in places, lets face it, third world places where they pay the workers pennies in buildings that are unsafe and in conditions that are unacceptable.

But we close our eyes and our hearts when we see that bargain, that overly under priced item that we actually need or want.

Don’t get me wrong, there is the side of the argument that says these people need a job they need the money etc etc. Sure of course they do. But our greed alongside our reluctance to pay the price of what something is worth in our consumer society is what is causing these people to suffer.

We have become accustomed to think that we can”find it cheaper online” find it cheaper in another store find it cheaper somewhere.

Aside from those in the developing world making our stuff for money so little we cant even imagine, the concept actually impacts on the artist or artisan as well.

If an individual potter makes a bowl, the time, effort and material costs are higher than those of a bowl made in bulk in a factory in China (for example) even if the bowl looked the same. Because bulk ordering reduces costs and the mechanisation of the process reduces time the shop can sell at a much lower price. But problems arise when the consumer encounters products in retail that are made to look as if they are hand made. Indeed there is quite the trend of having the artisan feel about an item, but the average consumer expects to pay a retail price. The retailer is in such a position where they can produce an item that looks handmade, but can sell it on much more cheaply.

When that same consumer encounters an item made by a professional potter, they might be surprised at the cost difference between retail and the artist. Its hard as an artist to explain to the average consumer why this costs x amount and why we can’t compete with big name brands.

What I think this comes down to is a need for re-education and a revaluation in the price of goods. Ultimately we need to remember that something that is made to a high standard and costs more money is likely to last much longer than the item made as a cheap fashionable item.

Its extremely hard to think of high art being made as throw away, these are things that people invest in. But the craft side lies somewhere strangely between retail and the high art ends of the market.

People want to be able to buy beautiful things and make their homes beautiful. People on varying incomes should all have this same opportunity, and I can see the appeal of cheap products in big stores. But what if the norm wasn’t to buy lots and lots of things cheaply, and instead spent the same amount of money on one or two things you really loved and valued. This approach would mean a shift in the mindset of today’s consumerism. It would mean not following the fast changes in fashion and it would mean not buying as much stuff.

Not an impossible task, but a very difficult one. A change in the understanding of what something is worth means understanding the lives of those people who make the products we use. Whether its an underpaid worker in the third world, or a crafts person nearer to home. We should have some basic knowledge about the things we buy in order to fully appreciate their real value and their impact on the lives of others.