Friday, 15 June 2012

(Almost) Taking a Complete Break but Finding Inspiration Everywhere

Last week was half term and our first holiday abroad as a family for three years. I decided I was leaving all coursework and sketchbooks behind. The week would primarily be spent plonked on a sun lounger with a book and an ice cream watching the kids splash in the pool. After the flight (during which I mastered double crochet for the first time but still not quite the granny square), we drove to the resort and the Spanish sun was shining in a cloudless sky. All was going to plan for the recharge as we changed and flip-flopped down to the pool.

Andalusian Blue Skies

Switching off my mind was not so straightforward. There were new and interesting patterns to be seen everywhere. The strong sun cast fabulous shadows and colours seemed so much more clear and vivid. Sunlight twinkled on the fountain and on the water in the marina, as shoals of the fish swirled round a crust of bread.

Then there was the beach with all the interesting little pieces of debris and shells to discover and the patterns of the pebbles and foamy waves. I could hardly wander past the series of ten Salvador Dali bronze sculptures we came across without a second glance and then there were the glorious sunsets and teasing little glimpses of life behind doorways.

Even my novel, Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne, was unexpectedly packed with inspiration. Chosen purely because it was a high-scoring read for my book club before I joined the group, I hadn't a clue what it was going to be about. Well I found it so much more meaningful than just a good yarn. Being in a sunny climate when I was reading helped I'm sure, but the wonderfully evocative descriptions of the landscape transported me straight to the beaches of Sri Lanka where the book is first set. The characters were complex and flawed and as I came to understand the reasons behind their behaviour, I was glad I had sunglasses on because this was, I think, the first time a book has made me cry!

Two of the main characters in the book are also artists, as is the author who has produced paintings, photographic, film and installation work. At the end of the book, there is a really interesting section about how Tearne's novels materialise from a visual image and how her use of sketchbooks has changed over the course of her life. She began with a collection of thin papers pulled from her mother's diary and enjoyed the torn curled edges and stitching holes. She describes people watching on Cornish beaches on her holidays, making quick sketches with whatever was at hand and writing short stories in the margins about her unsuspecting subjects. Pages were interspersed with found objects from the location. Together the drawings, text and objects evoked strong memories of the experience.

When the shop where she bought her usual cheap sketchbooks discontinued them, she was becoming busy with her writing and simply stopped using them. The books that she calls a 'warehouse of memory' were stowed in the loft for years. After her first novel was published she was given a small, black notebook. She describes how the thin paper brought back memories of the books she used to draw in, but then feeling (as I do with a virgin sketchbook) disturbed by the uniform, clean blank surfaces. Once she had ripped off the cover, it was ready to use!

Tearne also talks about how she has used her sketchbooks as a kind of diary, drawing something from the previous day from memory. Text, she says, has always found it's way into her sketchbooks. This week I met up with some OCA students and we had an interesting discussion on the meaningful use of words in sketchbooks. Again I found it invaluable spending a bit of face to face time with other distance learning students.

This time all of us took some of our own recent work so we could encourage each other, and discuss our concerns. I was so impressed with the talent on show. As we had met in one of the student's studios, we also had the opportunity to try making photograms. These were similar to the sun prints I recently did but gave a sharper image in black and white. We were let into the darkroom, given some of photographic paper and showed the technique. (Thanks Penny, it was very kind of you and brilliant fun!) One of my concerns was how to present work so a couple of us are meeting up again to see some of the degree shows that are on next week. Hopefully I'll come away with some good ideas.

Photogram Experiments

Reading List
Tearne, Roma (2009) Brixton Beach. London: HarperPress

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