Permanence vs instability vs fluidity

Ruminations on comfort zone and familiarity vs new practice and growth

Some pushing out of my comfort zone has got me feeling like an overexposed photo. Trying to understand my resistance:

One

Today in studio practice Louise was talking about how we can/should be making worksheets to explore/develop the connections and links in the work we are making. I had a resistant reaction to that, although I’m fine with making worksheets as a way of exploring individual ideas and then developing them (I think). I think the resistance here comes from not wanting to take work out of its process context and cement its connections with other work (eg separate Sunlit Ferns from the other acrylics to put it with the Eden fern sketches and photos), because it feels like it does two things I don’t like.

1) it cements the connections in my work into one thread, rather than letting it stay fluid and connected across my practice (eg Sunlit Ferns connects to the Eden fern studies but also to the orange sunset studies and the colour on campus studies via also being a study on light) – to make a worksheet that didn’t choose one thread over the others I’d need a mindmap the size of the carpark and would end up mindmapping my whole practice I think.

2) sticking work onto a worksheet may not be technically permanent, but it feels like a certain commitment to prioritising that train of thought, and because it’s a visual compilation I think it also by virtue of existing stops my brain from moving down the other possible trains of thought. It might not be physically permanent but it will have a permanent guidance on my ideas, so it feels like something that has a time and place in process (sometimes I do want to cement the connections and guide my process like that, of course!), rather than something I should do in every case. Sometimes it feels right and sometimes not.

3) taking the work out of its process context and fixing it into a worksheet implies that it’s finished, and doesn’t leave (in my head at least) room around it for more development – at least development that would go in a different direction than the worksheet

Two

Last night at the second week of life drawing, Laura told me she wanted to see me trying to work in pencil, and talked about the confidence of charcoal lines. I’m having a resistant reaction to that too, and struggling to understand how a pen line could be less confident than a charcoal/pencil one, when the latter can be rubbed out and smudged (and it’s unstable and gets all over my hands). When I would draw when I was younger, I would use a pencil and a lot of care, and would frequently spend ages drawing a tiny area only to rub it all out because I didn’t feel it was right. I ended up barely drawing anything at all, and never committing to it or feeling pleased with it. I made a rule that I could no longer use a rubber and pencil and started drawing only in pen. It worked, I got much more committed and confident in my drawing, and since then only use pencils/erasable pens when doing work like figuring out measurements and sizing. I think the idea of going back to drawing in pencil makes me nervous because I’m nervous to lose that confidence and end up back in the trap of perfectionism and rubbing everything out.

I also, probably from lack of pencil/charcoal practice, am struggling to see why my pen isn’t a better tool for a confident line than a pencil. I’m told that pencil is better because you can vary the quality of your lines. But it feels soft and smudgy and unstable, and too capable of being precise for there to be anywhere to hide. I have somewhere to hide in the permanence and necessary confidence of a pen line. And the permanence and stability of a stitched line is another level entirely.

With thread, there’s the perfect balance of fluidity and stability. If I put the needle in the wrong place, I can just take it out again and reposition. If it’s a complicated patch, I could even just stitch right over it and the thread is opaque so you’ll never see what’s underneath. And once it’s down, it’s certainly not smudgable. If I’ve done a good job, I could wear it everyday for a year and put it through the washing machine and nothing will change.

Permanence?

So it seems that the quality of worksheets that has me feeling resistant is their fixing of work and directions: their kind of permanence. But with drawing and stitching, permanence of mark makes me more comfortable. What is in opposition to these permanences is not quite the same: the opposite of worksheet permanence is space and fluidity for ideas, but the opposite of mark-making stability is smudginess and instability. The former fluidity is fine because I’m often happy to hold fluid ideas/connections in my head. I’m not comfortable with the latter because it’s an instability that feels unpredictable and unreliable to me. I guess that the conclusion has to be that if I practice with pencils and charcoal, their instability will become useful rather than unpredictable, and it won’t upset me anymore. I was right with what I said at the beginning; the problem is just that pencil is out of my comfort zone.

It’s comforting to know that the resolution of this thought train is the ever familiar ‘practice solves all ills’.

And I don’t want thread to be my favourite medium just because I can’t handle the other ones. I think there’s something in my theory of accessible, tactile art with presence that prioritises textile art as the most effective/useful medium.

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