learning to see

Its time I posted these thoughts.

I started writing this in June – and for some reason wasn’t sure about sharing. But its time now…

In the last few weeks of last year I went to a short series of art classes, deliberately choosing the option that would challenge me the most, drawing and painting.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never felt capable. Part of the problem is that I’d never learnt how. I’ve had a shocking tendency to think that if I can’t just naturally know how to do something straight away, then I’ll dismiss it by saying its not for me. (I know that this must be some form of self protection – but let’s not go there now…). And even when I have discovered something I’m good at, I haven’t kept working at it. Persevering hasn’t been a strength. Writing is probably the only thing I’ve really stuck at.

So – these art classes, about seven sessions – following the guidance of the tutor, his techniques, his encouragement, and sometimes, his direct acts of correction and teaching – it was a revelation.

I discovered I could draw – from a photo at least. I’m still working up to drawing from life.

So – the first session began with the instruction to try to draw the person sitting opposite. This is what I thought was a reasonable effort:

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What was I thinking?

Then later that session, following the guidance of the tutor, and working from a photograph, I managed this:

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And then the following weekend I did this drawing at home: (from a photo of Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen).

I was learning to look – learning to see.

During the next few sessions we explored different media and techniques, mixing colours, and I discovered the joy of painting with oil.

My elderly cat Frida died towards the end of the sessions. A week or so later, I went to the next class, and tried to engage with a couple of the photos provided as prompts for painting, but it felt as if it was forced, almost as if there was a rhythm I could sense but not connect with. So I restarted using my own photo of my girl – and if there is a “flow” then I fell deeply into it.

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I didn’t quite realise what I was doing until I heard a couple of “ooh”s and “aah”s from behind me. I stepped away and walked across the room – turning back – it was as if Frida was shining through the darkness. “Ghostly” was a word one or two others used.

I remember feeling quite spooked, quite stunned that I’d come close to her likeness, and that it had such an eerie quality. I was happy – but also in quite a strange state of mind – floating. To be honest, not really in a very focused state to start the 40 minute drive home. A near miss at a round-about shocked me into paying attention, and made me realise what a strange state I was in.

Can animals come through to us?

Can we channel their energy?

Was the thin veil still open, so I was in tune with her essence?

Did she come through to me, gifting me with an ability to see and create that I longed for but hadn’t known til now?

That’s how it felt. As if she had been present – and it wasn’t a “cat” presence. It was an energy, a pressure, a transference. As if there was more to her than I had realised when she was in cat form. And I haven’t stopped, I’ve kept working.

We got another cat. A sweet, nervy, anxious creature. I painted him that summer.

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This year, I started a painting of my friend’s dog. I wasn’t happy with the background, so I started another.

Just a few weeks ago I gave them both to her. And it felt good to release them into the world.

So – this is why there hasn’t been so much writing on here lately. This new passion has taken hold. And it feels like something I will persevere with. I know I’ll have days when I’ll feel as if its all rubbish and I should give up. But I’ve seen enough to know that this is something I can do – and I love it.

My goal – to keep learning – and to find a way to combine words and images – perhaps to have text as part of a painting.

Its going to keep me busy for a long time…

reflections on 2017

Sunday 31 December 2017

Thoughts on the past year:

2017 was a busy year at work, the winter was long and wet and gloomy, and this might be part of the reason why I didn’t get as much written as I’d hoped. There were achievements this year, and sadness too, as I said goodbye to my black cat of seventeen years. The arrival of a new ginger and white fluff bundle helps redirect the love.

I’m slowly becoming more confident to read my work to others. The first steps on this journey began at the very end of 2016 in a writing workshop, and then continued into 2017. I began recording my own readings and posting these with some of my writing.

In November and December of 2016 I took part in a writing workshop. I was initially quite nervous once I realised that many of these were people who wrote for a living, people who had been published, and so I saw them as “real writers”, and I wondered whether it was really the group for me. But they were welcoming and encouraging, and I stuck with it. The plan was to gather ideas and information about one particular day, and then we would meet a few days later and write.

We met in a small de-consecrated chapel and wrote quietly for a few hours. My result was in a piece of work that came quickly and fluently, and the form of it surprised me, a hybrid piece, a poem interspersed with brief pieces of prose. It. It was as if I could hear different ‘voices’ taking turns to speak through the poem.

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When it came time for us to read our work (if we wanted to), I knew I had to overcome my nervousness. When it came to my turn, my hands were shaking, my voice was breaking, and I stopped and started over, reading right through to the end. It felt like the scariest, most vulnerable thing I’d ever done. Feedback was positive, and I was pleased with myself for sharing it.

But after listening to the others in the group, I realised most people were writing prose, I wondered if I should be doing that. I tried re-writing it completely as prose, but I missed the sound and shapes of the original piece. So I rewrote it again, bringing some of the poetic elements back into the work. We met again early in 2017 after we had all spent time reworking our writing, for further feedback.

I enjoyed this experience of working as part of a group, and beginning to overcome my nervousness in reading aloud. This was also a lesson in trusting myself, and learning not to be too influenced by others. It was a struggle to finish this piece, and it held my attention during the first few months of 2017. I was so engrossed in the initial focus on the moon that I continued working on a series of moon poems “this imaginal space”.

A weekend workshop with a different group in February continued to boost my confidence, with my writing, and provided another opportunity to read aloud in front of at least 50 people. Nervousness was shifting into excitement and I read one piece without hesitation, without fear. I was buzzing afterwards with the joy of it.

In the last few weeks of 2017 I took a series of art classes. I challenged myself to try the thing I’ve always wanted to do but never felt I was any good at – drawing. It was a revelation! I discovered that with the right tutor, techniques modelled and explained, drawing was in fact something I could do. We explored different media, and I fell in love with oil sticks (oil paint in solid form). The visual arts have always held a special place in my heart, and if I can actually create in that form as well I will be a happy woman.

I’ve spent the last two weeks clearing the spare room to make a creative space for writing, for drawing and painting. I’m naturally a bit of a hoarder and I’ve spent hours and hours sorting and throwing things away. I’ve found a few scraps of poems written in past years and buried among receipts and banks statements and other domestic paperwork. One in particular gives me an insight into my feelings all the way back in 2004 (some 13-14 years ago!!!) just a couple of years after I had begun living in my current home. It seemed that I was finding the green I was surrounded with somewhat overwhelming and that I was questioning my ability to describe it. What it did show was my desire to write was surfacing again. Now that very green is at the heart of my work.

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I took to Instagram like a fish to water in 2016, and in 2017 it continued to be a source of inspiration and another forum for sharing with the world. A friend is encouraging me to try podcasting or youtube.

I continue to wonder about self publishing, and I’ve explored different layout options including photographs. I’m wondering now whether any of my own artwork will be good enough to include ??

My thanks to everyone who has taken time to read my work here, and for your encouragement and positive comments.

I hope 2018 finds us all well and looking forward to another creative year.

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Take care

Claire xx

your body tells me

all is quiet and peaceful
the white body stretches
fluff and tufts and curls
pink underbelly revealed
sleep takes time and
a commitment to stillness
its all an illusion of calm

when awake, the furred paws reach out
desiring but sensitive to touch
pleasure quickly shifting
to irritation and reactive bite
slowly I’m learning how to connect
keep a firm pressure
just the head and scruff

when awake, the stomach leads, curiosity follows
with long, late night explorations
returning early morning
tousled, leaves hitch-hiking in the fur
strolling in like some careless wanderer
fresh from gallivanting about the neighbourhood
an opportunist, a pathfinder, a rapscallion

you have a history that I’ll never know
for now all that matters is that I am patient
and learn to understand your unique nature
there is an energy around you that I’m trying to read
and if I sit still and watch
your body tells me everything I need

fire walks on snow

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©clairegriffin2017

(Prisma app used with original photo of the newbie)