Creativity Works offered me an artist’s residency of seventeen days, funded by Arts Council – my own time and space – in which to develop ideas, themes, materials and new ways of working in response to women’s stories, feelings and experiences of post-natal depression. The ideas behind the residency were inspired directly by the mums from the Radstock 2012 MTMS group, who were brilliantly open in not only drawing from the sessions what they needed as individuals, but were happy to explore concepts around the subject of PND. One of the mums said “I think others should know about the stigma of mothers experiencing post-natal depression”. In talks with Director of CW, Lesley Featherstone, and Project Manager, Philippa Forsey, I proposed my residency would begin with a collaboration with a Scottish Artist called Eleanor Carlingford. I met Eleanor after self-funding artist’s studio time in Cove Park, Scotland, with fellow artist Sue Clarke, and she invited me to share her studio, practice and home in Kilmarnock, Helensburgh, during a seven day stay in September 2012. I together with Eleanor documented my artistic practice, the journey of discovery in which I explored new media, benefitted from exchange with another artist who was passionate about drawing/painting and the subject of the human landscape.The images and thoughts in this blog document my artistic process and reflections from the residency, together with resulting body of work, which was commissioned by CW to use in promotional material for MTMS.
When the mothers first join the sessions they are often in a dark place and during the process they find themselves become lighter. I would always set up a table in the two hourly sessions and create collections of interest and curiosity. This would spark ideas and associations “It’s all about the imagination” said one mum. The mums would describe the guilt of having time to themselves, of how they lost their identity, and would openly share how they were feeling. Although not art therpay, the process is very therapeutic, and even those who would perceive themselves as not creative would begin to make amazing pages, visual perscriptions, journals, storyboxes and figurines of themselves. “I was worried it would be arty, but I feel you allow us to just be ourselves”. Whilst gluing sticking and whooshing glitter around the table, perceptive comments would spring into the circle, like one woman who talked of the heartbreaking feeling of responsibility of having children, who asked amazingly searching questions in the sessions such as “What is the colour of pressure”…
Coming into Eleanor’s studio at Kilcreggan was an experience aligned with the women when they come to the sessions, as I felt a huge sense of lack of confidence in my drawing abilities, my sense of responsibility in representing the women sensitively and not exploiting their vunerability, but representing them as best I could. I had with me a collection of portrait photographs which the Radstock 2012 group permitted me to take and use, together with drawing pens, new materials of Inkodyes, (blue), transparencies, inks, and the gifting from Eleanor of Irish linen curtain and pillowcase, plus, as ever, my Moleskin journal. Each day we would work from 9.00 – 7.00 pm in her sea view studio, setting up small shrine like tableaux of the women’s portraits, found seashore objects, flowers and dolls. We would stop for nourishment of food, nature and view, then return to work & play. Not having a studio for myself, for me, it was heaven! Eleanor was skilled at tutoring others in drawing and although having a first class Hons in Drawing into Fine Art Practice, years of using a camera and video, had inhibited me from using drawing as a main media. One day I was really stuck, so she cried in her Irish living in Scotland accent, OK Jill, lets run round the outside of the house, you one way, me the other, and so we did. This loosened up this stuckness and low sense of self-esteem and within minutes ink was flowing and dripping. We would take turns to lead activities, so my way of working inspired her and vice versa. I would lay out materials at the end of each day, to reflect on what I had been working and photo document. Eleanor recorded me at work too, which was brilliant. We would do focused intense careful work such as the solar prints, taking the digital images, transforming to negative, then printing onto transparencies, painting the surface of fabric, paper or journal with the Inkodye, then after do some freer work with Japanese inks. I chose to work with blue as research had found a description which claimed that every emotion was held in the colour blue – and the notion of feeling blue. Being by the sea was perfect for this, the changing tides, weather of Scotland was elementally very melancholic. I found the solar prints were great fun and also a meaningful process, was one would work inside quickly in the dark, then rush into the garden to offer the image surface to the light, for three minutes or so, dependent on the sun. I delighted in discovering the image of the women turn from dark, to light, to violet, to blue. Eleanor and I worked really well together, and we pushed our boundaries of experience, using new media, stitching, photographing, drawing, audio recording, making little puppet like theatres out of found cardboard and sailcloth. I was in my element, as the work drew upon my background in complementary health, working as shiatsu practitioner and tutor for many years – this project was bringing together my practice as a whole.
At the beginning of each day I would write my own personal thoughts in my journal, together with studio processes, and at the end of each day, there would be a walk along the sea shore and time for reflection, an evening together, and then I would close the day with more journal reflections. At the end of one week I had a wealth of research and new work, plus Eleanor and I had cemented a professional and personal friendship and on-going dialogue and support. When I returned back to my home, I lost my direction and worried about the commerical nature of producing promotional material which would be used to present at a Health Visitor’s National Conference in Brighton in November. On presenting the body of work back to CW the main comment was “Beautiful work” and it was arranged that two MTMS mum’s groups would be invited to review the work too. The feedback was interesting. One mother said “It is amazing how you have captured us as individuals in such a short period of time, you really understood us…taking the shades of our experience from the beginning through as we changed, from dark to light”. Another said “The work is truly spiritual, lovely…I like the work that you describe as ‘wrong’, as that is exactly how I felt”. This was the drawings I had created, cutting them up in a fury when I could not do a perfect figure, I would fling them in a fairy washing powder box and only when spilling out the collection realise on putting them together I had a little theatre of female possibilities. Big head, small body, odd arm, hand holding journal or cup of tea, etc. A series of discombobulations! On then working with designer Andrew Smith he suggested the drawings was quirky and demonstrated originality of mark making, and were then really close to what would work for the promotional material of AO Poster and booklet. So, inspired, I then developed another series of drawings, another series and another series, until I felt I had captured the quality of vunerability yet strength, the openness and spirit of the women. Andrew had suggested working with the colour pink, representing warmth and the domestic, so I used Dr Martens Watercolour Moss Rose, and had huge fun working with inks, marking making and possibilities of this and that. I also worked with a series of tiny cartoons in my second journal, which were inspired directly from the emotional responses from the women and their open frankness and generosity of sharing.
The final stages of the residency involved taking the drawings and collaborating with CW team and the designer to make cohesive publicity material, together with digital storytelling archives, developing links between Creativity Works website, MTMS artist’s blog and workshop materials.
A big thank you to Eleanor Carlingford, and the team at Creativity Works and most importantly the mothers from My Time My Space groups Radstock.