Pantone 4545

Apologies for the radio silence. I'm in a bit of a slump; too worn out to write. Too worn out to do much of anything; I have lots of ideas but no energy to put them into practice.

Luckily it's only thirteen days until I'm off to Scandinavia for what feels like a very necessary holiday (the number of days to count down feels most portentous!)

I have been able to do a little cutting and sticking in my visual diary, however; the cheat's route to creativity. There are some old drawings of mine (the first two pages) and some new ones by my friend Kat which she illustrated my birthday present wrappings with (the last two pages).

"Broken but happy" was the result I was given from one of those silly Facebook analyser/fortune teller apps which supposedly compromise your online security. It feels apt; I am a relentlessly optimistic depressive, at least, if an exhausted one. The Pantone postcard which is its neighbour, with its fetching shade of vomit blancmange, encapsulates depression for me; all is acrid and beige, the tumble weeds roll past your window, we're in Kansas forever more Toto, and there will never be any colour.

That being said, as an optimist, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am seeing a very kind and incisive CBT therapist and trying to get on with things as best I can. I think I need a big yet reachable goal to work towards to give me a sense of purpose/calling. My big goal for 2016 was to have a solo exhibition, but that feels almost unimaginable at present. Perhaps a few months down the line things will be looking a bit brighter. Here's hoping!





Sketchy Potion

It's been a horrid day, hasn't it? And I've been feeling very sorry for myself. In fact, I've been feeling so (perhaps literally) under the weather that I spent most of the weekend sleeping. This did not afford much time for stitching, and so I present to you last week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion, with apologies.

I am more determined than ever to conquer my fear of drawing. In fact, after writing this post I fancy doing a bit of scribbling in my visual diary. It has languished unloved for months, and I want its pages to be a little fuller.

I have used some potions sketched in the diary over the course of #secretsofselfpreservation thus far shrunk down to fit inside the potion bottle.

The ingredients read "Draw, despite your fear".

This project is a very small undertaking really, a bit of a throwaway thing, but I think as a whole it is rather effective. I can't wait to share it with the public and get them uncorking potions!


















Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Fortune cookie wisdom and winsome tear stains

I am so behind with my visual diary. There is a backlog of photographs in an envelope waiting to be incorporated into the next few pages. Gradually I am doing a little (little being the operative word) more freehand pen drawing, but I think joining an art class will help me loosen up and draw bigger and more consciously.

As the diary develops, it's really becoming a record of how I was feeling at the time. I visited the A to Z of the Human Condition exhibition at the Wellcome Collection a couple of months ago. Ever interactive, the Wellcome Collection invited us to take a fortune cookie, but not open it until we had left the exhibition. Well, on the train home I discovered that mine advised "The harder you work, the luckier you will get".


This rings true, but now that it seems we are in the depths of winter I'm finding it somewhat difficult to locate my drive. At this time of year I often just want to burrow down and hibernate. I wonder if I should give a SAD lamp a go?

In spite of this I've just started a very interesting commission which will keep me pretty busy for the next couple of months. That's all I'm prepared to reveal about it for now!

When and if I earn a bit more cash, I shall also be having Treasures For Your Troubles (my first curated zine) printed. I have plans for a second, which the contents of this page from my visual diary are an overture towards. And before you ask, yes, it is based on a true story.




The Expert View

Louise Bourgeois' scrawled slogan "Art is a guaranty of sanity" and Tracey Emin's "I need art like I need God" are both saying the same thing. That art is at once proof of our humanity, and also transcends it. That the human spirit is endlessly resilient and capable of greatness, whatever hardships have befallen us, whether external or internal.



I kept this in mind as I visited The Expert View on Thursday evening. The installation of light boxes in Dalston Square is the culmination of Daily Life Ltd's Experts by Experience workshops, shown alongside Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings. As I explained in another post, I was lucky enough to be a participant in one of these workshops, and, I'm thrilled to say, one of my little drawings is included in the exhibition.




I was surprised that such a humble offering was included, particularly with the wealth of talent on display. Ironically, when I went to art school I became less confident in drawing; to begin with, my work was mostly text based, and then embroidery became an all-consuming compulsion, where I would stitch the design directly on to the cloth without figuring it out on paper first. Experts by Experience has inspired me to pick up the pencil (and inks, and paints, and pastels, and...) and learn how to draw again. I feel it can only be good for my textiles practice.

Despite my misgivings about my artistic capabilities, at The Expert View I was overwhelmed with positive responses to this tiny illustration of my erstwhile expertise at crying. People seemed to find it very touching, which to some extent was unexpected; I find it rather humorous. I think, in mental health, humour about the situations we find ourselves in can be a very powerful resource. That is, so long as we are not laughing at each other, or bitterly at our own "shortcomings", but together at the absurdity of the world we have to navigate.

Bobby's work, of course, is rich with the power of humour. It is very hard to be truly afraid of something if you can laugh at it. Even if that "something" is the amorphous and unpindownable "spectre of mental illness".




 

The drawing above, of Bobby buying Christmas presents for her loved ones, I found particularly heartening. At our workshop, Bobby showed us this drawing and explained that she loves buying presents for others. I think, in mental health, it can be so easy to discount the things that really matter in our lives; the media and society at large can reduce us to how productive we can be; to scroungers sitting around sponging up benefits, feeling sorry for ourselves, and not "contributing". But people living with mental illness have families; have loved ones; have cherished relationships, and it is of vital importance to celebrate this, because so many of us can feel like our illnesses are a huge burden on those we are closest to. We forget what we give; we forget that the world is a better place because we're in it.




I think The Expert View is palpable evidence of this. It is a celebration; a riot of colour, of life experiences, of the whole gamut of human emotion. There are contributions from mental health professionals, patients past and present, and people who intersect with the field in other ways. Of course, you could be all three, and that is, in part, the point. The question being posed is Who is the expert? And the answer, given in the installation flyer, is another question: Who's to say?




People who study and treat mental ill health, psychiatrists, psychologists, support workers, doctors, nurses; can they ever understand these illnesses in the same way as people with lived experience? I would argue not; unless of course, they have lived experience of mental illness themselves. Certainly, mental health professionals can bring expertise to the table that those of us with lived experience may not have; years of training and study, in-depth understanding of individual illnesses and symptoms, and (hopefully) the compassion which brought them to the profession in the first place. But this can sometimes translate to seeing people as just a set of symptoms to be "cured" and not an individual. Perhaps a more holistic approach is required. Which is where art comes in. 

Daily Life Ltd.'s Experts by Experience workshops were not art therapy. They were not an exercise in psychoanalysing our drawings, or a means of alleviating symptoms. For some of us, these may have been by-products of the workshop, but this was not the objective. What I came away with from the workshop was a profound sense that there is very little separating those designated "mad" and those designated "sane". For some people, that is a deeply troubling thought, but as an individual who has been placed in both categories at different times, I found it comforting. 




This is why I think it is so important for The Expert View to be exhibited in such a public and well-frequented place. Members of the public whose lives have been touched, or not, by mental illness, will happen across the installation in their daily lives. I'm already proud to be a part of this exhibition. If even one person who happens upon it reconsiders mentally ill people as people just like them, I will feel I have made a very small but nonetheless substantial difference for mentally ill people in this country. Being involved in this project has already made a difference to me personally; I'm more open, more outspoken about mental health injustices, and more enlightened. 

The Expert View shows what people with experience of mental ill health are capable of; beautiful, riveting, touching, hilarious, heart-breaking, unique art, positively zinging with life.







Visual Diary

The last couple of weeks I've been trying to put plans in place and get my life together a little bit. So Milk Thistle has suffered somewhat, but I'm happy to report that I'm back on the stitching and page seven (of 8) is underway.

Inspired by my online contemporaries and the ever-present desire to write, I began keeping a diary last month. Alongside my lilac written diary, I've started collating a visual diary (or art journal) too. It's a lovely way of recording special moments and it will hopefully be wonderful to look back over the course of the year and realise that, actually, it was pretty good.


This first page depicts mine and Pip's visit to Brighton to stay with friends... with added mallards. On our trip to the seaside we ate far too much rich food, played crazy golf and despaired over the price of vintage.


Soon after, I stayed with my parents and grandparents in the Highlands, visited Tobermory (the site of fictional Balamory), and stocked up on fancy chocolates for Pip. This trip was characterised by, once again, eating far too much rich food.


When I returned, we visited Lucy Sparrow's rather fantastic Corner Shop, which I blogged about here.

The next day, I had a wander around Epping Forest with my Mum, marvelling at how verdant and heady everything smelled.


The next day, inspired by this walk, Kat and I took a bunch of photographs in Walthamstow Forest, which you can see here.

At the end of the week, Pip and I went to two special screenings, the first being Stuart Murdoch's bittersweet twee musical God Help The Girl, the costumes and songs of which I enjoyed immensely, although the extent of the earnest, melancholy male gaze in it was almost painful to watch. Still, mostly good fun.

The second film was outstanding. I'm slightly biased, as Brief Encounter is my favourite flick ever, but this screening was very special; the film was presented in concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the soundtrack of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 (with which the film is so inextricably bound up) was painstakingly removed and then played live and seamlessly at the appropriate moments. It was so technically astute, in fact, that I often forgot the orchestra were there at all.

I've got some visual diary-ing to catch up on; I find it quite therapeutic and nostalgic; in this world of instant media it's refreshing to go a bit analogue. Do you art journal?

Experts by experience


Remember I talked about crying and making art about crying yesterday? Well, today I am reeling from doing the same; making art about crying, but not actually doing the crying itself; from laughing and smiling and making and chatting and absorbing and opening up and being receptive and empathising and oh, the list goes on and on.


You see, I attended a very special workshop today; facilitated by the brilliant Jake Spicer of Draw Brighton, it was run in participation with the also rather brilliant Daily Life Limited, set up by art hero Bobby Baker and based in Stratford (where Pip's from and a short bus ride from me, coincidentally).


I'd met Bobby very briefly once before, when my dear friend Jess and I went to see her performance Mad Gyms and Kitchens at the Barbican. I did write about my experience there, but unfortunately it has been lost in the annals of the internet. Suffice to say it was a practice (if not life) changing experience. Bobby was lovely to meet then, and she was lovely to meet today too, as was Jake, the rest of the Daily Life Limited team who were present, and the other artists participating in the workshop.


The workshop was based around the idea that people who experience mental ill health are experts by experience, and more generally, who is an expert/what makes an expert?


It was suggested (though by no means prescribed) that we consider what we were experts in/of in our drawing experiments. I drew myself as an expert at crying and an expert at eating. 

Thankfully I don't cry as much as I used to, though I'm sure my many years of unwavering service to tear-letting still qualify me as a professional weeper of some expertise.

Eating is a funny one; it would be hard not to be an expert at eating in my rather food-centric family. However, when I am unwell it's often the first thing to go out of the window. It becomes a way of punishing myself for my many perceived failings. I am happy to report that for now, however, my eating is prolific and unlikely to wane in quantity or quality.




The workshop was a particularly interesting one to undertake whilst I'm looking for work. I have a funny feeling that a lot of "expertise" is blagging anyway.




Aside from the self-portraits, I was back to portraying potions (and emergency glitter!), which I plan to bring back into my practice in a big way in the near future.




The most lovely thing about today was meeting so many like-minded individuals (in more ways than one). Even at art school, people weren't necessarily open about mental health, and my fellow workshop participants today just made sense to me. If anything, they were more sane than a lot of people I've met who haven't been through the mental health mill.








I now feel invigorated to go out into the world and make some damn art! Thank you, Bobby, Jake, and co!

Sketching For Stitching

Remember Nicola Jarvis's incredible exhibition at the William Morris Gallery? Well, last week, the other Future Tutors students at the RSN and myself were lucky enough to have her teach us the principles of embroidery design over two days.

Now, I haven't drawn in over three years, beyond very basic line sketches (mostly traced from photographs, I am ashamed to say!) for my embroideries. But two days of drawing with Nikki, and I was in love with the medium all over again!

I'm enjoying following my instincts about colour, and just choosing tones which seem to fit together. I'm really attracted to jewel-like tones of magenta, purple, lime, coral and sapphire at the moment, partially due to a 1920s flapper dress from the Royal School's collection which put me in mind of a coral reef; inspired by this, my design for Canvas Work (a technique I'll be embarking on learning in a month), is an underwater scene.



From looking at and handling the collection and listening to the experiences and advice of my peers and tutors, I'm beginning to learn more about which stitches and techniques are appropriate for different designs. I can't wait to try out Turkey rug, feather stitch, stumpwork and trellis stitch... so much texture!

My design for Jacobean Crewel Work is in rich purples and blues, chosen from three crewel wools I snatched almost as soon as they were put on the table; they're simply sumptuous! Jacobean Crewel Work traditionally depicts a tree of life laden with fantastical, oversized flora and fauna. I've chosen an oak leaf, acorn, thistle, a sprig of berries, and a snail crawling up the Tree of Life's trunk. To balance the right hand side of the Tree, I've drawn a spiralling branch on the left which echoes the snail's shell. The three hillocks are also a traditional feature of Jacobean Crewel Work.




 I've definitely caught the drawing bug, but I can't wait to get back to my real love; tomorrow is my first day of stitching! I'll share the results here very soon.

Secrets Are The Things We Grow: An interview with artist Lily Cuyler

That line from Some Velvet Morning pops into my head unbidden whenever I look at Lily's work. As Lily rather modestly writes herself, "i'm lily and i draw flowers" (how serendipitous that her name is that of one of the most beautiful flowers!) Of course, Lily doesn't just draw flowers; she makes heartbreakingly honest confessional drawings, lino cut patches of famous artists' and writers' quotations, motivational fortune tellers, altered and embroidered photographs, typewritten poetry, and more. And she's still in high school. Once again, I've stumbled across the work of a young but staggeringly talented artist, and it's reminded me to pull my finger out! Her art is definitely a big inspiration for Treasures For Your Troubles, with its themes of self care and the daily struggles of life.

Thank you Lily for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully. I can't wait to see how your next project unfolds.

How long have you been making art, and how did you get into it?

I started really realizing that I liked to make art two summers ago. I was more into collaging than anything else then. My mom is an artist, so there's always been creative energy around me. That's probably how I got into it, just thinking that it was a natural way of expressing yourself and spending hours away from everyone else just to finish this one project you're working on is completely normal. 


In your “Other People’s Secrets” project, you juxtapose (or compliment) presumably anonymous confessions with delicate floral-based illustrations. How did you make the call for submissions for this project? Was it difficult going through with it at points on an emotional and empathetic level? (I’m thinking in particular of the confessions about suicidal thoughts and self harm). Is your use of “twee”, delicate imagery an attempt to soften the sometimes shocking confessions, to prettify them? A sort of metaphorical bandaid? It seems to me that the imagery itself, with its muted colours and natural themes “whispers”, just as secrets themselves are told. How did you decide on the imagery for each piece? Did you select a number of confessions to illustrate, or illustrate all the secrets you were told?


I actually started asking people to send me anonymous confessions one day because I had drawn all these pictures, and they needed words on them, and I thought this would be kind of a nice and therapeutic way for people to get something off their chests. It was definitely difficult going through some of the secrets because they really touched me emotionally, especially the ones about contemplating suicide and self harm. My imagery definitely softens the blow of these intense human emotions. You can feel this way but have a pretty outside, the flowers can still be blooming. Some of my pieces have dead flowers, which to me represents being defeated, the beautiful colors have faded and died. I didn't illustrate all of the secrets I was given, some of them were very difficult to put into drawing-form. Some were too personal, some not secrets at all.



Are the photographs you use as backgrounds for embroidery your own? Are they picked at random, or do they have significance for each piece? How did you come to embroidery, and what do you like about it as a medium?

2 months on Flickr.

Most of the photographs for my embroidery are my own. I will actually take pictures on my roll of film imagining what kind of things I could embroider onto them. My photo embroideries are a chance for me to put more bluntly the things I need to get out of my system. Things that I feel are too intense or too long or too complicated to put on my simple drawings. The last photo embroidery I did, none of the pictures I took to use in this project developed, so I ended up using old film photos of my boyfriend's. Ones that didn't turn out quite right and just had a beautiful yellow color in them. I really like embroidering photos because whatever I do, even if I mess up significantly, it still looks okay. That fox, on one of my photos, did not start out as a fox. 
anti anxiety on Flickr.

Is there an element of art therapy to your practice? Is this something you have ever considered pursuing professionally? I say this ecause of the confessional, cathartic quality of your work, both in divulging other people’s secrets and your own, your use of inspirational and motivational quotations, and your gorgeous little hand drawn fortune tellers that come with sound and reassuring advice such as “Tell them you love them” and “Don’t be anxious”.



There is so much art therapy in what I do. It's therapy for me, specifically, and I am just coming to realize that it's also affecting other people in a therapeutic way. I get messages on Tumblr like "your art touched me tonight and helped me not self-harm." That makes me feel so good, both in the ways of knowing something I made helped someone, and knowing that someone else out there feels the same way I do. I definitely am committed to pursuing art professionally. I am almost done with my junior year of high school and I am looking at many art institutes to attend, it's the only thing that makes me happy and the only thing I feel like I'm really good at. If that ends up in an art therapy practice, then I'm happy with that. 


Sylvia Plath patch 
Own your own!

You touch gently on themes of mental illness in your work (and indeed, gentleness is what I think of when I look at your work, even when you use the word “fucking”). Is this something that particularly concerns you?




Mental illness concerns me to no end. About a year ago I was suffering from pretty severe depression, and I still get bouts of it from time to time. I have so many friends with mental illnesses that really affect their lives, and I think it's important to put these topics out in the open. I think it's important to connect with people on that level if they're needing help getting through something, anything. Flowers are the disguise to these pretty shitty feelings. 
The fear of suffering on Flickr.

Do you have many creative projects on the go at the moment, or plans of creating more in the future? Would you be willing to share a few of those with us?

There is always a project I'm working on. Right now I'm focusing on making a book of famous poets and their houses, which should be up on Etsy and Tumblr in a day or two. I'm really excited about it. When I get an idea for a project that I'm really excited about, sometimes I can't sleep until I at least start it.