ROAR don't mewl

During this second week of Apotheké I have certainly been in need of self care. Anxiety can creep up on you very suddenly, without reason or warning, and throw your life into temporary disarray. Making the simplest decisions becomes a mammoth task. You have no energy or desire to face the world. Which makes taking care of yourself imperative, and being brave a necessity, in order to get through your days as painlessly and "normally" as possible.

Perhaps this is why I make so much art about being brave. A phrase that has been helping me as I prepare for the following week is "Courage, dear heart". It is spoken by Aslan to Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia - and being a lion, of course, Aslan is the symbol of bravery, a symbol I have employed in my work before (particularly in On Being Soft). The phrase comforts and calms me, and reminds me that it is courageous to even go about my daily life when I feel like this. It is brave to persevere when you are afraid, even if what you are afraid of is illogical and inconsequential. 

I embroidered "Courage, dear heart" on to an orange floral ribbon; orange, because artist Judy Chicago wrote in her Autobiography of a Year that orange is the colour of anxiety. I agree with her; the colour is hot and acidic, and captures something of the sheer panic of anxiety. And so the potion's label, "Roar don't mewl potion", is orange, too. Autobiography of a Year must have been working its way around my subconscious for a few years, because Apotheké too is an autobiography of a year.

What else could I accompany the potion with than a miniature big cat; perfect for a lion in training.

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.

Sugar and spice, slugs and snails

The latest page of On Being Soft deals with "niceness", a much-maligned quality, as the handkerchief which lives in the page's pocket illustrates.

The text is an imagined conversation, hence I have used two different examples of handwriting, mine, and my dad's rather illegible scrawl!

The text reads: 

"There's nothing wrong with being a bit soft. It can be quite nice."

"I hate the word 'nice'. It's so insipid."

The text is illustrated by more photographs from the shoot I did for my A Levels. I've chosen a mouse and a lion due to their associations with bravery/ferociousness and timidity; perhaps the mouse could be paired with the first voice of the text and the lion with the second? One of Aesop's fables concerns a lowly mouse doing an act of kindness for a majestic lion. "Kind" can be a synonym for "nice".

The transferred black and white photographs were hand-tinted with satin stitch.

I was a bit stumped as to what to do for the page itself. I also had a completed embroidery which I wanted to integrate into the book in some way - a snail (which, fittingly, was completed at a snail's pace - a very performative embroidery!)

A nursery rhyme from my childhood came back to me; "What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice, that's what little girls are made of! What are little boys made of? Slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails, that's what little boys are made of!"

Here was a way I could use my labour-of-love snail. The text on the handkerchief would "nicely" problematise the sappy, saccharine, reductive nursery rhyme. 

I embroidered the "sugar and spice" segment of the nursery rhyme as if it was the snail's trail of slime, to illustrate the nausea of sweetness.

On to the seventh page now; a page all about sensuality.

Wouldn't Say Boo to a Lion

I've just finished the second (though not necessarily Page 2)of the pages to go inside my soft sculpture book, On Being Soft.

This page deals with timidity and bravery. I've wanted to create a work around the phrase "wouldn't say boo to a goose" for quite a while, and when I found the gorgeous African batik fabric shown above for sale in the Significant Seams Hub, I knew I had to use it.

I made a pocket from the geese-print batik for the second of my embroidered handkerchiefs to go into, and made a goose cut-out silhouette from another sheet of batik.

Inside the cut-out I hand embroidered the phrase "She wouldn't say boo to a goose" in tiny, tiny, shy little stitches; text that wouldn't say boo to a goose itself.

The outline of the goose is blanket-stitched and adorned with gold and teal beads. The page background is 1950s gold/yellow brushed cotton.

The handkerchief to be placed inside the pocket of this page is focused on a different animal; the emblem of bravery, the lion.

I recycled a self portrait from my A Levels for this handkerchief; an ultraviolet black and white film photograph of me wearing a lion mask (it was for a study of the photographer Francesa Woodman's work). Due to the use of ultraviolet film, the foliage and skin in the photograph appears incredibly white.

I used photo transfer paper to print the photograph on to a vintage handkerchief.

The fact that the subject is hiding behind a privet hedge whilst wearing a lion mask calls to mind the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. The fact that the photograph is in black and white lends itself well to this reference, as the 1939 film of the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is shot in black and white until Dorothy arrives in Oz itself. To continue this theme I embroidered the shoe in the photograph in red; a ruby slipper.

The text that accompanies the embroidered photograph is "I don't see what's so brave about lions, but perhaps it'll help". This is a phrase I've wanted to illustrate for years; I'm glad I've finally got around to it. 

I feel like this handkerchief could be carried in the pocket of a garment as a talisman to bring bravery.

I've just ordered Lion by Deirdre Jackson (part of Reaktion Books' Animals series) in order to learn more about the symbolism of these magnificent beasts.