Saturday, May 30, 2009

A few weeks ago I felt the urge to make some art. Since then I've spent some time in Mid Wales taking photos, making sketches and gathering materials. I produced the first two of a number of new pictures. They are a bit rough and ready - which I'm happy with - because the bulk of them was done 'on location'. I finished them off back at base camp.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dreamer, you stupid little dreamer ...

The thing I like about daydreams is that I can drift in and out of them. I can visualise something, let it unfold, then come back out to think about what I just thought about. Then I can go back in, let it unfold some more, change it, or start a new one altogether. It's fun, it gives me insights, and I feel like I'm in control.

Sometimes, if there's something I want to give serious consideration to, I'll go into a trance-like state. In this state, I'm more of an observer than a participant. I don't interfere. I let it takes it's course and observe what I see. There's less control and sometimes it feels like I'm slipping away (when I was young, I thought I would go mad doing this) but it's possible to pull myself back. So far.

But my dreams in the night frighten me. They always have done. They are so powerful, real and overwhelming. They assault me with colours, shapes, sounds, and physical feelings. And there's nothing I can do about it.

Dreaming is like slipping into another dimension where impossible thing routinely happen and the nonsensical is very plausible. It's a shape-shifting world where boundaries dissolve and merge. People, conversations, feelings and strange events all conspire to illuminate and confuse. When I wake it can sometimes take a while to work out what is real and what is dream. Often the images and feelings can linger throughout the day and affect my moods and expectations. I spend time analysing what I dreamed and searching for meanings.

(Apparently, creative people fantasise more than the norm and they remember their dreams more clearly and frequently.)

There are two main phases of dreaming during sleep. The one is hypnagogic and the other is hypnopompic.

Hypnagogic sleep is "the state of intermediate consciousness preceding sleep". It's that weird time when you're drifting off to sleep and all sorts of images start to drift across your mind. They may be related to your day or be completely random. Sometimes they will jerk you momentarily back to wakefulness, often with a physical jerk that wakes you (and I don't mean your partner). Hypnagogic dreaming is quite fun because it's often a bit bizarre, but not enough to be really freaky.

Hypnopompic sleep is "the partially conscious state that precedes complete awakening from sleep". For me, this is where the scary hard-core stuff takes place. My dreams in this state tend to be much darker and more disturbing. It's in this state that I have recurring dreams of water overwhelming me (lately, they've been so real that I can even feel the temperature of the water), of people haranguing or ... worse ... ignoring me. The anxiety, frustration and fear can be intense. Often I wake up afraid and force myself to stay awake until the feelings have subsided. But even when my dreams are not nasty, it still worries me that something so powerful can take place and yet I can do nothing about it.

Nevertheless, I'm fascinated by it ... as, I think, most people are. It's such a frequent and important part of our lives, and yet it is so little understood. You'll often hear people say ... "I had a weird deam last night ..." and then go on to describe it in such detail and with such intensity even though basically it sounds nonsensical. But it obviously meant something to them or they wouldn't bother recalling and recounting it.

My dreams are a rich source of images and ideas. They also give me insights into what I'm thinking and feeling, and what's troubling me. But it's the helplessness I feel about them, the lack of control, that scares me. So I'm curious about lucid dreaming (the experience of dreaming with consciousness that one is dreaming, i.e., experiencing a dream with waking consciousness ... I know, it's weird ... perhaps that's why I'm drawn to it!).

But that's for another night.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting in a state

I'm struggling a bit with Twitter and facebook. They seem to be a bit of a soundbite culture. They ask, "What are you doing?" and "What's on your mind?"

Usually I'm not doing anything and there's nothing on my mind.

They scarily remind me of conversations I used to have, which went ...

"What are you thinking?"

"errr ... nothing."

"You MUST be thinking something!"

"I'm really not."

That always ended in a huff.

But it's true.

It's called defocussed attention.

It's a kind of free-floating state of creative day-dreaming. On the one hand I'm thinking about nothing ... on the other hand I'm thinking about lots of things simultaneously. I have "wide associative horizons". I like the sound of that though I have no idea what it means.

Sometimes, when you ask me a question, it will take a while for me to answer. You'll have to put up with me being quiet and staring into space while I gather together all the various facets of my answer to the question. This happened once when I was with someone and they said "don't get autistic on me". It's a bit like that.

Have you seen "The Minority Report"? Remember the scene where Tom Cruise is in front of a big, clear screen, touching and moving various elements around with his hands? That's what my thought processes are like. I can't give you a straight-forward answer but I could probably draw you a flow diagram.

You see, when faced with a question or a problem, analytical-type people get alert, focussed and engaged. I don't. I tune out and switch off. I drift away to see what I think and feel. Eventually I may come back with an answer. But you'll have probably moved on by then.

It's all about cortical arousal. When you're excited, tense, alert, anxious your brain patterns get all excited and your cortical arousal is said to be high. When you relax, chill, daydream and take a nap your cortical arousal is said to be low.

So typically, when faced with a problem, the cortical arousal of analytical people increases, while that of creative people decreases.

To come up with an idea or a solution to a problem, my approach is to go into a dozy, trance-like state. I let my daydreams take their course and see what they show me; I allow lots of free-association of thoughts and memories that collide with half-remembered dreams and vague intuitions about possibilities; I visualise and mentally rehearse what I would like to happen.

This is great for the conceptual process but doesn't work so well when someone asks you if you want a cup of tea.

So you can see why Twitter and facebook don't work for me. Twitter asks what appears to be a very straightforward question ... "What are you doing" ... and gives you 140 characters with which to answer.

No wonder I sit and stare at the computer screen for hours on end, and then still can't think of an answer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

btw ...

I'm now on facebook (as me) and twitter (as pbirch57).

I'm also on LinkedIn, Ning and Plaxo if you happen to be there.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I'm pretty much free to be who I want to be, do what I want to do and go where I want to go.

Which is nice.

But recently I read a quote by a graphic designer who said, "I'd much rather be told I have to design a cheap paperback in two colors that can't have any imagery on it than be told I have no limits." (Book Art edited by Charlotte Rivers).

I understand that.

As an artist I follow my own path in terms of ideas and execution. It would be interesting to see how I handle a commission where I have to depict someone else's vision.

Having no responsibilities or commitments is not always a good thing. Not for me, anyway. It can make me passive, lazy and indulgent.

So that's why reading this (below) was like a smack across the head.

I made it into a poster to keep in front of me.

It comes from a book called "Stop Self-Sabotage" by Pat Pearson. In it she claims that when we get out of balance it is because we are either over-challenged or over-indulged. We can, and do, veer between the two but have a tendency toward one more than the other. There are strengths and weaknesses in both positions, and both can help us to move forward at different times and stages.

It hasn't always been like this ... indeed, for most of my working life I've been over-challenged. In the end it led to me being burned out.

Challenging myself is particularly important to me at this time, though, because I have a new sense of energy and urgency. I'm thinking my way around and through the fences that could hold me back, and I want to translate those thoughts into positive, effective actions that will move me - and others - forward.
Being overindulgent won't help. A bit of additional challenge might.

Writing this out for publication has been a curious thing for me. You have no idea how hard it has been for me to write this without making loads of snide comments. I'm obviously reacting to something ...

Friday, May 08, 2009

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Over the course of the last few weeks, I've been mainly working on the logistics of my 'art business' ... sorting, organising, listing, labelling.

Very left brain.

In the meantime, my right brain spat her dummy out of her pram.

So I took her out to play for an hour or so.

We went to Borders, grabbed a magazine and a coffee and sat looking at lovely pictures.

The magazine we looked at was "Muse". Very appropriate, I thought. It's a bilingual magazine - Italian and English (I read it in the Ital ... the English) - and describes itself as "The Fashionart Magazine"
. The trouble is it's £12.50 so we couldn't afford to buy it to cut out some of the lovely pictures. We also had to be careful not to spill coffee on it because we were putting it back on the shelf after we'd read it.

"Muse" is an inspiring mix of articles and photos, covering fashion, art, style and culture. I'd love to be involved in that world though I think I'm too conventional. I'd have to let go a bit more.

Usually, this sort of thing keeps me amused for ages. But today, I was getting increasingly restless and agitated. It's almost as if there were too many ideas and images, too many words and sentences.

I was no longer sure I knew what they (fashion designers) were doing. I found myself wondering what the meaning was ... and if there was any. Don't get me wrong, I love the fashion industry and the characters who work in it.

Perhaps the trouble with the seasonal nature of fashion - and the huge number of pieces they have to design, produce and show - is that it becomes about the rapid generation of ideas and images. Perhaps, inevitably, these will be devoid of depth or meaning.

As a visual artist (sort of) I want to go a little deeper ... to incorporate layers of meaning ... to go longer-term to allow the working-out of just a few ideas.

I've got a longing lately to make some art.

It's like a sexual urge.

I want to make art with whatever I can find ... off-cuts of wood, pieces of slate, Daler boards, cardboard.

I want to go out and gather sticks, grass, moss, dirt, leaves, stones. I want to slather them in PVA and stick them to those surfaces - right there and then. I want to mix in paint ... flicking, splashing and pouring.

I want to take countless photos and make loads of sketches of everything I can see using pencils, pens, charcoal and chalks.

I want dirt under my fingernails and colour all over me.

I want to place my hands on the earth and weep and groan.

Meanwhile, my left brain is making a list of what I'll need to take.

And thinking I might need sandwiches and a flask.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A couple of days a week, when I'm in South Wales, I go to Cardiff to work at the new Central Library. It's a brilliant building with 5 floors of books, CDs and DVDs and about 100 computers all linked to the internet and with a useful suite of programs on them. I can do some research, type some notes and print them out. Job's a good 'un. I'm there now, writing this.

My favourite place to sit is in a comfy chair by the window on the 4th floor. That's where the sections on marketing and personal development are. I like to read them and imagine what it would be like if I ever did anything about any of it. I take sandwiches and a flask. I may start taking a blanket to put over my knees.

Much more interesting, though, is that from here I can see the construction site for the new St. David's 2 Shopping Centre. All day long people and machines are coming and going. It's a constantly shifting scene of hi-viz jackets and different coloured hard hats.

Over the weeks I've seen them dig a huge hole, fill it in, dig it again, fill it in again ... so many times. Now they've levelled it ... though I've seen them do that before so I don't really believe them.

The logistics are amazing with so many elements being co-ordinated (or not). It amazes me that if they need a massive JCB, one appears. If they need a small hand-brush, they get one of those too.

I've been thinking a lot about the logistics of what I do, and itemising the materials I use. When you work for yourself you have to provide pretty much everything yourself.

It occurred to me when I blogged before about the idea of a kaleidoscope. I realised that the randomness and the changing patterns are the result of numerous individual pieces of different shapes and sizes. They don't change, only their pattern does.

Previously, whenever I started a new job, I was given a desk and access to all the resources I needed. I used a lot of elastic bands because we used to have wars across the dividing screens. I customised a wooden ruler with 6 notches at one end so I could load it up with 6 elastic bands and fire an onslaught. I had a colleague who was a photographer so I also used a lot of elastic bands when I put them on my head for him to do a portrait of me.


To make art, I need numerous things. For example, as a base I might use canvas, wood, paper - and there are loads of different types. I've even painted onto slate, stone and crockery. To create images I use pencils, pens, inks, paints (of different types - such as poster paints, acrylics, enamels, emulsion), photos, collage and found items. I apply media using brushes, rollers, palette knives, string, paper towel, rags, cling film and my hands. Then there are primers, glues, varnish (matt and gloss), frames, fixtures, fittings, labels, packaging, promotional materials ... and so it goes on.

Making art can be a spontaneous, intuitive process. But it can only be that if the materials and equipment are there to be used as tools for getting the job done. With much of my 'stuff' still in storage, it's become more important for me to be organised. I need to know what I've got and where, and have ready access to it. I've never made so many lists and labels

Sitting in the Library, and watching other people work, is a great visual reminder that I need to be doing things EVERY DAY ... even if they are small, routine and repetitive ... and I need the resources to do those things ... otherwise nothing will ever get built. And sold.

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