Saturday, February 26, 2011

What’s The Story?

“I was told stories, we were all told stories as kids in Nigeria. We had to tell stories that would keep one another interested, and you weren't allowed to tell stories that everybody else knew. You had to dream up new ones.” Ben Okri

(Guess who’s been reading Ben Okri!)

When I was in Mrs. Lloyd’s class in Primary School, I made up a story about entering an art competition where I was going to draw a reindeer. I was worried about it because I couldn’t get the antlers right. Mrs. Lloyd must have mentioned this to the Headmaster because the next day he came into the classroom with a template of a reindeer that I could draw around. I told them the competition was at the weekend and I would let them know how I got on. Sure enough the following Monday I reported back. I hadn’t won because I’d forgotten to draw the tail on the reindeer. They were suitably sympathetic.

I’m sure they weren’t fooled for one minute. I’m sure they were engaging in what Coleridge called “The willing suspension of disbelief”.

You’d think I would be ashamed, wouldn’t you?

But I’m really not.

I still make up stories and tell them to people.

I often visit an elderly aunt. The conversation is the same every time. What she had for dinner; how many hours she slept; how many fags she smoked; what’s she going to do if she gets locked in her flat and can’t ever get out. That sort of thing.

So sometimes when she asks me what I’ve been up to, I liven up both our days by telling her something interesting or amusing. Something totally fabricated.

She’s not daft and she sometimes tries to catch me out. But I’m too good for her.

Recently, I’ve come across this great blog where people tell their stories - in one sentence. Some are sad, some are funny and many of them are strangely engaging. I don’t know how many of them are true but I don’t think that’s the point.

The reason I’m thinking a lot about this is because for a number of years most of my pictures … the stories I tell … have been wrapped up and stored away … latterly in the London studio. The last time I went there I found that my daughter had unwrapped them and put them all around the place. It was very moving for me to see so much work that I’d forgotten about … many pieces that I can’t even remember making.

As I’ve thought about it, and looked at the work I’ve done, I realised that I’d forgotten what the point was. So I’m taking each piece and writing a story about it (well maybe not each piece … but some of them). It may be just 50 or 100 words. Or one sentence. The idea isn’t to explain the picture – though that would be no bad thing - but to help me remember.

It also occurs to me that while the pictures are on display this would be a perfect opportunity to photograph and catalogue each of them – which is another way of remembering. I’ll need some assistance with that, though.

But enough of this rambling.

Let me tell you about my day.

You see, there was this racoon...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Lately I’ve been feeling a bit “meh” about the art thing (“meh” is a word that needs to be said out loud with a slightly dismissive expression. Try it.)

There’s a lot of work I want to do and some I have to do. It’s creative, interesting and exciting. I’m producing lots of studies in colour and black and white, lots of designs, lots of photographs and prints. I have some good ideas about presentations, exhibitions and installations.

I’ve also organised the work into a practical production schedule complete with tasks grouped by category, timelines, due dates and priorities. I update these weekly and print out a list that tells me what needs to be done in the next 7 days. And, for once, it’s not the same as what was supposed to have been done in the last 7 days.

It’s all going really, really well.

But somehow …

I just can’t be arsed.

This was starting to worry me a bit because when I get like this I start looking for something else to do or somewhere else to go. I get terribly distracted and dangerously bored.

Fortunately, I caught a cold.

I didn’t feel too bad but my body and mind went into slo-mo. The days passed in an easy-going haze of paracetamol and alcohol.

Coming out of it yesterday, I got in the car with the aim of going to Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff to write for a while and catch up on my journal.

I drove for two hours but never made it to Cardiff.

I found myself thinking deeply about the real reason and meaning behind everything I do. About why I make art and write stuff. About the stories I want to tell and why I want to tell them.

I’d forgotten the point of it all.

In the film ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ there’s a scene where Steve Martin berates John Candy for telling endless stories that have no point (you can watch the 27 sec clip here).

I had got into the business of producing lots of words and images but forgetting what the point was. They had become uninteresting to me and I certainly wasn’t motivated to bore anyone else with them.

As I drove (on automatic pilot) (and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol) I rehearsed scenarios and conversations in my mind.

I told myself stories and remembered what the point was. I remembered that the words and images I produce are simply illustrations and explanations.

I remember reading something that Ben Okri wrote that was along the lines of “Our experiences don’t mean anything to us until we’ve told them as a story.” And it’s true, isn’t it? Something happens that makes an impression on us and we can’t wait to tell someone about it. When we do it comes alive with context and meaning. It makes sense.

So I’m going back to monitoring my production schedule, to producing words and images and to making and showing art.

But I’m also going to remember that what I’m really doing is telling stories.

And I’m going to make sure those stories have a point.

I’d hate for any of you to start calling me Chatty Cathy.

(That last line only works if you’ve watched the Steve Martin clip)

Monday, February 07, 2011

Crafty People

A few years back I used to book tables at Craft Fairs in the area. It was a relatively cheap way of getting some of my work in front of people and hopefully make some sales.

It was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Almost the only things I sold were bought by other stall-holders who took pity on me.

Having said that, though, it was a lot of fun and I made some good friends.

Recently I went to a Gallery Talk by Laura Thomas at a woven textile exhibition at Craft In The Bay, Cardiff. It was a fascinating insight into Craftspeople who are working at the boundary of craft and art.

This has coincided with me acquiring a market research report on “Crafts In The UK”.

I’ve picked out some of the main points and added a bit of personal comment.

Market Value
It seems that craft has started to lose its image as hobby and become a large retail industry turning over around £400 million annually. However, in the last few years sales have declined and several craft fairs and exhibitions have been cancelled or are experiencing difficulties. For those that keep going visitor numbers are down but there has been an increase in ‘spend per visitor’. This could be good news in that the price of good quality hand-made crafts could be increased to compensate for the increased cost of hall, stall and table hire.

Business Premises
Another factor holding back the development of craft businesses’ is a lack of workshop and gallery space. This is a problem I’ve discussed numerous times with crafters in Wales. A positive way forward would be to pool skills and resources in an ‘art and craft collective’ such as Dragon Artists & Makers. With regard to premises, in April 2009 the government launched an initiative worth 3 million designed to turn empty shops into arts and crafts galleries and exhibition spaces with provision for temporary leases and special planning application waivers.

The most popular crafts being produced are jewellery, paper crafts and textiles.
• Sales of jewellery remain strong with the market responding well to innovative design.
• Paper crafts are being produced in increasing numbers so there’s a lot of competition. Apparently card-making is the most popular craft hobby in the UK!
• The craft textile industry is interesting. Get this … John Lewis reported that sales of sewing machines have gone up by 34% as people ‘make do and mend’. They also report that sales of clothing have dropped by 2% but sales of buttons have jumped by 42% (I love that statistic!)

The report identifies some emerging trends:
• Online sales are growing through personal websites, eBay (where a quarter of a million craft items are for sale), and sites such as, and
• Crafts made from recycled and eco-friendly crafts are increasingly popular with firms such a supplying eco-friendly craft supplies.
• An interesting trend is for customers to learn crafts and create their own items rather than buy them from retailers and makers. There is an increasing demand for lessons, courses, workshops, training and craft parties. Groups like Craft Guerrillas have been pioneering this trend.

Finally, there’s a very good Government portal that offers arts and crafts people advice and guidance on working in the industry –

If you’re interested in following up on some of this data then here are some organisations and publications you can check out:

Trade associations and Professional Bodies

Publications and References:

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Google ArtProject

This is AMAZING! Check it out! Could be my new addiction!

For an interesting bit of comment read this:

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