Saturday, 22 June 2013

Anyone can be a success,but it takes real guts to be a failure

I am currently sitting at my desk drinking a cuppa and wondering if I am doing enough with my time. Time - ever omnipresent. Tick tock, tick tock, goes the clock. I am sure I am not the only person who has this feeling. It's not always in the forefront in my mind; it isn't really now, just something in the background, a shadow. It insists that I must make the best use of my time. Obviously, the type of activities change, but they often fall into two categories: Spending enough time alone (which tends to coincide with spells of being creative) and spending enough time with my loved ones (this tends to coincide with eating, walking and playtime). I am not sure where paid work falls into this. It used to be like time -  all-encompassing, but it's become something more detached from me.

Anyway, despite being aware of these two hemispheres, and having practised living them for a number of years they don't always piece together very well to make a whole well-rounded spherical life. But that's ok - nothing is perfect. I am glad it's not, otherwise I would be really bored. Imperfection is what keeps me ticking, like the clock. The failure of things gives me something to improve on, or to interpret. Failures reveal things about myself and in turn reveal things about other people to me. Failure brings me closer to my friends, colleagues, family members and to humanity on a whole. It's a chink in the darkness, a black hole in paradise, revealing things about nature that I had not consciously recognised.

Today I read this fantastic article in The Guardian about failure and you can read it here. I have inserted the articles by Anne Enright and Howard Jacobson because I found them to be inspirational.

My favourite lines are:

Art is made by those who consider themselves to have failed at whatever isn't art. Howard Jacobson

Success may be material but is also an emotion – one that is felt, not by you, but by the crowd. This is why we yearn for it, and can not have it, quite. It is not ours to hold. Anne Enright

Anne Enright

Anne Enright. Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe  

I have no problem with failure - it is success that makes me sad. Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people. Even when I am pointed the right way and productive and finally published, I am not satisfied by the results. This is not an affectation, failure is what writers do. It is built in. Your immeasurable ambition is eked out through the many thousand individual words of your novel, each one of them written and rewritten several times, and this requires you to hold your nerve for a very long period of time – or forget about holding your nerve, forget about the wide world and all that anxiety and just do it, one word after the other. And then redo it, so it reads better. The writer's great and sustaining love is for the language they work with every day. It may not be what gets us to the desk but it is what keeps us there and, after 20 or 30 years, this love yields habit and pleasure and necessity.

So. All this is known. In the long run we are all dead, and none of us is Proust. You must recognise that failure is 90% emotion, 10% self-fulfilling reality, and the fact that we are haunted by it is neither here nor there.The zen of it is that success and failure are both an illusion, that these illusions will keep you from the desk, they will spoil your talent; they will eat away at your life and your sleep and the way you speak to the people you love.

The problem with this spiritual argument is that success and failure are also real. You can finish a real book and it can be published or not, sell or not, be reviewed or not. Each one of these real events makes it easier or harder to write, publish, sell the next book. And the next. And the one after that. If you keep going and stay on the right side of all this, you can be offered honours and awards, you can be recognised in the street, you can be recognised in the streets of several countries, some of which do not have English as a native language. You can get some grumpy fucker to say that your work is not just successful but important, or several grumpy fuckers, and they can say this before you are quite dead. And all this can happen, by the way, whether or not your work is actually good, or still good. Success may be material but is also an emotion – one that is felt, not by you, but by the crowd. This is why we yearn for it, and can not have it, quite. It is not ours to hold.

I am more comfortable with the personal feeling that is failure than with the exposure of success. I say this even though I am, Lord knows, ambitious and grabby, and I want to be up there with the rest of them. Up! There!

The sad thing is, when the flash bulbs do pop and fade, you are left, in the pulsing after-light, with a keen sense of how unhappy people can be with what they have achieved in life. Perfectly successful people. With perfectly good lives. And you come to appreciate the ones who have figured all that shit out. Meanwhile, and briefly, you are a "success", which is to say an object, whether of envy or acclaim. Some people like all that, but I, for reasons I have not yet figured out, find it difficult. I don't want to be an object. I find jealousy unpleasant (because it is unpleasant). I resist praise.

The writer's life is one of great privilege, so "Suck it up", you might say – there are more fans than trolls. But there are two, sometimes separate, ambitions here. One is to get known, make money perhaps and take a bow – to be acknowledged by that dangerous beast, the crowd. The other is to write a really good book.

And a book is not written for the crowd, but for one reader at a time. A novel is written (rather pathetically) not to be judged, but experienced. You want to meet people in their own heads – at least I do. I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.

Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

But you have to see failure as an opportunity. I took the route favoured by all worldly failures and became a spiritual success. That might be an inflated way of putting it, but failures are nothing if not grandiose. If the world doesn't value us, we won't value the world. We seek solace in books, in solitary and sometimes fantastical thinking, in doing with words what boys who please their fathers do with balls. We look down on what our fellows like, and make a point of liking what our fellows don't. We become special by virtue of not being special enough. I doubt many writers were made any other way.

Art is made by those who consider themselves to have failed at whatever isn't art. And of course it is loved as consolation, or a call to arms, by those who feel the same. One of the reasons there seem to be fewer readers for literature today than there were yesterday is that the concept of failure has been outlawed. If we are all beautiful, all clever, all happy, all successes in our way, what do we want with the language of the dispossessed?

Monday, 17 June 2013


2 - 28th July 2013, Sunbury Embroidery Gallery, Sunbury-upon-Thames

I have just heard that there is a botanical art exhibition open throughout July in Sunbury-upon-Thames. Five very talented botanical artists are joining up and sharing their perception of the natural world. Through close study, the artists will be conveying their personal vision of the beauty, complexity and wonder found in the living landscape.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A bit of scale

Today I am posting these photographs to give you all an idea of the scale of Green Giant. You might be able to notice from the pictures (cue squinting at your respective computer screens) that I made a start on four leaves yesterday, including two of the top ones. I can see the finishing line...! Which means I intend to make my next post on this painting the very last one showing you the finished piece, thus making this the penultimate post. I am aware that it gets boring after a while. 'Yes, yes Jess - you did another leaf. Anything new Jess? No? Ok, so I guess we have to make do with leaves AGAIN...' I suppose the clue about the content of this online spiel is in the title of this blog, but even I'm finding myself getting bored. Gagging to start something new.

So yes - this is the penultimate post illustrating me tackling the worse bit of all - the last bit. And for some reason (I do this every time) I have left the hardest bits last. I hate painting the undersides of leaves at the best of times, but these ones are back lit. Oh joy of flippin' joys. Still... I am pleased with the process thus far. For these geezers at the top I am using dry brush because I need to feel like I have a bit of control, even if I don't.

Natural History - An Exhibition at Art First, Summer 2013

Just found out about a new exhibition which opens on at the end of this month called 'Natural History' and thought I'd spread the news! It's a group exhibition, showing work by both guest and represented Art First artists, and is set out to question and celebrate the diversity of the natural world. Sounds good to me! Count me in for a visit.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Playing around...

Oh the joys of playing around with an idea - it's such fun! I am currently busy exploring with the 'holy-leaf' on my coffee plant painting... Keeping the thread going with all of the work I have done previous to this (whilst satisfying my interest in ethnobotanical plants, the environment, plant conservation and the desire to produce educational paintings for the 21st century) I am currently hijacking brands. The idea of incorporating packaging into my work started last year when I began collecting data for the Bare Necessities Project and now, at long last, I am putting it into practice and seeing how it looks...

I am not sure on the size of the logo, but I like the watermarking effect on them so that they blend in more with the rest of the leaves. The picture below shows what it looked like before I used the eraser tool and as we can see it's completely ruining the composition. In my view, it is staring me in the face too much and looks about as wrong as 'the hole', but not for the right reasons. With the hole I like the tension and the questioning, in the picture below it just looks strange and like I couldn't be bothered to finish it.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Spot the holes

Coffea arabica - a work in progress
Coffea arabica - a work in progress
A few more holes filled in... and now I am wondering if I'd like to leave one of the holes as it is - blank. I am looking at the piece and I rather like having a leaf missing. It's the next step after my Monstera problema piece. No longer do I want to portray naturally occurring holes to satisfy my interest in the imperfect and punctured/incomplete. I now want the holes to be man-made and deliberate. I like them. I am fascinated by the way the mind works when confronted with this senario. It sees a hole and wants to fill it in and make is whole. Well my mind does anyway and I wonder why that is. My brain wants to know what happened to the missing leaf - where did it go and why isn't it there? What's it being used for, if anything? I like that questioning very much. It's thrilling. I am going to carry on with this thought process as I am extremely excited by it.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The gnarled Pine grows tenaciously off the Cliff face

Yogi Lion embroidery by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd
Detail of the Yogi Lion embroidery piece
While the exhibition at the Espacio Gallery keeps on rolling, I am keeping myself very busy (I suppose not much changes there). I am growing tenaciously off of the cliff face. When not invigilating the gallery space in Bethnal Green on my afternoons off and am trying to complete Caroline before I go on holiday at the end of June. Currently, I now referring to photographs more often because she moves a lot and has put on a layer of new leaves. It's nice that she is happy, but it can be a pain.

With the holiday fast approaching, it has reminded me of a sewing project I started in Spain this time last year. This has in turn reminded me of yet ANOTHER deadline which I had set myself to reach - Yogi Lion must get completed. The time is now people! So I am back on the case with this little beastie of a project, sew, sew, sew... Along the tube lines and on the bus routes.
Sampler piece by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd
Yogi Lion- still a work in progress but hopefully not for much longer!
I am quite pleased at how it's turning out. The water is just how I wanted it to be - slightly treacherous and emotional. I wanted my lion to float above the chaos in a state of serenity. To hover above it in a safe place where he can look down at it all and observe it's depths. All a bit deep I know, but for me it is not just a pretty picture - none of my sewing projects are. 

Sampler piece by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd
Detail of the Yogi Lion embroidery piece
Caroline the coffee plant is well under way and I had a bit of a brain wave the other night while my house mate Nick was looking at it. Thinking about compositions and the like. I am going to plough on with this one, but maybe next time I will do something a bit wacky. I am certainly going to try to create something on photoshop once Green Giant has been scanned to see how the idea looks... I will keep you posted on this for sure but while I am at it, I want to encourage you all to experiment as much as you can with your botanical art. I find it is an art form that can be prone to sticking to the rules a bit too much. Have a look at your piece and have a go of venturing outside the box. It feels scary, but at the same time, great.

Leaves on Green Giant botanical painting
Two more leaves on Caroline the 'Green Giant' getting their coats

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Bryan Nash Gill

I discovered this chap whilst researching the method required to take an intaglio print off of a tree stump so all you got would be the tree's annual rings on the piece of paper. I know this is a bit wacky for me to be looking into this, and completely not the usual type of work that I post here, and you might be wondering why I am thinking about this type of process. All I can say is that it was just an idea that popped into my mind for a sideline project I am working on at the moment. Anyway, I just had to share Bryan's work with you all here because I a think it is utterly fabulous. He does all sorts of work as an artist but it is his 'woodcut' prints which fascinate me the most. I really want to see his work in the flesh*, alas I will have to make do with the internet and his book called 'Woodcut' for now. 

Hemlock 82 (below) is particularly interesting to look at (right click it and open it in a new tab them blow it up nice and big).  It almost looks three dimensional, like the contour lines on an ordinate survey map. I think what is so intriguing about these pieces is what they represent on a multitude of levels. I find that on first glance they take on different forms so that they look like maps, spillages, exploded bombs from the air, ripples on a pond, solar systems, paddy fields, eye irises, black holes  - I could go on forever. However, when you look closer at them, one starts to study each ring and the view point shifts. I personally find myself looking back through time and wondering what the conditions were like in the years gone by. Then I start comparing the different imprints left by different tree species, or imprints by the same species only grown in different areas. Studying these 'tree portraits' is simply fascinating and an extremely grounding experience.

Hemlock 82 by Bryan Nash Gill ©
 Hemlock 82 by Bryan Nash Gill ©

Honey Locust 1/1 by Bryan Nash Gill ©
 Honey Locust 1/1 by Bryan Nash Gill ©

Pine II by Bryan Nash Gill ©
 Pine II by Bryan Nash Gill ©

Willow by Bryan Nash Gill ©
Willow by Bryan Nash Gill ©

Bryan has just had a show at the Botanic Gardens in Chicago. He has a book which you can buy in most book shops called 'Woodcut'.