Sunday, 8 February 2015

Getting your mojo back

Well it's been a pretty odd week this week. I came back from England feeling rather ungrounded and displaced. It took me roughly five days to get back to planet Earth. It's a funny life this one split between countries. My mother described it well - it is like time travel. I felt like I travelled back in time last week. I just picked up where I left off. It was comforting, but at the same time a bit disturbing. I was notified of this pretty early on in the week when, over my first curry in months, one of my old house mates from Brick Lane said that he had his probation interview tomorrow and shouldn't stay out too late. I almost choked on my Balti upon hearing this and exclaimed that it was ridiculous to still be on probation after all this time, emphasising the fact that six months is the norm. Dimitris then flashed one of his gorgeous smiles and said very softly that his was a six month probation. I was gob smacked. It's only been six months?! Blimey. 

So yes - a rather silly little week of getting my feet back on terra España and working out what to work on next. I was hoping to start my next project and was all ready to go when I received a few emails which threw me off balance. Just a couple of rejections really - that's all, but when one is feeling as delicate as I was at that time it is enough to completely through you of centre. 

So how does one deal with criticism and rejection? Well it's hard isn't it? No one wants to hear that they've not made the mark and likewise, no one really enjoys dishing out an overly critical review. In the last few weeks I have hit a few walls. Rejections from galleries, pessimistic emails and pieces not making the grade. It's hard work not loosing heart, but you simply must not. A few nights ago I wallowed. I sat by the fire, got teary, got stupid. I felt hollow, like the wind had completely gone out of my sails. I began to question what on earth I was trying to achieve and felt trapped. I took a big leap quitting Kew and I felt like I was now getting stuck. Since the jump I have discovered that there are many roads on the other side of the crevice, but now I don't know which one to take. Desperate to get going I am trying each one out for size, but they all feel a little blocked. It's like they have a toll charge and I don't have the right change to get past. In the end I remedied my brooding with several beers at the 'skinny-bar'. I almost went to the 'old man's bar', but ended up the the skinny one instead. Better tapas, hotter fire.

The next day I felt just as retched. I felt like that French cat Henri. I had wild spirals of snow spinning out of control outside my studio window. Feeling rather perturbed I angrily put on a boiler suit, went to by bedroom, shut the door and started using my new medium. I did a small test piece - it felt good to start something new, but I secretly knew I wasn't in the mood. As it steadily grew white outside my window, it became black in my room. Needless to say what I wanted to achieve did not work. I abandoned the board on my bedroom shelf. Rejected it's stayed there all week collecting flecks of dust.

Yesterday I relocated again... this time to the kitchen. I opened the fridge, grabbed a cabbage and sat with it. What a grounding experience this was. I am not sure what it is about cabbages. I guess there is a humble nature about them - they remind me of where the beauty is - in the most simplest of things.

After making friends with the cabbage, I put him back in the fridge and grabbed another item and made friends with that. He's called Obi-Wan and he's my next project.

So how does one deal with loosing one's gusto? Through perseverance, watching fires and raiding one's fridge...


  1. Exactly. Awful day yesterday for me too. I wrote a careful comment and when I pushed 'preview,' it evaporated. So this is the second attempt and not so careful.

    You are not alone. Yesterday, I saved the time to finally begin a project--and I just could not do it. Wasted the day, which only made it worse. I was feeling like such a stupid artist. This morning I thought I could not stand another day of it, so I took off, walked a lot, came home, and decided if I was such an idiot, then it did not matter what I painted, or how. So for however long it takes, I have given myself permission to be a really bad artist. The worst ever. There is absolutely nothing good about what I painted today, except it was interesting to me, and I feel better. Pumping up the music and a glass of wine was also helpful. I enjoy your blog so much. Rock on!

    1. Thanks for this brilliant comment. I loved how you described yourself as being an 'idiot' - that is exactly how it feels and what a brilliant way of translating that feeling into something productive. I guess it is about giving yourself the permission to just do whatever, regardless of how it might turn out. I personally am dreadful at such indulgences. I have quite a severe approach to my existence, that's the default anyway. Opting into this life as a painter has meant that I learn far more about my patterning, whilst facing who I really am and want to be.

      For me the artistic process is a way of managing ones spirit and ego. It's a fine balance and I reckon you and I might have had one of those days where the ego climbed out of it's cave and gave us a good old battering!

  2. Hi

    There is part of me that want's to say "welcome to the real world' - and that is not wishing to be rude. Rather, how lucky we are, when we have a job/hobby interest that we find fulfilling. There really are a lot of people that grind along at what they do, equally feeling frustrated, who do not get the highlights.
    It is easy to pull out the old cliche's that we learn from our mistakes and so on but we do 'work', we do keep at it. You have not just become a bad artist, your initial perception, may feel that nothing is good about your production but it was interesting, a 'highlight'; not the one you had planed or hoped for but a highlight none the same, so that plan will unfold as you continue.

    Many thanks for this comment, I'm sure Jess is also now still experimenting, so I'll skip the walk & join you in a glass of wine !
    Good Luck !

    1. You are very right to bring our attention to how lucky we are to be doing what we love Chris – thank you. I suppose there are many who ‘grind along’, but I feel that it is a question of choice as well as one’s environmental circumstance. Many of us are lucky to be given the option to choose. I suppose in these circumstances how we run our lives is about aligning ourselves with what we value and want most. I remember a fabulous blog post written by Mindy Lighthipe (can’t for the life of me find it now) where she discusses the moment when she decided that she wasn't going to be able to have children if she wanted to lead a particular life as an illustrator. She made the choice to paint.

      It is about being in the real world, but I feel that many artists do struggle with blocks and set backs which is why I chose to write about it here. Although I have removed all the distractions of having a full-time job and lengthy commute, one still hits walls.

      I think I am rather interested by the comment above about ‘giving yourself permission’ – I really like that because that is what actually happened to me - I forgot to do that. I think we all do in some way or another. No one likes to make a complete tit of themselves… Now I have finished the Plane Tree I suddenly feel that this is my first chance to get out and do a good job. I ended up putting too much pressure on myself and the creative process died as a result. I killed it. I think such things can be translated into other processes of life too. One thing is for sure – expectation inevitably leads to disappointment. For me, it’s a question of managing my faith with my expectations. I get the two confused because both draw on a sense of belief.

  3. I really endorse Chris's common sense approach because without it we cannot keep the work alive. For me, the intriguing aspect of this post, and all the comments made, are the truthful honesty about sometimes having to struggle. So what this is perhaps all about is not the struggle itself, but how we deal with that struggle.

    Time after time, its how we react to ourselves within - what we keep and what we discard as inner behaviour - that makes the difference to the work.

    One way to balance our emotional and mental process is to be as kind to ourselves in the same way that we would to another person. Being kind to one self, whilst at the same time maintaining a level of discipline that is required to keep working, is a usefull way of maintaining work under pressure and enabling ourselves.

    All young artists, myself too when I was starting out, have a combination of self hatred and 'poor me'. If we replace self hatred with self kindness, and 'poor me' with self acceptance, we can begin to win.

    Stay cool Jess, cos you are a rising star and this Friday evening will probably turn everything around. Chris, I love reading your comments.

    1. Thanks Coral. Part of me wishes I never posted this piece as I feel like a bit of a self wollower, but you've hit the nail on the head as to the reason behind the post. My only hope is that this entry has touched a few individuals who might be feeling a little disheartened and down. I want people to know that we all get like that from time to time. It was a post written in empathy. Now all I need to do is find that empathy and keep a portion of it for me. I often feel that this is why I ended up perusing this artistic path - it's teaching me how to be compassionate towards oneself in a way that other disciplines did not. Something a ex-anorexic probably needs to learn.

      I am a tad nervous about Friday as I have no idea what to expect. A small snippet is now available on the BBC page which is very exciting and I got a lovely letter from Laura Giuffrida in the post yesterday. She is also looking forward to the programme. If only I could watch it live - sadly we don't have that luxury. I will have to wait until it's on iplayer...

  4. Wow Jess, I really really really relate to this. After dealing with my own rejections (That hurts!!) and Feeling like a nobody im hopefully out through to the other side. For me a part of it is having to earn money and having to get a 'real job' as people have called it! but yes we should be thankful that we can do what we love and forever try to stay positive. Easier said than done though. Mucho amor xx

    1. Thanks for your comment Claire - I am glad that this post speaks to you - that's what I hoped. Not for you to have personally suffered the woes of rejection (God no!), but to reach out to those who have and form an assembly. To make a little virtual space where we can all acknowledge our vulnerability and our wounded pride and be strong for each other. Keep up the amazing work Claire - you are an inspiration.

  5. Well Jess
    An interesting and enjoyable programme and while your input was in the end reasonably short, it was non the less a significant contribution. It was a pity that the producers did not go further & give you a greater opportunity to 'expand on velum'. This should bring interest your way.

    Coral, you are too kind - I wish I could contribute with the eloquence shown by you and Jess.