I was born soon after the Second World War and grew up in a houseboat on the Hamble River; a bus ride from Southampton city centre and a short boat trip to the docks. I had no sense of town and country and observed the comings and goings of the river from my dad’s boat building yard and workshop. It was not not idyllic; we had no real attachment; we made a life and survived as best we could.
I have now returned to a simpler life not on the south coast but in Reading; again no ‘landscape’ although 50 years down the line it is not unlike the muddy riverside I remember. In this part of the Thames Valley, by the Kennet and Avon canals, the railways, motorway, inner distribution road that carved the town in half, mixed housing, homelessness, disused gas works, bridges hither and thither there is a fragility and a true sense of people getting by if not only just.
Nonetheless, I still hoped that the artist in me would find beauty and romance ... a foolish idea that didn’t help my mood or mental health.
So, now understanding that it is OK to enjoy the less glorious like the weeds that grow out of the gas works ... or this teasel that has found its way into my back yard I rejoice.
Since retiring my mental health issues have not lessened as I expected; they have increased. So while I hope in time (and it is early days) there will be a balance and I will be able to manage the ups and downs. I have had to take measure to address the discomfort; I say discomfort because I don’t want to sound melodramatic; but it will do for a while at least. So, what are the measures? There is a list and again, not to put a too fine a point and no pun intended, it is enough to say embroidery has helped.
I have never done embroidery before, I do dressmaking and learned at my mother’s knee to make do and mend. Embroidery had not any practical use except to cover an unsightly cushion, or to hang at the window or disguise a hole in a trouser leg.
So me, with a broken heart and without fine linen or silk; I used some old sacks and some stranded cotton and sat night after night while the nagging fear and dread filled my mind; preventing any idea of restful sleep.
So stitching without pattern and little idea; three sacks were created.
I have since found other scraps of fabric that lend themselves to a little screen printing and over stitching.
This isn’t to say I am cured, that will not happen retirement or not but it does mean when the voices begin I can question more gently with my needle and thread ....
A little over a week ago I submitted one of three embroideries for an Summer Show. It is an annual event where local artists submit a selection of new work to fit into a required space; each a mini exhibition within a whole event that lasts a week. An artist might choose one piece or several as long as they don’t go over the allotted space. This is fair of course; but a local friendly event where one might hope for fair consideration if needed. As the limits were not entirely clear to me; my work was taller by a few inches; although it fitted into the space; it was not the required size. With reluctance the piece was accepted, but I later learned that the embroidery was shortened (it is easily wound up at the top) as the curator said ‘ this was OK .. because there were only words at the top...’ I remain upset by the action and the motive, as my words were not just words but a poem and a significant part of the piece and certainly valid in the context of the three pieces. Sadly, this might not have happened had the rules not been so tight ... or I had the opportunity to write a proviso to hang beside so the viewers might have some idea about the piece.
So, some lessons learned this week ; as I take down the work; return it to the other two and take them to another venue where they will hang for a few days in all their glory ..
I am an artist; hoping one day to be recognised and sell my work. It is a dream, like millions of others we hang on to or at least cover our costs. It will not happen; nonetheless we carry on thinking of ways to motivate ourselves to remain creative and make ends meet. While we work at our kitchen tables or our studios in the corner of the sitting room or in the garden shed, we can do that. However, at some point we have show our work, sell it as well as selling ourselves and this is the dilemma.
To promote our work takes further investment, not just financial and it is costly but, in time and energy. This is a quite a different ball game and where a lot very creative people fall short. This is particularly sad because we are not all 'performers'.
I haven’t been in the art world long, but I understand completely that artists do get, if not financial reward, certainly recognition when they are able to show their work in local art exhibitions or events. Unfortunately, this has become difficult in some communities where exhibition space is lost or too expensive. Also, guilds and societies which offer support and a degree of extra recognition can also be costly and exclusive.
So as individuals we have to become more and more resourceful if we want to enjoy a little notoriety, even if we if we sell little of our work. As artists, we need our tools and the medium, that is a given; however to enhance our work to give it the so-called 'market value', we then have to consider this carefully.
For me, framing or to hang in an expensive gallery (even if I was given the opportunity) is not an option. As time goes on the notion becomes less attractive to me.
I am an illustrator, I use many mediums; my work ‘appears’ in books and out, on sack/hessian fabric, on clay, hung by pegs, on a string or on a freeby website ... all perfectly unframed and I celebrate this.
Nelabligh aka Helen Westhrop
... recently retired with time and a wealth of experience; but like a herd of cats, my thoughts and subsequent works of art seem to go in different directions. I will use this blog to record the provenance and the origin of my ideas, while adding colour and texture to finished pieces and work in progress...