Monthly Archives: May 2013

Art Hell 2

My cat, Saphie, surrounded by torn up drawing.

My cat, Saphie, surrounded by torn up drawing.

“This is the end, my only friend, the end…” (The Doors).

“Waaahhhh!”  (That’s me crying.)  Well, not really, but I am sad.  I worked so hard at a  drawing for nearly three weeks – all in vain.  Tonight after trying EVERYTHING to solve the problems, I finally put myself and the drawing out of our miseries by tearing up the offending piece.  I had intended to photograph it for a post but I’m not courageous enough to share a failure with you (except when it is ripped up).

It is a peculiar thing as the drawing, which I had called “Sakura at Dusk”, started off so well.  Two weeks ago when I wrote about my drawing”Rare View” I said that it took me a long time to connect with that piece.  I had been about three quarters of the way through the drawing before I really began to enjoy it.  “Sakura at Dusk” was the opposite experience.  I loved working on it right from the start.  It was one of my blurry type of drawings with most of it being out of focus and just some sakura (cherry blossom) in the foreground in focus.  So I merrily worked away on it and it seemed that it effortlessly finished itself.  I put it up on the easel and was satisfied…that is… until I wasn’t!

The more I looked at it, the more I adjusted it.   The more I adjusted it, the more I wasn’t happy.  This state of affairs went on for days.  During that time I wrote last week’s post “Art Hell”.  Mentally the drawing went from being called “Sakura at Dusk” to “Art Hell”.  As I got more agitated, it became less and less “Sakura at Dusk” until its title totally turned into “Art Hell”.

I had overworked “Sakura at Dusk/Art Hell” until the colours had turned muddy with layering.  And all the way through I couldn’t make up my mind.  One minute I’d think ‘ah ha – THAT’S fixed it’.  Next I’d think ‘wow, it’s beautiful’.  Then I would look again and know that it really wasn’t.   I had to keep trying because, while I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either, not while there was hope of redemption.  At least in the end (tonight) I knew that I really DID hate it.  Out damn spot!!!

I had a lot of pleasure working on the drawing as well as miles of frustration and some anguish.  After many hours of work I don’t have anything to show for it.  However I now put this behind me and look ahead.  What’s next?  I began a new piece the other day.  I will ‘keep calm and carry on’ as they say.  At least – I’ll look for calm.   Where is it?  I must have put it somewhere.  When I locate it, I’ll attempt to keep it – and then I’ll carry on.

Ripped drawing on the floor.

Ripped drawing on the floor.

Related post:  Art Hell         Related page:  Failures!

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Art Hell


Art hell is a state of mind…and a negative one at that.  It is the opposite of ‘brimming over with ideas’.  It is contrary to having the satisfaction of creating what you want and feeling deep contentment.  Rather than being in control, you know you are out of it.

Art hell is my term but it may also be known as artist’s block, writer’s block or creative block.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no new ideas; rather, that you don’t want to do any of them.  When little seedlings of ideas germinate, a big foot (like on Monty Python’s Flying Circus) stamps from above and flattens them.

It is when you can’t trust your artistic judgement.  You finish a new piece and you don’t know if you love it or hate it.  Is it that this drawing has gone beyond your usual boundary and you haven’t caught up?  In other words it could be ‘the shock of the new’ therefore you can’t yet evaluate it.  Or is it simply a picture which failed to thrive all along.  You actually don’t know.  You can’t tell one way or the other.  Probably yes.  Probably no.

You ask yourself ‘what do I feel deeply about right now that I wish to work on next?’  Honest answer – ‘nothing’.  You can have files and files of new material but they don’t elicit any emotion.  Within those photos you took are compositions for new drawings.  You will see them later when the current bout of art hell is over.  But while you are in it, the critic within says NO.

It isn’t depression or anxiety.  It isn’t life threatening or a real crisis.  It is only art hell.  It need not be feared for it is always temporary.  You don’t have to do anything.  You wake up one morning and, just like that, your optimism is back.  Until then, well, you’re in it.

In the meantime you go for walks, garden, clean the house, read, write miserable entries into your journal, see a film, have coffee with friends and whinge to long-suffering husband.

Art hell and I go way back.  I can even remember it from high school; in fact, since ‘art’ was a subject.  It wasn’t a subject in primary school.  So, as far as I can remember, art hell hadn’t really developed then.  It grew enormous at art school but settled back down to just being part of life’s natural cycle since then.

Oh – but for one exceptional day at Karori West Normal School when our teacher decided that our class would have a whole day of art and craft.  He brought in so many materials; driftwood from Makara Beach, shells, paints, papers and cards, string, glue, wire, printing equipment – you name it.  I felt under so much pressure to produce something good that I remember it as one big art hell day.  Maybe my first one?!  I was nine.   Happily, some parents complained.  They didn’t want their children wasting time on art for a whole day.  So it wasn’t repeated.

Certainly writing this down has helped to ease the current bout of art hell.  I think perhaps tomorrow it will be over.  Until then…I wonder what’s on TV?

Related post:  Art Hell 2          Related page:  Failures!

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Rare View

"Rare View" - coloured pencil drawing.

“Rare View” – coloured pencil drawing.  345 x 480 mm. 2013


“Rare View” is the first drawing I have finished since I returned from overseas.  Why the title?  If English is not your first language, let me explain that I am playing with words.  This IS a rare view because one does not often see a Maiko holding hands with a little girl.  In fact I have never seen such a sight before.  If you say “Rare View” aloud, it sounds a lot like ‘rear view’ which means seeing something or someone from behind…as we are indeed viewing our subjects.

The circumstance of this scene is as follows:- I had been to the 61st Kitano Odori which is the annual spring dance performed by the Maiko and Geiko of Kamishichiken (an area of Kyoto).  After the concert I saw Satohana, one of the Maiko performers, waiting outside the theatre.  An excited family group came out of the theatre to join her.  After greetings, laughter and photos, Satohana and the little girl from the group walked off together hand-in-hand.  (Perhaps the child is Satohana’s little sister.)  I took a photo, knowing instantly that I would make a drawing of it.

There is rather a lot of grey outside the theatre!  Behind the high walls to the right is the most beautiful Japanese garden complete with a koi-filled lake.  This garden, in the grounds of the theatre, may be admired before the concert and again at intermission (enjoyed with tea and cake).  I can promise you it is there even though you’ll have to trust me (unless you have been there yourself).

A thought which occurs to me when I look at this drawing is that this could be a metaphor for  life.  The little girl walks beside a young lady while ahead is a mature lady who is further along the path (of life) than those behind her. Both the young lady and the older lady were once the child…and the child will one day be each of them.  We cannot see what is around the corner but we know that the older lady will turn down the path to whatever-it-is before the other two.  It is inevitable.

Now, let me type out what is written in the official programme of 61st Kitano Odori.  It says “Kamishichiken is the oldest and most distinguished gay quarters in Kyoto.  The training of Geiko is given with the idea of producing a few excellent rather than large number of mediocre entertainers.  Therefore they are required to master many entertaining arts including shamisen, hand drum, dancing and traditional ditties and ballads such as kiyomoto, tokiwazu, kouta and nagauta.  The results of such severe training are demonstrated at Kitano Odori to an audience, who enjoy watching traditional performing arts refined to an almost perfect level.  The stage where such arts are performed might be referred to as the highest reach of an aesthetic quality peculiar to Japan.”

I would have loved to have brought you photos from the performance but, as is usual in concerts, photography is not permitted.  Satohana was one of the gorgeous dancers and the lady in black was one of the musicians.  The little girl was in the audience.

Related page:  Subject 2: Geisha

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