Doubts, Mentors and Ravens

After what seemed to be time well spent during my residency in printmaking at City Lit Uni – I decided to continue. Well I had already decided to continue really. I had given myself a year, which started on April 27th when the residency did.  But I decided it was worth continuing.

So right now I have just finished my 2nd residency. A self-imposed residency sponsored by my living room, with 2 patient housemates as patrons.  I have learnt I can make an obscene amount of mess in one day and that my self-discipline is actually pretty good.

The standards I am setting for myself are going up quickly all the time, so I hope that is reflected in my work. It started with ‘hopefully this isn’t pointless and a waste of everyone’s time’ and now I am somewhere around about the ‘feeling confident as a result of seeing my practice improve’ stage.

I asked Thomas Gosebruch, my mentor from the residency to continue working with me and he accepted. I now build up a body of work over 2/3 weeks and then take it to him for swift dissection. He never bullshits me and tells me straight if something is poor, too busy or un-engaging. So I believe him when he encourages me in other areas. It is very valuable to be able to lean on that honesty.

He told me some of my choices were ‘lazy’ recently which made me laugh.  Interestingly I can leave my ego at the door with him.  I wonder if that is simply because he is so much further on than me?  I think in another scenario I wouldn’t really like the term lazy, but with him it’s an insight not an insult.

Last time I saw him he looked at an image I had done of the body of a raven.  He commented that the awareness in my hand as I made those marks was not connected to the original motivation for choosing that source material.  This blew my mind.  When I thought about it I realised he was absolutely right.  He saw that in an instant.

My reasons for choosing the raven were partly because of their darkness and liminal nature; they have one foot in either world.  In Western Europe we believed they were the incarnation of damned souls or wicked priests  - or the souls of people who didn’t have proper burials.  I find that tasty.  It’s a dark winged intelligent scavenger with a purple trick of light within its feathers.  In Greece they are messengers for the gods and in Native American culture Raven is a deity, a trickster god no less.  They are also damn smart and match chimpanzees in logic tests, which I find amazing. When you sit with them you can see why they were so feared and revered.  So with all that in mind I had been stalking them on Hampstead Heath (they will come closer for cherry toms) getting good images with which to work from.   The next time I draw Raven, I will invoke my original curiosity, so that those thoughts are present with me as my hand moves.

Before I went to see my mentor last time I had a massive internal collapse.  I was pretty convinced that most of the last 3 weeks work was shit and I was embarrassed to show him.  I completely doubted the quality of my work and the whole idea of me as an artist.  My mentor is not afraid of doubt however; in fact he positively encourages it, because then you know you are working on something you care about.   His response to my telling him I have been smothered by regular doom filled clouds of despair was simply…. ‘Good, that’s where you are supposed to be’

People have told me over the last few months ‘you’re really good’ and ‘you have found your calling’ etc.  It is of course encouraging to hear people say such things but there is a danger in believing them too.  The subtle shift to ‘its good because I did it’ might happen; possibly challenging myself less because I believe I’m good.  Right now I am trying to avoid choosing safety in a technique that I know I can do.  I guess I just gotta keep my head down and carry on making, otherwise the doubt might leave me…