Friday, 21 October 2011

Work, progress

We've had an old friend staying this week and there has been lots of walking, even some cycling, much talking, giant eating, a bit of music, some dressing up. I still managed to get to art class on Wednesday though and this time I asked Jackie (teacher) if I could try pastels (chalky ones... I had a go with oil ones a couple of weeks ago – the thistles back here). I really only intend to do the ten classes right now so I'd like to try as many different ways of making marks as I can while I'm there (next stop watercolours!). Maybe it seems odd to only want the ten classes at this point... but I am odd... and who knows... I may have some other classes in the future.

Anyway the pastels turned up two pictures this week. One was h on a beach (and I posted that on facebook yesterday). The other (above) is working from a photo of my Mum and little h taken in 2006 (one of my very favourite photos of them – a picture of total love and devotion and being relaxed with another person). This is very much a first stage picture I suppose and I'm sure I could do a lot more to it (apparently you spray with some kind of hairspray stuff and then keep adding the layers). The problem is I quite like it as it is... so what to do? It's not like with poetry where you can keep a copy of the first draft and go back to it if you want. I guess I'll just have to start from scratch if I want to keep this individual picture at all. And maybe no-one will like it much but me.

In some ways I had/have this problem a lot with poetry too. I quite like early drafts, rough edges, unfinished business and I'm not sure it helps with how my (writing) work is... received at times. I'm pretty sure that when I've sent poems to magazines and competitions in the past often the response from the readers/editors/committees must have been “why hasn't this person finished their work?” or “what are we supposed to do with this?” Other reactions may have been “did this person go to school?” or “what were they thinking?” It's a bit frustrating because obviously I did go to school and usually I've put quite a lot of thought into what may seem an unfinished piece. It feels to me like somehow I'm not really a big fan of perfection (at least when it comes to arts like these... obviously if I'm getting into any form of transport I'd quite like the designer and manufacturer to have quite high standards when it comes to perfection...). I don't necessarily want to produce something (in a poem or a picture) that has been tweaked and retweaked to within an inch of its life... but I am aware this is not necessarily a popular view. Certainly not amongst poets. I once read another poet talking about "instinctive" writing and I suppose I fall into that camp. Maybe. I'm not really keen on camps either.

Speaking of writing I am sure that many of you read the tips for writing fiction printed in the Guardian newspaper last weekend (here and here). They got a great range of writers to contribute and below are some of my favourites points from the list.

From Margaret Atwood (ever practical):

“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.”

A smashing one from Elmore Leonard:

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

From Roddy Doyle (though his whole list is great):

“Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.”

A couple from Geoff Dyer:

“Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”


“Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.”

I have to admit I had to look Dyer up (I'd never heard of him before). Can anyone recommend which of his books to try first?

From Anne Enright:

“The first 12 years are the worst.”

A timely one from David Hare (considering the whole Booker prize readability/quality business this year... again...):

“The two most depressing words in the English language are 'literary fiction'.”

From A.L.Kennedy:

“Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.”

A lovely one from Joyce Carol Oates:

“Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.”

Someone had to say it – here's Philip Pullman:

“My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.”

A twist on the old feminist line from Ian Rankin:

“Don't give up.”

A few choice ones from the marvellous wordman that is Will Self:

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”

“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”

“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.”

From one of my favourites Zadie Smith:

“Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.”

And finally a corker from Colm Tóibín that we could probably all keep in mind:

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

OK. OK. Over and out.



Niamh B said...

I know it's not the same but keeping a photo record of the earlier pic is sorta like keeping a first draft?... perhaps?
Love those writing quotes, I could read them all day. (and never write a thing, but tell myself that I'm gaining writing knowledge lol)

Niamh B said...

I like the pic too btw - think you've captured the positions and postures very well.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I did think that about the photo (it being a record). But I suspect I will do something else next week and just keep that picture as is. I like little things in it... like my Mum's sandal and foot. I love it (the photo) because h is just collapsed into her Grandma somehow - total relaxation, total hug!


The Weaver of Grass said...

That Guardian pull out on writing fiction is on my printer as I type this. I thought some of the ideas were very good and I am going to suggest that our writing group try out some of the exercises.

Your art classes sound to be just what I am looking for Rachel. As to whether to do any more to it. My late husband was a watercolourist and he had several posters in his studio - one said 'keep it simple' and another said 'when in doubt, leave it alone.'

Rachel Fox said...

He sounds like my kind of man, Weaver! Plus I love watercolours.

hope said...

Life isn't perfect, why should our creations be? :)

Not to say it isn't fine to strive to do your best, but like you, sometimes the first words I put on paper are better than those I try to keep polishing.

I think you're doing wonderful with your artwork!

Titus said...

Ooh, too much to contemplate tonight. I'll pop back when my brain's working.

Rachel Fenton said...

Excellent proportions and superb curtain folds - personally I dig it but I'm more about the emotional impact than the perceived quality finish for has a naive quality that shouts heart, soul and real life love over blended layers.

I'll bob over fb and rummage through your posts there anon..

Keep going with your experimenting - better to be brave and know yourself than a coward in print staring at yourself from the bookshelf!

Rachel Fox said...

I did the curtain first - spent more time on it I'm sure. Did the greenery/outside last - hence bit more rushed...

We didn't pick those curtains - they were here when we arrived. I never would have chosen them but (a) they have grown on me and (b) the window is so huge that it would cost a fortune to replace them!

Marion McCready said...

I think it's a great picture the way it is, impressionistic rather than unfinished!

Sarah said...

I love the quotes!