After a full month in lockdown and totally dependent on my computer to keep me connected to the world, I'm feeling a sort of strange fogginess that is a mixture of not knowing what day it is most days and scheduling myself too much as a teacher.
I used to teach in person, in the ever popular Victoria & Albert Museum in their wonderful Cast Courts. It's been over two months since I travelled to London to run my Friday evening events and it feels so strange.
I moved right before the lockdown and have been staying with my boyfriend at his new place which he just moved into also right before lockdown so his flat is in a state of unpacked boxes and bags with no way to update his new place. Because I've been staying with him, I'm not where I normally live and have limited clothes and art supplies. I miss so many of my belongings and can't wait to be reunited with the rest of my clothes and my bed with all the comfy pillows and all my wonderful art supplies.
Teaching online as an art teacher is brainwashing and though I love teaching my students, I wish for the days when I'll be able to work with them in the same room so I can see their work instead of trying to discern their faint marks via a video screen.
Zoom exhausts me. Just being online exhausts me and yet I can't escape as my life is zoom.
I need to go to a dentist to have a root canal redone and I'm really aware of the waiting and waiting causing potentially irreversible damage to an already damaged tooth so I take painkillers and distract myself.
How is this crisis happening in my lifetime? I'm still baffled by this and each morning it feels shocking to remember on waking that life isn't normal anymore and that it's probably the same shared thoughts of thousands of others around the world.
There's talk that next week the UK government will start the process of bringing us out of lockdown and I still can't imagine how this will go or how our lives will still be impacted by these events. I've enjoyed staying with my boyfriend and look forward to actually properly moving in with him but hopefully after he's had a chance to make his new flat a home with all the improvements he's talked about. Until then, I hope I can get a few months of time in my attic making art projects, listening to audiobooks and maintaining my online teaching and hopefully returning to teaching in person too.
It's been a strange time in lockdown and it's taught me a lot about who I am, what I need in life and those I want by my side. Very different values than what I had before lockdown, that's for sure.
One thing I love about lockdown are the long walks in the countryside that we've been doing and the strange routine that's kept myself and my boyfriend in place each day. It's going to be difficult when I return to my attic.
Artistically, I'm currently fixated on making a forest in a terrarium so I can have my very own personal forest to draw from. I think this is a feeling of not being able to grow things during lockdown. I'm also in the process of building a paper fairy house miniature which is an attempt to use only materials everyone has in their homes.
Otherwise, in my studio practice, I'm untethered and all my former creative projects are on hold so I feel disconnected and unfocused. I should be keeping up with social media and posting to keep my followers interested, but I feel like a boat caught on a windless sea........
How different a single month makes....this time last month, I had so many things I took for granted, like being able to go outside to the market and walk to the cathedral and interact with people in my events in London.
Now I've been on lockdown for just a week and have gone out for food late in the evening to the corner shop, just once in that time. Shelves are very empty of things that I want to eat like, sweet potato or cucumber or strawberries or just any berries or any veg. I found a bag of frozen veg during my trip the other day to the corner shop and felt like I'd hit the jackpot which isn't how I expected my life to be at this stage.
What an eye opening learning experience this is, to be participating in a nationwide lockdown and realising how very dependent I have been on so many things and how if I just changed what I need vs what I want and how to obtain these thing then how much better off the planet and myself might be.
I dearly wish I had a garden or somewhere that I could grow fruits and vegetables without needing to go to the shops all the time for their produce. When this pandemic lifts and we're all able to come out and go about our lives again, I plan to sort out this garden need so I'm better equipped for a healthier future.
I've been having to conduct my art events online which has been a challenge but is fun once I understand how to do it all. I'm not a techy person so when I realised I needed to adapt my events for online, I spent a week learning how to transpose everything I teach into an online format so that my students could get more for their money and still get to socialise with each other.
Our online classes are small and not like how we used to be when we met at the museums and quite a lot of my students who prefer to meet in person have either left my group or dropped off the radar.
I find that I'm thriving in isolation as it's time to think and time to create that I've needed. So I feel as if I'm on a strange badly funded artist residency that leaves me still very much unnoticed but able to work on projects I'd previously not been able to give much attention to. It's just the first week of course, so perhaps my feelings will change in a month from now. But currently, I'm delighted to have so much time to myself and my creative projects and I hope I can create some structure to get as much accomplished as possible.
Below are two photos....on the left a snapshot from one of my online classes with everyone trying to get into a position to draw their own feet which was a tricky and amusing thing as we all became temporary contortionists while scribbling away furiously! The second image is of the aftermath of my class and the sketches I generated while sketching with my students and an example of how I was holding my foot with my hand. A fun class with my wonderfully talented members!
I think that once we're allowed to go out and meet up again in public, that some of my events may remain online to cater to those people who have difficulties joining in to the in person events. It's been interesting learning about some of my members who have not been able to attend my regular events due to long term illness or anxiety issues or because they just live too far away and I hope that they'll keep attending my online events even when I return to doing regular in person events. I'm meeting such wonderful new friends. In some ways, I'm glad we're all on lockdown, because I'd never have gotten to meet so many people if it wasn't for this current experience so perhaps that's some good to be had from our social distancing time.
I will leave it here with the hope that in the next blog post, the virus will be less and that my family and friends will be unscathed and in good spirits with hope on the horizon.
February has flown by and I'm tired as it seems that I have too much to do in one week and for an unemployed freelance artist, it feels odd as compared to earlier decades when I was employed full time, I think I actually had more time even though my time was someone else's......I'm not making sense.
Being this Franceska.....age forty-four (how did I get to this age so fast?) - I run art events on Fridays and some weekends and they're full on to the point that after two hours of teaching, I feel wiped out for 24 hours afterwards!
During the week - Mondays to Thursdays, I split my time between admin for my events, admin for my artist career, admin trying to find a part time job and occasionally I create something in 2d or 3d and post it on instagram.....in the meantime, I'm about to move again (with my landlady and her other lodger) to another part of St. Albans (by mid March) and then if all goes well a few months later, I'll be moving again to live with my boyfriend which is quite exciting but feels like a long way off. So everything is in semi chaos.....the attic I rent at our current place is old and falling apart and since moving in last August, I've not really unpacked.....so I live on top of myself and constantly can't find anything which is driving me crazy.
In an effort to get rid of the constant chaos, I've been working for the past few weeks to live a more minimalistic way so I've been organising everything I own, getting rid of lots of unused things and rethinking how I structure my home art studio in my bedroom and how I'd like to live vs how I have been living.
I've not posted any artwork on Instagram for ages simply because I've not had time to make anything and I long to draw, paint and sculpt but once I'm moved in a few weeks and able to unpack, then hopefully I'll be able to catch up with myself.
So I've been trying to get a Monday & Tuesday part time job and have been approaching the local temp agencies here in St. Albans with various levels of frustration.....I went into a temp agency in person and was told that I couldn't speak to someone in person and that I had to email first to get an appointment.....so I went outside onto the pavement and emailed them through their front window to ask for an appointment......this has happened twice now with two completely different temp agencies and has resulted in no work but lots of stupid unnecessary emails back and forth asking what location I wanted and trying to arrange for appointments. If this is how they conduct themselves, I don't feel very confident of finding work with these agencies.....so the search goes on.
I saw an advertisement for a part time position at the Museum of St. Albans a few weeks ago and immediately got online and downloaded and printed off their job application and filled it in, scanned it back in and emailed it to the contact details provided......and waited and waited and waited.....and then was advised by the Jobcentre to physically visit them in person to show them how eager I was and to find out how the application was going. I visited the museum in the old Town Hall.....and was told to visit the Civic Centre instead as apparently they deal with applications.....so I went to the Civic Centre and was told to go to the museum.....so I went to the Roman museum instead, thinking that maybe they were the best museum to talk to.....and was told to go to the Civic Centre.....so I reached out to the Facebook group for "All Things St. Albans" to find out where I could check on my application and the museum responded and told me to email them......so I did.....and they said that they could only see one record of my application being emailed and no other communication from me .......so I told them that my attempts to reach them had been in person not online and they responded that they would respond to my application in a few months if they thought I'd be a good fit for the job........JOB SEARCHING IS STUPID!!!!
So I'm going to focus on my events in London and see if I can just add more events rather than trying to find a part time job during the week which is more work, less money and not dependable at all.
As a side note: I'm back to creative writing again and have been slowly writing a series of children's books and working on my own illustrations to them......I'm taking it slow as it's been over twenty years since I last published anything and want to enjoy the process for the journey that it is, rather than the product.
Everything I do feels like a crazy scheme to make money and survive.....I feel like it's a fairground ride that's gone wrong and I want to get off. I want to be financially comfortable and have a full day off to just lie around reading magazines and eating sliced fruit with not a worry in the world....but that sounds like nonsense compared to everything I've got to accomplish and the idea of taking time off sounds utterly impossible.
To make things that much more exciting, I've had to find a dentist because a tooth that was previously given a root canal over a decade ago by a crap dentist, has developed an infection deep down in my jaw because apparently a bit of root was never removed all those years ago. As I'm on Universal Credit, I'm an NHS patient and the only option to me is to have the tooth pulled....but because I don't want to have to just resort to pulling teeth, I've decided to sign on as a private patient in a futile effort to save the afflicted tooth so I've been scheduled to enjoy a root canal redoing session next Tuesday afternoon which terrifies me but has to be done......and will cost me between £770 to £970 over a period of months.....which I'll have to pay using my meager earnings from my events which are not dependable and make me wish I could have a successful job search and find a part time job that could let me sign off from the Jobcentre once and for all.....I've been dirt poor and on benefits and struggling like this for six years.
If one more person says....."have you tried this....." or "it'll get better soon...", I'll murder them!
Another side note: I've been trying to create non sugar recipes and have this evening made a rather successful cashew, pistachio, cacao and date spread that is a little fruity but very similar to a chocolate spread so I'm focussing on small victories like this one!
To battle my Fibromyalgia, which I neglect often as life gets in the way, I've used a voucher for a (nearly) free Swedish massage so I'm hopeful the therapist can unknot my spine and limbs over the weekend!
I hope that my next blog entry in a months time, details how wonderful it is to have signed off from the Jobcentre and to be earning more than enough money to cover all my living expenses and begin to save as well as that would be something to look forward to and make this crazy fairground ride worth the unexpected dives and lurches.
Been a bit of a challenge trying to work out a routine so that I can accomplish all my duties for my freelance practice while also taking time to be in studio and find something worth writing about for my blog.
My practice revolves around my meetup groups, London Art Museum Creatives, London Art & Culture Group and Art Peace Activists which are primarily weekend adventures as I need several days to manage the admin for these groups as well as the general admin of being an artist and this doesn't even touch on just being in studio and making art! But with my schedule up and running for February, I feel a bit more organised and ready to try to manage the artist side of my life and this blog!
While all this admin stuff has been going on, I've kept myself creative and though I don't currently have any active commissions at the moment, I've given myself projects to accomplish and to keep my skills up to date. One such project is an accordion sketchbook in which I'm creating a narrative all about a tree because I love patterns and trees! I'm not sure yet what will happen on the other side of these pages but for now my tree is "unfolding" to reveal more and more secrets in its branches.
My studio is also my bedroom and on one side of the room is a line of suitcases and containers with my art supplies because this is a temporary living situation which I'm really struggling with at the moment as I'm not used to living in such disorder for so long. This frustration is having an impact on my creative process. Though it would make sense for anyone else to go to a coffee shop to draw, it doesn't work well for me as I have all my supplies here in this room and often what I want to work with, would be too messy or smelly for a coffee shop so I feel like I've had my wings clipped and only fantasise that hopefully one day, I'll have simple freedoms again and be able to paint or sculpt without being so restricted.
I've got an idea for another miniature imaginative abode.......so I've been collecting oyster shells and unusual cardboard containers! More to follow on this idea later.....
Procrastinating doing admin earlier, found me sharpening and organising all of my pencils in my roll up which was rather satisfying!
Well, I've done all my admin for several days as well as this blog post, so I'm now going to repair some miniature dragon eggs which you can view later on my Instagram: @Mirmarnia & @Toothpickmuse
Stay tuned for next months post and thank you for taking an interest in my studio practice!
As always, if you simply love what I do and wish to support my practice then feel free to check out my shop on Inktale to purchase my artwork on products: inktale.com/franceska-mccullough
Though my blog posts took a long break, my studio practice has kept going steadily as creating is equal to circulating my blood in my life as an artist.
So I'd like to share my experience experimenting and creating using the cheap materials from Tiger which sells very cheap art materials in price and in quality! I've been experimenting with the structure paste in my miniatures because I learned quite by accident that it creates a nice foamy water result:
So this Structure paste cost less than a few pounds and was quick to dry too so now I'm curious what else they have to offer and how I can use their products to further enhance my ongoing progress on my miniature.
The miniature in the above left photo is something I've been working on for over a year now and can't seem to stop as there's always an idea that changes it somehow. It started out as the container to some coconut sugar and then developed into a half timbered house with hidden glass bottles where light can be streamed to charge the phosphorescent interior while also revealing little hidden rooms that I feel give the impression of just recently being vacated by someone tiny hiding in the shadows.
To follow the progress of this miniature and other works, 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional please follow me on instagram: @Mirmarnia
Stay tuned for another Material Monday blog post in the next two weeks.
Since my last post, I have moved a few times and will likely move a few more times until fully settled so my art studio practice is in upheavals as I don't have a space to create except for crouching on the floor which isn't comfortable or reliable.
So sporadically for the remainder of 2019, I plan to offer a few Material Monday posts every other Monday (beginning the 4th of November) as well as a once a month Exhibition Review (next one will be 1st of November) so do stay tuned.
What have I done in my long absence from writing fairly frequent blog posts?
I went on a short family holiday to Cornwall in the summer.....
Here we are pictured together as shadows - my mum, my brother and myself. It was fun, delicious, watery, intermittently sunny and eye opening.
I also have been doing a lot of teaching at the Victoria & Albert Museum.....
Here is a photo of the back of my students all drawing Michelangelo's David at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
I really enjoy this group, they're so talented and so supportive of each other. Teaching them gives me so much inspiration that I do end up fueled up and ready to dive into my own drawings afterwards which is great for studio motivation!
I teach through my art group, London Art Museum Creatives which is the best thing I've ever created as it's brought me so many wonderful friends!
My Material Monday post is quite late today.......lots of activities going on and not really any time to create much anymore. So I'm writing this after a day of much needed studio time where I've been hidden in the magic of creating miniature tidal pools in oyster shells which I think is becoming an obsession. More to come later on this Oyster Shell project!
It's also a challenge as I loathe deep dark water and instinctively avoid anything to do with going near great bodies of water - the Thames river being the closest to me here in London. But of course my desire to create is stronger than my fear of water which is an interesting and perplexing conundrum so I've been engaging myself in a series of water challenges to hopefully get over this unnatural fear of dark water - one of which is to go onto the Thames foreshore with a group of others which is fascinating as history and archaeology in particular wows me and it's also a chance to find more oyster shells which then seem to fuel my ongoing miniature tidal pools project.
Today I've cleaned, painted and saturated the oyster shells I collected from my last visit with The London Cultureseekers and now of course I need more!
On the other side of things, I joined this same group yesterday to a visit to a fascinating museum in south London which was a fun day out and also an attempt to forget that it was Father's Day. I failed completely to forget it as everything was advertising it everywhere I went but it was nice to meet other people and next time I've got to be more sociable rather than stuck in my own thoughts. I love my dad and hope I talk to him one day soon but yes, Father's Day is a challenge every year.
Short blog post for today but hopefully more later in the week!
For my Material Monday post, I'm sharing with you my Traditional Drawing class I teach every other Friday evening at the Victoria & Albert Museum to members of my Meetup group, London Art Museum Creatives.
I've been teaching drawing for over twenty years and my techniques have only evolved slightly since I attended art school long ago. In recent years, I've perfected this technique to just an hour and a half and each time I'm wowed by my students and how they respond to my methods. Most of my students come to me as complete beginners - often they're able to relate how they were never taught to draw or were put down as children when in art classes which I find unfortunate. There are also some who are convinced their skills are the worst yet and that they haven't got a creative bone in their body - this I see as a real challenge as I fully believe that I can teach anyone to draw in an hour and a half.
It's my belief that it is not the student who cannot draw, but the original teacher who couldn't teach. As a teacher myself, it is my responsibility to learn how I can adapt my skills to help each individual student because no student learns exactly like another so I have to be flexible and adapt to all needs.
In these classes, I try to "dislodge" my students with a series of exercises that force them to hold the pencil in a different way which gives their shoulders movement and limits perfectionism in the beginning of the drawing. I then need to observe how they perceive their subject matter and translate it to paper - seeing how their brains work this way, gives me the key to help them progress and then follows a series of more "dislodging" exercises that get their instincts flowing and loosens up everything.
I really enjoy this dislodging process because it's almost like a window into the brain of the individual. It gives me so much information about how they observe and understand and map out the way they view this world. I love how everyone shows their style right in those first moments!
So then from these exercises, I'm then able to rebuild their creative observation brains using geometry, mindfulness and spatial exploration and then this is where most of my students begin to start to actually "see" which is very exciting.
I call these types of final drawings, "Lost in Space" drawings, because you can't wander too far from your starting point or you put yourself at risk of wandering too far into open space and getting lost in proportion and perspective.
The above image is from my recent Friday evening Traditional Drawing class at the Victoria & Albert Museum which I enjoy very much as everyone is always so talented and keen to learn new techniques and most have never been taught to draw before!
I have a system with this meetup class in that I charge just £10 for the first class and then only £1 for anyone who wants to repeat. I love seeing the progression of returning students and how much those returning students really inspire the newer members! After teaching this class, I'm always in a rush to get home because I simply can't wait to draw and then end up spending several hours working on my drawings because my students inspired me so much!
My meetup group, London Art Museum Creatives is a place where I'm trying very hard to share with everyone interested what it is like to be a painter or an illustrator or a sculptor by trying those practices out in a friendly setting, while then going back to the art museums to really look at the artwork of famous artists and then have a clearer understanding of how much work it took to create a piece. It's like putting yourself in the shoes of the artists and getting a feel for what their lives must have been like. I find this fascinating as it ties into my fascination with history and I think it's the best way to properly understand artists who came before us.
So if you're keen to join any of my event's please visit: London Art Museum Creatives for more.
If you'd like to sign up for Traditional Drawing Classes please sign up here.
*For more Material Monday posts please stay tuned next Monday for some creative challenges!
Thank you for reading my blog!
The above image is a shot of my overcrowded work space in my bedroom/art studio where I crave organisation but only achieve it in small pockets of my life while perpetually bombarded by chaos that seems to follow me everywhere!
The only thing I'm really capable of staying focused on is creating a daily routine to allow time to create.....not with the intention to sell but because creating something is equal to circulating my blood and a necessary daily activity for survival.
So after walking an unexpected eleven miles today, I've decided to post this Material Monday blog post a day early so I can attempt to be organised tomorrow instead! (insert hysterical laughter here)
In my daily creativity, I try to set aside a few hours each day to draw, sculpt or paint. Recently, I've been focused on pencil studies of the Michelangelo sculptures from the Cast Courts at the Victoria & Albert Museum but some days that kind of heavy duty drawing is difficult to get into......so I have to play around with doodling and generally being silly to get the juices flowing such as the video below:
Tonight my warmup doodling just enhanced my exhaustion from a very long walk earlier so this warm up hasn't lead to a proper studio session but hopefully tomorrow will be the day to get back on track.
If only I could be as organised with everything else as I am with my studio practice!
The pencil sketch above is an ongoing project and this portion above represents roughly 3 hours of work though I often think it doesn't look like any time at all! I've yet to learn how to draw faster - still a work in progress either way.
My method for these longer pencil studies is to capture a photo when in the gallery while I'm starting to map out the drawing. I usually spend about four or five hours drawing in the gallery itself because I feel like it's easier to understand perspective and proportions and the light while there. It's when I'm home that I refer to the photograph I took to continue the drawing. The only issue being that I'm aware how flat drawing from a photo can be so I'm always eager to bring myself and my ongoing drawing back to the gallery to study from the sculpture in person.
I'm giving myself a month or so to properly explore this sculpture and others but I'm completely focused on Michelangelo for now.
I like to give myself challenges to keep things interesting in my life as well as in my studio practice, so I've challenged myself to work on 43 faces of Michelangelo from the Cast Courts and because I'm writing this here, I feel like this will keep me accountable to some degree! I have to finish this challenge by early October so it feels rather daunting at the moment since we're just now into June!
Of all the challenges I've given myself, I feel like this one could be the nicest but also the most difficult in terms of focus. I tend to back out when things get difficult, especially in art so hopefully this challenge will make me more disciplined! Fingers crossed.
To continue to follow up on my daily progress on this challenge and others, please follow me on instagram at: @Mirmarnia
Thank you for reading and stay tuned next Monday for something completely different and hopefully oyster related!
I had intended to write about a talk I recently gave to my meetup group about John Singer Sargent, but after some thought and because I know my blog is in a sort of evolution, I decided I'd much rather share with you my favourite artists who still have a huge impact on my work many years after studying for my first degree.
This first one, is Richard Diebenkorn above with the knife in the glass. I was first introduced to his work and all of the San Francisco Bay Area Figurative Painters by my incredible life drawing teacher at KCAI, Norma Cowdrick, who gave me such an incredible education in the art of understanding space and relationships in drawing!
A few years ago there was an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Diebenkorn's work and I went with my knees knocking together in sheer excitement because it's really rare to have an entire room full of Diebenkorn's so I spent hours in just the few rooms they had, literally trying to inhale everything on every canvas. He just has a way of laying out space and light that I can't get enough of and it unhinges me! Going to see several rooms full of his paintings is emotional to say the least. I'm clearly still an oil painter to my core.
Even now, when I mix colour on my palette, I'm always transported back to my early years exploring the depths of colour theory. My painting teacher, Michael Walling was very organised and was an excellent guide to me when I was setting up and understanding my palette and mixing techniques especially when working with the life model. I developed relationships with cerulean blue and cadmium red and lemon yellow and my love of all the blues fell to the deep dark well of Prussian Blue that still halts my breath when spreading across my palette. Richard Diebenkorn was always in the forefront of my colour studies then and I'd study his paintings at the museum for hours and hours, trying to understand the chemistry behind his colour mixing on his palette. Sounds ridiculous, I realise but oil painting was my first passion and still a fierce addiction.
So Richard Diebenkorn has been a direct influence on my two dimensional work since the end of the 1990's and continues to wow me.
Then there is William Kentridge (below video) who I encountered a decade or so ago and who uses charcoal drawings animated in ways I'm intrigued by to tell political stories that touch the heart and make you think. I know my own activist work is influenced by what Kentridge is doing and I'm still intrigued because of the way he narrates his work and puts it into motion. It is potent, undiluted intensities that fuel me in so many ways. He is a master and I hope to meet him one day, though I fear I'd just stand there unable to form meaningful words.
I remember going twice to the Kentridge exhibition when he came to Dallas when I lived there. The second time I visited the exhibition then was with my dad which was a few years before my dad had a huge heart attack. I still cling to memories of the conversations I had with my dad during that visit and since then have wondered if the impact Kentridge has on me now is somehow tied to the sadness and longing I have for what I can't get back.
William Kentridge seems to convey human emotion almost in a dreamlike format, sometimes you feel part of it and sometimes you feel as if you're just an observer but always I feel caught up in the story line.
Following this, is a painter who I'm recently acquainted with who painted mostly empty rooms with light streaming in - Vilhelm Hammershoi. They're really dull scenes, with very little happening but inadvertently this artist has had an impact on my miniature model making work as I'm intrigued by a lit space that is glimpsed at the moment when the occupants have just left or have ducked out of sight. For some reason this concept intrigues me and I'm still in the "magic" stage of this idea in my illustrations and my models. His paintings thrill me as I understand them in a way I don't think I would have done when I was younger.
See one of his paintings below:
And following below one of my models with the photo taken in a similar way as the painting, to offer an idea of just having missed someone beyond a half closed door:
There are so many more artists who inspire my work but these three are at the top of those lists at the moment and seem to be remaining at the top for the last couple of decades.
*Thank you for reading my blog posts and though I know this blog is in a strange sort of evolution at present, it'll even out in a few weeks/months and develop a more reliable schedule (hopefully!) so stay tuned!
My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. Here I will share my studio practice in all it's forms.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.