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Where Does One Start When One Explores A Serious Theme With One's Artwork?

Updated: Apr 2

One of my lovely Patrons over on Patreon asked me this question, 'Where does one start when one explores a serious theme with one's artwork?' She is embarking on a new creative exploration and I'm delighted she asked for my input and that she was happy to wait for an answer so I could post it here for everyone else to read too.

This is a really interesting question for me to think about, because I have never thought about it. In basic terms I mostly leap and see what happens.

I like to make snapshots of emotional moment in time; the times when I’m alone and sitting with feelings that I felt I wasn't allowed to have as events took place. I’ve had feelings diminished so many times over the years that I rarely share them in real life. Instead I let them come out in my work, sometimes many years later. Usually once the work has been made and the theme has been explored in full I don’t feel the need to revisit exactly the same theme again. I might look at at a different aspect of the same period if a new revelation pops up. The work is always evolving, reversing, circling back, rerouting, opening and contracting. I find that my work opens and closes like a flower closing when the sun goes down and opening when it comes up again. When I’ve made emotionally exposing work, the next lot of work is usually more closed off both in it’s emotional depths and its visual representation. Taking a more tentative look at past wounds, that might not been fully healed. There have been subjects I've not faced yet because I’m not ready to deal with the feelings that might come up, sometimes the emotions are not what I expected.

So, to answer the question now that I’ve taken a moment to think about my process. It starts with recognising the theme in the first place, followed by a few days/weeks wresting with what it means and how I feel about it now. Most of the time I use my art as therapy to work through issues I’m going through, so I make what I need to at the time. I keep making until I find the visual language I need to express it, sometimes this means putting work to the side, potentially for a few years until it’s time for the idea to have its moment.

I have always used art as a visual for my voice so I don't have to find the words or know the language. The making is usually accompanied by writing, either morning pages, journalling or word tumbles (what I’m calling my poetry, I think it sums them up better since they literally tumble out my brain and they’re mostly unedited) As soon as I’ve identified the rich seam I want to delve into, I usually have an image in my head of what I want to make and from there it’s a case of getting started and seeing where that takes me.

In simple terms

  1. Get started.

  2. Have shit ideas.

  3. Write until you have clarity.

  4. Make shit art.

  5. Develop and revisit.

  6. Make good art.

  7. Keep going

Whatever you do, take care of yourself, napping is acceptable as is rewatching Buffy.

(Image - And Repeat, 2018, ceramics. Photographed during the Society of Scottish Artists Annual Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh)

First published on Patreon July 2022

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