I wrote this for the SSBA newsletter, and thought that having written it I may as well post it here too, should an artist/I be writing though… I’m not so sure… (-_-)
A bit of backstory
Last year I was thrilled to receive the Visual Arts Scotland Open Eye Gallery (OEG) award for my two inkshoot pieces Arisaema griffithii and Arisaema tortuosum. Shortly after the exhibition, Jilly and Michelle from the OEG visited my tiny studio and I nervously showed them everything I had. We settled on a plan to expand on the black-and-white ink ‘shoots’ series that I had been developing and to create a show with these and some of my existing watercolour pieces. And so began my new journey into creating a show for a gallery!
I originally scheduled the debut of my show for this October, little knowing then what lay ahead for the world.
Last November I ordered new tubers for spring 2020 and made a list of plants for which I already had good photos. I had been photographing my growing crop of Arisaema throughout their spring and summer seasons in anticipation of working on them over the winter. One of the benefits of creating monotone illustrations is that there is no need for colour matching, making it easier to work from photographs when the plants themselves are absent. So I had a fantastic winter project all lined up!
Around that time we began to hear rumours of a super-infectious virus in the Far East, but it seemed distant and, to me, mostly out of mind.
I like to work to a plan, so I sketched out rough compositions using the photography that I already had, leaving some gaps to be filled with new growing shoots in spring 2020.
Rolling into March, some of my new tubers and existing plants were beginning to emerge. By then I had worked on about half of the pieces that I wanted to include in the show and felt that I was really starting to make headway towards my deadline. And then lockdown hit! We were all suddenly jolted into a new reality and faced with a very real, existential threat. What a strange and uncomfortable time.
The Pittenweem Arts Festival, where I usually exhibit in the summer, was cancelled, along with all other exhibitions, fairs, gigs, concerts and shows. It felt like a rolling cancellation of the colours that make our lives interesting and a descent into a dark-toned period for many people.
I realised then, that I couldn’t take it for granted that I would be exhibiting in October after all.
I finished the illustration on which I was working, and suddenly I had a two-week hiatus while I waited for the developing Arisaema shoots to grow enough to document for my next piece.
I floundered a bit in this unexpected time off. I couldn’t seem to get down to any drawing or sketching of real substance. I walked, practiced yoga and meditation, cleaned, Zoomed, Skyped, took part in Google meet-ups and shared with friends digitally. Reaching out, I found that all around me, other artists had been similarly rocked. Like me, they seemed to be desperately looking for inspiration that had been put on hold for ‘another time’. I felt lost, but I also knew that my shoots would soon be ready and I just had to hope that I would be able to get back to my easel when it was time!
I nipped down to the garden daily, willing my Arisaema griffithii shoots along. And suddenly they were ready, and that was it – hiatus over! So I dove back into my monotone focus again and thankfully I was able to slip back into my ‘black-and-white space’ with relative ease. With reassurance from the OEG that exhibition spaces like theirs might be accessible in the third stage of the lockdown reopening, I carried on with my drawing. Delving back into the form and structure of these fascinating plants as they unfurled and took different shapes through their development. I escaped into their patina, translucency and architecture, and it was a welcome adventure in the land of the ‘same’ every day.
I feel that this year we have all had to quickly adapt and learn a new and different type of ‘normal’, searching for sparks of colour in the monotone. As a botanical artist I think I was are well advantaged for this, and especially suited to looking for the details that usually pass folk by. We find the fascinating all around us and revel in it, and we will brighten going forwards because of it.
And in the meantime, in October – as scheduled – you are welcome to visit my show alongside Brent Millar’s vibrant, colour-filled work and enjoy the monotones that carried me through the depths of lockdown. I won’t see you there, as visiting is by appointment only. But if you go, do let me know. I would love to hear from you and to know your thoughts. It’s time to reach out and bring colour to each other’s lives again.
All works illustrated at: www.openeyegallery.co.uk
6th – 24th October
Tuesday to Friday 11am to 5pm
Sat 11am to 4pm
Visits are by appointment only, please contact the Gallery before arrival to book a slot.
Open Eye Gallery
34 Abercromby Place
Edinburgh EH3 6QE
Phone: 0131 557 1020
In accordance with Government guidelines all social distancing measures will be in place with hand sanitiser at the door upon arrival. For the safety of all the gallery respectfully asks all visitors to wear face masks.