This January marked a bit of a milestone for me, the end of a project that had me feeling a range of emotions, from excited to downright fed up with a big curve in the whole process during which I thought that I may have just struck on a PhD research idea. I won’t keep you guessing – term 4 on the MA Illustration is the collaborative unit and I have just (a week ago today) handed in my work for assessment. The term was hard, starting with finding an idea for the collaboration and establishing connections, to understanding what each party was required to do, adjusting to potentially working with others to then to the disappointment of working from an archive with no direct collaborator feedback for just over 2 months. Those were the months when I was grateful for course tutorials, especially the ones where I was allowed to just talk about what was going through my head, the problems I’d encountered, the ideas I was trying to sort through and make sense of visually. They were also the months in which I took on two commission challenges and was grateful that mother nature made me an organisation freak or else one of the balls I was juggling may well have hit the ground with a smash.
This brings me to the scope of my research which started by looking at artefacts from the Peasant Art Collection displayed at the Haslemere Museum. If you are not familiar with this museum, think along the lines of British Museum crossed with Natural History Museum in a condensed but just as exciting form. The ethnography display was small but all it took to trigger my interest. Thankfully, the book of research essays about it, The Lost Arts of Europe, was the catalyst for further research and idea development. An idea formed, after I read further information on a Romanian website that folk symbolism is of archaic origin and that it changed and was subverted through the ages. I started to think about where and how it may appear and while I observed a lot of artistic similarities in folk decoration and symbols around Europe I chose to look deeper in the folk arts of Romania so that I could understand the context in which folk art was most prevalent, how it was passed through generations and what the folk artists actually sought to say through the symbols they chose to use.
I won’t bore you with the bibliography too much, although I am attaching it at the end of this article for anyone interested to check the resources. What I want to show you is the journey I went on while undertaking this research and trying to understand where and how everything fitted. I learn though drawing and making as shown below with captions containing nuggets of information about it all.
In the end, I came up with a surprising conclusion. While you may think of folk art as everything with a folky aesthetic that comes out at different points in history – that naïve, slightly awkward and unrefined line with a 2D aesthetic and lots of floral and geometric decoration, I ended up thinking of folk art as an ancient manifestation of our cultural identity that can only ever be found in a specific type of cultural setting. Folk art exists in relation to handmade objects of everyday use around the home (this is where the fascination of the Arts and Crafts Movement with the idea of it being made ‘for love not money’ came from) which are decorated with geometric and natural motifs by people who have undergone a process of initiation into the craft and artistry of making and decorating and who in taking on the role of makers also become keepers of ancient rites and traditions which need to be followed and passed on exactly. So that my conclusion doesn’t leave you confused, let me break it all down for you:
It stands to reason that when the industrial revolution came (at different times in different parts of Europe) all those societies changed. People realised that they no longer had to whittle the wood or wash and beat the reeds or generally work quite so hard on every aspect of their material life freeing up time for other pursuits. The arduous processes they had kept going for generations became obsolete and so they learnt to take shortcuts and became more inventive themselves with the motifs and symbols they employed, wanting to leave a mark on the aesthetic of the objects they used. The whole ancient rhythm of society became disrupted and so folk arts were no longer part of a modus vivendi (they didn’t have to represent aesthetically the cultural values of a particular group of people anymore) but just an aesthetic form of expression that could be changed and modified. Generations on, people still use the naïve aesthetic of folk art but they lost the meaning that was attached to it and the customs and rituals that went along with it.
It is interesting, given the conclusion, that my final piece is a collection of artefacts of varying degrees of ‘handmade’. My imagined archetypal landscape is etched on a piece of paper hand made using sun flower stalks from my garden (but the frame I presented it in is a cheap purchase made online). The table cloth and napkins I lino-printed by hand with my own design based on old motifs are made of cheap polyester, the handmade paper dictionary I made (from willow from my garden) to explain the symbols is bound in mass produced paper (which I hand wove) and the box I decorated and placed everything in is also made in cheap wood. I cannot vouch that there was no wastage in the making of those objects, I can only speak of the pleasure I derived from making and decorating by hand and the opportunity I had in the process to compare the new with the old and draw my own conclusions about the pros and cons of either. The saving grace for the project is that my research focused particularly on the symbolism contained in folk art and the idea behind my collection was to re-create the encoded narrative found on folk objects and then give people the chance to re-learn the meaning of it by using the dictionary I made to decode the narrative on my objects.
Once the assessment process is over I want to varnish my box and then take it along to the Haslemere Museum where my ideas started to germinate and show it to the collections manager. I want to think that a conversation can take place about the value of those old symbols which most of us are letting slip into oblivion and that something can be made to bring them back into people’s awareness.
3.1.1. Pomul vieţii din neolitic până în prezent - Seimeni - de la piatra şlefuită la fier (s.d.) At: https://sites.google.com/site/seimenisatdinneolitic/3-1-1-pomul-vietii-din-neolitic-pana-in-prezent (Accessed on 6 October 2018)
Andrei, V. (s.d.) Dictionar de simboluri si Credinte traditionale Romanesti, Romulus Antonescu. At: http://cimec.ro/Etnografie/Antonescu-dictionar/Dictionar-de-Simboluri-Credinte-Traditionale-Romanesti.html (Accessed on 10 December 2018)
Badiu, M. (s.d.) Inspirational: motive si cusaturi traditionale romanesti. At: https://circulmagic.blogspot.com/2013/03/inspirational-motive-si-cusaturi.html (Accessed on 14 October 2018)
Buchczyk, M. (2014) 'To Weave Or Not To Weave: Vernacular Textiles and Historical Change in Romania' In: TEXTILE 12 (3) pp.328–345.
Corduneanu, I. (s.d.) Semne Cusute. At: http://semne-cusute.blogspot.com/search/label/motive (Accessed on 25 October 2018)
Klanten, R. and Hellige, H. (2009) Naïve: Modernism and Folklore in Contemporary Graphic Design. (s.l.): Prestel Pub.
Lehner, E. and Lehner, J. (2012) Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees [Illustrated Edition]. (s.l.): Martino Fine Books.
McCannon, D. (2014) 'Editorial' In: Journal of Illustration 1 (2) pp.173–175.
McCannon, D. (2016) 'The jobbing artist as ethnographer: Documenting ‘lore’' In: Journal of Illustration 3 (1) pp.107–128.
Mirtalipova, D. (2017) Imagine a Forest: Designs and Inspirations for Enchanting Folk Art. (s.l.): Rock Point.
mpop_imaginarul_arhetipal_2016.pdf (s.d.) At: http://aaicrea.ro/aaicrea/expert/mpop_imaginarul_arhetipal_2016.pdf
MWM Graphics | Matt W. Moore (s.d.) At: http://mwmgraphics.com/exhibitions_UTAH.html (Accessed on 2 January 2019)
Noble, M. (2004) European Folk Art Designs. (s.l.): Courier Corporation.
[No title] (s.d.) At: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nicolae_Sorin_Dragan/publication/312894056_Semiotics_of_White_Spaces_on_the_Romanian_Traditional_Blouse_the_IA/links/5888ee87aca272f628d255f4/Semiotics-of-White-Spaces-on-the-Romanian-Traditional-Blouse-the-IA.pdf?origin=publication_detail (Accessed on 19 October 2018a)
[No title] (s.d.) At: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Magda_Buchczyk/publication/269280705_To_Weave_Or_Not_To_Weave_Vernacular_Textiles_and_Historical_Change_in_Romania/links/584fed3708ae4bc8993b3efc/To-Weave-Or-Not-To-Weave-Vernacular-Textiles-and-Historical-Change-in-Romania.pdf?origin=publication_detail (Accessed on 19 October 2018b)
Pacurar, A.E. (2012) SIMBOLURI ARHAICE ROMANESTI [ III ]. At: https://unaltfeldejurnal.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/simboluri-arhaice-romanesti-iii/ (Accessed on 14 October 2018)
Pink, S. and Afonso, A.I. (2004) Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography. (s.l.): Routledge.
Romania’s Secret Language (s.d.) At: https://martineclaessens.com/blog/2016/3/15/romanias-secret-language (Accessed on 14 October 2018)
The Science of Symbols: Setting Forth the True Reason for Symbolism & Ritual (s.d.) At: https://archive.org/stream/sciencesymbolss00blougoog#page/n45/mode/2up (Accessed on 10 December 2018)
Walker, J. (2014) 'The vernacular line: Adoption and transposition of the kitsch in illustration' In: Journal of Illustration 1 (1) pp.29–40.
The 30 days of the John Vernon Lord inspired challenge started by the House of Illustration ends today and so I am ready to review the experience which, for me, was a bit of a learning curve. I am looking back on the huge collection of 1 inch squares, the many attempts and failures at documenting a thought, or something I saw and wanted to test out and feel pride tinged with sadness. This was a fun challenge and I don’t want it to end, even if it ending means the start of Inktober and a new adventure in creative-land.
As this is the first challenge of this nature that I started, and also the first I finished, I wasn’t entirely sure about how to approach it. Yes, I had some boundaries to work within, but felt like I needed more in terms of parameters. Should I draw flowers, birds, animals, imagined scenes?
For the end of my MA summer term I decided to test out my research on travel by working on a subject I know best and address some stereotypes most people gravitate towards in connection with my native country. Make no mistakes, we all have stereotypes about all manner of things and places and so, while the stereotypes about Romania bother me quite a bit I am also able to understand that a lot of them are due to a lack of more profound education about our people, customs and traditions.
My research took me to websites that listed the top 10 or 20 stereotypes and sometimes purported to correct them, and to wonderful visuals about many other countries in the world and the stereotypes surrounding them. What I found interesting in the end is that our beliefs define us, they tell something about our own culture and upbringing so you can actually stereotypify (there, I made a new word) stereotypes by their places of origin.
To say that I am late with my blogging is certainly an understatement so instead of making up excuses and providing an explanation I will go straight into telling about my latest work. I have no holiday this summer, not in the purest sense, as my part time MA stretches right through the season as “term 3”. This is my chance to do some preliminary research and test out ideas for my major MA project. My chosen topic is travel and I kept it deliberately loose so as to be able to chop and change according to where the research takes me, but more about that will follow as an additional post once I’ve handed in work for assessment.
Alongside my course work I decided to respond to a call for art to be auctioned in aid of an animal conservation charity. #sketchforsurvival is a call to artists and famous people to donate a 26 min sketch which will be auctioned by the charity later this year, but not before all the donations are shown in exhibitions in London and the New York. It is 26 minutes because that is how often an elephant is poached for its tusks in the wild. The deadline for submission of work was the 31 July and a list of all artworks will be available online (link here). I donated 2 pieces, a watercolour of an Amur Leopard and a print of a digitally manipulated linocut featuring the sweet Pangolin. Both pieces required quite a bit of research, especially the Pangolin which appears to be a little-known animal, certainly compared to how endangered it has become through poaching.
A month on from an amazing artistic experience as a student visitor to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair I am still buzzing with ideas and working on polishing my work to competition standard. Being there at the fair, in the presence of so many great creators and those supporting them (publishers, editors, agents, rights dealers etc) has reinforced my commitment to this new career path and made me want to succeed at it even more. If you wonder what success means to me, imagine having your own book deal and seeing your illustrations in a nice book on the welcoming shelves of Foyles or Waterstones or in your local library during a story time session run as part of their literacy programme – and I know that means an awful lot of hard work and idea generation….
I will go off on a limb and risk a generalisation based on my personal experience - the majority of artists / creatives are introverts. We are the ones behind the camera because we dislike exposure and wield a pencil because a picture is worth 1000 words. Where does that put us in relation to social media? How do we use it?
The most successful artists on social media appear to be extroverts but note a caveat that under the shroud of anonymity everyone can gain a few extra pounds of courage. Most artists I looked at a little closer use several platforms at the same time, trying to reach a wide audience. Some remain faithful to one or two platforms only.
So what is the recipe for (online) success? Does virtual success translate into a busy offline career? If at this point you feel yourself holding your breath for a definitive answer, stop reading – I don’t have an answer, but can offer a small overview.
I was reminded today, attending the MFA Symposium at the UCA Farnham, of the importance of artists. Far from just putting work out there for everyone else to scratch their heads at in wonderment, good artists research, analyse, interpret information through a myriad of creative filters and then present it, all the time referencing writers, critics and artists before them – because the inescapable truth is that we constantly reference the world around us, our culture, our DNA. The phrase that comes to mind is that we are, as T S Eliot and before him Bernard de Chartres put it, dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, ie we need that which has passed before us to give us an understanding of that which lies ahead of us. So, in that context, I was both impressed and disappointed with my fellow artists in the room whose presentations were aimed at bringing together their research to date, something like a justification of what went ahead and what they were doing in consequence.
Of course, I accept that the artist is also an activist, and satirist, and historian, and archivist and possibly also a scientist and many more other things all rolled into one, but to me the ethical responsibility of the artist is also very important. There was one speaker whose work left me
As it is Christmas Day and you are all out there celebrating, this is my first chance in the past few days to put my feet up and update my website. I won’t take long of your time, after all who wants to spend longer than necessary on their electronics when they could be spending this special time with their family?!? That said, this is also all of our chance to stop, look around and think – how could I have done this better?
I haven’t sent Christmas cards this year. I like to have new stock every Christmas and somehow, between the realities of life and a feeling of bah-humbug towards the holidays I resisted buying or making my own this time. It wasn’t until the last minute yesterday, in the middle of wrapping presents, that I thought what a shame it was that I didn’t even have a couple of cards to hand for the people I would be seeing over these few special days. What follows is an account of my quick fix solution:
"Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears and never regrets." (Leonardo da Vinci)
Attributed to da Vinci, the words above illustrate my philosophy and open attitude to learning. I love learning new things, especially things that relate to subjects that interest me and that can push me as a growing person a little bit further to question and explore the world I live in.
I am an owl, not a lark....
I don't know about you other owls out there but I work best and feel at my most clear-headed and most creative in the dead of the night. On the other hand, mornings have always been a bit of a challenge and the motivation of an exciting day ahead has never been enough to prize me out of bed without a grumble.