Drawing not drowning

by Helen Barker

Yesterday I decided to take advantage of a few unexpectedly free minutes and wander down by the river I happened to be passing.  At the start of my stroll the water was rapid, bubbling and throwing foam out onto my shoes. It lapped in all directions, swirling in a vortex and drowning out my thoughts with noisy, senseless sound. Further down the path I reached a clearing. I stopped, relieved to find a quiet break,  and suddenly became aware of the silence. The water was calm, flowing gently in rhythms and patterns – it could have been a different river, it spoke a different language.

Standing in the calm I remember thinking how much my life often resembles the beginning of the river. Projects fly loose, ideas tumble around me, people come and go and a whirlwind of emotions hammer at my sides. When I am standing knee deep in a torrent of water I have no knowledge of the calmer waters which lay ahead. Yesterday I was reminded that just because the sun is not shining, it has not ceased to exist. Clouds pass. Even big ones.

Yesterday I saw a break in the constant grey which has encompassed my creative freedom for some time. I have written about creative block on here before. Artists tend to say they are struggling when they are still ticking along, it’s part of our self-depreciating protection scheme, but I have struggled under a suffocating fog for a long time. The occasional drawing and the odd sporadic participation in someone else’s performance have kept me floating down stream, but generally I have remained unsatisfied. So when the odd chink of light rages against my weather system, I will seize it unthinkingly.

In two weeks I embark on a small adventure. I have never been the explorer-go-getter type –  I prefer to go it alone with other people – no gap years or soul searching vacations in India for me. But this will be my little solo sun-spree. I am traveling to Spain for a month, and I am genuinely excited by the prospect of some art making. I remain optimistic that this will happen, because yesterday I saw a small picture forming in my mind and it did not involve me drowning in any raging torrents of water. Instead it involved drawing.

I am excited by the prospect of drawing. What drawing can do. Where drawing can go. I love drawing. I absolutely love it. Yet I hold it at arms length, fearful of it’s slightly dowdy reputation – a soft, girly, whispering medium. No. Drawing can be strong, powerful, controlled and yet free to break from form. Project Spain: Project Drawing. I go armed with pencils, and I intend to find out just what this medium has to offer, and how its limits can be broken. When all else fails, when I am tired, when I am confused, if I feel lost, or my heart is bruised, drawing leads me back into life with a gentle yet strong line of pull. Drawing allows my thoughts to wander beside its path until they find their form in another kind of line; writing. Drawing and writing appear to be the two loves of my art life. They belong together in my world. It was good to acknowledge that yesterday, by the river, knee deep in squabbling waves.

In addition, for the past eight weeks or so I have been taking Spanish language classes. I never thought I would fall in love with another language, especially as writing is such a big part of my existence and I can only do that in English. But despite the rudimentary form by which I can understand, write and speak it, learning Spanish has become a refuge for my creative conscience. For one hour every week I get to pretend that nothing else in the world is troubling me other than the verb forms on my chart. It’s wonderful. I feel like a child again, discovering the world for the first time. This is a cat. Is it? Yes! Wow this is a CAT! And because it is so unfamiliar, when one or two things slide together and form an understanding in my mind I feel like a world adventurer spotting land on the distant horizon for the first time in months. “Land ahoy!” I cry, to my small tired self. And my small tired self stirs, leans over the deck and feels a breeze on her face that is completely new.

Project Spain: Project Drawing: Project learning to love what might be around the corner. On a raft built of Derwent drawing pencils I will set sail, arms wide open, into something yet unwritten….