It’s dusty in the studios at the moment. Very dusty. Or at least it was yesterday. I came back with the stuff caked in my hair and all over my hands and I felt an overwhelming need to jump in the shower and rid myself of the grime. I didn’t. Didn’t see the point… my house is just as bad. So I made do with combing my hair through with a wet brush and donning a change of clothes.
Today I’ve escaped to a little cafe bookshop just down the road, and I’m pondering what to write…
As I stare at the screen, glancing up every so often to people watch, occasionally grabbing snippets of conversation… I wonder how to craft this next story.
The dust rises whenever we do particular types of work. Yesterday it was ceramics. Making decorative milk bottles and pots. I wasn’t involved. We very seldom all work on the same thing here. Particularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It doesn’t suit us as a group. The reason is that we need to cater to a variety of needs.
Ceramics require strength and a good sense of timing. Screen-printing, the ability to draw, papercut, mix colours, blot and hose down the screens afterwards, not forgetting the pressure and timing applied in the printing process itself. Both require teamwork.
And while all this was going on, I was busy getting myself covered in glue, experimenting with lino printing and creating coloured collages to print on to.
I found it particularly difficult. I simply couldn’t envisage how the end product would turn out. I couldn’t invert the colours in my mind from positive to negative. It’s the reverse of sketching something onto paper: what you cut away will not show, what remains will be printed and will show the
reverse of your creation. That tree you created on the right? Well, that will show up on the right. It can all be a bit tricky to picture.
-And that’s the funny thing about life: you just cannot tell how it will turn out. You can try to give yourself or your children the best start you can, but you can never tell what’s just around the bend and mental illness, like cancer, does not discriminate.
Sure there are factors which may increase or decrease your risk… some you can control, others you cannot. If you smoke, you increase your chances of getting lung cancer. If you smoke pot, you increase your risk of getting psychosis. That is not to say those who suffer from psychosis have used or are using cannabis. Far from it, there are many factors which can either contribute or cause this illness, including over-work and extreme amounts of stress.
I once had a support worker notice a string painting I had just lying about at home. She picked it up and said ‘I could never do this…’ When I asked her why, she replied ‘because I could never envisage the outcome.’
I told her, ‘nor can I.’ It’s both the beauty and tragedy of art… and life. You never know how it’s going to turn out. The idea behind having control over your existence is an illusion. You can attempt to control many things, but one single incident, good or bad, can change your life dramatically from one extreme to another.
When I first became ill, and for many years after, I found planning my life very difficult. At the time I didn’t appreciate that the lack of ability to forward-plan was a symptom of mental illness in itself, and a skill I would only be able to re-gain once my illness was more under control.
When I first started working at Designs In Mind, I could only achieve very small tasks, one step at a time. If I had been shown all the steps to lino-printing, for example, then asked to produce a whole piece of artwork from start to finish, the chances are I would have struggled. Each step would have been impossible to remember, and the whole thing would have seemed overwhelming and insurmountable.
The beauty of Designs In Mind, is that we cater for a range of abilities and disabilities. If a member is unable to do a particular process involved in the creation of the art in question, another member is often able to do this task in their stead. In fact, many of our pieces of art are designed to be made as a team, with different members taking on different roles in order to make the final product.
And it isn’t a case of if you aren’t good enough or have only been in the group for a short length of time then you only get the menial jobs. In fact, wherever possible, Designs In Mind tailors the tasks to you. On a regular work day the morning meeting would end with a list of options available based on what needs doing for which commission or individual work. You are then asked what it is you want to be doing.
In this recent task, I could design whatever I wanted using lino-cut or paper-cutting, providing it was on a Japanese theme. I was not told anything more than this, and chose lino-cut, because it was what I had been working on the week before. I believed throughout most of the session that I was simply experimenting with lino-cutting, and seeing what I could achieve with this material, maybe to practice this technique in preparation for taking on a big commission. It wasn’t until the very end of the session that I asked what the pieces were for, to which the first answer, supplied by the member of staff running the group was, ‘I don’t know’. I discovered that the individual pieces were being photographed and digitised, then sections of each were being combined into digital designs in Studio Two, which could then be turned into a variety of products.
While the response of the design leader running the lino-cutting in Studio One may seem anything funny or unaware, consider this: it may have been deliberate. I know for a fact, that as an artist, if I had been aware of the final product being devised in Studio Two, then it would have affected the way I would have worked down in Studio One. I would have been aware of the deadline, and aspired to a higher quality of work, but in knowing it was part of a grander plan, I would worked slower, and felt far less free to experiment as I would have been striving for some sort of perfectionism.
I love experimenting. But allowing myself that creative freedom and the risk of it all going wrong, does not come naturally to me. I’m not a risk taker and can find it hard to relax and have fun. Undoubtedly it was one of many factors which led to my mental breakdown.
I can never envisage the outcome… of either art, or life. I try to. I think most of us do, in some way, shape or form, being it planning your wedding, or a holiday, creating a bucket list or imagining where you’ll be in ten years time.
I can now leap through the steps required to complete one piece from start to finish. I can even guide others through those processes for certain pieces – something I could never have envisaged me doing when I first joined the group. I truly believe the freedom to experiment with materials and get things wrong is so important. Not only to our own art, where new techniques can lead to new ideas to use in our products and artwork, but to our own mental well-being. The added pressure, whether it manifests itself in a positive or negative way, very much changes our behaviour, and as individuals we need a different mix of these in our work to balance the other pressures on us in the outside world.
I cannot help but wonder if more employers were attuned to these needs, and could ensure their staff felt able to accept creative freedom, as well as being offered it, how many of us would be able to remain in work, rather than be dismissed from it due to mental illness of one form or another.
This is the forth blog in a series of blogs by Lorraine Knight.