At the moment, after finishing work (for the moment) on two books simultaneously (listed at the end), my Muse is tempting me from what I’d been planning to write next, towards writing a ‘contemporary’ novel set in an alternative world where there’s also magic and might just include A Novelty, in a slightly different format. Is this something I should do next? Tempting.
It’s also tempting to have some time off. Or at least, to ease up on the drive for creative perfection (or as close to perfection as it’s possible for me to get).
For me, this is where what I shall loosely describe as ‘art’ comes in, because with ‘art’ – I just let my imagination do whatever it fancies without worrying about the end result, even more than I do with cooking (because after all, no one is going to die if I get the art wrong).
We’re obsessed with perfection these days. People compete on television in virtually every field from sport to dressmaking to Lego modelling. Doing something just for itself without anyone getting first prize would not make good TV perhaps, but it’s good for the spirit, and something we seem to have lost the knack for as a culture. I think we should bring it back.
I stopped studying art at school aged fourteen. Years later I tried to learn water-colouring from a book and a few years after that dabbled with acrylics. I sort of stopped again until this year, when Liz Hedgecock suggested we do some art challenges, starting with ones we made up ourselves before moving to ones found online.
I’ll be honest: I’ve enjoyed some challenges/prompts more than others; I’ve been pleased with some results more than other results; I’ve sometimes been more in the mood than other times; other people have liked some things more than other things. But none of those have really been the point. Not for me anyway.
The point for me has been simply having fun in a task where I just enjoy the process, sometimes more than the end result.
There’s always a mental fork in the road as I read the prompt and decide whether I’m going to try and reproduce accurately or make something a little more of an impression; whether it’s going to be serious or quirky. This may depend on subject or time. It may also be something to do with mood as much as subject. But each technique seems to bring out something different.
The soft sounds of a pencil when I’m sketching are calming, and there’s a relief in being able to erase a line that’s gone very wrong.
Watercolours sink into the paper, they build in hue, they’re delicate, dreamlike. The very act of applying them is relaxing. If they go wrong, maybe I can add some ink or other media, or just live with it or decide to try again sometime. Or not.
Acrylics are fun, bold, risky (also hard to get out of a carpet).
Ink is a commitment. It also seems to bring out a slightly surreal side of me which reminds me of my father’s sketching and cartooning.
It’s the process that does me good. My brain switches from all the things that are bothering me, the plot ideas that are fighting for the surface, a desire for perfection. Not all the ones in the image below are that I like or that I think are the best of what I’ve done, or the best I could do.
One – the dark picture with the woman in a long dress – was created to a prompt ‘paint out of your comfort zone’. I had no preliminary sketch as I would do normally, I just painted. I wanted to conjure up some of the contrasts of Edwardian London in the Margaret Demeray books but couldn’t really get across what I was aiming for due to lack of knowledge/skill/time. Do I think it’s good? Nope. Did I find some release in being less disciplined? Yes.
Likewise, the picture of the inside of my writing shed is not even close to what it looks like or how I wanted it to turn out. Everything from perspective to accuracy is wrong, but you know… it captures a moment I guess, and it was fun to bung all those colours down.
The one with the four quadrants is supposed to be an acrylic abstract. I do like that. In my head it represents the four seasons without me really planning it at all. For a control freak, that’s not bad going.
In one stressful week in June, when it was impossible to do any of the writing work I’d planned, the best way I found to centre myself was the ten minutes I spent each day messing about with pencils and/or paints. For a while I just switched off. The street scene with the bunting is one of those paintings.
Last week was even more stressful than that with no art time at all. It was nice yesterday to dig out an ink pen, switch off, tune out of the world and start messing about for the Inktober challenge. So far, it’s tapped straight into perhaps the more surreal side of my subconscious.
If you’re feeling stressed, why not have a go at some art yourself? The back of an envelope and a ballpoint will do if you’ve nothing else to hand.
Or do it in the sand or the mud or some flour on a work top. You don’t need to show anyone. You can destroy it if you want. The important thing is not to judge yourself or let anyone judge what you’ve done.
It’ll just be for you. I promise you, if you turn off your inner critic, that it’ll do you the world of good.
If you want to know where Inktober takes me next, feel free to follow me on Instagram. Just watch out for spiders!
The two books ready for pre-order are Death On The Towpath – book 4 in the Booker & Fitch series written with Liz Hedgecock (releasing on 30/11/23) and Dying To Be Heard – book 4 in the Margaret Demeray series (releasing 14/12/23)
Words and pictures (c) Paula Harmon 2023, not to be used without the author’s express permission.