No Art Trail, No Art Journal? – Creativity + Lockdown

Now the Leigh Art Trail has a 2021 date SEVEN looks back at losing and finding creative motivation over Lockdown. In a year without our key event to work towards what happened to our productivity when the 2020 Trail was cancelled?

Creative Goals

The first thing SEVEN did when we formed was set ourselves a goal – we applied to show at Leigh Art Trail (LAT). As a creative sketchbook collective we were the first group to be accepted onto the popular Trail – yay!  But we didn’t just enjoy sharing our sketchbook creations with interested Trailers. The yearly Trail gave us something to aim for (Kim made countdown calendars and everything!).

Then there was 2020…

Our Pre-Covid Plan

So, pre-Covid, every September we’d reconvene after the summer break, decide on a project and work steadfastly towards it. And September 2019 was no different. What was different, however, was our 2020 venue. We were excited to be moving to a more central LAT location, The Refill Room – a waste-free, eco-friendly grocery store.

Taking the store’s zero-waste ethos as our starting point we agreed altered books – aka books no-one wants anymore – would make the perfect art journal to work in. What’s more, we had a project title we could all get behind: Reclamation. (Check out this blog post for more on our plans for this altered book project…)

We were ready to art journal our way to LAT 2020!  Until the Trail had to be cancelled due to a global pandemic that was. 

The Pros + Cons of Zoom Creativity 

Of course, Covid meant no in-person meet-ups, so along with the rest of the nation we got Zooming.  Which, while better than nothing, meant we were often catching up rather than doing. Plus, there’s often something lost in translation online – a lagging wi-fi connection, screen fatigue, or just plain blahness, to name a few issues we experienced.

Ultimately, we lost our Reclamation art journaling thread. And, with no new date in sight, our altered books got put on the back burner.

Banana Bread + More

I mean, it’s not that we were just baking banana bread between then and now. We actually completed two SEVEN art journals, and started another:

But these had more imminent deadlines and so, inevitably, they’ve taken precedent. 

Reclaiming Our 2020 Art Journals

Now we have a 2021 date for the Leigh Art Trail – September 2021! – we’re dusting off our altered books and reminding ourselves just where we were when we left off. Some of us were already immersed, others were just feeling their way into their creative flow, but all of us need to reclaim – call back, rediscover – our creative selves with regards to this SEVEN project. 

Turns out Reclamation was a more apt project title than we had first imagined…
Check out our current projects over on our SEVEN Instagram .

#52 Weeks Art Journal Project (to be found on Instagram)

A new year generally brings a new project and for 2021, still in Lockdown 3.0, something to share on-line is currently the only way to go.

The 52 Weeks Art Journal, hosted by Raspberry Blue Sky, is a weekly prompt, intended to be incorporated into an altered book.

Kim’s altered book page in progress

First Hurdle – all the charity shops are shut, so casting around for a book you already have had to be the first option. Then Juliet had a great idea. She found an old desk diary that she had never used, perfect for a 52 week project, and ripe for altering!

Second Hurdle – now I know I too had one of these, where on earth had I put it? After an extensive search (including the loft), I realised that it had gone in the last clear out, so it was ebay to the rescue.

Third Hurdle – awaiting the post, and hoping I had bought a suitable desk diary. Already behind on week one “New Beginnings” I started on week two by making a ‘colour wheel’ using scraps of fabrics, mostly leftover from sewing face masks last year.

So now we are a few weeks into the project, how are we finding it, and what are we using?

Questions for the group

* What book are you using?

* If using a diary, are you enjoying the format?

* How have the prompts been for you? Are you able to interpret them in your own way?

Kim

I am using The British Library Desk Diary for 2019, which has a double page spread for each week. 

The diary is a perfect book for this project, it even has the week number conveniently printed at the top of each page, which I am going to try and leave in. It has a lot of maps, which I have previously used in my collage practice, and some of those will be incorporated too.

The prompts have been OK – I just take them as a starting point and see what comes. One or two have already had unexpected outcomes, that have led me to further work that I would probably not have explored.

52 Weeks Art Journal Prompt: Random Words

Amanda

I have so many sketch books (can’t resist buying them) that I am using an A5 Daler Rowney which has quite thick paper and will take a lot of punishment.  Each week I am using. Double page spread.

The prompts have been good because they challenge me, even if I am not always keen on one or another.  I was able to work intuitively and the result of the New Beginnings prompt seemed to be saying Connectedness, how we are all connected to this planet and its rhythms and to each other, even when we cannot be together and so I am now trying to think about this theme every week, whilst still trying to work freely and instinctively.

52 Weeks Art Journal Prompt: Childhood Memories

Helen
I made myself an A5 coptic stitched journal made from found papers, including: magazine and vintage book pages; and tracing paper.

Some of the prompts have inspired me more than others. I quite liked the Create Your Own Colour Wheel and the New Beginnings prompts, for example. While, the Be My Valentine prompt seemed a little cheesy, on first sight, and I had no idea what to do for some time.

Then I thought to look into heart symbolism and discovered the history of the sacred heart, which was actually really fascinating, and I eventually created something kind of interesting. I guess the lesson is, just because you don’t like a prompt, doesn’t mean you can’t work with it!

52 Weeks Art Journal Prompt: Be My Valentine

Jo

I am also using the British Library Desk Diary from 2019. 

The format is perfect as there is a double page spread for each week, with the number of the week at the top. The theme of the diary is maps. I decided to use the purpose of maps (i.e. to plan routes and stay on course) as a way of giving myself creative direction, guided by the weekly prompts. The paper is also a good weight and is really suitable for collaging onto.

I was initially unsure that word prompts would inspire me. However, I have been pleasantly surprised. The prompt comes out on Monday, I usually take a few days to mull it over, then spend a couple of days playing with ideas before there is a ta dah! moment at the end of the week.

52 Weeks Art Journal Prompt: My Favourite Place

Juliet

When the idea of taking part in the #52weeksartjournal was decided by Seven, I had the thought that using an old weekly diary could potentially be a good fit.  Often when you go to museums in the first couple of months of a year, it is possible to pick up a reduced diary, with fabulous images (remember those days when you could just walk into a museum) so I had a hunt around my spare / creative room.  I found one V&A diary, but that had already been part cannibalised, but then I came across a 2001 version that concentrates on the V&A’s unrivalled collection of works by contemporary Victorian artists and designers.  

The two page spread for each week are a good way of keeping on track with the weekly prompts.  It is also a good size to work into – the size is between A5 and A4 which is manageable.  The paper is a bit shiny and absorbent, so I have tended to work on separate paper before sticking them in.  

Its been an interesting challenge to marry up the prompts against the diary images – some I have completely obscured, some I have left and done the artwork on the opposite page, but where possible I am trying to incorporate them within the artwork.  Usually a few days contemplation of the prompt is needed before starting each piece.  They are not what I would normally be inspired by,  so it has been really good to ‘stretch’ my art practice.  

52 Weeks Art Journal Prompt: Bloom

Brooklyn Sketchbook project

The Brooklyn sketchbook library began in 2006 and is a not-for-profit organisation, based in the US. Their aim is to ‘encourage creative storytelling within a global community’ and currently has over 50,000 sketchbooks from artists from around the globe.

We’ve pondered over the idea of submitting a sketchbook to the Brooklyn Sketchbook library for a while and this year we did it!

Brooklyn Sketchbook Project arrived

In September 2020 SEVEN agreed that the Brooklyn Sketchbook project would be our next challenge. We duly sent off our payment and received our blank 5″x7″ sketchbooks a few weeks later.

We participated in Vol. 17, which meant our deadline was 15 February 2021. Each submission comes with a new list of suggested themes, that you can use as a starting point, and I was inspired by ‘marks and markers’, which I developed using mark-making techniques.

I chose to combine my theme with reference to Warley Place in Essex, a former Edwardian garden owned by horticulturalist Miss Willmott until 1934. After her death, the house was demolished and the gardens left unattended for several decades. It has been maintained as a nature reserve, by the Essex Wildlife Trust, since the 1970s where it still provides glimpses of its former charm.

Mark-making inspired by Warley Place

When I received my blank sketchbook, I was disappointed in the quality of the paper, which I thought was too thin and wouldn’t stand up well to being painted and collaged onto. So from the start I decided that I would rebind my book using thicker paper.

The first session SEVEN did involved mark-making with inks, which gave me a good foundation to work on. Once I had a selection of inky papers I chose a few and cut them up into long strips. I then glued these strips together to form one long piece and folded it into 18 concertina pages.

NB: If you rebind your sketchbook, the only limitations to consider are that the pages must be the same size, the overall thickness of the sketchbook must be no more than 1″, and the barcode on the backcover must remain visible.

I collaged cyanotype prints, old artwork and scraps of ephemera onto the pages, which I worked into using intuitive mark-making, drawing and painting.

These are some of the finished pages I created:

Jo’s sketchbook pages
Jo’s sketchbook pages
Jo’s sketchbook pages

I thought it would be difficult to send off my sketchbook once I had finished it (you do get very attached to your work!), but I think as I knew this was the outcome all along, I was happy to let it go. Before posting it to Brooklyn I did scan all my pages, so that I have a record. I have also opted for the library to digitize the pages, so they will be available to view on their website anytime.

If you fancy a challenge, I would highly recommend taking part.

The Water Replies – completed journal

Today I finally handed in my journal for the Water Replies project, to Metal Southend. This has turned into a project that has been so defined by the events of this year.

As detailed in a previous blog post Journaling fun – back to our roots, SEVEN were eager to participate in this project when it launched back in March. There was a series of workshops in journaling and poetry writing planned, and it all sounded very exciting with new creative possibilities and explorations.

And then the world as we know it stopped.

Walking by the estuary

The spring lockdown meant that we could only exercise outdoors for an hour each day, with no stopping permitted to sit and look at the view. And also how can you be creative in a pandemic? Some of the workshops went on-line, but I seemed to be unlucky that the ones I signed up for got cancelled, and I just got very despondent about it all.

So my journal sat neglected for months. But gradually as the restrictions were slowly relaxed, and with encouragement from the other artists in SEVEN, I relooked at it, and just decided to go for it. Take the pressure off myself to produce a perfectly artistic and thought out journal, but to just use it as a record of the extraordinary summer we were experiencing.

When it was possible to go for longer walks, to escape the crowded seafront and beaches, like many other people, I spent more time exploring Two Tree Island and the seawall walk from Leigh-on-Sea station to Benfleet. Appreciating that the Thames Estuary is not just where the tide appears twice a day on the beach at Chalkwell, but how it creates and influences the marshland and the bio-diversity of nature it supports there.

Walking between Leigh-on-sea and Benfleet

Like lots of people I did (eventually) find it very therapeutic to be creative. So my journal isn’t full of wonderful drawings and poetry but is a snapshot of this summer and how important the Estuary has been to me, and also how sitting and being creative has been a great way to escape from ‘doomscrolling’ the news.

Two-Tree Island

Estuary 2020 will now become Estuary 2021 which will be happening from 22 May to 13 June where all our journals will be displayed (full programme to be announced later in the year)

Check out SEVEN’s instagram posts for some previews of our journals, and also the hashtag #thewaterreplies to see the great variety of journals from other artists.

Altered Books: Is destroying books ever ok?

We mentioned a few posts ago that for Leigh Art Trail 2020 SEVEN will be showing our creative journals at Leigh’s first zero waste grocery store The Refill Room. And, because The Refill Room is all about, well, zero waste, we thought working in reclaimed books, aka altered books, would be a perfect fit. 

The thing is, some people think working in printed books is sacrilege – but is it?

Let’s take a look at the controversial topic of destroying books, for example. Because, let’s face it, this tends to conjure up images of Nazi book burnings and the idea that books are more than just things. As John Milton wrote:

“Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature… but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself…”

Book Bonfires

In May 1933, at their book-burning peak, over 25,000 books were burned by the Nazis. According to Cambridge University:

“The aim was to remove undesirable professors from their posts, to blacklist “un-German” books and to purify libraries according to National Socialist principles.

Whether performed as a way to control the availability of information or as a means of consolidating governmental power, “the symbolic weight of burning books is heavy” says the Smithsonian in their article A Brief History of Book Burning.

And, this idea continues to be expressed through popular culture, like Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, which imagines a future where television reigns supreme and books are illegal:

“‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon.’”

So far, so deplorable, but what if the good guys get in on the act?

Destroying to preserve

It’s tempting to blame the destruction of books on the bad guys, but since the 1950s, when the microfilm industry became the fad du jour, libraries themselves got in on book destroying. Big time.

Yep, Nicholson Baker’s book Double Fold tells the tale of a controversial practice called ‘reformatting’, which was embraced by the likes of the Library of Congress in Washington and even – wince – the British Library. While some volumes were sold to dealers, it transpired that many were simply pulped. Eeek!

Of course, the difference between library pulping and Nazi book burning is that the libraries actually preserved the information contained within the books – well, mostly. Apparently microfilm wasn’t as durable as was first thought – technology, eh!?

But, it wasn’t just another evolution in technology that was to blame for the demise of so many books, it was also that old chestnut: a lack of space…

Drowning books

Writing during the first world war a certain Sir John Collings Squire went on a bit of a rant about how the public were sending rubbish books to their lads on the front line:

“…[I]t was publicly stated the other day that some people were sending the oddest things, such as magazines twenty years old, guides to the Lake District, Bradshaws, and back numbers of Whitaker’s Almanack.”

Why were people sending these indigestible tomes all the way to Flanders? Well, Sir John reckoned it was because:

 “[I]t is likely that there are those who jump at the opportunity of getting rid of books they don’t want.”

This, he reasoned, was because people very often held onto books simply because they were, well, books:

“In reality it is not merely absurd to keep rubbish merely because it is printed: it is positively a public duty to destroy it. Destruction not merely makes more room for new books and saves one’s heirs the trouble of sorting out the rubbish or storing it: it may also prevent posterity from making a fool of itself.”

Maybe Sir John was the Marie Kondo of his era? Of course, KonMari has been blamed for a whole lot of book slinging in recent years – she recommends keeping around 30 max. But numbers aside her point, is this:

“Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values…”

But reasoning doesn’t stop Sir John feeling guilty for essentially ‘drowning’ his big bag of bad poetry in the Thames. Yes, the little blighters might’ve been taking over his tiny flat, but now he’s some kind of book murderer:

“Odes to Diana, Sonnets to Ethel, Dramas on the Love of Lancelot, Stanzas on a First Glimpse of Venice, you lie there in a living death, and your fate is perhaps worse than you deserved. I was harsh with you. I am sorry I did it. But even if I had kept you, I will certainly say this: I should not have sent you to the soldiers.”

Don’t judge a book…

So, it turns out both book lovers and book haters destroy books. The reasons are as varied as making space to live to controlling the lives of others. But at the end of day like people, it’s really what’s inside that counts, as Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451:

“It is not books you need, it’s some of the things that are in books.”