Opportunities like this are rare; the provision of support in the form of a virtual residency to pursue my creative work and explore the meaning that it has in my life. To accept this offer I have had to make a commitment to a project plan that gives structure to my days in residency and places importance on me being actively creative during those days.
There is an idea that has become common: practices that enrich our lives, if they produce an item, must be a purposeful side hustle that makes money or perhaps will have the potential for us to give away our day jobs and be paid as a creative. Friends say, “What are you going to do with those (toys, weavings, pieced items)? Just have a whole houseful? Will you sell them at markets?”. I think everyone is subject to the same social and political pressures from the communities we live in. Given time to think I realized that so many things in life should be without monetary value, especially some of the outcomes of creative activity. Working out the hourly rate on an item if you plan to sell it for example just feels awful anyway. I’m not completely antagonistic towards selling pieces of work, rather I don’t feel that it’s a helpful thought to have in my mind when starting to make something.
In response to the bushfires in 2019-2020 I made dozens of wildlife pouches and donated them. It was an act that really helped me to cope with stress the environmental destruction which made me feel helpless. More recently I made pandemic masks and asked my friends on social media to contact me if they were interested. I found out pretty fast that selling things was not really the main game, tentative queries asking how much made it feel wrong. In the end I made over 70 masks and gave them to friends and family and brushed up some of my sewing skills just by sheer repetition.
Time is normally rare as well and regretfully for most of my life I have failed to attend to my creative needs. I haven’t made the time to do regular creative work or to prioritize the importance of something that has no outcome or ‘use’ or doesn’t pay the bills. It’s a common thing that family work and life gets in the way. Before I realized it great gaps of time had gone by without sitting with myself and what I love to do, though it still called me it manifested in an abundance of unactioned project ideas, books and materials.
That was until I was forced to slow down by a health problem. My recovery gave me time to think about the purpose of the type of work I get paid for in my life. Some 18 months later and about 15 of those off paid work, I am now a part time worker and have developed some better habits around being creative. Now I usually work on one of my projects every day, if only for a short while, and I have seen the improvement in the quality of my making and a greater satisfaction with life in general.
During this residency my plan is to use a structural approach to creative work to enhance engagement across my areas of my current interests more evenly and to experiment in unfamiliar areas that are challenging for me.
I decided on the title of this residency – No Outcome Required – to emphasize the idea that your creativity is an expression of yourself rather than a product. For 14 non-consecutive days in October 2020, the year of disappointment, I plan to live and breathe my creativity by attending to a daily routine of writing, poetry, walks, gathering materials, project work, weaving, sewing, making a creative space, engaging with community. I will post some photos and videos on Instagram and put hyperlinks within the text for easy access. You will find me here www.instagram.com/slowbento
First things first. I have a coffee, a cat trying to nudge my attention by stepping on my keyboard and a plan: to do some planning and work on a weaving project that I put down a couple of months ago. It’s about 2/3rds finished and will be a good step back to the practice of weaving.
I guess I got tired of working on this big project, today in one sitting of about 2 hours I have added 2 rows – it is good work. The moment I picked it up I was reminded of how much I like it and the peace it brings to me. The colours and structure feel like family in my hands. It will be a backpack – that’s the plan anyway. Why did I stop! Even the sound of the first stitch pulling tight brings a comfort, joy and familiarity. The practice quickly returns to me: selecting the threader, positioning the stitch, stretching arms, space and position, the right chair to work in, colour choices, it comes back like I’d never stopped, like speaking with and old friend, just pick up where we left off and the world disappears.
Writing and Walking PM
On the beach today I walked. Usually I beachcomb and when I do ideas and words drift and sing into my mind. Today I’m walking briskly and mostly what I can hear in my head are endless repeats of songs that earworm my every day. But gradually I become a little more attuned to where I am and despite the pace I’m trying to keep the word thoughts begin…
On the empty cold beach lay gifts from the sea
In a range of pink, brown, gold, rust, cream, white, black, green – dark, slimy and acid
Shiny transparencies and greasy sticky blobs abundantly punctuate weedy clumps on the shoreline
Evidence of today’s traffic and visitation and pressed into the sand, feet, hooves, claws
It’s quiet now and empty across from Merricks to the glimpse of Somers
Crunchy watery bulbs burst with sea water unavoidably underfoot
Sea grass stems, succulent foliage and orange tufts of everyday beauty delivered by the bay
A showcase of what lies beneath the grey surging water
A large gull with a cruel beak circles me salivating for hot chips on this lonely beach
Back by the road it’s quiet, the beach is a faint roar only 50 meters away
I’m remember that I forget I leave so close to the beach
Wednesday 7th October 2020
Surprisingly the backpack basket is much closer to being finished than I had thought, perhaps another 2-3 rounds to finish off the basket itself. While weaving this morning I thought about the whys of procrastinating; this is a project that I enjoy, I think it is working well and was so close to completion but it has sat unfinished for quite a while. As I work ideas about the straps for the backpack come to mind. I had planned to make the straps using a Japanese technique that is used to make thong-like sandals from rope and fabric. I saw such straps on a basket in a small store in Kyoto when I visited Japan in August 2018. I have a book dedicated to it. Often, I put off having a go at new things until I have thought about them long and hard, done a lot of reading and looking at examples that others have made. Maybe I’m scared of having a go and things don’t turn out perfectly, and this would make sense as to why I put this weaving project down a few months ago as it got closer to the point where I would need to go outside my comfort zone and try something new.
I’ll admit I am also intimidated by instructions I don’t even like to follow cooking recipes; I prefer a bit more of a go with the flow approach to most things, but this should be easy, step by step photos.
After a gentle stroll around the neighborhood I settled down again to working on the backpack. I feel a more settled with a plan for the straps and I managed to almost finish. I am on the last row where the stitching alters from blanket stich to a simple binding wrap stitch. I have two days of working at my day job before I return to my residency.
Saturday 10th October 2020
Today is Saturday, still have the old habits of tending to housework on a Saturday (and leaving a mess on Friday night) even though I work part time and work from home so really could do it anytime, then with the tidying mindset I walk into my studio/study. It’s a bit of a mess, so much stuff, (I’ll never be a minimalist) but you can see the floor which hasn’t always been the case. Check it out at www.instagram.com/p/CGJOaG6DtvL
AM walking at Balibooroo, there are so many more people out walking now trying to escape the indoors of lockdown, it used to feel like we had that little peaceful place to ourselves, so rare was it that we’d come across others.
The last couple of days have been away from VR doing regular work but during that time I finished off the backpack section of the basket, getting in the habit of regular creative activity has had a residual effect and I’ve picked up that project in spare moments. I’ve been looking at my Japanese craft book using a translate app which doesn’t always make a lot of sense – thank goodness there are pictures to follow as well.
A couple of practical project ideas have come to mind in the last couple of days: a lining bag for the backpack and window length cushion for my studio/study using the small fabric scraps as filling. This window cushion is essential as my pets are spilling onto my workspace!
Today I’m going to sew and experiment with the straps.
Sunday 11th October 2020
AM was a morning of self-care. Very important. Otherwise known as a sleep in, I have matched it with some super-whack doorknocker earrings from Haus of Dizzy, a maker of cool and funky things and an 80s updo (www.instagram.com/hausofdizzy). I have really mixed feelings about showing the whole look here, but those earrings!
Yeah adds a little shine to a cloudy day.
PM – Yesterday’s strap making went well and I’m going to give it another go today using raffia, busy as they are I think the t-yarn woven straps will battle with the basket – they can go onto another project.
It’s not always as easy as just do it – get stuck in, the thinking takes time and creative work requires, practice, skills development and that takes time too. Here I am, back to my concern about procrastination competing with intuitive knowledge that ideas need to percolate, ferment and mature. Maybe there is a balance to be had here, some goal setting to be done.
I watched a really interesting TED-Ed video on practice on Facebook. Over the last month or so I have started to practice drawing. It’s not really my thing but I thought it would help with pattern making, colour and shape combinations and just be good for my brain. I’m using mostly watercolour paint pencils and crayons and using some source books for pattern ideas. It’s fun and a good way to let go of outcomes and perfectionist ideas.
In the spirit of procrastination, I have made my cat window seat rather than continue with other projects. I used a thick calico sack, a cushion cover and an offcut of Ikea curtain material – all from the op-shop. Joined it together and filled with old cushions, its opens at both ends using the existing cushion cover zip opening and the drawstring opening of the sack, that way I can add filling to it easily. The plan was to use fabric scraps to fill but I found I had enough old cushioning to do the job. Making the space cat friendly also makes it friendly for me and it feels like the room has had a facelift. The test run has been sniffed out but the rubber hits the road when I try to do work with my pets in attendance.
My afternoon walk took me to a local bushland reserve. I go there occasionally to walk and last year I went down there a few times to pick up rubbish. In the same spot that I found a toy sewing machine and other evidence of a child’s room throw out, I found a watercolor pencil split down its length that can be used in drawing practice, a webbing plastic o-ring thingy that I can use, also some AA and a phone battery/ies, nail polish and a toy roadworks witches hat. Happily, there was no new big dumps that I could see, still loads of roadside rubbish, plastic drink bottles and the like tossed from passing cars.
Monday 12th October 2020
It was one of those days. It had to happen. Can’t get it together. Nothing feels right. Need a nanna nap. Cabin fever but don’t want to go out. General dysphoria. Don’t like anything I make. Again, today I worked on straps for my backpack, woven Japanese style this time using raffia, it was awkward and wonky and didn’t really turn out as planned, I worry about the strength too. Tried a different method, one I had worked on reed with before, easier to manipulate, but too open – my concerns for this one is snagging during use. Check out how they turned out here, www.instagram.com/p/CGPWzjbjUv8.
When I said don’t like anything I made today, of course I was being a bit dramatic. I don’t mind these two versions of strap weaving but I think neither of them is right for the project and I’ll need to spend more time thinking to figure out how to make the straps. At least this time it is fully aware percolation of ideas rather than an awkward guilty feeling of procrastination.
Tuesday 13th October 2020
AM, I spent some time reading the accidentally aptly named ‘KAWS Companionship in the Age of Loneliness’. It’s a sturdy and beautiful publication by the NGV on the exhibition of the same name that I missed due to the Covid-19 lockdowns. So many things have been missed, 2020 is indeed an age of loneliness and a time when loneliness is beginning to be taken seriously in the mainstream now that no one can really escape it. Anyways, the book has brought me back a little sparkle and I am able to dust myself off a little and procced to work on something new and in keeping with my desire to reuse materials and avoid landfill.
I had in mind a beach blanket, something lightweight and easy to carry. The function will be something to sit on or wrap myself in while I am at the beach trying to be still, thinking, writing or stitching – the blanket has lots of unfinished hand-stitching which can be done at the beach. I’m going to use a Wagga* style patchwork method, deconstructing garments but holding on to their history of former use by retaining their pattern piece shapes. These are then on to a fastened to a backing, I’m going to use something like a sarong for minimal weight. The quilting stitches that hold the two layers together can be stitched in situ. I’ve referenced the book where I first came across this type of patchwork below, you might get lucky with an internet search.
*S. Denton and B. Macey, Quiltmaking, pp 152-153 and p63, picture 63 ‘Red Wagga’ by Barbara Macey 1986, Thomas Nelson Australia, Melbourne Victoria, 1987.
Saturday 17th October 2020
The last three days have been at work I’m surprised by how much energy it takes to talk to people, think, write notes, follow processes and all the requirements of my paid job. I am glad it is all from home at the moment. I felt driven to work on the Wagga style patch Beach throw in the evenings. All the piecing and machine stitching got done; perhaps part of the tiredness today. I’m really pleased with the use of recycled clothing – retaining the original shapes from garment manufacture gives this piece history and context, bringing with it a reference to the people who originally made the clothing. It is also a reminder that textiles have use beyond initial function. The piece is backed with lightweight op-shop remnant of coral colored fabric with metallic threads – www.instagram.com/p/CGYbiP7Dbn1. My plan is to continue with the hand stitching while at the beach. There was nothing really wrong with most of the items that I took apart; they are not things that I would wear normally, I’m attracted by the fabrics type and print. Some of these had a bit of staining like the purple kimono pieces and the seersucker jacket (which still had the tags on it), making them candidates for the landfill. Original Waggas were made from wheat bags or wool bales by shearers in Australia*. The whole concept fascinated me and still does. A spin-off from a Wagga project is all the small pieces of fabric left over that can be stitched together spawning a swag of other projects, all linked by color and texture.
I first made this type of item about 30 years ago using the curtains from my grandmother’s house in England, likely from the 40’s. They were holey and threadbare having survived decades and immigrated with her in the 70s and then left behind when she went on to live out her life in New Zealand with my Aunt’s family. I used my (former) partner’s jeans and flannel shirts to cover the wrong side of one panel and it seemed fitting that clothes used for work would hold together the curtains which had performed functionally for so long. That panel served as a blanket/sofa rug in my loungeroom for a long time. At some stage I let it go, probably not wanting to be reminded of the (former) partner and that life, letting go of my Nanna and her history and home, a place I knew nothing of except for in my imagination.
*M. Rolfe, Patchwork Quilts in Australia, pp 96-99, Green house publications Richmond Victoria, 1987.
Sunday 18th October 2020
Some cleaning of the nest took place today – big items for hard rubbish and sorting through some of my hoarded materials and notions from Japan. It makes a difference and somehow, I feel lighter and more able to get going once these tasks are taken care of. I found a bag of items from Japan that are related to Sachiko stitching and some tenugui* which are multi-purpose cloths about the size of a bar mat or small gym towel. It’s given me the idea of experimenting with some tenugui Wagga pieces.
While wrecking in the cupboard I found a bag strap that I have now covered with the same fabric pieces used in the beach throw and this is looking like it might work for the woven backpack, but it will be more of a crossover basket if I do. There was a nice piece of webbing on one of the items I put out for collection and that should anchor the straps well.
This evening I messed around on a label making website and tried all the fonts and colors and messed about until I found something that I like, there are too many options. This task has been put off by me forever – it’s all about deciding what sort of impression you want to make, comic fonts – no silly, futuristic – what am I saying, little bee or flower – too twee for me, a recycle symbol works but it doesn’t match the font. Its endless, but thankfully I finally pressed the button and hopefully they will be here soon and I won’t be whipping myself for being too conservative.
After months of doing it all alone Victorian’s got to travel more than 5 kilometers from their home to shop or socialize and I did both, sad that a different supermarket sparks excitement but there it is – Covid normal. The big deal of the day was meeting with my friend Aunty Jen. It happened that we could both legally be at Oliver’s Hill carpark where there was a coffee van and they served oat milk. Aunty Jen brought chairs and all the bits and pieces she’d been saving up for me, and likewise I had a sack full of goodies for her including a white linen duvet cover with spots that she will turn into a pair of summer pants.
We sat together next to the sea wall and wove turtles for the Willum Warrain project that we are a part of and talked about loneliness, people, lipstick, going crazy, big hair, doorknocker earrings, culottes and so much else. What a treat to be able to meet and be close (1.5 observed). Aunty Jen had a fabulous matching camouflage mask and headband with buttons to hold the elastic and I gave my beach wagga a tryout.
Upon my return I got stuck into the turtle and got it finished, nice work for the day.
Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st October 2020
Yesterday I was so annoyed with myself I couldn’t write anything. I got distracted and interrupted by minor medical issues and the runaround with that then got stuck. In the end I put myself in my studio and just did it. Two things have come from this.
The idea that nothing happens in a tidy work room, I have evidence of the type of inspiring squalor that I am wading in here https://www.instagram.com/p/CGlW0XsDeCt/ Unfortunately it is also an office so I will have to tidy before tomorrow’s wage day just to maintain my sanity.
A message to my dramatic catastrophic, perfectionist self, the one that speaks to things that must be done right and work every time otherwise it’s a disastrous waste of time. Destroy/create create/destroy same, same but different, an idea that isn’t going my way doesn’t have to be a dead loss, it can be reworked and in so doing learnt from, be resilient, don’t give up, let it wash over you.
The idea that I was working on was to create some tenugui that was in keeping with the reuse of other previously manufactured items. The tenugui itself is the easy part, 90 x 35 cm cloth, the interesting things about tenugui are the application*, the different ways the cloth can be tied as a head and face covering. Firstly, I pieced some cotton cloth to about this size as a base but it just didn’t feel right, then I consulted my fabric stash and found about 5 pieces of fabric that work. Black and white gingham, fine coral colored fabric with metallic threads as used in my beach throw, some textured blue floral, the bottom half of a men’s check shirt.
From there I did some patchwork piecing of scrap fabrics which I planned to make into animal patches to be applied to the tenugui. Problems were, the animal shapes made no sense. I ended up removing the backing and cutting circles which work better.
PM The husband stopped work to have lunch with me today and a conversation about existential crisis and the current Covid lockdown ensued – not the normal conversation. Like everyone we’ve been feeling cooped up and disconnected from people, places and activities that we’re normally are exposed to, these are the things that keep us going and somehow somewhat sane. The why of it all is so ephemeral, that’s so very much how I’ve been feeling and tend to feel that way in the normal scheme of things so even more so with the current woes. We talked about not feelings so great about ourselves, not being too hard on ourselves and where we can go to escape for a break once it is legal again – somewhere where we might feel safe. Covid safe. Residency is such a great opportunity, with it comes the time to focus intensively on my work also, with it comes an intensification of all the things that go with the work, the psychology I guess, the insecurities, the stumbling blocks, the procrastination, the self-defeating habits, the struggle for meaning and purpose, imposter syndrome. I know it is more difficult for some than for others. Just do it, just get on with it, stop it with the mind games – if only. The husband mentioned that he had a bad day last week, it’s a rarity for him; he’s such a rock. I’m more of a dropped leaf.
Something has come from today’s uncomfortable experience; I’m going to head to my drawing book to see if there is another shape that would work in the same context on the gingham tenugui.
The above pictures are drawing exercises from my visual diary, using pattern books, I have one on wall paper design and others that are reference books for strengthening my drawing skills, really basic stuff I don’t think I’ll ever be great at drawing but I like the challenge of working at it as a skill.
Friday 23rd October 2020
AM this morning I went on a Covid safe walk around Coolart with a friend using a trail that I had not seen before. It was a lovely walk with many different aspects. I didn’t realize how much I needed a nature immersion; just to get out into a small piece of bush and talk. About creativity and what is important to our work and respecting the time, history and work of others, the impacts of price on the value of these things – it was good. We crossed a creek on a wooden bridge and sat in a bird hide watching a pair of white necked herons dance and perch together. We spotted a swamp wallaby too. In the grounds of Coolart there is an old formal garden and a beautiful gingko tree, I’d never seen one before but I am familiar with the shape of the leaves, often replicated in artworks and textile design. It almost feels like I’ve been on holiday.
PM Drawing practice, mostly to improve and line making but also to see if something emerges that I like for the tenugui pieces. This green shape reminds me of the French “langue de chat” or cat’s tongue chocolate/ biscuit. Just a little research reveals that cats’ tongues biscuits and chocolates are popular in Europe, Asia and south America. Some of the tins and boxes have really nice artwork like the Droste tin from Haarlem in Holland below – many other tins depict cutesy cats – but not all. My plan is to experiment with this shape.
Saturday 24th October 2020
Plugging away at my tenugui project, it has been good for me to experiment with colours, textures and prints. I used a scrap of pink Thai silk from my hoarded materials, it still had a tag connected to it from Thailand with a date 1988. I have been to Thailand but this piece would have come from the opshop, like most of my fabric collection. I wonder what the rest of the fabric was used for and if it is still being used. The dark red is also from the opshop, it is a piece of 100% wool and I guess from a project too. I am usually attracted to an item of clothing by colour or pattern and often disappointed by the style or size. I may still purchase a garment to repurpose rather than to wear.
The opshop has been a part of my life since I was a teenager. Of course, there was always hand-me-downs, me being the youngest it was rare to have new clothes, until I grew taller than my older sister. My mother made a few things for me when I was small, and if we had jumpers they were knitted. I remember having a jumper with a horse on it and the mane was a wooly fringe. That jumper had been on the backs of three children before me, our neighbor had made it for her only child and then the garment had worked its way down through the kids in my family. Things were mended then as a natural part of a garment’s life. One birthday I went with my mother bought me a satiny pink button up shirt (it was the 70s) and a pair of jeans and shortly after I fell off a friend’s bike and made holes in both. They were darned and I wore them until I grew out of them. I began to opshop as a teenager in part because I was fickle and didn’t like anything in the shops, let alone having the money for new clothes. I also wore some of the dresses that my mother had made for herself and worn as a young woman. She didn’t throw things out often; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I made clothes for my kids when they were little, but it wasn’t as common for people to do that by then, the 90s, as clothing became cheaper and came from overseas instead of being made at home or locally. I studied at the Melbourne College of Textiles for a short time the year I turned 16 and it taught me respect for the textile industry. I lament the loss of value and knowledge of the materials: where they came from, who made them, the impact on the environment of their manufacture and where they go when they are cast aside.
Sunday 25th October 2020
I can’t believe this is the last day of my residency, somehow, I thought I had a few more days (typical of me truth be told), looking back at my calendar I hadn’t noted the public holiday but worked through it.
Today I managed to finish a basket project that had sat for a while, made a couple of old-school needle books and laid out another tenugui. During the residency I have done some beachcombing and spent more time than I imagined I would with fabrics. Some things I had planned to do I’ve barely got to, like poetry and road-siding. I missed the group project because it happens on a wage work day, but the turtle I made will go towards it even though it was made by me in isolation.
It has been a fascinating mental space to be in. All the business of being creative and actively working on projects has been condensed into a
short timeframe with all the blocks, doubts, angst, enjoyment, inspiration, ups and downs that I would have in relation to the making of things and the development of project ideas happening hard and fast. I had to deal with it and keep on going. I’ve learned that with sustained practice comes skills development and resilience and these things take time.
During this residency I’ve had the privilege to make and explore, to think about my work and to finish projects.
I still have the ears to sew on one of my iso friends and sewing kits to make, loads of materials for repurposing, enough for my lifetime I reckon. My raffia basket backpack is still waiting for the right strap/s.
I have to remind myself that there doesn’t have to be an outcome that is commercially viable or even that anyone else likes or thinks is useful. I have to remember that being creative soothes me and helps me to be resilient. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, some people get it others don’t, but it makes me tick.
About the Virtual Residency program
Mornington Peninsula Shire’s internationally significant Police Point Artist in Residence program supports between 25 – 30 local, national and international artists each year. The program supports a wide range of emerging, mid-career and established artists, with more than half of the annual allocation of residencies granted to Peninsula-based artists to develop and foster their artistic practice.
In response to COVID-19 and in the corresponding interests of public safety, the Police Point Artist in Residence program was temporarily suspended in 2020. Mornington Peninsula Shire developed a virtual residency program to support the Peninsula-based artists who had previously successfully applied to continue to develop and deliver creative works.