These worries weighed on me for years, until finally, keeping a journal helped me resolve some of these questions. Drawings are “feather-thoughts”—ideas that I catch in the air and commit to paper. All of my thoughts are visual, but often, the subjects of my drawings aren’t translated into sculpture until years later. So a lot of what appears in my drawings is never explored. Abstract drawings come from a deep need for calm, rest, and sleep, and they spring up directly from the subconscious. Realistic drawings are the surpassing of a negative memory, the need to erase it, to eliminate it.
What would I be without my notebooks? I’ve kept a variety of diaries, sketchbooks and “research” notes since I was a kid. At first I collected all sorts of cool facts on the natural world around me, as well as stones and fossils (and dinosaurs!) and mixed that with my own experiences and discoveries. My “nature books” had a bit of everything: dried flowers, written observations, lots of collage and some sketches. I even started a separate one on dinosaurs alone, because I was a little obsessed at the time and dinosaurs are fantastic.
Later on, during a difficult period in secondary school (I was bullied), I read Anne Frank’s diary and I started my own. I even adapted her letter-writing diary style for a few years. I’m happy that I developed this habit of writing about my inner life at the age of 13 and have maintained this ever since. It’s been a life-saver. Even when you can’t talk to anyone, you don’t have to keep it all in and paper is always forgiving… And then you go back to what you’ve written before, and it starts making sense; you become your own counselor.
Only much later in my twenties, around 2006-2007 I began to collect my visual ideas in dedicated notebooks. I should show you the development of the notebooks some time, when the daylight is better than on this dark February day… The curious thing is that these notebooks are a lot like the earliest ones, the nature books. I’d even say that they pick up where the nature books ended!
They’re filled with research, quotes, sketches and technical processes, … mostly focused on my own artistic process and who (or what) inspires me. And at the same time, they have the same aura of privacy that my diaries have. It’s not that they contain anything secret but to me they are certainly private to an extend. What’s going on in there isn’t ready yet, it’s all squishy and not articulate. It’s still happening, not quite done yet. I don’t want to share that with whomever, although I don’t mind sharing parts of it (which more or less end up as blog posts anyway).
Interestingly, a few months ago Anne-Marie Van Sprang taught a great workshop in Sint Lucas on the most gorgeous white porcelain, and she mentioned the importance of jotting down your thoughts as part of documenting the process, while you’re working, so you can revisit them when you reconstruct your working process afterwards. Making sketches was important as well, but she emphasised the combination of the visual and the written.
As I am writing this, it makes perfect sense but when I heard her say it at the time it was a revelation. The permission to be private, and allowing yourself to open up in a place of safety (even if that place is just a notebook), that’s a big thing. At least for me, but surely I’m not alone in this sentiment!
In my own work I know that I tend to keep to the safe side of abstract, organic, geometric design which can be interpreted in various ways and doesn’t directly link to my personal experience. It could be, for me, but it wouldn’t be directly revealed by the form. It works rather through concepts than personal history. I love how Louise Bourgeois herself makes the distinction between her abstract, perhaps meditative sketches and her raw figurative ones that link right back to memories and things she had to work through. I actually try my best not to give myself away, fearing to reveal too much, but I’m learning to trust the process and by writing as well as drawing work towards more connected and personal work.
To be continued…