Knowing that the first draft has to be on the 21st April, I have spent time today making a clearer draft. It has been hard to focus on the MA in the midst of the Covid-19 situation but drafting a plan like this has helped me to reconsider what I am doing and to connect again with it. I have been able to lay down quite a few words today and the world count is over 3,000. I’d like about 7,000 for the first draft hand in a week from now! Being able to sit and really replan the essay and see it a separate sections informing each other has been really good. Five sections in all. My narrative through motherhood, the context, other artists, the subject narratives, my artwork.
As I have begun to think about my journey towards the work I’m doing now, I have looked back at old sketchbooks and found drawings I did when I was living in India and expecting our first child. In a large stripey T-shirt I draw myself and my bump. Then there are drawings of Alistair 1 1/2 days old and then breastfeeding. This subject has long been part of my practice. I photographed The full Lee opened
I was so inspired by being in the studio with Emma that I got into this the same day. Taking on board the suggestions from Karst, I did not use compressed charcoal and didn’t add in any marks that didn’t have a purpose. This is softer and has a sense of the model more fully perhaps. I will do nothing else to this. Now I’m itching to get in with the drawing of Becca and have to have the other models in the studio. This was worked up from the drawing done in the session and not from a photo. That felt very good to do too.
After quite a lot of unsuccessful searching, I decided that I might find pregnant women, happy to be drawn by simply posting to a local Facebook page: Westward Ho! Community group. I posted a few of the images that I had drawn so far with a description of what I was doing on the MA. I simply asked if anyone would like to volunteer to be drawn. Immediately I started to get people sharing the post and messaging me directly. Emma was one of the women who signed up really quickly. We messaged a few times and then fixed a date. Annoyingly the first date had to be moved on one week as I was suddenly away. On the morning that Emma was due to arrive I messaged her asking if she knew where she was coming and she realised that she needed to be a fair bit later than we had originally agreed. I had set up the room ready for her arrival making sure there was space for me to have an easel, collapsing some of the tables I use for Art Classes. I filled the kettle, made sure the biscuit tin was full, and waited for her to arrive. Of course neither of us knew the other, but immediately we seemed quite comfortable in one another’s company. I explained how the session would go and that it would only last for an hour. First of all we would have a conversation about her pregnancy and the story leading up to it and then I would do some drawings of her. I asked if she wanted a drink, she didn’t but might later.
This is Emma’s second baby and she was 33 weeks pregnant at the time of the session. Her first child is a daughter who is 10. Emma and her husband had given up any hope of having another child. They hadn’t done IVF but they had investigated why they were not falling pregnant and all the things that they had done had not proved successful. So it was that Emma was not really expecting to find that she was pregnant. She said that she suddenly went off tea and coffee which she drinks quite a bit during the working day and then went out one night and completely didn’t want to drink anything alcoholic at all. This made her suspicious and so she got a pregnancy test. Because she was so settled on the idea that she could never be pregnant and felt she had stopped longing and wishing for it, she was afraid to even take the test. She did it and found, of course, that she was pregnant. It took her three days to tell anyone. She was by this time 6 weeks into her pregnancy. When she finally managed to tell her husband she took the test out, showed it to him and burst into tears. He was really pleased but she hadn’t been sure that he would be as they had begun to make plans to do things because there was no baby to worry about and only one child. They had started to think about taking their daughter to see the blossom in Japan and put together ideas for things they could do if there was to be no baby.
Emma is part of a strong friendship group of five women that she had met since she had had her first child and so she knew they would clock that she was pregnant quite quickly. Just before finding out that she was pregnant, she had declared that she was going to detox so she was able to keep it quiet until 12 weeks. When she did tell everyone they were delighted and her friendship group were rather thrilled because there hadn’t been a baby in the group for five years and now that they know it’s a boy, there hadn’t been a boy in the friendship group for 12 years. Emma has no local family as her parents and step-parents live in Lincolnshire and they are not particularly close. Her husband’s parents both died some time ago. The friendship group has been enormously important as part of their support group.
Once we had talked about the pregnancy I suggested that Emma might sit for a pose first which she did. I wanted her to feel comfortable being drawn and closely observed. She asked for tea, she obviously is back liking it. We talked intermittently and I asked her not to worry about sitting still but to just be comfortable. I took some photographs and then she said she was happy to do a standing pose. I asked her to imagine what she normally does when she touches the baby and she showed me where the head was and she placed her hand there. The baby had just turned in the womb to no longer be engaged. She then talked about the fact that actually there is a problem with the pregnancy and she has been signed off work. She has a worryingly reduced amount of amniotic fluid. It is possible that she might have to have the baby next week. She is being closely monitored and this is why she was so free to come today, but also possibly why she got held up. She talked about the fear that there is around this child as it is so precious but also was very optimistic that everything would go well.
The first standing pose went really well and I felt it was the most meaningful of the three I did in the session. As I went along I took photographs. Once I finished I showed Emma the drawings. She said she had really enjoyed being drawn. She gathered her stuff and we left the studio. As we parted it felt right to hug. We had made quite a link, two mothers; one drawing, one being drawn.
Rebecca messages the day before she is due to be drawn to say she’ll either have to cancel or bring her daughter. I am happy for the daughter to come and spend a while clearing the studio so it can have a child in it! I find the bag of toy cars.
Becca and Amelia arrive and we head into the studio. Amelia is Two and a half years old and was not interested in being anywhere else than on mums lap. I offer them both a drink, I’ve brought juice and biscuits into the studio. The biscuits go down well I think. To help them settle I have a chat with Becca about her pregnancy. Amelia peers out at me from under a great mop of curly hair. She is sat on mums lap facing inwards, her body curved round the bump of her sibling and her head resting on mums chest.
This is Becca’s second pregnancy she has not found it hard to get pregnant or stay that way. Her sister in law was pregnant at the same time as this pregnancy and discovered while they were on holiday together that she had an egtopic pregnancy and therefore lost the baby. This has caused considerable tensions for them all and Becca has felt like she is hiding the fact that she is pregnant. She has been wearing baggy clothes and hoodies to “hide’ it. Coming here has felt really exciting as she is declaring to me that she is pregnant and celebrating it.
When Amelia was born Rebecca had to have a Caesarean but has been able to select to have a natural birth this time if she is able to but she is quite comfortable with the idea that if she has to have a Caesarian that will be okay.
Once we had chatted I started to do some drawings. I drew Rebecca and Amelia together first as Rebecca and told Amelia that’s what we were going to do and I didn’t want to disappoint a two year old! After that we did some standing poses. It was a very comfortable atmosphere and Amelia sat watching me and watching her mum quite happily. We finished the session in slightly over an hour. I showed the drawings. We then left the studio. Rebecca seemed really grateful for having had some time talking about being pregnant and enjoying it. I was hugely grateful to have finally had a subject to draw who was pregnant.
I start the day spreading the pictures out again. I have magnets arriving from amazon to help me hang the work. I didn’t read the emails about this week closely enough and didn't spot the info about how cold it is in Karst. Hats and gloves are a two hour drive away so I’m wearing a lot more layers than yesterday!
The magnates arrive and don’t even begin to hold the weight of the paper. Now what?
Chris Cooke arrives to help us with hanging decisions and to discus the work. He is very helpful as he also works on paper and is used to the difficulties of hanging it. He sends me off into Plymouth to buy sticky backed Velcro. I find some that promises to hang a tool box on the wall, this has to be strong enough.
When I get back Chris helps me to hang the work. It might have been good to buy something ph balanced to stick on the backs of the drawing before attaching the Velcro to the papet but I need the work to be up so I press on. It works and works well. I have brought a leveler with me but I’m doing something wrong and it doesn’t level the work. Chris an I do it by eye and rulers. We have a chance to discus the content of the work not just the practicalities. Chris is unsure about the strong black mark making but likes the energy and competence of the drawing. He particular likes the piece “adopt”. I can not hang all the works I have brought so I select 7 of the 10. It’s not hard to choose I know which ones are weaker. Chris helps me hang the first three. It is useful to be a lot taller than 5”2’!
All the drawings were packed into the car first thing in the morning, then the drive across from the North coast to Brentor and on to Plymouth. I am staying in Brentor as to travel each day will take too long and be too much. I’m in a cottage next to Jo Pullinger’s. It is like being in set in a 1960’s village drama, things have been here a long time. It’s cozy and will serve us well for the week. We all unload our works in the morning then begin to consider how to put together an exhibition. We have separate spaces but there is openness to moving pieces around so it feel more like a group show. This is how it could be in July, more mixed up. I like this idea. Anya helps us to make a start and then we really made a start with the help of Peter from the Karst gallery to give us ideas and direction on how to hang the work. I have spread all the work on the floor but am uncertain how it will hang. I have been considering this for some time but am still not happy with the look. I would like it to seem as if there is nothing holding the work up...
When I visited the exhibition at the foundling Museum in the bookstore I saw a book Mothering by Sarah Knott and was keen to have a look at it but didn’t buy it on that day for some reason. I guess because I had already bought a book and we were walking round London and I didn’t want to carry too much. So I’ve put “mothering“ on to Audible and I’m listening to it as I am drawing. It is being read really well and has such helpful things to say. Of course remembering where they are in the book and being able to quote them is suddenly a problem and I will have to buy a hardcopy after all.
The book is interspersed with the authors own experience of conception, pregnancy, birth and motherhood. Her own real and at times visceral experiences are relayed in a very open and and fearless way. In between her own stories are the histories of women and how they became mothers. Very much of what she is sharing is hard to find in history as it was “women’s business” and not so often recorded as a point of interest. Often in the history of women and women’s experience of birth and mothering, artefacts play a key part in the discovery. Looking for historical fact was hard in the research for the book. But the stories of these women and the things that is said about them echo completely with a modern listener.
I am thoroughly enjoying this book and looking forward to how it will affect my own project report.