What do you do when you’ve been working hard on a project and it feels like you’ve run out of words? Do you persevere, force the words out from their dark hiding places however unformed and jumbled they seem to be, or is there another solution that doesn’t involve stick-your-fingers-in-your-eyesockets agony?
Last weekend I decided the answer was to get the hell out of the house and see what was happening in the Frome Festival, always an eclectic mix of things to do and see including art, music, performance and literature over the ten day period. One of my favourite events is the Open Studios, where artists show their work in various galleries and shops, with exhibitions varying from painting and sculpture to textiles and ceramics, so I picked up a trail map from the library and off I went, happy not to think about work or words for an hour or two.
One of the spaces I visited was tucked away on Catherine Hill, and I was immediately drawn to the images of wildlife hanging in the circular gallery. It was the work of Julia Manning, who is clearly passionate about the natural world and birds in particular, using wood and lino cuts and other printing techniques to create striking images full of movement, colour and light.
What also interested me were some of the labels that gave the title of the piece and often a short description. It seems that many artists see these details as a straightforward and practical necessity, but Julia’s had more depth than that, using lyrical and visual language to give an insight into the moment the image was captured. Now, I realise the point of my excursion was to get away from words, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and there was one line in particular that made me stop.
Isn’t it amazing how this happens? You are doing something exterior to yourself, adjacent to your own life, but then you hear something or see something that you suddenly connect with internally and even if you don’t know what it means at the time, you know it means something.
This is very often the way I get ideas, and in this case I saw Julia’s description as a beautiful opening to a short story. Luckily Julia was around to talk to and I very cheekily asked if I could have the line, which she graciously agreed to. With some embarrassment I realised I’d come out with no writing materials so I had to borrow a pen from her and scribble the line on the back of her flyer. We talked for a while about her work and the places she finds inspiration, and I realised I had one of her cards I’d bought long ago for someone’s birthday, but had never actually parted with because I loved it so much (a picture of her own dog, Pearl).
I didn’t go to the festival that day looking for inspiration, I just wanted a break. If anything I was rather closed up with regard to creativity, but it reminded me to be open to the world around me. It’s so easy to become focused on one piece of work (essential if it’s going to be a good piece of work), sitting at home and expending energy and imagination in one direction. But we have to remember to fill up again, to go out in the world and be nourished by what it has to offer, listen and watch and live, so that creativity is never stagnant, is always an ongoing and constructive process, and then the words will come into the light to play on the page and remind us why we love being writers.
I recommend a visit to one of Julia’s exhibitions (in Frome until the 14th July), or at the very least see an excellent selection of her work on her website. Either way, remember to take a notebook and pen with you.