Accretion as defined by the Oxford dictionary is: “The coming together and cohesion of matter under the influence of gravitation to form larger bodies.”
A cold foggy day in Finland made for reading:
I was enjoying reading more about creativity, it is an endless subject! I felt like there was some synchronicity to what I was exploring, a sense that all the information I was collecting was linked together. The essays, blog posts and books were explaining similar things in different ways, and different creative processes were shown as being effective for different people. The more I looked for answers to my creative process the more I found lots of paths that all seemed to be interconnected. This was the day I discovered accretion, it spoke to me and slotted nicely into my creative process.
I chose the astronomical definition of accretion in my title because that’s the way it was described to me when I read this blog post that I had downloaded. Another definition is “Growth or increase by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter.” So layer upon layer I built up my knowledge of the creative process.
I had found, long before I was in Finland, a diagram explaining the creative process as a circular path of Inspiration – Incubation – Illumination – Implementation then back to Inspiration again. If you Google “creative process” and have a look at the images, there are a lot that follow this circular path, as well as some hilarious ones, mostly about having a brief, procrastinating and then getting all the work done while panicking.
These diagrams have always felt to me like they speak to creative teams, who “brainstorm”, and “think outside the box” for every client brief. Not me, in my studio at The Creative Showroom in Leith.
As I’ve said before, I find designing for clients easier than designing for myself. Usually we start with an idea or landscape that they bring to me. I often show them photographs of jewellery I have made, and between those and the different metals, finishes and gemstones we build up the design to create something my client will love. There are times when I don’t immediately have an idea for the design, or I have a few ideas and I spend time deciding which one to follow by working out how I would translate it into metal. Meanwhile my brain works in the background, processing it and sometimes I’ll have an idea pop into my head, other times when I sit down with my sketchbook I know what I have to do.
In terms of explaining my creative process for non client work which was the focus of my residency, I felt the rigid circular format wasn’t detailed enough for me. It didn’t explain the hard work involved, or have any depth or layers, no accretion! I decided I would need to build on it myself.
The accretion idea appealed to me because I feel that this building up of layers is how I create things, literally. I layer landscapes on top of each other to form jewellery. Or like I mentioned above when I build up new designs with clients using elements of past work as building blocks combined with their landscape inspiration.
During meditation on Wednesday, an idea for a fully formed sculpture popped into my mind’s eye. I realised there was accretion here. The trip to the metal yard on Tuesday that I mentioned in my last blog post had been a layer of accretion, building on top of the control and chaos I was also exploring. The birch trees I had been studying and documenting had been another layer of accretion, even all the way back to the time I spent at school and university working on sculptures. This is my way of building on the creative process I had found, accretion is one part of my process.
On Wednesday evening, Margi, one of the residents spoke eloquently about belonging. A subject she’d been researching for her Phd. I was fascinated both by her topic and her way of communicating, I love watching performers work! A point that stuck with me was “We as artists do not need bricks and mortar to belong, we can belong with no boundaries in an imaginary space” “Owning a home can be a yoke around your neck” This led on to discussions about artists who live in Tiny houses. An interesting concept that ties in with the minimalism that so many people are keen for just now. This brought me back to my previous thoughts about belonging and what home is to me, and how I might want to change that upon my return to Edinburgh.
In the way only artists can, we followed this deep subject with an 80’s and 90’s disco…:D
On Thursday I found my now familiar view of the lake blanketed with snow as the fog lifted in the early morning sun. The new snowfall seemed like the perfect backdrop for another long walk. So after meditation and breakfast, my friend Kripi and I headed out, starting with a walk down to the lake which was definitely melting, though you can see in my photos there are still patches of ice on it.
I enjoyed my walks in Finland, I didn’t get the same feeling of inspiration or processing ideas on my daily commute to the workshop. I needed to be focused on the walking to make it an effective part of my creative process. I need to be engaged with my surroundings and exploring or trying to see new things in order to find it inspiring. I also needed to walk for long enough that my thoughts and ideas start spilling over the mundane chatter in my brain!
During this walk, Kripi and I discussed the possibility of changing your reality. Going back to my last blog and my feelings that I was static in Edinburgh, my friend suggested I change my reality in order to make my life in Edinburgh more of what I wanted it to be. I was so smitten with Finland and I felt more inspired and I desperately wanted my life at home to be more like this. I wanted to walk more and go back to doing things that I had sacrificed when I became full-time self employed.
Thinking about it, what I seemed to have actually achieved by sacrificing things was to burn myself out every day. I was constantly trying to get as much done as I possibly could to keep the business moving. Giving myself hard to reach daily tasks, making myself stay at the workshop too long, which made me not want to work the next day. My desire for productivity was actually stifling it and I had needed this perspective in order to see it.
I finished my drawing of the sculpture that had come to me during meditation. Probably because I am a jeweller and a bit of a perfectionist, I drew it out in pencil first. I worked out how it should look and where each piece would overlap or curl round another. It’s the perfect representation of my exploration of chaos and control. One side looks perfect and the other is chaotic (albeit organised chaos here).
I decided I could translate this into other drawings and designs too, perhaps it could go down the route of jewellery too? I sketched out some smaller ideas.
Easter weekend was filled with much needed relaxation time, there was a lot of snow fall, so it was the perfect time to stay inside, drink tea, read and knit.
On Sunday we had some more Finnish treats. We’d previously been introduced to bread cheese with jam, different types of pickled herring, liquorice, rye bread and Finnish vodka. This time it was Mämmi a traditional Finnish food, which is served with cream and sugar. I am not sure what I needed more after this; a nap or a walk, it was so sugary!!
Later that day we were treated by Felipe to two amazing carrot cakes. That evening Cecile provided us with hollow eggs to decorate and a wonderful pot of soup and home made bread for us all to share. It was a wonderful nourishing day, and I really enjoyed spending time doing something creative that was totally just for fun!
On Monday I went through the book I had been reading over the weekend “The Living Mountain” by Nan Shepard and wrote out some quotes that really spoke to me. She talks about her journey through and time spent in the Cairngorm range.
From the back of the book: “Shepard spent a lifetime in search of the ‘essential nature’ of the Cairngorms; her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us”
It seems like Nan Shepard is the right person to explain to me this “pull” to the mountains and the west coast of Scotland that I feel. It is a wonderful book packed full of thoughts and brilliant descriptions of the mountain range around her. I particularly enjoyed a paragraph towards the end of the book in the chapter focused on The Senses where she says “Why some blocks of stone, hacked into violent and tortured shapes, should so profoundly tranquillise the mind I do not know.” She then goes on to explain “One has to look creatively to see this mass of rock as more than jag and pinnacle – as beauty.”
My jewellery is marking a moment in time from the landscape or seascape. It might change; the sea might wash away the beach or the mountains might be growing and moving as the earth slowly evolves and changes. We mark time as a fast thing, because on our scale, it is. For a mountain time is a long, slow marker by comparison. My jewellery is about capturing that mountain at a point in time, how you want to remember it.
I have more to explore here but I am sure the pull to the mountains has a lot to do with my journey into belonging. I always feel I belong when I am amongst the mountains or near the sea, more so than in Edinburgh. There is also the overwhelming sense of being insignificant amongst mountains that have been around for thousands of years or more, these are all things I have to explore more in Scotland.
We had our Monday afternoon meeting and I found myself taking some notes about what everyone else was feeling. I felt like I hadn’t done anything productive by this point and I was feeling anxious that I hadn’t been working hard enough!
While I was listening to my new friends talking, some things became apparent. Nearly everyone was feeling an anxiety to produce and others were noticing a rhythm to the way they were working. Walking, working, meditating, sleeping, eating. Following this rhythm, someone pointed out that “all activities creatives do become inspiring” and “everything is so exciting it’s easy to cascade forwards” I love the imagery in this, describing that feeling when you’ve got so many ideas within you they all want to bubble forth at once and in so many different directions. It was wonderful to hear that others were having this renewed enthusiasm for their work.
After the meeting, we were allowed to check our phones for messages. It was very strange to be given a small rectangle of plastic and have it buzzing and beeping as messages and emails came in. While I liked being in touch with my friends it always left me feeling disconnected. I felt like I was missing out on things at home, despite having a whole lot of exciting things happening in Finland. Noticing that this fear of missing out was so quick to seep back in to my consciousness I began to wonder why I even bothered to check my phone.
Tuesday was a beautiful Finnish spring day, the sun was blazing in the studio windows so the layers of long sleeve t-shirts and jumpers could be discarded! Hurrah!
I reflected on what I had created in the last week and the way my creativity flows, with some days seeming more productive than others. It does come in waves, just as had been mentioned during Monday’s meeting. I am a slow producer and I enjoy making jewellery that I can take time and care over.
I was reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This brought home to me a lot of the things I feel when I’m in the middle of working on a commission. The tension point between the skills I have, the skills I need to make the piece I’m working on, the challenge I feel and the sense of control and satisfaction I get from making all these elements work together to make a finished piece of jewellery. One of the contributors Richard Kool described it thusly “without challenge, life has no meaning”.
At some point on Tuesday, I started singing a random song that I hadn’t heard in a long time. I couldn’t work out where I’d heard it, until one of my housemates said she’d been humming it earlier that same day. This was a realisation for me, that I’m always taking things in (more accretion!) even when I don’t think I am. I couldn’t help but link this to my time offline as I had felt much happier and mentally healthier not having a barrage of images everyday from social media. All that time spent scrolling past things I thought I was ignoring and in actual fact they’re probably sticking in my mind like a bad 90’s pop song.
On Tuesday evening we started our studio tours; we would each spend half an hour discussing what we were working on whilst in Finland. This was followed by an amazing Thai curry and a short walk down to the lake.
Once again I was learning from my fellow residency artists, as Carolyn discussed her practice “it’s like a filtering of everything we see on walks, it enters into your mind, gets processed and comes back out again” I immediately thought of creative accretion! There are lots of things your mind takes in over the years and you have to make time to collect all that inspiration. We discussed a particular photograph she had kept in her studio for years, which was a memory for her rather than an intended influence on her work. However it seemed to very much tie in with the fluttering and moving elements to her work. This accidental coincidence seemed to be accretion of ideas, everything had come together in the end!
On Wednesday a few of us went into Tampere with Ida, the residency assistant. Due to the nature of the residency it had been recommended to us that we not venture far from Arteles, in order to get the full offline experience but I couldn’t miss this one opportunity for a day trip to Tampere!
It was quite overwhelming and a total culture shock being back in the real world! There were so many people, shops, adverts, cars, buses, noises and so much to take in. Luckily we had a plan, when you know you’ve not got long in the city you tend to work out your priorities and do stuff quickly! After some time shopping in the department store, Stockmann, and an independent music shop we went for a tasty falafel lunch and made it towards the end of the day to the Sara Hildén Gallery.
There was an exhibition of work by Jarmo Mäkilä which I found really interesting and disturbing if I’m honest! There was such a mixture of subjects, ideas and mediums, with abstract sculptures, large colourful pop art, as well as darker old master style paintings. What I took away from this was, why stick to one thing?! If you feel you can better express your theme with sculpture over painting, then why not switch it up. There is no rule to say you must be a painter and stick to it. Often artists are good at a number of things, so maybe we should all explore this more.
It’s only upon reflection that I can really see what I had achieved in these two weeks I had been in Finland! More on this later.