Thursday, 21 July 2016

Isn't it over yet.

I keep starting to write, and then losing what I'm trying to say in the words. Trying to work out my imaginary audience. Who am I writing for? Me. It's just me.

It's weird how linear the narrative is. I read back- my last complete blog post was last September- and I see runes, the framework of what the next ten months were going to be like. As if I knew, as if I ever prepared for any of it (I didn't, I never do.) I relate back to myself, these previous versions. As if they're different people who are older than me because they experienced being me before. I feel brand new all the time.

I'm so weak. I'm so stupid.

I'm coming off my tablets. I've just- had enough. Sixty extra pounds is a lot to carry. I'm lined all over now with stretch marks, cut deep and red into my skin. I'm tired. Plantar fasciitis in both feet, sciatic nerve pain in my back, neck wound so tight it hurts to lie flat on the ground- I just hurt, I'm tired. I didn't know the weight gain was such a thing when I was first put on the antipsychotics. I didn't know the brain fog was a thing either. I got screened for ADHD recently because my focus problems became such an issue, but I think it was just the doctor and I both baffled that I didn't just accept the "brain fog" as a necessary evil. A kindness, even, because in the fog you just keep drifting, your little boat doesn't see the rocks. But I guess in this metaphor it doesn't see the lighthouse lamp either.

I'm tired of the fog, and the sudden bursts of anger, and the weight piling on, and feeling out of my own control. I'm tired of it. I'm living at home right now, over the summer, and I just thought, fuck off. I can't do this any more. I want to be well. Maybe I just need to act out wellness better.

The jacket arrived. The big Metal Gear one. It looks amazing. It doesn't fit around my middle though, and I almost immediately went mad imagining everyone I know looking way better in it than I do. I want to cut my middle out. And cut off my injured feet and cut off my damaged head. No part of me feels good any more. I just woke up in this body again and it's newborn and fake and stupid. I want the satisfaction of putting the whole thing in the bin.

This year, I:
got a gym membership back home and went to yoga again, for the first time in four years. I'm terrible now, and I have so much of myself in the way. The teacher told me not to push myself too hard. "I'm talking to your body, not your ego." I felt calm, but in a sort of terrible way. I used to meditate every day (ish), and I did yoga every week, and I was pretty into it. Meditating during that session was terrifying. It was like opening a door to a dark room I hadn't opened in four years and stepping inside. And over those four years I heard muffled screaming and thumps and then nothing.

I made my mum cry. I keep doing that. She makes me cry too, though.

I don't know if I'm a good person any more. That's, more or less, what tipped me over the edge with the pills. My mum told me today that she didn't feel like I was the same person on them. She says I'm hard to live with, I'm too angry, and I'm dull. If I was gonna describe myself in a few words lately that'd just about cover it. I'm hoping it's the pills. I'm hoping there is this switch I can hit that will stop me from being irreversibly like this. If not maybe I'll just pretend to myself that there was so I have an excuse to be a better person.

Good things happened too.
I'm trying so hard to keep a hold of them.
I realised I've forgotten most of last year. I used to keep such an obsessive catalogue of memories to dip back into, but I just didn't form any in the last year. It's unsettling to reach back and feel nothing stretching for ages. I was unhappy but I couldn't let myself feel it or change it, because the situation said I should be happy. I was depressed and tired and my self esteem ticking down by the day and I kept telling myself it was my fault. And in a way, it is. Every time this happens, it's because I elect to stick around in a situation I don't need to be in.



I just want to be alone.
I just want to be myself, alone.

Right now I feel like a viewing deck with a dozen people peering into a specimen. I just feel watched, transparent, totally evil. I feel like someone is checking my thoughts before they clear into my mind. I feel so bad. I just feel horrible.


Good things happened, too. I'm trying so hard to keep a hold of them. But it's hard sometimes.


Soon will be better.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Obvious exits.

So, funny thing, I think I've developed social anxiety.

It's always been a weird one, because I guess my anxiety has always either been a camouflage for another, deeper running disorder (eg. my anxiety about leaving the house after being assaulted, the result of PTSD, or my anxiety about the state of my relationships as symptomatic of borderline.) But maybe it's also smokescreened by those other disorders. Social anxiety is a weird one because I don't think I've ever just had it- I feel awkward and nervous around new people, and old people. But I also love and thrive from being around people. Social anxiety has always felt artificial when it's happened to me, caused by something else.

I've had this black and white thinking post-event, where I've divided my life into good- before I got seriously ill, when everything was better- and bad- the useless, helpless pariah I became afterwards, void after the fact. Not suicidal, but not really feeling worthwhile. Just- occupying the hinterland in between, with miles to go to get back to either side. It never really occurred to me to try and diagnose this person I've become. I've either tried to paint myself good again (and become frustrated when it hasn't worked), or gone on unhappily knowing I'm bad. It was a conversation with a pal I went to college with that got me thinking, actually. College was a bad time for both of us- a horrible year with an awful, cruel tutor, a group of peers that neither of us gelled with, and work that we both despised. And he said about social anxiety. I thought about it, the dent that year put in my confidence, and I guess I was pretty confident in myself and around other people until around that time, too. And I've been so caught up in my good/bad, black/white thinking that I failed to notice that a similar thing has happened again- I'm doing better because I've worked hard on my recovery so far, but I'm not doing "good" because there are some new little things that hold me back now.

It's funny to diagnose these very obvious little things. I was sitting in the lecture hall for our welcome back meeting earlier today, and my heart was thumping, and my hands were shaking, and my voice had gone all high pitched. I could barely look around at all the people in the room with me. And I was thinking in my head, oh my god, everything's terrible, I've made a mistake coming back, look at me, I'm not better at all. And then a little later, once things had quietened down, I somehow managed to take a step back and look at how I was acting. And my god, look, I was just nervous. Super nervous. Super aware of my every wrong move, how my hair was sitting, the shape I was making. And super scared of people looking at me, looking through me. Social anxiety! God I love explanations for things.

Cos you know what? You can fight social anxiety... You can work on it. The one, pure, golden thing about finishing therapy is the sense of, like, OK, I've done this once, I can do it again. I can keep doing it. INSIGHT! ~*~*~*~

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

In your shadow.

Mental illness took my body away from me. Mental illness took away my ability to think my own thoughts. I'm only now getting these things back, and I'm scared of what they'll look like when I find them again.



With this disorder I've always felt like I'm constantly moving house, vacating identities and setting off in search of a new one to inhabit. This one, maybe. Maybe this one will be right. I still don't know what questions to ask before I move in. I still don't count the rooms, picture the places I'll crawl into. I just hope each time that this'll be the one. I don't change the space to suit myself, I just dress it like a stage with the few things that indicate my presence there. And then I act out my life, my identity, following the script I've picked up, word for word.

I guess this is where I get my sensation that the world I enter during my dissociative episodes is the "real" one- it's the only one where I'm finally abstract from the structures I've had built all around me (and I'm using passive language even though I'm the one doing the building.) When I dissociate, I forget everything about the script. I forget the character I'm playing. I wake up on the stage when all the lights have gone off and everyone's left. I'm just me, confused and mostly in wonder, spectating the show I've been putting on in my other life. It feels so real. It feels so unreal. I don't know how to get to that person without dissociating. It's beyond just putting on a bit of a face. I feel like even my own thoughts are being edited as they come into bloom, trying to shape themselves into what another person might be thinking. Trying to become someone else. I used to play these telepathy games all the time when I was younger, where I'd close my eyes and shake my head and pretend another person had taken over my body, and then try to act out what they'd do, even if it hurt me. Now I can't stop playing.

What happens to a room when you move out of it? When I clear out everything that made it mine, including myself, does the room live on when I move everything into a new house? Does time stop, somewhere? Is the empty room entwined with the discarded identity, both existing and not existing? If they no longer exist, were they ever there?


...

Therapy taught me to survive. Therapy taught me to love my job, acting. Therapy maybe taught me to get into character, to love my character, to protect my character. I value all of these things. I even value my life. But this darker current- the brightly coloured shadows of delusion, the psychotic waters- still runs through me. The disorder accelerates and decelerates time around me. I'm flung back and forth until the concept of a "present" is meaningless- because all of it is always happening and not happening at the same time. I walk out of the room and the shadow lengthens for every step. I don't know if I'll ever be out of it.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Babies.




In a week I'm moving. The flat's already emptied out. All my stuff is in storage or back home in Glasgow (and man was there a lot of stuff.) It's... weird. It feels weird. There's about five days between this lease ending and the new one beginning, so I'm in the same weird situation as I was when I moved out from halls- an empty flat with nothing in it but a laptop, a duvet and a toothbrush. And probably the same destiny of ordering a ton of pizza at some point to ration out since I have no food.



Yeah. It does feel weird. It's been two years almost to the day since I moved into this flat. I tried to make a home out of it, but my flatmate and I fell out over some fairly critical stuff early on and I ended up just lumped with the task of keeping it clean, since she never did anything about that, and otherwise keeping out of the way. I had my twenty-first birthday party here, which was the best party I've ever been to. Before all that, I had the worst summer of my life. I can look at the empty walls now, as they were two years ago when I first moved in and lived by myself for three months, and I can still see the dark stains of those horrible days. I was sitting here most nights, on the floor next to the window in the living room, listening to the street noise at three in the morning and wishing I was dead. My empty fridge and my window sills lined with empty bottles. I did so much damage to myself. I walked out to the botanical gardens with my face all cut up and made a call to the Samaritans. I locked myself out of my bedroom where all my pills were waiting on the desk. I cried a lot. Me and my pink hair and my blue mascara and myself all hollowed out, ready to end.

I never thought it would get better. I didn't think I could ever get beyond that feeling- that numb, eating away at the inside of your head, eating away at the inside of your chest feeling, that cold, panicked feeling of needing to disappear, or destroy, or scratch yourself out. I couldn't have conceived of not feeling that way, it was so consuming. I've done what I told myself then was impossible- I've forgotten how that feels.


I feel happy. I feel content. I feel peaceful. I don't feel disturbed by anyone or anything. There was a lot I'd lost that I didn't think I would ever get back, but it started coming back. I got back more than I ever thought I would- I've gotten these years that I never believed I'd survive to see, because I was so sure at nineteen that I was going to kill myself, sooner or later. Now I don't know. I don't always know for sure that it's getting better. I know that it's not getting worse. Every two weeks at the hospital I'm given a chart of numbers and asked to rate my life against how it was when I started therapy, almost two years ago. It's never gotten worse.

There's stuff I've learnt through doing therapy. Like these bad spells come in cycles. Every couple of months I hit a bad low, and then I level out. Some things trigger it- my schemas, the lenses that tint everything I see. Working through it helps. I've been able to be open and honest with friends for the first time, imparting my diagnosis to a couple of people, explaining what I need when things get bad and giving them the option to be the person who can give it to me. I've started getting myself back- and it's not a good person, or a perfect person, or a person who isn't traumatised, but just the person I was all along. I like video games, and electronic music, and I love dancing and I love to draw. I like reading books and playing CDs. I love laughing really hard until my chest hurts. I love walking around at night, and talking to people, and watching movies. It's all small stuff but it's stuff I never let myself have, in all this time. I couldn't be a person who loved doing anything. I compressed myself into nothingness. I'm always building silhouettes of myself out of sand.

But I feel good just now.


My friend and I dyed half my hair blonde. Doesn't it look weird? I love it.


Friday, 8 May 2015

Cacti.

I've been writing, and stopping midway, and starting again for a few months now. I don't know what I want to say. So here's some writing about my cacti instead.

My first plant (if I remember correctly) was Jónsi. He's a little succulent that I rescued from the bin on my parent's anniversary one year. I say he was my first plant. I grew some hebes in our front garden when I was younger, and I cared for them a lot, and I helped pick out some plants from the garden centre for my mum and the back garden, though I didn't care for them so much. Jónsi is a fragile-looking, twiggy little guy in a tiny pot, a donkey's tail I think, too delicate for the road trip to Dundee when I first moved out- so I left him in the care of my dad, who in the past three years has seen him rise up and climb out of his pot to crawl along the windowsill in our kitchen at home. Every time I came home I said, DAD! Repot that guy! Because the pot was seriously tiny, and he was getting seriously big.

Well, last weekend we went to Homebase and got a big bag of cactus soil (cactus soil is different from regular soil because it's got more rocks and sand in it) and I repotted Jónsi. I've been worrying about him ever since. Some cactuses freak out when they're repotted.

I'm always very anxious about my cacti, because I take it very hard when they die. Two of my cacti didn't make it through the winter this year- Vegeta and Kakarot, who were both from IKEA and caused me some worries from the start. Vegeta was so named because of his perfect yellow Super Saiyan-style hat, and Kakarot was just named to match (he had a spiky red hat, so I suppose he looked a bit like the SSJ4 from GT, but I hated SSJ4). Both of them caught cold, despite my best efforts in keeping them safe from draught. Sometimes these things happen. I was very sad.


I kept them on the windowsill for a while after they'd died because I didn't want to just put them in the bin, but eventually it seemed too sad, so today I took them out to the flower shop across the road and asked if the owner could compost them. They're now on their way to a new life as new soil. The florist also told me they were both grafted cacti, or "moon cacti", which are two different types of cacti fused together. I wonder if this contributed to their early demise. Either way I wish I'd been able to save them. Poor little Z Fighters.

The rest of my cacti are still on the windowsill. I'm moving flat at the end of June, so I'll have to find them happy new places to chill out. I'm not sure if my new bedroom has an appropriate windowsill (my new window faces the west.) We'll see.


In the glass jar is Jem (and the Holograms). She's grown a little bit since I got her when I first moved to Dundee. The coloured pots were named by a friend, but I didn't think they suited them particularly, so I renamed them Simon (tall and green), Lumps (short and orange), and the Brothers (two and yellow.) They've gotten a little taller too. I hope when the time comes to repot them that I'll be able to find some colourful pots again. The very tall one is Steve Reich (and the Kronos Quartet). His fuzz is very soft if you're mindful of his spines. He's grown the most of them all, and I think he'll need repotted soon. I think Steve Reich's grown the most because I talk to him and play him music the most. I love the others too, but I find Steve more accessible than the rest.

I got some new friends when I was back in Glasgow last week.


That's Jónsi in his new pot on the right. The other guys are Big Lebowski (look at how spiky!), Lemongriese (whose hair is very yellow), and Agent Cooper, the tiny succulent. I met them at the garden centre when we were getting compost. They're in my parents' care in Glasgow now but they'll be joining me in Dundee in a while.

(I'm already nervous about Agent Cooper, but look how perfect. I had to try. I hope he'll be OK.)

So that's all about my cacti.

A few years ago, I saw some cactuses performing live. I think it was part of Glasgow's Minimal festival, which celebrates Minimalist music. I go every year. The band looked like this:


In searching for the piece of music that we listened to, I found this:


How nice. But I think the piece was actually John Cage's Child of Tree (or possibly it was Branches):



So many things have happened and been happening. It's good to stop and reflect on some plants sometimes.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Emptied out.

If you're going to survive with bad mental illness, you're going to have to make some compromises. If you want to live at all, you have to live with it.

I think of my life, fractured up with this dissociative nature of mine, as a series of saves. Sometimes I wake up and I've been put back in the wrong file, or the file's been corrupted. My body becomes the scene of many different events- grief, violation, anger and hopelessness- and with each of them my mind does its best, as if it's taking up the controls for the very first time each turn. Every time I catch myself wondering which save is the real one, I lose something. I only stay connected sheerly through wanting to. I want the world I live in to be real. I want, one day, for there to be no others.

The trick that I'm being taught, every two weeks when I've done my required reading and obediently reported to the hospital for therapy, is to forget. When I feel anything I can't tolerate, I have the responsibility of being my own caretaker, gardener, taking the branches of different feelings and reactions and gently clipping them off entirely. This is how I stay stable. The trick is that you sacrifice yourself in exchange for your own life. 

I didn't write for a while, but I turned 21, ended up in the emergency room again, had a birthday party, got a job as illustrator in residence, passed the semester, came off quetiapine provisionally (switching onto something lighter), found a new place to move into next summer, and now 2015 is here. I spent Hogmanay in Dundee with friends, who'd also fled home after tense, argument-filled Christmas breaks, and we played board games until the bells. Everything's felt so emptied out. I feel like I barely recognise my parents, and I actually barely recognise my sister. I don't recognise all the things that have been going on in my family, although I think it's just a bit of the veil lifting and revealing the truth. People who've been battered and hurt for years are finally showing their scars. And me having to accept- that I'm helpless as I've ever been. There have just been times when I felt more powerful.


I saw a shooting star the other day.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

You're falling apart!

I know! I know I am.

I've said before, things along the lines of "I'm worried things are getting bad again" or "I'm scared it'll end up like last year". Today I've realised that things really have gotten bad again. Like before, it crept up on me unseen. I thought I was doing OK. Feeling a bit vulnerable, maybe dipping into depression, but staying on course. Trying to ignore these little blips, warnings. I am an idiot. Case in point: I wrote a letter to send to Liam a few days ago.

Today was hard. Most days aren't, now that I've learned to be more patient. As I get through everything I need to do, I keep my line loose, reeling it in when I need to, letting it spool back out when I can. But today was hard, which made me alert. I missed an appointment with my psych, having slept clean through it after three days solid without sleep and an eventual desperate measure of taking more quetiapine than usual to knock me out. I woke up mid-panic. I'd been dreaming intensely about a friend coming to visit- a friend I haven't seen in over a year now- and how I'd budgeted for so much food to stock my fridge with so that we could eat well while he was here. I woke up with the numbers still in my head. I woke up late to go to the cinema for a friend's birthday, but was in such a panic that I fainted twice while trying to get ready, so I stayed in and baked cookies to make it up to her.

At the end of her quiet flat party, cake half gone, vodka bottle sitting placidly under the table, rattling a Playstation controller listlessly at a TV screen, mostly everyone in bed, someone starts asking me about sexual assault, and I go into such a terrible state of mind- of total, submissive quiet. I answer her questions and listen to her observations obligingly, feeling hollow, wondering (not for the first time) why I don't say "stop". Came home in a daze, still in a dress and heels, alert, come in the door and the electricity is out and the alarm is beeping steadily, and while I'm trying to disable the sound, I set off the piercing alarm for the entire building.

Deactivate it. Slump in anxious pile. Won't sleep tonight. Can't feel my brain. Today was hard.

I don't like this flat. Every dark corner is stained with the after-image of me crouched with a razor in my hand, scoring lines into my arm to revive me from my grief; stained dark with psychosis, empty with the constant sorting and destroying; empty from lack of furnishing, lack of love. The stupid electricity meter and its piercing wail. My flatmate skulking behind her heavy locked door, ignoring me for some minor fault. Separate cutlery trays. The noise. I'm angry. I should have grown, but in this place, I'm stunted. An adult trying to grow in the shoes of a child. I need out, but I'm bound into my contract until next June. I hate it. I want to live in the studios. Or I don't want to live anywhere, just phase in and out of my life at different points.

Anyway, today was hard, so I had to examine why. I did the working I've put off, ignored for a while, and I thought, oh shit. That letter to Liam. I've been hearing voices, thinking they were normal and then instantly forgetting. Round one was psychosis. I forget that it comes in stages like this. Round one, psychosis, unpleasant, physical distortions, get through it, ground. Round two is delusions. They're hard to destroy because they're even harder to detect.

WELL, SHIT.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Someone great.

Tomorrow, I'm welcomed back into the warm and bright embrace of the art school.

I've also been a year on quetiapine now. A couple of stone, a few hundred nights of sleep, the colour grown out of my hair, another summer passed in an empty flat, and I've got a few things to comb out until they sit right and stop hurting my head. Problem number one, quetiapine and generally being sedentary and tired all the time has made me put on weight, and my self esteem is still uncomfortably tied into how well I can wear my clothes and how easily I can find the strength in my arms and legs when I reach out for it. Solution number one, I've got friends who want to take up swimming with me, and swimming is one of the most joyful and strengthening activities I can think of. Maybe once I get some of my strength back, I can start going to combat classes again. Good. Focus on it.

Problem number two, quetiapine and generally being unhappy has made me far more irritable and aggressive than I'd ever be previous. It kicks in violently and hangs around like a cloud circling my head and I barely notice until I reflect on things I've said, and it's frustrating and I don't like the kind of person it's making me into. I need to find some way of sifting through these things that are cutting me up so, like grit burning against my skin, and cleaning it out so I can get to the clean sensation of anguish, feel it, get it over with, move on. I think I ought to start meditating daily again. I've let myself steep in warm, dirty waters, lying awake at night driving myself through the thickness of stupid sick thoughts. I can do better than this.



I've been sad. I've been in pain. I still end up in a stupor some days sitting unhelpful thoughts, backing myself through the same stupid hedge I wrote myself out of, thinking, you don't deserve to think these thoughts. Isn't that strange. I reminded myself, through some chatting with incredibly tolerant friends, that it pays better to try and be kind to yourself, at least until you can stand back on your own feet.

My worst fear last year was that I would live to see the age of twenty. I was scared senseless by the idea that I would be dragging myself endlessly through a life I was never meant to be in, one that was crafted to be empty no matter how hard I struggled to fill it up. My dissociative episodes still drag me back to those strange, out-of-order times, lifting me out of my day and depositing me in a blank save, an empty set, double-exposed photograph. Now, my biggest fear, the smallest terror that runs itself into my life like a thread of black ink in clear water, is the ever-imminent collapse of this incredibly fragile world that I've built, where I've experienced successes and worthwhile relationships and began to see a future at my feet. Recently I've grown scared that it'll be me, not the illness, that throws it all away.

I've got to do better by myself. I've got to remember that I'm not immune to the seasons of recovery. It's so easy to turn around and see that towering schema still behind me, still reminding me of the unavoidable truth that I carry with me, that I should be dead. I've got to put more in front of myself to distract me until maybe one day it'll disappear altogether. There's this stupid way you get into when you're suicidal, which is believing that you can't be hurt by anything until you die. The smallest woes and injuries that a normal person might stop to tend to get ignored. In a literal sense, the scene of me pouring the kettle out over my hand last year. In a less obvious sense, someone forgot about my upcoming birthday. I had a fight with my sister. There's been news about Liam's killer, and I feel helpless and sad, alone without anyone here to share him with, reminded not of the empty days after his death when I turned myself to stone, but of the more vulnerable memories- of his last visits to our house, of our time together as children.

You know. These things would make you sad. Why wouldn't they? When you're suicidal, every feeling, vivid and demanding to be felt, is churned by the mill into the same lethal, vibrating mist, torturing you like an animal into desperation. Why shouldn't I be sad? What does real emotion feel like, when it's not numbed and then let back through in a slow trickle of poison? I feel sometimes like I don't know myself at all. I've been going around apologising to everyone I know for my every strange habit, terrified I'll lose them, or that things might change and grow, and if they move out of place, I'll lose everything again. It'll just not be there any more. Why should anyone be sympathetic, if I should start talking? I've talked enough.

I need to be nicer to myself, and it's out of necessity- if I'm nice to myself, I'll be more inclined to be nice to other people, I'll deserve their kindness, I'll be able to clear my head and work hard, and I love to work. It's fine being able to trace a curled root back and say it's all stress, and then sit ill at ease but content with the diagnosis, but wouldn't it be better not to be so stressed to the point of total immobility... When I have the constant pain and exhaustion, the eyesight flickering on and off, the ever present threat of another breakdown in the future, why not give myself the best chance I can. Wouldn't it be nice to not just survive, to not just feel things again, but to experience them. To care about them. Wouldn't it be nice to feel real? OK.

Monday, 25 August 2014

At a loss: Hair, gender, identity, and cutting it all off.

I've been researching for a comic I've had in the works for a long time, commissioned by a close friend on the subject of gender identity, and I've continually found myself at a total loss. For something that used to be the main subject of any and all of my funny little diary comics, I don't seem to have much to say about it any more. So I thought I'd trip back in time and do my working on a few issues that have tumbled down by the wayside, and also do two things I've been reticent about doing in the past- share pictures of myself, and talk about my gender.


It started off when I found this picture of myself, which I've always liked because 1. I'm laughing and 2. there's a ghost on my head, but also 3. I look the way I think I ought to. My hair was growing back in after its first shear (a number 4) just prior to me starting uni, I'd taken to wearing my glasses and lanyard around on campus so as to find my way easier, and I was in a good mood almost nonstop, inhabiting different people's rooms every day, becoming brand new. I made good sense to myself.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Draw to live.


I recently returned to life drawing, since All The Young Nudes set up in Dundee's Redd Suite a few months ago. I've been doing life drawing for about six years, which is probably the longest I've been doing anything of my own accord.


Look! That's me, being camera-shy in a studio at the Glasgow School of Art in 2009.

I started life drawing the year before, when I was going on fifteen and smuggled into a studio at the Tramway by my mentor Gaylie. I'd taken the initiative- prior to those sessions, I was spending most of my time in high school studying from photographs and working on still life, and despairing of how inflexible my drawings were. My second year art teacher had given me a definition of drawing I had never considered- that it was a process of 'drawing out the spirit of a thing'. I was told to spend 75% of the time observing and the rest of the time putting pen to paper. But I still didn't get it. My fineliner, my photographs, my neat small drawings in my A6 sketchbook didn't get it. When I first heard of life drawing, I made it my mission to bother everyone I knew until I found a way to get into a class. (Cue Gaylie, who had already made a note of my interest in comics and taken me to the renowned Hope Street Studios in Glasgow to show some industry legends my deviantART account. Nice!)


The studio which would become my new home every Tuesday night was smaller than I'd thought, populated by real art students in their twenties and tall wooden easels, all in a circle around a raised platform in the middle of the room. I went in expecting to be a prodigy, with my tiny sketchbook and fineliners, for about five minutes, after which my tools were slapped out of my hands and replaced with sheets of newsprint and vine charcoal. First pose, forty seconds. Go.

Those first sessions immediately imparted the lessons that have been the most important to me since:

  1. Draw big.
  2. Draw fast.
  3. The product doesn't matter as much as the process.
  4. When it stops working, discard it and start fresh.

These lessons are important because they break down the most common frustrations of drawing- an inability to see what you're doing wrong, a tendency to overthink each mark, and the irritation of not getting it to "look right". I didn't entirely understand the latter until I started my photorealism practice, at the point where I considered the drawings themselves to be a by-product of the observational studies I was undertaking, and discarded most of them regardless of their success or failure. (I was at a stage in my life where exerting self-discipline was the only way I had any control over my life so it felt good to throw away these sometimes quite beautiful and valuable things at my own discretion.) If it didn't look right, I started a new drawing. If it did look right, I started a new drawing. I made probably hundreds of paintings studying the minute things I had always thought about, but never been able to capture because I'd never sat down and tried.


If at first you don't succeed, try and try and try and try and try... and then keep trying even if you do succeed.
This method of not being precious with your drawings but equally valuing and considering the process of their creation was a turning point. It puts more emphasis on looking, seeing, and observing, instead of trying to make a drawing "look right"- I quite often don't look at my drawings once they're finished, and I very often don't look at them much while I'm drawing either. The time I spend in the studio sat before a live model is incredibly valuable and I barely want to miss a moment of observation time. The drawings are almost secondary.

Draw with whatever you got to hand, on whatever's nearby, draw big, draw fast, keep looking, keep watching...

It's not so much a "fuck it I'll mess up anyway who cares" as it is a way to learn to love the practice of drawing and reduce the stress of not being perfect- because you know that it's much easier to enjoy and get good at the things you love and do easily, and much harder to get better at something if you have to beat yourself into doing it. I find a good drawing is something like a good run, or making a good meal- you get into a state of total focus and calm, and the payoff feels fantastic. For me, drawing is as close to peace as you can get. I developed a particular technique shortly after I came off fluoxetine and needed to chase away the tremor I'd developed in both hands. What I was trying to do was work breathing exercises I'd learned in therapy and in meditation into my drawing practice, so as to make my physical linemaking smooth and natural. It ended up having the added benefit of helping me keep a line more even than I could even before I developed the tremor, just because I was sort of relaxing into it.

I was also interested (naturally) in certain phenomenons such as drawing while extremely tired or drawing while drinking, since both seemed to have an effect on how I drew. I'd always known I got more frantically productive the later in the night it got, and I knew the same happened with other people (shoutout to my fellow longtime insomniac and best friend Muffin, with whom I've shared many late night arting rendezvous over the years). Generally lacking inhibition seems to be good for drawing. As I started on sedatives in order to treat my various disorders, debilitating insomnia among them, I did have a brief moment of sadness thinking that those late nights, full of wonder and complete loss of boundaries, would now be whittled down to few and far between due to my mandatory medicated bedtimes. And I was right- this has been the case and though it's probably saved me a heart attack down the line, it's a little sad that one of these quintessential arty person experiences is no longer one of mine- plus I largely miss out on the company of friends I used to stay up all night on Skype with.

That said, with combining drawing and meditation during my waking hours, I've found some small way to put myself back in touch with that weightless, capable feeling- being able to exercise everything I know about drawing without having to consciously bring it to mind.

Drawing I did in 2013 during a pub crawl. I managed to catch something here that I liked, and probably would not have been able to catch otherwise for concentrating too hard on getting an accurate likeness. The eyes became the focus without me quite realising it, and the rest of the drawing is just holding them up.
On the other hand, I did this one recently, and from a photo. I managed to catch a more accurate likeness than before and with greater control over my lines too, but maybe the likeness is held a bit too tightly. Suppose some things are hard to dissect...
Anyway, I suppose, as is always the case, the danger in thinking you understand what you're doing is that you get too comfortable doing it. No sense, and no wonder, in being a portrait artist if you have a selection of "stock" faces you draw upon. No point at all to drawing from life if you think you've drawn it all before. Then again, the danger in feeling like you have no idea what you're doing is that it goes from being very exciting to extremely frustrating very quickly. Maybe the key is to draw so much that you're as comfortable doing so as a fish in water, but to stay curious, and keep observing all the while, knowing that the river you swim in is never the same twice. What mysteries are you drawing out?




Hmmm! Anyway, I've become a little too settled and a little too reluctant to pick up my pen as a result. I feel like I'd be as well going out drawing with my eyes squeezed shut. It's a headache. The weaknesses I can feel, even as my strengths grow. I've worked hard on my line and left my tone to go cold, not to even think of my colour. As I've often said about individual paintings, when is it done? The drawing knows when it's done. For me, it's done when I've learnt all I can from it. It's OK to stop at that point- even if the painting isn't completely polished or even 'finished' yet. I suppose the same idea applies to more general practice, too. Time to think less in black and white and go a little further back out of my depth. I've achieved good things in ink, after all. Time to push off again.


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