Handmade brushes & their marks
Fran White

Fran White

The essential nature and importance of play

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born”.

Albert Einstein

Play is as important for adults as it is for children, especially in today’s (usually) busy world. And even during these Covid times, it helps us stay calm and connected to our creative selves; helping us find useful and innovative solutions for the issues we are facing and constructively investigate and manage the difficult feelings and emotions we are experiencing. Play releases endorphins, which improves brain functionality, and is proven to stimulate creativity and growth of the cerebral cortex, which plays a key role in attention, perception, awareness, thought, memory, language, and consciousness.

Former children’s laureate, Michael Rosen in his Book of Play: Why play really matters, and 101 ways to get more of it in your life, talks about how play contributes to both our creativity and resilience. Myself and my family love this book as it is packed with silly activities and reminders for creative indoor and outdoor play, covering everything from doodling to wordplay and after-dinner games.

Inspired by Michael Rosens book, I have turned to play episodically during this past year, at times when I have struggled to keep myself on track for whatever reason. At first I didn’t realise how significant making a daily drawing ‘while the kettle boiled’ would become. I am now very aware this daily practice has fed life into my various art projects and explorations, such as the current #newfromold project, as well as helping to preserve my mental health and well-being.

During Lockdown 1 I played with what I had in my studio; I discovered I actually had more than enough, which surprised me! I was pulled along by playing, experimenting, just trying ‘one more thing’ over & over again, which eventually led me to pick up some scissors and start ‘drawing’, inspired by the work of Geta Braescu and the Matisse cut-outs.

I first came across Geta Bratescu at the 2017 Venice Biennale, she was representing Romania with a huge pavilion stuffed full of her incredible artworks. A few years later I saw her drawings at a Hauser & Wirth exhibition in Savile Row. She used scissors to ‘draw’ with and I thought why not try to draw the kettle this way. This coincided with an online course I took with The London Drawing Group studying Matisse’s cut outs.

I became scissor happy – in fact, I gave this title to some of my #whilethekettleboils artwork.

Repurposing artworks

This daily practice increased my visual perception and awareness, which in turn heightened my awareness of the world around me. I started to notice unexpected shadows at home and abroad [Not actually out in the world, simply at my mother’s home in Norfolk!]. I found I became more playful, open to processing these ‘lines of enquiry’ in a limitless manner, opening myself up to the many unexpected possibilities. Allowing vulnerability to take the lead without fear of failure but a willingness to try new things, learn and grow. To notice what I noticed and dwell for a while in the experience, letting the outcome find me.

Shadows, reflections & cat

As the year has unfolded and the lockdowns have come and gone I have gradually engaged more with the outside world. I have pursued a very rewarding collaboration with Rowena McWilliams at Smallhythe Studio and I have undertaken some online courses, including the Pure Foundation programme.         

Play lends itself perfectly to collaboration and currently I am working in my studio, repurposing old work toward a potential collaborative project with Rowena McWilliams and fellow artist Phil Auden. The project is titled #newfromold. We will see how it evolves but it may potentially lead to an exhibition…in due course when we can.

The process of creating

When I start a new subject i.e. a woman reading under a tree, as part of the project Women Who Read, I do a lot of exploratory studies. In this instance I worked from a photograph which I distilled in many ways, drawing, collage, cut-outs, layering, different backgrounds etc. before arriving at the final painting – Normal People, so called as that’s the book the woman was reading.  When I’ve completed the final picture I tidy up, document and file these many studies in order to decide which to keep.

Old & new artworks

During Lockdown 3 I did a lot more sorting and tidying of these studies from different paintings and tried to chuck them in the bin. They wouldn’t have it, so I thought there must be more there for me to discover/uncover, play with and learn from, so I have been using these as the source material for the #newfromold project I am working on with Rowena and Phil.

I follow a sort of ‘what if’ enquiry – what if I put this with that – shapes, textures, paper, fabric, templates – look again at older work – look at negative shapes, perhaps turn it upside down, on its’ side and/or enlarge a section of it.  There are no hard and fast rules, only my energy keeps me going or stops me, and how much space I allow myself to spread into in my studio.

Negative shapes from templates

Prior to our weekly meetings online, Rowena, Phil and I share our work on WhatsApp. Phil then uploads them onto his computer so we can all discuss, critique and encourage each other. I am really enjoying this process and the project itself. I really love the repurposing element; I had an inkling that my previous investigations into my subject had a lot more to offer, it turns out I was right.

I have also come to realise that the opportunity to focus and put in to practise all I have learnt from all of the workshops I have attended over the past 20 years is a precious gift. This last year has in retrospect been a period of seemingly unending possibilities, I can follow so many different paths, go on so many incredible journeys and all inside my studio and my own head.

Nothing is wasted if it is given time and attention.

Repurposing in the studio

For example, in 2014 I started a year long course called ART AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY tutored by Katie Sollohub held at Emily Ball at Seawhites. I constantly refer to the sketchbooks and notebooks I did at the time as well as all the artworks. The notebooks are really useful as they help me recall information and suggestions made by the tutors, who both encouraged and, occasionally, diverted me along a different path.

Sketch made on walk

I also used some of these enquires to help me with The Story of my Life for the Mindset module in the Pure Foundation programme. I found this module challenging to begin with as it pushed my boundaries and my mind pushed back! Ultimately, however, the learning it revealed has helped me move forward both professionally and personally.

I now realise what excites me most about the #newfromold project is the joy of returning to previous currents of thought and looking at them with new clearer eyes. The gap of time &/or a period of reflection helps me make new discoveries and combinations. This appears to have parallels with other forms of creativity – cooking, sewing, gardening even walking, especially if I take a sketchbook with me! 

Sketching while walking

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