My Studio

A Move To Kusane

The sounds of The Penguin Café Orchestra filter through the air. I am wrapped in a fleece blanket and outside, all is cold and grey. Above the music, I hear the steady raindrops falling on tin roof and through the window, I see the Karkloof valley shrouded in mist, with only a hint of the ridge beyond visible. The rain has been relentless over the last week and all my once plump, Eastern Cape succulents have gone ominously purple and black, like a toe that has lost its blood supply. 

Looking out over the Karkloof Valley, shrouded in mist

I have been here a little over 6 weeks now and am comfortably settled into my new rented home, a two bedroom flat on the ground floor of what is known as The Barn; a stylish green, steel structure, surrounded by rock gardens, filled with an abundance of shrubs, aloes and birds, all lovingly cared for by my brother, who lives on the upper floor. The view from our perch up here on the hill, is breathtakingly beautiful. Its sweeping expanse across picture perfect farmland, edged by the moody blue Karkloof mountains, expands both mind and spirit. 

The view from The Barn Photo: Anthony Stidolph

It is the perfect place to sit and rest a weary body, for it takes one’s mind away from the heaviness of the world and opens up a sense of possibility for a future not yet seen. It stimulates the creative spirit, which in my case has lain fairly dormant for the past two years, as I have struggled valiantly to keep my head above water in the face of the pandemic and a world in total chaos. I, like many people whose businesses were impacted by the pandemic, have worked really hard during this period of recalibration and my mind and body are tired, made all the more so by my recent decision to relocate from the comfortable and familiar surrounds of Grahamstown/Makhanda to new pastures in Kwa-Zulu Natal. 

Although I have been toying with the idea of relocating for the past few years, my tentative efforts to make it happen in 2019 had all but fizzled out, when news of the pandemic loomed large on the horizon. In fact, when the total lockdown became a reality, I was extremely grateful to still be ensconced in the familiar comfort of my much loved home and not locked up, with my possessions in boxes, somewhere on the road between two worlds. It was a relief to have had the decision for my future taken from me, and it was clear that I needed to stay where I was, so I used the time to develop my class material and take my courses online. I was perfectly content, making the most of every day, in the sunny Eastern Cape. In fact, so content was I to remain in my nest, that all thoughts of moving had faded to the distant recesses of my mind. It was somewhat of a surprise, therefore, when, late last year, on a drizzly November afternoon, I received a call that was to be one of those defining moments of my life. An estate agent, asking if she could bring someone to view my house? I hadn’t seen this coming and despite all my previous, theoretical talk of wanting to make a move, I certainly hadn’t been prepared for it actually happening. I was in a bit of a daze, but in a space of 24 hours, not only had my home been viewed, I had signed and accepted an offer. 

Fast forward three months and here I am, looking out into the mist and wondering how I got through it? Moving a home and art studio at my stage in life is a major undertaking;  a little like uprooting a well-established oak tree. It’s not something to take lightly, it requires special assistance and the ground in the new location needs to have been well prepared. Looking back, I realise that I have been sub-consciously preparing for this move for quite some time, with numerous visits to the farm, this beautiful piece of paradise, imagining myself living here, talking about living here and wondering how I could make it happen. Incredulously, in a space of three months, not only have I been uprooted, I have been successfully transported and transplanted into the fertile Midlands soil, and this soft soaking rain of reflection is exactly what is needed to settle and get my bearings.

Moving forward into the next chapter of my life Photo: Anthony Stidolph

It’s a big step to have left the security of my previous life, but I am glad I have done it and am hopeful that the foundation I have laid over the past twenty years in Grahamstown will stand me in good stead going forward and that before too long, I will see the new shoots of creativity emerging. Like any good painting, the canvas has been prepared and is now ready for some action. The empty space that lies before me is daunting, but a few outlines have been roughly sketched and in my imagination, I can see the way that things could develop. This is not to say that the picture that emerges will work out the way I envisage it, for as any artist knows, paintings can take on a life of their own and it’s our job to listen and follow. The plan, therefore, is not to force anything to happen, but allow the story to unfold.  

My side of the deal is to remain calm and steadfast, to listen for the inner promptings whilst being alert to potential opportunities. I know it will take courage to take new ideas forward, for not only am I in a completely new environment where very few people know me and I know just as few, I am up against the societal narrative that says I am of an age when I should be retiring. But, I also know that I am a free, creative spirit and can rewrite the script to become whatever I want it to be. From this perch on the hill, looking back, looking forward, I feel like my real work is only just beginning. Of course, I may be naive in this regard, but only time will tell.

There are definitely advantages to being young, particularly that one has energy and that one thinks life will go on forever, but the gift of age and maturity is that one has wisdom and experience on one’s side, aided by a deep and firm foundation from which to launch to the next level of the story. What this level should look like varies from person to person, but irrespective of how one chooses to live, this stage of life allows one to let go of all that is no longer relevant and work only with that which is essential. It is a time of distillation.

So, now I find myself in that liminal space where what was is gone and what is to come has not yet revealed itself. It is an exciting place to be, for in it, anything is possible.  

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Drawing in Lockdown

For almost 40 years I have been teaching the basic skills of drawing to adults who wish to learn to draw. No matter where I have lived the rhythm of my week has been held together by the beat of these regular classes, that see groups of kindred spirits flowing in and out of my studio. These spirited gatherings have enriched my life immeasurably and all of my students have become my friends, brought into my life by a shared appreciation for creativity.

The Joys of Teaching

One of the great joys of my work is to see students move from a place of uncertainty and anxiety, where they don’t believe that they can draw, to a more positive place of realizing that they can. Most people who come to my classes, arrive as absolute beginners, drawn here by some yearning to be creative. In some cases there is a wish to rid themselves of a critical voice from their past, to defiantly overcome the fear and do some drawing anyway. Others come for the companionship of a creative community; a place where they can experience support whilst learning a something new. For others it’s purely therapy, an escape from the left brain grind of their high pressure job, or a brief escape from the responsibilities of being a mum. There are many reasons for coming to drawing, but one thing that most students will agree upon is that what they experience in my studio, is far more than just a drawing class.

Something magical happens in these sessions. Something I could never plan. As soon as people enter this studio, we are enveloped in a spirit of camaraderie. Within every group, there is a sense of care, mutual support and trust. A feeling that allows us to exhale.

The Sally Scott Studio, Grahamstown, South Africa

I often hear people say that they find it so much easier to draw when they’re in my studio during a class than they do when they are on their own at home, and I’ve wondered about that and why this should be, but think it’s something to do with the energy of the group and the confidence that comes from knowing that they have support and guidance at hand.

Part of becoming an artist, however, is to be able to work alone, to find the strength and motivation within oneself to get to the drawing board no matter what day, mood or weather. This is something that is difficult for me to teach, as it’s something that resides within the spirit of an individual and develops organically through need and circumstance.

In early March 2020, in my twentieth year of running my Grahamstown studio, things were going well and I had a warm sense of achievement after each and every class. My sessions were buzzing, all at capacity and everyone seemed to be energized and happy. Intuitively, I knew I must savor the moment, and fortunately I did, for as so often happens in life, things were about to change dramatically, in a way that none of us could have predicted.

The Winds of Change

Within the space of two weeks, we had gone from hearing about a virus that was spreading through China and Europe to realizing in horror, that Africa was on its itinerary. After a few days of confusion that followed the President’s speech, I leapt into action and made plans on the run as to how I could keep the classes going. With the announcement of the pending lockdown, everyone bomb-shelled as they ran for shelter, stocking up their nests for the coming storm. I crammed in some last minute extra classes to help those who had only just begun their drawing adventure with me, and at the same time was learning about social distancing and the best disinfectants to use to keep everyone safe.

India social distances on my studio verandah, as she attends her last art class before lockdown

Everything happened so fast that week, and before I knew it, the students were gone and it was just me, my dog and the silence of my empty studio.

A New Way of Being

Like so many art teachers around the globe, I had never even heard of Zoom, and would not have thought it even possible to teach a hands-on subject like drawing, remotely. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I did know for sure, that I wasn’t going to panic and I certainly wasn’t about to abandon my classes. Having been through a war, those old survival instincts kicked in, and one way or another, I would make a plan.

Whatsapp was my first port-of-call and I quickly established two groups into which I placed my students according to their level of experience. This was to be our portal for communication during the lockdown. It was important to me that this be a safe space, a place to retreat, to share our drawings and to draw inspiration and strength. It was to be completely free of the virus, and memes, death tolls and horror stories were banned. I simultaneously moved to email and sent out detailed class instructions that would serve as a guide for what drawing to do next. I spent hours creating new sets of illustrated notes, and quickly learned how to make videos and shared a few short demonstrations on techniques. In their respective homes, my students were busy clearing dedicated art spaces from where they planned to work. We were getting onto our feet and gradually we all got into the spirit of how to be in this new reality.

Helen sets up her home studio space

A few weeks in and I was starting to regain my balance. I even took a X-Fit class to learn how this Zoom thing worked. I still couldn’t quite see how it would work for a drawing class, but was willing to give it a chance. I attended another session and slowly began to relax into this somewhat uncomfortable way of communicating. I thought a little more about it and after a month of being apart, decided to offer it to my students as a way to check in and say hello. I had a few takers and we met at an appointed time. It was wonderful to see them again and I knew after that session that this would be a very good way to keep our community connected. So I planned a few drawing exercises and the next time we met, I offered them an option to draw a little, which they accepted and turned out to be a lot of fun.

Since then, a weekly Zoom session has become the new norm for those who are able to connect and we now have three very active groups. I even got new recruits, who live in different parts of the country, so started a completely new session for them. Much to my surprise, these remote teaching sessions have become the highlight of my week. I am enjoying the challenge and so enjoying watching everyone’s progress.

An evening class in lockdown

Therapeutic Calm 

Many of my students have commented that the drawing has really helped them get through this difficult period of lockdown. It has become an anchor, their calm in the storm and that seeing the familiar faces each week, has provided a sense of normality.  To be part of a creative community, has helped to break the sense of isolation.

As a teacher, I am quietly pleased at the unexpected benefit this surreal situation has brought us, for it has provided my students with first-hand experience of what it takes to be an artist. They have learned what it is to work in isolation and have had to be willing and motivated enough to carve out time for their art, to show up at the page, despite being alone, without an audience and confronted by enormous challenges. Some of my students have found it very hard because they have families to take care of and now have the pressures of home schooling in this abnormal situation. I am immensely proud that they have set up the necessary boundaries that allow them to continue with their art; making it clear that mum’s art is important, that her needs also count and that sometimes she needs time for herself. In my opinion, children can only benefit from that.

What pleases me most is that in all cases my students have shown a willingness to push on regardless of how successful their drawings are. They have quietened their inner critic and drawn for the pure joy of drawing, and for the peace and fulfilment that it brings.

What I have found, much to my surprise, is that it is possible to teach a practical subject in cyber-space, and that not only is it possible, it can be very satisfying.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing a selection of the drawings that my students have produced in the comfort of their homes, with my guidance from afar. I will begin with a series of drawings of buildings that we had just started working on when the virus forced us into hiding.

Looking at these, I am sure you will see why I have every reason to feel proud.

 

 

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Picks from the Pinboard

Driving up the hill towards my house this morning, I noticed that the thick carpet of purple Jacaranda flowers covering the verges of the road, are starting to fade. As I turned the corner and pulled into my garage, I was thinking about my university days, and the saying that when the Jacaranda flowers came into bloom, if you hadn’t started studying for exams, you had left it too late. (It was the stuff of nightmares!) Which prompted me to ask myself, as I opened my front door, what date it is, for the signs are abundant that not only have the exams been written, the students have all left town. I’m wakened to the fact that December is here and I haven’t done a blog post since April! It’s definitely time to catch up!!

So here I am, preparing a post in which I will share some of the creativity that has been born in my studio over the past seven months. We’ve been busy, my students and I and it’s been a particularly productive year.

Today’s selection has come from the participants of my Drawing Classes, all adult beginners who are rapidly overtaking their teacher. I am immensely proud of them and eternally grateful for their support. Their regular appearance in my studio each week, is the pulse that keeps me alive and everything else functioning smoothly.

We’ve had a good time, as I’m sure you will see from their drawings!

If drawing is something that you would like to do, perhaps this is the time to sign up? We would welcome you to our group and I am happy to keep you a place. Classes will resume towards the end of January 2019.

In the meanwhile, I’m gathering images for my next post, which will feature some of the work that I have done this year. I have been extremely busy and have lots to share, so will attempt to get it all together before the Jacaranda flowers completely disappear…

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From the Pin Board

As I wrap up my drawing classes for 2017, I am filled with gratitude for the way I earn my living, for to be able to teach people to draw and have the opportunity to light the creative flame in another persons soul, is a gift that few of us are blessed with. It is certainly one I never take for granted and I feel incredibly honoured that this wonderful group of students, who have now become my good friends, faithfully turn up  each week to share two hours with me. And they’re not all from Grahamstown, as one might expect. One lady drives an hour from the little Karoo town of Bedford and six others brave the 57 km pot-holed road from the coastal town of Port Alfred.

Ladies from the Friday morning class, all hard at work

The beauty of it all is that no matter what craziness life throws at me, the steady rhythm of weekly drawing classes and the regular appearance of these warm, friendly faces, helps to keep me balanced and moving in a forward direction.

Tuesday evening class.

My studio has been described as a ‘Red Tent’ space where women can relax and have fun, and although we gather primarily to draw, these sessions are about so much more than just drawing.  My students come from all walks of life, with one common desire to be creative, which means there is a very rich mix of diverse occupations and some truly amazing life stories, and during the course of conversation, one learns an incredible amount about subjects one might not have encountered in the normal flow of life. So these classes are interesting, but what I love most is the camaraderie and the support that is shown for one another. We have all become friends, there is no competition and everyone sets their own pace.

Ladies in the Thursday afternoon class, focussed and relaxed.

Most of my students arrive at my door for the first time with little or no drawing experience, but after going through the basic course, they are soon up and producing some really lovely work. I am delighted with the drawings that have come out of my studio this year and would like to share some of the fun and a selection of the work.

Click on the images below and enjoy:

Classes will resume in January 2018, so if you are keen to join us, please contact me for details.

As this is my last post for the year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my students for all their support and wish everyone a safe and peaceful holiday season. I’ll see you in 2018!

 

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Artists in the Making

“In the beginning is the attitude. Everything else will follow”. Shaun McNiff

We’ve had a good year in the Sally Scott Studio and I feel very proud to be able to share a selection of work that has emerged from our weekly drawing classes. Most of the students started out as complete beginners, but over the months of regular attendance, they have made amazing progress as their skills and confidence have grown. Click on the images below and enjoy…

If anyone is interested in joining us for next year’s classes, please contact me. No previous experience is necessary, and yes, I welcome those who “can only draw a stick man”. It won’t be long before you are producing work like that in the gallery above.

An evening class

An evening class

A morning class

A morning class

Happy Christmas everyone!

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The Great Escape

Getting up on a Monday morning is always quite a challenge, but getting through a week of demanding deadlines, multiple chores, responsibilities, lists and crises, whilst dealing with an increasingly hostile climate of political and economic uncertainty, is enough to leave one feeling completely exhausted. It’s hardly surprising that so many people are stressed, confused, lost and wondering where their sanity has gone. Lets face it, the world is pretty chaotic right now, so it’s very difficult to be normal in a society where the word ‘normal’ is under attack.

So, what can I do about it? Well, for starters I can offer you a place to escape, even just for a few quiet hours, to give you a chance to recover, reflect, play and laugh a little…or a lot! My mission in this life is to spread some positivity, to help one gain some perspective by entering the realm of the creative. And creative is what I saw in the workshop I held in my Grahamstown studio a few weeks ago. I also saw relief, love, laughter, generosity and kindness. I saw women doing what comes naturally when taken out of their stressful environments. They were absorbed, happy and relaxed. They were connecting to a part of themselves that has been calling out for attention…their spirit and their soul.

If you click on the images below, you will get a glimpse into the experience…

So, if you feel you could do with one of these great escapes, I have another two-day workshop starting this coming Saturday 12th and 19th November and there is just one space left! If this is something you would like to do next year, please contact me to put your name on the mailing list. In my next post, I hope to bring you some images of the bags that were created in the 2016 workshops.

bohemian-bag-advert-siyadala-3

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Bags

As the first of my Bohemian Bag Workshops comes to a close, I have been reflecting upon my fascination with this humble little accessory. Where does my interest stem from and why is it that a beautifully beaded or embroidered bag can put a smile on my face and get my heart racing?

For as long as I can remember, I have been attracted to beaded and embroidered bags and as a young girl growing up in Botswana, I remember being enthralled by the beaded leather pouches of the San, and recall with great clarity, seeing an exquisite example of one, framed upon a friend’s wall.

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An example of a beaded San pouch

These artifacts left an indelible mark on my psyche and much of my textile work has been inspired by these beautifully crafted, functional little artworks.  When I page through any of the lavishly illustrated African art coffee table books that stand upon my bookshelf, it is invariably the images of bags that attract me,  be they the sumptuous  leather camel bags of the Tuareg or the richly coloured, beaded medicine pouches of the Yoruba diviner.

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An example of a Tuareg camel bag

 

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The medicine pouch of a Yoruba diviner

Over the years I have gathered a small collection of my own, and amongst my most prized possessions is a small leather wallet with metal- studded tassels, typical of those worn by the men of the Fingo tribe of South Africa.

On a trip through the USA during the 1990’s, I was totally enthralled by Native American beadwork, and loaded my suitcase with books on the subject that I have looked at and been inspired by over and over again. The little pouches, with tassels and elaborate beaded patterns, never failing to excite me. At a pueblo I visited in New Mexico, I was able to acquire a small little pouch that now hangs upon my wall.

Then a trip to Sweden, took me through the museums of Stockholm and I discovered embroidered purses like I had never seen before.

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Swedish folk costume bag 1916

That set me off, and for the week that followed, my friend Janet and I sat at her dining room table, piled high with fabrics, felt and embroidery silks, creating our own little gems.

Women at work ... making bags

Women at work … making bags

Making bags in Sweden

Making bags in Sweden

And then I came upon gypsy bags, those colourful, quirky, assemblages of beads, buttons, tassels and trims, and knew that I just had to have one for myself, but as Grahamstown is not exactly a hippie hangout, I realized I would have to make my own…

My bohemian bag

My bohemian bag

That’s how the workshop was born and judging by the enthusiasm of my first group of bag making students, I can see there will be plenty more workshops to come.

So, what is it that makes a woman love a beautiful bag? Like shoes, many women are attracted to them like magnets. Is it because they carry our most precious possessions, our documents and money that prove who we are and give us the freedom to move through our daily lives? Possibly, but there is definitely something more, and it’s in the process of making one, that I discover a whole new layer of meaning. The process is both absorbing and healing, a kind of meditation that takes one away from the troubles of this world. But beware, it can also become addictive and often, whilst I’m working on one, there is another forming in my mind!

Over the years I have created numerous bags, pouches and purses, for a variety of different reasons and so for the purpose of this post, went digging in my archives to find a few to share. My bags are not always practical, but usually soulful, symbolic and tend to reflect the place, both emotional and geographical that I was in at the time I made them. If you click on the images below, you can enlarge and enjoy:

In my next post, I will bring you some of the action and outcomes from the first of the Bohemian Bag Workshops. I have another one planned for November, so if you feel like escaping the madness out there and joining us for two days of soothing, healing therapy, please let me know.

Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, My Studio, Workshops | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Bohemian Bag Workshop

I will be holding a two-day creative sewing workshop in my Grahamstown art studio on Saturday 15th/22nd October 2016.

bohemian-bag-advert-siyadala-3

This workshop brings together my interest in fashion, design, sewing, beading, embroidery, applique and fabric manipulation, and combines it with my interest in people, their life stories and my belief that creativity can heal.

It is guaranteed to be a fun workshop, where you can make a bag or purse that can be as funky and over-the-top as you wish. It may be any size or shape and you can use whatever materials you wish. You can go crazy with embellishments and I will be there to teach you all the skills you need for the process.

With fashion trends currently being inspired by the 1960’s and 70’s hippie era, this is the perfect time to make yourself or someone else a trendy fashion accessory.

Time: 9.00am – 4.00pm

Cost: R680.00

Space will be limited, so sign up today for a workshop you will enjoy! I look forward to seeing you there.

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On the Pin Board

Some of you may be wondering why there’s been no movement on the blog for a while, so I am checking in to say that I have been swamped by a tsunami of work and am swimming for all I’m worth to keep my head above the water level! However, the beach is in sight, with only a month to go until the National Arts Festival begins in Grahamstown and our sibling exhibition COMMON ROOTS:DIFFERENT ROUTES opens its doors to the public.

Roots ADVERT black 7web

There will be more on this shortly.

In the meanwhile, it is most fortunate for me that amidst the current of this organized chaos, run three streams of calmer waters that help to keep me physically and emotionally buoyed and assist me in keeping perspective. I am speaking about my art class students who flow in and out of the studio each week, bringing with them an abundance of good humour, creative talent, yummy things to eat and wine to keep the creativity flowing. Despite my distractions, they have all kept their focus and have produced some truly amazing work over the past few months. So today, when I have nothing of my own to show, I am delighted to have some of their work to share. Most of these students started out as complete beginners not so long ago. Click on the images below to enjoy them at their fullest:

There will be another post soon that will give some background to our forthcoming sibling exhibition.

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Art Journaling Workshop – April 2016

My posts have been a bit sparse this year, and I apologize for that, but with less than three months to go until the opening of our sibling exhibition at the National Arts Festival, my attention has been elsewhere. However, to keep me sane and balanced I have kept a selection of Saturday mornings open for group creativity, and in February this year we had the first of my Art Journaling Workshops. It was great fun and for those who attended, light relief from the pressure of work and everyday living. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning and an opportunity to fulfill those New Year resolutions “to be more creative this year”.

So what is art journaling, apart from being the latest craze to have hit the Western world?

Advert poster for workshop 3

First and foremost Art Journaling is a fun opportunity to relax and indulge in a bit of ‘me’ time.On the surface of it the process may appear to be child’s play, with fingers in paint, dollops of glue, snipping paper into pieces whilst playing with collage and pages of colourful writing, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is frivolous or meaningless, for below the surface of all this activity run currents of serious thought and great depths of meaning. The process is extremely therapeutic and the themes that participants explore, vary from personal issues that need to be dealt with, to experiences that want to be celebrated. Anything and everything is suitable subject for exploration, so family history, spirituality, miracles, faith, travels, adventures, observations, opinions, personal experiences and poetry are all fertile ground to explore.

The beauty of journaling is that it adds another dimension to the written word and offers a space where one can make one’s thoughts visible through drawings, paintings, scribbles, sketches, maps, photographs and an assortment of techniques that add impact to the imagery and allow for variation in colour and size of fonts and text. It’s a tactile process and allows for a sensory connection to the work. The direct, hands on creativity allows for insights to develop as the pages unfold, which often inspires more writing and desire for visual translation, and so the story goes…

Each designated Saturday morning, students arrive at my studio, enjoy tea and snacks in my abundant indigenous garden and then get down to work or play, whichever way one looks at it. They work on ‘pages’ that will eventually come together as a book, or they work in old books, breathing into them new life.

Our next Art Journaling session will be this next Saturday 16th April 2016, so if you are interested in joining this band of happy creatives, please contact me and book your place. There are only a couple of spaces left!

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