Thursday, 9 January 2020

A New Year's Resolve



How do folks and welcome to my wee blog. It's so late on Sunday night that it recently became Monday and, unfortunately, it's less socially acceptable to not know what day it is from approximately, now. Things are gearing up around us as we move gently into all that this year has in store, and me and my laptop are getting reacquainted enough to pen (well, cursor) a little something to mark the occasion, and say a public hello to 2020.

Weirdly, I think if I was inclined to do a year-in-review style rundown of 2019 it would probably be my most exciting year to date. I travelled to attend Glasgow Zine Festival for the first time, visited Brooklyn Art Library in New York supported by a-n, went to Copenhagen, tabled at the dreamy Dundee Zine Festival, held Brum Zine Fest for the second year running, organised an artists residency, organised events and exhibitions, got featured on the BBC, got interviewed at the House of Illustration, worked on some amazing brand projects, campaigns and documents and ultimately levelled up professionally, much of which happened in the final months of the year.

It's been a real one, and my head is still a little dizzy with the thought of everything that manifested; full with gratitude and wonder, and I'll be needing a little more time throughout January to really reflect and process.

Honestly though, the real headline for me isn't directly about the work at all, but simply that I've figured some stuff out, and had some help to do so. I've had a transformative year because of all the things I was doing diligently and daily behind the scenes, amongst, through and in relation to everything listed above. I've been working a lot more on my brain than I have in any sketchbook and it has, ultimately, paid off in ways that I know I'll see and feel in everything I do from now on. I feel lighter, freer, and understand more. I feel like the terrain of my mind has been working out regularly, even when it didn't feel like it, and is now fitter; healthier. That work, of course, continues, but I've never felt like I'm starting from somewhere as hopeful as this point, right now, particularly in relation to the future of my creative practice, because there's less clouds; less mental hurdles, or at least more tools to cope with them when they arise, leaving the way ahead so much clearer.

Here's a blog about not the resolutions, but the resolve that I'm bringing into this new decade and what it means to me. [Content warnings: themes on body image, some swearing, and a mention of The Arts Council]



1. How we behave in our industry (and in the world) shapes it.


I think many of us may feel like we can do our best within existing structures, but not transform them altogether. That there's something bigger holding things together in a way that we cannot alter, maybe that we can't even begin to understand, and we just have to make the best of things given those accepted norms. The reality is that how we behave in our homes, our communities, our work, can change everything. The things we'd love to change are there by the design of others, and we can not only design our own versions, but push, challenge, negotiate with as well as learn from what's already there, rather than simply operating within it. Whatever industry we're in, if we want it to be more open, inclusive, genuinely collaborative, more joyful, less focused on trends, outcomes, and sales, then that's how we work, even if others do not show signs of following. If we want the world to be kinder, more empathetic, outward-looking, equitable, then that's how we, actively, behave at every opportunity.

This absolutely impacts on everyone who interacts with us, can connect us to others around something meaningful, and has the power to change the entire fabric of the industry, because creatives are the creative industry, artists are the art world, just as citizens are the city. These are ours, and we need to shape them.




2. Healthy self esteem doesn't mean thinking or acting as if we're always right, it means not letting setbacks knock us out the game for good.


When I received an unsuccessful funding decision in June with the project itself taking place in less than a month, I blogged thusly from Illustrated Brum"In another reality where I had received this message from Arts Council on my own, at home in Halesowen, and had I not been part of anything like Impact Hub Birmingham, not been surrounded by so many different people who have slowly helped me grow in almost enough confidence to gently pursue my ambitions without collapsing in on myself, this would have been the moment that I gave up, or the moment I quietly took the hit on this, then failed to ever bounce back." I was struggling so much personally at that point, but rather than this being the fatal blow for my dreams for Brum Zine Fest, I had just about developed enough resilience to defy all the anxious atoms in my body and instead ran a successful £5,000 crowdfunder and made a zine inspired by the rejection (neither of which I still actually can believe happened, by the way).

Honestly, I thought low self esteem was a personality trait you either had or didn't have, and that the alternative was being overly confident and dominating, which I did not aspire to. In 2019 I learnt about a more quiet, underlying confidence, not one that makes you smug or think you know best, but to have something there to catch yourself; a psychological safety net. One of my biggest fears with my mental health had started to become that I would 'fall' and not be able to get back up. Healthy self esteem means not falling apart when things go wrong, or seeing setbacks as personal failings that are so deep that your attempts at recovery are constant and exhausting. It means not having to prove yourself to yourself over and over again and for it never to feel like enough.

The CBT I received around this was based on the Overcoming Low Self Esteem book which may be useful to some of you, and has given me useful tools against certain behaviours, anxiety and depression ultimately stemming from a low opinion of myself, lots of critical thoughts etc. I think it may be pretty tricky to follow without the support of a therapist or group, but it's worth seeking out support and resources if this sounds familiar to you, because you definitely deserve to feel that baseline of strength, love and belief in yourself, and it's critical that we lay that groundwork in our minds to keep us here and built resilience amidst the ups and downs of the creative process.




3. Don't build a lonely fortress of success.


Along the way of becoming so involved as part of the Impact Hub Birmingham team over the last few years, I've had to check in with what I thought I would do in my life, and whether this was taking me too far away from it and, if so, how to get back there. The conclusion was always the same: that it may not be the 'me-at-my-desk-drawing-in-peace' work life that I had imagined, but that the pathways I had envisioned only led up to a certain conclusion - one that I had lost interest in. Establishing a magazine, building up my own business, holding events or festivals; even imagining the most successful, most transformative versions of these endeavours seemed futile, simply because they felt too much in isolation; too singular, too finite in their capacity to change anything.

I think it's a myth that artists need to work on their own in order to manifest their unique and complex creative dreams. I think it's a myth that resources or audiences are in some way limited and we need to protect our own shit, build our own project, and consider others trying to achieve similar things as competition. Working as part of such a mixed team can be complex and exhausting, but I'm so glad that I continued to put my efforts into much wider, collective work, because ultimately I didn't care how many fucking prints I sold or who I could add to my selected clients list. As those often at the bottom of the creative hierarchy, it may not feel possible to work across the whole system in small and big ways, but the work we love can slot into something much wider. It takes a lot of ego dismantling for us all to truly work with others, even if our values align; a lot of consolidation, constant learning, navigating our independence and what we want and need alongside something greater but damn, what a fun ride it will be together, and how far it will push the work we produce, as artists or otherwise, and maybe we'll leave our places genuinely and sustainably better than when we found them.

There will be more from me and others around some of this coming out of CIVIC SQUARE in February.


4. How we look is a celebration of who we are, and how we like to be.


I've struggled with negative self image for as long as I can remember, and, despite finding freedom through wearing what I want and promoting self expression (always), feelings of inadequacy have still absolutely been pinned to my appearance not meeting the ideals that are presented to us in so many forms, particularly as womxn. The phrase "making an effort" haunts me daily, because I don't wear make up or tousle my unruly locks into an immaculate shimmering waterfall of... well, hair, or generally do or wear anything in particular order to look more 'attractive'. Sometimes I think the LEAST that I can do as someone who is pale, awkward and overweight is conform to some beauty standards and make myself more palatable (which is, of course, absolutely internalised BS) but the question would be, to whom, for why? I think about those for whom their style, attitude and actions inspire me, and it's because all that they are shines out of their very skin; their eyes alive; their beautiful soul. They are so much more than flesh and bone; infinitely more than their dress sizes or their weight, the condition of their skin, their bone structure, hair cut or any other physical attributes. Who gives a fuck about any of that? Companies ultimately just wants to make us feel bad in our own skin so they can sell us stuff. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Let's make how we dress, how we decorate or do not decorate ourselves, how we speak, how we eat, how we move around and our creativity a celebration, not an apology, and fiercely protect one another's right to do so, without judgement. One of my biggest acceptances on the back of therapy and rigorous introspective shifting throughout last year is that, whilst it doesn't always feel easy to be ourselves, fake ideals of perfection will only hold us back from what we're capable of. It's all just a big distraction. Whatever that looks like or means for you, I hope to always encourage and celebrate this in my work, as well as sharing as myself as authentically as possible.


5. Our worth is not defined by others responding to, or even knowing about, what we're doing.


Overall, I haven't shared much online this last year. I'd never considered myself to be a particularly private person, but the internet / social media has changed so much over the last few years. I've felt myself resistant to share as much of my personal life as so many people now do as a natural part of their everyday because I don't want to create a weird relationship with it; one of wanting validation or performing things for 'the gram'. Brands are behaving like us, we're behaving like brands; it's all a bit of a mindfuck for me watching it all unfold online tbh. Having presence online had become a massive paradox and source of frustration in my practice, directly affecting my motivation to make or do things, never mind share them. I still want to keep things in my life for myself, or for my closest peeps, because they're precious, and my drawings and creative output are, above all, personal and important to me, but also I want to connect with and relate to other people, particularly around my creative outputs, zines, publishing etc which social media has been amazing for, so have been keen to take time to figure out how to share more about myself and my work without turning it into something I really don't want.

What I'll say from doing that is that finding deep satisfaction in what you're doing without showing or telling anyone else feels fucking radical, and it's definitely helped me feel more creative and motivated to make (and live) freely. Not sharing regularly also hasn't changed people's perceptions of me as an artist, or really affected my life negatively in any way to be honest. I'd like to share more this year because writing blogs and connecting my practice with others does feel wonderful, but also encourage everyone to experiment and do so on their own terms, rather than withdrawing from the bright lights of instagram, or even worse - their practice, altogether.

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The illustrations in this blog are taken from The Anxious Mug, a minizine I made for Dundee Zine Festival 2019.

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If you wish to get in touch about anything mentioned in this blog or want to find out more about how to find mental health support hmu at hello@louisebyng.co.uk. Otherwise I hope everyone is having a calm and creative start to the year, being compassionate with themselves, and only joining a gym if they really, really want to.

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