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Craft & Creativity Blogs: Ramblings and reflections of a creative wonderer

Our first blog on the theme of Craft, Skill & Creativity comes to us from Zöe Birrell.

Hi! I have found myself picking at many threads while writing this. Fumbling through a disclaimer justifying myself in an icky sense of unworthyness at calling myself a traveller, or even trans, and a fetid sense I might be somehow appropriating someone else’s culture even though both these things are part of the thing I call me. Going down a rabbit hole talking about my paths which got me to where I am today. Running my own small business as a way of escaping the capitalist settler lifestyle that makes me lose my will to live and on the cusp of finishing a mobile off grid studio/home so I can go back to being on the move while also earning enough to not have to work as an employee or stay anywhere for too long.

There is a lack of confidence in all of that explaining and justifying. A sense of isolation which is not mine to take responsibility for as it is a natural consequence of the social structure that surrounds me. But however much I try to escape it, its ideals bleed into my life making me feel like some sort of imposter who is failing at being a good human.

When I look back over the many shaky drafts of this text, which I have stitched together here to make something interesting for other humans to read, I notice the threads and the webs that link me and reject that sense of not belonging. I actively choose to resist it and be proud of everything I do that accidentally or intentionally makes small contributions to keeping traditions and ways of life alive.

Today I am a commission miniature painter, on paper a self-employed artist, running a small business called Sedition Minis, or Sedition Miniature Arts anywhere I need to sound respectable. I set up Sedition Minis a few months into the pandemic after many years of toying with the idea but never quite feeling confident enough in my skills to do so. It took many years for me to get here and figure out how to maintain a creative practice and be able to sustain myself while living a transient life.

My creativity has taken many forms over the years in its urgency to get stuff out of me, and I am sure will continue to take on new ones as I continue to move through life. From drawing, painting, photography, sculpting and more traditional fine art practices to street performance and music… fuck it even activism can be beautifully creative. Sedition Minis isn’t perfect but I am immensely proud of it and hopeful it will be sustainable on the road.

I started painting minis when I was living in a small boat. I had over the years completely stopped making art as I was always moving from place to place and any art materials or instruments I may have owned had got lost along the way. For a long time before settling on the boat I had either been squatting or living in my tent and travelling on my bike so at best I had some colouring pencils and a sketchbook. Many many years ago I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time studying photography and fine arts but I had lost touch with that side of myself over the years. Having all my gear stolen and basically stopping using gelatine based photographic materials due to the ethics of it all meant it had become a computer based activity anyway instead of hour in in the darkroom getting lost in the tiniest spots of light on a piece of paper.

Thanks to a heavy dollop of trauma induced psycho emotional upheaval I found myself living a settled and totally reclusive life for a while. I immersing myself in analogue gaming and this is how I picked up a brush to paint my first miniature. I think it reminded me of how cathartic I had always found making art in any form. It has always helped me get shit out of my head and communicate with myself and the world.

I also picked up a banjo around that time and got back into playing music. I got totally immersed in banjo playing as well and for a while was supporting myself through busking treating it as any trade or craft but the constant run ins with people being aggressive about the best spots to busk and threats from beggars who felt if I had an instrument I had no place on the street as I was obviously a posh person or something. This really pissed me off as travelling artist and street performer is an old traditional craft and is something I have done since my teens… but yeah I guess as the name suggest I always get on better with this sort of stuff when I’m moving as if I do have a run in with someone there is no room for it to become a daily routine. As it was it did and having people in my face wore me down over a few months and I stopped busking, I fear it burnt me out a bit on playing as well as is the risk when you turn any creative craft into a job, but I’m confident I will get back to that. I have found playing music is something that over the years is very dependent on where I am at a specific time or place and whether I feel more or less comfortable with being visible and in recent years I have needed to be invisible in places I called home.

Ultimately street performing and busking with instrument or circus tools is a trade and craft I have drifted away from as these days I mostly live solitary and for all the great days I have had doing these things I have become anxious of working on the streets alone as I grew weary of harassment. It tends to be something I fall back on when on the road as I can stop somewhere play for a few hours and move on but I have always preferred as a group activity.

I nostalgically remember days when I used to be part of a group of street and circus performers all better than me in my eyes. Plumes of fire, jugglers, a fakir and all sorts of exciting acrobatic things in between. Chaotic noise balls off alcohol and distortion in basements electrically amplifying a universe filled with friends and lovers and rage all wrapped up in a noisy mess that dissolved into the ground over the years. No wonder playing an instrument alone on a corner or juggling knives trying to put on a show doesn’t really do it for me but I still love getting lost in drones and loops of noise and sound and dusting off my trumpet case which has long been stuffed to the brim with juggling clubs whenever I am somewhere I won’t get into trouble for making noise or being seen.

I think this is the biggest struggle of being a creative person when you live between the cracks and don’t have a fixed home. That and the smothering imposter syndrome and making time and space and taking up that time and space, unapologetically, because I think over the many years I have strived to do the opposite be invisible or have felt like somehow my art is irrelevant unimportant trivial. There are fights I should be fighting that are far more important but to quote an artist whose name I have long forgotten but whose words I probably never will “I have spent most of my life trying not to be an artist because I thought it was stupid and self indulgent and it literally made me sick and almost killed me.” I like to remember her saying that to me a bit tipsy over a glass of wine when I was unsure if the sculpture installation I had just put up like a sliver of my heart to be seen by other was of any worth. It does not matter if its of worth to anyone but me because although communicating is a big part of why I make art the process and the getting lost in the textures materials and smells is more important. The puffed up chest and achy cheeks from grinning while I say I made this isn’t it beautiful when something works. I hope you all have a bit of that in your days.

I have obviously had to adapt the way I work and how I set myself up to make art making things like a collapsible studio with wooden cases I can quickly put up and take down.

If you made it this far I hope you found this chaotic tapestry of words and reflection of mine interesting. Was definitely interesting to reflect on and if nothing else was super amusing to find other people talking about old sculpture installations I did 20 years ago on their own blogs and in articles totally getting all the facts wrong but regardless reminding me of the ripples my actions and choices can have.

If you are curious about my miniature work you can find out more about it here

One of the articles I just referred to above is here if you are curious about what I was doing back in the day when I was more of a “fine artist”

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