When Progress Happens Quietly, It Must Be Wearing Socks

13 Feb

Exams are over and life at Aberdeen University is returning to normal. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that the island of Great Britain is being battered on all sides by strong winds and floods. Up here in Scotland, it’s not necessarily cold. It’s just very wet.

photo 5

Wet students are a miserable sight. But to be honest, I am very happy exams are over. Those two revision weeks bored me to tears. Finally we can all get back to living our lives again! I was going mad in my room.

At the moment, I am fighting on two battlefields: one is the Battle of the Illustrations; the second is the Battle of the Silks.

The Battle of the Silks

This battle began in November 2013, between the Juggling Society and the University of Aberdeen. I teach acrobatics within the Juggling Society (because it’s the closest to a circus society, and because these people are fine people and are my friends), and we have been hunting for a way to hang up my silks. The president of the society has been an amazing help. We tackled the administrative offices of the uni, all of whom say NAY! to our quest to hang up my silks; and then we rang the doorbells of about 6 different schools (and a kindergarten) around the city of Aberdeen, asking what the politics are to rent their gym halls.

Last Friday, I got Sick Of It All. It was a surprisingly sunny day, slightly warm, so with the help of my amazing friends, I hung up my silks at Seaton Park and had my first silk session in 5 months. 

2014-02-07 15.14.20

2014-02-07 15.10.29

by Lucho

finally I wasn’t hiding my face

Now it seems as though I may finally have found a hall to hang them up in! The trouble is that most gym halls in Aberdeen aren’t built “the usual” way, with beams hanging openly in the ceiling for aerialists to hang up their silks. Most halls are built for gymnastics, basketball or badminton. Silks are a rather unique thing with such strict requirements, so I’m not surprised it’s been hard to find a suitable place. But that it’s been so hard…

Now, with a hall in sight, I have to do all the necessary paperwork and navigate around British bureaucracy. These are new waters for me, so please keep your fingers crossed for us. If this works out, we will found Aberdeen’s first aerial group, and I will be able to transform my acrobatics group into an aerial and acrobatics society!


The Battle of the Illustrations

The past three weeks have found me whispering into my computer’s microphone while my flatmates sleep, discussing illustrations with Mark over Skype.

photo 2

Over the last few months, Mark has had a bit of an artist’s block when it came to certain illustrations that correspond to Damian’s time in the desert. He’s been working madly on all the other ones, and has sent me many 90% completed illustrations, which are looking STUNNING.

He also held up a couple of new illustrations over Skype, and we were able to discuss in realtime what kind of frame it needs, how to continue certain parts, what the novel says about this particular section. Here’s a picture of Mark showing me a new illustration of Damian:

photo 3

Damian is looking quite different here. I’m quite glad that it’s a bit blurry, because this is one of the last illustrations of the book, and it shows his physical and emotional transformation towards the “end” of his journey.

I was in despair about how slowly the illustrations were coming along over the past months. I receive many emails asking me when Qayqa will come out, and along with your feedback to the excerpt recently, I know it’s her time. Mark and I had many conversations about why he’s stuck, how I could help him, how he could help himself. Part of the reason why he is stuck has to do with the very vague and slippery notion of the desert Damian falls into. How do you depict emptiness? How do you illustrate a divine deity, an earth goddess? – without being all hippie ethereal.

I know how hard it is for me to get over writer’s block. How do you help an artist get over illustrating block?

Mark has many illustrations of Damian and Pacha Mama, and we were both unsatisfied with them. When we were in Peru in 2009, touring with our film Children of Roots, Mark created several fascinating illustrations that so wonderfully tapped into Peruvian art and culture. I was amazed that a man who never studied Peruvian art could mimic it so well. We agreed that one of them would make it into Qayqa. This one: 

pre-production illustration by Mark Klawikowski

pre-production illustration by Mark Klawikowski

He tapped into the Peruvian mythical world so well here, but with Qayqa, there are stricter guidelines, not to mention that Pacha Mama is such an enigma to paint.

For a few months, I have been toying with an idea, and one night when I couldn’t sleep, I sent off the message I had been writing in my head for months. I wrote an artist friend.

He is someone I volunteered with at Helping Hands in Cusco two years ago. Let’s just call him “Ryan”. I called him to discuss the possibility of him illustrating the desert scenes in Qayqa. Ryan’s work is … surreal – but I’m not entirely sure what other genres or categories to use to describe his work. You decide:

"Foxes" by Ryan and Amy, painted at Helping Hands Cusco

“Foxes” by Ryan and Amy, painted at Helping Hands Cusco

"Love from Peru" screen print by Ryan

“Love from Peru” screen print by Ryan

When I spoke to Ryan on the phone and explained briefly what Qayqa – particularly the desert scenes – is about, he became very excited. Having spent several months traveling Latin America with his girlfriend, he understands not only the concept, but also the love and lifestyle behind “Pacha Mama”.

My main worry is that having two artists illustrate one book might not have a homogenous outcome. But I promised to be honest to you, and I want you to participate in this journey of my self-publication – with all possible pitfalls. So you know now that this is something we are considering.

I just sent a long email to Ryan with a short description of Qayqa for him to hold on to, and several of Mark’s completed illustrations, so that he can see the direction Mark has taken so far. I also sent Ryan excerpts from Qayqa, from the chapters of Damian in the desert so that he can send me 3 sketches as suggestions of how he would approach this job.

When I spoke to Mark about the possibility of Ryan boarding Qayqa, he was very optimistic – and relieved. The main argument for two artists working on one book is that the world in the desert is completely distinct to the world of the caravans, of the flying people. It is almost an alternate universe, so perhaps an alternate approach could work. It really all depends on how Ryan approaches what Mark has done so far. Either way, it will be incredibly interesting to see!

At the moment, Mark is finishing his two final illustrations. Then we’ll move on to discuss the cover of Qayqa. He is also working on little sidekick illustrations which will appear either within the text or framing it at the end of the page. Here is one I love:

x Wald

by Mark Klawikowski

I would love if we could bring Ryan onboard, but this is a question of two styles finding a common ground. It could either enrich Qayqa‘s desert world – or not. But if it doesn’t work, at least I left no stone unturned.

I suppose these are the experiments we have to dare to take. We have to find solutions for artists’ blocks – and who knows if a collaboration is a good solution?

I’ll let you know what happens.

This is the quiet progress Qayqa is making. A lot of whispering over Skype.

my celebratory countdown to my 30th birthday in June

my celebratory countdown to my 30th birthday in June

Thank you to everyone who sent me feedback to my excerpt from Qayqa! I was surprised at how diverse it was; I honestly thought it would be more unanimous. But thank you so much for speaking up, for critiquing, for being honest. I sincerely appreciate it.

The main thing you taught me is this: I have to continue listening to my gut. It helps so much to ask you, and I learnt that several gut decisions I made in the past were good – because you said so in your feedback. You also helped me make some valuable decisions concerning the future of the excerpt, and when you read the book, you will see some differences and you will know it is thanks to you. I will post another excerpt soon. I wanted to tonight, but I think this post is long enough as is.

I am very happy to working so closely with you on this. How many artists can say that? I honestly love that Qayqa is growing up so close to you, that you are influencing her. I’d like to see how far I can take this. Until then, thank you for being out there.

I wish you all a beautiful & happy Valentines’ Day on Friday. A grateful hug to you from Scotland. 

Love, Ritti


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