Monday, October 3, 2011

Artist to Artist: Louise

Artist to Artist is a regular feature for still life 365. Through a dialogue about the creative process, grief, loss and art, the idea is to learn more about the art you see on still life 365 and the mother, father or family member creating it. In turn, we hope you learn more about your own art, creative process and grief. Artist to Artist a regular monthly feature of this blog space. If you have an artist that you would like to learn more about, or interview, please email me.

Louise is a mother, a part-time educator/artist/student/writer from the south of Ireland. Laura, her fourth child, was born in May 2009, a wonderful gift she had hardly dared hope for, as Louise describes it. I first met Louise through her writing on Radar of Chance. She is, without exaggeration, one of my favorite writers in the world. Her work is so evocative, beautiful, heartbreaking. When she first submitted a piece to still life 365, I found her art to be just as moving, her insights just as important. Later I found out that Louise was working on her thesis surrounding art and therapy in group settings. Her work is fascinating. When she offered to guest edit still life 365, I was so excited to see how she would engage this community and inspire us all.

With that brief, and not nearly complete enough introduction, it is my great pleasure to introduce October's guest editor, Louise. We decided to kick off the month by having an artist to artist conversation, so you can get to know her a little better. We talked recently about art, creativity and grief.

Hi, Louise, thanks for agreeing to talk to me about art and grief. Let me just first say how sorry that Laura is not with you.

Thank you Angie. It is a pleasure to talk to you and can I say how sorry I am that Lucy isn’t here with you?

Thank you. Can you tell us a bit about Laura and your family? Your husband Kieran has submitted work to still life 365 as well.

Sure – where to start…

Laura was our fourth child. We already had a daughter, Alannah (the Giraffe Princess) and two boys, Michael (Astro Boy) and Oscar (the Little Boy Racer.) They were each born two years apart with what appeared like precision family planning, but was in fact entirely due to the wonders of Clomid and our fair share of ttc heartache.

Laura happened along all on her very own. I had always fanticized about being one of those women who conceives without any intervention, who finds herself surprised by new life suddenly and unexpectedly growing within her. So whilst Laura wasn’t planned, she was dreamed of and longed for  – a gift I had hardly dared hope for.

Kieran and I have just celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary. We both work in the arts. Kieran is a graphic designer and can’t stop taking photographs. Our computer literally groans under the weight of them. He has submitted some photos to Still Life 365 in the past.

We live up on a hill in a city in the south Ireland, in an old house we bought thirteen years ago, fully intending to move on within five years. After several failed attempts to move, we are currently revising these plans and have decided to extend. We share our house with Owen, the cross-eyed cat and rather a lot of spiders.

The Spiders and a Cross-eyed Cat would make a great band name. 
I always like to kick off these chats with just a brief overview of how art played a role in your life before Laura died. You are a beautiful writer, and a stunning visual artist as well. Have you always been an artist? Do you have one medium that you gravitate towards?

I have always loved art and I was labeled as the artist at home and in school. How bad? It seemed obvious that I would go to art college and I wandered happily along that route. Although drawing came easily to me, allowing myself the freedom to create was more of a struggle. You referred to Rachel (Curls o Fred) before and her comment “the paralysis of perfection.” I think I suffered from that pretty badly and found myself studying graphic design more out of a fear of expressing myself than a love of design.

As part of an illustration module I did a short course in the print department in college. I still remember the day I walked into that department. It was like coming home. Printmaking was my thing. There is a whole ordered process behind it that really suited me. I could express myself, but it felt safe.

I worked with poems I had written and somewhere in the middle developed an interest in fabric and sewing too. And that is where I have lingered – somewhere between print-making and sewing, the written word, mixed media and (these days) computer manipulated images aswell. More often than not, they are all combined together.

Although I am much more secure in my creativity these days, since the kids came along there hasn’t been much art-making going on. My creative energies are getting used up elsewhere in life.

I talked a little about your thesis in the introduction, and congratulations on recently finishing your Masters degree. Can you talk a little about your work? How was your work impacted since Laura's death?

Thanks Angie. It feels SO good to have the Masters completed.

Learning is lonely., Louise.
This is always a difficult question for me. My family joke that none of them could really tell you what I do so I am endeavoring to do here what I have never successfully done for my family. I work as a lecturer in the Art Therapy & Continuing Education Dept in an Art College. My main responsibility is training people to facilitate groups through art making.

Having trained as an art teacher without ever wanting to work in mainstream education, I returned to my hometown to explore the idea of art therapy as a career. I began working as a community artist and discovered a whole way of working I’d never known about and enjoyed it too much to go on and train as an art therapist. These days I train people to work in this area; artists who are looking for group work skills, social workers that are looking for art skills and a whole spectrum of individuals in between.

Returning to work after Laura’s death was very difficult. Working as a group facilitator, I am always telling people how important it is to be yourself with the group. And yet, I am discovering there is a difference between being yourself and spilling yourself all over the group. I wanted everyone to know about Laura. I felt I wasn’t being honest sitting there keeping going when inside I was falling apart. It was incredibly difficult to be present for people when inside I was screaming “You have no idea!” Even though I love my work, for a long time I wanted nothing to do with it. All I wanted was to be with my family. I didn’t spill to the group. I spilled to my colleagues instead, but I work in an Art Therapy Dept so they were qualified to be with me in my grief! I guess that could be considered a perk.

I think I am braver in my work these days – less afraid of people. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I feel I am simultaneously more accommodating and more challenging.

Laura had a big impact on my work in her life too. We were told at our twelve-week scan that there was a risk she might have Down’s syndrome. Most of the people I train work with marginalized groups of people. An aspect of the training focuses on equality issues. Over the years I have often delivered training on disability equality and the medical and social models of disability.

My pregnancy was closely monitored because of the possible risks to Laura’s health. She became a medical concern. Everything was about her possible physical complications, deviations from the way she should be. I would be lying if I pretended all the uncertainty wasn’t hugely traumatic, but through it all was an absolute certainty that Laura was simply our Laura. The medical concerns and labels weren’t “in addition” to who she was. She was who she was right from her very beginning.

As I’m trying to clarify this in my head, I think it is like if you write a blog post and you create this piece that is words and imagery and maybe eloquence and beauty, or whatever it is. It is a creation. Then you put a few tags down at the bottom and all anyone focuses on is one particular tag. They don’t look at or can’t see the piece for what it is. Despite years of teaching this idea to people, I never really got it until I was pregnant with Laura.

That is a very powerful revelation. I could relate to it very closely just from having to qualify my children as living and dead when asked how many I have. How do you think your art has changed because of your grief? 

A friend brought a pencil and notebook in to me when I was in hospital waiting to deliver Laura, just in case…. It was that book that started me writing and it was also that book that enabled both Kieran and I to draw Laura while she was still with us, lying there right beside us. Later that evening I traced Laura’s hand. It felt so important to acknowledge that she was physically here while she was physically here.

That is such a beautiful idea, to draw her, then trace her hand. Wow, I can see that act in my mind, and how gentle and important it must have been.

During my pregnancy Alannah had come home from school one day with a “Baby Annabell” sheep she had found on the pavement. She thought it might be nice for the baby. We had washed it and kept it. The day before Laura’s funeral Alannah remembered the sheep and we spent the afternoon making a velvet pillow for Laura and quilting the sheep on to it. I sewed a butterfly then and appliquéd it onto a hat for Laura to wear. Creating for my baby was a physical need.

When I initially heard this question my first reaction was to think, I hardly make art these days, but that isn’t true. My art these days is less ideas based and more just hands-on physical making out of a need to just engage in the process. Allowing my creativity room to breath, room to engage with the everyday, is what is important to me now.

One outcome of going to art college was becoming a slave to standards and dismissing so much of the creative process I was engaged in because it wasn’t really art. That has all changed. I bought a book recently called “Making is Connecting” by a man called David Gauntlett. He explores the idea of making and creativity literally from knitting to the internet and the connection that this offers. That kind of captures where I am at these days. My art is about making and connecting whether that is making candles in my kitchen with friends or blogging on the internet.

Falling Asleep, Louise.
Yes! For me too, art is about connection and idea making. I love that you quoted Rachel earlier and then talked about this as an artist. It really is so hard to let go of those standards and engage in the process. People talk about it so much it almost sounds trite, but to truly to do it revelatory. At least it was for me.

And how do you think your grief has changed because of your art?

How has my grief changed because of my art? Hmm. Room to breath. My grief has been given room. When I was pregnant, Mikey drew his own version of picture I had made and called it a musical black hole. He had a big long complicated Astro Boy description of the picture. That picture has really stayed with me. If grief is a black hole, my art has enabled me to explore this black hole and given me a language of metaphors and symbols to try and navigate through it. When I have been suffocating in grief, giving my head a break and allowing my hands just do, whether or not I can make any sense of the end results, has given me room to breath.  

I love how you articulated that. Giving your head a break and allowing your hands to do. Going back to connection with art, I have found that as much as creating art has been part of your grief, viewing art becomes part of this journey too. How has connecting with other grieving artists helped you?

It is hard separating creative experience out into all its various parts. For me (and maybe this comes from working with groups and encouraging collaborative creativity) it is all so intertwined. I have resonated with other’s stories, with feelings they have described and with the images they have created both with art materials and, through their words, in my mind. I have resonated with all these different aspects and they, in turn then, have inspired a new idea or image or enabled me to tap into an aspect of my grief that had been bubbling under the surface, but I hadn’t yet explored. Connecting with others has been the single most important aspect of my grieving journey. Discovering Still Life 365 and Glow in the Woods and the creativity contained in these spaces was like the coming home experience I had all those years ago in the Print department in art college.

still life 365 feels like home to me too. Thank you so much for agreeing to guest edit for the month of October. It is a month so rife with symbolism and importance in this community and society at large with Samhaim, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, not to mention Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month. I was so curious to see what theme or idea you would come up with for this month. Can you talk a little about your inspiration and what you envision this month being?

I really believe that art is a process we can all engage with. For many of us though art making is fraught with fear and insecurity. I love finding ways for people to partake in a creative project that asks nothing more than that you participate. It is the gathering or joining together of each of our efforts that creates something that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I am rediscovering the pleasures of taking photos these days after upgrading to a phone with a built in camera. This rediscovery is also reminding me of how much is said and unsaid in photos.

Photographs are a very accessible medium for most people. I wanted to suggest an idea that would be easy to take part in. I know I am always filled with good intentions to do something and suddenly it is three weeks later so I wanted to come up with an idea that even I could follow through on with relative ease in a short space of time.

When I offered to guest edit October I wasn’t thinking about it being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month, but when I realized the significance of the month I wanted to acknowledge it in the theme. So that is where the idea came from – Life as we know it: what does it look like?

Take a photograph of any aspect of your life now and send it in…

I am working on an idea for the community poem linked to this theme. I will post details in the next few days.

Awesome. I love this theme. It is accessible and also very profound. It is in the ordinary that we truly miss our children. Thank you so much for talking to me and for guest editing this space. I can't wait to see and read what happens this month.


Thank you Angie. It feels like a real privilege to be climbing on board. I am starting to get quite excited by it now.

Please submit your work to still life 365 capturing as aspect of your everyday life without your child(ren) to stilllife365days(at)gmail(dot)com.


  1. Your work is beautiful! Thank you for sharing yourself and journey in grief with us. Much love!

  2. Glad to read and learn more about you and your art. Looking forward to the photo submissions. Thank you!

  3. Your work is amazing. Thank you for being guest editor this month.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your work with us!


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