Writing & illustrating – A tutor & student co-operative project
I’d like to report on a co-operative project between myself, a writer/tutor and poet on one hand, and Dorothy Flint, a second year illustration student on the other.. We worked together over several months. The co-operative project grew out of Dorothy’s need to find a client for her illustration course and my need to find an artist who wanted a client to make a visual contribution to the poems I had already written between 2015 and 2018.
The project began when I took part in a writing workshop run by poet and tutor, Natalie Scott, at the NAWE conference in November 2015. Natalie had just published a book of poems giving voices to people and objects who/which disappeared in the Titanic disaster of 1912. In the workshop, Natalie distributed pictures of objects with instructions for the assembled participants to write a poem in the voice of the object in their photo. I found myself with a photo of an embroidered jacket worn by Agnes Richter, a inmate of a psychiatric hospital in late 19th century Germany. After some initial reluctance, I did some research and found the jacket was still on view in a hospital museum in Germany and I was able to come up with a poem which subsequently won first prize in Enfield Poets competition 2015 to16. This success led me to start researching clothes worn by other women: some well- known stories emerged like the scarf that killed Isadora Duncan and some more recondite like the dress made from a quilt by a former slave needlewoman, Elizabeth Ketley for Abraham Lincoln’s wife.
I gave my poems to Dorothy who proceeded to do her own research on the articles of clothing and the women who wore them. In this way, although the choice of clothing and wearer was my original decision, the visual responses made by Dorothy were not just illustrations of my poems: both the poems and the illustrations were responses to the clothing, belonging to the the women so their stories developed in two different art forms.
I had already had experience of working with another visual artist, former OCA tutor in textiles, Pat Hodson, who now works in digital imagery. Pat and I spent four weeks in an artists’ residency in Iceland, again responding individually to the landscape, history and people of Iceland. At first when I wrote something and offered it to Pat, I became indignant at the way Pat exploded my words and letters within her images, but working on the project along with sound artist, Jessica Rowland, I learned to recognise how image, word and sound together made a new art form, where none took precedence over the other. I was then able to bring this recognition to my work with Dorothy.
I do not tutor Dorothy: we first met through the OCA South West group and kept up our friendship through the fact we both live in Bristol. I am in no way a visual art practitioner but have always been interested in ekphrastic poetry and see visual and verbal images as arising from the same needs and practices that artists and poets seem to share.
The audience for our joint efforts could be readers and writers of poetry, people practising or interested in the visual arts, feminists, historians, people interested in textiles/fashion, students looking for ways to collaborate across the arts. We are hoping to self-publish, using an online organisation like Blurb who are particularly experienced in reproducing art work, or maybe a local publisher like Tangent in Bristol.
Meanwhile Dorothy and I would like to recommend this kind of co-operation to other tutors and students. If you have the necessary cross-arts skills, you could do both writing and visual art yourself. However it works out it’s a good opportunity to experience working/co-operating within a different discipline from your own.
If you live in the Bristol area, Dorothy and Liz are running a two-day joint workshop at the Folk House 4-5 April 2020. https://www.bristolfolkhouse.co.uk/
Liz Cashdan Dorothy Flint