Word drawings

It’s very interesting, going back and visiting old work. I tend to be consumed by new work, absorbed in my making and thinking. When my practice focused on drawing, drawing was all I wanted to do. For a while, a walk without a walking drawing was a wasted walk. My excitement and enthusiasm for the drawings gripped my mind totally.


So re-visiting the process of making walking drawings for this residency I expected to have that same consuming interest, and at first I definitely was excited and enjoyed seeing the work that was produced. Then as the days went on the work became frustrating. I felt stuck and I felt like I had gone backwards in some way. My focus has changed, my work is currently engaged with word crafting, I felt in some strange way that I was letting my practice down by attending to drawing, despite how much I love drawing as an art form. It was a very uncomfortable moment in this residency.

After wrestling with this problem and talking to artist friends I realised that I have definitely moved on from making drawings in the old style, with the drawing devices. But I haven’t finished making drawings per se, I realised that I have just changed the medium with which I make drawings.

I’ve written quite a lot during this residency and I was idly thinking about drawing, writing and the possibility of drawing with words. I wondered what the writing I have done for this residency would look like in a word cloud? I was thinking that perhaps I have used particular words very often and maybe looking at those words would inspire me to create something interesting for my final exhibition piece.

So I pasted my posts into some word cloud software. There were some interesting results, so I decided to copy and paste the words into Google docs and play around with them, trying to find some way of drawing with words. Surprisingly, when I pasted the word cloud words into the document I discovered that many of the words had somehow been stuck together, forming new and rather wonderful words. For instance, fungi and old became fungiold, way and road became wayroad, breath and raven, breathraven.

Reader, my brain exploded. Okay, not literally, but I was so excited to see these wonderful, randomly created new words. The process felt simillar to how I used to make drawings, in that I would set up an experiment which had an element of the unexpected and/or random process and then metaphorically step back and allow the outcome to generate itself. In drawing, that is effected when I design a device for making a drawing based on some input not deliberately controlled by my hand, as when the pen in the device moves because I am walking.

Using the word cloud felt similar. I wrote the initial words and input them into the word cloud, therefore setting up the conditions for something to happen, yet it was the way the word cloud software handled the text and the Google software handled the copy and paste process that determined the outcome of the combined words.

These combined words placed together in an arbitrary collection are word drawings, maybe even a poem. But I am the mother of a poet and I have enormous respect and awe for a poet’s effort and creativity in combining words and meaning and I feel that to call what I have created poetry is incorrect, even audacious. They are word drawings; odd, sometimes beautiful, nonsense in which we may nonetheless see meaning.

Just as I make the decision what type of pen or what colour ink to use in a walking drawing, therefore having some aesthetic control over the final drawings, so I took some control over the placement of words in my word drawings. Mostly, I left them as they were arranged by the word cloud software, but in some cases I moved them around and I sometimes inserted words, such as go, and or where to break up the list and improve the rhythm or flow of the piece.

Finally, I used some Open Source software called Twine to gather all the words into an interactive word drawing. Readers determine what text will be displayed on screen by clicking on the highlighted words, therefore having a different experience with each reading, depending on which words are selected.

I’m very happy with this result! I never could have imagined getting to here from where I began on this residency, back at the beginning of August. What is really exciting for me is that this feels like the start of a new way of working, a new stream to my practice, which is always evolving anyway. It was so good to pass through that uncomfortable place, revisiting the walking drawings, to come to this. Sometimes, being an artist is like walking along a path, one with switchbacks and branchlines and where the path ahead is often completely obscured by the trees.

Ten failed drawings

Okay, they are not exactly failures, in fact they are very lovely drawings I think. These are some of the walking drawings I have made over the last couple of weeks. Most are black ink on paper but three are on clear acetate and one is on a dried green leaf.

Black and white abstract drawing, ink on acetate. A tangle of short, straight and curved lines drawn with a brush pen.

These drawings have all been created using a very simple drawing device I made using wire, cardboard and a copper spring. I suspend a ink pen from the copper spring and take the whole contraption for a walk, the pen drawing as I move.

Black and white abstract drawing, ink on paper. A dense tangle of very short lines going in all directions but forming almost a circle. Small dots of ink decorate the edges of the drawing.

I’ve been attempting to film the process, with varying results. I bought myself an iPad, hoping for better film results, but it’s new technology for me and is currently proving quite frustrating, not least in the weird placement of the iPad camera to the far right of the device, which is really awkward in the drawing device. I might go back to my simple, but trusty mobile phone!

Black and white abstract drawing, ink on paper. Delicate, short, feathery lines made with a brush pen at the center and center top of the page, forming a roughly circular shape.

So back to the drawing board (or drawing device I should say)…

Black and white abstract drawing, ink on paper. Delicate, lines and dots form an almost triangular shape. The lines crisscross over each other.
Black and white abstract drawing, ink on paper. Close up image of a very dense roughly circular drawing made with thick, short, feathery lines going in all directions
Photograph of a dried green hazel leaf decorated with dense black ink lines in the centre of the leaf. The ink marks mostly go in the same vertical direction and cross over each other in the centre.
Black and white abstract drawing, ink on acetate. The lines go in all directions forming a roughly circular, spidery shape. The ink remains wet and forms little blobs of thicker pigment along each line.
Black and white abstract drawing, ink on tracing paper. A small roughly square tangle of thick ink lines decorates the centre of the page. One single fine line is drawn from the right edge of the page, not quite meeting the tangle of lines.
Black and white abstract drawing, ink on acetate. two ink blobs sit side by side roughly in the centre of the page. The blobs swirl in roughly circular form where they have been wiped with a cloth or rag.
The Black and white abstract drawing, ink on acetate. The image is full of movement, lines made in many different directions. The ink has not dried and has pooled in blobs along the drawn lines and in the centre of the drawing.

Spinning the lines

Last year I began toying with writing a novel. It’s not gone anywhere yet and on re-reading it’s fairly dire, as all first novel attempts are allowed to be.

One of the central characters in this story is a wild, grey haired woman who may or may not be centuries old and profoundly occult. She came to me as a vivid image, a woman in a long yellow coat walking the lanes and roads of Britain constantly twisting her fingers, which others think is a mere tic. What her twitching fingers are really doing is spinning unseen lines of magical force across the land.

“We were important people us spinsters. An’ I was one of the best. So they made me what I am today. Did the ritual, gave me to Britain. Spinster. Spinner. Walking the lines, spinning the magic.”

So. I am at that lovely (sarcasm that) stage in making when I have many ideas and no resolution. Yet. I’ve been dissatisfied with the drawing device work, feeling like it hit a dead end, uninspired with my results but feeling somehow nagged by the work, like it still had a way to go, even if I couldn’t see how to resolve it.

At the same time I’ve been thinking a lot about paths and walking and at the same time continuing to work on a long term project I am developing, called AuTCRONE Chronicles, which attempts to voice my grief about the current global ecological stupidity humans are embroiled in.

Anyway, one of the characters in the project (it’s a speculative fiction project) walks. She is a near immortal nomad bearing witness to climate disaster.

I want to write about her walking and have been thinking about how to tell the story of her walking even as I have been walking paths for this residency. And at the same time I’ve been making and filming walking drawings. I’m thinking stories and making drawings and have been unable to resolve either work and it’s been driving me mad!

Then I read the words I wrote for that occult character in the abandoned terrible novel and I think I’ve had a lightbulb moment.

What you don’t know about me is that I started my art career working exclusively with textile. I’m still a regular knitter (because I make all my clothes. And that’s another story) and I can spin on a drop spindle. I can spin on a drop spindle and walk at the same time. And so maybe I can gather up the threads of my making and storytelling and work them into something that might possibly involve spinning, drawing and storytelling.

It’s getting late and I’m tired after a long day walking but I think this idea might have legs. I’m going to run with it, metaphorically speaking. Goodnight.

The path is

Multi-layered digital image of paths the artist …kruse has walked along, with text from the poem, The Path Is, written by …kruse.
Audio reading of the poem The Path Is.

This had been a week of deep thinking and much doing. Most of the doing has not been about this residency though, which has been frustrating. This has been a very ovewhelming month. I’m not a summer person and August is often a rather fraught month, maybe for others too?


Anyway, there’s been a lot going on and I have found myself on a couple of occasions this week walking on the few paths I can find near my home with a feeling that is like a little half dried out sea creature crawling down the sand to the blessed water.

I think about the people in Afghanistan and their desperate scrambling for sanctuary. I think about all the people who take to the road to flee terror and danger.

Going to the path, even in my privileged life, can be necessary medicine, sanctuary, peace. I wrote this poem while walking along a path, feeling a deep need for green spaces and the peace of trees. I wanted it to feel a little bit like a prayer, particularly the ‘celtic’ lorica or caim, which is a prayer for protection, asked either for the self, or as a blessing for others. These incantations contain a lot of repetitive elements. I think many of them were written or created (most come from a time when there was very low literacy, and the loricas may have been passed on by word of mouth). They feel to me like walking poems, that is, they fit the pace and rhythm of walking.

The path is a story

A narrow dirt path wends away through dense green trees and undergrowth.

Just some thoughts about the path. I think I’m getting closer to understanding why I love paths so much. I’m beginning to see how the path is both a fantasy place, an imaginative landscape where everything is perfect, and a real space, where I am confronted by my own failings or frailties. This realisation will influence how I write and make work about paths going forward.

6. Go Deep.

I am slowly, deeply and intentionally breathing into Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’

Turquoise Book cover entitled ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

I have a lot to process and it feels important to: Go deep.

Hand of artist Rebekah Ubuntu holds open Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ on a page titled 'Go Deep'
Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’. Chapter title: ‘Go Deep’

“What would allow you to look at what is under your actions, and under that, and under that? ”

“And the ocean itself has so many depth lessons, when you think you’ve reached the bottom, there is sometimes still deeper to go…”

“Take a breath”

Extract from ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs’, Chapter: ‘Go Deep.’

5. Be Vulnerable.

I am slowly, deeply and intentionally breathing into Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’

Turquoise Book cover entitled ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

I have a lot to process and it feels important to: Be vulnerable.

Hand of artist Rebekah Ubuntu holds open Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ on a page titled 'Be Vulnerable'
Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’. Chapter title: ‘Be Vulnerable’

“I wonder what our sensitive edges have to teach us.”

“…our tendency to hurt people who have already been hurt in similar ways to us, and what it takes to actually lead on the issues that have impacted us the most.”

Extract from ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs’, Chapter: ‘Be Vulnerable’

Drawing the path 01

Prototype drawing device on Oxfordshire path

I took a prototype drawing device to Oxfordshire at the weekend. I wanted to walk down a path I knew well with the device and film it working.

This path starts at the top of the lane where we used to live when I was a small child. It’s a very significant place for me, which I wrote about on my Wayfaring blog a while ago. I wanted to revisit a path that I know well, so that my focus would be on the thing I was making rather than on the path itself.

It was odd making this drawing. I’ve made drawings like this many times before and I’m not sure how to take this work forward. Just making yet another drawing doesn’t seem like a particularly productive thing to do. On the other hand, I do love watching these drawings get made.

It was interesting filming it and I think this might be who I want the drawings to be shown. I’m still exploring that idea, but I have some concerns about making paper based drawings – it’s just more stuff in the world you know?

4. Listen.

I am slowly, deeply and intentionally breathing into Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’

Turquoise Book cover entitled ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

I have a lot to process and it feels important to: Listen.

Hand of artist Rebekah Ubuntu holds open Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ on a page titled 'Listen'
Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’. Chapter title: ‘Listen’

“Listening is not only about the normative ability to hear, it is a transformative and revolutionary resource that requires quieting down and tuning in.”

“…opening a space to uplift the practice of listening even more than the practices of showing and proving and speaking up…”

Extract from ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs’, Chapter: ‘Rest’

Defining the path – 02

dew covered brambles growing across a muddy, narrow path on a cold winters day
Winter path – …kruse 2021

When Little Red Riding Hood went into the forest did she follow a path all the way to her Grandmother’s house? Hansel and Gretel hand in hand, woke up in a part of the forest they didn’t know and it was a path, not a road that took them to the witch. Robert Frost followed the, ‘road less taken,’ but I think he was being a little grandiose there, the ‘two roads’ were in a wood and both were grassed over, so were these really roads Robert, or merely paths?
There are a great many stories and poems about roads, Edward Thomas,’ ‘Now all roads lead to France,’ is full of sadness and menace, A.E Houseman, Kipling, Walt Whitman, G.K Chesterton, all write of roads. Roads may be grand, they may be dusty, they may take you on to the hell of a war or be the same road refugees flee along seeking safety.
Roads were built for armies, and after the wars those roads remained for commerce. Trade maintained the old battle-roads, and the grandest routes still exist, cutting across continents and centuries.
Back in the day, in England, travellers were charged to keep on the ‘king’s road,’ stepping off it into the wood was trespass and punishable. But then, back in the day, the dark woods or lonely moors beside the road were the hunting places of bears, wolves and dangerous men, so staying on the road was safer anyway.
Following the road is always easier than stepping off it, especially if the road is tarmacked, a smooth skin over the mess and inconvenience of nature. And everyone knows where the road comes from and where the road goes, even if they never travel along it themselves. On the road you are in community, you follow its laws, you follow its route, on the road you are seen, on the road you are known, you are part of the crowd and that brings with it both safety and danger. Safety in numbers? Maybe (has that ever been true?). Safety from dangers lurking beside the road. Safety in that the road will bring you to food, a bed, shelter. All roads do that eventually. But there is danger on the road too, danger in being so visible, danger in following a well travelled way.

“Stay off the road,” warns Gandalf to Frodo in Lord of the Rings, knowing that it is on the road that Frodo’s enemy will seek him. Frodo takes a path through the woods, a path across open country too, but the fickle paths lead him astray. Through the woods the path changes direction and eventually it fades away altogether. This is the danger of paths. Paths are wild things. You follow a path at your peril.

A path will take you into nature, brambles snatching at your hair, mud in winter, adders in the grass, no surety of direction, no certainty of food or shelter ahead. A path invites you to have faith, someone came this way once, that’s why the path is here. It’s not community on a path, the others are too far ahead or behind for that, but there is a kind of fellowship, others have been here, once, and your solitude is a little less lonely because of them.
A path is a quiet thing. It exists because other beings have trod the way, but only a season or two without passersby and the path returns to the wild, disappears into the grass and wild flowers. A path stays open because it is wanted.

3. Resting.

I am slowly, deeply and intentionally breathing into Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’

Turquoise Book cover entitled ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

I have a lot to process and it feels important to: Rest

Hand of artist Rebekah Ubuntu holds open Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ on a page titled 'Rest'
Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ book ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’. Chapter title: ‘Rest’

“I have heard people praised over and over again as “tireless,” right through their exhaustion and death. I myself have forgotten to eat.”

“…And we deserve space to reflect on what we made…”

Extract from ‘Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals’ by Alexis Pauline Gumbs’, Chapter: ‘Rest’

Twine and maps

I attended a really interesting Art & Tech workshop on Interactive fiction last night given by Dan Hett, hosted by BOM.
I’m really pleased to see that Interactive fiction is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, not that it ever went away, but when everyone got seriously into VR the humble hypertext driven interactive narrative got a bit pushed to one side.

I really like the simplicity of interactive, hypertext fiction. It’s an invitation to the writer to get creative with storytelling, without too much tech getting in the way. I think one of the failings of VR is that the ‘magic’ of it, the glamour of such clever tech, can sometimes cover up poor game play with all VR’s bells and whistles.

Twine ticks a lot of happy boxes for me, it’s pretty simple to use, (I can use it!) but is flexible enough that if your coding skill-set is pretty good, you can do some fun things with it. It’s Open Source, which I love and it is free, which is also a huge plus point. Also you can use it right in your browser and files are saved as HTML so it’s really easy for anyone to download and play your creation.

I used twine to create Gurus of the Apocalypse last year, my first attempt at interactive fiction. In the end I couldn’t figure out how to get the Blogger site I was using to accept the HTML code for the story, so I ended up doing hard links to each page which was a pain (Blogger is not the platform it once was, sadly, but that’s another story).

One thing that Dan pointed out yesterday was that Twine is created for ‘mapping.’ He meant that in terms of mapping the story mainly, as Twine has a graphic interface that makes it very easy to see how items link to each other. He also mentioned this mapping capability for things like organising Role Play events, and mapping tasks for projects. But my brain immediately went to the main definition of mapping = mapping!
Map-ing.

I’m exploring my relationship to paths here and I’m thinking about that all the time. I now have a vague idea swirling around in my head which links Twine to a map of a path…is this a way I can write a story? Is this a way I can develop this project? I’m fumbling here but there is definitely a connection happening inside my cerebral cortex. Twine and maps. Interesting…..

This is a path

I have created a gallery of 6 coloured photographs, inspired by the Ladybird reading books I had as a child. The colours are very saturated.

Image 1 was taken in my local park and shows a short path under a group of birch trees growing on a bank next to the access road to the park. The image caption reads ‘This is a path.’

Image 2 is a photograph of a tarmack path leading up a short hill between a row of elder people’s bungalows and a grassy verge with trees. There is no road, it is a footpath and accessible only to pedestrians. The image caption reads ‘This is a path.’

Image 3 shows a very narrow path, probably made by people and dogs, winding through some long grass and under trees at the edge of a park. It shows where people want to walk, making a path where one did not exist before. The image caption reads ‘This is a path.’

Image 4 is similar to 3, it is a photograph of a path made by people walking across the grass, under trees, in my local park. The path, which is simply a line of earth where people have trod away the grass, is wider than the path in image 3. The image caption reads ‘This is a path.’

Image 5 is a photograph of a suburban pavement running between people’s homes and a road. There are a few trees between the pavement and the road. In the near distance the back of a van can be seen jutting out from a driveway, half blocking the pavement. The image caption reads ‘This is not a path.’

Image 6 is a photograph of the access road and pavement leading to a park. A bright yellow height barrier can be seen blocking access to tall vehicles. Two cars and two small vans can be seen in the photograph, they are all parked on the pavement on the far side of the barrier. The image caption reads ‘This is a pavement. It is blocked.’

2. Permission. (Video + Text)

I am granting myself permission.

Video 1: my reflections unfold in realtime.

video 2: my reflections are voiced.

My reflections – full text – below

I am contemplating my blog posts on this platform.

I am wanting to grant myself PERMISSION to use this blog space for REFLECTION. 

In order to REFLECT I feel I need some SLOWING DOWN, RESTING, PAUSING time…to ALLOW my mind, heart, body etc. to RELAX, LET GO + BE. 

And to do that I need to grant myself PERMISSION…

  • I need to grant myself PERMISSION…
  • I need to grant myself PERMISSION…
  • I need to grant myself PERMISSION…

I hereby grant Rebekah Ubuntu, (aka me, myself and I), permission to…

  • SLOW DOWN, REST, PAUSE… 

I hereby grant Rebekah Ubuntu, (aka me, myself and I), permission to…

  • ALLOW  my mind, heart, body etc. to RELAX, LET GO + BE. 

I think a lot about how resting, reflecting and repose are all about permission.

I feel conflicted about work and rest. Like the two oppose each other and lead to a sense of dissatisfaction.

To reflect, requires repose, pause, slowing down.

Yet, the pace with which I have been enculturated, I’d say from the age of five or so, is so fast. It’s a constant busy-ness for the sake of busy-ness type feeling. And it has shaped the way I conceive of most, if not all things, including my own sense of intrinsic value.

The issue I am already confronting (for the sake of this residency) is:

I don’t know HOW to really REST if it isn’t about SLEEPING, NAPPING or RESTING to RECOVER from an illness or fatigue. I don’t feel a sense of embodied understanding around a NATURAL STATE of REST.

For example, I am always thinkingabout what’s next. What’s next for this blog, what’s next for this project or that, what’s next for my career, what’s next for my life…

I am choosing to free write – and record it as it’s happening. I guess I want to remove my tendencies towards PERFECTIONISM which I think is linked to this sense I have of NEEDING PERMISSION to REST.

Like I need PERMISSION to SLOW DOWN.

So recording myself write this, removes the self-censoring, self-editing, self-criticism and allows for an acceptance of what is.

Perhaps that’s what REST allows too…a sense of ACCEPTANCE.

I immediately feel inclined towards GRATITUDE also as an ANTIDOTE to the BUSY-NESS…

How to carry a drawing device?

Diagram sketch
Rough sketches exploring how to carry a drawing device
Another rough sketch exploring how to carry a drawing device

I did some rough sketches this morning to help me figure out how I might carry a drawing device. In the past, I’ve carried the devices hidden in a rucksack, or held in front of me and I also put devices inside paper shopping bags that other people could carry.

I think how you carry something affects your relationship with/to the thing. I usually have a rucksack on my back, so carrying a drawing device that way feels commonplace. Carrying anything in my rucksack is an ordinary everyday thing.
Holding the device in my hands changes how I think of it. Firstly the device is visible to others so the drawing it is making is a public drawing. Inside the rucksack it is a secret thing. Holding the device with two hands alters my balance as I am walking, alters my gait. The drawing is the drawing of my walk and a drawing of how I am holding the device.

What if I attached the device to my arm, or my leg? How would that feel? Would it alter the way the drawing looks from say, putting it in a rucksack?

Carrying the device like a handbag or shopping bag seems somehow neglectful, again a sort of commonplace, everyday thing.

Carrying the device cradled in my arms feels very different. Again, it would alter my gait, but it would also feel, I think, reverent.

Wearing the devices strapped to my body might make me feel very embarressed unless I disguised it in some way. I nearly always wear a dress when I am walking, so I could possibly hide it it I wanted to. Do I want to?