I remember visiting a friend’s graduation showcase one year, and feeling envious at the physicality of learning involved in her discipline.
As a writer who works primarily on her laptop, or drafts in pencil, it’s a little difficult to imagine people getting excited over a 25 page final thesis, as opposed to an architectural model, a garment, or an art installation.
I have always been enamoured by the way hands remember. How they learn and tire, but also how they heal and create.
I have always wanted to have hands that were all of those things.
If you’ve been lurking my instagram, you might discover that over the last 2 years I’ve begun to be more intentional about trying new things, particularly hands-on art.
For a short period of time I was relatively into splashing paint around at Paintlounge, but my quest for artmaking has taken me down so many different paths, into so many new types of art and to so many new artist spaces that I’m genuinely grateful I was curious enough to even begin.
The most memorable beginning for me was pottery. I have always loved the feel of clay, and always hated the clay shapes my hands produced.
The one time I remember succeeding in elementary school, was in creating a clay model of two swans on a lake with a friend who is infinitely more skilled with her hands than I am, so I attribute most of the success to her.
Gardiner Museum has drop-in classes a few times a week, for a two hour session with ceramic shaping or throwing on the wheel.
I have learned so much about my hands from the throwing wheel. What they are capable of, how they move and give strength, how they fatigue and cramp. I have felt it all and woke up mornings after with a rod of ache from my wrist to my elbow. I have only ever successfully thrown one fully symmetrical bowl.
Giving clay form is la different type of translation than writing. What happens when what you imagine is translated by the ability of your hands, and the focus of your mind? What exactly are you in such a moment?
I often marvel at how these questions open up new horizons for me.
Pottery requires me to leave the house and go to the studio. But bookbinding has infiltrated my home, and also my creative life at multiple levels.
As a writer, books have a materiality for me that is bound up in their immaterial stories. The physical book for me always took a backseat to what the book read.
Bookbinding foregrounded those things in straight edges, precision, careful attention, neat movements and confidence.
My writer hands are also now bookbinding hands. I feel the effort of the process in the wax, pricks, and soreness of wrestling with tiny little holes and stubborn thread.
I love its conscious precision even as I love the intuition of pottery.
To me it is another way of understanding the capacity of my hands.
I have wandered into other areas: gardening, screenprinting, flower pressing …
Every endeavour has shown me the possibilities within my hands.
I do not mean to fetishize the object.
I just find it immensely satisfying to learn the specificities of other crafts, and through learning, building new respect for artists in every discipline, and discovering new love for different art forms and what they can do.
We live relationally, not just to other people but also to the things we are surrounded by.
When I have to lift a flower off a cardboard sheet and transfer it into my notebook for gluing, I think about brittleness and beauty.
When I screen print to the clicking and clanking of an old letterpress, I think about the simple act of reproduction, how it really isn’t simple at all.
I have come to love carefully brushing soil away from the roots of seedlings that need to be repotted, listening for snapping, hoping it won’t do that much damage.
My hands remind me of all that I am not, but also of all that I want to be.
My hands fill my words with new kinds of life.