Toilet Roll Art

By Alice Bradshaw

Winter can be a difficult time of year to feel motivated to do anything, let alone sit in a cold shed-studio making work. Some tactics I fall back on when feeling unmotivated and uninspired include doodling in my sketch pad (in the warmth of the house), reading and watching artists’ lectures on youtube. The idea of ‘productivity‘ as churning out work that is exhibition-ready is not sustainable and often counter-productive. I find that sometimes a quieter period of reflection, learning and ‘messing about’ is a better use of my time. 

Carving out quiet, reflective time, whilst also being a mother to two young children with all the associated invisible mental load, can be a struggle – but it is something I’m conscious to prioritise. We talk about this ‘juggling act’ or plate-spinning a lot in Mothers Who Make meetings (I coordinate the Halifax hub of this national network) and how important self care is when you’re a mother and maker. In a world of competing demands of children and deadlines, it feels a luxury to just doodle. 

Maintaining a self-motivated art practice (as opposed to externally driven by projects and deadlines) is sometimes literally about practising or repeating a process or skill that is pushed into new directions or becomes more advanced. I notice that my ideas or focus on certain objects and materials can go in cycles and that’s interesting to me in terms of recycling and my obsessions with rubbish; ideas and materials can be recycled in art practice just as waste materials can be recycled. 

Mark Twain thought everything was recycled: “For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.” 

In reviewing my practice and previous work, I can see recycled ideas or obsessions with types of objects and materials. Currently it’s toilet rolls and these have previously appeared in my work in 2006 and 2012. Perhaps I’m on a 6-yearly cycle. 

My recent work-in-progress includes an adapted/dysfunctional object of a toilet roll tube fitted onto a child’s paint roller (titled Toilet Roller), and some daily drawings that I’m calling Daily Constitutional. 

Toilet Roller was made whilst my daughter was doing some painting and I was multitasking assisting her creativity in between doing household chores. I’d just changed the toilet roll and had the empty tube in my hand whilst I was sat with her painting. I noticed the similarity in form between the tube and paint roller and decided to swap them. 

The drawings are made using an upended toilet roll tube as a stencil and I’m using leftover coffee and beetroot juice as colour washes before overlaying with pen. By making art out of waste, I’m playing around with ideas of value and questioning what is rubbish/waste/cr*p. I’m making these drawings every day as something that is ‘good for my constitution’ – fulfilling a creative need – and also playing around with euphemism. This comes full circle to the ‘feeling cr*p’ at this time of year and making questionably cr*p art out of cr*p materials.

This poem is from The Feminist Toilet #1. To go back and read more, click here.

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