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Half Full Talks… to artists Martin Staniforth, Anna Nixon and Ghislaine Howard – what’s in a creative process?

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Featured image: Beth Jones


Half Full zine artists Beth Jones and Ellie Cunningham appreciate looking on the bright side. With Half Full Talks…, they speak to creatives in a plethora of different fields to inspire, educate and enlighten.


The act of so-called ‘centring’ your creative practice can be tricky. To help, we speak to three creatives for the first edition of Half Full Talks

We ask about the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ of their creative processes as well as any advice they may have for aAh!’s readers, and of course, ourselves. We hope you, whoever you may be and however you may view your creativity, see your existing capabilities and nurture the ‘creative’ in you.

So who are these wonderful creative people? Meet artists Martin Staniforth, Anna Nixon and Ghislaine Howard.


The creatives…

Martin Staniforth is an ex-engineer turned sculptor. His work focuses on renewal and vulnerability of form, taking inspiration from nature. His work has been displayed in Exeter Cathedral, The Royal Devon Exeter Hospital and the University of Bristol Botanical Gardens. Martin is co-director of Creative Beings, a creative hub running workshops in Devon, and chair of the South-West Sculptors. 

Resurgo
Photography: Martin Staniforth

Anna Nixon is a published writer currently studying in Manchester. You may have seen her work in The Mancunian, The Mundane Times, The Buzzin Bards Anthology and the Spit Poet Zine. Her writings feature honest portrayals of her experiences as a young woman in the realms of fiction, poetry and article writing.

A child fathered a bubble 

Blowing life into its curves 

The bubble stole a view of the world  

From the eye of a passer by  

And painted it onto its surface 

With hues of bluebells and  

Pink tints from the bleeding sunset 

It wrapped the wind around itself  

to make itself a sphere, 

It whispered: 

Nobody touch me, or I might disappear 

It frightened the swallows  

As it learned how to fly 

And took captive  

A lungful of the atmosphere 

It caught my eye 

As I sat on a cold, damp bench 

Watching its bold children 

Soar upwards in my drink  

Dying before they were born, 

Their elder on the horizon 

Hung not forlorn but 

Still 

Yet somehow also moving toward me  

A paradox in a circular box 

My hand reached out to touch 

A surface that encompassed, 

Trees that bent to meet grass 

Grass that rose to meet trees  

And a dozen  

Oblivious 

People trapped in between 

It tumbled in the air 

Like an acrobat 

Gliding ever closer till 

That looking glass 

Skin came in contact  

with my own and I  

Popped.

‘Eden’ by Anna Nixon

Awarded Woman of The Year 2008, Ghislaine Howard is an established painter whose work focuses on ‘the shared experience’. She explores subjects such as pregnancy that have been underrepresented in art history. Her work has been exhibited in Manchester Art Gallery, Liverpool Cathedral, The British Museum and a permanent exhibition housing her collection can be found at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, which we had the pleasure of visiting.

Self Portrait with Max
Photography: Ghislaine Howard

Half Full Talks… in Conversation with Martin Staniforth, Anna Nixon and Ghislaine Howard

In all three of our Half Full Talks… interviews, the conversation naturally turns to the almost meditative quality of making. Stainforth speaks of “slowing down” after leaving the world of engineering, and the appreciation this outlook has brought him.

He describes “the atmosphere and the environment of slowing down, the freedom to explore” as a welcome change. He continues: “[You] really have a look and really inspect, because we see people all the time, but do we really see people.”

The power of noticing is remarkable. For example, within our own practices, sitting and looking first, before making any marks is crucial to outcomes. This is exactly the “slowing down” Stainforth so beautifully describes. It brings a great wave of peace, the mind is momentarily absorbed by the task at hand, what is at present in front of you. A valuable respite for a busy or troubled mind. This is something we can all do.

The next thing that captures your attention, be it the spring blossoms, your friends laughing, a perfectly made cuppa, the sky at sunset or even yourself. Pause for a moment and take it all in. An easy first step. We’re certain that if you repeat this in your week, maybe on your way to work, you’ll see (and hopefully feel) something you’ve never seen before, in your everyday.

Nixon talks of the gentle and time-sensitive approach her practice asks of her. Similar to sitting and noticing the visual stimuli Stainforth discusses, Nixon talks of “processing emotion rather than recalling the actual event” sitting with “how it made [her] feel” describing it as outside of the event, the beginning. She goes on to define reflection as her next aid:

“I’ll start with something that I’ve written down, leave it a day or two and come back and think: ‘This is shit’. And then I’ll write another version of it, not really looking at that one but kind of knowing what I said, then I’ll go on to that one and edit the words or maybe try a different structure, or mess about with rhyme or the rhythm of it.”

If you were to realistically map the creative process it’s more likely to look like a tangled ball of wool, than say a ruler. And of course, how long is a piece of string? A beautifully intertwined transition from place to place and idea to fruition.

We ask Howard about her practice. Specifically, her processes: how she navigates the journey of idea to outcome. Her detailing of this process, as a process full of emotion, twists, and turns, really resonates with us. She talks about painting as a very physical act. The physical nature of it comes alongside the emotional push and pull that occurs as an artist goes through the process of destruction and recovery. 

“A painting takes place over time, and I love the feeling that time is caught in there. In the weave. That sense of unlocking an image, and the viewer having to do a bit of work,” says Howard.

This idea can be translated into all sorts of creative fields and by all sorts of people, as people find their balance between working with their intuition, and applying their knowledge. It’s a common struggle found amongst creatives, between this expressive, carefree nature of making and the measured and devoted intention in working. Howard is proof of the power of harnessing the connection between these two ‘sides’ and channelling that into your ‘belief in the power of art’.  

We ask Howard if there was any advice for someone who would like to engage in the arts more. She says: “Everyone is an artist… I believe that art, music and literature are a force for good and social change, to make the world a better place.”

She continues: “One great piece of advice is: everybody can draw, and everybody should draw. Everybody can draw as a child it just gets educated out of us.” Being creative shouldn’t be the exception to the rule.  

Stainforth, Nixon and Howard are all incredible individuals, with words and mindsets to ignite positivity, for you to take forward in your day-to-day.


Half Full zine is working with aAh!’s #StudentsSupportUkraine campaign to raise awareness on the crisis in Ukraine.

Beth Jones and Ellie Cunnigham have created a print zine alongside their Half Full Talks… series, available to purchase at The Link Gallery on Tuesday 3rd May, with all donations going to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund by GlobalGiving.

Donate to the Half Full zine fundraiser on JustGiving.com to support humanitarian assistance in impacted communities in Ukraine and follow Half Full on Instagram.

About the author / 

aAh!

aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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