Reflecting on our creative practice is important, but when you are swamped with work, up to your eyeballs with deadlines, or perhaps strapped for cash, it can quite often feel like a privilege. Personally, it is more likely to be unrealistic expectations and high standards that I put upon myself, rather than those imposed by others, that I feel held accountable for. I have come to recognise what this ache in my stomach is, and it is the feeling of obligation, which is described by comedian, Sara Pascoe, as “an under-discussed emotion. It can be a strong current tugging our behaviour away from what we want to do and towards what is expected of us, our duty, what we owe to whom.”
I took some time out during 2019 to revaluate what it actually was that I wanted: from work, from leisure, from relationships, and even from This Girl Makes. I needed to revaluate what was important for my life in general. Sounds pretty serious for a 24 year old! But, as many people reminded me, it is completely normal to find yourself (at several points throughout life) at a crossroads, and needing some headspace to work it all out. To be metaphorical here- I had to take myself off the hamster wheel to see which cage I had trapped myself in.
I had fallen out of love with life. That is to say, everything about it that I enjoyed: furniture, design, making, and art. I wasn’t my creative self anymore. And the more I thought about it, I had completely lost sight of who I was.
I quit my job (with the luxury of having saved for such an event, and the will power to live on a student budget once again) and spent four months reconnecting with what made me feel human. I started reading books*, drawing, and falling in love with people and my surroundings again. I spent invaluable time with my family. And not even that long into my ‘time out’ came to a resolution of which direction I wanted my career to go.
I enrolled onto an Artist in Residence program that was kindly offered to me by the staff at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, from which I graduated in 2018, and the place that helped me one hundred percent come into my own during my time there. Leaving college and starting work, I realised how much of my experience studying there I had taken for granted: the collaboration opportunities, the supportive community, and the inspiring and engaging environment it provided me with every day of my degree. It feels oh, so good to be back!
But even Rycotewood was without its changes. In addition to a lick of paint, tidy up and new classroom areas, the furniture department had also welcomed several new members of staff into its fold (#weneedsomemoregirlsinhere). One of which is award winning furniture designer maker, Rachel Hutchinson (https://www.rachelhutchinsonfurniture.com/). At the end of my first week of the residency, I passed Rachel in the corridor and said, ‘fancy a pint?’ To which she said, ‘yes’.
We sat down at the pub and discussed the fact that we were both coming back to making following our own versions of a ‘break’. Our second drink in, and we were playing a sort of creative person’s tennis match, hitting ideas back and forth, pitching our plans for future projects and explaining how big we wanted them to be. Talking to a craftswoman with decades of experience and feeling heard, understood and legitimate was the perfect chaser to my first week back in the workshop.
It made me cast my mind back to the first time Rachel visited Rycotewood during my studies. She was the collaborating maker on a second year project when I was still a first year. She gave a talk to all students, which I attended, and presented her speculative and commissioned work to date. She also gave some pointers on how to self direct your design process. Particularly useful if you are just starting your journey, returning from a break, or so deep into your craft that you need a new and fresh perspective.
She had lots of interesting points within her talk, such as selecting an influential artist or designer and basing a project on their work or style, as a small study. She explained that this exercise encourages designers and makers to explore new mediums, processes and aesthetic styles, often pushing your work out of the comfort zone. Another suggestion was starting your project with a mood board of 20 images of objects or concepts that you feel inspired by. This would help with the conception of new styles, ideas for materials, processes or other aspects for your project that you may not have previously considered.
At the time I made a note of twenty things I was inspired by, and four years later, am interested to see how some of my tastes have changed, and others not at all.
What would make your Top Twenty?
*My reading list:
Clothes, Music, Boys by Viv Albertine
To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Sex, Power, Money by Sara Pascoe
Chavs by Owen Jones
The Three Dimensions of Freedom by Billy Bragg
Kid (book of poems) by Simon Armitage