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Six leading makers on how they are getting through the lockdown

Isolation inspiration for reading, working and simply passing the time

Recent work by Junko Mori


What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment?

Despite being Japanese, I have huge cultural blank when it comes to the country since I left there in 1998 – especially with its music scene. I found a few amazing Japanese musicians on Spotify and I’m really enjoying them. My favourites at the moment are Queen Bee and Official Hige Dandism.

What's helping to boost your wellbeing at the moment?

Gardening. We have a polytunnel and digging has been my favourite thing since I was little, so I’m sweating away in this amazing weather. I also bought a dehydrator and I’m experimenting with how not to waste food by drying overly-cropped vegetables and leftovers. My favourite is thinly sliced and dried swede: it’s very similar to daikon radish when you put it in miso soup.

Are you still able to work and, if so, what's your current project?

I took two weeks off to settle my kids into home-schooling, and then went back to work a few weeks ago. I am mainly experimenting with a few designs and shapes for an existing series. Then, in the evenings, I’m researching metallurgy – with rare and common metals – and ancient Chinese philosophy, which I’m hoping will trigger my new body of work. 

What will you take away from this period of isolation, creatively?

As a maker, I have been interested in what boredom is and how we can fulfil our curiosity by making things. My work is based on repetition, and I am convinced that physical, repetitive activities create a calm, empty brain. I want to explore how to spread this idea by holding craft workshops for children and grownups in local communities. 


A commission for a private client in progress at Julian Stair’s studio


Has this period changed how you work and approach your practice?

There is a lot of coverage of the psychological impact of the lockdown in the media at present, but it hasn’t made a significant difference to day-to-day life for me. Like many people involved in creative practice, I am used to spending long periods on my own and not relying on institutions to determine how I work or what I do. Are artists and designers naturally anti-social or are they self-reliant? Either way, I think we are well equipped to deal with the culture shock of isolation.

However, working in absolute isolation is different to the regular flow of friends and colleagues who play a part in my normal studio life. Yes, I miss the grounding and pleasure of social exchange, but it also allows a different space to take shape where I can think and reflect on work without distraction. This can be double-edged – peace and quiet, perhaps, but also tough exposure. We are our own sternest critics, and when you are absolutely alone with your efforts, there is no hiding from the reality of what you make.


New Town, a tile collection designed by  Adam Nathaniel Furman and made by hand in Italy by Botteganove


What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment?

I am reading Eileen (2015) by Ottessa Moshfegh, watching the South Korean TV series Crash Landing On You, and listening mostly to documentaries on BBC Sounds.

What's helping to boost your wellbeing at this time?

Trips to my parents' garden, where I can help with the gardening and enjoy the spring weather and a bit of outdoor quiet.

Are you still able to work and, if so, what's your current project?

I am able to work, as I have my laptop and a sketchbook with me. I am currently working on a cafe in Melbourne, a large piece of public art in Croydon and a ceramic stove and down/uplighter for an arts centre in Cumbria.

Has this period made you approach your practice differently?

I'm afraid I am one of those people who have somewhat frozen like a cat in the headlights, and I’ve been unable to reflect or be very productive during this period. I have been trying to tell myself that this is OK, and that we all react differently. I am sure, however, that I will get back into my stride at some point and, hopefully, I will be more focused on only doing the kind of work that genuinely brings me joy.

What will you take away from this period of isolation, creatively?

I guess that most of us find a way to carry on, in whatever form, and that I shouldn't be so fearful of unexpected change, as somehow we always muddle through.


Be afraid, be very afraid, Freddie Robins, 2019, machine knitted wool tapestry. Photo: Douglas Atfield


What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment? 

Sadly I’m reading less than usual now that I don’t commute to London once a week. I am trying to read simple but beautifully crafted stories about the everyday to completely consume me and give me a sense of security. The novelist Anne Tyler is good for that. 

I have been watching enormous amounts of television – lots of thrillers and the series Tiger King, of course. I have been choosing thrillers set all around the world – that way I get to undertake some virtual travelling without watching documentaries. I don’t like my TV to be educational. Probably what I should have been watching is my waistline: I have been over-eating at every meal and in-between. 

I have also been listening to BBC 6 Music on the radio a little, but mainly just the silence of the countryside when it isn’t rudely interrupted by owls, cuckoos, muntjacs, tractors or my cats killing rabbits.

What's helping to boost your wellbeing at this time? 

I live in the countryside on a farm so it’s easy for me to be outside but away from other people. I have been doing an online yoga class twice a week and walking the cats around the garden – yes, they like to be walked like dogs when they aren’t killing rabbits. 

To be honest, my wellbeing is in pretty poor shape at the moment. I have been worried about my family and upset about my students – many of whom are on the other side of the world to their families and are anxious and emotional when we meet over the internet. I feel weighed down by other people’s needs and anxieties. Although I could take more exercise, I don’t feel motivated to do so.

Are you still able to work and, if so, what's your current project?

I am managing to get some work done in my studio, but it is difficult to concentrate when you are rarely alone and someone is forever coming in wanting your attention. I am continuing to work on a new body of work questioning the hierarchy of materials called Who’s scared of the soft stuff?

Has this period changed the focus of your work or made you approach your practice differently? 

I have been doing more hand-work: hand-knitting and exploring mixed media collage. I do have some work I should be doing – preparing a digital image to have knitted out as a large-scale knitted tapestry – but that requires me to work with Photoshop and I can’t face being at the computer for any more time than I have to. My teaching has moved online and I spend too much time in virtual tutorials, virtual meetings and answering emails. I have been asked to contribute to several projects that reflect the time we are living in, the threat of coronavirus and living in lockdown, but this doesn’t inspire my creativity.

What will you take away from this period of isolation, creatively? 

That I am even more introverted than I realised – I am desperate to be completely on my own. That I really do hate creative digital processes and really do love, need and depend upon the material world. 

I also take away a large amount of work by other artists and makers as I took part in the Artist Support Pledge through Instagram, sold a large number of my Ghost prints, and am spending nearly all the money on other people’s work. This has been a hugely positive experience and kept me in touch with other artists and makers.


Vessels by Simone ten Homel. Photo: Gallery SO


What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment?

As a dyslexic, I read other stuff more than conventional text. Stranded in Germany after an exhibition in Munich with Silvia Weidenbach and Isabelle Enders, I found myself back in my old bedroom where I had to self-isolate for two weeks in a space of 3 x 4 metres. The first thing I had to do after the two weeks were over was decorate the walls. I wanted to select a colour that fit with the existing elements, so I read a selection of grey colours, like newspapers.

I’ve also had a good look at exhibition catalogues in this room – looking at the images and reading some of the text. Spanish Still Life, Kunstdrachen (art kites), Towards a New Iron Age, Eduardo Chillida – these were exhibitions I saw that stimulated my sense of observation and have lingered with me through space and time.

What’s helping boost your wellbeing at this time?

My mum’s house has a garden, which makes a total difference from my flat in London. I’m enjoying watching the birds and plants, trying to grow things from seeds and pottering about. Most of all, as it is an old house, I take pleasure in mending and fixing all sorts of thing in a simple, hands-on way.

Has this period changed the way you work?

Sure – everything is different. Teaching is different, not seeing people in real life is different. But my need for working in my preferred material – as I like to say, metal is my first language – has not changed. Within this change of rhythm and speed, I am implementing a state of equilibrium again. For now, I am happy to give that its time.

What will you take away from this period of isolation, creatively?

A sense of resources from within, exploring my experiences of the past and that it is ok to not research for new sources at this moment in time. As for how this period may manifest itself in my work, I’m not sure yet.


Tea bowls by Akiko Hirai


What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment?

I have been into non-fiction and science books over the past few years. Currently I am reading The Neuropsychology of Anxiety (1982) by Jeffrey A Gray and Neil McNaughton, which I didn’t have time to read before the lockdown. It’s a hard read, but very good. I also recommend Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams (2017). I bought at least 10 copies to give to friends and family. It is a very eye-opening book and has changed my lifestyle quite a bit.

While I am working, I am listening to comedian Joe Rogan’s podcasts. He invites various people on to interview – some of whom are the authors of books I have read. I am not watching much but occasionally enjoy a comedy or something mindless in the evening after work.

What's helping to boost your wellbeing at this time?

I combine running with my commute to the studio and I’m continuing my Iyengar yoga sessions on Zoom with the teachers I had before lockdown. I work slightly fewer hours and cook food – no ready-made food and takeaways during the lockdown. I like veggies so I've always eaten plenty of them, both before and during the lockdown. 

Are you still able to work and, if so, what's your current project?

I am still able to work. I am having online solo exhibitions at New Craftsman Gallery in St Ives and Flow Gallery in London in June. There are a few outstanding orders, too. A combination of having no studio assistant and the slightly slowed down period in the initial two weeks of the lockdown to adjust to a new lifestyle, means my work is even busier right now.

I am doing some special projects. One is making “chawan” teabowls, as I enjoy drinking my maccha tea from these in the morning. I wanted to make ones that are special and make someone feel good first thing in the morning. People should start the day with something nice during this difficult time. Some of the bowls come with a short story. 

The other project is called Otsubo, Kotsubo (‘large jar, small jar’). I am using various clays to create different textures, and vessels that are large and small, short and tall. They are all quite earthy as I wanted to show the strength of nature that balances as a whole. In Buddhism – I am not a Buddhist, though – no good or bad exists. The world is a cycle, in which stability and instability come and go. The existence of human beings can be like a coronavirus to the planet earth and we need to see things from a different perspective – although I hope this situation calms down and we regain some kind of normality very soon. 

What will you take away from this period of isolation, creatively?

I am more appreciative of what I have and people’s kindness. The people at galleries and my customers have been very supportive of me and I feel more grateful about that than ever.

Also, that adaptation and flexibility are vital for making life more enjoyable. This is a sudden, drastic change in lifestyle, but if you look at the technological advancement we’ve experienced over the past few years, we all require flexibility and a think-outside-of-the-box attitude. 


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