East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we’re talking creativity in lockdown with Kate Marsden (aka @MadeByMrsM), a local textile designer and illustrator.
It’s a big topic and there’s been a huge amount of press surrounding it over the past year – some media outlets such as The Guardian, have highlighted the increase in applications for creative Open University courses and the increased viewings of ‘How to’ videos on Pinterest. Others, such as the Financial Times, have looked at creativity in the workplace and questioned if lockdown has had a negative impact on creative problem solving and ideas. The RSA asked if the lockdowns were helping us to realise the value of art and creativity while others, including CNBC, gave commentary on the mental health benefits creativity and craft have provided to people during all of this. There was also The New York Times which spoke of the ‘creative exodus’ out of central cities into more suburban areas (featuring several of our own Croydon creative arts institutions).
We caught up with Kate to get her take on it all and find out how she’s been using creative projects to get both her, and her family, through the pandemic.
How do you define creativity?
For me, creativity is about the process of making something (anything!) and then developing your own ideas as part of that process. So learning a new skill perhaps, but then making it your own. Everyone is creative in some way, it’s just that a lot of people think they’re not.
What was your initial “creative reaction” to the first lockdown?
Panic and an inability to be creative at all, if I’m completely honest! The first couple of weeks were a write off – especially once home schooling was thrown into the mix… I was genuinely concerned that it was the end for my business, but it’s actually been more of a case of adapting.
What benefits have you found when working on your own creative projects that could be useful for others during this time?
During the first lockdown, I soon realised that I just had to start. My sketchbooks became invaluable (I filled 6 in 2020 and that’s unheard of!) – they’re a great place to play without pressure, I don’t have a theme as such and do whatever I want.
Something else I found really helpful was the 100 day project (which started in April last year – this year’s is already underway) – I drew a small square pattern every day for 100 days and stuck them on the wall of my studio. This project forced me to do something small every day, and usually helped motivate me to work on other things afterwards.
Have your day to day projects been impacted and have you worked on any specific lockdown inspired projects over the past year?
Very much so. All of my events and workshops were cancelled and I felt I didn’t have anything to work towards. Like most people, I’ve had to adapt what I do to the circumstances.
The main project has probably been our home school art classes – started as a timetabled daily art activity to do with my 10 year old son; to get him away from his screen and do something creative, they ended up taking on a life of their own and being quite popular online. During this lockdown we’ve kept sketchbooks together working to daily prompts, which has been a lot of fun.
My lockdown self-portrait (started in a Zoom class with artist Neal Vaughan) was exhibited last summer at the Lockdown Art: Creativity Released exhibition at Honeywood Museum in Carshalton, and also featured in Uppercase Magazine (a beautiful, independent creative publication). I’ve since gone on to produce a Lockdown Art zine featuring my work from the past year.
What UK wide creative initiatives have impressed you over the past year?
The thing that’s had the greatest impact on me in the last year has been life drawing – not what you’d expect in the circumstances! After real life classes ended in March I did some wonderful portrait and still life drawing sessions with Neal Vaughan (as mentioned above), and then in about May/June time I discovered London Drawing. They run life drawing, portrait and other creative drawing events on Zoom and have an inspiring timetable every week – with models from all around the globe. I’ve had an amazing time and my life drawing has improved so much.
I took part in the Open Windows initiative last summer (and there are plans for it to return this year) displaying my artwork in my front window for passers-by to see, as well as an online version of our Open Studios. Through this I discovered dance teacher Mel Simpson who runs wonderful Dance or Draw sessions on Zoom, where you get to learn the dance or draw it!
I’ve been a member of Tate for over 20 years and have enjoyed watching the films they’ve made to accompany exhibitions – we were also lucky enough to make it into town to see the Andy Warhol exhibition. And there’s the TV too of course: Grayson’s Art Club, Pottery Throwdown, Portrait Artist of the year and more keeping me inspired!
What Croydon based creative projects have caught your attention over the past year?
As a maker of zines, and someone who likes things that are a little unusual, a couple of projects have really stood out for me. I supported Carole Evans’ Through the (Looking) Glass Kickstarter and recently got my copy of her beautiful book. Carole photographed her neighbours through their front windows during the first lockdown, and as a result got to know so many of them and really improve the feeling of community on the street at a time when people were staying in.
I also loved Ameena Rojee’s Love Letter to Croydon zine (most of which I think was photographed pre-pandemic but I discovered it last summer) and her Lockdown Diary photography project which you can see on her website.
What do you think the impact of the pandemic will be on the creative industries?
In the short term, I’m really concerned. The arts generally rely on an audience and without this the future looks bleak. However those working in the creative industries are very good at thinking creatively! People have already come up with some ingenious solutions to the problems we currently face. By pivoting and adapting what we do, we may eventually end up in a situation where things are actually better, and more accessible to a wider audience, than they were before.
I for one have enjoyed having the opportunity to teach workshops to people in other countries and to play around and try new things. The new ideas don’t always come to much, but the current circumstances force us to have a go at whatever we can.
For the more creatively challenged of us, what projects would you recommend to get people started and encourage them to pick up a pen (or paintbrush!)?
I’d definitely tune in to Grayson, but it’s really back to that whole “just start” idea. Collage is amazingly good fun for people who don’t think they can draw (and for those who can), perhaps buying a craft kit might get you started on a new hobby, or you could try an online course.
My upcoming Creative Sketchbooks workshop is ideal for all levels, as it can be adapted to wherever it is you’re at in your creative journey. Plus you don’t need to buy any expensive art materials which you worry you won’t use afterwards – you can recycle items you have at home.
How have your creative experiences over the past year impacted upon your regular design and illustration work?
I’m definitely looking at things from a different point of view. I’m playing around more with different materials, and using these experiments to create more depth in my pattern designs and approaching my illustration work in a different way. I would have preferred to have been busier, but having some extra time to do this has been really useful. It’s been quite freeing to let go of my “style” for a while and see what else I can do. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re busy all the time.
Have you dared to make any plans for the rest of this year? Is there anything you hope to achieve in 2021?
Well, I do have a fair coming up next month in Farnham (please keep your fingers crossed for me!). This is Farnham Malting’s annual Quilter’s Fair and it’s all about my fabrics – it’s been rescheduled twice already so I’m really hoping it happens.
Other than that, I have plans to make lots of use of the new printmaking studio run by Oaks Park Printmakers in Banstead which I’ve just become a member of. Expect more lino cuts and interesting textures and effects in my designs over the coming months. I’m also having a little revamp of my home studio to make it a little easier to work in – any kind of studio revamp is always exciting!
Kate Marsden is a textile designer, illustrator and blogger based in Croydon. Kate’s work is inspired by the city around her as well as her travels, and her style leans towards the mid-century look, frequently highlighting her love of architecture, in particular Modernism and Brutalism. Kate’s designs feature on a range of fabrics, art prints and other items. The majority of Kate’s work starts life as black and white pen and ink drawings, taken from her own photographs. Kate digitally enhances and colours this work, frequently turning the motifs into surface pattern designs. All artwork is based around hand drawn elements. Kate has been a self employed designer since January 2014, having studied Fashion & Textiles at Lincoln College of Art in the mid-1990s. During the 2000’s Kate took a number of short courses at Chelsea College of Art including screen printing, fine art and ceramics. With a strong focus on pattern design for fabric, Kate loves to see her customers transform her designs into items she could never have imagined herself – Kate’s fabrics have graced a wide range of quilts (as seen at the Festival of Quilts), bags, home furnishings and even clothing.
For more information, see Made By Mrs M
To book a place on Kate’s upcoming online ‘Make your own Sketchbook’ workshop CLICK HERE.