For my first post from an artist, I had a conversation with poet and artist Claire Trevien earlier this month to discover how she is approaching creativity in lockdown. Claire has kindly donated an image as a writing prompt and I invite you to post your poems in the comments below.
Each week, over the next few months poets, editors and artists will tell you their stories offering guidance to assist you with your writing and wellbeing. I asked Claire about a comment she made:
“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?
I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.
I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.
I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.
I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.
Does the written word feed into your paintings?
It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go.
What have you found helpful during lockdown that you would recommend to writers and artists?
Getting rid of the “should” and the guilt. It’s been a tough year for everyone, no need to beat yourself up.
When it comes to writing, we all know that sitting down and writing is only part of it. So if the writing isn’t happening, indulge in writing-adjacent tasks: read up on things you find interesting, make moodboards, go for meanders.
If the inspiration is there but in practise it’s not happening, then try time blocking, i.e scheduling a set time for creativity, which you’re not allowed to schedule over. Kim Moore does a #writinghour every morning on Twitter which others can join in on, which is helpful.
Perhaps you could have a little ritual to help you get in the mood? Brew a special tea, light a candle, signal to yourself that you have permission to be creative.
For painting, spending time organising my material so I can literally sit down and paint has really helped. It’s just a small corner of my living room with a trolley of paint and brushes, an easel and an apron, but it does the trick.
What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?
I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!
Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.
I have asked you for an image of your artwork for a writing prompt. What have you selected and why did you choose it?
So I hesitated but in the end I chose a painting that I finished last night, because it’s a wild interior, and I think we all need more of those!
It’s based on a photo I took a few years ago inside a Bed & Breakfast on the Isle of Wight. It was run very eccentrically by a couple who were obviously navigating a tense marriage. I loved the headboards enough to photograph them, they were wonderfully kitch.
PROMPT: Do post your poems in the comments below. Selected poems will be published later in the spring.
Claire Trévien is a British-Breton writer currently living in Brittany, France. She is the author and editor of several poetry and non-fiction books including The Shipwrecked House, which was longlisted in the Guardian First Book Award, Astéronymes (Penned in the Margins, 2016) and Brain Fugue (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). She founded Sabotage Reviews and its Saboteur Awards and currently resides in Brittany, France.