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Unlocking Creativity with Sue Vass

What does creativity for wellbeing mean to you?

For me, creativity and wellbeing go hand in hand. If I don’t make or engage in artwork for a few days I don’t feel right. I’m lucky to have a dedicated space to work in and just being in that space means my focus of attention is just about making, using my hands and playing with materials. Whether I’m working on a piece of work, starting something new or simply being, it’s separate to other aspects of my life. I can make as much mess as I like, I have complete autonomy and the space feels like a sanctuary. It’s other, and it’s great for my wellbeing. I feel very lucky to be able to make art, regardless of whether it’s deemed good or not so good. It allows me to express myself freely. I don’t have any constraints or agendas or targets to meet. I make art for arts sake and it’s liberating.

How can creativity boost mental health?

Being creative and focused on something outside of yourself is very good for your mental health. There are so many ways to be creative, from cooking to gardening to sewing to writing to drawing to carpentry to decorating a room and so the list goes on. Whatever form creativity takes I’d say it’s invaluable to boosting mental health.

Creativity involves the senses and through our senses we make sense of the world around us. Being creative can take us into a flow state where we’re so engaged it feels as though time doesn’t exist. Making something gives us a sense of achievement and success whether it’s something functional or a story to read or a piece of artwork to look at. Being creative also comes with a skill set and any opportunity to share that skill set means others can benefit too. I like working on my own and also enjoy being part of a group of like-minded people where thoughts, feelings and ideas etc can be shared.

paints

During lockdown has your productivity changed and if so, in what way?

At the beginning of lockdown last year I felt I had to do something useful so I got my sewing machine out and made masks and various things for my grandchildren. During daily dog walks in the north end of Tonbridge I started making a photographic diary. As the months went by nature unfurled as it perennially does. The farmer tended his fields, bluebells appeared in the woods, the weather warmed, leaves appeared on the trees, birds and birdsong became ever present and so on. Making visual and mental notes of nature doing its thing every day was the stimulus for my lockdown work combined with the daily news bulletins. It was an unnerving time and the beginning of huge changes to how we go about our daily lives. Because family and social pulls were virtually removed I had more time to work, think and play. Consequently, I’ve been able to make a reasonable amount of work experimenting and revisiting different techniques. So, answering your question, my productive output has increased.

What have you found helpful during lockdown that you would recommend to writers and artists?

Play is something I would always recommend and having more time to experiment with materials can be very useful – the results can be surprisingly wonderful. Play can be about not overthinking, being in the moment and not getting hung up on an end result or product. It also helps us to recognise and accept that it’s ok when things don’t work. Getting outside and just observing is invaluable, whether it’s an urban or natural environment. That sensual experience is a wonderful resource which can be documented in a notebook or sketchbook or we can simply allow it to be logged in our minds. That information will at some level be tapped into and inform our work and practice.

There are lots of online opportunities for learning and research. I dip into Jackson’s Art – In the Studio (they have interviews with artists and the one in my inbox at the moment is about The Craftmanship behind Handmade Artist Paper), The Imagine programme with Alan Yentob is a great watch. He is a wonderful presenter and a recent Interview with Marina Abramovic was fabulous. Andrew Graham Dixon presents the Culture Show and Tim Marlow who hosts Great Art is very good too. Anything with Grayson Perry is good value and his down to earth approach is totally engaging as is Tracey Emin’s. Galleries have opened their doors online which is an opportunity to have an online tour. I’ve just signed up for 3 online talks from Kettles Yard in Cambridge called Kettles Yard and Cornwall which I’m very much looking forward to. The arts section of iPlayer offers footage of artists at work which is always fascinating and if anyone wants to know about a particular technique I’m sure YouTube will provide. ESOP – The Essential School of Painting based in London runs all sorts of courses and artist talks which you can find online too.

Watching artists work, listening to them talk about their work is fascinating and inspiring and gives us insight and understanding to their practice.

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What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a couple of things. One is a Tryptych which started off as 3 chalk boards I made, each measuring 46×46 cm. After mark making in chalk and wiping off and repeating several times and not really getting anywhere I painted over the top in acrylic paint. They are now staring at me having painted words and shapes and collaged images. I quite like the ambiguity of not really knowing where I’m going so I’m curious as to how this works out and it’s now about risk too.

The other piece is a large oil on canvas 120 x 90cm which is currently drying before I work on it some more. It’s an abstract piece using a pouring technique which gives the paint a life of its own with some nudging from me. I also stretched some paper yesterday so that’ll be ready to work on when I go to my studio later.

PROMPT: Don’t forget to post your poem in the comments below.

I chose the matches piece because it attracted a lot of attention when it’s been in exhibitions so I think it holds some fascination even if it’s just to ask the question, ‘how did you do that?’

I called the piece ‘Fragility’. There’s a melancholic feel to the piece. To me, it’s suggestive of where we’re all at at the moment. The world is in a fragile state (not just because of Covid) and we’re all feeling fragile. Some if us are breaking, some are bending and no one is untouched by the current circumstances.

Do post your poems in the comments below. Selected poems will be published later in the spring.

matches
sue

I make art essentially through playful interaction with materials, experiences and feelings. The ambiguity of this process can be fraught with challenges but can also be exciting, as the resulting work is often something I never could have imagined.
From working with the simplicity of pencil on paper to constructing with materials either man made or natural – making art is a joy. It’s how I express my thoughts and feelings about the experience of life, the world around us and its happenings.
What I see, touch, taste, hear, smell and feel are my resource bank – that’s what I tap into and explore through art making.

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