Blog: Meet artist Sly Shillingford

We had a chat with East London-based mixed media artist Sly Shillingford about what she has been up to during lockdown, her art, and advice for artists.

How has your practice been affected by lockdown?

My practice has been affected greatly because I rely on being employed and running workshops, which obviously isn't happening at the moment. I’m not getting any work at all.

I have started a new project, working with other artists, to use the materials we already have in our homes - lots of scrap bits of glass, bits of card and other things. The project is called A Heart for A Heart, where I make hearts using these materials at home, then send them to people who live locally to me. I put it on the wall near their homes, and they come over and collect them.

Apart from that I’ve been tidying my studio! It’s also nice to go out in the front garden to work, where you can see people. Often passers by stop and want to know what I am doing. Recently, I was making a gazing ball from an old bowling ball - I was covering it with lots of pieces of glass, like a mosaic, which took me three days. Within that time, I had so many people ask me about it, wanting to see the finished product. When the sunlight shines on the gazing ball it sparkles. I figure we need as much shine and sparkle at this time as possible!

As an artist, you have lots of material at home and in your studio to create your mosaics. Do you have any advice for those who might not have any specific, specialist equipment on how to get creative?

Everyone has something in their house they can use. For example, when my children were little, I used to make paper mache with them using old newspapers and magazines. All you need to do is cut the paper up and put it in water for a couple of days. You add some PVA glue, if not that, add some household flour. Using a piece of cardboard as a template, add the paper mache to it to create shapes, for example a heart. It will dry within days. You can decorate it using broken jewellery, paper, card, or paint. If you don't have paint maybe you can use some nail polish.

Do you have any advice for artists on how they might utilise their time during lockdown?

    Keep in contact with other artists. Talk about projects that you want to do and maybe collaborate together. You might be able to advise them, they might be able to advise you.

    I've found that this is a good time to reflect as well. For example, I haven’t really used the internet as much as I could have been using it and now I’m thinking about starting a blog or a vlog.

    I have also started writing a diary and an art journal. From the time lockdown started, I began journaling in pictures. I’m not a huge drawer, but I make lots of marks on the paper. Sometimes I find that I’m going out of my mind and I put that in too. It’s quite scary what’s going on, and art journaling is a good way to manage this.

    Also staying in touch with people. My friend who lives up the road comes up to see me and stands by the gate and we talk, and it’s helped me tremendously, as it has helped her. We’re always throwing ideas at each other

    What would you say to creatives who were struggling with being creative?

    Don't do anything at all if you're not up for it. I’m quite happy in my own company and this is what I do. I work in solitude. I choose that, but suddenly I’m not choosing it anymore. It’s at my door. And because of this, I have found that sometimes I don't want to do anything. I then think "I haven’t done any work" but you know what, I just don’t feel like it. So I don't. If I force it, I feel even worse. It’s best just to take a step back.

    Are you optimistic about the industry post-lockdown?

      I’m an optimist and I always feel that out of the ashes a phoenix will rise. I am positive that it will all start again, and it will be better. But we have to be strong and we have to fight for it. We have to come together and make our voices heard. I don’t know how yet, but it will happen. I have to believe it will get better because if I start believing that it’s not, that it’s all over, then it is all over. So, I have to be positive.

        I’m not happy about all this, but at the same time I think the trees are looking greener, that’s got

        to be good.