“London is such a fantastic place to practice and we are very spoilt with all of the things that are going on, but actually, I wonder even if that cultural life will start to de-centralise as you get concentrations of people in other parts of the country”
– Lydia Thornley
Lydia is an East-London based artist of many trades – she is a Graphic Designer, Creative Director and Live Illustrator.
Her background is broad and she has gained a wealth of knowledge throughout all avenues of graphic design, whilst also continually looking for the next project she can add value to, or the next artistic skill she can build upon.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
At heart, I am a graphic designer, and I have practiced for over 35 years now. Like a lot of practitioners, my work has evolved as I have gone along and the graphic design work is driven by the fact that I am a complete nerd. I love projects that teach me something, so I like working with charities, and NGOs, scientists, educators, niche businesses, people who have quite a crunchy subject matter. I also work on a lot of brand consulting projects, which I enjoy. There is another strand of work that I’m starting to develop, its a sort of homecoming for me, it comes from drawing and that’s always been part of my practice and I haven’t thought about it so much until I did a trip a few years ago, in Gothenburg – I took a sketchbook as well as a camera. That year I decided to do a studio drawing book as part of my practice and a friend challenged me to do a drawing a day until it had to go to press – I started drawing on my tube journey to the studio and it turned into an incredibly prolific Instagram feed and that firstly, didn’t stop, and secondly, started generating more work so people started asking for me to draw their event or if I would like to do an exhibition and that has always been something that I wanted to have as a main strand of work and so its become a thing. That’s the thing that I am starting to develop. Moving here has coincided with that and it’s really nice because I feel like I’m starting something as well as continuing something else. I also do bits of speaking – I was the first graphic designer to do nerd night which is a night for charity at the Backyard Comedy Club.
What is your definition of studio space?
I think my definition is quite broad, and I think it depends on what I am doing. I sort of think of a studio space as a place in which I do stuff because interestingly I can’t think in a studio space. I have to be somewhere more fluid to do that, but it is about doing; whether it’s doing it on a screen or making something, it is somewhere in which I produce something tangible.
A studio is also a state of mind. Walking is, for me, a really useful time for generating ideas – I need physical space for that. I even came up with two on my way in this morning, that I wouldn’t have had in the ‘noise’ of a crowded commute. I wonder, if that has a bearing on thinking around the context of a studio? I’d thought about it in quality of life terms but it’s only since I’ve been here that I’ve considered the value of green space in my practice.
Collaborative/communal studio spaces are on the rise within London. Do you believe this formula can work and if so, how should these spaces be informed?
The space I have, I like it. I could technically work from home and home has become my messy space. I have different strands to my work, I’m a graphic designer, I do creative direction and then I have this other strand of work in drawing and making. The messy making stuff happens at home and I could do everything there, but I like being around other people doing other things. Particularly within a multi-disciplinary environment, I find it a stimulating way to work and it’s nice to be able to compare notes with people because I’ve never really wanted to hire permanent staff or grow a business in a conventional way. It suits me very well to work this way, and there’s this sense of going to work but also a knowledge exchange, idea exchange and really enjoying what other people are doing and I like the buzz of that.
How do you believe we can ensure artists remain in London, in the future?
I think that is a really tough one. I think there are two things; for young artists, the cost is a big factor and that’s a lot of what has driven people out, but also because space for them is so precarious. Particularly with fine artists, they just get pushed from pillar to post all of the time until eventually, they go because they can find spaces that they can live in that are much bigger. There are new communities developing in places like the Kent coast – it becomes a no brainer to move out. I do also think that with the exception of places like The Trampery, usually working spaces for artists have gotten smaller and smaller and they operate these places on the basis that people need tiny l amounts of space in which they can put a laptop and that’s all they need. I think space is really important to the creative process.
Do you believe this will, in turn, affect what art looks like in the future?
Exactly, I think it’s counter-intuitive that development of space against the growth of collaboration and breadth of practice and everybody wants to be able to move outside of the narrow confinements of their practice to explore other things too, and that’s very much how people are thinking. But space hasn’t been moving in the same way.
What do you think the future of studio space will look like?
I think certainly for young practitioners, maybe, there will be some kind of combined communal living studio space that starts to grow – more artist-led spaces, as you’ve identified, where creative practitioners start to define the spaces in which they want to work and make spaces for other people as they do that. I think communities like this (The Trampery) are very much part of the way forward and The Trampery has been the only co-working space provider that I’ve found that gets it and gets the need to introduce people to one another. It’s not that slightly artificial curtain thing that I’ve discovered elsewhere, it is actually understanding what people do and finding the similarities.
How do you think artists can collaborate and communicate with developers in London to try to maintain the cultural community?
So, often it is getting people like that in the physical space in which people work or somehow opening up a forum, whether that be a physical forum, or through events, a magazine, an online discussion, etc. It’s people actually getting to talk to, or understand, or know people in the other area. Perhaps finding those kinds of developers who are most likely to want to do things differently or think differently. Perhaps they want to break the mold of the way everybody else has looked at that sort of space.
If it’s done right, there is so much potential for that to spread out into the rest of the community because workshops can come in, workshops can go out. Everybody can see what happens and if it’s a happy space then you get that nice ripple effect into the community. Particularly in areas such as this (Here East), you need those showcases or opportunities for young people to connect with what we do as creative practitioners; it becomes something exciting and something that’s happening within your own neighborhood. Rather than something where people just learn these things and have to go elsewhere, which is really sad.
The rise in prices is having an impact across Europe, particularly London, what are your thoughts?
For young practitioners, it’s the sheer business of living in London that has become so costly, I don’t know how anybody does it. I really feel for these generations of graduates because what do you do? London is such a fantastic place to practice and we are very spoilt with all of the things that are going on, but actually, I wonder even if that cultural life will start to de-centralise as you get concentrations of people in other parts of the country.
It does build – I’ve got friends that work on the Kent coast, on the Sussex Coast and they build their community around them. With my generation, it was friends moving out of London to raise their families and they wanted to be in better places and it was tough, probably tougher to practice outside of London in those days. A friend of mine who was an illustrator, as soon as they moved outside of London, took a call from a client and the client said: “can I hear seagulls?” He said “yes” and the work stopped. There was this perception that he wasn’t in London anymore, he wasn’t current anymore. That wouldn’t happen now because we don’t think like that, the digital world has made that connection.
Do you think it would impact your work if you were to move out of London?
I have been thinking of moving out of London for at least the past 10 years and I still haven’t done it. I ended up thinking that I am very spoilt with cultural life because I love to get out and see exhibitions, I like being able to just hop on a tube and do that but also, I’ve done bits of teaching, projects where clients like me to pop in and do work with them, and the mix of work that I have now is not quite the right time. I think I’ll know when the work I’m doing is right to be able to shift. I have a lot of clients that are themselves virtual companies and some of the staff work outside of London and just come in for a couple of days a week. It’s one of those things where I think you have to be clear what you’re doing and whether that context works for you, and whether the sheer cost of getting into London if you need to do that is possible. When I was doing a lot of sessional teaching, it wouldn’t have been. I think these are things that people are having to consider too.