The simple initialism WFH (working from home) made its way into our collective vocabulary a few months ago. But WFH, as many know, throws up obstacles to productivity. So many, in fact, that a friend and I began creating initialisms for them: HSFHWNWFH, or home schooling from home while not working from home, being just one example. With commuting times curtailed to just a few steps, how do you create space between domestic demands and work? I spoke to three creatives with very different set-ups to find out how their workspaces work for them.
I’m a total fusspot when it comes to where I sit and where I feel comfortable
The illustrator Katie Scott lives and works in Stoke Newington, north London, where she has a shared studio space a 10-minute walk from her flat. Pre-lockdown, she worked alongside a small group of freelancers. Nowadays, it’s just her and her partner, James, an animator. Scott’s commute takes her through Abney Park cemetery, a burial ground that contains several thousand plant species. “My house is on the north side of the park and the studio is on the south,” she explains. “Every day, I walk through the park, which is so overgrown it’s more like a wild woodland. I get more from those 10 minutes than I do from any other green space in London.”
The artist and architect Spencer Fung also begins his day outdoors. With his studio currently closed, Fung is working from home with his wife and two teenage children. An early riser and an “accidental naturalist”, he begins his day under the ash tree at the back of his garden in London’s Belsize Park. “Before anyone else is awake, I go outside to plan the day and paint at the garden table with my pigment and water next to me. I listen to the birds and watch the ash leaves unfurl and grow larger day by day. That, to me, is a really good start.”
Before lockdown, textile artist Celia Pym, who specialises in “visible” mending, would leave her flat in London at 8.30am to fetch a coffee before returning to start work from her home studio. It’s a routine that has been replaced by taking her cup of coffee and a number puzzle down to the front steps and waving at passers-by: a simple ritual that demarcates the start of her working day.
Desks can assume an onerous presence in the home. Fung’s monochrome study is on the first floor, furnished with a hefty double desk – a Spanish heirloom from his wife’s family. He uses the study after breakfast to catch up with emails, but his desk space isn’t fixed. “As an architect and artist, I love to work in natural light,” he explains. “Orientation is important to me, so I work with the light as the sun moves around the house, separating tasks into time slots and spaces in the house and garden for the best light.” Like a cat, he chases the sun around the house, taking a small foldable table with him. “At around 5pm, I move up to the top floor where the light seeps into the landing and lose myself in research.” The stool positioned on the landing looks out at the Royal Free Hospital. “That view has become very meaningful,” he says. “At night, it is completely lit up. It says so much about the doctors and nurses who are working around the clock to save lives at the moment.”
Flexibility is also important for Scott, whose detailed anatomical illustrations are drawn by hand on sheets of A4 printer paper before colour is applied on screen. (Scott’s work has been published in three encyclopaedic books, including the award-winning Animalium.) “I’m a total fusspot when it comes to where I sit and where I feel comfortable,” she admits. “With computer work, it’s about avoiding reflection; with drawing, it’s about where your hand casts a shadow.”
For Pym, too, flexibility aids productivity. In her studio – “a jumble of colour” – Pym has three tables that face the window. “They are all at a slightly different height, but the modular thing really works for me,” she explains. “I can shift them around or fold them up if I need to lay work out on the floor.”
Besides the right light and adaptable desk space, each has made small concessions to comfort. For Pym, it’s a stack of blankets and five studio jumpers. For Scott, it’s her collection of Ernst Haeckel books and house plants. “It’s nice to just have a wash of green in your peripheral vision. I find that really soothing.” For Fung, found objects including rocks, shells and jars of sand gathered from the beaches he played on as a child in Hong Kong are arranged in a large display cabinet in the study. All inform and inspire his work.
The working day is punctuated by small but significant interactions. For Pym, it’s a daily yoga flow with her sister, who lives by herself in the flat downstairs. Scott pauses for lunch with her partner and Fung’s family come together at mealtimes. In each space, a slow, carefully choreographed routine has emerged, elements of which may well last beyond lockdown.
Katie Scott’s latest work, The Story of Flowers, can be viewed at stashmedia.tv. Spencer Fung’s works are featured in the latest issue of Seed magazine, available at daylesford.com. Celia Pym’s work, Hope’s Sweater 1951, is on show at Textilmuseum, St Gallen, Switzerland
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