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Artist Stories No 4 Tales of Lockdown from Jill Skulina

Artist Jill Skulina graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Interior and Environmental Design, 2003, she then went on to complete her MFA in 2007.

Jill makes work depicting memories of life events. In recent years she has made handmade dolls evolving into cocooned, encased, and surrounded figures and portraits using found dolls, crochet, ceramics and plaster. These works are memorials to concealment of thoughts and feelings, deceiving the outside world that we are coping, while also showing emotional transformation and strength. Using crochet as a representation for ‘female’ crafts and the historic domestic ideal, she makes strong, nurturing work from her own experiences of motherhood: worries, trauma, guilt, regret, potential societal projections and expectations.

Below Jill shares with us her creative response and experience of lockdown.

Home Studio Set Up

In the beginning there was Lockdown

“Hi my name is Jill and I’m a lockdownoholic: I have loved lockdown! Some of the reasons why: no need to carry the 50 million questions, lists, worries and obligations around in my head; no guilt about all the people I should make time for; no need for excuses to get out of socialising; headspace to make future plans; revamp website; exciting new ways for communicating and conducting business; realising most of the jobs I do to make money actually aren’t part of the dream; leaning into what motivates and nourishes; hoping that new ways of working will continue when we’re returned to the wild.

But mostly I am loving having time to make – it has been like the best artist’s residency ever. I didn’t need to arrange for anyone to look after my daughter or my dogs, there were no travel expenses, no packing of bags and I get my own bed. I’m already lucky enough to live somewhere surrounded in natural beauty and outdoor spaces, and I have endless sources of inspiration. What I really, really needed was time to focus on clay and making. Thank you lockdown.

Don’t get me wrong, the start of lockdown was hard. All my work was cancelled and I was questioning who I was as a human; what my purpose was in the world. Who am I without the work I had scheduled? Money!!!????? How will I make it?? Who am I??

As it turns out I’m a badass teapot making machine. Once the shock of lockdown and the pandemic settled, I began to think of ways to fill my time and there was a bag of clay with my name on it. 

Then there were teapots

10 weeks ago I started making and haven’t stopped. I chose teapots as a way of practising the technical side of clay handbuilding – attaching handles, spouts, embellishments, using push moulds and making lids. It didn’t take long for the technical process to bear imaginative fruit.

While making each teapot, ideas for the next one were brewing. I spent time researching the making process but also the meanings behind teapots. To me, they came to represent everything we have been distanced from: conversation, confiding, ranting, world-righting; sharing time and feelings around a pot of tea. 

Cosy chats around kitchen tables have turned into small screens with smaller rectangles of our own faces looking back at us. Lockdown has brought new dynamics to our conversations: you can see everyone at the same time. Sometimes there’s a time delay, screen-freezing, pixelating, you have to wait your turn to speak (absolutely no talking over each other!) – our instinctive rhythms have been disrupted.

It was through some of these discomforts associated with altered communications that ideas of self-esteem and body confidence started to play a part in the decoration of the teapots. Resilience to self-criticism embolden me to photograph my face in different ways – deliberately making double chins, distorting my face with my hands; while in others I took on my inner critic and felt beautiful.

Along the way I questioned whether the teapots should continue as functional objects, and decided the answer was no. Handles became impractical. Spouts were either closed or impractically oversized. Lids were abandoned altogether and I began to play with embellishing the interiors. 

I have tried different ways of using the clay. Some days I was patient and waited for the clay to be the right dryness to work on. Other days I went straight in, tangling with clay that wasn’t quite hard enough. I decided I liked the outcomes of fighting with clay that was having to go against its natural way of being.

I make this work so I don’t have to say the feelings out loud.

The teapots would not have developed in the way they did if it wasn’t for all the podcasts, artists talks, self-help audio books and most importantly, the time I’ve been spending in virtual Tarot Club with 2 pals every Tuesday and Thursday mornings. We’ve explored personal issues through tarot readings, which have then translated into teapots. The beautiful illustrations on the cards have made their way onto the pots along with snippets of conversations, realisations, revelations and symbols of growth and renewal in the form of flowers, leaves and buds. 

I am hugely grateful to have been in a position to use this time in the way that I have. I’m thankful to Visual Art Scotland’s Emergency Art Workers Support Fund and Creative Scotland’s Bridging Bursary for easing the financial worry. I would also like to thank All The Young Nudes online life drawing classes and Realistic Pilates with Lorraine for being a huge part of making lockdown not just bearable, but revelatory and creative. “

Thank You Jill for sharing your personal and honest experience and developments. You can view more of Jills work over on her website here or follow her on Instagram here.

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