help creativity. From haikus to 12-bar blues, restrictions force us to think
harder and produce better work. So how do we embrace creativity during
lockdown, the biggest social constraint in living memory?
Designer, Sam Griffiths,
has been making good use of his time. Literally by making use of anything that
comes to hand: filched old bits of billboard, pizza delivery boxes and spare
post-it notes. 26 member, Andy Hayes, caught up with Sam on Zoom alongside 26
members and designers to hear more.
Hello Sam. It’s
been a while since we worked together at The Partners in the Noughties, what
are you up to these days?
Hey Andy, I’m still designing stuff, and I’m trying to put play at the heart of everything I do. I now look after the brand of Red Badger – a tech consultancy, based in Old Street. I blend that with what I do as Griffics: three days Badger, two days Griffics. I’ve been doing that for the last four years. In Griffics time I get to develop my own projects, products and ideas. I’ve found that the thing that lights me up most is play (closely followed by teaching). So I’m looking to make my work playful, but more and more (I hope) I’m becoming an advocate for play in life and work more generally.
I love your studio. Where are you?
I’m in the
kitchen. I really like working here because there’s a
big table and the light is great. Although it can be tricky as this is also
where we eat, so I need to be fairly disciplined about the amount of stuff that
gathers here, and make sure that this is still a space for us all to share. I
also love having this wall space so I can take a step back and see how things
Let’s go back, Sam. I’m interested in
finding out about your earliest memory of getting excited by a drawing,
painting or any other visual ephemera in any medium.
So memory isn’t
my strongest suit… I don’t have
a shining first artistic moment, but I do recall always loving drawing and
making. And never being relaxed about it. I was always worrying about what I
should be doing from an early age. The joy is also something I remember
feeling, of making marks, putting stuff together, making a mess. I’ve always loved making a mess – and
it’s always been a source of tension for those around
And now, you
have a 10-year-old son, Sola. You’re running a
home-schooling art club for him and his friends, right?
Yeah I’m running that weekly. I love seeing them make stuff, there’s a lot of joy and very little fear – it’s liberating just to see it happen. We do simple activities. As much as possible I want to set parameters for them to explore within. It’s not about making technically accomplished drawings, or following any set procedures. I want to encourage them to see, have ideas and enjoy themselves. To see constraints as a game to play – a game that unlocks possibilities and rewards.
Here’s what they did when I asked them to print simple shapes with household objects, and then to turn those shapes into things through drawing.
And here’s what they did when asked to stick a little scrap of something on a piece of paper and then to draw out from that scrap, so that the scrap becomes the seed of a picture.
I’m making videos
of these activities, so if you’re looking for
activities to keep your kids busy right now, let me know how you get on.
Which leads me
to work that you’ve been sharing on your site and
Instagram during Lockdown. I love it. It’s inventive,
warm and witty. VerySmile in the Mind.
Can you talk us through your approach and share a few examples of work?
Thanks Andy, that’s really lovely to hear. Here are a few things. I think they’re all about working with what I have to hand, I really like repurposing existing materials and objects. The advantage of this approach is that you never have to deal with a blank canvas, there’s always something to build on or react to.
A while back I did a course on Improv
and it had quite an effect on me. There are a lot of principles that underpin
it that I love. My favourite is ‘Everything is an offer’. Everything that surrounds you has creative potential, but
you need to really listen to it to figure out what that is. I’m
trying to look and listen as much as I can in the work I’m
doing right now.
Have you got a
routine? I’m thinking… Does the
muse tap you on the shoulder at any particular time? Do you listen to music or
the radio? Do you need silence? Do you like a cuppa? Tea? Coffee? Cuppa-Soup?
I love coffee, lots of coffee. I often
listen to music, sometimes I’ll have the radio on. I’m not very consistent on that. The most important thing I’ve found is to consistently make stuff. I think it’s a bit like compound interest, you pay in every day and
over time you somehow have more than you expected. This is because you get
better, but also themes develop, and you begin to clarify what you’re really interested in.
Jerry Seinfeld did something like this early in his career (he may still do it…). He set himself a low bar for writing every day, just one funny line. Not a routine, not even a bit. Just one funny line. And if he achieved that he would put a cross on the calendar. Soon he had a chain and he didn’t want to break it. And he was developing a habit for creating good stuff. I’m trying to emulate that behaviour.
would you give to anyone who doesn’t necessarily make a
living from art and design but wants to start making art?
Becoming technically good at drawing
or whatever is useful, but it’s a by-product of practice. I don’t think
it’s the most interesting driver.
active seeing – look for interesting things around you, take photographs, draw,
See everything you do as a game –
Do you want to
play an existing game with established rules? (that’s fine)
Or do you want
to write your own rules? (also fine)
The joy is then
exploring the space within those rules.
Start simple – what do you have around
you that you can play with? Where can that take you?