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Stories from the Sofa: Amanda Bee

Experiences of life in Frome, during lockdown


Tell us about what your life looked like before lockdown


Before lockdown I was a busy artist and tutor. I was preparing for a series of exhibitions and open studio events and teaching between six and seven classes a week in and around Frome. The planned exhibitions included Mount Art Services’ fifth birthday celebration at the Whittox Gallery, a solo show at Freshford near Bath, a pop-up group show at West Woodlands, a Silk Mill Collective pop-up during the Frome Festival and a collaborative show with Clare Lloyd at the WHY Gallery. All are now postponed or cancelled. I had just become an area REP for Somerset Art Works and was excited about helping all the artists and me to prepare for that event in September. As we slowly re-emerge, new plans are being made, exhibitions are being re-booked for later this year or next. Going forward, I have a residency in Cornwall in January, and the thought of that is sustaining me right now.


What were your initial feelings when lockdown started?


My initial feelings were of relief it had finally happened and anxiety about the whole situation. The first few weeks were deeply upsetting due to a family bereavement. I worried for family and friends and felt deep disappointment at the loss of so many plans.


What is your home set-up/ situation?


As a self-employed artist and tutor, I can work from home or from my studio at the Silk Mill in Frome. I live with my husband and cat. My husband, who is a luthier specialising in double basses, has a studio too, so he could continue working safely the whole time.


How has lockdown affected the way you live, day-to-day?


In the early days I just took it easy and kind of went back to basics: how and where to get food, keep in touch with family and friends, get some exercise, work in the garden. As time passed, I’ve thought more about the long term and about the changes I need and want to make. What kind of life do I want to go back to?


How has it affected your working life/business?


It has affected my working life considerably. I have lost my income. After a few weeks I began looking at training options and what equipment I need to start up new online classes. It’s a time to re-evaluate what I want to do, and will lead to a big change in the way I work as a tutor, which I think will continue long after the pandemic is over. I guess I’m also out of excuses for doing all the things I don’t enjoy, like maintaining my website. I’m going on a big learning curve and thinking creatively about how to move forward.

What have you been doing since lockdown started?


Since lockdown, the good weather and a neglected garden took up a lot of my time. There was a lot of digging to do! I’ve planted out new borders, planned and planted a vegetable garden and roped my husband in to using up loads of scrap wood in the shed to make a cold frame, lettuce growing box and a display cabinet for my succulents. I started going for walks around Frome and eventually took along a sketchbook. This turned into an art project focussing on the walk around Rodden Fields, by the church and farm.

I also took part in Somerset Art Works’ ‘Somerset Reacquainted’ project looking at how artists have responded to their environment during this time. It’s been great to find loads of new walks around Frome which I didn’t know about or quite found the time to explore previously, and it’s made me feel even more connected to Frome, despite having lived here for nearly 18 years. As restrictions have eased, not too much has changed. I’m painting quite a lot, going for walks with a sketchbook and had a couple of picnics on Cley Hill. I’m not in much of a rush to venture out as we are supporting more vulnerable people within our families, and that is more important than rushing back to the pub.


Have you had any epiphanies or light-bulb moments about your life/work since lockdown began?


Not really, other than learning not to take anything for granted and really appreciate the little things in life.


How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected you personally – your wellbeing, mental health, anxiety levels?


I have been affected by anxiety. I’m sure everyone has had good and bad days. I used to get panic attacks when I was younger. I’m trying not to look too far forward, and take each day as it comes as it’s such an evolving situation which I can’t control other than following the guidelines.


What positive experiences have you had over the last 6/7 weeks?


Positive experiences have been the strong sense of community here in Frome. Giving away (and receiving) lots of free plants, from being too eager at the seed planting stage, things like herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, as well as flowers. I’ve been impressed by the response of the local businesses who have managed to keep going. The Old Bakehouse, Rye Bakery, SK Fruits, Denude, the fantastic Frome Wholefoods. I’ve felt safe in all of them. Lee’s Chip Shop, China Capital and The Good Heart Café have been great when we just could not be bothered to cook! The more recent re-opening of non-essential stores meant a top-up of gorgeous yarn from the Frome Yarn Collective to sustain my new crochet obsession. As an artist, the setting up of the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram has been a positive experience. It has created an opportunity for artists to sell work for up to £200 and, once they make £1000, to buy art from another artist for £200. It’s generated a great little economy for creative people who have lost all other means of making money. It has also been offered with a sense of generosity that has felt supportive and pro-active.


Have you had any negative experiences?


I can’t think of any negatives…maybe a couple of occasions when someone didn’t seem to understand what two metres look like, but I suspect we’ve all had that, and the odd day when it all feels too much.


Have you found any new hobbies/habits/interests?


I haven’t found any new hobbies but have had more time on my hands, so the garden is now looking like a garden, I have more time to paint than before and I’m getting a lot of books read. I still have an ambition to make the ultimate, amazing, edible gluten-free bread, but all the recipes I’ve seen call for an amazing number of different flours, which I’m still trying to source.


Do you have any coping mechanisms you’d like to share with readers?


My coping mechanisms have been to get outside. Walking and being creative have been a great way to switch off from the worry.


Tell us your lockdown recommends for:


Book: Current reading is Hilary Mantel’s new book ‘The Mirror and the Light’ concluding her epic trilogy about Cromwell. It’s a brick of a book and will keep me going for ages! I’ve also really enjoyed Mark Lanegan’s autobiography ‘Sing Backwards and Weep’ which is a brutal and honest account of his early life, his first band, his insatiable drug dependency, his love of music and the rise of grunge from one of my all-time favourite singers. Not for everyone!! I’ve got a couple of arty books on the go too, Ivon Hitchins’ ‘Space Through Colour’ an artist whose work I really admire, and Christopher Neve’s ‘Unquiet Landscapes’. I’ve been dipping into Alys Fowler’s ‘The Edible Garden’ for veg growing tips too.


TV: I loved Grayson Perry’s Art Club. I enjoy anything creative on TV. There’s been a fantastic little series on called ‘Made in the Pacific’ and I really enjoyed the ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ I’m full of admiration for their skills.


Music: I’ve been listening to Mark Lanegan’s new album ‘Straight Songs of Sorrow’ I’m a huge fan of his work, plus lots of Radio 6.


Film: I haven’t watched a film for a while, so I need to catch up on loads. We are also very, very behind on box sets, so the current thing is Breaking Bad.


Food:We’ve had a few great take-outs from local business. There’s been banana bread, wine, lots of home cooking and now finally some lovely things from the garden including peas, lettuce, radish, courgette, spinach, and rocket.


Activity: My favourite is walking, ideally with a sketchbook!


When lockdown is over, what are you most looking forward to?


Well, lockdown is kind of over now, and seeing family and friends is top of the list, but only when I feel fully safe to do so. When we are actually free of this virus, I will look forward to going on holiday, visiting Cornwall, swimming in the sea, going to a gig, galleries, museums.


What are your hopes for the future?


My hopes for the future are a safe, viable vaccine for COVID-19, the government to be held accountable for their actions and woeful handling of this current situation. I’d love to see a greater awareness, protection and appreciation for our green spaces and wildlife and, finally, be governed by articulate, humane, relatable people who genuinely want to build a sustainable, tolerant, fairer society.

To see more of Amanda's work and keep up to date with her workshops and exhibitions, go to:


amandabeeart.co.uk

instagram.com/amandabeeartist

facebook.com/AmandaBeeArtist