I don’t know about you but I couldn’t have done without colour during the three coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. Here are just a handful of the ways in which colour has helped me cope with – and even embrace – the lockdown life…
The only collage I can ever remember doing was sticking pasta and red lentils to sugar paper to make curious art at infants school. But in lockdown, collage came into its own for me.
When I collage I get completely consumed by the process. I use nail scissors to idly cut out freehand the intricate shapes like stars and flowers from old paint cards (and believe me, I have plenty of them). Sometimes I use templates for bigger flowers and for circles (one of second-in-command’s Lego wheels seems to do the trick). However I’m cutting, I get completely and utterly consumed by the process.
I’m so absorbed by twisting the card round to complete the cutting, not to mention arranging the colours next to each other or on top of each other once they’re cut, that I don’t have mental space to think about anything else (including ‘I’m feeling lonely…’ for example).
I now have sandwich bags and Tupperware boxes full of various coloured shapes I’ve cut out over time – semi-circles, circles, lozenge shapes, hearts and stars – and because I rarely stick them down I can get them out and arrange them whenever I fancy it.
I remember an elderly aunt of mine used to make baskets as part of occupational therapy to keep her mind and her hands active in hospital. Collage has been my occupational therapy during lockdown, helping me to focus on art rather than things I can’t control.
2. Painting and upcycling
During the various lockdowns I’ve painted pretty much anything that didn’t move – or anything that DID move. Nothing was safe from being painted in lockdown.
Over the months I’ve scanned Colour File HQ from top to bottom, searching high and low for anything that could be deemed worthy of being given a paint makeover. As it turns out, there were loads of colourful DIY projects to be tackled.
Thankfully, I have accumulated a veritable army of paint tester pots over the years and it’s in lockdown that these have truly earned their cupboard space. On the rare occasions when I didn’t have the colour I wanted, I mixed it. And if I didn’t have eggshell, I painted with emulsion and varnished it (don’t listen to what they say – it works).
My lockdown paint projects
Among the things I’ve painted during lockdown (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) are:
- Two mirrors, including one that was most definitely inspired by the Bloomsbury Set (see above, centre)
- A basket that a neighbour had left on their wall for someone to take (see above, left)
- An old filing cabinet (I handpainted strips of watercolour paper and glued them to the front of each drawer)
- My garden wall (using spray paints from Alfreshco)
- A Lloyd Loom chair (using Dulux Forest Falls plus Annie Sloan English Yellow and Anchana’s Pink from Francesca’s Paints)
- A vintage school chair (using a whole host of tester pots and spray paints, as well as a neon pink acrylic paint bought from Jennie Maizels, then set using a spray varnish)
- A stool (using spray paints to paint the legs and white eggshell for the seat)
- A washstand (painted in Annie Sloan’s English Yellow)
- Several ‘Stay at home’ signs (with ‘Party’ on the reverse) for friends and neighbours to put in their windows (made using shots of balsa wood)
Painting has helped me to shape and transform my environment (and on a budget – just the occasional can of spray paint) – SO important, considering how much time any of us have spent at home since March 2020, right?
The past year has seen many of us unable to go out and buy supplies or waiting weeks for things to be delivered. These limitations have brought out our resourcefulness, forcing us to improvise (such as mixing our own paint colours) instead of throwing money at projects as we might have done before.
I think this ‘needs must’ has done something interesting to us on the colour front. It has helped us to find a curious kind of ‘colour confidence’ borne out of the solitude of lockdown. Personally, I’m not sure we’d have been quite so brave if we’d had our liberty.
My collage creations took on a new form when we were plunged into the third lockdown and it was clear that people were struggling. I started cutting out letters (letter G is the trickiest little guy, I tell you) and creating quotes and memes to convey to people that they weren’t alone in whatever they were feeling.
The task for me was to make these messages short enough to fit onto an A4 sheet (my chosen size for working on) but long enough to be meaningful. My instagram followers came up with some brilliant suggestions for inspirational sayings and quotes, too.
In early February, having turned a whole raft of the images into postcards, I decided to try and spread a bit of joy in my local area of Chiswick in west London by ‘card-bombing’ trees, signposts and walls with the postcards, attaching a ‘Take me and send me’ label to each one.
Early one Saturday morning, I went out like the Easter Bunny and put them up all over the place. A month on and I’m still hearing from people who took them and wanted to tell me where they’ve ended up (a couple have winged their way to the States).
One person put this message on my local Nextdoor site afterwards: ‘My mum and I were out shopping today and took some cards to send; such a thoughtful idea. Thank you for the splash of colour and the smiles that came from them Xx.’ It lifts my spirits to know that colour lifted theirs.
4. Creating a colourful home office
This space used to be a spare room so I’d kept it neutral since we moved here in 2013. But when lockdown saw me working from home as a writer at Which? I decided it needed to be less of a monk’s cell and more a celebration of colour to both inspire and comfort me during these strangest of times.
- The starting point was my mint green String Pocket shelving unit, which I decided to load with a rainbow mixture of vintage Penguin books and ephemera.
- Next – and most crucially – came a canvas that I bought early on in the first lockdown from the fabulous Rebecca Newport – crucially because it was the colours of this that really inspired me to go ‘bright’ in this room.
- After that it was a case of adding, layer by layer, old and new
- The old included a patchwork blanket from a car boot sale, a piece of vintage fabric from a trip to Peru and a wire shelving unit from Primark that I spray-painted mint green
- The new was a range of cushions (including some by Kitty Holmes), a yellow and pink macrame plant hanger by Macrame Emma and a treat to myself – this boat drawing by Emily Powell.
- I also painted in Annie Sloan‘s English Yellow a marble-topped washstand that, once upon a time, was a changing table for second-in-command. I used as a desk until one of my followers told me they were worried about my posture so I replaced it with a table (soon to be painted…watch this space to see what colour it’s going to be – I think you’ll be surprised…).
I have fallen in love with this space and it’s all because of colour – when I head to my home office each morning the vast array of colours spark untold joy. Yet another way that colour has helped me to cope with lockdown life.
5. Dressing up in colour
Finally, I couldn’t write this without mentioning dressing up.
Lockdown and virtually the whole of 2020 will forever be known as the age of ‘loungewear’. But apart from the purchase of a pair of leather joggers, I can honestly say there wasn’t one day when I ‘dressed down’. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad – I’m saying it because always dressing up in some way is a way I make myself feel good.
Dressing up in colourful clothes has definitely become a thing in lockdown, with ‘dress-up Friday’ and Zeena Shah’s Insta rainbow challenge injecting colour into our wardrobes even when we may have been feeling flat and uninspired.
My favourite lockdown dressing-up purchases include this Needle and Thread pastel-coloured sequin dress, which I bought as my ‘To me, from me, with love’ gift for my birthday in May (don’t fret – I didn’t actually wear it to paint the wall in) and a couple of pairs of Nike Air Max 90s in rainbow hues.
When I’m not wearing these outfits, I have them hanging on display in my bedroom so they continue to give me all the joys, no matter what COVID-19 decides to throw at me.
Thank you, colour!
So there we have it. That’s how colour has helped me to live well and (mainly) happily during lockdown. I’d love to know if it’s helped you, too, and how it’s done this. Do let me know.
Martha, The Colour File x