An interview with Thom Kofoed

Hastings born-and-bred; Thom Kofoed has lived here all his life. HIP Wellbeing editor, Caf Fean reached out to him after hearing about some mindfulness exercises he had designed in collaboration with John Murray of Hastings Contemporary. During our conversation, Thom explained why it is important to keep on drawing, even though lockdown is easing. Now may be the most important time to find that space for self-expression, taking time just for you.

Thom Kofoed: “Art and drawing were the only things I was really good at growing up, and the only thing that really made any sense to me as an adult.”

Self portrait by Thom Kofoed

Caf Fean: “But it’s a brave thing to do, to bite the bullet and be an artist?”
TK: “I felt silly for a long time, working other jobs to make ends meet, going to dinner parties and not really answering the ‘so, what do you do’ question with any clarity – ‘oh, office work, and sometimes I paint’ until friends got tired of me saying this and pressed me to admit to people that I was an artist! This felt like a leap; a hurdle, to be honest. It took a long time (four to five years) to feel comfortable with it – that even when I wasn’t doing/ making art, I was still an artist.”

CF: “Have you got a studio at home, or are you missing it if you can’t go?”
TK: “I’m lucky enough to have a studio in my flat, dedicated to me. Before lockdown, I was working two days a week at St Mary in the Castle, and I saw human beings. Then I’d spend three days painting. I like being by myself anyway, and I can go for days without seeing another human, and it’s ok! When John would come home from work, I would notice that I’d not used my voice all day! Other than doing two days extra per week at home, there’s been little change for me – no bumpy transition, and having John working from home too has made it much easier on my mental health.”

CF: “Has your way of working changed during lockdown?”
TK: “I have changed my work pattern. I remember seeing an interview with a writer who said that they sit down at their desk from 9 ‘til 5 every day – and they stick to that routine. Before Covid 19 I’d come into the studio about 10 and stay there ‘til 5pm. I can’t stay sat at my desk for very long at the moment – we go out walking first thing, then I’ll come in and check my emails, do one hour then stop: if I can’t do any more, I’ll stop and try again in the afternoon. Lockdown has been an eye-opener for me. Once it has eased, I hope to keep a gentleness about how I work – it seems to be feeding my creative side.”

CF: “How will you look back on this time, do you think?”
TK: “During lockdown, whilst acknowledging the hideous pandemic backdrop, I think it has been a nice space for people, if not affected by the horror, to give themselves a breather. In all likelihood, we’ll never get a time like this again – a time when everything stops.”

Lockdown has been an eye-opener for me. Once it has eased, I hope to keep a gentleness about how I work – it seems to be feeding my creative side

CF: “Tell me about the Hastings Contemporary piece”
TK “I work for Hastings Contemporary on a freelance basis: I did their family trail worksheets and run school workshops for them. My partner John worked for them as Learning and Education Manager, and as soon as lockdown hit he knew the gallery needed to be doing something immediately. So many organisations were churning out creativity packs and activities, but the majority required the users to have lots of art equipment at home or a printer. I knew from my work with the gallery that lots of Hastings families don’t have access to that. So to do these exercises, all that is needed is the back of an envelope and something to make a mark with.

This series was designed with keyworkers and their children in mind. We tested it out with the volunteers from the gallery, who are mostly retired, and already have an interest in art: they said it was really great to have a focus, something to work towards, and to give themselves that moment to meditate. I call it mindless mindfulness: there’s no huge outcome, you’re just drawing for the sake of it. By doing the exercise, many found that it sparked ideas for their own artworks, going forward. At this time as lockdown is easing, I think people need it more than ever – it is more important to give ourselves some time. The speed at which things are changing is making life much more stressful, and there is the worry about a second wave. So mindfulness is just as important, if not more than it was during lockdown.”   

PICTURE: Thom Kofoed and John Murray

Thom has kindly allowed us to publish his Mindfulness during these strange times series. They are ideal for adults and children to do together or individually. Our thanks to Thom, and happy drawing to you, our readers!

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