Artists In Isolation - Victoria Llewellyn on Art, Applause and Laughter.
Our interviews are a soundboard for those living a creative life, as told by working artists of all kinds. Circling back and always examining our creativity, we think, helps us to engage more authentically with it.
Victoria Llewellyn is an actor and illustrator. She trained at The Oxford School of Drama and has worked on a range of theatre and film projects.
She was winner of the Three Minute Round at Triforce Monologue Slam in 2019, and recently produced and acted in her own short film ONE NIGHT STAND.
Check out @vickys.scribbles on Instagram for her hilarious doodles.
How are you doing?
I think I’m doing ok, I definitely have days where I have complete slumps and I don't have any structure. And everything’s gone to jelly and I sink into that a little bit. I focus then on the next day ok I've had that day I'm allowed one day of feeling like that, now I've got to pull myself out of that and I've got to get back into a routine. But I think the really tricky thing is trying to establish a routine that I stick too. Cause theres no one holding me accountable for my time. But then equally no one was holding me accountable before hand either...so its really odd to feel more pressurised because everyone's at home and everyone's got this free time.
I've found it hard to see lots of people like “Oh great I'm getting back into my art or I'm picking up the piano again” All the stuff I've been wanting to do in my normal before-corona life, and now I'm like well we all have the time to do it now - so I feel more pressure.
We are so used to living in pressure that we have somehow applied pressure to this time?
Yes! And yeah it comes down to actually doing it, and its the same level of difficulty to doing those things as it was before hand! I really struggled at the begging and it joined in with this really bizarre feeling of the fear of missing out on socialising. Which is really odd cause I had to get my head around the fact that actually everyone was not socialising. I had to flip my perspective. And the immediate rush of people doing this and that and that and this, which flooded instagram and twitter and the internet at the beginning, which has thankfully calmed down now. I has to switch that off for the first week.
Instagram gave us that implied sense of grasp this time and squeeze every inch out of it!
Yeah, this huge opportunity of time, but actually the time is the same for me. I spend the same amount of time doing my money job - tutoring. As soon as i stop looking at what everyone else is doing and just set little targets for myself every day like oh maybe ill begin a drawing or ill look at a play - those small targets.
Small being the operative word.
Yeah, my own small targets that are nothing to do with anyone else then I feel a lot calmer and lot more in control. And I actually feel like I have been more productive, but I think that comes down to this idea of weirdly feeling more accountable for my time!
Also living with someone who doesn't work in the arts, that’s been really helpful. He starts work at 8.30 every morning, and we are sharing a work space.
That was my next question really, where are you right now? Has this had an impact on your work?
My housemate is in our living room at his “desk”, he has a working environment, and I think I find it tricky not separating the spheres of my life. Being that close to one person 24 hours a day, living and working in close proximity is tough. The positive is that I have to get up early to do my Yoga in that room before he gets up, it’s a great way of starting my day in a positive way, and now I have to get up, which gives me a lot more hours to explore something productive, which I never had before.
It’s interesting, a creative life is such a solitary life in reality, your never really, and having an external pressure that isn't a competitive one, from someone who isn't in the same world as you, but has a structure to their day, you can follow that structure! You can have meals at the right time! God I used to have lunch at like 3, whereas now I’m like no - lunch is at 1, and we have our time off in the evening because thats when he finishes work. So I feel like I can switch off my brain better which is a really helpful thing.
In terms of environment, I have really struggled with not being able to go to the countryside and clear my head.
Do you think you use escaping from London as a way to de-stress?
DEFINITELY. To re-boot and to re-centre myself too. I’ve always used it, even at university. Just city living (not that I even live properly in the city) but being in a place with lots of people around, and on top of that that this is a people spread virus - it’s pretty stressful! Ive got Streatham and Tooting common close but I'm just avoiding people all the time. You can’t just shake off and breath, there’s always someone you are worrying about being too close to you!
What’s your story? how would you say you have ended up doing what you do?
I’m kind of a mixture between an actor and illustrator. I’ve always done art, my mum is an artists and I went to art school for a year, but I didn't enjoy the school i went to so i think that put me off foT a long time. And then i went to university and studied history of art , so I've always kind of kept that theme going on in my life, then I went to drama school. Since then I've been acting and more recently I've come back to drawing . I think with acting being such a difficult thing to do without an audience, if your not in something you can feel really stifled creatively. I kind of return to art as my outlet for that. It’s something I can control and I can do anytime. You don't need to be in something reacting off someone. Thats what's the most frustrating thing about acting, it's not like practicing an instrument, you need to be amongst other people so if that opportunity is not around its difficult. I’ve always found it hard to say I’m an actor” as the next question is what have you been in, and if it’s not your luck to be in their frame of reference it can be hard.
Yeah, if they only watch Netflix it’s hard to tell them about the fringe play you did that you loved?
Exactly, I remember talking to someone and saying I’d been in a Checkoff play, and they asked if it was at The National. And I had to say no it was at this small theatre, and then you end up degrading something that I valued as a real achievement for myself. And thinking no actually I did a Checkoff play it doesn't matter! Your constantly having to justify yourself which is really difficult.
With art you have physical evidence at your fingertips, you can show people what you do. In a productive role. You produce things, you work and there is the evidence, with acting so many of us don't work for extended periods of time. Even though we are constantly working on our craft and seeing shows and emailing people and talk about it all the time. Tv, film, theatre it’s all research, but people see it as leisure. It's a tricky one!
In your own words what shapes your creative work? what are your favourite activities for feeding your creative process?
Acting wise its definitely watching as much as possible. I’m actually loving this time that I’ve been able to watch way more theatre than ever before! Theres so much online. That feeds it. Being around other creatives I find really stimulating. Because your talking about it, stimulating it through conversation, as soon as you talk about it becomes alive, rather than something you are just thinking about on a daily basis. It’s sharing those things, human beings communicate, and thats the joy of acting right? Is it’s communicating stories!
Humour also drives a lot of what I like. I think it’s such a clever thing to be able to make someone laugh whatever sphere you are in. It shows that you have empathy and understanding. As well as being able to think in a slightly out of the box way. It’s about twisting things that are normal and turning them on it’s head. I like putting that into acting and into art work. Seeing how clever other people are at that helps a lot.
I guess just talking to my mates too. God I miss that.
I personally love your instagram stories about when you visit galleries, there’s something so calming about imagining you visiting one! What is it you take away from gallery visits?
I usually go with my dad who worked as an art auctioneer so he know a lot about a lot. We also share similar tastes in art in terms of we like people who push boundaries a lot. My mum likes nice traditional paintings of flowers but my dad’s a lot more broad minded. I usually find that I’m really broadening my awareness of a period. I mean you can learn about a period’s history, religion, political state, masculinity, femininity - you can see all of that from a collection of paintings, it’s being reflected by an artist at that time. You can get all that without having to read a billion books, which I find really dull! Also these places are so steeped in history. And New York, when I went, the collections were so inspiring.
I also am such a hypocrite, I go and I go "I’m going to do it! I'm going to make all this stuff" then go home and promptly have a cup of tea and don’t do it. But it’s also a very good exercise in being receptive. You can look and engage with something without thinking too much about something. It’s more immediate. As soon as I have to think about a piece too much you’ve lost me. That’s why I go with my Dad so he can explain it for me, I’m very lucky to have that!
I also like going and explaining to others too, it’s another form of storytelling, with visual aid! Especially singular artists through a specific time. The Royal Academy had all these self portraits by this artist with all her self portraits from 14 to until she died, she documented it all it was amazing.
You mentioned your productivity has an element of intuition to it, do you find by leading with this your productivity is better? Rather than setting allotted time?
I guess I’ve just always known that that approach just doesn't work for me! I feel really boxed in. But then people work in different ways, some people need structure. To be held accountable for that time. The bad side effect for me is I can go for more days than I would like too without doing it, because I’m not “feeling it” which is total rubbish. If I sat down I knew I could accomplish something. I find that particularly with writing, I’ve started to write parts of a play, and I find that really hard and I know if I had a structure then I would actually write something rather than waiting to "feel" it.
I heard a quote that “writer’s dont enjoy writing they enjoy having written”
Yes! That feeling is amazing but the doing it is really sticky, I think thats why I don't warm to the idea of writing as much as I find it much trickier to achieve stuff. Whereas with art, I find thats a much quicker root in. If it’s rubbish I can just chuck it away, in the bin! Whereas I think If I put things down in words I’m much harder on myself about the quality of them, which is interesting.
I think that’s maybe our biggest block to creativity that we expect everything to be polished and perfect.
Perfection is what we are always reaching for and if you can’t get there immediately it’s frustrating. Usually I'm close to throwing my laptop at the wall.
How do you balance work life, and life-life? Is there a clear separation?
I try to keep weekends free. I try to split my time into working hours and off hours. I also think its really important to have holidays from creative stuff completely. If you take a break for a week, you take a break. You don’t regard yourself as an actor or artist. It’s so important. If you go on holiday in a normal job you don't think about it! But I’ve really struggled with guilt about not doing stuff on holidays. And you cant go away as an actor, as you might miss an audition. Guess what? I’ve never missed an audition ever. It’s ridiculous. Well sod it if it does.
Trying to keep a sense of normality in line with other people in other jobs, so I like that, having weekends off. Especially after drama school. I think it can be so damaging to be on all the time. I found the first year out of drama school the hardest year of my life. I think if you can get through that and still want to do it you’ve won. If you still want to be an artist, because it takes a certain amount of adapting and figuring yourself out and figuring out how you work, and also knowing that being switched on all the time makes you feel panicked and exhausted. It means you don’t have any energy to put into your work as you spend so much time being stressed by the thought process of what you should be doing.
Totally. An athlete wouldn't not rest. It would mean they can’t perform at their peak! So we have to rest to peak at the right times.
Yes. And also our job is not our entire life. With acting you are sort of forced to look at it in a way - that like if your an actor that’s it, but actually you need to be a person outside of that identity. And therefore you need to set aside time for that. It’s hard to switch off, going to a play I can’t switch off. I'm thinking - How would I do that? Where was my audition?
That’s why I love watching cooking programmes. I know I'm never going to be on that. I can watch people stressing out and I’m never going to have to go through what they are going through. It’s a proper release! Honestly, I love Keeping Up With The Kardashians, it’s so awful and so relaxing.
What’s the best bit of your work? What brings you the most joy?
I love making people laugh. I love working and meeting different people, when you have the opportunity to be able to meet strangers and join to create something. You all put something of yourself into it and come out with these incredible bonds. I’ve always loved that about plays. And the connections with an audience. Its the unique part of our job.
My flatmate said the people he works with probably know him better than anyone else in the world, he spends all day with them. He said you don't get that and I said I don't think its true, performing with someone is the most unique bond. And drama school creates really really solid friendships. We were linked by this unique experience. I’m really thankful for that.
Fuck I love applause. That’s just the best thing in the world. You can’t not love that? If you say no you are lying. It’s an immediate gratification. You feel you’ve put something of yourself out there and someone said yes that's great, you've communicated with someone. Just like if someone laughs at your joke, love that feeling too!
For my art I find it really calming and meditative, I can switch off and I actually don't listen to music.
What will you take away from this time in isolation?
Certainly how to structure my days better. I think I’m going to be aware of how much time I actually do have during a day.
How really important it is to see other people. Despite the fact I’m very happy on my own, I’ve struggled. It’s not having the option, and physical touch! Such an important thing we just take for granted.
How easy everything is! Oh my god. I queued for 45 minutes to get into Tesco. I haven't had eggs for 5 weeks. We have had spoiled lives its been very humbling.
It’s also humbling to see the arts being the first to fall. The importance of it within a functioning society, who’s keeping us all entertained? The importance is so relevant and yet these are the things that are going to loose out. It’s going to be a very changed thing. I hope people can remember the importance and the relevance of it.
Book? Elena Ferranti’s Neapolitan Novels - really sinks you into the world of Naples.
Film? Amelie - it’s always been my favourite but I hadn't watched it for ages.
Series? Succession - Acting is incredible, and the dialogue is so zippy and funny and they are awful, they are all awful human beings I love it.
Podcast - Witch Please, two women who talk about Harry potter as scholars it’s amazing. Plus they have gorgeous Canadian accents.
Wildcard - Food. It’s got to be food. Good pasta. Pancakes. Banana, oat and egg pancakes. They make my mornings feel special.
All images ©️Victoria Llewellyn. As told to Olivia Foan (over zoom you'll be pleased to hear).