Fran White

Fran White

The importance of purposeful activity during unusual times

Apparently, Shakespeare wrote King Lear in isolation during the plague, so the precedent has been firmly set for the potential held within purposeful activity during such times.

At the very least, we all need a reason to get up in the morning. Purposeful activity is widely recognised as helping us build our sense of self-worth, giving life satisfaction and meaning, and being vital to our sense of wellbeing. When lockdown happened I was very aware of my personal need to establish a range of purposeful activity and routines to support me through this very difficult time.

Two key purposeful activities I pursued during this time were the Kent Creative Social Journal project, which I mentioned in a previous post, recommended to me by Lesley Samms of Pure Arts Group, and a project called While the Kettle Boils.

The Kent Creative Social Journal project gave me the chance to focus on something new. It entailed making an Art Journal and then posting on Facebook. I really enjoyed the creativity and freedom the journal enabled, however, I found the posting on Facebook element slightly invasive and distracting.

Overall though this project provided a fabulous opportunity to workout my feelings very randomly. I was anxious about starting something which had its’ own rules and regulations about what to post. This held me back a bit in the beginning, but I was fine once I’d committed. It was great to meet Nathalie Banaigs, who had initiated this idea, on a Pure Crowdcast interview with Pure founder Lesley Samms and on the regular Kent Creatives zoom meetings, which greatly widened my circle of art world contacts.

I first happened upon the “while the kettle boils” idea in mid-March. I noticed a comment by artist Simon Carter in an Emily Ball’s newsletter. She had asked her tutors to make suggestions to help her students deal with lockdown. Simon’s suggestion was to ‘make a drawing in the time it takes the kettle to boil. Don’t be tentative, hold whatever you are drawing with in your fist, press really hard, slowly draw all the shapes around the kettle’ – I took this literally! I found a half-used sketchbook and made a daily pencil drawing, across two pages, of our kettle in the exact time it took to boil.

On 24th March I started posting a daily drawing on Instagram titled #whilethekettleboils – effectively creating the project myself and making a commitment to myself to post daily.

I really enjoyed this project because it had a formulae; a set of self made rules to focus on which created a ritual and a mini routine to my day, which really helped me through lockdown, as it gave me a daily exercise to which I became, almost unreasonably, obsessed. It provided me with an excuse to do art everyday, not necessarily to paint, but certainly to play.

I really enjoyed the process of responding to what was in front of me, however, sometimes it was hard to ‘repeat’ the ‘same’ view. Nevertheless I pushed myself on. In doing so I was encouraged by comments made about my posts by my followers, and others, on Instagram and Facebook.

On reflection, I found the project ‘gave me permission’ to go into my studio, and this became the longest period of working in my studio ever! I used all sorts of media – pencil, crayon, watercolour, pastels, acrylic – that I already had, no need to rush out and buy more.

On Easter Monday Anastasia Witts, director of Artist Digital, gave me some free marketing advice on Zoom. She commented on how monochrome my Instagram feed was and encouraged me to include colour. From that moment on I started to draw with a pencil and then colour in later with whatever I could lay my hands on!

Thanks to a Facebook memory I was also reminded of a visit I’d made to a Geta Bratescu exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s Saville Row Gallery a year earlier. I had photographed her quote:

“For me, drawing is a necessity. Whatever life’s everyday condition might be, I draw, I freely compose; it is like a musical exercise. For many years, I have also drawn with scissors, cutting out the materials required for collages. I sometimes draw with my eyes alone, picking out pieces from the heaps of textiles and paper scraps”.

This quote motivated me to try this in front of the kettle. I found it inspirational. I employed scissors to cut into coloured and/or pre-painted and/or textured papers, as well as magazines. I then moved on to acetate templates, oil pastel rubbings on discarded box lids etc. I could take longer than it took for the kettle to boil. I re-purposed earlier investigations later and, eventually, only worked in the studio – nowhere near the kettle!

The most amazing outcome of these two projects is that I now have a new body of work based around boiling kettles comprising three sketchbooks, countless drawings, rubbings, collages, plaster applied to previous paintings. Some of these have fed into the Discarded Teabags Exhibition at Smallhythe Studio, Tenterden, Kent. From The Kent Creative Social Journal, I have two Art Journals created from cut and sewn and/or folded up-cycled A1 painting studies.

I’ve also learnt quite a bit about kettles. Our original white one broke mid-April, luckily we had spare hiding in our larder. This was a more curvaceous chrome one, the shape was more fun to record, however, the kettle lead was broken so we used a white ‘kettle lead’ from an old Mac computer to get it to boil. This looked weird but added to my story, as the lead was hard to remove so we used a tall glass jug to fill the kettle – something else for the kettle to relate to in my sketches. As lockdown eased I purchased a new kettle – I managed to break its’ lid twice and resorted to using an old fashioned camping kettle which we heated on the gas hob. Eventually, I bought an all singing and dancing replacement, which has a temperate adjustment, lights, sounds – the lot! During this time I also drew a friend’s kettle and the one in a holiday home – in all recording six different kettles.

Now that lockdown has eased I am spending my time cataloguing, numbering and naming all of my kettles work. I did my final sketch on 15th July and put them up on Artwork Archive.


I realise on reflection, these projects have initiated new ways of working for me; looking and reflecting. They have also motivated me to use what I already have at hand. During lockdown my creativity knew no bounds – I up-cycled old canvases, used cardboard, when I ran out of tracing paper, I grabbed the dress-making pattern paper – etc.

To quote Anselm Kiefer in an article written by Oliver Moody in The Times newspaper, on the 9th September, “lockdown was a blessing for me. I worked more than ever”.

The Future

From time to time in the future, I plan to start an art journal, as I recognise the purpose and joy this project gave me during a very difficult time.

I am also delighted that I have had the opportunity to exhibit some of my kettles at Smallhythe as mentioned earlier, and I believe there are plans to have a Kent Creative Social Journal Exhibition as well, at some point which will be exciting

But for now, I am tidying my studio – working out my new routines, planning another body of work around my recent #morningshadows Instagram posts. I also plan to complete my #womenwhoreads body of work and complete the foundation Back to Basics course with Lesley Samms of Pure Arts Group.

@franwhiteartist on Instagram

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