The lotus grows in the mud: Stories of creative growth during lockdown

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The lotus is a flower that grows in the mud
The deeper and thicker the mud
The more beautiful the lotus blooms

This was the Buddhist proverb we used in our recent Survive to Thrive Toolkit. For me, it captures the spirit of thriving, of something beautiful arising from times of difficulty.

While lockdown has certainly come with plenty of adversity, for some, it has also unleashed a deeper, freer creativity. Here, we share the inspirational stories of creatives from the world of art, photography and writing, to hear how the challenges of lockdown have liberated or shaped their creativity in some significant way.

JENNY SHEPHERD and her husband Bob have been pouring their creative energies into recreating famous works of art. Here’s Jenny talking us through their experiences via a series of posts, originally on Facebook. This is particularly impressive as Bob works long hours in their shop Second Nature.

“I showed Bob an article about people recreating famous works of art and it was him that got excited. I have no idea why, as he is quite shy, really! Maybe because he thought it would distract us both, and give us something besides work/the virus to focus on?

A different perspective…

I think there’s something about doing this, which is a bit about problem solving or lateral thinking. We enjoy cryptic crosswords, and I think there’s something similar going on. You have to look at things from a different perspective, and with the recreations, you are having to look at the objects in your house, and think “how can I make this look like x?” Hence, knotted, black socks to make hair.

Grant Wood
Our version of American Gothic took a few attempts, using the timer, but on the whole, we thought it wasn’t too bad!









Is this becoming addictive?! Probably not, as this took over 4 hours yesterday, and we gave up before we were totally satisfied with the result after 22 attempts, involving the wreath falling off, both of us cursing, and Bob’s heavy- wineglass-holding hand getting tired. Bob did shave (half of) his chest, such was his dedication to authenticity. And, no, that is not red wine. It’s home-made, raspberry vinegar.










Frida Kahlo
Not being able to get my eyebrows threaded during lockdown has taken its toll. No, it’s just our 3rd attempt at recreating a work of art.












The artist is well-known. We chose it because it didn’t involve any live animals, as we didn’t feel Theo, our cat, would be a compliant model.

We thought it looked much easier than last week’s, but it actually took five hours and 69 shots, and again, I still wasn’t happy, but we had to give up, because I was in agony!

Henry Wallis
I think it is quite a well-known painting, but I’m not sure the artist, Henry Wallis, or the subject, Thomas Chatterton (an amazing story!), are particularly famous! I certainly had never heard of either, till I studied the play “Chatterton” by Alfred de Vigny at university.

The importance of detail…

Naturally, I am bothered by the fact our sofa was too short for Bob to lie in the proper position, but may I draw your attention to the smoke from the extinguished candle to the right? A completely invisible, but important (to us!) touch, is that the crumpled paper in Bob’s hand is, appropriately, torn from Poetry News!”


is an artist who discovered the value of mentoring… and letting go.

Finding Inspiration…

“As the pandemic caused the world to close down, everything was stripped back to the essentials. I began to work with a mentor, Anne Seims. I’d been a fan of her work for a long time and knew immediately that she would be an amazing mentor. I had been feeling stuck. working on the same few paintings for months and could never finish them. Anne encouraged me to strip back my work, to let go of the crutches and shortcuts I’d been relying on and was confronted by an empty page.

I let go…

I let go of the collage, leaves and images that I had been working with for the past few years, which felt very scary as I had always seen myself as a collage artist. I didn’t know what I was without that. I directed my process inwards. What I found was these faces waiting to be revealed, to be set free.




My work has changed a lot. It has been a revolutionary, challenging, anxiety inducing and amazing experience.  If you ask any artist what they fear the most and they will probably say their work going badly, but sometimes you have to put yourself in that place to make the leap you need to make.

I’m very grateful that during the COVID-19 pandemic I was able to have such a surge of creativity and coaching.

I haven’t shared them much yet as I’ve been enjoying making them for myself, but am now ready to start sharing them with the world.”



You can find out more about Claire and her work at and on Instagram at @Claire_brewster.


MATTHEW SWIFT is an abstract painter who has tuned into life’s details during lockdown,  bringing a different awareness of the everyday into his studio practice.

“When lockdown occurred, I thought I had been handed an amazing opportunity to get on with painting and be productive; suddenly finding extra time in the studio with no more commuting. However, initially it was difficult to focus on creating new artwork. The cause of this seismic shift in my routine, Covid 19, was unsettling and scary and my nuanced preoccupations with colour, form and surface seemed trivial and disconnected from the bigger picture of what was going on beyond my workspace.

I began to notice…

As the shock wore off and the new normal became routine, I began to notice details around me more poignantly. I am lucky to live on the North Kent Coast which allows me to take daily walks or cycles by the sea. I have become attuned to the changes in weather, particularly the wind, which has an impact on how my cycling experience goes. The wind’s elemental nature has crept into aspects of my artwork in the form of short videos recording plastic bags flailing around or feathers, caught on a leaf bending to the force of a breeze. The routine of repeated routes and journeys through changing elements has sharpened my awareness and senses; it has enriched my engagement with my immediate environment and through a strange process of internal psychological osmosis resulted in a new sense of purpose in my studio practice.

Technology has become a friend…

Having previously been very conflicted by Instagram and its endless rolling images, in lockdown it has become my friend. In particular it has spurred me on to make smaller prototypes of my sewn together painted canvases. This was born out of the #artistsupportpledge, inventively set up by @matthewburrowsstudio as a way of helping Visual Creatives remain financially afloat whilst galleries are closed. I no longer see scrolling through Instagram as a mindless distraction, instead it has become a helpful way of staying in touch with talented and inspiring artists. Over the last few weeks I have been discovering work by people from all over the world that is engaging and resonates with similar creative concerns as my own.

Swift’s work, oil on sewn together canvas, previously offered as part of the #artistssupportpledge

The week after lockdown an artist friend of mine asked me to join a crit group with her and a sculptor who I did not previously know. Remotely we have been meeting up every four weeks from our studios. It has been hugely productive and it has opened up dialogues and ideas in a very direct and beneficial way. Firstly, we do not have to spend time travelling but more importantly there is an equality of presentation, as we can take it in turns to address live issues in our work individually.

Another work by Swift, oil on sewn together canvas, which was offered as part of #theartistssupportpledge

Feeling more connected…

The lockdown has pushed me to access technology that I would not have dreamt of engaging with previously, this is now a platform and format I will continue to use and explore. Since lockdown I feel, strangely, not only more connected to my own practice, but also much more connected to the wider artistic community beyond more studio walls.

I am currently curating Ground Work, an exhibition of work by seven artists and a writer, that will open this October at APT Gallery in London. It will be one of the first exhibitions the gallery is planning as it opens up into a new socially distanced public realm. It was planned pre-lockdown with a specific agenda of public engagement. We won’t be able to run the original workshops we were planning, but we are all excited by how we can overcome this challenge and be at the vanguard of how Visual Creatives surmount these obstacles to make a new viable art and gallery scene.”

To find out more about Matthew and his work, check out and find him on Instagram at @mrswiftyart.

Both Claire Brewster and Matthew Swift have participated in #artistssupportpledge, an Instagram movement where artists selling pieces for £200 pounds or less use a percentage of earnings to buy work by another participating artist. It has helped foster a thriving and diverse creative community.

wrote and published a book of poetry during this time. Love, Me s a collection of Coronavirus inspired stories.

It felt relevant…

“I’m not new to writing, having already written a novel which I finished editing it during lockdown and sent off to the editor. However, I haven’t felt inspired to start a new book, it has felt too much at the moment. But a poetry book felt relevant. A number of the poems represent how I feel about lockdown and Covid. I think about a future where someone else is wanting to be seen and reads a poem of mine and has that moment when they realise they aren’t alone. I wanted that for this book.

Time for rediscovering…

Poetry is my first writing love. It’s the place I always go back to when I need to express myself or work through something. I wrote my first poem at the age of eight. I love reading poetry too. I love the classics, but there is an Australian poet who I discovered her at a time I needed to be seen and her poetry gave me that. She wrote under the pen name Nanushka. But my favourite poem is The Highway Man. I still have this memory of standing my Nanna’s house when I was maybe 7 or 8. She wanted to read her favourite poem. I didn’t really understand the poem or really like it, but I loved the rhythm, which is why I still love it to this day.

If I sit down to write, I can usually write something. It flows very easily. Although some poems are definitely better than others. I have to write in the mornings. Generally, before my day has started, or late at night when my head is churning.

This is my favourite. I wrote it based on a jumble of memories and each time I read it, I have such sweet memories of her and myself at that young age.


I bang the keys,
Singing jingle bells.
My voice warbles tunelessly.
And yet you smile.
As if I’m playing,
A sonata by Beethoven.
I sing louder.
Punching the air with my voice.
Puffing my chest out with pride.
Smiling wide.
Happiness bursting in my chest
Feeling like my Sunday best.

This has inspired me to think about publishing a second book as I have books and books of old and new poetry.”

To learn more about Melanie and her work, check out Love, Me and other books by Melanie can be found on amazon.

We hope the stories of these creatives might inspire you to nurture a little of your own lotus during these challenging times!


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