Published 11 June 2020

We are Digital Creativity Labs. We Create, by Jane Andrews

We are Digital Creativity Labs. It’s there in the name. So why have I been so surprised and filled with joy to discover that once we were thrown into lockdown each of us began to find creative ways of expressing ourselves? Displaying and discovering talents that have hardly been hinted at in daily working life, lockdown has opened our eyes to each other’s sensitivities, perceptions and ways of seeing the world around us.   

It started with a software developer. An articulate, curious, challenging, moral, energetic and hilarious 8-year old in a software developer’s body. Lockdown was not for him and new challenges were sought. One day it would be squeezing every last second out of his 30 minutes of government-prescribed exercise by setting new time trials on mountain bike or foot. The next day it would be foraging through the local fields and hedgerows to find photographic subjects both animal and architectural.  

The stories that were regaled over virtual morning coffee had us rushing for an 8:30am fix of what the last afternoon’s exercise had uncovered; a vicarious insight into the outside world around the beautiful Otley countryside and numerous photos of the scratches, scabs and general injuries that come with this ‘8-year old’s’ enthusiasm. 

And yet this was not enough. Our mornings soon became an even bigger joy as he would share with us artistic creations from the evening before, where over a Google Hangout, an item would be chosen, a time limit set and a group of friends would strive to interpret what they saw through the medium of watercolour, ink and coloured pencils. The results were inspiring.  To the ‘oohs and ahhs’ of our team, he was encouraged to set up a specific channel to post these jewels. Secretly overjoyed with the veneration, he complied and as a child of the 90s, The ‘Art Attack’ virtual room was born on our team Discord channel.  

Hidden talents emerge

And so the creative bug had bitten….  Each day, some with trepidation, new works of art from other fledgeling artists started appearing on the channel for appreciation and critique.  Conversations were started, suggestions offered, techniques shared and soon, there was a new confidence and a buzz around our group. 

Photography became another shared skill; compositions, sunsets, skies - the wider world we cannot yet visit brought to us through our screens with a promise that one day soon, this will once again be ours to maybe appreciate just that little bit more... 

A PhD student with a gift for making patterns, another who spotted the business potential and immediately saw them as cards and wrapping paper - ‘oh for start-up funding, it’s not like we don’t have the time!’ Who knows whether these are just frivolous ramblings or just maybe the start of a serious route to realising their potential. 

Artwork by Simona Manni

A Data Scientist; all about the numbers? Well no! One day she tentatively mentioned that she was thinking about looking at Japanese watercolour techniques. A random thought from nowhere, this seemed to us. The next, she revealed there were some YouTube tutorials on style and materials and shyly confessed to the order winging its way to her door. Soon followed a triumph.  A deftly-handled and really beautifully-executed painting that thrilled us all; and spurred on others to do more.

Painting by Victoria Hodge

Then I was green but now I am jaded

And as for me, I was persuaded to revisit some long-ago talent nurtured through art school and University locked away in a box these last 23 years…   With some encouragement and self-motivation, I have unpacked these rusty skills.  I’ve challenged myself with observation and knocked up some daubs with varying degrees of success.  

BBC4 has also embraced the lockdown; a life class broadcast live: something I used to love. But argh… the pressure. Not for them the leisurely musing and relationship-building between artist and subject. No. I was thrust right back to art school, Scarborough, 1994. Then I was green but now I am jaded. Warm-up exercises: a 6-second line drawing - ‘get the sense of the body’... a 30-second sketch - ‘capture the weight of the shape in space’... and a 6-minute study - ‘shadow anchors the subject’. 

Artwork by Jane Andrews

The challenge, to exercise those rusty muscles and really begin to believe again wasn’t the lovely wander down memory lane I was expecting. It was a shock, surging through me and a long-forgotten excitement, energy and realisation that this really does make me happy. It was also very funny to witness the confusion and comments for the unexpected nudes on the team Discord channel.

And don’t forget the knitting and our experiments with food and drink! Our software developers are really spoiling us with their hidden gifts, and who knew about the wonder of a whipped dalgona coffee (turns out there isn’t any wonder - it’s disgusting, but at least we tried!).

The gift of a space

#LifeUnderLockdown. It was thrust upon us. Nobody knew what the reality would be. The isolation, the challenge to our mental health and yet our tiny corner of the world has been enlightened, enhanced, inspired and fulfilled through applying a little bit of imagination, hilarity and experimentation.  

A safe environment in which to create with no fear, some judgement (well-intentioned), and some downright burns…  It feels like we have done something fantastic here. We have bonded on a new level, made each other and ourselves happy, and we are helping each other through this. 

DC Labs is a ‘world centre of excellence for impact-driven research in games, interactive media and the rich space where they converge.’ DC Labs is also the gift of a space - with time - with talking - with people from diverse backgrounds - all with a will to create and collaborate. And in our own small and unintentional way, we have done it again here.

We are Digital Creativity Labs. We create.