Artist Residency at Hawkwood: Graham Dickson
"Being surrounded by creatives from across the artistic spectrum - sharing stories, ideas and anxieties at meal times - was a truly gratifying experience. It also taught me a valuable lesson which I have since tried to take to heart."
The first week of January has the potential to be one of the worst of the calendar. After the festive lethargy of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the pressure and expectation to hit the ground running can set you up for a fail. It can be a time when the gears clank loudest as you try to get into a working groove. Maybe not all artists are the same, but I frequently need to be dragged kicking and screaming to my writing desk – quite the absurd, masochistic ritual when working from home and living alone! So I thought I’d kick start the new year, and do a number on my inner saboteur, by accepting an invitation to spend a week trapped on a farm surrounded by other creatives, free from the distractions of my normal life.
Thank heavens for Hawkwood, a beautiful idyll built on streams of magic water amongst the rolling hills of Stroud. Most things about Hawkwood seem incongruous in the best possible way. A farm for artists? Sure! Even the name, ‘Hawkwood Centre for Future Thinking’ seems pleasingly ironic – the notion of a charity set up to help the development of artists seems, sadly, in the year 2023, from another and distant time.
The house itself is gorgeous and welcoming, a cosy nest of rooms and work spaces. The delicious meals that were cooked for us three times a day were, frankly, too good to be true. James, Cathy and the rest of the team were always warm, welcoming and supportive. Above all though, what i treasured about my stay was the sense of community and the sense of creative optimism that was fostered throughout. Being a working artist, whatever your discipline, is difficult at the best of times. Every artist, regardless of their canvas or medium, will have a different process. What unites all artists, though, is a shared will that often borders on defiance. For solo practitioners, such as writers, this flame can diminish if not properly fuelled by human input: interaction, empathy, collaboration. Being surrounded by creatives from across the artistic spectrum – sharing stories, ideas and anxieties at meal times – was a truly gratifying experience. It also taught me a valuable lesson which I have since tried to take to heart.
I went to Hawkwood to focus primarily on two writing projects. The first, a screenplay, conveniently set in the same part of the country; the second, a live solo theatre/comedy show (I am an actor as well as a writer). The screenplay progressed nicely. I was happy with what i was writing, working through it at a decent pace. Work on the solo show, however, was not so good. I encountered obstacles that, at the time, I couldn’t figure my way around. A lot of figurative head-meeting-brick-wall ensued. This is just what happens. Sometimes work is fluid, sometimes it’s a horrible torment. I felt that torment keenly at points when i was on my own, in my studio, staring at the trees outside and waiting for cake to be served at 4pm. Then, I’d go and have a tea and a chat and remember to be kind to myself.
To make good art, I believe that your environment is so crucial. So many things can get in your way, knock you off course. If you’re lucky enough to find a place that allows you to breathe, to take stock, but also to share, and commune, then you’re halfway to winning the battle. Hawkwood creates an environment that is both inspiring and relaxing, and this is such a gift.
Graham is an actor, writer, improviser and teacher – and now, he even has a website.
He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Free Association, London’s leading improvised comedy theatre and school, and co-founder of Austentatious, the award-winning improvised West End smash hit, inspired by the works of Jane Austen.
What’s more, he has a website (click the button below).