For the second Postures of Making Focus Group at the National Centre for Craft and Design in Sleaford a group of 6 makers came armed with enthusiasm and sets of intriguing tools from their workshops and studios. Working in a range of disciplines; jewellery, mosaic, glass and ceramics the postures and working methods were fascinating and unexpected.
We started with a group activity, exploring the ways in which postures might be described. Using a range of images of people engaged with work including Lucie Rie and an opening scene from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the group added descriptive words and reflections. Collating the ways in which the body in action can be described will feed into our understanding of vocabulary within this research topic. It also allows us to consider how the same image can be described in different ways.
Moving into a simple figure outline, the group added in notes about where they felt pain and discomfort when working and it wasn’t unexpected that everyone had something to add. The usual suspects of eye strain, shoulder and lower back aches, pain in the hands and fingers all featured; which is likely to be similar to other groups of workers who have some aspect of repetition in their work. It was noted that at times it was felt that pain and discomfort came not from making activities, but rather the use of a smart phone, a tool most of the group used daily. After intensively frenetic periods of practical work, time was dedicated to tasks associated with the business: maintenance of websites, emails and making applications, which increased the time spent using digital devices.
Within the group, participants spoke of how they used a variety of different tools at different stages of a process, thus using a variety to movements and postures which could be seen as negating a propensity to repetitive strain injury. When repetition was present it was not felt to be stressful – perhaps not always enjoyable – but such activities allowed the mind to drift, which indicates a comfortableness and ease with the task in hand. Some practices were organised in such a way that a four week cycle had been developed, with repetition of the same task over a number of days, before moving onto a new task in the process; and this pattern was reported as being satisfying.
There was a discussion about the joy of being a practitioner, the flexibility to go back and forth between tasks, and the freedom to decide the order of tasks that needed to be completed. Control over task order and organisation of the working day, combined with having an overview of a whole process, from raw material to finish product, could indicate a higher level of job satisfaction. Self employment quite often offers flexibility, but with it comes responsibility for everything which surrounds the actual creation of the work. Hours could sometimes be long; early starts and late finishes were a feature of work patterns which could cause some tension both physically and psychologically, but these were felt to be be temporary in nature. The delineations between work and non work (leisure, family, domestic) were thought to be blurred, with work weaving in and out of all life to a certain extent. Indeed some participants described how their creative practice provided the flexibility to work around family commitments. The spilling out of work across other areas of life is something familiar to plenty of self employed people. Within the creative sector there can be an inability to switch off, as there is always something which needs to be done. Self employed artists, makers and creatives are rarely ergonomically studied; and it is likely there will be a complete absence of any dedicated person to monitor health and wellbeing. Individuals must take on this role themselves. or rely on friends and family to notice when they hear constant complaining about an ache or pain, or seeing someone feeling or being overwhelmed.
When Val and I were working in my studio we discussed how the creative work is never done. Val talked about working in an employment environment where you may hand over your labour for 8 hours a day, but at the end of your shift you can walk away without a second thought until returning the next day. Contrast a different kind of making to the focus group activities we were exploring, within manufacturing for example: an individual may only be involved in one small part of a production process, operating a machine, pushing a button, never seeing or understanding the whole process or product. Not being able to see the bigger picture or hearing affirmations about the value of their contribution in a process may be a high price to pay for freedom from work thoughts in leisure time. An edition of Granta Factory contains a series of photographs by Alex Soth – The Making of Parts which depicts the isolation from the whole.
When we moved onto individual testimonies, each participant talked in detail about their working processes and also to some extent the structure of their businesses. For some, part of their week might be spent working for others in the same discipline, which was an opportunity for paid work but also to learn new skills. Working processes and actions varied, there were some extraordinary movements alongside more expected ones. There were plenty of unusual postures, the ulnar and redial deviations were accompanied by flexions that looked awkward, but reported to be comfortable. I am left wondering when postures look uncomfortable whether the knowledge that a freedom to change activity or task can make the discomfort more bearable. There was an interesting discussion about the effects of how at the moment, pain and discomfort were felt to be mainly temporary in nature; but there was an awareness of the accumulative effects which could prove to be more difficult to manage in the future.
There was a mass of data and visuals generated from this day: articulate contributions and fascinating re-enactments of working postures have contributed to a bank of information and resources which I will be unpicking, processing and refining in the studio over the coming months.
This group offered us a generous insight into the shape of their work, the tasks they engage with and the issues they face. Val and I extend our thanks to the whole group and to Design Factory , Design Nation and National Centre for Craft and Design for supporting the call out for participants and for facilitating the day.