A Short Meditation on Sofa Beds: A Conversation with Helen Grant

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Can you tell me a bit about A Short Meditation on Sofa Beds?

It’s a comic that does what it says on the tin, really – thinks about sofa beds. I moved to Paris in September to start my year abroad, and found myself taking up a ritual that had punctuated my mum’s daily existence when I was small: folding away and unfolding her bed. I’dnever really properly appreciated her situation as a single parent fudging solutions as she went along. I wanted to represent that odd, personal, slightly dark corner of family history somehow – it kept going round and round in my head – so one day I just sat myself down and sketched it all out. It was ultimately quite a slow development process, and by the time I’d finished all the illustrations and posted it on Instagram, I’d had to leave France because of the coronavirus. I wasn’t totally happy with the final draft, but I thought it was better to let it go rather than keeping tinkering around with it.

What is it about illustration that you like so much?

I always say I like art but I’m not massively art literate. I usually mean I like the pictures in books, and if I like any fine art it’s often because it looks like it would look nice in a book. I brought picture books with me to Cambridge in my first year because they felt like the most beautiful, warm, comforting, inspiring things I owned. A good illustrator will make any story a thousand times funnier, more powerful, more poignant. And I like the way illustrations can either agree with or challenge a writer. There’s something equally pleasing about a comic or graphic novel where the style of the art and words seem to completely harmonize together, and a novel whose picturesare far more playful and experimental than the sentences alone might suggest.

How has getting creative helped you out in times of crisis?

I can’t think of anything else as simultaneously soothing and infuriating as art. It’s like putting my brain in a different box. It gives me technical problems I can solve rather than real world problems that are out of my hands. I really struggled living on my own in France, and rediscovering drawing and painting in that time was the biggest saviour. I drafted cartoons on post-its at my desk at work and absorbed myself with more complicated pieces at home. It let me feel proud of myself and my output and hopeful about my capacity to improve.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to give it a go?

Expose yourself to a huge mixture of artists and styles! That’s what makes Instagram so brilliant. It’s so freeing to be able to see the bajillion different ways of going about making art. I think artists like Ruby Etc. and David Shrigley are really interesting here because their work doesn’t *look*intimidatingly technical. As a beginner you can immediately see that you don’t have to aim to end up at some terrifying hyperrealism for your output to be meaningful and exciting. And I’d also say that playing around with materials in a kind of abstract way can be really fulfilling. Paint in a colour you like and try out different shapes and lines. And look at little patterns and details in art that you really like. Make them yours.

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