Ffion Hâf Thomas worked at the Kemble Gallery as a part-time Gallery Assistant alongside her studies. Ffion was awarded a First for her BA Hons. Human Geography degree studies at Durham University in the Summer of 2020. We caught up with Ffion to ask her about the experience of studying & working in Durham City.
Congratulations on a fantastic degree result, Ffion! Well done! How long have you studied & worked in Durham City?
I’ve studied in Durham for the past three years, since October 2017, and have been working at the Kemble since November 2019 – although I wish I had started working here sooner!
What inspired you to apply to work for the Kemble Gallery?
I was walking back home with a friend from an evening art class with Durham University Art Society and was drawn to the Gallery’s beautiful window display. I had been in the habit of looking and lusting over the artworks and new art materials in the Gallery’s window display, but this time I noticed a job advertised there too. With my friend’s encouragement, I decided to apply for the role. I have always been interested in art, craft and design and liked the idea of working for a small, independent art gallery.
Tell us about your experience of studying for a degree & working part-time.
At first, I was apprehensive about taking on a part-time job whilst studying at university. I was worried that it might take too much time away from my studies, but I now consider it one of the best decisions I made at uni! Having a part-time job made me even more focused on my degree. I learnt to be more disciplined, using my time more effectively, and this made me enjoy my degree even more! Working at the Kemble also did wonders for my mental health. It provided an escape from the stresses of university work and forced me to take a much-needed break. I wish now that I would’ve started working sooner!
"As a creative person myself, I love hearing about other people’s creative practices so, the Kemble has been the perfect place for me to work!"
What did you enjoy most about working at the Kemble Gallery?
Most definitely, the people. The Kemble is so wonderful because of the staff, my colleagues. Everyone is so warm, welcoming, and willing to help each other. This made coming to work an absolute joy! It has also been a pleasure to meet local artists and residents of Durham. As a creative person myself, I love hearing about other people’s creative practices so, the Kemble has been the perfect place for me to work!
Do you have a favourite place in Durham City?
I have a few favourite places! Aside from The Kemble Gallery which is of course, one, I also love walking along the River Wear. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or simply just needed a break, I would take a walk along the river and feel much better. One of my favourite walks is from Elvet Bridge to Old Durham Gardens. The smallholding neighbouring the Gardens is home to ducks, pigs, alpacas (or are they Llamas? I never know!) and a horse, and always reminded me of home. Being from a rural area, I’ve really appreciated living in Durham because of all its greenery.
Which artist’s work do you admire the most?
Now that’s a difficult question! There are so many artists, craftspeople, and designers that I admire and take inspiration from. In general, I admire anyone who is being creative and is producing art, be it for themselves or for public viewing. I have always been fond of the Pre- Raphaelites, and have a poster of ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by John William Waterhouse hanging on my bedroom wall. I love the romantic, spiritual, and melancholy atmosphere of the paintings, as well as their jewel-like colours. With regards to current artists, I admire the work of Grayson Perry, not necessarily for the visual outcomes of his work, but for his attempts to engage the general public and to say something significant about society. Recently, I have also been trying to learn more about under-represented, non-Western artists, craftspeople, and designers and have become particularly interested in global handicrafts.
Who is your favourite artist or what is your favourite artwork in the Gallery?
I really admire the work and creative practice of Lisa House. I love the atmosphere she manages to create in her paintings through her clever use of colour and imagery. Her works transport you to a different place, and I hanker after that feeling! My favourite work of hers is ‘Grazing at Thirlmere’, I would admire it every time I checked her browser in the Gallery. Ceramics are also a favourite of mine, so I couldn’t help but be drawn to Ellie Tarratt’s work. Her historically inspired ceramics are full of character and intrigue.
In your opinion which is the best - Hirst or Hockney?
It has to be Hockney! He is an icon that has forever influenced art, craft, and design. However, if this is a decision between the Hirst’s and the Hockney in the Kemble, I would have to choose one of the Hirst’s. I know that sounds contradictory!
"I often feel inspired to try something new. Last week I created a tote bag from an old rice sack because I liked its design and was interested to see how it would sew".
We know you enjoy being creative in your free time. What is your go-to creative activity?
It really depends on my mood and the materials that are available to me at the time. I often feel inspired to try something new. Last week I created a tote bag from an old rice sack because I liked its design and was interested to see how it would sew. Since being reunited with my sewing machine, I have been enjoying freestyle embroidery. I love the tactility of working with fabric or felt and the ability to create patterns and texture using the machine. When I feel like doing something more relaxing and taking more time with my work, I paint.
What are your favourite art supplies?
My favourite and most frequently used art supplies are Derwent Graphic sketching pencils, Derwent Graphik Line Markers (although I’m keen to try out the Sakura Pigma Micron fine liners!), Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolours (half pans) and Reeves gouache paints (I am yet to try the Winsor & Newton Designer’s Gouache).
Is there any advice you would like to offer the freshers arriving in September?
Engage in something that’s not university related. It can be easy to get bogged down with university work and even socialising at uni. Try to escape the ‘university bubble’ by taking on part-time work or through volunteering in the local community. It works wonders for your mental health and helps you learn more about Durham and the people residing and working here.
"...I believe art has the power to enhance individual and community wellbeing".
Plans for the future?
At the moment, I am looking for opportunities where I can combine the knowledge and skills I’ve learnt at university, with my passion for art, craft, and design. I’m drawn to the idea of working with a charity or social enterprise to promote art in local communities – at home, or abroad – as I believe art has the power to enhance individual and community wellbeing. I would also like to learn more about the arts and handicrafts of Nepal and to continue the research I carried out for my dissertation. Nepal is such a beautiful country, very close to my heart, and has so much to offer! I hope to travel there again soon.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Ffion. We hope you visit Nepal again soon and we look forward to your return to Durham City in April 2021 for your Graduation Ceremony.
Images: courtesy of Ffion Hâf Thomas.