A Day in a Life of an Artist: Letty McHugh

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To kick off a series of features on A Day in a Life of the Artist, Letty McHugh gives us an exclusive documenting her secret double life fighting crime with her cat detailing the totally normal working life of an artist and writer in Haworth, West Yorkshire. This is a typical day for her.

7am. Like all sensible people I am still asleep.

8am. Yeah, 100% still asleep.

9am. I feel like you know what I’m going to say at this stage. I read the ‘A Day in a Life of the Artist’ articles over on the Saatchi site and they all said they were up doing glamorous and interesting things at 7AM which frankly I struggle to believe. I do not get up this early if I can possibly avoid it.

photo of a cat sitting on a bed

Artistic impression of me at 10 am

10am. This is usually when my alarm goes off and I hit snooze and listen to Woman’s Hour in bed. I probably stay in bed until 10:30/ 11ish at which point my cat comes in and starts stabbing me with a single dagger like claw until I feed her.

11am. After I’ve fed the cat, I usually make a cup of tea, go into my home studio (the back bedroom) and check my emails. I don’t reply to anything yet, but I like to know what they say so I can get an early start on anxiously avoiding dealing with them for the next several hours/ days. Things are slightly different for me at the moment because I’m staying with my parents for the duration of the lockdown. This part of the day is the same, but I’m in my mum’s dining room instead.

12–1pm. Usually I have some lunch and watch yesterday’s episode of Australian soap Neighbours. Like a number of people who suffer from MS fatigue I find my brain works significantly worse in the morning and then loosens up as the day goes on, so if I can help it I don’t do anything too demanding before 2pm. The last weeks of Neighbours has been particularly good focusing mainly on a group of good-looking idiots who voluntarily went to a deserted island with a known murder, and the fun high jinks they got up to while ignoring the fact an increasingly large number of the group had disappeared.

2pm. I often go for a walk at this time of day, I noticed the artists in the Saatchi articles also go for walks, but they go to glamorous, sophisticated places filled with art world movers and shakers. I live in Haworth, so there is nowhere glamorous or sophisticated to walk to. I sometimes go up to the Bronte Parsonage Museum, but the vibe there is more atmospheric isolated romance novel, and even if it were my scene it’s closed due to COVID-19. Today I walked to the bottom of my mum’s garden and saw a solitary bee.

3pm. Theoretically this is when the real work starts but in practice a good 30 minutes of procrastination is still going to happen. Wait, I need my mint tea. Have I got the right upbeat disco hit on? Wait, is that bumble bee in the garden sending a distress call to me? Better check it out. This is the time of day I like to stare blankly at a word document and think about every stupid thing I’ve ever said. Like the other week I met somebody impressive and important and we went to shake hands but at the last minute we stopped because of coronavirus and I suggested everybody starts doing double finger guns and a wink instead and they just blinked for thirty seconds before saying ‘Well, that’s one suggestion’.

photo of a round dining table set up for making artwork

My current work situation

3:30–6pm. This is the portion of the day where some productive and meaningful things happen. Yesterday I wrote a small funding bid. Today I’m writing this. Tomorrow who knows? Hopefully more genuine work from my actual to do list. Maybe I’ll start trying to rewrite Dolly Parton’s seminal classic ‘9-5’ so the lyrics better fit the realities of my life again. I will do anything to avoid the thought of finger guns.

6pm. My family and I have designated this coronavirus hour. We try to keep all discussion on the topic inside this hour. We talked a lot a before I came to stay about what the best way to handle this situation and my disability was. I live alone, but my life only really works because my parents live five minutes away and give me a lot of support. We were also thinking of the worst-case scenario that I had a bad MS relapse, we decided on balance it was best for me to lockdown with them. It’s difficult, it’s an adjustment for us all, but it’s difficult for everyone right now isn’t it? I think what we all need to do is find ways to be kind to each other and – sorry, that’s time up the rest of this hopeful message will have to wait until tomorrows coronavirus virus hour.

7–9 pm. This is usually when I have an evening meal and hang out with my family.

9–12pm. This is when I do the majority of my creative work. I have spent my adult life trying to retrain my brain to be better at doing this sort of thing in the day time, but it just doesn’t work. I am constantly trying to make a more respectable routine for myself, but some version of this is always what I revert back to. I think a lot about this thing I noticed when I was reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, (a book chronicling the daily routines of artists and writers) on the whole the male writers/artist’s kept whatever hours they wanted while the women facilitated the domestic realities of their lives. Female writers on the other hand squeezed their work in around facilitating the domestic lives of themselves and others.

photo of a cow in a field

This cow is a wrong’un

The exception I noticed was Gertrude Stein who had her lover Alice Toklas drive her around to find the most inspiring cow before she would write her daily words. It is my ambition to build myself the kind of life where I have space to look for the right cow.

Fortunately, as long as I’m in lockdown here, I’m surrounded by them.