Lee John Phillips: The Shed Project
Lee John Phillips: The Shed Project
In 2014, Zealous Stories: Drawing winner, Lee John Phillips realised the potential of his late grandfather’s shed as a creative resource. Ensnared by the miscellaneous trinkets that he uncovered, Lee has dedicated his time to meticulously cataloguing the jam jars, screws, nuts and bolts that were left behind.
Congratulations on wining Zealous Stories: Drawing! Could you tell us a little more about the background of The Shed Project, what was it about the miscellaneous objects that captivated you?
In 2013 I set myself the task to ﬁll a sketchbook with a drawing a day. I quickly developed a scissor fetish on which I completed several entries. Around September time I began to record tools with my sixth form students as a drawing exercise. I enjoyed documenting these in my book and thought that the shed would be a great resource for me to complete a drawing a day in 2014. My grandfather died 22 years ago this June and my grandmother has treated it as a mausoleum ever since. The shed has remained relatively untouched, with maintenance being the only reason for access.
I began drawing items from the shed in 2014’s drawing a day and realised that the collection of items in jars and tins were more interesting than the tools.
The book developed into pages of collections of random objects and I began to enjoy pattern and repetition. I didn’t intend to draw every single item, however, my job as an art teacher truly helped sculpt the project into what it is today. I was frustrated by the apathy and general demise in work ethic. Very few pupils realise the time that needs to be spent on creating something of value. I thought, foolishly, “I’ll show them!” I very quickly made the decision to catalogue everything, even multiples, and have not regretted it.
The Shed Project
Every tool and component discovered is numbered and methodically documented as an important artefact. Is this means of honouring your late grandfather?
It is, but that’s not the only reason. It’s to honour his patience and it’s a test of my discipline and the patience I feel I have inherited. Some people push themselves by running marathons or climbing mountains. I feel this is my test.
I was brought up in post-industrial South Wales in one of the many mining valleys. Jobs were hard. I’m from a matriarchal background yet was surrounded by men in masculine jobs. Family members are miners, steel fabricators, engineers, plumbers etc – I’m a vegetarian educated in the arts. I feel like the project is a way for me to relate to and preserve my heritage that has sadly been eroded since the early 1980’s.
You estimate there to be over 100,000 items in the shed. The detailed nature of your drawings and the discipline required must be testing at times. What encourages you to keep on going?
The volume of work I’ve already produced is the main drive I have. When I have exhibitions of work to date, printed and laid out, it feels great to see what I’ve achieved. My family are also a major factor. It’s for them as much as it is for me.
The Shed Project
Are you working on any other projects alongside this one? Or do you consider The Shed Project as a continuously evolving venture?
The Shed Project is a tiny part of my creative being and I wish I could spend more time on it. I work as a freelance illustrator so take on other jobs to pay my bills. If I had my way, I’d work on the project at least half of my working week. That’s the plan in order to get it ﬁnished in one lifetime! I’ve been a teacher since 2006 and that took up a vast deal of my time but I have recently relinquished those duties to concentrate fully on illustration and design. The Shed Project will be with me for the rest of my days and it is evolving. I’ve regularly teamed up with a Graphic Illustration graduate to document the shed in VR. Watch this space.
I also whittle spoons. It’s a hobby I’ve had for two and a half years and is a great change of pace to the illustrations. There aren’t enough hours in the day really.
In terms of your creative process, how do you go about drawing the trinkets, is there a specific medium that you tend to use?
I work straight in ink. I use Staedtler Mars Matic Pens of varying weights. I ensure that I have a mixture of varied sized items to draw to ensure the pages are full.
People ask if I lay all the objects out before hand to ensure an interesting composition. I don’t, because I simply don’t have the time. I could procrastinate for hours and not get any drawing done! I simply start at the top left side of the page and work across and down. I also don’t use any rulers or guides of any sort. Part of my test is the freehand element.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received during your artistic career?
I do wish someone had prepared me for the regular disappointments that come with a career as a creative. It’s a difﬁcult career and it’s tough. Winding down or stopping is difﬁcult for me. Life feels like one long workday at the moment.
My grandfather was always very critical of my drawings. I remember showing him work I did when I was younger. I’d be very pleased with myself and he’d regularly point out shortcomings in the drawings and I’d often get upset. I now see what he was doing, and I now possess a very critical eye and high standards for myself. I wish I could thank him for that.
Lee’s work, The Shed Project, was selected by industry guest judges from Fringe Arts Bath Festival, Art Fair East, Sunny Art Centre, Le Dame Art Gallery, Bullseye Projects and Contemporary British Painting.
Lee also won an art supplies pack from London Graphic Centre and a subscription to Elephant Magazine.