Creativity doesn’t stop with Age

A new monthly AAS Coffee Morning for older makers is being launched in March led by AAS Advisors textile artist Alison F Bell and jeweller Ann Marie Shillito. In this blog Alison gives an insight into the way creative practice evolves when older and the background to this new informal get-together.

Ann Marie Shillito and I have been close friends for over 30 years. Between us we have over 90 years of creative practice. What’s good about this is that we’re becoming closer and more supportive as we get older because running through our long conversations, is an unspoken understanding of the evolving, complex nature of our creative practice and its importance to us now. This understanding sustains us emotionally and so acts as an incentive to keep developing our practice – despite our age. We now appreciate that the deep-seated resilience and self-reliance that has been quietly increasing in the background, is a direct result of a life spent immersed in creative practice. It is widely acknowledged that resilience and independence are fundamental to living well as we age.

This is important because ageing can bring with it a sense of isolation, often resulting in an unconscious shift in self-perception. For example, through fearing the indignity of invisibility that a lack of acknowledgement, support or even resistance from the creative community can inflict on us, we might be less inclined to apply for professional development opportunities. This can lead to further withdrawal from active participation in our creative communities.

Bird's eye view of a female older jeweller working on an intricate hand process just off to the side of the wooden jewellery bench in her studio. On the surface of the bench are files of different sizes and profiles, a hand drill, various smaller hand tools that are loose and in tins, containers for liquid, plus a shallow, square white cardboard box containing brightly coloured brooches / parts of brooches 3D printed in plastic.
Anne Marie Shillito in her studio in December 2020, photographer Laura Claire Jones

Last year Ann Marie and I decided to seek out other well-established, older creatives like us, with the aim of forming a small group. We wanted to meet informally to discuss what matters to us now and how we might continue developing our creative practice throughout this important life stage. The search took time but we now have a group of 5 self-selecting members from across the Arts.

What is significant is that we all receive a pension, thereby removing the immediate need to sell work to survive, but we want to continue taking creative risks by exploring new areas and to do this, we need resources. Another important point is our recognition that our hard-won experience and insight are meaningful not only to us but also to the next generation.

Pre Covid-19, we met up in Glasgow or Edinburgh every 2 months and started a private blog. Interestingly, since then, we hold Zoom meetings every 2 weeks. By delving into the complex issues around how we strive to continue and develop our creative practice, we are potentially self-helping ourselves into our own wellbeing and over the months valuable trust and respect between us has grown.

We support one another through discussion about what we might need to continue to sustain our creative practice, what can we do for ourselves and where we would benefit from support from agencies such as Creative Scotland. Importantly, through these discussions it’s clear that there is a gap in the general understanding of how the individual, older, well-established creative person actually uses his/her practice to help navigate the ageing process.

Our new insight throws fresh light on the relationship between creative making, resilience and our desire for self-sufficiency in order to live well as we age. We recognise that how we navigate this important life stage has a direct impact on our self-identity, our autonomy and our wellbeing. Ageing can be challenging, yes, but it’s not an illness in need of a cure.

As we age, what we are looking for is the acknowledgment of our continuing professionalism, and the need for some kind of support to carry on with our individual practice. We suggest that this is as important for those who follow as it is for those travelling through it.

Top image: Alison Bell in her studio.

Our new monthly Coffee Morning for older makers launches on Friday 5 March 2021 from 10.30 – 11.30 am. It is open to AAS Members and a link will be emailed to Members for joining it. If you have not received the details email

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