Finding Solitude: Notes on an Exhibition

Illustrator and author Sophie Burrows guides us through the work she has created for our new exhibition, 'Finding Solitude', week-by-week.


                                                              View the full sequence here

Each of us will think about solitude in a unique way. We will form our own individual opinions about it, and your experience will likely be different to my own. These differences seem to have been amplified over the course of the pandemic. From talking to others around me, I got the sense that the usual balance between alone-ness and together-ness we were all used to was tipped; homes that were usually busy felt bursting, while those who lived alone experienced more emptiness than usual. This sequence was made while thinking of several questions. Firstly, how different are each of our experiences of solitude? in which spaces, in what times, do each of us find solitude? How do our roles at work or in the home influence our experience of solitude?

For those of us who seldom find moments to be alone, what do we do with those moments when they come? Do differences exist between a solitude that has been ‘taken where we can get it’ and one that is more deliberate? Is solitude a luxury?

Of course, this sequence, as the others, is an imagined and fictional experience of solitude. It is not my direct experience, and as I drew, I began to think about our perceptions of others’ solitude. How do we imagine others’ solitude to be? How do our perceptions and their experiences differ? Do each of us have expectations or parameters by which we define alone-ness as healthy or acceptable? With this in mind, I wondered how the nurse might perceive the smoker’s solitude, how my reader might perceive the nurse’s solitude, and how my own thoughts and feelings have influenced that.

This sequence also comes back to the idea of shared solitudes. Both the nurse and the smoker are experiencing some form of solitude here, although internally this experience could be very different. Are they connected, simply through the shared experience of solitude?


Sophie Burrows (@burrowsdraws and @burrowsdraws ) is an award-winning illustrator and author. She won the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year award in 2019 for Crushing, a wordless, short-form graphic novel exploring feelings of loneliness.