Winter Jewels

winter-jewels

How are you doing through this end of a particularly strange winter? It’s felt like a long haul hasn’t it? Considering meditations and moments pressing in for warmth and rest as the new year turned these recent months, I want to pay tribute to this outgoing season for the creativity still brewing even when we didn’t realise it.

This image stayed with me all winter long, taken on a November morning at Fforest while retreating alone, coming at sunrise from another angle down in the roots one day.

Crouched and hunkered down through hibernation times, it would be natural to write these coldest and darkest weeks of the year off altogether for gaining any sense of achievement and progression.

For all its weirdness and cold though, the last little while has given us beautiful frosts, and sunrises to set the earth shimmering at dawn.

Ideas secretly growing while we stayed low and simple.

Here’s what winter can be…

…crouching so low that wet grasses tickle our noses, sun seems to stream though from another angle unexpected and turning cold earth into a tray of jewels, glinting to our eyes, easing in a smile and while that sun hits little apple cheeks, made blush and round with quiet joy, a bird might pipe up in its beak language and say something along the lines of, “Don’t worry. You’re doing better than you think you are…”

Here’s what I think. We have—unwittingly—done better than we think and almost made it to warmer days again, and when good and ready after rest, energy will flow more freely on our ideas and making and doing once more, not just preserved for staying warm now. Some brilliant, bright green shoots are on their way – just look about and see! *

Jewels have been forming all the way through winter, when I neither had energy or daylight hours to do anything with them except gaze on and be glad – to be inspired.

Thanks for your jewels, Winter. Here’s to a gleaming Spring.

 

*  This is a particularly brilliant project to be launching with the Spring – Makers4Refugees founded by Pip Wilcox. Keep an eye, there are some fabulous people making stuff in order to support refugees with your help.

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Kaki King – Skimming the Fractured Surface to a Place of Endless Light}

When It Feels Tricky

 

lizzie-at-work

Analogue Therapy

 

Well, this week in the studio has felt just strange, I don’t mind confessing. Do you get days like this too? Days where it’s all set up just how you want it, yet for some reason, things just don’t feel in the groove and it’s hard to find an energy and flow you need?

One of the most beautiful things I want to learn is—as an independent and proud—how to keep going through these strange ebbs with grace and optimism, not let that backing gust stall me completely.

Some days everything’s clear, I have the best strategic head in the universe and all channels are loud and clear. Then other days, nope. Fog. To be a successful independent takes some doing, and it’s heartening to know I’m in good company by the way, sometimes finding posts from peers and heroes that acknowledge the same feelings. They get this too, and work out how to carry on, going from strength to strength, and these weeks become folded in to the grand experience so that next time, they’re not so thrown and are better able to sail through the breakers with a little more courage and wisdom.

Some days, your tired head just needs a break, a slightly different angle from which to look in on things.

When the weirdness hits (and it is a ‘when’), I have a few immediate and simple tactics I deploy to fight it off. I’ll turn away from my desk onto the big wooden table behind me and draw some letterforms out, flip through a design book, or write, or just eat an apple and put a tiny corner of the world to rights with Chesapeake.

Or else, I’ll wander downstairs and find Silkie (the heart behind this Forge vision) for a little chat, and somehow whenever I’m talking to her I remember how far we’ve come on this journey and straighten my spine up again.

I may decamp back home and write from a different desk, swim, run, cook, muck about with Rusty the enormous fluffball cat. Just stop forcing the ideas before they’re ready to emerge. And sometimes when it’s really bad, I’ll just go and stand in the boutique chocolate shop in St Nick’s market and breathe in until I am verging on a blackout.

Or another thing altogether, I might dip out and head to the farm and watch things growing on our allotment. That kind of seeds-in-the-ground pace I can handle, when the social media streams have turned into torrents, and everyone seems to have it nailed but me. (That is a lie, don’t we all know that, but so hard to remember.)

It’s good to desist from the screens and pick up a brush pen, scratch out a smudged ink word or two, look out of the window at the ever changing patterns of clouds and remember, it will be okay again soon. Clever head will return shortly.

When I don’t feel so bright, it’s good to have these pens, fresh apples, this table, these people. Ebb and flow.

{Today’s Soundtrack: Christine and the Queens – No Harm Is Done}

10 Things I Learnt From 10 Things They Learnt. 

ny-heart

Loving my Bristol home right now! There are so many great people around and about in our design community here, and getting out amongst them is throwing up such brilliant encouragement at the moment.

Last night in an upstairs bar somewhere in Bristol, a bunch of designer-types old and new got together and under twinkly, dimmed lights with drinks in hand, we heard from 10 local design heroes, 10 things they’d each learnt along the way that had seen them through thick and thin. We were there to celebrate West of England Design Forum’s 10th Birthday – WEDF pours such a lot of good stuff out into our creative midst, so I headed out to join the party and listen to some thoughtful gems. It was just lovely.

Each person who stood up spoke wisdom, confessed to messing up quite a lot, they made us laugh, they rapped, and showed us scans of their unborn children, and amidst all this vulnerability they did what really good designers do and gave us some proper gorgeous things to focus on. Many of these ideas resonated, so in the clear air this morning I sifted out my favourites, that I can say are also true for me too. (Please forgive my lack of credits, hopefully I can add these in due course. See note at the end.)

Here goes – my top ten of the ten top tens:

  1. Keep perspective.
    ‘No one died because of bad kerning/weird typeface’ etc.

    It’s true. In my BBC years, I once had a Natural History director storm out of an edit suite because he didn’t like the shade of blue I’d chosen for arrows on a map of ocean currents, and having nearly missed my granny’s funeral to get it done in time for transmission, there wasn’t time to remake it. As he flounced out and slammed the door, I was left standing in front of the Series Producer, biting my lip very hard trying to not cry. Oh dear! Probably one of my earliest lessons in how and why not to be a massive control freak.

  2. Humility can be helpful.
    See point 1, and remember that while it’s hugely important to fight for your ideas, being able to listen and learn is just as important. I’m not sure a need to be right opens up anything new.

    Curiosity, centre stage please!

  3. Speculate; have fun making personal work.
    Just go ahead and make that piece of work, just because you love the story and believe in the cause. You’ll learn something about yourself, and you may also just make that new connection you’ve dreamed about. My film ‘Tree Wisdom’ was a (sort of) case in point. It was a commission, but a totally open brief, and it’s proved so helpful in starting up new conversations.

    Chase an idea – you never know what adventure it’ll take you on.

  4. Be devoted.
    Get really good at your thing by doing it with such love, and give all the great ideas in you their best chance of life. I love looking at, or holding in my hands, the work of brilliant craftspeople, who spend years refining their skills.

    One from the aesthetic brigade – I really do believe that if you want us to think carefully about something, then make us want to look at it. Make it exquisite.

  5. Don’t forget the importance of your back yard.
    I really liked this way of describing the thing we all know but struggle to manage. Your ‘front yard’ is the polished, online space where your best work is featured – the well-presented 10% that gives everyone a passing impression. But it’s the much bigger back yard where the real stuff happens, the many more hours of play and discovery that really shape you. Don’t underestimate this space. Enjoy it, and celebrate that too!

    I went to a talk by Lisa Congdon a while ago, and asked her about sharing work online and vulnerability – she’s so prolific, and puts so much out there direct from a sketchbook, hard to believe she leaves anything out and imagine how much courage that takes. She doesn’t put everything out there, but the point is that this particular ‘back yard’ sees so much devoted action, what comes out of it is all the more beautifully, attractively real for it.

  6. Keep skills fresh by learning on every job. 
    Challenge yourself to acquire new technical skills with each project you do. It’s to budget and deadline, so you have the (helpful) pressure of it needing to be just right! I do this on all my animation projects, and I’ll never keep up with the best of After Effects nerds, but I remember point no.4 and try my best, and feel excited by new things.

    But…

  7. Don’t worry about being crap at technical skills. 
    Even if you were ‘around at the birth of Illustrator’ (or even—ahem—Pagemaker, on one of these anyone? Please say yes…) technical skills aren’t the be-all and end-all. You can learn these in time, but ideas are your true gold, and must come first.

    Good drawing skill with a pencil is the best companion you can give to your ideas, at least to begin with.

  8. Follow your gut instinct.
    It’s your business, and whatever advice you receive, you do know, deep down, what you want. Resigning from that previously-mentioned BBC job was a huge leap of instinctive faith, and few people really understood why I did it. Made no sense to anyone. But I’m still here, my smile is much bigger these days, and the quality of my work is so much better too.

    And yet…

  9. Seek counsel and advice from the older, wiser design owls.
    Those who have been there and done it have a lot of gold to share.

    Finally:

  10. If it gives you wings, even if you’re ‘an 11 year old white kid from Leicester’, it’s okay to rap like a lovely, obsessed geek. Honestly, this guy sums just about everything on this list list right up. Such a sweetie.

 

Not complicated, but real, and honest, and I’m very grateful to be amongst these lovely people trying to figure out how to keep things moving with bucketloads of style.

Big thanks to all you wonderful speakers, and hopefully WEDF will share a list of who you are again because, I’ll be honest, I’d had some wine and my brain wasn’t taking detailed notes. Here’s to the next 10 years!

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: SBTRKT – Pharaohs}

Thank you, NYC

 

How do you find New York?

In July, I made my first visit to the big apple, and made every effort to experience it on my own terms even (especially) in hitting some of the iconic sights. In making pictures, it’s a great challenge to capture everything we know a place is, yet bring yourself to the picture too! I really wanted to explain what it was like taking part in the NY thing, as well as being true to my personal reality which is about space, and peace, and breathing in and out.

The thing with NY is, we all know what it looks like as the backdrop to so much of our movie culture. There is a huge temptation to make something look like another picture I’ve seen, but I struggle with the point of doing that because what really needs to happen is we work on explaining experiences in our own voices. That’s how we get past the homogenous, corporate exterior of what we’re fed, and remain connected as human beings.

It was a massive challenge making a mini-portrait of my personal journey in NY—no more than one minute—and so much I had to leave out! I had a go though, without a plan, just to feel my way around with a camera, to see what would happen.

The place is frantic.

But amidst the street vendors clattering under hanging yellow traffic lights, and grubby subway rides downtown, I paid attention to quieter things too – to stay connected to moments and places where I could breathe and stop a while to digest that big, juicy bundle of apple-like life.

Thank you, New York, you and your Central Park roses were ridiculously, fragrantly lovely.

This was all shot on an iPhone SE and edited in After Effects. Music: ‘Raindrops’ by Grapes, under a CC License.

Settling Again

lizzie-table-corner

It’s been a really busy little while lately, settling back in the studio after lots of adventures and inspiration over summer. I’m sure you know what I mean!

Along with all those holidays and long, warm days, Summer’s a great time to step back and take stock, don’t you think? Although I find it does bring disruption to a more regular work flow with commissions and projects. It can be a bit of a ‘hold your nerve’ time in that respect if you run your own business.

To make ideas sing, to get into the heart of them and find their character, sometimes a change of scene is really helpful. And then sometimes, coming back to settle at your table, and pick up your tools to make them happen is the only thing to do next, even if you find it really hard to sit still! 

But I think the benefits of stepping back are always worth it. Drifting away from summer into autumn now, I have a couple of ideas to share which linger on the inspiring moments of summer a little longer, bring them inside with us, and keep the ideas and dreams flowing through a season of practical action ahead. Look out over the next couple of weeks for those which I’ll be posting about.

Meanwhile, life here in the studio is busy as ever – a heap of projects on the go, and personal work to push myself and keep learning. I’m a bit overwhelmed to tell you the truth, but trying to heed Victore’s advice that says “Ideas without action are just BS”! It helps to have a work table that feels like a treat to sit down at, and moving into The Forge earlier this year was a brilliant opportunity to switch things up and create a space that will do justice to the plans I have in my head. It’s really nice coming back to this after summer, a safe place to let things out and breathe life into them.

No more distractions. It’s time to honour the loveliness of all those ideas and get on with making them happen!

Happy settling friends, and may your work spaces be buzzing this autumn.

Finding Forward

central-park-arrow

This little brass arrow sits in the concrete somewhere in Central Park, New York.

I was taking care of my friends’ kids for a week back in July, my first trip to the city, and we were having a lot of fun deciding where to go and what to do with our times together. So much to soak in, and maybe its because it all just makes you want to look up that you get a big, gulping sense of opportunity and ‘skies-the-limit’ sort of inspiration, so we ran around and ate waffles and swam and went to the zoo and ended up in A&E and rode buses and bought sacks of M&Ms and took funny pictures…

It was great. And I saw that arrow, and somewhere in the middle of signposts pointing in fifty different directions, I clung onto this photograph of a solid, anchored thing that shone out from the floor and told me which way to look.

After travelling through summer with a sense of barefoot freedom, its time to carry some of the fresh feeling forward into a new season of projects and plans back home. Bumping into friends all over the place, I get a sense that for many of us, this summer has been a time for rethinking, gaining clarity and gathering courage to act on new ideas or even close off old ones. It’s exciting – loads going on if we can settle back in carefully and figure out how to do what next.

But wait! Please! Don’t make me sit down at a desk and pay attention, I’m thriving out here in the world’s wide open spaces, running around, having ideas, drawing nice pictures and playing petanque on the beach!  

In the business of ideas, time out is a pure gift, but we all know it only really means anything if we get down to some practical reality and planning, and doing. 

Direction, that’s what we need, out the back of free-spirited imagining.

But I do find this hard, don’t you? A transition from one season to the next; moving through a sort of liminal space after leaving one state of dreaming and before fully grasping the new state of doing.

Direction. Commit to a path, and keep moving forward.

So this week back at my desk, despite inevitable fears, I’m having a go at making it happen. I’m filtering the coffee, working through my list, braving the thought that some of this might not work, and I’m giving it a go anyway. And I know the same is true for many of us. I think it helps to keep finding time and space to be quiet, distill the options and discern next steps – like gazing up through cool trees in Central Park after scampering through grubby, hot and hectic NY streets. Taking a breather, to figure out what to choose when you’re back to it?

Seeking stillness is never an excuse for inaction, so long as it’s done with a willingness to drop the distractions and be present to the day, and what it asks for. So along with thinking about that quiet little brass arrow, these are some of the words I find helpful at the moment:

Be still; find your forward.

Here we are, back in the loop, no more freestyle for a while but plenty of plans, and all the love in the world to make them happen!

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Bob Moses – Like It Or Not}

Halfway Down a Long Path

Now roughly half way through this 100 Days project, I want to take a moment to check in with some ideas that have occurred as I’ve progressed, and the reasons for taking a break before continuing.

As mentioned at some point in recent posts, rattling through 100 Days really is a long time to be rattling, and is rattling really a good use of my precious time? What am I learning here? What is better in the world as a result? It’s a long time to keep mechanically repeating a task or approach with either no critical judgement—”I’m just doing it for its own sake, and that is good enough.”—or with no sense of direction either.

I realise I want direction. 

I realise I want the wealth of all those days to add up to something significant.

I want that wealth of thought or effort to show either in a resolved, embedded attitude of mind, and/or better skills, and a rewarding body of work too.

Agreed – sometimes its important to just play as that’s when your mind can loosen up and become free enough to let new things happen.
Somewhere in here though is a neat point about the purpose of regular discipline and the benefit in forming a new habit. By definition, a new habit will not be so polished to begin with. Being accountable to the world by sharing all this online amplifies inevitable personal vulnerabilities, and maybe these last couple of weeks I just needed to take a breath and then here’s the next thing I realise:

I realise that being publicly accountable with the things you make day after day is a little nerve-wracking and slightly exhausting, and quite difficult to do unless you have the strength of a rhino, which I don’t

This began with the question, “What could you do with 100 days of making?”
I have a new question. Now I have glimpsed what’s possible and I know the effort involved, how can I make my next 50 days really count? 
 
{Today’s Soundtrack: Shivum Sharma – Flicker}